Richard Grant White in England

A Multifaceted View of English Drinking Customs

Richard G. White was a notable journalist, editor, essayist and author in mid-century America. That’s the 19th century, one of our frequent haunts here.

White was Manhattan-born, descended from the proverbial old New England family. (He was the father of ill-starred Stanford White, the famous architect).

Biographical material abounds, e.g. this Wikipedia sketch. White is pictured below, via this link.

He studied both medicine and law but elected law as a profession. After some years practising he devoted most of his time to writing. Among his specialties were Shakespearean scholarship and both musical and literary criticism.

His book England Without and Within, from 1881, described his travels there, in the time-honoured fashion of American pilgrimage of that period.

By pilgrimage, I mean, not just a visit to an influential (obviously) nation in American history, but by someone of that ancestry, who felt a pull to visit.

The opening lines of this book explain well this yearning:

… [I had] a great interest in a land beyond the sea, but within ten days’ steaming, where my forefathers had lived for about eleven hundred years, [and so] I went to England; to visit which had been one of the great unsatisfied longings of my life. I found there even more to interest me than I had looked for, although I saw less of the country and of my many friends within it than I had hoped to see. It was almost inevitable that a man who had written about matters much less near to him than this was to me should tell the tale of such a journey; and hence this book, which, although an honest one, I believe, and written in a candid spirit, is truly a labor of love.

His work had been published in London well before his visit, so he was a known quantity on arrival. This facilitated his visit in many ways.

Our interest here is mainly on the beer. He devotes many passages to this subject, indeed a full chapter on what he called the National Vice. He was somewhat measured, indicating, as do other sources, that unabated drinking was in decline by the later 1800s.

Nonetheless he made clear his distaste for what he felt was excessive consumption.

First, while he states the labouring classes were seriously afflicted by over-drinking, he exempts not others in the English mosaic. I say English, not British, as his remarks I saw pertained to England: London, but also other parts including Cambridge, Birmingham, and Stratford.

He is very specific for example on water-drinking, by noting its virtual absence. He added, perhaps this was due to people receiving so much of the stuff externally. American humour.

He states even for normal (not festive) dining, both mid-day and evening, no one drank water, but rather beer or wine, although his dining seems to have been limited to restaurants and prosperous hosts. Only once did he see at dinner water being drunk, by the nephew of his host.

The host remonstrated with the young relation for doing that, which seems hard to believe today, but there it is.

 

 

He was struck how females drank, of all backgrounds again, often combining different drinks in an evening. The American pattern was quite different as he notes numerous times, although he makes clear that the English model obtained at an earlier period in American history.

He depreciates beer in American drinking customs, stating it was regarded as “coarse”. Lager, he notes, was now more widespread but he gives it little attention.

By beer, he meant the ale and porter heritage the British had bequeathed to America. He states that such beer, so ale and porter made by the surviving East Coast breweries, mainly, was available here and there but its social rank clearly put him off.

The surviving old-school breweries were in fact respected institutions especially in New York, White’s home base, but he seems not to have been aware of this. More likely, he didn’t care.

He states when leaving college he had not exceeded drinking three pints of beer in his whole life. Whereas in England, for many this was simply a daily tally.

The style of writing is typically Victorian, somewhat ornate and with a rhythmic pattern to the clauses and sub-clauses typical of the time. Still, flashes of the American insouciance appear.

Writing to his American audience he states, to those liable perhaps to think ill of England on account of the vice noted, “I’m looking at you”.

He was saying, don’t be too judgmental: you share the same ancestors.

Despite all this, it would be a mistake to think White wrote a temperance tract. And in fact, he exhibited, rather trop I thought for one seemingly chary of drink, a liking for English beer!

At Trinity College he was much impressed with its ale (then brewed at the college), and expressed this to his host. So enthusiastic was White, the host bade him to drink Trinity’s very special “audit ale”.

The dean of beer writers, the Briton Roger Protz, described well this historic beer style in this blogpost a few years ago. He links the old tradition to contemporary expressions of the style, which makes it even more relevant.

In fact, Protz refers to White, not by name, but by noting a 19th century taster compared the audit ale to Chateau d’Yquem, the French Sauternes of renown.

This is part of White’s more extended remarks:

… such a product of malt and hops had never passed my lips before. It was as mighty as that which Cedric found at Torquilstone, as clear as crystal, and had a mingled richness and delicacy of flavor as superior to that of the best brewage I had ever before tasted as that of Chateau Yquem is to ordinary Sauterne.

He goes on for another page, it has to do with quadrangles, elegant chambers lined with books, and trying a bottle he took home.*

Coarse it wasn’t, whatever the quality of the American ale White’s circle evidently devalued in mid-century New York.

Finally, on porter, the noblest of English beers in my opinion, if you get it exactly right, he wrote:

I was surprised not only at the quantity that I could drink at any time and at all times with impunity, and with apparently good effect, but at the eagerness with which my whole body seemed to imbibe it. I shall never forget a certain place — it was in Fleet Street, I believe … It is well known for the quality of its tap, and a friend took me to it one day… We had just had a hearty breakfast; but as I turned up my glass of this black fluid I seemed to absorb a good part of it on its passage down my throat. It was of delicious flavor, cool without being cold, and of an inexpressible lightness, notwithstanding its thick, heavy look …  In “America” I should as soon think of drinking pure alcohol directly after breakfast as a glass of porter.

These material and consequent physiological conditions should always be considered in judging English habits of drinking.

Yes, they should Mr. White. Taking all with all, one wonders if you ended rather on the positive side of the alcohol ledger, but bowed to period rectitude by including the “Vice” chapter. On the other hand, maybe you would protest that it’s all a question of the just mean. If so, I suppose I would agree, Sir.

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*It didn’t quite evoke the magic of the College tasting. Just as today, no one is sure if beverages change with travel or being on mundane home turf explains why “it tasted better there”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Dogs a la Lum’s

I’ve mentioned Lum’s before, a casual restaurant chain spread over a number of states from the 60s until early 80s. I used to patronize the location in Plattsburgh, N.Y. 40 years ago.

I’ve amassed references and may revisit Lum’s history. There are many details of interest. For now this sketch at Wikipedia will suffice. At its peak the company had some good money and technical resources behind it, but success eluded for some reason at national level.

By the mid-80s the corporate Lum’s was no longer, but individual restaurants carried on here and there (see account linked), the last apparently in Bellevue, W.A.

I mentioned earlier the Ollieburger, a Lum’s staple. The name derived from an Oliver in New York, this is one of the points to revisit.

There was also Lum’s famous hot dog. It was steamed, or really simmered, it seems, in beer. In fact, the dish stretched back to Lum’s origins as a hot dog emporium in 1950s south Florida.

I’ve tried to cook hot dogs in beer before, but never had clear success. Beer et Seq of course poured in the beer with fervour, usually of tongue-stripping qualities (the hops). The results seemed, well, bitter and unbalanced.

In researching Lum’s history, I found online what purported to be its recipe for hot dogs in beer. In the website Talk of the Villages seven years ago, “Senior Citizen” contributed a recipe he thought authentic.

In the Parafu site in 2018, the writer of that name gave what seems the same recipe, with photos and other details that add interest.

So I followed this recipe. A blend of beer and water (1:2), caraway seed, powdered garlic, sugar, and sliced onion is simmered with the dogs for 15 minutes.

Cooking hot dogs for decades, I’ve found when cooking in liquid a quarter of an hour is just right. Less than that, the dogs are not quite heated through, or in the right way. More, they can swell too much.

Senior Citizen knew the dish in Florida in the 1950s and states either a sauerkraut or chili topping was used. The sauerkraut was apparently doused with sherry, perhaps a cream (sweet) sherry, and I can see this being really good.

I didn’t have any of these garnishes  – I’ve got a Bual* somewhere, hmm, must remember that for this dish. I used simply ballpark mustard and relish.

Superb! Best hot hog ever. The dogs will be of your choice, of course. I happened to have chicken-based ones that proved excellent, and not too heavy. (I had two).

The onion definitely gave a flavour, and the beer, only a faint bitterness due to being diluted. I used part of a can of Kozel, the Czech beer. It’s hard to say how the other seasonings impacted the taste – I couldn’t pick them out really – but that is often the way with a good recipe, the result just tastes comme il faut.

En dépit de mon français, Escoffier, it’s not. But good scoff, it is!

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*Madeira, not sherry, but would work well too, surely.

 

Stella Artois – Current Product Review

According to Michael Jackson’s (1992 edition) The Great Beers of Belgium, “Belgian Pilseners are usually 80-95% malt”. This presumably included Stella Artois, the well-known Belgian pilsener, long imported to Canada.

Stella, which means star, was first released in 1926. It was quite possibly all-malt at origins. When I first drank it in Belgium some 30 years ago, it was by then probably a malt-and-adjunct brew, as the case for most Belgian pils.

According to (1996) Belgium by Beer: Beer by Belgium by Annie Perrier-Robert and Charles Fontaine, since the last quarter of the 19th century adjuncts have been steadily used in Belgian brewing. Of course, not by all brewers, or for all styles.

The authors cite lower cost as the main reason, viz. barley malt.

They state the percentages in the mash as from 10-15% – similar enough to what Jackson wrote. Mass-market brewing in North America typically employs much higher levels of adjunct.

In Belgium, Stella is brewed by InBev Belgium, a unit of Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, which also owns Labatt Breweries in Canada. And Stella is now being brewed in Canada.

At The Beer Store (TBS) in Ontario, some outlets still carry both the Belgian and Canadian brewings, in cans. The bottles seem still only Belgian.

So I bought cans of each, first, to try Stella again, second, to compare the two versions. I tasted them blind, poured in the same style glass, at same temperature.

The colour as later observed was similar but sample no. 1 seemed fractionally darker.

Not surprisingly, the two beers tasted quite similar. I’m sure the typical consumer could not detect a difference. Still, to my palate, sample no. 1 seemed a touch richer and longer in finish, with the hop taste more defined.

No 1 was the Belgian, No. 2 the Canadian.

I confess to some surprise, as going by the ingredients list on the can, Canadian Stella is all-malt, hence no corn, rice, or other adjunct is used. The Belgian can doesn’t say, but presumably Belgian Stella uses adjunct, as other reports have stated. Once the import warmed I thought I could taste the adjunct, but it’s a light touch.

Of course, all-malt of itself does not denote a better beer. The degree to which the fermentation is taken (in particular), the hopping, and other factors play into it as well.

Jackson’s book of 28 years ago noted a marked Czech hop character in the nose. I didn’t get that in either version, or in Stella I tried in Belgium earlier this year.

As to why the Canadian brew is all-malt, I could ask Labatt, but my interest is not keen to that extent. It may have to do with duplicating in Canada a beer mashed with European malt.

In other words, presumably Canadian Stella is brewed, or mostly brewed, with North American malt, and other ingredients. Perhaps to align the profiles it is best to use all-malt here. Or maybe there is another reason, I don’t know.

Anyway such are my views, your mileage may vary, of course.

N.B. A licensed version of Munich’s Lowenbrau similarly replaced the import on our shelves some years ago. A few months ago, having forgotten it is brewed here now, I poured one and thought, “typical German blond lager, nice and fresh, too”. There you go.

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*I’ll try the newbie in a few months. My experience with breweries of any size, although more typically small ones, is tweaks can be made in the first year or two of a new release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Whiskey, Old Money.

Sometimes just casual or ephemeral journalism – most of it is – offers good lessons from a historical angle. I’ve provided countless examples in these pages, mostly to do with whiskey, beer, and food. (For food, “beefsteak” dinners, say, or the fascinating history of “surf and turf”).

A story printed in Williamstown, Victoria in 1898 is a perfect example. It is about an American country lawyer, Henry Sherwood, who was paid for legal services as a young counsellor in whiskey. Not just any whiskey, but prime old Kentucky. This occurred in the mid-1850s, in Steuben County, New York, a western section that houses Corning, Binghampton, and notable resorts of the Finger Lakes.

In short, Sherwood, an abstemious man himself, put the barrel in his basement for five years. At a euchre game in the local courthouse – after hours – Judge Constant Cook, who liked whiskey, dissed the stuff available in Corning. Sherwood fetched two gallons from his barrel for the judge.

The judge was rapturous and promised young Sherwood a “lift”. This materialized in time, when the judge, interested in railway and coal contracts, cut Sherwood in.

There is more to the story, especially how the young lawyer came to take payment in liquid goods. The client, a wandering ne’er do well, got in a fix in New York. Sherwood took the case without fee for the experience, but the tramp promised if he made it home to Kentucky, his father, a prosperous distiller, would ship fine whiskey to the lawyer in payment.

Sherwood deployed enough skill that his client was acquitted. Some time later, when the lawyer had forgotten all about it, the station agent called one day to say a cask of old Kentucky bourbon was in the yard, with Henry’s name on it.

As the main bourbon histories tell us (we like Henry G. Crowgey and Gerald Carson, as supplemented by certain writing since), bourbon was already nationally known in the 1850s. It was not always called bourbon, sometimes just whiskey, or Kentucky whiskey, or in a colourful phrase, the “red cretur”.

Cretur is an old Scots term for whiskey, from creature. Speaking of etymology, I always wondered where the term “lift” came from, for a ride. I thought it had to do with allowing a person to climb into a vehicle.

It seems not. As the 1898 story makes clear, one sense of lift in 1800s America was an assist, a break, a tip. Someone who gets a ride certainly gets an assist from the driver.

Now, how old was that bourbon sent to Henry Sherwood, up north from Kentucky? The story doesn’t say. Crowgey writes bourbon was available in all variety of ages before the Civil War.

I’d think perhaps 4-5 years in this case, so about 10 years old with further aging in Sherwood’s cellar. But it might have been double that.

So particular are names and details in the story that it seems unlikely this tale was made up. Indeed Constant Cook existed, tied to land and railway development in New York, see e.g. this biographical sketch in a railway historical site.

This sketch in an official New York state history confirms that Sherwood was a lawyer in Steuben County, in the right period, and involved in investments of the type Cook was.

How lucrative did that barrel of bourbon prove to be? $1,000,000. That was a lot of money in 1860s America. No doubt it helped fund Sherwood’s political career (see the bio again).

Today, adjusted for inflation, that’s $30,000,000. Today too, prime old bourbon, say 12-20 years, if you can find it, costs a lot, although I doubt that much, adjusting for quantity.

In Sherwood’s basement, to one indifferent to bourbon, aged whiskey had little value. But because someone valued it differently, it proved its financial worth ultimately, in spades.

The market of course can affect this calculus. 15-20 years ago old whiskey was cheap. You had to be there. I was.

 

 

 

 

Fine Whiskey and Aging

The British Bourbon Society recently posted a tweet that resonated with us, on the merits of Old Tub bourbon. Old Tub is a Beam brand, of which Jim Beam bourbon is best known. Beam today is owned by the Japanese multinational beverage and food company, Suntory Holdings.

The tweet noted an appealing youthful quality in the bourbon including its nose. Bourbon, like most whisky, so often is prized for long years in oak barrels. At times there seems almost an obsession with long aging: 10, 12, 15, and many more years old.

The tweet upheld the merits of a good younger whisky. Old Tub is a bonded bourbon, hence 50% ABV, at least four years old, but probably not too much older.

For further product and corporate background on Old Tub, I can’t improve on this Whiskey Wash post (Cameron Hoick).

My interest here is to uphold the validity of a good younger whiskey. Having studied whiskey history in-depth, I know just from the name Old Tub that an allusion is made to the character of old-time whiskey. Whiskey in the 1800s was often mashed and fermented in a series of small wood tubs. In the post A Maven of Intelligent Blending  I discussed some of those features.

Today, sour mashing means only the practice of adding backset, or the residue of distillation, to a mash to replace part of the water. In the 19th century there were numerous variations on sweet and sour mashing and fermentation. From my post:

Preyer’s [1901] explanation of sweet mash and sour mashing is broadly similar to others I’ve discussed, but with a gloss on back-yeasting. He states that at the beginning of a distilling season a mash is left to ferment naturally in small tubs which he says (correctly) is sour mash. Once a fermentation is secured, the yeast, or barm, is used to seed the next one and so on. He calls that a sweet mash, which is correct as well because yeast is being added by the distiller.

Clearly some distillers operated in this way but some distillers never yeasted back and relied for all their fermentations on purely natural (spontaneous) fermentation as I’ve showed in the past.

Then too, sometimes you would start with a sweet mash and move to sour, in that once enough backset was produced, you would mash with that and add no further yeast. This was the system C.K. Gallagher laid down as I’ve also explained recently.

Beam bourbon today is, according to its website, mashed in a 10,000 gal. cooker. It is fermented with a proprietary jug yeast in large domed, metal tanks, as in most larger distilleries. Calling one of its whiskeys small tub is meant, I should think, to suggest an old fashioned character. This derives from the bonded status including four years of age, the 50% ABV (vs. the norms of 40% or 43%), and the fact of not being chill-filtered.

Distillers worldwide chill-filter spirits to maintain their clarity under various handling and storage conditions. It is felt superfluous though with extra-strong spirits, particular some bourbon and single malt whisky.

In any case today consumers are rightly not obsessed with crystal clarity, as the success of cloudy beer types shows. Compounds not removed by chill-filtering add to the traditional character.

The relatively young age, though, is another factor. The aging of American whiskey, as I’ve discussed in many posts, developed over time in the 19th century. While there was always some old whiskey in the market, even early in the 1800s, much of it by many accounts was sold young: 1, 2, 3 years of age.

The longer a whiskey is in the barrel, the more colour and sweet wood gums are imparted by the charred interior. At the same time, the assertive, “distillery” character of new whiskey is modified by a complex process of oxidation. The wood pores allow entry of oxygen. A multi-years’ breathing matures the whiskey.

When I was active in the consumer group Straightbourbon.com 10-15 years ago, long-aged whiskey was readily available: 10, 12, even 15 and more years. And it didn’t cost that much more than standard 6-8 year old whiskey.

With the success of bourbon and straight rye since then, the supply of such old whiskey has dried up or available stocks are rare and pricy. Fair enough, that’s how the market works.

Yet, I noticed when buying a lot of that old whiskey that often the barrel tones covered over everything else. And the distillery character was reduced due to the long oxidation process mentioned.

The whiskey taste, originally, is what made whiskey, whiskey. The malts of the U.K., or Ireland, are no different.* To efface substantially that feature in whiskey is to diminish the product, in my opinion.

People will have different preferences on age. A 12-year-old Scottish malt is often ideal because aging differs there and the barrel type too. (Bearing in mind that age statements are a minimum, a vatting of whiskies 12 years of age and older usually perfects the batch).

But for Kentucky whiskey, I think six to eight years of aging is usually right, with some whiskey reaching a good balance at about four years. It seems Old Tub may have that sweet spot.

I look forward to trying it, when I can next visit the U.S. – but who knows when that will be?

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*Irish single pot still too, of course.

 

Heritage Gastronomy – Tarrytown, 1970

Intermittently I have charted here, through an historical lens, the activities of the International Wine and Food Society (founder, André Simon) and Gourmet Society (George Frederick). I must have a couple of dozen posts, covering different countries for the former. The latter was U.S.-only, but not its menus!

The 1930s, 40s, and 50s have been the main focus, with an occasional sally in the 60s or 70s.

A duo of dinners circa 1970 will add further insight. In each, one can trace themes that later resonated more broadly in American food and wine.

The first is a dinner for which the menu seems not publicly available, but was reported in detail in the Times-Union of Albany, New York in January 1970. You may read the account, here.

The dinner was held in the certainly historical – we once visited – Tarrytown, New York. Manhattan-born (1763) Washington Irving, famed author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (and more) explored Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow as a young man. (It started when his family sent him for refuge from fever-ridden Manhattan. Hmm…).

He later inhabited a riverside estate in Tarrytown.

That Tarrytown was the site of some eventful early American history made it ideal to recreate the heritage menu described in the article.

The menu sounds lush, and probably as a set piece was quite unknown in pioneer days except perhaps at the grandest tables. Still, elements seem clearly historical, and it must have been fun putting it together.

The drinks included the Stone Fence – sweet cider and applejack, later bourbon – and “cold ale”. The term ale probably struck the average American as old-fashioned in 1970, so job done. The “cold” adjective probably addressed two things: the time of year – a cellar in early Tarrytown’s winter would have been darn cold – and the American expectation by 1970 to have cold beer. Win win.

What kind of ale, ah there’s the rub. It is not stated. The New York branch of the Wine and Food Society, which held this do, perhaps chose something more authentic than the golden ale then produced by many U.S. breweries. Ballantine India Pale Ale would have been perfect, in fact it appeared in the Society’s 1940s beer tastings as I’ve described.

Perhaps an import was chosen, Whitbread Pale Ale, or Watney’s Red Barrel, in deference to early imports of ale or at least the malt, from Britain.

New York wines, then viewed mostly as quaffing or table wine, were served in carafe as the main moistener.

The food? Well, how does a pigeon-based chowder sound? What say ye of salt dried beef, or smoked reindeer? Or salad with nasturtium?

Also served were turnip tops with salt pork, wheat and oat mush, black bread, and … Champagne. Well, allowances must be made.

I didn’t find these preparations on a quick perusal of Amelia Simmons’ classic American Cookery (1796). The report stated selections represented Tarrytown cuisine of the 17th through the 19th centuries. I’d think research was done in local books and manuscripts to glean ideas, but in any case a period ring sounds.

Below is a depiction, author unknown, of Tarrytown c. 1828 (via Wikipedia):

 

 

délice in the menu was cider and honey sauce; numerous poultry types were plated with it. A sauce of that description appears today in Yorkshire, U.K., with pork chops.  The indispensable All Recipes UK gives the lowdown.

Yorkshire sounds far away from southern New York State, but much of the emigration of the time came from Britain, so it all ties in. Now, what of Dutch foods? Irving famously described the surviving Dutch customs in isolated places like Sleepy Hollow.

Nothing in the menu seems, offhand, to suggest that tradition. Maybe the frumenty-like mush, or black bread? Americans used rye in their early loaves to make a brown bread, one thinks of New England or Boston brown bread. But black? Maybe that was a Dutch survival.

Various modern recipes can be found for blackish Frisian or other Dutch rye bread. Here is one, from the Flour and Leaven site.

The then-head of the New York Wine and Food Society was interviewed in the story. His remarks reflect a democratic ethos: e.g. that “gourmet” means different things to different people (it’s true). The Society’s representatives strived, it seems to me, to emphasize a non-exclusive spirit since the inception of the group (1933) – no doubt one reason for its success.

Other dinners of the New York group were described, one a meal solely of different beef cuts. The idea to serve one food throughout a meal is intriguing, and appears through the history of gastronomy here and there.

Soon I will describe such a dinner held by the New York Society, in the same period, but involving a different meat than beef.

N.B. The same UPI account of the dinner appeared in October 1969 here, in the Schenectady Gazette, with concluding paragraphs omitted from the Times-Union version. It made clear the dinner was carefully researched, a process that took two months. The service of the one sauce for each entrée was explained as an historical practise, for example.

 

 

Flavour and Fermentability

And the Focus Group and Funnel

Is beer less rich in taste today, on average, than historically? I think probably yes. This hasn’t to do with changes in malt types, or other brewing materials, but the terminal point at which the fermentation concludes, or gravity.

As reprinted some years ago in MoreBeer, Peter Ensminger wrote of famed, Czech Pilsner Urquell:

The original gravity of the export is about 12 °P (1.048 S.G.), with a final gravity of 3.8 °P (1.015 S.G.), and an alcohol content of 4.4% (v/v).

Literature I’ve seen on Urquell suggests these gravities are unchanged at least since the early 20th century, and probably well before that. Other pale lager of Central Europe was often similar as many analyses show.

One may compare the 1015 FG to final gravities of various modern pale lager styles, except commendably Czech Premium Pale Lager. See e.g. this chart from the website Brewer’s Friend. 1015 is outside the top end of those – the average would be a few points lower.

There is a further exception for Dortmund Export, but even there 1015 is the maximum stated. Modern Dortmunder I’ve tasted seems rather under that, in fact.

If one compares the special bitter, American pale ale, and amber ale to 1800s pale ales in a chart prepared by Ron Pattinson, clearly the modern average is lower (see pp. 164-165). To be sure a couple of examples in the latter show extreme fermentability, or attenuation as brewers say.

This occurred usually with beers impacted by so-called wild, or Brettanomyces yeast. It often manifested in beers exported to distant climes or long stored in the U.K. I’ll have occasion to show an example in my article to appear early next year in Brewery History.

But c. 1880 in the U.K., “domestic” pale ale finished generally much richer than today’s equivalent. By that chart it is in the mid- to higher teens in most cases.

Having seen the full arc of modern craft brewing from inception to today, I’d say the beers generally have not changed much in finish over that period – generally on the dry side.

Mass market lager – American Lager in the Brewer’s Friend chart, and Light Lager – is even drier, so this is relative to a point.

And there are craft types known for sweetness, New England India Pale Ale, or milk or Imperial stout. But I’ve had fairly dry examples in each category, as well.

There is such a range of production today that one can always find a taste to satisfy, but in general I would say much craft beer seems on the dry side. I mean here the taste of malt or other grains in the finish, not the hop character. It’s two different things.

Each brewer will decide what to make based on his or her taste but also the market, so a levelling tends to occur as for any food or drink product.

I think many factors explain this. First, craft did not re-invent brewing completely. The first craft brewers made something better – certainly different – than the norm in existence. Yet, they were still influenced by what they thought the market expected, by what they expected themselves.

That was impacted by what came before. Craft brewers often professed to disdain the mass market, “computerized” taste of 1970s mass-market lager, but to think it had no influence on them would be fatuous.

Just as the unpasteurized craft beer that emerged had industrial precedents, just as the all-malt brewing did, so did the mouthfeel and finish of much craft beer.

Fair enough. Brewers must make money and I’m all for whatever they make if they turn a profit. If brewers don’t make money and wither in number, the possibility for some to make beer that appeals to a certain palate withers in proportion.

Speaking for myself, I plump for rich taste, for what I think represents the brewing ideal. The old German saying “malt is the soul of beer” meant malt you could taste.

One can use the finest German or any malt in the world but if attenuated to marked dryness, how much of the character remains?

Pilsner Urquell is Exhibit A for the kind of malt finish in beer I like.* There are many other examples I could choose, but Urquell serves well due to being so well known.

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*Hops too, for that matter.

 

 

 

 

Whiskey Kings Meet

Before the first world war there was a minor genre in American, and surely Canadian, journalism: the leisurely description of a junket. I’ve discussed a few examples in these pages. One was a banker’s outing in the Midwest to sample a real burgoo, the Southern stew of mixed meat and vegetables on a starch base. Some were tours of breweries and distilleries. The best have an understated, downhome humour, not hard to achieve in a time before our era of sound-bite, relentless jargon, and clamouring “personalities”.

 

 

In the past leisure was appreciated for what it was: people “set” awhile, had harmless fun, with beverage alcohol often a part, but not the greatest part. A drink or three might facilitate a literary or other artistic flight in persons not accustomed, solid citizens like bankers. The occasions were diverse: a running race, a fishing outing (no fish was ever caught, one editor mused), or simply chanting some songs.

A July, 1898 story fits the bill, but with deeper interest for those who plumb the history of spirits. A group of newspaper editors from Maysville, Kentucky took a trip up north to visit Hiram Walker Distillery in Walkerville, Ontario.

That’s Kentuckians, mind, making homage to a Canadian whisky town, and not just that, but from Maysville. A charming locality on the Ohio river, Maysville is not just any town in Kentucky, but may be where bourbon was named. At any rate Maysville is considered by many the spiritual home of bourbon whiskey.

I’ve been to Maysville, twice in fact. It was originally called Limestone, a river port that shipped corn whiskey by flatboat to New Orleans and other distant markets. The long rest in wood and motion of the boats helped create the character. Maysville was only in famed Bourbon County for three years – changing county lines put it in another county even before 1800 – but it might be where bourbon was named, as the name for whiskey emerges early in its newspapers. (Other theories exist, too).

Now, why would Kentucky town notables sally north to any whiskey destination? It’s coals to Newcastle, isn’t it? Well, Canadian Club whisky had achieved good success in the United States in the 1880s and ’90s. It sold for top dollar and while not a “straight” itself, people clearly liked it. It was 100% aged, contrary to American blends that typically used un-aged neutral spirits as the base. So that was part of it.  As well, it was imported, with the cachet most imports have.

Word about “C.C.” obviously had gotten ’round, even to proud Kentucky, where no one needed lessons how to make whiskey (then or now really). Maybe Hiram Walker hosted the group to get some good press in the heartland of American whiskey.

The news account describes the trip in a more restrained fashion than some others of its type. Maybe the editors didn’t want to offend the native industry, or too much. Also, Prohibition was just 20 years away. The chilling effect was already being felt across the country. Bourbon historian Henry Crowgey described this as “a wave of Victorian rectitude”. The junket occurred in summer, and there was room in the account for some mild levity, but things were kept in bounds.

Still, the party had fun and Hiram Walker clearly entertained them royally. No taste notes are offered on Canadian Club (or that made it in print), no invidious comparisons with good old sour mash. It might have been embarrassing for either Kentucky or Canada. No doubt thoughts as to quality – either way – were shared in private counsels on steamer and rails home, but that’s all. In fact drink is little described except obliquely by mention of “punch”, and “Champaign”.

Walkerville had a reputation then as a temperance town, strange as it may sound, but some whisky must have gone into the punch. And Hiram Walker’s people probably slipped a few flasks to the esteemed visitors as they took the gangplank for the Lake steamer back.

Rail, boat, and even carriage were employed on the trip. The Kentuckians took great pleasure encountering our bracing Lake winds in July. If you have ever been to Kentucky in summer, you’ll know why!

At day’s end, two honourable whisky traditions met up. Like most parleys between Canadians and Americans since the 1812 War, at personal level anyway, it seems to have ended in good humour and handclasps.

As reported, the visitors didn’t hold back in one respect. They were obviously impressed with the layout and construction of the Walkerville plant, to the point Kentucky distillers might take lessons.

The steamer landed the crowd on a pretty lawn in front of a large three story brown stone building.* The building and its surroundings, clean gravel and stone walks, the pretty lawn with patches of lovely flowers, with a crowd of sturdy Canadians, in white flannel suits, off at one side engaged in a ball game,(bowling on the green), and an orchestra discoursing sweet music at the opposite end of the lawn, suggested a summer resort, but such was not the case.

 The building contains the general offices of Hiram Walker & Sons, proprietors of the famous “Canadian Club” distillery. The establishment is an immense one that puts to shame our Kentucky distillers. They can get a good many points from Walker & Sons. The various buildings of the plant are brick surrounded with drives and walks, while within all is scrupulously neat and clean.

Canada didn’t do, not in Walkerville c. 1900, the low flagstone still house covered with creepers and moss, fine as the whiskey was that coursed from Kentucky’s hollows. The Walkerville plant resembled more a Brahmin’s playing ground, or modern university campus. It was the Canadian way, one manifestation.

Note re image: the image above of Maysville, KY was sourced from this town website. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Still there.

Pasteur, Piel’s, and Pale Ale

One of the landmark American craft breweries, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Brewers and engaged consumers everywhere are justly lauding the achievement. Its Pale Ale (available in Ontario), Celebration Ale, Porter, Bigfoot, and the many line extensions since inception need no introduction to friends of brewing.

The founder Ken Grossman, a southern Californian still only 65, wrote a memoir a few years ago, Beyond the Pale. It combines autobiography, company profile, and business guide. In the book he explains his stance against pasteurization of beer, you may read it here.

He almost casually mentions that he also eschews “sterile filtration”. Molson-Coors Beverage Co. probably was the first to introduce non-pasteurized, sterile-packaged canned beer, in 1959. I discussed the history in this post, based partly on detailed, contemporaneous press coverage.

A small exception to no-pasteurization at Sierra Nevada is for barrel-aged beers. They get a dose of the pasteurizer, as wood barrels can introduce a cocktail of bothersome organisms in the brewery. Long-time Sierra Nevada brewer Steve Dressler five years ago explained the rationale.

Coors still uses, at least in the United States, a combination of sterile filtration and asceptic packaging. While costly and tech-intensive, the company feels it gives the beer a leg up on taste – keg up, to coin a phrase. Whether it does or not is a matter for consumer assessment.

The outsize success of Coors Light seems to bear out the logic, at least in part. Yet Bud Light, say, is pasteurized and also has enjoyed good success.

Molson-Coors periodically updates and improves its processes, like all industrial companies. A 1985 article abstracted by the Master Brewers Association of America shows how cost factors, in particular, impact its technology. As explained by the author M.H. Beckett (again, as of 1985):

A charge modified cellulose filter mass, designated Cuno ZP820, has been developed to replace the cotton/asbestos Enzinger pulp pad used for sterile filtration of beer. The Enzinger pulp pad is prepared by hydropulping the filtration material and processing the pulp through several washing stages.

In contrast, Sierra Nevada bottles and cans unpasteurized beer with a measure of yeast to promote a gentle bottle- or can-conditioning.

Whether re-seeding is done to roughly filtered beer, versus using the original fermentation yeast, I am not sure, but the beers – Pale Ale, Celebration, etc. – all contain a small charge of yeast that keeps the beer “live”. Coors beer is not pasteurized either, but is not live in the can or bottle due to the micro-filtration that eliminates virtually every yeast cell from the package.

All beer, before pasteurization became generalized in industrial brewing, was unpasteurized. With the onset of new small breweries in the last 40 years, most brewers dispensed with the process, although not all, e.g. Anchor Brewing in San Francisco (founded 1899 but re-set on a craft vector by Fritz Maytag in the 1970s).

Most crafts sell beer for consumption within a few months in a local market, and justly dispense with the need to pasteurize. Like Sierra they want neither the expense of pasteurization nor its flavour-dampening impact (due to application of high heat whether for tunnel or the less intrusive flash pasteurization).

Yet, in our post on Hoffman Brewing of New Jersey, we showed that even in the 1930s – well after pasteurization was standard in American brewing  –  some beer was bottled unpasteurized. This is a kind of analogy to the standard today of craft brewing.

I’ll record now additional 1930s references for such unpasteurized (non-draft) beers. Then I’ll reach over to the 1960s, after Coors’ innovation, when another canned draught entered the market.

I mentioned in the Hofman’s post that its unpasteurized bottled beer, introduced in 1933, did not apparently enjoy a long run. The brewery itself was bought by Milwaukee’s Pabst in late 1945.

Yet, the beer lasted at least until the autumn of 1938, when an advertisement appeared in a Batavia, N.Y. newspaper. The ad was unusually frank on the characteristics of Hoffman’s beer. It noted the beer contained “active yeast” and this was “good for you”. It also stated:

 

… Unpasteurized beer and ale have been supplied in this territory for some time in half-gallon bottles, under refrigeration and sold with a warning for immediate eonsumption.

Further:

For more than two years the Hoffman Beverage Company of Newark, N.J., has produced unpasteurized beer in 12 and 29-ounce bottles for shipping and sale without constant refrigeration.

Such a process requires absolutely aseptic conditions, sterile bottles, and hermetically sealing with sterile crowns. Thus Hoffman’s guarantees you real purity as well as better flavor and all the benefits of draft brews.

In the summer of the same year, 1938, a news story in Schenectady, N.Y. described different-size beer bottles in the market. Among them was a quart-size and “giant”, or 64 oz., both for unpasteurized beer. The 29 oz. bottle in Hoffman’s ad was perhaps this quart – not quite 32 oz., then.

This array of bottles for unpasteurized beer suggests Hoffman was not the only brewer in the game. And it wasn’t. In August 1936 in Jamestown, N.Y. Lang’s Brewery in Buffalo, N.Y. advertised its Lang’s Draught Beer in the half-gallon “giant”. A picture is included showing a pot-stopper closure, mentioned in the story on bottle sizes.

(You know, I can almost see the old burg across lake and plains of Ontario from my apartment perch in Toronto).

The bulbous shape brings to mind the old saying, “a face only a mother could love [the industrial designer]”. It’s hard to parse the aesthetics of past ages, sometimes.

If Lang’s too was selling bottled unpasteurized beer, there had to be others. The Lang’s ad stressed the “old time tang” of the beer. No doubt veteran beer types in Lang’s market knew the real deal from back in the day, the pre-Prohibition day for some.

How did Hoffman’s beer, at any rate, differ from Coors’ over 25 years later? Aseptic packaging is generally considered to have gained legs since about 1960. Yet it was clearly known in the ’30s. As was sterilization of bottles and crown caps.

I suspect the difference was the beer itself. Hoffman’s beer, as the ad quoted shows, had live yeast. It was probably filtered as closely as technology permitted then, but nowhere near as efficiently as the micro-filtration Coors has used since 1959. Then again, maybe Hoffman’s beer tasted better as a result.

In the canned/bottled draught beer stakes, another historical entrant is Piel’s Draft, introduced in 1965-1966. Your humble (?) scribe remembers buying this in the 1970s, on visits to alluring locales (they were, to us) like Plattsburg and Albany, N.Y. And Cape Cod – no need to sell that one.

A January 1966 ad in Troy, N.Y. vaunted Piel’s new beer as follows:

The biggest news for beer drinkers in 50 years comes from Piels. Real Draft Beer in a can. A 12-oz. can of beer that tastes just as if it came from the tap. That’s right, straight from the tap. We worked long and hard to bring you this remarkable new development.

The “biggest news” for 50 years? Well, not really. Coors had done the trick a few years earlier. Then too in the 1960s, Coors was not distributed on the East Coast. Piels, of Brooklyn, N.Y., possibly had the first canned draught beer on that coast, so fair enough.

Piel’s Real Draft was introduced some 20 years before Miller Genuine Draft (1985), we may add.

Just as for craft beer tout court, everything comes from somewhere. Even a phenomenon as daring and romantic as craft brewing had progenitors, and not only distant ones like the apprehended practises of Dickensian red brick breweries. Breweries from the anodyne 1930s-1960s had an impact too, when plants stretching blocks, mass production, and the pocket protector ruled.*

The seeming bad days for beer, when palate was uniform due to remorseless corporate raiding and cost-cutting, laid the basis for our funky artisan brews no less than our gilded notions of Meuse Valley farm breweries, or stone-built English breweries with waterwheels.

In faceless post-Prohibition factories – or so they seemed – there were brewers wary of the taste impact of pasteurization. In their way, they tried and sometimes succeeded to speak up for the beer palate. Their counterparts today, mostly in craft brewing, work in a different time, but the spirit is the same.

And so, the beer palate is not dependent on country, time, or technology as such. It is dependent on taste. The real beer people get that, and always did. It’s an unshakeable constant in the long and winding road that is beer history.

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*Of course, industrial draft beer was usually unpasteurized until relatively recently anyway. That too influenced the craft adoption of a similar standard for all packaging forms. In this post I am focusing though on bottled and canned beer.

A 1950s Food Idea Needs Revival

Back to l’Avenir?

There is a tendency, despite the hits it has taken in recent decades, to consider “progress” as inexorable. When it comes to applied food technologies, for example, nothing in the past seemingly can compete with what we know today.

While older methods continue – canning, bottling, freezing, curing – today, sous vide – low temperature cooking in a sealed bag to retain taste and moisture – is commonly used in home, restaurant, institutional, and transport settings.

Sous vide was perfected in the 1960s and 1970s by industrial technologists (the technique itself is not quite new). Thence it sprang to the commercial world including some restaurants. Troisgros in France probably made it fashionable at the high end.

Other technologies have gathered pace since the ’60s: cryovac packing, aseptic packaging (which has its own separate history including in brewing), and food irradiation. Or take the stand-up pouches widely used today for soups and other fluid foods.

Some old school tech falls by the wayside, not from inherent defects of design or cost limitation, but due to public policy that overrides. Carbon emission control seems destined to end fossil fuel engines, gasoline or other. Plastics pollution measures are another instance, which impact food systems especially.

Sometimes though one finds in the past applied technology that seems due for revival. What follows is an example, in our view.

The famed citadel of cuisine Maxim’s of Paris, on rue Royale in the “8th”, is today a Pierre Cardin brand. In the ’50s, when the Vaudable family was the owner, Maxim’s deployed a clever idea: send out food to the United States in frozen, pre-packaged portions. This used an efficient, proven technology to sample French food, quite literally, far from home – and from an icon of haute cuisine.

In 1955 the press in Philadelphia carried a splashy story on the launch in that city, a fashionable dinner at John Wanamaker, the upscale department store. City “hostesses” arrived in force, one is pictured being kissed on the hand by a Parisian from Maxim’s displaying old-school charm.

Maxim’s partnered with Pan American Airlines to fly the food with dispatch to sales points Stateside. What did the matrons, captains of industry, and other notables eat?

The Belgian staple of beef carbonnade, for one. Maybe the hearty taste was thought to survive the freezing and trip over well, or American palates.

There was also veal blanquette, and lamb sauté, both postwar classics of “French cuisine”. And Normandy trout. Channel sole, too – Dover sole no doubt. It was planned that the sauces, then emblematic of French cooking, would ultimately be manufactured and sold in the U.S.

Maxim’s was an early proponent of scientific methods, always looking to expand its reach with new techniques, and methods of commercialization. It established a branch in Hong Kong as early as the late 1950s. Finally one arrived in New York, in 1985, although it closed 15 years later.

Exporting full meals in frozen form is one idea I’ve never seen here. It clearly occurs within the E.U., which after all is a polity of sorts, but I’m thinking of North America as a market for notable prepared foods of Europe, or Asia, say.

I’ve never seen French, British or German dinners sold frozen here, for example. Individual foods, yes: fish, ham, cheese, chocolate, etc., that goes without saying. It is always interesting to eat prepared fresh food* from another country, especially one with a storied food tradition.

Maxim’s merchandized its ready-to-eat meals through premium delicatessens in New York and Jersey. The same dishes enjoyed by society in Philly were advertised in 1954 by a “gourmets'” shop in Princeton, New Jersey. (The locale should give away the reason, all those academics…).

 

 

The idea seems to have lapsed, although perhaps Maxim’s still does a form of it, I don’t know. It has numerous restaurants around the world today, which perhaps made the export of pre-packaged meals seem unnecessary.

Of course as well, there was the rise of popular interest in international cooking. It was encouraged by the success of Julia Child’s and many other cookery books. Those interested probably focused on their own kitchen. Why buy a frozen imported meal when you make “the same thing” here?

Yet, foreign ingredients and preparation techniques often end as quite different to local emulations. The French beef I used to make a carbonnade in a Boulogne-sur-Mer apartment earlier this year had a different taste than our beef. The Gallic meat was seemingly softer and sweeter (sugar beet feed, perhaps?).

And, what better time to revive the idea than right now? International travel is almost at a standstill. As we can’t quite travel to foreign locales to sample a local meal, surely fast travel, improved logistics, and latest food technologies can conspire to bring it to us. A real Bolognese sauce, not in a bottle or can, would be something I’d like to try, on Italian-made pasta.

Government regulations may have to change to allow this in certain places. Governments have proved flexible in other ways to accommodate the current pandemic.

And the transport fleets of our carriers can use the business, eh?

Note re image: the image above, an 1899 Maxim’s menu, was sourced at Wikipedia, here, and is noted as public domain. Any and 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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*I mean, not canned or bottled. So excluding, say, British baked beans as currently marketed in Canada.