Saturday, 12 February 2011

Bottled vs draught vs keg

No, I haven't suddenly stumbled into the 21st century. I'm still resolutely stuck in the past. But, as I'm sure you're tired of hearing, there's nothing new in the world of beer.

Take a look at this little treatise on carbonation:

"Spring water, the drink provided for man and animals by nature, is always found impregnated with carbonic acid, and it is to this gas it owes its freshness, briskness, agreeable taste, and doubtless an increased suitability for aiding the process of digestion. The precise nature of the assistance contributed by carbonic acid towards this function we are unable to define; but the instinct which finds it grateful vouches for its utility, and its refreshing and invigorating properties in the case of a jaded stomach are so palpable, as to leave no doubt of its power of influencing the functions of this organ beneficially. Beer or ale, then, which has become stale and flat from the loss of its carbonic acid, is deteriorated no less in its dietetic than in its palatable qualities, — a fact confirmed by the circumstance that many who drink bottled ale with a relish, and find it agree with them, can scarcely venture to take draught ale without suffering from headache. In cases of renal disease, also, the condemnation of malt liquor as a beverage applies with twofold force to its consumption in draught, its injurious tendency in such cases being greatly mitigated, if not removed, by taking it only when charged with carbonic acid so as to be in an effervescing state. The palate, however, pronounces so decidedly in favor of ale that is fresh and brisk with carbonic acid, compared with that which, is vapid and flat from the absence of this gas, that no better guide than taste need be desired, a fact sufficiently evinced by the large consumption of bottled ale and beer by the public, at a cost of more than double that of the same liquors in draught.

The present price of Bass's or Allsopp's pale ale in wood is 33s. per kilderkin (18 gallons), being 1s. 10d. per gallon; the same quantity of ale in bottle (reputed pints, at 4s. 3d.) costs 76s. 6d., being 4s. 3d. per gallon, or 2.5 the price in wood. Those, then, who desire to drink their ale aerated with caibonic acid or effervescing, must add to 1s. 10d. per gallon, the cost in wood, an additional 2s. 5d.; and hence it happens that, in spite of the unequivocal verdict of taste, bottled ale is only habitually consumed by the wealthier classes, the great bulk of the people being debarred by motives of economy from taking it, except as an occasional luxury. The public at large not being able to afford to drink the kind they would prefer, fluctuate as an alternative between two evils ; — either, on the one hand, they have a small cask of beer, with the result of drinking it fresh and good the first week (or fortnight, according to its quality and the weather), passable, the second, and flat and hard the third, with a residue of five per cent so sour as to be obliged to be thrown away; or, tired or sour beer, they have recourse to the notoriously adulterated mixture of the retailer, and knowingly barter the purity of their liquor for the higher average of freshness and palatability obtained by his more rapid consumption.

Such is the present position of the British public with regard to their national beverage, but such it will remain no longer. An exceedingly simple apparatus has just been invented, by means of which ale on draught may be impregnated with any desired amount of carbonic acid, thus acquiring the sparkling character and valuable dietetic properties of bottled ale, with a decidedly superior flavor, for the carbonic acid, not being produced at the expense of the saccharine matter of the liquor, as in the case of bottled ale, the drink does not undergo that impoverishment or attenuation which, to the palate of many, forms a great drawback to the use of bottled malt liquor. If, as we are assured, draught ale can be aerated in the manner described, and a beverage produced which is universally preferred to bottled ale, at one tenth the additional cost of the latter, we hope to see the benefit conferred by the invention brought within the reach of all members of the community, and the poorest classes enabled to drink whatever malt liquor they can afford sparkling and effervescing with carbonic acid in its highest state of perfection."
"Every Saturday 1866, vol. 1", 1866, page 410.

There are some pretty bold claims there. For example, that bottled beer is easier on the stomach. I'd go as far as to say that's total bollocks. As the owner of a sensitive stomach I can assure you that highly-carbonated beer is the last thing you need. Draught beer gives you a headache? I can't imagine how that could possibly be true.

Onto paragraph two. My favourte paragraph. Because of the details about draught beer at home. Bottled beer is still more expensive than draught. Usually. But the difference is much smaller than back in the 1860's. It makes sense that it would have cost a lot more. The production process was much more labour-intensive with the filling and corking of bottles. Bottles were also more likely to break and awkward to transport than casks.

I'd always wondered about the practice of having a cask in the house. Especially when you see them advertising ones as large as full barrels. My first thought was: "How long did it take them to finish off a cask?" Because I know well the limited shelf-life of a broached cask. If, as stated above, it took three weeks, you'd expect the beer to have been pretty bad by the end. I'm not sure I'd give anything over a week old the time of day. Admittedly, in the 1860's the beer would have been at least 5% ABV and possibly quite a bit more. So I guess it would have lasted a little longer than a 3% Mild.

Why does the author specifically mention Allsopp and Bass Pale Ale? Because Pale Ale was the type of beer most often bottled. That and Stout. I've an enamel sign in my stairwell advertising Whitaker's (of Bradford) bottled beers. It must be from the late 19th century. There are only two types of beer illustrated: Pale Ale and Stout.

Finally, here's paragraph three. Where it gets really fascinating.  This must be one of the earliest references I've see to the artificial carbonation of draught beer. As a committed CAMRA member, I'm horrified by his unqualified praise for keg beer. Though, in his defence, he hadn't actually drunk any. In his expectation of carbonated draught beer's dominance, was he being eerily prescient or just naively optimistic. I'll leave that for you decide.


Craig said...

I'm just amazed that they could force carbonate in 1866.

Rod said...

I'd be interested to know how they did it in 1866 too - force carbonisation isn't difficult if you have a supply of carbon dioxide under pressure and a tank which will hold pressure.
But did they have those things?

Barm said...

Rod, here is a description of an apparatus which was used in the early nineteenth century to carbonate soda-water — by the middle of the century soda-water and other artificially carbonated beverages were quite popular. Presumably someone experimented with using the same process on beer ... presumably it also didn't work very well.

Rod said...

Barm -
I'm obliged to you, but this is a domestic-scale apparatus, allowing you to carbonate drinking water at home.
Is this really how they proposed to carbonate vast quantities of beer in the brewery?

Barm said...

That's not the point — all it's supposed to prove is that technology did exist to artificially carbonate liquids.

Anonymous said...

I am sure you have probably come across this but just in case.

Brilliant to the last drop: The first British keg ale?