Brewing on the Dark Side
Lord Corwin of Darkwater
(Reprinted from Scum #6)
The Dark Ages
In the beginning, there were no dark beers. Indeed, the wonderful
variety of dark lagers, brown ares, stouts and porters that we enjoy
today are a relatively recent innovation in brewing. Interestingly
enough, dark beers are an indirect result of the growth of
civilization in western Europe.
Beer, of course, is made from malt (see Making Malt, by Countess
Marieke van de Dal, Scum #6), and malt is nothing more than grain,
sprouted and dried. Early maltsters sun-dried their malt - a gentle
process that preserves all of the fermentable sugars produced in the
malting process. Ale made from this malt would have been fairly light
in color by modern standards, there being no caramelized sugars to
darken the ale. That ale would also be very high in terms of nutrition
- an important point for a staple in the diet of every man, woman and
But there were problems inherent in this method of malting. You needed
several warm, sunny days in a row. If the weather didn't cooperate,
you lost some (or all!) of your malt to any of a number of ills. The
growing population, all of which were thirsty, only exasperated the
problem. The solution, of course, was to dry the malt with fire.
Alas, as the malters discovered, you can't rush Mother Nature. Malt
dried too long, or too hot, will caramelize. The sugars in the malt
closest to the heat source darken and are no longer fermentable into
alcohol. But progress is inevitable, and malters sought a balance
between production, profit, and malt quality. Kiln dried malt became
the status quo, and beer and ale darkened as a result. How dark is
perhaps impossible to say, but one account, that of Archdeacon Becket
in 1158, claimed that "Two of these chariots were laden solely with
iron-bound barrels of ale, decocted from choice fat grain, as a gift
for the French who wondered at such an invention - a drink most
wholesome, clear of all dregs, rivalling wine in colour, and
surpassing it in savour."
So was there no diversity to be found amongst Medieval brews? Hardly!
Small beer and small ale were consumed in large quantities as
thirst quenchers, fairly weak beverages that were intended to be drunk
instead of water. Next in strength were the single coyt beers, called
such because they were cooked once by the brewers. Twice as strong
were the double coyt beers - cooked twice while brewing, and
consequently twice as strong. Finally, brewers were also producing a
kind of barley wine. According to Queen Elizabeth I, "a kynde of very
strong bere calling the same doble-doble-bere".
By the 18th century, it had become popular to blend two or three
varieties of ale, such as pale ale, new brown ale, and stale brown
ale,together, and call the combination `three threads'. Now, pale ale
was a clear, light colored, highly hopped ale that was made largely
for export to India. New brown ale was hopped as well, and stale brown
ale was hopped and aged (and despite the modern connotations of it's
name, was considered a better drink than the new ale). The creation
of porter has been attributed to Ralph Harwood who, in 1722, produced
an ale that would displace the popularity of `three threads'. The brew
was called `Mr. Harwood's Entire', and became very popular with the
porters and laborers of London, and was subsequently named after
them. In a few years, porter had become very popular indeed, with a
number of taverns and public houses serving porter exclusively (along
with another specialty, the porter house steak). The first written
reference to porter can be found in a letter written by Cesar de
Saussure in 1726, "Another kind of beer is called porter . . . because
the greater quantity of this beer is consumed by the working
classes. It is a thick and strong beverage, and the effect it produces
if drunk in excess, is the same as that of wine; this porter costs 3d
The earliest known reference to stout is in a manuscript written in
1677, "We will drink your health both in stout and best wine."
Although this predates the introduction of porter, at the time stout
did not refer to any particular kind of beer, but rather to any strong
beer. Stout did not become a distinctive style of beer until the
beginning of the 19th century, when a stout porter produced by Arthur
Guinness of Dublin became quite popular.
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