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History of Beer Part 2: Beer and the Industrial Revolution


Welcome back to the next installment of the History Of Beer. Last time we analyzed beer in the ancient world, now we'll go over how beer changed during the Industrial Revolution. 

In 1765, the world of manufacturing and beer production drastically changed with significant improvements to the steam engine. For the first time in history, the idea of mass-producing beer became a reality.

Early on in its inception, the steam engine assisted in the brewing process. The steam engine helped to create a constant temperature in cylinders and efficiency was increased by savings 75% on coal usage. In 1777, Messrs Cook & Co at Stratford-le-Bow became the first brewery to install a steam engine. Prior to this, they used horses to work their grist mill. Initially the engines were purchased for milling the large quantities of grain needed for large scale production, and various pumping operations. However, soon breweries found many more uses for the engines.

In 1810, one commentator on Whitbread’s Chiswell Street Brewery, said:

One of Mr. Watt’s steam engines works the machinery. It pumps the water, wort, and beer, grinds the malt, stirs the mash-tubs, and raises the casks out of the cellars. It is able to do the work of 70 horses, though it is of a small size, being only a 24-inch cylinder, and does not make more noise than a spinning-wheel. Whether the magnitude, or ingenuity of contrivance, is considered, this brewery is one of the greatest curiosities that is anywhere to be seen, and little less than half a million sterling is employed in the machinery, buildings, and materials.

As time went on breweries continued to innovate their processes using the steam engine. By 1835 the steam engine helped in the iron-making process, mechanical refrigeration, and improved transportation through railways and canals. The increase of transportation not only helped provide breweries with the materials they needed, but they helped efficiently distribute the material.

In addition to the steam engine, two other key innovations in the brewing process came through the thermometer and hydrometer which increased efficiency and attenuation.

The hydrometer was very transformative in how beer was brewed. Hydrometer is a tool that measures the density of liquid. Before it's inception, beers were brewed from single malt - brown beers from brown malt, pale beers from pale malt, amber from amber malt. Using this new tool, brewers could better calculate the yield from different malts. They found that pale malt would yield more fermentable material although it was more expensive. This caused the brewers to switch to using mostly pale malt for all beers supplemented by colored malt to achieve the proper color.

The thermometer helped brewers find the right temperatures to brew at.

Prior to the industrial revolution malt was dried over fires made from wood, charcoal, and straw. None of these early malts were well shielded from the smoke involved in the kilning process. Subsequently, beers during this time had a smoky component that brewers constantly tried to minimize to no avail. 

Historians and writers of the period describe the distinctive tastes derived from wood smoked malts, and the almost universal revulsion to it. The smoked beers and ales of the west country were famous for being undrinkable.

"London and Country Brewer" (1736) specified the varieties of "brown malt" popular in the city:

Brown Malts are dryed with Straw, Wood and Fern, etc. The straw-dryed is the best, but the wood sort has a most unnatural Taste, that few can bear with, but the necessitous, and those that are accustomed to its strong smoky tang; yet it is much used in some of the Western Parts of England, and many thousand Quarters of this malt has been formerly used in London for brewing the Butt-keeoing-beers with, and that because it sold for two shillings per Quarter cheaper than Straw-dried Malt, nor was this Quality of the Wood-dried Malt much regarded by some of its Brewers, for that its ill Taste is lost in nine or twelve Months, by the Age of the Beer, and the strength of the great Quantity of Hops that were used in its preservation.

In 1817, Daniel Wheeler helped with the creation of very dark roasted malts through the invention of the drum roaster. Its development came about in 1816 when British law forbade the use of any ingredients other than malt and hops. Wheeler's patent malt was the solution.

During the Industrial Revolution life was much improved for beer drinkers. The steam engine allowed for the easier transportation of materials, better brewing processes, and easier distribution of beer. The hydrometer and thermometer helped brewers more accurately measure variables in the brewing process, and the drum roaster acted as a solution for the wood taste in beer. 

Be sure to check back next time for History of Beer Part 3: Beer and Prohibition...aka the Dark Ages. 


Read the first part of the series, Advertising and Beer: An Everchanging Science.

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