London Porter is a dark, sweet beer with a complex flavour. It was England's favourite tipple amongst the working class, from the 1700s until Victorian times when it was overtaken by IPA. Before the advent of London Porter, the London brewers were principally brewing (and the London drinkers drinking) brown ale.

The beer originally had an official name of "entire butt" by which it was known in the brewery, but was nicknamed "porter", ostensibly on account of popularity with the large number of porters who drank it.

In the 18th Century, London had thousands of porters, regulated by the City of London guilds; the two main groups were the 'fellowship porters', who unloaded 'measurable' goods (e.g. corn, salt) from ships on the Thames, and the 'ticket porters', who wore a pewter badge embossed with the City of London coat of arms - the ticket. The ticket porters were themselves divided into two groups: the 'uptown porters' who moved goods around the City (identifiable because they wore a white apron in addition to the ticket), and the 'waterside porters', working in the waterside wharfs and quays, doing the jobs that the fellowship porters would not touch.

When it comes to how this type of beer came about, there is an anecdotal story about an accident in a maltings. The story is about how a maltster was called away on some important business, but had left the kiln full of brown malt due to be delivered to the brewery later that day. Due to the excessive and uncontrolled heat in the kiln, the malt almost burned to cinders, and the maltster was horrified on his return. Feeling that the brewer would not be prepared to pay full price for the 'burnt malt', the batch of malt was sold off at a substantial discount.

Faced with this batch of cheap malt, the brewer decided to experiment, and tried a brew with these heavily kilned grains, many of which had exploded like popcorn. The results of the brew introduced new flavours from the caramel that had resulted from the intense heat on the sugars. After the successful brew, the brewer went back to the maltings to ask for more of this 'high brown' or 'blown' malt. However, evidence suggests that porter wasn't just invented; it took time for brewing recipes to be perfected, and for people's tastes to adapt.

There is some confusion between various historical accounts, about the precise meaning of "entire butt". Butt here refers to the cask used to store the beer while it matures. A long maturing - "secondary fermentation", typically 6 months to 2 years was needed for this type of beer, much more so than for brown ale, which was ready after a week. Various accounts suggest that 'entire' was replacing a drink called 'Three threads', and suggest that the publican was required to mix three different brews to serve a pint. Mixing "mild and stale" was common practice; 'stale' was not used a pejorative term in those days; we would tend to use the term 'mature' instead. An alternative, and in my opinion more likely interpretation of 'entire' is that the results of three mashes of the same grains are mixed and fermented together, delivered to the publican in one cask. The practice of mashing grains three times is commonplace; this gives "strong beer", "ordinary beer" and "small beer". I have had it on extremely good authority that Fuller's ESB, London Pride and Chiswick are three mashes from the same malt.

Source: Martyn Cornell. Beer: The story of the pint. ISBN 0755311655

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