Michaelmas

After a year of planning and a lot of behind-the-scenes chaos, we put on a decent event. Lots of things were learned in regard to organisation. Key for me were:
Don’t use co-stewards, it duplicates the command and control of the event, as well as an invitation to not pass on information – I kept too much info and planning in my head. Single steward and a drop-dead deputy is better.
Do use a checklist and keep it centrally-accessible for the event staff.
If your gut says there’s not enough people to do a task, go with your gut.
Remember to print off the schedule! Even though people have had it on their emails for weeks, they won’t have done.
Don’t panic about clean-up on the Sunday, instead assign a team for it.
Clean up and washing up crews were too small.
It is infinitely preferable for more Thamesreach members to be involved as afterall it is our hospitality.
Write up here –
Feats of martial prowess abounded at the Great Gathering under the eyes of Their Highnesses of the Dragon Isles in Thamesreach last September. Over 65 SCA members gathered from all points of the compass, hailing from Ireland, Sweden, France and Holland, as well as across the British shires.
With good weather, armoured fighters took on the Knights of St Michael and their comrades in arms in a series of well-fought combats. Fighters from Thamesreach and Pont Alarch excelled in their prowess and enthusiasm. Numerous archers also filled the air with arrows in several rounds, and a series of arts and sciences were demonstrated.
Thamesreach’s reputation for food was reinforced with a grand feast, with course after course presented to great acclaim. Central to the feast were Dragon Eggs, lovingly created in marzipan by Milada, and equally lovingly devoured by the children of the Gathering. After the afternoon’s activities resumed, there was Court where John of Thamesreach gained Arms, and Lady Emoni de la Fere was raised to the Order of Ffraid for her work in the Shire. Lady Emoni also stepped up as Seneschal of the Shire.
The evening was rounded off with roast meats, and two grand subtleties – a gingerbread castle filled with gooseberry fool, and a dragon made from marzipan and biscuits. With dancing and carousing into the night, it was a great success.
Sunday dawned with the smell of breakfast, and fighters and archers alike limbered up for further martial practice. One of the great appeals of this site has been the late close on a Sunday, allowing for full activities for a second day running. Finally, at long last, the day drew to a close and many a satisfied fighter and archer went home, minds already turning to next year.
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Post-Raglan Thoughts

Raglan this year was a completely different animal to previous years, mainly because I found out the hard way that you need to carefully consider your options beforehand.

It was the first year of being part of a proper encampment, and that proved a challenge both of priorities and of personalities. We’re a headstrong household and rapidly found the reality a lot trickier to sort than the planning carried out would have expected.

My main thoughts are that an encampment is actually an activity, with priority over and above all others. Will you miss court because the food isn’t ready? Then miss court. If you have to choose between chopping wood and the Brighthelm tournament, then get cracking.

Wood preparation and consumption was badly under-estimated, and the provided wood was either damp and smoky, quick to burn or both.

For next time, i think all campers should outline what they wish to do as part of rota planning.

As for my personal work, there was plenty of fencing action and I was successful in both the duelling (and putting a stop to it) and also my Prize Play – I now wear the black braid of the Free Scholar!

 

However, archery was appalling. My arrows turned out ot be poorly glued and were a constant problem throughout the event, resorting to borrowing a set. The target butts were like concrete and wrecking a lot of arrows across the board. As such, my confidence collapsed, frustration grew and all-round it was a poor showing.

Pre-Raglan thoughts

Looking forward to this one. Previous Raglans have been about just turning up and enjoying the event, occasionally mucking in and covering the sign-in tent and day steward. Archery and fencing have been the choice each time, and last year, I was gotcha’ed at the soiree court and saw my homebrew supply wiped out.

This year is a bit different. I have goals this time. I have stepped back form the Brewers’ Guild, though intend to continue publishing articles and brew my own supply – funnily enough this year’s brewing has doubled.

On the fencing field I am fighting for the prize of Free Scholar rank in the Drachenwald Academy of defence. This consists of three fights in each of the three weapon forms I am authorised in – single blade, rapier and dagger and rapier/rigid parry (in my case, buckler). This is then followed by 15 minutes of freeplay against all-comers. Looking forward to it and establishing my level with rapier.

On the archery field, I am aiming ot score two Master’s scores for the Drachenwald Company of Archers. I missed out n a Portsmouth score by just two points this month, bu that is a good sign for the event. I need three scores to achieve the rank, and the plan is to go for the third at Michaelmas. Which will be nice, considering it’s when i step down as Seneschal of Thamesreach.

The Dinan Mead

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I have adopted a standard mead recipe which is a basic mead made with 4lb of honey. This usually produces a medium-sweet 15% mead, relying entirely on the flavours of the honey to carry the drink. It is usually drinkable after 9 months, but as with all meads, leaving it longer is recommended.

I simmer the honey long enough to combine with water, rather than boil it, as I feel that boiling does change the flavour. Some scum forms, so do skim it.

As mead is naturally a difficult environment for yeasts, I add a  tablespoon of lemon juice, a tea bag for tannin and a teaspoon of nutrients. While this isn’t period, it makes for a more consistent and stable mead. Lemon juice divides people, it does impart flavour into the mead, but a lot of starters in modern recipes call for orange juice. You can use citirc acid powder if you wish – caveat emptor. Yeast used in Gervin universal yeast.

As the name implies, I intend for this to be my staple product.

For this batch, I have acquired 2kg of French blended honey (4.4lb) so a slightly sweeter end result is anticipated. Depending on the amount of alcohol produced, this could be a stronger version of the Dinan mead, so will be known as Dinan Fort. SG is 1.120, or about and estimated 18%. The yeast was conditioned by being started in a warm glass of the must, and the gallon is bubbling nicely, with plenty of CO2 being produced and released.

On Racking

Most of my brews take three rackings to fully clear – once when the brew is done, or just before – usually at 1 bubble a minute; second one about a month or so later, and then a third another month or so after that.

Racking from demijohn to demijohn has historically annoyed me due to the loss of liquids in the lees or contaminated form the lees. I used to try to offset this with marbles, but sometimes oxidisation would set in.

About a year ago, a fan of my brews bought me a set of 12 1-litre swing-top bottles. However, some of them were not fully pressurised and would spray their contents under the gas pressure. Cleaning up plum and cherry champagne off the floor isn’t recommended.  so, the survivors have now been re-deployed as racking chambers.

Each demijohn usually produces about 4 litres after the lees has been removed. These bottles have proven themselves a boon in several ways:

* The less-than optimal seals allow any residual carbon dioxide to bleed off.

* There is less surface area, which means that residual lees gather in a smaller space, which in turn means less liquid is also lost when racking.

* 1 litre bottles are easier to manipulate and control when racking offeither to more bottles, or the finished product, so not farting about with syphons or jiggling demijohns and disturbing the lees.

Brewing Updates

Apple Cyser: Using Copella apple juice and 3.5lbs of sainsbury’s and co-op honey, I made a cyser last month. It was marked at 1.120 and brewed out to 1.040, so still quite sweet. I recently racked it off its lees into another demijohn and added cinnamon, about 50g of fresh ginger, nutmeg, a few caraway seeds and 6 cloves. This will sit fr a while, probably until after Michaelmas. I am expecting a nice and spicy sweet apple cyser, aiming to be ready for xmas 2016.

Raspberry melomel update: In spite of backsweetening with half a pound of honey and a splash of water to top up from a 1.020 SG and circa 17% estimated strength – I found that this batch has brewed through the back-sweetening and is now bone dry – 1.010 and easily boosting to 18%. This is now in four 1 litre bottles to let the last of the particulate drop out of suspension before being backsweetened again to make 6 bottles. These will be left to mature for at least two years to 2017.

Sampling a bottle from the first batch, with 2.5 years on it (originally presented at Bolton Castle, Fen 2014), it is now tasting sublime. I am expecting the 2nd batch to perform similar – so should be a killer at Yule.

Cherry Melomel: I have used Vargas and Gulling again for cherry – using 3lb of frozen fruit and 4lb of honey this time to compensate for the US gallon measurements. The resulting SG was off the chart for my hydrometer, but estimating 1.160, and will be in the 18% range once finished. No extra tannins were used as the cherry skins ought to impart them, though I did use pectolase and yeast nutrient.

Open pot brewing has to be cared for a lot more – I lost a batch of blackberry melomel last year to fruit flies – so cling film firmly sealed around the edge while the pot was still warm did the trick. It blows up but is not an issue. Using Gervin universal yeast, it is brewing vigorously even when sieved and transferred to a demijohn.

The Rapier Century Drill

100 days of 100 lunges.

This is a drill that concentrates on muscle memory of the lunge. At the moment I am using a generic lunge movement – sword up,arm out, step – and have drawn ten targets (3-4″ diameter) on a door – head, chest, gut, groin; left shoulder, l.wrist, l knee; Right shoulder, r.wrist, r. knee. I am only counting those lunges that land within the target towards the 100 in an effort to improve tip control. Within all this, I am also working a bit on measure, so shots have to touch, but do not thump in hard – I shuffle back a bit if that happens.

Currently I am on Day Four, focussing on my primary arm, i am also putting in a few sets on my weaker arm. I expect I will formally do two centuries each day in a few days.

 

Raspberry Melomel

This is starting to prove to be one of my regular brews. Following the Vargas and Gulling recipe (see my recommended books page), it is geared for an American gallon (3.8 litres), I brew to an Imperial gallon (4.55l), which allowing for wastage and such over the racking, usually gives me a generous five bottles.

Now, allowing for the increase in volume of water, this means that the finished brew is not as sweet as it could be, by about a sixth. I’m not fazed by this, as the two previous batches have proved that a medium conditioning is actually quite pleasant, the expected sweetness is reduced, allowing the flavour of the raspberry and the honey notes to come through in the ageing process. The last bottled batch, and the second batch (currently in 1l bottles to allow for better racking) have both come through to a more delicate mead than a heavy sweet one. I think I will stick to this iteration as a regular batch.

so, what else is going on?

Well, unemployment has been pre-occupying my life recently, and I have a cracked rib from the April Thamesreach revel.  So, quick round-up:

Seneschal:

The shire is busy, several new projects are on the go. Our website was recently hacked and is now shut down, after re-writing it on t new servers. Just waiting for the team to put in the final touches. Michaelmas Tournament is chugging along ready for September. I am looking forward to standing down as PhD commitments are looming.

Archery:

The new longbow is a dream, getting used to the improved quality as well as remembering there’s an extra 4lb of draw-weight so I need to reach full draw. I am short on arrows, but recent work on the Hampstead field is encouraging for when I return to SCA target archery. I have gained full marshal status too.

Rapier:

Has become the cinderella of my activities to be honest, mainly because I am not happy with my kit. I need new decent public-facing kit and not simply the jacket and jeans approach.  it might seem a foible, but it is the element I am fixated on in order to re-establish and build up my kit. I suspect a Gypsy Peddlar order will be in the near future.

Raglan will see both my Free Scholar fight for the Academy of Defence, and also the infamous bouts of duels with Milady Alessandra, the result of many a convoluted reason that changes in each telling.

Articles:

There are plenty of articles on their way, only waiting for results of brews, or further information. For example, i am writing a possible TI article that disputes the accepted location of the Battle of Barnet, mainly as this version makes no tactical sense. Relying on a rudimentary understanding of tactics (from being a wargamer) I provide support to an alternate theory that it was in fact 1/2 a mile to the north.

January’s Baelfyr article up

I recently experimented with Master Terafan Greydragon’s short mead recipe. The first batch followed (almost) the same time period as the recipe, and was entered into West Dragonshire’s Melee at the Manor. I have a second batch – which I termed Terafan’s Long Mead – which is the same recipe, only it has been allowed to brew through. It is still carbonated, but with about 1-2% more strength on it. It is also more pronounced in the yeasty after-notes. I am ageing it further to see what happens.

Interestingly, a short mead is now on the commercial market, produced by Gosnell’s – London’s first Meadery. At 5.5% and aromatically dry, it is an interesting brew to drink.