Sunday, 6 September 2009

Younger's Abbey Brewery in the 1870's (part two)

As promised, part two of the description of William Younger's Abbey Brewery in the 1870's.

The wort having after several days' fermentation become beer, it is run off from the vats to the 'brightening squares' on the ground floor. These are huge square wooden vessels, where the beer 'flattens' and brightens up to the extent desired—an operation which occupies generally two or three days. At length the beer is conveyed by elastic tubes from the squares to the ' stock-room vats,' w, as is usually the case, put with some dry hops into barrels and sent to the export stores for bottling, to meet demands in the British and other markets. On the stone-floored cellars we now pass hundreds and hundreds of barrels piled tier above tier, filled with

'The nut-brown beer that will drive away care,
And welcome the harvest home,'

while returned empties are constantly arriving for fresh supplies.

Emerging from the cellars we enter another enormous apartment, in which we find a dozen round vats of gigantic proportions towering up to the height of three stories. Four of these, they will tell you, contain each three hundred and twelve of the thirty-six imperial-gallon barrels; and of the remainder, each contains one hundred and eighty barrels of the same size that we have seen upstairs.

Enormous as will appear from this description the capabilities of the Abbey Brewery, it only indicates about one-half the producing power of these gigantic ale brewers. For, only separated by a short distance, stands the Holyrood Brewery, of equal, and in some few particulars of larger proportions than the old Abbey Brewery. For instance, there are here twenty-six fermenting tuns, each capable of containing seventy-five barrels of beer; the engines are of twenty-five and eight horse-power; the copper boilers above described are here capable of holding one hundred and nineteen, and boiling eighty-five, barrels of liquor. The hot-water boiler contains three hundred and twenty barrels. In other respects this brewery is constructed on the same principles as that of the Abbey.

Adjacent to the breweries are the malt and barley stores, maltings and drying kilns. These buildings are five stories high. On these floors hundreds of quarters of malt were in process of preparation, and in the fourth and fifth flats were thousands of quarters of barley and malt, stored to answer the large and constant demands of the breweries. By means of a spout the prepared malt is conveyed by steam-driven elevators to the grinding mills, where, passing between heavy rollers and being bruised to the extent desired, the malt is conveyed to the hopper in the brewhouses. The great mailings and storehouses in which the bulk of the malt is prepared for the Abbey and Holyrood Breweries are situate at Canonmills, the northern district of the city, occupying an area of about three acres.

The export stores, occupying two acres on the site of what was the famous orchard of Holyrood, form an interesting and imposing feature in the surroundings of Holyrood Palace, Messrs. Wm. Younger and Co. having had most commendable regard to the architectural construction of their buildings, so as to preserve a harmony of character with the surrounding buildings of historic interest. Viewed from the heights of Arthur's Seat, the castellated elevation and ornamental towers in the baronial style, appear as appendages of the ancient palace. But we are on the ground, and the huge piles of beer-casks, the heaps of timber ready to be converted into casks, the loading and unloading of wagons, and the scores of busy workmen, bring us back from the land of dreams, and tell us that we are in one of the busiest workshops of the world.

Facing us, as we enter the extensive court-yard, is the main building or export store; on the west side is the cooperage, at which fifty men and boys are always in full employment. Another extensive cooperage is at Canonmills, its steam saws, planes, &c. being driven by a twenty-five-horse-power engine, the oak used being chiefly Dantzic. The firm do not, however, make more than a comparatively small quantity of barrels for their use, as the condition of the cooperage trade is such that Messrs. Younger can more economically obtain the casks for their purposes, than manufacture for themselves. The extent, however, of this department may be estimated somewhat by the fact that the casks alone represent a capital of from £50,000 to £60,000.

But what we are now looking at is the unloading of bottles— mostly of glass, but some few of stone—manufactured for the firm in Glasgow, Portobello, and other parts of the kingdom. The bottles, which have been packed with straw, are removed to a water-tank, and having been cleaned outwardly, are placed neck downwards on a series of tubular spikes, on a circular frame, and constantly revolving. Through an aperture in the tube a strong jet of water is ejected upwards into the neck of the bottle, so that it is thoroughly cleansed- from dust, straw, or other impurities. The ale or beer now arrives from the bulk store, flowing through flexible tubes to the bottling machines, which perform their work with extraordinary rapidity. One lad, during his ten hours' work per diem, can fill 120 dozens of bottles, and from 50,000 to 60,000 a week can be accomplished. The corking of the bottles is an interesting and expeditious operation : one boy places the bottle in the socket of the machine, another inserts a cork, which has been previously heated and moistened by a steam-kettle, in the neck of the bottle, when the lever-working handle of the machine comes down and forces the cork home. A bottle breaks occasionally, but accidents are very rare. The bottles thus filled and corked are next handed over to more boys, whose business is to secure the corks with copper wire. The capsules- bearing the name and trade-mark of the firm are next fastened over the cork and bottle-neck by a machine patented by the manufacturers of the capsules, Messrs. Betts and Co. of London. More boys now take possession of the bottles, and attach to them the distinctive labels ; after which the bottles have twenty-four hours' rest for the labels to dry, and for the discovery of any leakage from faulty bottles.

And now we have arrived at the package department, where the ale is packed in casks of four dozen quarts or eight dozen pints. The casks, which are numbered and bear the initials of the merchants to whom they are to be consigned, are then closed, secured at each end by cross lengths of red tape, over which is impressed in wax the seal and trade-mark of the firm, and the beer is then ready for exportation to any part of the world.

Well, compagnons de voyage, have you found out the secret of the superiority of these ales? We believe that the technical secret is a secret still, and will ever so remain. But a foundation secret we feel we have both discovered—the purity and fitness of the water, and the almost fastidious cleanliness of everything connected with the plant.

Visitors to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham can there enjoy the luxury of an honest 'drop of good beer;' for all the ale consumed in that most popular place of public resort is exclusively supplied to Mr. Sawyer, the refreshment contractor, by Messrs. Wm. Younger and Co., to whom is fairly due the credit of having brought the brewing of ale to the acme of perfection.

The present families came into possession of the Abbey Brewery about the time of the Rebellion in '45, since which the business has steadily progressed, until the breweries extend over ten acres of ground, and are capable of brewing more than 60,000 quarters annually. The great impetus to the trade was afforded by the railways ; but the great success of the firm may be attributed to the uniform and intelligent supervision of its members. The present partners are Henry Johnston Younger, David Younger, and Alexander Smith. The first named has resided for several years in the Colonies, and has brought with him a knowledge of the requirements of those parts. Mr. Cuthbert takes the commercial management of the Edinburgh establishment. The breweries were for many years managed by Mr. Thomson, who earned the title of 'Father of the Brewers of Scotland,' and who has sent forth many a pupil to improve the breweries in other places.

There is one peculiarity of this firm, that it has no public-houses under its control, but is wholly free; and its ales ought to reach the consumer as pure and unadulterated as they leave the brewery. If our Home Secretary had devoted his legislative powers to a bill which would have secured the public against adulteration of their beer, and that it should have been obtainable by the people at a public-house, as pure as it was when brewed, he would have conferred a blessing upon the minds and bodies of the community. The purity of ale should be no less the care of our legislators than it was in the days of our forefathers. It has been regarded now as a ' power in the State'—it pays a large amount to the exchequer; the malt duty for last year being between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 It is drank by at least two-thirds of the population of Europe ; under the tropical sun of the Indies it is ever in demand; blockades were broken to furnish it to the Confederate army; and throughout America it holds its own amidst the charms of 'brandy-smashes,' 'cock-tails,' and 'eye-openers;' ahout eight hundred and fifty million gallons are brewed annually; wherever there is a thirsty soul, there is a market for it; its kingdom is co-extensive with civilisation, and it numbers as its subjects 'men of every tongue and colour under the sun.'
"Belgravia, Volume 19", 1873, pages 68 - 71.

I think that's enough Younger's for now. For a day or two, anyway.

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