Thursday, 16 December 2010

The death of Keeping Porter

Porter. It went mild in the second half of the 19th century. Aged, or Keeping, Porter and the vats needed to make it disappeared. But how quickly? It just so happens I've unearthed a few relevant numbers.

Did I mention my Whitbread project? I must have. I'm trying to collect the set of their brewing records.  The London Metropolitan Archives has every year from 1805 to 1975. I've only about 10 years missing for the Porter ones, mostly post-WW II. So I'm getting a unique insight into how Porter brewing mutated. Including the move away from aged Porter.

Let's quickly run through the development of Porter. Early Porters were the first beers (and they were Beers, not Ales) that London brewers had aged themselves. Before publicans or third parties had bought mild malt liquors and aged them in their own cellars. Spotting the public's liking for a bit of age, some brewers began ageing their Brown Beer. Not for immensely long periods, just six months or so. Enough to acquire the desired flavour. And Porter was born.

Initially, all Porter was aged. Until someone noticed that you could get the same aged effect by mixing a small quantity of beer that had been aged 12 months or more with fresh mild Porter. Two distinct types of Porter were brewed: Running Porter and Keeping Porter. What was the difference? Well, apart from being aged in enormous vats, Keeping Porter contained more hops. But the grists and gravity were identical.

In the 1840's, 25-30% of the Porter Whitbread brewed was K, or Keeping Porter. Which tallies pretty well with the recommendation of brewing manuals to mix around a third aged beer with fresh beer. As you'll see in the table below, there was a slight downward trend in the 1850's, and occasional years where far less Keeoping Porter was brewed, less than 10% or total Porter output.

The decline of Whitbread's Keeping Porter
Year
no. brews K
brewsize K
K total barrels
% K
KK
% KK
Total running Porter
% running Porter
total all Porter
1840
42
803.6667
33,754
21.78%


121,244
78.22%
154,998
1845
56
809.0179
45,305
30.09%


105,284
69.91%
150,589
1847
45








1848
58








1849
54
800
43,200
29.04%


105,567
70.96%
148,767
1850
48
817.0833
39,220
28.25%


88,562
63.80%
138,819
1851
53
781.7925
41,435
30.00%


91,312
66.11%
138,114
1853
44
789.9773
34,759
22.41%


106,323
68.54%
155,125
1854
43
780
33,540






1855
13
862
11,206
8.54%


85,239
64.99%
131,160
1856
29
811.6897
23,539
18.36%


104,693
81.64%
128,232
1857
30
827.9
24,837
18.80%


107,296
81.20%
132,133
1858
38
803.5263
30,534
20.14%
7,002
4.62%
100,924
66.56%
151,618
1859
13
759.3077
9,871
5.97%


119,794
72.48%
165,284
1860
22
719
15,818
9.04%


108,681
62.13%
174,929
1861
11
757.0909
8,328
6.89%
7,767
6.43%
104,691
86.67%
120,786
1862
29
770
22,330

1,400




1863
15
796.5333
11,948
7.42%


118,552
73.64%
160,993
1864
32
815.0625
26,082
18.70%
800
0.57%
102,198
73.27%
139,472
1865
21
813.9048
17,092
10.83%


111,381
70.58%
157,810
1866
7
782.5714
5,478
4.11%
1,666
1.25%
126,037
94.64%
133,181
1867
3
755
2,265
1.64%
745
0.54%
118,923
86.15%
138,047
1868
6
752.1667
4,513
3.61%


120,439
96.39%
124,952
1869
4
723.75
2,895
2.43%


116,348
97.57%
119,243
1870
4
796
3,184
2.74%


112,868
97.26%
116,052
1871
0

0
0.00%


103,543
100.00%
103,543
Source:
Whitbread brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives

Notes:
1839, 1854 and 1862 quantities estimated from the number of brews


In the middle of the 1860's, there was a sudden and dramatic collapse in Whitbread's production of Keeping Porter, dropping from 17,000 barrels in 1865 to 5,500 in 1866. For the remaining years of the decade, there were a handful of brews. Until 1870, when the final four brews occurred and Whitbread's K disappeared forever.

How did Keeping Porter disappear? Remarkably quickly

12 comments:

Rod said...

"How did Keeping Porter disappear?"

The "Why" is equally interesting,Ron.
Any thoughts?
I mean, obviously, it was more profitable for the brewers to do away with keeping porter, but did the public taste change at this time?

StuartP said...

Ahh, back to porter. Nice.
I'm looking at a glass of BP's 'TT' porter, 1859 recipe.
I looks rather odd: a sort of dull, green-tinged brown that you just don't see in beer these days.
I am not surprised that stout and porter got darker and became black.
It just looks so much more attractive that way.
The taste is still dominated by the heap of hops thrown in, but early tastings show promise.

Ron Pattinson said...

Rod, that's a very good question. Ultimately, I suppose, it was because there weren't enough people prepared to pay for it to be worthwhile making.

It surprised me how quickly it disappeared. From a normal level of production to nothing in 4 or 5 years.

Gary Gillman said...

It could be related to demographics, perhaps more young people were consuming than before (larger families, more money, the Victorian economy contributing to this) and a fulcrum point was reached: not enough older drinkers so they dropped the keeping beer or mostly, just like today (anywhere) older brands get dropped, finally Russian Stout itself in the 1990's in England.

Also, I think people never really liked sourness, even a little. It was an expedient, a detriment made a virtue. As mild beer became more plentiful and of better quality, which we can infer from those Victorian ads often discussed, the old antipathy for bitter and sour tastes reasserted itself.

Gary

Rod said...

Gary -

"Also, I think people never really liked sourness, even a little. It was an expedient, a detriment made a virtue."

I can agree that the lactic sourness of, in this instance, Porter was basically a defect, but people got used to it, and over time it became the taste that they expected and enjoyed.
I can't agree that people never really liked it - look at the market for sour beers in Belgium today.
If people really hadn't liked the sourness of aged Porter, the brewing of Keeping Porter would have ceased long before it did.

Flagon of Ale said...

Very interesting. It's a shame we don't have numbers on quantity sold because that would probably give a very clear picture of what was going on. Obviously what they brewed in 1865 was an estimate on what they thought they could sell in 1866 or later in 1865. Based on the numbers it seems like they overestimated demand, perhaps, for several years as the quantity bounces up and down quite a bit. 8,000 in 1861, then almost triple that amount in 1862 for 22,000, and then half again in 1863 for 11,000. I wonder if they put the last nail in the coffin by overestimating demand like it seems they may have toward the end there.

Craig said...

It seems that, although tastes may have changed, economics plays a larger role in the decline of KP than public opinion. I f we are to take Whitbread as a generic sampling for all Porter producers, then, yes there is a gradual decline overt thirty some-odd years. This I think can be linked to public favor, but that dramatic and sharp decline at the end is indictitive of something else.

Did Whitbread do am 1866 cost benefit analysis?

And with that analysis, did they say, the cost of doing buisness and loss of immediate revenue on aged Porter, along with declining demand, was reason enough for the abrupt stopage?

I can't see any other reason for such and about face.

Barm said...

"I can't agree that people never really liked it - look at the market for sour beers in Belgium today."

Which is tiny as a proportion of the beer market, so disproves your argument rather than confirming it.

Also look at how the sour beers of Germany almost completely vanished. Why? Most people didn't want to drink them any more once lager beer came along.

Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, I think you're making a big assumption about the flavour of aged Porter. Was it that sour?

The organism identified in 1904 as being responsible for the typical aged flavour of English beers was brettanomyces. Which doesn't necessarily produce much in the way of acidity. Courage Russian Stout, which had a brettanomyces secondary fermentation wasn't what I would call sour. Even now, almost 20 years on, it isn't.

Ron Pattinson said...

Craig, as a materialist myself, I'm with you on an economic cause.

But, public taste must have driven the economics to some extent. Aged Porter cost more to produce: it contained more hops, required huge tuns and sat around for long periods not earning money. Brewing it only made sense if drinkers would pay more for it.

I noticed something today in Whitbread's brewing records. In 1866 they started using sugar. And in 1867 they dropped the gravity of their Porter from 1058 to 1049. That's very low. For most of the 19th century Porter was over 1055. It's a clear indication that the brewery was under financial pressure, making a big cut in the gravity of their biggest-selling beer.

This is exactly when the production of Keeping Porter was greatly reduced. No coincidence, I'm sure.

I need to investigate if anything happened in the mid-1860's to prompt this.

Rod said...

Barm -

Gary said, "Also, I think people never really liked sourness, even a little."
In quoting the fact that a high proportion of Belgian bars and cafes keep at least one sour beer, and Delhaize supermarkets keep cans of Rodenbach as stock items, I am simply saying that some people, even today, like sour flavours in beer. I am one of them.

You seem to think you're making some great point by saying that sour beers have largely died out, when all you're actually saying is that public tastes have changed.
Well, mate, we all know that - that's what this post is all about.

Thomas Barnes said...

Is it possible that one of the reasons that Keeping Porter declined because of public fears about adulteration of the product?

You've posted some hair raising stuff about beer adulteration from just about the period when keeping porter started to fade from the market. The public might have decided that sour beer was adulterated, while sweeter running porter wasn't (or was at least adulterated with less harmful materials).

Also, it might be that keeping porter started to decline about the time that improvements in sanitation and food safety started to really kick in. Canned food became much cheaper in the 1850s and the process of Pasteurization dates to 1864. For the first time, people might have understood that beer souring was a bacteriological process and might have considered it to be harmful.