The Enchanted Forest

The Brewery and the Boudoir

I must, I will, revert to the subject of Memel oak. This is wood from forests of Russia and Poland that had ideal properties for British brewers, especially for “cask plant”, the barrels in which beer was shipped to public houses, clubs, and hotels.

Memel, the Baltic port from which the eponymous oak was sent to world markets, is now Klaipėda, in Lithuania. I’ve written seven or eight postings on this subject, this one brings many of the points together.

In brief, until World War I Memel had near-universal use in British ale brewing. In London this applied to porter as well. Guinness was one of the few breweries that adopted the tight-grained American oak, but most others used Memel for casks and other vessels, uncoated.

American brewers used barrels made from the native white oak but the interiors were invariably coated with brewers’ pitch, a subject I also covered earlier. It’s an interesting question what wood Canadian brewers used, I can’t recall seeing any references. I’d assume it was North American oak.

As a vestige of a once-standard industry practice, the historic Traquair brewery in Scotland still uses antique Memel vats to ferment its beer. See images here from the company’s website under “How the Beer is Brewed”.

In a blog posting at Pat’s Pints, the vats can be seen more clearly including their russet tinge, which also appears in some of the logs (freshly harvested) shown in my post linked above.

So important were the Memel stands that the Czars sought to bring them under their control, according to a 1936 story in the New York Post. The Post‘s report had nothing to do with beer as such. It had to do with something many would regard as incongruous or antithetical in a beer context, perfume. (I set aside the reveries of the beer connoisseur here).

A Miss Terry was employed by a perfume and apothecary company on Lexington Avenue. She devised a perfume for a Russian singer, Tamara. Her full name was Tamara Drasin Swann, a Russian-born singer who appeared on the New York stage in the 1930s. Some accounts have her origins as Ukrainian.

She often played an exotic or vamp of old Europe. She was killed in a plane crash near Lisbon in 1943 while on USO service. For more details see her Wikipedia entry, here.

The perfumer’s object was to personalize a scent that conjured associations with Tamara’s birth land. I know little about perfumes but do know that their complex formulas seek often to evoke the scents of forest, glade, grotto. To achieve this, oakmoss was used to lend the keynote effect.

The reporter noted: “Miss Terry uses it as being redolent of the Memel Oak for which Russia has been famed for centuries”.

In fact, oakmoss, which grows on oaks and shrubs, is a venerable ingredient in perfume-making. It is sourced indeed in Europe, not America from what I can tell, and currently at any rate the Balkans exports the crop to the perfumeries of the globe, as this online resource,, states. Its French name is poudre de Chypre.

Some years ago, in its wisdom the European Commission limited the permissible quantity in perfume. The lichen can irritate the skin, it seems, but perfumers still use it, in a modified way.

In many countries the dark forest has an enduring cultural resonance, often with magical or mystical connotations. We can’t rule out certainly a romance/marketing factor in making a “Russian forests” perfume for an alluring Slavic songstress.

Still, truth can reside in interstices, in implications. The perfumer knew about the Memel forests, probably from her client. She drew on this to create an ideal scent for a Broadway femme fatale.

In this light, can we infer Memel oak added an ineffable quality to English beer? Certainly, no amount of caustics coursing through a new barrel would leach out all the taste, that is impossible. Some taste had to remain, at a subtle, appealing level, we infer.

A special quality is implied in numerous accounts of Memel oak usage by the breweries. The smell and taste were evidently mild, “neutral” William Lindsay called it in 1939, see my posting linked above. He meant this, of course, to contrast with the vanillin twang of American oak.

Perhaps the taste complemented English hops, which can be arbour-like and, in the current cant for British bitter, “twiggy”. It all connects in an odd kind of way, doesn’t it? To the Gillmanesque mind it does.

Traquair has persisted with its old Memel vats because it thinks it gives the beer something. The vats may impart a lightly earthy note – see the discussion in Pat’s Pints again. Other reviews of Traquair’s beers refer to a similar earthy or even oaky note but nothing approaching American wood, the John Phillips Souza of the oaken race.

Of all the brewing fads under the sun, I cannot recall any where someone obtained Memel oak from Klaipeda, made a cask, cleansed it the old way, and filled it with good British bitter.

Who will do this? A wood that inspired a perfume for a Russian diva was a stand-by in the hard, un-perfumed business of brewing beer.

From Courrèges to Courage. We need to see why.

N.B. It always amazes me how, contrary to intuition, many businesses in the news 80 or 100 years ago still exist. Miss Terry’s employer was Caswell-Massey, which still sells fragrances and soaps in New York. See details from its website.  It remains American-owned and is one of the oldest businesses in the country. Surely it has a file, perhaps the colour of ochre and dusty, that lists the specs for a perfume that breathes the bowers and glades of the Czar’s forests.

Note re image: the image above, of Tamara in 1933, was sourced from this Pinterest page. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.










First use of Term Craft Brewery

Obeisance to St. Mike

Off and on over the years the question comes up, who first used the term craft brewery, craft beer, craft brewer, etc.

Until recently, the earliest citation I was aware of is from Paul Gatza on Stan Hieronymous’ Appellation Beer site in 2010, in response to his post inquiring who first used the term “craft beer”.

Gatza responded in part:

The earliest publication of the term “Craft Brewing” here at the Brewers Association that I know about is The New Brewer magazine, Vol. 1, No. 5, September-October 1984, pages 3-4 in Vince Cottone’s article “Craft Brewing Comes of Age.” The term is [sic] “craft beer” is not used in the article, but Vince used the phrases “craft-brewing scene,” “craft brewery” and “craft brewing” in the piece. I have a scan of the article available upon request…

Just the other day I was reading The Pocket Guide to Beer by the late Michael Jackson, published in 1982 by Frederick Muller Limited, London. This is the first appearance of a guide that ran to six or seven editions. They bore varying titles due to differing publication arrangements, but each was an update of the previous one. Each was sold on release in both the U.K. and North America.

On pg. 81, in the entry for “Timothy Taylor, Keighley”, Michael Jackson writes:

TIMOTHY TAYLOR, Keighley. A craft brewery down to the last detail. Very small, producing a wide range of all-malt beers on the edge of the moorland Brontë country. All the draught is cask-conditioned, and the bottled ale is unpasteurized…

In effect, with striking concision he defined keynotes of the beer renaissance for the next 30 years and coined its trademark phrase “craft brewery” (and by extension the derivatives craft beer, craft brewing, etc.).

He also made it clear the phrase applied in Britain to notable examples of the cask tradition, hence not limiting the term geographically, much less to the United States, as is often supposed in British beer circles today.

His next edition, The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer, was issued in 1986. In that book, Jackson praises Timothy Taylor no less but in different terms and the word craft is omitted. The 6th edition, entitled Pocket Guide to Beer, was published in 1997. It again confers praise on Timothy Taylor but also omits the word craft. I have seven editions of Jackson’s guide. Only the first one, from 1982, uses the term craft brewery in connection with Timothy Taylor.

There are two other uses of the term “craft” in that first edition, once in connection with top-fermentation at the Belgian brewery Dupont, and once to characterize brewing by his selection of top-ranked breweries. While not on point as such, these reinforce the Timothy Taylor reference and show the term was on Jackson’s mind as a signifier of quality and (often) small-scale brewing.

See here, in Google Books, where you may view all these usages by inserting “craft” in the snippet box.*

Therefore, the earliest use of the term craft brewery – or that I am now aware of – is by Michael Jackson. Jackson is acknowledged by many as the greatest beer writer of all time and certainly was a huge influence on today’s craft brewing. It is entirely apposite that he first used the term.

The reason it was overlooked is probably that the first edition of his pocket guide is relatively rare. To the extent the guide is consulted today, many would examine a later edition, unless a specific historical question posed itself.

I found it by accident, I just wanted to read a compact statement from Jackson on Timothy Taylor’s. I happened to pull the first edition out first.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Wikipedia entry for beer writer Michael Jackson, here, and is believed in the public domain. If not in the public domain, the intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Jackson in the same book also uses the terms “craftsman breweries” and “craftsman brewing”, the former in connection with small northern French breweries, the latter viz. the survival in Belgium of old brewing methods. Thus far, no evidence has appeared that Michael Jackson or anyone else used the specific term craft brewery before his 1982 usage in regard to Timothy Taylor or set out product characteristics for the genre, but see also my last Comment added below viz. earlier use by him of related expressions in the context of surviving small breweries in French Flanders and Belgium.







Bay Street’s Beer Bonanza

The proliferation of fashionable beer bars continues in the Toronto business “core”. I define it as the area between Yonge, Queen, University, and Front Streets, but it takes in some streets beyond. Fashionable = “upscale but relaxed” to adapt an expression  Reds, a veteran restaurant in the core, uses to describe its ambience.

The latest beer destination is the Wvrst satellite in York Concourse Hall, a revamped section of Union Station. Surrounding are a number of trendy food shops, so far of the snack or pastry variety but more substantial ones are planned. Just opposite Wvrst is Union Chicken, a restaurant that bills itself as free-range for free range people. Hence, two sit-down restaurants in a busy station that formerly offered few amenities.*

A few paces away is a splashy new food court of contemporary design, and behind that the departure lounge of Go light rail.

Wvrst started out west of the core on King Street a few years ago and was immediately popular. The focus is its high quality sausage kitchen and gourmet french fries. Ad-ons in later years – salad was a good one – broadened the appeal and the York Concourse branch offers even more choices. From Day 1 Wvrst was a beer haven too, focusing on the local craft scene and quality imports.

The decor of both locations is a stylized blend of Bier Hallen, English pub, and industrial chic. Stylish touches in the new location include a winking display panel listing the draft beers which mimics a rail timetables board.

The beer list consists of rotating drafts, at least a dozen, and well-chosen bottled and canned offerings. There are some great choices from Belgium in particular, with many lambic-based rarities.

Ciders are a sub-specialty of Wvrst with French, Spanish, and Estonian (!) selections while not ignoring Ontario – or Los Angeles, CA (who knew from L.A. cider?). The U.K., of Olympian importance in cider, seems oddly missing, but they will get to it in time I’m sure.

I ate at the bar, bratwurst on a bun with fries – same quality as the King Street parent, which means very high. The meat had the right touch of mace, so un-North American or English really unless you reach for heritage recipes. The sausages, of which there must be a dozen types again, include good vegan options.

A commuter next to me grabbed a quick Major Small Best Bitter, from Muddy York in Toronto, and left within 10 minutes. Most people were eating as it was lunch-hour. Not a few ordered one of the exotic bottled beers or ciders to accompany.

Wvrst at Union Station was preceded by the Mill St Pub, the craft brewery now owned by AB InBev. It’s in a relatively remote part of the station, adjacent to the train which links to Pearson Airport. With Wvrst, and Union Chicken’s local (bottled) beers, the beer stakes for the rail traveller or interloper are raised at a stroke.

The draft beer choice at Wvrst is careful calibrated. Three imports are currently offered, Weihenstephaner (wheat), Pilsner Urquell (lager), and Paulaner (lager). Each represents high quality, especially the first two. A more sedate choice would be, say, Heineken, Erdinger, and Stella Artois.

The Ontario drafts currently include a half dozen of the wildly popular sour category – a sour stout, anyone? – with good representation of cornerstone styles. Wvrst was never pro forma about beer, which may sound a contradiction in terms but beer bars can “let go” after a while; it never has.

There must have been good competition for its spot, but the re-development managers chose well.

With the pioneering beerbistro at King and Yonge Streets, there are now in the core: Walrus Pub and Beer Hall, the sizeable Taps in First Canadian Place, the huge Craft Beer Market, and the more intimate Boxcar Social, on Temperance Street (yes that’s the name). Goose Island’s brewpub (AB-InBev) and Batch (Molson-Coors), albeit a touch outside the core, count as well. So does the Biermarkt (a small chain) next to Goose Island. Let’s add the Loose Moose, a 10 minutes walk west of the station. All offer an inviting beer variety, or together they certainly do.

There is yet more if we add the older English or Irish pubs in the core as well as Reds and other general restaurants, a Three Brewers, and the new food halls strewn through the canyons. The core can now add brewing riches to the monetary kind tended by the wizards in the towers.

In this area downtown, beer has come a long way in the last 5-10 years. In a word, it has arrived. One of the early flagships for craft beer downtown, the boho-flavoured C’est What, still thrives next to St. Lawrence Market to the east. In business a generation now, C’est What can gaze proudly on the beer ferment in the core today, as it was an indirect influence.

Today good beer is not just hipster, not just suburbia, not just college/intellectual. Craft beer is for everyone. No one owns it, no one can define it.

It’s taken 40 years of trying, and nothing will reverse it, neither takeovers, nor slowdowns in the boom, nor blandishments like alco-pops, cider, and wine. I doubt legal cannabis will have much effect either.

This should not be a surprise really as craft beer is simply, or it aspires to be, fine beer. And great beer is an age-old heritage. It belongs to everyone with the imagination to taste with discernment and curiosity.

A not inconsiderable bonus: the wider the audience for it, the greater the market for our craft brewers.


*A member of the Toronto beer community subsequently told me there was a bar before Wvrst in the same space, to his recollection curtained and quite basic. Wvrst has an open scheme and looks pleasant and inviting, not to mention its diverse and creative wares as described above. With Union Chicken added to the picture, the situation regarding licensed premises seems clearly improved, certainly in the north-central part of the station.