Sunday, 31 May 2009

Pure beer

"Pure beer" is a concept that's been around for a while. But what exactly is "pure beer"? Beer without sugar?

I can remember some within CAMRA arguing that only beer brewed from malt and hops alone should be classified as Real Ale. Thankfully their crazy idea wasn't adopted. It would have left almost no Real Ale in Britain.

In the aftermath of the 1880 Free Mash Tun Act, there was a "Pure Beer" movement. Its aim was to re-establish a Reinheitsgebot in Britain. They even managed to get a bill to that effect into parliament. However it was never enacted and the movement petered out. (I plan returning to this movement at some point soon).

This letter sent to The Times in the 1880's demonstrates the public concern about the purity of their beer, but also ignorance about how it was brewed. The most revealing assertion in the letter is that sugar was employed "to meet the requirements of the public taste ".


MR. E. R. MORITZ, chemist to the Country Brewers' Society, sends the following letter to the Times :—

Sir,—I observe in your report of "Briant v. Faulkner," tried on Tuesday before Mr. Justice Kay, that the interesting features in the case consisted in the facts disclosed about brewing and the judge's observations on the ingredients used at the present day in the manufacture of beer. Mr. Justice Kay observed that instead of beer being nowadays brewed from good and wholesome malt and hops, chemical processes were used for extracting beer from what was called invert sugar ; and he went on to comment in severe terms upon the sulphuric acid and gypsum employed in the process in question. As a matter of fact, however, beer is not extracted from invert sugar, and the process referred to consists in the preparation from cane sugar of invert sugar, which some brewers find it advantageous to mix in small proportions with their malt worts. Sulphuric acid certainly plays a part in the conversion of the sugar, but none of it, as such, is permitted to remain in the sugar, and consequently none can enter the beer; indeed, by conversion into gypsum the acid is, to all practical purposes, removed, and against the minute quantity of gypsum which may escape separation there cannot possibly be the minutest objection. It occurs naturally in the celebrated well waters of Burton, and it is in no inconsiderable degree responsible for the delicacy and flavour of the popular ales brewed in that district.

With regard to the use of sugar in brewing, it cannot be too frequently insisted upon that its employment is adopted simply to meet the requirements of the public taste in certain districts, and not with the object, which some persons would have us believe, of putting extra profits into the brewers' pockets. Nor must it be forgotten that our malts are by no means invariably "good and wholesome," and that intermixture with sugar solutions of good quality is productive of a sounder, purer, and more wholesome beer than that obtainable from the bulk of our malts when used alone.

Persons with any leanings towards so-called "pure beer" would do well to refer to Mr. Goschen's remarks to a deputation of hop and barley growers which waited on him on April 5 last year. Mr. Goschen pointed out that during the course of the prosecutions for beer dilution, so many of which took place about that time, the beer samples had been generally tested for deleterious substances by the Government chemists at Somerset House, and that not a single sample was found to contain any. Yet some of these beers had assuredly been in part brewed from that invert sugar which Mr. Justice Kay so severely denounces. Indeed, the pure beer cry, like so many of the agitations against brewers, is almost exclusively supported by privileged and irresponsible utterances, which, when critically examined, as was the case on April 5 last year, are found unsound and devoid of proper foundation."
"The Chemical Trade Journal" by Davis, 1888, page 179

Let me know if you're getting bored with sugar. It won't stop me writing about it, but it may make you feel better.


Bill in Oregon said...

Not getitng bored with sugar at all. Fascinating stuff. I'd love to see more (not sure if this will encourage or discourage you). Thanks.

Pivní Filosof said...

Very interesting this sugar stuff.
Whenever I see the idea of "purity" in beer I can't help but laugh. Seems to me that those "beer puritans" believed (and in many cases still believe) that beer has always been brewed only with barley malts and hops.... silly, silly people

Gary Gillman said...

Here is my take on the use of sugar, which is an aspect of the question of adjunct use in general.

There is a school that states that the traditional character of beer is based on cereal grains, in particular barley, and in particular its malted form. The best-tasting beers are surely all-malt beers, exemplified by the rich-tasting helles and dunkel beers of Bavaria and the pilsener types of Czech Republic. England, too, had (and has) great beers made only from from malted barley. It is true that sucrose or glucose have been used both as a component of the mash bill and (especially) for priming, in England, but such use is not age-old and can be regarded as a kind of short-cut.

True, the palate of beers using some sugar can be excellent, as we know from many English and Belgian beers. And sugar can promote clarity and iron out inconsistencies in different seasons' malting barley: all a good thing so far as it goes.

Still, the general idea to brew from cereal grains has much to say for it because sticking to all-malt beers tends to ensure, not just an exemplary palate, but staying off a slippery slope. One need only contemplate American brewing prior to the renaissance of the last 30 years to see what happened when adjunct use was countenanced (even promoted as a solution to enable better clarification of beers and a crisper, "lighter" palate).

The German pure beer law may have more than one motive but unquestionably it has helped maintain the high quality and integrity of brewing in that country.

I am not against the use of adjuncts if the final palate is good but I believe they should be used with restraint. Too much adjunct results in a thin or at any rate un-beer-like flavour. The same can never be said of too much malt in the mash-bill...

In support of my view, I would point out that honey, a natural source of invert sugar, never became a standard part of the brewer's repertoire. It plays a small role historically, e.g., in braggot and some other beers and specialties, but never became a standard ingredient even though the brewing countries all produced honey and could have made it a larger industry than it ever became a la malting barley. It didn't happen because the palate or beers that use honey to supplement the mash does not (in my opinion) produce a palate that will be received by a broad range of beer consumers even "informed" ones.

A particular move away from tradition may not amount to much. But once that happens, people will try something else and incrementally one can end up with something that does not really resemble traditional beer, as e.g., happened to mass market American lager by the 1970's.

MentalDental said...

Having been a homebrewer for 30+ years I have just now started to experiment with brewing sugar. In the past I occasionally used sugar but always with guilt. I blame CAMRA since I started brewing at the time of their initial rise to fame and their "adjuncts are the spawn of the devil" attitude.

I also blame Ron for opening the sugary door to me. He has posted so many recipes incorporating sugar that I wished to brew I had no option but to become a sugar slut.

Gary, I would say that the use of adjuncts (including sugar) is OK provided that the brewer remembers that they are ADJUNCTS and they are used for some positive, beneficial purpose. So making the product more digestif, adding depth to the flavour etc is OK but using adjuncts because they are cheap, or to make a tasteless bland product (what beer can I be thinking of!?) probably isn't.

Some pretty famous and quite good beers use adjuncts:
for instance.

Please feel free to disagree.

Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, British brewers did not consider sugar an adjunct but a malt substitute. There's a difference.

The use of sugar after 1880 seems to have had more than one purpose. I'm convinced that an important one was to lighten the body of certain styles. In the period 1900 - 1910 the Whitbread beer with the largest proportion of sugar was one of the most expensive, PA. The cheapest beers - X Ale and Porter - only used about half as much.

Economy does not seem the most important reason for the use of sugar.

Sugar's use as a consistent and predictable way of colouring beer is also apparent. I've rarely seen a Mild coloured with anything else.

I've come to realise that the bias against sugar prevents a proper exploration of British brewing and beers.

Pivní Filosof said...

I think we have to make a difference between adjuncts or subsitutes used to add something new and different to the beer and those used purely as a cost saving gimmick, which was the case with American brewers in the 70, and many others still today.
In the latter, the quality of the beer was never a priority to begin with, so the example, other than cautionary, isn't very good.
Neither is the example of Reinheitsgebot valid. The law was never concerned with the quality of the beer. There are truly awful beers brewed with 100% barley malt and really fantastic ones with many "impure" adjuncts or substitutes.

MentalDental said...

Pivni Filosof said, "There are truly awful beers brewed with 100% barley malt and really fantastic ones with many "impure" adjuncts or substitutes."

Absolutely bang on!

Gary Gillman said...

I have read a defense of the use of rice in brewing that stated its cost was not a factor and that (at times anyway) it was more expensive than barley malt. I believe rice and other adjunct originally were used in America to assist the clarification of beer due to issues with protein in American malting barley, not due to cost per se. The use of rice or other adjunct in pre-Prohibition American lager did not impact palate very much, I have both read this and gleaned it myself from having tasted recreations at American beer festivals. This is likely because the amounts used were relatively small - not 40% of the grist or more as came to be the case for some beers.

As I said, I am all for adjunct if the essential "beeriness" of the palate is not affected. On the other hand, a stress on all-malt brewing is a positive thing in my view, based on experience with my own palate.

By all means historical sugar use should be investigated. It is part of the history. Ditto with all other aspects of historical brewing.