Marc Meltonville

Heritage Hop Variety Chosen to Recreate 16th Century Tudor Beer

Dr Susan Flavin’s studies in Experimental Archeology led her to this research of 16th Century beer.   The FoodCult Project  began when she was researching the 16th Century diet in Ireland pre the introduction of potatoes.  You can listen to a Podcast by Associate Prof in History Dr Susan Flavin about her unique take on studying history by exploring what we ate and drank during the 16th century.  The Podcast is easy to listen to and their diet in 16th Century included a lot of beer!

Tudor home brewWe know that historically beer has always been closely linked with the ordinary working person’s diet.  For generations brewing was mainly done in the home, it was a basic skill any housewife worth her salt required. On larger estates it is quite likely that brewing was done by specially appointed farm hands. Research into beers and ales in past centuries shows that beer was often drunk in copious quantities, allegedly a manual worker could be given up to 14 pints per day!  Beer continued to be drunk by farm workers in the first half of 1900’s on this Sussex farm. Joe Eyres, the hop drier and cowman,  told me that they drank beer daily; tea was a luxury reserved for Sundays.

16th century brewing

The aim of this project was to recreate a 16th century Tudor beer. What better way than by using , techniques and recipes found on historic records and various old household accounts.  And where better for this to take place than at the Wealden and Downland Museum,  one of my all time favourite places to visit.   

The Foodcult project has been a major collaboration of many people, from historians to archaeologists, all experts in their own individual and diverse fields.  Artisan brewing equipment  was made to replicate what the Tudors would have used

The food historian Marc Meltonville had the crucial role as brewer.

Marc Meltonville

Dr Peter DarbySelecting the right ingredients was essential. Tolhurst hop variety was chosen as closest to the original Flemish Red Bine. This Red Bine is believed to have been brought to England from Flanders at the end of 15th Century.  The Heritage Tolhurst hop variety was chosen by Dr Peter Darby for this experiment, as the best hop to replicate what was available for 16th century brewing.  Except for the National Collection, A Bushel of Hops is the only grower currently offering this Heritage Hop variety to home brewers.  There should be some available next season for anyone who wishes to brew their very own ancient beer.

The other vital ingredient was malt and here the ancient Bere barley was singled out. Bere Barley has been grown in Orkney for over 1000 years, it was probably introduced by the Vikings.  

The three magic ingredients, water, barley and hops.  Bere barely for the malt, Tolhurst hop variety was chosen, water and this historical brew was ready to go, finally after almost 3 years of droughts and a global pandemic which had all conspired to delay original plans! The brewing took place at   Tindalls Cottage  and like any good reenactment Tudor costumes and accurately crafted brewing equipments were used.  

On 15th September 2021 everything was in place.  A trial run to test equipment had been made in 2020 but in September 2021 it was the real deal. Film crew stationed then it was all systems go – brewing and filming were finally underway.

Wealden and Downland filming

To have been a tiny part of a tiny cog in this very special historical brewing adventure has been a privilege.  At present the resultant beer   is undergoing analysis and Isotope testing.  Meanwhile along with everyone else involved, I am eagerly awaiting the final results, just for now many questions still remain unanswered. So after Tolhurst hop variety was chosen, was this 16th Century beer a flop or was it fit for a Tudor king?


For further reading – Martyn Cornell of the Historic Brewery Society has written this excellent article.  Apparently Shakespeare who was born in 16th Century ‘was a fan of ale, but didn’t much like beer.’


tasting beers guided by a beer sommelier

Tasting Beer guided by a Beer Sommelier

Tasting beer guided by a Beer Sommelier, Sophie Atherton, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Sophie was the first woman Beer Sommelier. Today there are not only more women beer sommeliers, but women brewers and of course pub land-ladies, this increase of women in the industry seems entirely appropriate, after all hops are female too!

Earlier this year I had been genuinely surprised by the differences between 4 beers, each brewed using an identical Old English Hop Blend. It really highlighted my lack of ability to describe exactly what it was I liked about each brew or at other times the specific character I particularly like about any of my favourite beers. To be set on the right track I decided an official beer tasting would be the order of the day. I have always known exactly whether I love or dislike any beer, but from now on after tasting beer guided by a beer sommelier, I intend to practise putting into words accurately what those qualities are.

Our original small group was joined by a few extra friends and family for this beer tasting, all of whom are connected with hop growing. The oast house was made ready. A working oast was the perfect choice of venue, floorboards and walls percolate a background hop aroma. A rustic atmosphere, like patina on old furniture this effect takes years of drying and packaging hops to achieve.

Sophie Atherton selected a range of interesting beers to lead us firmly but gently out of our usual ‘beer’ comfort zones. Her careful choices showcased different brewing styles, with each beer a good example of its own style. Each beer style has it own characteristics, comparing them is rather like judging a Norfolk terrier against an Afghan Hound. Whilst both are dogs, they are very different in build and type from each other and each has it’s breed standard ideal. It is no different with beers, each particular style had its own specific characters which she explained as we went along.

We were spoilt, our masterclass of tasting beer guided by a Beer Sommelier for this session, were –

Redchurch dry hopped Sour beer,
Brewdog’s Dead Pony Club, session pale ale,
Pig and Porter’s Red Spider Ale,
Gadd’s No 3 English Pale Ale,
Saltaire’s Kala Black IPA,
Boutillier’s Rauchbier and
Harviestoun’s Ola Dubh 12 Porter

harvestouns ola dubh

These represented some of the excellent wide range of beers styles available today. This was a wonderfully diverse mix, I could happily wax lyrical about any of these beers. Palettes were cleansed with crackers and water between each beer, whilst blindfold smelling and tasting worked to focus our attention and heighten our sensory awareness.

The Sour was the first beer style we tasted, it certainly woke us up if some people’s startled reactions were anything to go by! However, after the second sip, this initial zesty shock subsided so it’s qualities could be fully appreciated. Interestingly, in general those who normally liked wine, also favoured this sharp, fresh tasting beer which would happily accompany a white fish supper. Food and beer tasting is of course a whole different ball game, but it was interesting to listen to Sophie just briefly touch on the subject in passing.

tasting beers guided by a beer sommelier

My lasting impression is that between sniffs and the first sip, it’s the second mouthful that imparts the most honest mouthful of flavour in any particular beer. That’s when I best discovered the hidden complexities in any beer. We rounded off the official tasting off with the Harvestoiuns Ola Dubh 12 year reserve Porter. This to me was a beer to savour, to be lingered over with someone you love. Perhaps best shared whilst watching the sun set or on a cold winter’s night by an open log fire, with only an oil lamp burning.

Cheers Sophie, thank you for a wonderful afternoon. Good beer, good company and good food, simple pleasures are indeed the best.

A special thank you to the suppliers who were without exception all very helpful. These beers were purchased from Eebria, Ales by Mail, The Beer Boutique TW, whilst Boutilliers and Harvestoun’s Breweries very generously sent us samples.

A special beer tasting continued our festive magic

A Special Beer Tasting Continued our Festive Magic

A special beer tasting continued our festive magic,  I had received 4 unique gifts in the true spirit of Christmas as they could not have been bought. For us at A Bushel of Hops it was the perfect start to 2017.

After hop-picking in September the Old English Blend of hops sold out quickly to members of a private home-brew forum. At the time I had no idea that each of the members involved agreed to use these hops to brew a beer of their own chosen recipe. That done they surprised me, they very kindly sent me 4 bottles, each one from a different brewer. I was really touched by their very kind and thoughtful gesture. The downside was they asked if I would judge them! – eek.

The 4 bottles had arrived labelled A – D only, they took pride of place at the top of the table.

A special beer tasting continued our festive magic

To suitably honour their beer, the tasting had to be a special occasion. I made a batch of pickled vegetables, which may sound odd but they’re a perfect accompaniment for a beer tasting, along with a few other nibbly treats.  Glasses were also marked A – D, a set for each of our tasting paddles.

A special beer tasting continued our festive magic

Beer is best when shared and with the added dimension of wanting our judging decisions to be made fairly,

beer tasting concentrationreinforcements were called for, after all taste is subjective and we all have own favourite styles. January 5th was designated as ‘B’ day for Richard, Danny and Doy to come along after work, not that they needed any encouragement! Appropriately they arrived straight from the hop gardens after a day of winter wire working. It was already dark when they arrived bringing with them a waft of that lovely ‘cold outdoor’ smell as they entered the warm kitchen. No cups of tea were on offer that evening, the beer was at the right temperature, and we were eager to start.

The fact that the combination of 3 simple ingredients, water, malt and hops brewed together can make an endless variety of flavours and aromas I always think is awesome, and these 4 beers were no different. They may have used the same blend of hop varieties, but each brew was individual and each had its own particular notable quality. On top of that, drinking something made with hops you have grown, is always a thrill. The seriously business of making tasting notes certainly concentrates the mind but we all thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

beer tasting notes, A special beer tasting continued our festive magic

The brewers concerned have been updated, but this is a private forum therefore the actual tasting remains between the eight of us. Going by this evening all I will say is that these 4 gents definitely know how to brew an excellent beer.  Thank you gentlemen brewers for that honour and giving us such a great fun way to start 2017.

2016 was a momentous year but it culminated with a little serendipity from nature. This beautiful fairytale perfect white rainbow was spotted in Scotland at the end Nov and on 28th December an upside-down rainbow manifested itself right here. A topsy turvy end to a topsy turvy year?!

Slightly belatedly I would like to wish all our customers and home brewers a very Happy New Year

upside down rainbow