Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Export Pale Ale Brewing in 1903 (part three)

We're back in 1903 learning how to brew export Pale Ale. we've now got as far as fermentation.

See if you can make 100% sense out of this. I can't.

"The yeast must necessarily be free of rods microscopically, as well as fresh and sweet and the right age. If I am doubtful of the first, I, as a rule, treat the gyle which I am going to pitch from with a little salicylic acid in the copper. I do not like my temperatures of fermentation to go over 68°, and prefer to drop at half gravity, to either pontoes or dropping squares, getting the heat back as quickly as I can after the yeast crop is off. If I am using dropping squares I do not care for settling for this ale, as I think it is better without the exposure at this point. I like to have my attenuations well down, particularly if the ale is to be bottled."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1903, page 150.

I understand the first bit, rods being bacteria that were likely to cause at infection. Rods were the thing brewers all looked for, after they'd bought microscopes in the wake of Pasteur's work on yeast. It was a simple way of checking for potential problems with pitching yeast. Several brewing records have a special entry for details of a microscopic examination of the yeast. Such as this one from  Portsmouth & Brighton United Breweries from 1940:

That's the first time I've seen a reference to the use of salicylic acid as a preservative in Britain. Public health authorities in the USA often checked for its presence in beers they analysed in the late 19th century. They didn't seem to like its presence. Not sure why. Clearly it was in fairly common use as a preservative in the USA.

If you remember the table with details of Truman P2 Export, that was pitched at 58º F and hit a maximum of 69º F. Pretty much in line with the author's recommendation.

The next part has me confused. I understand the bit about dropping to a ponto or a settling square. They were fairly common methods of cleansing (removing the excess yeast from the wort). Though the point at which the drop took place could vary drastically. Fuller's dropped very quickly, usually no more than 24 hours after pitching, when the gravity was still well above 50% of the OG. But other brewers dropped much later. But for the life of me I don't get what he means about not settling. I thought that's what you dropped into, a settling square.

What's unusual here is what hasn't been mentioned. The classic method of cleansing export Pale Ales was a union set, not just in Burton, but elsewhere in Britain. It's got me wondering which brewery the author worked at and how much Pale Ale they brewed. Breweries big on Pale Ale would usually have had union sets.

A high degree of attenuation was typical of export Pale Ales, for a fairly obvious reason: it left little food for an infection to work on.

Next it's the casks that are going to be used for export.

"In the event of the ale being required for the bulk trade, new casks are used as a rule, which simply require seasoning. These are generally a light cask with light iron, and are often sold with the ale. If it is shipped immediately after racking, as is often done, it is usual to put four or five porous pegs in, some putting two in the shive, and the remainder in the bung stave, not far from the shive, but this needs doing by an experienced cooper; this is of course done to allow of cask sickness, which, in sending to the colonies, for instance, there is plenty of time for, particularly if going by sailing ship, which the freight charges are naturally much lower in, than by steamer. If possible, I like to arrange for bulk export to get to its market about two or three months old."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1903, page 150.

You can understand why the casks would be sold with the beer. Shipping casks back from, say Australia, would be expensive and not really cost-effective. I imagine that the barrels would have been re-used at their destination, though not necessarily for beer. Using a light cask also makes sense, as you wouldn't want to ship any unnecessary weight.

I would have expected the beer to remain in the cask for a while before shipping. I'm surprised that it was usually sent out straight after racking. You'd have thought that the beer would still be quite lively then. Which is presumably why they took the precaution of inserting porous pegs, to let out excess CO2. Though I'm having trouble imagining exactly how they were fitted. By "cask sickness" I think the author means the beer fermenting too actively in the cask.

It's surprising how long sailing ships continued to move freight around the world. An article in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing from 1917 mentions sailing ships bringing barley to Britain from California:

"Prior to the war it was quite a customary procedure for a sailing vessel capable of carrying, say 15,000 qrs. of barley, to leave this country and go out to the Pacific Coast in ballast, the voyage in all probability taking about four months. She would require about a month to complete loading, etc., the barley was shipped in small cental bags, and the vessel would proceed on her homeward voyage, taking roughly another four months. In all, the round journey would occupy about nine months, and her earning capacity, for the barley cargo of 15,000 qrs., would be about £4,500 to £6,000."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 23, Issue 3, May-June 1917, page 172.

Two or three months in transit sounds like a long time. But consider how far the beer was being shipped: to India or Australia. For the latter, you'd have to be sending it by steamer to get in there in that length of time.

"In dry hopping, I also like a blend of a good Wurtemberg or Spalt, and if they are mild, have used as much as 50 per cent., but I think, 25 per cent, is enough.

For a preservative, I think, there is nothing as good as a good bisulphite of lime, which, while being effectual, is also cheap, and I generally find from a half pint to a pint per barrel to be a good quantity for an ale which is going a long distance, with a hot climate afterwards, but this, of course, must be judged by the trial it is to undergo, and by the confidence the brewer has in the soundness of his article."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1903, pages 150 - 151.

I've seen German or Saaz hops crop up as dry hops many times in brewing records. Their refined flavour made them eminently suitable for this purpose. The cheaper kinds of foreign hops - American, Belgian and French - were generally only used as bittering hops early in the boil.

Yet more preservatives, this time bisulphate of lime. Or calcium bisulphate as it's now usually known. I do have records of that being used. Listed on their records as BiS, in 1920 Barclay Perkins added it to some casks at racking time. Though is a rather lower proportion than the author recommends here: an eighth of a pint per barrel in Bottling KK, a quarter of a pint per barrel in export Pale Ale. None was added at racking to their standard draught beers in 1920, but that had changed by the 1930's and an eighth of a pint per barrel was added to their Bitters and Milds.

Next time we'll be looking at bottling.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, in the May/April 1943 issue of the Journal, an obituary appeared of the writer, Edward Batten Collier. E.B. Collier lived from 1868-1943. In 1893, he was named head brewer and manager at Watney Combe Reid, at Mortlake. Later, he was named head brewer at Messrs. Meux, Tottenham. He also re-built a brewery for Meux when it expanded out of London and published articles in this Journal on his experience including using new materials such as ferro-concrete.

I believe in 1903 he was at Meux.

E.B. Collier was a man of uncommon abilities and achievements. He started in his early teens as a sailor out of Devon, and ended as a senior manager of major London breweries and active member of the Institute of Brewing (to the point of chairing its publications committee). While he lacked the formal credentials held by most of his colleagues in the IOB, he clearly was held in high regard and affection by them.

I think in the settling discussion he meant, although it's not expressed well, that he preferred not to use open settling tanks to assist sedimentation because of the risk of contamination from the atmosphere.


Oblivious said...

salicylic acid is an antimicrobial agent but can brake down to phenol (which is toxic) at elevated temperatures and it can reaction when metals are present. It is also apparently slowly extricated from the body and can be a risk of accumulation.

All of the above made it less favourable for a food preservative

Shawn said...

"...prefer to drop at half gravity, to either pontoes or dropping squares, getting the heat back as quickly as I can after the yeast crop is off. If I am using dropping squares I do not care for settling for this ale, as I think it is better without the exposure at this point. "

My read is that he is just saying that he prefers to remove the beer from the trub/yeast (settled material) as quickly as possible so as to avoid some of the off-flavors that they can contribute (exposure).

Ron Pattinson said...


what he's describing is dropping fermentation. Starting the fermentation in a tall narrow vessel (usually round) then dropping it (literally) to a broader, shallower vessel below. In the lower vessel (often called a settling square) the yeast would be skimmed at various points before the fermentation was over.

What I don't understand is how he can say he's against settling when he's put the wort in a settling square.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, it's because the settling square here - really a dropping-square - means a square in which the beer at most will reside for a few hours to complete fermentation. This is, in other words, a deep fermentation square.

A settling back or square (terminology was not consistent), in contrast, was a shallow vessel in which the beer could be stored for up to a few days before racking. Southby makes this distinction clear. He further explains that an exposure of a large surface area to air risked flattening and contaminating the beer.

Collier was saying, when I transfer the beer at half-target gravity to finish fermentation, I don't want to do another transfer because it increases the chances of troubles. In contrast, beers skimmed from the primary fermenter - no dropping, no pontos or rounds - were transferred to settling backs before racking. These typically were wide shallow pans which promoted fast sedimentation. But that was one transfer before racking, not two. The fewer the better.


Ryan said...

Salicylic acid is also a blood thinner and has the unfortunate effect of causing stomach bleeding in larger amounts. We've switched to acetylsalicylic acid as a painkiller, because it's easier on the stomach lining