PR, Profit, and Porter

Yesterday, I posted notes on annual reports of National Breweries Ltd. in Quebec province in the late 1940s. I mentioned that National, a public-traded grouping of the major breweries in Quebec outside of Molson Brewery, purchased Champlain Brewery in Quebec City in 1948.

The 1948 report states this of the purchase:

The company’s 1940s reports are stored in McGill University’s business digital archive. Most are in English but the 1948 report is in French. The reports were issued in both languages but appear in the archive just in one or the other.

The last paragraph states that as a result of the purchase Champlain will have greater marketing opportunities (i.e., via National’s sizeable advertising budget and staff) and “a much larger distribution network that will enable the four corners of Quebec province to purchase Champlain ale and porter”.

Champlain made India Pale Ale and porter. National already made similar ale via its Dawes, Dow, and Boswell units, and porter too via Dawes and Dow (stout) again.

Was National sincere to keep the product lines of Champlain going? It apparently did so until 1952 when E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries Ltd. took over National.

Did National fail to realize efficiencies that Taylor was more pitiless to exact from his new purchase? It’s hard to say. Either way, the bland, reassuring words of the 1948 report echo today’s press releases that accompany big brewery buy-outs of craft breweries.

Business does not, in the essentials, change over time, the brewing business no less. Even porter, proudly advertised in National’s glowing colour plates, is back.

Here, National wanted to convince the Quebec City shareholders and Champlain customers that a local hero was better off in National’s fold – even though National had an existing brewery, Boswell, in the city.

Whether 2018, 1948, or 1878, buying out a competitor is as old as the hills, so is the way to explain it to people.

My sense of it is National would have made the same decisions ultimately as E.P. Taylor: shut surplus production capacity and trim staff. Unless, that is, a major turn-around in profitability and industry prospects occurred soon.

Clearly, National was in trouble by the early 1950s. Why is hard to say without an in-depth study of the structure of the Quebec brewing industry at that time. But even a cursory glance at the annual reports shows the huge spike in taxes the industry had to cope with since 1940. It was to help pay the war cost, and must have wrought a toll that kept management up at nights.

In the event, Ontario-based Taylor appeared at the right time, offering as he did a convenient and less risky alternative to an in-house reorganization.

It came at a price, as such deals always do. The still-surviving (1952), separate identities of Dawes Black Horse, Boswell, and Champlain disappeared before long, the first two with roots in the first half of the 19th century. Dow was selected as the Quebec champion for Taylor, the other brands withered although Champlain Porter continued as a minor item in inventory.

The main Champlain structure in Quebec City still exists today, as offices. Canadian Breweries Ltd. after many peregrinations was absorbed into Molson Breweries in 1989.

Molson is run to this day by canny descendants of Lincolnshire-born John Molson. They kept the brewery out of the 1909 merger that created National Breweries Ltd. A bruited 1944 marriage of Molson and National, see Allen Sneath’s book I cited yesterday, came to nought as well. In retrospect, probably good moves.

So finally Molson got it all. In time it made its own compromises: the deal with Colorado’s Coors about 10 years ago. Still, Molson survives as a substantial Canadian and Canadian-managed business. Pas si pire.

I had the porter the other day (pictured) made at its Batch brewpub in Toronto. Not strongly-flavoured but an authentic, mild porter. And, I’m not making this up: it reminded me of Molson Porter, marketed by the company into the 1980s and always the best of the surviving Canadian porters in that period.

Michael Jackson wrote in the 1986 edition of The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer:

Among the Big Three, Molson has the best Porter***, from its brewery in Barrie, Ontario.

The Barrie facility is long-closed, but Molson’s Batch brewpub brews up a porter. Did the brewers have a peek at the old family recipe? I wonder.

If they didn’t, they might have! The 19th-century recipe, preferably, but even 1948’s would be interesting. It would give a clue as well to what the competition was like then, images of which I showed yesterday.


Craft Beer Community: Real or Illusory?

Martyn Cornell and Boak and Bailey have had a go at this question.

In my view, there is a community of the beer palate, understanding and caring about it in-depth. To use an unfashionable term, it’s a gastronomic interest, that much but not more.

Lots of people like beer but have nowhere near this degree of interest and commitment. I like coffee but the borders of the interest are close to the cup. I can see how some people want to investigate it much further, but I am not one.

I do have the beer bug though and share it with many others. It’s a sub-culture. I’ve participated in it for 40 years and I know it’s real.

We don’t have to like the same kinds of beer, we don’t have to like each other (always), but the community is no less real for that.

This unites me to a broad range of people, from CAMRA volunteers to bar owners, bloggers/writers, brewers, many brewery owners. The instant rapport when we meet or chat cannot be explained otherwise.

Not everyone in commercial brewing cares about beer in this way. For some, it’s more an avocation, or perhaps something temporary, or a good business opportunity. Even in small-scale brewing you find that but it’s the exception, not the rule in my experience.

It follows that nothing is owed by craft brewers in the sense of solidarity beyond the circle as I’ve defined it, say, with those who oppose takeovers/investments in small brewers by international groups or venture capital. At best that’s in the penumbra of the true beer community.*

But the beer community is not illusory for the ground it validly covers.


*H.L.A. Hart’s thinking in legal jurisprudence helps clarify the issue for me, perhaps for others. See this summary by John Gardner in 1988, from the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies.


Quebec Ale and Porter: the Heyday

The images below are from stunning colour plates in the 1948 annual report of National Breweries Ltd., a group of six breweries with headquarters in Montreal.

The 1909 merger combined (mainly) the Boswell, Dow, Dawes Black Horse, and Ekers breweries, to which the Frontenac and Champlain breweries were added in later years.

The group was publicly traded but senior management still derived from the main components of the merger, the Dawes, Boswell, and Ekers names recur in the documents.

In 1952 E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries Ltd. scooped up the group and considerably trimmed production facilities and product lines.* Taylor started off in Ottawa with Brading, a brewery founded by his gran-dad and whose ale was still available in the late 1960s in Ontario and Quebec.

Here are the star beers of National in the late 1940s, a time seemingly indomitable for the business but only too evanescent as history showed.

All the beers except the one lager from Frontenac are ale and porter, styles handed down by the early Canadian brewers who worked in the British way. In many cases the founders were immigrants from the U.K. or Ireland.

Certainly the beers had evolved by the late 1940s, but there is reason to think they preserved many features of their ancestry.

The 1948 and 1947 reports are luxurious in presentation and design. The 1949 report is rather slimmed down, probably reflecting increasing financial travail that led finally to takeover by raider Taylor. I didn’t look at the balance sheets but they are there to analyze…

The reports show how sophisticated Canadian business was by then. The tone is pitched perfectly between business needs and “PR”. “Drinking local” is nothing new as the reports explain proudly that Canadian barley was used and a good deal of the hops were grown in British Columbia.

Then, as now, brewers made hay of all the taxes they paid. Then, as now, brewers lauded the benefits of taking over the small guys. One report states smoothly that the recent acquisition of Champlain Brewery improved its distribution and henceforth the beers would be available in all parts of Quebec. Sound familiar?

The brewers also lauded their employee benefits and public service record, which in truth was impressive especially the war effort but it went beyond that.

One difference from today is the subtle deprecation of historical brewing techniques. You see it continually through the reports, for example comparing aging in the 1700s in dank-looking cellars to modern halls of tall (albeit wood-built) tuns.

Today, the public mind has reverted to favouring old-fashioned ways, to non-“processed” as best. In the 1940s businesses took pride in being ultra-modern with the implication their products were better, and safer, than ever.

Whether that is true or not for the line-up of beers shown is hard to say, but I would note the ales and porter at any rate seem to have been all-malt. The reports make no reference to brewers’ grains apart from malt.

I’ve discussed earlier that 1930s American brewing processes, while typically using malt adjunct, displayed high hop rates and high attenuation compared to today’s commercial norm. If that is so and the Canadian ales were still all-malt – in fact I know Boswell’s was, I documented it earlier – one can imagine that the beers had even more character.

Indeed, this was an era in which Canadian beers had the reputation of being better than American, not just in Canada. National’s beers of the 1940s may well have approached our modern craft beers in taste.

The picture above of Champlain Brewery’s India Pale Ale is noteworthy. The porter of this brewery is well-remembered by beer historians but the IPA is rarely or never mentioned. Here you see it in its glory.

The Champlain facility (in Quebec City) was closed in 1956 and the IPA disappeared. The porter was made into the 1990s at least, by Molson Breweries which absorbed Carling O’Keefe in 1989, successor to National Breweries. The porter had a sweet, liquorice taste.

Note re images: The images above were sourced from the National Breweries Ltd. Annual Report linked in the text, part of McGill University’s digital business library. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images are included for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See Allen Sneath’s summary in his 2001 Canadian brewing history, Brewed in Canada, here.

**Some B.C. hop culture history can be gleaned from the online museum exhibition, Brewers Gold, of Chilliwack Museum in Chilliwack, B.C.



Taverns and Beer in Working Class Montreal,1963

In 1963 the City of Montreal took dozens of black-and-white images of a quarter known colloquially as Faubourg à M’lasse, to store in archives. The odd-sounding name comes from the fact that nearby docks unloaded barrels of molasses in the 1800s. The odour, as well as the sight of urchins licking the droppings from the tuns, gave the quarter its name.

The pictures were taken to memorialize the buildings, businesses, and daily life of the heart of the area, soon to disappear under urban renewal. The national broadcaster Radio-Canada decided with the city to build its headquarters there. Where its office tower now stands, including the parking areas, the people of the Faubourg once lived and worked.

The lands were expropriated under Crown authority, and the people were moved to new dwellings elsewhere.

You can see the photos here on two pages of Flickr uploaded by the City of Montreal. In total they make a melancholy and pensive statement, one with greater impact if you know Montreal but I think compelling for anyone interested in urban life or French Canada.

Parts of the Faubourg, in the broader radius, survive especially north of the arterial Ste. Catherine Street but the core was razed. This is where the oldest buildings stood, the small shops and manufacturing plants, workshops, garages, and the like.

The Faubourg was one of the poorest areas in the city and almost exclusively French-Canadian. It symbolized for many the inferior status of the Québecois in what they viewed as their homeland (80% or more of Quebec Province has always been francophone).

However, in recent years a more complex memory has emerged, one that recognizes the spirit of the inhabitants and pride they took in their community with a knowledge that conditions had to change.

The images really are a kind of visual form of the famous English social research project, Mass Observation.

About a dozen pictures are of taverns or grocery stores selling beer. These contain great detail for the beer historian. From them alone you can tell the domestic beers available in the city then: Dow Ale, Dow Kingsbeer (lager), Dow Champlain Porter, Molson Ale, Molson Laurentide Ale, Molson Canadian (lager), Molson Porter, Labatt 50, O’Keefe Ale, and Carling Black Label (lager).

These were the same beers still popular in the mid-1970s when my memory starts for this aspect of Montreal life, except that porter had almost (not quite) disappeared. Dow ale had declined a lot due to the additives scandal c.1965 but was still sold in the 70s, indeed to about 1990.

To see the beer-specific images, on page 1 go to the sixth row, second image; seventh row, third image; tenth row, third image; and 11th row, first image.

On page 2, it’s first row, second and third images, and fourth row, all three images. But it doesn’t take long to view all the images row by row and that way too you see how the tavern life fit in to the larger picture.

The Flickr upload permits superb magnification, you can see many details including names of cigaret brands on the backbar (Player’s, Export, Du Maurier). Note the black pants and white shirt of the waiter in the sample image above. A matching black jacket was often worn but he took it off as the pictures were taken in July, 1963. It’s 55 years ago.

The suit of clothes for this métier descended from similar dress of waiters in the 19th-century that resembled today’s tuxedo. While in international use by the early 1900s, the British surely brought it here.

In the sample image you can also see, second bottle from the left on the hoarding above the bar, Molson Porter being advertised. Ale and porter were almost exclusively the beers sold in Quebec at this time, an inheritance of British rule and cultural influence again from the 1800s.

Porter had disappeared in its home city of London by 1963 but it was still commonly available in Montreal.

I want to emphasize that not all of urban French Canada lived in conditions like these. There was of course a middle class and an elite too, from which, say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau partly issues.

And there were English-speaking deprived areas as well. Examples include Little Burgundy, Goose Village, and parts of Verdun. I should not exclude the Jewish tenements east of St. Lawrence Boulevard which were very substantial until the 1950s.

But both statistically and in the general understanding I believe it is true to say that on average French speakers were less well-off than the English minority in Quebec. That has been reversed since The Quiet Revolution, La Révolution Tranquille, which started about the time these photos were taken. The term needs no explanation, je crois.

N.B. There was no English and French beer by the way, everybody drank the same stuff.

Note re images: The image above is from the City of Montreal’s photo archive identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




The McCord’s Fab Menu Collection

Important Montreal Food History (With Notes on Imported Beers c.1970)

The McCord Museum of social history in Montreal, a branch of McGill University, has placed a superb series of menus on its website. They are of great interest to food and drink scholars, collectors of culinary ephemera, and students of Montreal and Canadian history, among other potential users.

The collection is under the radar for known online collections of digitized menus. The McCord’s group mainly takes in Montreal restaurants from 1967-1969, however some menus are from earlier periods and some from outside Montreal.

They are grouped in different ways, by transport category, special events, clubs and associations, advertising and promotion, and a general category comprising six parts. There is even a hospital menu section, surely overlooked in food historical studies: Ph.D prospects in food studies, hark.

The menus were gathered by Shirley Courtis who worked in research for Noranda Mines, a Quebec-based natural resources company, see its history here. I’d imagine, given the lack of an apparent connection to food history, that an executive wanted to collect the menus.

The McCord website states they were donated by specific individuals, perhaps Noranda executives or with some connections to it.

The restaurants cover many categories – classic French, Québecois (then often called Canadien), seafood, Italian, delicatessen, steakhouse, Chinese, German, Hungarian, hotel-based, and more.

There are restaurants of modest type but most tended to the higher end. The scans are high-quality and the colour reproductions often quite stunning. Menu graphical design then was a true art, continuing a tradition from the 19th century, especially for menu covers.

Some of the menus have detailed historical notes and even recipes. Mother Martin’s restaurant, which I patronized numerous times, offers an Alsatian recipe of interest. This restaurant covered French provincial food and some Québecois specialties.

Incidentally, before becoming a restaurant purpose the building housing Mother Martin’s had been owned by a descendant of the Quebec Hart family, of whom I’ve written in terms of their c.1800 brewing recipe. It is probably the oldest published commercial brewing recipe in North America.

In this post I want to talk about the beers that appeared on these menus, especially imported beers. First, let me say I am a native of Montreal and was 19 in 1969, so I lived in the period these restaurants were active and remember almost all the names.

I had dined in a comparative few given most were high-end. I was on a student budget, and grew up middle class when dining out was a special occasion.

Nonetheless as I lived in Montreal until 1983 I had the chance to dine in some marquee names later, when I was more prosperous and sophisticated, shall we say. In Old Montreal, the historic and tourist section, I recall a memorable meal at St. Amable eating quail with green grapes. The dish duly appears on the St. Amable menu in the McCord collection.

It was eerie looking at the menu for Ben’s Delicatessen. Ben’s was near McGill University and a frequent lunch or dinner spot between classes or spells in the library. At the time I habitually swept my eyes over things I never ordered to focus on two or three favourites, usually a smoked meat offering.

Looking at the menu today I instinctively did the same thing, except it’s 45 years later and Ben’s is long disappeared.

A number of restaurants, but very few, still exist including Moishes Steak House and the Bar-B-Barn, a rib and chicken restaurant.

Starting seemingly in 1967 when the Cock and Bull pub opened in Montreal a spate of British and Irish pubs opened. Two were near what is now Concordia University downtown, the Fyfe and Drum and John Bull. I sometimes went to them with friends in my university years of 1967-1975.

My alma mater was McGill but the English-style pubs were further west, near Concordia University, then called Sir George Williams University. So we walked the 15 minutes through the downtown to go there.

When out for beer we generally went to a “tavern”, a male-only establishment until about 1978 when it turned into the differently-appointed “brasserie”. The tavern was cheap both for drink and food, more working class and student-oriented, although many middle class people went too.

The British pubs were a cut above and were really themed restaurants but the two I mentioned retained a student ambience as they were near the Sir George Williams complex.

There must have been a dozen or more of these pubs in Montreal by the early 70s. One of the later arrivals, in 1977, was Chez Alexandre on Peel street which is still there and claimed to bring in the first U.K. imported beer. It was founded by an immigrant Frenchman, Alain Creton, who still runs it to this day. I saw him there a few years ago and he had hardly changed!*

These pubs were stylized, rather distant versions of the real thing. It was the cultural power of the pub idea that appealed, the simulacrum hardly mattered. After all, few knew the real thing anyway. But certainly when I first went to England around 1982 I remember thinking the pubs were completely different at home.

This Canadian pub phenomenon was stimulated in part by the British pub the U.K. featured at Montreal’s Expo ’67 world’s fair, which I wrote about earlier.

See here for the index page of the McCord menu collection. One has to scroll through each group to view them and there is no master list. Some are numbered by hand, but not consecutively so that doesn’t help much. Still, it doesn’t take long to go through each group.

The most beer-oriented menu is the 1969 menu of Charlie Brown’s Ale and Chop House in Partie III, the third group in the general category. The beers on the menu represent a larger-than-typical group of imported beers available in the city at that time. The list appears in the third image above.

The beers were probably available in outlets of the Quebec Liquor Board for retail purchase, that was the pattern at the time.

Charlie Brown’s was noteworthy as well for offering some type of imported draft beer, brand not stated.

Perhaps it was Heineken or another commonly available lager rather than an English ale, as Chez Alexandre always claimed to be the first to import (in the modern era, anyway) British beer and Guinness. Was Charlie Brown being careful when it stated simply “Imported” for the draft, without reference to brand or even the word ale? But another possibility is, there was no draft, the menu does not use that word.

Maybe tankard, half-yard, yard, were simply measures in which bottled beer was poured and charged accordingly.

It appears Charlie Brown had ceased operating by about 1970, certainly when I entered the work force in 1976, it was not in business.

Other menus in the collection offered a smaller selection of the imports featured by Charlie Brown’s but except for Harp lager and Pilsner Urquell, which appear on one or two other menus, I think Charlie Brown had them all.**

I should add that a German restaurant advertised Helles and Dunkel by the barrel but the beer may have been domestically-produced. No Quebec brewery then to my knowledge made a dark lager. Maybe those barrels really dispensed porter, which was still made.

Many menus are accompanied by restaurant reviews clipped out of the Montreal Gazette or Montreal Star. This adds a lot to their value. Helen Rochester wrote these for the Montreal Star which I read all the years I lived in Montreal. Her work came to life again through these reviews.

Reviewers rarely mentioned alcohol of any kind then due to the “family newspaper” ethos that prevailed, so her reviews of pubs and the German restaurants don’t mention beer, sadly. Still, they make good reading.

I’ll mention one more beer list diverse for its time, from the stylish Kon Tiki in the former Mount Royal Hotel, also in Partie III. The colour reproductions of its signature tiki drinks are stunning with a 1960s Day-Glo vividness.

Beer was a sideline, but still Kon-Tiki offered Brading from Ontario, a stock ale type; Carling, probably Red Cap Ale but perhaps the lager; Dow ale; Bass ale; Labatt, the 50 brand surely; Molson – this meant the Export Ale then; O’Keefe, an ale; and Guinness. The Brading was an unusual non-Quebec Canadian beer, probably because the Mount Royal Hotel attracted many visitors from Ontario.

Some menus list Guinness as an import but it was brewed in Canada starting in 1965 as Labatt’s history timeline confirms. Ditto for Charrington Toby, it had been brewed in Canada since 1962, see Allen Sneath’s Canadian brewing history, Brewed in Canada. Then, as now, a locally brewed foreign brand was sometimes billed as imported. I think often the restaurateurs hadn’t a clue either way.

I will discuss in a future post the Sir Winston Churchill Pub, now called Winnie’s. It soldiers on, some 50 years later, in the Crescent Street entertainment district as a popular watering hole.

Last point: do I remember drinking any of those imported beers? I remember Whitbread Pale Ale’s chewy, sweet grainy character. I remember Tuborg for its elegant, cakey taste. Guinness at the time seemed quite burnt-tasting and unlike any usual Canadian beer.

I must have bought McEwan’s Scotch ale and Bass. I did enjoy Pilsner Urquell and Beck’s too but remember thinking, even then, that the long route to destination often did them no favours.

I also recall an English draft beer (keg) of some kind, c.1978 in an Indian restaurant, a combination that immediately struck me as brilliant.

Note re images: The source of the images above, except for the last is the McCord Museum’s digital menu archive as identified and linked in the text. The last image was sourced from the Bouteilles du Québec site, a bottle-collection site and discussion forum, see here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*This interview last year (in French) in a Montreal newspaper with Alain Creton explains some of the reasons for his durability. The story focuses on the French bistro nature of Chez Alexandre but in the initial years, he ran a pub on the second floor with an English aspect. Indeed the interview mentions his apparently innovative role in importing draft beer in Quebec. I found of particular interest that Creton states his first importation was 1982, I’d have thought it was earlier, but apparently not. It shows at a minimum how relatively minimal the quality beer scene was in Quebec then. It was only a few years later though (1986) that the first brewpub started up, the Golden Lion in Lennoxville, Quebec. Today the province is a craft beer haven. To my best knowledge, Golden Lion is still going strong, buoyed in part by a local private school, the venerable Bishop’s.

**The Hunter’s Horn offered the Harp lager. This pub was a resort of Montreal’s English-language journalists and other media.



Lager Makes Waves in London, 1939


Among the different ways to look at history is the linear marshalling-of-detail. Another way is more impressionistic in tone. The latter relies more on social and intellectual history and can be personal, even romantic. Obviously the two interact with a greater emphasis in the one or other depending who is writing.

Both are valid ways to understand a complex story, to get at, say, how the non-U.S. English-speaking world embraced lager as its go-to beer.

For an excellent survey of lager’s history in Britain start with Martyn Cornell’s 2010 Amber, Gold and Black, here.

Of course there is much else to uncover, both written and unwritten. A comprehensive history of lager-brewing – and lager-drinking – in Britain and its domains is still to be written.

For present purposes, I’m looking at specific examples of lager’s on-the-ground thumbprint before 1970, from which you can draw a larger picture.

Yesterday, I discussed the beers of a chic hotel in Bermuda in 1927. I mentioned too that rock stars c.1970 appeared in public drinking lager when Britons reading their exploits were drinking bitter or mild in the pub. Ale still had over 90% of the market entering the 1970s.

This blogger has compiled images of a dozen or so mostly-U.K. rock figures hoisting a beer, starting with The Beatles. In almost all cases they are drinking lager or other beer not so different. I like especially the image of Joe Cocker cooly appraising a line-up of Cooper’s beers in (one presumes) Australia.

Yes, maybe some took what was available wherever they happened to be but still, it paints a certain picture and bear in mind the publicity factor or knock-on effect.

You can be sure, or I am, that when readers of New Musical Express or The Sun got the chance to try lager they remembered those pictures. Maybe they even asked for those drinks after seeing the images.

This alone can’t of course have caused the sharp spike in lager after 1970. It’s a social detail, but part of the picture. Solutions to the problems that exercised brewing executives’ minds in the 1960s, working out how to brew Harp nationally, say, or how to ensure draft lager was cold when served, don’t explain it either, not on their own.

My countryman, mogul Edward Plunkett (E.P.) Taylor, did a lot to spread the gospel of lager in Britain as Cornell explains. But even he can only claim part of the credit.

The die was cast long before, in the colonies or other overseas possessions, in the minds of increasing numbers of Britons who visited Europe from the 1960s on, in the minds of ex-navy and army who became used to lager on expedition or postings overseas. Lager even formed part of HM’s ships’ stores, as the 1975 article I cited yesterday notes. See Watts, H.D., Lager Brewing in Britain, Geography Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1975), pp. 139-145 (accessible by JSTOR).

(Why lager and not light or pale ale I do not know, the early prevalence of canning for lager may explain it. The familiarity with overseas lager by service personnel may play a part as well).

Returning to the area of restaurant menus, consider the beers in this splendid 1939 wine list of Prunier’s in London.

Once again Barclay’s lager appears, this time in its home city. If you had spent time in a Guards regiment in garrison in Bermuda in the 20s and encountered the beer there, perhaps during a soirée of Princess Hotel to meet American debs, you’d remember the brand sitting down in Prunier’s years later.

Prunier, as the name suggests, was French. The founder established a well-known eponymous restaurant in Paris. A second was opened in France and one in London, too. These were expertly tended by his daughter after his death. Today, the Paris location still continues under another name. The English branch closed in 1976.

You might say: but this was quite literally a French restaurant, the beers therefore would bear the imprint of the mother land, hence the predominance of lager.

Oui je suis d’accord. That’s my point: international influences such as these had an impact on local practice. It was an early form of globalization, always a factor in European life but accelerating with modern transport, more sophisticated tourism, and sadly, the effects of war.

After all, WW I explained all those U.K. beer styles in Belgium during the interwar years. Scotch ale was as Belgian as it was Scottish, Michael Jackson showed us. At least c.1980, this was so.

Most of the lagers on the menu were famous brewing names by 1939 and would be even more so after WW II.

There were five, all blond; two U.K. ales, Worthington and Bass; and ever-present Guinness.

One of the lagers was less well-known, a pilsener from Van Den Heuvel. This was a Brussels brewery, and I’d guess it made a particularly good lager to be featured on this Anglo-French menu.

Belgium too was fast turning to lager as the staple beer, tending ever away from its idiosyncratic and often temperamental top-fermented beers.

The bon ton clearly liked the lagers, the younger set must have in particular. Dad perhaps still stuck to his Bass or Worthington (“but why do they taste so similar these days, my word!”).

I’m not sure who drank Guinness in Prunier’s – probably mostly Parisians. The NYPL archive has a Prunier menu for 1938, as well. Two lagers are listed, one from the Meuse in France, Comète, and Guinness and Bass. The next year, Worthington is added but the lagers are increased by three.

Look in the NYPL archive at the same restaurant’s menus in the 1950s and 60s. By then it was called St. James for its street address in S.W.1. It’s the same thing, mostly lagers with Bass and Guinness hanging on.

The situation after the war had to be similar in top West End restaurants and hotels.

The reason in my view why lager gained market dominance in Britain was not the thousands of business decisions U.K. and international brewers made to get it to the public. It wasn’t the slick advertising. It wasn’t even American soldiers’ tastes in WW II although that may have played some role.

It was because, as one of those rock musicians wrote in a song lyric, “there is something in the air“. To mix metaphors, at a certain point there was critical mass.

The industry, or its observers, weren’t so dull of course 70 years earlier, the most clever saw the future. I think Charles Graham did, the noted U.K. brewing scientist whose writing I’ve discussed earlier.

And consider what this journalist wrote in 1893 viz. the early Wrexham lager project in Wales:*

… this class of beer will be the beer of the future in the United Kingdom, and more especially in tropical countries.

In St. James, in the West End restaurants and hotels, lager was the drink by the 1950s. In pubs down the road, it was virtually unknown. That wasn’t to last.

This was inevitable finally because lager could be produced more or less for the same cost as ale and stout. If lager had remained as costly as, say, Champagne, it would be reserved to the carriage trade as the real Champers still is.**

Note re images: The first image was sourced from the website, here. The second, as linked in the text to the menu archive. The third is from this excellent beer historical site (in French) which reviews many aspects of historical Brussels brewing including the Van Den Heuvel brewery (which stopped production in the early 1970s after its controlling shareholder, by then Watney’s, closed it in favour of the Maes brand). All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*The oldest commercially-established brewery in Britain making beer by bottom-fermentation is, as far as I know, Austro-Bavarian Lager Beer Company in Tottenham, London. It commenced business in 1881 and exited the market by end of the decade. See some details here in an issue of the Lancet from 1884. It may be noted that coincident with the earliest commercial brewing of lager in Britain, observers noticed immediately what they called the “garlic” or “curry” flavour in the beer. This is, I believe, DMS or dimethyl sulphide, a compound produced in fermentation by a precursor in very pale malt and a taste I have often discussed in my posts. The flavour is still very much with us in some, not all, lager beer. In this post last year I posted a company brochure that described the types of beer made.

**I was going to write “toff’s drink” but someone told me recently this (quintessentially English) term is pejorative and I don’t intend that connotation.



Lager – Made in the Shade

Above is the wine list that accompanied a special dinner held by the Princess Hotel in 1927 to commemorate George Washington’s birthday. The item is preserved in the menu archive of the Culinary Institute of America.

Wine you say during Prohibition? The hotel was, and is, in Bermuda.

Long a resort of monied tourists especially from North America, Bermuda was a favoured destination particularly in the winter. While still under British dominion and housing an important naval base and garrison, income was generated by the 1920s in no small measure from tourism.

American Prohibition enacted in 1919 gave a huge impetus to that trade. The island was reached by boat as commercial air service did not commence until the later Thirties. Lots of thirsty Americans with money and time steamed over to Bermuda for good times.

This online account of the still-thriving hotel states:

From the moment it opened, The Princess was considered the gem of the island. With long shady verandas and a blue slate roof, the four-story building comprised 70 rooms, each equipped with gas lights, hot and cold running water and a five-inch mirror to allow guests to primp before stepping out for the night. Staff dressed in white jackets and waving pink handkerchiefs greeted luxury liners.

As word got out, celebrities started to appear. Mark Twain, a regular at the hotel, loved to smoke cigars on the veranda and wartime guest Ian Fleming is said to have used its fish tank-lined Gazebo Bar as a motif in his novel, Dr. No.

The beers offered at the Princess are, from an historical standpoint, very interesting. They pivot between the old Victorian era when British productions ruled in U.K. fiefs and the new era when European lager, especially blond lager, would become the dominant form.

True, it took until the 1970s for lager to make significant gains in the U.K. itself. Much earlier though it was increasingly consumed in places of U.K. influence in preference to pale ale and stout.

From Canada to India, Australia to (finally) Cornwall, Singapore to Hong Kong, in short from the West to the East, Victoria’s beers steadily lost writ for her 20th century man. The sun may never have set on empire but lager was very happy to be made in the shade.

Lager was initially the burgher’s drink in Bavaria and especially Munich. Later it became the toast of the world due to rubbing shoulders with elite and governmental society including the army and navy. It became smart, in a word.

When you see pictures of British rock bands partying on tour c.1970 they drink Skol, Carlsberg, Heineken, Coors, even though it would have been easy to bring pale or Scotch ale on the road. It finally clicked with the man and woman on the British high street – this is our drink too.

Now, to be sure the large contingent of American visitors to Bermuda had an ingrained preference for blonde lager. That explained in part the make-up of the list. Still, the shape of things to come was clear and the Princess’s bar steward understood that.

He chose lagers from countries that in time, in most cases, would prove key elements in world lager exports: Danish Carlsberg, pilsener from St. Pauli, Bremen, another Bremen pils (one or both would have been Beck’s), yet another pils from another German port, Hamburg, and two Dutch lagers, one certainly Heineken or Amstel.

There is also an early international sighting of London-brewed Barclay’s lager. It was never to be a Heineken but U.K. brewers were starting to notice.

Perhaps hedging his bets the steward ordered two Munich dark lagers, the original form of Bavarian lager. And certainly John Bull favourites were included: two Bass bottlings, the newish Simonds milk stout, and two bottlings of Guinness.

Things have a way of mutually re-inforcing. Long familiarity with these beers by Britons outside the country, officers being entertained in the Princess’ ballrooms and gardens, say, set the stage for a broader acceptance at home. The success of British pale ale in India in the early 1800s and later in Britain itself is an obvious parallel, not without some irony here.

Still, up to the 1970s the market for U.K. lager, with exceptions including in Scotland, was largely export-oriented (see Watts, H.D., Lager Brewing in Britain, in Geography Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1975), pp. 139-145 (accessible by JSTOR)).

But the U.K. caught up to the rest of the world. Craft brewing has only partly reversed the seemingly inexorable rise. The reason craft beer appealed was that lager became increasingly uniform in style and bland in taste, especially in the U.S. which after all had innovated in its early development.

Craft brewing responded initially by restoring and extending the earlier top-fermentation tradition but in time will help restore lager itself. We see it with the recent growth of the Camden Hells brand in Britain and similar products that are craft in taste.

A premiumization of lager is taking place such that, for example, Stella Artois is now the default mass market lager of AB InBev/Labatt in parts of Canada. While not a craft beer it replaced beers that many would argue were inferior in taste, Labatt Blue, say.

Peroni, an all-malt beer in its export form, is growing, so is Pilsner Uquell, and there are many brands similarly positioned. Heineken led the way not just by marketing savvy: it is all-malt and a good drop of beer all things equal.

Much of the impetus started on menus such as the Princess’ in Bermuda in 1927. The U.S. of course had sparked the trend, outside Europe I mean, much earlier. But its resolute focus for most of the 1900s on adjunct, low-hopped lagers kept it behind, finally. The result: most of its marquee names stopped brewing or became internationally-owned.


Note re images: The first and last images were sourced from the Culinary Institute of America’s digital menu archive identified and linked in the text. The St. Pauli Girl label was sourced at the label collection and brewery information site,, hereAll intellectual property in the sources used belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

The Waldorf Bar Rocks Beer Before Rock

A Proto Craft Beer bar

The Culinary Institute of America, the famed teaching and vocational school headquartered in Hyde Park, NY maintains a historic menu collection on its website.

We’ve looked at one or two of their menus in the past, and today consider the 1930s beer list of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The notation states that the date of the menu is unknown. However, various indices point to 1935.

Budweis beer labelled Nazdar was only imported with that designation in the middle Thirties. Confirmation is available from a judicial source no less, Anheuser-Busch v. Du Bois Brewing, heard in 1947:

18. With the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic at the conclusion of World War I, the name of the City of Budweis was changed to Budejovice.

19. For a short time after Repeal, during the years of 1934 and 1935, imported beer from Budejovice was sold in small quantities in this country along the Eastern seaboard under the name “Nazdar”.

20. Subsequently, the importers changed the label to “Imported Budweiser” and small amounts of imported beer so labeled, which plaintiff contended violated the 1911 contracts, were sold in this country during the years 1936-1938.

The Waldorf-Astoria hotel is currently closed for a long-term condominium conversion. It was needless to say one of America’s premier hotels, and internationally famous. Sited as it was in New York, a vibrant brewing region into the 1950s despite the depredations of Prohibition, one would expect many local heros of brewing to be represented, and they were.

Trommer was not least, being chosen also as the draft lager. Trommer was the last important New York brand to remain all-malt. The Waldorf bar stewards knew their beer, clearly. Other local/regional names of repute they selected included Schaefer, Piel’s, and Rheingold.

Horton Brewing was a new entrant, with Repeal it had bought an old plant – originally built by still-vibrant Yuengling of Pennsylvania – and made a pilsener. In 1997 the New York Times answered a reader’s question about the beer:

No Microbrewery This

Q. I have a clear 12-ounce bottle I found years ago in my backyard in Brooklyn Heights. On the bottom it says ”Horton Pilsener Brewing Co. 460 W. 128th St., New York.” Can you tell me about this brewery?

A. The brewery was built by the Yuengling Brewing Company in 1876, in the village that was then known as Manhattanville — a dense, industrial enclave in the deep valley between Morningside and Hamilton Heights near the Hudson River. Nearby were the D. F. Tiemann pigment factory (from which Tiemann Place takes its name), a worsted mill and the first buildings of Manhattan College. The giant red-brick brewery included a swimming pool and opulent parlors for entertaining dignitaries, who included King Edward VII of England.

More buildings and equipment were added after the brewery was purchased by the Bernheimer & Schwartz Brewing Company in 1903, and a 1911 advertisement for the beer depicts a brewing complex stretching from 127th to 129th Streets along Amsterdam Avenue. Prohibition closed up the brewery in 1920, and the sprawling parcel was purchased by the Horton Pilsener Brewing Company, which resumed production after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Though the plant closed long ago many of its buildings remain in commercial use. DANIEL B. SCHNEIDER

The separation of “beer” (lager in America) and “ale” (ale and stout) was another pre-Prohibition practice. In fact we see it on some menus into the 1940s, and after in a few cases.

The Waldorf’s beer selection was carefully made, covering both beer and ale of course but also notable pre-Prohibition names as well as some newcomers. There was some interest to achieve balance in this respect, clearly.

The imports represented both ale and lager again but also a stout, Guinness. The countries tapped were Germany, U.K., Holland, and Czechoslovakia, all non pareil brewing lands. Canada was represented in a manner of speaking as well, see further below.

Of the imports, the Czech Budweis would have been a rarity in New York, and Heineken. The famed Dutch lager was re-introduced with éclat to U.S. markets after 1933 by the enterprising Dutchman Leo Van Munching. See further background in this 2016 New York Times obituary of his son, Leo Van Munching, Jr.

Allsopp’s Pale Ale, the renowned Victorian pale beer, still had cachet in export markets, evidently. Two bottlings of Bass were offered thus continuing a pre-Prohibition practice of smart hotels and restaurants. One was from Burke, the Guinness bottling and distribution agency on Long Island, NY that also brewed its own brands.

There was no Ballantine India Pale Ale but probably it hadn’t been launched yet. The flagship Ballantine XXX was on the menu, indeed it was the draft ale selection.

Kent ale was an IPA made by Krueger in Newark, NJ, the regular ale was listed as well.

The list comprises some 45 beers. That would have been unusual in New York not just immediately after Prohibition but at any time until the 1960s. The breadth of choice is significant because the Waldorf was not an ethnic establishment a la Janssen Hofbrau Haus,* not a showcase for a foreign country’s specialties as, say, appeared during the 1939 World’s Fair.

The Waldorf was a mainstream albeit high-end catering establishment that made sure to offer a well-curated list of products, to use our jargon. They were into beer, in a word.

Canada was, rather oddly, absent from the list except in the form of Carling Red Cap ale. The beer was newly available in America in the 30s but brewed under license in Cleveland, OH. See further details in this website devoted to Carling U.S. history, whence this 1960s-era image is drawn:

It’s no surprise that the Wine and Food Society of New York held elaborate beer and food tastings at the Waldorf, some of which I’ve described here. The hotel applied an unusual detail to its beer offerings, the knowledge and skill behind it show. It was the perfect place to do those events.

One should emphasize that the market was not hipster. The cool crowd was gestating downtown in Greenwich Village and (frankly) trying to survive the Depression.

All beer then was a matter of conventional industrial business and marketing. Its upper reaches, as here, was concerned with solid citizens and an international elite. The only plaids you might see were the scarfs, skirts, and jackets of moneyed tourists or uptown New Yorkers frequenting the hotel’s luxe services.

It is only when established brewing forgot its roots, still evident in splendour here in the 1930s, that the poets rallied to legislate, so to speak. Today they’ve been acknowledged so the tables are reversed. But the large concerns are waking up and taking back some of the turf foregone, to the consternation of some who forget, or never knew, how it all started.

Note re images: The extracts from the Waldorf-Astoria’s wine and spirits list, and Carling label, were sourced from the links identified and given in the text. The Allsopp’s ad is from the Coaster-Beerdekel collection on Pinterest, here. All intellectual property in the sources used belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See our earlier post on this great Manhattan establishment.



Birthday Bourbon

The Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria, B.C. is a western jewel in the crown of the old Canadian Pacific hotels. It was built in the Edwardian era to service the city’s steamship terminal. CP’s website explains compactly its history:

Incorporated in 1881, Canadian Pacific Railway was formed to physically unite Canada and Canadians from coast to coast and the building of the railway is considered to be one of Canada’s greatest feats of engineering.

The CPR played a major role in the promotion of tourism and immigration, as well as Canada’s war efforts and through the years, the railway grew and diversified to include steamships, hotels, airlines, mining, oil and gas exploration, delivery and telecommunications companies.

Today the hotel is part of the Fairmont chain and remains a premium marque in Canadian hotels.

CP had an important shipping arm, whose history you can read here.

It offered a passenger service between Vancouver and Victoria but this stopped during WW II. The business role of the hotel declined in consequence but Victoria steadily increased its tourist trade. The hotel became predominantly a destination for well-off visitors vs. the business and political establishments it had mainly served earlier.

At the same time the hotel continued to serve a business clientele, many now arriving in town by air.

I’ve been to the Empress, once, we flew in from Vancouver (helicopter) and had tea in the afternoon. I was with some British business connections from Leeds. Later, of course, we had a beer at the pioneering brewpub on the outer harbour, Spinnakers.

(I regret to say I found the beer quite iffy. We all preferred the light lager also sold in Ontario now, Kokanee. But this is a long time ago and I’m sure it’s all top notch now given the sophistication of West Coast craft brewing).

Victoria has always had the image of a provincial, rather sleepy place, conservative and a relic of colonial times, a favoured resort of retirees.

This is unfair, today certainly, and probably always was. The climate there is most appealing by Canadian standards, never ferociously hot or cold, breezy. The city has all the services any urbanite expects today. The views and attractions of the harbour and surrounding coastal areas are of definite interest, especially the flora and fauna which have many unique features there.

I’m more familiar with Vancouver across the Georgia Strait but enjoyed the time I spent in Victoria. It’s a great base too to start a tour up Vancouver Island.

Somehow the vast wilderness there seems to impinge on urban life in a way different from, or not as evident, here.

Anyway visitors abound, many from cruise ships on Asia routes or on the scenic trip up the coast to Alaska. Many who stop in Victoria stay at the Fairmount Empress and enjoy its many services. It will all be first-class, the bar no less.

But what was it like in 1950? 1950 you ask? Well yes, that’s my birth year (July 4 to be precise), so let’s take that as an example. What did the bar offer at the hotel then?

Had you asked me before yesterday, I’d have thought, a small spirits section, a few beers, a small but decent wine list, maybe a couple of pages or so in total.

In fact the wine and spirits list runs 15 pages, you can read it here. It is identified in the UBC notation as from 1950 and bears the inscription, Coronet Room. Now, research suggests the Coronet Lounge did not open until 1954, see this 2016 Times Colonist story.

This image of the newly-opened room, certainly handsome, from the Royal B.C. Museum also suggests (see caption) a 1954 opening. It also conveys something of the former use of the space, a reading room. The Coroner Room (or Lounge) was renamed Bengal Lounge during a 1960s renovation. The space has been dark for some years now and other facilities in the hotel supply the want.

Either some type of Coronet bar preceded the 1954 version, or perhaps the menu really is from 1954. Still, I incline that it is from 1950 and as it serves the conceit of this post to think so, let’s proceed on that assumption.

Five years after the war, still isolated and no longer serviced by CP’s shipping line, the hotel contrived to offer an enviable selection of drinks in every category. I’d think perhaps it was emulating, in the old Victoria way, English models like the Savoy. But in any case, from Cocktails to Coca-Cola, it’s all there and then some.

The extracts of the menu in this post give some idea of it. They were sourced from the Chang Collection at the University of British Columbia’s Open Library, see again the link above. The University and benefactors mentioned are to be commended for making such valuable social history available.

Remark on the large number of Canadian rye whiskies available, no less than 30 and it doesn’t even include “bar ryes”.

The beer selection is most impressive, offering an early regional choice rather than two or three domestic beers and a few imports. The beer selection is locavore before the word existed.

Someone at the hotel must have taken an interest in beer as 20 domestic brands alone were offered, most regional B.C. selections.

The imports were classics: Guinness, McEwan’s (two brands), Whitbread, Bass. Nothing German, or Dutch, the war had just ended…

Just to take one B.C. example, Old Dublin Ale, perhaps it was an early “Irish Red” emulation. This ale was brewed by Princeton Brewery in the town of the same name in the extreme southern part of the province. It operated from 1902-1961.

The brewery also made an all-malt beer, Royal Export, also available at the Empress. It was likely a Dortmund-style. The word Royal would have covered any disagreeable lingering Teutonic associations from the recent wars.

For images of Princeton Brewery beer labels and brewery trucks, see here from a website, Hank’s Trucks.

Finally, there was Canadian bourbon. Canada always made a spirit much like bourbon to use as a component in its blends. Some was sold at times unblended, particularly the Pedigree brands of rye and bourbon from Seagram. The bourbon isn’t identified by source but perhaps was Pedigree.

Canadian bourbon was sold during the U.S. Prohibition era, in Canada to appeal to U.S. visitors and of course smuggled into the U.S. one way or another. It was exported after Prohibition to the U.S. as well, and ads can be found for it in national U.S. media c.1936.

Clearly though it was sold in Canada in the early 1950s, many years after Prohibition ended. A hotel of the standing of the Empress could easily have obtained American bourbon, certainly available in quantity again by 1950, but it chose to offer a Canadian version, so the quality must have been pretty good.

With a heavy duty being imposed shortly on American whiskey imports, offering a bourbon-type whisky again will fill a gap. It’s good business anyway to diversify out of the blended category that served Canada well for a long time but whose long-term future in my opinion is questionable.

This is due to the growing “premiumisation” of many standard consumer products from burgers to lager beer.

Seagram already markets in Ontario its new Bourbon Mash product, which isn’t bad but I’m sure Canadian distillers can come up with even better versions of straight corn- or rye-based whisky. Pedigree came in both rye and bourbon versions, incidentally.

Lot 40, in the market some 20 years now, and Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye whisky, both straight rye types, can point the way. Perhaps in time our craft producers will do similar.

Certainly I’ll buy more of these whiskies rather than bourbon and Tennessee whiskey at a 25% mark-up if it comes to that.

The image above of Pedigree Bourbon, sourced from the excellent Dutch Whisky Base website, is accompanied there by a super review of a vintage bottle by “Malt Marvin”, see here. The whisky certainly sounds very interesting! The “menthol” finish is one I recall as well from tastings of vintage U.S. whiskies at bi-annual gatherings in Bardstown, KY.


Note re images: the source of the images above is linked in the text except for the Revelstoke 3X Pale Beer bottle, sourced from this B.C. museum site, and the Princeton Brewery sign, which was found herea website devoted to the history of Princeton, B.C. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



An Office of Importance

All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard…
            – From “All I Wanna Do”, Sheryl Crow, 1999


Father’s Office (FO) is a historic beer bar and restaurant in Santa Monica, CA (Culver City). Dating from 1953, it was re-made as a beer-aware destination in 1985 and prefigures the craft beer bar found in almost every city or sizeable town today.

Earlier, I profiled the historic beer menu of another Los Angeles beer bar, Barney’s Beanery, see here.

The approach to beer of Barney’s was fundamentally different to FO. Barney’s Beanery continued an older tradition of offering a wide selection of international beers, mostly bottled. Famous names from Britain and Germany predominated.

Tommy’s Joynt in San Francisco originally was of this type, too. So was the Brickseller in Washington, D.C., and Peculier Pub in Greenwich Village, New York.

In time, this type of bar embraced American craft beer culture, too. It took time, in other words, to develop confidence in America’s native brewing scene.

But FO appears not to have been an imported beer destination before 1985. This 2007 LA Times article, by Todd Martens, explains that FO was an early craft beer bar, so it came to the role directly so to speak.

From 1985 its beer list offered no Budweiser or other mass-produced American beer, and no imports. In the early years, some customers made the inevitable protests. The bar countered by providing an education function for artisan beer. For further details see this account of its phoenix years.

This quality beer focus was particularly important as L.A. had resisted for many years the craft brewery trend that was embraced in northern California, the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and East Coast. Why was this?

In his 1991 Pocket Beer Guide (3rd ed.) Michael Jackson speculated that the extra-warm climate of southern California discouraged interest in big-bodied beers. He felt as well that the transient nature of L.A. life kept its attention span short for such off-piste interests.

Todd Martens also noted that Eureka, a splashy L.A. brewpub project from the chef-entrepreneur Wolfgang Puck, failed in 1990. He said this example discouraged craft brewing in the area for many years. Greg Stone of now world-famous Stone Brewing in Escondido, CA, interviewed for that story, agreed with this theory.

FO filled the gap by offering a good selection of California and West Coast microbrewery beers. In the earliest years its approach had a classic simplicity, as one sees from its c.1988 beer list above.

Jackson stated in the 1991 Pocket Guide that by the early 1990s California had between 65 and 70 craft breweries and brewpubs. The country as a whole had about 200. The craft beer scene was still very small, and almost nil in Southern California.

Yet, FO offered a quality regional selection, showing a connoisseurship not beholden to the (often misleading) glitter of an imported name. Almost all the beers are top-fermented even though California had a number of craft lager breweriesby then. This reflected the bias of craft brewing (anywhere) toward top-fermentation in its first decades.

Hence FO offering an assortment of ales, porter/stout including Imperial Stout, and wheat beers. A range was featured from the iconic Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, a brewery that provided a more authentic link to America’s brewing past than, say, Anheuser-Busch.

I visited FO a few times in the 1990s. By then the beer selection had broadened but it always retained an artisan focus. I recall a wheat beer flavoured with desert white sage that was particularly good. While the 1988 list looks conservative today, it was revolutionary for the time.

FO today comprises two locations, with a third planned. It is known under its current ownership for innovative food as well as great beer – currently 36 draft beers are offered. Physically, the original location on Montana Blvd. looks pretty much as it always did, perhaps a little sleeker: this L.A. visitor page offers a tour d’horizon.

FO was a true tastemaker and path-blazer, setting the tone for places like Toronado in San Francisco, C’est What in Toronto, Horse Brass in Portland*, Arendsnest in Amsterdam, and countless other beer pubs that focused on locality, small-scale, and terroir.

Footnote re Grapevine Brewery: Grapevine Brewery, mentioned in Jackson’s 1991 Pocket Guide, was an early, rare southern California brewpub. It appears to have started in 1987. By 1990 it had changed ownership, and the name became Okie Girl Eatery. A quake did it in by 1994, see details in this 1994 news account.

The Grapevine bar was located in Lebec, CA, about 80 miles northwest of L.A. Lebec and the adjacent Grapevine are localities in which dramatic canyons dominate with their stark, dun-coloured beauty. In a time when very little craft beer was made in southern California FO made sure to get some from the fledgling operation.

The fact that FO advertised the Grapevine’s light stout and two other beers served at room temperature tells you something about the commitment of the real beer people. They have always existed, in all kinds of places, often under adverse conditions.

But confidence, and commitment again, they did not lack. To call Sierra Nevara Pale Ale the “traditional” pale ale of the Sierra Nevada foothills a bare seven or eight years after the brewery started takes a certain chutzpa, cheek for the U.K. readers. Except that they were right, or time proved it so anyway.

The true beer people exist of course today no less. Except now they get lots of publicity and kudos. In fact it’s something taken for granted especially by those half my age. Above is some of the wellsprings.

Postscript: most of the breweries on the historic FO menu, and most of the beers, continue to this day. Of course ownership has changed in many cases. But the beers amounted to templates that still appeal and of course launched a thousand ships, or the waters they sail on…

Note re images: the first image, the interior of Father’s Office as it is today, was sourced from Pinterest, here. The next two were sourced from the historic menu collection of Los Angeles Public Library. The fourth was sourced from this free campsite webpage, and the last from the producer’s website. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*The Horse Brass in Portland, OR and its guiding spirit Don Younger are closely connected as well to the early craft beer ethos. But Horse Brass started in 1976 and for years specialized in domestic and fine imported beer. It sold craft beer early but did not AFAIK reinvent itself as solely devoted the budding craft brewery scene.