Monday, 6 April 2015

Brewing in the 1950’s – how to lay out your brewery (part one)

The surprising success of stuff about how to construct a brewery in the 1950’s has prompted me to continue. Ever the populist that I am.

Jeffery gives what looks like very sound advice about the layout of a brewery. Mostly concerned with eliminating possible sources of infection. Something that’s one of a brewer’s greatest fears.

I can’t help thinking of the sad end of Home Ales of Nottingham. I drank their beers a lot when I was younger. They were some of the most reliably sound in the country. I don’t think I can recall a single pint that was in poor condition. The company was well run and profitable. So they decided to build a brand, spanking new brewhouse.

That’s when the trouble started. Because there was a source of infection in the brewery. From that time on, their beer was never right. Try as they might they couldn’t track down the source of the infection. Eventually they gave up and sold up to Scottish & Newcastle. It’s a cautionary tale about the importance of a good brewery design.

“The danger of bacterial infection begins from the time when the wort leaves the copper, since no further sterilization is possible thereafter. It should, however, be comparatively easy to arrange subsequent departments, and the plant through which the beer passes, in such a manner that little pumping is necessary, and the minimum length of piping is involved. The copper, in order to carry out the advised system of gravitation, would be in the highest storey of the building. This arrangement makes it easier, also, to convey away the volumes of steam generated by boiling. Immediately below should be placed the hop-back, which should be an enclosed vessel with a steam chute leading from the top to outside the building. If the steam thrown off at this period is allowed to permeate the department, roof, walls and everything with which it comes into contact will in time become smothered by a sticky, sugary deposit, forming a breeding ground for bacteria and other undesirable organisms at the very place where it is essential to avoid them. Many breweries still have open coppers and hop-backs. Wherever possible these should be fitted with covers and steam vents. Where this is not practicable, special care should be taken to ensure that condensed water does not drop from the ceiling or rafters overhead into the hop-back. However, these expedients do not concerns us at this stage, as we are here considering the best type of plant for a new brewery.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 22 - 23.

The shorter the length of piping, the fewer places an infection can lurk.

That’s something I’d never considered: steam condensing on the roof and falling back into the hop-back. The ceiling isn’t likely to be the cleanest spot in a brewery. Steam sounds like quite dangerous stuff, beyond the obvious scalding risk.

“Immediately below the hop-back should be placed the wort receiver. In a modern brewery this will be a deep vessel. At one time the wort would have been discharged into a cooler—a large, open, shallow vessel - which was thought to be essential at this stage. The open cooler has passed into disfavour as a potential source of infection and is to be found only in a very few breweries.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 23.

Cooler. Remember that word. We’ll be getting to it again later. It’s replacement, the wort receiver, was a different shape and had a different function. It didn’t cool the wort, but merely held it and fed the refrigerator, where all the cooling was done.

We’ll be looking at that in more detail next time.


Anonymous said...

I well remember the Home Ales brewery ; I visited it once and found it a good trip. Of course it involved free food and drink, the idea of charging for brewery trips was yet to come.
At the time they were spending £35 million on refurbishing the plant, unfortunately it was completed at a time of falling ale sales and the rise in lager popularity.
Home beers were later brewed by other breweries but never were the same. At its best the bitter in particular was delicious and extremely drinkable and moreish.

Jeff Renner said...

Twenty years ago the first local brewpub in our town opened. Some but not all of their beers were infected. The rest were excellent. It was very frustrating for all. After some months they hired a friend of mine who was a scientist and homebrewer. He discovered a short section of black rubber hose, less than a foot as I recall, in a section of stainless steel piping that was used to move chilled wort. It was one of two lines so it wasn't used every brew. He told me that there was a layer of gunk in it.

It seems that the original designer had mismeasured the run and the installer spliced in a "temporary" section of hose that everyone forgot in the subsequent frenzy of opening a new business. Replacing the hose with stainless solved the problem.

Ron Pattinson said...


that's a good story. The tiniest little thing can mess up the most high-tech brewhouse.

Ron Pattinson said...


I never visited Home Ales, only Shippos.

Home beers were certainly very drinkable. Great stuff for a session.