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-1720 “porter’s liquors” (in Edward Ward’s pub guide), 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 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, 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 consider it quite plausible now 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.


*I later abandoned this point, see last addendum below.



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, 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).



Recreating 1939 and 1954 Dinners of the Gourmet Society

The 1939 and 1954 dinners discussed in my post yesterday featured emblematic foods, drinks, and party favours. Can the events be recreated today using the same or similar products?

Part I – the 1954 New Jersey dinner

NJ Wines of 1950s

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

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

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

But can you get a blonde or another wine from a winery in business in New Jersey in the 1950s? 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 clearly north-western New Jersey was once a heartland for good cheese and creameries, see the discussion at New Jersey Skylands

The cheese used for ramequins was surely from that part of the state. Sadly, as the link explains, the industry has largely evaporated, the victim of land development, horse farming, and other changes. However, artisan cheese is made today in the Garden State: Good New Jersey cheese can be found for ramequins.

Barnegat Clams

Clams still exist in Barnegat Bay but clamming has been greatly reduced by land development and fertilizer use. Still, hard-shelled clams from the Bay can be found to make the dish again.

Vineland Jellied Chicken Consommé

In the 1950s, Vineland in New Jersey was a well-known chicken and egg centre. The industry was given a boost around 1900. A group which had raised chickens for sport commercialized the activity. A busy egg auction once existed in Vineland, until the early 1970s.

Interestingly, this farming was mostly a Jewish business. There were many Jewish farmers in the state. Some were pre-WW II arrivals who bought land as an alternative to factory work, others had started earlier.

The business was reduced by Hurricane Hazel and refrigerated trucks that arrived from Southern producers. By the 1970s New Jersey egg and chicken farming was largely of the past.

Jellied dishes made more sense in pre-air conditioning days and today can seem relics of the past, but it’s still good eating, for some.

There remains a well-regarded chicken restaurant in Vineland, Joe’s Poultry Farm. It appears it was once a farm, and may still be one, or with access to a chicken farm. If you look I think New Jersey-raised chicken can be found to make a 1950s jellied consommé.

Ramapo Trout

The Ramapo river is still a good source for trout, all “stocked” today vs. the stream-bred, wild fish probably served to the Gourmet Society. Numerous tributaries though of the Ramapo, and other streams in the state, still have wild fish. It is available, so this dish can be recreated as well.

Crown of Meadow Veal

Veal was possibly a specialty of Jersey farms in 1954. “Meadow” can suggest grass feeding, so this type of meat can probably be found, if necessary out of state.

Strawberries in Applejack Sauce

Strawberries are still a crop in the state, from mid-May to early June. And applejack? Oh yes, the venerable Laird’s in New Jersey is famous for apple brandy and related drinks. Craft distillers probably offer something similar, in or out of New Jersey.

A Jersey “yeah”, we can do the berries and applejack sauce again.

Part II – the Gourmet Society’s 1939 New Orleans dinner (menu and my earlier discussion linked above)

Orange Wine and Chablis

For chablis wine, California was clearly the source of the wine served at the New Orleans dinner. It can supply a modern example, say a current Chardonnay, legion in the state. Louisiana (citrus) orange wine may be harder to find but if necessary a version can be made at home. Recipes abound online, many very old that stretch back to Britain.

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

This group can easily be recreated and where Louisiana shellfish or produce isn’t available, reasonable substitutes will do. So shrimp and crab gumbo, the relishes, salad and Creole dressing, the vegetables, pecan pie, raspberry ice, cafe Brulot  – it’s all a go.

Broiled Pompano From Gulf of Mexico

No issues here either: Florida pompano is still available, not so much on the Atlantic side today, but on the other side. And some is imported from China. It can be found.

Turkey Stuffed With Pecan Dressing and Oysters

Pecan is still grown in Louisiana and elsewhere in the South. The menu states that originally wild turkey feeding on pecans was used for the dish, but it substituted domestic turkey with pecan stuffing. Using a domestic bird for this dish is perfectly doable today, of course, and wild turkey may be available in some places.

Some modern Louisiana recipes for turkey call for it to be “pecan-roasted” – an interesting variation (easy to find online). This would have satisfied George Frederick and the Gourmet Society, surely.

Magnolia Perfume, Acacia Flowers

A charming flourish was the Magnolia perfume “sprayed” on waitresses and given as a present to the female guests. The menu stated it was from Mme Aucoin in New Orleans. This business seems defunct but magnolia perfume is still made in the city, e.g. by Hové, a well-known perfumery in town. Something similar is therefore available.

Acacia flowers were used as well to scent the dining room. Acacia can be found too, today, not a problem.