The Three Angels

A Beer for the Gods

Lieut.-Col. Nathaniel Newnham-Davis (1854-1917) was a food phenomenon of his time: restaurant reviewer, cookery teacher, travel writer. I discussed him earlier, but mention him again for his vibrant account in 1914 of Romano’s, in the Strand, London. ‘The Roman’ was a favoured restaurant of the great and the good, the bon ton, the stars of the stage.

It was founded in 1874 by an Italian immigrant, Alfonso Romano. The emporium lasted all the way to 1941, until bomb damage and the privations of war proved a challenge too far.

A 1951 story in the Australian press by Lachlan Beaton memorialized the place, its many charms and quirks. He tells of the “cream of the chorus and the gilded young escorts”, “Moorish pillars”, “discrete private rooms” and more. It’s a good counterpart to Newnham-Davis’ more extended piece.

While not a temple of the beery arts, Romano’s should be remembered for The Three Angels, an all-beer cocktail so to speak. I infer the name was a double pun, as Giulio Romano the Late Renaissance painter depicted Mary of Magdalene borne aloft by angels. See here, in the National Gallery.

According to Beaton, the drink was equal parts “Bass”, “bottled beer”, and “Russian stout”. The Bass according to other accounts was Bass barley wine, the dark, extra-strong Bass beer of historical fame. The Russian stout was likely, or often, Barclay’s Russian Imperial stout: a strong, velvety London brew. Bottled beer meant an everyday light or pale ale.

The Three Angels was favoured by actors of the Gaiety next door, probably for its restorative qualities. No less than Edward VII when Prince of Wales liked a round with his friends. Romano’s long-time cellarman, Bendi, favoured the drink as well.

Despite the Bacchic riches in the cellar, some patrons wanted a beer – and Romano’s stretched to make that special, too. The Three Angels seems a riff on an older mixture of bitter and old ale (‘old and bitter’, you know).

 

 

(Source of image: the online forum WW I Military Motors)*

Old and bitter was the house cocktail of the upper echelon pub, the Cheshire Cheese, on Fleet Street. But a temple of gastronomy has to outdo even a venerable public house. The Three Angels was Romano’s answer.

And now, acrid dust has replaced the fragrance of cigars, scent, and good cooking and soon nobody will remember Romano’s at all. Even its spiritual annexe, the nearby Gaiety Theatre, is a gutted shell— another legacy of war.

So wrote Beaton to end his piece. War, disease, and other distress, including now our current pandemic, work irreversible changes in fashions and the times. So it was with Romano’s, so it will be with some institutions of our day, culinary and other.

Even when Newnham-Davis lauded The Roman trouble loomed. He noted Champagne sales had provided much of the restaurant’s profit, but with war afoot in Europe the supply might dry up.

Did it? Another subject for historical inquiry. One way or another, Romano’s survived for another day, but the next war proved too great a foe.

Tonight make yourself a Three Angels to ponder the riddles of time and tide. There are strong ales, Imperial stouts, and bitter beers a plenty today to choose from. Let me know how you make out (see comments below).

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*The image above is used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.

 

Creemore Urbock 2020

I wrote about Creemore Urbock a few years ago, here. (I have a good half-dozen other posts on bock beer, if anyone wants to see them let me know).

Although I recall it being available on draft last year at the Creemore Batch brewpub in Toronto, the canned version had departed the market a few years ago; now it’s back.

And glad of it we should be, as it’s never been better. The taste is full, rich, yeasty, with dark caramel notes. You don’t, thanks be, have to “fight for the flavour”, it offers itself generously. Good hopping of the mineral sort underpins the malt but lets it have its say.

It’s a crafted product in every (meaningful) way, and a taste of history in the bargain, Canadian craft beer history.

Good work Molson Coors Beverage Co., which bought small Creemore Brewery about 15 years ago.

 

 

 

Pining for an Old-time Brew

Franz Schwackhofer was a Vienna-born professor of chemical technology. He specialized in the subjects of malting and brewing and was active in the later 19th century. The LinkFang site offers a biographical sketch, in German, see here.

In 1894 Schwackhofer wrote an extensive study of the American brewing industry, Amerikanische Brau-Industrie auf der Weltaussellung in Chicago. It is catalogued in HathiTrust but not available in full view. In effect, it is a full-length book, with 60 folded-in plates that surely would be most interesting to view. Some chapters were co-authored with another writer.

A good summary of this work is contained in a book review that appeared in 1896 in vol. 62 of the British journal Engineering. It is a careful, detailed account of the book that relates Schwackhofer’s views on the progress of American brewing, with which he was generally impressed. Malting, grain and corn types, filtration, bottling, and much more are covered.

So widespread was the use of corn in American brewing by the 1890s that Schwackhofer states other beer was now the specialty, meaning the all-barley malt beer that still had writ in Continental Europe.

The review recounts that American wood kegs were usually lined with pitch but sometimes with lacquer. Pitch was prepared from the sap of coniferous trees. A brief description from an American brewing chemist’s paper in 1942 explains the properties of good pitch, one of which is that it impart no odour to beer.

Beer casks were lined to keep out a woody taste in the beer and prevent microorganisms in the wood frame from souring the beer. Wood vessels were widely treated with pitch in Continental Europe as well, for this reason. The taste of pitch nonetheless by some accounts circa 1900 entered the beer, and was considered part of its “profile”, we would say today.

Brewers from Central Europe brought the cask-pitching tradition here. There is the odd remark in brewing literature in America as well of a taste in the beer from pitch. An 1899 Budweiser ad I mentioned earlier vaunted, in fact, its “pitchy” taste. See my discussion, here.

The review in Engineering, summarizing Schwackhofer, wrote that where American brewers used lacquer in lieu of pitch:

… a little spruce pitch is dropped into the wort for the benefit of customers who are unhappy without that by-product.

This almost incidental remark reveals to us that American beer had, or very frequently had given the scope of Schwakhofer’s brewery tour (see review), a piney tang.

A pine taste has sometimes been assumed by those projecting how American beer might have tasted then, but no one is really sure because later, as we see from the 1942 commentary, it was thought the pitch should be neutral on the beer. Evidently technology caught up by the mid-century to the properties of lacquer, an inert finish made from shellac dissolved in alcohol.

For guidance on lacquer practice in the 1890s, this 1898 article in American Brewers’ Review is helpful. It is called varnish here but the same thing is meant.

Off-piste additions to a food product like beer – outside that is malt, hops, corn, rice, sugar – were not trumpeted at the time. Yet through a side-wind we gain an insight on a key attribute of the beer palate in the Gibson Girl era.

Today, an endless variety of ingredients is added to beer. I’m sure pine or spruce is, of occasion, but I can’t recall the last ones I had. Brewers hark.

N.B. I wrote up Quebec spruce beer in this early post – a true survival of nineteenth century Canadian tastes. It is still made, I must look for it when in Montreal soon. If I get a bottle and pour a dash in a good craft lager, ergo I’ve made an 1890s American lager – maybe. The specialty kind Dr. Schwackhofer wrote of. 🙂

 

A Pioneer of the Modern Food Scene

A key figure in the revival and promotion of American food culture after National Prohibition was Jeanne Owen.

She was a longtime senior officer of the Wine and Food Society of New York, from 1934 until 1965. In that period she was the motivating force for its taste events and dinners. Her great knowledge of cookery, wine, and the New York hotel and restaurant scene proved invaluable for the job.

She knew James Beard well, among many other New York food luminaries, and helped promote his career. She also published on cookery, including A Wine Lover’s Cook Book (1940), and wrote for food and wine magazines around the country.

A detailed profile of Owen by journalist Naomi Jolles appeared in the New York Post in August 1945. It started this way:

Some seven times a year a group of approximately 500 New Yorkers gather at one or another of the city’s swankier hotels to give their taste buds a workout. In an atmosphere of esoteric gourmandizing, they sip at Madeiras, stouts, champagnes, rums and brandies (depending on the occasion) and nibble away at smoked fish and exotic cocktail biscuits.

Lady Make-It-All-Possible of these affairs is Jeanne Owen, a fluffy white-haired woman with a face that really expresses what she tastes. As secretary of the Wine and Food Society, Inc., Mrs. Owen serves as a liaison between the wine, liquor and food companies and that portion of the public that really cares about food and drink.

The numbers attending these events speak for themselves, bearing in mind too the war in Europe had just ended and the Pacific War was still ongoing. Despite the travails and sacrifices of the war consumer America was reviving, and looking to the future.

The story described some of the high and occasional low points of the Society’s work. A high point was its Long Island oyster-tastings, which I’ve described earlier.

Owen was French-born, which clearly assisted working with the International Wine and Food Society in London. Its founder André Simon was a Frenchman who had transplanted to Britain after World War I.

Before moving to New York Owen had lived in northern California, a centre of food innovation through the 20th century into our own. In the late 20s and early 30s she worked in New York theatre and on radio, and became an accomplished amateur chef. This diverse background made her perfect for the Wine and Food Society job.

She quickly became its driving force and wrote its monthly newsletter as well.

Jolles wrote:

The bill is $10 a year [to join the Society], $15 for a couple, and is an excellent investment for those who are not so well off, according to Mrs. Owen. “When you are not too rich, but still want a bottle of good wine, you can’t afford to make a mistake,” she says. “You can’t sample brands and stocks in a shop, but through the tastings, you always know what pleases you the most.”

Social media today operates in much the same fashion …

In 1958 the New York press again profiled Ms. Owen, see herein the New York Times. The second treatment is more sophisticated, but what comes through in both is the intention to popularize what had been an elite activity: food and wine for their inherent enjoyment, vs. mere sustenance or as received tradition.

This implies as well a learning opportunity, viz. cultures and experiences different from one’s own.

In 1958 Owen noted that young people were the most enthusiastic members of the Society. In the early days (1930s-40s) event programmes were cast on the floor when people left. By the 50s, people took them home: they wanted to learn.

1945, 1958. Food and wine in New York. What looks like distant times, distant preoccupations, is very much a piece of where we are today.