Saturday, 15 June 2013

Draught beer in the 1930's

Good old Sydney Nevile. He also wrote about draught beer in the 1930's. You may find some of what he has to say quite surprising.

The biggest shock is that brewers were already trying to move away from cask conditioning.

"So far as draught beer is concerned, filtration has been adopted to a considerable extent, but is not practised so widely as in the case of bottled beer. Many brewers chill and filter their draught beers and send them out ready for consumption in the licensed house, but probably the greater proportion of brewers find that by paying great attention to the whole of the brewing and the fining and treatment of the beer in the publican's cellar, an article is produced which satisfies the public equally well or better than the filtered article."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 42, Issue 6, November-December 1936, page 522.

At least Nevile does admit that, if well handled, cask beer could be superior to filtered beer. What's described doesn't sound like it goes as far as being full keg beer, but more like bright beer. I drank a fair bit of bright beer served by electric dispense in the 1970's and it was a good second best to cask. And definitely way superior to keg.

Wooden casks weren't hugely popular with brewers. They were heavy, expensive to maintain and, if improperly cleaned, could taint beer. But in the 1930's there wasn't an obvious replacement to hand. The ultimate solution was to replace wooden casks with metal ones, but that process didn't start until after WW II. In the early 1970's, when I started drinking, there were still plenty of wooden barrels knocking around. Even national brewers sometimes still used them.

"Whilst much progress has been made in many directions, there are still serious problems connected with the distribution of beer through licensed houses to the public which await solution. Nothing has yet been found to take the place of the wooden cask. Deficiencies have been to some extent ameliorated by various methods of lining and by improved methods of cask washing; but there are few brewers who would not gladly adopt another package if a satisfactory one could be found.

The reduction in the bulk output of beer has naturally led to a reduction in the size of the casks employed. The old puncheons (2 barrels) and butts (3 barrels) have disappeared and even hogsheads are far fewer than in pre-war days. The average size of the casks employed throughout the country is probably well under 36 gallons, and the custom has grown up of delivering the beer far more frequently than was the case in old days."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 42, Issue 6, November-December 1936, page 522.

How much time I've spent researching the tricky question of lining casks. Before WW I it seems to have been very rare to line casks, in contrast to continental Europe where it was standard practice to line casks with pitch. British brewers were reluctant to follow suit because of the taint the pitch gave to the beer inside it. After WW I, some brewers did line their casks, but preferred materials other than pitch, such as paraffin.

If you have ever seen what a beast a wooden hogshead is, you'll be as amazed as me that larger casks were delivered to pubs before WW I. How much must a wooden butt have weighed? How on earth did draymen manoeuvre something so large and heavy into a pub cellar? But I was a little surprised that the average cask size in the 1930's was smaller than a barrel. I would have expected that to be the standard size before WW II. Of course now the majority of cask beer is delivered in 9-gallon firkins. A few breweries - Holt's, for example - continued to use hogsheads throughout the 20th century. They may even still use them.

There was a way of doing away with casks altogether, by using cellar tanks.

"In order to avoid the difficulties inherent in the wooden cask, a substantial number of brewers have adopted for a portion of their trade the principle of delivering filtered beer in tank wagons into tanks in the licensed house. This has met with a considerable amount of success, but for one reason or another does not appear at the present time to be making further progress."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 42, Issue 6, November-December 1936, page 522

I'm not so sure that a "substantial number of brewers" used cellar tanks in the 1930's. I can think of only one that I know: the Hull Brewery. They used ceramic cellar tanks up until at least the 1970's. There was a big debate in CAMRA as to whether this beer counted as cask or not. Initially (and incorrectly, in my opinion) CAMRA did classify it as cask, but later changed their mind.

"Apart from the filtered beer delivered to licensed houses, the practice of fining the beer in the cellar of the retailer has diminished and though in London the practice still is maintained to a considerable extent, by far the greater part of the beer supplied is fined in the brewery before delivery to the customer. The character of the finings themselves has also been greatly improved, the old form of finings made with acid beer having given way to those prepared under strictly hygienic conditions."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 42, Issue 6, November-December 1936, page 522.

Brewers switched to fining beer before dispatch around the time of WW I. They found that it was cheaper and more reliable than delivering finings with the beer and leaving it to the publican. Using sour beer to dissolve the isinglass forms a pretty obvious risk for infecting the cask being fined. As with filtered tank beer, this seems to have been a way of making beer more idiot-proof for publicans.

This is a fascinating paragraph on the subject of beer dispense:

"Beer Pumps versus Pressors
During the last 50 years the methods of raising beer from the cellar to the bar have received a great deal of attention. Raising beer by air or carbonic acid gas pressure has been freely advocated, and much attention has been applied to different methods and appliances for adopting the system; but so far for some reason or other over a greater part of England the beer pump is still preferred both by the retailer and his customers. There are certain parts of the country, notably in Scotland, where air pressure may be said to be almost general, but when attempts are made to apply it in other districts, sooner or later the retailer puts in a request to return to the old-fashioned pump, which as a matter of fact during recent years has been vastly improved from the point of view of accessibility for cleaning."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 42, Issue 6, November-December 1936, page 522.

The first attempt at CO2 pressure dispense in Britain that I know of was Worthington, in the first decade of the 20th century. It was a failure because the punters didn't like how the beer tasted. It seems that in the 1930's drinkers were equally resistant to this new method of serving beer. Why were they more receptive in the 1950's and 1960's? Was it more fashionable to be modern after WW II? Of course, there was resistance in the 1960's, too, and that led to the formation of CAMRA in 1971.

I've evidence for some CO2 dispense in the 1930's and 1940's, but that was for Lager. Barclay Perkins price lists from the period include CO2 cylinders for serving their draught Lager.

Oddly, handpumps almost totally disappeared from Scotland, replaced by "tall font" air pressure pumps. These started to fall out of favour for serving cask beer in the 1980's because they were difficult to tell apart from top-pressure pumps.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, clearly the wooden trade cask continued in wide use and this was the main obstacle to packaging beer conditioned in the brewery under pressure. The wood was not sturdy enough and anyway some CO2 would leach through the pores of the wood without any new gas being created. Tank beer was a solution.

Based on my reading, it was in certain use as early as 1923 by numerous brewers. E.g. the article Bulk Carbonated Beers, Vol. 29, Issue 4 of April 1923 shows this but numerous other articles do in this era (some by Hugh Abbott). Even before WW I there was some bulk brewery conditioned beer being sold but comparatively little to be sure.

Tank beer by the later 20's was delivered under top pressure so I'd think it was dispensed in other words by CO2 pressure. My understanding is if the pressure was less than 5 lbs per square inch, then it wasn't CO2 dispensed but rather the CO2 was used simply as a blanket to protect the beer. Probably different systems were used by different breweries with some of this being "pullable" by handpump and some not, but anyway to me the key is filtration. If the beer had no yeast and no bottoms were in the container at dispense, I cannot see how this was real ale, palatable as it may have been and the American best form of it today is.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, Gregory and Knock's Beers of Britain (1970's) confirms that top pressure can be used to dispense unfiltered beer, they say the difficulty is when 4-5 lbs pressure psi is exceeded and too much gas gets into the beer. They still consider the beer real ale but I think CAMRA does not since CO2 pressure was added to send the beer to the glass.

I believe all tank beer, from when first used in England, was not of this character because it was filtered and bright (and usually chilled). It wasn't real ale by anyone's definition therefore but dispense at the bar is a different question. Some of it must have been dispensed by the pressure in the container in basement, or CO2 was added by a cylinder (early articles refer to a "pressure pot"), or hand pumps were still used. E.g. today I understand some brewery-conditioned beer is pulled by hand pump thus giving the impression to some of real ale. I
am just trying to clarify that pulling methods should be separated from the conditioning aspect.


Brian Fretwell said...

I think I read somewhere that Flowers (?) wanted to produce beer in pressurised kegs in the late 1930's but that idea came to an end when the war started and there was no aluminium spare to make the kegs. Pressurising wooden casks was not thought to be feasible due to leakage.