A Night To Remember – Launch of the Hart Beer Recreation 26/10/16

I will give a brief account of the launch last week of L’Affaire Hart – The Hart Affair, the name given the recreation of a circa-1800 beer in Quebec. The beer was recreated by a joint effort of the Museum of Jewish Montreal and the brewpub Le Reservoir. They used the recipe I found in digitized form earlier this year. Background pertaining to the find, the recipe, and the Jewish Hart family and is contained in three posts I wrote on this blog in the last two weeks. This is the original post, from February of this year.

The event, which drew some 75 people, was in two parts. At the Museum on Blvd. St-Laurent in Montreal, three speakers were introduced by its staff. The first was M. Denis Vaugeois, a former minister in the Quebec government (culture and communications), the second was me, the third was the brewer of the recreated recipe, Nathan McNutt. M. Vaugeois is an expert on the history of the Hart family’s implantation and development in Quebec. He has written learned books and articles on the subject and presented many times. His expertise takes in as well early Jewish immigration to French Canada in general. In addition to his government background, M. Vaugeois is a former professor and an author and publisher.

It was a pleasure to meet such an eminent authority on the Hart family. His speech discussed his early interest in the Harts and mentioned the rise of the family in Canada and their numerous business ventures, of which brewing was just one. Colourful detail was imparted on Moses Hart, son of Aaron Hart, the first settler (c. 1760). Moses had many romantic relationships and wrote a book on a new system of philosophy.

M. Vaugeois showed me in one of his books, and mentioned in his remarks, that sons of Aaron Hart separately owned two breweries close to each other in Trois-Rivières, which apparently resulted from a split in the siblings of Aaron. Aaron had wanted his sons (Moses, Ezekiel, Benjamin were the main figures involved in brewing) to work together in brewing but apparently two operations were conducted, or in the result.

The first brewery, the “M & E” brewery as records indicate, was operated by Moses and Ezekiel together from 1796. Perhaps after Aaron died in 1800 each set up his own brewery albeit in the same city.

M. Vaugeois thought too that the surviving business wasn’t sold to brewer William Dow in Montreal, but confirmed that all brewing of the Harts ended sometime around 1830. It is not clear which of the two breweries the handwritten recipe I have discussed belonged to. I think it may in fact relate to the original “M & E” partnership (Moses and Ezekiel) before the apparent split at sibling level.

My main interest is the brewing recipe itself and its obvious connections to contemporary English brewing practice. M. Vaugeois’ specialty is the family history in general, so our remarks complemented the other’s well. Still, it was great to be able to speak to M. Vaugeois given his vast knowledge of the family. E.g., when I mentioned I thought the beer brewed was sold only locally he stated that some of it was certainly shipped to other markets on the river system for which Trois-Rivières is named, although perhaps not Montreal (where the Molsons and William Dow – Dow Ale – were well-established).

I spoke on the characteristics of English beers in the early 1800s, and gave my opinion that the ale recipe of the Harts was a typical strong, English-style country ale of the pre-India Pale Ale type.

Finally, Nathan McNutt of Le Reservoir spoke. He discussed how he interpreted the recipe and I’ve previously explained his take was very credible based on my historical brewing knowledge.  Nathan took a number of questions as had M. Vaugeois and I, the crowd in general was very engaged in the didactic phase of the brewing launch.

After the speeches, attendees strolled over to nearby Le Reservoir to drink the beer. The $25 entry fee for the event included two bottles – a nice deal. At the party I met David Gow, a playwright and actor who is an 8th generation descendant of the Hart family! He was a great raconteur and mentioned many fascinating details of how the family established itself on expedition so to speak (from England initially but before that Aaron or his father – it’s not clear – were resident in Bavaria where Jews had lived for 500 years or more).

For example, once settled in a locality the Harts would establish a synagogue and a hospital. The hospital accepted patients from the entire community. The family had branches in Albany, NY, Manhattan, and the Caribbean amongst other places. David mentioned that the Caribbean part probably explains the establishment of the Lemon Hart rum distillery in Penzance, England. Lemon meant Lehman, originally…

Now the beer. It was very good. It is only available in bottled form, at the brew pub. The colour is pale orange, which surprised me since the malt used was a pilsener (very pale) organic malt locally sourced. The boil was only an hour, so there was no darkening by long boiling. Some of the malt was smoked with cherry wood chips, perhaps that explains the colour. The colour is the same though as in many colour illustrations of 19th century English ales. It’s the typical Bass Ale light orange that persisted into the 1900s in England. Some pale ale there, and here, still has it although you also get today, and no doubt in the 1800s, both browner and paler examples.

I didn’t really get a smoky taste, and it tasted surprisingly full-bodied given the 87% attenuation. As Nathan memorably put it, the malt held its own. The Hart beer’s malt and hop flavours were very appealing, perhaps accentuated by the organic barley and hops.

Brett yeast, which imparts what is sometimes called an “animal” note in wine terminology, was certainly present but not overpowering. The beer was not dissimilar to Orval Trappist Ale – in colour too actually – except it lacked the sage-like effect of that beer. To my mind the Hart beer is more craft-like, but in general one could view it as a bigger brother to Orval.

The idea to use brett was to try to emulate the mixed strain yeasts then in use. While I feel not all ale of the day would necessarily have demonstrated a brett taste, Nathan’s interpretation was perfectly reasonable, especially as some of the beer would have been stored. Cellared or “old” ale likely in many cases acquired a tang of brett from a delayed effect of the original yeast, or from organisms in wood barrels or the cellar environment. The flavour of brett in the Hart recreation was lightly earthy, not sour, very pleasant.

Nathan used wood barrels to hold the beer for some weeks and then bottled it unfiltered. It had a beautifully soft carbonation. The beer was quite fruity too, which must be from the yeast as no fruit was added and the Newport hop doesn’t have citric or tropical fruit flavours.

The event got good media coverage, e.g., from CBC here. I hope it helps the Museum, whose founders are a group of young people committed to preserving memories of Jewish life in Montreal, my home town. Below I include various images of the area in which the Museum and Le Reservoir are located. More than two generations ago, the area had a significant Jewish population. The monument business is a remnant of that time. It recently closed the venerable location shown but continues in business in another part of Montreal.

(The Hart family were gentry in both Jewish and general Quebec society. Into the 20th century, descendants resided in the chic Golden Square Mile, an area of downtown distant both socially and economically from the area I am discussing now. Then, as now, the Jewish community was diverse in its social-economic make-up).

I am shown pictured with David Gow, and in the last image with my mom and other family members.

The Schwartz deli, originally called Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, is the internationally famous smoked meat restaurant. It is now owned by singer Celine Dion’s family and investors. Smoked meat is called salt beef in England and corned beef or pastrami in the U.S. It is a Montreal specialty, one which has gone beyond ethnic bounds. The Schwartz version is royalty among the surviving brands there. I never get to go to Schwartz’ anymore – the lines are too long. The grey building in which the Museum is located is a former clothing manufacturing business (you can see where still-green Mount Royal starts to rise in the background, but it is obscured by the mist). The needle trade was a mainstay of much of the Jewish community in Montreal at the time.

 

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