Sunday, 26 June 2011
An enjoyable foray into brewing !
Ale is mentioned a fair bit in the various books I have of the Tudors so I wanted to look into this in a little more detail, here are my findings;
In Tudor England the most common drink was ale which, during this period was a drink made from malted grains, water and occasionally spices (but not hops) these were all fermented with yeast. The malted grain would be crushed and then hot water would be added and the mixture allowed to work, finally the liquid was drained off, cooled and fermented.
Beer on the other hand was a little different as it contained hops which added bitterness to the drink and also acted as a preservative but this was something still rather peculiar to the continent and rare in England during the early sixteenth century but it would have been available during the campaign as Flemish beer is known to have been victualled.
The ration for an English soldier in the 1513 campaign was 8 pints of ale a day and this was a very important part of the Tudor supplies as it was a source of clean water and kept the troops happy. They were also quite fussy about their ration;
The victualling commisioners in Plymouth reported to the Privy Council in May 1513 that the Lord Admiral had ordered that no more ale was to be brewed in the West Country as the soldiers preferred London beer, particularly if it had been brewed in March. Not only was this a matter of preference but the latter actually kept better as it was brewed from barley rather than oaten malt.
Ideally the preference was to drink ale as soon as it had been fermented (see the demi-john photo above) but it could be kept for up to six months provided it was stored in good quality oak casks.
The above information intrigued me as being somewhat ignorant to the subject I did not appreciate firstly the difference between ale and beer and secondly the difference in the appearence of a traditional beer now to that of those made 500 years ago.
Luckily I have a close friend who has been brewing his own beer for many years and over a few of his wares we agreed to conduct an experiment using a late fifteenth century recipe;
8.5 gallons water
3kg crushed malted barley
2.5kg malted wheat
750g pale barley
250g flaked wheat
There are a lot of variations to the recipe and in essence this is not too different to modern recipes other than the abscence of hops, the water is not boiled before it is added and the relatively short fermentation of around 2 weeks.
Well, I tried the ale just after fermentation (see second image) this was know as 'fresh ale' and it tasted like........liquid alcoholic bread ! Without casking it would go off after a few days. Fresh ale was something which the soldiers would have been used to at home, with casked ale being something of a campaign staple, this was the taste I was hoping to re-create so after leaving it for another 10 days and chilling it (i appreciate that could be cheating a little!) the appearance changed quite dramatically to that of the final image and in honesty it tasted great, not disimilar to a blonde wheat beer with an abv of approximately 6.4%. The only thing missing is a name - all suggestions welcomed !
This is by no means an indication of all ales of the time as variation in the grains used will give an entirely different result, for comparison the next brewing foray at some point in the futre will be a darker ale, but I shall intersperse this with some painting.