Experimental Brewing at the Kaims

This week at the Bradford Kaims we have begun our new Experimental Archaeology Programme! Experimental archaeology is the process of recreating past technologies utilising resources which would have been available to societies in the past. Through this process we can gain possible insights into the mind-set of people in the past as well as insights into the processes they underwent in the creation of the archaeological record.

Our initial investigations have been in brewing our own beer. Due to the wealth of fire-cracked stones within our burnt mounds, it is likely that the occupants of the site were heating water. Similar to how we use hot water today, there is a large variety of possible uses; cooking, cleaning and sweat lodges. Due to the heating process required in the production of beer, brewing could have been a possible activity taking place at the Bradford Kaims.


Becky and Miranda grinding barley with a variety of tools

Our methods were simple:
· Mashing/grinding malted barley
· Creating a firepit to heat the stones
· Add the ground barley to water
· Add hot stones to get water up to temperature for two hours
· Sieve the heated mixture
· Add flowers for flavour (in this case hawthorn) and a small piece of bread for yeast
· Sit covered for 4-5 days for fermentation to take place


Hot rocks being added to the barley and water

Currently what we did has not necessarily been experimental archaeology as there was no true “experiment” taking place – there were no variables being tested or research questions being investigated. The value in this initial process is that we are learning about the process and gathering potential areas for further investigation.  We will be doing more brewing over the season, along with some more experimental archaeology focussing on flint knapping and prehistoric wood working (to create tools to tie onto our brewing experiments). Hopefully by the end of the season we can link our experiments together to add to our interpretations of the use of the Bradford Kaims site… plus – experimental archaeology is pretty fun!

5 thoughts on “Experimental Brewing at the Kaims

  1. Looks intriguing. In ale and beer brewing, the grinding/crushing process and the mashing process are not the same thing. Two completely different processes. The malted grain is first crushed a little, then the crushed malted grain is heated in water (your hot rock bit) in the mash tun – that’s the mashing bit. This creates a sweet mixture. I’ve used troughs/hot rocks as a mash tun as well as earthenware bowls and large wooden tubs and I have worked with medieval style brewers (at Eindhoven) who had a magnificent metal cauldron. The mash is the same whatever the container or heating technique you use.

    Once you have the mash, it’s necessary to separate the grain from the liquid. I tried sieving when I did some mashing demonstrations at Eindhoven Open Air Museum some years ago. We tried all sorts of sieves but with minimal success. I wish you success, maybe you will find a way of doing it. We found it to be a very very slow process and hardly any wort got through our sieve because it quickly got blocked by the grain.

    When we do a trough mash we let the mash settle for an hour or so, then gravity will do the separation for you. Grains will sink to the bottom and the wort will be on the top. The wort can then be scooped off into another vessel for fermentation and the addition of herbs to flavour & preserve. We did this at Bressay a few years ago. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.170603393065846.34923.141099972682855&type=3

    I’m not sure when the techniques of lautering and sparging came in, these are techniques to obtain more wort from the mash by running hot water through the mash and collecting the runoff. Certainly, in a fulacht fiadh type trough, I cannot see how they did that without emptying the mash from the trough and using another vessel. 🙂

    You are bound to catch a wild yeast with a wort in the open air, we always do. Sadly, it is not always the yeast that you want to catch. I think folk in prehistory would have learned to save the foamy barm from a previous brew to start the next one, but it will be interesting to see what your addition of a small piece of bread does. It begs the question about yeasted bread and the complex connections between baking bread and beer brewing.

    It sure is fun though, experimental ale making and brewing in the old fashioned way. I hope my comments are helpful.

  2. Hi Merryn

    Thank you for your reply, it was incredibly informative!

    We are very much still learning and you have certainly steered us in the right direction with your suggestions and resources. We hope to attempt more brewing as the season unfolds and will take your suggestions on board to improve our methods.

    Thanks again!

    The Kaims Team

    • Best way to learn is by doing. Ancient Arts have also done a trough mash, it’s worth a look at that too. Maybe one day there can be an ancient brewing workshop where ideas and experiences are exchanged, just like the metallurgists do. 🙂

  3. They do a lot of beer brewing here at the Lofotr Viking Musem. We suspect it had a huge importance for people who lived here originally. Much like what I do, the only way to understand past fragments is by piecing together the process and soon it yourself 🙂 nice article! You should follow me and I’ll link u if they do more brewing here soon.

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