Porter

BlendIn the time of Queen Anne (1702-1714) the drinks you’d be most likely to find in a London alehouse would be mild beer and stale beer (both made from brown malt); amber beer (made from pale malt); ale (including strong Twopenny pale ale, Derby ale, Burton ale, Oxford ale, Nottingham ale and York pale ale); and stout.

The earliest known mention of porter by name is in a pamphlet by the political journalist and poet Nicholas Amhurst dated May 22 1721, which talks about dining at a cook’s shop “upon beef, cabbage and porter”. In November 1726, the Swiss traveller César de Saussure, describing London in a letter home home, said that “nothing but beer is drunk and it is made in several qualities. Small beer is what everyone drinks when thirsty; it is used even in the best houses and costs only a penny a pot. Another kind of beer is called porter … because the greater quantity of this beer is consumed by the working classes. It is a thick and strong beverage, and the effect it produces if drunk in excess, is the same as that of wine; this porter costs 3d the pot.“

There is a theory that suggests the Porter (or at least the practice of calling a beer ‘Porter’) came to Britain from the Netherlands, where a beer known as ‘Poorter’ was being consumed as early as the 14th century. Trading links between London and Dutch ports were certainly well-established, and there could well have been some cross-pollination, though further evidence that there is a direct connection is required.However, it seems that Porter and Poorter were both considered ideal beers for the working classes, so it seems they are welcome to claim the name together.

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