Herr Chevalier Visits Canada

The Henninger beer brand is still sold in Ontario, at the Beer Store, and has a typical German Helles taste. Sales can’t be very high as it is just one of hundreds of imported beers here, but its quiet presence on the shelves hides a much longer history in Ontario, via licensed arrangements.

In 1972 the Frankfurt brewery – now demolished with production elsewhere in Germany, I think Dortmund – granted a license to a local venture in Hamilton, ON headed by Edward (Ted) Dunal, a former Carling sales executive. It was financed in part by an Ontario public offering of shares and debentures. In effect, this was a joint venture of Frankfurt’s Henninger-Brau and local interests.

The brewery was the old Peller, Brading/Carling plant that now in part houses Collective Arts craft brewery in Hamilton. It was started up again by Dunal after a dozen years of use for harbour warehousing.

As numerous Canadian beer histories have chronicled, Henninger was brewed here from 1972 to 1981 when Amstel of Holland bought the brewery. Amstel continued to make the beer (two brands, Export and Meister Pils) along with a Canadianised Amstel and other brands. Amstel brewed here until 1991 when it gave up on its Canadian investment; the brewery was subsequently sold to Bill Sharpe’s Lakeport Brewing and another storied history followed, outside our scope here.

Finally, the pioneering Brick Brewery in Waterloo, ON, now Waterloo Brewery, picked up the Henninger brands. I think by 1997 all production of the Henninger had ceased. Still, it had a run of almost 25 years in Canada, spanning the pre- and post-microbrewery eras.

Under Brick the beers were restored to German Pure Beer Law requirements. During the Amstel period, as related in a 1991 Toronto Star news story (I can’t link it due to paywall), the Henninger beers were not all-malt, but they were when Ted Dunal directed brewing with Henninger, 1972-1981.

The last beer I brewed in collaboration with Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewery, a recreation of an 1870 English pale ale recipe, used Chevalier malt, which existed in 1870, to lend a heritage touch.

What does that have to do with the Henninger lager story in Ontario? Ostensibly nothing, but there is a link of a kind. In 1975, a series of ads in the Toronto Star advertised the use by Henninger in Hamilton of Chevalier. From a July 11, 1975 issue of the Toronto Star:

… it’s [i.e., the Meister Pils] made here in Canada in our small independent brewery in a particular way from very particular ingredients. We use only two row Chevalier barley….

But most important , we use the same yeast that we use in Germany. Not similar yeast, the same yeast. We actually jet it over from our Frankfurt brewery.

Chevalier barley traditionally was associated with English ale brewing and had largely disappeared in maltings by the 1930s. It was revived about 10 years ago from a few seeds stored in a barley seed bank. I refer to the story and much else in regard to Chevalier in an earlier blogpost, see here.

Ron Pattinson set out characteristics of typical 1970s German malting barleys in a blogpost of 2015, see here, but none is called “Chevalier”.

What explains this use of Chevalier malt in 1970s Canadian Henninger? It seems this was German malt as Henninger’s ads in the 1970s Toronto press stress the use of imported ingredients. Indeed a September 9, 1980 story in the Toronto Star on a German trade fair here stated:

Henninger in Canada is made with strict quality control to produce an identical product to that sold in Germany. In fact, hops, malt and yeast are all imported from there to assure consistent taste with the product brewed in Frankfurt.

The many Henninger ads in the Toronto Star in the 1970s insist on the same taste as the German original, e.g., as shown by blind taste tests using the German and Canadian Henningers, but technical details were sparse. The most specific was for the German yeast, as seen above. Still, some ads stated plainly, “We even import malt from Germany”.

Perhaps this did not mean 100% of the malt was German-sourced, but only that enough German malt was blended with some Canadian or other malt – the Chevalier? – to get the desired profile. Or, perhaps the 1970s Frankfurt brewery used a malt it called Chevalier and sent it to Canada, the ads, taken together, seem to state that.

Around 1900 as I documented in my earlier blogpost on Chevalier, the term was used loosely by British maltsters to include some European two-row barley that originated with the Chevalier seed. Danish Chevalier was apparently of this type, and Chilean. But some imported two-row barley was called Chevalier which may have originated with other types, perhaps even Hanna Moravian malt, ancestor genetically to many fine Central European malting barleys.

But the fact remains that a malt under trade description of Chevalier was used not long before the modern craft revival, a Victorian survival in the glam era.

Now as to taste: I am not sure I ever tasted the 1973-1981 all-malt Henninger. I may have in Montreal if I bought the beer in Prescott, ON or Ottawa before moving to Toronto in 1983. I think I must have, but don’t have a clear recollection.

I did buy the beer regularly in Toronto under Amstel and Brick. I recall the taste being “strong”, that grassy Helles taste with possible dimethyl sulphide (DMS) influence. C.1980 North American beer writers, Jim Robertson, say, or Michael Weiner, gave it top marks.

One can see that all the elements were in place for a mid-1970s beer revival in Canada. Henninger then was all-malt, made in a small plant with substantial local ownership, indeed “independent”, now the leitmotif of international craft brewing. The brewery even made a Henninger alcohol-free beer, under a process licensed from Birell in Switzerland. What is more of the moment than N.A. beer?

Yet Henninger never took more than a piece of a very small market. Something like 97% of the 1970s Ontario beer market was shared by the Big Three then: Molson, Labatt, Carling-O’Keefe. For the taste Henninger offered, Ontario consumers did not show enough interest, not in numbers big enough. Had Henninger grabbed 20% of the market, maybe craft breweries a la Anchor Brewing in San Francisco would have started up by 1975. In the event something similar only started 10 years later.

I think the taste of the locally-made Henninger wasn’t right for this market, even an incipient premium (or connoisseur) market. Not because it was different from the German Henninger: by credible evidence it was the same or virtually so, but the signature taste was too different. Had it been German Wurzburger, say, that was brewed in Hamilton it might have done much better, I think. Amstel, seeing what happened to Henninger, modified its recipe* for the Canadian market, yet that too never appealed in large-enough numbers.

Was Creemore Lager in objective terms a better beer than either of these? I don’t think so, but it sold enough to be successful for many years until being purchased by Molson-Coors. Maybe it was the name and advertising that made the difference, it’s hard to say. I don’t think it was price as Creemore was premium-priced. So was 1970s Henninger but only by a few pennies per bottle more, as its ads pointed out.

Note re image: the Henninger label shown above was sourced from the Beer Store listing linked in the text. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*I meant for Amstel Bier, but in effect this applied to Henninger as well when Amstel brewed it in Hamilton. Also, in a Twitter exchange today with a Frankfurt-resident beer expert, he told me a German maltster is again malting Chevalier barley (also spelled Chevallier), so this is further evidence IMO that likely Henninger was using Chevalier malt in the 1970s.

Marian Engel’s Early Beer Essay

The Great Canadian Beer Book, authored by Gerald Donaldson and Gerald Lampert, was published in 1975 by McLelland and Stewart, a premier Canadian publisher then and now. It’s a unit today of Random House/Bertlesmann. Lampert is long-deceased, while Donaldson later carved an impressive career in auto racing journalism and biography and is still active.

Lawrence Sherk, Canada’s leading collector of breweriana, contributed a chapter. Larry as he is known to the Ontario brewing community is still very much with us, I met him only a few months ago. In this and other ways, the book, while written 44 years ago, seems quite contemporary.

Despite its helter-skelter, “scrapbook” design popular in the 1970s the book is chock full of information on every level: technical, historical, breweriana as noted, culinary, photographic, literary, and more. True, there is a jocular, semi-derisive tone characteristic of beer writing then, but an underlying respect for beer and its traditions comes through. Once again, we see our modern craft beer culture is a development of something very old – not a new departure as many think who don’t plumb the past.

There is an interesting timeline on early Labatt history and the origins of its now defunct I.P.A. There is a lot on early Oland, Carling, and O’Keefe family history. There is a section with well-drawn beer and food recipes. There is a formula for coffee beer, years before craft brewing thought of the idea. The Calgary Red-Eye, the old Brunswick Tavern in Toronto, the King Cole Room (jazz), Henninger Brewery in Hamilton (an all-malt craft progenitor), singer Stompin’ Tom Connors and his ode to workers of Inco, are all there and, well, lots more. Get the book and see.

A number of Canadian authors and artists contributed on beer including famed poet Al Purdy, David Helwig, and Marian Engel. Engel (1933-1985) was a Toronto-born novelist, book reviewer, critic, and early feminist writer. Engel was her married name, her own surname was Passmore but she went professionally by Marian Engel.

Engel’s career is beyond my scope here but information is easily available. She won high honours including a Governor-General’s Award and was a member of the Order of Canada. At times she was controversial, but her place in Canadian literary history is secure.

An annual Canadian literary award of $25,000 is made to deserving authors in mid-career, the award is titled in her name jointly with the late author Timothy Findley. Margaret Atwood was one of the first writers to endow the award.

Engel contributed 1000 words on beer to the Donaldson-Lampert book. She describes growing up in a Temperance family, finally acceding at 21 to half a draft, initially, to make it easier to date boyfriends. She toured German taverns in Ontario’s Mennonite country, including in Neustadt – plates of pigs’ tails and “lots of beer” – and drank beer at Paddy Greene’s in Hamilton, in Manitoulin, and Montreal. She taught for a while at a girls’ school in Montreal and on Saturdays the games mistress drank her “way under the table”, “quarts of Molson”.

After some graduate work she landed a job in Missoula, Montana, probably at the university there, finally graduating with an M.A. in literature from McGill University in Montreal.

In Montana, she mentions different bars – the Oxford, the Chicken Inn among others, but only one beer: “in plaid cans” which she drank on tap with pizza. “Schooners of Scotchguard” she called it. She evidently enjoyed the beer but couldn’t recall the brand 20 years later – however it is Highlander beer, from a local brewery that closed in 1964.

The American beer writer and editor Kate Bernot told me on Twitter that the Highlander name has been restored, so I looked it up. Indeed, a brewpub not connected to the original brewery brews numerous brands under that name including a pilsner that may be close to the original “Scotchguard”.

That beer was never a Scotch ale, and I think originally Highlander simply meant a Montana hill resident, not a type of beer. But in time the old brewery used Scottish iconography to help sell the lager and this is remembered in some of the current branding.

It turns out Scotch ales are quite popular today in Montana, and I think the reason, ultimately, is due to “Scotchguard”. These things adhere in the folk memory and manifest sometimes decades later in ways otherwise hard to explain. Bernot told me of an early craft brand as well, Cold Smoke, that had a role in the process.

In her essay, Engel explained that on an overseas stint in France and Britain, so this was after Missoula, French beer was “bad” but English bitter warmed her “cold heart” – she meant it stopped the shivers from the damp. No less than Louis MacNeice, the British poet and playwright, would buy her a pint at the George while waiting for her husband after work, a “long lean drink of water”, she called MacNeice. “You can’t go higher”, she said, and I believe it. At the time a woman would not easily buy a pint on her own in a pub; MacNeice saw her dilemma and helped the Canadian out, perhaps remembering our soldiery from the war years.

Once back in Canada:

… we decided that since we’d always drunk the wine of the country, we’d drink beer. The only way to entertain is to put a case in the middle of the living room floor, bring out the opener, and some cheese and get on with it. I drink out of the bottle; some boyfriend’s father taught me to gargle it right down. Cold, it goes down, down, down.

And that was the way it was in those pre-connoisseur days, well sometimes anyway.

In the latter stages of her too-short life she favoured occasionally a drink of Scotch, no longer the beer. She states on the days Brewer’s Retail in Toronto did deliveries, she had “standing engagements” away from home. Nor could she carry cases from the outlets home as she had developed “tennis elbow” from years of doing so. She didn’t drive, and a taxi was too costly, hence the Scotch substituting for beer.

I am not certain if she is being facetious here, e.g., did Brewer’s Retail really deliver then? Maybe it did, more ahead of the time than I would have thought!

If Marian Engel was living today and could visit Missoula again, I’m sure she’d be amazed to discover her Scotchguard was still available. I don’t think she enjoyed the town then (apart from the beer), she makes a number of statements that suggest it was a place best left behind. Maybe it is different today, or she would find it so. Sadly, there won’t be an essay that appraises Scotchguard Mark II, or the I.P.A. that has replaced the Labatt I.P.A. of the old jazz clubs in Toronto.

Note re images: the first image above, of Marian Engel, was sourced from a German book site. The image above of a vintage Highlander beer was sourced at www.Picclick.com, here. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

#Flagship Friday #3 – Ringwood Ale

For the June #Flagship Friday, on tap is Ringwood Ale from Toronto- and Halifax-based Granite Brewery. Made since the early 1990s it’s a blonde ale, medium-strength, and a draft staple of the house. Ringwood is generally served chilled and fizzy, or “keg” style.

The Toronto Granite has been in business since 1991 and is owned and operated by Ron Keefe, a former corporate executive. With brother Kevin in Halifax they created a brewpub offering traditional, British-style ales and stout, many cask-conditioned. In recent years popular craft styles have been added to the range, among them Darkside, a Black IPA, Galactic Pale Ale, zesty with New World hops, and recently #1 Brand New Day, a New England-style IPA. There are continual one-offs and seasonal releases, everything from a molasses-laced Colonial porter to the Lady Macbeth Scotch Ale.

Increasingly, the family is involved in operations, and daughter Mary Beth now directs the brewing.

The sister brewery in Halifax is run by Ron’s elder brother Kevin. Kevin established the Halifax Granite after a few years mastering the bar business in the city. He studied craft brewing in England at the legendary Ringwood teaching brewery of Peter Austin. Ringwood was the cradle of many an early brewpub and craft brewery around the world including, say, Shipyard in the U.S.

The Granite’s flat-bottom, open-fermentation system and Ringwood yeast both derive from the Ringwood training. A departure is a new closed fermenter in Toronto, the ubiquitous cylindro-conical type. #1 Brand New Day NEIPA is the first output, and mighty good it is. If you blended a fruity Tiki cocktail and a West Coast IPA, that gives you an idea.

Due to recently losing its Halifax lease the Nova Scotia Granite is supplying area restaurants and bars with Granite beers made at the original Propeller brewery in Halifax (there is now a second location). A search is ongoing for a new site to restore the longstanding Granite retail business.

Ringwood Ale was not brewed when the Granite opened, it arrived a few years after. Ron explained to me how it came about. He had installed a Creemore Lager tap early on, the only beer not brewed on site, as an option for the many customers then who wanted a familiar mass-market brand. While offering more character than the typical Canadian beer then, customers could at least relate it to their usual brand preference. Soon the Creemore was taking a good part of the sales and it was decided to replace it with a similar but in-house alternative.

Enter Ringwood Ale. The name was taken from the house yeast. The beer did not derive from Kevin’s stint at Ringwood, Ron and Kevin hit on the formula using a variety of influences including the “Gold” taste popular at the time in craft brewing. The new beer took off and remains to this day a steady seller.

Ringwood Ale goes great with the Granite’s pub-oriented menu. It goes great on its own when you want something cold and light-bodied. Think lightly malty, fruity, with a mineral-like tang from yeast. While top-fermented, it does evoke lager to a degree – a secret to its success no doubt. The pale-coloured base malt and moderate hopping play a role here, but the beer has a character of its own.

Ringwood Ale is a classic Ontario flagship ale. The Granite itself is a flagship of the vibrant Ontario craft brewing scene. Try the beer if you pass by, it’s a taste that has endured and may meet your own.

Down The Pub

A Visit to the Local, Streamliner-style

I have off and on been chronicling the appeal in the American social pattern of the “English pub” aka “English tavern” aka “English Inn”. The terms were all happily mixed and mashed in the American mind without regard to the original distinctions.

In truth, the appeal has manifested since the beginning of the American project, despite the ostensible rift Independence caused with British customs and manners. Perhaps because the pub embodies hospitality and hence benignity, Auld Country associations have remained strong here.

The origins were sometimes disguised in the oft’ ambiguous term “Colonial”, hence Colonial tavern, Colonial punch bowl, Colonial nog, and so on. Still, the British origins continued to be recognized and were made patent again as memories of the American Revolution and the 1812 War softened.

I have examined manifestations in the post-Civil War era, Gilded Era, and 1930s, and still have much to write, notably on the more straightened (but still indulgent) attitude to the English public house in the 1910s, when Temperance sentiment was at its peak.

Looking at the Eisenhower and Space Age 1950s, the era seems least propitious to find the continuing appeal. After all, Prohibition had been over for 20 years. America had re-established its drinking customs and related institutions such as the corner bar, roadhouse, and city cocktail lounge. It seemingly didn’t need fresh inspiration from overseas models.

1933-1939 was a different matter, when in the diffident period following Repeal the English inn provided the perfect model for a renewed American bar, one type anyway.* This was due to its traditional and congenial associations. By the rocket age, the idea could seem old hat.

In the 1950s the chrome, circular-chaired, Naugahyded lounge emerged as a maximal node of comfort. Dry Martinis were sold there, refined in the last 50 years and the perfect antidote to Atomic Age anxieties. Men and women in the service during WW II weren’t likely to pine for olde English pub atmosphere and warm bitter beer, and the designers stayed away from that motif.

Stayed away mostly, but not entirely. You could still find English-theme taverns in ever-cosmopolitan New York. Even in the American West, with its own tradition of drinking bar – setting aside where the term saloon actually came from – there was evidence of the enduring appeal of the comfy British tavern.

It hadn’t quite gone away, and never has really in the last 200 years although I think its apogee was reached here between about 1965 and 2010. Yes, “craft beer bar”, I’m looking at you, now successfully transplanted to Britain. At one time Albion didn’t take lessons in what the drinking place should look like. Or the beer. It was rather the other way around. That was then.

In 1954 when Union Pacific Railroad placed new locomotives and consists (the related cars and equipment) on its Chicago-Denver run, it featured as club-lounge The Pub, a sleek affair meant to resemble an English country tavern.

I wonder what beers were served there. America by 1954 had virtually abandoned its 19th century India Pale, stock, and still ales, beers descended from U.K. tradition. Apart a superficial architectural allusion, the modern American Anglo pub offered mainly a misty romance. Retention of the core ale and porter – the things that fuelled and originally made the pub what it was – was felt unnecessary.

Hopefully the bar list for The Pub will emerge. Meanwhile, we can ponder this Norman Rockwell-style vision, from a Union Pacific postcard of the period (see Note below for source).

Strapwork, casements, boarded walls and floor, Toby jugs – all check. The Day-Glo cushioning does kind of obtrude but it’s a stylized version surely of the chintz or crushed velvet cushions once standard in Victorian English pubs.

The “English” pub, as the “Irish” one that followed often as part of a chain, remains a cultural touchstone in America. Even Eisenhower America had its version.

Note: the image above, identified as in the public domain, was sourced from this informative Wikipedia account of the City of Denver, the train service mentioned.

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*See for example this advertisement by the Windmill Tavern in Brooklyn in 1933, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Guilelessly offered is “ye olde golden lager”.

 

 

G. Selmer Fougner’s Landmark 1938 American Dinner

G. Selmer Fougner (1885-1941), the American food and drinks writer whom I have been chronicling here, was invited frequently to hundreds of dinners, tastings, and other gastronomic events in and outside New York where he was based, albeit he could attend only a comparative few.

On some occasions he created or at least inspired a dinner, and the most memorable I know is the historic All-American Dinner given at the University Club of New York on April 5, 1938. (The image below is sourced from Wikipedia’s article on the Club, see here).

In articles that appeared earlier in his “Along the Wine Trail” column in the New York Sun, Fougner described the genesis and planning for the event. His Sun column of March 15, 1938 explained the purpose of the dinner and the important role of the hosting venue:

The University Club, in undertaking to stage this event, is performing a distinguished service which will be appreciated by all those who have at heart the fine old traditions of American life. Coming as it does on the heels of a long series of so-called gourmet functions … the all-American dinner at the University Club will set a new mark for hotels and restaurants all over the land.

At readers’ insistence, he finally reproduced the menu in his column. The menu is notable for its resolutely American content. It fulfilled too Fougner’s wish that it be written in standard English, without the French flourishes commonly seen in high-toned menus then. He also wanted dishes that one might encounter in hotels and other frequent resorts – good food, not junk certainly, but avoiding in other words obscure or unduly costly specialties, and all prepared to a high standard, with American wines only to accompany.

Fougner was fostering here the creation of a sane national American cuisine, parallel and of equal value to the French cuisine then still daily presented for the Manhattan elite in top restaurants and hotels.

The University Club was a good place to test the idea. To be sure it was and still is an upscale, private social club but its membership went beyond the confines of the social register, for example. A college degree was the main prerequisite to join.

Approximately 250 people sat down for the dinner and by all reports it was a great success.

The service of all-American wines – indeed even one at a formal dining event – is notable for 1938, a bare five years after National Prohibition (1920-1933) ended. For decades to come indeed, epicurean societies would routinely (but not invariably) overlook American wines in favour of time-honoured European names. That has all changed and it is the vision of people like Fougner and the University Club organizing committee who helped make it so.

Below is the menu, from G. Selmer Fougner’s May 9, 1938 New York Sun column. See again the committee’s notes at the conclusion, and of course Fougner’s own commentary.

While the menu is largely self-explanatory, we might note the “Half-way Home”, which initially confounded us, was a serving of apple brandy, this was stated by Fougner in a July Sun column the same year on the famous (and still going strong!) Laird Distillery of New Jersey. In effect it was an American stab at the trou Normand, the serving of Calvados (Norman apple brandy) mid-meal to make a “hole” in digestion to allow the rest of the meal to be savoured.

As to the wines served, Fougner had a policy of not stating or recommending specific brands, especially for domestic products; hence the use of generic terms such as ” California Chablis”.

MENU

of the All-American dinner held at the University Club and Sponsored by ‘the Trail’.

Cocktails: Manhattan, Martini.

American Appetizers

Cape Cod Oysters on the Half Shell

American Sherry.

Celery, Carrots, Nuts,

Long Island Clam Broth

Parker House Rolls

Indiana Corn Sticks

Planked Shad and Roe – Delaware

California Chablis.

‘Half-Way Home’ 

Breast of Chicken—Maryland

Candied Yams-Louisiana

California Asparagus Tips, Butter Sauce

California Claret.

Boston Lettuce—Florida Avocado

Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

American Champagne.

Sweet Catawba.

Coffee

American Cordials.

Description of Dishes…“.

One can see that inspiration was drawn from different parts of the country. The concept behind this menu did in fact have a precedent or two before Prohibition, nonetheless it represents with those events a milestone on the path to today’s heterogeneous, “food without borders” culture.

Today, not just American but non-French European, Asian, and other world cuisines are regularly featured in our eating places of high repute. They are valued as much or more so, today, than haute cuisine and French provincial dishes.

Indeed attempts are constantly made to mix and match the elements, fusion as it is known. Fougner may not have envisioned that but would be thoroughly happy, I think, with today’s culinary scene had he been aware of its intervening stages.

I’ll conclude by quoting, as he did to open the column enclosing the menu, a Trailer’s somewhat obtuse remarks. “Trailers” were followers of Fougner’s column. They often wrote him for advice, or to provide their own. It shows the stance, the idée reçue, to which the University Club dinner constituted a cultural response.

The reader’s thinking was widespread in the West at the time and it took many years for those attitudes to change, decades in fact.

“Recently you referred to the much heralded All-American dinner that was held at the University Club, and I had been awaiting with much interest the menu and wine list,” writes an East Eighth Street Trailer. “Being one of those benighted individuals who never eats anything, if it can be avoided, excepting what is prepared ‘a la Francaise,’ and drinks nothing but French wines (dinner without wine would not be worthy of the name to me) it would be interesting to read the menu and the wine list, both of which I had been looking forward to seeing in your column.”

Fougner’s determination to value American cuisine, to view it as more than a casual interest or daily fuelling, was lent weight by having lived in France and acquired French wine and culinary expertise at the highest level. No one could accuse him of culinary nativism, in a word.

Note re above image: Believed in public domain, sourced from the Wikipedia entry on the University Club of New York linked in the text. All feedback welcomed.