Carnegie Porter: Drilling Down on the Black Stuff

According to this promotional site for Hotel Waterfront Gothenburg in the historic harbour of Gothenburg, Sweden, Eton-educated Scot David Carnegie, Jr. bought the Lorent Brewery (est. 1817)* in 1836. His uncle had traded in Gothenburg earlier but the nephew is the one associated with the brewery.

Part of the brewery is now a hotel, in other words. The page linked shows a dramatic rendering of the brewery in pen and ink at the height of Victorian influence.

Carnegie Brewery is now a unit of the Danish Carlsberg. The brewing of porter continues, at a Carlsberg facility in Falkenberg, Sweden.

As I documented earlier, there was a period just before WW I when Carnegie Porter was brewed in Copenhagen, an interlude that would benefit from further research.

There have been various tinkerings with the alcohol level, currently 5.5% ABV, and yeast type, but current reviews at the rating service Beer Advocate attest to a traditional quality. See especially the comments of “beergoot” on January 18, 2018. My own experience confirms his view. The message is: richness, sweetness with chocolate and toffee notes. There is every reason to think, given the heritage, good un-aged porter tasted this way in the 1800s.

There is the odd dissenting view, this enthusiastic Briton took Carlsberg to task for what he considered essentially a “brown ale”!

The hotel makes a specialty of the beer, understandably due to its history, offering a range of vintage bottles and other porters from its “porter pantry”. As Michael Jackson pointed out years ago, despite being pasteurized the brewery considers the beer can benefit from being laid down. Our own view is uncertain on this; perhaps Carlsberg will send a “vintage pack” to Ontario and we can decide from there.

The hotel offers an enticing series of porter tastings and tours. See here for a listing and image of a giant porter vat used for events. Now that’s living.

In 2013 Carlsberg and New York’s Brooklyn Brewery established a first joint venture inspired by Carnegie history to brew beers in a range of craft styles. Nya Carnegiebryggeriet, or New Carnegie Brewery, was opened the following year in Stockholm. The lapidary but informative website contains an interesting entry on the imperial stout, here.

(I had the chance to buy the inaugural beer, a version of Carnegie aged in a Heaven Hill bourbon barrel, but passed as it seemed doubtful Carnegie used American oak barrels in the 19th century to store its beer. I gather it was a kind of New World-Old World fusion idea, so fair enough).

Returning to the 19th century, Carnegie Porter was reputed enough to attract attention from English writers, as this example shows from traveller William Hurton in 1851:

Carnegie’s porter is excellent, and I am assured much is actually sent to England, and sold as English porter!

In 1877 David Carnegie, Jr. himself, in Parliamentary testimony, likened the beer to English porter except for being less strong.

By the early 1900s it is being sent to various points in North America not to mention the likes of Cuba and Brazil. My research shows sightings in San Francisco (1913, Swedish language ethnic press) and Duluth, MN, (Duluth Herald, 1912). As I’ve discussed at length it was also sold in the same period in Victoria, B.C., with no Swedish cultural context. The Duluth ad is in English but the large Swedish implantation in the state can’t be discounted.

After Prohibition, it comes back, in New York as this fulsome ad shows for a range of beer imports in June 1933, i.e., just as beer is legalized again.

After WW II it flows anew to the New York area, as seen in this 1951 advertorial-style review in the Brooklyn Eagle:

Like good champagne, it pops the cork when properly chilled for serving. Abroad it is used as an aperitif, served in thin-shelled, chilled wine glasses. Here it is more frequently added to a good lager beer, to make a flavorful drink. Best proportion for most tastes is one-fourth stout to three-fourths beer. Mixed half and half with champagne it makes a drink known as “black velvet.” The 10.8 ounce bottles of this Carnegie stout retail at 39 cents, also at the Skandia shop, at Petzinger’s, 86 3rd Ave., and Dupper’s at 524 86th St., Bay Ridge.

The writer seems rather timorous how to use the beer, advising to mix it with lager in a rather modest proportion. This is probably under influence of 1930s and contemporary Guinness advertising which suggested that stout be mixed with lager.

I find it strange a country with a liking for strong-tasting, rich drinks – Coca-Cola, bourbon, root beer, etc. – would be so cautious on how to drink a dark beer. Once America lost its original tradition of amber-brown and dark lagers in favour of the blonde “Bohemian” type it never regained enthusiasm for dark beers. Craft brewing has only partly reversed this.

The Three Towns lager referred to in the 1951 piece is a story unto itself, I may return to it. Suffice it to say the brew was probably not a literal blending of beers from three Swedish breweries but likely a single, collaborative brew. The brand continues at least in Sweden as the popular “TT“.

It would be interesting to see the full text of this article in the Brewing Trade Review of 1962 on Carnegie Brewery, as it would shed light on the beer from a post-war, pre-craft perspective. If anyone can find it, that would assist porter historiography.

I’ve seen Carnegie Porter on the menu in one or two New York beer bars, The Gingerman notably. It appears here and there elsewhere in the country, distributed by the estimable importer B. United, see its listing.

Along with (Finnish) Sinebrychoff Stout, (English) Courage Imperial Russian Stout, and Lion Stout (Sri Lanka, the former British-ruled Ceylon), Carnegie was the face that launched a thousand vats – of black gold.

Carnegie continues, but in a kind of semi-retirement. It pulls out all the stops when broached, make no mistake, but is content to let its many craft progeny enjoy the limelight.


*Some sources state 1813.