By David Brumley

Most people associate the beer style Porter with Guinness and Ireland, but it actually originated from good old England approximately 300 years ago at the turn of the eighteenth century. Around this time a brewer named Ralph Harwood noticed that pub patrons had started mixing together several available beers and he copied this trend to produce a single beer blended from three others (consisting of a third of a pint each of ale, beer and ‘twopenny’*). Harwood’s customers called his beer Three Threads but he named it Entire – a name that can still be seen inscribed in historic pubs today. This strong and dark beer eventually became known as Porter in approximately 1725, as it was adopted and loved by the hard working porters of London.  

The beer quickly became a phenomenon: it was first brewed in Dublin in 1764 and by 1803 it was the only style brewed by Guinness. In 1810 over 1.2 million barrels were brewed in London alone and by the 1830s it was exported widely to Europe. 

The Porter production process involved ageing it in huge casks, known as butts, for months. This led to a calamity in London in 1814 when a vat over 20 feet tall filled with 32 tons of Porter burst apart causing a beer wave. To fellow beer lovers, this may sound like a fortunate event but the wave partially demolished four houses and killed eight people either by drowning or poisoning by Porter fumes and drunkenness. 

The beer became the dominant style in the UK for over 100 years. However, it fell out of fashion and had stopped being produced in the UK, even by Guinness, by the 1970s. Thankfully for me – as it’s one of my favourite beers – it was brought back into production by the craft beer movements that took place in the UK and the USA and can now often be found in bars and pubs throughout the UK and beyond.

Porter is an ale that is mid-brown to black; it is fairly opaque and can often have a scarlet tint. Its strength is 4.5 to 6.5 % abv and is often typified by flavours of coffee, chocolate and smokiness. It is particularly suited to be enjoyed in the winter months.

*Twopenny – A Scottish style of pale ale sold from the 18th Century onwards at 2 pence per Scotch Pint (a measure given in Grose 1811 Dictionary as being ‘two quarts’ or four English pints).

David Brumley is the owner and Proprietor of Twelve Hundred Postcards,
a traditional ale house in Queens Road Hastings.

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