The Sand Porter of Montreal (Part IV)

Digging Deeper

In a three-part series in 2020, commencing here, I explored an 1880s-1890s usage of the term “sand porter” by two Montreal-area breweries, one the Montreal Brewery, the other Dawes Brewery. Dawes was then in Lachine, a separate municipality at the time.

Today Lachine is part of the Montreal conurbation, in the southwest section of Montreal island, on the St. Lawrence River.

To summarize the posts in a short compass, I considered successively whether the term meant porter filtered through sand – there was contemporary evidence some beer was treated this way – or whether it meant porter stored in vats topped with a fine layer of sand.

I located evidence Guinness of Dublin had done the latter in the late 1800s. Guinness of course, a or the premier porter brewer at the time, can be expected to have influenced many brewers of the black stuff around the world.

I linked to a discussion on Twitter where other beer writers or observers pitched in. One suggested bottled porter might have been immersed in a layer of sand to keep it cool at a steady temperature – yet another possibility.

Until recently I felt the sand-topped lid idea made the most sense (some English brewers still practiced it into the next centuries, using “marl”, a similar idea).

However, in studying recently the history of a Minnesota brewery, Fleckenstein, I now have a further idea what sand porter meant. First, a compressed outline of Fleckenstein: two German brothers of the name founded a brewery in St. Paul in 1855. In 1857 they relocated to Faribault in the state, on the Straight River, but in a few years went their separate ways.

Brother Gottfried continued to operate the first Faribault brewery, which son Louis later took over. This brewery ended its days in 1907. Another brewery was established by brother Ernst after the split, south of Faribault on a sandstone bluff along the river, and it proved longer-lasting.

This brewery endured until Prohibition. It survived making non-beer beverage during the Volstead period. It re-opened after Repeal, and pursued a local and southern Minnesota market until closing in 1964.

An excellent short film limns the history of these breweries, produced by Logan Ledman and Samuel Temple of the 1855 History Team.

As the film and other sources show, Ernst Fleckenstein, whose brands were often called Fleck’s, often advertised his beer as “Cave Aged”  – not itself unusual in brewing, indeed to this day. Many such labels also stated “In Wood Vats” and “In Sandrock”.

Sample labels may be seen this in this Bing link. We think it likely that when these labels appeared, interwar or early postwar, the beers were not literally fermented and aged in the caves in old-fashioned wood vessels.

The use of quotation marks for the last two phrases seems to reinforce this.

Probably filled kegs were stored in the caves to justify the cave-aged claim, with a marketing rationale for the 19th century methods of fermenting and lagering depicted atmospherically on the labels. A sample label (per the Bing link noted):



Similar images may be seen by summary online searches, including for the brewery’s bock beer and strong beer.

Fleckenstein caves, built originally to ferment and lager beer, were used for cheese maturation (affinage) starting in the 1930s. See in this link, Caves of Faribault. The even temperature and draining characteristic of sandstone facilitated this operation, as no doubt the original use for brewing itself.

Dawes Brewery in Lachine (it later moved to more expansive premises in Montreal proper) had cellars under its storehouse, or entrepôt, where beer was aged. In fact, the permanent exhibition on Dawes history I discussed in 2016 is housed in part of this cellar, called the Vaults.

A partial view may be seen in this link to the online version of the exhibition, whence the grab below is taken.



The cellar as shown appears lined in masonry of stone and vaulted ceiling brick. Of course to permit its present use the area clearly has been modified. Even prior to the exhibition likely it was altered from its 19th century form. Whether sandstone is behind or part of the structure in some way I cannot say.

However, sandstone formations are characteristic of southeastern Canadian geography, from the Ottawa Valley through the St. Lawrence Lowland and on to the Maritime provinces.

The type of sandstone, per a Wikipedia entry, is “Potsdam, after the town in New York where it was first identified. Martyn Cornell in the Twitter discussion stated he found a “sand porter” in 1879 from Carling brewery in Ottawa.

I think it quite possible sand porter was short for porter aged in sandstone cellars – a cipher for cellar-aged beer. Of course, cellars for aging beer were routine then, typically excavated from stone and earth of various kinds.

But brewers are always looking for a marketing angle. Maybe this was one, short-lived by all appearances, not unnaturally given the vagueness of the term.

Anyway, I proffer it as something to ponder in the overall picture. Of the various explanations, this one or the Guinness sand-topped vat practice seems most plausible to me for the sand porter of Montreal (and Ottawa).

Note re images: source of each image above is as described and linked in text, with all intellectual property therein belonging solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.






2 thoughts on “The Sand Porter of Montreal (Part IV)”

  1. Hi Gary ,
    Great piece , I do tend to think that Sand Porter is a marketing angle ,
    IE A la “Advertising Puff’ ,
    Cheers 🍻

    • Thanks Edd. Marketing yes, I think so. But has to be if only tangentially supported by some objective datum, and I’ve laid out now – I think – the likely possibilities. No one would just pull the word sand from the air as doesn’t make sense.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: