Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  10 (1885), 666–83.

A Glass of Beer

G Pomeroy Keese



Relevant illustrations:

eng. [10]


Temperance, Industry, Agriculture, Race, Crime, Degeneration, Analytical Chemistry, Domestic Economy, Instruments, Invention, Adulteration, Organic Chemistry, Machinery, Steam-power, Political Economy, Education, Nutrition, Mental Illness

    Recounts how, soon after the introduction of German 'lager' to America, a 'famous trial' was held in which 'evidence was introduced to show that the beverage was not intoxicating' and one of the 'Old-time imbibers [...] claimed an ability to dispose of sixty glasses at a single sitting'. Beginning with the growing of hops, gives an account of all the processes involved in the production of beer, which has become an 'industry [...] calling for the highest perfection and the development of the latest resources in scientific discovery' (666). Observes that the increasing number of hop growers in 'California are the envy of all Eastern growers, for they call to their aid [in the harvest time] the patient red men, who [...] have not learned the crooked ways of the "poor white trash", [and] pick with scrupulous care and cleanliness' (669). Traces the 'chemical changes which [...] according to Proust [...] take place in the conversion of barley into malt' (674), before examining the various procedures involved in brewing, which is 'a simple culinary process, and a brewery [...] only a big kitchen and cellar with modern improvements on a huge scale' (675). Explains that the recently introduced 'saccharometer [...] shows by the evidence of specific gravity the proportion of sugar in the liquid' (675–76), and is thus useful not only to brewers but also to 'excise-men', who use it to determine the strength and thereby the duty of different beers (679). Reflects that when the price of hops rocketed in 1883 many brewers were 'tempted to reduce the quantity used, as well as to substitute hurtful or questionable make-shifts to such an extent as to excite the suspicion of consumers' (676), although it is 'probably untrue that beer is adulterated in this country to any considerable extent, in which respect there is a strong contrast with distilled spirits' (683). Notes that 'Baron Liebig, [...] like that other great chemist, Pasteur, gave much attention to beer-making processes', particularly 'in his Organic Chemistry'. Claims that in 'no process connected with the making of beer [...] has there been a greater advance in the way of mechanical or chemical treatment than that produced by the ice-making and refrigerating machines', which have both allowed brewers to become 'comparatively independent of any changes in the outer atmosphere' and extended the distance that beer can be exported with the 'frozen beer of Tasmania' being shipped across the British Empire in 'frozen blocks, so that in Calcutta they suck their beer instead of sipping it'. (680) Explains that the 'principle of the machines consists in the evaporating of ether, ammonia, or some other volatile liquid in a vacuum, and again condensing the same so that it can be used afresh', noting that the 'machines are operated by steam-power, and, by a singular paradox, the greater the amount of heat employed, the larger the amount of ice produced' (680–81). With so much technology at their disposal, many brewers 'now have some scientific education, and a technical school for brewers is now in existence in New York' (683). Asserts that 'English brewers are, as a class, the most wealthy of her manufacturers' (681), and 'Nearly one-third of her Majesty's revenue [...] comes from the excise taxes on beer and spirits and from licenses for their manufacture and sale' (682). Concludes that 'beer-drinking is the best preventive of over-indulgence in ardent spirits' and may indeed help to reduce the level of 'insanity arising from intemperance', but admits that a 'discussion of this question is not within the province of an article dealing with the industry as such' (683).

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