In honor of Jane Austen’s 200th year since death, my “Austen fan-girl #1” wife informed me that I should pay tribute. Apparently, not only was Austen a wordsmith, she was a beersmith!
According to my extensive Google research of two articles (Google: Jane Austen Beer), Jane brewed “Spruce Beer”. Back in the 18th century, you see, water was rancid and you had to boil it, add preservatives, and flavoring to kill off germs and disease to quench your thirst so you wouldn’t die.
I found a recipe from the Jane Austen Centre which stated the following:
Take 7 Pounds of good spruce & boil it well till the bark peels off, then take the spruce out & put three Gallons of Molasses to the Liquor & and boil it again, scum it well as it boils, then take it out the kettle & put it into a cooler, boil the remained of the water sufficient for a Barrel of thirty Gallons, if the kettle is not large enough to boil it together, when milkwarm in the Cooler put a pint of Yest into it and mix well. Then put it into a Barrel and let it work for two or three days, keep filling it up as it works out. When done working, bung it up with a Tent Peg in the Barrel to give it vent every now and then. It may be used in up to two or three days after. If wanted to be bottled it should stand a fortnight in the Cask. It will keep a great while.
From the Journal of General Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797), Governor-General of British North America
So how would this taste? I’m not a homebrewer (yet) but I can imagine this was basically semi-flat spruce flavored seltzer water with a little kick to it. Maybe like a non-alcoholic beer. The molasses provides some sugar for the yeast to eat up and ferment but not as much as today’s beers so you wouldn’t get the 4-6% ABV content or the sweet backbone of today’s beer. The spruce would be boiled down to impart some bitterness and brightness and maybe some woodiness to the water. Like when you boil veggies and drink the water. Since it would only ferment a few days, you just wouldn’t have too much depth to the beer. But hey, I’m sure it was better than bacteria filled diseased water.
Something similar could be Dogfish Head’s Pennsylvania Tuxedo. Pennsylvania Tuxedo is a pale ale brewed with PA Spruce Tips. I’ve had it multiple times and it is great. However, Jane Austen’s version would probably taste like it if you added half a glass of water to the beer.
Anyone had Spruce Beer before?