More about molasses

I realized a moment ago that I haven’t put anything on this site about molasses for a long time. I’m sure the large number of people who visit here just to hear the latest historical discoveries about molasses will be getting restive. So to redeem myself, I’m posting the testimony Archibald Richardson gave on 26 July 1831 before the powerful parliamentary select committee on the use of molasses in breweries and distilleries. It was following this testimony that Archibald conducted an experiment on the use of molasses in distilling, as recorded here.

Readers should be warned that this text is rather long and technical, and immensely dull for anyone not completely absorbed by their interest in the life and doings of molasses. But surely very few people fall into that category.


Mr. Archibald Richardson, called in; and Examined.

2104. WHERE do you reside?—At Liverpool.

2105. What is your occupation?—A distiller.

2106. In what firm do you carry on your business?—William Preston and

2107. Are you an extensive distiller?—We consume about 18,000 to 20,000
quarters annually.

2108. You have also been a brewer, have you not?—Yes, a number of years ago.

2109. Have you and your partner taken into consideration the advantages or disadvantages that would arise to you, provided the permission were given to introduce molasses into the distillery?—We have; and we have no objection to molasses being used in the distillery.

2110. Do you think it would be an advantage to your trade, as a distiller, to have the option to use them?—If the distiller is not obliged to use them, I think it would be an advantage, if he can use them when he thinks proper.

2111. What occurs to you as to the advantages that might arise under certain circumstances, from the use of molasses?—It gives the distiller a greater choice of articles for distillation, and it may help, in a season when the grain is not very good, to strengthen the worts, and to make them richer and better for fermentation.

2112. Have you made any experiment, by which you can reason by analogy as to its effect?—I have not fermented any molasses, except on a small scale, by way of experiment; I have never fermented a large quantity.

2113. Have the goodness to state the result of the experiment you have made, and from which you form your judgment?—It is more than 20 years ago, and I can only speak from memory; I do not recollect the quantity; it was merely to ascertain the fermentation on the content.

2114. You found the fermentation improved?—Yes, I found the fermentation answer very well on a small quantity.

2115. Was it a fermentation of molasses alone, or a fermentation of molasses mixed with grain or malt?—It was a fermentation of molasses alone; I never used them mixed with anything.

2116. When you say it would assist in making a richer spirit of unsound grain, what do you mean by that?—I do not mean unsound grain; grain that is light and has not so much saccharine matter in it as in years when it is of good quality.

2117. In seasons when the harvest has been injured, do you find that the spirit distilled from grain that is so injured is of harsh quality?—We seldom use grain that is very deficient; we generally get some of good quality and mix with it.

21 18. The tendency of that grain that is so damaged is to make a harsher spirit, is it not?—I do not know that that is so; it is not so good a spirit certainly.

2119. You would introduce molasses into that mash for the purpose of improving the saccharine matter, would you not?—Yes, if I could not get a better quality of grain at a cheaper rate to mix with it.

2120. By so doing you calculate that you would improve the general quality of the spirit reduced?—Yes, I think so; but I cannot speak positively as to that.

2121. Do you apprehend that the introduction of molasses would facilitate smuggling very much?—I do not suppose that the introduction of molasses would give a greater facility to smug ling than the present mode of working.

2122. State your reasons or forming that opinion?—At present a distiller may put in anything into the fermenting backs he thinks proper; there is nothing to hinder him if the officer of excise does not stop it, and he can introduce sugar or molasses with the same facility now as if he were working either from the one or the other.

2123. What deters him from doing it now?—I think no respectable distiller would ever risk his character and capital with trying anything of the kind; it is hardly possible.

2124. Is there anything to prevent his introducing sugar or molasses, if he chooses to pay the duty upon the sugar or molasses?—There is nothing to prevent his putting them in, but it is not his interest, for it is impossible to take the spirit away; the excise officer has every thing under lock and key, and he can prevent it, there are so many checks.

2125. You mean that he can prevent it after the fermentation is begun, but there is nothing to preclude his introducing it into the mashing?—He can prevent the spirit being taken away, but there is nothing to hinder the distiller putting in the ingredients.

2126. As there would be an increase by introducing it at an improper time, either now or hereafter, the check is as good now as if the permission were given?—The check is just as good now as then, and then as now; no distiller would think of adding anything of that kind, and risk his capital in the prospect of a trifling gain.

2127. At present, suppose he introduces sugar or molasses into the wash before the fermentation begins, inasmuch as the Excise have the choice of the manner in which it shall estimate the duty, either upon the wash or upon the quantity of spirit, what is there that deters at present a distiller from introducing either molasses or sugar in small quantities into the wash, for the purpose of aiding the fermentation of inferior grain?—If he does that he must pay duty upon the spirit.

2128. Is it because the duty on sugar and molasses are so high that he will not get an equivalent return in spirit for the cost of the article?—He could not do it without smuggling, and therefore he would never attempt anything of the kind.

2129. You are aware that a large quantity of foreign grain is annually imported into this country, are you not?—Yes, I have no return of the quantity, but we purchase a considerable quantity ourselves at the distillery.

2130. You have done so for a succession of years, have you not?—I think for the last three years, since the corn laws were altered.

2131. Knowing, therefore, that a limited quantity of molasses are annually brought from the British colonies to this country, for the use of breweries and distilleries, do you think that permission to use them might be very detrimental to the agriculture of this country?—I do not; if the molasses took the place of foreign grain it would be no injury to the agricultural interests of this country.

2132. Have you used in your own distillery much foreign grain of late years?—We purchased the last twelvemonth upwards of 15,000 quarters of foreign barley.

2133. Have you found it good for malting?—No, none of it; I would not have ventured to malt any of it.

2134. From seeing the quality of the grain, do you consider that by any process on the continent it might be fitted for introduction into this country, and afterwards malted?—Yes, I think it would be very easy to do that.

2135. There is a very small quantity of barley on hand at present, is there not?—I really do not know the quantity.

2136. If in succeeding years there is as large a market for foreign grain as has existed of late, does it appear to you it may become the interest of the foreigner to prepare the material in the way you think he might do, it to come into this country, and be afterwards malted?—I think it is very probable it might be so.

2137. What is the process by which you think the foreign barley might be prepared for introduction into this country, suitable to malting?—The process is very simple; it is kiln-drying it after it is threshed out.

2138. Would it germinate after it had been kiln-dried?—Yes, and it may be carried to any distance on board ship.

2139. Have you any experience as to the germination of kiln-dried corn?—Yes; I was a maltster for a number of years, and I kiln-dried all the barley I malted from harvest to the month of January, and it would not malt well without that being done.

2140. You were a brewer for 20 years prior to your being a distiller, were you not?—I carried on brewing and malting.

2141. Do you think that if the use of molasses were permitted: in the breweries-it would be a great advantage to the brewer?—I think it might be used in considerable quantities in porter, but I do not think much could be used in strong ale.

2142. In table beer?—In table beer a small quantity might be used, or perhaps a considerable quantity if the fermentation is good, but in strong beer the fermentation is incomplete, and the taste of molasses would be felt, very probably, in the ale; in porter it would not, because the fermentation is brought down much lower.

2143. Sugar might be useful in pale ale, might it not, if the duty permitted it?—Yes, that would have no taste.

2144. Is there a great tendency in the liquor brewed from molasses to turn acid?—I have not brewed from molasses for beer, and; therefore I cannot say; but the wash I fermented was not more acid than wash from grain or malt, or anything of that kind.

2145. From any experiments you have made, you would not be deterred by that apprehension from the use of it?—I would have no fears on that head at all.

2146. In making good beer, what proportion of molasses and what proportion of malt do you think might be fitly used?—I cannot exactly state that; but I think I should have no hesitation in putting in one cwt. of molasses to three quarters of malt for porter; perhaps much more night he put in, but I would not be afraid of trying that quantity.

2147. The molasses so used would save the expense of the present colouring, would it not?—Yes, I am of that opinion.

2148. If you used that proportion, do you think there would be any remains of the taste of molasses in the porter?—I think not; the porters, generally fermented, are attenuated down to 8 or 10 per cent. above water; and strong ale is very seldom below 30 degrees on the saccharometer.

2149. By what saccharometer do you mean?—By Bate’s or Allen’s.

2150. Should you have any apprehension that beer brewed from malt and molasses would not keep, if used in those quantities?—I would not have any apprehension of its spoiling.

2151. If permission were given to use molasses in the breweries, do you apprehend that it would increase the facility of introducing deleterious ingredients into the beer or porter so made?—I do not know what is introduced into the porter or ale just now; but when I was a brewer, it was very common to introduce different things; I paid a gentleman from this town 10 l. for different articles that he said the London brewers used; and I was obliged to throw them all down the river.

2152. What were the articles?—They were grains of Paradise and Coeulus Indicus; I tried them once or twice, and I found the beer injured by them; and I threw them into the river.

2153. Do you find that a drinkable beer can be made with those articles?—I think it cannot.

2154. Was opium one of those articles?—No, that was at too high a price to be used at that time.

2155. You do not believe that deleterious ingredients are used to any extent?—I do not think that any respectable brewer will use them ; I think they are more apt to be used after the beer goes from the brewer.

2156. Do you not think that if he is disposed to make use of them, he has ample means, without the use of molasses, for introducing them?—He has plenty of opportunities for introducing them if he chooses it; but I do not think they do it; I have conversed with a number of brewers, who had no cause to conceal anything of the kind, and they denied that anything was used by them; I think they are principally used after the beer goes to the retailer.

2157. What object has the retailer in using them?—To intoxicate, I suppose; to make the people drunk, that they may call for another quart.

2158. Can palatable beer be made from such ingredients, if mixed with other beer by the retailer?—When people get a certain length, they do not mind the taste of anything of that kind.

2159. What was your method of so regulating the heat in drying the grain, that the should be capable of germination in the manner you spoke of?—I was in the habit of drying at 120 to 130 degrees of heat.

2160. How did you dry the grain?—With charcoal.

2161. By what apparatus did you contrive to regulate the heat?—0n the common malt kiln, where I dried the malt.

2162. You used charcoal instead of Welch culm?—Yes; barley will not malt if it is not dried immediately after harvest; there is a great proportion of it that is soft, and that being put into water, is totally destroyed for malting, it absorbs so much water.

2163. How soon is it after the harvest, in a wet season, that it is capable of germinating?—If the grain is so dry that it can be thrashed out from the straw, and dried, it will malt immediately.

2164. Without kiln drying, how soon is it after the harvest that it is capable of germinating?—It may be kept six or eight weeks, and then malted, if not exposed to the air.

2165. What is the shortest period after the harvest that it is capable of used for malt?—If it is not kiln dried, it would require two months.

2166. It will differ in some degree. according as the harvest has been wet or dry?—It would require to be stacked for two months.

2167. What quantity of proof spirit do you extract from a quarter of grain containing a portion of malt?—That will depend altogether on the quality of the and the malt.

2168. Have you not stated, at a meeting of distillers, that you can produce from one quarter of grain, partly malted, 27 gallons of proof spirits?—I have produced 22 imperial gallons.

2169. Which is equal to 27 old gallons?—I do not know what it is equal to.

2170. Have you not stated, at a meeting of distillers, that you could produce from one quarter of grain, partly malted, 27 gallons of proof spirits?—I never stated any thing of the kind; I stated 22 imperial gallons of proof spirit.

2171. What quantity of proof spirits can you extract from an hundred weight of molasses?—I do not know that.

2172. You never have tried that?—I have tried, but it is 20 years ago; I never tried it on a large scale, and I do not remember.

2173. You have no reason for supposing that by using molasses with inferior corn, you would improve your fermentation?—I have no doubt of it. I do not know with regard to improving the fermentation; if I used molasses and raw grain together, the one would ferment quicker than the other; they ferment very well separately, and I have no reason to believe they would not ferment together.

2174. Did you ever try them together?—No, never.

2175. What reason have you for supposing they would ferment together?—Grain and malt ferment very well together; though they ferment differently when separate.

2176. You have stated that a distiller cannot take away spirits improperly produced, by putting molasses into his tun; cannot the distiller take away spirits from the end of the worm?—A distiller may do that once or twice; he will never do it again.

2177. Why not?—Because the Excise would soon get information of it, and he would be punished.

2178. Is there any way in which an excise officer who happens to be out of the way at the moment, can know if the distiller has taken away spirits from the end of the worm; has he any check by which he can tell it, supposing the distiller had improperly introduced molasses into his fermentation?—I think the distiller’s character is the best check. I think no man will think of doing anything of the kind.

2179. If a man was inclined to do so, there is no check?—If he is foolish enough to do it.

2180. You have stated that there would be no greater facility to fraud, if molasses was allowed to be distilled; would not the distiller have a better opportunity of putting molasses, dissolved in water, into his back, provided he was inclined to take away spirits from the end of the worm, than he could of putting new wort into his vat?—He would not have a better opportunity than he has at present.

2181. Does not the Act of Parliament prevent his having any molasses on his premises?—If a distiller thinks proper, he can introduce molasses or sugar into his premises now, without a chance of detection.

2182. How can he do that?—He may bring it in casks as barm, or anything.

2183. Do you mean fraudulently?—Yes.

2184. Have you ever tried any means by which you can ascertain the different quality of molasses?—I never have.

2185. You are not aware of there being any check?—I know no way but by the saccharometer, or the weighing the molasses; I do not know any other check.

2186. Were you engaged in a distillery when the distilleries were prohibited the use of corn?—I was a distiller when sugar was used.

2187. From your experience in the fermentation of sugar, do you conceive sugar and corn could be used together with advantage?—I never tried it; I never fermented any together.

2188. What is your opinion?—I would not be afraid of doing it; I do not know whether they would ferment well together; but I think there is no doubt about it.

2189. Do not you think the process of fermentation of sugar is very different?—So is the fermentation of malt and grain; they are different, and yet they ferment well together.

2190. Do you think that you would use the same quantity of yeast in distilling from molasses as from corn?—I think distilling from molasses and sugar wants a little more yeast.

2191. Do you think that you would have to use such a quantity of yeast as to injure your corn wort?—No.

2192. You do not think it would bring on the fermentation too rapidly?—No, you cannot bring that on too rapidly.

2193. You think the yeast necessary to work the sugar would not retard the fermentation?—Yes; if a large quantity was put in at once; not if it was put in as it required it.

4 thoughts on “More about molasses”

  1. Interesting. And quite weird in places. They buy 200 tonnes of barley, but don’t malt it? What do they do with it then?

    The whole dialog seems a bit weird, but maybe that’s what they were like I those days. Archibald seems a bit evasive about some things – maybe trying to cover up his dodgy practices. ?

  2. God knows! Weird is the word though. What were they trying to find out? If the distillers were ripping off the excise men? Or if it was worth changing the law to broaden the range of materials that could be used in a distillery? I can’t be bothered to try and find out, even if it were possible. (Of course it was in his capacity as an excise man that Archie got to know Rabbie Burns.)

  3. Really? Is the story of excise man Archie meeting Rabbie Burns on this site somewhere?

    I got the impression that the point of the inquiry was to work out if allowing distillers to use molasses (which could presumably be sourced from within the empire) would stop them buying barley from the European foreigners – particularly in the event of the foreigners starting to use the method that would make their barley more useful.

    But who knows, they all seem to be a bit mad – or maybe drunk? 😀

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