Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Wrexham Lager Beer Brewery (part two)

Here's the rest of the article about the Wrexham Lager Beer Brewery.

It starts witth a description of one of the most important pieces of equipment in the brewery: the ice machine.

"Descending to the basement an examination was made of the engine which supplies the motive power. It is of 60 horse power, and possesses several arrangements which are the clever productions of the German engineers who constructed it. Running along side is the refrigerating machine, used for the production of ice, which is largely used in the brewery. Having seen the ice house, a move was made to the storage cellars which were reached after the descent of several flights of stairs. There are six ice cellars, each containing 26 large storage casks, and each of these casks is capable of storing 1100 gallons of the lager beer Along one side of the cellars is a huge room which is filled with ice, and the natural result is that the cellars, into which a ray of daylight cannot enter, are kept at a few degrees above freezing all the year round. This is necessary for the preservation of the lager, and few persons who have visited the vast cold cellars will doubt that the company has perfect cellarage. Ascending to the light of day and to a warmer temperature, the warehouse was inspected as well as the department where the casks are "pitched" In order to keep the air from the lager, melted pitch specially prepared for the purpose, is poured in the barrels which are kept revolving so that a thin coating of the substance is left in the vessel. This keeps out the air and gives a slight flavor to the lager which is by no means unpleasant. In the bottling department there was great briskness, large orders having been received for our home and export trade. All the bottles for export are "pasteurized" that is are subject to heat, a process which tends to fit them for their long voyages to India, Australia, and the other places for which they are bound."
Wrexham Advertiser - Saturday 22 September 1888, page 8.
The storage casks are presumably the lagering vessels. 1100 gallons is a little over 30 barrels. Giving a lagering capacity of  794 barrels per ice cellar, 4,766 barrels for all six cellars. If they lagered for 2 months, that gives an annual capacity of about 29,000 barrels. If they lagered for 3 months, the annual capacity is 19,000 barrels. Personally, I doubt they were brewing that much in the 1880's.

I've occasionally had robust discussions on the internet about whether British casks were lined in the 19th century. I'm pretty sure they weren't. This is a piece of idirect evidence that they weren't. Why mention that the Lager casks were lined if all casks were? I'll take the author's word for it that it added a pleasant flavour.

This must be one of the earliest refeences to pasteurisation of British beer. As we've learned from ther sources, in the early years much of Wrexham's Lager was exported. Did it really get shipped all the way to Australia? There's an easy way to find out: look in the Australian nespaper archive. Guess what?

The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 1885, page 22.

Brisbane Courier, 12th July 1897, page 3.

I think that's a pretty emphatic yes.
"Having thus made a tour of the building under the personal direction of Mr W. A. Cartwright, the courteous and business-like manager of the company a return was made to the office, where the writer obtained a glimpse at the large business which is being done by the company. During the inspection it was pleasing to note what care is taken to secure grain and hops of the finest quality only. The company is evidently determined to brew only from the finest qualities, and it is no wonder that their lager has obtained so wide a reputation. It is of fine color sparkles well, and posseses refreshing qualities which have placed it in the front rank of beverages. Not only do the hale and hearty find it pleasing, but it is now prescribed by many medical men in lieu of other brewings which are found to be too heavy for medicinal use. This is not to be surprised at when we learn that the Wrexham Lager Beer contains the minimum of alchohol with the maximum of the good qualities of the purest and finest malt and hops. There is a demand for a light ale, and in competent hands there is no reason why the sale of lager should not greatly increase, and supplant the heavy ales now usually consumed by many who have not had the opportunity of testing the famous brewings of the Wrexham Lager Beer Company. We are pleased to learn that the beer has now been introduced into the principal bars, restaurants, and hotels in Glasgow."
Wrexham Advertiser - Saturday 22 September 1888, page 8.

Fine colour, eh? But which fine colour? Not really that helpful, that description. I don't find any beer too heavy for medicinal use. The heavier the better, I say.

It's funny how often early pieces on Lager finish on a similar optimistic note, full of the glorious future awaiting Lager. It wouldn't happen for another 90 years.

1 comment:

Gary Gillman said...

Back in the 70's and 80's, I think I can recall when Pilsner Urquell had a touch of pitch taste from the lined tuns where it was stored. Michael Jackson referred in his writings to "a whole room of them", expressing doubt that the brewer's pitch wouldn't have some impact on flavour. In my view he was right (as so often).

It was a slightly "musty" taste, that added complexity. Today, the taste is absent but it is still a great beer, perhaps better.

Many English-language writers in the 1800's, the boosters of lager, refer to this taste as a necessary part of the lager taste, but I believe not all lager then tasted so good as a result of it; rather, it was an acquired taste that people associated with the new drink.

While my reading suggests that the English experimented with enameled casks particularly for export, I agree that there was no methodical use of the process by English brewers and in fact they didn't want such a taste in the beer whether from that source or the wood taste of the oak barrels. Casks were carefully cleaned and sanitized to avoid as much as possible all such flavour. This is why today I find it ironic that oak tastes from barrel-aged beers are lauded as an advantage. I think in the 1800's, that would have been seen as a disadvantage except perhaps in the few old ales that still existed.

But it shows too the relative nature of taste...