Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ale Aboard

Now that we're wrangling our own yeast for home brewing, let's talk a bit more about this.  For the home brewer, it's one less thing to put in the shopping cart when stocking up for brew day.  Just take the corral out of the refrigerator, boost the volume, and get ready for a new batch.  Of course, you'll either need to set up several flasks, one corral for each species you use, or you'll need to pare down the variety of beer recipes you use, selecting only those that use the species of yeast you're raising.  Who am I kidding?! You're opening a ranch.

But now think about what these starter flasks are.  It's yeast, water, and malt allowed to ferment.  That sounds like unhopped beer.  There's evidence that it may even be the original recipe for ale, dating back to Chaucer's day!  We're all used to the super hoppy IPA style common today but in 1483, the ale brewers in London wrote a letter to the Lord Mayor petitioning for a law to ban hops and spices from being included in ale.  From that, we can surmise that ale as it was made then was only yeast, malt, and water.  That's according to research by Lt. Colonel Gayre in his book Wassail! In Mazers of Mead.  As opposed to mead which is made with honey, ale is or at least was made with less expensive malt and didn't include hops until the 16th Century.  India Pale Ale, of course, dates only to the British colonial period where the excess hops acted as a preservative when shipping beer overseas.  So our yeast starters, effective for our regular brewing, are an historic brew in their own right.  That's definitely something I'll be exploring on a later brew day.

Wassail, by the way, is a fascinating book.  Published in 1948, it traces the history and etymology of mead, wine, and beer.  Pick up a copy if you can find it.  You're most likely to find it as Charlie Papazian's 1986 book Brewing Mead which appends chapters on equipment and recipes for several varieties of mead identified by Lt. Col. Gayre.

Wassail.  To your health.  Please drink responsibly.