It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen knew how to write the hell out of a book. Less universally acknowledged is the fact that Jane Austen also knew how to brew the hell out of a beer.
Born into a comfortable farming family of “enthusiastic” craft brewers, Jane would have been into the suds from a young age. Untreated water was often unsafe to drink in Regency-era England, so boiled, brewed, fermented light (or ‘small’, as it was known) beer came to the fore as a way for everyone – including children – to stay hydrated without getting the runs, or cholera. (Might have made it a little easier to put those mildly sloshed kids to bed every night, too.)
Many families produced their own small beers, as well as meads and wines, and it was the womenfolk, not the fellas, who did the bulk of the brewing. And for the Austens specifically, a kind of brew called “spruce beer” was favoured – something sweet and hoppy with a similarity to root beer. Unfortunately, the exact recipe hasn’t survived, but the Jane Austen Centre in Bath have had a guess at what it might have been
Unfortunately, the exact recipe hasn’t survived, but the Jane Austen Centre in Bath has had a guess at what it might have been like and created a spruce beer for the anniversary of the literary legend’s 200th birthday.
We suggest following the below recipe, and then, after sampling the results, trying your hand at churning out a few eternally enduring literary classics.
20 litres of water
5 grams of hops
1/2 cup of dried, bruised ginger root
1/2 kilogram of the outer twigs of spruce fir
3 litres of molasses
1/2 yeast cake dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water
1. In a large kettle combine the water, hops, ginger root, and spruce fir twigs.
2. Boil together until all the hops sink to the bottom of the kettle.
3. Strain into a large crock and stir in the molasses.
4. After this has cooled add the yeast.
5. Cover and leave to set for 48 hours.
6. Then bottle, cap and leave in a warm place (22°C) for five days. It will now be ready to drink.
7. Store upright in a cool place.