Tuesday, 13 December 2011

James Aitken's new brewery

I told you I'd got more about Aitken's new brewery. It's an account from the local newspaper describing the impressive new premises.

Aitken's new brewery was built between 1898 and 1900, when brewers were still prepared to invest considerable sums in new plant. But not for much longer. The industry was about to start a long decline and such new investments became rare. Brewers had to make do with what they had for the next 50 years.

One note. The original article is a single paragraph. For purpose of legibility, I've divided into more edible chunks.


For the past two years Messrs James Aitken and Co., brewers, Falkirk, have bean engaged erecting a new brewery adjoining their present premises on the north side of Newmarket Street. The vacant ground behind Mr Neilson's Auction Mart and also that in the rear of the old brewery has been covered with a large block of buildings, which are now nearing completion. A new siding has been led into the works from the North British Railway, and connects with a commodious loading bank 400 feet long, which is conveniently situated along the whole length of the eastern end of the building.

The premises have a very imposing appearance, and vary in height from two to four storeys. Attached to the building, and in a corner, is a tank tower, nearly 100 feet high from top to bottom, and which is utilised for storing the water required for brewing purposes.

In describing the premises the first department which falls to be dealt with is the large room on the ground floor, on which the hopper is placed, which adjoins the loading bank, and in which the malt is elevated to the cleaning machine in the machine-room above. On the same floor, and immediately adjoining, is the room containing the electric lighting plant.

Elsewhere on the same flat, is the engine room, mill-room, and cleaning-room. It may be explained that after the malt is passed through the cleaning-room, and weighed by automatic weighers, it is lifted up by elevators, and put into circular iron bins. Afterwards the malt is discharged from these bins on to belts, and earned into the hopper over the mill.

Still on the ground floor is the boiler-house, containing three large boilers, together with the furnaces. On the first flat is a draft store, fitted with screws for discharging the draft into the rail way waggons. Leading off this room, on the same floor, is the copper house. The coppers are all steam-proof, and are covered with copper domes and copper ventilators. Adjoining is the hop-room, which is fitted with hoists for lifting the hops from the railway waggons.

By means of a stair, access is had from the copperhouse to the mashing-room, which is on the second floor, and where there are two large mash tuns, fitted with Ridder's patent grain dischargers. From this room entrance is had to the bin discharging room, where, as has been stated, the malt is discharged on to belts and carried to the hopper over the mill-room, when it is automatically weighed before being ground.

On the same floor is the brewer's room, laboratory, lavatories, etc. A long iron spiral stair leads to the room where bins are filled and the grain is automatically weighed. By means of another staircase the brewer's room is connected with a room above, which contains the liquor tanks. Here there are three large tanks, in which the water is boiled by steam. A continuation of the same stair leads to the brewing tank, which is of very large capacity.

These two rooms just described are situated in the tower of the building, and from the last-named entrance is had to a balcony on the tower, from which, being over 70 feet high, a splendid view of the surrounding country is obtained on a clear day. Descending and re-entering the mash-tun room, a bridge leads from there to the refrigerating-room, where the liquor is cooled after being pumped by electric power from the hop-drainer below. The liquor is discharged from the cooler on to the refrigerator, and from there it passes on to the tun-room. A stair provides access from the refrigerator-room to the cooler, and from the latter room another stair leads to the tank containing the cold water for cooling purposes, and which tank is also of considerable dimensions.

A passage and stair also leads from the refrigerator room to the tun-room, where there are a large number of tuns, fitted with all the latest improvements, the tuns being all beautifully varnished and lined with copper. Each tun has connected with it a yeast sluice, from which the yeast drops into the yeast vats underneath.

Descending again, a flight of stairs conducts to the cleansing cellar, a large building in which the yeast vats are also hung. A racking vat, fitted with the most recent improvements, is also erected here. At this racking vat the beer barrels are filled and lowered into an under cellar, which is conveniently constructed for export purposes on a level with the loading bank. Branching from the room just described is the hop-draining building, which contains a large iron hop-back.

The premises are commodious and well adapted for the purposes they are to serve. They are amply provided with cellars, hot and cold water, and the whole building is lit by electricity. The pumping operations are wholly conducted by electric motors. Many of the rooms have cement floors, and the woodwork on the walls is varnished.

The chimney stalk, which has already been named "St Rollox," and which was formerly described in our columns, is 200 feet high, the base of the square being 20 feet, and the circumference of the circle 50 feet, tapering to 27 feet at the top.

The work has been carried out according to admirably designed plans prepared by Mr Peter L. Henderson, architect and brewers' engineer. George Street, Edinburgh. The master of works was Mr John Rutherford, who, together with Mr J. A. Wilmot, head brewer, supervised the execution of the contract. The following were the contractors :-Builder, Mr John Gardner: joiner, Messrs A. and J. Main; plasterer, Mr D. McNair; slater, Mr John Christie : pulmber, Messrs Wallace and Connell; glazier. Mr D. O'May: electrical plant Messrs Thomas Laurie and Co. : iron work, Messrs Robert Trail and Co., Vulcan Foundry, Leith; engineers, Messrs James Walker and Son, Edinburgh; boilers and tanks. Mr George Sinclair, Albion Boiler Works. Leith; malting machinery, Mr Boby. Bury St. Edmonds: grain dischargers, Mr Ridder, Nottingham: copper smiths. Messrs Stewartson and Co. ; North British Copper Works, Leith."
Falkirk Herald - Saturday 28 July 1900, page 5.

Reading this flat and lifeless description makes me all nostalgic for Barnard's more flowery and poetic prose. And more useful details. I sometimes think he must have walked around with a tape measure in his pocket and measured everything up.

The level of automation is impressive, as is the use of electric power and modern refrigerators. They'd obviously taken advantage of the new building to completely refit the brewery with the latest kit. I wonder if they generated their own electricity? They had to be using that big steam boiler for something.

We get a few details about the brewing equipment. The fermenting vessels are copper-lined wood. Very sensible. Unlined wooden tuns are a nightmare to keep clean. What am I saying, they're impossible to keep 100% clean. I assume that a yeast sluice is some sort of skimming device to remove yeast from the top of the wort. Cooling was performed by a combination of an open cooler and refrigerators. That's very typical for this period. Coolers were still valued for all the muck that precipitated out of the beer into them.

It's a shame there's not more precision about the coppers. They sound like the type heated by steam coils, rather than direct heat. But from the sparse description, it's hard to be sure.

I've left in the list of contractors for a reason. See how almost all are Scottish. Only the malting equipment and grain dischargers came from England.

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