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Making beer, period beer and ale. Use of hops in medieval beverages.
NOTE: See also the files: brewing-msg, mead-msg, wine-msg, beverages-msg, spices-msg, herbs-msg, p-bottles-msg, cider-msg.

This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that

I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some

messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.

This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan’s Florilegium.

These files are available on the Internet at:

I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with

seperate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes

extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were

removed to save space and remove clutter.

The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I

make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the

individual authors.
Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these

messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this

time. If information is published from these messages, please give

credit to the orignator(s).

Thank you,

Mark S. Harris AKA: Lord Stefan li Rous


From: (Rich Bainter)

Newsgroups: alt.folklore.herbs,rec.crafts.brewing,

Subject: SUMMARY: Herbs in medieval brewing... (Long?)

Date: 30 Nov 1993 09:25:18 -0600

Sorry for not editing more out of the following messages, but it seemed

to be if not needed it at least was on the subject.

From: (David Friedman)
The recipe for mead in Buch von Gute Speise uses hops, sage and a resined

vessel. It is the only usable pre-1600 mead recipes I know of. Curye on

Englysch has two more, although they do not have enough information, in my

judgement, to make it clear how they are really done. If you do not have

access to a copy, and can probably dig out mine.
The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby, Opened, c. 1660, is the first source I know

of with lots of fermented drinks. There are also a few descriptions of beer

making from the sixteenth century. Harrison's preface to Holinshed's

chronicles has one that mentions hops, arras (?), and bayberries finely

powdered, also long pepper as an alternative..
From: (Bill Grae)
If you're near a particularly large library, check to see if a copy of

_The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby, Knight, Opened_. The book is a

compilation of brewing and meal reciptes assembled in the early 1600's (I

think). Sir Kenelm was fascinated not only with the traditional English

practices of brewing but also the new practices that had been introduced

as a result of contact with "infidels, French, and Germans."

BTW, as I'm sure you're aware, the use or non-use of hops was at one point

a raging controversy in Britain with sufficiently political overtones that

hops were actually banned for a while.
From: (William T. McDonald)
Digby is good, but pulls from late in period. There are some earlier

works, German 15th and 16th century, that are specifically about

distillation of spirits. Also, "Il Herbario de Trento", an Italian

herbal from in-period. Also, some research into the origins of

various European liqueurs may reveal the original uses of some of

the herbs and spices in brewing (e.g., hyssop, angelica, anise,

fennel, grains of paradise, cubebs, cumin, cloves, etc.). A review

of the complete Gerard's herbal (versus the excerpt reprints that

are more common) may yield useful information. Also, Bancke's

herbal (English), and a manuscript of Dodoen's (Dutch, from whom

Gerard may have generously 'borrowed').
From: Peter Michael Wolanin

I have a book (_Making Mead_ by Roger Morse) on making mead that has

the following two books listed as references on early mead making:
_The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt Opened:

Whereby is Discovered Several Ways for Making of Metheglin, Sider,

Cherry-Wine, &c together with Excellent Directions for Cookery: As also

for Preserving, Conserving, &c._

published in 1669, reprinted in 1910 by Anne Macdonnel.

Digbie was apparently the queen of England's brewer. Three of the

recipes are reproduced in my book.

_Wassail! in Mazers of Mead_ by G.R. Gayre. Published by Phillimore and

Co. Ltd in 1948. Supposedly discusses the history of mead from

mithology up to 18th century.

From: (Jennifer Ann Bray)
Alecost was used for brewing, I've got some growing in my back garden,

but sadly I haven't any recipes. So if anyone knows what part it did

play let me know. I suspect it was used like hops are now.
The fruit of the service tree was used to make beer in england, and

pubs serving ale made from service fruit were called chequer pubs

because of the trees chequered bark. You can still find old pubs

called chequers which probably started out serving ale from the

service tree.
I have no idea if it had any medicinal properties, but I would

guess its an old beverage because service trees won't seed in our

currently cold climate, so the custom might date to when the country

was warmer a millenium ago? Nowadays the tree will grow from seed in

France but is infertile here where, though it can extend by suckers

from the root system.

When the queen got into the supers of my beehives she layed brood all

over the honey and the result was a bitter tasting honey. In medieval

beekeeping where the queen was not restricted in her movements about

the colony honey flavoured with bitter brood food would be common. We

used the honey to brew a spicy metheglin and it tasted quite good,

perhaps some of the metheglin recipes which use herbs or spices in

mead were a result of brewers making best use of their worst honey?

I suppose spices were quite expensive whereas herbs could be home

grown, so disguising a bad taste might be a more likely use for herbs

than spices?

The new Special Issue of Zymurgy has an article by Gary Spedding about

beers without hops. He gives many examples and lists his references.

This would probably give you a running start.
From: (Jonathan David Bow)
For the time period you specified I recommend you consult John Gerard's

_Herbal_, a classic work. The complete text of the 1633 edition was

republished in 1975 by Dover Publications. Library of Congress Card No.


From: eden.rain@ (Eden Rain,Cnslt)

From: Luxueil on Wed, Nov 17, 1993 2:21 PM

"Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, and Cloves, and that gave me my jolly red nose"

Words to a song in a c.1600 collection which refer to the spiced used in

ale/beer. I am *Told* that these were used in place of hops, but since I

know nothing of brewing I don't know how accurate this

From: jschmidt@spiff.Tymnet.COM (John Schmidt)


Subject: Period Ale
Well, Well. I hope none of you mind the fact that, since I recieved so

many responses to my offer of help with period brewing, I am writing a

generized response. If I end up speaking down to someone, I am sorry.
First, a few references:
Lost Country Life, Dorothy Hartly, Pantheon Books.

This one is a must have for anyone with an interest in the 'common life'

of pre-industrial people in England. Ale and Beer are discussed in

several places. Unfortunetly, she seems to equate mashing (of malt) and

hops, as she indicates that mashing was not done until the end of the

mideval period. This is (very) false.

The Historical Companion to House-Brewing, Clive La Pensee, Montag Pub.

This is a very good historical reference to beer making. Most of it

is out of period, but there is more here on pre-hop beer making then I

have found anywhere else. This book includes many period beer recipes,

but most are of German origin, and German adopted hops earlyer the the

English. Also has very good info on mashing at home!

The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing, Charlie Papazian, Avon.

Good book on beginning and intermediate home brewing.

The New World Guide to Beer, Michael Jackson, Running Press.

Very good book on beer styles world wide. Some historical info.

All of these (except Hartly) can be purchased mail-order from the

Association of Brewers, (303) 447-0816, weekdays 8-5 Mountain Time.

Next, a simple how-to on brewing. To those of you who have brewed

beer before, this is VERY simple and general. Skip this section.

This example will brew a basic ale. Generally of an English light

ale type.

To everyone else. This procedure may sound more complex then that stated

in most beer kits. I know very few people who follow the directions on

those kits that manage to make good beer. These instructions are not

goof-proof, but they will minimize the chances for contamination.

Many of you make mead or wine. That's good, you can use much of the same

equipment. But beer has a much lower alchohol level, and generally a much

lower acidity as well. This means that it is much more suseptible to

infection. Infections in beer can only make the beer taste bad, however,

not hurt you. One other point, these instructions call for using bleach

as a sanitizer. Use it. I know you may use sulphite in wine/mead, but

it doesn't work in beer.
Basic Equipment:

Large (3-4 gal) stainless or enameled pot. No Aluminum! it will make your

beer taste funny!

5-6 gal food grade plastic bucket (with lid) or glass carboy.

Racking tube.

plastic tubing (3-4 feet).

airlock and drilled stopper for your bucket/carboy.

plastic funnel to fit carboy, if one is used.

48 empty beer or champagne bottles. Don't use other kinds of bottles,

they are not strong enough.

New bottle caps.

Basic Ingrediants:

6-7 pounds of pale / amber / dark unhopped malt extract. This is

available in bulk at homebrew stores as a syrup or dry. Either works.

5 gal Good tasting water. If you use distilled or purified water,

you will need to add a 'pinch' (less then 1/4 tsp.) of Epsom salt to it.

The yeast need it.
1-2 oz of Hops (or whatever). DO NOT buy these from a health

food store, they are not kept well. Use 'low alpha' varieties like

Hallertauer, Goldings, Fuggles, Tettnanger, Saaz, Cascade, Willamette,

Mt. Hood, etc. Stay away from varieties like Eroica, Centennial, and

Chinook. Your friendly, local or mail-order homebrew supply person will

1 T. of 'Irish Moss'. Available from a homebrew supply or a health food

store. Not nessessary, but it will make your beer clearer.
10-20 grams of dry Ale yeast. This comes in 5, 8, and 12 gram packets.

I prefer 'Whitbread', but any should do. Stay away from 'Red Star' though


Night before - boil 3 gal. water. If you are going to add epsom salt,

do it now. Let cool while covered. While cooling,

put 1 oz (a capfull) of unscented bleach in your bucket/carboy, and fill

with tap/hose water. Let stand for one half to one hour or until the

boiled water is cool enough to add to glass (if the carboy is used).

Empty the bucket/carboy and shake out the drops. Do not rinse. The

very small amount of chlorine left is less than that in your tap water.

Put the boiled water into the bucket/carboy. Seal it up and leave it

over night.

Next Day - Dissolve extract in 1.75 to 2 gal. water. Bring to a boil.

Add Hops. Boil for 1/2 hour uncovered. Add Irish Moss and boil for

another 1/2 hour uncovered. By this point, you should be down to 2 gal.

or so. What you have now is called 'wort' (sounds like 'word').

Pour the wort into the water boiled and cooled the night before.

If you are using a carboy, use a funnel sterilized by pouring boiling

water through it. The funnel will direct the hot wort into the cool

water, cooling it enough not to break the glass (usually...). Let the

(thiner) wort cool until the glass/plastic is only warm to the touch

and add the yeast. Put the air lock on, fill halfway with water, and

let it sit for a week. If a glass carboy is used, don't fill it up to

the neck, leave about 1/2 gal of headroom. If it foams over anyway,

don't worry. Just put the (cleaned) airlock back on and clean up.
After a week, sterilize your bottles by running them through a dish washer

or soaking them in a chlorine solution (1 oz to 5 gal). I have a friend

that bakes them in an oven at 250 degrees for 1/2 hour or so, then lets

them cool in the oven until he needs them...

Boil 3/4 cup of corn sugar (or table sugar, but corn sugar is better) in

3/4 cup of water. let cool. Sterilize your siphon tube and plastic

tubing in chlorine solution (see above).

Now, if you have TWO carboys or buckets, sterilize the second one, and

siphon the beer into it, leaving the spent yeast behind. If not, well,

cloudy beer is period. Add the sugar water to the beer and stir very

gently with the siphon tube. Don't splash!. Now, siphon the beer into

the beer bottles carefully. Do not splash. Fill each to within an inch

of the top. Cap them. Wait for 2-3 weeks before sampling. The beer

will continue to change over the next month or two. Depending on how good

you were with sanitation, the beer could last from 1 month (try again!) to

a year or so (you've done this before!). As Charlie says, "Don't worry,

have a homebrew!"

Now the historical stuff.

Before hops, there was Grout. If you are German, there was Gruit.

Grout was the blend of spices and herbs the brewer used to make their

beer interesting. Fermented malt water is very sweet and bland.

Because of this, brewers generally used at least one bitter herb. If

they didn't, they chose herbs that tasted good in a sweet medium.

There arn't a lot of grout recipies, because this was the brewers secret.

Incedently, most period brewers were women. It was cooking, and therefor

considered womens work, hence the term 'Alewife'. Even monisaries would

sometimes hire a woman to come in and help the brothers make beer. Once

brewing became a profitable buisness, instead of housework, well...

Bitter herbs:

Ground Ivy (Alehoof, Creeping Jenny, ...)





Wood Sage


Less bitter or sweet herbs:

Juniper berries

Sweet Gale

Sweet Woodruff












Coriander seed


Seville orange (or any orange) peel






To make a period Ale:

Follow above procedure for making beer, but don't buy hops. Reduce the

boil to 1/2 hour, and use grout instead. Some herbs are better added

just after the heat is removed, and stteped, like a tea.
Good Grouts:

1/2 oz Ground Ivy

1/2 oz Juniper

2 oz Woodruff

1 oz Germander

1 oz Coriander

2 oz Orange Peel
1 stick cinnimun

1 oz buckbean

1 oz Ground Ivy

1.5 oz Ginger

Etc. Play around with what you have!
Note: Customers didn't like hops, because they weren't used to them.

So why, you might ask, did hops take over? Because when they were used,

beer lasted longer. Hops are a preservitive. This means that the beer

made with grout will not last as long as beer made with hops. You were

warned! (Although I have no evidence to support it, I suspect that

during the transition from Ale to Beer, brewers would occationally use

both hops and spices in beer. The hops would keep the beer, the spices

would keep the customer! )

Fruit beers are very good, add 3-8 pounds at the end of the boil, and let

them soak for 15 min or so...


Richard Bainter | "I want to be called COTTONTIPS. There is something

Phelim Utred Gervas | graceful about that lady. A young woman bursting with

Pug | vigor. She blinked at the sudden light. She writes | beautiful poems. When ever shall we meet again?"

From: (A. H. Shaw )


Subject: Hops/Beer/Ale/AAAARG!

Date: 21 Nov 1995 00:48:35 GMT

Organization: isis inc. (Internet Provider), NS Canada.

This should be the real posting: sorry about the blank one.

Since I can't find the Hops in Beer thread I'll start over here.

Basic definitions:

Modern Usage -

ALE: brewed with a 'top fermenting' yeast.

LAGER: brewed with a 'bottom fermenting' yeast.

BEER: brewed from at least a base of malted

barley, hops and water, and usually marketed aggressively. (sorry about

the editorial)

Modern commercial breweries usually use yeasts that cannot be

easily split into "top" and "bottom" fermenting varieties; most strains

work in suspension throughout the wort and are filtered out in later

stages. There are _lots_ of various yeast strains and books have been

written about their various properties. Ale and Lager yeasts do generate

different flavours, and yeast selection is an important part of any beer

Medieval Usage -

ALE: an _unhopped_ brew, usually from malted barley.

BEER: _hopped_ brew, as distinct from ale.

I also suspect that a difference in brewing technique was noted.

The highly modified English malts were usable in an infusion-type mash

while the less highly modified Continental barley required a multiple

stage decoction mash. This is pure, ungrounded speculation on my part

and I would welcome any further information.
In England in the 1400s the introduction of hops/beer into a

predominately ale economy was met with resistance. Brewing 'Beer' and

brewing 'Ale' were recognized as distinct trades. In 1471 Norwich bans

the use of hops in brewing. The Ale Brewers Company of London (chartered

1437) petitions the Mayor to prevent the use of hops. The ale brewers do

not object to the brewing of beer, but wish to prevent the use of hops in

ale. In 1493 the brewers of Beer are recognized as a guild. They remain

separate guilds until 1556.

Hops were mentioned as early as the late 1100's by Ste. Hildegard

of Bingen. She apparently noted both their use as a preservative and a

recipe for brewing beer with oats and hops. Even earlier, King Pepin,

father of Charlemagne, was given a gift of hop yards. By the 9th Century

hops were under cultivation in the Rheinland, Brabant and the Ile de France.
Now the fun begins. Yes, apparently other flavourings were used

in beer. I have found references to a mix called "gruit," a "bitter,

more costly mixture of vegetable substances used to flavour beer." In

1381 the Archbishop of Klon issued a decree forbidding the import of

hopped beer from Westphalia. The Bishopric had a gruit monopoly in the

area and of course moved to protect it against cheaper imported

products. The requirement for all persons wishing to brew in Klon to

buy gruit from the episcopal gruit-houses was not lifted until 1495. On

the other hand in 1487 Munich enacted an ordinance forbidding the use of

anything but barley, hops, and water in the brewing process. This was

not THE Rheinheitsgebost of current fame, but one of the many, many

other laws enacted in this era to control brewing. Most of them

stipulated the quality, age, or ingredients that were acceptable in

beer. The famous Rheinheitsgebot is only one of these ordinances,

albeit one that has demonstrated remarkable staying power.

Another flavouring I have heard of, only in passing, is

'alehoof.' Has anyone any information on this herb? I have been offered

some to try in my brewing and would really like to know more before

ingesting it.

As far as other flavourings go, don't neglect the Belgian brewing

traditions. Coriander, raspberries, strawberries, and many other things

have been added to beer in period.

Much of the information here was gleaned from
Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800

A Chronological History

Gregory A. Austin w. staff of Southern California

Research Institute.

LoC# HV5020.A97 1985 ISBN 0-87436-418-3
This is an excellent sourcebook for brewing information and drinking


I remain yours in brewing
Robert Peregrine de Marecage

Barony of Ruantallan

East Kingdom

From: (David Friedman)


Subject: Re: Help: Recipi for MEDIEVAL BEER

Date: 14 Jan 1996 06:57:15 GMT

Organization: Best Internet Communications

In article <>, (Beth

Appleton) wrote:

> -> From:

> -> a recipi - a dukumented recipe - from the period 1300-1400 (+- 100

> -> years). I have been in contact with danish libraries and archives,

> -> but no luck.

> If you find one, *I'll* be amazed. The few cookbooks of that

> era that I'm aware of don't have such recipes. What little I've found

> on brewing anything has been instr. for wine, and that is much, much

> later. I suspect that it is either Too Basic, or somewhat of a mystery.

> We don't find bread recipes that early, either. You just learned from

> your folks, or not at all.


> Gwenllian Cwmystwyth

Erik specified 1300-1400 +-100 years, which takes us to 1500. That includes:
The detailed mead recipe in _Buch von Gute Speise_

The very vague one in _Curye on Englysche_

The bread recipe in Platina.
So while Gwenllian's basic point is right--clear early recipes for brewing

or bread are hard to find--they are not quite impossible to find, and are

worth looking for.




Subject: Hopped Up!

Date: Wed, 14 Feb 96 02:13:00 -0400

Organization: Compu-Data BBS -=- Turnersville, NJ -=- 609-232-1245

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