The Palace and the Pub

Further information, see this article in a Canadian engineering journal, indicates the party held for Robert Stephenson was in the buildings which had formerly served as Legislative Assembly for the United Province of Canada. Formerly, because in 1852 the Assembly shifted to another city in the Colony (it frequently moved until fixed by Queen Victoria in By-town, now Ottawa).

Moreover this piece describes the dinner as a public one, although whether a charge was exacted to attend is not stated. I’d think it was by invitation only, to the grandees of the young city.

The account makes it clear the event was of the highest order socially, and in provisions and decorations, the Colony could muster. The rooms featured numerous symbols and insignia of the engineering profession, and both Stephenson and some of his hosts made speeches that were carefully recorded. Stephenson was also fêted in Montreal on his Canadian visit.

The assembly building was on Front Street near Simcoe Street, a mile or so from where I write. It has long disappeared and the present legislative assembly for Ontario is in a different area, at Queen’s Park.

Within close view of where the gala reception and dinner for Stephenson were held was a resort where the more usual preoccupations of Beeretseq were entertained: the Greenland Fisheries tavern. It was owned by a citizen surnamed Wright who was also an alderman. The tavern hosted municipal elections, as was customary in this time. Wright got himself elected in his own saloon.

The interesting name derives from a sign on the premises depicting a scene in Greenland and hunters snagging a big whale. One account states it was painted by a sailor with some artistic skill to pay his “reckoning”.

Lake Ontario was nearby, indeed even closer than now since the water then lapped the southern fringe of Front Street. The Greenland Fisheries motif would have attracted sailors or at least suited the atmosphere of boats and fishing on the nearby water.

And so as the poobahs of society sipped Champagne and old sherry, and picked at lobster salad and Scotch salmon, the hoi polloi of town were hoisting the good ales of the burg and a whisky or two across the street, with rather plainer food.

The Greenland Fisheries tavern had existed for 20 years before Toronto gave that dinner for Stephenson, and continued for decades longer. A good image of it appears in this Toronto history. Very few of these old houses exist in Toronto but the Wheatsheaf Tavern downtown, of which I’ve written earlier, is an example. The latter wears its history lightly, and draft beer, wings, and burgers are where it’s at there. As perhaps it should be, since the first duty of a hostelry is to refresh.

Below, you see a handsome colour image of the Legislative Assembly from Ontario government archives, from 1834. The tavern was very likely the white building to the far left, it had been built the year before. You see also below a sketch, from City of Toronto archives, showing the two structures in propinquity c. 1850.

Let’s compare palace and pub. One is a handsome set of buildings ringed by a fence and a ground. The other, a modest two-story building in whitewash. One, a place where lawyers, politicians and civil servants worked and occasionally played. The other, a respite for lower orders who nonetheless had good things to drink and eat in their way.

The rich and poor lived and frolicked side by side, one in view of the other. So it was in society, so it remains.

Toronto Threw a Party for the Bridge King

This isn’t about beer, whisky, rum, punch (except milk punch), cocktail, or anything of that nature. Such drinks, mainstays of the (drinking) people in central Canada from its inception, were set aside in favour of aristocratic wines, brandies, and liqueurs for those who could afford them or when occasion warranted.

One such occasion was a banquet held in Toronto in 1853 for Robert Stephenson (opposite), the great British engineer and bridge designer. He invented the Rocket, which you see pictured on the menu below, an early ace locomotive.

He designed many famous bridges in Britain and elsewhere including the still-standing Brittania Bridge in Wales and the Victoria Bridge in Montreal (he was one of the team for the latter). His father was also an eminent engineer, George. Together and with Brunel, a close friend of Robert’s, they were the acme of Victorian engineering.

In August, 1853 Stephenson was in Toronto, Canada West, “C.W.” as it was called for short. C.W. was the progenitor of the Province of Ontario. C.W. was the English-speaking part of the United Province of Canada, and Canada East was the mostly French-speaking wing. With Confederation in 1867, these became the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Stephenson was in town to advise Grand Trunk Railway on a plan to create a continuous link east of Toronto to an ice-free port in Maine. Part of that involved building the Victoria Bridge. Construction began in 1854 and ended some years later, although Stephenson died before its completion, from Bright’s Disease, possibly connected to his occupation.

Pictured on the menu (courtesy HathiTrust, the rest from Wikipedia) is the Brittania Bridge and the Rocket.

The wines and foods would have done credit to any sizeable city in the world let alone the small burg Toronto was then. It hardly counted more than 30,000 people. Yet period photos show the city developing nicely. One or two churches still stand and look the same and the central part of Osgoode Hall, headquarters of the legal profession in Ontario, is virtually unchanged. Even where the buildings have changed most of the streets have a similar aspect today.

They ate up a storm, prairie chicken, fish of all kinds including salmon from Scotland (why Scotland? Maybe it was salted or smoked), all kinds of other game and butcher’s meats both fresh and cured, many fruits and vegetables (it was high summer), fine desserts, and much else. And look at those wines: Champagnes, Bordeaux, old sherries, port, and Madeira, they had it all.

As always in such matters there are strangely modern – or modern-seeming – touches. Like patties, which you can get in many quarters of Toronto, the Caribbean version. Lobster, lobster salad, oysters, still as popular as ever. Margaux, Leoville, Mumm’s, Sandeman’s too, I just had a glass of each (just kidding).

While it would have been nice to see an Imperial stout ranked with the Curacao, Maraschino, and “pale” brandy, I’ll take the menu as it comes. Wouldn’t you?

Toronto knew how to throw a party, then. Not sure it could as well today. Well, maybe.

N.B. Should you be minded to hear stirring Britannic music when perusing the vintage menu, a non-contemporary but not inapposite touch would be the Overture from The Who’s Tommy. I think Robert would have liked it. Keith Moon’s drums would have reminded him of a pounding locomotive, surely.


Canadian Punch, Cont`d.

Last night, I posted a recipe for Canadian Punch from 1935. I suggested that the combination – Canadian whisky, rum, sugar, pineapple, lemon – would produce a smooth but potent number.

A punch-up it was but under the Queensbury Rules so to speak. The Canadian whisky, mixed with rum 4:1, would have been the approachable blended rye Americans had come to love in the parched 1920s. Canadian Club or one of the Seagram brands would have been the preferred type without a doubt.

If Canada had by then acquired in general its reputation for politesse and restraint, this punch would have exemplified that to a t.

It all makes sense, except for one thing. Virtually the same recipe existed in 1862, a time when Canadian whisky was a more unruly fellow. A very similar recipe can be found in Jerry Thomas’ landmark book of that year entitled How To Mix Drinks, Or The Bon-Vivant`s Companion. The Thomas recipe differs little from G. Selmer Fougner’s, and there is every reason to think G. Selmer simply recast it for his 1935 book. (Nothing unusual in that, as for food recipes, cocktails books, especially in an earlier time, often relied on previous publications for ideas).

The idea that rum filled out – flavoured – a fairly bland whisky doesn’t work for 1862. As Tanya Lynn MacKinnon documented in 2000 in her superb study of Ontario`s whisky industry from inceptions to 1900, Canadian whisky c. 1860 was still in process of development. It was the product of one distillation, either in a primitive multi-chambered wood still or the original pot still. The congener-laden run was given a douse in a vat of wood charcoal (as Jack Daniel’s still gets today), and aged perhaps a month or two, at most a year.

This was vigorous, young whisky, probably quite similar to many craft whiskies and the youngest bourbon and straight rye of the large distillers today.

Mixing that with rum – even if the rum tasted like, say, Captain Morgan, which is debatable – would have produced a feisty drink. No Queensbury manual regulated that affair, it was more a melee or free-for-all. Of course the lemon, pineapple, and sugar would have ordered things a bit. Indeed that is the way of punch, and cocktails, where you mix disparate elements and come up with a new and inviting taste.

The Canadian Punch made both ways surely would taste quite different. I invite those interested to try, let me know the results. I may take a shot at it … of it, myself, over the holidays.

But there’s another thing. Jerry Thomas advised to use approximately twice the amount of water Fougner did. So Thomas’ version was less alcoholic by about half. The more you dilute any mixture, the more inoffensive it will taste. Even if liquor on average was stronger in 1862 than 1935, Thomas’s confection would have been less potent. But the bigger flavour of the 1862 whisky might have evened the difference, for the taste anyway.

Two ways to pick a fight. Take your pick.


Canadian Punch-Up

A number of “Canadian” cocktails or whiskey blends in 19th- and early 20th-century literature calls for mixing whisky and rum.

At first sight, this strategy seems suspect given the expected clash of sugar-derived spirit and something minty/piney/grainy from rye. In fact though, it makes perfect sense as Canadian whisky early on had developed into a fairly mild blend, of which I’ve written earlier on these pages.

Given this postulate, the rum functions as a useful flavouring and illustrates the flexible definition of Canadian whisky which permits addition of any domestic or imported wine or spirit as flavouring.

(You can turn it around, too, and use a fairly neutral white rum against a highly flavoured whiskey distilled at a low proof, or with a good component of same. Say, Lamb’s white rum with Dark Horse, but the former approach was probably more the intention).

The Canadian Punch recipe shown opposite is potent as advertised, i.e., notwithstanding that an equal amount of the spirits is mixed with mineral water, as it is at least 20% abv. Most punch would come in under that, consistent with a drink served in cups not shot glasses at a garden party or seasonal or other festivity. Drinking iced punch of this nature will make its effect felt pretty fast.

Give it a try, the recipe is easy to scale down, too. The lemon and pineapple have an odd synergistic effect. No spices are prescribed for this recipe, and you don’t really need them. I’ve used Wiser’s (a regular brand, not Legacy, say) and Myers dark rum and the effect is superb.

I recall Captain’s Table, an old McGuinness whisky that needs to be brought back. Did it contain some rum? I’m not sure, the name of course and bottle shape did conjure a naval image. But anyway you can make your own rum-infused Canadian whisky – unpunched I mean – just add some good rum to a bottle of any light-bodied whisky.

The recipe (via HathiTrust) is from Along The Wine Trail: An Anthology of Wines and Spirits (1935) by G. Selmer Fougner (1884-1941). He was a wine and food columnist in New York and issued books in the wake of Repeal to educate the public on gastronomy and wine culture. He was a top food writer of his day, like Anthony Bourdain of our time, but also took an equal interest in the bibulous. He would have made, I’m sure, a fine host of the modern tv food-and-travel documentary.

Raise a Canadian punch – don’t throw one – to his memory, eh?



What’s Old Is New Again

Looking at the cocktails menus of some of the in bars of New York, one is encouraged to see that the Old-Fashioned Cocktail is still a mainstay. Yes, it might have lemonade added or a dash of hefeweizen, but the main elements are recognizably the same: whiskey, gomme syrup, bitters, and a fruit element of some kind (usually).

The cocktail itself was originally was whiskey (or other spirits), sugar, bitters, and the Old-Fashioned was so named in the later 1800s to remember the original confection.

The best one I had on my recent NY sojourn was a fairly sweet one at The Gingerman, made with Old Overholt rye. A current article in the NYT bemoans the severe shortage of aged rye, but fortunately for fans of the Old Fashioned, young rye or other fairly vigorous whiskey (not > six or eight years IMO) is best anyway. Nothing worse in a cocktail than the taste of cold woody char.

Looking at my resources to make one, I decided, first, to use American whiskeys. While excellent results can be gleaned from Canuck rye or a combination of that and American, I thought I would use just American.

I had some high proof Pikesville, probably around six years old, antediluvian by modern standards unless you have a 1000 sawbucks in your pocket. But it works well and the extra proof is just a bonus. The fairly young Bower Hill Reserve Rye, a non-distilling producer’s product sourced from MGP in Indiana (a former Seagram plant), would blend well with this.

A case of May to December so to speak. But what to do for the sugar?

I never know where to find bar syrup, and while I can use granulated and liquefy it with hot water as the old manuals suggested, I looked around for another, um, solution. Jacquin’s Rock and Rye, a cordial which is a very sweet combination of sugar, rye whiskey, and fruit flavourings, was just the thing.

I used about a third each, and came up with a fine Old Fashioned. Even that dilution hardly blunted the sweet attack of the Jacquin given how much sucrose it has to start with. And its riot of citrus and other flavours – celery, oddly, makes an appearance – gave the cocktail its needed fruity tang.

Finally, with Angostura, the result was perfect.

Taste Is Relative, But Diverting


As we see in this 1909 article from American Brewers Review, detailed instructions were given how to avoid the “pitch taste” in beer. It was said, “The prevention of ‘pitch taste’ has always been a matter of vital importance to the beer Brewer”.

Yet as I explained recently, until then a faint taste of pitch was considered part of the profile of lager. American beer writers, including the New York brewer George Ehrets, mentioned this trait in books before 1900. And only 10 years earlier, Budweiser was advertised as having a “pitchy bouquet”.

Which is it?

Contradiction, and making a virtue of necessity, characterize human endeavour in general, and not least brewing, where the prime and overriding factor has always been delivery of a weak alcoholic solution to the public. National Prohibition proved this starkly when near beer became a damp squib…

In an era when large wood vats were used to age the beer for months, and these were lined with pitch, some of the taste got into the beer, even bottled beer, where pitch-lined trade casks were not used. For draft beer, the effect had to be more marked.

Once Pfaudler tanks lined with glass were substituted by the larger brewers at any rate, the pitch taste went away at least for bottled beer and was reduced in draft beer. Indeed we have seen that Anheuser-Busch advertised the Pfaudler tanks at virtually the same time as the article above appeared. I doubt the two things were coincidental.

(The glass enamelled tanks were substituted not to rid the beer of the pitch flavour but to render it more stable, less likely to sour for example from hard-to-excise microflora resident in the wood of the older tanks).

Hence articles such as these. All the old lore of the “incense” smell of pitch, of the romantic odours of Bohemian towns and how they infused the finished product, went out the window.

In my view, differing commercial rationales explained the virtues of corn and rice in brewing, of pasteurization, of short lagering, finally of reduced hop content. It’s not really any different today. Do the very pronounced tastes of U.S. hops have any inherent value? Not really. Indeed some of them were rejected by European brewers just for that reason, yet today they are the acme of terroir.

Is heavy gravity brewing a bad thing, or Nathan conical fermenters viz. their effect on top-fermenting  yeast? No, it is what it is and we attribute value to the results, provided it is beer.

This is normal as taste is relative if not almost arbitrary. We like a heavy and bitter-sweet beer because we want to, not because it is inherently superior to a light and almost tasteless one. At one time, and still for many, it is precisely the obverse.

Creating a detailed classification of tastes is an economically useful and often absorbing endeavour, but ultimately an unnecessary one. Perhaps the Russians were the most honest in that when it became possible to produce virtually tasteless alcohol as drink, they did precisely that, in the form of vodka.

Did the advice in the 1909 article work? I doubt it. A road made of tar always has a faint smell of the material, particularly on a warm day. It can’t have been much different for a barrel of beer. I am quite sure I remember the pitch taste in Pilsner Urquell in the 70s and 80s, lightly musky as I recall it.

Now that I think about it, incense can smell like that. It would be great to see it again, because it is interesting – that’s reason enough. Craft brewers are the perfect people to do it.

Note re images: The first image above is via HathiTrust and source is linked in the text. The second is from Wikipedia, here. All intellectual property therein or thereto belong solely to the owners or authorized users. Images believed available for educational or historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.






Riding The Wave

img_20161203_114052_editContinuing the theme of my last post, I show here part of a drinks menu from a restaurant in the vicinity of Grand Central Terminal – as midtown as it gets. It is near The Beer Bar, whose sign I showed yesterday (but not from that pioneering establishment, founded 1994. The Beer Bar now blends easily into New York’s beer scene but was a scenemaker in its day).

Kona, the Hawaii-originated, nationally distributed brand from Craft Brew Alliance, makes an appearance. So do two beers from Sam Adams, Rebel IPA and Boston Lager. Two wits appear, both well-known, had it been me I’d have selected one of the two shown and a wit from the New York area.

Stella, the new Bud, is front and centre as is Bud Light – a doughty survivor from the old days – but after that it’s big crafts again, plus Chimay White and Guinness.

This type of list is typical around town but often with variations such as Lagunitas or Stone, or perhaps Barrier, the New York-area brewery whose profile increases every day. Even the average street bar often offers a salting of distinctive local or other craft brands.

The posted list nonetheless is very acceptable with some fine beers, my only argument is there is no characterful porter or stout. Now if Guinness released its 5.3% extra stout currently on supermarket shelves as a draft, that would fix that as it is much tastier than regular Guinness. Of course a strong stout or porter from a New York state craft would be appreciated, too.

This type of menu increasingly will characterize the big cities and finally smaller areas, with adjustments that take in local brands and big craft distributed in the area. Will it displace the diversity of a true local beer scene? Not at all. Brewpubs and beer bars specializing in great beer will ensure further choice.

gamme_4bouteillesConsidering the realities of business and distribution in many parts of the U.S., the menu shown is a reasonable working out of trends started in the 70s by Michael Jackson, the American Homebrewers Association, All About Beer magazine, Jim Koch, Ken Grossman, Fritz Maytag and many others. Ale Street News, the long-time “brewspaper” edited by Tony Forder, played its part and is still to be found in beer hangouts all over Manhattan.

N.B. The term “chalice” for a characteristic Belgian beer glass, was originated by Michael Jackson. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.




Thoughts on Beer and Whiskey in New York Today

img_20161203_113321I hadn’t been to New York in seven or eight months and renewed acquaintanceship. We stayed in Queens just over the Queensboro Bridge, part of Long Island City, for a few days.

I liked being in a different borough. Although very close to Manhattan the feel is quite different, more “neighbourhood” and the surroundings more like you see in upstate New York, Buffalo and similar.

Prices were more reasonable and the Ditmars section had excellent restaurants, one memorable night was spent at a Greek restaurant there, Stamatis. It was all locals having a great time. We sipped Greek red wine, eschewing for once the beer.

I’ve mentioned on Twitter how American whiskey prices have skyrocketed in recent years – a victim of its own success. Store owners told me there is large demand in Asia for bourbon and rye and it has put pressure on domestic stocks and therefore prices. Of course stateside, demand has spiked too. Still, there are good values for the persistent. Heaven Hill, more as a public service I think than anything else (a nod to the working people who kept bourbon going for decades before hipsters cottoned to it), keep the price of Evan Williams Black Label reasonable, and there are one or two other values, and specials and reductions, for those who look.

Otherwise, be prepared to spend from $40-$80 and more for stuff that cost half or less 10 years ago. By the standards of malt and single potstill whiskey, still a good deal I suppose. The cocktails scene seems to have lessened in intensity, and the “Prohibition” craze in ratio.

The standards remain, like Manhattan, Sazerac, Old-Fashioned. The craft distilling scene is where the action is but prices again are understandably high with a riot of flavours and distilling approaches.


My feeling is, the small guys should focus more on straight bourbon and rye. Four years or less in some cases can produce some fine whiskey and I feel they would do better with this than all kinds of fruit and unusual wood flavourings. Beer Barrel Bourbon (the only new element being finishing in ex-beer barrels) shows the way, as it is a very good shot of whiskey by any standards. But then too, one can’t gainsay experimentation and coming up with that “new” flavour that may catch on. Clearly many are still trying, as at home, more power to them.

On the beer side, the established craft specialty outlets are still going great guns. Interest is as high as ever. On the licencee side (bar and restaurant trade), midtown at least a changeover has occurred from five years ago and more when many still carried Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Corona, Mich Ultra, maybe Heineken, maybe Sam Adams or Guinness. Or a variation on that theme.

Now, the default beer offering is craft: Goose Island, Sam Adams or its excellent Coney Island spin-off, Brooklyn Brewery, Lagunitas, and similar. Heineken and Corona still sell well too, and Stella Artois is omnipresent. It’s significant though that the mainstream bars have turned the corner in this way.

The craft speciality bars are as strong as ever, featuring a wide variety of styles and tastes. But it’s in the larger market where you see that the penny has dropped. I predict that will happen nation-wide too in about five years, certainly in ten. This is why the large brewers have bought up craft properties, they know it’s coming. While big craft or macro tend to dominate that craft availability, nonetheless it shows public tastes have changed. The big urban centres are always the harbingers.



East Side, West Side

Did I Say The Bases Were Covered?

From a late 19th century drinks manual (via HathiTrust), we see below a simple but dignified ad for an American ale brewer, one of the holdouts against the lager invasion.

It’s a summum of the great 1800s Anglo-Saxon top-fermentation world, a last hurrah for a tradition which began in Colonial days, transplanted from where it started by people of the same blood. (Well, the Dutch had a part in it, too).

We have mild ales in pale and amber versions, two strengths of the former. We have the proud Burton, probably dark amber and strong.  And East India, the name old and romantic albeit barely 50 years known outside Britannic circles in Asia. The X ales again but given stock treatment, probably a bit tart. And porter – we know what that is. And brown stout, the same but stronger and with more substance.

Haddock & Langdon were active in the last quarter of the 1800s in New York, on East 14th Street. The brewery closed in ’96. Haddock was an engineer, from Buffalo, NY.

Just under loomed the competition ever nipping at the heels. The German-sounding Hermann lager brewery, but owned by an Anglo-American (presumably), named Burr – America always was a mixture. It’s on 18th street, but over on the west side, what is now the West Village.

East side, west side, all around the town, fine beers from a dual tradition conspired to crack the crown. All and more are now returned to what Jack Kerouac called the “Manhattoes”, a territory unto itself to which Beeretseq now decamps for a few days.

N.B. Actually I think Kerouac got the Manhattoes poeticism from Walt Whitman.


Textiles, Threads, London Beer

When I spoke at Castro’s Lounge on the weekend, I was asked to give a simple example of threads and porter in a textiles context.

In The Art of Weaving, by Hand and by Power (1844) by Clinton G. Gilroy (image below via HathiTrust), we see a discussion of striped cloth where thread is used in relation to porter (aka portee, portie, portee).

Here, three threads per dent (also called split) was used, presumably a typical application. For various fabrics the definition of porter could be different, e.g., for jute it was 40 threads to define the basic type (20 splits x 2), which makes sense given the looser construction of jute or burlap. Better qualities used more threads per split, e.g., tarpaulin.

But the basic principle is the same. All the threads of a porter helped form the fabric. I apprehend each thread type for mixed beers – two threads, three threads, up to six – were a porter, just as a two-thread striped cloth and a three-thread striped cloth were. It was all porter, the cloths and the mixed beers. Finally the amalgamated (entire) beer was a porter too – hence the name – only it was prepared by the brewer, ready-made – the weaving was done.

Consider too that the term loom was also used at the time to describe a brewery, as I documented in my earlier writings.

Thread counts in the length were a way to grade cloth. The variables were the numbers of splits in the porter, the number of threads in the splits, and the number of porters in the reed length. Dents is from French, for teeth. It’s the idea of a gap to be filled with thread, the same for split of course. Porter as a textiles term is from the French portée, the idea of an entry or space again.

All this technology was understood in the late 1600s in Spitalfields, London, and used for all cloths. The only difference was, looming later became more automated. Silk manufacture had some particularities as well but they are not relevant to the aspect being discussed.

This is the first new theory on the origin of the names porter and three (etc.) threads for hundreds of years. I think, of course, I’m right, as further discussed in my 2015 postings referenced in my blog post yesterday.

Oh, a top grade of silk in this period was black silk, used for hoods and parts of the dress of prosperous women. That’s what a good strong porter tastes like, eh?