Navy Rum, Part III: the Deptford Blend, the Afterlife

Drilling Down on the Black Stuff

This part will conclude our three-part survey of the navy rum tradition. We foresee a Part IV only in the event we are able to taste some original, pre-July 31, 1970 navy rum (date the ration ended in the Royal Navy) or if we succeed one day in blending our own.

A further important reference is the website, Up Spirits, established in 2014 by an ex-Royal Navy serviceman (name not stated from what I can see). He displays and collects memorabilia such as pitchers and other copper-plate measures, wood tubs, bakelite cups, glasses, hydrometers and other recondite equipment associated with storage and service of the rum on ship.

The image above was sourced from his site with the idea to encourage all interested to peruse it as a superb resource. Copyright belongs to the sole owner, and is included here for educational purposes only.

The Up Spirits site includes much fascinating information on numerous aspects of navy rum. It is more a collection of notes under various heads than one consistent narrative, but very useful for that. Numerous period and current photos are included that add considerably to the narrative.

For example, the New Zealand museum website I cited in Part I states that the 1939 edition of Victualling Manual BR 93, Chapter 7, “Rum”, provides that rum blended at Deptford comprises Demerara, Trinidad, Natal, and Mauritius rums.

The author of Up Spirits adds this:

In certain quarters, the blend is advised as being ‘secret’, however, anyone who attended PO’s Leadership Course in the 60’s will know differently. ‘Trainees’ were advised that the blend of Royal Navy rum is:

60% Demerara   30% Trinidad   10% Australia & Natal

If there is indeed a secret, I think it likely that it has more to do with how the rum obtained it’s distinctive colour, which clearly adds to the flavour also. The Admiralty Victualling Manual – BR93, advises that caramel was added, some even believe that light treacle was also an addition.

This is a very interesting statement, as “navy rum” to those conversant with spirits does connote a rich treacly drink. The spirit caramel bottle has been used forever in the drinks industry to standardize colour and perhaps impact taste (there are differing views on this), but in any case it seems treacle was sometimes added.

Clearly therefore the use of Natal and/or Mauritian rum by the RN predates WW II. Perhaps sourcing rum from South Africa and finally Australia began in WW I when German U-boats interfered with normal Empire trade.

Clearly too the composition of navy rum changed over time, and if additives were used this was probably intermittent. (It would be good to read Chapter 7 of the victualling regulations in full but I cannot locate the text online).

The Up Spirits site also describes the considerable afterlife of British navy rum, one that extends far beyond the Pusser’s and Black Tot brands. Our old friend Bass Charrington, from beer knowledge that is, acquired a good chunk of the rum in the early 70s, presumably for its pub estate.

(It’s satisfying to know in a perverse kind of way that 20-year-old rum of a quality to distinguish a gentleman’s table or tony culinary society went down the peoples’ gullets in suburban estate pubs or dim city boozers. Apologies for the British lingo but it’s apt here).

Surplus rum was also purchased by various private parties in the U.K. including some ex-servicemen, years before Black Tot emerged (2010). So a fair amount of it was in circulation one way or another but of course today there is little left.

Still, the author states he has friends, ex-navy, who regularly drink it. Lucky chaps.

The site seems to clarify as well the army rum/navy rum issue and comes down firmly on the side that Black Tot is the authentic navy article. He explains that once made surplus, rum was transferred by the two remaining victualling yards – Deptford’s closed in 1961 – into stone flagons covered by wicker. These were sent to army bases in Germany.

So when the Black Tot venture gathered last stocks for its luxury release in 2010, some probably came from those bases but was navy in origin. The confusion arises from the fact that army rum was an item too, sourced on open tender by the government vs. the system for navy rum where only one supplier had been used, ED & F Man & Co. – still going strong in London as commodities brokers.

The army rum was also stored in vats at the navy victualling yards but separately from the navy supply. Up Spirits states the army rum was different in character to navy rum and Black Tot is the real thing.

The website explains well the complicated procedure to store, access, tap, blend with water, and serve the grog on ships. Every ounce of the rum had to be accounted for.

Each ship had a spirits room that had to be separately ventilated to reduce the risk of fire from evaporating cask fumes. A special flooding system was also provided to snuff out any fire that did spark in the spirits room.

Any extra grog in the tub after service of the required portions was “scuppers”, sent to the briny deep – at least officially.

Cask sizes varied depending on the type of ship. The “barricoe” pictured, a small, torpedo-shape cask, reminds me of the early cask used to store whiskey on the American frontier as I flagged a while back. This small cask might be at the origin of bourbon, in fact.

It is not fanciful to suppose a barricoe (clearly, from barrique) used for rum or other alcohol in the early RN was offloaded in Savannah, say, and made its way upcountry to the Georgia hills and beyond, to be filled with whiskey finally.

And so the vessels used to hold navy rum varied from the massive, 32,000 gal. vat at Deptford, mentioned in 19th century literature with awe in the same breath as the biggest porter vats or the vast Heidelberg beer vat, to a little barricoe you would carry with one hand. See this 1840 instance of travel literature as an example.

“Fannies”, or metal jerry-cans for water, were emptied with the spirit into polished wooden tubs for service to the ordinary ratings.

The various fittings and containers, extending to Sykes hydrometers, make quite a show when polished up and the Up Spirits site has a great selection on view.

What the site shows is that knowledge obtained from men who actually drank and served the rum is vital human history that supplements the official public accounts and records. All of it together provides a fuller and richer story than any part on its own.

I’ll add this 1896 article from the magazine The Navy and Army Illustrated, as it offers its own history of the rum ration in a pointed and engaging way. The author’s description of the reviving properties of rum goes some way to explaining the special attraction of this drink as an official restorative.

The writer suggests two ways to take it, neat or with water (“not too much”) for cold weather, and in a Stone Fence in hot weather: this is cold ginger beer and rum. Today rum and ginger ale provides a good alternative, the Canada Dry brand has a good zesty flavour, we like Vernor’s as well from Detroit (or originally it was).

The 1896 article incidentally does not minimize the tendency of the rum ration to cause undue drunkenness. Indeed abuse of the ration explained the reduction of serving quantity over time and Admiral Vernon’s infamous order to cut the drink with water.

By 1896 the drink was 2.5 oz. rum at the Navy strength mentioned earlier diluted with twice as much water. Essentially this was a couple of drinks, not likely to cause benders when served once a day but the abuse problem resulted from men trading their tot or hoarding them somehow.

Berney Baughen had been a supply officer on a 1946 survey ship in Malaysian waters. Many years later he wrote this graphic account of a young northern English sailor becoming violent under the effects of extra rum given him by shipmates for his birthday.  The account is posted on a website maintained by the late author’s son.

Clearly the writer must have been troubled by the incident despite all the years that passed, to warrant setting it down for posterity that is. It shows that rules and reality were sometimes two different things. Because the ship was small and on long assignment – three months without re-supply – water conservation was important.

The rum ration therefore was served neat even to ordinary sailors, which may have worsened the incident in question.

On recovery the sailor was given a slap on the wrist – two weeks without leave but the ship was on the sea anyway for this period so it had no practical effect. He was banned from liquor for the same period but his colleagues allowed him his daily tot anyway! This shows how rules were sometimes bent with (presumably) no blowback for the ship or captain.

If I can get some Australian, South African, or Mauritian rum, I will make my own navy blend. We can get aged Demerara and good Trinidad in Ontario but not the other items. I will be in New York soon and look for them.

Light treacle is no problem, you can still buy it in Toronto even in the large supermarkets.

I’m half-way there mate.

 

 

 

 

Navy Rum, Part II: the Deptford Rum Stores and its Epicurean Rum

Looking more deeply into Navy rum it surprises me how rich is the mining. A sub-vein I’ll explore below is touring the Deptford Dockyard (pictured below) including the rum stores, a stop on the industrial tour circuit in the 19th century.

Deptford Victualling Yard was the complex of yards, works and storehouses in south London where supplies were manufactured, marshalled and shipped around the world for the British Navy. The main dockyard was closed in 1869 but the victualling portion continued in use for almost another 100 years, finally shutting in 1961.

For in-depth resources on navy rum history, a book-length study of the subject appeared 22 years ago, Nelson’s Blood: The Story of Naval Rum by James Pack. I will read it in toto one day but for now must be content with short extracts – still it is helpful, especially on blending and proof.

I refer also to the useful, two-part blog article by U.K.-based, New Zealand-born Ben Leggett, a barman, drinks writer and consultant. It provides accurate, clearly-written information on a variety of aspects pertaining to the navy rum tradition in an attractive design format, and lists references.

In a comment to one of the posts Charles Tobias, the American creator of Pusser’s Navy Rum, compliments Leggett on his research. That is high praise as Tobias had access to Admiralty records when recreating the rum as a commercial venture in 1979.

Numerous online miscellaneous resources, extending to the major Commonwealth countries, are still helpful: with all these together you get a vue d’ensemble. Some contain inaccuracies or simplifications though, for example regarding the original proof at which the uncut liquor was issued.

The first two sources mentioned have a high degree of accuracy, therefore. I have relied on them in part for what follows.

This short piece by Jacqui Good on Canadian naval rum is interesting on numerous points including that Canadian sailors sometimes palmed their tot! They used Coca-Cola to feign drinking it and secreted the tots until enough was available for a clandestine shipboard party.

The image of the polite, law-abiding Canada the world has had for years was always rather exaggerated. But remember, we didn’t settle a continent’s width and help win major conflicts by being Goody Two-shoes.

Some of the last U.K. rum stocks are still available, at a price of course. Four decades after the ration ceased in 1970 the U.K. government sold off most of the surplus, stored for years in wickered stone flagons, to a firm that mingled and bottled them in luxury format.

The rum is called Black Tot. Numerous online reviews of the drink are available, such as here. It is stated the rum was about 20 years old in 1970, mostly distilled that is in the 40s. The taste notes remind me of older, rich Demerara rum, like El Dorado’s line. This means dark caramel, smoke, earth, rubber, coffee, fruit, quite a cocktail of taste that makes for a rich, impactful drink.

It may sound unlikely that Navy rum was an epicurean item, whether at the end of its life or earlier but it is so: from the mid-19th century at least it had that reputation. Only under pressure of wartime when rum shipments from regular sources were interrupted was resort had to alternate, lesser supplies.

Natal was called in for example, in South Africa. Leggett reports that the Deptford vats were “swollen” in the 1940s and despite the great pressures of a world war the Navy continued to dispense rum to a grateful fleet.

As to why a workaday navy would evolve a connoisseur’s drink – remember it was meant for the ratings, not the officers – in part the rum needed to have a big flavour as it was diluted with water except for the petty officers, who could take it neat. But also, probably, the blenders’ palate had something to do with it.

Perhaps too in peacetime stocks built up in Deptford and the rum just got better with time, so that became the accepted palate finally.

Thus, strange as it sounds, the rather spartan life of the sailor, whose food at the best of times was stolid and monotonous, was enlivened by a sybaritic note. Such are the twists of history.

Even the Black Tot story contains odd corners, for example one or two people thought the rum may not be navy rum at all but rather ex-Army rum long stored at a British Army base in Germany. This seems unlikely to us, but it’s yet another example of the layers of detail encountered in an area ostensibly rather simple to parse.

As to the rum’s strength: Nelson’s Blood states clearly the “issuing proof” was 4.5 underproof, that is, 95.5 proof – Sykes of course, the old U.K. system not the American one.

That is 54.5% abv, or 54.8% abv if a rounded 96 proof is used. As seen in the extract above, the engineering group who toured the Deptford stores where the rum was gathered and vatted were told the proof was 96, four under 100 proof.

Issuing proof was arrived at by diluting the rum to that level from an importation strength of 140 proof, or 79.9% abv; probably this was distillation proof, at least for some of the rum (the heavy rum to use a blender’s term).

Just as for bourbon or Canadian whisky, distillation proof was knocked down to a lower proof for maturation purposes. The rum came in white as snow and received its aging and blending at Deptford according to a second account of a visit to Deptford, mentioned below.

Nelson’s Blood states that two vats were reserved for dispensing; in these the exact proof was assured: 95.5 proof (as different vats would result in slightly differing proofs just as occurs in any whiskey warehouse).

Pusser’s offers a version of its rum, Gunpowder, which is precisely 54.5% abv. – the true and original issuing proof. Thus, web sources that suggest this number is shy of a true issuing proof of 57.1% abv (100 proof Sykes) are not correct.

Of course with dilution that would drop and in effect a tall drink was given the regular ratings as numerous photos attest. In some navies the proof varied, I mentioned earlier that New Zealand diluted such that an effective 43% abv resulted.

Now on the Deptford touring aspect: the 19th century was a time of confidence in industry and free enterprise, quite different from today or at least the tone of public chatter today. It was the thing to tour large commercial and industrial facilities and the smokier and dustier, the better.

A sub-genre of 19th century consumer beer and whisky literature is the inspection of large breweries and distilleries. I have described a number of these, which also occurred in North America.

Guinness, Barclay Perkins, and Whitbread in the U.K. were some of the better-known names on the brewery tour circuit. Gooderham & Worts’ and Hiram Walker’s distilleries in Ontario also regularly received admiring tours, some of which were written up in technical and general media.

Brewery and distillery tours are hardly new, you see.

And indeed it was also a thing to tour Deptford’s works including the rum stores, to gape at the huge vats, climb to the top, and taste of course the nectar from a ladle. A New Zealand newspaper account of 1877 attested that English royals were afforded such a tour earlier. The King tasted, nay approved, the Navy’s rum. This is very similar to Royal Visits to large breweries in about the same era.

The visit of the British engineering society a year earlier, per the extract of Scientific American reproduced above, suggests Deptford was on the itinerary of the technically or industrially curious in the later-1800s. It was good PR for the Navy and British public administration. It was good PR for the brewers and distillers, and still is.

On to Pusser’s rum, the recreation: does it resemble the last stocks issued by the Royal Navy? It does clearly in its composition, a blend of rums from Guyana, Trinidad and other Caribbean Islands (the full recipe is secret). Company representatives insist the Admiralty formula was followed, and I have no reason to doubt it.

However, the rum in the period just before the ration ended was clearly older than Pusser’s. Pusser sells a 15-year version of its rum but the website does not state this rum is the navy recipe, whereas the regular-proof version and Gunpowder are.

A commenter on Ben Leggett’s site states he knew the rum in the late 1960s as a seaman. He states the original tasted more like Wood’s Navy rum 100 proof than Pusser’s. I think the answer is, Wood’s Navy is old or made to taste old – I used to drink it when available in Ontario. Probably the age of the rum ration in the late 1960s made it closer to that type of rum than Pusser’s.

Pusser’s is still a first-rate product with a lot of the classic Demerara (Guyana) taste. It reflects the use of old wooden stills at a low proof. Pusser’s came off very well in a recent tasting I did of four rums, the other three were Cocksure from Barbados (tasty but lighter, elegant), Captain Morgan Dark (rich, treacly), and my own blend which was, great!

It is evident why Britain was, in 1970, laden with rum distilled in the 1940s. The Navy had greatly expanded during the war and rum production had to ramp up to meet the demand. The war happened to end in 1945 but logistics planners in the first six years had no exact idea when the war would finally stop.

Hence Britain had a surplus of rum for years, marrying and aging in the venerable Deptford vats, getting better every year.

You can buy Black Tot for $80.00 a shot in New York, I’m told. I’ll be on the lookout as I’ll be there soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Navy Rum, Part I: Up Spirits

As many who study the history of distilled spirits know, various national navies used to dispense a “rum ration”. It is one of the more curious corners of the endless mass of absorbing social and cultural detail offered by such history. (Well, here, it was the subjects of the history who did the absorbing).

The Royal Navy ceased the practice in 1970. The Canadian navy, in 1972. New Zealand’s went all the way to 1990. The U.S. stopped it during the Civil War. Australia, it seems, never had a similar practice.

The practice derived from the time workmen were allowed drink for their work, it was assumed necessary both for strength and morale, probably optimistically in terms of the former. Yet, treated responsibly it probably did more good than harm.

This practice was of a piece with farm workers expecting alcohol in early New England or Upper Canada which simply followed a practice imported from Britain. The idea of brewery or distillery workers being permitted a drink was similar, although more understandable in their case.

There is a surprising amount of information available on how the rum ration was stored, dispensed, consumed. I’ll use just a couple of references here to illustrate. The website of the New Zealand naval museum gives good detail, except that the statement the rum was 98% alcohol when undiluted can’t be right.

The Imperial proof figure given,148, translates to 84.4% abv, in effect overproof rum.

As this was cut 50-50 with water, a 42.2% dram amounted essentially to 43%, a standard retail strength for spirits in British commerce or circles connected to it. The N.Z. museum account offers good detail as well on who was served the dram. Officers did not receive it, they had access to their own bar.

Ratings did, junior ones had to consume on the spot, senior ratings including petty officers could take the dram (undiluted) to drink in their quarters.

The minimum age was 20. Sailors had the option to receive a cash payment instead of the tuck.

Interested readers can peruse this link from the Torpedo Bay Museum in New Zealand for the full history. The lore about Admiral “Grog” is repeated and it’s always enjoyable to revisit this history. The rum ration actually started with beer, always the first drink in Albion’s affections.

Fleet assignments on the Eastern Station and other hot climates caused a switching to rum as it kept much better.

Canada’s navy followed a practice similar to the Royal Navy’s and New Zealand’s. It began in 1910 with the establishment of the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, and ended in 1972.

This link, from U.K. Parliamentary deliberations in the 1930s, will interest those curious about the composition of the ration. A blend of Empire rums was generally used including some Jamaican:

Navy rum as issued to the Fleet is a blend of rums bought on the London market, all Empire products, including Jamaica when price permits. The blend is in such proportions as long experience has shown to produce the flavour preferred by the men. The blending process is carried out at the Deptford Victualling Yard, where the rum is stored in vats before issue to ships. This procedure is the most economical and the most practical.

In Canada, Seagram, then in Waterloo, ON, supplied rum to our navy, but whether this was imported or domestic I can’t say. It was likely a blend of both, as much bottled rum sold in Canada still is.

This 1972 CBC clip shows in fine colour the last service of rum in our navy. The officer conducting the ceremony, I believe Commander Jim Creech, drank rum with the men (on the mess from what I can tell).

Consumption by officers with the men was not traditional but the event was ceremonial, as shown by the consigning of the last dram to the sea. The Commander spoke well and the clip in general is affecting, it speaks to a different time, one we can learn from in more ways than one.

For more information on Canada’s history with the rum ration, I refer to this excellent article of some years ago in The Minute Book, a blog dealing with Canadian military history.

See also this informative piece by Captain Norman Jolin, RCN (Ret’d.) on the website of the CFB Esquimault Museum in Victoria, B.C.

 

 

 

 

Alcohol and the Academy

A Salutary Article in the Graduate Journal of Food Studies

The other day I came across via Twitter an academic journal called Graduate Journal of Food Studies (GJFS), published digitally by the Graduate Association for Food Studies.

The latter’s website states:

The Graduate Association for Food Studies (GAFS) is the official graduate student caucus of the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS). GAFS is an interdisciplinary academic community founded in the spring of 2014 with the goals of connecting graduate students interested in food and promoting their exceptional work. The Association publishes the digital Graduate Journal of Food Studies and hosts the Future of Food Studies conference for graduate students to present, discuss, and network. Our first Conference took place in 2015 at Harvard University.

The most recent issue of the Journal, its sixth, includes an article by Gretchen Sneegas, a doctoral candidate at University of Georgia. You can read it here, entitled: “Dry Campus, My Ass: An Autoethnography of U.S. Academic Drinking Culture”.

(I perused a number of the other articles as well, you can find them here. The range covered is impressive, and while all articles are referenced and peer-reviewed they have interest for a broader audience than the professional-academic).

Sneegas’ article is very good, combining an academic approach with a compelling personal story, her testimony of U.S. grad school’s pervasive alcohol culture. Her style reminded me of the lapidary yet impactful tone of Mass Observation, the social research project that operated for about 30 years in Britain from the late 1930s.

In brief, she explains how social events tied to conferences and other off-campus professional activity often involve drinking in some way. Whether at a meet-and-greet, after-party of a conference dinner (or after after-party), or post-field trip gathering, alcohol of some kind makes an appearance.

The implied pressure to participate is omnipresent. She notes that women, often smaller than the average male, may handle the same amount of alcohol differently, with different implications therefore for them.

In effect she queries, and very properly, why this culture exists, one that seems to appear whack-a-mole style, even at campuses that advertise a dry culture that is.

She explains how stratagems are necessary such as brandishing drinks that look like alcohol but aren’t, or simply by declining to attend some parties and functions. She states at the end of her article:

We are all pressured in ways both subtle and flagrant into accepting, and reproducing, an occupational culture of alcohol use (and abuse) that is indirect, elusive, nearly invisible. Invisible, that is, to those who partake. We drinkers are the ruling class, imposing our values and expectations and worldviews so that they become the cultural norm. Our careers and campuses are steeped within an ideology of alcohol.

To non-drinkers, those for whom the spaces of departmental happy hours and conference after parties are not designed, these unwritten rules and guidelines are far from invisible. They spring sharply into focus. They are explicit. They say, incredulously: You’re not getting a drink?

Earlier in a footnote she writes amusingly of a culture-studies semester spent in Freiburg, stating:

I am hard pressed to describe precisely what kind of culture one experiences as an American student dancing to the sound of a Mexican mariachi band while pounding Irish Car Bombs at an English-style pub in a 900-year-old German city.

Sneegas writes that today’s alcohol customs at university seem to descend generationally: students see professors and administrators at mixers and other events where alcohol is used; they in turn adopt similar practices for their own socializing; they continue them when they accede to such positions later. And on it goes.

(Speaking of Germany, it may be noted German students were infamous for a fantastical attachment to beer and its customs. An American journalistic testimony from 1895, relatively mild in the context of the known literature, can be read here. Sample phrase: “studying is the last thing he does”).

Her point is not so much that such use causes disfunction and particular social problems (although it surely does in some cases, as drug abuse does), but why alcohol pervades this space at all. And it’s true: looked at ab initio, why is drinking, or very much of it, a factor at all on or around campus?

Alcohol is a known stress alleviator, that of course is one reason, and she refers to this aspect. But also, booze has old academic associations, it goes back not just to strange German student customs of the 1800s but to English colleges* and their special ales or wine dinners. Indeed the ancient symposia in Greece underlined a (perceived) link between wine and wisdom.

One of the best consumer books on alcohol is George Saintsbury’s Notes on a Cellar-book (1920). He was a noted literary critic and scholar who taught at Edinburgh, and took an in-depth interest in wine and other alcohol, both lore and palate. Indeed he is better remembered for that book than his conventional oeuvre.

Of course too, the university is a sub-set of society in general. What Sneegas describes about a segment of university life can easily be said of business life. And no doubt too of socializing at conferences and other events held by governmental, sports, and political organizations.

The impact of alcohol is a societal datum, of which university life is one illustration, highlighted in her article.

The world-historical impact of alcohol is probably millennia-old, and where necessary was sub rosa or substituted by equivalent practices, drug use in particular.

Sneegas is right to draw attention to alcohol-and-the-university as it is not something to be viewed as inevitable, to be taken for granted, just as in the broader society.

To be sure alcohol has had more or less impact on academe over time, depending on the period, region, and prevalent mores.

When I first attended university, in the late-1960s in Montreal, alcohol was peripheral to student life, at least from my vantage point. There was no student bar on campus with one exception noted below. The drinking age was 18 by about 1970 and alcohol could be purchased in grocery stores or at taverns, but I don’t recall it being present at undergrad club or other social activities.

There was a bit of it at the Greek organizations, yes, I had friends in some of these and recall some drinking, but nothing ostentatious. There was some beer or flasks at football games, but again not fetishistic at least by my recollection.

By the time I got to law school in the early 1970s, I noticed that sherry appeared at some student-faculty events. But not everyone took it, and there was always Coke or juice to carry in one’s hand.

On a summer studies program at the University of Manitoba in 1974 I recalled seeing a bar at the Student Union, with considerable surprise. I used the bar too (why not!) but I used the swimming pool more. The rest of the time was mostly in the library, or sampling strawberry pie at a diner on Pembina Highway.

I remember re-visiting the lower part of the McGill campus in the later 1970s and noticing a bar had sprouted at the Student Union. I remember my surprise on seeing that and it brought back the bar in Winnipeg, that we were finally doing the same in Montreal.

In the early 1970s at least, the McGill Post-Graduate Students Society had a bar for its use at its McTavish Street headquarters (pictured above from the McGill Archives), a handsome 1930s limestone building on a slope of Mount Royal.

We sometimes went there since law and med students were ex-officio members. But it was considered something apart from normal school socializing, it was just a once-in-a-while thing – although I know I went more often in my last school year.

The PGSS bar was in tune with the academic inclination to wine as both stimulant and relaxer and subject worthy of study unto itself. After all, the scientific, cultural, social, toxicological and other history of drink can be absorbing, as this blog attests, I hope!

The Canadian Anne Dowsett Johnston, in her excellent book from 2013, Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, points out how alcohol’s footprint in the university widened in subsequent decades. She notes it as part of a greater visibility for alcohol in modern society (especially in advertising), something that surely ramps up addiction and other drink-related illness.

At any rate the party atmosphere in undergrad seems fairly intense today, and Sneegas describes well how an alcohol culture operates in the further sub-culture of the “department”.

Her article is salutary as she points out the need to think about this, not accept it unthinkingly, and where necessary take appropriate counter-measures. It’s not just a question of avoiding undue dependence, it’s a question of not being co-opted into a culture at best peripheral to what the university is for: at least that’s my conclusion from her article.

These lessons apply equally to all spheres of human life.

……………………………………………….

*See e.g., this article on the history of the Oxbridge audit ale by John A.R. Compton-Davey, from issue #128 of the U.K.-based journal Brewery History.

 

 

Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Years Old

A big step Forward for Hiram Walker

With the release of Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Years Old, Canada has a rye whisky that stands with the very best whiskeys of any style anywhere. Previous to this, I’d include Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye in that pantheon as well as J.P. Wiser’s 15 years old (subject of a later review).

Obviously we have made many good whiskeys in recent years, but only those three in my view stand at the peak especially when viewed internationally. I include in this Masterson’s and that other group from the U.S. that originate from Alberta Distillers – good products but not in the same league as these other three.

I am not of the group that was delirious with the original Lot 40 release some 20 years ago. A bold and innovative move it was for Canada, and it was good to have something so different, so out there. But from a taste standpoint – all that counts in the end – the product was IMO rather harsh-tasting.

It was aged in reused whiskey barrels and not for a super-long time either for a whisky of that character, around seven years if memory serves.

I always felt it could achieve greater potential by being aged longer and in new charred oak. This is the genius of a spirit distilled in a traditional manner: when young it can be difficult to drink but with good age it acquires in the same measure fine qualities down the road.

For North American straight whiskeys the new charred barrel is virtually essential unless one will age the product 15-20 years, a practical impossibility especially in today’s market.

(Reused barrels will work similar changes but you have to wait longer. Think of the typical age range for quality Scots malts and Irish single pot still).

This is precisely what happened to Lot 40. For many years after the first release it appeared off and on, in unchanged form. A few years ago a version came out aged in virgin oak as the term goes today – new charred oak barrels. This improved the spirit, although the changes from the original were not greatly marked, a function in this respect of decent but not prolonged aging.

Lot 40 now too is made from 100% unmalted rye as I learned on my tour of Hiram Walker last year. The conversion in the mash is effected by commercially-available amylase enzyme. The first Lot 40s included some malted rye, a minimal amount yet that probably contributed some flavour elements and body.

So little malt was used though that moving to a 100% raw rye grist probably didn’t make much palate difference especially with advanced age.

And so behold the cask strength Lot 40 released this autumn: aged in new charred oak from such a grist for a full 12 years. It shows a powerhouse yet stylish palate that retains the innovation of the original release – the distillery character effaced from a grain whisky mash at almost 95% abv off the still – but further modified by the virgin barrel and extra years in the wood.

There is a spicy smoky fruity thing going on, a complexity that reminded me of 1950s Old Overholts tabled at private Kentucky tastings years ago. The smell off the frame of the emptied glass is a treat in itself.

The result is what Lot 40 always could have been, it’s just taken 20 years to get there, understandable given where the distillery came from, a specialist in blended not straight whiskeys.

The truth is, the flavouring Canadian whiskies, distilled that is at a proof traditional for straight U.S. whiskey or Scots or Irish pot still, need the charred barrel where sold on their own. At least this is so where made from corn or rye as most are. Where made from barley, malted or raw, the reused barrel makes sense but you need long time to get a good result, think again of the typical age range for fine Scots or Irish pot still.

Where used for blending though it is a different story: you are using whiskies to ramp up a much greater quantity of fairly neutral but aged grain whisky. When used that way, the acetone or other youthful features are a plus as they perk up a bulk of whisky that might otherwise seem too bland. The addition of a touch of sherry or brandy or caramel can wrap the whole thing in a pleasant package.

This is another odd truism of whisky blending: things that seem lesser tasted on their own acquire a synergy, a new quality, in blended form. The sum is greater than the parts.

But for unblended rye or corn straight whiskies you want good age and the new charred barrel. It’s true that excellent bourbon and straight U.S. rye can emerge at four to eight years old but I’m convinced the extremes of the Kentucky and Tennessee climates contribute to that.

Canada’s climate is less extreme notably on the hot side of the equation. It means to get similar results we need usually to age longer. The cask strength Lot 40 shows the benefits. At 12 years it offers a similar richness of palate to many American whiskeys I know years younger.

At the same time the new charred barrel contributes desirable “red layer” notes, the toasted wood gums and charred notes that make bourbon and U.S. rye in large measure what they are. Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye also is aged 100% in new charred oak.

(Somehow it achieves a maturity comparable to good U.S. straight whiskey at about eight years old. Perhaps the Alberta summers explain this, or some other factor).

If you dilute the C.S. Lot 40 to about 40% abv – the best way to drink it IMO – those charcoal notes emerge especially in the finish. They are also evident on the side of the glass when emptied. There is no obligation, or very much history by the way, of drinking cask strength whiskey neat.

Adopting the new charred barrel for Lot 40 was an inspired move by Hiram Walker. What I foresee as regular-issue Lot 40 in the years to come is a 40% abv version perhaps not aged 12 years, but 10 years would be good, perhaps even eight years but with enough 12-year blended in to enrich the whole.

Finally, would a 15-year-old C.S. Lot 40 trump the almost perfect 12-year expression just released? There is only one way to find out…

 

Southern Comfort Veers North

Southern Comfort, the sweet, brightly-flavoured drink famously favoured by Janis Joplin in the 1960s, has been re-invented. I just bought the one sold in Canada for a try-out.

SoCo belongs to the arcana of drinks in that its original composition and current formulations are rather misty. As best I can tell, it was originally a compound of young whiskey (maybe bourbon), fruit, sugar, spices. At some point neutral spirits substituted for the whiskey.

When the bourbon renaissance gathered pace in the early 2000s the domestic (U.S., Canada) product was neutral spirits and the fruit, sugar, spice. Yet a version that included bourbon, stated on the label as such, was sold in some export markets.

I bought it a few times in the Caribbean. It was somewhat deeper in flavour than regular Southern Comfort but not that different.

Finally, the brand was sold to Sazerac Brands, of Buffalo Trace bourbon fame and more.

Its version seems to use whiskey since the term is all over the website. I think SoCo is probably not 100% whiskey, at least for the 35% ABV product, since whiskey must be bottled at 40% ABV. The labels too don’t call it whiskey as such.

Some SoCo is 100 proof or 80 proof, but I’d think all are made broadly the same way. The 80 proof is badged “Black” for a “bolder” taste, perhaps it uses more whiskey. In Ontario we only get the 35% ABV version. It is termed on the label in small print “liqueur” but the back label states it has the “flavor of whiskey”.

So it’s a whiskey-flavoured liqueur, presumably in the U.S. too. The fruity element is probably from a concentrate with sugar added, peach- and apricot-based judging by the taste and some published reports.

The reason for the current insistence on whiskey is that some dissed the brand in the past for not being a whiskey while still conveying the image. So that’s changed now, the website and labels makes clear the formulation involves whiskey of some kind.

The whiskey might be distilled at a higher proof and therefore fairly neutral, unlike bourbon that is, but I’d think some bourbon probably enters the composition. Could the spirit used be grain neutral spirits given some barrel aging?

This is possible but I’d incline against as the website uses the term “whiskey” repeatedly and this term means in U.S. law something distilled under 190 proof (95% ABV), so not quite neutral that is.

The Manitoba liquor authority describes the drink this way:

Southern Comfort is a New Orleans Liqueur made from neutral spirits with fruit, spice and whisky flavorings. It is a full bodied, full proof spirit with light citrus and stone fruit notes, touch of warm spice, cinnamon and herbal notes, with hints of caramel.

The taste of the current product, as sold in Canada, isn’t radically different from the circa-2000 one but it isn’t quite the same either. It seems less sweet and has a faint tannic/woody finish, showing the whiskey element.

I wonder if the whiskey, at least in Canada, is actually a non-spirit food flavouring, given too the term above “whisky flavorings”. The wording of the U.S. website seems to suggest real whiskey though; unless the product differs in Canada it should be the same here.

Still, it’s interesting that the Canadian rear label states SoCo is “blended and bottled in Canada”, maybe that means the formulation differs here.

It’s all delphic but this matters little except to a tiny coterie. The market will just want to drink it, or not, and I hope they do because it’s good stuff, a classic old taste.

I’d advise to blend it with bourbon, something not too old and woody. A standard Canadian whisky would work well too, or vodka for a yet lighter taste.

The brand was clearly in for a new look as sales were declining from the halcyon 60s. It’s been 50 years since Janis Joplin brandished that bottle in publicity shots. Sazerac Brands is good at what they do and I have a feeling SoCo may be in for a revival.

It’s a famous old drink, dating from the time a frankly sweet drink was admired. It retains its place in the world drinks pantheon. Grander days may yet await.

 

Great Cabernet, Great History: Inglenook

Francis Coppola Recreates the Great Cabernet of Inglenook Legend

This is, I think, my first second wine review. The first was on Virginia’s Horton Vineyards Norton the other day.

I don’t plan to have many wine discussions, not because of any particular focus to this blog, but because I don’t drink that much wine.

Why is that? It’s not that I don’t like it. I like most examples of fermented and distilled beverages, wine included. It’s just that both budget and a rational weekly drinks limit exclude wine for the most part.

For the drinks I permit myself, they must be mostly beer and a little spirits.

Wine features therefore only where I have a particular interest, usually historical as for the Norton, or there may be some other reason, perhaps something I find on holiday.

For the wine pictured above, I wrote recently about a dinner in 1954 at which all-Inglenook wines were featured. The event was the inaugural dinner of the Wine and Food Society of Pasadena, its menu is shown below, sourced from the chapter’s website. I outlined some of the winery’s history in my post mentioned.

Inglenook had a high reputation in the 1950s and 60s as it did in the years following its establishment in the 1880s by pioneering vinifera grower Captain Niebaum. With restoration of winemaking after Prohibition, 1940s Inglenook Cabernets were particularly esteemed and acknowledged in wine circles internationally.

The post-1935 winery (year of passing of Niebaum’s widow) achieved a high pitch of excellence especially for estate reds.At the 1954 dinner a 1946 Cabernet Sauvignon was served, possibly made 100% of that grape or blended with Merlot or another grape. It was eight years old when the neophyte Pasadena branch of the Wine and Food Society held its first dinner.

1940s Inglenooks were legendary, also pictured is the 1941 vintage put up for auction with similar items some years ago as chronicled in this 2011 Decanter article by wine writer Adam Lechmere.

What did 40s Cabs taste like? What did Captain Niebaum’s acclaimed early noble wines taste like? He grew Cabernet Sauvignon among other European varieties and it’s not clear (from my reading) how his early wines were composed. Given he admired Bordeaux red it’s likely though he was seeking the character of the French classified estates whence his cuttings issued.

Inglenook after its 1950s-60s upmarket heyday went into a relative decline by being passed through different hands and focusing ultimately on the supermarket category. Its European-style wines were good average quality, good value for table wines, but the halcyon vintage days were passed.

Francis Ford Coppola, now in his late 70s, bought parts of the winery in stages from the 1970s and finally rescued the Inglenook trade mark. His wines today come out under his own name and a few years ago he issued a premium “1882” as a tribute to Niebaum’s groundbreaking work in California viticulture.

The all-Cabernet Sauvignon wine is issued, as further tribute, under the Inglenook name, clearly as an attempt to restore lustre to the brand. The name indeed is hard to find on the label, but presumably will get a ramp-up as time passes.

The current winemaker is French and is implementing a long-term plan for the winery including restoration of the highest quality for its Bordeaux-style wines.

We rarely get the chance to taste premium wine, Champagne apart at festive moments. But I have read acres of prose over the decades what fine Bordeaux and estate Napa red are like. So the first taste brought back, not so much personal experience, but all that reading.

The nose was, in a sometimes-derided cliche but it’s true, lead pencil. The lead more than the wood, with background notes of blackberry and dark-skinned fruit, also a tarry note.

The taste was plush yet dry, easily carrying the 14.5% ABV. The 1882 is easy to drink slowly, and no acidity seemed to build as for many red wines. It’s very good, let’s just say that. It gives me an inkling what the fuss was about when quality Bordeaux-style wine started to emerge from Napa, Sonoma, and Livermore valleys in particular.

It was interesting to compare it to the Norton of Horton Vineyards in Virginia. Norton is a North American grape once viewed as a contender in the international premium red wine stakes. It is somewhat acid (its nature) and offers a more frankly but non-foxy, I underline, fruit character.

The analogy of Norton is not really to Cabernet IMO but to Pinot Noir and perhaps more Gamay for Beaujolais, or to a cross of Gamay and Zinfandel.

Both wines were excellent but different. I’d serve them with different foods at different temperatures.

A good example of a beer analogue to the 1882 is Timothy Taylor’s Landlord from Keighley, England: every bit as good but on the malty vector. I could see a dinner at which just those were served serially (beer first) with Ontario ice wine to finish. Yes?

Coppola and his winemaker should be very proud of 1882. I’d guess it is on a par with the best superwines and so-called garage wines of California’s best wine regions (damaged as some were recently but they will come back).

The only California superwine I’ve had I’d put on a par with it is 1970s Mayacamus with its violet-scented nose and taste – softer and more flowery than 1882 but a similar level of quality.

Some years ago I had the chance to taste different vintages of Heitz Cabernet but this 1882 easily outclassed those, IMO, as for most other premium Golden State reds I can recall.

Note re images: the last two images above were sourced from the sites respectively linked in the text. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Rustic New England food in Bright Lights, Big City

Welcome to the Hotel Pennsylvania, 1936

A fine vintage menu which points to the future of American dining and wine culture is the December, 1936 dinner menu of the Gourmet Society.

The full menu in beautiful reproduction can be viewed here, on the invaluable menu archive of Johnson and Wales University. Below is simply a portion.

The New York-based Gourmet Society, helmed by the gourmet and food author J. George Frederick, lasted from 1933 until about 1960; I profiled the group earlier and have discussed a number of their menus.

The 1936 dinner was held at Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, across from Penn Station and Madison Square Gardens. Then comparatively young, the hotel continues as a New York stalwart albeit the glamour has faded.

In the late 30s it was a stylish resort and the perfect place to host a creative dinner of the type pioneered by the Gourmet Society and its boon companion, the Wine and Food Society.

Although not styled as a New England dinner, that is exactly what it was. Each dish is typical of the coast or interior of the region, from the Vermont turkey pie to the Connecticut Oysters Casino and Maine stuffed potatoes. The conceit of combining state dishes was used, but it is evident most dishes are broadly regional.

The squash pie is a variant of pumpkin pie, as discussed earlier in these pages. It is as Yankee as they come, the cranberry sauce no less.

British readers will be forgiven for thinking the meal has an oddly familiar look. Oysters, crusted pie of poultry, mashed winter vegetables such as turnip, sweet sauce to accompany – think Cumberland sauce or even mint jelly – adorned English tables long before they journeyed overseas to new homes.

The treatment of green tomatoes and red pepper jam recall dishes with medieval or later east colonial influences (Indian, often)

Even the New England rum was English, or English Colonial, before it was American. But the dishes melded into the fabric of America and acquired their own stamp.

(Still, I suspect a dinner could be assembled, say, of dishes traditional to Yorkshire that would have a not dissimilar impact).

The “chablis”, a generic label from one of the California wineries re-established after 1933, was a good choice for such a dinner. Yet, it took imagination for a gourmet society to choose such a thing over Champagne or another French, or German, wine.

1936 is only three years after liquor comes back, in the darkest ages of the American wine business short of Prohibition itself. But New York 1930s culinarians had the imagination to go American.

The other choice that would have suited is cider. I’m sure George Frederick would have agreed at any rate it was a good option. Cider is an old New England specialty and is again today. Rum too is being made in different parts of the first colonies by craft producers.

Old Pilgrim rum was served at the 1936 dinner with coffee. It was a conscious attempt to recall the grand era of New England’s Medford rum – grand only in retrospect. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, as the popular song has it.

Felton’s rum revived after Prohibition and was made until well after WW II but the venerable distiller sold out to the Old Boston concern, known for liqueurs and cocktails, which closed the plant in the early 1980s. Thus ended the original New England rum business which had reached its apogee in the late 1800s but continued to Prohibition and even after.

Finally, what makes the Hotel Pennsylvania dinner foodism, a construct? Each component is a dish long known in the area, either very old or more recent: shellfish Casino dates from earlier in the century and the salad “moderne” seems a contemporary idea, but otherwise the meal is down-home Yankee.

What makes it what I said is, the menu was consciously planned as an investigation, an interpretation, an honouring of New England foodways. It wasn’t just tonight’s dinner, or a family dinner. It was a group of “cosmopolites” in the Society’s charming prewar vocabulary, viewing something in a new light.

It’s a good meal, yes, but also something devised, to learn from.

It presages as I’ve often said an Anthony Bourdain visiting Cajun country or South America. It presaged the Time-Life cookery series, Julia Child’s work, or Ruth Reichl’s encyclopedic looks at American cookery.

It’s looking at food and drink intellectually, ideationally, call it what you will.

This way of dining gets the goat of some people, but it’s as valid an endeavour as anything else. Food and foodways belong to the world.

Note re images: the first image above was drawn from the original menu identified and linked in the text. The second was sourced via Pinterest hereAll intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Norton Virginia: Fascinating History and Taste

Pre-Civil War Grape Type Shines 

Earlier I discussed the Norton Virginia grape, a native American type discovered c. 1830 by Dr. Daniel Norton in Richmond, Virginia. It is of the Vitis aestivalis species, and of unconfirmed lineage. Some think it has some European heritage (Vitis vinifera) but it is considered of the wild American grape family.

Most American grapes, of the six or seven types native to the continent (labrusca, riparia, etc.), have the fox flavour. This is the wild grape taste, a funky, blackcurrant note that traditionally is eschewed for quality wine-making.

Some of the grape types or hybrids associated with the taste are Concord, Delaware, Catawba. These wines had local markets in North America for generations both before and after Prohibition, either for table grapes, sweet and dry wine or both.

With the introduction of European vinifera types to California where they were a marked success, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling (and now many other areas including Ontario), viticulture based on native grape varieties has slowed considerably.

For example, little of this type is grown in Ontario because the provincial retail liquor monopoly, Liquor Control Board of Ontario, only buys Vinifera wines from growers, who are incented in other ways not to grow native varieties.

While this structure to our modern wine system was felt drastically to improve wine quality here, it has resulted in viticulture based largely on European grape types and the few hybrids authorized by Ontario’s wine standards body, Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA).

In the U.S. many wineries persist with native grapes especially in the East where climate often is unfavourable to cultivating vinifera or the most popular sorts. I recall drinking Delaware and Catawba wine in the Finger Lakes region of New York years ago, and I’m sure some is still made.

A lot was sweetened but not all and winemakers are constantly trying to come up with the magic formula that will produce a widely appealing flavour albeit it might disclose some fox flavour.

Fox flavour characterizes many of the American-grown hops popular since the 1970s. Beer drinkers readily accepted these tastes, the wild fruit taste that characterizes Concord, say, which has relegated its use to sacramental wine, grape juice, and jam.

Welch’s grape juice typifies the taste to those reading who know the brand. Grape jelly for toast has the same taste.

Enter Norton Virginia, sometimes known as Norton or Cynthiana. While a charter member of the native grape group, it lacks the fox taste. This was noted immediately on production of wine from the grape in early 1800s. Three states are known for its cultivation historically, Arkansas, Virginia, and Missouri.

The absence of fox taste made it a star in the eyes of Europeans and those in their thrall making authoritative determinations of wine quality. Norton grape wine won  a gold medal at the Vienna world exhibition in 1873 and was even grown in France.

It was thought to be a first class “claret” wine and set to be a major international variety comparable to Bordeaux red, fine Burgundy, and other noble reds. See some background in this excellent precis of its history from the Appellation America website. A search of “Norton Virginia” will disclose many other good short accounts.

But that world stage never came. There are a number of reasons: California with its lush European variety wines, in the market since the 1880s after pioneer growers brought European cuttings, started to overshadow eastern winemakers.

Also, the Norton grape is difficult to propagate which inhibited its spread to otherwise receptive vineyards. Further, it requires a receptive climate, especially a long growing season albeit it is strongly resistant to the cold weather period and the phylloxera pest. Modern viticulture and science probably could find ways around the limitations, as they have for vinifera in many regions.

Finally, WW I and especially Prohibition ended any chance of a world greeting for Norton. The 1930s was period of transition where growers back in business were deciding what to grow and how to sell it during the Depression, then WW II came. Norton Virginia fell by the wayside.

So the grape has remained on the fringes of the wine world but a dedicated group of winemakers, most in its three heartland states, persist with it including Horton Vineyards in Virginia where Dennis Horton has grown the grape since 1989. I tasted his wine last night in company of an English guest.

We all agreed it was flavourful and interesting. The guest thought berry-like, an accurate view IMO and I’d add spicy, with good acidity. It is somewhat like Zinfandel but less “hot” and with no jammy quality – a cooler climate Zin with some resemblance to the best Beaujolais as well, Morgon, say, and Fleurie.

The type is said to age well – Horton on the label suggests 7-10 years – but drinking it fairly new showed appealing qualities all the same.

While I hold nothing against the fox taste as such on the theory of the relativity of taste and using the beer analogy again, lacking the fox taste can do nothing to harm Norton’s future prospects. The grape performs differently too depending on local growing conditions and this variety of character would broaden its appeal.

Perhaps it can be grown successfully in parts of Ontario. I’d think the southwestern corner may be apt, which has a warmer climate than other parts of Ontario.

Based just on this one bottle, Norton deserves to be much more widely known. It may one day become America’s answer to the red wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel (Zin of course is an American variety but its lineage is 100% European, effectively it is an import as the other three).

It may fulfill the destiny, finally, many forecast in the 1800s.

 

Origin of the Beer Sparkler

The Road to Wigan’s Pint – and the North’s

A beery controversy in the U.K. since the 1970s is whether the “sparkler” is good for beer. A sparkler is a perforated ball fitted to the end of the tap. It aerates and forces CO2 from the beer as the handpump draws it from the cask. The pint acquires a dense head and creamy texture.

Without the sparkler, cask ale pours fairly flat with a loose, thinnish head that dissipates quickly. Serving the pint sans sparkler is popular in the south of England. In the north the sparkler is generally liked (custom can vary by sub-region and pub).

You don’t read much today about “sparkler – is it good or bad?” but oceans of ink and bandwidth have been sacrificed in the past to a cause that seems delphic to non-initiates.

It’s not that the hard core has tired of the controversy. Newer issues arise and attention turns elsewhere.

Today the main issue facing cask ale is whether CAMRA, the U.K. beer lobby that saved real ale, should promote other forms of beer. The American style of fizzy, well-malted and hopped beer is now popular in the U.K. CAMRA will probably have to adapt to the new reality.

Meanwhile, the matter of sparkler and cask ale quality remains. For what it’s worth, I prefer the bitter style of cask without the sparkler. Its effect seems to blunt hop flavour and generally flatten out taste.

We used to see the sparkler at some cask ale outlets in Toronto but lately the beer is pulled without them. There is some irony in this as if a sparkler improves any beer it is probably American IPA – the blunting of flavour actually improves some of it.

The sparkler was referred to parenthetically in a 1949 brewing journal article by J.W. Scott, “From Cask to Consumer”. Initially I thought it was a post-1945 invention, or perhaps an expedient to make thin, wartime beer more attractive in the glass.

In fact, its use well precedes that date.

The sparkler was invented and patented in the early 1880s by George Barker. He advertised the device for sale in 1885 and identified himself as from the “Crown Hotel, Ince, near Wigan”.

The first ad I saw left off the “l” in Hotel, or the upload to Google Books did that, and I thought the “Ince” must be a misprint of another kind or imperfect uploading again. But no, Ince is a locality nearish to Manchester, Ince-in-Makerfield. (About 17 miles).

The above short article is from pg. 707 of the November 1, 1885 issue of “The British Trade Journal and Export World, Vol. 23”. It explained what Barker’s device does, indeed exactly as people describe the effect today. The sparkler makes flat beer seem more sparkling by agitating the beer and creating the creamy effect.

The ad above is from the same issue of the journal mentioned.

Anyone familiar with beer knows you can swirl the glass to pick up the foam, or use a stirrer of some kind – Barker’s invention did the same thing, but methodically.

Cask ale of course has no CO2 injected at the brewery or pub so as it pours fairly flat, the sparkler would have enlivened pints that looked unattractive. For some reason the south has never minded flat pints, it may be palate-related, it may be the desire to have a brimful glass.

I cannot find any trace of a Crown Hotel in Ince. But there was one – and is one – at 106 Wigan Road, New Springs, near the canal. Ince was a kind of suburb of Wigan, itself some miles from Manchester.

New Springs is only two miles from the centre of Ince. You see its Crown Hotel pictured, a handsome house that looks old enough to have been the locale where Barker did his field work.

Maybe he lived in Ince and worked at the hotel, or used the hotel as a business address. It’s a nice looking pub innit? It is still going strong and gets fine reviews, see some details here. It serves, need we add, cask ale, presumably through Barker’s Aerator, formal name of his device.

In this Google maps view, you see the route from Ince to the Crown Hotel. The route wends further to another Crown Hotel in Worthington. That is another old public house, now closed. I thought it might have been the place Barker did his testing.

But Worthington is seven miles from Ince, likely too far for Barker to have travelled there unless he did so intermittently.

I feel fairly certain his Crown Hotel is as pictured, at 106 Wigan Road – unless you sleuths reading – you know who you are – uncover a Crown Hotel in Ince. (If you do, a pint on me, but you must meet me in Toronto. Okay, two pints).*

And Wigan, for non-Britons reading, is Lancashire – up north you know, so that part ties in.

N.B. One has to admire the hyperbole of Victorians. The sparkler was said to be “the most ingenious invention of the age”. Well, not quite, albeit Barker did quite well anyway. Still, millions of frothy pints beloved by Northerners and other Britons mostly are due to him. He should be remembered, even if palate purists will grumble.

Note re images: the first two images above were sourced from the 1885 journal article linked in the text. The third was sourced from this Google Maps view, and the last, from the Google Maps view linked in the text. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*In fact reader Roy Pearson has shown there was a Crown Hotel in Ince, tenanted by Barker, see his message in the Comments. Thanks to Roy for straightening this out.