Sound like a trio of Victorian lawyers, don’t they? Kieve, Tierce and Bubb, solicitors and commissioners of oaths: I can picture their brass plate, polished and worn, at the top of a set of stone steps, screwed to the slightly crumbly brickwork of a flat-fronted three-storey town house with a shiny black-painted front door, somewhere near Carey Street.
They’re actually, however, not minor characters from Bleak House but three obscure words linked to brewing, the first and least obscure being an old term for a mash tun, which I mentioned in my last posting about a 13th century Norman French poem describing the brewing of ale. I said kieve was “still used in Ireland”, leading Beer Nut, one of Ireland’s finest beer bloggers (you can pay me later, John), to ask: “Is ‘kieve’ used for mash tun outside of St James’s Gate? I’ve never heard it in the context of any other Irish brewery.”
I was originally going to write a short reply to Beer Nut’s comment saying yes, indeed, other people than Guinness used the term “kieve”, but the interwebs is an increasingly marvellous resource for historians as more and more information from the past becomes digitised, and very quickly, as I chased after extra facts on kieves, I was distracted by bub, and then off in pursuit of tierce.
Kieve first: the word can refer to any sort of tub or vat, and is found in the bleaching, cider-making and mining industries (tin and copper ores are, or were, washed in vessels called kieves). It was certainly a term used by English brewers: the Oxford English Dictionary (which suggests the word may be linked to the German kübel, bucket) quotes from the second edition of William Ellis’s London and Country Brewer, published in 1743, in which he says: “In Winter they ferment a little first in the Kive or Tun to put to the Wort in the Barrel.” An advertisment for the sale of an inn called the Kings Arms in Hampshire in The Times in September 1813 includes a brewhouse with 100-gallon copper, “mash tun and kieve tubs”.
However, 19th century references in the archives of The Times (my library card gives me free access over the net to the digitised version – almost makes my appallingly high council tax bill seem worth paying) to kieves seem to be almost entirely Irish-based (there’s one to a tin mine in Cornwall), though not just linked to Guinness, and not just linked to brewing either: Irish whiskey distillers also called their mash tuns kieves. A fascinating report from February 1820 reports a raid by excisemen and soldiers on an illegal distillery operating near Clonmel, with the kit seized including “ten fermenting vessels, cooler, mash-kieve, underback etc.”
In January 1840 The Times printed a sale advertisement for a distillery at Nun’s Island in Galway town, run by James and Patrick Joyce, in which the equipment included stills, three brewing coppers, seven fermenting backs and one “mash kieve” capable of mashing 200 barrels of grain (it was the Irish tradition to measure malt and grain by the barrel, rather than the bushel and the quarter, as done in England). The distillery also had “utensils for making bub and barm”.
Barm, of course, is yeast, as in barm cakes, but bub? I had recollections of seeing the word used as a cant term for strong drink by 17th and 18th century writers: that did not seem to fit the circumstances here. The Oxford English Dictionary (full version also available on the net via my library card, another win for the council tax) supplied the answer:
“Bub – 1. A slang word for drink, esp. strong beer. 2. A mixture of meal and yeast with warm wort and water, used to promote fermentation.”
So there we are: if your fermentation is sluggish or sticking, bung in some bub, bud. (I’ve reproduced this ad, especially for BN, as it also contains a reference to the sale of a former brewery in Castlebar, Mayo.)
In April 1856 The Times ran a small ad that said: “Wanted, an estimate from a person who will undertake to erect a brewery, capable of producing 2,500 to 3,000 tierces of porter per week on the newest principles. The above must include boiler, steam engine, kieve, malt rollers, steam vats, fermenting tuns, hop vats, refrigerators etc … Estimates for the above to be addressed to X.Y.Z,, post-office, Dublin.”
I was going to bet that this was inserted by Alexander Findlater, a Dublin wine merchant who founded the Mountjoy brewery to take on Guinness and the other Dublin porter brewers, such as D’Arcy, but the sources I have say he opened his brewery in 1852, four years earlier than the advertisement here. So which brave entrepreneur (or idiot) was looking to start yet another porter brewery in Dublin, then? Anyway, whoever it was, they called mash tuns kieves, more evidence that the word was in use outside St James’s Gate.
They also talked about tierces of porter, rather than barrels or hogsheads. Ever heard of a tierce? Nor me, or at least, I don’t remember having come across it before. The Oxford English Dictionary has, though, hurrah, and says it’s a cask equivalent in size to a third of a pipe, a pipe being 126 “wine” gallons (the “wine” gallon is the basis of the modern US gallon). The tierce (the word comes ultimately from the Latin tertium, meaning, you’ve guessed, “a third”) is therefore 42 “wine” (or US) gallons, 35 Imperial gallons, halfway between an old Irish barrel (34 gallons) and a British one (36 gallons).