Bayhawk Three Threads – Chocolate Porter
The stories that surround the development of Porter and its name sometimes seem as dark as the ale itself. The following account traces not only the history of Porter in general, but how the product evolved at Bayhawk.
Is Porter truly an Ale? Not according to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, and Firearms labeling division. Porter is a category unto itself (per the BATF). A label rejection letter from that government agency caused roars of laughter, and a long unbroken string of curse words to be echoed throughout the Bayhawk office. Brewers from a couple of the local brewpubs had stopped to share a pint (of what else?—Porter) just about the time the mail arrived. We had been awaiting label approval from the Feds for our 12oz bottle labels.
Our 22oz Chocolate Porter labels had been approved with word “Ale” conspicuously placed. One would believe changing the size and the net contents would not cause the examiner any great consternation, but “Ale” did (I won’t go into great detail here, but if you think the word ale disturbed them, you can’t imagine what a commotion the descriptive word “Chocolate” caused. I might as well have painted a skull and cross-bones on the bottle and printed the label in Mongolian). About this time, a kind soul handed me a beer, and I decided to take a poll.
In the brewing of this malt beverage, we employed America Ale yeast. We did our primary fermentation at higher, ale, temperatures. We didn’t cold age or lager. The chocolate malt hadn’t totally masked the fruity esters indicative of ale. All the brewers agreed by any brewing definition, our Porter is Ale!
Before this mid afternoon session degenerated into something resembling a bunch of backwoods moon-shiners bitching about how the damned revenuers should stay out of our business, our lead brewer, Bill Kimbrell, said, “I wonder if they’re thinking of Three Threads?” A hush fell over the half-inebriated gathering, and someone smirked, “Ya—the Entire Butt.” Could it be? Was the examiner that looked at our label familiar with beer history, and the evolution of Porters and Stouts? I think NOT! Let me take moment to say the “New, Kinder, Gentler,” Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, and Firearms is very polite when you call, and they try to be helpful, but what they know about beer history and recipes is probably equal to what their boss, President George W. Bush, knows about getting along with Green Peace or our NATO allies. This is not an insult, just a personal observation.
This episode in my beer career excited the historian in me. I thought back to Old London and the dawn of the industrial age. A picture of men in britches and three cornered hats hoisting monstrous pewter tankards in smoky taverns and children in the crowed streets carrying pails of 2 pence home for dinner flashed through my brain, which by this time was starting to feel the affects of a good pint of porter. I also thought of a more modern scene of London and a story our company president, Dave Voorhies, had told me. Dave had landed at Heathrow airport with the goal that he would stop at the first pub he could get to in London, the birthplace of Porter, and hoist an imperial pint for himself. Much to his surprise, the barman had no idea what he was talking about. Dave was aghast, and called out the proprietor that told him that the closest beverage they have was Guinness.
No Porter in London? What happened? Sometimes it’s good to be the Beerman. Other times it’s good to a history major. This time, they work well together. As a history major, I learned early if you steal from one source that’s plagiarism. If you steal from many, it’s research. I’ll take this opportunity to acknowledge the major sources from which I’ve learned: The Beer Drinker’s Bible by Gregg Smith and Carrie Getty, Greg Glaser’s January 31, 2000 article from Modern Brewery Age, Michael Jackson’s; Porter Casts a Long Shadow on Ale History, The Guinness website, and others. As a history major, I reserve the right to present evidence in the manner I believe most plausible.
All sources agree that Porter has its origin in London during the early 1700’s. The drinking trend was for barmen to mix various types of alcoholic beverages. Porter, at this time unnamed, was equal parts of most probably strong ale, brown ale, and 2 Pence (2 Pence was a very weak beer made from last running of the brewing process. For 2 pennies, you could buy whole bucket. Pints were drawn from three separate barrels into a single tankard. It sounds like a hefty amount, but one has to remember that water was not generally consumed by itself, especially in the cities where sanitation was suspect at best. People knew if they drank water, they could and probably would get sick. If they drank beer, they felt much better (it still works that way today). The blending of thirds or “Threads” as the East London accent makes it sound, makes for a more mellow drink than consuming large quantities of strong ale.
The tapped end of the kegs faced the bartenders. The butt ends faced the patrons whom hailed the server to “draw the Entire Butt,” or an “Entire.” The story of Porter adds the name of Ralph Harwood to its legend in 1722. It is believed Harwood brewed the first batches of Entire at the Bell Brewhouse in Shoredith, East London. Harwood, a man of the industrial age, found a more efficient way to get a popular drink to the public. Certainly, pub owners and bartenders found pouring ale from a single barrel simpler than mixing from three.
There are two schools of thought on were the name Porter was derived. The first is that the drink was popular with the folk of the East End. The primary occupations were in drayage (moving and hauling) and working the docks. The Merrian-Webster Dictionary defines a Porter as someone involved in moving and hauling bundles. Some say that the beverage took the name from the occupation for the inhabitants with which it found favor. Another slant on this idea and one that I find a bit more believable is that porters delivered the drink. When the delivery came, someone would inform the management that “the Porter had arrived.” Interestingly, the same dictionary defines Porter as “A Dark Heavy Ale, “ another myth! According to the brewers at Bayhawk, it does not have to be heavy. We purposely blend our Porter to create a lighter drink. Do you think the BATF knows that dictionary define Porter as Ale?
Whichever story you believe, Porter has always been associated with the British. If one remembers their American history, we were still subjects of the Crown during the mid eighteenth century. Porter is hearty and very transportable. It found its way across the Atlantic and became a favorite drink of one of America’s most famous home brewers, George Washington. I often mention while giving my brewery tours, if America’s most famous failed brewer, Samuel Adams, had been able to make a good Porter, we would probably still all be British, or at the very least drinking good ales instead of Boston Lager. Fortunately, craft brewers in America have revived the art of brewing good porters.
British porters enjoyed their popularity throughout the 1700 and 1800’s. This era also saw the rise of another popular style, India Pale Ale. Both Porter and IPA have great durability when being transported un-refrigerated. As the British Empire expanded, so did the availability of porter and its popularity. This period gave birth to one the world’s greatest brewing dynasties, Guinness. Arthur Guinness & Sons began by brewing porters and continued until 1974. Porter’s popularity began to wane significantly at the turn of the 20th century. Even in the PorterHouses where the ale complements that cut of steak, saw the drinking trend shift. Lagers were gaining public acceptance outside of Bohemia and Bavaria. In Ireland, thanks mostly to Guinness and the political climate, stouts were placing porter as the drink of choice.
During the First World War, an effort was made in the United Kingdom to conserve energy. To show their support for the war, British malting houses stopped dark roasting grain to save fuel. The Irish still striving to gain their independence from the UK, took the position that if dark roasting helped the Kaiser, they would all drink stout. Being half-Irish myself, I tend to believe this explanation of the Guinness decision to shift its brewing to stout. Guinness salesmen like to the story about a fire at the brewery burning the malt, and Arthur Guinness being too cheap to throw it out. That is a good story and seems credible to those of us that run small breweries. It is a better marketing presentation to the public than admitting the Irish pro German sympathies in both World Wars. Whatever the reason, porter consumption slipped to the smallest portions of the market.
Now that I have bored you with nearly 300 years of beer history (If you take my brewery tour, it’s 7000 years. It will drive you to drink), I’ll tell you about Bayhawk Ales Chocolate Porter. We have returned to the Old London tradition of Three Threads by blending our Amber Ale with Stout, and our version of 2 Pence. We actually have taken a page from the book of Ralph Harwood. He made life simpler for tavern owners by producing an ale that could be served from a single cask thus eliminating the space taken by three barrels and saved the time of barmen that had to mix the brew. The demand for our products has become so great over the past eighteen months, that we cannot always dedicate the tank space required to produce a large quantity of porter. I’m sure my brother brewers would agree that in small breweries, time and space is money. We’ve over come this challenge by blending our Porter.
How has our Three Threads been received, a blended beer? Well, it won the Silver Medal at the North American Brewers’ Association Commercial Competition and the Second Place Ribbon at the 2001 California State Fair for Brown Porters.
How does our Three Threads/Chocolate Porter taste? The word “Chocolate” in the name comes from the chocolate malt that we employ in the brewing of our beers. This deep roasted grain produces a dark ruby red color and coffee like flavor. The taste complements red meat such as “Porter”house Steak or a chocolate dessert. We challenge the skeptical to try this full flavored drink at cellar temperature (50 degrees) with your favorite cut of meat or dessert and share your thoughts with us at Bayhawkales.com.
We are making this award winning premium ale available for the holiday season in a Cobalt Blue One-liter Swing-top bottle. It will be produced in a limited supply of 2001 numbered bottles. This could be the best Christmas gift a beer drinker can give to him or herself, over 2 pints of Porter and a collector’s bottle. Our suggested retail price is $9.99 plus tax and CRV. We believe the demand will be great, place your orders early. Our Cobalt bottles will be in the stores on or before November 1, 2001, but you can enjoy Bayhawk Chocolate Porter all year in 22oz bottles. Ask for it at your favorite package store.