Brewing – Mr Webb’s Ale and a Mead Ale (both 1644)

Sir Thomas Gower makes his pleasant and wholesom drink of Ale and Honey thus. Take fourty Gallons of small Ale, and five Gallons of Honey. When the Ale is ready to Tun, and is still warm, take out ten Gallons of it; which, whiles it is hot, mingle with it the five Gallons of Honey, stirring it exceeding well with a clean arm till they be perfectly incorporated. Then cover it, and let it cool and stand still. At the same time you begin to dissolve the honey in this parcel, you take the other of thirty Gallons also warm, and Tun it up with barm, and put it into a vessel capable to hold all the whole quantity of Ale and Honey, and let it work there; and because the vessel will be so far from being full, that the gross foulness of the Ale cannot work over, make holes in the sides of the Barrel even with the superficies of the Liquor in it, out of which the gross feculence may purge; and these holes must be fast shut, when you put in the rest of the Ale with the Honey: which you must do, when you see the strong working of the other is over; and that it works but gently, which may be after two or three or four days, according to the warmth of the season. You must warm your solution of honey, when you put it in, to be as warm as Ale, when you Tun it; and then it will set the whole a working a fresh, and casting out more foulness; which it would do too violently, if you put it in at the first of the Tunning it. It is not amiss that some feculence lie thick upon the Ale, and work not all out; for that will keep in the spirits. After you have dissolved the honey in the Ale, you must boil it a little to skim it; but skim it not, till it have stood a while from the fire to cool; else you will skim away much of the Honey, which will still rise as long as it boileth. If you will not make so great a quantity at a time, do it in less in the same proportions. He makes it about Michaelmas for Lent.

We cheated slightly with this one, the malt was commercially extracted. Clover honey was sourced from a local apirist, 500g were used with 500g light dried malt in 5l of water with an ale yeast and flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. The technique was much the same as for Mrs Harrison, we were able to save about 2h of boiling. About 4% alcohol.


Five Bushels of Malt will make two Hogsheads. The first running makes one very good Hogshead, but not very strong; the second is very weak. To this proportion boil a quarter of a Pound of Hops in all the water that is to make the two Hogsheads; that is, two Ounces to each Hogshead. You put your water to the Malt in the Ordinary way. Boil it well, when you come to work it with yest, take very good Beer-yest, not Ale-yest.

Mr Webb’s ale (really a low-hopped beer) used three times the malted barley of Mrs Harrison. As a result, only the wort from the first run through the grain was used. The amount of hops was only slightly lower than for Mrs Harrison, but still half of what a modern recipe would use. This uses a bottom fermenting (lager) yeast. There were no other additives, specific gravity at the end was also 1.0018. We used the “bruised grains of wheat” recommended by Digby for secondary fermentation where a beer yeast had been used. Approximately 3.2% alcohol.

The Closet Of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened: Newly Edited, with Introduction, Notes, and Glossary, by Anne Macdonell, London: Philip Lee Warner, 38 Albemarle Street, W. 1910


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