Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Small Beer

Small beer. A beer for small people? This is something I was reading about the other day, and being a fan of brewing history, thought I'd share it with you. Apologies for not blogging FOREVER by the way, been terribly busy!

From what I gather, a 'small beer' was made from the second sparging of the original mash. What does that mean? After the barley grains were steeped in hot water and this liquid was collected it was used to make a strong beer. The soggy grains left would then have more hot water put through them to get as much of the remaining sugar out. This second lot of sugary water was then used to make a second, very weak beer.

So who drank this really weak beer and why did they even make it? The history of brewing dates back thousands of years when sanitation was poor and nasty water-borne bugs like cholera killed many people. It was known that the process of brewing involved boiling the water and adding hops which have antibacterial properties, which effectively made the water potable.

The problem was that to drink this 'safe' beverage all day, its consumers would quite probably end up trolleyed as it was high in alcohol content - not particularly conducive to a productive day. The medieval solution was a home-brewed 'small beer' which was given to children, women, and labourers. It was usually under 2%, and often under 1%ABV which meant it served the purpose of hydrating without intoxicating. Marvellous.

I fancy making a small beer. Make a lovely barley wine with the first runnings and then make a really low alcohol 'small beer' with the second. Maybe one day...

PS Apparently 'small beer' was also something to do with porridgey stuff which I don't understand, and it's also a term use to be mean about modern beer which tastes a bit like dishwater.

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