Bourne Archive: Muspratt: Beer

Annotated web page © 2011 R.J.Penhey                     Latest edit 23 Jan 2011


The Bourne Archive


Muspratt’s Chemistry, Theoretical, Practical & Analytical (ca. 1859)

Extracts Concerning Beer, 1: Barley.

The web pages intended to be linked from this introduction are from an article on brewing, under the heading ‘Beer’. The original article is presented here in several web pages, respectively dealing with: 1, barley; 2, malting; 3, water; 4, hops; 5, grinding malt; 6, mashing; 7, saccharometry; 8, boiling; 9, cooling; 10, fermentation; 11, cleansing.

Vol. 1. p. 236.

Beer. bičre, French; bier, German.—Is a malt liquor of any kind, or a spirituous liquor made from any farinaceous 1 grain, but generally from barley, which is first malted and ground, and its fermentable substance extracted by hot water. This extract or infusion is evaporated by boiling in caldrons, and hops, or some other plant of agreeable bitterness, added. The liquor is then allowed to ferment in vats. It is of different degrees of strength, and is denominated small beer, ale, porter, brown stout, et cetera , according to the quantity and nature of its ingredients. Beer is a name given in America to fermenting liquors made of various other materials; and when a decoction of the roots of plants forms part of the composition, it is called spring beer, from the season in which it is made. There is also root beer. In Britain, the term beer is applied in the same way to fermented liquors made from ginger, spruce, and molasses, as well as to that procured from malt and hops. In the time of TACITUS, whose treatise on the Manners of the Germans was written about the end of the first century of the Christian era, beer was their common drink: PLINY mentions it as being used in Spain, under the name of cślia and ceria; and in Gaul, under that of cerevisia; he then proceeds to explain, that almost every species of corn has been used for the manufacture of beer. In Europe it is usually made from barley; in India from rice; in the interior of Africa, according to Mungo Park, from the seeds of the holcus spicatus, spiked or eared wall-hardy. These observations are corroborated by other authors of antiquity; and the cerevisia of PLINY evidently takes its name from Ceres, the goddess of corn—lexicographers doubting whether it ought not to be written cererisia. PLAUTUS more minutely calls it Cerealis liquor; that is, liquor used at the solemn feasts in honor of that goddess—the harvest home; and both he and COLUMELLA—a famous writer on agriculture, who flourished in the reign of CLAUDIUS, and whose work is therefore coeval with the invasion of Britain by that emperor—called the liquor zythum, which, if traced back to its Greek origin, is interpreted, drink from barley.

There is no department of the arts and manufactures where Chemistry has exerted a more decided influence than in brewing. In a state of society like the present 2, when philosophy and enterprise travel with giant strides, and when every branch of technology calls aloud for scientific aid, exact theoretical information cannot be too widely diffused. Notwithstanding the trite saying which has existed from time immemorial, that any old woman can brew, it is worthy of remark that few old women, even in literature, are chemists, fewer chemists are brewers, and fewer still are the brewers who, by attention to chemical transformations, have been able to increase the quantity of the useful extract from malt, and to reject the errors, both in theory and in practice, that eventually reduce the labor 3 of the old-woman brewer to futility and loss.

Many operative brewers, in some of the largest town establishments, even now ridicule and despise the idea of chemistry being in any way connected with the art of brewing. Such ignorant prejudices only perpetuate bigotry, and cause an enormous waste of property; the progress of useful art is impeded; and its promoters are ungenerously maligned by a spirit, which knows not the limited range of its own capacity.

In the brewing of beer, the first process of importance which comes under notice is that of malting. Ere this can be proceeded with, however, the grain on which to operate must be chosen, and it is hoped the few following remarks will be found of service, more especially to the inexperienced.

SELECTION OF BARLEY.—Owing to the difference of constituents, energies, and vital functions in grain, according to the diversities of soil, climate, seed, or husbandry, in harvesting, stacking, and thrashing, it becomes necessary that the maltster’s skill and experience should be equal to the important task in selecting those samples of corn 4 which, by good management, will produce the richest and most uniform malt; he ought not, moreover, be restricted by laws which are often arbitrary and unjust, but have free scope in fully exercising his judgement and varying his practice, according to the quality of his grain or other attendant circumstances.

The barley most suitable for conversion into malt grows in large hedgeless tracts of light calcareous soil, and crops, excellent in quality, also thrive on rich loam. Much, however, depends upon the seed: the best possesses a bright, clean, thin, wrinkled husk, tenaciously adhering to a plump, round, well-fed kernel, which, when bruised, appears chalky and sweet, with a germ full, and of a pale yellow color. The barley most profitable for malting is the rath, or early ripe, which matures several weeks before other sorts, and is that which agriculturists 5 ought to select, not only on account of its forwardness, but also because it makes superior malt, in consequence of the thinness of its skin and the lusciousness of its nature. Barley is not in a proper condition for malting until it has sweated and seasoned in the stack; if stacked too damp, it will generate so much heat as to destroy the germ. The maltster should be careful in avoiding mixed barley, old and new, as such can never grow evenly or work well together.

The medicinal qualities of barley may not be quite as well known as are its nutritive properties, and therefore, a brief glance at these may not prove unacceptable to the reader. In the first degree they are cooling and drying, gently repercussive, abstersive 6, diruretic, and anodyne 7, appropriated to the lungs and veins, and galactogenic 8. Each variety possesses the same virtues.

Adept brewers, from their long experience, know the best kinds of grain to select.


1. ^    Yielding flour or starch (OED).

2. ^   The late 1850s.

3. ^   Such apparently American spellings as this, in an English writer will be due to his classical education. They are the form derived directly from Latin, rather than that which comes through French, into normal British English.

4. ^   In British English, the word ‘corn’ is used in number of ways. In England, it may mean wheat but in this example, it means the seed of cereal or farinaceous plants more generally: for example, oats, maize or barley (OED).

5. ^   Nowadays, the word agriculturist, if not lost, has come to mean the same as ‘agriculturalist’, one engaged in agriculture (OED). In the early nineteenth century it meant ‘a student of the science of agriculture’. A phrase from 1814, quoted by OED, contrasts the two: ‘The theoretical agriculturist, and the practical farmer ..

6. ^   Cleansing or purgative.

7. ^   Having the power of assuaging pain (OED).

8. ^   Tending to produce milk.

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