Thursday, 26 March 2015

Cask beer in the 1950’s – empty casks and cleaning glasses

We’re finally there. At the end of my marathon examination of cask beer handling in the 1950’s. I’m going to have to find something else to write about.

Jeffery has had plenty of veiled (and not so veiled) anger towards publicans and their wastefulness and incompetence. I can understand why. A careless or untrained landlord can ruin the brewer’s work in an instant. It must have been frustrating to confide your lovely, sound beer to someone who would transform it into undrinkable muck. And ruin the casks it came in to boot.

Empty Casks.
If the value of beer casks was sufficiently appreciated more care would be taken of them when empty than is now unhappily the case. The life of a well-made cask with proper usage is anything from 20 to 30 years, but we have on many occasions seen this life reduced to a year or so. The reason was that someone omitted to seal the cask up when it was empty and make it air-tight. Over and over again we have found empty casks thrown into any convenient comer of the yard, without shive, peg, or cork. Blue mould round the tap hole has indicated a similar state, and more often than not rain water, inside. Rain water means irretrievable destruction, because once it attains access to the inside of a cask, the cask becomes what is known as a 'stinker'. Excessive and long infection by mould spores also have a similar effect. So it is urgently necessary to see that every cask is made both air- and water-tight as soon as the tap has been removed, even if the cask is still to be kept in the cellar. If it is necessary to put it outside in the open, let it be stored, if possible, in a shady place.”
Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 260 - 261.

This makes me realise that I had no idea how to handle the casks me and my brother owned. I didn’t realise that you had seal a cask after emptying it. The firkins are well a truly buggered now as they’ve been in my brother’s garden for years

Rain water seems particularly dangerous. Brewers hated stinkers. You read about them in brewing texts all the way back to the 18th century. They could, sometimes, be saved by extensive cleaning and treatment, which usually involved shaving wood from the inside and the application of chemicals.

Casks were a big investment for a brewery, tying up large amounts of capital. They were expensive because they were hand-made by skilled craftsmen. It must have been heartbreaking to see them ruined early in their potential life by an idiot landlord.

I’m starting to see the crap behind the romance of wooden casks. I assume much of this doesn’t apply quite the same way to metal casks. The big difference being that you can easily sterilise them, unlike the porous surface of a wooden cask.

And finally . . . . cleaning glasses.

Cleaning and Sterilization of Beer Glasses.
Although not coming within the category of cellar management, a comment may be appropriately inserted here concerning the treatment of beer glasses. With the increasing public interest in hygiene the question of sterilization of beer glasses becomes important. This is not the place to go into the question of adequate washing and rinsing facilities, but a notable contribution to the problem of removing any danger of spreading infection by glasses is provided by the new class of quaternary ammonium antiseptics to which reference has already been made. By dipping the glass into a weak solution of one of these useful compounds, sterility is rapidly attained. This, if followed by a rinse in warm water, results in a glass which is both clean in appearance and sterile. Some of these compounds have been found to affect the head retention of the beer, but there are special ones on the market which if used according to the maker's instructions are entirely free from this disadvantage. A small automatic dispenser can be supplied by which a suitable dose is added each time the sink bowl is filled.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 261.

I guess the glass is the final link in the chain leading form hops and grains to the beer in the drinker’s mouth. And yet another place where all the good work that has gone before can be messed up. When you look at all the places things can go wrong it’s incredible cask beer has survived. And that it’s ever in good condition.

If you were putting leftover beer back into the cask you’d want to be sure your glasses were clean. Then again, if you were pulling crap like that you probably weren’t that fussed about hygiene.

If you’re lucky, I might pull some other stuff from Jeffery’s book. The stuff about a brewery’s location is especially fascinating.


Gary Gillman said...

It makes me think a good business may have been - and still may be - for an independent business to advise pubs on cellarmanship and periodically visit to monitor and ensure good practice in various areas.


Ron Pattinson said...


that would be Cask Marque.

Anonymous said...

What's your opinion on these fellows..?

Anonymous said...

Ooh, ooh.*Raises and waves hand in the air like an hyper-active schoolboy* Please Sir! More about the siting of a brewery, please.

Gary Gillman said...

Yes thanks and I knew of them but had thought (wrongly) they were an arm of one of the brewers or pubcos with a limited reach. In fact (I checked) it is a non-profit group, apparently independent. I had in mind a private, profit-making business as an opportunity for a retired publican perhaps or brewer. No certification, just charge a fee for the service.

But maybe all the available work is taken up by Cask Marque, I don't know.


Paul said...

Were there any kind of controls on them to limit waste? For instance, charging a deposit which was refunded when they were returned in good condition?

In the US, there's a vaguely parallel issue with milk crates, where dairies sometimes go to great lengths to make sure the crates they send out to stores come back in good condition:

Obviously casks need a lot more care than plastic crates, though.

Ron Pattinson said...