Attending A Festhalle at K-W’s Oktoberfest in 2015

The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest in Ontario has been going strong since 1969. It is, today, one of the largest of its kind in the world. A good part of Kitchener, formerly called Berlin, and nearby Waterloo were settled by Mennonite and other incomers of German culture from Pennsylvania and New York starting from the early 1800’s. Perhaps because the German language was established in K-W as it’s called and German was known in church and school, emigrants from Germany came as well. In particular, there was an influx in the 1950’s and 60’s. Due to this cultural background, a number of German-Canadian clubs were established in Kitchener. Some represented people from a given area of Germany, or perhaps were associated with a particular denomination or trade. There are now almost 50 such clubs. Even though the German cultural imprint on the area has diminished over time through marriage with other extractions and general Canadian acculturation, the clubs are still a well-known part of the social scene. They assume an important role during Oktoberfest by offering food, music and dance, and of course beer, to the general public, to whom doors are open during festival period.

The biggest club is, I believe, the Concordia Club. In 1967 and 1968, it held an Oktoberfest which started as a Centennial project (Canada was 100 years old in 1967). A group formed in 1969 then expanded the event, a cooperative effort of local service organizations, the tourist and visitors bureau and city council. It was an immediate success and has grown considerably since these early years.

Many events take place during the Oktoberfest period in K-W that have nothing to do with food and drink including the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade, but this blog entry will discuss my impressions of the festhalle entertainment as I’ve experienced it over the years.


In general, I would say, it’s a great time out, the food and music are always excellent, the atmosphere is fun and family-oriented (at least during the day but I’m sure nothing gets out of hand later in the day, the event is well-controlled). No one who enjoys a festival atmosphere, beer and German-style food and music should miss it.

IMG_20151011_140452From a beer standpoint, the event started decades before the beer revival and has not, from what I’ve seen, been greatly marked by it. I’ve attended 4-5 festhalles over the years and generally one encounters mass market brands for the draft beer. Some clubs may well, especially today, offer a wider range and hopefully one representative of the craft brewing scene in K-W. Even where the range is limited though, you can usually find a brand or two of more interest. Today at Concordia Club, (excellent) draft Hacker-Pschorr was served in the small banquet hall vs. the much larger tent area where Molson Canadian and Coors Light were the only drafts available. At the stand-up bars alongside the tent, Big Rock Traditional Ale was available in bottles: a “dark” of a kind. It’s worthy, but I’m not sure why a dark lager wasn’t obtained from a local brewery, Brick, say, and why an Alberta beer of an English type is served at a German Ontario beer event.

I did find Brick Bock once at another festhalle but they also had Heineken IIRC. All this to say, beer is not a strong focus from a connoisseur’s standpoint, it is though from a more traditional standpoint that lots of quaffable draft is sold to go with the food and suit a general party atmosphere. The beer choice in Munich at its avatar event likewise is fairly restricted in that a given brewery’s draft (one beer) is sold in each tent albeit a tweaked version of its usual helles, with the odd bottle of something else possibly available, maybe a dunkel (dark lager) or a weizen (wheat beer). So net net, the two situations are really not all that different. That said, it would be a good idea for the clubs to offer a range of local drafts, blonde and dark lagers in particular as these are the tradition of Munich since the time the festival started there. It might be a good sales point for the clubs, too; we live in a more “beer-aware” time than 40 years ago. As I walked from the bar with my glass of Big Rock ale, someone came over and asked me what it was.  Clearly he was someone looking for an alternative to Molson Canadian and Coors Light. We talked, and he said he was going to buy one.

The Concordia’s food was top-notch, we had sausage in a bun and also schnitzel in a bun, strudel too. The bars carry a small range of German spirits, white spirits of different kinds and a brandy, but also some flavoured liqueurs and the general kind popular with the younger crowd.

The music is fun and local groups perform various kinds of dances, both traditional German but also sometimes more contemporary.

There is also (at Concordia) a passageway between the banquet hall and the tent area where they sell nuts, have a carnival-type shooting gallery, and games of various kinds, some suitable for children.

We were there for a couple of hours only mid-afternoon and the place was full of kids. Since my wife and I first visited 30 years ago, we reflected that some of the parents of these kids probably had been brought by their parents at our early events.

Basically, the experience is almost exactly as it was 30 and 20 years ago, at the clubs I’ve been to. This is a probably a good thing, certain things should be traditional and gain their appeal from being predictably enjoyable but just once a year. I’d give a little attention to the beer, but apart from that it’s great as it is.


Okanagan Spring Pale Ale


nav_logoThis beer has always been a favourite, an early (late 1980’s) craft beer entrant in B.C., all-malt with a complex fruity/hoppy savour. It must be enjoyed when the beer is very fresh as small deviations in flavour from age or mishandling deliver a different experience. It is a Canadian counterpart, say, to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or Stone Pale Ale as it was before the recent makeover, closer to the latter probably, or Mendocino Red Tail Ale, that style of tasty but approachable pale ale.

Draft is best and while variable in the past due to the long route in from the West Coast, lately the beer is quite reliable, I think this may be due to being brewed at stablemate brewery Sleeman Brewery in Guelph, ON. At its best, it offers a satisfying mid-course between characterless mass market brews and the highly hopped IPAs of more recent craft brewing vintage.

Here is a pint as it looked today at Wylie’s on Yonge Street:



Many craft beer fans, I suspect, are missing out by abjuring beers which appear middle of the road but by their quality and drinkability deliver a more historic beer experience than, say, a highly pungent pine-and-grapefruit IPA much less a double IPA at 8% or so alcohol with sugary, juicy extract.



Note re first and third images. The first is taken from the Okanagan Spring website, the third from the Beer Store’s website.














Wet Hop Beer Originated in England



One meets with wet hop or green hop beers at this time of year, being beers brewed from hops fresh-picked and not dried but perhaps pelletized. A number of festivals have sprouted up, one in  – appropriately as will be seen – Kent, England, and a number in North America.

For 15-20 years I’ve read how American craft brewers created a new category of beer, one that has migrated to England and elsewhere. Americans get the laurels for wet hop beer as a commercial category. But the use of unkilned hop in beer is not an American innovation, it started in England. The truth is, if one goes back far enough, most brewing or beer notions have roots in the old country. When it comes to beer, England is everyone’s old country, not to exclude of course Germany and other important centres on the Continent.

And so England was producing green hop beers centuries ago. In 1729 Richard Bradley, in his The Riches Of A Hop-Garden Explained, wrote, “Some use hops without drying in Brewing, even green as they are gathered…”.

The rest of his remarks seem to indicate disapproval of the practice. He states only a few people consider that using “fire” to dry hops on the kiln harms their flavour, which is “fortunate”. He doesn’t say why but goes on to state if one is using green hops, use half the normal amount of dried hops.

This seems odd as today the learning is the reverse: use much more than standard measure since wet hops are not compacted and concentrated in effect by drying.  Those who didn’t like the effects of fire on the hops probably were objecting to the fumes of charcoal then used in direct heating kilns to dry hops, an understandable objection. Today, all such heating avoids bituminous fuels, but still drying effects changes to the hop vs. the taste when brewed “green”.

One wonders why Bradley didn’t like green hops in brewing. It is possible he had never tasted a beer brewed in this way, hence the lack of explanation. Perhaps he was concerned that showing too much interest in green hop beer might be seen as a threat to an established industry: artisan as it was, hop culture and processing, of which kilning was an integral part, were well-established by his time.

I had a bottle of Sierra Nevada once which used wet hops and it was very good, with a complex, layered flavour. Yet some wet hop beers seem hardly different to standard, dry-hopped beers. One does encounter occasionally a well-known, “grassy” top note in these beers, not a plus in my view. As so often with beer, it is how the hops are used and their freshness and other attributes at the time, hence matters come down finally to what’s in the glass.


** Note re image above: image believed in public domain, original source used is here:


Montreal Beer Experiences, Old School and Newer

Family reasons have brought me to Montreal numerous times a year in the last few years. Occasionally I get out to try a new shop like Harricana, but usually I don’t have time to check out the beer “scene”. This means the beer I get to try is what is available, which on a recent trip included Molson Canadian, Corona, and Moralité IPA by Dieu de Ciel. Moralité is of course new school, a big-flavoured West Coast-style IPA with everything in the right place.


Also essayed was a half-litre of the brown ale at long established (25 years) Les Trois Brasseurs, the French-owned brewpub chain.The brown beer from Trois Brasseurs was excellent, earthy and full-tasting, to my mind a Munich dunkel-type although I’d guess the fermentation is more in the ale tradition. Generally, the house yeast (every branch I’ve ever visited at least outside France) has a strong taste, sharp and doughy. This was in evidence certainly in the bar’s beer “of the moment”, a German helles-style. The brown beer though had very little of that noticeable. Les Trois Brasseurs should make more beer in this way. As a traditional brewer – all-malt except for wheat styles – using obviously top ingredients and brewing onsite, the beers have every reason to be as good as beer comes. However, the particular yeast signature does not add to their attractiveness, in my opinion.The bar itself, downtown on Ste. Catherine Street, was attractive, clean and efficient with the stylized beer hall atmosphere the house has perfected in two continents. (Personally I’d take down the garish sports screens though).


The Corona was at a wedding and good enough, not light struck effect and better than I remember it. It was fine with hors d’oeuvre.

Molson Canadian on Via Rail had a good beerish taste, the hops quite evident with even a slight flowery note. The yeast background can at times have a strong, dimethyl sulphide taste (over-cooked vegetable), in my view. This sample had almost none of it though. I did notice a slight ferruginous note on the tail, like water from a rusty pipe, though I doubt most people would notice it. An excellent mass market product which retains its popularity for a reason.


Molson Export ale, formerly the senior member of the Molson brand range, was very disappointing, a canned sample with a thin, starchy taste – very different from the “Export” I remember from the 70’s and 80’s. I had two sips and left it on the counter. The beer I recall had an earthy note with more malt and hops.

Finally, there was an all-malt pale lager called Vieux Montreal, from BVM, in business since 2000. A well-made “blonde“, the kind of beer you could get as a demi at one time from a local brewery in France, and probably typical too of older (pre-1970’s) North American lager at the quality end.


And so, a pot-pourri, of the old school and older part of the newer one. It can be worse.


Beer Et Seq Bruits The Best In Bottom-Fermentation

prisonbreak-900px-234x300I stand second to no one in my admiration for the best beers of the top-fermented group, especially fine ale and fine porter. Top-fermented beers are those fermented at a relatively warm (ambient, often) temperature. They use yeasts adapted to this treatment which tend to produce a fruity palate. Lagers are a later, quasi-industrial development, relying on cooler fermentation and storage. The yeasts used to ferment the worts of this class tend to produce more neutral tastes, yet this also allows the qualities of good malt and hops to shine.

Perhaps because I came up in the pre-craft era, when even local ales had a lagerish quality, I never lost the taste for lager. With the advent of fresher imports and the craft beers, this gave the opportunity to sample fine lagers, which come in light, dark, black hues and everything in between, ditto for the different strengths beer can exhibit. Still, blonde lager is pre-eminent amongst these types, certainly in the public taste but on gastronomic grounds too, I’d say.

A great lager is a special treat and there is a reason blonde lager took over the world of beer in a steady march from the 1850’s. At its best, in certain Czech and German iterations, it is beer as good as it comes. Pilsner Urquell can often (it does vary a bit I find, even in the can or bottle) be extremely good with the particular flowery note of Saaz hops and the honeyed, decocted Moravian malt signature. But other lagers not really in its style can be as good, some in the same country, some in Germany, even in France and Belgium and elsewhere. A blonde lager should have a clean but pronounced flavour, good malty quality, be rich but not harsh, bitter but not IPA and not grapefruity. Some lagers of the more traditional type, especially German ones, tend to have a “sulfur springs” note, or boiled veg, not a plus in my view. (Think of this the next time you try Molson Canadian, it has it too, IMO). I’ve had Heineken in past years with this note, yet recent bottles don’t have it, maybe the company is rubbing it out. This is a flavourful, slightly sweet beer when fresh, showing good subtleties. You need to drink it in gulps, shall we say, most good lagers fit this bill – decorous sips are for other beers – or drinks.


I’ve mentioned before a couple of local craft lagers I’ve enjoyed, recently I find Double Trouble’s Prison Break Pilsner very worthy. Taste is famously hard to describe but I’d call it grainy-fresh, perhaps a touch fruity, clearly all-malt (so no starchy aftertaste from adjunct) with a good but not unpleasant bitterness. Not a hint of barnyard character from various sulfur compounds which can feature in a lager fermentation particularly of light-coloured beers.

Freshness and being correctly served helps a lot. The greatest lager in the world isn’t worth anything if it comes damp paper-oxidized or light-struck or is just too old. I tend to drink it on draft but the Prison Break is good in the can too.

I think the indifferent taste of most mass market lager has rubbed off on craft lagers, it’s unfair but undeniable. Those beers weren’t like that 100 years ago (surely), they became that way over a long period for various reasons: cost-cutting, an attempt to widen the traditional market of beer, and industry consolidation, primarily.

Consider a good lager as your next port-of-call. IPA and porter are all to the good, as well as the dizzying plethora of other styles and variations offered today. But a really good lager is worth 1000 indifferent ales, or more.

I say gently to any craft brewers reading: I certainly don’t mind trying a lager flavoured with a spice, or roses, or berries of some kind. But it’s best to master the basic styles before essaying exotica of this nature. Additions like that won’t make an indifferent beer better; a great beer on the other hand doesn’t need additions to show its stuff.


(Note re first image: Taken from Double Trouble’s website at Second image is in public domain and sourced from pixabay, here.)

The True Taste Of Beer

IMG_20150927_165720If someone said to me, give me an example of a “real” beer, one that deserves the appellation with a capital B, I’d have to say Hofbräu Dunkel, the dark lager of the storied old Munich brewer.

This is a recent import here and at under four months from packaging, renders the local taste with good fidelity. Too many German imports over the years get here too late in the distribution channel, or are damaged in some way (light, heat) or … just don’t taste right.  Recently though, we have had a number of good imports in this genre and it’s good to see: the blonde helles and pils-type beers are over-represented. DAB Dark has been tasting very good lately, and ditto the aforementioned Hofbrau Dunkel. On top of this there is a handful of good local versions of dunkel, of which Side Launch Munich-Style Dark Lager is the best in my estimation.

Dunkel means dark lager and the coloured malts are in evidence, you get a complex coffee/butterscotch/light liquorice note, very appetizing when the beer is fresh but which tastes indifferent or worse when the beer is too old or damaged. The sample pictured was in tip-top shape, with just enough hop to lift the taste but not traduce its classification (stylistically) as the original lager of Bavaria, which was dark or in that direction, not blonde.

The people who make this know everything there is about fine beer, one taste confirms it. I’m sure locally without pasteurization it’s even better but this sample is very good. Beer, to be great and regardless of style, has to have the “right” taste; this one does.

More On The Theory London Silk Weaving Gave Porter and Three Threads Their Names

Following up on my keystone post here (see also Addenda in the Comments section), page 31 of this link is instructive. It’s a 1772 French discussion, from a science and mechanical arts repertory, of different types or qualities of fabrics. Note the statement for velvet from Genoa: “Le toile est composée de soixante-trois portées de quatre-vingts fils chacune“. This means, the tissue or warp is composed of sixty-three portees (I’m using a contemporary English spelling) of eighty threads each. Another example from page 31: “Peigne de vingt-cinq portees ou milles dents; trois fils de toile & deux fils de poile dans chaque dent”.  A reed of twenty-five porters or one thousand splits; three threads of tissue, and two threads of ply, in each split.

Tissue means the warp threads and clearly there are forty splits in each porter in this case (40 x 25 = 1000), with three threads in each split. The number of splits could vary although in England and Scotland it seemed generally 20 per porter. “Tissue of three threads” was known in English commerce in the 1600’s. Canvas was so described, for sailcloth and military tents, into circa-1900.

Also, as I said in my earlier post, for some cloth the term porter was used in the commercial trade description,  e.g., 20-porter linen, 16-porter jute. 

I think this shows clearly that anyone familiar with the textiles trade, not just a few people working at a Spitalfields workbench, would twig to the metaphor of threads and porters as applied to mixed beers. To this day, bed sheet quality is shown by stating thread number on the packaging, in Canada, in threads per inch. Originally, this was the number of porters (or beers/bares) specified for the fabric times the total threads in each porter, divided by the reed length, generally 37. I say originally since today, but not the 1600’s-1800’s, the porter system of measuring threads in a given width has fallen into disuse.

At the same time, I theorize that journalists such as Ned Ward wouldn’t have known necessarily this kind of trade or household detail. When he and other writers heard “porters liquors” or “porters guzzle”  they wrote it in the possessive thinking of ticket or other porters who carry articles or goods. I believe porters liquors meant – and it may have been “porter liquors” originally – any beer mixed from two or more beers. Each such porter was distinguished by its number of threads, which was drawn from the pricing. Why not call each glass a splint or dent? Perhaps portée/portee/porter were felt more understandable, but in any case as one sees above, some cloths were described just by reference to the number of threads in the porter.

Here is the page (see D2) from William King’s 1699 book, referred to in my 2010 article mentioned in my last post, which mentions some of the thread beers for the period I am discussing. Porter doesn’t appear in this list, but numerous references exist from about 1698 to porter’s liquors, porter’s guzzle, and the like. I believe entire or entire butt beer, and possibly plain porter, were beers that had the gravity of three threads and probably tasted like the typical three threads, but weren’t mixed.

Pre-Huguenot English silk weavers in London probably knew the French term “portée“, they certainly knew of course the English word thread. It is possible mixed beers were already being called porter, or porter malt liquors, before 1685, perhaps this occurred because the English weavers couldn’t use the term beer: the mixes were already beer. However, given that the first references to the thread beers and terms such as porter’s guzzle are in the 1690’s, I incline to Huguenot influence here. As well, the 1713 Fortune of War was right next to the Huguenot heartland in Spitalfields. So close was the association that a modern developer has called two buildings on the site Silk House and Satin House in recognition of its history.

All this, considered with what I argued earlier, would be too much of a coincidence for there not to be a direct tie to the beers in question, especially as it explains the puzzling term thread well. The ticket porter theory of porter’s origin doesn’t account for the term thread. One might argue it doesn’t need to if the drinks evolved separately, but how then does one explain the circa-1717 “porter’s liquors” (in Edward Ward’s Vade-Mecum for Malt Worms) and his earlier porter’s guzzle? The only explanation could be, they were an early form of aged brown-black entire, separate from mixed beers. I don’t believe that because first, liquors in the first term mentioned is plural. They liked a group of drinks, those doughty men. What group could that have been apart from the thread beers? “Liquors” suggests beer and ale mixed, as indeed a very early dictionary definition of three threads said it was. If it was an early form of aged entire, it would be purely beer, not partly (or of occasion) ale, so why it call “liquors”? I just don’t see it. Porter’s beer does later appear, i.e., after 1722, but the period before – before entire butt came in – is the important time frame.

Porter became singular when the new aged entire emerged, the “improved”, more-hopped brown beer Poundage spoke of in 1760. The thread beers faded, perhaps from tax-related legal pressure, or maybe it was more economic to brew entire butt beer as has been argued recently (John Krenzke’s thesis which I find persuasive, discussed here). The form of porter, three threads, closest to porter in ABV and likely palate – and identical in price –  was thus dubbed porter tout court. The French, I now think, via their unwilling Protestant emigrants to London after 1685, are behind one of the greatest beer styles in the annals of malt beverage – behind its name, I mean.

Finally, that this explanation eluded English observers for almost 300 years is not really a surprise given the occult foreign and trade influences in question.


Spitalfields Weavers Originated the Terms Three Threads and Porter



(Image is author’s “three-threads”, one part Guinness “FES”, two parts Sleeman Porter from Ontario)

Based on further thinking and reading, I now consider it highly likely that “three threads” and the other thread beers of circa-1700, as well as porter itself, derive their names from weaving and specifically silk weaving terminology. I first raised a possible connection, one to my knowledge not previously advanced, in my 2010 Notes on Three Threads and Numerical Variations. (Blogger and noted beer writer Ron Pattinson kindly published it for me as I had no blog at the time). In a few posts earlier this week, I developed my thinking, but my research has now progressed to the point where I feel confident to reach the conclusion stated.

The inferred application of weaving terms to mixed beers was an informal or slang usage intended to order and label different qualities amongst them. Beer quality, invariably related to price, rose with thread number, as we know from Edward Denneston’s 1713 investigation into the beers of the east London pub, Fortune Of War. I discuss Denneston’s essay in the 2010 article above and give other citations, circa-1700, for various thread beers.

Each such mix of beers was itself a porter, therefore. I now believe the long-held theory that porter was named after ticket porters because they favoured the drink is not correct, nor is the idea that street porters vending beer announced themselves with the cry “porter” and people associated the new brown beer (which wasn’t new) with the cry.

In the weaving industry, textiles and woven materials were graded and priced by the number of threads in the warp. The warp is the threads which hang vertically from the beam of the loom and are held in suspension so threads can be interleaved across them, this is the weft. The result forms the web of the fabric. Lowlands Scottish mills used the porter system, meaning a given width of reed held a variable number of porters. Each porter held a number of splits, alternately called a dent in some places, and each split held two or more threads.  The standard reed in Scotland was 37 inches and each porter held 20 splits. Each split or dent held, I have read, up to eight threads.  So, at two threads per split, a 20-porter reed would mean 800 threads. You would divide that by 37 to get the number of threads, or ends, per inch. The reed length and number of splits per porter could vary depending on the mill and its location, but this was the general idea. Under the References below I append a couple of examples of the system from 19th century textile manuals.

In my recent posts, I expressed uncertainty whether this system of measuring a fabric’s warp threads applied to hand-looming, in other words, did it pre-date the machine-driven looming which was introduced in Britain increasingly from the 1840’s? Well, it did, I quote the evidence below. I also queried whether jute fibre was loomed in the early 1700’s in England. It wasn’t, but linen, wool, and silk were. Linen was made early in the 1700’s for sailcloth for example, and for cheaper clothing, and was imported earlier. Significantly, apart from the separate “throwing” stage in silk manufacture, there is no significant difference between weaving of silk, cotton, linen, wool: the basic operations in hand-looming were similar. Mechanization made them more efficient and regular but did not fundamentally alter them. Much of the earlier terminology, from hand-looming days, continued therefore into the machine era.  Also, hand-looming was still common in some parts of the textile industry in the 1800’s and even into part of the 1900’s. This is important as in 1700, looms were hand-operated, automation had made almost no impact.

There were silk weavers in London for centuries prior to 1700. However, after 1685, Huguenots dominated the trade who had come en masse to Spitalfields, East London. They came from France after a sharp increase in persecution by the French king. England welcomed them as many were skilled tradesmen, bankers, and intellectuals, and it gave a chance for Albion to stand against Catholicism.

Crucially, the Spitalfields weavers were a raucous bunch, known to love drink and to frequent pubs. Numerous London pubs were named in reference to various occupations or terminology associated with nearby silk weaving. Consider this extract from Isaac Ashley’s 2012 article (linked below) on the history of Spitalfields silk manufacture:

Spitalfields silkweavers were often attacked in print for their and [sic] drunkenness. ‘Saint Monday’, taking Monday off (with a hangover, or just to carry on partying), was usually celebrated, and work in the week was often interrupted by talking and tippling. And while Saturday morning was officially a work day, it was usually the day to get piece work together, take it to the master and get paid; another day involving much hanging about, chewing the fat and getting a few bevvies in. There were many weavers’ alehouses in the area: the Crown and Shuttle, the Mulberry Tree, the Three Jolly Weavers, the Throwers Arms, the Dyers, the eight different pubs called the Weavers Arms … as well as hundreds of other drinking places. Spitalfields for centuries was known for drink, disorder and poverty: “a land of beer and blood”, its prurient vicar would call it in the 1880s.

In Ned Ward’s famous circa-1720 “malt worm” public house guides, he mentions a pub frequented by “Weavers and Porters”. Ward’s also-famous “in porter’s liquors skilled” statement shows that porters (carriers or messengers) of goods and articles were already connected to the drink. I am arguing that the less visible weaving trade, concentrated as it was in Spitalfields, was the actual source of the name porter for the beer. The fact that ticket porters liked three threads and similar mixes simply made it easier to think of them as origin of the name.

The thread beers appear exactly at the time the Spitalfields weaving industry was rapidly expanding, from the end of the 1600’s to about 1721. In that year, porter, the beer type proper, is first referenced, in a short publication by Nicholas Amhurst, collected in his book Terrae-Filius in 1726.

Now, the objection may be heard, but was the weaving sense of “porter” used in London in 1700? I think the evidence is pretty clear that it was. The term as used in numerous 19th century and late 1700’s books on textile manufacture must originate with the French “portée“, a term used early in London to describe qualities of silk in French. Below, I attach an English article from 1699 which uses the French word to explain how silk is graded. I also attach an all-French text from the 1700’s which discusses the function of the “portée” in relation to the loom and silk weaving. I can’t pretend to understand all the details of this period technology, but it is obvious that the term porter in Scots weaving is a corruption of this French “portée“. This is made more clear in that, in some Yorkshire mills (see evidence listed below), the term “portie” was used for what Scotland called the porter. Portie is clearly an English way of saying “portée“. In fact, in Alfred Spitzli’s book referenced below, he explains that porter too was used in some English mill districts, along with portie and portit – these are all obviously derivations from the French “portée“.

Why originally a French term? Surely because the Huguenots, who dominated silk weaving in London by then, were mostly French. They had introduced to London, not silk weaving itself – it existed there long before the Edict of Nantes was revoked by the French crown which led to a Protestant exodus from France – but a higher quality product and more sophisticated approach to the silk business.  Even if the French term was used in London before the Huguenots came in, the fact that they settled in large numbers from 1685 and were known to frequent public houses suggests strongly that they dubbed the thread beers “porter”, a term that is not recorded for or in connection with beer before the first years of the 1700’s. Note in the French text I cite, the term “dent” (tooth), called a split in Scotland. A dent in English was used in some places to mean a split including America, and must come from the French word.  This suggests a general influence of the French silk trade on Anglo-American terminology after the silk business really got going in England after the Huguenot influx. Portée means entrance or space, indeed that is what a weaving porter is, it is an interval between wires or other dividers for dents or splits to contain the yarns or threads.

The more threads per dent or split, the more threads in a porter and the stronger or (at any rate) higher quality the web or the cloth. The higher the thread number for the beers sold at Fortune Of War in 1713, the more costly the beer was. It had more quality and texture, as good beer always does and as good cloth has.

Using silk terminology to grade beers was a bit of trade humour, an in-joke by a crew known to haunt pubs. Maybe an ex-silk weaver who bought a public house started it. Also, good rich beer can be silky, the term has appeared in at least one pre-craft era review of an Imperial Stout for example. One can foresee that a six threads dark brown beer would be soft and rich… Of course, the term thread is age-old in weaving, so I needn’t argue anything in its regard. English folk memory held, too, that beer and ale were like cloth, the old expression went, as I’ve mentioned earlier, “ale is meat, drink and cloth”. Add to this that brewing equipment was often called a loom in the late 1600’s, which made it more natural for weavers in their “Weavers Arms” to apply their trade terms to the landlord’s different beer mixtures.

The clincher to all this is, why is the porter and portie of Scots and Yorkshire weaving called (generally) beer or “bare” (further south in) England? Because the very dark, bitter porter was beer in London at the time. If the Huguenot Frenchman beside you at the loom referred to the “portée” when hanging the warp from the beam, you might say, “oh, you call it beer, eh?  So it’s the beer then, I’ll call it that”. A bit of English humour might have been at work there, too.

This explanation makes more sense in my view than considering that thread is a corruption of third: I explain in my 2010 article why that makes no sense without labouring to make the argument fit. Also, the idea that thread means, in a beer context, thin stream, suggested (see 12th paragraph) here, seems to me not to fit beers called three threads, four threads and higher. It seems likely only two beers were mixed if we take the Denneston essay at face value, and also, the idea of a thin stream seems hard to square even with the idea of a two-beer blend.

Pre-porter terms such as “porter’s liquors” and “porter’s guzzle”, which appear in the early 1700’s, were likely attributed by people, Ned Ward included, who were not privy to the original naming system. Every trade has its lingo, its cant. In 1700, trade knowledge was secret and largely promoted, not by books of instruction, but by the closed apprentice and guild or corporation system. It is not surprising that, even contemporaneously, people would be confused on how the name arose. The fact that the porters of articles and goods bore a name similar to a weaving term used in a small circle in east London, and happened to like the beer, made it easy for casual observers – almost everyone not involved in the silk trade – to go awry.

The above is separate from the question why porter became, at least for a time, a non-mixed drink from about 1720. My interest is to show where the names, both three threads and porter, came from. However, the fact that porter was, as I infer, synonymous with the thread drinks suggests to me entire butt beer was introduced by the brewers to replace three threads. In other words, if people called porter what the brewers called entire butt or entire, that is because it tasted the same. This is in line with Obadiah Poundage’s 1760 article in which he said the brewers brought in porter, meaning a single or “entire” brew, and not mixed but receiving some aging, to even out the extremes. The thread beers were a good example of extremes, being mixes of strong and weaker beers and probably also of different types (styles) of beer. Whatever the specific reason an entire porter was introduced and the mixed ones fell out, and different theories have been offered, the fact that it was called porter from the early 1720’s suggests people thought it was similar to three threads which was (under the theory I propose) a form of porter too. This is strengthened by the fact they were both three pence the pot, indeed the post-1721 porter stayed at that price for much of the 1700’s.


NOTE TO READER: Please see my three addenda added in the Comments below which add to and round the argument.



1)The Packaging User’s Handbook, Frank Paine (date unclear, apparently 1991 but probably earlier).

Gives simple example of the porter-and-thread system in a jute context, but the main principle is applicable to linen, silk, wool, etc.

2) Manual for Managers, Designers, Weavers, and All Others Connected With The Manufacture of Textile Fabrics..., Alfred Spitzli, 1881

Gives a good example of porter thread measurement system with comparative terminology in 1880’s.

3) The History Of Brechin, David Black (1880’s).

Indicates thread-and-porter system was used for linens in Scotland.

4) The New Encyclopedia of Arts and Sciences (1807).

The thread-and-porter system is described for cotton, note pre-power looming date.

5) Society and Economy in Modern Britain, 1700-1850, Richard Brown (1991).

Fine linens were imported in 1700 to England and linen was weaved from early 1700’s.

6) Reports from Commissioners (1841).

The thread-and-porter system used for sailcloth and sacking in regard to handloom workers.

7) The Spitalfields Silk Weavers: London’s Luddites? Isaac Ashley (2012).

Shows that silk was made in London’s east end for centuries, given a fillip with Huguenot influx to Spitalfields from 1685, and that the trade was significantly associated with drinking and public houses. Quite a few houses named after the trade are mentioned.

8) Philosophical Transactions, Vol. XXI, ed. By John Martyn and others (1699).

Discussion in learned journal of aspects of silk manufacture using the French term “portée” in regard to assessing silk quality and characteristics.

9) L’Art du Peigner, ou Faiseur de Peignée, tant pour la Fabrique des Etoffes de Soie…., by M. Paulet (described on frontispiece as a designer and producer of silk fabrics).

Discussion in French manual on silk and other fabrics’ production and the function of the “portée” in the loom. See from, “D’autres divisent leurs Peignes par portées…).






A Picture of Textile Production In England Circa-1700

In this series of posts, intended to explore any connection between the names of components of textile looms and the “beer thread” names current in the early 1700’s in London, this fascinating account of the history of textile manufacture proves useful. The book is, History Of The Worsted Manufacture In England, From Earliest Times (1857), by John James, a Bradford resident. What it shows is that in 1700, textile-manufacture in England was, as I had inferred in my last post, an artisan activity. It was conducted in the home, almost all spinning and weaving was then. Despite this scale, it was a very important industry, accounting for a fifth of the national income by the close of the 17th century.

See pp 181-198 for an impressive summary of the state of textile production and importation in England in the final years of the 1600’s. As the author notes, albeit conducted in homes and small workshops without the benefit of steam power which by his time was powering the “automatic” looms of jute mill technology, an astonishing and sophisticated range of textiles was produced. These were woolens and worsteds mainly whose production was centred, not in London from what I can see, but in Norwich (famously), Norfolk and many towns in the southwest of England. However, James notes that 2000 merchants in London were engaged in the textile trade, meaning they assisted these fabrics to be brought to London for consumption there and for export around the world. Also, the merchants of London were concerned with importation of cloths, calico and chintz for example from India. This means workers in London employed by these merchants and many on the docks or in carriage would have been familiar with cloths and how they were made.

I don’t yet know where and how the looms were manufactured, but even had this occurred outside London, a depôt for textiles as London was would have – parts of the working populace – been familiar with technical terms used to make the finished result.

Automation can change the means of production, or enable it to take place on a much larger scale and more efficiently: brewing itself is the best example of this. I’m wondering if hand-looms, which James makes clear were the equipment used to make cloths in thousands of households for the “master manufacturer”, used the thread-and-porter system which was characteristic of mid-1800’s jute and other textile production. He states that the machinery of the mid-1800’s was the result of numerous patents taken out “in the last 60 years” including for the vital combing of wool. Perhaps this stage originated the thread, split and porter methods and terminology. I’ll inquire further though to see if equipment bearing the same names was used much earlier, on hand-operated looms.

Jute Manufacture in Britain

In my post of yesterday, I speculated whether jute manufacturing technology and its terminology could have informed the names of beer mixtures which preceded porter and possibly of porter itself. Further reading suggests to me that the mechanized jute industry, both in Britain and India, did not get a start until the early 1800’s. Dundee in Scotland was the location of the first weaving of jute fibre (1830’s), initially with flax and other materials previously used. Later, improvements in machinery and technology permitted various textiles, e.g., hessian, tarpaulin, sacking material, to be manufactured solely from jute fibres. The development of the power looms to do all this must have been a contemporary development or nearly so.

Jute was in trade in Europe from the 1600’s, but weaving remained a cottage industry in Bengal and other parts of the sub-continent until industrialized manufacturing was exported to India from the mid-1800’s. There must have been some weaving in Holland, say, maybe France and maybe England in 1700. It might have used jute, but what types of looms were used and what terminology was associated with them, I cannot say at present.

Attractive as I find mechanized jute weaving terminology to be, unless evidence emerges that in the first decade of the 1700’s, looms were employed in England or on the Continent using such terminology, or at least that English merchants were importing textiles and using these terms in their work, the parallelism with beer drink names must be a sheer coincidence.

One point from the earlier discussion and my 2010 article worth exploring certainly is the meaning of portering in 1700, and what, too, exactly, was a “portering vat” in the context of Georgian-era country house brewing. Dr. James Sumner some years ago suggested to me the term might simply mean, a container to transport articles, but appeared to agree that the meaning was not clear. If, even in restricted circles, portering meant to blend or mix,  the origin of the term porter would be clarified greatly, if not the thread drink names. One can conceive that the term “portering of threads” in its textile meaning must have come from somewhere; perhaps in the mechanical arts portering had this meaning for a long time in England. One would need to check…

Pamela Sambrook seemed to assume that the portering vat she identified from a 1700 inventory was used to make porter, the beer, but it is far from certain if this is correct. For one thing, the term porter for beer did not appear in print until 1721 (I set aside here earlier terms such as “porter’s liquors”). If she was right though, it would set back the date when one could conclude porter as such existed.

If “thread” in its beer sense is unrelated to textiles, I might be forced back to the idea that it is a corruption of “third”. Two thirds, or threads, would be a full pot of beer but 2/3rds normal strength. Three thirds, or threads, would be standard strength (3/3), six thirds (6/3), double strength, etc. The thin stream idea Martyn Cornell has advanced is interesting but it seems hard to account for three threads, four threads, and all threads higher. It works for two threads though. I suppose one could argue if two threads was the original drink, drinkers or publicans simply hiked the numbers to suggest something stronger (and more costly) even though it didn’t follow a strict scheme.