Shiny scales

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In which I wax lyrical about a seemingly mundane piece of equipment.

One of the many irritations about brewing has been the problem of weighing out the grains. There’s plenty of scales around the house: in the bathroom, two in the kitchen and another in what we call ‘the store’, scales for weighing suitcases. I’ve used them all.

No shortage of scales but weighing out 15kg of grain on any of them is a chore, with buckets perched precariously on tiny surfaces, displays obscured, everything on the edge of tipping over. You can measure maybe 3kg at a time. And more than once I’ve forgotten how many 3kg loads I’ve weighed out and had to start again.

Browsing on the SIBA website I came across an advert for the Marsden B100 – a waterproof, stainless steel scale capable of weighing up to 15kg and on offer for £115. These looked like proper scales and with a free set of smaller scales – the IP2101 – that can weigh up to 5kg and were also waterproof and stainless. This is the perfect combination for weighing big batches of grain and then for weighing out small amount of hops.

Also, in the tiny Brew Shed, there’s always the potential for water or beer to get everywhere. So for any brewer, far from being a bonus, waterproof is essential.

Other bonuses:

  • they are both sturdy, solid bits of kit designed for everyday use in a working environment
  • both units have clean, uncluttered panels and the buttons have a positive feel to them. You won’t accidentally press the wrong button
  • you can switch off the auto-off: scales switching themselves off before I’m finished is a real bugbear of mine
  • the main displays face up and can be and the B100 has a display at the back
  • both units are mains or battery powered – perfect for me because I need to be able to move them around when they’re not in use
  • The B100 is rechargeable, with either 9V battery or mains adapter on the IP2101
  • the B100 has a big, sturdy weighing plate easily able to take a 20ltr bucket, which is big enough for 10kg of grain
  • even with a big bucket on the scales of the B100 or a large bowl on the IP2101, you can still see the display.

Once you’ve got a recipe to the point where you’re happy, you want everything to be consistent so being able to reliably weigh out grains and hops is huge bonus. The convenience of a scale able to weight large amounts of grain makes the setup for brew days much more straightforward.

Of course, there’s other bits of shiny that money can be spent on but getting the basics effortlessly correct. That’s priceless.

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Shiny scales

Brewery news

Who’d have thought it would be hard to pin down when a brewery closed. Maybe it just wasn’t that big a deal. In the 1851 census, William Wilson is recorded as a brewer employing five men. Wealthy enough to support himself, his wife, four children and two house servants. Wealthy enough that in the 1855 valuation roll, he is listed as tenant of the brewery, its house and land and a field or enclosure on Sandilands (where I live). But maybe that wasn’t all that wealthy and that sort of business disappearing never makes the news. Nothing in the newspapers.

To recap, there are records of the brewery as a going concern up to 1854, when Mr Wilson is cited as an authority in the object names book accompanying the mapping of that year. He’s not in Limekilns in the 1961 census and the Dunfermline parochial record of 1861, under brewers and maltsters, has no William Wilson. Wilson has gone, although the brewery might remain.

The next bit of evidence I’ve found is a report from the Dundee Courier of 15 June 1867, which suggests that by January 1865 the brewery had become an “old brewhouse”, available to have its copper and boilers stolen, and that ownership had passed to George Ainslie (the one fined for cheating the excise in 1864).

The British Newspaper Archive (source of the material above) also throws up some other references to Wilson (perhaps not the same one, although how many could there be?). One of his carts killed a child in October 1856. (While you’re here, marvel at the reporting of the incident and the lengths the newspaper goes to excuse it). You have to wonder what is meant by the last sentence – the royalty. My guess is that this is refers to compensation paid to the child’s parents.

And it seems that by February 1860, William Wilson was bankrupt. That might explain why he has left Limekilns before the 1861 census.

So my guess now is that when Wilson went bankrupt in 1860, the brewery closed and although Ainslie might have taken it over, alongside his malting business, it never got going again and was sufficiently run down to be the “old brewhouse” and ripe for theft by 1865. Wilson crops up again in a reference to his daughter’s marriage in Edinburgh in January 1873.

Finally, in May 1879, Ainlsie was also in court as bankrupt.

Brewery news

What would they do now?

In his 1857 book The Scottish Ale Brewer and Practical Maltster W. H. Roberts cautions against boiling hops for a long time and observes that  “In general, it may be safely asserted that the brewers in this country boil their worts for a shorter period than those in England”. He approves:

The boiling of this wort for a longer time than one hour extracts the coarse flavour of the hop, while the fine aroma, being more evanescent flies off with the vapour…

And how did Scottish brewers hop their beer?

Four pounds of the hops were put into the copper when the wort was about 200º of heat, and boiled briskly for the space of twenty minutes; the remaining six pounds were then added, and allowed to boil thirty or forty minutes, according to circumstances.

So, in spite of knowing that the ‘fine aroma’ flies off, all of the hops were still boiled like Christmas sprouts.

What would it have needed for Scottish brewers to have the same level of hop bitterness but hang on to the fine aromas? Well, alongside reading Roberts’ book I’ve also been reading blogs on whirlpooling (at a homebrew level) hop-stands. Bear Flavored explains hop-stands in his blog and suggests achieving sufficient bitterness by viewing hops in a hop-stand as equivalent to a 10-minute boil addition. It’s a guide:

I add my whirlpool hop addition to Beer Smith as a 10 minute addition, and figure that’s close enough.

Take hop-stands, Roberts’ book and throw in period recipes from Ron Pattinson.

A hoppy, session beer with some heritage: Sounds ideal and it has plenty that Roberts would find characteristic of Scottish brewing of the time – the relatively high mash temperature leading to higher FG and because there’s a lot of unfermentable sugars, lower attenuation and lower ABV.

Should be quite a malty beer, with the bitterness offset by the sweetness implied by the high FG. What would happen if you brewed the 1851 beer but instead of boiling off the ‘fine aroma’, you kept it by extracting some of bitterness in a hop-stand?

First, to get it all from hop-standing you’d need a shit load of hops. Instead of the 2.5oz Ron specifies, using Bear Flavored’s equivalence to a 10-minute addition needs 8.6oz to achieve the same IBU.

There’s a compromise, surely. Some boiling hops for the bitterness and some late addition to keep some aroma? We’ll find out on Sunday.

What would they do now?

Update on Brucehaven brewery

An enquiry to the Fife Council archivist pointed me to the Object Names book that goes with the 1854 Ordnance Survey map. The names book was used by the collector to record the spelling and give a brief description of each of the objects identified on the map. The spelling was checked by reference to local ‘authorities’ – people of education and standing the community. So, since the brewery is on the map, it also appears in the names book and one of the authorities for the spelling is Mr Wilson, occupier of the brewery.

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From there, I ended up on the National Register of Archives for Scotland site, which holds a catalogue of the contents of private archives (not the records themselves). A search for Brucehaven there throws up a record of the lease of the brewery to William Wilson in dated 1845.

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So, ’empty’ in 1831 when the sublet of the inn was agreed and leased to Wilson in 1845. Still open in 1854 but ‘long discontinued’ by 1880.

Update on Brucehaven brewery