Small beer was a common drink in early Europe and North America. Grains are not digestible by humans straight off, they must be processed in some way. Baking bread is one way, but another common means was to make “small beer”. The processing of the grains to make the beer processes the grains to a point that they are digestible for humans (as well as sterilizing the Medieval European Water Supplies). The grain mash left in the bottom of the beer would have been very nutritious, high in precious calories, and clean.
Cobbett, in his “Cottage Economy” (1812), recommends making strong ale, and then using the same mash a second time to make the small beer. Since the mash will have been used once to produce alcohol, there will be fewer sugars available to produce alcohol the second time around. This will give you all of the nutrient value of the mash, without the boozy finish (making it suitable for children and servants). Other recipes (Washington and Gaylord), call for using a fresh mash, but from what I can tell, this results in a higher alcohol content than you would be wanting to give to your kids before sending them off to their first day of school.
I don’t want a strong ale, but I don’t want a strong small beer either. Since I haven’t tried either yet, I’m going to go with a modified Gaylord recipe and see where we go from there.
This is an exercise in self-reliance, therefore there are several goals for this recipe
- Nutritious: the point is to produce a liquid bread
- Simple: this has to be a regular chore every week, therefore it must be simple
- Low Cost: if it is self-reliance, it must reduce my household cost
- Locally producible ingredients: I don’t need to get them locally, but locals need to be able to produce them. I should be able to produce this product from my own seed in the end.
- Low Alcohol: This is supposed to be a nutrition supplement. I don’t need to spend my days loaded. As much fun as that sounds, the point is to get work done.
- High Calorie: This is food to supply a hard working labourer. Calories are energy. Energy is work.
Makes 3 gallons
- 24 oz. of molasses
- a large Sifter of Bran Hops
- to taste
- I dislike hops so I’m giving this a miss
- 3 oz. of cream of tartar
- zest from one lemon
- 1/2 tsp each of ginger and ground cloves
- 3.5 gallons of water
- Bring water to boil
- Add water, molasses, hops, and lemon zest
- Boil one hour. About half a gallon should boil off.
- Add the cream of tartar, ginger and ground cloves
- Boil for 15 minutes
- Pour into a 5 gallon bucket
- Let Cool overnight
- Add yeast
- Let stand 1 week.
- Drink up
I have not tried this recipe yet!
This is not the true Gaylord recipe. I have modified it based on my perspective of what the common housewife would be able or interested in doing. I notice that the Gaylord recipe calls for filtering the mash, and then adding it back after the fact, I just left out the straining all together as I think the mash is what gives it its nutritional value and removing and storing the mash is wasted effort; effort your typical 1600’s housewife (and myself) has better uses for.
I notice that both Gaylord and Washington call for molasses, while Cobbet uses malt, wheat and rye. I have to question whether the Gaylord/Washington recipes can even be called a beer considering it is not even based on a grain but instead a sugar extract. I wonder if it would be better to use rye or wheat mash, which should be simple enough to produce yourself based on Brewing with Rye, and Witbier from Brewing Techniques magazine.
For my 5 gallon bucket, I am going to use a plastic 5 gallon water jug I have for camping. This should give me a good container with a spigot when I want to drink it. This may, or may not, be a good idea. The mash may play havoc with the spigot.