Brewing Supplies in Prewar Poland. Part I.

The beer industry cannot exist with a secondary industry devoted to its input needs, everything from malt and hops to tanks, barrels, and cleansers. A page of trade ads in a 1925 issue of the Polish beer journal Przemysł Piwowarski, or “Brewing Industry”, sheds light on a period of technological advance.

Old and newer technologies jostle for attention in the journal, often in the same ad.

 

 

Mammut, an obscure topic even to beer historians, was a proprietary coating for the interior of vats and barrels. It was used not just in brewing but a broad range of food industry applications. The name is German for mammoth. Some ads included a drawing of the extinct mammal, so it is clear the name was a trade or coined term.

Traditionally, brewers on the Continent, and in the U.S. under their influence, coated barrel interiors, lagering vats, and other vessels with pitch, a concentrated, softened extract of conifer tree resin. It had uses as well in other industries.

Brewers heated and applied the resin so a barrier would form between the barrel frame and beer. The idea was mainly to keep a source of infection at bay, microbes that could lurk in hard-to-clean wood barrels. Another reason advanced was to prevent a woody taste in beer (something craft beer has been less concerned with).

The pitching process was tedious and cumbersome, as vessels had to be re-pitched regularly. There were problems with chipping and resin particles entering the beer. Conifer pitches also imparted some odour to beer. Some brewers made capital of this such as Anheuser-Busch in 1899, noting the “mild pitchy bouquet” of Budweiser,

Increasingly from 1900 the industry wanted to avoid side effects of pitching. Mammut was one answer, a proprietary organic compound. Its asserted value was as tight sealant that did not need re-application, and imparted no taste.

Before Prohibition ads appeared for mammut in American food industry journals, including for brewing. The origin was probably Germany – as noted mammut means mammoth in German. The 1925 ad does not use the Polish spelling, which is mamut.

The ad names as well a company representative with a German-sounding name in a city, Bydgoszcz, that was Prussian before World War I. Whether he was connected to the firm that originated mammut I cannot say.

The ad suggests the product dated from 1905 as it noted use by industry for 20 years. I have not found trade ads for mammut before 1905, at any rate. A useful description of mammut by the manufacturer’s American representative Paul Hassack in New Jersey appeared in 1917 in the Vinegar Bulletin., in effect an advertorial.

Coniferous brewer’s pitch nonetheless continued in use, at least until metal finally overtook wood for barrels. Metal also supplanted wood for aging vessels with newer materials also used, e.g. enamelled glass.

In the same journal we see an ad for both metal and wood barrels. Krupp of Germany made the metal type (beczki metalowe Kruppa), capitalizing on its long background in metallurgy. A handsome 1933 ad in the United States, archived in Period Paper, advertised this barrel, showing a sleek, well-tooled item.

Its stainless steel lining, “Silchrome”, made tree pitch and its substitutes redundant. The ad claimed no adverse impact on flavour, foam, or colour of the beer. These barrels were made in the U.S., evidently under license, by Ingersoll Steel.

Other ads in the Polish journal advertised cork and other closures and pure yeast cultures for bottom- and top-fermentation brewing.

Beer and brewing are always a combination of traditional and more recent technologies or methods, The pendulum swings back and forth, with marketing often playing a role when tradition is invoked.

The march of technology in other words is inexorable, at least for brewing of any scale. Few wood barrels and vats are in use today, for example, even factoring that some craft beer is aged or otherwise processed in wood vessels,

A surprisingly old technology, the crown cap, endures for the bottle, but the beer can has taken over much of that market. The can for beer use was devised about the same time the Krupp metal barrel was being touted in Poland and the United States.

Our Part II follows.

 

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