Beer and Survival
This Local History Society has always been most interested in Beer. To celebrate the arrival of the Nethergate Brewery into the parish, we published 'Foxearth Brew', the book of the story of the first brewery in this area, Wards' Foxearth Brewery. Beer was once an essential part of the survival of the farmworker. Whilst working in hot weather, it was not just a means of getting more work done, it was vital. Drinking water was not an option. The beermaking process removed the impurities from the water, and sterilised the water. In the cottages around here, young children were fed on boiled water. The kettle was left in the kitchen and children used to drink from the spout. There were some horrendous accidents from parents forgetting to let the kettle cool out-of-reach. As soon as one was old enough one drank beer. In consequence, every farm, mill and beerhouse would brew their own beer. It was cheap and nourishing. The hops were grown locally (hop-fields were sited on the hard clay bank next to Hulletts' wood near Cavendish) and the malt was abailable from several local maltings.
The best account of the small-time beer-making process in the eighteenth century is by Thomas Hale in his 'From a Compleat Book of Husbandry' 1758. It is striking in its account of using pond-water. 'It is often the necessity of the farmer to use but indifferent pond water in brewing', and giving a tip on using bran to take of the worst of the 'foulness'. Water supplies were not laid on around here until the Twentieth Century, and Borley had to wait until mid-century
To speak in a determinate manner, we must establish some regular quantity intended to be brewed; and some certain size of the vessels. We will suppose the farmer has a copper, which, when filled to the top, holds a barrel, that is, six and thirty gallons; and we will say he is to brew five bushels of malt. He has this in the house, it has been ground a proper time, and there is nothing to be done but to put to it the water proper for its kind. Let the water be set on in the copper, and when it is pretty hot pour upon it half a peck of malt. This will keep in it spirit, soften it, and purify it, and make it heat regularly. When it begins to boil ladle it out into the mash vat, and there let it stand about a quarter of an hour.
It is often the necessity of the farmer to use but indifferent pond water in brewing. In this case let him pour half a peck of bran upon it instead of the malt, and when it boils scum that off. It will take the worst foulness of the water with it; and is to be given to the hogs. In the other case, when the water is tolerably pure, the malt is to be used, and is not to be scummed off, but to be ladled out with the water.
When it has stood about the time mentioned, the steam will be but little, and the farmer may look down into it and see his face in it. This is the country rule, for he cannot see it while the steam rises thick. Separate half a bushel of the malt, and let the rest run slowly and leisurely into the liquor when it is of this warmth; let it be well stirred about as it runs in, and thoroughly mixed when all is together.
It is a common practice to beat and stir up the malt in this first mash into a hasty pudding, but this is wrong. The whole brewing always succeeds better when it is only well mixed together without such beating. It receives the hot water the more freely, and gives strength to it in a fine manner. When the malt is thoroughly soaked, the hot water is to be ladled on by bowls full, and it is to be suffered to run out at the tap in a small stream, no thicker than a straw. In this manner, the liquor will run off clear, and will yet have the full strength and true flavour of the malt, according to its kind; and will much sooner be fine than in the common way.
When the first stirring of the malt is done, let the half bushel that was saved out be carefully spread over it; and then let some sacks, or other covering, be laid upon the tub to keep in the steam. The whole is to stand in this way about two hours and a half, and in that time the second copper of water is to be made boiling hot. This is to be poured on either briskly or slowly, according to the design of more or less small beer, and when it is in, let as much run off from the tap as will very near fill the copper. Put half a pound of fine sweet hops in a canvas bag, and throwing them into the copper boil them half an hour. Then take them out; and some fresh ones are then to be put in and to boil half an hour. The quantity of hops must be greater for beer, anc less for ale.
If the beer be intended for keeping, half a pound of fresh hops should be put in every half hour, and the whole boiled briskly for an hour and an half. While this first copper of wort is boiling, some scalding hot water must be poured in upon the malt, bowl by bowl; and thus so much is to be got in and suffered to run off again, that there may be the quantity of another copper ready for boiling, by that time the first quantity is boiled off.
When this is drawn off the second running must be put in and boiled an hour, with nearly the same quantity of hops as at first; and while this is doing, preparation may be making for small beer, by pouring on such a quantity of water as the farmer chooses cold upon the grains all at once, or at twice. This must be boiled in the copper in the same manner as the ale wort, and must have the hops that were boiled before. Each copper of the small beer should be allowed an hour in boiling. In this manner five bushels of malt will make the farmer a hogshead of ale, and the same quantity of small beer; or if he chooses otherwise, his ale will be much the stronger and better. Let cleanliness be observed in everything. Whoever intends to brew at home, must look carefully himself into this article. Let a copper of water, or two if needful, be boiled several days before the brewing. Let the smaller utensils be boiled in it, and the larger be well scalded with it. Let them all be thoroughly cleaned after the scalding, and then scalded again. After this let them be exposed to the sun and air, so as to bleach and perfectly sweeten, but not so as to crack them; and after this let them be set by for use. If every thing be thus conducted, the malt suited to the intended kind of liquor, the water to the malt, and the quantity duly proportioned and the vessels clean, there can be no doubt of the whole succeeding to credit and entire satisfaction.