Our new microbrewery is up and running! Check it out:
Very shiny. The Verulam Arms is now one of only two brewpubs in St Albans. To celebrate our stainless new set-up, we decided to brew a special herbal beer for our upcoming Medieval Winterfest. The brew kit certainly isn’t medieval, so how did we make it authentic?
Well, for a start, we began the brew by candlelight.
Not for historical accuracy, sadly – we just forgot to install a lightbulb, so we can only see by daylight.
Next, it was time for the mash – this is where we mix malted grains with hot water to extract sugar. In these days of hoppy IPAs, the malt recipe often gets neglected. For the medieval folk, though, malt was the main event. Ale was liquid bread, and would have been much sweeter, certainly, than our modern pale ales, or even traditional bitters. Another feature of medieval ale would have been a slight smokiness – in the old days malt was heated over an open fire, and would have absorbed a bit of that campfire flavour – so we included about 10% smoked malt in our recipe:
A liberty we took with the malt was to use a large proportion of modern pale malt. Our end product is a light golden ale, about the colour of Meantime Pale Ale. This kind of light beer is actually a very modern invention – medieval people would have found it difficult to malt barley without toasting the outside of the grains to a darker colour. We decided to be inaccurate because, although dark beer was the norm for medieval people, we thought it would be distracting for modern drinkers, and detract from the subtleties of the other authentic medieval ingredients we were planning to use. Speaking of which:
It’s a common misconception that hops were not used in the early medieval period. In fact they were used, but not exclusively. Most medieval ale would have been made with a cocktail of wild herbs called gruit. One theory about why hops gained the monopoly is that the Church was afraid of what strange, magical and intoxicating herbs the villagers were putting in their gruit ales and outlawed everything but hops. A more reasonable explanation is that hops were discovered to have a preservative effect on the beer – we know now that they have antibacterial properties which favour yeast reproduction. So, in our recipe we used three plants – hops, yarrow and mugwort. Yarrow is an interesting one because, apparently, it can have a mild “vasodilating” effect. We wonder if this means you’ll get drunk more quickly from our medieval brew. Mugwort is an artemisia – a relative of the wormwood that was used to flavour absinthe…
We’re casking the beer today, and it won’t be ready until Saturday, so you’ll have to come to the Medieval Winterfest to taste it. With any luck, it’ll be a light, sweet, easy-drinking golden ale with notes of bread and smokey toffee and faintly intoxicating herbal top notes. Bring your best drinking horn!