Ales-and-Beers Ales and Beers: commentary

 Knaves of Grain: Brewers club newsletter the current newsletter of choice...
One of their links: Brewing With Period Recipes by Lord Corwin of Darkwater

 ...does anyone have a recipe for 12th century English ale?

 I've done a bit of research into this subject and as far as I know, there aren't any 12th century ale recipes as such. English ale consisted purely of malt, water & yeast... The malt was made from barley (most usually), oats or wheat (wheat was the most expensive grain). Weak ale was drunk in the de Bryene household in 1419 where 2 quarters were used to make 112 gallons (bearing in mind that an ale gallon was 282 cubic inches).
- Paul Robertshaw

In "Brewing Mead-Wassail in Mazers of Mead" by Lt. Colonel Robert Gayre,
Gayre & Nigg with Charlie Papazian sites two instances where beer with
hops were banned. It does not however tell you where to find the
origional text.
1. Archbishop Fredrick of Cologne in 1381 issued a decree that all gruit
be purcashed in the episcopel gruit-houses. At the same time importation
of hopped beer from Westphalia was forbidden.
2. In 1464 a petition was made to the Lord Mayor and Alderman of the
city of London by the ale-brewers to fordid the use of hops in ale.

"Inns, Ales and Drinking Customs of Old Engaland" by Frederick Hawkwood
says hops were prohibited by Henry VI and that the prohibition was
repeated by Henry VIII. Once again the source is not given.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of 'Medieval People' by Eileen Power:

Charlemagne ordered his stewards each to have in his district "good workmen, namely, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, silversmiths, shoemakers, turners, carpenters, sword-makers, fishermen, foilers, soapmakers, men who know how to make beer, cider, perry and all other kinds of beverages.....

 Does anybody know how medieval brewers estimated temperatures without
 any measurment devices? -april 98-
To which replies:
    "The first does not require a great deal of fire control.  Bring your water to a boil and let it sit.  The moment that the steam no longer completely obscures your reflection, it is cool enough to add the grist--but add the grist quickly, with much stirring, so it will cool the water properly to mashing temperature as it comes in.
    The second method requires better fire control.  Heat the water until the
steam completely obscures your reflection, and NO MORE HEATING.  Add
the  grist."
Paul Placeway replies:
    "Well, I don't do it often, though I have tried it a couple of times. I've been taking a somewhat different approach, based on an observation (on building good heat-sinks for audio amplifiers) by Nelson Pass:
- Anyway, here we are with 330W to dissipate in our heatsinks, and we have made it a rule of thumb not to exceed 55 [deg] C on a heatsink. Human skin has the remarkable characteristic that we think 40 [deg] is comfortable, 45 [deg] is hot, 50 [deg] is very hot, and 55 [deg] is untouchable. This expanded
temperature sensitivity has a lot to do with injury prevention, and is also very convenient for judging whether or not heatsinking is adequate. If you can't touch it, it's too hot.   []-
    "So first off, I've found that, using a 10 G. Gott cooler, and mashing at a bit over 1 qt. per pound of grain (US measures), 165 deg. F of water-in-the-Gott is too cool to get a decent strike.  So I usually try to start at 170. Now that said, if I start with about 85% boiling and 15% cold tap water, both poured into the Gott and stirred to mix, and then add the grain.  Then add half quarts of boiling water until it both "looks right" and is 'just' too hot to stick my fingers into the top inch of mash, it is about right in the body of the mash.
    Of course, this involves a certain willingness to burn one's fingers...
    On the other hand, if you aren't interested in burning your fingers, and aren't totally wedded to making English-style beer, one can 'easily'  do a double decoction method mash with only your hand as a thermometer.  For this, start with the water just above good hot-tub temperature (the hottest that is comfortable to swirl your hand around in for long periods of time).  Now dough in (stiff), and add enough boiling water to raise the mash temp to the hottest level of "comfortable".
    For the first decoction, take out 40% by volume of mostly grain, and 'slowly' raise it to a boil, etc.  For the second decoction, take out 30%.  I've found this technique to be close enough to "spot-on" that I don't actually need the thermometer at all."   --Paul Placeway
    They did not estimate temps as you and I think it. I have made ales from 12th, 16-19th century period recipies. Basically they would add it to just boiled water, or they would ladel boiling water on one ladel at a time.
    The second method reaches a temp of about 160 deg Far. when the grain is covered. Of course I did not to as large a mash as they quoted.
I have some sources if you care to write me privately.
Eric Rhude -

References to the use of hops in the brewing process can be found from the
eigth century onwards.  -"Brewing," Encyclopaedia Brittanica. and:
 "Hops," Encyclopaedia Brittanica. 

"Hops in England had an earlier history in general. The Romans in England
employed hops as a medicinal well before the 16th century. I've traced
Markham's piece on hops back to the early 1500's, and found several refences
to hopped ale in the late 15th century. While it was not popular in general
in England at that time, it was at least known in the late 1400's."
Henry Davis  http:\\ 

"The grain is steeped in water, and made to germinate: it is then dried and
ground; after which it is infused in a certain quantity of water, which, being
fermented, becomes a pleasant, warming, strengthing, intoxicating liquor."
- 5TH century manuscript
"The monks of St Paul's Cathedral brewed 67,814 gallons of ale using 175
quarters of barley, 175 quarters of wheat and 708 quarters of oats."
- Domesday Book (1086)
(a quarter being equivalent to 256 pounds of grain; or:"The monks of St Paul's Cathedral brewed 67,814 gallons of ale using 196,314 pounds of sugars", or 2.9 pounds per gallon)
"Ale shall now my engage my pen to set at rest the hearts of men First, my
friend, your candle light; next of spiced cake take a bite Then steep your barley in a vat, large and broad, take care of that; When you shall have steeped your
grain and the water let out - drain, Take it to an upper floor, if you've swept it
clean before; There couch and let your barley dwell, till it germinates full well.
Malt you now shall call the grain, corn it ne'er shall be again Stir the malt then
with your hand, in heaps or rows now let it stand; On a tray then you shall
take it to a kiln to dry and bake it. The tray and eke a basket light will serve to
spread the malt aright. When your malt is ground in mill, and of hot water has drunk its fill And skill has changed the wort to ale, then to see you shall not
- Walter de Biblesworth 13TH century
"To brewe beer; 10 quarters malt. 2 quarters wheat, 2 quarters oats, 40 lbs
hops. To make 60 barrels of single beer."
- Richard Arnold, Customs of London (1503)
(a beer that was 6.75% alcohol, and had 1.5 ounces of hops per five gallons of beer. "single beer" meant that the beer had been cooked once in preparation of the brew)
(A quarter is defined as a unit of weight equal to 2 stones, or 28 pounds...also defined as a unit of dry volume equal to 64 gallons. Since 1 gallon of grain weighs about 4 pounds, we have a quarter being equivalent to 256 pounds of grain... A barrel of ale held only 30 gallons)
They take wheat, barley, spelt, rye, or oats, either one kind (for good beer can
be prepared from all these cereals) or two or three together; they steep them in
a fresh spring or good running water or (which is even better) in boiled hop
water, until the grain bursts out. Then the water is run off and the grains dried
in the sun. The water in which the grain is steeped is kept; when the grains are
dry they are ground in the mills and the meal put into the aforementioned
steep water. It is let boil for 3-4 hours and the hops added and all boiled up to
a good froth. When that is done it is filled into other vessels. Some put a little
leaven into it and this soon gains a sharp biting flavour and is pleasant to
"The English sometimes add to the brewed beer, to make it more pleasant,
sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and other good spices in a small bag.
- Tabernaemontanus (Jacob Theodor von Bergzabern), Herbal (1588)
"Sir Thomas Gower makes his pleasant and wholesome drink of ale and
honey thus: Take forty gallons of small ale, and five gallons of honey. When
the ale is ready to tun, and is still warm, take out ten gallons of it; which, while it is hot, mingle with it the five gallons of honey, stirring it exceeding well with
a clean arm till they be perfectly incorporated. Then cover it, and let it cool and stand still. At the same time you begin to dissolve the honey in this parcel, you
take the other of thirty gallons also warm, and tun it up with barm, and put it
into a vessel capable to hold all the whole quantity of ale and honey, and let it
work there; and because the vessel will be so far from being full, that the gross
foulness of the ale cannot work over, make holes in the sides of the barrel even
with the superficies of the liquor in it, out of which the gross seculence may
purge; and these holes must be fast shut; when you put in the rest of the ale
with the honey; which you must do, when you see the strong working of the
other is over: and that it works but gently, which may be after two or three or
four days, according to the warmth of the season.
"When the strong beer grows too hard and flat for want of spirits, take four or
five gallons of it out of a hogshead, and boil five pounds of honey in it, and
skim it, and put it warm into the beer; and after it has done working, stop it up close. This will make it quick, pleasant and stronger." - Sir Kenelme Digby, The Closet of . . . opened (1669)
Small ale was a term used for a very weak ale. Typically, after most of the
sugar had been dissolved out of a quantity of malt, a second batch of ale was
made using the used malt. Naturally the sugar available for the second,
"small" ale was substantially less than that of the original batch. A reasonable
estimate would be 2-3% alcohol. This ale was usually drunk fresh. ...


H. S. Corran, A History of Brewing
(London: David & Charles, 1975)

Gerhard Herm, The Celts
(New York: St. Martins Press, 1977)

H. A. Monckton, A History of English Ale and Beer
(London: The Bodley Head, 1966)

Ken Shales, Advanced Home Brewing
(Andover: Standard Press, 1972)

Andre' L. Simon, How to Make Wines and Cordials - From Old English Recipe
(New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1972)

- Lord Corwin of Darkwater (go to the Knaves of Grain for the whole article) 

"I found this in an endnote (pp. 283-4) in "The English Housewife" by
Gervase Markham, ed. by Michael R. Best. The [*] notes are mine.

[*speaking of malt]
"For those who could not even afford "sand barley" [*see below] William
Vaughan has some advice: '[Q] What shall poor men drink when malt is
extreme dear? [*too expensive] [A] They must gather the tops of heath,
whereof the usual brushes are made, and dry them, and keep them from
moulding.  Then they may at all times brew a cheap drink for themselves
therewith.  Which kind of drink is very wholesome as well for the liver as
the spleen, but much the more pleasant if they put a little liquorice unto
it.  There is another sort of drink of water and vinegar proportionately
mingled together, which in summer they may use.'"  William Vaughan,
Naturall and Artificial Directions for Health (1600), pp. 8-9.

[*"The last and worst grain for this purpose is the sand barley... it is
much subject to weeds of divers kinds, as tares, vetches, and such like,
which drink up the liquor in the brewing... the grain naturally of itself
hath a yellow, withered, empty husk, thick and unfurnished of meal, so that
the drink drawn from it can neither be so much, so strong, so good, nor so
pleasant...  Markham, p.181]"
Cindy Renfrow
Author & Publisher of "Take a Thousand Eggs or More, A Collection of 15th
Century Recipes" and "A Sip Through Time, A Collection of Old Brewing

These aren't Medieval, but they work nicely...

Ginger Beer - 1819

    1 Gallon water
    1 ounce ginger root
    1 lb. sugar
    2 ounces lemon juice
    yeast, 1/2 pint per 9 gallons liquor
    isinglass, 1/2 pint per 9 gallons liquor

Time to completion: 2 weeks.

To every gallon of spring water add one ounce of sliced white ginger, one pound of common loaf sugar, and two ounces of lemon juice, or three large tablespoonfuls; boil it near an hour,  and take off the scum; then run it through a hair sieve into a tub, and when cool (viz. 70 degrees) add yeast in proportion of half a pint to nine gallons; keep it in a temperate situation two days, during which it may be stirred six or eight times; then put it into a cask,
which must be kept full, and the yeast taken off at the bung-hole with a spoon. In a fortnight add half a pint of fining (isinglass picked and steeped in beer) to nine gallons, which will, if it has been properly fermented, clear it by ascent. The cask must be kept full, and the rising particles taken off at the bung-hole. When fine (which may be expected in twenty-four hours) bottle cork it well, and in summer it will be ripe and fit to drink in a fortnight.
(From the Family Receipt Book, etc., 1819.)

Ginger Beer - 1832

    1 cup ginger root
    1 1/2 pails water
    1 pint molasses
    1 cup yeast

Time to completion: 1 day.

...Ginger beer is made in the following proportions: - One cup of ginger, one pint of molasses, one pail and a half of water, and a cup of lively yeast. Most people scald the ginger in half a pail of water, and then fill it up with a pailful of cold; but in very hot weather some people stir it up cold. Yeast must not be put in till it is cold, or nearly cold. If not to be drank within twenty-four hours, it must be bottled as soon as it works...
(From The American Frugal Housewife, by Mrs. Child, 1832, p. 86)
-Cindy Renfrow

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