Union 52 Canadian Whisky

cwrws0pxeaumlkl-1Word is out that Wiser is releasing in B.C. its Union 52 Canadian whisky, part of its Collector’s Series. Reports indicate it blends a 15 year old base whisky with the last barrel of a 52 years old (!) Highland malt scotch whisky. Here is the listing from the B.C. liquor authority.

This is an instance, but particularly expressive, of blending the Canadian way. A base whisky, which I’d assume is not neutral but mild in character and aged 15 years, is married in this case with a very long-aged 100% barley malt, pot still Scotch. The proportions of the blend were not revealed but I’d think relatively little of the malt was used given its rarity and well-matured character. That is, a little will go a long way to informing and enriching the base.

One could do this as well with some very old bourbon, or batch rye whisky (the more typical addition in Canada), even rum. The result won’t taste like any of those on its own, it will taste like a blended whisky, a Canadian method handed down since the late 1800s.

It may surprise some to think that Canadian whisky can result from combining a Canadian-distilled and aged whisky with an imported Scotch malt. But that is perfectly within the Canadian tradition albeit you won’t see it done every day with a 52-year old malt.

a84920b71696ed1a347b5669fde0d9c5There is an example from another whiskey tradition where a foreign and domestic whiskey were blended. In the 1930s Jameson of Ireland launched in the U.S. a blend of well-aged Irish (pure pot still) whiskey with a presumably much younger batch of American whiskey. It was called “Irish American Whiskey”, an ostensibly appealing name in the American context.

If I read/interpret the label right, in that case they blended 25% 20 year old Irish pot still with 75% U.S. straight whiskey. But the idea is similar, which is to marry a base which can benefit from an impactful addition with a smaller amount of powerfully-flavoured malt, rye, or other whisky.

Jameson’s advertising at the time stressed that the product was neither Scotch, nor Irish whiskey, nor rye or bourbon, but a unique taste. AFAIK, the product wasn’t marketed past about 1939, perhaps because by then enough aged stocks of U.S. bourbon and rye were available, that is following restoration of distilling in 1933. It’s hard to know though, and maybe had the war not intervened the product would have taken off.

Anyway the logic of this kind of blending is very sound. Whisky is made from cereal grains and e.g., a bourbon mash typically consists of different grains provided it is at least 51% corn. Pot still Irish, called now single pot still, contains both malted and unmalted barley and used to contain small amounts of other grains too – including rye. Grain (base) whisky – Scots, Irish, Canadian, American – often is made, or was, from a mix of grains.

Combining different whiskies from these sources simply extends the idea (IMO) of a whisky mash bill of mixed grains. All that matters anyway is that you get a good result – therein lies the blender’s skill. Wiser’s master blender is renowned for his expertise. For Union 52, the unusual nature of the malt addition, not so much being a barley whiskey but being Scottish-distilled and in particular very long aged, will surely lend a unique stamp.

I hope some of the product will reach Ontario, I’d love to try it and was surprised at the price, about $70 which isn’t a lot considering the rarity of 52 year-old malt whisky entering the bottle.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from Twitter today, the second from the Pinterest website. All intellectual property therein or thereto belong solely to their owners or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcome.



Americans Improve An English Design


The Bell In Hand tavern in Boston, which I discussed in my last post, was mentioned in a number of popular and social histories of Boston into the mid-20th century. One is Rambles Around Old Boston by Edwin M. Bacon (1921), from which the above illustration is taken. (Image courtesy HathiTrust).

The pub carries on to this day and is certainly one of the oldest continuing licensed establishments in the country if not the oldest.

In my last post, I mentioned that an early owner, John Leischman, was credited in a 1915 trade article with installing ale hand pumps from England in 1851, and indeed that these were first of their kind in the U.S.

billies-bar-1936Earlier, I have written of hand pumps in famed McSorley Ale House in New York City. The pumps are still there, but haven’t been in use it seems since c. 1914 – this is based on information given me by a server there some years ago. Also in the link above I wrote of a Manhattan pub called Billie’s Bar. A handsome 1930s photo (included here from that article) shows a set of hand pumps on the back bar in a curved housing of mid-1800s English design – McSorley’s has the same – but it is unclear if they were still used to dispense beer.

The use of hand pumps to raise beer from the cellar in the United Kingdom accompanied, indeed facilitated, continued service of cask-conditioned ale. This is beer allowed to complete a secondary conditioning in its container of service, unfiltered and unpasteurized (but generally fined to drop clear), with no CO2 or other gas added. Since ale brewing in the U.S. is as old as the Republic and before that was a Colonial practice, it is natural English equipment would have been used occasionally to dispense it when available.

The hand pump operates on a vacuum-and-piston method, similar to the iron pumps used to raise water in the country. An engineer called Bramah perfected it c. 1800 and its use developed from about then including for porter. 1851 seems perhaps late to bring the equipment to America, but we must take sources as they are and failing further information, we have authority that their first use was in 1851 at Bell In Hand in Boston. (A brewing trade journal is not a bad source and Western Brewer must have had a confidant with a long memory, probably the current owner or a long-time customer).

McSorley’s was established in what is now the East Village, Manhattan around 1860 – the founding date differs in various discussions. Certainly though neither McSorley’s nor the predecessor to Billie’s Bar existed in 1851 much less 1795, date of founding of The Bell In Hand.

In the (seemingly) pen-and-ink drawing above made some time after 1851, three hand pumps are shown. They are not immediately noticeable even to a practiced eye, but interested readers should click twice for a full resolution.

The bartender is drawing a pot of beer from the pull to the left (his right). In the 1800s the Bell In Hand used pewter mugs, as did many public houses in England at the time. You can clearly see the mugs and the spouts from the taps.

From left to right, the first two handles are shorter and wider than the third. The first on the left bears a smiling face, Toby Jug-style. A unique feature of these hand pumps is that a goose neck metal lever is fitted operated by an oval handle probably made of wood. Clearly the bartender grasped the small wood handle to move the vertical lever rather than holding it directly. Why was this done?

The standard levers were probably too low to be easily manipulated by tall American men, and/or the retrofit allowed a pull with less effort than grasping those handles. When hundreds of pints were being served in a day, efficiency in service was an important consideration. Also, note how low the counter was, probably reflecting late 1700s designs. According to various accounts, at least for its first move the bar took its furnishings and re-installed them at Pie Alley, so the original height may have been maintained.

In a British brewing journal in the 1900s, in fact one I’ve discussed earlier on compressed air dispense of beer, it was noted that the hand pump design was deficient from the point of view of what we would now call ergonomics. It is no surprise that it was adapted in some cases, although the pre-Prohibition Bell In Hand may be a unique example. I have seen a patent from the later 1800s claiming rights in a scimitar lever design – again the idea of an easier pull on the beer. Whether it came into use I can’t say. Certainly today the typical hand pump looks like the same you see in countless 1800s and early 1900s illustrations.

How was beer served in Boston before the hand pumps? It had to be straight from the barrel, either in the basement with pot boys bringing beer in pitchers to the bar, or if there was room on the main level, from a convenient place there. Some cask beer is still served straight from the wood today. Sometimes the barrel is placed on the back bar or the front bar, but generally it is too large for that. Some bars order a smaller keg (sorry) so it can be placed somewhere on the bar.

In the 1915 Western Brewer article, the hand pumps in the “comfortable and cozy” Bell In Hand were made the subject of particular comment and called “treasured”. This was indirectly a tribute to the worth of cask-conditioned ale and porter, beers the English brought to America and some other parts of the world where Empire penetrated.

In the result, the palatability and consistency of draft lager proved a more marketable proposition than ale and porter. German-American brewers ran with it and the boon companion, sediment-free bottled beer. But ale and porter never quite left the American scene. With the revival of brewing from the 1970s, ale in general including as cask-dispensed has come back big time. There are many places around the country, and Canada, you can get it with the accompanying hand pumps – the same equipment John Leischman brought to Boston in 1851 from the old sod.

Footnote: in this study (1925) of old Boston inns by Mary Harrod Northend, the author makes an amusing reference to an old Boston custom, this would be pre-Revolutionary days. Inns offered a free drink to a new customer. The mug was gaily festooned with a flowers design. After draining half the beer, the drinker saw in the base a green frog leering up at him! The little animal was harmless, of porcelain, but no doubt the punter received a shock. An insight into early Yankee humour, perhaps. Presumably such practices fell away by the 1800s when lager made the Americans … sociable.







An Alehouse, the Old Sod, the Hub

image-2“The Pothouse Parliament”

Ballantine Brewery was probably America’s premier ale brewery of the period 1840-1971. But there were many other ale brewers, before and after Prohibition, including in the old city of Boston. They tended to predominate in New England and environs, a natural circumstance given the ethnic stock of the original settlers.

Recently, I surveyed a c.1900 publication from Ballantine which, in an increasingly anti-alcohol atmosphere, looked back to an earlier day. Conjured was the time the brewery had been established in Newark, NJ (1840), when the alehouse and tap-room inherited from Colonial America and beyond that, Britain, still flourished. The brewery used this device to swath the ale tradition in gauzy, romantic dress, no doubt hoping to fend off the moral arbiters who campaigned for closing the saloons and indeed the end of all beverage alcohol.

Certainly, Ballantine’s evocation of the old American alehouse and its typical denizens was idealized. Still, can we conclude there wasn’t an element of truth in it? That the English beer house transplanted to new sod far away by people of the same blood didn’t by and large have its place in the community? That it wasn’t, at day’s end, of positive value or at least benign in effect?


The survival of the public house in England and the appreciation of its best virtues show that the pub has a deep taproot so to speak in English-speaking societies. This is even as the movement to save pubs in the mother land from redevelopment can assume outsized proportions to the non-Briton, bemused by such dedication. (Weren’t all old pubs of burnished oak or thatchy roof new at one time, the concrete-steel-glass parvenus of their day? What did they replace?).

So too in America appreciation of the ale house and its stock in trade of ale and porter never died although the enthusiasm was diluted in exile. They survived the tsunami of lager in the country after 1850, the pre-Pro temperance movement and fallow time of Volstead, and the post-Prohibition “bar”, an amalgam of influences, notably the old saloon, the 50s rec room, and post-1933 liquor regulation.

In consequence, numerous alehouses survive in the country which are regarded as historic and worth preserving. Many have been catalogued by Jay Brooks in his excellent “oldest bars” piece some years ago, hereSome have yet made the pages of literary journals, McSorley’s Ale House in New York is a prime example.

A venerable such establishment exists in Boston (among others), The Bell In Hand, established in 1795 by a Scot named Wilson. It is not in the original location, there have been three moves by my count. Yet the current bar and restaurant is in a direct line of descent and still displays the famous bell-ringing sign as its bush. It derives from Wilson’s occupation as town crier.


It is rare enough to find a paean of the old-time alehouse – or any drinking place – in bluenose America of 1900-1920. It startles one familiar with the censorious era to note The Bell In Hand received two.

One was in 1915 in the pages of the trade journal The Western Brewer: and Journal of the Barley, Malt and Hop Trades. The other was in a New York-based literary and political magazine, the Caledonian, in 1911.

Trade journals such as the Western Brewer focused resolutely on bottom-fermentation and the perfection of lager. Ale and porter by the time of WW I had only a small sale in the U.S., but many of the old concerns continued and some advertised in various media. Of course too some ale brewers, including Ballantine, had started making lager, so had stakes in both camps.

The Western Brewer was perhaps motivated by nostalgia and devoted almost a page to The Bell In Hand. The story discussed the imminent move from the bar’s second location, at “Pi Alley”. This was a nickname for a dark alley called Williams Court. The “pie” derived either from meat pie shops in the original area, or “pied type”, used by printers in the district, no one really knows.

Among the expected bits of history such as the prints and art festooning the walls and details of rooms and furniture, was a reference to the beer served – ale. There are no less than three references to handpumps in the article. It is claimed the second owner brought them from England in 1851 and they were the first in use in America. The story is a rare admiring look, by an industry then intent on modernization and light lager, at an older tradition, one which endured but was being increasingly squeezed by a newer drink made by a newer generation of Americans.


The second eloge of The Bell In Hand is in the Caledonian, from 1911, by Robert E. May. This piece is written from a literary standpoint but is no less appreciative of the merits. Indeed I can now see that it was a progenitor of Joseph Mitchell’s famous article of 1940 in the New Yorker on McSorley Ale House.

May stresses the enduring British character of the place, still evident in 1911. It was reflected not just in the bar’s layout, furnishings, and in the ale sold, but also the very patrons: more than half in this period were actually from the U.K.

May noted a riot of Britannic accents all competing and joining in the general but peaceful affray over politics, art, business and more. Unlike some bar depictions which are pleased to paint those who express opinion as bigmouths, this writer felt the speakers knew what they were talking about. In part this was because the bar was a resort of lawyers, writers, businessmen, politicians – people working in the fields being debated.

The place closed early then, about 8:00 p.m. – appropriate for a city always considered of top-most propriety but one which evidently had room for more expansive traditions, of long veneration.

The Bell In Hand carries on, its long heritage living happily with ranking regularly in Boston’s top 10 bars. It still has an English look I think, from the outside anyway, as some parts of Boston do still. I hope the handpumps are still there, but it’s good to see Sam Adams’ and numerous other genuine ales being served. How appropriate, given Sam Adams’ evident connection to Boston and that it has made ale from its inception, along with its better-known lager, as a charter member of the beer revival.

That’s the Bell In Hand, the Hub. From 1795. Check it out.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from HathiTrust. The second from Jamaica Plain Historical Society, here, the third from Tabelog, here, and the last from The Bell In Hand’s website, here. All intellectual property therein or thereto belong to their lawful owner or authorized users. All are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Bud by the Numbers

budweiser-998x666In 1904 in a newspaper in Billings, Mont. Anheuser-Busch advertised its famous Budweiser and gave it a new twist. The company referred to a recent study of medicines that showed many had a very high alcohol content. A-B invited the public to consider Budweiser a temperate and family drink in comparison and cited the alcohol content of the beer as “only 3 89/100 per cent. of alcohols” (3.89%).

In an earlier blog entry I suggested this was effectively 5% abv (alcohol by volume). If you do the conversion, 3.89 abw equates to 4.93 abv, to all intents 5% particularly considering that final tallies for this purpose were never consistently accurate to the decimal point and fraction 100 years ago, nor are they today, for that matter.

In this period too, there was no rule, particularly in general publications, whether alcohol was expressed by volume or weight, unless the writer told you. Where it is not stated, sometimes one or the other can be inferred from other data given especially starting and finishing gravities, that is, the ratio of fermentable and other solids in wort and beer to water.

The ad in question doesn’t give such other data, so 3.89% alcohol could be either weight or volume. Initially I thought it must mean by weight, which equates to 5% alcohol in volume. I thought this because in 1884 a published analysis by the Kansas Pharmaceutical Association stated “Budweiser, St. Louis” contained 5.32% alcohol by volume. This was the strength of the beer as sold in Kansas.

However, I now consider that in 1904 the 3.89% figure must have meant by volume. The reasons are as follows.

In an 1889 company publication I mentioned recently Budweiser is described as “exceedingly light”. This had to mean in alcohol, not colour. The various beer descriptions use the term pale to refer to light colour, and frequently in Victorian times, light for alcoholic drinks meant light in alcohol.

While alcohol content is always relative in different times with a correspondingly different view of what light and heavy meant, it is unlikely 5% abv was “exceedingly light”. This is because other analyses, both in America and Europe, show lager beer then was frequently approximately 4% abv, sometimes less, sometimes a little more. In a time when litigation occurred in various places whether lager was even intoxicating 5% abv, the standard of commercial (and much craft) beer today, would have been too strong for “exceedingly light”.

On the other hand, 3.89% abv, just under the strength today of most light beer (4% abv), makes more sense as the true alcohol by volume of Budweiser in 1889 and 1904. Also, I was reading again a December, 2014 blog post by American brewer Mitch Steele, formerly of Stone Brewing and A-B. He reproduces a letter from Augustus Busch in 1893 which contains an analysis of both a Budweiser knock-off and A-B’s own, genuine Budweiser. The letter was written to brewing scientist Anton Schwarz in New York, whom we have met before in these pages. Clearly A-B was a client of Schwarz’ consultancy.

In Busch’s letter A-B’s Budweiser is stated as 3.7% alcohol by volume. Therefore, 1904’s 3.89% has to be by volume also, factoring too the 1889 statement that it is “exceedingly light”.

Where does this leave the 1884 analysis, of reputed source, that “Budweiser, St. Louis” was 5.3% abv? I think there are two explanations, one more plausible than the other.

One explanation is the Budweiser analyzed in 1884 for the Kansas pharmacists was not from A-B, but rather was factitious, a knock-off. In the late 1800s it is true A-B was bedevilled with numerous counterfeits or passings-off of its product. The problem is referred to, showing sample offending labels, in the 1889 company booklet I mentioned.

For example, even famed Fred. Miller Brewing Co. of Milwaukee introduced its own Budweiser, styled Original Milwaukee Budweiser, until a court in 1898 stopped it. But that beer was not sold until about 1891, before that Miller was distributing the real Budweiser for A-B in northern Wisconsin. Perhaps the 1884 Budweiser in the pharmacists’ journal was produced by another imitator? We can’t rule it out but I think this is unlikely.

How else then to explain that 1884 Budweiser was stronger than certainly the 1893 Budweiser? I think the simple answer may be, the beer was reduced in strength some time after 1884. First, 1884 was only a year after A-B acquired rights from Charles Conrad Company to the beer. True, A-B had always brewed it, but initially for Charles (or Carl) Conrad who sold it originally as CCC Budweiser.

Perhaps under Conrad the beer was stronger and as part of rolling it out nationally once it acquired full distribution, A-B decided to reduce the strength. The deepening Prohibition mentality in the country may have encouraged this step, and/or simple economics did. Pitching, too, to the female market – the 1889 hagiography refers to Bud as a ladies’ beer – may have motivated this strategy as well.

Budweiser today, at least in Canada, is 5% abv – pretty much back to the presumed start point. For many years in the U.S. it was to my knowledge 4.8% abv. Effectively that is 5% abv and now I think it is an even 5% abv in the U.S. anyway.

Later, I’ll look at other characteristics of Bud back in the day.*

Note re images: the image above was sourced at this website, the Federalist. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs to the sole owner or authorized licensee. Use believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*With no temerity intended, I think there is an error in the Augustus Busch letter. On the Plato scale extract at the stated 5.045 and an abv of 3.7% give 1020 FG, not the stated 1010. If 1010 is right and the 3.7% abv is, the Plato extract number must be wrong. Probably though the Plato number was right, so was the 3.7% abv, and therefore 1020 was the FG. As the beer in this period was being promoted to women, a sweet taste and fairly low alcohol made sense. And the 1904 Billings, Mont. ad stated the beer was endorsed by the Ladies Home Journal…

Also, most of the true beers in the 1884 analysis, so excluding ginger ales and like, were higher in extract than Budweiser (1015). Only one was lower (1011) but Schlitz was 1016 and others more, up to 1026. So 1020 for Bud by 1889-1904 makes sense, it’s not a farfetched number and marries with the 1889 booklet’s “very strong in nutritive quality”. And Busch had to be right about the 3.7% abv because he gave the alcohol both by weight and volume, the conversion is correct for those numbers, and again the booklet states the beer is “exceedingly light”.



Anheuser-Busch Tells Its Story

Tastes Differed – Hence All These Brands

image-1Relying on a stellar pre-Pro image, one whose firmament was shared with a select few such as Pabst, Blatz, Miller, and Schlitz, Anheuser-Busch hit the ground running when beer returned in 1933. From there A-B enjoyed steady expansion and remains a world force in brewing today.* Few businesses can claim such a long run. Even though control is no longer in the Busch family, the ubiquity of Budweiser and Bud Light proves the enduring nature of the brands.

I’ve described earlier some key production details of Budweiser in 1884, the contest of Anheuser-Busch and Pabst Brewing for top beer prize at the Chicago World’s Fair, and the passing of Adolphus Busch in 1913.

In my occasional series on corporate publications of brewers and distillers, I haven’t mentioned A-B simply because it seemed nothing was issued similar to what Pabst, Schlitz, Stroh, and others had done. No doubt histories have appeared in the last 30 years on A-B or the Busch family but I’m referring to company-issued accounts between the late 1800s and c. 1960, the classic period for such publications.

In fact, A-B did tell its story at least once, it’s just been hard to find. Courtesy a gentleman surnamed Warshaw who died in 1969, five boxes of business ephemera were donated to the National Museum of American History. The records are called the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana and are catalogued here. See in the link from bottom row, second from left, and continue through the next few slides.

The little volume, issued in 1889, runs some 30 pages and bears the splendid title A Simple Story of the Origin and Unprecedented Growth of Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association.

It’s replete with useful facts and figures. Charming pen and ink illustrations are included but the preferred medium is narrative, and compelling it is.

Under the aegis of Eberhard Anheuser and later Adolphus Busch, by 1889 the enterprise was almost 30 years old. The early days are largely by-passed in favour of a contemporary description.

By any measure, the account displays the powerhouse A-B became in just three decades. As an example, with a capacity of 800,000 barrels per annum it was producing a healthy 550,000 bbl. Power-loom to spare, so to speak.

A-B used 800,000 lbs of hops annually which is an average of 1.5 lbs hops per barrel. By comparison, Sam Adams lager, avatar of modern craft lager, uses about 1 lb per barrel.

27,000,000 bottles were sourced annually. The staff was 2,200 in number (“all-men”). The beer was known from Mexico to the Sandwich Islands. Many other details are included, especially pertaining to refrigeration and transportation – logistics we would call it.

The tone is at once confiding, philosophical, humorous, but finally, all-business. A brashness is evident, which was typical of the day. Companies were proud of their achievements and spoke them to the stars. They didn’t apologize or temporize for their impact on society. The book stated that in 20 years beer and brewing equipment had changed more in America than in the 2000 years before. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but there was some truth in it.

Obeisance is paid to England and Germany as the original beer lands, but only lightly. A-B’s beers were starting to arrive on the doorstep of the great brewers of Europe. The implication was the American way would become everyone’s way. In many ways, that has proved to be true.

With some exaggeration, it is posited that America has overtaken its brewing progenitors and makes the best beer in the world. Glowing testimony on A/B beer is printed from a German brewing academy, and even from a state official in “Prohibition Georgia”. The merits of pasteurization are reviewed and it is explained how the process enabled A-B to expand its reach nationally and beyond.

Brewing journals and texts pointed out that pasteurization had the potential to impact flavour, but you won’t read that in this book.

It is striking how the international market is stressed. 25% of bottled production went outside the country in 1889. These sales were probably seen as more symbolic than anything else, since draft beer still represented the bulk of production. Still, an irony resides in that prior to A-B’s takeover a few years ago its sales were mostly domestic. The success of Budweiser in Canada via a licensing arrangement, which began in the 1970s, was an exception.

The book notes A-B did particularly well in Australia and the South Pacific and no doubt this influenced the subsequent lager culture there.

The stability of Budweiser and other A-B brews was an indispensable factor in all this success and is stressed in the book. Pasteurization, as noted above, was the key. The process remains a leitmotif of large-scale brewing to this day, and indeed a few craft brewers pasteurize too. If anything the process is more widespread than ever. As far as I know, all draft production of Budweiser brands is flash-pasteurized, for example.

The humour is dry, subtle, Will Rogers-style. The book states that while Americans generally read business publications “cum grano salis” (with a grain of salt), they can shed such caution in this case.

…for a confirmation of the correctness of any statistics we may offer, we rely on a thoroughly competent and respectable witness in the person of Uncle Sam, who takes a deep personal interest in what we are doing. We must remark in this connection that his guarantee comes high, but we must have it, and it will doubtless be accepted without question in all quarters as conclusive.

Not least of the volume`s merits is a description of the current product line. To figure out what a company brewed in the past, typically one must make deductions from period advertisements or other available sources. Almost always the information is fragmentary and incomplete. And unlike today when company websites and beer-rating services list all products and attributes, brewers in the past didn’t always do that. Some corporate hagiography barely mentions the products at all. Before 1920, this was due to the Weltanschauung of Prohibition but also, from a business standpoint, detailed characteristics were often seen as secondary if not indeed confidential matters.

Still, A-B had no qualms about revealing its main product range and numerous details, see the serial description from p. 27. There were seven main beers: Standard, Pale Lager, Faust, Budweiser, Erlanger, Liebotschaner, and Burgundy. Standard was made from all-American hops and barley. It was the light amber “default”  style of American lager brewing as I`ve discussed earlier.

The palest beer was Liebotschaner. Erlanger was the darkest, a Bavarian style (Erlangen, Germany) well-kilned to impart a  “malty” taste.  Libočany is the current (Czech) spelling of Libotschan, a small city in Bohemia formerly ruled by the Hapsburgs. A-B’s Libotschaner was intended to emulate the town’s style which must have been particularly light-coloured. Faust was made for Augustus’s bar-owner friend Tony Faust, and A-B periodically re-issues it to this day.

Some of the line used a mix of imported and domestic barley or hops. It is all well-explained including reference to colour in some cases. The Pale Lager was described as “acidulous” and (oddly to my mind) similar to Bass Ale without the “stupefying” effect. Perhaps A-B sought to emulate shipped IPA which could be a touch sour. Pale Lager was explained as useful to take with meals and in hot countries – the IPA analogy makes more sense viewed in that light.

Budweiser, also famously of Czech inspiration, was described as a ladies’ favourite, whereas much later it was a guys’ beer, and now everyone’s. It is described as “exceedingly light” but this meant in alcohol, not colour. Its relatively heavy residual solids, something I discussed earlier by reference to the 1884 analysis, was noted in the book with approval.

The descriptions read almost as something from a current beer book or rating site, except the original readers used gaslight or candles to read them at night. The language is strangely often modern, e.g., the brand section is prefaced, “Tastes Differ – Hence All These Brands”.

A good title for a new beer book, or beer blog.

Finally, there is a broad-brush description of the British and Germans as national types. The former are described in peremptory terms: “… selfish, partisan, anti-social. His strong drink does not alter him in this respect”.

The Germans are contrasted as more sociable, with lager of course playing a defining role. The Americans, of historically British and Yankee temperament, were wedded initially to whiskey and rum, but decided finally to become sociable. German-style lager helped in this goal: how wonderful for A/B!

Despite the 19th century stereotyping the book remains a valuable historical document.

Note re image: the image shown above is a pre- WW 1 ad sourced via HathiTrust. All intellectual property thereto or therein belongs to its lawful owner or authorized users. Image is believed available for educational or historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*This despite its takeover by the former In Bev. Budweiser has declined steadily in sales in the U.S. in recent years but is still a potent brand especially overseas.



A Brewery That Made Milwaukee Famous


The once-great Schlitz of Milwaukee issued in 1910 a souvenir booklet  (via DPLA and Wisconsin Historical Society), probably for guests who had attended its tour, possibly VIP ones.

It’s almost all photographs, but very informative of the grand state of large-scale U.S. brewing before WW I. See e.g. page 6 for a picture of the handsome wooden fermentation tuns, virtually the same as Stroh was still using in Detroit in 1960.

There is no substitute for perusing this time capsule item, so just open the link and page through…


Ballantine Brewery Proudly Reviews Its Heritage, 1910

imageEstablished breweries and distilleries from the late-1800s until about 1960 often issued books describing their histories and products. These took different forms, from a narrative with a few illustrations to a lavish photo-record with a few lines of text. We have seen examples from Rochester, NY (a collective history of breweries), Pabst, Tetley in England, National Breweries Ltd. in Quebec, Stroh in Detroit, and more.

This link is a similar volume, from the former P. Ballantine & Sons, now part of Pabst. It has its own twist, however: the theme of revisiting the “inn” or “tap-room” of 1840. That was the year the brewery relocated to larger premises in Newark, NJ from its start in Albany, NY seven years before.

The slim volume depicts in attractive illustrations different classes of bar patrons of the day. They are shown as prosperous and older-looking, people who used the inn inherited from England sanely, for relaxation and enjoyment. And they drank ale and porter, drinks Ballantine specialized in. This was a neat device, probably spurred by the dark shadow looming Prohibition cast across the nation.

Despite the brooding atmosphere and early date for consumer advertising (1910), Ballantine’s marketers were able to promote effectively beverage alcohol. The faux-antique fonts and soothing tone create a vibrant tableau of the good old days. The subtext was to separate the saloon, with its associations of whiskey and excess, from the ancestral inn. Indeed Chaucer’s Tabard Inn Southwark was invoked. Tabard was a resting stop for religious pilgrims and  the book implies a connection between the “ministrations” of a drinking place and the good works of the pilgrims.

The book also functioned as a more straightforward advertising channel as it included the names of current Ballantine products and depicted some of the bottles.

This kind of advertising was fully justified, not just by the commercial norms of the time (or ours – advertising is the lifeblood of business) but by the fine products of the company. Ballantine flew the flag for the older style of malt beverage in America, ale. It also brewed porter, another drink inherited from Britannic tradition. Ballantine’s products in particular had an unquestioned high reputation in American brewing into and after the 1930s when brewing was restored in Newark (the book calls the 1840 town “little Newark on the Passaic”). The same was true of the great Canadian ales such as Molson’s, O’Keefe’s, Labatt’s.

image-1Ballantine XXX Ale is still sold to this day, as is Ballantine India Pale Ale, returned to the market after a 20 year absence. Even Ballantine Burton ale, mentioned in the book, made a brief reappearance a year or two ago. These beers have a tangible connection to a tradition which started in 1833 and whose quality and legitimacy were justifiably upheld. Indeed the tradition stretches for centuries prior to the 1800s which the book conjures in an appealing, perhaps idealistic, way.

At the same time, ale and porter are skillfully connected to contemporary consumer habits. The book notes the suburban trend of golf, and suggests its ales as the perfect post-game refresher. It also lists numerous foods which go well with beer, and shows a chafing dish, meant almost certainly to suggest Welsh rabbit, a popular dish then.

Oysters, seafood, “thick steak”, “roast beef”, “mutton chop” are all suggested as ideal to accompany English-style beer, as indeed they are. This book is one of the earliest sources which make a gastronomic connection, consciously I mean, between beer and food. The book links the foods of old England with the beers of old England in a way one wouldn’t see in the old land, or not in the same way.

(Maybe that’s the next trend after charcuterie/small plates: the chop house re-imagined).

Finally, the book is too carefully written to omit reference to “beer” – meaning here lager.  It notes the great popularity of the drink and even that Ballantine brews lager at a separate plant. Indeed its lager brands were listed in the book for good measure, but the heart of the book, literally and figuratively, is on good ale, the beer of tradition.

imageHow brewers of the day including Ballantine’s, and the “Mad men” of Manhattan who wrote this encomium, would be amazed and delighted to see the revival of ale and porter in America. A drink which by 1910 had a very small part of the market (although still profitable for its makers) is now well-established again, especially the ubiquitous IPA or India Pale Ale.

The thing we must remember about books such as this is, as I have sought to show in many ways including reference to period analyses, the products were really good. They were well-hopped and retained lots of body for savour and enjoyment. The old idea of beer as a member of the cereals food group, factitious as perhaps it was, was still an animating one.

Today that tradition of hearty taste and full savour has returned and you can find examples at all levels of the market, via craft production, similar beers as produced/carried/distributed by large outfits, and some imports. The choice of malt beverage has never been greater, for all tastes.

Note re images: the images shown herein are from the volume linked in the text above, via HathiTrust. All intellectual property thereto or therein belong to their lawful owner or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational or cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.