Thursday, 31 January 2008

Scotch Ale III

I'm not finished with Scotch Ale yet. Oh no. Lots more to say. I'll let you decide whether it's worth saying or not.

Today's passage is taken from "An Encyclopædia of Domestic Economy" by Thomas Webster, William Parkes, 1855, page 598.

"Scotch Ale- The Scotch, particularly the Edinburgh ales of the present day, made partly on the old plan, are esteemed equal, if not superior, to any in Britain; and certainly some of the best Scotch ales have a flavour extremely vinous, and approaching the nearest of any of our ales to some of the light French wines. They are particularly mild in their flavour and pale in colour, and the taste of the hop does not predominate. One great advantage which they derive from the smallness of the quantity of the hops which they contain is, that it does not form a disguise for injurious ingredients, as is the case with the larger proportion used in English ales; and hence, if no better reasons could be assigned, it is said that the Scotch ales are less liable to adulteration than those of England. But, on the other hand, they are more difficult to keep long; and the fine Scotch ales are therefore generally bottled."
So Scotch Ale was pale, mild in flavour and with little hop presence. The relative lack of hops made it less easy to get away with adulteration, but meant it didn't keep well.

Didn't I say in an earlier post that Scotch Ale was always dark? In the 1950's it was. But some styles changed colour in the 20th century - Mild is a good example. For most of the 19th century pretty much all beer except Porter was pale. If the dark colour hadn't been such an intrinsic characteristic of Porter, that would probably have gone pale, too. It's all to do with economics. Once brewers had learned of the greater yield from pale malt, the 18th century practice of brewing with 100% brown or amber malt was abandoned. Pale beer not only looked classier, but was cheaper to brew.

"The principal difference between the manner of brewing Scotch and English ale is, that the former is fermented with a much lower heat than the latter, usually as low as 60°: this fermentation is slow; it continues for a fortnight, or even three weeks. The fermentation is carried nearly as far as possible in the fermenting vat, and hence it soon becomes fine, and is then put into casks, and is seldom racked."
Confirmation of the low fermentation temperature and the practice of transferring the beer from fermenter to retail cask. The practice in England was very different. Primary fermentation was hot and quick. There then followed a period of "cleansing" to finish of the fermentation and remove most of the yeast. English brewers were obsessed with cleansing. Brewing manuals often have more pages dedicated to cleansing than to fermentation. Complicated equipment - Burton unions are good example - was installed to facilitate cleansing. It can't have been cheap.

"It appears to have been the ancient practice in Scotland, as it is still in some places on the Continent, to put the new fermented ale quite hot into casks, where the fermentation was carried on slowly, the bung-holes being left open, or loosely stopped with covers of clay. The ale was then sent out in this fermenting state to the customers in casks or in flagons; but it was afterward always bottled, whether strong or weak, and was generally ready in the course of a week. The low degree of temperature at which the fermentation is carried on confines the brewing to the colder parts of the year; and during four or five of the summer months no strong ale is brewed. The ale of Preston Pans is the finest and most vinous of the Scotch ales."
I've not heard of English brewers sending out casks before primary fermentation was over. Though before the Porter revolution, London brewers never matured beer themselves, but always sent it out after the completion of primary fermentation.

"In Edinburgh, Dr. Thomson informs us, it was the custom formerly for the brewers to "send out the small beer in casks the moment it was mixed with yeast, and before it had undergone any fermentation whatever." It fermented sufficiently in the small casks in which it was sent to the customers, who generally bottled it, which made it clear and very brisk, and extremely agreeable."
This is even more extreme. Though understandable, given that small beer would have a short fermentation due to the low gravity and for the same reason also had a short shelf-life. You wouldn't want to be buying any that was more than a couple of days old.

I've still more stuff about Scotch Ale. Let me know if you're getting bored. Then I'll definitely continue tomorrow.


Fatman said...

These domestic economists appear to be well up on their brewing knowledge - a tad more than today's equivalent, I'd say.

To what level can we be sure they aren't talking utter nonsense, brewing-wise? It all sounds feasible in a sort of 19th century way but.....

Ron Pattinson said...

I believe the bits that tally with what's in "Scottish Ale Brewer".

I've learned to be careful about believing something, just because I see it in more than one place. Fairy stories tend to get repeated.

That's why I'm sceptical of these descriptions of mashing all the different malts separately. I've seen no evidence in brewing archives nor in old technical manuals.

jakester said...

Ron, this is really good stuff! Not bored yet!