At and previous to the beginning of the eighteenth century, every publican in Scotland (being every man who chose to embark in the trade) brewed his own ale; and the resort to his house depended on the quality of his liquor; which, when thunder or witchcraft did not interfere, was generally excellent. The strong ale was reserved for holidays and the tables of the great; but the twopenny (so called because it was sold at twopence the Scotch pint*) was so much esteemed as a national beverage, that it was inserted by name, and guarded by peculiar privileges, in one of the Articles of the Union. Another Article, however, in the same Act, secured to the Scottish brewery an Exchequer Court; and this, conjoined with the enormously increased malt duties, so lessened the exhilarating qualities of this ancient ale, that it has now lost its fame. In its stead, a kind of small drink is brewed; but it is destitute of all the qualities which were so often celebrated in Scottish song, and is scarcely superior to the trash termed table-beer in the workhouses of the metropolis.
When the Scotch twopenny was the boast of the nation, saccharometers were unknown, and thermometers had not been heard of by the brewer. He shaped his course by habit, and with surprising accuracy, as blind men are often known to do. When we first knew the article it had much degenerated; but even then it must have weighed from fourteen to sixteen pounds per barrel, as far as we could judge from the lengths which they drew. The quantity of hops seldom exceeded two pounds and a-half to the boll of malt, or about three pounds to a quarter. This was forty years ago, and the old tapsters were then accustomed to tell tales of how they managed to brew ale without hops in their youth.
The boiled worts were usually cast into what were then called half-barrel casks, for few had coolers *; and the gyle-tun (which was often the mash-tun also) was first started, or pitched, at about blood heat. This was done with a single half barrel, or less, for the purpose of chipping the worts; and the tun was afterwards filled up, by half-barrels at a time, when they had cooled to the requisite degree. The heat of the fermentation was regulated by the appearance of the yeasty head, and great care was taken that it should neither be scalded nor chilled. When the smell of the tun became strong, the ale was cleansed into half-barrels, and discharged its yeast into tubs. But the whole brewing was never so fermented; for a great part, often one half, was preserved (in the casks in which it had been thrown from the copper) in the state of worts.
On reading this account of turning the worts boiling hot into the casks, and allowing them to remain there for several days, the modern brewer will immediately exclaim that the ale must have been foxed, a. term which he gives to an incipient stage of putrefaction, which is supposed to be attended with a smell like that of the animal whose name it bears. We can assure him, however, that this accident was very rare, although it would probably be an inevitable consequence of the same practice in many other breweries. The great preventive was cleanliness. The casks were repeatedly washed and steamed with hot water before every brewing; and, in order that not a speck of dirt should be left, the bungholes were cut square, and large enough to allow the brewer to put in his arm, and scour them completely with a heather rinse. The large size of the holes, as well as the highly fermenting state of the liquor,. rendered it inconvenient to use corks; and, therefore, when the ale was sent out in casks, it was kept in the barrels by means of covers made of clay. "It is in allusion to this practice that Shakspeare speaks of tracing the dust of Alexander till it be found stopping a bunghole." **
After that part of the ale which was cleansed had discharged the greater portion of its yeast, a pailfull was drawn from every cask, into other casks, and the vacancy in each was replaced by a pailfull of the reserved wort. The fermentation was thereby renewed, and the operation was repeated once a day until all the reserved worts were expended; and those were so proportioned as to keep the fermentation alive until the succeeding brewing. This operation was called handling; and it was in this slowly fermenting state that the ale was sent out to the customers, in casks, or sold in flaggons. We have seen ale preserved, by this means, for nearly a fortnight, in summer weather, without the least perceptible tendency to acidity. Ale, in Scotland, whether strong or weak, was always bottled. In the kind of which we now speak, the cask was allowed to be undisturbed, before drawing off, for twenty-four hours, or perhaps twice that period, according to the length of time which it was to remain in the bottles before ripening. It was generally expected to be very brisk in the course of a week.
With respect to unlawful ingredients, we have already said that the Scotch are less to be complained of than their brethren of the South. The legislature, however, has, it seems, always thought otherwise; for, in addition to the caveats which are addressed to the whole island, there are some which are peculiarly directed against the brewers of Scotland. The following extraordinary prohibition, for example, is still in the Statute Book, and is regularly promulgated under the authority of the Excise:—
In Scotland.—By the Act Will., Park 1. Sess. 6. c. 43. no salt shall be made use of in brewing beer or ale, whether in washing and seasoning of vessels, or any other way whatever, under pain of confiscation of looms and vessels, with the liquor found therein, attour the loss of his freedom, if the transgressor be a burgess, and the being incapable to use the trade of brewing thereafter. The looms and vessels shall be given to the informer, who shall be free from the said penalty, albeit he have been a servant or accessory."
To prevent ale or beer from foxing, we are convinced that no cleansing material could be better than salt.
* They held about sixteen English ale gallons.
** Booth's Analytical Dictionary of the English Language.
"The art of brewing" by David Booth, 1829, pages 57 - 58.
Some interesting stuff in there. Let's go through it methodically.
Before 1700 every publican brewed his own beer. That's probably a slight exaggeration. The situation was similar in many parts of England, especially the North. The difference being that the areas where pub-brewing was common - Yorkshire, the Black Country - the tradition continued until well into the 20th century.
Let's look at some numbers. Assuming anything producing less than 100 barrels a year was a pub brewery, in 1846 there were 24,639 in England and just 95 in Scotland (source: "Brewing and Distillation" by Thomas Thomson and William Stewart, Edinburgh, 1849, page 110). That's about 250 times as many. At a time when the England's population was around 16.2 million and Scotland's 2.6 million. Or about 6 times bigger. Meaning there were equivalently more than 40 times as many pub breweries in England.
After it had degenerated, Twopenny was still 14 to 16 pounds per barrel. Or 1038º to 1044º. That's Table Beer territory. Strong Beer was never below 1050º.
Now for the hopping rate. A boll is an old Scottish unit of volume, by the way. Three pounds per quarter is pretty light hopping. English Mild Ales had a minimum of 6 pounds per quarter. So some evidence there of low Scottish hopping rates.
"Blood heat" would be about 98º F, or pretty damn warm for a pitching temperature. Not properly cooling the wort and adding it a bit at a time to the fermenting vessel seems like asking for trouble to me. Especially just storing the wort in casks until it was cool enough. No matter how clean the casks might be, that sounds risky.
Ale was always bottled in Scotland? That's surprising. Especially in the case of weaker Ales. That's definitely very different to England.