Drilling Down on the Black Gold
One of the first traditional porters I drank many years ago was Carnegie Porter, which I found in specialist American outlets or parts of Europe. It immediately made an impression for its luscious, burnt/fruit character.
It was considerably ahead in character of surviving porters from old-school brewers in North America, but some emerging craft porter approached it in quality.
I’ll pen aspects of Carnegie’s eventful history below. The image is from the current website for the brand.
A website for Hotel Waterfront Gothenburg, in the historic harbour of Gothenburg, Sweden, confirms that Eton-educated Scot David Carnegie, Jr. bought the Lorent Brewery (est. 1817) in 1836.*
An uncle had traded in Gothenburg earlier but the nephew had the association with the brewery. Part of the brewery is now the hotel named, but the history is not forgotten: a Trip Advisor link contains a striking rendering of the brewery, seeming early 1900s:
The Carnegie brand is part now of Danish Carlsberg. Porter is still brewed, at a Carlsberg facility in Falkenberg, Sweden.
As I discussed earlier, just before WW I Carnegie Porter was also brewed in Copenhagen, further attesting to its international character. Indeed while long naturalized in Sweden the foreign, specifically British, origins of the drink have never been forgotten.
There have been tinkerings over the years with the strength, currently at 5.5% ABV, and yeast type, but current reviews attest to traditional quality. See especially Beergoot’s remarks on January 18, 2018. My own experience confirms his view.
The message is a rich, sweet beer with notes of chocolate and toffee. This is consistent with historical descriptions of fresh porter. There is the odd dissenting view, an enthusiastic Briton felt the beer essentially a “brown ale”, but so traditional is the palate I think it may confuse some drinkers today.
With a nod to its history the hotel makes a specialty of the beer, offering a range of vintage Carnegies and other porters from its “porter pantry”. As beer writer Michael Jackson pointed out years ago, despite being pasteurized the brewery considers the beer can benefit from cellaring.
The hotel has offered porter tastings and tours, a nice way to combine commerce and history.
Returning to the 19th century, Carnegie Porter was reputed enough to attract attention from English observers. An example 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 being less strong.
By the early 1900s the porter is sent to North America, Cuba, and Brazil. My research disclosed Carnegie in San Francisco in 1913 (Swedish language ethnic press) and Duluth, MN, (Duluth Herald, 1912).
As I discussed earlier, the beer was also sold in that period in Victoria, British Columbia, outside a Continental ethnic context. (The Duluth ad was in English but the large Swedish implantation in the state should probably be factored).
After Prohibition, Carnegie comes back to North America, eg. New York as this lavish ad showed in June 1933. Despite the great strides made by pilsener beer on the Continent, Carnegie Brewery was still ambitious for its porter in the 1930s.
In September 1939, with a huge war dawning, the brewery made a big upgrade to its malting facilities, as described in a Tasmanian newspaper item (stout still had a good market in the Antipodes).
A hyper modern malting plant, in which production will be carried on according to methods traditional in the brewing of English stout, ls being erected at Gothenburg by the Carnegie Brewery, Sweden’s largest producers of stout. The plant includes 21 high silos made of reinforced concrete and an eight-storey malt-house, and will be capable of dealing with 5,400 tons of barley a year, the daily malt output being 21 tons. The silos comprise 33 chambers with a total storage capacity of 2,000 tons of grain …
The story explained that the brewery decided specifically to install a traditional floor maltings, vs. the drum method now usual in Europe, due to the enhanced quality.
After WW II the porter flows anew to New York, as seen from a 1951 advertorial 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 lager mixing idea evokes 1930s American Guinness advertising which suggested the stout be mixed with lager. Indeed that can produce a most satisfactory drink.
The Three Towns lager mentioned in the 1951 piece is a story unto itself. Suffice to say it was probably not a literal blending of beers from three Swedish breweries but a single, collaborative brew. Three Towns continues in Sweden at least, as the popular “TT“.
For the 1960s, It would be interesting to read the full text of a 1962 article in the Brewing Trade Review on Carnegie Brewery. I’ll see if I can uncover that.
With other famous stouts such as (Finnish) Sinebrychoff Stout, (English) Courage Imperial Russian Stout, and Lion Stout (Sri Lanka, the former British Ceylon), also Guinness in its heyday, Carnegie launched a thousand vats of black gold.
Note re images: Images above are sourced from the sites identified and hyperlinked in the text. Used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein is solely the property of lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.
*Some sources state, established 1813.