Louis Wehle: Founder of Post-Repeal Genesee Brewery

I’m going to set down some thoughts on Louis A. Wehle’s c.1960 book, This was my Life. It was self-published and privately distributed as far as I can tell, but the title has made its way to some public registers, which is how I learned about it.

A few copies are in booksellers’ hands and I bought one.

Half the book is text, 180 pages, and the other half reproductions of old news articles, photos, and memorabilia of various kinds. One fine item is the menu for a southern, Florida dinner he gave at his “beachcomber” shack outside Palm Beach.

The centrepiece of the book is the revival by Wehle of Genesee brewery in 1933. As he had worked there before Prohibition in key roles, but was in his prime in the 1930s, he offers a fascinating perspective on the full span of (pre-craft) 20th century brewery operations.

Wehle was born in 1889 and died at 75 in 1964. He was from a thoroughly German-American family, and one fairly prosperous. His grandfather had made good owning a sausage-factory. His father was superintendent at Bartholomay, a sizeable brewery in Rochester. Louis took over that job in his mid-20s after his father died at only 45.

The family was frugal despite enjoying middle-class prosperity, habits learned by Louis. He was always money-conscious. He credits his background with his outlook on life but is mildly critical too of his ethnicity, stating it had a tendency to emotional reticence and intolerance of different ways.

While marked by his background, he was essentially American in character, and in fact only spoke and understood bits and bobs of German.

Louis was a striver from the beginning. As a young person he always worked odd jobs, such as soda jerk, to earn spending money as the parents paid no allowance.

He was boisterous at times, engaging in pranks as some youth will, but once reached 16 was determined to make his way in the world.

With a high school education, decent for the time, he went to Bartholomay to work in various office roles.

At 20, on the recommendation of Bartholomay, he qualified as a brewmaster by completing a course in New York City at the National Brewers Academy. It was associated with the Wallerstein brewing scientists, of whom I’ve written earlier.

This distinguished him from many others who became brewers first and business managers later.

He became assistant brewmaster at Bartholomay and then brewmaster at Genesee and Lang Brewery in Buffalo between 1911 and 1918. So he had years of experience both in the brewhouse and runningthe business before Prohibition started in mid-1919. He explains this background was invaluable to resurrect Genesee in 1933.

During Prohibition he worked, first in a chain grocery store venture in Buffalo, NY, then in a successful bakery in Rochester. He sold the latter in 1929 – six months before the crash – for $1.3M, a lot of money in the Depression. When organizing the venture years earlier he became skilled at raising capital. He was a large shareholder and retained control but other shareholders had bought in, who made money with Wehle on the sale. Some later joined him for the Genesee venture.

The organization of New Genesee, as he calls it in distinction to Old Genesee, was a complex task. First, the raising of money again as he stretched his own finances to the breaking point. Second, sourcing equipment for the refurbishment; it was all used, from existing idle breweries, except for a new refrigeration plant bought in New York.

He bought the brewery property in 1929 simply on a calculated guess that Repeal would occur within a reasonable window. Of course it did.

He hired many people from Old Genesee, from its last brewmaster, who only finally retired in the 1950s, to sales managers, maintenance, and technical people. Even though 13 years had passed, many were still available to come back to Genesee. Although it is often said that the brewing landscapes before and after Prohibition were quite different, what struck me reading this book is the continuity.

Wehle believed strongly in advertising and engaged experts to plan his campaigns. As he states, no matter how good one’s product is, it must be brought to the public’s attention continually in new ways.

Now, as to beer, many readers will think, as I did, what did he say? Very little! There is almost nothing in the book on beer as such with one major exception: his attempt to bring Burton pale ale to America from 1935-1938. I’ll discuss this in a later post because it has an interest beyond a period one.

Apart from that, almost nothing except for the statement that in Rochester before Prohibition, 95% of all sales was draft; the rest bottled.

He does not address what Bartholomay and Genesee made before 1920, or Genesee’s products from 1933 on. No discussion of ale vs. lager. No discussion of any differences in beer after Prohibition vs. before, or on cereal adjunct, hop varieties, or rates of hopping.

He simply states that Genesee made “good beer” and once its trucks trundled into Rochester post-Repeal, every drop was sold instantly.

The brewery was successful from the beginning and remained so during Wehle’s lifetime. By 1960, his son John was helmsman (Wehle descendants finally sold the business, to management, in 1999). I should add that with one of his brothers, Louis ran a small distillery during WW II, to supply ethanol to the government for munitions.

Wehle visited Britain and Germany, as well as other parts of Europe, in the 1930s. He disliked German militarism and states he was glad to leave Nazi Germany to come home. He does not advert to Hitler’s persecutions, but I’d think he felt this was not within the scope of the book.

As an example of his focus on the dollar, he recounts a story that is telling in retrospect. At Simpson’s-on-the-Strand, the iconic London restaurant, he enjoyed its famous roast beef. He asked for a second helping as the house was known to offer it without additional charge.

On being presented with the bill, an extra two shillings was added! When he protested, he was told a 100-year-policy not to charge extra had been changed the day before. He still remembered this, a man wealthy beyond most peoples’ dreams, 25 years later.

Wehle comes across as highly intelligent, driven, and perceptive of human nature. He had a sense of public duty and community spirit that now sound old-fashioned. He later became a New York civil servant in charge of conservation (mid-1950s), and led charities and other civic endeavours of value. He supported civil rights and fair employment practices.

While Catholic, he married a Protestant, Elizabeth (aka Libbie) Raab, of Scots-Irish and German descent. I mention these ethnicities only because he does and he stresses what he felt were largely positive values they imparted: The need to work hard, to provide for oneself and dependants, to save, to learn, to contribute back to society.

One statement that resonated with me is his description of the community as something developed with sacrifice and struggle by past generations, on which everyone’s success depends. He explains that to improve and sustain the community each must contribute in his turn and not take the inheritance for granted.

Another thing he states is, many people are capable of success but don’t achieve it for various reasons including being perfectionist. He states one must often take a chance in business even though not all information is known, even at the risk of failing. He mentions, although in no great detail, investments he made that were not successful.

He states that self-confidence is essential in business, and various skills, but that one needn’t be the smartest person to succeed.

Two investments that failed were in magazine-publishing, an interesting potential business for an avowed non-intellectual, a “pusher” as he called himself.

It’s all good common sense, that he displayed in abundance. For hobbies he fished and hunted, including at a camp in Quebec. He also raised prize-winning livestock and poultry on a large farm outside Rochester.

There have always been people like Wehle. The semi-conductor and software industries were and are full of them, as of course early and modern brewing and other industries. The type itself doesn’t really change, but society as he describes it has changed, I think.

It is hard to say how he would view our modern society; I don’t think he would be died-in-the-wool conservative but many aspects of modern life would be hard for him to appreciate, I think, especially the altered view of families and the role of working women.

The only disappointment I had reading the book is the absence of a “beer” chapter. He states he had to decide what to include and what to leave out. I think he felt this was a technical area not likely of interest to family and friends, the main intended reading audience again.

All told though, the book portrays a surpassingly successful and interesting business executive and American.

N.B. Of the many photos in the book, only one shows Louis Wehle holding a glass of beer. It is a full pint of ale at the bar of the Cheshire Cheese pub, Fleet Street, London.





Samuel Adams “The Disruptors” in Toronto

We attended a preview two nights ago of a neat promo event, The Disruptors, from Samuel Adams beer. It was the launch of a unique pop-up store now open to the public. The space, on Queen Street West downtown, features Sam Adams-branded merchandise and the wares of four separate retailers under one roof: Loch Eyewear, 8.1.2 leather travel bags and accessories, Soft Focus loungewear, and Xpand Laces.

The shop will be open until October 14, 2018. For now, it’s exclusive to Toronto.

And different Sam Adams beers can be sampled during the event.

See further details in this press release on the boutiques with images of the space and store hours. (Image below from that link).

Marketing is the soul of business. Sam Adams has done plenty disruption in the beer market. And it keeps young by maintaining the same spirit and hooking up with ambitious entrepreneurs in other fields putting out quality products. We were glad to attend.

And cold Sam Adams Boston Lager is a friend anytime, especially in the hot weather we’ve been having. It was all good.

P.S. We came home with a pair of glass frames from Loch. It’s fine work fashioned in the Peterborough area from maple and other logs sunken in the Great Lakes for hundreds of years. Logs were floated down rivers and lakes in big booms in many parts of Canada. Many didn’t reach destination due to being broken up and sunken in storms or accidents. The wood is often in perfect condition and can be restored to different uses.

Wild Hops and the Canadian Spirit

Cats and Chicks, get Your Kicks, at the Hop

Recently, I looked at one perspective on a discovery in 1933 of wild hops in Massachusetts. 1933 is the year beer was re-legalised in America. That particular account did not view the wild vine as potentially useful for commercial brewing. Rather, it was reflective, musing on the hop as an emblem for a lost pioneer spirit.

Since the early 1900s wild hops have been used in breeding programs, famously by Professor Salmon at Wye in England. This has resulted in some well-known varieties. Bullion and Brewer’s Gold are two early examples. Both were widely used in North American and some other brewing.

But commercial brewing eschewed the wild hop as such until quite recently. One reason was its low yields compared to evolved commercial varieties.

This September 1941 article in the Waterville Times, in New York State, reports dry and wet data for different hop varieties grown experimentally in 1940. See the low numbers especially for Cats Tails, a type of Neomexicanus.

The same applied to Canada Red Vine, another hop considered of wild origin although grown commercially at times in New York State.

Despite this, some modern hop researchers consider that Canada Red Vine has potential for renewed commercial use. Bo McMillan reported two years ago on work being done in North Carolina, see this All About Beer story.

(A couple of commercial varieties similarly underperformed in the 1940 tests but the writer noted they were likely weakened from disease).

Sierra Nevada Brewery used Neomexicanus a few years in a beer, to great effect IMO. Sierra Nevada, the king of the craft brewers for many, was part of an early group exploring this avenue. Probably homebrewers started it, as a number of their online forums discuss wild hop brewing in the last 10 years or so.

Ontario is not exempt from what is a trend, or a small trend. Pleasant Valley Hops in Prince Edward County, ON, a farm that grows fruit and hops, markets its pleasingly-named Wild Loyalist, see details here.

The hop is thought to have been brought by Loyalist settlers arriving from the U.S. after the American Revolution.

The tourist site The County offers good background on the inspiring personal and business story of the couple behind Pleasant Valley Farms.

Tavistock Hop Company in southwestern Ontario is growing a hop it calls Heritage, found 30 miles to the east on the edge of a former hop yard, in Cambridge. The type is still being examined to confirm its identity.

This blog post by Kyle Wynette, a co-owner of Tavistock, explains how he found the hop. An image from the account:

Wynette stated:

We took a short walk down to the river (about a block from his house) and before long he [a contact who helped Wynette locate the hops] had re-located where he had seen the plants the year prior. To our amazement, there they were! In the very place where I had walked by just a few weeks prior, we just hadn’t looked up high enough.

If not for the cones on the plants, they would have been hard to identify because much of the leaves had been defoliated by insects. I inspected the cones and couldn’t see any seeds which to me means there must not be any males nearby and therefore these plants were all female which would be what you’d expect if they were from the old hop yard. These plants were right at the edge of the old farm, the rest of the area now covered by subdivisions. I can’t say with 100% certainty, but my belief is that these roots are part of plants that have been in the ground for over 100 years on land that ceased being a hop yard nearly a century ago.

How about a beer that actually uses a Canuck wild hop? Sure. Railway City Brewing in St. Thomas, ON has made its Graveyard Beer, after the moniker Graveyard Hop grown by Vandeslyke Hop Farm.

The name is less gruesome than it sounds: the wild vines were found at a cemetery once used for yet another old Ontario hop plantation.

A year ago journalist Agatha Podgorski gave the low down in her article,”10 Fall Craft Beers”:


Railway City Brewing St. Thomas, Ontario

Brewed using Ontario-grown Bartlett Pears from the Turville Family Orchards in Port Stanley, this seasonal sipper also features locally grown hops from Vandeslyke Hop Farms and what they call ‘Graveyard Hops’. What’s Graveyard Hops? Simple: wild hops from an 1800’s Hop Field which is now a Graveyard.


Hopefully the beer is appearing again this season.

One can be sentimental about the wild hop, about thoughts it evokes of pioneer and past days. But even better, you can literally taste the history when wild hops are harvested and dipped in boiling brew to form magical beer.

When tasting the results, think back on olden times, you are reliving a tangible part of it.




Seasoned Oak: J.P. Wiser’s Canadian Whisky

In the J.P. Wiser’s Rare Cask Series, Seasoned Oak is the latest release. It’s been on the shelves (Ontario-only) for about three months now.

It is 19-years-old. For the other specs, the Toronto Whisky Society (Brian Vanderkruk) has done a good job to resume things concisely, which you can read here.

The ABV is 48%, so higher than usual for Canadian whiskey. 18-year-old corn and rye whiskies were married for a further year in barrels made from staves allowed to season for four years in the open elements.

In past generations such open-air drying was typical of barrel production, but the period must have varied. In an early-1900s cooperage article linked in this post of mine, it is stated, see pp. 81-82, that the mills air-dried the staves for six months and the distilleries completed the process with 15 day’s kiln-drying.

Perhaps most bourbon today is aged in barrels made from kiln-dried staves that don’t receive any outdoor drying. At least, that’s my understanding from many years immersion in the U.S. bourbon scene and early visits to Kentucky.

The corn spirit is Double Distilled base whisky and the rye, Star Special, a rye mash whisky distilled at a low proof in a column still and then a pot still.

(The standard J.P. Wiser’s expressions are typically blends of the Double Distilled and Star, the same rye spirit not given a second run in the pot still. The pot still is more or less like the U.S. doubler-stage for bourbon or straight rye).

Just as for regular J.P. Wiser’s 18-years-old, barrels that formerly held bourbon or Canadian whisky are used for that aging period of Seasoned Oak. The seasoned oak phase proper is charred virgin wood, similar to bourbon barrels in the U.S. But it’s only one year out of 19, therefore, in terms of maturation.

I’d guess only a little Star Special is blended into the base whisky as Seasoned Oak has mainly a grain whisky character IMO. It’s similar in this regard to J.P. Wiser’s 18-years-old.

Hence the body is light and fairly clean or neutral. One review I read stated “acetone”, which can be a “distillery” or straight character, but I didn’t get that.

Yet, there is a spicy cocoa top-note that must come from the extra year in naturally-seasoned virgin oak. The 20 extra dollars for the expression are paying for that, and the extra proof.

Is it worth it? Some reviews are head-over-heels in love, others less so. I’m kind of in the middle. It’s interesting, I’m glad I bought it, but it’s not superlative. For me, the current Lot 40, which uses the new charred barrel, is where the action is. AFAIK it is 100% Star Special, not blended with Double Distilled, and benefits from the early and uniquely complex maturation charred new wood imparts.

The best Canadian whiskies regularly available in the market today are the revamped Lot 40 and Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye. Both are straights for all practical purposes, and the results show.

For those wedded to the more traditional Canadian style, Seasoned Oak will appeal due to its age and unique character.


Wild Hops and Independence

In Greenfield, MA in 1933 The Daily Recorder-Gazette re-printed a story from another newspaper in the state, in Worcester, dealing with wild hops.

With the end of National Prohibition, brewing was being revived in many states. Rural communities graced (in the eyes of some) with annual or perennial roots of the wild hop vine, took increasing notice of this resource.

Most newspapers in the 1930s, as before Prohibition, mentioned hops in connection with hop markets: what were they worth, the bounty of the harvest, the different types of hops, and their harvest periods. The hops in New York State, then still a growing area, included English Cluster, Canada Red Vine, Humphrey, and, by 1935 or so, Late Cluster.

Late Cluster was planted from roots imported from California and Washington. The West Coast cultivars were more resistant to disease than English Cluster.

People sometimes wondered if the wild hops could make good beer. One story, from back in the 1890s in Minnesota, suggested the hops were tasteless and of no value. The journalist did aver that only a trial could really tell.

The Worcester Telegram took a different approach. The writer was unusually reflective. He looked at the hop, not in the context of a revived brewing industry, but for its importance to American history and the American spirit.

This type of article was quite rare in the small-town press of the 20th century. It was more common in the 1800s, when most U.S. journalists worked in small towns and cities.

Revival of the ancient interest in brewing is a reminder that wild hops still grow in more or less profusion around many an old homestead of Worcester county. With perennial hardihood, they must have survived down through the years, since a time when the Colonial family was inclined to be entirely sufficient unto itself.

Those wild hops stand for a period when men very largely made their own beer. People made prac­tically everything they used, in those days, buying as little as possible. A farmer—and most of our an­cestors were farmers, grew hops and barley for his beer, grapes for his wine and perhaps rye for his whiskey. He raised sheep and sheared them for wool, that his wife might make his clothing. He butchered his own cattle, eating their meat, tanning their hides for shoes for himself and harnesses for his horses. Perhaps he owned a forge and made his own scythe, hammering it out again into a sword if the need arose.

A rather pleasant picture, all this, of the family finding all its provender, even its amusements. But there were crop failures in those days, too. The farmers were not always completely self-sustaining. The hops have come down through centuries to remind us of the independence that used to be so American, but also they remind us of the dangers that went with the simple life of that simple day.

One of the wild hops of America is Neomexicanus. The pioneering craft brewery, Sierra Nevada, has used it in brewing. I tasted the beer which was superb, and not gamy or weird in any way. The hop in question is pictured above, and the beer, below. (Source for both: Sierra Nevada’s website).

The uncredited author of the Worcester Telegram story would have been proud.

Note re images: The two images above are from the website of Sierra Nevada Brewing as linked in the text. The quotation is from the Fulton History newspaper archive, also as linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Material is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


An Octet of Beer Reviews

Lapidary reviews, couple of lines or so. Paragraph-long, adjective-laden cogitations are still valid – I cut my teeth on the best of them. As I get on though brevity rules.

Golden Pheasant

Czech lager, very fresh at LCBO currently, a classic Pilsen-style. Shade lighter than Urquell but just about as good. Rich malt, clean flavory hops. It spells the uniqueness of Czech lager.

Guinness Foreign Export Stout (Dublin-brewed)

Better than ever, woodsy, slightly smoky, a touch lactic, winy, malty: so different from standard Guinness. Inexplicably not available in Ontario.

Loon Lager, Barley Days

I had to try this despite, or maybe because of, the fever raised about a brew people on a budget can afford. It’s all-malt, good European hops, a Helles. Similar to many German or craft examples, just lighter. If you don’t believe me, believe LCBO’s notes.

Henderson’s Best (Amber Ale)

A reddish ale,  mainstay of Henderson Brewing in Toronto. Caramel-malt driven, good underpinning of hops but not “hoppy”. A great beer with food, its forte, IMO. Excellent with the brisket sandwich at Drake Commissary next to the brewery.

Tennents 1885 Lager

An export 5% ABV, very fresh from LCBO again, but not that interesting. Adjunct brew? Palate seems to show it. Decent, but not more.

Second Wedge Rain Maker Porter

A gold medal winner at the recent Ontario Brewing Association awards. 5.5% ABV, from Uxbridge, ON. Brewed by industry veteran Doug Warren. Tasty, not too dry, faultless. I hope an “export” version will emerge over winter: deeper in extract and hopping.

Great Lakes Brewing Solbaer Black Currant Kviek

6.1% ABV. Sampled at LCBO. Interesting brew, good fruit, not sugary. Yeast background “different” but mild. Farmhouse without the spicy/clove of Belgian-yeasted beer.

Cowbell Brewing McNall’s Mission (Honey Brown Ale)

Lots of flavour, grainy, like multi-grain dark bread. Local raw honey in the fermentation. No mead-like aftertaste though, all to the good. Reminds me of Black Oak Brown Ale but with a floral twist, and a touch sweeter.

Lot 40 Rye Whisky “Green Label”

Lot 40 is a Canadian whisky marketed by Corby and made at the historic Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, ON. Until purchasing the current bottling (pictured), the last one I bought was the 12-year-old cask strength that came out about a year ago. That whisky had a good full character but was not dissimilar to the main bottling which, since inception about 20 years ago, had a marked “distillery” character.

This meant a congeneric or chemical-like note, some people would say doughy or orangey. It’s noticeable in some young craft distillery whisky, too.

The current bottling has altered the profile, a welcome change in our view. But first some background.

In a detailed review of Lot 40 in 2015, I wrote that I drank a dram or two and used the remainder in my own blending experiments. The character “neat” was too unrefined for me, although clearly many people liked it.

Lot 40 had been off and on the market in Ontario since about 1998. A “2012” version, issued that year, didn’t vary much from the earlier version, maybe a bit richer.

From information given on my personal tour of Hiram Walker a couple of years ago, and from Internet sources, Lot 40 is distilled at a traditional, straight whisky proof (below 80% ABV certainly). A column still distillate is run through a large pot still, so it’s a two-step distillation process. The mash was originally 90% unmalted rye and 10% malted rye, a formulation common in the 19th-century based on my own research many years ago.

However, for some years, the malted rye is dispensed with. Enzymatic preparations are used to ensure the conversion of starches to fermentable sugar. The process is familiar to me from brewing knowledge, as well.

The reason is malted rye can bring in unwanted microflora, bacteria and fungal activity, that can adversely affect flavour or consistency.

So now, Lot 40 is 100% unmalted rye, but is also aged in new charred oak, wood similar to that used for bourbon or U.S. straight rye. The current green label calls it “virgin oak”, and the former bottlings did not use this term. Earlier, re-used bourbon barrels were likely used in quantity, at least for part of the maturation. They are the same type used to mature both Scotch whisky and the high proof, grain (base) whisky that forms the basis of most Canadian blends.

The “green label” has been on the market for about a year now and I caught up with it recently. The legend on the tan box no longer names Michael Booth, a retired Hiram Walker distiller. Clearly the whisky has evolved since his time.

In a nutshell, this is the best Lot 40 available to date. The congeners are toned down, the whisky is sweeter and rounder, and is more a traditional, straight spirit. Yet it is still quite different to Kentucky straight rye whiskey, and different again to Canadian Club’s own green label, Chairman’s Select 100% Rye made at Alberta Distillers.

(Chairman’s Select is bottled under the historic CC name long-associated with the Hiram Walker plant, but label and distillery are now separately owned. Hence sourcing this particular version of CC from Alberta).

The main factor in the new and improved Lot 40 is, IMO, the new-charred oak. The charred interior and “red layer” mature the whisky in a way no re-used bourbon barrel can. At least this is so within a period, say, of three to eight years, the typical window to release a straight whisky.

Chairman’s Select 100% Rye has always been aged in all-new charred barrels. This “catch up” for Corby’s own flagship straight whisky can only be commended and the quality shows.

Here is the link to Corby’s website for the current Lot 40.






Of Pie, Paterson, and Pints

In 2006, a discussion on a Roadfood forum spotlighted memories of Taylor’s mutton pies in Paterson, NJ. Taylor Bakery had been long-closed as the principal sold the recipe in 1990 to another bakery, Ashton. It continued the tradition, but stopped business a few years later due to a fire.

This was not a one-off: numerous bakeries in Paterson and other northern NJ towns made the pies and similar British foods. The demand was in part from cultural centres called “Scotch lodges”. There was also extensive home baking of the specialty.

Fond reminiscences are recorded, with tips on how to find similar pies in the area. Even in 2018 you can find them, say at Stewart’s Scottish Market in Kearney, NJ. The store was originally called simply Stewart’s Market, as earlier the British connection was likely taken for granted. Kearney is only 13 miles south of Paterson.

The images below are from the Stewart Scottish Market website.

A contributor to the Roadfood forum wrote:

My grandfather loved Taylor’s meat pies. A couple of years ago we found the closest thing to them in Kearny, NJ. There are a couple of places, one is Stewart’s of Kearny, and they have a website http://www.stewartsofkearny.com/ where you can order on line, however, I suggest taking the ride to Kearny.

Another stated:

I have lived in and around Paterson all my life and grew up on Taylor’s mutton pies. My great grandfather had a blacksmith shop at the bottom of the Great Falls, and his grandfather moved there when “God save the King” was still the national anthem. By the 40’s Taylor’s pies were everywhere, deli’s, roadhouses (ginmills or bars), the corner store and not only in Paterson but all the surrounding towns. I grew up on all types of British foods, Oxtail soup, kippers and eggs, fish + chips, etc. but Mutton pies were my favorite. We would cut them down the middle so that the meat was facing up and watch them rock back and forth taken from a very hot oven, I can still smell them.

A fifth-generation American, probably in his or her 60s-70s, grew up on a classic English diet…

Mutton pie was and is a regional taste in the north of the state. Food arbiters intone that popular American taste is anchored in packaged supermarket food, ice cream, soft drinks, extra-light beer, and food-chain fare. Yet, many old-established regional tastes endure, and are appreciated. One thing mutton isn’t is tasteless.

Still, mutton pie in America? True, Owensboro, KY mutton is a noted specialty but the Kentuckians douse it in a spicy BBQ sauce. In New Jersey, the vigorous sheep food was eaten pretty much unadorned except for its flaky pastry enveloping.

Why hasn’t the New York Times gone after this one? I don’t know, it seems infatuated with world cuisine from Afghanistan to Zanzibar. Admiring profiles of local specialties are harder to spot, based on our irregular canvass of its food pages.*

So I was thinking of mutton pie in Paterson. And then I remembered my essays on India Pale Ale and English-style brewing in that very city circa 1916. It all connected.

A pot of ale and mutton pie sound like fast friends, and they were in the U.K. in the 1800s. They still are, although lamb and mutton are often replaced by game, poultry, or another meat. I saw many variations – even vegan – at a pie counter at the Great British Beer Festival in London last month.

But ale and porter, even before Prohibition, were not all that common in America. German-style lager had conquered most areas, including New York and environs. Of course, some ale breweries, mostly established in the 1800s, continued until Prohibition (1920).

But why ale in Paterson? It was a busy place then due to its textile, firearm, and other industries but hardly an international centre like Manhattan. It was not a haunt for British business, arts, or diplomatic figures.

You can know the answer, or a good part of it, by reading this 1904 article, “Like a Corner of Old England”, published in the New York Sun. There was a substantial English colony in various districts around Paterson, it arrived mid-1800s to produce silk and other textiles, initially by hand-loom. Later the weavers worked in textile factories powered by the high falls on the Passaic river.

These districts retained their English character for many decades. Do they still today? Readers familiar with the area can tell me.

What better core of loyal followers for the pale ale of Indian romance than this group of English and Scottish settlers and descendants?

The 1904 story mentions many English foods brought by the incomers. Some are recited in the Roadfood discussion – 100 years later – not excluding mutton pies. The article also muses on the English-style pubs that naturally implanted in the area.

The journalist writes that the bucolic English atmosphere evoked by the pubs is something you “wouldn’t dream of finding within 100 miles of the uproar of New York”. Yet to his surprise it existed in Paterson and other British enclaves in New Jersey.

The writer was too savvy not too know the similar origins of many old-stock Americans. But he explains that English influences had waned since the first settlers arrived. Hence the unusual foreign character displayed by Paterson’s more recent Weavertown and similar pockets.

The pubs, too, must have stood out from the American saloon. Saloons were rarely praised publicly then, even in cosmopolitan New York.

Consider this image of pre-Prohibition ale drinking in New Jersey (source noted below).

The locale was Harrison, east of Manhattan again and another town in upstate New Jersey. You can see the big glasses used to hold a darkish beer, probably Ballantine India Pale Ale, whose advertisement is tacked on the wall.

It’s a safe assumption that cataracts of ale and porter similar to the drinks above helped mutton pie galore slide down in Paterson.

Mutton pie and British-style IPA – that was America, one culinary corner of it, then. But the pies survive in northern New Jersey, and the IPA is back although probably not tasting like it did in 1916 due to the modern hops.

There must be a craft beer scene in or around Paterson today. Its movers and shakers should give the local bakers a call who still make the old foods and do a pre-Prohibition picnic or supper. The beers are back to pair with them, more or less. And the old foods never went away.

Note re images: The first two images are from the website of Stewart’s Scottish Market in Keaney, NJ, as linked in the text. The third is from the historical website www.nj.com, supplied by the New Jersey Historical Society. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*I find the foreign or unfamiliar alluring too, but long-established local tradition, terroir if you will, can reveal mystery and interest no less real.




Let There Be Beer?

Back in 2005, 13 years ago that is, the magazine All About Beer ran a column in which beer writers were asked to name their favourite beer authors. Those mentioned included Michael Jackson, Roger Protz, Tim Webb, Fred Eckhardt, Allen Sneath, and Charlie Papazian.

Older writers also came in for mention including Wahl and Henius (co-authors), Tizard, Arnold, Salem, and old beer journal series. (Beer historical studies is not new. Many were familiar with historical writing long before the current generation of historians).

Specific brewery histories were named, Pabst’s was one. Some mentioned modern technical works on brewing, Garrett Oliver cited numerous of these including Briggs’ well-known text.

Ray Daniels answered in part:

There’s another book called Let There Be Beer by Bob Brown (1932) I came upon not too long ago, which contains, I believe, some of the most lyrical writing on beer I’ve ever read. Really wonderful.

Of the 15 interviewed he was the only one to mention Bob Brown.

Checking online, but based also on my memory going back to the 1970s, I’ve discovered that Brown’s book to all practical purposes is a dead letter to modern beer writing. It’s cited briefly by perhaps a half-dozen writers I’ve been able to locate.

These include, I’m happy to state, Scotland-based blogger Rob Sterowksi whom I know on Twitter and from his excellent blog, here. Brown also wrote a book on cheese that Rob mentions appreciatively, and in that context he made a similar, complimentary reference to the beer book.

Who was Bob Brown? What kind of book did he write? Why does virtually no one (in beer) know who he is?

Illinois-born Bob Brown had the distinction, not just of writing of a fine book about beer that needs re-introduction, but also a series of respected books on food, co-authored in this case with his wife Rose and/or his mother Cora. The “Browns” are well-known in culinary historical literature, in fact.

The clan certainly would have been familiar to Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Clairborne, and other pre-1970s American food luminaries.

Not only that, Bob Brown was an internationally-known poet, fiction and non-fiction writer, and publisher. He is remembered to this day for both realistic and experimental writing, essay work, and his c.1930 “reading machine”, a kind of progenitor to Amazon’s Kindle and other e-reading devices.

In fact, Brown has been subject of a 2016 biography by Dr. Craig Saper, The Amazing Adventures of Bob Brown: a Real Life Zelig who Wrote his way Through the 20th Century.

Saper, a Maryland-based professor of language and literature, does not fail to mention the beer book of course. But Saper is not a beer historian and his insights, while valuable from a media and biographical standpoint, do not venture into this other territory. There are one or two shorter, recent academic treatments of Brown’s literary work but nothing extended, to my knowledge again, by a beer writer.

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on Brown from which the following is extracted:

Robert ‘Bob’ Carlton Brown, II (June 14, 1886 – August 7, 1959) was an American writer and publisher in many forms from comic squibs to magazine fiction to advertising to avant-garde poetry to business news to cookbooks to political tracts to novelized memoirs to parodies and much more.

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Brown was a bestselling fiction writer and found great commercial success selling his stories to magazines and with his novelizations of those serialized magazines stories collected as What Happened to Mary? (1913) and The Remarkable Adventures of Christopher Poe (1913). He also published bohemian poetry when he and his second wife, Rose, became central figures in Greenwich Village’s bohemian arts and culture scene. As part of his work with The Masses, Brown also became a fund-raising impresario staging balls and costume parties at Webster Hall.

With the start of World War I, the Browns were forced into exile, first to Mexico for a year with other war resisters called Slackers.

Later they eventually made their way to Brazil where they started an international business news publishing empire. Using the profits from their business, they traveled around the world in the mid-1920s, spending about a year in China. In 1928, they located to Europe to join the expatriate avant-garde group in France, which included Gertrude Stein, Kay Boyle, and Nancy Cunard. They entertained cultural figures from Emma Goldman to Charlie Chaplin. Brown founded Roving Eye Press, a press dedicated to publishing mostly his own experimental writings. His most famous works at this time include his manifestos and experimental demonstrations, including in The Readies (1930) and Words (1931), for his reading machine and the processed texts that would revolutionize reading.

With the economic depression in the 1930s, the Browns, including Cora, Rose, and Bob, eventually moved back to the United States writing bestselling cookbooks to make a living . They wrote over twenty cookbooks, such as Cooking with Wine (1934), 10,000 Snacks (1934), and The Complete Book of Cheese (1955). The Browns simultaneously worked on a commune, and joined the faculty at the radical Commonwealth College; Bob also helped start the Writer’s Guild and organized summer writing trips to the Soviet Union.

In the 1940s, after Cora died, Bob and Rose became writers in Hollywood; they wrote numerous story treatments for the movie industry, and used advances and fees to fund travel to the Amazon. They published a colorful memoir about their travels and collected artifacts, which they later donated to museums in Brazil and the United States (in Los Angeles). They eventually moved back to Brazil in the mid-1940s, and Rose published a few young adult history books.

In the mid-1950s, Bob moved back to the United States after Rose died. He married his old friend Eleanor, and they restarted Roving Eye Press as well as publishing cookbooks, selling rare and unusual books, and publishing works with the Beat poets.

For more information on Brown see this blogpost by K.A. Wisniewski, also a Maryland-based academic. He is part of a group with Saper who have re-established Brown’s Roving Eye Press. It shows a headshot of Brown, as well.

For an outline of Let There Be Beer!, see Brown’s entry in the website Beer Books, here. It sets out the table of contents and includes a brief extract. The site tags the book, quite accurately, as “rare”. (The title page shown above is from that entry).

The book shows on every page the high literary skills of the writer but also his deep knowledge and appreciation of beer, its history and ethos (mainly in America, Germany, and Britain). The subject is treated in an idiosyncratic way, to be sure, but one is always enlightened and usually entertained. Brown’s youthful experiences with beer are among the best parts, New York saloon days as well.

We especially like his evocation of the pre-Prohibtion drug store, which functioned as a quasi-saloon in many dry areas.

Brown was an odd-type, an artist through and through, rather left-wing (which we are not), but wise in the ways of the world including the business world when it suited him. The book features in many chapters (not all) an unusual style, at times tending to the ironic and even fabulist.

We think this was intended, first simply as humour, second as a kind of parody of the Prohibition mentality, or riposte to it.

Why isn’t the book on the lips of every modern beer scribe or beer historian? Because it came out a long time ago, during Prohibition albeit with its end in sight, because America was in Depression, because the world was much larger.

Another factor is that Germany was soon to enter its darkest period, of Nazi rule. Few were going to lyricize and perpetuate a book that rhapsodized German brewing history and customs.

When beer was legalized in 1933, an event foreseen in a concluding chapter in the book, beer had its own ideas of what the public wanted, or was going to get in any case. Much of the pre-Prohibition lore lovingly recalled by Brown went by the wayside. An avant-garde New York writer talking endlessly of German beer in a pre-Repeal book wasn’t going to change anything.

In any case there was no international network such as we have since about 1970 to publicize and give legs to an effort like that. Michael Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer (1977) was the obverse case.

Finally, the book is quite hard to find. It was never reprinted and is not viewable online except for the odd excerpt.

I obtained a copy though, and can confirm the book is wonderful and important. In many ways it is better than anything our modern beer writers have done including Jackson, due again to Brown’s advanced writing skills but also his particular interests and topics.




A.K., H.K., Hock ale – Birds of a Feather? (Part II)

Summarizing my view of a plausible relationship among the Victorian English beer types H.K., A.K., and hock, it’s like this.

From “Hopped and Keepable”, a term in Fuller’s mid-1800s records, we get H.K., a beer type in those records and clearly the initialism.

From H.K., we get hock, by how H.K. sounds pronounced as a word, in effect an acronym. A surmise, but persuasive imo.

By similar surmise, from H.K. we get A.K., either from an early misreading of hand-lettered H.K. or from dropping the h. But assume the h doesn’t drop for initialisms (the “aitch” factor). Then or in any case it comes from dropping the h in hock. “Ock” seems quite close to A.K. If an ill-lettered person scrawled “awk” or “ock”, it could come out as A.K.

In these readings, since “hopped and keepable” is the root, A.K. retains the sense of keeping, which a brewer stated in 1870 means “keeping ale”. There is the added nuance of keepable too, due to the descent suggested. This helps to understand why A.K., a beer sold within a few weeks after racking, could be viewed as a pale ale (stored) type and why the k in A.K. has the sense of keeping.

Let’s assume though Fuller’s 1800s hock derives from the old festival hock ale, or from a synonym for white porter borrowed from the British term for a German white wine. In either case, if H.K. and A.K. derive from that hock, then “hopped and keepable” and “ale for keeping” would be retrospective, erroneous readings.

Such alternate derivations seem unlikely to us though for reasons discussed yesterday in our Part I.

Of course too, maybe H.K. isn’t related to any sense of hock, and/or A.K. isn’t related to either of them. It’s possible, but doubtful in my view.