Babylonian Cuneiform And Brewing Patterns

The other day, I read that The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had freed thousands of images from their intellectual property right shackles for free and unrestricted public use. This is good. And being a dutiful beer blogger, I immediately put in the word “beer” in the search engine to see what would pop up. And this is what popped up. A chunk of dried mud with scratchings. I love stuff like this. Three years ago, I stared at Mesopotamian brewing things at the Royal Ontario Museum, aka the ROM.  Somewhere I have photos I took thirty years ago of myself, when a selfie took a tripod, at the British Museum staring at Mesopotamian brewing things made of mud. Scratchings made a person over 150 generations ago. On just a piece of mud.

It’s actually more than that. It’s Urra=hubullu, tablet 23 from Mesopotamia in the late 1st millennium B.C.  “Twenty-three, eh?” thought I. Being a clever man I realized there must be twenty-two others. So off I went. Or, rather, I put a few words in Google… and found what I am sure you all expected I would findCuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Literary and scholastic texts of the first millennium B.C. by Ira Spar, Wilfred G. Lambert published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005 where I learned about what had been scratched into the dried mud thingie over three thousand years ago. Tablet 23 is a vocabulary of food and drink terms. The passage on this piece of cuneiform cites, at page 234, a 1950 article “On Beer and Brewing Techniques in Ancient Mesopotamia According to the XXIIIrd tablet of the series HAR.ra=hubullu” by Oppenhiem and Hartman which describes the content of tablet 23 in the context of brewing.

Fabulous. So fabulous as it is all seemingly quite authoritative. The Spar and Lambert text goes on to state what exactly was written down on three thousand odd years ago in that clay. There is great beer, dark beer, white beer, cloudy beer and beer for the tigi-songs whatever they were. My favourite might be the symbol for “clear/clean beer” indicating, of course, that folk were both skillful and appreciative of skill. That information is all in column 2. In column 3, the words are about process. Yeast is pulverized, barley bread is crushed and spread just right. It is soaked and dried then soaked and mashed. It is rinsed, pressed, crushed, broken and mixed. Malt is dried, watered, opened, spread and warmed. To my mind, this is more than a vocabulary. This is a guide not so very much different from Samuel Child’s 1768 guide discussed the other day.

This is interesting. How is it that I can read a Mesopotamian clay tablet and pretty much immediately understand what is going on? If it was about religion, governance or astronomy I wouldn’t have a clue. But beer and brewing are not strange. They are, in a very meaningful way, constant. You can see that if we go back to column 2 where you see words for 1:1 beer, 2:1 beer, 3:1 beer and even triple beer. The ratio is the relationship of grain input to beer output. If you scroll down to page 238 of the 2005 Spar and Lambert text you see there are footnotes and in the footnotes an explanation of Mesopotamian methodology. I am just going to cut and paste the footnote in relation to column 2, line 11 and what follows as I think it is one of the more extraordinary things I have ever read about beer in a couple of ways:

 

 

 

 

First, it is extraordinary as it basically sets out the scheme of brewing over 3,000 years ago in a manner which is readily understandable to anyone who has home brewed from an all-grain mash. Second, not only is it understandable… it is very familiar. It looks a lot like the parti-gyle process which makes a lot of sense as no one in their right mind wastes resources. So, the first sparging of the mash gives a 18% sugar solution wort, the second a 6% wort and the third a 1.5% wort. Roughly declining to a third each time. And sometimes the wort is recirculated to strengthen it even more to make what the footnote’s author describes as “very powerful” beer.

What is extraordinary to me is that this ratio looks a heck of a lot like the proper way to brew that I have read about from Piers the Ploughman in England’s 1370s to Matthew Vassar in New York’s 1830s. It reads like the 1825 advert for Thomas Molson’s brewery here in my hometown. Strong ale, single ale and small or ship’s beer with what looks like double double thrown in for good measure, that hazard from Shakespeare to Schenectady.

Which leads to another thought. Is that pattern a constant? Four grades of beer naturally created solely by the relationship between the sparge fluid and mash?  Following these rules you will have a 11%-ish beer, a 4%-ish one and a 1.25%-ish one. As well as whatever the heck double double was to create all that toil and trouble. A constant pattern. Could be. Could be.

The 1811 Needham And Rawlins Patent Brewing Machine

nyamerican22aprl1825That is a notice placed in the New York American of 22 April 1825. Letters Patent were issued for the device in 1811 and 1812 (nos. 3493 and 3575 respectively). James Needham is listed as the inventor, described as a brewer in Islington a district of London, England. In a book whose title starts but is not completely stated as The Literary Panorama, being a Compendium of National Papers and Parliamentary Reports, illustratives of the History, Statistics and Commerce of the Empire… from 1811 we learn a bit more from the summary of that year’s patents:

James Needham, Islington Green, Middlesex, Brewer and Corn Dealer, for a portable apparatus for brewing beer and ale.

Portable! How wonderful. In the same year’s publication of the Philosophical Magazine Series 1, Volume 38, Issue 163 it noted that the machine makes the beer from malt and hops and that the patent was issued on 23 September 1811. Curious as to the details? Well then get on your knees and thank God for the blessings imparted by The Repertory of Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture: Consisting of Original Communications, Specifications of Patent Inventions, Practical and Interesting Papers, Selected from the Philosophical Transactions and Scientific Journals of All Nations, Volume 22 from 1813 which contains the entire four page declaration of the invention as submitted for the patent including diagrams:
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[Never mind the wheely thing to the left of the illustration. That’s the previous patent for Robert Bill’s clothes washing machine.] Needham’s application indicates that its standard operation was to make eighteen gallons from two worts drawn from a bushel of malt and a pound of hops. There is also references on the internets to an 18 page document published in 1813 entitled Directions for Brewing with Needham, Rawlins and Co.’s Patent Family Brewing Machine but I am not having any luck placing my hand upon a copy. In the April 1813 edition of The Tradesman an article sets out addition and improvements to the patent were described including these comments under the heading “Observations of the Patentee”:

The superior advantages of this machine, both in form and method of using it, are these. It unites the fire-place, copper, mash-tun, under-back, hop-back, and working-tun, in one compact portable utensil; simple in its construction, and convenient both in shape and the ease with which it is managed. It is made of tin: most durable and wholesome materials, and kept in order with little trouble. The method of brewing with the machine is easy and certain in its operation, and requires but little labour; the consumption of fuel is small, and the steam is condensed. It produces an abundant extract from both malt and hops, without the necessity of mashing; and the extract is also of a superior flavour, being obtained by a progressive degree of heat (from cold to boiling) given to the water, which infuses the malt and hops at one time in separate compartments of the vessel, yet affording an opportunity for the extracts to mix freely; thereby assimilating their component parts, fixing and preserving their essential and volatile particles, and thus completing the brewing in a few hours. The wort obtained by this process is so congenial to fermentation, as to produce (after a short time keeping in the cask) a transparent and highly-flavoured malt liquor, superior in quality to any that can be produced by other methods.

So, the miracle that Needham blessed us with was the idea of no mash
home brewing. Sounds all a bit dodgy to me. And who is Rawlins? Bet he was the money man. He shows up in 1813 given that the 18 page directions booklet carries his name. The booklet is described in this list of cookery books acquired by Princeton University in 2012 including a passage from the preface:

NEEDHAM, RAWLINS and CO. Directions for Brewing with Needham, Rawlins, and Co.’s Patent Family Brewing Machine. Printed for the Patentees, and Sold by them at their Warehouses, Skinner Street, London; and Narrow Wine Street, Bristol. And by all their Agents. Sixth Edition. 8vo. 18pp., folding frontispiece with engravings of the machine and letterpress text, a single leaf on different paper with a list of agents for the machine around the country (printed by W. Newman, Widegate-st. Bishopsgate”. Stitched as issued in contemporary buff wrappers, uncut (wrappers slightly soiled). London: by T. H. Coe, 1813.

“Malt liquor has ever been considered in this country a Constitutional Beverage, and the advantages of private brewing were at all times sufficiently obvious, by the reducing it effected in the cost, and the pleasure of having Beer of any strength required; but the inconveneience and uncertainty attendant on it, have prevented its general adoption. To avoid these difficulties, by a Compact, Portable Brewing Apparatuus, which should embrace the more important object of producing superior Malt Liquor, has been the devoted study of the inventors of this Machine, which removes all uncertainty in Brewing (an object that has eluded the attentive search of the most scientific Brewers); requires but little labour, and obtains a greater extract from both Malt and Hops, without the necessity of mashing, a tedious and inconvenient operation.” (Preface).

Beer was a household staple in an age when the water was very likely to be poisonous – even schoolchildren were allowed a ration of “small” or weak beer – and it also had the advantage of keeping the servants out of the public houses. Intererstingly, home brewing was closely allied to the temperance movement in Victorian times. Charles Edward Rawlins left the partnership with James Needham and Joseph Rawlins on 31 December 1813 (London Gazette).

Too bad for Princeton that the booklet was published a quarter century before the Victorian era started. And, well, that last bit is interesting. Two Rawlins had been involved, one* leaving fairly early on even though they seemed to be on a roll with six editions of the booklet, warehouses as well as agents. Sadly – or maybe not so sadly depending on the beer – it didn’t pan out all that well for these gents in the longer term. Just fifteen years after publishing the improvements and directions – and three years after some guy in New York was flogging off his equipment second hand – it seems to have all come apart. In the 2 May 1828 edition ofThe London Gazette, the official journal of government notices and proclamations, we see the following notice at page 855:

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Sic transit gloria the idea of no mash home brew. Notice that while Needham became a hop merchant in Southwark he had to assign his entire estate to Rawlins and another, a stock broker by way of Medley. Someone lost all they had over this matter. Maybe they all did.

Monday Update: An excellent and unexpected bonus. Four more images related to Needham.

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To the far left is an ad for the machine from The Cambrian, a Welsh newspaper, from 21 November 1812. Next, is the notice stating that Charles Edward Rawlins had had enough and was out of the partnership. Middle right is the actual front page of the user guide and, far right, a 1821 book entitled Domestic Brewer and Family Wine-Maker which seems to have the user guide incorporated into it. Fabulous stuff.

*The departing partner, Charles Edward Rawlins, was a soda-water manufacturer on that same Narrow Wine Street in Bristol in 1814.

My Wee Experimental Brewery

Not quite this much yeast…

I was going to call this another project but I think that might be a wee bit too much so “My Experimental Brewery” (or MEB) will have to do. I have home brewed in two periods of my life. In 1987 I visited the Pitfield Beer Shop that Knut visited in 2005 but which recently shut. I picked up some books, a few collapsible kegs and backpacked them back to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a stretch of kit brewing with my recently graduated pals. From 2000 to about 2003 I part-mashed about 100 gallons a year, mixing extract and a small mash. I was pretty good and used the best ingredients I could find. I also got a bit heavy…heavier…which has put me off brewing for a while.

But recent comments here plus thinking more about beer and culture plus a colleague with an interest in brewing got me thinking – including thinking about about all that excellent yeast I have been pouring down the drain as I rinse out the bottles for the recycling bin. I’ve probably tossed back or poured down the best part of a half litre of saison yeast in the last year and another of top barley wine leavings. That can all be farmed, reused and renewed. And half the magic is in that yeast as we all know. So I put together the makings of a semi-demi-pico brewery and plan to make tiny ten litre batches of all-grain brews. Maybe a pumpkin porter with Fantôme yeast from Belgium. Maybe an imperial Scots heavy with the mixed yeasts of dubbels and Traquair to help give comfort to a few of we Scots who never got to have that empire. Maybe I will pull down that book by Tayleur that I picked up in 1987 and make something out of what I grow this summer in the garden.

So what would you make if you could make just five six-packs at a time?

Book Review: Terry Foster, Beer Writer

Terry Foster is one of my favorite beer writers and the most interesting thing about him as a beer writer these days is he does not have a website. I don’t know how you can exist without a website these days. How else will all the Google bots be able to share your daily musings. Google bots…bots…Google…[Ed.: Giving author a good shake] Oh, right…there is no money and no audience in a website and others are doing it already so why bother. Good point.

I encountered Terry Foster as a home brewer. He is the author titles #1 and #5 in the Classic Beer Style Series published by the Association of Brewers, a US company promoting the homebrew industry. Pale Ale is the first in the series and Poer the fifth. These books are now over a decade old but recently I noticed that Foster has been writing articles for Brew Your Own magazine regularly as well. These sorts of writings as well as my years of one hundred gallons of output have convinced me that the appreaciation of beer is uniquely advanced by learning about and undertaking its production.

A number of the early homebrewing authors started me on that path and it would be my suggestion that Terry Foster is a continuation of that line of thinkers and writers about beer. In April 1963, month of my birth, the British Government ended the taxation of homebrewing under the Inland Revenue Act of 1880 which required records to be kept and a one ound license to be paid. As W.H.T. Tayleur states in his text Home Brewing & Wine-Making (Penguin, 1973) at page 15:

This legislation reminaed in force for eighty-three years, but although at first many thousands of private brewing licences were taken out the number of home brewers steadily declined over the years until by the middle of this century, and after shortages of the necessary ingredients caused by two world wars, hardly any of the few that were left bothered to take out licences.

By removing the need to license, the government created an industry and changed brewing, to my mind, for two reasons. First, self-trained home brewers became self-trained micro-brewers as the opportunities to make money with the skill became apparent. Second, consumers gained access to well-made home brews which were much cheaper and much tastier than the standardized industrial kegged beer the 1960s were foisting upon people. Without men like the 1960s authors C.J.J. Berry and Ken Shales as well as David Line in the 1970s, all writing primarily through Amateur Winemaker Publications, many a brew-pub or craft brewery on both sides of the atlantic would simply not exist.

C.J.J. Berry, Ken Shales and David Line

Foster is perhaps the last of this tradition of British home brewing writers – and not just because his slicked back hair, styled in common cause with them. His two books, Pale Ale and Porter each provide a history of the style, a description of the elements, a guide to making them and a discussion of the commercial examples. Like those earlier authors he provides the context of the style and also deconstructs the mystery of how the brews can be made. Context and technique are two things modern industrial commercial brewers would like to shield from their customers – they more they were to know about what is out there and what it costs, the less likely the concept of brand loyalty might hold the customer.

Foster’s recent articles in Brew Your Own magazine continue this tradition. I have copies of the following articles:

“Pale Ale”, BYO September 2003, page 30.
“Old Ales”, BYO, September 2004, page 27.
“Anchors Away – A History of Malt Extract: Part 1”, BYO October 2004, page 30.
“Let’s Get Rid of the Water – A History of Malt Extract: Part 2”, BYO, November 2004, page 34.

As is the mandate of the magazine, Foster provides context and technique, showing how historical styles can be recreated with confidence. For example, in the third article he discusses how the British Navy invented malt extract in an effort to provide beer to sailors as a necessary food while in the fourth he describes how later extracts were used to avoid the stupidities of prohibition.

Foster’s style is attractive in that he is a plain speaker. In a world of where reputation and brand is all important, he can write of Yuengling’s Pottsville Porter:

…this is in some sense a classic porter, although it is bottom-fermented. Unfortunately, although it has many adherents, I am not one of them as I find it a little disappointing.

Not only is he not looking for the next PR opportunity when he writes, he is a bit folksy while also well researched. He is a trained chemist and has been a professional brewer for over 40 years, according to his BYO bio. He is interested and as a result interesting.

2002 C.J.J. Berry Obituary

[Source not recorded]

It is as though a chapter has closed in the annals of the winemaking movement with the death of Mr. Cyril Berry in Spain on the morning of Friday, 8th November 2002.

Cyril was a wonderful man, as anyone who knew him well will endorse. Without doubt he did more for the winemaking fraternity than anyone else. In fact there probably would not have been the unison of so many winemakers in Great Britain and overseas had it not been for his energy and acumen.

After World War II, when sugar came off the ration, Cyril founded the Andover Circle, which still flourishes today and of which he was still a member. Then Cheltenham, Bournemouth, Harrow and Hertford Circles sprang to life and gradually the bubbles of wine spread all over the country. Clubs learnt about each others’ events through a little magazine which Cyril and his dear wife Peggy produced in the upstairs bedroom of their house in Andover. This was for sale to Clubs at 6 pence a copy.

Cyril had an ebullient personality and energy which not only embraced his family and social life but also gave him the courage at a mature age to give up his safe, professional life as Editor of a local Andover paper in order to concentrate on producing the Amateur Winemaker magazine on a National scale. He also wrote the best-ever selling winemaking book ‘First Steps in Winemaking.’ Not only was the title very clever and appealing but it gave people the chance to make wines from fruits, flowers and vegetables in an easily explained manner. Yes, the recipes were ‘country’ style, often using a lot of sugar, but they gave the encouragement necessary to try them out and, in those early days, it was THE book to own. When a chicken was really a treat to be eaten just at Christmas and a bottle of wine had to be sought out and afforded only once in a while, the idea of making one’s own wine was very attractive. No rows of wine in Supermarkets then.

The main names at that time which readily come to mind after Cyril were Cyril Lucas of Bournemouth, Ben Turner of Harrow, ‘Andy’ Andrews of Hertford; they and some others got together to form a nucleus to start the National Conferences. A little later, after a Conference in Brighton, the Amateur Winemakers National Guild of Judges was formed (now N.G.W.B.J.) In those very early days Cyril was asked to assess vast volumes of competition wine at one sitting, which he manfully attempted. No wonder the Judges Guild was formed!

Clubs proliferated and prospered, friendships all over the country were cemented, winemaking graduated from granny’s country brew to commercial quality counterparts, all in essence due to Cyril Berry’s original initiative and drive. Winemaking queries were answered, informative articles published and Club News kept everyone informed. Someone once sent in to the Winemaker a recipe for a Yorkshire Pudding wine as a joke (Jack Dixon I believe – now no longer with us) and to keep the joke going Cyril printed it. He was taken aback some months later, however, when a member of the Andover Circle asked him to taste just such a ‘wine’! Many books associated with wine and beer making evolved from Cyril’s printing presses until he eventually retired and bought a holiday flat in Nerja, Spain, so as to enjoy the winter sunshine.

Although Peggy, Gay and Natalie, their daughters, and the grandchildren, were the heart of Cyril’s life, he found time for other interests such as gardening, viticulture, music and painting. He even had time to be on the local Council and received the honour of being Mayor of Andover at one time.

He was a warm, friendly, very special person, who will never be forgotten by those who loved and admired him – always with a smile and a joke on his lips – truly the Father of the winemaking movement. Blessed he was to leave us, sitting having a pre-prandial drink in the Spanish sunshine, but our heartfelt sympathies must go to Peggy and his family for his passing and the abruptness of this sad farewell. May he rest in peace.