Monday 4 May 2015

Tudor Beer

Occasionally my interests converge; myself and a friend, another Stuart, or rather Stu the brew as he is known meet fairly regularly to brew beer which tends to follow our slightly German palette of wheatbeers, smoked beers (rauchbier) and in the winter lagers, and not forgetting some cider in late summer.

The distinction being that beer is hopped, a while back I thought we'd experiment with a historical recipe for ale, our efforts were worthwhile with a rather pleasing and interesting brew, click here for more; ale no.1

The Tudors generally drank ale, which by definition was unhopped, by virtue of boiling this was a method of purifying water and thus the staple drink for most classes across the country.

Hops, beer and ale has an interesting turn in the early Tudor period as numerous legislative attempts were made to maintain the distinction between unhopped ale, the prime malted cereal drink in England for many centuries and hopped beer introduced by immigrants from the German states and the Low countries.

Various authorities forbade ale brewers from using hops, these in effect were an entirely separate group of men and predominantly women (ale brewing was a woman's role at this time) from the beer brewers who could hop away.

Henry VIII's brewer at Hampton Court was instructed in a document of 1530 to 'put neither hops nor brimstone in the ale pipes (120 gallon casks) so that it my be found good, wholesome and perfect stuff worth the King's money.'

However, Henry did not outlaw hops, in fact, he also had a beer brewer by the name of John Pope to supply the royal household with the hopped drink. He was granted special provision for 12 'persons born out of the kings dominions' most certainly beer brewers from the Low countries - note, the rest of the land could not employ more than 4 foreigners at any one time.

The 1513 campaign was predominantly supplied with many pipes of ale and interestingly by 1544 they were supplied with beer, though these supplies unfortunately ran dry and the soldiers had to go without for 'these last 10 days, which is strange for English men to do with so little grudging' - nothing changes there then !

In 1483 London Ale brewers persuaded the city authorities to pass a law, comparable with the German Rheinheitsgebot that in order for ale to be 'brued in the good and wholesome manner of old tyme used' no one should put in ale 'upon peyne of grevous punysshment' anything other than 'licour (water) malt and yeste'

Why this distinction you may wonder? the hops much increased the abv and the beer was viewed as 'poisonous and unfit for consumption, causing drunkenness' whereas ale was 'a wholesome drink, especially in the summertime'.

By 1520 the same authorities created the guild of 'berebruers' to regulate their craft.

So, the Tudors fiercely defended their beloved ale and we've had a go at that in the earlier post, but what was their early beer like? we thought we'd give it a go.

The recipe we used is dated 1503;

7.8lb 2 row pale malt (a type of barley the description is a reference to how it grows)
1.6lb oat malt
1.61b pale wheat malt
0.25lb smoked malt*
English yeast - quantity not specified
Hops - quantity and type not specified, we used 28g of 4.5%acidity Goldings hops - the low acidity is much less bitter than other hops. Also, Tudor beer was not heavily hopped, 28g is about half to a third of that normally used for modern beers.

These are all modern ingredients which are grown and processed in a different manner to those of Tudor times, in particular malt would have been air or smoke dried which would have given the beer a deep colour as well as affecting the taste thus the smoked malt is a nod to this.

We also used modern methods;

Tudor ale in progress

In addition to the hops we added a small bag of Sage at the last moment of boiling for flavour, we know the Tudors did flavour their beer and ale with herbs, we even found a recipe requiring the carcass of an old hen, we gave that one a miss!

The result, a rather pleasing deep brown beer of 4.4% not dissimilar to Marstons Pedigree in taste though with a slightly sweet and herbal note, this broadly matches descriptions of beer which is good though we'll not know for sure.

This is what was known as a small ale, a 6 week fermentation kept the abv down, if we used the same mash again and brewed it this would then create a much weaker 'childs beer'.

If fermented for a few months a much stronger brew would result, this was known as 'double beer', by Elisabeth's reign street brawling was blamed upon 'double double beer'.

Tudor ale

Salute aside that's what I've been up to. I've also been painting !



  1. Stuart
    I always appreciate your attention to history and detail. Enjoy the results of your research!
    Cheers, PD

  2. Hic, interesting take on history, hic :-)

  3. Did you know that Tudor sailors received 8 pints of beer per day in their ration?

    It is probably a wonder that they could get up the rigging, let alone down in one piece.

    One of my Tudor ancestors was one German Richards from Brading the Isle of Wight. He probably called himself Gervaise, and he came from Tintern, and had been an officer in Lord Clinton's fleet in the attack on Scotland.
    The water supply in Portsmouth was foul as it was so brackish. Tudor fleets use to struggle to leave Portsmouth, so they would leave one ship at a time and go over to St Helen's on the Isle of Wight for their fresh water from the chalk springs.

    German Richards bought land in Brading and Yaverland the next village and reclaimed land from the sea to grow barley for sale to the fleet. This became a very profitable business, if their "new" house is any thing to go on.

    Dutch shipping coming back from transatlantic voyages would also call in there to replenish their empty supplies. Sir John Oglander was often fearful that they had arrived in such numbers that if they should have so wished, they could have over-run the island.

    You can see German Richards house and quite possibly brewery going up in flames on the Cowdray drawing of the sinking Mary Rose, as the crews of the French galleys plunder their way into the island.

  4. I assume this distinction between ale and beer as one being hopped and the other not is a period one? I see this stated all the time but no one provides references.

    According to modern definitions, there are two main categories of beer; ale and lager, both of which ARE beer (defined as a fermented alcoholic drink made from malted grain), and both of which are generally hopped though they don't have to be (and in earlier times wasn't because hops weren't available). The distinction is that ale is fermented at warm temps, while lager is fermented at cool temps. Warmer temps allow more esters to form giving ale various, often fruity flavors, while lager generally has a more clean malt flavor.

    I would really love to see some source material on this Tudor era distinction between ale and beer. I don't know much about that period of history. Thanks.