Saturday, 13 March 2010

Dublin Porter

Barclay Perkins were not alone in considering blending the defining feature of Irish Stout. Frank Faulkner, writing in the 1880's, concurred. His description of the blending process is well worth reporducing here.

"I suppose that Dublin porter, especially that produced by one firm, stands out pre-eminently as a special and distinct type of beer, and just as Mr. Steele, in his work on brewing, asserted that the whole success of the original London porter brewer turned upon the adoption of deep and closed-in coppers, so much of the distinctive character of the Dublin porter spoken of depends undoubtedly upon the immense capacity of the store vats.

According to Mr. Steele's idea, restricted convection and increased temperature of ebullition decide more perfect caramelisation of wort extract; and, on the other hand, depth during storage determines definite fermentative changes and the development of special varieties of alcoholic ferments. Now let me, in full view of these two distinct influences, which depend altogether upon plant arrangement, and which have been undoubtedly accidentally adopted, describe the main features of the Irish process.

First of all, there is the undoubted softness of water, that used in Dublin being a mixture of mere canal Dublin water, and river water, the organic impurity of which is counterbalanced, comparatively, by the antiseptic nature of wort constituents; then follows the selection of material, there being but little diversity of opinion as to what proportion of the different descriptions are most suited to the special flavour requisite, while as a general rule the Dublin brewers strictly adhere to exceptionally good pale and black malts, the proportion varying from 90 to 94 of so-called pale, according to its exact colour yield, and the balance of black. This is a very simple matter — a mere question of colour ; and all I want to point out is that brown, amber, or crystalline malts are not used in this centre.

There is little to say about the actual mashing process, boiling, or collection of wort.

Invariably using good material there is no necessity for stewing or any of the careful manipulation that is usual when dealing with inferior malt, when employed for the production of pale beers. The wort is frequently, indeed, procured by making up lengths, the liquor of which has been sparged over goods at the boiling temperature, while enormous boiling quantities leading to extreme caramelisation are submitted to ebullition in closed coppers.

It is pretty clear, then, that by employing material of the nature referred to, mashing it at comparatively low temperature, and rapidly boiling off the collected worts, a dry extract is obtained, abnormally rich in dextrin, albuminous, and inert bodies, a combination which invariably ensures palate fulness; but it is not exactly the character of wort that has gained for Dublin the renown undoubtedly attaching to its black beers, this being due more to a peculiarity of flavour, partly acquired through the fermentation of immense bulks, the storage of similar bulks for prolonged periods in vats, and the very careful system of "blending" carried out.

For instance, a Dublin brewer, we will say, brews in the season large quantities of a high-gravity stout at 32 to 35 lbs. [1089º to 1097º] saccharometer weight, this being stored in the immense vats mentioned for some twelve months, although it is possible that this period of storage varies according to the time when the matured flavour commences to develop, this matured heavy stout constituting, as I may describe it, the flavouring portion of the mixed or blended beer that is afterwards disposed of locally or exported.

Next we have the mild porter, brewed daily according to requirements upon the usual lines, but not finally vatted; and, thirdly, we have the "heading," which, in several of the breweries, consists of a portion of very strong first wort partially fermented, say to half original gravity, and clarified to a definite extent by skimming; this prepared day by day, and employed, as I may express it, perfectly fresh, and in that exact condition of quietude that each brewer finds necessary.

There is nothing difficult in seeing that if these three distinct beers — the one matured, the other mild and clean, and the third half-fermented, be mixed together in different proportions, we can secure a great many varying flavours, degrees of fulness, and tendency to early cask condition.

In other words, the required flavour and condition for the several trade outlets are arrived at, not by uniformity of intermixture, but by a perfectly distinct variation in the several percentages of vatted, mild, and heading descriptions. I have no hesitation in saying that the success of Messrs. Guinness depends on good material, great bulk during fermentation and vatting, and ingenious intermixture of different qualities of produce, whereby a perfectly uniform palate flavour is secured.

For instance, what would be the proceeding for a mere local demand? It might be summed up thus : A large and definite proportion of mild, a dash of matured, a heavy quantity of what is termed gyle or heading, and a warm racking room, to give the immediate cask condition; while, on the other hand, and to simply give the extreme case for export, the proportionate intermixture would be entirely different and the heading would sink to a minimum.
This general principle underlies the whole of the several processes common to Irish breweries, but I think it would be manifestly unfair to enter into further detail. Many people have attempted to imitate the treble intermixture process by substituting returned porter or old beer, which has been bought, for what I have described as the matured or vatted stout, and by using, for heading purposes, actual fermenting wort or simple malt flour, but in every case complete failure has resulted. The old, or returned beer is different in every way to stout matured under pressure, while the fermenting wort or the malt flour, however vigorous they may be in the direction of inducing condition, are in no sense comparable with a strong wort partially fermented; since, in one case, we are introducing developing yeast wholesale, in the other merely wort with high fermentative capacity, freed from excess of yeast-forming matter by the semi-fermentation that it has passed through.

I do not think that the Irish brewers touch sugar at all; it certainly would not answer for the special kind of beer produced by the one firm that exports alone 350,000 barrels a year, and I hold that, as this export does not represent tied trade in any sense, it practically means perfect system of production. In main, I have pointed out the principle on which such production depends, while there is no doubt that, theoretically speaking, it is both interesting and instructive.

I have often heard brewers extol the peculiar softness of their own stouts, but they have generally ended with the remark that, do what they will, they cannot procure the exact Dublin flavour. They will not, perhaps, wonder at this after reading the above description of the Irish process; and I again lay special stress upon pressure, grist proportion, and uniform blending of distinct quantities of three definite beers."
"The theory and practice of modern brewing" by Frank Faulkner, 1888, pages 260-264.

Though he only mentions them once by name, he's clearly discussing Guinness and their methods.

The Guinness grist, as I've said many times, was different to that used in London, consisting of just pale and black malt. But, if we're to believe Faulkner, it wasn't this that set it aprt from English beers. The large volume in the fermenters, vatting in large quantities and careful blending that's what lent it a unique character.

If you think about it, there's a certain irony there. Large volumes, ageing and blending: they were are all important in London Porter brewing until around 1850 or so. The success of Guinness demonstrates that there was still a considerable market for partially-aged beer, even though the process had been largely abandonned by English brewers.

What surprised me about the Guinness process was the third beer, or "heading".  Never come across something like that before. It's not clear exactly when this was blended in. Perhaps at racking time to serve as a sort of priming.

Given the failure of other English brewers to emulate Guinness, I wonder if Barclay Perkins had any luck with their Irish Stout type?


Gary Gillman said...

I too was struck by that heading reference. Zythophile referred to it recently in a recent comment here, likening it to krausening.

I would think it was probably used in London too by some of the porter breweries there although no documentary evidence appears available as yet.

It seems withal Guinness was looking for a very interesting balance of aged and young characteristics.


Mark, said...

Spotted a Saltaire ale named Dublin Porter in the pub yesterday. Looked very much like Guinness as you might expect. I doubt it uses Dublin water but maybe they dipped into the Leeds-Liverpool canal?!

Anonymous said...

I believe the "heading" must be andother word for the "gyle" beer, or partially fermenting beer, which was used in the "high cask" (highly conditioned beer) and "low cask" (flatter beer) dispense method in the pub: "heading", presumably, because this was the beer that, being fizzier, gave the head …

The Beer Nut said...

I'm intrigued in particular by his statement on the water: Guinness had filter beds installed at the 5th lock of the Grand Canal which is where most of the water came from, and there's a long-standing association with Lough Tay in the Wicklow mountains where the Guinness family had land-holdings. But I've never heard of them using river water (other than from insufferable foreigners who insist on calling Guinness "Liffey Water").

So, it could be one of the subterranean Dublin rivers, though I don't know of any that run under James's Gate, or maybe he means that other Dublin breweries, ones with river frontage, used water from the Liffey. But that seems unlikely to me. Would any of London's breweries have used Thames water in the 1880s?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the heading is a similar process as the Hefe-Weizen "Krausening". It creates a good and quick conditioning.
My question was concerning this: "The old, or returned beer is different in every way to stout matured under pressure," Under pressure? He means the vats were hermeticaly tight, or?

Graham Wheeler said...

"Gyle-worting" is the process that several people have commented on. It is the addition of actively fermenting wort and is indeed the equivalent of the German krausening. It was not unique to Guinness. Many cask stouts, no matter who made them, were gyle-worted just prior to going out, some were completely flattened before gyle-worting.

In the case of blends, gyle-worting helps with the "marrying" of the blend; active fermentation melds everything together.

I cannot see Guinness bothering with gyle-worting except, perhaps, with stuff for immediate local consumption. The stuff consumed in England had a bit of a sea journey, to Liverpool at least, if not the Thames, and then had to be distributed across the country. Plenty of time for marrying to occur. Besides, the majority of Guinness was freshly brewed mild with plenty of fermentation activity going on without the need for gyle-worting.

It should be realised that blending new and aged was not restricted to porters or stouts. All sorts of beers were blended in the same way, a technique known as "bringing forward". This particularly applied to summer-brewed beers as the brewers were attempting to move from seasonal brewing to brewing all year round. Summer-brewed beer was brought forward by adding a bit of strong stock ale and consumed within a few weeks.

Even after the traditional two-part London porter had all but disappeared, the brewers were still blending porter internally. Whitbread were still doing it up to WW1. The impracticability of maintaining up to two-years stock of aged beer during a wartime economy meant that blending lapsed into disuse and was never restored. Whitbread demolished their staling vats in 1918/19 and that was really the end of porter.

I do not think that Guinness would have used water from the River Liffey in 1888. I always thought that Guinness was sited on a natural spring, fed from the Wicklow Mountains, but by 1888 they would certainly have sunk a borehole. However, Guinness themselves have gone to lengths to dispel the myth that Liffey water ever was used.
It is worrying that so many of these writers spout so much B.S. about water and their sources.
More worrying is his foray into pseudo-scientific gobbledygook about boiling down worts dry.

It is inconceivable that any brewer in Britain could not match Guinness. Home brewers can do it today, so any brewer worth his salt should have been able to do it then. After all, there are no ground breaking secret techniques that were not already employed in mainland Britain. There were many attempts to imitate it that failed, but more likely for social reasons than a failure on flavour grounds.

I am sure that Irish immigration and patriotism was the real success of Guinness in England. For example, Guinness was not on our local brewery (Wheeler's) price list in 1898 (nor anything called porter), but five years later Guinness was being bottled by them. This coincided with the "Great Centralisation" of the Wycombe railway, whereby it was all double-tracked and taken directly into London Marylebone.

This was a huge construction project which resulted in thousands of workers descending upon the sleepy market town, presumably creating a demand for Guinness and temporarily pushing Wheeler's profits through the roof.

Guinness has been here ever since.

The Beer Nut said...

"I am sure that Irish immigration and patriotism was the real success of Guinness in England."
Interesting theory, but I strongly doubt it. You mention the death of English porter in 1918/19 and I think that has a lot more to do with it: Guinness one the British black beer battle by default. Guinness's Protestant Porter was never the tipple of the Irish nationalist, though the family themselves had enough business sense to steer well clear of that particular hornet's nest.

That they reached a position of dominance in Ireland was largely due to ruthless business practices (notably control of the Dublin porter cartel in the 1860s) and clever investment/monopolising of new distribution technology like the canals and railways to flood the rural market with product before the local breweries realised what was happening.

Ron Pattinson said...

English Porter did not die out in 1918-19 but in WW II.