Category Archives: History of beer

How I uncovered the long-forgotten story of America’s first porter brewery and then sat on it for three years

It’s a huge thrill to uncover facts that totally rewrite history. You’ll read in a great many places – here, for example, in a book published in 2014 – that the first porter brewed in America was made by Robert Hare, son of a London porter brewer, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1775. So when in 2017 I found an advertisement in an 18th century newspaper that showed porter being brewed in the American colonies ten years earlier than that, by someone else, in an entirely different state, it was shirt-over-the-head, run-round-the-room time.

Geography of Beer cover

Except that I found this story while researching for a chapter I was writing on the global spread of porter for the latest in the “Geography of Beer” series, published by Springer. I really wanted to keep the story I had found as an exclusive for the book, so I decided I couldn’t publish anything until the book came out. Ne’er mind, I thought, ’twill only mean a wait until early next year. Except that for a number of unfortunate reasons, publication of the book was delayed. And delayed. And delayed a bit more, leaving me sweating in case someone else stumbled over these same facts, and published the true story of America’s first porter brewer before I did. I had done some more digging, and found that the whole tale had appeared in a book written in 1968 about the now long-vanished estate where the first American commercial porter brewery was based: the author of that book, however, had failed to realise the significance of the story in the history of brewing, being more interested in the archaeology of the site and what it said about social conditions of the time. [Add: An article in Brewery History, the journal of the Brewery History Society, in 2016, which I had forgotten about until reminded, mentioned the brewery concerned, and the fact that it made porter, but failed to point out that this was the earliest known brewing of the beer in America.]

So: The Geography of Beer: Culture and Economics (Nancy Hoalst-Pullen and Mark W. Patterson, eds) was finally published this month, and it being out and in the public domain, I can now tell you the full, short and ultimately rather sad and tragic story of America’s First Porter Brewery. Sit back, pour yourself something dark, and away we’ll go.

Britain’s American colonies in the mid-18th century provided a market for more than just the tea that was to cause problems in Boston in 1773. In 1766 the sums remitted to England for London porter by the merchants of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and elsewhere were described as “very considerable”.

Growing imports of porter, and American colonists’ growing estrangement from Britain, eventually encouraged a Dublin-born American entrepreneur, lawyer and plantation owner, John Mercer, of Marlborough, Stafford County, Northern Virginia, to start brewing porter commercially, the first known porter brewery outside the British Isles. Mercer, the son of a Dublin merchant also named John, whose grandfather came from Chester in England, was born in February 1704 and came to America in 1720, aged 16. He had moved to Marlborough in 1726, initially leasing property in what was then a run-down settlement, and eventually built up a thriving tobacco plantation. He also began a career in the law and rose to be one of the top attorneys in Virginia, acting for George Washington among others, and a wealthy man. Late in the 1740s he poured money into turning his home in Marlborough into a Palladian manor house, filled with mirrors, marble-topped sideboards and furniture brought across the Atlantic from Europe.

As he entered his 60s, increasing illness, and deafness, forced Mercer to quit the law. He was also struggling with debts, and, looking around for a way to make money, decided “with self-deceptive optimism,” as one historian wrote, to start a brewery at Marlborough, reasoning that it could not fail to be profitable, because “our Ordinaries [inns and taverns] abound & daily increase, for drinking will continue longer than anything but eating.” He assured his son George that the venture “would quickly retrieve all my losses and misfortunes.” A brewery would, in any event, enable him to “brew for the family use, that they may have drink with their victuals” – the “family” here including Mercer’s black slaves, the Marlborough estate being home to “about 26 white people & 122 negroes.”

A portrait of John Mercer, courtesy of the Virginia State Library and Mrs Montague Blundon, via the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Mercer constructed a brewhouse and a malthouse, each 100 feet long and made of brick and stone, plus “Cellars, Cooper’s house [the brewery employed two coopers at £20 a year] & all the buildings, copper & utensils whatever, used about the brewery.” The purchases to equip the brewery included 50 yards of haircloth, a yard wide, for the malt kiln. Marlborough already had a windmill which could be used to grind the malt, but for the days when the wind did not blow, “I have now a hand-mill fixed in my brewhouse loft that will grind 50 bushels of malt (my coppers complement) every morning they brew.”

Mercer also laid out money on purchasing “about 40” black slaves, “to enable me to make Grain sufficient to carry on my brewery with my own hands,” and also began growing his own hops. He hired a man named Andrew Wales, or Wayles, “a young Scotch brewer,” who “affirmed that he had some years the charge of a brewhouse at Edinburgh,” and persuaded Mercer to spend £100 to alter the new malthouse. Another brewer, William King, arrived in September 1765, who condemned Wales’s alterations to the malthouse. King died the following month, but a short time later William Bailey arrived at Marlborough unannounced, sent by King’s nephew, a man named Wadman, and carrying with him a high recommendation as a brewer from his previous employer, Colonel John Tayloe, one of the richest plantation owners in Virginia. Tayloe said that Bailey’s brews had been “preferred by some gent. of distinction & good taste to very good Burton & other English ales.” Mercer wrote: “You may readily believe I did not hesitate to employ Bailey on such a recommendation, more especially as he agreed with King in blaming the alteration of the malt house & besides found great fault with Wales’s malting.”

Unsure which of the two, Bailey or Wales, was the better brewer, Mercer let both men brew separately. However, he wrote, “though Bailey found as much fault with Wales’s brewing as he did with his malting, that brewed by Wales was the only beer I had that Season fit to drink.” Bailey made enough beer to send a schooner-load of it to Norfolk, Virginia, but it was of such “bad character” that only two casks were sold. The rest had to be stored for two months, then returned to Marlborough. An attempt to distil it into whiskey was made, but with no success. Wales, although he had brewed drinkable beer, had only made around 550 gallons, the return on which was hardly enough to pay his £40 wages, let alone the maintenance for himself and his wife.

In 1766 the brewery made 550 bushels of malt, but the quality of much of the beer and ale produced was poor. Mercer wrote to his eldest son George that “Wales complains of my Overseer & says that he is obliged to wait for barley, coals & other things that are wanted which, if timely supplied with he could with six men & a boy manufacture 250 bushels a week which would clear £200 … My Overseer is a very good one & I believe as a planter equal to any in Virginia but you are sensible few planters are good farmers and barley is a farmer’s article.”

Despite the problems, in April 1766 Mercer took advertisements in the Virginia Gazette and the Maryland Gazette to promote the Marlborough Brewery’s “strong Beer and Porter at 18d and ale at 1s the gallon, Virginia currency, in cask, equal in goodness to any that can be imported from any part of the world,” and to give a kicking to the imported brew, declaring his own beer used “nothing but the genuine best Malt and Hops … without any mixture or substitute whatsoever, which, if the many treaties of brewing published in Great Britain did not mention to be frequently used there, the experience of those who have drunk those liquors imported from thence would point out to be the case, from their pernicious effects.”

Mercer revealed that he had spent “near 8000l to bring my brewery to its present state,” which, even assuming these were Virginian pounds, suggests an expenditure equivalent today to an enormous £1 million, and went on to say that “The severe treatment we have lately received from our Mother Country [a reference to the Stamp Act of 1765, introducing deeply unpopular taxes, and other revenue-raising legislation imposed on the colonies by London: Mercer was a committed and vociferous opponent of the Stamp Act], would, I should think, be sufficient to recommend my undertaking. (though I should not be able to come up to the English standard, which I do not question constantly to do).” The appeal to patriotic Americans to drink local porter in preference to imported was one that would be repeated by other brewers.

The first advertisement for American-brewed porter, in the Williamsburg Gazette, Virginia on April 25 1766

Bottles were a problem, and Mercer’s advertisement added: “Any person who sends bottles and corks may have them carefully filled and corked with beer or porter at 6s or with ale at 4s the dozen. I expect, in a little time, to have constant supply of bottles and corks; and if I meet the encouragement I hope for, propose setting up a glasshouse for making bottles, and to provide proper vessels to deliver to such customers as favour me with their orders such liquors as they direct, at the several landings they desire.”

Ignoring the problems with the quality of the beer produced at his brewery, Mercer remained optimistic, telling his son George: “It is affirmed that Virginia imports beer & ale to the amt of upwards of £30,000 Sterl. yearly (which is more than ten such breweries as mine could brew) little of what is imported is sold by any ordinary keeper who cannot import it on his own account, as there is little to be got by it, when purchased here whereas mine at 10d and 15d a gallon, to which I have reduc’d it upon the fall of exchange, will afford every ordinary keeper as much, if not more profit, than any other liquor he sells.”

He was also optimistic about starting his own glassworks to provide bottles for the brewery, telling George: “A Glass house to be built here must I am satisfied turn to great profit, they have some in New England & New York or the Jerseys & find by some resolves the New England men are determined to increase their number.” However, he was facing growing financial problems, despite employing a receiver to travel around northern Virginia calling on his debtors to try to recover the £10,000 he was owed. Still, he remained hugely optimistic, telling George early in 1768: “I can make my barley and hops, have coopers of my own, & beleive [sic] some of my own negroes coud malt & brew tho I shoud choose to employ an expert brewer & malster. Surely with so many advantages it is impossible I should fail, if I persevere.”

Just as the next brewing season began, however, in October 1768, Mercer died at home, leaving the heavily indebted estate in the control of his son James. James immediately started to sell off everything, from his father’s library of 1,200 books to his cattle and horses, including his prize stud horse Ranter, worth £330.

Marlborough Brewery advertisement, Virginia Gazette, November 23 1769

The brewery, however, kept going, under the control of Wales: on November 23 1769 the Virginia Gazette carried an advertisement from the Marlborough brewery for “a large quantity of extreme good beer and ale at 16d and 11d the gallon, including the casks; the casks are extremely good, and contain from 40 to 50 gallons.” “Mr Wayles the brewer” declared that he “has brewed four crops” (that is since the first in 1765) and has always made good liquor, and he thinks the present crop will be better than usual, as the grain is very good.” Indeed, “He is so confident of his success that he has agreed to pay for all that is not good … the whole has been brewed since the 20th of October last, and the beer will be fit for use in a fortnight, and the ale in three days after landing.” Such speedy maturation suggests the “beer” was now solely of the amber or pale kind, rather than porter. Would-be customers were told that “Captain Thomas Casson will carry about 120 casks up Rappahannock river within 20 days from this time,” and “he will call at all the towns and Gentlemens Houses on the river, and will lodge any quantity for Gentlemen in the forest where they shall please to direct.”

Sale of John Mercer’s brewing equipment, Virginia Gazette, November 8 1770

Commercial success clearly continued to elude the venture, and a year later, in November 1770, the  brewery equipment, which included “a copper that boils 500 gallons, several iron bound buts [sic] that contain a whole brewing each, coolers, &c &c and a quantity of new iron hoops and rivets for casks of different forms, lately imported,” together with much of the rest of the estate’s assets, was put up for sale. The last echo looks to have come the following year, in August 1771, when among the items being sold at an auction of goods from the Marlborough estate were “about two Hundred Weight of Hops of last Crop.”) James Mercer, an important figure in the politics of revolutionary Virginia, and subsequently a judge of the state’s General Court, apparently continued to live at Marlborough until his death in 1791: the estate passed to his half-brother John Francis Mercer, a soldier and politician, who sold it around 1800, after which it decayed over the next couple of decades until it effectively disappeared.


Addendum: to learn more about the career of Andrew Wales, click here

When 200,000 pints of beer went overboard to save a ship

If you are ever in Picton, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, take a two-minute walk along the foreshore from the Cook Strait Ferry terminal to Dunbar Wharf, and marvel at a unique survival: the Edwin Fox, last remaining wooden sailing ship to have carried India Pale Ale from London to the thirsty east.

The Edwin Fox in Picton before she was moved to a dry dock and preservation work began. Picture copyright Marlborough Museum

Admittedly, 166 years after she was built, from best Malabar teak and Morung saul in a shipyard on the Hooghly river, Calcutta, and more than a century after she was towed into Picton, minus her masts, you need to pump up your imagination to visualise what this now empty shell was like in its prime, crossing the briny blue oceans, stuffed to its gunwales with pale ale and porter brewed by the banks of the Thames.

The Edwin Fox, painted by Gainor Jackson, courtesy of the Edwin Fox Society

In her three decades as a working ship, the Edwin Fox carried an enormous variety of cargoes and passengers: troops to the Baltic during one of the side-campaigns of the Crimea War, supplies and ammunition to Balaclava, wounded soldiers back home, rice for Hong Kong and South Africa, coolies from China to the plantations of  Cuba, coals to the Coromandel coast, convicts for Australia, cotton, sugar, more troops to and from India, emigrant families to New Zealand, as well as beer.

Her transport of IPA from London to India, according to modern commentators who prefer the thrill of a good story to the labour of checking its veracity, brought the Edwin Fox the nickname “the booze barge”. Unfortunately (a) there appears to be no 19th century evidence to support this claim; (b) the nickname “booze barge” has also been given by writers to another 19th century vessel, the clipper Catherine Adamson, from Aberdeen, which was wrecked during a storm in Sydney Harbour in 1857 and went down with a cargo of 4,000 gallons of brandy, 5,000 gallons of wine, 1,500 gallons of other spirits and 156 barrels of beer; and (c) the term “booze barge” first seems to appear in print only in 1908, in the United States. It has to be doubted, therefore, that the Edwin Fox was ever called a “booze barge” by her contemporaries.

Indeed, only six journeys with beer as cargo are definitely known for the Edwin Fox, three of which were to New Zealand. One of those beer trips to India, in 1869, was one of the many near-disasters that the Edwin Fox regularly became fouled in during her career. The vessel, by now technically a barque, that is, with fore-and-aft sails on the mizzen mast (the rear-most one of three) rather than the square-rigged sails on all three masts of a ship, a cost-saving alteration that had been made two years before, had left London for Madras on March 17 with a cargo made up mostly of 1,700 hogsheads – 85,000 gallons – of ale and porter, probably all made at the Taylor Walker brewery in Limehouse and ordered by the Madras government for the canteens of British regiments based in India. She arrived on July 25, after 137 days, in the Madras Roads, having travelled round Africa and via Trincomalee in Ceylon, a voyage of 14,000 miles. Some 317 hogsheads of beer were unloaded in Madras, and the Edwin Fox left on the afternoon of August 10 for the port of Masulipatam, 220 miles up the coast, with the rest of the beer, around 1,400 hogsheads.

A day and a half out of Madras, in the middle of the night, with her captain, William Black, literally in unfamiliar waters and feeling his way along, the Edwin Fox grounded in the soft mud of a shoal bank, 2½ miles from the shore. She stuck there for a day, as Black and the crew tried to get her to move, until finally it was decided the only way the Edwin Fox was going to shift would be to lighten her by throwing some of the cargo overboard. Normally it would be ballast or shot tossed into the sea to lighten a stranded vessel, but Black was afraid that might form a wall around the Edwin Fox which would stop her floating off. A total of 446 hogsheads, all those stowed in the tween decks, went over the sides, not far short of 200,000 pints of beer, a task that took the 22 crew members (not including the captain) 2½ days, before the barque finally floated free of the underwater mud early the following morning and they were able to continue on to Masulipatam, arriving a few hours later with the Edwin Fox apparently unharmed.

By November 1869 200 hogsheads of ale and one of porter had been salvaged in good condition from the 446 thrown overboard, along with 11 hogsheads where the contents had turned bad, and six empty casks. But that still meant a sixth of the total cargo of ale had been lost. Captain Black faced an official marine court of inquiry into the ship’s grounding, which concluded that though he “acted unwisely” in sailing so close to the shore when he had never been in those waters before, it would restrict itself to “strongly cautioning him to be more careful” in future.

The interior of the preserved Edwin Fox at Picton. Picture courtesy of the Edwin Fox Society

The Edwin Fox had been built in 1853 in the shipyard at Sulkeah in Calcutta owned by Thomas Reeves, son of a shipbuilder from London. She has been described as “the last of the East Indiamen”, the name given to the iconic vessels owned and run by the Honourable East India Company, but as a ship she was considerably smaller than the classic East Indiaman, more cramped and less stylish. She probably took only a few weeks to build. The Edwin Fox for whom she was named was a friend of Reeves, described in Reeves’s will as a City of London merchant, though there are at least two candidates as to who exactly he was. One Edwin Fox was a London-born auctioneer and businessman who died at his home, Heatham House, Twickenham, in 1891. The other Edwin Fox, sometimes described as “the well-known Southampton Quaker” (though he was not from Southampton), was a senior figure in the East India Company, who was born in Wadebridge, Cornwall and died on the Isle of Wight in 1892.

This Edwin Fox, with his Indian connections, seems the most likely man for whom the ship was named: though recently a third Edwin Fox, supposedly a shipwright in Reeves’s shipyard at Sulkeah, was suggested as the ship’s eponym. That the original Edwin Fox was a businessman rather than a shipwright, however, is strongly suggested by a story told about a deputation by a new crew complaining of a ghost in the fore ’tween deck space. The ghost – a huge white figure wearing a top hat – turned out to be the ship’s figurehead, Edwin Fox himself, damaged and placed below deck to await repair and replacement at the front of the ship.

The Edwin Fox was signed off by Reeves’s master shipbuilder, William Henry Forster, on December 6 1853, with Reeves listed as the sole owner, and she cleared customs at Calcutta just eight days later for a voyage to London via the Cape of Good Hope, carrying ten passengers and a mixed cargo that included almost 4,000 bags of rice, 145 bales of goatskins and cow hides, 750 bales of jute, 225 cases of castor oil, 3,400 bags of linseed and rape seed and around 100 tons of saltpetre. She unloaded the rice in Table Bay on February 20 1854, and was waiting to take on fresh water before continuing her journey when a gale arrived. The ship’s anchor cables parted during the storm, she hit another vessel – the first of many collisions during her career – and lost her foremast and part of her mainmast, with considerable other damage. Repairs took a fortnight, but the Edwin Fox finally left Table Bay on March 7, arriving off Gravesend in the Thames estuary on May 10, after a five-month journey from India.

A month later Reeves sold the Edwin Fox to Sir George Edmund Hodgkinson, a City of London-based shipowner. Hodgkinson immediately hired her out to the British government for use as a transport in the Crimean War, which had started the previous October. The Edwin Fox was actually in the Black Sea, transporting sick and wounded troops from the front (at one point she was visited by Florence Nightingale herself), when she was sold again, in May 1855, to another London ship owner, Duncan Dunbar.

Duncan Dunbar’s ale on sale in Calcutta, advertised in the Calcutta Gazette, Thursday July 15 1802

Much mythology has sprouted around Dunbar, and his father, Duncan Dunbar senior. Their business was based at what was known as early as 1804 as Dunbar Wharf, in Fore Street (today Narrow Street), Limehouse, described in 1803 as “a large warehouse adjoining to the water, with a commodious landing place for merchandise”. In particular it is frequently stated that Dunbar senior ran a brewery. There is no evidence at all to support this claim, however. Instead Duncan Dunbar senior was merely a beer, wine and spirits merchant, exporting to India and other overseas markets beers sold in his own name – not unknown among merchants and beer bottlers, with, for example, the Mincing Lane, City of London-based firm Shone & Co shipping porter under its own name to Calcutta in 1797 – but almost certainly actually brewed by Taylor’s brewery (later Taylor Walker) a short distance away from Dunbar Wharf in Fore Street. In 1801, for example, porter and brown stout “from Hodgson and Co [the famous pale ale brewers of Bow] and Duncan Dunbar, at 90 Rs per Hogsheads” was on sale in Calcutta. The following year “Duncan Dunbar’s ale, in bottles” was on offer to the Bengal city’s drinkers. By 1821 “Dunbar beer in hogsheads (brown stout)” was available in Sydney, Australia.

With its near-neighbour Taylor’s one of the biggest London porter brewers, and also producing pale ale, it would certainly make little economic sense for Dunbar to brew his own. Nor did he export only ale, porter and stout: in 1803 “Whyskey [sic] from Duncan Dunbar” was on sale in Calcutta. In an Old Bailey court case of 1804 involving stolen bottles, Dunbar is specifically described as a wine and spirit seller. Trade directories regularly call him a “beer merchant” or “ale and porter merchant”. He was called a “porter-merchant” in 1808, when the “substantial warehouse with large cellars and vaults on the basement” he was leasing in Fore Street was advertised for sale. Nowhere is he mentioned as a brewer of his own beers. Instead the cellars and vaults at Dunbar Wharf served as stores for beer brewed by others, most of it, according to one source, by Taylor Walker up the street, but with a label on the bottles carrying the Dunbar house flag, showing a golden lion on a red shield with a white border decorated with red and gold diamonds and stars. “Envious rivals,” it has been declared, “said that the Dunbar fortunes floated to success on Taylor Walker’s ale.”

House flag of the Duncan Dunbar & Sons fleet, which appeared on the labels of bottles of beer sold by the firm

Duncan Dunbar senior, born around 1761, was the seventh son of John Dunbar, a tenant farmer of Balnageith, near Forres, in the north of Scotland. He had moved to London by the 1790s, opening a beer, wines and spirits business, marrying and fathering two sons and six daughters. The eldest son, Duncan junior, was born in 1803, joined the family business aged 16 after two years at Aberdeen University, and was made a partner aged 21 in 1824. A year later Duncan senior died at his home in the East India Road, Poplar, aged 64, leaving Duncan junior in charge of the firm. From 1827 Duncan junior began to branch out into ship-owning, starting with a half-share of a barque built in Sussex. In 1841 Duncan Dunbar and Sons were still being described in Australia as “wine and porter merchants”. But by 1842 the Dunbar fleet numbered 11. From that year, growth accelerated, so that by the beginning of 1858 Dunbar owned 43 ships, the biggest privately owned fleet in the world.

Advertisement for Dunbar’s pale ale, New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, April 18 1840

The acquisition of the Edwin Fox by Dunbar has another myth attached. Supposedly the ship was put up for auction by Hodgkinson, and the auction attracted both Dunbar and a pair of rival shipowners, John Willis, who later owned the Cutty Sark, and James Baines of Liverpool, owner of the Black Ball shipping line:

“The auction was charged with electricity in the form of rivalry … The bidding commenced at £15,000 and went up quickly to £25,000. Willis withdrew at £25,000, knowing there was heat in the bidding of a personal nature, and immediately Baines who was decked out very smartly for the day, bid £28,000 and turned and snarled at Dunbar: ‘Beat that if you can, and be damned to you!’ Applause broke out, and Dunbar shouted back: ‘£30,000, and the same to you!’ Gasps of astonishment arose, there was silence, and the record price was paid by Dunbar. Dunbar made back the purchase price plus £8,000 profit in the next 18 months of charter for French troops to the Crimea. A very good investment indeed.”

Unfortunately the story, while a cracker, does not add up, it does not fit the known facts, and nor can it be found in any journals from the time. Ships like the Edwin Fox were being sold for less than £15,000, so it seems hugely unlikely that Dunbar would pay  twice that for her. In addition, there is no evidence that Dunbar ever chartered her to carry French troops. She arrived home off Plymouth from the Black Sea carrying almost 150 invalids from 51 different British regiments in October 1855, five months after her purchase by Dunbar. Over the next four months the Edwin Fox was refitted to carry passengers and general cargo, and in February 1856 she left London for Melbourne with six paying civilians and a hold full of miscellaneous goods.

Duncan Dunbar junior, 1803-1862

The next four years were spent travelling around the Far East looking for cargoes, or transporting convicts from Britain to Australia. The first occasion the Edwin Fox carried beer to India appears to come in February 1860, when she left London for Bombay with a cargo that included “a substantial quantity” of Taylor Walker’s India Pale Ale. Her owner, Duncan Dunbar junior, a heavily built man described as looking like John Bull, died unmarried two years later, in March 1862, aged 59. He left a fortune estimated at £1.6 million, perhaps £150 million today, which went to his sisters and nieces. He was buried in Highgate Cemetery, and the ships in the East India Docks flew their colours at half-mast on the day of his funeral.

When the Edwin Fox made her next known journey to India with beer in her hold, in October 1863, she had a new owner, the firm of Gellatly, Hankey and Sewell, founded by Dunbar’s former manager, Edward Gellatly, who had bought the vessel at one of a series of auctions of Dunbar’s stocks and holdings in July 1862 for £7,600. (The stocks at the warehouse in Limehouse included, as a small selection, 12,000 new oak staves, 39 tons of new iron hooping, 336 barrels of pork, three pipes of lime juice, 275 gallons of brandy, rum and gin, and 300 dozen of bottled beer.)

Under her new owners, who converted her to a barque, which took a smaller crew to control and thus made her cheaper to operate, the Edwin Fox mostly carried troops to and from British India for the next few years, with the exception of the ill-fated “booze cruise” of 1869, and a trip from Cardiff to Madras with 1,000 tons of coal briquettes. In the early 1870s the Edwin Fox turned from carrying goods, or soldiers, to taking emigrants out to start new lives in New Zealand. On her first journey in this new role, with some 200 emigrant passengers, the Edwin Fox was caught in a tremendous storm in the Bay of Biscay in February 1873 that left her badly damaged and needing to be towed into Brest by a passing steamship, with the ship’s doctor and a crew member both killed and others injured.

Later reports claimed that as the waves and wind battered the Edwin Fox, crew members stuck into the brandy that was part of her stores and became too drunk to do their jobs, so that the single men among the passengers had to step up. One overheated version said the crew was arrested and sent back to Britain in irons, where they received six months’ hard labour. There is, however, no evidence for these claims. It took a month in the shipyards of Brest to get the Edwin Fox seaworthy enough to continue her voyage, and she finally reached New Zealand in June 1873 – straight into quarantine, since she arrived with several passengers suffering from fever. Local drinkers would have been relieved when the barque was finally able to unload: her cargo included 133 dozen of beer, as well as 3,000 sacks of salt, four dozen pairs of boots and other goods which had survived the Biscay storm almost undamaged.

Another voyage to New Zealand carrying 265 emigrants that began in late 1874 was almost as traumatic, with two false starts and a collision that resulted in the sinking of a schooner. During this voyage the Edwin Fox was sold to the charter firm Shaw Savill. She was hired for a third time in 1878 to carry 249 emigrants to New Zealand, her cargo on the journey to Nelson in the South Island including 250 cases of stout, as well as 800 cases of gin, 55 cases of brandy, 300 cases of whisky, 480 bags of salt, 35 cases of sardines, 20 tons of pig iron and other goods. The last emigrant haul came in 1880, when the Edwin Fox took out just 99 passengers for Lyttelton, on South Island. Again the cargo included beer – 333 “pkgs”, presumably cases of bottles – along with 1,365 “pkgs” of spirits, a case of toys, four cases of scientific instruments, ten drums of oil and 410 casks of cement, plus other items.

For the next five years the Edwin Fox tramped the globe, from San Francisco to Norway to Sydney, carrying everything from coal to grain to timber. But more than 30 years after she was built, the barque was now close to obsolete. Meanwhile advances in freezing technology meant New Zealand was now able to export its lamb to Britain without the meat spoiling, and there was a need for extra meat freezing capacity. When she arrived back in London in 1885, the Edwin Fox was converted into a freezer ship, with a refrigeration plant on board, and sent out to New Zealand for the last time, where she would be expected to freeze 600 to 700 carcases a day, and store a total of 15,000 frozen sheep for eventual transfer to steamships that would take them to markets abroad.

The Edwin Fox spent 15 years as a freezer hulk, in six different locations, finishing up at Picton in 1897. After three years freezing mutton there, in 1900 the refrigeration plant was removed and she was converted to a coal hulk, in effect a floating wooden coal bunker. That was her role for half a century, but in 1953 her owners ended her British registration and she was left derelict.

The idea of restoring the Edwin Fox was first raised in 1964, and in 1965 the newly formed Edwin Fox Restoration Society bought the hulk from the New Zealand Refrigeration Company for one shilling. It was 21 years, however, before the project finally began to pick up speed. In 1986, after nearly 400 tonnes of shingle ballast were removed from her hull, the Edwin Fox was floated to the spot on the Picton shorefront that was to be, eventually, her permanent home. A visitors’ centre was opened in 1990. But with full restoration now estimated at NZ$12 million, an impossible sum to raise, it was decided that the best future for the Edwin Fox was the preservation of her hull in a purpose-built dry dock. The dock was built, and the ship placed in it in 1999, and eventually a roof was placed over the dock. Today she is one of New Zealand’s most popular historic tourist attractions.

Dunbar Wharf in Limehouse circa 1900

For a long time the Edwin Fox had a rival as the last of the wooden IPA ships, in the Jhelum, built of English oak, ironwood and mahogany at the shipbuilder and ship owner Joseph Steel & Son’s shipyard in Baffin Street, Liverpool in May 1849. The ship’s name comes from the river Jhelum in the Punjab (today in Pakistan), which was in the news early in 1849 as the scene of a vicious battle between the British (more strictly the East India Company) and the Sikh Empire during the Second Anglo-Sikh War. (It is a little ironic that the India-built Edwin Fox has an English name, while the English-built Jhelum had a name from the Indian sub-continent.)

The Jhelum left Liverpool on July 13 1849, less than two months after she was launched, sailing for Bombay, and arriving on November 16 1849, with a mixed “general” cargo. Sailing ships from Liverpool certainly did carry IPA to India: the Crusader, an East Indiaman, had in her hold beer from Bass and Allsopp of Burton upon Trent being shipped to Bombay when she went aground on a sandbank off the coast of Blackpool in the great storm of 1839 and scattered her cargo along the coast of Lancashire. Whether the Jhelum‘s cargo included beer is not known: the Liverpool Customs Bills of Entry record the daily imports and exports, but not which ship was carrying what, only the port of destination. With, for example, six ships loading for Bombay (out of perhaps 260 in the docks), that makes it impossible to say which ship was carrying what. The Jhelum began loading cargo on Friday June 1 1849, and though beer was certainly going to other destinations from Liverpool at that time – the records show four hogsheads and six barrels listed for Sydney, and 27 barrels of bottled ale for Calcutta while the Jhelum was being loaded –  the Bills of Entry between June 1 and the day she was cleared outwards, July 12, do not appear to show any beer being loaded for any ships going to Bombay, out of a huge variety of goods passing through Liverpool docks destined for the Indian city, including muskets, bugles, coal, soap, hams, cotton goods and sheet iron. The Jhelum‘s log, which may show her cargo on that first voyage, is currently in the maritime history archive of Memorial University in St John’s, Newfoundland, and it has not been possible to consult it.

The remains of the Jhelum in Port Stanley. Picture courtesy of the Falklands Society

Her maiden voyage was, in fact, the only time the Jhelum ever sailed to the east, and thus the answer to the question “did she carry IPA to India?” has to be “probably not.” The rest of her career was spent voyaging to South America, often carrying coal from Cardiff to places such as Montevideo, in Uruguay, and then sailing on round Cape Horn to pick up cargoes of guano from islands off the coast of Peru, bringing them back to Europe for use as fertiliser. It was a rough, tough, battering life, and in July 1870, just 21 years after she was built, and after only 19 round-trips of up to 24,000 miles at a time, the Jhelum staggered in to Port Stanley in the Falklands, having travelled through heavy gales from the Guañape Islands of Peru laden with 500 tons or so of guano. The ship was leaking badly, and the crew refused to sail any further in her. A series of inspections condemned her as unseaworthy, and she was left abandoned in Port Stanley harbour.

Almost miraculously, the Jhelum, or at least its hull, survived intact for the next 120 years. In the 1980s the Mersey Maritime Museum, which was interested in the ship as a rare survivor of Liverpool’s 19th century shipping history, send out a team to give the vessel some emergency first-aid to prevent it collapsing totally, while discussions went on about a possible restoration. The cost, however, was far too great, and the Jhelum continued to lie by the beach, gently rotting. Her bow collapsed after a storm in October 2008, and her stern went the same way not quite five years later, in August 2013. If the Edwin Fox ever had a rival as the last of the wooden IPA transports, it does no longer.

The legendary Mercer’s Meat Stout returns after 75 years

There is not a lot will make me drop everything and rush 200 miles north to Blackburn, but a message saying that the recipe for the legendary Mercer’s Meat Stout had been discovered in an attic and the beer was being brewed again got me on the first available train out of Euston.

Guinness might be good for you, but meat stout is better …

Mercer’s Meat Stout must be the weirdest beer ever brewed by a mainstream British brewer. It first appeared just before the First World War, and early advertising claimed that it was “brewed with the addition of a specially prepared meat extract.” It was introduced by Harold Irving Mercer, son of the founder of the Plough brewery in Adlington, Lancashire, John Mercer, who had died in 1907, and advertised in 1914 as “The Body Building Beverage for Brain Bone and Blood”.

It was part of a trend for “nourishing stouts” in vogue since a London wine merchant named George Raggett passed off Truman’s stout as “Raggett’s Nourishing Stout” in 1860, and which had seen “invalids’ stout” appear as early as 1861, “nursing stout” in 1867, “oat malt stout” (celebrated for its restorative properties) in 1895, and milk stout (“anti-rheumatic, energising”) in 1909.

Mercer’s was taken over by its bigger rival, Dutton’s of Blackburn, ten miles to the north, in March 1929, and the following month someone (presumably Mercer’s head brewer, perhaps Harold Mercer him self) typed up, or had typed up, a complete seven-page document headed “Meat Stout Brewing”, clearly instructions for Dutton’s on how to produce what was a popular beer in Lancashire. Mercer’s brewery closed in 1936, and the brewing of meat stout continued at Dutton’s Salford brewery in Bow Street, Blackburn until around 1943: it was still on sale in April 1942, priced at one shilling and five pence for a pint bottle, 9½ pence for a half-pint, against Mackeson milk stout and Guinness at one shilling and sixpence per pint bottle and Whitbread’s Oatmeal Stout and John Smith’s Milk Stout at one shilling and four pence a pint.

Mercer’s Meat Stout advertised on the outside of an unidentified Dutton’s pub some time in the 1930s

Quite likely the end came because of the increasing difficulty in the middle of the Second World War of getting hold of the large quantities of the tightly rationed sugars of various types that went into the brewing of meat stout: more than 14 pounds to the barrel. (Harold Mercer died in October 1943, aged 64, at his home in Bare Lane, Bare, Morecambe, meaning his best-known beer disappeared off the planet around the same time that he did.)

The recipe remained in Dutton’s possession even after meat stout stopped being made, and when the brewery in Blackburn closed in 1978, 14 years after it had been bought out by Whitbread, a brewer at Bow Street named Derek Malcolm Dixon decided that he did not wish to transfer to the new Whitbread brewery at Salmesbury and, though only 50, he would take his pension – and the recipe –  and retire. (Today Salmesbury is owned by AB InBev and produces Stella and Bud.) Derek died a few years later, aged just 58, and the recipe for meat stout that he had removed from work was inherited, along with a couple of brewing books and a hydrometer, by his son Phil.

Phil then misplaced the recipe for more than 30 years, until the boom in craft brewing spurred him to look for it and, when he found it, to take it to a local craft brewery, Three B’s, based at the Black Bull inn, in the countryside just outside Blackburn, to see if they would like to try to reproduce it. Brewery founder Robert Bell and his son Mark did their best with matching the original ingredients from 1929, which included more than 200 pounds of something called “meat extract caramel”, made by the food additives and flavourings manufacturer A. Boake, Roberts & Co of Stratford, East London, which disappeared about the same time that Dutton’s brewery did.

The yeast “goes a bit daft” on its introduction to Bovril

Not having “meat extract caramel”, the Bells improvised with Bovril: two catering packs-worth, 900 grams in all, added at the whirlpool stage. The recipe they came up with also included pale Maris Otter malt, roast barley, black malt, wheat malt and treacle, with Goldings, Fuggles and Northern Brewer hops. The yeast certainly appreciated the Bovril: when Rob Bell came back three hours after pitching, it was “going a bit daft,” in his own words, with a river of foaming, frothing yeast pouring from the four-barrel fermenter all over the brewhouse floor.

The final result was a 5.5 per cent abv deep black stout with a fine creamy head, and complex layers of flavour, matching sweetness with bitterness, and a touch of dryness in the finish. The Bells called it Winter Warmer Stout, rather than meat stout, worrying that drinkers would be put off by the name, but the reaction in the Black Bull pub from customers has been highly enthusiastic, and Phil Dixon is delighted: “I’m over the moon with the beer – I couldn’t have expected it to be any better, they’ve done a really good job of brewing it,” he told me. Phil is one of the few people around to be able to make any sort of comparison with the Mercer’s Meat Stout of old: his father was a home-brewer after he retired, and “as far as I’m aware this is one of the recipes he brewed at home. I remember tasting a brew that can’t have been anything else, it was very similar.

Phil Dixon at the Black Bull with a pint of the revived Meat Stout

“It was mashed in a bath, and then the wort was transferred into one of those top-loading washing machines to be boiled with hops, and then it was pumped out and fermented. So we couldn’t have a bath for a week and we couldn’t wash our clothes.”

Although the Three B’s brewery, which is now 20 years old, though it only moved to its present site a former Daniel Thwaites pub, in 2011, delivers its beers to 30 or 40 pubs a week, the revived Mercer’s Meat Stout will only be on sale at the Black Bull. If you want to try it, be warned that the pub is closed Mondays and Tuesdays and only open from 4pm Wednesdays to Fridays, though it opens at noon on Saturdays and Sundays. The Black Bull does not serve food, and it has no televisions and no fruit machines – “it’s a talking pub,” Mark Bell says.

The original recipe, meanwhile, is a fascinating document, revealing much about the methods used by a small North of England brewer in the 1920s. Three different types of coloured malt went into Meat Stout, for example, amber, black and crystal, made by Charles E. Seed Ltd of Clayton, Bradford, Yorkshire, and the recipe is firm about their use: “These Patent Malts should be mashed within about 48 hours of being roasted. Seeds send them to us newly roasted specially for each brew by passenger train [a journey of some 40 miles]. We pay half the carriage. (note: Black Malt is NOT mashed. It is added to copper at start of second 50-minute boil.)” Those three made up seven per cent of the grain bill each: 68 per cent was “high dried” Norfolk and Californian malt from the Leeds maltsters W.J. Robson & Co, and 11.5 per cent was flaked maize from the Liverpool Malt Co Ltd.

The hops were a real mix, though annoyingly the author of the recipe gave only the geographical origins of the hops used, not their varieties: not quite a quarter 1928 Worcesters, the same amount of 1928 Kents, 15 per cent each 1927 Kents and Worcesters, nine per cent 1927 “Continentals”, the same amount of 1927 “Oregons” (possibly Fuggles, through probably Clusters), three per cent 1925 Oregons and three per cent “sundry pieces to use up end of pockets”. There were also 18 pounds of “stew hops”, a mixture of 1928 “choicest” Worcesters and Kents, which were placed in a bag with a chain attached and hung in the copper for 20 minutes after the 110-minute boil was over, to be retained and reused in the next brew; and 4½ pounds of White, Tompkins & Courages Hop Concentrate, equivalent of 54 pounds of leaf hops, to give 192 pounds of hops for 80 barrels, or two pounds 6.4 ounces of hops per barrel.

Other wacky ingredients in the recipe besides that mysterious “Meat Extract Caramel” (Boake, Roberts & Co’s records are at Hackney Local Archives, apparently: time for a trip to East London) are “copper wort adjunct” from George Clark & Son Ltd of Millwall Docks in London, “a slowly fermentable sugar for use in the copper with all types of beer”, designed to give palate-fulness at a lower gravity; “Jetose Caramel”, which looks to be a typographical error for “ketose caramel” (j and k are adjacent on the keyboard) from the Liverpool sugar manufacturer Harvey Steel; and “block juice”, “a solid block, resembling coal, but with the overpowering liquorice flavour and bitter-sweet taste”, from the Manchester-based chemists J. Woolley Sons & Co. It is notable, though of course, not surprising, that most of the suppliers were from the North of England.

Other points from the recipe: the stout was dry-hopped at a rate of two ounces of 1928 Worcesters, two ounces of 1928 Kents and 1½ ounces of 1927 Oregons per barrel for the draught version and five ounces of 1928 Worcesters, two ounces of 1928 Kents and three ounces of 1927 Oregons per barrel for the bottled version, and the draught version was primed with around two pints three fluid ounces of 1148ºOG priming solution to give a gravity equivalent to 1056º; and the bottled stout was delivered “as near as is practical … new bottled to the customer. The ideal is to bottle it and load it on the motors direct off the bottling machine.”

Very many thanks indeed to Phil Dixon’s late father for preserving the recipe for Mercer’s Meat Stout, and to Phil for finding it again and persuading the Three B’s brewery to reproduce it, and then telling me about it (this is not such a great scoop as I thought it was at first, as there is apparently a version of the recipe in the Whitbread archives, and Brian Glover mentions it in one of his books, though it appears to be two pages shorter than the Dixon version) and very many thanks to Rob and Mark Bell for picking me up at Blackburn Station, driving me to the Black Bull and filling me with excellent stout. I very sincerely hope this will not be the last time we see Mercer’s Meat Stout on a bar top again.

Rob and Mark Bell: thanks very much, guys, athat’s a great beer you brewed

The Great Manchester Beer Flood of 1831

Anything they do in That London, Manchester can do as well, including the catastrophic collapse of a giant vat full of maturing porter. Admittedly the Great London Beer Flood of 1814 was rather bigger than the event in Lancashire 17 years later, with the vat that burst at Meux’s brewery, off Tottenham Court Road, containing nearly six times as much porter as the one that collapsed at Mottram’s brewery in Salford in 1831, but eight people, all women and children, died in the London flood, while the only real victim of the one in Salford was a pig that must have had a serious hangover the next day.

Here’s a report of the event in Manchester, from an Irish newspaper, the Westmeath Journal, in Mullingar, Thursday 3 March 1831, p2:

Another newspaper had a slightly different take on the event, including the drunken pig. This is from the Chester Courant of Tuesday March 1 1831, courtesy of Peter Dyer:

A Flood of Porter – On Wednesday morning a large porter vat, containing about 380 barrels of the best brown stout, burst on the premises of Messrs. Mottram, in Brewery-street, Salford (Manchester.) The liquid rushed out with such force as to carry before it a portion of a wall, under which it nearly buried a man and horse, which were at the outside. Another man, who was in the same room in which the vat stood, was carried out into the yard by the flood. The beer overflowed a pond, and was for a few minutes two feet deep in the cellar of a cottage. All sorts of vessels were in requisition for carrying off the precious liquid from the pond. Among other comers was a sow, which was seen in the course of the day staggering off in a state of disgusting inebriety. The loss from the accident, we regret to state, is estimated at from £700 to £1000.

The Westmeath Journal was right to say that London brewers “occasionally” suffered from such “casualties”: among others there were at least two vat collapses at Whitbread’s brewery in Chiswell Street, in 1776 and 1794, in the latter of which hundreds of rats “were taken up by pailfuls in an intoxicated state,” while one of four vats, each containing 1,500 barrels, collapsed at Henry Thrale’s Anchor brewery in Southwark (later Barclay Perkins) in 1772. Outside London, a 530-barrel vat collapsed at Searanke and Biggs’s brewery in Hatfield, Hertfordshire in 1805, though locals with “tubs and pails”, knee-deep in beer, managed to save around 150 barrels-worth of beer; and a 40-fee-high vat containing 720 barrels of vinegar burst at Fardon’s vinegar brewery in Westley Street, Birmingham on Christmas day, 1891, flooding the surrounding streets several feet deep: THAT must have stunk.

In Cork, Ireland, in 1913 a 560-barrel vat at Murphy’s Lady’s Well brewery burst. One brewery worker, who had been underneath the vat when it collapsed, had to swim 40 yards through porter to save himself as the stream carried him along. Outside in the street the porter was diluted with water from a fire-hose by quick-reacting brewery workers, to stop anyone from trying to drink it.

Mottram’s brewery, incidentally, looks to have recovered from its loss and ran through until 1897, when it was acquired by a local rival, the Cornbrook Brewery Co. Ltd, itself acquired by Eddie Taylor’s United Breweries in 1961.

By coincidence, on the same page of the Westmeath Journal as the story about the collapsing vat was another report of an accident at a brewery, this time more tragic:
The newspaper report suggests the poor victim’s internal pain was caused by his diving into the cold water after the accident: my understanding of how this works is that in fact he almost certainly didn’t stay in the cold water long enough. If you’re unlucky enough to be badly burnt or scalded, you have to cool down the affected parts as much and as quickly as possible, because otherwise the underlying flesh, muscle and organs stay very hot, conpounding the harm the heat has already done. This was discovered in the Second World War, when doctors realised that badly burnt RAF pilots who had ditched in the sea recovered much better from their injuries than those who had bailed out over or crashed on land: the cold sea water cooled down their burnt bodies internally and lessened the harm. Morris’s brewery in Lewes became Ballard’s in 1876, which was acquired by Page & Overton’s brewery in Croydon in 1927.

The land where working-class men drink milk stout from quart bottles, and the curious case of Mackeson porter

It’s a beer fact guaranteed to make British drinkers boggle in disbelief: one of the biggest selling beer styles among black working-class South African men is milk stout

You won’t believe it, Ena …

While milk stout has seen a tiny renaissance in the UK, with craft beer brewers producing examples of the style, it is still mostly thought of, if it is though of at all, as the beer drunk by little old ladies sitting in the saloon bar on their own. The last person in Britain to be known for drinking milk stout was Ena Sharples, sour-faced harridan of the soap opera Coronation Street, who disappeared from television screens almost 40 years ago.

In South Africa, however, milk stout has a totally different image: Castle Milk Stout, originally a South African Breweries brand and now, since it acquired SAB, owned by AB InBev, is a long-time favourite of black workers, and is now being marketed at the country’s black middle class as the beer to drink to show you haven’t lost touch with your roots. (Great ad, that – possibly one of the best beer ads ever.)

The first ever ad for Castle Milk Stout, from 1912

Stout and porter had been popular in South Africa from the earliest days of British colonisation, but by the start of the 20th century lager was starting to take over. However, variants on stout were appearing in South Africa, such as oatmeal stout, which was made by several firms, including South African Breweries, which advertised its Castle oatmeal stout in 1916 as providing “health and strength for tired people,” and Chandler’s Crown brewery in Ophirton, Johannesburg, which was still advising customers in 1932 to “Drink Chandler’s Oatmeal Stout and keep colds away!” There was also the peculiar-sounding and short-lived Marrow Stout (bone marrow or vegetable marrow, it is not clear which) brewed by the Thoma (sic) brewery in Johannesburg (founded in 1892 by a German, August Thoma, in Braamfontein, Johannesburg and taken over by Ohlsson’s Cape Breweries in 1902), which was first advertised in the Rand Daily Mail in 1909 but does not appear again after 1910.

Marrow stout … no, I’ve no idea either

However, just as “marrow stout” was disappearing, a new style of stout appeared that would turn South Africa into one of the biggest stout-drinking countries in the world. Sweet stout had been growing increasingly popular, but as the beer aged it lost its sweetness. The idea of brewing stout with a dose of unfermentable lactose sugar, derived from milk, to keep it staying sweet, had been first patented by William Melhuish, a food chemist from Poole, Dorset, in 1908, and the first “milk stout” was brewed by the English brewer Mackeson’s of Hythe, in Kent, in 1909. Mackeson licensed other brewers to make their own milk stouts, and the Castle brewery launched its version in August 1912 with a full-page advertisement in the Rand Daily Mail. Castle Milk Stout became one of the company’s biggest selling beers, particularly after a ban on black South Africans drinking “European” beers, imposed in 1928, was lifted in 1962.

The appeal of the six per cent abv drink to black South Africans, according to the South African advertising guru Happy Ntshingila, was that the traditional sorghum beer which was all they were legally allowed to drink during those years has always been regarded as a food as well as an alcoholic drink, and the “milk” part of milk stout gave it the same image. By the 1990s milk stout in South Africa was primarily a drink of blue-collar Nguni men – members of the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and other South African peoples. The beer was frequently sold in quart bottles, for sharing, the way a calabash of sorghum beer would be shared, and was described as “the most physically masculine brand in the SAB stable.” It was about as far from the image that milk stout drinkers had in the beer’s country of origin – elderly ladies sipping a half-pint in the pub on their own—as it was possible to travel.

Mackeson Porter ad, Rand Daily Mail July 19 1969

The large market for milk stout in South Africa did not go unnoticed in Chiswell Street, the London headquarters of Whitbread, the company that had acquired Mackeson in 1929. However, when the British brewer launched the Mackeson brand in South Africa in 1967, it was as Mackeson Porter, not Mackeson Milk Stout. This, the first launch of a beer under the name “porter” by a British brewer since, probably, the 19th century, was most likely because South African Breweries had a local trade mark monopoly on the use of the expression “milk stout”: there had been other milk stouts in South Africa besides the one from Castle, including Ohlsson’s Lion “melk stout”, as it was branded in Afrikaans, which was still being sold in 1952, but SAB had acquired Ohlsson’s in 1954. (In the UK the term “milk stout” had been voluntarily abandoned by brewers for fear that legislation would be introduced to ban it anyway.) Mackeson Porter was on sale in South Africa until 1972 before disappearing, unable, without the world “milk stout” on the label, to make any impact on a market that had not seen a beer called “porter” for generations.

Castle Milk Stout ‘chocolate infused’

Early in the 1990s, after the government of South Africa unbanned the African National Congress, and with black Africans increasingly drinking lager rather than milk stout, South African Breweries gave the advertising brief for Castle Milk Stout to the country’s first all-black ad agency, HerdBuoys. A series of advertisements that successfully combined images of black urban success with rural tradition—and milk stout drinking—sent sales soaring again, to 100,000 hectolitres (84,000 US barrels) a year. By 2003, Castle Milk Stout was the fourth biggest liquor brand in South Africa, and the second biggest stout brand in the world. Its production still included roast malt added in the mash tun, unlike Guinness, which had long gone over to using an extract of roasted barley, added post-mash, and other tweaks peculiar to making Castle Milk Stout, including adding caramel alongside the lactose, crash-cooling the fermentation to encourage the yeast to produce stop the yeast mopping up diacetyl, which increases the “butterscotch” flavours in the beer, and a lager-like maturation at -2ºC.

Castle Milk Stout clan can

By 2011 Castle Milk Stout was available in a nitrogenated draft version, though it is still most often found in 75cl bottles and in cans. However, in the winter of 2014 SAB introduced “ultra-smooth” milk stout in a nitrogenated can, and also a limited-edition “chocolate-infused” 4.5 per cent abv version of Castle Milk Stout, which came back as a regular variant the following year, again available in 75cl bottles. This, together with “repositioning” the brand as a “premium” product,  and whites picking up on the brand as the growth of craft beer made them more aware of “unusual” beer styles, helped push sales up 14 per cent year-on-year. It has still been maintaining its “traditional” image in South Africa, however, with promotions that included printing tribal clan names, and clan praise songs, on the cans. The brand has also moved abroad, capturing market share from Guinness in Nigeria, where stout makes up 14 per cent of the beer market, and also being brewed in Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda and even South Korea.

It’s a long way from Ena Sharples.

AB Inbev’s new 1840 London porter and the hornbeam question

I am green – viridian. Ron Pattinson has been dropping hints every time I see him about his secret big new project with Goose Island in Chicago, and it’s now been revealed: a reproduction of a London porter from 1840, including authentic heritage barley, properly “blown” brown malt, and blending a long-vatted beer with a much younger version. Who do I have to kill to get hold of a bottle?

Of course, some people have knee-jerked in and slapped this down because it involves the Evil Empire, AB InBev, owner of Goose Island and, in the opinion of many, too many other formerly small craft breweries, from Four Peaks to Wicked Weed. The PC line is “I’ll never drink anything produced by a company that is fundamentally bad for, and opposed to, small independent operators and their survival.”

As it happens, I’ve just finished reading Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out Josh Noel’s deservedly award-winning book from last year on the take-over of Goose Island by Anheuser-Busch – do try to get hold of a copy, it’s an excellent, even-handed and sympathetic analysis of what happened and why it happened. You’ll certainly put it down after 345 pages and conclude that AB InBev is indeed interested in nothing more, ultimately, than getting you to buy its product in preference to anybody else’s, and if that meant using its weight, wealth and power to crush the entire global craft beer scene, it wouldn’t care. But that’s what big corporations do: criticising them for wanting to dominate the world is like criticising lions for chasing down and killing wildebeest. It’s the nature of the animal. Run faster, wildebeest.

Ron Pattinson outside the Anchor, Southwark, about all that remains of the former Barclay Perkins brewery, once the largest in the world

And if AB InBev wants to spend silly sums of money flying my mate Ron, and Derek Prentice, former brewer with Truman’s of Brick Lane, then Young’s, then Fuller’s, and now Wimbledon, out to Chicago to advise on recreating an almost 180-year-old beer, and take enormous pains getting the ingredients and the methodology just right, in the hope that this will greenwash their corporation and get people like me to write admiringly about them, rather than attack them for trying to squeeze smaller rivals out of the market, then they’re partly correct: I’ll still criticise where necessary, but I’m also writing admiringly about the Obadiah Poundage porter project, because I think it’s wonderful to be able to drink this beer from the past, and I don’t believe very many other organisations would have the big wallet, or the commitment, to undertake such a recreation. This is an expensive beer made with unusual ingredients back in March last year, which was then left sitting around occupying valuable real estate in Chicago for a year before being blended with the newer version and put on sale. Most companies’ accountants would have been screaming themselves puce. If not AB InBev, who else would undertake such a journey?

Anyway, watch this fascinating 20-minute video about the project, listen to Mike Siegel, research and development boss at Goose Island explain it all, see if you can spot John Hall, founder of Goose Island, popping into shot uncredited occasionally, and then come back here and I’ll discuss a few interesting points that arise, so pay attention and listen out in particular for the mentions of hornbeam, there will be questions afterwards.

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO

Derek Prentice, brewer at Truman’s in Brick Lane in the East End of London51 years ago, compares the street scene of today with that of 1841

I didn’t expect to find anything to criticise about the history when I watched that. I nodded along as Derek Prentice accurately recounted the role of porters in 18th century London, and as Ron described the change from the all-brown-malt porters of the early 18th century to the more complicated grain bills of later porters, with pale malt, “patent” black malt and “blown” malt dried and browned over faggots of hornbeam wood, and I sat awed as Andrea Stanley of Valley Malt in Massachusetts showed the making of just such a batch of “blown” malt over a fire of hornbeam. And then something strange happened. My subconscious popped up and said: “Hornbeam – are you actually certain about that?” So I checked.

For the past 18 months I’ve been writing what is meant to be the definitive history of porter and stout, and I’ve read several hundred books and articles to pull that together. All that information goes down into the subconscious, where, as is the way of the human brain, new connections are formed that the conscious mind is unaware of until something bubbles up from the id. Now, “maltsters made blown malt for porter by drying the grains over blazing hornbeam” is a solid received fact among historians of brewing. I never doubted it. Hough, Briggs and Stevens’s Malting and Brewing Science from 1971 says so: “dried in a fierce heat from a fire of hardwood faggots made from oak, hornbeam, ash or beech” (p166). Steeped in Tradition, a history of the malting industry from 1983 by Jonathan Brown says so: “These kilns were fired by wood, mostly and preferably oak, but beech, hornbeam and ash were also commonly used.” It makes sense: blown malt was a speciality of the maltsters of Ware and other towns in East Hertfordshire, and hornbeam, which burns with a bright, hot flame, is abundant in the woods of East Herts.

Grain being dried at high temperature over a hornbeam fire at Valley Malt in Massachusetts to make ‘blown’ or ‘snapped’ malt

But as my subconscious prompted me into confirming, if you go and look, you will not actually find any references to hornbeam being used by maltsters during the time that blown malt was still being made. Many authors do not specify any particular wood. Of those that do, William Black in his Practical Treatise on Brewing of 1844 says blown malt is heated with “faggots of dry, hard wood, commonly beech or birch; fir imparting a tarry taste.” (p26). Henry Stopes, who was the 19th century’s Mr Malt, spoke only of billet and faggot wood “generally of oak but occasionally of beech” in making the blown variety (Malt and Malting, 1885, p159). E.R. Southby’s Systemic Handbook of Practical Brewing from the same year says blown malt is “dried rapidly over a fire of beech or birch wood” (p215). Herbert Edwards Wright’s A Handy Book for Brewers from 1892 says blown malt is made by subjecting the barley to “a sudden blast of intense heat generated by heating up the kiln fire with oak or beechen faggots or billets” (p309). (Wright also says that the fire risk “and the high rates of insurance demanded in consequence” meant this was a variety of malt generally made only by specialists.)

So, what to say to Ron, Derek, Andrea and Mike: “Er, thanks for all the trouble you went to, guys, that was amazing, especially the hornbeam, but, um, you might have been better off with beech …” I’m not saying nobody ever used hornbeam to make blown malt: I think it’s very likely they did. It was available, in the right place, and has similar characteristics to both birch (which is in the same botanical family) and beech, which we DO known were used (indeed, the hornbeam is known in some parts of Britain as the “ay beech”, for its habit of keeping its leaves through winter, that is “for aye”.)

Mike Siegel, r&d manager at Goose Island, tries some Obadiah Poundage at the brewery’s barrel ageing warehouse. Where’s mine?

Best not to say anything to dampen the party, really. And let’s not mention that the American hornbeam that Andrea used is a slightly different species to English hornbeam: that would be taking my (deserved) reputation for picky pedanticism too far down the road. Nor let us question why an 1840 porter is named for a man who probably died at least 70 years earlier, the pseudonymous commentator whose letter to the London Chronicle in 1760 about the tax on beer provides historians with so much information about the history of porter. (Someone in the film wonders where the original “Obadiah Poundage” got his name from: “Poundage” is an old word for tax, and one of the many Obadiahs in the Old Testament was a porter “keeping the ward ” [Nehemiah 12:25].) And please, let’s not ask why you have to query every single damned received historical fact because too often what you thought was indisputably true isn’t indisputably true at all. No, there’s a much more important question than all that: where’s my bottle?

Everything You Don’t Want To Know About Guinness: ten Guinness myths that need stamping out now

Arthur Guinness pictured about 1765, when he was 41

Millions of words, and dozens of books, have been written about Guinness, the beer, the brewery, and the family, and a perhaps surprising amount of inaccurate mythology (and sometimes pure nonsense) has crept into the story. Here is a short list of some of the “facts” that writers, some of them supposedly authoritative sources, most frequently get wrong about Guinness, which you’ll find repeated all over the interwebs, whenever someone lazily repeats something someone else never bothered checking:

“Arthur Guinness was born in 1725.”
Almost certainly not. His memorial in Oughterard graveyard, Kildare, states that he was “aged 78 years” when he died on January 23 1803. This means that he must have been born some time between the last week in January 1724 and the first three weeks, two days of 1725, making it around 15 to 1 on that he was, in fact, born in 1724.

“Arthur’s father, Richard Guinness, brewed beer for Arthur Price, the Archbishop of Cashel … One of Richard Guinness’s duties was to supervise the brewing of beer for the workers on the Archbishop’s estate.”
There is no evidence at all – AT ALL – that Richard Guinness, or Arthur Guinness, ever brewed for Price, at any time. There was no brewing for “the estate workers” because the home that Price built in the village, Celbridge House (now Oakley Park) did not actually have an estate attached, only a few acres. In any case, if any household brewing took place, it would have been done by lower-grade servants, not someone who was being referred to in the 1740s as “Richard Guinness, gent”.

Richard Guinness worked for Arthur Price from at least 1722, when Price was Dean of Kildare (having been Vicar of Celbridge since 1704), and already on his way up the ecclesiastical career ladder to an eventual archbishop’s mitre. However, Richard’s role was as household agent, receiver, factotum and steward to Price, based in Celbridge.

The “Richard Guinness brewed for Archbishop Price” myth is sometimes supported with invented “facts” – here’s the Oxford Companion to Beer making stuff up:
“In 1722 Arthur Price purchased the small, local Kildrought Brewery and placed Richard Guinness in charge of production.”
An ounce of fact has been spun into a pound of fiction by people not thinking hard enough. Come on: what would a high-flying Protestant cleric be doing getting involved in anything as low-life as a commercial brewery? The facts: In 1722 Arthur Price bought a house, stables, garden and maltings in Celbridge that had previously been occupied by a brewer, James Carbery. The house was bought, apparently, as a home for Price’s employee Richard Guinness and Richard’s family. Carbery, meanwhile, stayed on in the brewery and inn next door, which is still in operation as a drinking place today. (“Kildrought”, incidentally, is the older form of Celbridge, from the Irtish Cill Droichid, “Church by the bridge.”

Breen’s Hotel, Celbridge, circa 1890: Arthur Guinness’s first home can just be seen on the left

Edward Bourke in The Guinness Story claims on no known evidence that it was Richard Guinness who “leased James Carbery’s Brewery in Celbridge in 1722. (The location is now the Mucky Duck pub).” Three errors here the “Mucky Duck” site is the house that stood in front of James Carbery’s maltings, not the brewery, and it was this house that was Arthur Guinness’s first home: there is no evidence of brewing there, and it wasn’t leased by Richard Guinness, but bought by Arthur Price. (Celbridge pubs seem to have an unfortunate habit of changing their names: the Mucky Duck currently [March 2019] appears to be called simply the Duck, while James Carbery’s former brewery and pub became Breen’s Hotel, then King’s, then Norris’s, and is currently the Village Inn: on the wall of the Village Inn is a plaque that misspells Carbery’s surname.)

Sometimes the story develops into total fantasy. Here’s the idiocy that Stephen Mansfield, author of The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World, came up with:
“The archbishop’s estate was known for the dark beer that was brewed there, the pride of Dr Price and the envy of his guests. Many a guest tried to question the reverend’s trusted agent to find out how he produced such a fine-tasting drink. Naturally, Richard, proud of his celebrated dark stout, would never say. Some said that Richard Guinness once accidentally roasted his barley too long and that the caramelized result was stronger and better than any other brew.”
Laughable. Barley roasted too long will never “caramelize,” of course, which requires the presence of sugar, and roasting certainly won’t make beer stronger: the opposite, indeed, since the roasting destroys starch that could become sugar that could become alcohol..

Main Street, Celbridge, with Arthur Guinness’s first home to the left of the arch, and James Carbery’s brewery to the right.

There’s worse, amazingly. Sometimes the story becomes garbled into total nonsense, like this, which is copied verbatim from, of all places, the Northern Ireland Tourist Guide hub:
“The original Guinness recipe is said to have been created by a Welshman known as Arthur Price. Arthur brought the recipe to Ireland and hired Richard Guinness as a servant. The recipe would be passed on to Guinness who would, of course, create the drink we all know and love.”

Another bizarre and distorted version of Richard Guinness’s early career appeared in a book called Here and There Memories by the sporting writer John Joseph Dunne, published in 1898. Dunne, whose other books include How and Where to Fish in Ireland: A Hand-guide for Anglers, was presumably spun the yarn while dipping his rod in the Liffey, which flows past Celbridge. According to Dunne, “the first Guinness was an ostler at the Bear and Ragged Staff, a little inn at Celbridge,” whose talent as a brewer (no, I don’t know what an ostler, whose place was in the stables, was doing in the brewhouse either) was spotted by a brewer called Sweetman from Dublin, who “brought him into his employ.” Multiple problems here: no evidence of an inn at Celbridge called the Bear and Ragged Staff (though there WAS a Bear Inn in the village in the mid-1800s); no evidence that Richard Guinness was ever an ostler, which would not, in any case, fit with his later career as man of business for the Reverend Dr Price, something that implies much more education than an ostler is likely to have had; no evidence tbat Guinness every worked for the Sweetmans; and the Sweetmans were a dynasty of Catholic brewers, thus unlikely, anyway, to be hiring the Protestant Guinness.

However, Dunne’s story appealed enough to be repeated in at least one Irish paper, the marvellously mastheaded Nenagh News and Tipperary Vindicator (where do Irish traffic cops live? Nenagh, nenagh, nenagh …) and has subsequently polluted history, so that you can now find claims that Richard was actually the proprietor of a Celbridge inn called the Bear and Ragged Staff. In fact, the year Dr Price died, 1752, Richard married a widow called Elizabeth Clare, who had been leasing the White Hart inn in Celbridge since 1749, an inn that had been mentioned by an English traveller in 1732 in terms that suggested it was the main inn in the village. For inexplicable reasons a number of websites give Richard’s second wife’s surname as Clere: the marriage records clearly show it to be Clare, and when her son Benjamin married Richard’s daughter Elizabeth, the surname again was given as Clare. (When the White Hart disappeared does not seem to be known: it has been claimed that it was being run by a man called Thomas Coleman in the 1890s, but Coleman’s inn remains unnamed in all the mentions I have been able to find.)

The St James’s Gate brewery, Dublin in the 1840s or so

Richard Guinness – and Arthur – most likely learned to brew after Richard’s marriage to Elizabeth Clare, and the Guinnesses’ new involvement with the White Hart, which happened when Arthur was 28. Three years after that, in 1755, Arthur acquired a proper brewery, in Leixlip, just two and a half miles away for an Irish crow, though rather further by Irish roads. Another persistent myth involves the £100 each that Richard Guinness and his son Arthur were left in Archbishop Price’s will when the prelate died in 1752. The Oxford Companion to Beer fantasising again, claims, that “Price … specified that [the £100] should be used to expand the brewery.” Of course, there is actually nothing in Price’s will to support this nonsense.

Plenty more people assert, again without evidence, and without thinking if the claim makes sense, that:
“Arthur Guinness inherited £100 from his godfather Archbishop Price in 1752, and used the money to set up a brewery in Leixlip.”
Ignoring the three-year gap between Arthur being left money by the archbishop and the acquisition of the Leixlip brewery, £100 in the mid-18th century is the equivalent today of only £14,000 today, not enough to start a business on. It is clear that, rather than Arthur relying on the archbishop’s bequest to start his career, Richard Guinness was able to save enough in the three decades he worked for Price, and then the three years he spent running the White Hart with his new wife, to help fund his eldest son’s move into commercial brewing, which would have needed much more than £100.

Occasionally the mythologists ignore the Leixlip brewery and try to claim Arthur used his £100 inheritance to purchase the lease at St James’s Gate. The date that Arthur acquired his first brewery is often incorrectly claimed as 1756. To be fair, a major study of Arthur’s earliest years, Lynch and Vaisey’s Guinness’s Brewery in the Irish Economy 1759-1876, gets this wrong, mixing up the brewery acquisition with a later land purchase in Leixlip by Arthur. The Leixlip brewery was taken on in 1755: Arthur was named as “of Leixlip, Co Kildare, brewer” in September that year, and in 1773 he was described as a brewer of 18 years’ standing. The date of 1756 applies to more property in Leixlip that Arthur began leasing that year from an American, “George Bryan of Philadelphia in the province of Pennsylvania.”

A short history of Asahi, in which beer gets called ‘bitter horse-piss wine’

In view of recent events, I thought people might be interested in a short history of Asahi Breweries …

Beer was introduced into Japan by the Dutch, who were the only Europeans allowed to trade with the country after the expulsion of the Portuguese early in the 17th century, and who would take biiru with them when they made their compulsory once-a-year trip from their base in Nagasaki to the Emperor’s palace in Edo (now Tokyo). However, it was not until Commodore Matthew Perry of the US Navy arrived in Japan in the 1850s to try to push the shogunate into opening diplomatic relationships with the United States that the locals made any proper analysis of this new drink, after the American delegation on Perry’s second trip to Japan in 1854 presented officials with gifts including three casks of beer. Japanese opinion was divided: one called it “magic water”, while another described the beer as “bitter horse-piss wine”.

The treaties signed between Japan and the US saw Yokohama opened from 1858 as a place for European traders to settle, and in 1863 military forces from Britain and France arrived in Yokohama to protect the increasing numbers of their nationals based in the city. Two years later, according to an article published in the China Mail newspaper in Hong Kong on October 19 1878, two foreigners, one an Englishman called Campbell and the other an American called Langthorne, began to brew beer in Yokohama, at the first commercial brewery in Japan. Campbell and Langthorne are deeply obscure and nothing more seems to be known of them, not even their first names. Their business did not last long, according to the China Mail, at least in part because of increasing imports of beer from Europe and America: the newspaper wrote that “either because in those days the foreign denizens of Yokohama were so rich or so extravagant as to despise any but the produce of the famed distant vats of Burton, Edinburgh and Dublin, or because the projectors had not sufficient knowledge of their art to make their liquor palatable, or capital enough to work and wait until it had created a reputation and a market, they soon abandoned their enterprise; and the buildings they erected were subsequently pulled down.”

In 1868, however, the wonderfully named Marinus Johannes Benjamin Noordhoek Hegt, born in the Netherlands in 1821, a sea captain and merchant who came to Yokohama in 1860, opened a small brewery at No 46 Bluff, part of Yokohama’s designated European district, where there was a deep well on the site. Hegt hired as his brewer Emil Wiegand, a brewer from Germany who had emigrated from Hessen at the end of 1853, aged 19, via Bremen, arriving in New York on January 6, 1854. Wiegand was apparently naturalised in Philadelphia in 1856, and looks to have spent 11 years in the eastern US, presumably working in local German-run breweries, before leaving New York on December 1 1867 to travel to California via Nicaragua. He spent barely a year in San Francisco before moving to Japan, arriving there, according to a deposition he made later in a tribunal at the US consulate general, in 1869 after signing a contract to manage the “Japan Yokohama Brewery”.

Hegt’s brewery inspired a man called William Copeland, born Johan Bartinius – sic– Thoresen in Tromøy, in southern Norway, in May 1834, to build a brewery of his own on the site first used by Campbell and Langthorne, No 123 Bluff, which had as its chief attraction a source of “singularly pure” water, and which became known as the Spring Valley Brewery. Copeland, who had arrived in Japan in 1864 (and whose middle name changed to Martinius at some point) made his first brew in January 1870, shortly after Hegt had moved to larger premises at Bluff lot 68 in 1869. The two rival breweries ran in competition with each other until June 1876, when the owners agreed to a merger, and Copeland and Wiegand brewed at the Spring Valley Brewery site, using Bluff lot 68 as a maltings, until the maltings were destroyed by fire in 1877.

The Spring Valley Brewery made lager during the summer, and “‘English ale’, ‘Bock’ and ‘Bavarian’ beer, demanded by the better sort of customer” during the winter. The beer was exported to Tokyo, Nagasaki and other Japanese towns, and as far away as Shanghai and Hong Kong. Copeland and Wiegand brewed together as co-partners until the end of 1879, when Wiegand filed a bill with the US consular court in Yokohama for a dissolution of the partnership, alleging “fraudulent acts and other irregularities” by Copeland. The American consul general, who had the legal right to hear cases in Japan involving American citizens, found Copeland not guilty, but it was agreed that the partnership should be dissolved anyway and the firm wound up, with its assets sold. The brewery was estimated to be worth some £32,500, and Wiegand, who had bought much less to the partnership than Copeland, was due $6,250 of that. Unfortunately the only bidder for the brewery was Copeland, who bought the business back in February 1880 for just $12,000, which meant that not only did Wiegand not get anything, he now owed Copeland several thousand dollars. Wiegand eventually died in San Francisco in 1887, aged 47.

In 1880, meanwhile, Copeland was involved in another lawsuit between himself and his head clerk, which was again settled by the US consul in favour of Copeland. However, the suit bankrupted the Spring Valley business, and though Copeland continued brewing by himself until 1882, the business went under in an economic recession. Two years later, on July 1884, the Spring Valley brewery was sold by the US Marshall by order of the US Consular Court for $11,500. The London and China Telegraph of September 22 1884 wrote that “this property is estimated to have cost the late proprietor over $60,000.” Who bought it remains unclear, but on April 27 1885 the London and China Telegraph reported that two fires had recently broken out at the premises of the Spring Valley Brewery on the Bluff, Yokohama, and in the first, which began at 8pm on March 13, the block was destroyed which housed in its lower portion the “extensive” brewery plant. The plant and buildings were insured for $5,000 in the Lancashire and the City of London Insurance Companies, but “the brewery plant could not be replaced for at least three times that amount.”

Two months after the fire, in May 1885, the first meeting was held of resident foreigners in Yokohama that would eventually lead to the foundation of the Japan Brewery Company Ltd, set up with mixed Japanese and foreign investment. This company quickly acquired the Spring Valley brewery site to build its own brewery, taking advantage of the site’s water supply. The new concern eventually launched its “Kirin beer” in 1888, and changed its name to Kirin in 1906.

By now the Japanese brewing industry had become thoroughly “Nipponised”, helped by men such as Nakagawa Seibei. Nakagawa (in Japan, surnames are given first) travelled at his own expense from his homeland to Germany in 1872, hoping to learn a foreign skill he could use back in Japan. He was advised to study brewing, and spent more than two years, from 1873 to 1875, at a brewery in Fürstenwald owned by the Berlin brewery Tivoli.

It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for Nakagawa, who was only 24 when he arrived in Germany, where everything – the language, the architecture, the food and drink, the clothing, the entire way of life – was utterly alien to all he had known previously. On his return to Japan with a certificate of study from the Tivoli brewery, Nakagawa was hired by the Japanese government to build a brewery in the newly founded city of Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, which was being rapidly developed in response to a possible invasion threat from Russia. The brewery made its first German-style lager in 1876, and was sold by the government to private investors ten years later.

Between 1869 and 1872 there were more than a hundred brewery start-ups in Japan, most being small and deeply obscure, with very little now known about them. All, or at least all those about whom sufficient details are known, concentrated on producing German-style beers, mostly because Japanese beer drinkers needed the reassurance that domestic brewers were using the same techniques and ingredients as foreign brewers in order to buy Japanese-brewed rather than imported beer. Among the start-ups was one begun by Torii Komakichi, a well-known sake brewer from Sakai, south of Osaka, a city in the south-central region of Japan’s main island, Honshu. In 1888 Torii’s Osaka Beer Brewing Company sent Ikuta Hiizu to Germany to study brewing at the brewery school in Weihenstephan, Bavaria. Ikuta returned to Japan in 1889, where he was appointed manager and technical director of a new brewery built at Suita Mura, on the edge of Osaka, which was completed in 1891. The plans for the brewery were drawn up in Germany, although it was built by an Osaka constructor, and all the brewing machinery was from Germany, though most of the malt and hops was imported, initially, from the US west coast.

The Asahi brewery in Osaka circa 1902: double-click to embiggen

In 1892 the company launched a beer under the name Asahi, meaning “morning sun”. The Osaka brewery showed its beer at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where it was noted that the company was using Japan-grown barley of the Golden Melon variety, which stood up to the hot and humid climate of Honshu, and which had been introduced into the country from the United States in 1885. The same year Osaka was reorganised as Osaka Breweries Ltd. An “Asahi Beer Hall” was opened in nearby Kyoto in 1896 to promote the company’s beer to thirsty tourist. By 1901 it was the second biggest brewery in Japan, at 53,500 hectolitres, well ahead of the Japan Brewery Company/Kirin at 28,500hl and Sapporo at 24,517hl, but behind the Nippon Beer Co of Tokyo, whose main brand was Yebisu, on 59,450hl.

An advertisement for three beer brands then owned by the newly formed Dai Nippon Beer Company, Yebisu, Sapporo and Asahi, from the China Mail, Hong Kong in 1907

The same year the Japanese government introduced a “brutal” new beer tax, which hammered the smaller brewers. The “big four” battled on, but in 1906, in an attempt to reduce competition, which was damaging profits, Sapporo, Osaka Beer Co and Nippon Beer agreed to merge under the name Dai Nippon (“Greater Japan”) Beer Company. From then until after the Second World War, the Japanese beer industry was almost totally dominated by Dai Nippon Beer and Kirin, both producing – until 1941, at least – heavily German-influenced beers. However, the pair were unable to stop retail outlets conducting a vicious price war. This only ended in 1933, when the two giants of Japanese brewing signed an agreement to form the “Co-operative Beer Sales Company Inc”, a deal brokered by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, which gave Dai Nippon 70 per cent of joint sales and Kirin 30 per cent. In the total market, Dai Nippon had a 56 per cent share and Kirin 28 per cent, giving the Co-operative Beer Sales Company 84 per cent of the domestic Japanese beer market. Through the 1930s Asahi and Kirin fought each other for the title of Japan’s best-selling beer brand, with Asahi on an average of 30 per cent of the market and Kirin on 27.5 per cent. Meanwhile Dai Nippon Beer’s Asahi division was opening new breweries, in Hakata, Fukuoka, on Japan’s southernmost large island, Kyushu, in 1921 and Nishinomiya, a few miles from Osaka, in 1927.

When Japan went to war with China in 1937, a conflict which eventually widened into bitter conflict with the United States and the UK in 1941, the beer industry in Japan became more and more tightly controlled by the government, not least because through taxation it generated essential funds for the war effort. In 1939, sake was still the dominant alcoholic beverage in Japan, selling 4.5 times as much as beer, which was largely an expensive middle and upper-class luxury. But as rice production was diverted into foodstuffs, sake production was halted by the end of 1940. Beer took its place, since barley was only a grade-B foodstuff. At the same time, with supplies of hops no longer available for import from Germany, Japan’s brewer began to make their beers less bitter. Small brewers disappeared completely, leaving only Dai Nippon and Kirin by 1943.

After Japan’s defeat in 1945, in the seven-year occupation that followed, much effort was made by the occupiers to break up Japan’s economic conglomerates, the zaibatsu. Dai Nippon did not wait to be broken up, instead putting forward its own arrangement in which, in 1949, it split into two, one side taking the Asahi brand, the other, initially called Nippon Breweries, the Sapporo and Yebatsu brands. Asahi had 36 per cent of the market, Nippon Breweries 38.7 per cent and Kirin 25.3 per cent. The three operated an informal cartel that eliminated price competition, while Japan’s ministry of finance kept import duties on foreign beers high, with an (under world trade rules, illegal) agreement that the three brewers would, as a quid pro quo, buy expensive Japanese-grown barley rather than much cheaper foreign barley.

Until the middle of 1949, the occupying forces had barred Japanese from going to restaurants, bars or beer halls. The reopening of the “on-trade” saw beer sales boom: one bar in Osaka was selling 120 wooden crates of 24 bottles each night, an entire truckload in a day. In 1954 Asahi began to pull ahead of its rivals, capturing 37 per cent of the market, after leading the way in marketing efforts that included sponsoring radio and television programmes, films (including Gone With the Wind when it returned to Japanese cinemas in 1952) and boxing matches. In 1958, Asahi introduced Japan’s first canned beer. Meanwhile the Japanese alcohol market was changing, with sake falling from 71 per cent of all alcohol beverages sold before the Second World War, against beer’s 16 per cent share, to 29 per cent in 1959, against beer’s 44 per cent.

As well as canned beer (which today has more than 60 per cent of the Japanese market), Asahi also pioneered the first outdoor fermentation and lagering tank, the “Asahi Tank”, launched in 1965 and soon licensed to a German brewery construction firm, Ziemann.

By now Asahi had seen its share of sales drift down, leaving it with just 27.9 per cent of the Japanese market in 1961, barely ahead of Sapporo on 27.8 per cent, while Kirin had 41.7 per cent. Kirin’s dominance enabled it to set prices that hampered its rivals’ attempts to match them and still be profitable, and by the mid-1980s its share of the market was more than 60 per cent, with Sapporo on 20 per cent and Asahi on 11 per cent, while Suntory, a distiller that had entered the beer market in 1963, had seven per cent.

At the same time, the beer produced by the three firms continued to be the comparatively light, lightly hopped drink Japan’s brewers had been forced to change to during the Second World War, a style of beer which both proved popular with the increasing numbers of women drinkers, and beer rapidly left sake sales far behind. While the trend in the 1950s and 1960s towards less-bitter beers could be also seen in, for example, the United States, from the 1970s, Japan’s brewing industry began to exhibit some peculiarly Japanese developments. One was the introduction of “beer-like” brews, or happoshu (literally “sparkling spirit”), containing little or no barley, a reaction to both the high price of barley itself and the high taxes on barley brews in Japan. Another was the rise of “draught-style” bottled and canned beers from the late 1970s, with Asahi launching its own Draft Beer brand in 1986.

This did not stop Asahi striking deals with brewers elsewhere in Asia: in 1971 it signed an agreement with United Breweries of New Guinea that saw a brewery built in Port Moresby to make Asahi beers, and in 1986 another contract was signed with San Miguel to start brewing Asahi brands in Indonesia. In 1990 Asahi bought just under 20 per cent of the Australian beer giant Foster’s Group (sold in 1997 back to Foster’s).

A three-litre can of Super Dry, the beer that saved Ahasi

What saved the company, however, was the introduction of “dry beer” in 1987 to try to compete with Kirin, which by then had 63 per cent of the domestic market, with Asahi far behind in third place on just 10 per cent. In 1982 one of Japan’s leading banks, Sumitomo Group, which held 12 per cent of Asahi’s shares, sent in a bank executive specialising in corporate turn-arounds, Murai Tsutomu. Murai made the brewery conduct market surveys which came back with the message that 98 per cent of beer drinkers surveyed wanted Asahi to change the taste of its beer. Drinkers said they wanted a beer that was rich but left no aftertaste. Asahi’s brewers told Murai that was not possible. Murai insisted that it had to be done, and the result was Asahi Super Dry, stronger, at 5 per cent alcohol, than most Japanese mainstream beers, generally 4.5 per cent, but with less sugar, sharper and with no aftertaste. It became instantly popular, particularly among younger drinkers. The launch doubled Asahi’s share of the domestic beer market in a year, and sent it to 37 per cent by 2001. This was the only Japanese brewing initiative to have any impact overseas, with US and European brewers also introducing “dry” beers: by 1990 there were more than 20 “dry” beers on sale in the US market.

Japan’s brewers had been protected for many years from new entrants into the market by a law that required a minimum annual output for anyone wanting a brewery licence of 20,000 hectolitres. In 1994 the country’s Ministry of Finance cut that requirement to just 600 hectolitres, making it viable at last for new microbreweries to start up. The first opened in Japan in 1995, and by 1999 the country had 242 new small breweries. In an attempt to head off this new competition, in 2001 Asahi opened its own “microbrewery” operation, Sumidagawa Brewing, a brewpub in Tokyo.

Super Dry was launched Canada in 1994 and the United States in 1995. It went into in 12 European countries in 1997, and in 2000 Asahi struck a deal with Bass in the UK for a Czech subsidiary of Bass to brew Super Dry under licence. But with the UK becoming the biggest market for the beer in Europe, in 2005 production was switched to Shepherd Neame in Kent. Meanwhile at home beer sales were falling, with the “big four” of Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory suffering a volume decline between them of 23 per cent between 1994 and 2000. At the same time, sales of the cheaper happoshu were climbing, hitting 30 per cent of the Japanese beer market in 2001, the year Asahi finally launched a happoshu of its own. Two years later sales of happoshu for home consumption passed those of “real” beer.

Asahi had regained the number one spot among Japan’s brewers in 1998, and its share of the “real” beer market rose past 50 per cent by the end of 2008, though its share of the total “beer-like” market was only 37.8 per cent, barely ahead of Kirin on 37.2 per cent. Domestic beer sales were badly hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and took several years to recover, but Asahi was seeing big rises in sales to China, where increasing affluence was powering what was becoming the biggest market for beer in the world. It began acquiring shares in five Chinese breweries in 1994 and 1995, and entered into an agreement with the then largest brewer in China, Tsingtao Brewery, to build a brewery in Shenzen, near Hong Kong, which opened in 1999. In 2009 it bought a 19.9 per cent stake in Tsingtao Brewery, reviving a link from before the Second World War, when Dai Nippon Beer Company owned Tsingtao.

An Australian craft beer brewery, Cricketers Arms, in Melbourne, was acquired in 2013, followed by a second in 2015, Mountain Goat Beer in Richmond, Victoria. The next year, as part of the fall-out from AB InBev’s acquisition of SAB Miller, Asahi bought SAB Miller’s beer business in Western Europe, including Peroni in Italy, Grolsch in the Netherlands, the St Stephanus “abbey” brand from Belgium and, in the UK, Meantime Brewing Company, for a total of $2.9 billion. Meantime, based in Greenwich and founded in 2000, had only been bought by SAB Miller two years earlier, for £125 million. Early in 2017 Asahi swallowed SAB Miller’s Eastern European business as well, including Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic; Dreher Breweries in Hungary; Ursus Breweries, the biggest beer brewer in Romania; Tychy and Lech in Poland; and Šariš in Slovakia, for another $7.8 billion. The deal made Asahi the third biggest brewing company in Europe, with 9 per cent of the market, after Heineken and Carlsberg. The same year it sold off its interest in Tsingtao for $844 million, as part of a general pull-out from the Chinese market to concentrate on Europe.

Earlier this week it was announced that Asahi had acquired the brewing assets of the London-based craft ale specialist, family brewer and pub and hotel owner Fuller, Smith & Turner, for £250 million. The deal includes the brewery in Chiswick, but not, it is speculated, the entire brewery site. It gives Asahi ten breweries in Europe, against the eight it runs in Japan, including the Hokkaido brewery in Sapporo, opened in 1970; Ibaraki, on the coast north-east of Tokyo, opened in 1991; and on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, opened in 1998. It is currently the biggest brewer in Japan, fifth biggest in Asia and seventh biggest in the world.

Mumma, mixed a beer today …

The Swedes have had a fondness for porter since at least 1780, when the Swedish botanist Bengt Bergius claimed that in Sweden “a lot of English beer varieties have started to be seen on some of the wealthy tables, especially English porter, which is now brewed as good here in Stockholm.” Nothing seems to be known about who might have been brewing porter in Stockholm at that time, but nine years later a Scot called William Knox opened a porter brewery in Gothenburg, on Sweden’s west coast. There were several other small porter brewers in the town over the following decades, but in 1817 a trader from Hamburg, Abraham Lorent, opened what would become the country’s biggest and most successful porter brewery in Klippan, on the edge of Gothenburg. Lorent died in 1833, and after a tricky few years the brewery was bought in 1836 by another Scot, David Carnegie. The Gothenburg brewery eventually closed in 1979, but Carnegie porter is still brewed today in Falkenburg, about 60 miles south of where it was born.

One Swedish Christmas speciality is a mixed drink called Mumma, made from porter, lager, soda water or lemonade, a shot of sherry, or Madeira (or even Burgundy), perhaps a touch of honey or sugar and, sometimes, a pinch of cardamom. The name, presumably, comes from the herbal beer brewed in Brunswick, Germany, called Mumme. It’s a tasty pre-dinner tipple, though sometimes people drink so much of it that they fall asleep, an event commemorated in the old Swedish folk song “Does Your Mumma Know that You’re Out?” *

Here are three recipes for Mumma, should you wish to have a go yourself: plenty of others can be found on the interwebs, though watch out for Google Translate: confused by etymology, perhaps, it seems to think that “porter” in Swedish means “gates” in English, and “lager” means “stock”.

Make your own Mumma (1)
500ml lager
500ml stout or porter
250ml lemonade or soda water
75ml madeira
A splash of gin (optional)
A pinch of cardamom powder

Mix together in a jug and pour from a height into your glass to get a lovely big head

Mumma (2)
Four teaspoons sugar
50 ml sherry
500ml lager
500 stout or porter
250ml soft drink of your choice

Put the sugar into a jug and pour in the sherry. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Pour in lager, stout or porter and sugar drink.

Mumma (3)
500ml porter or stout
500ml lager
1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
Two tablespoons of honey
Two tablespoons of Madeira

Grind the cardamom, mix in a jug with the honey and a splash of water. Heat in a microwave or saucepan so that the honey becomes runny. Pour the Madeira into a pitcher and add the cardamom and honey. Pour the lager and porter into the pitcher, carefully, as it easily foams. Lightly stir around with a spoon. Serve ice cold.

If you don’t want an Abba song as the accompaniment to your Mumma, and like me you used Budweiser Budvar as the lager, here’s something rather more Bohemian:

Mumma! Mixed a beer today,
Pils and porter in a jug,
Add Madeira, find a mug.
Mumma! I had just begun –
Put some lemonade and gin into it too.
Mumma! Ooh, it’s so good it made me cry.
I think I’ll make this drink again tomorrow!

My Mumma (we’re all crazee now)

* Ahhhh – no.

The porter brewer and the Peterloo Massacre

The 200th anniversary next year of the “Peterloo Massacre”, the assault by mounted troops on a crowd gathered in Manchester to hear speeches in favour of parliamentary reform, has been marked by the release of a film by Mike Leigh starring Rory Kinnear as Henry “Orator” Hunt, the main speaker at the meeting in St Peter’s Field, whose arrest by the authorities sparked the events that led to at least 15 people being killed. Rory thus joins the short list of people, including Bob Hoskins, who can be the answer to the question: “Which actor has played a brewer on screen?”, since for a couple of years Hunt ran a brewery in Bristol – an episode which is significant in the history of porter, since Hunt’s memoirs contain some important evidence on porter brewers’ attempts to make a dark drink while brewing with the far more economic pale malt.

In April 1802, a month after the Treaty of Amiens had ended 10 years of warfare against revolutionary France, the British government put up the tax on strong beer by 25 per cent, to 10 shillings a barrel, and raised the tax on malt by almost four fifths, to 2s 5d a bushel. At the same time, the Act of Parliament introducing the higher taxes, the Duties on Beer, etc Act 1802, also put into statute law a specific prohibition against making beer or ale with anything except malt and hops.

Henry Hunt pictured speaking to the crowd in St Peter’s Field, Manchester: from Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, 1864

Matthew Wood, a City of London-based druggist (and, from 1804, hop dealer) with a clientele of brewers decided that since it was now apparently legal to put anything made from malt into beer, then a colouring made from malt extract should be permissible, and in May 1802 he duly registered a patent process for “Preparing a colour from malt for the purpose of colouring spirits wines and other liquors.” The fact that Wood’s patent application, which described mashing the malt, boiling the extract until most of the water was driven off and then roasting it in iron pans “until the saccharine quality is destroyed, and the whole is nearly reduced to a calx,” did not mention beer specifically may be because he did not want to tip off anyone too early that he was attempting to patent something that the Excise authorities had long declared was against its regulations. He invested £2,000 in the patent, apparently having been given a guarantee from the senior Secretary to the Treasury, Nicholas Vansittart, that his malt colouring would be regarded as lawful, since it used an ingredient, malted barley, upon which tax had been paid.

The Commissioners of Excise disagreed. They instigated prosecutions and seizures of casks of porter colouring materials against brewers who bought Wood’s product, on the grounds that they were adding an illegal adjunct to their porter. The excise commissioners insisted that the “malt” that the Duties on Beer Act 1802 had defined as one of only two permitted ingredients in beer and ale meant only those products customarily made by maltsters, not Wood’s patent colouring. Allowing druggists to supply brewers with beer colouring would “open the widest Door for introducing Ingredients forbidden by Law,” they declared. However, the brewers, and Wood (who became a City of London alderman in 1807), fought back, with the colouring continuing on sale.

Henry “Orator” Hunt, the radical politician who was the main speaker at the meeting in Manchester in August 1819 that turned into the “Peterloo Massacre”, had a run-in with the revenue over Wood’s colouring in 1808. Hunt ran a brewery at Jacob’s Wells in Bristol, the Clifton Genuine Beer Brewery, from at least 1807 to 1809. It had been started when a brewer friend called Racey – evidently the son son of the James Racey whose brewery in Bath went bust in 1804 – asked Hunt to put up the money to convert a former distillery at Jacob’s Well into a brewery. Hunt claimed he had designed the whole layout of the brewery himself:

I took advantage of the declivity of the hill, on the side of which the premises were situated, to have it so constructed that the whole process of brewing was conducted, from the grinding of the malt, which fell from the mill into the mash-tun, without any lifting or pumping; with the exception of pumping the water, called liquor by brewers, first into the reservoir, which composed the roof of the building. By turning a cock, this liquor filled the steam boiler, from thence it flowed into the mash-tun; the wort had only once to be pumped, once from the under back into the boiler, from thence it emptied itself, by turning the cock, into the coolers; it then flowed into the working vats and riving casks, and from the stillions, which were immediately above the store casks into which it flowed, only by turning a cock. These store casks were mounted on stands or horses, high enough to set a butt upright, and fill it out of the lower cock; and then the butts and barrels were rolled to the door, and upon the drays, without one ounce of lifting from the commencement of the process to the end. This was a great saving of labour.

However, according to Hunt, Racey turned out to be fraudulently raking off cash from the brewery, and when challenged he “sailed for America, bag and baggage”. (It seems highly likely that this is the James Racey who married Anne Hull in New York in 1810 and then settled in Canada, buying the distillerie de Beauport just to the east of Quebec City the same year, and converting it to a brewery.) Hunt found himself having to run the brewery in an attempt to get back at least some of the money he had invested, and described his subsequent clash with the Excise over Wood’s colouring in his memoirs, written while he was in jail in 1820 for “sedition” after the events at St Peter’s Field:

When the act was passed, making it a penalty of two hundred pounds to 
use any drug, ingredient, or material, except malt and hops, in
 the brewing of beer, Alderman Wood obtained a patent for making of 
colouring, to heighten the colour of porter. This colouring was made of 
scorched or burnt malt, and it was mashed the same as common malt, which 
produced a colouring of the consistency of treacle, and having nearly its appearance. As this patent was very much approved of, almost every 
porter brewer in England used it in the colouring their porter; and 
amongst that number I was not only a customer of the worthy alderman for 
colouring, but I was also a considerable purchaser of hops from the firm of Wood, Wiggan [sic—properly Wigan] & Co in Falcon Square. I had just got down a fresh 
cask of this colouring, and it was standing at the entrance door of the 
brewery, where it had been rolled off the dray, when news was brought me
 that the new exciseman had seized the cask of colouring, and had taken 
it down to the excise office. I immediately wrote to Wood, Wiggan & Co to inform them of the circumstance; upon which they immediately applied 
to the board of excise in London, and by the return of post I received 
a letter from Messrs Wood, to say, that an order was gone off, by the 
same post, to direct the officers of excise in Bristol to restore the
 cask of colouring without delay; and almost as soon as this letter had 
come to hand, and before I could place it upon the file, one of the
 exciseman came quite out of breath to say that an order had arrived from the board of excise in London, to restore the cask of colouring, and it
 was quite at my service, whenever I pleased to send for it. I wrote back 
a letter by the fellow, to say, that as the exciseman had seized and 
carried away from my brewery a cask of colouring, which was allowed by 
the board of excise to be perfectly legal to use, as it was made of malt and hops only, unless, within two hours of that time, they caused it to be restored to the very spot from whence it was illegally removed, I would direct an action to be commenced against them. In less than an hour the cask of colouring was returned, and the same exciseman who had seized it came to make an apology for his error. His pardon was at once granted, and so ended this mighty affair; and I continued to use the said colouring, as well as did all the porter brewers in Bristol, without further molestation, as long as I continued the brewery; never having had any other seizure while I was concerned in the brewery.

Flyer put out just before the Peterloo Massacre by Henry Hunt’s political enemies

The story appears in Hunt’s biography because he was responding to an attack on his brewing career by one of his political enemies, Dr John Stoddart, the editor of the “ultra-Tory” New Times newspaper, in an article in July 1819, just before Peterloo. The newspaper claimed that despite Hunt advertising in the Bristol Gazette in January 1807 that his beer was “wholly exempt from any other ingredient whatever” than the best malt and hops, “a very few months after the date of the above advertisement, seventy gallons of other ingredients were seized from Henry Hunt of ‘the Clifton Genuine Brewery;’ and were condemned in Michaelmas Term 1807.” The result of “this awkward little accident”, the New Times claimed, was that it “gave the Bristol men a sort of distaste for Hunt’s genuine beer … and the consequence was that he shut up his Brewery.” The New Times’s attack was reprinted word-for-word by more than a dozen other local newspapers of the Tory persuasion, from Inverness to Cornwall, the following month, after Peterloo, and turned into a pamphlet circulated in Manchester.

Curiously, 11 years earlier Hunt had given a completely different version of the story to his local paper. He had already made himself unpopular with the establishment in Bristol in 1807 when he popped up at the hustings for the general election that May and attempted to interrupt the cozy stitch-up of the city’s two parliamentary seats by the Tories and Whigs by nominating a third, more radical candidate. When his bid to put another name on the list was refused Hunt’s supporters pelted the Tory candidate “so vigorously with mud and sticks that he was forced to leave his gilded car and beat a retreat.” The mob was only diverted, it was claimed later, by Hunt offering to distribute two free butts of beer at his brewery. In 1808, replying to an accusation that “unlawful ingredients” had been seized upon his brewery’s premises, Hunt said:

When the last act of parliament passed, prohibiting the use of “any ingredient or material. except malt and hops, to be made use of tin the brewing of beer or porter,” Messers Wood, Wigan and Co hop-factors, in London, obtained a patent for making a colouring for Porter with burnt malt only. Two casks of this Colouring was [sic] sent to me, but before I admitted it into my brewhouse, I sent to the Exciseman to know if it were legal to make use of it for colouring porter, shewing him the permit or certificate that I received with the casks. His answer was, he did not know, but he would go to the supervisor and enquire. On his return, he said that they had no authority to permit it to be used, and they must take a sample of it. I desired that they would take the whole, as I should not, under such circumstances, suffer it to be placed in my brewery: my horses took it for them to the Excise-office. I immediately stated the case to the Commissioners of Excise, from whom I received no answer. Mr Wood’s patent colouring has never been returned to me, nor have I since heard any thing of it.

Whichever story of Hunt’s was accurate, it is clear Wood’s beer colouring was still not definitively legal even in 1808. The brewing trade was evidently split over whether Wood’s colouring should be supported or not, with the largest porter brewers, such as Whitbread, Barclay Perkins and Felix Calvert, opposed, apparently for fear that allowing sugar and malt colouring would take some of the pressure off their smaller rivals, and others, such as Meux Reid and the big Windsor brewer John Ramsbottom, in favour. The battle was fought in parliament, where the porter brewers had eight MPs at the time and the country brewers four, but victory for the colourists only came with an alliance with the West Indies sugar plantation interest, who were keen to find a new outlet for their product (and helped by the Treasury, which wanted to see more pale malt used, as this was apparently easier to supervise by the excisemen than brown malt, and thus less likely to avoid tax). In June 1811 an Act was passed allowing the colouring of porter (but not ale or pale beers) with “burnt brown sugar and water” (but not molasses), with a licence to make porter colouring costing £5 and duty charged on each barrel of colouring of 10s a time.

Troops striking out at the crowd, as the authorities over-react during the 1819 political meeting at St Peter’s Field, Manchester

The Colouring of Porter Act lasted just half a decade before it was repealed and a new Act passed, in June 1816, banning even burnt sugar from being used for colouring beer from July 6 the following year. Licence fees and duty from burnt-sugar colouring had brought in £82,000, but the excise authorities declared that there was evidence that other illegal ingredients were being sneaked into porter along with the colouring. Cometh the hour, cometh the inventor: in March 1817, four months before burnt sugar colouring became illegal, Daniel Wheeler, who had been making sugar colouring at his premises off Drury Lane in central London, unveiled via a patent application a new method of manufacturing colouring from malt, upon which duty had been paid (thus making the colouring legal). His process heated the malt to 400ºF and more, to produce “a substance resembling gum and extractive matter of a deep brown colour readily soluble in hot or cold water.”

Wheeler told the 1818 House of Commons committee on the quality of beer that with brown malt, “thirty-two parts of it to forty-eight of pale,” or 40 per cent, “gives about the porter colour.” However, “The high-dried brown malt, from the heat to which it has been exposed, has lost a considerable quantity of its sugar. I have made many experiments upon it myself, and … that high dried malt will not produce, or has not, from any experiments, produced more than one fourth of the spirits compared to that of pale malt.” Using his invention, though, “one part of the patent malt will give as much colouring as thirty-two parts of the malt I have been speaking of” – in other words, brewers needed less than 2½ per cent of Wheeler’s patent malt to give a satisfactory colour to their porter.

Dr Thompson’s Annals of Philosophy for December 1817 declared of Wheeler’s invention: “There are few patents that promise to be of such great national importance.” To get the “deep tan-brown colour” and “peculiar flavour” of “the best genuine porter,” two parts of brown malt were required to three parts of pale malt. “The price of the former is generally about seven-eighths of the latter; but the proportion of saccharine matter which it contains does not, according to the highest estimate, exceed one-half that afforded by the pale malt, and probably on an average scarcely amounts to one-fifth…it follows that the brewers are paying for the colour and flavour of their liquor one-fifth of the entire cost of their malt.” The savings that brewers could make with Wheeler’s patent malt meant the end of temptations to use illegal materials such as cocculus indicus, and “The revenue will be benefited by the increased consumption which will necessarily result from an improvement in the quality of the porter; and both the revenue and public morals will derive advantage from the greatly diminished temptation to fraudulent practices.”

The big porter brewers quickly took up his invention, with Whitbread recording stocks of patent malt in the same year, 1817, and Barclay Perkins by 1820 (though curiously, in 1819, Rees’s Cyclopedia claimed that “In Mr Whitbread’s works no colouring matter is employed, as he uses a portion of brown malt”), and the Plunkett family opening a plant in Dublin in 1819 to supply Irish porter brewers. But alas for Wheeler, his patent was swiftly challenged. A coffee roaster based in Northumberland Alley, off Fenchurch Street, in the City of London called Joseph Malins began roasting malt himself and selling it to “various” brewers for colouring, to the “considerable injury” of Wheeler’s business. Wheeler sued Malins for patent infringement and the two sides clashed in the Court of Chancery in August 1818, with Wheeler claiming his patent had been “pirated” and Malins insisting that there was no piracy, since the brown malt he sold to porter brewers had been heated in “a common coffee-roaster,” which had been in use for more than a century before Wheeler’s patent.

Unfortunately for Wheeler, the case was bumped to a higher court, the Court of King’s Bench, to decide whether his patent was actually valid, and at a hearing in December 1818 the newly appointed Lord Chief Justice, Sir Charles Abbott, directed the jury to find that it was not. Wheeler’s patent application had been for “A new and improved method of drying and preparing malt.” But, Abbott said, the process the application described was not, in fact, “preparing” malt, it was a process for making malt more soluble and colouring the liquid. With the patent declared void, in March 1819 Wheeler’s case in the Court of Chancery was dismissed with costs.

The victory over Wheeler was a welcome win for the Malins family in the courts: in May 1818 Joseph Malins’s father, William, had been fined £100 by the Court of Exchequer for having on his premises more than 1,500lb of roasted and ground peas and beans with the intention of passing them off as coffee, and a month later William was fined the huge sum of £2,000 by the same court after being found guilty of manufacturing 100lb of imitation tea, from hawthorn and blackthorn leaves plus colouring, and selling it to grocers in London. Daniel Wheeler continued to describe himself as a “patent malt manufacture,” though by January 1819, when he had moved from Bloomsbury in central London to Croydon in Surrey, he had been declared bankrupt. Cheekily, perhaps, William Malins was calling himself an “anti-patent malt maker” in 1823, when he was based in Upper Fore Street, Lambeth.

Kent’s directory of London, 1823

However, although Wheeler was unable, as he must have hoped, to turn “patent malt” into a personal fortune, its adoption did indeed swiftly revolutionise the brewing of porter, as the use of brown or blown malt shrank or disappeared. (Ironically, malt roasted to Wheeler’s specifications continued to be known as “patent” malt for more than a century, even though the patent had been overturned.)

Sale notice for Hunt’s brewery, Bristol Mirror, December 31 1808

Hunt, meanwhile, left the brewery business in 1809, ten years before Peterloo. By 1811 the brewery at Jacob’s Wells was being run by a J Highett from Weymouth, who was brewing strong beer, porter, Burton ale and table beer. It was up for sale early the next year, and again in 1813, when the equipment included “a new copper furnace, containing 20 barrels, never used.” It seems to have had several subsequent owners, but by early 1827, when the site was put up for sale, it was being described as a “late Brewery”.