Thursday, 10 March 2011

Changes in taste 1900 - 1940

Time for some more extracts form the article "Forty Years of Brewing". Stock Ale, adjuncts and the sweetening of tastes are touched upon. Not bad for five short paragraphs.

"Between the days of all malt and the last war rather less sugar was used in brewing than now. Scotch beers were invariably kept, and still are, for a month to mature and condition in cask before leaving the brewery, and English bitters were stored for two or three months or more. Indeed, vatting, and October and March brewing, continued in many English breweries right up to 1914. The larger percentages of sugar now necessary for very quick conditioning were therefore not required in the old days. Between more malt and the higher mashing heats of a stock beer a sounder product was obviously come by. But if you presented a matured beer to the public of to-day it would be condemned as "sharp," which is perhaps as well, since, at the present rate of duty, brewers cannot afford to lock up their capital long enough to trade on matured ales.

It is doubtful if we now use more malt substitutes in the form of grain, if, indeed, as much. Their use, unlike sugar, which confers sweetness and fulness, is often largely a question of economy. One very large brewery, with a most popular article, is said, however, to use no copper sugar at all. All their sugar goes as priming. Theirs is a very pleasant, well-balanced and well-brewed beer, usually found in excellent condition, but with slight dryness of palate. So much for the use of unmalted grains, except that, in fairly large quantities, it confers an astonishingly good condition to beers.

One thing that disturbs the older technical brewers is that the modern craze for speed in nearly everything tends to penetrate brewing. With time-saving mechanism we are expected to do in, say, nine hours, that which really requires eleven hours. Forgotten it is that we are still converting a natural product grown in the soil, barley made into malt, then into another natural product, beer. Except in cooling boiled worts, no justification exists today for hurrying brewing process any more than it existed a hundred years ago. In actual fact, process requires, in many if not most cases, an extension of time now.

Why? Mainly because malts are more drastically cured to brew the unfailingly brilliant beers demanded by modernity. It may safely be said that much modern malt inclines towards distinct over-curing, though not over-colouring, for that reason. The writer has brewed with malts cured for only six or seven hours. Maltsters and brewer-maltsters give it ten, and more, these times, at round about similar curing heats. Now, this must bake the grain more, and render a longer period in the mash tun absolutely necessary for thorough and sound conversion. For many years some beers have shown a tendency to cloud, later a very slight fret, after three or four weeks in cask. Under-curing has often been blamed. The writer has blamed it so, but, at last, thinks it may just as likely be over-curing, resulting, by a period in mash too short, in improperly converted malto-dextrins.

Marked changes have come about in the palate character of beer, as distinct from those due to lower gravity. English light bitter ales are, in most instances, not quite so bitter as pre-1914. The partial absence of that very clean and decided bitter is in cases most marked. On the other hand, some brewers have conferred rather more bitter than the gravity can carry and balance. In both bitters and milds there has been for some years an ever-increasing tendency towards sweetness. Sometimes it is even sickly to the old bitter-drinker. But people generally don't seem to mind, and, on the whole, it is likely the fashion and demand of to-day. There is an idea that the craze for very clear beer is a very modern one. But in Scotland forty years ago the public would have it clear, perhaps because glasses were usually, if not always, used, while pewter and earthenware mugs were still popular in England. Reverting to sweetness, women must have it so — possibly on account of the ancient tag, Sweets for the Sweet — and some men. but for a reason more obscure."
"The Brewers' Journal 1940" pages 55-56.

In case I forgot to mention, the author at least began his career in Scotland. Hence the mention of Scotch beers. It's fascinating to hear that they were still matured a month in cask even in 1940. Only one slight problem: what does he mean by "Scotch beers"? Does he mean Scotch Ale - stuff like Younger's No.3 - or just any beer brewed in Scotland? I'm inclined to think the former, but the sentence is ambiguous.

"English bitters were stored for two or three months or more." I'm sure that he means the stronger Pale Ales, not Light Bitters like AK. As they were running beers. As we've seen before, in the 19th century Bass Pale Ale was often matured for more than 12 months in the cask. October and March brewing. That's an extremely old practice, dating from at least the early 18th century and probably much longer than that. March and October were considered the two months with the best climatic conditions for brewing. And were when Stock Ales were usually brewed. October Keeping Beer or March Keeping Beer. The name sort of gives away when they were brewed.

I'm not so sure about vatting being carried on in many English breweries in 1914. Some might be more accurate. The practice had gone into sharp decline towards the end of the 19th century. Sharp. That's also how the author defines the flavour of matured beer. Tart would be more likely how a modern drinker would describe it. From reading earlier accounts, change in public taste away from the aged flavour was as big a factor in the decline of Stock Ales as financial considerations.

Curing times of malt. Now there's a topic that's new. In the 19th century there was pressure from brewers, who wanted nice pale Pale Ales, on maltsters to produce malt with little colour. I don't understand how malt cured for longer would help obtain "unfailingly brilliant beers". Am I missing something?

The last paragraph is the most fascinating. Because it recounts the changes in flavour of British beers. And it's worth noting that the author specifically separates these out from the changes due to reduced gravities. What he describes as "that very clean and decided bitter" sounds to me like the result of a large addition of bittering hops right at the start of the boil. Strangely, running counter to his argument of beer getting less bitter, he says that some beers have now too much bitterness for their gravity. Presumably caused by brewers not lowering hopping rates in line with a reduction in gravity.

"an ever-increasing tendency towards sweetness" is certainly borne out by analyses of beers between the wars. Here specifically Bitter and Mild are mentioned, but the trend was most noticeable amongst Stouts. Milk Stouts, with high lactose contents being the most extreme examples. Beers with under 50% attenuation. The trend to sweetness continued post-war, being embodied by the enormous popularity of Mackeson in the 1950's. But, as with everything very fashionable, it eventually goes the way of flared trousers and kipper ties. At least until fashion completes a circle again. When I started drinking in the 1970's, sweet beers were very much the tipple of grannies and grandads.

1 comment:

Barm said...

I'd speculate that he's generalising about all Scottish beer. Why would he pick out Scotch Ale in particular, and then not even call it Scotch Ale?

A month in cask during the war sounds like a lot.