Sunday, 6 October 2013

Bottling in 1914 - bottle washing

No, I haven't forgotten my thromise to thrill you with bottle washing. I just got distracted by the Borefts Bierfestival last weekend. OK, I spent Staurday getting pissed up and didn't have the time, or the sobriety, to get on with my work. Someone has to uphold the proud tradition of pint-drinking, whatever the personal cost.

Do you know what has really surprised me abiout this series on bottling? That anyone is still reading the posts. I'd expected resders to be defecting in droves after the first one or two. Perversely, the audience has, if anything, increased. You really shouldn't encourage me if you ever want me to move on to Whitbread's post WW II beers. If bottle washing doesn't get you flicking blog channels, what will?

There were two or three phases to the process of making bottles ready for fresh beer: soaking, washing and (optionally) drying. Not sure why the drying was optional. I can see that a damp bottle would help prevent fobbing, but presumably that wasn't a problem when using a counter-pressure filler.

"Bottle Washing.
The golden rule in selecting a machine for soaking and washing bottles is to seek for a simple type of plant; indeed, there is no doubt that the machines of real use — machines that can be relied upon to do their work continuously and efficiently — are of very simple design and construction. There is no need to urge upon the brewer the necessity for efficiency and care in this department of a bottling store, as the use of unclean bottles will spoil the best article and ruin the brewer's reputation. And yet one often sees soaking appliances which do not ensure the emptying of the bottles as they rise, the consequence being that any dirt or sediment which happens to be in the empty bottle, on its being placed in the soaker, will remain there probably until the bottle has been placed on the brush and rinser. I prefer to have a rinser on the edge of the soaking tank, and to drain all bottles, and then rinse out the dregs (in most cases very acid), before putting the bottles into the soaker. Then, instead of the soaking liquor becoming acid and putrid, it is possible to keep it always slightly alkaline by the addition daily of an alkaline solution, to which I shall refer later on."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, page 512.

It's pretty obvious that inadequately-cleaned bottles weren't going to do your reputation or your business much good. There's not much point making lots of effort to brew a decent beer and then ruin it by filling it into a dirty bottle. The public being what they are, I'm sure bottles came back with all sorts of crap in them: dregs, fag ends, dirt, muck and all kinds of filth. I'm a good boy me, I always rinse the dregs carefully from my bottles of St. Bernardus Abt immediately after I've filled my glass. I'm definitely in the rinse out the dregs before soaking camp.

I'm not sure I believe this:

"Neither efficient soaking nor excessive brushing will clean and sterilise a bottle, but a combination of the two methods will do so as nearly as is possible, particularly as I am dealing with chilled beers which should have no deposit."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, page 512.

Surely that isn't the best way to "as nearly as possible" sterilise a bottle. Properly sterilising at a temperature above boiling point must be better.

"I do not intend to touch upon the various soaking and washing machines on the market, but will merely remark that after years of experience with hand washers my firm adopted automatic soakers and brushing machines, and these in a new bottlery which they are building they propose to scrap entirely and return to the hand-washing method, but with many improvements. I ought, perhaps, to give my reasons for scrapping the automatic soakers after so short a trial. They are these: in a mixed trade such as ours, it is practically impossible to keep one soaker for one sized bottle for any length of time, consequently a machine used for flagons one day may be used for half-pint cork bottles on another, or pints on another, and as with our soakers the bottles enter the soaking trays neck down, there is a decided variance in the jar produced by the falling of a half-pint and a, flagon respectively, this jar soon causing the cup bottoms to give way. On this account they all had to he renewed with gun metal cages. These, though they last better, cause great loss from chipped necks, and in the case of long-necked cork bottles the shock causes the bottle to part at the shoulder. To sum the whole case up, the breakage or cullet increases enormously, whilst the renewal expenses of the automatic soakers, even with efficient engineers constantly in attendance, is a source of much trouble."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, pages 512 - 513.

What a great word cullet is. One of which, to my shame, I was unaware before embarking on this series. I must try to find a way to drop it into a conversation. "What a pain in the arse New Year's day is in Amsterdam. The streets are strewn with cullet. Just as well I don't ride a bike." That would do. Just a couple of months until I can use that one.

My guess is that a brewery today would use fewer different types of bottles. Back in the day, they'd be filling pints, halves, quarts and possibly nips, too. In addition, they might well be using three different ways of sealing the bottles: screw stoppers, crown corks and corks.

"As I have said previously, we are now adopting an improved form of hand washer, two tanks and four automatic brush-heads. One which we have had in use some four months does 180 dozen bottles per hour quite comfortably with five or six operators. This allows the bottles 15 minutes' soaking, which I find ample to remove or soften any deposit."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, page 513.

Ah, I'd been wondering what the point of the soaking was. When I soak bottles, it's to remove the labels. But I guess that would have happened as well as the deposit softening (that sounds vaguely obscene). The joy of the water-soluble glue used on returnable bottles today is that a few minutes in hot water will leave the glue dissolved and the label floating serenely. Whereas American labels can only be removed with the help of a pneumatic drill.

"The unit system, so admirable in every way, has one weak spot, and that is the filling of dripping bottles, and though possibly 90 per cent, of practical brewers will tell you that to fill a wet bottle makes absolutely no difference in the case of a chilled and filtered beer (and to some extent I must agree), still how many of those brewers would not prefer the absolutely dry bottle were it as easily obtainable? It was to meet the desire for a dry bottle that Mr. Adlam and I adopted a system by which the bottle may now be rinsed, dried with an air blast, and conveyed to the fillers by one simple operation."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, page 513.

What's your preference - wet or dry? Me, I could never be a dry.

Making bottle washing fascinate. Or at least entertain, that was my mission. Not sure I succeeded. Maybe I'll have more luck with stoppers, out topic next time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Luncheon Stout? Don't let the CJCP see the label in your blog or it'll be writing guidelines for it.