Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/155

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
143
FERMENTATION AND DISEASE.

given partly because the yeast of this beer, instead of rising to the top and issuing through the bung-hole, falls to the bottom of the cask; but partly, also, because it is produced at a low temperature. The other and older process, called high fermentation, is far more handy, expeditious, and cheap. In high fermentation eight days suffice for the production of the beer; in low fermentation, ten, fifteen, even twenty days, are found necessary. Vast quantities of ice, moreover, are consumed in the process of low fermentation. In the single brewery of Dreher, of Vienna, 100,000,000 pounds of ice are consumed annually in cooling the wort and beer. Notwithstanding these obvious and weighty drawbacks, the low fermentation is rapidly displacing the high upon the Continent. Here are some statistics which show the number of breweries of both kinds existing in Bohemia in 1860, 1865, and 1870:

1860. 1865. 1870.
High fermentation 281 81 18
Low fermentation 135 459 831

Thus in ten years the number of high-fermentation breweries fell from 281 to 18, while the number of low-fermentation breweries rose from 135 to 831. The sole reason for this vast change—a change which involves a greater expenditure of time, labor, and money—is the additional command which it gives the brewer over the fortuitous ferments of disease. These ferments, which, it is to be remembered, are living organisms, have their activity suspended by temperatures below 10° C, and as long as they are reduced to torpor the beer remains untainted either by acidity or putrefaction. The beer of low fermentation is brewed in winter, and kept in cool cellars; the brewer being thus enabled to dispose of it at his leisure, instead of forcing its consumption to avoid the loss involved in its alteration if kept too long. Hops, it may be remarked, act to some extent as an antiseptic to beer. The essential oil of the hop is bactericidal: hence the strong impregnation with hop-juice of all beer intended for exportation.

These low organisms, which one might be disposed to regard as the beginnings of life, were we not warned that the microscope, precious and perfect as it is, has no power to show us the real beginnings of life, are by no means purely useless or purely mischievous in the economy of Nature. They are only noxious when out of their proper place. They exercise a useful and valuable function as the burners and consumers of dead matter, animal and vegetable, reducing such matter, with a rapidity otherwise unattainable, to innocent carbonic acid and water. Furthermore, they are not all alike, and it is only restricted classes of them that are really dangerous to man. One difference in their habits is worthy of special reference here. Air, or rather the oxygen of the air, which is absolutely necessary to the support of the bacteria of putrefaction, is absolutely deadly to