Thursday, 3 September 2009

Younger's Abbey Brewery in the 1870's (part one)

Thanks to Gary Gillman for pointing me in the direction of this. A description of Wm. Younger's Abbey Brewery in the 1870's. A nice companion to all the rather dry numbers I've been axcavating from their brewing records.

"Whether it is from the peculiar quality of the water, or some secret in their method of brewing, or from both combined, it is certain that the purity, body, flavour, and tonic power of the ales of Messrs. Younger and Co. of Edinburgh stand unrivalled. Many readers will remember the fine Edinburgh ale which, long before this firm had any idea of establishing their stores in London, was looked upon by ale- drinkers as an exceptional indulgence. At that time, doubtless, the Edinburgh ale was brewed to suit the palate of the sturdy Scot, whose misty climate required a firmer tonic and a greater heat-giver than our own. But experiments on southern palates, and the wants of India, have taught this enterprising firm to produce a series of ales exactly fulfilling the requirements we have indicated.

In the Belvidere-road, reached in five minutes from the Strand over Hungerford-bridge, are the London stores situate, where we became acquainted with a totally new sensation in the matter of ale. We had often drank the pale ale, so admirably adapted for ' a big drink,' and the India ale, the praises of which had been chanted loudly by our Indian friends; and we found them both in perfection here. We tasted ale which was clear and bright, though little more than a week old, and with the delicious aroma of the hop pervading it; we tasted ale which had been long in bottle, straw-coloured and clear as the driest sherry, and yet sparkling and lively as the finest champagne; and we tasted what it is impossible to forget—the finest and strongest ale brewed by the firm, one of the greatest luxuries of the Russian nobility to this day, and sold in St. Petersburg and Moscow at from four to five shillings a bottle. This latter ale is extraordinary, and in perfection it would be difficult to distinguish it from a glass of fine brown sherry, while it is vastly more invigorating.

Our anxiety, however, was to penetrate into the secret of this perfection, and if our readers will now go with us to Edinburgh, they will know at any rate as much about it as we do ourselves.

Close to the royal palace of Holyrood, at the entrance of the Queen's park, and on the borders of its plantations, stand the Abbey and Holyrood Breweries of this famous firm. Every inch of the ground is historical, and redolent of the memories of the past. As Sir Walter Scott remarks, ' the Court end of the city excels all the rest in interest, for here lies the dust of the mouarchs of Scotland.' The monks of old were no mean judges of localities and their advantages, and doubtless the founders of the house of Wm. Yonnger and Co. were guided in the establishment of their breweries by the same motives which actuated the monks in the reign of David I. to fix upon this spot for their abbey, namely, the excellence of the wells. The first thing which occurred to us was to inquire about the water, and we found that constant analysis is conducted by experienced chemists, whose testimony has long been that the water produced from the wells of Messrs. Younger ' possesses all the peculiar properties essential to the brewer without any of the drawbacks.' The wells, five in number, are 180 feet deep, connected with each other by 400 feet of mines, while the bores through the solid rock are 150 to 850 feet below the surface.

The Abbey Brewery, in which more than half the ale is produced, is the one over which we will proceed; and the first thing which must occur to any visitor is the admirable character of all the arrangements. The varieties of plant necessary for the various operations are so carefully adapted, that all hurry, confusion, and loss of time are avoided, and everything, though complicated to the eye at first, is soou seen to be conducted with smoothness and regularity, while the whole building and every vessel used in brewing is the perfection of brightness and cleanliness.

And now we see a number of workmen emptying from carts several loads of malt into a large wooden receptacle attached to the- outside wall in the court-yard. As the malt reaches the narrow neck at the bottom of this receiver, the malt is carried away by a hoist, which, working by steam-power, empties it into a large holder on one of the upper floors. Through this the malt descends in a regulated flow on to a screen, the object of which is to cleanse it from the ' growth,' dust, and other impurities, and thence it is conducted by spouts to a chamber on the ground floor. Passing between a couple of heavy revolving iron rollers, it undergoes the process of grinding, the motive-power being a twelve-horse horizontal engine. The malt then again ascends by closed elevators to the ' hopper,' 011 the third floor of the building. From this ' hopper' it progresses down through an aperture into a conduit leading to the steam-working mashing-machine, having spikes at the back on a screw, by which, in the process of mashing, the malt is propelled until it is discharged into either of two large copper mash-tuns on the second floor. These tuns are capable of working about 150 quarters per diem. The requisite quantity of mashed malt having been deposited in each tun, a stream of boiling water from a huge close boiler overhead mixes in a certain proportion with the malt. Here is one of the secrets, for the utmost care is required to regulate the temperature; and a certain degree of heat having been attained, the tuns are closed at the top, and for about two hours the ' mash' undergoes the process of 'washing.' This completed, the liquid, or wort, passes through the bottom of the mash-tuns to the ' under-back tank' on the ground floor, whence it is again elevated by steam-worked pumps, through the copper and iron pipes to the copper boilers on the top story, to be boiled with a certain proportion of hops. An ingenious contrivance secures equality of temperature in this process. At intervals along the pipes which convey the wort to the upper story,. 'steam jackets' are placed, through which jets of steam are introduced at the will of the person in charge between the outer or wooden partition of the tank and the inner or copper lining within which the liquid is conveyed; the effect being to preserve an equality of temperature which conduces greatly to the subsequent clearness and purity of the beer, and prevents it assuming a bluish or muddy colour that would detract from its quality, as it frequently does in other breweries.

The wort has now reached the third floor, where we follow it, and find two large boilers or 'copper-heads,' in which the liquid,, now mixed with hops, is boiled for a time varying with the quality of the beer to be produced. These two boilers are capable of working at a given time nearly 140 barrels of beer. By the side of this is another boiler of huge dimensions, and containing 230 barrels of hot water for the general purposes of the establishment. From the windows of this floor we perceive four large iron cisterns, the capabilities of which are estimated at ahont 1000 harrels, independent altogether of the plentiful supply of the wells to which we have already referred. But even this immense supply is carefully husbanded, for after the water in one of these cisterns has heen drawn upon for the purpose of cooling the ales, it is repnmped to the upper part of the brewery, and again used for general purposes of cleaning.

Descending a few steps to the left we reach the hop - store, a spacious chamber, well aired, well lighted, scrupulously clean, and the walls lined with wood. This store contains a large stock of hops, principally from the gardens of Kent and Surrey.

Passing again through the copper-heads room, we arrive at the 'hop-drainer.' By an opening made in the bottom of the boilers: bore, the wort and hops, now well boiled together, flow into the ' drainer,' so that the liquor may be separated from the refuse of the hops that have been engaged in the manufacture of the beer. The drainer, which is some thirty feet in length, will contain about eighty barrels, and is fitted with a bottom of sectional perforated plates, through which the liquor gradually percolates, leaving the hop refuse behind. A series of copper pipes carry the liquor from under the bottom of the drainer to the coolers. In these the wort runs slowly along the surface of one half the floor, four large fans, driven by steam-power, and rotating with extreme velocity, imparting their cooling influence to the liquor as it courses to the end and returns along the other side of this long chamber, finding its way into the refrigerators. This delicate operation of cooling is carried out with a plentiful supply of cold water from the cisterns above the refrigerators, being the newest improvements introduced and patented by Mr. Morton of Stockton-on-Tees.

After ten minutes, most agreeably employed in refreshment, we proceed to the works devoted to the important process of fermentation. In a spacious chamber, in which are fifty-six tuns capable of containing thirty-six imperial-gallon barrels of beer, the work of fermentation goes on. There is a fall of only two or three feet from the refrigerating to the fermenting department. As the wort enters it receives the necessary portion of barm, and is allowed there to remain in fermentation for four, five, or six days, according to the description of beer under treatment."
"Belgravia, Volume 19", 1873, pages 64 - 68.
That's all for today. Part two tomorrow.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, thanks, and I wonder if any here, say Mike, familiar with modern commercial brewing practices, would be interested to comment on any changes. Changes from the 1870's to today for medium-size breweries. Are the processes described much different than, say, Fuller's uses today?

I'm planning to get some brown sherry and do a taste comparison with current McEwan's Scotch Ale. I don't think there will be as close a connection as in the 1870's though. The analogy to brown sherry suggests a degree of oxidation. Sherry submits to a natural oxidation in its production process. One would expect an oxidized note in an aged bottle-conditioned beer from the 1870's. The McEwan's today is I believe pasteurised and certainly is free from any oxidative tastes. Maybe one of the strong Belgian beers like Rochfort or Chimay Blue would be a better comparison if aged a couple of years. But I will try anyway, for the fun of it.


Jeff Renner said...

Gary, I don't think the author was comparing the character of ale to sherry, but rather comparing its perfection:

"This latter ale is extraordinary, and in perfection it would be difficult to distinguish it from a glass of fine brown sherry, while it is vastly more invigorating."


Anonymous said...

Color should be a good guess too. For the modern practice, I can only say that in a small brewpub, the techniques are less modern than that! :)Apart from the barrel for fermentation of course.

Gary Gillman said...

Hi Jeff, good to hear from you. I see what you are saying, but I don't read it that way. I read it that when a bottle of Scotch ale is in good condition - is "in perfection" - it tastes like brown sherry. A reminder that so often in the old days, beer was not good, was spoiled in some way when it reached the consumer. The writer knew his stuff and was careful to make the distinction.


Jeff Renner said...

Gary - upon rereading, I think you are probably right. I wonder if the ale had lost its conditioning and was still, or nearly so. It certainly must have been oxidized. Some old barley wines I've had have oxidized in rather nice ways, but it can be overdone.