Do you gyle your ale after it leaves the cooler and finishes fermenting in the vat or krausen your beer post-coolship when it’s run out of the foeder?

I had a small Twitter spat yesterday with Duration Brewing after they said they were installing a coolship and foeders at their brewery in Norfolk. A wave of grumpy old mannishness washed across me, and I tweeted that we don’t have coolships and foeders in Britain, we have coolers and vats. Why use a foreign word when we have English words that mean the same thing?

Indeed, “coolship” is not even a “proper” foreign word, but a calque, or literal translation, of Kühlschiff or koelschip – in fact a classic example of what is called a paronymous calque, an incorrect “literal” translation, where a word in language A that appears similar to a word in language B is wrongly used to translate that similar word. Schiff in German means “ship”, yes, but also “vessel”, in the sense of “container” (as in “cooking vessel”, and “fermentation vessel”). So Kühlschiff and its Dutch equivalent, koelschip, should be literally translated as “cool-vessel”, not “coolship”.


However, we already have an excellent translation for Kühlschiff into English: “cooler”. What a German brewer calls a Kühlschiff, and a Dutch or Flemish brewer a koelschip, a British brewer calls a cooler. I have stood next to the koelschip at the top of the Halve Maan brewery in Bruges, and next to the cooler at the top of the Hook Norton brewery in the Cotswolds, and they are identical vessels. (Well, except that the Belgian one is as gloriously shiny as a very large new penny and the English one was dull, dirty and covered in turquoise-blue streaks, but apart from that …) A cooler in a brewery is exactly the same as een koelschip in een brouwerij or ein Kühlschiff in einer Brauerei.

At the top of the Haalve Maan brewery in Bruges: in the UK this would be a cooler

As for “foeder”, let me quote from the Dutch Wikipedia entry on that fine Belgian brewery, Rodenbach:

“Het aanvankelijk bovengistende bier rijpt in grote eikenhouten vaten (‘foeders’) en krijgt daar door gewenste infectie met de melkzuurbacterie een licht zurige smaak.”*

You don’t, I think, need to actually speak Dutch to understand that it’s saying THE NORMAL DUTCH WORD FOR THE SPECIALIST BREWERY TERM “FOEDERS” IS VATS. Sorry, got a bit shouty there.  So even in Dutch, the words foeder and vat are synonyms. And since we already have the word vat in English, we don’t need to import the word foeder.

Duration Brewing (and as the brother of another Norfolk brewer I would like to wish them every good success in their new venture – I hope to try their beer soon) tried to defend themselves by insisting: “Vat means long-term storage, foeder means primary or long-term fermentation, which is what we plan to do. Cooler means cool your wort, much like both Germans and Brits did and still do, not a koelschip for inoculation like Belgian brewing.” Multiple problems there: while SOME Belgian brewers now use their koelschepen for wild yeast inoculation, ALL Belgian brewers once, at least, used their koelschepen for what they were designed to do, as coolers, for cooling their wort. And as we’ve seen, in its home language foeder is another, and more obscure word for “vat”. In addition we’ve talked about “fermentation vats” in English since at least the 18th century: English brewers built hundreds, probably thousands of vats for the long-term maturation of beer, mostly porter, during which maturation that beer underwent a slow secondary fermentation. So “vat” has been used in English for centuries as the word for a vessel in which beer undergoes a long-term fermentation. So has “tun – and another synonym for foeder in Dutch is ton, in English “tun”: the online Nederlanse Encyclopedie defines foeder as

Ton met een grote inhoud (200 tot 300 hectoliter) bestemd voor het opvoeden van de wijn.

Which translates as “Tun with a large capacity (200 to 300 hectolitres) intended for maturing wine.”

Dutch also had the word foederzaalzaal is a cognate of the English word “saloon”, so in the spirit of paronymous calquing that gave us “coolship” for koelschiff, we perhaps ought to translate that as “foeder saloon”. The definition of foederzaal in Dutch, according to the online Nederlanse Encyclopedie, is

een (grote) ruimte, speciaal ingericht om met meerdere foeders (houten lagertanks) te herbergen.

Which means “a (large) room, specially equipped to accommodate several vats (wooden lager tanks).” So clearly another synonym for foeder in Dutch is houten lagertank, “wooden lager tank”.

At the top of the Hook Norton brewery: in Dutch or Flemish this would be a koelschipp

There are occasions when importing a new word into the English language is necessary because it perfectly covers a concept that English hasn’t previously had to have a word for, but now needs. The Norwegian dialect word kveik, for example, has speedily joined the English language brewers’ dictionary, because there isn’t a simple English equivalent for “Norwegian farmhouse yeast strains”. John “Beer Nut” Duffy suggests that coolship is a useful word because it means “vessel used to inoculate wort with wild yeast strains”, and is therefore performing a function that the word “cooler” doesn’t cover. I’m semi-demi swayed by that argument, but koelschip, from which “coolship” was calqued, doesn’t mean “vessel used to inoculate wort with wild yeast strains”, it means “cooler”. It’s just that some Belgian brewers used their coolers to inoculate their worts with wild yeast strains. So if the Belgians don’t need a separate word to distinguish between “cooler” and “vessel used to inoculate wort with wild yeast strains”, why do English-speakers? If the Belgians use the same word to describe something that can be used for two different functions, why can’t we?

(There’s an argument, incidentally, that no one has used against me, so I’ll use it myself: American brewers come from a tradition heavily influenced in the past by German brewing customs and practices – indeed, the major brewing organisations in the US conducted much of their business in German in the 19th century – and undoubtedly those many German brewers in the US translated Kühlschiff as “coolship”, so why should they not do the same now? That’s a good argument if you’re in the US. I’m not.)

As for foeder, the Dutch call foeders vaten (or tonnen, tuns), a foeder doesn’t perform any function that a vat (or tun) doesn’t and hasn’t: English will survive very happily calling a vat a vat. The giant vessel full of maturing porter that collapsed at the Meux brewery in 1814, killing eight people in the Great London Beer Flood, wasn’t a foeder, it was a vat. It’s not the Giant Foeder of Heidelberg (which actually, in Dutch, is called De Grote Heidelberg Tun [sic]…) As Ed Wray commented in the Twitter spat, it would be very odd to call the vessel at Greene King in Bury St Edmonds that is used to mature 5X a foeder. You may think me a curmudgeonly old Canute: I prefer to regard myself as a fighter against the unnecessary and pretentious expansion of technical vocabularies. We don’t need to call a vat a foeder, particularly when the Dutch themselves are happy to call a foeder a vat.

A coolship/Kühlschiff/koelschipp at the Černokostelecký brewery in the Czech Republic

(Etymological aside: the German for vat is Faß, and as Fuß in German became “foot” in English, so Faß in German should have become “fat”. In Old English the word was “fat”, but it was replaced by “vat” in Modern English. Etymological dictionaries will tell you “vat” is from the West Country English dialectical voicing of “f” as “v”. It seems to me, however, much more likely that the replacement of Old English “fat” by “vat” is down to immigrant beer brewers from the Low Countries, who brought us not only hops but words such as firkin and gyle. In Dutch, Fuß became voet and Faß became vat. That Dutch vat then, I suggest, replaced its Old English equivalent, “fat”, when Flemings and other Lowlanders began working in English breweries from the 15th century onwards. So “vat” in English is already a Dutch word …)

Final note: why does “gyle” appear in the headline at the top? For several hundred years the Anglo-Irish word for “adding some fresh still-fermenting wort to your beer to give it extra carbonation” was “gyling”. As that practice died out, in the 1960s in Ireland, long before in Britain, so the word – originally Dutch, as it happens, and doubtless imported because we didn’t have an equivalent word in English – disappeared. When the practice reappeared, it came in via the US under the name “krausening”, from a German word meaning, roughly, “fizzy”. I’d like to see brewers in these islands (nod to Irish sensibilities in difficult times there) reject “krausening” for “gyling”.

*But if you don’t speak Dutch and can’t work it out, it says: “The initially fermented beer matures in large oak vats (‘foeders’) and gets a slightly sour taste due to the desired infection with the lactic acid bacterium.”

17 thoughts on “Do you gyle your ale after it leaves the cooler and finishes fermenting in the vat or krausen your beer post-coolship when it’s run out of the foeder?”

  1. You left out the bit about how you “try not to be prescriptivist about language, but…” It’s not that you are at all mistaken about origins or past use, it’s just that language doesn’t care what you do with your old 78s.

    1. Prescriptivists are hung up on grammar. This is a rant about vocabulary. I’m not saying coolship or foeder are wrong, I’m saying they’re not needed.

  2. I think you are right to call it out. I can’t help thinking it’s all part of a wider cultural war going on in the UK at the moment. It’s not necessarily true of Duration Brewing specifically, but I could see how some people might see the use of European terms as progressive and modern where English technical terms are fuddy-duddy or nostalgic. And the irony is that ‘craft’ is arguably itself partly a nostalgic attempt to hearken back to better times.

  3. Regarding the Belgian use of the cooler to inoculate wort: these are used the exact same way as similar coolers in the UK, the Czech Republic, Germany, etc etc. The non-Belgian ones are not generally held to inoculate the wort. Why do we then think the Belgian coolers inoculate the wort? (Note: microbiological analysis of fermenting lambic and brewery air failed to find the key organisms in the air, so the scientists doubt they come from the air.)

    I think what you’re seeing here is that the new wave of breweries inspired by US-style microbrewing are developing their own terminology because their point of reference is not British breweries, but foreign ones. So they adopt the foreign terminology, probably in large part because they are ignorant of the British terminology.

    In other words, this linguistic shift mirrors a cultural shift. These breweries are not really British at heart, and so they don’t use British words.

    The same thing has happened twice in Norway, which offers an interesting parallel.

    Originally, there was only farmhouse brewers, and these have their own terminology for absolutely everything in the malting and brewing processes.

    Then, in the late 19th century industrial lager breweries came to Norway. They adopted some of the Norwegian words like “meske” for mash, and “vørter” for wort, but in many cases they took foreign words or even made their own. So, for them, the lauter tun is a “silkar”. Even though Norwegians had already called it “rost” for at least a millennium. The reason is obviously similar: they were adopting German brewing and did not represent any continuation of the Norwegian tradition.

    Today, we have the craft brewers and modern home brewers, and these have done the same: they create their own terminology, mostly adopted from English-speaking craft brewing. So their lauter tun is called “lauter tun”, even though we already have two Norwegian words for it. They don’t know these words, though.

    But again the cultural shift and borrowing from abroad creates a linguistic shift.

    For me this causes problems sometimes. I talk about farmhouse brewing and use the word “rost” for the lauter tun as if all brewers know it, but that’s not the case at all.

    And of course it feels both awkward and sad to say “lauter tun” instead of “rost”. The latter is not just more Norwegian; it’s also simply a much better word. “Lauter tun” is an ugly mix of German and English that’s really confusing to pronounce for a Norwegian.

    But the forces that change our languages are usually much too powerful for us to resist, or even influence.

    1. Hey Lars,
      Figured Id respond a little bit to your comment – though yes I am one of those who crafty English speakers. We use Lauter tun because well its a lauter tun. At the place I work all officially correspondence is in nynorsk we use words like silkar and rost (side note I used that in Oslo once and got told off for it being not right by a Norwegian brewer at the event – dialect difference)- We use the word rost when using juniper or making a rost, silkar we use for when its an actual silkar – my bosses homebrew equipment includes a silkar. A lauter tun is a technical piece of kit, its not a normal mash tun or a silkar because in reality it shares very little with those things. This is true for most of the equipment modern breweries use. A CCT for example is not a gjæringskar its a CCT. It has more than one true function and in fact may never actually be used as one.

      Interesting point with the Norwegian brewing industry. The vast majority of family brewers are German influenced or trained there – Mack is a good example though this is true for almost all of Scandinavia.

      Though both Norwegian and English struggle with new terms being used. Whirlpool is one that most people dont think of. Created in Canada it is now almost ubiquitous in breweries worldwide and is almost always merely referred to as a whirlpool.
      .
      Cheers.

  4. Well, the reason to call a koelschip a koelschip and not a cooler is much more driven by the fact there are many different cooling apparatus‘ around. If you want to be a bit more precise, the term koelschip gives a good idea what you would have in front of you.
    The same for a foeder. If I hear this term I readily see a large, really large wooden vessel standing upright. A Vat, however would lie on its side and would be smaller. Im the world of wine there are so many different words for a different vat sizes. And of course, there is a marketing element connected to the use of these terms. However, especially the british english is known for the variety of synonyms with a similar but not exactly identical meaning. Why being so reduced here?

    1. A Belgian koelschip is EXACTLY the same as the vessel in a British brewery called a cooler. And there is nothing else in a British brewery called a cooler. So “koelschip” is no more precise than “cooler”. Second, your concept of what a vat is bears no resemblance to what vats are and were in British breweries: they were HUGE affairs, with capacities of 10,000 barrels and more in extreme cases. So no, a foeder isn’t bigger than a vat.

  5. If language was merely about accurate description we’d all be much poorer spiritually. I love words like ‘sparging’ and ‘wort’ because they’re poetic and kind of mystical. I love ‘coolship’ because it sounds impossibly romantic in a way ‘cooler’ does not. ‘Foeder’ does sometimes grate on me, I’ll admit. But other times it sounds special and exotic. Vat? Gimme a break. I don’t care where these words come from; I care about what they sound like. I enjoy writing them and reading them and hearing them. If other people do too, and that makes brewing sound a little bit cooler and more interesting, I’m all for it.

    N.b. This line of argument does not apply to ‘Mac and cheese’ or ‘slaw’.

  6. Truman’s Brick Lane 1931
    https://spitalfieldslife.com/2010/10/29/at-trumans-brewery-spitalfields-1931/

    If you look at the picture featuring the cooling room there is a coolship at the very top, above an open heat exchanger. When I was a brewer ther in the late 60’s the coolship (as it was hnown) was still in use as a holding vessel feeding to a plate heat exchange.
    Regarding the use of the word gyle, ir was used to describe the batch of a particilar beer type, particularly as most brews were parti-gyled. For example a brew whic finished as 480 barrels each of Brown Ale and London Mild might well be 201BA, 202LM where 201 and 202 were the batch identifiers. Numbers reverted to 1 on March the first each year. On the other ‘side’ of the brewery one might find a brew consisting of 203SA, 204 KLPA, 205 LELA,206 LPA, 207LK and 208A. Parti-gyling was an art in those days.
    We certainly did not use ‘foreign terms – on one occasion I was told by the head brewer “when we start brewing French beer we will start using French 7’s in the Brewing Book, so take a small knife and remove the cross bars on the 7’s”!
    Conversley, in Speight’s Brewery in Dunedin nZ a gyle was used as the name for an open Kauri wood fermenter – e.g. the FV’s were Gyles 1-10

    1. Very interesting, Peter, this is the second confirmation I’ve seen that Truman’s used the word “coolship,” but its use in the literature seems to be almost entirely limited to the US before 1960, at least. The only use of “coolship” in a UK publication before 1960 a search on Google Books throws up is from the Brewers’ Journal of 1907, where a story is headlined: “A NEW COOLSHIP OR SETTLING VESSEL”, but the first sentence says: “At the Portsmouth United Breweries Ltd is a very fine new cooler [my emphasis] of 140 barrel capacity.” Unfortunately this is snippet view only (why?) so I can’t tell you what the rest of the story says …

      Yes, “gyle” was most commonly used in British breweries to mean “brewing batch” or “fermentation batch”, but the fermentation vessel was sometimes known as the gyle tun, and it’s fascinating to see that tradition existed in NZ. Any Kiwi brewers lurking here to say if FVs are still called gyles in Aotearoa?

  7. I take it Duration are a decidedly US influenced brewery? (Nice beards lads, very ‘craft’..) so my thinking is that this is not a a misappropriation of foreign terms but more a deliberate effort to not sound like fusty old English brewers, but more like their American hero’s? In this I see no particular crime, but I do agree with your perhaps wider point Martyn. That this is indicative of more of our brewing heritage and culture being swept away in favour of imported idea’s, that rather than complimenting our own history seem to need to override it.
    British brewing history is awesome and amazing, at the heart of our culture and progress for centuries. It baffles me that this is not widely thought more of, jealously guarded and revered.
    But then what do I know? At 34 I am probably already too old to get modern beer and well outside the demographics….
    And don’t even get me started on Bitter beers becoming Amber ales….

  8. Hey,
    Long time reader not very often commentator.

    Great article! Just a few points as Lars has previously mentioned in blog posts Kveik doesn’t actually mean yeast. It means more to kindle or start up (å kveike). For example in Voss there is a business thats called Kveik – its a building firm. Now in the modern times we live I often end up at festivals in Norway explaining Kveik which actually sounds ridiculous in some areas. As kveik is an old word which is in use but can mean something different. Its only a few areas where it means yeast. Bizarrely enough I had the same problem in Quebec while trying to explain Saison. Its actually probably going to get to the point where dialects that never used the work kveik for yeast will start incorporating it.

    Though I think one of the problems is as I’ve stated above in replying to Lars that more and more of the equipment we use is technical or designed to do something different from the original. How many vats for porter were designed to sour the beer? Were they pitched? Where as with foeder and its general new meaning you have an idea of what they intend to use it as. Vatted for example when discussing whisky is a legal term with a specific usage – vatted malt.

    Though as a general rule in English has too many words and tends to use specific rules for specific things. Most Norwegians for example hate the word Venison which seems strange till you realise they see it as unnecessary and too specific – Norwegians just add meat onto the animals name svinkjøtt (pork). In short as a general rule for specific ideas we use words from other cultures – cooking terms are a great example.

    Though as a general rule I agree brewing English jargon is fading. My first job in Scotland involved a lot of old brewing terms such as brew length – most of which I have not used in years.

    I suppose the question is do we need to be so specific with everything in our language?

  9. Though I actually think the word ‘coolship’ is a charming calque, the use of ‘foeder’ strikes me as rather pretentious.
    The word ‘foeder’ is indeed quite obscure in Dutch. Worse, it’s misspelled: it originally is ‘voeder’ with a v. In that form it goes back to at least the 16th century, and it was mostly used in the meaning ‘wine vat’.
    The fact that nowadays people write ‘foeder’ in Dutch, basically tells you how little it was used anymore. People just forgot the right spelling, and actually the variant with ‘f’ may be a loanword from French ‘foudre’, which in turn is from either Dutch or German (Fuder).
    So, with some leniency, you could use the word ‘foeder’ (or more correctly, ‘voeder’) to indicate a wine vat if you really want to.
    But I doubt that for instance the vats at Rodenbach are old wine barrels. And ironically, if not mistaken they were placed therein 1878 after the owner visited England to soak up new ideas for his brewery.
    The word ‘foederzaal’ (of ‘voederzaal’) is a modern invention. It shows up nowhere in historical sources.
    Oh and in Dutch, the giant wine barrel in Heidelberg is called ‘Heidelberger vat’. For some reason, some twit at Dutch Wikipedia didn’t bother to translate the English term.

  10. To add fuel to the fire (barely smoldering though it is), I’ll note that in the western US, most people I know call it a koelschip (they pronounce it coolship). It is almost exclusively used for inoculating wort; I built a mobile one that fits in a truck bed so I can drive it out to orchards for that very purpose.

    Thank you Martyn and Lars for the interesting historical tidbits, especially the bit about gyling; I learn something every time I come here. To further confuse people and add unnecessary complexity to language, I’m now going to rotate the terms “krausening” and “gyling” based on what sort of beer I’m making.

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