Monday, 14 February 2011

A visit to Allsopp's brewery in 1864

It seems ages since we discussed Allsopp. Or is that just me? My mind isn't what it was.

I've a fairly long quote for you. Too long, probably, for modern attention spans. I know I had trouble getting past the first paragraph. All those words are just so off-putting. But as it's a description of the brewery from a relatively early date (30 years or so before Barnard), I thought it merited reproduction integrally.

"We have already (from the railway station) seen the "new brewery,"—its immense yard piled with whole acres of casks and barrels, but it is the old brewery in the High-street that we are about to visit. The existing building, which was erected in place of the original one in the present century, extends over a considerably larger space than it did even at the time of its erection, for necessary additions, in consequence of the great increase in the trade, have extended its area to several acres; and when it is considered that the new brewery, and the other branches of the establishment, with which this is connected by private lines of railway, employ about 1000 men, that beside the 245,000 casks already in use, 30,000 are made annually, and that during the brewing season the copper fires consume at least 100 tons of coals a day, the increased importance of the Burton ale trade may  be better understood.

Entering from the High-street, we are at once introduced "to the "master brewer," than whom we can have no better guide through this vast establishment. Whatever may be the meaning of the old saying that " any old woman can brew," it assuredly cannot signify that any old woman can brew well; and is probably meant to indicate that only an old woman can accomplish a result which requires years of experience to bring it to perfection. To illustrate the method by which practice and theory go hand in hand in the business, it is only necessary to refer to the water used for brewing, which, although the Trent runs at the very doors, is supplied by wells, one of which at the new brewery is only 30 feet in depth,but 40 feet in diameter. This was constructed under the direction of Mr. J. F. Woodhouse, C.E., and is a remarkable result of engineering skill, since the wall, which is three feet thick, was built on the surface before sinking the shaft, so that, the soil being gradually removed from beneath, the entire pile of brickwork descended by its own weight to the required depth. This well will discharge at the rate of 18,000 gallons an hour : it is the largest in diameter of any well ever sunk, and it has long been known by experience that, notwithstanding its comparative hardness, the water is superior to river water for brewing purposes.

In the topmost floor of the brewhouse, to which we are first conducted, the malt is stored previous to its being ground, the grinding or crushing being effected in a mill. From this mill, which is capable of bruising 300 qrs. to 400 qrs. of malt a day (sufficient to brew 32,400 gallons), it is carried by means of an Archimedean screw to the malthoppers, whence it falls through shutes into a horizontal cylinder, inside which revolving rakes mix it intimately with the water as it passes on its way to the mash-tuns on the floor beneath. In these mash-tuns, of which there are ten, it remains for some hours, when the "wort," as the liquor is now called, is suffered to run through a false bottom perforated with holes into the " underback," during which journey the malt is "sparged" by jets of hot water passing over and through it from revolving horizontal pipes, resembling the perforated pipes of the London watering-carts. This process extracts the remaining saccharine from the malt. The coppers occupy a large and lofty building; for there are six of them, each capable of containing 2500 gallons, and under the same roof two hot-water coppers, of 13,000 gallons each, supplying the mash-tuns, they themselves being charged from a great tank as large as a metropolitan swimming-bath, and with a supply of water pure as crystal. These great water-coppers are provided with immense dome-shaped covers, while those which receive the ale are left open for the purpose of facilitating evaporation. During the brewing season these coppers produce about 50,000 gallons of ale daily.

Into the coppers the wort is pumped from the underback, with the addition to each copper of wort of a suitable quantity of hops—a light mass which lies on the surface and does not readily become saturated with the fluid until it begins to boil and forces its way through. Then, however, it bubbles up into great flakes of foam, dense, and charged with odorous gales, which rise around us as we look warily into the seething depths. When the boiling has effectually extracted the tonic and other virtues of the hops, the wort in its improved condition is conveyed by tinned copper pipes to the "hop-back," a large reservoir holding more than 4000 gallons, and about four feet deep. This " back" is provided with a false bottom composed of perforated metal plates, which forms a strainer, separating the hops from the wort. In the new brewery the latter is now pumped into the coolers some 90 feet above. These coolers, which occupy the upper floor of the brewhouse, are simply a series of large, shallow tanks, from 100 feet to 120 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 8 inches deep, lined with Minton's white porcelain tiles. The timber framework which supports the lofty roof of the cooling-room is filled in with louvre boards, a sort of Venetian shutters, which can be so adjusted as to regulate the temperature. The cooling process is more rapidly effected in warm weather, however, by the use of Riley's helical refrigerator, a series of small pipes immersed in a constant supply of cold water. From the coolers the wort finds its way to the "squares" (square vats of about 3600 gallons each) or fermenting-tuns on the floor below; there are sixty-four of these vats, and, upon their receiving the wort a quantity of yeast is thrown in to induce fermentation. When the wort has reached a certain stage of attenuation it is once more run off to the "union casks," a series of casks occupying an entire floor, both in this and in an adjoining building; there are 1200 of these casks, each containing 160 gallons, and they are suspended in double rows (in such a manner as to admit of their revolution on their axes) in frames at about three feet from the ground. In these casks the ale becomes bright, since the yeast is gradually separated from it and escapes by pipes shaped like a swan's neck, and reaching from each cask into a trough above. The entire length of the union floors must be, at least, the eighth part of a mile, and, as we stand at the entrance, we are peculiarly conscious of the spotless cleanliness of floor and casks—a state of things which is characteristic of the whole place, but seems here to reach its utmost point. The fermentation completed, the beer, bright and clear, is run into the "racking-squares," or vats, upon the basement floor; and here a company of men whose athletic proportions and mighty strength bear, do not let us say " striking," but working, testimony to the effects, both moral and physical, of good ale, are engaged in filling the casks, destined for every civilised community where such virtues are recognised.

Everything here, indeed, is on a large scale; even the gasmeter, which is almost as big as a hogshead, seems to partake of this necessity ; and at the new brewery, where we are taken to see the malthouses, we are shown, beside the well, a vat-room containing twenty-six vats, of 11,000 gallons each. Having a sudden desire to become brewers, and reflecting on the extent of our resources, it is some comfort to learn that there is a standing rule against receiving apprentices, notwithstanding that large premiums are frequently offered. The master maltster, who is just the sort of man that a master maltster ought to be, conducts us over the malthouses, a long range of buildings, large enough to lodge a greater number of emigrants than have often gone to form a colony. Beside these buildings in the brewery-yard, however, there are eight or ten more at Grantham; and even these are insufficient to supply the necessary quantity of malt, so that Messrs. Allsopp have to add to their own stock by purchases from the Nottingham, Beccles, and Newark maltsters. In each malthouse a tank of 75 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 3-J- feet deep, will contain 1280 bushels of barley, and the 5760 gallons of water in which it is steeped for about fifty hours, to prepare it for germination. From these tanks it is removed to the "frames," or large troughs, where it is gauged by the revenue officers for the purpose of charging the duty; after which it is spread over the floors of the malt-rooms in various thicknesses. Some of these floors measure 15,000 square feet.

According to the season of the year, the barley remains from ten to fourteen days for the development of the acrospire, or germ, which would ultimately burst from the envelope of the seed, a result which is arrested by the drying on the floors of the adjoining drying-kilns, where the barley is once more spread upon the flooring, in this instance composed of perforated tiles, beneath which furnaces are so arranged as to distribute a regular degree of heat. After four or five days' drying the malt is formed, and, being afterwards cleaned of the "coons" or roots which grow out during germination, is ready for the brewer. The quantity of malt or malted barley which forms the stock at the commencement of the brewing season represents a considerable fortune; while in the barley stores, which are mostly on the top floors of the malthouses, we see thousands of quarters of grain, thoroughly clean, and divided into heaps of such exact size that it would seem as though some arithmetical enthusiast had counted out each grain upon the white and almost polished floor.

The hop stores, across Horninglow-street, are a long range of buildings, at the entrance of the cooperage-yard; and here we walk through a narrow passage on one side of the store, which is all the space that can be afforded, drinking in air charged with tonic, if not with sedative, properties. The stores contain altogether about 2000 pockets of hops, or sufficient for four weeks' consumption during the brewing season. To facilitate the enormous traffic resulting from their increasing business, Messrs. Allsopp have constructed nearly five miles of single lines of railway on their own premises, which are thus connected with the company's termini at Burton. About 300 railway trucks are required for the daily traffic

The cooperage, for which we have little time left, is not the least wonderful department of this gigantic undertaking. Several hundred men are employed here in making, cleaning, and repairing casks and barrels, the staves, &c, of which are cut from Baltic oak by steam power, and afterwards steeped in a tank of water in order to extract the sap which will remain even in long-stored timber, and would seriously injure the ale. This flavour is (I am told) often the origin of that peculiarly nutty smack discovered even in inferior sherries. These cleansed staves are afterwards stored in the yard until they become well seasoned, and are ultimately made into casks, of which there are several large pyramids, while the stock of timber is seldom worth less than £30,000 to £40,000. Both new and returned casks are thoroughly steamed and dried in order to prevent the slightest taint; the drying is effected by a current of hot air forced into the bunghole by a fan in connection with a powerful engine. Besides the coopers, however, there are here employed blacksmiths, carpenters, wheelwrights, turners, and engineers, making the entire scene resonant with the sounds of their avocations. More than 1000 casks are here manufactured every week, while as many as 2000 old ones are examined, cleaned, and repaired every day. Twenty steam-boilers are necessary for supplying the requirements of the breweries, with which are connected eleven engines of from four to forty horse power."
"England's workshops" by Gustav Louis Maurice Strauss, Charles William Quin, John Cargill Brough, Thomas Archer (of London), William Bernhard Tegetmeier, William Jeffery Prowse; 1864, pages 288 - 293.
Let's pull out the tastiest bits of flesh from that carcass.

300 to 400 quarters of malt used a day to brew 32,400 gallons. I make that 900 barrels. Assuming a yield of 80 brewers pounds per quarter, 900 barrels from 300 quarters gives a gravity of 26.67 lbs per barrel or 1074º. 900 barrels from 400 quarters gives a gravity of 35.56 lbs per barrel or 1098º. That seems awfully high for an average of all beer brewed. It's a shame there isn't a bit more precision in the numbers.

The brewing process seems pretty standard: mash, sparge, run into the underback, then to the copper. Note, though, that the coppers for boiling wort were open. Remember another author saying that Burton brewers preferred open coppers for their Pale Ale? This seems to confirm that.

They were clearly still using shallow open coolers in a room with louvred windows at the very top of the brewery. The louvres are a feature of many old tower breweries that have been retained despite no longer having any practical use. (Except at Cantillon.) Though they were also using a refrigerator, a more modern and quicker method of cooling in warmer weather.

The fermentation regime is typical of Burton brewers. An initial fermentation in large squares followed by cleansing in union casks. The "spotless cleanliness of floor and casks" is probably an exaggeration. The head brewer at Greene King, who used to work for Bass told me that it was impossible to get a union set totally clean. Which is one of the reasons they went out of favour. That and the expense of maintaining the things. Interesting that the union casks contained 160 gallons. Presumably it was really 162 gallons, making them butts. I'd always thought they were smaller than that. More like hogshead size.

I wonder what they were ageing in those vats? 11,000 gallons is about 305 barrels. 26 of them adds up to a lot of beer. It couldn't have been Pale Ale in them, as that was racked straight into trade casks. And they didn't brew a great deal of Stout in Burton. That just leaves strong Burton Ale (not the same thing as Pale Ale, remember).

All the large Burton brewers had their own malthouses in Burton. And sometimes elsewhere. In the case of Allsopp, that elsewhwere was Grantham. It's nice to see that my home town of Newark gets a mention. Not surprising, seeing as it was a major malting centre. And conveniently on the Trent.

2,000 pockets of hops were good for 4 weeks brewing. A hop pocket is one of those vague measures, varying between 1.5 and 2 hundredweight (168 to 224 lbs). That's a lot of hops: between 300 and 400 tons.

The question of the effect of wood on 19th century British beers comes up regularly. Were casks lined? Did the beer become oaked after long storage in a wooden cask? Allsopp's practice of soaking the staves before use demonstrates that they wanted to avoid oak flavour getting into their beer.

The sheer volume of material I'm finding about Allsopp says much about their fame in the 19th century.


Arctic Alchemy said...

That's a lot of ale being made, great description of the facility and it's equipment.
Interesting thing about Burton in general ( an old timer told me recently), he said " no one could ever rob a bank in Burton, because of all the railroad cars with filled with malt coming in and beer going out, to drive through Burton in a hurry was impossible, a constant interruption of beer trains"

Oblivious said...

"Into the coppers the wort is pumped from the underback, with the addition to each copper of wort of a suitable quantity of hops—a light mass which lies on the surface and does not readily become saturated with the fluid until it begins to boil and forces its way through."

Sounds like they where First wort hopping like some german breweries did?

marquis said...

Interesting how the malt tax was calculated on the unfinished product.This carried over in 1880 to tax being calculated on the unfermented wort.
I seem to remember the Newark maltings, there was a large building going in on the A46 carrying a sign.Paul's Malt still operates in Grantham.

Ron Pattinson said...

Oblivious, indeed it does sound like first wort hopping.

I must ask the guys at Fullers what "make up" means. Because Barclay Perkins records sometimes say they were adding hops at make up. It sounds like when the kettle is filling, but that's just a guess.

Ron Pattinson said...

Marquis, there used to be several maltings in Newark. Some lay derelict for years. Not sure if there any of the buildings left now.

I can remember my brother buying a sack of pale malt and a sack of mild malt from ABM in the mid-1970's. They were still malting in Newark then.

brewguru said...

I wonder if these first wort hops were fresh hops or re-used/recycled hops. Much of the brewing texts I've been reading indicate that hops were frequently pressed of wort and re-used.

Craig said...

I'd love to see a side by side comparison of Allsopp's IPA and their original, strong Burton-esque, Arctic Ale — from the same time period. Like I mentioned on Martyn's site, the concept that these two beers could be stylistically opposite, yet born out of the same necessity, it facinating, to me.

Oblivious said...

brewguru said... =I wonder if these first wort hops were fresh hops or re-used/recycled hops.

"a light mass which lies on the surface and does not readily become saturated with the fluid until it begins to boil and forces its way through."

Looks like fresh hops to me