For the 2013 SCA Arts and Sciences competition, I set out to recreate a beer similar to what may have been brewed in the Middle Ages while still catering to the modern palate and be something I can enjoy and be proud to serve. The first modern pallet sensibility requirement was the use of hops. Before the hops became popular, ales used an herbal mixture called gruit. This does not appeal to me or even most of today’s drinkers, so I let myself be inspired by a declaration made by King Henry VI in 1426. Fermented malt beverage brewed with gruit was to be called ale. If the beverage is to be made with the use of hops, it was to be called beer. The terms ale and beer are not used in that way today, but in observation of the King’s declaration, this brew shall be known as King Henry’s Country Beer.
2 lbs English Brown Malt
1 lbs Oak Smoked Wheat Malt
2 lbs White Wheat Malt
1 lbs Malted Oats
1 lbs Crystal 20
1 lbs 2-Row Barley
½ oz Fuggle (UK) bittering hops (60 minutes)
¼ tsp Calcium Chloride (added during the boil)
½ oz Fuggle (UK) finishing hops (15 minutes)
1 oz Irish Moss
Wyeast London Ale III 1318
OG: 1.039, FG: 1.015, IBUs: 16.9, SRM: 33, ABV: 3.1%
I used several sources when recreating this beer but I first wanted to find base style to use as a guideline. Most modern styles recognized by the BJCP didn’t come about until the modern era, but the English Brown Ales had some historic relevance. Beers brewed in England before the use of coal and were brown and smoky , and were only lightly hopped. The malt bill for this style includes an appropriate variety of additional grains such as wheat and may have a fruity character that classic yeasts may add to the beer. These characteristics point toward a smoked southern English brown ale.
It is popularly understood that it was common in the Middle Ages to brew three batches of beer from the same batch of malted grain. This resulted in a range of beers from highly alcoholic to very mildly alcoholic. In this sample, we are going to make one brew with an alcoholic content near that of or slightly stronger than what we would expect from the historical second batch. The addition of smoked malt and malted oats will be a deviation from the modern style to more accurately reflect the period style beer.
The water is a very important base to the beer. I start with clean filtered water from Water Street Station. For this beer I am going to add ¼ teaspoon of calcium chloride to the batch during the boil based party on recommendation for the style of beer and a hardening nod to a time before water softeners.
I had several English yeasts to choose from. I choose the Wyeast London III for the fruity character it is reported to impart to give it a character that resembles the base style I choose. This yeast is also a good choice for a healthy fermentation in the low 70s F home environment I have available to me and is still something that bears as much historic resemblance as any other English yeast I could choose from. Historically yeast was kept from one batch of beer to the next , originating from regional wild strains. Without that convenience and due to the fact that I live in an entirely different region of the world, I am just going to run to the brew store to pick up what I need.
English beer was often brewed from a mixture of malted barley, wheat, and oats. I made sure to use brown malted barley for authenticity and touch of roasted character. I then added some smoked barley malt, making sure to use Oak as would have been used in the region. I sweetened it up with some crystal malt and balanced it off with generic 2-row barley. The balance of these grains listed in the ingredients below should give me the right color, the right amount of fermentable and non-fermentable sugars, and enough enzymatic activity to convert the grain’s starches into those sugars.
I choose the UK Fuggle variety of hops for the region in which it was grown, the appropriateness and popularity it has in the chosen style of beer, and for the fact that it should add the required bitterness to the beer while still remaining mild and not over pronounced.
I used a single infusion mash at 155 degrees for 45 minutes and rigged up a continuous sparging system to free the wort from the grain. This diverts from the widely accepted period method of steeping the grains three times and extracting the water for three separate batches of beer . This choice was made for the sake of efficiency and the fact that I really only wanted one batch of beer. I use a modern immersion wort chiller for efficiency and sanitation to lower the risk of infection. Then it sat on the yeast in a glass carboy for two weeks. In the Middle Ages fermentation would have likely taken place in wooden barrels , but wooden barrels are expensive. I then bottled the beer with priming sugar for carbonation. This is purely a choice for the modern pallet as carbonating beer was not a known medieval practice as the bottles just wouldn’t hold up to the pressure .
The combination of grains and temperature gave it the sweat flavor I was looking for. The light smoky flavor and the light use of hops all came together to meet my expectations soundly. I made this beer to celebrate the time period and to share, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.