The Game of Thrones Ale By: Ben Bakelaar
I am a big fan of medieval fantasy movies – from classics like Willow and Lord of The Rings, to solid remakes like Robin Hood (2010) with Russell Crowe, and even beyond to the realm of cheesy like Centurion (2010) and King Arthur (2004). So it’s no surprise that I am also a huge fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones. [Editor’s Note: We LOVE Game of Thrones; books and the series!] After being reminded that the second season starts up this April, I got to thinking about having a viewing party, and as any good homebrewer knows, you can’t have a party without a themed homebrew to go along! Well, I may have made up that last part, but if like me you are on a regular brewing schedule, you get to thinking these kinds of wacky thoughts.
The next question was, what kind of beer to brew? Something medieval of course; big, dark, strong beers came to mind (as in, 8%-12%) but I don’t really have time to properly age them. Porters and stouts, well those are European and sort of go along with medieval, except they are more 17th-18th century beers, and I’ve already made a bunch of those. So it was off to Google and what turned out to be a fateful search query: “medieval ales”.
Literally the first result that pops up is: “Recreating Medieval English Ales”. Perfect! Let’s see what it says. Well the first thing you notice is that the page is all text. And that it was apparently written in 1998. And that there is a person in the world whose name is Tofi Kerthjalfadsson. Wow! The introduction immediately draws you in, and is very well written. Before you know it, you are scanning the page quicker, scrolling down… and down… and down… and slowly, you start to realize, there is a LOT of information here. 23 pages printed to be exact. This guy has clearly done his homework (and shared it for all to benefit). Awesome.
To summarize, the beer of today was not the beer of yesterday. In fact, as you may already know, the term “ale” originally referred to unhopped “beer”. The term “beer” was used to describe ale that was boiled with hops, which was not a common thing (at least in England) back in the 13th century. It was more of a German thing it seems. So “ale” was what we might today call a malt beverage. Grains, water, yeast and you are good to go.
The next interesting thing to point out is that ale was served “fresh” – either still in the process of fermentation, or very recently finished. There are several reasons for this, the most pressing being that there was no refrigeration and limited understanding of preservatives, thus the ale spoiled quite quickly. Of course, as is common in history, you can also find contradictory accounts of ale keeping for 1-2 years, according to Tofi’s research. But anyway, the most common ale that someone would have drank back then would have been very young, most likely less than a week old.
After reading all this, my mind is set – I don’t care how it tastes, I don’t care if my guests like it or not, this is my “Game of Thrones” party ale! J An authentic medieval English ale, something different than anyone’s ever tasted today, something you literally could not taste today without making it yourself. And with a turnaround time of 4-7 days, I can at least do 1 or 2 pilot batches to work out the kinks.
There are many other interesting things to point out, but I’ll just say that the history of beer is fascinating and I will leave the rest of the reading up to you (don’t worry, I skimmed too). Below is the recipe I’ll be trying for my 1st pilot batch. Of course, there will be plenty of substitutions which I’ll get to in a later post, if not two or three. I am really interested in hearing from you if you’ve done this, done something similar, or are interested at all in medieval/history brewing!
Two ales, one strong and one ordinary, of between 1 1/2 and 2 gallons each, can be made thus:
· 8 lbs., Hugh Baird brand English Pale malt
· 1 1/3 lbs., (Baird) Pale malt, roasted.
· around 3 lbs., oats (rolled)
· 14 to 16 qts., water (main batch)
· 6 to 8 qts., water (second runnings)
· 1 pkt, Danstar brand Nottingham ale yeast
· 1 pkt, Danstar brand Windsor ale yeast
And one final thought to ponder – I overheard someone wonder out loud the other day “Who was the guy who invented beer??”. As you may or may not be surprised to find out, historically it was *women* who did the majority of the brewing, and were likely the “inventors”. Google it! My guess is that this did not change significantly until the European/American Industrial Revolution when potentially massive profits enticed many a male “geek” to make his fortune applying science to automating the process of brewing. And you thought beer geeks and engi-nerds were a modern thing, didn’t you?
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