Beer Fest Parade

And America’s First National Beer Festival

Beer festivals existed well before today’s countless large and small beer-tasting events. Excluding Germany, which has held them for centuries or more, modern beer festivals are often considered to start with the U.K.-based Campaign for Real Ale’s early festivals. The debut was 1975 or 1977, depending how you interpret it (see here).

For a literal glimpse of the 1975 event in Covent Garden, London, view this youtube clip. Any readers recognize themselves, or friends?

But of course non-German beer festivals have existed for much longer, by which I mean beer-sampling open to the public vs. industry beer exhibitions or expert panel judging.

In 1977 a German-theme summer festival at Hunter Mountain, NY held its first International Beer Exposition.The number of beers tasted was impressive, rising to 146 beers in 1978. A glad prospect, then or now.

Contemporary ads in New York from specialist retailers illustrate a choice of beers from Canada, Australia, Mexico, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Czechoslovavia, and other foreign countries with solid brewing traditions.

Styles from weisse to IPA, from stingo to dark lager, from stout to Dortmunder, abounded. And of course America offered a range of beers from lights to “price” to premium to super-premium. It wasn’t all dross by any means. Sir Edward Stout, anyone (from Cincinnati’s Schoenling)?

In 1969 in Kitchener, ON the first city-wide beer festival took place associated to the city’s now-highly popular Oktoberfest. This historical sketch of Kitchener’s Oktoberfest, prepared by the officiating organization, gives details. A black-and-white snapshot shows citizens drinking from incongruous-looking stubby bottles.

While craft beer is available at some of the tents today, the Kitchener Oktoberfest values beer in a way largely separate from craft brewing, or so it strikes me. None of this has impeded its great popularity.

In 1968 in Australia, a two-day beer fest was held in Victoria by the Beer Appreciation Society of Australia (BASA). It was attended by a generally older crowd wearing business and formal attire. A good account is available via this video clip. Attendees laid stress on drinking for enjoyment, not to get drunk. This shows the novelty of the exercise then.

In interviews, attendees point out beer should be appreciated for different attributes: flavour, body, a sour or sweet note, a bitter one. More than one pinpointed regional differences in Australia’s brews. After a sip one chap says, “evidently not a Victoria brew” but it’s “quite pleasant”. Hard to tell if he was playing to the camera.

Some vocabulary differed from today, two men refer to a beer’s “workability”, a positive attribute meaning perhaps it’s sessional, you can have a few.

Imported beers were trialled as well. BASA continues to this day, judging by a quick online check.

In the 1960s a Kilkenny Beer Festival was held in Ireland. It attracted thousands and was set under a tent in a “biergarten” atmosphere. The Irish-American weekly the Advocate reported in May 1964:

Kilkenny Beer Festival

IRELAND’S first beer festival began in Kilkenny, when the first event in a week of special entertainments and sporting fixtures brought thousands of visitors to the city.

The centre of attraction in the 20-acre festival park was, of course, the gigantic 2,000 seat marquee, where beer was served in German biergarten atmosphere with a band, specially flown from Munich, playing German drinking songs.

The festival was opened by the cutting of a tape across the entrance to the six centuries old Kilkenny Castle. Mayor Thomas Delaney, P.C., performed the ceremony accompanied by Mr. William Pinnegan, chairman of the festival committee and Mr. Walter Smithwick. chairman and managing director of E. Smithwick and Sons, principal sponsors of the event.

Mayor Delaney welcomed about 20,000 visitors from many parts of Ireland, Britain and the Continent. He was glad, he said, that Kilkenny had been selected as venue for the festival as it could boast of having Ireland’s oldest brewery. He added that he was also pleased that the festival would encourage Irish culture through music and dancing.

Competitions in and around the city throughout the afternoon attracted large attendances and the biggest was at the “crazy football game” in aid of the Rehabilitation Institute.

Spectators overflowed on to the pitch.

Later reports in the same paper indicate that Guinness was a sponsor.

It is obvious – or shall I say obvious to me – that this event, which ran at least between 1964 and 1970, had an influence on CAMRA beer festivals. Things don’t come out of nowhere.

This particular festival is of interest in that it did not directly issue from the Bavarian lager tradition. Most North American festivals did before the Great American Beer Festival, launched in Denver in the early 1980s, established the template for the “craft beer festival”. But it was far from the first such American event.

The “First Annual American Beer Exposition” was held in – wait for it – 1933 in Cleveland, OH. It gathered beers from different regions for a large-scale public festival. It was supposed to run during the first week of July. Breweries were so pressed to make their regular deliveries it was postponed to autumn.

The festival was a resounding success. This is one of the early news reports, which gives some sense of the excitement elicited. The idea was to introduce beer as such to an avid, post-Prohibition audience. In many ways, it was the pre-Pro equivalent of what CAMRA did and Great American Beer Festival did in their early years, for their era.

I do not know if the Cleveland event continued, the onset of the Dirty Thirties may have quelled the idea.

Earlier, I found details of the “great” 1877 New York lager tasting, and described it here.

I’ll mention one more, important because it is probably the truly first national American beer festival. It has not been cited to my knowledge by previous beer writers with one exception, mentioned below.

in 1859 a “Great Union Lager Beer Trial” was announced in these terms by the Daily Dispatch in Richmond, VA:

It may seem surprising that the first national lager beer tasting – beers from north, east, south, west – was organized in Richmond, a southern city in what would soon be a Rebel state. However, lager was shipped to Richmond throughout the 1850s and people evidently acquired a liking for it.

Richmond finally established its own lager breweries, the first of which, apparently Goodman & Richter, debuted at the event mentioned on Boxing Day, 1859. Richmond had an increasingly sophisticated water-and-rail transport system on the eve of the Civil War. This facilitated clearly the audacious plan to gather American lagers for a national tasting.

The Daily Dispatch ad is referred to in Lee Graves’ 2014 Richmond Beer: a History of Brewing in the River City. He focuses on the event’s significance to Richmond brewing history rather than the broader implications. Given the scope of the book this makes sense.

But make no mistake: Richmond’s Great Lager Beer Trial was a groundbreaking step. It helped establish a tradition that, but for occasional temperance laws, National Prohibition, Depression, and war, made a permanent mark on American gastronomic customs. It is especially significant as it comes only 20 years after lager is first brewed in America.

Everything comes from somewhere, again.

The above is a conspectus – I could write the proverbial book, in other words. But it will serve to tell a story.




Toronto’s Cask Days 2018 – a Report


The Toronto Cask Days beer festival, organized by beer hospitality experts the Morana family, has just completed its 14th-edition in Toronto. We attended two of the four sessions, the opener on Friday and closing session yesterday.

The festival is one of the largest of its kind in the world, held in the atmospheric Brickworks, a long-disused brick manufacturing plant in the Don Valley. It’s the perfect location for such an event. The unenclosed, gracefully aging work places, with antique machinery and kilns fixed in place, mingle perfectly with the lush greenery surrounding.

The event features mostly beers in the cask or real ale style. It’s a method of dispensing beer long-associated with Britain but all beer originally was stored and served in a similar fashion, before refrigeration, filtration, and gas pressure emerged.

All casks are set on “stillages”, or frames, spiled with thin porous pegs to control the carbonation, and tapped by a hand-turned valve, the old-fashioned way. The method precedes even the Victorian handpump system often associated with cask ale.

A small but good selection of regular (pressure-drawn) draft beer was also offered and various bottled exotica, making the selection over 400 beers in total. There were beers from Ontario, Quebec, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and California.

Add to this a good range of Ontario ciders, a cocktails selection with craft spirits, and even a wine stand, the bibulous or curious could hardly be disappointed.

Virtually every style of beer currently offered in craft brewing world-wide was represented. Of the hundreds of selections, we tasted perhaps 30 as our approach is to sip a little and then discard the contents to try more.

The cost can add up, but it is the only way to get a sense of the range there without getting snookered by the alcohol.

Our favourite beer was a British Columbia Extra Special Bitter from the skillful Driftwood, due to its full, English-styled flavour. The beer actually uses North American hops according to the brewery’s description but they are used in a way that has an English effect. One of the hops is Amarillo, which I’ve said before has an orangey, English stamp to it.

We liked as well a couple of double IPAs from California and a 12% abv Fred barley wine from Hair of the Dog in Oregon. A Barrier IPA from the New York City area, a collaboration with another New York brewery, also impressed with its well-knitted but strong American hop flavours.

I liked too Amsterdam Brewery’s ironically-named Bad Life Decisions IPA, made right here in town of course, and a pumpkin ale with lactose, one of the home-brewing group offered.

The features surrounding the main event – DJs, Arcade machines, food selection, were excellent and all went smoothly. Even the music level seemed perfect for the space and buzz needed. The full attendance was enhanced with travel packages offered, see this description of the amenities from the website.

This year too an information booth was set up, to guide on beer styles, staffed by the knowledgeable Lauren Richard, well-known in the Toronto beer community. A couple of educational seminars were included as well.

Almost all the beers I had were in good condition. Real ale is famously fragile in nature, and shipping such beer across continents is not without risk. None was out-and-out bad. One or two, from California and from New York, had an edge of sourness that seemed atypical but then too as sour beers are prevalent as a style today, few would have noticed.

As for anyone, we stick to what we like, which meant swaths of beers not broached, mainly saisons, flavoured beers, sours, and barrel-aged beers. Still, there was lots to try in the parts we do like: pale ales, IPAs (regular, double, black, etc.), bitter and strong bitter, porter and stout in various strengths, strong ales, Scottish-style beers, brown ales, and various lagers.

If I have one cavil, and it’s not directed to Cask Days since they select what is currently available and popular, it’s that too many of the porters and stouts were flavoured: with coffee, plant extracts, herbs, fruits, cocoa of some kind, you name it. In fact most seemed to be, and/or barrel-aged with its coconut-like aftertaste.

I like these beers unadorned, as the styles originally were. I still found some of course, but none, I might add, that really stood out in the way, say, Fuller’s Imperial Stout does. (We are not fans of the rose petal addition in this beer, like why? But it is barely if at all detectable, a good move by the brewery IMO).

Later this week I’ll look into some North American beer festival history. It’s too easy to think that the early (1980s) Great American Beer Festivals in Denver, CO inaugurated the beer festival on this side of the Atlantic.

In fact, the first national American beer festival was held before the American Civil War.

After that I return to the late Irish writer Charles Duff, and explore his views on 1950s English pubs. This time, in regard to Duff, we take a deeper look, one that examines how such “pub guide/drink tourism” could even be written at the time.

It wasn’t that much earlier that to write publicly of such things was at best viewed as eccentric, at worst as unrespectable.




Charles Duff on the Circa-1950s Irish pub

Charles Duff was an Irish writer of the mid-20th century. While largely forgotten today, an attempt has been made to revive interest in his work. The Ulster History Circle unveiled a blue plaque this year to honour his achievements, as explained 10 months ago in the Belfast Telegraph.

The article notes:

Mr Duff, described by the Ulster History Circle as a “largely forgotten son of Enniskillen”, died in 1966.

Its chairman Chris Spurr said: “Charles Duff has a different and distinctive profile as an author, to two other Irish writers already commemorated by blue plaques in Enniskillen, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.

Duff shared with Wilde and Beckett a Protestant background, and may be described with them as Anglo-Irish unless this foreign observer mistakes the terminology. That being said, Duff had a deep interest in all corners of Ireland, north and south, and authored a travel book in 1953 called Ireland and the Irish.

He wrote a similar book about England, and also covered what can only be described as an eclectic range of subjects. This took in language instruction (he was multilingual, having mastered six or seven tongues), capital punishment (he campaigned against it), Spain under Franco, social satire, and much else.

His career path can be described as wayward: after a limited education he entered the merchant marine, was a soldier in France (WW I) and gassed for his trouble, and, before turning to writing, ended his conventional careers in the Foreign Office and the Bar – he qualified as a barrister, I mean.

This diverse background seems to have opened his mind to many interests and influences; or perhaps it was the reverse that was true. In his Ireland book he devotes some good thinking to the pub, which I’ll turn to in a moment. It is noteworthy as one of the few reflective considerations on the subject to be made, seemingly, in the mid-1900s, versus the journalistic notations from the American press I discussed in my last post.

I’ve looked at a half-dozen histories or accounts of the Irish pub, some academic, and none cite Duff. I’d think this is down to his obscurity today, but perhaps too his Ulster background?

Duff was not a trained scholar, and was autodidact in many fields. Hence, his work retains a popular feel. For lack of a better term, it “relates” to actual social life more palpably than much scholarly writing, which typically serves different, certainly valid, goals.

I can summarize his views in this fashion: the pub was an important social centre in Irish life on both sides of the partition line. Northern and Southern pubs shared many traits except that Ulster pubs tended more to resemble English ones.

The Republic’s pubs, in contrast, could show unique features such as absence of the pub tie, cheaper prices, and sharing the business of selling drink with grocery and other functions. The so-called “spirit-grocery”, which seminal beer author Michael Jackson had noted carefully and illustrated with photographs in his 1977 The World Guide to Beer, was a common feature especially in rural areas. Perhaps it still is today – others can testify more accurately to this.

Duff stresses as well that the pub of the Irish everyman expressed its most authentic character. Pubs frequented by the more prosperous classes were more restrained in character, more inhibited we would say today.

In this respect, unlike the Irish observer of some 20 years later who found pub denizens rather dull (see my last post), Duff found them “interesting” and “congenial”.

Both in this book and other writings, Duff made it clear he sympathized with Irish independence, not perhaps extending to island unification, but in regard to the 1922 treaty with Britain and membership in the Commonwealth. He recognized the deformations in the Irish economy and psyche that English diktat had entailed for so long.

He was no socialist, but seemed a liberal democrat who realized that British empire had reached its terminal point by the early 20th-century. He saw it was futile to resist the impulse of subject lands to self-government, and deprecated in particular British handling of the Easter Rebellion.

At the same time, while he puts it diplomatically, he thought it best that for the time being and barring an unusual event, Ireland should stay divided.

Duff puts great emphasis on the deterioration in his view of the design ethic of pubs in the Republic. Elsewhere in the book he cites the Davy Byrnes pub as an object lesson. He was particularly against the excessive use of chrome for decor and fittings, and said the pub’s 1940s renovation evoked a hygienic American film set.

He preferred the simple wood tables and chairs of Joyce’s Dubliners era. Again diplomatically, he states that Ulster pubs resisted the worst effects of this trend. Nor did he confine the decline to Dublin, as he makes clear similar “improvements” existed in places like Cork. In general he regarded Dublin as more coldly efficient than Ulster even in the early 1950s, which strikes one as counter-intuitive today.

Perhaps everyone regards the physical structures familiar in their youth as inherently superior to today’s architectural fashions. I still like the concrete bunker or “Brutalist” design of many public and private buildings in the 1970s. Was that better than today’s, er, polished metal and glossy glass? Not really, but it’s what I remember in a formative time of my life.

Young people discovering bars and pubs in 1953 Ireland were probably less enamoured of the dusky wood and brass of c.1900 Dublin than Duff, almost 60 by then. After all, the Edwardian period was their dad’s or gran-dad’s era.

Anyway, Duff knew how to write, so I’ll let him argue the matter in his way (pages via HathiTrust).


Note re images: the images above are drawn from the links identified and stated in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Gentlemen, ye are About to Witness the Return of the Old-fashioned Irish pub

Irish Pub: Tradition, Mutation, Adaptability

I’ve proposed a distinction between early Irish pubs in North America, founded by new arrivals or continued by progeny, and a later, more Americanized version. This history of Chicago Irish pubs by Ilison Hantschel will assist those seeking to understand the immigrant wellsprings of the American Irish pub. This 1961 column by a Jewish writer, Harry Golden, spotlights early Irish bars on the Upper West side, Manhattan, that had mostly disappeared even by then.

The later, Mark II version may have been started by someone of no Irish background, or who purchased a pub from Irish-Americans, or maybe too an Irish-American long assimilated, perhaps one who made a sentimental trip to the Free State.

A third stage arrived with the onset, c.1990, of the Irish Pub Concept, of which the Dublin architect and designer Mel McNally in concert with Guinness/Diageo was a principal mover. McNally in this youtube clip from 2011 gives an excellent overview of the goals of IPC and methods by which corporate organization exported thousands Irish pub interiors around the world.

(Diageo has no commercial ties today to IPC but evidently still has a good relationship with it. McNally remains active in the venture some 40 years after first studying, as a student project, the design characteristics of pubs in his homeland).

A fourth stage of Irish or Celtic pub is the craft version, of which a number exists in Toronto, say Dora Keogh, Céilí Cottage, and Stout. Indeed we have examples of pubs in all four classes, and I enjoy examples of each. A good pub is down to the actual experience, which can’t be defined in advance, for any food or drinking place.

The categories are fluid to a degree, and suggested for convenience, but broadly hold in my estimation. This is based not just on considerable reading and reflection but practical experience in Toronto, Montreal, New York, London, Paris, and elsewhere – latterly Kitchener, ON.

In New York in the 1960s the ascension of pub Version II occasionally ruffled feathers. Consider this letter to the Irish-American weekly the Advocate, published in 1967:

Condon was a regular letter-writer in the Advocate. He must have been about 60 and I’d guess a retired transport or other worker. He mentions in one letter having worked on Manhattan subway construction in 1936.

He had definite views on Irish politics – staunchly nationalist – on pubs, and beer, evidently, recalling how bottled Guinness (i.e., Foreign Extra Stout) was served in Manhattan in the 30s.

The Advocate printed many articles on Irish history and culture. At least in the 1950s – 1970s, the period covered by my review, it didn’t take a strong stance on unification. Nonetheless many of its readers were strongly nationalist or at least demonstrated a resolute ethnic pride.

Condon’s letter is an illustration. You can’t blame him in one sense, as into the 1970s at least, a close connection with an ethnic pub entailed knowing its owner well who was a key part of the social network. Condon felt more at home with an owner of his background, and expressed that sentiment in his letter.

Times change, and concepts of ethnicity and citizenship with them, so the letter has an old-fashioned ring.

The Advocate reported regularly on the pubs of Ireland, the model for the bars Condon admired. Most of the articles were complimentary and often quite funny.

One describes a group of customers being surprised by an itinerant vendor who announces, “Gentlemen, ye are about to witness the return of the old-fashioned top”. He entrances them by jigging on a spinning top, appealing to their memories “as childer”.

In the process he unloads not a few of the toys on their gladdened souls. The writer remarks: the jar the next night foregone.

Another piece describes the singing styles in a “singing pub”. Not unexpectedly, the English come in for good ribbing in the craic. In this piece:

Tom Kelly blasted out his own version of ‘If I were a Blackbird’. It’s a good job that Tom isn’t a blackbird because if so it would be too bad for the Queen of England when he flew over her.

Some of the articles pointed out differences from American practise to alert those planning first-time visits. Pat Greene noted dryly:

What I like most about the Irish pub is the uncertainty of it. First of all, though you know to the minute what the opening time will be, when it comes to the closing time you could find your calculations out as much as an hour or for that matter much more.

But not all the treatments were adoring/affectionate. This 1970 piece by a correspondent born and bred in Dublin offered a more nuanced, even dissenting, view. He deprecated the tendency to romanticize and elevate the Irish pub beyond its just place in the scheme of Irish culture.

Not only that, he offered the opinion that in general, New York Irish pubs were superior. (No doubt a safer proposition than if offered verbally in an Irish bar either side of the sea).

A sample (the author refers to himself in the third person):

He does, however, try in an Irish fashion to refute the false notion – that Dublin pubs are full of playwrights, artists and the like – whose de­light in life is – to sell his bill of goods to the visitor, and I must admit – whatever the fash­ion – in this he is sincere. For the Dublin pub is indeed over­rated both as to clientele and the establishment itself. The clien­tele is invariably quite dull, un­less inebriated and the establish­ments – though perhaps semi-historic is not of the historic nature that a nation would seek to preserve. Yet the average visitor, es­pecially the Americans, seem far more interested in the Irish pubs than in the Irish culture.

Another thing notable in the pub reports whether by Irish or American correspondents is the relative lack of interest in beer as such. To be sure Guinness’s activities and sometimes those of other breweries were chronicled, for example when Harp lager was launched in 1960, or when Guinness staff went on strike in the early 70s.

But apart from noting regularly the founding year of Guinness, there was little interest in porter and stout as drinks: their origins, their changes over the years, nothing of that order. Guinness was respected as a strong emblem of Ireland; that was enough and there was no need to deconstruct the drink as became usual after international beer writing started in from about 1975.

Harp lager was greeted with great interest for being something new from Ireland. Its Continental inspiration was noted but not considered inapt for a stout- and ale-drinking country. It must be said Guinness smoothed matters along by trumpeting the drink as Hibernian to the max, as you see here:

Blarney, did they say?

It’s all good, to use a non-Irish expression. (Or it was).

Little was said in the Advocate of Irish whiskey except to note sometimes in the pub you could get a “half-one”, I assume a small drink vs. a double.* Today no touristic coverage of Ireland is complete without a charge into the distilleries old and new. Inevitably the visitor rhapsodizes over a style, single malt Irish, that isn’t particularly Irish to begin with.

I think at bottom this means, the Irish themselves and their wiser relations overseas have always been pragmatic about the country. If building pub interiors for the world gave jobs to Irish workers and contributed to a benign image for Eire, all the better.

If chilled lager, or single malt whiskey, ended by pleasing the Irish equally or more to stout or the old single pot still whiskey, bring them on.

All countries are like this in their organic development, and will refuse to be pigeon-holed except, of course, where it might be to their advantage. The development of tourism has perhaps had this effect in Ireland. But so too has it in England, Scotland, Canada, San Francisco, Venice, and … where has it not?

North Korea, maybe, but that’s no recommendation.

Note re images: the images and quotation above are from the Fulton History newspaper archive, with source for each linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*I should qualify this to state that there are numerous articles in the Advocate from the early 1950s addressing whether Irish distillers should attempt the U.S. market, where they had almost no sales at the time. One solution recommended to them was to blend their straight pot still whisky, to lighten it in the fashion of blended Scotch, but they (commendably) resisted. Today the major regular brands of Irish whiskey are blended – Jameson, Powers and the like, but such blending only came in in the late-1970s. I meant in the text that as for beer, comment is rarely offered (that I found) by the consumer on whiskey choice in Ireland, comparative flavours, ways of serving, etc.










The “First” Draft Guinness in North America

The question of the expansion of the Irish pub internationally has captured the attention of the general media (e.g., New York Times, 1976), beer media, academics (see e.g., Kevin Martin’s stimulating Irish pub history), and everything in between. This Thrillist piece from 2014 by Dave Infante is illustrative of the beer/food/travel press approach.

My interest initially was not so much the “Irish pub” in North America, but the first appearance of nitrogen-dispense draft Guinness. I mean, the form of draught Guinness that replaced naturally-conditioned Guinness, or real ale if you will, from about 1961 in Ireland.

Still, it is impossible to separate meaningfully the two questions, so I discuss both here.

To my knowledge, no one has pinned down the first appearance Stateside of modern Guinness draft, so I’ll step in. It was in 1965, in St. Louis, Missouri.

An article that year in the Advocate, an Irish-American weekly based in New York that lasted until 1989, stated:

For three years beginning Sept.13th draught Guinness will be sold in Famous-Barr, well known St. Louis, Missouri department store. This will be the first time Guin­ness is sold on draught in the U.S. If the experiment proves successful, it will be introduced in other parts of the country where bottled Guinness is now sold. A special Irish pub, now being built on the second floor of the well known store as part of a store-wide Irish promotion, will serve the famous stout. The draught Guinness and the dis­pensing equipment in a unique Guin­ness design are being shipped es­pecially from Dublin, the stout being contained in special casks. Harp Lager beer, Guinness’s only other product, first brewed by the 206-year-old Guinness in 1960, will be on sale in the bar, as well as in the sixth floor restaurant, where Guinness will also be sold in the bottle.

At first blush, why St. Louis, and not New York, or Boston? I think Guinness was cautious, chastened by the failure of its American branch brewery in 1949-1954. Rather than test its new “widget” dispense in New York or Boston, it elected a Midwest location. It’s a frequent gambit, too, of marketers to choose a regional location for a new launch.

At the same time, St. Louis has always had a strong Irish component, so that didn’t hurt.That St. Louis was centre of the Anheuser-Busch empire was probably coincidental, as all American cities then were dominated by the light adjunct lager style. There was no “dawk” to the Buschs, in other words, except in the sense of finding a good beer town to deploy the black stuff.

An additional point I’d make is, before the post-1990 era of design, construction, and world-wide shipment of Irish pubs, now commodified by large business,  the Irish pub was far from a cipher.

That is, it was a real, living thing in Irish expat communities and American ones still marked by Hibernian culture through the generations. This is evident from reading issues of the Advocate in the 1960s-1970s.

They attest to the close link between Irish-Americans, pubs owned by them that advertised in its pages, and indeed Guinness Brewery, whose various doings are chronicled carefully, whether in Ireland or here.

This included the launch in 1960 of Harp lager, which received no little attention in its pages.

In a word, the Irish pub before the nouvelle vague was genuine and nourished an authentic, living community. The pubs were built in North America and poured, before draft Guinness was available, the taps of the locality. They were no less Irish for that because what made them Irish was the people.

That said, from the early 1960s on in North America and elsewhere outside Ireland, the Irish pub’s packaging and commercialization had started. The Hunter’s Horn pub in 1960s Montreal is surely an example. Shown are extracts from its menu and related documents now in the archives of Montreal’s McCord Museum.

This development was not, I infer, simply an organic outgrowth of an Irish-American community.

Hence, one can probably identify four stages of Irish pub in North America. First, the one referred to by Infante where immigrant Irishmen put up their sign on a pub otherwise local in design and atmosphere (yet he doesn’t in my opinion credit them with enough Irishness).

The famed McSorley’s Old Ale House is a good example in New York, but there were and still are thousands more including in Toronto.

Second, there is the 1960-1990 semi-commercialized Irish pub, perhaps appearing initially at a world exhibition, or simply the vision of an astute businessperson. The English pub with its early decor of red phone booth, flock wallpaper, and banquettes was a similar, and parallel phenomenon.

Third, there was the brilliant turn-key concept pioneered from 1990 by Guinness/Diageo and their numerous competitors, as chronicled by Infante. The result was thousands of Irish pubs from Paris to Peking.

Last, there is the craft emulation of the Irish pub, of which the always-uplifting Allen’s in Toronto and Dora Keogh bar adjacent, are pioneers in Ontario at least. In other words, the vision of one person, not a planning team, and focused more on craft beers and fine whiskeys than the average “corporate” pub.

It’s all grist for further reflection and study, it really is. Some of the academic writers observe for example that music sessions in Irish pubs, indelibly part of the genre today from Dublin to Dubai, were a 1960s development, in part sparked by the American folk revival.

Well, I never. You could write the proverbial book on the Irish pub.*

N.B. Of course draught Guinness, the pre-nitro kind, was widely available in America before Prohibition. The 1965 Advocate piece didn’t mention that, if the journalist even knew it, but anyway the context was the first draft Guinness in the U.S. in recent memory, and post-Prohibition.


*Or rather, another one, as a few already exist.




Guinness’s Shot Across the Bows

The Tipperary Rifle Barks

How was Guinness brewed in America in 1951? Well, three-quarters of the barley malt was from Ireland:

For a while the bottled mixture had been shipped from abroad, but finding that the stout shipped this way was not a good sailor, brewing was started in this country. Irish malt makes 75 percent of the malt used. Roasted barley, to give color, also comes from Ireland. A blend of American and English hops is preferred. Water, specially selected for purity and softness, and the special brand of Guinness yeast, flown specially from Dublin, are other ingredients used.

The quote is from a September 1951 story in the Brooklyn Eagle. It reported on the Guinness Extra Stout first brewed in 1949 in Long Island, NY by the otherwise resolutely Hibernian, Guinness Brewery.*

The 75% figure, and general context, suggest some American malt was used. Roasted barley by then – not roast malt, as before the 1930s – was also used, to lend the signature colour and burned taste. Perhaps there was no flaked (raw, unroasted) barley in the mash then, although it came soon enough.

The compound was presumably richer than today, when the standard Guinness seemingly has only 60% barley malt, see David Hughes’ analysis, here. 

The fermentation or attenuation limit has an effect too though. Likely it was fairly pronounced in the Long Island version, as 1930s Guinness ads in the U.S. and Canada mention its dry character. See my earlier essay referencing such ads.

That was in relation to the imported Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, stronger and more acidic than Extra Stout was by then. I doubt American Guinness was fashioned to be more malty, though, and the related ads support this. And certainly it was less tart, in keeping with Extra Stout as a domestic vs. export beer.

The old bottled Guinness, pasteurized or not, seemed to offer inconsistencies the brewery didn’t like. The prospect, too, to offer Guinness at something like half the import price was obviously attractive.

Still, American Guinness was likely impactful on the palate. Much of the Eagle article focuses on ways to blend it with, say, Champagne for a Black Velvet, or 7-Up to form a “Cincinnati”.

Guinness gathered food writers and trade magazine editors in an Astor Hotel salon to teach them about this new Yankee Guinness. Its publicists came up with old and newer ways to entice use of the black stuff.

Some of the mixtures are traditional including the grandly-named Tipperary Rifle, stout with gin. The Rifle is the old blackthorn cudgel, or shillelagh, used by Irish fighting factions of old – pre-Troubles, I might add.

London knew the mix as a dog’s nose, rather pacific an image in contrast, isn’t it. All this can be misleading, as Irish history attests only too well.

A stout and rum mixture was also handed round in the Astor. I just bought a Quebec porter infused with rum – plus ça change.

Good attention was given to pairings with food. A spread of cheeses and choice oysters – the local Peconic was one – was sampled and approved.

The event was also covered in the New York Times, which completists should read for its further detail. The Times account mentioned an interesting etymological variation on the beer shandy, a topic I discussed the other day. It is the Dandy, from South Africa, a mix of lemon soda and stout.

Really, when you think of Guinness (any form), its Velvet and other mixtures, apt foods such as the Astor offered, and the romance of beer’s history, it all brings to mind the modern beer or wine vernissage. Not too much has changed really, especially when well-heeled companies lay a spread.

Even though the consumer society was dawning in its full plenitude and the Korean War was raging, they knew how to do these things. The pre-craft era wasn’t all a rec room of thin lager, chips-and-dip, and pretzels.

Far from 1951 being the beer and culinary stone age, the Astor reception showed the sophisticated side, one that ranks with our best today.

Let’s organize a re-do and confirm. Diageo, give me a call. Speaking of Diageo, it should be noted Guinness is back – in the U.S.A., I mean. Its new brewery, the Open Gate Brewery and Taphouse, opened near Baltimore earlier this year. USA Today dished the details. I’ve written about it too, see here.

One difference is Guinness isn’t trying to brew stout again in America. The stout at Open Gate, except perhaps the odd small-batch experimental, is Irish-brewed and imported.

Today, Guinness is a good sailor.

N.B. For history on the shillelagh, or bata, see the excellent website Irish Culture and Customs, whence the image above is taken.


*For further information on the Long Island, NY brewery of 1949 – c.1952, see my post yesterday.


Beamish Stout Journeys to America

But Gets a Dawk in New York

Beamish & Crawford was a famous porter brewery in Cork, Ireland. It closed in 2009 with the single brand, Beamish stout, now brewed at Heineken’s ex-Murphy plant in the same city.

In 1950, Beamish’s made a determined push into the American market. Earlier, it had expanded cautiously, a history you can read in its own words in an advertoriathat year in the Advocate, a long-established paper in New York City catering to the Irish diaspora.

In the article, Beamish described its current brewing range:

At present four types of Stout are brewed:

A Porter for consumption “on draught” in Ireland.
“XXX” Stout for consumption “on draught” and in bottle for Ireland and in bottle for the United King­dom.
“Knuckleduster”—a stronger stout for consumption in bottle for the United Kingdom.
“Foreign Extra”—a still stronger and well matured stout, in bottle, for export to all countries abroad, in­cluding, of course, the U.S.A.
And so, with progress and expan­sion, the aim of those who guide the destinies of the Company to-day, Cork men and Irishmen, will have reason to continue to feel justly proud of this Brewery they have known for genera­tions …

Of these beers, seemingly only the Foreign Extra was sent to New York. The Knuckleduster name evoked the pre-war atmosphere in which the Deasy Brewery’s stout earned the moniker the Wrestler, see some Deasy history here by Martyn Cornell.

(Beer et Seq knows a Mr. Deasy in Toronto with Cork antecedents, maybe he is reading, are you related to the brewing Deasys, sir? That would be grand).

Considering the image of “Irish bars” in the U.S. then, one thinks Knuckleduster would have appealed to the trade, indeed to New York beermen in general. But the brand seems to have gone to the more mild-tempered Britain. Oh well.

This four-cornered beer strategy, with gravities rising from four to eight per cent ABV (approximately) was followed by Guinness too, always Beamish’s “bigger brother”. See e.g., R. Pattinson’s tabular data here, and Jess Kiddens’ extensive review of Guinness’ c.1950 activities in which the following appears:


As is well-known by brewing historians and Jess Kidden limns in his notes, Guinness bought a brewery in Long Island, NY, the E & J Burke Brewery, to brew Guinness domestically. Burke was the venerable distribution arm for Guinness in America.* The Stateside Burkes finally went into brewing for themselves just after Prohibition.

A Burke Stout and Burke Ale were marketed in the New York area, evidently with Guinness’ approval. Finally Guinness bought up both distributorship and brewery, the former in 1943 according to the Kidden timeline, and the latter in 1949 as confirmed from other sources.

Kidden states that Guinness Extra Stout was brewed and distributed in the U.S. following this purchase, but that (higher gravity) Guinness Foreign Extra Stout continued to be imported. At first blush that’s an unusual arrangement, but I can think of a possible reason for such anomaly.

First the question: why would Beamish choose this moment to enter the U.S. market, when Guinness was making a determined effort to implant itself, quite literally, in the U.S.?

I think Beamish must have looked at it a different way: it would market itself as truly Irish, given its beer was still made in Ireland. On the same page as the advertorial, a box ad for Beamish states “Imported” in prominent type. Additional text puts further emphasis on the Irish origins.

The message to the intended market surely was: Guinness is no longer the real stuff as it’s brewed in America.

I don’t know how long the Beamish imports lasted but Guinness is a formidable adversary. While the Guinness Long Island brewery closed in 1952 or 1954 (accounts differ), Guinness stout continued to be imported, initially via Heublein and later other arrangements.

If Beamish did appear in the U.S. much after the early 1950s, it never made a big splash, I’m sure.

But the path for Guinness was not smooth: in 1952 it was sued for anti-trust violations by Dublin Distributors, Inc. (“DDI”), a local (NYC) business. DDI for years was a sub-distribtor for Guinness, obtaining its supply from Burke, now Guinness/Burke, warehouses in Manhattan and Long Island.

Why would DDI sue Guinness? Because DDI also agreed to represent Beamish, and Guinness, anxious to protect its newly-hatched domestic business, didn’t want that competition and terminated DDI’s distribution for (now domestic) Guinness.

I infer that possibly the litigation was resolved on the basis that DDI could sell Irish-brewed Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the type historically imported by Burke, but not the locally-brewed Guinness Extra Stout.

If so, it wasn’t the best resolution for Guinness, but preferable to years in U.S. courts on debilitating anti-trust issues. In fact on the face of it I’d think the court debacle contributed to premature closing of the new domestic business.

Most accounts recite that people didn’t want to buy domestically-brewed Guinness, but with a dual source of supply confronting consumers, Guinness could not have implemented a  coherent marketing strategy.

By the early-1960s, Guinness bought DDI too, which would have resolved any lingering issues with Beamish.

Note re images: the source for the Guinness product description is identified and linked in the text. The source for the Beamish Knuckleduster label is the excellent BestBeerStuff t-shirt and apparel site. The last image was sourced from the excellent Tavern Trove site, here. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See my Comment below which clarifies that E & J  Burke may not have imported Guinness after Repeal to New York, vs. before Prohibition that is, but another New York company may have.





The other day I noticed a half bottle (PET-type) of Canada Dry ginger ale in the fridge. I had a can of beer partly-filled from a couple of days earlier, it was Amsterdam Autumn Hop Harvest Ale, but I’d have used any IPA or pale ale available for what follows.

(The Amsterdam beer, a wet hop seasonal release, isn’t labelled IPA as such, some have called it American pale ale, but I think it has an IPA character).

It’s been hot in Toronto again, earlier this week I mean. And after a long walk, I mixed the two. It’s shandy-gaff, sometimes called simply shandy, or beer-shandy.

It’s one of the family of beers mixed with a gaseous or other non-alcohol drink in varying proportions, e.g., Radler, bitter tops, clara, Diesel, etc. Tasting it I was reminded how good it can be.

The Canada Dry, while not as assertive as ginger beer, still has a good smack and had the telling flavour in the mix. The beer was not hidden though, especially the hops which gathered round the edges.

The etymology of shandy-gaff is very obscure. I won’t rehearse the different theories except to note they range from a nonsense term to a corruption of a certain blacksmith’s favourite drink (sang de Goff) and yet more. Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (ed. Jonathan Green) offers up two other theories, one related to a sense of “shanty” as a quart, or quart of drink.*

1853 for the compound word, and 1888 for the unadorned shandy, have been cited as first appearances, but searching ’round in Google Books I found this 1846 reference to the full expression. It’s in Charles Dickens’ magazine Bentley’s Miscellany. This is the earliest citation to date, as far as I know.

Bentley’s defines the drink quite precisely as a mixture of ale and ginger beer. Scotch ale was used in that instance which would have produced a quite sweet and still strong mix if 50-50 was used at any rate.

The one I made was only 3% ABV if that, and I think shandy should be not too strong, it is of its nature.

I tend to stay away anyway from strong beer. I still try them but usually add sparkling water to reduce them to 5% or less. It’s surprising how much character is retained in the original drink.

A shandy in Canada to many would mean mixing beer with 7 Up or another lemon soda. You don’t see it as often as years ago. Certainly it was a golf clubhouse or summer fixture at one time.

Brewers have plumbed the depths of the Radler mixture and should launch into shandy. The possibilities are endless and different flavours and strengths can result.

I think an Imperial stout mixed with ginger beer should be very good, an analogue to a Dark and Stormy, the rum and ginger beer mix. The ginger beer would pick up the dryness of much porter as it’s now brewed, too.


*See my additional remark in the Comments below.







Prima Lagers Encountered in 2018

The following are the best lagers I encountered in Toronto this year, to date of course.

Amsterdam 2018 Traditional Pilsner

This beer was a seasonal lager release of Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewery at the start of this year. It featured clean, rich malt with lots of flavour from Czech Saaz hops and the German Mandarina Bavaria variety. There was no obvious New World “citrus” from the partial Cascade heritage of the latter hop.

The total effect was traditional European in a very full, crafted interpretation.

Side Launch Mountain Lager

Side Launch in Collingwood, ON is known for its authentic, German-style wheat beer but our pick of the range is Mountain Lager. It’s a familiar sight in the blue can in Toronto beer stores and is available on draft in many bars.

It has a unique profile, as I guess all excellent beers do. It reminds me of some “super-premium” lager of the 70s-80s, especially Michelob of that era, but with a fuller, more natural flavour. Despite lots of taste it is fermented out thoroughly and ends fairly dry on the palate.

Some Munich-style lager has an “eggy” note, a sulphide of some kind in action; this beer generally does not, a plus in our view. (None of the beers in this post exhibit that trait, or not that we can detect, which adds to their quality in our view again).

Ace Hill Pilsener

Contract-brewed at Brunswick Bierworks in Toronto, and the lightest of the beers canvassed here. Its palate and branding seem designed for the urban aspirational class but the quality is there, especially on draft, which seems deeper in taste than the canned version.

To have a quality product, a “big” taste is not always needed; a good taste is the thing. Conversely, a big taste can be coarse and unappealing…

German pils, a favourite style in the north half of Germany, is often dry and light on the palate, too. Ace Hill is in that tradition but without a pronounced German character vs., say, a Jever pils.

Muddy York Gaslight Helles Lager

The Cranfield Road, Toronto craft brewer Muddy York excels in a broad range of styles. Gaslight Helles has a rich but clean taste powered by Bohemian malts, fine hops, and a distinctive yeast strain. This beer drinks great iced, cellar temp, or tepid. One of the best of the style I’ve had anywhere.

Bellwoods Brewery Bellweiser

Not five years old, the Bellwoods outfit has always impressed by its quality and innovative spirit. I tend to associate ales and other top-fermentation styles with Bellwoods but this blonde lager, Bellweiser, wowed by its good taste and rich floral quality.

If anything the website description undersells the beer.

We encountered it on draft in Guelph recently but intend to drop by the Ossington Street location to pick up some in bottles.

Pilsner Urquell

The Czech classic comes into Toronto warehouses super-fast from its homeland and the quality shows. This beer has always set the standard for blonde lager with its deep floral quality from generous Saaz hopping, and honeyed Bohemian malts.

I had the iteration in London, England this year sold at the Draft House in the City which is the “tank” version, unpasteurized but filtered. This is the best version in my view and avoids the somewhat yeasty top note of unfiltered Urquell you can taste in Pilsen.

But in any form it’s a classic and the draft version we get in Toronto is fine too, although not necessarily better than a very fresh can.

Summing Up

Obviously there are many more blonde lagers available in Ontario than those above. I don’t taste them all, or regularly, few of us can, so there may be a great one I missed. For those I have tried the ones above were my pick for 2018.

A new beer I had high hopes for and just tasted, Creemore Springs Whole Hopped Lager, disappointed by lacking a “middle”. The expected quality from the whole flower hops is there, and I liked the more restrained yeast background (seemingly) than Creemore in any iteration usually presents, but the malt seemed lacking.

Perhaps it’s meant for a demographic that feels the standard Creemore Lager is too rich-tasting. If so, fair enough but to me it’s neither fish nor fowl.

Also, there are dozens of good solid beers one can drink day in day out that are perfectly satisfying while not, IMO, at the level of those above. Czechvar lager from the Czech Republic, say, or the excellent Slovakian Golden Pheasant, Ontario’s Muskoka Lager, or Purity Pilsener from Walkerville, ON, and many others.

The year is not out, if I encounter a new sensation before December 31 I’ll post an update.





Where the Turf Meets the Surf

It’s all About the Beef, ‘Bout the Beef, Plus 1

A food history topic of no little interest and complexity is the euphonious “surf and turf”. Like many corners of gastronomy, it is rich in socio-cultural detail, extending well beyond the culinary. A book could easily be written on the subject, in fact.

Certainly, any dish that has earned this professorial assessment merits deep investigation:

Surf and turf was often considered to symbolize the middle-class “Continental cuisine” of the 1960s and 1970s,[7] with (frozen) lobster and steak as ersatz status foodstuffs for the middle class.[8]

The name has been reappropriated by more recent chefs such as Thomas Keller.[9]

My inquiries will bear on two points. First, when does surf and turf first appear in print as a dish, second, does the term also mean a type of restaurant or menu?

I’ve concluded the dish first appeared in a Los Angeles newspaper in 1961, and the term has also long-denoted a restaurant type or menu.

As well, despite the lack of a pre-1961 citation, the elements of the dish existed on American restaurant menus, including in New York City, in the 1950s.

That is, lobster tails and other seafood, as well as steak cuts, often formed the two main categories of the (North) American steakhouse. At some point, in all likelihood some years before the dish is first documented, someone placed a sample of each category on the same plate to form Surf and Turf.

First Appearance of the Dish

10 years ago the well-credentialed, New York-based food blogger and editor Barry Popik, who is also an amateur etymologist, wrote an entry on the origin-year aspect. His account is still valid today. He cites two Los Angeles-area sources in 1961 as follows:


13 August 1961, Los Angeles (CA) Times, pg. N7:
The “Turf and Surf” is an interesting combination: lobster tail and small beef tenderloin.

17 December 1961, Los Angeles (CA) Times, calendar section, pg. 18 ad:
Surf & Turf
Australian Lobster Tail & Choice Top Sirloin Steak
(Happy Hollow on Silver Lake Blvd.—ed.)

Turf and Surf is an alternate usage that occasionally appears in the early years. In the second reference of 1961, it becomes Surf and Turf. The sources for the two descriptions were evidently different as the cuts of beef are not the same.

Early versions of the dish across the country are as described above: a lobster tail married with a piece of beef. The beef can be various cuts including tenderloin, filet, sirloin, and prime rib.

The spiny or rock lobster tail was, by numerous accounts, e.g., Calvin W. Schwabe’s in 1979, regularly sourced from South Africa after WW II. Food historian Jan Whittaker’s useful account of surf and turf has good detail, in particular, on the frozen lobster tail history.

An early advertisement for lobster tails that were probably from South Africa appeared in 1951 in a box ad in Sarataga, NY, see here.  The ad mentions other dishes including “steak rolls” (usually rolled flank or other thin steak).

Unlike the other dishes, the steak rolls is shown adjacent the lobster tails, separated by a widely-spaced dash. We believe this is not a combined dish, however, but two separate dishes.

Brazil has sometimes supplied the toothsome morsel, or Australia as in 1961 above or in this Rochester, NY ad (1966). This store ad in Syracuse, NY from 1942 advertised rock lobster tails and identified the source as Cuban.

Many news ads in different parts of the United States can be cited for surf and turf after 1961, as the dish went national early, but there is no sense to multiply them as Barry Popik has identified the earliest; at least, so far he has by my research.

Surf and turf may therefore originate on the West Coast, perhaps in the Happy Hollow restaurant, Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles, but this is unclear.

Food and drink phenomena, as I discussed earlier in the context of “wine and cheese”, often appear early on both coasts. Then, as now, a “bi-coastal culture” existed where its various manifestations, from food to drink to television – and politics – are similar on both littorals.

This is due to the large numbers of arts and “chattering” classes in these sections, and frequent travel and interchanges between them.

It would be satisfying to know that Silver Lake Blvd. runs along or near the Pacific Ocean; it does not, yet as the name suggests it does lie by a body of water: Silver Lake Reservoir. The lake is to the northwest of central Los Angeles and the area at least today is a hipster and restaurant hub.

Could the dish have been given a semi-ironic name in Silver Lake due to the presence of such “surf”?

Examples of Restaurants, or Menus, Called Surf and Turf

Early on, the term surf and turf also described a restaurant, or menu, that mainly featured steak and seafood items. This 1967 article from the Press in Binghampton, NY in south-central New York, is illustrative, describing an area restaurant (West Endicott, NY) called Surf ‘n Turf and its menu. The image above is drawn from the story.

In 1973, a restaurant called Turf and Surf Steak and Seafood House in Niagara Falls, ON similarly advertised a steak and seafood menu. The Ontario restaurant also pitched to Americans given the propinquity to the border.

Surf and turf, the dish, was surely an offering on each menu but could not have been the only food sold; there was also a selection of steaks, and seafood or other fish.

Also in 1973, a restaurant called Surf and Turf Steak and Seafood House advertised a menu, evidently of various steak and seafood items, in New Paltz, NY.

In 2018, a Brooklyn, NY restaurant called Surf and Turf operates a dining hall and catering service, with the type of menu suggested by the name, see the website here.

Jen Miller in a 2011 book on the foods of the Jersey shore uses the term surf and turf on the same page to describe both the dish – a variant involving crab cake – and the type of menu.

In general, in my personal experience dining in various parts of the northeast since the 1970s, surf and turf means a type of cuisine, not just a dish of that name.

Examples of Restaurants or Dishes Similarly Named

There were alternate names, without quite the snappy sound of Surf and Turf, for the type of restaurant that offered a steak and seafood menu, and/or for the dish itself.

The Rib ‘n Reef is a luxury steakhouse in Montreal that has operated continuously since 1960. The extracts above are from its 1963 menu (source: the McCord Museum’s archive of historic Montreal restaurant menus).

The menu has two main rubrics, “From The Charcoal Pit” and “From the Sea”, with numerous selections under each. None of the dishes combines steak and seafood, although on today’s Rib ‘n Reef menu you can find surf and turf, by that name, indeed in three variations. Of course prices have changed!

“Beef and Reef” is a variant term that titled a restaurant in Cazenovia, NY in 1979. It was also the name of a dish of broiled lobster and steak in Huntington Station, NY in 1972.

Hy’s Steakhouse in Toronto currently offers its “Steak and Lobster”, a filet mignon and Atlantic lobster tail combination; however in its case it eschews the term Surf & Turf or a similar metaphorical term.

The “Steak and Seafood” Menu and its American Character

These restaurants placed, and still do, an strong focus on steak and seafood. Other dishes might be offered, say, chicken, lamb, or ham. But in the main the “steak and seafood” menu offered a choice of beef or seafood with each category given equal prominence on the menu.

It appears this menu emerged in the 1940s-1950s as a peculiarly American innovation, one that spread to Canada early. Hy’s Steakhouse mentioned above began in the 1950s in western Canada, for example (see its website mentioned). We think American inspiration was inevitable.

In countries other than these two, a beef house might offer a fish dish or two (main course). See for example the menu of Simpson’s-on-the-Strand in London in 1963. This is not a “steak and seafood” (or other fish) menu in the North American conception.

The concept did arrive in Britain finally, from American inspiration in my view, and whether steak and seafood or just steak as such. See for example the historical discussion on the website of the Guinea Grill, part of the well-known Guinea Pub in Mayfair, London.

As early as 1952 the Guinea’s tenant, described simply as Alastair, had the idea to offer the kind of steak American visitors wanted. It was thin on the ground in Britain then, or probably anytime before the steak chains finally took root. The Angus Steakhouse is one, and its early-1960s origins have been described as American-inspired.

It is bootless to argue that the American steakhouse is ultimately British to begin with – the chophouse, beefsteak clubs, and similar. This is unquestioned, and the culture transplanted here with early British arrivals. But that is a long time ago. The Stateside steak restaurant evolved in its own way, including often with seafood or fish as a prominent feature, with an effect finally that rebounded in the old country, like a boomerang.

The case of India Pale Ale, now a craft sensation in international beer circles, is similar. “I.P.A” is of English origin, a beer type sent to India in the later 1700s whose high hopping rate was meant to preserve the beer on the journey. The style was given a twist by modern American craft brewers and their interpretation rebounded and has been adopted in the U.K. (which still makes the original type too but often under a different name, Best Bitter, say).

The 1950s American Steak and Seafood House

In New York in 1950, the Red Coach Grill offered an early but classically recognizable steak and seafood menu.

Each rubric has the same prominence with numerous choices under each. Lobster and swordfish, say, are offered in the seafood section. No dish combines meat and seafood. 10 years later similar restaurants exist (and still do), but are now offering the mixed form of dish.

It may be noted from its menu that Red Coach Grill was a chain, comprising in 1950 eight establishments on the East Coast down to Miami.

Here is another example, from 1958, also in New York State and near Binghampton again: the Vestal Steak House menu. This menu featured broiled lobster tails, probably imported from South Africa or another exporting country later associated with the surf and turf dish, but surf and turf does not appear on the Vestal menu. It is too early, as for the Red Coach and 1963 version of the Rib ‘n Reef, and  O’Henry mentioned below.

This menu of O. Henry, a restaurant which operated in Greenwich Village, NY, is undated but apparently from the late 1950s: note the telephone exchange format. (“CH” means Chelsea: these went out by the early 1960s). The menu offers among the seafood selections “imported rock lobster tail”, but no surf and turf.

This menu of 1940 from Shevlin’s New Chop House in Cincinnati, via New York Public Library’s menu archive, is instructive to show the roots of the 1950s and later steak and seafood restaurant. The name evokes the 19th-century, or older, English chop house. After 1945 the chop house name was viewed as old-fashioned and is less commonly encountered.

Still, the Shevlin menu, although cluttered by more dishes than the later steak and seafood house offered, has its main elements: lobsters, shrimp, and other seafood on one side, steaks and chops on the other. Pre-WW II menus tend to offer many more items than in the post-war era, so the slimming down of menus in general may have assisted the emergence of the classic steak and seafood menu.

Of the countless restaurants that existed in the U.S.A. or Canada with such menus, did not one before 1961 combine steak and seafood as a surf and turf, or turf and surf? This seems likely but no example is documented to date. If such a dish did exist, perhaps it was a “customer” special, bearing his name ad hoc, or another (or no) name.

A dish we can document in 1967 akin to surf and turf was called the Coach. This suggests perhaps that surf and turf existed under a different name(s) before 1961. Still, we are not aware that such a dish has been documented.

Steak and Seafood/Fish Together are not new

To be sure, dishes have always existed combining meat and seafood, famously in Asian cooking. The West features as well, e.g. the Spanish paella, or Catalan Mar i Muntanya. Carpetbag steak is beefsteak of some kind with a pouch to hold oysters or other shellfish. A form exists from Britain to North America to Australia.

A menu in 1900 offered “sirloin and oysters”. Steak and oyster pie, and various foods with anchovy, are old hat in Britain and elsewhere in the West.

But once again: the American steakhouse menu of the 1950s with its binary of steak and seafood was uniquely American. In part this was due to the Maine lobster whose size and excellence permitted featuring it as a main course item. As an example, see this 1954 New York Post restaurant review, where a basic steak menu was supplemented, especially on Friday, by a main course lobster plate noted for its size and quality.

Lobster tails of other countries are usually smaller, often not as tasty, and not as suitable for a main dish. Clearly, with the expansion of middle class eating they were resorted to for cost and availability reasons, but their comparative inferiority to the Maine lobster meant ultimately a combination with beef to kick it up a notch.

Non-Culinary Usages of the Term Surf and Turf

Since the 1940s the term surf and turf has also been applied to various types of clothing, sportswear usually, suitable for use in boating activities or beachside. See this example for women from 1941. The term has also been applied to air-blown mattresses, and other paraphernalia associated with the lifestyle of the seaside.

This is not unusual as surf, and turf, are old usages for sea and land. Their rhyming quality must have meant for an early coinage outside a food context.

In coastal Del Mar, CA surf and turf became a catchphrase in the form of, “where the turf meets the surf”. This phrase, and “surf and turf” in general, were used to promote the racetrack and resort facilities built by entertainer Bing Crosby and partners in 1936 to attract Hollywood luminaries and other names.

Bing crooned a once-famous tune called Where the Turf meets the Surf (Crosby/Monaco/Burke), the signature song of his Turf Club in Del Mar. You can hear him here.

Where the turf meets the surf
Down at old Del Mar
Take a plane
Take a train
Take a car.
There is a smile on every face
And a winner in each race
Where the turf meets the surf
At Del Mar.

In 1947 there was a Turf and Surf Hotel in Del Mar. In 1952 there was at least one Turf and Surf restaurant in town, perhaps in that hotel, as confirmed in this California news squib.

The term surf and turf also had, and may still, a general sporting connotation, covering sports fishing and various land sports. The term appeared in this context, for example, in late-1960s advertisements relating to a “Sportacular” exhibition.

Did the ubiquity of the phrase surf and turf on the California coast and around L.A. in the 40s and 50s give rise finally to the dish of the same name? We think it probable, until further evidence may suggest another path.

Note re images: The sources of the images above are identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.