Sunday, 16 January 2011

Burton water (part one)

Burton's water. It's what made the town a great brewing centre. The particular qualities of the water, not found in many other locations, prompted Pale Ale brewers to set up shop there. At least until they worked out how the reproduce it artificially, adding gypsum in a process know as burtonisation.

The Trent valley gypsum. I know all about that. Because the gypsum stretches as far as Newark-on-Trent, where I grew up. I'd heard of the gypsum in the area before I discovered its role in Pale Ale brewing. Gypsum is the reason I grew up in Newark. We'd been living in Washington county Durham until my father got a job with gypsum company Hoveringham.

But enough if the personal stuff and onto the meat of this post. A quote from Alfred Barnard about the importance of the water to Burton's brewing industry.

"When we study the history of any of the great manufacturing industries of our country, we almost invariably find that they have had their birth, and acquired their fullest development, in those localities in which the raw materials are most accessible. This is eminently the case with the great iron and steel industries, the alkali manufacture, and the making of pottery, etc and, indirectly, with nearly all the more important textile manufactures which locate themselves in the neighbourhood of our great coalfields. At first sight might be considered that the success of Burton as a great brewing centre was an exception to the above-mentioned rule, and that we must look to the causes of that success rather to superior skill in manufacture and to commercial enterprise, than to any advantages of geographical position ; for, as far as concerns the raw material employed in brewing, we find that the district in which Burton is situated is by no means suitable for growing exceptional qualities of barley, and the town is manifestly far removed from the principal hop growing districts. There is, however, one very important brewing material that we have left out of consideration, and one which forms by far the largest part of even our strongest beers. We refer to Water. And here, we find that the famous brewing industry of Burton conforms strictly to the rule mentioned above; for there can be no doubt that the exceptional nature of the water in this part of the Trent valley first centralized the Burton trade, which has also been influenced, to some extent, by the cheapness of coal, due to the close proximity of the Ashby coalfield. That the peculiar composition of the water has influenced the quality of Burton beer there can be no doubt, and to such an extent is this recognised by the rivals of the Burton brewers in various parts of the kingdom, that they often go to a very considerable expense in procuring, by artificial means, a (so-called "Burton-izing") water approaching in composition that of the famous water of Burton-on-Trent.

As before stated, we need scarcely say that the idea that Burton beer is made with water taken from the river Trent is altogether erroneous. Trent water is, of course, very largely used in the breweries for cooling and washing purposes, but the greatest care is taken to prevent any access of this water to the brewing wells."
"Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 1" by Alfred Barnard, 1889 pages 415 - 416.

He makes some good points. Industries didn't spring up in random parts of the country. There was usually a reason, mostly availability of raw materials, that decided their location.

There's another remark worth emphasising: Burton "is manifestly far removed from the principal hop growing districts". And yet its breweries used massive quantities of hops. Which shows that proximity to hop regions didn't necessarily mean brewers used fewer hops. Remember that next time someone tries to tell you Scottish brewers didn't use many hops because they don't grow in Scotland.


StuartP said...

My guess: probably bollocks.

Simon Johnson said...

Hops and malt, you can shift around. Water is where you find it. Until you learn how to bugger it about.

And - Hoveringham. It's where I learned to ride a bike. Gonalston - Lowdham - Caythorpe - Hoveringhsm - Thurgaton and back again in time for tea.

The days before I knew beer. Wow. They seem a long, long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Just had a couple of pints of Yorkshire Terrier at the Old Volunteer at Caythorpe.