Brewer accused of getting excise men drunk in order to avoid paying tax

A few days since, two Excise Officers came to Mr Harwood’s Brew-house near Shoreditch to Gage the Liquors, but instead thereof, finding several of his Men drinking hard therein, sate down with them, and tipled so heartily with them, as to be thoroughly fudled. In the meantime the Surveyor came, and finding a Guile of Beer not set down in their Accounts, made a Report to the Commissioners, that Mr Harwood had caused his Men to make their Officers drunk, in Order to defraud the King of his Duties; So that a Tryal is likely to ensue thereupon, which may be very expensive to Mr Harwood, and be Instructive to others of the same Occupation.

Parker’s London News, or the Impartial Intelligencer, Friday September 4 1724, p5


Isn’t that a wonderful story? I found it (serendipity is marvellous) while looking for something else entirely. Unfortunately, as yet, I’ve been unable to discover any follow-up stories, so I don’t know if Harwood was actually taken to court for getting the revenue officers drunk, and if so, what happened to him. Updates may follow …

Beer history geeks will recognise Mr Harwood, brewer of Shoreditch, East London as Ralph of that ilk, the man identified, incorrectly, by John Feltham in 1802 as the supposed inventor of porter “about the year 1722” (ie two years before the adventures detailed above) as a replacement for a mixed drink called three-threads. It’s a story that went round the world.  As early as 1812, German beer lovers were being told that ‘Der Brauer Harwood brauete den ersten Porter.’ In fact Ralph did nothing of the sort, and porter wasn’t developed to replace three-threads … but you knew that.

Still, that’s not as mangled as something you can still find on dozens of different sites all over the interwebs, which seems to be sourced from a book written for American home-brewers in the late 1990s:

Porter was the first commercially brewed beer. It was named for the train porters who were its original servers and consumers , and became hugely popular in 18th & 19th century Britain.

Train porters in the 18th century …  and nobody was brewing commercially before then … sometimes I wonder why people like me and Ron Pattinson even bother.

3 thoughts on “Brewer accused of getting excise men drunk in order to avoid paying tax”

  1. Great find Martyn!

    Good that you and Ron keep on bothering to try to get accuracy. I have the same problem with the old chestnut that the Anglo-Bavarian was the first brewery to brew lager in this country. Once an idea gets hold it’s difficult to correct, someone will always find the inaccurate and repeat it without bothering to check. Keep up the good work!!

  2. Ahh..the age old venture into avoiding taxes…can’t really blame them. As far as the origin of Porter, us Yanks always take the myth, spin it through our Empire’s Ministry of Truth…and..Voila! It is now true and certain factual history! Gotta keep that fake news shiny! 😉

  3. I am glad people like you and Ron bother because for me it educational. I always learn something from what you guys write. Thank you for sharing your love of beer, brewing and topics related. Please keep on when you are able.

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