Saturday, 6 March 2010

Parliament investigates beer grists (1899)

Parliament was so much more fun in the old days. When they discussed interesting stuff like Irish home rule and beer grists.

1880's Free Mash Tun Act was to blame. Many weren't too happy about brewers' new freedom to use pretty much whatever ingredients they chose. There were several attempts to pass legislation to impose new restrictions on brewers. All failed and, after a while, Pure Beer agitation as it was called, died away.

I've posted this text for a couple of reasons. One is the reference at the beginning of the move from aged to running beers. The last few decades of the 19th century saw a huge decline in the popularity of aged beer, driven by changing fashion.

Another reason is the discussion of the role of sugar, particularly in the brewing of running ales. The impression given is that the Free Mash Tun Act allowed better satisfaction of the public's new-found love of lighter beers. Were the brewers pulled by drinkers' preferences or did they push the beer that generated the most profit? Being realistic, there was probably a bit of both.

And, of course, there's the mention of AK. It's described as a Light Pale Ale. I won't argue with that.Its importance can be judged by the fact that it's one of only four types of Ale mentioned.

"My opinion is that if (1) a sufficiency of fine English barley were available, and if (2) the present public taste were in favour of a stock beer as against a fresh beer, the need for malt substitutes would cease to exist. But (1) the quantity of fine English barley is extremely limited, and (2) the present taste is practically entirely in favour of fresh brewed beers. Under these circumstances it is not practicable to brew ales without the assistance of malt substitutes. The taste for fresh ales as against stock ales set in some 20 years or more ago, and it has been steadily progressive without any tendency to reversion; and even within the past few years I have known brewers who previously brewed their pale ales on stock principles abandon stock beer brewing, and have found that the ales brewed on running ale lines have given greater satisfaction. There are about 1,600 or 1,700 wholesale brewers in this country, and of the ale brewers I do not think that more than six brew without the use of substitutes. Excepting these few firms, the all-malt brewers are the publican brewers, who brew simply for retail consumption, but such ale is not held to compare favourably with the ale produced by brewers for sale. A friend of mine who brewed entirely from malt sold his houses recently to a firm using about 20 per cent, of invert sugar in their brewings. Since the change, the trade in these houses has increased by 33 per cent. It has been stated in evidence that running beers may be successfully brewed from English malt only ; the most recent evidence to that effect is that of Mrs. Lovibond. I have had the opportunity, through a relation of Mrs. Lovibond, of tasting these ales. We have heard that they suit her customers j but they would not suit the customers of most of the brewers, I know, and in my opinion their character and palate compare unfavourably with those of beers correctly brewed with a small amount of substitute. Her heavy stock beer, on the other hand, is excellent; but she admits that there is only a small demand for it, and her evidence on that head entirely corroborates my experience. My opinion is that the public prefer a beer brewed with a small amount of substitute; and although Mrs. Lovibond has extensively advertised, for some time, that her beers contain no substitute, she admits that her trade is below the brewing capacity of her brewery. My experience of other private trade, as well as public trade, breweries is that, as a rule, the brewery plant is too limited for the demand. The object of using substitutes, then, is to produce a beer which shall mature or ripen quickly, and this, in my opinion, is the kernel of the matter. If a beer is brewed on stock principles, to ripen slowly, its flavour and character are different to those of a quickly-maturing beer, and such character and flavour are, at the present time, unpopular. In some breweries with which I am connected there is still some stock beer brewed, although only a small quantity, say 0.5 to 1 per cent, of the trade. In the brewing of such ales I use no sugar, or only a very minute quantity; but for the running ales in the same brewery I find it necessary to use an adjunct. The material for the different classes which I use in ordinary seasons are usually as follows:—

(a.) Stock ale, kept 4 to 12 months before delivery:—
Fine English malt - - 66 to 66
Fine foreign malt - - 25 to 34
No. 1 invert sugar or glucose - 9 to 0

(b.) Semi-stock pale bottling beers, kept about three months before delivery:-
Good to fine English malt - - -.,60
Good to fine foreign malt - - - 25
No. 2 invert sugar or glucose - - 15

(c.) Light pale ales (A.K.), kept about 2 to 4 weeks before delivery:—
Good to fine English malt - - -.,55
Good to fine foreign malt - - - 25
No. 2 invert sugar or glucose - - 20

(d.) Mild ale (X. or XX.—fourpenny) kept four to ten days before delivery :—
Good English malt - - - -50
Good ordinary foreign malt - - - 25
No. 2, invert or glucose - - - 25

If 10 per cent, flaked maize or rice were used in beers (c) and (d), 5 per cent, of foreign malt and 5 per cent, sugar would be displaced. It must not be assumed (and I must particularly emphasize this point) that because I recommend little or no sugar in the stock ales, and a fair proportion in the running ales, that the use of sugar depreciates the keeping properties of the beer. This is not the case at all. The keeping properties of the stock ales are due not to the absence of sugar, but to the high hop rate, the high qualities of malt and hops, and a system of brewing directed rather to keeping properties than early maturity. And, as I stated before, in spite of high gravity, high quality of malt and hops, and high hop rate, stock ales are unpopular, and becoming increasingly unpopular, and although it is to the brewers' pecuniary advantage to brew and push stock ales, the successful brewer of to-day is he who can turn out first-class mild and bitter ales which shall mature rapidly, and in this connexion I wish to emphasize the points (1) that it is more difficult, and requires far greater skill to turn out these fresh ales successfully than to produce a good stock ale ; and (2) that on the light fresh ales there is considerably less profit per barrel to be obtained than on the more expensive stock ales. Hence, although stock ale brewings carry (greater profits and require less skill, the brewer has to ignore these advantages and meet the public demand by brewing the less remunerative fresh ales requiring greater skill. I have advanced no theory as to why brewing sugar is desirable in the brewing of rapidly maturing beers, because, in my opinion, the theories available on this head are not exhaustive. Tho decrease in the soluble uncoagulable albuminoids doubtless explains much, but there are many other points to be considered, viz., the decrease in the acid phosphates, and the amount of unmodified starch in the malt, and other points. I prefer to base my statements upon what I find, and upon what practically all brewers for sale find, viz., that a running ale brewed with a certain percentage of sugar is a superior beer in palate, character, fineness, condition, and popularity than one brewed without. It is true that the finer the malt the less need for
sugar, but the amount of fine English malt is strictly limited, and it carries a price which would be prohibitive in the running ale trade, in which there is such competition and in which profits are cut very fine. In fact, the use of a small amount of sugar permits of the employment of our ordinary grade English barleys, and these barleys without that assistance would be unusable. The use of sugar is not so economical as has been made out by Mrs. Lovibond, for instance. In her comparison she takes fine malt on the one hand and the very cheapest sugar on the other. This is not quite fair, for between fine malt and cheap sugar there is no competition. Sugar only displaces ordinary mall, and in spite of the extreme cheapness of American glucose the bulk of the sugar used even in cheap beers is invert sugar—a much more expensive article. I can go further and say that the competition is principally between brewing sugars and cheap foreign malt. Taking ordinary English malt and a No. 2 invert, and allowing for the different extracts yielded by the two, and the grains given by the malt, and not by the sugar, the cost per pound of brewers' extract, in ordinary years, is 4d. to 4.5d. for malt, and 3d. to 3.5d. for sugar. In cheap foreign malt the cost per pound of brewers' extract may go down to 3.75d. to 4d. I have already pointed ont that it is really the commoner barleys (which yield the staple beer of the country, viz., mild ale) which require the assistance of sugars, and this is the experience of the brewers of this country. I have seen it stated by Mr. Schidrowitz, quoting from Professor Aubry and from a Dr. Doemens, that common English barleys, if properly worked up, make as satisfactory a malt as fine barleys, and that such malts can be brewed successfully without the use of sugars. Such views are absolutely theoretical, emanating from persons having no practical experience on the matter, and it is not difficult to show that they are fallacious. Any comparison of malts made from fine barleys and common barleys is out of the question. If, as implied by Mr. Schidrowitz's authorities, a properly adjusted malting system could remedy the defect of common barleys, it is quite clear that the great divergence of price existing between fine and common barleys would cease, and that all barleys of a season would tend to a fixed mean. There is no such tendency. It is no news to us in this country that common barleys require different handling in the malt-house to fine barleys; such different treatment is given in every malt-house in the country, and while under good manipulation a common barley will give a better malt than under bad manipulation, the best malt made from a common barley cannot compare with a malt well made from a fine barley. The German chemists quoted imply that all that need be done in the case of common barleys is to grow a longer root on them with the object of abstracting more nitrogen. But under the conditions under which a large root is encouraged there is a great transformation of insoluble nitrogenous matter (which is immaterial) into soluble nitrogenous matter (which is very material), and the amount of that transformation, for any given encouragement of rootlet growth, exceeds the extra amount of nitrogen abstracted by the root. So that if I grow a big root on a barley, the resulting malt, though showing less total nitrogen, contains a greater amount of soluble nitrogen. This constitutes one of the great difficulties in malting common barleys, viz., that in order to modify them properly conditions must be adopted which leave in the malt an excess of soluble albuminoids."
"Minutes of evidence taken before the Departmental committee on beer", 1899, pages 190-191.

My apologies for the terrible formatting. The original text doesn't bother with paragraphs.


Gary Gillman said...

Many interesting statements here including that the margins on stock beers were higher than on running; I would have thought the opposite.

While the claim too is made that sugar can replace effectively part of cheaper malting barleys for running beers, I note still he states that the sugar does not replace the best malting barley, something I always felt personally.


Rob Sterowski said...

I remember drinking bottled Stock Ale in a pub somewhere in Kent in about 1996 with a later version of that very label. The, er, "distinctive" colour scheme was more memorable than the beer, though.