Saturday, 31 December 2011

Inside Aitken (part three)

Yes, more from Alex Young's letters to Charles McMaster. They're such a wonderful resource for plain old gossip. And who doesn't like a bit of gossip?
But we'll begin with beer and in particular Stout.

"Aitkens were one of the very few firms that brewed stout in fact there was four different qualities, most pubs had it on draught we had a large turnover in Firkins

Most other breweries converted beer into stout, by adding colour , priming, and stout caramel.but most of all they used up ullages and returned beer. Most of the cellarmen had moustaches and you allways knew when they had a go at the stout.

Their tongue was always out licking their moustaches All stout was in butts, Hogheads, barrels, kils, firkins,and sometimes pins. Beer casks had white paint on the chimes stout casks had red. The butts were on high gauntry's all the casks were racked off them. The cellars were the original cellars we did the racking by the open flame of naptha lamps the Bond cellar had gas jets on the walls"

Apologies for the lack of full stops. The original letter only occasionally bothers with them. There's much of interest in that small description. We've already learned that Stout was never as big in Scotland as in London.

I've heard of small provincial breweries in England converting their Mild into Stout in a similar way. Though not with ullage and returns, just the caramel. Though John Keeling told me that the Watney's Cream Stout brewed at Wilson's in Manchester was mostly ullage with loads of caramel and sugar. I wonder what it tasted like? One of the blokes on my course at university used to drink Watney's Cream Stout. And he came from the Northwest, so it probably was brewed at Wilson's. I doubt he ever realised what went into it.

I'm surprised that Scottish pubs had draught Stout at all it the period Alex Young was in the industry. Remember that he started in 1924 and it sounds like he worked at the brewery until pretty much its closure in 1966. Stout going into butts and hogsheads is equally surprising. From the description of casks being racked from the butts, it sounds as if they may have been vatting their Stout still. Fascinating.

Unfortunately, I only seem to have the details of a single type of Aitken Stout. A typical sweet, low-strength Scottish Stout:

James Aitken Stouts 1949 – 1961
Year Beer Style Price size package Acidity FG OG colour ABV App. Atten-uation
1949 Stout Stout
pint bottled
1020 1038.5
2.38 48.05%
1954 A Stout Stout 1/2d half pint bottled 0.04 1021.2 1041.4 1 + 20 2.59 48.79%
1959 Stout Stout 14d halfpint bottled
1022.3 1039.4 250 2.19 43.40%
1961 Stout (no lactose) Stout 15d half pint bottled 0.04 1022 1038.9 275 2.11 43.44%
Thomas Usher Gravity Book document TU/6/11
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002

Finally, can you recall me wondering if Aitken generated their own electricity?  I know the answer now. They did:

"The new brew house opened in 1900 by modern standards was antiquated, the beam engine drove everything inside and outside the building, all of the shafts with loose pulleys and driving pulleys. There was also a gas engine that generated their own electricity 100 volts Eventually it was led to the cellars Two bare copper wires ran the length of each passage the globe holder and flex was attached to a tee piece of metal that bridged the two wires to give you a light any where the length of the wires. clean the wires with your knife and bring both wires together with your fingers and it would ring a bell, you felt a little tingle in your fingers even if they were wet, but nothing like a shock The power house occupied quite a large space, rows upon rows of two feet sqare glass vessels filled with acid and zinc plates."

It all sounds a bit primitive with the bare copper wires. It's odd how Alex Young calls the new brewery "antiquated". Compare that with the newspaper description of the brewery when it opened. That said it was as modern as next week.

Still not quite done with Alex Young's letters.

1 comment:

Gary Gillman said...

I would think all these various ways apart from adding pure colour were to use up something not otherwise saleable, e.g., returns or yeasty dregs, while giving the brew the desired sharp edge drinkers must have liked. The account has echos of Barclay's testimony from the early 1800's, or the mid-1800's accounts in the manuals which described adding old ale to new porter with the whole being put up in blending vats. You can see pictures in some old books of those vats which precisely were often supported on a gantry so the beer could be got at underneath.

The Wilson's stout was IMO the same idea, the sugar and caramel would have assisted to make a tart-sweet brew, one which approximated early 1800's techniques which themselves seem an expedient to avoid storing all the beer in the blend for 6-12 months or more.

Just today in New York while on holiday I ordered a cask porter in a flight (selction of four beers, you get 4 oz. of each). One of the other three was an American Imperial porter, strong and rich. The cask porter was a little off, not out and out sour, but half-way. I blended it with the Imperial stout about 4:1 and the result was better than each on its own IMO. The acid notes really worked well in small amount. I believe something similar was behind the porter described by this Scots witness and it was actually part of something very old in porter tradition.

Speaking for myself I find these accounts of absorbing interest and I hope more will come from such "unofficial" sources.