Welcome to the Ninth Known World Bardic Congress and Cooks Collegium, to be held online on September 10th, 11th, and 12th. We are hosted this year by the Mid-Realm’s Barony of Ayreton.
Join us for a weekend filled with classes, concerts, and bardic circles. In addition to cooking and bardic, we will also have brewing & vinting, along with instrumental & choral music classes –and more!
We encourage attendees to register on the website. Much like Pennsic, you can use your account to offer classes, suggest others, request stage time, or create your personal schedule.
Tired of fighting all morning? Feel like doing something else for a bit while partner is off having fun smacking people? Come check out to the Ædult Swim Arts & Sciences smörgåsbord! Ædult Swim Arts & Sciences will have the whole second floor to themselves to hang out with fellow artisans! Once again, Ædult Swim Arts & Sciences has numerous arts & sciences activities on the menu, including the Kingdom Ministry of Arts & Sciences Consultation Table with an on-site library to peruse, as well as Arts & Sciences social circles, each devoted to a particular arts or science topic.
Come check out the:
–Costuming Social: planning on updating your look or fighting clothes? We might be able to help! Sewing machines, books, and advice available to help your persona look top-notch. Accessories included!
–Fiber Arts Social: Learn more about the variety of Fiber Arts available in period and how to incorporate them in your persona.
–Viking Age Social: Are you a beginning Viking persona and want to be more authentic? Are you an experienced Viking and want to show others how you pulled it off? Come join the Viking Circle and share in current research on this fascinating historical period.
–Medieval Sciences Social: The Medieval Sciences are often under-represented but no less fascinating. From Chemicals to feats of Engineering, bring your specialty to help share the love! Books and research on a variety of subjects should be available.
If the Roaming Library does not have what you need, perhaps the merchant book shelves do – and bring your precious home!
And don’t forget the…
KMOAS Consultation table, hosted by the Kingdom minister of Arts & Sciences Hrólfr á Fjárfelli. He welcomes anyone with questions about Arts & Sciences! Like, how do I enter an A&S display or competition? What do I need to do to enter an A&S display or competition? What is this thingy called documentation? Can I get some feedback on a project I’m working on? I have trouble (re)searching online, do you have any suggestions? …? For this, and more, visit the KMOAS Consultation table.
Roaming Library, also hosted by Master Hrólfr á Fjárfelli. He will bring two book cases, and a couple crates of books on Costuming, including Viking and Anglo-Saxon eras. Bring a camera if you hope to bring back a chapter or two for research. And if you have something you think others would enjoy to take a peek at, please bring and share too (with name) – he and his minions will stand guard all day to protect the Hoard!
Region 3 Brewing Round Table, hosted by Master Gille MacDhonuill. Want to talk about making brews of all types stop by and share your recipes, ideas, or learn more about the art of alcohol? Then this is where you want to be, starting at 3 pm – home brews not required but always welcome, of course.
Enjoying the spoils of our labors – a small barrel of Robert’s hopped gale ale, and a large barrel of Elska’s grape mead. Photo by Robert of Ferness
This past Saturday on February the 1st, the Region 5 Brewers Guild organized their annual Championship and Round Table and the Feast of the Seven Deadly Sins at the Barony of Delftwood. Each year, the different region brewers representatives host a Brewers Championship Round Table to find the best their region has to offer, as well as share the spoils of many hours of fermentation magic with their drinking friends. Region 5 generally uses round table style judging where everyone judges everyone, with forms available from the Æthelmearc Brewers Guild Competition Corner, and we decide the scoring collaboratively. This year, region 5 excelled with 14 participants, 5 competition entries and another handful of bottles to share, and the experience was once again very enjoyable! We had a great variety of brews to sample and a number of new people to enjoy them with.
The results of the AS54 Region 5 Brewing Championship are as follows: the winner of the Beer category, and overall Region 5 Champion was title defending Robert of Ferness with a hopped bog myrtle cask ale – walking away with 4 bags of specialty malt and hops; and the winner of the Mead/wine category was Fuego with Satyr’s Cyser, who also received specialty malt as well as a bottle of grapefruit Craft Puree. All this loot of course we hope to see back in liquid form as next year’s entry!
Brewster Fuego receiving her accolade and prize in court. Photo by Michael Higgins.
Runners up were Richard Baldwin with Buzzerbee, a wonderful chamomile kveik beer, Justin Lymner with a Red Currant Cordial, and Elska, with a documented non-period Framboise. There was also, among others, a 5 gallon barrel of concord grape mead – 3 month old grape mead aged for 2 and half weeks in an oak barrel which was as smooth as a 3 year old vintage (only about half of the 5 gallon barrel made it back home) – two yummy melomels by Robert l’Etourdi including a black currant mead, and a wonderful dry cider as well as some rumtopf liquor by Katerin Starcke.
As you can see, Æthelbrewers sure know how to party! Keep in mind: the next brewers Round Table will be in Region 3 at Ædult Swim in just a few weeks. The Region 3 Round Table will be hosted in the mid-afternoon by Master Gille MacDhonuill in the general A&S area, and there will be signage to help you find us, in the unlikely event our merriment is not enough!
THL Robert of Ferness serving from his mini-barrel at the 2019 Seven Deadlies brewing round table & competition.
The Feast of the Seven Deadly Sins, hosted by the Barony of Delftwood February 1st, 2020, will once again host the Annual Region 5 Brewing Championship! Everyone and every beverage type is welcome. We will use the round table style judging format; even if you have no entry you are welcome to join in and partake.
The round table format means that the competition is both a round table, where we taste each others work and provide feedback, as well as a competition, where the entry is scored and the feedback noted down on paper for the entrant to take home. Each participant, whether or not they come with an entry, can partake in the tasting and discussion, giving constructive feedback for each others work. We find it is often the entry’s brewer who judges their own work the most critical, and find the format to be quite an effective way for beginner, as well as established brewers, to advance their research and brewing techniques and sources.
We will have entry forms at the event but you are also welcome to fill one in before coming so you can make good use of your brew book.
Best brewer wins overall, and best Region 5 brewer will win the Regional Championship. And depending on what I can find hiding in my stash, there will be winner’s loot too…
Earlier this month, I had the fortune and privilege to enter Kingdom A&S Championships with an entry that had been in progress for the better part of a year.
After multiple entries into other displays and competitions, trial and testing of different methods, and sifting through possible ingredients from a terroir that spans two continents, I selected the two recipes I thought would give me the best chance. The krupnik that I made, flavored with fruits and spices, might stand a chance to win.
For those unfamiliar with krupnik, it is an alcoholic drink that begins with a neutral grain spirit. As in nearly any area of the study of food, alcohol has long been a staple of human existence and has taken a variety of forms. For the people who settled East of the River Elbe and North of the Caucasus Mountains, their cultural liquor contribution was vodka, as well as its various adjacent types. These were created by using additives such as herbs, spices, or honey. Honey, popular in its own right for its use in mead production, was a useful addition for softening the bite of grain spirit. Eventually, the practice became common enough to earn the right to a separate classification of alcohol. Called krupnik by the Poles, Barenfang by the Germans, and krambambula by the Belorussians, honey liquor culturally came into its own.
Many of these liquors are difficult to trace the origins of. Krupnik is no exception. Allegedly, it was created by Benedictine monks in a monastery in the northeast of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, now known as Belarus, in the 16th century. After its inception it presumably became very popular with the nobles of Poland-Lithuania, called szlachta, who modified and expanded their personal recipes for the drink and passed them down through. However, as I read through various books related to the Pre-Christian period of Poland-Lithuania (pre-15th Century), this story became less and less credible to me.
While the Teutonic crusades did their best to erase pre-Christian religions and cultures from the Baltic areas, some evidence of the animistic Romuva religion does survive. Analysis of the primary sources closest to the period indicated that the Romuva faith had a loosely organized pantheon and was highly animistic, allowing for the incorporation of deities of all kinds. While authoritative lists of canonical gods are difficult to come by and often don’t agree with each other, they still demonstrate consistent themes.
Among these consistent themes were gods and rituals directly tied to the healthy production of honey, its fermentation, and storage. Using the logic of sympathetic magic and post-structuralism, or “if people had gods that they prayed to about this thing, this thing must have been important and had some serious cultural bearing to it,” I came to the conclusion that krupnik was likely a drink made by the common folk long before some enterprising monks picked it up as a monastic trade item. Thus, it is unsurprising that I couldn’t find a direct recipe or method. And so, I wrote up my research, added justifications from my ingredient choices, and wrote up my method for making this drink.
I should note here that I do not have a documented method for this beverage as it stands. I learned how to make this drink from my and my partner’s family traditions, us both coming from long lines of Eastern and Southern European Slavs. We have both drank our share of strange brandies and cordials made by enterprising family members, and have been informed of the “correct recipes” with some ethnic muttering about who’s culture’s liquor is best thrown in. I cannot tell you with precision how period our recipes are. I can only tell you that Slavs have traditions regarding liquor that are assuredly more pagan than Christian, and that there are more ways to earn good luck and a good harvest than to properly drink a shot. It was a test of research and primary sources to find any contemporary recipes from the later end of the time period, and some of those were barely in the period definitions of the Society. In previous competitions, I had been heavily docked for providing no supporting method documentation, so I was on the hunt for nearly anything that I could use. Thanks to some timely and incredibly helpful recommendations, I was able to find some instructions from a Russian manual of household management. So, I wrote them into my method with caveats and headed to Kingdom A&S.
Lord Cassiano serving at the A&S Championship.
I was honored by visitors to my table, curious and effusive royalty, and by my insightful and exacting judges. Their feedback was supportive and precise. As a bolt flees from the firing string, so did they swiftly seek and certainly find the weaknesses of my project. Modern choices of fruit and modern processing tools, only partial documentation of the herbs used, and the usual dagger, a lack of a single recipe. Across all judges, I consistently lost points for this one. Despite written caveats, despite the tightening circle of supporting evidence and points for probability, there was no smoking gun, so to speak, of how this drink would have been made in period.
I have to note here. This is the SCA. We are in the business of the recreation of historical artifacts, methods, and techniques. We strive for this; it is perhaps our calling card amongst the class of medieval play-acting groups. It is a facet of the society that drew me towards it and keeps me engaged day after day. However, it is one particular rock that I also keep tripping over. In my mundane life, I am an Associate Principal Investigator for a cultural resource mitigation company. The title is a mouthful, but means that I work as a historian, anthropologist, and archaeologist all in one. I am in the business of collecting historical and archaeological data, synthesizing it, and presenting the best possible picture of what it can tell us folks in the modern day. As one puzzle piece does not make the picture, neither does one data point make a conclusion, and thus do we do our research and draw conclusions in my field. Very rarely do we get that “smoking gun,” but piles of spent shell casings often are ample substitute.
So, what to do now, with several months until the next Festival of the Passing of the Ice Dragon yet still bearing the same ultimate feedback that I received at the last one? Thanks to the diligence and support of my judges, I have a handful of new leads for other weaknesses in my work, but that pack of lost points that a recipe would ensnare is a frustrating target. There still exist more historical monographs about the Teutonic Crusades than the Lithuanian Empire that preceded them. There still exist paywalls over university-led research into these kinds of anthropological puzzles. I still can’t read Polish. These same roadblocks led me to the indirect methods of problem solving that I first began this project with, and now 40 sources and 4,000 words later I am running out of clever ideas to defeat this final boss. I can hear my thesis advisor from years ago asking me where my ethnography is to contextualize this data, but in this moment, it feels like I have none of the data and entirely too much context.
Ultimately, I have four months to seek another, more complete answer. I’m not ready to set this project down and there are stages of maturation techniques and more period methods that I want to use and try, but this question of authenticity is one that needs to be nailed down. But for now, as the holidays roll in and I prepare to celebrate three religions’ Christmases in the space of a month, it is time to step back. Friends, family, and ancestors all need to be toasted, and I have several bottles to empty.
May trouble never find you in the new year,
Lord Cassiano da Castello, Order of the Sycamore, Shire of Nithgaard.
The Happy Wagon, where Lord Cas and the other alcoholic entries, could legally sampled even though entered in a dry site. Lord Cas’s Russian clothing came in useful in the unheated cabin, as did their wonderful krupnik sufficiently warm the judges.
By Elska á Fjárfelli, of the Dominion of Myrkfaelinn
Going down the rabbit hole can result in some interesting finds. During my digging into historic brewing techniques, I came across the following story. I thought it offered a nice peek behind the curtains into the life of the modern Viking — what is Christmas without a ghost story — which is why I am sharing it now with you.
Historians believe that the way of life of rural Scandinavians did not significantly change for hundreds of years, if not more, and that many of the traditions and techniques as found in the 19th and early 20th century could even go back as far as Viking times. The following account is called “Christmas preparations and Christmas” and is written by Norwegian Guro Hoftun Narum. The chapter is part of the book Livet i en fjellbygd omkring århundreskiftet (Life in a mountain village around the turn of the century), which was published in 1965.
In the good time before Christmas, the pigs were slaughtered. As a rule, it was the wife of the garden who cooked the cracklings and made pork stew and meat baskets (sausages). In part of the Christmas baking, they used pork dumplings.
One time before Christmas they bought a bunch of lutefisk, which had to lie [soak] in strong ash [potash lye] until it had swelled. New water had to be refreshed until the water was completely shiny and the fish was light and glossy as well.
Then the containers of Christmas beer were prepared. First, they sprout barley grain with some water. The grain grew, sprouted, then became lofty. They had it in a big wooden tray inside the living room, because it was warm. While the grain was growing, they sometimes touched [checked] it, and when it was fit, they dried it in the sauna. From the sauna they put it in the mill and got it roughly ground.
The women brewed beer from the malt. […] The beer fermented a little in the barrel as well, and there was some yeast on the bottom of the barrel. When the beer was drunk, they emptied the yeast into a dish and let it dry out, and when this yeast had dried out, they kept it until they had to make bread dough. Before it came from the cookers [could be purchased], baked fermented bread was preferred only for Christmas.
It’s Christmas Eve I remember best of the days of Christmas. Early Christmas Eve morning, we dragged the children into [listening to] a lot of Christmas [stories] around our kettles. We had the fireplace full and even something beside the fireplace. Most days, father set up one or more Christmas nights.
I can’t remember we had Christmas trees, and we didn’t get gifts outside of new clothes.
The evening meal was the same every Christmas Eve as long as I was a kid, namely lutefisk, a little fried pork and “dipping”, which was thick white sauce of good milk. Mother probably had some cream in it. Furthermore, there were peeled potatoes and beer in coffee mugs. Every day, the potatoes had to be peeled.
At Christmas, the adults talked about Christmas ghosts that came out of Hahaug during Christmas Night and came back on the thirteenth day. Hahaug is a large mound in the garden of Viko. There were many legends about undead (underground) people living in this mound. It was the legend of Christmas Eve, and I will bring you a couple more.
When the undead people in Hahaug were visited by other undergrounders, they held feasts. The music-man sat on top of the mound and played, and the others danced a kind of ring dance around the mound. Some of the people kept burning torches in the room.
Another legend is about a man who rode away to Hahaug on Christmas Eve. He saw a light shine inside the mound. The man greeted and called out Merry Christmas, and then he asked for a Christmas story. “It’s old custom and use here,” he said. Many women and men came out of the mound, and one of them handed the man a silver-plated drinking horn. He accepted the horn, but sprinkled its contents behind him so some of it hit the horse, and the horse was scorched on both hair and skin where the contents hit it. He should not have taken the drinking horn.
By Elska á Fjárfelli, of the Dominion of Myrkfaelinn
My interest in anything Viking age, and anything early-period brewing merged last weekend when Myrkfaelinn hosted an Iron Age stone brewing demo at its annual Summer War Practice. Lord Ulf Barelegs traveled from afar to help THLord Robert of Ferness and me work our way through the different steps of successfully brewing an all-grain beer with nothing modern but a thermometer – and honestly, we did not even truly need that! Inspired by a Facebook post by a Texas brewer who shared his interpretation of an Iron Age brew in northern continental Europe around 2,000 years ago that he brews for an Iron Age immersion week each spring, I figured we could give it a try too.
While 2,000 years ago is a wee bit past the Viking age, it is unlikely the way of brewing changed all that much from the Iron age until Middle age monastic breweries started pushing the boundaries of brewing volume and shelf-life. And while there might not be a whole lot of recorded history, with only a single example from the Icelandic Ljósvetninga saga telling of milk warmed by stones, there is plenty of archaeological evidence for the brewing of beer in Viking age context. Residues of a fruit & honey beer from northwest Denmark of circa 1500-1300 BCE, found in 2014, included honey, bog cranberry, lingonberry, bog myrtle, yarrow, juniper, birch tree resin, as well as wheat, barley and/or rye. And there is nothing archaeologist like better than rubbish heaps and trash middens, of which the old farmsteads have plenty! It seems in central Norway the rubbish suggests Vikings and their descendants brewed beer by tossing hot rocks into wooden tuns. Many a fire-cracked stone is found at most of the farmyards of old, historically named farms. Unfortunately for the archaeologists, since most archaeological digs are initiated by construction sites, as developers are required to check for cultural artifacts before beginning construction, most construction sites avoid developing through a farmstead. This means most of the archaeological information we have about the Viking age comes from graves, and most of the archaeological information about the Middle ages comes from excavations in cities – which misses a large chunk of data as most people back then lived in the countryside. Recent small-scale excavations in farmyards found that the oldest farmsteads carbon-14 date to 600 CE, the late Iron age.
Our own Robert of Ferness admitted to having found and handled many FCR – archaeologist-speak for fire-cracked rocks – at various sites, including in Iceland. Not provable as stones used in brewing per se, but probable to have been used to heat a liquid. They could also have simply been stones put too close to fire in a hearth, or even stones cracked by intense heat in a structure fire.
Mounds of fire cracked stones, or “brewing stones”, on Ranheim, Trondheim (Grønnesby 2017, 135)
Nineteenth century Sociologist Eilert Sundt recorded an encounter on a farm in 1851 in Hedmark, Norway after seeing a pile of strange looking smallish stones. “What’s with these stones?” he asked and the farmer replied “They’re brewing stones. Stones they used for cooking to brew beer, from the old days when they did not have iron pots.” Sundt noted that most of the farms he visited had piles of burned or fire-cracked stones, and every time he asked about them, he was told the stones were from brewing, when they would be heated until they were glowing hot and plopped into the wood vessel to heat things up. The stones were everywhere, Sundt wrote, and so thick and compact in places, houses were built right on top of them! A modern excavation at Ranheim, near Trondheim, Norway, found 700 cubic meters of stones from just one portion of the farmstead. A test sample of 24 farms found that 71 percent had fire-cracked stones. Hot rock brewing would not be as obvious in the archaeological record elsewhere as with Norwegian brewing stones because of the types of stones used, as most regions use stones which tolerate heat without fracturing, like the igneous rock granite and basalt. Brewing beer with hot rocks is nothing unusual, and traces of brewing with stones have been found in England, Germany, Finland and the Baltics.
And thus, in the great tradition of Gulating’s law – the Gulating being the Norwegian governmental assembly which met from 900 to 1300 CE – requiring three farmers to work together to brew beer, Ulf, Robert and I set up our brewing at the Myrkfaelinn Summer War Practice to make some Viking beer! For those who could not make it, this brewing session was a trial run for the Pennsic Iron Age brewing workshop which will be held at Aethelmearc Royal, war week Saturday, starting at 2pm.
18 lbs of 2 row barley malt
lbs of malted oats
1 lb of acidified barley malt
½ lb of peat smoked barley malt (very smoky, use sparingly)
½ lb of malted rye (left over)
The grain was milled on-site, and by hand.
With an infusion of:
Yarrow (big handful)
Baby spruce tips (handful)
Mugwort (less than a dozen sprigs)
Henbit (small handful)
Aged, yellowed hops (handful)
The herbs were fresh and picked the day before. The hops are homegrown and have been sitting in the dark in my basement for about a year. This way the brew gets minimal flavor, while still benefiting of some of the preserving qualities.
Now what did we actually do? Let me show you!
First thing we did was start a fire to make coal bed.
Then we used that fire to make a juniper infusion and clean out the wood tub (the mash tun) with the scalding infusion to clean and sterilize.
Then we put a layer of juniper twigs covering the bottom, concentrating around the plug (there is hole in the bottom of the mash tun, kept closed with the plugging stick).
We milled the grains by hand: we used 2 row barley, malted oats and some random leftovers, including some rye, as well as some peat smoked malt.
Then we added water. We added it cold from the tap – it could also be pre-heated in sun, especially at Pennsic.
Next, we put stones on the coal bed and built another fire right over top of them, with a hardwood / pine mix I had brought from home to make sure we had dry wood.
In the traditional Scandinavian style, we made a separate tea, or infusion, with the herbal bittering agents. We used yarrow, some mugwort, aged and yellowed hops, some henbit, and baby spruce tips.
When the fire was mostly burned down again, we start pulling stones, and added them to mash (the soaked grains) 3 or 4 at a time. Ulf really enjoyed this bit, as did my kid when we did a water-only trial in the back yard. We tried three metal grabbers and found the funky accordion style firewood grabber worked best.
We kept checking the temperature, especially the top and bottom as the mash & juniper was quite insulating and there often was quite a heat difference between the top and the bottom. It was difficult to stir with the juniper branches covering the bottom. At around 130F we observed protein break – thank you Ulf for pointing that out – which made the surface of the mash all foam up.
We kept adding hot rocks until overall temps were at or over 160F, and then we kept it at this level for an hour and a half – adding more stones as needed.
By now, whenever a new hot rock is added, the wort (the liquid surrounding the grains) surrounding the rock immediately went to a boil, creating lots of steam, a wonderful smell of sweet malt, lots of sizzling & sputtering, and quite the surface boil. This part, which takes about an hour and a half, is spectacular to watch!
At around the end of the protein rest (the hour and a half) we noticed the protein foam had dissipated, and the wort started to settle. So, we put the draining bucket under hole, carefully wiggled the plug stick, and slowly drained the wort into a sterile bucket. I would plug the drain back up each time the bucket was ready to dump the filtered wort into a sterilized fermenter bucket. This traditional way of having a combined mash tun (where the grains are soaked) and a lauter tun (where the infusion is drained off the grains) worked surprisingly well.
We sparged with boiling water. We intended to use juniper water but ran out of cooking vessels as we started to cook dinner while waiting for the protein rest. We drained about 4 gallons from the initial wort, and another 2 gallons were sparged, by trickling boiling water over the mash to wash out any remainder sweetness. The last sparge we handed around for anyone to taste.
We made about 8 gallons of wort from about 25 pounds of grain, including 4 pounds of oats I sprouted and roasted (called malting) over the winter, and bittering adjuncts grown and harvested from the backyard. All in all, it took about 6 hours from start to finish, but we also took all the time we wanted and ended up cooking dinner over the hot stone fire as well – rabbit with spring onions, over barley, nettle and plantain. It was a good day, and I can’t wait to taste the results!
The things we learned:
Making the first coal bed took a while. In case of restricted time start with a bag or two of charcoal, add rocks, and built a wood fire over that.
We need more pots to boil water, and/or vessels to store juniper tea for sparging.
Stones crack, but slowly, crumbly, and pose no danger (apart from sharp edges when fishing them back out of the wort). It is no wonder the farmyards had layer upon layer of discarded stones, as from two trials I already have half a bucket of small gravel! Brewing stone beer means keeping an eye out for replacement granite.
When the wort reached about 130F, we saw foam (protein break). When it reached about 160F the surface was really steaming (and too hot to touch easily). When it had sat for about the right amount of time, the foam had also started to dissipate and the wort was starting to clear.
The sugar conversion went fine, the wort did not seem weak at all (none of us brought a hydrometer, so we did not check starting specific gravity).
Back home, I added some Nottingham dry ale yeast, and Robert added Safale WB06 dry ale yeast to his batch. When we tried the wort at about the 5-day point (same as for Pennsic), we found it to be more acerbic and herbal tasting than expected. I checked back in with the Iron age brewer and he suggested not to boil the herbs, but to only steep, and to add the infused tea as a sparge, not during heating. We will do further testing before Pennsic and look forward to sharing our results with you then! Skål!
For anyone who would like to try Cy Phorg’s Iron Age interpretation:
4 lbs of 2 row barley malt OR a mix of light and dark Munich malt
1 lb of rye malt
½ lb of peat smoked malt
¼ lb acid barley malt
Mash for 160F or more for 1.5 hours.
Steep in ½ a gallon of water a combination of:
Juniper branch tips (handful)
Meadowsweet (several handfuls)
Henbit / deadnettle (handful)
All preferably harvested in spring, use with flowers and buds when possible.
Sparge with the herbal tea.
He uses kveik yeasts, farmhouse/saisson style yeasts, and Belgian/Trappist style yeasts to good effect, often in a mixture and often with a health addition of bread yeast. It will be ready to drink in as little as 48 hours, though in his experience he finds 72 hours is a good spot to start pouring. It is not intended to be carbonated, and should be consumed in a day or two.
Geir Grønnesby (2017) Hot rocks! Beer brewing on Viking and medieval age farms in Trøndelag. Frode Iversen & Håkan Petersson (Eds.) The Agrarian Life of the North 2000 23–56 1000. Studies in Rural Settlement and Farming in Norway. Cappelen Damm Akademisk.
Patrick E. McGovern, Gretchen R. Hall & Amen Mirzoian (2013) A biomolecular archaeological approach to ‘Nordic grog’. Danish Journal of Archaeology, 2:2, 112-131. Routledge.
Billy Quinn & Declan Moore. Ale, brewing and fulacht fiadh: Archaeology Ireland. Billy Quinn and Declan Moore of Moore Environmental and Archaeological Consultants in Galway present a bleary-eyed experimental reassessment of the nature and function of fulacht fiadh. http://www.mooregroup.ie/2007/10/the-archaeology-ireland-article/
Asle Rønning. Brewing Stone Age beer. Beer enthusiasts are using a barn in Norway’s Akershus County to brew a special ale which has scientific pretensions and roots back to the dawn of human culture. July 20, 2012. http://sciencenordic.com/brewing-stone-age-beer
By Elska á Fjárfelli, of the Dominion of Myrkfaelinn
Abbreviated documentation for my entry in the Category Curiosa at the Passing of the Ice Dragon Arts & Sciences Pentathlon, AS 53.
The two curious artifacts of Schloss Ambras The medieval castle of Ambras in Austria houses quite a few unusual 16th century artifacts as part of its collection of rarities, including two wreaths assembled of many identical wooden pieces. While this description may sound familiar to the farmhouse brewer, such was not the case when the artifacts entered the collection, and both are catalogued as ‘use unknown.’ The wreaths are remarkably similar in design and construction to traditional Scandinavian yeast rings which raises the question: why are the artifacts there, and what could have been their contemporary use?
The two wreaths are part of the ‘Kunst- und Wunderkammer’ collection – in English the Chamber of Art and Wonders – a collection of rarities collected by Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595), Prince of Tyrol and Further Austria. He opened his court in Innsbruck in 1567 and had the medieval castle Schloss Ambras retrofitted into a Renaissance style residence. He specifically added an Unterschloss (lower castle) – built between 1572-1583 – to house his collections, making Schloss Ambras the oldest museum in the world still in existence. It is also the only Renaissance Kunstkammer of its kind still to be in its original location.
The unique collection of the Ambras Kunstkammer consists of armor, weapons, portraits, natural objects, rarities, ‘wonders of natura’, most recent scientific instruments, musical instruments, precious items etcetera, which in later times would be classified as artificia, naturalia, scientifica, exotica and mirabilia. The two artifacts were likely thought to fit this profile because they are visually intriguing, even for those unfamiliar with its function. Ferdinand II was the first to present his collection according to a systematic concept, within a specially constructed dedicated building. A variety of unusual artifacts such as glass figurines, coral artifacts, mechanical toys and clocks are on display and open to the public to this day, administered by the KHM-Museumverbands as part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna.
Museum photo of artifact AM_PA_742 (a twisted torus)
The extant artifacts
According to the museum, the Ambras Kunstkammer contains three artifacts of similar shape. Only two of the artifacts are mentioned as part of the inventory of 1596, and were described as such:
Ain cranz, von holz gemacht. (A wreath, made of wood.)
Ain selczames holz, so creizweis under einander gewachsen. (fol.472’) (A rare [unusual] wood[en object], inserted cross-wise under each other.)
There is no other providence available for the artifacts, apart from being stored in cabinet 18 of the Kunstkammer labeled as “darinnen allerlei holzwerch” (in there all sorts of woodwork).
What is a Twisted Torus
The artifacts in question are two wooden wreaths (Kranz), now located in the Unterschloss Kunstkammer, cabinet 10. They are both made of wood (Holz), without specifying the species of tree, how it was worked or if the wood was treated in any way. One has a diameter of 24 cm (9.4 inches), and the other of 27 cm (10.6 inches). The wreaths are assembled by cross-wise interconnected rectangular slotted links of wood (kreuzweise ineinandergesteckte Blättchen) and the resulting chain is doubled back and connected beginning to end to form a circle, a wreath. (pr. comm. Ambras Museum) The design is in the same tradition of celebrating geometry as the German graphic artist Johannes Lencker in his woodcut of 1567. (Hart) If the number of units is more or less than a multiple of three it will display a natural twist – for instance 75 pieces gives an untwisted circle, while 76 and 77 links will give a twisted circle, like a mobius ring. Studying the museum provided photographs shows the 24cm wreath to be an untwisted circle, and the 27cm wreath a twisted circle.
What I find intriguing is that the collection information mentions “verwendungszweick unbekannt” or, use unknown. George Hart, an early enthusiast of Rapid Prototyping also known as 3D printing, mentions on his web page Twisted Torus that he does not know what it could have been either, and goes on to speculate:
“Was it just a visual puzzle, challenging the viewer to think about how it was assembled? Was it a “masterpiece” displayed to prove the skill of the creator? Was it functional, perhaps a trivet, or laurel to be worn on the head like a mazzocchio? Were the parts leftover material in some workshop, perhaps a wooden furniture or carriage maker, which someone casually put together into a chain?” (Hart)
Bret Rothstein, a philosopher interested in intellectual puzzles, wrote several articles about the curious wooden objects. He argues the tori were intended to be visually and intellectual difficult. Rothstein theorizes that as interest in the tradition of making objects to confuse people increased around the same time the twisted tori entered the Ambras collection, the tori could be curiosity puzzles too. He thinks that, unlike most manufactured objects in the collection, the tori do not actually depict anything. They are what they are – wooden pieces that interlock in a seemingly impossible way. And then goes on to say:
“However charming one may find the helical tori, they simply cannot match that sort of craftsmanship. Though their configurations are elegant as well as beautiful, their components are rough, to put it mildly: gouge marks and tearouts mark virtually every piece. Furthermore, those pieces are not really works of art in their own right, but rather seem more like mortise pieces.” (Rothstein, 4)
If the wreaths are no more than practical tools, then what could they have been used for?
The practical use for a torus
Ferdinand II was not the only renaissance art-lover to collect unusual things. The Kunstkammer of Albrecht V (1528-1579), Duke of Bavaria, was another renaissance collection of all things natural and mechanical. Called the Munich Kunstkammer, it was one of the earliest universal collections north of the Alps. Albrecht had started collecting at the beginning of his reign in 1550 but already in 1557, his councilors found it necessary to curtail his expenses! By 1563 construction on a dedicated building began and even though it continued at least until 1578, the collections were already on display by the end of the 1560’s. (Kaliardos 2014, 1-5) All this as a convoluted way of illustrating the Munich Kunstkammer is very similar to the Ambras Kunstkammer – and low and behold, in 1598 the collection included an object remarkably similar to the Ambras Kranz:
389 (286 w) Ein hülzener Pfannenkhnecht, oder schüßelring, von clainem gestückletem holz ineinander verschrengt, umb und umb mit clainen schilten und aufgemahlten des Bayrischen Adels wappen. (Diemer 2004, 65) – A wood pot helper, or dish ring, of small slotted wood [pieces] combined together, alternating with small shields decorated with the Royal arms of Bayern.
This description is from an inventory assembled in 1598 and would indicate that at that specific moment in time the torus was identified as a pot helper, or dish ring – basically, a trivet.
The torus as a trivet
From the 19th century onwards, it is fairly easy to find examples of wood wreath trivets both in Scandinavian and in Hungarian culture. The digital collections of the Swedish and Danish museums especially list dozens of “pannring” objects collected in the late 19th to the middle of the 20th century. The same is found for Hungarian wood wreath trivets, there called cauldron wreaths – the oldest object is dated to 1840. But did they not get used, or did they not get collected and catalogued, before then? I think it unfortunately is the latter. The concept of ethnography, the systematic study of people and culture, had only recently developed. Universities and private collectors would collect data and objects, most often from strange and foreign lands and peoples. But not until the industrial revolution was it realized by governments and universities alike that rural life as had been known since living memory was quickly fading away, replaced by modern conveniences like refrigerators and dry-goods stores (supermarkets). Ethnographers were sent into the field in their own countries to preserve what was left, and this push for the past is still visible in the influx of collection acquisitions in the late nineteenth century. Honestly, it’s a good thing they did while it was still there to be found.
The Hungarian Kutyagerinc – used to keep round-bottom cooking pots from tipping. Photo: Arcanum online (copyright free)
A neat example of a wood wreath trivet is the Hungarian kutyagerinc, or dog’s spine, as seen on the table in the photograph of the shepherds’ couple dining. In the words of Barna Gábor in his book A pásztorok muvészete (The art of shepherds, 1989):
“In the shepherd’s apartments, most have chimneys, smoky kitchens, open stoves and multiple families cook on the stove. There is also a kitchen in the Keszthely Empire where six families cook on a stove. The feet, pots and pans are designed for this, and the fire is gathered into its circle. It is natural that the feet and the pot are rusty, which is not a problem; the people consider that, with open fire, the goal is a more delicious meal and a crunchy roast.
If the soiled dish is put on the beautiful white tablecloth, it makes a mess. For this reason, the shepherd carries a tablecloth-outside table-saver, which is called the kutyagerinc (dog’s spine) because it really resembles the backbone of the dog, but is assembled as a wreath (218). The kutyagerinc consists of two or three hundred parts intersecting each other, held together by the parts, so that one part is tightly connected to the other.
The good kutyagerinc is that which is cramped as close as possible. You don’t need to use a glue, an adhesive for the kutyagerinc, “because it holds itself together”. If the assemblage of the kutyagerinc is connected with two opposing parts, it can be turned so that the heads of the parts stand in a different direction [it rotates] and the wreath has a different image. The two ends of the wreath are so cleverly hooked up that the observer can’t figure out how to put the hundreds of pieces together so wonderfully! The shepherd does something that is for pleasure. There is no benefit, but it is nice!” (Gábor 1989)
When I checked the museum records of Swedish wood wreath trivets, called “pannring”, I found many examples but also found something else: Ulrika Torell curator of the Nordiska museet (Nordic Museum) explained the “pannring” as follows:
“A so-called yeast ring, or yeast wreath, originally used for brewing beer and malt drinks. The wreath is placed in the fermenter where yeast residues adhered and were allowed to dry into the hollows of the wreath. In this way, a good yeast was preserved for the next brewing. The wreaths were made of wooden sticks or straw. When the homestead brewing needs eventually declined [yeast could now be purchased, as well as beer] the wreaths instead began to be used as trivets for pots and pans and got a new name.” (Torell 2012)
The torus as a yeast ring
As Bret Rothstein, George Hart and even Schloss Ambras Museum found to their surprise, whenever the torus was displayed where Scandinavians would encounter it, they would immediately identify it as a yeast ring. The identity of a yeast ring seems to be deeply ingrained in the Scandinavian mindset, which made me wonder how old this custom could be. While there exists a Norwegian yeast log conveniently carved on the bottom with the date of 1621, there is no such luck with yeast rings. Same with Hungarian kutyagerinc, the museum objects in the Scandinavian collections are all dated and/or acquired at the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. And then I remembered the multi-volume 1555 book Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (A History of the Northern Peoples) by Olaus Magnus, which mentions many Nordic topics, including brewing. Maybe it is mentioned in there?
Yeast ring, hanging outside the brewery – from History of the Northern People, 1555.
There you have it: one yeast ring, hanging off a pole outside a drinking establishment, indicating the brew was successful and ready for consumption. Interestingly, it was apparently such a normal tool that the use of the ring does not even get a mention in the text of the book… And if you think it strange to hang the yeast ring out in nature, realize that brewers back then did not know yeast was a creature, only that the sun and an airy breeze would help dry the sludge out more quickly, and that that was good. Putting out the yeasty tool to indicate a job well done is not something unusual, there is a long tradition in Europe of using yeast related utensils as pre-period inn signs, like besoms (twiggy sweeping brooms) and ale-poles (the medieval variant of mash paddles).
Out of the twelve Scandinavian sources I’ve located and translated so far, my favorite about yeast rings is the Swedish article by Nils Nilsson called Jästkransen (Yeast wreaths) from 1981. While it is not as detailed as for instance Odd Nordland in his Brewing and beer traditions in Norway: the social anthropological background of the brewing industry (1969) or Gösta Berg in Jäststock och jästkrans (Yeast log and yeast wreath – 1949) what I love about it are the two photographs included. One is of a confirmed panring / trivet, and the other of a confirmed yeast ring. And it is clearly visible: the yeast ring is slathered in dried yeast, and the trivet has scorched edges from where the hot pots touched the wood. Interestingly, while yeast sludge can be soaked and rinsed away it is impossible to clean scorched wood. And most of the tori collected as trivets do not show any indication of heat scorching, which puzzles me.
From Nilsson: (left) Wreath braided with sticks, according to Kulturens folk art catalog 1932, a trivet from Skåne, that is to say, a stand for a frying pan. Diameter 23 cm. KM 35.767. (right) Jästkrans, one of a pair acquired from Harlösa in Skåne in 1945, information about the use is missing. The dried substance between the sticks contains, apart from various “debris” residues, starch and yeast fungi. Diameter 15 cm. KM 47,356:2.
In the words of Nils Nilsson, in his 1981 Jästkransen:
“Another method was to allow the yeast to dry, which gave significantly increased durability. The yeast must then be collected in a suitable way. From ancient towns in central Sweden and Norway it is known that they used to lay down a so-called yeast log or yeast stick in the yeast vessel, a piece of log of rough bark or recessed depths where the yeast mass was gathered. The stick was then hung to dry and the yeast in the holes could then be preserved for a long time.
The same method has been applied with wreaths, which were usually straw bundles, but which in southern Sweden and Denmark were often composed of small sticks stuck into each other, yeast rings. The wreaths could either be placed in the vessel like the yeast stick, so that the yeast flowed into the cavities, or “filled” by pouring the yeast over them. Otherwise, the approach was the same.
Wreaths composed of small wooden sticks are quite common in our museum collections. Very few of these have a clear function as yeast rings. In general, they are found as a trivet for saucepans, pots and the like. In this capacity, they still exist, usually manufactured and marketed as home-made supplies. The question is then whether the use of wreaths as a pot holder was developed only after ceasing to store yeast dried in wreaths, in other words a kind of functional retreat as it is called in scientific language. More likely, they have been used for both these purposes and that the connection with the beer yeast has been forgotten after the use of brewing beer at home disappeared.” (Nilsson 1981, 45-48)
Yeast ring made by me from backyard Swamp Birch (Betula allegheniensis)
Speculations on the past
With these newly found facts, we can speculate on the initial practical function of the tori. For instance, did the twisted torus started out as a trivet which was appropriated by an out-of-the-box thinking brewster and the technique was subsequently emulated by her impressed friends and neighbors? Or maybe the torus started out as a yeast ring but, with the invention of dried yeast in the early 1800’s, lost its job and that by the time the ethnographers stopped by for a chat and a brew the yeast ring had already mostly devolved into a trivet? If, perhaps the torus started out as a trivet, it was appropriated in the Scandinavian lands as a yeast ring but then reverted back to its original function when it was no longer needed? Or perhaps the use as a trivet, and as a yeast ring, was fairly simultaneous, depending on the needs of the people of a particular region at a certain place in time.
Food for thought: Bret Rothstein mentions the Ambras tori are likely made from beech. Most yeast rings are made of beech and birch, as the Betula species seems to be most favorable to yeast colonization. With only a little embellishing, this factoid favors the story that perhaps the two tori from the Ambras collection were gifted by a Scandinavian official for the Royal collection, or perhaps brought back as curious souvenirs from His Grace’s travels to the Nordic countries.
Here’s to the raising of the horn and tapping of the cask at the Region 5 Brewers Guild Championship!
At the Feast of the Seven Deadly Sins, held in the Barony of Delftwood, the local chapter of the Æthelmearc Brewers Guild held its annual Region 5 Brewers Championship. This year we chose to use the judging format of each entrant being both judge and juried. This meant that not only did the entrant judge their competitor’s entries, they also judged themselves – a format I find works well with smaller groups and which tends to be quite informative for all involved. It’s sort of like a brewer’s roundtable with notes.
Richard and Robert tapping the first draft.
The competition drew in seven competitors, both from within Region 5 and without, with a combined effort of nine brew entries. We tasted and discussed these nine entries, ranging from dry to sweet and from wine to beer. There was fruit wine, a simple mead, a mead made with concord grapes in the tradition of Roman oenomels, a spicy herbal ale made with rosemary, a traditional fourteenth-century braggot, and a Rauchbier made with homemade smoked malt.
A well-appreciated tasting.
While the Roman oenomel and the many-herbal beer gave them a run for their money, it was the braggot and the Rauchbier that ran with the prices. I am proud to proclaim Master Gille MacDhonuill winner of the (out-of-region) brewing competition with his braggot, which was based on Curye on Inglysh. And I’m even more proud to proclaim The Honorable Lord Robert of Ferness to be the brewing champion of Region 5, with his oak barrel-aged Rauchbier. Both received a quart of extra-dark homemade maple syrup and a handwoven inkle band.
The little keg made a second appearance during Feast.
Well done, and a loud Vivat to our participants: Gille MacDhonuil, Cormacc mac Gilla Brigde, Robert l’Etourdi, Robert of Ferness, new brewers Julia and Richard, and defending Region 5 Champion Cristina inghean Ghriogair. Thank you for making this an unforgettable event – and thank you, little keg, for not exploding all over the rented-hall carpet!
Yours in service,
Elska á Fjárfell
Region 5 representative of the Æthelmearc Brewers Guild
How easy it is to “know” something, to know something so well that you grew up knowing that that is the way it is.
But what happens when popular thought turns out not to be so cut and dried, when other alternatives are more appropriate in a different situation?
Myrica pensylvanica, Northern bayberry or wax berry (hence the waxy-grey coating).
Listen to the tale of bayberry, an innocuous shrub from the Myricacaea family and native to American soil. Most familiar to those here is the Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), especially to Colonial re-enactors and homesteaders, because of the wax coating on the outside of the fruit that can be boiled off and used to make candles. (Combs)
And listen to the tale of bayberries, used by European medieval and Renaissance cooks, brewers, and physicians for their flavor and mild antiseptic qualities.
Now for the Million Dollar Question: what’s with this name?
Take, for instance, the following recipe by William Harrison in his 1577 Description of Elizabethan England. It mentions both “arras” and “bayberries” as botanical ingredients.
[much detail on the different steps of (partigyle) mashing…] Finally, when she setteth her drink together, she addeth to her brackwoort or charwoort half an ounce of arras, and half a quarter of an ounce of bayberries, finely powdered, and then, putting the same into her woort, with a handful of wheat flour, she proceedeth in such usual order as common brewing requireth. Some, instead of arras and bays, add so much long pepper only, but, in her opinion and my liking, it is not so good as the first, and hereof we make three hogsheads of good beer.
Neither ingredient is normally found in a modern kitchen, so more research is prudent.
A quick post in a SCAdian cooking forum came up with the suggestion for the first mystery of orris root, by way of the 1872 A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words “a kind of powder, probably made of the orris-root.”
Other Google hits confirmed this possibility, but also that not even academics know its identification for sure. As the characteristics of orris root (Iris sp.) fit within the function in this recipe − the roots contain myristic acid (Grieve) making the powder mildly antiseptic and thus promote the durability of the concentrated malt syrup (called brackwoort or charwoort) − orris root is a plausible answer.
A similar post in this forum asking about the definition of the second mystery, bayberries, found a different response.
To my surprise, bayberry turns out to be a common shrub in the United States, and to my even larger surprise, it is part of the Myrica family.
I should explain: I recently finished a Compleat Anachronist on the Low Country herbal ale called gruit, which includes both Myrica gale and the berries of the Laurel nobilis, or the berries of the bay, called in Dutch and German bakelaar. The forum discussion suggested that all bayberries like wax berries are shrubs of the genus Myrica, and thus in the case of European sources, the European Myrica, which is Myrica gale, also known as sweet gale and bog myrtle. When I questioned this interpretation because of inconsistencies with contemporary sources, no one in the forum was able to provide further help. It was only because I had just spent a year researching the historic European side of a similar story that my curiosity was piqued.
So, if nothing else, let my ‘obsession’ be a point of learning for you! In the rest of this story, I will walk you step by step through my thought process, which led me to the appropriate answer.
Myrica gale, sweet gale catkins.
Question one: What are the medieval descriptors for the term in question?
When tackling a challenging botanical identification like this I have a found a number of useful sources to check. Since I want to know what the medieval European definition is − not the modern and often American definition given on Wikipedia − I like to proceed in this manner:
The search query ‘bayberr*’ found 45 records in EEBO, a combination of husbandry (veterinarian), chemistry, and medicinal manuals, with a few brewing and household entries. Checking one by one uncovered the following hints regarding its identity:
The 1653 Pharmacopœia Londinensis mentions: “Oyl of Bays. Take of Bay-berries ripe, and newly gathered…” and “Unguentum Laurinum commune. Take of Bay leaves bruised, … Bay berries bruised …”
The 1578 (?) Orders, thought meete by her Maiestie mentions: “An excellent Medicine made without charges.: Take of the powder of good Bayberries, the huske taken awaye from them, before they be dried, a spooneful.”
Pliny the Elder (1634 edition) mentions that “Oliues, Bayberries, Walnuts and Almonds, haue a fattie liquor in them.”
The charitable physitian with the Charitable apothecary of 1633 mentions: “Bayberries the pound 006 Mirtle Berries the pound 010.”
At first, I thought mirtle to mean bog myrtle fruit, although I was confused as to why those would be called berries (they are more akin to seeds or cones). Then I realized another mirtle was meant, the Myrtus from the Bible, with berries quite similar to those of the laurel.
Myrtus communis, Mirtle berries
Conclusion one: This rough check of easily available literature indicates that United Kingdom bayberries are associated with bay (leaves), can be husked before they are dried, contain a fatty liquid, and are listed next to myrtle berries, indicating a probable visual similarity.
Bog myrtle fruits (Myrica gale) are technically not a berry, they are catkins of ingrown flower petals and seed, and cannot be husked. They come pretty much dried right off the bush, do not contain a waxy nor a fatty substance, and have no visual similarity to myrtle berries. On the other hand, the berries of the Laurel fit all these descriptors.
An observation: while the shrub is called bayberry (singular) and many of the herbal ingredients are listed as singular botanicals, bayberries are invariably listed as plural. Linguistically, this suggests it is not a generic term (the bayberry), but indicates a specific part of the plant (the berries of the bay; bay berries). The spelling also varies, from bayberries to bay-berries and bay berries.
Interestingly, when this information was shared with the medieval cooking forum many of the participants were not convinced. The information was found interesting, but bayberry is bayberry, and while I thought the contemporary information was quite convincing, it did not change their opinion. It was time to dig even deeper.
Step two: Check a dictionary. When researching English language words, the Medieval English Dictionary or MED, hosted by the University of Michigan, has proven very useful.
The MED lookups had no hits with “bayberry” or variants, and no hits for sweet gale or variants, but it did have an entry for “laurel.”
(a) The European laurel tree, bay tree (Laurus nobilis); ~ tre; beries of ~, ~ baies, fruit of the laurel, laurel berries; […]
bai(e (n.) Also (error) boi-.
The berry-like fruit of various plants, trees, or shrubs (including the laurel, olive, rose, nightshade).
(a) Specif., the fruit of the laurel tree (Laurus nobilis); ~ berie; (b) the laurel tree; ~ tre; ~ leves, laurel leaves; (c) oil de bai(es [see quot.: a1500]; (d) pouder of baies.
Conclusion two: According to the MED, bai(e) berie is the fruit of the laurel tree. Apparently, bayberry means “berry berry.”
Laurus nobilis, Laurel berries.
Step three: Check the etymology of the word. Etymology Online is a good place to start, and if you have access, the Oxford English Dictionary is even better.
“fruit of the bay tree,” 1570s, from bay (n.4) + berry. In Jamaica, the name given to a type of myrtle (Pimenta acris), 1680s, from which bay-rum (1832) is made.
laurel shrub (Laurus nobilis, source of the bay-leaf), late 14c., but meaning originally only the berry, from Old French baie (12c.) “berry, seed,” from Latin baca, bacca “berry, fruit of a tree or shrub, nut” (source also of Spanish baya, Old Spanish bacca, Italian bacca “a berry”), a word of uncertain origin. Extension of the word to the shrub itself is from 1520s. The leaves or sprigs were woven as wreaths for conquerors or poets, hence “honorary crown or garland bestowed as a prize for victory or excellence” (1560s). Bay-leaf is from 1630s. Bay-berry (1570s) was coined after the sense of the original word had shifted to the tree.
The OED gives a little bit more historic background:
Bayberry: (ˈbeɪˌbɛrɪ) [f. bay n.1 2]
1.1 The fruit of the bay-tree.
1578 Lyte Dodoens 688 Called in Latine Lauri baccæ, in English Bay berries. 1747 Gentl. Mag. XVII. 409 Take of aniseed‥bay-berries, myrrh‥of each half an ounce.
2.2 In U.S., the fruit of the Wax-myrtle (Myrica cerifera), and the plant itself, an American shrub that bears a berry covered with a wax-like coating.
1687 in Manchester (Mass.) Rec. 32 The sd. tree being near Vincsons baiberry medow. 1769 Massachusetts Gaz. 21 Dec., Advt. (Th.), Bayberry-wax candles. 1792 J. Belknap New Hampsh. III. 123 The bay berry (myrica cerifera), the leaves of which yield an agreeable perfume, and the fruit a delicate green wax, which is made into candles. 1860 Bartlett Dict. Amer. s.v., The berries when boiled in water yield a fragrant green wax, known as bayberry tallow, used for making candles, etc. 1878 R. Thompson Gard. Assist. (Moore) 657/1 Myrica cerifera, candleberry, bay-berry, or wax-myrtle.—Very near the sweet-gale.
3.3 In Jamaica, the fruit of the ‘Bayberry Tree,’ Eugenia acris, a species of Pimento.
1756 P. Browne Jamaica 247 The Bayberry Tree‥The berries resemble our cloves, both in form and flavour.
Conclusion three: Both etymological dictionaries link the word bayberry to laurel berries (Laurus nobilis) first, followed by the Jamaican bayberry tree (Eugenia acris). The OED indicates a separation of definition by giving a US-specific definition for the fruit of the Wax-myrtle (Myrica cerifera), bringing us back to the Myrica family. And while it indicates the bayberry is “very near the sweet gale,” it does not list it as identical. This connection to Myrica gives rise to my second question.
Question two: What is this connection between bayberry and sweet gale?
When I looked at the easily available sources, such as Wikipedia (Wiki/Myrica), the information seems to be pretty clear:
Myrica /mɪˈraɪkə/ is a genus of about 35–50 species of small trees and shrubs in the family Myricaceae, order Fagales. The genus has a wide distribution, including Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America, and missing only from Australia. Some botanists split the genus into two genera on the basis of the catkin and fruit structure, restricting Myrica to a few species, and treating the others in Morella. Common names include bayberry, bay-rum tree, candleberry, sweet gale, and wax-myrtle.
At first glance, this seems to indicate a connection between bayberry and sweet gale (Myrica gale). But when the specific Wikipedia page for Myrica gale (Wiki/Myrica_gale) was checked, no such connection was found.
Something that caught my eye was that most, if not all, of the Myrica species with bayberry as a common name are native to the US. And I wondered, maybe those botanists listed in the Wiki/Myrica page are not that far off, splitting the genus on basis of the catkin (a.i. Myrica gale) and fruit (a.i. Myrica cerifera and M. pensylvanica); it seems the name bayberry is not only connected to the US natives but also to the species bearing fruit. In Europe, the only Myrica used in brewing is Myrica gale or sweet gale, which has catkins.
To check American plants, I find the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to be helpful. This database also divides the family Myricacea, the family of bayberries, into Morella and Myrica. It only lists two Myricas, Myrica hartwegii as Sierra bayberry (US) and Myrica gale (US & EU) as sweet gale, with no bayberry variants. This matches the Wiki/Myrica_gale information, which lists sweet gale as the US term and bog myrtle as the UK term for Myrica gale, with no bayberry variants.
Conclusion two: In modern US English, bayberry indicates several species of the bayberry family Myricacea native to the US. US bayberries mostly bear fruit, not catkins. While Myrica gale is part of the bayberry family, even in the US, the term bayberry does not apply to Myrica gale. Only Myrica gale was used in European brewing. Myrica gale is called sweet gale in the US and bog myrtle in the UK, and many other names in other countries. In languages such as Dutch and German, there is no confusion in terminology. For instance, in Dutch, gagel is bog myrtle, and bakelaar (historic; from baccae lauri) and laurierbessen (modern) are the berries of the laurel.
Question three: Would bayberry therefore mean something else in modern US than it would in medieval UK?
The information points to a double meaning for the word bayberry. In modern US, the term bayberry indicates several species of Myrica (or Morella) shrubs. In medieval UK, the term bayberries points to the berries of the bay laurel tree.
Another way to check this theory would be to look at the same term (bayberry), in the same era (16th c) used in the same context (the brewing of beer) but in a different language. From my research into medieval gruit ale, I had already come across both ingredients bog myrtle and laurel berries and found that within the Dutch and German sources these ingredients would be indicated with non-matching terms.
Variants for Bog myrtle in Latin, Dutch and German include: custum, costus, Herba Myrti Rabanitini, Gale palustris, gagel, gaghel, Myrtus Brabantica, Brabantsche mirt, myrtenheide (myrtle heather), mirtedoorn, post, possem.
Variants for Laurel berries in Latin, French, Dutch and German include: Bacca laureus, baca lauri, Lauri baccæ, bakeleers, baekelaers, bakelaar, Beckeler, laurus, laurusboom, lauwerbessie, bayes de Laurier, graines de Laurier, laurier, Lorbeerbaum, Lorbeeren.
For instance, Eenen Nyeuwen Coock Boeck (1511) mentions the following ingredients in the recipe To make gruit and gruitbeer: “Neemt tegen eenen pot een koren bakelaer (laurel berries), ende alsoo veel aipoys (much resin), ende wat haveren doppen (some oatbran), ende twee saykens van gagel (two bog myrtle catkins).”
Conclusion: In Dutch and German medieval brewing, both ingredients, bog myrtle and laurel berries, were used side by side; they were both found to have preservative properties in the brewing of beer. It thus makes sense from a technical point of view that the UK word bayberries, used in the same time and in the same context, also is appropriate as the berries of the bay laurel.
The final step: Check the contemporary herbals.
Dioscorides — whose first century De Materia Medica was the basis for all European herbals until the 17th century — seems to be talking about Laurel bay: “Laurus nobilis — Sweet Bay, Laurel, Roman Laurel. L aurinum is made from overripe bay berries (which are ready to fall from the tree) […]”
Bald’s Leechbook, also known as Medicinale Anglicum, is an old English medical text written in Latin and probably compiled in the ninth century. There are various manuscripts of the original text, using various terms and spellings for the different ingredients. The berries of the bay laurel tree are mentioned several times, both as ‘laurescroppan,’ which in Old English could mean either the fruit, or a bunch or cluster (of leaves), and as ‘baccas lauri‘ (as well as baccae lauri, baccarum lauri). The latter term means ‘berries [of the] laurel’ and is the genesis of the middle Dutch and German term bakelaar, and the English bay berries.
Gerard Dewes, in his A Nievve Herball or Historie of Plantes from 1578, has the following to say about the bay laurel:
The bay is called … in Latine, Laurus; in high Douche (High German) lorbeerbaum: in base Almaigne (Low German, Dutch), Laurus boom: in Englishe, Bay or Laurel tree.
The fruit is called in Latine, Lauri baccae; in English, Bay beries; in French Bayes or Graines de Laurier: in high Douche, Lorbeeren: in base Almaigne Bakeleers.
This is also found verbatim in John Gerard’s The herball or Generall historie of plantes, 1597.
Conclusion: In 16th century England, the term bayberries indicated the fruit of the bay laurel.
In modern US context, the term bayberry means several species of the Myricacaea family, including Myrica cerifera and Myrica pensylvanica.
In medieval UK context, the term bayberries meant the berries of the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis).
It is my suspicion, and the dates of the etymology of the term seem to support this, that European immigrants to America brought the term bayberries with them. With the absence of local laurel berries the term transferred to the next best thing, a native aromatic shrub with berries visually similar and of similar household qualities.
A side note: the juice of the Chinese Myrica rubra is fermented into alcoholic beverages, among other uses. It is not clear to me if, apart from Myrica gale, any of the other Myrica’s are or have been used in brewing beer.
Myrica rubra, also known as Yumberry™
So… what should we take from all this?
I think it is good to be reminded that language is fluid, it changes with the times, and words and definitions change with it.
It was only because of my previous research and my European background that I questioned the definition of this term. While bog myrtle and laurel berries are used for similar preservative properties in brewing, they both have unique flavors which could change the outcome of the final brew.
In our efforts to emulate pre-1600 recipes it would be a shame if our modern assumptions got in the way of our experimental cooking & brewing!
Thank you, Baroness Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina, for double-checking my findings, and finding even more sources.