Friday, 31 January 2020

A British brewer describes Belgian beers in the 1880s (part four)

We now get onto the precise reason why Belgian beer was so bad. It waws all to do with their excise laws.

I did already know a little about this. Partly because the system in The Netherlands was the same, I think dating from when Belgium and Holland were a single country. It was the main reason why Lager-brewing didn't take off until quite late.

A change in the Dutch tax system in 1867 helped Lager-brewing more financially viable. Until then tax was charged on every time the mash tun was filled. For top-fermenting beers which were brewed by the infusion method, the mash tun was only filled once. With a decocted Lager, it was filled two or three times, thereby multiplying the amount of tax due. After 1867 brewers also had the option to pay tax based on the quantity of malt used. By opting for this new method of taxation, it was possible to brew bottom-fermenting beer much more cheaply.

It seems that such a choice wasn't an option in Belgium. Which could explain why so little bottom-fermenting beer was brewed there.

"The principal fault is to be traced to the ridiculous complexity of the fiscal laws, which would seem to have been devised with a view to absolutely prevent the brewer from producing a glass of wholesome ale; and the wonder is that it should have been found at all possible to cultivate a taste for the beer among the community. It is admitted on all hands that the Excise laws are attended with results disastrous to the production of really good ale, and it is further conceded that they do not constitute such a source of profit to the revenue as they might be made to do; but with an amount of red-tapeism, not altogether unknown or unrecognized in this country, they have remained practically unaltered for many years, and I was informed that there is but a slight chance of their speedily receiving any material amendment."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Wednesday 01 July 1885, page 14.

The author was clearly unimpressed. He explains exactly why the tax system encouraged the brewing of crap beer:

"The radical evil of the whole system is traceable to the fact that the brewer pays duty upon the contents of his mash-tun, not upon the amount of beer he may choose to produce. If he were to produce ten or one hundred barrels of wort from one brewing, he would have to pay just the same amount in duty, provided he use the same mash-tun to produce it. This being the case, it is obviously to his interest to extract as much as possible from the malt, so as to produce the maximum amount of beer from one charge of the tun. This he proceeds to do in the following remarkble manner:— The mash-tun is filled quite to the brim with grist, and in this condition is examined by the Excise officers. Liquor at a temperature of about 104° Fahr., is next introduced from below, and the rakes are started and are kept revolving during the first three hours. The temperature of the liquor is gradually raised to boiling, and once that temperature has been reached it is continued during the remainder of the mashing, which occupies the day. Upon the average no less than twenty sparges are made at the temperature indicated, so that it will readily be conceded that the brewer extracts as much as possible from his goods. It will generally be found that Belgian brew-houses are provided with two mash-tuns, both of which are filled with dry grist at the same time. When this is the case, the first runnings from the first tun are used to wet the grist in the second tun. This arrangement is demanded by law, though what possible advantage can result from it either to the brewer or the government, is a matter which is certainly not apparent upon the first blush."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Wednesday 01 July 1885, page 14.

Basically, the tax system encouraged brewers to overfill their mash tun with grain and to use too little water. Hence the need for a ridiculous number of sparge.

Not sure why the weird shit with two mash tuns was demanded by the government. Who knows? Belgium has always been a wacky place.


Eric Branchaud said...

I'm not sure it the principle applies to 19th century malts and brewhouses, but by using first runnings as your brewing liquor you can potentially improve the fermentability of the wort. This is because you are bringing over the enzymes with the wort. You end up with more or less double the amount of enzymes in the second mash. I've used a similar strategy in my home brewing for really big beers with good results.

Roel Mulder said...

Little did this writer know that Belgium would pass a new beer tax law within two months, on 20 August 1885...