15 June is officially `Beer Day Britain’, which has been celebrated annually since 2015. This date is significant as it was when the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215. Ale is mentioned in clause 35 of the great charter:
Let there be throughout our kingdom a single measure for wine and a single measure for ale and a single measure for corn, namely the London quarter.
Over the past few years there has been a renaissance in home-brewing, micro-breweries and beer culture generally, as drinkers explore new styles and experiment with new recipes as an antidote to the standardised fare on offer from the large breweries. In honour of ‘Beer Day Britain’, we brewed a beer to accompany this blog post, inspired by a recipe from the University of Southampton’s Special Collections.
In earlier times home-brewing was just one small part of a more self-sufficient culture wherein people supplied many of their own daily needs, before the rise of mass markets and modern commercial society. In some respects beer culture has come full-circle with the resurgence of home-brewing and the smaller craft-breweries, although it remains to be seen whether home-brewing will ever move beyond a dilettante pastime and supplant the mass produced beverage entirely!
The University of Southampton’s Special Collections has a number of sources on home-brewing including William Cobbett’s Cottage Economy published in 1822. Cobbett, a radical journalist and polemicist who sympathised with the plight of the rural English in the face of the industrial revolution, applauded what he saw as the imminent resurgence of home-brewing by the masses:
The paper-money is fast losing its destructive power; and things are, with regard to the labourers, coming back to what they were forty years ago, and therefore we may prepare for the making of beer in our own houses, and take leave of the poisonous stuff served out to us by common brewers.
In addition to helpful tips and recipes for home-brewing Cobbett’s Cottage Economy also offered its readers advice on animal husbandry, bread-baking and bee-keeping. However, modern readers partial to a cup of tea should beware; Cobbett has nothing positive to say about tea-drinking, which he views as having supplanted the comparatively weak ‘small beers’ that often accompanied a hard day’s labour in agrarian economies:
The drink which has come to supply the place of beer has, in general, been tea. It is notorious that tea has no useful strength in it; that it contains nothing nutritious; that it, besides being good for nothing, has badness in it, because it is well known to produce want of sleep in many cases, and in all cases, to shake and weaken the nerves. It is, in fact, a weaker kind of laudanum, which enlivens for the moment and deadens afterwards. At any rate it communicates no strength to the body; it does not, in any degree, assist in affording what labour demands. It is then, of no use.
In addition to its alleged lack of nutritional value and the concomitant ill health effects, Cobbett goes on to dismiss tea-drinking as a time-consuming and expensive habit as well as ‘an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness’ [p.18]; as fatal to pigs where a bushel of malt is not (‘it is impossible to doubt in such a case’) [p.19]; as responsible for leading young men to idleness with young girls faring no better as the ‘gossip of the tea table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel [p.20]’. Thankfully for our sakes, having revealed the nefarious effects of tea-drinking, Cobbett goes on to provide the ingredients and the recipe required for the home-brewing of beer. Those interested in Cobbett’s recipe can find a modern recreation published online.
Our beer was brewed using a source from Southampton’s Special Collections: The Complete Family Piece published in 1739 by George Faulkner, Containing good and useful instruction for brewing fine, strong, good, wholesome, and palatable Drinks, as Beers, Ales &c. in small Quantities, and at easy Rates, for the Use of all private families. The four basic ingredients of malted barley, hops, yeast and water included in most beers of today have been used in Britain since at least the late 1300s and they form the basis of this recipe from 1739. Modern drinkers may be rather astonished, however, to find this recipe advocating the addition of ingredients such as ivory shavings in the ‘wort’ to keep it from going stale. This particular ingredient may be harder to come by nowadays and was not included in our beer, brewed by the author and his brother; we named our version ‘Family Piece’, honouring both our brotherhood and the source of our inspiration.
It would be fair to say that we did not recreate this beer, rather we produced our own, inspired by elements of this 1739 recipe. Neither did we use the rather large quantities of barley-malt included in the 1739 recipe nor did we ‘put in a Pint of whole Wheat and 6 Eggs; then stop it up: and Let it stand a Year, and then bottle it.’ We did, however, adopt the time-consuming technique of mashing our grains three times in order to produce a stronger beer with a final estimated ABV of 6.8%. We also included the handful of rosemary flowers from the 1739 recipe, although floral notes were not evident in the final product.
Ingredients for 4.5 L (1 gallon):
1.5kg of Malt. (We used a lager malt but would have preferred to use Golden Promise. Our malt was probably more finely crushed than eighteenth century malts would have been, which may lead to more efficiency in the brewing process and a higher final ABV).
8g of Target hops (home grown).
1 g of Rosemary Flowers.
Saison yeast (mixed house culture).
5.2 litres of liquor (‘Liquor’ is just a brewer’s term for water. We added a few millilitres of a chemical solution know as AMS, which is used by modern home-brewers to transform their hard tap water into soft water, closer to the kind of pond water or spring water favoured by traditional brewers).
Final ABV was 6.8%.
Bitterness: 25 IBUs (estimated)
SRM (colour): 4
Throw a handful of malt into 2.8 litres of liquor (treated with AMS) and then bring to 80°C.
Place 1.5 kg of Malt in a bag into the mash-tun with the liquor (The 1739 recipe states that you should wait until the steam has cleared, thus we put the malt in the liquor at 50°C – this stage is known as ‘mashing in’ and the typical mashing temperature used by modern brewers is about 60°C).
We added another litre of liquor with AMS because we weren’t happy with our liquor to grain ratio at this stage (there was too little water).
Leave to ‘Mash’ for 2 hours at 50°C – our temperature was 56°C after 2 hours. (This first or ‘primary mash’ is usually all modern brewers will do, but we also cooked the malt another two times as per the 1739 recipe).
After 3.8 litres of liquor in we got 2.1 litres of ‘wort’ from the primary mash – the wort is the liquid extracted from the mashing process – which we then boiled for 1 hour 30 mins.
Add 8 grams of Target Hops and 1 gram of rosemary flowers at 90 mins into the boil.
Put the malt bag back into the mash tun and add another 2.8 litres of liquor with AMS at 60°C into the mash tun with the malt to begin secondary mash for 1 hour 50 mins.
Put 2nd wort into 1st wort for boil.
Add 1.4 litres of liquor to the mash tun for 3rd mash.
When your mash has cooled down, siphon off into a demijohn and add your Saison Yeast.
Ferment in the demi-john for 15 days.
After approx. 2 weeks of fermentation you can then bottle the beer, add ½ tsp of sugar per 500 ml bottle to aid further fermentation in the bottle.
Bottle condition for a further 2-4 weeks. Then Enjoy!
It should be borne in mind that home-brewing by modern dilettantes typically involves the production of much smaller quantities of beer compared with that described by the 1739 recipe in The Complete Family Piece. In those days people were home-brewing beer in quantities sufficient to last for the entire year or a larger part thereof, just as a self-sufficient farmer might only deem it worthwhile his time and energy to produce a crop sufficient to last a season or a year. Additionally, agricultural labourers would often consume weaker ‘small beers’ throughout the day, whereas nowadays we tend to rely on tea or coffee to power us through the working day and we partake of beer, if at all, in the evenings and on the weekends only.
It should also be pointed out that the June 15th date for Britain’s National Beer Day taken from the signing of Magna Carta in 1215 refers more precisely to ale rather than beer. Traditionally, a distinction was made between ale (un-hopped) and beer (hopped) and it wasn’t until the later fourteenth century that the English began brewing with hops, thanks to immigrants from the Low Countries who brought their hoppy beers with them. Although the story of a Parliamentary ban on hops may be apocryphal (Henry VIII had both ale brewers and beer brewers in his royal household), there was nonetheless a strong distinction between the two styles for a few hundred years in the early modern period.Another source from Special Collections’ Perkins Library, the Country Housewife’s Family Companion, published in 1750 by a Hertfordshire farmer named W. Ellis, includes a recipe for October or March stout beers. It warns the home brewer to beware of whools, weevils and other insect infestations amongst the malted barley, which can ruin a good beer:
…wevilly Malt will cause the Beer to give its Drinker a Sickness, and when many of these stinking poisonous Insects are among it, a very panick Sickness indeed. The Londoners have no Notion of this; and that in some Country Towns, where are several Malt-Kilns, they are never free from Wevils all the Year.
Modern home brewers, besides avoiding insect infestations, should take great care in ensuring their ingredients and materials are kept clean and sanitised. The author of the Country Housewife’s Family Companion also advises those suffering from Gout or Gravel to ‘put some Treacle into the Copper when he puts in his Malt Wort to boil; this opens the Pores, and promotes perspiration, to the great relief of the Body.’ Whatever the actual medicinal qualities of beer, it surely has its effects! We advise all June 15th revellers to enjoy their beverages in moderation, whether home-brewed or not, and to drink responsibly… Cheers!