Ontario’s Buck a Beer Plan

Ontario’s new Buck a Beer plan is an invitation to brewers in Ontario to lower prices to that level, as the new Ontario government announced a reduction of the beer floor price to $1.00 per bottle or small can. It had been 25% higher, or $1.25. A floor was enacted in 2008 with the stated object of minimizing alcohol abuse, see this story in Toronto’s The Star that year for background.

The current change fulfilled a campaign promise by Conservative party leader and Ontario Premier, Doug Ford.

Buck a Beer applies to maximum 5.6% ABV beer. It doesn’t include a refundable deposit on the container, or apply to draft beer.

Part of the plan involves LCBO stores giving discounts or other preferences on floor displays or prime shelf locations for the new cheap beer. As explained in an August 7 story in Toronto’s The Globe & Mail:

To encourage for [sic] brewers to lower their prices, the government is creating what it calls the buck-a-beer challenge, which will provide participating breweries with incentives at the provincially owned LCBO stores. Beers lowered to $1 could receive promotional and advertising support, short-term discounts and more prominent displays in the stores.

Encouraging brewers to sell at their preferred price point above $0.99 per bottle is, in our view, not objectionable (see below). But giving government support for buck a beer via the incentives mentioned seems unwarranted when brewers must pay normal charges for other beer. We need to see the details, but I hope this aspect is short-lived. In this regard, therefore, I agree with the concerns expressed by many beer commenters.

But many in the craft beer community are also opposed to brewers selling beer for a dollar a bottle, or feel the plan is illusory, and there I have another view.

It’s often pointed out that before Ford’s announcement no brewer sold beer at the previous floor price, or $30 a case, so why now?

I think the new floor price, an even dollar, has assumed a symbolic importance for the new government and those who voted for it based on this plank. It recalls the time, about 12 years ago, of low-price beer in Ontario.

As beer is perceived to be expensive here – even if it’s relatively low-cost compared to many other provinces – the government hopes the floor price drop will work a larger change in beer pricing. For some beer.

You can buy a 24-pack for 16 or 17 dollars (U.S.) in New York State – about a buck a beer Canadian. It’s not the best beer by a long shot, but it’s beer. And a case can be bought in Quebec today, I’ve read, for around $28.00. While taxation differences in different places, and other factors, explain some of this, many people just feel that standard beer should cost less in Ontario.

Ford’s plan can be viewed too as in practise encouraging pricing over the minimum but well below current pricing/discounting.

Even if buck a beer is not a regular offering it could be a special, or “kicker” from time to time, even a loss leader, a common business technique.

Some craft brewers state they would be forced to lessen quality in order to compete, that $1.00 per bottle is not feasible when costs of production and taxes (taxes are not being reduced) are factored.

But from a public interest standpoint, lower prices (on some product) are desirable, as for any consumable. Those who can’t afford beer at present should have a better option. They may even graduate to better beer once their economic prospects improve, which is good for the beer business.

In fact, two small brewers have just announced they will sell beer for a buck a bottle once the new rules take effect from August 27.

Of course, no one has to buy this beer, just as they didn’t in 2007, the choice is the consumer’s. But beer is not always or even typically for highly developed tastes. It is for everyone and everyone decides for himself or herself what to buy. The fact that neither I nor, perhaps, you is likely to buy cheap beer is neither here nor there.

Over and above other considerations though, the craft market really stands apart from all this. Buck a beer isn’t its competition. A lot of craft beer exceeds 5.6% ABV. Right there a chunk of the craft market is exempt from the new plan.

Beyond that, those who appreciate the fine products of craft brewers will pay more for them as they always have. Consider how various qualities of cheese, bread, many other comestibles, cars, and of course wine are priced.

If some mass market beer drops in price, current craft prices arguably make even more sense. The reason is that craft and mass market beer can be so different as to be separate products.

I think Ford’s plan was designed mainly to make large brewers drop their prices, through greater efficiencies or whatever it takes, so some mass market lager could be priced more cheaply. This doesn’t mean some craft brewers can’t take advantage of the new plan, as evidently some intend. I don’t think it will be the norm, but some may find a niche for reasons that relate to their type of marketing, or location, or some other specific factor.

Two Buck Chuck, the famously low-priced wine, didn’t kill the Napa Valley. Read some interesting history in Jessica Tyler’s story this year in Business Insider. The category is called extreme value. We need that for beer in Ontario.

So why all the fuss over Buck a Beer?

Doubling Down on Donnington

I haven’t done any product reviews in a while except for Martens 10 recently, so will do a few serially resulting from my recent London trip. By this I mean, for beers I brought back. I tweeted regularly impressions of beers I liked during the trip.

(There were many beers I didn’t like, but I tend not to feature them mainly because taste is relative and also, generations often reverse preferences, as to sour or cloudy beers, say).

We spent a day touring Gloucestershire in Cotswolds and I took the opportunity to try the cask bitter of picturesque Donnington brewery. It’s run by the Arkell family who also operate the Arkell brewery in another region. I tried two Arkell’s beers at the Great British Beer Festival last week at the Olympia, and very sound they were.

Donnington’s draught BB, sampled in Stow on the Wold in a pretty stone pub, was average at best imo. True, at under 4% abv one doesn’t expect a lot but it was watery and just this side of tart (although seemingly in good condition).

I doubled down by buying the bottled Double Donn, stronger and advertising classic English ingredients such as Maris Otter malt and Golding hops.

This was most acceptable, not the best bottled pale I’ve had, but with a good malty/spicy taste that seemed almost a brown ale, the “brownest” of the brown bitters I’ve had. It’s ideal for drinking at shelf temperature, as anything colder than “cellar” really takes away the essential character.

As with most British-styled beer including craft examples, one always wants “more”: more hops, more malt, but what I got was well-made and enjoyable.

This is the older style of U.K. bottled top-fermented beer, filtered and perhaps pasteurized.

If this beer had been on draught that day, it would raise a thumbs up from any beer fan. Not every beer has to be outstanding, gastronomic, aspirational. It can be good, solid. An Ontario equivalent to this beer, not the same in taste but parallel in character, is Upper Canada Dark Ale.

There is a house taste I could connect to the BB cask but the bottled was, in our estimation, much better. Often the reverse is true, the draught exceeds a similar beer when bottled.

The world of beer has continual surprises.

P.S. I didn’t try the Gold version of Donnington cask seen in the image above.

 

 

 

 

The Beer Buffet: Ein Bier, Kellner!

Or six or eight, Christine Frederick airily advised readers in her 1933 article, “The Beer Buffet”. She was informing hostesses of suitable foods to serve with beer once forthcoming repeal of Prohibition made such affairs proper again.

To emphasize: beer had never really gone away, speakeasies and many hotels served it sub rosa, hence without imprimatur of polite society.

Christine Frederick was the home economist wife of George Frederick, founder and head of the Manhattan-based Gourmet Society from the 30s-60s, I’ve profiled the group earlier. Its audience included the prosperous middle classes and aspirant hostesses.

The meals she suggests are mostly Teutonic in flavour and show the deep influence German customs and manners had imprinted on American life by then.

Her prose strides along, lots of impactful nouns and adjectives create a lively picture. You can see the influence of her work in brewers’ print advertising into the 1960s. The pretzels, hams, honest tankards, and brightly-coloured, checked or striped tablecloths were all staples.

The motif was downscale elegance, a kind of rustic chic really – that style in general has returned to fashion today, indeed for all food of any complexity or social scale, except perhaps in temples of old-school cuisine on the Right Bank in Paris.

Frederick did not discuss brands or types of beer, other than specifying both “ale” and “beer” (lager). Beer was still beer, for the most part, and in truth, families were happy to serve what they could get, parched as they were for the official stuff for half a generation.

But it was all about the food, anyway.

Beer, any kind, is firmly placed as companion for cold food of a simple, vigorous nature. The idea to pair different beers with courses for a normal dinner is far in the future although, as I’ve written before, culinary writers had already proposed beer as suitable to accompany specific cooked dishes, porter with hot lobster in mid-1800s Ireland, say.

It’s not really in fashion today, all that wurst, cheese, salty herring, dark sour bread, pickles, cole slaw, with beer, but in truth the combination is as good as ever. Families probably still serve beer much like Frederick advised but to find it this way, even at brunch, in the modern urban restaurant, is probably a rarity unless in beer heartlands such as Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, maybe the Netherlands.*

Let’s organise a 1933 American “beer buffet”. For beer, we would use good blonde lager, good dark lager, still popular in the Thirties in the U.S., a cream ale, a porter or stout, an import or two such as an English pale ale or German seasonal type. Not so bad, eh?

A sample from her piece:

Now that beer is again legal, many a hostess is desirous to know how to serve it, what to serve with it, and the new tech­nique and etiquette of beer, which is far removed from the swinging door of the gas-jet age. Any light lunch may use beer as an accompanying drink, but hearty or simple, the foods served with the frothing glass are masculine in character. They are also salty, thirst-provoking and simple snacks, but it is a good rule to have plenty of them.

Strong colors are much at home on the beer-party table. Cloths or linens with bright gay stripes or checks in red, blue or green are the most suitable back­
ground for the tall tankards and mugs of the beer-service. Glass­ware may be equally bright red, blue or amber shades.

On a round table, especially a round barrel table, two narrow runners of crash toweling, placed crosswise, are good-looking. The accessories used with beer may be of pottery, copper or wood, but in every case they are of sturdy design, with serviceable base and stout handles. Pottery plates and mugs often have cartoon designs after the manner of the dear old Munchen and Heidel­berg days.

Beer has at least brought back the almost vanished taste for foods which are sour, sharp, spicy and bitter. We have perhaps gone “whipped cream and ice cream-sodaish” for just too long! Certainly the best foods to serve with this drink are sour, pickled smoke [sic] relishes and appetizers, or salted breads and crackers or the strong-flavored cheeses. Swiss cheese, Liederkranz, Gorgonzola and Cheddar cheese are pre­ferred choices, while Dill pickles, Chow-chow, Chutney, pickled beets and small white pickled onions take an important place on the beer party table. Breads are dark: pumpernickel, rye, rye crisps, Swedish health bread. All are together again with beer, while the meats used are also of the smoked or heavier types such as ham and the whole long list of sausages, head cheese, etc.

Note re images: the quotation above is from the newspaper article linked in the text, another from the excellent Fulton History archives. The buffet image is from Pexels at this source. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Exception should probably be made for the charcuterie plate of the modern beer bar and brew pub: this is a descendant of the type of style Frederick described.

 

Zett’s Brewery in Syracuse, NY Makes a Final bow

A series of press stories out of Syracuse, NY between 1932 and 1937 tells the story how one venerable pre-Prohibition brewery, Zett’s, returned to the market with a splash only to flounder within a year of start-up.

How this could happen for a brewery with such promise is hard to understand. True, most of the local heroes that returned to business in the 1930s left the scene within a decade or two. Haberle-Congress lasted longest, until 1962.

But to last only a year, how could that happen? Zett’s was founded in 1855 or 1858 (accounts vary) by Xavier Zett, a German immigrant. His great-grandson George Zett 3rd, a trained brewer, was part of a consortium formed to bring the brewery back in 1933.

Louis Wehle of the newly-revived Genesee Brewery in Rochester, NY played both an investment and managerial role in the new Zett’s, and was President and a director. George Zett 3rd was a senior officer, and other prominent businessmen were involved in management and stock ownership, with Wehle/Genesee having a controlling interest.

Their investment funded an impressive upgrade of the historic brewery and what seemed an effective advertising campaign.

Yet, by 1935 Zett’s Brewery was in federal bankruptcy proceedings. In the wake of the financial difficulty, Genesee made a further investment to permit operations to continue, the board was reorganized to afford a greater involvement by Syracusans, and the brewery name was changed to Syracuse Brewery Inc. Beers continued to issue, one, Dickens Ale, had the inscription “Genesee” over that name.

In late 1937 Syracuse Brewery Inc. was shut down but this news story states it was purchased, on terms, by a John W. Harrison, treasurer of the Syracuse Brewery Inc. A hand-drawn spreadsheet in a Facebook page on historic Syracuse breweries, Beer in the Salt City, suggests the brewery operated for two years, to 1939, but this is unclear.

After that, there is nothing. Today, at the corner of Court and Lodi, only a small rump in brick remains where a fine complex prospered.

The ad pictured above, of June 18, 1933, is from the newspaper archive of the Fulton History website, as the other news stories linked herein. It described carefully a number of steps in mashing, brewing, and fermenting the first batch of Zett’s Sparkling Ale for a presumed rapt public.

There seems an intermittent tradition in Central New York to describe technics of brewing in newspaper advertising. We have also seen instances, both in Utica, in 1907-’08, and the 1960s.

Nothing less than Kent English hops, perhaps the finest in the world, were used to dry-hop Zett’s ale.

Fermentation was started in a large tank and finished in small, wood fermenters that look like the old English pontoons.

The beer was aged one month, less time, the ad noted (perhaps inadvisedly) than for lager beer.

Advertisements that year congratulated Zett’s on its achievement in returning to market, placed by suppliers or contractors that had worked on the refurbishment.

Zett’s had everything going for it. To be sure, it had competition. Bartels, Moore & Quinn, Haberle-Congress were just some of them.

But there was room for all of them before 1920, why not now?

It is hard to answer this without doing an in-depth study of the economics of brewing in 1930s Central New York. For example, further west in the state, Wehle’s Genesee Brewery grew steadily from restoration in 1933.

On the other hand, it benefitted fron Wehle’s deep pockets, he had sold a bakery business for a fortune before re-entering brewing upon Repeal.

And while incipient national brands started to appear in regional New York, the market in 1930s Syracuse was still mostly local judging by a rare beer list in a period menu reproduced on the Facebook page mentioned.

Wehle was a talented businessman and brewer, but probably he could stretch himself only so far.

The 1930s too was the Depression era, not the best time to launch new businesses even in beverage alcohol.

Perhaps the local economy in Syracuse was structurally weaker than in the more high-tech Rochester (home notably of Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, Polaroid). To this day Syracuse aka Salt City seems less prosperous, more gritty than the Flower City, Rochester. The nicknames may tell the tale…

It seems as well Zett’s was a little late returning to brewing in the city. Moore & Quinn were first in April, 1933 but summer had already started before Zett’s finally marketed its first brew. Maybe first to the bar (!) retained the public’s affections.

Finally, and perhaps fatefully, Zett’s, which made many styles before 1920 including ale, porter, lager, and brown beer (the German Braun Bier), returned to market with an ale. Was something that resembled, perhaps, a fizzy Young’s Bitter the best thing to present to a post-flapper generation of American beer drinkers?

The other breweries in town made ales too, but many made lagers also. The most successful was Congress Beer of Haberle-Congress. Maybe Zett’s ale, with its floral English aroma, was too exotic for the local crowd. Yet, ale was clearly the plan from the beginning as the 1932 story linked in the fourth paragraph above states clearly that Zett’s was to be an ale brewery only.

This ad from July, 1934 shows that Zett’s finally introduced a pilsener beer, touting it to tavern-keepers with a description of its pedigree. If that was intended to save George Zett 3rd’s brewery, it didn’t work.

N.B. Congress Beer is returning to the Syracuse area this month, or in a manner of speaking as the beer is not quite a replica. See this story for details, from The Daily Orange. All to the good, certainly.

Note re image: the images above were obtained from the Fulton History newspaper archive as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Martens 10

This is a 10% ABV pilsener made by Martens, an eighth-generation, family-owned brewery in Bochult, Limburg on the northern edge of Belgium.

The lineage dates from 1758 and you can hear the interesting story (in English) in their website. The production is sizeable and not being an international giant, they enjoy a position, clearly well-earned, of favourite son in the country.

Of course, pilsener in normal strength range is the main seller. Martens specializes in different strengths for this category – not less than seven, from 3% to an amazing 16.2%, but the norm is the premium at 5.5% or one of the iterations a little lower.

A 5% version is available at LCBO, while The Beer Store carries the 10%, also called Extra Strong in some markets.

At least according to the label it’s malt, hops, and sugar (probably glucose). I like the clean, malty taste and absence of a corny tang or dry starchy finish I associate with corn or rice adjunct beers.

It’s surprisingly good, on the sweet side with alcohol showing of course but mineral, Noble hops operating in the background. The strong ethanol contributes to the taste and body in this case, as in a good vodka.

Normally I’d add sparkling water to cut it 50/50 but enjoyed a small glass on its own. It would make a good alternative to wine for dinner.

The brewery also makes a range of other beers including an India Pale Ale, an abbey style, and dry-hopped Sezoens.

 

 

 

 

 

Session #138: the Good in Wood

Jack Perdue at the Deep Beer blog has proposed the topic of wood use in brewing, under the title “The Good in Wood”, for this month’s The Session.

He has suggested a number of avenues to explore and encouraged participants to develop their own. One suggestion is the historical use of wood in brewing, a particular interest of mine.

On my site, I must have a dozen posts exploring this topic in considerable detail including this post,“From Baltic Wood to Bourbon Wood”. It details obscure but significant and revealing history concerning Innis & Gunn’s adoption of barrel aging.

See also my “Memory of Memel” post linked at the end of the post mentioned.

My examination amply satisfied me that American oak, which is the predominant form of wood available for aging beer today, was generally not used in British and European brewing in the 1800s and part of the 1900s. The reason is, particular flavours it imparted to the beer were disliked.

There was a limited exception for porter and stout, mostly in Ireland, as Guinness and other porter-brewers there liked the sturdy quality of American wood and felt (evidently) the tastes imparted to the beer were not objectionable.

The general practice not to use American oak, often called Quebec or New Orleans oak c.1900, applied not just in British brewing but for lager and other brewing on the Continent.

In contrast, Americans would have used their own oak in the past, but the casks were sedulously lined, with brewers’ pitch or similar, to preclude the Chardonnay- or bourbon-like, coconut/vanillin tastes entering the beer. In my experience, those tastes are usually found in today’s barrel-aged beers, irrespective whether the barrel is new oak, toasted, charred, first-fill or other bourbon wood, rum, malt whisky, etc.

Hence, while many consider the use, say, of bourbon barrels in brewing (all made from Arkansas, Missouri, or other American oak) a reflection of old brewing tradition and artisan practices, the link is rather tenuous, imo. It doesn’t mean the taste results enjoyed by so many are improper, after all taste is relative, but I feel it is important to appreciate the history.

Really in many ways the widespread adoption of the American oak barrel for storing or conditioning beer, and ditto for mashing or fermentation, is a counterpart to the importance Cascade and other New World hops acquired after early craft brewers started using them in the 1970s. A template or new road was created, and the same thing is happening with wood vessel use in brewing.

Now, exceptions to a rule will always be found. It seems Belgium, with its eclectic brewing approach, took whatever casks or hogsheads it could get for West Flanders red ale and the lambic family, in particular.

Even for some old vessels some of this was American wood as such oak has been used in Spain, say, for sherry butts for a long time, and probably in some brandy production in Europe as well – but not for Cognac, or Armagnac.

But this is a limited or scattered exception, involving too beer with often assertive tastes of lactic or other acids and Brettanomyces…

When it comes to lager of any kind, pale ale, IPA, brown ale, strong ale, and these families generally, personally I do not like the tastes imparted by American wood, finding myself in tune with the old learning.

It extends for me to porter and stout even as I recognize the Irish brewers didn’t mind the American wood. In this respect I believe Whitbread and the other London porter-brewers who continued in their heyday to use Baltic Memel wood or other European oak to hold their porter, had the superior technique.

One other thing that concerns me about prolonged barrel aging – in any wood, for this purpose – is the risk of oxidation. I don’t think it helps any beer, frankly.

I emphasize these are personal views. I recognize many people enjoy the flavours I’m referring to. If there is a market for it, more powers to the brewers who will satisfy it.

The Great British-American Beer (Mini) Festival, 1937

In 1937, exactly 60 years after the Gambrinus Verein, a group of mostly lager brewers in New York, held a memorable public tasting reported in our post yesterday, another tasting was held in the same city, also blind or semi-blind perhaps.

This was a much smaller affair and restricted to a nub of acting royalty in town including luminaries such as Gloria Swanson, Noel Coward, and John Gielgud.

Here’s how it happened: British actress Evelyn Laye “tendered”, in swish Thirties lingo, a cocktail party for her theatrical friends. This certainly would have been on Fifth Avenue or the Upper East Side, not the Lower East Side, the crowded German-flavoured district that hosted the earlier, Teutonic tasting.

You’ve seen cocktail parties in 1930s black and white screwball comedies or other films, haven’t you? The actors holding stemmed glasses and delivering witticisms, all dressed to the nines? That’s what the scene was.

Gielgud or someone, you can bet it was after a Dry Martini or two, complained they couldn’t get proper English beer in Manhattan. Yet another sly dig by clannish Britishers on the ingenuous, open-hearted America, will it ever end?!

In truth, as we saw recently, even the Waldorf’s bar then only managed to offer Bass Ale and Allsopp’s Pale Ale. So there was something to the plaint, as the typical corner grocery would have carried mainly domestic (New York-area, then) brands.

Only Gloria Swanson was available to defend the Stars and Stripes in the form of Yankee beers, as the party assembled were all U.K.-raised except for her. Perhaps it was she, then, who suggested a blind taste-off, with one object: can you tell me at least which is your fine English ale and which our lowly American produce?

A servant was sent to scour Murray Hill or wherever they were for some representative brands, and off they were.

Not a single Brit could tell their own beer! In fact, Swanson won the contest, only she knew the difference. There is a reason in my view why she was able to do so, beyond sheer chance that is, see below, but first hear how Leonard Lyons told it in his syndicated column that year in the New York Post:*

Evelyn Laye tendered a cocktail party the other afternoon. Among the invited were Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, John Gielgud, Brian Aherne and Gloria Swanson. The Britishers complained of the difficulty in obtaining British beer here – and so they conducted a blindfold beer-test to determine how many of those present could distinguish between British and domestic beer.  … The sole winner able to recognize British beer was Miss Swanson – the lone American present.

Hah! Trumped at their own game, as it were. Now, how could Swanson be so good at this? Was it just, um, blind luck?

It turns out that biographies of Swanson report, not that she was a beer sage, although she may have been, but certainly a health food enthusiast. So interested was she in food and taste that she was vegetarian from an early age, and famous for carrying her lunch to work in a paper bag.

A person with that level of interest in what she ate and drank could be taken to have a more acute/sensitive palate than the typical person.

As well though, U.S. beer then was sweeter and more bitter than the mass-market norm today. True, it had corn or rice adjunct by then, but so did British beer, or the sugar that often today is still used in much production.

Further, some British beer then used American hops and barley, in part. Some American beer was dry- or late-hopped with English varieties.

In this light, and tasting blind, it’s plausible even the New York lagers seemed similar to the British beers. But Swanson knew the difference with her extra-sensitive palate.

Of course in 2018 it’s even harder to do since a lot of pale ale and IPA is made the same way, from similar ingredients, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Can’t you picture it though, Noel Coward pouting and complaining that export British beer doesn’t taste like it does at home, so the result was not fair? (Actually he would have been right about that, but never mind).

Net-net, Gloria Swanson bested the Brits at their own game. It wasn’t to be the last time in the Gambrinal world.

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*To bring up the 1937 article search e.g., “Gielgud Swanson beer”.

The Great Beer Festival of 1877

Next week the Great British Beer Festival opens in London and Beer et seq will be there, starting with the trade session on Tuesday.

A series of beers will be awarded gold, silver, and bronze prizes in a long series of preliminary voting and regional heats that culminates in final voting during the annual festival. Only one beer can win Champion Beer of Britain, and breaths will be bated to see who gets the palm, and in what category (e.g., a specialty beer, vanilla-flavoured, won a couple of years ago).

Beers have been tasted and judged in formal and less formal settings probably since the first brews of Egyptians and Mesopotamians thousands of years ago.

In the 1800s beers were judged often in international exhibitions, some of which I’ve discussed earlier, and this continued through the 20th century and still takes place.

But in New York in 1877 a great beer festival was organized, not by consumers as in the CAMRA case, but by brewers and saloon-keepers to taste and judge the nation’s best beers. Still, in many ways it was analogous to CAMRA’s great festival approaching.

Indeed some elements seem to have exceeded today’s affair, especially the processional tour by a richly-costumed King Gambrinus and retinue that announced the opening of the event.

It was held at 28-30 Avenue A, East Village, a German social centre at the time. Today, the building is a sports club in the ever-gentrifying Alphabet City.

Rather than describe the event here, read two key period accounts and you will know everything apparently reported at the time. The first, here, is a news report of July 17, 1877 in the New York Herald. The second, from July 20, 1877 in New York’s The Sun, announced the results of the votes.

It seems no one winner was announced but rather three breweries shared the honours, one was Joseph Kuntz who operated from the 1860s-1920 in the Bronx, NY. A raft of also-rans was also named for second prizes. Many of the names are remembered today, e.g., Eichler, Schaefer, Peter Doelger.

Each of the three, first-prize breweries probably got highest score for one of the three criteria, taste, colour, condition.

Some reputed brewers did not participate, New York’s well-known Ehrets was one. It seemed mostly a lager affair as well, hence the likely reason for the absence of reputed names such as Ballantine for its ales. (Ballantine did not brew lager until about 1910).

Brewers participated from as far afield as Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

All barrels were supposed to be disguised by canvas wraps. 25 cents entitled the public to six glasses of beer and one voting slip in which preference was indicated for three criteria: colour, taste, and condition.

You could buy as many tickets as you liked. One man bought eleven dollars worth! Given reports of some consumption then, e.g. 30 glasses a day or more, this is not fanciful, and he probably bought beer for a female or other companion.

The idea not to limit votes seems to have opened the door to manipulation although if everything was truly tasted blind the results should have been fair.

The real risk, as noted in The Sun’s report, was brewers or their friends pumping the votes for what they knew in truth as their beer. In other words, a way was found, some alleged, to rig the results.

Be that as it may, all clearly had a raucous time including the many women who participated. The German ethos of family drinking probably encouraged female attendance, but perhaps the urban, democratizing environment of the big city had something to do with it, too.

The fact that the vote slips were in German shows how ethnic lager beer still was in New York as late as 1877.

The building shown below, at 28-30 Avenue A, Manhattan, is the same structure in which the tasting was held but was modified after a fire c.1960. It was originally five stories and the original facade was replaced for the present use and previous one, a furniture store.

We should do a festival the same way today. I volunteer for King Gambrinus’ role.

 

Hart Brewing Recipe Article Just Published

Recently I wrote an essay, The Harts of Quebec and Their Early Brewing Recipe, which the Culinary Historians of Canada have now published in their August, 2018 Newsletter.

It appears as Part Six of the Newsletter, here.

The article is based on blog posts I authored here two years ago but gathers the material, with some new information, in a single, sequential narrative. In effect it is a new piece of writing.

The article:

  • recounts how I located the Hart Brewery’s c.1800 ale-brewing recipe in Quebec government archives
  • discusses the recipe and my interpretation of it
  • reviews the re-brewing of the beer by a brewpub in Montreal in association with a local museum
  • discusses Hart family history with some updates to the present day

A special thanks to the Culinary Historians of Canada for having published the piece.

I am very glad to have joined this excellent group, whose events I have started to attend. Its well-written and edited newsletters describe a plethora of Ontario, Canadian, and international food events of good interest to anyone interested in food and history.

The newsletters also contain period recipes, some recreated by the membership, reviews of new cookbooks and other works on food, and guest articles by the members.

The group is composed of enthusiasts from diverse walks of life who share an interest in the culinary and the historical. Included among the broad membership are food writers, journalists, academics, bloggers, and restaurant and food industry professionals.

 

 

 

Beer Advertising: the Show and Tell School

In 1907-1908 Oneida Brewing Co. in Utica, NY published a series of ads so innovative one rarely or never sees the like today.

Oneida Brewing had roots in George Ralph’s brewery established in Utica in 1832. The business, re-named Oneida Brewing Co. in the 1880s, endured until Prohibition. A brewery under the same name was restored after Repeal and lasted until 1942. For a basic timeline see Tavern Trove, here.

Brewers, of whatever scale of operation, rarely go into detail when describing their processes to the public. Some have always spoken of the hops they use, how traditional/old-fashioned their beer is, or, in an earlier period, how modern, but rarely advertise details of production processes.

In part this is to retain trade and proprietary know-how. It’s also assumed the public “doesn’t want to know”, an extreme example is the sloganeering of mass-market products which is essentially meaningless (“go for the gusto”, etc.)

Oneida Brewing went counter to this trend in a remarkable four-part series in upstate New York newspapers that described its processes, some in great detail. The articles were entitled, “Old Tyme and Modern Methods of Brewing Oneida Ale”.

The series actually comprises five parts but the fifth is simply a comparative illustration, of a rustic tavern vs. a contemporary “palatial” hotel bar in New York City.

The main parts comprise, first, mashing and boiling; second, cooling; third, fermentation; and fourth, racking/storage/aging/filtration.

The links are to New York newspapers that carried the ads from the newspaper archive of Thomas Tryniski’s excellent Fulton History website, here.

There are many details of interest in the pieces, examples include sources of the hops used (Oneida County, NY and Washington State), the fact that fermented beer formerly was cooled with “swimmers”, containers of ice floating on the beer; comparative aging regimens (modern beer was aged longer); filtration by forcing the beer through paper sheets, still used by some breweries today, cold-aging, long boiling (three hours), and much else.

It appears Oneida ale was all-malt as there is no reference to malt adjuncts or cooking of raw grains. Only ale is mentioned, and by our researches lager was not brewed by the company until about 1914.

I found ads for Oneida India Pale Ale until about 1901 but this branding does not appear in the series mentioned. We suspect this form of ale was considered by 1907 old-fashioned. Oneida Ale, as such, in 1907-1908 was bright, filtered of any deposit of yeast, and (in part) cold-aged with industrial refrigeration. It was thus the new-style sparkling, or lagered ale, to use our modern terminology.

In contrast, in 1910 the Arnold brewery in Ogdensburg, NY was still advertising that its ale was not filtered, artificially carbonated, or processed with refrigeration. Oneida sought to show that its beer was superior by dint of modern methods and technology; Arnold argued the contrary, in a way that resonates with our modern craft world.

Which beer was better? I can’t say without having tasted them, but would like to think each had their merits…

A theme recurrent in the Oneida ads is purity, in particular that its beer was less exposed to ambient air than in “Old Tyme” methods, with the implication that infection and contamination were minimized and consistency, boosted.

In contrast, Arnold argued that its ale was more natural and the way the éminence grise of English ale, Bass ale and similar brands, were made. In truth, even in the U.K. brewers were moving away from Arnold-style bottle-conditioning in favour of the dinner or sparkling ale method – the same Oneida vaunted – but if Arnold knew that, it didn’t say.

This new type of ale was becoming popular as an alternative to various forms of old-fashioned stock, still, musty, and old ale. From 1903 Molson Export Ale similarly showcased the new type of sparkling ale in Canada.

Oneida’s ads have an earnest quality yet a purposeful tone that escapes being called naive. The company clearly believed in advertising and wanted to reach customers and prospects in a novel way. It also advertised in conventional ways in the upstate press, showing pictures of its product with a brief description.

In upstate and Central New York, even still in Manhattan, ale and porter had a sale, a heritage of early British and Dutch incomers. Some of the names were Arnold, Ballantine, Evans, Greenway, Hinchcliffe, West End Brewing in Utica itself (now Matt’s Brewing), and what is now Genesee Brewing in Rochester.

Even after 1933 top-fermented beers came back although by then almost always well-carbonated, chilled, deposit-free. Lager had made great strides by 1914 but ale was still lucrative and the remaining ale and porter brewers vied to obtain their share of the market.

In Teddy Roosevelt’s America Oneida Brewing hit on a technique modern brewers might reflect on. Educate the consumer.

Note re image: the images above were obtained from the news sources identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images sed for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.