Tuesday 23 September 2008

Brown malt revisited

Just finished a research session on BeerAdvocate. Everything you need to know about beer, you can find there. What would I do without it?

I've had very positive responses to an earlier post about 18th century brown malt. But, as usual, the story is much more complicated than it at first appeared. I'm now going to say much that directly contradicts the other post. Like I've said many times before, there's always lots more to learn.

I'd already noticed that 19th century sources gave a very different account of the production of coloured malts. In particular, the addition of wood to the furnace at the end of the kilning process. I think I've found an explanation for the difference: malting techniques changed in response to demand from brewers.

Brewers could get any colour malt they wanted, not just pale, amber or brown, but any shade between. Either by malting themselves or by instructing the maltster exactly what colour they wanted. (Source: "The Art of Brewing and Fermenting" by John Levesque, 1836, pages 21-22.)

The kiln was heated slowly, the temperature slowly increasing over the first 12 hours. The intensity of the final temperature was determined by the type of malt being made. The malt went through each shade, starting at and ending up as high-dried brown, if the process was carried that far. "The drying is finished by a clear sweet fire, increasing the strength according to the colour required." "Coloured malt will require, towards the finish of the drying, some dry billet wood, of beech or birch" (Source: "The Art of Brewing and Fermenting" by John Levesque, 1836, pages 25-26.)

The use of wood in the final stages of kilning gave malt a deeper colour, something which became to be highly-valued with the advent of Porter. Maltsters adapted their methods to produce this type of highly coloured malt. In the early 18th century maltsters in Hertfordshire and Berkshire (the main suppliers of malt to London) had used almost exclusively straw as fuel for their kilns. They began to use beech or birch wood in the final stages of kilning. Some even used more expensive oak for this purpose as it gave an even stronger colour and flavour. (Source: "The Theory and Practice of Brewing" by W.L. Tizard, London, 1846, pages 484-485.) London brewers, who had scorned smoked brown malt in the 18th century, were, by the 19th century, demanding it.

Early 19th century is described thus: "The qualities of the porter at present admired are, perfect brilliancy, a dark brown colour approaching to black, considerable bitterness, with a fine empyreumatic flavour, and a close creamy head. Without these requisites, porter is little valued." (Source: "A Practical Treatise on Brewing" by Thomas Hitchcock, London, 1842, page 46.)

Tell me if I'm wrong, but doesn't empyreumatic mean "smoky"?


Oblivious said...

I think it can encompass smells like tar, burnt wood, coffee, chocolate.

Medical Merriam-Webster gives it as being or having an odor of burnt organic matter as a result of decomposition at high temperatures

Todd said...

I love the research you are doing on this subject. So smoked porters and un-smoked porters alike are true to tradition? I like that. At the end of the day, I don't care much about beers holding to tradition as long as they are well-made and taste good, but I do love smoked beers, so I'm happy to see that traditional smoked porter isn't the same mythic type beast as the peat-smoked Scotch ale.

Ron Pattinson said...

todd, there are no simple answers. Isn't that great?

I'm a big smoked fan myself. Noew how do we work out exactly how smoked these malts might have been?

Today I also found something about deliberately oaking beer in the 18th century.

Ron Pattinson said...

oblivious, so smoky, then. Is that a good one-word description?

Anonymous said...

Another quick google for empyreumatic brings up:

(Chem.) The peculiar smell and taste arising from products of decomposition of animal or vegetable substances when burnt in close vessels.

myetymology.com says:
derived from the Greek word pur, πῦρ ('fire' (literally or figuratively, specially, lightning))

So perhaps burnt would be a better one word definition than smoky?

Anonymous said...

or perhaps that camping smell when you're clearing the embers and find those baked potatoes wrapped in tin foil you forgot about last night?

neets said...

Love the blog - subscribed and everything. Not sure if I agree with the 'smoky' translation - I think 'burnt' may be more apt. This is based on the word (pyr.. isn't that related to fire, not smoke?), the definitions in dictionaries all talking about burnt odors, and that the earlier quote you gave said: "The drying is finished by a clear sweet fire...". A clear sweet fire sounds to me like the clean hot flame from well seasoned hardwood - not smoky. Some smoke, no doubt more than straw, but it sounds like they were trying to avoid it.
I don't think I'm splitting hairs too much here - coffee can be burnt tasting without being smoky.

Jim Johanssen said...

I vote for Coffee, Chocolate meaning with MAYBE some smoke in the mix.

Ron -Remember that I thought the use of Chit malt was a result of the maltsters giving the brewers what they need to brew with for the Decoction mash method. It only make sense that a maltster would modify his malt to the needs and desires of the customer(brewer).

NO Peat Reek in my Scotch ales please!


Edmund Schluessel said...

"Pertaining to, or having the quality of, EMPYREUMA; tasting or smelling of burnt organic matter.
1669 W. SIMPSON Hydrol. Chym. 163 That fetid empyreumatic oyl which we see. 1746 R. JAMES Introd. Moufet's Health's Improv. 42 The Mass..is..of a disagreeable Smell, empyreumatic, bitter. 1791 HAMILTON Berthollet's Dyeing I. I. 1. v. 78 A dark coloured and empyreumatic phlegm. 1862 Cornh. Mag. VI. 607 One pipe..represents a dose of nicotine and empyreumatic oil." -- OED

oh, and "empyreuma" is "2. The ‘burnt’ smell imparted by fire to organic substances."

Anonymous said...

Have I been vindicated then?

Ron Pattinson said...

Graham, in terms of the 19th century, yes. It looks to me as if sometime around 1800 they changed malting techniques.

It's a more complex topic than I think anyone realised. I keep finding new information that changes my opinion.