Porter Ponderings

Pictured is the bottled stout of Maverick, the brewpub downtown in Toronto. A big, ambitious place, it brews contemporary styles with quality and fidelity, based on a number of visits since it opened almost one year ago.

This stout has an oatmeal addition. It is not dissimilar to numerous Ontario porters and stouts at around the same gravity. I had a number of similar beers in England at the recent Great British Beer Festival.

The profile is dryish, roasty, with only a light malty quality if any.  It’s the “international” way currently with beer of this type and gravity.

The hops were good although I could always use more.

Historically, some porter must have tasted like this. I think the proof is Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter or its Oatmeal Stout, which are similar to this beer. They emerged from an old-established regional brewer about 30 years ago, and surely reflect brewery archival recipes, at least in part.

London’s Fuller Porter too tends to the non-rich side, although less so than the last two mentioned.

Modern porter/stout of normal strength often lacks IMO, i) a rich character, ii) the subtle kind of roast that complements no. i). You do encounter that often in Imperial Stout but historically there wasn’t a division that Imperial had the rich palate and the rest, dryish and lean.

Some lower-gravity porter was always of the rich, malty sort. How do I know it? Because of a long tasting history that includes beers like Sinebrychoff Stout (Finland) or Carnegie Porter (Sweden), Anchor Porter (San Francisco), Sierra Nevada Porter, Cooper’s Stout in Australia, Champlain Porter in Canada, and many others.

Most of these were pre-craft and reflected more accurately (IMO) the original porter tradition than today’s group. And the craft ones mentioned emerged early, therefore were influenced by the original tradition.

I also know it from historical sensory descriptions of mild porter, e.g., a “balmy” character. Contemporary laboratory analyses also show much of the beer had a rich character, see e.g. this 1870 table of porter and stout data from The British Medical Journal.*

Many of the porters, all averaging about 5% ABV, start at 1014 FG and just go up from there…

As well, I’ve tasted a number of recreations of 1800s porter or stout that taste much more like this group than most current beers with the name. Fuller did a recreation a few years ago that was superb, a double stout type.

So why has this turn in the road occurred? I think it’s due to the long hand of modern Guinness with its sizeable proportion of unmalted barley and well-attenuated taste. Brewers still, mostly unconsciously today, make a standard stout in that image.

Of course, most craft stout and porter taste better than Guinness, but I can see its DNA in these beers.

Michael Jackson contributed to this by identifying a style of “dry stout”, one said to be Irish. But historically Irish stout, certainly when mild or new, had a good body and indeed was all-malt into the early 1930s (no raw grains). Of course he based himself on what was in the market when he started writing in 1977.

Guinness at the time pretty much defined stout, at least visibly it did. So he used that as the barometer of modern stout, vs. say how Guinness was brewed in the 1800s.

I don’t brew at home but if I did, I’d make a beer with the same roast intensity as the Maverick, or less, and attenuate it higher. Perhaps too I’d omit the oatmeal although I don’t mind it necessarily.

Porter in its 1700s-1800s heyday did not use oatmeal, not commercially-produced ones. I’m not sure the addition really helps the taste. Fuller’s porter doesn’t use it and may be all-malt although it could have more character.

Putting it a different way, I’d like to see more regular-strength porter or stout with the kind of richness encountered in Imperial stout, milk stout, or Baltic porter. The last two are part of the porter family but due to their respective lactose and bottom-fermentation, they differ from the standard porter palate.

Therefore, they can’t substitute for the kind of palate I’m talking about.


*Pilsener Urquell is about 1014 FG, which most would consider full-bodied. This gives an idea of the relative richness of “robust porter” in the 1800s (see the Comments).




IPA: a Pretty Romance (Part II)

In Part I, I discussed a rather prescient marketing campaign by Paterson Brewing & Malting Co. in Paterson, NJ in 1916-1917. The company was part of an 1890s consolidation of five local breweries bought out by an English syndicate, a common “exit” technique for brewery owners then.

The adjacent Hinchliffe and Katz Bros. breweries, the main elements in the consolidated group, continued to make top-fermented beers. The syndicate ran sophisticated ads (source: Fulton Historical newspapers) touting the “romance” of Hinchliffe’s East India Pale Ale, modern beer writer-style.

This was two generations before anyone looked at India Pale Ale, or other beer styles, in quite the same way.

While Hinchliffe had brewed both ales and lagers before joining the syndicate, I’d infer a push was made for product lines familiar to the new owners.

The campaign was different than earlier promotions I’ve seen for IPA or pale ale including by Peter Ballantine in Newark, NJ. It relied, not just on vague appeals to old-time standards or special taste, but on an evocative illustration of a male server wearing Indian dress to help sell the beer.

This is analogous to Indianmen (fast trading ships) and related imagery such as the Taj Mahal appearing on IPA labels many decades later, by Ballantine and then a new generation of small brewers. It was all to the end of creating a mystique around IPA, but Paterson Brewing & Malting sought to devise one 60 years earlier.

One wonders if Falstaff’s designer for the 1980s “clipper” label had a file of early-1900s IPA ads from Hinchliffe before him. It’s not fanciful. Ballantine had New Jersey roots…

Beer writer Michael Jackson, who created plenty of mystery and allure for Imperial stout, lambic, and other styles, missed the boat, shall we say, for IPA. (We’ll forgive him, he did enough!).

Since his day, authors and bloggers have been alert to sort out the implications of IPA’s India pedigree – historical, marketing/commercial, technical – one that intertwines two land masses and cultures. These include Pete Brown, Martyn Cornell, and Roger Protz.

Considerable information is available online on Paterson Brewing & Malting, so I’ll say only that all brewing apparently ended forever with the Volstead law’s full application in 1920.

Malting continued for decades after 1933, however, at the maltings attached to the closed Hinchliffe brewery, a story unto itself.

Here, I’ll focus on a second Indian server ad in the 1916-1917 “romance” campaign, worded differently than the first I’ve discussed, but it has the same illustration of a head-scarved, robed server.

It is notable due to the features of IPA production detailed. Two years’ aging was asserted, longer than Ballantine ever advertised, and dry-hopping at different intervals. The nutty flavour and “tang” mentioned may be (it’s hard to say) a touch of oxidation and Brettanomyces influence.

A secondary fermentation seems implied certainly from the wording, which suggests the development of special flavours of maturity, to use the old terminology.

Broadly, both ads attest to one company’s determined effort to preserve its legacy of making stock ale, the best quality of many types of ale still made at the start of WW I by many brewers, especially in the Northeast.

It was all for nought, not necessarily due to ever-increasing lager demand, but the iron curtain on beer manufacture dropped by National Prohibition a couple of years later.

And so, this brave ad appeared in 1916 in the Paterson Evening News, see issue here (via again Fulton Historical Newspapers).




IPA: a Pretty Romance (Part I)

The Old Romantics

This is the kind of post, although aren’t they all, where I could write a book. To keep it short I’ll omit most references but did fact-check the best I could, in a wide range of sources. As always we are interested to receive feedback and glad to post corrections, clarifications, or other comment.

Modern India Pale Ale or I.P.A. is, like the original U.K. type, relatively high alcohol, 6-7% ABV. It innovates over the old school by an emphasis on New World hop tastes. The template is the grapefruit-like Cascade hop, first released to market in the U.S. in 1972.

Modern IPA begins in formal terms with Grant’s India Pale Ale in Seattle which dates from 1983, some sources state 1982. Other influences on modern IPA include Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, with origins in 1975, and Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale and Celebration Ale (c.1981) even though these earlier beers did not use “India” in the name.

Prior to these beers Ballantine India Pale Ale, long associated with New Jersey’s Ballantine Brewery bought by Falstaff Brewing in 1972, waived the flag for IPA in America. Made since the 1800s Ballantine’s beer was based on British models. In its classic era, mid-1900s, it used a mixture of European aroma hops and pre-Cascade American bittering hops, the workhorse Cluster or similar. There were changes over time in the hop specs.

From 1972, when the Ballantine brewery closed in Newark, NJ until 1981, Ballantine India Pale Ale was brewed in Cranston, Rhode Island at the former Narragansett plant. In 1981* it moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana where a Falstaff satellite operated, formerly the historic Berghoff plant.

Before the 1981 move, the Ballantine label made no particular reference to the origin-story of IPA. It didn’t show a Taj Mahal, or clipper ship, or any imagery that would link the beer to India, other of course than using the word India in the style name. It showed the “three rings”, part of the Ballantine trade mark since early days, as did other Ballantine brands such as XXX Ale and Ballantine Beer, a lager formula.

But from 1981 and the move mentioned, the label changed. It showed a clipper ship with text referring to rocking of the beer on the long journey, wood aging, and a new taste.

This was noticed by beer writers, and early craft brewers started to ponder this interesting, romantic-sounding history. What was a prosaic trade term through the 1800s – India Pale Ale or East India Pale Ale – became something special, even talismanic.

Soon, craft IPAs emerged that used similar imagery in advertising. Grant’s India Pale Ale was the first but many followed. Even beers that didn’t use the imagery were discussed in this new context, an exotic history that lent an irresistible allure.

The late Michael Jackson (1942-2007) is credited with many achievements in beer-writing but creating the lore and myth of IPA cannot be counted among them. In his 1977 The World Guide to Beer, he devoted a few lines to India Pale Ale and its history but essentially viewed it, quite properly, as part of pale ale/bitter history. He appeared to consider pale ale the modern form, and that erratic survivals of the old IPA name had no more significance than that. This made sense in Britain where all pale ale, bitter, and the few surviving IPAs were fairly low in strength, 5% ABV or usually less.

It appears therefore that c.1980 an American industrial brewer’s advertising agency or in-house packaging designer created the “India” mystique of IPA. This was (apparently) unprecedented and irresistible to beer fans: everyone wanted to try a beer with that history.

India Pale Ale thenceforth meant, not just a historical form of beer designed to last a long journey under adverse conditions, but something we could relate to pith hats, old Calcutta, old politics, and empires. It evoked the riot of colours and sensations that India connotes to many westerners. A lot of money was made selling IPA on that basis.

Yet, a question. Was this marketing angle never seen before? Not, as far as I can tell, in British labels and advertisements for India Pale Ale from the 1800s until the craft era. Bass brewery sometimes used colourful advertising to suggest the beer was available throughout the Empire, but nothing to suggest India as such or any romance associated thereby.

One must be cautious saying “never”, but I’ve examined scores of such labels and ads and couldn’t find anything comparable to the post-Cranston, R.I. Ballantine label.

But stop. There was a precedent for similar marketing, and appropriately, in the United States. Consider this evocative ad, from Paterson, NJ’s Evening News in October 1917 (via the Fulton History newspaper archive, as the news article mentioned below).

Paterson Brewing Company was a merger of five breweries of which Hinchliffe was a key component. It worked out the romance angle long before Falstaff in 1980-81. Not only that, an advertorial appeared the same year, in the same newspaper, expressing the theme in breathless narrative. You can see the early Mad Men brain at work (burning the midnight oil with gin and tonic, probably, not beer, as Michael Jackson liked to say).

With a few changes of language the tale would fit well in a modern beer book about IPA. Here is the link, a pretty tale it is, and romantic-sounding to be sure:

Part II of this post can be read, here.

Note re images: the first two images were sourced from Jess Kidden’s Ballantine google pages, here. The Grant’s India Pale Ale label was sourced from the Beeryard site, here. The sources for the last two images are linked in the text. All intellectual property in the said sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See our note added in the Comments section.





Beer and Summer

“I Like a Beer in the Summer”

We’ve had a hot summer, as many places in the world. Beer sales must be good this season. If it’s one thing craft and mass market brewers agree on, it’s that hot weather is good for business.

Yet it’s something of an anomaly that this remains so in a time when air conditioning (A/C) is so pervasive. True, not every home has it, but many do today, and almost all restaurants and bars, or autos.

When you walk into a A/C environment from 30ºC + the effect is shocking, an icy blanket. It’s how people must feel who do those cold-country swims in January.

How refreshing is a chilled beer after that? Is the association just traditional by now?

True, the patio offers the real thing, but in very hot weather most people seek the indoors, if artificially cooled.

Cold beer and Hades retain their companionship at the country cottage (A/C is mostly still lacking), at the beach, or for picnics.

But again: How many people do an out an out picnic these days? Open question. Judging by perennial food books one would think hill and dale are festooned with picnickers, as an American writer noted tartly a generation ago.

Then too, craft brewing, while it likely moves lots of blonde lager July-August, doesn’t hold back from the styles formerly associated with cold weather. In the 19th-century in the U.S., different forms of ale were thought mostly suitable for winter.*

Even in England, hardly a broiling nation despite the spikes in June-August of recent years, some beer was styled a “winter drink”, old ale, say, or Imperial stout.

All this old learning is upturned in the new era and rightly so. I saw an Imperial porter, 10% ABV, in the non-A/C cooled bar at Henderson Brewing the other day, and while tempted didn’t try it. I had done a two-hour walk in strong heat, and so went with their 3.5% ABV Czech-style lager, with nachos and guacamole alongside.

But I’d have had the other if a car dropped me off or I wasn’t unusually hot.

Last evening an iced Muskoka lager was just the ticket in the patio at the Wallace on Yonge Street. A good beer, not seeking epicurean heights but sometimes you don’t want that. The light lemony notes added to its refreshment, especially in that environment.

But most customers chose to sit inside where A/C had the temperature down to about 20ºC.

Putting all this a different way, would brewers sell more beer had A/C never been invented?

Or does craft beer move more “winter beer” now because of A/C? Maybe it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. So to speak.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from this stock photos website and is indicated as released to the public domain by its author, without restriction. The second image was sourced from the news advertisement linked in the asterisked note below, via Fulton History newspapers. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*This ad for Burke’s Ale, touted as a winter drink, dates from the 1930s but reflects lore accepted in New York and elsewhere in the Northeast since the later 1800s. As an older example, see this ad for Ballantine’s ale pre-WW I.




“The Seven Moods of Craft Beer, 350 Great Craft Beers From Around the World”: an Appreciation

In a blog entry this past May, U.K.-based, beer- and travel-writer Adrian Tierney-Jones (ATJ) wrote this:

With beer writing, it feels as if on one hand there is the old traditional campaigning side of beer writing on one side of the border, nurtured in the once scared halls of CAMRA and now mutated to writing about diversity, brewery sellouts, why this beer festival is a game changer etc; on the other side of the border there’s the fanciful notions of beer, the poetic side of things, the sensory writing, the people watching, the personal experiences within the context of beer. Both have their validity and maybe someone somewhere will inevitably argue that beer writing is more of a federal state with a variety of identities. That might be true but for the moment my thoughts are in the borders.

I think it’s more a North American thing, although nurtured by an English writer, the late Michael Jackson, but I’d argue that there is a fourth form of beer writing. It is the one that focuses mainly on a description of brands and tastes, often organized by country, as Jackson did in the template The World Guide to Beer (1977) and his Pocket Guides, or style, as he did in Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion (1993). Variations abound on these approaches including what amounts to straightforward travel writing.

Many writers still approach beer that way. It’s an outgrowth in my view of early beer journalism and before that, wine and other forms of consumer product writing. In this post, I discussed the influence I felt Consumer Reports had on subsequent American beer writing including by people like James D. (“Jim”) Robertson. He wrote The Connoisseur’s Guide to Beer in 1978.

These books still provide a useful function, even in the global e-village where a keystroke or two will clue you in to a local bar scene, anyone’s from Turin to Timbuktu, or its range of breweries.

At this stage in my appreciation of beer and writing about it, I buy very few of those. I bought them all years ago and acquired my bedrock then, not to mention my own extensive tastings and early travels. I get top-ups from the Internet where needed, and keep up through an active participation in social media. But many younger people, or older sans the requisite knowledge, will benefit from buying this fourth type of book, or the glossy U.S. beer magazines that still continue.

There are numerous social media versions of this activity, e.g. the beercast including the “bro” fashion, all to the good.

A book on beer that charts a new direction, that explores precisely “the fanciful notions of beer, the poetic side of things, the sensory writing, the people watching, the personal experiences” was written by ATJ himself. It’s The Seven Moods of Craft Beer, 350 Great Craft Beers From Around the World, published in Britain last year by Eightbooks (see www.8books.co.uk).

ATJ won Beer Writer of the Year 2017 from British Guild of Beer Writers, not surprising when you take time with The Seven Moods of Craft Beer.

As the book came out that year and was widely reviewed and commented on, these remarks constitute not a formal review as such but an appreciation.

There are two major differences I see in this writing versus other approaches to beer writing including the influential, Jacksonian style-and-country method.

First, the thematic approach is completely different. It uses an imaginative exploring of “Seven Moods” as a framework to appreciate different beers from a wide range of places. The moods include “the Social”, which looks at interesting beer bars in the U.S. and Britain; the “Adventurous”, ranging on to bars and pubs, new type and older, in the likes of Germany, Belgium, and Antipodes; the Gastronomic, which spotlights a given beer that complements a dish or is used in the cooking (e.g., the Breton Telenn Du buckwheat beer for a local pot-au-feu); or the Imaginative, which looks at ostensibly workaday modern beer competitions and award systems and limns the kinds of beers that have done well in these or respond well to their ever-siren calls for the new and exotic.

The other themes explored are the Poetic, treating beer celebrations in the forms of fests or beer weeks and beers emotive of the literary; Bucolic, a lyrical evocation of classic country pubs; and Contemplative, outlining a small selection of beer writing ATJ has found useful or stimulating in some way and worthy of the reader’s attention.

Despite its new direction the book includes a style glossary, mercifully not long, with a chart explaining compactly what each beer treated signifies by way of Mood as well as style, place of brewing, ABV, and other practical information.

This novel way to explore modern beer is complemented by ATJ’s writing skill, in a word he is a writer. Many examples can be cited from the book, take this one, a propos a Norwegian Imperial Brown Ale:

You have to feel sorry for the colour brown. It’s not regarded as the most lustrous of colours, when you consider the fieriness and passion that red can invoke, or the mystery of black.

Quite so, or at least, now that I’ve read it courtesy ATJ, it is. It’s things like this that set the book off from most of the rest.

While not a work of brewing history, the book doesn’t misstep in that field, not that I noticed. In fact, you can learn from formulations such as this one that manage to be both learned and literary (lapidary, too, the book is well-edited):

IPA is an urban beer. It was born in London, brought up in Burton-on-Trent, and has more city berths than Airbnb.

That’s very true, especially as the beer was sent to sate governors, merchants, and officers in India, all with an urban sensibility.

The book is well-designed with spare yet artistic black-and-white renderings of bottles and cans and a restrained use of colour in the sidebars or for contrast. While the design is modern, reflecting urban cool to the max, something in the images harkens back to a more simple time in craft beer history. It reminded me of the down-home renderings you see in some 1970s-80s U.S. beer books.

The illustration on pg. 127 for Everett, Vermont’s Hill Farmstead’s “silky porter languid with chocolate, coffee, and vanilla both on the nose and in the taste”, brought the matter full circle for me. Vermont is one of the birthplaces of modern craft beer via its fearless, hippie-style 1970s homebrewers.

Intended or not, I found this link with early craft brewing history pleasing.

Finally, the beer palate itself is addressed often in poetic/literary form that makes you look at taste and enjoyment in a different way. I’ve enjoyed Hercule Stout from Ellezelles, Belgium (at beerbistro in Toronto, IIRC), but never thought of it this way:

This rich and creamy self-styled ‘Belgian stout’ is perfect for contemplating the creation of crime fiction’s greatest detectives. In the glass, the beer is as dark as a murderer’s motive, a silent, inscrutable motive that hides beneath a rocky crema-colored head of foam.

One can go on.

I said this wasn’t a review as such, but if it is anyway, maybe I should add what I don’t like. The page numbers are placed on the right margin mid-page rather than bottom- or top-margin as traditionally, which took some getting used to. Apart from that, I can’t think of anything else.



Carlsberg Special Brew

Carlsberg Special Brew, 8% abv, is in a sea of brands that beer writers and publicists skip over as a stone skimming water: it barely has their attention.

After all, it predates the craft era, is from an industrial brewer, and is a super-strength lager, or “tramp juice” to many. This unpleasant term denotes a beer that’s cheap in relation to the amount of alcohol delivered, and is said to encourage abuse by the abject and disfavoured in society.

Yet when you look at the beer itself, it has trendy or craft-like values, to wit

  • a super-strong pilsener, so a style turned inside out
  • Cognac-flavoured
  • a cult beer in its first thirty years, from 1950 to c.1980.

Special Brew thus exhibits the contradictions and relative values of craft brewing. You can see the arc within a single writer’s career, the late beer maven Michael Jackson. In his first The Pocket Beer Guide, in 1982, he gave it four stars, meaning in his system “highly distinctive”.

In his first full-length book, The World Guide to Beer (1977), he called the beer “famous”.

By the 6th edition of the Pocket Guide, in 1997, under his somewhat revised star system, the four stars were trimmed to two, meaning “above average”.

In the full-length The New World Guide to Beer, published in the intervening 1988, he offered a more nuanced if not revised view:

… some poise and balance… seem lacking in Carlsberg Special Brew, 19.2 Plato (1077; 7.1; 8.9). This extra-strong pale lager, the most potent of Carlsberg beers, has plenty of alcohol but not much character. It seems to be all brawn and no brains. Carlsberg Special Brew is made in Denmark but not marketed there. In Britain, where Carlsberg has its own brewery and produces Special locally, the product has been such a success that it has inspired many imitators, some even stronger.

Jackson seemed to look at the beer differently once the brewing revival was seriously underway and new interesting beers became available. The old school seemed less attractive in this light.

Yet, in its connoisseur phase the beer was sought after, especially in arts circles. Noted devotees included politician Winston Churchill, the writer Kingsley Amis, and rock guitarist Eric Clapton. Amis mentioned the beer more than once in Everyday Drinking: the Distilled Kingsley Amis.

Describing his preferred second drink after a period of abstinence (the first was gin and water), he wrote:

My second drink was a Carlsberg Special Brew, very cold, which I think is better than just cold. The effect was electrifying. As I drank the whole of my head was flooded with the taste and smell of beer.

For everyday tippling Amis liked to blend Special Brew with regular Carlsberg. A proto-Beer et Seq in the blending department, he was. Good man! (Actually, I got the idea from people like Amis, experts in the drinking arts).

Eric Clapton was another blender but chose to add vodka! A kind of beery Maximum R & B, or Maximum R & R, we should put it. The two-tone band Bad Manners had a hit with the song “Special Brew” in 1980, as well.

Apart from now being 8% abv instead of the original 9%, this to placate (?) health authorities, there is no reason to think the beer is much changed from 1977, when Jackson first started writing about beer. For that matter given the unusual specialty it is, I’d think the Churchillian 1950 version was similar.

What changed are the times and the context. The beer gets an average reading on current rating sites but you can’t go by that as these are affected by the evolving values and standards I’m talking about.

Had Jackson not lyricised, say, the golden Duvel in his writing, would we look at it much differently than Special Brew? I don’t think so.

The fact of being brandy-flavoured has never to my knowledge been discussed by craft beer writers, even Michael Jackson, who may simply have been unaware of it. Perhaps the brewery never told him, and it seems only in recent years the can advertises a brandy taste.

Yet the practice certainly dates from the brand’s debut in 1950. In that year, Carlsberg brewed a special version of its famous lager to honour Sir Winston Churchill’s visit to Denmark, his first since the end of WW II.

Churchill was a noted brandy drinker. The story goes the brewery imparted a touch of his favourite tipple to its beer. Making it stronger would appeal of course to one enamoured of good drink, as Churchill was known to be.

Is there brandy in Carlsberg Special Brew? If so, it’s not in the listed ingredients, “water, malted barley, glucose syrup, hops”. Maybe a synthetic or natural flavour of some kind is added, and needn’t be disclosed, that is possible.

Maybe the beer was always aged or finished in a barrel that held brandy, if so how contemporary, again.

Finally, maybe nothing is added and the brandy is really a metaphor for fruity esters created by a special fermentation to get the beer to a non-trad ABV for pilsener.

We tasted a can brought back from England recently. The drink was a strong malty lager with good hops and a fruity undertone of some kind. Very worthy.

Note re sources: the following news and blog sources were also consulted for this essay.