You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Friday Flick: Firestone Walker's Burton Union System

Until three hundred years ago, brewing was a pretty small-bore enterprise. Much of it happened at the home level, and very little was what we could now call "commercial." The breweries of Burton upon Trent changed that when the region became the engine of English brewing in the 18th century. As they grew, brewers developed a process called the "union system" of brewing that involved a complex matrix of fermenting casks of ale. After a day of fermentation in a large vat, the beer was pumped into a series of connected casks, each fitted with a swan-neck rod that deposited expelled yeast into a capturing trough. The yeast and beer separated in the trough and the beer was returned to the casks. By 1890, every brewery in Burton used the system.

This was one point of innovation in a long line of automation, and by the 21st century the Burton union system was nearly extinct--only Marston's still uses it. Ah, but then things got a little brighter: Firestone Walker took up the art. It's a fascinating development, and this film captures it beautifully. Have a look:


  1. Am I not paying attention? Do we actually see a union system in the video? Doesn't look like it to me.

  2. Well, it's sort of a modified version. I believe they have some kind of name like California Union or something. Their intention--strongly inspired by Burton--is fermentation in oak. I will accept quibbles that it's not authentic, but the inspiration is sincere.

  3. Unions aren't a fermentation system. They're a cleansing system.

    If you don't have the swan necks and troughs it's just a bunch of wooden casks on a rack. Not even vaguely the same thing.

  4. Barm, it's not you. The idiot who wrote the caption ("It's a fascinating development, and this film captures it beautifully.") a. doesn't know what a Union system looks like and b. didn't bother listening to the video.

    Where would the world be without American brewers, eh, Jeff?

  5. Ron, "not vaguely" oversells the point.

    Mike, sometimes your nastiness is compounded by a kind of inexplicable blindness. Did you read the post? No. Did you watch the video? No. So once again, what you have to offer is name-calling. Such a rare commodity on the internet!

  6. I didn't read the post? Hmm. How then did I quote it? I didn't watch the video? Then how did I know you were wrong?

    Why did I call you an idiot? Because you posted a video without paying any attention to it and then wrote a post without knowing what you were talking about (as you can see from the other comments).

    A title you well deserve after this sort of behaviour! And again proof how little you actually know about beer, yet still write about it. Which is precisely why I have so little respect for you.

  7. Mike, I'll go ahead and avoid you and your nastiness from here on out, and you can go ahead and skip commenting on the blog.

    This is a nice place to hang out and chat about beer. People can even call me an idiot--and they do!--but not without offering something in return.

    As long as your contribution is limited to substance-free name-calling, I'm going to delete your comments. You can take it somewhere else.

  8. You can't take criticism and you won't admit you're wrong. I've been right about you all along. Good bye.

  9. I will add two things. First, you haven't offered criticism, you called me an idiot. So we can test the hypothesis once we have something to test.

    The second is that I readily admit to not knowing everything about beer. If you find me a beer writer, I'll show you someone who doesn't know everything about beer. I regularly botch stuff, and I regularly make corrections. Part of the reason I continue to maintain a blog is because it's such a good education.

    Again, you're welcome to offer corrections (sourcing them is nice) and even to call me out. But content-free name-calling is inappropriate--and I'm certain you actually know that.

    Engage like an adult and you can say whatever you like.

  10. Was hoping to see a video of a union system. Instead I see a video of an oaking aging plan. Cool, but not really what the article title implies.