Wednesday, 17 February 2010

What was this stuff like?

In George Watkins' classic 1760 work The compleat brewer, in the description of filling beer into casks, I came across this:

Do I understand this right? The yeasty sludge is to be reserved, and mixed with small beer to improve it.

And William McEwan's letter almost a hundred years later confirms: "This extract of the yeast and also the dregs of the Butts are mixed along with an inferior beer which is sold in the neighbourhood."

I guess this must have been the small beer which history tells us was drunk as an alternative to water before clean municipal tap water became widespread. But how would it be improved by adding yeasty goop to it?


  1. If there were unfermented sugars in there it could have increased the ABV, also yeast does add flavour and there's no reason why this shouldn't have been the case.

    We are pretty alone in our obsession of pouring beer and leaving the yeast in the bottom in the UK of the bottle, the Belgians tend not to, the Aussies roll the yeast in as part of the pouring ritual of Cooper's, the Germans have their yeast throughout their beer too.

    I can't be positive, and Ron or someone significantly more qualified than me should probably wade in, but I wouldn't imagine that they used finings in those days so wouldn't have always drunk totally clear beer anyway.

    Just some thoughts...

  2. Not that I am significantly more qualified but I think if you look in Martyn Cornell's book "A History of the Pint" there is some reference to good healthy beer being thick in ye olde days. From a nutritional point of view, centuries back, that would have been one of the advantages.

  3. Speak to any kraut and he'll tell you the goodness in the beer comes from the hefe (yeast). I expect it has all the vitamins of marmite without being as rank as marmite.

  4. Marmite? Rank? Cookie, you are a heathen.

  5. White Shield, German & Belgie wheaties have all (at times) been enjoyed with a fair bit of yeast in.

    MJ writes of regulars drinking de Koninck in the brewery tap, served with a separate shot glass of fresh brewery yeast.

    Personally, in modern UK beers, I really don't like the taste of yeast - it's really harshly bitter & seems to overwhelm the other flavours in the beer.

  6. I've done the MJ thing in the same place. It's pretty foul stuff drunk neat!

  7. Isinglass finings have been used since at least 1700.

  8. Also, on the subject of yeasty water don't forget: Yeast and wild bacteria can act like rival gangs in a turf war. A strong enough strain of yeast can overpower other harmful organisms in the mix, perhaps in the human body as well.
    When I lived in Portland, the city had to force a local brewery to stop pouring their spent yeast down the drain. Their ale yeasts were overtaking the bacteria the city was adding in order to break down the sewage.

  9. Hmm.. Think I'll pass for now and see how this one pans out second-hand. I prefer to leave the trub behind. :)