Sunday, 19 December 2010

Allsopp and St. Petersburg

Let's continue with the Allsopp theme. I've been rummaging in Barnard's "Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland" again. It's such a handy book. How did I ever get by without it?

The title rather gives away the theme of this piece: the Baltic trade of Burton brewers. Which reminds of this gem of fact-garbling from my Protz Shield/Papazian Cup examples:

"Russian imperial stouts were first brewed in the 18th century by brewers in Burton, England to be shipped to the court of Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Catherine apparently became quite smitten by stouts during a visit to England and demanded some be sent back to her when she returned home; unfortunately the first few batches did not survive the long trip to Russia. Catherine demanded that the English find some way to get her beloved porter to her, and being empress, she got what she wanted. To accomplish this goal the Barclay Perkins brewery crafted a stout to survive the trek much sweeter and stronger than anything available in England at the time and a new style was born."

It manages to confuse two completely different beer trades with Russia: Porter from London  and Burton Ale from, well, Burton. And the stuff about Stout having to be strong to survive the "long trip to Russia". The author needs to study geography and the economics of transport pre-railways. The trip from London or Hull to St. Petersburg was a piece of piss. It should also be remembered that standard-strength Porter made the much more demanding journey all the way to India.

Sorry for that distraction. I couldn't resist that little appetiser. On with the main course.

"Dr. Plott, in his Natural History, written two hundred years ago, refers to the peculiar "chemical or natural properties possessed by the Burton waters," from which, " by an art well known in this country, good ale is made, and in the management of which they have a knack of fineing it in three days to that degree that it shall not only be potable, but clear and palatable as one would desire any drinke of this kind to be." In 1630 the fame of the Burton ales had spread to the metropolis, they being sold at « ye Peacocke " in Gray's Inn Lane, at that period ; while, subsequently, according to the " Spectator," it was in considerable demand amongst the visitors at Vauxhall. Upon the opening up of the Trent navigation, by the Act of 1698, Burton ale, which on account of the previous difficulties attending land carriage, was very rare in London, soon began to find its way to the metropolis by sea; but at this time the sale was of a limited character, the inhabitants of London being supplied by local brewers. The chief benefit that accrued to Burton by the opening up of the Trent was that which arose from the northern trade, the Trent connecting Gainsborough with Hull, and Hull with the northern ports. In 1746, a considerable trade had been established in the Baltic, principally by Benjamin Wilson, the founder of the firm of Allsopp, the ale finding an especially ready sale at St. Petersburg. The Emperor of Russia, Peter the Great, and his Empress, Catherine, were extremely fond of Burton ale, which, in those days, was high coloured and sweet, of very great strength, and especially suited to the Russian palate. In course of time, the export trade in Burton beer had so increased that Benjamin Wilson was induced to devote to it his particular attention, which is evidenced by the books of account shown to us by Messrs. Allsopp. In 1748 the business was not a small one, as the entries in the books, ranging from that date to 1769, amply testify. Thus, in 1765, the account of Messrs. Blayden, of Hull, from October to March, was £373 9s. 10d. ; and that of Messrs. John and William Mornby, of Gainsborough, for the same period, was £288 5s. 10.5d.

In 1766, the account of Messrs. Samuel Watson and Sons, of Hull, was settled by £655 0s. 4d.; Messrs. George Storey and Co., £359 13s. 3d.; and Mr. Robert Wilberforce, £428 13s. 2d., which he paid in flax. From 1770 to 1790, a volume of correspondence exists which affords sufficient proof of the great extent of the business, and the large foreign connections of the house. The contents of this volume are exceedingly curious, as records of the transactions of an old firm. Part of the business, seldom, however, exceeding 25 per cent, was evidently conducted by barter ; and this in a description of produce necessary for the business, such as timber, staves, etc."

"Noted breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. I" by Alfred Barnard, 1889, pages 122 - 123.

Wasn't that just full of useful facts? Let's begin with the first paragraph. Which discusses the transformation in the fortunes of Burton brewers when they gained direct access to the sea. Making it possible to send their beer not just to London, but also across the Baltic. The water of Burton gave the beer favourable characteristics, such as dropping bight quickly.

We even get a description of the beer itself: "Burton ale, which, in those days, was high coloured and sweet, of very great strength, and especially suited to the Russian palate". Dark, sweet, full of booze. Sounds just like the sort of beer I would like. And about as unlike Pale Ale as you can get.

Bartering for barrel staves would make a lot of sense. As we've seen in an earlier post, Memel oak from the Baltic was the wood of preference for most coopers. And, assuming the barrels in which the beer was shipped were not returned, they'd be needing wood to make some new ones.


Rod said...

"Catherine apparently became quite smitten by stouts during a visit to England......."

Just asking - is he sure that Catherine visited England?

Ron Pattinson said...

Rod, I suspect that's just been made up. It was Peter the Great who did all the travelling.

Carl said...

Aren't you all messing up the different "Peters" and "Catherines" in 18th cent. Russia ?
Which years (and persons) are we talking about?

Peter-I "The Great".
Lived 1672-1725. Emperor 1682-1725.

Catherine-II "The Great"
Lived 1729-96. Empress 1762-96.