Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Labatt's Brewery Archive -- 1884 - 1894

You never know what you'll find if only you look.

I'm not sure what jogged my memory, but it recently seemed like a good idea to visit the Labatt Archives held at Western University. The archive was a gift of the company to the University. Other items were donated to Museum London as well (see p.2).  Over 2600 boxes, it was catalogued for internal use by the company and is now being sifted through and re-catalogued.

If you've never visited an archive before here's the drill: contact someone beforehand and talk to them about what you're looking for, make an appointment, get there early to register with the library. It's not like a regular library. Items are requested in advance and get 'pulled' for you to look at. In London (England) the archive has request forms that are filled out. Staffers pull your items and they are brought to the reading room a short while later.

No pens allowed!

Here is what I have looked at so far after two visits:

  • A brewing log, 1884-1894 - Every beer brewed by Labatt during this time at the London Brewery
  • A malt production log and malt use log - Shows how much malt was being made in-house and (in a limited way) shows what beers in was going in
  • Accounting ledgers and order books - Lists of all their clients for beer deliveries, accounting records cover all aspects of the brewery
  • Brewery plans from various years and an undated list of the dimensions of all the vessels and containers on the premises.
This is a lot of information to take in, so I photographed as much as I could before the battery died and have been sifting through the photos since. Let's begin with the brewing book. Here is a photo of one of the the first pages, detailing beer production in August, 1884. This blog is publishing research-in-progress. The picture sometimes will be a little fuzzy at first and become more clear as we go on.

First, how do we read this? You'll see the columns are all unmarked. I was able to work out about a third of the columns. I emailed beer historian Ron Pattinson for help and this is what we were able to determine. Some columns remain uncertain.

The numbers track each brew on a single line. As more beer was brewed and beer moved along the production process the book began to fill up. Every day a new line would begin and more information would fill the lines above it.

Every August, totals were counted to track annual production. The columns logically follow a brew from beginning to end. If you're unfamiliar with the brewing process this may be confusing. This is not a primer on brewing, rather a primer on what the record contains, how to read it and the questions raised by what was found.

1 Date
2 Brew Number
3 Bushels of Pale Malt used
4 -  6 Pounds of Hops used
7 Water Temp. (in Fahrenheit)
8 Mash Start Time
9 Sparge Temp.
10 Sparge Start Time
11 Sparge End Time
12 Boil Time - First Wort
13 Boil Time - Second Wort
14 Yeast Pitch Temp. (uncertain)
15 Original Gravity (Pounds Per Barrel)
16 A heat? (uncertain)
17 Pitch Time
18 Fermentation Vessel Number
19 Cleansing Date
20 Cleansing Time
21 Cleansing Gravity
22 Cleansing Heat
23 Racking Gravity
24 Racking Date
25 Beer Name
25 Puncheons Racked
27 Barrels Racked
28 Kilderkins Racked
29 Firkins Racked
30 Total Barrels racked
31 Yeast pitch number
Notes Column

The first bit is pretty straightforward: what day is it and how many times have we brewed beer so far this year?

Next: how much malt and hops are going into the beer? Malt was measured in bushels. A Bushel, like a Quarter, is a measure of volume not of weight. The modern bushel has been standardized to a fixed unit of weight for different products. For Malt, it is 34 lbs. or 15.4421 kg (thanks Wikipedia!). Curiously, the use of patent malt was recorded by hand in the notes column instead of receiving a column of its own. Perhaps this is because they used so little of it (only 530 bushels 1884 vs. 45,561 of pale).

"The 3 fifties are new hops the others should be in this column"

Three columns were used for the hops with each column totaled individually. These numbers were then added together each August for an annual total of hop use down to the ounce. There are three times that hops are typically added during the brewing process but that is not what is being tracked these columns. I suspected new and old hops were denoted in columns 4 & 5 but wasn't sure which until I saw confirmation in a handwritten notes from  October and November, 1889 that was correcting some of the numbers (see below).

A similar note, hops erroneously written down in the wrong column.
Out with the old, in with the new.
Brewers often bought hops in quantity during boom years and kept them on hand for continued use later on. Brewers were adept at adjusting the recipes to account for this. There is what appears to be a hop age conversion table in the back page of the brewing book. We will come back to that goodie another day.

Many times, the cell in column 4 or 5 is split into two numbers and there are handwritten notes on some pages with B, C, and E. These are notes on the hop origins: Bavarian, Canadian, English. This coding is backed up by the notes column. The 6th column is a bit of a mystery. Comparing the relative amounts I suspect it is late-addition hops, possibly even dry hops. It is definitely a hop column because that number is needed to achieve the annual hop total. The notes occasionally sometimes make reference to quantities of hops added at racking, but the numbers don't seem to

The next columns break down the mashing process. You can see temperatures and stand times. The mash would stand for around 2 hours and 40 minutes. Sparging took four hours. Each of the worts was boiled for two hours, the second wort sometimes more. Analyzing this part of the record will be interesting: what was Labatt doing for its mashing vs. UK brewers at the same time? This, and other questions, will let us see just how much of an influence British brewing traditions had on Canadian brewing at this time.

Moving on: the gravity readings are different than what we are used to. Denoted in Pounds per Barrel, this is a way of measuring what you had extracted during the mashing process. Hydrometers were long in use, but the scale different than what we are used to today.  Pounds per Barrel was the weight of a barrel full of water vs. how much the barrel weighed after you had mashed and dissolved sugars and other goodness into it. You can convert pounds/barrel into modern OG numbers: multiply by 2.77 and add 1000 (http://barclayperkins.blogspot.ca/2009/06/logs-lesson-1.html).

In May 1884 the OG of the 'P' (Pale) beer was about 1058 (~21 Lbs. per Barrel) and the 'BS' (Brown Stout) was a touch stronger at about 1066.5 (~24 Lbs. per Barrel).

The gravity is dropping and the beer is nearing completion. It is cleansed and then later racked into various barrels and this is kept track of in columns 25-30. Column 30 converts all the various barrel sizes into standard barrels (36 gallons) to more easily total up production. Cleansing occurred about 3 days after brewing and racking occurred about 9 days from brewing. The beer was kept in casks for an unknown amount of time before delivery to the trade.

Labatt got fresh yeast from a number of sources, including down the road at Carling
Column 31 shows what brew number was used when yeast was harvested and pitched into this particular batch. As described in a talk I heard Ron give a typical practice would have been to skim yeast off the top of the fermenter when it was white, clean and free of brewing-related gunk (to use the scientific term). Today we would use the yeast collected off the bottom of a conical fermenter.

A bit of local trivia: they occasionally used yeast from Carling (as they did in June 1893 -- see photo) or started afresh with yeast from other sources. The notes sometimes have comments on the colour and appearance of the yeast head.

The notes column is the most interesting. Here you will see miscellaneous notes on all aspects of the brewing process: names of malt suppliers, hop farmers, mixes of old/new malt being used, weather notes, notes on the yeast head and potential spoilage of the beer, equipment breakdowns, use of Patent Malt, city water or well water, etc.

Welcome to the Labatt brewing records. We will cut today's information off here before anybody dies of boredom. 1500 words is quite enough, no? Go drink a beer, ok?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Carolinian Hop Yard - Fresh Green Goodness

Twitter is an amazing thing. I reached out to @thehopfarmer on Twitter just because of her name. It turns out Melanie Doerksen is based in London, Ontario (a happy coincidence) and this leads me to offer her a speaking slot at Forest City Beer Fest.

Melanie and her partner Tim Wilson come to the Fest and dutifully take to the stage to share their vision for the Carolinian Hop Yard. Attendees are invited to come visit at harvest time. I took them up on it.

I made a trip down to get some fresh hops for homebrewing purposes and boy am I glad I did! Here is a rundown of my day at the Hop Farm:

First, I got lost. This always seems to happen. Usually something good comes out of it but not today. I just saw a lot of fields and took a detour down a dirt road. The city boy in a Prius got some funny looks when asking for directions.

I missed the harvest work and the BBQ in the field that I had intended, but I made it in time to catch Tim vacuum sealing the last of the crop. The overall yield was not massive but promises to be far larger next year. It takes a few years for hops to mature and reach heir full height and potential.

There are currently 10 rows of hops growing mostly Cascade & Willamette. There is plenty of space for more rows on both sides. The property is long and skinny divided by a small stand of trees. On one side you have the hop fields and the other is home to the foundation for a brewhouse, eatery and more open land.

In the coming years I expect this to become more of a destination for brewers, beer nuts, foodies and fun-seekers. The goal is to have a fully operational farmhouse brewery using the farm's own crop. Tim and Melanie are green through and through. The field is not yet certified as organic, but it is clear that there are no chemicals and that natural techniques are being used to maintain the field. The same goes for the brewhouse. A number of construction features will cut down on electricity use and waste.

The farm is located near Delhi & Tillsonburg in Charlotteville, traditional Ontario tobacco country. Many farms have gotten out of the business over the last 10 years and the old tobacco equipment is being re-used. Special trailers with ladders can be dragged between the rows of hops allowing a worker to cut down and hang and entire bine (not a typo -- hops are technically bines) very quickly. These are already on the property and will be put into use once the bines grow high enough to make their use more practical.

Even the future brewhouse involves a bit of recycling. Old barn materials are on the site and are ready to be re-purposed as construction continues. It has already advanced considerably since my visit, as you can see on their Facebook Page.

Brewers, homebrewers and beer lovers should keep an eye on the Carolinian Hop Yard/Charlotteville Brewing co. as it continues to piece itself together and reach its potential. Congrats to Melanie and Tim on all your hard work.