|Extemporaneous Small Beer (Part 1)
By James Brownlow, Life Member, Windsor Historical Society
|JUNE 17, 2000: Charlotte, NC--
This Part 1 of a 2 part series which describe my experience brewing an extemporaneous small beer using a recipe from the journal of John Gaylord II (1776-1856). John Gaylord II was a well-educated resident of Windsor. His journal had a number of beer recipes, all using molasses instead of barley malt, that were listed as small beers. A small beer was an everyday beer: thinner and lower in alcohol content (typically less than 3-4% by volume) than the typical ales of the day. Small beers were usually made from the second mashing of barley malt, or, as in the case with John Gaylord, from molasses. Small beer to the Windsor resident of the early 19th century was probably viewed much like commercial beers (examples: Miller Genuine Draft, Budweiser) drunk today.
The recipe I chose from John Gaylord IIs journal was the only one that used hops as an ingredient. I thought that a beer with hops would be the closer to what we would expect a beer to taste like today. The recipe (from about 1820) is
|Extemporaneous Small Beer
Lemon peel, one ounce, Cream of Tartar four ounces, hops one ounce, Molasses, one quart, ginger one dram (sixty grains), bruised cloves four in number, boiling water four gallons; ferment with yeast.
No instructions were given as to length of boil, type of hops or fermentation time. Other references to small beer (see below, for instance George Washingtons recipe for small beer) suggested that about an hour of boiling and a 1:10 ratio of molasses to water was appropriate for fermenting.
|To make Small Beer
||Take a large Sifter full of Bran
Hops to your Taste -- Boil these
3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gall.
into a Cooler put in 3 Gallons
Molasses while the Beer is
scalding hot or rather drain the
molasses into the Cooler. Strain
the Beer on it while boiling hot
let this stand til it is little more
than Blood warm. Then put in
a quart of Yeast if the weather is
very cold cover it over with a Blanket.
Let it work in the Cooler 24 hours
then put it into the Cask. leave
the Bung open til it is almost done
working -- Bottle it that day Week
George Washington. "To Make Small Beer."
From his 1757 notebook
I made two batches of this beer. The ratio of molasses to water seemed to me, at first, to be too small; in both cases the result was a thin wort. (Wort is the concoction brewers make that is boiled, cooled and then fermented.) The George Washington recipe indicated a fermentation time of one week; this was about the same as present-day brewing. Since there was no refrigeration in the early 1800s, spoilage was always a problem so beer, like every other perishable, had to be consumed quickly. Both batches I made were scaled down to 3 gallons: I used 24 oz. of molasses, 3 oz. of cream of tartar, zest from one lemon, and 1/2 tsp each of ginger and ground cloves. The procedure used for each batch was the same: I brought about 3.5 gallons of water to a boil, added the molasses, hops and lemon peel, and boiled the mix for an hour. In this hour about 1/2 gallon of water was boiled off. I added the cream of tartar, ginger and ground cloves for the last 15 minutes of the boil. I next strained the boiled mix (the wort) into a 5-gallon primary fementer. I let the wort stand overnight to cool to about 70( F and then added the yeast. The only difference between the two batches I made was the yeast. I made one batch with an ale yeast, and one with a lager yeast. Ale yeasts were more prevalent in the early 1800s so I suspected that was what the denizens of Windsor used. Both batches were primed (given some additional sugar to ferment in the bottle so that the final product was carbonated) by saving some of the wort (about a quart) and re-mixing that with the fermented beer when it was bottled. As best I could tell, small beer was part of the typical diet, and was made by households on a regular basis.
The specific gravity of the wort turned out to be around 1.030 for both batches. This is called the original gravity and is a measure of how dense a liquid is relative to water (water has a specific gravity of 1.000). It is unlikely that early brewers in Windsor used a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the wort, but by keeping the ratio of molasses to water the same, consistent results could be obtained. The original gravity of this beer was slightly lower than original gravity for most home-brew beers and ales made today. An original gravity of 1.040 to around 1.055 is common for home and craft brews. But John Gaylord IIs beer was a small beer, produced for every-day consumption so the OG (original gravity) of 1.030 seemed about right. In the early 19th century beer was a common drink; boiling the wort killed off the bacteria and infectious organisms that would have been otherwise consumed. Water was used mostly for cleaning and agriculture. Cities of the 17th and 18th centuries did not have abundant, clean water supplies; beer, like tea, was made from boiled water and hence was a preferred drink.
The terminal gravity of the John Gaylord II small beer turned out to be 1.003. Terminal gravity is the specific gravity of the beer after it has completed fermenting. 1.003 is the same specific gravity (measured with a hydrometer) that I found among current popular American Lagers (henceforth referred to as American commercial beers). A terminal gravity of 1.003 resulted in a drink that did not have a heavy body, and was more drinkable. American commercial beers advertise an alcohol content of 5% (by volume), and I estimated the alcohol content of the John Gaylord IIs small beer to be around 3.8%. I estimated the alcohol content in two ways: first from the difference in original and terminal gravities, and secondly by heating a know quantity of the beer to around 190( F and tracking the volume of the liquid. Since alcohol boils at 173( F it will evaporate faster than the water. Both procedures resulted in an estimate of alcohol content of John Gaylord II small beer to be about 3.8% (by volume).
Click here for Part 2: Taste Evaluation of John Gaylords Extemporaneous Small Beer