Monday, 25 March 2013

Porter in 18th-century Scotland

I'm currently delving into murkier depths of the newspaper archive, back in the 18th century. A time when the distinction between the letters f and s wasn't great.

Below is a letter complaining about the lack of patriotism that saw Scottish-brewed Porter eschewed. People will always find something to moan about. But that's not why I've reproduced it. The reason is what it tells us about Porter in 1770's Edinburgh.

"To the Printer of the Caledonian Mercury.
Edinburgh, January 9.
IT is with the greatest pleasure we perceive, that his Grace the Duke of Argyle, my Lord Gardenston, and many other worthy gentlemen in Scotland are now patronizing its staple, the Woollen Manufacture. I have of late been in several houses where these manufactures are carried on ; and could observe, that, with proper encouragement, great things might be done. I could wish to see our nobility and gentry pay the same attention to the article of porter, on which I have already said a good deal. I can, with the greatest truth, affirm, that it is brewed, by all the gentlemen I formerly mentioned, to a degree of perfection, much superior to the common run of that sold by many in Edinburgh as London porter. It is a great misfortune to the people in this country, that they give countenance to those articles with which we can so well supply ourselves: We even encourage publicans who are strangers, though they have the insolence to refuse selling porter; because it is Scots. Think, for a moment, countrymen, and feel for that country which gave you existence: Let us go hand in hand with our sister country, in doing every thing to promote the good of both; but let us observe the old proverb, Charity begins at home —  I have lately heard, that a porter-house returned a few dozens of porter, because it was Scots. A certain set of merchants, if they maybe so called, (being rather porter-bottlers) have the great hand in carrying on this pernicious trade. Nor must I pass over those worthies, the tax-gatherers for the impost, who, in order to rob the country of 10s. each hogshead, become importers forsooth, and what not.

I am surprised to observe, that Mr A. B. from Dumfries, should complain, that no notice has been as yet taken of Agricola's Letters: I can inform him, that they were very early taken notice of by me in. my Letters, and by every body with whom I had the pleasure of being in company, who had the welfare of their country at heart: And I have often asked him, and still wish, that Agricola, for his own honour and that of his country, would put his real name to his excellent letters.
Caledonian Mercury - Monday 09 January 1775, page 3.

That confusion between f's and s's. For a moment I thought it said "fister country". I suppose some would argue England shafted Scotland, but fisting is going a bit far.

The letter tells us that in the 1870's Porter was already being brewed in Scotland. But also that, for reasons unconnected with quality, London Porter was preferred by pub landlords. I wonder why they are called "strangers"? Does it mean foreigners? In which case, what flavour of foreigner? It could just be the English.

And that Porter was being imported from London and bottled in Edinburgh. I'd have been very surprised to come across that practice in England, but I know that bottled beer was common at a very early date in Scotland.

Maybe the reluctance of Scots to buy home-produced Porter is why the style never really took off amongst Scottish brewers. And was dropped relatively early. The last sighting I have of William Younger's Porter is 1869, a time when the style was still slap bang in the mainstream in London. Confusingly, Younger called the beer both P and BS in the brewhouse. Sometimes on the same brewing record.

Next time we'll be looking at William Younger's 19th-century Porter.

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