Conference Review: REARC 2018

The 8th annual Reconstructive and Experimental Archaeology Conference hosted by EXARC drew speakers and participants from many parts of the world. The REARC conference was once again hosted by Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, from October 18th to the 20th. Friday was reserved for the presentation of papers, by students and researchers alike, demonstrating the wealth of information and practical skills available within the EXARC community. Saturday was filled with numerous demonstrations in which the conference attendees could participate and museum visitors could watch and learn.

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My presentation Of Boyling and Seething (Photo S. Stull).

The presented papers ranged from practical recreations like bird bone flute making and weaving reed beads to duplicate pottery impressions, to the use of recreated objects, such as determining if Ötzi’s tools were for hunting or for warfare, and the function of experimental archaeology within different types of classrooms. Some researchers presented a follow up on previous papers, like Neil Peterson with his ongoing Viking bead furnace project. Some might look for resources not yet found – the joy of Caitlin Gaffney after finding a possible source for a reproduction medieval knife to carve her bone flutes was absolutely contagious. And some were looking to network: David Spence asked for additional projects for his Experimental Archaeology in High School and left with numerous contacts and suggestions. Each and every paper had some unique view, some unusual bit of information – as the practical aspects of experimental archaeology requires a more interdisciplinary approach than traditional academics, conferences like REARC are essential. You just never know from what discipline, from which subject, the answer to the question you did not even realize you had could come from. I personally was amazed to find that the gist of my paper, to not take words at their literal modern definition, was independently repeated in another paper – to have my initial interpretation validated via an independent source right then and there.

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Bill Schindler, experimental archaeologist and co-host of the National Geographic show The Great Human Race. I enjoyed our conversation over a craft beer at the hotel, and even taught him a thing or two about historic mead brewing.

The keynote speaker for this year was Bill Schindler, an experimental archaeologist with Washington College and part of the Eastern Shore Food Labs. His quite engaging presentation on Fusion: ancestral diets, modern culinary techniques, and experimental archaeology was well received, and left the audience with a number of questions to think on. This paper was perfect for our younger generation, our students, as they are now growing up in an environment which might be more hostile to them than they would surmise, and where their chosen area of research, experimental archaeology, could help shed light on where to go from here. The connection between human biology and our diet, and the impact industrialization has had on our health to the point where humans, and our pets, can be both obese and malnourished, is not only fascinating from an academic point of view, but pertinent to the survival of our species.

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This years’ demonstrations were two part: the practice of throwing atlatl and observing and shooting early bows, combined with the technique of smelting tin and casting bronze and making Viking era glass beads. Unfortunately, while the weather was absolutely gorgeous on Friday, by the time Saturday came around it had changed to intermittent drizzle and rain. But that did not stop us from having a go at each of the stations, and appreciate the added value of tent coverings at the metallurgy and flamework areas. While I would have loved to try Ötzi’s replica bow as initially intended, Manuel Lizarralde did not feel comfortable to have it out in soaking rain as it was not yet waterproof. I did get to shoot a fire hardened black locust Native American self bow, weatherproofed with bear grease, and even hit the target center. Conference host Tim Messner enjoyed the primitive tattoo kit and extant stone tools the Native American interpreter brought to share – and almost talked him into a tattoo demo on the spot.

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Fergus Milton, with help from David Spence, melting bronze to do a lost-wax mold casting later in the afternoon

At the station near the Blacksmith area we enjoyed Fergus Milton’s bronze casting demonstrations – with help on the bellows by David Spence – using a small furnace constructed on site from local clay, and aerated with a primitive leather-bag bellows. He began the day by smelting the bronze and preparing two molds, and poured the molds mid-afternoon. Several museum guests returned specifically to witness the casting, after stopping by periodically to keep an eye on the proceedings.

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Making a glass Viking bead while Neil works the bellows (Photo by S. Stull).

At the same time Neil Peterson had his coal-fed bead furnace up and running for conference attendees to try their hand at making a Viking glass bead. His station was in continuous use throughout the day and many of the attendees left with a precious homemade bead in their pocket. Surprisingly, participants often had more trouble with the coordination required to operate the bellows effectively, than they had creating a simple bead.

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To cap off this wonderful experience, the resident founders at Williamsburg had invited Fergus Milton for a special bronze casting demonstration Sunday morning at their shop. To experience the prehistoric process, so closely followed by the much more refined methods of the 18th century Geddy Foundry, was an appropriate ending to an otherwise perfect immersive weekend of reconstructive and experimental archaeology. We are ready to come back for more next year!

 

All photos credited to Susan Verberg, unless otherwise stated.

For details on the presented papers: https://exarc.net/rearc/archive/2018

Reprinted at: https://exarc.net/issue-2018-04/mm/conference-review-rearc-2018

 

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How gruit is a koyt beer, really?

The Dutch language has a saying I have not found an English equivalent for: hearing the bell toll, but not quite knowing where the clapper hangs. It kinda-sorta means “close, but no cigar” and I was reminded of just this during our trip to the Netherlands this summer when we visited the craft brewery Jopen and I ordered one of their historic brews: Koyt Gruitbier.

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A nice glass of gruited koyt at the Jopen Brewery in Haarlem, the Netherlands..

I had found out about this beer as part of my research into the early medieval Dutch beer called gruit and was quite curious to see, and taste, this commercial interpretation up close. And my first question upon seeing the label was: why is it called a koyt gruitbier? I asked a resident brewer and the answer was that they used the grainbill for koyt and added bog myrtle seeds (and other undisclosed herbs…) for gruit, to make a historic gruit beer.

To understand why this is historically problematic, and rather ironic to boot, let’s take a look at the beer style koyt, modernly known as kuit. The Jopen Brewery is located in the city of Haarlem in the province of North Holland – a city with a long brewing tradition going right back to the middle ages. To distinguish themselves from other craft brewers Jopen Brewery delved into the archives of their city for inspiration and the lucky bastards located several beer recipes to help start their brewing business. They chose to redact two recipes for commercial production, a 1407 recipe for koyt and a 1501 recipe for (generic) hopped beer. Of course the brewery was not amenable to sharing its sources, but lucky for us, the city archive is open to anyone and following are scans of the original 1407 koyt recipe and the 1501 hopped beer recipe.

Brouwerskeur 1407 (05)-37coyt

Also those who want to brew coyt, they shall brew in the brew barrel no hopped beer within four days, that is to understand, that three or four days would be in between, having brewed with hopped beer. And as well one shall to each brew coyt brew with 12 eightparts wheat malt, eighteen eightparts barley malt and four and twenty eightparts oats malt and of each not less, on the fine of 3 pounds.

This information, combined with the following ordinance about water usage, gives a good idea of a recipe for medieval koyt.

Brouwerskeur 1407 (05)-38coyt

About coyt, which one transports over sea, one shall not brew longer than 26 barrels, on the fine of 3 pounds, and about coyt which is sold domestically, and one shall not brew longer than 25 barrels coyt, and of each not more, or less, of one wants, also fined as regulated.

But wait, there is something missing… what about the hops? And that’s where part of the confusion originated: these ordinances are not recipes, they are grainbills. Hops, and in earlier times the additive gruit, was under its own taxation and was not mentioned in the ordinances, not even in the 1501 Haarlem ordinance for hopped beer (displayed below).

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Also it is ordained as well, that a decent brewer or brewster who wants to brew hop beer, in each brew hop beer dumps ten eightparts wheat malt, and thirty-six eightparts oats malt, and thus so may each brewer or brewster exchange, if they want, for each sack wheat malt two sacks spelt malt or sacks of barley malt, and that until three sacks wheat malt and not more, and thus so shall one brew each hop beer brew fourteen stucken and a half long and not longer, that is to say fourteen stucks to deliver and to keep a half stuck for their drinkebeer (small beer), and that one shall not squeeze or push [press] nor brew on a loose bottom, and so who does different, there is the fine of 12 crowns and no work, until one shall have paid as above.

The burghemasters and the court consented, that a decent brewer or brewster may brew hops as well on a loose bottom as differently, and that without a fine.

Was it because of mistaking grainbills for recipes that for decades there was a persistent misunderstanding between kuit (koyt) and gruit (gruyt) beer? Or maybe because the two names sound so alike it was assumed the beers must be alike, or even the same. So how do we know if koyt really was made with hops, and not gruit, as Jopen Brewery assumes? The answer to that question is actually two-fold. Historic mentions of koyt beer outside of brewing ordinances indicate a clear connection between koyt beer and hops. For instance, the Duke of Burgundy licensed in the year 1455, in favor of the Goudsche (from Gouda) brewers, the hops-taxation on their brew: Goudsche Kuyt.[i] Another brewer’s regulation of 1460 mentions hops-taxation clerks can fine delinquent brewers of large beer and coyten.[ii] And the History of the city of Gouda from 1817 explains in the 1520 description of brewing “no herb except for hops” was allowed in their brew.[iii] But even more important in the gruit-versus-hops debate in connection with koyt are their respective time-lines.

In the early middle Ages in large parts of the Low Countries, which consisted of modern Flanders, the Netherlands and parts of Germany, the production of commercial beer was taxed through the sale of a product thought necessary to ferment a proper beer, called gruit. The sale of this grain-and-specific-herb-product made a number of families very rich, and then a new method of brewing appeared on the horizon. Not only was this beer, made with hops, able to travel and thus be traded – it did not fall under the gruit taxation! This new hopped beer from the Hansen city-states in not-quite-yet Germany, like the rotbier made in the city of Hamburg, scared the pants of the gruit masters and import of this beer, and of hops, was quickly banned. Of course, the Holland citizens – as the Netherlands did not quite yet exist either – recognizing a good thing, were not that easily persuaded. By 1321 the sale and production of hopped beer was officially permitted – and taxed (initially often under the umbrella of gruit). By 1327 Haarlem started the production of hopped beer, as well as Dordrecht in 1322 and Delft in 1326, quickly out-competing the traditional gruit ale in the provinces of North and South Holland. [iv] For some reason the southern parts of the Low Countries persisted in making gruit ale over hopped beer for another 100 years or so – which could probably spawn a quick joke or two about those people from below the rivers, but let’s keep on track.

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The brewing kettles, flanked by bar and stained glass windows…

Back to Jopen Koyt Gruitbier – a beautiful beer brewed in a beautiful church and touted as a real historic beer. Which it is, although more correctly: it is two historic beer styles rolled into one. This commercially successful beer illustrates the importance of knowing your history. As we’ve seen, Koyt and gruit beer did both exist in medieval the Netherlands, and both at the same time, but not in the same regions. By the early 15th century, in the region of northern Holland, gruit ale had already disappeared – outcompeted by the very successful imports of Hamburg beer that were quickly locally produced, and exported, under the name of, wait for it… koyt.

Basically, Jopen Brewery attempted to make a historic gruit, and based it on the beer that had killed it.[v] That’s irony.

On the other hand, a brewery named for a well-known historic beer type but states on its website the name is inspired by a beer barrel size historians are not familiar with, might need a sprinkle or two of extra salt when reading their folklore – I meant history. Although, I nearly reached my breaking point with the following description: “Jopen Koyt is brewed with gruit, a medieval blend of herbs in which sweet gale picked according to ritual was essential. Legend has it that, to avoid its hallucinogenic properties, sweet gale could only be picked at full moon by nude witches.” I would love to see that reference – with illustrations.

The moral of this story? Do not believe everything you read on the internet. Just because someone is proficient in something does not mean they are proficient in everything. Remember, legend sells as Jopen’s gruitbier slogan shows: deliciously risky. The biggest irony? Jopen Brewery could have had three fantastic historic recipes. The Jopen brewer might not be a historian, but he does know how to brew: that gruit ale sure tasted like more!

 

Sources:

Footnotes:

[i] Brunel, etc. Groot algemeen historisch, geographisch, genealogisch, en oordeelkundig woordenboek, behelzende zo het voornaamste, dat vervat is in de woorden-boeken van Morery, Bayle, Buddeus, enz… Netherlands: De Companie Bookverkopers, 1725 https://books.google.com/books?id=_AM_AAAAcAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_shttps://www.witteklavervier.nl/us/history/myths-about-beer/gruyt-and-kuyt (exerpt)

[ii] J. Jacobs. Korte chronycke van vele gedenckweerdige geschiedenissen: soo in de principaele steden van het hertoghdom van Brabant als in de stadt en provincie van Mechelen, Volume 1. Loven, the Netherlands: Joannes Jacobs, 1747. https://books.google.com/books?id=vwNBAAAAcAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s https://www.witteklavervier.nl/us/history/myths-about-beer/gruyt-and-kuyt (exerpt)

[iii] Cornelis J. de Lange van Wijngaerden. Geschiedenis en Beschrijving der stad van der Goude: meest uit oorspronkelijke stukken bij een verzameld, Volume 2. Van Cleef, 1817. https://books.google.com/books?id=u5Y6AAAAcAAJ&dq=Geschiedenis+der+heeren+en+Beschrijving+der+stad+van+der+Goude.Meest+uit+oorspronkelijke+stukken+bij+een+verzameld+door&source=gbs_navlinks_s https://www.witteklavervier.nl/us/history/myths-about-beer/gruyt-and-kuyt (exerpt)

[iv] Most of this paragraph is paraphrased from Verberg, Susan. The Rise and Fall of Gruit, 2018. https://www.academia.edu/35704222/The_Rise_and_Fall_of_Gruit. As nearly all the citations are from foreign language sources, I chose to refer to the paper, not the individual sources.

[v] Of course, it’s a bit more nuanced than that, but not by much. In 1374 the grainbill of commercial hopped beer made in Hamburg was updated and part of the oats was exchanged with barley. This Hamburg beer became a very successful export product. Both German products were emulated by Dutch cities: rotbier under the name of hoppenbier and Hamburg beer under the name of koyt, making koyt the daughter of the beer that out-competed gruit ale. Private communication with Freek Ruis, 9/11/2018, thank you.

In the middle Ages you drank beer – if you could afford it.

Contrary to popular believe, it was not beer that was the most common drink of the middle ages: it was plain and simple water. Dependable sources of clean, fresh water – whether it be a running creek, a spring, or a well – would be incorporated into villages and towns as easy access to fresh water makes life better in so many ways. By the 13th century, as urbanization was invented and towns started to expand into cities, early industrialization did endanger the local fresh water supply. Medieval cities dealt with this in several ways: ordinances dictated where for instance tanners and dyers could operate, i.e. down stream, reserving the fresh upstream water for the city’s domestic use. And fines would be issued for contaminating water meant for household, and brewing, consumption.

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Een Brouwers Water-Schuÿt (A brewers water-barge) by Reinier Nooms, 1652-54.

Water for brewing would be gathered from surface water like spring or creek water, rainwater, well water and by the Renaissance even from conduit water, as mentioned in A Profitable Instruction (1579): “wash [the honey comb] diligently with Conduit or fair Spring water, that you may so have the Mulse or hony water.” Monasteries and towns often had their own well water, and sometimes city neighbors chipped in to finance a private well in their district. Of course, such a well would be forbidden for use by outsiders upon penalty of a fine. Larger cities would build water-supply infrastructure to ensure the populace access to clean water. For instance, the city council of London began construction on the ‘Great Conduit’ in 1236 which brought water from a large fresh spring at Tyburn to the cisterns in Cheapside, and from there fed local cisterns all over London. Small barrels of water would be offered for sale, and while the medieval populace was aware that boiling water before use was a good idea – food poisoning has a quick learning curve – they were less aware of the connection between spoiled water and waterborne diseases.

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Brouwerij De Drie Klaveren in Spaarne, Haarlem by Anthonie Beerstraten, 1660.

In 15th century the Netherlands many brewing procedures were also subjected to ordinances, including the ingredients used for brewing beer, the proportions of said ingredients, transport within and without the city, payments of taxation – and keeping the water in the city canals clean. A brewers’ ordinance from 1407, for instance, contains a warning for Zeeland skippers not to dump salt water (either from leakage, or used as ballast) in the canals within city limits. Dutch city brewers often found surface water not suitable for brewing, either from pollution from surrounding craftsmen, especially the textile industry – and from the creeping in of salt from North Sea ocean water into the fresh ground-water supply. Brewers would use water barges to gather clean fresh water, either from local lakes or from the coastal dunes (the sand acts as a filter). The water barges (image) would deliver straight to the brewery via the city canals, and the clean fresh water would be scooped out of the hold onto a wood gutter (image brewery) designed to transport the water from the quay straight into the brewery building.

An interesting story, uncovered in the city archives of Dordrecht, the Netherlands, follows an allegation of selling undrinkable beer by Brewery De Sleutel (The Key) – a medieval brewery which actively produced beer up until the corporation Heineken bought it out and stopped production in 1968.

On August 14th 1577, the head brewer Baernt Lambertsz. and his apprentice Aernt Aerntsz. were called up to the Dordrecht city court to make a statement under oath they used the grain, hops, and malt for the brew of August 1st from the same storage successful brews had been made before. Another apprentice Jan Adriaensz. van der Dussen witnessed that he gathered all the water for the brew from the well himself, as was his custom. The brewers did note that the brew on the coolships had a peculiar scent that they had never smelled before either in the brewery or anywhere they had brewed before. The city officials took the case serious and four days later, on August 18th, other witnesses were heard. The tapper Jan Jansz. remembered his conversation with carpenter Adriaen Lauwen about the quality of the surface water in the Nieuwe Haven, for which Lauwen blamed the dyer. Four beer carriers (beer transport has its own guild) witnessed they had had to return Sleutel beer from several taverns due to being undrinkable. At the request of the innkeeper they tasted the beer and remarked they’d never tasted something so peculiar. Then other beer carriers also tasted the peculiar beer and agreed that they understood why the tappers of the taverns had returned the beer, as no customer would drink of it. Unfortunately no more information exists on this case; no witness accounts of the accused dyer nor of penalties. Unfortunately, the account illustrates industrial pollution is nothing new!

In the middle Ages, alcoholic drinks were not consumed because water was thought to be unsafe, as is often thought; beer was consumed because it was seen as more nutritious. Not only were the brews often much weaker than their modern equivalents, but they also provided much needed calories to manual laborers, as well as being thirst-quenching and rehydrating in hot and sweaty weather. Ale and beer were a major part in keeping the laborers going, much like our modern Gatorade! Drinking water was seen as part of the four humors, blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm, and keeping those in balance achieved good health. (image four humors) Drinking too much water was seen as just as unhealthy as drinking to much of its counter part, a brewed beverage, and a brew often was diluted with water to keep the humors in balance, and to avoid unseemly intoxication. As beer and wine was more expensive, its consumption therefore gave status. If you could afford it, you drank beer.

 

Sources

Images

An ancient fruit : the cornelian cherry

The cornelian, or cornel, cherry is a small, shrub-like tree that can grow up to 15-25 feet. Cornelian cherry trees have been known to live and be fruitful for over a hundred years. It blooms early in the season, providing an early season forage for bees, but despite this early bloom, fruit production rarely suffers. The trees have an extended flowering period, and the bloom tolerates temperatures as low as 18 degrees F, making this shrub a perfect homesteading garden addition.File:Cornus mas Sturm40.jpg

The fruit has been used for 7,000 years as a food crop in ancient Greece. Cornelian cherry is native to regions of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. While known primarily as an ornamental plant in the U.S., its cherry-like fruits have been part of a healthy diet in some parts of the world for thousands of years. In its native range, it is still used as a fresh fruit and is popular as a fruit drink. Cornelian cherry was grown in monastery gardens of continental Europe through the Middle Ages and was introduced to Britain about the sixteenth century. The great herbalist Gerard wrote in 1597 that “there be sundry  trees of the cornel in the gardens of such as love rare  and dainty plants, whereof I have a tree or two in my garden.

Contrary to its name, the cornelian cherry is part of the dogwood family. The word “cornelian” refers to the similarity in color of the fruit to cornelian (or carnelian) quartz, which  has a waxy luster and a deep red, reddish-white, or flesh red color (Carnis is Latin for flesh). The fruit has an elongated pit that is hard to remove because it adheres tightly to the edible flesh. And due to the extended flowering period, its fruit also ripens over an extended period of time, requiring multiple harvests. Being similar to a tart cherry, its uses include syrup, jelly, jams, pies, wine and baked goods. Unfortunately, this historically significant fruit has lost favor in the industrialized age because it does not lend itself well to mass production and processing.

Cornelian cherry mead

My cornelian cherry mead, made with washed comb honey must:

The cut off cappings from extracting liquid honey from a backyard hive. The frame of honey comb is uncapped using a sharp bread-type knife, to then extract the liquid honey from the cells using a centrifugal honey extractor.

For this honey must I did not use extracted honey, and only washed the cappings in warm water to dissolve the surplus honey sugars. The wax remnants are then removed, squeezed, and stored for future melting into bars of beeswax.

Initially the honey must was too strong – the egg floated sideways – thus more lukewarm water was added. Add slowly, and mix well, to bring down the density in increments, until the egg floats pointy up.

Cornelian cherries on the bush. I picked the really ripe ones, from dried on the vine “raisins” to mushy brown, to purplish red. As cornelian cherry ripens in stages, which is perfect from a homesteading point of view as it gives time to harvest and enjoy, I only picked the ripe and left the rest for another day. I ended going back three times, the first two amounts for this mead, and the second amount for a cider mixture.

I used a hand mill to puree the fruit to make sure the fruit and the honey must would combine well. While in this way the seeds and skins are separated from the puree (this fruit does not make juice, instead it makes a puree of the consistency of apple sauce), I opted to add the skins (with seeds) back to the puree, and must, as I wanted to make use of the endemic yeast living on the fruit skins instead of pitching a commercial yeast strain. I find wild yeasts on fruit skins to work well to ferment that type of fruit and often give a milder, more flavorful mead than made with a more robust single strain commercial yeast. All in all I ended up with over a gallon of puree (5 liters according to the side of the fermenting bucket) with about 4 gallons of honey must.

The fruit & honey must, ready for fermentation. It was slightly bubbly in a few hours, and started to really bubble 2 days later. And it smells awesome! As I found a reference cornelian cherry was often combined with apple cider to ferment into a fruity hard cider, I collected another gallon or so to freeze for when the apples are ready to be pressed.

Observations

Cornelian cherries seems to have an endemic souring organism living on the skin. When fermented without sterilization, and no honey, it will sour quite nicely. When I intend to make a sour ale, I will add some cornelian cherry skins to purposefully infect the wort. With honey, the antibacterial effect of the honey is enough to curb any infection.

 

Sources

Put a cork in

Roemerwein_in_SpeyerWas it possible to age medieval mead and beer? The oldest bottle used to store, presumably, an alcoholic beverage was discovered in 1867 in a 350AD Roman noble’s grave near the German city of Speyer. It was stoppered with a seal of hot wax and is still liquid after all this time. As historic glass was too fragile, the norm for storing and transport was first ceramic vessels like the amphorae and later wood barrels.

Not until the invention of the coal burning furnace in the 17th century did the hotter temperatures allow for a darker, thicker, and harder to break glass suitable for storage and transport, especially after the rediscovery of the cork. Before the cork wine had already been bottled in glass for a few decades, but stoppered ineffectively for carbonation or longer term storage (as attested by many a wine cellar worker with only one eye), for instance with wooden pegs wrapped in hemp soaked in olive oil. It is doubtful such a closure would withstand the carbonation pressure of two month old working mead “soe makes it brisker” without loosing its cap.

The invention of the cork as a bottle stopper is often contributed to the French Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon who was the cellar master of Abbey Hautevillers from 1668 to 1715. The myth goes he met two Spanish monks on their way to Sweden whom stopped at the Abbey of Hautevillers in northern France and was inspired by their water gourds stoppered with cork from Catalonia. Except the Duke of Bedford’s household accounts for March 25, 1665 clearly list the purchase of champagne wine, glass bottles and cork; three years before Dom Pérignon entered the monastery.

Interestingly, the use of cork to close wine jugs was widely practiced in Antiquity: the earliest evidence of the use of cork to seal an alcoholic beverage container is from the early 5th century BC in Athens . The technique seems to have been lost in conjunction with the use of oxygen impermeable ceramic amphorae; a perfect combination to make it possible to store and age wine. Throughout the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, aged beverages were an oddity as storage and transport used (oxygen permeable) wood barrels. When the new years’ batch of French wine would arrive in English port, the barrels leftover from the previous year would be put on sale, to make room for the better, fresh wine.

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Sources

  • McGovern, Patrick. Uncorking the Past. The Quest for Wine, Beer, and other Alcoholic Beverages. California: University of California Press, 2009 (p. xiv)
  • Taber, George M. To cork or not to cork. Tradition, Romance, Science and the Battle for the Wine Bottle. Scribner, 2009 (p. 14)
  • http://www.wallafaces.com/a-history-of-the-glass-wine-bottle/

“The keeping of the stuff” (yeast) by German brewer Kobrer in 1581.

This bit of translation from an early Renaissance German brewing text is extremely interesting as it seems to describe, in quite some detail, the drying of yeast from lees and berm, and the reconstitution of this dried yeast for a new brew. This technique is very similar to yeast storage techniques as described by Professor Odd Nordland. He traveled into the Scandinavian back country to interview the local farmers and brewers about their traditional brewing techniques which were thought to go back centuries. He located a yeast log with the date 1621 inscribed in the bottom but was not able to conclusively date the technique back any further.

 

 

Fig. Carved yeast log from Morgedal, Telemark, dated to 1621.
From Nordland 1969.

 

 

 

Kobrer (Cobrer), Christoph. Gründliche und Nütze Beschreibung der Weinhawer und Bierbrewer-Practick  und der ganzen Kellermeister-Kunst. Burger, 1581.

The 20th Chapter.
One should and may keep the stuff for brewing [alternate: brown] and white beer and reuse.

One usually puts from the fresh good stuff [lees] as much as one wants from the first raw beer in an oaken barrel and fill the same roughly to two fingers widths so that the stuff has air. Then hammer the barrel closed and hang it in a well so that the stuff stays fresh good and strong. Similar to fresh stuff right away taken from the beer. But it must nevertheless be prepared and made ferment-y as will be taught after this.
Some people make a board wide [something, could indicate a frame with fabric stretched in the opening] that is two fingers thick in the middle and on the two sides [clamped?] or as many panes of a simple [something] big at the front it is two fingers wide and the whole thing is well wide stretched and tied together in the back and it has a handle made on it with which you can hang it up and then smear the stuff first on the one side and when that is dry if one wants to also on the other side everywhere one and a half fingers thick so that it sticks well on it. And well [the transcript says ‘no’, but I think that’s a mistake] ground hops with seeds and all [this would add antimicrobial protection], <?> mortared small or ground and scattered on top of it and in that smeared on stuff it should sink well into it so that is stays stuck in/on it. And the stuff pulls the hops in and dries quickly and let it stand in airy and shady place in the house but not in the sun because the sun sucks the strength out of it too much.
When the stuff is well dressed and stuck to each other on the ‘pane’ one can glue more on it [add another layer], if not, so one shall hang the ‘pane’ and let the stuff sticking to it dry.
After that one should take the panes with the dried stuff in a barrel over each other [stacked] and as often one puts a plane in also as often one puts/scatters hops above and below and cover it well and put a weight on it, so stays the stuff fresh and good.

To use the dried stuff again.

If you want it in the morning to give it to the beer then in the evening before one should knock off the dried stuff with a club [wood hammer] of that ‘pane’ and crush it small and then you pour the wort on it, either half or a full vat [like half a barrel, open on top] and stir it to each other and also pour from one container into another several times or often [aerate]. Thereafter let it stand the whole night by a warm and well heated oven [until] that stuff rises well several times and starts to ferment and when or as often has it well fermented then again pour it several times from one vessel into another to and fro like one does it otherwise with the fresh stuff and let it stand by the oven until again it ferments. As then the same thing another time pour to and fro and let it stand and ferment again, like before and not so long until the stuff and the wort has become very ‘soft’ or <?>. Thereafter distribute the prepared and fermenting stuff in the [used for beer making] containers and in each container as much as is necessary and the beer with its stuff well stirred through each other, this is called a white head/hat [the foam].

The storage and preparation of the stuff that belongs to the white beer.

One may try the same storage and drying and use also with the white stuff [barm, top fermenting foam] and the same pour very thinly on wooden boards [exact translation would be on sweated (or soldered) wooden firewood or maybe Schaiten is some sort of vessel, because it says ‘in’ not ‘on’ – maybe a description of a yeast log?] and the ‘Schaiten‘ with the stuff and the ‘Gerben‘ glue it well on and then set it on a warm oven where it can quickly dry or dry [the text uses two different words for drying] so that the stuff does not get sour and in the same way how you take the dried stuff from the ‘panes’ so can one get it off the [other kind of] board. Afterwards you wake it up and then you can try like with the stuff to store it and to use it as taught above.

For the German transcription, check out my blog post at: https://bookeofsecretes.blogspot.com/2018/02/the-keeping-of-stuff-yeast-for-brewing.html