Guinness of My Dreams

Ginny With the Light Brown Foam

I have discussed Guinness a number of times from different standpoints. It was a “real ale”, or naturally conditioned in the barrel, in Ireland until the 1960s. Bottled Guinness too was a live, natural drink in Ireland, also England, until some 30 years later.

Exported Guinness both draft and in bottle, except to England for the bottled, was subjected to modern processes of filtration and pasteurization at different points from the 1930s.

But in 1900, all Guinness anywhere was unfiltered and unpasteurized, thus “real”.

It is always interesting to get period assessments of its quality. One from the 1800s speaks of a “brisk, sub-acid” quality. One from about 1920 speaks of it as a complex black wine again with a touch of lactic flavour. These latter two were recorded in England and probably for the bottled type.

A person with some experience of beer and international travel reported on Guinness, and also Bass pale ale, in 1903 in a Catholic newspaper in Rochester, NY:


And if interested in processes of manufacture the visitor would do well to pay a visit to the famous Guinness’ Brewery, where he would see enough of stout to satisfy him for the rest of his natural life. There is no stinting of ” sample glasses” as one does the round of the immense plant, but it is well to be on one’s guard about these, or disaster may attend the footsteps on reaching the outer air. The stout supplied within the brewery is a very different concoction to that which crosses the seas, either to England or this country. It may be only a detail, but I noticed the collar of foam on it to be invariably white, instead of a dirty brown, as is often noticed in the case of imported bottled stout. Speaking of bottled stout I am reminded of the saying that Englishmen are to be tracked round the world by the heaps of Guinness’ stout, and Bass’ beer bottles left here and there on their trail. Stout is a favorite drink both in Great Britain and Ireland, especially at the midday lunch and the late supper. Wonderful nutritive powers are attributed to it by its devotees, and there can be little doubt that the most forbidding thing about it is its color. Like Bass’ ale it never tastes so good as in the place in which it is brewed and before it is aerated in bottles. In connection with beverages of an alcoholic kind, if one must take them, I have noticed it to be advisable to take the sort most popular in the country you happen to be in at the time. It will be generally found best suited to the climate. Lager beer is just as unpalatable to the English or Irish taste, as English beer or ale is to the American. It is astonishing bow a short residence in a new country will alter the tastes, both in food and drinks.

This beer fan noticed the different foam colour in domestic and export stout. I’d guess the exported version he was familiar with used some amber malt, whereas stout drunk in Dublin however termed (the names changed over time), used just pale and black malt. (Those who want more details should consult David Hughes’ 2006 history of bottled Guinness).

My sense even today is, porter and stout which use some form of caramel malt can acquire the brown tint when foaming up. I could be wrong and if Doug Warren or another brewer reading knows, please comment.

The 1903 writer’s sense that Bass was better before being “aerated” (carbonated) is rather jolting considering the world reputation bottled Bass had at the time. In effect, we are being told draught Bass was better. Or maybe it’s not such a surprise, as cask-conditioned beer would have been less gassy, probably less acid and perhaps less afflicted with the Brettanonyces (wild yeast) flavour.

But net net we are being told Guinness tasted best at the brewery. Is that a surprise? It’s an adage repeated untold times today, even when all Guinness is well-filtered and pasteurized. Is it right? I can’t say, as I’ve never been to Ireland except once in Dublin airport on a layover. I did have a Guinness there, it was iced and tasted exactly as here, but that wasn’t a fair trial I think.

I’ll be in Paris soon and plan to look for Guinness Special Export Stout there. That was a great drink 30 years ago, but the last time I had it, about seven years ago, it was disappointing, tasting much like regular Guinness Extra Stout but stronger. Maybe that was a one-off or my taste buds were off, I’ll try again.

Rather than organize anything elaborate in the matter of beer on this trip, I’ll just take it as it goes, see what I run into. There will be one visit to Sous Bock, off Rue St. Honoré as I recall as it specializes in French beers, but that’s it for the organized part (and looking for that Guinn-esse).

I did all the big cerevisical trips years ago, one with Michael Jackson, a week in Lille and environs. It was fun, especially in the Nord, but now I get as much enjoyment when running into a fresh glass of Pelforth Brune, or finding that Guinness, say. On verra.

P.S. The Catholic Journal’s writer was wrong, à la longue, about lager, it’s the staple drink today in Ireland and England. And conversely, ale and porter have a good market again in America albeit still a minority of sales. It’s not just residence, today, which forms habits, it’s conscious choices resulting from a fulsome consumer society. International commerce also has a certain amount to say about what people will drink. Still, some things don’t change, and he had his finger on some of them.


“The Story of Alcohol”, Finis

With the 40th instalment of The Story of Alcohol, printed in the Bridgeport Times, CT, August 29, 1919, the series of some 25,000 words ends. We reach the 18th century in England where it is explained the temperance movement started to gain a permanent footing, having been intermittent and fleeting in the past (while always still a feature of drink in society).

The satirist and cartoonist, William Hogarth, is mentioned as an influence in this respect. He is profiled not as a decided opponent of all drink, and of course his mirthy Beer Street is proof he supported use of beer, but because he opposed intemperate drinking and the societal degradation that followed. Of course his famed Gin Lane is the proof.

The previous 20 entries cover a large range of countries, Persia, France and England (both from early eras to near-modern times), Russia, Finland, Denmark, India, and Japan are the main ones. The Finnish discussion is interesting for the numerous folk drinks discussed, not just sahti, the juniper-flavoured drink known today as a rural alternate to beer.

The biblical controversy involving wine is reviewed. What did oinos mean exactly, or the salving of wounds with wine and oil and counsel to use a little wine for the stomach? The writer does not try to whitewash this in a modern Prohibitionist framework. It is acknowledged the Bible countenances use of wine in some instances.

(Reading between the lines, the writer seems to have approved of a prohibition that would allow beer and wine but not hard liquor. This was a mid-course on the alcohol question, indeed some brewers argued for it as I’ve written earlier. The writer notes too, in connection with Russia, that wine or beer-like beverage can be easily made at home from a wide variety of fruits and cereal starches. Long before vodka took hold in Russia, the peasantry had mastered making home alcohol of this kind. In other words, you can’t really ban all alcohol…).

The scope here doesn’t permit a summary of each article, anyway I have given you the means to find them and you can read them for yourself. I will say I liked the Samuel Pepys article, and the discussion of English fetes and fairs such as Southwark Fair. When you read this background, the modern images of provincial high street excesses, or at the annual social events the Daily Mail likes to profile, are no surprise. All this has a long history. The morning drink, which the Americans took to in the south, also has a long English heritage.

The English seem to have been fond of heavy drinking since early times with the exception of Cromwell’s era and also when Quakerism had influence. Had the series covered the 19th century (see below) it may have noted too where many Presbyterians and Baptists ensured a responsible, or no, use of alcohol.

Looking back from 2017, one can add the mid-1900s as an era of relative sobriety. The world wars and 1930s economic privation had something to do with this. Also, there was a kind of knock-on effect from prohibition, total or partial, where it took root elsewhere. One needn’t look to America as the example, northern Europe had legislated various forms starting from the later 1800s.

Some of the articles have typos and misplaced or missing lines. Whether this was typical of the Bridgeport Times I can’t say. Perhaps given the subject matter the editor didn’t feel it necessary to be punctilious, showing a kind of back-of-hand. It’s hard to say again.

The series omits all discussion of alcohol in America, however, many statements make it clear the writer was American, at one point he refers to hard cider in New England, for example. It seems odd America was omitted in the series since the article appeared in an American newspaper on the eve of American-legislated prohibition. Perhaps the series carried on but it was felt 40 instalments were enough. It was printed too over the summer, the slow season in journalism. Articles dealing with Kentucky whiskey, cocktails, Benjamin Rush, temperance societies, and Carrie Nation perhaps were felt not apt to start off September. (You know the old saloon sign: “We serve all nations but Carrie’s”).

Maybe dealing with drink in America, even in the previous two centuries, was felt too close to home. Still, the 40 articles are pregnant with implications for the prohibition case in 1919.

The missing instalment by the way dealt with Xeres receiving (before Christ) a cup of wine from Gyptis, daughter of Nann. In a word, this relates mythically to the founding of Marseilles, originally a Phoenician colony. It’s an interesting tale but the online environment permits one to glean the details in an instant.

And so you have The Story of Alcohol. The memorial tone foretold an era forever to end in January, 1920, the weighty but pondered decision of an enlightened and progressive America. Except, alcohol didn’t end. Far from it.

Alcohol control was the great crusade from 1850-1920. Many of the objects intended to be secured were justified. Contrary to myth, Prohibition improved the public health, e.g., cirrhosis rates fell as did admissions to asylums. But the age-old liking for liquor could not be stemmed by the motley of forces which sought its extirpation: suffragettes, many Protestant churches, many doctors, many businessmen.

Liquor came back in 1933 and today we have, in the beer arena which is our special province, many odd-sounding drinks to attract the attention of the cognoscenti. Some are flavoured with salt, vinegar, and herbs. Just like thousands of years ago in Greece and Rome.




“The Story of Alcohol”, Cont’d.

Alcohol Viewed Historically on Prohibition’s Eve

Paging through the second quarter of the 40 instalments of the The Story of Alcohol, one finds many entertaining anecdotes and asides. It’s a cook’s tour of the world’s alcohol regions, a survey of impressive scope which, as all history should, starts at the beginning.

The theme that alcohol’s dangers were always apparent, but more for olden times in retrospect, is maintained but not over-emphasized. The primary purpose seems memorial, to create a sort of verbal museum for a cultural institution finally determined as retrograde and damaging, but also to entertain.

In the Greece discussion, the point is made that alcohol did in a young Alexander the Great, and that but for his untimely passing he might have conquered Rome with the result Western history would have been completely altered.

The Legions of Roman Drinkers

Moving on to Rome, the series notes that Roman festivals and high-caste parties were often very intemperate. Women started to drink, previously forbidden them, and lower orders too, partly a result of alcohol becoming cheaper and more widely available. The other reason was the proverbial “degeneracy” which afflicted Rome in its later phase. These are veiled references to the year of writing, 1919, surely.

In order to ensure large quantities of wine would be consumed at fests, men took hemlock, a poison, because alcohol is a known antidote.

Horace lauded the rare and costly Chian wine, and was one of the first gastronomic wine writers, describing different qualities and tastes. This marked off Rome from the Greeks who were not particularly connoisseurs. Pliny too was a maven of wine, giving recipes for compounds and other formulations. For a certain hydromel (mead) he counselled using rain water that had stood five years. Nero’s era comes in for derision: drunkenness gets worse, slaves are made to drink –  so they won’t seem superior to their masters – funny speeches are given, etc. A prized drink of this era was made from honey, vinegar, sea water, rain water. 

The most expensive drink in history, at least to 1919, was gotten down by Cleopatra. She immersed a rare pearl in vinegar, let it dissolve, and then down the hatch. Contrary to myth, booze did in Marc Antony, not the alluring Cleo.

As Alaric and the Goths swept in from the north, beer drinking became more known, beer made from “barley and wheat”. It was probably like some beer today. The conquerers were fully capable of appreciating Roman wine vintages though and snapped them up on their raids. The series makes the point, which I’ve read elsewhere, that some beer was always available in Rome but had a relatively small market. A beer from cereals had to be made, and was, wherever cereal agriculture existed but tastes inclined Rome at any rate to products of the vine. Perhaps too the impossibility to keep beer in a hot climate limited its use as a comestible (something only really changed with the arrival of refrigeration later in the 1800s).

The Immortals of the Wine Cup

The part about China is interesting. Its rice wine, still made, is considered the model for the rice-based ferments of Korea and Japan. Li Po, the master poet famed for his addiction to alcohol, is given a close profile:

The most notable Chinese tippler was probably Li Po, who lived from 705 to 762, and is sometimes regarded as the greatest poet that China has produced. He was 37 years of age when he was first presented to the Emperor and he made such an impression that the ruler prepared with his own hands a bowl of soup for the poet. Soup unfortunately was not Li Po’s favorite beverage. He greatly preferred wine and contemporary accounts say that he was seldom sober and that he wrote most of his poetry while intoxicated. On one occasion, when messengers were sent out by the Emperor to find him, he was lying face down in the street. Cold water was mopped over him and he was finally led into the royal presence. Although he could hardly stand, his genius did not fail him….

[His verses] were so much liked by the Emperor that he made Li Po a high court official and some of the mandarins were ordered to attend on him and remove his boots when he desired this done. This naturally stirred up many feuds in the court and Li Po was finally compelled to seek elsewhere for a pleasanter place in which to live. With some other slaves to wine, he formed a drinking club which was called “The Eight Immortals of the Wine-cup.”

He met his death in a novel manner. One night while intoxicated, he leaned over the edge of a boat in a vain attempt to embrace the reflection of the moon in the water. He lost his balance and was drowned.

An amusing but also cautionary tale, as the historical conspectus in general…

[A last part follows, here].






“The Story of Alcohol”

The Bridgeport Times of Bridgeport, CT featured an illustrated series called “The Story of Alcohol” between July 15 and the end of August, 1919. It comprised nominally 40 instalments (39 appeared as one was duplicated and one missing), an astonishing 24,000 words or so in total.

National Prohibition was slated to enter into force in January, 1920, having been approved in January, 1919 by the passage of the 18th Amendment. Indeed, a good part of Connecticut was already liquor-free under “no-licence” election. Why on earth would a newspaper do a lavish spread on the history of beverage alcohol? The series starts with alcohol in ancient times, bringing it to more recent periods and first stirrings of the prohibition sentiment.

There is a retrospective or memorial feel to the articles. Now that the prospect of alcohol disappearing from social life was patent, ruminative minds were thinking about a weighty legacy being disavowed in toto by a resolute country, forever. The paper called the changes “epochal”. It used the fundamental nature of the change as a pretext to survey man’s entire history of using and abusing alcohol. In the words of the opening, July 15 instalment:

In a good many ways the approach of the day when prohibition is to be enforced throughout the United States is one of the epochal events of history. Other things than alcohol have been put under the ban of law – gambling, slavery and numerous others that have seemed harmful to the progress of mankind. But none of them have been so universal as alcohol nor has any one of them been traced so far back into the dimmest period of human history. So it seems now the timeliest of timely subjects for illustration in this space.

In fact, I suspect there was more than a tinge of regret in the minds of the (anonymous) writer, and the editor. The series was perhaps a kind of guilt trip, a working out of psychic conflicts raised by an unprecedented and audacious attempt to re-engineer society.

The articles read as engaging popular history, stuff written for educated or thinking people by an expert, almost certainly an academic. The tone is even, friendly, and focuses on specific historical figures, from Noah to the Greek warrior Chares to Socrates. Does that remind you of anyone? Does the name Will Durant come to mind? It is an index of the mantra that life is change that few if any reading will know the name. Durant was a long-lived historian, famous for his The Story of Civilization and many other books.

(It is interesting to note he was of French-Canadian ancestry, part of a group which transplanted to New England before WW I to seek better opportunities. Numerous accomplished Americans have 100% or partial Franco-New England ethnicity including Will Durant, writer Jack Kerouac, John C. Garand (designer of the M1 Garand rifle), author Paul Theroux, and actor Matt LeBlanc).

I think Durant may have authored the Story of Alcohol series, or maybe his young wife and frequent co-author, Ariel, did albeit I could find no source to confirm it or even tending in that direction.

Durant had published numerous articles on history and philosophy by 1919 and had taught in various schools. He had worked earlier as a reporter in New York and would have had contacts in the press world.

The anonymity may have been requested by the newspaper as part of the compensation arrangement, or perhaps Durant, or whomever wrote it if it wasn’t he, requested it so his teaching career would not be affected. Showing an undue interest in alcohol, even an academic one, would not have been viewed robustly in the lead-up to National Prohibition particularly for a teacher.

The first instalments deal with alcohol in Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Palestine, Greece, and Rome. There are many good stories and insights. The Greeks for example almost never drank wine undiluted. On the other hand, they drank large amounts of it and drunkeness was a feature of some parts of social life, especially the symposium. The Greeks didn’t seem to care much for connoisseurship, and would flavour their wine with a wide range of things, from cheese to wormwood.

The Romans were more conscious of different qualities of wine, but they too in drinking parties and other contexts drank large amounts.

Excess drinking was condemned in some quarters, mythology records that when Bacchus toured lands to impart wine-making skills, some kings sent him away and were later punished for this.

The message continually is that wine and beer had mixed blessings since the potential for abuse was always there. A skein of the series is that humankind was slowly realizing that alcohol at bottom was an evil to be controlled and ultimately abolished. One might think thousands of years was rather an extended time for even a prolonged experiment, but the series later suggests the onset and perfection of distilled spirits was an important factor to decide if alcohol prohibition should apply.

To my knowledge, these articles were never printed in another newspaper or other source.*

[A second part follows, here, and a third, here].


*Subsequently we found a further (earlier) publication, in the San Francisco Chronicle, see here. 



Thoughts on Jim Koch`s (Sam Adams) Recent Article

Jim Koch, major domo of Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams beer, hard cider and other beverage alcohol, wrote an article in the New York Times which elicited a lot of comment. Blogger Bryan Roth made some interesting arguments in particular, here.

Regarding Koch’s comments that anti-trust enforcement viz. large U.S. brewers is lagging, he seems to raise valid questions especially for certain wholesaling practices and acquisitions of craft brewers.

On pricing, he suggested prices have risen in the macro market unreasonably following certain international mergers and takeovers. Even if so, if prices come closer to craft levels, isn’t that an incentive for consumers to buy more craft? Craft beer is more expensive than macro adjunct lager anyway, so I don’t follow that part of the argument.

The question of who is behind a craft-looking label elicits sympathy in most craft circles but is probably not an easy fix. First, there is the multi-jurisdictional nature of the market. Second, identifying ultimate control is not always easy and a one-size-fits-all solution may not exist. I’m not sure it’s practical or fair to require an ultimate-control disclosure for a beer label.

My view is, anyone who really wants to know can find out who owns, say, the Creemore brand. And if you don’t want to know, it’s down to the beer. The product IMO is primary, not the producer.

BBC is an influential pioneer in craft brewing and has made some good products. Assuming it wants to retain a focus on beer as against other types of alcohol, I believe it should focus more on the beer itself, the number of offerings, type, and especially quality.

I feel it could do much better with a trimmed and focused beer range. The affiliated Coney Island Brewery’s Mermaid Pilsner has tremendous potential that should be maximised. In simple gastronomical terms, it’s superior to Boston Lager – a better taste – indeed better than most lagers I’ve had almost anywhere. Nor is it “old hat” as a helles lager, even if that “matters”. The formulation contains malted rye, a novel element that gives the beer a certain something without creating a narrow, “connoisseur” profile.

I truly believe this beer could be what Budweiser was c. 1900, it is that good.

Sam Adams Boston Stock Ale is one of the best of its type anywhere, a stylish, flowery, English-style pale, but hard to find and seems to get little promotion. The Baltic porter of some years ago, Dark Depths (a Small Batch release), was superlative.

As for Rebel IPA: no doubt BBC sees it as a strong contender in the IPA wars but the initial formulation was just not great brewing. The company seemed to recognize that by reformulating the beer. I haven’t tried the current iteration which uses all-pale malt and a proprietary hop, hopefully it is a decided improvment – but the beer should have been a winner out of the gate.

The new Fresh As Helles Lager, flavoured with orange blossom, is just so-so. The Sam Adams seasonal beers always struck me as weak, I’d retire the series.

I’d focus on between five and seven beers and issue one-offs for market trends and the consumers always looking for a new flavour. The small batch series in other words should remain. The Jamaica Plain facility in Boston is a perfect incubator for such projects, but they should not detract from a strong focus on a small group of high quality beers.

Sierra Nevada and Anchor Brewing do well in the current market as old-established craft breweries. They didn’t expand their range until relatively late and in general have always released strong beers from a palate/gastronomy standpoint. BBC should return to its roots as its first few beers, especially Boston Lager, Stock Ale, and Doppelbock were top performers in this sense.

BBC may decide to focus more on non-beer alcohol going forward, if so that`s a valid choice. I don’t think it matters whether its beer side continues to merit the craft label for a brewing association`s or anyone’s particular purpose. If the beers still made taste great, that is their justification.

To wit, good beer is what matters, the taste, and a reasonable variety, but taste foremost. That is why Pilsner Urquell is still around after 175 years or so and is growing as a brand.

Taste is why craft brewing started. It is the criterion by which all brewers, no matter their size or history, will rise or fall for most enthusiasts of the brewing art.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the Samuel Adams website, hereAll intellectual property in or to the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user. Use is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Buy Now, “Sich Beeilen”!

The German-American press did not limit itself to ads about beer and related festivals, charming as many of these were. The Detroiter Abend-Post in a Sunday supplement of April 21, 1918 contained a dramatic full page ad for liquors and various wines, no beer in this case.

This was not so far ahead of a June 30, 1919 federal ban on selling liquor with more than 2.75% alcohol by weight. After that the 18th Amendment was ratified, in January 1919, to take effect nationally one year later. That law banned any beverage alcohol, period.

In addition to this national dimension, the states for years had imposed their own partial or total prohibition. Michigan’s was slated to start, state-wide, May 1, 1918. (See further details in this informative 1995 Michigan history).

One way or another, the end was in sight when the ad was placed. One senses the liquor merchant was going for broke. Let it all hang out so to speak.

Not many newspapers would have accepted such advertising, or on that scale, but the German press had been in the habit of advertising alcohol for many years. In for a pfennig, in for a pound, if I may mix metaphors and nations.

Anything you want we got it right here in the U.S.A. Just buy up before the law and Senator Volstead could catch you, because in this case they can, and did (in many cases). That’s a Motor City shakedown you don’t want.

Note re image: the image above was extracted from the original ad linked in the text, available via the Chronicling America newspapers digital archive. Image is included for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the source mentioned belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized users. All feedback welcomed.


It’s the Time of the Season

A story out of Salt Lake laid out a novel idea of bock beer’s origin, or at least purpose. The explanation is that with the exhaustion of winter’s beer (schenck beer, in effect), the lager proper of the later spring and summer provided a different taste, which drinkers found objectionable. To smooth over the transition, the brewers introduced bock beer for a few weeks.

Ostensibly this seems an odd explanation. To mediate two different tastes, you introduce a third taste?

But consider this. Both the bock and succeeding spring/summer lager were aged many months. Winter lager was only aged briefly before release, a week or two. As I’ve discussed often here, new lager can have objectionable tastes connected to primary fermentation, the green flavour. Long aging tended to eliminate the dimethyl sulphide and other rough edges of new lager.

As the story implied, despite that the aged beer was superior, drinkers became used to what they had, so grumbled when the short-aged winter brew was replaced by smoother, stored lager.

And so, maybe the bock eased them into the aged flavour, the sweetness and higher alcohol beguiling them as it were.

All these beer types, by the date the story was written (1908), could be brewed throughout the year due to the ubiquity of industrial refrigeration. But the bock tradition was established by then. So even if the bock origin-story was out of date when written, it may have reflected a much older idea.

Or it could be more mythologizing, which is plentiful in the beer arena, bock’s no less than others.  Still, something in it may reflect an essential truth.

The Germans used (use) the French-sounding saison to describe the beer seasons, hence Bock-Bier Saison, much as the English had their “season-brewed” ale, the Wallonians their saison, the Flemings their sezoen. These shared being made in one season to be stored and drunk in another, and also top-fermentation, even for bock, initially. I think Europe even in the distant past had a common vocabulary in certain arts, hence also stock beer/keeping beer, bière de garde, provisie bier. Perhaps this is why the bock beer season wasn’t called Bock-Bier Jahreszeiten in the German lands.

Anyway, it’s the time … of the season … when the foam runs high… for cheering.

Note re image: the image above was extracted from the original source, here, available via the digitized newspaper resource Chronicling America. The image is included for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the source belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users. All feedback welcomed.







Bayrisches Bock-Bier, North Syracuse

The Bocks From Syracuse*

As expected, the German-language Syracuse Union had a long history of carrying beer advertisements. Numerous breweries touted in its pages, both before and after Prohibition, not just Haberle Congress as discussed yesterday. Some were local heros, some from further afield, e.g., Utica Brewing.

In a 1913 issue, the Union carried a series of brewery ads, shown below in part.

Zett’s was founded, as its north Syracuse neighbour Haberle, in the 1850s. Like Haberle too, it revived after 1933 but ceased operations in 1937. (Haberle endured until 1962). Zett’s and Irish-sounding Thomas Ryan’s Consumers Brewing were advertising their bock beer for spring. Ryan proudly noted its bock was made with imported caramel malt.**

In 1937, the regional powerhouse – then and now – Utica Club of Utica, NY paid for a handsome ad which took much of a full page. The ad was in both German and English, the English part was a profile of the Baden-born founder, Francis-Xavier Matt. The patriarch was still active in the business 58 years after founding it.

The last line read, “he typifies the immigrant boy whose efforts were crowned with success”. The sub-text, as underlined too by the bio being in English, was, we know our roots and they are reflected today in this ethnic publication, but net-net we are American and a product of this land.

In the ad, Utica Club listed seven beers. Five were English or Anglo-American styles, only two clearly German-type, pilsner and wuerzburger. In general, ales endured for much longer in upstate New York than probably anywhere in America, reflecting the original pattern of settlement (British) but also the area’s relative isolation. Given some local breweries were founded by Britons who made beers in staunchly British styles, e.g. John Greenway, the German breweries weren’t going to be caught short. (It worked the other way too of course).

Genesee Cream Ale is perhaps the last survivor of this old tradition of German-founded breweries making beers with an English resonance. Utica Club’s cream ale was delisted some years ago. Of course, Utica Club, and Genesee too, make many beers today of the top-fermented type inspired by the craft beer revival. The whole thing has come full circle, and then some.

One can presume that central New York’s German ethnic community, or really, communities – they were disparate in origin and dialects spoken – liked the ales no less than older-stock Americans. Still, lager probably had the bulk of sales, after 1900 certainly. Then too most of the ales were quasi-lagers, e.g., cream ale and sparkling ale.

For the average German-speaker in Syracuse in the 1930s, when he drank a pale ale of Haberle or Utica Club, did he ever think the style originated in Britain, a country increasingly at odds with the Nazified Germany of post-1933? I would doubt this, not so much due to political insouciance, but rather to the general popular ignorance of beer and brewing technics. Beer can be part of cultural identity – already watered down in America for any ethnicity – but knowing how beer is made and what the names mean is a different story, then and now.

*Apologies to Rodgers & Hart.

**Ryan had been city mayor. Initially he was one of a joint ownership group, then bought sole control, and finally sold to one of his former partners c. 1900. Ryan’s associates in the venture were German Americans to all appearances.

Note re images: the first and third images shown were extracted from the original ads linked in the text, available via the New York newspapers historical digital archive. The second image was obtained from the website of the Onondaga Historical Association, here. The images are included for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources stated belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized users. All feedback welcomed.


Häberle’s Bitte!

Many communities had non-English language newspapers for a considerable period, not just in the U.S. but Canada and Mexico. In Syracuse, NY in the 1870s, no less than two German newspapers operated, one, the Syracuse Union, endured until 1941 when America’s entry into WW II put paid to continued publication. Syracuse had a strong German population from the later 1800s until assimilation and the Second World War tended to blur the the distinctiveness of the community.

In the 1930s, the Union carried beer advertisements, probably reflecting a long history. The example shown, from a 1934 issue of the Union, appealed to the German-American ethos with its recitation of brewing ingredients and German rendering of “dry hopping”.

Of course, thousands of miles from an increasingly deranged and militarized homeland, the beer presented to German-speakers in 1930s Syracuse differed from classic German models (dunkel, helles, etc.). First, a majority of the brands mentioned had names derived from English, or at least Anglo-American, brewing. Second, most or all the beers probably included non-malt adjunct such as corn or rice, almost invariable in U.S. brewing by the 1930s.

The brewer, Haberle Congress Brewing, was a local stalwart with origins dating to the 1850s. Despite being in America almost three generations, the business projected a Germanic image, but this may have been – probably was – mostly a question of marketing. The brewery was founded by German-born Benedict Haberle, a veteran of the 1848 Revolution who fled to avoid the bounty on his head. Many American breweries were founded or staffed, and the same for lager houses and saloons, by veterans of the 1848 liberal revolt in Central Europe.

Harberle Congress was one of hundreds of German-American breweries revived after Prohibition ended in 1933. This May, 1933 news article shows the sophisticated planning that went into creating the post-Pro incarnation of Haberle. In many ways it was a completely new business albeit helmed by Frank C. Biehle, a grandson of the founder. As always, past and present intermingled, an omnipresent feature of the brewing industry.

Frank Biehle died in 1944, see this link for informative detail on his life and career. The brewery continued to be managed by family descendants and endured until 1962 when it was bought out by a brewery in Rochester, NY. It was the last local brewery still standing (figuratively). From thirty or more breweries post-Civil War, Syracuse came down to one and then none, until the craft revival restored both lager and ale traditions starting some 20 years later.

So today, Gordon Biersch, Middle Ages Brewing, Empire Brewing, and others carry the flag for fine beer. Indeed I read Empire’s building incorporated bricks from the dismantled Haberle brewery (the bottling house is pictured pre-Prohibition), a satisfying link to the past.

The ad shown represents a kind of mid-point in both American brewing and ethnic history…

N.B. Black Bass Ale was renamed Black River Ale later in the 1930s, for reasons that will be evident to most readers.

Note re images: the first image above was extracted from the original ad linked in the text, via the New York newspapers historical digital archive. The second image was sourced here and is believed in the public domain. Images are included for educational and historical purposes. The intellectual property belongs solely to the owner or authorized users.  All feedback welcomed.



A Successful Own-Blend of Irish Whiskey

Recently, using four Irish whiskies, I made my own blend I thought was particularly good. The four were regular Jameson, Jameson Crested, Powers Gold, and Powers Signature. The first three are blends, that is, a mixture of grain and single pot still whiskies, and the last all-pot still.

The taste of each on its own didn’t quite please. The grain whiskey in regular Jameson seemed quite forward in this bottling, although the minty/oily pot still part was there. The wood background of the Signature and Crested didn’t hit me right, etc.  I could tell the sherry influence in the latter, but wanted it to work in a different way. Small differences matter to some, especially when you drink them neat or with a cube.

Blending can adjust the palate to something more to my taste. All these whiskies, I understand, come from one distillery (at Midleton) so it’s really a question of blending grain and pure pot stills from the same place, coming up with an alternate approach to what the distillery does. Even if the whiskies were from different distilleries  it would be just as valid, similar to Scotch whisky blending, but here there was a unity to start with, so to speak.

I wanted the pot still element to dominate, to show the typically Irish oily (linseed, fresh leather) character, and have the grain working behind it. I don’t mind the grain whisky provided it doesn’t bite at the back of the palate, sometimes it can lighten and “brighten” the pot still element and not obtrude as it were.

I got a very good blend for almost a full bottle, and I have another half (from the same four) I need to work on. The rest was consumed before or used in a “Celtic” blend I keep going, the majority of which is Scotch whiskies. I’ll need to buy something new to add to my half-bottle to bring it around, maybe Green Spot, or another Powers Signature, we’ll see.

This own-blend has the pot still character forward, a light background of sherry, and the grain whiskies all working in close harmony. The finish is lightly vodka-like, but very good vodka, and the dominant flavour is the oily/sherried pot still note.

I can only estimate the pot still part, maybe 70%. It drinks neat very well, no peppery bite from the grain element, and with an ice cube equally, or water. As I’ve said earlier, it seems to me the high-end pure pot stills are presenting less Irish character than 20 years ago. They seem more neutral in taste, not in the grain whisky sense, but more like a Lowland malt, say. In the standard brands though, given the pot still element has to show in the final palate, I’d guess younger pot stills are used or selections are made to show a stronger character, else the blends would be too vapid. That’s why I buy the regular and mid-price but if they don’t appeal as such I’ll blend to get a better result, better for me that is.

You can do this with any type of whisky, any national or other classification. Make your own Islay vatting, say, or Scotch blend, or Canadian blend, etc. The distilleries and blenders have always done it; you can do it, it’s not rocket science, but to get good results you need to have an understanding of the building blocks.

I don’t work to any predetermined formula. I’ll mix them to what seems right, taste once or twice to adjust, and leave it at that. This time I got a perfect result after just two adjustments. It might be equal parts each, or close to that, I think.

Note re image: the image shown was sourced, via HathiTrust, from a pre-Prohibition cocktails text, The Great American Cocktail, here. Image is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its owner or authorized users.  All feedback welcomed.