London porter and Edinburgh ale in 1832

I was looking for stuff about 20th century Scotch Ale, but as ever, something else turned up instead.

This is from Chambers' Edinburgh Journal, September 1, 1832. According to this, country porter had a burnt taste, London porter didn't. Interesting theory about the use of pewter pots. I wonder if it's bollocks. The Scots seemed to think so.


It has been generally believed that the superiority of London porter is caused by its being made of Thames water. This is a very erroneous opinion. The Thames water, from its impurity, has been long abandoned by the London porter brewers, who use either New River water or hard water, I believe, chiefly the latter. London is built on fine sand and gravel, and about two hundred feet below the foundation of the city there is a stratum of clay and a stratum of chalk, and here is found a most abundant supply of water, which is lifted by pumps. Hence, the superiority by no means lies in the water used, but in the immense quantity made, and in the art of the manufacturer. It is a very remarkable fact, that, except at Dublin, this beverage has never yet been equalled in point of strength and flavour. Good porter, of the most refreshing quality, is now sold all over the metropolitan districts. Imitations have been tried, with great exertion and outlay of capital, in different parts of the country, but they can all be detected by their burnt taste, and bear no comparison to the rich, full body of the genuine London porter. This generous liquor, as is well known, is always drunk out of pewter or silver pots, which impart a finer flavour to the mouth of the drinker than if glass or earthenware were used. The reason for this can be scientifically accounted for, by the electro-chemical action which is going on betwixt the acid of the porter and the metal; and, therefore, the popular taste is quite correct in adhering to pewter pots. The Scotch, who import London porter to a large extent, do not seem to be aware of this remarkable fact, as they always drink the liquor from glass tumblers. Between six and seven millions of barrels of porter or strong beer are made annually in England; in 1830, the quantity exported was 74,902 barrels.


While London bears the palm of superiority in the art of porter-brewing, Edinburgh challenges all the world to compete with it in the manufacture of ale. In the making of this luxurious beverage, it has, for a considerable period of years, had no rival, unless we allow, what is perhaps correct, that the brewers of Leith, Prestonpans, and Linlithgow, and some other small towns, are equally entitled to hold up the superiority of their liquors ; nevertheless, the whole fall under the designation of Edinburgh ale. This ale differs entirely, in body, flavour, appearance, and character, from the English ales. It is as clear as amber, and of the same colour; soft and delicious in taste; so strong, that a few glasses produce a slight intoxication, or inclination to sleep; and has a thin creamy top. It is exceedingly difficult to keep, and is easily affected by atmospheric phenomena, although kept in casks in a close cellar, and generally turns hard or sourish after being kept more than a season. It is always used in Edinburgh in glass quart bottles —never in draught; and, when diluted with water, forms an agreeable table beer. It has been occasionally alleged, from the intoxicating qualities of Edinburgh ale, that it is mixed with cocculus indicus, or some other poisonous ingredient; but this is, without doubt, an idle fallacy, the liquor being simply the strength of malt and hops. It is used only in moderate quantities, being quaffed from long tapering glasses made for the purpose, and cannot be indulged in so freely as porter, to which it bears no other resemblance than it is made from nearly the same materials, differently prepared. The quantity of strong beer or ale made in Scotland annually amounts to about 110,000 barrels, upwards of 3000 of which are exported ; the chief export being to London. About 130,000 barrels of table beer are also annually manufactured, besides an immense quantity of small beer— a species of light, cheap, frothy liquid, in great domestic request in Scotland, and which, from its resemblance, in some respects, to ginger beer, might be manufactured in the English towns with every chance of success.

This strong Edinburgh ale was kept in quart bottles, then, but only used in moderate quantities. Bottle for the table to split? Who knows.


  1. Brought to you by the Edinburgh Ale and London Porter Brewers Association, in partnership with Acme Pewter Tankard Manufacturing Company Ltd.

  2. I've seen it mentioned elsewhere that old-time Porter drinkers insisted on pewter pots because it didn't taste right out of glass.


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