Thursday 28 October 2021

Porter history - the same old bullshit

I thought that after more than a decade of Martyn Cornell and I putting the record straight on the history of Porter that the myths about its history had finally been laid to rest. How wrong I was.

The latest edition of CAMRA's Beer magazine contains an article on Porter by Roger Protz. Where he repeats all of the most egregious tales of the style's origin and decline. It's incredibly frustrating that I'm still having to refute this bullshit after demonstrating years ago just how wrong it was.

Here we go again.

"The brewers called porter entire butt, as it was served from just one cask or butt. It replaced a beer that was a blend of pale, brown and stale ales."

The early name for Porter was Starting Butt Beer, not Entire Butt. Entire Butt doesn't refer to it being served from a single cask. It means that it was brewed "Entire gyle", that is, all the worts were cobined to make a single beer. As op[posed to parti-gyling multiple beer from one brew. Entire later came to refer to Keeping Porter, beer which had been aged.

Porter didn't replace blend of pale, brown and stale ales. That was made up in the early 19th century by someone who totally misinterpreted Obadiah Poundage's letter to a magazine outlining the history of Porter. In any case Porter was a Beer, not an Ale. In the early 18th century Beer and Ale were two distinct drinks, brewed at different breweries and even coming in different-sized casks.

"But production came to an abrupt stop in World War I, when the government banned the use of dark roasted malts. It said the additional energy, in the shape of gas, coal and electricity, used to produce roasted malts should go into munitions and baking."

I've looked very carefully through the Food Controller's orders in WW I and I can find no ban on the roasting of malt. All through the war London brewed used large quantities of roasted malts, even including brown malt in some Mild Ales.

Production of Porter didn't stop in London during WW I. Neither of Stout. Even in the darkest days of 1918 and 1919, Whitbread brewed over 100,000 barrels of Porter and Stout. Production of Porter did fall dramatically in 1917 and 1918, but only because gravities had become so reduced that Stout, for a while, replaced it.

Here are the details:

Whitbread Porter and Stout production 1914 - 1929
Year P S CS LS ES Total Port
1914 123,085 190   198,806   382,984
1915 65,216     208,733 282 314,169
1916 80,298     244,889   369,130
1917 8,493     241,280   286,163
1918 7,136     95,882   110,695
1919 21,602 4,797   89,165   117,284
1920 24,910 47,789   137,533   234,413
1921 15,688 58,452   133,563 30,920 238,623
1922 16,562 47,530 84,703 15,340 28,582 192,717
1923 14,165 39,960 68,326 20,866 26,660 169,977
1924 15,948 37,834 74,258 23,442 26,710 178,192
1925 14,943 35,396 62,357 22,262 28,974 163,932
1926 13,511 34,567 20,721 69,724 29,990 168,513
1927 10,708 30,087   86,569 22,361 149,725
1928 10,105 30,017   85,992 16,039 142,153
1929 5,558 17,284   51,624 11,313 85,779
Whitbread brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document numbers LMA/4453/D/01/079, LMA/4453/D/01/080, LMA/4453/D/01/081, LMA/4453/D/01/082, LMA/4453/D/01/083, LMA/4453/D/01/084, LMA/4453/D/01/085, LMA/4453/D/01/086, LMA/4453/D/01/087, LMA/4453/D/01/088, LMA/4453/D/01/089, LMA/4453/D/01/090, LMA/4453/D/01/091, LMA/4453/D/01/092, LMA/4453/D/01/093 and LMA/4453/D/01/094.

WW I did have a negative impact of Porter in London. But that wasn't the result of a ban on roasted malts. More it was fault of London brewers post-war for brewing Porter as a 5d per pint beer, which meant it had a watery gravity of not much over 1030º. It seems many drinkers switched over to Stout.

It wasn't just Whitbread. Fullers were brewing 250 barrel batches of Porter in 1918 and 1919.


Matt said...

He also claims that the name comes from the beer's popularity with market, rather than street and river, porters, and that the alleged World War I malting restrictions weren't imposed on the "rebellious Irish" (bit of racial stereotyping there), thus giving Irish porter brewers a trade advantage.

Anonymous said...

It amazes me how much food and drink history is written while being based only on secondary sources. Writers seem to have no concept that those sources might be off the mark, and even worse, all basing their accounts on the same single mistaken secondary source.

Anonymous said...

Matt, if I recall correctly during World War I British brewers were limited to an average gravity of 1.030 while Irish brewers were permitted 1.045, taking into account their greater propensity to brew stout.

Martyn Cornell said...

The publicity for Roger's new "World Beer Book" is repeating the nonsense that Bass Pale Ale was "the world's first pale ale", again despite the fact that it has been pointed out to him this is wildly inaccurate. Really, I weep.

On the "Irish question", yes, it wasn't because the Irish were rebellious, it was because the Irish brewers persuaded the government that they simpply could not brew their stouts at the gravities the government was trying to impose.

Ross Slaughter said...

Having been following the teachings of Messrs Pattinson and Cornell for nearly a decade now I am quietly confident of know the truth of our favourite drink. And Roger Protz really should know better by now!