Thursday, 5 April 2018

Drink History: Size Matters ... Gauging a Gallon

'The more I see, the less I know...'

These words by the Red Hot Chili Peppers - at the risk of using an incongruous reference in a post about drink history - have sprung to mind on more than one occasion as I plough through the wealth of historical information on brewing online, and occasionally wander Alice-like down all of those other drink related rabbit holes freely available to all.

But this can be disheartening at times, as I realise that I have so much to learn ... and this thought means that I am often left deflated as I read something that's new to me which I feel was well known to others and is indicative of the wealth of my ignorance on a subject matter in which I have a lot of interest.

This also means that in many of my posts I tend to just regurgitate snippets of found information rather than trying to solve problems or add my own thoughts and opinions. (Although in part this is also driven by the fear of sticking my fat, bearded head above the parapet in case it is cracked open by a truth-laden salvo delivered from those knowledgeable drink historians that stalk the interweb seeking falsehoods and long-repeated myths to - rightly - take aim at with an arching lob from their Trebuchet of Truth™...)

Don't get me wrong I enjoy all the historical commentary and get immense satisfaction from all my research, and I've even questioned a few dodgy comments on other peoples websites, blog posts and tweets, but there always this nagging voice in the back of my sieve-like brain asking ... 'Are you REALLY sure about that ... ?'

So with all that in mind you won't find it odd that I never knew a gallon could mean so many different sizes to different people in the past. Sure, I knew that US gallons were different to 'our' gallons ... but not that Irish gallons, British gallons and even wine gallons were all different - and let's not forget mash tun gallons. I should have suspected this to be the case, as I was aware of British miles and Irish miles being different measurements in the past, but it was only when I came across a book on gauging - the measuring of dutiable goods - from 1823 that I had it all laid out in front of me in black and sepia (Okay, so I added the sepia...), complete with measurements in cubic inches...

So I'm putting this up here to enlighten others that didn't know - and who may care - and to allow those who did know to roll their eyes and shout out, 'Well, duh Liam!' at the top of their voices.

And it raises questions...

Firstly, is it true? Next did it cause headaches for exports and imports of beer between Ireland and Britain? Were all casks physically the same size, so that it was just the declared volume was different? When did this end? As presumably at some point English and Irish gallons became the same.

I don't profess to know the answers but leave it with me, as some answers may be in the above book which I have yet to completely absorb. It looks like I have a lot more reading to do in order to avoid a missile from those in the know...

(On that note, while reading through the book and coming across shapes such as prolate spheroids and parabolic spindles - coupled with the extremely difficult looking maths required - it makes me think gaugers would have made excellent rocket scientists...)



Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Thanks for posting. Strange that there was a time when Ireland did not use the pint. Were they serving Guinness in 4 noggin measures back then? Also the Imperial gallon, at 282 cubic inches is larger than the current UK gallon. If an inch is 25.4mm, a cubic inch is 16.387ml. So a gallon is 282 x 16.387ml = 4.621 litres and a pint (⅛ gallon) is 577.6ml (currently 568ml, I believe).

Liam said...

Not sure about serving volumes in the early 19th century but I will investigate, I suspect it varied from place to place. I'll check it out if I can...
And yes, it looks like something changed with regards to a gallon measurement at some point, providing the book is accurate of course. I will check on that too!
Thanks, Liam.