|ale (eil) An
alcoholic drink made from fermented cereal grains, esp. barley.
[Old English - alu, ealu, Old Saxon - alofat]
Mesopotamian texts, dating back
over 5,000 years ago, refer to 19 different types of beer, brewed
from barley, wheat, and various aromatic plants which were used
for their flavouring and preservative qualities.
When the Romans came to Britain
they brought with them the many types of wine to which they were
accustomed. After they left to return to Rome, various tribes flooded
into Britain from the continent, bringing with them their own culture,
farming methods, and brewing techniques.
The Benedictine monks of the
7th century were great drinkers of wine, and also mead, made from
fermented honey. They believed that a pint of wine a day was an
acceptable amount, and not at all excessive.
The Saxon farmers of Stonyford would have grown
barley in long cultivated strips of land, and without a doubt, they would
have drunk an ale made from their produce. (Our modern usage noun "brewer"
is derived from the Old Saxon word "brewan") This ale would
have been very unlike the ales or beers we are used to today. It would
have been a cloudy ale, an ale in which the sweetness of the malt was
balanced by the addition of bitter herbs. It would have been a strong
tasting ale, a real ale, a mans ale, an ale to put hair on your
, and in all likelihood, it would have been brewed by
the women of the village. The practice of brewing beer was a mainly female
occupation right up to the most recent of times.
Whereas drinking ale today is regarded as a social
pastime, Saxon ale would also have been produced as a source of protein
and as a part of the normal diet. Because the ale was unfiltered and the
use of fining agents for ale brewing was a much later procedure, the ale
would have had proteins and debris left from the mashing process hanging
in suspension, making it a very cloudy and murky brew, but an excellent
source of nourishment.
Does anyone remember the old Mackeson slogan? "It looks good, it
tastes good, and by golly it does you good!". Mackeson and other
beers like it were "stout" ales which, apart from meaning some
of the malt used to make it had been very darkly toasted, giving the resulting
brew its lush dark colour, it also meant that it was unfiltered
and hadn't been through any fining process, leaving the yeast and malt
residues hanging in suspension
||Stonyfords early brewers
would have been situated right on the banks of the River Don, an area
long since reshaped after the digging of the canal and Vermuydens
reworking of the river Don, but the river would have provided the
perfect water for brewing ale.
The grains would have been "malted", that is allowed to
sprout and then roasted in an oven. This turned all of the starch
in the grains into sugar, which would then be extracted in a process
known as mashing. In this procedure the malted grains are simmered
in hot water in a large vessel, usually made of copper. The temperature
in those days being accurately judged by the brewers elbow,
the mashing process was carried out at around 66C, for at least one
and a half hours. The resulting sugar laden liquid would be called
the "wort". The wort was then boiled thoroughly, which would
sterilise the liquid prior to a yeast been introduced once the wort
|Many different types of bitter herbs were added
to the boiling wort to balance the sweetness of the malt. It would be over
a thousand years before the use of hops became commonplace.
The humble hop plant - Humulus Lupulus
It is believed that hopped beer was unheard of in England until
soldiers returning from Europe after taking part in the Crusades
in the 1400s demanded beers brewed with hops. While visiting
foreign parts they had drunk the European ale, which we now call
lager. This beer was strongly flavoured with hops, probably of varieties
we now know as Halertau and Saaz. The first hops were imported by
traders from Flanders, but hop growing soon became a major concern,
particularly in Kent.
Of course, not everyone was happy with the arrival of "this
noxious weed", as it was once described. Prior to the arrival
of the hop plant, monks had brewed mead and other drinks made from
their own produce, which of course provided them with extra income.
They used a variety of herbs and spices to flavour
their brews and were reluctant to use a weed which they recognised as
been related to the cannabis producing hemp plant.
The beers we are used to today are flavoured with home produced varieties
of hops which have wonderful names, such as Fuggles, Bramling Cross and
After fermentation, the ale would be sealed in
stone jars or wooden containers and self condition for a further few weeks
before being ready to drink.
In the days before commercial beers underwent such vigorous filtering
methods, bottled beers would remain murky throughout the first few days
after bottling. Gradually the beer would clear as the remaining sugars
carried on fermenting with the still live yeast. The liquid would absorb
carbon dioxide, produced along with alcohol during fermentation, and the
spent yeast and other organic substances would fall to the bottom of the
bottle, creating a layer of sediment. Such was the value placed on the
supposed healthy benefits of this sediment that for a long time the last
part of the poured ale was referred to as "the brewers inch".
This time, between bottling and the ale being ready to drink, is known
From Saxon times, right through to
the middle ages, most of the ale would have been brewed and served at
the brewers home. However, with the coming of the traders from the
Isle of Axholme and Thorne who carried their goods along the River Don
on their way to Doncaster Market, there would have been great need for
an establishment dealing with the purveyance of alcoholic beverages.
Beside being a source of income for
the brewer and his/her family, which would attract visiting traders and
other clientele, the sale of ale and beer would also have attracted the
|The Tax Man Cometh!
As with all good things, successive governments would soon want to
place a price on the enjoyment of the populace.
Local governments would set up a person to act as "ale conner",
from Old English connere - "one who tests", in order to
Ale was taxed on its strength, which was somewhat awkward since
the measuring devices of the Customs & Excises were a long way
| A far more accurate way to the judge the strength
of an ale was to test the amount of sugar contained in the wort before fermentation,
because it is the fermented sugars which produce the alcohol in the finished
The ale conner would enter the establishment armed with tools of his trade
- a pot to drink from and a pair of leather breeches.
Wort was poured onto any available flat surface, and then the ale conner
would sit in it while he drank his ale. The strength of the wort was determined
by the degree of stickiness affecting the conners leather breeches
and the sugary surface, which was measured after a certain length of time
had elapsed. The stickier the wort, the higher the predicted alcohol content.
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