Thursday, September 13, 2012

13th Century Brewing

Sunday was another fresh heated day in France, inspiring The French man and I to do some touristing. About two hours north of where we live is an amazing development in historial building, befitting to give any Renaissance Faire nerd a massive boner while exciting the fancy of classical construction buffs.

13th Century Castles

It is impossible to visit castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages without wondering how these building were constructed, where the materials came from, how they were transported, which tools were used, how such heavy loads were hoisted and what kind of beer they were drinking. 

At Guédelon many, although not all, of the above questions are being answered!

Michel Guyot first had the idea of building a castle using medieval building techniques, following an archaeological study at Saint Fargeau castle. This study revealed that a medieval caste was hidden beneath the 15th century red brick exterior. With questions bubbling in his mind, Michel set out on a project that would span over 30 years and involving thousands of people.

The site chosen was an overgrown, abandoned quarry, seeminly untouched for a thousand years. The castle would take its name from the forest in which it would stand: Guédelon

Guédelon sheds light on the secrets
of the medievals stonemasons
To gather information, and to avoid mixing different building styles and historical working practices, a precise methodolgy has been put in place using references from examinations of early 13th century castles, studies of medieval manuscripts and stained-glass and research into contemporary historical building accounts. 

In order to maintain a credicle historical context the following scenario has been created: the castle is being built in early 13th century, the start date is taken as being the year 1229 and the castle's ficitional owner is imagined to be a junior member of the Courtenay family. 

The 35-strong team of builders is supported by member of the public (trainees, studens and enthusiats) who join the professionals, for short periods, throughout the building season. 
The teams work with the hand tools of the 13th century: however 21st century health and safety standards apply: hard hats, steal toe-boots, safey glasses, secure scaffolds. 

Since it's inception, Guédelon has inspired classical building around the world, including a traditional fortress in the heart of Arkansas.

13th Century Beer

Beer was one of the most common drinks during the middle ages, being consumed daily by all social classes in the northern and eastern parts of Europe where grape cultivation was difficult or impossible. Even in the grape dominate regions, beer was widely consumed by the less financially inclined and even a few well offs who had a taste for the barbaric. 

Almost entirely created by woman, the sale and production of beer was regulated by the seasons and remained as varied as the ingredients. Most commonly beer production was done on a small household scale by "ale-wives", as brewing beer was time consuming and unreliable venture. The word "brewster" seems to have originated during the 12th century and it is generally assumed that, outside of the monasteries, woman did most of the brewing and continued to do so for the next few centuries until commercial, literally meaning common, breweries were established. 

Our castle in 1229 would have housed a kitchen of brewing malts as well as a kiln for cooking malts that were all grown locally. A head brewster would have presided over the production with several assistants learning and attending to the cleaning, observing and material transportation. From ledgers of one Elizabeth de Burgh, who was Lady of Clare, in Suffolk we are told that, on average the household brewed about eight quarters of barley every week, each quater yielding around 60 gallons of ale. Brewing, though, remained highly seasonal December 3,500 gallons of ale were brewed, while in the following February only 810 gallons were produced. 

Several factors seemed to have played a role in beer's dominance in Middle Ages. First, people preferred beer over water, as the water in the Middle Ages was often polluted. Second, apart from nutritional reasons, beer was often used in monasteries for spiritual and medicinal purposes. Third, an average meal in early Middle Ages was rather frugal, and beer provided a welcome nutritious addition for the castle village go-ers and serfs. Fourth, although beer contained alcohol, it was seen as a liquid like water, and was, as such, not forbidden during fasting period. Beer was "ubiquitous social lubricant" and this not only because it was an essential part of, often unvarying, medieval diet, but also because during the Middle Ages every occasion that was even remotely "social" called for a drink.

Guédelon Beer Options

Unfortunately the castle does NOT brew their own beer. On pression (tap) they had Stella Artois, hypocras was made in house and a selection on bottled beers from Bourgagne. Nitch selected the darkest of the bunch:

Picture credited Unabirralgiorno

Brune de Bourgogne 
Nitch rated 3.05
6.8% 33cl poured into a paper cup
exp 05/15 L25

A: At the location there was no way to get a proper pouring glass but from the pictures its beautiful. 4.0

S: Yeasts and soft bread smells with a backing of red berries and sour grain. 3.0

T: A malted sweetness with floral hints. 3.0

M: Light body, medium carbonation with a yeasty stick 3.0

O: Wholly an average beer that would have done with a little warming up as the ice cold bottle I was served seemed to dull the aroma and flavor a great deal. The malts and honey sweetness were lovely but the doughed yeast and high carbonation were a throw off. This beer would have been hard to produce in the 13th century, not only because it uses a light hand of hops (which were scare and uncommon at the time) but the clarity from the pictures I've seen is spectacular. For an unfiltered beer, it photographs like a gem! 3.0

If anyone knows a castle looking for a Brewster, I'm willing to travel, have the necessary skills and can wear a linen dress like it was a silk robe. Email for full resume. 

I would also love extra information on the fortress in Arkansas if anyone has been there. I already sent them over a message letting them know that any self respecting 13th century castle should have a brewing department, but have yet to receive a response. 

No comments:

Post a Comment