Dorchester Ale: Esteemed When The Management Is Judicious


coppingerFabulous. I think my new best friend is Joseph Coppinger. Sure he published his book The American Practical Brewer and Tanner 200 years ago… but so few people come by these days I don’t care to notice such things. Like Velky Al did a couple of years ago, I came across an online copy of the book as I was looking for something entirely different. [No. No, not that.] And when I did I immediately – well, right after checking out the tanning section – noticed there were a number of recipes for beers. Styles of beers even. A listing of styles. In a two hundred year old book about beer. Odd. I thought that was invented in the 1970s by that Jack Michaelson chap. But, more importantly, he included this:

Dorchester Ale

This quality of ale is by many esteemed the best in England, when the materials are good, and the management judicious.

54 Bushels of the best Pale Malt.
50 lb. of the best Hops.
1 lb. of Ginger.
¼ of a lb. of Cinnamon, pounded.

Cleansed 14 Barrels, reserving enough for filling….This mode of brewing appears to be peculiarly adapted for shipping to warm climates; the fermentation being slowly and coolly conducted: it is also well calculated for bottling.

Yes, there is more. I just used those three dots to keep you focused. He goes on and on in fact. Over thirty sorts of beer and a few diagrams like the one above. A few things. First, it’s a description of how to make Dorchester Ale. The careful – or perhaps the caring – amongst you will recall that two years ago while waiting for Craig in Albany to go for a beer, I wandered into the New York State Library HQ and found a large number of mid-1700s newspaper notices for British ale coming into the new world. And a few of those ads referenced Dorchester ale. So there you have it. Dorchester was a top quality ale with a bit of ginger added. Sounds like quite nice stuff. Second, yes, the book was published in 1815. And it was published in that year by the firm of Van Winkle and Wiley located at No.3 on Wall Street. It is a guide aimed at the trade. Aimed at the trade that wants to know about shipping to the warmer climes. Which means exporting ale from New York state. Two hundred years ago. Third, he goes on. And on. The book has a lot of data. I need to get into it to find out what.

I believe this illustrates a point: the problem with records. Believing you know what things were once like based on the available records is a dodgy game. Things like (i) Gansevoort’s adin 1794 asking for barley for ale as the old state in the young nation was coming out out famine leading one to leap to (ii) a prosperous local brewery to the south in 1808 connecting you to (iii) this guide in 1815’s NYC on how to brew for export (iv) all might lead you to understanding that there was in fact a vibrant but little understood brewing trade waaay before the US Civil War and waaay before the advent of lager’s supremacy. But you have to watch that sort of thing. Because records are dodgy things. But at least we may well know what Dorcester ale was. Maybe. Sadly, no reference to Taunton. Maybe. Probably out of style by then in the New York market. That might be it. Maybe.

One thought on “Dorchester Ale: Esteemed When The Management Is Judicious”

  1. {Original comments…]

    bailey – August 5, 2015 9:34 AM
    This is great stuff! Jess and I had read your posts about Dorchester Ale, and seen mention of Taunton Ale, Derby Ale, Pimlico and various others, and assumed they were all really just beers that happened to be from a particular place. To hear that Dorchester may have contained ginger and cinnamon is fascinating and makes us wonder about the connection to the ‘swanky’ brewed with ginger by Cornish settlers in Australia from the 19th century onwards — perhaps lots of West Country beers contained ginger?

    Alan – August 5, 2015 11:45 AM
    I think if you look at each of the regional or city named beers you are looking at a regional market using local ingredients. Ginger? Sure ginger may be “local” to Dorchester if there was a ginger trade connected to the City. Look at the way in the late 1770s is connected to the Jamaica slave trade. The spice trade clearly goes back to the Middle Ages and maybe in places like Cornwall with its international tin trade going back to perhaps pre-Roman Britian (we get Time Team repeats here) you are looking at local populations with special tastes for imports into the local market. Remember, too, this is a guide for NY brewers advocating the emulation of regional English brewers at a time just before (1) recorded, (2) scientific and (3) industrial brewing takes off. The advocacy is not to make beer to drink but to sell and export to make wealth for the state. The section on the hop trade opportunity is very interesting. Betterment through commerce.

    I am coming to the opinion that the idea that most brewing was done in the home at a basic crude level is the lie of the lazy researcher. Like the lie that all beer in North American was bad and brown before the Germans blessed us with light lager.

    Doug Warren – August 6, 2015 1:21 PM
    Practical brewer and tanner? Those seem like an oddly diverse pair of trades to include in one book. Were jack-of-two-trades common, or unique to that time and place?

    One thing’s for sure: Coppinger definitely had skin in the game…

    Stan Hieronymus – August 10, 2015 4:43 PM
    FYI, Carl Miller ( and issued a very nicely done reprint in 2007. Very useful background when I was researching “Brewing With Wheat” (and in the bibliography). My favorite part, though, is his description of malitng Indian corn and his assertion there is a “northern corn” and a “southern corn.”.

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