Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Brewing Zhang Bangji's 12th Century Recipe for Su Dongpo's Mead

In the hunt for Song dynasty poet Su Dongpo's mead recipe, we discovered last time that his recipe for "honey wine" is probably not using honey as a primary fermentable.

But we do have Zhang Bangji's report on Su Dongpo's recipe.  I have no idea whether it's really Su Dongpo's recipe, but at some point it doesn't matter.  They were contemporaries, and his recipe is just as reasonable and period as Su Dongpo's unknown recipe for mead.

I'm brewing a one gallon batch because I have my shiny new weng-simulant, a large-mouthed jar.  The local homebrew store had them, and I think they'll do well.  It comes with a lid with a hole for an airlock, but because it's got a mouth and isn't a bowl, fitting cloth over it should also be easy.  How much air to allow in is a battle for another day, so I'm going to go the modern route on this one and use an airlock.

This thing holds a gallon, so I'm going to scale the recipe to fit.  The original is scaled to 9.5 L and a gallon is 3.8 L, so we'll scale everything by 0.4.

That means:

4 jin * 633 g / jin * 0.4 = 1013 g honey as the main fermentable
0.5 liang * 1 jin / 16 liang * 633 g / jin * 0.4 = 8 g honey just after it starts to bubble
2 liang * 1 jin / 16 liang * 633 g / jin * 0.4 = 32 g wheat yeast cakes
1 liang * 1 jin / 16 liang * 633 g / jin * 0.4 = 16 g southern baijiu yeast cakes
1 dou * 9.5 L / dou * 0.4 = water to reach 3.8 L or one gallon

Our ingredients:

I had a wheat yeast cake that was very nearly 32 grams.  I don't know what a "southern baijiu yeast cake" is.  Baijiu means "white alcohol" and today refers to a range of distilled spirits, some of which were becoming popular in the Song dynasty, so this may refer to a yeast cake meant for distilling, but it could also just mean a yeast cake for making a white grain wine.  Since the author is calling it out, and presumably they came from a distance, hence the "southern" bit, I'm going to assume that they're a more refined kind of yeast cake.

Conveniently, I have a number of the yeast cakes I used to make my first few batches and inoculate my wheat cakes, so I'm using those as my southern baijiu yeast cakes.  Two came out to 19 grams, which is close enough.

I used a nylon bag used for doing brew-in-a-bag to strain, since my juan cloths are a bit used.  When I've used it to strain grain wine before, it allows through more particulates than the silk cloth does, but it's easier to sanitize, and I'm not pressing it like I do with the grain wine, so I think it'll do fine.

I boiled it to sterilize it, since it's going to hold our microbial payload.

I ground the cakes, and put them into the bag, which was pretty straightforward.

To prepare the must (honey-water before fermenting), I put the honey into my 8 gallon brew kettle.  It's overkill, but it has volume markings and it's bigger than a quart, which rules out every other vessel I own.  I boiled water in my tea kettle and poured it over the honey until I reached the 1 gallon mark.

Using my refractometer, the must is 22.2 degrees Brix, which means that it'll ferment out to about 11 percent alcohol if it ferments to dryness, although the yeast cakes will add a little more fermentable matter, as will the additional honey.

Refractometers are great, by the way

I let the must cool to room temperature in the pot because I didn't want to risk shattering the glass jar with the temperature shock, because I don't want to cook the yeast, and because I suspect that the directions to "mutually agitate" (相攪) might result in aerating the must, which improves the quality of western meads quite a bit.

Yeast is mostly anaerobic, but to produce a few oils it needs for reproduction, it uses oxygen.  Boiled water has had almost all of the oxygen driven out, so aerating it once it's cool is a good idea.  I'm not going crazy though, just stirring it with a spoon.  It's unclear how necessary this is with the wheat yeast cakes, and the other microorganisms in the culture, since the wheat may provide enough of the oils that the yeast won't need to make them, and who knows what the other stuff in there react to having or lacking oxygen.

Once it was down to 100 or so I added the yeast.  There's no instruction to cool the must in the recipe, so I think cooling completely is probably not intended, although it's a little hard to tell without more recipes from this same author.

During brewing, very little bubble activity happened, at least when I could see it.  I crushed up two commercial yeast cakes and tossed them in too, to be safe, in case I had heat shocked my initial culture.  Because I couldn't identify bubbling, I skipped the optional small second addition of honey.

A few months passed...


I bottled the mead - it's brilliantly clear:

The final refractometer reading was 7.8 degrees Brix, with a hydrometer gravity of 0.990.  Because alcohol affects these readings differently, we can compute the final alcohol content in two ways:

  1. Using the original and final Brix measurements, we get 13.5% using Northern Brewer's calculator (and using the calculator below to get a starting gravity of 1.093).  This method assumes that there were no undissolved fermentables when I took the initial measurement.
  2. Using the final refractometer reading and the final hydrometer reading.  Northern Brewer also has a calculator for this, which gives 13.8%.
The two measurements are close, but the second is a little higher, which suggests to me that some of the alcohol is coming from the wheat starch being digested and fermented.  I'm not sure I have enough precision to tell for sure, though.

Tasting Notes

The nose is mostly mead-like, with notes of alcohol, candied fruit, and grain.  It's got a medium-light body with a slight burn, and is lightly sweet and lightly tart.  The aftertaste has notes of grain, and a sake-like character which must be coming from the molds.

The honey I used tends to leave a distinct honey aroma, and it did here as well.

It's interesting that the mead came out so clearly, especially since the original recipe was taking steps to ensure clarity: keeping the yeast in a fine bag.  My nylon bag doesn't filter as well, but siphoning does a really good job at keeping sediment out of the final mead, so it balances out.

I'm pretty happy with how this came out.  The mead is pleasant to drink, and the yeast cakes add interesting malt notes and a hit of bitterness that balances nicely with the flavors from the honey.  If this mead is typical of Chinese meads, then the defining difference between Chinese and western simple meads is the presence of grain and malt flavors, and the sake-like flavors from the molds used.

It's worth pointing out that, since this was pretty dry, I may not be hitting the right flavor profile.  From the original recipe,
I tried this myself, and the flavor was sweet like rich-tasting shortwine, but experienced drinkers may not enjoy it as much.

One thing to try might be fermenting this colder.  A cooler ferment should leave more sugar in the wine, although it would be less stable.  Warm it up and it might start fermenting again, which is a problem if you want to bottle it.

I'll make more of this - this is a good way to use up the old yeast cakes that I've got from 2015, and clear out space for fresh ones which I'll be starting soon.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dairy Products

That dastardly cooks mailing list has got me translating food recipes again.

Qimin Yaoshu has a few recipes for three dairy products.  One, 酪 lào means something like "curdled milk" and is a variety of yogurt based on the recipe.  The next, 乾酪 gānlào "dry lao" is something we don't have a good western analogue for, but is basically dried milk skins.  Ever make pudding and peel off the dried skin?  Like that.  Finally, we have a recipe for what is probably butter, 酥 sū.

It's interesting that the dry lao doesn't add salt, like I would expect for something intended to keep.  It's also pretty funny how specific the author is about using dung as your fuel.  Which you should be sure to gather ahead of time!

These recipes are in the middle of the chapter on raising sheep.  The recipe for lao actually starts off with a page or so on how and when to milk your livestock - they weren't killing calves or lambs it seems, so the timing on when to milk so as to not starve your young livestock was important.  This is not a dairy culture, but one that uses dairy incidentally.

The next paragraph after these recipes is treating scabies, so this is really pretty incidental it seems - it's not with the rest of the recipes for food.  More of a "well if you're gonna have cows and sheep, you might as well take advantage of them," it seems.

I haven't made these translations with the level of precision I'd like, but I think they're mostly uncontroversial.  I'll eventually go back and revise them to align more with the annotated versions I have.  The text is red, which means that Wikipedia thinks this is from our annotator, but I'm not sure.

作酪法:To Make Curdled Milk [Perhaps like Yogurt, or Kumiss]

After you have milked them [cows or sheep], take a cauldron over a slow fire and simmer the milk — if the fire is too hot you will scorch the bottom.
Usually, during the first or second month, one prepares dry cow and sheep dung to simmer the milk, as it is the best: grass makes a grey ash-water, with wood it’s easy to scald, but dry manure makes a soft fire, and avoids these two illnesses.
Usually, one uses a ladle to stir the milk, not allowing it to overflow.  Stir it in straight lines vertically and horizontally, being careful not to agitate it circularly, as if you do it may snap.
Neither should you blow on it, as it will then dissolve.  Bring it to the fourth or fifth boil and then stop [Chinese system to describe how hard of a boil - this is pretty hard].
Pour into a basin, and do not stir.
Let it cool a little.  Take the skin and put it into another vessel - this is su.
Using bent wood as a stick, take a sheet of fresh juan [dense plain tabby silk] as a bag, and strain the cooked milk, and put it into an earthenware bottle to store.
If the bottle is new, use it directly, don’t heat it.
If the bottle is old, or used once for curdled milk, then every time you use it for milk you must heat it in the ashes of a fire, until it sweats, and rotate it as you heat it, so that it is evenly heated throughout, and very dry, and then once cooled you may use it.
If you do not heat it, and there is moisture, then the curdled milk will snap and not form.
If you only dry the bottles in the sun, the curdled milk will snap all the same, or if there are snakes or toads in the room you make curdled milk in.
If you happen to burn hair, or cow or sheeps’ horn, the smell will be awful, so get rid of them.
As for the daily temperature variation of the curdled milk, lightly warming it to human body temperature is appropriate.
If you keep it hot, the curdled milk will turn to vinegar, and if it is injuriously cold, it will have difficulty setting.
After straining the milk, take freshly-made sweet curdled milk as a starter culture — at a rate of one sheng [~30 mL at this time in history] to one-half spoon of curdled milk — and stir the middle with a ladle.  Use a spoon to deeply stir it until it disperses, and pour it into the cooked curdled milk, still stirring until it’s evenly mixed.
Use something like felt or silk floss to keep the bottle warm.
After a good while, cover it with a single layer of cloth.
At sunrise, the curdled milk will be done.
If you are bringing it a distance into town, and have no finished curdled milk to serve as a starter culture, you may in a pinch draw out “vinegar dinner”, grind it well and use it as a starter — at a rate of one dou [300 mL] curdled milk to one ladle “dinner” — mix it evenly, and it will also work.
As for the using of vinegar as a starter for curdled milk, the curdled milk will also be vinegary.  If sweet curdled milk is harmed in several ways, it will also be vinegary.
When you make this in the sixth or seventh month, when you store it make it like a human body [warm?], and then put it directly into a cold place - there’s no need for insulating wrapping
When you make this in winter, store it a little warmer than a human body, and if below an extra-calary month, wrap it so that it is very warm.

作乾酪法:To Make Dry Curdled Milk:

Make this in the middle of the 7th or 8th months.
Broil curdled milk in the middle of the day, and when a skin forms, remove it.
Keep broiling, and again remove it.
When the fat is depleted and there is no skin, stop.
Get about one dou [300 mL], stir-fry it in a pot for a little while, and then put it on a plate and dry it in the sun.
Dampen it a little and form balls, about as big as a[n asian] pear.
Again sun them until dry
They will last several years without spoiling, and will supply long journeys.
When making congee or broth, file them, add them to the boiling liquid, and it will have the flavor of curdled milk.
You can also toss an entire ball into broth, and it will add the flavor of curdled milk, and then strain the ball out and dry it in the sun.
One ball will thusly supply five boils, without wearing out.
If you see that the strength has reduced and thinned, then cut and grind [off the outside] and you can use it economically more times.

作漉酪法:To Make Strained Curdled Milk:

Do this in the middle of the 8th month.
Take good, pure curdled milk, and put it in a new cloth bag, hang it, and allow liquid to drip out.
When the liquid is exhausted, briefly stir-fry it in a frying pan, and then put it on a plate, and dry it in the sun.
Dampen it a little and form balls, about as big as a[n asian] pear.
They will last several years without spoiling.  Pare it into congee, broth, and the flavor will be better than before.
Although the flavor is brief when stir-frying, and not as good as fresh curdled milk, if you don’t stir-fry it, it will sprout worms, and not last until the summer.
When dry, … [hard to translate, not really part of the recipe]

作馬酪酵法:To Make A Curdled Horse Milk Starter Culture:

Use 2-3 sheng [60-90 mL] of donkey milk together with horse milk in any quantity.
After making clear curdled milk, take the sediment from the bottom, form it into a ball, and air dry it.
In a later year when you make curdled milk, use this as your starter culture.

抨酥法:To Stir Su [Butter?]:

Use an elm branch as a stick —
To make the stick:  cut a branch off half way up, and on each of the four sides make a round hole, about one cun [~1”] in diameter, and attach an axe handle at the bottom, in the form of a wine-stick —
When stirring su, you may make it from su or curdled milk, sweet or sour.  Even laying out curdled milk for a few days until it becomes very sour you can still be without doubt.
If you have a lot of curdled milk, use a big weng [earthenware urn, sealed like you do a cast iron frying pan]; if you only have a little use a little weng, and put the weng in the sun.
At sunrise, pour the curdled milk into the weng and roast it, until the sun is in the southwest, start stirring, allowing the stick to often reach the bottom of the weng.
After a mealtime has passed, make a hot boiling water, [water dissolve?], start stirring and put it into the weng.
The hot water should be about half the volume of the curdled milk.
Then stir it.  After a while, the su will appear, and again add cold water.
The cold water should be about the same as the hot.  Again rapidly stir it.
At this time, you don’t need to continue hitting the bottom of the weng with the stick, as the su has already appeared.
The su should already cover the curdled milk, and again add cold water, the same amount as before.
When the su congeals, stop stirring.
Put a big basin of cold water at the edge of the weng, and use your hand to transfer the su, plunging your hands into the basin so that the su floats to the top.
Again skim as before, until there is no more su.
Put some dinner-congee into the broth left from making the su.
Make the floating su in the basin cold to congeal, and use your hand to transfer it, press out the water, make it into balls, and put it into a copper/brass vessel, or a dry ceramic vessel works too.
After about ten days, take a few, combine them in a pot, and gently simmer them over a cow or sheep dung fire, like making perfumed hair cream / oil / fragrance
That day, the milk inside will seep forth, and make a sound like raindrops.  The water-milk will eventually be exhausted, and when the sound stops and the boil stops, the su will be finished.
In winter store this in a sheep’s stomach, in summer store it in a dry vessel.
When first boiling the milk, a skin will form on top - use your hand to pick it off, and put it into a separate vessel.
Pour the cooked milk into a basin, and before you finish straining, a milk skin will congeal.  Also take this.
The next day, the curdled milk will be finished, and if it has a yellow skin, also take it: accumulate these in a weng, and carefully sift out the particles.  Add it to hot water and again sift, and then add cold water.  Purity makes a good su.
Take it, make it into balls, and simmer it like the rest.
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"Boiled" Millet Wine

I brought one new wine to King and Queens Arts and Sciences : a "boiled" millet wine.  This is the first wine for the second "...