Tag Archives: ale

How to brew beer with a ‘paile of cold water’

By Elaine Leong

Der Münchner Taxisgarten bei Nacht by Martin Falbisoner. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

The sun is shining brightly outside my window and the temperatures are finally (!) getting warm in Berlin. When this happens, Berliners all head out to the parks, terraces and to their beloved balconies for the ‘Balkonsaison’. Of course, we all associate different drinks with our terrace parties but one drink which always graces summer gatherings is some ice-cold beer. So, it is perhaps apt that we’ve been talking so much about beer on The Recipes Project in the last few weeks. Actually, it was Molly Taylor-Poleskey who first talked about beer in 2013. In her post, Molly told us about the curious beer soup enjoyed by Prince Freidrick Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia every morning. Joel Klein then wrote about cock ale as an aphrodisiac. Marieke Hendriksen started this summer’s strand on beer with her post on beer as medicine. Alun Withey and Annie Grey then enlightened us on how we might venture to replicate medicinal beers at home. My own previous post, if you recall, mulled over how early modern men and women preferred the ‘long boil’. I hinted there that I had found another curious beer recipe in the archives and I’d like to bring it to your attention here.

As I explained in my last post, beer and ale continued to be home-brewed in English country houses in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Many estates have dedicated brew houses (some of which are still extant, see here for example) and a team of brewers to produce the necessary drinks needed for the table. Now, I tend to spend my time reading manuscript recipe books produced by literate and wealthy early modern men and women. In that sense, while there are a number of recipes for brewing in these books, often times the recipes provide only a fairly thin description of the brewing process. That is, they provide some idea of the proportion of ingredients used, a list of the steps needed and the length of the boil. What most of them don’t tell you, somewhat crucially, is real trick to beer brewing – the mixing and combining of materials at the correct temperature.

Firstly, I want to start by confessing that my knowledge of beer brewing is entirely theoretical and historical. I’m sure that many readers out there are much more au fait with the process and experienced than I. As I understand it though, one key moment in the brewing process is the mashing step where one combines the malt with the hot liquid. Not only do mashing heats greatly affect the taste of the beer but if the temperature is too high the malt grains set and the entire batch of beer is ruined.[1] Householders and recipe compilers were well aware of this fact. In the same set of instructions sent by Johanna St. John to her steward Thomas Hardyman but intended for the brewer at Lydiard Park, where she askes for the long (4-5 hour boil), Johanna also instructs her helpers that ‘the water must not boyl but only be redy to boyl when [the brewer] powers it on the mault’.[2]

In fact, this step has long interested historians of Science. After all, before thermometers were widely available, how did brewers (and interested householders) gauge mashing heats? It turns out early modern brewers had various ways of gauging mash temperatures. James Sumner and Pamela Sambrook recount a range of different ways from the ‘hour-glass’ method (bringing the water to boil but leaving it to cool for a fixed time’ to putting one’s finger in the boiling (or near boiling) water. But like I said this kind of information tends to be absent in recipes for brewing in household collections. However, rather fascinatingly, this was not so in a recipe now in the Hartlib Papers. Titled ‘Mr Breretons Brewers Recipe for brewing Ale’, the recipe instructs the maker to ‘Let your water boyle and let it be cooled with the quantitie of a paile of Cold water’.

Image taken from Marjolein van Dekken, ‘Female brewers in Holland and England’, Medievalists.net, May 7, 2013 http://www.medievalists.net/2013/05/07/female-brewers-in-holland-and-england/

To this reader, the title of the recipe is significant here. Since we’re talking about the Hartlib Papers, Mr Brereton here might refer to William Brereton, a contact of Hartlib’s who eventually bought the Hartlib archive. Yet Brereton is not the only person vouching for this recipe, rather this is recipe of his brewer. This is where I think this particular recipe differs from others in the ‘recipe archive’. Many of the examples in household recipe books are merely outlines of instructions to give to one’s experienced brewer. In her letter, Johanna certainly did not intend to brew the ale herself and nor did she expect her steward to do so. As I pointed out in my last post, one recipe, in a book associated with Bridget Hyde, specifically references the ‘brewer’ (a male brewer, in fact) as the maker of the beer rather than the actual recipe reader. The recipes for brewing Ale in the Hartlib Papers appears to have come directly from the maker himself. Perhaps this is the reason why practical information such as how to moderate or adjust mashing heats is included. Close readings of beer recipes, it turns out, can tell us much about who was doing the work alongside how one might do it.

[1] Pamela Sambrook, Country House Brewing in England 1500-1900 (London and Rio Grande: The Hambledon Press, 1996, 93-100 and James Sumner, Brewing Science, Technology and Print, 1700-1880 (London and Brookfield, VT: Pickering and Chatto, 2013), chapter 2.

[2] Brian Carne, Some St. John Family Papers. Reproduced, with corrections and additions, from the Report of the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz, 27, 28 and 29 (1994-6), 68.

The Long Boil: Recipes for Ale and Beer in late Seventeenth-century England

By Elaine Leong

I read Marieke’s recent post on beer as medicine with great interest. Like many of you out there, I’m a lover of all things ale and beer and was cheered both to learn about medicinal beer and to find ever more reasons to visit our local biergarten. Coincidentally, I have also been spending my time learning about early modern beer brewing. My entry into this adventure was via a recipe found in the correspondence of Edward Conway, second Viscount Conway and Colonel Edward Harley. In 1651, Harley send his uncle a recipe to brew ale which requested the maker to boil water on its own for three hours.

Intrigued, I embarked on a journey to try to understand why any early modern householder might utilise their resources in such an um… interesting way. My research took me a number of different directions from learning more about drinking water and water quality to mineral spas and baths to iatrochemical theories. Along the way though, I also read recipe after recipe after recipe for home brews.

The brewery at Charlecote Park, Warwick. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.

The seventeenth century was, of course, the heyday of English country house brewing.[1] Like the production of medicines and foodstuffs, the brewing of ale and beer was seen to reside firmly within the purview of the early modern English housewife. Indeed, Gervase Markham, one of the most frequently quoted early modern conduct book writers, devotes an entire chapter to the art of brewing in his The English Housewife.[2]

Given that many of the surviving manuscript recipe books were produced within the homes of well-off landed gentry, many of whom resided in large countryside estates, it is not perhaps surprising that recipes of ale and beer are common features in these texts. From ‘cock ale’ (on which Joel Klein so engagingly wrote last year) to ‘heath beer’ to ‘laxative beer’ to ‘Doctor Ffryers beere for ye Scurvy’ to an ‘Ale by Dr Willis when sharp Humours in the Blood cause convulsive motions in the joynts’, instructions to make all kinds of ales and beers abound in early modern English household recipe books. In general, these can be separated into two groups.

The first deals with the actual brewing of ale and beer. That is, it offers readers suggestions for the proportions of malt to water to hops and instructions on the different steps of brewing. The second group of recipes involve boiling or seeping a variety of herbs in ready-brewed ale or beer. Willis’ recipe mentioned above is good example. There, the compiler (in this case, Johanna St. John), advises the maker to boil in 4 gallons of ale 4 handfuls of fur or pine tree and 6 orange peels and ¼ of a pound of yellow dock roots if brewing in the winter or male peony roots and 2 ounce of chine root if brewing in the summer. The ale here serves a dual function – both as medicine and as a liquid carrier for the herbs infused within.

The other group of recipes for ale and beer concern the brewing process itself and provide fascinating insight into ‘brewing science’ in the early modern household. Thanks to James Sumner and Otto Sibum, we are well aware of the range of knowledge and techniques required of commercial or common brewers.[3] As with recipes for other medicines and foodstuffs, there is a great deal of variation in the ‘recipe archive’. Two recipes particularly stand out and I aim to share both with you over my next two posts.

The first recipe is for strong beer and is recorded in at least three contemporary manuscript recipe books (here, here and here). This version, to make two hogsheads of beer, uses malt, wheat, dried ‘pease’, oates and hops. Interestingly, the recipe suggests that the ‘brewer’ boil the liquor for two hours – revealing both who is actually doing the brewing (unlikely the recipe compiler) and the country gentry’s preference for the ‘long boil’ which so irked later writers such as Thomas Tryon and Jeffrey Boys.[4]

Johanna St. John, a frequent subject of posts on this blog, also preferred the long boil. In a letter to her steward, she gave very specific instructions for the stocking of her cellar. This included the preparation of two sorts of strong beer and an ale which she ‘would have it boyled for 4 to 5 howers at the least’.[5] There might be many reasons for seventeenth-century gentlemen and gentlewomen opted for the ‘long boil’. Given that this step might have been performed in an open-copper, this step must have affected both the taste and the strength of the finished drink. The fashion for the ‘long boil’ faded by the eighteenth-century when brewers preferred shorter boils of around an hour. An example can be seen in Joseph Boys’ Directions for Brewing in which the recommended boil lasts only an hour or an hour and a half, depending on the kind of beer brewed (p. 15).

All this talk about beer has weakened my resolve to write, lured by the early summer sunshine and some good German heiferweizen, I think that I might just go visit that local biergarten. I haven’t, though, forgotten about the second intriguing beer recipe. It’s one to make strong ale and I promise to talk more about it in my next post.

[1] Pamela Sambrook, Country House Brewing in England 1500-1900 (London and Rio Grande, OH, 1996).

[2] Chapter 8, Of the Office of the Brew house, and the Bake house, and the necessary things belonging to the same. Gervase Markham, The English House-wifes in The Way to get Wealth (London 1631), 243.

[3] Heinz Otto Sibum, ‘Reworking the Mechanical Value of Heat: Instruments of Precision and Gestures of Accuracy in Early Victorian England’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, 26.1 (1995): 73-106 and James Sumner, Brewing Science, Technology and Print, 1700-1880 (London, 2013).

[4] Thomas Tryon’s A New Art of Brewing (London 1690) and Jeffrey Boy’s Directions for Brewing Malt Liquors (1700)

[5] Brian Carne, Some St. John Family Papers. Reproduced, with corrections and additions, from the Report of the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz, 27, 28 and 29 (1994-6), 95.

Cock Ale: “A Homely Aphrodisiac”

By Joel A. Klein

In a stanza from, “The Young Gallants Tutor, Or, An Invitation to Mirth,” an especially lusty song from the 1670s, the anonymous author praised several particular beverages: “With love and good liquor our hearts we do cheer, Canary and Claret, Cock Ale and March beer.”

While Canary Wine, Claret, and Märzenbier are still consumed today, what exactly was Cock Ale? The short answer is that it was an alcoholic beverage made from ale, sack, raisins, and the flesh of a rooster, but to do Cock Ale justice requires a longer explanation.

The first printed recipe for Cock Ale appears to have been published by the Englishman, Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665).

Fig. 1: Digby, Kenelm. Engraving by Burnet Reading, fl. 1777-1822. Original Artist: Anthony Van Dyck, 1599-1641.
Engraving of Kenelm Digby. Original Artist, Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641). Credit: The Smithsonian Digital Collections.

In 1669, Digby wrote, “These are tame days when we have forgotten how to make Cock-Ale,” and thus he gave a recipe:

Kenelm Digby, "The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened," (London, 1669). Image taken from a later reprint (London: Philip Lee Warner, 1910), p. 147.
Kenelm Digby, “The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie, Knight. Opened,” (London, 1669). Credit: Reprint (London: Philip Lee Warner, 1910), p. 147, at Archive.org .

Later recipes would vary in the details, but this was a common preparation, and such recipes can be reproduced with relative ease.

The association of this particular ale with male vigor and potency was an evident subtext in the early seventeenth century, but eventually, subtext gave way to the explicit. In a famous tract, “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee,” a “Humble Petition and Address of several Thousands of Buxome Good-Women, Languishing in Extremity of Want,” the author(s) of this extraordinary address bemoaned the “Decay of that true Old English Vigour” caused by the excess consumption of coffee.

The Women’s Petition Against Coffee (London, 1674). Image taken from Wikipedia.

The authors lamented that English men had formerly been “the Ablest Performers in Christendome,” but “our Gallants being every way so Frenchified … they are become meer Cock-sparrows.” Likewise, while these fluttered “with a world of fury,” they were “not able to stand to it, and in the very first Charge fall down flat.”

In order to reinvigorate these coffee-addled men, the ladies suggested a solution of outlawing coffee for those under the age of sixty and “returning to the good old strengthning Liquors of our Forefathers,” which included Cock-Ale and “Lusty nappy Beer.” For more on the so-called Coffee Controversy, see Jennifer Evans’ post at Early Modern Medicine.

Within the pages of the 1725 New Canting Dictionary, which defined the words and terms used by “Gypsies, Beggars … and all other clans of Cheats and Villains,” Cock Ale was described as a “pleasant Drink, said to be provocative”–meaning that it excited lust and aroused sexual desire. In a nineteenth-century dictionary of slang, Cock Ale was directly identified as a “homely aphrodisiac.”

There were, however, references to Cock Ale long before Digby’s recipe. The first mention appears in Thomas Drue’s play, The life of the dutches of Suffolke (1631), when one tiler (i.e. one who lays tiles) says to another, “Lets doe our dayes work in an hour / and drink our selues drunke all the day after,” and his colleague answers, “Whope, why the Cocke ale has spurd thee already.”

“The Cocke” was a reference to both the beverage and the place from where it was sold, for after encouraging his partner to abandon their work, the tiler suggested the two “over goe to the Cocke and see if he came a’th kind, if his ale will make a man crow.”

While there have been numerous London taverns by the name of “The Cock,”an especially famous one was The Cock and Bottle on Fleet Street, near Temple Bar (dating back as far as 1549). Frequented by famous writers such as Samuel Pepys and Alfred Lord Tennyson, the tavern sold Cock Ale in bottles and from the tap–sometimes redeemable with a tavern token. In 1668, Pepys wrote, “Thence by water to the Temple, and then to the Cock Alehouse, and drank, and eat a lobster, and sang, and mightily merry.”

Another mention of Cock Ale prior to Digby’s recipe is from 1663, when a sailor from the play, “A witty combat, or, The female victor,” said,

I have heard of Cock-Ale,… And I know not how many sorts more that are the Gentlemens drink as they call ‘em; All is but Ale still, made of Water that runs by Billingsgate. And for my part, when all is done give me the plain wholsome Ale of England without welt or guard as they say, or a deal of mixtures; but of all drinks I hate that of coffee, it dries Mens Brains.

Others, too, were skeptical of the ingredients of Cock Ale, believing that it was merely normal ale that was sold under false pretence at a higher price.

In Richard Ames’ 1693 poem, “The bacchanalian sessions, or, The contention of liquors with a farewel to wine,”  Cock Ale defended himself to his fellow liquors:

For ‘tis but a truth, which is very well known,
How much I’m belov’d by the Sparks of the Town,
And their Mistresses too, who ‘fore Wine me prefer,
When they meet at a House very near Temple bar,
What precious intreigues could my Pimpship discover,
Between a Town Jilt, and a mony’d[?] young Lover.

Thus, while many recipes may have left out the cock, it appears that the ale still led many to enjoy to its desired effects.