Tuesday, 26 April 2011

India Pale Ale vs. India Porter

What I treat I have today. You may not agree, but hey, this is my blog and what I say goes, OK?

During my long and tortuous research there's a certain type of source I keep stumbling on: temperance tracts. All share certain characteristics: earnest, long-winded, blinkered, self-righteous, pseudo-scientific and unable to contemplate a contrary view. I've used few, mostly because they aren't very reliable. The authors don't let little things like facts stand in the way of their righteous opinion. (Little has changed. Modern prohibitionists harbour all the same failings

This is a short extract from a long, rambling article about Pale Ale. Most is - how can I put this politely? - total bollocks. The theory about alcohol sucking all the oxygen out of the blood so waste products can't be destroyed is an interesting fantasy, but belongs more to the Middle Ages than the age of science.

But, despite all its obvious failings, it does contain a few fascinating facts.

"We choose India, then, for our battle-ground with the champions of the Burton Pale Ale; and it is most assuredly not for them to decline the combat within these lists ; for among the great benefits which the Messrs Allsopp and their coadjutors claim to have conferred upon mankind, the greatest, on their own showing, is the saving of life and health which has resulted from the extensive consumption of their liquor by European residents in India, as tested by an experience of thirty years. Upon this subject, their hired scribe, the 'London Citizen,' becomes highly eloquent; the very profitable nature of the trade affording the strongest motives that a venal writer can appreciate, to use his endeavours in its defence:—

'Since the period in question, the consumption of the article has increased with a rapidity commensurate with the growing knowledge of its potency in warding off the deadly effects of climate—the pernicious consequences of exposure to the blighting heats and not less dangerous malaria and nightly dews which planted the seeds of death in thousands of our countrymen in the East, and which, in former times, on an average of years, dug the graves of fifty per cent, of all new comers within thirty months of their arrival. Things in India are changed since then. Fearful experience, dearly purchased, has brought its plentiful crop of knowledge, and, amongst other descriptions of knowledge, that of the dietetic observances which all must obey who would live to see Old England once more, and not die during their probationary " seasoning," as it is locally termed. The consequence is, that, at the present day, the scale of mortality in most of our Oriental possessions can be calculated at the Institute for Actuaries, for ordinary seasons and circumstances, with nearly as much precision as for the meridian of Devonshire or Hants, Improved dietary regulations have done much towards this auspicious change; and amongst the articles whose use has conduced to the sustainment of the stomach and the digestive faculties, to the abrogation of the old and gloomy proverb which associated " an Indian liver" with early decay and death, a most honourable and conspicuous place is assigned to " Allsopp's Pale Ale." To the increased consumption of this salutary preparation may, in great measure, be ascribed the presence amongst us of so many " old Indians," veteran octogenarians, the bulk of whom, fifty years ago, would have died in their prime, but who now survive to " sit at home at ease," in the enjoyment of their well-won wealth and laurels. Such is the verdict of the medical profession, and in that verdict good sense and intelligence acquiesce.'

Now, let us examine a little more closely into the facts of this case. We freely admit, and shall probably surprise many of our readers by the admission, that the extensive consumption of pale ale in India has had a most beneficial influence upon the health and longevity of the European residents in that country. The testimony to this effect, which we have received from numerous disinterested sources, is too strong and tco unanimous to be resisted. But in order to make evident that the real bearing of this fact is against, and not in favour of bitter ale, we have only to inquire, for what beverages has the bitter ale been substituted— whether for water; or for the stronger alcoholic liquors ? No one who knows anything of the past and present habits of Europeans in India, can have the slightest difficulty in replying to this question. The terrible fatality of the 'seasoning' process was due, there can be no kind of doubt, to the excessive use of wine and spirits, which were taken under the delusive idea that they afforded the safest and best means of keeping at bay the noxious influences of the climate; and the health and longevity of the European residents in India have improved, in the precise proportion in which they have given up the use of alcoholic beverages, or substituted the weaker for the stronger. For those who cannot bring themselves to abstain from everything of the sort, the substitution of a malt liquor, containing a small proportion of alcohol, is doubtless the next best thing; and hence it has been that, as was pithily said to us, a few years since, by the surgeon to an Indian regiment,' Since our officers have taken to drinking bitter ale instead of brandy and water, promotion is no longer expected to take place more rapidly among them, than in any other departments of the service;' a statement which recalls to our minds the toast that was formerly common at the Indian mess-tables, — 'A bloody war, or a sickly season.' The latter of these fearful occurrences has now comparatively little influence upon the chances of the Indian officer's rise; and whilst much of the improvement in his health is to be set down to a better accommodation of his general habits to the requirements of the climate, and especially to the greater care now taken in securing the free ventilation of his apartments, there can be no doubt that a large share of it is due to the general substitution of Burton Pale Ale for spirits and wines, that is, to the substitution of beverages containing a minimum of alcohol for those containing a maximum.

Very strong evidence to the same effect is afforded by the experience of the comparative rates of mortality of the three divisions of the Indian Army, which was published some time since by Lieutenant-Colonel Sykes, whose official position gives to these statistics the stamp of the highest authority. The annual loss by death, in the European troops of the three presidencies respectively, on au average of twenty years, previously to the date of the returns, was as follows :—

Bengal, 73.8 per 1000.
Bombay, 50.7 per 1000.
Madras, 38.4 per 1000.

Now, there cannot be shown to be any other reason for the extraordinary difference in these rates of mortality—the annual loss of a regiment a thousand strong being nearly twice as great in Bengal as in Madras, and nearly one-half more than in Bombay—than the mode in which the troops (to use an American phrase) are 'liquored.' The Bengal army, we learn from Colonel Sykes, has no supply of porter, but is furnished with rum, a spirit peculiarly unwholesome in hot climates. On the other hand, the Madras army consume large quantities of porter, and drink comparatively little spirits, what they do consume being arrack, which seems in a degree less pernicious than rum. The Bombay troops had only recently commenced the consumption of porter; and the spirit they drank is understood to be more wholesome than rum, and less so than arrack. We have since been informed by Colonel Sykes, that the substitution of porter for spirits has produced the same good effect in the Bombay army that it had previously worked in the Madras; the mortality in the former during the last few years being reduced nearly to the level of the latter.
"The Scottish Review", 1853, pages 13 - 15.

Those fatality rates are scary. I've rethought my plan to join an East India Company regiment. The odds of survival look shit. After fifteen years in Bengal, everyone would be dead. And that's without combat.

That's not why I've published this text, eerily compelling as those number may be. I'm not sure what the temperance author would make of my reading of his piece. Probably that it demonstrates the debility of the drunkard. It was the references to Porter that grabbed my attention. Poor, old neglected India Porter. Is it just class considerations that have focused everyone's attention on India Pale Ale?

The phrase "Since our officers have taken to drinking bitter ale instead of brandy and water" is revealing. Especially when compared to the Porter references in the last paragraph. "Madras army consume large quantities of porter", "The Bombay troops had only recently commenced the consumption of porter". They refer to consumption by the army as a whole and not just the officers.

As you can see from the table below, Whitbread exported a considerable proportion of its total Porter output to India in the 1850's and 1860's:

Whitbread Porter output 1850 - 1867
Year India Porter % contract  total all Porter
1850 11,037 7.95% 138,819
1851 5,367 3.89% 138,114
1853 14,043 9.05% 155,125
1854 24,180
1855 34,715 26.47% 131,160
1856 128,232
1857 132,133
1858 13,158 8.68% 151,618
1859 35,619 21.55% 165,284
1860 50,430 28.83% 174,929
1861 120,786
1862 3,750
1863 30,493 18.94% 160,993
1864 10,392 7.45% 139,472
1865 29,337 18.59% 157,810
1866 133,181
1867 16,114 11.67% 138,047

Whitbread brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives

Typical, the emphasis put on Pale Ale. Another case of only paying attention to the upper classes and ignoring the plebs. There's something else that never seems to change.


Anonymous said...

Somehow I suspect it was the water that got them, not the brandy or wine!

Gary Gillman said...

I too have encountered much temperance material in my perusals online (and off) of alcohol history. Obviously the fevered imaginings of some of the more outlandish spokesmen can be discounted, but the real social toll exacted by alcohol in Victorian Britain is undoubted in my opinion. It was the same atmosphere that lead to Prohibition in Scandinavia and America. Religious motives were only part of it (and not of course illegitimate as such), but other factors - what we would call today public health factors - played an undoubted role, IMO.

I don't in any way support Prohibition as a remedy today but I do believe in alcohol control and alcohol education. When I was a student in Montreal, alcohol was not available on campus; today it is; I think that's wrong for example.

As for the mortality figures, I doubt they are connected to choice of beverage. I think most people decide how much to drink and then take the necessary amount from what is in front of them. If you want two pints but there is only whisky to drink, that's about 3 whiskeys so you will have three on the rocks. There were probably many other factors including those connected to local diet or local infectious conditions that led to the high mortality rates mentioned. The reference to "sickness" as a factor in officer promotion is a tip-off here even though the (no doubt) obtuse temperance writer missed it.

It's true I think that porter was omitted from most accounts of the beery Raj because pale ale was the drink of officers and the middle classes, that's a good perception, Ron. So the journalists, and ex-Army writing their memoirs, tended to focus on that, not porter.

It has long been known of course that porter was exported to the Colonies, the whole history of Guinness FES attests to that albeit it seems to have been connected more to the West, than the East, Indies. Martyn has written in his works of the many kinds of beer, even some small beer, sent to India from the 1700's. Jackson wrote of the taste for stout in Hong Kong and the former Ceylon, etc.

It is good to see some elaboration on the story of East India Porter. I suspect porter, due to its capacity for long aging and pleasant taste when acid and sweet, was some of the best beer available in India.


Bill in Oregon said...

Ron, did Whitbread brew different porters for India the way the Barclay Perkins did (BP's EI Porters) or did they send the same ones they brewed for the domestic market?

Ron Pattinson said...

Bill, yes, it was called "Contact Porter" or India Beer. Basically a hopped-up version of their standard Porter.

Craig said...

bryangb, I vote for tigers.