Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Agricultural Statistics and London Porter

There was a good deal of cynicism from drinkers with regard to London Porter breweries. As the article nbelow amply demonstrates.

But there's more. Like a reference to the disappearance of domestic brewing. See if you can spot it.

At the annual dinner of the Surrey Agricultural Society, held at Epsom on Wednesday last under the Presidency of Mr Alcock, M.P., Mr Drummond, whose eccentricities in the House of Commons have gained for him some little celebrity, thus delivered himself upon the subjects of agricultural statistics and London porter:-

Now, gentlemen, with regard to agricultural statistics, I am of opinion that there is a vast deal of humbug in the matter. (Cheers and laughter.) I don't believe it is worth your while either to oppose or adopt them. If anybody wants to know how many acres of wheat or of turnips or potatoes I grow, I'll tell him; but as to its being of the smallest use to any living man, I don't believe one word of it. People go mad, and nations are going mad, after these statistics, and if you don't furnish them I will tell you what will be the consequence. You will have fellows sent round the country to take them, and then you will have to pay for them pretty smartly. That is the point about this agitation which I dislike. I think the odds are that the gentleman who will be sent round will be the barrister of seven years' standing, and that is a sort of gentleman who I think is getting a vast deal too much employment already. I think it is perfectly absurd to suppose that these agricultural statistics will be of the smallest use. You cannot give the requisite information directly after the crop is out of the'ground, for I defy anybody in the world to - and no farmer is fool enough to suppose that he can - tell how his crops will turn out uutil they are thrashed. It is therefore nothing but nonsense to pretend that any advantage whatever can arise to the farmer from the collection of agricultural statistics. Now, my hon. friend in the chair alluded to the tax upon ale. I believe I have advocated more than anyone in the House its removal. I am not only fond of ale myself but I positively believe it to be a national institution. I don't like the nasty beastly black compound which goes under the name of London porter. (Cheers and laughter.) And yet, although I am so fond of ale, I know, I believe but one single house in the whole county of Surrey where good ale is to be had. (Laughter ). A little while ago we had a song about the golden days when there was ale in the cottage and ale in the hall, but I candidly confess that I have never seen any ale in the cottage since I was a child. And there are people who say, "Don't drink beer." Beer, forsooth ! Why, there's hardly any one in the country who knows what beer is now. If we were to shut up all the brewers in London in a room, and give them nothing but malt and hops, I don't suppose that all the malt and hops in the world would enable them to turn out that nasty black stuff they call porter. I recently got out of a friend of mine how much malt was used to a hogshead of liquor in the great London porter breweries. I dare say most of you - at all events some of you - remember the time when it was thought a point of honour never to send the great barley rake into a field to clean it until after the labourer had been there to glean, so as to brew himself a little beer. Some of that beer I have tasted, and certainly it was not very strong. The proportion of malt put into a hogshead - I don't mean to say the labourer brewed a hogshead, or anything like it - but the proportion of malt he put in was six bushels; the farmer brewed eight and the gentleman ten or twelve. But what do you think the proportion of malt put into the London porter is? Two bushels. (Loud laughter.) Now, I was telling this to a friend of mine in the House of Commons who is a capital brewer himself, and I wanted to pump out of him how much he put in his. (Laughter.) He would not tell me that; but he said, "I'll send you a dozen in a present." And he did send a dozen, and very good it was. "But," said I, "don't it appear to be very strong?" " Well," replied he, "I'm a good deal accustomed to go out dear-stalking, shooting, and sporting in the Highlands; I always drink it, and I never finds it affects me." (Laughter.) I fear we shall never get the malt-tax off for the benefit of the farmers unless there is a very strong effort made. (Cheers, and a cry of "Bravo!") Now what's the use of crying "Bravo, bravo." unless you come up with petitions and remonstrances and back me in the House. Gentlemen, I believe this question of beer presses as much upon the morals as the comforts of the people, and if by the means of removing the malt-tax you can give them plenty of real good beer, you will do more to reform their morals than by ail the trumpery schemes that are now being so strongly advocated. (Cheers, and laughter.)"
Falkirk Herald - Thursday 16 October 1856, page 4.

Farmers weren't keen on the malt tax, at the time this pioece was published the way beer was taxed. They reckoned it lowered the demand for barley. I'm not quite sure I follow the logic. This is about the time when Britain's agriculture ceased being able to furnsh all the materials required for brewing. Britain simply couldn't produce sufficient barley and hops. I don't see how removing the malt tax would suddenly make Britain capable of growing more barley.

This is  the refeerence to domestic brewing: "A little while ago we had a song about the golden days when there was ale in the cottage and ale in the hall". It's harking back to a period when not only the lord's household brewed, but also agricultural labourers.

There were several factors that led to the demise of this sort of brewing. Amongst them were the technologicaladvances which improved the quality of commercially brewed. While in the 18th century there was little difference between the equipoment used by domestic and commercial brewers. By the middle of the 19th century most professional brewers possessed far more sophisticated equipment than domestic brewers. But simply, people could buy better quality beer than they could brew themselves.

The malt tax, of course, didn't help. It meant that doemstic brewers were paying tax on the beer they brewed, as the malt tax applied to everyone.

Better equipment also explains why London brewers could use so much less malt in brewing: they got a better yield from their malt. That isn't true, those two bushels of malt to a hogshead. It was two bushels to a barrel (on 7th July 1856 Whitbread brewed a Porter that used 2.14 bushels of malt per barrel, at a gravity of 1054.8, a pretty typical Porter gravity*).

The amounts of malt listed - 6, 8, 10, 12 bushels - are ridiculous, if you're getting a normal yield. That normal yield was about 80 brewers pound per quarter.With that yield, 6 bushels would produce one hogshead of wort at 1111, 8 bushels 1148, 10 bushels 1185 and 12 bushels 1222. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be able to get a wort as strong as the last two. Either their yield was rubbish or Mr. Drummond is just making it up.

And as for London Porter brewers not being able to make a beer from just malt and hops, that's a damn lie. Malt and hops were all they used. All they were allowed to use, by law (apart from sugar, but none of the Porter brewers I've looked at used sugar at this time).

Which isn't to say that there weren't all sorts of things put into Porter. They were. But not by the brewers. Publicans were the true culprits. Funnily enough, 1856 is a time when publicans were pretty much forced to adulterate, or at least water, their beer. The malt tax had increased to pay for the Crimean War, putting up the wholesale price of Porter. Drinkers, however, refused to pay more for their beer. Publicans were in the crazy position of selling Porter for the same price it cost them. They only way they could survive was to adulterate their beer.

* Whitbread brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/09/050.

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