Tuesday, 12 November 2013

American Chilled and carbonated draught beer (part two)

We're back in 1890's USA, looking at the tricky problem of how to get highly carbonated beer into a barrel without it frothing all over the place.

What we're talking about is basically keg beer. The Americans were miles ahead of British brewers in brewing this type of beer. While chilled and carbonated bottled beer was adopted relatively quickly in Britain, it wasn't until after WW II that keg beer was produced on any scale. We all know about Watneys introducing keg beer in the 1930's, but there had been an earlier attempt.

In his delightful book "Seventy Rolling Years", Sydney Nevile mentions an attempt by Worthington to introduce American-style draught beer around 1911. It failed because drinkers didn't like the taste. I can understand why the situation was different in the USA. There drinkers had been exposed to draught Lager, which was more similar to this type of keg beer than British cask Ale.

We'll start with the technical stuff:

"The ale leaves the filter at a temperature of 35° to 36C F., in an absolutely brilliant state, and highly charged with carbonic acid, and it has now to be racked into casks whilst still under pressure, and in such a manner as to allow of these being completely filled and bunged down, without any "fobbing," or loss of ale or gas.

These are by no means easy conditions to fulfil, and a great deal of mechanical ingenuity has been exercised in devising suitable racking machinery.

Some of the machines are of a very complicated nature, but there is one which, for simplicity and effectiveness combined, leaves nothing to be desired; this is the racking machine of the Golden Gates Manufacturing Company of New York.

The cold and carbonated ale from the fillers, without being released from its initial pressure, is, in the first instance, conducted into a large copper main, fixed horizontally on wall brackets at a suitable height in the cellar. This main is furnished with any desired number of cocks, to which flexible pipes are attached, and these flexible pipes are furnished at their free ends with metal faucets of a peculiar construction, which admit of being easily and tightly connected with a special metal valve fixed into the tap-hole of each cask. This valve in its normal position, is closed, but on giving the faucet a quarter turn the valve opens, and, on opening the cock above, the ale flows into the cask.
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 3, Issue 6, November-December 1897, pages 472 - 473.

I find this interesting: they're filling the barrels through the tap hole. How strange. That's now got me wondering if these were German-style or British-style barrels. The difference being that a British barrel has the tap hole at the bottom of one of the barrel heads, whereas a German barrel has it as the bottom of one of the barrel sides.

This next bit is really clever. I suspect this is exactly how highly-carbonated beer is filled into kegs today.

"It is evident that if the bung-holes of the cask were left open when the main cocks were turned on, the rush of ale into the cask, under the high pressure existing in the main, would result in an enormous amount of "fobbing," which would prevent the cask from being properly filled, and would result in a waste of ale and loss of gas. This is prevented by the following simple device.

There is another copper main running parallel with the racking main, and in connection with a reservoir of compressed air or carbonic acid gas which is always maintained at a pressure just below that of the ale to be racked. There is a series of taps in this second main, also furnished with flexible tubes terminating in faucets, which can be connected with metal valves fitted into the bung-hole of each cask. Before filling the ale into the casks these connections are made, and a back pressure is produced in the empty cask, just a little less than that of the ale in the racking main, so that when the racking taps are turned on, the ale quietly fills the cask and forces back the compressed air into the air reservoir. By means of a small glass sight-feeder it is known when the cask is fall; the racking tap is then closed and both faucets are removed, the valves at the same time closing automatically. In this way every cask can be quite filled with the bright carbonated ale without the slightest frothing, and without loss of any gas or ale.

The metal valves, which are permanently fixed in the tap-hole and bung-bole of the cask, can only be opened by inserting the faucet, or a key of a certain construction, and when the cask has to be tapped such a faucet in attached to the coupling of the beer-engine through which the ale is to be drawn, and the valve is unlocked by a quarter-turn of the faucet. In order to keep the ale fully charged with gas during its consumption, it is usual in the saloons to have a small hydraulic motor air-pump, which is connected, also by a faucet, with the second valve in the bung-hole, the ale being thus drawn under air pressure. The ale can be iced, either by packing ice round the cask itself or by drawing it through a coil of pipes surrounded by ice in ice-cold water. From what I have already said about the previous treatment of the ale, it will be evident that although ice-cold it will be perfectly brilliant, and highly charged with carbonic acid.

As a rule, beer of this class, if well brewed, will retain its brilliancy for at least three weeks on comparatively slow draught, and it can be treated in the cellars of the consumer in exactly the same manner as lager."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 3, Issue 6, November-December 1897, pages 473 - 474.
With all the description of very fizzy keg beer, it's odd to suddenly read the word "beer-engine". It sounds as if they were still pulling this beer through a handpump. Interesting, eh? Though it was assisted with air pressure. It sounds like a mxture of the English system of serving beer and the Czech one (before 1990 with sir rather than CO2 pressure).

You can see the attraction to the publican of a beer that you could keep on for three weeks. Much more convenient than fiddly cask beer. Now here's a thought: when was the last cask-conditioned beer produced in the USA? It sounds like the large brewers, at least, had already abandonned it by the 1890's.

This next section was the one that most caught my attention because it discusses the flavour of the beer. Up until now, we've only been looking at purely technical considerations.

"There is, however, one point which, I have no doubt, will strike you all, as practical brewers. Such an ale will not possess any of those fine, well-matured qualities which we associate with an after-fermentation in the cask. The cold-storage process, when carried out exactly as I have described it, necessarily stereotypes the qualities which the beer possesses at racking, since all secondary fermentation after leaving the racking vessel is precluded, owing to the temperature of storage being lower than that at which the top fermentation yeast can retain its activity. This is a fault which the American brewers appear scarcely to have recognised at present, but it is one which will no doubt be remedied before long, especially as it admits of such easy alteration. All that is required is to store the ale, for a week or two after leaving the brewery, in vats at an ordinary temperature of 55° F., or thereabouts, with the addition of some dry hops, until it is somewhat matured by a natural process of after-fermentation. It can then have its temperature reduced and pass on to the cold-storage vats, and from there be passed through the usual process of carbonation and filtration.

There are already one or two brewers in the United States who are so far modifying the cold-storage system as to mature the ale previously, in the manner I have just indicated, and the result has proved eminently satisfactory. It is on these lines that I would recommend any one in this country to go who may be desirous of giving the system a trial, for without a certain amount of previous maturation by ordinary storage it is not possible to obtain all those qualities which are desired by a critical public. The combination of the two systems, limited maturation, and cold storage with its attendant filtration and carbonation, give a beer which, if consumed within a reasonable time, is as near perfection as anything can be."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 3, Issue 6, November-December 1897, page 474.

What a lovely turn of phrase this is: "The cold-storage process . . . necessarily stereotypes the qualities which the beer possesses at racking". That's a nice way of saying that you're lumbered with how the beer tastes at racking time as it won't mature.

I like Horace Brown's naive belief that American brewers would realise their beer didn't taste that great and would go to the expense of warm-conditioning for a couple of weeks. My guess is that, as American drinkers didn't seem to mind the taste of the cold-conditioned Ale, brewers didn't see the point of the extra trouble and expense of warm-conditioning.

It's an interesting claim at the end. If matured for a bit before chilling, this keg beer was about as good as beer could get. Not sure I agree with that. I've yet to find any beer that can beat well-handled cask.


Gary Gillman said...

Some of this warm-conditioning continued here for a while, one of the Molsons describes it in an article in the Journal in the 1920's. I think Labatt 50 received something similar into the 1950's but I'd doubt it today although it still has an aleish taste.

Some of the bottled modern English beers probably are warm-conditioned before filtering and pasteurizing, I'd guess e.g. the St. Peter's line but probably many others.

Didn't the Scots use compressed air for a long time to dispense? Now avoided due to staling concerns but it did lend a certain creamy quality to the beer and apparently a jerry-rig of such a system by a Dublin pub owner was the precursor to the Guinness nitrogen dispense system.

I agree though the cask system (no addition of compressed air or gas) offers the best taste. It just does - when properly done.


Rob said...

"The ale can be iced, either by packing ice round the cask itself or by drawing it through a coil of pipes surrounded by ice in ice-cold water."

There is a bar near me, which for historical preservation reasons, has kept their "No Coils!" sign.

Apparently that was a selling point in the early 20th century.