Retro Beer and Sausage Dinner at Maple Leaf Restaurant, Feb. 21, 2018

I’m pleased to announce that the Maple Leaf Tavern Restaurant in Toronto, one of Toronto’s top dining destinations east of Yonge Street, will be giving a six-course Retro Beer and Gourmet Sausage Dinner on Wednesday, February 21. See recreated food menu below.

The dinner is patterned on and intended as homage to a 1973 beer and food event held by the Wine and Food Society of New York at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Beers will be the same as or similar to those served at the original event. Earlier, I described the event in this post, where you can see the full original menu.

This will be a window on the immediate pre-craft scene and feature numerous imports still popular or other beers similar in taste that match with the food.

I have previously written, and presented, on numerous aspects of beer and other tastings held by the International Wine and Food Society. Their early tastings are not just of significant historical interest but offer some great eating and drinking!

The event will be an opportunity to appreciate how beer and food were paired by a noted gastronomic society in the pre-craft era. Actually, they had it pretty good!

Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News, Canada’s premier resource for beer and brewing industry news and events, will make initial remarks. I will follow him to explain the concept behind the dinner and some fascinating history behind these early tastings.

Following the original concept, the meal is sausage-focused, an opportunity to taste rare European specialties prepared by expert chef Jesse Vallins.

Seating begins at 6:30 p.m. with dinner service starting at 7:00 p.m. The dinner and pairing is priced at $140.00 per guest (includes tax and gratuities). Seats are limited. Tickets can be purchased at Maple Leaf Tavern or by calling 416-465-0955.

Greg will bring a music playlist from the era to lock in the atmosphere of ’73! Don’t miss it if you can attend.



Bespoke Crisps

Joe Tindall at the Fatal Glass of Beer has a good piece on the enduring nature of the potato chips (crisps in the U.K.) pairing with beer, almost non-identical twins you might say in the pub.

What Joe writes is largely applicable in North America, except french fries largely performs the role mentioned for crisps in pubs and restaurants. Chips (their crisps) work similarly with beer but it’s something more for home, or parties and receptions, that kind of thing.

Perhaps the richest ales, and milk or Imperial stouts, don’t suit either, but then you don’t see these much in pubs anyway. And people still drink them with french fries and chips, all the time actually!

It’s at the point where a New York bar owner, changing his menu to include the chips previously omitted on a hipster menu, told me, “in this business you must offer french fries, you just must”.

Perhaps not literally so in all cases, but in general he’s right.

In regard to suitability with craft beer, it’s interesting that (British) crisps have their own history of diversity. The Brits are famous, here anyway, for the unusual, or rather wide, variety of flavours in this comestible.

This Metro story by Yvette Caster lists and ranks 20 of these, everything from ham-and-cheese to Thai chili. And what a market: a billion pounds plus are spent annually for crisps, see this recent study. Some six billion packets are consumed in the year, based on another source.

The range of flavours is almost comparable, numerically and in exoticism, to that of craft beer itself, so Walkers’ offering crisps to match especially well with beer makes sense.

It is as if our big national brewers 30 years ago had brought out the full range of craft beers you see today, given that is Walkers’ dominance in the market.

Of course there are some smaller independents now, Burt’s, Tyrrell’s, Corker’s are some. We get some of the brands at the “British shops” that survive in Toronto. You see them alongside the Yorkshire tea, peat-coloured marmalade, and moss green horehound candy.

Walkers’ relatively restrained range thus is completed by a palette of other flavours from competitors big and small.

Indie crisps. Makes sense.

Crisps even has its own historical dimension. Has a crisps historian written a book, or PhD?

Most of those concerned to some degree with food in North America know the story that crisps/chips emerged in 19th century Saratoga, NY. A Vanderbilt was dissatisfied with a chef’s overly thick fried potatoes. The kitchen maestro sent over a derisively thin-cooked, salted version, and ended by creating a classic: the magnate loved it.

See a summary here, in this Guardian Weekly story by Jon Henley some years ago, “Crisps: a Very British Habit”. Henley commendably looks further and offers enticing hints that the dish may be of ultimate English, or at least French, origin. (Henley’s excellent piece shows that food studies, now usefully ensconced in the academy, will always have a place outside it, where it started).

Whatever the origins, the British have annexed themselves to crisps in a surely unassailable fashion. Or, as we might, say, they own it. This phraseology is not inapt, after all Walkers’ has borrowed our cant in its pitch line, “Max Strong has you covered”.

The British will end by talking like Midwesterners and we, like a mix of Noel Gallagher and Virginia Woolf, maybe.


French Travels With Michael Jackson

In my post yesterday, I referred briefly to having visited the Jenlain brewery in the town of that name in northern France with the late beer guru, Michael Jackson.

We spent five days on the road together, visiting small breweries in the region that had been the heartland of top-fermentation before the 1930s. Many still exist, e.g., Jenlain, St. Sylvestre, La Choulette, Ch’ti (Castelain), Lepers, Au Baron, Theillier (Bavay).

My job was to drive us to the appointed destinations, following an itinerary organized by a local beer promotion group. I helped a bit with French for Michael, but it turned out he was fairly proficient himself – one of his many multiform talents.

Newer breweries have come along since, encouraged by the world-wide interest in beer, so that there are some 40 in the region now. It’s down from over 2000 in 1900, but not so bad, considering.

In 1992 when the tourney occurred, there were just under 20 breweries including two or three large regional plants, some of which are now closed, e.g. Terken in Roubaix which had a unique, cooperative form of ownership. It lasted until 2005.

Pelforth in Lille continues, but even then was owned by Heineken.

Michael Jackson wrote up the trip, it was published in the Independent in London. You can read it here, reprinted on his website which is still maintained some 10 years after his death. Note he refers to the special, top-fermentation version of Jenlain, which I mentioned yesterday as well. I only found his 1992 article this morning, so my memory was good.

While he terms the account “Part 2” of a French safari, there was no Part 1 in the north. He met us at the Lille train station mentioned in the article, having taken the Chunnel train from London. Part 1 to my best recollection was a description of an earlier visit he made to Paris.

Jackson was, as many have testified, a very interesting person: highly intelligent, curious, hard-working, widely-read, ambitious. He was a good listener as all good journalists are. We talked about politics quite a bit and he combined an enormous respect for British history and capitalist endeavour with a decided social-democratic bent.

He was skeptical of Margaret Thatcher, whereas I was a booster, so it made for some interesting conversations over the beers.

We talked too about his (paternal) Jewish roots. Had he lived longer I think he would have explored this more; in his later writings he often adverted briefly to it, usually in the form of a joke or sentimental reflection.

I also have a clear recollection that he was well-aware of the new generation of beer writers coming up. He told me you always have to watch your guard, you have to get better and better at what you do to make sure no one catches up (not verbatim, but that was the gist).

As things turned out, he had nothing to worry about, for that matter even being absent from the scene for 10 years. In the areas he covered, he was and remains matchless. Good work has been done by not a few certainly, but in areas he never went far into. The historical field is the prime example; aspects of brewing materials and techniques, another.

Michael’s field par excellence was the sensory description of beer, as well as relating beer types to various forms of history (social, political, military) and other aspects of culture. In a word he created numerous beer styles – that is, as we think of them today (Trappist beer, Imperial stout, Vienna beer, etc.). They are all rooted in the warp and weft of modern beer culture.

Let’s give Michael the last word, about the part of our visit to Theillier in Bavay, which I remember just as he describes it:

I … head[ed] eastward for the most unusual brewery and bière de garde. In the Roman town of Bavay, in a 1670 house, the Thellier family have been brewing for as long as anyone can remember.

Amand Thellier is the brewer now, helped by his wife. They brew three times a month and there are no staff. The Thellier’s home and brewery are in the same building, and the cellars appear to have been left by the Romans.

Monsieur Thellier claims that he uses no dark malts, but the beer has a tawny colour to go with its fresh, malty aroma and its rich sweetness. He declines to elaborate upon his method.

If he really does not use dark malts, then perhaps he colours and thickens the beer by having such a vigorous boil that he caramelises and condenses the wort. If he does, a great deal goes up in steam. His product is hard to find, of course, but if you see La Bavaisienne (1068-70 [OG]), buy a bottle immediately.*

Note re image: the image above was sourced from this French retailer’s site. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*R.E. Evans, in his 1905 article I discussed in the previous post, mentioned the very long boils of some northern French brewers.


Around the Dial with bière de garde

Are you listening?
Are you listening to me?
Can you hear me?
Can you hear me clearly?
Around the dial.

I’ve been around the dial so many times,
But you’re not there….
Somebody tells me that you’ve been taken off the air.

– From “Around the Dial”, Raymond Douglas Davies, 1981.

In 1905, a brewery expert named R.E. Evans visited French top-fermentation breweries and his report was published in a brewing journal after presentation to colleagues in Birmingham.

The report is clearly written, and good data can be drawn from it. In six northern departments, Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Somme, Aisne, Ardenne, Oise, there were 2,300 breweries, mostly top-fermenting.

In the remainder of the country, 400 breweries operated, all bottom-fermenting. The latter produced about one-third of the beer in the country; the northern group, the rest.

In time this picture would be reversed and then some, in that almost all beer in the country by the 1960s was bottom-fermentation, whether in the north or elsewhere.

But 1905 is still a time when top-fermentation was important.

This article is one of the earliest I know* to refer to the French bière de garde, a style that was revived in the 1960s first by Brasserie Duyck at Jenlain, later by Castelain (Jade, Ch’ti), St. Sylvestre (Les Trois Monts), and La Choulette, established late-1970s by the Dhaussy family but on the roots of an earlier brewery.

It is made clear that this beer type was generalized in Lille, by which one can infer the environs extending along the frontier with Belgium.

The beer was meant to acquire an acid and vinous note with keeping, see page 235. This links it to Flemish red ale and some other Belgian ales that typically have a sourish edge.

There is also an analogy to long-stored porter, and like porter, an emulation of the garde was sometimes made by blending new beer with “returns” – new beer gone sour and returned to the brewery for credit.

When bière de garde came back in the 1960s, the sourness was left out. Indeed, much of the revival ended as bottom-fermented. I recall when visiting Jenlain in 1992 with Michael Jackson that Jenlain was bottom-fermented. We were given a taste of an experimental top-fermented version, and its pleasant fruity nose and extra quality seemed to mark it off from the production beer.

(When we divided up the beers gifted by the breweries from the Volvo’s trunk at the end of the trip, Jackson took that one! I’d have been disappointed with anything less).

Still, Jenlain is a satisfying beer as I confirmed the other day trying the draft at the old-school Au Trappiste in Paris. (A planned excursion to Lille fell through, unfortunately). The other gardes mentioned, both from past and more recent sampling, are also very good. They make a welcome change from the lager uniformity of most French bars.

The Jenlain had a clean, lightly caramelized malt sweetness, a touch of fruit, and a chalky yeast background. The taste was not heavy-handed as much Belgian saison can exhibit, and had good drinkability.

I am not sure if the beer is all-malt, but the taste was good in any event. It is no surprise Jenlain has done so well in this specialist category.

The restored garde tradition is reflected partly by the bottling style, often using a Champagne-style container, by top-fermentation or bottle-conditioning in some cases (e.g., La Choulette), or by using malts or hops sourced in northern France.

Frequently too a garde is darker in hue than standard lager. In the heyday of French ales the colour varied but very dark brown and black versions seem a modern touch. They follow on bières brune and local porters in turn inspired by well-liked scotch ales and barley wines imported from Britain in the interwar period.

I saw gardes from a number of long-established breweries on shelves in Paris, but cannot recall even one from a craft brewery.

The gardes seem minor today in the artisan scene, eclipsed by the plethora of “international” craft products produced by 1000+ craft breweries in France. Of course too the old regionals often produce their version of IPA, wheat beer, Kolsch, etc.

It is always so, a new wave comes along, the old wave, potent in its day, recedes.

At a Frog Revolution in Paris – the newer generation of bar established by the English-style Frog group founded in the 1990s – I suggested the house produce a garde. The enthusiastic barman listened with interest, and perhaps a garde will issue one day from the group’s brewery on Paris’ outskirts.

Given how sour beers are back in style, it is a perfect opportunity to revive bière de garde as it was c. 1900.

But, apart a few pathbreaking revivalists in the north, do they remember in France what the garde really was…?

And of those who remember, are any gardes issued as described by R.E. Evans, with the storage qualities noted and using the Lille thick-mashing method?

For that matter, any Canadian or other brewer reading can easily make his or her own. Débrouillez-vous avec ça!

Note re first image: the first image above was sourced from the La Choulette brewery website, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*I.e., in English brewing literature.

Dr. Al Haunold – Craft Beer Pioneer

Dr. Al Haunold is a retired United States Department of Agriculture hop breeder. He ran the joint USDA-Oregon State University hop-breeding program in Corvallis for 34 years from 1965.

He arrived from the east to work on the problem of downy mildew in the Cluster hop, then a workhorse of U.S. brewing, as was Oregon Fuggle, both primarily for bittering. Aroma in beer, at the time, was the preserve of fine imported varieties, at least for premium beers. Hops such as German Hallertau and Tettnang; Czech Saaz; and various English hops.

Haunold was an Austrian immigrant who had grown up on a farm about 60 miles from Vienna. He joined USDA after doctoral studies in Nebraska that added to his extensive Austrian qualifications.

He is now a hale 87, and after retirement consulted in various capacities including to Indie Hops in Oregon. Former litigation attorney Roger Worthington, founder of Indie Hops, recognized Haunold’s great expertise. He enlisted his help in the company, a notable supplier to craft brewers. Indie Hops has also funded a hop research program for research on new varieties.

Roger Worthington now also runs Worthy Brewing in Bend, OR. Worthy Brewing will release this year a series of IPAs showcasing hops developed from this program.

Worthington authored a number of key posts on the blog of Indie Hops including this 2010 post on the development of the Cascade hop. This is most illuminating as are the other posts dealing often with hops that proved key to craft brewing, which Haunold bred or helped develop when at USDA/USU.

This brief recent clip posted by Worthington on Youtube is a tribute to Haunold’s great importance to craft brewing history. Haunold had field-tested Cascade (not bred it, that went back to 1956 in Oregon), promoted and believed it, got it to one-acre commercialization scale, and finally got Coors to buy it. Coors encouraged Northwest hop growers to produce it in the amounts needed by industrial brewers.

As recounted in the 2010 post, and by Haunold in a number of oral history interviews, Cascade was developed to substitute for the German Hallertau Mittelfruh. The latter, long used for aroma hopping in America, was sometimes subject to pest problems and its price, to currency fluctuations.

On paper, Cascade looked similar to Hallertau, e.g., the alpha-beta acids ratio. But it proved to have a distinctive geraniol (grapefruit, citric) aroma. This proved ultimately not agreeable to Coors and other large brewers. So the hop, initially grown in large amounts in Yakima Valley and peaking mid-70s in production terms, appeared destined to languish.

When Anchor Brewing and early craft brewers came calling to USDA for ale hops, Haunold recommended Cascade. It was available as well in smaller parcels suitable to ship small-scale brewers. The rest is history, as Cascade proved the keynote flavour of the craft brewing revolution.

While many hops appeared later, including in the “C” series Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus, Cascade proved to be long influential. Many of the later hops resemble it or close enough so that a “Pacific Northwest” character is recognizable.  When you taste IPA from California to Calabria, they often share a characteristic PNW flavour.

Haunold later developed or had a hand in developing 16 cultivars including Willamette, Mt. Hood, Liberty, and Sterling, all craft brewing standbys. He also developed the early high-alpha Nugget, important in industrial as well as craft brewing for its high bittering content.

To understand the state of U.S. hop-growing in 1979, i.e., pre-craft, the following extract from a 1980 paper by Dr. Haunold on world hop-breeding and production is instructive. Bear in mind this is before the new hops mentioned started noticeably to impact U.S. brewing:

The Yakima Valley of Washington, with 8,637 ha of hops in 1978, is the most important hop-growing area in the United States, followed by Oregon with 2,214 ha, Idaho with 1,081 ha, and California with 593 ha (10) (Table III). The most important U.S. hop varieties are Early Cluster, Late Cluster, English (a collective trade name for the English varieties Bullion and Brewer’s Gold), Cascade, Talisman, Fuggle, and Comet (Table III).

Systematic hop research in the United States started at Oregon State University in 1931 when most U.S. hops were grown in that state. The threat of downy mildew similar to that in Germany stimulated a crash program to combat this disease. The Cluster variety was too susceptible to this fungus, and most of Oregon’s Cluster acreage shifted to the Yakima Valley in the 1940s, to be replaced by downy-mildew-tolerant varieties such as Fuggle, Bullion, and Brewer’s Gold.

Fuggle-H, an improved selection of Fuggle, was released for commercial production in 1967 (14), followed by Fuggle-T, a colchicine-induced tetraploid Fuggle for breeding purposes (12). Cascade, an open-pollinated seedling with Fuggle and the Russian Serebrianka in its pedigree, was released as an aroma hop in 1972(4). In 1975 Comet, a high a-acids selection from a cross between a seedling of the English Sunshine and an indigenous American male hop from Utah (47), was released. Two triploid aroma varieties, Columbia and Willamette, which originated from crosses between the tetraploid Fuggle-T and selected male parents, were released in 1976 (11,13).

In the latest of Haunold’s oral interviews, recorded in August, 2017, he gives a wide-ranging account of his life, interesting unto itself. For example, he discusses conditions in his part of Austria during the war and how it affected the family.

He also describes experiences in the U.S. as a young immigrant, learning English (he could speak it well in three months!), and early work which pertained to cereals such as wheat. Asked whether he found Nebraska quite different to home, he indicated of course some novel impressions. He did not and never has accustomed to peanut butter!

On the other hand he met people in the state who spoke German, clearly descendants of 19th century immigrants. The world is not so small really, even then…

The part involving Cascade does not really explore the craft usage of it, this aspect is brought out in other interviews and accounts. We found of good interest his discussion of beer likes and dislikes, see especially from 1:37 in the video.

He was asked, justly, whether he liked beer, as not every technical expert in the brewing field can be presumed to do so. He exclaims that he “always” enjoyed it, not “excessively” but with meals. Asked to explain his preferences, he mentions brands such as Helles Bock of the well-known food and wine retailer Trader Joe, and Full Sail Amber. These brands are notably malty and perhaps reflected tastes acquired in Austria before emigrating.

He discusses how mass market beer has gotten progressively “thinner”, initially to appeal to a wider market including women. Later, he implies cost reduction was behind cutting back on malt content, to reduce impact of smaller sales.

He is no less tart about large-selling German brands. He states that a re-acquaintance with them on a recent trip to Austria reminded him of mainstream U.S. beers 20 or 30 years ago. Clearly here too he is referring to large-selling brands especially where owned by international brewers, a development he notes, vs. small regional breweries on which he did not comment.

He makes clear, when asked his view on imported beers, that craft beers – he still calls them microbrewery beers – offer superior flavour.

Dr. Haunold explains that when he embarked on his work, he did not intend to change the taste of American beer. He states the industry did not intend to, either. It was satisfied with the hops then available, and was simply seeking substitutes either due to insufficient supply, especially for the Oregon Fuggle, or the kind of issues noted viz hop imports.

Cascade’s new flavour, proving not appealing to the large brewers who helped fund the work to develop it, happened to be picked up by the new crop of small brewers who came along. It was fortuitous in many ways, in other words.

At the same time, Haunold is undoubtedly a key link in craft brewing history. He stands with figures and organizations such as CAMRA, Peter Austin/Ringwood, Michael Jackson, Charlie Papazian, Fritz Maytag, Jim Koch, and Ken Grossman on whose shoulders stand the achievement of American craft brewing. Indirectly their influence helped spread that culture around the world.

N.B. Although in my writing I’ve often related U.S. craft brewing to British inspirations, here is an example where some Germanic influence, in my view, is evident via Dr. Haunold. While an American resident for over 60 years, as someone who knew fine beer from his native land, I’d have to think in discussions with early craft brewers he encouraged them to maximize the use of both hops and malt in beer. One way or another the influence is there, I think.

A 1982 Beer Program: Some Thoughts

What’s Changed; What’s Not

In paging the (inaugural) 1982 Great American Beer Festival’s program, there are many interesting gleanings.

The hops used are stated for numerous beers including Falstaff’s Ballantine India Pale Ale: Bullion and Cascade, see p. 24. Interestingly, Ballantine IPA also used some corn grits then.

Two years later, in Michael Jackson’s first The Pocket Guide to Beer, he describes the hops (see p. 119) as Brewer’s Gold and “Yakima”. Yakima is not a hop itself (to our knowledge), and probably meant Cascade. But a migration had occurred from Bullion to Brewer’s Gold.

Brewer’s Gold is related to Bullion, both are classic mid-century ale and porter hops. They were bred in England early in the 1900s and have the mixed qualities of native U.K. hops and a wild North American variety culled in Manitoba.

They offered a refined, arboreal taste with a North American undertone, the so-called wild or blackcurrant taste.

The hop bill for Ballantine IPA changed over time in the 1900s before withdrawal by Pabst around 1996. Craft brewer and writer Mitch Steele described yet further approaches taken to the hop bill in his excellent study of IPA in 2012.

The beer was re-introduced by Pabst a few years ago using a number of “new era” (post-1972) hops, in addition to some older varieties. I understand it did not sell in hoped-for quantities and is now retired again.

It is interesting that Ballantine, then a division of Falstaff (now Pabst) was using Cascade in 1982, as it had been released by the USDA for commercial use only 10 years earlier. The beer of course dates from the 19th century.

In our recollection, Ballantine IPA never had a strongly citric note even though Cascade is thought of that way today. It is easy to forget that Cascade, hallmark of modern craft brewing, was designed initially for large brewery use.

It formed some 15% of U.S. hop cultivation in 1975, hence entering into many U.S. beers then including Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve, from Blitz-Weinhard in Portland, OR. This was a reasonably assertive blonde lager that had some influence on craft brewing developments.

Other macro beers used it too but as aroma hopping became de-emphasised in industrial brewing, attention soon turned away, or from any aroma hops. They might still be used but with reduced emphasis being placed on aroma, certainly for Cascade.*

It was picked up by the nascent craft movement which ran with it and to a large extent this created the “profile” of modern craft brewing.

New Albion Pale Ale, the first modern craft beer (1976-early 80s, Sonoma, CA), used Cascade. Boston Brewing Company, makers of Sam Adams, re-brewed it for New Albion’s founder Jack McAuliffe a few years ago. It was a good beer but most agreed the notes considered typical today of Cascade were not pronounced.

Ballantine IPA in 1982 would have been similar. Also, Cascade may have been used in that beer primarily for bittering, as Bullion had been used to distill a hop oil to convey a character similar to dry-hopping. Bullion may have borne the brunt of the aroma character, in other words, later Brewer’s Gold.

In any case, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale really put Cascade in lights, as did Anchor Brewing in San Francisco via its Liberty Ale. Liberty Ale only came out in its current form in mid-1983 although various Anchor beers had experimented with it in the 70s.

Of course later, hop rates increased and with Grant’s India Pale Ale, Stone IPA (it did not use Cascade but the taste is broadly similar in our view), and many more beers a stronger, more assertive Cascade character emerged. Sierra Nevada emphasized the new trend with its Torpedo, a beer that benefitted from a new hop infusion system it devised.

Therefore, there are really three eras of Cascade: the largely macro-brewing period (1972- early 80s); the initial, relatively moderate craft use via avatars Liberty Ale and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale; and the “IPA” era proper when the Cascade, or other hops not so different (Centennial, Chinook, etc.) were given a showcase in the palate.

You can read in the 1982 program the hops used in Sierra Nevada’s beers then – very early offerings as the brewery was barely a couple of years old – and for many other beers listed including the ales of Boulder Brewing in Colorado, a brewery that continues to this day.

In sum, hop characteristics then was an important part of beer appreciation; it still is.

Another part of beer appreciation then has largely lost focus today: recommended timelines for consumption. Even for some long-established, pasteurizing breweries, such as F.X. Matt in Utica, NY, an ideal consumption period is noted. It might vary from a few weeks to six months or more, depending on the brewery.

Today, while all concerned with good beer know the importance of freshness, few would think to inquire in the way the 1982 program does. You see the concern today mostly for New England and other IPA and even then not really for technical stability but to capture the hop character at its best.

There are a number of reasons for the change. First, often it is not possible to know when a beer is produced or at least packaged, date codes are stated in various ways and often not at all. Second, it is generally understood craft beers, with some exceptions for strong beers meant to lay down, aren’t meant to be stored long.

Third, production quality is certainly on average much higher now than then. People expect a decent-tasting product however it reaches them, and usually get it.

As well too, where beers are pasteurized you have the protection of that process. It can push palatability beyond the range considered usual for craft beer. Some craft brewers pasteurize too now, so where available that offers additional protection (perhaps at some cost to the palate but that is a different question).

Since so little distinctive beer was available in 1982, the festival organisers probably felt freshness data might benefit drinkers who encountered the beers later. Clearly the organizers asked each brewery supplying beer about this matter.

And so, if you were lucky enough to get some Boulder Pale Ale, say, in Boston in the 1980s, knowing that freshness was between three weeks and two months might assist your purchase or how you viewed the palate. (I drank it in that period, sourced in western New York, and it was fine).

In any case, it’s not an area not much considered today. One drinks the beer as it comes, and usually it is fine.

For some of the 1982 beers, no ideal consumption period was stated, including for Anchor Brewery in San Francisco which pasteurized and still does. The drinker could then conclude the beer as encountered on the east coast, say, was less affected by time than beers for which freshness was conveyed.

At least, it told them something.

Still, the understanding that time is an enemy of most beer however brewed or processed has always been with us. One 1970s formulation put it colourfully this way: the poor standing in a tasting of a notable European brand no doubt can be ascribed to its seeming to date from the Battle of Waterloo!

N.B. The handwritten notes in the 1982 program are by Charlie Papazian himself. Papazian is co-founder of the American Homebrewers Association and the Association of Brewers, a predecessor to the craft beer’s lobby, the Brewers Association. Papazian is a hugely influential figure in American, and now world, craft brewing. All intellectual property in the program belongs solely to its lawful owner. The images shown appear for educational and historical purposes only. All feedback welcomed.


*See this Jos. Barth world survey, 1976/77 at p 16. It is noted there that Cascade had been grown in quantity in preceding years (from 1972, that is) but did not meet hopes for an aroma hop equivalent to European varieties. This is borne out by later accounts, notably Dr. Al Haunold’s as summarised on this Oregon hops supply website and elsewhere. My take from the various sources is, Cascade did not offer the correct flavour to the large brewers but on the other hand, international lager brewers were in general moving away from accentuating hop aroma in beer.



Beer Boîte

On my trips to Montreal I often visit the Benelux Brasserie on Sherbrooke Street near St. Lawrence Boulevard, the old “Main” storied in novels of writers such as Mordecai Richler and other scribes in Shakespeare’s tongue. (Those writers are now increasingly forgotten in Quebec’s francophone-oriented culture, but times change, so it ever was for one reason or another).

The reason is not that it is the best beer bar in town, although it may well be, but simply that it is closest to where we stay on those trips. We either stay downtown or on the west side. There are many beer specialty bars in the greater Montreal area, but not that many in the downtown “core” or westerly reaches.

Benelux is one. The two others I like closest to it are on boul. St-Denis further east, not that far really, but in winter or when time is tight, I tend to stick to Benelux.

Just below it is the Université de Québec’s Montreal campus, and as students and beer pubs seem to go in hand-in-hand, a better location could not be imagined.

As well, McGill University is just a few blocks to the west, so it will send some students “east” to mix with their francophone counterparts at UQAM.

Still, Benelux is a “franco” hangout, at least by an unofficial sounding of the voices at surrounding tables. Two days ago it was mostly Québecois, a bit of metropolitan French, and one or two English, visiting Americans I think.

The franco atmosphere doesn’t prevent staff from speaking English to all comers and most accommodating they are about it. My French is not so bad – it should be better having grown up in Montreal but I hail from a different time, when anglophones were able to operate more autonomously. Still, retailers in Montreal are accustomed to switch to English, given too many visitors hail from the U.S. or other parts of Canada.

In Michael Jackson’s 1976 The English Pub, he described the “random accoutrements” often seen in Britain’s pubs: mismatched tableware, whimsical or clashing decoration, that kind of thing. This applies well to the Benelux with its concrete “bunker” design of the 70s-80s, bright blue exposed ductwork (like a child’s toy on steroids), and simple plank tables probably meant to evoke wood barrels.

Such incongruent elements are often a sign of the proudly independent beer pub, the precise opposite of the “corporate” style, which is no less valid, just different. Anyway it suits the easygoing atmosphere, reasonable prices, and popular spirit that beer bars at their best exhibit around the world.

The focus is the beer, that’s what’s important at Benelux or any good beer bar! I have never figured out if they brew onsite or somewhere else, it doesn’t matter really. I should add there is a newer Benelux in Verdun, a working quarter about a mile to the southwest, but I haven’t had a chance to visit yet. I think the beer is made at the first site and transferred to the second as needed.

I tend to stick to pale ale/IPA, porter, or lager but numerous other styles are covered. The European connotations of the term Benelux are only loosely applicable, there is usually a Belgian-style offering but “Belge” is not a theme really.

The beers are even better than 10 years ago, when the place started. The only style I’d say they don’t get right, based on past tastings, but almost no one in Quebec does in my experience, is English pale ale or mild/brown ale.

I bought a canned pale ale on the trip, Chipie, from Archibald brewery in Quebec City. The term pale ale in Quebec usually connotes the English style, meaning no evident citric U.S. hopping, a dose of sweetish caramel malt, and moderate bitterness.

Chipie is all that but doesn’t really evoke the Albionic taste, the flowery English hop note I like is missing, and the malt taste never seems quite right.

Maybe those beers reflect more what beer was like in Quebec in the 1920s-1940s. It is satisfying to think that, on the other hand; and they are certainly good session beers in any case, or with a meal.

But the Benelux Catapulte, an American IPA, is faultless, full of flavour and deep malt taste. Their American barley wine, even more so. The Captain Ganache Imperial Porter had a coffee addition, which takes it out of the strict Britannic heritage, but the coffee was handled lightly and it was very good.

The food is “bouffe” style. Hot dog doesn’t describe well the offering of that description, a veal sausage similar to what you get in France with a choucroute. I.e., better than a hot dog nord-americain. And some of that kraut is piled on a stick of French bread, with potato chips and olives on the side. All for a grand total of $4.00 if you buy a full pint. Bon marché.

The panini looked good too, mixing and matching the different culinary traditions that interweave Montreal’s contemporary popular food culture. Smoked meat, bacon, butter chicken, Tex-Mex, guacamole, pulled pork, and more can enter into the panini and wraps on Montreal menus, alone or mixed, and it is pretty good usually.

Another local specialty I saw: fried rice with bits of smoked meat. This started back in the 70s when I still lived there. Fusion with a capital F. How about poutine with General Tao chicken? Or the irony-abounding poutine à la French onion soup?

There was no poutine in Montreal in the 1970s. This unlikely international star of tables popular and even chic is a new traditional food of Quebec. If that makes any sense. Its true roots seem to lie in English mining country, but that’s another story.

The best beer pubs around the world offer what Benelux does: great beer, good prices, détente in atmosphere, and often a discordant design that becomes harmonized under the influence of a beer or two. We’ll see, soon, ce que la francophonie propose dans le même ordre d’idées in Paris and Lille, where Beeretseq wends soon.

This is the current draft beer line-up at Benelux, taken from the pub’s website:

American Barley Wine 2017 8,5%
Armada – Brown Ale Américaine 6,0%
Berlinoise – Berliner Weisse 3,7%
Duplex – Helles 5,0%
Gaïa – Blanche 4,9%
Lux Rousse – Munich Dunkel 5,2%
Nébulose – Assemblage de Saisons – 6,3%
*Capitaine Ganache – Imperial Porter au cacao 7,5%
*Catapulte – American IPA 6,8%
*Beretta – Pale Ale au Sarrasin 4,4%



A Taste of Wine’s History (and Future?)

I was writing about the older style of wine in Canada and the U.S. made from native variety grapes, non-Vinifera. In the main wine areas of Canada including Ontario, grape types for wine are now mostly Vinifera such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. This resulted from a conscious effort starting 40 years ago to improve viticulture and wine flavour. Vinifera types originate in Europe.

The VQA system or Vintners Quality Alliance supports the Vinifera wines as well as a few authorized hybrid varieties, and in general our LCBO, the provincial wine and liquor sales monopoly, buys wines made from such grapes only vs. wines made from Concord, say, or other of the old-fashioned native varieties. Therefore, generally one doesn’t find such wines at LCBO and even to sell them, say, at the winery gate is not common as there are tax incentives to sell the varieties promoted by VQA. That is my understanding gleaned from an examination some months ago.

(In the United States depending on the area, wines made from the older varieties can still be found including in New York).

Bright’s markets a couple of fortified wines in Canada that are blended with some foreign wine under the “Cellared” system authorized by Ontario law. These blends of wine are not VQA labelled and usually are a blending of Canadian Vinifera with foreign wine to balance out the flavour. It’s a certain segment of the market, often these wines are fairly inexpensive and not usually regarded as connoisseur items.

Bright’s is probably the oldest wine name in Canada with an estate in Niagara. Through a long process of corporate change, the brand is now owned by a group of Canadian wineries, both commercial and estate, purchased some years ago from Constellation Brands in New York by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan.

I bought the Bright’s Tawny brand shown, not because I expected the native variety wine taste, but because I wanted an inexpensive wine to mix with porter and stout. A minor variation of drinking the dark brown or black beer types that originated in London was to add a dollop of port. Sometimes the wine was consumed side by side with the beer.

I wanted to test out the combination and looking for something inexpensive, lighted on Bright’s. I also bought another, similar fortified wine called Imperial. I ended by blending them as the sweetness balance seemed better that way. I put an ounce and half or so in a porter or stout and it adds a fruity tang and some extra body.

When I tasted these wines I realized most of the grape base is surely non-Vinifera, it had a brambly, tangy taste reminiscent of grape juice or jam made from Concord grapes. I must say the taste took me aback as I haven’t experienced it, except in the high-quality, non-foxy Norton Virginia form recently, for many years. There is definitely a musky or wild-type flavour, it reminded me of berries you might gather in a forest, but was certainly palatable and interesting.

As I argued earlier, as local flavour in hops is now prized, why not in wine?  Yet the trends that come and go in the wine business never seem to go there.

The taste reminded me too of not dissimilar sweet wines we used to buy years ago in western New York State, made from Delaware and Catawba grapes as I recall.

The market for these old-style fortified wines, sweet versions of a taste once also in dry red and white form, is today unfortunately said to be for those looking for maximum alcohol at the lowest cost, indeed the bereft in our society including street persons. An article appeared some time ago in our press suggesting a certain irresponsibility perhaps on the part of the producers that market these cheap, higher alcohol products.

I won’t defend them on being a taste of history, as no one I’m sure buys them for that reason except perhaps a few aged persons who remember the pre-VQA environment. On the other hand, alcohol in a free society is for everyone, not just those who can pick and choose what they buy and discriminate.

It’s a market to be served and I don’t blame any company for filling the need, one evidently facilitated too by the current retail system as the LCBO sells the wines, not just the Wine Rack retail stores operated by the brand owner (under certain conditions wines can be sold in dedicated wine stores operated by the wineries).

Still, accidentally that old taste hit me as soon as I tried the drink. I can see it going well with ice-cream, say, or even on its own, why not?  I take a little now and then in that form, after dinner. It’s not worse really than real sherry or port, it’s different, it’s local. (The foreign wine content must be fairly minimal based on the taste).

Sooner or later I believe this long-lost element of locality will return to wine marketing and we will see dry and sweet wines based on native grapes similar to what existed before Prohibition and into the 1960s, but bruited as special. Major structural changes to the industry and its regulating bodies, as well as a sea change in how wine flavour is viewed, would be needed first. It will be a slow process, but I think this will be the next revolution in North American wine over the next 60 years.

You can see the LCBO listing here. The description gets at only part of the taste, the distinctive fruity note is not really brought out.

N.B. The 74 in the brand name surely recalls 1874…



From Madeira to Mild Stout


One of the more curious corners of 19th century medicine was a seeming preoccupation with beverage alcohol. Throughout the century, articles appeared in both U.K. and North American professional journals analyzing drinks of various kinds.

Sometimes the professed object was to ascertain sugars and other constituents apart the alcohol and water, as in the case herein. Sometimes a concern for adulteration was evinced. Sometimes an alleged therapeutic function was assessed.

Medicine never really shed its regard for alcohol as therapeutic in some way until the 1930s, by which time it had been removed from the Pharmocopoeia.

I’ve looked at a number of these studies over the years and read analyses by other writers on beer history, here is one I did a short while back, looking at a Lancet survey.

The table above, one I haven’t seen before, is from a London doctor’s report, Henry Bence Jones. It appeared in an August issue of The Medical Times and Gazette, Vol. 9, 1854. Below Bence Jones is pictured.

It is of interest on a number of accounts. First, wines, beers, ciders, and spirits are included, grouped together so one can quickly ascertain and compare alcohol and other indices. The alcohol numbers are evidently by volume percentage here.

One thing that strikes is that the range, say, for fortified wines is fairly similar today at least the average. It’s around 20% by volume (with some marked variances again) – pretty much the norm today for port and sherry.

For dry wines, the numbers are rather lower than modern yields, no doubt a function of the era’s fruit, yeasts, and viticulture. Look at the classified estates in France, say. Champagne is higher than today by a couple of points: no doubt due to addition of brandy.

The cider numbers, with an interesting comparison of sweet and dry types, seem quite similar to today’s.

In the beer area, the pale ales are of note as exhibiting probably the higher end of the average gravity of that time, yet with one strong pale ale specimen at an impressive 11% abv. It may have been Thomas Salt’s pale ale, which showed up in similar territory in the Lancet analysis mentioned above.*

This, with yet other evidence I’ve discussed before, is further evidence that a small class of unusually strong East India Pale Ales existed in the 1800s and Hodgson’s Pale Ale, the ur-IPA, is quite possibly their ancestor.

The beer samples suggest to me little tampering due to their strength. Some are indicated as bottled, so at least some of those not so labelled were probably draft.

The Arctic Ale was the first of a special series sent on polar expedition by Allsopp’s of Burton on Trent in the 1800s. Its strength is an impressive 12% abv, a Burton ale of the old type that has been tasted by a number of modern beer researchers as some bottles survive from the 19th century.

This the first analysis I can recall seeing of the first Allsopp’s Arctic Ale and it appears the strongest of the group issued. Alfred Barnard reported a c. 9% abw sample later issued but the first one evidently was stronger. See pp. 151-152, here.

The initials preceding some beer names are not easy to decipher. “P” for one pale ale is probably Prestopans, a beer regularly canvassed in similar analyses of the 1800s.

All in all a pithy but impactful group,  reflecting an enviable international range to those with a deep enough purse. The chart has a West End flavour, and I have no idea without checking where St. George’s was or is! That is, I’d guess the selections suggest the type of products indulged in by the good doctor and his friends. Perhaps an occasion to test, for whomever paid (perhaps the journal), bottles typically appearing on their evening sideboards.


* See also at p. 341 travel writer Daniel J. Kirwan’s comment on Salt Pale Ale in his book on London, here. 





Draughts of Danish and the Ghost of London Porter

Gleaning Porter’s True Flavour Via a Trip to Denmark

A primary interest of ours in beer studies is to try to understand how beer tasted in earlier times, that is, its actual taste, not its tax features, economic importance, wage structure, technological base, or related social history. These other things are of interest too but mainly as channels to understand flavour. (Not that one can’t get sidetracked by byways…).

There are different ways to get at this, by studying old recipes, technical manuals, popular literature, and so forth, all of which I’ve done.

This post on oak and alder wood’s likely role in kilning porter malt is in line with what I’ll discuss below. Both tie into a number of 18th and 19th century sources on porter, including The London and Country Brewer (1730s) which states that  London brown beer featured a smoky note from wood-kilned malts but the taste softened after long aging of porter in vats.

Robert Stevens was a Hackney resident in the early 1800s and perhaps a religious figure or trader, I haven’t been able to track down much bio. It appears he was involved in Unitarian (church) organization, but beyond that I can find no trace.

He was a correspondent to The Monthly Magazine, a literary and political journal that published some notable writers, including early Charles Dickens. In 1801 Stevens contributed a multi-part series on an overland trip from Copenhagen to Hamburg, thus by coach and horse then.

The account is full of detail on many subjects. In the beer area, he makes an interesting comparison between Danish strong ale and London porter that ends by shedding light on both beers, especially in the light of modern studies.

He states that strong Danish bottled ale was exported to the West and East Indies, was “greatly” improved by the “hot climates”, and was quite similar, not to contemporary London porter, but the original London porter, the porter “of former times”. This is only 1801, only a couple of generations after porter first comes to prominence in English life.

I’ve pointed out before how one can read surprisingly early of a product that the “good old days” have passed. Soon we will be reading that Vermont and Black IPA altered the classic taste of IPA as it was when Bert Grant’s and the early Stone Brewery IPA were on the market.

There is perhaps something of sentiment at work here, the idea that a taste presumed lost parallels or echoes the loss of one’s salad days, or the distant misty time of early heroic ancestors, that kind of thing.

Still, porter had changed in composition by 1800. Historians and researchers, starting with the late economist Dr. Peter Mathias, as well as original sources anyone can consult who knows how, record that by 1800 the mash for porter included pale malt to increase efficiency.

Pale malt has more usable starch for conversion to ethanol than the higher-kilned brown malt. Improved means to test the gravity of worts resulted with other changes to using pale malt with brown malt to increase yields. Pale malt then was kilned with coke, straw or other materials than wood, thus less or no phenolic component entered the grain.

Further, the long-aging of porter was in slow decline and by 1800 much porter was a mix of new or mild porter and old porter drawn from the vats.

Thus, when Stevens decried the porter of 1801, he might have been thinking of a more smoky, darker, and longer-aged version he knew in his youth and perhaps older persons recalled for him, as against a paler, less smoky, milder Mark II version.

We can glean an idea of the original porter since Stevens states that Danish strong bottled ale resembled it especially as exported to distant warm climes east or west.

Some porter was sent out to India, but the improved English beer or at least stable beer associated with India was pale ale, not porter. So Stevens may have been likening the beneficial effects of hot climates on shipped Danish beer to long-vatted English porter.

And this makes sense, as shipping beer afar has long been likened to longer storage in the cool English climate; maturation is faster due to the rocky transport and changing climatic factor.

Some modern writers have speculated that overseas transport to hot climes actually improved beer, versus that is a situation where the beer, especially well-hopped pale ale, resisted reasonably well the presumed ravages of such journeys.

As far as I know, Stevens is the first known source in the colonial period to state that heat improved beer.

The Danish ale in bottle was almost surely brown, strong again, and well-hopped, too. This is pre-lager, pre-Carlsberg: top-fermented beer as all beer was before the onset of industrial bottom-fermentation in Europe later in the 1800s.

How we do know Danish ale was like that? Because Rolf Nielsen told us via his article in 2008 entitled “The Beer of the Danish Golden Age” published initially in the Scandinavian Brewers Review. He explains that in the 1700s barley malt was wood-kilned in Denmark, brown, and smoky in taste from direct contact of the smoke with the malt.

Only from about 1800 in Denmark was malt cured in a way to avoid the smoke taste. This was either from use of different fuels, or channeling the smoke from wood away from the malt as Nielsen discusses.

The newer beers might still be brown though, because even where brown malt was still made it lacked the smoke taste.

Hence arose an anomaly not a little amusing: a brown beer could be white, as the term white beer was applied to pale or dark beers, the criterion being they didn’t taste smoky. As Nielsen puts it in his pungent way (the account gains charm from likely being written in a second language (or translated literally)):

Why in earth call an extremely dark ale ‘white’? Or even more stupid: call it a ‘dark white ale’? And utterly stupid: call it a ‘pale white ale’? Mysterious practices which take place when linguistic colour blindness and a lack of historical knowledge controls the labelling and the marketing of the gradually more rare examples of pale top-fermented, tax-free ale.

In order to understand why the brewers’ of the 19th century were so enthusiastic about the term ‘white’, we have to have a closer look at the period where new techniques within malting had a revolutionary impact on brewing beer in the more advanced craft breweries. It was precisely at the end of the
18th century and in the beginning of the 19th century that the Danes, in general, and the Copenhageners, in particular, had the opportunity to say goodbye to the brown, often smoke flavoured beer….

On the label of the dark Danish beer pictured, you see “hvitdøl” – it means white (or pale) ale. It was a term that became associated with the new non-smoky malts irrespective of the type of beer made.

But the strong Danish export brown ale that brought to mind for Stevens old vatted London porter was almost certainly the older, 1700s type of brown ale explained by Nielsen. Since Stevens likened it to the older porter and there is evidence it was smoky often, the Danish brown ale surely was smoky too, the older type Nielsen identfied before even brown beer became “white”. The direct confirmation of a beer drinker contrasting two beers is still most useful.

Some of the old porter and Danish ale must have been sourish too from the long standing in porous wood or bottle without refrigeration.

The Danish beer was clearly well-hopped. Nielsen states the first (best quality) mash for 1700s brown ale used hops in the boil vs. addition of a solution of hops boiled in water. Lesser mashes got the hop solution treatment.

It is interesting that London-style porter was brewed in the different Scandinavian countries from the early 1800s; it was popular there as of course in Russia and certain areas in the Baltic. In more recent times Denmark had Albani porter (perhaps still), among other reputed brands. Sweden still makes the fine Carnegie porter. Finland persists with Sinebrychoff porter, one of the best of the genre anywhere.

That success may in effect reflect a continuation of an older, local tradition, unless of course those strong smoky browns were themselves emulations of London porter. I’d think not though, judging from Danish brewing history as explicated by Nielsen.

And even if the London porter came first, Stevens’ remarks, in the light of post-WW II research, are still helpful as permitting us to infer both beers were smoky, reduced in hop character, and perhaps a touch lactic or acetic.

What happened to those Danish ales? Nielsen brings matters up to 2011* by noting that top-fermented beers have been re-introduced by modern craft brewers yet often feature, say, American or Belgian influence rather than the ancestral Danish taste.

Perhaps that has changed in the last seven years, but as of 2011 his constatation is a truism exemplified in many other contexts. People always want to follow fashion, so things happening elsewhere get emulated while original, more authentic traditions are forgotten. Perhaps the éclat of American IPA in today’s U.K. is the best example…

Still, Denmark has contributed its rounded, distinctive (or it was) version of blonde lager via Jacob and Carl Jacobsen and Carlsberg. These are names forever imperishable in the annals of brewing accomplishment. Maybe that’s enough.

Note re images: the first image was sourced from the Wikipedia entry on beer in Denmark, here. The second is from the publication identified and linked in the text, via HathiTrust. All intellectual property in both belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*The article was reprinted that year, in Brewery History, hence using this year for this purpose.