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.

Weaving The Threads of a Storied Beer Name(s)


Adamjee_Jute_Mills (1)**







The lore of the black or very dark brown beer style known as porter or stout is that it replaced a mixed beer drink called three threads. Three threads was a mix of beers in Georgian England, in London mainly, probably beers of different strength (primarily) but also possibly different styles of beers, such as ale and beer, or ale, beer and twopenny. Ale and beer had separate connotations in the 1700’s and for quite a time after in Britain, at any rate. The beer historian Martyn Cornell has written extensively about porter history in his excellent books and website. So has the academic historian Dr. James Sumner of the University of Manchester who specializes in the history of science. In the 1950’s, essential brewing and economic history related to porter was explicated by the British economist Peter Mathias in this landmark book.

In 2010, I penned “Notes on Three Threads and Numerical Variations“, as the literature discloses that three threads was not the only beer mixture, there was also a two threads, four threads, and six threads. Beer writer and prolific blogger Ron Pattinson kindly agreed that I could post the article on his blog as I didn’t have my own at the time. In those notes, I discussed the thread variations and that English revenue authorities tried to prevent the practice which had the effect of reducing taxes otherwise payable. I also offered thoughts on why the thread drinks were named, and priced, as they were.

Martyn Cornell has recently written on his site about three threads and there was an extended discussion in the comments on various aspects of porter and beer thread history. I want to pick up here on something I stated there. I consider it is an interesting theory not (as far as I know) proposed by anyone anywhere before.

In my 2010 notes, I mentioned that in the British textile industry in the 1600’s and 1700’s, a strange terminology existed, strange because it paralleled terms used to describe beers or beer styles prevalent in 1700’s London. These terms are beer, thread, porter. That is, each had a technical meaning in textile manufacture; each also has a significance in the area of fermented drinks made from barley malt and hops. Was there a connection between in particular “thread” and “porter” as used in textile manufacturing and as understood in the London beer world of the early 1700’s?

In excise official Edward Denneston’s 1713 essay discussed in my 2010 notes, he recounted a visit to the Fortune of War, a pub in the eastern part of London. He concluded that the pub’s beers described by the thread titles mentioned (the spelling “thrid” was used, but it clearly meant thread) were mixes of strong and common beer in different proportions and priced according to strength. Two threads cost two pence, three threads, three pence, and so on. Porter, long said to replace in a single brew the three threads mix, also was priced at 3p for much of the 1700’s. Porter was initially a cant or slang term for “entire butt beer”, meaning a beer from a single gyle or brewing not mixed with beers from other brewings. The hitherto most commonly offered theory, which appears early in British sources, is that “porter” for beer derives from London’s “porters”. These were men who carried goods and other articles expending considerable labour and who favoured the dark three threads as a reviver and fortifier. See some good background, on ticket and other porters, here from Martyn Cornell.

Two types of beer only were found in the Fortune of War’s cellar by Denneston, strong beer and regular (common) beer. Two threads would mean tuppence beer which was relatively weak, three threads, thruppence beer which was stronger, and so on.  There was no five threads offered by the Fortune of War, which seems odd. Why would it offer a three threads, four threads and six threads but no five threads? Setting this aside for now, I think probably two threads was the original mixture. It was probably mostly common beer with a measure of stout (strong in its original meaning, irrespective of colour), but anyway to bring the beer to about 5% ABV. To offer something stronger, you would need another name. It seems natural that the numbers, and price asked, would go up for the stronger, so, three threads was the same mix but with more of the strong, say 6% ABV, four threads had yet more strong beer in it, say 8% ABV, and six threads was strongest, maybe 10% or higher. Six threads has been recorded in other sources, so clearly beers such as this did exist.

Various theories have been proposed for the origin and meaning of the term thread in this connection, e.g., perhaps thread/thrid is a corruption of “third”. I feel weaving terminology may explain the origin of thread in its beer sense, and quite possibly of porter, as well.  My notes in 2010 noted the seemingly parallel terminology in two different fields of industry. Earlier this year, I was reading a 1991 book on packaging edited by Frank A. Paine, entitled The Packaging User’s Handbook. It is available on Google Books in partial viewing. See pg. 491 which explains that two threads, three threads, four threads and six threads each form a “porter” for jute of an (obviously) different grade or quality. There is no five thread jute porter, apparently.

The threads that is together make up “splits” which form a porter. As Paine explains, some cloth seemed actually to have been called porter in the trade, he says Calcutta cloth. It seems clear that the more threads in the jute porter, the stronger the jute. Sacks made from higher-thread jute could hold more weight, and rope strength was tested and determined by the number of threads in the wound, for example.

Perhaps a metaphor arose for beer mixing from jute mill technology. People who worked in textile manufacture, people who worked on the docks and also ticket porters may have patronized pubs where the Fortune of War-type mixtures were sold and dubbed them by reference to their occupations, just as say strong beer was sometimes called “high test” in North America by people knowing the term from filling their car tanks. The fact that brewing equipment was sometimes referred to at the time as a “loom”, see again my 2010 articlewould reinforce the application of textile-related terms to beer mixtures.

It is true that “porter” in weaving is a Scots term, the English equivalent was “beer”. (There can be no connection between the weaving and brewing senses of “beer”, but the fact that beer was a synonym for “porter” in textiles terminology may have encouraged the metaphor). But who knows what some people in London, especially those connected to exporting jute and other cloth, would have called it? And you couldn’t use beer for the mixing term since that already meant other kinds of malt liquor and obviously has an independent origin. I believe “porter” may have been used to describe the mix of beers just as the thread names did, and once the brewers evolved a beer – separate gyle or no – which had the characteristics of three threads, the pub slang, porter, stuck to the new form.

This is complicated, but still I think there may well be a link between the textile and brewing senses of thread and porter. Possibly, naming beers of ascending strength by these terms was a complex form of humour. Maybe advantage was also taken – using a double verbal allusion, that is – of the fact that men who carried articles for hire happened also to like these drinks. Perhaps the latter association was the one that survived, the other, or older, being forgotten. More research in the textile area might uncover further useful information or leads.


N.B. (Added later September 17): please note my remarks in the Comments section below which add some clarification and further thoughts. G.G.


** The image shown, of an Indian jute mill, appears to be in the public domain, the source used is here.


Some Beer Notes From Rhode Island Trip

There was an endless variety in local beer stores, Nikki’s was particularly impressive. My tastings were restricted to what I am interested in, therefore the range might seem narrow. I didn’t select flavoured beers, gose, saison or sours, for example, as I generally don’t drink these. I did try a local hefeweizen, in a flight called “local taste”, and it was good, correct in style.

I like strong and Imperial stout and when in the States buy, i) domestic examples if they meet my interests (small-size bottles, not flavoured), or ii) well-regarded imports. See the beers pictured below which are old-school, Sinebrychoff has had a brewery in Finland since the 1800’s. Guinness of course needs no introduction. I saw Carnegie Porter, and Le Coq’s Imperial Extra Double Stout from Harvey, but just didn’t have the time to taste these.









The Sinebrychoff unfortunately was (for me) too old, probably 4-5 years old although it was hard to tell from the bottle. A little too winy and soy-like, that is. The Guinness FES was excellent, very fresh and full-tasting. The beer does seem to change a bit over time and seems to have more character than 5 years ago. I couldn’t find the new porters Guinness has introduced in recent years especially West Indies Porter. Guinness might use some kind of food grade acid today to lend the tart note to FES and I think I could detect it, but it’s still an excellent beer.

Anchor’s Great Cloud Stout was halfway in character between the two beers above and quite good although again, not as fresh as I would like. One always takes that risk when buying beers from far away. That doesn’t mean local beers are always better, in one brewpub a kolsch-style seemed clearly damp paper-oxidized.









A Grand Imperial Porter from Amber Brewery in Poland was very good and a great value ($2.00 plus for a tall bottle), sweet but that is typical of most Polish porters. It gets a deservedly high score on Ratebeer. (The Grand Porter is in centre, sorry for poor image quality).









In terms of IPA, I had two very good, local ones: Newport’s Storm IPA and  Revival Burnsider Pale Ale. The Storm IPA is as good as they come, big flavours but all cohering. The other had an orangey colour and English-type malt taste, with well-modulated American hopping, and just a touch of fruity vinegar. This latter technically might be a fault, but I liked the beer a lot. Good old Bass Ale was fresh and good, it benefits from being brewed now in the New York State, and has the typical apple muffin taste.

In pumpkin beers, Southern Tier’s Pumking on draft proved to me it is still the best out there, with a characteristic pumpkin pureé flavour. Shipyard’s shown above was good although it overdoes the spicy element IMO. Redhook’s Out Of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter was an excellent blend of  pumpkin and stout flavours but I think I could detect roasted barley, and prefer porter and stout all-malt, but it’s still a good beer. (Idea for a great “four threads” pumpkin porter: 50% Grand Imperial Porter (the mild), 30% FES (the medium-aged), 15% Shipyard Pumpkin Ale (the spice), 5% Sinebrychoff porter (the extra-aged). I like it so the pumpkin pie element is just an undertone. Got all that?).

Spencer Trappist Ale, from the new American Trappist brewery, tasted cidery and gushed on opening. I could taste the Belgian yeast strain and some New World hops as well. Disappointing, but new breweries often need a gestation period to sustain technical stability; I’m sure in time it will improve.

Magic Hat IPL (India Pale Lager) was great, I’d like to have had a pint but had to be satisfied with a few ounces. It’s one of those beers that taste great without being super-busy in flavours, but you need an (English) pint measure to really get this kind of beer.

Given the Boston connection, I couldn’t pass up Sam Adams Boston Lager and Rebel IPA. Very good both with full hoppy tastes, correct and good flavours. It annoys me that Sam Adams Boston Ale was hard to find, even in an area adjacent to the Boston heartland. And it’s one of their best beers.









Trinity Brewhouse in Providence disappointed on this trip but I’ll revisit in the future, sometimes beers just don’t taste right for whatever reason. Didn’t get the chance to visit the other longstanding brewpub downtown, in the former railroad station.

One of my favourites was Narragansett Innsmouth Olde Ale, this had an intriguing, aged dark ale character without being tart or oxidized, it was more English than American although I couldn’t really place it. I saw a 4 pack in the stores for relatively little but didn’t buy it as I was at my duty-free limit. This is a winner and I hope will stay in the market.

Coda: In one of the stores, I noted Ballantine India Pale Ale wasn’t available. The clerk said it was in stock earlier but wasn’t reordered since it didn’t move quickly enough. I mentioned that in the 1970’s it was brewed in Cranston, R.I. and was a legendary, pre-craft New England beer that inspired the hundreds of IPAs on the shelves. Reaction was nonchalant, but that’s okay: time moves on, people forget and the brand had been out of the market for 20 years. Still, a good little moment whose irony I could savour me myself and I.

Charming Coastal New England

A pictorial memento appears below of our recent stay in Providence, R.I. (to visit relations).  All these were taken in the College Hill area. I was repeatedly struck by the English feel of the place, not just parts of the town layout and architecture, but in the way some people spoke and much of the food. I’ve eaten seafood in coastal English towns and it’s not all that different in Rhode Island, or at least, you can see the connection. Scrod with breadcrumbs – coated on the top – was outstanding. I was thinking that the brown crumb layer probably originally was hardtack pounded down, a seaman’s and colonist’s dish, now a costly item on the menus of recherché restaurants.

Drinks, raison d’être of beeretseq.com, abound in endless variety: whether wines local or brought in, beers ditto, spirits ditto, local soft drinks, they have it all.

I guess my favourite part is the Brown University area, probably mostly because it reminds me of my McGill days in Montreal, but also, for the undeniable charm and elegance.

(Click on images for best resolution).



Can the Gourmet Society’s 1939 and 1954 Dinners be Recreated?

Are the once-emblematic foods, drinks, and party favours enjoyed at the themed, 1939 and 1954 dinners discussed in my post yesterday still available? If so, how have they changed, if at all? Can a dinner be recreated today with close similarity to what was done then?

Part I

NJ Wines of 1950s

The journalist who reported the Newark Airport restaurant dinner noted a “blonde wine” served.

In that period, about a half-dozen New Jersey wineries still operated, a reduced number even from the 1930s let alone from before Prohibition. Today, many more exist in the state, 35 or 40, almost all established since the 1960s.

Of the current group, only two operated in the 1950s, and in fact their roots go back to the 1800s. One is Renault Winery, the other, Tomasello. Renault still makes an “American Champagne” and both make a broad range of wines from vinifera and native American grapes.

But can you still get a blonde or other wine from a winery in business when the 1954 Jersey dinner was held? Yes you can.

Rochelle Cheese Ramequins

I thought perhaps “Rochelle” was a misprint for Roselle as there are localities in New Jersey under both names, Rochelle Park is the full name for Rochelle. But certainly northwestern New Jersey was once a heartland for good cheese and creameries, see a discussion hereThe cheese in the ramequins was surely from that section of the state. Sadly, as the link explains, the industry has largely evaporated there, the victim of land development, horse farms, and other changes. However, new artisan operations have opened up in the Garden State: Good New Jersey-made cheese can certainly be purchased for ramequins, and that’s enough.

Barnegat Clams

These still exist from Barnegat Bay but clamming yields have been greatly reduced by significant land development and fertilizer use. Still, can you find hard-shelled clams from the Bay to make the same dish again? Yes, you can.

Vineland Jellied Chicken Consommé

Vineland, NJ was a well-known chicken- and egg-producing centre in the 1950s. The industry was given a boost around 1900 when a group, formed to raise chickens for sport, commercialized the activity. A famous egg auction once existed in Vineland, until the early 70s. Interestingly, the chicken and egg farming business was mostly a Jewish one. There were many Jewish farmers, some were prewar refugees who bought land as an alternative to factory work, and others had started quite a bit earlier.

The business was delivered a series of blows starting with Hurricane Hazel and then refrigerated trucks which facilitated competition from the South. By the 70s, the egg and chicken industry was largely of the past.

Jellied dishes made a lot of sense in the pre-air conditioning days although today they can seem relics of an earlier time. And it’s still good eating!

There is still a highly-regarded chicken restaurant in Vineland called Joe’s Poultry Farm. It seems it was a farm at one time, and may still be or with access to one. The point being: chicken is still king in Vineland and you can buy it to make a great Jersey jellied consommé.

Ramapo Trout

The Ramapo river is still a good source for trout, but it is all “stocked” today as against the stream-bred, wild type probably served to Gourmet Society members in Newark in 1954. However, numerous tributaries of this river, and other watercourses in the State, still offer the wild fish. It is available, and Ramapo trout can be recreated!

Crown of Meadow Veal

Was veal was a specialty of Jersey farms back then? Maybe. Given that German, Jewish, Polish, and Italian communities all enjoy this meat, that probably accounted for its availability in 1950s New Jersey since all these communities existed then in the state. “Meadow” can suggest feeding on grass, so this type of meat should be sought. I’d think there must be local suppliers still, but if not, out-of-state would be okay too.

Strawberries in Applejack Sauce

A Jersey yeah! Strawberries are still a good crop in the state, from mid-May to early June. And applejack? Sure, Laird’s in the state is famous for its apple brandy and related drinks. In fact, it is the oldest, continuously operating distillery in the country. It was craft before there was craft!

Part II

Orange Wine and Chablis

These items commence our update of the foods and drinks served at the Gourmet Society’s 1939 New Orleans dinner in Manhattan. Of orange wine, I know not if it is still vin du pays in Louisiana, but any version made from one of the old recipes I referred to yesterday will be good. The Louisiana orange, too, is the same thing it was then, the navel Florida type, so no worries there. As for chablis wine, California was clearly the source of the wine served at the New Orleans dinner, and can supply an excellent modern example, i.e., a current Chardonnay in that style. Lots of choice, way more than in the 30’s. So we’re all good here.

Gumbo Shellfish Soup, Vegetables (Artichoke, Okra, Yam), Salad, Desserts

All this group can easily be recreated today and where Louisiana shellfish or produce isn’t available, any reasonable substitute will do.  Thus, shrimp and crab gumbo, the relishes, salad with Creole dressing, all the vegetables, pecan pie, raspberry ice, cafe Brulot  – no problem.

Broiled Pompano From Gulf of Mexico

No issues here either: pompano is still available in abundance, not so much on the Atlantic side but on the other side of Florida, we can get it.

Turkey Stuffed With Pecan Dressing and Oysters

Same thing here, pecans are still grown in Louisiana or elsewhere of course in the south. Indeed, a wild turkey can possibly be found more easily, at least in some parts of the country, than at the tail-end of the hungry Thirties, there’s lots of them around. The Gourmet Society’s annotations explained that originally a wild turkey fed on pecans would have been used, but anyway a wild one can be found whose diet surely will be good enough, and the pecan stuffing will impart a nutty taste. By the way, numerous modern Louisiana recipes for turkey with pecan call for the turkey to be “pecan-roasted” – an interesting variation. This would have entranced George Frederick and the Gourmet Society crew.

Magnolia Perfume, Acacia Flowers

A charming flourish at the dinner was that Magnolia perfume was “sprayed” on the waitresses and given to the female guests present. The menu explained it was from Mme Aucoin in New Orleans. Hélas, il semble qu’un commerce n’existe plus sous cette dénomination sociale à la Nouvelle Orléans. Happily though, magnolia perfume is still made in the city, check out Hové, a perfumery in town. Acacia flowers were sourced as well to scent the room. While knowing next to nothing about flowers, or perfume for that matter, I feel confident that we can get some.

And so net-net, can these meals be recreated? Yes they can, almost to a “t”. Who will take it on? James Beard Foundation, The International Wine and Food Society, Anthony Bourdain, creative restaurateurs, others interested in gastronomic and wine history, hark…








Orange Wine and Gumbo in Metropolis

A feature of the New York dining scene in the mid-1900s was gourmet clubs. The Wine And Food Society, Inc. was a well-organized and influential such body. Members included senior business figures and arts and culinary celebrities. The Society still exists as part of the world-wide The International Wine and Food Society.

A less visible group operated for at least 20 years from about 1933, The Gourmet Society of New York. Some of its menus from the 1930s and early 40s survive in the New York Public Library’s menu archive, and elsewhere. They are fascinating curios, typed and mimeographed in contrast to the more polished productions of the Wine and Food Society. What they lacked in presentation they more than make up for in the passion and ethnological investigation reflected.

The dinners prove once more that interest in local, regional, and ethnic cuisines is not new. It was being cultivated by small groups of food and wine lovers in Manhattan, London and other places where gastronomes with a questing, often intellectual spirit gathered.

The mission of the Gourmet Society is described briskly in the early menus as follows:

A dinner club of gourmets and cosmopolites. Six or seven dinners per season at different selected dining places. Membership open to all who have palates aesthetically sensitive to good food and drink, and who have imagination enough to cherish the gourmet tradition.

The driving force was J. George Frederick, an executive who ran a business statistics and research consultancy. His wife Christine assisted and is remembered for her work as a home economist and theorist of the consumer society. Representative dinners presented the cuisines of the East Shore, Maryland; Canton, China; the classic Paris kitchen; and New England.

The wines listed in the menus that survive were mainly American** yet this was the 1930s-early 40s: the dark age of American wine appreciation. Usually the producer was listed: Inglenook, Cresta Blanca, Beaulieu, or another of the few wineries then making a wine deemed worthy to serve epicures.

A dinner given in January, 1939 showcased New Orleans’ gastronomic heritage. Note the compact description of the meal’s object under the engaging term, “General Idea”; the menu as archived by the NYPL may be viewed here.

At the dinner the Midwestern poet, essayist, and biographer Edgar Lee Masters spoke. Also on the dais were folklorist and regional historian Carl Carmer, Thyra Winslow, and W. Irving Moss.

Moss was an insurance executive from New Orleans. Winslow was a literary celebrity originally from Arkansas, one of those unlikely combinations (Jewish birth, distant regional upbringing, and “cosmopolite”) for which America was noted.

The menus often contained cultural notes on the dishes or related cultural traditions, which adds to their value. Typically, recipes were included as well.

Frederick had spent time in New Orleans absorbing variations of Oysters Rockefeller, and decided on his own version for the 1939 gathering. The bivalve type was noted, Robbin’s Island Box oysters. Robbin’s Island in Peconic Bay, L.I. is still noted for oysters. They’re on the menu occasionally at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, NYC.

After some 90 dinners by the mid-1950s the group was engaging in bold exercises such as an all-New Jersey dinner. A press account was published of the latter. The writer was appropriately mordant in tone –  this was Eisenhower’s America – including by remarking on the unusual locale, the Newark Airport restaurant. Details of the meal were explained in bemused tone as e.g., the “blonde wine” served.

Today the Newark Airport gig might attract one of the food and road shows which comb the world for the exotic and wonderful. Let’s imagine such a show on the road with the Gourmet Society circa-1955:

[Quick-talking host, we’ll call him Anthony]: “So George, who would have thought next-door Jersey was an interesting place for food, how did you come up with that?”.

George: “Well Anthony, there is an old Dutch community here you know, in fact the ‘Jersey Dutch’ language only died out earlier this century. They’ve got some interesting dishes and there’s also some food from around Bergen and Passaic that is a fusion of old European and native cuisines. Our Ramapo trout tonight might be from that type of eating. The staff in the restaurant are mostly Jersey and they still have these dishes in their family”.

Anthony: “Now that’s fascinating. [Goes into kitchen trailing cameras and tastes soup from a tall metal pot]. “And that’s amazing, all Jersey ingredients you say? We don’t need to go to the Texas border or Baghdad to find the exotic and tasty, it’s right in our own backyard, huh?”.

George: “You said it. Try this Renault American Champagne, it’s wonderful!”.

Anthony: “Sure thing. I’ve got to finish this amazing Laird apple brandy first. I thought only France made that”.
31185At the accacia-scented New Orleans dinner orange wine was served as well as an unattributed “Chablis” from California. The former perhaps was carried to Manhattan by Irving Moss.

Orange wine was a notable product of south Louisiana where navel oranges were grown, and they still are, despite Katrina. The Federal Writers Project took note of the winy specialty around the same time. The recipe is very old and probably arrived  in the south via the Caribbean. It is ultimately from England, home, native or adopted, of most of the world’s great drinks.

Of the Chablis, one guesses it was an early version of Napa or Sonoma Chardonnay.

Can you still get orange wine in Buras-Triumph, LA as the orange cultivation area is now called? I don’t know, I’d imagine some families still make it for their own consumption. I wasn’t able to find a commercial example. Old manuals give recipes though for anyone interested.

This modern recipe book offers a shrimp boiled in orange wine, which suggests that down Louisiana way, the true wine of the country has not been abandoned.


*Note re images above: both images are believed in the public domain. The first image, the menu from 1939, is from the New York Public Library’s menu archive as linked in the text. The other is item no. 31185 from the aviation archive of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, here.

**Foreign wines were sometimes served at Gourmet Society events but for American regional menus domestic wines or non-wine drinks were usually served.






A Locavore Wine List In San Francisco, 1937

In reading many early restaurant menus on the New York Public Library’s invaluable online archive, I was struck by the continual mention of California wine. It appears on most menus, regardless of type or class. To be sure, until the 1970’s and later, imported wines tended to dominate, but California and sometimes other American wines were rarely ignored, and occasionally given marquee billing.

One tends to assume that until the Judgment of Paris, California produced mostly bulk dry and sweet table wines, nothing very challenging, of which the serious culinary world took little notice. It may have been so as a general rule, but there were important exceptions, not just in the vineyard (understood by many), but in the retail wine environment. Here is a striking instance from Mayes Oyster House of San Francisco, 1937:

Mayes 1937 wine list**







One might expect that a restaurant in the Bay Area, close that is to the storied vineyards of Northern California, would always have proudly featured local wines. Alas, this was not the rule. As was typical almost everywhere except France and some other places, the assumption was that imported was superior. From cheese to wine to olive oil and much more, this has been a longstanding feature of the retail culinary world. Only recently have locavore and market trends partly reversed this old way of thinking. To be sure, all food and drink were local originally – Mayes itself was founded in a market, in 1867 on California Street (the earthquake forced a relocation to Polk Street). But by the mid-20th century, it was a sign of prestige for an ambitious restaurant to offer the best from afar, literally if it could and via other influence on the menu. This is why the Mayes menu of the 30’s is so interesting: it continued to offer a mainly “market” cuisine, showing confidence in its original mission.

While the Mayes list leads off with a few French wines, almost four times as many California wines were offered. Some names resonate to this day including of course Beaulieu Vineyard, and Cresta Blanca which is now part of Wente. Cristiani, is, I believe, the ancestor of the highly regarded Buonocristiani of Napa – at any rate in the 1930’s, the Cristiani family, originally from Tuscany, were producing wine in the Bay Area and also were wholesale wine suppliers. Note that many styles popular today were available to guests of Mayes in 1937. These included “Riesling” and “Cabarnet”. The use of varietal names suggests that the grape types may have actually been grown. The Chablis and Burgundy mentioned may have issued from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, or perhaps not. Petite Syrah was a major variety grown in Napa in the 1930’s, so possibly that accounted for the “Cabarnet” (thus intentionally misspelled?). At a minimum, an attempt was being made to offer credible local examples of famous foreign specialties. I’d think a high standard was often reached, since the best of California viticulture had reached international attention well before the Volstead Act.

What can one make of the generic category “California wines”, since Beaulieu, Cresta Blanca, Italian-Swiss Colony and Cristiani were obviously also Californian? I think the menu was saying that these other wines came from elsewhere in the State than Sonoma and Napa. After Prohibition ended in 1933, winemaking quickly was re-established throughout California. The Sierra Foothills have grown Zinfandel since the early 1800’s, maybe Mayes’ “California” Zin was from there. Or maybe it was from the Cucamonga Valley in the south which was acquiring a reputation for small-producer Zin even in the 1930’s.







“Sauterne” is mentioned both as a “generic” and under each listed winery name. I’d guess the south or central region was making its version of the honeyed French classic from the Graves in Bordeaux. The named wineries’ Sauterne cost a lot more than the generic one, which probably says a lot. While the named wines are rather less costly than the French ones, two of Cresta Blanca’s wines cost more than any of the still French wines. The kind of detail and connoisseurship that went into confecting a locavore wine list of this type, a mere four years after Repeal, is impressive and telling.







Nothing happens without a history. The quality wine business took an enormous leap after the mid-70’s, as did the California Food Revolution led by people like Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck, but there were progenitors. The Bay Area had wine mavens in the 30’s. Anyone who could afford to patronize a good restaurant in a prolonged economic slump could buy French wine if he wanted to, but the menu – of a respected, long-established restaurant –  offered many more California choices. Clearly, people were interested in them and could sustain the demand

And what a food selection Mayes offered, too. The seafoods covered the region, up to Alaska, in detail but stretched to the East Coast for a few supplies. Toke Point Oysters sounds daring as a name, not a little modern, but I think “Toke Point” is a genuine place name, the West Coast context notwithstanding. Note the 25 salads offered – in 1937. A sprinkling of Italianate dishes suggests some cosmopolitan influence but overall the feel is all-American and suggestive of a liberal use of fresh and local resources. The menu has a modern ring and only occasionally betrays its period origin – the eggplant and bacon dish shows this, and scrambled brains. (Then too they say bacon goes with everything). The basic building blocks of the menu are regional fish and seafood in numerous but straightforward applications, endless salads, a variety of cooked and grilled meats, fresh vegetables served with butter or otherwise simply, wines of the country, and a few simple desserts. This is the foundational approach of modern cuisine. The French classical kitchen, which had influenced the higher reaches of Anglo-American dining until about World War One, was quickly receding as an international force. Elizabeth David would draw similar conclusions based on her experiences in the Near and Middle Easts in the 1940’s. The American kitchen always had a nativist and independent side, but it was coming to early maturity in the form of this Mayes menu of the Roosevelt era.

I’ve become inured to finding that restaurants with a vibrant and storied existence 70, 100 or even 40 years ago have generally expired, usually long ago. It was thus startling to find Mayes Oyster House happily pursuing its good work on Polk Street. Except for the Tadich Grill, it is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in San Francisco. Some things have changed, a nighttime club and bar scene now complements the daytime vocation of classic seafood eatery. I heard there’s a burger bar in there, too, but it all works. In typical insouciant West Coast fashion, the website doesn’t mention the venerable history.

It doesn’t, but I will. You go, Mayes, for doing the regional thing from the beginning. I’m sure your California wine list is still impressive and even though that space is shared now with many others, that’s okay, as an innovator a special glory is all your own.


**Note re Source of Images: The first image above is believed in the public domain, the source is the New York Public Library (www.nypl.org), specifically here. The Cucamonga Valley image shown is entitled “View of Cucamonga Valley AVA from Cucamonga Peak” by Mitch Barrie – Flickr: Valley view. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons . The URL for the source of the image is here. The third image is believed in the public domain and the source is here.

Update Regarding Exultet Fortified Pinot Noir (Port-style)

Our post of this morning has come to the attention of Exultet Winery in Prince Edward County, Ontario, who thanked us for the mention and pointed out that its production technique for this brand entails addition of an alcohol distilled from grapes grown on the estate, so all the alcohol in the wine is sourced 100% from grapes grown on the property. The addition increases the ABV and also locks in sweetness due, we infer, to a cessation of fermentation. The winery indicated it added last month a 2014 white port-style wine made in a similar fashion with the Vidal grape.