Now she could have used a couple of gallons of cheap beer, but that wouldn't have had quite the right taste. And since all the other members of the guild were involved in the event, we thought that the best, most authentic thing to do was to make ourselves some closer-to-authentic unhopped ale.
This ale was started two weeks in advance of the Schola. It was still (slowly) fermenting when half of it was used to cook in; it finally stopped about a week after that. It was racked, and bottled still on March 17th. It will have been in the bottle for all of 5 days when judged.
4 1/2 gallons of a fine all-grain unhopped Ale may be made:
In an insulated mash-lauter tun, mix 9 qts. of water at 165 degrees F. with the above 12 lbs of grain. (145 F. after mixing). Add and mix in 2 more qts. of boiling water, to reach 152 F. Let sit for an hour and a half.
Recirculate until clearer, and then start to drain out. While draining, carefully add 4 gal. of boiling water to the top of mash tun. (A tip: I pour my water onto a foam plate that is floating on the surface in order to avoid disturbing the grain bed.)
Collect all runnings in a large pot, and boil for an hour. Then cool and put into a fermenter.
At this point, we ended up with about 3 gallons of wort at a specific gravity of 1.088. This would have made fine ale, though a very strong one. But we felt that starting something this strong would not be adequately finished in the two weeks of time we had, so we watered it down to approximately 1.058 by adding another 1.5 gallons of boiled and cooled water.
Boil the oak chips in approx. 1 cup water. When the water is darkened, take off heat and allow to cool. Then add approx. 3 oz. of oak-water to the wort. Be careful not add too much.
Aerate (by rolling fermenter back-and-forth and/or stirring aggressively), Pitch yeast and allow to ferment.
The part that was not used for the feast was racked (siphoned off the lees) after fermentation had finished and the ale had substantially cleared. It was bottled still (i.e. without priming sugar) a week later.
We were trying to recreate much of the taste of a 15th c. English ale. We know that there were some changes to what was considered a `beer' and what was considered an `ale' during this time.
Having therefore groond eight bushels of good malt upon our querne, where the toll is saved, she addeth unto it half a bushel of wheat meale, and so much of otes small groond, and so tempereth or mixeth them with the malt, that you cannot easily discerne the one from the other...
Markham, in The English Housewife (1615, 1623), writes:
After the Hundred Years War, in the 15th c., England gained a large number of Flemish and Dutch immigrants, who brought with them the taste for hops in beer [Smith, p. 25]. During part of this time, `ale' was legally defined to be a malted beverage without hops; `beer' having hops. Hence our choice to leave them out for this recipe.
Brewing of strong aleNow for the brewing of strong ale, because it is drink of no such long lasting as beer is, therefore you shall brew less quantity at a time thereof, as two bushels of northern measure (which is four bushels or half a quarter in the south) at a brewing, and not above, which will make fourteen gallons of the best ale. Now for the mashing and ordering in the mash vat, it will not differ anything from that of beer; as for hops, although some use not to put in any, yet the best brewers thereof will allow to fourteen gallons of ale a good espen full of hops, and no more;...
[Markham, p. 207]
Traditionally the sprouting would be carried out on a large floor [Markham, pp. 182-185], often in the attic of the malt house. As the grain sprouts, it generates heat. This must be allowed to escape so that the malting grain does not cook itself. The young plants also require carbon dioxide to continue growing. To facilitate this, the malt is turned (scoop it up, flip it over) at regular intervals. A few British maltsters are still producing floor-malt today, though it is rare and expensive.
Historically, kilning was often carried out in what is essentially a large wood oven or smoker. The malt would be spread out on a false-floor made of hair-cloth, straw mat, or other suitable material, on top of some time of loose material, so to allow the hot exhaust from the kiln's oven to evenly penetrate the grain. Then a wood fire would be built in the oven, and the malt baked for several hours, and occasionally turned to prevent burning [Markham, pp. 186-190].
Modern kilning is quite different. Today the malt is roasted in a drum with a water spray to control temperature, patented by D. Wheeler in 1817 [Harrison].
Normally, to better approximate amber and brown malts, I have roasted some portion of Pale malt in an oven. However, for this ale, we did not go to this extent, but instead opted for using English Mild malt rather than Pale. Mild is generally roasted just slightly more by the maltster.
Following the Harrison recipe above, we also used a small amount of plain wheat and oats.
Markham recommends something similar, though not as complex a technique. He says to combine some of your wort (presumably cool enough) with some barm (yeast), and let these work while the main batch is cooling. Then when the main batch is cool, stir up this starter well and mix it in.
... This quantity (of a hogshead) will require better then a quart of the best Ale- barm, which you must put to it thus. Put it to about three quarts of wort, and stir it, to make it work well. When the barm has risen quick scum it off and put to the rest of the wort by degrees. The remaining Liquor (that is the three quarts) will have drawn into it all the heavy dregs of the barm, and you may put it to the Ale of the second running, but not to this. Put the barm you have scummed off (which will be at least a quart) to about two gallons of the wort, and stir it to make that rise and work. Then put two Gallons more to it. Doing thus several times, till all be mingled, which will require a whole day to do. Cover it close, and let it work, till it be at it's height, and begin to fall, which may require ten or twelve hours, or more. Watch this well, least it sink too much, for then it will be dead. Then scum off the thickest part of the barm, and run your Ale into the hogshead, ...
Using a starter is good practice in modern, as well as medieval brewing. Starting with a large quantity of yeast will reduce the effects of wild yeasts and other microorganisms by overwhelming them by sheer number, and eating up all the available sugar.
Of course, both the thermometer and hydrometer were invented after 1600. Being somewhat paranoid, however, we used them to control this particular batch.
Heat Spring-water; it must not boil, but be ready to boil, which you will know by leaping up in bubbles. Then pour it to the Malt; but by little and little, stirring them strongly together all the while they are mingling. When all the water is in, it must be so proportioned that it be very thick. Then cover the vessel well with a thick Mat made on purpose with a hole for the stick, and that with Coverlets and Blankets to keep in all the heat. After three or four hours, let it run out by the stick (putting new heated water upon the Malt, if you please, for small Ale or Beer) into a Hogshead with the head out. ...
I use a 10-gallon Rubbermaid-brand water cooler, with an Easymasher(tm) screen-manifold (a 6-inch tube of stainless-steel screen, closed on one end and attached to a tube on the other) installed inside.
Tofi Kerthjalfadsson, guildmaster, BMDL Brewers' Guild.