Brewing a Victorian AK With Amsterdam Brewery


Here are some images of my great brewing day yesterday with Iain McOustra of Amsterdam Brewery’s team down at the Brewhouse on Toronto’s Harbourfront. Cody, Jeff, and Mike were brewing at different times and I participated throughout.

The brewery is set in a glassed-in room alongside the large vaulted Amsterdam Brewhouse restaurant. It’s a prime location right on the water.

We did an AK, of the pale ale family, from the era of 1870. OG was 1050 with final abv likely 5-5.3% abv. I mentioned on the tweets that one malt was used, as typical of the day. We elected floor-malted Maris Otter from Crisp. This was after tasting a number of pale malts including Crisps’ non-floor malted Maris Otter.

The floor malt was cracker-like and fresh, tasted from the drained mash it was almost like a toasty oatmeal: if you added sugar and milk the similarity would seemed marked, I think. The non-floor-malted Maris Otter when tasted raw earlier was less cracker-like, more mealy perhaps. If I could choose an analogy, the floor version was like whole-grain bread; the other, like a high quality bread from regular flour.

Both seemed deeper in character than standard North American 2-row malt.

Two hops were used, from Charles Faram, Golding and Fuggle, both in leaf form. The hops went in at different times with Fuggles in this case having the say for aroma. Most will be kegged but we hope to do a few casks, and if the casks are dry-hopped we will use one of the two leafs. Any dry-hopping for kegged beer will be with pellets added at tank stage.

The Golding was floral and lemony, the Fuggle like an arbor, leafy and fresh-woodsy.

These hops come in heat-reflecting tight paks flushed with nitrogen, and are stored cold until use. E.g., one was harvested 18 months ago but smelled fresh and sweet, its expiration date was still one-and-a-half years away. We decided on 3 lbs per finished barrel of beer (36 Imp. gal.), with 1 lb more/bbl if dry-hopping used (will depend on tasting later). The IBU estimate was 45.

This level of hopping – no shrinking violet – was typical of the period for this class of beer. Yet for IPA, similar in character to AK but stronger, the hop levels only went up…

We elected two hops on the idea of boosting complexity and all-English character. Some beers of the pale ale family back then must have used two hops, even if the norm was one. Anyway it seemed right.

We chose an American yeast of relatively neutral character. We wanted to ensure the English character of the malt and hops would shine through. Still, we hope to get some estery development from fermentation temperature and a few weeks of relatively warm storage. Beer should be ready in about 30 days.

Obviously we used modern fermenters and pure culture yeast. There was no atmospheric exposure once beer ran from heat exchanger to fermenter blended with the yeast drawn from a sealed keg. Metal vessels were used all-through, no wooden mashing or fermenting vessels. Together with a high degree of sanitation and modern pumping and powering technology, the brewhouse did not outwardly resemble a brewery of the 1800s; few today do.

But still we hope to attain a character that people of that era would recognize as their own, hopefully a very high example of their own.

I should add: water was Burtonized – made hard to match the profile of some gypsum-laden waters classically used for Burton pale ale.

The wort from the (relatively short) boil was candy-sweet but very bitter. It carried a striking russet colour the brewers said was unusual in their experience and must have derived from the single malt and the type of malt it was.

Stone Ale 1892 and Joule’s Brewery Today

A Little Less Conversation … a Little More Beer (Redux)

Here is a further, more extended quote from Lord Macnaghten in the case I discussed yesterday from 1891, Montgomery v. Thompson, heard by the House of Lords in England:

My Lords, the Appellant complains of an injunction awarded against him so far, and so far only, as it prohibits him absolutely “from selling or causing to be sold any ale or beer not of the Plaintiffs’ manufacture under the term ‘Stone Ales’ or ‘Stone Ale.'” The order was made, in the first instance, on an interlocutory application. Then there was an appeal. The Court of Appeal affirmed the order and maintained the injunction as it stood….

Stone, it seems, is a town in Staffordshire, containing some 6,000 inhabitants. It has a supply of water admirably suited for brewing, so the Appellant says, and his opinion is fortified by scientific analysis. Anyhow, Stone is famous for its ales, which are known in that part of England as “Stone Ales,” and one special quality is known as “Stone Ale.” These ales all come from the Plaintiffs’ brewery, which is said to have been established in Stone for a hundred years, and to have flourished there all that time without a rival, and even without any attempt at rivalry worth mentioning. Whatever reputation, therefore, is attached to “Stone Ales” or ” Stone Ale” above other ales known in the district is due to Plaintiffs and their predecessors in business. The value of that reputation, whatever it is, no one knows better than the Appellant. He is the proprietor of several hotels and public-houses in Liverpool, and in his different establishments he has dealt largely in “Stone Ales” procured from the Plaintiffs. In 1887 he determined to set up as a brewer himself. He had to find a site for his business. Where was he to go? After much consideration, influenced as he says by the peculiar virtue of the water, he resolved to go to Stone. One thing leads to another. Having gone to Stone, he could think of no better name for his brewery than “Stone Brewery”; he could find no more fitting designation for his ales than “Stone Ales.” Then came these proceedings. It is not the first time in these cases that water has got an honest man into trouble and then failed him at the pinch. Neither Mr. Justice Chitty nor the learned Lords Justices could be persuaded that the Appellant was attracted to Stone by the peculiar virtue and chemical properties of the water. They thought he went there simply with the object of stealing the Plaintiffs’ trade, and in the hope of reaping where he had not sown. They were satisfied that he meant to make a fraudulent use of the term “Stone Ales” and that he could not possibly use that term honestly.

With the judgment that has been passed upon his character and conduct the Appellant does not quarrel. Protesting that it was somewhat harsh, his counsel use it to point their argument. Granted, they said, that the Appellant is a fraudulent man – as fraudulent as you please – still his demerits cannot enlarge the Plaintiffs’ rights. The injunction being absolute and unqualified in its terms will secure to the Plaintiffs the monopoly of brewing in Stone. With such water Stone might be as Wrexham or Burton. The injunction makes it the private preserve of the Plaintiffs. Then, they argued, the Appellant is not to be deprived of his rights because he has behaved badly. All the Court ought to do is to keep him strictly within his rights. He had a perfect right as everybody has to set up a brewery in Stone. Ale brewed in Stone is Stone ale for all that the Court can say or do. The Appellant is entitled to call his ale what it really is, and to sell it under its true name if he takes care that his customers are not induced to believe that it is of the Plaintiff’s manufacture.

His words show a number of traits characteristic both of law and a wider context.

For the law, it shows how important the facts are to any judicial contest. Montgomery had owned hotels and pubs in Liverpool on the coast. He had dealt in Joule & Co.’s Stone Ales. He knew how good they were.

Intent on setting up a brewery, and scouting around, he ends by setting up his shop in, lo, Stone, Stafford…  That’s a 50 mile trip inland to the southeast. You can see where this is going to go…

The wider context concerns the style of court decisions then, and whether today’s simpler way of writing is better. British and Colonial justices under Queen Victoria tended, as writers in general then, to write without economy of expression, leisurely, sonorously. The style was often ornate, roundabout.

This allowed however some subtlety. You can see how Lord Macnaghten develops his slightly mocking tone, indeed as he says, one thing leads to another, and his finding is not hard to intuit some time before he gets there.

The tone sets the frame for his judgement, in which the other lords concurred.

Only much later did judicial writing tighten-up – I mean in style not reasoning. The post-WW II law lord Denning, influential in my time of law studies, was a major force in this. He would write in short bursts and use more simple language than the Latin-loving Victorians.

Lord Denning, perhaps contrary to first impression, was not from a modest background. He issued from a well-known clan, his brother, this from 40-year old memory and no I didn’t check Wikipedia, was an Admiralty Sea Lord.

The law Denning might have started his judgment this way:

Stone is a quiet town in Staffordshire. At least, normally it’s quiet. Its citizens like their beer. Many Britons do. Their favour has always been granted to a local brewer, Joule’s. “Stone Ale” is its prized specialty. It’s been in the area forever. But a new man set up in brewing there recently. Montgomery. His firm’s name is Montgomery’s Stone Brewery. Montgomery has made it clear he wants to sell his “Stone Ale” in Stone. Joule quite naturally objects. This simple trading dispute must now be ruled on by the House.

Today, the judges of the Canadian courts, following often American example, write in a simpler style than an earlier time. I’d guess Lord Denning and the plain language movement he helped inspire mean most common law justices do the same in 2018.

It’s two ways to get to the same result, I’m not sure one is really better than the other. Yes, a spare style seems to favour the layperson, but then every field has its lexicon, eh? If you simplify too much a gibberish of a different kind results.

Anyway, in our western systems and those inspired by them, you can count on the judges to get the law right, or the appellate judges.

But the facts are all-important too, and all good judges take care to understand them well.

But back to beer: Joule’s has arisen again, with original recipes to boot. See all details here. The original firm stopped trading in 1974, the phoenix arose in 2010. The beer flows in and about Stafford and Shropshire again. More than that, the description on the brewery website of the pale ale (none today are denominated “Stone Ale”) sounds enticingly authentic.

For one thing, the brewer last employed by the original Joule’s worked on the recreation. I love recreations, as you can tell.

The new brewery is located about 18 miles westerly from Stone, in Market Drayton. Close enough lads of Stone, Shropshire lads (and lasses) too, of age mind.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from Alamy here, and the second at the Joule’s Brewery website linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Retro Beer & Gourmet Sausage Dinner at Maple Leaf Restaurant 21/02/18: Update!

Here is an update to the fab historical beer and food tasting event taking place February 21, 2018 at Maple Leaf Tavern in Toronto. We have the drinks list finalized.

To recap:

The Maple Leaf Tavern Restaurant, one of Toronto’s top dining destinations east of Yonge Street, is giving a six-course Retro Beer and Gourmet Sausage Dinner on Wednesday, February 21. The food menu and drinks list are appended below.

The dinner is intended as homage to a 1973 beer and food event held by the Wine and Food Society of New York at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. I’m co-hosting with Canadian Beer News.

Beers served are drawn from or similar to those at the original, 1973 event. Earlier, I described that event in this post, where you can see their original menu and how we’ve sought to re-imagine it.

It will be a window on the beer and food scenes as they were not long before the artisan beer and culinary worlds gathered pace from the 1970s. Actually, they had it pretty good!

I have previously written or presented on numerous aspects of early tastings by the International Wine and Food Society. Their events are not just pioneering and of great historical interest but offer some fine eating and drinking.

Guests will be able to appreciate how beer and food were creatively selected and paired by a noted culinary society – by those interested in good food and drink – before the world was such a global village.

Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News, Canada’s premier resource for beer and brewing industry news and events, will make initial remarks. I will follow to explain the concept of the evening and some fascinating gastronomic and drinks history.

Following the original concept, the meal is sausage-focused, an opportunity to taste rare European specialties. All are custom-prepared onsite by expert chef Jesse Vallins.

Seating begins at 6:30 p.m., with dinner service starting at 7:00 p.m. The dinner and pairing is priced at $105.00 per guest, pre-taxes and gratuity.

Seats are limited. Tickets can be purchased at Maple Leaf Tavern or by calling 416-465-0955.

Greg will bring a dynamic music playlist from the era to ramp up the atmosphere of ’73! Don’t miss it if you can attend.Drinks List:

Pepperoni/Welcome beer – Sapporo lager

Beef Hot Dog – Schlitz Malt Liquor

Chorizo con Tostada – Modello Especial

French Garlic Sausage – Kronenberg 1664

Scotch Haggis – Fullers ESB

Yellow Pea Soup – Brygg Mastarens Gold

Weisswurst/Grilled Bratwurst Course – Tooth & Nail Pilsener and Erdinger Dunkel

Zugerkirschetorte – Martel Cognac

Whose Stone is it Anyway?

A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Beer

Legal disputations over the use of the word Stone in brewing are not new. The current imbroglio, well-publicized on social media, involves California-based craft icon Stone Brewing going after giant Miller Coors for allegedly passing off its Keystone Light for a Stone product.

We watched carefully the video in which Greg Koch of Stone laid out the case for his company. On the face it, it sounds like a reasonable argument.

We hadn’t seen Koch speak before and noted his unique style. He starts the video with a quizzical look, as if not sure he should be doing this, but then does a lengthy, well-argued presentation for Stone.

At least in our view, much of the speech has an ironic, twinkle-in-the-eye undertone, which I find hard to read. This style, plus the deft production values of the video, probably led some to think he was seeking publicity more than anything else.

Yet, the facts as he detailed them seem to constitute a decent case. No doubt Molson Coors has its arguments, and it remains to be seen how it will play out.

It may interest observers there was litigation long ago involving a Stone Ale, in the U.K. in 1891. In the county of Stafford, brewer Joule & Co., based in a town called Stone, sold its ale with a virtual monopoly. Locals asked for Stone Ale and got Joule’s, pretty much the only game in town by the evidence.

Then, a gent called Montgomery established his Montgomery’s Stone Brewery in Stone. He stated he was just using a geographic name and Joule could not monopolize it. He argued he should be able to explain to the public where his beer was brewed without being taken to trade on the goodwill of Joule.

Joule argued that Montgomery intended that his beer be sold as Stone Ale and meant to appropriate their goodwill and reputation.

So, over 100 years ago, another brewers’ fight occurred over the Stone name, in a different context.

The case went, as they say, all the way up to the House of Lords, as the senior appellate tribunal in Britain was then termed. Joule & Co. won.

The court held that Montgomery could state in an appropriate way that his brewery was in Stone but the brewery’s name implied a trading on Joule’s rights, rights which long usage had reserved at common law to them. The court upheld the wide terms of an injunction granted by the trial court and rejected Montgomery’s attempt to narrow it.

In the town of Stone, United Kingdom, in effect the word Stone was Joule’s, just as Koch argued in the video that in beer, the word Stone belongs (in the U.S., at any rate) to Stone Brewing of Escondido, CA.

You can read a contemporary summary of the judgement, see pg. 86, here.

I’ll let Lord (Baron) Macnaghten have the final word, final of course for the matter before him. The Baron had been a distinguished Anglo-Irish barrister, you can read his full career in Wikipedia, here. 

As Wikipedia notes (whence the illustration of Macnaghten above), he was noted for developing the law of charitable trusts and for his elegant, concise description of the floating charge.

To the law of charities and secured transactions, we must add, or in my estimation, his contribution to the law of passing-off and the limits of relying on a geographic name to describe one’s business:

Thirsty folk want beer, not explanations. If they get the thing they want or something like it, and get it under the old name – the name with which they are familiar – they are likely to be supremely indifferent to the character and conduct of the brewer and the equitable rights of rival traders.

Perhaps he liked an ale or porter, of occasion, the Baron.

Note re image: the image above was drawn from the Wikipedia article on Baron Macnaghten linked in the text. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Joseph Wechsberg, a Brief Appreciation

Pilsner Urquell? Fah!

That Mittel-European par excellence, Joseph Wechsberg, oddly depreciates the renowned Pilsner Urquell in this passage from one of his food essay collections.  See from pg. 91.

By claiming many Czechs disliked its intense bitter taste, he seems really to express his own opinion; but that it was shared by many Bohemians can’t be doubted, given Wechsberg’s fame as a reporter and writer. (See Chicagoan Bruce Hatton Boyer’s fine tribute, here, I posted it on Twitter today as well).

I suppose it’s always like that. Not every English male adored bitter ale in its heyday, only 90%, probably. Not every Frenchman loves wine (92%?).  Etc.

Urquell made a great export because those hops helped preserve it, but Wechsberg makes clear it wasn’t the only game in die Stadt. And Wechsberg says Czech connoisseurs deprecated all bottled beer in the old days. Probably because it was, i) more expensive, ii) pasteurized, often.

He names a passel of alternate brands many liked better: one wonders if they still exist. A pint for your thoughts.

Too bad Weschberg isn’t with us today. Everything you want we got it right here in the U.S.A. (or Canada), and Joe helped make it so with his literate, kindly, sunny meditations on wine, food, and life – a disposition at odds seemingly with the fact that part of his family was extinguished in German concentration camps.

Yet, as Bruce Boyer noted, Wechsberg chose to accentuate the positive, to look at better things, at the future not the past.

Joe Wechsberg is up there in the heavens smiling indulgently at the modern culinary scene he helped fashion in his New Yorker essays of the 1950s. The fashion for super-bitter beer might amaze him, yet he was the kind of person for whom life probably held few surprises, when you think of it.

In L.A. where he landed from Nazi fury in ’39 American culinary style was in its infancy but the ingredients were there: luxuriant fruit and veg markets, resurgent wine districts, the seafood from the west coast, and the Spanish element that soon would add élan and meld California eating to something new.

Even in glitzy loony late 30s L.A. he probably saw all the potential, even while cultivating contacts to sell film scripts and magazine essays. Soon he succeeded very well: as Boyer noted, he became a proficient stylist in his adopted country using his fourth language.

He died in his 70s but, oddly to my thinking, not in America, but in Vienna, home of the old Hapsburg world he evoked in his writing in myriad ways. The tug was too strong I guess, he had to go home.



Imperial Stout – Great Divide’s Classic Version

Having written recently of a Trappist ale and a mass-market adjunct lager, I thought I’d flip to what craft was all about: Yeti Imperial Stout, from Great Divide in Denver, one of the gestational areas for craft beer.

The brewery was founded in 1994, when the competition was much lesser than today. It still shines, due to the quality of the beers. It is still independent and operated by the founder Brian Dunn.

This is the original Yeti Imperial Stout – no barrel aging or chip treatment, and superior for it, IMO. I’ve had a barrel-aged version of Yeti, also one that used toasted oak chips to impart a barrel character. If I recall correctly there was also a Belgian yeast version, I had that too.

The “plain vanilla” (sorry!) is superior to these others IMO in that the malt character is at its purest: no bourbony, quasi-oxidized background notes. In 1995, Courage Imperial Russian Stout was still available if you looked in the U.K.

I’d guess Dunn had tasted it because his original Impy stout is rather similar, down to the estery note, often obscured in barrel-aged beers.

This is what real beer is all about, and the bruited 75 IBU blends seamlessly with the luxurious, pillowy dark malts. Early taste notes online stress an American, piney accent. This current bottling, from only Nov. 2, 2017, employs to my taste a more neutral hopping, closer again to the Courage IRS model as it was “back then” anyway.

This type of Imperial stout, or rather stout as Imperial stout is simply a very strong porter, expresses the true flavour of 19th century porter and stout.

How do I know that? Because it reminds me of the pre-craft Sinebrychoff stout of Finland, and Carnegie stout of Sweden, both classics distantly related to 1700s London porter. Ditto for a number of historical recreations of stout including the amazing Fuller Double Stout of some years ago.

Even Sinha (Lion) stout from Sri Lanka, descended from a Victorian-era stout made for British planters and traders in Ceylon, shows this richness of character. The roast is there in all these but well-integrated in the palate, it doesn’t stand on top so to speak as if disconnected from the beer. It also doesn’t come across as an Italian expresso-type taste.

And needless to say, there is no flavouring of chocolate or coffee added. Yeti’s is probably all-malt but possibly small amounts of roast grains (unmalted) are used, mashing details are not disclosed by the brewery.

The only drawback is the strength, almost 10% abv.  Well, not a drawback, but in other words it would be good to have the same taste in 5% abv say. In fact, Dunn thought of that too, he has a 5% abv nitro version in Denver, see details here.

The acrid, very dry, often Irish-style porters and stouts frequently encountered in craft brewing are IMO rather distant from 1800s porter flavour. In that time, to be sure some porter was well-aged, sometimes as part of a blend, and therefore dryish in taste; also, wood-smoked brown malt played a role in much porter then, so one can presume some porter had a pronounced burnt edge.

But I doubt the typical Irish-style stout of today, even where all-malt, resembled those: to me it descends more from the modern Guinness recipe including its use of unmalted barley. A good example from Ireland itself is O’Hara stout which you can get on draft here in some pubs. Superior to Guinness, perhaps, but I doubt it really gets at 19th porter.

Now you may say, the 1800s brewers used wood in their process including for casks, so their beer must have had a somewhat oxidized note. Yes and no, as British barrelage and vats then did not use American oak which imparts a distinctive, coconut, vanillin character.

The wood used at least in England and Scotland – the case for Ireland is not 100% clear based on the historical record – was mostly East European oak, a variety prized for its neutral effect on the beer. It could never be 100% neutral, but was quite different by all reports from the effect of American oak on the beer.

Of course some people like modern barrel-aged stout, some people like medium-strength stout of the dry acerbic style, quite a lot, it seems.

As I always say, if people like any taste in beer, that’s good, for them and the beer business. Here, I simply explain my own tastes.

Old Milwaukee Ice

The other day, in a Brewer’s Retail store in Toronto, choosing my usual mishmash of craft brands, I asked the man at the cash: what do you like to drink?

He said, Old Milwaukee Ice (OMI). I said why? He replied to this effect: in general he likes the “ice” process, it seems to make for a more concentrated taste, one he likes.

Also, he likes to drink a lot of beer, meaning that most craft beer is too rich, filling. He said five OMI is no trouble, and also, the last one tastes the same as the first. Whereas, if you drink a very hoppy or malty beer, the next ones alter the first taste, even the same brand.

He said cost too is a factor but not the only factor, as some craft beer is available at or near his price point.

He said he used to drink Molson Canadian but at a certain point didn’t like it, maybe the taste changed, or his, he doesn’t know. He went through a series of ice and other beers, and fixed on Old Milwaukee Ice. He said, what do you think of it?

I said I don’t know, I’ve never had it. So I bought a can.

I did have regular Old Milwaukee many years ago in Atlanta actually. It had a brambly kind of background taste, that I liked – not very lager-like really, but that’s how I remember it. I think it’s the only time I had it except probably for a few times in the 70s.

Perhaps when Sleeman started brewing it in Ontario I tried it, but don’t remember if I did.

Old Milwaukee was the price brand of Schlitz, with roots certainly in the 1800s, as its bigger brother. It migrated to Stroh, then Pabst with brewery consolidation. Pabst makes it and the line extensions today but Sleeman (Sapporo-owned) makes it in Ontario still.

It is actually very fair, essentially a lighter Munich Helles as one would expect from the brewery’s history (all of them concerned). Adjunct there must be although I didn’t get the “hint of corn” stated in the U.S. website, here.

It’s a good taste, with German-type hopping quite evident. A touch sweet, “creamy” as the U.S. website claims.

Would I drink it again? Not really, I prefer the craft taste. But as a beer style it is no more or less valid than lambic, Chimay, sour beers, ESB, or anything else. I can see that it is better than some other beers in its class.

I preferred it to the Black Ice I had the other day (quite decent itself).

It satisfies a market segment, evidently, which from a business standpoint is all that is needed, but on its own was not so bad at all. It would go well with food, in particular.

In Germany when the immigrant brewers came over, food was expensive and beer itself often provided the office of food. In America with relative prosperity, people could afford to eat better. Maybe the beer evolved in part to accommodate a place at table with, not in lieu of, solid comestible.



Chimay and Oranges That Come all the way From Curacao

In my previous post, I set out strong evidence that in 1969 the mash for Chimay beers, the Red and the Blue in particular, was all-barley malt, essentially.

Today, the mash is estimated at 15-20% grain adjunct-plus-sugar, the rest barley malt. That is high enough to have a lightening effect on the beer.

Many high alcohol beers in Belgium use adjunct and make the argument the beers would be too heavy without it. Although, craft brewing has made all-malt beers of similar strength for many years that are well-appreciated.

Another explanation is that wheat flour is used (not wheat starch despite what some labels say) and its gluten assists to give the beer a lasting, foamy head.

This got me thinking again about the Chimay palate; having had considerable experience with all-malt beers for decades, I often feel I can tell an all-malt beer from an adjunct or “sugar” beer, even where the beer is fermented to a high level of dryness.

So I got out a bottle of Chimay Blue. I poured one ounce at room temperature to study it.

The dominant smell and taste, the top-note, is one I find hard to describe. It isn’t really a high-temperature estery effect although Chimay is fermented at a notably high temperature by Anglo-American standards, and was in 1969 by the way.

It isn’t a malt smell, it isn’t a hop smell. It’s not a smell such as one would associate with a fruit or spice, although I think almost certainly Chimay Blue is flavoured with bitter orange peel (see further below).

I think this keynote is the distinctive house yeast, the one Father Théodore famously isolated in the late 1940s after obtaining help to improve the fermentation regimen from Jean de Clerck, a noted Belgian brewing scientist.

This smell reminds me of aromas encountered when walking through a distillery fermenting room. Also, of certain wine yeasts, Champagne in particular. It has a similarity to many Belgian beer yeasts, a point I feel contributes more to the uniformity of Belgian beer than its diversity, at least today, but that is another matter.

All other flavours in the beer are subordinate to this taste. Barley sweetness there is, some hop notes too, but this camphor, almost sage-like yeast note is dominant. It’s not a single-note but the influence is strong.

What else is there? Many reviews and commentaries speak of stone fruit, or apple. I think I do taste that. What is it from? Many think the warmish, top-fermentation used at Scourmont creates it, the esters.

It appears in fact Chimay Blue, and Red, are flavoured with bitter orange peel, probably the Curacao orange. An orange in Curacao, descended from the Spanish Seville type, provides flavouring for the famous liqueur of the same name.

Some Belgian beers use it, La Binchoise Blonde Tradition in the Hainaut is one – Hainaut is the same province in which Chimay is located.

Consider the language on this site,, a high-end French retailer of groceries and wines, spirits, and beers, viz. Chimay Blue:

Notre recette reste inchangée depuis sa création par le Père Théodore et nous souhaitons être transparents quant aux ingrédients qui composent nos bières. Nous les indiquons clairement sur nos étiquettes. Eau, malt d’orge, sucre, amidon de blé, houblon, levure et écorce d’orange amère.

It refers to “our recipe” (so clearly, the brewery is talking) and that the ingredients are stated on the label – for France clearly this is so. Further, the ingredients are listed as water, barley malt, sugar, wheat starch, hops, yeast, and écorce d’orange amère, which means, bitter orange peel.

On the same website, the description reads the same for Chimay Red. It doesn’t read the same for Chimay White Label (the Tripel), also on the website, so I don’t think the brewery devised one description that might apply to all beers of its range even though not all ingredients applied to each.

Chimay Gold, the lower abv beer of Chimay and not mentioned on the VenteVin site, is known to be spiced with coriander and Curacao (the orange peel, presumably). If the brewery supplied one comprehensive ingredient description for its French retailers, one would think coriander would be mentioned too, but it is not.

Also, my understanding is the Gold is all-malt except for the two flavourings noted – no wheat starch or flour, at any rate. See discussion on Chimay’s website, here. So, wheat starch, mentioned in the ingredient list for the Blue and Red, would not apply to it.

Philippe Mercier’s 1969 article on Trappist beer composition, which took in Chimay and two other Trappist breweries, does not mention orange peel or any other flavouring. However, Mercier does state that the Trappist brewers each have their secret methods and not all are disclosed to those who inquire.

It is well possible that orange peel has been used in Chimay Blue and Red from the beginning. Why would it be disclosed now to French retailers? I don’t know.

Is there any other evidence that orange is added to these beers? There is. Read the full account here, from the late John White who visited the brewery in 2003 with Roger Protz.

White states that Jef van den Steen visited the brewery and was told by then-brewer Father Omer that the Red and Blue contain Curaçao. Father Omer was not present when White and Protz visited. Yet, White was told otherwise when he visited.

Again, I think it is likely the brewery does not maintain a consistent narrative to all comers out of a justifiable concern to keep confidential certain matters viewed as trade secrets.

Tasting Chimay Blue today, I can’t say I detect an orange note but the palate, under the yeast smack mentioned, is quite well-integrated. It may be there, it is hard to tell. Orange peel isn’t listed on any French Chimay label to my knowledge, but that could mean simply this isn’t required by French/EU labelling laws.

I must say for a 9% beer, even a relatively dry one as the Blue is, the body is quite light: this is probably the effect of the wheat starch/flour. There seems a slight flatness in the finish, characteristic in my experience of an adjunct mash, but I can’t really tell. The adjunct is used well here, put it that way.

One final possibility: perhaps the exotic bitter peel was added after 1969, when grain adjunct was first adopted and perhaps more sugar in the kettle used than the 1-2% Mercier reported in 1969. Maybe this was done to “make up” for the reduced barley malt.

I incline though that if there, as appears the case, it was there from day one.


Chimay Beer in 1969

Chimay: All-malt or Virtually in 1969*

In 1969, Philippe Mercier, an employee of the Rapidase firm in France, authored an article called “Trappist Beer Production in the Monastery”. It was published in Wallerstein Laboratory Communications. This was a technical publication of Wallerstein Laboratories, an American consultancy.

I previously gave some history on Wallerstein, which serviced the fermentation and food technology sectors. See here. They started about 1900 in New York. Some time in the 1950s or 60s they were acquired by another company. The house journal continued at least to 1969, clearly.

The Mercier article, running some seven pages, is of significant historical value. It has not been previously cited in a consumer beer publication, to my knowledge.

The article is a valuable aid to understanding numerous aspects of Trappist brewing before Michael Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer (1977) and onset of the craft era.

The article first gives a Jacksonesque sketch of Trappist brewing history. It then successively addresses brewing plant, brewing process, maturation, marketing (e.g. “there has been no advertising and the beer is not widely known”), and various analytical data. Some is quite sophisticated, for example, gas chromatographic data is included for bottle head space at different years’ aging.

Tables are included reporting technical data for three breweries, identified as Brewery A, Brewery B, and Brewery C. Such things as IBU, or colour in SRM and EBC measures.

The breweries reported on are clearly Chimay, Rochefort, and Westmalle (indeed respectively so from my analysis) as the article:

… thanks the directors of the breweries of R.P. Trappistes de Chimay, Rochefort and Westmalle for their help and for the data necessary for preparation of this paper.

Also, photographs are included with a legend referring to the three breweries: for example, an exterior view of Westmalle is shown, and a goblet of its beer.

Under “brewing process”, Mercier writes:

There are a number of characteristic features in the brewing of Trappist beer. The grist is usually composed of about 95% amber malt representing an equal mixture of two varieties, both two-rowed, and the monasteries use whatever malt is available. In some cases they grow their own barley and malt it, but in most cases the monks rely on commercial maltsters.

Typical malt analyses are shown in Table 1. A high nitrogen content is preferred as this is associated with high diastatic power. To obtain the characteristic dark hue desired, two varieties of amber malt are used, one considerably darker than the other, together with up to 5% caramel or roast malt. In some cases, a very small amount of glucose syrup may replace some of the caramel malt, usually not more than 1 or 2%. …. When glucose syrup is used it is customarily added at the wort boiling stage.

It is thus evident that the three breweries were essentially all-malt in 1969: the grist was two forms of “amber malt”, up to 5% black malt or caramel malt, and up to 2% glucose. The glucose was probably used to adjust original gravity to the required level, as needed. (The article makes no mention of addition of dextrose or other sugar for priming the bottles, although we would guess this was done then for some or all of the three).

About 20 years ago, a lively discussion commenced in some beer circles concerning the purpose and origins of the “wheat flour” or “wheat starch” used in Chimay’s mashing.

Chimay, starting about 1997, stated on its labels that “starch”, and sugar, were used in addition to barley malt. Today, Chimay labels refer to “barley” and perhaps also “wheat” but to my knowledge starch is not mentioned except, one presumes, where the laws of a country may require it. The website of Chimay today refers to “ground barley” and other “ingredients”, not starch as such from what I can see. A previous version of the website did refer to starch.

So from the late 1990s some beer writers started asking questions about the starch. Many had assumed the beers were all-malt except for use by some breweries of sugar, a longstanding practice by many Belgian breweries. A good summary of the issue, and the brewery’s reactions, is contained in a 2005 article by Roger Protz, which you can read here.

Wheat flour and wheat starch are both malt adjuncts. One contains gluten, one does not. Either way, with up to 5% glucose used in the boil stage, it seems that from the 1990s at least but possibly earlier – post-1969 – Chimay used, and still does,15-20% non-malt for the Red and Blue labels.

Protz’ article refers to another article that suggests there was some kind of process change at Chimay in 1969: perhaps later that year the wheat flour/wheat starch was first used.

Mercier does not mention any use, even occasional, of grain adjunct. To be sure, he states in the quote above, “The grist is usually composed…” (my emphasis). Perhaps Chimay’s practice varied occasionally, or that of Westmalle or Rochefort, to include cereal adjunct before Mercier’s article was written, but I don’t think so.

Mercier worked for Rapidase, a company in France that manufactured industrial enzyme made from plant and other natural sources. The enzyme was marketed to breweries mashing in part with grain adjunct. The product line still exists, owned today by a different company.

Wallerstein had patented various enzyme products and Rapidase commercialized them in France and Belgium. I conclude Mercier was trying to market Rapidase (think “rapid-diastase”) to breweries for use with adjunct mashes, including the Trappist brewers, and became intrigued with the latter.

European two-row barley, at least on some occasions, did not produce sufficient diastase to convert adjunct starches in brewing mashes to fermentable sugar; enter the Wallerstein enzymes, among other products then available to similar end.

Whether any palate change, or a significant one, occurred for Chimay between 1969 and today I cannot say. The situation is complicated by the fact that in the 1990s Chimay adopted fermenters of a different design (cylindro-conicals) than before. Some have speculated that the yeast adapted differently in the new vessels and the taste evolved for that reason, no other.

Certainly the beers of Chimay and other Trappist breweries remain legends in the beer world. No brewery stays still in terms of process; one should not consider the Trappists any different.

Still, it is significant that Chimay, Rochefort, and Westmalle were all-malt in 1969, or virtually all-malt as 1-2% glucose in the kettle could make no practical difference to the sensory result.

I am currently writing a full-length, fully-referenced article on Philippe Mercier’s article for the journal Brewery History, to appear later this year.

For now, I’ll give Mr. Mercier the last word:

A particularly striking feature of Trappist breweries is the curious mixture of the industrial and the religious. One is in an up-to-date brewery and at the same time in the serene and timeless atmosphere of the monastery. … One Trappist brewery has a conveyor belt for handling wooden cases, the modern apparatus contrasting sharply with a very old building where the original beams still support a slate roof. …. All the equipment reflects the wish to adopt any means of producing a beer with all the qualities indispensable in our modern age but at the same time maintaining its traditional organoleptic properties.


*See also my next post, here.

Retro Beer and Sausage Dinner at Maple Leaf Restaurant, Feb. 21, 2018

I’m pleased to announce that the Maple Leaf Tavern Restaurant in Toronto, one of Toronto’s top dining destinations east of Yonge Street, will be giving a six-course Retro Beer and Gourmet Sausage Dinner on Wednesday, February 21. See recreated food menu below.

The dinner is patterned on and intended as homage to a 1973 beer and food event held by the Wine and Food Society of New York at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Beers will be the same as or similar to those served at the original event. Earlier, I described the event in this post, where you can see the full original menu.

This will be a window on the immediate pre-craft scene and feature numerous imports still popular or other beers similar in taste that match with the food.

I have previously written, and presented, on numerous aspects of beer and other tastings held by the International Wine and Food Society. Their early tastings are not just of significant historical interest but offer some great eating and drinking!

The event will be an opportunity to appreciate how beer and food were paired by a noted gastronomic society in the pre-craft era. Actually, they had it pretty good!

Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News, Canada’s premier resource for beer and brewing industry news and events, will make initial remarks. I will follow him to explain the concept behind the dinner and some fascinating history behind these early tastings.

Following the original concept, the meal is sausage-focused, an opportunity to taste rare European specialties prepared by expert chef Jesse Vallins.

Seating begins at 6:30 p.m. with dinner service starting at 7:00 p.m. The dinner and pairing is priced at $140.00 per guest (includes tax and gratuities). Seats are limited. Tickets can be purchased at Maple Leaf Tavern or by calling 416-465-0955.

Greg will bring a music playlist from the era to lock in the atmosphere of ’73! Don’t miss it if you can attend.