Chapter VIII. How Beer Is Brewed

We now proceed to give a description of the various processes of brewing, which we trust will not be deemed too elaborate, in view of the special character of this work; and to this end we shall beg leave to conduct the reader through the several departments of one of the largest breweries of our country.

It is to John Barleycorn, immortalized by Robert Burns and innumerable other poets of less renown, that we must first turn our attention; but we need not follow his career from the beginning, as poetically described by the Scotch bard, for he makes his entry into the brewery after he has already undergone a great part of his sufferings.

"They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him further woe,
And still, as signs of life appeared,
They tossed him to and fro.
They wasted o'er a scorching flame
The marrow of his bones."

The entire poem is undoubtedly familiar to every lover of drinking songs. In it the poet describes all the manipulations incidental to the cultivation of barley, from the planting of the grain to the reaping of it; and also all the numerous and manifold operations to which the ripe cereal is subjected after it has left the farm and passed into the hands of the maltster.

The concluding process of malting, described in the quoted lines, has done its work, when John Barleycorn turns up in this brewery to begin a new series of ups and downs, calculated and designed to still further purify him and render him fit for the climax of his fate. Malt, as every one knows, is obtained by a four-fold treatment of the barley. The grain must be steeped in order to cause germination and produce diastase, the agent necessary for the conversion of starch into that saccharine matter which forms the primary essence of beer; it must be next couched and floored, when it continues to grown and germinate; and, lastly, it must be subjected to kiln drying by which germination is terminated. When this malt, loaded upon ponderous wagons, reaches the brewery, it is at once conveyed, by means of most ingenious contrivances, into malt scales and weighed. On its way to the enormous bins, four in number, which serve as storehouses, it is subjected to repeated processes of sifting, screening and blowing---the latter part being effected by means of air passing through flues or pipes, connected at certain intervals with the chutes through which the malt passes. The storage bins occupy nearly the whole of one wing of the main building. They form one vast shaft, divided into four chambers, running through several stories up to the top floor, and leaving on each floor just room enough for a narrow wallery or corridor. The malt is raised to the tower and thence distributed to these bins, which together hold about fifty-six thousand bushels of barley, and are so constructed as to facilitate the utmost cleanliness in every nook and corner of them.

The first operation of the brewer, when beginning to brew, is to grind the malt. John Barleycorn's sufferings here begin where Burns makes them end:

"But a miller us'd him worst of all,
For he crushed him between two stones."

Crushing the Malt

The same powerful machinery which raises the malt into the store houses, is now again set in motion to convey the quantity of malt requisite for each brew, from the store rooms through a series of chutes, shakers, and manet-studded slides, to and from the scales into the malt mill. On its devious course to this point the malt is shaken upon sieves, rocked to and fro, and constantly accompanied by currents of air, all of which is intended to separate all germs and dust from the malt, and to leave the latter as free as possible from useless and harmful matter. Chutes covered with powerful magnets, serve to attract and hold nails, bits of iron or other similar metallic substances, which may be in the malt. After being weighed---an operation which one man can perform by simply depressing any one of four levers attached to the scales and communicating with the store bins---the malt is ground, or rather crushed between metal rollers. In its crushed state, it is again conveyed, in the same mechanical fashion to the top floor, where it is deposited in smaller bins, three in number, each holding 500 bushels. The malt scales, two in number, one to weigh the malt when it is received, and the other to weight the quantity needed for each brew, are placed immediately below the store bins. The double weighing operation enables the brewer not only to calculate, at any time, the quantity of malt consumed and still on hand, but also to determine, with accuracy and without much labor, the exact quantities which he requires from day to day. The latter is very important, because everything depends upon a proper proportion of ingredients.

Simple as all these operations may appear from our description, they are, nevertheless, effected by most complicated and costly machinery, in the construction of which human ingenuity was put to a severe test. The principal object of these machines is not, as might be supposed, the saving of labor, but rather the elimination of chance, and accident from this preliminary work of the brewer. These most modern improvements preclude almost entirely the many chances of failure to which a less perfect method of sifting malt will always expose the operation of brewing. The presence of any metallic substance or of an excess of germ or dust, will inevitably spoil the wort. The methods spoken of here not only preclude this, but also tend to insure uniformity of quality, and offer, besides, a certain degree of immunity from the danger of explosion, which is ever present in any establishment where the elimination and collection of the malt dust is effected in a less perfect way. As we have seen, the floors of the west wing of the main building serve the purposes of weighing, sifting and storing malt. On the upper floors of the other parts of this building we find, in separate rooms, the smaller bins before described; tuns for preliminary mashing; the cooling tank, and a number of colossal vats containing water of varying degrees of temperature, heated by exhaust steam.

Mashing and Sparging.

Having crushed his malt, the brewer now proceeds to mashing, a most important part of his art. The crushed malt is conveyed from the smaller bins to a "vormaischbutte," that is to say, a mash tun in which the malt is thoroughly mixed with water, preparatory to its transfer to the regular mash tuns. Neither manual labor nor physical efforts of any kind are required in thus conveying the malt to the mash tuns; everything moves by steam power. The object of mashing, i.e., the process of infusion or mixing the malt with water at a proper temperature, is two-fold, viz. first to extract from the malt the saccharine substance and dextrine which are contained therein; and secondly, to convert into maltose and dextrine the residue of unconverted starch. The three immense iron tubs, in which the malt is mashed, are set in wooden frames, rising about four to five feet above the flooring. Here, to, the magnificent plant of steam engines, of which we shall speak later on, is brought into application; it sets in motion the mashing apparatus within the tun, which is composed of a number of raking contrivances fastened upon two huge arms, revolving in opposite directions around central pivots, in such manner as to mix every particle of the grain, as it drops from "vormaischbutte" on the floor above.

Now is the time to realize the importance of the perfect cleaning and grinding of the malt, for the result of mashing depends in part upon these two preliminary processes. If the malt be insufficiently crushed, much of the extract will be lost, or rather, to be more precise, much of the starch will resist infusion and thus remain bound up in the grain, which later then passes out of the tun with a considerable portion of its starch adhering to it. If, on the other hand, the malt be crushed too fine, or if it be insufficiently cleaned, retaining large proportions of dust, a part of the wort will become pasty and absorb much of the "goodness," thus impairing the quality of the beer.

Before the invention of the modern appliances before referred to, the very best raw material frequently failed to yield the results which the brewer was justified in expecting from it, and such failures, the true causes of which were rarely understood, gave rise to trade superstitions which the modern brewer laughs at, conscious of his superior knowledge.

While the process of mashing is going on, the brewmaster must be constantly on the alert; he must watch the temperature of the water, with which he mixes his malt; gauge the effect of the heat upon the quantity and quality of his mash; and determine, at a glance, almost, when to open the valves of the mash tun, in order to draw off the wort into the copper or boiling kettle below. As in everything connected with brewing, science furnishes him a reliable guide in the shape of a saccharometer, which indicates the proportion of sugar in the wort, and other instruments with which to test temperature etc. When the opportune moment has arrived for drawing off the sugar-laden liquid, the brewer opens valves or doors in the bottom of the mash tuns, through which the wort runs into pipes, and through a filtering apparatus into the boilers on the floor below. While this is going on, and before half of the wort is run off, we witness another operation called sparging, by which the useful substance still remaining in the malt is washed out. By the sparging machine a continuous shower of hot water is evenly thrown on every part of the grain; it issues from hollow arms, perforated on their reverse sides, and horizontally fixed to an upright pin. As soon as the water begins to force its way out of the holes, in opposite directions, these arms revolve automatically; the raking appliances, meanwhile, continue to whirl around, constantly stirring up the mash, thus enhancing the effect of the water and accelerating the operation. Insufficient or ineffective sparging means a considerable loss to the brewer.

When sparging is completed, the brewmaster changes the scene of his activity; he descends to the floor immediately below the one where his mash tuns are placed. These two floors are closely connected with each other; in fact, through large openings in the ceiling, which openings are surrounded by substantial guard rails, we gain an almost unobstructed view of both rooms at one and the same time; and even if we knew nothing at all of brewing, the sight of so many pipes, tubes, funnels and shafts connecting the upper floor with the lower, would convince us that the closest relation exists between the two rooms. On this lower floor our attention is at once attracted by three huge copper kettles, every part of which, as well as the many pipes which we see here, at once impresses us with the truth of the saying, that when a brewer is doing nothing, he cleans and polishes his utensils. Indeed, the pride which every journeyman brewer takes in the cleanliness of the establishment is made manifest at every step we take; but here, in the kettle room, where every object far and near is faithfully reflected, as if in a mirror, upon the resplendent sides of the brew kettles, an extra effort seems to have been made to outshine every other department.

The liquid which now runs from the mash tun into the boiling copper contains all the ingredients which constitute what we may call the body of the beer; it is the extract of a highly nutritious grain, gained in such a way as to justify the designation of liquid bread, which an eminent chemist has assigned to malt liquors. But all the nourishing qualities of the grain have not been extracted; a very large proportion, comparatively speaking, remain in that part of it for which the brewer has no further use. In the brewery under description these grains are conveyed through large pipes from the mash tuns to the ground floor, or, rather to an archway where wagons may be brought to receive them. They are used as food for cattle and have proved to be the best nutriment for milch cows. According to the exhaustive analysis made by the Agriculture Experiment Station of this state, and many other investigations, brewers' grains, even when no longer perfectly fresh, are usually nourishing and, when fed to milch cows, tend to increase the quantity and enhance the quality of the milk. It is estimated that no less than two-thirds of the bulk of brewers' grains, as they issue from the mash tun, consist of water, and this moisture not only militates against the transportation of the grain to rural points, but also accelerates decomposition---two reasons which have prevented a more general utilization of the grains by dairymen. A number of grains drying machines have been invented, and we learn of others in course of construction, by which the grains may be profitably dried and preserved.

Boiling the Wort

The boiling of the wort in these three huge coppers is another one of the essential phases of brewing. The heat required for the boiling is furnished by boilers which send a continuous current of steam through the coils fixed in the copper. These coppers have covers with small sliding doors, which, during the process of boiling, are rarely opened except to enable the brewmaster to make his tests. Were it not for these covers, the boiler room would be enveloped in an impenetrable cloud of steam, which would greatly hamper all manipulations. As it is, the steams finds an outlet through a large pipe or flue fixed on top of the copper. It is at this stage that the hop is added to the wort, but not until the latter has boiled a sufficient time. Usually, the boiling requires four hours; at the expiration of the third hour, or still later, perhaps, the brewer will empty the contents of several large sacks full of aromatic hops into the copper, thus adding the bitter principle to the saccharine. The proper treatment of the hops at and during this stage always has been a matter concerning which few brewers shared the same opinion; but of late scientific investigations have removed many prejudices which arose from a misconception of the nature, ingredients, and functions of the plant. At present, the average brewer fully understands that he can extract the essence of the hops without excessive boiling. The object of the boiling is: 1. To concentrate the wort; 2. To extract the essence of the hop; 3. To coagulate the unchanged albuminous substances and cause them to settle, together with the unconverted starch which, if allowed to remain intact, would materially militate against the preservation of the beer. But this does not do justice to the important function of hops; at least it is to be feared that, to the average reader, it will not convey a clear idea of the action of this tender plant upon the wort. Without it, beer would be nothing more than fermented barley juice, which, as we have seen, was known to the most ancient nations. Without it, beer could not be preserved for any length of time, and both in appearance and flavor would be greatly inferior to the drink of today. Hence, hops not only impart to beers their pleasantly bitter and aromatic flavor, but they also assist in clarification and produce the preservative qualities of the liquid. The two principal substances which the hop cone yields when boiled, are lupulin and tannin, and it must be the brewer's aim to extract these in just that proportion which the condition and quality of his wort require. Injudicious handling of the hops may result in an excess of tannin and a deficiency of lupulin, and may otherwise work injury to the finished product. The diminutive sparkling grains of the hop flower, called lupulin, are closely wrapped up in the center of the hop cone, and should be laid bare before the plant is placed in the copper. To this end most brewers break up the hops, and the writer was shown a most ingenious and yet exceedingly simple machine which performs this operation in a highly satisfactory manner.

Hops, as delivered at the brewery, are packed in large bales, each weighing 180 pounds; the quantities required for immediate use are taken out of these bales, broken on the machine above referred to, and then placed loosely in large canvas bags, provided with hoop-like handles. As a matter of course, these quantities are all carefully weighed before being dumped into the copper. Scientific observation and practical experience have taught the brewer not to boil the hop too long. Formerly the plant was boiled "all to pieces," the object being to expedite the precipitation of the albuminous wort by means of the extracted tannin. At present, the boiling time is reduced to a minimum, and yet, by reason of the opening of the hop cone, the effects and essential functions of the hop are not in any manner impaired.

In the purchase of hops, the brewer must use good judgment and great care so as to secure an article rich in lupulin, fully mature, not too old, cleanly picked and properly dried. If he obtains such hops, he may still have room for complaint on account of the lack of that flavor which is the result of long-continued cultivation and the natural advantages of a favorable soil. The latter causes have made Bohemian hops famous all over the world. Any brewer who strives to produce the very highest grade of beer will always use a certain proportion of these extra-aromatic hops in conjunction with the domestic product. For all practical purposes, however, American hops are as good as, if not better than, the average foreign article, with the exception of a few varieties, the production of which is also confined to a rather narrow territory.

Cooling the Brew

When the boiling is completed, the brewer again descends to a still lower floor, where we see, besides many engines, pumps, and other gear, a large black rectangular tank which is placed directly under, and connected with the boiling coppers. This is technically called a hop retainer, or hop-back; the former term undoubtedly more intelligible than the latter, and certainly more appropriate because the function of this tank is to check or retain the hops, while the hopped wort, flowing through open valves in the bottom of the coppers, is being rapidly pumped back to the top floor, where an expansive iron receptacle called the cooling tank, stands ready to receive it. Poor John Barleycorn! In different conditions he has now made this same trip up and down for the fourth time, and yet the end of his journey is still far off. The contrivance which effects the retention of the hops consists of a perforated false bottom within the hop-back, or, in other words, of a sieve equally as large as the iron tank into which it is fitted, and so fixed as to leave between it and the real bottom of the vessel a sufficient space for the reception of the wort. At this stage, the head brewer thinks of but two things, namely, to send his wort to the cooling tank as rapidly as possible and to have it reach its destination clear and brilliant. For the latter purpose he allows the wort to settle in the hop-back for about twenty minutes; this done, he adjusts the pumps, sets them in motion, and then ascends to the top floor to watch the steaming liquid, as it issues from the pipe and, with a sound between a hiss and a roar, rushes into the tank. If we wish to form an idea of the shape and dimensions of this cooling tank, we must do it now, for in a few moments, as the hot liquid accumulates, a dense cloud of steam, fraught with the enlivening aroma of the hops, begins to fill the immense room, rendering everything indistinct, except when a particularly strong gust of wind rushes through the wide openings in the lattice work of the windows and for a moment lifts the vaporous veil. The shape of this vessel is that of a gigantic rectangular pan; its depth is three feet; its lateral dimensions are 30x42 feet; its capacity equals that of two of the three boiling coppers, each one of which holds three hundred and seventy-five barrels.

Although he has the most perfect refrigerating apparatus at his command, our brewmaster now evinces considerable anxiety; he is pretty sure of the usual result of his operations; but he knows "there's many a slip between the cup and the lip," or, rather, between the cooling tank and the fermenting tun; and right here appears to be the only loophole which human ingenuity left to chance. His object is to reduce the temperature of the liquid and render the wort properly amenable, in the desired measure, to the action of the yeast which he will presently add to it, and thus place it in a fair way for the beginning of fermentation. But unless this is done rapidly, the wort may turn sour, and besides, many believe that other dangers usually accompany a protracted exposure of the liquid to the open air. In many breweries, particularly those situated on depressed ground, or hedged in by other high buildings, artificial means are employed to accelerate this first stage of the cooling process.

Cooling is one of the most interesting, as it is one of the most important, phases of brewing. The manner in which it is accomplished in model breweries of today, impresses us with the greatness of science and its illimitable resources when pressed into service of a progressive industry. Formerly, the successful brewer of lager beer depended very much upon the climate, the supply of ice and the chances of securing what the Germans style "Felsenkeller," rock cellars; that is, deep caverns hewn into the rocks. The refrigerators of today completely emancipate the brewer from the thraldom of these contingencies; he can now brew almost anywhere and everywhere, even in Southern climates. Mild winters and consequent scarcity of ice have no terrors for him; and if it were not for his second nature to utilize every natural advantage offered him, he might get along without any cellars, certainly without "Felsenkeller." From the cooling tank the wort is conveyed through pipes into a pan, whence it trickles over two refrigerators. These two refrigerators are on separate floors, one above the other; the one over which the wort passes first is supplied with water from an artesian well; the other derives its cooling capacity from a refrigerating plant, of which we shall presently speak at some length. Having now reached the temperature most suitable for the beginning of fermentation, the wort passes directly into the fermenting tuns.


Fermentation, artificially induced by the admixture of yeast, at the rate of about one pound per barrel, sets in at once and gradually converts the saccharine principle into alcohol and carbonic acid gas, thus imparting to beer that quality which places malt liquors in the category of intoxicating beverages.

While fermentation continues, the same vigilance which prevails in every part of the brewery, must be constantly exercised. The conversion of sugar into alcohol and carbonic acid gas should be gradual, not sudden; hence, when the fermenting process becomes too rapid, either by reason of defective yeast or on account of the unsuitable temperature, it must be restrained by means of attemperators, that is, coils which are placed in the fermenting tun and connected with the refrigerating plant.

As in all other operations thus far described, so here, too, the prolific genius of our age of inventions has placed at the command of the brewer machineries with which he can regulate the temperature of these oceans of turbulent, foaming liquids, either by a light pressure of his hand, by the turning of a small wheel, by pressing upon a knob, or by such other equally simply manipulation. In this fermenting room, as well as in the cellars, into which we shall pass presently, everything assumes Titanic proportions, and the human beings who move about these places appear like pigmies. When we see fermenting tuns holding from three hundred to four hundred barrels, and settling tuns of the size of an ordinary house, extending through two stories, and holding seven hundred barrels or twenty-one thousand seven hundred gallons of beer; and when we consider that these monster casks, filled with John Barleycorn's blood, cover miles upon miles of cellar room, we begin to realize and appreciate the power of the engines which are at work in this brewery.

As fermentation progresses, workmen are constantly in attendance to watch the process. On ladders, almost three times the size of their own bodies, they climb to the top of the tuns to skim the beer with huge ladles, testing at the same time, by taste and touch, the condition of the liquid mass, in order to determine when to draw it off to the resting tuns.

The transfer of the beer from the fermentation vats to the resting tuns and from these to the storage casks is accomplished by hydraulic and air pressure, and in such a way as to require no other labor but that of opening or closing valves or depressing levers. As we descend into the cellars, three stories under the ground, the temperature becomes more and more stinging, the walls and ceiling are covered with ice to the depth of from three to five inches, and every vat and cask is thickly encrusted with frost. In forming an idea of the capacity of these cellars, we cannot simply depend upon the number of square feet of ground occupied by them, because both vats and casks rise to a height almost equal to that of the cellars, and they vary in capacity from fifty to five hundred barrels. The beer contained in them would float a fleet, since their aggregate minimum capacity amounts to 125,000 barrels.

Final Operations

The last operations to which the beer is subjected are those of cleansing, fining and krausening. The beer passes from the settling vats to the storage casks, in which it remains from three to four months, when, after another winding journey through miles of pipes, it emerges bright and clear and brilliant, only to be racked, that is to say, filled into kegs which go the retailers.

The same continuity of operations which we have witnessed on the floors above ground is also observed in the three tiers of the cellars, and the relation between the latter is almost as close as that between the former. We have already indicated the character of the connection which exists between the different kinds of tuns, vats, and casks into which the beer is filled at different stages after the brew is completed. We have seen that fermentation takes place in open vats, and is regulated by attemperators, fed by the refrigerating plant and by means of powerful pumps. Formerly, another means of restraining fermentation, which was applied manually, was resorted to; it consisted of conical cans, called swimmers, which the brewer filled with ice and placed in the fermenting liquid, where they floated about and depressed the temperature.

When the desired results of fermentation are secured, then, and not until then, is the wort transformed into beer but before it becomes fit for consumption, it must rest for a considerable length of time, to be then transferred to the storage casks, where the processes of fining and krausening take place. For the former process, chips or shaving are used, usually those gained from the beech tree, by which the muddy particles, resulting from fermentation and still remaining in the beer, are attracted and held, leaving the bulk of the liquid clear and translucent. While this is going on, large quantities of carbonic acid gas continually escape from the lager casks, and ultimately, in order to re-enliven the liquid, a second fermentation must be produced by adding one-fifth of a new beer to four-fifths of the old. This is done by means of pipes which convey the new beer through two tiers of cellars to the lager casks.

Mashed, sparged, boiled, cooled, doubly fermented, clarified, and thoroughly aged, the beer is now ready for racking. This is done by several gangs of men at the same time. The quantity to be racked and the capacity of the packages to be filled being known, the foreman is enabled to determine how many kegs must be held in readiness. Each "racker" has a given number of kegs before him. Above a wide board, which runs along the wall, there is a long row of faucets through which the beer, drawn from the lager casks, flows into a detachable hose and thence into the kegs. When one keg is full, the hose is quickly inserted into another, and, while this is being filled up, the first is being closed up with a wooden bung tightly hammered into the bung hole. In the lower end of the pipes, to which the faucets are attached, glass tubes are inserted, which enable the "racker" to discover immediately the slightest change in the color or clearness of the beer. When such a change occurs, the stream of beer must be turned off at once, because the presence of muddy particles indicates that the sediment in the lager cask has been reached and is being stirred up.

The kegs are now ready for delivery to the retailer, and pass out of the proper domain of the brewer, until they are returned empty and are again conveyed to the wash house, or perhaps, if their condition should require it, to the pitching yard or to the cooper shop---all of which places we shall presently visit on our tour of inspection.

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