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The metric tun : standardisation, quantification and industrialisation in the British brewing industry, 1760-1830

By James Brinton Sumner


This thesis considers the British beer-brewing industry around 1800 as a case study exploring current themes in the history of science and technology: the imposition of\ud reliable standards, the use of instruments and quantities, and the nature of industrial growth. I begin by addressing Michael Combrune, author of the first thermometric\ud brewing account, showing the influence of Boerhaavian fermentation theory and the eighteenth-century agenda for "commercial chemistry" on his work: Combrune's\ud fellow brewers, however, did not generally rely on the chemical scheme of management he had established, developing instead highly localised thermometric\ud operations which did not challenge established understandings. Next, I consider the determination of beer strength, focusing here on the brewer John Richardson's\ud innovation of the saccharometer, a gravimetric philosophical instrument. I show how Richardson presented both the device and the quantity in which it was scaled, later termed the `brewer's pound, ' as offering brewery-specific advantages, in order to ensure its acceptance whilst at the same time denying its roots in the disputatious field of spirits hydrometry. Richardson did not achieve his wider goal of monopolist control over the device, but his project of saccharometric determination was widely taken up, contributing to a significant change in the composition of beer, as brewers moved from using traditional brown- malts to the saccharometrically preferable pales. This development is then reviewed in the context of an analysis of the identity of London porter, the staple brown beer of London: I investigate the relationship of porter's identity to the uniquely vast and industrialised plants which produced it. Finally, I highlight the ambiguous nature of appeals to `science' or `chemistry' before 1830 by discussing the widespread contemporary panic over adulteration, popularly assumed to\ud be practised by those who associated with chemists and did not pursue a `traditional' approach to brewing. This controversy was settled, I contend, only with the later\ud development of a common laboratory-analytical context between brewers, pharmacists and public analysts who were able to redefine the concept of adulteration itself

Publisher: Division of the History and Philosophy of Science (Leeds)
Year: 2004
OAI identifier:

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