Friday, 24 June 2011

Fermentation and racking at Allsopp in the 1880's

We're still at Allsopp in the late 19th century. A great place to be. I'm already planning my excursion there when I finally get my hands on a time machine.

Let's continue with a description of fermentation and racking.
"Following the process, we again ascended to the level of the mill floor, from whence we travelled in an opposite direction. Crossing a metal bridge, we came to the cooling department, where we found the atmosphere a most desirable one on such a hot summers day. It is a lofty place situated over two of the union rooms, and measures 126 feet by 114 ft. Placed therein, are four of Morton's refrigerators, and also three of the Helical circular refrigerators. These latter consist of eight 1-inch block-tin tubes, one above the other, which run in a volute form to the centre, starting from a stand-pipe 4 inches in diameter; on arriving at the centre they run direct into a box tank communicating with the fermenting rounds. Besides these mechanical appliances, there are four open coolers, or shallow frames, covering a large open surface, for use in winter time, each being placed at a lower level than the other. The wort remains in these coolers, at a depth of three to four inches, for about half-an-hour, when it is run over the refrigerators before mentioned. Looking through the open lattices of this cooling loft, what a busy scene meets our eye. It is almost a birds-eye view of the place we behold. - On one side, the cooperage, where hundreds of men are moving about, on the other, trucks being filled at the stores with barrels of ale, malt being unloaded at the brewhouse, and, in front, the engine shops, storehouses, a long stretch of stacks and piles of barrels many feet high ; and. covering five or six acres of ground, the workmen moving to and fro, looking like bees in a hive."
"Noted breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. I" by Alfred Barnard, 1889, page 138.

Morton's refrigerator. One of the standard piece of brewery kit. Wonder what one looked like? I did. Which is why I hunted down this picture of one, taken from an advert for the firm that invented and patented the device, Morton and Wilson of Stockton-on-Tees. Evidently the Edradour distillery still uses one.

It's odd that, despite having modern cooling devices, Allsopp still used open coolers in the winter. I wonder why? Perhaps because it was cheaper.

Now on to fermentation.

"On leaving the coolers, we descended a staircase into the room below, devoted to the fermenting department, and measuring 258 feet by 228 feet. It contains 210 rounds, sometimes circular and sometimes square; 140 of these hold fifteen barrels each, and seventy of them 110 barrels. After the wort leaves the refrigerators, it is conducted by pipes to these rounds, which are all arranged in rows with great compactness and, regularity. Here the yeast is added, and, after a part of the fermentation has taken place, the wort runs by gravitation to the union casks or cleansing vessels, holding 4.5 barrels each, where the fermentation is completed. These union casks are fitted with swan necks, which act as syphons ; through them, the yeast forces its way upwards into the troughs, and, when the fermentation is finished, the ale is let down into the racking vats. Passing through an archway, we found ourselves on another part of the floor where are placed 192 more of these "unions," and then we descended by an iron staircase to another union-room below. This light and lofty apartment, with its Val de Travers asphalted floor covered with union casks, is of the same dimensions as the room above. It contains 1,376 union casks, is a delightfully clean looking place, the walls of which are painted white are dado'd all round like those in private houses. In order to complete this department and finish our duties for the day, we crossed the noble latticed iron bridge, which is an object of interest from the railway, to a larger union room than any yet inspected over the racking room at the back of the general offices. It is a light and lofty chamber 375 feet by 105 feet, and 21 feet high, containing 1,624 union casks which can cleanse 263,088 gallons at one time; it is floored like the others with asphalte of the latest and most approved description, and, along each avenue, there is an open space to the floor below, giving free ventilation and air to the building Altogether, these rooms contain three thousand casks, with a capacity of 486,000 gallons. After the active state of fermentation has subsided, the beer remains in these union casks a short time to allow it to settle before it runs into the racking squares below; after which it is racked into casks."
"Noted breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. I" by Alfred Barnard, 1889, pages 138 - 140.

There's something I don't quite understand here. How can a round be square? Seems a bit counter-intuitive. But more intriguing is the weird sizes of the fermenters: some 15 barrels, some 110. Fifteen barrels? Are they having a laugh? That's not small, that's minute for a brewhouse that was knocking out 15,000 barrels a week. Even 110 barrels seems small for the scale of the brewery. It's a mystery to me why they would mess around with so many small fermenters. Between them, the rounds had a capacity of 9,800 barrels. Which does seem enough cope with 15,000 barrels a week, assuming the wort only remained in them for a few days before moving to the unions.

That's a nice detail about the beer resting in the unions after for a while after the end of fermentation to drop bright. That makes sense. The capacity of the union sets matches the weekly output of the brewhouse almost exactly. They had 3,192 union casks, each with a capacity of 4.5 barrels, or 14,364 barrels. Assuming that their kit matched, that implies that the wort could not have remained more than 7 days in the unions. Probably at least a day or tow fewer to allow for cleaning and maintenance.

And finally, racking:
"The racking room below, to which we next directed our steps, is a wonderful place and, notwithstanding all we had seen, quite astounded us by its extraordinary size. It is nearly 400 feet long and more than 100 feet wide; the floors above it are supported by no less than eighty-four iron pillars of ponderous strength and breadth, painted red and drab. In the centre of the place, there are twelve racking or settling squares, each supported on fluted cast-iron columns, of handsome appearance and capable of holding 190 barrels each ; they are for receiving the ale from the union casks. A main pipe is attached to each square, connected with which is a long pipe, containing as many as six stop cocks to fill six casks at a time. After doing justice to this racking hall, we were conducted across the roadway to another one under the New Brewery, not quite so large but equally lofty. Previous to being filled, all casks are again smelled and examined before being hopped and corked, and as many as 20,000 casks pass through these racking rooms weekly. At the east end of the building there is a small engine which drives two sets of tunning pumps, and, at right angles, there is a barm-pressing department containing two of Johnson's and four of Needham's presses and other appliances. The yeast here undergoes a double process of pressing which enables it to be kept longer. The casks, when filled, are put into the stores for a time, and afterwards rolled out to the loading stage, where the shive is taken out of the cask, and the taster tries every one, after which they are filled up, re-shived and the number taken by a clerk from the cask office department. A lad then follows and imprints a seal on the cork of every cask."
"Noted breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. I" by Alfred Barnard, 1889, pages 140 - 142.
Maths time again. Twelve racking squares of 190 barrels gives a total capacity of 2,280 barrels. Or about the equivalent of one day's output.

I'd hope that they would give the casks a sniff before filling them. It was the best way of spotting any infection problem. "Stinkers". That was the evocative name given to bad casks. If I read the text correctly, it says that the casks were hopped before being filled. I'd thought it was the other way around: fill then throw in the hops after. Of course, that Pale Ale was dry hopped is no surprise. Their quality control seems to have been fairly strict, having someone taste every cask before shipping. That's probably one of the reasons Allsopp's beer had such a good reputation.


Arctic Alchemy said...

I wonder if old Alfred would realize how important his work "Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland" would be over a hundred years later? My mum used to sell houses in the real estate market in the 60' & 70's , often she would tell me about each new house she offered for sale in the same way in which Alfred describes the layout of these breweries. I would often close my eyes and use my imagination only to have a brilliantly clear vision of exactly what she was describing as I listened. Perhaps the racking squares are just a standard name that doesn't really describe their physical shape, but rather an older industry term to mean a vessel in which casks are filled from, and previously square?

Lastly, over the past year and a half, I have been knocking away at building a 19th century brewery, it's a small 2 bbl affair, but steam powered with old re-purposed parts from a 19th century rail engine, lots of brass and cast iron parts, copper and wood. In my design, I have intentions of building a "coolship" or Morton's style refrigerator for post boil cooling, these coolers are just visually exciting to look at.

beer guru, jr. said...

perhaps that 15 bbl unit was used for some special extremely limited production beer, or perhaps for pilot batches?

Ron Pattinson said...

beer guru jr., but why have 140 15 barrel fermenters? That doesn't sound like a pilot brewery to me.