Tag Archives: porter

Bristol-fashion Guinness and the roast barley question

Where and when was the first Guinness brewery opened in England? If you answered “Park Royal, 1936”, whoops, the loud noises and flashing lights have gone off, that’s the WRONG answer, by more than 100 miles and just under 100 years.

In 1838 John Grattan Guinness junior had been sacked from the brewery business in Dublin started by his grandfather for drunkenness and “mixing with degraded society”. His uncle, Arthur Guinness II bought him a brewery in Bristol to try to give him another chance. Unfortunately John Grattan Guinness does not seem to have been a businessman, and the Bristol brewery went under in 1845. Much later, after he fell into poverty, John G tried ungratefully and unsuccessfully to sue his cousin Benjamin Guinness for wrongful dismissal from the Dublin brewery.

While John G was still running the brewery in Bristol, however, he was evidently visited by the brewer and writer George Stewart Amsinck, who was shown several different brews, all apparently based on St James’s Gate originals. Amsinck eventually printed the recipes for the beers as part of Practical Brewings, a manual of 50 different brewings published in 1868.

Their interest comes from their being the closest we have to genuine Dublin Guinness recipes of the late 1830s, showing us brewing methods and, in particular ingredients and proportions of different grain types.

Guinness had been among the first porter brewers to seize upon Daniel Wheeler’s “patent” malt for colouring porters and stouts when it appeared in 1819. This was the first properly legal beer colouring (because tax had been paid on the malt before it was roasted into Stygianity) to let brewers make really black beers, which is what the public expected in their porters and stouts, while using almost entirely pale malt, which gave a much better extract of fermentable sugars than the high-dried and “blown” malts the original porter brewers had used. An advertisement for Plunkett Brothers, the Dublin makers of patent malt, dated 1873 quotes a letter from Guinness saying the St James’s Gate brewery had used its products for “over fifty years” – in other words, since at least the very early 1820s.

The recipes Amsinck recorded at John G Guinness’s Bristol brewery included a Dublin stout of 1096 OG, using 96.8 per cent new pale Suffolk malt and 3.2 per cent “black” (that is, roast) malt; a Country Porter (the name Guinness at St James’s Gate gave to the beer delivered outside Dublin) of 1067 OG, brewed with the same ratio of black and pale malts; and a Town Porter (the name Guinness gave to the beer brewed for sale in Dublin) of 1061 OG, ditto for the grain bill but with half the hops of the Country Porter. This last, Town beer was kept for only a day after fermentation was finished, before being mixed with 10 per cent fresh wort (a technique called gyling) and put out into the trade for consumption within a fortnight, making it truly a mild porter, in the proper sense of mild as fresh beer made for quick consumption.

The particular point to note today about all these beers is that they used roasted malt, not the roasted barley that commentators such as Roger Bergen, writing in Brewing Techniques in November 1993 say is “critical” to the Guinness palate. In fact Guinness could not have used roasted barley when John G was working there, because it was illegal: no grains could go into the brewing of beer that had not been malted, and paid the malt tax.

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The forgotten story of London’s porters

It’s a mark of the low status given to working class history that the role in London’s life and economy played by the city’s thousands of street and river porters, the men who gave their name to the beer, is almost completely forgotten, only 70 or so years after the last of the porters died.

Almost no modern books on the history of London mention the Ticket Porters and their rivals the Fellowship Porters, not even Weinreb and Hibbert’s 1,000-page London Encyclopedia (which does, however, manage to mangle a nonsensical story about ale conners and the Tiger pub at the Tower of London).

The exception is Peter Earle’s A City Full of People, subtitled Men and Women of London 1650-1750, published in 1994, which leans for its scholarship about the subject on Walter Stern’s The Porters of London, written in 1960.

This lack of general knowledge about the people who played an irreplaceable role in London’s economy from the 17th to the 19th centuries, one that was the equivalent of white van delivery driver, motorcycle courier and postman rolled into one, meant confusion for beer writers in the 1970s when they came to write about porter the drink.

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