Rye Whiskey In 1860s America And Today

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The Continuity of Taste

When you read about foods and drinks of the past, the description of taste tends to vary quite a bit from today. Vocabulary changes, and also, people didn’t look at some things the way we do now. In the beer area, it is the custom today to describe beer flavour in a detailed fashion which has leaned quite a bit on contemporary wine-writing. The English beer writer, Michael Jackson (1942-2007) had a lot to do with that. He took inspiration from Hugh Johnson and other consumer wine experts who described wine flavour by reference to fruits or other foods, flowers, spices, and minerals (“flint-like”).

The use of such vocabulary was not really new even in the Bacchic sphere, but professional wine writing perfected the style as the consumer society took flight in the post-war era. Indeed one can say in this regard, English wine-writing did so, with the rest of the world following.

So, a typical taste note for beer today might be: sweet biscuit taste, flowery/piney hop odours, citric aftertaste.

In the 1800s, it was rare for beer to be described in this way and even more so in the previous century. Then, people were satisfied with other adjectives, such as “washy”, “empyreumatic” (burned or smoky), “mucilaginous” (thick and sugary), “heady”, “sickly”, “blinked”.

Often, a simple “good” or “bad” sufficed, or that Victorian stalwart, “sound”, as in “sound old ale”. You can tell sometimes what was meant by the older vocabulary, but in general the impressions conveyed were less precise than today.

One of the most famous beer studies ever written is a late 1800s, multi-volume work by Alfred Barnard. Yet, he rarely described the actual taste. He did very occasionally, e.g., he stated of an old ale that it had a “Madeira odour”. This, clearly, is a fruity, oxidative smell, familiar to people who know the taste of bottle-age in beer – and Madeira. But in general a lot of guessing must be done.

Once in a while though you run into a phrase that could be written by a modern writer. Louvain white beer in Belgium was described in 1892 as tasting of soapsuds, pitch, and vinegar. That’s pretty clear. It was not meant as a compliment, but beer flavour is always relative to area, time, and other factors.

White beer (wit) today doesn’t taste quite like soap, tar and vinegar, but in the 1800s a lot of “Belgian white” was lactic-sourish. Casks then on the Continent were often pitched, so the tar part may come from that. Berlin’s Weisse today is probably fairly close, or some brands of Leipzig Gose Bier.

In the American text, The French Wine And Liquor Manufacturer: A Practical Guide (different editions, 1860s), author John Rack said of American rye whiskey that “when old and pure, [it] resembled the odor of new-mown hay”. 

Even an urban-dweller can conjure up the idea of newly-mown hay. I’d call it loamy, herbal, maybe perfumed. It could also evoke something funky/vegetal, from fertilizer or the natural growing cycle. This note in various grasses derives from an organic chemical, couramin. Couramin was isolated in the later 1800s and is used in perfumes and certain foods to lend the keynote flavour. Clover in particular has a concentration of this chemical, which makes sense as it is a frequent component of hay and silage.

Some modern writers have used words very similar to John Rack’s to describe straight rye whiskey. The odour of Booker’s Rye has been compared by whiskey-writer Savannah Weinstock to “raisin bran and fresh sweet hay”. Some Canadian straight (flavouring) rye fits the bill, too.

150 years later, straight rye whiskey can show remarkable continuity. It is often said we can’t know what things tasted like in the 1800s, grains have changed, yeasts, stills, etc. Yet, Booker’s Rye smells of fresh hay just as the rye of the 1860s which put John Rack to verbal flight. Some things don’t change.

Note re image: the image shown is in the public domain and was sourced here It is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Silent Spirit, Silent Sam

cq5dam.web.1280.1280 (1)This is really a postscript to my post of earlier today, but it may be noted that a brand of vodka sold at the LCBO, Silent Sam, recalls 19th century distilling when the term “silent spirit” was devised.

The term was not just Canadian, it was used in Britain and the U.S. as well. As this 1883 English article states, “silent spirit” meant a spirit of such purity that it was silent as to its origins.

In turn this meant, you couldn’t tell if it was distilled from rye, wheat, sugar, corn or anything else capable of being fermented and distilled into a spirit. The distillation was so thorough that the only compounds left, practically, were ethanol and water. And all ethanol tastes the same regardless of source.

In traditional whisky distilling and ditto for brandy, rum, and the other traditional spirits, chemical compounds other than ethanol are allowed to remain which speak of the materials they derive from. Hence some rum tasting of molasses, or tequila of cactus, etc. (Rye sometimes tastes like soap or pine, not sure why, but it does).

Silent Sam, from Diageo/Schenley, was the kind of spirit Charles Richardson was referring to when mentioning how Canadian whisky was confected in the last part of the 1800s. It must be recalled though that all Canadian whisky must be aged in wood barrels at least three years, so the silent spirit part is modified by such wood and air contact.

Some distillers consider that notwithstanding the great purity their neutral spirit, or grain whisky as it is known, achieves, there is still some flavour contribution from the spirit, vs. only the wood tannins and sugars it acquires from barrel aging. This could result from trace amounts of congeners – higher alcohols, acids, esters – which remain in the spirit even at 94-95% abv.

This is possible, but in my view, this extra flavour is minimal. The real flavour comes, apart from wood tastes, from the straight rye or other straight whisky added in blending. That is why they are called “flavouring whisky”, it is a distillers’ term, not mine or anyone else’s.

Canadian Whisky Perfected 1870-1894

 

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CANADIAN WHISKY MATURES BY THE 1890s

Between 1892 and 1894, a Royal Commission on the Liquor Traffic was struck in Ottawa to study all facets of the liquor question. This arose in the wake of burgeoning pressure by temperance advocates across the country. The work and results of the Commission are well-described here by Jack S. Blocker, Jr., David Fahey, and Ian Tyrrell in their Alcohol And Temperance In Modern History: A Global Encyclopedia (2003).

In a hearing in Ontario in 1894, the Commission took evidence from a Charles Richardson, described as holding a lectureship in chemistry at the Ontario Veterinary College. In his testimony, Richardson stated he had previously worked for the Brewers Association of Canada as a chemist.

Richardson was questioned on a broad range of topics pertaining to alcohol and its different forms. He was asked at one point if he thought the law requiring aging of whisky was beneficial to consumers. In 1890, Canada enacted a law requiring that whisky produced here be aged two years (it is now three years). In this regard, readers should consider that two years under present U.S. law is the necessary period to call bourbon “straight bourbon”.

Richardson in the course of his answer, see from bottom of pg. 761, stated that Canadian distillers were now blending whisky from two types, i) a silent spirit (grain neutral spirits distilled to 94% abv in the column still), and ii) genuine whisky which required aging in barrel to modify its fusel oil naturally. He did not specify the percentages, but we know from the general literature on Canadian whisky that the amount of traditional whisky was quite low, from 5%-10%. This no doubt explains why many brands tested for opalescence in 1892 didn’t show any or only a slight amount, as I explained yesterday.

Richardson said Canadian distillers devised this new blended whisky only since the time they were able to produce “silent spirit”, which he said was “fifteen or twenty or twenty-five years ago”. He said before that, distilling technology did not permit rectifying spirit to silent (neutral) status. This is confirmed in Tanya Lynn MacKinnon’s masterful study (2000) of the early Ontario distilling industry, the period in which a handful of industrially savvy distillers emerged to dominate the market: Hiram Walker, Gooderham & Worts, Wiser, Corby, and Seagram.

MacKinnon explains that up to around 1850, Canadian distilling used the pot still. Starting from the 1850s, some distillers invested in the new, three-chambered column still (a form of it is still used in France to make Armagnac). The spirit was brought to 50 Over Proof in the old British proof system, or 85.6% abv. The new distillate was then filtered in vats holding layers of charcoal, stones, and felts.  Readers who are familiar with Jack Daniels maple charcoal leaching might reflect that it is nothing new, simply a survival of 19th century practices. Tiny apertures in these materials would trap some of the oily matter, the stuff that gave the spirit a petrol smell and taste.  Canadian distillers used the same techniques as Jack Daniels vaunts today, but with the same limited results: spirit was further cleansed, but not to the degree getting it to 94% abv would do.

By around the time of Confederation (1867), the most ambitious distillers were using yet newer technology which involved condensing the spirit in a second, rectification column. The first column got all the alcohol out of the weak cereal beer, the second one brought it to 94% abv or practical neutrality. The old charcoal vats were dismantled, and the era of modern distilling arrived.

The new vodka-like drink didn’t taste like the whisky people remembered from the pot or single column still and charcoal filtering days. So Ontario distillers started to add a little of the older whisky type to the silent spirit – all of it aged at least two years after 1890. This became the Canadian whisky style, and the original straight whiskeys dropped out of the market. Some of those older whiskeys were straight rye, which is why the name lingered to describe the new form of whisky, and/or the use of rye in a mixed mash led to the name due to the pronounced flavour rye imparts to any whisky.

Thus, by the 1890s when most of what was in the Canadian whisky bottle was made from corn, the name “rye” stuck to describe our whisky type.

When you read Charles Richardson’s testimony carefully, it is clear he considered the new Canadian whisky quite different from traditional whisky. It was preferable to the old form only when the latter hadn’t been properly aged, but he implied that genuine whisky (distilled at a low proof that is) was superior to the new blended form when properly aged. Hence his approval of the two year aging rule albeit two years may seem rather low to us today.

While stating that adding real whisky to silent spirit cannot copy real whisky, Richardson stopped short of calling the new form factitious or adulterated. Some in the international whisky industry were not so reticent (a group of traditional distillers in Ireland, in particular). Uncertainty over what was whisky led to a legal definition being adopted in the next 20 years in Britain and the U.S. The decision was that silent spirit made from grain was entitled to the description, whisky. Canada followed the same path, as it did in regard to the blending revolution taking place elsewhere concurrently.

Richardson’s comments were probably lost on the Royal Commission members. I doubt they understood the technical reasons behind his testimony, and the discussion moved on to other topics.

What it shows for us is, by 1894 Canadian whisky was mostly aged neutral spirits and no longer straight. It had assumed the mild form we know today, e.g. Canadian Club or Crown Royal (the regular brands of these). But Canadian distillers recently have issued products whose character stretches back to an earlier time in the 1800s, when whisky had piney, petrol, or waxy notes. That was considered the “whisky” taste especially in a period when whisky was little aged if at all. Some of the new products taste like this again although as a group they are probably much better than anything the forefathers knew due to the longer aging they receive, three-12 years or more.

Note re image above with legend: the image with legend is by Karta24 (Own work – Création personnelle) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, and was sourced here. It is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Canadian Whisky In the 1890s

1024px-Coffey_StillIn the 1890s the Canadian government analyzed numerous food and beverage products for adulteration, this in the wake of then-new consumer legislation. Beer, butter, coffee, tea, were some of the substances analyzed in government labs – and whiskey. The analyses are very useful.

Canadian whisky was not found to contain harmful substances. Sugar, and glycerine (for body) were sometimes found, but in small amounts, nothing that should cause concern. The alcohol levels – both “draught” (in barrel) and “case” goods (bottled) – were sometimes found too low, under 40% abv often. This was a situation which attended many alcoholic drinks back then and arose usually from duplicitous retail practices.

The most interesting finding was that almost all Canadian “rye”, sometimes called “old rye”, showed no “opalescence” when diluted with water. This was a test used to detect the presence of congeners or secondary chemical constituents, in a word the fusel oils characteristic of spirit distilled at a low proof traditionally in a pot still vs. neutral spirit from the newer patent stills. One product showed slight opalescence and was thought therefore to be a blend of traditional whisky and neutral spirit.

In one of the assays (there were several for a few years), “old rye” from Seagram showed considerable genuine whisky character under this test, which makes sense judging by the name: straight rye was surely the original type, made in western Pennsylvania and New York before Ontario was settled, and adopted in Canada. Straight rye was “the” U.S. straight whisky before bourbon overtook it later in the 1800s.

In addition to other period evidence, this suggests that a lot of Canadian whisky by the late-1800s was aged neutral spirit and if it contained any flavouring whisky, it was a very small amount. Different qualities were probably produced following the emerging Scots practice, as Usher, John Walker, Teacher and others there were evolving blending in a way that would have been noticed in Canada. The links to Britain were still strong before WW I.

By this time, corn (maize) was the main grain used in Canadian whisky production. Before 1850, other grains were used, notably rye, wheat, oats, and barley malt. The term old rye must derive from that earlier time when, before the column or patent still was in general use, spirits were made on Scots or Irish lines – or akin to how Dutch geneva gin was made which is rye-based. Note in the table linked above how well Dutch genever scored for pot still character.

Before 1850, some, not all of Canada’s pot still production was from a mixed mash: wheat, barley, oats, rye. The strong taste of rye as against corn and wheat might have impelled distillers to call their product “rye” too.  Bourbon today which has a high rye content, e.g., Old Gran-dad, has an evident rye taste for example.

In the 1890s, the whiskeys produced in Canada were the new patent still form of rye, “bourbon” (perhaps aged in new charred barrels but judging by the analyses mentioned, typically from neutral spirits too), Scotch and Irish whiskies, which were barley-based, and white wheat whisky, which was similar to today’s vodka. There were no appellation rules then or sophisticated trade accords to protect distinctive national products, all this came later.

At some point, by the 1890s or a little later – perhaps as a spin-off of the “what is whisky” controversies in Edwardian Britain and Teddy Roosevelt’s America – Canadian distillers perfected the blending of whisky which relied on a little straight whiskey being added to aged neutral spirit to bump up the flavour. Straight rye was generally used for the straight element, but not invariably. Some distillers used a bourbon, Scotch, or Irish-type whiskey. Rum could be used too, or brandy.

Setting aside the new crop of releases I discussed yesterday, it is evident that Canadian whisky, post-Hiram Walker, post-Jos. Seagram and the other distilling pioneers, was a mild-tasting drink. That is its nature, and it has achieved wide consumer acceptance, at least up to now.  To produce a clean mild alcoholic drink in the 1890s was a feat of technology. “Heavy” spirits – distilled under 160 proof or 80% abv – had an unpleasant chemical taste from the oily congeners unless aged six years and more. Buy a three year old Kentucky bourbon, not to mention the white dog, or unaged straight whiskey, being sold today by craft distillers, to see the challenging taste involved.

What Hiram Walker and his peers introduced, plain Jane as it may seem to some of us, was applauded by all except a few hold-outs in Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, the Scottish Highlands and the hollows of green Ireland. I’d like to include the ravines of Toronto and port towns of Lake Ontario in that, but I can’t.

Note re image: the image of an Irish column still is by HighKing (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. It was sourced here. Believed available for educational or historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

Canadian Whisky’s Top End

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GLASS ALL FULL

For many years, Canadian whisky was what one writer has called a compromise spirit, meaning it did not achieve the quality of the single malt or bourbon category, but had a ready market due to its versatility (especially for mixing) and price.

The reason for this has a complex historical and technological background, but to summarize, Canadian whisky is typically a blend. A blend means, most of it is a vodka-like, neutral alcohol (made from grain), but aged in wood for at least three years. This aging imparts a degree of “whisky” flavour, but the neutrality of the spirit when young means it can never mature in the way a traditional whisky would. The traditional types were and are made in pot stills. The more industrial and modern column still is used to make the neutral type but it can also be used to make the older type. It is not the type of still which counts but the type of whisky you want to make.

Using a little of this traditional whisky (5%-10%) to “flavour” a much larger amount of aged neutral spirit became the Canadian style. Often too, sherry or sugar of some kind is added to round out the whisky’s flavour or give it a browner tint.

For almost 60 years, this became the only style you could buy in Canada that was produced here. To drink straight whisky – in effect the flavouring whisky uncut – you had to buy U.S. bourbon or single malt whisky. The Canadian distillers made the straight type, but used it only for blending. In America and Scotland, straight whiskeys were also used for blending – Seagram 7 Crown, Cutty Sark, say – but the straights – the original type – were never taken off the market as in Canada.

With the rise of the whisky renaissance, Canadian distillers have started to release their straight whiskies uncut or produce blends with more straight whiskey than in the past. In either case, the flavour result will be much more impactful than the classic restrained Canadian blend such as Seagram V.O. or Alberta Premium.

Dark Horse, Lot 40, Wiser’s Legacy, Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye, Seagram Northern Harvest, all fall in the new category, they are very flavourful from being 100% straight or blends in which a high percentage of straight appears. Most of them are, for the straight element, rather young in palate. Even when aged seemingly long (7-10 years), account must be taken of the fact that Canadian distillers, with some exceptions, age their whiskeys in reused oak barrels vs. the new charred barrels used by U.S. bourbon distillers. The reused barrel is perfectly good to age whisky – that is what the Scots use for their famous malts – but it takes a long time for straight whisky to acquire its maximum quality in such wood.

Putting it a different way, few people today would rate a single malt very high which isn’t at least 10 years old and often the benchmark starts from 12. Yet most Canadian straights produced for blending are much less aged than that. The reason is partly cost but also, a younger whisky will make more flavour impact on a large amount of near-neutral spirit than an old, well-modulated spirit. On its own, it may taste, as some of the new releases do, piney/congeneric, but that can be a plus for blending.

This is why the whisky pictured was of such interest to me, not so much the jazz about sour mash, but the fact it is a bourbon mash, and aged 14 years. Bourbon mash means:

i) distilled and entered in barrel in the territory traditional for bourbon, under 80% abv and 62.5% abv, respectively, and

ii) made from a mash of >50% corn plus rye and barley malt.

Last Barrels was aged in all-reused barrels, and bourbon by U.S. law is aged in new charred barrels. However, the 14 year period for which Last Barrels was matured more or less equates in palate to what you would get with half that time in new charred wood. The new charred barrel has a “red layer” (just under the black char layer) which imparts caramelized wood sugars to the bourbon. It is said to be exhausted after one fill of bourbon, but while it will take longer, you will ultimately get similar rich, wood sugar qualities in the whisky as any good malt will show.

Last Barrels tastes very much like a high quality bourbon. I doubt people would place it as “Canadian” if included in a blind bourbon tasting. But it is Canadian because it was made here and qualifies as Canadian whisky under our broad definition. The important thing to appreciate is, the straight whiskeys used in Canada for blending always were U.S., Scots, or Irish-type straight whiskeys. We never had a straight style of our own, we had a blended style of our own.

Canadian distillers should release more whiskies like Last Barrels. Their straight character – I use the term not in the American technical sense but in a broader, international one – lends an inimitable traditional whisky character. You can age the typical Canadian blend until the cows come home, and some distillers do, but more wood doesn’t equal more whisky quality, it just means more wood. Yes, other things happen too with aging any spirit.

But from a palate standpoint, there is no substitute for genuine whisky meaning in particular whisky distilled under 80% abv as all malt is, all bourbon is, all straight rye is.  (All brandy and tequila too, by the way). This is due to its complex chemical composition which results from low proof off the still vs. the nearly pure ethanol-and-water of spirit distilled at 95% pure alcohol.

The blends are all very well to be sure, they can be sold at a reasonable price – generally half or less what Last Barrels costs – and are good for mixing. But as mentioned, they cannot be compared in palate to the original straight whiskies.

Pink Gin

IMG_20160525_182749One of the great gin drinks is the simplest: a pink gin. It is gin and bitters. That’s it. Generally water and ice are added, but are still optional and not additional ingredients anyway, they are dilutions.

I will let Frederick Martin speak, who wrote the essential An Encyclopedia Of Drinks And Drinking. This very useful and often entertaining book had an unlikely publisher: Coles, generally known in Canada for producing potted (sorry) versions of literary works.

“Coles Notes” has been a student standby in Canada for generations. Somehow it published this book by Martin, a Briton who had long been in the drinks trade in England. The copyright is 1978 but textual clues suggest the book was written some time in the 60s. A left field choice for Coles, but one I’m glad it made.

After first explaining that gin was a proletarian drink, disdained by the prosperous merchant classes and gentry, Martin sets out the slow but steady way gin crossed the social barriers. One reason was the following, but let Martin’s words convey it:

Gin was taken up by the Royal Navy, whose prestige was colossal. We do not know quite when officers started drinking pink gin. “Bitters” were originally a medicine, a specific for sundry fevers such as the Royal Navy might encounter on the West Indian station. Since Plymouth was, and is, a distilling centre, it is reasonable to assume that a puncheon of gin found its way aboard a man-of-war and that an officer of an experimental turn of mind tried taking his bitters with gin, thus inventing a drink destined to go far outside service circles.

(I will stick just to Martin’s dicta on the pink gin, but advise readers to get his book for many other gems, ginny and other. Sample: “…in the veterinary field, a dog breeder has recorded that one of his prize-winning show dogs would not mate until he received a double gin”).

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In terms of how to make a pink gin, Martin is, but you probably don’t doubt it by now, authoritative:

The correct way to make it is to put four or five dashes of Angostura bitters in a suitable glass and shake out all but that which clings to the surface (unless you wish the drink to be specially aromatic). Using ice cubes, or not, to taste, pour in the gin, adding soda or plain water to individual liking. There is a gimmick version in which the bitters are fired.

For the gin, Martin plumps for the classic Plymouth brand – the sole surviving example of a style of gin once associated with Devon’s famous port. It was said to be a little more flavourful than London Dry. He avers though that any London gin is likely to be as good. I always liked Beefeater, bone-dry, firm juniper taste, very pure. Never really went for Bombay and Hendricks or the craft ones. I just bought the venerable Gilbey’s which is similar to Beefeater but a touch sweeter and more orange notes I think. And 26 smackers – half, or almost, what you can pay today for many in-demand brands.

On The West Indian Station… Was that a novel? It should be.

Note re second image above: The painting shown is in the public domain, a fine 18th century work by English marine painter Peter Monamy. For source and further details, see here. Believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Krausmann Restaurants in Montreal – Part III

KRAUSMANN’S LORRAINE GRILL INC.

Famous for food

GERMAN DISHES SPECIALTY

BEER AND WINE

1197 PHILIPS SQUARE”

– From a 1939 tourist brochure in Montreal

In the last two posts, I have discussed the history of two restaurants with a German theme which operated in Montreal run by two brothers, John and William Krausmann. They hailed from Elora, Ontario but had a Germanic heritage reflected in the food and drinks served. John had importation rights for some top German and Bohemian brands of beer including Kulmbacher and what is now called Pilsner Urquell. John’s restaurant, founded 1901, was in the financial district. It prospered for a generation but appears not to have survived, or for long, his death in 1929.

William’s Lorraine Cafe, founded in 1922, continued in business into the 1980s, changing location at least once. Since 1990, Brisket, a restaurant which offers a diverse, “Montreal” menu, operates on the last site occupied by Kraussman’s on Beaver Hall Hill.

Brisket continues the Krausmann legacy in a modest way by including “Salon Krausmann” in its full name and also, it features the pickled pork hock dish which was a specialty of the old Krausmann restaurants.

I had thought perhaps Krausmann family descendants were involved with the Krausmann business at least until the Brisket era. This appears not so, due to a surprising twist in the history: by 1927, Krausmann’s Lorraine Cafe had been sold to Traymore Limited, a Canadian restaurant chain comprising (in that year) five cafeterias. You see in this 1927 prospectus for an issue of convertible preference shares that Krausmann Lorraine Cafe is listed as owned by Traymore. Traymore also listed the restaurant among its group on postcards showing the company locations.

traymore-cafeteriafrSince William had health problems by the mid-1920s, it makes sense that he decided to sell. It appears he had no involvement in Traymore management but may have worked at the Lorraine Cafe for a time in an employed capacity. His brother John did not sell his Krausmann’s to Traymore as far as I know, but with John’s death in 1929 that branch seems to have ended its activity.

Traymore Limited was an early restaurant chain, indeed a public company founded before WW I in Toronto. By the late 1930s, some of its locations had gone under due no doubt to the Depression. But the flagship cafeterias under the Traymore name in Toronto and Montreal continued for decades after WW II. It seems they closed in or by 1961. I suspect that Krausmann Lorraine Cafe closed for a time, in 1961 or perhaps earlier, since this advertisement in Montreal in 1964 announced a new and revived Krausmann’s in Phillips Square.

I can’t tell if the new Krausmann was in the same building as the original Lorraine Cafe. The civic numbers old and new don’t seem to tally but the Square had been redeveloped since the 1920s and maybe the building numbers changed. Anyway the new operation was still in Phillips Square.

A Mr. Jacques Fauteux was the manager and the menu was Continental, advertising English, German and Swiss dishes. Entertainment was also offered, which reprised the supper club atmosphere of the Phillips Square Krausmann’s in the 20s and 30s. In general a high tone was promised by the upbeat ad. It does not state when the original Krausmann’s stopped operating.

By the 70s, this Krausmann as I recall it had become a middle-class brasserie, primarily a lunch destination, and I don’t recall a band playing by then. The beer offered was similar to that at other taverns and certainly the era of German imports and “light and dark draft beer” proudly advertised in the 1920s had past. But pickled pork hocks were still on the menu, the family tradition of Sarah Krausmann, who was born in Alsace-Lorraine, still casting its long shadow as I apprehend it. And it’s on the Brisket menu today. Perhaps it wasn’t strictly accurate when I said that the dish has been served for 115 years as it seems Krausmann’s stopped operating for a time prior to its post-1964 revival, but it doesn’t matter, the heritage of the dish is long enough and certainly originated in 1901.

My best guess is that different ownership had taken control after the Traymore era ended and likely the Krausmann family has not been involved with the restaurants since the 1930s. Needless to say any readers who can add to this picture are welcome to comment or contact me and I’ll be happy to write a further note on the history.

We tend today to think of food service corporations and restaurant chains as ultra-modern. In fact they go back a century and more. The idea to supply a chain from one set of sources to ensure volume pricing, and manage them from a central location, made no less sense in 1914 than it does now. Traymore was a pioneering operation in Canada in this field.

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I’ll leave you with a bittersweet story about Kraussman’s, in this case relating to the Toronto hotel, probably managed in that period by William Krausmann. A German had worked for a time in the hotel, then went home and ended in Kaiser Wilhelm’s army fighting England and its Dominions. In about 1915 during one of those strange moments when opposing forces declared a brief peace and would mingle in no-man’s-land sharing cigars and coffee, Canadian and German forces bantered, then returned to their own lines. As the Canadians entered their trenches, they heard a voice drifting from the German side, “Hey Eddie McDougall, want to run down to Krausmann’s tonight?”.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from this vintage and genealogical postcard site. The second is from John Chuckman’s fine Toronto historical postcards site, here. Both are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

The Krausmann Restaurant Clan of Quebec and Ontario

Further checks online allowed me to be more precise concerning the history of Krausmann’s Tavern of Montreal. The essential points in my last post are correct, but I add below considerable detail including from a beer standpoint.

The Montreal Krausmanns – there were two – were not from Lorraine in France, or even from Europe. They were from Elora, Ontario. Elora is a charming small town about 70 miles from Toronto. The patriarch, Andrew (né Andreas) Kraussman, was born in Hesse, Germany in 1844. He immigrated to Ontario and became a successful innkeeper, then hotelier. His wife was Sarah Poutler/Paudler/et seq (spelling varies in different accounts), born a year earlier. Interestingly, she was from Alsace-Lorraine, which may well explain the origin of the name, Kraussman’s Lorraine Cafe in Montreal.

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Lorraine is primarily a French province, yet with some German influence via its Moselle part and adjoining Alsace which has a distinctly Germanic feel to this day.

Lorraine Cafe may have been felt a good name for a primarily German restaurant in Montreal given its dual French and German associations. Also, there is a town called Lorraine in Quebec – I was there two days ago attending a wedding.

Andrew and Sarah married in Canada in about 1866. The family was Catholic and I mention this simply because I thought initially the Krausmanns were old Mennonite stock. That part of Ontario was settled to a large degree by Mennonites of different orders, they came as early as the late 1700s. The Mennonite churches are connected to Anabaptism and the Reformation, so had the Krausmanns been old stock I’d expect them to be Protestant. But Andrew and his wife came to Ontario in the third part of the 19th century.

The family expanded hotel-keeping to Toronto and owned Krausmann Hotel at King and Church Streets – the location is now an empty lot as the building was taken down in 1970.

Most of Andrew and Sarah’s children followed them in the hospitality business. There were five boys. One, Albert, died in 1915 at only 33. Andrew died the same year. John, who had developed the family’s expansion in Toronto, founded Kraussman’s Restaurant in Montreal in 1901, but not in Phillips Square, it was on 80 St. James Street, or Rue St-Jacques, the official name. This was in the old financial and historic quarter of Montreal. As will appear, the cuisine was German and appropriately, John specialized in offering  imported German and Austrian beer. The amusing post card (pre-WW I, probably) shown below includes top international brands of the era.

After almost 30 years in business on St. James Street, John died of a gunshot in February, 1929, perhaps by his own hand. The account in the Montreal Gazette gives numerous details. I don’t know how much longer Kraussman’s on St. James Street continued. Certainly by the 1970s in Montreal, there was only one Krausmann’s, in Phillips Square. John had left no children.

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John’s younger brother, William, founded Kraussman’s Lorraine Cafe in Phillips Square in 1922. That restaurant also was a success, but William died of a heart problem in Montreal in 1933.  This obituary gives a respectful treatment of his career: he had obviously made a mark on the city, as had John. William left a son, William Jr., and two daughters. Two brothers survived William and John: Andrew junior, and George, who became a noted physician in Detroit, Michigan.

Krausmann descendants continued to reside in Montreal for many decades. Some may have been involved with Krausmann’s in Philips Square in the 1970s, maybe even after it moved south to Beaver Hall Hill in the 1980s. I believe the current ownership of the successor, Brisket, is unconnected.

In 1928 in Goblin, a New Yorker-style magazine published in the 1920s in Toronto, a deft portrait is given of the two restaurants. Blogger John Adcock has given some interesting background on Goblin, here. Its piece was written in the snappy style of the Jazz Age and intended as a guide for American tourists in Montreal.

The fame of Krausmann’s has gone as far as the pages of “Vanity Fair”, and the sidewalks of Chicago. There’s a place (or rather two places, Krausmann’s on St. James Street and Krausmann’s of Phillips’ Square) that the tourists “do” know. Krausmann’s on St. James Street is the old original, still run by the famous John Krausmann, but both restaurants specialize in the same sort of Teutonic food. Visitors with a culinary background of Hassenpfeffer, Apfelstrudel and other delicacies invariably think Krausmann’s is a wow. The Kasslerripehen at the Phillips’ Square restaurant is excellent. Interesting too, if you care for that sort of thing, are the various kinds of imported German sausages and the enormous plates of pigs’ knuckles and sauerkraut that are served at the bar. Oddly enough, you can’t get Pumperknickel at Krausmann’s. I asked for it one day and was told they stopped baking it during the war and had very few calls for it nowadays.

During the summer, Krausmann’s, St. James Street, has a steady supply of fresh-caught brook trout, which they cook to perfection and serve with “beurre noir”.

Clearly the pig’s knuckles were a house specialty and must have been since 1901. You can still get it at Brisket today, which occupies the last location of Krausmann’s Tavern, made to the original recipe. Albeit it flies under the radar these days, the dish has been continuously served for 115 years, which must be some kind of record and deserves the renewed attention of Montreal’s food culture.

Brisket’s continues the Krausmann legacy in three ways I can see: first, in its full name, “Brisket Montreal – le Salon Krausmann“. Second, the restaurant features the famed Krausmann pickled pork hocks, so some small part of the original menu survives. Third, Brisket is a “brasserie” which in Montreal means a restaurant serving hearty foods with a good beer selection – Kraussman’s in the 70s was the same concept except continuing to offer the pork hocks as a connection to the past.

The reference to pumperknickel bread in the Goblin story is interesting. I wonder if the restaurants stopped offering it because black bread is an obvious symbol of German cooking and culture. Maybe Krausmann’s wanted to lower an obvious part of its German profile since Canada was fighting Germany in Europe. Yet that war, and indeed the Second War, seemed not to affect the fortunes of these German-Canadian restaurants. On the eve of WW II anyway I know Kraussman’s was still advertising its German menu. Maybe this changed during the 40s though, in fact I think it is likely. By the 70s the menu was mostly Canadian, or such is my recollection after a mere 40 year gap.

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Above is an image of the hotel the family operated in Toronto. It is now a parking lot. I drive or walk by it quite often, never having dreamed the site was connected to the Kraussman Tavern I liked so much in Montreal c. 1980. In the same manner, never would have I thought back then that a tavern with an interesting signature dish had such a rich history, going back to swish times in early financial Canada, over to rural Ontario where its founders were born, and stretching finally Alsace-Lorraine, whence the sturdy and tasty porcine specialty of Kraussman’s probably came.

Note re images above: The first, showing the interior of the Phillips Square Krausmann’s mid-1900s, was sourced from this Delcampe.net auction page. The second, a postcard showing the St. James Street Krausmann’s (probably pre-1914), was sourced from this ebay page. The third image, of Krausmann Hotel in Toronto c. 1918, was sourced from a Toronto urban history site, here.  All are believed available for educational and historical use. All feedback welcomed.

ADDENDUM: SEE MY FOLLOWING BLOGPOST, PART III, FOR YET ADDITIONAL DETAILS ON KRAUSMANN RESTAURANT HISTORY IN MONTREAL.

A Classic Montreal Restaurant, Krausmann’s

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In the late 70s, I was working in Montreal in a small 1960s tower still standing at 1080 Beaver Hall Hill. The name harks back to Canadian fur-trading days. Across the street was a typical Montreal tavern. I can’t recall the name now. It served draft and bottled beer and the tavern food of the era, some of which is still served in Montreal.

This tavern was a large room with small round tables and wood, round-backed “bankers” chairs. The food was hamburger steak, french fries, french fries and gravy (no cheese, this was before poutine), spaghetti, pizza, “farmer” sausage. There might also be tourtière and other French-Canadian foods, pig’s feet and meat balls in brown sauce, say. There were also small steaks, sandwiches including a club sandwich, and sometimes chicken or meat croquettes. Croquettes seem to have disappeared from menus everywhere which is a wrong some retro-minded chef should correct.

IMG_20160520_165137I remember one waiter there, I think he co-owned the tavern. He was medium-height, slim, of calm disposition, with a pencil moustache. He was clad in a black, tuxedo-type outfit, the uniform of the Montreal tavern waiter then. You see similar dress in illustrations of English Victorian restaurants. Most waiters in Montreal by then were francophone but he was “English”. Nonetheless he spoke perfect French, which was unusual at the time for an “Anglais“. I think he told me he had been a policeman in an earlier career. He was probably 45 at most and could still be living. Like all good waiters he would linger with the clientele to have chat but was Johnny on the spot when the place was busy.

IMG_20160522_163325Beaver Hall Hill is south of what used to be called Dorchester Boulevard, it is now boul. René Lévesque, after the late separatist premier of Quebec. On the other side of Dorchester was and is Phillips Square, originally a high-end shopping enclave which served the gentry and merchant classes who resided nearby. You see the Square pictured in the early image shown above. That’s King Edward VII in the centre and he is still there.

In 1901, a Mr. Krausmann opened a restaurant on the Square’s east side, it was just outside camera range in that image, where the awning is on the right. The idea was a European cafe with mixed German and French influences which may explain the formal name, the Lorraine Café. By the 1920s and through the second war, Krausmann’s Lorraine Cafe was a noted club venue which specialized in the dinner-and-show, a concept then prevalent in North America.

In the 1970s, I sometimes went to Krausmann’s too, by then it was simply called Krausmann Tavern. I hadn’t known of the 75 year history and glory days as a supper club, it was just a good tavern with a slightly different menu. The star German dish, maybe the only Teutonic specialty by then, was the pickled pork knuckles. Perhaps it was from Lorraine, France, as Mr. Krausmann may have been. (In fact, I once had a similar dish in Stenay, an old garrison town in Lorraine). The shanks were brined and spiced, long boiled, and served with plain boiled potato and sauerkraut. It was very good and the beer of the time, similar to the light but tasty Labatt 50 still sold, suited it.

menu2015-frI left Montreal in 1983. A few years later, Krausmann’s moved from the north side of Dorchester to the south side, taking occupancy in the tavern of the ex-policeman. I never visited that location but knew of the change.

In about 1990, Krausmann’s became Brisket, a restaurant which specializes in Montreal’s famous “smoked meat”, or cured and sliced beef piled high on a sandwich. It’s the Montreal version of pastrami and corned beef in New York. Smoked meat has Montreal Jewish origins but like the bagel has departed its original precincts to become part of the general food scene.

While pickled pork and smoked meat may seem from different universes, both are cured, carnivores’ specialties. In some ways Brisket was new, but in a certain way, it continued its older heritage.

Yesterday, I was walking down from Phillips Square to Beaver Hall Hill to look at these old haunts and lo, the small Victorian block of buildings which housed the policeman’s tavern, the re-located Kraussman’s, and now Brisket still stands.

Men were doing repairs in the doorway, and when I explained I had eaten there 40 years earlier, they kindly gave me a tour of the inside as it was closed until evening. It looked different than I remembered but the outside and inside have been modified numerous times since the 70s. Back then, small frosted glass panes typically formed the window casements of taverns, to prevent looking inside. This was common for Quebec taverns, and was probably required by law. While the main windows have changed, look at the sidewalk level: the old frosted glass is still there.

The workmen introduced me to one of the principals, he was working in the kitchen. He was delighted to meet someone who had known Krausmann’s. Indeed the name is remembered in the restaurant’s current name, as Le Salon Krausmann is a sub-title of the Brisket name. Not just that, but rather improbably, he told me the famous pig’s knuckle dish is still served and follows the original recipe.

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That menu (click twice for perfect readability) is a good example of how foods of various national origins can combine to form an area’s preferred eating: you see spaghetti, pig’s feet and meat balls, a Middle Eastern dish or two, hot chicken plate, lots of poutines, and an interesting range of hamburgers. Note the Trappist Poutine, I loved that one!

It’s typical daily fare for Montrealers and Brisket offers pretty much the full gamut. I didn’t get the chance to eat there unfortunately but it is Stop No. 1 the next time I am in Montreal.

Krausmann’s had to have that pig’s knuckle dish on its menu when it opened in 1901. It is now 2016, and the same dish is still served, a hop and skip from the original location. No one has explained this to the Montreal eating public as far as I know. I doubt there are many other if any dishes in Montreal or Canada for that matter served continuously for that long.

You Montreal foodies investigating the new school of this and that – go to Brisket and try its historic pork knuckles: tell them to make it so it comes piping hot, you need to see the steam come out as you open it up. Forget french fries much less poutine with it, you want plain boiled potato and sauerkraut. And cold blonde lager, the house carries Belle Gueule and St-Ambroise beer, that will do just fine.

Note re images: the first image above is in the public domain and was sourced from Wikipedia, here. The last two are from the website of Brisket’s in Montreal, here.

ADDENDUM: SEE MY FOLLOWING TWO BLOG POSTS FOR CONSIDERABLE ADDITIONAL DETAIL ON KRAUSSMAN’S AND THAT THE FAMILY WERE FROM ELORA, ONTARIO.

 

Montreal Notes

Another trip to Montreal, still here and time is short, so some quick notes. I had a Labatt 50 ale yesterday and found it very good with a subtle yet pleasing taste.  I couldn’t detect any adjunct taste and wonder if it is all-malt now. Later, I got down a Heady Topper, my first time with this beer from the influential Alchemist in Vermont (I believe). Very good too in a totally different way.

It may be hard for some to understand that if I had had another macro beer and another, even “name” double IPA, I might have disliked them both quite a bit. It’s not the category, it’s the taste of each that counts.

I also tried today a kvass, which I wrote recently was possibly made by monks who had returned from Russia to a restored Notre Dame de la Trappe in Orne, France in the early 1800s.

I have never had this before, and it’s very good too. The label says it is made from rye bread, barley malt, water and sugar. I would prefer it less sweet but clearly each brand will be different. It has an earthy taste and black colour and may well have been what the derisive-but-non-curious taster was served at La Grande-Trappe back then.

I decided today to eat a Trappist-style lunch. At the place I got the kvass, they had a small cafeteria so I had green pea soup, a slice of brown bread (German-type), a small amount of cheese, and a few swallows of kvass. Nothing wrong with it at all, of course I didn’t work in the fields half a day!

I’ll post images later.