Stout v Porter: a northern perspective

What does it tell you about the world that if you want to access the electronic archives of The Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch, one of the planet’s great campaigners for raw capitalism, you can do so for free, via your local council’s website; but if you want to access the electronic archives of The Guardian, spiritual home of soggy left-wing whingers and anti-enterprise social workers, you have to pony up £7 a pop?

I was doing some research for a piece I was being paid for the other day, however, so that £7 could be claimed as “expenses”, and in the 24-hour window The Guardian allows you to rummage around in its archival drawers for the equivalent cost of three pints of ale I ran some searches on beery terms in pre-1850 editions.

The paper then, of course, was the Manchester Guardian, and its advertisements reflected its Manchester base and the demands and availabilities of the Manchester market. Burton ale, for example, which could be shipped from Staffordshire to Lancashire by canal from 1771, is advertised from the beginning: in June 1821, just a month after the newspaper was founded, Nightingale and Worthy were advertising on the front page “excellent SCOTCH and BURTON ALES, in bottles and small casks, for families”.

This is, incidentally, the year before the Burton brewers had their Russian market taken away from them by the introduction of prohibitively high import duties. The move by the Russians prompted the Burtonites to turn to the Indian market instead, by imitating the pale ale then being successfully exported to the East by Hodgson’s brewery in Bow, Middlesex; it also forced them to pay more attention to the home market,

According to J Stevenson Bushnan, writing in Burton and its Bitter Beer, published in 1853, the collapse of the Russian market led Samuel Allsopp in March 1822 to advertise the beer he could no longer sell to the Baltic in a circular delivered around the UK, and “the effect of this circular was the introduction of Burton Ale to the London and English market … immediately after the issue of this circular ‘Burton Ale houses’ sprang up.”

Unfortunately for Bushnan’s narrative, as we have seen, Burton Ale was already being sold in Manchester before the Russian market sank below the waves, and Thomas Field, one of the Bass brewery’s biggest customers, was advertising his “Burton Ale House” in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London in The Times as far back as 1786, 36 years earlier. Indeed, in 1785, the first year of The Times, the paper carried an advertisement reading:

To the Curious in BURTON ALE
J NEWMAN
At the NEW-ENGLAND Coffee-house,

Most respectfully informs his Friends and the Public, that he has now laid in a Stock of that much admired Liquor, which he is now selling n Draught and Bottles, having set apart a Genteel and Commodious Room for that Purpose, where he hopes to give Satisfaction to the Lovers of REAL BURTON ALE.
• Wine, Brandy and Rum, Bottled Porter for Exportation, American Spruce Beer in the highest Perfection.

which has the added interest of showing that two years after the end of the War of Independence, someone looks to have been exporting spruce beer from North America to London – presumably to cater for expatriate American drinkers.

As well as ale from Burton, Manchester also imported porter, from both London and Ireland. J. Ratcliffe, for example, was advertising Barclay, Perkins and Co’s London porter in the Manchester Guardian in June 1821 “in barrels, kilderkins and bottles – Samples may be tasted at the Crown and Anchor, Cateaton-street; or at his Vaults, corner of Hanging-Ditch.”

Eleven years later, in 1832, T Trenbath of the wholesale ale and porter vaults, 71 High Street, Manchester was selling not only bottled London porter from Barclay Perkins and Truman Hanbury, but also bottled Guinness’s porter from Dublin and bottled porter from a couple of obscure breweries in Clonmel, Tipperary, Greer and Co and Moreton and Co. Another decade further on, and in 1843 the columns of the Manchester Guardian were carrying advertisements for Beamish & Crawford’s “celebrated Cork porter”, D’Arcy’s Dublin porter, from the Anchor brewery, Watkins’s Dublin porter, “Guinness, Sons & Co’s celebrated Dublin bottled porter” and Reid & Co’s London porter,

What is noticeable about the Manchester Guardian ads, compared to those in contemporary editions of the London-based Times, is that the Mancunian ones offer porter, while the Times‘s ads are always for stout, and never, or very nearly never mention the weaker drink:

The edition of The Times for September 5 1842, for example, has advertisements mentioning Lane’s Cork stout and “London and Guinness’s Dublin Stout”, Other ads from the same year include Abbott’s Extra Cork Stout; Barclay’s stout; and only a very occasional mention for “Barclay’s best bottled porter” at four shillings a dozen (quart) bottles, against Barclay’s extra stout at five shillings a dozen.

(The prices of other beers being advertised, for comparison, were Guinness stout and East India pale ale at six shillings, and Burton ale, clearly super-strength, at eight shillings and sixpence; this last is presumably the same as the “Bass and Co’s Burton ale, three years old” advertised at eight shillings a dozen quart bottles in the Manchester Guardian in 1845, a sign that bottle-aged strong beers were not unknown in Victorian England.)

So was the much greater number of advertisements in the Manchester newspaper for porter compared to the London paper, where the ads were more often for stout, a symptom of local preference, with Mancunians preferring the weaker porter while Cockneys preferred the stronger stout, of was it, rather, a difference in terminology? Did the London advertisers use “stout” to mean the strong drink and “porter” only to mean the weak one, while the Manchester advertisers used “porter” to cover both strengths?

The answer, I suspect, is a bit of both: differences in taste and differences in terminology too: it is most certainly true, though, that in Lancashire in the 1840s, “porter” as a term still covered stout as well. An ad headed “Whitbread and Co’s London Porter” from the Manchester Guardian in 1845 only lists prices for stout, brown stout and double brown stout. Another from the same year says:

“Dublin Porter – John D’Arcy and Co beg to inform the Innkeepers and bottlers of porter that Messers MacGowan and Co, Market-street, continue Agents for the sale of their celebrated Extra Stout, where it may be had in hogsheads, barrels and kilderkins.”

So in Manchester, stout was still seen as a subset of porter, while in London stout and porter seems generally to have been seen as separate categories. But not always: an ad in The Times in 1842 inserted by Guinness’s wonderfully monikered London agent declared:

ARTHUR GUINNESS SON & CO’S EXTRA STOUT – Notice – SPARKS MOLINE, the sole consignee for the eastern division of the kingdom, respectfully informs the public that in consequence of the extensive and increasing use of forged labels, and the extreme difficulty which has been found of preventing such frauds, he has been instructed by his principals to withdraw altogether the signature of their firm from bottle labels used in London, and for the same reasons to state that the persons undernamed are those who in London are alone supplied with this porter [my emphasis] for bottling …

followed by a list of 10 names. So: porter, as Ron Pattinson says, encompasses or embraces stout: and stout (as generally understood by Victorian brewers), was a type of porter.

5 thoughts on “Stout v Porter: a northern perspective

  1. I was interested in your article which clarified for me the difference between Porter and Stout. Thomas Trenbath (1796 – 1850) is my ancestor and I would be interested in any other references which you have found on him. I am mystified by an advertisement for S Trenbath, Porter Dealer, which appears in the Manchester Guardian in 1833 and wondered if you have found any more references to her? The only S Trenbath which I can find is a Sarah Trenbath, niece of Thomas. Did he register a company in her name?

    The mention of Clonmel in Tipperary is interesting. At one time, around the 1750s, Thomas’s father had been a land agent for Joseph Damer at Heveningham Hall, Suffolk. Damer was Baron Milton (of Milton Abbas, Dorset) and the 1st Lord Dorchester and had extensive properties in Tipperary, including Clonmel. William Trenbath had travelled over to these properties. Had the family connection with Ireland really been kept up for eighty years?

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  2. I hadn’t noticed a difference in terminology between the north and south, but I have mostly been looking at documents from London. I’ll keep my eyes open in future.

    Did you notice that there was something about fellowship porters in the report of a visit to Barclay Perkins that I posted a couple of days ago? I thought it might interest you.

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  3. Very interesting, I did notice the fellowship porter reference – BP used fellowship porters to take the malt from bnarges in the Thames up to the malt hoppers: contrast and compare a trip to the brewery as described in George Dodd’s Days at the Factories here

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  4. Love the article about the difference b/t porter and stout. My wife was in the process of making Welsh Rarebit – a cheesy substance (with beer and bacon) spread over an English muffin. We had a few Guinness and lagers in the fridge. The recipe calls for a porter or ale, so after reading the article, we went with the Guinness.
    As far as left-wingers go, that’s typical. They happen to be the biggest hypocrites in the world. They claim to despise capitalism and the bourgeoisie, to be one of the “regular” guys – members of the proletariat – all the while being some of the truly greediest, snobbish, and intolerant people on earth.
    Karl Marx is probably rolling around in his grave.

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  5. In answer to your question in the opening paragraph, I’d say it means that The Times is missing out on a profitable opportunity — what the market will bear and all that.

    Historically, I think it’s without question that stout was a type of porter, but looking at modern offerings, style guidelines, and contemporary terminology, I’d say the two have split into separate styles, each with their own requirements and implied expectations.

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