Friday, 17 September 2010

The decline in Keeping Porter

Back to the decline, sorry, disappearance of aged Porter. I've got my finger out and culled some relevant numbers from Whitbread's logs.

I must say that I was surprised at the rapidity with which vatted Porter went out of fashion. Take a look:

Whitbread Porter output 1845 - 1867


Whitbread brewing records.

In 1871 Whitbread brewed no Keeping Porter at all.

I have photos of many more years of Whitbread's logs from this period. But irritatingly, I neglected to snap some of the pages I need to make these calculations for most years. Guess I'll have to wait until November when I'll be in London for the British Guild of Beer Writers annual dinner. I always make sure I have time for an archive visit or two.


Oblivious said...

interesting in less that 25 years that there was such a massive changed in consumers taste for mild over aged/sour porter.

Was it all consumer trend or brewer/publicans want to increase profits with quicker produced and turned around running porters?

Ron Pattinson said...

Oblivious, it seems to have been driven by a change in public taste. Brewers were very reluctant to give their pride and joy: the huge Porter tuns.

It wasn't just with Porter that the aged taste was going out of fashion. The same happened with Ales, where the lightest, freshest Mild Ales gained popularity at the expense of Stock Ales.

Alan said...

Is that shift not concurrent with political reform? SOmetimes I tie these things to technological change like steam engines (as Hornsey explains) but at least over here in the 1840s there was a real shift in society (and to a degree one that predates temperance) that I associate anything like this with external shifts.

Ron Pattinson said...

Alan, sometimes there are external cause, other it's simply a change in fashion.

It could be the taxation system. Before 1830 beer was taxed in three: on malt, on hops and on the finished beer. After 1830, only the first two remained. Which means the brewer had effectively paid all the tax before even mashing. I can understand how this would make ageing beer for long periods unattractive economically.

Martyn Cornell said...

As I've said before, we need to remember when looking at consumer trends over long periods that in any one year at least two per cent of consumers are going to die and be replaced by a new cohort - even more in Victorian times, when life expectancy was only about 47 years. So after 25 years around a half of your consumers are going to be new, even assuming static population size - and between 1841 and 1861 the total population of England rose 25 per cent. The trend from aged porter to mild was thus not individual drinkers changing what they drank, but drinkers of aged porter dying, and being replaced by drinkers of mild - just as, in the 1960s and 1970s in the UK, drinkers of mild died and were replaced by their grandchildren, drinkers of lager.

Craig said...

Would it also not make sense that if brewers were blending, to achieve the aged taste, that they simply need less vatted stores? The whole concept of blending implies, brewers would not have needed to produce as much aged beer as mild beer to acheieve the same results.

As far as why the aged taste waned, I think that it was more from the brewing side than from the consumer side. The entire idea of aging and then blending, seems really inefficient, and costly. It seems like a simple matter of turnover. If blending began as a, for argument's sake, 75% mild to 25% aged ratio, and then over time, perhaps due to expense or human error, or whatever the factor, that changed, to something like 85:15, or 95:5 and then eventually 100:0. If no one complained, why bother to continue the practice when they could produce the same ammount in less time.

Think about chicken (That's right, I said chicken.) The home-raised, barnyard chicken, eaten fifty years ago, tastes different than the industrially raised, diet maintained chicken of today, but how many people actually have noticed a difference? Over time poultry farmers began controlling their product for efficiency and consistency. Would brewers not have done the same thing, especially as population boomed and demand grew?

StringersBeer said...

Mortality can be more complicated than that. I know that children used to drink more porter than they do now, but I suspect that a lot of "churn" was in that part of the population that wasn't buying any kind of beer. Unless you're talking about adult life expectancy.

Martyn Cornell said...

Craig: if you read commentary by brewers in magazines such as Brewers' Journal and to parliamentary inquiries, they were definitely blaming an alteration in public taste for the disappearance of vatted beers. You might say, 'well, they would', but they weren'tsaying the hange was becaue they were making themselves more efficient or anything like that.

StringersBeer: yes, the demographic changes are rather more complicated as they apply to drinkers than the simple scenario I put up, but the general argument still applies.

Craig said...

I agree that public taste played a role, it had to have. But I think that the old adage of "Work smarter, not harder" also helped with the killing blow to aged beer.