Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Brewing in WW II (part three)

Lots more stuff about barley and malting during WW II. I admit much is going straight over my head. All this nitrogen stuff.

I'm now totally confused about nitrogen in barley. It seems it's not so much how much nitrogen, but how much of which sort, that counts.

"There was another wet harvest in the following year, 1942, although the barleys showed an improvement over 1941. The yield was high, however, but the quality was variable, and while there was a limited supply of good quality, a large quantity was weathered and spoiled by the wet, and there was much that was of low grade. The nitrogen varied from 1.2 to as high as 1.8 per cent, in the barleys which were malted. In view of the limited supply of good quality barleys, these could only be obtained by the buyers if they were prepared to take some of the poorer quality as well. Malts were in consequence variable, and those made up from the poorer qualities showed poor modification and were high in nitrogen."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 118.

Let me get this right, 1942 was a poor harvest, despite the yield being high. So it was poor in terms of barley quality rather than quantity. Loads of barley around, but not much of it very good. And the crap barley made poorly modified malt with loads of nitrogen. Still not sure I get this nitrogen thing.

It sounds like much the same story in 1944:

"Harvesting conditions were again bad in 1944, as the weather broke in early August and persisted into September. Barleys were variable and the bulk was of poor quality, while the nitrogen was high. Those harvested early, before the rain, were in good condition and of fair quality, but the maltsters were not in a position to buy very heavily as large quantities of the good barleys of 1943 had been held over to commence malting the next season, and their bins were full. The consequence was that most of this early harvested barley was taken up by the Ministry of Food, and when the maltsters came into the market wet weather conditions had spoiled the crop and the barleys available were of poor quality. The yield was low, and in order to meet the brewers' requirements, a larger quantity of very low grade barleys were malted than ever before, and the season was described as the worst ever experienced. Malts were exceedingly variable and as a large proportion of the worst barleys were malted late in the season which extended well into the summer, the malts produced were deplorable.
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 118.

Sounds like a real cock up in malting in 1944. Though I'm surprised to hear that maltsters still had lots of barley left over from 1943. When they say the barley was taken by the Ministry of Food, I assume it was being used to make bread. The "national loaf" contained a certain percentage of barley

Wet weather at harvest time definitely seems to be the enemy. I must take a look in brewing records of the period to see if there's evidence of crap malt. A poor yield should be an indication of low-quality malt. It sounds as if a lot of it was made.

Here's an overview of wartime barley harvests:

"Such a sequence of years, only two of which produced malts that could be considered as of average quality, would have produced innumerable difficulties in maintaining a satisfactory standard of quality even in peace time where the brewer was not hampered with restrictions in respect to materials and when he had sufficient staff and labour was plentiful. It is to his credit that he succeeded as well as he did, although perhaps the standard of quality which was attained, especially as the years went on, was not always very high and, he was afraid could have hardly given some brewers, at least, much cause for congratulation, but the demand always exceeded supply, and the public had to be satisfied with what they were given or go without and so complaints were useless.
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 118.

Basically, the harvests were generally so bad that brewers would have had difficulties even in peacetime. Of course, one advantage of wartime was that the public learned to be less fussy. Brewers could get away with below par beer because drinkers had no alternative, other than to go without. A real sellers market.

And finally a non weather-related problem: labour shortages.

"Conscription and the insistent demands of the munition factories had taken such a toll of labour that the shortage became acute quite early in the war. Although everyone in the brewing industry suffered, it was perhaps the maltsters who were hardest, hit as malting operatives have to be expert at their job and take time to train. This handicap was most serious in 1940 and 1941 and again in 1944, when the quality of the barleys was poor and the nitrogen content high. Such barleys require more skill and attention on the floors and a longer flooring period, which few maltsters found it possible to give, and consequently modification was poor and the standard of quality of most of the malts was low."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, pages 118 - 119.

I suppose it's obvious that you can't operate as well without skilled and experienced staff. I can imagine the combination of a lack of skilled workers and rubbish quality barley must have driven maltsters to despair.

There may be more on malting next time. Or I may jump forward to adjuncts. It depends on my mood.


Matt said...

Reminds me of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge in which the main character buys grain hoping to sell it high after the predicted wet harvest but panics and sells it low just before the rains come and is bankrupted.

Edd Draper said...

Someone once offered to lend me a book that was a basic introduction to the science of malting, but it was about 5 inches thick, and knowing I was just as thick I never even gave it a once-over. There really must be a lot more to it than most brewers even suspect. I am curious as to what effect on the finished beer an excessively high nitrogen content malt would have. Does it just affect efficiency by somehow influencing the amount of sugar obtainable, or is there a flavour consequence from it? It would be interesting to talk to someone who remembers drinking wartime beer to hear about how it tasted...

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, there is an interesting analogue to all this in the whisky industry. It was affected equally by penury of materials and in fact distilling was banned for some years but reintroduced late in the war. Peat, abandoned in favour of coke by the bulk of the Scots whisky industry prior to 1939 - I know this will have a familiar ring! - came back in '44 since resort was had to older methods of drying barley malt due to strict allocations of coal.

Some who have tasted, say, Macallan distilled in '44-'45 detect a marked peat note whereas in general the marque avoided the peat reek both both and after the war.

Whisky and beer, and jenever, really are very closely connected.


Ed said...

Nitrogen level is basically a way of saying the protein content. If nitrogen is >1.65% you'll get problems with protein haze in the beer.