Saturday, 9 May 2009

Watered down Porter and Stout

It's incredible what information there is out there. If you know where to look for it. Or, as I did in this case, stumble across it while looking for something else.

The section on Porter and Stout in "Food and its adulterations" (by Arthur Hill Hassall, 1855) is very revealing of the real world characteristics of Porter. As you've probably noticed, much of what I write is based on brewing records. Which should, in theory, give a true picture of 19th century beer. If it weren't for the fact that publicans were wont to tamper with beer once they got their hands on it.

The book has a fascinating table of analyses of Porter and Stout. Some samples were obtained at the brewery, some at the brewery tap and others from publicans. Let's take a look at Stout first:

The samples from a brewery of brewery tap range from 1063 to 1081. Those from publicans from 1041 to 1076. 1041? That's way too weak, even for Porter. For Stout, it's a total joke. Of the 11 samples, only the top four seem reasonable.

Now let's move on to Porter. First the brewery/brewery tap samples:

Even some of these look wrong. Having seen plenty of Porter brewing logs of this period, I'm pretty sure anything under 1050 has been tampered with. Of the beers from brewery taps, only the Truman and Meux Porters look about right.

Not very good. Until you look at the publican samples:

Of course, we don't know which breweries the samples come from. But there's still not a one of them that's right. All the Porter brewing logs I've seen for this period show gravities of 1055-1065. (See table below.) Some of the publican samples must have had almost as much water as Porter in them. I was shocked to see OG's below 1040.

"This diminution of strength in the beer purchased of publicans is only to be satisfactorily explained by the addition in many cases of water, this addition being no doubt sometimes practised by the publicans and other retailers of malt liquors."
"Food and its adulterations" by Arthur Hill Hassall, 1855, page 631

Couldn't have put it better myself. Someone was watering the beer.

More tomorrow on Porter, its adulteration and its flavour.


Tandleman said...

I makes you wonder what this adulterated beer tasted like. It would certainly have been flat as a pancake. Surely?

Pivní Filosof said...

I'm confused here, but afraid I will look stupid if I ask, but ask I will.

How could the OG's be taken from beers at pubs?

Ron Pattinson said...

Pivni Filosof, obviously they couldn't measure the OG of the wort. They'll have measured the FG and then boiled off the alcohol to measure the amount of alcohol. With the alcohol content and FG you can calculate the OG.

If you look in the notes and the bottom of the table you'll wee that the OG is my calculation.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, a rought average of the porter gravities from the pubs gives about 4%, similar to a decent ordinary today. This shows I think that gravity has not changed very much in practice for draught beer. When the gravity drop occurred later, can one assume that it was co-incident with a time when watering stopped or had ceased? So the brewers, if they kept prices the same when the great gravity drop occured, would have appropriated the benefit the publicans took earlier. I doubt much watering occurred after the gravity drop, because first, probably regulatory laws were tighter by then. Second, any dilution of already fairly low gravity beer would have been too obvious. So in a sense, it seems later, brewers simply aligned their practice to the consumer expectation and the draft beer picture in ABV terms hasn't changed much since the mid-1800's.

This would also explain the high reputation that the good bottled beers had until recently. The fame attached to bottled Hodgson, Allsop's, Bass, B&P must have been in part because the original strength was maintained.


Barm said...

I always wondered how 19th century drinkers could sink pints of 7% beer without falling over. It makes more sense if you can assume it was probably much less strong than that by the time it got to the drinker's glass. Is there any indication for how widespread the practice of watering beer was?

And is there any evidence that brewers knew their beer was likely to be adulterated, and brewed stronger to compensate?

Pivní Filosof said...

Ron, Thanks a lot for the answer.
I hadn't noticed the note at the bottom of the tables. Still, without your explanation, it wouldn't have made much sense.

Barm said...

Tandleman, my understanding of cellarmanship is quite limited, but doesn't a cask of beer generate quite a bit more CO2 than is needed to carbonate the beer? The cellarman could surely have handled the cask in such a way as to preserve enough CO2 to carbonate the greater volume of watered-down beer.

Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, it's hard to say what later 19th-century practice was without more evidence. No doubt I will turn some up, eventually. I do have some evidence from the 1890's, but it's for the wrong country.

What evidence from the 1920's and 1930's shows is that some pubs were directing slops to Mild or Burton, but not watering their beer.

Ron Pattinson said...

Barm, the text says that the practice was to add water and sugar. Presumably the sugar would boost any secondary fermentation.

Tandleman said...

My experience of cask beer, albeit not in the 19th century is that condition, once lost is almost impossible to recover. Mind you, there would have been much more active yeast in cask in these days. Who knows?