Tuesday, 2 April 2013

London Porter in the 1850's (part two)

We're back with George Dodd, learning about beer in London in the 1850's.

Let's start off with a description of some of the types of beer available in the capital:

"The genuine unadulterated London beer, the brown stout, is certainly a special beverage. One drinker may prefer London ale, another the Burton productions of Bass or Allsopp, another the almost over-cloying Edinburgh ale, another the ale of Suffolk or Winchester, of Alton or Llangollen, another the bottled stout of the famous Guinness; but the real London brown stout differs from them all, and has its resolute defenders and admirers. Smokers have sometimes discoursed learnedly upon the fitness of London stout for companionship with tobacco; how that 'the mucilaginous properties, which are well developed in stout, valuably neutralise the narcotic properties of tobacco' — a hypothesis which, be it good or bad, the great porter-brewers would be very glad to endorse. Concerning adulteration, it will be remembered that a great stir was made a few years ago, by an assertion on the part of a French chemist that strychnine, a bitter but poisonous herb, is employed by the Burton ale-brewers in the preparation of their 'bitter ale.' The accusation raised a ferment among the ale-drinkers, and this in its turn roused the Burton brewers; a paper-war ensued, and eminent chemists were called in to ascertain the facts of the matter. The inquiry certainly tended to show that Burton ale is what it professes to be — a genuine product of malt and hops."
"The food of London" by George Dodd, 1856, pages 467 - 468.

I told you that Burton brewers were on the rise. Had this piece been written 20 years earlier, I doubt Bass and Allsopp would have got a mention. I can't help thinking that the whole strychnine scare did Burton brewers no harm at all. The opposite, in fact, as it drew attention to their beers and demonstrated that they weren't adulterated, at least not in the brewery.

Neither would Guinness have been mentioned a little earlier in the century. At the time, it was principally a bottled product in England. It's a notable success of the brewery that they were able to sell considerable quantities in the birthplace of Stout.

Alton, now there's a famous brewing town that's almost totally forgotten today. Being lucky enough to have similar water to Burton, brewers in Alton were able to cash in early on the Pale Ale craze. Alton was still famous for Pale Ale in the early 20th century when Courage, who only brewed Mild, Porter and Stout at their Horsleydown site owned a brewery to meet its Pale Ale requirements. That's where Courage Directors was originally brewed.

From the "over-cloying" description of Edinburgh Ale, it's clear Dodd is talking about the stronger type of Shilling Ale: 100/-, 120/-, 140/- or 160/-. It's not just a case of a high OG, but also a high FG that would make them syrupy.  These are a few examples from William Younger:

William Younger Shilling Ales in the 1850's
Date Year Beer OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation hops lb/brl bushels malt per barrel 
16th Apr 1853 100/- 1102 1039 8.33 61.76% 4.75 4.60
21st Jun 1854 110/- 1087 1040 6.22 54.02% 3.00 4.80
15th Apr 1853 120/- 1114 1054 7.94 52.63% 6.25 6.00
28th Feb 1852 140/- 1130 1058 9.53 55.38% 4.38 5.84
William Younger brewing record held at the Scottish Brewing Archive, document number WY/6/1/2/5.

Note that the FG's are higher than the OG's of most modern British beer.

"So far as regards London porter, any sophistication is likely to be practised rather, perhaps, by the publicans in low neighbourhoods than by the brewers ; for the 'Barclay' or the 'Meux' at one house is frequently a very different beverage from that sold at another. Chemists assure us that cocculus indicus, a very bitter drug, often serves as a substitute for hops; that it gives a fulness and thickness and inebriating quality to beer, gaining for that beverage the reputation of being 'strong;' and that hence arises a temptation to tamper with the liquor, by lessening the quantity both of malt and hops. The beer-drinkers are in part to blame here, for thinking that the darkness and clammy thickness are necessarily indicative of strength."
"The food of London" by George Dodd, 1856, page 468.

I'm still uncertain what to make of all these accusations of adulteration. I'm pretty sure stuff like this didn't go on inside the large London Porter brewers. Though what happened when beer fell into the hands of publicans is anyone's guess. Adding drugs was usually supposed to occur when publicans wanted to disguise that they'd watered beer down. Accusations about the use of cocculus indicus regularly appear in publications of the day.

"Numerous minor facts present themselves for notice in connection with London beer. So far as the malt is concerned, beer is made from high-dried malt, which renders it dull, dark, and bitter; while ale is made from low-dried malt, whence it obtains the characteristics of being brisk, light, and sweet. While an excise duty was imposed on beer, 'strong beer' was considered to be that which sold for 16d. or upwards per gallon, while 'table beer' was at lower prices. There was an attempt made by the legislature to encourage the brewing of a third kind, called 'intermediate;' but this attempt, embodied in an Act passed in 1823, did not meet with ultimate success. Brewers can obtain more good wort from a bushel of low-dried malt than from an equal quantity of high-dried ; but as the beer thus resulting would not be so dark or bitter as ordinary London porter, the brewers are tempted to add certain chemical ingredients to bring about the darkening process. Strong Scotch ale is rich both in malt and in hops — there being, it is said, four or five bushels of the former, and four or five pounds of the latter, to a barrel. The 'fourpenny ale,' at the beer-shops (as distinguished from the public-houses) contains from three to four bushels of malt, and two pounds of hops, to the barrel, and is bought from the brewers at 36s. or 38s. per barrel."
"The food of London" by George Dodd, 1856, pages 469 - 470.

I'm wondering if that price of 16d per gallon is right for the dividing line between strong and table beer. The real significance was the difference tax rate for the two classes: 10 shillings per barrel for strong beer, 2 shillings for table beer. It looks a bit high to me. Higher than the usual price of Porter, around 12d per gallon. In any case, that distinction no longer applied in 1856, when taxation was only on malt and not on beer itself.

Why a brewer would use chemicals to darken beer I don't understand. In 1856 there were two legal options: black malt or sugar.

Strong Scotch Ale rich in hops? I thought the Scots didn't use hardly any hops because they don't grow in Scotland? Oh, I remember, that's total bollocks. The table above confirms the quantities of malt and hops Dodd quotes. Four or five pounds per barrel is a shitload.

There's still more of Dodd's chapter on beer for me to pick through. But that's for next time.


Bryan the BeerViking said...

Alton isn't completely forgotten - Triple fff has won over a dozen gongs in the last 10 years or so, mostly for its Alton's Pride bitter and Moondance best bitter.

Peter Irwin pirwin@ktb.net said...

The Food Journal for October 2 1871 (Volume 2 page 410) contains a sumary of findings for an analysis of four kinds of beer (porter, stout, bitter and old) at ten different London pubs.

Watering down beer was very common, expecially in the case of porter, and so was adding "foots sugar" ( basically treacle) and salt to make the water less obvious. But there were no other adulterations found, and they looked for all of the rumoured ones.

Porter was especially likely to be adulterated because of its low standard price of 3d per quart. This is equal to a retail price of 36/- for a 36 gallon barrel, but good porter only cost a little less than this to the publican.

The expensive types of beer at 8d per quart (96/- a barrel retail) could be profitable without watering, though some publicans did so anyway.