Silly idea about wood…

A thought struck me as I was drifting off to sleep last night.

While the current material of choice for wooden casks is white oak, this certainly wasn’t always the case. (I know that ‘traditional’ balsamic vinegar, for instance, is aged in as many as three different woods.) I would imagine that liquid-tight casks could be made from nearly any good, close-grained hardwood (fruitwoods, mostly). What sort of wood character would have been imparted to the brew by these?

Nowadays, we homebrewers have done a bit of playing with oaked beers, adding oak chips to our fermenters & letting them soak in the brew for a while…

And this is when the light bulb went off: I’ve got a bag of apple-wood chips (nominally for smoking things) that I could use instead of oak chips. I almost certainly wouldn’t get the depth of character that I’d get with oak; I imagine it would be significantly more subtle, and I’d have to be careful what brew exactly I used it with, to not overpower the wood. But it would be interesting. And I can easily get similar bags of chips of different woods–cherry, maple, etc.

I’ve simply gotta try this. Something for me to play with over the winter brewing season, I should think. I imagine a nice Vienna lager, with maybe either apple and/or maple. If preliminary tests go well, perhaps a brown ale (or even a porter?) with some cherry.

Have any of you done this? Did you get good results? Bad? “Meh”? I’d really love to know–please let us know in the comments. (Or, if you have ideas for good wood/beer combinations, post that, too!)

Three Beers from Brunswick

In trying to track down my “Holy Grail” of a pre-1600 Einbecker Bier, I stumbled across a mention of another of my favorite period beers: the Braunschweiger (Brunswick) Mumme. This reference was in “Hochtnutzbar und Bewährte Edle Bierbrau-Kunst”, by David Kellner, printed in Leipzig in 1690. While this is a bit post-period for my purposes, I’m confident enough to say that it’s “close enough” for horse-trading. Unlike Einbeck, Brunswick maintained a continuous brewing tradition, which inclines me to think that it was less likely to change significantly. (The brewing of Einbecker Bier moved to Munich after the 30 Years’ War, and there it evolved into today’s Bock.)

Kellner praises Mumme for its “exquisite strength, lovely taste, and thick, brown, beautiful color.” He also describes how it is carried far and wide over land and sea, for which the Braunschweiger brewers have created “Schiff-Mumme,” or Ship-Mumme. For their own usage within the town, they have a version called “Stadt-Mumme,” or City-Mumme; lastly, they make “Erndtbier,” or Harvest Beer, to sell to the peasants at harvest-time.

The description of what goes in to the various Brunswick Mummes is as follows:

Take two Braunschweiger wispels of quite well-washed and dried barley-malt, together with sufficient water for , and cook it for five quarters of an hour, scoop it into a vat and let it stand a little, then again it goes into the pan (but only the broth, without the malt), and once again for three hours with 15 himpen of good Country-Hops therein cook well. After this they cool in a vat, and allow them to be fermented adequately before they place it in barrels and bring it into the cellar, which afterwards, when it has sufficiently fermented and separated from the yeast, it will be tapped in the cellar and sent away. From this they receive commonly four half-barrels of Mumme.

The common City-Mumme, to be drunk quickly, take the same amount barley-malt, only 4 himpen of hops, and proceed as with the previous one. But if it is supposed to lie long, take 10 maß of hops to it, and put the brew in seven barrels.

For their Harvest-Beer they take two wispels of barley malt, 12 maß of hops, cook them with enough water for nine barrels of beer, in the same way as before, and clear it up, then they seal up the barrels, and sell it to the peasants at harvest-time.

First, let’s do an analysis of the brewing technique. It’s obviously different than the Berliner Beer process I’ve documented, particularly in that it assumes pre-malted grain. Judging from the above, I would guess that the “five quarters of an hour” portion is the mash, and it takes that long to bring everything up to temp, running it up from room temperature. It would obviously go through each stage of the various rests–liquiefaction, acid, protein, et cetera. I would have to run experiments (or dig up information on specific mass and heat absorption) to see if they’d get up to a good mashing temp in that amount of time.

Once they’ve got their “cooked mash,” they let it sit for a while, probably finishing whatever conversion is going to happen, before returning the liquid to the kettle. They then perform a three hour boil. I shudder to imagine how much fuel that must have taken. After the boil, they cool the wort, then perform what appears to be an open fermentation, before casking the beer.

One point of interest to me is that they’re using the same grain bill for these beers, “adjusting” them by varying the hopping rate and the output volume. It’s not especially significant, other than to note that modern homebrewers go the opposite route: we aim for a consistent output volume (typically 5 gallons), and adjust the grain bill and hops to meet that.

Another point to make here is that this helps dispel the notion of “brewing being mostly done in the home, for personal use.” They would need two vessels large enough to hold over a ton of sodden grain, plus the additional mash liquid. I’ve heard of ways cities got around this (which I will put in a different post), but this is obviously not “homebrewing” in any real sense of the word.

That being said, the next thing to do is to get the measurements into something usable to us. For definitions of the different measures, and for lack of something better at the moment, I’m using the Vollstaendiges Handbuch der Muenzen, Maße und Gewichte aller Länder der Erde, by Johann F. Krüger, which dates from 1803 (Google Books edition). Here’s what we’ve got:

  • 1 Braunschweiger Wispel is 329.1 gallons
  • 1 Himpen is 1/40 of a Wispel, or 8.23 gallons
  • 1 Fass, or barrel, of Mumme is 95.95 gallons (for the curious, 1 Fass of Bier is 103.62 gallons; I’m not sure why the difference)

Those are, where available, the Brunswick measurements (as for the Wispel). Failing that, I’m using the Saxony versions, unless I can reason my way into something different. The Duchy of Brunswick/Braunschweig was part of the Kingdom of Saxony, when it wasn’t independent–but that’s more history than I want to go into here. (Maybe I’ll go over it a bit in its own post, some day.)

From my own empirical observations, I get about 3.3 pounds of barley malt per gallon. The hops are problematic, as we don’t know for sure how they were packed. Are they using hop bales? “Trod” hop pockets/sacks (as used in Victorian England)? Loose hops? I’m going to assume some form of tightly packed (bales or pockets), and use that as an upper bound. Two sources (Stewart and Priest’s Handbook of Brewing, and Hornsey’s Brewing) give me bale and pocket volumes and weights of .83 to 1.25 pounds per gallon and 1.02 pounds per gallon, respectively. So, roughly 1 pound per gallon should work as a rough maximum.

Then there’s the water. “Enough” water can be difficult to estimate, but with a brewing calculator, we’ve got the information to figure it all out. I don’t have an analysis of medieval Brunswick water available to me, but it was likely well-water, and probably of moderate hardness. This would tend to promote somewhat darker beers than otherwise.

Anyway, if we plug in the numbers, the raw recipes look something like this:

2172.06 pounds of barley malt
123.45 pounds of hops
Final volume 191.9 gallons

2172.06 pounds of malt
32.92 pounds of hops, plus 2.64 pounds for dry-hopping
Final volume 671.65 gallons

2172.06 pounds of malt
3 pounds of hops
Final volume 863.55 gallons

Those are some big beers!  My calculations tell me that the Schiff-Mumme would need something north of 285 gallons pre-boil, and significantly more than that for the mash (considering the grain will absorb some). It also gives me an OG of 1.288, assuming 70% efficiency–which is likely optimistic. IBUs would depend largely on the hops being used; assuming something with about 3% AA, you’re looking at about 79-80 IBUs.  If they were using stronger hops, it would quickly bump up towards the (theoretical) 100 IBU maximum, but given that OG, you’d need some hefty bittering to balance it! The color, even if you assume something on the order of a modern Pale Ale malt, comes out roughly 20 SRM, which looks like a nice brown, darker than a Newcastle, say, but not as dark as a Dunkel.

The Stadt-Mumme needs about a thousand gallons of wort pre-boil. I’m seeing an OG of 1.078, with 40-ish IBUs. The color is significantly lighter, coming in at about 5 SRM, using Pale Ale malt.  And the Erndte-Bier needs 1285 gallons of wort pre-boil, clocks in at about 1.050, 8-9 IBUs, and about 4 SRM, or the same color as the Pale Ale malt.

But, as I mentioned, no homebrewer these days has the equipment to mash a ton of grain at a time. (If you do–please contact me; I’d like to talk.)  So, to make it work, we have to scale things down. Here’s what I come up with, to make 5 gallon batches of each:

56.47 pounds of grain
3.2 pounds of hops
Mash with 36 quarts of water

16.07 pounds of grain
3.9 ounces of hops, plus .3 ounces for dry-hop
Mash with 37 quarts of water

12.6 pounds of grain
.25 ounces of hops
Mash with 38 quarts of water

I’m not sure the average homebrewer would be able to brew up a Brunswick Schiff-Mumme on typical equipment. Not all-grain, certainly; although the adventurous could probably come up with a usable extract recipe. The Stadt-Mumme looks like a hoppy Oktoberfest, in just about everything except color. Playing with the grain bill, to move it away from just the base malt, would make for a really tasty beer. And the Erndte-Bier, well–it looks okay, if a bit strong, for quenching the thirst and providing some extra calories on a long workday outside.

In all of this, I’ve avoided mentioning what yeast is used. I haven’t seen any useful analyses that would point in one direction or another, and certainly no actual cultures from the time. I’d go with something German, or at least Continental, if possible; if it had a good alcohol tolerance, so much the better. The Schiff-Mumme, after all, is strong enough that even a Champagne yeast would have a hard time drying it out. An Alt yeast might work for the other two, but really, you should experiment and decide what you like best. I can imagine a California Ale/Chico/1056 batch of Stadt-Mumme being tasty, with the right hops.

I hope this has inspired you to brew a batch of Brunswick Beer! If you try any of these recipes, please let me know, either via email or in the comments!

Working Up To Bockbier

I will, one day, brew the full version of my proposed Einbecker Bier (the “original” Bockbier). That day, however, was not today.

Today’s Brew Day, on Saturday as opposed to the normal Sunday due to outside scheduling conflicts, was playing around a bit with the bones of the basic recipe (which can be found in another post–as soon as I get it written and published). I kept the 2/3 barley, 1/3 wheat grist, but scaled it back from a 1.078 SG to a planned mid-1.050’s–and then hit 1.068 anyway. This should bring the ABV down from about 7.5% to a more quaffable not quite 6%. I also stepped away from the Munich malt in favor of Vienna, which should give a breadier maltiness. (In my opinion, Munich can almost get overwhelming when used in large percentages–almost a chewy meatiness, if you will. It’s not bad, but generally needs to be either less than 100% of the malt bill, or hit with a large dose of hops). It also dialed the color back from garnet-amber to somewhere in the gold range, where the original Bockbier was (described in period as “golden”–and more detail will be in the afore-mentioned post).

Low-tech Brew Rig, starting out on Almost Bockbier Brew Day
My trusty, somewhat rusty, Brew Rig, ready to start heating strike water.

I’ve also fooled around with the hop schedule: where the original was all bittering hops all the time, I’m doing FWH and some late hops. This should add a bit of hop complexity, even though it’s still a single-hop beer. It’s all Tettnang whole-leaf hops, because I’ve got a bunch of them waiting to be used. (As of this writing, they’re harder to get hold of as whole-leaf; here’s a link to some Tett pellets.)

Lastly, I went with White Labs San Francisco Lager yeast. This choice was made to cover a number of issues. First and second, the temps in my cellar have been fluctuating around the low 50’s; too warm for most lagers, but too cold for most ales-and I want this to be more lager-like, which pretty much means Kolsch yeast or San Fran. Third, given the weather has finally turned, everyone is brewing this weekend, and the yeast selection at my LHBS was pretty well decimated. None of my first, second, or third yeast choices were available, so here we are.

As things are wont to do, technical snags abounded. My first propane tank ran out while I was heating the sparge water; when I unscrewed the regulator, its O-ring broke. After quickly scrambling and scrounging out all of the other suitable propane hoses I’ve got, I determined that none of them had functional O-rings. A trip to the hardware store later, and my channel-lock pliers had wandered off–making connecting my second propane tank complex.

But, all things considered, it was a good day. The weather was nice, beer was brewed, and no one was killed in the making of today.

The recipe, for the curious. This is #164, in my Little Black Book.

Almost Bockbier
9 pounds Vienna Malt
3 pounds Wheat Malt
2 ounces Tettnang leaf hops (3.7% AA, FWH)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (15 min. in boil)
1 ounce Tettnang leaf hops (3.7% AA, 10 minutes in boil)
1 packet WLP-810 San Francisco Lager Yeast

Mash at 156 degrees F.  Sparge to 8 gallons pre-boil.  Boil for one hour. OG: 1.068, 5.5 gallons into the fermenter. Ferment at “cellar temps” (currently upper 50’s F).
(Brewed 14 April 2018)

Anatomy of a Project, Part I

Let’s follow a project of mine from (nearly) the beginning, through to as far as I take it.  Since the project is, as yet, barely started, this will be the first of a series.

I’m not really certain when I got interested in making jewelry. I mean, I’ve entertained the notion of taking up silversmithing classes for probably over a decade. I’ve toyed with the notion of casting (starting with pewter, and working my way up to precious metals) for nearly as long. But gems and stones, particularly cutting and polishing, that’s a fairly new one. Maybe two or three years? But I finally decided to act on that one a few months ago.

The root of the idea was wondering how exactly bezel settings worked–probably based on admiring some of the lovely Anglo-Saxon “gold-and-garnet” jewelry that’s been found. It struck me that the garnet pieces were certainly shaped and polished, and I began thinking about that. I know that precious stones are “lapped” (faceted) using fancy setups with spinning abrasive discs, using finely-tuned armatures to ensure the “proper” angles to the various faces. I reasoned that the first faceted stones probably were lapped and polished by hand, with a somewhat more “organic” form. So I set about to figure out how they did it.

YouTube, one of my normal “how would I…” starting points, was rather mum on the subject. There are several videos about lapping gems, all using modern tools. There are a couple of videos about making homemade modern lapping tools… Just when I thought all was lost, I found one video on polishing and faceting gemstones by hand, using no power tools. Not historical, but it was a start, and told me it could be done.

The next typical online stops for this sort of project include Cariadoc’s Miscellany and Stefan’s Florilegium, two great repositories of knowledge, sources, and information. The Miscellany is a series of essays, classes, documents, papers, and such by one of the more famous people in the SCA, Duke Cariadoc of the Bow. The Florilegium, meanwhile, is a curated compilation of email discussions from various SCA forums, dating from the early days of computer bulletin boards and such. Both pointed me at several books; the Miscellany was extra helpful and gave me some quotes.

One of these sources, which I was able to get my hands on fairly quickly, was Theophilus’ treatise On Divers Arts, which in addition to covering all sorts of metalworking has a chapter on polishing gemstones. Theophilus recommends using powdered emery stone and water on a copper plate as the abrasive; the runoff is collected in a basin and allowed to settle and dry. Afterwards, the powder is sprinkled on a flat limewood board and wet with saliva; this is used to polish the gem.

As it happens, I have access to emery powder (available as filler for making pincushions) and a copper plate that I acquired for a different project some time ago. “Limewood” is probably the same wood that we would call “basswood,” and is available in most craft stores.

Iolite and Carnelian Agate for the Faceting Project
Two Iolite on the left, four Carnelian Agate on the right.

Rough gem material is available from many sources on EBay and Amazon; I have some Carnelian Agate, some Fire Quartz, and some Iolite readily at hand, and if I get decent results with these, I’ll get some others.

In the interest of following the guidelines from the YouTube video, I’ve got an assortment of wet/dry sandpaper, and I’ll use that to give it a go.

Sandpaper assortment
Assortment of Wet-Dry Sandpaper

My theory is that they’ll work more quickly than the emery; we’ll see how they go.

Additionally, knowing that some stones–the harder ones, such as any of the corundum (ruby and sapphire), and a few others–are likely to be very slow to polish up, I’ve got some modern sharpening stones, which use diamond powders of various grits. I’m hopeful that they’ll do a quicker job even than the sandpaper.

That pretty well covers the acquisition of inspiration, ideas, and materials for the project; next time around, we’ll give some of the methods a try.

Finding Inspiration for Historical Crafts

Finding the inspiration to pick up a new craft, especially within the SCA, can be challenging. Let’s face it, it’s one of the two most difficult parts of anything in this game we play–the other one being actually getting started!

A good place to start is to take a hard look at your persona, and think about the things they would have used and/or liked. Don’t limit yourself to the things he or she would have known or done; that’s a decent starting point, but is probably a stricter limit than necessary. And don’t worry about trying to contrive a “backstory” as to why you (as your persona) would know how to do such a thing. While our ancestors were content with relatively narrow, focused lanes to live, work, and play in, we’re not bound by those conventions.

I find that inspiration will tend to strike while I’m noodling about on Pinterest. (Back in the Dark Ages, before the Internet, the equivalent was “going to the library,” an option that is still available today…)  Or I’ll be pondering a question like “how did they do X, originally?” Very often, this will lead me down a rabbit-hole of articles, old email fora, YouTube videos, and the like. Sometimes, I don’t get a good answer, and have to set aside that particular thought for a while. Other times, I’ll find myself with a host of new ideas, and usually other avenues to explore later.

Another good place to go for inspiration, especially SCA-related inspiration, is to an event. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be an Arts-and-Sciences specific event, although there tends to be more to look at if it is. (Often times, my wife or I will see something–particularly clothing–and think, “I can make that better…”) If you’re really fortunate, they’ll even have an Artisan’s Row, where you can watch somebody who already knows how to do X, and possibly even who will show you the basics!

But if there’s one thing I’ve found to be definitely the case, it’s that the know-how is out there, somewhere. You may be re-blazing a trail that hasn’t been blazed in hundreds of years, but someone, somewhere, has written something down relative to your goal. Maybe it’s a complete description of the fabrication of the item. More often, it will be references to various steps and stages of it, and it will be on you to “suss out” what they’re talking about. Another good way to go is to find someone who’s already doing what you’re interested in, and ask them to show you some of the basics and/or become a mentor.

The next part to explore is what you need, in order to make the thing. I’ve found that the instructions you find out there tend to assume you’re a professional, and/or you have hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to drop on a project. But let’s face it, we’re just starting off on this. That means that alternatives are in order. If you can determine how things were done in the “early days”, you’ll often find that the tools and equipment become much cheaper–often, to be sure, at the expense of simplicity. Don’t let that stop you, though! And remember the adage of being wary of any venture requiring new clothes; the same applies to tools. If you’ve got any sort of a toolbox (or craft chest, or what have you), you probably already have some workable analogs to the tools you’ll need.

Another thing to think about during the materials and equipment phase is how serious you’ll be taking this new craft. This is worth thinking long and hard about. You probably won’t know how much you enjoy it until after you’ve done it for a while; it’s entirely possible that you’ll find yourself completely unsuited to the job. (Contrariwise, you may find that you enjoy the challenge!) Once you’ve tried it, and gotten a taste of what is involved, do you want to keep it at the “hobby” level, or become a “master of the craft”? How much time do you intend to devote to it?

The biggest fear that people seem to have, and which very often holds them back, is that they’ll suck at it. Well, of course you will. You probably will for the first several tries at a thing, or maybe a little longer. The key is to look at each of the “failures” you produce, think hard about why they’re “bad,” how to go about fixing it next time, make those adjustments, then try it again! And don’t be afraid to show your “failures” to others. It may inspire them to give something new a try. And remember–they think that it’s “too hard” to do what you’ve done; the mere fact that you’ve done it puts your hard-won skills far ahead of theirs!