Saturday 30 April 2011

East India Company beer tenders

The East India Company did everything in a very organised way. Including getting beer for the use of their troops in India. Great for me, because they've left loads of evidence behind for me to gather up from the road of history. Much like my grandmother used to chase after the coalman, picking up any coals that spilled.

In the 1850's - a period when as we've already seen many were keen on getting soldiers off spirits - "Allen's Indian Mail" has lots of adverts from the East India Company inviting tenders for beer orders. This is a typical one:

Notice anything odd about it? That's right: the order for Porter is more than double that for Pale Ale. OK, that's just one advert. To get a clearer picture, I've collected all the numbers from the adverts I've found and put them into a nice, neat table. This is it:

East India Company beer tenders (hogsheads)
Month Year Export London Porter Export Pale Ale
Dec 1849 4,322
Jan 1850 1,420
Sept 1850 4,010
Nov 1850 700 50
Dec 1850 1,500
Aug 1851 1,500 1,000
Sep 1851 3,300 50
Sep 1851 6,892
Mar 1852 300
Jun 1852 8,266
Dec 1852 8,000 2,000
Feb 1853 2,526 3,289
Mar 1853 2,000 2,435
Oct 1853 8,520 2,839
Mar 1854 300
Aug 1854 8,841 3,247
Dec 1855 15,407 11,131
Jul 1856 11,414
Oct 1857 10,701 9,133
Total 46,363 23,511

"Allen's Indian mail and register of intelligence for British and foreign India" volumes 8,9,10,11,12,13,14 and 15

Fascinating, isn't it? The amount of Porter requested is about double that of Pale Ale. That's quite a different picture than the one usually painted of Pale Ale swilling expats.


Anonymous said...

I'm trying to get my head round some of the figures.There were roughly 60000 British troops in India many of them in inaccessible areas plus about as many civilians.Some months list over 20000 hogsheads which is a mighty lot of beer for those stationed in base camps.

Ed said...

Fascinating to see how proletarian porter has mostly been ignored compared to the toff's pale ale.

Gary Gillman said...

Very useful data. The class factor must be the telling one but I am reminded by something I once read of the history of cuisine, that right or wrong, cooking of the high-end type (elaborate preparation and/or choice ingredients) is what influences food culture at large and what is chronicled and remembered. The writer said it more pithily than I, something like, food is developed from the top on down.

Silly and illogical as it is, that is true of drink as well. And this may explain why porter died out in England but pale ale did not.

True, pale ale was (partly) eclipsed by lager, but it is well to remember that pilsener beer had an elite image originally.