Saturday, 11 February 2012

Brewing at Aitken in the 1950's and 1960's (part two)

I never promised you a rose garden. No, I promised you more excruciating detail about brewing at Aitken. And here is is, not petals and thorns but casks and kegs.

"The worts were then divided into five vessels and brought to a certain gravity by adding cutting liquor (hot water) then cooled down as process for worts. Yeast was added to each fermenting vessel while worts was being added. Each fermenting vessel had coils to control temperature during holding time (several days). Once certain gravity was reached in vessels, beer was then either put into casks or transferred to holding containers in the bottling hall to be bottled or placed in kegs/canisters when ready.

One complete brew from start to being declared, vessels dipped and gravity checked and put into the excise book, took approximately 11 hours. On the night shift, one foreman brewer, 6 operators, and a fireman on the boilers, could make around 400 barrels of beer of different gravity. More fireman worked day shift as steam was needed for washing bottles and casks, as well as daytime brewing."
Scottish Brewing Archive Journal volume 4, 2002, pages 15 - 16.

Now there's something odd. Why, when the wort hadn't been cooled, would you dilute it with hot water? Surely you'd save cooling if you used cold? The coils to control the temperature in the fermenting vessels are, of course, attemperators.

400 barrels on one night, eh? Add a day shift and you've a capacity of 800 barrels a day. Multiply that by 300 brewing days and you get 240,000 barrels annually.  That's a pretty decent-sized brewery, especially in Scotland. As you can see, brewing operations didn't require a huge amount of labour. Just 8 men were needed to brew 400 barrels. Of course, you still need people to fill the bottles and barrels, draymen to take the beer to pubs, administrative workers, etc, etc. But actual brewing requires hardly anyone at all.
"Empty wooden beer casks were prepared for filling at the washing area next to the coopers department. They were thoroughly washed then steamed, before being brought to the filling area beneath the fermenting vessels. The casks were prepared for filling; corks were put into the end and they were marked with the type of beer they contained. A discharge line was filled between the fermenting vessel and the filling machine. Four heads from the filling machine were fittted into four casks. When full, the filling head was withdrawn and a bung with a partially-bored half-inch hole was fitted to seal the cask. These casks were all set up and handled by two women workers. The casks were mostly filled by Mr Tandy Aitken.

The full casks were then transferred to large holding cellars holding approximately 800 casks. Over a period the bungs on these casks were punched in the middle and an inch-long cane spile (or plug) was placed in the bung. (This let beer in cask work off.) Beer froth worked its way through the spile. Liquid colouring, candy, and finings were added to the casks.

One of the heaviest jobs in the cellar was when 'hardening' was done. This entailed upending casks full of beer - usually weighing 7 to 8 hundredweight - so the coopers could hammer down every metal band. The cask had to be turned to allow the other side to be done.

Samples of every brew put into casks were taken and kept in a cask in the sample room in the cellar in case of complaints from customers. The samples were always held there until all the same brew was finished."
Scottish Brewing Archive Journal volume 4, 2002, pages 16 - 17.

Was Mr. Tandy Aitken one of THE Aitken's? I doubt it very much. He wouldn't have been filling barrels if he had.

I've never come across that "hardening" process before. I can understand why you'd do it - to tighten the staves as much as possible. I wouldn't want to do it myself, mind. I can imagine how much fun manipulating a full 36-gallon wooden barrel would be. Empty ones are trouble enough.

How they treated the cask beer beer drew my attention. Clearly it was being conditioned in the holding cellar before sale. Not only that, it was also being primed and coloured in the cask. That peculiarly Scottish practice of colouring the same basic beer to a variety of different shades. It doesn't make my life easy, I can tell you. You've no idea of the colour of the final beer based just on the brewing records.

Shipstones used to keep samples of their draught beer in a similar way. They had a special cellar with a barrel of each batch of Bitter along one wall and barrels of Mild along the wall opposite. I'm sure many breweries did something similar. As insurance against complaining landlords.

And finally, a little something about the beer itself.

"Of the beers brewed. Export and Pale Ale were both bottled and placed in kegs or barrels for draught. Strong Ale, called wee heavies, was bottled, as was stout. Piper Export was made and first sold for the English market. It was sent to Newcastle by rail (the brewery had its own railway sidings running down to Grahamston Station), and later also sold in Scotland. After Younger's of Alloa closed, some workers came to work at Aitken's. Younger's made Belgium Ale. Aitken's had a trial run making this very strong beer, but after one brew never made it again."
Scottish Brewing Archive Journal volume 4, 2002, page 17.

Now here's a funny thing. I've started coming across references to WH from brewery employees. But it's always in the plural: wee heavies. Strange, isn't it? I've absolutely no idea why, or what significance it might have.

Younger's Belgium Ale. I think we all know what that was: Gordon's Scotch Ale. So they tried to brew it at Aitken, after Younger's Alloa brewery closed. Where did it go after that?

1 comment:

Gary Gillman said...

Very interesting. I infer that the beer after conditioning at the brewery was placed either in bottles or (non-cask) "kegs or barrels", i.e., clear of (most) yeast, depending on the brand.

Brewery conditioning was being practiced, in different ways, quite early in Scotland.

On the question about hot water addition to the wort before fermenting: the liquor from the boil would have been cold due to the paraflow treatment. The reason heated water was added was, I believe, to make it sterile. Hence the need to cool the solution again.