Thursday, 10 October 2013

Bottling in 1914 - bottles and labelling

If this series seems never-ending to you, think about me - I have to write this stuff. You only have to read this stuff once at most. I've gone through it several times. It's a wonder I can keep awake. Don't despair. The end is almost in sight. At least for this source. There are still those two complete books I own on the subject.

Right. Let's crack on or we'll never get finished. Labelling:

Hand work is rapidly being superseded by power labelling, and with the very excellent machines now on the market there is very little excuse for any brewer turning out bottles with the labels put on at any angle and with an unsightly appearance. In these competitive times very much depends upon the get up of bottled beer, and what is more aggravating to the housewife than to have a bottle of beer or stout with a crooked label and a muddy bottom placed upon the clean table cloth — whatever the contents of the bottle may be, it is damned in advance."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, pages 516 - 517.

It's a universally-accepted truth that housewives dislike muddy bottoms on their kitchen tables. The number of times that's got me into trouble. Joking aside, making sure the bottles are clean and the labels on straight is pretty basic stuff. Though I've had beers with crooked labels. Ones with two labels, one over the other. Admittedly, from Belgian breweries. They're an anarchic lot, the Belgians.

Now for the machinery that put the labels on:

"The labelling machines most favoured put on the two or more labels in one action, they put them on straight, and they put them on to sweating bottles straight from the machines; and, further, provided the proper mucilage be used, they do not drop off with the subsequent shaking they get before the bottle dries off. The machines I am speaking of have been in use some two years and have cost practically nothing for repairs, they do 180 dozen per hour comfortably, and, I find, replace six girls. So far, I have not heard of a machine which will put on a capsule at the same time as the body label, though doubtless this will come in time."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, page 517.

Mucilage? That sounds disgusting. I think he means glue. And by capsule something that went over the stopper and neck of the bottles. Like the foil things beers that are trying to look posh have.

Now let's look at the bottles themselves:

"Of bottles used for chilled beers I find the amber colour the most suitable: the beer looks best in it and the breakage is considerably less, the bottles stand rather more pressure than the black or dark green. The price is rather higher, but I think it is more than recovered. I have come to the conclusion that the dark green bottle is more brittle, owing to the bottle makers buying cullet and using it somewhat freely with the new metal in their furnaces."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, page 517.

That first sentence could be interpreted to mean that he preferred another type of bottle for naturally-conditioned beers. But I don't believe that he means that. I'm not going to argue with him, though. And history has proved him right. Amber has been by far the commonest colour for beer bottles over the years. Because of the UV protection it offers. I can't comment on whether green bottles were more brittle. It probably depended on who made them.

Now there's a discussion of my new favourite word, cullet:

"The cullet account is one of the black spots in most bottleries, and many brewers consider themselves lucky who have no sale for it, consequently it gets thrown away or buried, after a more or less conscientious attempt to estimate the amount. Many attempts have been made to keep the accounts for cullet to their separate departments, that which arrives on the drays from the public, that caused in washing, that in filling, and, lastly, the bursts after filling; but, at best, these are not reliable, depending, as they do, largely on the honesty of the man in charge of the department making the return.

. . .

Care must be taken that stoppers are not swept up with the cullet, and it is only by careful supervision that this and many other losses can be avoided. A little care in washing, paying particular attention to the temperature of the soaking liquor that it is not too hot, and, again, in filling bottles which are cool, will greatly reduce the breakage, as bottles filled when warm burst at a great rate on the machines."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, pages 517 - 518.

It sounds like breakages were a real problem. And there were loads of opportunities for bottles to break during the process: during soaking, washing, filling, sealing, packing and transporting. I imagine it crunching with every footstep. It still happens today, obviously. The sound of breaking glass is sometimes heard in every bottling hall.

We've still quite a way to go until we get to the bit that might interest one or two of you: dry hopping. Lots in the discussion at the end of the presentation about that.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that they had problems with cullet when these days we are encouraged to recycle glass.Although my understanding is that green glass isn't recycled in the UK as there's a great surplus of it because of all the imported bottled drinks.Metal of course is the trade jargon for the glass itself, molten or solid but unformed.

Bailey said...

On the subject of breakages, there's an account in the Watney's board minutes (London Metropolitan Archive) from 1967 of a bottling-line worker being blinded by a burst bottle: 'It is anticipated that this accident will result in a substantial claim for damages...'

Ron Pattinson said...


dangerous things, bottles, especially when under pressure. Nice find. I've never looked at any Watney material in the LMA. I would have expected their records to be in the City of Westminster Archives.

Bailey said...

A big chunk of Watney's stuff seems to have ended up at the LMA because of the merger with Truman -- suspect they dumped company paperwork in a spare room at Brick Lane.

It's mostly pretty dull stuff -- board minutes rather than brewing logs -- but some interesting nuggets nonetheless.

We also liked the yearly debate over whether to keep Hurford Janes on the books -- archivists and historians were considered a terrible waste of money! -- and the post-mortem on the very expensive rebranding exercise carried out by the trendy Design Research Unit.