View Full Version : Shut up about Barclay Perkins - Memel oak vs. American oak

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05-12-2010, 07:26
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Like zooming in on a fractal picture, I keep finding ever more levels of detail. This is about the wood used to contract casks.

Pale Ale casks were usually made from Memel oak. (Memel used to be part of East Prussia, but is now in Lithuania.):

"Crown Memel timber grown in and around Memel, shipped at that port, has been handed down from age to age, in the brewing world, as the oak from which casks for pale ale should be made. In the trade we have Quebec or American oak, and Memel or Baltic oak. Let me deal with the Quebec or American class first."
"Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 12", 1906, page 689.
For some purposed, American oak was considered more suitable:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_CHrKKDU9290/TOo9HsAk5bI/AAAAAAAAHlk/uOve4N-QUKE/s320/McEwans_Palel_Ale_1938.jpg (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_CHrKKDU9290/TOo9HsAk5bI/AAAAAAAAHlk/uOve4N-QUKE/s1600/McEwans_Palel_Ale_1938.jpg)
"American staves, while they will not do for pale ale casks, are universally used by Irish porter brewers, and by the leading firms in the porter trade only American staves are used. 'Tis said that the tannin in the American staves lends to the Dublin porter a flavour that nothing else will. Be that as it may, American staves possess a tannin which makes them in every sense adapted for porter; yet, that very tannin debars their use for pale ale. Many brewers, particularly so country brewers, know this to their loss. One of the largest firms in the trade, a firm whom you all know, recently experimented with Memel or pale ale casks for stout, and that on a very elaborate scale; some thousands of casks were made from Memel staves, put into the trade, and examined periodically and systematically. The objects it was desired to ascertain were :— First, how Memel compared with American white oak as regards durability; second, whether the Memel heads of casks would be freer of shivers than American oak heads; third, whether the porter was affected in flavour. The initial cost, of course, was known to be much greater in Memel than American casks.

From the results it was incontestably shown that Memel oak casks were much more liable to injury than American oak. The heads shivered much more, and both sides and heads were frequently cracked across with any rough usage, such as is often unfortunately administered to casks in Ireland. The cost of repairs, consequently, was greatly in excess of the cost of repairing American oak casks.

Finally, no difference whatever could be discovered in the flavour of the contents of the cask between Memel and American oak. This latter was one of the most important things they wished to discover, and if it had been established that porter stored sweeter in Memel than in American oak, the firm to which I refer would have at once adopted Memel, more particularly in their firkin trade, as for family trade purposes this size of cask is largely used, and accordingly the porter is stored longer than in hogsheads and barrels. As, however, no difference could be found, and as all the other advantages were distinctly with American oak, the experiments ended in satisfying them that Memel was much less suitable for their trade, apart altogether from the expense, and I understand, if they were faced with the alternative, they would pay a higher price for American oak than Memel.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_CHrKKDU9290/TOo9rrw8G-I/AAAAAAAAHlo/yxL0DyDHo2Q/s320/Maclays_90s_IPA_1963.jpg (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_CHrKKDU9290/TOo9rrw8G-I/AAAAAAAAHlo/yxL0DyDHo2Q/s1600/Maclays_90s_IPA_1963.jpg)
What surprises me, is that Scotch and English brewers who have a fair trade in stout, do not follow the example of the famed Irish porter brewers and use American white oak, or, as they are called, Quebec casks for porter. Till very recently they were considerably cheaper, and I understand are still soma what so, and it is surprising that any brewer exports stout in anything else but Quebec casks, although the fact is that the largest exporters of stout do so. I have met the objection repeatedly to the use of Memel casks for ale and Quebec casks for porter, the difficulty of distinguishing the one from the other, but that can be overcome by simply having the ale casks painted white and the porter red."
"Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 12", 1906, pages 691-692.
Interesting that. How Dublin brewers used American oak. And that it supposedly contributed to the Dublin Porter flavour. I think it's safe to assume that they're talking about Guinness. At that time not only the largest brewery in Ireland, nor even the largest brewery in the United Kingdom, but the largest brewery in the world.

Though the author then goes on to point out that there was no appreciable difference in the flavour of Porter stored in American as opposed to Memel oak. But that American oak was less prone to damage.

I've included a final quote, because of what it reveals about lining barrels with pitch:

"Two classes of oak have recently been tried and are, I understand, used on the Continent to-day, even varied lots of casks so made have been imported to London. I refer to Hungarian and St. Petersburg oak. To those who pitch or resin their casks no objection may be taken to timber of that class, but for ordinary use as pale ale casks they will never do. In the manufacture of these casks the steaming process brings out simply "stink," which, if any brewer ever felt he would not allow within any reasonable distance of his brewery. It behoves you, therefore, to see that in ordering casks you insist upon having them made from Crown Memel Oak. It is only fair to add that the coopers in Scotland have not gone into this class of oak. I would feign express the hope they never will.
"Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 12", 1906, page 695.
It seems clear that the reason casks made of Hungarian or St.Petersburg oak are unsuitable for Pale Ale is the flavour it imparts to the beer, if you don't pitch-line your casks. Ergo Pale Ale casks weren't usually lined with pitch.https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/tracker/5445569787371915337-2136881724672213452?l=barclayperkins.blogspot.com

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