Sunday, 21 March 2010

Fermenting, maturing and serving Porter in 1813

You'd think March was Porter month from the amount I've posted on the topic. In reality, every month is Porter month here. You might have guessed from the title that this post discusses the steps from fermentation to serving.

The stuff about the temperature sort of tallies with what I see in brewing records. In the 1820's, Barclay Perkins were pitching at 63º to 67º F after which the temperature rose to around 80º F. Though the stronger Stouts were pitched much lower, at 58º to 59º F. By the end of the 19th century, their pitching temperatures were down to 60º to 62º F.

"The different worts after boiling are spread out thin in the coolers, and their temperature brought down to between 60 and 70 degrees, at which all the three worts are mixed together in a great vessel called the guile tun or square, where yest being put to it the liquor is fermented. The temperature at which the wort is set to working in the square, and the heat at which the several mashes are made, have greater influence than any other circumstances upon the quality of the beer. The greater the working heat is, the more rapidly the fermentation proceeds : therefore in summer, when the natural heat of the air is such that the working will advance perhaps more rapidly than the brewer wishes, he counteracts this by cooling the wort down as low as possible : on the other hand, in cold weather the fermentation must be encouraged by commencing it at a greater temperature : in general it may be stated to be between 60 and 70 degrees, at the discretion of the brewer, and in some degree regulated by the kind of porter he wishes to produce, and the malt from which he has extracted his wort. The fermentation is continued in the square as long as the head of yest which floats upon it continues to increase in depth ; but when the head shews signs of diminution the liquor is fit for cleansing. This is putting it into a great number of small casks, which, by dividing the beer into small quantities, lowers its temperature and tends to check the fermentation. The same end is also attained by causing the yest to flow off as fast as it is produced, and keeping the casks always filled up as they diminish by working, to leave no room for a head of yest to gather upon the surface of the beer. After the fermentation is concluded the beer is put into immense casks called store vats, where it is kept till wanted for sale. By keeping it begins to clear itself, and grow fine ; but it is seldom kept long enough to become perfectly so. It is when wanted drawn off from the store vats into casks, and then sent away ; and the consumer puts into the cask a small quantity of fining, sent out with the porter by the brewer, who calls it in the rough when his liquor requires fining.

The finings are made of isinglass dissolved in sour beer brewed from the wort of the fourth mash, or sour beer obtained from the waste of any of the processes. A small quantity of this fining beer being put into the cask precipitates the minute fecula, and soon renders the liquor quite fine. The flavour of the draught porter in London is almost universally obtained by compounding two kinds, the due admixture of which is palatable, though neither are good alone. One is mild, and the other stale porter; the former is that which has been lately brewed, and has rather a bitter mawkish flavour ; the latter has been kept longer, and is in some degree acid. This mixture the publican adapts to the taste of his several customers ; he effects the proportion of mixture very readily by means of the Beer Pumps, described under that article (see pl. 24). These will be found to have four pumps, but only three spouts, because two of the pumps throw out at the same spout. One of these two pumps draws mild, and the other the stale Porter; and the publican, by dextrously changing his hold to the next handle works, either pump, and draws both kinds of beer at the same spout; and an indifferent observer supposes that since it all comes from one spout it is entire butt beer, as the publican professes over his door, and which vulgar prejudice has decided to be the only good porter, though the difference is not easily distinguished."
“Pantologia: A new cyclopaedia Vol IX”, 1813, (doesn’t have page numbers)

Using sour beer for preparing finings has one pretty obvious disadvantage: it's a good way of introducing an infection. You can't help wondering how often such finings buggered the beer in addition to clearing it. Later in the century brewers moved over to using other dilute acids in which to dissolve finings.

I'm not sure what to make of the final section about the strange beer engines. Is it to be believed? Was this really common practice? Certainly a couple of decades later brewers were advised not to send out their Porter mild, but to always blend it themselves. Mostly to reduce the possibility of the publican adulterating the beer.

And the flavour descriptions: mild Porter was "bitter mawkish" and stale Porter "in some degree acid". I think I can understand what the second means. But the first? The word mawkish has fallen into disuse and doesn't really say a lot to me.

That might be it (at least for a day or two) about Porter. But you never know, I might find something else I just have to share.


Ed said...

'Bitter mawkinsh' sounds like worty to me, the sweet but bitter taste of unfermented beer.

Gary Gillman said...

I think that's right, and current dictionary definitions of mawkish (albeit not used any longer in the present context) support that, one reads of something sweet, insipid, which satiates. We still use the term sickeningly sweet, and clearly that is what it meant.

Perhaps uncertain attenuation ranges rendered some beer too sweet and it needed further slow fermenting to achieve the proper balance. Or maybe the taste for mild beer took more time to take hold...

This description of the mild and stale seems a slightly more detailed version of the one which appeared in other sources in later years, e.g., as quoted in Accum's book.

The reference to sending out the barrels with isinglass finings for cloudy beer shows that this practice, still followed by some breweries in England, has a very long history.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, I've just been transcribing entries from Whitbread's 1920's Gravity Book and "mawkish" is used to describe some beers. So the word survived until quite recently in a beer context.

Graham Wheeler said...

Chamber's, which in my view the most reliable of the British English dictionaries for stuff like this gives mawk as a maggot (and that is all) and mawkish as maggoty, loathsome, disgusting, squeamish, insipid, sickly.

Insipid is given as: tasteless: without satisfying or definite flavour: wanting spirit or interest: dull.

I would suspect that the insipid definition is more appropriate to beer. Sickly may be applied too, but not 'sweet', I would say.

The finings are put into the cask just before being sent out, so there should not be time for them to have much effect. Besides, all the 'bottoms' that Barclay was throwing into his 'Entire' would make it sour anyway.

Do not overlook the idea that a degree of sourness was a highly esteemed characteristic of many beers. It certainly was for London porter.

"Bringing forward", to make a summer-brewed beer taste older, invariably involved adding sour or acidic (apparently there was a difference between the two terms) beer to the fresh, with many types of beer, particularly with those of smaller brewers.

People like Barclay would have encouraged their vatted stuff to go well past its best, extremely sour, undrinkably so, because so much less of it would be required in the blend to do the same job, making it more economical to use for the same outlay.

Observation of the habits of people in fish and chip shops, drowning everything in vinegar, will indicate that sourness still is highly esteemed in some many circumstances.

The reference to 'stale' in that, and other encyclopaedias that are word-for-word the same, has caused so many writers to say that stale was spoiled beer being disposed of surreptitiously, and that two pumps and one spout was somehow a deception.

That particular passage, and people taking Poundage too literally, has caused mass misunderstanding of porter in more modern times. It was often misunderstood in contemporary times as well, which adds more complication.

Martyn Cornell said...

That whole passage about the two kinds of porter, mild and stale, the four pumps, and the "indifferent observer supposes that since it all comes from one spout it is entire butt beer", is nicked by several later writers, including Rees's Cyclopedia of 1819, Fred Accum in 1820 and others. This is the only version I have seen that says "mawkish", however: Rees's Cyclopedia says of the two beers: "One is mild and the other stale porter; the former is that which has a slightly bitter flavour from having lately been brewed; the latter has been kept longer. This mixture the publican adapts to the palates of his several customers and effects the mixture very readily by means of a machine containing small pumps worked by handle."

Barm said...

"so much less of it would be required in the blend to do the same job, making it more economical to use for the same outlay."

Was there any risk of a shortage of soured beer, though? It seems to me that they would generally have had more than they needed. Maybe I have it completely wrong, though.

Mark Oregonensis said...

Looking through the OED entries for "mawkish" from the mid-18th through mid-19th centuries leads me to believe that the term was an approximate equivalent to the modern-day "cloying."

Here is a noteworthy, and stomach-turning example, from an 1872 surgical textbook:

"Pus has a sweetish, mawkish taste."

There is also a Pope quote, from 1728:

"Like thine inspirer, Beer, . . So sweetly mawkish, and so smoothly dull."

But yes, "mawk" itself was "maggot," first identified in the 15th century, as an Old Norse loanword. Perhaps maggots were as sweet as pus to the premodern English tongue.

Martyn Cornell said...

Considering how anti-beer that poisonous dwarf Alexander Pope was, it's strange Young's should have named one of their pubs (near his former home in Twickenham) after him.