Sunday, 14 March 2010

London Porter - how it differed from Dublin Porter

I thought you might like to know what Faulkner had to say about London Porter.And how its ingredients and method of manufacture differed from Dublin Porter.

"In coming to England we have very different processes in operation, the only common property, perhaps, being the use of waters deficient in or destitute of saline character. I may as well say, at this point, that so strong a view exists respecting necessity of softness, that in cases where the available brewing water happens to be at all saline, it is customary to soften the brewing water by employing saline bodies that have not only an extractive capacity, but also the power of throwing out of solution salts constituting permanent hardness, thus leading to practical softening of the water, and a double increase of its special extractive power.

I do not know if this process is to be exactly commended; it is better, perhaps, for a water to be naturally extractive instead of being made so artificially, while the carbonates of soda and potash may extract from malt a good deal of material that would be quite as well left behind. At the same time both these bodies are used very extensively, the latter, perhaps, by preference, to the extent of 80 to 85 grs. per gall., and if any calcic sulphate happens to exist in the water, it is thrown out of solution as carbonate, while the sodic or potassic sulphate is neutral, or apparently so, in influence. The London system, a few years ago, depended simply on the employment of deep-well water, naturally containing, as taken from the tertiary beds below the clay, a quantity of alkaline carbonates ; three and sometimes four malts were used, the resulting beer generally going straight into the cellars of the publican, while the better qualities were vatted for a certain length of time.

This proves at once the entirely different character of the porter common to London; it is mild, full tasted, and absolutely free from acidity. Recently, the system has been modified, raw sugar coming into pretty general use, this, probably determining the more speedy consumption of the beer, giving it at the same time greater sweetness; but much of the distinct flavour depends on the fact that many varieties of malt were and are still used, while boiling pressure and bulk during fermentation contribute no doubt in no small degree to the definite flavour that attaches to the black beer of this centre.

It is difficult to speak with respect on a process that turns on the free use of inferior material, and the speedy consumption of the resulting beer; and it is not wide of the mark to say that two-thirds of the London porter is utterly devoid of the least stability. It is consumed, indeed, almost prior to the completion of fermentation, the last traces of yeast being removed by artificial fining, carried out at a stage that leaves the beer moderately fresh to the palate — i.e., the flattening is not so great by fining as if carried out later.

The common course is merely to work out with finings, as described previously, and I presume that the practically rapid turn over of capital that is possible with a strictly tied trade, and by such modus operandi, sufficiently justifies the adoption of it; but, as compared with the Dublin system, it sinks into insignificance.

The dangers resulting from the use of raw sugar have been already referred to ; they combine to produce those disasters which the large London brewers are known to experience. It is all very well to secure stability for short periods by the use of strong antiseptics ; but that surely is not good brewing, and with this remark I may leave the users of raw unrefined sugars to proceed as they think proper. One benefit, perhaps, that attaches to such a process is the ready fermentability of the finished beer, for the heading principle is by no means general when the black beer is so produced, while, if found necessary, it commonly consists of the same raw sugar in concentrated form.

It is curious to observe the different flavours that can be produced by slight variation in percentage intermixture of grist. The four or five varieties of malt common to London may be described as pale amber, crystalline, brown, and black; and it is by mixing three of these, or all of them, in different proportions that enables each brewer to suit his own palate judgment or the requirements of his customers.

A very common percentage is 82 pale, 12 brown, 6 black, while others producing the black beer of more liquorice flavour double the quantity of brown malt. A great deal is supposed to depend upon temperature of fermentation, the majority of London brewers working as high as 80°, a temperature which is held to determine a distinctiveness of flavour much liked. There is, of course, nothing difficult to understand about this, each range of temperature corresponding to a different species of ferment development, an extreme instance of this being seen on the one hand in the case of bottom fermentation, on the other in the fact that "caseous ferment " is the only example of alcoholic cell life that will develop at a temperature of 120°.

This covers, I think, the proceedings common to London breweries: the water is soft, the material good, if for the production of heavy-vatted stouts ; a perfect medley when the ordinary London public-house porter is required. Fermented very carelessly, it is either fined in large vats or sent to the publican in such a condition that when fined it will eject the fining material from the bung-hole, the porter being immediately afterwards drawn for consumption, and, if we are to believe some people, capped with an artificial head of fining froth."
"The theory and practice of modern brewing" by Frank Faulkner, 1888, pages 264-268.

It's evident from this passage that "heading" is another term for primings.Nice to get that cleared up.

London brewers did indeed usually have grists of pale, amber, brown and black malt in various combinations. The continued use of brown malt being one of the major differences between London and Dublin Porter brewing.

The point Faulkner makes about how supplying mostly their own tied houses encouraged London brewers to ship their beer very young is an intriguing one. The time when he was writing was just when the majority of English pubs were becoming tied. Guinness (along with Bass) were unusual in not building a tied estate but instead relying on selling their beer in pubs owned by other brewers. Its a policy still pursued by Guinness today.

It seems that the days of vatting standard-strength Porter were long gone and that it was almost exclusively sold "mild". The high levels of residual sugar implies that it had also become a sweeter drink than it its heyday. Could the changes in production methods have been the seed of London Porter's eventual downfall?

I'll probably contuinue with Faulkner's description of the third type of Porter: provincial Porter. Tomorrow, maybe. Or next week. Sometime between now and the apocalypse.


Gary Gillman said...

I conclude from this that by the 1880's, neither system of porter-manufacture as evolved in Ireland and London was traditional. In Ireland, the keynote 1700's flavours - remarked on by Faulkner - contributed by brown and amber malts were absent. He implies that black malt where used in quantity tended to create a different, licorice palate. Other observers (at least one I recall reading) said the same thing. And this may suggest why anise was added sometimes to porter, to replicate that taste even though it was not an original porter taste - people had forgotten what that was or didn't care.

In London (1880's again), the taste had gone almost all-mild. Sugar in the tun made it easier to stay mild because beers with heavy sugar content lack stability (other observers stated this as we saw here recently as well).

But of course the mild trend well-predated the high Victorian era and indeed the time when sugar use was generalized.

I believe that tied estates did contribute to running beers' use, and to use of finings as he notes although sturgeon's finings had long been in use in London, since the 1700's at least.

Thus, Ireland kept the standing part from old London practice, at least in part. This would have made the beers less sweet especially at a time when I assume Dublin used more than 5% aged beer in its blends. Just right there we can see why some people felt the beers of Ireland were - by the later 1800's - drier than English beers. When you have a skein of acidity run through a beer it makes it drier. Another reason though is that it probably took time for Dublin stout to reach London and by then as we saw some time back from the Charles Knight extract, it assumed a "soda water briskness" and "sub-acidity". The observer who said this - a consumer and it is always good to read what they say - noted in contradistinction the "balmy" quality of "crack" London - it was sweet and mild in other words.

The comments about fermentation at 80 F are very interesting. Estery, fruity tastes would have resulted, as confirmed by many other accounts (e.g., of porter smelling like old Burgundy). This part of the process was probably ancestral. Perhaps fermenting beers in very large quantities as the biggest brewers did contributed to a hot fermenting room.

But essentially, the old porter taste was lost by the 1880's, because neither London or Dublin retained its dual original character of being aged (and fined) by long standing and bitter/empyreumatic from use of some wood-kilned malts.


Graham Wheeler said...

Fauklner's use of terminology is rather disconcerting. I assume that he is the "energetic brewer of Beeston and St Helen's", so one would expect his terminology to be more standard.

Any practical brewer of his period would use the term "heading" to mean something like iron sulphate added to the beer, and not confuse it with gyle-worting or priming.

The statement "capped with an artificial head of fining froth", is rather curious. Finings don't foam, they should drop through the beer to the bottom of the vessel before consumption. The idea that the fining material would be ejected through the bunghole would mean that fining is grossly overdone too. He certainly does not approve of the idea of fining even though it must have been more or less standard practice at the time. Perhaps the fact that he didn't fine himself is why he appears to have misunderstood the action of fining.

There was a widespread belief that London porters had an artificial heading agent added. Certainly one thing in common with all contemporary descriptions of porter was that it was frothy stuff; a characteristic not applied to other beers. Writers often claimed some adulterant must be responsible.

I am not sure that his chemical additions to water will do what he thought it did, but that is a different thing.

He should have known better than to suggest that adding sugar would increase the sweetness. The opposite is true.

He seems to be fixated with the idea that both London and Dublin pressure-cooked their worts. Pressure-cooking worts is fraught with difficulties, not least getting the nasty volatiles out of the wort and avoiding a cooked cabbage taste. I cannot see brewers putting positive pressure on their coppers in his day. He appears to have pinched this idea from Steele.

Methinks that he is confusing a domed copper with a pressurised copper. We know that Barclay's were using open coppers into the twentieth century, because there is a photo on this very site that shows one of them. So he got that wrong it would seem. I suspect that domed coppers were rare in his day too.

In common with may others before and after him, he seems to be very deprecating about London porter. I wonder if it really was that bad, or if it was just a form of professional jealousy.

Gary Gillman said...

I happen to be in New York at the moment and was fortunate to drink a glass of draft Sinebrychoff porter at Gingerman. This was without a doubt the best porter of its gravity I've ever had and maybe the best porter period. The only one I would put ahead of it was Courage's Russian Imperial Stout at 2-3 years old.

It just tasted of 1800's London and Dublin (that's an oxymoron probably but still!). It had a head of thick creamy foam that lasted to the bottom of the glass. On a malty and roasty (but not crudely roasty) background it had medium bitterness and a rich aged winy note, not sour but lightly tart, and something of a Worcester sauce element spoke through as well. After a couple of years of absorbing through explication and metaphor what 19th century porter was like the first swallow of this brought back many of those narratives. As good as many North American craft porters are, this one in my view is on a different level.


P.S. Amongst Gingerman's rather amazing imports was a draft Leipzig Gose that was outstanding, lightly tart, coriander-spiced (I would say) and with just a hint of the famous salt. A fantastic beer. A Chelsea Red Ale waved the flag for the home team and very well I might add, classy APA.

This town is a beer haven and this is something relatively new in my experience, a decade back New York was not beer-aware in the way some regional cities were and are but how things have changed.