Sunday, 31 March 2013

London Porter in the 1850's

I collect so much material that I often forget to use some. Like this rather good chapter about beer in George Dodd's "Food of London". I was so surprised that I'd not used it that I checked the blog a couple of times. Just in case I'd written something and forgotten about it (that does happen). No. Unless my searching skills are shot, I've never mentioned the book, save as a source for some numbers.

Time to put that right with a series of posts. Starting with some general bumpf about the big London breweries. And a few numbers.

"The great brewing firms have become almost 'household words' in London. A few of the breweries are carried on by descendants of the same families which established them in the last century. The following table presents the trade of these great houses in a curious light: the trade of a brewer being measured by the quantity of malt used by him, the following were the quantities, in quarters, supplied to fifteen of the principal brewers in the metropolis in three different years, at intervals of ten years apart: —

1831 1841 1851
qtrs qtrs qtrs
Barclay & Co. 97,198 106,345 115,542
Truman & Co. 50,724 88,132 105,022
Whitbread & Co. 49,713 51,842 51,800
Reid & Co. 43,380 47,980 56,640
Combe & Co. 34,684 36,460 43,282
Calvert & Co. 30,525 30,615 28,638
Meux & Co. 24,339 39,583 59,617
Hoare & Co. 24,102 29,450 35,000
Elliott & Co. 19,444 25,275 29,558
Taylor & Co. 21,845 37,300 15,870
Goding & Co. 16,307 14,631 13,064
Charrington & Co. 10,530 18,328 21,016
Courage & Co. 8,116 11,532 14,469
Thorne & Co. 1,445 20,846 22,022
Mann & Co. 1,302 11,654 24,030
"The food of London" by George Dodd, 1856, pages 462 - 463.

Multiply the number of quarters by four and you get something close to the number of barrels that represents. Alternatively, here some actual numbers in barrels:

Output (barrels) of large London breweries
1831 1841 1851
Barclay & Co. 330,528 382,047 419,430
Whitbread & Co. 191,040 185,084 173,311
Truman & Co. 199,486 314,474 401,863
Reid & Co. 154,631 187,722 215,255
Mann & Co. 101,899
“The British Brewing Industry 1830-1980”. T R Gourvish & R G Wilson, 1994, pages 610-612
Whitbread brewing log, document LMA/4453/D/09/024

There's one thing those numbers show - the rise of London's Ale brewers. The top nine were all still Porter brewers, but Charrington and Mann, both Ale brewers, were starting to move up the rankings and overtake some of the second division Porter brewers like Courage. By the 1870's Mann had almost caught the third largest Porter brewer, Whitbread, who themselves trailed quite a way behind Barclay Perkins and Truman*.

"When it is considered that two of the great breweries consume more than a hundred thousand quarters of malt each in a year, it may well be conceived that the working operations must be on a gigantic scale. These two are Barclay and Perkins's in Southwark, and Truman and Hanbury's in Spitalfields. The malt, the water, the hops, the fuel, the vessels — all are vast. For instance, Barclay's premises cover an area of ten or twelve acres, and have a boundary nearly a third of a mile in circuit; they require a hundred thousand gallons of water per day ; they have twenty or thirty malt-bins, each as large as a moderately-sized house; they have a porter-brewing room or brewhouse very little smaller than Westminster Hall; they have five copper boilers, each of which will contain twelve thousand gallons of wort or malt extract; they require six or seven hundred tons of coals in a year; they have many thousand square feet of flooring, on which the beer is cooled ; they have several square wooden vessels for the fermenting process, each of which will contain fifteen hundred barrels of beer; there is a tank, for containing the beer before barrelling, that, when full, would float a large barge; there are nearly two hundred store vats, the average capacity of which is thirty thousand gallons, and of some of them more than a hundred thousand — a quantity that reduces the celebrated Heidelberg tun to insignificance; they have seventythousand butts and barrels and other vessels, wherein the beer and ale are conveyed from the establishment; and lastly, they have two hundred of the finest horses in the world, to drag the clumsy butts upon the clumsy drays through the streets of the metropolis — horses, draymen, butts, and drays, being worthy of each other. If the working details at Truman and Hanbury's, or at Reid's or Meux's, were similarly noticed, we should probably find some of the items still more extraordinary than those here given. Messrs. Truman are said to possess four vats that will contain 80,000 gallons each, and store-vats altogether for 3,500,000 gallons. The store in spring has even reached 4,000,000 gallons at one of these vast establishments."
"The food of London" by George Dodd, 1856, pages 464 - 465.

London brewing was performed on a massive scale in the 1850's. But it's just when that scale was ceasing to be unique to London. Burton's largest - Burton and Allsopp - were rapidly approaching the size of the biggest the capital could offer. Neither would those massive Porter vats be around much longer. The mid-1850's is when Whitbread's output of Keeping Porter - the stuff - aged in vats - fell into steep decline. It dropped from 53 brews in 1851 to just 13 in 1859, or 30% of all Porter brewed to 6%**. They brewed their last Keeping Porter in 1870 and the Porter vats were ripped out.

"'Thirsty Soul,' and other writers to the editor of the 'Times,' maintained an animated controversy in 1853 concerning the price of London porter. Malt was plentiful and cheap, and yet the great brewers charged as highly for their beverages as in less favourable years. It was obviously a departure from the ordinary laws that regulate price; and there can be little doubt that it resulted from the enormous power possessed by about a dozen firms which monopolise the trade. The London masses will have London porter; the London porter is associated with the names of only a small number of brewers; and thus the brewers have a formidable hold on the beer-drinkers. It offers a curious example — analogous to that of the 'Times' itself — of the growth of a mighty power, something akin to monopoly in aspect, yet all the time open to the influence of Free Trade."
"The food of London" by George Dodd, 1856, pages 466 - 467.

The big London breweries - whether Ale or Porter was their main trade - continued to dominate London pubs until the 1980's, when the Big Six - three of which (Whitbread, Watney and Courage) bore the names of London brewers - dissolved into mist

I was intrigued by this "Thirsty Soul". It seems he was a frequent writer of letters to the press in the 1850's. I've managed to unearth some in the newspaper archive. Doubtless I'll reproduce some of them soon.

* "The British Brewing Industry, 1830-1980" T. R. Gourvish & R.G. Wilson, pages 610-611.
** Whitbread brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document numbers LMA/4453/D/09/044 and LMA/4453/D/09/052.


Alan said...

Not to cross pollinate but that seems to suggest that Taylor's in Albany would rate in the 1850s third in productions after Barclay and Truman. Are there any other brewers operating at this scale anywhere else at the time?

Ron Pattinson said...

Alan, is that taking into account smaller US barrels?

By the 1850's Bass, Allsopp and Guinness were getting pretty big.

Alan said...

Taylor was into the 200,000s of barrels per year in the 1850s. It would be interesting to know where they rank. Let me see if I can dig up the stats.