Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Bottling in 1901 - the requirements of bottled beer

I have to say that Mr. Lott's article on bottled beer is remarkably rich seam, one I'll be mining for a little longer. He reveals much about the composition of British beers, the methods of brewing them and the raw materials used. It's the analysis of the latter, principally malt and its fermentability, that have been the most instructive. All in all, one of the most useful articles I've found in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing.

In the next section Lott describes the required characteristics of bottled beer, going into considerable detail about the flavour and which elements contributed towards it.


I will now consider the requirements of a bottled ale. What does the public expect when asking for bottled ale to distinguish it from
draught ale ?

Mainly, a larger proportion of carbonic acid gas which has been some time in solution in the ale, which gives it that decided "bite" so noticeable in good bottled ales. The C02 should not readily escape from the beer—that is to say, the viscosity of the beer should be such that it holds a nice creamy head for some time after pouring out. There is also a distinct flavour associated with properly bottled ales which is rarely if ever found in draught ales. Two other requirements, which are perhaps equally necessary at the present time in good draught ale, are brilliancy and colour.

It is also highly desirable in ordinary English bottled ales that the sediment — which is normal to the process — should be of such a nature that it does not too readily become disturbed and mix with the ale when it is being poured out."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 7, Issue 2, March-April 1901, pages 197 - 198.

Those ones are pretty obvious. Drinkers have always expected bottled beer to be fizzier than draught (though I've had draught beer where the CO2 pressure was up so high that the beer fizzed to the last drop). Today's brewers might use a different yeast from their primary fermentation yeast for bottle-conditioning for the same reason as quoted above: to make sure the sediment isn't too easily disturbed. Duvel is an excellent example of a yeast that is very difficult to dislodge once settled. I've seen it served by simply inverting the bottle over a glass and yet the yeast still remained firmly stuck to the bottom of the bottle. The beer in the glass was crystal clear.


No doubt the majority of beer drinkers would assert that they could easily distinguish the flavour of a bottled beer, and yet I think it would puzzle even an expert to say precisely in what way the flavour of a bottled beer was distinct from that of a draught ale of the same quality.

It is not unusual to consider that the hops are practically the only flavour-producing ingredients of ale, but this is very far from being the case, although no doubt the hop flavour is the dominant one. As flavour is undoubtedly a most important feature of all kinds of ale, and is perhaps the especially distinguishing feature of bottled ales, and also as it is not unusual for brewers to lose sight of some of the causes of flavour, I purpose discussing the matter somewhat fully.

We may summarise the causes of the flavour of ales as follows :—

A. The composition of the brewing water.

Not that the water has any particular flavour in itself, but the total amount of salts in solution and the relative proportion of the different salts, markedly affects the composition of the wort in the mash-tub and in the copper.
. . .

You all know that, owing to the less extractive power of hard waters, worts produced with hard waters can be boiled much longer in the copper with the hops without producing unpleasant harsh flavours than those produced with soft waters; but I do not think it is at all generally known that with our very hard deep-bore waters the hop extract is so affected that it is almost impossible to distinguish the characteristic flavour of the hops used in the copper if they have been boiled some hours. It is obvious therefore that beers brewed with these very hard waters depend almost entirely for their hop flavour on the hopping-down hops."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 7, Issue 2, March-April 1901, page 198.

Did brewers really think that all the flavour came from hops? It seems a bit unlikely, given all the effort brewers put into getting good quality malt. I can't believe that ease of brewing and quantity of extract were their only considerations. I'm sure that there are beer geeks today that believe the flavour is all from the hops. Or all the flavour that they're interested in. It's one of the reasons I find the modern hop-obsession so disturbing.

Water has no flavour? I suppose that's true of distilled water, but no natural water is as pure as that. Funnily enough, I discussed the flavour of water with a brewer just yesterday. He was adamant that water from different regions had its own individual flavour, unconnected with its mineral content and which remained present however the water was treated.

By "very hard-deep bore waters" I suppose he means Burton-type waters. I thought the hop flavours disappeared after an hour or two of boiling no matter what the composition of the water. I've never heard of it as a particular characteristic of hard water before. My understanding was that only hops added to the copper in the last half hour of the boil retained their aroma. Those and dry hops. I wouldn't argue that the majority of hop flavour would come from the dry hops, especially after a long boil. What this passage tells us, is that Burton Pale Ales probably derived most of their hop flavour from dry hops.

The next passage about malt is particularly revealing:

"B. The flavour of the malt and the other materials that may be used in the mash and the relative proportions of those materials, especially the proportion of those without flavour to those with.

Personally, I have always considered malt flavour a most important characteristic of first-class ale, both pale and mild, but of late years the increased demand for low gravity pale-coloured ales has greatly reduced the sale of full malt-flavoured ales. Pale malts being in such demand, the maltster is afraid to fire his malt high enough to develop much flavour, and consequently most of the pale ale of the present day lacks the delicate malt flavour which only a fair amount of firing, as distinct from curing, will produce.

The use of a high percentage of thin foreign malts which seldom or never give much flavour, and flaked rice and maize, also accounts largely for this absence of true malt flavour.

The great variety of flavours found in the various sugars now used must also not be forgotten, and a fact which should always be borne in mind in this connection is that any specially pronounced flavour will seriously modify if not altogether hide more delicate flavours."
Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing, Volume 7, Issue 2, March-April 1901, pages 198 - 199.

I've read about Pale Ale brewers demanding the palest possible malt. I hadn't considered what impact this might have on the flavour of the finished beer. Thinking about it, I can understand why malt kilned at a higher temperature would have more flavour. I can see why a maltster would err on the side of caution with his kilning if he had trouble selling malt that was too dark.

By "foreign malts" he really means malt made from foreign barley, I've not found a single trace anywhere of malt being imported until the 20th century, and then only in one specific case. For a while in the 1920's and 1930's Barclay Perkins imported pilsner malt made in Kulmbach for use in their Lagers.

From what I've seen in brewing records, usually only a relatively small percentage of malt from foreign barley was used. This is a fairly typical example, a lowish-gravity Pale Ale (OG 1052º):

Whitbread FA November 15th 1901
malt/sugar quarters lbs %
Smyrna pale malt 10 3360 14.15%
English PA malt 46 15456 65.09%
No. 1 invert sugar 22 4928 20.75%
total 78 23744 100.00%
Whitbread brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/01/067.

Only 14% of the grist was from foreign barley. Smyrna being in modern-day Turkey.

Whitbread didn't go in for adjuncts like many brewers. Those who did, used 15% or so flaked maize. Sugar was almost universally used in England (not so much in Scotland and hardly at all in Ireland), to the amount of 15-20% of the grist of Pale Ales, 10-15% for Mild Ales and Stouts.

By 1900, in addition to the standard numbered invert sugars (Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4) there was a whole range of proprietary sugars, often designed for a specific type of beer. These could convey a great deal of flavour to the finished beer. Even a relatively pale sugar like No. 2 has a surprisingly complex fruity flavour.

We've still a mightily long road to travel before we're done. Next time we'll be looking at the effect of hops on beer flavour.


Gary Gillman said...

What I've found Ron is that any beer bottled with yeast, re-seeded or not, will tend to have the deposit adhere over time to the bottom. (Some resist it and remain somewhat hazy but almost all will clear over time whether the yeast is top or bottom yeast).

Probably in the "real old days", the good retailers and restauranteurs know how to manage stock to achieve a clear glass for the customer. But with shorter stocking times and more people in trade I'd think standards started to fall, which pushed the move towards no-deposit beers.

The special flavour, again looking back to olden days since the author clearly is remembering the oldest bottling traditions as well as newer methods, must have been a brettanomyces taste. This is why indirectly to be sure Orval tastes like that: I am sure its original brewer or market, regardless of declared intention, intended to copy fine English export pale ales. This kind of beer, famously imported (still) by John Martin in Antwerp, had a magnetic hold on the Belgians and numerous of the Trappists in fact one way or another, and other fine Belgian beers, are a testament to English bottle beer expertise. (What is Duvel if not a kind of 1800's mild ale..?).

Bottled strong stout would have offered similar taste complexities.


Ron Pattinson said...


my experience with bottle-conditioned beer varies from yours. While yeast will generally settle to the bottom of the bottle, it doesn't necessarily stay there. I've had plenty that were virtually impossible to pour clear because the yeast rose up at the slightest disturbance. Few matched the persistent adhesion to the bottom of Duvel yeast.

Gary Gillman said...

It could be Ron a matter of time, within a year or so I have had similar experience but after a year and up to 2 or 3 I find usually the beer pours well. I will have to try this soon at a bar I know which is known to move some of the bottled stock (Belgian and like) slowly - tonight sounds opportune. :)