Some Bio On Dr. Leopold Nathan

Dr. Nathan’s Enduring Contributions to Beer Quality

We do know, or now we know, rather more about Dr. Leopold Nathan than before. The noted English brewing scientist, Lloyd Hind, wrote the obituary for Nathan in a 1938 Institute of the Journal of Brewing.

Nathan was not Swiss, or not initially, he was German, born in Berlin 73 years earlier. Interestingly, Hind doesn’t describe his education but notes that The University of Munich conferred a doctorate on Nathan in light of his achievements. This suggests to me Nathan was self-taught, or did not have an advanced technical education before starting his career, but I can’t be sure.

Hind notes that Nathan was acclaimed both for brewing and scientific discoveries. This is another way to say he excelled in both the theory and practical side of  brewing.

Hind describes his many achievements, which included collecting and purifying CO2 derived from fermenting beer, but his key discovery was the “rapid” production of lager. I explained yesterday that this was enabled by his revolutionary, narrow, cone-tipped fermenter, in which precise temperature adjustments allowed yeast to collect in the cone and be easily removed, leaving a mostly clear beer in the column.

This system was adopted in Australia between the wars with great success and in part explains the fervid beer culture – pre-eminently a lager culture – which obtains in down under. Something similar happened in New Zealand, but interestingly, the rival system of continuous fermentation was the success story there.

archery-and-targetWhat took months to achieve earlier via a slow cold conditioning was now achieved in a couple of weeks or so. That is how most beer is made to this day including top-fermented beers although storage time will vary depending on type. Nathan’s achievements were revolutionary and this clearly was seen by Lloyd Hind in ’38 albeit it would take conservative English breweries another generation to twig to the significance of what Nathan urged.

For a modern explanation of the huge influence Nathan has had, see D.E. Briggs et al.’s discussion in Brewing: Science and Practice, here.

In an article Nathan wrote in the same journal in 1930, he makes the interesting point that bottle-conditioned English ale is essentially a form of lagering. He says both involve saturating the beer with CO2 through a slow re-fermentation and take a considerable time. The main difference, he noted, was that in the case of ale, the temperature of storage is different (warmer). He says or implies that the same problems attending long lagering afflicted bottle-conditioned beer and his fermentation system would assist to make both types of beer better.

I think Nathan was only partly right in his analogy of bottle-fermented ale to lager. He saw that in both cases yeast finally settled and the beer clarified, but he seemed unaware of the flavour differences resulting from top and bottom yeasts, or if he was aware, considered them unimportant, or comparatively so.

In the case of lager, he refers to the famous Pilsner Urquell and says it was sent out unfiltered to the country districts and was very variable in quality. He meant that airborne or other contamination could spoil the beer. Some time ago, I indicated that American lager brewers albeit without benefit of the Nathan system were shortening lagering as early as c. 1870 because beer aged 7 months or so could go tart. When well-aged lager was brought back on the ground of selling the real McCoy, the drinkers rejected it.

Nathan’s innovation was not just his fermenter, but also rendering the wort sterile before entering the vessel, and he insisted on pure culture yeast. Indeed Nathan had studied under Emil Hansen after a varied career involving distilling, wine-making, and the processing of fruit juice. And so, wort transferred into into his cone-tipped fermenter was heated to ensure absence of microflora which could damage the beer later.

This explains something that has long puzzled me. Worthington White Shield, the great English bottle-conditioned beer, for many years at least was pasteurized before bottling and re-seeded with a different yeast. I always wondered why you would pasteurize a beer intended to be unfiltered at time of serving. The reason is now evident and derives from directly from Nathan’s work.

Whether wort for lager or ale is still sterilized (pasteurized is a more accurate word) before entering Nathan fermenters I cannot say – readers might opine if they know. Maybe large breweries do it and small breweries don’t. If I am not mistaken, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is pasteurized before bottling and re-seeded with a different yeast, but it is a fairly large operation today.

One can see Nathan’s overriding concern was consistency. It’s the same kind of reasoning which led to Guinness abandoning natural conditioning of beer, whether in cask or (finally) bottle.

Was quality affected by all these changes? Chopping 4-6 month aging to a few weeks or less; pasteurizing the wort before fermenting; re-seeding it with another yeast; collecting and re-introducing to the beer an air-purged CO2.

It’s hard to say. The very best of that country Urquell was probably great, the very worst was probably undrinkable. Something in the middle might have been deemed rather a good thing if the taste was uniform and predictable. There is discussion in the 1930 article of jungbuket – the green and sulphury tastes of new lager from light-coloured malt. However, Nathan had an answer: injecting purified CO2 into the beer would “wash out” the green tastes – or so it was claimed.

Much blonde lager today has a sulphury note, but people accept it as part of the lager palate. Maybe when the Schaefers in New York brought back 7-month-beer after a period of much shorter storage, the jungbuket  (young bouquet) all leached out, particularly in a time when beer was stored in wood vessels (the porosity factor). But if the beer was half-sour, a palate devoid of burnt match smell was cold comfort, um literally.

As always, these things are a trade-off. Small-scale plants can avoid these processes on the basis their stocks are sold and consumed quickly. The odd time a craft drinker gets a bad brew, he accepts it as part of the game. In the earlier days of craft brewing, bad beer was not uncommon though. Decades later, my perception is overall quality has much improved. People have learned to do things better, and brewing technology and process control in particular at a smaller scale have improved considerably.

The logic of taking some risk is quite inapplicable to a mass-marketed brand which must remain the same every time no matter the conditions of storage and service. It is very rare to encounter a (technically) deficient brew from large brewhouses. In sampling beer since before the craft era, I’ve almost never encountered it. If the beer is obviously “off” it is due to over-age or mishandling at some level of distribution. Today with more rapid transit and increased consciousness of beer quality, this almost never happens.

Note re draft: image was sourced here and is believed in public domain. All copyright which may reside therein belongs solely to the owner or authorized licensee. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.





Leopold Nathan – Unsung Hero of Modern Brewing

Over 100 years, many changes have occurred in beer and brewing. Two great innovations, with their roots in the early 1900s, have not changed. One is the development of pure yeast culture, which I discussed recently.

Its father is the Danish chemist Dr. Emil Hansen. He developed a reliable method to isolate a single strain of yeast from the mixed types that had evolved empirically in breweries and distilleries. This assisted production of beer with better control in every phase of the fermentation process and with a predictable, acceptable flavour.


The other great innovation, rarely mentioned in consumer brewing literature, was the invention of closed fermentation by Dr. Leopold Nathan, a Swiss chemist. He designed the cylindrical fermenter with the conical base, equipment seen in any scale of modern brewing, from brewpub to mega-plant.

He patented the system in the U.S. before WW I and slowly it was adopted on the Continent and finally in the English-speaking world. Australia was a notable cradle for the application of the Nathan Fermentation System, via Peter Hay who founded the Richmond Brewery. (His Wikipedia entry is very informative). Early British experiments with the system, initially felt suitable only for lager production, occurred in the interwar years.

After World War II, British breweries started to adopt the system in earnest, as explained by D.R. Maule of Whitbread R&D 31 years ago in this absorbing article from the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, “A Century of Fermenter Design”.

Maule’s first page is a great snapshot of where British beer fermentation started from. A multiplicity of systems was in use at the end of the 1800s, evolved empirically and often regionally. There was Yorkshire stone square, skimming systems, dropping systems, Burton Unions (linked open casks to vent excess  yeast), etc. Today, craft brewing almost exclusively uses Nathan closed fermentation. Some small brewers still use open fermentation, a few small German brewers do, but generally closed systems have taken over, even in traditional Belgian brewing.

Continuous fermentation is the other main modern method, a complex system of linked tanks which operate for many months until shut for cleaning and maintenance. This method makes them suitable for breweries producing one beer or one main brand, e.g., Guinness. The Nathan cylindro-conical system is much more prevalent.

Nathan’s invention permitted lager (initially) to be fermented and conditioned in a couple of weeks or less vs. three or four months under the older system. The fact of closed fermentation meant the beer was beyond the predation of airborne organisms. CO2 was not lost to the atmosphere as in open tanks, but could be vented in a controlled way, “washed” of its green flavours, and re-introduced to the beer. The use of temperature with maximum control including cold crashing, which the enclosed environment favoured, permitted clarification months ahead of the usual schedule.

Maule explained that the system gained traction in the U.K. particularly when cleaning-in-place was perfected for Nathan fermentation.

Nathan’s basic design, as shown in the reproduction in Maule’s article, continues virtually unchanged today. One new element is the unitank variation, where the beer fully conditions in the fermenter vs. use of a separate brite tank as it’s called. Unitanks are often useful for brewpubs, but breweries which filter the beer generally use the separate brite tank, also for more storage capacity and to free up fermenter capacity.

Who was Dr. Leopold Nathan? I know very little, online searches came up empty. He was a Swiss national, active from about 1900 into the 1930s, but after that, a blank.

He is a hero of modern brewing, attested by the longevity and reach of his system – both ale/porter and lager, at any scale of production.

To the names Pasteur, Hansen, Fritz Maytag, Ken Grossman, Jim Koch, Jack McAuliffe, CAMRA, Michael Jackson, we must add that of Leopold Nathan as an avatar of modern brewing culture.

The image above was sourced from the site of this Chinese food processing equipment manufacturer. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs to the lawful owner or authorized users. Believed available for educational and cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Cask Days, 2016

img_20161021_150856Libby and I attended the opening (afternoon) session of Cask Days 12th annual edition yeserday at Evergreen Brick Works. The wet day didn’t dampen the lively spirit and enjoyment of the crowd.

If anything, the cool damp meshes with the craft beer ethos – it makes the serving temperature of the beer perfect and the atmosphere reminds one of rainy English weekends.

The Victorian setting of the Brick Works, an old shed where red brick was manufactured in Toronto’s early days, just adds to it all.

Friday afternoons are also the quieter time, when the crowd is substantial but no line-ups for beer are necessary at the “hot” counters.

The organization was smooth as glass and entry was a breeze, we arrived an hour after opening so there was no line-up but those who queued at opening said the wait was easy. Clearly the years of experience running the event have enabled attention to the smallest details.

The selection too is so large that there is something for every taste on the beer spectrum, even different lagers were represented, and a sizeable cider bar as well (didn’t get to it unfortunately). The cask head descriptions were accurate and legible. For those unfamiliar with the “handles” of offerings (IPA, helles, weisse, etc.) advice was always near to hand from other folk at the bar.

I took suggestions myself from two people and benefited from it, one was a Deschutes (Oregon) IPA. It was redolent of the West Coast hop yards but not scorchingly bitter, full-bodied, limpid in this case (which I prefer), very good.

My favourite of the afternoon was the first, MacLeod 1918 Pale Ale, a historical recreation from a California boutique which specializes (I later learned) in English-style brews. The quality of a well-hopped English beer was obvious and two others tasting with me agreed on its fine merits.

img_20161021_151010(Business opportunity for an Ontario micro: focus on English-style beers in the sense of using, i) English malt and hops, ii) lots of them). I tended to linger at the California and Oregon desks but sampled great beer from Ontario, Nova Scotia, and B.C. For New York, I think I only got to Barrier, from the NYC area. It’s an obvious choice for me as I find almost anything they do superlative.

This year I went into flavoured beers more than normally with great results. A sarsaparilla stout, I believe from Ontario, was ace, I think that’s a great flavour for stout or porter, peppermint too.

I remain convinced coffee with beer is a mésalliance, and there were numerous of those, but many other options are available, everything from IPA with apricot to maple-and-bacon beer. Pumpkin is an old favourite of mine, I saw Great Lakes’ version which is always reliable, but was lured by a “pumpkin smash” sour style recommended by Jordan. It was very interesting, perhaps a little more sour than I like. I meant to blend some with a Russian Stout but didn’t get to it.

I had two or three Imperial Stouts but only finished one, from California or Oregon, a strong and clean-flavoured version with more bitterness than many have.

bworks3-e1337885124617There was a dry-hopped pilsener finished with a German hop that was really good, from Barrier.

It’s at the point now where there are so many fine offerings, you just need to scan what’s available and go for it rather than prepping for “stars” as in the past. And I noticed too how Ontario’s offerings are on a par in quality and variety with the famous U.S. beer states. I’m sure American attendees were wowed by our offerings.

I didn’t have a single beer that was off or wonky this year, all were in great condition and many poured fairly clear which I like as stated above.

It’s “the” event of the Ontario, even Canadian, beer calendar and is on a par with Camra’s festivals in England or the best anywhere – perhaps better due to the variety and quality of the food offered and the unique mix of North American beers. I didn’t sample food, having had lunch an hour before, but the fried chicken looked appetizing and a large tray displayed when I walked in was gone in under an hour.

In a perfect world I would go back but there is office work to do this weekend so nose to the grindstone.

The Morana family continue to distinguish themselves by their many contributions to Ontario’s diverse, growing, high-quality beer culture.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the site of DTAH, the design firm behind this innovative urban renewal project. All copyright therein or thereto belongs to its lawful owner or authorized users. Believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

More Detail On the Recreation of the c.1800 Hart Ale

I’ve now had the benefit of further discussions with Nathan McNutt, the brewer at Brasserie Réservoir in Montreal where the 200-year-old Hart ale recipe was recreated.

In my last post, I focused on malt and hop types and amount of hops used. I can add that the pale malt was from Malterie Frontenac in Quebec. Both the barley for the malt and the Newport hops were locally grown and organic.

The beer’s original gravity was 18 P, the final gravity, 2.4 P, and the attenuation, 87%. The alcohol as previously stated is 8.6% abv.

The relatively high attenuation results in part from Brettanomyces Bruxellensis wild yeast used during secondary fermentation. It successfully imparted earthy and other special flavours in a few weeks. This was due probably to the beer being stored in wood barrels. Good porosity and oxygen space helped the yeast consume complex sugars, which a standard brewer’s pure strain yeast can’t do, in a relatively short period.

The reason this was done was based on the idea that before development of pure culture yeasts (from the 1890s on), brewers’ yeasts often contained an element of wild yeast and/or the miroflora was resident in hard-to-clean wood vessels.

Therefore, the Hart ale is, intentionally, not a young sweet ale, but one intended to show elements of maturity as was characteristic of many ales and beers of a former time. The recreation perhaps can be viewed in historical beer terms as an “old ale”, meaning an ale which with long-cellaring acquires flavours and extra dryness from wild yeast action.

It is indeed possible the Harts aged some of their ale, either to meet the taste for a winy, estery beer – one can see the analogy to dry wines – or perhaps if they couldn’t brew in hot weather. That is, when weather conditions (before refrigeration) prevented a successful fermentation, the Harts might have drawn on their stocks of ale laid down earlier as a provision.

Also, as the Hart recipe states to add between a half and one pound hops per minot (bushel, effectively), the higher amount may have been intended for ale being kept a few months vs. being sold right away.

Even ales designated as “mild” in England could be on the dry side in palate, approaching in this respect India Pale Ale which always had a relatively dry profile from its inherently long stocking and shipping period. If you examine this link, a study from 1870 by the British Medical Journal of old ales and mild ales, you will see some mild ales with a fairly low specific gravity. No. 12, Truman’s, had numbers (OG, FG, ABV) very close to what was achieved for the Hart recreation. (The alcohol column is by weight so convert to volume for best comparison).

That Truman ale, despite its mild moniker and starting gravity – lower than most of the olds – may well have had a brett influence from a multi-strain yeast or other source which brought the FG down to that range. Another mild ale went even lower, to 1008. Attenuations always varied for the different classes of beer in England albeit there were general tendencies, e.g., mild ales generally on sweet side, old ales drier and sometimes tart, matured porter and IPA ditto, etc.

The richness of English beer culture allowed for a range of tastes and a range of gravities and other characteristics to meet those tastes. The Hart ale recreation presents one facet of that range, and very likely resembles some of the full-mash beer made by the Hart brewery from 1796 until c. 1830.

The Réservoir brewery and the Museum of Jewish Montreal are to be commended for engaging in this fascinating and multi-faceted historical/cultural exercise.

The Hart Brewery’s c. 1800 Recipe and the Recreation

Part of the directions in the Hart Brewery’s c. 1800 recipe deal with malting which I will omit in this discussion. For the brewing part, basically the recipe states a three mash system, i.e., the first run off the grains was brewed separately to produce the strongest ale (8% abv or more), the next a middling (4% abv or more), the last a small beer or ale (1-2% abv).

Here is the text, my own “transcription”:

Mash with water 176 to 180 degrees half an hour, let it stand 2 1/2 hours, boil it with a quick fire 50 minutes, add hops 1/2 to 1 lb per minot, when it is cool 52 degrees let it in the working Tub [fermenting vessel] and add 1 Gallon yeast for every 1 1/2 hhd [hogshead] Beer, watch it so immediately that the head begins to fall, draw it off in cask, and the cask kept constantly filled up till done working.

Second mash 180 to 184 degrees.

Third mash the same.

(?) when the worts are in the copper to be often stirred to prevent the hops from burning and the whole kept as much covered as possible to prevent the oils, or gases from escaping.

There is no suggestion the worts were mixed and I doubt the brewery’s small scale allowed for it. We are talking of a smallish country brewer.

The result was, save where brown porter was made, a typical 1700s strong ale, a type that lived on into the 1800s. The hopping regimen was low in comparison to “beer” in the technical sense (e.g., porter, IPA), albeit high by modern commercial standards.

IPA or India Pale Ale was a late 1700s-early 1800s innovation. It resulted from the trade with India and was a “beer” as mentioned, that is, much more hopped than the ancestral ale and typically aged; also, IPA was less strong, by about 2 points if not more, than all ales except the “common” (low-cost) type. IPA was just really starting when the Harts set up in 1796, and clearly not what they brewed.

Hart’s recipe (see the malting part) clearly calls for pale malt for ale, one type only as was typical then. For hops, same thing, one type. The thermometer had come in use since a temperature range is given for the mash, one very similar to what you read in manuals of the day for ale, e.g., John Tuck’s book from 1822. The method of cleansing, or clearing most of the yeast, is very similar to one of the methods advised in Tuck’s book. Such beer went into casks, was replenished until the active foaming stopped, and soon sent to market.

In both terminology and concepts, the recipe is typical late 1700s-early 1800s English ale brewing. I should add, in France and Belgium at the time, the norm was a not dissimilar top-fermentation brewing. So French consumers around Trois-Rivières probably did not consider they were drinking anything much different than what French brewers in Canada made before the British took over.

The recreation by Reservoir brewpub – I have now discussed it in detail with the brewer, Nathan McNutt – is very authentic IMO. A single pale malt was used, called Frontenac, and one hop, both productions of Quebec’s soil as the original would have used. A first run off only was used to produce the beer – no sparging. 1.3 lbs hops per barrel (36 gallons) were used.

Now, a minot was 8.3 imperial gallons, which is 1.03 an imperial bushel. (A minot was dry measure, not wet).

English practice was to use, for mild ale (not kept long), about 1 lb hops per bushel of malt, see e.g. David Booth in 1829, here. Some sources said less, e.g. 3/4 lb hops per bushel of malt, see here.  The Harts were using up to 1 lb, but sometimes less, perhaps due to the generally colder Canadian climate. It may be they used 1 lb for porter and a 1/2 lb for the ale, or 1/2 lb for mild ale and 1 lb for aged ale.

In England, three bushels of malt would produce one barrel of strong ale. Taking 3/4 lb per bushel, that is just over 2 lbs per barrel. The Reservoir’s use of 1 1/3 lb hops per finished barrel of beer is certainly in tune with this. The alpha acid content for the type of hop used (Newport) was over 8% (I was told), and historically alpha acids were more like 5%, probably, so the 1.3 lbs can be viewed (my opinion) as 2 lbs historical per barrel. 

True, the historical ale barrel was 32 gallons, the beer barrel, 36, after which it changed [see my second comment below], and I was quoted the 1.3 lbs hops figure based on a 36 gallon barrel (my request to them). But close enough, eh?

Nathan added the hops during the boil in two additions, which is very possibly what originally was done. It’s possible all hops were all added at the end of the boil, more to infuse the aroma than make the beer bitter, but perhaps not since the recipe states it is important to stir the boil to avoid the hops sticking. This implies the hops were added during an active boil.

The Newport hop is derived from German Hallertau and other ancestry and not strongly citric I understand. This hop makes good sense historically as the C-hop taste (think grapefruit) didn’t exist c. 1800. Whatever type of hop was grown in Quebec in 1800, the Newport is closer to it than any C-hop or that type, IMO.

The Reservoir’s beer is light amber, a touch hazy, 8.6% abv, I am told only lightly bitter.

Net net, the recreation sounds like classic strong English mild ale of the 1700s-early 1800s; it sounds like something close to what the Harts brewed.

We must bear in mind, too, the Harts’ beers were probably far from consistent. The Reservoir’s beer almost certainly is like some of the first-mash ale the Harts brewed. In fact, the Harts – and their clientèle – surely would have loved the recreation.

Hart’s Beer Returns in Quebec – 200 Years Later

In February of this year, I posted a blog entry on a c. 1800 beer recipe from the Hart family’s brewery in the Province of Quebec. A number of sources online mention the recipe’s existence and its number in the Quebec government’s archival system, including this one, but the recipe itself had not, to my knowledge, been published anywhere or discussed.

Initially I assumed the only way to read it was to travel to Quebec City and read the original lodged with the government. Then I went to the Quebec government’s Library and National Archives website and simply inserted the ID number in the search box. Lo, the recipe came up, it has been digitized. You can read it here. (Click on Voir les images). I included the link in my post and discussed what I felt were salient features of the recipe.

Later, a researcher from the Museum of Jewish Montreal found my article and read the recipe, which lead to the Museum collaborating with Le Réservoir, a brewpub in Montreal, to recreate the recipe. I did not participate in the discussions to recreate it, but was invited to speak at the official launch of the beer next Wednesday, October 26 at 7:30 p.m. in Montreal at the Museum on St. Laurent Boulevard. A visit to Le Réservoir, which is nearby, will follow at which attendees will taste a beer from approximately 200 years ago.

The recipe mentioned the possibility to use either ale or porter malt for the beer, so the recreation might have been ale or porter. I believe it is an ale but am not 100% certain. I will soon learn more and have requested certain technical details.

The Jewish connection resides in the fact that the Hart family were Jews, early settlers in Quebec via the founder of the clan here, Aaron Hart. Aaron was the first permanent Jewish settler in Quebec. As explained in my original posting, he came with the British Army about 1760 and was a sutler, a supplier of goods to the forces. Three of his children set up a maltings and brewery in Trois Rivières, a city on the St. Lawrence River half-way between Montreal and Quebec City. The Harts were a wealthy and influential family although the brewery did not last past 35 years. Moses Hart sold it about 1835 to William Dow of Montreal, founder of the famed Dow Brewery here (later absorbed into what is now Molson-Coors).

So the Museum is honouring brewing and Jewish history in Quebec in one stroke. Congratulations to them for twigging to the idea to recreate the beer. I will report later on the event and my impressions of the brew. I was told though that great pains were taken to ensure authenticity including use of Quebec-grown hops, and malt prepared in Quebec.

As far as I know, this recipe may be the oldest extant recipe of a commercial North American brewery, vs. a home brew or estate recipe, that is.

The event, and beer, are called L’Affaire Hart –  The Hart Affair. The word affair is an allusion as well to a political and social controversy involving Ezekiel Hart (1767-1843), one of the brewery’s founders, which pertains to his Jewish background. Although elected to Quebec’s (then called Lower Canada) legislative assembly from his district, he was not permitted to sit due to being a Jew. This is a well-known incident in Quebec, Canadian, and Canadian Jewish history. More details can be found in his Wikipedia entry, here.

Below is an extract from the English part of the Museum’s Facebook announcement giving more detail of the event and what I will talk about:

Hart Affair – Beer Tasting

The Musée du Montréal juif – Museum of Jewish Montreal and Fletchers – Espace Culinaire, in partnership with Le Reservoir, is excited to invite you to this event The Hart Affair featuring a 200-year old beer recipe created by the first Jewish family to settle in Quebec along with the chance to taste this one of a kind beer!

Have you heard of the Hart Family? Well-known as the first Jewish family to settle in Quebec, they also created the first synagogue in Canada and helped secure Jewish political rights. Less well-known is that in 1796, they set up a malt house and a brewery in Trois-Rivières called M & E Hart Company. When one of our researchers read about the discovery of a 200-year old beer recipe, we knew we had to try it!

Over the past month the Museum has been working with Le Réservoir to recreate the Hart beer. Following the scribbled indications on the written manuscript, Le Réservoir prepared a barrel of this all-barley malt using exclusively organic and local Quebec ingredients. Whereas the Hart family grew their own hops, we have used Newport hops and Frontenac malt, to mirror the tradition of beer brewing that was happening in 18th [sic] Quebec.

/////////// SCHEDULE ///////////
Meet us at 7:30pm at the Museum of Jewish Montreal where we will begin with a discussion by beer blogger Gary Gillman on the general characteristics of English beer and ale circa-1800. Then historian and author Denis Vaugeois will introduce us to the story of the Hart family and how they marked the history of the ”Quebec melting pot”.

We will then head down the street to Le Réservoir to have a taste of this famous beer. This is a unique opportunity for beer-lovers and those interested in Quebec history to discover the hidden tradition of an early Quebec brewery. Come and hear about the Hart Family story, and of course share a glass with us!

////////// Get your Tickets ///////////
Ticket cost is $25 and comes with 2 bottles of beer
Get your ticket via Eventbrite

Limited spots!


Hart family history, interesting as it is to me, is not my area. Beer is, and I will speak on the general characteristics of English beer at the time. Aaron’s sons, albeit born in Canada, were supplying at least in part British people or those recently descended from same. The British too were in control of Quebec then – we are speaking of a British Colonial setting. I believe the beer made by the Hart brewery would have been in an English style, to appeal to British tastes. This is not to say of course that anglophones were the exclusive purchasers.

The brewery was popular enough to have lasted a generation and its beer must have had a market amongst francophones, too. Indeed they acquired a taste for ale and porter that lasted throughout the 1800s and well into the 1900s.

Stylistically the Harts’ beer would have been similar to some of Dow’s and Molson’s beer in Montreal, which were all ales and porters in this period. Indeed the recipe itself suggests an English approach to brewing by its very vocabulary (e.g. “porter” is mentioned), instructions, and language (English). But we will see if the recreation presents characteristics of English beer then.

Either way, it will be nothing less than fascinating.

For those able to attend and interested in beer history and what ancestral tastes were like, this is not to be missed.


Colour of Pre-Craft American IPA



Above is a label of Alley’s East India Stock Ale – a c. 1900 version of what everyone interested in beer today knows as IPA.

As gleaned from various online sources, John Alley immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1850s. He was already in his 30s and had worked in the family brewing business at home. After working with breweries in Providence and New York, he settled for good in Boston.

John Alley was associated with at least two breweries in Boston. After his death in the 1890s, his two sons ran the brewery of his name, but it was merged into Massachusetts Breweries Company which continued the business for a time. This was one of the British investor-owned consolidations popular at the time.

Below, from about 20 years before, we see a well-executed illustration of a man reading a newspaper with the same beer next to him.  It was a colour proof for an Alley advertisement. If you look at the illustration carefully (follow link in my Note re Images below), you will see a colour code at the bottom which the artist used to guide his use of colour. This shows the commercial artist was seeking a high degree of fidelity for his use of colour.

Also, you can see by magnifying the label that it is the same brand as shown in the later version of the label above.



John Alley’s India Stock Ale was a lightish brown, quite similar to what I recall of Ballantine India Pale Ale before its demise in the mid-1990s. That beer of course originated in the 19th century.

Numerous colour illustrations of 19th century pale ales, English and American, often show a brownish or light amber beer. Many brewing texts of the time advised to use as pale a malt as possible, but clearly colour varied somewhat and indeed the concept of pale was probably different to our conception today. One may recall that some American brewers used the term “extra pale” to denote a lighter-hued beer than pale connoted.

Some IPAs of the day probably had a notably light colour, but a generally darker shade prevailed.

In England in recent years, the semi-jocular, semi-jibing term “brown bitter” was used to describe bitter/pale ale in its post-war manifestation. The colour was usually achieved by combining pale malt with caramel malt, a “colouring” malt which darkens the hue and lends a sweeter taste.

Brown bitter is often compared unfavorably to lighter-coloured, more heavily (and differently) hopped American versions.

Alley’s India Ale was closer in colour to brown bitter than most of its namesakes today. I am aware that the label above does not state “pale”, but that is not significant IMO. Inserting “pale” on the label probably was viewed as making an already long name too long; it wasn’t that Alley’s beer was darker than usual for IPA, in other words.

What did Alley’s beer taste like? Its hop signature was probably Cluster or rather one of its sub-types. The Cluster beers I’ve had are not really like modern IPA and lack their bright citrus top note. A Cluster taste is more half-English (woodsy, leafy) and half or less blackcurrant, which means a pungent vegetable taste. Some modern  IPA has the so-called dank taste, which may well evoke an element of the old Cluster.

If you blended a dank IPA with a reasonably hoppy “brown bitter”, Old Hooky, say, that might well resemble what Alley’s stock India ale was like.

I should add, I now think Junius Henri Browne’s “aloes”-tasting New York lager was more down to the hops than the yeast.

Note re images: the first image above is from Digital Commonwealth Massachusets via DPLA, here. The second is from Tavern Trove’s site, here. All copyright in and to the images belong to their owners or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational and historical use. All feedback welcomed.


A Tetley’s Centenary

the-tetleyU.K. brewers and distillers have not least made notable contributions to the annals of company hagiography. Many of these are beyond our reach, but have been explicated with skill by other bloggers including Ron and Ray and Jessica, names well known to the Faculty.

However we do fish one out of occasion and here is Exhibit A: a history of Joshua Tetley’s in Leeds published just after WW I. It is, A hundredth birthday, reviewing a century of progress, 1823-1923. I had the advantage of knowing Leeds fairly well due to business connections – no, not in the 1920s, in the 1990s and early 2000s – and had the bitter a few times when it was still made in Leeds. And it really was very good. An odd thing, or not so odd: the closer to the river we tried it, the better it was.

This history has the plush writing style and quality publishing format one expects at the top range of the genre.

Here are some notable points from the book:

– Tetley’s originally were maltsters and wine and brandy merchants, they branched into brewing by buying the brewery Sykes

– First year of brewing was 1822

– Year one was a challenge but sales doubled in the next business year due to sedulous efforts by founder J. Tetley

– Malting remained important as many customers bought malt, not finished beer, who brewed at home, also pub-brewers

– In the 1800s free houses were a large part of Tetley’s beer trade, initially the company did not have an “estate” as it is known (its own pubs managed or licensed)

– Company owned no public house until 1890, but rapidly acquired an estate as the number of its freehold customers was falling due to competitors enlarging their estate including by flotations of shares

– Tetley’s became a limited liability corporation in 1892

– In the latter 1800s bottling became a focus of the company and it acquired facilities to bottle beer on a large scale with commercial reliability

– WW I was a trying period due to legislation impacting brewery production, also, 25 staff were killed on the front, 55 wounded

– 261 men served out of a staff complement of 600 in 1914, a very high number considering many staff were aged men or boys

– Tetley’s range in 1922 included bitter, “special” (a premium bitter, no doubt), Imperial ale (a barley wine), and brown stout.

The brewery closed five years ago, a real loss for the city, but the brand is still made, elsewhere in the country.


Note re images: the first image above is from the Yorkshire Reporter, here. The second is from the book linked in the text, via HathiTrust. Both believed available for educational and cultural purposes. All intellectual property therein or thereto belong solely to their lawful owners or authorized users. All feedback welcomed.

A Yankee Views Askance The Lager Beer of New York



The euphoniously named Junius Henri Browne was a 19th century journalist and author. He was well-enough known to be remembered in a short entry in Wikipedia. He is known mainly for a book on his experiences during the Civil War. He was a Union war correspondent who was captured and imprisoned at Salisbury, NC. He spent two years in a rebel jail before his successful, hair-raising escape.

He also wrote, in 1869, a 700-page depiction of New York where he worked in journalism. It covers virtually every aspect of its life: religious, civic, ethnic, business, the social classes, Fifth Avenue, and includes some penetrating biographical portraits.

It is written in a confident, straight-ahead way, like someone beating his way through an endless mountain thicket as Browne had on his escape from the Confederate jail. The opinions expressed are likewise forthright, not nuanced, and not without prejudice in some cases. Interestingly, in the matter of religion he wields no brickbats, and was favourably impressed by reverends of the faith he met including the Catholics and Jews.

He devotes a full chapter to the subject of lager beer culture in New York. Here, he seemed little impressed whether the establishment was a low dive, quiet bar, or the huge “beer garden” typified by the (mostly indoors) Atlantic Garden which held thousands. The Atlantic Garden was built in the Bowery, next to the storied Bowery Theatre.

Above you see the Garden in its early days, and a surviving part of its roof when the later-modified structure was demolished to build a hotel.

Browne seems to stereotype the Germans in general although he concludes (quite accurately) they were solid citizens who would blend into Americana in time and lose distinctiveness. It’s hard to tell if he was of the Temperance mentality or just didn’t like German taverns and lager beer. He makes a point of critiquing the lager of New York, and says it was the worst in the country. He says it tasted of aloes, brown soap, and long-standing Croton water. Aloes has been described as an old vegetable and onion taste… (perhaps DMS in unaged beer?).

Croton was a reference to the Croton viaduct, so he is evoking an image of fetid river water here.

This disagreeable picture seems at odds with many contemporary depictions of lager culture in New York, including not a few in New York newspapers where his colleagues scribbled. Maybe Browne was just an out of sorts type.

Below I include some pages from his chapter to give the flavour… Speaking for myself, I think a spell in the Atlantic Garden after a hard week would be fun.




Note re images: the page images immediately above are via HathiTrust from the Browne volume linked in the text. The first two images were sourced from the New York Times, here. All copyright therein or thereto belongs solely to their owners or authorized users. Images believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

How Colour of American Lager was Measured

Colorimeter. AG*MHI-M-9479.
Colorimeter. AG*MHI-M-9479.


The image above can be seen in much better resolution here, a page of the National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center (via DPLA and Smithsonian Institution). It is a late-1800s colorimeter, not produced by Joseph Lovibond, the English originator of the colour slide system to measure colour in malt and beer, but something similar used in an American brewery. An extract from the narrative on the page:


This colorimeter is part of a large collection of brewing material donated to the museum in 1967 by former brewmaster Walter Voigt, of Ruxton, Maryland, near Baltimore. Voigt’s collection consists of objects and archival materials reflecting the history of brewing in the mid-Atlantic region between 1870 and the beginnings of consolidation and large-scale, industrial production in the 1960s. His correspondence reveals an interest in preserving the history of brewing in America before brewmasters were “replaced by chemical engineers and highly trained chemists in modern laboratories.” Voigt’s papers are housed in the museum’s Archives Center, Collection #ACNMAH 1195, “Walter H. Voigt Brewing Industry Collection, 1935-1967.

It appears the instrument was used in a pre-Prohibition brewery in Baltimore and possibly after Repeal as well.

While time has dimmed many of the slides and also the light doesn’t penetrate each in the same way*, the amber slide on the left-centre (opposite the white oblong) has a remarkable clarity. This is no. 13 of 16 slides counting from the top-centre clockwise.

In A.L. Nugey’s 1937 Brewhouse Formulas Practically Considered, which I have referred to numerous times on the blog, he states as a rule of thumb that anything over 12 degrees L. can be considered dark, anything under 12 pale or light, but also that both pilsenser style and Dortmund beer top out at 8 degrees L.

IMG_20160218_182528Given Nugey was writing just a few years after Repeal, there is every reason to think his comments represented a pre-Prohibition norm. (Other data in the book show similar reliance on the older industry, in particular finishing gravities and hopping rates).

Look at no. 13 slide again from the link given (i.e., best resolution) and consider what nos. 12, 11, 10 would have been like: marginally lighter on a decreasing scale. When you compare these to the various images I have posted of 19th century lagers,  one can see that the pre-Pro norm for the older form of lager, the reddish-brown I have discussed, was 9-12, while the newer pale Bohemian style was probably 6-8 L.

Anchor Steam beer, and Sam Adams Boston Lager which is a recreation of an early American lager, give some idea of what the older lager was like, indeed in taste as well as colour.

In the post-war era, Nugey’s no. 8 if not often lighter became much more characteristic of American beer.

Today, the SRM system is used in North America to measure colour, but it operates to a similar principle (multiply L. by 1.3 to get a working equivalent in SRM). The Europeans have another nomenclature and scale, but again similar in principle. A Lovibond scale is still used to denote colour in the malting industry.


*I’m thinking now the metal “tray” is a handle that rotates the disk and opens the window to illuminate the slide needed. If so, it’s remarkable that it is fixed to no. 13 which I posit as “the” color of 19th century standard American lager.