Tuesday, 27 October 2015

For and against the Filtration of Draught Beer

Once more mining in the JIB archive has revealed a hidden gem. A 1935 debate between two brewers on the merits of filtered vs natural beer is presented*. Representing the dark lord Satan is Mr R.B. Ullman, with Mr G.M. Parsons speaking for the forces of righteousness.

The two brewers present their cases, then argue with each other, before the discussion is opened to the floor. The presentations are much as you would expect, filtration being promoted for its consistency, and natural methods for their quality. The fun really starts when they go head to head. Ullman quotes from 1891 to show that brilliancy in beer is paramount above other considerations. Parsons notes that the quotation is interesting, as it shows that brilliancy is a problem that brewers have long had to meet, but it also leaves him an opening to attack:
"The mention of lager beer reminded him that the process of filtration owed its origin to Continental practice, and he would submit that lager beer and English beer were two very different things. Chilling was an essential part of the lager process; the fermentation was conducted at a low temperature. English beer could gain nothing in character from such a process."
Ullman counters that the lack of tied houses has made Continental brewers face more competition, a result of which is they've spent a lot of money on research into plant and perfecting their processes compared to English brewers, but Parsons has no time for this:
"he had no doubt that the brewing of lager beer had reached a high degree of perfection, but he did not agree that there were, as yet, any marked indications that among the majority of beer drinkers in the country there was any lessening in the demand for the full bodied drinking beers of the type they have been used to in the past. Taxation, in recent years had enforced still lower gravities, but that made it only more undesirable than before that we adopt the process of filtration. The difficulty the brewer had to-day was to keep sufficient body in his beers to satisfy the customer; with the low gravity beers flavour, palate fullness and head retention were poor enough and they could not afford to make them worse. Filtration undoubtedly did rob a beer of these qualities; and to-day the loss was even more serious than it was some years ago."
He was right that demand for lager was low in England, and it would stay that way for a few decades yet. Ullman maintained though that:

"the public demand was for a sweet beer without much hop character"
Parsons grudgingly accepts that:
"... with a certain section of the public, filtered beers did perhaps find favour in spite of their lack of character. They were, however, unpopular on account of their coldness ... English beer drinkers did not want a cold beer. "
 A discussion on beer temperature follows, before the forces of righteousness score a terrible own goal by saying that with unfiltered beers it was easier to blend back beer left in the pipes than it was for filtered beer in sealed containers. Fortunately the servant of Lucifer is unable to capitalise on this as he states that filtered beer returns can safely be blended back at the brewery. A discussion of returning beer and the cost of the equipment for filtration and carbonation follows, before Parsons waxes lyrically against filtration:
"... prolonged experience and modern knowledge had given the technical brewer the ability to maintain brilliancy and condition by sound brewing methods alone, and he regarded his success in that as a test of his art. From an artistic standpoint the process was a fake."
 This does strike a chord with me, as it is very satisfying when you get it right. The artistic merits of making cask conditioned is perhaps going a bit far though and Ullman dismisses it out of hand:
"Mr Ullman denied that the process was a fake, it was a logical development of the art and science of brewing."
 How he then continues brings up some interesting information I hadn't seen before:
 "No doubt, when isinglass finings were first introduced 100 years ago, conservative brewers objected to it, and clung to their bow-and-arrow methods of silver sand and alum"
 Another thing that was new to me soon follows: the filtered beer of the time had a shorter shelf life and was only suitable for busy pubs that had frequent deliveries, the opposite of how things are today.

Before things are opened up to the floor natural vs artificial carbonation is also covered with Parsons stating:
"he did not agree that there was any resemblance in the condition of a filtered and normal beer because of the very different condition of solution in which the gas was held. The gas produced naturally by fermentation of the beer had a distinctive affect on the palate which could not be imitated by any carbonating process. Carbonated beers, whether in cask or bottle, possessed the same objectionable property of an excessive amount of gas which was too easily released."
I think it's safe to say that he's not keen on fizzy keg beer, and in the discussion that follows it seems this was a common view amongst those in the brewing industry at the time. First Mr J. Sternhouse shows he's on the side of the angels by saying he:
"regretted to hear Mr Parsons mentioning the blending of waste as an advantage for non-chilled and filtered beers. That, even under the best circumstances, was one of the most reprehensible practices that was allowed in London, and he would like to see it abolished as soon as possible."
Mr W. J. Watkins comments next:
"He agreed with Prof. Armstrong's remark, that the character of many beers was disappearing. Probably that was due to the low original gravities that brewers had been forced down to, but the chilling and filtering of the beers also took away some of the character."
I was delighted to see Prof. Armstrong being mentioned, as he was the first person I found that complained about the horrors WWI inflicted on beer. And it would seem he was still doing it in the 1930s. Reading between the lines it seems that Bass declined even more from when Armstrong was complaining about it in 1921:
"As in instance he would quote a large national brewery that had for years bottled beers with condition in bottle. There was now some of the same type of beer on the market, chilled, filtered and pasteurised. The character of that beer as it was before was a Burton beer, and it had now entirely gone, owing to the fact that there was no longer any yeast present, and those strains of yeast which had come down through the ages at Burton-on-Trent, contained certain secondary yeasts which had undoubtedly added the individual character to the beer."
I did see a report that the last survivor of bottled conditioned Burton beers, Worthington White Shield, once had Saccharomyces diastaticus used as the bottling yeast, which gave the beer a noticeable phenolic character.

Watkins finishes:
"England was unique in that the country had top fermentation beers with a fullness of flavour of which brewers and consumers were jealous, and he quite agreed with Mr. Parsons, that they should endeavour to retain it."
Mr A. C. Reavenall talks of visiting a brewery that made chilled and filtered draught beers 25 years ago [1910]. He suspected that the amount make but this method at the present time would be extremely small, as he didn't think much of filtered beer:
"When the man who drank his beer transferred his custom to a house selling chilled beer he would be become a convert to the system, but happily that day seemed remote."
 He then goes on to the importance of yeast in the cask contributing to the flavour of the beer and to this end mentions that:
"Some London publichouses were equipped with a cellar appliance which did not remove the yeast from the beer until a matter of seconds before the customer drank it, and the gain in flavour and appearance was remarkable."
Unfortunately I'm not really sure what he's talking about here, but Dr. J. V. Eyre approved, in fact he was so keen on the positive effects of yeast on beer he was even keen on the effects of yeast in the diet, and deplored perfectly clear beer as being like white bread with all the goodness ground out of it.

The discussion ends with Mr. L. C. Thompson basically saying that the amount of lager imported into Britain is the square root of fuck all anyway.

With the discussion so weighted in favour of beer as god intended I'm left wondering where did it all go wrong? I think its the horrors of the next world war that laid the groundwork for keg beer to finally take off, and the luciferian libation lager that followed.

*Online as: THE FILTRATION OF BEERS (pages 319–320), R. B. Ullman  and NATURAL versus CHILLED AND FILTERED BEERS (pages: 320–328), G. M. Parsons, Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 41, Issue 4, July-August 1935.


  1. I become less convinced of the benefits of yeast in finished beer, as such. I do think that sterile chill filtering detracts from flavour.

    Use a centrifuge, best of both worlds.

  2. I'm not keen on yeast in finished beer either, but fortunately the good lord sent us finings! Sterile filtering will detract from flavour but less so than pasteurisation so I think it's a step forward. I've never worked in a brewery with a centrifuge so what sort of clarity and stability you get after centrifugation I don't know. Something I need to look into I guess, but I suspect centriguation on its own will not be enough though.

  3. By "secondary yeasts" he probably means Brettanomyces.

    1. I've been reading up again on Brettanomyces recently and there are other 'wild' yeasts that crop up too. I did once make a beer, on a very small scale, with S.diastaticus. Sadly it was foul though.