You may have noticed that I use a multipronged fork to devour and absorb the past. Brewing manuals, price lists, brewing logs and newspaper articles all play their part. Today I'm going to use one of these sources, brewery price lists, to analyse Porter's demise.
I've pretty well destroyed the Porter dying out due to WW I malting restrictions theory. And, as we've seen, Whitbread were still brewing their Porter and the start of WW II. Fuller's was still around in the 1950's. Porter didn't disappear overnight. It was a long slow process. What's happened with Mild over the last 30 years seems like a good parallel.
A quick overview of Mild's decline seems a good place to start. In 1960 Mild was brewed everywhere in the UK and available in every pub. By the time I started drinking in 1973 Lager only just outsold Mild (14.6% of sales to 14.2%), yet there were already parts of the country where Mild had almost disappeared. London, Sheffield, Scotland. The areas where it retained a degree of popularity - South Wales, West Midlands, parts of Yorkshire and the North West - today form the style's last strongholds. Many southern breweries no longer regularly brew Mild. Scottish 60/- is close to extinction.
The uneven geographically spread of decline can be seen quite clearly with Porter, too. The brewing records I've seen, being mostly from London, give a distorted image. London was Porter's last toehold. It was still a standard part of a London brewery's range in the 1920's. Most still made one in the 1930's. But what about elsewhwere? That's where brewery price lists come in.
Price lists provide an invaluable record of the range of beers being brewed bty a specific brewery at a specific time. See when Porter disappears from the price lists and you can plot its decline. In the 1850's and 1860's just about every brewery produced a Porter. When did they start to drop it?
The answer is: surprisingly early. Already in the 1870's there were breweries that brewed Stout, but no Porter. As the 19th century progresses a greater proportion produce no Porter.
The table below gives an idea of how brewers turned their backs on Porter. I won't claim that it's wonderfully scientific, as it's based on a random sample of price lists (the ones I happen to have found). But it does give an impression of the rate and extent of Porter's decline.
It looks as if the 1890's was the decade when Porter hit serious trouble. Half the breweries in my sample didn't brew one. And those still with a Porter were increasingly concentrated in the South. The maps below show clearly the uneven distribution of Porter brewing breweries.
View Porter in a larger map
Romford, Bristol, Stratford-on-Avon, Stockport, Watford, Leamington, Northampton, Putney, Chiswick, Hitchin Herts, Leamington, Sheffield, Epping, Mansfield, London, Hastings.
View No Porter in a larger map
Newark, Manchester, Nottingham, Chippenham, Cambridge, Cambridge, Hull, Colchester, Swansea, Swansea, Newark, Hull, Wickwar Gloucs, Stafford, Brigg, Sheffield, Tiverton
The Black Watkins – Porter and Elderberry - The Englishman George Watkins wrote a brewing manual, The Complete English Brewer, in numerous editions in the second half of the 1700s. He advised to use ...
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