Saturday 31 May 2008

Did Porter become Mild?

One final post for Mild month. Some writers maintain that, rather than disappearing, Porter was transformed into Dark Mild. Is this true? Is there any evidence to support the theory?

I'll lay my cards on the table at the start. The theory is bollocks. OK, I guess you'll need a little more than just that simple assertion to convince you. Here goes.

What did "mild" mean?
In the 19th century "mild" meant young or unaged. It was used in subtly different ways and I believe this is responsible for some of the confusion over the relationship between Mild Ale and Porter.

In 19th century texts "mild" is used in two different senses. The first is to refer to a specific type of beer, Mild Ale. The second is to just young beer in general. So if you read a sentence like "Most of the new trade is for mild." it doesn't mean specifically Mild Ale was the greater part of new trade, but young beer. It's an important distinction.

Towards the middle of the 19th century there was a switch in public taste away from Entire (aged Porter) to Ale and mild. Not necessarily to Mild Ale. Increasingly, Porter was sold mild, that is unaged. Simultaneously Ale was becoming more popular. Specifically X-Ales. These were usually sold young as Mild Ales, though Old Ale existed, too.

Did Porter and Mild merge?
I can say this with certainty: not in the London brewers' logs I've looked at.

Let's look at Barclay Perkins. For a couple of decades at the beginning of the 1800's they only brewed Porter and Stout. No Ales of any description. Around 1850-ish they reintroduced Ales and built a new brewhouse to produce them. The brewery was divided into "Porter side" and "Ale side". They operated independently of each other and had separate brewing logs. It's hard to imagine a greater distinction than that between their Mild Ale and Porter.

For reasons I've still not worked out, Barclay Perkin's Porter was always called TT within the brewery. Their Mild Ales had the inspiring names of X, XX and XXX. My last sighting of TT in their logs was in 1937, when it was a poor shadow of it's former self with an on OG of just 1027. In that same year, they were brewing two Mild Ales, X and XX at 1035 and 1043 respectively. I can see no merging there.

What about the grists? In the 19th century the Barclay Perkins Milds were 100% pale malt. Their Porter was pale malt, brown malt and black malt. Not much similarity there. As their X Ale grew darker it started to include amber malt, dark sugar and caramel. But no brown malt (with the exception of during WW I), the defining element of London Porter. These are the malts used in the late 1930's:

Porter: Oats, amber malt, brown malt, crystal malt, roast barley, mild malt.
X: Amber malt, crystal malt, mild malt, pale malt.

To conclude
Dark Mild and Porter existed alongside each other for decades and were brewed from very different grists. I think that torpedoes the Porter becomes Dark Mild theory and send it to a watery grave. (Which is coincidentally what Porter had, a watery end.)


Jim Johanssen said...

I've thought that Porter was a mix of a Vatted-Ale (Vatted-Beer?) mixed with a running beer (maybe a Mild)before sale back in the hay day of the style. In your research, have you seen any records on how they aged the beer in the vats? Did they encourage acidic bacteria, and other yeasts and such to flavor the beer? I have suspicions that Porters were closer to a Limbic than an just an aged beer that we get sometimes today.

Ron Pattinson said...

Jim, The classic Porter of the late 18th century early 19th century was a mix of vatted Porter and Mild Porter. From what I've seen in the logs, two different beers. The Keeping version was usually more heavily-hopped than the Running version.

They weren't encouraging yeasts or acidic bacteria, but both the wooden vessels and the pitching yeast had brettanomyces in them. I don't think they would have been anything like as acidic as a lambic, but there would have been a sour note in the aged beer.

It's important to remember that the Mild used to mix with aged Porter was Mild Porter, not Mild Ale. It's a very important distinction.

These links should tell you more about the role of Brettanomyces in aged British beers:

Anonymous said...

Just to underline the lack of any true link between what we know of as mild today and porter, it's a little-understood fact (it's taken me a while to work it out) that 20th century mild was descended, effectively, from ale, made by people specifically called ale brewers, and porter was always a beer, the difference being that beer used more hops that ale: in the 18th century in particular, writers such as Combrune and Ellis were careful to differentiate between ale and beer, and used the term "malt-liquors" to refer to the two types together. Even in the 1930s in London pubs "ale" meant mild and "beer" meant porter.

Ron Pattinson said...

zythophile, you're perfectly right. But after the Ale/Lager debate I've given up on the Ale/Beer differentiation.

I've read that (I would provide a proper reference, but I don't have it to hand) that in London in the 19th century Beer meant Porter. The Barclay Perkins advert is revealing, too. The pumpclip says "Best Ale". No mention of Mild. Though the beer in question is XX Ale - their Best Mild.

Anonymous said...

Some time in the very near future I hope to blog at great length on the complete history of the words ale and beer, from the 5th to the 21st century, taking in Old Norwegian, Old Prussian, Irish, Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon, and proving (to my satisfaction, anyway) that the Oxford English Dictionary is talking sh1te in saying the two words began as synonyms ...

Lexie Pattinson said...

zythophile, great stuff. I'll be able to quote you.

Modern sources are really, really, really crap on the definitions of beer, ale, etc. I looked in "Malting and Brewing Science" by Hoiughm Briggs and Stevens for stuff about Ale and Beer and was shocked by the crap about beer styles. Very, very poor. In fact, some crap I saw in the Encyclopedia Brittanica seemed to have been taken from it.

Anonymous said...

Just the the other day I was reading this in M.L. Byrn's The Complete Practical Brewer (1852) (Byrn was American):

"These two words, in Great Britain and this country, are applied to two liquors obtained by fermentation from malt of barley; but they differ from each other in several particulars. Ale is light-coloured, brisk, and sweetish, or at least free from bitter; while beer is dark-coloured, bitter and much less brisk. What is called porter, in England, is a species of beer...".

I think even in 1852 the memory of the old, lesser-hopped, pale ale was still present in brewers' minds at least. This is why I think Burton ale's colour then was still light and ditto for mild ale for much of the 1800's as I read Ron's conclusions. But as pale ale (some made for India) became more hopped than it had been in the country areas, the distinction became less marked. And so finally mild ales became darker and dark/sweet, and the idea of light/bitter became accepted which really marked the end of the old distinction noted by Byrn. But mild ale (as known today - which includes pale milds or did) still shows a sweeter taste I would say than pale ale/bitter and porter/stout: in this sense it is the heir of the original idea of ale, I fully agree with that. Pale ale/bitter/porter/stout (regardless again of colour) are I think more the true heir of the beere brought to England by the Flemings.

I believe the citie called for beere because to sell drinkable malt beverage in an urban environment it had to be kept for a while and therefore well-hopped. Even a present-use beer (not keeping that is) would need to be more hopped than one drunk in the country close to the farm on which it was made or manor house or emerging common breweries.

In other words, the need to preserve beer reliably for a certain time, whether for domestic or foreign use, the hop being the instrument to do so, was the main factor I think in dismantling ultimately the ale and beer distinction.


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