Chillin, Old-school. Part I.

From Sydney to Singapore

I have maybe two dozen posts on Australian brewing and beer culture in different periods. A subset dealt with beer and the Forces including the Brisbane Beer Riot.

In regard to Toohey’s of Sydney, now owned by Lion Group (a Kirin affiliate), I discussed its ale brewing just ahead of WW I and the looming lager revolution.

I uncovered a series of early (1880) taste notes on Australian ales, three Toohey’s beers figuring among the group. Read the assessments, which are mostly complimentary, here.

Let’s go back to an earlier period, 1874. This is when the Toohey brothers were working from their first, Darling Harbour brewery, before it relocated to larger premises.

Their process was described in a Sydney Morning Herald piece on March 4, 1874, part of a series on Sydney breweries.

The account is very detailed in some respects, particularly for steam powering, other technology, and capacities. The malt was, in this early period, all English, imported in bulk in large metal containers.

I suspect metal was used, as against jute sacks or other storage that allowed ingress of air, to minimize the impact of humidity on the malt.

There is no reference to hops in the article, which seems odd; perhaps the writer felt the subject was covered in his treatment of Tooth’s or other breweries in the city. I will try to find these.

Note the Burton Unions fermentation system, receiving the beer from 80-barrel fermentation vats (two for ale, one porter). Beer was then racked into different size barrels for trade or bottled, with cases resting in cellar until conditioned to result in a “creamy” state.



(Darling Harbour. c. 1900. Source: Wikipedia).

Something that caught my eye was a constant feature of many breweries, in Europe as well, until the mid-1900s. And that is, cooling the wort by using the traditional, open-pan cooler as well as the newer heat exchange apparatus.

Ultimately most breweries around the world dispensed with the open cooling stage, due to the risk of infection. Nonetheless use of open coolers, or coolships to many in craft brewing, has returned. This is partly due to their survival in a corner of Belgian artisanal brewing.

Whether or not the worts are left to culture spontaneously, it is thought exposure to air in cooling gives some indefinable quality to the beer, which may well be right.

Is this the reason Toohey’s used a combination of old and newer systems? Or would it have used all heat exchanging had it been able to technically?

The article suggests the latter in my view, when it mentions the refrigerators could not be made larger due to lagging pressure in the tubes.

It was probably a mid-1800s Baudelot system, see a filmed illustration in this Instagram clip. Later, heat exchangers were made more efficient, with shell and tube and other variations that minimized, as well, undue exposure to air.

Still, as late as the 1930s, we find open cooling combined with heat exchanging being installed in new breweries.

I mentioned one example on Twitter in the late 1930s after reading a period description of Brussels brewing posted by the Brussels-based beer writer Eoghan Walsh. It concerned the Marine (or Navy) Brewery.

Another example, also 1930s, was Malayan Breweries Ltd.’s new brewery in Singapore, built in 1932. I discuss the brewery at length in my new article, An Outline on Beer and Brewing in British Malaya: 1827-1957. Part I, in Brewery History just published.

Although every modern convenience was available to the planners – Heineken played a large role – they elected this combination of cooling the wort. We can doubt the retention of an open cooling stage was due to technical limitations.

I quote a news report that it was felt “air cooling had a subtle effect on the quality of the beer”. The Brussels brewery, also designed in the latest fashion, must have come to the same conclusion.

Whether it was that extra bit of aeration, or some other factor, must be left to brewing technologists to ponder. But from 1874 Sydney to late colonial Singapore, a straight line can be drawn.

There is good reason to think the beer benefited as a result. In the case of Toohey’s, it was perhaps a chance effect more than anything else. In the case of Malayan Breweries, it looks to have been a conscious choice.

Part II follows.

Note re images: source of image above is identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.







6 thoughts on “Chillin, Old-school. Part I.”

  1. A retired Bass brewer that I know mentioned they still had open trays in the 1970s, but if I remember rightly he called them “settling trays” and the purpose was definitely trub removal as I recall him saying how the trub then went into a giant sock so more wort could be extracted from it! Next time I speak to him I’ll ask him for the details.

    • Very interesting, thanks Ed.

      I’ve read there was significant wort content in the sediment, so recovery made sense. Watch the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. 🙂

  2. Large shallow cooling trays also allow the trub to settle out so they persisted longer than that might have otherwise as a preliminary stage before the wort was moved on to a more efficient cooler.

    • Very helpful, thanks Ed.

      I’d never read earlier that a quality effect was felt to result from open-air cooling – if anything the contrary – hence the Singapore news report, which followed a tour of the brewery, seemed quite noteworthy. It must have come from the brewer.

    • Ed, just a further thought, as your comment prompted me to re-familiarize myself with sludge separation, the cold and hot break removals, etc. I consulted Vogel (The Practical Brewer, 1946) and Lloyd Hind’s well-known book, 1940s, writing in the range surely of 1930s brewery design.

      They mention, especially the American Vogel writing in a lager brewery context, commonly utilized alternatives to the shallow open cooler system. Hot wort receivers, and various forms of wort filtration in particular.

      (Centrifuging, now very common at least in craft breweries, was first proposed in the 1930s, it seems. Wallerstein has something on this. It was probably not in use yet at least by established breweries of the Heineken type).

      No question if the shallow cooler’s wort was drawn off at the right temperature, and especially if air was purified as occurred in the Singapore case, the results were felt good, but of course in time the shallow open coolers pretty much disappeared from brewing, as I understand.

      All this was, and no doubt is for the options currently available today, a cost-benefit analysis where the benefit must factor beer quality. And that was my only point in the post, that in Singapore 1932 Malayan Breweries (really Heineken as the brewing partner) opted for a traditional set-up in part because it liked the effect the cooling had on the beer. There were alternatives, that later became standard, but it liked the effects on the beer of the old double-cooling system.


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