Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Brown malt (yet again, again)

Today it's the turn of 20th century brown malt. I'm lucky to have been provided with a good first-hand account of brown malt manufacture.

The method described appears very similar to that employed in the 19th century, with faggots of wood being used to fuel the kiln. Smoke was deliberately allowed to come into conmtact with the malt in order to flavour it. This is in sharp contrast to the 18th century method, where straw was usually used (in Hertfordshire") as fuel. And, unlike the praise heaped open the "empyrheumatic" flavour of 19th century brown malt, 18th century maltsters tried to avoid any smokiness.

"Hertfordshire had many Brown Malt Kilns and together with Norfolk, provided
almost the total production of Brown Malt.

The kilns tended to be small with a capacity of about 2 Quarters (672 pounds) and were funnel shaped above the bed of malt. The top of the kiln had a cowl, that in many cases turned with the wind, so that themetal top was always facing downwind.

The bed of the kiln itself was made of woven wire (not wedgewire commonly used for later kilns) and this was maintained to the end of production.

Barley was always used and was subjected to screening, then put in tanks of water (steeps) where it remained for up to 72 hours. The grain was then thrown out on to floors where it remained in heaps (couching) for24 hours. It was then spread out to a depth of about 5 inches. It wasturned by hand to stop the roots, then developing, from mattingtogether. In the case of Brown Malt the green malt was left to "seer"off or become very withered over a period of about 14 days and was then spread very thinly on the kiln (about 2 to 3 inches thick).

The kiln was fired by Faggots and poles. Faggots are brushwood about 3 feet long and were held together by a forked branch at the base. The brushwood was held in place by a "tyer" of strong string. The wood was always hornbeam. The poles were again hornbeam with a thickness of about3 inches and again about 3 to 4 feet long. The idea was to start thefire with faggots until colour was gained by the malt itself (using last year's drier crop). At this point the malt was turned off the kiln. Avery hot job. It was not surprising that 2 gallons of beer were drunk before breakfast!!

The process was very dangerous from a fire point of view and many brown malt kilns were burnt down. Our own in Stanstead Abbots were brought to the ground in 1902.

A modern equivalent of Brown Malt is produced in a roasting cylinder,but lacks the smoky flavour of the true material.

Production ceased in about 1957, when many smaller maltsters were being taken over, and with the very small amount being needed in modern brewing, it no longer became economic, particularly with the hugeinsurance premium being charged."
"The Production of Brown Malt", Guy Horlock , 2002/2009 (Curator, French & Jupps Museum, Stanstead Abbotts,Hertfordshire)

Many thanks to Michael Newman who provided me with the above text. Fascinating stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.

Whitbread were customers of French & Jupp, buying both brown and black malt from them. They appear in the brewing logs just as "French".


Gary Gillman said...

Very interesting. In his chapter, "Brewing of Porter" in, "Complete Practical Brewer" (1852), M.L. Byrn gives a detailed description of a "genuine porter-malt kiln". He states there is "quite a difference" from the kiln used to dry pale malt.

His description is somewhat different from the one in your post, Ron, but overall the process seems similar. His fire-chamber is a brick-lined, "inverted pyramid" and extends two and a half feet within a, "square "apartment" which also holds the "floor" on which the malt is spread. The floor is, "laid with tiles in the usual manner where such are used". The malt is first dried like pale malt (to one-half the process required for the latter) and then is, "dried and finished" on the porter kiln, "at such a high temperature as speedily turns it of a brown colour, but without scorching or charring".

The "blow" is achieved with, "birch-cuttings" (is that hornbeam? I don't know) or, "beech where [birch] cannot be procured" (an echo seemingly of German rauchbier production).

It is this treatment, Byrn says, which gives porter the, "bitter principle" (charred or empyreutic taste I infer) that, "is so desirable to the taste in the consumption of porter".

The full description is at pp.139-140 of the book.

Incidentally, Captain Lawrence Brewery in New York State, whose website I mentioned earlier, makes a smoked porter which attempts to recreate an 1800's taste. It is described on its website.


Graham Wheeler said...

The type of fuel used for smoking was possibly regional, but it is certain the Hertfordshire maltsters did not use straw seriously. The whole point of the Hertfordshire maltsters being where they were was the proximity to managed hornbeam woods and forests, and the River Lea enabling the malt to be got to the London porter brewers. London brewers rarely malted their own barley because it requires both barley and the fuel to dry it being shipped into London, whereas it makes economical sense that only the finished malt should be shipped in.

To be rigid about it, if the malt was not smoked over hornbeam, then it was not proper porter. If any other fuel was suitable then large quantities of malt would have been shipped along the Thames from the Thames Valley, which is rich in beech, for example.

The assertion that 18th century maltsters tried to avoid any smokiness is another load of old cobblers in my view.