Sunday, 28 February 2010

Vatting (ca. 1860)

I'm still wandering through the forest of old books, ever so slightly lost, but not panicking.

Some beers were still vatted for long periods, but the practice, like the aged taste, was going out of fashion. It's a process that can be difficult to track down in archive records. Especially what happened at the end of the maturation process.

"The best and most proper mode of storing and keeping beer is well worthy of the greatest attention. There are, however, many contradictory opinions upon this subject. Some think that all beer, but particularly ale, should be flattened, as it is called, before being stored in vats or casks. For this purpose, where slow fermentation and skimming are practised, large open vessels or tanks are provided, into which the beer is run, after having been a sufficient time, as it is considered, in the gyle or fermenting tun. The ale or beer is allowed to remain in these vessels for a longer or shorter time, according to the fancy of the brewer or storehouseman. It is during this period imbibing oxygen from the atmosphere, and sometimes is allowed to remain there until acidification has distinctly commenced, as indicated by white spots appearing on the surface, and by an increase of temperature. The brewer who adopts this practice, thinks the beer is so much flattened as to prevent its fretting in the vat. It will be found, however, that although the beer, from some little decrease in temperature by its removal, may be quiet enough for a time, yet the least increase of heat or exposure to the atmosphere, will again set it in motion; when, by getting on the fret, acidity may be produced. It never can be thoroughly sound, and will very soon become flat in drawing. It will also be found that when beer has been too long flattened in this way, before being stowed in casks, it will very soon get flat and forward when in draught in the publicans' cellars.

This, therefore, must be a very erroneous mode of treating beer. Some brewers, who have no tanks for the purpose, pump their beer from the cleansing casks again into a fermenting-tun, where it is often allowed to remain until the same indications of acidity, as above mentioned, may have taken place, when the same bad consequences may be dreaded. One great complaint is, that though ale tastes very well when first tapped, yet it very soon gets flat and forward, and will not stand the draught. How can it, we may ask, when acidification has previously commenced by long exposure to the atmosphere ?

We think enough has been said to prove that long exposure of beer to the atmosphere is the worst mode of treating it. The laws of chemical science, not less than the facts, establish this conclusion.

When beer of any kind has gone through a regular and sound process of fermentation, and has had full time to throw off its yeast and get quiet, which will always happen in a few days, any further exposure to the atmosphere is not only useless, but injurious.

It should, if sufficiently cool (say about 52° F., which all stock beer must be on the third day after cleansing, when brewed in proper season), be pumped into the vat; the bottoms which are pumped over along with it will soon fall down, proving rather a preservative than otherwise.

The vats, when full, should be covered, and sand thrown on the cover, more effectually to exclude the atmosphere. A loaded self-acting vent-peg fixed in the top, would, however, be very desirable, so as to permit any elastic gas which may be produced to escape.

If the storehouse can now be kept at a regular temperature, no other precaution is necessary; but when liable to be affected by summer heats, the sand on the top of the vats should be sprinkled with common salt, which retains the moisture, and also be kept damp with water. This by evaporation will tend to keep the beer cool. When the beer, instead of being vatted, has to be stowed in casks proper for sending out, they should be conveyed to the storehouse, and placed upon wooden bearers; then, instead of the bung-holes being left open, which is the common practice, bungs should be inserted slightly, so as to be easily thrown out if necessary. Holes should also be bored into every cask, either through or near the bung, and spiles or pegs inserted, so as at any time to give vent, should that be required. After having given vent, however, the bungs or pegs should be immediately replaced. By this treatment the beer, if properly brewed, will very soon become quiet, and if not exposed to higher temperatures, will require no further attention until it is sent out."
"A practical treatise on brewing" by William Black, 1866, pages 141-144.

It does seem odd that all the sediment was put into the vat with the beer.Surely the whole point of cleansing was to remove all that crap?

That's probably enough from William Black. Some of his ideas are so crazy that it makes you doubt everything in his book. The stuff about electricity spoiling beer is a bout as whacky as it gets.


Anonymous said...

It's not the first time I encounter this "electricty is bad for the beer". An Alsacian author (Bertrand Hell, L'Homme et la Bière) talk about how brewers didn't like storms... It's seem like a pretty old idea.

Graham Wheeler said...

It is a centuries old observation that weather affects beer.

Thundery, or at least muggy, weather does sometimes cause beer in casks to cloud up. I've experienced it in home brewing and I have seen it occur in pubs too. This is certainly more to do with atmospheric pressure than atmospheric electricity.

If atmospheric pressure drops suddenly, CO2 has to come out of solution to maintain equilibrium. This gives the impression of increased fizziness and was often mistaken for a "secondary fermentation" taking place, which of course it wasn't. The disturbance stirs up the yeast too, and clouds the beer.

I cannot see this happening in sealed casks, as some Victorian writers suggest.

One thing that Ron does not often show in his log snippets is that barometric pressure and air temperature are almost always recorded in brewer's logs. This continued almost to the present day with small traditional brewers.

Trouble is that Black took this to extreme lengths by connecting stormy weather with electricity and assuming that electricity was the cause. Today we know it to be bol'ks, but his book has numerous accounts of how he has saved breweries by galvanically isolating their vessels and pipework.

What with Black's electricity and Tizzard's mad inventions it does make it difficult to take those authors too seriously. The fact that Tizard considered himself an historian, linguist and etymologist is irritating on his frequent diversions into those subjects, but it does mean that he comes up with some amusing names for his inventions. The Caloriphagon is one of my favourites