I usually give some idea of the cost of the book from a single supplier. There is no particular significance to this, the chosen source simply being the cheapest I could find with minimum searching of the interweb on the date of the original posting.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Practical Brewing
E R Southby,3rd Edition, ed C H Jolliffe

The Brewing Trade Review, 1895
HB, 391pp, 11 pages of trade adverts

Long out of print, this book is sometimes available from the usual second hand sources. Also now as a PoD paperback for about £20.

Reviewed July 2009

Southby was a consulting brewer of experience and certainly believed himself to be an authority on all aspects of his trade. He was no shrinking violet and his character comes over very strongly through his writing style.

This was, arguably, the glory days of british brewing. Porter was still a significant style, stock ale was widely available and running beers were considered a necessary evil. Yeast and it's role in fermentation was well understood, although Pasteur's work was sufficiently recent that it has to be briefly discussed in the text rather than being taken as read.

This is a thoroughly scientific, detailed text and many of the methods that are described have recognisably been modified into those that small scale brewers use today. All aspect of the brewing process are covered, both theoretically and practically.

For me the book really comes alive when Southby describes the brewing process. I was intrigued to read that Southby is not a great lover of the tower brewery but advocates the use a horizontal arrangement with the extensive use of pumps (and I didn't realise there where so many types of pump). There is plenty of in-depth information on mashing including temperature stepping, decoction, the Pigeon converter and what we would now call RIMS. Fermentation is similarly covered in detail with cleansing, skimming and stone squares fully explained. Puncheons & Burton unions are described. All through this section I kept thinking, "I reckon I could build one of those". Oh! the curse of the craft brewing tinker.

There are a few areas that seem surprisingly outmoded in this scientifically based work. Some of the materials used, especially the extensive use of wood to fabricate various brewing vessels, seem very old fashioned compared to much of the rest of the descriptions of the brewery and brewing process. Southby is very strong on the importance of cleanliness which was clearly a significant problem in a brewery that utilised a lot of wooden equipment. He is very keen on the use of hot water and, especially, steam to clean and disinfect equipment and pipework, along with a long list of unpleasant chemicals for other uses.

Noticeable by its absence is the term pH. Of course this is because Sørensen did not introduce the concept until 1909. This makes the descriptions of how to control mash acidity rather clumsy and long winded. Mash acidity is one of those topics that can be rather confusing but, trust me, brewing is far easier to describe using the concept of pH!

Another area that seems at odds with modern thinking is the oxygenation of hot wort in the copper. Southby is insistent that there should be full ebullition during the boil so that oxygen is taken up as much as possible. Hot side aeration not withstanding, although we would agree that a full rolling boil (and them some) is a necessity it is now recommended to encourage various chemical reactions such as isomerisation of hop components rather than to increase the uptake of air. Still we are back on track with the aeration of cold bitter wort which is much more in line with the modern concept.

I may have given the impression that this book is totally out of date, which it is in some ways but it was written at the time when the "mystery and art of brewing" had become the "science of brewing". A surprising amount of the advice given is totally in agreement with our current understanding of the brewing process. I am sure that much of this information, especially that on mashing and fermentation, could be adapted to our use with interesting results.

One area struck a discordant note with me. Southby is not adverse to utilising surprisingly large proportions of non-malted adjuncts and is clearly very taken with the, then quite new, Pigeon convertor which I find a little odd because most the work is a directed at improving quality. I suppose we are seeing the seeds of the accountant led, commercial brewing process that we are "enjoying" today. A pint of InBev corn syrup and maize extract anyone?

This book often amuses me. I have mentioned the writing style already but I also love the way Southby isn't quite sure if he wants in insure something or ensure it and, frankly I don't think he cares—after all Shakespeare couldn't even spell his name and he did OK. Southby clearly enjoys the word ebullition and uses it whenever possible. And I have learnt never to place one vessel above another ever again. From now on I am going to place it so that it commands the lower vessel. As I mentioned above Southby is not slow in coming forward. Several times throughout the book whilst describing a crucial stage in the process our hero tells us that the best device to use is use is "Southby's patent widget". But to be fair it isn't always his device. Oh no, on occasion it is his brother's patent widget. Keep it in the family.

My copy of the book is very well bound in the Victorian manner and printed on high quality paper. The typography and printing are good.

If you can get hold of this book I thoroughly recommend it, especially if you are interested in the history of UK brewing or want an insight into the beer of our great-grandfathers. It certainly isn't a dull, dusty text book. Actually it's a rather good read. And hopefully it will encourage you to brew some historically informed beer using some new (or rather, old) techniques.

July 2012 update. This book is now available as a POD paperback facsimile for about £20.


  1. There I was thinking that my horizontally arranged brewery was ever so modern and yet it turns out it's about 100 years behind the times! Interesting review Michael. I must try and find a copy of this.

  2. There's nothing new under the sun!

    We imagine that the tower brewery design is an ideal one, which is why there are so many about the place. And obviously they offered a number of advantages but my pet idea is that a lot survived because they were so specialised. They basically couldn't be used for anything else and the breweries were stuck with them.

    On the otherhand if the brewery opted for a horizontal design they would need to build a set of glorified shed. Once the brew plant need to be replaced or capacity expanded the sheds could be adapted, expanded, or put to other use and the plant put elsewhere. Also the building wouldn't look so pretty or imposing so there would be less sentimental or emotional reasons to retain them.

    Or this might be BS.