Thursday, 5 February 2015

Brewing in 1960’s Canada – the cellars

We’re approaching the end of the brewing process. When did I embark on this description of brewing in Canada? It feels like spring of 1982.

We’re venturing down into the bowels of the brewery, the cellars:

“The Cellars: The beer now passes through a period of maturing and storage. After fermentation it is cooled and placed in primary storage at 32°F. for from one to three weeks. The beer is then filtered, cooled again to 32°F. and moved to the chilling storage.

After 10 to 14 days in this secondary storage the beer is "polished" by filtration, and transferred to tanks for bottling or "racking" into kegs. It is now finished beer.”
"Brewing in Canada", Brewers Association of Canada, 1965, page 33.

Is it me, or does everything seem to be being done twice? Cold storage, then filtration, followed by . . . . cold storage, then filtration again. It sounds like the same process was being followed for both top- and bottom-fermenting beer. For a Lager, a maximum of five weeks lagering doesn’t sound like much. While for an Ale it sounds like rather a lot.

The next part of the process, obviously, is getting the finished beer into a package in which it could be transported to customers. Let’s look at the first option, bottling.

“Packaging: The bottleshop of a brewery is a vast, busy place with a Rube-Goldberg-like tangle of conveyors moving back and forth and from one floor to another. The returned empty bottles go through "soakers" in which they receive a thorough cleaning. After washing, the bottles are inspected both electronically and visually, and pass on to the rotary filler. Some of these whirling machines can fill up to 700 bottles per minute. A "crowning" machine, integrated with the filler, places caps on the bottles. The filled bottles then pass through a "tunnel" pasteurizer — often 75 feet from end to end and able to hold 15,000 bottles — where the temperature of the beer is raised to 140°F. for 10 minutes, then cooled to room temperature.

Emerging from the pasteurizer, the bottles are re-inspected, labelled, automatically placed in boxes, stacked on pallets by an automatic machine and carried by lift truck to the warehousing areas to wait for shipment.”
"Brewing in Canada", Brewers Association of Canada, 1965, pages 33 - 34.

Bottling lines are some of the most automated parts of a brewery. Lots of moving parts, lots of bottles rattling around on conveyors from one process to the next. And lots of things that can go wrong. From conversations with brewers, it’s clear that they can be problematic. And need lots of expensive maintenance and repair. Not sure I’d want to own one. At least not if I was responsible for keeping the damn thing running.

It sounds like all bottled beer was pasteurised. Not much of a surprise, that. It’s what I would have assumed.

Finally draught beer:

“Beer which is to be kegged and sold as "draught" goes a different route. Pasteurization adds to the "shelf life", or length of time beer may be kept. Since draught beer is sold immediately, it is not pasteurized, but placed in sterilized stainless steel or aluminum kegs (usually "half barrel" size, containing 12.5 gallons), closed with a bung banged home by hand with a hammer, and it's ready to go.”
"Brewing in Canada", Brewers Association of Canada, 1965, page 34.

That’s similar to in the US, where bottles were pasteurised and kegs weren’t. Except in exceptional circumstances or for specific brands. Like Miller Genuine Draft, which always struck me as a weird name for a bottled beer. While in reality “draft” in this context is a reference to it being unpasteurised.

Next time we’ll be looking at the bottles themselves.


Bill said...

12.5 gallons seems wrong for a half barrel.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, I studied for a time in Manitoba in the mid-70's. Select was a big brand then and I recall parties with cases of the stuff (yet rather generic in taste to my best recollection).

Another local brand was Club. This too was very popular and there was a catchyjingle on radio ads: "Club, the funky funky beer now, Club, the funky funky beer...". (You get the idea). Rather ordinary-tasting too, nothing funky about it: brett had been washed out of Canadian beer for some 60 years by then, but I'd guess it was a try at connecting to the 20's crowd and pop music scene.


Ron Pattinson said...


I thought it looked odd too. But I think I understand what it is. It's a half US barrel, but given in Imperial rather than US gallons.