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: