Yeast. A vital element in producing beer. Larger brewers carefully nurture their strain, coddling it like a small child. Small brewers carefully choose the yeast most suited to each of their beers. In the past they were much less precious about yeast.
In London brewers' logs I occasionally come across references to other brewers yeast. Reid using Meux yeast. Or Truman using Whitbread's. The occasional reference is all it is. London brewers did borrow yeast from others, but not that often.
Go North to Edinburgh and the situation is very different. Just looking at a blank sheet in William Younger's brewing records tells you they brought in yeast more often: there's a special column to specify from which brewery:
Here's part of a Younger's log from December 1851. It covers a period of 9 days, in which you can see that they used 4 different breweries' yeast:
Haldane, Ritchie, Drybrough, and Jeffrey were the yeast suppliers. On other pages there are several others: Blair, Campbell, Bernard. I can't find any beer that was brewed with their own yeast. The Usher's logs I have show use of other brewers' yeast, though not as promiscuously as at Younger.
This page is typical. Yeast from several different breweries used apparently randomly. You'll find the same beer brewed on consecutive days but with a different yeast. Sometimes yeast from two different breweries is used for one batch. There's no rhyme or reason to it.
What does this tell us? That Scottish brewers didn't worry about having their own yeast strain. They seem happy to use any healthy yeast that happened to be to hand. Why was that? Did the yeast have so little impact on the flavour profile of the finished beer? Were all the strains of Edinburgh brewers broadly similar? Or were punters used to a bit of variation in flavour?
Or do modern brewers that make too big a deal of the strain of yeast they use? I'll have to try asking one.
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