Monday, 18 April 2022

Hancock of Wiveliscombe

I've been digging around the newspaper archive in search of a price list from Hancock. The aim being to work out what the hell GA stood for and what it was sold as.

No luck so far finding a price list. But I did find quite a long article recounting a visit to the brewery. It's written by a layman which means there might well be some misunderstandings. But, as it's just two years after the brewing records I've been looking at, should reflect the state of the brewery at the time.

Hancock brewery in 1887

In company with a friend some time ago, I found myself with an hour or two to spare the pleasant little town of Wiveliscombe, and, naturally, we thought that a run over the noted brewery which Mr. Hancock’s name has made so famous would be the best method of improving the time at our disposal. Armed, therefore, with a courteous note of permission, which was most readily granted one of the members of the firm, passed down the main street, and under an archway found the office where the foreman, Mr. Stone, at once kindly placed himself at our disposal and expressed his willingness to show everything that might of interest in the busy establishment in which he was engaged. First he led us to the engine room, where a fourteen-horse-power engine was silently doing all the heavy work of the brewery. All the lifting, pumping, and general machine work of the place was being quietly performed by this one piece of machinery, which worked noiselessly and sweetly in this narrow room as if it had but little to do, instead of being the prime motor of so extensive an establishment. Passing through narrow passages, where, from recesses, gleamed out the fierce kiln fires, drying the malt above our heads, we find ourselves in the boiler-house, in which the fires are kept for generating the steam. The air of these rooms is hot enough to satisfy strangers unaccustomed to such places in very short time, and with a feeling of relief we turn our backs on this part of the premises and, re-crossing the yard, ascend some flights of steps, pass through more narrow passages, and find ourselves in the malting-houses, a series of long, low rooms, where vast stores barley are spread thickly but evenly on the floor, passing through the first stages which convert it into malt. Here, in one place, is the barley pure and simple; further on, the grain shooting, under the combined influence of dampness and warmth, into growth; and finally, it is spread out in the large kiln-rooms situated over the fires below, and where the little germinating growth soon dries up and drops off. It is then screened and the toppings sold for garden dressing and other purposes. There are four of these malt-houses, through which pass upwards of 40,000 bushels of malt per year."
West Somerset Free Press - Saturday 24 May 1890, page 7.

40,000 bushels is enough to brew around 20,000 barrels. Which is pretty close to what I calculate they were brewing each year. In the last six months of 1888 Hancock brewed 12,357 barrels, so I'm guessing the figure for a full year was around 25,000 barrels. Which would make them just about self-sufficient in malt.

I thought that was a bit odd, as I couldn't remember seeing any of their own malt in the brewing records. So I went back and had another look.  And saw malt described as "Wilscombe". Great. They couldn't even spell the name of the town they were in. I had wondered how Wiveliscombe was pronounced. I guess I have my answer now.

Let's move on to the brew house.

"Next are shown the huge coppers for boiling the water and the mash tuns, there being two of each. The boiling water, descending from the coppers, spread over the malt in the tuns by revolving sprinklers, the malt being kept stirred also by machinery. During the operation dense clouds of steam are evolved, which tickle the olfactory nerves with most savoury perfume. From the mash tuns the liquor runs out at once, and here we have the first opportunity of tasting the result of the brew before the bops are added. In the same room as these mash tuns is vast square tank, where the hops are added to the liquor. The huge bags of hops are stacked in another room below, some of them all the way from Bohemia, but the greater part hail from the picturesque hop-gardens of Hampshire.

From here through maze of lofts and rooms where the liquor is being stored while cooling and fermenting. The refrigerators for cooling are composed of stands of copper tubes, fixed one above the other lengthwise, through which cold water is constantly running. The hot liquor is pumped to the top, where it falls over the outside of these refrigerators, miniature Niagara of beer, which the time it reaches the bottom has lost much of its heat, when it passes into shallow receptacles in an open loft to still further cool, after which it goes into the fermenting vats. The firm brews beer, stout, and ale, and a full brew is thirty-two quarters. "
West Somerset Free Press - Saturday 24 May 1890, page 7.

Obviously, they weren't pouring boiling water over the malt. And it sounds like sparging was in progress rather than mashing. At least we know the mash tuns had internal rakes.

Did they really cool the wort first in a refrigerator and then in a cooler? That's the opposite way around to normal practice. Had the author just got it wrong, or did they really do that?

So they brewed Beer, Stout and Ale. What do they mean by Beer? My guess would be Pale Ale.A full brew 32 quarters? That seems about right. The largest batch in the 1888 records was just under 31 quarters. Which is a pretty good match.

Next time we descend into the cellars. Where things get dead confusing.


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to me that a 14 HP pump was enough for the brewery. A single small car engine can be rated at 10 times that.

On the other hand, I realize a brewery may store a lot of water up high and let gravity do a lot of the work, so a huge amount of pumping power might not have been needed.

Simon Hancock said...

Re pronunciation of Wiveliscombe. Nowadays the name is routinely shortened to Wivvy. 'Wilscombe', I believe, is now considered a rather old-fashioned diminutive. I stick with it simply because that's what my elders called it.
Kind regards,
Simon Hancock