Nowadays most beer-lovers don’t agonise over the difference between ale and beer, and most would only order a porter if they wanted their baggage delivered. Historically the differences are important, however, so as the words came up in yesterday’s post, I thought I should clarify their meanings. I can do no better than the author of A dictionary, practical, theoretical, and historical, of commerce ..., Volume 1, (1840), who precedes his explanation of ale and beer with a short historical overview:
ALE and BEER, well-known and extensively used fermented liquors, the principle of which is extracted from several sorts of grain, but most commonly from barley, after it has undergone the process termed malting.
I. Historical Notice of Ale and Beer.—The manufacture of ale or beer is of very high antiquity. Herodotus tells us, that owing to the want of wine, the Egyptians drank a liquor fermented from barley (lib. ii. cap. 77.) The use of it was also very anciently introduced into Greece and Italy, though it does not appear to have ever been very extensively used in these countries. Mead, or metheglin,was probably the earliest intoxicating liquor known in the North of Europe. Ale or beer was, however, in common use in Germany in the time of Tacitus (Morib. Germ. cap. 23.). "All the nations," says Pliny, "who inhabit the West of Europe have a liquor with which they intoxicate themselves, made of com and water (fruge madida). The manner of making this liquor is somewhat different in Gaul, Spain, and other countries, and it is called by many various names; but its nature and properties are everywhere the same. The people of Spain, in particular, brew this liquor to well that it will keep good for a long time. So exquisite is the ingenuity of mankind in gratifying their vicious appetites, that they have thus invented a method to make water itself intoxicate."— (Hist. Nat. lib. xiv. cap. 22.) The Saxons and Danes were passionately fond of beer; and the drinking of it was supposed to form one of the principal enjoyment! of the heroes admitted to the hall of Odin.—(Mallet's Northern Antiquities, cap. 6, &c.) The manufacture of ale was early introduced into England. It is mentioned in the laws of Ina, King of Wessex; and is particularly specified among the liquors provided for a royal banquet in the reign of Edward the Confessor. It was customary in the reigns of the Norman princes to regulate the price of ale; and it was enacted, by a statute passed in 1272, that a brewer should be allowed to sell two gallons of ale for a penny in cities, and three or four gallons for the same price in the country.
The use of hops in the manufacture of ale and beer seems to have been a German invention. They were used in the breweries of the Netherlands, in the beginning of the fourteenth century; but they do not seem to have been introduced into England till 200 years afterwards, or till the beginning of the sixteenth century. In 1530, Henry VIII. enjoined brewers not to put hops into their ale. It would, however, appear that but little attention was paid to this order; for in 1552 hop plantations had begun to be formed. — (Beckmann's Hist. Invent, vol. iv. pp. 336—341. Eng. ed.) The addition of hops renders ale more palatable, by giving it an agreeable bitter taste, while, at the same time, it fits it for being kept much longer without injury. Generally speaking, the English brewers employ a much larger quantity of hops than the Scotch. The latter are in the habit of using, in brewing the fine Edinburgh ale, from a pound to a pound and a half of hops for every bushel of malt.
2. Distinction between Ale and Beer, or Porter.—This distinction has been ably elucidated by Dr.Thomas Thomson, in his valuable article on Brewing, in the Supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: —" Both ale and beer are in Great Britain obtained by fermentation from the malt of barley; but they differ from each other in several particulars. Ale is light-coloured, brisk, and sweetish, or at least free from bitter; while beer is dark-coloured, bitter, and much less brisk. What is called porter in England is a species of beer; and the term "porter" at present signifies what was formerly called strong beer. The original difference between ale and beer was owing to the malt from which they were prepared. Ale malt was dried at a very low heat, and consequently was of a pale colour; while beer or porter malt was dried at a higher temperature, and had of consequence acquired a brown colour. This incipient charring had developed a peculiar and agreeable bitter taste, which was communicated to the beer along with the dark colour. This bitter taste rendered beer more agreeable to the palate, and less injurious to the constitution than ale. It was consequently manufactured in greater quantities, and soon became the common drink of the lower ranks in England. When malt became high priced, in consequence of the heavy taxes laid upon it, and the great increase in the price of barley which took place during the war of the French revolution, the brewers found out that a greater quantity of wort of a given strength could be prepared from pale malt than from brown malt. The consequence was that pale malt was substituted for brown malt in the brewing of porter and beer. We do not mean that the whole malt employed was pale, but a considerable proportion of it. The wort, of course, was much paler than before; and it wanted that agreeable bitter flavour which characterized porter, and made it so much relished by most palates. The porter brewers endeavoured to remedy these defects by several artificial additions. At the same time various substitutes were tried to supply the place of the agreeable bitter communicated to porter by the use of brown malt. Quassia, cocculus indicus, and we believe even opium, were employed in succession: but none of them was found to answer the purpose sufficiently. Whether the use of these substances be still persevered in we do not know; but we rather believe that they are not, at least by the London porter brewers."
The author does not explain how ‘strong beer’ became known as ‘porter’, so I must fill in the gap with the help of the Oxford English Dictionary. ‘Porter’ is short for ‘porter’s ale’ or ‘porter’s beer’. It is ‘a dark-brown or black bitter beer, brewed from malt partly charred or browned by drying at a high temperature’ and was designed as an especially strong beer for the especially strong men who worked as porters in the markets of London, and without whom the city would have ground to a halt.
Recipe for the Day.
Some time ago I gave you a beer-themed menu, and included a recipe for a Chocolate Beer Cake. Several beer-based recipes followed in another post (here.) Today I give you a beer bread recipe from the San Antonio Light of November 12, 1937.
Pearl Beer Bread.
One cup syrup, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 pounds rye flour, 6 cakes yeast, 8 orange peels, 4 cups Pearl beer, 2
pounds white flour.
Heat beer and syrup together until lukewarm; mix yeast and salt and stir in some beer mixture. Cut small pieces of orange peel separately into the rye and white flour. Make a smooth dough by mixing all ingredients; let stand for 3-4 hour. Knead dough into long loaves; rub with flour; and cover dough until it raises. Bake an hour over slow fire; and brush loaves with hot water, rolling them in cloth until used.
Makes 3 loaves. Excellent for sandwiches.
Quotation for the Day.
The roots and herbes beaten and put into new ale or beer and daily drunk, cleareth, strengtheneth and quickeneth the sight of the eyes.