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Though the art of brewing is undoubtedly a part of chemistry, and certainly depends upon fixed and invariable principles as well as every other branch of that science, these principles have never yet been thoroughly investigated. For want of a settled theory, therefore, the practice of this art is found to be precarious; and to succeed unaccountably with some, and misgive as unaccountably with others. 1

This is a book about credibility. Its characters are the many researchers who, across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, tried to address beer-brewing in ways

they called ‘theoretical’, ‘philosophical’ or ‘scientific’. It is easy to imagine why such

approaches were not always taken seriously. We are used to thinking of scientific


investigators performing systematic experiments, searching for universal expla-

nations in nature and communicating their findings on paper, usually by open

publication. The craft and trade of beer-brewing conjures up an opposing set of

ideas: down-to-earth artisans, mistrustful of theorists and tinkering; local customs

of production, fiercely guarded from outsiders; skills passed down to a chosen few apprentices by hands-on experience. Nevertheless, a credible and coherent enter- prise of brewing science existed by around 1880, the work both of theorists from outside the brewery, and of established brewers with theories of their own. Credibility, for all investigators, meant showing that their claims were not merely valid, but actively useful to some relevant audience. There were many pos- sible audiences: private brewers, commercial brewers, members of related trades such as malting, engineers, instrument-makers, scientific amateurs and profes- sionals, and administrators of State. Various possible benefits could be claimed depending on the audience: production efficiency, uncontroversial regulation, general insights into the nature of matter or life. To make any such argument, however, required gaining a sympathetic hearing in the first place. Investigators usually relied on displays of past achievements or current professional context which suited their target audiences’ pre-existing expectations: they thus needed to achieve a careful rhetorical balance of conservatism and innovation. By exam- ining the techniques involved, we can better understand not only the specifics of the brewery case, but more generally how the knowledge and practices of scien- tific investigation and of industrial manufacture come to terms with each other – or, in some cases, don’t.

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2 Brewing Science, Technology and Print, 1700–1880

Why Study Brewing?

Since the mid-twentieth century, the common view of beer in affluent alcohol- consuming societies has been the one supposedly formulated by Brendan Behan after a mammoth empirical study: it ‘makes you drunk’. 2 Thus considered, it is not the most obvious topic for sober analysis. Indeed, some authors have cleverly put beer into historical context by showing just how seriously it was once taken. 3 Eighteenth-century beer did not necessarily make you drunk, but might be a staple foodstuff, a focus for community organization, a tool for governments to manage taxation and a source of private fortunes which launched political dynas-

ties. In the nineteenth century, as anti-spirits campaigns gave way to full-blown teetotalism, all these associations fed into fierce debates over the moral character of beer. Brewing, then, was part of a web of economic and social connections broad enough and deep enough to matter to everyone. Much the same is true of other trades such as distilling, metalworking, textiles or ceramics; beer-brewing, however, offers a particularly productive case for exploring philosophy–trade interactions, for several reasons. Unusually, brewing was both a manufacturing industry and a domestic art. In the eighteenth century, as the greatest commercial brewhouses became con-


ture of economic and social life.


spicuous public marvels of concentrated mechanized production, traditional

‘house-brewing’ on the estates of the landed gentry remained an embedded fea-

Brewing thus resembled agriculture in being

constantly visible, and materially important, to the people most likely to be

philosophically engaged. Allan Chapman, writing of an earlier period, offers a

useful analogy:

every clergyman, academic, and country gentleman would have received his income from land rentals, and such gentlemen would have watched the profitability of their farms, brew-houses, and dairies with the same assiduity as their modern-day col- leagues might monitor the instincts of their stockbrokers. 5

Joseph Banks, for instance – who did his best to intrude into almost every dimension of British natural science around the turn of the nineteenth century – kept a brewhouse at Spring Grove which issued around 80 hogsheads (over 4,000 gallons) of beer annually in the 1780s. In 1800, as London’s largest brew- ers were scrambling to commission Boulton and Watt’s steam engines, Matthew Boulton himself was computing how much he might save by brewing for his own household. 6 Equally important was beer’s role in the growth of the State. Seventeenth- century governments had identified beer and its raw materials as a convenient target for indirect taxation, levied at the point of production, and duties rose heavily from the beginning of the eighteenth century. 7 Efforts to minimize fraud



and disputes created a legion of highly literate Excise officials who patrolled the breweries on foot and horseback, applying standardized measurement tech- niques, mathematical approximations and rigorous record-keeping. 8 For their own protection, therefore, brewers got used to quantifying the value of their product, and were easily persuaded of the usefulness of precision instruments. It was also significant that the major steps of the brewing process – malting, mashing, hop-boiling and fermentation – all involved the subtle internal rear- rangement of material substances: finding a common framework to explain such transformations had been a popular preoccupation for philosophers from the sev- enteenth century onwards. Particularly fascinating was the fermentation process which transmuted sugary materials into intoxicating spirit and large volumes of a gas (interpreted successively as fixed air, carbonic acid gas and carbon dioxide) which was also found in mineral waters, and associated with various effects on the health of the human body. Alchemical, chemical, pneumatic, medical and die- tetic studies intertwined in the early consideration of beer in print, as we shall see.

Trade Knowledge and the Theory/Practice Division

Notwithstanding all these commonalities, the vast majority of brewery authors

and innovators took it for granted that a firm dividing line existed between ‘the-


ory’ and ‘practice’. The line, of course, was rarely drawn in the same way twice,

and those who drew it generally did so for particular strategic reasons of their

own. My interpretation here draws on the picture presented in the edited collec-

tion The Mindful Hand, which shows how the bureaucratic elites of early modern

Europe based their authority on a series of oppositions: ‘scholar/artisan, science/ technology, pure/applied and theory/practice’. 9 Status gaps across these divid- ing lines made it legitimate for physicians to regulate apothecaries, engineers to control shipwrights, and ‘professionals’ and ‘gentlemen’ in general to overrule the most skilled and organized ‘tradesmen’. In making a show of building bridges across a status gap, such men were careful to affirm that the gap remained, none- theless, and that the ground remained higher on their side. This was certainly the strategy adopted across the whole of my period of study by public men of science who sought to instruct legislators, householders and even brewers on brewery questions, without having brewed a drop of beer for themselves. Yet The Mindful Hand’s manifesto implies a reflexivity which it does not quite bear out. In focusing on the iniquities of the self-appointed elites who privileged the authority of the mind, it says less about artisans’ and tradesmen’s ability to offer alternatives. In the literature of brewing, we find robust contri- butions from such figures as John Tuck, a bookbinder turned brewer active in the 1810s and 1820s. Tuck inverted the conventional hierarchy of the theory/ practice divide, savaging chemical theorists who formulated rules through ‘sci-

4 Brewing Science, Technology and Print, 1700–1880

ence instead of practical acquirement’. 10 The plain-speaking ‘practical man’, of course, was as much a strategically adopted persona as the man of letters; practi- cal authors seldom rejected theory outright, but rather claimed an authority of their own over how it could best be used. My survey examines brewery-minded theorists and theory-minded brewers in parallel, exploring the opportunities and difficulties on both sides. In consequence, this book shows only limited overlap with familiar nar- ratives of the history of science. Closely studied figures such as Banks, Sir Humphry Davy and John Tyndall receive only walk-on parts; the chemists I discuss more fully – Humphrey Jackson, Fredrick Accum, William Thomas

Brande – are marginal or under-examined, while most of the theoretical brewers are entirely unknown outside the history of brewing. Their obscurity is, in itself, revealing of how the disciplinary identity of science was being reworked. In the eighteenth century, much brewery writing consisted of what Ursula Klein has identified as ‘experimental history’, recording experiments to systematize knowl- edge about processes without necessarily trying to find underlying causes. At the time, this work could be of similar status to the ‘experimental philosophy’ which demanded to know why as well as how: the professionalizing scientists of the

nineteenth century, however, wrote it off as workmanlike and trivial.




Focusing on unsung practitioners has its dangers. James Secord has usefully

warned of a tendency towards ‘parochial antiquarianism’ in history: painstaking

contextual studies may ultimately just reconfirm the obvious point that ideas,

in science as elsewhere, are a product of their local circumstances, without con-

One rather literal but effective

way to find universal relevance in an esoteric community, however, is to focus on its own interest in universals. All brewery authors who described their work as ‘scientific’ or ‘philosophical’ sought to reduce brewhouse actions to a set of rules which somehow transcended the traditional patterns of local and particular knowledge. Their proposed universals – chemical principles and instrumentally determined quantities – usually had pre-existing meanings created outside the brewhouse: they mattered to communities built around trade improvement, the reform of chemistry, instrumental precision or polite curiosity. My study is built around the connections between these communities, assessing in tandem what science brought to the brewery, and what the brewery brought to science.

tributing anything to our wider understanding.

The Paradoxes of Beer Theory

Several impressive histories of British brewing have been written based on the extensive records and correspondence which survive from many breweries, or on the more limited material evidence of brewhouse structures. 13 This book, by contrast, focuses on printed texts. I consider how the systematic circulation of



written information (usually, though not always, published) helped, and occa- sionally frustrated, the establishment of a credible science of brewing. As it removed the direct interaction between author and audience, print also removed the conventional guarantees that went with it: readers have always had to address the possibility that what is printed is not what it claims to be. 14 Publications on commercial arts such as brewing were particularly suspect. In the period in ques-

tion, as far as most readers were concerned, writers did not brew, and brewers certainly did not write: if a brewer’s insights were really valuable, his safest path to profit was surely to keep quiet and apply them in his own brewhouse. We might term this the paradox of the trade writer. Tradesmen who tried to live by publishing invited suspicions that they could not live by the trade itself, perhaps for want of skill, and that their professed revelations might be based on misunderstanding or downright fakery. Factors that would make other kinds of text more credible – detailed coverage, high production values, wide dissemina- tion – might here be read as signals that the writer was spending too long away from the brewhouse, or, indeed, had never been in it: professional hack authors typically knew nothing of the brewery at first hand, yet had the best opportuni- ties to shape its representation in the general literature.

Rivalry between authors meant that the paradox was often spelt out explicitly.


William Yworth (d. 1715), an alchemical adept who wrote on brewing and dis-

tilling, complained in 1705 that much literature on trade processes was written

by men who ‘have not practically known the same; or else by those, who have on

purpose concealed that, which in reality ought to have been discovered’. Yworth

presumed his readers to be wearily familiar with what happened when writers

who had nothing to write wrote it anyway: ‘needless Prescriptions, confused Workings, long and tedious Prolixity of Words and Circumlocutions’. 15 In identi- fying these failings, of course, Yworth hinted that his own work was free of them. The paradox could be resolved or diminished in various ways. Some authors announced that they were not trade writers at all, but private gentlemen brewing for their own households, their research inspired by curiosity rather than com- mercial concerns. This stance, however, largely disappeared across the course of the late eighteenth century, as large industrial brewhouses supplanted most home production. A more durable defence drew on the founding self-image of Eng- lish natural philosophy, proclaiming that the moral obligation to reveal useful knowledge ranked above considerations of personal gain. 16 Alternatively, trade authors might argue that there was no profit in privatizing what they knew: some innovations, such as those intended to open up new markets or substitute costly materials, might plausibly work best for everyone if they were adopted universally. The most popular approach among authors with commercial brewing back- grounds, however, was strategic partial revelation. These authors explained their publications as the result of a balance struck between open communication, to

6 Brewing Science, Technology and Print, 1700–1880

promote their names and establish their expertise, and private communication for profit. The approach was often hazardous: many theorists, and also some practical brewers, objected to such deliberate withholding as unacceptably mer- cenary. A more palatable variation was to argue that while the text held back nothing that could be revealed in print, there were important details of practical implementation that could only be conveyed through personal, on-site engage- ment. This strategy was widely used from the mid-nineteenth century by authors proclaiming new professional identities as brewers’ engineers, analysts or con- sultants for hire – roles which allowed them to claim specialized expertise which did not rest on a vested interest in any particular brewery. There was another tension facing the systematizing innovator, which we might call the paradox of experiment. Although brewing practices from time immemorial had undergone frequent and sometimes dramatic change as a result of trial-and-error investigation, the search for universal understandings required something more: systematic comparison of widely variant approaches, with failure as a routine consequence. In 1838, George Adolphus Wigney, a philo- sophically minded gentleman-proprietor, wrote ruefully of his early endeavours:

Malted some tick beans for curiosity; they absorbed so much water in the cistern, as


to cause the charge of nearly or quite double duty. Mixed therewith some barley malt

and brewed one guile, obtained but little extract, that was nauseous and spoiled the

whole. Burnt down a malthouse by snapping porter malt on an improper kiln; killed

a horse by feeding him on the half burnt barley and bean malt … created a vacuum in

the copper, and the pressure of the atmosphere broke the bottom of the back asunder,

and forced it into the copper with a tremendous explosion.


Wigney’s account is uniquely candid, and separated from its origins by twenty years of (relatively) successful practice. Typically, to be seen to depart so radically from established trade norms would demolish the innovator’s credibility, if not his brewhouse. The problem was made worse if the proposals relied on results from small-scale test apparatus which bore little obvious resemblance to com- mercial equipment. This second paradox melted away, of course, if the innovator could show the brewers that unfamiliar methods led to improvements on some criterion that was familiar. Innovators who could not quickly achieve this, however, faced being written off as confidence tricksters, dilettantes or just plain bad at brew- ing. Adopting the rhetorical pose of the experimental philosopher, as we will see, tended to do more harm than good in defusing these charges. The only reliable defence was to demonstrate a time-served brewery background and awareness of the needs and constraints of the trade. Almost all the developments discussed in this book can be read as attempts to resolve these paradoxes, establishing theories of brewing as credible to some



chosen audience. The range of possible audiences was great, as was the range of possible intentions. Some theorists, perhaps sincerely, claimed to seek only the satisfaction of extending human knowledge or improving a vital industry. Oth- ers were out for more tangible rewards: patents or retail monopolies, bookselling profits, consultancy fees. Competition for these meant competition for theoreti- cal credibility, which influenced how those involved accounted for themselves and their work. Experimenters who were brewery insiders, for example, empha- sized their career histories to damage rivals who were not. The pattern of success in this credibility-building largely determined the priorities and assumptions of what gradually emerged as a self-conscious community of scientific brewers.

Caveat Lector

In a study focusing on printed texts, it is important to remember that such texts do not transparently represent either the worlds they describe, or their authors’ intentions. 18 For the reasons outlined above, many brewer-authors thought strategically about committing details to paper, and drew sharp lines between publication, private correspondence and private instruction by demonstration. Evidence of the three mechanisms survives unequally and in descending order.

What was written, moreover, inevitably focused more on novel technologies and

theories than on what was typical for the time; many ideas described at length

were never taken up, whereas points of fundamental importance were routinely

passed over as obvious (though they may not be so today).


It is also worth noting that texts often borrowed heavily from prior texts,

and so do not reliably represent the views or experience of their named authors. The brewing and distilling directions of the abovementioned William Yworth, for instance, lack the cryptic, cosmological tone of his better-known alchemical writings, and were probably modelled on accounts found in husbandry manu- als. 19 Such borrowing does not necessarily imply incoherence or imposture. Yworth was simultaneously a sincere alchemist and a practical pharmacist and distiller, and knew that publishing on trade processes required different rhetori- cal and linguistic conventions from publishing on alchemy; to draw from other sources in meeting these needs was conventional in early modern scholarship. Positions we take for granted – that copying content without acknowledgment is morally wrong, and that original contribution is the basis of authority – were starting to be articulated before the eighteenth century, but were not systemati- cally applied until the nineteenth. 20

The apparent period and context of authorship, therefore, can never be taken at face value. Hack authors could be sophisticated in cloaking borrowed texts to suit new markets. A bucolic gentleman-farmer’s account of his practice, in a let- ter to the Farmer’s Magazine in 1777, turns out to be a facetious reworking of an

8 Brewing Science, Technology and Print, 1700–1880

earnest philosophical account of 1764. 21 Directions for brewing first found in a 1737 anthology resurface as new in a stand-alone pamphlet of 1789, and again, largely unchanged, attributed to one ‘Thomas Threale’ in 1802. 22 Such practices were rarely challenged: a few knowledgeable authors bewailed the effects of mis- information due to the scissors-and-paste tendency, but were not immune to similar behaviour themselves. Alexander Morrice, author of a much-reprinted

treatise of 1802, was careful to state that his brewing instructions were compiled directly from his own commercial practice; his guidance on malting, however, is almost verbatim from a work of the 1730s. 23 Prior borrowings often led the borrowers to underestimate the ages of their sources, so that a narrative could endure as ‘current’ for a century. 24 Indeed, the very idea of ‘current theory’ is itself a creature of nineteenth- century professionalization and its emphasis on consensus, originality, hierarchy and progress. For much of my period, theoretical interpretations in the latest systematic treatments of chemistry could, and would, be challenged by knowl- edge based on older systems or none; a decades-old treatise might demand respect, and old theory might inspire new investigations. When, in the nine- teenth century, professionalizing scientists rejected such tolerance, they became

increasingly oblivious to literature which endured among commercial brewers.


The converse was also true: commercial brewers in Britain stuck largely to Eng-

lish-language sources well into the period when serious chemists kept up with

the French and German literature as a matter of course. This was as much a prac-

tical as a rhetorical divide, and it was bridged only when chemists schooled in

the German analytical tradition were hired directly onto the staff of breweries,

around the middle of the nineteenth century. My approach also requires attention to how readers use texts, and where they go once they have left their authors’ control. 25 Texts served readers in a variety of roles: as straightforward sources of information; as indicators of the author’s expertise when deciding whether to pay for equipment or consultation; as rally- ing points for change or compositional models for further writing. The breadth of my period, and the lack of surviving publishers’ records and editorial files, limit the possibilities here: I do not know how many copies of, for instance, Michael Combrune’s Theory and Practice of Brewing (1762) were printed, let alone, in more than a handful of cases, where they ended up. But I have done my best to outline the range of responses articulated by his known readers, and the most influential incidents which brought his work to new audiences.



The Structure of this Book

Chapter 1 sets the scene by surveying the state of public and private communica- tion on brewing methods in the early eighteenth century. In chapter 2, I focus on

Michael Combrune, author of the first known brewery text modelled on a natu- ral-philosophical treatise. Here, as throughout, I pay close attention to the work’s reception: Combrune courted philosophical gentlemen, particularly within the Royal Society, but drew responses mainly from brewers seeking to improve their production, and from a few with wider interests in trade improvement. Chapter 3 addresses the culture of ‘philosophical’ brewery instructors which sprang up in Combrune’s wake. The activities of Humphrey Jackson, chemist and drug- gist, illustrate particularly the challenges facing projectors who approached the brewery as outsiders: in the 1770s, Jackson’s programme of private brewery tui- tion drew charges of long-winded quackery and fraudulent artifice, including the promotion of toxic adulteration. By contrast, Jackson’s principal rival, John Richardson, established a more palatable platform for instruction, playing on his status as a brewery insider. As I show in chapter 4, however, this ‘practical’ standpoint did not preclude theory: Richardson successfully promoted quantitative, gravimetric interpreta-

tions of beer strength by shrewdly framing concepts in terms of issues which


brewers already considered economically important. Chapter 5 considers

nineteenth-century repercussions as such projects collided with fears over toxic

adulteration in beer, a long-rumbling public concern which grew ever stronger

as industrialization separated drinkers from the production of their drink. The

‘scientific’ brewers who analysed beer into unfamiliar materials, and declared that it might be synthesized from others, refused to speak for traditional ‘purity’,

and were the more suspect because the usual alleged adulterants were the stock- in-trade of their chemist colleagues. Nineteenth-century governments increasingly relied on scientific authority to cut through taxation controversies, and in doing so often faced challenges based on the difference between theoretical and practical regimes. Chapter 6 addresses an attempt to overcome this gulf by literally bringing chemical pro- fessors into a working brewery. The exercise, though not successful on its own terms, gave one of those involved, Thomas Thomson, significant agency in rewriting the rules of acceptable systematic communication on beer. Finally, chapters 7 and 8 concentrate respectively on the two principal modes of pub- lication on brewing in the later nineteenth century, treatises and periodicals. Treatises served a range of purposes, from the educational agenda of the ‘useful knowledge’ movement to the promotion of commercial consultancy or patent apparatus. By their nature, however, they did not function effectively for the communication of current research: growing interest in the practical implica-

10 Brewing Science, Technology and Print, 1700–1880 tions of material published in scientifi c journals

10 Brewing Science, Technology and Print, 1700–1880

tions of material published in scientific journals created a need that was filled, in the 1870s, by commercially oriented trade publications. Readers familiar with the history of brewing may be surprised that I ter- minate my survey in 1880, at a point when, some have argued, the interaction between science and brewing was still in its infancy. Richard Unger dates the ‘scientists’ invasion of the brewery’ to Louis Pasteur’s microbiology of fermenta- tion around 1870, while Harold Platt presents a ‘scientific brewing’ movement, founded on Pastorian analysis, refrigeration and carbonation, making its way via German-speaking immigrants into Chicago around the 1860s to 1890s. 26 In fact, these movements’ claims that brewing had only just now embraced science or systematic theory were merely the latest in a long line: similar rhetoric had recurred in every generation since the 1750s. 27 The microbiological turn, crucial as it was to the content and institutions of late nineteenth-century brewing sci- ence, wrote off an extensive body of prior work in analytical chemistry, statics and other forms of investigation. 28 The infancy claim was pressed for the last time in the last decades of the nineteenth century; thereafter, the credibility of ‘brewing science’ was secure.


the last decades of the nineteenth century; thereaft er, the credibility of ‘brewing science’ was secure.