Whose Stone is it Anyway?

A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Beer

Legal disputations over the use of the word Stone in brewing are not new. The current imbroglio, well-publicized on social media, involves California-based craft icon Stone Brewing going after giant Miller Coors for allegedly passing off its Keystone Light for a Stone product.

We watched carefully the video in which Greg Koch of Stone laid out the case for his company. On the face it, it sounds like a reasonable argument.

We hadn’t seen Koch speak before and noted his unique style. He starts the video with a quizzical look, as if not sure he should be doing this, but then does a lengthy, well-argued presentation for Stone.

At least in our view, much of the speech has an ironic, twinkle-in-the-eye undertone, which I find hard to read. This style, plus the deft production values of the video, probably led some to think he was seeking publicity more than anything else.

Yet, the facts as he detailed them seem to constitute a decent case. No doubt Molson Coors has its arguments, and it remains to be seen how it will play out.

It may interest observers there was litigation long ago involving a Stone Ale, in the U.K. in 1891. In the county of Stafford, brewer Joule & Co., based in a town called Stone, sold its ale with a virtual monopoly. Locals asked for Stone Ale and got Joule’s, pretty much the only game in town by the evidence.

Then, a gent called Montgomery established his Montgomery’s Stone Brewery in Stone. He stated he was just using a geographic name and Joule could not monopolize it. He argued he should be able to explain to the public where his beer was brewed without being taken to trade on the goodwill of Joule.

Joule argued that Montgomery intended that his beer be sold as Stone Ale and meant to appropriate their goodwill and reputation.

So, over 100 years ago, another brewers’ fight occurred over the Stone name, in a different context.

The case went, as they say, all the way up to the House of Lords, as the senior appellate tribunal in Britain was then termed. Joule & Co. won.

The court held that Montgomery could state in an appropriate way that his brewery was in Stone but the brewery’s name implied a trading on Joule’s rights, rights which long usage had reserved at common law to them. The court upheld the wide terms of an injunction granted by the trial court and rejected Montgomery’s attempt to narrow it.

In the town of Stone, United Kingdom, in effect the word Stone was Joule’s, just as Koch argued in the video that in beer, the word Stone belongs (in the U.S., at any rate) to Stone Brewing of Escondido, CA.

You can read a contemporary summary of the judgement, see pg. 86, here.

I’ll let Lord (Baron) Macnaghten have the final word, final of course for the matter before him. The Baron had been a distinguished Anglo-Irish barrister, you can read his full career in Wikipedia, here. 

As Wikipedia notes (whence the illustration of Macnaghten above), he was noted for developing the law of charitable trusts and for his elegant, concise description of the floating charge.

To the law of charities and secured transactions, we must add, or in my estimation, his contribution to the law of passing-off and the limits of relying on a geographic name to describe one’s business:

Thirsty folk want beer, not explanations. If they get the thing they want or something like it, and get it under the old name – the name with which they are familiar – they are likely to be supremely indifferent to the character and conduct of the brewer and the equitable rights of rival traders.

Perhaps he liked an ale or porter, of occasion, the Baron.

Note re image: the image above was drawn from the Wikipedia article on Baron Macnaghten linked in the text. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Joseph Wechsberg, a Brief Appreciation

Pilsner Urquell? Fah!

That Mittel-European par excellence, Joseph Wechsberg, oddly depreciates the renowned Pilsner Urquell in this passage from one of his food essay collections.  See from pg. 91.

By claiming many Czechs disliked its intense bitter taste, he seems really to express his own opinion; but that it was shared by many Bohemians can’t be doubted, given Wechsberg’s fame as a reporter and writer. (See Chicagoan Bruce Hatton Boyer’s fine tribute, here, I posted it on Twitter today as well).

I suppose it’s always like that. Not every English male adored bitter ale in its heyday, only 90%, probably. Not every Frenchman loves wine (92%?).  Etc.

Urquell made a great export because those hops helped preserve it, but Wechsberg makes clear it wasn’t the only game in die Stadt. And Wechsberg says Czech connoisseurs deprecated all bottled beer in the old days. Probably because it was, i) more expensive, ii) pasteurized, often.

He names a passel of alternate brands many liked better: one wonders if they still exist. A pint for your thoughts.

Too bad Weschberg isn’t with us today. Everything you want we got it right here in the U.S.A. (or Canada), and Joe helped make it so with his literate, kindly, sunny meditations on wine, food, and life – a disposition at odds seemingly with the fact that part of his family was extinguished in German concentration camps.

Yet, as Bruce Boyer noted, Wechsberg chose to accentuate the positive, to look at better things, at the future not the past.

Joe Wechsberg is up there in the heavens smiling indulgently at the modern culinary scene he helped fashion in his New Yorker essays of the 1950s. The fashion for super-bitter beer might amaze him, yet he was the kind of person for whom life probably held few surprises, when you think of it.

In L.A. where he landed from Nazi fury in ’39 American culinary style was in its infancy but the ingredients were there: luxuriant fruit and veg markets, resurgent wine districts, the seafood from the west coast, and the Spanish element that soon would add élan and meld California eating to something new.

Even in glitzy loony late 30s L.A. he probably saw all the potential, even while cultivating contacts to sell film scripts and magazine essays. Soon he succeeded very well: as Boyer noted, he became a proficient stylist in his adopted country using his fourth language.

He died in his 70s but, oddly to my thinking, not in America, but in Vienna, home of the old Hapsburg world he evoked in his writing in myriad ways. The tug was too strong I guess, he had to go home.



Imperial Stout – Great Divide’s Classic Version

Having written recently of a Trappist ale and a mass-market adjunct lager, I thought I’d flip to what craft was all about: Yeti Imperial Stout, from Great Divide in Denver, one of the gestational areas for craft beer.

The brewery was founded in 1994, when the competition was much lesser than today. It still shines, due to the quality of the beers. It is still independent and operated by the founder Brian Dunn.

This is the original Yeti Imperial Stout – no barrel aging or chip treatment, and superior for it, IMO. I’ve had a barrel-aged version of Yeti, also one that used toasted oak chips to impart a barrel character. If I recall correctly there was also a Belgian yeast version, I had that too.

The “plain vanilla” (sorry!) is superior to these others IMO in that the malt character is at its purest: no bourbony, quasi-oxidized background notes. In 1995, Courage Imperial Russian Stout was still available if you looked in the U.K.

I’d guess Dunn had tasted it because his original Impy stout is rather similar, down to the estery note, often obscured in barrel-aged beers.

This is what real beer is all about, and the bruited 75 IBU blends seamlessly with the luxurious, pillowy dark malts. Early taste notes online stress an American, piney accent. This current bottling, from only Nov. 2, 2017, employs to my taste a more neutral hopping, closer again to the Courage IRS model as it was “back then” anyway.

This type of Imperial stout, or rather stout as Imperial stout is simply a very strong porter, expresses the true flavour of 19th century porter and stout.

How do I know that? Because it reminds me of the pre-craft Sinebrychoff stout of Finland, and Carnegie stout of Sweden, both classics distantly related to 1700s London porter. Ditto for a number of historical recreations of stout including the amazing Fuller Double Stout of some years ago.

Even Sinha (Lion) stout from Sri Lanka, descended from a Victorian-era stout made for British planters and traders in Ceylon, shows this richness of character. The roast is there in all these but well-integrated in the palate, it doesn’t stand on top so to speak as if disconnected from the beer. It also doesn’t come across as an Italian expresso-type taste.

And needless to say, there is no flavouring of chocolate or coffee added. Yeti’s is probably all-malt but possibly small amounts of roast grains (unmalted) are used, mashing details are not disclosed by the brewery.

The only drawback is the strength, almost 10% abv.  Well, not a drawback, but in other words it would be good to have the same taste in 5% abv say. In fact, Dunn thought of that too, he has a 5% abv nitro version in Denver, see details here.

The acrid, very dry, often Irish-style porters and stouts frequently encountered in craft brewing are IMO rather distant from 1800s porter flavour. In that time, to be sure some porter was well-aged, sometimes as part of a blend, and therefore dryish in taste; also, wood-smoked brown malt played a role in much porter then, so one can presume some porter had a pronounced burnt edge.

But I doubt the typical Irish-style stout of today, even where all-malt, resembled those: to me it descends more from the modern Guinness recipe including its use of unmalted barley. A good example from Ireland itself is O’Hara stout which you can get on draft here in some pubs. Superior to Guinness, perhaps, but I doubt it really gets at 19th porter.

Now you may say, the 1800s brewers used wood in their process including for casks, so their beer must have had a somewhat oxidized note. Yes and no, as British barrelage and vats then did not use American oak which imparts a distinctive, coconut, vanillin character.

The wood used at least in England and Scotland – the case for Ireland is not 100% clear based on the historical record – was mostly East European oak, a variety prized for its neutral effect on the beer. It could never be 100% neutral, but was quite different by all reports from the effect of American oak on the beer.

Of course some people like modern barrel-aged stout, some people like medium-strength stout of the dry acerbic style, quite a lot, it seems.

As I always say, if people like any taste in beer, that’s good, for them and the beer business. Here, I simply explain my own tastes.

Old Milwaukee Ice

The other day, in a Brewer’s Retail store in Toronto, choosing my usual mishmash of craft brands, I asked the man at the cash: what do you like to drink?

He said, Old Milwaukee Ice (OMI). I said why? He replied to this effect: in general he likes the “ice” process, it seems to make for a more concentrated taste, one he likes.

Also, he likes to drink a lot of beer, meaning that most craft beer is too rich, filling. He said five OMI is no trouble, and also, the last one tastes the same as the first. Whereas, if you drink a very hoppy or malty beer, the next ones alter the first taste, even the same brand.

He said cost too is a factor but not the only factor, as some craft beer is available at or near his price point.

He said he used to drink Molson Canadian but at a certain point didn’t like it, maybe the taste changed, or his, he doesn’t know. He went through a series of ice and other beers, and fixed on Old Milwaukee Ice. He said, what do you think of it?

I said I don’t know, I’ve never had it. So I bought a can.

I did have regular Old Milwaukee many years ago in Atlanta actually. It had a brambly kind of background taste, that I liked – not very lager-like really, but that’s how I remember it. I think it’s the only time I had it except probably for a few times in the 70s.

Perhaps when Sleeman started brewing it in Ontario I tried it, but don’t remember if I did.

Old Milwaukee was the price brand of Schlitz, with roots certainly in the 1800s, as its bigger brother. It migrated to Stroh, then Pabst with brewery consolidation. Pabst makes it and the line extensions today but Sleeman (Sapporo-owned) makes it in Ontario still.

It is actually very fair, essentially a lighter Munich Helles as one would expect from the brewery’s history (all of them concerned). Adjunct there must be although I didn’t get the “hint of corn” stated in the U.S. website, here.

It’s a good taste, with German-type hopping quite evident. A touch sweet, “creamy” as the U.S. website claims.

Would I drink it again? Not really, I prefer the craft taste. But as a beer style it is no more or less valid than lambic, Chimay, sour beers, ESB, or anything else. I can see that it is better than some other beers in its class.

I preferred it to the Black Ice I had the other day (quite decent itself).

It satisfies a market segment, evidently, which from a business standpoint is all that is needed, but on its own was not so bad at all. It would go well with food, in particular.

In Germany when the immigrant brewers came over, food was expensive and beer itself often provided the office of food. In America with relative prosperity, people could afford to eat better. Maybe the beer evolved in part to accommodate a place at table with, not in lieu of, solid comestible.



Chimay and Oranges That Come all the way From Curacao

In my previous post, I set out strong evidence that in 1969 the mash for Chimay beers, the Red and the Blue in particular, was all-barley malt, essentially.

Today, the mash is estimated at 15-20% grain adjunct-plus-sugar, the rest barley malt. That is high enough to have a lightening effect on the beer.

Many high alcohol beers in Belgium use adjunct and make the argument the beers would be too heavy without it. Although, craft brewing has made all-malt beers of similar strength for many years that are well-appreciated.

Another explanation is that wheat flour is used (not wheat starch despite what some labels say) and its gluten assists to give the beer a lasting, foamy head.

This got me thinking again about the Chimay palate; having had considerable experience with all-malt beers for decades, I often feel I can tell an all-malt beer from an adjunct or “sugar” beer, even where the beer is fermented to a high level of dryness.

So I got out a bottle of Chimay Blue. I poured one ounce at room temperature to study it.

The dominant smell and taste, the top-note, is one I find hard to describe. It isn’t really a high-temperature estery effect although Chimay is fermented at a notably high temperature by Anglo-American standards, and was in 1969 by the way.

It isn’t a malt smell, it isn’t a hop smell. It’s not a smell such as one would associate with a fruit or spice, although I think almost certainly Chimay Blue is flavoured with bitter orange peel (see further below).

I think this keynote is the distinctive house yeast, the one Father Théodore famously isolated in the late 1940s after obtaining help to improve the fermentation regimen from Jean de Clerck, a noted Belgian brewing scientist.

This smell reminds me of aromas encountered when walking through a distillery fermenting room. Also, of certain wine yeasts, Champagne in particular. It has a similarity to many Belgian beer yeasts, a point I feel contributes more to the uniformity of Belgian beer than its diversity, at least today, but that is another matter.

All other flavours in the beer are subordinate to this taste. Barley sweetness there is, some hop notes too, but this camphor, almost sage-like yeast note is dominant. It’s not a single-note but the influence is strong.

What else is there? Many reviews and commentaries speak of stone fruit, or apple. I think I do taste that. What is it from? Many think the warmish, top-fermentation used at Scourmont creates it, the esters.

It appears in fact Chimay Blue, and Red, are flavoured with bitter orange peel, probably the Curacao orange. An orange in Curacao, descended from the Spanish Seville type, provides flavouring for the famous liqueur of the same name.

Some Belgian beers use it, La Binchoise Blonde Tradition in the Hainaut is one – Hainaut is the same province in which Chimay is located.

Consider the language on this site, VenteVin.com, a high-end French retailer of groceries and wines, spirits, and beers, viz. Chimay Blue:

Notre recette reste inchangée depuis sa création par le Père Théodore et nous souhaitons être transparents quant aux ingrédients qui composent nos bières. Nous les indiquons clairement sur nos étiquettes. Eau, malt d’orge, sucre, amidon de blé, houblon, levure et écorce d’orange amère.

It refers to “our recipe” (so clearly, the brewery is speaking) and that the ingredients are stated on the label – for France clearly this is so. Further, the ingredients are listed as water, barley malt, sugar, wheat starch, hops, yeast, and écorce d’orange amère, which means, bitter orange peel.

On the same website, the description reads the same for Chimay Red. It doesn’t read the same for Chimay White Label (the Tripel), also on the website, so I don’t think the brewery devised one description that might apply to all beers of its range even though not all ingredients applied to each.

Chimay Gold, the lower abv beer of Chimay and not mentioned on the VenteVin site, is known to be spiced with coriander and Curacao (the orange peel, presumably). If the brewery supplied one comprehensive ingredient description for its French retailers, one would think coriander would be mentioned too, but it is not.

Also, my understanding is the Gold is all-malt except for the two flavourings noted – no wheat starch or flour, at any rate. See discussion on Chimay’s website, here. So, wheat starch, mentioned in the ingredient list for the Blue and Red, would not apply to it.

Philippe Mercier’s 1969 article on Trappist beer composition, which took in Chimay and two other Trappist breweries, does not mention orange peel or any other flavouring. However, Mercier does state that the Trappist brewers each have their secret methods and not all are disclosed to those who inquire.

It is well possible that orange peel has been used in Chimay Blue and Red from the beginning. Why would it be disclosed now to French retailers? I don’t know.

Is there any other evidence that orange is added to these beers? There is. Read the full account here, from the late John White who visited the brewery in 2003 with Roger Protz.

White states that Jef van den Steen visited the brewery and was told by then-brewer Father Omer that the Red and Blue contain Curaçao. Father Omer was not present when White and Protz visited. Yet, White was told otherwise when he visited.

Again, I think it is likely the brewery does not maintain a consistent narrative to all comers out of a justifiable concern to keep confidential certain matters viewed as trade secrets.

Tasting Chimay Blue today, I can’t say I detect an orange note but the palate, under the yeast smack mentioned, is quite well-integrated. It may be there, it is hard to tell. Orange peel isn’t listed on any French Chimay label to my knowledge, but that could mean simply this isn’t required by French/EU labelling laws.

I must say for a 9% beer, even a relatively dry one as the Blue is, the body is quite light: this is probably the effect of the wheat starch/flour. There seems a slight flatness in the finish, characteristic in my experience of an adjunct mash, but I can’t really tell. The adjunct is used well here, put it that way.

One final possibility: perhaps the exotic bitter peel was added after 1969, when grain adjunct was first adopted and perhaps more sugar in the kettle used than the 1-2% Mercier reported in 1969. Maybe this was done to “make up” for the reduced barley malt.

I incline though that if there, as appears the case, it was there from day one.


Chimay: All-Malt or Virtually in 1969

New Information on Trappist Brewing and Mashing in 1969

In 1969, Philippe Mercier, an employee of Rapidase in France, authored an article (not available online), Trappist Beer Production in the Monastery. It was published in Wallerstein Laboratory Communications, a technical publication of Wallerstein Laboratories, an American consultancy.

I previously gave some history on Wallerstein, a firm which serviced the fermentation and food technology sectors. See here. Two brothers started the business in about 1900 in New York. Some time in the 1950s or 60s they were acquired by another company. The house journal continued at least to 1969, clearly.

The Mercier article, running some seven pages, is of significant historical value. It has never been previously cited in a consumer beer publication, to my knowledge. It is a valuable aid to understanding Trappist brewing before beer sage Michael Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer (1977), which first drew international attention to modern Trappist brewing.

The article starts by sketching Trappist brewing history in a way not unworthy of Jackson himself. It next outlines brewing equipment and processes, maturation, and marketing (sample: “there has been no advertising and the beer is not widely known”). Fairly detailed analytical data is presented, some quite sophisticated, e.g., gas chromatographic data on bottle head space at different years’ aging.

A number of tables report technical data for three breweries, identified as Brewery A, Brewery B, and Brewery C. It covers things like IBU (a bitterness measurement), and colour on the SRM and EBC scales.

From my analysis the breweries are clearly Chimay, Rochefort, and Westmalle, indeed respectively. One reason is that an acknowledgement:

… thanks the directors of the breweries of R.P. Trappistes de Chimay, Rochefort and Westmalle for their help and for the data necessary for preparation of this paper.

Photographs are included with a legend referring to the brewery, for example, the exterior of Westmalle is shown, and a goblet of its beer.

Under “brewing process”, Mercier addresses the mash for Trappist beer:

There are a number of characteristic features in the brewing of Trappist beer. The grist is usually composed of about 95% amber malt representing an equal mixture of two varieties, both two-rowed, and the monasteries use whatever malt is available. In some cases they grow their own barley and malt it, but in most cases the monks rely on commercial maltsters.

Typical malt analyses are shown in Table 1. A high nitrogen content is preferred as this is associated with high diastatic power. To obtain the characteristic dark hue desired, two varieties of amber malt are used, one considerably darker than the other, together with up to 5% caramel or roast malt. In some cases, a very small amount of glucose syrup may replace some of the caramel malt, usually not more than 1 or 2%. …. When glucose syrup is used it is customarily added at the wort boiling stage.

This tells us the three breweries were essentially all-malt in 1969, with a grist of two forms of “amber malt”, up to 5% black malt or caramel malt, and up to 2% glucose. The glucose was probably used to adjust original gravity to the required level, as needed.

About 20 years ago there occurred a lively discussion in beer circles on the purpose and origins of the “wheat flour” or “wheat starch” used in Chimay’s mashing system.

This followed in the wake of Chimay’s labels being changed around 1997 to state that both “starch” and sugar were ingredients together with barley malt. Today, Chimay’s labels refer to “barley” and perhaps also “wheat” but to my knowledge not starch except, one presumes, where a law may require it. The current website of Chimay refers to “ground barley” and other “ingredients”, not starch but a previous version of the website did refer to starch.

So, in the late-1990s beer writers started asking questions about the starch. Many had assumed the beers were all-malt except for possible use of some sugar, a longstanding practice of many Belgian breweries.

A good summary of the controversy and the brewery’s reaction are set out in a 2005 article by U.K. beer writer Roger Protz, “The Beers of Chimay, Plus Ça Change“, which you can read on his website here.

Michael Jackson’s landmark 1977 book did not discuss the mash composition of Trappist beer although mash information was frequently discussed for other nations’ beers, especially where cereal adjunct (a barley malt substitute and generally cheaper to employ) was used.

Wheat flour and wheat starch are both malt adjuncts. The first contains gluten (a protein), the second for practical brewing purposes does not, to my knowledge. Either way, with up to 2% glucose used in the boil stage, it appears that for about 20 years or more, but starting some time after Mercier’s article appeared in 1969, Chimay has used 15-20% non-malt in the Red and Blue labels.

Protz’ article refers to another, contemporary article in a CAMRA magazine that suggested a process change had occurred at Chimay in 1969. I have not been able to find a copy. It seems the fathers were not pressed by CAMRA on what this change was. Perhaps the matter even then seemed too removed in time, or was assumed not to relate to mash composition.

But given the Mercier article, I think it is plausible that wheat flour/wheat starch was first used at Chimay in 1969, 1970, or some time after that but before Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer in 1977.

I’m wondering now if perhaps Jackson knew in 1977 that cereal adjunct was used but chose not to mention it. On the other hand, if Mercier’s description of the mash was still applicable in 1977, then the adoption of grain adjunct use had to occur later.

Mercier himself does not mention any use, even occasional, of grain adjunct. To be sure he writes, “The grist is usually composed…” (my emphasis). Perhaps Chimay’s practice varied occasionally, or that of Westmalle or Rochefort, even before 1969 that is, to include cereal adjunct, but I think this unlikely.

Mercier states in the article that he worked for Rapidase. Based on my further research, Rapidase in the 1960s was based in Seclin, France in the north. It manufactured industrial enzyme made from plant and other natural sources. The product line still exists, owned today by a different company.

American-based Wallerstein had patented various enzyme products that Rapidase was commercializing in France and Belgium. European two-row barley sometimes then did not produce sufficient diastase to convert adjunct-derived starches to fermentable sugar; enter Wallerstein’s enzymes, among other products available in the market.

It seems reasonable Mercier was marketing Rapidase – think “rapid-diastase” – to breweries for use with adjunct mashes. Probably Mercier became intrigued with Trappist brewing traditions in general and decided to memorialize their contemporary practice in this article.

Whether any palate change, or a significant one, occurred in Chimay beer between 1969 and today, and for Westmalle or Rochefort, I can’t say. The situation is complicated by the fact that in the 1990s Chimay changed its fermentation equipment.

Some observers, including Michael Jackson in his later pocket guides, speculated the yeast adapted differently in the new, cylindro-conical vessels and the taste became altered for that reason. Perhaps adjunct brewing was first used when the new fermenters were installed although I incline that its use started earlier.

Certainly Chimay’s and the other Trappist beers remain legends in the brewing world. The beers are certainly distinctive in taste and in general, “Trappist” still denotes a style, a general approach to brewing shown by a similar yeast signature, bottle-conditioning, top-fermentation, and an emphasis on strong beers.

No brewery stays the same in terms of process, and one should not consider the Trappists any different. Still, it is significant that in 1969, Chimay, Rochefort, and Westmalle were brewing from all-malt, or virtually so as 1-2% glucose could have no practical effect on the sensory result. It seems clear their recipes have not remained static with regard to mashing procedure, at any rate.

For now, Philippe Mercier should have the last word:

A particularly striking feature of Trappist breweries is the curious mixture of the industrial and the religious. One is in an up-to-date brewery and at the same time in the serene and timeless atmosphere of the monastery. … One Trappist brewery has a conveyor belt for handling wooden cases, the modern apparatus contrasting sharply with a very old building where the original beams still support a slate roof. …. All the equipment reflects the wish to adopt any means of producing a beer with all the qualities indispensable in our modern age but at the same time maintaining its traditional organoleptic properties.

N.B. See also my next blogpost, here, on the plausible use of orange peel in some of Chimay’s current range. I make further observations there that bring in Mercier’s article again.

Retro Beer and Sausage Dinner at Maple Leaf Restaurant, Feb. 21, 2018

I’m pleased to announce that the Maple Leaf Tavern Restaurant in Toronto, one of Toronto’s top dining destinations east of Yonge Street, will be giving a six-course Retro Beer and Gourmet Sausage Dinner on Wednesday, February 21. See recreated food menu below.

The dinner is patterned on and intended as homage to a 1973 beer and food event held by the Wine and Food Society of New York at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Beers will be the same as or similar to those served at the original event. Earlier, I described the event in this post, where you can see the full original menu.

This will be a window on the immediate pre-craft scene and feature numerous imports still popular or other beers similar in taste that match with the food.

I have previously written, and presented, on numerous aspects of beer and other tastings held by the International Wine and Food Society. Their early tastings are not just of significant historical interest but offer some great eating and drinking!

The event will be an opportunity to appreciate how beer and food were paired by a noted gastronomic society in the pre-craft era. Actually, they had it pretty good!

Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News, Canada’s premier resource for beer and brewing industry news and events, will make initial remarks. I will follow him to explain the concept behind the dinner and some fascinating history behind these early tastings.

Following the original concept, the meal is sausage-focused, an opportunity to taste rare European specialties prepared by expert chef Jesse Vallins.

Seating begins at 6:30 p.m. with dinner service starting at 7:00 p.m. The dinner and pairing is priced at $140.00 per guest (includes tax and gratuities). Seats are limited. Tickets can be purchased at Maple Leaf Tavern or by calling 416-465-0955.

Greg will bring a music playlist from the era to lock in the atmosphere of ’73! Don’t miss it if you can attend.



Bespoke Crisps

Joe Tindall at the Fatal Glass of Beer has a good piece on the enduring nature of the potato chips (crisps in the U.K.) pairing with beer, almost non-identical twins you might say in the pub.

What Joe writes is largely applicable in North America, except french fries largely performs the role mentioned for crisps in pubs and restaurants. Chips (their crisps) work similarly with beer but it’s something more for home, or parties and receptions, that kind of thing.

Perhaps the richest ales, and milk or Imperial stouts, don’t suit either, but then you don’t see these much in pubs anyway. And people still drink them with french fries and chips, all the time actually!

It’s at the point where a New York bar owner, changing his menu to include the chips previously omitted on a hipster menu, told me, “in this business you must offer french fries, you just must”.

Perhaps not literally so in all cases, but in general he’s right.

In regard to suitability with craft beer, it’s interesting that (British) crisps have their own history of diversity. The Brits are famous, here anyway, for the unusual, or rather wide, variety of flavours in this comestible.

This Metro story by Yvette Caster lists and ranks 20 of these, everything from ham-and-cheese to Thai chili. And what a market: a billion pounds plus are spent annually for crisps, see this recent study. Some six billion packets are consumed in the year, based on another source.

The range of flavours is almost comparable, numerically and in exoticism, to that of craft beer itself, so Walkers’ offering crisps to match especially well with beer makes sense.

It is as if our big national brewers 30 years ago had brought out the full range of craft beers you see today, given that is Walkers’ dominance in the market.

Of course there are some smaller independents now, Burt’s, Tyrrell’s, Corker’s are some. We get some of the brands at the “British shops” that survive in Toronto. You see them alongside the Yorkshire tea, peat-coloured marmalade, and moss green horehound candy.

Walkers’ relatively restrained range thus is completed by a palette of other flavours from competitors big and small.

Indie crisps. Makes sense.

Crisps even has its own historical dimension. Has a crisps historian written a book, or PhD?

Most of those concerned to some degree with food in North America know the story that crisps/chips emerged in 19th century Saratoga, NY. A Vanderbilt was dissatisfied with a chef’s overly thick fried potatoes. The kitchen maestro sent over a derisively thin-cooked, salted version, and ended by creating a classic: the magnate loved it.

See a summary here, in this Guardian Weekly story by Jon Henley some years ago, “Crisps: a Very British Habit”. Henley commendably looks further and offers enticing hints that the dish may be of ultimate English, or at least French, origin. (Henley’s excellent piece shows that food studies, now usefully ensconced in the academy, will always have a place outside it, where it started).

Whatever the origins, the British have annexed themselves to crisps in a surely unassailable fashion. Or, as we might, say, they own it. This phraseology is not inapt, after all Walkers’ has borrowed our cant in its pitch line, “Max Strong has you covered”.

The British will end by talking like Midwesterners and we, like a mix of Noel Gallagher and Virginia Woolf, maybe.


French Travels With Michael Jackson

In my post yesterday, I referred briefly to having visited the Jenlain brewery in the town of that name in northern France with the late beer guru, Michael Jackson.

We spent five days on the road together, visiting small breweries in the region that had been the heartland of top-fermentation before the 1930s. Many still exist, e.g., Jenlain, St. Sylvestre, La Choulette, Ch’ti (Castelain), Lepers, Au Baron, Theillier (Bavay).

My job was to drive us to the appointed destinations, following an itinerary organized by a local beer promotion group. I helped a bit with French for Michael, but it turned out he was fairly proficient himself – one of his many multiform talents.

Newer breweries have come along since, encouraged by the world-wide interest in beer, so that there are some 40 in the region now. It’s down from over 2000 in 1900, but not so bad, considering.

In 1992 when the tourney occurred, there were just under 20 breweries including two or three large regional plants, some of which are now closed, e.g. Terken in Roubaix which had a unique, cooperative form of ownership. It lasted until 2005.

Pelforth in Lille continues, but even then was owned by Heineken.

Michael Jackson wrote up the trip, it was published in the Independent in London. You can read it here, reprinted on his website which is still maintained some 10 years after his death. Note he refers to the special, top-fermentation version of Jenlain, which I mentioned yesterday as well. I only found his 1992 article this morning, so my memory was good.

While he terms the account “Part 2” of a French safari, there was no Part 1 in the north. He met us at the Lille train station mentioned in the article, having taken the Chunnel train from London. Part 1 to my best recollection was a description of an earlier visit he made to Paris.

Jackson was, as many have testified, a very interesting person: highly intelligent, curious, hard-working, widely-read, ambitious. He was a good listener as all good journalists are. We talked about politics quite a bit and he combined an enormous respect for British history and capitalist endeavour with a decided social-democratic bent.

He was skeptical of Margaret Thatcher, whereas I was a booster, so it made for some interesting conversations over the beers.

We talked too about his (paternal) Jewish roots. Had he lived longer I think he would have explored this more; in his later writings he often adverted briefly to it, usually in the form of a joke or sentimental reflection.

I also have a clear recollection that he was well-aware of the new generation of beer writers coming up. He told me you always have to watch your guard, you have to get better and better at what you do to make sure no one catches up (not verbatim, but that was the gist).

As things turned out, he had nothing to worry about, for that matter even being absent from the scene for 10 years. In the areas he covered, he was and remains matchless. Good work has been done by not a few certainly, but in areas he never went far into. The historical field is the prime example; aspects of brewing materials and techniques, another.

Michael’s field par excellence was the sensory description of beer, as well as relating beer types to various forms of history (social, political, military) and other aspects of culture. In a word he created numerous beer styles – that is, as we think of them today (Trappist beer, Imperial stout, Vienna beer, etc.). They are all rooted in the warp and weft of modern beer culture.

Let’s give Michael the last word, about the part of our visit to Theillier in Bavay, which I remember just as he describes it:

I … head[ed] eastward for the most unusual brewery and bière de garde. In the Roman town of Bavay, in a 1670 house, the Thellier family have been brewing for as long as anyone can remember.

Amand Thellier is the brewer now, helped by his wife. They brew three times a month and there are no staff. The Thellier’s home and brewery are in the same building, and the cellars appear to have been left by the Romans.

Monsieur Thellier claims that he uses no dark malts, but the beer has a tawny colour to go with its fresh, malty aroma and its rich sweetness. He declines to elaborate upon his method.

If he really does not use dark malts, then perhaps he colours and thickens the beer by having such a vigorous boil that he caramelises and condenses the wort. If he does, a great deal goes up in steam. His product is hard to find, of course, but if you see La Bavaisienne (1068-70 [OG]), buy a bottle immediately.*

Note re image: the image above was sourced from this French retailer’s site. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*R.E. Evans, in his 1905 article I discussed in the previous post, mentioned the very long boils of some northern French brewers.


Around the Dial with bière de garde

Are you listening?
Are you listening to me?
Can you hear me?
Can you hear me clearly?
Around the dial.

I’ve been around the dial so many times,
But you’re not there….
Somebody tells me that you’ve been taken off the air.

– From “Around the Dial”, Raymond Douglas Davies, 1981.

In 1905, a brewery expert named R.E. Evans visited French top-fermentation breweries and his report was published in a brewing journal after presentation to colleagues in Birmingham.

The report is clearly written, and good data can be drawn from it. In six northern departments, Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Somme, Aisne, Ardenne, Oise, there were 2,300 breweries, mostly top-fermenting.

In the remainder of the country, 400 breweries operated, all bottom-fermenting. The latter produced about one-third of the beer in the country; the northern group, the rest.

In time this picture would be reversed and then some, in that almost all beer in the country by the 1960s was bottom-fermentation, whether in the north or elsewhere.

But 1905 is still a time when top-fermentation was important.

This article is one of the earliest I know* to refer to the French bière de garde, a style that was revived in the 1960s first by Brasserie Duyck at Jenlain, later by Castelain (Jade, Ch’ti), St. Sylvestre (Les Trois Monts), and La Choulette, established late-1970s by the Dhaussy family but on the roots of an earlier brewery.

It is made clear that this beer type was generalized in Lille, by which one can infer the environs extending along the frontier with Belgium.

The beer was meant to acquire an acid and vinous note with keeping, see page 235. This links it to Flemish red ale and some other Belgian ales that typically have a sourish edge.

There is also an analogy to long-stored porter, and like porter, an emulation of the garde was sometimes made by blending new beer with “returns” – new beer gone sour and returned to the brewery for credit.

When bière de garde came back in the 1960s, the sourness was left out. Indeed, much of the revival ended as bottom-fermented. I recall when visiting Jenlain in 1992 with Michael Jackson that Jenlain was bottom-fermented. We were given a taste of an experimental top-fermented version, and its pleasant fruity nose and extra quality seemed to mark it off from the production beer.

(When we divided up the beers gifted by the breweries from the Volvo’s trunk at the end of the trip, Jackson took that one! I’d have been disappointed with anything less).

Still, Jenlain is a satisfying beer as I confirmed the other day trying the draft at the old-school Au Trappiste in Paris. (A planned excursion to Lille fell through, unfortunately). The other gardes mentioned, both from past and more recent sampling, are also very good. They make a welcome change from the lager uniformity of most French bars.

The Jenlain had a clean, lightly caramelized malt sweetness, a touch of fruit, and a chalky yeast background. The taste was not heavy-handed as much Belgian saison can exhibit, and had good drinkability.

I am not sure if the beer is all-malt, but the taste was good in any event. It is no surprise Jenlain has done so well in this specialist category.

The restored garde tradition is reflected partly by the bottling style, often using a Champagne-style container, by top-fermentation or bottle-conditioning in some cases (e.g., La Choulette), or by using malts or hops sourced in northern France.

Frequently too a garde is darker in hue than standard lager. In the heyday of French ales the colour varied but very dark brown and black versions seem a modern touch. They follow on bières brune and local porters in turn inspired by well-liked scotch ales and barley wines imported from Britain in the interwar period.

I saw gardes from a number of long-established breweries on shelves in Paris, but cannot recall even one from a craft brewery.

The gardes seem minor today in the artisan scene, eclipsed by the plethora of “international” craft products produced by 1000+ craft breweries in France. Of course too the old regionals often produce their version of IPA, wheat beer, Kolsch, etc.

It is always so, a new wave comes along, the old wave, potent in its day, recedes.

At a Frog Revolution in Paris – the newer generation of bar established by the English-style Frog group founded in the 1990s – I suggested the house produce a garde. The enthusiastic barman listened with interest, and perhaps a garde will issue one day from the group’s brewery on Paris’ outskirts.

Given how sour beers are back in style, it is a perfect opportunity to revive bière de garde as it was c. 1900.

But, apart a few pathbreaking revivalists in the north, do they remember in France what the garde really was…?

And of those who remember, are any gardes issued as described by R.E. Evans, with the storage qualities noted and using the Lille thick-mashing method?

For that matter, any Canadian or other brewer reading can easily make his or her own. Débrouillez-vous avec ça!

Note re first image: the first image above was sourced from the La Choulette brewery website, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*I.e., in English brewing literature.