I'm such a populist. Who isn't interested in brewing methods from 300 years ago? You'd better be if you intend reading this blog in the coming weeks. There's going to be more. So much more. Yes, I'm still on chapter one of my book, 1700 to 1750. Getting to a period with thermometers will be such a relief.
In the 18th century, to claw as much extract as possible from the grain, several mashes were performed. These were at variety of heats, usually alternating between hot and cold. It was believed that hot water opened up the grains and made it easier for the cold water which followed to extract and goodness. That was the theory, at least.
For stronger malt liquors, generally only the first two worts were used. The third, fourth and even fifth worts were used to make Small Beer. A small amount of fresh malt was usually added after the second mash, that is before the start of the Small Beer mashes.
When making a very strong malt liquor, for example an October Beer, only the first wort would be used. From the second a standard-strength Ale or Beer would be made and from later worts Small Beer. Making just one beer from a single set of grain was almost unknown. Intire Guile - combining all the worts to make a single brew - was only employed when making a better-quality Small Beer. Party-gyling, making several beers from a single brew, is still commonplace in traditional British breweries.
Private brewers could afford to be a little more extravagant and used just the first three runnings. The first wort for strong Beer or Ale, the second for common beer or Ale and the third for Small Beer. The spent grains were then either used as fodder or given to the poor to make very Small Beer from. The argument was that the later runnings contained just a small amount of poor-quality extract that would add little strength to a strong Beer or Ale but damage its keeping qualities.
Without the help of a thermometer, achieving the right mashing temperature must have been a bit hit and miss. This is one quaint method of telling when the water in the mash tun was hot enough:
"you must let your Liquor remain in your Mesch-Fat till the Vapour from it be so far spent, that you can see your Face in the Liquor:" "Directions for Brewing Malt Liquors" (1700)
Opinions as to whether it was better to add the water to the grains or vice versa, varied. When the grain was put into the mash tun first, more advanced breweries added the water from below. The aim, however the water and grain were mixed, was prevent the malt clumping together. Once they had been combined, they were stirred with large wooden oars or paddles for the duration of the mash.
The London Method of brewing
This is how "London & Country Brewer" describes the process of brewing in the capital.
Water for the mash was heated in a directly fired copper. A couple of bushels of the coarser parts of ground malt were thrown onto the top to cover the water and help it boil more quickly. The water was heated, but not allowed to boil. When the impurities began to rise to the top, the temperature of the water was tested with a finger or the back of the hand. It was warm enough when it was almost to hot to bear on the skin.
The fire under the copper was then dampened and enough cold water added to make the water in the copper "blood-warm". This water was pumped into the mash tun and mixed with the malt. Workers stirred the mash for half an hour while more water was heated in the copper. The second batch of water was at near boiling point when added to the mash. This was stirred for another half hour, then covered with a couple of baskets of fresh malt and allowed to stand. After an hour, the wort was run off into the underback. These first two mashes were for strong Beer or Ale.
There were then three further mashes for a Small Beer. First with cooler water, then warmer, then with either blood-warm or cold.
If it all sounds a bit vague, that's because the original instructions are. Those above are for brewing with brown malt. The method was slightly different when using pale or amber malt. For these, it was recommended to start with a higher temperature for the first mash. After the second "scalding mash" the water for each subsequent mash was cooler, until by the last mash it was "quite cold".
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