Ellen-Ealu, (or Elder-Ale) means “ale from the Elder tree”, and in order to flavour and preserve the beer we will be using elder flower. ‘Ellen’ in Anglo-Saxon means strength and courage, (and ‘of elder-wood’) while ‘Ealu’ means ale or beer. This type of ale will not be what we are used to drinking, it will be sweet, cloudy, and full of protein matter (and other carbohydrates) but this means it is a nutritious drink, and was an integral part of the Anglo-Saxon daily diet. Ale was essentially drunk as replacement to water, for all ages of the house-hold.
This is a seasonal ale, just as it would have been in the Anglo-Saxon period, so in different seasons substitute different flowers, fruit, berries herbs and spices in the ‘gruit’, (making sure they would have been common flavour additives of the period) the rest of the beer brewing process is always the same as the one given.
Recipes for Anglo-Saxon beer would vary from region to region, farm to farm, and according to location, or the time of year, (or any other unpredictable factors). Though many of the main ingredients honey, grain, malt, herbs, spices, etc. could be satisfactorily stored, there must have been occasions when supplies were scarce, and ingredients were either omitted or alternatives substituted. On important occasions the rarest spices and ingredients like cinnamon would have been added into the special brews, served to the lords and important guests at a feast.
This Elder-Ale is a traditional Anglo-Saxon ale, and it is a very simple drink to produce. However it should be noted that this recipe is from research, not an actual recipe someone put down in writing, unfortunately nothing like that has survived for us to read. These were called the dark ages by historians for a reason. And any modern recipes given for Anglo-Saxon food or drink should clearly state this, otherwise they are misleading.
Not until the Medieval age do we get surviving British records of complete food and drink recipes written down, e.g. ‘The Forme Of Curry’ (1390). The closest we get for the Anglo-Saxon period are the medicinal ales described by Anglo-Saxon physicians. This is not say we do not know a lot about the brewing of ale in this period. It is just a matter of putting all of the jigsaw pieces together correctly. This ale would have been classed as a ‘good ale’ or a ‘clear ale’, an ale fit for an Anglo-Saxon food rent.
Below is the quick guide to the ale recipe, it can be printed off as a reference guide when making it … the rest of the article on the next pages goes into a thorough detail of each process, the full methods and all of the brewing terms, explaining it to first time home-brewers.
Ellen-Ealu Elder-Ale Recipe (Quick Guide)
Note on authenticity – the quick guide below gives you several ‘either-or’ options to follow, the oldest techniques (dark-age) are more likely to be authentic, the later techniques (medieval / tudor) will probably give the ale a better, cleaner taste and finish. The later pages of this article go into more detail about each method and explains all the ‘funny’ old-fashioned words used in brewing.
- 1.8kg of light barley malt (buy it ready ground/crushed from a good home-brew supplier)
- 350g of wheat malt (buy it ready ground/crushed from a good home-brew supplier)
- 25 to 35 elder flower blossom heads in full bloom (picked in season – from the end of May to early June in the UK)
- 12 fresh leaves of Bog Murtle (Sweet Gale) – (grow it, pick it locally, or buy it dried from herbal stockists)
- 3 tbsp of honey (adjust to taste)
- 14 Litres / 3 Gallons of Spring Water
Sterilize your equipment with a boiling hot herbal tea: Clean equipment is essential.
1. Mashing (90 minutes): In a large saucepan bring 7 litres of spring water to a temperature of 70C then add in the malted grist (malted wheat and barley grains). The temperature will now drop to around 60C after adding in the cold grains. This 60C temperature must now be maintained for 90 minutes.
Either – 2a. No Sparging (dark-age authentic). After 90 minutes pour off the mash through a large, fine-sieve or fine meshed strainer / colander into a clean and sterile tub below, this sieved liquid is the ‘wort’. Repeat the mashing steps above exactly with the other 7 litres of water for a second mash and reuse the old malted grains for a second time of mashing. Go to step 3a.
Or – 2b. Sparging (later method – not authentic): After 90 minutes pour off the mash through a large, fine-sieve or fine meshed strainer / colander into a clean and sterile tub below, this sieved liquid is the ‘wort’. Then clean and rinse the saucepan to remove any ‘grist’ residue and put the rest of the spring water (7 litres) on to the boil. When the water reaches 70C pour the hot spring water over the malted grain residue left in the sieve and into the wort tub below. Go to step 3b.
Either – 3a. No Boiling of the Wort (dark-age authentic): Skip boiling the wort if you are making an authentic ale (and plan to drink it within 4 days). Leave all the strained out wort to cool. Go to step 4a.
Or – 3b. Boiling the Wort for 75 minutes (later method – not authentic) : Put the sieved wort back on to a high heat in the clean saucepan and bring to the boil. Once you have brought the sieved wort to the boil simmer it just under the boil for 75 minutes. Go to step 4b.
Either – 4a. Gruit After Not Boiling the Wort: After 40 minutes of cooling carefully pour all of the cooled wort out through a fine-meshed sieve into another large, clean, sterilized tub. Discard any matter in the sieve. Stir the sieved wort vigorously to get some oxygen into it and dispel any remaining heat. Now add in the gruit (all the other flavouring ingredients) to the wort in the tub. Go to Step 5.
Or – 4b. Gruit After Boiling the Wort: After 40 minutes of cooling carefully pour all of the cooled wort out of the saucepan through a fine-meshed sieve into a large, clean, sterilized tub. Discard any matter in the sieve. Stir the sieved wort vigorously to get some oxygen into it and dispel any remaining heat. Now add in the gruit (all the other flavouring ingredients) to the wort in the tub. Got to step 5.
5. Fermenting: Leave the ‘wort’ with the ‘gruit’ uncovered in the tub to ferment for 10 hours, at a constant 18C to 24C. After 10 hours stir the wort, then cover the wort with a clean, thin, muslin cloth, and leave for another 24 hours at 18C to 24C.
6. Sieving the wort: After 24 hours, (34 hours in total or longer if it needs it) strain out the wort from the tub into another clean and sterilized tub to remove all the gruit solids added in. Leave an hour then strain it once more back through a sieve, or through a muslin cloth, back into the previous (now cleaned) tub.
7. Cooling the ale: Leave this finer sieved ale for another 24 hours covered with a cloth at about 10C to 14C
8. Store It: After 24 hours a final sieving needs to be done with the finest sieve of all or a piece of fine muslin cloth folded over twice. The ale can be stored in sterilized containers ready for drinking after being left for a day to settle.
Understanding The Processes In Making Ellen-Ealu
Beor and Ealu?
Beer, or more appropriately for us, the term ale, is a very British drink, and today ‘real-ale’ is something of a passion for many people, it is a fermented beverage made from grains and yeast. The name ‘ale’ and ‘beer’ are now interchangeable terms for the same thing in Britain, although they perhaps once denoted that an ale was brewed with malted wheat and barley, and a beer was brewed with only malted barley, or that one was weaker and bitter tasting (ale) and the other much stronger and sweeter (beer). Later on, after the introduction of hops into brewing, an Ale was brewed without hops, and a Beer was brewed with them. Note: these are only tentative suggestions, but there has been some good, academic reasoning behind them.
However, today we would say that ‘beer’, in its most basic form, can be split into two subsets, ‘ale’ and ‘larger’. This is because beers are produced by two main methods: by top-fermenting yeasts (ales) and those which are made with bottom-fermenting yeasts (lagers) – there are hybrids, but they will not interest us here. In fact here we are only concerned with the ‘top-fermenting’ yeast beers ‘or ales’ which have a long history in Britain that pre-dates Roman times.
Additives: Anglo-Saxon beers are unlike later ales, which are more sophisticated and matured in barrels for a secondary fermentation process before being drunk. This early ale was brewed with a weak strength and it would be drunk within three days after fermentation. To help preserve their ales for longer Anglo-Saxon brewers added in herbs; into the ‘wort’ they added in different seasons ground-ivy, clary, bog murtle, mugwort, tansy, maudlin and costmary, as all were found to act as preservatives, while iris roots hung in ale were said to prevent it turning sour.
Many brewers, with one eye on the Christian faith, and one eye still on the old Pagan traditions, thought witches and evil spirits were capable of spoiling the ale: one Anglo-Saxon leech/brewer advises, ‘If the ale be spoilt, take lupins, lay them on the four quarters of the dwelling, and over the door, and under the threshold, and under the ale vat, put the herb into the ale with holy water.’ Different regional ale ‘recipes’ would have various preservative additives, or ‘gruit’, added in to prevent the ale from souring, just as meat would have been salt cured for the same reason.