The Campaign for Terrence Oblong - Monty Python and the Porter Ale
My favourite tipple (in case you're buying) is a pint of porter beer. Porter beer is dark, usually strong, rich with the aromas of coffee, chocolate and everything else that is good. It was first brewed in the 1720s, using 'snapped malt', so called because the grains of barley pop like popcorn when dried at high temperature, which gave the beer its dark look and 'burnt' taste.
Porter was the world's first energy drink. It took its name from London's river porters, who along with navvies and other labourers were the drink's main consumers. They are thought to have got 2,000 calories a day from the drink alone. From 1720 to 1820 the population of London doubled, industry grew, insurance companies and finance houses were founded, the seeds of the industrial revolution were thus sown, and watered, by porter beer.
In the 1780s porter was the first beer to be mass produced in factories, using steam engines for grinding and pumping, leading to the growth of new industrial giants, including Trumans brewery and Whitbread, the latter still the largest hospitality company in the UK today. It even changed the political landscape, the first MPs from industry (rather than the landowning classes) came from the breweries.
As a porter drinker, I always seek out a local brew wherever I am. I've discovered porters in Poland, Estonia, Sweden, Ireland (Guinness was originally a porter brewery). And as for America, I've had porter in a soup restaurant, a pizza joint, a Chinese, a cheesecake emporium and an Indian (the attitude of Cobra beer or nothing doesn't exist there). Yet in spite of its history, and the sheer world-changing scale of its success, porter beer died out. For in the late 1970s the last porter brewery in England ceased to be. Porter beer was no more, it was an ex porter.
And my reason for half inching the Parrot Sketch in the above paragraph is that porter beer was saved by Monty Python.
Or at least, two members of Monty Python, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. As real ale enthusiasts and members of CAMRA, they loathed Watneys Red Barrel and all that it stood for; the big five breweries imposing unpleasant keg beers on people because they were easy and cheap to make, produce and serve, without a care whether or not anyone wanted to drink it. In 1977, together with brewer Peter Austin and businessman Martin Griffiths, the two Pythons set up the Penhros Brewery at Griffiths' property in Hertfordshire. It would be the first microbrewery in the UK, the first challenge to the big breweries since the 1700s.
The celebrity names helped make the beer a financial success. The four brewers, of course, were not acting alone. Their success was due, and part of, a larger movement against the breweries attempt to inflict unwanted beer on the masses. The Campaign for Real Ale was launched in 1971 by four real ale enthusiasts. The campaign was launched in response to the dominance of the big five breweries who, using their vast pub property empires, were able to control the beers people drank, and were moving towards the mass-produced, easy to keep, wholly unpleasant keg beers. CAMRA became a remarkable success with membership growing to the 100,000s. It also started running beer festivals in London, a haven for the country's beer enthusiasts.
Amongst their other beers the Penhros Brewery produced a porter, Penhros Porter, which became a big hit at the London Beer Festival. The success of the Penhros Brewery would lead to a rush of new microbreweries, many of them producing their own porters.
The brewery and the collaboration came to an end in 1983. Peter Austin went on to build his own Brewery, Ringwood, home to best-selling beers such as 49er, Old Thumper and Lancaster Bomber. Austin would provide advice to the numerous micro-brewers that grew out of the CAMRA movement.
Today there are 1,978 microbreweries in the UK (or were before lockdown), more than there have ever been since the early days of porter and subsequent industrialisation. Most of these sell locally to a few pubs and restaurants and bottles to local shops. They brew a small range of beer that inevitably includes a porter, meaning that there's probably a porter brewed in your own town. And that local porter exists, in part, due to the efforts of the two Pythons.