A Really Good Margarita

Below, as a guest post, is the recipe A Really Good Margarita from my friend Steve Rive in Toronto. I can attest it’s prima! He took the image as well.



How to Make a Really Good Margarita


  1. Ingredients: Don’t bother with any fancy, expensive tequilas or with Cointreau, which is also expensive. A basic tequila and Triple Sec will do just fine for a mixed drink of this kind.  (The exception is if you want to substitute a smoky mescal for the tequila, where the flavour of the mescal is quite distinct and will stand out.)  However, you absolutely must have fresh limes.  This is the key to a really good margarita.  It is also why I don’t order margaritas in bars and why a lot of people think that they don’t like margaritas: the use of lime syrups that are too sweet and have the flat, dull taste of artificial flavourings.  In a really good margarita the tart burst of freshly squeezed lime juice is tempered by the Triple Sec alone.  No sugar! The other essential ingredient is kosher salt for the rims of the glasses.  The very large grains make a huge difference, both to the tactile feel of the salted rims on the mouth and tongue, and to the sour/salty “pre-taste” that is essential to the whole margarita drinking experience.  Of course, the other essential point is to use lime juice, not water, to stick the salt to the rims, as set out below.  Otherwise, there simply is no sour/salty pre-taste.


  1. Equipment: You will need glasses, a shot glass for measuring, and a container of some kind in which to mix the ingredients. (A stainless steel cocktail shaker is the ideal mixing container, but a glass container is OK too.) You will also need a manual, stainless steel citrus juicer—the kind with a dome and strainer on top and a little dish below to collect the juice.  This two-part design is the best in terms of function.  But the stainless steel is important too.  What adjectives come to mind when you think of what a really good margarita should be? “Sharp,” “tart,” “tingling,” “clean,” “fresh,” “refreshing,” “crisp,” “bracing”—i.e., the opposite of what you think of when you think of mulled wine, or a good cup of hot chocolate.  And that is stainless steel.  It has a similar, slightly electric tingle on your tongue.  It even smells clean!  Stainless steel also feels good when you handle it and is strong enough to allow you to press down really hard to squeeze out every last drop of juice. No plastic!


  1. Squeeze the juice of half of one lime into the juicer and remove the top part of the juicer. Now rinse and dry your hands, so you don’t make sticky marks on the glasses, dip the rim of each glass into the dish of the juicer to coat it with lime juice, and then—keeping the glasses upside down–sink each rim into a plate of kosher salt.  You don’t want salt falling off the rims into the glasses, so before turning each glass upright, pat it on the bottom or tap it on the sides to knock off any loose grains.  Put the glasses upright in the freezer. Note that we salt the rims before we have squeezed all of the lime juice that we are going to need.  This is in order to get the glasses into the freezer as soon as possible. The longer they spend there the better.


  1. Squeeze the rest of the lime juice that you need, using the shot glass to measure it out into the mixing container. How much you need depends on the size and the number of margaritas that you are making.  The proportions are equal parts of lime juice, Triple Sec, and tequila.  I use 1 ½ ounces of each per drink.


  1. You now have in your somewhat sticky hands a shot glass that is coated inside and out with the lime juice. At this critical stage in the process, when all of the really hard work has been done, pour some tequila into the shot glass, let it soak up the lime juice residue inside and then knock it back.  Savour it.  Let it roll around in your mouth for a bit while you stare absently at the wall, or, what is better, out of the window at the back garden, lost in thought.


  1. Swallow.


  1. Thus refreshed and fortified, you are ready to mix. Rinse and dry your hands again. Add the equal parts of Triple Sec and tequila to the lime juice in the mixing container and stir.  If you are making the margaritas in advance, you can now put the mix in the fridge to let it chill.  But the pre-chilling is not essential, and if you leave the mix in the fridge too long, you lose the immediacy and freshness that is the essence of what a really good margarita is all about.


  1. Remove the glasses from the freezer. Take the mix out of the fridge, give it a final stir, and then fill the glasses, being careful to pour into the centre of each glass, so you don’t wash salt off the rims.  Add ice. (A recent innovation is to use just one of those really large ice cubes.  This has the usual cooling effect, but with less rapid melting, and therefore less rapid dilution, due to the larger cubes having a lower ratio of surface area to volume.  But ordinary ice cubes are fine.  The key thing obviously is that you want the margaritas to be cold.)


  1. That’s it. Your guests will be wondering why they have never tasted a margarita that is this good before.


American Writers Confront Lager

Below I link a starkly funny piece from 1866. The writer is uncredited, signing himself only “Hunki-do-ri”, but internal and other evidence suggests he was a Philadelphia journalist.

I think most reading, regardless of age, know the meaning of “hunkydory” – satisfactory, alright, okay. It’s not quite an antiquated term – David Bowie used it after all.

The phrase was popular cant during the Civil War, with a misty etymology no one has ever fully explained, to my knowledge.

Hunki-do-ri’s comic style has a slightly surreal or fabulist edge, reminding me of Monty Python, Jonathan Winters, or Robin Williams. Hence, while 1866 is a long time ago, the piece is rather contemporary in comedic style.

In the 1860s an issue preoccupied America: is lager beer intoxicating? Because the drink was relatively new in the country and less strong than ale or porter, it wasn’t well understood. This was exacerbated by its association with German and other Central Europeans, new Americans still in process of integration and acceptance.

Countless journalistic sallies, essays, court cases, and reports studied whether lager was intoxicating and the extent to which it should be regulated. This area has been, and will continue to be a fecund field for cultural historians and other studies.

In earlier postings I discussed a few examples of this journalism; to these let’s add the 1866 example. Hunki-do-ri’s premise: I must spend a full day drinking lager in its usual habitats to understand fully its effects. Whence a journey that begins with the breakfast hour and ends only at bedtime.

It started this way:

9 A.M. —Took a glass of lager at a Third street saloon. Exceedingly cooling to the system. It diffuses a gentle and agreeable exhilaration throughout the brain.

9.05 A.M. —Took another glass with brown bread, salt, and cardamon seeds. Thoughts run in agreeable channels. Disposed to look leniently upon the frailties of humanity. Wouldn’t refuse to receive cash in full from a debtor, or force money upon a man I owed. Pat the head of a little Dutch* baby that toddles by me. Am carried back in imagination to the days of my youth (which the nights of my mature years had put out of my head somewhat.) …

Right away the tone is set – the second drink is consumed five minutes after the first.

The writer does not much concern himself with the cultural fact of German-ness in America. Many pieces of the day depicted German-Americans in stereotypical, often denigrating terms. Hunki-dor-i largely stays away from this field, and qua drink, certainly liked lager.

Occasionally he references foreign emblems for mainstream Americans, the spiced bread is an example. In general though the tone is humorous, upbeat, finally riotous.

A counterpoint to this treatment are the pages of Bob Brown on the Turner Park Beer Garden outside Chicago in his Let There be Beer (1932). It appears in the chapter “An American Beerhood” at pp. 114 et seq.

I discussed the book, an overlooked classic in American beer studies, in two posts earlier.

Brown was raised in Oak Park, Illinois, which adds to the authenticity of the account. I say this because Brown had a rambling, arch, rollicking style and at times could be forgiven for historical inaccuracy. Still, there seems little doubt his beer garden existed.

The period is circa-1900. Brown locates the park six miles from the Chicago suburb of River Forest, reachable by foot through forest or on water.

Turner Park, says Brown, was named for “gymnast” in German, turner (the masculine noun). The park seems to have been the locale of a Turnverein club, the gymnastic and social clubs that spread through German-America in the last quarter of the 1800s.

Brown focuses on the beer amenities, stating that “among rustic tables standing four-square to hold the stagger of thick glass mugs” the “brew-master” “Ran the place single-handed, milled the malt, brewed the beer, and waited on tables…”.

The best time was in spring, when “Bock was on tap, dew was on the firecracker green grass, froth fresh on the seidel”.

The account tells the adventures at the park of “Joe”, the protagonist. Joe almost certainly was a lightly disguised young Bob Brown. Joe flees the starchy, orderly, indeed officially dry confines of River Forest for the pleasures of “outlawed” Turner Park.

Written two generations after Hunki-do-ri’s lager adventures, Brown’s account is notable for an evident sympathy with German-American culture. He portrays the old-stock burghers of River Forest as judgmental, prejudiced, hypocritical. No doubt there is some exaggeration here, given the florid style, but the portrait is striking nonetheless.

The “foreign customs” of “Dutch-town”, the enclave where Germans and other newcomers lived, are contrasted to “padded”, “tailor-made”, “Bible class” River Forest.

Brown shows how harsh were Joe and his classmates to the Dutch kids, making fun of their language and customs “from a safe distance”. In his own way, Brown critiques the bullying culture that he probably observed, maybe participated in, as a school-child.

Joe visits the beer garden, stube Brown also calls it, in all seasons. In winter he would skate the six miles down the (Des Plaines) river to get there. He explains that the exertions meant by the time he got home, no evidence of intoxication showed, yet his mother noticed how the household supply of “cloves” (chewed to mask alcohol) kept diminishing. No slouch, she put it down to Joe and his father tippling.

For supporting evidence that Turner Park and its beer garden/stube really existed, see e.g., this Illinois historical study from c. 1998. It states the associated gymnastic club was an extension of one in Decatur, and mentions the adjacent beer garden. The garden ran, it appears, at least from 1896 until 1914, although it seems Turner Park originated in some form c. 1875.

See for example this report in September 1875 describing a German shooting fest at the park. The availability of lager at numerous “stands” is mentioned. A small community, River Grove, grew alongside the park and is now a town of some 10,000 but the park itself seems no longer to exist.

Brown was born in 1886. Oak Park is 2.5 miles from River Forest…

Still a drink of some mystery in 1866, by 1900 lager had almost completely taken over American beer customs. It took only 50 years or so.

Brown nonetheless in separate chapters lovingly depicts the older ale and porter tradition, with its associated hostelries. I’ll return to this before long.

N.B. For some general background on the emergence of beer gardens in Chicago after the Civil War including as connected to the Turners, see Perry Duis’ study, The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston 1880-1920, at pp. 154 et seq.

Note re image: image above, of Des Plaines river in winter, is sourced from the Lake County Forest Preserves Site, here. All intellectual property belongs solely to lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Means German here, probably.

Rich Creamy Porter and Stout (Part III)

In my previous two parts, I discussed the late 19th century blending practices of some Irish and British porter brewers, by reference to various texts and other sources.

One book I had read years ago, but didn’t come to mind until the other day, was James Steel’s 1878 manual, Selection of the Practical Points of Brewing and Malting. It’s an interesting book, clearly the work of a non-scientific brewer, as most then were, and one with very definite views.

Steel was a Scot, I assume, as the book was published in Glasgow.

He was insistent on the need to long-age porter, so old school in this sense. He believed also that draught porter should be blended with unfermented wort (or barely fermented if you follow his instructions closely). See his discussion from p. 80, here.



He believed that the base of the mix should be well-aged, but allowed that some mixes used young porter as the base.

Where young beer is used, he advised 90% and 10% wort (filling he calls it). For his preferred mix, it was 80% old beer and 20% wort. So this is a bit different from Frank Faulkner’s discussion that we saw, as he blended old beer, young beer, and wort.

However, all these are variations on a theme, as brewers’ practice evidently was as Steel states London porter brewers generally did not add the wort themselves, rather London “retailers” did.

Of course writing as he was from the outside, and in Scotland as well, he surely was not privy to all London porter methods. Still, overall his discussion supports what seems to be, by 1900, the approved way to deal with porter and stout: charge it up with gas via the wort addition and serve from unvented casks.

Steele states, another of his views, that serving porter without this conditioning – more or less how cask porter would be served today – produces a lesser pint. A matter of opinion again, but Guinness’ practice today, long after the two-cask system of the 20th century passed, still ensures a creamy pint.

Guinness remains in this sense (and not only that of course) a true custodian of history.

Steaming Into the Thirties (Part III)

A Bit of the Irish on the Canadian Frontier

Due to continually rich material appearing for this series, George F. Goerl, a pre- and post-Prohibition brewer connected to steam beer, will appear later.

For now, consider a name that will resonate with many reading: Damon Runyon, the author and journalist who bequeathed his surname to a character genre. A mid-20th century writer, he was based in New York but had roots in the West and had spent some time in San Francisco.

In March 1941, with the help of a source, he recalled the steam beer era in his syndicated column, “The Brighter Side”, which you can read here.

He wrote what many others had, that steam beer was a drink peculiar to San Francisco and gassy. Unlike many he was no fan. Runyon had a propensity to over-drink in his earlier years, which perhaps affected this judgement.

Be that as it may, the column attracted the attention of a steam beer sentinel, is one way to put it. I have found, in my research over the years, that in every period there is someone with an unusual interest in beer who will take to the letter columns and today’s equivalent.

It may be Victorian Britain, 1910s America, 1980s Canada, 1941 New York or whenever. Before and after craft beer this was and will always be true.

And so with a war on in Europe, and America soon to enter the war, a person wrote in to correct Runyon. On April 1, 1941 Runyon’s column in the Endicott Daily Bulletin included the letter. It is of good historical interest for the detail conveyed.



According to Merriam-Webster a cheechako is a tenderfoot, or greenhorn many might say, and derives from Indigenous languages.

Runyon’s correspondent evidently had worked in an occupation connected to the Gold Rush, indeed in cities and towns mainly associated with it (so roughly 1897-1905). The statement that steam beer was made in Alaska and Northwest Canada is, of itself, not surprising.

Breweries had sprung up to serve the miners and townspeople, and it is known some made steam beer.

A case in Canada is O’Brien Malting & Brewing in Klondike City (just outside Dawson City), which I’ll revisit later. Dawson City had the Dawson City Brewery which operated for a short period in the late 1890s.

The old-timer recorded that in Dawson City steam beer was served from two kegs, one being used to create the foam “collar”. This is analogous to the Irish two-cask serving system for stout used until the mid-1960s (the current Guinness “nitro” pour, from a single keg, replaced it).

Second, he notes the system of laying burlap on casks and strewing cereal grains on them to sprout. What could the reason for this possibly be? In Burton-on-Trent, U.K. in the late 1800s tiers of filled barrels were stored in the yard outside Bass brewery. Some type of covering was laid on them as insulation from the capricious weather.

But why do this in Alaska of all places? The short summers can be warmish in the far north, but don’t exceed 70 F from my checks, and the writer notes too the beer was drunk as fast as it was made.

A possibility I think is a kind of decoration, but given the unusually high pressures of steam beer, perhaps a cooling function was desired, and/or to provide fairly cool beer for the palate. The tender sprouts would have formed with the jute a bed to hold the chill. One thing is sure: that water was ice-cold, in any season.

The availability in Juneau of light and dark steam beer is noteworthy, an odd epicurean touch in a frontier context. Anchor Brewery, before Fritz Maytag took over in the 1960s, also issued its beer in two colours. Since it used, by this period, caramel to achieve the dark effect, Maytag wisely abandoned the practice. (Perhaps his rather amber beer was a compromise of hues).

The portrait of the bar in Seattle offers vibrant detail. With the right flourish a barkeeper could crack a boiled egg to stand on its end. I must try this, a bottle of Anchor Steam to alongside.

Steam beer truly was a California and Northwestern specialty, but its roots lay in numerous older beer and brewing traditions.

The image below is from Dawson City, Yukon, in 1899, exactly the period discussed. Note the tiered barrels, almost certainly to serve steam beer + collar.



These fellows, albeit nicely togged-out for the picture, look pretty tough. As the steam sentinel wrote, they had to be. Runyon understood that too, that was his world. (From Eric Hegg collection at the University of Washington Digital Library Collection).

Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.










A Royal Regale

When did a British royal figure first visit a public house? Not a brewery, for which precedents exist at least to the early 19th century, but a tavern or pub?

No doubt blue bloods on romps through town have taken a beer or two at this or that house immemorially. I mean an official visit, to show support of royalty for an important sub-unit of economic activity, and perhaps a certain social sympathy.

I discussed in this series the 1930 visit by Mary of Teck to a London pub patronized by adherents of Father Jellicoe, the urban and pub reformer. Anything before?

Actually yes, in 1906. That year Queen Alexandra, with a royal and diplomatic party, visited the beer hall at the Imperial Austrian Exhibition, Earls Court Exhibition Grounds. Perhaps the most successful of the Earls Court’s shows before WW I, this was a showcase for Austrian and Bohemian culture and industry.

The amenities included a Viennese Beer Hall, described in the official program for the event. The Dreher brewery, certainly then royalty in Austrian brewing, supplied the beer. Two kinds in fact, an (amber) March beer (much associated with Dreher’s origins and lasting influence) but also a “lager”, perhaps a Munich-style dark beer.

Did the Queen, by then over 60 but still lithesome, actually sup the beer? Clearly much of her party did, by this report in the San Francisco Call that year. The story notes that coffee was also served, so perhaps she limited herself to that other Viennese specialty.

Alexandra, while of royal lineage, was not brought up in luxury in her native Denmark. Perhaps this inclined her to patronize a people’s resort. Or maybe it was simply to accommodate various diplomatic and trade interests of her adopted country.

The fact that the beer hall – a real but temporary one – was of foreign character is interesting to ponder. To visit a London pub may have been too close to home as it were. This other way was a gesture still meaningful, but qualified by the circumstances.

Lager was a foreign upstart in British beer culture but rising in popularity in London and other parts of the British Isles. Panikos Panayi, in his Spicing up Britain: the Multicultural History of British Food gives a brief but useful overview of the surge leading up to WW I. The war interrupted the trend, although the drink did return, now brewed in London too, after WW I.

Only in the 1970s did it really get its legs, due ostensibly to a series of hot English summers, but history suggests its time had come, one way or another. In fact, as the last link suggests, it all would have happened much sooner but for the two world conflicts.

Trauma of that scale, as perhaps we are seeing today, has a way of reinforcing insularity – for a time. With the good and bad that entails.

50 years after the glitter era, real and craft ales soldier on. Still, the stylish beer types served at Earl’s Court 1906 have more influence on beer in Britain today than the staple mild and bitter ales of the time.

Finally, what beer today would resemble Dreher’s March beer served to British blue bloods (and others) in 1906? There are many candidates, no doubt still in Austria but certainly in the craft beer world.

The beer shown below, from Spain’s Estrella Galicia, has no connection to Dreher to my knowledge, but the website description of its process, and the colour, suggest classic Vienna. And the style’s influence in Spain shows how far afield the beer type travelled, indeed it reached far beyond including finally to craft precincts.



N.B. The 1906 press story speaks of “lugs” of beer.  Is lug a typographical error, for jug? Yet, think of “chug-a-lug”, American and (I think) U.K. slang. Its etymology remains misty, but I’d think “chug” is connected to “chuck”, to throw back. Hence to throw back a drink. Maybe lug was a UK regionalism for drink that reached parts of America early on.

“Faulkner” Porter

Vita Malt is a popular brand in the “malt beverage” category (non-alcohol), in the Caribbean and elsewhere. There are numerous competitive brands, some brewed locally, some imported. Denmark makes a number of these.

I understand this is essentially hopped wort that has not been fermented. It makes for a rich drink that resembles beer to a degree but sans the kick.

I bought a few brands available here. All seem to be made from a similar mix of ingredients. Looking now at the label for Power Malt, made in Denmark, the ingredients are water, barley malt, sugar, caramel colour, carbon dioxide, hops. Made by Royal Unibrew. Similar to the grist for many beers, but it’s not beer.

I found Vita malty-sweet and lightly bitter, very pleasant. I drank part of it – adding plain soda and lemon to cut it – and used the rest for a blending experiment.



To emulate Frank Faulkner’s description in 1884 of blending practise for stout in Ireland, I mixed some Vita with a London porter, Fuller’s, about 1:3. I then added the cloudy dregs of two Imperial stouts and the same of a local pale ale, to ensure enough yeast for a re-fermentation. The Imperial stouts might be 5% of the total.

So: Imperial stouts = Faulkner’s old vatted stout; modern London porter = his young or mild porter; malt beverage = the “heading”. The malt beverage is neither “live” of course nor partly-fermented, but net result should be similar, I think.

I flattened the beers first since the object is to condition them. The blend as a whole, pre-aging, tasted virtually flat, as Vita contributed only a little fizz given the proportions.

A rough and ready approach, but one in accord with old practices of adding heading or krausen to condition beer, as I’ve gleaned them.

Home brewers today might use corn or other sugar, or dry or liquid malt extract, to ensure proper condition. They also employ priming formulas for a correct palate and to avoid “bottle bombs”. IME malt beverage approximates nicely to brewers’ wort since it is not in concentrated form and is hopped. Any of these, save corn or other sugar, will contain unfermentable dextrin and sugars and that can only add to the beer’s quality, as I see it.

I closed bottle with a light, temporary stopper, so if it popped no harm could be done, especially as I placed it in a covered cardboard box. I left it for a week at room temperature. At week’s end I removed the closure. There was a nice pop and foam rose smartly in the bottle, filled initially as you see above, leaving “room”. I got a good re-fermentation.

The beer, shown below, had a full, zesty carbonation with excellent taste, much like a good export stout – and better than many I’ve had. There was a light lactic tang because one of the Imperial stouts had that. But no off flavours at all, no oxidation (that I could tell) even though the component beers had been “handled” by flattening, blending, storing, etc.

So this is my version of a late-1800s Irish porter, and I’m very pleased with it.

Caution: anyone trying this should ensure the closure is fairly loose and not kept in too long. And handle the bottle carefully. You don’t want stoppers popping out uncontrolled, or burst bottles.



N.B. I made a second version I haven’t broached yet, about 10 days ago, and will open it this weekend. It used 1:1:1 London Porter to malt beverage to Imperial Stout. The yeast coming, as I think it will, from the Iast.






Steaming Into the Thirties (Part II, cont’d)

The Top-fermented Steam Beer of Kentucky

This part was to deal with a pre-Prohibition brewer, George F. Goerl, who continued in the business after beer was legalized nationally on April 7, 1933.  I will get to him soon, but first a gloss on my Part II.

I have written often about the lead-up to this re-legalization of beer. Bob Brown issued his arch Let There Be Beer in 1932. A brewing school was re-established in Chicago. Breweries that made .5% ABV near beer were being refurbished and reorganized in anticipation of beer becoming legal again.

Features in the press discussed beer as it was before Prohibition, examining old-time bars and saloons, the cultural practices associated with them – German-style beer gardens, music – and sometimes the kinds of beer consumed.

This journalism also looked at what shape the future bar would take, which old breweries would resume business, and what types of beer the public could expect would emerge.

This piece in August 1932 is, to date, the most detailed I’ve seen for its description of pre-Prohibition beer types. Generally, the press was not over-technical on such matters. By nature the general media are like that, even today.

But this piece delved into the technicalities of beer classification. It originated in the New York World-Telegram and was reprinted in other papers, here we see it in Indianapolis.

The authors were Joseph Mitchell and William O’Brien. Mitchell is the well-known journalist who later lyricised McSorley’s tavern in the magazine New Yorker. In the 1932 article, he shows an early interest in beer.

The duo evidently researched their subject matter carefully and probably consulted professional brewing circles. On the subject of steam beer, they make a very interesting statement:

Steam beer, a sweet and lively product with only a trace of bitter hop flavor, was popular in San Francisco and Louisville before prohibition. Also known as “common” or “present-use” beer, it was bottled or placed on tap almost as soon as it was made.

This wording echoes, and validates my reasoning that steam beer could be top-fermenting. It goes so far to call Louisville (i.e., Kentucky) common beer – which was an ale – steam beer.

It also englobes present-use ale – the lively or cream ales. These were warm-fermented and krausened, either with ale wort or sometimes lager-wort, as I’ve discussed earlier. The journalistic formulation for such live beer is “bottled or placed on tap as soon as it is made”.*

This shows that in practical brewing, these types of beer were considered of a piece. The shallow clarifiers of California practice were not mentioned. The common elements are a warm, hence quick fermentation and an actively fermenting, especially lively product at dispense.

Of course, classification narrows and widens with the context and purposes of the writer. Still, to flat out call Kentucky common beer steam beer, is significant.

California Common is the name used today to describe the steam beer style speaking generically. This arises in that Anchor Brewing in San Francisco has trademarked the term “steam beer”. So when other brewers make the style, they call it California common instead of steam beer.

When the term emerged many thought it strange that an unappealing name was chosen to describe an early star of craft brewing. Clearly though, the term had an older history. It probably was suggested by a brewer, or writer, who knew the older classifications of American brewing. Voilà.

N.B. “Sweet” may seem an odd term for steam or California common beer, but fermentation limits could be restrained in the old days. One of the c. 1900 treatments of steam beer I mentioned stated that fermentation before krausening stopped at only 50%. Even well-hopped beer would seem less bitter with that degree of residual extract.


*This class of beer must be distinguished from the type of ale, often called sparkling or cold sparkling, that blended krausen with a matured, still ale. The latter would have a mature character lacking in cream or lively ale strictly called. The term present use was used to describe both kinds depending on author and context.

See for Part III to this series, here.

Steaming Into the Thirties (Part II)

Can ale be Steam Beer?

In my Part I, I mentioned an earlier piece of mine, posted February 19, 2016, in which I linked and discussed Charles G. Kummerlander’s important 1903 description of steam beer. He presented it in Chicago at a brewing class held by the famous beer scientists Robert Wahl & Max Henius, but appears to have worked in California breweries.

Steam beer was also discussed by Wahl & Henius in their American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting, and Auxiliary Trades. The reference is to their 1902 second edition.

The two accounts are the most detailed I know from the classic era of steam beer, but completeness requires mention of John Buchner’s 1898 account. See a summary by brewing historian Rich Wagner, here. The full original account by Buchner was reprinted in the c. 1900 text One Hundred Years of Brewing, here.

The accounts are similar while not identical, and end as complementary. As discussed earlier, I consider Anchor Steam Beer today substantially within the tradition they describe. The main divergence today is flash pasteurization of the beer before dispatch to the trade.

The one area I do not necessarily agree with these authorities, contemporary as they are, is their assignment of steam beer as solely bottom-fermented. Clearly they state this, indeed Wahl & Henius state that lager yeast is a special type of bottom yeast. Kummerlander simply states that steam beer yeast is “a bottom-fermenting yeast”, but that’s clear enough. Buchner ditto.

I find the area much less clear. To scientists and technical brewers after about 1900, classification was increasingly important, as of course today. Between 1850 and 1900 when steam beer was in ascendancy in California and still often made in rude conditions, e.g., without mechanical cooling of wort, such distinctions would have been less important.

As I referenced in Part I, the journal American Brewers Review in 1936 set out an objection of some brewers, via Arnold Wahl of Chicago, to top-fermented beer being excluded from the steam beer category in proposed federal legislation. From asserted practical knowledge he argued that in some states brewers had advertised a top-fermented beer as steam beer.*

It is trite in brewing history that “steam beer” and “steam brewery” were terms used in different countries, and different places within a country, often without any connection to true steam beer of any kind, and referred simply to steam power in the brewery, for example to fire the kettle.

I am referring here to top-fermented steam beer that quite possibly was steam beer proper. There are quite adequate markers to permit this: 1) Use of unusually shallow fermenters, also called clarifiers, to complete quickly (two-four days) the fermentation of wort transferred from conventionally deep starting tubs. 2) Continuation of fermentation at high pressure in the kegs sent to bars and saloons.

Given that all steam beer was warm-fermented, the character of steam beer made either with top or bottom yeast, that used the two processes mentioned, was probably difficult to tell apart in many cases. This surely made the question of classification academic to practical brewers.

(For those unclear on the distinction between regular lager and steam beer, this c.1915 article from the University of California may assist. From table following, drawn from the article, it can be seen how the usual steam beer (lager) yeast approximates fairly closely to typical ale pitching and fermentation temperatures. The maximum shown for steam beer is 66 F, fairly close to the low end of the range typically used for ale fermentation (68-72 F, or 20-22 C)).

Further, the proposed federal legislation allowed the possibility, not contested by the journal, that primary fermentation might finish in the kegs, versus that is adding krausen, or partly-fermented wort, to otherwise fully-fermented beer. This was a typical, old-fashioned way to brew ale, known in Britain as cleansing in trade casks – “trade”, the casks sent to the pubs for dispense. The common element is the beer is actively working at dispense to the pub patrons, with no prolonged keeping.

In fact the 1906 edition of  Wahl & Henius suggests Louisville common beer brewers were shifting to krausening in lieu of cleansing in trade casks, further evidence of their functional similarity.

What evidence, apart from the statement on behalf of professional brewers in the 1930s, do we have that top-fermented beer was advertised as steam beer in California or elsewhere on the West Coast, or in nearby states like Nevada? I exclude in other words the East Coast and Britain, where “steam beer” and “steam brewery” usually denoted (probably) a steam-driven process in the brewery.

First, John Buchner’s account in 1898 states that some writers characterized steam beer as top-fermented, although he disagrees. Second, in an article written in 2012 by a local historian in Northern California, Marilyn Geary, she explains the origins of a 19th century brewery in Marin, the San Rafael Brewery. She writes:

At various times the San Rafael Brewery advertised steam beer, both lager and ale, in bottles and kegs. Springs in the hillside property provided water to the brewery. According to Robert Lethbridge’s The Old Company, water mains laid from Clark Street to Greenwood Avenue reached the brewery in 1875.

Goerl family members recall that when the supply of hops ran low, the brewers substituted the plant Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum, a shrub used for many purposes by the Miwok Indians and given the name Yerba Santa, meaning ‘holy plant’ by the Spanish explorers

Giving her first statement its plain English meaning, it seems this brewery made both lager and ale versions of its steam beer. I have not found the ads that support the statement, but her meaning seems clear.** (Her second statement is of good interest too, for other reasons).

Now, assuming as surely was the case San Rafael Brewery made bottom-fermented steam beer – more or less what Anchor Brewery makes in San Francisco today – why would it call a top-fermented ale, steam beer? Why not call it simply ale, mild, pale, or whatever?  The only reason might be that processes peculiar to steam beer were used, namely the markers noted of shallow clarifiers and active fermentation in the kegs.

Those markers are consistent through the various descriptions I’ve seen in American brewing literature of steam beer. The one that is not, is yeast type.

A potential objection suggests itself, will the beer using top-yeast clarify in a shallow clarifier the same way as beer using lager yeast? Only practical experience can answer this, but from the various accounts, “dirt” and particles both rise from and fall in the wooden pans (about a foot high, the beer 7-8 inches). Perhaps top yeast would rise more, but then it could be simply skimmed off as the initial waste from steam lager yeast was.

The behaviour of yeast would depend on the specific strain as well, whether top or bottom yeast. It seems inconceivable to me that ale in steam breweries was not frequently brewed using the same equipment as for steam beer. We know that many breweries in California advertised steam beer, ale, and porter…

Over time, assumptions – “steam beer is lager fermented at warm temperatures”, “steam beer is lager fermented at warm-temperatures”, have a way of being self-justifying, until one looks at it differently…

I will return to the Goerls, specifically George F., in my Part III. He played a key role in California brewing long after the family brewery in San Rafael was sold to English investors in 1905. And it involved steam beer, and it didn’t.

For a continuation of this post that validates steam beer as alternatively top-fermented, see here.

Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Arnold Wahl was son of Robert Wahl, co-author of the Handy Book mentioned. Father and son issued a major study of American beer in the mid-30s, Beer From the Expert’s Viewpoint. It was reprinted some years ago but we do not currently have access. Robert died in 1937, and evidently his vast knowledge of pre-Prohibition learning was available to his son.

**Subject to verification from the original ads, but the issue remains nonetheless.





John B. Keane and Irish Drink

The subject of Guinness comes round and round, on Twitter, in palavers of brewery historians and other enthusiasts, and no doubt among aficionados in thousands of bars around the world. (That time will come again).

Guinness, of which I have written many times, is such an old and important brand that the relative blandness of the current draught can’t unseat the basic interest and respect.

The company offers too a number of more characterful brews, in the stout line and otherwise, perhaps in part to keep its legend alive and healthy.

We live in hope one day it will return an all-malt, bottle-conditioned stout to the market and for that matter a cask-conditioned version, too. Even if the cask is sold only in Dublin, what a way to bring tourists back to the Emerald Isle once the present world-wide pall lifts.

John B. Keane, now. Do you know the name? Most Irish reading me do, at least of a certain age. He was one of Ireland’s best-known writers of the postwar era. Primarily a playwright, he was also a novelist and essayist.

Keane wrote a novel in 1986 describing 1950s life in Dingle, The Bodhrán Makers. In the book he describes the two-cask system of dispense then used by Guinness. Currently, the extract I recall reading on Google Books is no longer available.

[For source of image see below].

I think Keane recalled that the glass was filled with mostly flat stout and just a little lively younger beer was added. Some accounts of “two-cask” have it the other way – two-thirds or more is young beer and the rest older flat. It probably varied in different localities or as recommended by different brewers. It is easy to forget that in Keane’s day, and still, Beamish and Murphy stouts were available in parts of Ireland, to compete with the famous black wine of Guinness.

I intend to buy the book soon anyway, for its inherent interest. A bodhrán is a drum, a traditional instrument in Irish music, and in part the book is about that music and its makers. John Keane was beloved for his warm, sometimes sentimental portrayals of Irish people and their ways.

He died in 2002 at 73, but can speak to us today via Youtube.  Here he is, some years before his death, speaking frankly yet disarmingly of the role drink played in his life. His unvarnished opener: “No man was ever born in this world with such a passionate love of liquor as myself”. Having read of his life it sounds to me like he enjoyed drink without actually abusing it, but as befits a good storyteller his tale here beguiles nonetheless.

A bar in Listowel called John B. Keane is named in his memory, a fact as endearing as it seems to me quintessentially Irish.

Another stop on the mental itinerary I construct of travels post-Covid 19 is John B. Keane’s in Listowel. I add it to locales in Myanmar, Gibraltar, Kolkata, Woolwich London, and a score of other places knit together only by my interest, in my way.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Facebook site of John B. Keane Bar, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

The Wending Porter Route

A Cache of Porter – Maybe Still?

George Thomas Landmann (1780-1854) was an English military engineer, a graduate of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, southeast London. Although the name sounds possibly of German origin, he had no apparent connections to Germany.

His father was a professor of artillery at the Arsenal. Landmann had one of those geographically dispersed careers that was possible long before airlines or even steamship transport. He was in Canada, Portsmouth, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Portugal, and Ireland, among other places.

He retired with the rank of Colonel in the Royal Corps of Engineers, and at the end of his life wrote two volumes of Recollections.

The books enjoyed good popularity in their day due to his close observations of campaigns and personalities including Wellington. Landmann is still referenced, Jennine Hurl-Eamon and Lynn MacKay include him in their new work, Women, Families and the British Army, 1700–1880.

Our interest in the Colonel concerns beer. He devotes a few pages (pp. 172-175) to an anecdote that reveals not just a strong liking for the drink but an impish sense of humour. On his treks for the Army in Gibraltar he was often required to undergo lengthy periods without anything to drink, even water.

He resolved to create “depots” of porter on his surveys. He stashed away a few bottles of porter in strategic locations, designed that is for access no matter where he was on his rambles. He chose pockets well-shielded from the sun and as naturally cooled as possible, to permit of a pour of cool “creaming” porter.

This side of the foaming porter equation was for bottled beer of course. A good carbonation resulted from continued fermentation in the bottle. Available evidence suggests little or no partly-fermented wort (which I’ve been speaking about recently) was added to this class of porter, as time and temperature alone provided the necessary high condition.

That Landmann was a bit of a madcap is shown by his story that when in the Gibraltar wilds with a colleague, he would tempt the comrade with an apparently hopeless prospect: wouldn’t it be great if we could enjoy a cool glass of porter now? The interlocutor could only look at him longingly.

Then Landmann mills about ostensibly on engineers’ business, retrieves a bottle when the comrade is out of sight, and rejoins him, proffering a glass of foaming porter! He describes well the astonishment of the grateful brother-in-arms.*

Here is the best part: of the four caches he created, one was never broached, it is still there, he says, although artfully hidden.

He wrote in 1854. It is now 2020. Is the porter still there? He placed it somewhere off the storied Mediterranean Steps. 

I’ll look for you if I can visit Gibraltar next year. I’m thinking, a week or so in Morocco and the Rock, then a week in London for the Great British Beer Festival, 2021. It would make a statement to amble in with a bottle of 1850s porter, but no promises!

Note re image: this 1961 map was sourced from the Wikipedia entry linked in the text. Believed in public domain. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*The story has the ring of absurdist British humour still evident today. The Monty Python troup understood it well.