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Calling all Brewmasters!

SHARP has been excavating a malting complex for many years now and one of the most asked questions we get asked is ‘is there going to be a Sedgeford beer?’ It has been on the list for a long time to try and make this a possibility but to do so we need help as although us archaeologists enjoy drinking the stuff we don’t really have the knowledge to be able to brew it.

 

Over the years of excavating the site we have carried out environmental sampling on a mass scale. These buckets of soil are then sieved in water where the organics float on top, this mostly consists of burnt grain. Last year we managed to break a record with one context to the north of Kiln 4 having produced a tray full of grain, but this is usually as far as most volunteers and public get to see. In the next stage ‘the science’ is the key to being able to reconstruct a Sedgeford Brew.




For several years the grains found have been analysed by our environmental scientist, Dr Hannah Caroe, during her PhD at Oxford (‘For a quart of ale is a dish for a king’? Malting, brewing, and beer in the Mid Anglo-Saxon period: a case study of Sedgeford). There are four types of grain found on the site; wheat, barley, oats, and rye. Her work has shown that each area of the malting site had different proportions of types of grain, but most had a higher proportion of rye grains found. We can’t be entirely sure what proportion of grains went into any one malting session, but we do believe it was likely a mixed batch of grains. It is likely that the proportions changed each time, possibly related to the harvest. Although if you wanted to be as accurate as possible to the Anglo-Saxon Sedgeford recipe, the proportions from kilns 1 and 3 are in the table below.


Mid-Saxon grains from Sedgeford’s malting complex – a) rye (Secale cereale), b) bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), c) six-row hulled barley (Hordeum vulgare subsp. distichum), d) Oat (Avena sp(p))

Aerial photograph of the malting complex in 2019 (credit: Ian Drummond, SHARP) with imposed pie charts summarising proportions of four grain types in key areas of the trench

Just using this proportion of grains may not however give you the full Sedgeford Anglo-Saxon flavour. The work by Hannah showed that in with the grains there were five most commonly-occurring weeds; brome grasses, corncockle, black bindweed, stinking chamomile, and wild radish. These common weeds provide an understanding of the environment. Out of the five found corncockle is the only one that could be classed as poisonous, but some evidence from Anglo-Saxon texts suggests it ‘render beer more heady, though certainly less wholesome’. Some of the weeds found such as brome grasses may have been treated as a crop, in their own right, and some such as black bindweed are seasonal and/or grow alongside specific crops. One suggested reason for perhaps leaving some of these in the mix is that they would potentially have improved the flavour of the brew, or in the case of corncockle perhaps even additional psychotropic effects (not something we are interested in). Black bindweed, also known as wild hops, is occasionally used in novelty beers today, and was found across the site (although more common with the grains found around kiln 1). Another consideration is that the fuel used to kiln the malt may also impact on the flavour.


Wheat (%)

Barley (%)

Oats (%)

Rye (%)

Other weed seeds present, in order of prevalence

Kiln 1

53

1

1

45

Black bindweed, brome grasses, corn cockle, stinking chamomile

Kiln 3

19

2

10

69

Brome grasses, corn cockle, wild radish

Table 1 showing the percentage of the three grains in contexts around kiln 1 and 3. The final column shows the types of weed seeds present in the assemblage, that might have been included in the final brew.


At this stage we are just asking for people to express interest in this project, whether you are a home brewer, microbrewery, or otherwise, if you are interested in perhaps helping us out please get in touch via bookings@sharp.org.uk. Depending on interest we are considering organising a tasting event. We are looking at options for how this could be distributed if we were to have a Sedgeford brew available; be that via licencing for selling from our information hut shop, selling at our Festival of Archaeology, or perhaps a deal with the local pubs.

 

If you are interested in learning more about the site and the work done on the environmental residues, you will be able to find more information (and links to references including Hannah’s PhD) on our new malthouse webpage which is coming soon. There will also be an article on the environmental evidence from the site in the Sedgeford conference volume due out soon.

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