COVID’s Impact on Craft Beer Styles

The impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis on the drinks industry has been noted in articles, blog pieces, and research reports. Most that I’ve seen focus on sales dips, winners and losers for the new or enhanced ways to get product to consumer (online ordering, curbside pick-up, etc.), and regulatory challenges for pubs reopening.

Beer history, one of my beats, may seem distant from this new world, but it’s not, in many ways. A familiarity with pre- and post-Prohibition North American brewing contains lessons for the COVID world.

Specifically, I think it likely beer styles will diminish for the foreseeable future.

A 1935 article in the New York Post on a reopened, pre-Prohibition bar (Billy Condon’s) stated:

They used to pour forth new ale, musty ale, old ale, cream ale, stock ale, still ale, porter and stout from huge hogsheads at cellar temperature. They don’t make hogsheads that big any more; they don’t make the ales, and people don’t ask for them.

While some of these types continued to be made, it was negligible compared to the lager wave that dominated brewing after 1933.

Most of that beer was pale and fizzy light lager. In contrast, pre-Prohibition ads vaunted alongside the avatars of that style – Budweiser, Miller High Life, Pabst Blue Ribbon, etc. – dark treacly Munichs, heady blackish Kulmbachers, strong bocks, and eccentric steam beers. A good flow still of malty amber lager was sold, the type that preceded Bohemian in popularity.*

Add to this picture the exotic ales mentioned, as well as a couple of wheat beer (“weiss”) styles, an enviable variety resulted.

It largely disappeared with the winnowing of American breweries after Prohibition. The requirements of modern advertising and distribution as well as new regulations took their toll. Tastes too likely had changed during Prohibition, when bootleg beer could not offer the old subtleties and being wet and fizzy was enough.

After World War II, a narrowing trend continued, in Britain as well. The apex was reached in the 1970s, more so in North America but Britain was not exempt with its standardised keg ales and emerging lager. A reaction set in that put us on the path to now, but COVID-19 will wring changes for sure.

New beer styles and variations depend on the ceaseless movement of people in and around breweries and internationally. When that pauses, as recently it has, such innovation takes second place at best. The future becomes less predictable than the usual competitive pressures entail.

The main forms of I.P.A. will not go away any time soon but I doubt new forms will become popular. And lesser forms like black I.P.A., white I.P.A., Belgian I.P.A, and triple I.P.A. may wither.

Same perhaps for pumpkin ale, Gose, dark lager, brown ale, porter, and other lesser lights – in market terms – of the beer world.

It seems likely craft breweries will streamline their range for efficiency in production and distribution especially under increased cost pressures.

Ironically, more innovation and line extension may come from the big brewers who can support them with mass advertising including social assets.

From the standpoint of reasonable variety, I don’t think any of us need fear very much. A palette of beer styles is in existence to paint a fine tableau for 100 years, even if it halves, or quarters, in size.

If you asked me, I see Pilsener, three or four I.P.A. types, amber ale, a couple of porter and stout styles, and Saison powering the future. Possibly, too, some sour styles.

New hops will continue to emerge because that part is driven by the growers, so that will help keep a smaller range of styles lively.

If full recovery from COVID occurs by mid-fall, perhaps with a miracle vaccine in aid, the old days may return. Right now though this seems unlikely.

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*The excellent Samuel Adams Boston Lager, a craft beer success story, was a recreation of that type. Our elucidation of the type appears here.

 

 

 

 

Modern Food Culture – Present at the Creation (Part III)

“Wine and Fooders”

This follows on our Part I and Part II.

Cincinnati-born Louis Kronenberger (1904-1980) was a prolific author as well as drama critic, news columnist, and teacher. An East Coast public intellectual, he is remembered in particular as long-time theatre critic for Time magazine.

His writing ranged far and wide, from perspicacity on the merits of Pal Joey to 18th century English biography and social history.

His entry in Wikipedia sketches his achievement. This New York Times obituary adds considerable detail.

His 1943 piece in PM, covering a New York Wine and Food Society tasting, suggests an irreverent but highbrow style for his column “One Thing or Another”. No doubt he attended a real event but in this case invention seems order of the day, for comic effect.

It started this way:

Not long ago I was taken to a “tasting” of the Wine and Food Society. The Society – just in case your social position is anything like mine – is an association of epicurean hidalgos, such as Lucius Beebe and Mr. Jules Glaenzer of Cartier’s, and at their tastings they carefully sample a large assortment of wines. In France, of course, professionals have been sampling wines for centuries, but in the Wine and Food [Society] the members do it themselves. In fact, it gives them something to do.

All of Delicatessen Society* was there, some in monocles, some merely in spats. As we entered we were handed leaflets [the programme], and for a moment I thought maybe it would be pretty much like a labor rally. Mais non. The leaflets merely listed the 29 “American Champagnes, Sparkling Wines and Sparkling Cider” that the members were bidden to sample.

The Horatian tone is further shown by his assertion of French origins, whereas he was American-born. It was useful in the context but likely as well a joking allusion to his surname. The same for claiming to spit wine at the event, professional wine-taster fashion; I doubt he did any such thing.

Between the yuks though, he clearly saw something new was afoot. His statement that non-professionals were tasting wine knowledgeably shows a shift in the culture, as the practice became a cornerstone of modern food and wine appreciation.

His analogy of the meeting to a labour rally illustrated the communal or fraternal nature of budding foodie life. Maybe the “fooder” term suggested itself to Kronenberger from the term bobbysoxer, a la Sputnik to Beatnik.

In truth foodism is age-old, as L.P. Faust pointed out in a perceptive essay four years ago.

But the instinct had been buried for years, by World War I, then Prohibition, the Depression, and World War II. The pall continued: the Korean War, the early Cold War.

A full rebirth would await the 1970s but the signs were there even in the dark mid-1940s, and Kronenberger saw them.

Most telling is his phrase “Wine and Fooders” for these hardy acolytes of Epicurus. No doubt an off-hand boutade rushed to print, it was inspired nonetheless, forecasting the foodie coinage of some 40 years later.

With consumerism laying low due to rationing and supply management, Kronenberger’s bon mot wasn’t destined for the annals of cultural history. In a different time it could have gone the other way.

Grandees dominated such groups then, but as I’ve discussed, some events attracted a wider audience with publicity in the dailies. That, and the presence of commercial suppliers – the drinks and food were largely contributed – tended to broaden the influence.

The process took decades and occurred in conjunction with mass market food writing, radio and TV culinary shows, food and liquor advertising, and the growth of tourism.

Note re image: the image above of Louis Kronenberger is drawn from this Wikipedia entry linked above. Believed in public domain. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*This term seems to have been a mocking expression for a trencherman, gourmandizer, bon vivant. It is used in this sense (“Delicatessen Society Notes”) in a 1918-1919 issue of Harvard Lampoon.

 

Modern Food Culture – Present at the Creation (Part II)

Poems, Symphonies, or Something

Following on from Part I, the annals of gastronomy hold many wild and wonderful tales that would be lost to posterity but for the wonders of the digitized newspaper archive.

One tidbit we can rescue from dusty oblivion is Gelett Burgess’ dinner speech to New York’s Gourmet Society in 1936. This group was another of the New York-based epicurean societies that took root when Prohibition ended. It was helmed by business executive and food author George Frederick. I discussed a number of their dinners earlier.

Author of the well-known Purple Cow poem (a nonsense lyric) and enfant terrible, Burgess was a bohemian who early escaped the strictures of his Boston gentrified heritage. He is generally credited as well with inventing the term blurb. An abbreviated bio at the University of Toronto Libraries explains his career.

More extended accounts are available online.

Speaking at a Gourmet Society dinner in 1936, even at 70 he declaimed against the conventional wisdoms of gastronomy. Press coverage started this way:

New York’s Gourmet Society had to listen to some heresy the other day. Gelett Burgess attended one of those Gourmet Society repasts which are supposed to be poems or symphonies or something in food. Mr. Burgess partook thereof and then arose to speak. Among other things he said: “It seems a pity that you have doomed yourselves deliberately to dyspepsia.”

While the Gourmets were turning that over in their minds, Mr. Burgess defined a gourmet as a person who spends most of his time explaining why he is not a gourmand.

Read the rest to get the full story.

 

 

Burgess died in 1951, years before the good work of the Gourmet Society, the International Wine and Food Society, and the like-minded created our modern wine and food culture (pre-COVID-19 to be sure).

Would he be a gadfly still today? I think so. Who are his like now?

See Part III of this series below.

Note re image: sourced here, believed in public domain. All rights belong solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcome.

 

 

Modern Food Culture – Present at the Creation (Part I)

The early workings of the International Wine and Food Society, founded in 1933 in London by French-born gastronome Andre Simon, are revealed in the press accounts of tasting events.

This quotation of founder Simon, from the website noted, explains with elegance the mission of the group:

The object of the Society is to bring together and serve all who believe that a right understanding of good food and wine is an essential part of personal contentment and health and that an intelligent approach to the pleasures and problems of the table offers far greater rewards than the mere satisfaction of appetite.

Today the Society has branches all over the world. The New York branch, an early foothold in the New World, was founded in 1935.

I have discussed two or three examples of the early press coverage. So new were these events for the general public that the very term, tasting, was often placed in quotes. The first stories, at least by my canvass, are more or less straight reportage, usually with an arch cast, even facetious.

This is not unexpected for the time, and tends to greet any phenomenon when breaking from its sub-culture pod. Early craft beer tastings were similarly handled by the general press, bemused by the concept of “boutique” or “designer” beer.

These accounts were followed by more personalized accounts of IWFS events, usually by columnists invited to a wine or other tasting. I’ll discuss a few of these here.

In general, a light or blasé tone prevails, but with more understanding of what the Society was trying to achieve.

In August 1945 the New York columnist Alice Hughes (d. 1977), then in her mid-40s, profiled the New York chapter and its long-time Secretary, Jeanne Owen. Her account referenced below appeared in the Buffalo Courier-Express as Hughes’ writing was widely syndicated.

Hughes was an experienced journalist, an early graduate of Columbia University’s famed journalism school. She had a stint as international correspondent and scored a coup interviewing Leon Trotsky in Turkey. By the war’s end she was focusing on fashion and women’s issues (as then termed).*

After explaining Owen’s background and that the New York chapter counted 500 members who met seven times a year, she writes:

The famous “tastings” are served buffet style at one of our flossiest hotels, and women members serve at the various tables. Some of the events were outstanding. Mrs. Owen believes the greatest was the late afternoon devoted to tasting (and swallowing) 11 different varieties of the succulent Long Island oyster. Over 18,000 went down the gullets of the devotees, and were washed in by 25 types of white wine and stout. You know, white wine with sea foods, ducky!

[This and similar quotations in this series all sourced from the Fulton History website, see www.fultonhistory.org ,with specific news source linked in each case as shown above).

In line with many American and Australian accounts of early IWFS events a certain democratic spirit is emphasized, as well as their commercial utility – really the same thing. This countered the perception of such groups as overly elite and frivolous.

Hughes writes:

This gang of eating and drinking exquisites serves as a liaison agent between wine, liquor and food companies and the people who insist that their browsing and sluicing be correct, and just exactly right in taste and punctilio. Yet Mrs. Owen says that the pish-posh about which wine to drink with has gone too far, and has reached idiotic proportions. In a recent message to her constituents, she advised them to “drink what you like and laugh at the wine snob sitting at the next table.” I am glad to hear this good sense from such a classy source.

I think it likely that the ongoing war – Germany had surrendered by the time of writing but Japan not quite yet – underlined the importance of not seeming out of touch.

True, one had to accept to begin with the notion that eating and drinking of this sort was not inconsistent with the war drive, but I have not seen one account yet that critiqued, even impliedly, wartime tasting events for this reason.

However one views this issue an equable tone was set in Hughes’ account, in my view.

The chapter’s annual Long Island oyster tastings attracted 600-700 persons, as members were allowed to bring guests. These were far from small numbers, yet comparatively in terms of national impact, infinitesimal.

It took decades for the Society’s work to percolate through the general culture, along with efforts of food and wine writers, the TV chefs, publicists, and the influence of international travel. By the mid-1970s everything gelled.

See Part II of this series.

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*These and other biographical details appear from Alice Hughes’ obituary in the New York Times.

 

Pot-pourri

This is a triptych of culinary and beer historical items I’ve been gathering. Rather than do discrete studies, I’ll discuss the items together with a summary indication of my interest.

Wartime Wine and Oyster Tasting

The first is a 1943 news photo of a New York Wine and Food Society tasting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, wines with oysters.

I knew the Society had held wine and food events during World War II, indeed wrote about some of them, but not specifically about wartime wine and oyster tastings. The New York Public Library’s digitized menu archive includes a half-dozen or more menus for wine-and-oyster events held by the Society in the 1940s and early ’50s.

1943 is not included but the menus followed an established format. The one for 1944, see here, would have been very similar to the 1943 one. The events were held each January it appears, perhaps a post-Christmas indulgence that went light on the type of drink and food served.

 

 

The menus featured an illustrated, scholarly introduction to Long Island oyster culture followed by an extensive list of wines and a few beers. As expected, the wines are mostly American with a few fetched further afield, from neutral countries or other places outside the classic wine regions of France, Germany, and Italy.

The beers are Irish Guinness, likely Foreign Extra Stout which had featured in the Society’s beer tastings of the time, Burke Stout made on Long Island (Burke’s was bought out by Guinness about this time, it had been established by a long-time Guinness agency), Carta Blanca lager from Mexico, and Baltimore’s high-end National Premium. (The link explains a recent revival of the brand).

The 1943 image is part of a photo-spread, about half of which is war related. In one corner is a shot of U.S. Marines slogging through Guadalcanal, but sports, fashion, and nature items also appeared.

The epicures are of a certain age, which makes sense for the context, and serious-looking. I’m not sure if the editor was suggesting disrespect by gourmets for the war effort, or meant simply to highlight multifarious life during wartime.

The 1944 menu featured Trenton Oyster Crackers as a classic accompaniment to the bivalves. The cracker was long regarded as “the” cracker for oysters and had originated before the Civil War. Production continued in the original form until quite recently it seems. Philadelphia Inquirer coverage by Allison Steele about a year ago updates matters to that time, see here.

A Regional Cuisine for Quebec, 1957

A 1957 story in Quebec’s Francophone press, Le Clairon Maskoutan in Saint-Hyacinthe (on page 9, page neuf) reported remarks of a French food authority, M. Jean Hallaure, on the Québécois food heritage. He was clearly familiar with Quebec and other centres in North America, e.g. New York.

He proposed that Quebec vaunt its traditional repertoire as a regional cuisine to support a profitable tourist trade.

He suggested lightening the dishes where necessary, giving the example of the famous meat pie, the tourtière. No doubt he had seen seen similar initiatives in the French regions, and quite correctly thought Quebec apt for the treatment.

He was ahead of his time, forecasting not just the regional (French and other) food interest that continues unabated since the 1970s, but also in a way the impact of nouvelle cuisine over the same period.

In the result Quebec did develop a distinct culinary and restaurant culture, centred in Montreal and Quebec with some regional reach as well. This occurred in the last 15-20 years.

But it wasn’t to be based on traditional Quebec cuisine. This had an influence to be sure but the cuisine that emerged was a heterogenous one, centered around influential restaurants and their chefs – eclectic, often with personalized results. Joe Beef and other names will be known to initiates.

Scattered through the 1957 newspaper are atmospheric ads for some old-time Canadian ales as well: Dow is there, and Molson. Oland’s Schooner (lager) even makes an appearance; who would have thought?

British Pints a la 1956

Last, we have a 1956 poster from Britain’s main beer industry lobby, today called the British Beer and Pub Association. It’s a great example of generic advertising. The group carries on bigger and better than ever, among a number of newer industry associations (SIBA, The Craft Beer Society).

The image is sourced from Jay Brooks’ excellent Brookston Beer Bulletin, see here. Note his comments linking the campaign to a similar, contemporary initiative in the United States, which he has chronicled at length.

I like the poster for its clear, colour renditions of classic British “pints” of the 1950s: we see dark mild ale alternating with pale ale aka bitter, and a lone “half” of brown ale. Its solo status probably reflected its relative market position.

The colour of the pale ale may be noted, fairly light, not really the “brown bitter” of today.

In the 1950s bitter and pale ale were often still a lighter or pale gold, carrying forward a 19th century tradition.* Of course today colour is all over the map for U.K. pale ale, given too the influence of craft brewing. But it is fair to say I think that modern English bitter and pale ale are on average darker than as shown above.

Today beer industry associations lobby on many fronts, taxation usually foremost, but also, say, road safety. Pushing beer as the ideal drink is far down or in fact off the list. The health lobbies are too strong today for that type of campaign.

“Best Long Drink” was preceded by the better-known “Beer is Best” series, which lasted some 20 years. It started in the mid-1930s, vaulted the war, and continued until Long Drink began.

I don’t think Long Drink did as well as Beer is Best, in part due to changing times, but also the term seems somewhat awkward, even for the time. I don’t think it caught on in quite the way “Best is Best” had.

Note: Source of each image above is identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Not an invariable one of course, as we know from Bass Pale Ale which was more a rusty orange.

 

Pub in a Bottle

Really Real, Man

If we have learned anything, and I say this with the due humility any historical investigation mandates, it is that American “still ale”, our modern cask ale, was a draught beer. It might be cloudy, it might be clear. It might be young, it might be old. Pale, or brown.

But it was draught. Its bottled counterpart was bottle-conditioned ale. In contrast to the draught bottled beer was gassy due to continued maturation in the bottle.

This duality originated in the U.K. and was duplicated in the United States as well as Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.

Each form of ale was considered to have its own character.

Much cask ale in the U.K. and all of it in the U.S. finally evolved into filtered draft – keg, tank, most craft beer. And bottled beer in both places (most) evolved into a filtered, often pasteurized form.

These newer forms were more stable due to foreclosed microbiological action. Perhaps they didn’t taste quite as real, though.

This has been the schema of Anglo-American top-fermented beer since the 1800s.

Hence, a bottled still ale was a non-sens, an incongruity. It could not have existed and did not in Britain. It could not have existed and did not in America. Except that it did.

Some breweries sold bottled still ale in New York State in the Teddy Roosevelt period.

This is an example in the Cohoes Republican in 1908:

 

 

Bolton Brewery, north of Troy in Lansingburgh, NY in the Hudson River Valley, sold it next to its bottled bitter pale ale. Here we see them distributed by Stoll, a lager brewer in Troy.

Stoll didn’t brew ale from our inquiries so the brewers were working symbiotically.

 

 

The price difference between the still and bitter pale ales is quite notable. Maybe the bitter pale was well-matured, an I.P.A. style, while the other was new beer and not as expensive to hop and mature.

Here is another example of bottled still ale, from Harry Bowler in Amsterdam, NY.

Not all brewers who marketed a still ale bottled it. Bartels in Syracuse, NY in 1901 hewed to the binary noted earlier:

 

 

(It made up for not bottling the still by kegging the brill, we might say).

What was bottled still ale like? Perhaps like the mini-cask ale being sent to homes right now in the U.K. The very low carbonation would mean presumably the bottles were not stored very cold, in contrast to usual bottled ales and of course lager. You would need a warmer temperature, similar to that for cask ale, to ensure the minimal carbonation wasn’t locked in too tight.

See, the Americans do things their way, finally. They created a form of pale ale unknown in the homeland of ale. We can call it “really real ale in a bottle”.

The image of Bolton’s pictured, from the website of Lansingburgh Historical Society, shows a handsome, old-style brewery. Rather like a Victorian brewery in a rolling part of Britain, Shropshire, say. Southam’s comes to mind.

But it was American, finally.

Note: Source of each image above is identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Cheshire ale in the Village

About a year ago I had a series on American “still ale”, aka flat ale, that showed two instances of post-Prohibition resurgence. Memories of pre-Prohibition reached far enough back that India Pale Ale from Fidelio in New York was advertised as a still ale in 1934.

Another case was Quandt in Troy, NY, with its “sparkling still ale”. If sparkling here meant fizzy vs. crystal clear, the term “still” may simply have meant the I.P.A. style in general.

As shown in the series a 1930s brewing writer bracketed still ale with India Pale and other stock ales. We saw, too, that journalism occasionally mentions still ale for about 20 years after Repeal but as something of the past, unrecoverable.

For practical purposes still ale was a nullity in post-Repeal brewing, both as term of art and a type of beer.

As to its character, apart from being ale, the U.K. beer scientist Horace Brown wrote in 1897 that still ale had about the same carbonation as the most lively U.K. draught beer. Which means, not very much compared to bottled beers, cream ale, and brilliant ale.

The still ale Brown wrote about was new beer, à la English “running ale”, but some clearly could be vatted beer sent to the bars, maybe with a bit of sugar or other priming for a moderate bubble.

There is a further curious use of the term after 1933.

It appeared in a Bronxville, NY newspaper in 1934.  A columnist, “E.W.”, noted that a bar in “the Village”, the Village Grill, caused a minor sensation with its still ale:

Just this week we discovered that still ale has come to the Village. Perhaps, like most people we meet, you have never heard of still ale. In case you’re interested, it is the color of stout and comes in kegs all the way from Cheshire, England. It is very heavy and is usually mixed with beer or draft ale. We found it at the Village Grill, where Bill Schwarz is in danger of speaking with an English accent if its popularity continues.

The Village referenced was Bronxville (pictured), about 13 miles north of Manhattan in Westchester County. A small town outside the urban conurbation might seem an unlikely place for such a specialty, but Bronxville was an upscale bedroom suburb, see this Wikipedia account.

The town had an arts colony in the early 1900s as well, another potential market for beer exotica.

 

 

New York and Jersey brewers were producing some India Pale Ale. A trickle was even styled “still”, but next to an import from the literal and always-spiritual home of ales, the magnetic factor was never the same.

What was this Cheshire beer that got the attention of the village barflies?

The term still ale was almost certainly the columnist’s term, or maybe Bill Schwarz’, from pre-1920 knowledge. The term was not used in Britain to my knowledge, much less flat ale.

Frederic Robinson of Stockport has made its Old Tom strong ale, 8.5% abv, since 1899 (see website). Maybe it was that one.

Another possibility is Greenall Whitley’s Strong Ale, from Warrington.* In fact it had made at least two, as we see from the 1890s ad below.

By the 1930s beer strengths had fallen in the U.K. but some strong beer was still being made. Even a beer at 8% abv would be impressive by American standards of the day, whose default strength was half that.

 

 

 

 

Of course there are other possibilities. Maybe readers with more specialist knowledge will proffer a view.

At least one other strong British ale, from Fowler in Scotland, was available in New York in the same period. A minor vogue can be inferred.

Note re extracts and images: source of quotation above is linked in the text, from HRVH Historical Newspapers. Image of Bronxville, NY is from the town’s Wikipedia entry linked in the text. The Old Tom bottle is from the brewery website linked in the text. The Greenall Whitley ad is from a Brewery History Society Wiki. The Greenall Whitley label is from The Labologist’s Society, here. Each is used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.

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*See a reader’s note in the Comments. Having checked further, I can add while Warrington is in Cheshire, this only dates from 1972. Formerly it was considered part of Lancashire. Hence this likely rules out Greenall Whitley.

 

 

 

 

 

Old School ale Brewing, Brooklyn, NY

Leavey & Britton were one of some 50 breweries in Williamsburg and Brooklyn, New York in 1900. A 1923 letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Standard-Union memorialized 46 of them, the writer stating he wished he had patronized them more in his youth.

We don’t know what we have until it’s gone, as the truism has it.

According to One Hundred Years of Brewing (1903) the brewery was built as the Johnson Brewery at Front and Jay Streets in 1842. Some accounts have the origins in 1830, see this timeline.

An image appears here via Brooklyn Public Library.

Later it operated as Leavey & Kearney, whence a period of financial difficulty ensued. From about 1877 Britton, a New York banker, intervened and took sole control with his sons after Leavey’s death in 1887.

Britton’s two sons died however in the 1910s and the brewery closed after bankruptcy in 1911. J.P. Arnold’s History of the Brewing Industry and Brewing Science in America (1933) records that in the 1890s the business installed a lager plant. For this reason, we suspect the inability to make brilliant ale was not itself the reason for its demise.

I turn from the history to focus more on how the ales were made, a picture of which is handed down to us via a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article of December 1884. It lays out the classic lines of pre-brilliant ale, pre-refrigeration ale-brewing in America.

Leavey & Britton were among the larger of the Brooklyn breweries, a minority of which still produced ale, but all ale-brewers before about 1900 operated in a similar way: infusion mashing, fairly long boiling, open air wort-cooling later supplemented by a heat-exchanging cooler, top-fermentation, and unrefrigerated storage in wood.

Matthew Leavey explained his ales further for the journalist: the stock variety was aged three months to a year. The new ales, from three weeks to a month. His cream ale was “rich” and “nutritious”, due evidently to retaining a good proportion of unfermented extract.

The article gives a floor-by-floor description of the red brick brewery with dimensions of its aging vats, mashing capacity, boil times (2-3 hrs.), and annual production (60,000-70,000 bbl/yr, a high point from our review).

Fermentation was eight to 10 days for the younger ales but up to 15 days for some stock ale, probably to attenuate well his India Pale Ale.

He claimed the cream ale was “Scotch” in style. This is probably because, as I discussed in recent articles in Brewery History, Scottish “sparkling” ale was a premium import type in America then. The nomenclature “sparkling” and presumably the fizzy, rich nature of this beer seem to have influenced a range of American ales variously styled golden, cream, and sparkling.

Those American beers had their own nature and classification* but as ever, the lure of the import is strong. American brewers often sought to lend cachet to their productions by a foreign reference, just as today New England-style I.P.A. can be found wherever craft brewers roam.

Despite the best efforts of American ale producers their market declined in the period leading up to WW I, even in former strongholds like upstate New York. The reason is, the beers simply did not offer, when all was said and done, the quality of lager.

The following paragraph, from a 1906 article on top-fermentation brewing in American Brewers’ Review (via HathiTrust), explained why:

 

 

From a connoisseur’s viewpoint, nothing can beat a well-kept brew of the older style despite such dismissal in a respected tribune of American brewing. How to explain the dichotomy? I can’t really. Perhaps the American hops then lent the beers, even at their best, the “execrable” taste mentioned.

Many are the accounts, as I’ve discussed earlier, that attribute ill tastes to American hops, e.g., aloes, garlic. And they were used in quantity in American ale which to boot usually was drunk warmish, certainly the barrelled staple in the saloons.

Less hops was used in lager-brewing, and all lager was served cold which would diminish any objectionable taste. Moreover, fine European varieties were often added to American lager, Saaz, or Hallertauer, say, a practice not as frequent it seems for American ale.

Finally though I think the Zeitgeist, an appropriately German term in this context, had its result. Once fashion deems you out of touch, whether a beer, wine, food type, anything in gastronomy, you are, well, out of Schlitz(!)

That’s what happened to old-fashioned ale-brewing in America by 1906. The tradition continued in altered form – the brilliant or sparkling ale lauded in the above article. It’s a form that continues to this day and partly influenced craft brewing, but the older still or flat ales, as termed in American practice, were history by WW I.** Cream ale, for its part, finally merged with the brilliant ales to make any distinction bootless.

Fortunately, the small brewery revival that took root in the 1970s ensured the survival of cask-conditioned ale in the U.K., and its return to a North America long innocent of its existence.

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*Fleming’s Golden Ale though in Albany, NY had more connection to Scottish brewing doctrine. I showed this in my article “Fleming’s Golden Ale” in said journal last year.

**I documented earlier one of two isolated cases of an attempt to bring back still ale after Prohibition, but by all evidence it fell, well, stillborn.

 

 

Allsopp on the Seneca (Part III)

Here is a fuller story on Allsopp Brewery’s purchase of the Pfaudler vacuum fermentation system. It is clear from the account, and e.g., the total time for the brewing and fermentation cycle, that lager was the main object of this system.

It’s from an 1899 article in American Brewers Review that in turn quotes a local source in Burton-on-Trent.

To what degree therefore was Allsopp’s and National Brewery’s (in Syracuse, NY) brilliant ale, an ale? The 1901 Syracuse news article I cited in Part I stated specifically that brilliant ale made by this system had an ale, not lager, character.

This more detailed account in 1899 of vacuum fermentation, by H. Van Laer in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, indicates clearly that top-fermentation beers are suitable for the system. In the article, “Cold and Sparkling Ales”, Van Lear is more pre-occupied by other details, for example the order of cooling and filtering, to preserve ale character.

He considers that cooling, to 32 F, should precede filtering and carbonating. His description pretty much is what is done today via cold crashing and the subsequent steps to render beer bright and sparkling.

I’d think therefore Allsopp and National Brewing in Syracuse adapted the Pfaudler system to ale production.

Earlier, I had been aware of course of Pfaudler conditioning tanks in this period, often mentioned in period ads by brewers.  I was not specifically aware though, or did not recall, that it encompassed fermentation via an enclosed vacuum process. One of its purposes was to collect carbon dioxide later to be used to carbonate the beers.

Note how Van Laer lyricises the results of chilling and carbonating ales, going so far to state the palate is improved and an “extremely pure” taste results. This is exactly the converse of what CAMRA and other real ale devotees argued viz. “keg beer”, a later version of Van Laer’s “bright” beer.

One can see that brewing technology in the 1960s, the same type that resulted in Guinness’s nitrogen-dispense system for chilled, filtered stout, had a long history. So long and potent was it that American craft beer for the most part from onset was in fact this keg or bright beer.*

However, by virtue of being all-malt – almost invariably in early years and still to a great degree, using large amounts of hops in line with historical example, and not being pasteurized, the result was beer of excellent character – probably much like Van Laer had in mind.

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*A variation today is some beer is left hazy, but often more from proteins than residual yeast. Moreover very little craft beer isn’t dispensed well-carbonated and ice-cold.

Bend me, Shake me … – It’s Still Bright

Bright Ale Joins Clear Northern Waters

The brightness obsession for beer obtained strongly in the period leading up to WW I. And it was international: brewing then was a surprisingly small world. Scientists’ work was quickly publicized in areas distant from their labs; brewers moved around the globe looking for new work, hence beer styles too; equipment makers shipped their latest designs far and wide.

The small Silver Springs Brewery in Sherbrooke, Quebec was no exception. At the time the area was an English-speaking, regional centre. Many Loyalists and late-Loyalists, those who came in the early 1800s as a by-product of the initial surge, settled the area, whose French character was less pronounced than in other parts of Quebec at the time.

Britons immigrated finally as well, and so side-by-side with a francophone population the area developed a unique, bi-cultural character, somewhat like Montreal but in a rural, small town setting.

In this context, brewing did well and Silver Springs was able to resist pressures from the large Montreal and Quebec City breweries selling into its territory. In fact, when most of Quebec’s breweries merged in 1909 to form the National Breweries combine, Silver Springs did not join. (Molson Brewery in Montreal stayed out as well).

Silver Springs in 1900 was run by Seth Nutter. Nutter had been a partner in the business with John Bryant, but Bryant left to found a ginger ale business, the Bull’s Head brand. It is a sign of how pod-like, to use a currently fashionable term, life was in Quebec of the 1950s-70s when I lived there that I never tasted Bull’s Head.

We had our own brands in Montreal: Gurd, Kik. Canada Dry was everywhere.

Bull’s Head is still made, having gone through a number of hands since the 1970s.

On the beer side, Seth Nutter stayed with the business until the mid-1920s when it closed.

This Sherbrooke Daily Record ad of 1900 (via Google News searches) shows the bright beer obsession to the max. So oddly written is it that one imagines the brewer was making fun somewhat of the craze. It is tempting to think his surname was meant to emphasize this, but I don’t think so. For one thing his name was regularly used in more conventional ads for Silver Springs ale and porter.

Today, the rage for unfiltered, opaque, and other beers of foggy depth is unabated. The brilliant beer advocates of 120 years ago – which pretty much was everyone in brewing who intended to stay in it for very long – would have been scandalized.

Tastes change, aren’t absolute.

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