Thursday, 20 May 2010

My work really isn't done

Oh no. More nonsense from people who really should know better. I genuinely feel like crying.

The BBPA (formerly the Brewers' Society) has just launched a website called Beer Genie. I unwisely looked at the History of Beer page. What did I find? A strong contender for the Protz Shield:

Porter Ales made the accountants and porters happy.

This delicious dark beer, the weaker forerunner to stout, was the first beer in Britain to be brewed on an industrial scale. It was the chosen drink of all the thirsty porters who unloaded ships, carried goods and did what DHL and the internet do today. It was originally a blend of three different beers and often aged for over a year in vast barrels, the size of a house."

One word. That's how far they got before the first mistake. "Porter Ales" - aaaaaaagh! Porter was a beer, not an ale. Forerunner of Stout? Not really. Porters who unloaded ships? That's partly right. It was named after the Fellowship porters and ticket porters. At least they didn't say station porters, as some idiots have. The former unloaded ships, the latter carried stuff around London. A blend of three different beers? I thought that one had been well and truly kicked to death.

India Pale Ale, the Chardonnay of its time.

The wood and straw used to roast barley had made all beers dark; but as the beer was drunk from pewter or earthenware, nobody saw its colour. The arrival of commercially produced clear glassware meant you could see your drink. So they invented India Pale Ale, high in alcohol, pale in colour and with massive quantities of hops to help it endure the months at sea on its way to India. It went beautifully with curry too."
Not all beers were pale before IPA. Pale beers had been around for a couple of hundred years at least before the first IPA was brewed. No-one effing invented IPA, and certainly not because of the sudden appearance of glass drinking vessels.  By the time IPA appeared, ALL British beers except Porter and Stout were pale. And the switch to glasses for drinking beer was much later, towards the end of the 19th century. Glasses didn't make beer get paler. They made it get darker. X and K Ales started getting darker when glassware was introduced. High in alcohol? No it wasn't. Barely average strength. Analyses show IPA and brewing records show early IPA was 4.5-7% ABV. Not strong at all for the period.

Mild ales are a hit with industrial workers

Today, the only thing we hit our deadlines are space bars. But back then, British workers used to hit actual stuff for a living working in mines, foundries and other places that made you proper thirsty. Low alcohol beers at 4-6% with low bitterness and reassuring malty quality were a hit with the sweating workers and provided much needed refreshment and re-hydration at the end of a hard, hot day."
So IPA was strong at 4.5-7% ABV, but Mild at the same strength was weak? Bit of inconsistency there. Mild wasn't weak. It wasn't strong. It was brewed to a wide range of strengths, from 5% ABV to more than 10% ABV. Low bitterness? Not according to the brewing records I've seen. The Truman's 1832 XXXX that Pretty Things recreated had more hops than most modern IPAs. It wasn't just drunk by industrial workers. It was drunk by just about everyone.

England, Wales and Scotland brew their first pale lagers.

Forty years after the first pale lager was brewed in Pilsen in the Czech Republic, the lager beer style was brewed in Britain. "
 The first British Lager was much earlier - John Muir brewed it in Edinburgh in the 1830's. And why the assumption that early Lagers were pale? The Wrexham Lager Brewery initially brewed Munich-style dark Lager.

Impressively inaccurate. That's all  I can say.


Oblivious said...

Sad but not surprising and just lazy work especially since the inform is freely available out there

A I would much prefer a hefe that a hoppy IPA with a curry!

mentaldental said...

As Oblivious says that's just plain lazy writing. And a quite annoying style too, in my opinion.

Personally I would have a stout with my curry.

Tandleman said...

Shoulda got you to write it all Ron. Still repeating myths is their main business.

Like they represent the interests of the beer industry.

Ron Pattinson said...

Mentaldental, I'm with you on the Stout to accompany curry. And, given the amount of Porter exported to India, so too did many expats.

Ron Pattinson said...

Tandleman, the annoying thing is that the BBPA publish one of my favourite books: the Statistical Handbook (formerly the Brewers' Almanack). A wonderful source of information.

Gary Gillman said...

I just wrote a long comment and accidentally erased it so I will content myself with saying that I find the 1760 Poundage letter ample evidence that porter developed to replace three threads and in this sense, porter was indeed originally a blend of three beers (mild and stale beer and pale ale).


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, I disagree. People have made false connections between different topics covered in the letter. And misinterpreted the brewing vocabulary.

Alistair Reece said...

Stout with curry? Hmm, might have to give that a try, especially as our local curry house has Lion Stout if I recall properly (they also have regular Bass Pale Ale, which does the trick as well).

Question though is which curry? I think stout would work well with korma, but not so sure about with vindaloo. The Bass is good with a madras, but not so much with a pasanda.

Might have to have a couple of weeks making curries and trying beers!

Barm said...

What I still don't understand is how 19th century manual workers were able to put away strong Mild after an exhausting shift without falling over. It can't have been very quenching. Or can we assume that "the man who waters the workers' beer" was bringing it down to a more modest level as a matter of course?

Ron Pattinson said...

Barm, good point. But watering down and adulteration seems to have become less prevalent as the century progressed.

And the beers workers knocked back after knocking off were probably those at the bottom end of the scale, so 5 - 6% ABV. Not that much stronger than what worker s in Germany or Austria still drink.

Not forgetting that beer was an important source of nourishment and nutrition.

Gary Gillman said...

I consider it a fair inference from the Poundage letter, written in 1760 after only 40 years from porter's beginnings, that before 1722 people mixed ale and beer, or mild and stale beer and twopenny ale (pale ale). Why did they do this? Because the beers on their own presented "extremes", as Poundage wrote. Ale was sweet and heavy, beer had more hops and people weren't fully accustomed to that, pale ale was strong and likely well-hopped (and from the country, different, and costly), mild beer was new (probably not clear, and "green"), and stale ale was too old (probably on the sour side, also costly).

Solution: people mixed the beers to get a balanced palate, i.e., in price, ABV and palate. The brewers then came up with porter, which avoided the extremes, Poundage wrote. He states specifically that porter was not too new (green or cloudy) or too old (sourish), and mellow (probably, not too bitter). Porter, called entire butt at the outset at least by the brewers, was thus the answer to the blends. I find this very clear from the letter.

Feltham may have misinterpreted Poundage or taken liberties with other facts, but all the evidence needed is right there in 1760. The London Chronicle letter even used the term three threads, but that doesn't matter anyway, it is the mixing that counts, not the name.

True, mixing never ceased, but I believe that the main character of London porter in the 1700's was aging for up to 24 months. Still, you would blend sometimes, e.g., to remedy a butt that went too sour, or to make a given batch consistent with one from before - George Watkins states this later in the 1700's - but that is different from starting with a hodgepodge of styles and ages and letting the drinker mix it himself or sending out casks pre-mixed. You didn't need to do that any more because the butts kept either at the publican or in the wholesale cellars provided the required character.

Later (early 1800's), it went back to what it was originally when the brewers saw that a little old beer added to a large amount of mild would achieve a similar character - allegedly, because more than one 1800's observer said it was a kind of ruse, something that didn't in practice deliver what the old aging of entire did.

That is how I read it, and I don't think even Edward Denneston's excise essay of 1713 shakes that up because even if three threads was a targeted ABV only, say 5-6%, porter clearly provided exactly that (at least). Brown stout was different, being run off the first mash, and thus had older roots, but porter itself - plain porter - was an entire mash beer that provided all the attributes of the old beers mixed when aged 6-24 months.

That is my interpretation of the 1760 letter and I think it is a sound one not at obvious variance with any known facts, thus not false in that sense.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, where does Poundage say that Porter was originally a mix of three beers?

He says Porter had similar qualities to some of the mixtures. As you quoted, he says it was a beer avoiding extremes.

Porter was often a blend of two beers. But that's not what Poundage describes.

As I currently understand it, the first Porter was a brewery-aged, heavily-hopped common Brown Beer. It was all aged for a moderate time - say 6 months. Later in the 18th century they started ageing some Porter for longer - 12 months or more - and blended that with Mild Porter. Either at the brewery or in the pub. Guinness stuck with this method all through the 19th century. After 1850, London brewers switched to making mostly Mild Porter and by 1900 were no longer ageing any. Though stronger Stouts were still vatted.

I can't see when Porter was ever a blend of three beers.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, to be sure Poundage doesn't state in so many words that porter was originally three beers but I find it a necessary inference from what he writes. If entire butt averaged out the extremes, a way previously achieved by the mixes of which three threads (three beers in his terminology) was a common example, then porter replaced these latter.

Ale and beer, or half and half, was another mixture of which Poundage wrote. The writer of the text you were commenting on could have written, porter was originally (i.e., it substituted for) three beers and sometimes two beers, but broadly I find what he wrote correct.

Three threads in Denneston's essay was only two beers, but clearly from Poundage we know sometimes it was three. Maybe people confused the numbers of the threads ultimately for the number of beers in the mix, but it doesn't matter. (And Denneston's publican was a fraudster so he may being misleading the public in thinking that he mixed three beers when he mixed two, but because four and six threads also existed, I incline that three threads was generally two beers - the Bailey dictionary definition supports that, it states three threads was ale and either double beer or stout).

True, blending carried on, but at least one observer stated that "little mild ale was required at the time", I think John Tuck wrote that. Blending there always was for various purposes but Poundage never states his entire beer was blended either at the pub or at the brewery. If blending was key to entire butt as Poundage knew it, why would he not refer to its being blended too?

I think blending was a short cut and for some 60 years porter's key innovation was to avoid that when possible. But finally blending came back because of the commercial expedient. What we know of Guinness is post-1800 essentially, when blending had returned and "the system altered".


Martyn Cornell said...

Gary, I have to agree with Ron: I don't believe three-threads and porter are actually connected at all. All the evidence I have seen from the 18th century points firmly, in my opinion, to porter being, effectively, a new name for a pre-existing drink, London brown beer, albeit, as Poundage relates, London brown beer made with tweaked and improved methods.

Incidentally, I have already had a go at the man responsible for the website (whose initials, curiously, are RP - though his first name isn't Ron or Roger) for repeating the old canard about the word cash supposedly being derived from the Egyptian word for beer, which is wrong on so many levels it rewrites the whole concept of wrongness (it was actually the Sumerians who called beer a word that sounds like "cash", and our word "cash" actually comes from the Italian for "box").

Gavin said...

I always used to find it strange that the Post-War strength of Mild Ale, much weaker than it was in history, was used to define the authenticity of the style, when for IPA the opposite was true. Many drinkers in the 70's 80's and perhaps 90's would have considered 4.2 ABV to be a strong beer but now it would be considered a session strength. A couple of years ago I was in a pub that was serving Adnam's Old Ale, which, according to the local ale expert was not a true Old Ale but a Mild. In the context of a a real ale pub in the 21st Century, one that sold mainly small brewery beer, then he is, perhaps, right. In a brewery tied pub in the 80's, when Mild would rarely be above 3.5 then 4.1 is very strong for a Mild and most definately would earn the appellation Old Ale. It's a matter of context.

Gary Gillman said...

Well, everything comes from somewhere, but at some point something is recognized as novel, as was the improved London brown beer by the 1730's or so. Poundage is clear that people were mixing beers before porter emerged. One has to attribute this to palate, he states that ale and beer were mixed, also mild beer and stale beer, also mild beer, stale beer and ale. This was done to even out their palates, so the taste of each would not predominate (because e.g., people had trouble accustoming to beer with more hops in it, he states that).

Other mixtures were noted by other observers, e.g., Bailey, who defined the term three-threads. Porter replaced these unsatisfactory "field-expedients" since just as they did, porter eliminated the extremes. In terms of further evidence, I might point out that Combrune, who was careful to note the characteristics of the improved brown beer, was against mixing. This is additional evidence that porter was intended (taken all with all) not to be mixed regularly. I don't have the book right before me but he states that old beer should not be added to young and if you are going to do it, do not exceed one part in eight. This is a swipe (no pun intended!) at the practice of mixing mild and stale beer. By the way, while the term porter was not apparently used on its own before 1721, terms such as porter's liquors, porter's guzzle and porter's ale were, and I believe porter is simply a shortened form of those terms. The term is not new either, really. Everything is evolutionary, and there are countless motives behind any commercial action (taxes, competition, new technology, etc.) but I think it is a fair statement to say that before improved brown beer emerged, people favoured the mixtures, and so originally porter took that form. To this day you can make up a mix of low-hopped brown ale or beer, old acidic beer and bitter pale ale and it really does drink like a good porter, I have tried it!


Gavin said...

Just had a thought. I'd be interested to know where all this bollocks about IPA came from anyway. I don't remember weak IPA being ridiculed and harassed by style freaks in the early 80's. I am sure some long established IPA branded products have changed their name because of this. I remember the story about the origens of IPA but it just seemed to be accepted that today IPA was just another name for bitter. It'll happen to Mild as well. Somebody will pick some moment in time and then we will have "Of course it is not a proper XXX, XXXs were around 7.0 ABV and were heavily hopped. The hops helped thin the blood, this helped foundry workers to stay cool." On an end note, whilst ordering a pint of Flower's IPA an acquaintance, who has no interest in beer history, informed me that IPA used to be made from the slops and dregs returned from India.

Ron Pattinson said...

Gavin, I'm doing my bit to defend the weak IPA tradition. It's a type of IPA that's been around since at least the 1890's. It's a disgrace how it's been attacked.

The distinction between Pale Ale and IPA in Britain has been much less distinct than style Stalins would have you believe.

The IPA tree has several branches.

The Burton type - think White Shield - that was well above average strength.

The American type. Which was more like the Burton version in terms of gravity. Or higher. Beers like Ballantine IPA shaped American ideas about the style. That's why beer lovers in the US came to associate IPA with a strong beer. Because that's what it was in an American context.

Context is what it's all about. And dynamics. If you want to analyse beer styles meaningfully.

Ron Pattinson said...

Gavin, picking a particular historical example of a style as being "authentic". That's a great example of ignoring the dynamics of beer styles.

Change is what they're all about. And what makes them fascinating.

Gavin said...

I have been following this blog for a couple of years now. Dynamics certainly is the key to understanding the history of beer styles.
The information on this blog has confirmed and proved much of what I have considered on a more intuative level. I have never met anyone who can satisfactorily tell me the difference between Pale ale and Bitter, a Stout and a Porter, and Southern Brown Ale is not even a useful term in an "etic" sense. Of course, there is the contradicting factor that misinformation will influence the development of beer styles in the future.

What is your opinion on Golden Ale? As a style there does not seem to me to be much in the way of unifying charactor or ingredients. Unless it is branded as such, Golden Ale is not called for, whereas, Bitter, Mild or Lager are. Camra coined the style, it could have been called Summer Ale or any number of names used by brewers. Even so, Golden Ales do seem to represent a deliberate attempt by brewers to create a paler Ale to attract lager drinkers.
There are some interesting Dynamics going on but is it realy a new style?

Ron Pattinson said...

Gavin, I've turned into a real lumper. I would describe Golden Ale as a subset of Pale Ale. Like IPA or Light Ale. And Bitters that pale aren't anything recent - just look at Boddingtons.