Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Brewing in WW II (part ten)

This is turning into another long series. But it's all good stuff, well worth learning.

We'll begin with isinglass. Pretty important for British brewers of the time who delivered a majority of their beer in cask form. Of course, you can make cask beer without finings, if you're patient. Unfortunately time was also in short supply during wartime. I hadn't realised where isinglass came from.

"Isinglass was a matter of some concern during the early days as supplies were short, especially of those types which were most favoured; and while brewers were anxious to increase their reserve, the merchants could not meet all demands as shipments were delayed or did not arrive. When the Ministry of Food took control of imports those interested in the trade were asked to organize, and the Isinglass Trades Association was formed and an amount of isinglass calculated to meet the brewers' needs was allowed to be imported. After Japan entered the war, supplies from Malay and Burma, consisting of Saigon and Penang, were cut off, and the only supplies available since have been from India and Brazil. The isinglass from these sources is the cheaper and less favoured types and mixtures of these must have been used entirely in most breweries during the past few years. Beers appear to have fined well with these so-called inferior grades of finings, although probably the public has not been very critical when supplies of beer have been so short. It is probable, however, that force of circumstances may have induced brewers to alter their views with regard to rulings, and especially to the comparative value of the finer grades of isinglass. This experience with the lower grades during the past years certainly appears to confirm the views J. S. Ford expressed in his Horace Brown Memorial Lecture (ibid., 1941, 342) that, provided the isinglass was free from smell, any of the 26 varieties ranging in price from 1s. 6d. to 10s. 6d. per lb. that he had tested was suitable for fining beer.
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 125.

I didn't realise Britain sourced most of its isinglass from the Far East. I can see how Japan's invasion of Burma and Malaya buggered that up. I also hadn't realised there were so many different types of isinglass. It sounds like brewers had overestimated the difference in quality between expensive and cheap isinglass. Basically as long as it didn't smell nasty you were OK.

Barrel staves were always going to be a problem because of where British brewers sourced them. There was little British oak, so that wasn't a realistic option. There was plenty of American oak, but it added a funny flavour to beer. Leaving Memel oak from the Eastern Baltic as the only real possibility. Until war started. Obviously shipping staves across a German-dominated Baltic was never going to happen.

"The maintenance of cask plant has been another problem which has not proved easy of solution as the usual supplies of oak staves from the Baltic were cut off, while lack of shipping space prevented the importation of anything like an adequate supply of American oak after the United States entered the war. New casks were consequently almost impossible to obtain during most of the war period, and many casks have been kept in use which would otherwise have been considered unfit. The quick consumption probably save a good deal of beer that might have become unsaleable if it had been kept for any length of time in the publicans' cellars, while empties were quickly returned. This quick circulation of casks was also of assistance, in view of the poor quality of labour available for cask washing, especially during the later period. There appears to be very little prospect of obtaining Memel oak staves in the near future, while any improvement in the supply from America is hardly considered likely. English oak can be used, but the supply is quite inadequate to make up the deficiency of casks which now exists.
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 125.

Whitbread had wisely bought in a large supply of staves before the war started. Then saw them go up in smoke in one of the early air raids on London in 1940.

I can imagine how difficult it must have been to maintain a sufficient supply of casks when you couldn't get new ones. It sounds like there were many factors that encouraged a quick turnaround of beer, from lack of biological stability to shitty casks, to a thirsty public desperate for any beer they get hold of.

It sounds as if the problems were set to continue for a while after the end of the war as the supply of staves was little improved. With the Eastern Baltic firmly under Soviet control, there was little prospect of finding a supply there. The solution: make casks of something else:

"It will be necessary, therefore, for brewers seriously to consider the adoption of some other type of cask in order to make up the shortage. The use of stainless steel casks was being considered before the war, although the question of proper insulation raised difficulties. Laminated casks have been widely used in America and appear to have proved quite satisfactory for their conditions. These are constructed of plywood staves, the inside and outside layers being of oak while the inner layers are birch, which are bound together with a plastic material, Some of these casks have already been tried in this country with satisfactory results, and their adoption is probably the only course open to make up the present shortage."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 125.

I struggle to believe that plywood casks would work well. Presumably the idea of having the outer sections of oak was to have the beer inside in contact with a material that wasn't going to taint it and a tough surface on the outside of the barrel to take any knocks.

Yeast next time.

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