Friday, 27 September 2013

Bottling in 1914 - refrigeration and bottling machines

We stumble ever onwards towards the discussion at the end of Arthur Hadley's paper on bottling. I hope you've been finding it as informative as I have. As soon as I get my brewery up and running I'll be installing a state-of-the-art Edwardian bottling line. Complete with bottles closed by internal screw-thread stoppers. Though, as you'll soon learn, those bottles could be killers.

Now I think about it, I'm sure that I own two books about bottling. I really should dig them out. One's from about the same period as this one, I believe, and the other from the 1950's. They should allow me to extend this series for another half year or so.

Unsurprisingly, a refrigeration plant was needed to produce chilled and carboanted bottled beer.

"Refrigerating Plant.
Ice making and refrigerating machines installed for this purpose generally consist of a pump wherein ammonia or carbonic acid gas is compressed—passing through a coil of steel tubing which is either immersed in water or has water sprinkled over it to cool the gas. After this the gas is expanded in a further coil or battery of tubes, the chilling process is efleeted by the expansion of the gas, the expanded gas again passing to the suction side of the pump. The process of compressing, cooling, and expanding of the gas is continuous. The majority of the larger plants fitted in this country and on the Continent are on the ammonia system, in which the gas is compressed at a much lower pressure than with the carbonic acid gas system. Rather less power is required to drive the plant and less water for condensing or cooling purposes will suffice.

For smaller plants, carbonic acid is frequently used instead of ammonia, the principal advantage being that the machine is slightly smaller and more compact than an ammonia compressor of equal capacity; in addition to which, should an escape or leakage occur,
carbonic acid is not so troublesome or offensive as ammonia."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, pages 509 - 510.

Ammonia is slightly more than "troublesome". It's a nasty, poisonous gas than could kill you, should you breathe in too much. Which is the main reason they stopped using it in domestic refrigerators.

You may be surprised to hear that larger British breweries installed refrigerating machinery in the late 19th century. Barnard mentions them in several of his brewery descriptions. It's easy to see why continental Lager breweries would want artificial cooling, but British top-fermenting breweries?  Yes, there were a couple of places cooling was handy there. For example, to help quickly cool the wort after boiling. Or to cool the water run through attemperators. Brine, I should say rather than water. Brine was used because it could be cooled to a lower temperature without freezing. And, of course, you needed somewhere really cold to store your hops. Which meant some breweries already had cooling machinery before they started making bottled beers.

Now we come to the bottling machines themselves:

"Bottling Machines.
In the matter of bottle fillers the brewer will find English makes both cheaper and in many instances more efficient—at all events for
his particular requirements.

The newest designs of rotary filler admit of very little improvement. The beer pan is made of special gunmetal, carefully and smoothly tinned to ensure cleanliness. The cast-iron plate wheel is sheathed with thick copper and all nuts and bolts are made of gunmetal turned out of the solid bar. Between each bottle is placed a copper guard, and, in addition, copper detachable guards are placed around the machine.

Any spilt beer which comes in contact with copper or gunmetal therefore, is not wasted. The machine is perfectly automatic in its action, and this is probably its most valuable and attractive feature. The automatic valve will not fill any too defective bottle, and shuts off in case a bottle bursts. The valve is actuated by a diaphragm, and as soon as a perfect counter-pressure has been formed in the bottle, the valve opens to allow the beer to flow."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, page 510.

I think you'll find that there was plenty of room for improvement in bottling machines. Technology never stands still. You can see that recurring obsession of British brewers: not wasting a drop of beer. Blame the 1880 Free Mash Tun Act. Not only did it force the payment of tax on beer before it had even fermented, it also assumed 6% wastage between the amount put into the fermenters and that sold. This meant if you lost less that 6% during production, you'd got some beer tax-free. That's why British brewers so obsessed over lost beer.

This is a surprise: recommending that some stick with hand bottling:

"We may now deal with the question of power. It is not considered advisable to adopt power-driven fillers for small plants bottling, say, less than 20 barrels a day. A well-made hand machine of the straight pattern and fitted with six filling heads will suffice for small stores. In bottleries where a larger output is demanded, rotary power-driven fillers are necessary, since it is only by this means that the requisite speed can be maintained and the cost of labour and production reduced to its minimum.
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, page 510.

Advertising - you just can't trust it, can you?

"Various speeds and outputs — flowery, and usually very much exaggerated — are to be found in advertisements and circulars recommending the many machines on the market, and during the last five. years I have seen no less than four varieties of filler scrapped in the brewery in which I am interested, and this for various reasons, the main one being inefficient output and cost of upkeep, for there is the great item of repairs and renewals of wearing parts to be considered in all filling machines, and also the time such machine is to be out of action whilst some trifling repair is being conducted.

I think any machine, or rather filling machine, costing more than 2 per cent, per annum for renewals is a menace to the brewer. Speeds of these up-to-date fillers are always three — one for half-pints, one for pints, and one for flagons — but the speed of a machine is the speed of the boys or girls working it, taken, not on five minutes' working, but the amount turned out daily or weekly, and a speed of 120 dozen per hour half-pints, 100 dozen pints, or 80 dozen flagons, is, I find, as much as can be expected from any ordinary human being. To accomplish this one boy (or girl) must put on and take off — either putting the stopper loosely in the bottle or handing to the corking or crowning machine — another boy (or girl) screwing tight, dipping the bottle into a tank of water, and placing in the case, and a third boy (or girl) removing the case either to the labelling machine or into position for hand labelling, i.e., three hands to each machine, or, where the labelling machine is part of the unit, the bottle will be labelled and then placed in the case, the case proceeding by means of gravity conveyers either to store or straight out to the drays, as found desirable."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, pages 510 - 511.

That's an important point about the cost and trouble of maintenance being as vital as the supposed speed of a machine. Buying expensive bits of kit like a bottling machine more often than absolutely necessary is just a waste of money.

You can see that bottling was by no means a fully automatic process. Three girls or boys were needed for each machine. The speeds quoted aren't all that fast. They equate to 90 gallons an hour for half pints, 150 gallons for pints and 240 gallons for flagons. Or, in terms of barrels per 8-hour day, 20, 33.33 and 53.33 respectively. Maybe that's why Hartley recommended a manual machine for those bottling fewer than 20 barrels a day - 20 barrels was about the minimum daily capacity of one automatic bottling machine.

And here they are trying to claim back every last drop of beer again:

"I have found it an economical method to have a copper-lined table alongside each filling machine (one end of which holds the stoppers), and, at the end on which the full bottles pitch, a small piece of thick felt to take off the shock and save the wear on the copper—such table being fitted with a draining pipe, and under each table an enamelled housemaid's bucket. Any bottles becoming cracked, or the necks of which are split, etc., are emptied on the table, and it is surprising the number of buckets of beer taken from each unit to the pumping tank to be re-filtered, etc., daily, which would otherwise have been lost. The felt pad on the table is easily scalded every night, whilst the copper-lined table is scoured once a week, and the whole thing, besides taking up very little room, is a great convenience to the manipulators."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, page 511.

I'd have worried about the bottlers helping themsleves to the contents of the buckets. Not that it sounds very hygienic having a bucket filled with beer lying around. I bet the flies loved it. And what about slivers of broken glass - did they strain the beer before re-using it? I wouldn't want to find bits of glass in my bottle of beer.

Next time we'll be looking at the ever fascinating topic of bottle washing. I used to hate washing bottles when I home brewed. That could well be the reason me and my brother bought those wooden firkins from John Smiths.


Phil said...

it is surprising the number of buckets of beer taken from each unit to the pumping tank to be re-filtered, etc., daily

Ugh. I suppose that "etc" should be comforting.

It's true what they say about not wanting to see where sausages come from - I hope you aren't going to bring this series up to date!

Bryan the BeerViking said...

Presumably the felt pad also filtered out slivers of glass, should there be any.

Jeff Renner said...

A peculiarity of US tax laws in the latter 19th century, and probably later, is that the bottling had to be done on separate premises from the brewery.

Barrels were filled at the brewery and tax paid at $1 per barrel (31 US gallons), then they were required to be transported on a public road to the bottling facility, which here in at least one Ann Arbor, Michigan brewery, was simply across the street.

I have only secondary sources for this, but primary sources would no doubt be easy to find.