Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Drink fit for a Queen

Greeting to all my friends, fellow Tudor devotees and Houselings I hope you are all well at this time of Autumnal and down here Vernal Equinox, just remember at either end of the world it is day to celebrate and thus on that theme...
Drinking!  We all at least in the developed world take water pretty much for granted and when thirsty turn on the tap and grab a glass of pure (except for various chemical additives) water is very much the source of life, while you can go with out food for days or weeks four days without water and…
In the Tudor period for Red Ned Bedwell when he was thirsty after a heavy session at the gaming tables he didn’t ask for a refreshing tankard of water, no it was somewhat different.  Ned like almost anyone in Tudor England wet their whistle with small ale.  My God only the most poverty stricken, the insane or those tired of life drank pure water!

Especially in London, despite the constant argument on how clean the city was at this period, eyewitness accounts tend to err on the more foul than fair quality of the streets.  The stench and putrid condition of the Fleete Ditch came in for special mention in period complaints and reports.  As it was the Thames was the repository of all the foul scourings from the streets and the butcher's shambles after a good rain.  Thus a cup of Thames water was almost certainly a rather painful suicide from the dreaded bloody flux.  Now unlike a number of historians I strongly believe our ancestors weren't stupid they knew this, even if learned doctors of medicine waffled on about humours and miasmas.  They had (and to be honest it was probably a woman in one of the early Middle Eastern settlements) discovered that the act of brewing both purified the water and created a rather tasty and nourishing drink.  This was the common or small ale which unlike our modern beers had a lower alcohol content as well as a high proportion of protein, vitamins and minerals.  A quick perusal of the records of the Buttery of Hampton Court around 1540 shows that each servant was entitled to six pints of small beer per day with meat dishes and four pints on fish days.  It was consumed pretty much like we more decadent moderns guzzle energy and soft drinks, though it is possible that well made English small beer of the period did you less harm than our contemporary tipples.  When Tudors wanted to celebration a more potent brew with a higher alcohol content, sometimes called a double was passed around, according to some accounts this was also aged longer than small ale sometimes for up to one or two years. 

“The general drink is ale, which is prepared from barley and is excellent well tasted, but strong and intoxicating.”  According to Paul Hentzner a visitor from Brandenburg in the 1580’s
Recently a good friend of mine Wayne the Leatherworking Reverend has embarked on a very tasty series of reconstruction archaeology experiments based on the recipes from The Closet of Sir Kenholm Digby, Knight Unlocked.  He has been endeavouring to brew Tudor and Stuart period ales using full mash techniques appropriate to the period. Of course less the weevils and possibly some extra modern sanitation.  His results have been impressive and recently I’ve had the chance to try one a Hydromel as served to the Queen so this is it;

Take 9 litres of water, 0.5l of honey, half a ginger root, two cloves, small bit of fresh rosemary, splash of English ale yeast left over from the Cock Ale (I cheated instead using a dry ale yeast).
This only took about an hour to make, first simmer the honey, but don't boil it or you'll drive off the lovely aromatics.  Ferment in a sterilised brewing chamber as per a mead and bottle at the end of the fermentation process depending on the Specific Gravity reading maybe a week or so.  Personally I tend to go by taste and aroma as well as keeping a good eye on the rate of bubbles in the airlock.  Also remember this is a low alcohol version then 5 weeks in the bottle.

According to Wayne ‘It tastes like a honey-sweetened ginger beer’.
Here is the section it was based on from Digby

Take 18 quarts of spring-water, and one quart of honey; when the water is warm, put the honey into it.  When it boileth up, skim it very well, and continue skimming it, as long as any scum will rise.  Then put in one Race of Ginger (sliced in thin slices,) four Cloves, and a little sprig of green Rosemary.  Let these boil in the Liquor so long, till in all it have boiled one hour.  Then set it to cool, till it be blood-warm; and then put to it a spoonful of Ale-yest.  When it is worked up, put it into a vessel of a it size; and after two or three days, bottle it up.  You may drink it after six weeks, or two moneths.

Thus was the Hydromel made that I gave the Queen, which was exceedingly liked by everybody.
[The Closet of Sir Kenholm Digby, Knight Unlocked (1644), p36 in the 1669 edition]
The above link is to the whole downloadable book on Project Gutenberg.

After all that lets hope it doesn’t end up like this Tudor version
“Healthy but sickening to the taste.  It is cloudy like horse urine and has husks on top  Perhaps they used Thames water like some pilloried London brewers?

So in several weeks I’ll let you know how it turned out.
Regards Greg

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