Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A German visits Barclay Perkins

The Barclay Perkins brewery used to be quite a tourist attraction. Especially in the first half of the 19th century when it was the largest in the world. That explains why there are so many visitors' accounts.

"It was a long time since I had visited the City, and I accordingly devoted yesterday to it. As I am, in my quality of Teutonic knight, a beer-brewer, I turned my 'cab' to Barclay's brewery, which the vastness of its dimensions renders almost romantic, and which is one of the most curious sights in London.

From twelve to fifteen thousand barrels, that is about twenty thousand quarts* of beer, are brewed here daily. Every thing is done by machinery, which is all set in motion by a single steam-engine. The beer is boiled in four vats, each of which holds three hundred barrels. The hops are first put into the vat or cauldron dry, and kept stirring by a machine, that they may not burn. During this process the sweet-wort flows in upon them. There is a curious apparatus for cooling the beer in hot weather; —it is made to pass through a number of pipes like those of an organ, through which a stream of cold water is then let to flow, and so on, alternately. At last the beer flows into a barrel as high as a house, of which there are ninety-nine under gigantic sheds. You can't conceive the strange effect of seeing a vessel holding six hundred thousand quarts tapped for you to drink a glass of porter, which, ' par parenthese,' is excellent, and cold as ice. These barrels are covered with a little hill of fresh sand, and preserve the beer fresh and good for a twelvemonth. It is drawn off into smaller casks, and sent out to the consumer. The drawing off is effected with great rapidity by means of leathern pipes, as the smaller casks are arranged in readiness under the floor on which the great ones stand.

A hundred and fifty horses, like elephants, one of which can draw a hundred hundred-weight, are daily employed in carrying out the beer.

A single enormous chimney devours the smoke of the whole establishment ; and from the roof of the principal building you have a very fine panoramic view of London.

* Fasser. Fass, a butt, barrel, tun, tub, &c—Grosse Quart. I do not know whether these measures correspond to the English words, or whether I have used the appropriate technical expressions.—Transl.
"Tour in England, Ireland, and France: in the years 1826, 1827, 1828, and 1829" by Hermann Pückler-Muskau (Fürst von), 1833, pages 168 - 169.

As you can tell be his name, the author was an aristocrat. A prince no less. The book is a collection of the letters he wrote while bumming around Europe.

The "curious apparatus for cooling the beer" sounds very much like a refrigerator, which in the 1820's would have been a pretty modern piece of kit.

This being the early 19th century, the giant Porter tuns were still in use. It sounds like Barclay Perkins pulled the same trick as Pilsner Urquell, pouring visitors a sample from their storage vats. Except, of course, those of Barclay Perkins were above ground, not in cellars. Which raises the question: how come the Porter was ice cold? He writes that the vats were covered with a "little hill of fresh sand". I can't imagine what he means by this. And none of the illustrations I've seen of tun rooms show anything similar.


Graham Wheeler said...

the vats were covered with a "little hill of fresh sand". I can't imagine what he means by this. And none of the illustrations I've seen of tun rooms show anything similar.

It was almost standard practice for brewers to cover their vats with a layer of marl.

Greene-King still do it. Photo courtesy of your favourite beer writer here:

I don't go along with his primary reason for them doing it though, not that I have a better suggestion.

Gary Gillman said...

It was marl, Ron, and the practise is still followed by Greene King for the aged element of its Strong Suffolk Ale:

I've run across this description before and was struck by a number of features, including the chill of the porter.


Oblivious said...

Ron i wounder if the like the refrigerator like device was like the one at The french museum of brewing

Ron Pattinson said...

Oblivious, that could well be what was described in the text.

Gary Gillman said...

Wow, Graham and I must think alike, down to finding that link; I hadn't seen his comment before posting mine. I agree further that keeping the lid down can't be the reason: a few stones would have been an easier solution. It was to delay acetification, also mentioned by Roger Protz as a possible cause. I have seen other references to this purpose in period literature.