Thursday, 11 March 2021

A Porter and Stout argument (part three)

More from my highly amusing discussion with an overconfident home brewer.

This time he's replying after having gone away and read Obadiah Poundage's letter. Unsurprisingly, he didn't understand it.

"Interesting read.  He refers to "Porter or Entire Butt," rather than "Entire gyle," which sounds more like mixing the containers of fermented beer, rather than mixing the worts.  Also, are you certain "entire gyle" didn't simply mean the default process of adding the sparge back to the first runnings, rather than making a second, weaker beer from it?  There is literally no advantage to combining different worts.  Making a wort with dark grains, and combining it with a wort made from light grains, would taste no different than a wort made with a mixture of light and dark grains.  Something's getting lost in your translation/explanation. 

Note he's also clueless about 18th-century brewing methods and doesn't realise no brewer in London sparged until about a century after Porter first appeared. Nor can he grasp the concept of entire gyle. No idea where he got the idea that it meant blending worts from mashes of different-coloured grains.

He then expands on his theory that Porter was an English derivative of German Dunkles:

"Regardless, this in no way disproves porter was based on Dunkel and Schwartzbier.  In fact, Dunkel just means "dark" in German.  We know it was the beer most widely drank my commoners because it was cheap, and there is historical record of Dunkels being hundreds of years older than Porter.  Not to mention, the oldest known document mentioning porter being from 1760 tells me the beer is even older, because we have no idea how many countless other documents have been lost, and how long people uttered the term out loud without penning it down.  Dunkel is likely the origin of porter, and English-speakers just referred to it as "porter" because, just like in Germany, that's who drank it.  The origin of porter is just as muttled as IPA.  I know you want to believe otherwise, but the fact is that many versions of all this information are out there, in many languages, from multiple countries, and they conflict.  Being positive one is right and the other is wrong is no more asinine than being religious. None of this proves Germans weren't drinking porter-like beers hundreds of years earlier.  Nor does it prove that Americans didn't go through their own history of dark beers.  Countless other beers that would have tasted the same as a porter could have come and gone, or been renamed "porter" after the name was popularized.  I find every story I hear fascinating, but I put faith in absolutely none of them.  Sorry."

It's very much from the it-could-have-happened-so-it-must-have-happened school of history. Not sure where he got the idea that porters drank Dunkles in Bavaria. Back then most Bavarian men would have been agricultural labourers or craftsmen. I'm trying to imagine happy peasants drinking steins of Porter. Nope, doesn't feel right.

I just love this line of argument: "None of this proves Germans weren't drinking porter-like beers hundreds of years earlier." You can't prove it didn't happen, so it probably did. I could just as easily say, Germans had potatoes centuries before chips were invented, so chips must be derived from Bratkartoffeln. Or, aliens could have built the pyramids. You can't prove they didn't.

Towards the end he even hints that Porter might have first been brewed in the American colonies. It's amazing what brilliant theories you can develop if you completely ignore annoying little details like facts.

I suggested he read Martyn Cornell's demolition of the theory that Porter came from the Flemish beer Poorter and he came back with this:

"Let me get this straight, I inform you that the history of porter is muddled because there are multiple historians that disagree with one another, and your proof that I'm wrong is posting yet another article written by a beer historian who disagrees with everyone else?  Got it.  JFC.  This whole conversation is hilarious.   Besides, that article simply argued against where porter got it's name, and I've never uttered the word "poorter" once, so I have literally no idea how you think it relates to this conversation." 

How was this relative to our conversation? Because it fucking showed, giving sources, what the true history of Porter was. And that it was a style first brewed in London. It seems pretty obvious to me the article was extremely relevant. Because other people have written unsourced nonsense about Porter, Martyn's article was just "one of many equally valid theories"?

Immediately he's back to Porter being originally German:

"I'm saying Schwartzbier was invented 300 years before porter, and at some point, a London brewer probably tasted one.  If you disagree with that notion, you've likely lost touch with reality yourself.   I don't even care about any of this.  I've said MULTIPLE times now, that beer history is muddled, and that I don't take stock in anything I'm saying, but hey, if you're enjoying this interaction, I'm here for you.  Keep arguing.  Put whose ever face you're mad at on the punching bag.  Let it out."

I'll be honest with you here: I've no idea how old Schwarzbier (he can't even spell it correctly) is as a style. I doubt that it goes back as far as the 15th century. A London brewer would "probably" have tried? What the fuck? Until the 1990s, Schwarzbier was a very obscure style, brewed in tiny quantities in just one region, Saxony. Few German brewers would have tried let alone one from London. 

In the 18th century London had the largest and most advanced brewing industry in the world. By a very long way. Germany was a backwater when it came to beer at the time and didn't have any reputation internationally. What did they do in the 19th century when they wanted to modernise their industry? They went to the UK. One German brewer who visited the UK - Gabriel Sedlmayr from Spaten -  used what he had learnt in the UK to brew the first modern Dunkles back in Munich. If anything, Porter influenced Dunkles.

Because he's stated MULTIPLE times that beer history is muddled, then it has to be true. That's the logic of a lunatic.

Let's end with him banging on about Germany again:

"Not being able to understand that Germans made dark beer hundreds of years before the UK, and being convinced that the people of London were never influenced by these"

I would have let it go, if the arrogant bastard hadn't kept putting in little personal digs. Instead I invited Martyn to join in. That was fun. It was like watching a cat play with an annoying mouse. Sadly, the posts have now been deleted.


Rob Sterowski said...

Modern Schwarzbier, arguably, only dates from 1990 when Köstritzer reformulated their recipe to comply with the Reinheitsgebot in unified Germany. It jumped from 3.5% to 4.8%.

I don’t suppose you ever got a chance to taste the DDR version?

Anonymous said...

I heard that when Christopher Columbus first voyaged to the Americas he brought barrels of beer with him. One of the barrels fell off the Santa Maria and drifted to the shores of Massachusetts. The sachem of the Penacook tribe was intrigued with the mysterious liquid and set out to reproduce it using local ingredients. One hundred years later when the pilgrims arrived in the Mayflower they were greeted by the local native Americans who shared a barrel of their version of the Spanish beer. To repay the financiers of the Plymouth plantation they sent products back to London. The first ship back contained several barrels of Penacook beer (when I take my glasses off and squint it looks almost like porter). I read this on a history forum and when I went back to site it sadly it was gone. They can't put anything on the internet that isn't true can they?

BrianW said...

You really have to stop reading the QAnon homebrewing forum, Ron.

A Brew Rat said...

As an American homebrewer, I take umbrage at your remarks. We Yanks all know that Benjamin Franklin invented porter in the 1730s then divulged his recipes to London brewers when he moved there in the 1750s. We drink a famous recipe of his, Poor Richard's Ale, regularly at discerning brewpubs. Since we are Americans this all must be true. (tongue firmly in cheek).

Too bad the conversation has ended, I was thoroughly enjoying these.

Matt said...

The thing is, we've all said or believed things about beers that have turned out not to be true, either based on what we've read or been told about them or our own experience of drinking modern examples of them (mild is dark and low gravity, stout is distinguished by the use of roasted barley). It's the obstinacy of people in sticking to and then embellishing on those errors after someone has pointed out the evidence disproving them that is really frustrating.

Unknown said...

What is the best book (most historically accurate) to read about porter and stout history?

Also, same question as above, but regarding malting?

Ron Pattinson said...


currently, I'd say my book "Porter!":

Ron Pattinson said...


I've said plenty of stupid stuff in the past. As I've learnt more, my opinions have changed.

Sadly, as the current state of the world demonstrates, lots of people are incapable of processing evidence.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron, whilst your correspondent’s position is nonsense, there may be a case of British brewers having tried obscure German and other European brews via the trading of the Hanseatic League. While their main trade was grain, the traders brought with them gin, schnapps and beer and foodstuffs to east coast ports, plus Liverpool and Bristol. The Hansa kept meticulous records of cargos so you might find records in Lubeck or Rostock. A beer from landlocked Saxony might not be the most obvious example though. Even if they had tried it, they’d have made an entirely different beer because ingredients, water, yeast and brewing techniques would be totally different.