A Block in St. John’s Wood…

… vs. Kicks in Sydney

The British pub in wartime provides a near-inexhaustible subject for study. So much has been written on it, not a little in our pages here. So much remains to be written, given the resources in libraries, newspaper and official archives, and private papers.

Take this example, from Neville Thomson, a staff writer for the Daily Telegraph in London. The year was 1944. The locale: the Abbey Pub, St. John’s Wood, London.

Thomson was on assignment in Australia, working for an affiliated Sydney paper, when the account appeared. 

There had been publicity locally about reforming Australia’s infamous “six o’clock swill”. A 6:00 p.m. weekday closing hour had long been mandated for hotels. Over-drinking often resulted, to beat the closing hour.

Thomson portrayed an idyllic London pub in part to encourage reform of these regulations, although they endured in some areas until the 1970s.

Before television, before Instagram and other social media, the written word counted for a lot to inform public. A good journalist could do this in a few lines, as Thomson’s piece shows deftly.

In calm, well-paced prose he set his purpose as follows:

So the U.L.V.A. [United Licensed Victuallers of Australia] wants to give Australians pubs modelled on the British pattern … with civilised drinking instead of the crazy swilling that goes inevitably with six o’clock closing. And what is the typical British pub like? Here is a profile of my “local” in St. John’s Wood, London. Characters are not fictitious, and any resemblance to real life is intentional. The pub is the Abbey Tavern, in Violet Hill, five minutes’ walk from Lord’s.

The account, short as it is, is almost cinematograph in effect. He focuses on the patrons, not on the beer or food (or deficiencies in same), not on the landlord. He describes each by name and occupation, and the entertainments of the pub, provided by the customers themselves.

The Abbey was in the Whitbread Brewery stable, and long remained so, but finally was converted into a private residence. Near the end it appeared as below:

 

 

The Abbey was near Lord’s cricket grounds. Originally it was a thatched house but was re-built with the development of St. John’s Wood. I am not certain when that occurred, probably later 1800s.

You can see the original structure in its bucolic splendour in a Getty image.

Reading Thomson’s sketch, George Orwell’s famous essay (1946) The Moon Under Water came to mind, on the ideal pub. Might Orwell have seen Thomson’s piece before penning his own? It is possible, I think.

Thomson’s article resulted in a few letters-to-the-editor. At least one complained that Thomson exaggerated the harmlessness of the British pub. It argued Australia should keep its closing laws as they were to prevent the recurrence of generalized intemperance.

A number sided with Thomson, though. This letter is a good example, written by a lieutenant of the 18th Brigade, Australian Imperial Force. The officer had visited pubs when stationed in England. He cited a family’s Sunday gathering at The George in Colchester as an example of civilized socializing in the pub.

Unlike Thomson, the lieutenant remarked on the variety of beer available in the pub. There was mild, there was bitter, and lo, “I.P.A.” – not the tropical fruit-tasting beer of our time, but descended from the first India Pale Ales. This may have been an implied rebuke to what was becoming the standardized lager of Australia.

Flowers Brewery of Stratford-on-Avon made an I.P.A. at the time, as illustrated in another piece of ours.

Australian soldiers wrote uncommonly well, all ranks. For another example, see our discussion here.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Closed Pubs site (Lost Pubs Project), here. All intellectual property therein belong solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the Future (Part II)

In a posting yesterday, I discussed how a book in the 1870s forecast the “beer of the future” for France and Belgium. By extension the predictions applied more broadly, given how brewing was quickly becoming an international business, not in ownership but exchange of knowledge and methods. The book itself canvassed methods in the main brewing countries then (France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Britain).

Indeed the author, Auguste Laurent, wasn’t so far off from the mass market lager we have today.

Craft brewing is not the story here, in other words. It is important, but largely as a reaction to the trend these experts forecast.

The book promoted English top-fermentation and long storage as the way forward. This may sound odd, given most beer today is lager (bottom-fermented) and not long aged. However, in its essentials modern lager is similar to what the book argued was the ideal beer: at circa 5% ABV, not too weak, not too satiating or bitter, not sour like vinegar (as much Belgian and some French beer was), and otherwise stable.

The author solicited the opinions of subscribers to his trade magazine Moniteur de la Brasserie on the ideal beer of the future. He printed the responses in the book.

One of the most interesting was from Georges Muller in Lierre, Belgium. I could be wrong, but the name suggests a displaced Alsatian, a brewer who departed for greener pastures after the France lost Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Laurent notes in the book that brewers had left Alsace for this reason.

Muller made an argument not so different from Laurent’s. He stated the beer of the future would efface “local” styles (so lambic, faro, saison, white beer, etc.); would be pale; around 4% ABV (similar to modern light beer, which is very popular); not perishable; and again not too bitter or sweet.

Also, he forecast as did Laurent that breweries would become much larger and malting would become a separate business. At the time, many brewers still did their own malting.

Muller made an interesting statement in regard to fermentation. He states, it doesn’t matter whether the beer of the future will be bottom-fermented or top-fermented, provided it will be possible to, a) lower the temperature at will of top-fermenting beer, and b) maintain cold temperatures in the cellar. This is exactly what happened, he was prescient in this, and in most of his predictions. He even forecast the wide use of adjuncts in brewing. See pg. 153 in the link provided.

The distinction between top and bottom fermentation subsists, a complex story unto itself. However, due to modern temperature control, and I should add the cylindro-conical fermenter that gathers yeast sediment in its cone-shape base, the distinctions formerly evident between the two forms of beer have been significantly reduced.

One way to tell this is, India Pale Lager tastes rather similar to India Pale Ale. Kolsch Bier in Germany is lager-like, as is Labatt 50 Ale, and so on. It is more malt and hop types that enable to distinguish the two forms today. This is because certain hops and malts have become associated with specific lagers and ales. Very pale malt for lager, say. The Cascade hop to flavour and give aroma to IPA, and so on.

I don’t say there is no difference due to the yeast type used, but the importance is greatly reduced from formerly.

Muller was smart, he knew that precise temperature control was the key to brewing’s future. In the result other technical advances contributed, but he mentioned the most important one.

Hence, Laurent’s focus on top-fermentation is even less important when viewed in this light, and he got the rest of it pretty right.

These experts, in sum, saw the future well. It took in many cases generations for world brewing to do the job they forecast, but by the 1970s it was all in place. Then writer Michael Jackson came and rolled it back, partly.*

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*Jackson was U.K.-born, active from the 1970s until his death at 65 in 2007. The Campaign for Real Ale, Roger Protz (the dean of world beer writers), Charlie Papazian and American home brewers, the first craft brewers on the West Coast, and many others were also influential in this change.

 

 

 

 

 

When Black IPA Rules

I really like Black India Pale Ale. A product of the mid-era of craft brewing, it offers the stylings of West Coast IPA with lashings of black malt flavour.

While I dig beer history, here I will discuss more the taste I favour. I will say though, the style is not completely new. Some years ago I drew attention to a late 1800s English beer manual, authored by Frank Faulkner, that described stout (“black beer”) made in Burton-on-Trent, U.K., which he said tasted more of pale ale than porter.

So it’s a similar idea albeit inadvertent in this case. See Faulkner, here. Presumably Bass and the other Burton stars weren’t thrilled with his remarks, and thought no doubt they were emulating classic London porter.

On the other hand, as the modern Black IPA, something different and distinct emerged from pale ale and porter.

First, the type of Black IPA I don’t like. I don’t like when the beer is too dry. The finish should be slightly sweet, as indeed IPA should be by my lights – or almost any beer, apart Brut IPA and a couple of two others.

I also don’t enjoy when the hops really go to town. If it’s hard to drink, what’s the point?

I don’t like when the black malt taste, as in porter plain and simple, has an espresso flavour. The signature (imo) should be a burnt or roasted note, not espresso, or “scorched cereal” either. To be sure in Black IPA the taste is more subtle than for ordinary porter or stout, but it should be there.

As well, I avoid usually Black IPA flavoured with a spice, herb, fruit, coffee, or chocolate. I don’t mind a little rye or oats, but the game is lost imo with non-cereal additions. Well-made Black IPA is perfect as it is, and these other things put it off, to my thinking.

Of the Ontario Black IPAs I’ve had, the above, from Silversmith in Virgil, Ontario, is first rate. (Virgil is in Niagara-on-the-Lake and was settled by United Empire Loyalists, i.e., Americans, as much of Ontario was in its early phase).

The beer has everything in the right place including the malt taste. I’ve only had one or two beers from them. The black lager never particularly appealed, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Problem Bears certainly impressed.

I suppose it’s like that with every brewery I encounter. Rarely do I like everything they do, but I’m glad when I find something I really like.

As promised on the label the hops do offer “pine”, not grapefruit or citrus, to the advantage of the beer. “Tropical” is mentioned as well. I get that too, and it all works very well.

The strength is 7.2% ABV, and the flavour impact matches the strength – not always the case with modern craft beer, but 19th century brewers understood this well.

Next, I enjoy the Black IPA currently made by Creemore Batch House, the brewpub owned by Molson-Coors Beverage Co. on Victoria Street in Toronto. It is less strong and perhaps a tad sweeter than the other, but not dissimilar in taste.

Both are exemplary brewing, redolent of the natural, the real.

 

 

 

 

Back to the Future (Part I)

A Belgo-French Beer Expert Predicts the Future; “Running Beer” Explained

Among the “Brewing Library” series sponsored by the 19th century trade journal, Le Moniteur de la Brasserie, was La Bière de L’Avenir, or The Beer of the Future. It was authored by Auguste Laurent, clearly of the Brussels Laurent family behind the Moniteur. Perhaps he wrote the uncredited volume on blending also published by the Moniteur two years earlier, which I discussed here two days ago.

Just as today when a few years – or a few days, as in 2020 – can make a large difference to an industry, this appears from the 1873 book, compared that is to 1871.

Laurent in 1873 stated there was almost no aged beer in the market except for some old lambic and Faro in Belgium. The ancestral bière de garde (keeping beer) of France, he states, and presumably the analogous bière de saison of Belgium, had disappeared in favour of low-gravity, young beers, the bières courantes. The term literally means in English, everyday or ordinary beers.

Parenthesis. A previously unnoticed (or unpublicized, to my knowledge) connection may be noted between the term bières courantes and the “running beers” or “runners” of late-1800s British brewing, words that have caused no little puzzlement to today’s beer writers. This is not for the meaning, which has always been clear – beers with little no aging sent out for quick consumption – but the etymology. Why “running”?

I and others have speculated it was a borrowing from a sprinting human or conveyance (cart, car, train). In other words, a metaphor for moving fast to point of consumption, to ensure deal condition. One thing you can’t do with cask ale – the running beer of our time – is keep it very long. It runs, not walks, to reverse the axiom.

But I think now this is all wrong. Courir, the French verb, means to run. “Running beer” was probably simply a hasty or mistranslation of “courante“. “Courante” itself, for beer, perhaps was a rendering of the English “ordinary” – a pint of Young’s Ordinary, eh? In fact ordinary equates to running in English brewing, and likely preceded the latter in usage.

It seems less likely that courante was borrowed from “running”, as courante in its usual French meaning describes well a non-aged, or vintage if you will, beer. There is no reason to look to British brewing usage to explain the term. Vins courants is a standard term in French wine terminology, for example.

Returning to Laurent’s thesis, he argues that taxes on beer in France and Belgium were too high and, especially for France, complicated to administer. He advocated the English tax-on-malt system, even thought it would be replaced in a few years by a tax on beer gravity.

He also states there were too many brewers – 6,000 between the two countries. This, with the tax load, lead to excessive competition and a lessening of beer quality. Specifically, since it cost money to age beer, it was cheaper to make beer for everyday consumption, and cut corners on materials. Laurent states these beers were “table” quality or not much higher.  Contemporary analyses of late-1800s beer strength for France and Belgium bear this out, apart a few local specialties (lambic and some beer in Lille then on the strong side, 6% ABV territory).

Laurent states originally, most beer was stronger and aged – the bières de garde. This beer he notes, could have a vinous edge, but this contributed to its digestibility in his view. Between the two books, it is clear he includes in this class the beer of Strasbourg, whose aged form, the bière de mars, was made between January and March and meant for drinking in summer but often was kept longer, a year or two.

(This March beer differed from that of Brussels which was young beer often blended with lambic to form faro. The Strasbourg beer was notable as well, this from other sources, for a lightly smoked quality and use of German hops. The smoke taste came from using wood to kiln the malt. Clearly, Rauch [smoked] Bier in Germany is a descendant of this tradition).

However, Laurent states this Strasbourg beer, while still ostensibly available, resembled an aged château whose bricks were shedding – a charming image of 19th century beer commentary. So again, the idea that taxation and competition were affecting quality.

His remedy, and I simplify as any who can read the book, should, was to restore the older, stronger, aged beer. He advises to take inspiration from England, specifically Burton-on-Trent where pale ale was stocked to maturity before being sent to market including in bottled form. He was writing at a high point of the British beer trade and noted with envy how British beer had a large part – more than half he states – of the world export beer market.

The strength of this pale ale, at 6%-7%+, clearly trumped the Franco-Belgian norm, and the high quality of the malt and hops was noted as well.

There are comments in the book that a defect of English pale ale was excessive dryness. Likely this was noticed in beer imported to France and Belgium whose attenuation ran close to FG 1000 (zero, in effect) due to a prolonged secondary fermentation in cask or bottle. That said, English brewing was still felt the ideal, with double stout being mentioned as a particular type to emulate.

Now, why not German brewing as a model? Laurent hardly ignores the subject, but dismisses Bavarian lager, as well as the Vienna form, as too rich in taste and hard to digest. Indeed at that time, lager was generally high in final gravity and fairly low in alcohol. Laurent states it was consumed for its food value in its home lands but in Britain, France, and Belgium, people did not drink beer for sustenance, and needed something less filling.

He also is dismissive for another, interesting reason. He views lager as an artificial beer due to its reliance on chilling in many stages of its production and consumption. In this sense, I think he appreciated the gastronomic superiority of the best top-fermented beer, a form of brewing that long predated bottom-fermented lager and its industrial refinements.

The net is, he vaunted English-style beer as the future, which he felt again would simply reinstate the ancestral keeping beers of France and Belgium.

He also argued for a greatly diminished number of breweries. He looked again to Burton, where he said 20 breweries did the lion’s share of production.  It was better, he said, to have fewer but larger, well-equipped and financed breweries than thousands of village breweries. In another striking image, he states some French and Belgian beers didn’t even make the rounds of their own village whereas Burton beer was known around the world.*

In this respect the predictions rang true.

It looks like he was radically wrong about top-fermenting British beer trumping lager as beer of the future, given how lager has swept the world since the 1870s. Yet, looking beneath the surface, Laurent was not far wrong. Look at the kind of lager that conquered the globe. It wasn’t the dark, heavy, sweet, beer of 1870s Bavaria. That beer has changed. It became much lighter in colour (not too far in fact from pale ale in its English heyday), drier, and also rose in strength to its present c. 5% ABV.

That is the Heineken, Stella, Carlsberg, Peroni, Budweiser, etc. of today.

True, long aging was finally dispensed for this beer. Not too long after Laurent wrote, industrial refrigeration was perfected. Further, other means, notably cylindro-conical fermentation, were adopted that precluded the need for lengthy conditioning.

But the type of beer broadly that Laurent wanted – a beer not too weak, and not too dry or sweet – is essentially what good quality, modern lager is. Modern lager is certainly not sour, and it must be said that much bière de garde/saison was tart, judging at least from the historical record.** But as I noted in my earlier post, the Moniteur stated that the best aged beer should not taste of vinegar. Some British beer observers held the same in the 1800s. A term used to describe this was “sound old”.

(The decline of ale and porter vs. lager historically may be due, in good part anyway, to the fact that rarely were the former at their best).

Today, with a renewed fashion for barrel-aged and keeping styles of beer, a range attends the market. They run (sorry) from the frankly sour to a piquant type that I think Laurent would have admired.

For a continuation of this post, see Part II.

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*Of course today, craft culture, under impetus of the landmark beer author Michael Jackson (1942-2007), reversed the calculus. Jackson lauded and created a world sensation for precisely the type of breweries, and many of the beers, Laurent felt were retrograde.

**See pp. 245 et seq. as an illustration, here, in the manual of Lacambre, a pioneering, mid-1800s French beer author. Laurent refers to him numerous times in his book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Arms and Ormolu

 

The international playground of Nice, France, where Beeretseq was fortunate to spend some time recently, hosted the American armed forces during 1945. By this I mean, the Americans used the famous resort as a rest and recreation centre. The French called the newly-arrived guests les restées.

And so the news account linked below provides another example of war-era reportage on foreign ways and manners, in this case as disported in a third country.

Hotels were “commandeered” (my term, obviously everything was paid for), restaurants filled up, and the terraces aglow with sun-glassed service personnel (men and women) seeking R&R. “Everything” was provided to them, not without justice of course, but of America it can be said it does things, or did, in its own way.

There is even a brewing connection, as a brewery in Nice churned out American-style beer for les restées. A Coca-Cola bottling plant existed, too. Wish I could find more information on that brewery. Possibly it was a prewar plant leased from a French owner. Maybe he put rice or corn in the mash, and a few hops from Washington State in the kettle, but who knows.

I can say more but read the story for yourselves, printed in the Sydney, Australia press in late 1945.

It has a trademark humour that perhaps combined American and Aussie nonchalance.

A sample:

Hotel proprietors, maîtres d’hotel, and waiters, some of whom crossed the Mediterranean during the occupation, are coming back, too, and serving, with not so much grace as before the war, meals made from American Army rations to men and women. Dining is olive drab beneath high ormolu and gilt ceilings. It is significant that the president of all the chefs of Nice (M. Sauvan) is cooking for enlisted women. He isn’t even in supreme control. He is working under the direction of a woman sergeant – a nice girl from Tennessee.

N.B. See this Wikipedia note on Ormolu.

 

Blend That Thing

Here is the full text of a 140-page book on beer blending (coupage) issued in 1871 by Moniteur de la Brasserie, a brewing industry periodical published in Brussels, in French. The Moniteur and its publications had wide distribution in France as well and the blending book is addressed in fact to brewers of both nations.

Its full title is Livre de Poche de l’Apprêteur de Bières en France et Belgique. The sense of apprêteur is not easy to render in English, it means a “finisher” or final processor of a product. Today, especially in light of the (very few) actors in Brussels that continue this work, we would term them “blenders”. The book was meant to apply to this trade but also to brewers thinking of turning their hand to blending, or improving the blends they already made.

The Moniteur issued a series of books on different aspects of brewing, including the blending book (text via Gallica in France).

By way of background, the book appeared at a specific juncture in French and Belgian brewing history. Top-fermentation was still widely practiced in Belgium and the north of France. But bottom-fermentation, often styled Bavarian, was not unknown in these places. In fact, Paris counted numerous breweries making beers broadly in the Bavarian (dark lager) and Vienna (light amber) styles.

Britain, whose beers are mentioned periodically, was still vowed to top-fermentation, that is, mild and pale ales, porter, stout, and strong ale.

The book argues that the blending of beers is a necessary adjunct to the top-fermentation brewery. This is due to the frequent imperfection of the beers (at the time before modern temperature controls and yeast science), but also the desirability of achieving a consistent and pleasing palate for the public.

It is stated that the perfect beer doesn’t need blending – almost an echo of the theory of “entire” porter of the early 1700s – but in practice blending is necessary and salutary.

The book (no individual is credited) advises that a good blender can make greater profits than a non-blending brewer. The blender needn’t invest in expensive plant, simply enough store space for the beers and some simple manipulations.

The book reviews blending in various countries: Belgium, where lambic (aged 1-3 years) and (always young) March beer (bière de Mars) were blended to make Faro; Britain, for its porter; even Germany, which added young beer to aged lager to carbonate and freshen it (krausening).

The book explains how blending was practiced in Brussels to a high art, not just by middlemen, but by the bars (estaminets), and each often applied trade secrets of some complexity. That said, the book acknowledged that Brussels beers had a daunting sourness for many, and advised careful blending to offer the best advantages of young and old beers.

It was stressed that a good aged beer, and certainly a good blend, should not be sour in the sense of vinegar. French bière de garde should exhibit, wrote the author, tastes of lactic and even acetic acid but not taste of vinegar. A sour-sweet palate was advised.

The author noted in Belgium, even old lambic was often sent to the pub with sugar added, 1.5-2 kgs/250 litre tun.

Generally, sugar or syrup was necessary for all coupages, to induce a re-fermentation for carbonation and a creamy head. It’s similar to the U.K. practice of priming. (This is different from adding sugar to the brewing kettle or fermenting tank, and more supportable as a matter of palate and convenience, IME).

One fascinating statement confirms historical work published a few years ago by British beer historian Alan Pryor in the journal Brewery History, that when malt was cheap brewers made large quantities of beer for aging, and less new beer (meant for quick sale). In the obverse, more new beer was made and cut with the aged beer on hand, to drop the production cost. I discussed his work in this post earlier and identified further support, from America in that case, and also from the 19th century.

The book discusses blends of various types, not just of old and new beer, that is. The author has no objection to blending top- and bottom-fermenting beer. He states some German brewers do so who lack sufficient space to age all their output. This suggests, or to me, that so-called Schenk Bier, the pre-lager beer of Bavaria made in the winter for quick sale, probably originally was top-fermented.

There is much more in the book..

 

 

When the Americans Arrived in England

Outsiders stationed or working in one’s country during wartime, as discussed in my last post for WW II, provided sub-genre of humour, often dark humour, for journalism.

Examining how foreign troops or diplomats handled themselves were typical instances.

The Americans in “England” (as often then termed) was an evergreen topic for war-era journalism. The confrontation “Over There”, in both world wars, was often pictured as a tectonic clash, and has been studied by social historians and other specialists ever since.

A 1944 article by Beverley Baxter is a good illustration of the genre. It was published, or probably reprinted, in Australia’s Townsville Daily Bulletin. Baxter was a noted U.K. journalist and editor for the Beaverbrook newspapers, and by the time of writing, a Conservative M.P.

He was well-enough known to address American Forces’ organizations, and hosted senior officers for dinners and têtes-a-têtes. To his credit, he visited the American wounded in hospitals.

His article, written with verve and style, is well-paced. It starts with a gentle but firm critique of how Americans handled themselves not long after arriving in Britain. Flashing money, “The Girl Question”, dominating cabs and restaurants, were examples cited.

Baxter also makes an interesting contrast between the beer-drinking habits of Britons and Americans.

Hen then makes a measured critique of early American battle performance, diplomatically blaming a green general staff, not the men below. He notes that British forces wryly assessed their ally’s performance in Tunisia by the slogan, “Praise the Lord and pass the Guards Division”.

But then his tone changes. He states American troops were toughened in Italy, and expresses frank admiration for their fighting qualities in France.

He ends by saluting the Americans as friends and “humanitarians”, among other superlatives. He states that having spent time in Britain and proven themselves in the European theatre, Americans came to a fuller understanding of their host country, ending as courteous and nuanced in their behaviour.

But for the earlier period, Baxter spoke frankly, yet still with humour (caution: these words are of their time):

The American is much more girl conscious than the Briton. Despite the endless attempts of American advertisers to prove that the American girl suffers from an extraordinary number of physical disabilities which render her social success difficult, men of the U.S.A. insist upon placing women on a pedestal, instead of sharing the platform with them like the Englishman does. The Romeo of Pittsburgh searches the caves of metaphor to find new terms of endearment. ‘Baby,’ ‘Cutie,’ ‘Bright Eyes,’ ‘Angel,’ ‘Baby Doll,’ and ‘Sugar’ (I believe that under extreme provocation ‘Custard’ has been used) are some of the jewelled words tossed on Juliet’s balcony. Let there be no mistake. These epithets fall most agreeably upon the female British ear…

Baxter mentions Canadian troops a couple of times but to my mind, in an oddly off-kilter way. Once, he states that like the British, but unlike the Americans, Canadians are not inclined to trumpet their achievements. Yet, he seems finally to equate Canadians with Americans. He says Britain will miss both nationalities very much for the sparkle they added to domestic life.

It seems Baxter couldn’t get a fix on Canadians, or didn’t want to go there for some reason.

This got me thinking, who was Beverley Baxter? It turns out, he was a Canadian! Although his parents were Yorkshire-raised, he was born in Canada, grew up there, and served in its Engineers Corps during WW I. He moved to England only when almost 30.

He had to still sound like Canadian, and at least in part, and I’d think, too, his Canadian background assisted the bonhomie and ease he had with Americans.

It remains true that despite the firm views especially of our chattering classes, much more unites both peoples than separates them.

 

 

 

Testing the Human Spirit: War, Plague

In a time of national, nay international travail, usual customs are stretched to accommodate the unusual, sometimes to the breaking point.

Wartime provides a classic instance, and journalism does not lack for investigative study, both for regional and especially world conflicts.

The blackouts, curfews, and shortages of war provide some analogy to the current pandemic, but a key difference is the enforced civil isolation required in the latter.

It makes reporting a challenge, since the usual places of resort – bars, restaurants, shops, hotels, are in many cases not operating or on a much-reduced basis. On the other hand, social media offers inventive ways to report on current living which includes virtual social gatherings, assisted by quickly emerging apps.

Still, the wartime reports offer interesting analogies and comparisons. I haven’t found an archival news resource that matches Trove in Australia in this regard. Especially for WW II, its correspondents provided a remarkable range of reports on daily life, not just in the Australian States, but other Allied countries, and occasionally Axis ones.

The coverage included France during the Phoney War, Britain, including its pub life as I’ve chronicled earlier, Calcutta in India, Eire (Republic of Ireland), and America among other places.

Perhaps being so far from the normal seats of Western influence yet intimately connected to them, the Antipodeans felt they had to remain in close touch. Of course, too, most Australians had not-so-distant roots in Europe, primarily the United Kingdom and Ireland but also the Continent and even America.*

A report on life in Imperial Japan during WW II is instructive, contributed by a formerly interned U.S. diplomat released after 18 months. There are surprises. Despite their spartan life the population did some social drinking, albeit this was “frowned on”. And despite an iron discipline imposed on existence, a black market functioned.

I’ll link to two stories that illustrate the norm but also exceptions in America. Each reports in part on socializing and the liquor supply. This 1943 report, by American correspondent A.D. Rothman, followed a tour of U.S. cities, and probably typified the genre.

In general, conditions were grim: beer and liquor short, hotels overwhelmed, civil housing tight, restaurant menus pared down to the barely eatable, and taxes climbing.

Yet, contrast this report from January 1944 on the Miami area in Florida, entitled ironically “Wartime Living”. Even the writer seemed surprised by the relative normality of life, with fashionable clubs in full-tilt and mass sporting events such as the Orange Bowl, or betting at the tracks. Accommodations were sufficient (hotels, apartments) if not cheap. Some service personnel benefited, on furlough or posted to the area, but most enjoying the sun and fun were civilian, some war workers of course.

I’ve written earlier of contemporary wine, beer, and food tastings of the Wine and Food Society in New York, and there is a certain parallel. Some segments of society managed, whatever one thinks of the propriety, to enjoy a stylish life, at least at moments, while things were still rough on the war front.

I think the off-piste tended to predominate at the (geographical) fringes of the country. San Francisco offered examples, not just in entertainment and amenities but in arts and politics. The Bay Area had an active, mid-war poetry movement that helped spark the San Francisco Renaissance. A tiny yet vocal pacifist movement existed as well, still recalled by historians.

A sub-genre in Australian reportage was wartime humour, of which this account is illustrative. (No Pommes Fritz for me, said the French père de famille presenting potatoes to Madame for the evening meal).

These words from the story are worth pondering in our grim days – likely to get grimmer – of coronavirus.

There is nothing drearier in the dreary atmosphere of war time than cold-blooded attempts to cheer us up. Deliberate fun-making seems out of place, and only emphasises the tragic note. But out of every war, as out of every tremendous human experience, there emerges a real humour, produced not by plan, but by the strange, gallant reaction of the human spirit against the forces of darkness.

Will this delineation of the human spirit prove prophetic for the crisis in 2020? We will see.

N.B. Our next post is a continuation of these themes.

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*Despite this recent colonial past, in many ways Australia showed a marked independence early on. A 1947 press account, outside our strict range here, is worth mentioning parenthetically. For a few years after the war Australia had a manpower shortage. British workmen were sent to Canberra to help build the expanding capital, lodged in special billets.

Many reported difficulties forming ties with local women, especially civil service workers. It seems typists and other female personnel viewed themselves as above the station of the guests, or so the latter had it.

 

 

Selling Beer Like How

The 1950s was perhaps not the heyday of TV beer promotion but was surely its cradle, the proving ground in which tested themes emerged that endured for years.

Billboard Magazine put beer in the spotlight for an issue in 1957. Neatly summarized were six leading themes used in brewers’ ad copy especially on TV. The piece was called, “A Copy Checklist for Beer Commercials”.

The six categories were light-not-filling, flavour and taste, traditional processes and settings (Germany big here), notable brewing locales (Milwaukee), pure water (e.g., Rocky Mountain Spring Water for Coors), and soft sell/gimmicks. The last encompassed animated characters such as Bert & Harry for Piel’s. This discussion some years ago on Beer Advocate recalled the series and its appeal.

One of the best in that genre came a few years later, the talking mugs of West End Brewing in Utica, New York (aka Matt’s Brewing). The deathless Schultz & Dooley, voiced by comic legend Jonathan Winters, live on on YouTube, and in periodic retrospectives by advertising historians.

As Billboard noted, variations were constantly being introduced. The 1960s would bring more hip ideas – take Schlitz’ “three’s a crowd, four’s a beer party”.

Still, the Billboard categories are mostly evergreen. The long-running cold-themed ads for Coors Light are emblematic. That’s Cold, featured on Channel 4 U.K. last year, illustrates it well. The “refreshingly wet” campaign of Ortlieb in Philadelphia, mentioned by Billboard, is a distant ancestor.

Some verbal formulae almost defy logical meaning. Labatt beer tasted “crystal”. Or take the “sweeping smoke” of sylvan Bavarian ski country. (It wasn’t Rauch Bier). But specifics are less important than a good feeling, or positive atmosphere. The Mad Men knew their stuff, and still do.

I’ve written before of early efforts to acquaint U.S. brewers with the latest advertising techniques. In 1914 The Western Brewer, a trade magazine, ran a multi-part series on effective use of advertising. Here is the ninth instalment, on advertising ale. The advice is far from unsophisticated, but still there is a flavour of Gibson Girls and gas lamps.

Writing only 43 years later, Billboard’s coverage seems light years ahead. More than 43 years have elapsed since 1957 – 63 to be precise – yet Billboard in 1957 speaks to 2020 much more than 1914 did to the ’50s. The tight writing, with its indented bullet points, is one index. The clarity of the lay out and contrasting bold type are notable as well. Moderne.

Some verbal formulations are passé – things aren’t “tricked out” any more, and “every man Jack” will puzzle not a few. (It means, “every single one of you”).

But adjusting for that and new forms of media, the Copy Checklist fits our world pretty well. The 1957 issue, taken as a whole, is pretty contemporary in fact, especially the music coverage for which Billboard is famous.

1957 was ground zero for rock-flavoured pop culture. Much of the language and vibe apply to our world of Eilish and Drake – or the half-time Super Bowl show. Ren Grevatt reported (see pg. 27) that they were “rocking and rolling it between halves” for the Rose Bowl Game…

 

 

 

Coors and the Aluminum Can – Whys and Wherefores

An uncovering of local press stories attending Coors Brewery’s introduction of aluminum cans, and other sources, confirm and extend a complex story.

Coors first used aluminum cans in 1959. They had been in development for years, in a company-funded, self-manufacturing scheme under its Porcelain Division, which made ceramic equipment used or sold by Coors including beer filters and lab vessels.

This January 1959 story in the Colorado Transcript gives some of the research history (“4000 research headaches”) and rationale, including that the cans were much lighter than steel cans and would be recycled. The story states that steel cans, at least at the time, were felt to have “no salvage value”.

The change did not occur overnight. In 1959, only a seven ounce can, or pony, was used for the new process, sold in eight-packs. Through the 1960s, cans in progressively larger sizes, extruded in two pieces (body and lid) from a small disc, replaced the tin-coated steel formerly in use. This 1970 governmental collection of environment studies, see from pg. 573, confirms that Coors still used some steel cans into 1971, but after that only aluminium was used.

A September 1968 story in the same newspaper reported on the progress in intervening years to replace all steel cans. It also noted that the initial plan to collect for one cent each and recycle empty cans was abandoned in 1966. There had been problems with retailers collecting the cans and accounting for the deposits. Also, in the mid-60s there wasn’t enough aluminum packaging yet in the market to recycle economically, but can recycling was later restored and expanded by Coors.

The 1968 story states something interesting I have never read elsewhere: despite being lined – steel beer cans used an epoxy-enamel or other internal coating from their inception in the 1930s – a “minute” amount of iron entered the beer, detectable by expert tasters. Coors wanted to preclude this effect, and aluminum was the answer. From the story (via Colorado Historic Newspapers):

Tinplated steel cans, in spite of the best of internal coatings, impart a minute iron content to beer. While perhaps only an expert beer taster can detect with certainty the effect of iron from a tinplate can on flavor, Coors always has taken whatever steps necessary to improve quality, and the minute amount of iron was not acceptable.

Aluminum cans are also lined, but clearly the issues attending tinplate steel were felt inapplicable to aluminum. (Why this is is a separate and interesting question, but I’ve read that aluminum is neutral on the beer. The main reason a lining is still used is to regulate the discharge of carbon dioxide from the cans. I may revisit this).

Hence, the lore among many consumers in the post-war era that steel cans imparted a “taste” to beer may have been accurate.

Pasteurization, or rather its absence, is part of this story as well, as from 1959 Coors packaged in the new containers “asceptically”. This meant using a sterile environment and fine filtration to eliminate yeast and bacteria from the finished beer. Hence it would not re-ferment or cause off-flavours.

As an alternative to pasteurization, end-to-end refrigeration was introduced, from fermentation through to deliveries at wholesale and retail, to maintain the integrity of the beer. The company felt (correctly IME) that “cooking” the beer in pasteurization, where temperatures can reach 140 F in the tunnels used to sterilize the cans and bottles, altered the flavour. In this respect Coors was always a traditionalist company.

Pasteurization still exercises the brewing community; there are views pro, con, and neutral on it. Coors’ approach historically is worthy of respect, a vestige of its 19th century, German-American roots.

For years Coors used its cold packaging and distribution of fresh (unheated) beer to distinguish itself in the market. Its distribution arrangements, initially restricted to 11 Western states, reflected this as the beer had to be kept cold through the distribution chain. These extracts from 1973-1974 Federal Trade Commission hearings attest to the rigour with which Coors approached its brewing under this discipline. Coors claimed in this period that its costs to manufacture, age, and ship beer exceeded those of any other brewer.

The extra expense, it was claimed, was off-set by lower advertising and marketing expenditures. Coors was famous in those years for under-advertising. It relied mainly on market penetration, abetted by restrictive distribution arrangements that got it in trouble with anti-trust regulators. Word of mouth, in the era when Coors was chic, helped as well.

As far as I know, Coors Light (introduced 1978) and Coors Banquet Beer remain, in 2020, cold-filtered and unpasteurized in the United States.* Today, a number of mass market beers eschews pasteurization, including Miller Genuine Draft which is also made by Molson-Coors Beverage Co. And most craft beer is unpasteurized regardless of package.

Hence, the advantage of selling canned and bottled unpasteurized beer no longer is unique to Coors, and it does not vaunt the process as formerly. But when it did, this showed that American beer, even in the 1970s when American beer was largely uniform in palate, could be differentiated by other than just branding and airy ad copy. Coors’ manufacturing and distribution methods meant something, and were responsible for the marked success of the beer then, at least in part.

There was no more hip or cult beer than Coors in the 70s, everyone from actor Paul Newman to the Secret Service favoured it. While light-bodied even before the introduction of Coors Light, Coors had a certain something, by many accounts. 1970s reviewers gave it high marks in general. Michael Weiner in his 1977 The Taster’s Guide to Beer gave it a five-mug rating out of a possible seven, and noted its “purity”.

There was the odd naysayer, but often on the East Coast where (at the time) Coors arrived in bootlegged form and was often too old.

As I read the history, the aluminum can was not tied as such to Coors’ decision in 1959 to abandon pasteurization for non-draft beer (draft was always unpasteurized). Rather, two “firsts”, in the language of the press stories, were accomplished: the aluminum can, and packaging beer unpasteurized.

(For those not aware, unpasteurized beer is not dangerous to health. The taste may alter in time, but the beer, due to the alcohol content, is not considered harmful to human organisms. In other words, no form of beer is pathogenic, where otherwise correctly manufactured).

Coors was a pioneer in introducing aluminum cans to the brewing industry, and no less a pioneer in packaging beer unpasteurized. It must be credited for that and its environmental foresight, which stretches way back to the Eisenhower era and Rachel Carson.

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*Coors Original, mentioned in my previous post, is now brewed in Canada for the Canadian market. It replaced the Coors Banquet previously imported from Colorado. Interestingly, it seems Coors Original is pasteurized. We thank Canadian beer authority Jordan St. John for that information, who tapped his industry contacts. I’d think the Coors Banquet formerly imported to Canada was also pasteurized, as exported beer usually is, apart some craft beer. Hence, for Canadians, the question of any effect on palate likely is moot.