Saturday, 12 October 2013

Bottling in 1914 - women workers and collecting CO2

I never realised just how much there was to bottling before I embarked on this series.  It's probably the most mechanically complicated activity in a brewery. Racking draught beer barrels is a piece of piss in comparison.

Whenever topics like women in the workplace come up in old texts, it's clear that attitudes have changed a fair bit. You can't fault the next section for honesty, even though it might make us moderns squirm a little.

"Some firms do not like female labour, preferring boys. In my experience both have their uses — girls for labelling are far better than boys, whilst for bottle washing I find boys preferable. In my part of the country it was possible to obtain boys some few years ago who were only too willing to commence at 5s. per week and advance, now it is impossible to get a boy at all for less than 9s., and that for a weakling just left school. Girls of 18 will willingly start at 8s., and are far stronger. I have never found any trouble from working with the sexes mixed. It is well to have a good foreman (a retired army sergeant by preference), but it is unwise to harass the workers as many foremen are apt to do, and it certainly pays to treat the workers with some consideration, but on the other hand not to let them get discouraged from lack of supervision.

Women always rise to the occasion when there is a rush of trade preceding a holiday, and I have found a cup of tea and a cake given about four o'clock when they are working at high pressure very materially stimulates their efforts. Further, I have never known them take advantage of a little latitude given when things are quiet. It has been really remarkable the improvement in the appearance of the girls after a few weeks' work in an airy bottlery."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, pages 518 - 519.

Some odd stuff in there. Would male workers have reacted differently to a cup of tea and a piece of cake? Would they have ever drunk tea at work? A hundred years ago pretty much every brewery was "wet", with workers getting free beer. When I worked in a "wet" brewery, I don't remember ever having drunk a cup of tea. Why drink tea when there was free beer on offer?

Who wouldn't prefer an 18-year-old girl to weakling 14-year-old boy?

Presumably the women looked better after a few weeks because of the crap working conditions they'd enjoyed in their previous employment. I suppose breweries aren't that unhealthy places to work, as long as you keep your hands out of the machinery and don't get overcome by CO2

Which segues nicely into our next topic, collecting CO2. If you were artificially carbonating your beer, it made sense to collect the gas given off during primary fermentation.

"Collection of Carbonic Acid Gas.
The collection of CO2 in the brewery for use in the bottlery is a point of great importance. Considerable economy can be effected in the majority of bottling stores by the introduction of a gas collecting plant.

The matter of compressors is one of the most important things in this type of plant, as there is no question that gas compressed at from 150 to 250 lb. is likely to be burnt, even if the compressor in cooled by water. Hence there is always more or less danger of the beer getting that rank taste and flavour frequently noticed in carbonated beers. I should recommend that a low-pressure compressor be adopted, compressing the gas say at 100 lb. to the square inch or even lower, instead of the high-pressure machines installed; I am quite aware that storage vessels for low-pressure gas have to be made larger; at the same time, provided a sufficient number of fermenting vessels be connected up, very little storage capacity is required. This, in my opinion, is far preferable, as stored gas is likely to deteriorate when stored even for a short period."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, pages 519 - 520.

I'm not sure I follow that. How on earth can you burn CO2? Why would the pressure it was stored at affect it? And why would stored CO2 deteriorate? Just about the whole of that paragraph has me scratching my head.

This is a bit easier to understand:

"The following are the data of the average quantity of gas obtained from "English top-fermentation beers":—

A wort usually gives off 1 lb. of carbonic acid gas per barrel for every 1 lb. fermented, therefore the average beers usually produce 0.12 lb. per barrel per hour, and the amount of gas produced from a 100-barrel fermenting tun would therefore be about 12 lb. per hour. For practical purposes, however, we may reckon about one-tenth of a pound per hour per barrel of fermenting wort, or, say, 10 lb. of gas per hour on a 100-barrel vessel.

It is advisable to collect the gas about 15 hours after pitching, when the richest and purest gas commences to be given off. Collection usually continues for about 24—30 hours after this, so that the quantity of gas given off from a 100-barrel vessel in 24 hours would average about 240 lb. weight. A barrel of beer usually requires about 0.5 lb. of gas for carbonating, therefore the quantity of gas collected from a 100-barrel vessel should be sufficient to carbonate about 400 barrels of beer after allowing some margin for leakage, etc. Of course, if CO2 be used for top pressure this quantity will be materially reduced."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 20, Issue 6, November-December 1914, page 520.

10 lbs of CO2 and hour sounds like quite a lot. It's a fascinating fact that in 24 hours you could collect enough CO2 from 100 barrels of fermenting wort to carbonate 400 barrels of beer. A brewery could easily have been self-sufficient in CO2, even if they bottled a large percentage of their output.

I've been promising you some exciting stuff about dry hopping for a while. We will get to it eventually. Probably this year sometime.


Phil said...

I was looking into child labour the other day - I noticed that one of the demands of the Communist Manifesto, along with "nationalise basically everything and put everyone to work", is the abolition of child labour. I'd been under the vague impression that it was a one-off thing - that we'd gone straight from Victorians with factories full of eight-year-olds to modern kids not being allowed to leave school under 16 - but actually it took over 100 years: school leaving age was set at 10 in 1870, 12 in 1899, 14 in 1918 and 16 in 1972. So there'd be a plentiful supply of 'boys' to work on the bottling line in 1914, and they really would be boys. Interesting that they were starting to command higher wages - wonder what that was about? I wouldn't have thought enlistment for the war would have had much effect on the labour market by that stage.

I've been promising you some exciting stuff about dry hopping for a while. We will get to it eventually. Probably this year sometime.

Steady on, Ron, it's already October! Anyway, I'm still waiting for the one about Whitbread Trophy.

Anonymous said...

Burning of CO2 ? It can't happen but I wonder if it came into contact with for example rubber components or lubricants in the plant.If the gas was too hot these could introduce unpleasant substances in the carbonation gas.

Ron Pattinson said...


I'd almost forgotten about Whitbread Trophy. And Tankard, too.

The piece was written before the outbreak of war. No idea why boys were getting more expensive.

Anonymous said...

The gas given off fermenting beer contains more than just CO2- for intsance all the smell compounds: Terpenes, Terpenoids, Flavanoids and so on. These other compounds are most likely to be the cause of the off flavour in the recovered CO2.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. They would have been better served by introducing a small distillation purification plant for the off-gassed CO2... But that's just time and cost added. I've asked several breweries in the US about CO2 collection and they were theoretically in favour but technologically disinclined.

PenguinD said...

I have no expertise whatsoever, but I'm inclined to agree with one of the anonymous posts above. The collected CO2 would not be pure -- there would be all sorts of organic compounds in there. Then, when you compress the gas it heats up. So if you compress it to a higher pressure, you may get it hot enough that those organics starts to take on a burnt flavor. Here the author advises to avoid that by using a lower pressure.