Monday, 17 October 2011

Peaty water

Some people can't let the peat thing lie. If they didn't malt with peat, maybe the peaty taste came from the coal. Or the water. So they argue.

If you still think a peat flavour might have come from the water, read this:

"Abbey Brewery or Messrs. William Younger And Co.,

situated in the immediate vicinity of Holyrood Palace. The fame of Edinburgh ale, of which they are by far the largest makers, is known all over the world. The trade of this firm has been a steadily increasing one. The superiority of their ale is partly owing to the adoption of all mechanical and other improvements, and also to the chemical properties of the water, of which, by sinking to an immense depth, they get an abundant supply. Professor Dr. George Wilson and Dr. Maclagan, having made several analyses of the water, found it free from colour, taste, and odour, and after having subjected it to the most rigid chemical tests, scarcely found a single trace of organic matter. Its most abundant properties are carbonate of lime and magnesia, sulphate of lime and soda, and chloride of sodium. Their ales are exported to almost all parts of the world, where they have established agencies, and this branch of their trade has extensive premises entirely devoted to it situated at a short distance from their Brewery. They have, besides, large maltings in other parts of the city. The Pale or India Ale, so strongly recommended by the medical faculty, is extensively brewed by them, precisely on the same principles as at Burton, and as it is rising daily in reputation, has every likelihood, like their other ales, of gaining a world-wide fame."
"The official illustrated guide to the Lancaster and Carlisle, Edinburgh and Glasgow and Caledonian Railways" by George S. Measom, 1859 , page 198.

So Younger's brewing water was "free from colour, taste, and odour" and contained "scarcely found a single trace of organic matter". Note also that they were the largest producer of Edinburgh Ale and they were big exporters.

A peaty taste from the water? Don't make me laugh.


Oblivious said...

Also wet or dry peat does not smell like burned peat that used to dry distillers malt, so that water theory there is just voids

But I can see where it might come from, in the Connemara (west of Ireland) there are a number of hotel whose non portable water is of a redish hue from filtering though the peat blanked bogs. I presume this is similar in part of Scotland too, but i know in Connemara there have a very high percentage of America tourist and its something i have heard comment on.

Graeme said...

I always doubt the "peat" flavour too - I strongly expect that the power of suggestion and some sulphurous/phenolic component from yeast is being falsely interpreted by drinkers as "peat".

Either way, the addition of peat malts into any recreation of a Scottish Ale is just plain wrong.

Teemu said...

Just found an interesting quote about malting:
Check the last sentence... Some peat was used in Scottish maltings, but I just wonder if this was common in 17-18th century Scotland? If so, when did they change to coal?

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, I have always doubted that peaty water contributed much if anything to whisky (after all a distilled drink). Plus, as was pointed out above, combusted peat surely is different from peat which isn't burned.

No, I think the peaty/smoky/earthy notes noted by some tasters comes from roasted barley, as Michael Jackson did. If not roasted barley, then from amber and black malt, both of which are used in Caledonian 80 for example. Coal perhaps yes but surely this is all past.


Graeme said...

Peated whisky is entirely different - but you're right that the peat doesn't come from water, but comes from peated malt. This is carefully controlled by the distilleries to get the right level of phenols in the finished product.

The levels of phenols do reduce in new make thanks to the distillation process (to about 30% of the wort), and this reduces further in maturation, but the phenols *do* come from peat (used used to fire kilns to dry the malt). Levels are very low indeed as we are quite sensitive to it - about the 10ppm level for heavily peated whisky such as laphroaig.

Ron Pattinson said...

Teemu, that's a great little text.

I don't doubt that peat was used in the past for kilning malt. Interesting that peat is recommended, judging from the rest of the section, because it flavoured the malt the least.

Charcoal made from pit-coal is, I suppose a type of coke.

I imagine that Scottish maltsters changed to using coke in the 18th century for the same reasons as their colleagues in England. It allowed better control of the kilning process so that more reliable pale malt could be made. And because of the ready availability of coke as the industrial revolution kicked in.

Gary Gillman said...

I referred to this same extract in my earlier comments.

"Burn the best first, for that gives the strongest impression as to taste" can possibly be read both ways, but I read it to mean he wanted the peat taste, not that he didn't.

It's also interesting to read, at the end of the remarks, comments by those in attendance when the paper was delivered. The English members present or one of them referred to malt being dried by other methods including straw. Since straw was considered always in England a better fuel than fern and wood, perhaps this was a gentle English way of reproaching the Scots methods.

Anyway, there was clearly at one time use of peat to kiln ale malt. Statements such as you read today, that Scottish beer has never used peated malt, are way too broad and not justified in this light.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, I read it the opposite way: that the best fuels gave the least taste. Because it doesn't say "use the peat first" but the best fuel.

Interpreted the way you do, that would mean they also wanted the taste from coke, which I don't believe for a minute.

What people say is MODERN Scottish beer (the stuff brewed in the lowlands after 1750) has never used peated malt. That's the beer that was shipped around the world and made Scotland famous. I stand by that statement.

Gary Gillman said...

I can't agree there, Ron (your first statement) because he writes, "The best fuel is peat,". And he states, "burn the best first". Ergo, burn peat first if you have it. I think he was saying whatever gives the least-objectionable taste, use that first because the naked grain will absorb and retain it. Whereas if you use coal first or furzes first, their (relatively) poorer taste will dominate. That coal surely was ordinary mineral coal, which gives off sulphur and fumes. I doubt coking existed then (1680's) but even if it did, I don't think he meant that.

If a segment of the whisky-drinking public wanted peat taste in whisky hence its survival to this day, it is just as plausible to me that a taste for a smokier beer than has survived in England also endured. But there are different ways it could manifest and I certainly believe commercial brewing from the mid-1700's eschewed peat-kilned malt in most cases.

It may have survived here and there into the 1800's as some kind of local specialty, but so far no evidence appears to exist, neither can the contrary be taken as proved IMO.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, here is direct evidence from 1815 that twopenny ale tasted by a traveler in the Highlands, Edward Burt, was smoky. He states:

"This liquor is disagreeable to those who are not used to it; but time and custom will make almost anything familiar. The malt, which is dried with peat, turf or furzes, gives to the drink a taste of that kind of fuel".

It is from his Letters From A Gentleman in the North of Scotland to his Friend in London", Vol. 1, at 150-151:

In case you can't access the link, it is very clear he means ale because he states also that some people add brandy or "usky" (whisky) to this ale.

It's a survival of the taste into the 1800's, but something likely which became rarer and rarer after the date in question (1815).


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, I hasten to correct re Edward aka Edmund Burt: I just found out he was writing in the era of 1725-26. Once again we have a situation of a writer writing in an earlier era than he was published. One of his editions is from 1815.

The citation is still useful though to show the continuation of peat-smoked ale in some areas through to circa-1730 at least.

In my view, such a thing would have continued for decades and into the 1800's considering how remote or isolated parts of Scotland were, but I am with you certainly that peat-kilning would have died out as time wore on, I have always stated that.

Here is the info to ascertain better the dates of Burt's writings: