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

Actually, I was going to make this long and rehearse various history including my own (original) theory that the names porter and three threads (predecessor of porter) are derived from the Spitalfields, London silk trade of c. 1700.

But I feel why bother, those truly interested will know the background if I compress it, and for those who don’t, a lot more background will be necessary anyway.

So, I’ll say just this for now:

Nicholas Redman, a former archivist at Whitbread, states 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 is an explanation, and new to me, alternate to the others to explain “entire butt” or “entire”, namely that entire means all the mashed run-offs are used for one brewing, or refers to the aging butts (large barrels) from which porter was served, hence not mixed from different containers.

Some will dismiss Redman’s explanation about dark sugar, since sugar was not generally permitted for public brewing in the 1700s (and indeed in the 1800s, to about 1846), so he must have been channeling a retrospective interpretation in company records, perhaps originating in the 19th century. In other words, Whitbread PLC, formerly one of the greatest London porter brewers, didn’t get its own history right, which is possible of course.

However, it may be noted molasses was extensively used in London brewing in the period just before porter comes to public attention in the early 1720s. It was not lawful, but was done anyway, especially in periods 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 his Majesty’s Revenue, just a few years before porter appears. I’ve referred to it before in connection with understanding the meaning of three and the other numbered threads, a matter also preparatory to porter.

But in the present context, note his comments on the use of molasses by public brewers at pp 31-32. He states “most brewers in England” used it, and “vast quantities” were used in brewing in place of malt. I know from other researches that even at the end of the 1700s molasses was similarly used when cheap brown malt was found wanting to mash successfully on its own.

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, a benefactor, would want to advertise his use of all-grain beer.

Maybe Redman’s explanation is not so ostensibly off the mark then.

Redman must have gotten his information from an archival record, or perhaps an earlier Whitbread history. But since his book was more a monograph, it is not referenced and we don’t know his source.

Could the erroneous retrospective interpretation theory be true? Of course, but it also makes sense that a brewer might have used the term in the sense of all-grain, all-barley malt.

Parsons’ brewery used the term, as masterfully explicated by Alan Pryor in recent years, as a marketing tool to suggest the virtues of the beer were “amalgamated” in one barrel.

Perhaps aged and fresh beer were mixed, or indeed as many have argued, it was all fresh beer held for six months or a year and then sold as having the right virtues: not too old, not too young, not too bitter, not too sour, etc. But either way, it was entirely one brew, from that container.

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

Samuel Whitbread, the main founder and surviving partner of Whitbread’s brewery, may well have meant the term in the sense Redman indicates.

The term as used by brewing writers William Ellis and Michael Combrune, which tends clearly to mixed mashes, could have been another independent sense. E.g. the Truman brewery’s “Intire Mild” and “Intire Stale” beer are in line with this sense, so Intire here really can’t mean just matured.* Yet in other contexts entire was a term that many understood as meaning well-aged beer for about 100 years from the mid-18th century.

It is a strange coincidence, otherwise, that a sub rosa but extensive molasses crisis occurs just before porter makes a splash and is introduced by brewers clearly willing to stand public scrutiny. No significant adulteration case was ever made out against a major porter brewer to my knowledge, for example.

They had too much to lose, not so much in fines but reputation. Alan Pryor makes these points in his excellent series in the journal Brewery History in the last few years. He points out that the edge they gained was in the sophistication of their economic and business planning.

Now what about the pale malt idea, that all-brown malt porter was entire to preclude the suggestion it used pale malt? Pale malt has a higher useable starch yield than brown malt, and is typically associated with the 1790s and later porter production, not earlier. This seems at first sight to tie in to an erroneous 19th century understanding of early porter history, even within Whitbread itself.

But look: if brewers selling beer to the public were willing extensively to use sugar to save (indirectly) on the malt tax, don’t you think some might have used pale malt?** There was no illegality in that case, but porter made with some pale malt may not have been viewed as the real thing. In fact we know it wasn’t by some when pale malt was first used in earnest, and ultimately successfully, from the 1790s.

Brewers would have figured out long before then that pale malt rendered better. Its price alone, see Peter Mathias’ landmark The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830 (1959), or Pryor’s work again, would have shown that. The fact that everyone knows 1700s porter used all-brown malt may be more a result of an early quality control campaign by the leading porter-brewers: the result, that is, not the start of the all-brown malt tradition for porter.

Some words in business and marketing are uniquely adaptable to wear different hats. Take IPA: to many today it means just the American citric version. To others, it means the British one that became popular in England from the mid-1850s. To yet others, it means a fairly strong pale bitter beer meant for and consumed initially only in India, Hodgson’s beer I mean.

Whose IPA is it anyway?

Is the entire grain idea a false lead? Maybe. But Redman was no accidental beerman. He wrote numerous other brewery histories. He spoke at the celebration of life of the lately-deceased Michael Jackson in 2007, an honour that attests to his standing in British beer historiography.

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 interesting topic, as well.


*See Terry Foster’s Brewing Porters and Stouts: Origins, History, and 60 Recipes for Brewing, here. This is about the same time Whitbread began his career in brewing.

**Obviously the malt tax had to be absorbed, but factoring the greater efficiency of pale malt that may have been more acceptable than risking indictment for using illegal molasses or sugar.




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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