Tuesday, 6 September 2016

More bollocks about Scottish brewing

In response to my post about Scottish fermentation temperatures, someone pointed me in the direction of an article in All About Beer by K. Florian Kemp. You can find it here:

http://allaboutbeer.com/article/scottish-ales/

It's shockingly poor. Then again, pretty well everything written about Scottish brewing is. Here's a few of my corrections:

"Largely rural and natural, the ales of Scotland symbolize both the people and landscape, which can be at once rugged and pastoral."

Scotland is one of the most urbanised countries on the planet.

"Scottish ales are a hybrid of sorts, with largely indigenous ingredients lending finesse to brews that otherwise owe their profile to the disparate brewing cultures of England and Germany. They are top-fermented (albeit patiently), and truly ales in that respect, but are cold-conditioned in the manner of lager brewers of Bavaria and Bohemia."

Total bollocks. Largely indigenous ingredients? I've plenty of recipes wher ethe only Scottish ingredients are the yeast and water. Scottish beers have nothing in common with those of Bavaria. They weren't fermented slowly and they weren't cold conditioned. They'd have needed ice to keep the cellars just above freezing, as they did in Bavaria. But there isn't enough natural ice for that in Scotland.

"What then, makes Scottish ales different from their counterparts to the south? The answer lies in the irony that they employ many of the same ingredients, but have craftily waged a symbiotic relationship with their distinctive climate, which approximates the distant environs of Bavaria."

The Scottish climate isn't like the Bavarian one. They aren't even the same climate type.

"The color in a Scottish ale comes from judicious use of dark malt. Today, caramel malt is more common in the grist, but traditionally a small amount of roasted, unmalted barley is used for color and a hint of smokiness. Thrifty brewers of yore roasted the unsprouted, or slack, barley and used it in the mash, usually amounting to one to two percent on average."

Scottish brewers used bugger all dark malts. Other than in Porter and Stout, it was rare to see anything other than pale malt used. Do you know how many Scottish recipes I've found in brewing records that contain roast barley? Three from Maclay in the 1990's (all Oat Malt Stout) and one from William Younger (1949 DBS). That's from hundreds of recipes from 6 different breweries over a period spanning the 1840's to the 1990's. They coloured their beer with caramel after 1880.

Brewers who tried roasting their own barley would have ended up in court. Using unmalted grains was highly illegal before 1880. The only unmalted grains a brewer could have in his brewery were oats to feed the horses. Even roasting malt wasn't allowed in a brewery. Only certain maltsters were allowed to make it because the excise didn't trust people to use unmalted grain.

"There is historical evidence that Scottish beers were mashed at a slightly higher temperature than British beers. This would also add a fuller, more dextrinous wort, a characteristic that is evident in modern Scottish ales. Unlike the English, Scots were employing the practice of sparging, rinsing the grain while running off the wort, instead of the repeated drain and mash “parti-gyle” method to produce multiple brews from a single mash. As the sparge method filled the kettle slower, and resulted in prolonged contact with the fire, the wort acquired a more caramelized character. Again, this is yet another contemporary characteristic of the Scots ware, as it is achieved through a prolonged boil."

I've seen no evidence of higher mashing temperatures. The author is clearly clueless about parti-gyling. It's not only possible to parti-gyle with a mash then followed by a sparge, most Scottish breweries were enthusisatic users of the technique. Why would the kettle fill more slowly with a mash and a sparge? You run off the initial mash and boil that while you're sparging. A long boil? No total crap. In some periods Scottish boil times were shockingly short - a hour or even less.

"The cool climate of Scotland necessitated the selection of a yeast that could ferment at temperatures more like that of a lager beer. Still an ale yeast, it worked leisurely and left the beers somewhat under-fermented. Storage in cellars that approximate the lagering caves in Bavaria imparted a distinct lager-like character: smooth, full, and malty, with a dryish finish."

Edinburgh isn't really much cooler than much of England. And wort warms up when you start fermenting it anyway. As is demonstrated by the fact that Scottish brewers needed attemperators to keep the fermentation temperature down. Scottish fermentations were no cooler and no slower than those in England. They didn't have fucking lagering cellars. That's complete fantasy. They stored beer in a normal, uncooled cellars, just as in England.

Not done that for a while I'd forgotten how much fun it could be.

10 comments:

Lee said...

Well bashed,that load of bollox.
Funny thing; this bloke is quite well thought of over in the States. All sorts of articles he has written.
Poxy lager.
Akin to Bavaria! The summers there(I lived there in my teens) are as bloody hot as Italy or southern France.

Alistair Reece said...

I often get the feeling that for most people 'Scotland' consists only of the north west Highlands (which is the best bit to be sure, though I am biased), and forget the east coast and Central Belt.

Anonymous said...

Doing other people's work for them :)

Wilby Jackson said...

That was the most fun post about beer/brewing I've read in quite some time. Thank you for that :)

petalia paul said...

the worrying thought is that that total crap will probably be read and believed by many American readers who have no knowledge of the real facts

Jakesy said...

I heard that they fined their beers with haggis and the bottles were primed with Irn-Bru.

Anonymous said...

I sent you the link, and now I feel a little guilty for setting up the author for that. But just a little guilty - people shouldn't write stuff about the weather without checking the facts first, which isn't all that hard. And also thinking through what a bit of cooler weather might even mean considering brewers work in nice big solid buildings, not tiny ramshackle wooden sheds open on two sides to the winds.

I think a lot of beer writers get confused because they've read how regional differences affect wine. But they forget that regional differences matter so much to wine because the raw materials - grapes - vary so much depending on temperature and sun and rain. A brewery can easily make almost the same beer in all kinds of weather in different locations.

THOMAS CIZAUSKAS said...

Mr. Kemp may have based many of his assertions (although uncredited) on Greg Noonan's "Scotch Ale," published by Brewers Publications —the publishing arm of the [U.S.] Brewers Association— in 1993.

Ron Pattinson said...

Thomas,

Brewers Publications have several style books which are hopelessly outdated and plain wrong on history. Problem is, they're now painted into a corner. If they comission new books, it's an admission that the old ones were crap. And if the old crap ones still sell, why would they bother publishing more accurate ones?

I could knock off better books on all the British styles in a year. Much better books with way more recipes. Real historic ones. Maybe I should. Anyone want to fund me?

Unknown said...

Sounds like a fabulous Kickstarter project.