Process Cheese at a Recherché Wine Tasting

Daisy Miller At a European Ball

At the high-toned and prescient 1948 Baltimore wine tasting discussed in my previous post, Borden contributed the cheeses, one of which was process type, Vera-Sharp. You see it here in a period ad from Life Magazine.

Borden extensively advertised its process cheeses from the 1940s through the 60s. The company finally was bought out by a venture capitalist firm in New York. The dairy business, as the other food businesses of Borden (pasta was an important line) were sold off.

Today, two dairy/consumer foods companies in Texas and Mexico make the Borden cheese line under license rights  but otherwise are not connected to the original enterprise.

It is a sign of the longevity of beloved consumer trade marks that Elsie the contented cow still has good recognition 60 years after her heyday.

And so, you can still buy Borden cheese slices and a range of other Borden-brand cheese products. But no spreads from what I can tell, it’s all chunks, slices, singles, strings. Oh, shreds too.

Most of the current line seems to be 100% real cheese but some is the emulsified type which first emerged in the early 1900s. It was a revolution in food technology.

At the 1948 tasting, most of the cheese served was real cheese made or distributed by Borden but its Vera-Sharp and, I’d guess, Wej-Cut, a spreadable cream cheese, were process-type it appears.

Why were these last two included? I suspect Borden sponsored the cheese table and wanted them there. Or maybe the committee organizing the tasting just liked them. We should consider too that the choice of cheese in the early post-war years in regional American centres was probably not munificent.

Process cheese, of which there are numerous delphic sub-categories, was and remains extremely popular in America and other English-speaking countries. You might say it’s non-U so to speak, not very Nancy Mitford. Then too the price is reasonable and lots of people like it.

We always have some in our house, Kraft is the brand. I preferred when you could get the slices not individually wrapped – I’ve since learned this type is called “stacked”. But I can’t find that kind now. The pimento-flecked kind was groovy in my youth, I’ll tell ya.

There was a white stacked kind too, Swiss-style it was (distantly). My home abjured this, we liked a pineapple-flavoured cream cheese instead.

It’s incorrect politically in food discourse to admit such likes. The constructs of local, organic, fresh, non-GMO, are much more palatable, metaphorically if not always literally. It’s the old lure of Arcadia, the vision of eating something primal, unspoiled, pristine, and tasty to the max.

Friends of mine in the food industry tell me much of the real food posture is bunk. They say industrially-produced, mass-marketed foods are in essence no worse and sometimes taste better than the socially approved versions.

I don’t like to take that too far – levels of sodium and sugar do concern me in processed foods – but on the whole I believe the industry scientists. They share, you might say, a secret of modern food production and merchandising.

Of the French food she rated as meretricious served in a trendy 1960s London bistro, Elizabeth David wrote, “People like secrets. They shall have them”. I adopt her point in the present context although I’m not sure she would have approved. Madam.

Note re image: image above was extracted from the Life Magazine ad linked in the text. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Image is included for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.





Over a Damask Cloth – an Important Early Wine Tasting

The 1948 Wine Tasting in Baltimore, Maryland

The Event

On a wintry day in February 1948 the newly founded Baltimore branch of the Wine and Food Society held an event called simply “Wine Tasting”. The venue was the posh Sheraton-Belvedere hotel. After a description of the wine program five cheeses were listed, described by type and attributes. There was no other food.

So this was really a wine-and-cheese event except in name.

The Cheeses

There were Swiss, Camembert, Roquefort, and two strictly American cheeses. One of the American cheeses had the trade name Wej-Cut, a cream cheese. The other was a cheddar-type, Vera-Sharp. Both were from the Borden creamery. That’s the Borden of the contented cows.

The nifty, entrepreneurial American trade names have a charm of their own and sit nicely against the impressive foreign ring of European wine and cheese names. We are not in Kansas, Dorothy, but it’s not the Left Bank of the Seine either.

Of the cheeses only the Roquefort was actually imported. The Swiss and Camembert were American imitations. Today of course there would be a great choice of artisan domestic cheese equal to Europe’s best, and an almost unlimited supply of exotic imports.

I discussed earlier, see for example here, wine and cheese events held by this culinary Society in both New York and England of the late 1930s. Clearly the Baltimoreans took their cue from such earlier, path-breaking events.

Reviving the Gastronomical Heritage

The wine tasting was as sophisticated as any held anywhere at the time judging by the careful design and informed commentary of the program. A photo of the wines was included then detailed notes on each wine, with a concluding section on the origins of the Baltimore branch of the Wine and Food Society, with these thoughts:

We who have lived in these United States through the past three decades have experienced two devastating world wars, prohibition, an unprecedented depression and rationing.

Little opportunity has been afforded to indulge in the amenities of the table. The appreciation of wines over the damask cloth has been denied us. It is time we sought again to re-establish a realization of the gentlemanly art and prerogative of proper wining and dining together with their inevitable corollary, the almost lost art of conversation.

The enjoyment of wines has ever been associated back through history with those who have most contributed to the human race in literature, music and art. Royalty, diplomats, international financiers and peasants have shared through centuries the glowing inspiration of the grape.

If the Wine and Food Society of Baltimore can recapture for us a modicum of the “joie de vivre” that comes from the vine, and from viands well prepared and served, to re-establish the standards of the table as gentility and dignity through the ages have partaken of it, we shall feel our “raison d’etre” has been justified.

Setting aside the old-fashioned prose, the American culinary scene of the future has fulfilled all the promise wished for by the writer. It makes sense that someone could write in these terms as the city had an older, native epicurean tradition based on crab and other sea food, the turtle, the hoecake (from corn), planked shad, and much else. This tradition was evoked, consciously or otherwise, by these phrases.

The Wines

The 1948 program is a gem of gastronomic history digitally archived by the Enoch Pratt museum in Baltimore. It was generously contributed by the Baltimore Wine and Food Society, which continues to this day.

The program is certainly fascinating. Each wine is an original of its type, French or German. But each of these is followed by one or more American equivalents (or offered as such), either made from the same grape, say a chablis-style or pinot noir from California’s Beaulieu Vineyards, or if made from a different grape than the style usually denotes, with details noted.

The same was done for sherry, Riesling, and Champagne. A German Riesling, a Mosel (Piesporter), bore the rather strange vintage date of 1943. At least I thought it was strange. The Germans must have continued some winemaking while their main cities were being reduced to ashes by the RAF and U.S. 8th Air Force.

I wonder if the committee hesitated before including this one in the tasting, but tasted it was. Indeed 1943, for Mosel at any rate, is known to be a great year, so there you have it.

While not billed as a comparative tasting one can see it was exactly that save in name. The notes are very helpful and the writer must have tasted the same or similar wines in advance. He gives us, therefore, a good indication of their attributes and the differences. Generally, he was deferential to the imports but also praised the local wines on their own merits. For one, he thought it was better for “steady use” than the European wines that inspired it.

One sees the seeds of the American wine appreciation that has burgeoned since the 1970s.

The Spirits of 1976 vs. 1948

The 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, aka the Judgment of Paris, occurred 28 years later. The two events were quite different. The sensational results of the 1976 event – an American Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon trumped the French equivalents – did not occur at the 1948 event. At least, there is no reason to think that happened. Indeed the Baltimore program notes tend to the opposite conclusion: Europe won out.

Still, the goal was the same: to taste and compare wines made similarly, one from the Old World, one from the New. But the context was different, too. The Baltimore tasting was an early stab at reviving the epicurean spirit in a rebooted economy. Whereas by 1976, well-post-Marshall Plan, times were good, subject to the looming oil shocks. In a word by 1976 the globe “mondo” so to speak.

Summing Up

You have to give it to the founders of the Baltimore Wine and Food Society. Their New York colleagues had held wine events for years, some during the war. Probably comparative ones, too. But I doubt any showed the sophistication and élan of the 1948 Baltimore wine tasting at the Sheraton-Belvedere Hotel.

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Wine Sages of Baltimore

Wine, Baltimore, France, Uncle Sam

The Wine and Food Society of Baltimore, MD, another branch of the André Simon-founded Wine & Food Society in London, held an intriguing wine taste-off in 1980. The menu can be read heredigitally archived at the internationally-known Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore.

The menu refers to the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting or “Judgment of Paris”, the epochal tasting in France. A California cabernet sauvignon, Stag’s Leap, and a chardonnay, Chateau Montelena, had highest average score in a blind tasting of French and American examples. The wine world was shaken by the results and it is generally agreed California and New World winemaking received a huge filip as a result.

In tune with the new zeitgeist, Baltimore wine devotees held their own blind tasting of wines from the U.S. and Europe to assess individual and comparative merits. Wines were tasted in groups of two, in foil-wrapped bottles. Tasters knew the wine type but not the origin of each bottle.

Only one set of taste notes is included with the menu. It opines which wine was Californian or European and mentions attributes of nose and taste. It seems the taster got the national origin right in most cases although I find the notes unclear in a couple of respects.

I’ll refrain from commenting on the wines themselves due to insufficient knowledge, but if anyone knows more, we are all ears.

The sociological dimension of this event is at least as important as the organoleptic one, though. Putting American wines up against top European crus in a prominent but regional American city shows that almost 40 years ago, a high level of Yankee pride in American wine culture had emerged.

This was not the first comparative national tasting in the U.S., or indeed the first this wine society did. The Baltimore chapter did an A/B of American and European wines as early as 1948. I’ll return later to it. Its context was not quite the same as for the 1980 tasting, but what they did is very interesting.

The records of the early phase of the Wine and Food Society of Baltimore, still going strong, have been lodged with the Enoch Pratt – a fine resource for gastronomic researchers. A list of the dinners and tastings held by the Society since inception can be perused online for example. Intelligent and creative it is especially given the period covered. Wines from a wide range of countries or regions were tasted, and so were Scotch whiskies, in 1975 at an event termed “A Wine Tasting of Scotch Whiskies”. The somewhat contradictory title does show that the lens of wine appreciation was starting to be applied to some non-wine alcohol, as is legion today.

We are pained (a little) to record that the long list of events (see pp 17-22) appears not to contain a single beer tasting. What a pity considering the lengthy and variegated beer and brewing culture of Baltimore. Was it an upstairs-downstairs thing, or just the happenstance that attends any endeavour no matter the scope and range intended? We cannot say, at this remove and date. The New York chapter of the same Society held at least three beer events in the 1940s, for example.

It is possible some of the national-theme dinners, the one, say, for Holland, included some beer at table. We hope so, here at Beer Et Seq headquarters.

Note re image: The image above was extracted from the original, digitized menu linked in the text. All intellectual property in the source belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Mr. Byass’s ales Come a Cropper

In a series of earlier posts I explored aspects of Australian brewing history. One facet was the colonies’ unusual social attitudes on beer: largely unfeigned and unashamed. In this vein the press regularly carried pieces on beer, especially its quality, that were notable for being unselfconscious.

To say Australia has always venerated beer is probably not going too far. In the 1970s and 80s the country was noted internationally for an exaggerated attachment to beer. This was seen as a funny, but questionable if not frivolous symbol of maturing nationhood. The Aussies took it all in their stride.

Today the beery image is half-forgotten but press sources from early days show a solid basis for the bluff image.

An example is how the press regularly fretted that “Colonial” beer was wrongly seen as inferior to U.K. importations. By WW I local productions, ale and porter, sparkling ale, and finally lager were more appreciated by the man in the street.

Indeed Australia became a lager nation par excellence. It pioneered deployment of the Leopold Nathan fast-fermentation system, today a brewing standby world-wide.

(I’ve written about Swiss-based Leopold Nathan’s important invention and the man himself, who is rather more mysterious).

At the same time, a concurrent counter-tendency to the hedonism cannot be discounted. Early on the anti-drink campaigners tried to mobilize but had a hard go. Perhaps the colonies’ initial isolation, and the social origins of many settlers (the transported convicts and such), explain the frank embracing of a drinking culture.

Indeed even to call alcohol consumption a “question” seems irrelevant in Australian history. In contrast by the late 1800s most English-speaking places were experiencing upheaval over the role of alcohol in society.

Against this background it is understandable that the Sydney Morning Herald in 1860 carried a detailed piece on beer, in this case depreciating the quality of imports, for which 1860 is rather early. “Cask after cask” right off the ship was no good, it said, sour and often flat. We are speaking here too of the flower of Victorian and Empire brewing, India Pale Ale.

The main shipper accused was Byass, a well-known English agency in the 1800s that specialized in bottling and shipping Bass pale ale. Robert Blake Byass founded the business and had also formed a partnership in the Spanish wine trade with a Señor Gonzáles, scion of an old aristocratic family. A modern legacy of the business is the renowned Gonzales Byass labels: Tio Pepe dry sherry is a star example. The Byass’ have been out of that business for about 30 years, and on the beer side even longer as an ale bottler called Hibbert bought them out around 1900.

The Sydney article chided Byass that if quality did not improve importers would look elsewhere for supplies. In this era and for a long time to come, independent export bottlers supplied the major Burton and Irish brands. So when things went wrong the fault was laid at their feet even though the true cause probably often lay with the brewers.

Red and blue labels of barrelled pale ale were mentioned. The red was clearly the produce of the original, or “old”, Bass brewery in Burton. The blue from was a later brewery Bass built in Burton, for expansion. There was also, or in some markets, a white label Bass, representing yet a third brewery in the Bass system. I’ve not investigated how this colour scheme connects to the later red and blue triangle labels of Bass beer. The red was bottle-matured and the blue a pasteurized, filtered version, but there is probably some connection.

In the mid-1800s – long before single cell yeasts were isolated and before sterile brewery operations were routine – brewing sometimes went wrong. That the beer could be flat on arrival in Sydney suggests possibly a failure of the beer to undergo secondary fermentation. Other reasons might explain why flat beer arrived in the casks (leaks, pilferage, infection, etc.).

The inconsistency and always-higher cost of imported beer would have encouraged the domestic brewers, if for no other reasons. Yet, they too were afflicted with troubles, especially, sources tell us, an off-taste resulting from uncontrollably high fermentation temperatures. The arrival of modern brewing science c.1900 put paid to these problems.

Was the uniformity of Australian lager in the pre-craft era – say, up to the 1990s – too high price to pay? Arguably yes. The survival of the distinctive Cooper’s ales in Adelaide was the great exception to the lager tide, but even Cooper’s ales ended by acquiring a quasi-lager character.

Note re image above: image was sourced at Retrofair here, and is used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.





Etiquette 101, 1943-style

Bloggers and authors Boak and Bailey have brought to attention an Allied propaganda film of 1943 explaining the English pub and other aspects of U.K. life to American soldiers in England.

It’s a good piece, as always for an item of this vintage it reflects its time, but as B & B note, the core advice is still relevant, in fact for any culture. (There were/are dicks in English pubs too or on parade in favoured tourist destinations. You read about them in the popular English media every day…).

A few observations viz. the subject film: note the presence of Scots, which is emphasized. This was done I think to suggest the heterogeneity of British society but also to reflect that many Americans were still conscious of Scots, or the connected Scots-Irish, heritage. English heritage in contrast was probably considered too distant or diluted. The name Meredith in fact sounds more English than anything else but he sounds and looks, I would say, like a prototypical New Yorker of indeterminate origins.

From a beer standpoint, it’s ironic that Burgess Meredith’s father and uncles, certainly their fathers, would not have been ignorant of “bitter and mild”, served indeed from handpumps, in American ale houses of direct British lineage. I’ve written often of this tradition here and considerably in my musty ale article.

That it was felt the average soldier was ignorant of this history shows that an Americanized German brewing had completely taken over by the 1940s.

In the end, what this film was teaching was good manners, something always salutary which could have applied as well within the United States. A bunch of New Yorkers on the loose in towns of the deep south were probably as strange/threatening to local denizens as the Yanks were to their English hosts in wartime. And vice versa.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from Pinterest, here. It is used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.

A Vivid Musty Ale Description From 1921

Of Moxie, Musty and Mutton

The following extract from an amusing article in the Paterson Morning Call of January 1, 1921* is pertinent to my article on American musty ale:

It was written almost exactly one year after Prohibition became law nationally, and seemingly about Billy Park’s, the old chop house in Boston that had closed many years earlier. One can assume the article was either a reprint of one printed years before, or perhaps memoir, or maybe about another “grill” in town.

The writer and perhaps the editor were clearly dyspeptic guys who wanted to diss booze and florid eating habits, so the article suited the Volstead era, but the visit described should not be doubted. The discussion of musty ale and mutton chops is too detailed to suppose fabrication for temperance or general bluenose purposes.

Certainly the musty ale notes are intriguing, especially as little description of the beer has been recorded. Moxie is a soft drink that originated in New England at the end of the 1800s. The brand is today owned by Coca-Cola and still sold. The drink reflects the kind of flavour (generally) more popular in the past, namely a medicinal, bitter-sweet quality. Suze, red vermouth, Jagermeister, certain Italian soft drinks, Dr. Pepper, and root beer are broad analogues. Gentian is an informing ingredient it appears of Moxie, a root variously described as tasting of wintergreen, bubblegum, or cough syrup.

A remarkable compilation on Wikipedia Talk offers commentary on Moxie.

The following lines impress as commendably detailed and Michael Jacksonesque (from J Casto, 2006):**

It tastes like a combination of 8% Diet Coke, 15% root beer, 72% cough medicine, 3% cloves, and 2% turpentine. I had it about 4 months ago. I didn’t really like it. Its kinda like Dr. Pepper. When DP is put in your mouth, it tastes like Coke, but when you swallow it, it tastes like grape soda with Coke. Same with Moxie: it tastes like root beer with a tad bit of cough medicine when first put in your mouth, but when you swallow it, it tastes much [more] like cough medicine and other things…”

Other statements in Wikipedia Talk are in similar vein. Some mention turpentine or fluoride, which ties into the “mothballs” metaphor in the Morning Call. It is tempting to think that by using the mothball term the 1921 writer meant musty as in the sulphury “Bass stink”, or barnyard of Brettanomyces, both discussed in my article. But mothballs don’t really smell of either, in fact they are intended to preclude or at least disguise these odours. The mothball smell is a pungent chemical note, both turpentine and fluoride get it at.

From a stylistic point of view “mothballs” was not inapt to use in an article on musty ale, but we shouldn’t let the word conduce, as too easily it might, to the idea that the beer tasted of decay or must.

The writer was a tyro at ale, so his fastidious dislike must be viewed at least partly in this light. As he put it, he should have started with a lower order in the “genus ale” rather than the acclaimed and evidently challenging specialty, musty ale. Possibly he had never known beer of any kind although I’d guess he was familiar with lager. He doesn’t state in the article he had never touched alcohol before.

By going for the musty ale and tallowy mutton on the bone, in today’s terms, it’s like someone who knows Budweiser and hamburgers opting for Imperial Russian Stout with red deer chops. That’s not the kind of stout to order, you should have Guinness draft (you knew that was coming eh?).

Where does this leave us? Well, beer-as-Moxie-quinine-soapy suggests something rather like a modern Trappist or abbey ale. Something like St. Bernardus, say, or more particularly the herbal/earthy Orval. I theorize in Brewery History that musty ale was probably often simply Bass Pale Ale or other India Pale Ale or other Burton-style stocked beer. At the time, it can be presumed these had both a brett note and the “Burton snatch”, from gypsum in the brewing. Their combination may have been the musty keynote.

Come to think of it, Orval does use brett. And I’m pretty sure you will find descriptions of Orval that use the word quinine. Anyhow, any Trappist or abbey beer of higher gravity fits within the English ale family. They are cousins at least and strong French and Belgian monastic beer may owe a lot to English roots, as I discussed earlier here in my series on Trappist and Benedictine brewing.***

Finally, a last comment on Moxie from Wikipedia Talk, from “FK”:

To me it tastes a bit like a sweetened version of Guinness.

That brings it all full circle now doesn’t it.


* The full article is online but I was not able to cite it in the usual way. To find it, search “musty ale” in the search box here, and it will be the 11th item down.

** The quotes herein from Wikipedia Talk reflect spelling corrections that almost certainly were intended by their authors.

*** See notably this post.

Note re images: The first image above was extracted from the original news story linked in the first asterisk above. The second image was obtained from Pinterest on the Internet, here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Guinness Special Export Stout

Drilling Down on GSX

[To serve as today’s posting, below is the comment I just posted in the Guinness Wood Barrel thread, replying to a comment by English reader Ben Morgan, but adding some hyperlinks and with one edit].

Ben, David Hughes’ history of bottled Guinness states that from 1912 John Martin in Belgium got a special version of Guinness called Special Export or GSX in Guinness code.

On the current website of what is now called Anthony Martin, the same code is mentioned, GSX. I am not clear if this is a Guinness extract (hopped wort reduction) or the racked beer but in any case, Martin was bottling and selling this from before WW I. All Guinness was all-malt then. If you page through references to Martin and Belgium in the book, Martin also states when the second war started, Guinness closed the agency in Antwerp and all records were moved to London.

Then Guinness started up again after the war with Martin, ’46-’47. I think what happened was, in 1944 Martin crossed the channel to discuss the restoration of the brand to his market. It doesn’t seem the brand originated then or any stout was shipped to Belgium during WW II, at least from what I can tell, unless some went earlier in 1944 (before D Day) and then stopped until war’s end.

Anthony Martin still markets Special Export in Belgium, which possibly is all-malt (or maybe roasted barley and the rest malt). Guinness sells its Antwerp 1944 one which I think is the same recipe. One online review, in the Barley Blog, likens the 1944 Antwerp to Carnegie Porter which is high praise. I know Carnegie and Guinness Special Export as I recall it from 20-30 years ago was similar to Carnegie. Yet in 2011 in Paris I bought Special Export and didn’t like it, but I’m not sure what I had was the Belgian one aka 1944 Antwerp Stout, maybe it was just a stronger version of Extra Stout (Original).

This is as best I can piece it and happy for anyone to add more detail.

Note re image: The image above was obtained from the  Internet. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

My Early Experience With Guinness Stout

Guinness seems to exercise a special fascination on the beer community, despite that Guinness draft, its marquee product for decades, has a rather mainstream flavour. Or non-craft flavour if you will.

I’ve probably got a dozen pieces now here on various aspects of Guinness, the last one discussed the views of a Dubliner who remembered pre-nitrogen-dispense Guinness.

I’ve mentioned a number of times tasting Special Export, Foreign Extra Stout, Extra Stout and Guinness draft. Today I thought I’d mention my earlier impressions of Guinness, serially as I tried the products from about 1971.

The first Guinness I had was the Labatt-brewed one introduced in Canada in 1965. I encountered it first in Quebec, maybe 1971.

Guinness and Labatt (now AB InBev) formed a venture where, according to online sources that sound credible, Labatt brewed a pale ale mash to which was added a hopped wort extract sent from Dublin. Its fermentation became Guinness Extra Stout here, at 5% abv.

It’s still sold, and tastes about the same as way back then.

It had a dry, burnt “chalky” taste, not a bad drink but not one that really seemed, looking back in the light of so much taste experience including historical recreations of stout, all that traditional. But you wouldn’t mistake it for any usual Canadian beer, true.

The next one, again early 1970s, was Guinness Extra Stout (nominally the same beer) as sent to the U.S. from Dublin. That one was much sweeter, richer, and I think higher in abv than the Canadian one. I remember a soy-like quality. There are good period descriptions in U.S. beer books whose authors I’ve often mentioned here.

The next was Guinness draft, the nitro-charged one that resulted from the savvy of Guinness brewing technologists. It was sent out internationally from the 60s if not earlier, and finally supplanted cask stout in the Republic by the mid-60s. How this beer aroused such passions in 1960s and 70s London is a mystery to me.* Its blandness was the main trait I noted, and this when I had had few if any craft beers (that was just starting).

It`s not a question of beer not travelling well either, as I`ve had Guinness draft many times in England, France, and once at Dublin airport and they tasted very similar.

I think my dislike of the nitrogen system started then. It has as much to do with the gas itself as the beer, I don’t like it as applied even to flavourful craft beers.

So net net to that point, the basic exported Extra Stout, filtered and pasteurized as it was, was a good product and worthy of the Guinness name and heritage.

After that, I tasted Foreign Extra Stout including one from Nigeria, one from Hong Kong and one or more from the Caribbean. The Irish one was best and the earliest samples, maybe early 1990s, were better than today’s, IMO. The lactic edge seems reduced, and in general the beer is rather light for what was all-malt and heavily hopped originally.

After that came 8% Special Extra Stout in France and Belgium, also early 90s. Excellent certainly but as tasted five years ago, rather less good IMO. I thought Special Extra Stout was all-malt 20 and 30 years ago. My last tasting seemed to suggest it’s not today. That may be one factor in the change if in fact my recollection of all-malt is right.

And then I found Guinness West Indies Porter a couple of months ago in France: best of the bottled bunch and something I would buy here happily. It is the closest to a 19th century flavour so far and clearly some effort was put into that although as always with large companies the fine points of production can be elusive.

Current Extra Stout, also labeled Original, as sent to the U.S. is good, but once again the second time I had it, it seemed less good. (Up until a few years ago, Labatt-brewed Guinness was sent to the U.S. to serve as Extra Stout, but this has now been replaced by Irish-brewed Extra Stout, a more creditable arrangement).

Guinness has issued other tweaks of its famous drink. There was a 200th anniversary one that seemed little different from the normal one except a tad more roasty. There is the newish Dublin Porter (bottled), I haven’t had it yet but online reviews don’t seem that encouraging.

And I almost forgot: the widget can and widget bottle Guinness, intended to deliver the draft nitro effect. I’m not a fan. While the adjunct element in any Guinness grates to a purist like myself, it seems most prominent in the latter format.

So where does it end up? There’s a couple of good products in there, notably the West Indies Porter and Foreign Extra Stout. Maybe Special Export and the 1944 Antwerp version (seemingly the same beer) too but I reserve judgment until I taste them. And none of the beers just mentioned are available in Ontario or anywhere in Canada.

Considering the gold-plated history of this company, considering that it still has not issued a bottle- or cask-conditioned version of current Guinness much less a 19th century recreation, it’s not that much really. I say it more in sadness than annoyance. I know well how large companies operate. I’ve seen many storied old names become rather ordinary, not just beer but other drinks and many foods. It does seem an almost inevitable pattern.

But there are exceptions, Pilsner Urquell, say, or Heineken to a degree. A number of German beers. Fuller’s beers in London. Etc.

Does it matter? Well, to me, yes. Despite the plethora of craft products, Guinness is special simply because it is Guinness. Its procedures, ingredients, especially the yeast and hop bill, are not quite like any others. Deployed in a craft way, which is another way of saying going back to the roots, should produce something, not just very good, but Guinness-good.

I think Guinness should focus on the new Blonde beer which is very nice, on launching West Indies Porter and a draft version into many more markets, and on making available some naturally-conditioned stout. This will delight fans who know the Guinness history well and admire the many creditable features of the company including its longevity, importance to Irish history and its economy, and adapatiblity to changing market and other conditions.


*If it was all-malt then, or even all-malt but for roasted barley adjunct, that might explain it.

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Black Horse Ale, an International Affair

Reader David Conant mentioned enjoying Black Horse Ale when made by Fred Koch in Dunkirk, NY in the 1970s and early 80s. This is a different Black Horse than the one made by Dawes Brewing/National Breweries/Dow Breweries in Quebec. Their successor, Molson Coors, still makes a Black Horse today but for the Newfoundland market, and it is a lager.

I will compress some history below gleaned from numerous online and print sources. Forgive me for not citing sources in most cases, but it will be easier and faster to relate the story.

Dunkirk is a small town west of Buffalo on Lake Erie. This is the northwestern corner of the Empire State, across from Niagara in Canada and to the west but comparatively a stone’s throw.

That brewery, founded 1888 and always very small, closed in 1985. Despite its size and obscurity, or perhaps because of it, the brewery was purchased in 1982 by another small, northern brewery, Vaux of Sunderland, England, a story unto itself. Hence (I presume) the oddity of seeing Jubilee Porter sold on the shores of Lake Erie in an atmosphere of Friday night fish fries and quasi-Midwestern accents. (But porter and Catholic parishes …. maybe the Jubilee idea wasn’t so dumb…).

The story is yet more intricate as Carling in Waterloo, Ontario brewed a Jubilee porter too in the 1950s-1960s. Carling, given its extensive U.K. interests starting in the 1950s, probably had a connection to Vaux if not owning it at one point.

This online reference for Fred Koch refers to its Black Horse Ale as introduced in the early 1960s and initially made under contract by Diamond Spring Brewery in Lawrence, MA.  See a basic outline of the latter’s history here. In the 1960s the brewery was called in fact Black Horse Brewery. It closed in 1970 and presumably Fred Koch bought, licensed, or continued the name for its production in later years.

Champale, Inc. of Trenton, NJ, also known under the moniker Iroquois Brands, had since 1939 brewed its malt liquor line, still produced today by Pabst. Champale also made a Black Horse originally licensed by the Lawrence, MA brewery. James D. (Jim) Robertson, in his 1978 The Great American Beer Book, considered the Champale Black Horse the best ale in America. That’s pretty tall praise and Robertson had an excellent palate.

See an extract of his comments included below.

I had the Fred Koch Black Horse a number of times and remember an odd talc taste, but this was when Fred Koch was on its last legs. Perhaps the beer had declined in quality. I never had the Trenton one.

Online collections show the Black Horse labels of Lawrence, MA and Dunkirk, NY as almost identical, both had a legend claiming an English ale character.

In his comments on the Champale version, Robertson speculates that it “descends” from the Dow (Dawes, originally) Black Horse which was marketed as an import in the Northeast in the 1940s. He also states in the 1950s a brewery in Lawrence, MA was making a Black Horse Ale.

Indeed Tavern Trove labels for the Canadian Black Horse show a version marked imported from what seems the 40s or 50s. Tavern Trove also shows a Michigan brewery in 1933 making a Black Horse Ale with a label quite similar to the Canadian Black Horse. Maybe that was the first American-made one.

Perhaps the Diamond Spring brewery, as it was known in the 1950s, or another brewery in Lawrence, licensed the brand initially from Dow in Quebec, or the Michigan brewery did, but this is unclear.

Certainly under the name Dow’s Black Horse Ale, the Canadian beer was still being sold in the U.S. in the 1970s. There must have been a particular legal situation which allowed two U.S. Black Horse ales to be sold concurrently as well. One can speculate endlessly, e.g., maybe the Canadians had not trademarked the Black Horse name early enough in the U.S. and local producers acquired common law rights in their region.

It’s hard to say until more information may become available.

Note re images: The first image above was sourced from this website and the second from Tavern Trove here. The last was extracted from my print copy of Jim Robertson’s book mentioned above. Full publication and purchase details may be viewed here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.





Beer in the Elizabeth David Oeuvre

English beer and travel author Adrian Tierney-Jones, see his website here, shares my high regard for the English food writer Elizabeth David. We were discussing on Twitter whether she supported the cause of good beer. I pointed out she made a few approving references to beer, for example in connection with picnics, and never disparaged beer or brewing in her writing. Adrian agreed but pointed out she was not an advocate of beer.

That’s true as far as it goes. Yet she was capable of appreciating elements of the beer culture. For example, she wrote a multi-page essay, collected in an Omelette and a Glass of Wine, on the use of hops in cooking. She was especially interested in the shoots of the wild hop, used in parts of Italy for soup. The term lupari is given this vegetable in the local vernacular. Beer students will see the etymological relation to lupulin, the resinous and aromatic quality of the hop which gives zest and aroma to beer. David also talks about wild hops in Italian cooking in her Italian Food.

She supported beer as an alternative to wine in cooking – and whisky to replace brandy. In Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, she gives a recipe for Sussex Stewed Steak. It’s a braise of beef which includes port and stout to form the sauce, with mushroom ketchup. In the “Omelette” book she devotes a few pages to the fondue group of dishes and approves using Guinness to make an “Anglo-French” version. She makes the telling observation here that Welsh Rabbit, originally a primitive dish of melted cheese and beer, has evolved into a quasi-fondue dish.

This is a reasonable acknowledgement of the place of beer in English foodways given that place was never very large to begin with, a topic I’ve addressed before.

She took a strictly gastronomic, non-judgmental approach here, which in the 1900s was innovative given England’s complicated culinary and sociological landscape. By this I mean English society was characterized by regional, social and class differences, and its food and drink reflected that.

David was product of an upper-middle-class family in Sussex, surnamed Gwynne. Her father was a Member of Parliament. She came to maturity before World War II and prior to writing on food had a shelter-skelter career in London, including as an actor and model, until ending in Cairo during the war with the British government. A person of that background and a woman to boot was not likely to take an interest in beer.

Beer at the time too was a male preserve. For a woman to walk into a pub alone in mid-century was often a perilous venture. David was a singleton most of her life.

But again: beer was associated with a different socio-economic level than she grew up with.

In the classic The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook (1982) the statement is made that the male Sloane will drink “any kind of beer”. That was a compliment to beer, but kind of left-handed. In contrast, wine has always had a revered status among the elite. This fostered wine appreciation, the institution and high status of the wine merchant, and wine writing. Wine writer Henry Jeffreys, who is fully capable of appreciating good beer by the way, gives a masterclass on the importance of wine in the English social matrix in his current Empire of Booze.

Today, English society including its culinary facets are more democratic, a pattern seen in all countries. Old shibboleths are rightly abandoned, at least that is the tendency even if not fully achieved.*

The task for the gastronomic adventurer, including the quester of drink, is to approach these topics as far as possible without prejudice or preconception. Elizabeth Davis did this for food in general and approached drink – never her specialty area – pretty much the same way, or as much as was reasonably possible for her gender and era of influence (1950s-1970s). She did explore the history and palate range of mead quite extensively, but mostly as a historical exercise. And she does mention cider occasionally, both to cook with and drink. On a hiking tour of the Wye Valley, she sampled local cider and found much of it “rough” or “very rough”. But she did try it…

Perhaps had she lived in our era she would have approached beer gastronomically in all its dimensions, that is with the seriousness and intrepid spirit it deserves.


*One of the ironies of the present discussion is that the leading edge of the culinary scene, excepting of course the gastro-pub, seems largely to ignore the merits of craft beer and eschews its culture and passions. This is a complex topic to which I’ll return.