Thursday, 5 January 2017

Whitbread’s brewery in 1960 (part two)

Time to share some of the text of The Sphere article with you. Generous bastard that I am.

Interesting stuff, what follows, though I’m dubious about the veracity of the first sentence:

Whitbread's, a family business employing over a thousand people at its main brewery on either side of Chiswell Street, has been brewing beer on the same site for more than 200 years. Although, through the centuries, the basic principles of brewing have not changed, the Company have introduced new methods and new machinery. Traditionally, the brewing vessels have been made of copper but, now, many of them are being replaced by stainless steel. Particular advances have been made in brewing since 1871 when Louis Pasteur visited the brewery at the invitation of the partners to study the fermentation of malt liquors.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 34.

Whitbread became a limited company in 1889, meaning it doesn’t sound like a proper family business. Though there were still Whitbread family members in important positions, there were shareholders from outside the family. They did the typical trick of having half the capital in the form of ordinary shares which were retained by the Whitbread partners, while non-voting 4.5% preference shares were sold to the public. Meaning the partners had a considerable influx of outside cash - £625,000 – while retaining full control*.

And 1,000 employees sounds too many even for a large brewery like Whitbread. Perhaps that figure includes everyone Whitbread employed in London.

Pasteur was invited to the brewery not for a leisurely study, but because Whitbread was having problems with their yeast. They supposedly went out and bought a microscope the day after his visit.

“Beer is an extract of malted barley, mixed with hops and fermented with yeast. The malt gives it body and strength; the hops a slightly bitter flavour, and the yeast transforms it from a wort to a vital living substance, beer. Until required for brewing, the malt is stored in large vessels which are known as hoppers. When the brewing process begins, the malt is first run through mills, where foreign substances are extracted before the grains are cracked. It is then passed to the copper-domed mash tuns and mixed with water (known in the industry as "liquor") to be boiled with hops. Subsequently, the liquid, which is known as "wort," is passed through a hop-back to extract the spent hops. It then flows as a bitter-sweet liquid to the fermenting squares where yeast is pitched in to start the fermentation process. After some 24 to 36 hours, the yeast is skimmed off the top and the wort continues to ferment for a further four to seven days in tanks of Welsh slate or stainless steel, in the vast Porter Tun Room. Towards the final stages in the brewing process, the beer is run down to the storage vessel, or, in the case of mild ale, direct to casks. Beer for bottling is brewed entirely separately and, after being stored in the brewery cellars, is sent in bulk to the bottling depots.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 34.

That sounds rather like a dropping system of fermentation. Though the first vessel used was usually a tall round, with the wort then dropping down into a shallower square. Did they really rack into casks directly from the fermenters? I suspect the beer really went into a holding tank and was racked from there.

That stuff about beer for bottling being brewed totally separately – total bollocks. I know that for certain, having seen draught Mild and Forest Brown parti-gyled together on numerous occasions. And the bottled Whitbread Pale Ale with draught Bitter.

Whitbread had been big on bottled beer even before WW I, when it wasn’t all that popular.

“At depots in Britain and Belgium 1,250,000 bottles are filled every working day. This year a new depot was opened at Loughborough, near Leicester, to bring the United Kingdom total to 40; in Belgium the Company have two depots - one at Brussels and one at Antwerp. At the depots, modern labour-saving devices include an automatic machine which crates more than 1,500 dozen bottles an hour.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 34.

Assuming those bottles were mostly half pints, I make that around 2,170 barrels being bottled per day, 651,000 barrels per year. That’s an awful lot of beer. Though spread around 42 bottling stores, that’s an average of only around 50 barrels each per day.

Whitbread sold a lot of beer in Belgium, principally Whitbread Pale Ale and Whitbread Stout. Both of which I believe are still available there. I can remember drinking a Whitbread Pale Ale in Belgium within the last 10 years.

I’ll finish with some more pretty pictures.

“After thirty-six hours in the fermenting squares, the wort is dropped into tanks and the yeast is skimmed off automatically. The liquid then rests for about 4.5 days, during which it is called beer for the first time. This room at the Whitbread Brewery is known as the Porter Tun Room. Its roof, completed by 1784, has an unsupported span second only in size to Westminster Hall in London. Despite incendiary bombs it has been preserved as a fine example of King Post roof construction in Britain.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 34.

“Right: As the yeast begins to work on the wort to transform it into beer, temperatures are carefully controlled in order to ensure the most effective fermentation.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 34.

“Below: A duty brewer checks the temperature gauge as mash (ground malt mixed with hot liquor) flows into the mash tuns.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 34.

Still not finished, mind. Another couple of parts to follow.

* London Evening Standard - Monday 29 July 1889, page 2.

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