Beer of the Renaissance period

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Dale Gauthier

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Hi folks, been brewing a few years now and tried some different things but I had an interesting request from a friend. How to brew a Renaissance style beer made and consumed in the 14th thru 17th centuries.

Scanning through the internet and I've found some things like Gruit that was loaded with herbs and stuff. I'm familiar with and make mead of different varieties but I can't really find much on what the beer was like or what combination what in it. If I was to attempt to clone some sort of ancient renaissance style beer, what would I be looking at? Is there a style of beer on the market today that would closely resemble something like this so I could use it as a reference? I know hops were beginning to get popular with the Brits around 1400 or so but a typical Ren beer would have to be more than just a heavy hopped Irish or British ale right? What say you expert brewers?

Thanks!
HD.
 

gunhaus

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This sort of thing is a product of guess work and assumptions. After all we cannot duplicate exactly how the malts were made, cannot know what the potency or lack of was in the hops, and a million other variables. Plus period recipes are a bit sketchy you could say.

At the time of Henry the 8th he had both a beer brewer and an ale brewer for the court. Beer being hopped, ale not. (Maybe, again based on assumptions and guesses)

This is a recipe from Sir Kenelm Digby's Closet:

SCOTCH ALE FROM MY LADY HOLMBEY

The Excellent Scotch Ale is made thus. Heat Spring-water; it must not boil, but be ready to boil, which you will know by leaping up in bubbles. Then pour it to the Malt; but by little and little, stirring them strongly together all the while they are mingling. When all the water is in, it must be so proportioned that it be very thick. Then cover the vessel well with a thick Mat made on purpose with a hole for the stick, and that with Coverlets and Blankets to keep in all the heat. After three or four hours, let it run out by the stick (putting new heated water upon the Malt, if you please, for small Ale or Beer) into aPage 99 Hogshead with the head out. There let it stand till it begin to blink, and grow long like thin Syrup. If you let it stay too long, and grow too thick, it will be sowre. Then put it again into the Caldron, and boil it an hour or an hour and a half. Then put it into a Woodden-vessel to cool, which will require near forty hours for a hogshead. Then pour it off gently from the settling. This quantity (of a hogshead) will require better then a quart of the best Ale-barm, which you must put to it thus. Put it to about three quarts of wort, and stir it, to make it work well. When the barm is risen quick scum it off to put to the rest of the wort by degrees. The remaining Liquor (that is the three quarts) will have drawn into it all the heavy dregs of the barm, and you may put it to the Ale of the second running, but not to this. Put the barm, you have scummed off (which will be at least a quart) to about two gallons of the wort, and stir it to make that rise and work. Then put two Gallons more to it. Doing thus at several times, till all be mingled, which will require a whole day to do. Cover it close, and let it work, till it be at it's height, and begin to fall, which may require ten or twelve hours, or more. Watch this well, least it sink too much, for then it will be dead. Then scum off the thickest part of the barm, and run your Ale into the hogshead, leaving all the bung open a day or two. Then lay a strong Paper upon it, to keep the clay from falling in, that you must then lay upon it, in which you must make a little hole to let it work out. You must have some of the same Liquor to fill it up, as it works over. When itPage 100 hath done working, stop it up very close, and keep it in a very cold Cellar. It will be fit to broach after a year; and be very clear and sweet and pleasant, and will continue a year longer drawing; and the last glass full be as pure and as quick as the first. You begin to broach it high. Let your Cask have served for Sweet-wine.

There are also other period accounts in books like A Sip through Time.
Good luck
 

gunhaus

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This recipe is from 1669 and should be adaptable to modern numbers and equipment:

SMALL ALE FOR THE STONE

The Ale, that I used to drink constantly of, was made in these proportions. Take fourteen Gallons of Water, and half an Ounce of Hops; boil them near an hour together. Then pour it upon a peck of Malt. Have a care the Malt be not too small ground; for then it will never make clear Ale. Let it soak so near two hours. Then let it run from the Malt, and boil it only one walm or two. Let it stand cooling till it be cool enough to work with barm, which let be of Beer rather than Ale, about half a pint.

After it hath wrought some hours, when you see it come to it's height, and is near beginning to fall in working, Tun it into a barrel of eight Gallons; and in four or five days it will be fit to broach to drink. Since I have caused the woPage 106rt to be boiled a good half hour; since again I boil it a good hour, and it is much the better; because the former Ale tasted a little Raw. Now because it consumes in boiling, and would be too strong, if this Malt made a less proportion of Ale; I have added a Gallon of water at the first, taking fifteen Gallons instead of fourteen. Since I have added half a peck of Malt to the former proportions, to make it a little stronger in Winter.

The question is what to use for a sort of authentic malt, hop, and yeast. It is low hanging fruit to suggest a percentage of smoked malt and to lean toward darker malts - but the fact is air dried pale malts were well known by this time and as Digby was a society figure he could easily have used such expensive grains and maybe even would have as a status symbol of sorts. Brown malt is available and was common then, but todays brown is different that brown of that era. SO again, a lot of guess work.
 

hotbeer

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You biggest issue for authenticity will probably be just not knowing what was fermenting their beers since at the time no one even knew yeasts were the thing fermenting their beers.

And with the dependence on open fermentation to let some mystical beasties get in their beers, there were probably some bacteria too that added some sour flavors in some. But I'm guessing here since I never have studied what actual flavor descriptions for that time documented.

And all having a different result since the yeasts and bacteria may have different characteristics in different locales

Hops were starting to make big gains for use in the 13 century so you'll have to decide whether it's gruit or beer you make. Maybe do both.
 

gunhaus

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You biggest issue for authenticity will probably be just not knowing what was fermenting their beers since at the time no one even knew yeasts were the thing fermenting their beers.

And with the dependence on open fermentation to let some mystical beasties get in their beers, there were probably some bacteria too that added some sour flavors in some. But I'm guessing here since I never have studied what actual flavor descriptions for that time documented.

And all having a different result since the yeasts and bacteria may have different characteristics in different locales

Hops were starting to make big gains for use in the 13 century so you'll have to decide whether it's gruit or beer you make. Maybe do both.

They certainly knew what yeast was! They may not have understood they were the little critters they are, but they knew yeast long before the period in question! Hell they were very clearly differentiating between beer and ale yeast by the 1500's, and between top and bottom fermenting yeasts far before that. That would be the barm mentioned above in both recipes. Hell by the 15th and 16th centuries there were folks who specialized in supplying yeast for brewers and bakers. By the late 16th and thru the 17th they were pretty far from random open fermentations and "mystical" hopes. We're talking 14th thru 17th century here. Beer and ale was already becoming a BIG business by this time, and was rapidly heading to industrialization in this period. Not Haggar the Horrible and a magical beer stick!
 

hotbeer

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They certainly knew what yeast was! They may not have understood they were the little critters they are, but they knew yeast long before the period in question! Hell they were very clearly differentiating between beer and ale yeast by the 1500's, and between top and bottom fermenting yeasts far before that. That would be the barm mentioned above in both recipes. Hell by the 15th and 16th centuries there were folks who specialized in supplying yeast for brewers and bakers. By the late 16th and thru the 17th they were pretty far from random open fermentations and "mystical" hopes. We're talking 14th thru 17th century here. Beer and ale was already becoming a BIG business by this time, and was rapidly heading to industrialization in this period. Not Haggar the Horrible and a magical beer stick!
Then where do I get some barm for a particular brew of the period? And what are the flavor characteristics it adds to the beer that's being made?

Or will any barm do?
 

gunhaus

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Then where do I get some barm for a particular brew of the period? And what are the flavor characteristics it adds to the beer that's being made?

Or will any barm do?
My point was not to imply that the OP could somehow duplicate the yeast profiles of the middle ages. (And if you were not so busy trying to be snarky and clever you might have taken a second to look up barm, where you would see it is just an archaic word for basically cropping yeast during high Krausen) In fact my point from the get go was that it is fine and fun to attempt such projects but that period accuracy is impossible to achieve for many reasons from grain availability, to malting techniques, malt style, hop yield, and a million other variables as well as yeast. I am not sure what your point is?

You made a somewhat silly assertion that people on this period did not know about yeast, and were doing open ferments in hopes of catching some mystical properties. THAT is just nonsense. Yeast was known, and understood long before this era. It was known by many names, and as I said, was a commercial enterprise by the middle of this period. Just because they did not know that yeasties were little critters did not mean they did not know there was something at play, and how to harvest, store and reuse it. Hell they understood this stuff in ancient Greece, and Rome. Let alone the 16th and 17th century.

I am pretty sure most of us that have been around for a while are aware of how open ferments work, the variables and possibilities of working with wooden vats and barrels. (In fact there are a fair handful of us around here who have actually done open ferments, wooden vessels, and dabbled in gathering wild creatures in subtle ways). In fact it ight be a neat avenue for the OP to explore should the project go ahead. Many ways to play around with such things. Might be fun

None of which was the point in hand - The OP wanted some info on brewing from that period and I hoped to give a little nudge in that direction. Trying to give a fellow a hand if you will. It really is a lot of fun to try and recreate a bit of the past even if we can never really know how accurate we are in the effort! And I for one really enjoy following experiments along this line. I really did not expect that would lead to bickering with an "opinionated newb" over a historical inaccuracy; You made the incorrect statement that they did not know what was fermenting their beer, and implied that it was all uncontrolled wild ferments. THAT is simply wrong. It is historically inaccurate. And if you bothered to do any research you would find historical accounts from this period referring to barm, godisgood, beer yeast, ale yeast, wine yeast, baking yeast, and a hundred other catchy names. Plenty of instruction on how and when to harvest this during fermentation. How to rouse and strengthen it. In fact they devoted a lot of time and words on describing something YOU claim they were completely ignorant of.

But then we ARE living in a period when a whole lot of "opinionated" types believe many things were not invented before they came along to enlighten us. Oh well
 

MaxStout

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In those times, malts were dried and roasted over open fires (kilning malts wasn't a thing until around the 1700s or so). An authentic medieval beer was likely smoky. You could incorporate some smoked malts into your Renaissance brew.
 

MicroMickey

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Hi folks, been brewing a few years now and tried some different things but I had an interesting request from a friend. How to brew a Renaissance style beer made and consumed in the 14th thru 17th centuries.


You might want to look into Broyan, Mumme, or Keutebier. That style of beer was heavily brewed in Germany in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. It was a major commodity of the Hanseatic League and was shipped nearly everywhere. The commercial production of it ended after cans came into fashion (apparently no correlation). Pinkus Alt is a modern example of the style. This should give you another direction to look in your quest.
 
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Dale Gauthier

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This sort of thing is a product of guess work and assumptions. After all we cannot duplicate exactly how the malts were made, cannot know what the potency or lack of was in the hops, and a million other variables. Plus period recipes are a bit sketchy you could say.

At the time of Henry the 8th he had both a beer brewer and an ale brewer for the court. Beer being hopped, ale not. (Maybe, again based on assumptions and guesses)

This is a recipe from Sir Kenelm Digby's Closet:

SCOTCH ALE FROM MY LADY HOLMBEY

Thanks Gunhaus. I've definitely got some reading ahead of me to try to even try to come up with something. Thx for the input and info :)
 
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Dale Gauthier

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This recipe is from 1669 and should be adaptable to modern numbers and equipment:

SMALL ALE FOR THE STONE

You know, you mention the questions surrounding the yeast and I agree. I was sort of leaning to the yeast strain being one of the most impactful components. Interesting stuff... Thx.
 
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Dale Gauthier

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You biggest issue for authenticity will probably be just not knowing what was fermenting their beers
I was thinking something similar, that replicating flavors may be nearly impossible with the types of yeast powering these period beers. Being wild and all. Good point. So I guess it's not farfetched to say that the commoners didn't have easy access to the hops (at least not yet) and the use of wild yeasts were dominating the beer. So I'm thinking, light or no hop flavor, very mild carbonation from only the natural process of ferm and maybe some herbs from your geographic locale?
 
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Dale Gauthier

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ou might want to look into Broyan, Mumme, or Keutebier. That style of beer was heavily brewed in Germany in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. It was a major commodity of the Hanseatic League and was shipped nearly everywhere. The commercial production of it ended after cans came into fashion (apparently no correlation). Pinkus Alt is a modern example of the style. This should give you another direction to look in your quest.
Great info! I will definitely check this out. I'm curious...
 

Beermeister32

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If you are recreating a Renaissance brew, you should probably mix a bunch of yeasts from your collection. Individual yeast strains were first separated by Jacobsen in the 1800’s. Prior to that, barm would have been a mix of different strains and bacteria.

Oftentimes whether you ended up with a lager or an ale had a lot to do with your fermentation temperature. Ale yeast would go dormant if fermented cold, so you ended up with a lager. Warmer conditions would produce ales.
 

Brewdog80

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If it were me, I'd go the way of DB and go with a mead. It will seem more like a period drink.

And for sure these beers and ales had very little carbonation. One interesting item was calling the beer sweet. It might just be a term the writer was using, or it may be actually sweet, which would be why the suggested putting in the coldest cellar, to stop the yeast. Anything that you brew would be truly a wild guess as we have no point of real reference as to the taste of the actual beers. Heck even supposed period IPAs are pretty much guesses but better guesses as recipes were written in more detail, and we can only experiment to get what WE think is even a clone of a 1970s ESB.
But go have fun, make something drinkable.
 
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Dale Gauthier

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If it were me, I'd go the way of DB and go with a mead. It will seem more like a period drink.

And for sure these beers and ales had very little carbonation. One interesting item was calling the beer sweet. It might just be a term the writer was using, or it may be actually sweet, which would be why the suggested putting in the coldest cellar, to stop the yeast. Anything that you brew would be truly a wild guess as we have no point of real reference as to the taste of the actual beers. Heck even supposed period IPAs are pretty much guesses but better guesses as recipes were written in more detail, and we can only experiment to get what WE think is even a clone of a 1970s ESB.
But go have fun, make something drinkable.

I agree, mead is definitely a popular option to make and I do. I make a few different versions of mead and they're pretty good. This was going to be a different project focusing on beer. And your probably right on point about a pure guess on flavor profile. That seems to be the running theme in the post for sure.
 

gunhaus

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Mead is certainly a fun and interesting historical beverage. But it was never a wide spread "common" drink I don't believe. Honey was never a wide spread readily available commodity when compared to grains. Certainly in the cities it would have been priced out of reach for the working and lower classes. And as a valuable commodity I would think that it was not available to tenant farmers and servant classes either - At least not in amounts need to make a "common beverage". There is certainly a LOT of recorded recipes for mead from the Henry VIII through the Elizabethan periods - But don't forget such records and cook books were written by and for the rich. Peasants weren't big readers in them days!

As for hops or not, I guess it depends on which part of this era you are focusing. By Henry VIII, the difference between beer and ale were pretty well defined as being Unhopped (Ale) , and Hopped (Beer) Henry employed both a ale brewer and a beer brewer. Elizabeth was known to brew both beer and ale, although her records showed she greatly preferred the ale. No doubt their was plenty of cross over in both the public house and the farm house - where ingredient availability and local tastes would have dictated the end product far more than "style" guides. (Kinda like today in a way) By this later part of the Renaissance hops would have been pretty available.

There are so many ways to approach such a project - as max stout said smoked malts probably make great sense. Pale air dried malts were known and used but by no means widely and the cost comparatively certainly must have made them a novel expense! We can never know the yeast profile - but that is ok, because no one from 1583 is around today to judge our efforts. So to with hops. I would lean toward older lower alpha species. I believe that boiling the hops and adding the resulting tea was the common usage as opposed to our adding hops to the wort today. Much longer boils were common.

I really think that something like the "Ale for stones" above was probably a pretty common representation of "regular beverage" from the era. The sort of thing that would have been drunk in farm houses and public houses alike. Digby calls it ALE, but clearly includes hops. This may have been as much for perceived health benefits as for flavor. But more importantly it was quick. Only days from brew to glass. There are plenty of records of this period describing farm wives brewing every two weeks. And surely economy was always an issue. As was storage. My thought is it was probably far more common to brew relatively small beers frequently, using less and less expensive ingredients - at least for the working, common, and peasant classes - than it was to brew those huge strong romantic ales that took a year to get ready and took huge piles of grain and lots of cellar space. Remember; the lord of the manor, the king, and the wealthy may have had these things - But the people living on the manor in small houses and cottages raising the critters and the crops not so much! I think everyday ale or beer was likely simple quick and cheap.

But then who knows!
 

bwible

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…the people living on the manor in small houses and cottages raising the critters and the crops not so much! I think everyday ale or beer was likely simple quick and cheap.

But then who knows!
This is not the period you are seeking (I don’t think) but some interesting insight.



Remember that beer was often made because having been boiled, it was safe to drink where the water often wasn’t. And much of the common folk probably drank small beer.
 
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mashpaddled

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You're asking an incredibly broad question. 300 years of history across Europe is a lot of techniques, styles and ingredients.

Some were hopped, some not. Some were spiced, some not. Some had both. Some had neither. Some were aged for extended periods of time (sometimes for a decade or more) while others were drank within days. Some malts were kilned over fire, some were wind dried. All sorts of grains were employed and if we're talking about home or small farm production they may include other sources of starch and sugar. Hops were processed in different ways and some beers included aged hops or a combination of aged and recently kilned hops.
 

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Search for Susan Verberg articles on Gruit freely available online, in one of them she gives a table of Gruit grists and strengths from different cities and years (Trecento and Quattrocento periods, exactly what you need). This spring I plan to brew one of those recipes. 7% ABV, 70% oat malt, 30% wheat malt, gruit herbs. I don't expect it to be very tasty, but it gonna be greatly educational.
 

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Search for Susan Verberg articles on Gruit freely available online, in one of them she gives a table of Gruit grists and strengths from different cities and years (Trecento and Quattrocento periods, exactly what you need). This spring I plan to brew one of those recipes. 7% ABV, 70% oat malt, 30% wheat malt, gruit herbs. I don't expect it to be very tasty, but it gonna be greatly educational.
Yes, Susans papers are the best source for reliable information that I saw so far. She is also sometimes here in the forum so you could ask her directly. Or write her an email, she's nice.
 
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