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Monday, September 19, 2011

St. Arthur, Patron Saint of Guinness

I’ll be celebrating St. Arthur’s day (22nd Sep, if the campaign has passed you by) by drinking some stout I’ve brewed myself. I’m only making a gallon because I’m not really a stout kinda guy, and every last one of my mates will be mooching promotional pints of the ‘real thing’ in town. Nevertheless, it’s important to observe Irish tradition by brewing this, a uniquely Irish beer, a beer that’s been around for nearly as long as marketing, which is the third oldest profession. Whilst doing a little research, I found this article in the library, and I faithfully reproduce part of it here:

First brewed by pagan settlers to Ireland c. 3000BC, the forerunner to Guinness was a beer made with burnt bread, mashed by the enzymes found in saliva, and made bitter with Dandelion and Yarrow. Years of brewing and celebrating followed, with little sign of change in the recipe. Then, at around the same time as the Romans were befriending Western Europe, St. Arthur (then known simply as Arthur the Sot, causing leading academics to wonder if this is the origin of the abbreviation St. for saint, as a mistranslation) began brewing stout more like the stuff we know it to be today. To begin with he pioneered a primitive malting process, bringing out the natural sugars found in the barley, instead of the much cruder way of grinding the bread into flour, baking with it, forgetting about it overnight until it burns, then mashing with saliva. This new brew was considered far superior to the older beers, however in order to get the dark colour drinkers were used to, St. Arthur still included portions of burnt bread. An early recipe, found carved into the an Cuin nEas stone, locally known as ‘Beer Stone’, located in county Meath, describes how St. Arthur used 8 parts malted barley to one part burnt bread, in order to make the beer he is famed for. Also found on the same stone is an early numerical system, believed to be a tally used to advertise and sell the beer. The contemporary currency was small rocks with holes in, and academics calculate that the price of a pint of St. Arthur’s beer was half a round stone with a hole in, and the modern equivalent is 4-euro 85c, a price now only charged in Dublin and hotels. Truly, St. Arthur’s contemporaries valued this beer highly!

In the 18th and 19th century many styles of beer were invented or developed by brewers, thanks to updated malting, kilning and brewing techniques, and the discoveries of Louis Pasteur. However, current versions of St. Arthur’s legendary brew have made only little steps towards modernity. Not much has changed from the original recipe carved into a stone nearly 1,800 years ago, and developments in yeast strains allowing brewers to use pure yeast strains in their beers have not been entirely taken on board by brewers at the Guinness factory; there are still vats in the St. James’ Gate brewery where the wild yeast strain Brettanomyces is actively encouraged in order to maintain the taste that would have been familiar to drinkers four thousand years ago.

The article then goes into detail about palaeontological evidence of early Guinness drinkers and some interesting facts about the mysterious death of St. Arthur, and the amazing feat of surviving on his beer alone for 40 days and nights, but it’s the above section that interested me most.

So, I’ve brewed to the basic Guinness principle, 80% pale malt, 10% flaked barley and 10 % roast, unmalted barley. However, to make it a little different, I’m using 5% roast and 5% chocolate malt instead of just 10% roast, mainly because I’ve got some lying around. It’s been boiled for ages in order to try and get the length at 1 gallon, with an O.G. of 1048. Seeing as brewday was the 1st of September, I’m not expecting a very dry stout by the 22nd, but hopefully it will be ready to try and, god willing, will be a suitable tribute to St. Arthur, patron saint of Guinness.

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