Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Where they put in the poison

This story amused me. It shows just how ingrained the tales of adulteration were.

"Years ago, we accompanied an aged and somewhat credulous female through a country brewery. There were a good many dark passages and steep flights of steps, b ginning and ending as such affairs generally do, just where one does not expect them.

There There were puffs of steam and flavours of sweet-wort and gales of hop odours, and men in white aprons and red faces, and all the usual concomitants of a brewery. The visitor took everything with great composure; but as she turned to depart, a look of disappointment overspread her countenance, and she said, 'But you have not shown me where they put in the poison !' We trust our readers will not expect similar disclosures. Even in the trade of a rectifier there are, we believe, no secrets except such as yield to the analysis of the chemist; and certainly in malting, brewing, and distilling there is nothing required except skill, care, the use of two instruments—the thermometer and hydrometer, or saccharometer as brewers call it, good materials, and good water."
"The Quarterly review, Volume 131" 1870, pages 136-136

Just a short post today. I'm busy, busy, busy. As usual.


Gary Gillman said...

Based on what I've read and deduced, I think most beer was not adulterated with drugs as indeed this snippet implies. Some was, probably by people trying to get a quick entry to the industry or do it on the cheap. There was the addition of water, by publicans generally, and salt, which mostly was the doing of publicans or intermediaries I think. You get a sense by reading enough of the old serious literature that most beer was sound enough. Of the additions that were made, licorice was common, because (and to this day) stout can have a licorice tinge, so it was probably something that came in as brown malt was going out. Orange flavours of various kinds seem to have been added by some brewers - something still done in Belgium and elsewhere today. There is nothing wrong with a few natural spices. But most beer was (I believe) sound brews of malt and hops. The main danger that existed was beer becoming sour, or "vapid", which I think meant oxidized. It is a problem still with us today, just last night I struggled with a pint that was starting to go and a half that was damp paper oxidized. Most went down the drain tray of the draft taps to the bemusement of the staff.


Craig said...

Is their any validity to the cause of this widespread assumption of adulteration, as a campaign by the temperance movement of the era?

Ron Pattinson said...

Craig, I haven't seen evidence that large brewers were adulterating their beer. Perhaps some of the small ones did.

The problem was further down the supply chain. I've no doubt that plenty of adulteration was carried out by publicans.

Ed Carson said...

I think this story points out something that exists even today. The general public and some of the most avid consumers of beer do not understand or care how beer is made. Several years ago, I read about the struggles of brewery opening in South Florida. Part of those was a fire inspection by the local department.At the end of the inspection tour, one of the fire-fighters turned to the brewer and asked when do you put the alcohol in. Which is leads me to another point. It is quite possible depending on her education and beliefs the young lady was asking the same question.

Martyn Cornell said...

What I'd like to know is - when did brewers stop wearing aprons?

Thomas Barnes said...

@Martin: What I'd like to know is - when did brewers stop wearing aprons?

Probably about the time boiler suits and rubber wellingtons were invented.

Of course, for some jobs (e.g., messing about with caustic) you still need an apron.