Friday, 22 January 2010

Porter and Pewter

There's various types of tosh talked about the move to glass drinking vessels. Usually that beers became paler after its introduction. I'm not going to argue the toss about that particular myth today. Instead we're going to consider pewter pots.

Glass has one definite advantage: it's neutral in flavour. Pewter, on the other hand, is not and adds its own particular taste to anything which is consumed from it. Which probably explains the unusual attachment some drinkers had to vessels of this sort. Particularly for drinking Porter.

". . .  everybody knows that there are many persons who would rather not drink ale or porter at all, than drink either out of a glass. Their affection for pewter pots is so great, that one cannot help thinking there is something in the peculiar metal itself as palatable to their taste, though only put to their mouths, as is the liquid which it contains. One of the late Irish M.P.'s was so devotedly attached to drinking porter out of a pewter pot, that he rather preferred running the risk, when he went into any tavern, of being voted, as he used to say, " ungenteel," than submit to the privation of not having the liquid in a pewter pot. His plan for concealing his metallic partialities from the other persons in the room, was to instruct the waiter, when he brought in the porter, to place it under the table. This done, the ex-honourable gentleman bowed down his head, and took draught after draught of Whitbread and Co.'s " Entire,'' as occasion required, replacing the pewter pot with its contents, each time, in its locality beneath the table."
"Sketches in London" by James Grant, 1838, pages 126 - 127.
This text implies that not only was glass in wide use in pubs, but that pewter pots were very low class. Not something any respectable person would be seen drinking from.


Gary Gillman said...

This is interesting, and of course the status perspective changed, as so often in matters of food a drink (consider the history of oysters).

Ten years ago in London and no doubt still, the excellent Davy wine bar chain in London offered its Davy Wallop in pewter mugs. I bought a mug from the City FOB in London when the bar was still festooned with upright barrels and dark wood paneling (and sawdust on the floor I think) - a pleasing old wine bar atmosphere. (Later this particular Davy changed to a more modern design, but I preferred it as it was).

And in truth the beer was very good in those vessels. It seemed to promote the particular fine bubble carbonation a good real ale gets. Almost a synergistic effect, in fact, and maybe the metal did affect the actual taste.

Ah the Davy FOB! Plates of roast beef or smoked salmon and the Wallop or Davy's excellent house burgundy! When you walked out after a lunch like that, the rain drops glittered and the big tower just north, was it Nelson`s Column, always seemed to do a Pisa-like lean. Here`s to Davy, I`ll get out my mug tonight and I might put in it my Sinebrychoff porter I got at Whole Foods` beer department in New York recently. That should give the early-1800`s Irish M.P. a run for his money, except no need to hide the pot.


Gary Gillman said...

It isn't Nelson's Column (that City FOB is just south of), it is The Monument. City FOB is located on Lower Thames Street under a railway culvert. Here are some details:

I see the beer I mentioned properly is called Davy's Old Wallop, and a fine drop it is. They have a lager as well now.


Matt said...

The Monument is memorably described by Dickens in Martin Chuzzlewit thus: ""if the day were bright, you observed upon the house–tops, stretching far away, a long dark path; the shadow of the Monument; and turning round, the tall original was close beside you, with every hair erect upon his golden head, as if the doings of the city frightened him."

Gary Gillman said...

Very good, he said a certain amount about pubs too, famously The Grapes, which is still going strong on Narrow Street in the East End off the water. And what did he say about beer proper? "You can't taste it in a sip". He got that right.

As I mentioned, the Wallop was an excellent real beer when I last tried it some 10 years ago. It was brewed somewhere south of the Thames (this according to company literature at the time). I wonder if it is still good, I'm sure it is. I was always a big fan of the Davy wine bars.


Anonymous said...

The Davy's Old Wallop USED to be Courage Director's - dunno what it ios now …

Rod said...

Gary - I share your fondness for Davy's winebars. At one time they served champagne out of small pewter tankards as well as the bitter.
It may interest you to know that Davy's own the former Lovibond's Brewery at Greenwich, which houses their wine warehousing, wine shop for take-home sales and a particularly good example of their traditional wine bars.
Lovibond's seem to have been a quality-focussed firm, making a fine range of ales, stouts and porters, and of course the lovibond Scale was invented here.
Even if it's no longer a brewery, I like tha fact that the building is intact and still being fully used in a booze-related way.

Zythophile is right that their bitter used to be Courage Directors - they wanted to sell Youngs Ordinary, but Youngs didn't think they would sell enough and be able therefore to sell it in good condition, so they refused to sell it to them. That was Youngs in the old days when they cared more about the quality of their beer and their reputation than just making a profit.

Gary Gillman said...

Excellent, thanks. The link with the historical Lovibond's location is interesting indeed. And Director's was one of my favourite beers in the period mentioned, so at least I am consistent! I have a clear recollection of reading that Old Wallop was made somewhere on the south side (again 10-15 years ago), could Director's have been by then? Or maybe I erred. Anyway Courage's Best Bitter was a fine fruity drink too. (Earlier I was trying to say that there was a style of bitter from established breweries that was full-flavoured but elegant and refined, Courage's beers typified it and Ind Coope's Burton was another example. So today are the Fuller's beers and Young's too still, probably).

Last night I was just about to pour the Sinebrychoff porter into the Davy mug but realized the battered vessel needed polishing. So I opted instead for a glass and poured my formulation on a American stout I came across in New York recently called Fisherman Pumpkin Stout. We don't get something similar here so I combined a local craft stout and a pumpkin ale from Montreal, 2:1. This is one of the best blending of beer flavours I've ever come across. Really it is a kind of spiced porter, so not really new as I am sure these existed way back, perhaps purl was somewhat similar. The astringent black roasty taste fills out with the squashy notes of the pumpkin beer and the whole is informed with a bitterish minced pie spicing. If you get the balance right it is really good.

I was looking again at Davy's web site and they have an ongoing series of master-classes on wine appreciation. I wonder if they do them on beer too, even if they only sell two types (Old Wallop and their 1870 lager) there would seem warrant for such an event. I realize wine bars and pubs are two different things and in my trips to London I almost always opt for the latter, but still I recall my visits to London wine bars fondly and sometimes in fact the categories seem to cross, e.g., All Bar One.


Rod said...

"was looking again at Davy's web site and they have an ongoing series of master-classes on wine appreciation. I wonder if they do them on beer too, even if they only sell two types (Old Wallop and their 1870 lager) there would seem warrant for such an event"

Gary - Davy's don't do this, but once the Meantime microbrewery at the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich is up and running (from about the end of March) there will be brewery tours, Meet the Brewer lunches and tutored tastings there.
If you ever happen to be in Greenwich.....

Joel said...

Last time I was in London I went round the Fox and Anchor. They open early (bless them) so it's a good place to go if you find yourself a bit thirsty and are either on USA time or could care less about what the clock says when you would like a pint. I usually go to Market Porter under these difficult conditions but they close between 8:30 and 11am.

Anyway, long story short the Crown and Anchor serve a nice pint in a pewter mug. I noticed some reviews suggested they poured short measures but I suspect that is due to unfamiliarity with the geometry of the mug, and the general suspicious nature of some of the real ale drinking public.

It is a different experience, drinking from the pewter, but one I welcome from time to time. Particularly welcome when the alternative is Wetherspoons or tap water.

Gary Gillman said...

Well, I've used my Davy's pewter a couple of times now. One thing I noticed is when you pour cold beer in the pot, the temperature transfers very quickly to the metal, and grasping the handle is like holding cold metal. When the beer is too warm, perhaps the excess warmth transfers to the metal again, so that either way you end up with a well-tempered pint. This must be the genius of the pewter vessel for beer, since all things being equal temperature is the difficult thing to get right.

First I did a Black Velvet - not entirely successful, the flavours did not cohere, drat that rose Champagne but I had nothing else.

Later I tried a local microbrewery ale and it worked very well.

There is a kind of cold dank taste that transmits to the beer.

I will pursue this and the Sinebrychoff Porter will find its way before long into the errant City FOB mug.


Andrew said...

Sinebrychoff Porter is fantastic in anything - a great beer from one of the friendliest breweries anywhere. And a good source of swag - I'm still wearing my Sinebrychoff watch...