London Breweries – 1761 – Brewing of Porter

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We had a ‘dig’ around in our library on the history of the breweries of London and their origins and discovered this interesting article which we will publish in two parts – the second part is on the Royal visit which we will publish tomorrow – the article is from the book London – Volume 3 published in 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery

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Read other posts in the London series


London Breweries – 1761 – Brewing of Porter

In no article of general consumption does London maintain so great a monopoly and supremacy as in the brewing of porter, which is not only forwarded to the most remote parts of the kingdom, but exported to our colonies – to the United States of America, and to many of the Continental States. Without inquiring whether the cervisia of the Romans, or the ale of the Egyptians, was a fermented liquor made from malt and hops, of which we have much doubt, it is sufficient to know, that malt liquor has, from time immemorial, been a favourite beverage with the inhabitants of London.

So early as the reign of Elizabeth the consumption of beer must have been very considerable, for in 1580 Sir Thomas Gorges, in applying for the office of gauger, stated to Lord Treasurer Burleigh that “there was a deceit to the buyer of beer and ale, both in the assize of the vessels, and in the not filling them up; and that the buyers taken altogether were deceived hereby £30,000 a year.”

There is also other evidence of the quantity of beer brewed in London, in a calculation made in the year 1585, by order of Lord Burleigh. It appears from this account, that there were at that time twenty-six brewers in the metropolis, of whom one half were stated to be foreigners. They generally brewed six times a week, and the whole quantity brewed in London, in one year, in small and strong beer, was 648,960 barrels. This is certainly a large quantity for so thin a population as London then contained, but it is to be considered that ale and beer were at this time, and long afterwards, the common beverage for breakfast, and that it was frequently exported in such quantities as to induce the queen to prohibit the exportation, lest it should enhance the price of corn.

It appears, from a writer of that period, that the brown jug with silver cover, so common in respectable houses in the country, was then a favourite in town. Speaking of the Londoners he says, they drink their ale “not out of glasses, but from earthen pots, with silver bandies and covers; and this even in houses of middling fortune, for as to the poor, the covers of their pots are only pewter.”

Before we quit the “olden time,” we may observe that the charge of adulteration, now so frequently made, was urged against the brewers of the sixteenth century, who are said to have put “darnel, rosin, lime, and chalk, into the ale or beer, which making the drinkers thirsty, they might drink the more;” and that when hops were dear, “they put into their drink broom, bay-berries, ivy-berries, and such-like things.” It is due, however, to the brewers to say, that these charges were never verified by the, surveyors.

Although the excise duties, and the general introduction of tea and coffee, as a substitute for malt liquor at breakfast, must have operated for some time as a draw-back on the consumption, yet it seems lately to have received a new impulse. In 1761 the quantity of porter made in London, by 52 brewers, was only 975,217 barrels, of 36 gallons each; now a single firm, that of Barclay and Co., brews upwards of 330,000 barrels in a year; and the quantity made by the twelve principal breweries has amounted, in one year, to the astonishing number of 1,500,000 barrels. What proportion of this quantity is consumed in London it would be difficult to ascertain.

Excerpt from London Volume 3 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery


Further reading and external links

The Whitbread Brewery on Wikipedia 

Samuel Whitbread on Wikipedia