Monday, 8 February 2010

Cask cleaning ca 1885

More from Southby. This time about cleaning casks. It's another topic I was asked a question about that I couldn't fully answer. If I could remember who asked me, I'd now be in a position to reply. Maybe they'll read this. Or maybe not. It's not the most fascinating subject so perhaps no-one will read it. (I can feel myself nodding off as I write.)

"There are a great many arrangements, forms of apparatus, and processes for cleaning casks ; and cask washing and cleansing is a matter of vast importance to the brewer. But I am not at all sure that the most elaborate machines possess all the advantages claimed for them. The fact is that the washing and thorough cleaning of casks in a brewery is a matter that requires so much personal attention from the men employed" that elaborate machinery is to a great extent thrown away. In this, as in so many other instances, if a man has to watch a machine very carefully, he may just as well do the work by hand. I therefore doubt the utility of the mechanical cask washers, except in the case of large breweries.

When the dirty casks returned to the brewery are examined, they can be quickly divided into those which cannot be cleaned without one of the heads being taken out, and those which can be washed perfectly clean as they stand.

If the head is taken out of a cask, no machinery is required to clean it, and the greater number of those which do not require their heads removed, can be quickly cleansed by washing with hot water, and subsequent steaming. The mechanical cask washer, only effects a saving of labour on a small percentage of casks, which are rather too dirty to wash by hand without the removal of the heads, and are yet not foul enough to render that operation absolutely essential. In large breweries however these machines are no doubt useful and save some labour.

Every brewery should be provided with a sufficient number of cask steaming nozzles, and also with a large tank of water, kept up to the full boiling temperature by means of free steam. A blower and set of air nozzles for drying the casks after they have been washed and steamed, is also a most valuable apparatus, and one which is far too often omitted.

It is by no means necessary to heat the air which is blown into the casks to dry them, all that is essential is that the casks should be thoroughly heated by washing with boiling water, and steaming, and should then at once have a strong current of air forced through them, while the wood is at a high temperature.

There is a simple apparatus for washing casks, which is often useful, and is now much resorted to in breweries. I allude to that arrangement of pipes and cocks by which water and steam are admitted together into the casks, and the water thus boiled in them. The mechanical action obtained does, no doubt, assist in washing the casks, and there can be no objection to the use of this apparatus, provided it is not expected to do much more than supply boiling water in a convenient way. The casks, however, after they are thoroughly cleansed by means of this apparatus, supplemented as far as necessary by manual labour, must be steamed and dried, so that there is not after all much saving effected, as compared with washing the casks with boiling water from a tank.

Besides the above appliances every large brewery should have an iron pan, in which a solution of common washing soda can be boiled, for treating sour casks ; and also a tank into which the soda liquor can be emptied from the casks, for this liquor can be used over again for a good many times before it is necessary to renew it. The washing soda and water are first boiled in the pan, and the casks filled with the boiling hot liquor. After standing with the liquor in them for three or four hours, they are emptied into the tank, washed several times with clean water, steamed and dried. The liquor is pumped up again to the pan, by means of an iron rotary pump, boiled, and used for another lot of casks. When it becomes too foul for use it is run to waste.

Permanganate of potash is now largely used for curing stinking casks, and is very effectual, no special apparatus is, however, required for applying it.

For curing acid casks, in breweries which have no soda pan, quicklime is a cheap and effective substitute. It should be slaked with boiling water into a powder. One quart of this powder is generally enough for a barrel; the powder should be mixed with water, and introduced into the barrel, which is then filled with water, allowed to stand for at least twelve hours, and afterwards washed, steamed and dried.

It is a very good and safe plan to wash out all the casks with a little bisulphite of lime, after any of the above treatments with alkaline substances. The bisulphite should be applied shortly before steaming, and well rinsed round every part of the cask. All casks may be rinsed with bisulphite after they are taken off the steaming-nozzles, and before being placed on the dryingnozzles." (Source: Source: "A systematic handbook of practical brewing", by E.R. Southby, 1885, pages 152-155.)

Southby is my new favourite. He's bulking out the late 19th-century chapter of my book a treat. I'll let you into a little secret. My mega-book is becoming less of a publishing project and more of a handy reference for myself. At 165,000 words, it's getting too big for a book.


Bill said...

Interesting bit of information. I wonder who had the job of determining if the casks that required higher degrees of cleaning. I imagine he smelled some things that a man should never have to smell.

Gary Gillman said...

The reference to bi-sulphate of lime is interesting, that is a preservative that was used sometimes before the pasteurization era to preserve bottled beer. Some period comments note that the flavour was affected, much as pitch affected the flavour of the vaunted lager which took ale's place on the continent. (Perhaps a faint flavour of pitch was felt preferable to the acidity problems associated with top-fermented beer).

The history of IPA has not to my knowledge ever investigated whether some brewers or bottlers might have used this substance to preserve the beer over what must have been very trying voyages not to mention storage and trans-shipment conditions at destination.


Graham Wheeler said...

Bisulphite is still the only legally permitted preservative in beer to this day (or at least sulphur dioxide is, which is what bisulphite produces).

If you look at the Barclay Perkins liquor treatment, 1936, article elsewhere on this blog, you will observe that they were adding the stuff to their water for most beers. We have no way of knowing the strength of the liquid solution they were using, but one-eighth pint per barrel would be quite a lot at the strength of today's commercial solutions.

It shows that B.P. must have had some copper in their brewing system because without it the yeast would have converted bisulphite to hydrogen sulphide, the so-called 'Burton Snatch', but much more aggressive. Copper apparently catalyses this in some way and prevents an aggressive sulphury aroma.

It is not used in such high quantities today for two reasons; one reason is that most breweries are all stainless steel, meaning the reducing catalyst isn't there, although that can be dealt with.

The most pressing reason is that, under EEC law, if more than 10ppm (might be 50ppm - can't remember), of sulphite is present, they have to declare it on the label, because it can trigger asthma. Brewers are reluctant to do that because of potential accusations of chemical brewing.

Ho hum. More useless knowledge.

Ron Pattinson said...

Sometimes I feel a chemistry degree would have come in dead handy.

Brewing is a very complex topic. I keep finding new aspects I'm totally ignorant about.

Barm said...

The amount of knowledge about brewing there is to be absorbed is incredible. It makes you wonder how any beer ever gets brewed.

Graham Wheeler said...

Gary Gillman said...
The history of IPA has not to my knowledge ever investigated whether some brewers or bottlers might have used this substance to preserve the beer over what must have been very trying voyages not to mention storage and trans-shipment conditions at destination.

The main reason why sulphur dioxide is a permitted preservative in beer is because it has always been there, indirectly.

From time immemorial casks and brewing vessels were 'sweetened' by burning rock sulphur within them. Hops were sulphured to preserve them until very recently, again by burning rock sulphur on the kiln. So it is inevitable that a certain amount of sulphur dioxide has always been present.

Burton brewed IPA had a great advantage over the London brewed counterparts, and that is the very high levels of gypsum in their water. Calcium sulphate, another sulphur-containing substance, has a similar effect to bisulphite in that it suppresses brettanomyces and some types of gram-negative bacteria.

The suppression of brettanomyces is a great advantage when it comes to IPA, because brettanomyces is a late developer; it wakes up unpredictably, weeks into maturation, and produces a vigorous secondary fermentation. If this happened half-way to India it would be exploding casks and beer-shampoos for the sailors.

This is why Burton beers 'travelled well' - beer losses were less.

The disadvantage of the gypsum for Burton brewers, if they ever considered it a disadvantage, was that they could not produce a porter in the London style, or produce any vatted ale, vatted beer, old ale, or such like, because the activity of brettanomyces and certain acidifying bacteria was considered an essential part of the character of such beers, and the canny brett. refused to play ball with them.

Gary Gillman said...

That's very interesting Graham, thanks. The answer to the hegemony of the Burton pale ale brewers may be there in a nutshell (although we are still faced with the many contemporary attestations to the high quality of Hodgson's beer).

I must say the famous Burton sulphur-like quality never appealed to me personally, I always found it off-putting. I don't notice it in the bottled Bass and Marston beers, but it showed up in some of the Burton-brewed real ales (draught) when I last tasted them in the U.K. some years ago now. Michael Jackson wrote of this flavour with praise and surely it (like many beer flavours) is an acquired taste.

But I can see that it would have been especially valued at a time when the alternative often was beer affected by brettanomyces or acetic qualities. And to the gypsum advantages we must add the quick settling of beer.

(Can it be that the very sweet, high-ABV original Burton was "designed" to minimize the sulphur-like notes of Burton beer?).

I've read up a bit in general bottlers' manuals in the 1800's to try to get a sense of whether lime bisulphate was typically used but can't get a read on it. Some bottlers, not just for beer, but a wide variety of drinks, used it or similar substances (three or four are specified), some did not.

Perhaps the situation is similar to what I have read for wine, in that all wine apparently contains a small amount (naturally) of sulphur dioxide, but some more than others and generally it is added by bottlers to prevent spoilage.


Gary Gillman said...

The above comments by Pasteur are informative. By "high" beer, he meant of course top-fermented beer. He seems to have agreed that high hopping can remedy the problem of preservation, yet at the same time, he suggests that pale ale exports to India ultimately fell off due to the quality problem. His comments on lime bisulphate are incidental, which suggests that this substance, added (at least) in any quantity, was no remedy. Possibly this was due to its tendency to impart an off-flavour, noted in other commentary of the day.


Graham Wheeler said...

I can't see bisulphite being added specifically at bottling; it would have been added further upstream, to the water, if it is added at all. Prepared finings usually has sulphur dioxide in it to preserve them, but that is about it.

The Burton Snatch is a yeast metabolite reacting to the sulphate. Some yeasts are worse at this than others, no doubt some do not produce hydrogen sulphide in appreciable quantities at all.

Whether or not brettanomyces activity is considered a fault depends upon where you look; it might even be regional.

More accurately, some Victorian brewing books consider "secondary fermentation" to be a fault, others consider it an asset. That is secondary fermentation in the true sense of the phrase, not in homebrewer's erroneous understanding of the phrase. Victorian brewers did not understand what it was because Brettanomyces had not been isolated.

When Brettanomyces was isolated just prior to 1904 it then became clear that it was this that was responsible for the unique flavours of British vatted, old and stock ales. Up to that point, pure yeast cultures left such beers devoid of character, so, unlike lager breweries, single-cell cultures never caught on.

Some sub-classes of Brettanomyces do produce obnoxious flavours and excess acidity, so it probably depended upon the type that became dominant in any particular brewery as to whether or not it was classed as a fault by the Victorians.

With the trend towards running beers, the importance of Brett. diminished and this suited the Burton brewers just fine. It might have been considered a fault in pale ales but not in other beers.

Nevertheless, it is lucky for Burton that they were not troubled by brett. It would spoil their day if brett. decided to rise up in all those thousands of casks of beer, stored in the open air in great pyramids under bright sunshine; and then doing the same thing again a few weeks later. It would be more entertaining than a fireworks display I would guess.

It is why their beers were stable in transit to places like Russia long before the East India Pale Ale contracts.

I would not rely too much upon what Pasteur says, particularly regarding beer quality to India. He was a man very big in ego and very low in ethics. People seem to forget that he visited Britain and Germany to learn, not to teach. He did not come over here out of the goodness of his heart to single-handedly save the British brewing industry. What he claims happened, and what actually happened, are likely to be two quite different things.

Sulphite only effects gram-negative bacteria and then only temporarily. It is not really added to stop bacterial spoilage as such. Its major application is as an antioxidant, but its effectiveness gradually gets used up. Any beer, even with sulphite, will spoil eventually.

Hegemony, there is a new word to me. Well, quality is a subjective thing. There was probably nothing wrong with Hodgson's beer, as long as you didn't have to move it very far. I did see a table in one of my books, probably in a history of Burton upon Trent, that listed beer losses taken from the records of importers in India. They were huge; often less than half the casks reached Calcutta without leaking or worse. Burton stuff was much better at not exploding.

It probably helped Burton that the major brewers seemed to know the directors of the East India Company personally, and that the East India Company directors did not seem to like Hodgson or his dubious business practices very much.

Ron Pattinson said...

Graham, those brewers in Burton were crazy, how they stored their beer.

I'd love to learn more about the other beers exported to the tropics: Porter, Stout, Scotch Ale. How were they prepared? Did Barclay Perkins Export India Porter contain brett? Or Guinness? It's a shame IPA gets all the attention.

I've read claims that Burton's water chemistry helps attenuation. Don't know if that's true. I'm preparing a post on different brewing waters. I've got stuff on at least one water I've seen in the logs.

Gary Gillman said...

American craft brewers, influenced (once again) by Michael Jackson, have assumed that Imperial stout needs a brett influence for authenticity. This is not to say all Imperial stouts from America are so treated, but many are and in my view, the best are. Rogue's Imperial Stout has this quality for example. It often manifests as a kind of leathery note. To my best recollection, Courage's Russian Imperial had it too.

I have certainly read accounts of beer bottlers adding bisulphate of lime at bottling, and if it was to prevent damp paper oxidation, I would class that as a form of spoilage. But they added other things, too. I will try to find the references.


Graham Wheeler said...

Ron said...
Graham, those brewers in Burton were crazy, how they stored their beer.

The fact that they could get away with it shows just how stable Burton beer was.

I'd love to learn more about the other beers exported to the tropics: Porter, Stout, Scotch Ale. How were they prepared? Did Barclay Perkins Export India Porter contain brett?

Depends upon the period and how long it took to get there. Up until water treatment dawned they would have had no choice. There was no getting rid of it. One assumes that in the early days they only sent out the stale, whereby the brett has done its thing in the vats and worked itself out. It would have been risky sending out the mild or even a pre-blended porter if it took a long time to get to its destination. Unless, of course, they had ensured themselves that it had worked itself out before sending it, but it is n longer a mild then - is it?

By 1936 they were adding gypsum to all their beers, so one assumes that it will have the same suppression effect as Burton water. The question is when did they start doing this. It is notable that B.P. were not one of the breweries that set up shop in Burton in the 1870s to brew their pale ales.

Edinburgh has high levels of gypsum, but far from ideal water, but they probably did not have too much hassle with exploding casks.

I've read claims that Burton's water chemistry helps attenuation. Don't know if that's true.

Not directly, no. Indirectly the pH of the mash is likely to be lower, closer to the optimum, but even that is unlikely to make a huge difference to attenuation.

I'm preparing a post on different brewing waters. I've got stuff on at least one water I've seen in the logs.

London has peculiar water. They have one problem if they boil, and a different problem if they don't. I have always been intrigued as to what they actually brewed with. I have seen references to brewing liquor being boiled, but rarely how long it is boiled for. It makes a big difference to what they ended up with. I thought I'd found some clues in the B.P 1936 water treatment post, but it is all topsy-turvy and doesn't make sense.

Ron Pattinson said...

Graham, Barclay Perkins say how long the water was boiled. Export PA it was 5 minutes, RNS (a Stout) it was boiled for half an hour.

I think I have enough information to reconstruct their water pretty precisely.

Graham Wheeler said...

Ron Pattinson said...
Graham, Barclay Perkins say how long the water was boiled. Export PA it was 5 minutes, RNS (a Stout) it was boiled for half an hour.

I think I have enough information to reconstruct their water pretty precisely.

Yes, but why would anyone want to reconstruct Barclay Perkins water? I would not wish that on my worst enemy. It was certainly not state of the art for the day, based upon the information that I have seen.

Okay, by 1936 B.P. were chucking gypsum into everything, which would have provided sufficient calcium to aid flocculation, trub formation, clarity, and so on. But it is equally important to get the carbonate down. Boiling for five minutes is not going to do that.

In fact, for pales ale, where mash pH and clarity is important, they boiled for just five minutes. For dark beers, where clarity is not so important they boiled for half an hour. Crazy.

For KK they boiled overnight. Anything exceeding an hour is pointless. If they haven't got their chalk out within an hour, it isn't coming out.

Okay, they could have been adding acid, or one or two other substances, to get their carbonate down, but if they did that, then boiling for any longer than five minutes is unnecessary, no matter what the beer. There is no mention of them adding anything likely to reduce the carbonate in that 1936 snippet published some months ago.

That is what I meant about it being all topsy-turvy and beyond comprehension. It seems to have been based more upon witchcraft and superstition than any scientific understanding of the subject, and the science was well established long before 1936.

Unless something else of significance pops up, it seems certain that B.P. did not know what they were doing or why. It is somewhat perplexing.

Anyway, it is not what was done after the age of water treatment that is puzzling, but what went on before it.

A well informed, but brief, passing mention of water treatment occurs in the early part of the nineteenth century, but then the idea seems to have gone to ground. It does not surface again in a knowledgeable sense, or as a standard practice, in any brewing book that I've got until around the beginning of the twentieth century. What took them so long?

I reckon that it was unlikely that water treatment was practised universally in London prior to about 1870 because so many London brewers established themselves in Burton soon after that date, only to come scuttling back less than 15 years later. I have always assumed that the fifteen-year window was when London brewers awoke to the art of water treatment.

It is quite probable that some brewers outside of London were treating their water from the early nineteenth century, if not before.