A MALTSTER CALLED SHAKESPEARE

The Warwickshire fields of middle England were rich pickings for an opportunist maltster during the Elizabethan period.

A hand held sickle is used to thresh and beat the six head of the barley straw.

It takes only about ninety days to produce a veritable harvest of the barley corn which is needed to make malt and then produce ale, an alcoholic drink for the masses.

Barley is relatively easy to grow and is largely resilient to the requirements of irrigation as well as being resistent to most diseases and pest infestation.

Once reaped, the barley corn is then soaked, cleaned, weighed and drained to make it ready for becoming malt.

It is an essential survival source for the peasant for whom fresh clean safe water is a rarity.

This is craft brew moonshine before any such modern terms were thought of and coined.

The Bushel Basket plays its part in weighing the barley grain before malting.

If one bushel produced eight gallons of ale, then eighty bushels would produce eight hundred gallons, not untypical for the wife of a wealthy man to manage within her household.

Was it not an inpertinent line from a Shakespeare play that said  ‘don’t hide your candle light under a bushel’,  meaning to cover it up and not show light is both useless and absurd.

The brewing house itself of the malt is kept well away from residential quarters to avoid infusion of the discomforting, intense aroma.

Every brewing house has a mash pot which begins the brewing process.

There is an accessible storage barn nearby where the malt grain would be kept in casks or barrels made by the local cooper.

The malt barrels are transported to the Corn Market in town for onward distribution to the ale houses of England that have call for it.

The maltster has spent half a lifetime trying to keep hop (and therefore yeast) out of the alcoholic concuction to ensure its purity of taste to the consumer.

But not even the maltster can buck the trend forever and hop-induced beer competes with natural ale as well as cider produced from apple and perry produced from pear.

Occasionally the malt brew is often enriched with ginger.

You can see that the maltster can smell an opportunity when he sees one.

Three opportunties if your name happens to be William Shakespeare.

Hoarding, tax avoidance and exploitation.

Hoard the grain at a time of crisis and only sell it at the highest possible price when there is a shortage.

Market forces dictate.

It is only the wealthy who can enjoy the privilege of commercializing malt.

In a time of famine, this may lead to starvation and death of the unfortunate peasant.

William Shakespeare has gained his wealth from a few years spent in London and becoming established as an excellent playwright.

He is certainly a household name in the small town of Stratford upon Avon but not necessarily for his writing achievements to date.

His entertaining plays at theatres in faraway London have earned him more than a pretty penny and the means, not only to acquire land on which barley and other useful crops are grown, but to establish outbuildings for the malt production enterprise and ownership a year ago of New Place, the grandest and only brick built house in Stratford town.

The peasant is mockingly portrayed in some of the plays of the self-acclaimed Bard and which the peasant watches as casual entertainment without realization or response.

It is a further moral blow to the peasant whose services he uses in his home and on his land to produce the very thing which is to their detriment.

The Maltster knows how to manage his money and how to avoid (or is it evade?) the payment of due taxes.

Occasionally there is a peasant revolt to the unjust ravages to which peasants are commonly subjected but it is to little or no avail.

This is the world of William Shakespeare in the year 1598 in Elizabethan England.

Stratford is situated conveniently on the river Avon and on the trade route between London and Oxford to the south and Birmingham to the north.

The commerce of this town can only prosper.

Stratford is a developing town of butchers, tanners, glovers, millers, bakers, maltsters with the corn market a strategic landmark.

It is not without irony that the maltster should draw his last breath while sipping his favourite tipple at an alehouse on the banks of the Avon one spring evening.

William Shakespeare was the opportunist.  He was the maltster.  History records that

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