Mixmasters of the Art

Marrying Beers, Whiskies; Wade Woodard’s Whiskey Blog

Some years after I became familiar with the fundamentals of beer and spirits, I started experiments to blend bottles at home. Apart from it being intuitive to do so, it is a literal extension/modification of the mashbill common to both drinks, or of their hop component (or other flavouring), in the case of beer. And needless to say producers have been doing it forever, sometimes to achieve a particular flavour, sometimes for consistency.

The idea to mix comes as mentioned from the mash which typically is a combination of malted and/or other grains. So by mixing finished whiskies, you are adding more elements, or more perhaps of the same type. One distiller might make a whiskey, say, from barley malt and corn. Another, from barley malt and rye. Mix both, you have a mashbill of barley malt, corn, and rye, which is a typical bourbon mashbill.

Lot 40 Canadian whisky is 100% rye. If I mixed that with the Hudson bourbon that is 100% corn in varying percentages, I’ll arrive at near a typical bourbon mashbill, okay I’ll add a dash of Scots malt whisky to throw in the malted barley. Some consider that mashing and distilling these when combined vs. as separately produced results in a different taste. I just don’t agree with that after many years of experimenting.

If I mix a Busch beer, which must be 50% grain adjunct today (it tastes like it) with a 100% malt beer I find too sweet, by simple calculations I can get the percentage of adjunct I want to dry down the palate, 50/50 produces 25% adjunct, which sounds about right, or I may aim for 15 or 20% adjunct.

A lot of British and Belgian ale traditionally uses a percentage of maize or something functionally similar, perhaps sugar, or both.

Finished beers and whiskeys of the same class, and even of different classes often, can produce an alternate taste you may like more than the constituents. At a minimum, it produces variety without increased expenditure.

I do this all the time, it’s not rocket science but it’s surprising how many people are resistant to it. My favourite story, I’ve told it before, is I once ordered two 1/4 oz. samples of whisky at a LCBO tasting counter and combined them. A lady next to me was heard to state, “Is that legal?”. (Don’t say it’s a typical Ontario story, it can happen anywhere).

The practice to marry or mingle created the Scotch blending industry and the Canadian whisky style, as well as cocktails. It lurks in the background to the development of porter, among other beers. Mingling occurs even with the same whisky type as the same whisky from different warehouses or parts of warehouses may taste different, hence batching them to get a more uniform taste.

Every barrel can taste rather different in fact, even when all other variables are the same, even when the barrels sit near each other.

Recently an excellent primer on marrying or mingling whiskey was given in Texas-based Wade Woodard’s whiskey blog, see www.tater-talk.com. I know Wade well, he is a devoted student of whiskey and long-time participant at the world’s premier bourbon (and related whiskeys) resource, www.straightbourbon.com.

Wade established his blog, Tater-Talk, a while ago but I just learned of it. He was kind enough to mention me recently in connection with the home blending of bourbon, specifically in relation to the Weller brand, see here. I discussed my minglings frequently when active on the SB forums, and as Wade notes, some people called the practice Gillmanization.

In his post Wade quotes at length an industry professional who makes some interesting statements about whiskey blending. Many things stated go back a long way in the industry.

The idea for example to barrel up for a few months married whiskies is advised in this 1885 manual by Joseph Fleischman, down to using if possible an oak container to do the marrying, see pg. 28.

Fleishman gives various blending formulas, with a progression of quality based on how much straight whiskey is used. If you use all-straight whiskeys, the highest quality, you are really vatting to use an old British and Irish term. The analogy with blending practice over the Atlantic is perfect.

I don’t quite agree with everything the expert stated. For example, I’ve mingled whiskies that produce instantly a harmonious silky texture and taste, one doesn’t always need time to develop this. And conversely, some whisky blends remain disharmonious no matter how long you rest them.

In general though I take the point that “time in a bottle” improves married or mingled whiskies. It’s the effect of some oxidation and other complex processes (see the post again).

Wade has great knowledge too of the U.S. whiskey regulations and labelling practices, and offers many insights in his writing. If you like reading about whisky, don’t miss his regular postings.

Obs. It won’t surprise anyone reading that logically, one ends by mixing beer and whisky. And of course some people do, in beer cocktails, and via, too, the frequent practice of bourbon barrel aging of stout and other beer. Hopped whisky is the other side of the coin, as is whisky finished in a barrel that held beer. Even wines come in for the treatment now – and vice versa.

It’s a bibulous fusion, we see it in cooking – what else is a recipe but a blend – but also in combining elements from different national cuisines, and in contexts outside food and drink, music, say, that may influence how people prepare food and drink, perhaps even subconsciously.

Duncan Brewing/Florida Brewing Inc., Auburndale, FL

40 years ago, emboldened by some freshly-printed consumer beer texts (by M. Jackson, M. Weiner, J. Roberston, etc.), I’d seek out the local beer scene on travels.

I also tried the imports, a suprisingly large range if you had a good retailer source, and regional or national brands. So my beer education is of long standing and predates in fact the craft beer era.

For this reason probably, I retain a fondness for that era, as some of the beers were good and with the benefit of looking back, interesting at a minimum.

In 1973, a brewer called Duncan from the northeast set up a brewery between Tampa and Orlando called Duncan Brewing Inc. His focus was price beers, making beers both under his own name and for private labels.

“Dunk’s”, quite naturally, was the house brand but there were others. Establishing a new, independent brewery then was highly unusual. Still, it happened here and there, e.g., in Alaska in the mid-70s in the form of Prinz Brau, owned by the Dr. Oetker group in Germany. (Yes, of the pizzas you know and love).

It happened in Ontario in ’73 in Hamilton when Henninger of Frankfurt set up brewing there albeit on a brewing site founded by Andrew Peller in the 1940s.

And it happened here in Florida. Who was Mr. Duncan? His full name was Lemoyne Nathan Duncan, originally from Maryland. He lived from 1917 until 2010. You can glean details of his life in this memorial notice.

He sold out to the conglomerate Heileman in 1980 according to Jim Roberston’s The Connoisseur’s Guide to Beer (1982 edition). He may have continued working in the brewery as the notice states he retired at 69.

One wonders what he thought of the craft revival, something he did not capitalise on; it was just too early and Florida then was not the most propitious place for it.

In the 80s the brewery was sold again and at least once after, to independents. Today it’s owned by the Venezuelan beverage and food group that make Polar Pilsner, a big seller not just in Venezuela but elsewhere in South America, in Central America, and into south Florida.

Florida Brewery in Auburndale today hence makes Polar Pilsner, its main brand. The brewery also makes a line of malt beverage (non-alcohol), popular in Hispanic markets.

Other brands in the brewing line include Gator Lager and Amber Lager, which seem Euro lager and craft-styled, respectively. The company also does co-pack and private label work. Maybe the original Dunk’s formulation is on a grocery shelf somewhere…

It seemed long odds arriving in Florida again in 2018 that Lemoyne Duncan’s brewery still exists, but it does. Polar Pilsener is in the older, refreshing, pre-craft style. I won’t judge it until I taste, but online reports use terms such as the Budweiser of South America. In an odd kind of way, perhaps its profile ends by being similar to the Dunk’s of the 1970s, to which Jim Robertson gave a respectful review.

Maybe I’ll even get up to Auburndale. Florida Brewery has a beer garden, I understand, and may make craft-style beers for sale onsite. Get out the GPS.

Postscript: Florida Beer Co. Ltd., which I mentioned earlier, is a different concern, based in Cape Canaveral. It too though is owned by a large group further south, in its case based in Trinidad. Hence Mackeson stout being made in Florida now.

What is Sweet Now, Turns so Sour

Today is auspicious: the 77th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. We offer our remembrances, with the thought that while time’s flight makes such events seem remote, they must always be remembered for the lessons they offer for future tests of freedom.

Can You Show me Where you Are?

Ben Morgan in the comments here recently made some interesting points about a visit to Watou in Belgium and the new restaurant and centre at St. Bernardus there.

St. Bernardus is a secular brewery that for many years brewed the ales of Westvleteren, the Sint Sixtus monastery famous today for its strong top-fermented beers. This was a licensed arrangement, inaugurated in 1946 and terminated over 20 years ago when the fathers resumed brewing at their retreat a half-dozen miles from Watou.*

St. Bernardus overcame the loss of monastic approbation and continues the old recipes, while those of Sint Sixtus have evolved. The two breweries, in this and other respects, have a modus vivendi. It is a good example of the special character brewing has in business. The religious element probably favours it in this case, but still.

The worldwide popularity of Belgain beers occurred in the last 40 years for quite specific reasons I’ve discussed earlier and won’t rehearse.

That trend built on and expanded the special position beer has held for centuries in Flanders and Wallonia. Beer was part of gastronomy in Europe, in these regions and a few others, long before the world caught on via inquisitive journalists and clever publicists.

The social history of beer in Belgium and northern France remains to be written, vs. many aspects of its technical and business history. But there is no doubt beer enjoyed a special respect in Belgium that endured even under unfavourable circumstances. Nothing similar had existed in North America or Britain, certainly.

This press story in the Rochester Democrat Chronicle chronicled the abundant food and drink, free of any ration system, available in Belgium in 1948. As little as three years after the war, the author could write:

This morning I had orange juice, two eggs, coffee, rolls and more butter than I could eat at the continental breakfast they
throw in with your room rent. I had lunch yesterday at the Palace Hotel, the fanciest spot on the line, and though the
grunt—or tab—bore more than a slight resemblance to the national debt, it was wonderful again to taste roast beef and ice cream with thick chocolate sauce.

The pastry cooks are having a field day and their luscious looking creations are everywhere on display. You can buy the finest chocolate candy, the Trappist beer (I never touch the stuff, so I am no practical authority on this), they say is the finest beer on the continent…

Sadly the writer, Henry W. Clune, was a self-professed non-beer drinker, so we get no direct assessment of 1940s Trappist beer, but his report is clearly based on informed opinion.

Think about it: only three years before, a cruel German occupation meant, if not great physical damage as the article notes, privation for most and death or jail for not a few. Just 36 months later, a rich culinary and catering tradition is restored.

It was probably more or less the same in Paris, but Britain still struggled under food rationing. It seems the occupied nations were in some ways better off than the victors, not America of course but it was much further away from the fighting except as noted in Hawaii.

This recognition of Belgium’s own appreciation for Trappist beer, something that evidently predated WW II, is one of the first international acknowledgements I know of for the genre.

A second followed in the 1969 article by Phillipe Mercier I discussed in this post, which showed that Trappist breweries were using all-malt in 1969. But Mercier was writing in an obscure scientific journal vs. Clune’s general audience.

The Belgians simply have a special relationship with beer, and food. Even though they took to mass-produced lager like everyone else, cranky artisan styles survived there long enough to help found an international brewing revolution. In turn that helped ensure the health of abbey and other specialist brewing in Belgium, whence the vibrancy of St. Bernardus today.

Maybe if Clune had liked beer and praised this rare specialty of Trappist beer in 1948 it would have spiked interest in the U.S. much earlier than the mid-70s.

Some Trappist beer was available in the U.S. before Michael Jackson’s 1977 The World Guide to Beer, but it was just another oddball import. And some reviewers dismissed it, and other idiosyncratic Belgian ales, as an obscure byway not likely to interest their readers.

I discussed some of this commentary in my recent article in Brewery History on 1970s, pre-Michael Jackson American beer writers.

Every country, at least in pre-globalized times, had its interests, its priorities, its special gifts. It wasn’t even a question of one category trumping the same in another. British beer arguably in 1950 was as diverse and interesting as Belgian beer, more so in some ways.

But the British, and North Americans in their considerable wake, at least until the consumer revolution of the 1960s, were interested mostly in other manifestations of culture: cars, music, film, fashion, sports. Germany, despite its reputed obsession with beer, was not much different by the postwar era.

Can one imagine a foreign journalist being told in New York in 1948 that the “in” beer was Ballantine India Pale Ale? Or in London, Colne Spring Ale?

No way José.  Don’t be barmy. You want a good beer do you? Here, try Miller High Life, it’s much better than the stuff the pokey Brooklyn breweries still foist on us. Have a go with this Barclay’s lager, it’s brilliant, the future for beer in this country.

Times did change, finally, both Stateside and Blighty for wine, beer and the eating arts. And they play rock and pop in Belgium now, the  chansonniers had to give way, hélas.

Fair exchange, we think.

Posctscript: Henry Clune died in 1995 at an impressive 105, long enough to see the beer revolution take root in America. He lived near Rochester, NY, not all that far from Ommegang in Cooperstown, the Belgian-inspired brewery that made its own contribution to the beer revival.  The Trappist beer Clune didn’t taste but took note of in 1948 wrought a change in American customs he could hardly have imagined then.


* See Ben Rogers’ correction on this point in the Comments, the fathers at Westvleteren had never ceased brewing.





Cars, Craft, and Culture

Most of November was devoted to a major essay I posted on butter tarts history. I’m working with the editor of a food journal to have a referenced, expanded version in print early in 2019.

Currently I’m spending some extended time in south Florida. The car-dominant culture always makes an impression in the U.S. The whole way of living is built on it, certainly in endemic suburbia, in Canada too of course but nowhere is it more apparent than the south and southwest. Prolonged heat and a paucity of public transport make vehicles a necessity.

I’m not the first to say it, but it’s salutary to remind: the car and air-conditioning worked a social revolution here. Almost no one walks except to and from the car.

Jack Kerouac once said Americans have a characteristic lope from the way of walking on parking lots; it’s true.

Yesterday I did a two-hour jaunt through residential and light commercial Fort Lauderdale and didn’t pass another walker, not one. The only people I encountered were leaving or approaching vehicles. One or two were on bikes, but nothing to what you see in the urbanised north. Parts of Miami Beach and Miami are different, but the suburban pattern is widespread here.

Of course the areas are very attractive. It’s a way of life that, while earning the indifference or derision of some, is the envy of the world and has been emulated from Britain to Brisbane.

Even in my folk music phase in the 60s, shortlived as it was, I never bought into the jazz of “little boxes on the hillside, made of ticky-tacky”. My own family history disproved the proposition only too graphically.

Then too there is romantic truth, or exaggerating to make a point, and real truth.

I’ve purchased beer for four days straight here including in Total Wines, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and ABC Wines and tasted pehaps a half-dozen.

I buy based on criteria important to me but probably opaque to many. Sometimes it’s 1970s classics such as the discovery of the trip so far, San Miguel Dark (Negra on the label), from Phillipines.

People say you can’t remember taste from 20 years ago, the only previous time I had it. It’s not true, it tastes exactly as I remember it, I think in Philadelphia. It’s no wonder a panel picked it as the top beer in a 1970s Business Week poll as mentioned by beer bard Michael Jackson.

I also buy for value, as it’s easy to find, say, of the 2,500 beers at Total Wines, something in the category you want at half the price of another. Take Bell’s Christmas Ale, a Scotch Ale going for just a couple of dollars; you can spend much more for similar beers. Ditto Anchor Brewing’s spiced Christmas beer also just out.

For 50 cents off you could buy Anchor’s 2017 edition, so I’ll have both to compare.

A six pack at Aldi of Wernesgruner, just eight weeks from packaging, tasted super-fresh and went for a song. A buck a beer, you know.

It had more grateful bitterness, in the finish, thank you, than most craft lagers I try day in day out.

But I will “spend” when I want to, I’ve long wanted to try the rum barrel version of Chimay Blue, the famous Trappist beer, so $25.00 later it’s in the bag. I’ll crack it with Dave Lee in Toronto when I get back in January.

And I bought a few craft beers in the higher price range just because I wanted to. Brewers are entitled to charge what they feel a beer is worth, and when I encounter a fine experience I am never sorry.

A Champagne Velvet lager from Upland Brewing in Indiana really impressed. An online review states it’s like Coors Light if made by a craft brewer which is kind of true, but the different slant makes all the difference.

All the flavour in the grains is preserved by the brewing attenuations of the 1930s and earlier, which I discussed in previous posts here.

A Baltimore IPA was really good too, Fast Faster and Disaster with every element in the cone. Cone, not zone. Fighter aircraft enthusiasts will get the reference from the Curtis-Wright P-40 on the hatgear.

After a couple of days with cap off in fridge I let it warm and it tasted like a high quality English cask beer…

I check out Budweiser too when in the States. The one I tried yesterday was terrible, the malt adjunct taste was unpleasant, and apart from that it tasted virtually like soda water.

The beer was much better in the 1970s as I well remember and beer writers of the time chronicled. What a comedown. A beer with a great history and heritage left to languish. The owner clearly focuses now on Stella Artois for the premium segment. Stella was better too decades ago, imo, but is still a decent quaff when fresh.

Finally, Guinness Extra Stout as currently imported from Dublin is a standout: rich, malty, bitter, everything a good porter should be. Many craft versions of stout and porter at around 5% abv fall quite short, but then taste is personal. We speak for our taste, here.

I’m meeting up with friend Gary Hodder at New Year’s in Naples and we’ll taste much of what I bought then. And if we run out I know where to get more, courtesy the amazing Total Wines.

Obs. The Mackeson stout is brewed in Florida by a long-established craft brewer, Florida Beer Co. in Cape Canaveral. Florida Beer was bought by the owners of Carib Brewery in Trinidad and Tobago a couple of years ago, and Carib has long brewed Mackeson under license. Hence the devolution to Florida Beer for the U.S. market. Ontario’s supply of Mackeson is still from Carib.





A Yin and Yang of Brewing

Not quite in haste, but as travels loom some quick notes on two beers that to my mind sum up the best of the old and new schools of brewing.

They are, Holsten Festbock, a dark brown bock at 7% ABV, and Hopsta La Vista, a 6.5% ABV from Longslice Brewing in Toronto.

The first shines with its rich malt character, molasses-like even though the beer is pure malt and hops. Holsten is based in Hamburg since 1879 and part of Carlsberg today. Hamburg is hardly a storied centre of bock brewing, that province belongs to the south, Bavaria.

But Holsten’s is one of the best I’ve had anywhere, and recalls surely too a time when all beers were maltier. One or two beer types apart, e.g., Lambic/sours, 19th-century IPA, perhaps unblended aged porter, all beers were once maltier.

Just as the late Canadian-American beer legend Bert Grant once stated that all beers used to be hoppier, they also used to be maltier. The two traits together made beer to all intents and purposes what it was.

Today, many beers still meet the bill, especially under conditions of the beer revival, but they are not always easy to find. The adjunct/light/dry/ice waves in brewing internationally, say from the 1950s-1990s, had their impact on craft brewing, too. Hop character was brought back (frequently) by craft brewing but malt character is sometimes neglected despite frequent use of all-malt mashes.

One reason is attenuations, or the degree to which fermentation is allowed to proceed, are often still too thorough, for our taste that is.

Hopsta la Vista, a craft IPA, offers a pleasing rich clean malt character, almost shortbread-like. And the big hop character is a given. It’s also a reliable beer, changing little since inception some years ago.

The two are a yin and yang as despite being opposites historically and commercially they are in perfect synch as representing the best the beer world can offer.

I understand the Holsten is only flash-pasteurized today, which brings its character more in line with craft. Craft or artisan beer generally skips any form of pasteurization, a process many consider has some impact on beer character.

There is a wealth of good beer to choose from today, and you will rarely go wrong dipping into the craft world – there is very little bad beer, as opposed, say to 25 years ago. But choosing well offers the best chance of a great experience.

A local IPA I’d class with Hopsta is Boneshaker IPA from Amsterdam Brewery. Its honeyed-like malt quality offers again a taste of old-time beer, malt that enriches and gladdens both fibre and soul.


A Gentleman’s Home (and Tavern)

In the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in August 1933 a builder advertised a high-class residence. The ad reads and is laid out like a free verse poem:

A Gentleman’s Home

Rockville Center, L.I.
At the Golf Course.
We have just created a new type home.
A Gentleman’s Home.
English Architecture, Colonial plan.
Stone, brick, cement and timber.
Tree shaded front terrace.
Center foyer entrance hall.
One step down living room.
Exposures east, south and west.
Massive stone fireplace.
Heavy beamed ceiling.
Rough textured, tinted walls.
Built-in, recessed boot shelves

British conceptions dominated the post-WW I invention of suburban estate living, down to the adjacent golf course (still Scottish in American minds, then).

Basement English. Tavern room.
Embedded stained timber walls.
Built-in bar and lounge.
Modern, efficient laundry room…

For arrivistes or others with deep pockets who found “basement English. Tavern room” unclear, a “built-in bar and lounge” would have been reassuring.

The aesthetic was and is known as “country club”. It marries architectural, landscape, and decorative motifs of vaguely English inspiration with the latest modern conveniences, down in this case to Shlage locks and a “scientific kitchen”.

The builder was Levitt & Sons. Ring a bell? Levittown? The famous, affordable suburb-template, studied since the 1950s by legions of sociologists and cultural historians, was just one arrow in the Levitts’ quiver. They specialized in the country estate development too, for a different demographic of course.

The drawing in the Daily Eagle ad shows Tudor Revival strapwork and peaked roofing, much like the (1923) hotel in Niagara Falls I discussed yesterday.

There are many residences of this type in Toronto, built around the same time. Toronto was even more propitious for the concept given its strong British identity in the early 1900s. These homes probably were fitted with tavern rooms, too.

Needless to say, this isn’t the type of tavern Archie Bunker and friends frequented. The Long Island recessed home’s tavern room and its Manhattan commercial equivalent were stylized versions of the real thing, something imagined by American designers as symbolizing comfort, tradition, and dignified downtime.

If you were of English ancestry lolling in your Rockville Center home tavern, or having a Martini with a client in the midtown equivalent, the experience was probably heightened. But the average American aspiring to buy these beautiful residences was probably not English, or had mixed ancestry, as typical of United States social patterns.

Still, the imagery was potent and aroused the response expected. The whys and wherefores are embedded in the origins of the American project and its subsequent development. The long prestige of things British had accelerated as memories of the Revolution faded, and given too the cooperation of 1917-1918 and then the League of Nations.

British cultural prestige crested here in the last 30 years as North America gained its own confidence and our own, homegrown aesthetics found favour worldwide and not least in Britain.

The emblems of Britannia are being forgotten here or at least have blurred – the very concept of Britain, or “England”, has. The onset of the European Union and globalization has weakened the notions of British culture and British civilization imbued in every schoolchild in Canada until recently and inherited culturally in the United States.

Times change.

What of Rockville Center, L.I.? Not surprisingly, a 2014 article in the New York Times described it as an “urbanized suburb”, or “mini-Manhattan”. A handsome, 1931 Tudor residence pictured may well have been built by the Levitts. The buildings are still there.

As to taverns and tavern drinks, the India Pale Ale bequeathed by Britons to America did return after a near disappearance, but the composition is altered. And they drink our kind in Blighty, now. In a 1977 Red Rose Tea commercial, a Briton muttered with mixed admiration and irritation, “Only in Canada, eh?”.

Not IPA, today. Back at ya.

The last word goes to the lyricist of Long Island:

Tennis, beaches, riding academy.
Motor parkway and lake.
Thirty-two minutes to Manhattan.
The complete price.
Ten Thousand Five Hundred.
May be inspected any time.
Yours until sold.



Tudor Reign on the Niagara

This 1923 article in the Niagara Falls Gazette describes the origins of an English-style inn in Niagara Falls, NY. The story is unusually lengthy and smoothly written.

It illustrates well the continued, nay enhanced, appeal of the “olde English inn” in American social life by 1923. In that year, a hotel was erected on the site of a demolished German-American hotel, the Kaltenbach, renowned locally and beyond since the mid-1800s.

The new place was – and is – called the Red Coach Inn, perched above the high rapids a few hundred yards from the American Falls.

The design motifs of an earlier English period, via Tudor Revival, had a strong appeal due to the implied gentility – social status in a word. While the cozy English taproom had to be left out due to Prohibition, the Red Coach Inn otherwise gave full vent to the old English hostelry of American imagination.

A small sample:

Mounting a circular staircase to the second floor the guest is ushered into a most inviting parlor off which there is a ladies’ retiring room. The furnishing of this suite of reception rooms is rich and striking, the lounges and chairs being in quaint old fashioned chintz, the walls in panels delicately tinted in soft, harmonious colors. The same holds true in the guest chambers throughout the inn. The walls are adorned with rare old English prints.

On this floor is the French dining salon which is a dream of quiet refinement. The color motif on walls, panels and ceilings is French grey, the hangings in chintz and the tables and chairs in old colonial style. The china and silverware were made expressly for this establishment, all china having a picture of the coach and four with the words “Red Coach Inn”. The silverware, as well as the blankets, spreads, towelling, bed and table linen, have the monogram of the inn marked on them. The bedrooms are designed to furnish every comfort to the guest. The furniture is actually sumptuous. The beds in single and double are in Tiffany bronze effect with rich floral ornamentations. The dressers and other appointments are of like character.

The images in sum evoke conceptions of genteel English country life and storied Colonial days, all suggestive of a fixed social order, serenity, and a timeless beauty. (The reality was quite different, but that is a different matter).

There was a Red Coach Inn in Niagara Falls, NY in the early 1800s when coaching inns were important in American life, so building a new one had more justice than often accompanies such projects.

In any case, using building and decorative styles of recognized authority conveyed gravitas and status, an idea as old as the hills. In a later period, Victorian styles were borrowed to similar effect (1960s until today). 1923 was too early, though, to recognize Victoriana in this way.

By the 1930s the English inn or tavern idea had burgeoned and inspired new or renovated restaurants, bars, and hotels, to please the aspirant classes and extract lucre from their expanding pocketbooks. In the classic American way, it was win-win. Everybody Was Happy.

With the arrival of Repeal in 1933 the Red Coach Inn could now serve liquor. The hotel went from strength to strength, taking advantage of its location and concurrent growth of Niagara Falls as Honeymoon Capital of the World. Indeed the hotel is still going strong today, pictured above are two images from its website.

A final, and rather local note: the Gazette noted that the hotel manager, who had also superintended the Kaltenbach hotel, had many friends in Toronto and anticipated their patronage of the new hotel. This supplies another clue why the British motif was selected rather than continuing the site’s earlier German flavour.

In American eyes then and until relatively recently, “Canada” was a cipher for “British”. Bearing in mind too that things Teutonic were not exactly in style after WW I, it made sense to “think British” as the next stage to maximize the appeal of a hotel on the Falls.

With America maturing as a nation, coming out of WW I as an ally of Britain, the old enmity viz. John Bull that emanated from the American Revolution had subsided. Britain was now unequivocally a social and cutural model, as indeed American literature and many American social and cultural practices had long recognised, or reflected tacitly.

August Janssen, a German-American restaurateur who owned the famed Hofbrau Haus in Manhattan, did something similar on the eve of WW II in 1939. He created an old English tavern as sister-establishment to his baronial Haus. In his case, the German place continued with the other. More soon.

Note re images and quotation: The images and quotation above are from sources identified and linked in the text. Material is used for educational and historical purposes, and for fair comment. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.




Ebon Wine of Malt

Based on various older sources for storing beer, i.e., English ones from the mid-1800s, I occasionally do a solera-style “barrel” program where I fill a large jug with different beers and seal it for a time.

Sometimes I drink from it and top it up, especially if it is going too flat.

For the pint of beer shown, I used a full-size growler and must have had seven or eight beers in there. Some were flat but none were spoiled. One was Belgian, Chimay I think (red capsule), there was an IPA with a strong U.S. hop accent, and then some lagers and ales of various kinds. And a porter or two.

After topping up a couple of times, I left it over the summer, at room temperature, and broached it only the other day.

It was very fizzy and gushed slowly over the top even after pouring some out.

The beer was on the dry side, chocolatey with a unified savour, quite bitter, and very tasty. No acetic notes whatever, and no funky Brettanomyces taste that I could detect. Maybe there was the faintest lactic note, a fruity kind of tang.

It was absolutely superb, probably similar to some “sound old” porter stored in the vats or cisterns of the bygone London porter-brewers. I could see people drinking it as such, or blended with younger, sweeter beer.

The strong Belgian yeast notes and emphatic American hop notes were almost completely transformed by the long secondary fermentation from the cocktail of yeasts in there. The end result was just … good.

You can tell the yeasts did something unusual as the layer of cream on the beer subsisted hours after being poured (I topped it with a saucer-bottom to drink in small amounts over a couple of days). It kept a lot of fizz, too, refusing to go flat.

If I had to choose one term to describe the taste, I would say “black wine”, a term used in the pre-nitrogen dispense days to describe Guinness, in fact.

For those who know Cahors, the black wine of the Lot valley, it was rather the beer equivalent, un cousin germain.

Unibex and its Saviour

Saint Michael

In August 1948 the Leader Republican, a small-town newspaper in New York State, carried this wire dispatch:

Belgian Brewers Make Drive for World Trade

BRUSSELS –  Belgium brewers have organised an association, “Unibex” (Union des Brasseries Belges d’Exportation), to push the sale of Belgian beer abroad. They plan to produce a standard beer of controlled density, which will keep well even in the tropics.

M. Jean Grofils, President of Unibex, speaking at a luncheon here, said Belgium had lost a large part of the export market abandoned by the Germans and Japanese, because the government had ruled after the liberation that the home market must be supplied first. As a result, he claimed, the thirsty in America and Africa were drinking Dutch beer out of Belgian bottles.

“As for the Belgian Congo,” he added, “we are selling there, but we have just learned that in a little while we shall again meet a competitor, whom we had believed eliminated for a long time. I mean German beer, paid for in dollars.”

M. Grosfils also complained that of 30 commercial agreements which Belgium had signed with other countries since the war, only one – that with England – contained a “drop” of beer.

It seems likely Unibex was absorbed into one of the current Belgian beer associations, maybe Belgian Brewers.

Belgian beer-makers, like their Dutch counterparts and famously Heineken and Amstel, early grasped the importance of selling beer overseas. On paper Belgium was well-poised to take advantage of the post-WW II international market. Compared to its war-damaged neighbours, Belgium was rather better off coming out of the war. According to this 1948 news report:

… Belgian losses in the war were not large. Like England, thickly-peopled, Belgium lives by foreign trade, importing raw materials and food and exporting manufactured goods. Assisted by America in particular, Belgium obtained certain raw materials soon after liberation, which enabled factories to start production. Foreign demand for goods has given Belgium the advantages of a seller’s market. Coal output which affects industrial production at every turn, of course, has been remarkably stepped up by granting special financial and social welfare inducements to Belgian miners and by bringing in foreign workers. Belgium’s own yield of coal is being supplemented by imports from the [German] Ruhr Valley. And the trade of the African Congo colony, much increased during the war, has a significant bearing on the well being of the Belgian motherland. Belgians are aware that the economic health of their country is closely bound up with world conditions.

Yet, as the Leader Republican explained, when Belgians contacted likely markets after WW II Dutch beer was already there and doing nicely, especially in the U.S. But even worse, an indignity was being played out in Belgium’s own colony in Africa, the Congo: German brewers were looming, with U.S. money paying for their exports, only three years after the crushing defeat of 1945.

How did they do it? The money came from the ERP, or Economic Recovery Program – better known as the Marshall Plan. Under the Plan, which inaugurated in July 1948, the United States made both grants and loans to various European countries, including Belgium.

I would think either ERP funds were loaned to African buyers to guarantee payment to the German exporters, or perhaps some money was paid to brewers to help them refurbish and buy supplies. In any case, one can see that Belgium was nonplussed to find its former occupier now facing it in the commercial export arena.

(The Belgian Congo is now of course the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which gained independence in 1960).

The Unibex plan to export a standard beer of “controlled density” envisaged clearly a Heineken-like product: stable, pasteurized, a blonde lager, one ideally suited warm climates. In fact, Belgium did send such beers overseas in the 1950s.

Occasionally in U.S. retailer ads in the 1960s and 70s in the pre-craft era, examples of such beers appear. See for example this list of 1959 in the Times-Union in Albany, which included Ekla, a Belgian lager. Belgian beers, lagers and others, were also reviewed in beer books written by immediate pre-craft authors such as Michael Weiner and Jim Robertson.

Yet for some reason the Dutch, and Heineken, captured the American fancy for imported beer in this period. Various German, Canadian, and Mexican beers competed with varying degrees of success, but Belgium was not a player until relatively recently. The purchase of Anheuser-Busch to form Belgian-controlled Anheuser-Busch In Bev in particular gave an impetus to Stella Artois, but the path had been laid by the success of Belgian specialty beers from abbey beers to West Flanders red ales.

This 2011 article in the Economist outlined various factors to explain the turnaround of world affections for Belgian beer, including the consolidation impact exemplified by the international expansion of AB In Bev.

Yet, it fails to mention the most significant factor (IMO) in this development: the author Michael Jackson via a number of his books but none more important than The World Guide to Beer in 1977. The deftly-written essays and evocative photography delineating a hitherto unknown Belgian beer ethos created an avidity to know and understand these beers. Soon Jackson inspired other writers who broadened the message he first delivered.

Beers that were sourish to the taste were henceforth prized as gastronomic specialties, whereas in the 19th century, most visitors dismissed them as retrograde and anchored in primitive practices. Of numerous examples to cite, this one, from English writer W. Beatty-Kingston in 1890, will suffice.

Before Jackson, there was a scattering of articles in the U.S. press and some recognition in a couple of beer books that Belgium had a beer culture of note. See one press example here from 1964 in Camden, NY. Yet, nothing that would have blossomed into the vibrant reputation Belgium enjoys today where 70% its production is exported and adds considerably to the national balance of payments. Lisa Bradshaw reviewed the recent data in Flanders Today.

Unibex would have swooned to have that result. M. Grosfils would have found it curious too that initial success was based, not on a standard lager, but local, half-disappeared styles such as Trappist beers, lambics, Wits, and other exotica as distant from the Unibex “silver bullet” as one could imagine.

Stella Artois is of course today a growing force in the premium international lager segment, so Unibex was right in a sense, but that growth came in the wake of the romance Jackson created for Belgian beer. Without that groundwork, Belgium would be one of a number of European countries vying for sales internationally and likely well behind Germany, Denmark, and Holland with no cachet, moreover, attached to its beers.

Arguably today Belgium has trumped those other countries’ reputations internationally for beer quality and interest, even Germany. Germany today is perhaps, in beer terms, the Belgium of 1948!

It proves what I’ve said many times: in Shelley’s famous phrase, “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. Not just “poets” whose courage and imagination excite and change taste, but voices “unacknowledged” for their gift to humanity in the fullest sense.

Of course, Jackson was acknowledged by his peers and followers, was indeed a star in his lifetime, but I am speaking in relative terms. By 2011, the Economist could write the article it did and leave him out. Not that one can blame them really, times change, culture is altered permanently, people forget or never knew how it started.

Unibex had the right idea in 1948, but had challenges from experienced international businesspeople based in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Bremen, Munich, and Copenhagen. It needed a poet to sing the soul of beer. He or she wasn’t in purview in 1948 when the imaginative and luminous of temperament were second fiddle to practical plans to restore a functioning world order.

But the saviour did finally come, in the form of Michael Jackson (1942-2007), and that is why in 1994 the Belgian state awarded to Jackson its Mercurius award for service to Belgian brewing. No less than a Crown Prince, Philippe of Belgium, now its King, presented the honour to him.

Note re images and quotations: The image above of an Ekla coaster was sourced from the Tavern Trove breweriana site, here. Image and quotations are used for educational and historical purposes, and for fair comment. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.


Food Fight?

Eventually most New Yorkers tire of the peacock fripperies of the gaudy cafes. There is something irritating to the true trencher­ man, about people who come to a restaurant to be seen more than to express a zest for food. Like that professional society party thrower who bounces from table to table, halooing across the room and otherwise trying to be the whole show! The practised gourmet studiously avoids such places. When he dines out you will find him at rendezvous rarely mentioned in society chit-chat. Dark-timbered sherry and beef havens with old prints, and perhaps a collection of steins racked around the wall. Instead of shrieking jazz, the clatter of knives and forks and the tinkle of glass. No roster of the “small hour” blades, but diners who know the cut of a steak and when a goblet of rare port or a tankard of nut brown ale are a help and not a refuge. These ancient, sturdy places keep their hold in the midst of eternal change.

The above was penned by Manhattan-based columnist O.O. McIntyre (1884-1938) in 1937, in the Endicott Daily Bulletin. McIntyre was Missouri-born and had a unique take on the Big Apple, never fully part of it, which accounted for his singular and appealing perspective.

The cultural references he is making pertain to my ongoing theme, which is the staying power of a certain idea of British eating and drinking place in North American life.

Even though in our day the steak house aka chop house goes in and out of fashion, the fundaments of what he is saying have a certain resonance. Think of the potency of the English/Irish/Scottish pub concept in the last 30 years. (To us it’s all the same thing really).

The dark timbers are still there, in other words. The nut-brown ale, too – it helped spawn craft beer by god. Both are frequently mass-produced somewhere, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s the symbolism that counts.

Due to population changes the restaurant standbys of 2018 can include Chinese, Middle East, Thai, Italian, curry, diner. But apart from the culinary base expanding, does the true eater enjoy his/her “old reliables” more than the name chefs, the new trends, the hot addresses?

I’m not sure about the binary he puts forth. Demographic counts, for one thing. But even for his target reader, the big city “sophisticate”, is what he says true?  What do you think?

Obs. Note how McIntyre uses the compendious term “cafe” to describe the foreign and inauthentic in his eyes. As late as the 1940s the term still carried this connotation here.

Note re quotation: quotation above is drawn from the archived news sources identified and linked in the text (via New York State Historical newspapers). All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes, and fair comment. All feedback welcomed.