Spag Bol – From Bol or not?

In a November 1939 column in the New York Sun, drinks and food columnist G. Selmer Fougner gave a recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese.

You may read it here.

A reader had asked Fougner for the recipe to Macaroni with Bolognese Sauce, served at the Italian Pavilion restaurant at the New York World’s Fair. Macaroni typically is a dried pasta, as spaghetti is.

Fougner answered that the sauce was undoubtedly the same as for Spaghetti Bolognese, the recipe for which he was given two years earlier when in Italy. Fougner then printed the recipe.

Neither milk nor bacon of any kind features in Fougner’s version, yet both are common in today’s recipes for Bolognese sauce. There is also no garlic, or herbs. A prime cut of beef is used, vs. the ground beef commonly seen today.

For years now I’ve been reading that Bolognese sauce, or ragù, is never served with spaghetti or macaroni in Italy, much less Bologna. Rather, a few fresh pastas are, especially tagliatelle. The Mayor of Bologna, in well-publicized remarks last year, sputtered that spaghetti Bolognese wasn’t a genuine dish of the city.

And yet, another native of the city, Pierro Valdissero, as reported four years ago in the Guardian, disagrees. He researched the dish in-depth and declares, to some local discomfiture one supposes, that it is an authentic dish of the area. He states that for hundreds of years some families served spaghetti with the ragù, notwithstanding that dried pasta is more typically a staple of the south.

This arose, he said, since fresh pasta was not affordable by families of average means except for special occasions. He argues that a higher-echelon version of the dish made with fresh pasta emerged in local restaurants that attracted a more monied clientele, and in time the connection with dried pasta was forgotten.

Seemingly, the debate rages on, but here is my point.

Surely the Fougner column supports Valdiserro’s account. After all, why would the Italian Pavilion, sponsored by the Italian government, serve a non-authentic dish in its restaurant, one meant to showcase national culture? It would have been no trouble to make fresh tagliatelle every day surely for the crowds.

Second, what motive could Fougner have had to misstate the nature of the dish? As an experienced gourmet he had to know the difference between fresh pasta and dry.

Would he have cavalierly substituted spaghetti for an approved fresh pasta and not tell his readers? It’s true that spaghetti was on its way by 1939 to being if not already a national American dish, and hence relatively familiar to readers (vs. fresh pasta), but I don’t think he would elide the fresh pasta without mention.

Fougner was a well-known and successful journalist and author by this time, and tended to stress authenticity when discussing food and drinks. To my mind Valdiserro’s conclusions gain credence when viewed in the light of Fougner’s recipe.

It’s really an old story, that culinary or drinks memories can be surprisingly short, or incomplete. The quotidian can, in a few short years or under new conditions, seem never to have been.

It would be preferable to find the menu of the Italian Pavilion to see exactly how the dish was described. A few menus of the national restaurants are available digitally (I discussed beer on the British menu earlier), but can’t find the Italian one.

Note re images: the second image above is copyright of Sven Manguard, and is used pursuant to Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0. Image was sourced from Wikipedia’s article on Bolognese sauce, here. The first image was sourced from the Fougner column identified and linked in the text, via Fulton Historical Newspapers.

 

 

 

Amsterdam 1870 AK Bitter – Mark III

Recently I met brewers Iain, Cody and Mike at Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewery to plan our next 1870 AK Bitter collaboration. As in past years it is a limited edition release, there will be some draught including hopefully in cask-conditioned form, with the rest canned for sale at the brewery. It sells out typically in a few weeks.

Historically, AK is a pale ale not meant for long keeping, and not as strong as some pale, or India Pale Ale, typically reached. We’ve had it out at just over and just under 5% abv (first two years), and this year will be about 5% again. I’m not sure yet about the final gravity, I prefer it on the higher end for more palate richness but it will be within period norms in any case.

(I’ve extensively documented the prior brews in past posts. Easy to find by searching “beeretseq + 1870 AK” but I can supply links on request).

This year we will use regular Maris Otter malt, not floor-malted as for Mark I; two hops, not one as in each previous year; and an English yeast, probably multi-strain. Mark I used a California yeast, Mark II, English Whitbread 1099.

No dry-hopping this year, we want all the hops to undergo the heating of the brewing process.

I’ll talk more about the hops later, the two will be English-grown with a small American component in the genetics, the rest traditional English. The idea this time, is because American hops were sometimes added to 19th-century British brews, we’ll use hops that offer a little of that character yet nothing associated with the “C-hop” taste of modern craft brewing.

So no grapefruit, guava, strong pine. Not that there is anything wrong with that as such, but we want to stay broadly within a traditional compass. When American hops, generally from New York or California, were added to British beer in the 19th century, they were added in small amount so as not to dominate the character, and we will follow the same idea.

We may get a touch of orange or blackcurrant (wild fruit) character but I’m good with that. Some traditional English varieties have an orange note character in my experience, Golding for example (sometimes).

The multi-strain will not include any wild yeast or Brettanomyces, whose barnyard character a short-maturation ale, whatever the yeast make-up, likely would not have exhibited. But a mixed U.K. culture may add a certain something nonetheless.

Any modern emulation is just that, emulation, with some guess-work what even the most faithful attempt can ever achieve. Flavour in beer then, as many authorities show, was various anyway, even for the same style with similar materials, so we feel our effort should be within the ballpark.

At day’s end, for us it’s all about the materials. They are all from the country that issued the 1870 recipe (except the water, which will be “Burtonized”); they will be used in quantities and at temperatures reasonably approximate to the original; and the hops element will not exhibit any marked notes associated with modern craft beer.

If there was one thing I would change, it would be to use some wood in the process. Not American oak, as generally it was not used in British brewing back then, but say in unlined casks made from Baltic Memel oak. Maybe one day, but we are not there yet.

The 1870 recipe also called for making India Pale Ale alternatively, with all same materials, in different quantities and from a different starting gravity of course. Next year we may do that, but we wanted another try at the AK, to work out its contours more.

N.B. This is the original recipe. See the second #4991, signed by “Aroma”, on the right lower side. The paragraph just above with the same number, signed “Meunier”, deals with pale ale as well and was also of interest to factor.

 

 

Canada’s Reinheitsgebot

Introduction

Under its excise tax rules between at least 1877 and 1952, Canada enforced in practical terms a regime of all-malt brewing. That is, almost all beer brewed here was all-malt, with an insignificant amount of adjunct beer made. The announced reasons for the policy were twofold: protect the Canadian farmer, and protect the integrity of the beer palate. Below I explain how this occurred. This is not a linear, jot and tittle account of tax changes over the period, but will highlight certain stages to illustrate the government’s scheme.

The Divergence in Tax Treatment Over Time

This 1931 U.S. Congressional trade report, see p. 411, stated that Canada taxed domestic malt (apparently as at 1929) at $0.03/lb, while if beer was made from any other materials in whole or part, the tax was $0.15 cents per (finished) gallon of beer. A rule of thumb, as will be shown below, of the Canadian government held that three pounds of malt made one gallon of beer. Hence, that gallon if all-domestic malt was used gave rise to an excise of $0.09/lb. So, 9 cents vs. 15 for all-malt vs. adjunct beer.

In 1944, as this U.S. Treasury study showed, the prevailing Canadian excise rate on all-malt vs. adjunct beer resulted in a calculated duty of (CAN) $8.68 vs. $11.62 per 31 wine gallon barrel, respectively. So again, a clear advantage to the all-malt product.

Adjuncts like corn, rice, and especially invert sugar syrup are more fermentable than malt, but of course adjuncts are only used to supplement a mash, not for 100%. Neither corn nor rice then, nor sugar cane, was raised commercially in Canada.  

In 1922, Col. Herbert Molson stated in an article that year in the Journal of Institute of Brewing:

The system of taxation for excise purposes existing in Canada differs from that followed by Great Britain and the United States, in that the taxes are levied on the malt used and not on the beer brewed. Should a brewer in Canada desire to use any material other than barley malt, such as corn, rice, glucose, sugars, etc., special arrangements must be made with the Excise Department of the Government, in which case a duty of so much per gallon is placed on the beer brewed. This duty has been kept for many years at approximately double the duty which would be paid on the equivalent amount of malt required to produce the same amount of beer. This has acted as a natural deterrent to any use of other materials, and the amount of beer brewed in Canada from materials other than malt is infinitesimal.

A Canadian federal government report on the brewing industry issued in 1933 confirmed this practise. It showed, see p. 5, that corn and other adjuncts used in Canadian brewing represented a very small percentage of the malt used in brewing in Canada. I calculate about 3% for all the adjunct types, under 3,000,000 lbs, vs. about 87,000,000 lbs of malt.

In 1952, the then $0.45/gal. excise on beer brewed from an adjunct mash was lowered by $0.03, to $0.42. The government stated, per an April 9, 1952 Globe and Mail press story (paywall) on the budget that year, that this put the two types of beer on a parity of excise treatment, but revenues would not change much. I cannot confirm the revenue projection without a fuller study, but the ongoing consolidation of the Canadian beer industry spearheaded by Canadian Breweries Ltd. since the 1930s ensured the savings that did result would be maximized by economies of scale.*

Even in 1891 a divide in the excise rates existed that made brewing adjunct beer in Canada uneconomic. We can see this from an exchange that year in Parliament where House Member Foster (p. 4001 et. seq) stated that Canada wanted to protect its barley farmers, and also, “prevent the manufacture of poorer quality beer”. He argued that rather than ban substitutes like sugar, it was better to increase the tax burden on brewing with adjuncts.

Foster was Sir George Eulas Foster, Minister of Finance under Macdonald’s government. Here is some bio on him, it’s interesting to observe he was a temperance advocate.

Foster introduced a resolution to increase the per pound rate to $0.02 from $0.01, and hence proposed an increase in the adjunct beer rate, to $0.10 per gallon. Under a rule of thumb he used of 3 lbs malt to produce one gallon of beer, that meant $0.06/gal for all-malt vs. $0.10/gal for adjunct brewing.

(I didn’t verify that the change went through but clearly something similar in numbers did that resulted in Canadians continuing to brew all-malt, mostly).

Even after the change in Britain in 1880 to taxing beer based on alcohol content or more correctly its original gravity, so levelling the playing field among fermentable materials and opening the door to economical non-malt options, Canada’s course was different, of which palate protection was an asserted element.

Some of National Breweries Limited’s 1940s annual reports (I cited them in earlier posts) mention malt as a key input but never mention corn, rice, sugar, or syrups. In this February 1944 issue of the company’s house magazine The Review, an article on the in-house laboratory stated, quoting the group operating manual, that only malt and hops (written in upper case) were used. Hence, each brewery in the group followed this rule.

NBL arguably was promoting all-malt as a quality or “PR” measure, as many European brewers did who were trained in all-malt brewing. M. Meyer, NBL’s head brewer in the 30s and 40s, was of Danish extraction by my research. He may have trained at Carlsberg or a similar brewery, and likely would have viewed all-malt as superior beer.

In 1945, the first year Labatt Breweries went public, its annual report states the beers are made with hops, malt, water, and yeast – no reference to adjuncts of any kind.

Col. Molson’s comments in 1922, considering too the full tenor of his article, suggest Molson’s would have used adjuncts had it been able to economically. Probably NBL, and Labatt’s, were no different, but the option wasn’t there, as yet.

To be sure, some adjunct was used in Canadian brewing before 1952, before, that is, the rise of mass-marketed Canadian adjunct beers. After all, various adjuncts comprised the 3% figure I drew from the 1933 report. In their Ontario beer history, Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John showed that Carling Brewery was using rice in 1926 to make lager, not all of which was illicitly exported to Dry America.

Possibly the adjunct beer sold for more than standard beer to allow the brewer to recoup the extra duty paid, but in any case, the amount brewed was very little, as the references I’ve gathered all make clear.

As long as the disparity of tax treatment continued, clearly all-malt brewing was the resort for most brewers, almost invariably.

There was, therefore, a practical Reinheitsgebot in place here until 1952 and/or ongoing industry consolidation made any subsisting disparity acceptable.

When did the Disparity Start?

Certainly by 1877 the regime was in place, as in that year a statute was enacted to provide that the per pound malt rate was $0.02, or $0.06/gal under the rule of thumb, and the per gallon charge where adjuncts were used, $0.08, so a 33.3% difference even though the extra yield from cereal adjuncts was likely less than that percentage.

To boot, as noted in the 1891 debates and reflected in the 1944 Treasury study which used 2.1 lb to get one gallon of beer, many brewers could brew a gallon of beer with less than three pounds of malt.

The Quality of Beer the Regime Encouraged

Considering the typical finishing gravities of beers in the 1930s, and hopping rates used – see A.L. Nugey’s 1930s brewhouse formulas book in toto including his chart at p. 42 – these all-malt beers had to be pretty good, judged by the standards of beer connoisseurship. From the 1950s onwards Canadian beers got ever lighter by using less hops, more adjunct, and lower final gravities, as many studies support.

Enter craft beer, which returned things to 1877-1952.

Coda

A study (in French) of Boswell and NBL history by Quebec academic Nicole Dorion included a chart describing the manufacturing process, see Tableau 1 under Organisation du Travail. I am not clear if this was a document of NBL or Boswell Brewery or was prepared by Ms. Dorion. It states when describing boiling with hops that “sucre” (sugar) is added to the kettle, Epsom salts as well. The date of the chart is not mentioned, if from NBL it appears to be late 40s or early 50s. Two brands are mentioned in the document, Dow and Boswell, clearly their ales.

According to this story in Le Soleil of Quebec City on June 3, 1952, Boswell’s brands were to be withdrawn from the market “in a few weeks” in favour only of Dow and Champlain Porter, in order that the business might produce only the most profitable brands. Canadian Breweries Ltd. probably had taken over by then, as the head office is referred to as Dow brewery in Montreal, which is the new name given NBL by Canadian Breweries Ltd.

I suspect either sugar was employed late in NBL’s arc, perhaps 1950-1952, or Canadian Breweries ordered the change after the takeover earlier in 1952. True, in the first instance, the tax position had not yet changed, but NBL may have been able to save money depending e.g., on the price of sugar. Canadian Breweries Ltd. probably knew, if it ordered the change, that the excise reduction on adjunct beer was coming, indeed it surely helped to lobby for it.

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*See my two Comments added below which complete this aspect of the discussion and suggest more specifically how the dovetailing of tax treatment was achieved.

 

All-malt Brewing. A Critic’s Rationale.

In many posts and comments elsewhere, I have upheld my preference for all-malt beers. In practical terms this means barley malt although it is true other grains can be malted, such as wheat, which figures in German wheat beer.

Brewers’ use of other materials to supplement malt is motivated by many factors, of which cost is one and probably the most important one, as a general rule, by my study of brewing history. Other reasons cited to use non-malt sources of starch or ready sugar include to promote the stability and clarity of beer, to adjust colour, add flavour, save space in the brewery, and assist production of high-alcohol beer.

I have never found a better explanation of the use of adjuncts and sugars in beer than Julius E. Thausing’s, in his 1882 text on malting and brewing. Thausing was a professor of brewing in Vienna. The book was translated for the U.K. and American markets, and “thoroughly” edited for this purpose by two American scientists including highly regarded Anton Schwarz. See pp. 430 et seq.

Similar statements on the primacy of cost can be found periodically in technological literature to the present day.

I would point out Thausing and the editors firmly supported the use of adjunct, explaining how, in their view, it could be used without impacting quality.

The Briton Michael Jackson (1942-2007), not a beer scientist or cost accountant but a beer critic, once made the case for all-malt beer, based that is on palate. He wrote at a time when there were few all-malt beers outside Germany particularly in the English-speaking world.

In his 1982 The Pocket Guide to Beer, he wrote:

Beers that lean heavily on lesser grains and sugars manifest in their palate a lack of confidence … The true malt palate can best be experienced in the full-bodied beers of Bavaria. The malt that makes beer, like the grape that makes wines, is inherently sweet, but in each case the degree to which this characteristic is allowed to endure is a matter of the preference of the producer…

He then explains that all-malt beers in the U.S., meaning clearly the all-malt, “super-premium” beers fielded by pre-craft brewers in the 1970s and ’80s, “tend to restrain their potential”. This referred mainly, as did his words “allowed to endure”, to how far the beer was fermented out before packaging and sale. For, no matter what materials beer is made from, if the fermentable sugars are completely consumed by the yeast, the beer will have less richness of taste and body than if the fermentation was stopped sooner.

But then he adds:

Even then, the all-malt character [of the American beers] is evident in their remarkable firmness and cleanness of palate.

He was saying, he preferred even a well-attenuated all-malt beer to one that relied, certainly, “heavily” on adjunct grains or sugar. Of course, much depends here, as Thausing in effect held, on that word “heavily”.

I have occasionally had excellent craft adjunct beer, beer that probably used 20% or less adjunct and wasn’t over-fermented. The Belgians, too, are often careful to use adjunct in a way not to adversely affect the palate. One can argue this too of many British beers that used sugar or maize in proportions less than North Americans often used for their mass-market beers.

In a U.K. text on industrial microbiology written about 20 years ago, it is stated that “British beer” typically uses 75% malt, 25% cereal adjuncts or sugar. We can take this as some evidence of the “norm” in British brewing, at least for top-fermentation products, before British beer was impacted by craft developments.

Of course, Jackson was well aware of the Belgian and his own tradition. In choosing to highlight how malt best expressed itself in beer, he chose German all-malt beer as his example. (His most complimentary reference to British beer in the same section of the book is its distinctive hop character).

Jackson’s words, repeated elsewhere in different forms, considerably influenced early American craft brewing, which made all-malt beers that did not “restrain their potential”. And to a large extent this is still true, the core of craft brewing today is assertive, all-malt beer. A little wheat may be added, or lactose, or rye or oats, sometimes. But in the main modern craft brewing still relies on full-malt-character ales and lagers.*

This signature, paired with the distinctive flavour of American hops used in quantity, caught the attention of the British, and other Europeans. They were inspired to make beers of similar character (some revivalists already had), although all-malt, well-hopped beers were appreciated earlier in their own brewing history.

American craft showed that all-malt beer could be crystal clear, could make fine barley wine and other strong beer, as once it did in the U.K., and most important had a vibrant malt palate that could be equated in impact to good German beer.

40 years of tasting beer have convinced me of the truth of Jackson’s words.

I’ll return to the all-malt question in the context of National Breweries Limited in Montreal, which used all-barley malt until its demise in 1952. While it would be satisfying to say the company had a Jacksonian view of all-malt, the truth is more nuanced. More soon.

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*This is not to say there aren’t all-malt craft beers that taste too lean from a low final fermentation gravity. In fact there seem to be more of these than in the past, an attempt no doubt to appease the drinker with mass market inclinations. This palate, in our view, has some justification, as Jackson noted in the above. Also, some pale ales in the past had very low FGs due to a prolonged re-fermentation in the bottle or cask. But such beers are not likely the best ambassadors of craft, because they end often as simulacrums of mass market beers.

 

 

 

Quebec Oyster Parties

How National Breweries did Them; how the Royal Canadian Legion did Them

In the late 1970s and early ’80s I attended a number of oyster dinners at Royal Canadian Legion halls on the West Island (an English part, or then) of Montreal.

For a small fee oyster soup was served, being a light-coloured broth (maybe chicken broth) filled with plump oysters; raw oysters; Quebec bread which was a light, white loaf, nothing resembling any traditional bread I’ve had in France; and of course beer, the bottled brands of the day, all domestic. There was no stout even though Guinness was brewed in Quebec then. I don’t think the oysters were fried, except probably for the soup, but I may be wrong on that.

I think too there were Quebec desserts like the creamy and sinfully rich tarte au sucre, and the latticed square tarts filled with fruit or raisins popular, then, in Quebec and I hope still. The sugar pie was definitely French in origin and I’ve found similar things in France. It is not at all like a treacle tart, butter tart, or that type of confection. The other desserts mentioned may have British origins though, where sweet pies with pastry on both sides are common.

The Legion Halls did this to help raise funds for their operations. The bivalves were always Malpeque, from Prince Edward Island, among the best in the world. Quite large and salty but without the iodine taste of Belon oysters from France (also now grown in Maine, U.S.A.).

I don’t think there was any entertainment, maybe recorded music.

The oyster party is an old Quebec tradition, inherited from the 1800s and of course widespread at one time in the Northeast. NBL evidently prided itself on holding these for the employees as they are regularly mentioned in its 1940s house journal, The Review.

This issue in 1949, see the last few pages, has excellent images of these parties. They were held separately at each brewery in the group and it appears the “Transport” group held its own as well. They were strictly male only and female only affairs. The Review regularly depicted images of both.

The men were dressed in coat and tie, all of them, and the women well-turned out as well. The oysters were served informally, piled on long plank tables erected on beer cases or simple wood frames. Underneath, the empty oyster shells were strewn into boxes for easy disposal. And beer a plenty of course accompanied these events.

In some pictures, it looks like full cases of beer were placed under the trestles for service “à volonté”.

At the Legion dinners, I’m quite sure we sat down but the oyster feast of National Breweries was all stand-up, altitudinal you might say! Considering that at least three or four brands of all-malt, well-hopped beer were available, this was their version of our beer festivals. They did pretty well.

As E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries Ltd. bought out NBL in 1952, enter the bean counters. Did they allow the oyster tradition to continue? Somehow, I doubt it.

A quick check seems to suggest these affairs are not standbys any longer of the Legion Halls. Perhaps the oysters are too expensive. Still, the Legion occasionally still does them, I identified two such events held last year at its halls in Alberta.

The 1949 magazine also has an interesting article on a change to the Dow Ale label in that year and the marketing reasoning. I think the “Autrefois” (formerly) and “Maintenant” (now) columns, for the old and new designs, were reversed though, comparing them to the account in the text. Or am I reading it wrong?

These labels state 22 oz., nay “British” ounces, or “pintes” in the old Quebec terminology. A clear, stubby, non-returnable bottle is also shown for Dow Ale. It was 12 oz., a “chopine”. The stubby was not new when introduced industry-wide in the early 1960s, except in the sense of being returnable.

On the page for the ladies’ event is a photo from another party for NBL women, one honouring Ste. Catherine, the patron saint of girls and unmarried women. One lady was kitted out to play the “vieille fille”, or old maid. This is how things were done then…

The Ste. Catherine celebration, while known through the French world, has particular resonance in Quebec, to this day. This 2016 story in the National Post attests to it.

Note re image: the image shown is drawn from the issue of The Review (La Revue) identified and linked in the text. The magazine appears on the City of Montreal’s superb virtual exhibition on Dawes Brewery history. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Breweries Ltd. and the Ontario Market, 1940s

In a 1944 issue of The Review, the house journal of Montreal-based National Breweries Limited (NBL), a detailed article described the Ontario office and sales organization of NBL.

Ontario then was new territory still for the Quebec breweries. Long accustomed to steady markets at home, they didn’t expand as quickly into ROC (rest of Canada) as they should have. Yet Ontario’s Labatt Brewery made repeated efforts, with some success, to enter the Quebec market from the late 1800s. So did other Ontario breweries, as I’ve showed in part earlier.

Molson Brewery finally built a plant in Toronto in the mid-1950s. It was too late for NBL, bought out in 1952 by sharp-eyed E.P. Taylor of Toronto-based Canadian Breweries Ltd. Still, NBL made some efforts to sell in Ontario.

The multi-page article (in French) describes the head office of the Ontario branch, at the Harbour Commissioners Building in Toronto. That historic columned building still stands in a now resolutely modern district, and last sold for $96M some years ago.

The article has a slightly envious tone, or so it seems to me, when describing this outpost. Unlike presumably any of NBL’s Victorian or early-1900s facilities, the Toronto digs were laid out in cool, modern style with a variegated colour scheme. The sleek, new wood furniture was noted as well. The article explained for readers that this was the prevalent style in Toronto. For most of them, Toronto might have been on the far side of the moon.

Even then, land around the Harbour Commissioners Building had been conquis, or reclaimed, from Lake Ontario; the edifice no longer stood as it once did at the edge of the water. Even as the area had changed, many ships still docked nearby to transact commerce, the article noted. This is a change from today except for tanker deliveries to nearby Redpath Industries, which still refines sugar, and perhaps the other odd bulk delivery by water.

The Ontario Brewers’ Retail system is described in detail, neutrally, but in a way that probably struck readers as somewhat regulated (it still is). Photos are shown, only one of which I’ve seen before, the “ice-cold beer” one. A glassed-in example of a Brewer’s Retail is shown. Despite the reputed Soviet-style grimness of these stores, the shop looks quite inviting with its shining glassed exterior – oddly similar to not a few brewpubs I’ve seen! Glassed frontage was continued in modified form into the 1970s, but looked better then.

The writer describes how the beer was ordered. Except for the wartime voucher system, and excepting the self-serve feature now available in many stores, the system is unchanged today, 76 years later. The customer states his request to the clerk. It is relayed by a speaker system to the back. There, an employee sends the packaged beer clattering down metal rollers to the waiting consumer.

Empty bottles were handled then just as today, as well.

Although I’ve read about interprovincial restrictions on beer, which did surely exist, the article makes no mention of this. Perhaps wartime exigencies relaxed the rules. The article makes clear that NBL’s beer was retailed at Brewer’s Retail. The only problem mentioned was long distances to get the products from Montreal to delivery point.

I should add, NBL’s sales force covered all geographic areas where the Brewers Retail stores – there were 130 in 1944 – were located, since store managers had discretion what to buy. There was no centralised buying, according to the article, but it does note that the managers tried to ensure a variety of beers available.

The cover of this issue shows, as another article explains, beer loaded at Canadian Pacific Railway’s Place Viger for shipment to Port Arthur, Ontario. It mentions a cargo of chopines and pintes, which were 12 oz. and 22 oz., respectively. Molson Coors still sells some beer in the old pinte bottles, at its Creemore Batch brewpub in Toronto. (In English, we called the small bottles pints and the large ones quarts, which shows you nothing is simple).

This article noted that the railcars were “heated” to maintain the beers’ condition. This seems odd, but the article, which appeared in March 1944, was probably prepared over the winter. And winters in eastern Canada were, famously we are told, much colder than now…

The main article claimed the beers, still all-malt in the NBL era,* were highly regarded in Ontario. Still, the transport factor alone would have lessened the profitability of these sales, viz. that is the Ontario brewers.

The rationing system was four coupons (free) per month, with one coupon entitling to six chopines. (One for every day except Sunday, right?).

Now, such ration doesn’t seem overly burdensome, particularly for families where not every adult drank beer, but the article described it as only “a little”. A window on Canadian beery proclivities and/or a loyal upholding of the corporate mission, take your choice.

I don’t know if Quebec had a similar system, presumably not as the article makes no mention of it.

NBL beer surely pleased some in Toronto, but not enough to make any difference to the company’s fate, clearly. The home market had to up its game enough, and it never did, at least not the way NBL was structured into the 1950s, with six operating breweries. These were Dawes Black Horse, Dawes Draft Beer Plant (formerly Ekers), Dow, and Frontenac in Montreal, and Boswell and Champlain in Quebec City.

NBL treated its employees well. Reading numerous issues of the house organ, one can tell this from the ambit of activities organized for them and various social benefits including retirement and life insurance plans. This was by no means common at the time. The City of Montreal’s virtual exhibition on Dawes brewery history, in which these magazines appear (covering 1942-1949), states that employee wages had doubled in the 10 years from start of the war.

I hope this largesse, to put it that way, didn’t contribute to the ignominious end of NBL. Certainly under E.P. Taylor things changed, with closures of some plants, paring of brands, and alteration of some recipes, as I will show soon.

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*I’ll document this in another post soon.

 

 

 

Altitudinal Drinking Returns

“The Scholar and the World”

In mid-1935 an American, Albert Abrahamson, authored The Price Study: The Price of Whiskey. It was not conventionally published, being an internal document the U.S. government commissioned when examining pricing for key consumer goods. (I’ve referenced the HathiTrust version, and Google Books has it as well, in full text).

Abrahamson, born in Portland, ME in 1905, was a Columbia-trained economist with a long career at Bowdoin College in Maine. He was also regularly engaged by governments to advise on economic policy, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal administration.

He was only 30 when the study appeared but it shows an uncommon sophistication. The book, about 60 pages long, has three sections. The first examines the lead-up to National Prohibition and drinking and alcohol supply during the Volstead period (1920-1933).

The second reviews current industry pricing for whiskey, and the last part discusses pricing through the prism of the consumer interest.

The full study is absorbing, but we found the first part of especial interest. Abrahamson considers that Prohibition largely resulted from the need to end the abuses of the saloon and the “tied house”, or brewers’ (mostly) control of saloons and bars. He also notes the ingrained, indeed continuing, moral opposition to drinking in large parts of the country.

Among the many interesting observations, this one may be cited, on the multifarious reasons for alcohol use.

One must distinguish the various shades — the quenching of thirst, the derivation of a slight glow to ease the incidence of social formalities, the desire for partial escape and the quest for complete forgetfulness and unconsciousness. Poets have forged immortal verses in praise of the virtues of whiskey; psychiatrists have justified its use as an escape from arduous endeavour; and a distinguished historian of English society has contrasted the rival consolations of religion and the public house. How much one drinks and what one drinks depend upon the goal one sets and how soon one wants to get to it.

A further element in demand arises from the wishes of some consumers to do the smart thing. This means that some people drink in emulation of movie actors, professional endorsers, social leaders, and other members of the tribe that sets the consuming pace for so many Americans. It is difficult to say when a vague desire to do the smart thing shades off into more compelling demands and finally results in a stubborn habit. The case histories of alcoholics would doubtless reveal many items of interest.

Can the demand for whiskey, partially indicated in the preceding paragraphs, be described by a word or a phrase? Can the demand in future years be predicted? Statistics are of limited value in describing so miscellaneous a phenomenon. The industry is too new to have a significant quantitative history. The figures of pre-prohibition days are not applicable, and the prohibition data are simply guesses.

I was struck, too, by his statement that once gin transferred from the distillery to the “bathtub” during Prohibition, gin replaced whiskey for the bulk of Americans. By this, he meant cheap home-made gin was available to almost all who wanted a drink, whereas whiskey had to be smuggled from Canada or elsewhere and hence cost more to buy.

An exaggeration perhaps, as whiskey did regain a major part of the liquor market after Repeal, but the later Dry Martini craze shows a certain truth in his observation.

He also considered that despite new alcohol control laws, the saloon in large cities continued in its essential form, hence his jaunty term altitudinal drinking (for standing at the bar, leitmotif of the old saloon).

He notes that following Prohibition the liquor industry gained enormously in sophistication, both in business structure and advertising techniques. The newly-legal distillers borrowed developments other industries, for example the public utilities, had pioneered in the 1920s. He found some of these questionable, citing as an example selling what appeared the same grade of whiskey at different prices. His “Royal Flush” example (see the text) is worth pondering.

Abrahamson was evidently much admired at Bowdoin, and while he died in 1988, is still remembered. This college blog by a 1976 graduate, whence our sub-title is taken, is warm in reminiscence. See also the comments from numerous former students and associates.

 

The Sand Porter of Montreal (Part II)

In my last post I discussed a “sand porter” advertised by two brewers in the Montreal area in the 1880s and 90s.

The most likely explanation for the term is that the porter was filtered through a sand bed, in order to be reasonably bright and stable in the bottle. Through the 19th century, recommendations appear to filter beer in sand (and other substances), probably as a spin-off of early water treatment.

The crevices of sand trap the yeast and protein particles, so the filtering works by physical action, as charcoal does, with a clarifying and purifying effect. The medium must be continually washed so the material can regenerate for use. Sand is virtually indefinitely re-usable, hence cost-effective and environmentally responsible. White sand was typically advised.

Today, among numerous other methods, diatomaceous earth (DE) is often used for close filtration, a sand-like, silica-based substance. DE is a better filter, as it is more neutral and traps more and smaller particles, but sand recurs for discussion among modern brewing technologists. One reason is that DE may pose certain health risks, cancer has been cited.

(The filtration issue has lessened in importance in craft circles, although much craft beer has been, and will continue to be filtered if only roughly).

The following references, among many more I consulted, will support the above. The second, an 1888 American bottling manual by Charles Sulz, covers more or less the period we are dealing with.

  1. https://books.google.ca/books?id=pLhGAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA76&dq=filtering+beer+through+sand&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiQwpb_wJ3nAhVDU98KHfUtBT4Q6AEIQjAD#v=onepage&q=filtering%20beer%20through%20sand&f=false
  2. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/t29885p99&view=1up&seq=842

Sulz advises the sand filtering for light beers that otherwise would be liable to sour, versus strong beer that conditions by long standing but remains stable. It is interesting that he mentions molasses and sugar beers in this regard, as molasses may well have been used to bulk out the staple porter in Quebec. The old Champlain Porter, which I recall in the 1970s, had a light flavour of molasses.

Reference no. 1, an early 1800s British encyclopedia, offers a detailed discussion of beer filtering and advises sand for this use. A well-known engineer, Joseph Bramah, is cited, known among beer historians for his work on the beer engine or vacuum hand pump, associated with cask-conditioned beer.

Sand filtration was later superseded by DE and other methods, supplemented by pasteurisation. Still, the concept has never completely disappeared. Numerous studies continue to canvass its effects as compared to other materials, e.g., “Evaluation of a Substitute Filter Medium for Removal of Haze in Beer“, by Ma. Perpetua M. Marquez, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Adelaide.

Sand porter is perhaps not the most elegant term, which may explain its demise in the Montreal market, but the process was probably more widely used than the name.

 

 

The Sand Porter of Montreal (Part I)

In the 1880s and 1890s in Montreal, at least two breweries advertised sand porter. The “s” in sand is not a typographical error, as I’ve reviewed numerous ads for the beer.

Here are two links to such ads. The first is from The True Witness and Catholic Chronicle of Montreal in 1892. Montreal Brewing Co. advertised typical products of the day – India Pale Ale, pale ale, stout porter (i.e., stout), and the sand porter.

Montreal Brewing Co. placed many such ads in the press in this period, in French- and English-language newspapers, especially the early 1890s.

Dawes Brewery was a much larger brewery based at the time in Lachine, Quebec just outside Montreal. It too sold sand porter. It advertised it in different-size bottles (pintes and chopines, old French measures). See in French at p. 3 its advertisement in Le Peuple, in 1882, or the same ad the same year in English in the Montreal Herald, here.

The fact that two brewers advertised such porter suggests “sand” was descriptive, not a trade or fancy name. No one surnamed Sand was connected to these breweries, as far as I know, or to a process for porter. There were no beaches near Montreal or Lachine of the type that would suggest an obvious borrowing from local topography.

Since porter was always regarded as a rich, restorative drink, it seems unlikely sand referred to a sunny holiday destination, something unrealistic for the time anyway.

There were no ownership connections between Montreal Brewing and Dawes brewery then, not until 1909 which is years after sand porter disappears from the scene.

Montreal Brewing was helmed by Thomas Cushing, son of prominent businessman Lemuel Cushing of Trois-Rivières, Quebec. Lemuel was issue of a well-known United Empire Loyalist family from New England. Thomas had set up in brewing in Montreal in 1876.

His brewery was one of the smaller ones in Quebec then. Still, it was prominently profiled in the 1898 La Presse article I discussed recently that described contemporary Montreal brewing.

In 1909, Montreal Brewing, Dawes Brewery, and most others in Quebec became part of National Breweries Limited, a Montreal-based combine. NBL endured until Toronto’s E.P. Taylor, a pre-eminent international raider, bought NBL in 1952 via Canadian Breweries Limited (since 1989 part of Molson-Coors Beverages).

Cushing had two sons who were associated with National Breweries. One was Gordon Cushing who later became a stockbroker but stayed on the board of National until the end.

Sand porter seems to disappear from the scene by 1900, it is not mentioned for example in the La Presse profile (while other brews of Montreal Brewing were). I have not been able to locate a label for it. As it endured at least between 1882 and 1892, it was not a flash in the pan. I would think it was the staple porter of these breweries, perhaps for bottles, with their stout being the premium grade.

Any ideas what it was?  I have an idea, but will solicit opinion first.

Part II follows.

Coffee Cocktail? Don’t Mind if I do

An interesting discussion on Twitter recently bore on the coffee cocktail, a concoction popular from the 1880s until 1920 when National Prohibition ended the official drinks culture.

I wlll summarize a review of the literature as I found it, but keep the references to a minimum.

There was both an alcohol and non-alcohol version. The alcohol one generally used sugar, port, brandy, and egg. The proportions of brandy to port varied, everything from a film of brandy on the wine to equal parts.

No recipe I saw stated the type of port to use, and I’d imagine in practice a variety was used from ruby to vintage. David Wondrich, an authority on cocktails history, stated if tawny port is used the drink actually resembles coffee or café au lait.

I haven’t tried any version as yet, so must hold my counsel on what the various combinations would produce.

A typical c.1900 recipe can be read here, in The Gorham Cocktails Book. A dusting of nutmeg is advised, as in some other recipes, but a flourish will not alter the essential taste, much as at Starbuck’s today. Similarly some recipes called for a dash of bitters.

Charles Mahoney, in The Hoffman House Bartenders Guide, is restrained on the issue of taste, all but suggesting a coffee cocktail does not taste like coffee. He states it looks like coffee, hence probably the name, but goes no further, and considers the name a “misnomer”.*

A similar view is expressed in 1894 in a French book on English cuisine and baking that takes in both English and American drinks. See Alfred Suzanne’s comments highlighted.

Brown brandy would have made even red port drinks look darker, as would brown sherry if that type was used, and at least one recipe I found called for sherry in addition to port. Where crème de cacao was used, as in this 1909 recipe (Daily Star, Long Island, NY), that would deepen colour and add a suggestion of coffee taste. An 1896 reference to the drink, in the magazine Table Talk, is to same effect.

The latter two recipes seemingly were intended to make a drink not typically tasting of coffee do just that. A parallel idea can be inferred from Jack Grohusko’s c.1910 manual on wines and mixed drinks. Under the japing name Sabbath Cocktail, what is clearly the coffee cocktail has “1/2 pony” of black coffee added.

In the early 1920s, as seen in this 1921 issue of the trade journal Hotel Monthly, a coffee cocktail was a small black coffee served before a meal, without charge. The discussion suggests it was either a temperance version of the alcohol coffee cocktail or a re-dubbed, non-alcohol restaurant staple, the “coffee appetizer”.

I found a few references to this version both before and after 1920 especially for the South. This makes sense as large sections of the Bible Belt went dry even before WW I.

The discussion on Twitter concerned a text a tweeter posted on bartender etiquette. Source and publication date were not mentioned, it was apparently 1920s (when Prohibition was in force) but perhaps earlier. The context was usual drinking matters without reference to restrictive laws, that is.

A tip for bartenders stated that if a customer requests a coffee cocktail, do not retort that you have no coffee. Our exchanges bore on the meaning of this statement. David thought it was probably a bartender’s joke, because the alcohol version involved more trouble to make than many other drinks.

This is plausible, certainly, but if the instructions were written in the 1920s, the tip may have meant, don’t deny the customer a complimentary coffee, an item patrons might request to obey the Prohibition law, or lessen the effects of (illicit) alcohol consumed.

The coffee cocktail illustrates one of the many mysteries of etymology and origin in food and drink history. From steam beer to Stilton cheese, from Welsh Rabbit to the Michigan hot dog, people still argue how these things got their name and what they really meant.

The temperance version must take the cake though (further felicity of outcome!) as it was a simulacrum of a simulacrum.

N.B. As might be expected, in the early years after Repeal in 1933 the coffee cocktail has sporadic appearance. Here is an example from Buffalo, NY in 1934. G. Selmer Fougner, the New York-based drinks writer of the 1930s, mentions the drink a couple of times in the same year. But as for most of the pre-Prohibition cocktail panoply, it disappears for practical purposes by WW II certainly.

…………………….

*It appears the misnomer idea originated with pioneering cocktails writer Jerry Thomas, whose 1887 edition of his bartenders guide first gave the recipe. Thomas states neither bitters nor coffee enter into the recipe, which appears to be true as a general rule, but later recipes did occasionally incorporate coffee, or another drink made with it, as shown above.