by GB from Devizes
Devizes, United Kingdom
September 3, 2006
The brewing process has changed little since the 16th century. In former times, many country households made their own "ale" (brewed without hops) or later "beer," using hops that had been introduced to this country in the early 16th century. Ale was often spiced with herbs such as fennel, but there is no evidence of flavouring material being used at Lacock, as there is no "copper" for boiling them up with the extracted malt.
The household "brewster" was traditionally a female member of the household who would brew the liquid for consumption by the resident family, servants, visiting tradesmen and possibly estate tenants. It would have been a somewhat "muddy" brew by today’s standards, as it would have retained some of the original malts and yeasts, but nevertheless, it was full of nutritional ingredients, and as such, an important part of the daily diet.
The Brew House at Lacock utilised a three part process: Firstly, the combined mash tun and boiler. This large vessel sat atop of a firebox. The water was heated to boiling point, upon which the ground malt was added and stirred, with the mixture being allowed to rest for several hours, after which a plug would be pulled allowing the liquid to flow via a wooden chute into the cooler.
Secondly, the cooler: this was a large, flat lead-lined vessel resting on raised joists allowing air to freely circulate. The liquor remained here until it dropped in temperature to around blood heat. Once the liquor had attained the correct temperature, a bung would be released allowing the brew to drop into the fermenting vessel.
Thirdly, the fermenter: an iron-bound oak vat. The liquor would have yeasts added to it to permit spontaneous fermentation. When the process was deemed as being complete, the yeast would be skimmed off for future re-use, the brass plug opened, and the beer drained into wooden buckets that had been placed in the recess beneath the fermenter. Its shelf life would have been extremely short, meaning that most of the brew would be consumed within a short time frame.
Essentially, today’s modern processes have not deviated from those detailed above. Most modern breweries utilise various chemicals and finings to clear the beer rapidly and add other products such as barley to improve taste.