London: A Pilgrimage


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CHAPTER XVI - THE TOWN OF MALT

Among the earliest of risers in London are those who supply it with its beer. Having seen the opening of Covent Garden Market on a summer morning (and there is not a more striking picture by the banks of the Thames), stroll along the Strand and Fleet Street, alive with newsboys and newsmen, and home-returning compositors; through Thames Street, over Southwark Bridge, to Park Street. Your nose will lead you to the town of Malt and Hops. The massive drays are out; the prodigious draymen are arrayed in their leather, that would gall any limbs but theirs of Titan build ; the stately horses that are the astonishment of the foreigner and the pride of the English brewer are tossing their noble heads and pawing the ground. The barrels are rolling and swinging in all directions. Thirsty London is being attended to, with a will: and with perfect order, under the control of matutinal clerks and overseers. Before the ordinary tradesman has touched his shutters, lumbering processions of heavily laden drays are debouching on various quarters of London, bearing the famous "entire" to scores of customers.

Within the gates are the government houses of the town of Malt and Hops, in which there are upwards of forty officials-who direct the coming and going, the filling and repairing, the brewing and selling of a rolling army of something like eighty thousand barrels. Their domain covers an acre of land, and comprises several streets bridged by light iron bridges-that look slight as spider-webs from the pavements.

A journey through the town of Malt and Hops is heavy work. The departments are many, and are all spacious. They follow in well-considered sequence. The mashing, the boiling, the cooling, the fermenting, the cleansing, the barrel-filling, the storing, the despatching, are so many departments of the government; with a sustaining aroma holding all in one atmosphere and which keeps the mind in an unbroken train of thought even when contemplating the stables where the famous horses are kept as daintily as in the Royal Mews. Perhaps the first startling scene in the round is the mash-tun.

Mashing is the elementary process of beer making, and the object of these strange workers with wooden spades is to mix the malt thoroughly with the water. The result is an amber liquid, called wort-lakes of which we proceed to view, lying placidly in tanks. During its progression to perfect beer the sweet wort grows sour. On its way it is pumped up from the cool lakes into gigantic copper boilers, and boiled with great care-for here the experienced and learned brewer shows himself. The boiling satisfactorily done, the wort flows out into broad lakes, airily situated-where it can become rapidly cool, without getting sour; and then it gradually subsides into these prodigious gyle tuns, about which staircases are ranged, and in which you would have to drag carefully for the body of an elephant. In these towers, against which men look like flies, the wort ferments and we have porter, or "entire." I should explain that "entire" is a combination of the qualities of three beers, that, in primitive London brewing days, were made separately, and mixed from different barrels in the customer's glass. Hence the "Barclay, Perkins and Co.'s Entire" that is all over England, and the painting of which upon gaudy signboards occupies a distinct department in the town of Malt.

Looking over London from one of the high-perched galleries that traverse the streets of these mighty brewers' realm-with St. Paul's dominating the view from the north-our guide gently interposes the figure of Mr. Thrale, and his illustrious friend-that Londoner among Londoners-Samuel Johnson. We are upon classic ground. Where the coopers are overhauling hundreds of damaged barrels, and giving them their proper adjustment of hoops; where the red-capped draymen are gossiping in groups; where the enormous butts are ranged; where the smiths are shoeing the colossal horses, and where the 300 feet of stables stretches; Samuel Johnson lounged and talked--and worked at his dictionary, under the protecting friendship of Mr. Thrale, then owner of the brewery. The rough old Doctor was executor to the will under which Mr. Thrale's property passed into the families of its present owners, who have realised his description of its capabilities by extending it until it has become one of the representative industries of the world. "We are not," said executor Johnson "to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dream of avarice." The boilers and vats of the city of Malt realised £135,000, even when Messrs. Barclay and Perkins bought it.

How much would the boilers and vats: the drays and barrels, realise to-day ?

The potentiality of growing rich beyond the dream of avarice may not have been reached even now by the firm; but a good step along the doctor's highway has been taken. If "he who drinks beer thinks beer," this must be a beer-thinking age-for how many foaming tankards take their laughing rise in this town of Malt! How many hop-yards to feed these vats and lakes? A humorous speculator, who accompanied us, and sat in a little office where we finally tasted the various brews, suggested-"Yes, and how many temperance advocates do these stupendous men and horses keep going-the ungrateful varlets!"

"There's a good deal of 'talkee' yet to be done, sir," a sensible drayman said to us, flirting a flower between his lips as he spoke, "before they teach English workmen that there's sin and wickedness in a pint of honest beer."

And with this he set his heavy dray in motion.