Monday, 8 July 2013

French brewing methods in the 1920's

I've been getting so distracted by hop statistics that I almost forgot about one of the best bits in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing article about the reconstruction of the French brewing industry after WW I. It's the bit where they describe French brewing methods. Probably the most relevant part for the theme of this blog.

In the part of Northern France most affected by the war, breweries only slowly started moving over to bottom fermentation after the end of hostilities. It really was a slow process, with many, even quite large concerns, not changing over brewing until after WW II.

Here are the three methods of fermentation used in France:

"The breweries in France work on three different systems:— Top fermentation, Mixed fermentation, Bottom fermentation.

Those in the devastated areas were practically all top-fermentation breweries and the majority were small concerns carried on in a primitive fashion. The beer is fermented in the actual trade casks or in puncheons at a high temperature and without any attempt at attemperation, it is fined with ray skins and sent out four or five days after mashing.

Bottom fermentation breweries are very exceptional in the north but are general in the east and at Paris where the largest French breweries are to be found.

"Fermentation mixte" combines some of the characteristics of both top and bottom fermentation. A top yeast is used and the fermentation method is more like that practised in England. There is, however, a short storage in casks similar to those in a Lager cellar but not chilled, and the beer is racked under counter-pressure through filters. The newer breweries are, however, fitted with open or closed fermenting vessels, the latter on the Landouzy system, very much like Yorkshire stone squares but made of wood. The cover is some little distance below the top of the round, and in the centre has a manhole through which the yeast works out, the beer running back into the vessel. They are said to give more body with light beers than open vessels, but the open vessels have many partisans particularly for stronger beers."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 2, February 1921, pages 63 - 64.

Fermenting in trade casks was also typical of small-scale Belgian brewing. As was pointed out last time this type of fermentation came up, there were also British breweries who used this system. Bateman's, for example. Fermenting in casks without attemperation must have led to variable results. In a larger cask the temperature would rise more during fermentation than in a small one. Then, of course, there would be variations in air temperature at different times of year. Pretty much every barrel would taste different. There are still some Belgian styles, for example Saison, that are fermented at very high temperatures.

At this time only the largest French breweries bottom-fermented and few of those were in the north.

I'm not quite sure that I see how the third method described was "mixed fermentation". There wasn't even proper lagering at a cool temperature, as with Kölsch and Alt. Though I do recall in a report of a visit of British brewers to Cologne around 1900 there was a top-fermenting brewery described that lagered warm. Maybe this was more common in the past. It sounds like a way of emulating some characteristics of Lager without the need to install lots of expensive new cooling equipment.

That Landouzy system caught my attention. Was that somehow derived from Yorkshire squares or had they thought it up themselves? The aim seems the same: rousing the beer and removing suspended yeast.

"The old fashioned fermentation in puncheons with its crude and dirty methods is now being gradually abandoned, the new breweries are adopting one or other of the alternatives mentioned. Several of the larger concerns in the north are fitting up Lager plant either of the ordinary type or of the Nathan system of which one example already existed before war at Fere-en-Tardenoise, but which was destroyed during hostilities. But the great majority of firms are building top fermentation breweries with open or Landouzy vessels or adopting the "mixed" fermentation system. A few breweries have been fitted with mash filters and more are being adopted, while the Wooldridge system has been introduced, one large brewery to adopt it being in Armentieres, a name which brings to Englishmen many memories far apart from those of brewing, but among which the desire for beer may sometimes be recalled."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 2, February 1921, page 64.

Mash filters seem to have been popular in France between the wars. I don't know, I find the idea very inelegant. I prefer the romance of the mash tun.

Here's proof of how common they were in France. This from a report of English brewers visiting the east of France:

"From the Ecole de Brasserie we proceeded to the Grandes Brasseries Reunies de Maxeville, where M. Dillon, the managing director, received us and piloted us through the various departments of this extensive brewery. Among the many interesting things shown us, three deserve special mention, namely, 1, the mechanical floor turner, which serves the six malting floors and displaces no less than ten trained maltsters. 2, The two large mash filters, capable of turning out 2,000 hectolitres (over 1,200 barrels) per day, and 3, the central control panel from which all the machinery can be started or stopped throughout the brewhouse, all valves opened and closed, and upon which are mounted the various pressure and vacuum gauges, registering thermometers, etc. This clever labour-saving contrivance was designed by M. Dillon."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 30, Issue 8, August 1924, page 642.

These breweries were large and modern, unlike those in the North, and had already moved to bottom-fermentation. The brewery described here still exists:

" . . . the party proceeded to les Grandes Brasseries et Malteries de Champigneulles, there to see the largest and most wonderful brewery in France. Here the managing director, M. Krampitsch, conducted us round as much of the brewery as time would allow, and in this connection an apology is distinctly due to him that we should have had so little time to do justice to the many most interesting things which he had to show us. To an English brewer the brewhouse was simply a revelation, its many large coppers and other metal work being kept brightly polished, but the most imposing sight of all was the Buhler mash filter installation which was capable of dealing with 120 quarters four times a day. Altogether the spotless cleanliness reflected by the white enamel finishing of the whole room and the general air of light and brightness will linger in the memories of all those privileged to see it, for many a day."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 30, Issue 8, August 1924, page 643.
Brewhouse at Champigneulles

You what we haven't had yet? A table. Time to put that right. Here's a comparison of French and UK beer production in the 1920's:

French and UK beer output (hl)
Year France UK French output as % of UK output
1913 12,844,000 56,960,947 22.55%
1918 6,375,000 31,233,818 20.41%
1919 10,785,000 38,073,804 28.33%
1920 11,548,000 57,358,068 20.13%
1921 12,254,000 56,468,799 21.70%
1922 16,802,000 49,389,304 34.02%
1923 20,235,000 39,193,404 51.63%
1924 20,396,000 41,609,566 49.02%
1925 19,688,000 43,753,145 45.00%
1926 19,121,000 43,803,527 43.65%
1927 19,237,000 41,078,410 46.83%
1928 16,312,000 41,626,141 39.19%
1929 21,145,000 40,272,468 52.50%
European Statistics 1750-1970 by B. R. Mitchell, 1978, page 285.
Brewers' Almanack 1928, p. 110
Brewers' Almanack 1955, p. 50
British Beer & Pub Association Statistical Handbook 2005, p.7

The development is quite different. In the UK, beer production shot up after the end of the war, but when the brief post-was boom ended, fell back again. While in France output rose steadily in the first half of the 1920's then stabilised. The French industry more than bounced back and after the war was  in better shape than it had been in 1913. In 1929, beer production was almost 40% greater than in 1913. While in the UK beer output fell by 30% over that period. And that's using bulk barrels. In terms of standard barrels the fall was even greater, due to the fall in gravities.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, where do you think the modern "biere de garde" fits into this schema if at all?

Also, why would a period of "warm" storage be considered a lager-like method? Isn't it also an English idea too?


Ron Pattinson said...


no idea. "Biere de garde" is a concept, not a style.

beer guru, jr. said...

Ron, are any French breweries today using the same techniques as many of those old fashioned pre WWI brewers? Obviously not a lot of French brewers selling in the USA. Thanks.

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Guru,

to be honest, I've no idea. Some of the older breweries in Northern France are pretty small, so it is possible.

Gary Gillman said...

I toured most of the surviving small breweries in Nord-Pas-de-Calais with Michael Jackson in about 1992. Almost all were using bottom fermentation, e.g. I recall Jenlain did for its biere de garde. In this case, garde seemed to mean a certain period of lagering. However, some plants still used top-fermentation, Trois Monts did at least at that time, La Choulette too I think. But almost all used cold-conditioning. Here is an example of top-fermentation in the region which uses cold-conditioning (see under "fabrication"):

Au Baron's approach is to bottle-condition using a period of warm conditioning. This latter is a kind of forced conditioning, similar to what one reads for certain running ales in cask in around 1900. However, the latter would not have been given a modern-style cold break, this came in later in the 1900's.

There may be one or two very small breweries in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais which dispense with cold-conditioning, but it would be the exception for sure. Also, most I'd think use bottom yeast today but there I'm less sure.

I always though a biere de garde corresponded to a stocked ale in English terms, and I believe that was the original sense of it (same as provisie bier), however the the term is used in different senses today and has no clear meaning, I agree.