How Strong in the 1800s?
In my Part I, I stated Carnegie Porter is currently 5.5% ABV. A commenter, Bryan B, noted that a weaker version, at 3.5% abv, is sold in Swedish supermarkets.
We thank him for that, and it prompted a memory of reading this years ago, probably from renowned beer writer Michael Jackson. It was Jackson (1942-2007) who first drew attention internationally to Carnegie and other surviving porter in the Baltic and East Europe, descendants of an Augustan era export trade by London brewers.
The 3.5% version is a reminder of the long concern with temperance in Sweden. 3.5% is lower alcohol beer, not a temperance drink, but evidently abuse will be lessened where, say, two rich-tasting beers must be consumed to equal the hit of the typical IPA – or indeed historic “brown stout” of early porter days.
I located an analysis of Carnegie Porter in the 1880s, which is interesting to compare to both versions marketed today.
But first, for further background to the Carnegie story, consider this page from Carnegie Investment Bank in Sweden. It notes that brewery founder David Carnegie, Jr. returned to Scotland once the business was on solid footing, leaving management to a highly capable associate.
The brewery was divested in 1920, as explained in the link, and by a wending path Carnegie porter today is in the Carlsberg portfolio. Yet the Carnegie name is still potent in Swedish business, associated with real estate, finance, and other activities.
Part of the history concerns the very circumstance that led to a weak version of Carnegie porter: alcohol control. Gothenburg is famous for attaching its name to a liquor control system that saw national spirits production moved into a public trust. A unique method to operate public houses accompanied, “Gothenburg licensing”.
Carnegie himself promoted the scheme, including in Scotland, because it suited his purpose to promote beer as a reasonable alternative to liquor. There is an extensive history to this background, beyond my scope here.
But e.g. it explains why in the Parliamentary testimony I linked in Part I, he stated his porter was weaker than “English porter”. Was it, though, viz. the average English porter anyway? It is interesting to peruse the tables in Frederick Salem’s (1880) Beer: Its History and Its Economic Value as a National Beverage.
The data is drawn from disparate sources, some going back to the 1840s, and appears to state alcohol by volume. Carnegie’s was 5.8%.
I think it likely Carnegie was distinguishing his beer from best quality British porter and stout (and likely from the porter he first made in 1836). Guinness stout was over 7% abv then.
In any case 5.8% percent is about where Carnegie is today for the version known internationally, which attests to some continuity for 140 years, at least in that respect.
Incidentally, why has Ontario’s LCBO never listed Carnegie porter? Lots of Carlsberg is moved here. It should not be much trouble to put in a pallet of Carnegie Porter once in a while.
See Part III of this series.