Monday, 8 June 2009

An American view of cask conditioning ca. 1900

I'm constantly finding stuff that I wasn't looking for. Often it's more interesting that what I'd been after. This is a good case in point. I was searching for material on invert sugar, but tripped over this.

This is of part of a report on a trip taken by a group of American brewers to Britain. The author doesn't seem that impressed with cask-conditioning and predicts its demise. How prescient. I wonder if he could have imagined, a century later, American brewers messing around with casks and shives?

Storage of Ales.

A very small quantity of English ales is stored in vats, but stout is still matured in large oak vessels of great capacity ; particularly by Messrs. Guinness and other Irish brewers. Otherwise the fermented ale is run directly into the trade casks and these are kept in the beer storage; having a temperature of about 55° F, for a few days in the case of mild ales for quick consumption, (but for several months in the case of pale ales for draught and bottling purposes and strong ales of 1090 to 1110 Sp. Grav. 21.49%—25.85%B).

During this period of storage the ale is not interfered with in any way, except that any excess pressure produced by this fermentation is relieved by inserting in the bung what is known as a porous peg, which is a small peg made of very porous wood.

When the time of delivery arrives, the casks are filled up and finings are added to the casks, so that when a cask is placed in a customer's cellar, the beer quickly brightens.

Krausening of beer is very rarely practiced, and I have not heard of the use of chips.

The beer on arrival in the customer's cellar is allowed to settle from a few hours up to several weeks, according to whether it is a mild ale (quick consumption) or a pale or strong ale, stronger ales requiring a longer period to brighten, although it would be considered a very stubborn beer which was not absolutely brilliant within one week of delivery.

The gas condition of beer in the customer's cellar is regulated by a porous peg, as in the beer storage.

Excessive condition is very difficult to deal with in the customer's cellar, as the beer is drawn for distribution in the "Bar" (Saloon) by the aid of a pump, which would cause the sediment to rise in the barrel if there was too much gas condition in the beer.

Beer is not drawn through pipes kept cool by means of water or ice as in this country.

Drawing by means of gas or air pressure has been tried, but the cost and the fact that the English casks are not made to withstand this additional pressure, have much retarded the application of such systems. It is probable, however, that within the near future a gradual disappearance of the pumping systems, to which there are many objections, will take place.
"Transactions of the American Brewing Institute" 1907, pages 255-256.


Matt said...

Another fascinating post, Ron. I can see why an American brewer in 1907 thought cask-conditioned beer would eventually die out, he could hardly have foreseen the rise of CAMRA. If you watch TV and films from the 60's and 70's, in the pubs it's wall-to-wall keg beer. I'm too young to remember but I guess the real ale revival forced some pubs to switch back from keg to cask.

JessKidden said...

I once had a "discussion" on a beer forum with someone who believed that, in the US, beer was routinely served via a hand pump and that "CO2 pushed" draught beer was a relatively recent, post-Prohibition invention.

So, I copied the applicable section of 1903's "100 Years of Brewing" (and never heard back from said poster) but it's still on my website if some of your readers are interested (or, even if one has the book, might not feel like getting that heavy tome off the shelf...).

Ron Pattinson said...

JessKidden, thanks for that. I've got a copy of "100 Years of Brewing" but hadn't noticed that passage.

In "Seventy Rolling Years" Sydney Nevile mentions an attempt by Worthington to introduce "American-style" draught beer before WW I. It failed because drinkers didn't like the taste of the beer.

Ron Pattinson said...

Matt, my personal recollections only go back as 1973. At that time some areas of the country had almost no cask beer whatsoever. For a while I believe Glasgow didn't have a single cask outlet and Middlesborough just one.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, McSorley's Old Ale House in New York still has English-looking hand pulls arrayed on the back-bar. I once asked when they were last used. I was told probably before World War 1.

English beer dispense seems pretty well-understood for the period from the 1800's until today, and now American.

I think it is less clear what the situation in Scotland and Ireland over this time. Was cask ale common in Scotland before the 1960's, for example? How exactly was draught stout and porter served in Ireland before the keg nitrogen system was devised? Was Guinness primarily a bottled or a draught beer before the nitrogen era?


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, in Scotland beer was mostly served by "tall font" air-pressure pumps. I believe handpumps only become common after the real ale revival.

Pre-nitrogen Irish Stout was cask-conditioned. In Dublin hand pumps were used. In the country, it was served by gravity. For Guinness, there were two casks: "high cask" and "low cask". One contained very lively young beer and the other flatter, older beer. Each glass was filled two thirds with the flatter beer then filled up with the younger beer to give it a good head.,

Oblivious said...

Ron do you have any more information on Irish cask ale,that way be worthy of a posting?

Gary Gillman said...

Thanks, Ron. Now that you mention it I recall that Knock and Gregory in Beers of Britain (1970's) mention air pressure fonts as a system also used in parts of England, mostly the north as I recall. I think the system was not optimal unless turnover was high and steady. I think the beer dispensed this way was mostly keg or filtered beer (not pasteurized perhaps in some cases) and that real ale in its English sense was limited to a handful of breweries (e.g., Caledonian's, Maclay's) until the real ale revival.

That is interesting about high and low casks with its echos of vatting or blending. I recall now Roger Protz mentions it in his book on porter and stout of some 10 years ago.


Ron Pattinson said...

Oblivious, I'm afraid that's it. The bit about the two casks comes from Roger Protz's "Classic Porter & Stout".

Handpulls I'll have to admit that my statement there is based on the evidence of the things still sitting on bar counters in Dublin. Maybe BeerNut knows more.

There are Murphy's "from the wood" adverts dating from the 1950's and possibly 1960's. They only bought their first pasteuriser in the late 1960's.

One odd place they used handpumps was Münster. The Pinkus Müller brewery history has a photo of one and a short description.

MentalDental said...


Ditto what Ron says. My recollection goes back to the mid 70s too. Happy days as a schoolboy, drinking in local pubs with my teachers. What would the Daily Mail make of that today!?

Anyway in the Welsh Marches getting a pint of Real Ale often meant driving (aren't Dad's wonderful?) to some pretty distant pubs. Most of the pubs local to me served only Whitbread Tankard or Trophy, both of which were pants, especially the Tankard.

It was very exciting when one of these new fangled microbreweries opened locally (Penrhos) and served rather good, if variable, beer. I especially loved their porter--the first time I had ever had, or heard of, anything by that name. Lovely.

Gary Gillman said...,M1

This is a Google Books partial-view of David Hughes' A Bottle of Guinness Please. Judging by the extracts it is an excellent book with many hard figures and other data and also many lovely illustrations of Guinness labels. Hughes states his intention is not primarily to write a history of draught stout but rather of bottled Guinness, in particular "ES" (Extra Stout of course).

As I read him, he explains that up to about 1960 when draught Guinness came in as a nitrogenated product, almost all Guinness sold in England was bottled. It was in casks, naturally conditioned, as shipped from the brewery and it was bottled and sold into distribution by brewery or independent bottlers.

In Ireland in the 1950's, most stout was similarly bottled and many publicans did a good trade in this. There was some draught stout too.

As for porter, in Ireland, most of it was draught but some was bottled. Before WW 1 in Ireland, there was even for a time a blend of porter and stout sold.

Porter was sometimes called single stout and other names. ES was sometimes called double porter and FES has a plethora of synonyms, but Hughes identifies 3 main types of beer made in Guinness's history: a weakish porter; ES; and the strong, well matured FES which was vatted in part at least. Gravities fell over time as in England all well-chronicled here.

Excellent study. Since its remit was bottled stout and porter, he does not focus too much on draught and does not state exactly how it was dispensed. The Protz descriptions are pretty specific though and this must be how the beers were dispensed before the current draught product came on-stream.

I would think there must be press accounts in the Irish press which discussed the new product and perhaps explained how the old draft one was different.

Hughes' states that once of the reasons draught Guinness (nitrogenated) did so well in England in the 1960's was that it was more reliable than the bottled product which was less stable due to its being naturally conditioned.


Mike said...

I had an Uncle who owned a pub in County Clare. When I was 15, back in 1964, I had a great time serving Guinness from two casks which were on the back bar in the pub. My Uncle taught me how to pour the flat "porter" into the glass and top it up with "cream", allow it to settle and then just before serving top it up with a little of both if needed and finishing with a knife drawn across to level the head with the glass. Some of the regulars wanted a tall collar and some a thin one. When the pub was busy we would keep a row of pints partially filled ready to be topped up.
That was pure nectar; you could lay a shilling on the top and it would stay there until the porter was all gone.
I remember how sad my uncle was when the kegs arrived and the gas pushed the porter, it was still a slow pour, two position tap, but not nearly as tasty.

Matt said...

Mike, what a heartbreaking story. The pub in Clare sounds like a lost paradise. My dad worked in a John Smith's pub in Manchester in the 60's when they switched from keg to cask, he's got a few stories about the reaction of the regulars.

MentalDental, your post rang a few bells. My local when I started drinking as a teenager in the late 80's was a Whitbread pub that served the uninspring Trophy Bitter, had to go to the 'old man's pub' for Holts Bitter and Mild or a bit further afield for the now sadly defunct Wilsons Mild.

Matt said...

typo: I obviously meant cask to keg!

Gary Gillman said...

Very good direct evidence, thanks Mike.


Mike said...

Hey Matt, Holt's Bitter. I remember when it was the only beer at less than a pound per pint.I used to drink at a Tetley's pub, the middle King on Oldham St, just near Stevenson Sq. that had a cracking pint of Tetley's Mild, then there was the Castle Inn, Robinson's only pub in the city,and of course Wilson's mild. All of these were cask beers. Memories.

Matt said...

Holts Bitter was about 80p when I started drinking it in 1988, you can still get a pint for £1.80 in Manchester.

Wilsons Mild: dark, sweetish and lusciously caramelly. I'm pretty sure the brewery in Newton Heath had closed by the time I started drinking it (taken over by Websters if I remember rightly), not sure when it finally disappeared.