Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Porter 1914-1919

Porter. When will I get tired of discussing Porter? Not in the near future, that's for sure. Probably never.
Today I've more numbers. Lots of them. All relating to Whitbread Porter. You'll have to bear with me. I post my research immediately. As I'm currently going through the logs I photographed in archives, that's what you get. Loads of very specific details about individual beers.

You don't get to see everything, though. That would be too confusing. I collect details other than the ones I publish here. Mashing stuff, that sort of thing. Not of great general interest. Unless you've got a Steel's masher and an underlet at home.

It's a time-consuming business. Copying stuff out of brewing logs. That's why my posts are becoming repetitive. No time to do anything else.

One thing I haven't bothered with when trawling through the Whitbread WW I logs this week. The costings. In the top righthand corner. To the right you can see this bit from the Porter brewed on August 1st 1914.

It says that it cost 16.73 shillings per barrel in materials and that it sold for just 28 shillings a barrel. That seems very cheap. Oh, and that the tax was 6.92 shillings per barrel. About 25% of the selling price. That's before the war budgets.

Now I think about it, I should have a closer look at this. Brewers were acccused of profiteering during the war. I wonder if they really did make excessive profits?

Like other cheap, standard-strength beers such as Mild, Porter was badly hit by wartime restrictions. By 1919, gravities were below 1040º. Whitbread's Porter, still a respectable 1052º in 1914, was down to 1039 by April 1918. When the dust settled, Porter gravities in the 1920's were 1036-1039º.

It's been claimed that Porter died out during WW I due to restrictions on making dark malts. Let's see what the records tell us. Whitbread brewed their Porter all through the war. Though they discontinued all of their pre-war Stouts and even X Ale, they continued to brew Porter. Porter was, along with PA and IPA, one of only three beers Whitbread made throughout the whole of the war.

In August 1914, just before the outbreak of war, Whitbread's Porter had a grist of 79% pale malt, 7% brown malt, 5% black malt and 8% sugar. Did a shortage of dark malts make them use less as the war progressed? Not at all. In 1917, their Porter had 10% brown and 9% black malt. In 1918, it was up to 14% brown and 9% black malt. Doesn't look to me like Porter was being driven to extinction by a lack of dark malt.

Here are the details of Whitbread Porter at different stages of the war:

The biggest change in Whitbread Porter grists was an increase in the percentage of sugar, which rose from 8% in 1914 to 16% in 1918.

The hopping rate of Whitbread Porter rose during the war. In 1914 it had 5.59 pounds of hops per quarter of malt. By the end of 1917 that had risen to 7.27 pounds per quarter and in 1918 it hit 8.65 pounds per quarter. Though in the latter case 50% of the hops were from the 1910 crop, and their bittering properties would have considerably reduced.

Porter gradually faded away between the wars, finally expiring in the 1950's. Except in Ireland, where Guinness Porter hung on until the 1970's.

Guinness Porter. Now there's a fascinating topic.


Anonymous said...

I wonder how the taste of these early 20th century Porters differ from the typical Porter of today that uses a portion of crystal malt and (I assume) less sugar. Perhaps less sweet (especially considering the hopping rate today is lower, right?).

I also wonder how they were able to maintain a semi-low attenuation range of 70-75% when sometimes 15% of the fermentables came from sugar (which I assume is the near 100% fermentable type).

On_Peace_Mission said...

Don't ever worry about diving too deeply into porter, metaphorically or physically. Interesting stuff and it certainly demonstrates a thirst for, um, knowledge. Excellent.

Anonymous said...

You mention looking more closely at costs, Ron. I'm struggling to understand all the figures on the top-right bit of the log, but if the cost is 16.73 and the margin is 12.27 then they were selling for 29 shillings, which would give a gross profit margin of 42.3%. That sounds pretty healthy to me for what is essentially a manufacturing company, but then I'm no accountant and I've no idea what margins big brewers expect to make. Also, it's all a bit meaningless without factoring in operating costs.

Anyone know how this compares to typical gross profit margins for modern big breweries?