Harwood, Ralph, was an early 18th-century London brewer, who has been lauded as the inventor of a beer called “Entire” or “Entire Butt” (a “butt” being a type of cask). A popular drink at the time was “three threads,” a dark beer mixture drawn from three different casks and blended in the customer’s glass at the pub.
There are several conflicting accounts of the evolution of porter from Entire and of Harwood’s role, if any, in it. The first explicit attribution of Harwood as the inventor of porter seems to be in an 1802 article on “The Porter Brewery,” written by John Feltham and published in a guidebook called The Picture of London. This story—though written many years after Harwood’s death and seeming to be of uncertain veracity—appears to be the basis of almost every history of porter in the brewing literature until well into the 20th century.
Harwood brewed at Shoreditch in the East End of London from around 1703, and in partnership with his brother James from 1736. He did not profit from his invention, as did the great porter brewers, such as Whitbread and Thrale. His brewery appears to have remained small, and indeed the Harwoods’ company was reported as bankrupt in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1747, 2 years before Harwood’s death. It is now thought that Ralph Harwood might not in fact have invented porter, and it has been suggested that if a Harwood did so, it was his brother James. The story of Ralph Harwood, therefore, and thus of the “who,” “where,” and “how” of porter’s true origin, remains something of a beer mystery.