A good excuse to go to bed early: Buttered Beer, 1660

‘Where the hell have you been?!’ I hear you cry*.

It’s been a while, I know. I’ve been busy trying to raise my child to not be, at the very least, an empathy-devoid serial killer in the making WHILST ALSO attending classes full time (ha) WHILST ALSO running a house and being an attentive wife WHILST ALSO – oh, fuck it.

In all honesty, the seemingly never ending plague did such a number on my motivation to do any writing that it got easier and easier not to, and harder and harder to pull myself out of it. Truthfully, I can try not to raise a child that might grow up to dabble in casual murder, I can attend classes full time, I can let the house fall to ruin run a house and be an attentive wife — I just can’t do it all in a plague and keep up with writing.

However, I realised that if I didn’t write SOMETHING I was in real danger of not writing again, plague or no plague. Which is my way of telling you to go ahead and disregard this post; it’s really just me working through some stuff. You don’t need to see it. Go on: piss off.

Because it’s Christmas I thought I’d ease myself back in with something simple and tasty. And, preferably, alcoholic.

My inspiration for today’s experiment came by the way of Glyn Hughes’ The Lost Feast of Christmas. Specifically, it came from Robert May’s 1660 work The Accomplisht Cook, and it was for Buttered Beer.

May was 72 when he wrote his work, a collection of largely unrestrained recipes for the Restoration nobility, gathered from his experiences as a professionally trained chef. Rather sweetly, he addresses fellow cooks in his preliminary remarks on cooking, calling them ‘most worthy artists’ and hopes that they will find his writings helpful and insightful when beginning or continuing on their own career.

You just don’t get titles like this anymore

Buttered Beer or Ale Otherways

Boil beer or ale and scum it, then have six eggs, whites and all, and beat them in a flaggon or quart pot with the shells, some butter, sugar, and nutmeg, put them together, and being well brewed, drink it when you go to bed.

Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook

This seemed like the thing I was looking for: comforting, sweet and a good excuse to go to bed early. Interestingly, the recipe appeared under the chapter ‘Pottages for Fish Days’, suggesting (but not necessarily meaning) that it was considered relatively restrained; fish day referred to a time of relative abstinence when meat and dairy were cut down or avoided.

If you want to know more about 17th century beer check out this blog . Suffice to say, it was a little different from the mass produced ales of today. Unfortunately, the mass produced ales of today were all I had, and the guy in Sainsbury’s stared at me with a look akin to that of a turkey witnessing the approaching knife when I asked him to show me to his selection of historically accurate beverages.

I listened politely as he read out the blurb on the back of the bottle – the same one I’d just read myself – and decided to go for a traditional amber ale with an alcohol volume of 4.7%.

The next thing I remembered, with utter joy, was how fond people in the past were of not including accurate measurements. How much beer? Scrap that – how much butter? It was a titular ingredient and given the call for six eggs I feared we might be dealing in kilos rather than grams.

I muddled by on what I thought were appropriately scaled down quantities of butter and eggs. The recipe called for the egg shells to be included in the egg/sugar/butter mixture, but didn’t explain why. My only thought was that egg shells were used in other 17th century wine making recipes to clear the liquid.

This seemed unlikely to be the reason here, though, as the addition of butter ensured the finished product was always going to be cloudy. Apparently cowboys in the American West added egg shells to their coffee as they brewed it over campfires in order to mellow the taste by absorbing acidic tannins. Could it be that egg shells were added to beer to reduce the tannins in beer, thereby reducing astringency? I didn’t know, but the end result was pretty smooth and mellow, so maybe!

Once the beer was boiled and cooled a little, the egg mixture was added and whisked continuously for a few minutes before the whole thing was strained and poured out. Finally, it was bedtime time to drink.

I’d forgotten how to do soft wanky arty focus. Soon remembered though!

All in all, this was not too bad. Not too bad at all. It was very rich and thick, almost dessert like and there was a hint of brandy and Christmas pudding to it (though that might have been psychosomatic given the context.) I don’t actually like beer but found I could drink half of this easily. If you like snowballs or eggnog, I’d seriously think about adding this to your repertoire too.

Merry Christmas!

E x

* Some of you. At least one of you, surely.

Buttered Beer

500ml amber ale
30g caster sugar
20g butter
2 eggs

  1. Heat the beer until boiling, then remove from heat immediately.
  2. Grate nutmeg to taste into the cooling beer and let stand.
  3. In a bowl, whisk the eggs with their shells.
  4. Add the sugar and butter to the egg mixture and whisk.
  5. Add the egg/sugar/butter mix to the cooled beer and whisk continuously.
  6. When fully combined (and hopefully not curdled), strain the beer through a strainer and serve with grated nutmeg.