In saying "Beer is period." one must be careful. American Light Lager is most certainly not period, even for the city of Pilz in what is now the Czech Republic [Jackson, pp. 31]. But neither is Irish Stout, for many of the same reasons. So what kind of beer is `period?' Fortunately for Elizabethan England, we have some primary sources and some good secondary ones, so we can make it to find out.
In general, beers from Elizabethan England would be somewhat heavier (with wide variation), somewhat sweeter, and less bitter than what is available in England today. They would range in color from light to dark brown, due to the malts used. They would have considerably less carbonation than today. And they would be pretty fresh, possibly even `green' by today's standards.
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]. The drum roaster can produce malt that is paler than possible using the traditional kiln, leading to the light-amber color of modern beers such as Bud or Bass. It also can roast malt and unmalted grain far darker than possible. Since the deeply roasted taste and very dark color from these are an integral part of the modern porter and stout, Guinness isn't much closer to the mark.
We can make a decent approximation to the amber and brown malts at home by roasting Pale malt in an oven. I have successfully used the technique described by Robert Grossman [Zymurgy special 95]. Briefly, one spreads out one or two pounds of malt in a cookie sheet or two, put them in a pre-heated oven, and bake for a while. 10 minutes at 300 F gives a nice slightly roasted character to Pale malt without deactivating the enzymes. 20 mins. at 350 F produces an amber malt, but deactivates the enzymes. Doing this to 10-- 20% of the malt adds a nice character to an ale. 50 mins. at 350 will produce a nice brown malt, useful in making historic dark ales and porters. For Elizabethan ales, I prefer roasting about half my malt for 10 mins., and another pound or two for 20, in order to simulate the vagaries of traditional kilning.
British, Belgian, German, and American malts are all somewhat different. British Pale malt comes from a 2-row variety of barley, is allowed to sprout for a somewhat longer period of time, thus more of the very long starches are modified [Lager, pp. 87], and is kilned at a reasonably low temperature. The Belgian and German malts are often less modified, and kilned differently. The American malts are most often 6-row barley, which is a different, modern strain of barley. Most homebrewing stores either carry British Pale malt, or can get it.
Plain wheat and oats are easy to find. If your homebrewing supplies store doesn't carry these, check in health-food stores, or even normal grocery stores. Malted wheat can be found in brewing supply stores. I have not yet found a source of malted oats. This is unfortunate, as several medieval recipes use them.
There are many varieties of hops, but most of them are too recent. Using one of the Noble varieties of hops, such as European Hallertau or Kent Goldings is about the best we are going to manage.
I personally like to use English or Scottish ale yeasts for British ales. Though modern English Ale yeast may be different than the strains used 400 years ago, modern Belgian or German (Alt) yeast is likely even more different. I prefer liquid yeasts to dry ones. They are somewhat more expensive (at $5 a pouch vs. $0.75 a packet), but well cared for, a good strain can last through many batches.
The medieval brewer was of course unaware of the enzymes found in the malt. That is not to say that the he or she was ignorant of the need to maintain the proper temperature; this behavior would be found by trial and error. In recreating pre-scientific brewing, we are attempting to rediscover rules-of-thumb that will give us approximately the right results.
So the grain is allowed to sprout and grow just a bit, and then dried out in an oven, a process known as malting. An extra benefit is that malted grain will store much longer than normal grain will. So it is safe to harvest and malt large quantities of grain, brew with some, and store the rest for winter and spring brewing.
After the grain has been malted, it can be mashed. In this process, the remaining starches are converted to simple sugars by mixing the grain, after being crushed (lightly ground) with hot water (usually 145-158 F), and held in this temperature range for an hour or three. During this time, the enzymes will convert almost all of the starches into simple sugars that the yeast can digest.
A starch molecule is made of a long chain of simple sugars all linked together. There are two enzymes that work together to break this long chain down into small pieces. Alpha- amylase cuts long starch chains into smaller pieces, still too large to be digestible to yeast. Beta-amylase cuts very small pieces, simple sugars suitable to yeast, off the ends of the starch chains. So the two working together do a very good job of breaking down the long starches into sugars. Beta-amylase is most active at somewhat higher temperatures than Alpha, but there is a fair overlap in their useful temperature ranges [Lager, pp. 88-89]. The most important thing about all this to the brewer is that the higher the temperature mash, the sweeter the resulting beer will be.
These second and third mashings are mostly useless for enzyme activity - the enzymes have mostly quit by the time the first mashing is over. But not all of the sugars will be collected in the first running. These second mashings serve to rinse more sugar out of the grain, giving weaker beers for the effort.
In modern brewing, we use a technique called sparging to run off the first running and rinse sugars out of the grains. This is essentially equivalent to doing the above procedure into the same vessel. In fact, [Belgian Ale, pp. 84] describes just such a technique, where the liquor is run completely off before the sparge water is added. Sparging is good for increasing the conversion efficiency of the runnings, but does not seem to have been adopted by English brewers until the mid-19th century. In [Scotch Ale, pp. 90], Noonan quotes W. H. Roberts, a Scottish brewer, writing in 1847:
German brewers today sometimes use a method known as decoction. I won't be talking about it because (to the best of my knowledge) English brewers have not ever used this technique.
The process of sparging is, in my opinion, decidedly preferable to a second mash for ale worts, and has ever been considered in this light by the whole of Scottish brewers.
Here, Digbie has told us to make a thick, hot, mash, in an insulated vessel. Further, he describes how the liquor is emptied from it. In emptying, a small amount of scrunge will come out through the hole. But fairly quickly, the husks of the grain will get in the way and act as a filter to keep the smaller particles out of the liquor, which will run down the sides of the stick and out the hole. In much the same way, the screen, manifold, or false- bottom in the cooler will allow the grain to filter the runnings.
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. ...
When converting a recipe from original units down to a 5-gallon batch, a modern brewer may be quite surprised at the quantities of grain involved. When I first figured out Harrison's recipe [Misc-4], I came up with 4.75 lbs. of grain per gallon of wort. I was used to getting an extraction rate of 0.027 or more per gallon, and was taken aback by the prospect of a starting gravity of 1.128. But that extraction rate only applied to modern sparging; for the first runnings of the recipe, my first runnings were 1.071, or 0.015 per gallon, and for all three runnings my extraction was only 0.025. Clearly one reason those 19th C. Scotts preferred sparging was frugality.
Evaporation is a quicker way to cool the hot wort. In Markham, "of brewing ordinary beer", the author says "...this done, put the wort through a straight sieve, which may drain the hops from it, into your cooler,..." with the footnote:
... Then put it again into the Caldron, and boil it an hour or an hour and a half. Then put it into a Woodden-vessel to cool, which will require near forty hours for a hogshead. Then pour it gently from the settling. ...
The practice of using large shallow open vats to cool the wort is still practiced today in Belgium [Belgian Ale, pp. 38; De Keersmaecker, pp. 78]. This has the side-effect of inoculating the wort with wild yeasts, along with an astonishing number of other microbes [De Keersmaecker]
"When the hops and liquor shall have thus boiled twelve hours, they empty the copper again, and put the wort to cool at leisure into other vessels called floats or coolers, and they be broad like unto the vats, but only one foot deep." (Surflet, ed. Markham, p 587)
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.
At this point, a modern brewer would pitch in the yeast, make sure the wort is well aerated, and put on a blow-off tube or fermentation lock. Digbie recommends the former [Digbie, pp. 99]:
Here Digbie essentially describes a blow-off vessel. The bung is left open so the active fermentation can foam over and blow any crud that may be on the surface of the liquor out of the barrel. Markham advises much the same [Markham, pp. 206]:
... and run your Ale into the hogshead; leaving all the bung open a day or two. Then lay a strong Paper upon it, to keep the clay from falling in, that you must then lay upon it, in which you must make a little hole to let it work out. You must have some of the same Liquor to fill it up, as it works over.
This is still done in parts of Belgium, especially in making Lambic [De Keersmaecker, pp. 79]. I usually use either a large tub fermenter (which avoids the blow-off tube hassle, but requires skimming at least once), or a glass fermenter with a large diameter (1 inch I.D.) blow-off tube.
... and then, beating it and the barm exceeding well together, tun it up into the hogsheads being clean washed and scalded, and so let it purge: and herein you shall observe not to tun your vessels too full, for fear thereby it purge too much of the barm away: when it hath purged a day and a night, you shall close up the bung holes with clay, and only for a day or two after keep a vent-hole in it, and after close it up as close as may be.
Kegging the beer would be the most appropriate way to store and serve it, and also the least amount of work. I often bottle mine, even though the technique of cork bottling was at very best `late period.' For this, I recommend whatever you are most comfortable with. Storing the bottles or kegs in a suitably cool cellar is always good practice. The beer takes a bit longer to mature, but has a much smoother and better taste.
When it hath done working, stop it up very close, and keep it in a very cold Cellar. It will be fit to broach after a year; and be very clear and sweet and pleasant, and will continue a year longer drawing; and the last glass full be as pure and quick as the first. You begin to broach it high. Let your Cask have served for Sweet-wine.
Copyright 1996, 1997 by Paul W. Placeway.
The author gives permission for this to be reproduced in any form, as long as the complete text, from title to this notice, is included.
Tofi Kerthjalfadsson (Paul Placeway)