Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

August 6, 2013

Water Quality still Medieval

Filed under: science, Soapbox, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 8:57 pm

Batch after batch of mead and brown-sugar based herbal beer was coming out tasting like band-aids. I moved my fermentation to the most temperature-stable spot in the house (under my desk, right next to the thermostat), switched from dish soap to hand soap to rinsing with water and sanitizing with hydrogen peroxide only, threw out my old bottles, and scratched my head.

Then, in Michael Pollan’s newish book “Cooked,” I came across a reference to band-aid flavored beer. A local brewer told Pollan that the flavor is caused by the chemical chlorophenol, and that lowering the fermentation temperature would eliminate it. Since I had lowered the temperature to the minimum my A.C. and cold-prone body could take, I knew that that particular solution would not work in my case. However, I did learn a highly specific tag for my problem, “chlorophenol.”

I used the search term in a homebrewing forum, and found my solution right away. It turns out that yeast make some phenols for their own metabolic purposes, and if there is chlorine in their environment, the yeast will incorporate chlorine atoms into their phenols. The chlorophenol products are typical of what the chemical industry provides for Lysol disinfectant and the microbial inhibitors in medical supplies.

Many of my beer and wine recipes call for boiling up some wort, but then topping up the fermenting jug with water from the tap. This is totally inappropriate — even the top-up water needs to be boiled to drive off the chlorine.

The water out of my Detroit tap is great by municipal water standards — not too hard, not too soft, nor too polluted — but it is chlorinated and tastes and smells kind of like a swimming pool. Now that the idea of chlorine in the water is linked in my head to the ruinous batches, mouthfuls of band-aid, I really don’t like the taste of my tap water.

I need to boil the water before I imbibe it — it’s no longer potable out of the tap in my view. Now wasn’t the point of chlorinating the municipal water supply to clean it up so that you wouldn’t have to filter or boil out the nasty things water can carry? Boiling won’t even remove the fluoride, which most Americans are overexposed to, which causes the softening of tooth enamel and potentially more serious problems (41% of 12-15 year olds suffer from dental fluorosis, caused by overexposure to fluoride through toothpaste and drinking water. Fluoride is also known to soften bone, cause diabetes and other endocrine problems, and decrease IQ, although this is not proven to happen with exposures typical for Americans.)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I have to treat my water with the precautions as a medieval living in a horse-manure-filled, no-sewage-treatment-plant, cholera-infested city. As for the fluoride, that requires more sophisticated interventions (maybe the filter Alex Jones hawks on his radio show. Or mounting a political campaign, tilting against the dental establishment and the industries which sell their fluoridated industrial waste to the water department.)

Okay, it’s better than people dying of dysentery, and I don’t know of a better solution than chlorination. I’m just saying, boil all of your brewing water, and don’t take too much pride from the idea that you might be living better than a peasant living in the superstitious, technologically simple Dark Ages.


March 18, 2013

Frontier Beer

Root Beer:

Simmer 1 oz. sassafras root bark in 2 q water for 25 min.
Remove from heat
Stir in 1¾ cup brown sugar ‘til dissolved (or more, up to about 2½ cups?)
Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 pinch cinnamon
Let cool ½ hour.
Awaken ale yeast (gently mix a packet of yeast into warm water with a little sugar for 15 min.)
Bring sassafras brew to 1 gallon volume w/ cold water
Add awakened ale yeast, mix.
Pour through small, fine sieve and funnel into plastic pop bottles
Cap tightly
Let ferment 16-48 hours, squeezing the bottles to feel the pressure.
When the bottles are almost totally firm to the hand, refrigerate or pasteurize to cut off fermentation.

(adapted from BethTN’s recipe, and Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book “Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers.”)

This is a frontier beer, distinctive of America. You can make it this way to create a soda pop, or you can ferment it fully like beer (for example, ferment for 10 days in a jug under a fermentation lock, then bottle with priming sugar.)

To remind everyone, alcoholic fermentation is what happens when yeast organisms consume the sugar in a watery mixture and convert it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. So, you can ferment for alcohol only and let all of the carbon dioxide escape (to make a non-sparkling wine), or trap some of the carbon dioxide in the bottle for fizziness (champagne or beer), or you can let the yeast just barely get started in a sealed bottle to make carbonated non-alcoholic beverages (the tiny amount of alcohol created compares to the alcohol in “non-alcoholic” juices and pops you would buy at the store, perhaps about 0.5%.) Some people simply mix carbonated water into the recipe, or you could use a whipped cream whipper to crack open a pressurized carbon dioxide cartridge and carbonate the pop mechanically.

Root beer can also include wintergreen or birch sap, sarsaparilla, molasses, spikenard, or whatever you like. (If I were to make one tweak to this recipe I would add wintergreen, perhaps 1 oz. of the fresh green.)

A beer glass full of dark amber rootbeer with a light head.

Here’s to the wilderness and the wild people!

This creative beverage is part of a tradition of herbal beers for fun or medicine, which was almost stamped out in Europe by prohibition laws, but which flourished among free American settlers. Another famous formula is ginger ale, made of ginger, water, and honey. Besides the fun of herbal pop and beer, beer is pretty useful as medicine. Medical plant essences typically dissolve better in water with at least a touch of alcohol in it, and beer keeps for a long time, so herbal beer is an elegant and low-tech drug delivery system (or “dietary supplement” delivery system if you don’t do drugs.) Some beers carried specific remedies but others supported health in a more general way: dandelion greens were brewed to reinvigorate the body in Spring, spruce branch tips were brewed to ward off scurvy in Winter, and sassafras seems to be one of those rare herbs that just makes people feel better, whether they are healthy or ill. Hops is a sedative, makes you pee and blocks male sexual response, and it is a very weird choice of medicine to be included in every standard beer.

All beer must start from sugar. Apples were an option on the frontier, having enough sugar and flavor in them to make hard cider with no additions, although that’s more of a wine than beer. Perhaps you have heard of making beer from malted barley, but that was no option on the fringe. The pioneers came from Europe’s brewing tradition, where “maltsters” developed sprouting, drying and roasting barley into an intricate art form. Americans were generally intimidated away from the specialty. Malt also requires long soaking in hot water (for an enzyme in the sprouted barley grains to finish its job of converting seed starch into fermentable sugar), a “required” step that intimidates some away from brewing.

Root beer generally starts with brown sugar, and sometimes molasses, as its yeast-feeding sugars. Brown sugar and molasses were fairly cheap commodities across much of frontier America, or a family could make their own from sorghum, a sugary cane that grows in the temperate zone. White sugar is not recommended for brewing beer, but it’s probably fine if you are just brewing pop. Birch or maple sap is acceptable — apparently, wintergreen in modern root beers is sort of a substitute for the flavor of birch sap. Birch sap was convenient to people who were “handy” and lived in the woods, but if you are purchasing ingredients in today’s marketplace, wintergreen is going to be a lot easier to come by. Honey is a good source of sugar, with its own distinctive flavor and medicinal action, too. A certain Roger Beverly described America’s home-cobbled beer scene circa 1700: “The richer sort of Americans generally brew their small beer with malt, which they have from England, though they have as good a barley of their own as any in the world, but for want of convenience of malt-houses the inhabitants take no care to sow it. The poorer sort brew their beer with molasses and bran, with Indian corn malted by drying in a stove, with persimmons dried in cakes and baked, with potatoes, with the green stalks of Indian corn cut small and bruised…”

My pop-style root beer is good, but not as sweet as commercial pop. It is frothy and sweet with candy and clove herbal flavors, but on the other hand, it’s not that sweet, lacks body, and it’s a little bit astringent. It tastes like… it tastes like… it tastes like freedom!

Once, America banned all brewing, and the result was a terrible degradation of our brewing culture. Hucksters sold inferior homebrew malt that resulted in a mud-like product, the OTC “bath salts” of beer. Underground brewers stretched their product to the thinnest and cheapest possible, counting on steady black market profits, thus creating America’s anomalously thin style of commercial beer. Many herbal beers were forgotten or survived only as pop. Due to “clerical error,” homebrewing remained illegal from the beginning of Prohibition all the way up until 1978. Since then — since people were once again allowed to develop their brewing skills independently and cheaply at home — our brewing culture has much recovered, and even Coors and Budweiser are selling richer beers these days.

Still, sassafras is illegal to sell as food or drink in its natural form. In 1960, FDA found that the sassafras oil content in root beer is carcinogenic — almost as carcinogenic as the alcohol content in any beer. Genuine root beer is a sort of gray-market thing, something you can pass around at family gatherings but never sell at the farmer’s market. Your average corporate root beer would be artificially flavored for cheapness anyways, so the regulators have no concern about the liberty lost by restricting sassafras. They can’t hear any money complaining at all.

It’s sad that the root beer at the store is sassafras-free or chemically stripped of its best molecule (safrole), but the silver lining is that this restrictive FDA policy inspires some productive explorations by those skirting the law. Reed’s, a California company, makes “Virgil’s Rootbeer” organically, approximating the flavor of sassafras root beer with a combination of many herbs including sarsaparilla and wintergreen. Another response to FDA is seen in the conscientiously patriotic American exploring herbs, pop and beer at home. One can legally homebrew beer containing wormwood, the infamous absinthe ingredient, or medical marijuana (if you are duly licensed), and fall outside of the jurisdiction of the FDA and its various superstitious anti-witchcraft regulations. You don’t even need to know how to make proper beer, if you are willing to experiment with pioneer-style sugar-and-syrup-based hooch. Hazards of crafting your own pioneer beer may include a hypomanic state characterized by euphoria, brief moments of ego inflation and a sudden undue interest in aspects of science, culture and history one had been ignoring until now…

January 17, 2013

On the Gruit Path

Filed under: gardening, magic, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 3:31 pm

The topic of gruit ale generated more than theoretical interest, so I’ve decided to collate & post some info to empower people to make or find this stuff. The first part of this post is for people making their own; it concerns getting seeds or transplants, growing the herbs, buying the herbs and where to add the herbs in the brewing process. The second part concerns tracking down gruit ale for sale.

Plants and Growing Info:

The best place to buy dried beer herbs appears to be Wild Weeds. You will find the “Holy Trinity” of beer herbs there under the names Sweet Gale, Yarrow, and Labrador Tea.

Myrica gale (sweet gale, bog myrtle) — This is a 2-4′ high shrub that grows along the waterside. It has been a brewing spice in Europe for over 2,000 years. Also native to North America, the Potawatomi Indians used the plant as a smudge to banish evil spirits (a suggestion of antiseptic action). Flavorwise, sweet gale is said to have a spicy aroma and a bitter taste, but also to impart a vanilla-like richness. For the head, sweet gale is narcotic or stupefying, yet it is said to improve the lucidity of dreaming.

Gagelstrauch (1)


North American sweet gale can be purchased for transplant through Fourth Corner Nurseries, a business dedicated to propagating native plants, or New England Wetland Plants.

Sweet gale prefers boggy to wet soil, something you might achieve almost anywhere by applying water almost continuously. However, it also appreciates acidic conditions (pH 4 to 6.5) — presumably the boggy places where it grows naturally are loaded with humic and fulvic acids from the slow decomposition of plants. Any level of sunlight is fine, but some shade will help protect this plant of the North from the summer heat.

Bog myrtle’s chemistry is best expressed with a combination of hot-water extraction and alcohol extraction; therefore half of it should be boiled with the wort, and half thrown in the fermenter (in a permeable bag.) On the other hand, plenty of people just toss it in the boiling wort and strain it out. All of the aerial parts of the plant are used, however, the best time is when “nut cones” are on the stem. Use 1.5 g of herb per gallon of brew. Or, use 1 oz. per gallon, to make sweet gale ale (with no other spices.)

Achillea millefolium (yarrow) — This plant vaguely resembles Queen Anne’s Lace. The leaves have zillions of feathery leaflets. This one has been with Eurasians since Neanderthal times, a very old friend indeed. Yarrow is used to dramatic effect in the binding of wounds, as well as manifold subtler uses (antiseptic, blood-flow promoter, …?). Tossing yarrow stalks is the oldest way to cast the I Ching, and yarrow heals battle wounds in the Iliad, so yarrow was known far and wide for its potent magic. Mentally, yarrow provides enhanced clarity and quells anxiety — except if taken with ale, when it precipitates instant drunkenness.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) (2863774620)

Yarrow seedlings can be purchased from Fourth Corner, or seeds from Alchemy Works.

Like many herbs, yarrow prefers mediocre soil with good drainage. For seeds, barely press into moist soil; seeds need light to germinate in 5-10 days at 62-75F/18-25C.

In beer, yarrow is bitter and preservative. Leaves should be boiled in the wort, but delicate aromatics can be taken from the flower heads if they are placed into the cooling wort right after the boil. Use at 1.5 g per gallon in gruit, or 1 oz. per gallon in a single-herb brew, or half that mass of recently dried yarrow.

Rhododendron tomentosum (wild or marsh rosemary) — This low shrub has leaves smooth on top, fuzzy beneath. A second species, Rhododendron groenlandicum, is also acceptable, and this is one of those annoying cases where the scientific name seems to add little clarity to the discussion (you may also read about these plants as Ledum glandulosum, Ledum latifolium, Ledum palustre, or as multiple types of Labrador Tea.) Don’t confuse these with Limonium, a completely different genus known as marsh rosemary, but also as sea lavender or statice: Limoniums are not what you want. In herbalism, Labrador Tea seems to be popular for treating a laundry list of conditions. It is much more widely available than true wild rosemary. Either plant contributes to some sort of narcotic delirium, with higher doses leading to headaches and cramps.

Labrador tea Ledum glandulosum close

Labrador Tea seeds are available at From the Forest.

Wild rosemary likes the same sort of acidic, boggy soil as Bog myrtle (Myrica gale.) However, it is somewhat less tolerant of shade. Seeds are broadcast onto moist soil in Spring when its temperature is 55-65F/13-18C, or in Fall.

Wild rosemary has a fresh, spicy aroma and bitter taste. The brewer should take caution when utilizing any unfamiliar source of wild rosemary, as not all of the plants in this group are of equal potency. As with bog myrtle, half of it should be boiled with the wort, and half thrown in the fermenter (in a permeable bag, weighted with a clean or sterile stone.) Use fresh flowering tops in gruit at 1.5 g per gallon, or 4/5 oz. per gallon in a single-herb brew.

Other plants: Gruit was used over a big piece of Europe for seven centuries or so… the recipe varied quite a bit. Sometimes the mix included juniper berries, ginger, caraway seeds, aniseed, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Some sources go on to name mugwort, wormwood, heather, and licorice. Or lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, and sweet fern. These lists are by no means exhaustive, however, some people seem to use “gruit” to refer to any mix of beer herbs excluding hops, regardless of how authentically medieval it may or may not be. Literally speaking, “gruit” is Old German for “herb” (and you pronounce it along the lines of “fruit.”)

Finding Gruit Ale:

There seem to be no gruit ales distributed on anything like a national basis (in the United States, at any rate). To buy gruit ale, you need to find a local brewery that has achieved competency in the style.

I searched the ‘net for “Michigan gruit -fruit.” This technique seems to work fine for other states, although I don’t know if you’ll find a gruit brewery far from the chilly, boggy places where marsh rosemary and bog myrtle grow.

In Michigan, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. of Warren carries an occasional heather ale. Mt. Pleasant Brewing Company carries “Sacred Gruit Ale” as a regular beer, with the authentic triumvirate of major herbs. Mt. Pleasant brews are carried by a number of distributors across the state. You can look at this map and call your local distributor to find out which stores have Sacred Gruit. Mt. Pleasant brews are also served up at Mountain Town Station brewpub in Mt. Pleasant.

Still curious? Take a look at Gruit… I especially like their pilgrimage to the 50th parallel to harvest wild bog plants!

January 13, 2013

They put mind-control drugs in the drinking water.

Filed under: magic, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 5:55 pm

Imagine that your government mandated your drinking water supply be laced with a pharmaceutical agent — a drug that causes sedation, depression in a certain proportion of patients, loss of sex drive and sometimes male impotence. This would seem to be a vile New World Order scheme for cowing a sheep-like populace, preventing revolts and dwindling the population.

Indeed, the drinking water was drugged to control behavior among the masses. I’m not talking about the fluoride in your city water, though — I’m talking about hops in the beer, and the scene is Europe in the late Middle Ages / early Renaissance.

Medieval Europeans didn’t know how to sanitize water to make it safe, but they did know that beer was safe. They drank it all day long (although some of the beers were too weak to go to market today.) In the Dark Ages, there were many beer recipes in circulation… some called for malt and water only, but that was not most people’s favorite beer. Plain beer has no bitter element to balance the sweetness, and doesn’t keep as long as beer infused with bitter herbs. Other beers were brewed with juniper or wormwood, or with specific herbs to treat specific maladies.

The most popular beer was the one backed up by Church authority. In many places, the local monks held a monopoly on making gruit, a brain-bending combination of herbs such as marsh rosemary, yarrow, and sweet gale (Myrica gale.) The village people would pony up cash for the secret-formula gruit, and proceed to brew their own beer with it. Gruit beer is said to be stimulating and highly inebriating. To Protestants, the gruit system was a big problem, because 1) it supported the authority of the Church and 2) it was too much fun, too indulgent, and had to be sinful.

Their solution appeared in the form of hops. Very late in the Middle Ages, brewers were experimenting with hops as an alternative to gruit. Its main advantage was that it could be grown in one’s own beer garden, avoiding the priestly layer of secrecy and control. Hops is bitter and preservative, and it can be bred into varieties producing a decent range of different aromas. The downside of hops is that it causes sleepiness, weakens the male libido (through estrogen-like chemistry), and is contraindicated for depressives. It’s not an evil plant; the other side of the coin is that it’s good for menopausal symptoms and for people who suffer anxiety without depression.

Apparently, the side effects of hops were of no concern to the Protestants. I don’t think that they consciously set out to sedate people — it’s just that sedating people didn’t rate as a disadvantage. Hops was considered an anti-drug, the tame alternative to everything from heather to henbane. Hops was mandated into Bavarian beer in 1516, with the Reinheitsgebot or German Purity Law — the only ingredients allowed in beer henceforth would be barley, water and hops. The Purity Law would spread to many European nations and locales. To the modern Westerner, the Purity Law is an assurance that there is no cheapass rice or maize in the brew. To someone living almost 500 years ago, it meant something different… it meant that to drink something that was safe and dysentery-free, you had to dull yourself down with hops: that is a mass drugging of the population through the drinking water supply, no doubt.

This could be a sad tale of the subjugation of my ancestors. However, this story points to a wide-open new frontier in brewing… everything from pine branches to saffron has been used in beer. Yet we today rely almost exclusively on hops, even reflexively hopping beers with other spices added. There is no need to do so, especially with bitter herbs!

A homebrewer can easily buy some unhopped malt extract and brew it with the addition of any plant product they choose. The starting place for reclaiming our centuries-dormant brewing traditions has got to be “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers” by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I will double-check his information for assurance of safety, as I am just too self-conscious to converse with plants as Buhner does, and therefore I need empirical data regarding safe dosage! This also raises the question of what I can brew into a beer, and just hand it to someone as a beer, as against when a beer becomes a “drug.” I suppose I shall have to embark upon a serious, long-term effort to bioassay these strange brews, using the researcher as test subject.

Meanwhile, the struggle between “puritans” and the free-minded goes on. The high priests of public health are considering what level of lithium to put in city water in order to reduce violent behavior. Wild people of the world, take some joy in the fight! It won’t end in our lifetime!

June 22, 2012

English Cottage Beer

Filed under: food, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 5:41 pm

Herein I will show you the way the English made beer in 1780 or so, before England started taxing malt and hops, subsidizing tea, and even banning the sharing of brewing utensils. It also happens to meet the German Purity Law. I “translated” the recipe from William Cobbett’s 1823 book “Cottage Economy,” wherein Cobbett exhorts British workers to maintain a productive homestead, rather than fully buying into the industrial, globally-ambitious economy of the Empire. Cobbett intersperses a lot of political rants into his instructions, goes out of order, uses strange old words and writes sentences that go on for paragraphs, so it would be quite hard to make beer by thumbing through the book as you go along. In other words: disorganization and high reading level don’t make for clear instructions, so I had to write this just to figure out the recipe for myself!

My translation is faithful to the original, it’s for a really big batch of beer, and you need some special equipment such as a 40-gallon copper kettle and a bundle of birch twigs. With no modifications, the recipe might help a historical re-enactor. My next step towards making this beer it to scale down the recipe to use junk available at the local homebrew shop.


Water: Soft water from a brook or river is best, and a pond fed by a rivulet will do just fine. Hard water, or mineral-rich well water, is advised against. For the modern brewer, water from the tap is likely fine, as long as it isn’t too full of minerals. In some areas, there is so much chlorine in the water that it will kill your yeast, but you can remove the chlorine by boiling or filtering the water through charcoal (the latter method will also remove hardness and other minerals).

Since you’ll be boiling it, go ahead and use water contaminated by cholera and dysentery.

Malt: If you are so fortunate as to have a local maltster, look for barley that is fully malted — all the kernels should be sporting sprouts, and float rather than sink. The shells should be thin and the interior mealy — hard and steely is bad. Whether you like light or dark roasted malt is up to you, depending on your taste in beer. This recipe is for two bushels of malt.

Alternatively, you can make your own malt from fresh barley

Soak the barley for three days. Pour it out onto bricks, stone, or concrete. Watch for the roots to shoot out, and the above-ground shoots to advance about halfway through the inside of the barley seed. Dry the barley, such as by roasting it at a low temperature.

Making your own malt was a criminal activity in the England of 1823… I can imagine Cobbett writing books about growing marijuana if he lived today!

Hops: You are looking for the cones of the hops plant, pure and free of leaf and vine. The cones should not be brown, but between yellow and green, free of mature seeds (big, hard, dark seeds), have a lively, pleasant smell, and have lots of resinous powder. Anyone who has bought cannabis should have a good handle on what to look for in hops, although good hops is described as slippery rather than sticky. This recipe uses two pounds of hops.

Yeast: Cobbett recommends making yeast cakes once per year, during a hot, dry stretch of summer.

3 ounces good fresh hops

3.5 ounces rye flour

7 pounds corn meal

1 gallon water

Boil the water. Rub the hops to separate it into the water. Boil 1/2 hour. Strain into a big bowl.

Stir in the rye flour while the water is hot. Cover with a loose cloth and leave out for a day.

Stir in the corn meal. Pull out the resulting stiff lump of dough and knead it well, “as you would a pie-crust.” Roll it out at about 1/3 of an inch thick. Cut out 3-inch round pieces of dough. Place them on a board in the hot sun; turn them every day and protect them from wet (I imagine you have to put them out every morning and take them in every evening.) When the yeast cakes are as dry and hard as ship biscuits, they are ready to be stored in a dry place.

To prepare liquid yeast from the cakes, take 2 cakes, crack them, and drop into hot water. Leave in a warm place overnight.

Froth from fermenting beer is also good, traditional yeast — but it’s only available when you already have some beer going!


40-gallon copper kettle

60-gallon mash tub with a 2″ drain hole located at the center. A tapered stick, a bit taller than the tub, serves as the stopper. A bundle of birch sticks or straw is used as a strainer. You must weight the straw into place with something you can move the stopper-stick through — but please don’t follow Cobbett’s suggestion to use a leaden collar! “The thing they use in some farmhouses is the iron box of a wheel,” if that clears things up.

An “underbuck,” a shallow tub to go under the mash tub.

30-gallon “tun” tub

2 to 4 big shallow tubs, for cooling hot liquid.


Big, bowl-like ladle

3 18-gallon casks

Stir stick: somewhat larger than a broomstick, with two or three 8-10″ sticks pushed through perpendicularly near one end.

A very large piece of cheesecloth or some burlap sacks sewn into a sheet.

Strainer (such as a clean wicker clothes basket)


Baking pan


Coarse linen

Boil the Wort

Fill the 40-gallon copper kettle with water and bring to a boil.

Set up the mash tub. It should be up on stools or sawhorses or the like, so that the underbuck can be placed under the drain hole. The straw or birch filter must somehow be set into place, and the stopper-stick shoved through it and into the drain hole.

Pour water into the mash tub, sufficient to stir two bushels of malt around in (perhaps 20 gallons?). Top the kettle up and keep it boiling.

Allow the water in the mash tub to cool to 170 Fahrenheit. Add two bushels of malt, ground, into the mash tub, and stir well with the stir stick. Leave the mash this way for 15 minutes (stirring occasionally?).

Add boiling water until the mash tub is a little more than half full — about 30 gallons of water, total, should have gone into the tub by this point, though much will be absorbed into the malt. Stir the mash well again. Cover with loose fabric, such as burlap sacks or cheese cloth, and leave for 2 hours.

Little by little, pull out the tapered stopper-stick, so the wort drains slowly into the underbuck and your filter catches the malt. Ladle the wort into the tun-tub (or use a hose and a submersible pump, I don’t care).

Start the Small Beer

Beer for hobbits? I guess you could use coffee grounds twice, and call the second batch “small coffee.” We are going to take the wort we drained out and make it into ale, but first we’ll extract the last goodness out of our malt to make small beer.

Plug the mash tub drain hole back up. Pour 36 gallons of boiling water into the tub, and stir well with the stir stick. Cover with loose cloth, and leave stand for only one hour.

Ale into the Kettle

Pour the wort from the tun-tub into the empty copper kettle. Add one and a half pounds of good hops, well rubbed and separated as you add it. Boil from one to one and a half hours.

Remove from heat and pour into the shallow cooling tubs, straining out the hops (and saving them for the small beer).

Small Beer into the Kettle

The small beer wort in the tun tub is now returned to the copper kettle, with the lightly-used hops you strained out of the ale wort. Add half a pound of fresh hops, and boil for an hour.

During this time, you need to watch for the cooling ale wort to reach 70 Fahrenheit, as well as clean the mash tub out and set it up for another use.

Ale into Tun Tub for Primary Fermentation

When the ale wort (in the shallow tubs) cools to seventy Fahrenheit, pour it back into the tun-tub.

Put a half-pint of yeast into a gallon bowl or jar, then fill the container with wort. Stir in a handful or wheat or rye flour. Pour the mixture into the tun-tub and stir it all together.

Cover with a loose cloth and place in an area as close to 55 Fahrenheit as possible.

Fermenting the Small Beer

Put out your fire, and strain the small beer wort from the kettle into the mash-tub. Throw the hops into the compost, or onto the dung-hill if that’s your style.

Let the wort cool in the mash tub.

Put three half-pints of yeast into a gallon bowl or jar, then fill the container with wort. Stir in a handful or wheat or rye flour. Pour the mixture into the mash-tub and stir it all together.

Cover with a loose cloth and place in a cool area.

Treat as in “Fermenting the Ale,” below, but cask the small beer while it is still a little warm from yeast action.

Fermenting the Ale

Let the yeast work and skim off froth every twelve hours or so, until no more froth is rising up.

When the beer is as cold as its surroundings, it is ready to cask. Block the casks with the bunghole up but slightly to one side, so that any runoff goes down the one side into an awaiting pan. Then, pour bucketfuls of beer through the funnel into the cask, leaving a couple of gallons behind for topping up. Allow the beer to work for several more days, and top up the cask as needed. When the bubbling is really, finally over, turn the bunghole straight up. Add a handful of hops, and fill the cask completely full. Put a piece of coarse linen around the bung and hammer it into place. You may weight the bung into place with a sandbag, if desired.

Leave beer in the cask from about two weeks to the limit of your patience. Small beer may be ready in a couple of weeks, but ale benefits from longer aging and is said to keep forever. Modern wooden casks feature a replaceable “keystone” through which you hammer a tap. Drink the beer. Be sure to seal the cask tightly back up when you are through with the beer, or you will mold the cask and ruin it!

Clean the cask by pouring it out, scalding it in several changes of hot water, and rolling it about with a chain inside.

That’s how you make beer. What a project — no wonder American pioneers preferred hard cider! Cobbett says that you can brew beer in one day, if you start at four in the morning. So, uh, seize the day. Or just enjoy knowing something new.

Have a happy summer, y’all!

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