Sunday, 15 April 2012

Bottling at George Younger in the early 20th century

I'm back pillaging the history of George Younger published in 1925. Despite being true to the adjective "short" in its title, the book still has plenty of silver hidden under the bed.

Bottling is a funny subject. There was an explosion in bottled beer at the very end of the 19th century, Spurred on by the development of chilled and carbonated products which had no deposit of yeast to mess up clarity. New technology, in the form of better stoppers and bottling machines also helped.  And at the same time export beer was more frequently sent out in bottles rather than casks.

It's fascinating to see how quickly a small company like Younger's reacted to the changing demand.


The beer bottling department had for many years been situated in the Candleriggs Brewery. This branch of trade, more particularly in the export bottling, began to increase rapidly from about 1885. New and larger accommodation had therefore to be obtained, and in 1889 buildings known as Mackie's Foundry were purchased. Those premises were immediately enlarged and by 1893 the whole of the beer bottling department had been moved from the Candleriggs Brewery to these now quarters. Those buildings wore enlarged on two subsequent occasions, in 1895 and 1900, to provide additional cellar accommodation in which to mature the export stout and ale. In 1903 a chilling and carbonating bottling plant was installed for the home beers.

The continued expansion of trade in both home and export bottled beers, more particularly of home bottled beer, brought about by the popularity of the new carbonated beer, made the Kelliebank Bottling Stores too small for their purpose. It was therefore decided to separate the two branches. In 1912 the Home Bottling Department was moved to its new home at the Eglinton Dye Works. Kelliebank now became the Export Bottling Department. Consequent on the heavy increase in beer duty, in January 1916 authority was obtained to make Kelliebank a Duty Free Warehouse."
"A Short History of George Younger & Son Limited, Alloa, (1762 - 1925)", 1925, pages 3 - 4.

I'm not surprised that they ran out of space for bottling at the Candleriggs Brewery. As we've seen, even after expansion, it was still a pretty cramped site. And bottling takes up a lot of space. As anyone who's been around a brewery will understand. Kelliebank is on the western edge of Alloa, close to the river. It's an area that housed many industries.

We've learned the exact date Younger went from naturally conditioning their bottled beer to chilling and carbonating it: 1903. That's pretty early. Once again, it seems Scottish brewers were at the forefront of technical change. Perhaps it was a result of the different nature of most of their trade compared to English brewers. Companies like George Younger depended to a great deal not on captive tied houses, but on the free and export trade. They had to react quickly to changing customer demands or lose business.

I'm surprised that their export trade in bottled beer was expanding after 1900. Probably at the expense of bulk exports rather than being totally new business.


As has already been stated, it became necessary to provide larger accommodation for the Home Bottling Department. The Eglinton Dye Works were accordingly purchased in 1912. These buildings, which at first sight appeared to be far larger in area than could ever be required, are now in the busy periods of the year taxed to their utmost. Up-to-date bottle washing, carbonating and filling plant has been installed, and the Department can now turn out bottled beer at the rate of about 1000 dozen an hour."
"A Short History of George Younger & Son Limited, Alloa, (1762 - 1925)", 1925, page 4.

1,000 dozen an hour sounds very impressive. But, if those are half-pints, it only amounts to about 21 barrels and hour. Working 12 hours a day, 300 days a year, that's around 75,000 barrels. Still not an enormous amount of beer.

This last, slightly unconnected paragraph about the cooperage I've included for a specific reason:


The accommodation in the Candleriggs Brewery for coopering had been for a long period of years very cramped in space. The opportunity was taken in 1913 of purchasing a thoroughly up-to-date cooperage in Alloa, previously owned by Mr. Charles Pearson. After some few alterations had been made, the Coopering and Cask Washing Department was moved down to its new premises in 1919. The purchase of this Cooperage was singularly opportune. Since 1918, owing to the greatly increased price of export hogsheads, it had become advisable to bring these hogsheads back to this country for re-making up. Without the additional accommodation thus provided, it would have been impossible to overtake this new work."
"A Short History of George Younger & Son Limited, Alloa, (1762 - 1925)", 1925, page 4.

Because of what it tells us about the export trade. That after 1918 the casks were so expensive that they were returned from foreign markets. In the 19th century casks only went one way, presumably being reused at their destination. How times have changed. Are there any independent cooperages in Britain now? I doubt it.

I've more plunder from this hoard to share with you. Soon. Very soon.


StringersBeer said...

Independent cooper? I think there's

Anonymous said...

Does Draught Bass on cask bear any relation to Bass Pale Ale (formerly Bass India Pale Ale of course) which is still brewed for export markets?


Ron Pattinson said...

Anonymous, no, not really.

Martyn Cornell said...

"Bass Pale Ale (formerly Bass India Pale Ale of course) ..."

I'm prepared to be corrected, but I don't believe Bass themselves ever called their Red Triangle pale ale "India Pale Ale".

Retailers/wholesalers did, but not the brewery, which seems to have only ever called it "Bass Pale Ale".

Mac said...

The old Eglington bottling plant is now the Williams Brothers brewery - they make a wide range of first class beers which have won numerous awards.

Well worth trying if you find them.

Some supermarkets have stock - I've seen them as far south as Sainsburys in Altrincham.

Ron Pattinson said...

Mac, funnily enough I bought a couple of bottles of their beer at the weekend. In Amsterdam.