Apr 18, 2014

Colonial Style Homebrew & James Squire

I've found some fun stuff as I've been working my way through references to beer and brewing in the early years of the colonies. Lately I've discovered a few home brew recipes which I'll post up here over the next week or two. This first recipe was published in The Australian in Sydney, 1832. From the description, it sounds like it would make something almost, but not quite entirely, unlike beer.

[We give the following approved recipe, for the convenience of families residing in the country.] 
To make Ale and Porter for a Half-sum— Take ten pounds of small sifted bran, one pound and a quarter of hops, twenty-five pounds of brown sugar. Boil the bran in twenty-five gallons of water for two hours, then strain, dissolve the sugar in four or five gallons of the bran water, and skim it while any impurities arise, then add the hops, and boil, for five minutes more, not longer; then strain and press it well through the cloth; then put it into the cask, and fill it up with the hot bran water; then mash it for half an hour, letting it flow out at the bottom, and pouring it in at the top of the cask. — N. B. The addition of ten ounces of bruised liquorice, with half an ounce of sliced gentian root, and two tea spoonsful of salt of steel to the above, will make good porter. The cask should be placed on its end, with a cock about three inches from the bottom and a hole of about one inch in diameter in the centre of the top. 
The fermentation will commence almost immediately and continue briskly till all the sugar is decomposed. During this period the hole at the top of the cask should be left open, but at the expiration of this time, generally about a fortnight,the cask should be bunged up, but the bung re-moved for a minute or two every second day, for another fortnight, when the whites and shells often eggs should be added as in fining wine, after which it should be finally closed up for about three weeks, when it will be fit to bottle or drink.The sugar and bran afford a most excellent substitute for malt, six pounds of sugar being equal to a bushel of malt. The greater or lesser degree of strength of the liquor will depend on the quantity of sugar used; the above gives a tolerably strong, and pleasant beverage.— South African Advertiser.
4.5kg of bran, 11.5kg of brown sugar and 550g hops @ 5 minutes with a brew length of about 130 litres, how could that go wrong? It's hard to imagine that this recipe would produce beer that was even close to pleasant. Add some bruised liquorice, gentian root and salt of steel and I'm sure you've got some kind of incredible not-really-porter on your hands.

One of the problems for early settlers was that malt and hops had to be imported from the UK, were expensive and not always available and imported beer was relatively expensive. The other, for those in NSW where this recipe came from, was that the hot climate and lack of pure yeast cultures meant that all malt beers went sour super quickly.

To deal with these problems, lots of beer was brewed with most or all of the fermentables coming from sugar. The sugar was cheap and would ferment out nearly completely, robbing any bacteria present of the chance to sour the beer too much. The image below is part of an account of colonial beer and gives a picture of brewing practice and drinking habits as well as calling out James Squire who had died 10 years before it was written.

The Sydney Monitor, 29 Feb, 1832

(It's a bit unfortunate for the modern James Squire brand that they chose to name themselves after someone who was more about marketing than brewing good beer. Not that they let history get in the way of their stories.)

In Sydney at this stage, about 73 000 litres of this 'beer' was brewed each week, more in summer. It was brewed one day and began to be served in pubs the next, long before it had fully fermented. The sweetness of the unfermented sugar made it more palatable for consumers and the beer didn't have time to get sour.

So in that light I guess the homebrew recipe makes some sense, especially for those living outside of Sydney, even if it doesn't sounds like a great drink.

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