Saturday, 21 November 2020

Yuri Gagarin’s six-pack of Schwarzbier

The Köstritzer Schwarzbier brewery likes to advertise the story that Goethe drank their beer. It appears that once upon a time, they were also keen to add pioneering cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin to their list of celebrity drinkers.

Gagarin visited the DDR in October 1963 in the company of fellow kosmonavtka Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, and they toured the sort of showpiece workplaces you might expect – the Orwo film factory, and the Zeiss facility in Jena, for example (Zeiss had contributed a fair bit of technology to the Soviet space programme).

“Needs mair hops”, commented Comrade Gagarin

When Gagarin’s train stopped in tiny Bad Köstritz shortly before reaching Gera, the brewery took the opportunity to present him with a carton of bottles, with the promise that if he liked the beer, he only had to write and they’d send him some more.

Sadly, as far as I know, it is not recorded what Gagarin thought of the Schwarzbier, or whether he drank it straight or sweetened with sugar, as was sometimes recommended at the time.

Despite the fine words of the party functionaries about equality of the sexes, it’s also not recorded whether Tereshkova got any beer.

Source: Berliner Zeitung, Sa. 19. Oktober 1963

Friday, 20 November 2020

DDR beer export strategy 1956

Berliners, you who love your "cool Molle" so much, although it was experimented upon without reducing the price, the minister for food had good news for you at the Leipzig trade fair. In a couple of months you will have the old Molle with its higher original gravity again.…

Minister Westphal’s promise was announced in Leipzig by Mr Friedrich, the deputy chairman of the technical committee on beer exports. Out of around 600 breweries in the DDR, which produce around 20 million hectolitres of beer annually, five are particularly suited to exporting beer as well as production for the domestic market. Radeberg and Grenzquell will attempt to establish themselves in export markets with Pilsner, Köstritzer with Schwarzbier, Berliner Kindl with Deutscher Porter and Schultheiss with Berliner Weisse.  Our breweries are not at capacity, so there are practically no limits on the volumes that potential export customers can have produced in the DDR.

Single orders from these breweries have already been exported to many countries. Regular beer deliveries to France and West Germany are picking up. Kegs and bottles for export therefore do not reduce domestic consumption. In fact the well-known Steinie bottle, the squat beer bottle with a crown cork, are also being used for sales of Radeberger in the DDR.

“Bekannte Berliner Molle kommt wieder”, Berliner Zeitung, 6. September 1956.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like the Berlin brewers had quietly reduced the strength of their beer, and drinkers noticed, leading to what we now call a reverse ferret. A Molle is (or was) a Berlin term for a glass of beer.

600 breweries is a lot of breweries for a country the size of the DDR.

There are some familiar names in the list of breweries chosen to lead the export offensive: Radeberger, Schultheiss, Berliner Kindl, Köstritzer. The first three now all belong to the massive Dr Oetker corporation and the last to the Bitburger group. Imagine how different history would have looked if Berliner Kindl hat made a success of Deutscher Porter exports. I didn’t even know they made a Porter.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

The pint I waited twenty years for

Often, in the world of pubs, anticipation is better than reality. I definitely spend more time thinking about pubs than actually going to them. When I finally get there, reality usually doesn’t measure up to my ideal. How could it?

Sometimes I take a notion for something specific, like a pint of cask stout, which is not something you come across very often, and I traipse around several pubs in a futile effort to find it. Or I get to the pub and find there is no beer on that takes my fancy, or the pub is unpleasantly full of shouting men, or the music is just that touch too loud (or bad).

There are pub experiences, though, that are just perfect, and exactly as you hoped they would be. Like the couple of hours I spent in the Free Press, Cambridge, in November – nineteen years late.

My only previous time in Cambridge was similar to this one, just passing through. We were on our way from Glasgow to the continent – it was going to be my mum’s first time on the Eurostar – and had arranged to see my cousin who was living in Cambridge. I had prepared by photocopying the relevant pages from the Good Beer Guide.

As always happens, plans changed at the last minute, or a train was late or something, and we never got to the Cambridge pubs.

Time passed, and nineteen years later I found myself once again changing trains in Cambridge. I still had my notes from last time, too.

Finally I was standing in front of the Free Press. Expecting to be disappointed, I took a deep breath and opened the door.

I was not disappointed.

I was the only customer (well, it was two in the afternoon on a Wednesday) and the pub had that quiet serenity that you only really get in a church, or in a pub in the daytime. My favourite time to visit pubs.

Greene King XX Mild is that brewery’s finest cask beer. There was never any question of drinking anything else here. Toffee aroma with caramel and chocolate on the palate; smooth, creamy mouthfeel, a very slight lactic tinge giving it a little character. Sweet, toasty finish. The smoke is probably from the wood fire I am sitting next to, not the beer (£3.70, 4.5/5).

The barman, a hip young chap of the wearing-a-flat-cap-indoors school, listened patiently to my anecdote about having waited almost twenty years to visit, as he poured my second pint. Shortly after I sat down again another barman entered and immediately started polishing the handpumps with Brasso. Commendable attention to detail, I find.

Several of these old type cases hang on the walls. This one was evidently used for small capitals.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Very passable, Obadiah

It is not often that I go to London for a beer launch. I make an exception when it’s one of Ron Pattinson’s historic beer projects with Goose Island.

The result of their last project was Brewery Yard, an aged IPA which was one of the best things I tasted in 2018. I did not want to miss out on this one: Obadiah Poundage, named after the brewery rep whose legendary letter is the closest thing to a contemporary account of the origin of porter.

Obadiah Poundage is an attempt to recreate something close to eighteenth-century London porter. Working with Ron and Derek Prentice, formerly of Truman’s and Fuller’s, Goose Island’s Mike Siegel brewed the beer to an 1840 Truman’s recipe, and aged it in a wooden vat. This “Keeper” was then blended with a fresh batch of so-called Runner, echoing the historic practice.

Sticking a beer in a vat for a while is the easy bit. The tricky part is getting the proper malt. Eighteenth-century porter was made from brown malt, but it was not the same as modern brown malt. You cannot make beer wholly from modern brown malt, as it lacks the enzymes needed to turn its starch into sugar. So a maltster had to be found willing to produce a custom batch of brown malt made the old-fashioned way.

I arrived thirsty at the ex-Truman’s pub The Golden Heart near Brick Lane. I love the way so many former Truman’s pubs are still standing and still wearing their old livery (branding the tiles that make up the frontage does confer a degree of permanence, after all).

After a few pints there, Derek leads us on a sort of tour through the site of the former Truman’s brewery in Brick Lane, with explanations and anecdotes where appropriate. I should say that this was planned and you can walk freely through the site; we didn’t get drunk and break in or anything.

Ron’s own account of the evening is here, though he has got the order of the pubs mixed up. So much for primary sources, eh.

Eventually we reach Goose Island’s London bar.

First, another couple of pints. Derek these days is involved with Wimbledon Brewery, who had produced a classic mild, XK. Obviously I wanted to try that, but it took a while to get some. Yes, I was in an East London craft beer bar watching everyone queueing up for cask mild.

Goose Island feeds us some pizza and then we get to taste the beer while Derek, Ron and Mike chat on stage with Emma Inch as compere.

The beer itself opens with a big aroma of slight acetic and brettanomyces notes. My first thought is “This smells like Rodenbach.” It’s surprisingly light-bodied, not thick as you might expect, and very smooth. Some raspberries leading to a finish of smooth dark chocolate and dry Goldings. Very dry finish with hop flavour but not much aroma.

The beer is blended in the traditional proportions of one-third stale vatted porter to two-thirds mild, young porter. I think a smaller proportion of stale would still be plenty. As fermented, it has a real degree of fermentation of 40%, which reaches 70% after vatting.

Derek tells of the old Truman stock ale which was brewed in Burton to 9% ABV and came down to London in hogsheads to be blended with a running beer and bottled. Supposedly that was quite sour. I can definitely see the added character such a mature, acidic beer would provide – perhaps that’s one of the things missing from some of the very strong beers made these days; they’re a bit sugary and one-dimensional and would benefit from blending.

Eventually we adjourn to another pub, the Pride of Spitalfields, where more pints are consumed. It’s an old school Fuller’s pub that doesn’t seem to have changed much since the 1970s. There are no airs and graces here, there is London Pride and ESB. You have to squeeze past the karaoke singers to get to the toilet, but everyone seems to be having fun.

As we break up at closing time and stumble our different ways, I think there’s nothing quite like a night in the pub.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

So many questions in Oxford

You can call me naive and ignorant if you like but no, I hadn't realised that Oxford was a touristy place. I know better now.

The town attracts visitors of all kinds, from those following a Europe-in-twelve-days itinerary, to obsessional fans of Harry Potter and Inspector Morse, to sociologists studying the mechanisms by which the depraved British ruling class reproduces and perpetuates itself.

I am finished my business in the town by five, and the closest pub to fall into when I get back to the city centre is the Crown. A familiar beer, Five Points Railway Porter (£4.40, 2/5) is still enjoyable served much warmer than it should be.

The Royal Blenheim is more to my liking. This is what a tied pub should be like. It belongs to the White Horse brewery and offers a full range of their own beers.

I don’t know it yet, but the White Horse WHB (£3.30, 4.5/5) was the one of the best beers of my entire stay in Oxford. How do you get so much flavour into a beer of 3.8%? Huge perfumey aroma, massively sweet on the palate and then a balancing bitterness enough to leave you smacking your lips. Not quite bright but I gather that’s a feature. I had only been vaguely aware of White Horse before; this was one of those pints that makes you want to seek their beer out again.

There is some fine banter at the Royal Blenheim. Customer: Oh, imperial stout, a pint of that — Barman: It’s 12%, sir — Customer: I don’t care!

I’m hungry now. The Blenheim’s internet menu had tempted me with the promise of pies, but the kitchen is closed tonight. It’s time to make a move.

Just round the corner is the Bear, a Fuller’s pub, where I am lucky to bag the last free table. ESB feels like the right thing to order on a chilly Monday night in November. When it arrives, it costs £4.75 and is, and remains, murky (1.5/5). It tastes rich, sweet and extremely fruity.

The room of ties

The barman seems surprised by my paying in cash. I guess the the minimum £3 spend on a card wouldn’t really buy you anything other than a bag of crisps in here. I down my pint in the back snug, which is decorated with a framed necktie collection, and leave.

The Turf Tavern is a lovely, cosy pub but clearly trading on Morse-derived fame. The trouble with this kind of pub, the kind that is lucky enough to have a tourist trade even in November, is that the very small front bar gets clogged up with tourists who have never been in a pub before, and do not know how to keep out of the way of others who are trying to get in the door or get to the bar. Never mind, they’ll learn soon enough.

Some kind of bitter from Butcombe is on offer here and is OK (£4.50, 2.5/5). The front bar is a health and safety disaster waiting to happen, as the lanky barman constantly has to stoop to avoid hitting his head on the low beams behind the bar.

I’ve checked the menu in four previous pubs and can’t wait for food any longer. When my sausage and mash arrives, the sausages appear to have been cooked shortly after I left Wolverhampton this morning. Well, it’s food, and cibi condimentum esse famem, as Socrates said. Maybe I should have forked out for dinner in the Bear instead. But I have a strict rule that if the beer isn't good in a pub, the food won't be either. At the Bear I suspected it; The Turf kind of confirms it. What is wrong with pub companies?

It’s not far to the White Horse, a far cosier pub. As you enter there is Tribute, Doom Bar and Landlord, but go round to the front of the bar and a further three handpumps offer Brakspear Oxford Gold, White Horse and Shotover Prospect.

The last of these, from a brewery I’ve never heard of before, demonstrates that beer isn’t necessarily good just because it doesn’t come from a corporation. It’s extremely bland with a touch of caramel and aroma-free bitterness. But for once, it’s not the pub’s fault the beer is poor.

Possibly the biggest disappointment of the evening is the Eagle and Child. Who wouldn’t want a pint in J.R.R. Tolkien’s local?

Unlike almost every other pub in Oxford, it’s deserted in here tonight. A dreary range of pubco beers adorns the bar. The staff in pubco pubs are often compensated slightly for low wages, it seems, by being allowed to use the place as their personal disco, irrespective of what the customers might like to hear. Oasis blares through the nearly empty pub.

They don’t have pubcos in Middle Earth, which is why the ale in the Prancing Pony and Green Dragon is much better, I suspect, than in the Eagle and Child.

“My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs,” wrote Tolkien’s friend, fellow Eagle & Child regular CS Lewis. Are there any of those pubs left?

On the way into town on foot the next morning, I spy the word “brew” on a sign across the street.  I take a closer look just to check it’s not a nanobrewery. It isn’t – it’s a coffee place – but I’ve stumbled on a charming mews and found one of the pubs I was looking for.


The Gardeners Arms offers Wainwright, Rev James and its house beer from Greene King, which is what I have. It’s a pleasant enough elevenses beer, with some spice and a little bit of sulphur, though on the tepid side. I am the first customer so perhaps the beer hasn't been pulled through yet, or maybe that’s how people like it here; I have possibly already mentioned that I get a lot of room temperature beer in Oxford.

It’s a lovely pub with a genteel, slightly Laura Ashley look, run by a couple who I have apparently interrupted having their lunch. The landlady says that the house beer is as close to the extinct Morell’s Varsity ale as Greene King can get it. As it’s the same badge brew I can drink in my Belhaven local in Glasgow, I’d be quite surprised if this were true, and it makes me wonder what Greene King’s sales people have been telling their customers. Still, Morell’s brewery is clearly fondly remembered here.

On the other side of the lane is the Rose & Crown, a much more rustic pub. A wide, half-boarded corridor leads to a front parlour with a piano and a back room where the bar is. Another White Horse beer, Village Idiot, is on offer here and it’s spectacular: pale and hoppy with citrus and a pleasing dry, bitter finish. Isn’t it awkward when you find the best beer in town as you’re about to leave? Despite the new world hops the beer feels very much at home in this gorgeous little pub.

Back in the city centre I pass The Grapes. Oh yes, that’s the West Berkshire Brewery place I read about. It looks trendy and you can‘t see any handpumps from outside. A US IPA is resiny and oily, and once again served at room temperature, even though someone else had been drinking it before me. Ironically enough I had given the mild a swerve out of fear it would have been sitting in the lines.

A group of older gentlemen are sitting opposite me at a table and one of them comes to the bar to ask for another pint in the same glass. Which he gets, despite the pumps having a swan neck which is thereby immersed in his dirty glass. Isn't that illegal?

In the famous Covered Market, after buying some cheese, I stop at the Teardrop, which is a nanopub – or in this case, a market stall with a licence. There are two other customers and it's full. I have a quick third of Ale X from the owners, Church Hanbrewery. Quick because it’s undrinkable crap and I can’t finish it. The yeast bite and lemony sourness are very unpleasant. Has it gone off, or was it shite to begin with? Why don’t they notice?

There doesn't seem to be anywhere to drink near the station so my last beer is at the Oxford Retreat, a recently refurbished, would-be upmarket place on the way. Brakspear’s Oxford Gold is copper, with a bit of spiky, orangey hop and decent bitter finish but ultimately on the bland side. Yet again, served at room temperature.

Maybe the beer will be better in London. (Spoiler: it was).

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Factory beer, craft beer


I found this short piece in an old newspaper and it seems that beer geeks have been arguing over the same nonsense, with an equal ignorance of the brewing process, for well over 150 years, and probably longer. 

I do hope that today’s self-described “craft” brewers are not cheating by using metal vessels and artificially-generated power in their breweries.

The steam-powered breweries increase constantly in number and it seems they shall quite soon squeeze out the other breweries, or force them into imitating them. As in so many other [trades], the machine seems to make manual labour almost redundant in the brewery. The question must be asked: which beer is preferable, that produced by steam or by hand? Experienced beer conners prefer the latter. The reasons are:

1) In steam brewing much more metal is necessary, which cannot fail to have a deleterious effect on the beer. If the beer stands for some time in a tankard, beer conners believe they can detect a peculiar smell, or even cloudiness or sediment in the glass.

2) The power of steam processes all parts of the malt more heavily, so that the draff is without flavour or nutrition; all the reserves to be found in the barley and malt end up in the beer.

3) The steam brewing takes place too quickly.

4) Hand-made beer is supposed to keep good for longer, when the cask is open; steam beer becomes undrinkable more quickly.

5) Steam beer is supposed to be much lighter.

Why does the consumer seem to prefer to drink steam beer? Because the big brewers also control the retail outlets; because the beer is sold more quickly in larger towns; because the big brewers too use natural methods to make the beer pleasant and drinkable.

The machine shall continue its advance; the small breweries shall gradually disappear; only factories and beer-tappers shall remain. The soul of beer will disappear and with time become a myth, a lost paradise.

Such are the views and fears of the old beer conners.

Allgemeine Bayrische Hopfen-Zeitung, 23 March 1862 (My translation).

Sounds familiar.

Monday, 24 August 2020

Training hops in a pandemic

People who like illustrated books, or hops, or both, might be interested in a charming little book based on hop-growing in the Hallertau region this summer.

It is the product of the coronavirus pandemic, which has changed the course of many people’s lives in quite unexpected ways. 

Hopfen anbinden: Saisonarbeit in Zeiten von Covid-19: Ein Tagebuch is a diary by Berlin writer  Alexandra Hamann, who in March found client work drying up. At the same time, due to travel restrictions, hop growers were crying out for labourers, because the migrant workers who usually work on the hop fields were unable to enter Germany. Hamann decided to give hop training a go, and her diary of two weeks in Bavaria, illustrated by Julia Kluge, became an educational comic of the type Hamann produces in her day job.

I like the diary for the direct encounter of an outsider with the world of hop growing. The childish lettering reinforces the feeling of being on a school trip rather than poorly remunerated seasonal labour. Details of work, such as the description of sitting on a beer crate to train the hop bines, are something you don’t really read elsewhere. A red line around one drawing is simply labelled “fence to keep deer out”.

We get simple diagrams of anthropomorphic hop cones joyfully exclaiming “I give beer its bitterness!”, and meet Hamann’s co-workers, others swept here by the pandemic: food truck operators, jugglers and sword-swallowers who have no work this year as all the festivals are cancelled; a photographer who like Hamann has also seen freelance jobs collapse; but also locals who have taken time off from their normal jobs to help.

It is all a little twee, but there is a serious edge: by the second week Hamann starts to wonder if the pesticide use is sustainable. Worse still, the seasons have become unpredictable, and the weather, despite the mud, is too warm and dry, which is why new hop cultivars are bred for a drier climate as much as for flavour. In ten years we won’t be able to grow hops, warns the hop farmer ominously.

Sunday, 23 August 2020

The filthy state of the Alloa Brewery


In 2001 the Scottish Brewing Archive Journal published a piece from the archive in which the shockingly dirty conditions at Arrol’s Alloa Brewery in 1916 are revealed.[1] I understand the SBAA is currently working on a new website which will make old issues like this accessible online, but in any event most of the report is quoted in three blog posts from Ron Pattinson in 2012. [4, 5, 6]

That report was written by A. J. Heslop, brewer at Robert Deuchar’s in Duddingston and describes in some detail the problems at Arrol’s, from contaminated well water to huge amounts of old, acid beer slowly festering in the cellars.

Now Edd Mather [3] has come up with a similar document from the Tetley Walker archive, also complaining about the grime and filth at Arrol’s [2].

This document, by Robert Hutton, must precede the Heslop report, quite simply because it’s dated 10th January, so too early for any other report to have come before it in 1916.

It appears that Hutton, whoever he was, was the first person initially asked to investigate problems with the beer quality, and his findings were so alarming that a second, more in-depth investigation was commissioned, which became the longer Heslop report quoted in the SBA Journal.

Hutton addresses his report to Col. W. Hall Walker and copies in Farquhar Deuchar, who as we learn in the very first paragraph, was the one who had sent Hutton to Alloa to take a look.

Farquhar Deuchar (1863–1947) is almost certainly the son of Robert Deuchar the Edinburgh/Newcastle brewer – especially since Heslop, the author of the subsequent report, was a brewer at Deuchar’s. However, what connection Deuchar had to the Alloa Brewery is a mystery to me – although Arrol’s was also heavily involved in the trade on Tyneside, having bought up several breweries there (J Meikle; William Turnbull; Dove & Newsome Baxter), probably for their pubs.

Colonel Walker (1856–1933) was the MP for Widnes and presumably involved in senior management at his father’s brewery, Walker’s of Warrington.

This is the puzzling bit. All this was long before Walker merged with Tetley and Ind Coope Allsopp in the 1960s – it was even before Allsopp’s took over the Alloa Brewery – so I am not really sure what connection Walker had to Arrol’s or what Deuchar had to do with either of them.

So why do both Hutton and Heslop address Deuchar and Walker repeatedly in the second person, as if they owned the Alloa Brewery? Hutton: “I propose to shut down your large copper”, “your maltings”, “you have no stores in Newcastle”; Heslop: “the trouble at your brewery in Alloa”, “your stock of Indian and Californian barley”, “your brewer”, “your directors”.

Here’s the whole text:

Dear Sir,

re Arrol’s Alloa Brewery.

I visited the above Brewery at Mr Deuchar’s request, and I have no hesitation in saying that the beers are all wrong. The Brewery itself is wrong, being very dirty throughout with a large quantity of rotten wood lying about in every department except where you have put up your new brewhouse and steam coppers. The cellars are in a horrible state of dirt and stench. The Cooperage is very dirty and untidy with a lot of old useless casks lying about in yard &c. All this rubbish must be cleared away or burnt before the spring.

1st. Malts. (Fair).

2nd. Hops. (Good).

I give you the present grist for Pale Ale @ 60/– per barrel :-

6 qrs Scotch Malt.

6  "  Cali  "  

6  "  Spanish " 

6  "  Tunis  "  

6  "  Maize

8 cwt Sugar.

Hops 8 lbs per qr

6 oz dry per barrel.

Mashing heat 158º

Initial 150º

Sparge 165º to 160º

6 qrs Indian to be used instead of Cali, as the Cali is finished for a month (at least I am so informed by the Brewer).

Proposed grist for Pale Ale @ 60/– per Barrel.

4 qrs Scotch Malt.

10  Indian  (if not Cali).

10  Tunis  

4  Maize

10 cwt Sugar.

Hops 7 lbs per qr

 dry, 5 oz per brl (for the winter)

Mashing heat 162º

Initial heat 152º

Sparge the same as at present but boil a quarter of an hour longer. Do not use your large copper of 250 barrels capacity (it is too large). Had my opinion been asked re a steam boiling plant, I would not have agreed thereto, but you must make the best of it at present.

I propose to shut down your large copper and use the small ones of 120 barrels capacity, but not to charge them with more than 100 barrels and subject them to a vigorous boil.

Your receiver at the refrigerators is too small and the refrigerators themselves too much closed in, thereby not allowing sufficient aeration. There is also far too much rotten plant lying about.

The mill room is starved and the malt before grinding not comfortable; also an open cold water tank should not be in the same room.

3rd. I cannot understand why you are allowing Distillers’ malt to be made in your maltings, as the same man cannot make Ale brewers’ malt to my liking, and you have all the dirt and dust about from the Distillery malt; besides; the double kilns want experience to work them.

4th Fermentations. Your fermenting room requires more ventilation. The copper vessels are all right, but the wooden ones require seeing too.

The cellars are very dirty indeed, and you ought to have them well scrubbed; in fact, shut the worst of them off entirely. You are also keeping by far too much stock of ales.

What I propose is, to rack brighter and hop down, roll for four days, bung down during the day, and bung up at night, and not poroused. (A turn over does as much good as a long roll). Prime when sent out the fifth or sixth day (say two quarts in winter and one quart in summer) per brl) to Newcastle. It would be better still if fined before stillaging, but as you have no stores in Newcastle and cannot manage to fine the Ale before stillaging, you must get a quicker delivery and not from five to six days after fining at the Brewery, which, your Brewer tells me, is the present custom.

You also require to use a thicker fining and not so diluted as you are doing. You are porousing your beers at present, and I again state, keeping far too much stock. It is no wonder that the beers do not give satisfaction; they are flat and stubborn to fine, and are aggravated by your method of boiling & c.

Coming back to the boiling; with the small coppers, a pressure of 120 lbs per sq inch must be kept steady at the boilers. I understand that you harden your brewing water. I would like the analysis and a lot of other particulars if this change does no good. I, however, strongly recommend you to change one thing at a time so that you can definitely locate the trouble.

The same alterations also apply to the Mild Ale; only use Scotch malt and foreign, half and half. If you could get some English malt, say Norfolk, and Cali, half and half, and use the heats I have proposed, you would do well.

I spoke to the Brewer re steaming the pipes out every Saturday[.] Brush them first, then blow naked steam from the boilers (when not using it for the Coppers). I hope that you have plenty of steam for the Cooperage.

I recommend you to make your own finings or buy from Boake Roberts & Co. London.

I would again suggest more aeration at the Refrigerators. Your receiver is too small, but I only want to make one alteration at a time.

We may try a brew with less pitching yeast per brl and pitch a degree higher with twelve hours longer in the settler before racking.

A meeting on the ground may be desirable to discuss matters, but I would strongly impress on you to get the Brewery cleaned all round at once and shut off the bad cellars, also reduce your stock from a month at the Brewery to a week or four days. The ale should be used eight days after racking and not kept a month at the Brewery before being sent out.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Hutton


There is quite a bit of interesting information in the document.

We learn that the Alloa Brewery was producing its own malt, common practice for the time. However, we are also told that distillers’ malt was being made as well, and Hutton’s shocked reaction to this suggests that was not a common practice. Distillers’ malt is made to a different specification to brewing malt, but I don’t know why Hutton thought the same maltster would not be able to make both, or why the distilling malt was thought to create more dirt and dust.

“Poroused” seems to mean using a soft spile.

There is confirmation that the brewery were hardening their water – which in turn confirms everything else I have ever heard which said that Alloa water is extremely soft.

Even better: we’ve got a recipe for Arrol’s 60/–. There aren’t really any great surprises in it.

The major changes Hutton suggests from the previous recipe are cutting the rate of hopping, both in the kettle and dry hopping. Then he cuts some of the maize and replaces it with additional sugar. It looks like this is a straight swap; the quantity of malt remains the same at a total of 24 quarters.

I am not sure why you would dry hop only in winter. Wouldn’t the preservative effect be needed more in summer?

The mash heat already seems a little on the warm side by modern standards, but his proposal is to mash a tad hotter still. The combined effects of these changes would be to produce a slightly fuller and less bitter beer.

That would be no good, of course, if nothing were done about the manky brewery, which jeopardised the quality of any beer made there. 


[1] Edward Burns. “The sorry state of Arrol’s Brewery”. In: Journal of the Scottish Brewing Archive 3 (2001).
[2] Robert Hutton. “Report re Arrol’s Alloa Brewery”. (1916).
[3] Edd Mather. Make mine a Magee’s! url:
[4] Ron Pattinson. Trouble at Messrs. Arrol & Sons, Limited, Brewery, Alloa. 2012. url:
[5] Ron Pattinson. Trouble at Messrs. Arrol & Sons, Limited, Brewery, Alloa (part 2). 2012. url:
[6] Ron Pattinson. Trouble at Messrs. Arrol & Sons, Limited, Brewery, Alloa (part 3). 2012. url:

Friday, 31 July 2020

Broughton appeals for cash to save Old Jock

Some hills
The lush, sometimes susceptible to flooding landscape which surrounds Broughton Brewery

Scotland’s second oldest microbrewery has launched a crowdfunder to help it recover from the economic shock of COVID-19.

Broughton Brewery, founded near Biggar in 1979 (only Traquair House is older), is trying to raise £75,000 to pay the bills during the crisis, which has seen pubs close their doors for over three months. Its best-known product is the strong Old Jock ale.

Anyone who’s ever run a business knows how quickly money just seems to disappear into a black hole during the times when there’s reduced revenue coming in.

It seems to me that relatively few small brewers have turned to crowdfunding as a means to survive the crisis, which I find a bit odd. The only other one I am aware of locally is Glasgow-based Ride, who raised money to kit out their tap room in June. People do care about their favourite breweries, perhaps more so than about their local hardware shops or double glazing companies. Mind you, with furlough money about to dry up, perhaps the real crisis for all businesses is still to come.

As is usual, there are some rewards on offer for would-be contributors. £50 will get you a bottle of an imperial stout which was made 20 years ago and has been aging at the brewery ever since. When I was there in January, we were told of the existence of this beer and it was hinted that it would be made available soon – though I don’t think anyone could have predicted the exact circumstances.

Another option is £100 to plant a tree, which will apparently help protect the brewery site against flooding in the future. The brewery has in fact experienced floods in the past so this is a concrete ecological investment as well as a financial contribution.

Some of the other rewards are less enticing, such as £500 for beer for a year, which works out substantially more expensive than just buying the beer in a shop. I don’t want to seem mercenary about this at such a time. Normally I would expect a significant discount for buying beer a year in advance, but this is an emergency and if you would like to help by paying over the odds for your beer, be my guest (it does include delivery so you’re saved schlepping bottles home).

If you do want a bargain, though, you can get 10% off for a year by contributing just £15. That seems win-win, as you’ll buy more beer than you would otherwise and there’s still a profit margin for the brewery in it at 10% off; at least there ought to be.

I know that if I were to go into a shop or a pub in the future and Broughton were no longer in business, I’d regret not having done what I could.

You can check out the crowdfunder at