Medieval English Small Ale

Historical beer cooking is back! And right out of the gate, I decided to make a medieval English braggot, which is not mixing ale with mead but is, in fact, mixing ale with honey, and then also maybe some other booze once it’s done. More on that in the next post.

I wasn’t sure whether to make one with a modern ale or make a medieval ale to start with and then go from there. Well, in the interests of *science* I opted to make both. Because why not. So I started with making a medieval English small ale. I used this recipe that Tofi Kerthjalfadsson designed and made in 1998. You can find the recipe in full here, along with another one for a stronger ale. Both of these recipes were primarily based on Judith Bennett’s research into brewing women in the medieval and early modern periods in her book, Ale, Beer and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World 1300-1600; more specifically from data she found for the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare.

Mashing in. The wort is in the featured image.

Instead of making the full 2.5 gallons, I just made one gallon as I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out and then could opt to make more in the future if I liked the recipe. It does serve as an excellent base recipe in any event.

For the grain bill, I used a combination of Munich and Vienna malts which is what I happened to have leftover from another brew, and also just rolled oats.  As this was my first attempt at making a medieval small ale, I wanted to follow this recipe precisely. And then, in later iterations change things, or add things I preferred accordingly.

You will notice the absence of any herbs/spices or other bittering/flavouring ingredients. This topic deserves its own article so I am in the process of writing one up on the use of herbs or spices in brewing in medieval Ireland and England and will have that out soon.

The recipe was easy to follow, just lots of timing and adding new water. Other than that, pretty straightforward. I will say, I didn’t do a ton of filtering and did let it ferment with a bit of grain like I did with the Sumerian ale.

Ale after four days.

So after the brewing process, I let the wort cool overnight as per the instructions and added my yeast in the morning. I just used a bog-standard ale yeast, nothing fancy. Then I let it ferment for about four days. Medieval ales were made to drink young by design, so didn’t want to keep it fermenting too long to see what it would be like when it was supposed to be drank. For the braggot recipe I need it to be old or stale. So it was another few days before I could use it to make that.

Anyway, this was a weak ale, so I anticipated a low ABV. I took my Gravity measure with my hydrometer in the beginning and got a 1.032 with a Final Gravity of 1.024, which means the ABV was around 1.05%.  Exactly in the range I expected.

But what was the appearance/aroma/flavour profile? The ale itself was an amber colour, but this was down to the malt I used. Since the flavour was driven by the malt, it will be largely dependent on which malts you choose to use. Kerthjalfadsson said his tasted like liquid bread. My ale was definitely bready. But like bread crust, rich and deep flavours with small hints of malty sweetness; essentially like big, crusty French baguette, which is kind of exactly what you would expect from a combination of Vienna and Munich like I chose. With a bit of body from the oats. No yeast character or anything else to speak of really. Just lots of malt. But again as this is entirely malt driven, the flavours you get are really going to be down to your grain choice.

Now wait a few more days and turn this into a braggot.

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