London Porter is a dark, sweet beer
with a complex flavour.
It was England's favourite tipple
amongst the working class
, from the 1700s until Victorian
when it was overtaken by IPA
. Before the advent of London Porter,
brewers were principally brewing (and the London drinkers
drinking) brown ale
The beer originally had an official name of "entire butt" by which it
was known in the brewery, but was nicknamed "porter", ostensibly on
account of popularity with the large number of porters who drank it.
In the 18th Century, London had thousands of porters, regulated by the
City of London guilds; the two main groups were the 'fellowship porters',
who unloaded 'measurable' goods (e.g. corn, salt) from ships on the
Thames, and the 'ticket porters', who wore a pewter badge embossed with
the City of London coat of arms - the ticket. The ticket porters were
themselves divided into two groups: the 'uptown porters' who moved goods
around the City (identifiable because they wore a white apron in addition
to the ticket), and the 'waterside porters', working in the waterside
wharfs and quays, doing the jobs that the fellowship porters would not
When it comes to how this type of beer came about, there is an anecdotal
story about an accident in a maltings. The story is about how a maltster
was called away on some important business, but had left the kiln full
of brown malt due to be delivered to the brewery later that day. Due to
the excessive and uncontrolled heat in the kiln, the malt almost burned
to cinders, and the maltster was horrified on his return. Feeling that
the brewer would not be prepared to pay full price for the 'burnt malt',
the batch of malt was sold off at a substantial discount.
Faced with this batch of cheap malt, the brewer decided to experiment,
and tried a brew with these heavily kilned grains, many of which had
exploded like popcorn. The results of the brew introduced new flavours
from the caramel that had resulted from the intense heat on the sugars.
After the successful brew, the brewer went back to the maltings to ask
for more of this 'high brown' or 'blown' malt.
However, evidence suggests that porter wasn't just invented; it took time
for brewing recipes to be perfected, and for people's tastes to adapt.
There is some confusion between various historical accounts, about the
precise meaning of "entire butt". Butt here refers to the cask used to
store the beer while it matures. A long maturing - "secondary fermentation",
typically 6 months to 2 years was needed for this type of beer, much more so
than for brown ale, which was ready after a week.
Various accounts suggest that 'entire' was replacing a drink called
'Three threads', and suggest that the publican was required to mix
three different brews to serve a pint. Mixing "mild and stale" was common
practice; 'stale' was not used a pejorative term in those days; we would
tend to use the term 'mature' instead. An alternative, and in my opinion
more likely interpretation of 'entire' is that the results of three mashes
of the same grains are mixed and fermented together, delivered to the
publican in one cask. The practice of
mashing grains three times is commonplace; this gives "strong beer",
"ordinary beer" and "small beer". I have had it on extremely good authority
that Fuller's ESB, London Pride and Chiswick are three
mashes from the same malt.
Source: Martyn Cornell. Beer: The story of the pint. ISBN 0755311655