Tuesday 19 May 2009

Brewing in Leuven in the 1830's

I know. This horse is nearly dead. But beating it is such fun. Yes, it's another of David Booth's little treatises on continental brewing again.

As you would expect of Belgium, the brewing method is slightly eccentric. They used air-dried rather than kiln-dried malt, which makes Pieterman a Weissbier by the naming convention of the day, despite being 100% barley. This type of beer used to be brewed all the way from Belgium to Berlin. Now it's usually only found in Belgium and Berlin.

Booth uses delightful understatement when he says of Belgian brewers "they are no ardent lovers of cleanliness". What A polite why of saying they're filthy bastards.


The beer of Louvaine is famed throughout the Netherlands, and its sale constitutes the principal portion of the trade of the place. The city contains twenty-four Brewers, some of whom manufacture three hundred barrels a-week.

In malting, they follow the worst possible plan. They have no kiln, nor do they ever use any fuel in drying the malt. Whatever be the season, it is done by the air alone, hi large lofty attics, which form a part of every brewhouse, and are made use of solely for that purpose. In the cold winter months, they, of necessity, are unable to malt. They make use of no malt, except what is made from barley; which always remains very tough, and is never separated from its dust. In general, they are no ardent lovers of cleanliness.

The plant, with a few exceptions, is similar to that of an English brewhouse. They not only employ two coppers, but also two mash-tuns. The coppers are near to each other, and on a level with the tuns. There are five separate coolers, by which they are enabled to divide the worts, so as to make strong beer, table beer, and small beer, from the same gyle. The strong beer is of two kinds, Pieterman, and White Beer. The former is brown-coloured, pretty strong, and has a mixed taste of bitter and sweet: the other is sweeter, but much weaker; and both are not only turbid, but Hi.lc.1f, in the utmost sense of the word. We shall begin with an account of


They take, first, seven quarters and a half of barley-malt, and seven and a half of raw wheat, finely ground and mixed together, and fill them into eighteen large sacks. Then they take seven quarters of finely-ground raw wheat, and fill them into sixteen small sacks. From these materials, they produce forty barrels of strong Pieterman, thirty-five barrels of table beer, and twelve barrels of small beer, by the following management :—

The mash-tun No. I is half filled with cold water, into which are put the eighteen large sacks of grain; and when the whole is well mashed, as much additional cold water is let on, through the trunk, as fills the tun to within tvo inches of the top. Several wicker baskets are now pressed down among the goods; and the cold worts are thus got out, by means of brass pails, and put into the copper No. 1. Cold liquor is turned twice upon the goods in succession, and taken out in the same manner, to be carried to the copper No. 1; by which means it is now half-full.

The mash-tun No. 1, with the goods, is now filled to the brim with boiling liquor from the copper No. 2. After mashing some time, the heat of the goods being 108 degrees, the wort is got out, as before, by means of baskets, and likewise carried to the copper No. 1. Into this copper, also, the sixteen small sacks of finely ground wheat are now emptied, which fill the copper to the brim; and a fire is immediately lighted under it.

Boiling liquor is turned a second time on the goods in No.l, from the copper No. 2; and, after mashing, the wort is taken out and put temporarily into the mash-tun No. 2. A third mash of boiling water is now made of the goods in the mash- tun No. 1, raising the heat to 182 degrees. By this mash the copper No. 2 is emptied; and immediately receives the wort which was stored in the mash-tun No. 2, by which it is half filled. Twelve pounds of hops are added to this copper, which is then covered.

From the mash-tun No. 1 the last hot wort is exhausted, in the same way as before, and put (for a time) into casks prepared for receiving it; and then the goods are all turned out of the mash-tun No.l, into the mash-tun No. 2, which had been previously washed and accommodated with a false bottom. Hitherto, of course, the worts have been all turbid, without having acquired any sweet taste.

During all this time the copper No. 1 (containing the cold and first warm wort, as well as the seven quarters of raw wheat) is roused continually, and heated so very slowly that it requires nearly four hours to bring it to boil. After boiling an hour, the fluid portion of this thick mash is drained out, by means of baskets, and turned upon the goods in the mash-tun No. 2; leaving in this copper, No. 1, merely the cuticles or bran of the wheat. Over these cuticles the wort that was stored in the casks, as above mentioned, is pumped, and then left to boil.

The wort in the mash-tun No. 2, after being stirred a little, at a heat of about 170 degrees, is now run off, and, being very pure and sweet, is, without adding hops, pumped directly into two of the coolers; and the wort from the copper No. 2 (which, after having boiled two hours along with the hops, had been emptied into the mash-tun No. 1, where it had stood three hours and settled pretty clear) is likewise pumped up, but on a separate cooler. The copper No. 2 is now employed in heating liquor.

The wort which was turned upon the wheat-bran, in the copper No. 1, after having boiled two hours, is now drained out with baskets, and turned upon the goods in the mash- tun No. 2; and the copper No. 1 (containing only the wheat- bran) is again filled with boiling water from the copper No. 2. The tun No. 2, after mashing (heat about 175 degrees), is drained of its worts, which, now pure and sweet, are put into the empty mash-tun No. 1. The contents of the copper No. 1, bran and all (having begun to boil), are turned over into the mash-tun No. 2, mashed at a heat of about 180 degrees, and, the worts draining from it pure, are pumped into the copper No. 1. The copper No. 2, instantly after being emptied of its boiling liquor, was filled with the worts that stood in the mash tun No. 1.

Both coppers being now filled with pure worts, are mixed up with hops; twenty-six pounds being put into No. 2, and thirteen pounds into No. 1. They are covered, and, after boiling six hours, are cast into separate coolers.

The whole of the worts are cooled down to 70 degrees before letting them down to the yeast: that portion which was pumped up from the copper No. 1 (about twelve barrels) is reserved for small beer; and the other worts are separated into the requisite proportions of strong beer and table beer, in which the mixture of the worts from the other four coolers is made from the Brewer's taste with regard to strength; he having no saccharometer, or other similar instrument, to direct his judgment.

The forty barrels of strong beer (Pieterman) are let down into a tun with eight-and-a-half gallons of yeast. This yeast is very white, and retains something of the sour taste which is peculiar to all the beer that is brewed at Louvaine. As soon as the worts in the tun have been well mixed with the yeast, they are drawn off into casks, standing on end and holding about a barrel and a half each, in which the fermentation commences and finishes in a period of between forty- four to fifty hours.


The White Beer is brewed nearly in the same manner as the Pieterman, except that the quantity of hops is one-fourth less; neither are they allowed to boil so long with the worts. The whole quantity of grain made use of is the same; but the kinds and mixture are different. The eighteen sacks are filled with two-thirds of barley-malt, one-sixth of raw wheat, and one-sixth of oats, all ground fine; and the sixteen small sacks contain three-fourths of raw wheat, and one-fourth of barley-malt. The brewing consists of one entire gyle, and the quantity produced is eighty-two barrels.
"The Art of Brewing", by David Booth, 1834, chapter IV pages 45-48.


Gary Gillman said...

Pieterman, sometimes spelled Peeterman, is a storied beer. In a 1970 book written by an American, Nika Hazelton, called The Belgian Cookbook, this beer style is mentioned as one of the renowned beer types of Belgium. Possibly therefore it survived into the 1960's. (Others she mentioned were the white beer of Louvain, probably similar to the second beer mentioned by Booth, strong Trappist ale and Antwerp ale which today is de Koninck).

It is interesting how a sourish character is noted by Booth - a feature some Belgian top-fermented beers still present. Perhaps continuity in some Belgian brewing yeasts has existed since the 1800's. Maybe another explanation is that that yeasts (e.g., for some Saisons?) are repeatedly re-used without being changed. The sourish character is something that, we have now seen, was familiar to some precincts of English brewing and even valued, e.g., as a summer taste or one associated with age and high attenuation. I know that in Prince Edward Island in Canada, there was a practice of drinking diluted fruit vinegar as a summer refresher. This surely originated (in terms of its population) in Britain.


Ron Pattinson said...

If Booth says it was sour, that tells you something. He was doubtless used to fairly tart beer.

I've only got one chemical analysis of "Petermann" as it's called. It is from 1850, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately doesn't include acidity.

OG 1015.57; FG 1069.64; ABV 7.06 ; apparent attenuation 76.47%.

That's one of more than 7500 entries in "Numbers!". Available soon..

Gary Gillman said...

That attenuation figure is interesting, Ron, because it suggests, in the light of Booth's comments on sourness, a sourish character independent of long stocking. Indeed Booth does not mention prolonged aging. Therefore, I infer that this kind of taste was in the new beers. Whereas in England, except perhaps for West Country white ale (almost lost I think even in the 1830's), mild beers and acidity seemed mutually exclusive, at least in terms of the brewers' object.


Gary Gillman said...

An extended discussion in French of Peeterman from G. Lacambre's (Belgian chemist and engineer) brewing and distilling text of 1851:


From my rapid survey, one can conclude that, first, by 1851, Peeterman isn't what it used to be. (This seems to be a theme in historical brewing literature, which offers a kind of solace to those attached to the "good old days". There were such days, to be sure - every 30 years back or so).

As I read this, Peeterman and Louvain beer as such were similar, except Peeterman was stronger. Peeterman was much longer-boiled, which darkens colour and increases strength. Both beers at one time - 30 years before one might infer when approximately Booth got his knowledge - had a particular taste imparted by a boil over a naked fire but steam-heated coppers do not have that effect. The author seems to think this is an improvement, even if drinkers don't always agree.



Rob Sterowski said...

In Cologne, a Pittermännchen is a small take-home keg of Kölsch sold for parties and the like. The terms are surely related but who knows when and why the Cologne brewers borrowed the word from the Belgians?

Andrew said...

There's also a beer called Hvidtøl (white beer in Danish) which is extremely dark and low in alcohol and drunk mostly at Christmas.
It always used to annoy the hell out of the guides at Carlsberg when clever beery types came round insisting it was originally made with wheat because Michael Jackson or Roger Protz had uncharacteristically mistranslated it as wheat beer rather than white beer.
It was also air dried originally, but not now.