This is probably Aldobrandino de Siene's claim to fame, as it is a frequently reproduced image from a 13th century illuminated text.
Le Régime du corps
The Le Régime du corps (Regular Care of the Body) is Aldobrandino’s 13th-century text covering all aspects of health (preserving health, care for different parts of the body, diet, and physiognomy [judging someone’s character from facial appearances]). In it, he describes some ailments caused by drinking beer. Whether it is beer brewed from oats, wheat or barley (or a mixture thereof), it harms the head and stomach, gives you bad breath, hurts your teeth, and fills the head with bad fumes (that one may be true). Given that Aldobrandino was Italian (and wrote in French) I would venture to guess there was a strong wine bias here towards beer. In any case, if one must drink a beer, that which is brewed from rye (or rye bread) with mint and wild celery is best.
This sounds very interesting.
As with most research, I am left with more questions than answers. Would love to know whether rye beers such as this were common, and how it fits into the gruit scene of Medieval Europe.
I’m a fan of rye beers, and honestly, I could see a mint / celery combination being pretty tasty, albeit a hard one to nail down. I really need to get my home brewery up and running, so I can give this a try.
Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Food in medieval times. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.
Scully, D. Eleanor, and Terence Scully. Early French cookery: sources, history, original recipes and modern adaptations. University of Michigan Press, 2002.
Alcohol History Links June 18 - 24th
Slow news week, but that’s kind of expected.
Lars continues his post series about his travels through Lithuania. The place is called Su Puta (heh), and was actually a farmhouse before it was a brewery. What I find interesting is the continued use of birch (or Juniper in Scandinavia’s case) infusions to clean vessels. Would be particularly useful for wood vessels, I imagine. Just more and more reasons as to why I should buy a plane ticket to Lithuania. I particularly like the sentiment though, ‘...it’s clear that these people don’t just work as brewers. They are brewers.'
Nice simple beer recipe from 1891.
A kickstarter campaign to document a Master’s thesis about the archaeology of beer and wine. The video is a bit rough, and I am still not quite sure how this would all work. But I am all for more research into the use of intoxicants in archaeology.
A recreation of cider, for once! But then again, not sure what really makes this ‘historic’ besides the addition of spices. Which, people are still doing anyway.
another Tej recipe
But at least I found out about Tallah. From what I have read about African brewing practices, it seems common to mix different stages of grain fermentations to create one batch. More on that later.
Another source claims that Tej is a simple mead with Gesho root as a flavoring (possibly preservative?). Harry Kloman’s Tej page discusses the evolution of the word Tej in the Amharic languages, highlighting the difficulties therein. He then goes on to list some literary sources, usually stemming from explorers of the area, who mention Tej in their travels. Either the result of human error or cultural variation, each account of Tej is slightly different, varying the ratios between honey and water, additives, and whether cereal grains were used. The most relevant quote stems from Robert Bourke in 1876 who says
Tej is made in the following way: to one part of honey are added seven parts of water, and well mixed; then some leaves of a plant called "geshoo" are put into the mixture, to make it ferment; it is put outside in the shade and left for a day or two. A piece of cotton cloth is strained over the mouth of the large earthenware jar, or "gumbo," and through this the "tej" is poured; the servant tapping the cloth with his fingers to make the liquid run freely. It one wants to make it stronger, the first brew is used instead of the water; adding honey and geshoo leaves in the same way.
This, along with the majority of quotes provided, shows that Tej is indeed a mead which uses Gesho as a bittering agent.
tej in culture
This also signifies the role Tej has played within a culture. The origins of state societies within Ethiopia (like the Aksumites) were fueled by political and economic contacts with Egypt, South Arabia, and the expansion of Rome. Since all three were major brewers of beer and wine, it would be interesting to see how Tej relates to other drinks at that time. Was Tej developed because the Kings and Queens of Ethiopia wanted to imitate what they saw in Egypt? Was Tej used as a trade good? When did Tej become a drink of the elite, when it can be so easily made at home? Were there taxes regulating the trade? Who knows...
At least there is some recent evidence with which fermentative organisms to use. In their paper published in 2005, Bahiru et al. studied the microflora from 200 samples of Tej at varying stages of development. Although there was significant variation, yeasts and lactic acid bacteria were most common, with S. cerevisiae and Lactobacillus being the dominant representatives. The authors suggest that the fermentative process of Tej probably proceeds as thus: Enterobacteriaceae initiate fermentation and then reduce pH levels until conditions are ideal for lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. However, the authors state that this area requires further research. What this study does show is the variety of organisms involved in fermentation (ten different yeast species, and at least four lactic acid bacteria).
This just goes to show the level of experimentation that can be done with different microorganisms. Would be interesting to know if any form of control for fermentation was being done (such as a branch to collect yeast), but the authors don't mention anything.
I imagine Tej tastes very sweet, but could have extreme variety given regional differences in resources. Given the rise of SABMiller, I just hope Tej and other indigenous beers don’t go extinct.
Bahiru, Bekele, Tetemke Mehari, and Mogessie Ashenafi. "Yeast and lactic acid flora of tej, an indigenous Ethiopian honey wine: Variations within and between production units." Food microbiology 23.3 (2006): 277-282.
Alcohol history links june 11 - 17th
A week and a half diet of medieval foods? Hell yes. Seems pretty healthy, too. It’s based off of the Regimen Sanitatus Salernum, a collection of advice from English royal doctors in the form of a poem, no less. I’ll have to give it a go one of these days, but maybe substitute the diluted red wine with table beer instead.
Merryn Dineley recently provided a very thorough explanation of the lautering and sparging stages of the brewing process, with historical information to boot!
Martyn Cornell once again provides some fascinating material. He goes over the recent Museum of London Archaeology findings where a wooden tablet addresses a brewer named Domitius Tertius Bracearius. According to Cornell, though, the translation is more likely to be maltster, rather than brewer, and goes on to provide some convincing evidence. But as he points out later on, even if he was a maltster, he must have been selling his wares to brewers in London.
Cervecería Barbarian, a brewery from Peru, won three silver medals at the South Beer Cup, South America’s leading craft beer awards. One of the winning beers, though, was a Chicha - an ancient Peruvian style of beer made from corn. Always good news when ancient beer styles win.
A captivating title, but a bit misleading. I have my suspicions on the accuracy of this, and as others have pointed out online, there were probably more bugs in there besides S. cerevisiae and brettanomyces. Still a fun read though. Thanks to Merryn Dineley for bringing it to my attention.
The variety of fermented drinks from Africa are many. There’s Bouza, Palm wines, Muratina and Uragua, Kaffir, Wanzuki and Gongo, Kofyar, Banana beer, Ikigage, and Tchoukouto, just to name a few. Each with their own cultural traditions. Each with their own variations.
Let’s get started.
Ethiopian Honey wine
Ethiopia is home to a fair number of drinks, such as Tej, Tella, Borde and Shamita. Tej is a fairly well known drink. And by well known, I mean you actually get results when you google ‘Tej wine’.
Tej is a mead brewed with gesho (Rhamnus prenoides). According to Vogel and Gobezie (1981) it is prepared with one part honey with 2 - 5 parts water, covered, then left to ferment for 2 - 3 days. A portion (Im not sure how much) is boiled with the gesho root, then put back into the fermentation pot. Then its left to ferment till completion (5 to 20 days), then filtered.
There is some folklore with Tej, once the reserved drink for Royalty, now considered the national drink of Ethiopia. Even in the Ethiopian episode of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain heads to a local Tej Bet (a Tej bar) for a drink. The segment is short, and Bourdain only mentions that Tej is a fermented barley and honey drink. Not much, but at least it’s some tv coverage of the beverage.
It has been argued before [Hayden et al., 2013] that honey was one of the only simple sugar sources available to prehistoric man, and thus Tej could be used as an example for potential Neolithic beverages.
It stands to reason that Tej, or any other form of mead, was one of Man’s first alcoholic brews. If honey is exposed to some water, the simple sugars present will provide the energy for yeast to start fermentation. Whether or not archaeologists will be able to prove this is another story.
Turning to the section regarding honey and Africa, Dr. McGovern in Uncorking the Past mentions that the Roman geographer Strabo [63 BC - 24 AD] noted that Tej was brewed by the nomadic peoples of the area and consumed exclusively by the ruler and his advisers. When this drink transitioned from the drink of royalty, to the drink of the commoner I do not know. According to McGovern, Tej is made by mixing five to six parts water with one part honey, allowing it to sit for a few weeks to ferment, resulting in a mead around 8 - 13% alcohol.
McGovern doesn’t go into Tej any further, but instead diverges into a brief history of mead in the area. Something I should get back to. Given that McGovern is discussing the beginnings of Tej, it is entirely possible that Tej was a mead which evolved into something else in the future. Plus, given the cultural diversity of Africa, one village could make it entirely different from another. This section, although a fun read, is just another blip of information.
More to follow next week
Hayden, B., Canuel, N., & Shanse, J. (2013). What was brewing in the Natufian? An archaeological assessment of brewing technology in the Epipaleolithic. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 20(1), 102-150.
McGovern, P. E. (2009). Uncorking the past: the quest for wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages. Univ of California Press.
Vogel, A., Gobezie, A., 1983. Ethiopian ‘‘tej’’. In: Steinkraus, K.H. (Ed.), Handbook ofIndigenous Fermented Foods. Marcel Dekker, Inc, New York.
Alcohol history links June 3 - 10
Everything Old is Brewed Again
Nice to see that historically inspired beers are starting to get traction. If there’s one thing I learned during my MSc, its that beer can be much more than barley, hops, and S. cerevisiae. Hopefully in the coming years, such beers become more prevalent. [Gastropod]
Prehistoric wine-making at Dikili Tash (Northern Greece): Integrating residue analysis and archaeobotany
Now this one isn’t as fresh off the press (being public since May 31st), but I only found out about it the other day. I’ll have to do a proper sit down and do a thorough read-through, as it’s very interesting. Seems like Garnier and Valamoti discovered some Neolithic winemaking from around 4300 BCE in Greece. Pretty big claim as it would provide the earliest evidence for winemaking in the Eastern Mediterranean and Europe. [Science Direct]
Lars continues his travels through Lithuania. This time he stops off at the Piniavos brewery, an old - granted it uses modern equipment - farmhouse brewery. Some really interesting brewing methods here, like using raspberry stems and a two wort blending technique. [Larsblog]
Some musings on the Dark Mild, which interestingly wasnt used much before WWII. Reading this makes me wish I still lived in England. A mild would really hit the spot right about now. [Barklay Perkins]
Brewing in ancient Egypt is a fascinating topic, but a tedious one to study. Given the earliest evidence for Egyptian brewing dates around 3500 BC and continues through the Ptolemaic period some 3,000 years later, that amount of time must have led to changes in brewing techniques, ingredients, and better technology. But there is not a whole lot out there. There is no evidence to suggest the Egyptians stopped brewing, but it probably tailed off in popularity once the Greeks stepped in. The Greeks did impose a beer tax in Egypt for the first time, after all.
Anyway, the Egyptian word for beer was hqt (heqet), and the names Egyptians gave to their types of hqt were pretty cool. Some early sources from the Pyramid Texts - religious texts from Old Kingdom era Egypt - call out a few beers. These are: dark beer, iron beer, hes-beer (garnished), and the beer of Nubia.
A few beers that are particularly interesting are the beer of truth, beer which does not sour, and beer of eternity. The beer of truth, also called the beer of the goddess Maat, was designated for the 12 gods who guarded the shrine of Osiris. These latter two beers are assumed to have an extended shelf life, given their names. How old school Egyptian brewers were able to do so, I have no idea. It is some feat to get a beer to preserve given that the Egyptians (seemingly) had no means to protect their beer from microbial attack. Maybe they had plants with the same preservative powers as hops, or maybe they upped alcohol content by adding dates...but who knows.