Contes d’Opale – Adventures in Lille

Having spent a week or so in Boulogne, we decided, for a change of pace, to visit the sizeable metropolis of Lille, which is in the far north of France, inland, not far from the Belgian line.

We have a warm remembrance of the city of Lille from about 30 years ago, where we hooked up with Michael Jackson, the famous beer writer (not the rock star, although our Michael Jackson was a rock star in his own right, albeit to the beer world, being responsible to a large degree for the present-day interest in craft beer). Lille holds, for us, fond memories of that rendezvous with Michael, at the then almost-fledgling Les Trois Brasseurs, when the three of us set out on a tour of the artisan breweries making the traditional “biere de garde”, an old specialty of the region.

We had been to Lille several times before that (from Paris) to enjoy the carbonnade a la Flamande, or beef cooked with beer and onions, the pungent Maroilles cheese, Flemish-inflected genever gins, and the breathtaking architecture of the Grande Place and Vielle Ville. Those charms still exist, but, sadly, Michael is no longer with us.

The trip of 2019 started tentatively; it poured heavily as we walked from our apartment in Boulogne-sur-Mer to the SNCF train station, just a 15 minute walk, but which seemed an eternity in the heavy rains. We both got soaked.

The train ride was only a hour and by the time we got to Lille and had lunch, the weather had dramatically changed and the sun shone brilliantly. A notable aspect of this part of the world is the changeability of the weather. One minute it rains; the next, it is sunny and bright. It is not a warm climate and, I have found, a jacket is always needed. As George Bernard Shaw said, the coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco. Same thing here.

We stayed in a hotel close to the Lille Europe train station where we arrived – Lille Europe is a stopping off point for the Eurostar from St. Pancras station in London on its way to Paris, and just on the edge of the Vielle Ville. That train station is next to a huge modern-day shopping centre called Euralille and to the old train station called Lille Flandres.

By contrast, the old town has cobble-stoned streets and multitudes of independent and high-end clothing and accessories and food stores and many restaurants and bars. I liked, in particular, Gerard Darrel, Satellite, and Un Jours Ailleurs (UJA) there.

Gary enjoyed a craft beer bar called La Capsule in the old town. This is part of their very with-it beer list:

I am told there are three reasons to go to Lille, the food and beer, for business, and for the art collection at the Musee de Beaux Arts.

I would add to that listing, the beautiful architecture of its oldest buildings. The belfry attached to the city’s town hall, the Grande Theatre, and the Nouvelle Bourse are some of the finest examples.

Our short weekend culminated in a day at the Sunday morning Wazemmes Market, a bustling outdoor and covered market with vibrant colours and a wide diversity of clothes, household products, and food.

All in all, a lovely time in Lille. We highly recommend it.

A bientot!

Contes d’Opale – Becoming Boulonnais

Bonjour, mes amis,

Gary and I are settling into the Boulonnais way of life – cooking chez nous and setting up house at our aptly-named apartment-hotel called “Comme a la Maison”. We have a small, but very efficient, kitchen/living-room, bedroom and bathroom. The apartment is spotless and the kitchen has microwave, toaster, a 2-element stove, coffee maker, dishes and utensils – everything you need to feel at home.

We are located in la Vielle Ville on a cobble-stoned street with plenty of restaurants and bars. We are told that our apartment building, dating from the 1500’s, is the oldest edifice in Boulogne.


To set ourselves up, we acquired some basic provisions at the local Casino supermarket – it was fun in and of itself to compare French products with Canadian ones. For example, while searching for 0% fat content Greek plain yogurt, we came across “fromage blanc”. While apparently different in fabrication, they are similar in appearance. We found the fromage blanc a delightful alternative and less acid than yogurt.

Even better then the traditional supermarkets, we joined the throngs of locals for the colourful Saturday farmers’ market centrally situated in Boulogne’s Place Dalton.

Here the vendors offer fresh vegetables right from the nearby fields, regional cheeses, roasted chickens (sur place), honey, jams, olives, roasted garlic (a local specialty) and other regional products as well as all kinds of prepared foods, like paella, couscous and cassoulet.


There is a market at Place d’Alton on Wednesday’s as well and we hope to visit it soon.

We did, however, make our way to the Sunday fish market where there were all kinds of weird and wonderful super fresh fish and seafood we rarely see in Canada, if at all. Right out of the ocean, these fish glimmered in the sunshine.

Some vendors at the Sunday market also offer salads and olive and artichoke tapenades as well as home-prepared baked goods. We remembered the “financiers” (golden brick-shaped cakes) we used to buy in Paris years ago and were delighted to find them here.


Today, we visited the Auchan store on the suburbs of Boulogne. Gary was in seventh heaven as he perused the extremely comprehensive beers of this northern French region (which is traditionally a beer region, ie. too far north to grow grapes) and nearby Belgium.

I’ll leave you with a glimpse of just part of the acreage devoted to beer at Auchan!

A bientot!


A la Recherche du Temps Perdu – Paris

Hi, again. I wanted to reprise the time we spent in Paris, a short 4 days, getting accustomed to the time zone and settling in to the French way of life.

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle via Air France, on a quiet Sunday morning and took the RER B to the Gare du Nord, a short 10 stops from the airport. We were most impressed with Air France – it was very efficient and smooth – once airborne, it was as if you were sitting in your own living room.

This trip, we decided to stay near the Gare du Nord as it is a stop on the RER from the airport and also because it is the train station from which we would depart for the north of France. It’s not the usual touristic area, but it has a lot of good restaurants and bars and is proximate, on foot, to a variety of sites such as Place du Republique,  the Canal St. Martin covered market, Rue Maubeuge, the Marais and Galeries Lafayettes.

In fact, it is only a 20 minute walk from 2 spinning clubs which I attended, Dynamo and Kiwill, which had Soulcycle-style classes, but in French. The classes were good but with with the music blaring at ear-piercing volume, it was difficult for me to hear and understand the instructor’s instructions, en francais, of course, except for the occasional “let’s go”.

While waiting for one of the classes to begin, I resolved to canvass the various modes of transportation used by Parisians to get around their beautiful city. These include the obvious cars, metro and taxis, but now include bikes (regular and e-bikes- see the bike below) as well as something called a “trottinette electrique”.


These trottinettes electriques are driven on the roads or on specially designated bike paths reserved for bikes, but strictly speaking, they are not permitted on the roads, sidewalks or bike paths. We witnessed one rider wipe-out on the trottoir in front of us as he skidded on some damp leaves and lost control. Nevertheless, they are hugely popular. See

Paris is one of the best cities in the world and each time we are there, we marvel at its beauty, diversity, food and drink and culture. We ate out as we did not have cooking or refrigeration facilities, and in spite of my WeightWatchers regime, could not resist a lemon tart and a couple of buttery croissants.


Paris is relatively calm these days as it is the time of the traditional summer vacances. Even our favourite Canal St. Martin covered market was closed. Dommage. Most businesses appear to re-open mid-month as people come back to the city to resume their business and school lives. We will be back in Paris at the beginning of September, so we hope to visit our usual haunts then.

Today, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, we visited the lively Saturday market, held between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., in the town square, full of vegetables, fruits, meat, roasted chicken, jams and honey, but more about that tomorrow, so stay tuned.

A bientot!


Contes d’Opale


This is Libby, Gary’s wife, guest blogging about our trip to the Côte d’Opale in France. We decided to call this series of blog posts, Contes d’Opale, a play on the words, Côte d’Opale which is the region of northern France, on the English Channel, where we are visiting for the next month.

We have rented a flat with a fully equipped kitchen in a 16th century building right in the old town of Boulogne-sur-Mer on a cobble-stoned street called Rue de Lille. Surrounded by a centuries old fortress, this old town is replete with charming restaurants and cute shops. Our landlord, a good-looking Frenchman who also happens to own the delightful tiny bar across the street called the “Vole Hole”, kindly picked us up at the train station yesterday and schlepped our heavy bags up three flights of our 16th century accommodation.

This is our base for the next month as we travel hither and yon in this  friendliest corner of France. Known primarily by British and Belgian tourists, Boulogne is best known for having the largest fishing port in all of Europe. It’s from here that the best tables in Paris get their fish and seafood. This morning, we visited the Boulognais port where we saw a multitude of fishing vessels bringing in their daily catch. Today’s catch seemed to focus on cockles, mackerel and crab. On the way back to our flat, many restaurants were busy serving mounds of mussels with frites. We haven’t tried out the mussels yet, but had some terrific frites (served with mayonnaise and vinegar) out of a chip wagon situated at the port.

Anyways, I’ll do my best to keep you posted as our trip progresses and promise to include some photos taken by my personal photographer, Gary.

A bientot!


The Western Saloon Reimagined


The 6:09 Goes Roaring Past the Creek … Country Comfort’s in a Train Going Back Home*

In a post of some months ago, “Down the Pub”, I wrote:

… in 1954 when Union Pacific Railroad placed new locomotives and consists (the related cars and equipment) on its Chicago-Denver run, it featured as club-lounge The Pub, a sleek affair meant to resemble an English country tavern.

I wonder what beers were served there. America by 1954 had virtually abandoned its 19th century India Pale, stock, and still ales, beers descended from U.K. tradition. Apart a superficial architectural allusion, the modern American Anglo pub offered mainly a misty romance. Retention of the core ale and porter – the things that fuelled and originally made the pub what it was – was felt unnecessary.

I went on to say I wish I could find the bar list for the space-age yet still recognizably Britannic pub built for prosperous train-goers of the 50s and early 60s. I never did, but I found something as good in its way: the drinks list for the immediate predecessor of The Pub, the Frontier Shack.

The Frontier Shack started service in the late 1930s. Its conception and design are described in a remarkable pamphlet from Union Pacific, The Frontier Shack, reproduced on the website Streamliner Memories, here.

The pamphlet explains that Walt Kuhn, the storied, Brooklyn-born artist and illustrator, designed and decorated the bar. The image above is an actual photo in Kuhn records lodged with Smithsonian Institute, as reproduced on the Streamliner Memories site, see here.

The Smithsonian’s page gives further background on Kuhn’s connection to Union Pacific:

From 1936 until 1943, Kuhn was employed by the Union Pacific (UP) Railroad Company through his connection with Averell Harriman, husband of Marie Harriman and UP’s Chairman of the Board. He designed and decorated club cars and lounges for Streamliner trains, designed posters and brochures, and consulted for other projects. Kuhn’s historically-themed club cars, “The Frontier Shack” and “The Little Nugget” involved two of his favorite historical themes, the old west and early stage comedians.

The Frontier Shack pamphlet smoothly elaborates:

Among the many unique fa­cilities for your enjoyment en route on The Streamliner “City of Denver” is the “Frontier Shack.” Situated just forward of the coaches, it is an authentic reproduc­tion of a western frontier shack of the period between the close of the Civil War and the early “90’s.” It has the intriguing atmosphere of hospitality so characteristic of the historic hostelries which were land­marks of early pioneer days along the Overland Route.

The walls and ceilings are of unfinished and unmatched white pine boards, face nailed and of uneven lengths and widths…

Odd, isn’t it, that something could be memorialized, made mythic, in barely two generations? It’s as if Via Rail built a 1960s Toronto beverage room, or Montreal taverne, for the Toronto-Montreal run. I mean, it isn’t that long ago, I can tell you exactly what the taverne was like, and I’m no crusty old-timer. Really.

Fortunately, the Railroad Archive site has preserved the 1940 drinks list shown below. And lo, Pale Ale – Bass’s – and stout – Guinness’s – are still represented along with unnamed American draught and bottled beer.

A cold collation was available too, including what seems an early form of the Reuben, and caviar, with not much daylight in their prices. That was 1940 America for you, just coming out of the long Depression.

The food choice seems plain Jane in 2019 yet, with good ingredients, perhaps as satisfying as anything we can do today.

Soon the supply of Bass and Guinness would dry up, after Pearl Harbor, that is. Maybe the beery twain returned for The Pub, the next incarnation of the City of Denver lounge car. If I find a menu for that period I’ll do an update.

The 1940 document shows the great lasting power of Bass and Guinness in America – the almost invariable duo of aristo beer. Commencing about 100 years earlier they flew the flag for chic imported, non-German beer. The reign lasted until about 2000 when Bass seemed to fall from American graces, leaving Guinness the main prestige import outside the German, Dutch, Mexican, and Canadian axis.

What unites, finally, The Pub to the Frontier Shack is the commercial adaptation of an earlier, yet still commercial, idea. There is no Rousseau-style innocence, here. It’s an ever-evolving process until successive change transforms the original idea (if it ever was) to something unrecognizably new.

If Union Pacific was still operating its Streamliner, The Pub could be followed by The Dive Bar followed by The Beer Garden followed by The Speakeasy followed by The Factory, or Railway Arch. It never ends, you see.

Note re images: the first image was drawn from the Streamliner Memories site as noted and linked in the text. The second was drawn from the Railroad Archives site also linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner(s), as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*With apologies to Elton John and Bernie Taupin, but we think they’d like this post.


Reflective Tasting: a Bottle of J&B

There are drinks we try literally only a few times a year if that, one is blended Scotch whisky. Another is mescal or sometimes tequila.

These gain interest for me by being relatively rare tipples. On an ongoing basis I prefer (outside beer) bourbon, Canadian whisky, or a cocktail, often gin-based, or a Manhattan.

But occasionally I will try a Scotch whisky and usually keep one or two bottles. I started to discuss J&B on Twitter but will do a wrap here.

Years ago I investigated the principal blends, and numerous obscure ones, and decided I prefer the single malts. I still do, but bourbon, and later Canadian whisky when better offerings were available, are a more frequent choice these days. In part the price-quality ratio explains this but also a good U.S. or Canadian straight whisky offers a depth of palate I find attractive on a continual basis.

Blended Scotch, and the bulk of Canadian whisky which is also blended, are reliant on a substantial portion of intensively distilled grain whisky, and seem too light for neat sipping. They do well with soda, water/rocks, or a mix, the classic function one might say. Yet, a bottle I have of J&B is particularly good with a rounded, almost silky body and good flavour, light but with a notably smoky edge. The brand was developed some say for U.S. tastes in the wake of Repeal of Prohibition, but unusually for me I’ll elide the history to focus on palate.

Some drinks, although fairly neutral in taste, have a pleasing sensory impact, and this one does, or rather this sample does, as I find each bottle of almost any spirit differs. The variance is not great but enough so a sensitive taster can notice.

We take just a little, an ounce is enough.

Recently tasting this J&B, I was suddenly put in mind of a mescal I like, Leyenda Tlacuache Organic Mezcal. You may view the bottle at its LCBO listing. Of course the signature tastes, Scotch and mescal, differ, with quite a bit of variance in each category. Alba and agave – no obvious connections.

Yet, J&B and the Leyenda share a relatively light body and not dissimilar smoky note. The Leyenda surely is a straight spirit, all distilled I should think at under 160 proof, while the grain whiskies in J&B are high-proof, fairly mild whiskies, but still we note a connection.

I think if I drank them regularly I wouldn’t see this facet of two otherwise quite different spirits. You lose the forest for the trees, to use a well-worn but apt metaphor – very apt in the matter of Scotch whisky at least.

Drinks are less diverse than we sometimes think. Distillation is a technique, originating in China or the Middle East, that became a common patrimony in Western culture. When it started, “spirit” was the object, and classification and types came much later. Infrequent tasting shows up the original links, the common DNA.

In sum J&B proved equable on this outing, at least this bottle of it. When it is finished I will buy it again and hope the next bottle will be as good. Maybe it will be better, and therein lies the piquancy for the reflective taster.

N.B. Contrary to normal practice I selected a British half-pint glass for the whisky vs. a Waterford or other tumbler. One advantage is the thin glass presents the colour well, a kind of canary yellow, highlighted by the product label. This bottle must be 15-20 years old, so not sure of the current labeling.



Guinness’ Role in Craft Beer History

How many études have I done on Guinness stout, perhaps 15 or 20? They cover many aspects, e.g., grist make-up and “heading” to impart foamy richness in the 1800s; the brewery in Ireland during World War II; the failed Guinness initiative in Long Island, NY, ca. 1950; the filtered and finally pasteurized “keg” Guinness that replaced naturally conditioned beer; launching the new draft form in New York and the Midwest mid-1960s; Guinness’s role in creating the international Irish pub; and opening a new brewery in Maryland a couple of years ago.

Shall we add one more facet? I say yes, which is Guinness’ role in stimulating the now world-wide craft beer revival. It’s part of the story imported beer played generally in that process, which I’ve explored in numerous posts. My own memory confirms that Guinness was a keystone in the gateway to the beer revival. It was the top-fermented equivalent of Heineken and Corona in this process, and while never rivalling the latter in sales, it always exceeded them in craft affections.

The Guinness cachet is both pre- and post-craft beer onset. One legacy is the craft staple  of “dry Irish stout”, a direct offspring of Guinness.

And in truth the rep is justified, at least when Guinness is very fresh and well-poured, draft but also some bottled forms. I never cottoned to the “widget” type, bottle or can, but the rest is pretty good when on form, despite many modifications since the 1800s.

So Guinness had and retains the best of both worlds: a special place in beery affections innocent of any craft influence, and the respect of craft enthusiasts worldwide for its history and taste.

At moments in the Guinness chronology you can see the pivot. An example is provided by this 1976 article describing Guinness’ American strategy. In 1976 the pathbreaking New Albion Brewery was formed in Sonoma, CA. The two events, I assure you, are not unconnected.

Journalist Geoffrey Thompson described Guinness’ plan to capitalize on its rising popularity through a profile of its American manager, Desmond Sharp-Bolster. The latter, wrote Thompson, combined Irish wit, British charm, and American business savvy, an ideal combination for the job.

Sharp-Bolster gave Thompson a short but unusually accurate, for the time, account of Guinness history in America. He explained how Guinness reversed sagging fortunes in the 1970s by setting up a standard, domestic beer distributorship with Guinness and Harp lager bolted on as specialties. Soon total revenues were $30-$40M.

The executive noted particular growth in two sub-markets: ethnic enclaves including the Puerto Rican community, no doubt reflecting here the historic Caribbean affection for British stout, and college students, a bellwether he said of evolving tastes. (The Irish-American community was part of the picture, but implied in such discussions).

True it is that students and the younger professoriat tend to presage national trends. It was true of craft beer proper, with quality imports part of the picture. Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada, and Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale lubricated early rock shows in northern California, where jam bands like The Grateful Dead and the college favourite Phish played the “lot scene”. This posting on the City Tap website explains some of that history. Nascent craft brewers took notice and some crafted their image to synch with a hippie ethos.

More recently, cafes on or near campus helped popularize cold brew coffee, kombucha, and probably too the current crop of no-alcohol beers. The still newish term indie brewer derives from indie music or indie label, associated again with the arty bands favoured by students.

Guinness appealed  to them by its foreign yet still familiar (Irish) background, and distinctive black hue. Student newspapers of the 1970s and 1980s carried ads for popular imports including Canadian beers, another example of different-meets-familiar.

So Thompson’s 1976 piece outlined the shape of things to come. His striking intro:

What would you do if your company sold a product which marketing experts concluded was “totally unacceptable to the American consumer?” In all likelihood you’d build a 55,000 – square-foot warehouse in Long Island City, hire a sizeable workforce and make a go of it.

Undeterred by 20 years of reverses Guinness kept at it in America, and this time was amply rewarded. The ubiquity of Guinness today in North America is a testament to its vision and enterprise. Not all big companies exist in torpor and by reaction: they also lead and innovate, then and now. Guinness, now part of mighty, London-based Diageo, was Exhibit A.

Of course, markets and business end as a complex matrix, and those who can master the formulae take the palm. Guinness built on the student interest by astute advertisements in the college press. The ad below is from a 1977 issue of the Oswegonian, a student newspaper of SUNY (State University of New York) at Oswego.

The new Maryland facility shows Guinness enterprise and pluck to be alive and well, although it remains to be seen how the unit will do. Personally, I think it should produce Guinness stout here vs. simply the Guinness Blonde and other non-stout.

No doubt the company fears the loss of the special prestige associated to historic manufacture in Dublin, but on a long-term basis will be motivated, we believe, to brew the stout locally (as it does, say, in Canada for one form of it, in Nigeria, and parts of Asia). Time will tell.

Note re image: image above was sourced from the digitized newspaper identified and linked in the text, courtesy NYS Historical Newspapers. All intellectual property thereto or therein belongs solely to the lawful owner(s), as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

“Toronto Brews” Exhibition, Market Gallery

Last night I attended a reception for the opening of the Exhibition entitled “Toronto Brews: Two Centuries of Beer Culture”. It is taking place at Market Gallery, the historic space above St. Lawrence Market downtown in Toronto. A team from the City of Toronto, led by its Chief Curator of Museum and Heritage Services, Wayne Reeves, organized the event. It runs until December 28, 2019, at 95 Front Street East, Toronto.

This page from the City of Toronto website describes the main features. As stated in the link:

The story begins with tiny breweries established in the early 1800s, then covers the scaling-up of the industry in Victorian times, the impact of Prohibition, the rise of Canada’s macrobrewers in the first half of the 20th century, and ends with a look at the microbrewery movement since 1985 and contemporary craft-beer culture.

A number of special events will be held over the run including special Thursday night tastings, and culinary demonstrations.

The Exhibition achieves its aims well via wall narratives, a video advertising compilation, and the many historical objects on display. A small number of exhibits are pictured below to give the flavour, and I included more on Twitter (@beeretseq) yesterday.

Reeves and the City, the sponsoring organizations, and participating area breweries all deserve a vote of thanks for their efforts and contributions, as do the numerous private collectors who loaned rare items for display. I was pleased to see the original, 1856 menu displayed for Mart Ackerman’s Saloon, which was located nearby on Wellington Street.

I mentioned that fascinating item here in a whimsical piece some years ago. The City had to reach all the way to an archive in New York City to obtain this item.

Anyone who is interested in Canadian brewing, business, or cultural history and can attend should not miss this event.

Item above is from O’Keefe Brewery in Toronto, probably 1930s. Brewery merged in 1989 with Molson Breweries of Canada, now Molson-Coors. The term mild ale in Canadian beer nomenclature was relatively unusual.

Crown & Anchor was the first name for what became Molson Canadian lager, which still enjoys a sizeable market. The Festival lager can was indicated as from 1970, but the nature of the festival was not stated or known. A number of festivals were held in or outside of Toronto in 1970 including what resulted in the rock concert at Varsity Stadium where John Lennon and Yoko Ono played.

Also in 1970 was the Strawberry Fields Festival at Mosport Race Park, Bowmanville. The Festival Express rock star train tour was staged in Toronto in 1970 among other Canadian cities (subject of an excellent documentary film a few years ago). Perhaps the beer was marketed at such events, and/or the Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo, ON in the fall of 1970.

Further images from the Exhibition appear below, of which the first was perhaps an oatmeal stout, with a pun on Dr. Jackson’s Meal. As to who the Jackson was, it was would satisfying to conclude it was an admiring reference to famed beer author Michael Jackson, but this Jackson was likely not even born when this bottle was sold, or at most a young child.

At the time, products like the U.K.’s Dr. Johnson’s Stout had currency – even in Canada – so it was probably a riff on that, the Jackson-Johnson assonance. If the Jackson was a chemist at Copland’s, or a favoured customer, we have a triple pun.

For good information on Copland’s Brewery in Toronto, which also produced the stock ale shown below, see Jordan St. John’s Lost Breweries of Toronto. Indeed we had a nice chat at the reception last night.


Michael Jackson and Adjuncts in British Brewing

In my decades pondering beer and its history, only in the last year or so did the penny drop on an interesting point: Michael Jackson (1942-2007), the great British-based beer writer whose works are a landmark in the ongoing beer revolution, did not examine malt adjunct in British brewing and especially for ale, the focus of his early works when that product formed the great majority of British beer output.

I’ve examined now The World Guide to Beer (1977), The New World Guide to Beer (1988), and his first Pocket Guide (1982), and cannot find such a reference. To be sure at p. 8 of the first book he states that sugar was legalized for British brewing in 1847, but in the British chapter itself there is no discussion of grist material percentages. Here and there in the early books he refers in general discussions to “lesser grains” (corn and rice), and the importance that such grains not reduce beer to “impotence”, but does not state in the sub-chapter on Bitter, for example, that its fermentable sugar was derived on average from about 20% invert or other sugar or cereal starches.

He occasionally refers to sugar priming for real ale, or use of caramel to sweeten or colour beer, but not sugar or cereals as adjuncts in British ale fermentation.* Perhaps much later he mentioned cereals or sugar in the ale mash tun or kettle, maybe in a newspaper or beer magazine article, but I can’t find such discussion in his early works.

Yet, in his chapter on the United States in the 1977 book, he refers a number of times to adjunct use in American brewing, pointing out by contrast that Anchor Steam beer, a craft beer progenitor, was all-malt.

Why not a comparable discussion in the U.K. sections of the early works? The use of sugar or cereal grain adjunct was in the 1970s almost invariable for U.K. ale production, cask-conditioned beer included. This is stated in many sources since the late 19th century. In their Malting and Brewing Science: Volume 1 Malt and Sweet Wort (1971, 1981) British brewing scientists D.E. Briggs, J.S. Hough, R. Stevens, and Tom Watson summarize such use, see pp. 222-223. They state on average that just over 20% of the fermentable extract was derived from sugar in some form or hydrolysed starches. Maize is a prime example of the latter, used worldwide in commercial brewing until craft brewing partly restored the older, all-malt tradition.

Researchers who have studied historical brewing records, notably Ron Pattinson, also Edd Mathers, have confirmed this. See also the path-breaking Old British Beers and How to Make Them by Dr. John Harrison, published 1976, especially the discussion on older and contemporary brewing materials.

The onset of sugar use is also addressed in other historical books on brewing, e.g. Herbert Monckton in his 1966 History of English Ale and Beer, and technical journals such as Journal of the Institute of Brewing.

Historical sugar use is addressed in an article I wrote that will appear shortly in the U.K.-based journal Brewery History. I discuss its use in Great Britain not just from 1847, when it was first made permanently lawful, but even earlier when for limited periods it was allowed by special dispense when barley malt was short.

So why didn’t Michael Jackson “go there”?  Can it be that such practices might have been viewed as sub-optimal, especially in light of the German all-malt brewing tradition that Jackson lauded in the Germany chapters?

It is similar viz. Belgian Trappist brewing at least in the first major book, The World Guide to Beer, which established his reputation and created the legend of Trappist beer. He does not discuss, that I can detect, the grist composition of the beers.

I think quite honestly, to use a modern formulation, he made a political decision here. It is possible, yes, that Jackson did not initially appreciate the extent of adjunct use in British or Trappist ale-brewing, but that seems unlikely to me. I think he did know how the beers were typically brewed, from the outset of his studies, but chose to skip the issue. One way you see it is where he states in one book that the ideal way to appreciate malt character is in German beer. In effect he is saying its all-malt character best expresses the quality. The implied comparison is to other beers, while quite worthy on their own merits, that are not all-malt.

Certainly the high mark of adjunct use in British beer was about 20% – even as different brewers used different percentages, see Briggs et. al. again – while U.S. usage could well exceed that, often reaching 40% or even more for price beers. But that is a question of degree, isn’t it? There is still a “dilution” of character, whether viewed positively, negatively, or without judgement.

I think of Jackson we can say he took the last view of it. Jackson made clear he preferred all-malt character, but still considered British ale a classic beer tradition, and rightly so after all.

To summarise, he surely knew exactly how British ale was confected in 1977, and would have preferred it was all-malt, for example in the 1982 Pocket Guide he commends Timothy Taylor who had, very exceptionally, retained an all-malt tradition. But he let sleeping dogs lie so to speak, to make a larger point about a valuable beer heritage.


*See my Comment added yesterday on a vague reference to sugar in British brewing in the 1982 Pocket Guide, part of a discussion on beer “properties” at the outset of the book.



Laurentide: Lager and Ale

“I got decisions to be made between lager and ale …. cause I’m willing, willing and able…”

– Kim Mitchell, Lager and Ale (1984)

The above ad is from the November 13, 1972 issue of The Paper, the student newspaper of Loyola College and Sir George Williams University, now Concordia University. It was about this time I first drank Laurentide Ale in Montreal. The brand was only distributed in Quebec province and it seems to have disappeared from the market in the mid-2000s.

But in 2017, a spate of stories in the Quebec press reported that Laurentide was back. The stories I found, in French, called it Bière Laurentide, the name it always had in French. This one from Le Citoyen in Abitibi states that Quebecker Eric Côté, with the aid of a Facebook site, sent a petition with 1000 signatures to Molson-Coors to revive the brand. The company responded positively, a batch was made up and distributed, and since then it is brewed now and again.

Côté also petitioned the return of O’Keefe Ale, but so far without result. We commend this gentleman for his ardent efforts to restore brands of yesteryear. We can only hope O’Keefe and Brador, and the older Molson India Pale Ale and Molson Porter, will return to gladden beer drinkers interested in tastes of the past.

Piecing the 2017 accounts it seems Laurentide was still sold in parts of Quebec until 2012 whence it disappeared completely. It was bottled before 2012 as a value brand in large packs although whether it was never actually made between 2012 and 2017 I cannot say. On my many trips to Montreal between, say, the late 1990s and 2000s I never saw it, but perhaps it was available here and there, especially in big box stores.

In any case it is back with an éclat, now available in six pack cans. I saw it recently in Montreal and bought some.

When I lived there, and until I left in 1983 Laurentide was always advertised in English as an ale. The bottle labels stated “ale” while as stated above the French rendering was bière. Many ads and other sources I’ve consulted confirm this.

This U.S. news story on October 3, 1972 in the Clarkson Integrator (Potsdam, NY) recounts a visit of college students to Montreal. They went for a baseball game and to tour Molson’s. They were told by “Phillip”, a graduate student Molson had hired to lead tours, that the brewery made four “ales” and one “lager”. The ales were Molson Export, Molson Golden, Brador, and Laurentide. The sole lager was Molson Canadian.

My own memory suggests it was an ale, too. While on the light side it had a lightly fruity taste characteristic of top fermentation. To be sure all mass market ales of that period were fizzy, served cold, and cold-aged, hence presenting some lager characteristics, but still there was a distinction.

If one examines tv commercials for Laurentide on YouTube, one can see that something changed by 1989. In that year, the label reads finally in English, “beer”, see an example here. Whereas in early-1980s commercials, for example this one in 1982, the English description still reads “ale”. Something changed a few years later, and the beer was turned into an international lager style.

There can be little doubt this is still the case, as the Molson Coors website (see citation below) states it is a “pilsner”.

Also, based on tasting the Laurentide currently sold, it tastes like a pilsener in the international style. It is not what I remember, in other words, but still good with quite a full flavour. Some grain adjunct is likely used but it is not obtrusive. The beer tastes even better only lightly chilled.

Yet, in the 2017 Le Citoyen story, Eric Côté states the revived Laurentide is an ale (using the English term)! He tasted Laurentide at the brewery side by side with Molson Canadian, a lager, as some had suggested the two beers were the same. He concluded Laurentide is a different beer, with which I agree, but offered the reason that it is an ale. The listing on La Société des Alcools du Québec’s website states it is an ale too, a “pale ale” in fact. See here.

This is puzzling in light of the clear statement on Molson Coors’ website that Laurentide is a pilsner. Specifically:

Laurentide is a pilsner brewed with two-row pale malt and a variety of quality hops. Using a slow fermentation process, Laurentide is a beer with a subtle hoppiness, with a forthright and smooth taste and an indisputable reputation.

The only other thing I can think of is the beer was never an ale but the latter term was used for marketing reasons until “beer” replaced it on the English part of the label, but this seems unlikely.

James D. (Jim) Robertson reviewed the beer in the second (1982) edition of The Connoisseur’s Guide to Beer. He gave it a good rating, stating:

Bright amber gold, pleasant malt aroma with light hops, highly carbonated, good dry malt and hop flavour, well-balanced, zesty, slightly sour finish and aftertaste. Good tasting brew.

The sour finish was by reasonable inference Robertson’s lingo for cereal or glucose adjunct. Unfortunately he did not offer an opinion on a lager vs. ale character. Evidently still an ale in 1982, it has been a lager for at least 30 years, yet tastes pretty much as Robertson described it.

I can only assume that both the SAQ and many fans of Laurentide think it is an ale in 2019 because for decades the label stated it was. Some things adhere long in the folk memory, as I’ve discussed in other contexts.

When did Laurentide first appear in the market? Published beer histories don’t address that, by my canvassing. This ad of February 8, 1963 in the Sherbrooke Daily Record makes clear it was in early 1963. The ad is quite interesting, and stresses – no surprise for the time – the light qualities of the brand.

The rooster image still appears on the label, a symbol of Gallicism including in Quebec. According to this Quora discussion the symbol seems a play on words in that Gallus in Latin means both Gaul and rooster, although opinion is divided viz. the Quebec implications, as the chat reveals. Laurentide, as the name suggests (in English, Laurentian), was designed to appeal to the newly confident, 1960s francophone market. Laurentide Ale was a symbol for a time of a modernised, French-fact Quebec, consistent with La Révolution Tranquille.

There were many good tv ads for Laurentide, I like this one from 1989, it sums up the beer’s carefree image and demographic in that period. Note the Michel Pagliaro-style soundtrack. Maybe it was Pag.

Note re images: the first and last images above were obtained from sources identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.