Mike O’Brien’s Medieval Machine know as “Simplicity”

historic1For this week’s Pimp My System we’re taking a quick journey back in time to see what a high-tech brewing set-up looks like when you subtract electricity, stoves, wort-chillers, pumps, and even thermometers. The set-up consists of a 12 gallon copper kettle suspended over a wood fire. The real “techy” part of this system is the block and tackle used for moving the kettle closer or farther from the fire– a straightforward way to control temperatures and eliminate boil-overs. The mash tun is half a whiskey barrel (planter from the hardware store) with a hole drilled in the bottom and cork on the end of a stick to control the flow. Straw and pine boughs are used to create a screen to help separate the wort from the grain. Using straw and pine do little to impact the beer’s flavor but the mash tun can be outfitted with spruce boughs to give the beer a unique spruce flavor. There are no siphons or hoses in this rig, buckets are used for making transfers to and from the brew kettle and mash tun.

As far as ingredients, it is important think about what goods were available in the past. For settlers (or soldiers) in the “new land”, supplies of malt and hops were not always readily available and many early recipes simply used what they grew. Squash, pumpkins, beans, potatoes, chestnuts, sage, bog myrtle, mug wort, and corn are some ingredients that could have been used in the brewing process. Who wouldn’t enjoy a fine pumpkin squash ale with hints of spruce?

Historic2The brewing process is very simple:

  • Heat a kettle full of water to about 150F – 170F. (You can’t use a thermometer!)
  • Set up the mash tun with straw or spruce in the bottom, install the cork handle, and place a catch bucket below.
  • Bail hot water into mash tun, add grain, and mash for an hour or two. (Recirculate as needed)
  • If you want to check the gravity, bring an egg. It should float to the height of a groat (a small English coin) in the wort before adding the sparge water.
  • Fill up brew kettle again heat sparge water to 170F – 190F (No cheating!)
  • Bail sparge water on top of mash.
  • Move the cork handle to start collecting wort, pour the wort into brew kettle, and apply heat.
  • When brew kettle is full and boiling, add hops as needed.
  • To cool, place empty mash tun under kettle and add ice and water. Stir water and wort until cooled.
  • Bail into sanitized fermenters and add yeast.

Consuming the Beer:

The Heritage Festival (pictured) is a three day event; therefore, the beer brewed on Friday is consumed on Sunday. The young beer will turn out cloudy, but it does have alcohol content. Historically, beer clarity wasn’t a concern and once the beer had undergone the bulk of the fermentation it was swiftly consumed. As the saying goes “fresh beer is the best beer”!

See more of Mike’s photos below:

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