Well, not totally random because it contains some pretty handy information. But it starts off with something I’m more accustomed to seeing in London: a dinner party held within a Porter vat:
“MESSRS BALLINGALL & SON'S BREWERY.
A STRANGE PLACE FOR A SUPPER PARTY.
A supper party without beer or other fluids to assist the digestion of the solids is, in these degenerate days - as our teetotal friends would be inclined to call them — a rarity ; but a supper party held within a beer vat is a still more uncommon spectacle. Such a party was held one night this week, in the premises of Messrs Ballingall & Son's, the well-known brewers at the Pleasance; and considering the novelty of the situation, it is well deserving public notice. Messrs Ballingall have lately, owing to the great increase of their porter business, been obliged considerably to extend their facilities for brewing, and one feature of their additions has been the erection two large new vats, for storing beer - among the largest receptacles of their kind in Scotland. They are strongly built of the best seasoned oak, jointed in the same manner as casks, and circled with hoops at intervals of about 20 inches. The dimensions of each are something surprising, being 17 feet in depth, and from 12 to 14 feet in diameter; but the best idea of their capacity will be obtained when we mention that each will contain 250 barrels of liquid, or between 3,000 and 10,000 gallons. Before putting them to their proper use, Mr Ballingall resolved to try their capacity another way, and on the evening in question invited several of his friends, to the number of about a dozen, who, descending to the bottom of the vat by means of a ladder, found there an excellent "spread," to which the most ample justice was done. The novelty of the idea gave a certain piquancy the repast, but all agreed that a more comfortable supper room could not have been improvised. There were no draughts except such as were of an agreeable and stimulating kind; and after supper the acoustic properties of the vat were shown off to great advantage by the vocal powers of the company, "Success to the firm of Messrs Ballingall & Son," was drunk with three times three, and hope expressed that their vats would never again contain such a company, but that they would always be in full operation, and be a source of profit to their owners.”
Dundee Advertiser - Friday 13 April 1866, page 5.
The 1860’s is a weird time to be installing new Porter vats. It’s the decade when Keeping Porter rapidly fell out of favour in London, before disappearing completely in the 1870’s. After which most London brewers ripped out their largest vats, only leaving some of the smaller ones for ageing Stout.
I’m also surprised that a Scottish brewery would need extra Porter capacity at this point. Even in London sales were slipping. I assume by Porter they mean both Porter and Stout. By the 1860’s few Scottish breweries were producing a true Porter. I suspect that these vats were really for Stout. Scottish breweries had a good export trade in Stout, particularly to the West Indies. As we will see later, Ballingall had an extensive export trade.
In London, a 250-barrel vat was nothing special. In the capital the largest vats were measure in thousands if not tens of thousands of barrels.
Next time we’ll be looking inside Ballingall’s brewery in more detail.