Update Regarding Exultet Fortified Pinot Noir (Port-style)

Our post of this morning has come to the attention of Exultet Winery in Prince Edward County, Ontario, who thanked us for the mention and pointed out that its production technique for this brand entails addition of an alcohol distilled from grapes grown on the estate, so all the alcohol in the wine is sourced 100% from grapes grown on the property. The addition increases the ABV and also locks in sweetness due, we infer, to a cessation of fermentation. The winery indicated it added last month a 2014 white port-style wine made in a similar fashion with the Vidal grape.

A Segue Into a Fellow Fermentable


A visit with G. Hodder is always illuminating. We sampled cheese and nuts on the back deck with a drink or two while his stereo speakers showed ample evidence that Randy Bachman is better than ever: an enjoyable hour or two of a waning Toronto summer. We shared two cans of beer, local pale ale and IPA, and then a half bottle of Exultet fortified pinot noir was brought out, result of his recent wine tour in the Prince Edward County area.

Exultet is a highly regarded boutique winery in the County and this wine is in a style of its own though port seems the closest analogy. Brandy is added to a pinot noir and the result is a lightly sweet, very flavourful dessert wine although a small amount went very well with a little cheese before dinner. I’m not sure how the sugar gets in, either the grapes were late-harvested or perhaps some sweetening is added, either way the melded tastes were very successful, a perfect illustration of terroir. I could recognize the earthy note pinot acquires in our northern lands but the brandy and sweetness made it into something rather different.

Tasting and reporting of it here are an illustration of how the “et seq” in our blog title works: one thing leads to another and anyway all fermented drinks are related, or all drinks tout court.

It was a reminder to try to get out to the County soon. There is no better time as the harvest and grape processing show the wineries in their most active phase.

Session #103 – The Hard Stuff

00-thesession150As someone new to blogging but not to the blogosphere or beer, I thought I would take a shot at the Sessions – apologies for late submission.

Natasha of Meta Blogger asks bloggers to address the hard questions, those not being dealt with in the beer blogging world.

The beer blogging world is a big one, so one has a certain trepidation in suggesting topics that have been overlooked or neglected. Still, despite that some people talk about it once in a while, I think more focus needs to be given to great lager, by which I mean primarily blond lager. From its inception, the revival of craft brewing has not ignored lager. One of the keystones of the quality beer edifice is Sam Adams Boston Lager. Still, in general, craft brewers concentrated on English-style ales and porters, and today other top-fermented styles such as APA and IPA, saison, wit and weizen and sours. The reasons offered for this haven’t changed from the beginning: lager is harder to brew and requires a more technological and methodical approach to brewing than top-fermentation brewing.

Undeniably also there is the unspoken assumption lager doesn’t offer the same complexity of palate as top-fermented beer due to its quasi-industrial history and relatively recent date (1840’s for the blonde pilsner style which revolutionized European and world brewing for 150 years). The dumbing down of international lager in the decades preceding the craft beer revival only reinforced this assumption. Less hops, lower final gravities, more adjunct all conspired to make a beer few thought worthy of emulation. However, blonde lager in its heyday was a rich, flavourful, rounded drink including Pre-Prohibition North American beers at their best.

A great lager was, and still is, one of the best beers in the beer universe. Only rarely though in North America, in my experience, does one encounter it. Sam Adams’ lager mentioned is creditable but doesn’t approach the best European examples. Ditto, say, Creemore in Ontario. While many good examples exist – and I do know the names, I’ve had a good number of them – for some reason, few achieve the heights of the great Central European models. In contrast, American ales, exemplified say by Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, took craft brewing by storm and now are emulated in England, home of fine ales, and around the world.

Pilsner Urquell, even in the pasteurized exported form we get it in, is rarely equalled by a North American or English craft lager. Paradoxically, when North America does emulate well European models, it sometimes chooses the “wrong” ones.  By this I mean, there are too many lagers with the characteristic “green” sulphur or cooked veg tang. It’s true that many European lagers have this taste – I encountered many on a  trip to Germany and Austria some years ago – but it is questionable whether that flavour is a genuine one in historical terms. Terms typically used on rating sites to describe this taste are grassy, hay-like, yeasty, skunky (used incorrectly in this connection, but revealing nonetheless).

Brewers have told me that these tastes age out with time, the yeast in the maturing brew re-absorbs them or they waft away. Lager used to be stored for 3-6 months and more, both in pre-Prohibition America and Europe, but today a few weeks is the more usual norm. It is notable in my view that Urquell does not have this flavour, or Budvar. Neither do the blonde beers from Bernard. 

And so, I think bloggers should talk more about great lager, where to find it both here and abroad, what makes a great one, and to encourage brewers to make more and better lager.


A Bonny Beer Tasting


This image, a remarkable capture from 1844, shows three Scots drinking ale. The beer was undoubtedly rich Scotch ale, probably around wine strength, hence the small Champagne flute glasses.  These glasses were traditional for strong ales in Scotland and England until about 1900, when this style of beer finally fell out. The gent on the right probably had been seated in front of the centre glass, since the other men hover over their own glass. He was (see footnote below) apparently the painter and photographer, David Hill, and either joined his comrades for the exposure (lengthy at the time) and/or had his partner Adamson take the image.

These were the beer fraternity, it can be 1844, 1900, 1960, 2015, 1600. Some things don’t change.

*Image in public domain, see here for source which gives fascinating detail on the photographer and persons shown.



Oystering And Roistering



(Circa-1620, Oysters, Fruit and Wine, Beert the Elder, Osias)*


Or do they? The lore of a deep union is so established it seems nothing can unseat it. In the striking image above, a Flemish master, from a seafaring and brewing country, chose to portray the briny comestible with wine. (To be fair, the image does obviously reflect a table of the elite class. Prized as beer was, and is, in Flanders, its depiction in a table of this type would probably have been incongruous to say the least).

My earliest recollection of beer-and-oyster is attending a couple of beer and oyster fundraisers held by the Royal Canadian Legion in Montreal in the 1970’s. The bivalves were served different ways, in soup, on half-shell, fried. The beer was the regular Canadian brands then dominant in the market. These were lively affairs, but I’m not sure that oysters and beer go especially well together. Both at their best are enjoyable and therefore a pairing can’t be bad, but whether there is a special affinity, I’m not sure…

Whence though the old association of beer and oyster? Both were commonplaces in Victorian England, both at the time popular foods too, yet many things common then in cuisine aren’t associated as pairings. Beer and french fried potatoes seem a more natural combination, and are in North America, but not in England particularly, even though “chips” started in the London East End. Michael Jackson observed that fish and chips suits a cup of tea more than beer.

The reason beer and oysters have an association IMO is that oyster shell’s lime carbonate was once used to neutralize acidity, i.e., prevent sourness in beer before the era of refrigeration and sterile plants. The shell was cleaned, ground up and added to the barrels. This practice in time (surely) made people associate beer and the seafood in a culinary sense. Some brewers, especially those on the seaside or near ports, probably had ground their own oyster shell from whole oysters. Eating them with beer on the spot would have been a way to get some nutrition and source the raw material needed for their vats. And it must have spread from there.

Once can envision that brewers, probably forgetting the original purpose of the oyster, later added its meat or concentrate to the beer to remember the old association in brewing. Even though oyster itself wasn’t added originally, this has a kind of logic since even when just the shells were used some briny or fishy taste probably got in and some people got used to it. Today, craft brewers have revived the “oyster stout” tradition and I’m good with it when, as almost invariably, you can’t taste fish in the beer. At most a very light salty taste seems characteristic, which can enhance beer taste or doesn’t seem to hurt it at any rate. It should be said too some “oyster stout” does not employ any oyster at all: the idea is simply that the beer will accompany well the seafood.

Here are some early and mid-19th century explanations of why oyster shell was added – and they don’t refer to a culinary marriage. First, David Booth, from his Art of Brewing, 1829. See top left of page linked, in which he adds:

“It remains … with the drinker whether he prefers this new bitterish taste to that of the acetous acid which would otherwise predominate”.

It seems that as the lime carbonate in the shell did its good work, a new taste arose which in Booth’s view meant the cure was worse than the malady –  or at least as bad. This 1850’s American Family Encyclopedia  advises oyster shell to this same end or ground egg shells or marble, as they too contain the vital calcium carbonate.

Given Belgian-style and other “sours” and “wilds” are all the rage in craft brewing these days, a brewer wanting to make hay of the old connection between beer and oysters should obtain ground oyster shell and see if it works a change on the vinegary taste. It sounds, according to Booth, like a new strange bitterish taste will arise, but craft beer is all about new and sometimes strange tastes. I hope someone tries this.

Informative and Attractive Label for a Contemporary Oyster Stout:**











*Image in public domain. Source used is here.

** Image taken from Internet which indicates production brewery is the source.





The Next Path For India Pale Ale


Click on the above image for good resolution. It is from an English hop harvest, 1944.*

I was looking at Beer, the 2007 and last book from Michael Jackson before his passing in the same year.

As was traditional in his books, the U.S. section featured a regional subdivision. Northeast, South, Midwest, Mountains, Pacific Northwest and California and Hawaii were canvassed.

It’s instructive to peruse the styles covered across the regions.  While a brewery and beer selection of this type are never an accurate sample, it is striking how many blonde and other lagers, brown ales, “ambers”, bocks and ESBs there are, i.e., next to the pale ales/IPAs and porter/stouts which are still or even more so part of the craft scene. These beers were typical fare in the first decades of the beer revival.

A modern beer menu of any scope will feature, aside again the pale ale and porter group, Berliner weisse, Gratzer, Gose, Saison, Grisette, Belgian and Black IPA – in my view not really IPA subsets – and generic “sours” and “wild ales”, often flavoured with spices, fruits or other things. These have shouldered out many of the non-pale ale and porter group of 2007.

If “murky” keg IPA and other beers are a kind of style, those are new too.

It is doubtful that some of these currently fashionable beers will have staying power, whereas pale ale and IPA have proved theirs. Yet, I’ve never really understood their great appeal. The taste is strongly citrus of some kind (usually grapefruit), with a white pith aftertaste and some rough bitterness. The current craze for turbidity usually adds a stinging yeast note, too.  It can be refreshing and good with food, but the taste and relatively high strength of IPA certainly seem in many ways outside the traditional beer ethos of “moreish” drinks. I’d guess it’s due to being so different so relatively early, like Jagermeister, say. (The name India Pale Ale has a certain romance too though, that’s part of it).

A new focus I’d like to see is English pale ale or IPA. By this I mean, a beer, i) using hops that are traditionally English (Fuggles, Golding or Challenger, Target or other later growths which do not taste “Pacific Northwest”), ii) that uses mainly pale ale malt with a low percentage of, or no, brewing sugars or crystal malt, and iii) which uses a traditional English yeast. I should add as well that you need to use a lot of these hops both for bittering and aroma. 19th century brewing manuals are good guides for this. Using just a little hop makes people think English ales or their hops are “mild” and this is very far from true. In fact, using the same amount of Pacific Northwest hopping vs. English in the ways typically done for bitterness and aroma puts English hop flowers at a disadvantage. But as historical recreations prove, pale ales/IPAs brewed to authentic period recipes had huge character.

I experienced many of these great beers in the 80’s in England. Despite the variety, there was a uniquely English stamp to them, part of it was the yeasts used, part the hops, part the floor-malted traditional malts. The beers tend to taste best naturally-conditioned on the hand pump but so-called keg versions, poured chilled and fizzy, can be very good too. In Ontario, we have a couple of beers that deliver this English character. A new one I had recently is Collingwood Brewery ESB, soon to appear on the market in cans. Junction Conductor’s Brakeman’s Session in Toronto often has an English character although the hop character seems to vary from time to time. At Bar Volo, House Ales’ Session Bitter, now at 4.2% ABV, is a decidedly English interpretation of the pale ale style. In Quebec, Albion in Saint-Hyacinthe is a historical English revivalist and makes some some wonderful beers.

Many brewers in North America have claimed to make English-style ales, indeed in the Northeast the craft beer revival flew this flag proudly in its earlier period. Most in fact are hybrids, mixing American and U.K. flavours.

I don’t buy the argument that we “should” drink grapefruity, piney or “dank” beers because those are the hop flavours our soils produce. By that logic, the U.S. never would have developed a vinifera wine industry. I believe hop varieties can be developed which closely match an English or allied taste, shall we say. The Sterling hop is an example, which produces a superbly fragrant pale ale yet one rarely seen in the market. And our brewers can import English hops that deliver the real deal and encourage the suppliers to grow more. Nothing like demand to stimulate a market. I find it ludicrous that a new generation of U.K. brewers are avid for our hops – Cascade is being grown now in England –  and we are blasé about theirs, arguably the superior for fine pale ale. That was English brewing opinion, and North American too, for generations until recently.

To mix poetical references, go east young (or any) brewers, to Albion’s shore; drink deep of the Pierian spring whence flowed the first pale ale; the ribbon’d wreath shall be yours.


*Image is in public domain, details here.



Tenfidy Imperial Stout


A gift from commenter G. Hodder, this fine – very fine – Imperial Stout has a sweet, musky/molasses richness edged with good bitterness of lightly herbal and quinine qualities. 10.5% ABV. One can see the name of the beer is a take-off from that impressive strength. Poured at room temperature as any impy stout should be, its merits sing out with clarion certainty: all other considerations including the ambient 90F temperature recede into insignificance.  Now, I recall Tenfidy being brewed in Colorado where Oskar Blues started. This can states the beer is made by Oskar Blues in Brevard, North Carolina. I could check, but it must be a satellite operation. The brew is first-class all the way, so the second location of brewing either helped or did no harm.

Imperial stout is the greatest beer style yet devised. There, I’ve said it. I’ve had all the styles, and it amazes me this style is known, at best, to a few ten of thousand in North America and elsewhere. It should stand with vintage port, well-aged single malt and Cognac, Sauterne, and the classified and other highly reputed growths as the most aristocratic of drinks. It would benefit from such imprimatur, but it doesn’t need it for validation at that level. Enough distinctive voices, starting with the late beer critic Michael Jackson (albeit the style was noticed before his definitive accounts), have raised their voice to put this beyond question.

Strong porter of this type, top of the metaphorical coal heap, had its origins in the popular public houses of early 1700’s London. Porter seems to have emerged as a kind of accident, possibly a use of cheap (burnt) malt charged at a discount, later blended with other beers which brewers then emulated in a single brew. Whatever the explanation, the strongest and most malt-laden of the porter and stout family ended as princely drinks.

The best porter should be aged a year or two but I think this Tenfidy is at the top of the aforesaid coal heap: one year gives it just the right tone and depth without sending the drink into an (irrecoverable) tailspin of autolysis or oxidation. If you taste a strong soy-like effect in your stout, that’s likely autolysis at work; the yeast starts to feed on itself. Of course some people like that, and more power to them, but the Tenfidy as currently tasted won’t benefit by much longer in the can, IMO.



Taking 5 For Fifty Ale



Pictured (foreground) is an old Canadian favourite, Labatt 50 Ale.

This beer dates from 1950, and represents a style of ale which used to be called Canadian sparkling ale. This meant it was fermented like an ale, at warm temperature with a top-cropping yeast, but aged cold with the full carbonation and expected clarity of a blonde lager. This type of beer was the commercial norm for ale in North America until craft ales were introduced which themselves represent an older stage in the history of top-fermented beers.

Labatt 50 seems to me to be better than 10 years ago and perhaps more like it was in the 70’s or even earlier. It had a very full estery (fruity) taste, lemon/pineapple-like, some decent, neutral-type bitterness, and a grainy, slightly astringent flavour.  The malt base seems clearly to be classic 6-row North American which has a famous “husky” quality. I’d guess there isn’t much or any adjunct in the current version either.

A very creditable pint and left to decarbonate 90% and warm for an hour, it could pass for an almost-still English bitter. The comparison sounds like a stretch but it isn’t. The fullness of taste may be due as well to no, or a lesser form of, pasteurization.

But back to how it normally was/is consumed, this vintage ’71 commercial says it all. The grooving crowd, hopefully all still with us, would be in their late 60’s now, I reckon. Got to get my head around that.



Grace Brothers Brewery and the Puzzle of Memory

Circa-1900 Image from Grace Bros Brewery

(Circa-1900 image of Grace Brothers Brewery, Santa Rosa, CA. From Sonoma Heritage Collections, at this link).

A melancholic account of the history and passing of Grace Brothers Brewery in Santa Rosa, CA appeared in 1977 in “The Press Democrat”, the town newspaper.

I’ve been to Santa Rosa, a few times, in fact. It’s one nice part of the world, in the “North Bay” as it is known.

Santa Rosa is not a large place and in the 1970s was smaller, not just in the obvious sense, but at a time when society was less mobile both physically and electronically. Yet, as journalist Gaye LeBaron wrote in her memorial account there were people in town who didn’t know that Grace Bros Brewery had operated there a mere 10 years earlier.

Even in a small place, where memories tend to be longer than in the megalopolis, people can forget a closed local business very quickly.

Ironically, just a year before, in 1976, and not far away in the same Sonoma County, a brewery started up which, while it lasted under 10 years, helped shake the foundations of brewing not just in America but worldwide.

New Albion Brewing Company had emerged from the homebrewing hobby of founder and ex-sailor (with a stint in U.K.) Jack McAuliffe. He started to produce unfiltered, hoppy pale ale and stout that diverged radically from the American norm. North American breweries had once produced these styles in quantity, but the beer types had died out with the consolidation of brewing and adoption (imposition?) of a single standard of beer (bland, corny).

While remembered by Gaye LeBaron as a supermarket brand it is unlikely that Grace Bros.’ Happy Hops, the star brand, tasted similar to modern mass market lager. It was probably more hoppy, as its name suggests, although one can only speculate. Perhaps it was as hoppy as nearby Anchor Brewing’s Steam Beer still is, which is not huge in character but certainly marked.

In any case, people didn’t have the chance to judge how Happy Hops stood up to the new hand-crafted brews because by 1967 Grace Brothers Brewery, after a short period of control by a conglomerate, was history.

This pattern of small brewery closures or acquisition by larger fish only to be subsequently closed was repeated countless times around North America and indeed elsewhere. The current craft boom is buoyant enough to have resisted the historic trend.

Certainly today artisan brewing is a vibrant activity in Sonoma County and California in general.

I’d like to think that in ways not always easy to trace the earlier existence in the state of small breweries as well as a notable barley and hop cultivation – ever heard of Hopland, CA? – did influence the rebirth of local brewing.

Older history can reverberate through the generations in ways not always easy to explicate and document. Despite Santa Rosa’s rapid memory fade for Grace Brothers Brewery I think beer and hops were embedded in folk memory, even subconsciously. This smoothed the way for a vibrant new generation of brewers to emerge.

Russian River Brewery, an iconic craft business in Santa Rosa, has issued a Happy Hops in recent years to salute the old local favorite. Good for them to honour the brewing history of their own town – certainly there is no one more appropriate to do so.

And the beer is pretty good judging by reviews at Beer Advocate. A purist would want it to be a close copy of the original, which it likely isn’t: for one thing it is an I.P.A. while the original was a lager. Still, what’s important is caring about the town’s brewing past and preserving the memory in some way.

N.B. I wanted to learn more about Gaye LeBaron, given that her 1977 article was uncommonly good. Happily, I can state she is still with us and not only that, still on staff at The Press Democrat – she has been a writer there in fact for 56 years! Here is a sample column, from only yesterday. Ms. LeBaron is a noted historian of the area and has co-authored a two-volume history of Santa Rosa.*

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from Sonoma Heritage Collections as noted in the caption and hyperlink given. The second image was sourced from the invaluable Tavern Trove label collection, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See my Comment below added January 19, 2019.

West Coast Hoppy Beers Before the 70s?

It is commonly thought the emphatically hoppy, I.P.A. (India Pale Ale) of craft brewingwas inaugurated by Liberty Ale (Anchor Brewing, San Francisco), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Grant’s India Pale Ale (from Bert Grant). It is also understood that albeit diminished by the mid-1990s, Falstaff’s Ballantine India Pale Ale, which arose from an earlier ale tradition in the East, survived long enough to influence early American craft brewing. Pabst has since returned the beer to the marketplace.

But consider this quote in 1976 from the The Beer Can: A Complete Guide To Beer Can Collecting by The Beer Can Collectors of America, ed. by Larry Wright:

“[A] curious aspect of the brewing scene on the West Coast is the Happy Hops phenomenon. Although the brand bearing this name has been obsolete for quite some time, several of the other Grace Bros brands carried a Happy Hops emblem for many years thereafter. Other hoppy beers that have poured on the scene over the years include Hop Gold (Vancouver, Washington), Hopsburger (Oakland, California)…”.

The text goes on to mention certain east coast and Midwest beers which contained a reference to hops.

Now, it may be these beers used the term hops in a general way without meaning to suggest the beers had a dominating or special characteristic of hops. Still, it is interesting to review some history on these beers.

Grace Brothers were in Santa Rosa, CA. Russian River Brewing is famously located there now.

Grace Bros.’ labels advertised that the brewery used its own malt and hops. The brewery probably owned a hop field somewhere, as hops were raised in northern California well into the 1900s. Given this pride in the hops used, probably a Cluster type that grew particularly well in California, and given too the relatively large amount of hops in early post-Prohibition brewing, possibly Grace Bros.’ beer was full of hop character. The trait may have endured until the brand passed from the scene in late 1960s.

Perhaps there are still residents of Santa Rosa who remember the beer – someone might ask them. Russian River Brewery released a tribute to Happy Hops some years ago, a creditable move from the successor to a brewing tradition which started in the 1800s.

The same might apply to Hop Gold from Star Brewery in Vancouver, WA. 1930s ads indicate it came in both ale and lager versions. The label for ale claimed a “Burton” inspiration, meaning Burton pale ale – famous for its hoppy quality. Only the lager apparently continued after the 1930s, indeed into the 1950s under different ownership names, Enterprise was one.

I haven’t explored Oaklan’s Hopsburger – great name – as yet. The famous/infamous Rainier Ale from Rainier Brewery in Seattle, aka The Green Death, also may have been notably hoppy in its prime. Early labels for this brand also suggest a British influence on the beer.

At a minimum, Blitz-Weinhard’s Henry Weinhard Private Reserve, released about 1975 and which had a decided influence on the early craft breweries, may itself have been influenced by an indigenous, West Coast hoppy beer tradition as against, say, the first (Paul Revere) Liberty Ale released by Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, or imports from Europe. A local, hoppy beer tradition did not have to be extensive by the 1960s – it was enough that some brewers remembered it. Perhaps Bert Grant knew of such a tradition. Of course, only research in original brewing records could show what the hop bills were for the beers  mentioned.

The hop fields of California were replaced by those of Oregon, long active in the field, and Washington State. New varieties were developed from the 1960s in these regions especially the grapefruity Cascade, and then a raft of others. But the West Coast was always a hop growing area.  Local breweries – some of them – may have taken pride in releasing hoppy beers, as the beer names mentioned suggest. These beers may have been as impactful as early craft pale ales considering again of 1930s hopping levels which may have survived in pockets in America. And if they were going to survive anywhere, the West Coast in the small settlements, especially those near hop fields, was a likely place.

Something that has always struck me about beer is how short memories really are. What seems new often isn’t at all but people forget in a fast-paced society what was available only a few years ago. I have never read accounts from ordinary people in Dublin on the character of naturally-conditioned Guinness vs. the nitrogen version that replaced it in the 1960s. There have to be numerous older citizens who can talk about this, even today, but who thinks to ask them?

For some background with illustrative labels on the Star Brewery, see here.

For some great labels for Happy Hops of Santa Rosa, see here.