Entire Porter: It’s all About the Grain, Says Mr. Redman

I was going to make this poster longer and rehearse various porter history, including my original theory that the names “porter”and “three threads”, a predecessor of porter, are derived from the Spitalfields, London silk trade of c. 1700.

However I will limit my remarks to the following.

Nicholas Redman, a former archivist at Whitbread, stated at p. 2 in his The Story of Whitbread PLC 1742-1990:

The business in which he now had a share was on two sites. At the larger, the Goat Brewhouse, on the corner of Old Street and Upper Whitecross Street, the partners brewed porter and small beer. Strong beer, or porter as it was generally called (Faulkner’s 1741 edition of Swift’s works calls Stout ‘a cant word for strong beer’) was brewed from grain malt only, and this led to the name Entire or Intire Butt. The use of dark sugars and the blending of pale malts with the brown was practised by some brewers, but was never allowed in the Goat Brewhouse or later in Chiswell Street. Small beer was a weaker extract of strong beer. Across Old Street, in Brick Lane (now Central Street), stood a small brewhouse which produced pale and amber beers. These beers, the equivalent of bitter, were brewed to meet a limited demand and were known as Table Beer.

This explanation of entire or entire butt is new to me and alternate to an idea accepted by many beer historians that entire meant each mashed run-off was combined for one brewing.

Some will dismiss Redman’s explanation about dark sugar, since sugar was not generally permitted for public brewing in the 1700s, or the 1800s until 1847, so he was channeling an interpreattion, perhaps from Whitbread records, that arose when the real meaning of entire was forgotten, even in brewing circles.

However, molasses was used in brewing in the period just before porter comes to public attention, in the early 1720s. This use was not lawful, but was used anyway, especially when the malt tax was hiked, as it had been in the Georgian teen years to pay for foreign wars.

The excise official Edward Denneston wrote a booklet in 1713 on how to defeat frauds on public revenue, so just a few years before porter appears. I referred to it before to help interpret the meaning of three and the other numbered threads, a matter also preparatory to porter.

But in the present context, we may note his comments on the use of molasses by public brewers, at pp 31-32. He states that “most brewers in England” used it, “vast quantities” in place of malt. I know from other research that even at the end of the 1700s molasses was similarly used when cheap brown malt was found wanting (due to insufficient extract).

See, for example, at p. 290 in Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts, Vol. 36 by Arthur Young, an instance in Norfolk.

It makes sense an upstanding brewer, as Samuel Whitbread was always said to be, abstemious, also a benefactor, would want to advertise his use of all-grain beer. Maybe Redman’s explanation is not so off the mark after all, although the combining mashes idea has good historical justification certainly.

William Ellis in the London and Country Brewer (1830s) discussed an intire guile small beer that clearly was “entirely” made from one quarter of malt, in the sense no other beer was also made from that quarter. In particular there was no successive production of strong ale and weak beer from separate mashes.

But here is the thing: whoever originated the term, it doesn’t mean the sense he gave it was shared by all. This was a time when businesses kept their knowledge in-house. There was no internet, no publicity or educational network such as a Brewers Association to inform brewers or the public how products were confected, processed, and sold.

Samuel Whitbread, the main founder and surviving partner of Whitbread’s brewery, may well have used the term in the sense Redman suggests. Yet in other contexts, entire appears to have been understood as meaning well-aged beer, or beer made from all-brown malt vs. incorporating some (higher-yielding, like sugar) pale malt.

Is the entire grain idea a dead end? Maybe. But Nicholas Redman was no accidental beer author. He wrote numerous other brewery histories. He spoke at the celebration of life of the lately-deceased Michael Jackson in 2007, an honour attesting to his standing in beer historical studies.

Redman is still with us, and perhaps can be encouraged to explicate the statement I quoted. I understand he has been concentrating on his other passion, how whale bones are used in different countries for decorative and other purposes. He has a series of volumes on this, an interesting topic certainly.



3 thoughts on “Entire Porter: It’s all About the Grain, Says Mr. Redman”

  1. There is some evidence pale malt was occasionally used in brewing porter in its 1700s heyday, see Richard Shannon in his 1805 brewing text, here, where he states that 50 years earlier very little pale malt was used to brew porter. He doesn’t say none.

  2. I also checked Peter Mathias’ 1959 The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830 for references to sugar and molasses. There are a number of references, but they all appear to cover the very early 1800s, not a century before.

  3. Both dark sugar and molasses were available in England at the turn of the 17th century. See this article by Kenneth Morgan on the Bristol sugar-works in this period. The essay is included in a 1998 book that is a Festschrift to, of all persons, Dr. Peter Mathias. Small world (albeit Morgan does not reference brewing, but that’s not his subject). Both dark sugar and other by-products of the Bristol works on the Avon and Frome rivers to process cane are mentioned including molasses. Therefore, even if Redman’s dark sugar should be taken to exclude molasses, which is far from clear, sugar there was in England at the relevant time. To be sure, the amounts greatly increased later, but there was an active sugar industry in the country by the time the first references to thread drinks and porter appear.

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