Who Was Ben Kenton And How Good Was His Porter?

Hunting for references to the 1700s hops trade, I came upon this notice in the Independent Journal of New York from 1 March 1784. What was remarkable was how, within a year of the end of the American Revolution, trade was being undertaken with the former motherland.  What was also remarkable “Ben Kenton’s Porter” – who was he? Two and a half years ago, I mentioned Hibbert’s London Porter being sold in New York in 1798 but have yet to see this Kenton follow mentioned. Now off on a new hunt, I found the following in a book from 1787 entitled Adventures of Jonathan Corncob, Loyal American Refugee:

A few minutes after a gentleman came up to me, and asked me if my name was not Corncob; I answered in the affirmative, but said I had not the honour of-recollecting him. “I wonder at that,” said he, “for we were fellow prisoners at Boston, and made our escape together from gaol.” We immediately began to congratulate and compliment each other…  On taking leave he invited me to dine with him the following day, at his plantation, where I was regaled in a most luxurious manner; the turtle was superior to any ever served on a lord mayor’s table; the’oranges and pine-apples were of the highest flavour; Ben Kenton’s porter sparkled like champaign, and excellent claret and Madeira crowned the feast. At the end of the dinner I caught myself unbuttoning my waistcoat, and crying out, ’tis d–d hard that there should be hurricanes in this country.

Then, my curiosity piqued by mention of the quality, I found this passage in the diary Of Joseph Farington, R.A. from September 1803:

September 4. Dance called. He spoke of the great changes which happen in some men’s fortunes. He dined the other day with Claude Scott, the corn merchant at His House near Bromley where He lives splendidly. The late Ben Kenton ; Porter Seller & Wine merchant told Dance that when he kept the Magpye ale house in Whitechapel, Claude Scott, abt. 30 years ago, applied to him offering to keep his books, being then seeking for employment. Kenton died possessed of a great fortune, & Scott is supposed to be worth 300,000. His Son married the only daughter of a Mr. Armstrong who is said to be worth half a million.

Greedy Georgians. It’s all money, money, money with them. Kenton was described in one account as “a typical East End lad made good; his mother was said to have sold cabbages on a stall in Whitechapel Field Gate.” Kenton himself apparently started out as a waiter in a tavern. In The Annual Register, Or, A View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year 1800, Kenton’s passing was recorded in this entry for 25 May:

In Gower-street, in his eighty-third year, Benjamin Kenton, esq. From an obscure origin, and an education in a charity-school, he obtained, by frugality, industry, and integrity, with an irreproachable character, a more than princely fortune. For some years, he kept the Crown and Magpye tavern, in Whitechapel; and afterwards, becoming wine-merchant in the Minories,* He went very largely into the trade of exporting porter. His property, in the different public funds, exceeds 300,000l. and at the present market prices, is worth 272,000l. his landed estates 680l. a year. And he has bestowed it in a manner that reflects honour to his memory.

Kenton’s portrait hangs in Vintners’ Hall in London. He was “one of the most of distinguished members” of the Vintners’ Company was one of the beneficiaries under his will. His obituary goes on to list all the charities to which he left considerable sums – “the hospitals of Christ, St. Bartholomew, and Bethlehem, 5000l each; to the charity for the blind, 20,000l” as well as one Mr. Smith, his grandson, and only immediate descendant, “who was, unfortunately, not much in his favour 800l a year.” Don’t shed a tear as that is the equivalent of 87,000 pounds a year now. The vast residue of the estate is left to his daughter’s man friend, survivor of a bit of a tragic tale. **Anyway, so it appears Kenton was a self made man with buckets of money. Made from selling wine and Porter.

Before he was a disgruntled schismist, Anglophile George Washington bought Kenton’s porter as part of a large general shipment of fine British goods in 1760.*** Here is a 1766 invoice for a shipment sent by Kenton to the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers.

 

 

 

 

To the left is an advertisement from the Maryland Gazette of 28 July 1763 offering “Ben Kenton’s Porter in bottles.” From the same publication, in the middle there is a notice from 19 May 1774 which includes among the offerings “a few dozen of Ben Kenton’s porter.” To the right is word of a sale in the 12 March 1784 Morning Post of New York with 40 barrels and hogsheads of porter which was not from Ben Kenton but direct from the brewer Phelix Calworth “who had the preference of supplying the great Ben Kenton.” Which points out that Kenton made his zillions not from making the porter but from distributing it. Kenton’s middleman role is similar to the one played by the merchants Hugh & Alexander Wallace in 1772 intra-provincially as shippers of Lispenard’s beer to William Johnson, the man who could have stopped Washington had he lived.

Detail on his rise to wealth and how it occurred is set out in an 1893 guide to London street signs:

In the year 1719 a boy was born of humble parentage in Whitechapel, who, as Benjamin Kenton, vintner and philanthropist, achieved a considerable reputation. He was educated at the charity school of the parish, and in his fifteenth year apprenticed to the landlord of the Angel and Crown in Goulston Street, Whitechapel. Having served his time, he became waiter and drawer at the Crown and Magpie in Aldgate High Street, not long since pulled down. The sign was a Crown of stone and a Magpie carved in pear-tree wood, and the house was frequented by sea captains. Kenton’s master is said to have been among the first who possessed the art of bottling beer for warm climates. He, without reason, changed the sign to the Crown; his custom fell off; he died, and the concern came into the hands of Kenton, who restored the Magpie to its former position, and so increased the bottled-beer business, that in 1765 he gave up the tavern and removed to more commodious quarters which he built in the Minories.

Hmm: “…among the first who possessed the art of bottling beer for warm climates.”  It is noted in the guide Cylindrical English Wine and Beer Bottles 1735-1850 that Kenton took care to select the design of his glassware, preferring champagne style glass. Kenton shipped bottled porter to India, too.

The bottles were good enough to steal, in fact. In the records from the Old Bailey, there is a prosecution of William Sinkey for the 1780 theft of three baskets of empty bottles owned by Kenton. The finding of “not guilty” was based on Sinkey’s argument that the thief had been hired by someone to carry the basket he was found with. Seems a bit light to be let off if you ask me. By contrast, in 1771 William Grimsby – a cooper by trade – was found rolling away a hogshead owned by Kenton just 40 yards down the road from where it was left. He was not so lucky in his pleas to the court, was convicted and transported. The thief was likely sent to America, the main repository before the Revolution and before convicts were sent to Australia.

More than just biography makes this all of interest. It reminds me of the 1700s hop rulings I wrote about a few years ago that indicates how much value was in that element of the brewing industry. Scale. The economic power that brewing generates never fails to impress. I am also very intrigued by the reference to the “art of bottling beer for warm climates.”****We see again and again how common trans-oceanic shipments of porter, ales and beer were. That the skill was perfected by a wine and porter merchant perhaps should have been obvious in hindsight. Have to keep seeing what I can find out about what that skill was…

*His business address in 1760 was No. 152, the Minories, Aldgate according to a note to this record of Washington’s purchase. This blog post has an image of the street from not long after Kenton’s passing.
**Who, in turn, appears to be uncle to the painter Constable.
***He bought from Kenton regularly in the 1760s. His taste for porter extended past the Revolution.
****Note => “He… became possessed of a secret which made his fortune, that of bottling ale so that it could pass through the changes of climate on the voyage to India round the Cape, without the cork flying out of the bottle.”

The Session 131: Emergency 1-2-3!!!

One of my favourite things about The Session is a good crisis edition of… The Session.

Let’s be honest. The ball has been dropped about three times in the decade and more of this monthly beer blogging session on a common topic leaving thousands and thousands world wide distraught at the idea that there would not be any single thing to read on the topic of beer… well, posted by a beer blogger… in unison with other beer bloggers… you remember beer bloggers?

Fortunately, the world’s first beer blogger noticed and this beer blogger, the world’s second, is not going to let down the side. Jay whipped together a splendid topic entitled “New Session: Three Things In 2018“:

For our first question of the new year, what one word, or phrase, do you think should be used to describe beer that you’d like to drink?
For our second question of the new year, what two breweries do you think are very underrated? 
For our third question of the new year, name three kinds of beer you’d like to see more of. 

Hmm. Let’s see.  Well, you can tell it is a crisis topic as the three questions require five answers. What are my answers?

Word? Clear. It’s very fashionable to suggest no one has a right to note that a bad fad is a bad fad but 96% of all the nouveau cloudy beer is, as one would expect, bad cloudy beer. It takes a semi-pro PR specialist to suggest otherwise but, really, if you stuck to clearer beer would the world be worse off? No.

Under rated? In the 10,000 brewery universe that is an impossible question as they are not subject to any rating system which reflects their actual quality. No one knows them all. So, classes might be the next thing I can rely upon. Regionally, I would suggest Quebec breweries are under rated. In North America, La Belle Province is an enclave of another language, another culture. The beers reflect that culture. And it’s under explored. A second class? Corn based craft beer. Really? Grow up.

Three kinds I want to see more of? I like the word “kind” when it refers to a category, a class. A kind of beer is better when it gives comfort. So – maybe mild, dubbel and… 1700s porter. Made with diastatic malted Battledore barley. Yum.

Crisis averted. Again.

The Value And Adulteration Of Porter Circa 1757

I found this passage below in The General Evening Post of London, England of December 1, 1757. It’s a very useful passage because it reminds us of many things which are quite alive in the brewing trade of today.

Notice how the concern is framed from the position of the public. The natural tension is with the interests of brewers and the solution is the need for regulation. Brewers are “men of large capital” who use “other ingredients” – the fact of which is “notorious from the conviction of some brewers.” Brewers are also avaricious:

… a combination is forming amongst them to raise the price of beer…

This is an “additional tax which the brewers want to saddle on” the public. Sounds like something out of early CAMRA pamphets from the 1970s, doesn’t it?

Boak and Bailey have somewhat restated the question in terms of the craft era in their post today about “Experiences vs. Commodities” – a form of question which has been bounced around for at least as long as the terms “beer blogging” and “craft” gained popular attention in around 2006. Around 2008, we were introduced to the idea of single cask short run beers which promised in themselves to be an experience conveyed via 750 ml corked bottles for the mere price of merely $24.99. One Colorado comment maker* of the time indicated that the trend really started with La Folie by New Belgium.

Unlike Probus in the 1750s, the point of view of writers has not been clear cut. The responses in the comments to this post in from October 2007** are instructive and in some cases a bit startling. But that was when it was still quite fair – or at least somewhat credible – to say that craft was still a lot like little Bambi struggling on its wobbly legs, trying to make sense of the great big bad world. Too soon to speak of value. Now things are different. Craft has shattered into at least three general forms of market presence – local, big craft and international macro – none of which are in any real risk of going away even if players come and go.

Because of this, I would suggest that we need to heed Probus’s words published a quarter millennium ago and leave the views of ten years ago behind. Craft has become commodity and it’s going to be OK. It’s a commodity in the standardization of international styles such as IPA and murk as well as in single brands like Goose Island. You can find pretty much the same beer everywhere. And if you can’t you are still seeing the internationalization of the fib of “craft” pretty much everywhere. We cling on to outdated ideas about craft and the value of any beer at our peril. We miss the actual in favour of the hype. We chase the marketed (whether from the PR consultants or the semi-pro enthusiasts) in favour of the quieter, local and lovely. The experience? Yes, it is still about the experience but that includes learning from our experience.

[By the way, not sure who Probus was. Apparently, Thomas Chatterson used the pen name but he was born in 1752.]

*Scroll down.
**Again, scroll down.

Eephus, Bricks And Mortar – Left Field, Toronto

imageIs it just me or are samples you don’t ask for different? A wee giftie. A few brewers still send me stuff like these two beers from Toronto’s Left Field Brewery. I don’t hunt them out anymore and get so few these days it hardly matters. That’s what I tell myself. I still pure, right? Let’s be honest. Years ago, though recent enough to have been in this house, two separate UPS vans met face to face on the street where we live. They laughed over how they were sick of dropping of stuff at my place. Each driver had a box packed with various beers sent by gracious and keen distributors anxious for approval, when once this blog was the sort of place read, I am told, by the staff of the New York Times Food and Drink section. Now? Let’s stick with that word – different.

I still get samples I don’t write about. Some free beer is still just that Heineken Light sent in a cheap beach cooler with a 57 cent AM/FM radio built into the side. Or it’s an oddly foul crap craft that should never have been made. In an embossed bottle made so badly that the extra trim cuts you, leaving you will bloody palm. That was a great one. Beer from Left Field are nothing like that. With Game 4 between the Cubs and the Tribe on, they certainly fit the evening’s entertainment given the brewery’s baseball themed branding. The neck label is shaped like home plate. The names are usually linked to the game.

Not so with Bricks and Morter, a special release coffee porter. The back of the expensively presented painted bottle describes it as a tribute to the history of their neighbourhood’s brick trade. The coffee is from a nearby roaster, added during the final stage of extraction. I am told. The beer pours a deep cola with a thick, mocha coloured head.  One the nose, sweet dark coffee. In the mouth, a thick ale – bitter dark coffee made more so with a dose of twiggy hop. A small nod to licorice and eucalyptus. There is husky, rough texture to the beer that works, accentuating the espresso. The result is a 6% dark ale full of flavour that comes across as a light version of an imperial stout.

Eephus is an old friend. When I drink it I feel like I am cheating on The Whale, CBW’s flagship brown ale. I like brown ales.  Two years and a season ago in June 2014, I was out with Ron and Jordan on a rare trip to Toronto. The evening struggling to understand what good beer meant in that place at that time was well capped with Grizzly Beer, a solid comforting thoughtful brown ale at Bellwoods. Eephus was Left Field’s first beer and one that signaled good things. This bottle, like its sibling above, displays a fresh powdery texture that conveys goodness, thickness. A touch lighter at 5.5% there is no adjunct between you and the ale, unless you consider oats a novel ingredient. It’s flaked oats and not oat malt, by the way. Only a partial fermentable, a body builder that gives a silky touch. I will say that the hop profile is a bit more flowery, a bit more bitter than I recall from earlier happy sessions but it sits well in this incarnation.

An Eephus, in case you are wondering, is a slow looping trick pitch rarely trotted out, meant to throw off a batter. “Spaceman” Bill Lee would use when he was an Expo or a Red Sox.

I Have A Dream – A Dream About 1790s Porter

 

Bpewterporteroak and Bailey have posted about Ron‘s stock ale brewed with Goose Island, Brewery Yard. I asked which malt was used in the comments and learned it was Maris Otter, a variety introduced later than the era being emulated. Which is normal as very little older malt is actually available.

But that is changing. As Ed noted, work is being done to reintroduce the heritage English hop Farnham Whitebine. A year ago, apparently the first batch of the pale ale using malt made from Chevallier barley was made. Chevallier was introduced in the 1820s and became a key malt barley strain in the Victorian era. It’s return is a blessing for those who now want to explore the beers of over a century ago.

But I am greedy. I want more now. I want my Battledore barley based porter. As we pass from this era of amazeballs murk – just as we’ve long since passed the era of X-Treme heavy metal themed big bombs – I hope and pray we are moving into a time when at least rare strains of hop and barley become more and more available so we might know what the beers of our forefolk were really like. And so we might one day actually have a true double double.

Ontario: Robust Porter, Great Lakes, Etobicoke

I was handed this beer at last week‘s beer event. I just would like to mention that this is one of the best Ontario-made beers I have ever had. Part of their Project X series, it’s on limited release and, sadly, limited production. Too bad. Thick sheeting mocha cream head over deep dark ale. Thick aroma, too. Cocoa and mint. Pumpernickel and cream. If I had thought of a beer future back in the 90s, it might have been this. Before hop mania. Before sour. When malt and roast reigned. This has it. Masses of dark malt with dry roast coffee as well as sticky date and raisin notes all carried along with a rich light sour even yogurty yeastiness. It is heavy. In the best sense. As heavy as you wished your coffee in the morning could be.

I think I recall Troy telling me as he passed the bottle that this was named after Burt Reynolds. Can’t recall why.

England: Coffee Porter, Meantime, London

I must have picked this up at Finger Lake Beverage last February. Lovely new web site. $3.50 USD with as cheery a small bottle as ever there was. Well, to be fair, the 375 ml cork top from Girardin is pretty damn fine but this is swell as well.

Gorgeous. Dark mahogany beer under a tan cream thick lacing head. Subdued nose with an oddly enhanced twigged hop statement over roast but a weird inversion occurs on the first sip. Excellent coffee meets a hint of double cream with dark chocolate wave followed by a nicely balanced mild astringency cutting it all ending in a very pleasant herbal stuff. All this in one wee bottle. Lovely.

BAers have the hots. And, best of all, Roland + Russell have announced that they are bringing the brewer’s stock to me, here in Ontario. It is all working out, this thing called life…

Porter 2006, Burton Bridge Brewery, Burton-Upon-Trent

Time. For the most part beer’s enemy is time, specially for a beer with only 4.5%. But in 2000, as I’ve mentioned a few times, I clearly remember having a Burton Bridge Porter that was overwhelmingly bitter and pleasantly foul due no doubt to its utter mishandling and disregard. Some time ago I resolved to recreate the effect through the powers of experiment and stuck away two bottles for aging. Tonight, I pop the older of the two, this one carrying a best before date of December 2006 to see what is what.

Findings? The bottle pops with a merry pffftt! and gives off a little of the aroma of an East India sherry. The cream head quickly dissipates to a floating froth. In the mouth, the beer is more watery than a fresh bottle but pleasant enough though sadly not soured. There is a Orval quality to the bittering hops, lacy and lavender-ish, with some residual milk chocolate but none of the roasti-toastiness.

Verdict? Pretty much an entire waste of the effort which went into this experiment except for the fact that it really cost me nothing in terms of time, money or energy. It is somewhat impressive that it was so stable as to be more than drinkable. I am, however, not that impressed with stability as a general thing.

Craft Or Kraphtt: Porter, Michelob Brewing, St Louis, Mo.

I was going to write “wow” or something but that wouldn’t quite capture my surprise at how good this beer is. Poured at a chilly cellar temperature, there is an immediate mass of dry cocoa that sits in such balance with that bit of hop, a little java and that little nod to dark plum that immediately lets you know this is no ordinary budget beer. Chalky soft water makes it particularly moreish. In fact, if I had not bought this as part of a $10.99 12 pack at the A-Bay Mart the other day I could have been quite happy to pay $4.99 or more for a 22 oz bomber of this stuff.

Definitely craft. Nothing near kraphtt. Perhaps the most surprising value in beer that I have come across so far. BAers rate widely.

Porter Season: Black Irish Plain Porter, Scotch Irish, Ontario

Greg beat me to this review but only because he is in the heart of LCBO-land, Toronto, and it takes some beers weeks to make the two hour trip east. The nuttiness of that is compounded by the fact that beer is brewed by Scotch Irish Brewing (now aka Heritage Brewing) of Carleton Place to the east of me – but centralized authority must have it’s way, you know.

This beer is dandy. The kind of beer that I do not expect to be made by Canadians – an accusation which makes depresses when I make it. But this is confident, a good example of a style, honest in that it is what it says it is and tasty. Sister to the excellent if recently slightly subdued Sgt. Major IPA, this beer pours a deep blackened brown with a light mocha rim and foam. On the sniff, there is cream, dry cocoa and espresso. In the mouth there is more dry cocoa, coffee, plum, date and plenty of drying but not astringent hopping on a reasonable soft water background. At 4.5%, it is moreish and sessionable. Two bucks a stubbie at the government store. Good doggie.