Sunday, 21 February 2010

Casks in the 18th century

Just a small text this time. One discussing the preparation of casks in the 18th century.

Why have a reproduced it? The main reason is cask lining. Or pitching the inside. There's been some disagreement about whether British casks were ever lined. This piece gives us our answer: sometimes.

"The casks should be got in perfect good order by the time the wort will be fit for putting into them ; and this is easily done, because we know perfectly when they will be wanted. Every thing should be of the best kind for this excellent sort of drink, and consequently the casks for keeping it should be of good stuff, and well made. No wood is proper but heart of oak : and they should be so well made, that the inside being true, and smooth, no foulness can lodge. It they have been painted some time, they will keep the drink the better, for the paint stops up the pores most perfectly, and by that means confines the spirit, of the drink much better than plain wood : but this ought to be done in time, and they must be very well freed of scent, by standing in the air, before they are used; for the abominable smell of fresh paint would certainly affect the beer while it was in so delicate a state as working. Never put this fine beer into a new cask : the true way to prepare the vessels for it, is to scald them very well, over and over, and then keep one or two brewings of good small beer in them. These will thoroughly season the cask ; and after this nothing will be required, but such through good cleaning as may be given by boiling water, and a little hard broom. When casks are. painted, this should be at the time of their first seasoning, that, if any flavour of the paint should be troublesome, it may be in the small beer, and not in such as is of this value."
"The complete English brewer" by George Watkins, 1773, pages 101-103.

1 comment:

Gary Gillman said...

It's interesting when you read this and many other statements over 200 years or so which suggest no flavour from oak was wanted. There was that one comment you found, Ron, from one of the porter brewery founders who claimed to like the effect fresh wood gave his porter, but that was atypical I'd say - and I believe it may have been a way to save on hops - wood tannins substituting for hops. (One thing I can see more and more is that those big brewery men had their eye on the bottom line, it is very evident in the famous Barclay testimony for example - after all he was a banker by training. No wonder they built such great businesses.

But most of what I have read at least, as this nugget from Watkins, suggests oak flavour was regarded as a taint. I think too of course it depends on the beer, for a long- aged porter where so much else was happening so to speak, some wood flavour wouldn't hurt and might add complexity.

I think Watkins was talking mostly about the effect on mild and small beers of heavy wood taste. Indeed it can be very off-putting. Some years ago a brewer in Ontario placed some ale in a new wood keg. I found the beer undrinkable from the strong resiny tannic notes imparted.

Watkins stresses the need for his paint to dry and become neutral on the beer ultimately. Yet the Germans and other continental brewers were using pitch for lager casks and many observers noted it imparted a flavour to the beer. (Numerous such accounts can be cited). One would think they might have found a substance that would become inert after drying. It's odd I think - they went to so much trouble to make a stable beer that wouldn't go acid yet a lot of it apparently smelled of tar.

Anyway, for his part, Watkins probably would have regarded metal barrels as a godsend.