Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Export Pale Ale Brewing in 1903 (part four)

We've just about finished our look at brewing export Pale Ale back in the Edwardian time. We're now at the final phase of the process, bottling.

There's one practice when brewing Pale Ale which is so counter-intuitive, that it's taken several sources confirming it to totally convince me it really happened. Leaving barrels of Pale Ale in the brewery yard, exposed to the elements.

"In getting the ale ready for bottling, some exposure in cask to cold weather has no doubt a decidedly improving effect, though one must take care that it has plenty of knocking about and a good cask sickness before it is taken to the store to be set for bottling. Some brewers add a little preservative again at this stage, but I do not care to do so, as I think it has a retarding effect on the conditioning in the bottle. It is usual to get two months or so age in the open before sending to the bottling store. I like to bottle in the autumn what has been brewed in the winter, that is to say, the ale should be about three months in the open, and from three to four on the gantry in the bottling store."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1903, page 151

Three months in the open and then another three of four months waiting in the bottling store. You have to add another two or three months transit time to it destination, meaning a bottled export Pale Ale would be 8 to 10 months old on arrival.

Here's the term "cask sickness" again. I think he means a secondary fermentation in the cask. "Plenty of knocking about" is also pretty counter-intuitive. You'd expect them to want to leave the casks as undisturbed as possible, Evidently not.

In the discussion after the paper had been presented, there was an explanation of why the time in the brewery yard improved the beer:

"He [Mr. Hartley] should like another point a little further explained. He understood Mr. Collier to say that he liked, in preparing beer for export bottling, to allow the casks to lie in the weather—he presumed he meant in the yard—where they were exposed to the cold of the winter. If he were right in so understanding, was the object to enable the beer to deposit those matters which were insoluble at a low temperature, and thus give less sediment in bottle? He would ask Mr. Collier if he had definitely ascertained that this was so. They all know that matters were deposited by cold, but he was not quite certain whether in a warm temperature they did not again dissolve, or a portion of them at any rate."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1903, page 154.

That's a very good question. One I like to think I would have asked myself, had I been there. Was the point of leaving the beer in the yard to allow the cold to precipitate out some gunk?

"In reply to Mr. Hartley's query as to the redissolving of resins, &c, his experience was that the storage of the ale in cask at a very low temperature did certainly deposit matter which had become insoluble, and allowed the brewer to get a cleaner ale in bottle, beside which the ale in cask did not age to any extent during the low temperature."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1903, pages 157 - 158.

That's a yes, then. That's also an interesting point about it being so cold that the beer didn't age.

Note how the process was seasonal. The beer was brewed in the winter, put outside while the weather was still warm, moved inside during the summer then bottled in the autumn. Remember that Truman P2 export we saw earlier in this series? That was brewed on 27th January. It could be a coincidence, but that fits right in with the schedule proposed by the author.

Now onto the bottling itself:

"When bottling, I always take great care that the water used for washing the bottles is thoroughly sweet, and I prefer to use it as hot as possible without breaking the bottles, and to put a little bisulphate in the water now and then. In selecting the bottle and cork great care must be taken. The former one has to get the right shape and colour. There are a variety of different shapes and colours on the market. An important consideration is the size of the neck. I like a small neck, as not only is there less cork exposed, but you can use a smaller cork, which is cheaper. At the same time it is the most profitable to use the best cork, if care is taken that it is big enough. It should be a size larger than the neck of the bottle before it is soaked, then you can depend upon its being large enough when it has got dry in the neck. It is necessary to give the bottles a chance to thoroughly dry before wiring and capsuling, otherwise there is a danger of the wire rusting through. Some bottlers use a galvanized wire, and some a copper wire, but I have found if care is taken on this point an ordinary wire does well enough.

Some bottlers again run the ale to flattening tanks before bottling, but I do not care for this, as I think exposure at this point is to be avoided, though no doubt if you are bottling the ale before its time it is to be considered."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1903, pages 151 - 152.

You can see that they were still sealing bottles with corks. Crown corks had been invented in the USA in 1892, but it was a while before they spread to Britain. Around 1900 British brewers used either corks or internal screw stoppers, while on the Continent Grolsch-style flip-top stoppers were popular.

I can understand why you might want to avoid putting beer into a flattening tank before bottling: it would expose the beer to oxygen and risk oxidation. Presumably when a beer wasn't quite ready it would remove excess carbonation that might turn the bottles into bombs.

They were still bottling essentially by hand, as this makes clear:

"The bottling squad, consisting of a bottler, corker, and two other boys, should do a butt an hour with an ordinary machine into quarts. I, of course, do not refer to any of the marvels one sees at the Brewers' Exhibition.

The packers should straw and pack 22 to 24 four-dozen cases a day, not including nailing down."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1903, page 152.

Interesting that there is no mention of women working in the bottling store. Bottling was the first area of brewing were female labour was used on any great scale. But maybe that only started later, during WW I. A butt is 108 gallons, so that's 432 quart bottles in an hour. Or one bottle every 8 seconds. Not quite the same speed as an automated bottling line.

22 to 24 4-dozen cases is 1,056 to 1,152 bottles a day, which doesn't seem a great deal. Assuming a 10-hour day, the bottling squad would fill 4,320 bottles in a day. Meaning you'd need four packers to deal with a day's bottles.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, in thinking further on this excellent series, it makes me wonder if current attempts to reproduce an historical palate need henceforth to take in additional considerations, or more methodically.

The stocked pale ales and old ales clearly went through a secondary fermentation, sometimes more than one, and likely had a brett or lactic acid element. Even where beers are made to historical instructions and are stored for a considerable time in some way (and often it isn't in wood much less unlined wood), unless they will undergo a secondary ferment from brett yeasts or other "natural" sources other than the primary yeast, I doubt the resulting palate will be true what the Victorians would have known. (I would think Orval may be close though, considering how it is put together. But few historical recreations that I've had taste like Orval, they are usually too "mild" for this purpose. The more time that goes on though, the more I am convinced Orval was intended to replicate a high-class 1800's-style English pale ale).

Add to this factors such as aging outdoors for Burton at least and seriatim aging (cask and bottle) for extended periods.

In addition, mixing beers - stale and fresh porters and other kinds of beers - introduces a further distinction. This was a carefully practiced art either at brewery or pub until well into the 1800's.

Thus, brewing a mid-1800's "Imperial Stout", say, and drinking it not long after probably gives little idea what it was typically like unless long-aged in bottle - sometimes this occurs today to be sure but not too often after extended cask storage. Also, once bottled, some of the strong stouts and ales must have been blended with fresh beer, which almost never occurs today to my knowledge.

Perhaps the American wood-aged, strongly hopped beers are closest to what non-mild English ales were like in the 1800's but even then the hop flavours won't be right.

Anyone who wants to create a truly historical Burton-style pale ale (say) should follow what E.B. Collier wrote as exactly as possible, including the storage in unlined casks for months at a temperature and with humidity similar to what the winter Burton climate was like, to try to get an idea what the real Burton IPA palate was like. One of the early Journal articles describes its palate as "pungent": no modern IPA and no recreation I know has this in my experience except for certain American beers that had been treated with brett, and Orval again. (There may be some U.K. micros doing similar, I am not sure).


Ron Pattinson said...


I've always thought of Orval as an IPA. No idea why.

Gary Gillman said...

I agree, I was using pale ale broadly. But it seems too a particularly authentic one given the brett inoculation and multiple ferments it undergoes.


Martyn Cornell said...

"I've always thought of Orval as an IPA"

I agree with you - anybody fancy trying the experiment of taking a full cask of Orval to India by sailing ship?

Barm said...

I’m not convinced that a brewer would refer to secondary fermentation as a cask sickness. Doesn’t “sickness” sometimes mean a rope infection?