Thursday, 6 October 2011

Scotch guinea Ales

The Scottish are their penchant for naming beers after obsolete units of currency. The one time it's guineas, the other it's shillings. Why don't they just use pounds like everyone else?

Chemistry publications are a surprisingly rich source of brewing information. They often contain analyses of commercial beer. And sometimes, as in this case, they even have descriptions of brewing techniques.

You don't to listen to me rabbit on about where I find all this rubbish. Let's get on with the quote:

Scotch Ales.—These ales were at one time in considerable repute, possessing a peculiar sweetness not noticed in other beverages. This—especially as regards the Alloa ales—was owing to the addition of Russian honey to the liquor, a practice which has now been abandoned for many years. It is customary with the Scotch brewers to distinguish the quality of their ales by the price; thus, there are three guinea, four guinea, six guinea, and so on to ten and twelve guinea ales, but the latter are rarely brewed. The routine of mashing is mostly the same in Scotland as that usually followed by English brewers. The principal points of difference will appear from the annexed particulars gleaned from one of the most intelligent, expert, and extensive brewers in Scotland.

The density of the wort depends, of course, upon the quality of the ale to be produced. The following are the densities adapted to the different qualities, reckoning by Allan's saccharometer:—

For 3 guinea ale the density is about.. 65º
For 4 guinea ale the density is about.. 80º
For 5 guinea ale the density is about.. 95º
For 6 guinea ale the density is about.. 108º
For 8 guinea ale the density is about.. 115º
For 10 guinea ale the density is about.. 125º

In preparing the worts of four guinea ale, two barrels of water at 175º Fahr. are generally taken per quarter of malt and mashed; this is then sparged over with two and a half barrels of water at 190º. For the other varieties the same amount of water is taken for the mash, but the quantity used in the sparging is less in proportion to the density which the product has to indicate; thus, for five guinea ale, the sparging is made with two barrels, and with one and a half for six guinea ale, whilst the spargings are not added at all in preparing the richer ales. Properly speaking, only one wort is drawn in Scotland, but the lengths of sparging, as just shown, make up for the after worts of the English brewer.

The hopping and tailing of the worts likewise vary but little from the practice already pointed out:—

4 to 5 pounds of hops per quarter are used for 4 guinea ale;
5 to 6 pounds of hops per quarter are used for 5 guinea ale;
6 to 7 pounds of hops per quarter are used for 6 guinea ale

and so on; the period of boiling is from one to one hour and a half with the better class of ales, but is prolonged to two hours, or longer, when the product is poor. The criterion in this, as well as in those instances already alluded to, is the breaking of the flocculent matter, which the attendant carefully watches, and tests occasionally by taking samples in a small vessel, and observing if the flocks readily precipitate. The cooling is performed in the usual way. The pitching heat is about 57°, though sometimes it is reduced to 56° or even 54°; and the period of attenuation extends from eight to twelve days, according to the weather, during which the heat rises to about 70° or more, but never higher if possible than 72°. The extent of the attenuation varies from half to two-thirds of the original gravity. The cleansing of Scotch ales differs in nothing important from the usual system. It may be stated, however, that in Scotland the attenuation is finished in the fermenting tun.

The practice of adding flavorings in the shape of berries, et cetera, is now entirely discontinued in Scotland, at least among the more respectable brewers.
"Chemistry, theoretical, practical, and analytical, Volume 1" By Sheridan Muspratt, 1860, page 279.

What a fascinating text. One that mention two practices that are new to me: adding Russian honey to Alloa Ale; adding berries as flavouring. Funny, isn't it? In all the fantastical (in the sense of based on fantasy rather than fact)  descriptions of the weird and wonderful practices of Scottish brewers, these never get a mention.

The account of Scottish brewing comes from the horse's mouth. Well, a "most intelligent, expert, and extensive" brewer at any rate. Who could that have been? I'd be tempted to guess at William Younger. He was certainly the most extensive at this time. But Younger used shillings, not guineas, as we'll see in a moment.

It's compare and contrast time. I've William Younger brewing records from exactly the right period: 1858. How do their beers compare with those in the Muspratt's (great name that) text? Let's see in a handy table format how they match up:

Muspratt William Younger
Beer OG lbs hops/qtr Beer OG lbs hops/qtr lbs hops barrel
3 guinea ale 1065 60/- 1064 9.00 2.25
4 guinea ale 1080 4 - 5 80/- 1075 9.00 2.69
5 guinea ale 1095 5 - 6 100/- 1088 6.34 3.51
6 guinea ale 1108 6 - 7 120/- 1108 6.76 3.89
8 guinea ale 1115 140/- 1114 6.83 3.64
10 guinea ale 1125
William Younger brewing record document WY/6/1/2/14 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive

For those of you not totally conversant with obsolete currency units, 1 guinea = 21 shillings.So 3, 4, 5 and 6 guineas are pretty close to 60, 80, 100 and 120 shillings.

The gravities are a pretty good match. The hopping not quite so. In particular the weaker Younger Ales had considerably more hops that Muspratt suggests.

Now it's time to check the mashing details. Here's a comparison of Muspratt's 4 guinea Ale with Younger's 80/-:

mash water (barrels) mash water temp. sparge water (barrels) sparge water temp.
4 guinea ale 2 170 2.5 190
Younger's 80/- 1.5 162, 182, 152 3 190
William Younger brewing record document WY/6/1/2/14 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive

I'm not quite sure what the three mashing temperatures in the Younger's records represent. Could be strike heat, underlet heat and tap heat. Difficult t make any comparison, being unsure as to what they mean. There is a difference in the amount of water used. The total is about the same, but Younger used less in the mash and more in sparging. The initial sparge temperature is identical. And quite high. English brewers generally aprged at 165º to 170º.

Now boiling. Muspratt says 1 to 1.5 hours duration, possibly two hours with weaker Ales. Again, that's pretty much in line with what Younger was up to. The first wort was boiled for between 1.25 and 1.75 hours, the second wort for around 2 hours. The boiling times for their strongest Ale, 140/-, were the shortest at 75 minutes and 64 minutes.

Much has been said about the cool fermentation temperatures favoured in Scotland. Not really based on any real evidence, as far as I can tell. Muspratt says the pitching temperature is 57° F and that the temperature rises to a maximum of 70º F during the fermentation. Younger pitched at 57° F and the fermentation temperature peaked at 68 - 72º F.

Finally there's the attenuation. 50% to 66% Muspratt says. The attenuation of Younger's shilling Ales is 59% to 64%. Interestingly, Muspratt says the "attenuation is finished in the fermenting tun". What I think he means with is that the wort wasn't moved from the fermenting tun to a cleansing vessel such as a ponto or a  union set. That was certainly true at Younger. For the shilling Ales. They did have union sets for cleansing their Pale Ales.

That was fun. Note that there was not a trace of the icy fermentaion temperatures, minimal use of hops and extended caramelising boils so beloved of Scotch Ale fantasists.


Barm said...

Clearly naming an ale "Ten Guinea Ale" or whatever was meant to imply high quality. Expensive purchases were often quoted in guineas rather than pounds – I guess since it gives a slightly lower figure it was the equivalent of today's £x.99

Edward said...

So where and when does the modern idea of strong scotch ale come from? Have you found the origin of the myth?

Rob said...


In terms of Scottish brewers not using "extended caramelising", can you elaborate?

Is it because they already utilized extended boils (3 hours, etc.)compared to the modern method of 1 to 1.5 hrs most worts are boiled for these days? Or is it just another myth that the first runnings of worts for traditional scotch/scottish ales were caramelized?


Leigh said...

Must be honest Ron, I'd never even heard of these. Enlightning stuff, as always.

Barm said...

R.I.P. Big L, the caramelisation stuff comes, I am pretty sure, from Michael Jackson writing about the direct-fired coppers at the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh.

Barm said...
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