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.

16 thoughts on “A good excuse to go to bed early: Buttered Beer, 1660

  1. Welcome back to the crazed world of food history writing. You’ve been missed. You’re the writer who takes me to places no one else dares to go… even if that’s the beer isle in Sainsbury’s. “Take me to your historically accurate beverages!” 😂😂😂 And the plus here is that I’m genuinely tempted to try this. I’m not overly fond of Christmassy drinks (says someone who’s supposed to be doing a quick video on hippocras) but this one is intriguing. Especially the butter bit. I should just add, though, that due to a longstanding issue with double-vowel confusion (it’s a real disorder), I read your title as ‘buttered bear’ and momentarily wondered if you’d ventured into the realm of gay fetishism. Merry Christmas to you and yours xxx

    1. This is probably my favourite comment ever! Buttered bear… afraid I’ve not yet ventured into that world… yet!

      I know exactly what you mean about Christmas drinks, I’m not normally a huge fan either. But this was pretty good. It helps if you like ale, which I don’t, but even then I still found this good. Just couldn’t drink a whole cup as it was quite rich.

      Looking forward to the hippocras! Have a lovely Christmas to you and Ray xxx

  2. Delighted that you are back!

    As it happens, I got a hamper for Him Indoors for his birthday at the end of November, and he immediately rejected the bottle of beer that came in it because the ingredients listed “vanilla” which he dislikes in general and definitely will not countenance in a beer.

    Now I gave the perfect destination of it. Thanks.

      1. I made it this evening. Tasted good, can’t see the point of the eggshells really or the eggs, it just seemed to curdle. But I think I’d try it again without the shells to see if I could get it smooth.

  3. Was I wrong not to use the egg shells? Was I wrong not to strain it? NO! Emphatically not! The buttered beer turned into a meal in itself. I drank the whole thing! Slept like a baby immediately. Shouldn’t have made it at lunchtime, though!

  4. I am glad you’re posting again. I love your post. They are full of information and so funny!

  5. I stumbled upon this doing a deep dive of my own, so nice to meet you.

    I find that these early cookbooks written by professionals for professionals often leave out what they consider to be common knowledge. It’s not as if wives of the nobility/gentry were poking around the kitchen at the time. Although I like to believe that since May worked for Elizabeth Grey nee Talbot for a good chunk of his career that he let her dabble, occasionally.

    It’s like on the British baking show when they tell them to just make a custard. People who spend enough time in a kitchen just know certain things. If they told me to make a custard with two cups of milk, I would know that I need four egg yolks. If they told me to use six eggs in this receipt, I would use 8 cups of liquid.

    Egg whites are used for fining wine…not shells. To be fair I have seen a few receipts that call for throwing the shells of the egg in too. The albumin in egg whites binds tannins due to a nifty electrochemical reaction in which the albumin attracts tannins and causes them to precipitate out of solution. This precipitate is then racked off during bottling. When I fine wine, I use a ratio of 3 egg whites and 1 tsp of salt to each gallon of wine.

    Clarifying liquids with eggs or egg whites is quite common in late medieval/early modern cookery. When I use egg whites to clarify a beverage, I use 3 egg whites for each four cups of liquid. So that’s my long explanation to say that I would use 8 cups of ale and season things the way I like it. This happens to be a bit of common knowledge I am familiar with because my parents made coffee this way. The process you refer to is how most rural farm folk made coffee here. https://www.thespruceeats.com/egg-coffee-2952648

    I probably would not use an amber ale because I have not seen a period process for producing the crystal malt you need for an amber, so methinks your beer guy should just stick to selling beer. lol

    I don’t know if they would bother straining. When you make this all the bits coagulate with the eggs and float to the top. You could sink that with a bit of cold water, or you could carefully skim it off with a fat strainer. The first rule of taste-testing around my house is drink carefully from the top. I definitely would not strain it by pouring. That cap is delicate, and straining would just bust it up.

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