Sunday, 30 March 2014

Book tour day eight - Williamsburg

Breakfast is included this time. But there's no bacon, just sausage. I sob quietly as that horrible revelation sinks in.

We arrive in the historic bit of Williamsburg before opening time. Frank is there to let us in. We'll be brewing in the scullery of the Governor's Palace. It's pretty bare, just a fireplace, whitewashed walls, brick floor and a few wooden tubs.

We've time for a quick tour of the kitchen next door before we start. They're a cheeful and welcoming bunch who work in the kitchens. They get to make all sorts of fun food, only some of which gets eaten, sadly. The smoke house is wonderfully, er, smoky and the meat smells delicious. I feel like slicing off a slice.

The brewing equipment is pretty basic. Very basic. A copper pan dangling over a wood fire and a couple of half-barrel tubs. But first Frank makes some hot chocolate. They had great trouble getting hold of raw cocoa beans. Eventually they sourced them via Mars. It was worth the effort. The chocolate is delicious.

The water is heating in the copper pan. We're cheating a little because we're using a thermometer. It does make sense. No point messing up the mash for nit-picking historical detail.

We're brewing a Porter. From a mix of grains, including some home toasted malt. I get to ladle some of the water into the tub. Then we tip in the malt and start stirring. A lot. This is when I discover exactly how to use a brewing oar. And realise the purpose behind its form. It's rather good at breaking up the clumps of malt that have formed. This so much fun . . . . as long as you don't have to do it all day, every day.

Once we've finished stirring, Frank has a go at capping off the mash with some malt. It's never worked before and the malt has just sunk. This time it miraculously floats on the top. It's blindingly obvious what effect it has. There's no longer steam rising from the mash. Heat is clearly being retained.

We fetch sandwiches for lunch. And try some of the beers made commercially for Williamsburg, Stitch and Mumme. I really like the Stitch.

After lunch we make essentia bina - burnt sugar. It's quite a scary process. Brown sugar and molasses are heated in a small pot over the fire. Fank tells us that the trick is not to stir it. If you do, it won't ignite. The sugar plops and bubbles like lava then flames appear on its surface. Frank lets it burn a while then takes it off the fire and adds water to cool it.

We're only doing two mashes today. There isn't enough time for a third. The wort is run off and more hot water poured over the grains. The first wort is boiled with the hops. After a while we add what's left of the essentia bina - I kicked half of it over the floor. The effect is magical. The wort turns pitch black after a couple of minutes boiling. Very impressive. There's also some liquorice root in the boil. Should make for an interesting beer. It's a shame I won't get to drink it.

I've a little time to kill before my talk in the early evening. I buy a pack of old-fashioned cards and wooden dice for the kids. Some lavender soap for Dolores. Then a beer and a couple of whiskies in the Dog Street Pub. Just to strighten my head out.

My talk is in a little theatre. It's the most professional venue I've ever spoken in. I even wear a radio mike.

I'm scheduled to talk for an hour. I manage to get through in just 80 minutes. Not bad going fo me. It's a bit too technical for most of the audience, but the home brewers love it.

Jamie didn't sleep well and I feel sorry for her having to drive us back to Washington. We struggle to find somewhere to eat on the journey and end up in Golden Corral. All you can eat for $13. It turns out not to have been such a bargain. At least for me.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Governor's Palace
Palace Green St,
Williamsburg, VA 23185.
Tel: +1 800-447-8679

DoG Street Pub
401 W Duke of Gloucester St
Williamsburg, VA 23185.
Tel: +1 757-293-6478

Golden Corral‎


Chap said...

Just heard you talking on Radio 4's Food Programme. Great to see your labours in the archives being recognised on the Beeb, but how do you feel about being referred to as "the understated Ron Pattinson"?

Ron Pattinson said...


yes, I've never really thought of myself as understated. Especially when I'm in shouty mode.