A Primer on Pouring

Tiny Bubbles 

Some trends in brewing are cyclical, some are specific to a time. Before craft beer, despite or maybe because the beer palate was so uniform, advertisements tended to focus on ancillary issues.

Before World War I clarity was pushed as desirable, following presumed – or at least claimed – consumers’ diktat. In the 1950s until the late ’70s, how to pour a beer was a key issue in beer circles. It was the subject of numerous beer ads. Every beer book in that time addressed the pressing issue.

Here, in 1959 in Clinton, NY you see the spin Utica Club placed on the topic. Walter Matt, owner of F.X. Matt Brewing, gave advice to readers in the form of the ad mentioned, part of a series of folksy, “armchair” chats the brewery had with customers. Part of the ad states:

Open a bottle of Utica Club beer. Pour one glass straight down the middle, with a thick head; the other down the side of the glass, with little or no head. Taste them both (with a soda cracker in between). I think you’ll be amazed at how much more mellow the beer with the head tastes. No bitterness. Very much like a glass of draft beer that’s been properly drawn.

Creating a beer with a thick, creamy head — the kind with the tiny bubbles that lace the side of the glass going down — this is the thing that a brewmaster takes the greatest personal pride in. Especially if it’s a natural head, like Utica Club’s, not one that’s artificially carbonated. We go to a lot of trouble and expense to get that natural head, aging the beer for months instead of for weeks.

So you can understand why it breaks my heart to see someone pouring Utica Club beer on an angle to cut down the head!

Was Walter Matt correct? I think yes, but it is intuitive for most who drink beer regularly to pour it, if not straight in as he advises, then in a way to produce a nice head. The beer is less gassy and for many will taste better. Less bitter though? I’m not sure of that, and anyway lack of bitterness is no longer an obsession of most brewers, not craft producers anyway.

In his day when beer was stored ice-cold and thinnish from cereal adjunct as well, it was easier to pour straight in without the glass overflowing or head too high. Today, richly malted beers, probably served warmer on average than back in the ’50s (ditto for draft), must be poured a little differently to keep it stable in the glass. Still, we take his overall point.

Yet many still pour a can or bottle gingerly to produce no head; they seem to like it that way. I see this regularly in the bars and taprooms of the land. That’s okay too. It’s a free world, do your own thing.

Today, everyone decides for themselves such matters. Canadian media and technology guru Marshall McLuhan wrote, not many years after the F.X. Matt ad, that there are no passengers on spaceship earth; we are all crew. Think about it.

 

No-alcohol Beer – the World Turns

When Life Gives you Lemons, Trommer’s of Brooklyn Makes “Lemonade”

With burgeoning interest in N/A beer (no ethanol presence), it is interesting to “go back” and see the experience of previous generations. Of course N/A beer is not new. In Prohibition days countries had some version of it, with alcohol ranging from trace amounts to 2.5% ABV. Before modern N/A beer there was “small beer” in the U.K. and U.S., some of which was very weak, and not dissimilar beers on the Continent. We can go back yet further to Mumme and the “seafaring” beer taken out of north German ports on voyages, some of which was without alcohol.

The Malta of the Caribbean, and similar products there, are an early modern form. Henninger when it had a brewery in Ontario in the 1970s made a N/A licensed from Birell in Switzerland. Henninger in the home base of Frankfurt had its own (non-Birell) version in the same period.

The fashion goes in cycles and as recently reported in the Guardian even in Germany interest seems at a high point. In the market generally large brewers such as Heineken with its 0.0, Budweiser with its Prohibition, and smaller players are in on the action. (The Guardian seems quite attached to the idea of N/A by my perusal, with a series of articles in recent years).

Partake Pale in Ontario is a craft example, a beer on my list to try. A notable development (international) is that different craft styles are employed, not just the traditional, lager-style “light” or “dark”.

A variety of reasons explains this: health primarily, the desire too to market to populations that traditionally abjure or frown on alcohol. The legalization of cannabis in Canada and elsewhere may see the success of non-alcohol, cannabis-flavoured beverages; time will tell. There are two sorts of these, those with the active cannabis agent THC, those without. And those without might contain alcohol.

In principle to me beer should be alcoholic, but more power to those who can sell, and who want to buy, a N/A. I am interested in the matter primarily historically. One of the most interesting cases is Trommer of Brooklyn, New York, which had unusual success during Prohibition. Trommer had about a 50-year run until its sale in 1951 (the Trommer brand continued for some years after under other ownership).

Contrary to the usual tale, rather than wither under Volstead and see its near-beer dying on the vine (!), Trommer flourished with exactly that. It made three “brews”: a light, dark, and “October”. Each of these, in accordance with American law, could not contain greater than 0.4% ABV. A concise news account in Long Island City’s Daily Star in December 1932 describes how the founder’s son, George Trommer, did it.

Details of his Prohibition success have been reported by other beer writers, notably Will Anderson in his 1976 history of Brooklyn breweries. The accounts I’ve seen state that George Trommer financed hot dog stands in New York exacting an obligation in return to carry his N/A beer.

The 1932 account refers rather to “lunch counters”, so I think it was more than hot dogs: sandwiches, soups, stews, chops, burgers, and the like. Feltman’s famous Coney stands were surely part it, but I think to be successful on Trommer’s scale the N/A had to accompany a broader menu. The blackboard menu shown in restaurant historian Jan Whitaker’s 2013 examination of the pre-McDonald’s lunch counter shows a variety of egg dishes, sandwiches, and short orders, for example. As well, George had expanded considerably the restaurant and beer garden at the brewery, which was responsible for many barrels of near beer sold.

This 1934 ad, by a local grill, supports the above reasoning. The grill, which also advertises Trommer beer, is clearly an example of George’s 1932 forecast that his lunch counter accounts will switch to full-strength Trommer’s after Prohibition. It is highly likely the grill was a Volstead era account of his as well.

In 1932 Trommer’s could produce 300,000 bbl of near beer a year. Trommer’s had, as mentioned, unusual success with the product, but was a notable brewery in other respects. Both before and after Prohibition it brewed all-malt, contrary to usual American practice then of adjunct brewing. Trommer’s N/A line was no different, the brews just had the alcohol removed.

As well, Trommer’s is a later implantation in German-American brewing. The great names of American lager brewing founded breweries in the mid-1800s, but Trommer’s Prussian immigrant founder, John Trommer, bought an interest in the Evergreen Brewery (est. 1894) in 1896, after years of working for other brewers.

John Trommer died in 1897 but not before buying out the residual interest of the Evergreen Brewery’s founder, named Breitkopf. The brewery then became Trommer’s Evergreen Brewery. Eldest son George, only 21 at his father’s death, expanded the business before, during, and after Prohibition. George died at 80 in 1956 in Manhattan, having retired (bachelor) to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel after the business was sold.

Trommer White Label advertised its all-malt attributes strongly in the 1930s and 40s but to no avail, ultimately: the business couldn’t survive past 1951. Competitor Piel’s bought the Brooklyn Trommer’s in that year. The Liebmanns – Rheingold of Brooklyn – took over a larger, related Trommer facility in Orange, NJ, purchased by George in 1933. These disposals followed ruinous NYC area labour strikes in 1948-1949.

But Trommer’s remains an inspiration, indeed is a progenitor of the craft revival along with Henninger in Ontario and Prinz Brau in Alaska (owned by Oetker Group, Germany), both in the 1970s.

The takeaway is, there are no iron rules in business. You can make it in different ways, even, for a brewer, selling a beer that isn’t a beer. So successful was Prohibition-era Trommer that had legalization not occurred, the brewery might still exist today. Nonetheless the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed, which George saw coming, and he adapted to the new reality.

Brought back from pre-Pro times was his English-styled, now fully alcoholic Brown October Brew. And so, a classical German brewhouse in America made not just lagers, but British-style ale. I would think the beer was top-fermented, not a bottom fermented imitation of ale, as later in the 1930s Trommer’s advertised ale as such. This ad (source: Jess Kidden’s Google Beer Pages) confirms such a product:

While not mentioned in the ad, Kidden states that Kent hops, meaning imported English hops, were used in the ale. Indeed Trommer’s trumped the British by using all-malt. By the 1930s British beer usually employed 20% or more sugar or raw grains. At the same time, our research suggests the ale was a late-1930s addition to the Trommer line, so I can’t rule out that Brown October Brew was not technically an ale. Post-Repeal ads do not use the term “ale”, but possibly the terms “brew” and “beer” were retained because the N/A October Brew never used the term ale.

In 1934 in Yonkers’ Herald-Statesman, Trommer’s advertised the restored full-strength brew, as seen below. Now that’s a beer we’d buy.

Note #1, re images: the images above are drawn from the digitized news, or other, sources identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historic purposes. All feedback welcomed.
Note #2 on  sources: our account relies in part on a 1984 Trommer Brewery series in the Ridgewood Times of Ridgewood, NY, available courtesy Fulton Historical Newspapers. As an example, here is the second article. No author is identified, but we think Will Anderson may have contributed or assisted with the article as we understand he lived in New Jersey, broadly part of the New York conurbation.

 

 

Brodi’s Brought Back

Most of us can recall special moments from “way back”, music we heard, art we saw, a building, a landscape, something that resonates for years, and rue how difficult is the recapture. Marcel Proust made a career of it.

For example, in the period when I visited the Brodi’s club in Plattsburgh, NY in the early 1970s, I greatly enjoyed the house band. To my memory they were tight, accomplished, pros in every way even though doing mostly (or so it seemed) cover material.

It’s a memory I must nurture as without a time machine, how could I go back and hear it again? Fortunately and against all odds, I can, and did. Former members of the band US uploaded two tapes from exactly the period I knew, on You Tube, this is one. And it is just as I recall, listen to the great version of Chicago’s “I’m a Man”, near the end.

If I turn it up, dim the lights, in a way I am at Brodi’s again, all I need is a can of PBR. (Well – I’ll skip that part. You will forgive me, I know).

I stated earlier that the drive each way was 1.5 hrs. My friend Charles – he did the driving, so he should know – told me this morning we often did it in 1 1/4 hrs, hitting 75 mph at times.

I don’t recall ever meeting anyone at Brodi’s, ever speaking to anyone. I just watched the band and sipped a beer or two. It must have been two, Charles says I sometimes dozed on the way home.

So I don’t have any sizzling memories of the place, it was all very correct. After all too we were in a foreign land and careful not to get into arguments or other awkward situations. We needed to get home for Monday’s classes in Legal Philosophy, say. The Hart-Fuller Debate and, oh never mind.

Others surely have more exciting memories of Brodi’s. An American sportswriter, Bill Tangen, recorded his in 2005, you can read them here in his book Choices: Memoirs of a Sportswriter. It has to do with two dates he made in one night at the bar, spaced to avoid overlap, but one girl was late…

My experiences were more anodyne, yes. Still, I value them: interesting new beers; U.S. cigarettes (Venus to our Mars of Virginia blends); the band; the dancing couples; even the local accent – there is one, even such a short distance from Canada. Plattsburgh then was like being thousands of miles from home. Parts of London or Paris today resemble Toronto more than any part of Plattsburgh did then.

Good times, not least the music. And I can hear it all again. Thank you, Tim Berners-Lee, thank you, ex-members of the band US for your wonderful upload, something only made possible through magic McLuhan “circuitry”.

Of course the building has another use now, the restaurant, band, and bar are gone. Charles told me he remembered the metal fencing on the landing. It is still there.

Note re image: the image above was drawn from a video on You Tube of performances by an earlier band, the Starfires, at Brodi’s, see here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and historic purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Brodi’s Bar and Restaurant, Plattsburgh, NY

Of Big Birds and Less Big (but Interesting) Beers

I mentioned on Twitter yesterday a long-closed bar and restaurant in Plattsburgh, New York, Brodi’s. That was in fact the spelling, not the more commonly encountered Brodie or Brody.

Using digitized news and other sources, I pieced its history pretty well. First though, how did I know about the place? I grew up in Montreal, about 70 miles to the north over the international border. On weekends sometimes we drove down to hear the music and drink a beer, as Brodi’s was known for its live bands. Even the jukebox was great as it was a golden era for rock and roll, so you couldn’t miss.

At that time, traffic was much lighter than now, we did the trip in about an hour and half allowing for the border (usually just a wave-through). We might leave at 6:30 pm., spend a couple of hours in Plattsburgh, and were back before midnight. We used to eat something first, or after, so the actual time at Brodi’s may have been just an hour or ninety minutes.

From the centre of Plattsburgh you had to drive over a bridge, past Air Force barracks on South Peru Street. Brody’s was on McKinley Street and the area today is fully urbanized but at the time was quite sparse in buildings and amenities.

Brodi’s was a hangout for airmen of Plattsburgh Air Force Base, a Strategic Air Command base for the “big birds”. Of course the war was on and there was a lot of activity in Plattsburgh.

I recall going to Brodi’s only with Charles, a good friend who now lives in Las Vegas. This was between 1970 and 1973. After I got married I don’t think I went there again, maybe once or twice. We still made the drive but usually during the day for shopping and to try different restaurants. The first McDonald’s I went to was in Plattsburgh and I still remember the taste, the pink mayonnaise from the Big Mac.

My early interest in beer was definitely kindled at Brodi’s. The reason simply was the different beer range one saw – brands like Genesee, Piel, Utica Club, Ballantine, Schaefer, Budweiser, Pabst. The glowing curved signs made an impression as well.

I can’t recall ever drinking a dark beer at Brodi’s, but even regular lager and ale seemed noticeably different to Canadian beers. Unlike today when mass market brands are available internationally, each region had its own brands. Eastern Canada as a whole had a different style of beer than lager or even ale in the U.S. In fact, Michael Weiner, in his 1978 Taster’s Guide to Beer, states that “Canadian sparkling ale” was a distinctive type as worthy of notice as other international styles of renown.

Had the style been maintained in its mid-20th century integrity, it may have sustained the Canadian industry longer than actually occurred. Signature brands were Molson Export Ale, Labatt 50, O’Keefe Ale, Brading Ale, Labatt India Pale Ale, Molson Stock Ale. But in time the brands got lighter or were supplanted by light-tasting lagers. Finally American brands appeared, Budweiser and Miller Lite were the first. Ironically, today that older Canadian style can be tasted again via the craft brewers, Beau’s Lugtread Ale is a good example.

Despite circa 1970 Canadian ale being ostensibly better than American beer, one is always attracted by the new, or different, so I tried the beers at Brodi’s and liked them for that reason. I remember Schaefer being particularly good with a lingering bitterness in the throat.

Brodi’s was originally owned by Mike and Beatrice Brodi, now deceased. It started as a ranch-style bar and steakhouse, outside the centre of Plattsburgh, with a later addition for dancing, which became the nucleus of the club.

According to this 1975 news report in the North Countryman of Elizabethtown, NY the founders sold Brodi’s in 1969 to two brothers in a band, Deane and Dale Tremblay. In turn they sold it in 1973, so the time I recall at Brodi’s was under their ownership. It makes sense as the music was particularly good and clearly it is their house band I recall.

Here is something I have no recollection of, but in retrospect may have helped to stimulate my interest in beer history. The North Countryman states that Dale Tremblay liked Genesee Beer and:

While playing at Brodi’s, [Dale] and bass player Spencer Bosworth (also a staunch Genesee man) would often do important spoofs of the Genny ads.

I must have seen these, and would have known the ads because Plattsburgh TV stations could be viewed in Montreal via aerial antennas and Rediffusion.

It was a way of looking at beer differently, anyway. It’s funny the things you learn 50 years down the road.

On Google Maps you can see well the geography and how we travelled there. Plattsburgh is between broad Lake Champlain (Vermont to the other side) and Interstate #87, which took us down from Montreal. The big airfield in the centre was the Air Force’s, and is now Plattsburgh International Airport.

The site of Brodi’s is now a dancing school. As far as I can tell, the buildings are original. I’ll elaborate in a future post.

For a second part to this post, see here.

Note re image: the image above is from the April 25, 1970 issue of the Press-Republican in Plattsburgh, NY, sourced via Fulton Newspapers, see here. All intellectual property therein belongs to solely to its lawful owners, as applicable, and is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

“Conviviality’s Firmament”

New York’s Boîtes in the Golden Days

In a December 1934 article in the New York Sun Martin Green described the notable bars and saloons of pre-Prohibition New York.

Green was a 1930s journalist for the Sun, Herald, Jewish Post, and other newspapers. He recounts that G. Selmer Fougner, the New York food and drink writer, asked him to record pre-Prohibition New York saloons to show, we might say, “the way things were”. Hence it is a kind of guest column for The Wine Trail, Fougner’s daily chronicle in the Sun between 1933 and 1941.

Green stressed that he only offers highlights, yet still mentions 40 or 50 establishments. While essentially a catalogue and important to drinks historians, Green also includes amusing and even cautionary asides. He notes that his erstwhile cohorts, while presumed to have iron constitutions and kidneys, ended with the “iron machinery” “rusted” and “disintegrating”.

Some of the old friends “went on the water wagon”, and those who did not, were no longer present to muse on Green’s account. A few, as clearly Green himself, survived the old days quite well, probably due to observing more than absorbing…

Most or all of the old Manhattan bars we have discussed in these pages, such as McSorley’s, The Grapevine, and Billy’s Bar, are not mentioned by Green. I think the reason is, he covered more high-end resorts, alluding often to their “classy” or “very classy” nature. (Here we focus resolutely on the beer bar, a resort of the hoi polloi almost by definition).

Hoffman House is a good example, remembered to this day for its lurid wall paintings and great and good (or not so good) patrons. This 2013 post in the blog Ephemeral New York sets out the essentials well.

Green describes the great ambition of south Manhattan bar crawls: to reach Hoffman House or another storied aerie. But 14th Street proved the limit every time, even for the iron-lined bon ton.

When you read enough about American bar and liquor customs into the Prohibition period, you get a sense that there did seem to be a licentiousness at the core. A drink or two wasn’t enough, it seems, for much of the clientele. The idea of excess and a certain riotousness seemed writ into the system, and this is reflected in Green’s piece.

Another way we know this is reports of people, and post-Prohibition Ontario is no different, on the new legal beers whose strength was held to around 4% ABV. Press stories regularly reported complaints of not being able easily to “get drunk”.  Taste was remarked too as I discussed earlier in the context of Fougner’s investigations, but the main problem was to get drunk without undue cost, or to order enough beer at one sitting to get the effect faster. In Ontario in the mid-1940s waiters could only serve one beer at a time to the customer, whence a mini (?) social crisis ensued.

This atmosphere is what the Temperance people aimed to stop, and while the ambition was flawed – Green calls it a “blight” – the practical reasons impelling it were hard to gainsay. Industry self-interest could not, and cannot, disguise this.

The answer of course was reformation, not abolition, and this in fact did occur finally. Tight controls were placed on the post-Prohibition bar, including in Canada, with as well a continuation of dry policies in large parts of both countries.

Still, to have been a fly on the wall for one of Green and Co.’s sorties… “I’ll have a schooner of still ale or India Pale Ale, please, and maybe a bourbon to follow, but no more, Mr. Green. An electric cab awaits me at 5th Street”.

Obs. The Russian vodka ad in the same issue shows that the Slavic drink was gaining traction well before Russian emigre Rudolph Kunett and New Jersey’s Heublein Inc. made their mark with Smirnoff commencing c.1940. Between 1934 and 1938 Kunett produced vodka in Connecticut but did not succeed, it was too new (although probably available in tiny amounts before Prohibition, I did not check).

An exacerbating factor though was surely the presence in New York of the Russian original.  The brand shown seems clearly to be what was later known internationally as Moskovskaya.