Rules for Brewing in the 18th Century

Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) is often credited with inventing modern cookery books, and is sometimes called “the mother of the dinner party”. Her book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, which she published herself by subscription, appeared in 1747. It contains recipes for all kinds of dishes (I am a big fan of her pies), and instructions on managing and running a kitchen. In those days beer, and in particular “small beer” was drunk by most people as a substitute for water. Brewing was a common activity, and larger houses had their own brewhouses. Here are Hannah Glasse’s rules and instructions for brewing in a domestic kitchen (I’ve modernised the spelling). She takes care to offer advice on what to do if the available vessels are not large enough to take the whole brew in one go, and it is interesting also to note the emphasis on cleanliness, and on making sure that everything is boiled and “scalded”: “Take great care your casks are not musty, or have any ill taste; if they have, it is a hard thing to sweeten them.”


Care must be taken, in the first place, to have the malt clean; and after it is ground, it ought to stand four or five days.

For strong October [ale], five quarters of malt to three hogsheads, and twenty-four pounds of hops. This will afterwards make two hogsheads of good keeping small-beer, allowing five pounds of hops to it.

For middling beer, a quarter of malt makes a hogshead of ale, and one of small-beer. Or it will make three hogsheads of good small-beer, allowing eight pounds of hops. This will keep all the year. Or it will make twenty gallons of strong ale, and two hogsheads of small-beer that will keep all the year.

If you intend your ale to keep a great while, allow a pound of hops to every bushel; if to keep six months, five pounds to a hogshead; if for present drinking, three pounds to a hogshead, and the softest and clearest water you can get.

Observe the day before to have all your vessels very clean, and never use your tubs for any other use except to make wines.

Let your cask be very clean the day before with boiling water; and if your bung is big enough, scrub them well with a little birch-broom or brush ; but if they be very bad, take out the heads, and let them be scrubbed clean with a hand-brush, sand, and fullers-earth. Put on the head again, and scald them well, throw into the barrel a piece of unslacked lime, and stop the bung close.

The first copper of water, when it boils, pour into your mash-tub, and let it be cool enough to see your face in; then put in your malt, and let it be well mashed; have a copper of water boiling in the mean time, and when vour malt is well mashed, fill your mashing-tub, stir it well again, and cover it over with the sacks. Let it stand three hours, set a broad shallow tub under the cock, let it run very softly, and if it is thick throw it up again till it runs fine, then throw a handful of hops in the under tub, let the mash, run into it, and fill your rubs till all is run off. Have water boiling in the copper, and lay as much more on as you have occasion for, allowing one third for boiling and waste. Let that stand an hour, boiling more water to fill the mash-tub for small-beer; let the fire down a little, and put it into tubs enough to fill your mash. Let the second mash be run off, and fill your copper with the first wort; put in part of your hops, and make it boil quick. About an hour is long enough; when it has half boiled, throw in a handful of salt. Have a clean white wand and dip it into the copper, and if the wort feels clammy it is boiled enough; then slacken your fire, and take off your wort. Have ready a large tub, put two sticks across, and set your, straining basket over the tub on the sticks, and strain your wort through it. Put your other wort on to boil with the rest of the hops; let your mash be covered again with water, and thin your wort that is cooled in as many things as you can, for the thinner it lies, and the quicker it cools, the better. When quite cool, put it into the tunning-tub. Throw a handful of salt into every boil. When the mash has stood an hour draw it off, then fill your mash with cold water, take off the wort in the copper and order it as before. When cool, add to it the first in the tub; so soon as you empty one copper, fill the other, so boil your small-beer well. Let the last mash run off, and when both are boiled with fresh hops, order them as the two first boilings; when cool empty the mash tub, and put the smallbeer to work there. When cool enough work it, set a wooden bowl full of yeast in the beer, and it will work over with a little of the beer in the boil. Stir your tun up every twelve hours, let it stand two days, then tun it, taking off the yeast. Fill your vessels full, and save some to fill your barrels; let it stand till it has done working; then lay on your bung lightly for a fortnight, after that stop it as close as you can. Mind you have a vent-peg at the top of the vessel, in warm weather, open it; and if your drink hisses, as it often will, loosen till it has done, then stop it close again. If you can boil your ale in one boiling it is best, if your copper will allow of it; if not, boil it as conveniency serves.

When you come to draw your beer and find it is not fine, draw off a gallon, and set it on the fire, with two ounces of isinglass cut small and beat. Dissolve it in the beer over the fire: when it is all melted, let it-stand till it is cold, and pour it in at the bung, which must lay loose on till it has done fermenting, then stop it close for a month.

Take great care your casks are not musty, or have any ill taste; if they have, it is a hard thing to sweeten them.

You are to wash your casks with cold water before you scald them, and they should lie a day or two soaking, and clean them well, then scald them.

Beer and Brewing in the 1940s

Mitchel Adams, licensee of the Thatcher’s Arms is preparing a carnival float representing the British pub in the 1940s and he asked on Twitter what people would have been drinking then. I looked back through my research notes and books for some information and came up with a few interesting snippets.

Obviously, for most of the 1940s British life was dominated by war and its consequences. Lives lost, buildings destroyed, ordinary life disrupted. There were shortages of just about everything. Beer and pubs were seen during the war as important for morale, but barley, sugars and so on were needed for food so pubs had a weekly beer ration and when it was gone they had to close. They kept going all week by limiting the opening times quite severely. In major cities, especially when the risk of bombing was at its highest, pubs were deserted at night anyway as people headed for the shelters.

Great efforts were made to distribute beer fairly, though not all the measures were popular with brewers. According to H.A. Monckton in his A History of English Ale and Beer (1966) brewers set up the ‘Beer for the Troops Committee’ to make sure beer was supplied to servicemen. Temporary ‘zoning’ regulations were less popular, since breweries were forced to supply to a set geographical area. This meant that some ‘tied’ pubs had to take their supplies from another brewer, while some larger brewers were allowed to deliver nationally, setting up a network of agents and distribution systems that would give them an advantage after the war.

Shortages also meant that the strength of beer declined further. Allowing for a slight blip in the early 1920s the strength of beer declined fairly steadily throughout the first half of the twentieth century and beyond. Monckton gives the average original gravity of beer in 1900 as 1055°; by 1950 it had fallen to 1034°. In other words, at under 5% ABV Guinness in 2010 is weaker than the average bitter ale in 1910; modern Guinness is around half the strength of the average stout before World War I.

Bottled beer became more popular as bottling technology improved in the 1930s. Before WWI the availability of bottled beer was quite limited, but by 1939 it was about 30% of the market. During WWII paper shortages meant that a lot of brewers didn’t use labels on their bottles, so different ales were distinguished only by the colour of the crown cap, or by a narrow strip of paper over screw tops. Barley wine was popular, perhaps because low gravity beers didn’t last more than a few weeks in bottles.

During the war pine and other woods took the place of oak in making casks, which must have affected the flavour of beer. Beer cans arrived in the late 1940s and Monckton concluded in 1966 that the days of bottled beer were numbered:

Because of its weight and fragility the glass bottle is by no means an ideal container and, doubtless, its days are numbered. Inevitably bottles will be replaced by some other type of container. The metal beer can, used extensively in America, was introduced to the English market after the last war but so far has not been widely or enthusiastically welcomed.

We take a little time to adapt on this side of the Atlantic.

Prices rose fast in the war years and after, partly because of rises in duty, but also because of shortages. According to Monckton, after WWI a pint was about 7d and it was still about that in 1941. By the end of the war it was a shilling and by the mid-1960s, it was 1/6d–nine times what it was at the beginning of the century. On the subject of taste Monckton is instructive, attributing a rise in the demand for sweeter beers, including Barley Wine, to the rationing and shortage of sugar in the 1940s. Following this argument the rise of bitter, hoppy IPAs in the early twenty-first century might be attributable to the excess of sugars in many modern foods.