Sing Along With “Dorchester Beer” Circa 1784

The note in the fourth issue of The Vocal Magazine to the Compleat British Songster at Song 455 says it was written by the editor “and occasioned by his drinking some extraordinary fine Ale with his Friend J. Morris, Esq. brewed by  Mr. Bower of Dorchester” which is fabulous as we now have the name and time of brewing of an eighteenth brewer of Dorchester beer. Attentive readers will recall how Dorchester’s ale was regarded by Joseph Coppinger in 1815:

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

And, in another thirty years, we read in a document called The Ladies Companion And Literary Exposi 1844 in an article entitled “Summer Excursions from London” we read the the following exchange.

A lady, who had been my fellow passenger, turned to me as we drove up the avenue, and said, “ I suppose, of course, you mean to try the Dorchester ale, which is so celebrated.” “ Is it very fine ?” I asked.

“Dear me, have you never tasted Dorchester ale?” “No, madam, nor have I ever been in this town before.” She looked at me in some surprize, as my speech was not Irish nor Scotch. When I told her I came from the United States, she gazed upon me with the greatest curiosity…

So, now we know that good things were said of Dorchester’s brewing for around seven decades before and after the turn of the eighteenth century. It’s mentioned in the sometimes very suspect The Curiosities of Ale & Beer: An Entertaining History as being pale and as good or better than our old pals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the ales of Hull, Derby and Burton. Coppinger claims it had ginger and cinnamon in it. Is he to be trusted?  Don’t know but it is clearly worth singing about. And here is what they sang:

In these troublesome times, when each mortal complains,
Some praise to the man is most certainly due.
Who, while he finds out a relief for their pains.
Supplies all his patients with good liquor too:
Then attend to my song, and I’ll make it appear,

A specifick for all is in Dorchester-beer.
Would our ministry drink it, instead of French wine.
The blessed effects we should quickly perceive
It would sharpen their senses, their spirits refine.
And make those— who now laugh at ‘their  folly— to grieve.
No Frenchman would dare at our councils to sneer,
If the statesmen drank nothing but Dorchester-beer.

But should they (for statesmen are obstinate things)
Neglect to comply with the wish of my muse,
Nor regard a true Briton who honestly sings,
Our soldiers and sailors will never refuse:
And, believe me, from France we have little to fear.
Let these but have plenty of Dorchcester-beer.

E’en our brethren across the Atlantick, could  they
But drink of this liquor, would soon be content:
And quicker by half, I will venture to say,
Our parliament might have fulfilled their  intent.
If, instead of commissioners, tedious and dear.
They had sent out a cargo of Dorchester-beer.

Then let each worthy Briton, who wishes for peace
With America’s sons, fill his glass to the  brim,
And drink — May our civil commotions soon cease.
And war with French perfidy instant begin!
May our friends never want, nor our foes e’er come near,
The pride of Old England, good Dorchester-beer.

There you go. Apparently, the entire American Revolution could have been solved had the right people had had the right beer at the right time. Britons licking their wounds? Or maybe the implications had not set in yet. The song might even pre-date publication by a few years. Things were still fairly fluid geopolitically so… beer and ales might as well be as fluid as well.

Sadly, unlike the song Nottingham Ale as published six years later, no tune is given. You will have to make up your own.

2 thoughts on “Sing Along With “Dorchester Beer” Circa 1784”

  1. I suppose this song just re-confirms the sentiment in Homer Simpson’s question: “Beer, is there anything you can’t do?”

    I’m sure that Dorchester beer probably didn’t stay constant over the centuries. Coppinger’s recipes contain a long list of additives, so that fact that he says Dorchester beer contained ginger and cinnamon probably doesn’t amount to much. Friederich Accum indicated that “Dorchester Beer is usually nothing else than Bottled Porter,” this coming after a discussion of Old Hock, or white porter. In Observations on the Diseases in Long Voyages to Hot Climates (1775), John Clark also indicated that Dorchester beer was similar to porter. He discussed “country beer,” noting it as one of “the usual diluters” of meals for the fashionable sort in India: “Country beer is made by mixing one part Dorchester beer, or porter, with two or more parts of water.” Others writers viewed Dorchester beer as similar to brown stout. One early twentieth-century researcher looking to get more information on Dorchester Beer put out a question in Notes and Queries in 1905 asking about a footnote in William Gawler’s 1743 poem, Dorchester, that indicated that “an eminent Dealer in Dorchester Beer, now living in London, reckons amongst his Customers the late Czar, the Kings of Prussia and Denmark, as well as his late and present Majesty of Great Britain,” which points to a Baltic trade similar to porter.

    Both William Ellis in the London and Country Brewer (1837) and John Farley in The London Art of Cookery, 7th edition (1792) point out the “chalky water” used in making Dorchester beer. Farley writes that “The Dorchester beer, which is so much admired, is, for the most part brewed of chalky water, which is almost every where in that county ; and as the soil is generally chalk.” So, perhaps it hadsome Burtonesque qualities to it.

    Thomas Hardy probably has the best, and least helpful, description of Dorchester Beer in his book The Trumpet Major, in which he states: “It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet with a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste, but finally, rather heady. The masses worshipped it, and the minor gentry loved it better than wine, and by the most illustrious country families it was not despised.”

  2. Fabulous. And I suppose the hallmark was not depth of colour at all. They might have had a range from pales to porters. Could be the chalk softened water or something else that was the noteworthy aspect.

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