WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Three Threads

So it’s Election Day Eve in the United States. Yes, I totally made up the name for today, but it should be a thing.

We’re all going to need a drink.

Three Threads

Half common ale, mixed with stale and double beer.

If that doesn’t sound terribly palatable, consider that it is a slang term, a cant term used by the lower classes – the thieves – so likely the name tasted better on the tongue than the product. But drink was drink, and sometimes the cheaper, the better.

What’s interesting about this Word of the Week is its rumored ties to the origins of Porter and Ale. What by definition above sounds cheap and suspect, folklore myth romanticizes.

Sometime in the 1720s-1730s, one Ralph Harwood allegedly decided to brew a drink that blended ale, strong beer (double beer), and leftover (stale) beer into one cask. His new drink was said to feature the best characteristics of its three ingredients, so the story goes that its popularity grew enormous in London. It was an idealized story told often without any evidence to support it: the perfect apocryphal tale.

The Picture of London, by John Feltham, 1802

John Feltham, in The Picture of London, 1802, first wrote of Three Threads. His words were subsequently reprinted, word-for-word, in myriad and diverse publications thereafter: Arithmetical Questions, On a New Plan, by William Butler, 1811; Rural Sports, by William Barker Daniel, 1813; An Encyclopeaeaedia of Domestic Economy, by Thomas Webster, 1815; The Vintner’s, Brewer’s, Spirit Merchant’s, and Licensed Victualler’s Guide, by A Practical Man, 1826; et. al.

From The London Magazine, Volume 5, 1826:

The controversy surrounding Three Threads seems not to be in its existence, then, but in its ties to the development of Porter. There’s no evidence of a recipe for the quantities mixed, no evidence that three separate casks of beers and ale were used, and no evidence Three Threads wasn’t delivered from brewers to publicans pre-made.

So a bit of a modern-day unsolved mystery/bar trivia/”that there’s fighting words” amongst true ale aficionados.

We all need to stop, take a breath, grab and pint, and sing a song: an ode to Beer, Beer, Beer.