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 journal Przemysł Piwowarski, or Brewing Industry, sheds light on a period of technological advance. Old and newer technologies jostle for attention, often in the same ad.

 

 

Mammut, an obscure topic even to beer historians, was a proprietary coating applied to the interior of vats and barrels. Mammut was used not just in brewing but a broad range of the food industries.

The name is German for mammoth. Some ads were accompanied by a drawing of the extinct mammal, so it is clear this was a trade or coined term.

Traditionally, brewers on the Continent, and in the U.S. under their influence, applied a coating of pitch to barrels, lagering vats, and other vessels. This is a concentrated, softened extract of conifer tree resin, also used widely in industry.

Brewers heated and applied it to coat the interior to form a barrier from the wood.

The idea was to prevent both a raw wood taste from entering the beer and souring of the beer from hard-to-clean beer residues in the wood fissures.

The process was tedious and cumbersome, as vessels needed to be re-pitched regularly. There were also problems with chipping and particles entering the beer.

Conifer pitches also imparted some odour to the beer. Some brewers made capital of this, e.g. American Budweiser in 1899 (a mild “pitchy” taste was lauded).

Increasingly from 1900 the industry wanted to avoid such “extraneous” influences. Mammut was one answer, a proprietary organic compound. Its asserted value: a tight sealant that did not need re-application, and imparted no taste to the beer.

Before Prohibition, ads appeared for mammut in American food industry journals, including for brewing. I have not seen one that actually states the place of origin of the product.

It was probably Germany. As noted, mammut means mammoth in German. The 1925 ad does not use the Polish spelling, for example (mamut).

The ad lists as well a representative with a German-sounding surname, in a city, Bydgoszcz, that was Prussian before WW I. Whether he was connected to the firm that originated mammut I cannot say.

The ad suggests the product dated from 1905, as it notes use by industry for 20 years. I have not found trade ads before 1905, at any rate.

A detailed description of mammut was written by its American representative, Paul Hassack in New Jersey. An advertorial-type piece, it appeared in 1917 in the Vinegar Bulletin. 

Brewer’s pitch, the old-fashioned kind, nonetheless continued in use, at least until metal overtook wood for barrels. Metal also supplanted wood for aging tanks with other materials sometimes used, enamelled glass was one.

In the Polish 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 experience with metallurgy to find a solution for beer brewers.

A handsome 1933 ad in the United States, via the Period Paper site, advertised this barrel, showing a sleek, well made item. Its stainless steel lining, “Silchrome”, made pitch and its substitutes redundant.

The ad claimed no impact on flavour, foam, or colour of the beer. The barrels were made in the U.S., hence evidently under license, by Ingersoll Steel.

Further ads in the Polish journal advertised cork and other closures, and pure yeast cultures, both for bottom- and top-fermented brewing.

Beer and brewing are always a strange combination of old, more recent, and cutting edge. The pendulum swings back and forth between focus on the traditional and the modern, but this is largely a matter of marketing.

The march of technology is, in other words, inexorable, for brewing of any scale. Very few wood barrels and vats are used today.

Most yeast cultures used in brewing are pure yeast cultures, vs. the mixed cultures they supplanted by the mid-1900s.

Most fermentation vessels are the cylindro-conical type.

Exceptions to these rules, there are, but to use a Polish saying, it’s as much as a cat cries, in comparative terms.

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

American know-how played a key role in this case, especially via the Continental Can Company.

Our Part II follows.

 

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