Tag Archives: braggot

Warming Beers for Cold Nights

~ “The past is a foreign country.” ~

You might have ended up here thinking this post was going to be about barley wines, Belgian quads, barrel-aged imperial stouts, or winter warmers. It’s not, much as I enjoy those typically malty styles. My apologies. Blame it on a piece I wrote a few years back called “When Once They Drank Beer Warm.” My enthusiasm for introducing readers to a nearly forgotten past did not mesh well with the timing of the piece. (Read: not an inordinate number of page views.) You see, I posted this article about warm beer at the height of summer. Who in this day and age wants to contemplate warm beer when the temperatures say beach and biking? But with a good two months’ worth of cold weather on the horizon, now might not be a bad time to revisit the past and cook up a tankard or two of warmed and spiced ale to parry the cold. So buckle up for a journey into the brave old world of warm beer concoctions, along with several recipes sure to expand what you thought possible of those aforementioned winter warmers.

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John Bickerdyke begins Chapter XIV, “Beverages Compounded of Ale or Beer,” of his 1889 work, The Curiosities of Ale and Beer, with the following observation:

“Very few people, when warming themselves in the winter months with Mulled Ale, know that they are quaffing a direct descendant of that famous liquor known to our forefathers as the Wassail-Bowl, and near akin to Lambs-Wool, of which Herrick wrote in his Twelfth Night:

Next crowne the bowle full

With gentle Lambs wooll*,

    Adde sugare and nutmeg and ginger,

With store of ale too

And thus ye must doe,

    To make the Wassaile a swinger.’”

*Lambswool is one of the traditional drinks of the Wassail and was made with sweet, spiced hot ale or cider and roasted apples.

That Bickerdyke could assume his audience would be warming themselves with mulled ale is indicative of just how much our attitudes have changed regarding the “proper” consumption of beer in the intervening space of a mere 125 years, especially concerning temperature.

Bickerdyke was not alone. Published a year earlier than Bickerdyke’s Curiosities, W.T. Marchant’s In Praise of Ale dedicates an entire chapter to warm ale. Here, Marchant references a work published some two hundred years before his own, the title of which bears clear witness to the author’s attitudes regarding cold beer: A Treatise of Warm Beer, Wherein is declared by many reasons that Beer so qualified is farre more wholesome than that which is drunk cold (1641).

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Given the ample references to the deleterious effects of cold beverages in these older sources in conjunction with encomia lauding the benefits of warm beer for health, countenance, and constitution, it’s not surprising that recipes for warm ale and beer concoctions abound in the days before the arrival of cleaner water supplies and more reliably consistent (and industrialized) methods of beer production.

Hold my warm beer … …

* * *

Why warm beer now, winter weather notwithstanding? In his socio-cultural history in the form of a book about beer and ballads, Marchant lamented that “the making of these warm, comforting, and invigorating drinks has become all but a lost art” (Marchant, 606). Books are a form of cultural memory, and beer books are no different. Writing in the waning years of the nineteenth century, Marchant was attempting to preserve a long history of sociality that barely survived the Industrial Revolution. And even if history is, in many ways, about preservation, it is also about sensitizing us to difference –– cultural difference, political difference, differences in traditions and mores, and, yes, differences in beer drinking customs largely unfamiliar to us. (Warm beer, anyone?) Though the echo of this history resonates in some culinary circles enthusiastic about keeping old drinking traditions alive, these seemingly foreign traditions are almost all but forgotten among the wider public of beer enthusiasts.

So why did warmed beer beverages nearly fade into oblivion? Why is this past so foreign to us drinkers of cold beer? Refrigeration, a late nineteenth-century invention, may have had something to do with it. Beyond that, Gregg Smith, author of Beer in America: The Early Years, maintains that enough circumstantial evidence supports the notion that beer-based mixed drinks were a means of saving beer that had gone awry. “As brewing’s raw materials, equipment, instruments, procedures, and science advanced in the 1800s, beer mixed drinks […] all but disappeared” (Smith, 224). Writing over a century earlier about lambswool and the Wassail Bowl, Bickerdyke wryly notes the following:

“It can easily be understood that when ale was for the most part brewed without hops, and consequently rather insipid in taste, many people would have a craving for something more highly flavoured, and would put nutmeg, ginger, and other spices into their liquor. It is not unlikely that the introduction of hops was the cause which ultimately led to beer cups going out of fashion” (Bickerdyke, 381).

In other words, sugar and spice were very nice in times when home- or tavern-brewed beers were of wildly varying quality and the ale preceding hopped beer was “rather insipid in taste.”

* * *

The metaphorical shelves of books by late nineteenth-century writers like Marchant and Bickerdyke are stocked with a curiosity cabinet’s worth of drinks awaiting the intrepid contemporary beer enthusiast on a quest for novelty in the past. Here are a few recipes for your historical cocktail hour, straight from these pages. (Of note: Should you venture to try these at home, I’d opt for malty beers over hoppy ones.)

Rum Fustian. A night cap prepared in the same way as posset (discussed in my next piece), with subtle differences. Combine “the yokes of twelve eggs, a quart of strong home-brewed beer, a bottle of white wine, half a pint of gin, a grated nutmeg, the juice from the peel of a lemon, a small quantity of cinnamon, and sugar sufficient to sweeten it.” (Marchant, 607). Oddly, no rum.

Lambswool. A drink that has absolutely nothing to do with the wool of little lambs, and plenty to do with roasted apples. Authors differ on when the roasted apple should be added to the beverage. Smith states that “apples were […] roasted until the skins burst and were added to the warm beer mixture before serving” (Smith, 223) — possibly a colonial American variation on a British theme. Bickerdyke suggests the following means of preparing lambswool:

“To make this beverage, mix the pulp of half a dozen roasted apples with some raw sugar, a grated nutmeg, and a small quantity of ginger; add one quart of strong ale made moderately warm. Stir the whole together, and, if sweet enough, it is fit for use. This mixture is sometimes served up in a bowl, with sweet cakes floating in them” (Bickerdyke, 382).

As for the rather curious name? Bickerdyke and others trace it back to an ancient Celtic pagan festival called La Mas Ubal (The Day of Apple-Fruit), which was held on the first day of November. La Mas Ubal was pronounced lamasool, which was eventually corrupted by the countryfolk into lambswool, the beverage for the feast day bearing its name.

Warm Ale Cup. “One quart of ale, one glass of brandy, two glasses of sherry, and a quarter of a pound of lump sugar. Spice according to the palate. Boil the sugar in half the ale, and then mix the whole together” (Marchant, 608).

Freemasons’ Cup (served hot or cold). Combine Scotch ale with a similar quantity of mild beer, half a pint of brandy, a pint of sherry, half a pound of sugar loaf, and plenty of grated nutmeg. Ever the wag, Bickerdyke quips that “freemasons must have strong heads” (Bickerdyke, 391).

Buttered Ale. Marchant cites a seventeenth-century traveler to England who wrote the following: “In the evening, the English take a certain beverage which they call buttered ale, composed of cinnamon, sugar, butter, and beer brewed without hops” (Marchant, 612).

Braggot. Last but not least, braggot. Writes Chaucer of this elixir in his Miller’s Tale:

“Hire mouth was as sweete as braket or the meth*” (cited in Bickerdyke, 380).

*“Meth” here refers to metheglin, a type of mead.

Braggot is a beverage of great antiquity and has gone by many names, including bragawd, braket, bragget, and braga. The latter is of Nordic origin, and is derived from the name of one of the mythological gods of the Edda. The drink’s iterations over the years are no less diverse. With characteristic wit, Bryckendyke observes that “to define Bragot with any degree of preciseness would be as difficult as to give an accurate definition of ‘soup’” (Bickerdyke, 379).

Marchant furnishes us with a recipe of suitable vintage, “The Crafte for Braket”:

“When thou hast good ale, draw out a quart of it and put it to the honey, and set it over the fyre, and let it seethe well, and take it off the fyre and scume it well, and so again, and then let it keel a whyle, and put thereto the peper, and set him on the fyre, and let him boyle together, with esy fyre, but clere. To four gallons of good ale put a pynte of fyne tried honey and a saucerfull of poudre of peper*. (Marchant, 606).

*As far as I can make out, “poudre of peper” possibly refers to the medieval spice blends “poudre forte” (a spice blend based on cinnamon, clove, and black pepper) or “poudre douce” (similar to poudre forte, but with ginger and without black pepper). Unsurprisingly, like gruit, the variations were manifold. The spice retailer World Spice Merchants adds Grains of Paradise to its poudre forte.

* * *

Remember those winter warmers I mentioned at the outset? In the absence of anything but anecdotal evidence, I don’t think it would be a stretch to claim that the concoctions I have described here were the inspiration for many a contemporary spiced beer fit for winter evenings by the fire. In the same spirit of preservation and historical archeology evinced by the likes of W.T. Marchant and John Bickerdyke, I hope to have opened a small window onto an almost forgotten drinking past by offering you this small compendium of recipes.

Stay tuned for Part II, which gives you a taste of the origins of early American drinking history, itself borne out of the spirit of these drinking customs of Olde Albion. Here’s to keeping the cold at bay!

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References

W.T. Marchant, In Praise of Ale, Or, A Compendium of Songs, Ballads, Epigrams, and Anecdotes Relating to Beer, Malt, and Hops, with Some Curious Particulars Concerning Ale-Wives and Brewers, Drinking-Clubs and Customs (London: George Redway, York Street, Covent Garden, 1888).

John Bickerdyke, The Curiosities of Ale and Beer: An Entertaining History (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1889).

Gregg Smith, Beer in America: The Early Years, 1587–1840 (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 1998).

The Oakden Traditional Cookware blog.

Image Credits

Pinzgauer Alps: F.D. Hofer

Jan Luyken, The Brewer (1694): Brookston Beer Bulletin

Marchant title page photo: F.D. Hofer

Engraving from title page of the 1604 edition of Marx Rumpolt’s Ein new Kochbuch: Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden, http://digital.slub-dresden.de/id313700877

Simon A. Eugster, Cinnamon: sticks (ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka), powder, and flowers. Created from 31 images stacked with CombineZP. Wikimedia/Wiki Commons.

Honey photo: organics.org

Related Tempest Posts

Of Hearths and Heated Ales: A Taste of Drinking History

When Once They Drank Beer Warm: Cocktails and Concoctions from Olde Albion

Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer

© 2018 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

When Once They Drank Beer Warm: Cocktails and Concoctions from Olde Albion

Nose, nose, jolly red nose / And what gave thee that jolly red nose?

Cinnamon and ginger, nutmeg, and cloves / And that’s what gave me that jolly red nose.

At the beginning of his chapter on warm beer, W.T. Marchant expresses regret that “some of the more comforting drinks,” such as wassail, had waned in popularity over the years. “When beer was the staple drink, morning, noon, and night,” he continues, “it was natural that our ancestors would prefer their breakfast beer warm and their ‘nightcaps’ flavoured, hence the variety of their comforting drinks” (599).

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Marchant’s undeservedly obscure 1888 classic, In Praise of Ale, is much more than a “compendium of songs, ballads, epigrams, and anecdotes relating to beer, malt, and hops.” It is, rather, nothing less than a compendium of traditions, gender roles, social relations, and the customs of everyday life. I will leave all that richness to the side for now, save for the following observation: If the past is a foreign country, it is one in which the inhabitants drink warm beer.

* * *

Before heading off on my most recent road trip, I spent some time perusing the list of upcoming topics for The Session, that monthly virtual symposium that gathers together beer writers from across the interwebs. For June’s edition, the scribes behind Boak and Bailey’s Beer Blog suggested that we take a deeper draught of traditional beer mixes. No beer cocktails, they admonished. Instead, they proposed experimenting with some classic two-beer mixes of times past, inspiring us with a few examples:

  • Lightplater–– bitter and light ale.
  • Mother-in-law—old and bitter.
  • Granny—old and mild.
  • Boilermaker—brown and mild.
  • Blacksmith––stout and barley wine.
  • Half-and-half––bitter and stout, or bitter and mild.
  • B&B––Burton and bitter.

Alas, I was not able to participate in this exploration of what remains a more vibrant aspect of British pub and tavern culture than of North American craft beer culture, but the idea traveled with me this summer.

* * *

A few weeks back, I spent some time with Marchant’s gem during one of my trips to the rare manuscripts reading room at the Cornell library. Leafing through this old 600-odd page tome, I found myself drawn to the chapter on warm ale. As it turned out, a few days previous I had come across another reference to warm beer in the library’s catalogue:

A Treatise of Warm Beer, Wherein is declared by many reasons that Beer so qualified is farre more wholesome than that which is drunk cold (1641).

What’s up with all this warm beer, I asked myself? Marchant even had a reference to this 1641 treatise on warm beer in his work published more than two hundred years later.Dauphin - Francis (Wiki) These deep concern with the iniquities of chilled beverages reminded me of my Swiss grandmother, who used to give my brother and me grief about drinking our soft drinks ice-cold in a hot summer’s day, muttering vague prognostications to the effect that our stomachs would perform some grievous trick like turning somersaults. A similar fate seems to have befallen “the Dolphin of France, son to Francis the French King,” who, “although he were a lusty strong gentleman, yet he being hot at tennis, and drinking cold drink fell sick and died” (cited in Marchant, 601).

But maybe they were on to something, my grandma and those critics of the dolphin tennis players of the mid-1600s.

Even if no one I know has dropped dead upon knocking back a cold one after mowing the lawn, nowadays we tend to drink our ales far too cold, and our lagers, too.Bourdieu - OutlineTheoryPractice For the most part, the notion of an ice-cold beer is so culturally ingrained as to be a part of our habitus. It would strike many of us as odd––even some of the craft beer enthusiasts among us––to even begin to contemplate drinking our beer at cellar temperature, let alone at room temperature or warmer.

* * *

To my pleasant surprise, as I read on about the deleterious effects of cold beverages, I found not only a discussion of the benefits of warm beer to health, countenance, and constitution, but also a collection of recipes for beer cocktails of yore.

Marchant was well-versed in the kinds of traditional beer mixes that Boak and Bailey bade us try, but his account of beer’s versatility as a bit player in a panoply of curious drinks reveals yet deeper layers of possibility for the mixologist with a zymurgical bent. Marchant cites a seventeenth-century traveler to England who wrote the following: “In the evening, the English take a certain beverage which they call buttered ale, composed of cinnamon, sugar, butter, and beer brewed without hops” (612).

Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene’s Elizabethan-era stage play, A Looking Glass for London and England, provides another indication that beer played best in concert with other foodstuffs:Crab Apples (Wiki Commons) “Mark you, sir, a pot of ale consists of four parts: imprimus the ale, the toast, the ginger, and the nutmeg” (604). Marchant is quick to point out that these lines leave out the roasted crabs. Crab apples, that is; for “to turn a crab is to roast a wilding or a wild apple for the purpose of being hissing hot into a bowl of nut-brown ale, into which had previously been put a toast with some spice and sugar” (605).

* * *

And so, here are a few recipes for your historical cocktail hour, straight from the pages of In Praise of Ale. Try some of these now, or tuck the recipes away for the winter holiday season or for your harvest wassailing.

The Crafte for Braket [Braggot]:

When thou hast good ale, draw out a quart of it and put it to the honey, and set it over the fyre, and let it seethe well, and take it off the fyre and scume it well, and so again, and then let it keel a whyle, and put thereto the peper, and set him on the fyre, and let him boyle together, with esy fyre, but clere. To four gallons of good ale put a pynte of fyne tried honey and a saucerfull of poudre of peper (606).

Flip:

Keep grated ginger and nutmeg with a little fine dried lemon peel rubbed together in a mortar. To make a quart of flip:––Put the ale on the fire to warm, and beat up three or four eggs with four ounces of moist sugar, a teaspoonful of grated nutmeg or ginger, and a quartern of good old rum or brandy. When the ale is near to boil put it into one pitcher, and the rum and eggs, &c., into another; turn it from one pitcher to another till it is as smooth as cream (607-608).

Cool Tankard, or Beer Cup:

A quart of mild ale, a glass of white wine, one of brandy, of capillaire, the juice of a lemon, a roll of the peel pared thin, nutmeg grated at the top (a sprig of borrage or balm), and a bit of toasted bread (608).

Warm Ale Cup:

One quart of ale, one glass of brandy, two glasses of sherry, and a quarter of a pound of lump sugar. Spice according to the palate. Boil the sugar in half the ale, and then mix the whole together (608).

Purl:

This is a beverage which is held in high estimation in many places. It is made with a mixture of beer or ale (formerly amber ale was only used), and gin and bitters, or gin bitters. The gin and bitters are put into a half-pint pewter pot, and the ale warmed over a brisk fire, and added to it, at the exact warmth for a person to drink such a portion at a single draught (609).

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Bonus: Best Title for a Beer Book Ever

Thomas Tryon. A new art of brewing beer, ale, and other sorts of liquors: so as to render them more healthful to the body, and agreeable to nature; and to keep them longer from souring with less trouble and charge than generally practiced, which will be a means to prevent those torturing distempers of the stone, gravels, gout and dropsie. To which is added, the art of making mault, &c. and several useful and profitable things relating to country affairs. Recommended to all brewers, gentlemen and others, that brew their own drink. The third edition, with many large additions never printed before. By Tho. Tryon, student in physick, who hath lately published rules physical and moral for preserving of health, with a bill of fare of 75 noble dishes of excellent food. Price bound 1 s. Licensed and entred according to order (London: printed for Tho. Salusbury, at the sign of the Temple near Temple-Bar in Fleet-street, 1691).

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Reference

W.T. Marchant, In Praise of Ale, Or, A Compendium of Songs, Ballads, Epigrams, and Anecdotes Relating to Beer, Malt, and Hops, with Some Curious Particulars Concerning Ale-Wives and Brewers, Drinking-Clubs and Customs (London: George Redway, York Street, Covent Garden, 1888).

Images

Title Page: F.D. Hofer

Francis of France (Francis III, Duke of Brittany), Painted by Corneille de Lyon: Wikipedia

Bourdieu: Amazon

Crab Apples: Wiki Commons

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© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

 

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