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| Brewing Tips From the Past - A Book Review
by Vince Capano
One glance at the massive table of contents is all that it takes to prove that the title
Mackenzie’s Five Thousand Receipts in all the Useful and Domestic Arts is a fairly
accurate one. Even more impressive is the fact that this is the “new American, from
the latest London Edition, carefully revised and adapted to the climate of the U.
States.” It was published on the “twenty fifth day of September in the fifty third year
of Independence of the United States of America A.D. 1824”. This now musty,
yellow tinged book, the property of Peter Tamburro, erstwhile book collector and
historian, dealt with the most vital topics of its day. Chapters ranged from the
helpful “ how to warm beds”, to the practical “making the right liniments for burns
and scalds”, to the essential “salutary cautions for females whose clothes are on fire”.
A large part of the book however is taken with a myriad of recipes for things like
raspberry dumplings, pigeons auz choux, syrup of ginger, compound soap, house
paint, and rheumatism remedies. Most of these topics are briskly and concisely
explained in a quarter to half page. All except for one. Indeed, this bible of real life in
the early 19th century wisely saved its largest, most detailed section for brewing.
Clearly this was an enlightened age.
“To fit up a small brew house” is the title of the first section under the massive
chapter heading, “ Brewing”. It was quite informative on the topic too, up to a
point. That point being in bold print, where Mr. Mackenzie wrote: “Of public
breweries and their extensive utensils and machinery, we affect to give no
description, because books are not likely to be resorted to by the class of persons
engaged in those extensive manufactories”. Ouch. One can only imagine what led
the author to that conclusion. Obviously this book was not a best seller among
professional brewers of the 19th century.
“To choose water for brewing” was the next heading. Here the telltale fact was that
“soft water makes for a stronger extract that is more inclined to ferment but hard is
better for keeping beer and is less liable to run sour”. Interesting. Then came the
ultimate challenge for the home brewer of 1824 – “how to mash without a
thermometer”, a question that would be difficult for even the most experienced
home brewer today. The author’s answer was quite, shall we say, reflective: “As
diminished evaporation takes place on the surface of water just before it boils, many
practical private brewers turn on more (heat), as soon as they see their faces on the
smooth surface of the water.” Fascinating.
Pages of minutely detailed brewing instructions followed for things like Burton ale,
Ringwood ale, Nottingham ale, Branstable ale, Essex ale, Dorchester ale, Windsor ale,
stout, porter and one simply entitled, “Table beer from sugar”. You might want to
give this one a try: “… take 4 pounds of coarse brown sugar, add 10 gallons of
water, then put in three ounces of hops, let the whole boil for 3/4 of an hour and
work it as usual. It should be kept a week, then tapped.” Simple and to the point.
There are even recipes for true specialty beers such as ones to be “used in cold
weather as a stimulant”, to be used to “ward off the discomforts of a cold”, and even
one to “assist in making a person more agreeable”. Essential cures still needed
Perhaps sensing the level of the brewing abilities of his readers, the author includes a
treatise on how “to recover beer when flat” and to “prevent beer from becoming
stale.” To revitalize flat beer the book recommends taking “ five gallons out of a
hogshead, boil it with five pounds of honey, skim it well when cold and put it into the
cask again. Then stop it up close, and it will make the liquor drink strong and
pleasant.” For those who can’t bear the honey remedy the highly recommended
alternative is to “add two ounces of new hops and a pound of chalk into the cask and
bung it up close. In three days it will be fit to drink.” In this case it seems the phrase
‘fit to drink’ is quite subjective.
The proactive side of the issue was also addressed under the explanatory heading
“To prevent beer becoming undrinkable.” The most palatable method instructed the
private brewer to take “ a quart of French brandy put as much wheat or bean flour
as will make it into a dough, and put it in, in long pieces, at the bunghole, letting it fall
gently to the bottom.” I’d recommend a few sips of that brandy first however.
Chalk use returns in method two for dealing with stale brew: “Start with a pound of
honey, add a pound of the powder of soft, mellow chalk. Mix these into a stiff paste
and put into the butt.” Remember, don’t try this one at home folks.
Many more helpful tips followed. Want to give “new ale the flavour of old”? If so,
just put into the cask a “handful of pickled cumbers which will ad an apparent six
months to the age of the ale”. Need to give your beer a richer taste? Well, all you
have to do is “put six sea-biscuits into a bag of hops and put them into the cask”.
And of course if you should be sure to “protect your beer from the effects of
electricity”. The simple solution: place the cask over pieces of iron to “serve as a
sufficient protection against this pernicious influence”.
Of all the delicate pages of this fragile book the one that was clearly most worn was
one that most likely reached the heart of every reader: “Making cheap and agreeable
table beer”. Throw in quick and easy too. Here it is: “take 15 gallons of water and
boil one half putting the other into a barrel; add the boiling water to the cold, with
one gallon of molasses and a little yeast. Keep the bung hole open till the
fermentation is abated.” Cheap, perhaps. Agreeable may be another issue.
So it seems that the MacKenzie’s Five Thousand Receipts in all the Useful and
Domestic Arts still can teach us a thing or two or five thousand about beer. Perhaps
even the publishers themselves knew they had a book that would not only be
practical and popular but also long lasting. It surely took some insight on their part to
write in the preface that they had “ selected paper that is should be sufficiently
durable to resist the frequent usage into which a work of this description must
necessarily be called.” Now, reading through it a 178 years later, their decision is
|Brewing Tips From the Past - A book review