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.]

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**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.

Quick Note: St. Peter’s Old Style Porter

This beer from St. Peter’s is a ruby brown ale under an oddly ivory head. I’ve never seen an ivory head: tan plus hints of green-grey. This is old style, like Burton Bridge porter: barley candy plus molasses with lime and green hops. The yeast is sour cream or soured milk or something in between. Yet all well balanced.

Is this the holy grail? A 1750s porter? Likely not sour enough but colonial US farmers drank diluted vinegar so go figure.

Stone Brewing, San Diego, California

Two devils for two snowman
 

Two more from Stone Brewing of San Diego: Double Bastard Ale and Smoked Porter. A couple of months ago, I reviewed Arrogant Bastard here and Ruination IPA here.

The Double Bastard poured deep tea in colour with a beige head. It has the richness of Arrogant Bastard simplictor with something more of the hop whallop of Ruination. It is hot with massive malty flavours of tobacco, leather ballglove, apple butter and fig. Heavy body. At 10% alcohol it ought to whallop but it is a well blanketed bat that strikes. Comfort then good night. Here is what the advocation is saying.

The Smoked Porter was deep garnet, its rich smokiness not overwhelming and not really much in the finish. Below the molassesy deep malt there was some surprisingly fresh grape juiciness, then cola, then dates all laced with the reek. At 5.9% is is one of the more modest Stone brews. Not one of the BA’ers has a bad word to say about it. I think I had a pint of this on tap when I was in Vancouver in 1998 at The Whip, one of the nation’s finer spots, with my pal Robyn on a Saturday afternoon before we retired to Granville Island Market for rhubarb pie. Maybe these happy happy men who teach a beer class at UBC are occassional Whiperonians.