The Greening of Cervisia

In a 1914 issue of The Western Brewer, German-born Leopold Nathan, designer of the famous cylindro-conical fermenter, said that American lager typically had green flavours.

The German term for this is Jungbuket, see a discussion on the taste, here, a few years ago from The Brewing Network. Indeed Nathan used the very term in English, “young bouquet”.

Beer Bottle.

Nathan argued that a well-matured lager, as in Europe, did not possess the taste. In the same discussion, he said a “tinge of youngishness” was acceptable when krausen (young fermenting beer) was used to carbonate, but he felt the sulphide taste in American beer was much more pronounced.

The krausen process, he said, should only be used with old, well-matured (lagered) beer. In other words, just a touch of green taste results as the krausen was added to a much larger bulk of beer which had none. Indeed he thought the result beneficial.

Nathan said American beer was green because CO2 collected from the fermentation and re-inserted in the beer still retained aromas of fermentation.

The implication was the beer was not permitted to undergo prolonged lagering and carbonate itself or receive a fillip with a final krausen.

Nathan also said on the same trip to America that in Pilsen, the beer was “pumped” to the lagering vats to rid it of any lingering carbonation. This perhaps explains why Pilsner Urquell to this day has no green taste. The word pump implies an agitation, to allow residual CO2 to lift off.

It was this sulphide taste – old vegetable, burnt match, etc. – that the Clausen brewery in New York proudly advertised (1888) its beer did not have. But evidently it still characterized much American beer 25 years later.

Of course, it is hard to know how much green aroma Nathan was referring to compared to modern lagers. One thing I do know: on a trip to Munich some years ago, I found the taste very strong in most helles, much more than in Heineken, say, or numerous craft lagers.

This means I think an interesting reversal has occurred: what Nathan objected to here has become part of the beer palate on his own turf. The reasons would be, abandonment of open fermentation and short lagering periods – the same circumstances which attended increasingly American brewing after 1900. Possibly too shorter boils in the kettle have an influence, as a longer boil can distill off these tastes, if allowed to vent that is.

Nathan’s fermentation system, now usual around the world, used enclosed fermentation to be sure. This would trap objectionable odours not eliminated in the boil, but he claimed to eliminate them by a “washing” method, also described below.

And so in our day, as in his, some lager has the taste (different intensities), and some does not. For lager which does not, some element of the process must explain it: the yeast strain, the malt, CO2 washing or its modern equivalent, or something else. From a homebrewer’s perspective, see this discussion on how to address the issue, which broad brush appears valid commercially, too.

We should note, finally, Nathan’s comment:

I have come to believe that people become so used to the taste they hardly notice it any more.

This may be the true explanation why the Jungbuket taste endures to our day.

Note re images: the first image above was obtained from O. Berk’s packaging solutions website. The extracts from the Western Brewer are via HathiTrust and the links are provided in the text. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Clausen’s of New York Disses the Competition

Imported Lager in Early Australia – A Curate’s Egg?

A short advertisement appeared in an Adelaide newspaper in 1888, for Clausen’s Champagne Lager from New York. Evidently American lager was being imported to South Australia in the 1880s, either taken by steamship from New York to and under Africa, then over on the Indian Ocean, or across America by rail and thence over the Pacific, in either case a voyage of many months. The ad reads:

Of garlic, copperas, and over ripe eggs may be supposed to tickle the palate with a taste like unto that of some of the vaunted brands and cheaper sorts of Lager Beer. There is no immediate harm in it, perhaps, only it is not pleasant, and evil is sure to result from a prolonged devotion to any brand in which the peculiarity is noticeable. The purest Lager Beer in the world is Clausen’s New York Champagne Lager. It was so pronounced by the experts at the Philadelphia Centennial, and from that day to this it has had no equal.

Pasteurization of beer was usual by this period and so the product probably arrived in acceptable condition – at least it would not have soured although one wonders about oxidation damage. Even today drinking beer brought overseas and packaged six months earlier or more is not uncommon, so something similar would have occurred for the Clausen’s lager sent to Adelaide.

Where the short ad differs from almost any I’ve seen is its discussion of how the competition tastes. The ad states that many “vaunted” lager brands taste of garlic, copperas (iron sulphate) and old eggs. The ad calls the taste “cheap” and promises that Clausen’s beer is “pure”, meaning probably that it tastes of malted grain and hops only.

Very early, consumers and brewing experts in the Anglo-Saxon world noticed that lager, being promoted endlessly as the new thing, tasted of garlic. Given the traditional aversion to garlic in Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Celtic circles (something now révolue), this perception had a certain weight.

One would think the trait would have consigned lager early on, outside its heartland, to the would-be category of history. Not at all. Pale lager became the world’s dominant style and to this day, many famed brands have that taste to a greater or lesser degree. I notice it Heineken, Grolsch, PBR, Molson Canadian, Creemore, most German lagers, and countless other beers.

It does characterize some ale too, and traditionally something similar exists for Burton pale ale, but the taste is not typical of top-fermentation, IMO.

Yet, not all pale lagers have it. Pilsner Urquell does not. Coney Island Mermaid Lager does not. Budweiser does not, nor Coors Light, Amstel Light or Tsingtao, say.

The taste is not invariable, therefore, but is frequently experienced. The flavour is usually attributed to dimethyl sulphide or another sulphide. It occurs from the reaction of certain lager yeasts with chemical precursors in very pale malt. Since modern lager yeast derives from single cell yeasts isolated in the late 19th century, there are only two or three essential forms of it, and all the world’s lager yeasts are examples, more or less. Hence the frequency of the taste.

Some brewing scientists in the late 1800s and early 1900s spoke about how to reduce the taste. Long aging was felt important to this end as the off-flavours would dissipate or be re-absorbed by the yeast. Later, CO2 was used to “wash” the taste out of young beer; the great fermentation expert and designer, Leopold Nathan, advocated this.

Nonetheless much of the world’s lager still has the taste, one that has been no bar to its great expansion since the 1800s.

Clausen’s was saying, our beer doesn’t have it, and was seeking a leg up in the market. Clausen Brewery c. 1875 was selling 90,000 barrels a year, and ranked in the top 10 of brewers then. But many competitive beers surely had the taste, including from brewers who well-outsold Clausen. People just accepted it, or perhaps felt it went well with food. As garlic is a seasoning, it makes sense a DMS-influenced beer accompanies food well, especially the relatively under-seasoned German and Anglo-American cuisines.

I have never really accustomed to the taste. I can drink it, but find it at bottom “not pleasant”. Yet I like a moderate taste of garlic and onion in some food. I just don’t associate it with beer. This may be completely learned behaviour, with the obverse occurring in Germany, say. But I do think when lager was much longer-aged than today, it didn’t have the taste, or in much lesser proportion than today. Clausen’s perhaps aged its beer for nine to twelve months, or if not, it achieved a clean palate in some other way. It would be interesting to ask the Urquell people about this, incidentally.

By 1911, one reads of garlic in lager in a benign way, as here for the English-brewed Peter Walker’s lager, then being promoted in Australia. The article correctly notes the taste comes from the fermentation process. It was not, as some speculated, from pitch-lined casks. I should add, by mentioning the garlic taste as “peculiar”, the article did not mean to deprecate it; rather in this period peculiar still could mean “particular” or “specific”.

For whatever reason, the taste became accepted. Whether modern Australian and NZ mass market lagers have it I can’t say, I’d guess some do, in fact I did have a Foster’s not long ago, and recall a whiff of it.

Clausen, which was located at 47th street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan, made classic Anglo-American styles too, like IPA and stout. It didn’t seek to sell these in Australia, as far as I know. One doesn’t bring coals to Newcastle, so to speak – and so to speak.

Note re images: The images were sourced from the following websites: the first, from Tavern Trove, here; the second, from an historical playing cards site, here; and the third, from the Library of Congress, hereAll intellectual property in or to these images belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Justin C. MacCartie, Gentleman Brewer and Novelist of the Antipodes

It Started With Ale

The craft brewing industry has relied extensively on the ale tradition – taking in for convenience stout, porter, saison, Gose, wheat beers, etc. This is in distinction of course to lager brewing.

In the U.S. and Canada where the modern craft industry was birthed, the mass market was – still is – dominated by an international style of lager: light-bodied, with grain adjunct, lightly-hopped. The ales stood as a way to stand out, and were a link to an older tradition. There were exceptions to the “ale” rule, notably Sam Adams and Gordon Biersch, or Creemore in Ontario, but the “heart” of modern craft brewing was and is top-fermented beers. Hence the continuing popularity of IPA.

Ale was also easier to make in a small setting with low capital.

Anglo-Saxons and Ale

In all the Anglo-Saxon countries and even Europe if you go back far enough, top-fermentation brewing was the original method. It was often seasonal due to the inability to make a clean ferment in warm temperatures. Even when an acceptable product was made, it was hard to store it before mechanical refrigeration became available.

In Canada and the northeast U.S., the comparatively cold climate meant for fairly effective ale brewing. I’ve discussed earlier the products of American ale breweries of the 1800s and early 1900s. Many were in business up to 1920 albeit offering by then a niche speciality, within 10% of the market.

Aussie Ale

In Australia, therefore, top-fermentation ruled from the first settlements until lager became the main type of beer consumed. Australian beer historian, Dr. Brent Stubbs, wrote in the 1999 Food, Power and Community: Essays in the History of Food and Drink, ed. Robert Dare, that even after lager production began (1885) its implantation took time due partly to technical problems.

Lager was bested for a time by the onset of what might be termed lagered ales. These were the brilliant, diamond, or dinner ale-type ales which also appeared in Britain and North America. They were warm-fermented but stored cold for a period and often artificially carbonated. The ales the lagered type displaced were considered inferior and he cites a visiting English brewer who rated the taste “sickly”.

But after 1910, modern lager-brewing – bottom fermentation benefitting from full temperature control – became almost invariable. The Nathan fermentation system, which I discussed earlier, played a role certainly in ensuring lager’s dominance in Australia, indeed the new federation was a pioneer in testing and deploying the method.

Whatever the precise reasons – stability, palate, modern advertising – chilled, refreshing lager, less sweet than the German and Czech models and less bitter, became the beer type in the new country. In New Zealand, too. Warm fermentation, whether the products were lagered or not, yielded to the onslaught of pale lager.

Outlier Coopers’ Brewery

Coopers’ in Adelaide is famously a survivor of the early ale days. It has continued in business since 1862, an amazing run especially considering how bottom-fermentation became so dominant elsewhere in the country.

Still controlled by Coopers’ descendants, it makes a fine range of top-fermented beers, as well as numerous lagers. At 5% of the national market, it holds a position broadly similar to American ale breweries (collectively) on the eve of Prohibition.

That cloudy ale so popular in hipster bars today? Coopers had a brand like that all along, Coopers’ Sparkling Ale – the name was ironic, or so Michael Jackson wrote years ago.

But what were the ales of pre-lager Australia like? Dr. Stubbs writes that almost every town had at least one ale brewery up to about 1885. The cities often counted many more. The Australian and New Zealand thirst existed for the ales no less than the perfected lagers which came later.

“Colonial” Ale

Perusing the Australian press of 1880-1920, one finds many comments that are in tune with the English brewer’s opinion. Some refer to the “twang” of “Colonial ale”, which might have been off-flavours from excessively high fermentation temperatures (see below), or possibly the local hops.

In this period, Australian hops including large crops from Tasmania were considered lesser in British circles, even to American hops. When lager use became generalized, the hops used were either a mix or all-imported (Bavarian or English).

Some commentary approved the beers though, perhaps from local boosterism, perhaps on genuine merit. There probably was a good degree of variation among the breweries, too.

As an example of a thumbs up, this article from 1886 contains numerous points of interest. The writer, touring Messrs. H. Leggo and Sons’ Barley Sheaf Brewery in Ballarat, Victoria, liked the ale. He said it was “sharp” but also somewhat sweet, and kept well – he had tasted the beer both new and aged. He liked the porter too, noting that it lacked the “liquorice” taste of most Colonial porter. Now this is a taste familiar to us today, not as inferior, but as typical of much stout and porter. It came from use of black malt, or in some cases probably roasted barley, on a pale malt base.

I think the writer was thinking of the more complex taste that results from using some amber or brown malt in the mix, which the London breweries and Guinness would have done – if Leggo’s brewery achieved that, indeed this spoke in its favour, but even to make what we would consider today good porter was not so shabby.

Some words from this connoisseur:

The beer on draught in the cellar—which is the same as that ordinarily supplied to customers—is a most palatable beverage, clear, with a good body, and neither too sharp nor too sweet. The excellence of the liquor is no doubt due to the fact that the firm provide their own malt, and are, therefore, not compelled to use so much sugar as those who have to buy the former ingredient. Messrs Leggo and Sons are now making a specialty of bottled beer and porter. Concerning the former, we may remark, that even what had just been bottled was an excellent sample of ale; That which had had the advantage of standing for a little while was still better. Clear as amber, lively and sharp, it makes as pleasant a drink as a non-teetotaller could desire; in fact it is as near an approach to the best British brands as could be desired. It is a light ale, and evidently free from any deleterious ingredient. The manufacturers claim for it that “there is not a headache in a hogshead of it.” The porter is also of an excellent quality, free from the liquorice flavor that characterises so many colonial productions of a similar nature.

And so, when she was good, she was very very good. When she was bad, she was … not better, as will appear further below.

Justin Charles MacCartie

Justin Charles MacCartie (1861-1928) was the son of an Irish barrister who emigrated to Australia. At the young age of 23, he wrote (1884) a Handbook for Australian Brewers. The book is a well-written, practical guide to brewing in Australia and also New Zealand, where the author worked for six years at a brewery. This obituary doesn’t mention that he had worked in a brewery or any connection to brewing at all, but states he was a “technical and commercial writer” whose writing included farm subjects, and was also a novelist who had attracted some attention. Another obituary referred to him as scholarly and a gentleman.

Yet, it is the same MacCartie, and proof is found in in this entry in the Bibliography of Australian Literature, Vol. 3, which mentions the brewing volume together with the greater number of creative works he wrote.

Clearly, after his brewing career he took up writing as an occupation. In fact there was some continuity from the brewing, as the introduction to the Handbook states he had contributed significantly to the Australian Brewers Review.

Why the lack of a reference to his brewing past in the 1928 obituary? It’s hard to know, but it refers to his “broken health” in later years. Could this be a veiled reference to alcoholism, in which case reference to his brewing history would have been inapt? There are obituaries, too, in the Australian press for two sons of MacCartie who died from the after-effects of multiple gassings in the First World War. The latter tragedy must have worsened his health even if sound when the sons went to war, but I am speculating again. In any case, we have a case where a professional brewer later became a literary writer of some note – that has to be unusual, at a minimum.

In this review (New Zealand Tablet, 1891) of MacCartie’s novel Making His Pile, the reviewer delivered a vicious verdict. His reference to a knife as metaphor was entirely apposite in the sense that it was he who put the knife in. Maybe this kind of rejection started MacCartie’s health decline, who knows.

I haven’t read the novel, which is a story of society and the underside of commercial life in Dunedin, but would note two things. First, the book elicited a number of even-handed and even complimentary notices in the press. Here is one, from the Daily Telegraph of Hawke’s Bay. Second, reading the Tablet’s assassination which passes for a book review, it makes me think the world of letters, of writing, can be every bit as competitive and mean-spirited as the world of business. (The many in the arts world who presume loftily to criticize the merchant princes might reflect).

No doubt the hard years competing in the brewing business – the 1884 manual refers to some of the difficulties in asides – made MacCartie knowledgeable of the hard knocks. The first-mentioned reviewer claimed ignorance of those ways but it rings hollow when his own article showed all too well how to skewer a fellow writer.

MacCartie On Australian Ale

I’ve digressed a bit, but I’d like Justin C. MacCartie to be remembered for his renaissance quality. And the brewing book is a good one, it shows in every line that he truly knew what good beer was – not all brewing writers do. This comes out in many ways. He supported use of native hops over the “trash” from England, not because English hops were inferior, but the voyage rendered them much lesser to what they were in England. He was prepared to say so when many were not, clearly.

Another example is when he notes that bi-sulphite of lime, when added to beer as a preservative, can react with the Pacific region’s soft water to produce ill-smelling hydrogen sulphide. He says,  people praise the taste in imported English ale – this is probably the Burton “snatch” – but it is viewed as a fault in the local product.

In the passage which follows (at p. 73), he frankly attests to the general inadequacy of Australian and New Zealand ale, but explains why. A flash of the literary ability he showed later appears.

English brewers would stare aghast at the idea of pitching their wort at 70 or 72 F. and letting it rise before fermentation was finished to 90 or 92 F., yet these heats are common in Australian breweries.

Beers fermented at these high temperatures and racked, fined, sent out and drunk in a week or ten days, cannot possibly possess much “character” and could never satisfy the palates of those accustomed to drink more matured beers. Hence the large importations of English ales.

These fast fermentations do well enough for light-running ales which are rapidly consumed, but for high-class ales slower fermentation is necessary, therefore it is well to brew the latter in winter and store them away till summer, when even if they do “fret” in the consumer’s cellar, no harm will result, winter-brewed ales always having sufficient stability to withstand a “fret” without going sour.

The taste of beer fermented at a very high temperature can be found in some modern Belgian ale, it’s a kind of root beer or bubble gum taste. Today, such artisan tastes are fussed over but in his day they were considered second-best. Australian brewing finally conquered the problem and MacCartie lived long enough to see it, but perhaps was pained that it took a drink from a different tradition, lager, to do it.


I’d like to have tasted MacCartie’s Dunedin beer. A modern brewer should remember him, and create a tribute. There is plenty of direction in the Handbook how to do that. Ideally it should be a brewer in Dunedin. No yarn.

Note re images. The first was sourced from Coopers’ Brewery’s website, here. The second, from this New Zealand historical amenities conservation site which shows the city’s Octagon, c. 1890. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.











Brewing Over Time, and Tyne

The Arc of Brewing in North East England, or The Class of ’72

The 1972 price list below is illustrative of a number of points of British brewing and beer c. 1970. The beers are classic Scottish & Newcastle of 45 years ago, some made in Newcastle at Tyne Brewery, some from the two Scottish components, William Younger’s and McEwan’s.

S&N was fully-merged by 1972 but the three breweries in many ways retained individuality, as shown by the branding for each. So really this can be seen as a reasonable regional beer selection of that era.

Gateshead, over the river from Newcastle, had its own brewery in Dunston, Federation Brewery. Founded by workingmens clubs to get a better handle on pricing, it departed its handsome brick pile on Hanover Square, Newcastle in the early 1980s to occupy an anonymous industrial cube, but the beers carried on.

The pub whence this list was saved would have been a S&N account though, unless it was a free-house or perhaps a hotel.

None of the breweries mentioned, the actual brewing facilities, exists today.

The first listing is of traditional draught beers (real ale), however each was also available in “tank” form, which was chilled, brewery-conditioned beer stored in large tanks in the pub cellars. Perhaps it was not pasteurized, or not always. See Martyn Cornell here on some cellar tank history.

The keg beers and lagers offered almost surely were pasteurized and chilled and probably had less hop impact, possibly less malt too, than the traditional draught. Note the prices: all higher than draught (real ale) except for Starbrite which was the weakest, I’d guess.

A point of contention in this era for real ale fans was that (often) well-advertised keg beer fetched a higher price than draught despite being weaker in taste, alcohol, or both. Yet it was the “new thing” and attracted a large following.

Guinness draft was available too, probably brewed in Dublin, not Park Royal, London which supplied only the south and some central parts of the country. But there was also the sweet Jubilee Stout from Bass Charrington, and sweeter Mackeson.

Bass Blue Label pale ale (filtered, pasteurized) was also distributed in the area by S&N, ditto the filtered and pasteurized Worthington Green Shield, and Ind Coope’s Double Diamond. Still, a trio of primo pales, or duo: Brian Glover states that Bass Blue Triangle and Worthington Green Shield were the same beer. They do sell for the same price here.

And IPA! Two of them, both cask beers. Even though the IPA nomenclature had largely died out in most of Britain, it makes a brave showing here. Younger’s Special likely was the stronger of the two. The Americans have re-invented IPA but the beers of those names in draught form in NE England and Scotland would have been excellent beers, descendants of the London, Scottish, and Burton IPAs of the 1800s.

And Scotch ales, note the variations of strength and probably colour. And of course Newcastle Brown Ale (denominated strong) but also its stablemate the amber ale, the one blended with an aged beer to form Newkie Brown.

Finally, two lagers, Guinness’s Harp and Ind Coope’s Long Life.

When this list was used, the NE region had, I believe, five surviving breweries, the two mentioned in Newcastle, Cameron’s in Hartlepool, Vaux in Sunderland, and Nimmo’s/Whitbread (Castle Eden) in Durham. Only Cameron’s remains today of that group.

Despite that, one conglomerate alone offered an enviable luxury of choice, its own and a few sourced beers tacked on. There was no wheat beer, no Gose, no saison, no Black IPA (although you could mix your own at the bar and some did). They did have session though – they invented it. Anyhow, there was a deal of good beer there, no one could complain about it. Perhaps the average alcohol level was too low, but I’m not even sure of that.

Today, the NE counts over 50 breweries, the aptly named Big Lamp is the well-known pioneer (1982). This is less than what existed in 1869 (152), but more than in 1970 (5) and even 1939 (15), see p. 334 and the appendices in Brian Bennison’s superb 1992 doctoral study of NE brewing history, 1869-1939, here.

Gateshead once had six breweries just on its own. But given the mobility of people today and the distribution capabilities of breweries, wholesalers, and the supermarkets, the average Geordie probably has much more choice available than in his/her parental line going back four generations or more.

The North East is emblematic of the recovery in the beer culture of England, but even in 1972, and even as listed by one brewery company, you had an excellent range of beers. It’s more diverse today, but in sheer quality terms, whether the S&N ’72 list is inferior is questionable. Of course it depends how you define quality. I have a feeling if I ran through 25 representative beers of NE craft brewing and put them against the class of ’72, I’d choose the latter.

Or maybe I just like the auld days, bonny lads.

Note re images: The first two images are from this historical Newcastle pub images gallery in ChronicleLive, here. The third is from this pub history discussion forum, here. The last three are from Big Lamp`s website linked above. All intellectual property in or to the images shown belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user. Images are believed available for educational or historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Back to the Future of Beer

Two stories in the last four months pinpoint the turnaround in British brewing since the mid-1970s. The first, from The Telegraph, explains that about 1700 breweries currently operate, an 80-year high. The second, from The Guardian, states that lager sales have fallen below 50% and cask-conditioned ale has regained part of its historical dominance. The second story notes the continuation of the pub-closing phenomenon, but with 4,500 pubs still operating, the country won’t be denuded of pubs any time soon.

New pub openings, even if fewer than the closures and often offering quality rather than quantity, are a fair price to pay for a lower overall number.

In 1976 when beer writer Michael Jackson started his landmark work, lager had just over 15% of the market and, in his words, was a separate drink from beer in the Englishman’s mind. The remainder was top-fermented beers, mostly ale and sub-dividing to cask beer and various forms of keg and bottled beer. Lager grew from there to over 80% of the market but has scaled back under the resurgence of ale-drinking, which includes a small amount of stout and porter and now other styles such as wheat beers, sours, saison.

How does this compare to 1973 when Peter Rusbridge was defending traditional beer to a sunny Canberra audience? While the trend toward lager was well underway and keg beer was a force to be reckoned with, there was still an English beer culture.  Consider his explanation:

He sidles up to me in the bar. “How d’you like Australian beer?” he asks. “Very much indeed”. I reply, “It is a very refreshing drink”. He looks at me, speculatively. “Not like your Pom rubbish eh? — all flat and warm, with ‘stuff floating around in it!” I pause for a moment, and he sniffs the air distrustfully. “No”, I eventually reply, “It certainly isn’t like that”. He relaxes visibly; the point has been made. My friend has just made one of those facile statements, so bland in their utterance that they win immediate acceptance, but which are wrong, and which would take an hour of carefully reasoned argument to refute properly. He should be in television. The truth is that English beer is very different from Australian beer; that it is sometimes warm, sometimes flat, and sometimes cloudy; but that it is also sometimes very cold, sometimes frothy (not fizzy), and usually crystal clear. The chief interest in English beer is that it is always different. Somerset beer is different from Lincolnshire beer, and both are very different from Northern beers. There are pale beers, dark beers, hoppy beers, malty beers, beers that taste like soap, bitter beers with the tang of vinegar, sweet beers, heavy with the taste of yeast still working, mild beers and stouts. You must search for the beer that suits you best, and then you must find the landlord that knows how to store and serve it.

This variety of tastes was offered via “The Big Six”, the large brewers mostly formed by unceasing industry consolidation since the early 1900s, and a few score surviving old regional brewers. There were just four brewpubs in the country, remnants of the 1800s “beer house”. Given some of the Big Six had numerous plants, each of which might issue numerous brands, this permitted in total a few hundred ales, many still in cask form, with bottled and canned ales in addition.

This was nothing compared to 1900, when Hampshire county, say, had 80 breweries alone as Lynn Pearson wrote in 2010, but still represented a decent beer culture.

It was this variety which allowed Rusbridge to make the case he did, albeit he saw the risks from keg beer and closure of traditional pubs or their conversion to pub-restaurants attracting a flashy clientele.

In fact, everything he, CAMRA, Michael Jackson, Roger Protz, and other beer-aware factions wanted finally came. Despite the occasional flare-up of sensitivities, e.g., when an exemplar of the craft scene, Cloudwater Brewing in Manchester, recently announced cessation of cask sales, the current beer scene is a complete reversal of 1973’s trends. With no or a little trouble, even in more remote parts of the country anyone can have good beer.

Even if Cloudwater’s decision heralds a trend, and I think it won’t, the new keg beer can’t in any way be compared to the old. It is real beer – although I remain a supporter of CAMRA’s real ale remit – in any meaningful sense of the word. It is often all-malt and full of hops, including a pungent hop accent not available in 1973: the New World taste introduced by American brewers. 1973’s keg beer was full of adjunct, pasteurized, served cold and fizzy, and not very hoppy – much of it didn’t even taste like beer. I remember it from its “classic” era. A good description is Ovaltine-meets-cold-tea.

Lager has retreated despite the best efforts of the best marketing and ad minds in the world. Good lager has made inroads via availability of Budweiser Budvar, Pilsner Urquell, and many other fine imports. (International brewery consolidation has proved a beneficial factor here). There is also increasing craft production of good lager.

The purchase of some small breweries by large ones should not be a concern. First, it’s the beer that counts. No one in the 1970s cared that Directors Bitter, say, came from a large brewery. While some will always want to patronize small shops, which is certainly their right, most of the market will buy what tastes good at the right price.

Second, new breweries continue to open and will keep faux-craft “honest”.  We are in for a long period of extensive beer choice, in most Western countries now. This resulted from the campaigning efforts of very small numbers of people in the 1970s, people who loved beer and stood up for it when it wasn’t fashionable.

Of those names and I’ve mentioned a few in the last couple of posts, one has Olympian standing. Michael Jackson. When you re-read his early works, as I have recently, apart from the sheer quality of the writing, what comes across is his deep knowledge and love of beer. It can’t be over-estimated what influence he had on the rise of craft brewing here. The latter’s shake-up of the British brewing scene is therefore indirectly due in large part to his handiwork.

Many people shared that avidity, but he had the gift to explain it, in particular the traditional beer cultures of Britain, Germany, Belgium, the Czech lands, the United States, in a way no one has since.

Note re image: the image shown was taken by Trevor Ermel and is part of a series of evocative, 1970s photos in Gateshead included in a ChronicleLive page, here. All intellectual property in or to the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users. Image believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Peter Rusbridge Calls for a Glass of the Best

Convincing Canberra Beer Could Be Special

This article describes the U.K. beer scene at a time of transition, 1973. Written that year by an English journalist, it explained his nation’s beer to (Australian) readers of The Canberra Times. The article is both a description of the best that exists and a plea to preserve it from encroaching change.

The piece is entitled The Pleasures of Warm Beer – now that’s edgy for the Australia of the mid-70s.

CAMRA, the influential cask beer lobby, had only existed for a couple of years. The writer seems influenced by CAMRA and lauded especially beer from the wood. He may have been a member of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, a proto-CAMRA which still exists. He was a good example of the “real ale” fan, someone who gained consciousness that, as Michael Jackson put it in The English Pub (1976), “a detail of English life [was being] obliterated”.

The article expresses the new awareness that so-called keg beer – chilled, pressurized, pasteurized draft – was edging out the traditional, unfiltered and unpasteurized ales. It makes the case for a regional identity to beer, something still possible then as there were enough surviving regional breweries, and to preserve that legacy.

Michael Jackson most famously, but also Richard Boston, Roger Protz, and others later took the message to a national and (finally) international audience. Their message resonated and was amplified in the United States and Canada, whence the craft beer phenomenon which has rebounded to the U.K.

It is gratifying to note that the brewery Rusbridge mentioned as a charter member of the old school, Badger Brewery, is still going strong. Rusbridge, hopefully also still with us, must be very pleased and with how good beer has resurged in general. Of course there was the victory of mass market lager, which filled the role keg beer was designed for, but the proliferation of new small breweries and beer diversity including for cask ale is now assured.

Badger is called today Hall & Woodhouse, and run by the 7th generation of Woodhouses – it doesn’t get much more traditional. Indeed, a feature of our world 40 years on is that the local and old-established can also be international: the Fursty Ferret flagship of H&W is available in bottled form down the road from me at LCBO. I wish it had a more pronounced taste, but then bottled and draft beer are often two different things, and on its local turf I’m sure it is very nice.

The cask ale Rusbridge lyricised was probably Badger Original, no longer made. But there are plenty of newer Badger cask beers to entice the fan, as this page from the website shows.

Were the Aussie readers convinced? I doubt it, except for recent immigrants perhaps. In that period, Antipodeans had a deprecating view of the “Poms'” beer, which Rusbridge notes in the unaggressive way then typical of English journalism. (His last paragraph though digs the knife in, in the genteel old world way).

Today Australian and similar parochialism in beer is mostly a thing of the past. Even those who like beer but aren’t “beer literate” are hesitant to be chauvinistic. The Aussies were famously different a generation ago, even for beer outside their own state – the other stuff was all muck, generally.

Today too there is air conditioning everywhere, which allows full-bodied beers to be served at less than glacial temperatures and enjoyed even in hot countries. And, so, there is plenty of good beer in Australia including Canberra.

Finally, the traditional pub described by Rusbridge did not disappear. Many pubs keep the tradition going of unpretentious decor and service. True, the hipster side of the beer scene can change that, but overall there is more choice in beer and good places to drink it than 40 years ago. (And hipsters have a right to their establishments too, it’s a free country – still).

Raise a glass to Peter Rusbridge’s prescience and advocacy. It took backbone to stand up for real English beer to an audience inured to iced lager. But as often happens, those in the wilderness can be seen later as prophets.

We even have beer in the wood again, in particular the newer-style American oak-aged beers.



V-E Day in Halifax, NS May 7-8, 1945

With Nowhere To Drink, The Men Improvised Public Beer Gardens

Canadians haven’t been exempt from the volatile combination of restive military personnel and alcohol. What I described in Brisbane in 1940 was more than matched in Halifax, Nova Scotia when German defeat was announced on May 7, 1945. A two-day riot ensued in Halifax in which the Canadian Navy played a prominent role but members of all other services, and many civilians, were represented.

Many were injured, frequently by falling into shattered plate glass, and three died, two from alcohol poisoning and one, a naval officer, under circumstances never fully learned (or revealed). The city was looted and numerous fires were started, some by arson.

A key part of the events was raiding city liquor stores and the Alexander Keith’s brewery on Lower Water Street. As in Brisbane, news accounts reflected shock at the breakdown of civil order and military discipline.

The incident, often referred to as the celebration Halifax would prefer to forget, has been discussed many times, in books, magazines, television, and more recently in blogs. This two-part article by Bob Gordon of Esprit de Corps magazine gives a succinct overview of events and offers a plausible reading of the immediate cause: letting many thousands of personnel into a city without entertainment facilities and not arresting the first miscreants.

This blog piece by George Burden is another excellent survey, and offers more of a psychological interpretation, basically how extreme circumstances can lead to a dissolution of normal reflexes and habits.

Today, Canada projects an image of amiability and near-pacifism. We did participate in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and until recently had jets bombing ISIS in Syria. Most military efforts in recent decades have been in the peacekeeping style pioneered by Lester B. Pearson, the former Liberal Prime Minister and diplomat. Canadians did this work in Suez, Cyprus, Bosnia, and elsewhere.

In the mid-40s though, Canada was a significant part of the Allied armies. Its navy in particular was one of the biggest in the world. Despite the Conscription Crisis and the reluctance of Quebec fully to join the war effort, Canada played an exemplary role in the fighting. It participated fully in the Italian campaign, Normandy invasion, and liberation of The Netherlands.

The development of war-like habits cannot be turned off and on like a spigot. Halifax in particular was a focal point of Canada’s participation in the Battle of the Atlantic. The city saw plenty of travail, any city does which is involved in a major war effort, but Halifax was the receiving point for the damaged ships and men who came back from the sinkings.

In a situation like that, normal sensitivities and courtesies are blunted and given the right conditions, people will act more like soldiers do professionally. That said, as bad as it was, there was only one death and the injured were mostly a result of their own haplessness.

The role of alcohol and specifically beer was a huge part of what happened. Why did the men feel emboldened to loot and steal cases of beer (thousands) from Keith’s brewery and break into Nova Scotia Liquor Commission stores?

First, there were no bars in Halifax then, no taverns. There were restaurants, but they closed so operators and staff could enjoy the V-E celebrations (not that the city had planned very much, there were some fireworks and parades organized). Movie theatres were closed. All liquor stores were shut for the two days, a Monday and Tuesday, over which the V-E was celebrated.

Yet 9,000 military came into town from bases and their ships – with almost nothing to do. And the navy (the admiral in charge of that theatre) let another few thousand ratings into the city the second day, after it was clear disturbances had occurred.

Some accounts stress long-standing resentments by the military in a town that had difficulty absorbing them over the six-year war. Some soldiers and sailors, “uninvited guests“ as frequently termed, felt they were being gouged and in general disrespected by local merchants. Townspeople for their part were (understandably) fed up with the periodic small riots that occurred on naval paydays throughout the war. Halifax was a small port city before the war, not an international one and it offered no amenities of the type sailors and other military were accustomed to on postings.

This article by Jay White about the ill-fated Ajax Club says much, in my view, about the real cause of the rioting. A society figure had opened a club which sold beer to members of all services. It served thousands a month. But it was closed in 1942 due to apparent pressure and influence of a nearby church. After the closing, the only drinking service members could do was at a wet canteen, and indeed it operated (with no trouble) during V-E but it wasn’t nearly sufficient to serve the many thousands in town and ran out of beer anyway.

Halifax, at that period, just wasn’t up to the demands placed on it to accomodate the “r & r” of service personnel and, in my view again, it paid the price by seeing the city trashed at the war’s end. It just couldn’t make the transition needed from the 1930s when it was a small place dominated by a local elite and not many years away from the prohibition period of the 1920s. It was impossible to apply a small city’s mores to an unprecedented situation, the great growth of the military presence and in particular the influx of many from Toronto, Montreal, and other areas where social and cultural habits were different.

Some stories on the riots, both contemporary (1945) and recent, make much of hostility between “Upper Canadians” and the local people of Halifax and Dartmouth.  At a minimum, it was probably an exacerbating factor. Of course, Halifax had performed well in WW I (and suffered greatly from the 1917 Explosion), but there was an “international“, or cross-cultural, factor present in the 1940s that didn`t exist earlier. The fate of the Ajax Club shows this clearly. Something else that shows it is the rapidity of communications by 1945.

The news of victory came on an AP wire. The federal government hadn`t announced the end of the war but events overtook it and people decided to celebrate anyway. In 1918, there would have been a more orderly way to announce victory and more time would have been available to plan properly.

Of course, nothing is simple. Had the personel been kept on their bases, had the province and city planned earlier and more effectively for V-E, had early contravenants been arrested, the riot probably wouldn’t have occurred. But if you are looking for one evident cause, I think it was the lack of places to eat and drink in town on those two days. When you see pictures of sailors drinking in public parks, in effect making them makeshift pubs, it is evident that had normal facilities been available the tumult would not have occurred, or been much less impactful.

The admiral who allowed his men into town, Leonard Warren Murray, was relieved of his command in 1946. There is an odd coda to his story. Despite entering the naval service in Canada at 15 in 1911, after emigrating to England in 1946, he qualified as a solicitor, in 1949. It`s rather late to enter the trade, and an interesting transition. No doubt working with lawyers during the official inquiry made him familiar with lawyers` ways. The chair of the Royal Commission of Inquiry was the Honourable Roy Kellock, a Supreme Court of Canada justice. You can read his report here.

N.B. Numerous statements herein drew on the numerous 1945 press accounts collected at this link.

Note re images: The first image was sourced from George Burden`s article linked above. The second, from The Chronicle Herald`s archive pages, here. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Brisbane Beer Riot

The last post offered a news story of 1945, written by a naval officer, commenting on differences between the beer cultures of Australia and England. The press account conveyed a sense of amity and warmth between British and Australian forces.

This seemed to apply throughout the war for Britain and its former colony but was far from the case in regard to the substantial American forces in the city. There was a major riot, generally called the Battle of Brisbane, in 1942 when Australian and U.S. personnel fought tooth and nail with many injuries and at least one death: a hardly creditable episode in Allied relations. Indeed it wasn’t the only such incident, smaller disturbances between the same factions occurred later in Brisbane, and elsewhere in the country.

I mention this simply to distinguish it from the October, 1940 riot, an all-Australian affair (America wasn’t in the war yet) known as the Brisbane Beer Riot or Brisbane Beer Barrage.

(The image shown is from the later period when American forces were in town, but conveys some of the atmosphere of the early 40’s Queensland hotel).

The Brisbane Truth described graphically what happened and the reasons: not enough beer for the soldiery, or not at the right times. Queensland licensing laws required hotels to close by 8:00 p.m. and shutter on Sunday. The authorities did not enforce the rules though and a practice developed to keep the hotels in swing until 11:00 p.m.

With the war going badly and a long struggle in sight, there was a clamp-down, and the law as printed was applied. The soldiers rebelled, taking over part of the downtown and snatching a keg through the smashed windows of a hotel. They rolled it down Queen Street to the lusty a capella of Roll Out The Barrel.

This is how the Truth described the initial stage of the tumult:

The trouble is believed to have originated when the soldiers were ordered out of a Queen street hotel at closing time— 8 o’clock— and was still fermenting three hours later. Military police were called in from the camps to assist the police, but the demonstrators remained out of hand. Complete control over the men was not gained until 2 o’clock this morning. Trouble began in Queen-street shortly after 8 o’clock, when soldiers were removed from the hotel. Fights broke out among the uniformed men. When other uniformed men joined in, the quarrel spread, and soon civilians gathered around the disputants, police came on the run, and hurried calls were sent out for reinforcements of both civilian and military police. Civilian police acted with restraint, and endeavored to calm the men, while officers who were rushed to the city in big military trucks, also added their persuasive efforts, but failed to quieten the men. Officers then went into consultation with the men, and hot arguments ensued, some of the men hooting their superiors, while others cheered. Eventually, some arrangement was apparently reached— there was no chance of any civilian getting near enough to hear the tenor of the conference— and the officer blew his whistle. The men forming up in marching order, and went from Queen-street to Edward-street. The march proceeded as far as Charlotte-street, when somebody suddenly started the cry, “About turn!”. It was taken up by numbers of the men, and soon swelled into a tremendous chorus. Almost as a solid body, the men obeyed the order, turned, and marched back into Queen street, led by a soldier who set the march tune with an accordion, which could scarcely be heard above the din of the shouts, “Roll out the barrel, we want beer!” and the cheering and hooting of the men. By this time, extra pickets had been rushed in from the suburban camps. The march proceeded into George-street, but eventually came back into Queen-street, where amazing scenes developed.

The tone of this, and other press accounts, shows the shock of the populace against this complete breakdown of morale and discipline. Terms such as “unprecedented” and “sensational” fill the stories. If anything the papers underplayed what happened, due probably to military or self-censorship. Modern historical reviews such as this one give a fuller picture. (The last link has many interesting photos, including one showing a special dispense system to serve beer without a head, a preoccupation particular to Australia in this period it seems).

Numerous inquiries were held and one result was A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force) canteens, formerly dry, were allowed to sell beer until 9:00 p.m. while the 8:00 p.m. rule continued to apply for civilians. This demonstrated to the forces a degree of solidarity they had felt, not without reason, was lacking earlier.

In his reverse picture of the English pub and drinking in 1943, the Australian Godfrey Blunden wrote that beer was essential to the war effort. The alcohol level was moderate, and beer supplies in particular unreliable but there was enough to go around or so people judged. In Queensland, shortages and narrow trading hours were accepted by the population but the soldiers made clear you could only go so far in their regard.

I am careful to restrict these remarks to Queensland as the states in Australia, due to their independent history before federation, had differing laws regulating breweries and drinking even after the war started.

Given the strains of any war and Western traditions, a reasonable policy on alcohol seems necessary, or that is how it was viewed then.

Note re images: the image first above is from the Wikipedia account of the Battle of Brisbane linked in the text and the ultimate source is credited therein. The second is from this Wikipedia story on the history of the AIF. Copyright belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Britons, Beer, and Brisbane

Recently I looked at an Australian’s (favourable) take of the English pub in 1943. An Englishman returned the favour with an assessment of drinking in Brisbane in 1945. It appeared in the local press just after the war ended.

The writer was a journalist-turned-naval officer who was reporting his mens’ impressions, all favourable. In this case, there was no parallel to the Australian’s dismissal of his own country’s bars, as the sailors fondly recalled their native pubs, each with its own clientele, particular atmosphere, and choice of mild or bitter ale. As the writer said, “Some like mild and some like bitter”.

But because beer was weak in England during the war and often unavailable, the comparative normality of the Brisbane hotels appealed to them. In this sense, the articles closely parallel each other.

In the 1945 piece, the difficulty of finding beer in Brisbane was explained, the line-ups and stratagems needed, but the ratings didn’t mind. They also liked the beer, only one brand was available, probably Castlemaine XXXX or a lager from Queensland Breweries in Bulimba. The writer referred to the “tang” of the Queensland beer, which is hard to parse, maybe it was the lager yeast smell, or different taste of Australian malt.

This 1931 article stated that all beer in Queensland was made with 100% malt, so a pronounced flavour of local malt may have been a factor unless malt substitutes were used during the war. They are today, certainly, and I suspect that XXXX back then was rather a better beer than the current XXXX Gold.

I once read that out of the country the British drink any kind of beer with equanimity. It’s true in my experience, and well predates the general use of lager in the U.K.

Anyway the British Jacks got on well with the Aussies, and their beer. Occasional rifts between the British and Australians are well-known, but wartime solidarity probably trumped all and a united spirit pervades the piece. As the writer put it:

‘Jack’ likes your hotels, and he likes most of all the ‘blokes’ he meets inside. The spirit of the bar is just the same as back in England. Hail-fellow-well-met is the order of the day, and that suits us.

Not that getting beer in Oz was easy then. To get a sense of it, read this piece in 1944, “How Brisbane Drinks Beer”. It didn’t sound like a pleasant experience. But the English sailors were good with it, probably viewing it as a bit of a game. Or maybe military personnel got favoured treatment, that seems likely.

The sailors when homeward-bound argued whether the Queensland beer was in the bitter or mild category. This, combined with the reference to their beer discrimination in general, puts the lie to the occasional stories that in the past, manna or muck, people took what brewers sent them. It wasn’t so, people developed palates and made choices and this comes out of the story clearly.

A few years later, a new beer was issued by Cairns Brewery further north in the state, described in this story as a “lager type mild bitter ale”.

No wonder they argued on the bridge whether the Brisbane hotels sold them bitter or mild.

Note re images: the first image above, of 1940s Brisbane, is drawn from Pinterest, here, and the second from the historical page of the famed Breakfast Creek Hotel in Brisbane, here. Copyright belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users. Images believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Mashing Without Malt

Can raw grains produce fermentable sugar without using malted barley or another malted grain? Yes. While malt greatly facilitates the process, unmalted barley, rye too, can produce a fermentable mash.

See Edward Skeates White, a 19th century authority on malts and malting, here, at 46-47 (The Maltster’s Guide, 1860).

Numerous books confirm this including Brewing With Raw Grain: A Practical Guide (1883) by Thomas Lovibond, well-known brewing scientist of the same era. See the table at p. 73 where he states he made a mash from 100% raw barley (“barley 100”). He gives the respective yields of barley 100 and mashes of mixed malted and unmalted grains. It is no surprise the 100% unmalted version is lowest in yield, but a wort is produced and alcohol results.

See the extracts below (pp 133-134) from Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders, an early (1913) ethnographic study of the mountain people of the Appalachians, viz the mash for mountain whiskey. If malt was available they used it with the raw grains. If it wasn’t, e.g., due to the “blockade” or British embargo during the Revolutionary War, they made a whiskey mash anyway.*

Raw grains have enzyme, b-amylaze, in small amounts but this can convert polymer starches to maltose.

White explains why it generally isn’t done in brewing: rawness of taste, instability of the wort. Stewart & Thomson make a similar point  (see pp 15-16) in their 1849 text on brewing and distilling. Lovibond claims in his book to offer methods which palliate the disadvantages of raw grain, but he clearly opts for a mixture approach and indeed that is the basis of large-scale brewing today of adjunct lager.

Whether one approves of mixed mashes is a question of taste. I generally plump for all-malt based on some 40 years experience tasting beer. However, adjunct used in small amount can produce excellent beer, too.


*Re-reading the Kephart account, perhaps really the mountaineers were making their own malt, maybe that is what he is saying, as there is a sprouting, drying, grinding of the moistened corn. Perhap corn is different, but the other authorities mentioned are clear that raw barley for example can produce a fermentable mash. Raw corn must be cooked, too, to hydrolize the starches. Nonetheless the account is valid IMO as showing an artisan practice, and it may be noted too he explains fermentation can be done without adding yeast. Last year I devoted numerous posts to this aspect of “wild” fermentation.