Monday, 12 October 2015

Is there anything new in brewing?

Despite the current craze for innovation in brewing not much of what's being done seems particularly new. I don't count using new hop varieties or putting weird shit in beer as that's been going on for ages. All Brettanomyces beers certainly look new, and I thought that devising methods of dry hopping beer in tank was new...until I found a paper showing it being done over a century ago.

In a meeting chaired by Adrian Brown (Horace's brother) in 1908 F.M. Maynard* talked on the vexing problem of making bright bottled beer. As in the previous paper I dug out there's no doubt the brewers weren't happy with the quality of the product:
"Unfortunately, non-deposit beer is about the worst paying article a brewer produces, and it is to be regretted that no joint action has been possible to raise the nett selling price of what would appear to be the ideal drink for so many people. It costs far more to produce than an X or 4d beer, and yet is sold to the public very often at even less money, and in many instances such terribly cut prices have compelled brewers to adopt the cheapest and quickest methods of producing the article."
I don't know what the law was back then but you'll get in trouble if you take joint action to raise prices nowadays. Interesting that they'd somehow got themselves in the situation of having to sell cheaply beer that was expensive to make. I suppose like with cask beer and keg beer production costs are only one factor in how much you can sell it for. Maynard continues:
(...) "Whilst some firms prefer to condition in cask, others employ vats and tanks; but viewed from the standpoint of economy, conditioning in bulk certainly appears to be the better system, although it is possible that more character is obtained in the resulting produce when conditioned in cask; but such character must be due to something more than the original materials, and the question arises whether an untreated cask, clean and sweet though it may be, does not, after all, impart something to the beer which a waxed cask, enamelled vat or glass lined tank can never give."
The added character sounds suspiciously like it's coming from bugs living in the cask. 
"This matter of casks versus tanks is however, a rather vital one where cost of production is considered, since apart from the question of character the former is by far the most expensive system, and there can be no gainsaying the fact that uniformity of condition and chilling is not obtained in separate casks as it is in tanks or vats. Further, the labour involved in taking casks in and out of the cold chamber, washing, filling, and rolling to induce condition is no small item of the working costs, to which must be added the far greater refrigeration power needed"
 He then talks at length about cooling, but it gets interesting again when he moves on to conditioning:

"The one great difficulty in conditioning beer in bulk is the impossibility of rolling the vessel as one does a cask, and to overcome this one sees propeller rousers driven by power fitted into large vats and tanks; but to my mind such vessels are best when as much complication is dispensed with, and the simples system of dry hopping and conditioning I have yet discovered is one I have devised myself."
One of my lecturers at Heriot-Watt talked of having to roll hogsheads of barely wine round the yard to get them to ferment out in the early days of his career. I suppose it might have got a bit more work out of the brewers yeast but I wouldn't be surprised if wild yeast was also involved, as it almost certainly would have been back in 1908. Talk of agitators in tanks is also interesting as this is something we're likely to see more of in the future as a means of speeding up primary fermentation.

Maynard's dry hopping system wouldn't look out of place amongst those mentioned in Stan Hieronymus's 2012 book For The Love of Hops.

"It consists of a perforated pipe surrounded by a bag of dry hops. It is suspended from the top of the tank, and is in communication with a cock on the outside; it is used by connecting this cock and the one on the bottom of the tank to a small rotary pump, whereby the sedimentary matters are circulated through the beer, at the same time taking into solution the aroma of the hops."
When he later gets on to containers for take outs his talk wouldn't look out of place today either:
 "Since lager beer so rapidly deteriorates on ullage and as the German beer drinker greatly prefers draught to bottled beer, many contrivances have been devised to meet this difficulty in the private trade. The simplest the the Kannenbeer jug, holding one litre; this was made of a very fine stoneware porcelain lined; it was closed with a cover of the same material as the jug, provided with an indiarubber jointing ring, metal hinge and spring clip. This vessel undoubtedly kept the beer in wonderful condition and constituted the most hygienic receptacle, since it could be so thoroughly cleaned, and its material kept the light and heat from its contents; but with all its perfections it had one great drawback, its weight being out of all proportion to its capacity."
Though most brewers use the term "ullage" for beer that's gone off its original meaning, as used here, was airspace in a container.

I wonder how the Kannenbeer jug compares to the modern growler (no laughing at the back there). They sound pretty similar, but both are not without problems so alternatives were developed:
"A further improvement on the plain jug was the syphon jug holding about two litres; this was provided with a container for carbonic acid gas in the foot fitted with and automatic value which passed the gas on to the top of the beer through and annular passage in the handle, in quantity equivalent to the bulk of beer drawn from the tap, a cover similar to that closing the original Kannernbeer jug being employed."
The syphon jug still had problems though with the valve and difficulties cleaning it so Maynard continues:
"That a need exists for vessels to contain 5 to 10 litres of beer and keep it in good condition on ullage is shown by the fact that several apparati are in use in which a small container for CO2 with valve is attached to a glass or earthenware beer reservoir, the gas being released into the latter as the beer is drawn. Another system is the use of a jacketed beer container, CO2 being let into the space between such container and the outside casing and finds its way to the surface of the beer through a suitable valve, the outer casing being in the form of a cask or can."
This sounds like early attempts at the mini-kegs which are around today. Maynard then goes on to talk about the problems of raising beer from wooden casks using CO2, much as Glendinning had a few years earlier. In the discussion that follows the talk someone mentions that in Germany the use of CO2 to serve beer was already in universal use.

Another point raised that's relevant to recent discussions is what gas to use. Though some take the overly reductionist line that "CO2 is CO2" Maynard held the view that:
 "... there can be no question that a brewery gas, carrying its natural aroma, is exactly what is required for the purpose."
 CO2 recovered from a brewery will contain a lot of impurities, including flavour volatiles from the fermenting beer. The point is raised again later:
"For carbonating, no purification beyond the separation of yeast-cells and other aërial impurities is needed, since the agreeably-flavoured ethereal products would be most helpful in improving the fullness and palate of the beer which pure carbon dioxide has the disadvantage of diluting and imparting that soapy character to so objectionable in many carbonated beers."
As is said about adding CO2 in the zombeer horror film Beer Sematary "that which comes out of the beer isn't the same as that which goes into the beer".

Carbonation in beer is also affected by factors which influence the bubble size. I did read a very interesting book on champagne carbonation which went into great detail about this, but can't find my notes at the moment so you'll just have to take my word for it.

*"Some Notes on 'Non-Deposit' Plant and CO2" Journal of the Institute of Brewing. Volume 15, Issue 2, March-April 1909, Pages: 298–325, Fred M. Maynard


  1. "overly reductionist" "CO2 is CO2"? But that's indisputably true. Which is not to say that "Brewery gas" is nothing but CO2. Recovered gas will contain all sorts of volatiles, Some pleasant, some not, surely.

  2. Whenever natural conditioning vs forced carbonation is discussed someone always says "CO2 is CO2" which is really not the answer they think it is.

    1. This is often because the question wasn't a good one.

    2. Yes, it normally is an argument not a constructive discussion.