Haymaking beer

Hooibouwbier blogSo now it’s time to disclose the secrets of one of those lost Dutch beers. I’ll start with a simple one: an early Dutch homebrew. After all, it aren’t always professional brewers that make beer. Every day many amateurs make their own. And this is of all ages: before the Second World War there was plenty of homemade beer in Holland too. Where? At the farm!

Around the world, haymaking is a busy time. And it especially was before mechanisation: for weeks the farmer and his workers would be mowing grass with their scythes. Grass that was then put on carts and transported to the farm by horses, where it would serve as fodder in winter time. In straw hats, waving their scythes, the mowers did a sweaty and thirsty job. The kind of job that would make you long for a beer.

It is an international phenomenon. In 1878, three British farm workers made the newspaper because they harvested hay without drinking beer.[1] In 19th century Holland, beer sellers would heavily advertise their ‘haymaking beer’ during the season. Even Heineken made it.[2] Unlike for other lost beers, no labels for haymaking beer have been preserved, but this is easily explained: it was only sold in casks. Farmers would buy entire vats, because the drinking went fast during haymaking…

Haymaking beer (Dutch: hooibouwbier) wasn’t therefore the most sophisticated of beers: it is described as a weak, opaque top-fermented beer, whose main purpose was to quench thirst. It’s arguable that for many breweries, haymaking beer was just a watered down version of their normal beer. Here is a recipe for 155 litres of haymaking beer as described by a Dutch brewer’s manual called De praktische bierbouwer (‘The practical beer brewer’) from 1866:[3]

22 pounds of brown malt, a pound of Flemish hops, 1/3 of evaporation, pitching yeast 250 grams per tun (155 litres) at 12 degrees Celsius. Top fermentation.

A beer made this way would contain just 2% ABV though it would be nice and hoppy at 39 IBU. Just the sort of thing you’d need after hours of hard labour in an unforgiving sun – but it’s not exactly a trappist triple. By the way, if you want to recreate this recipe, take dark Munich malt for the ‘brown malt’ mentioned here – the British brown malt that is sold nowadays is way to dark and it’s not a base malt.

But wait, the story is not finished. The best Dutch haymaking beer was not the one sold by the country’s big brewers. No, it was the one made by the farmer’s wife! Made by a woman who really had a knack for it, this home-made haymaking beer would have been excellent, or at least I like to believe so. But alas – with the advent of the harvest machine, the agricultural crisis of the 1930s and of course the beer consumers’ changing taste, Dutch haymaking beer vanished somewhere in between the two World Wars. On top of that, homebrewing became illegal: various Dutch farmers were fined in the 1920s and 1930s for supplying their workers with self-made beer. Another Dutch beer style was lost. I wish I could have asked my great-grandmother, who was such a farmer’s wife.

However, in 1939 a Dutch local newspaper, the Schoonhovensche courant from the Gouda area, published such a homebrew recipe! Let’s quote this one in full:[4]

In order to make 15 to 20 litres of beer, one needs: 10 cents of hop, 10 cents of liquorice powder, 1 pound of barley, 1 1/2 pound of dark brown sugar, 1 cent of yeast.

Around 20 litres of water is brought to a boil. As soon as the water is boiling, one lets the barley boil for 10 minutes. After that, 2/3 of the hops is added to the brew and it is let to boil for another 20 minutes. The barley should not become too cooked, because one will get to much sediment.

Then, the brew is taken from the fire, after which it is seaved and the brown sugar and the liquorice powder are added, and the brew is stirred well. As soon as the brew is cold the yeast, which has been made into a little mush with some liquid from the beer, is added and stirred well into it.

After this, the brew is poured into bottles, which should not be too full, and should be well closed immediately.

Actually, this was the first historical beer recipe I found when I started researching. However, to be honest, this is one of the weirdest and unpractical beer recipes I’ve ever seen. What on earth are you supposed to do with the one third of hops that remain unused, why does it use apparently unmalted barley, and is it really a good idea to put it in bottles straight away? (It isn’t.) The unmalted barley is mostly there to give it the taste of beer, because it’s the sugar that gives the 3,3% alcohol. Clearly this recipe was written down by someone who didn’t have a clue about brewing. I’m sure my great-grandmother would have done better.[5]

[1] London Daily Chronicle, 18 July 1878, quoted in: New Zealand Herald 19 September 1878.

[2] H. A. Korthals, Korte geschiedenis der Heineken’s Bierbrouwerij Maatschappij N.V. 1873-1948, Amsterdam 1948, p. 43.

[3] De praktische bierbrouwer, bewerkt door een oudbrouwer, Amsterdam 1866, p.108.

[4] Schoonhovensche courant 8 May 1939.

[5] This article was based on an earlier version in Dutch, http://verlorenbieren.nl/verloren-bieren-5-hooibouwbier/.

One response to “Haymaking beer”

  1. This looks like what I call “degenerate farmhouse ale.” In the early 20th century sugar became available and the farmers had often switched to cash crops. So suddenly they could buy fermentables (they had money, and money could now buy sugar), and many started making these primitive “beers”. Usually these beers echoed what they’d been making before, but with sugar instead of malts as the fermentable.

    The missing 1/3 of hops is probably an error in the recipe.

    I’m pretty sure it won’t have been bottled right away. That’s probably another error.

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