Thursday, 20 November 2008

October Beer 1752

I'm still working away like crazy on the logs I photographed at the archive this week. So quite a short post today. I should have something more substantial tomorrow. About Brown Ale, probably. Or maybe Porter and Stout. Have to see how the fancy takes me.

These instructions on how to brew Wiltshire October beer, in the form of a letter from a reader, appeared in the "Gentleman's Magazine" in 1752.
"Mash twelve bushels of the finest pale malt with water, almost but not quite boiling hot, and let it stand three hours, then begin to draw of the wort, sprinkling on, at the same time, boiling water, till your full quantity of strong wort be run out. Supposing your copper sufficient to to boil a hogshead of water, the first copper serves for the first mash, and in the three hours the mash is standing you may boil two coppers more, the first to be set aside for small beer, the last for sprinkling, to make up the quantity of strong wort, and if a hogshead is not enough for the small beer, you may sprinkle on cold water for the last running. As soon as the third copper is emptied, boil the strong wort (which should be done as quick as possible) with six or seven pounds of the brightest Farnham hops, for half an hour, then strain it immediately into coolers, no more than three inches deep, that it may cool the sooner, which adds greatly to the flavour of the drink, especially if it be kept well stirred in the [illegible line in the original] . . . of the coolers to put it into the working tun, be sure to stir it well to the bottom. When it has cooled to about blood warm, take out five gallons, and put to it a quart of good yeast in a pail, and let it ferment till quite cold, then put it and all the wort into the working tun. In 24 hours it ought to have a good thick head, not a frothy one, as in case of too violent a ferment, which is the most material thing to be avoided, both at the time of brewing and afterwards. The head of the yeast must be taken off, and the wort put into a clean sweet dry cask, which has been well scalded, and it is to be filled up with the same wort two or three times a day, till the ferment is over. Let it stand 3 weeks or a week before you bung it up, only put something over the bung hole to keep rats and mice from pissing or dunging in it, which they are very apt to do, and would infallibly spoil your drink. In a month you may bung it up close, but always let there be a peg near the bung, which should be opened once a week. If you find it still to ferment, leave out the peg, and if that will not stop it, open the bung for a day or two. But what we call the second fermentation, and usually happens in the spring, if the beer was brewed in October, or November before, requires your utmost care. Good beer will always then be foul, after which crisis it never will be so again. You must therefore visit the peg hole often, and give vent if the ferment be too strong, which yet should be held up until the drink falls fine again, but it should be gentle, else the drink will be weak and sour, when it is quite fine, you may drink or bottle it, but the long 'tis kept, the better. It will be in high perfection in two years. I would advise to brew as much the first year as you shall want in two years, for without a good stock you never can be sure to keep your cellar in order; and as some casks will prove better than others, you will by that means have it in your power to cure what proves bad, and make it as good as the best; but this is an art, which I may communicate at some other time.
Yours &c, Sarisburiensis.

P.S. I look upon November to be the best month for brewing keeping beer, the hop and malt being then in their perfection. It will be some advantage to grind your malt a week or ten days before you brew."
I particularly like the bit about covering the bung hole to stop vermin pissing in your beer. Very good advice. Other points of interest are the use of 100% pale malt and the very short boil of just 30 minutes. As well as all the necessary equipment, a good bit of patience was required, if you were to wait the two years until it reached perfection.

I suspect that the name Sarisburiensis means it was some nob (or should that be knob?) who wrote the letter. I'm sure Zythophile will know.


The Beer Nut said...

Or just some bloke from Salisbury. Who could write. And afford a magazine subscription. A nob it is.

You can imagine that if he keeps micromanaging his manor's brewhouse in that pompous way of his, there's likely to be more than mice pissing in his ale.

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Nut, you've just made me laugh out loud.

The images in my head. Liveried servants. Open flies. His lordship's prize beer. Snickers when he shares it with his posh mates.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of pissing in the house master's Old Spice when I was a kid - 'not toooo much now, just a drop or two'.

Most gratifying.

Hope he reads this.

Anonymous said...

"Sarisburiensis" means "someone from Salisbury" - but as a signature, it would normally be restricted specifically to the Bishop of Salisbury ... was someone 'avin a larf, or is this the Bishop writing in with his ecclesiastic beer recipe?

Great post, Ron. It's this sort of strong, well-hopped (four pounds to the barrel!) October beer made from pale malt and designed to be mature after two years, that I believe was one of the beers George Hodgson of Bow was selling to the East Indiaman captains, and which, because it matured in four or five months on the journey out East, rather than the two years it needed in a cold English cellar, formed the basis of what was to become India Pale Ale.

Against that, of course, at eight bushels of malt to the barrel, this would have been thumpingly strong, much stronger than IPA was in the 19th century. So maybe I'm wrong ... though on the other hand, this is a recipe for a farm or estate-brewed beer, for the local squire to enjoy, rather than a commercial beer for retail sale, and retail versions would have been weaker.

Even so, this is a pointed reminder that strong, pale ales were being brewed in England before George Hodgson (who, as it happened, began brewing at Bow the same year this recipe was published.)

Farnham hops, btw, I probably don't need to mention, were regarded in the 18th century as the best money could buy ...

Ron Pattinson said...

Zythophile, I love the sound of October beer. Getting one brewed would require great patience, however.

Hopping rates are so much fun. So wide open to varying interpretations. I gave Menno a recipe for Barclay Perkins Russian Stout he told me he couldn't brew. Far too many hops. But I think they aged that for a couple of years in the old days. It makes a big difference.

I'm still trying to work out they used hops of different ages. Whitbread were still doing it in the 1960's.