Monday, 6 August 2018

The new system of bottling (part one)

Bottled beer was becoming a big thing towards the end of the 19th century. And brewers were keen to find quicker and more reliable ways of producing it.

The original system of bottling - called the "old" system in the article below - was bottle-conditioning. The beer was bottled with live yeast which would ferment in the bottle to produce condition. The downside of this was that it took time and wasn't really suitable for the type of light beer that was becoming popular.

"The Brewlng of Ale Specially for Bottling, including Practical Directions for Bottling.

IN the face of the immense and growing in crease in the demand for bottled beers, especially since the introduction of screw-stoppered bottles, I think it is well and reseasonable to open up a matter that is obviously of such great importance to the brewer and the bottler.

The main thing in view here is the end, and not the means; the former is to produce at a profit to the bottler, and to vend to the public at popular prices, a really sound, appetising, bottled ale, bright, sparkling, and clean to the palate.

In treating with this subject, I propose to classify it under two heads — that which has been hitherto used as the “old” system, and the other, which is now becoming generally adopted, as the “new” system.

The great desideratum of the public would be to obtain bottled beer without sediment, but there is no known process of brewing which can prevent deposit, any more than it can prevent beers bottled by the old system going sour and bad without the brewer or the bottler knowing why; but sediment there must be, more or less, under any system of bottling beers, as abortive yeast germs will cause this alone. The proper and scientific remedy is to dispense with the natural fermentation (which is always more or less imperfect and uncertain) for the production of carbonic acid gas, and simply add the same to the ale during, or just prior to, bottling. Obviously beer thus treated is good as soon as bottled, and from experience it is found it will keep in sound condition a longer time than if the gas is formed by natural fermentation, as under the old system; while the commercial economy effected by the ability to bottle whenever it is required to do so (that is when there is a demand for a further supply of bottled ale), and the absence of any need for stacking on the mere chance of the demand increasing, are surely powerful factors in the calculations of the bottler. By the new system of charging beers with carbonic acid gas, we get rid of a large portion of sediment, which is considered a great detriment by the public to bottled beers; fermentation being considerably stayed, the deposit is of course less, and the beer also retains its fulness. The bottler, therefore, has perfect control over his beer, and can depend upon a uniform pressure; there is an equality of flavour and quality which cannot be possibly obtained by the old system."
"The Brewers' Guardian 1892", 1892, page 87.

Notice how brewer and bottler are considered to be two different things. In the early days of bottling it was rarely performed by brewers themselves but by spcialist third parties. Even when most breweries had established their own bottling stores much was still performed by independent companies. These only really died out in the 1970s.

I'm surpised the author claims that there is no way of producing a sediment-free bottled beer. I'm pretty sure they were already doing that in the USA by 1892. You just have to filter and pasteurise. Force-carbonating but leaving active yeast in the bottle sounds dangerous to me. There's going to be fermentation in a bottle which is already fully pressurised.

The main economic advantage seems to be that the new system allowed beer to be bottled and then sold immediately. Meaning you didn't have to have lots of stock lying around coming into condition. It makes things much simpler logistically.

"In the new system there is an idea prevailing that a chemical operation is used in connection with it; but this is not so, and is, therefore, purely imaginary. It has also been urged that it seems unnatural to bottle beer in the manner suggested, but I think I am justified in saying most of all our great inventions have been more or less anticipatory of some natural process. If, however, we stood on nature alone, and did not supplement its operations by acts, progress could never be; and we might, on this principle, dispense with clothing on account of weaving being an unnatural operation. But science and mechanics have been brought to bear upon the method of bottling beer, and thus it has come about that the new system takes the place of the old fermentation, and consequent uncertainty and expensive system."
"The Brewers' Guardian 1892", 1892, page 87.

The author seems quite touchy on the subject of the new system being "unnatural". And at pains to point out there's nothing chemical involved. The public was very suspicious of "chemical" beer. Brewing chemists were often seen as sinister figures, who were adulterating beer. Rather than scientists trying to improve brewing practices.

"Of late years the real requirements of the public have been for something light, sparkling, and mild; and the taste for old and strong bottled beers is becoming a thing of the past. The object of the new system of bottling is to give the public a light, bright, and sparkling ale; and it is only possible to obtain this by using artificial means (if you will call it so), and equally is it only possible to make ice on the hot plains of India by artificial means. When a light-bodied ale is to be bottled on the old system, the chances are it is a long time before it ferments and gets into condition as a sparkling and drinkable ale. The reason is obvious: it has not sufficient body for it to ferment (that is, a yeast ferment), but will, in all probability, give off an acetous fermentation, and cause the ale to go sour and bad. The light ales the public require must necessarily be longer in stack, getting into condition, than the heavier kind; and this long time adds much to the cost of the product of bottled beer, even supposing it turns out right. This very class of light ale (which does not pay to bottle on the old system), when properly charged with carbonic acid gas, has resulted in a fine sparkling and palatable ale. By the old system of bottling, too, there is a very small margin of profit, even if everything goes right; but when the time and capital required, and the usual losses from bursters are considered, it is marvellous that any bottler in his senses should still persist in bottling on the old lines. It must be borne in mind there are no losses of bottles by bursting while stacked, and that the new system involves considerably less wages, less beer, and fewer bottles; there is less beer because it is bottled as required, and the trade requirements may be suited as occasion arises."
"The Brewers' Guardian 1892", 1892, pages 87 - 88.

The type of beer he's talking about is Running Pale Ale. AK, really. These appeared around the middle of the 19th century and were all the rage. Lower in gravity than the original Stock Pale Ales (1045º-1050º instead of 1060º-1065º) and without a secondary Brettanomyces fermnentation, they were ready to drink in days rather than months. I think the author is trying to say that there wasn't enough fermentable material left in these beers for bottle-conditioning to work.

Some stuff about bottling itself next time.


rod said...

Ron -

I notice that the author of the article was called Foster, and Foster was the name of a bottling company very close to St Pancras, which bottled vast quantities of beer which came down from Burton by train. Was he a member of this company, do you think?

Ron Pattinson said...



John said...

I'm intrigued by his assertion that bottle conditioned beer doesn't keep as long as force carbed beer. I'm not saying it wrong, it just doesn't 'feel' right.

qq said...

@John - I guess the problem is contamination. If you were filtering force-carbed beer, you would be filtering out a lot of the wild yeasts, diastaticus etc that would be present in the gunk they were using for bottle conditioning.