Brewing a Medieval Ale By: Ben Bakelaar
Several months ago I wrote a post titled The Game of Thrones Ale, about brewing a medieval beer for the premiere of Game of Thrones. Well, that premiere was this past Sunday, so I wanted to write up how it went.
First, I had planned on doing several test batches to learn and fine tune. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. So two weekends ago, I threw 12 lbs. of Pilsner malt that I had on hand into my mash tun, and mashed in with 4 gallons of water heated to around 155f. The process was very simple – mash for 1 hour, vorlaugh to settle the grain bed, then run off all the liquid. Once the liquid is collected, cool it and then add yeast. No sparging, no boiling, because that’s the way they did it back then. One surprising fact I discovered (well, I forgot and re-remembered) is that the gravity of your runnings changes over time. If you’ve ever taken a sample of your runoff, you’ll already know this. My first sample of literally the first cup of liquid which came out of the mash tun measured in at 1.100 SG! That’s right, 12 lbs of Pilsner malt mashed at 155f for 1 hour yielded an initial gravity of 1.100. The expected gravity of 12 lbs of Pilsner malt is much lower for a 5 gallon batch, probably around 1.040 SG if that.
So I failed to consider two aspects of my medieval brew – because I was simply mashing and doing a “no sparge”, I would not end up with 5 gallons of liquid. A smaller batch size means a higher gravity of the wort. And because I was not sparging, the gravity yield would be much higher since I would not be fully extracting the sugars as is the case with a typical mash process. This may explain the overly sweet taste I encountered after sampling this batch 1 week later. The wort was still very yeasty and chunky, and probably had not completed fermentation before I started to cool it.
For my second and final batch, I asked Ron to place a special order for English Crisp Malt, to lend a little more authenticity. This malt, like Maris Otter and Simpson’s Golden Promise, has a slightly higher kiln than regular 2-row pale malt, and has a sweeter taste and smell. I took 9 lbs. of this grain and mashed in with 3 gallons of water around 155°F with the goal of collecting two gallons of wort. I did not take any gravity measurements on this one, but again based on the taste I can tell you that this gravity was much higher than I expected. I handled this process slightly differently – after collecting the wort, I simply left it out in a 4 gallon pot overnight, with a towel over it to prevent contamination. In the morning, it felt fairly cool. I didn’t even measure the temperature, just dumped in 1 pack of Safale US-04 dry yeast.
It started fermenting by the time I came home from work, and had a very thick krausen. Within 2 days the krausen had subsided but there was still obvious fermentation going on. On Saturday morning I poured 1 gallon of it into a jug, capped it up, and put it in the fridge to cool. On Sunday morning, the day of the Game of Thrones premiere, I poured the remaining gallon into another jug and cooled that as well.
There was not a significant amount of difference between those two batches. Both had an extremely sweet taste, were quite thick and viscous, and also had an underlying sour/vinegar flavor. I believe this is probably a normal outcome and would have been typical of medieval times and the process they used. That being said, no one who came over during the weekend drank more than a sip! J [Editor’s Note: Ben did a great job with this brew and Ron had a few sips! If craft brews did not exist it would definitely suffice!]
Looking back at the original recipe, from http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~pwp/tofi/medieval_english_ale.html:
Two ales, one strong and one ordinary, of between 1 1/2 and 2 gallons each, can be made thus:
· 8 lbs. English Pale malt
· 1 1/3 lbs. (Baird) Pale malt, roasted.
· For darker ale, roast to amber: 30 mins. at 225 F. followed by 30 mins. at 300 F. For lighter, roast an hour at 225 F.
· ~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
- Add in some roasted malts and oats
- Do a second running (i.e. batch sparge)
- Use 2 packets of ale yeast
- Take numerous gravity readings, at least 1 per day
- Take a taste sample each day after the krausen has subsided
My goal will be to produce a “fresh” beer using this medieval process that is tasty and drinkable. And once I get that right, I will certainly use modern refrigeration and sanitation to extend the shelf life of this brew as long as possible. Let me know if you’ve decided to experiment as well, I am very interested to hear any results!
Hit me up on Twitter @beerbyben with any questions, or leave a comment below and I'll respond!
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