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.




Dawes Black Horse Ale

The second alcohol ad of interest in the October 15, 1941 issue of the Montreal Gazette was for Dawes Black Horse Ale.

I discussed the Dawes Brewery in an earlier post. In that article, I supposed Black Horse Ale evolved from an India Pale Ale. This is surely correct, as below is an 1890 listing for “Dawes I.P. Ale” – clearly an India Pale Ale. It’s from a menu of the Windsor Hotel in Montreal.

There was no India Pale Ale in Dawes’ product line by 1941. A chilled, well-carbonated “sparkling ale” type had replaced it, that was Black Horse Ale. In my article on American Musty Ale, I cite a statement from a director of the Molson Brewery 20 years earlier that the new type of ale had supplanted the strong, long-cellared ales of English tradition.

By the time I started to drink beer in the 1970s, Black Horse Ale was long off the market although you would still see old signs for it in groceries.

Black Horse Ale was probably pretty good. It would have been top-fermented in open vats, well-hopped, and given a reasonable period of cold-aging, or maybe a combination of cold and warm aging.

No beer available today in my view gets at this older Canadian palate, the closest are Labatt 50 and Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale.

On the craft side, Sleeman Cream Ale may recall mid-1900s Canadian sparkling ale, or one form of it. Some of the craft breweries claim to make a mid-1900s Canadian ale but it is hard to know how close these are. Some remind me of bottled and canned English pale ale from the 1970s and 80s. But maybe the earlier Canadian ales were like that. In my own memory by the 1970s certainly, the eastern Canadian ale brands were fairly anodyne. They were somewhat different to the lagers of the same companies, but not that different.

Black Horse was well-marketed in its heyday including among the francophone majority. Quebec used to be proud of its adherence to the ale tradition, inherited not just from the English who dominated business after the Conquest, but the earlier, French-derived brewing tradition. All this background was top-fermented brewing, so the ales, even in modified hybrid form, remained favourites into the 1970s.

O’Keefe Ale, Molson Export Ale, Laurentide Ale, and Labatt 50 Ale were the main brands. Molson was the home favourite, made on the St. Lawrence River in an old part of the city since the late 1700s. Labatt was an incomer from Ontario but making gains. O’Keefe Ale also came from Ontario, it vaunted its seedless hops method around this time. The ad copy said the ale was less bitter as a result – the writing was on the wall for Canadian ale even in its modified, sparkling ale form.

What remained of the old ale culture was swept aside largely by lager proper. First came Labatt Blue, then Budweiser and Miller. Molson Canadian Lager never was marketed actively in Quebec, the name and image were too “national Canadian”. Budweiser was brewed in Canada but quite close to the U.S. one (and had the apple-biscuit flavour it has since lost IMO).

So tastes started to change and with the dry and ice beer phenomenon of the 80s and 90s, the beer palate became altered in a fundamental way.

Despite the rise of the small breweries, most beer sold in Quebec and eastern Canada remains the generic, adjunct lager type. Still, in beer-aware circles, India Pale Ale is le dernier cri. And it has brought back not the Dawes taste of 1941, but 1890, more or less.

But in 1941, zesty Dawes Black Horse Ale was a local favourite. The Gazette ad shows an older man drinking it, probably in deference to the fact that an important demographic for beer was in uniform.

Still, it is interesting to see an older person in an ad like this. Older people are almost completely ignored in modern beer advertising, which is a serious omission as people are living longer. The superannuated like beer no less than the bright young things. They may not pound it, but they can make money for breweries who see the opportunity.



Max Wallerstein, American Brewing Scientist

The Wallersteins, And Notes on English Brewing

I have mentioned the careers of influential early American brewing scientists Anton Schwarz, John Siebel, Max Henius, and Robert Wahl. To this group must be added Dr. Max Wallerstein who with his brother Leo ran Wallerstein Laboratories in New York from about 1900. The business continued until the 1960s as far as we can determine.

Max died at 62 in 1937, Leo in his 70s in 1957. Many scientific studies were published by their company, dealing with brewing principally and also other areas of food and beverage technology.

As it happens, the Wallersteins were yet further examples of Jews from Europe who distinguished themselves in this field in America. They were born in Fuerth, Bavaria, see this link and this one for more detail and images of Max and Leo, respectively.

Of the six important scientists mentioned, four were Jewish, Schwarz and Henius were the others. We find this of interest, simply as a social datum and because Jews were relatively rare anywhere in the brewing world of the 1800s and mid-1900s.

They did however make a mark in America in brewing science.

Just as an example of his activities, Max filed a patent before WW I for perfecting the use of calcium sulphate in brewing (Burtonization), see some details here.

He also assisted the industry on the problem of ensuring clarity for bottled beer, a preoccupation of U.S. brewers in the first part of the 1900s.

Max delivered a lengthy presentation published in the 1904-1907 Transactions of the American Brewing Institute, Vol. 3, on English brewing methods. This followed a trip to Britain to study the topic. His careful citation and summaries of technical data on brewing materials, malting, mashing, the kettle, and fermentation are well worth pondering. Gaps are filled in or confirmations provided on numerous questions of interest to brewing historians.

Just a few points here:

– porter was still using some “oak-smoked” malt, the context makes it clear this was brown malt

– anthracite, and some coke, were used to dry pale malt

–  sparging was in general use

–  hops were generally added twice during the boil, at the beginning and then within an hour before the end

–  the Burton Union system was retained partly because beer flavour was considered superior, and this was due to reduced atmospheric impact on the beer

–  sugar was in general use, it did not exceed 25% and often was held to 10% of the total extract. Stout and porter production used little of this material.

His paper in general is of interest, as apart the articles in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, there aren’t many English brewing studies available between the 1890s and the 1930s, to our knowledge.


A Taste of the Old Country in 1941 Montreal

Guinness Foreign Extra Touted in a Mobilized Canada

In October 1941, the war was accelerating on all fronts. Things looked perilous for the Russian army as hundreds of thousands of German troops encircled them. The Nazi persecution of the Jews had reached an unprecedented level of depravity, and would get much worse. Imperial Japan continued its pitiless military conquests. Pearl Harbor was a few weeks away. And much else.

The outlook was and would remain grim for years to come.

Canada had been on a war-footing for two years, and local newspapers were full of war news. At the same time, life went on. The Montreal Gazette of October 15, 1941 reflected the war but also local life as it had always been – local and church news, fashion ads, other business news and ads, political developments.

I grew up in Montreal, indeed with the Gazette as we called it tout court. The paper carries on, which I always read on my return visits there.

Many of the ads or other mentions from 1941 resonate from things I remember as a kid, e.g., Morgan’s Department Store on Ste. Catherine Street. (It is still there, now called The Bay). If I was 12 in 1962 – I was – this is only 20 years later. Lots had changed by then including the suburbanization of the city and rising French nationalism, but lots hadn’t changed.

Reading the 1941 Gazette reminds me of my youth but as an alternate version so to speak.

The actual physical stuff of 1940s Canadian war-making was still in evidence in c. 1960 Montreal. Armouries were still active and advertised for cadets. I almost signed up once. Newspapers still carried ads for surplus clothing, vehicles, and weapons. I remember the .303 Lee Enfield rifle in particular offered for sale. You could find it and much more in the numerous army surplus stores.

Of course war memories were still fresh, added to by the Korean War. My father was a 17-year-old private in the Canadian Black Watch (RHR) in 1945 and trained at Farnham, QC. A number in the family had enlisted, some fought in Europe. There were no direct persecutions from the Germans as our people came before WW I. But I remember the stories from friends. At the corner Jewish bakery, the ladies serving had blue-inked numbers on their arms.

The 1941 papers still carried beverage alcohol ads, whether this continued until VE Day I can’t say. The availability of alcohol to the populace was surely seen as a morale-booster and it was probably felt a few ads would do no harm.  The ads themselves have both a pre- and post-war feel, that is they reflect the interests of a consumer society, just as the fashion ads do. This was part of the binary mentality that always continues in any war setting. People carry on but it’s always on the backdrop of something out of kilter – at least that’s how it strikes me reading the 1941 Gazette 75 years later.

I will look at three of the ads.  The first is for Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the strong, exported version of Guinness still sold (but not in Canada, today). The beer perhaps was still being imported from a bottler in neutral Ireland. Either that or it was prewar stock, or perhaps obtained from a Guinness warehouse in New York.

A few things to note. The ad made hay of a number of Guinness attributes:

  • all-barley malt
  • no filtration (“never, never“)
  • aged for at least one year in “oak vats”
  • not pasteurized and retaining “active yeast”.

None of those selling points characterizes Guinness today, to my knowledge.

It’s interesting that the ad invites readers to ask anyone “from England” about the beer. It goes on to state that anyone in “the Old Country” knows its value. These vague references perhaps were intended to suggest Guinness was at least as British as Irish. Ireland had only been independent for some 20 years, so this was a natural connection anyway. Also, the appeal to Britannic and Irish (the ad does refer to Dublin) tastes implies the superiority of Old World production.

This was a big part of British beer’s appeal for generations in North America. The tug was strongest from the mid-1800s until perhaps the 1930s but endured until about 20 years ago. Finally the turnaround came with the success of American craft beer, especially IPA, in Britain today. It took a while though, like 200 years.

I’ll deal with the next two drinks in subsequent posts.


Guinness Stout in the Wood Barrel Days

A Taste Report on 1960s Wood Barrel Guinness

I have discussed often, e.g., here, and  here, that Guinness stout used to be a naturally-conditioned beer. This meant it was racked (transferred) to wood barrels, or bottled, with its residual live yeast. In brewing, much of the yeast which has turned the maltose into alcohol and CO2 is removed in the traditional process. Some always remained, sometimes throwing a haze unless the beer was left to stand for a while or certain clarification methods were used.

During the 1960s, the draft system more or less employed since the inception of Guinness in the 1700s was replaced in Ireland. The beer was now filtered and chilled (later pasteurized, too) and dispensed from a metal canister by a mix of CO2 and nitrogen gas. This was a technical innovation of some sophistication.

The unfiltered bottling was retained for about 20 years still, but finally this form too was eliminated. All bottled and canned Guinness has been filtered and pasteurized for decades.

Beer containing residual yeast, especially where dispensed from wood containers in which bacteria and wild yeast could lurk, is liable to deterioration in various ways. Obviously Guinness’s fame meant most pints must have been sound during its lengthy history, but the brewery wanted to promote a greater level of stability. The new system ensured this. In general, similar technological changes were occurring elsewhere in brewing.

Indeed most large plants had become “sterile” (in the technical sense), a change also meant to favour product stability and consistency. Guinness adopted this as well.

We have always wondered how Irish bar customers reacted to the new form of the beer. There must still be people in Dublin today who remember Guinness before the switch to the current system.

To me, it is interesting to glean their thoughts from a palate or “gastronomic” standpoint. In a word, did any of them notice a change in taste? Was the new form different, if so how? Today, in the wake of the craft brewing renaissance, many beer fanciers would state they prefer beer in unfiltered and unpasteurized form.

Was that the case for the beer fanciers of 1960s Dublin, or some of them?

Recently, via the kind offices of a museum in Dublin, I was put in touch with a gentleman, Edwin, who remembered the old Guinness. He stated he was just an occasional drinker of Guinness, but he did recall when the system changed over. He was in his late teens at the time. I’ll quote his own words to me:

I’m no expert. I do remember Guinness from the old days. It came in barrels as you describe or bottles. Draft from wooden barrels was very creamy and had a nice head. You would find it not cold or even warm. The bottled beer which I preferred had a malty flavour. It was served unchilled, mostly. From the fridge might have been an option, however most bars would not have been so modern as to boast a fridge. The main change with the metal casks was the beer came out cold. Soon most drinkers wanted it that way.  I would have been in my late teens when the changes were introduced. I preferred the old products, however one got used to the new.

Later, I asked Edwin if he recalled that any customers grumbled about the change. He said for a time, you could get Guinness in both forms in the city, so both tastes were satisfied, but finally the old system was phased out and people just accustomed to the new form. Although he didn’t say this, I’d guess that some who really liked the unfiltered character of the old draft switched to bottles, since bottled Guinness remained unfiltered for a considerable time as I said.

The takeaway for me is, even in the great beer-drinking country of Ireland, people just accepted over time changes in their beer.

And it was true elsewhere. In eastern Canada before WW I, ale was still a strong beer, c. 7% abv, and aged in the cellar for months, similar to its model of English stock ale including India Pale Ale.

By the 1920s, the norm in Quebec and Ontario had become cold, fizzy, medium-strength ale (5% abv). People accepted the change and there is reason to think many welcomed it.

It’s the same with milk – I can just recall that some bottled milk – it came in large, skittle-shaped bottles – had a layer of cream on top. Who remembers that now or cares?

It’s an old story though whether a brewer or any supplier of comestibles responds to or creates the public taste. The answer probably is, it’s somewhere in the middle, a complex process where each factor has more or less influence for various reasons.

For example, by the 1970s England was characterized by relative prosperity, better communications, and a more assertive public. The favoured the creation of The Campaign For Real Ale, or CAMRA. CAMRA’s lobbying ensured the preservation of English cask-conditioned beer. CAMRA also helped spark the craft/indie brewing renaissance underway for the last generation, now internationally. CAMRA was called by renowned brewing writer Michael Jackson Europe’s most successful consumer movement.

CAMRA started about a decade after Guinness implemented its new draft system in Ireland. Perhaps had Guinness waited another 10 years a campaign to save the old Guinness would have started.  But regardless of that, changes for a mass-produced product like Guinness were probably inevitable. Had an Irish CAMRA existed in 1964, at most maybe a small supply of naturally-conditioned Guinness would have been assured. That would have been valuable unto itself, though.

Edwin’s comments about temperature are interesting, and probably reflect the typical reaction of the day. Probably too in practice some pubs served the new beer warmer, or arrayed the glasses on the bar to let them settle and warm a bit. So any temperature/palate needs of a specific clientele were probably handled that way, or by people switching to the bottled form as I said.

Net-net, people took to the new Guinness.

Today, the need for a cask-conditioned Guinness is less strong. Ireland now has a few dozen small, independent breweries, spawned in the wake of CAMRA and the success of U.S. craft brewing. Numerous of them make a stout or porter in the old way.

The history took care of itself, finally.

N.B. Guinness is starting to address the demand for more distinctive – and historical – forms of its famous stout. The porter pictured, which I found in Paris recently, is a first-rate product albeit not bottle-conditioned. One hopes it will be sent to all important markets for Guinness internationally, including Ontario. It’s been out for a couple of years though, and I haven’t seen it here yet.

Note re image: the second image above shows the handling of Guinness casks on a Dublin quay in the mid-1950s. It was sourced from Pinterest, here. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user. All feedback welcomed.




A Cool Visit


Recently I passed by Cool Brewery in Etobicoke, Toronto and had a chance to chat with brewer Adrian Popowycz (pictured). The brewery has operated for two decades, in recent years at the south end of Islington road near the lake. Adrian has impressive professional brewing credentials and considerable experience in the industry.

The plant expanded since my last visit to encompass part of the parking area on the west side. The new space houses some of the 36 stainless steel cylindro-conical fermenters in the plant, the latest Chinese-made to Cool’s specs.

Cool is known for its Cool Lager, Stonewall Light and the darker Buzz, the last with a hemp addition. The first two are styled to the mass market, using some grain adjunct, while Buzz is more a craft style with light toasted malt and a racy edge.

Cool’s line is value-priced, which assists its sales as it does little marketing. It is easy to forget that most beer sold in Ontario (and Canada) offers a mainstream taste. Cool has a space in that market but in distinction to the “big names” is locally-owned and operated.

I tasted the lager on draft which on a 90 F day went down like no trouble, the flavours of clean malt, corn and German hop lingering in the mouth. The beer’s helles inspiration is obvious, except it’s lightened with the corn. This style of beer emerged in the U.S. in the last quarter of the 1800s and is still going strong for a large part of the market.

To my taste, and irrespective of price, Cool Lager is superior to most of the lager made by the international brewers. It just seems more beer-like, and fresher. The company makes a point of advertising that no preservatives or additives are used.

Does Cool ignore the burgeoning craft/indie market with its IPAs, saisons, stouts, and much more? Not at all, it makes all these and more but for contract brewers, under co-pack arrangements as it’s termed in the industry. Cool can make any kind of beer it wants, and to a high degree of proficiency. Beer fans in town tend to know where some of the contract beers are made, and Cool is one of the specialists in the co-pack field. Two or three other breweries in Ontario handle this market as well.

In the business of brewing, Cool has carved out its space. Any beer fan has to be impressed with many of the products it makes both for itself and others, but also simply its success in staying the course in a competitive, highly-regulated field.




A Carrot For Your Thoughts

In 1996, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise published a recipe for carrot cake “with a tropical twist”.

A propos the cake, famous now in North America including its muffin form, the paper wrote:

Carrot cakes have been an American favorite since the 1960s, when home cooks and restaurant chefs started combining carrots, walnuts, raisins and spices to bake a fruit-and-nut cake, smothered with a cream cheese frosting.

Many standard American cooking references state a similar time period for the origin of the cake. I recall that it became common in the 1970s, and was seen initially as a novelty. Once you ate it and it didn’t taste of carrots, everything was cool. 🙂

These cakes have also been called loaves, as the article shows, and occasionally just carrot bread, maybe because the small bread shape is often still favoured for it. It was always vaguely associated with health food although the typical carrot cake is anything but. It did become popular among the back to the land crowd, of a piece with muesli, trail mix, home-brewed beer and wine (yay), vegan eating, that general thing.

Generally the modern recipe is a blend of flour, ground carrot, sugar or honey, nuts of some kind, spices, but beyond that there are many variations including a fruit addition. If a beer carrot cake hasn’t been devised, I’d be surprised. (Anyone got one?).

In fact, carrot cake is very old: it didn’t start in the 1960s, certainly. There are recipes in American newspapers from the early 1900s, and British cooking manuals of the 1800s offer recipes although sometimes the cake is different from today’s. This 1912 recipe from California is essentially today’s standard recipe except for the addition of chocolate, which seems out of place, but maybe it worked.

One early 1800s English recipe states the cake should be eaten hot. Here we see an influence of the older tradition the cake sprung from, the carrot pudding. It may be that the English books took the idea from the Continent, see the history notes here, which suggest a French and Swiss connection.

The history is further explicated in this uncredited article from the splendid, virtual World Carrot Museum.

The European Jews always had tzimmis, a sweetened carrot pudding eaten for the High Holidays. The rather anodyne one pictured in Wikipedia is not what I remember, ours used well-minced carrot to form a smooth but substantial pudding. It had salt, white pepper – the Montreal Jewish homes I knew always used white, never black – and honey, not too much it. That was it, but some people added pieces of prune or other fruit. Dumplings sometimes went in too, just plain white ones, the kind in chicken soup from matzo meal. Sometimes pieces of beef brisket or flank meat are mixed in, or the next day if you see what I mean.

This pudding is always served hot with the main courses and has a decided carrot taste. It is quite different from carrot cake, but one can see that medieval carrot puddings, of which tzimmis is probably a descendant, morphed into the cake form known today.

The recipe shown, from the Lorraine volume (1980) of the superb regional gastronomy series of Editions S.A.E.P Ingersheim, Colmar, is styled cake (gâteau) and clearly meant to be served cold, as dessert. But it bears some resemblance to the kind of carrot pudding of which tzimmes is an example. It has no flour, just a little starch to bind, and almond, which appears in some American carrot cake as well. The kirsch addition would lend a spicy cherry note, and is an analogue to the spicy, often fruity note in American carrot cake.

The Lorraine version kind of stands mid-way between medieval and Middle Ages carrot pudding and the modern American cake.

U.S. carrot cake may derive from the Alsace-Lorraine, Swiss, or German form. Lots of families have that background in the Midwest in particular. Later, maybe to reduce the carrot taste, flour was added to arrive at the form we know today. An English origin seems less likely to me even though many classic American foods have that history. One reason is that today’s carrot cake seems not to exist in Britain before the 1800s. I doubt the Mayflower brought it over. There are desserts associated with New England which must have a provincial English origin, apple pandowdy, say, but carrot cake is probably not one.

Note re images: Images shown were extracted from the book identified in the text. They are included herein for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the publisher stated in the text. All feedback welcomed.




Chop Suey All Over Again

The Wanton Winds of Cuisine

Chop Suey is one of those lodestones of American cuisine, in the sense that, like the hot dog, or hamburger, it has mysterious origins. Long considered a bastardization of “real” Chinese food, today the picture is more nuanced.

First, the dish under the same or similar names exists in other places, mostly far-flung outposts of early China trade, reached by sea.

Jack Kerouac wrote in On The Road, “The waves are Chinese … the earth is an Indian thing”.

So you find it in east end London, in Port Darwin, in Rio de Janeiro, and in Malaya (I like the romance of the older spelling, sorry).

Recent advances in food history have confirmed pretty much that it is an authentic Chinese dish, simply from a distant southern province whence many emigrants departed, hence implantation in other places.

All details are in this impressive Wikipedia entry for chop suey. At least two books have been written on chop suey, both cited in the article mentioned, hunting its origins and contributing to its status as a dish with the cultural importance of pizza, the burger, the bagel.

We claim a modest part in tracing the origin of chop suey, having uncovered this 1902 article in the Amador Ledger in California, which states an (American) Consul to Amoy, in the Chinese province mentioned, gave his chop suey recipe to the paper.

Truth to tell, chop suey has probably slipped from the cultural food pantheon. I doubt most millennials know what it is. Today, Chinese cooking is at a high pitch in North America with every conceivable regional type presented, not to mention fusion and other novel styles. Older dishes which sound half-American and evoke the small town to boot don’t appeal as much. It’s dad’s era, if not gran-dad’s.

Still, you find it on menus around this burg without, I’m glad to say, ironic overtones. Not yet anyway.

The example shown was spotted on a walk mid-town yesterday.

Maybe now is the time to say this: I have never had chop suey. Ever. It’s not intentional, but for some reason we don’t think of ordering it when out. I think I had egg foo young, a dish with some parallels to chop suey, once. I plan to remedy this omission soon.

When researching the history of musty ale, I came across an early (1903) description of chop suey in a Chicago newspaper, the Quincy Daily Tribune. It is a detailed and interesting account, the dish is like “hot salad”, the journalist said. The same scribe said it was enhanced with a rich sauce unknown to its place of origin, but whether that is true is hard to say.

The English food scholar Elizabeth David wrote that “the girl in West End theatre programmes”, this is early post-Second War, said “I want everything Chinese tonight”. That was the kind of atmosphere developing in our big cities 50 years earlier. Chinese food was not just a single dish but an experience, eaten with numerous brother dishes and of course the tea for which China is a byword. And the atmosphere of these restaurants added allure, as the full 1903 article makes clear.

Chinese cuisine, of which chop suey was an early symbol, was jostling for attention with local foods and drinks. The Daily Herald worried there would be no more post-show tètes-à-tètes with musty ale and red lobster, it’s tea and chop suey now.

Well, not really. Musty ale did disappear without (almost) a trace after Prohibition, as its fast friend the Welsh rabbit, but this hadn’t much to do with Chinese food. They had their day.

As for red lobster, it’s as popular as ever. In fact Chinese restaurants do about the best work with it, it’s the ginger and garlic I think. Win-win you might say.

Note re image: the first image above was extracted from the news article contained in the newspaper issue linked in the text, archived by the California digital archive service stated in the link. Image is used herein for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the source belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable All feedback welcomed.


Early Craft IPA and Bert Grant

Alan at A Better Beer Blog has written some good notes on the late Bert Grant, a Scottish-born Canadian who worked at Carling in Ontario in the 1940s and 1950s. Grant later moved to Yakima Valley in Washington State, did hop research and helped pioneer the modern IPA style via his Bert Grant’s India Pale Ale first released in 1982. Grant was also noted for his Scottish Style Ale, a beer that excited comment at the time for its apparent non-Scottish character. It was darker and more malty than the India Pale Ale but fairly well-hopped.

Alan makes a good case for Canadian involvement in the worldwide fashion for IPA via Grant’s obsession with hops and his IPA.

Well-hopped beers had appeared earlier in U.S. craft brewing including from Anchor Brewery in San Francisco. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was released around the same time as Grant’s first beers, perhaps a little earlier (1980-81). There was also Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve, a mid-1970s lager from Blitz-Weinhard, an old-established regional, which had a Cascade accent quite different from regular adjunct lager of the day.

But Grant was the first craft brewer to market a bottled beer, at any rate, under the India Pale Ale label. Ballantine India Pale Ale, which has 19th century, East Coast roots, was in the market until about 1996 (and was returned again some years ago). Ballantine India Pale Ale influenced the early American craft ale brewers. Why no one thought of using the India part of the name on their label until Grant is an interesting question.

Perhaps they thought the word was too exotic and would not be understood by consumers. Perhaps some were worried about being sued by Ballantine for trade mark infringement. Today we know that India Pale Ale is an old type-description for beer but early craft brewers may not have realized that. Grant would have known it, as beers were still sold in the 1980s in Canada using the generic description India Pale Ale, e.g., by Labatt and Alexander Keith.

Alan explains that Grant was influenced by a beer he liked at Carling’s Dominion Brewery in the mid-1940s, a White Label brewed by emigrant Scottish brewmasters. It was amber and used lots of English hops.

I remember both of Grant’s beers well. His IPA was austere in flavour, very dry and very hoppy/herbal. While Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewery was in this vein, Liberty Ale was not styled IPA then. A version of Liberty Ale is now available under the IPA moniker, incidentally.

So while Liberty Ale’s importance in the history remains – indeed it had to have influenced Grant’s IPA –  it had no influence on the use of IPA or India Pale Ale as a beer description.

Todd Alström at has an excellent 1998 taste note on Grant’s India Pale Ale, which is exactly as I recall the beer. At the time, I didn’t really like it but I see now how the high attenuation was authentic to the 1800s. Beers like that were the type actually sent to India, the “tonics” spoken of then, very hoppy and dry except using English hops not American-citric ones. Grant used the very bitter Galena hop and some Cascade.The beer was a floral/grapefruit bomb as most IPAs are to this day.

As for Grant’s Scottish Style Ale, I think it is quite clear that it was really an English pale ale. It was in the vein of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Boulder Pale Ale, and other early craft ales. See e.g., the same Todd’s review here from 1998.

It is not surprising that emigrant Scottish brewers would make this type of beer because breweries in Scotland were brewing IPA since the 1800s. At times this Scottish IPA has been confused with the older, Scottish strong ale which is the type people thought of when assessing Grant’s Scottish Style Ale, e.g., c. 8% abv McEwan Scotch Ale. Ballantine Brewery’s brewmaster after 1933 was also a Scot who arrived on our shores (North America) to brew after long experience at home.

Any professional Scottish brewmaster of the mid-1900s would have been an expert at brewing pale ale.

I think Grant would have been better off calling it a pale ale, it would have been a good stablemate to the “export” or India version he rightly called India Pale Ale.

Underlying all this of course is that pale ale and India Pale Ale are really the same thing. They can be differentiated, if at all, only by their extremes. This is why Grant’s Scottish Ale was not dissimilar to Ballantine India Pale Ale, there is no “contradiction” in saying that. But in general it’s fair to say, pale ale was probably less hoppy, and richer in taste, than IPA. Beer that didn’t need to go to India didn’t need a ton of hops and could afford an ample body. The beer would be drunk before bacterial or wild yeast infection got to it.

In this loose way, one can say that Grant’s Scottish Style Ale, really a pale ale with apparent influence from a 1940s pale ale brewed in Toronto, was in the same class as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Pete’s Wicked Ale, and similar early craft U.S. ales. Whereas Grant’s resolutely pale (blondish) India Pale Ale:

  • was at the “export” end of the spectrum, as Liberty Ale earlier
  • resulted from Grant’s obsession with hops and probably history he absorbed working in breweries in Canada
  • was innovative in establishing the India Pale Ale/IPA terminology

Note re image: the image above was obtained from this label collection website. Image is used herein for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.