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.
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 foederzaal – zaal 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”.
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.
(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.”