The McDougall Distillery of Halifax, NS

In two posts last year, I discussed the characteristics of Canadian whisky in the last quarter of the 1800s. In a word, most distilleries were blending aged neutral spirits and a rye (or flavouring) whisky distilled at a low proof, the original kind that is. This product must have been, as its commercial norm today, quite light on the element that was traditional whisky. Tests conducted by the Royal Commission on the Liquor Traffic in the closing years of the century showed little apparent fusel oil content in almost all samples of Canadian rye whisky assayed.

I’ve spoken more recently of distilling in Nova Scotia and mentioned that in the same period, there was only one producing distillery in Halifax (and apparently NS as a whole).

Who was behind that distillery, what did it produce? There is suprisingly little information available. Academic and other published studies on the history of rum and liquor control in Nova Scotia do not discuss the distillery to my knowledge (some of the material is not viewable online however, so I may have missed a reference). But other information available does allow one to piece together a reasonable account.

The distillery was called variously McDougall’s Distillery and Halifax Distillery. Sometimes McDougall was spelled MacDougall, the former seems more correct.

And we know what was distilled: rye whisky and a whisky intended to resemble Scotch whisky. Clarence Blake McDougall, presumed son of the founder, A. McDougall, was also a Hollis Street grocer and importer of whiskeys, brandies, rums, and wines. We know where the distillery was located: on Pleasant Street in Halifax.

After a long period as a partnership and sole proprietorship, it was incorporated in 1891 with five or six investors. One was an Oland, of the famed brewing family. This probably was to finance expansion, in any case C.B. McDougall retained his close involvement.

Those who know Halifax-Dartmouth may protest that Pleasant Street is in Dartmouth, other side of the harbour. That is a different Pleasant Street. There was one in Halifax, too. Barrington Street originally ended at the downtown’s edge, and Pleasant Street continued south of Spring Garden Road. Sometime after 1900 Barrington’s name was applied to the stretch that had been Pleasant Street.

By WW I the distillery had closed and its brick building became part of a new ocean terminal complex. Whether it is still standing I can’t say.

In successive testimony given to the Royal Commission, C.B. McDougall and his foreman, William Gordon, gave interesting detail on their products, market served, and the general liquor scene in the region. McDougall said he produced rye whisky and whisky intended to emulate the taste of Scotch. Half his grain complement was corn, mostly from the U.S. The rest was rye, barley, oats, and malt (probably barley malt). Some rye and malt was sourced from Ontario, the rest from the U.S. again. Their market was Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and a bit beyond.

C.B. McDougall was not a Gooderham & Worts or Hiram Walker, but was a substantial presence in his market and the only distiller in Halifax in the 1890s at any rate.

The mash for his Scotch-type whiskey was barley and malt, so probably it was similar to an Irish single pot still mash. Some Lowlands whiskey then was column-distilled using malt and raw grains, so perhaps that was a more proximate model, per his claim of a Scots character. He laid stress on his use of the latest British rectification equipment. This must have meant a column still capable of distilling his liquor to near-neutrality. The proof numbers given, e.g., 65 Over Proof (Sykes scale) show they were getting alcohol at 94-95% abv, virtual purity. It was aged two years, as Canada’s aging law was in force by then and required initially a two year storage period.

McDougall and his employee were careful not to answer expansively and it is evident the commissioners didn’t know enough about distillation to ask more pertinent questions. McDougall didn’t state that he didn’t sell any spirits containing fusel oil, for example. It seems hard to think his rye and “Scotch” were 100% aged neutral spirits. In line with general Canadian practice established by then, he probably blended in some whisky distilled at a low proof so the product would have a reasonable character.

McDougall stated that much rum “high wines” was also smuggled in. This was the traditional pot still type that, say, Frederic Felton was making in New England in the same period. It came from the transit point, St. Pierre where New England distillers or intermediaries had sent it from their ports.

Similar rum was, he said, distilled illicitly in the West Indies and smuggled in from there. Using the ambiguous term “alcohol”, he indicated this second class of liquor was also smuggled in. I think this meant 100% neutral spirits, probably white or little-aged, vs. his presumed blend of aged GNS and full-flavour whisky. If, though, McDougall’s rye whisky was 100% neutral spirits but aged two years, perhaps “alcohol” meant the same thing, unaged.

McDougall also stated the taste for rum was “going out”, perhaps a premature assesment although his comments can be read as applying only to imported (West Indies) rum.

His testimony on the effects of the Scott Act, which permitted local option, and any attempt to legislate total prohibition are very interesting. He makes arguments similar to what one hears today in response to the lobbies seeking to limit sugar consumption. He suggests that eating too much meat is bad, too, but using it in moderation, as for alcohol, hurts no one. He also stated that the bulk of the people did not support heavy liquor control and attributed its promotion to a small, influential group of politicians.

McDougall’s testimony is consistent with the general story of Canadian whisky as it emerged from the Royal Commission hearings in toto. I would guess his rye was much like typical modern Canadian whisky, Canadian Mist, say.

McDougall and his products should be better remembered. I suspect the arrival of Prohibition in Nova Scotia in the 1920s, and the fairly conservative alcohol environment which dominated until recently, resulted in a kind of amnesia for a not unimportant part of the social and economic past.

 

 

 


Rum’s Converse: The Long History of Prohibition in Nova Scotia

In portraying the popular affection for rum in its heartland of the Maritimes as I did yesterday, it would be wrong to ignore that for about 100 years from 1825, a dedicated movement existed to establish total prohibition of alcohol.

Ernest J. Dick, university lecturer, archivist, and member of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, wrote a masterful account in 1981 of the inexorable march of prohibition in the province. It explains well the mainsprings of the movement, which took its cue initially from first stirrings in New England. The Baptist church was an early promoter but soon other denominations joined including even Anglicans whose relationship to drinking was always more nuanced. Finally, even the Roman Catholic diocese lent its support, unusually in North America.

From a religious base, the movement transformed to a political and popular one, which legislators ignored at their peril. The idea was to re-make society bolus-bolus, re-engineer it to banish the evils associated with drink such as poverty, domestic violence, and workplace inefficiency. From settlement to about 1825 there was a kind of golden age for liquor (perhaps similar to what exists today), but after 1825 pulpit and parliament worked steadily to root out alcohol from the social fabric of the province.

It was a cause where, as Dick put it, all morality was placed on one side of the issue. (There are parallel causes and screeds today, but we talk about the social history of drink here, not politics or the culture wars). Yet, Dick uses the term schizophrenic to describe the phenomenon. For example, in Canada by the later 1800s the Scott Act (1878) gave communities the “local option”, they could permit or ban drink in their territory. But Dick says while many in the regions supported a liquor ban, they were happy to obtain their private supply from Halifax. Another instance was enforcement. It was one thing to ban liquor, another to muster the will to close the blind pigs and smuggling routes people used to fulfill an evident need.

Dick makes the point that the will to banish liquor wasn’t just “rural”, it ran across the province. Not long ago, I discussed the Halifax Riots in 1945. It is clear that the lack of licensed bars during the war contributed significantly to the rioting. Indeed, Nova Scotia had only recently emerged from a period of total prohibition (1921-1930), capstone of the 19th century anti-liquor agitation. Even after provincial liquor stores opened in 1930, old attitudes still made their effect known. Arguably, Haligonians paid the price by seeing the city centre trashed in 1945 when VE day gave soldiery and citizens no reasonable outlets to express their emotions.

The Seahorse Tavern, whose sign was shown in my last post, was the first tavern to be licensed in Halifax after the 1920s prohibition ended – in 1948. It is still going strong, at a different location.

Liquor legislation in the province, in 2017, still reflects this complex past as this current news story relates. It all looks to change soon with a planned overhaul of the Nova Scotia liquor laws. The future is more distilleries, breweries, wineries, many of small artisan scale, and more permissiveness toward a lifestyle which includes alcohol. It would be hard for it to be otherwise given the current federal government says it will legalize marijuana before the next election…

But history matters – always.

Note re image: the above image, of Halifax Alehouse in Halifax, NS, was sourced from Wikipedia, here. Attribution: By No machine-readable author provided. SimonP assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons. Use herein is believed available for educational or historical purposes. All intellectual property in image belongs solely to its lawful owner. All feedback welcomed.

 

 


Oh Rum of Canada

But a poor and simple sailor just like me
Must be tossed and driven on the deep, dark sea

(from “Farewell To Nova Scotia” (trad.))

In Nova Scotia, still very much rum country as the Maritime provinces in general, rum played a vital role in early settlement, as testified in John Campbell‘s A History of the County of Yarmouth – even in a locality called Temperance. The story is similar to that in early New England, down to the rum tithe for the church-raising.

The many links between New England and Canada’s eastern provinces are ethnic, cultural (e.g., Loyalist settlement post-1776), commercial. A friend told me recently that at one time, Newfoundlanders felt more at home in New England than “Canada” (a different polity before 1949).

Distillers may not have been legion in Nova Scotia in the late 1800s, as this testimony in the House of Commons showed, but lots of rum came in from the Caribbean, and quite a bit over the Bay of Fundy from pals in New England, sub rosa.

Nova Scotians worked in Boston brickyards, among other jobs in Yankeeland, and required rum to finish the job: Dee Morris’ Medford: A Short History tells all.

Rum is so special in Eastern Canada that Captain Morgan sells the original formulation of its white rum there, and nowhere else, as marketingmag.com explains.

Truth be told, they drink it with Coke down east, or mostly, but that’s okay. And I’m not going to tell the old stock Maritimers how to drink their rum.

It’s being made locally again, too. Ironworks and other craft distillers are giving new life to an old tradition. It’s similar to what’s going on in the old trading states down the coast.

Good details herecourtesy the Province of Nova Scotia.

Note re image: Image was sourced from the Chronicle Herald in Halifax, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner. Image believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 


The Most Venerable Distillers

Old distillation names in America, 1800s vintage at least: Felton; Chapin & Trull; Lawrence; French. You know them, right? Old Kentucky or Pennsylvania names for fine bourbon and rye. Except that they’re not. They were distillers of New England rum, formerly a product of international renown but also some ill-fame, as will appear below.

Rum precedes whiskey in the affections of American spirit-drinkers. Its first production dates to the mid-1600s, not that long after it first appeared in the Caribbean. The industry really got going in the next two centuries, supplying local wants but also fetching an international sale, from England to Crimea to West Africa.

Rum production continued in New England until Prohibition but it levelled off from about 1880. This account in 1914 by Frederic Felton explains the history, and credit it we must coming as it does from New England’s “Rum Central” of yore. He states that changing tastes had a lot to do with the decline of the industry, it was down to about eight members by the start of WW I, from an early peak of about 60. Of course, consolidation meant increased production by survivors, of which Felton was probably the leading name, but the writing was on the wall, indeed the tone is in Felton’s account.

Most producers were located in Boston. The owner of Lawrence Distillery, in Medford (just outside Boston, the Medford Paul Revere raced through) closed it some years earlier, in 1905. You can read a summing up here via a press account of that year ultimately from Springfield, MA.

Medford Rum, and soon New England rum, which from a quality standpoint stood on a par with Scots malt, Cognac, and Kentucky Bourbon, was to be no more – until that is the restoration of distilling in New England, where some 30 small distilleries now ply their trade, some in the rum line.

A son of Springfield noted:

 

The idea of the Lawrences has been evidently for nearly a generation merely to supply the existing demand, without opening up new markets and extending the sales through widespread advertising. Rum in Medford began in 1735. Its manufacture was then (and for many years after) held in high esteem. The Rev. Charles Brooks in his history of Medford, relates what is indeed common knowledge concerning those times:

“It was not uncommon in the first century of the growth of Medford for private families to have a still, by running which they supplied themselves with alcohol for medicinal purposes, sold small quantities to their neighbors and made for use different kinds of cordials. It was considered a breach of hospitality not to offer a visitor some kind of spirituous liquor, and if the bottle was empty when the clergyman made his call many words of apology were deemed necessary.”

In New England we have long since passed the period when an apology was due the visiting clergyman if the rum bottle was empty.

 

Medford, and Massachusetts in general, were early centres of Temperance campaigning. Pace Felton, this probably contributed as much, or more, to the industry’s consignment to Coventry. (Some production did start up after 1933 but that withered in time).

The story ends by saluting the modern era of sobriety and “bids a cheerful farewell to Medford rum”. (The past is a foreign country, sometimes).

What was the real reason rum got such a … rum reputation in its homeland of production?

By the Victorian era, even local writers of Boston’s and the state’s industrial and economic history could not conceal a sordid side to the early rum trade: rum was sent to Africa, mostly from Boston, to trade for slaves then transported to the Caribbean. There, molasses from the plantations was sent to New England to make more rum. This is the triangular trade many have written of for over 100 years. Historians argue what effect it had on the early Colonial economy as a whole, but there seems no doubt an ignoble history existed. I think it played a role in the decline of the industry at a time when, say, Kentucky whiskey was growing fast in sales and reputation.

Prohibitionist agitation was important, too. Unlike the relative frontier of Kentucky and Tennessee, an old state such as Massachussets had plenty of pulpits, editors, presses, and physicians to mobilize against “King Alcohol”. The industry was on the defensive from the 1840s in a way it never was in Kentucky.

It all took its toll.

From a purely gastronomic standpoint, the rum as made in the later 1800s seemed a world-class product. Medford rum in particular was a by-word for highest quality in spirits. What was the Yankee rum like? The spirit originally sent to the Gold Coast was probably a homespun article not so different perhaps from today’s overproof rum from Jamaica and other islands. But as Felton notes, by the late 1800s rum had become a carefully made and aged product.

Old ads suggest it was double-distilled in a pot still, often on a “fire” (wood fuel) and aged in barrel for years. It was probably like some of the Caribbean rum of today that has a good pot still element, Demerara for example, or Gosling from Bermuda, and aged many years to a refined smootheness and character.

New England rum was not blended in its classic era – it was all “straight” – although the press story above implies that some newer producers did make blended rum, which it considered a lesser product.

This short article in Bonfort’s Wine and Spirits Circular of 1888 states that if New England distillers had advertised with “one half the persistency and business tact” of the Kentucky distillers they would have enjoyed much greater success, given that is the quality of their product. The author continued to lyricise New England rum, stating it made a fine cocktail to precede dinner and was superior to whiskey.

The industry never achieved the eminence which those who make fine whiskey and brandy bask in today. The rum-makers of New England were more a lion in winter, hunkering down, facing their forseeable demise with fortitude.

But rum has come back to New England. The blogger, Foodie Pilgrim, gives a good overview from a couple of years ago.

Does some of it taste like double-distilled, molasses-based, aged rum from Felton & Son or Chapin, Trull did? What do you think?

 


A Mini-history of Bourbon

George Washburne, whom I’ve mentioned earlier, was editor of Wine and Spirits Review which served the pre-Prohibition alcohol business. His style was assured, intimate, confidential, a tone which informs Beverages Deluxe, a coffee table volume he edited in 1911 with Stanley Bronner. The book was probably a (literal) gift to the good clients who advertised in the Review.

The book canvasses many of the world’s great drinks.  While of a puff-piece nature, it conveys a lot of good information – the chapters are written by distillers or others in various branches of the trade.

Of course, bourbon is not omitted especially as the Review was based in Louisville. The pages below offer as good a short history of bourbon’s development as I know. And coming from George Brown, a founder of Brown-Forman Company, still a major force in the distilled spirits business, the information is unimpeachable. In any case I can vouch, from my own extensive research, that it is an accurate albeit compressed account.

Below also you see a picture of Old Forester Bourbon, vintage 1911. One may note that it was, at least up to Prohibition in 1919, a blend of “old Kentucky whiskies”. This shows what Beeretseq has long advocated, initially on the forum of www.straightbourbon.com, that the intelligent combining of straight whiskeys can produce a superb and unique drink.

 

 

 

Note re images: the images above are from Beverages DeLuxe, via HathiTrust and linked in the text above. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user. Images believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


The Negroni

[Note: This post was posted earlier this week but I deleted and then re-posted it. It was erroneously posted to pages not posts and the comments didn’t show properly. Feel free to re-submit comments or new ones].

Never on a Sunday – Not

At an event today at the estimable Spirit House at Portland corner Adelaide in Toronto, I drank a Negroni, the Italian-originated composite of gin, red vermouth, and Campari Bitters. The gin was a craft gin, and the vermouth, a new item from craft distiller Dillon’s in Niagara, Ontario.

The first time I heard of this drink was in 1978, where one of the senior partners of the firm I worked at had a fondness for it. He was an aficionado of Italy in general, and gave tours there after retirement until his untimely death. I usually have the ingredients ready to hand, but almost never make it – I just don’t think of it. The Spirit House version used the classic orange garnish and was extremely good, slightly sweet, herbal, refreshing. It was served with rocks in this case in a large tumbler.

The history of the Negroni is controversial, you can read details in the informative Wikipedia entry for the drink. The name must be related to a Negroni family member, but which family or branch, and when, seems still unclear. One of the theories puts it back to the 1860s in Senegal, yet. The tropical locale is not as odd as it seems as gin was regarded as a specific then, for various maladies of the hot lands, at least when mixed with things like tonic water (quinine) and bitters.

Maybe one day it will all become clear.

In Frederick Martin’s c. 1970 The Encyclopedia of Drinks and Drinking, the author departs from the norm by counselling two parts gin to one each of the vermouth and Campari. Usually it is one part each. Leave it to an Englishman to pour the gin hard, but perhaps he goes heavy on the spirit because of the soda addition, an Italian habit, too, I understand. But served sans the seltzer as often done here, one part of each alcohol seems right I think.

There is something about the name that probably contributed to the fame of the drink, a romantic element surely. Chianti, Negroni, Friuli, Napoli, all these Italian names arouse ideas of scented winds coursing through ancient olive groves, or caressing the superstructure of yachts entering the parti-coloured ports of the Italian Riviera.

Well, perhaps fame is not quite right, but bon ton, anyway, as befits a cocktail invented by a count. Not the right language, but France is just around the corner from those ports and anyway I’ve obtruded Greece in these matters. We must resign to use of a “Mediterranean” idiom.


The Life of the Lamp

For the last two months I have been immersed in a project to write a scholarly article on the history of American “Musty Ale”, a topic I developed on the blog in numerous posts earlier.

Many of the things I stated in the posts were validated by the academic work (that’s what it is, no more or less).

But I developed numerous new lines of thinking and deepened the old ones. My conclusions ended as rather different than was suggested here earlier.

Of course, the postings were still essential as preparatory work, a kind of travaux préparatoires.

You can read all about it in the forthcoming issue of Brewery History, the journal of the U.K.-based Brewery History Society. Some information on the BHS, here.  

As I mentioned on Twitter, thanks are due to the Journal’s editor Dr. Tim Holt and to Martyn Cornell who encouraged me to take on this work.

As a lawyer holding a few degrees, one at Master’s level, I know how to write at scholarly level. I just hadn’t done it in a while, and the effort recalled for me the reality of years ago: it is hard work, a mental effort equal on its terms to the hardest physical labour, and yet it’s physical too.

At first, after a few hours I had to leave it for another day, factoring too my regular work of course and other obligations. But later, the physical effort eased, I went through a kind of training for that part of it…

Any book, I’m sure, is not so different, but writing where you have to justify by footnotes almost all factual statements, and ensure hyper-accuracy, and stand by your research and conclusions should any cavil with you, is unique. Not that I am blasé or ex-cathedra really on the blog here, but writing on an academic level is exactly what it says.

It gave me a new respect for the work professors and any researchers at their level do every day. People joke about eggheads and ivory towers but believe me, what they do is vital to society and requires enormous dedication and a good measure of spade work, too. It was Johnson who said a lexicographer is a harmless drudge, eh? Well, he got the drudge part right. It’s the insights and flashes of genuine discovery that make the whole thing worthwhile.

Note re image: the image above is from the Clipart website, here All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized users. Image is believed available for educational or historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 


A Negroni

Never on a Sunday – Not

At an event today at the estimable Spirit House at Portland corner Adelaide in Toronto, I drank a Negroni, the Italian-originated composite of gin, red vermouth, and Campari Bitters. The gin was a craft gin, and the vermouth, a new item from craft distiller Dillon’s in Niagara, Ontario.

The first time I heard of this drink was in 1978, where one of the senior partners of the firm I worked at had a fondness for it. He was an aficionado of Italy in general, and gave tours there after retirement until his untimely death. I usually have the ingredients ready to hand, but almost never make it – I just don’t think of it. The Spirit House version used the classic orange garnish and was extremely good, slightly sweet, herbal, refreshing. It was served with rocks in this case in a large tumbler.

The history of the Negroni is controversial, you can read details in the informative Wikipedia entry for the drink. The name must be related to a Negroni family member, but which family or branch, and when, seems still unclear. One of the theories puts it back to the 1860s in Senegal, yet. The tropical locale is not as odd as it seems as gin was regarded as a specific then, for various maladies of the hot lands, at least when mixed with things like tonic water (quinine) and bitters.

Maybe one day it will all become clear.

In Frederick Martin’s c. 1970 The Encyclopedia of Drinks and Drinking, the author departs from the norm by counselling two parts gin to one each of the vermouth and Campari. Usually it is one part each. Leave it to an Englishman to pour the gin hard, but perhaps he goes heavy on the spirit because of the soda addition, an Italian habit, too, I understand. But served sans the seltzer as often done here, one part of each alcohol seems right I think.

There is something about the name that probably contributed to the fame of the drink, a romantic element surely. Chianti, Negroni, Friuli, Napoli, all these Italian names arouse ideas of scented winds coursing through ancient olive groves, or caressing the superstructure of yachts entering the parti-coloured ports of the Italian Riviera.

Well, perhaps fame is not quite right, but bon ton, anyway, as befits a cocktail invented by a count. Not the right language, but France is just around the corner from those ports and anyway I’ve obtruded Greece in these matters. We must resign to use of a “Mediterranean” idiom.


James Steel on Vatting Beer and Ale

Scots brewer and designer James Steel (1821-1891) addressed the topic of vatting in his Selection of the Practical Points of Brewing and Malting, and Strictures Thereon, for Brewery Proprietors (Glasgow, 1878).

He confirmed what Herbert Edwards Wright wrote somewhat later: vatting – the storing of beer in large containers, the largest, for porter, famously holding thousands of barrels – was going out of style.

As Wright did, Steel referred to a particular quality resulting from holding beer a year or more, he called it “apple and other flavours”. One must bear in mind this was before the era of reliable mechanical cooling – the beers were held basically at ambient temperature. Together with microflora resident in the wood and the brewery environment, this encouraged production of esters and other compounds imparting special flavours to beer.

Flavours resembling Wright’s pineapple and pear, and Steel’s apple, could thus distinguish beers long-stored.

Also of course, Steel’s term “fined” referred to the clarity gained by long keeping, then viewed as highly desirable for beer. The final stage of fermentation, called cleansing, rarely resulted in limpid beers. A lengthy standing would do much to clear them, especially in large vessels, although a last treatment with finings was sometimes necessary.

Steel seemed to accept the decline of vatting more readily than Wright, but did feel it useful for porter due to porter’s inherently stable character which he attributed to its highly cured malt component. He noted however the continuation of long aging at Burton on Trent for its beer, i.e., for IPA vs. Scots and other ales, and that such storage was in normal beer casks or other smaller wood – no huge vats as in London for porter. Still, this long aging did impart the aged flavour.

Bass pale ale in particular has always had an apple note, Worthington White Shield too. However imparted today, it’s still in those beers, in all forms I’ve had.

Finally, Steel approved the practice of using “fillings”, or wort, to enliven long-stored beer. The longer beer was kept, the less likely it would be fizzy on exit from the wood. Adding wort, sometimes in a partial process of fermentation, would cause a new fermentation and result in a satisfactory head when poured. You would also get a mix of fresh and aged characteristics.

Steel states that the practice was used in Dublin – brewing author Frank Faulkner confirmed it in the 1880s – and by “provincial brewers”, which would take in Scots and English brewers outside London. For London itself, Steel said “retailers” performed the work, saving the brewers the trouble.

Presumably he meant publicans, although would publicans be easily able to handle adding the quantities needed to draught porter in cask in the cellar? I am not sure adding such a thing would have been lawful, in fact. Could Steel have meant some intermediate level of trade, acting on behalf of brewers, did the work? This area needs investigation*. But there is no reason to think an experienced brewer and brewing figure (via e.g., the Steel’s masher, still used in some British breweries) would misstate such an important point.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

*Re-reading his account, it is possible he was referring to mixing old and new porter, not the part where the fillings are added.  If so, presumably the fillings were already in the old beer. The pages of Steel dealing with vatting and fillings are set out below, via HathiTrust:

 

 

 


What Vatting Was And Why It Was Done

In 1907, Herbert E. Wright issued a new edition of his A Handy Book for Brewers; Being a Practical Guide To the Arts of Brewing and Malting. An earlier edition appeared 15 years earlier, itself the outgrowth of Wright’s manual for young brewers (1877). Wright died the year the last version came out (see preface). He represents a good survey of many practical aspects of brewing in the last quarter of the 1800s.

He had brewed at the Diamond Brewery in Dover, whereof some good history can be read at this Dover-Kent historical site. He wasn’t the owner at any stage, it appears, but a company name, Herbert Wright & Co., appears next to the brewery name when the beers were entered for competition. And his name appeared on some of the labels, as can be seen below. Maybe he leased the brewery from the owner with the right to represent the beers as his output.

His multi-page comments on vatting are interesting on many counts, see here. First, he distinguishes true vatting from the later method, which was to ferment beers at high temperature and rouse them (to permit air to enter the fermenting wort). These practices had the result of producing acidic beers in a relatively short time, perfect for blending, but they lacked the “ethereal” taste of beers stored a year or two as ales and stouts used to be stored. Those flavours were clearly fruity because Wright mentions that ethyl butyrate is produced, which has a pineapple note. He also mentions ethyl acetate, which today is considered to have a pear drop flavour.

Wright confirms that the old beers were consumed, in the charming phrase, “one way” – straight with no admixture, which accords with early porter history. Acetic acid was produced (by acetobacter acting on ethanol), but Wright says the high gravity of the beers “carried” the taste. In other words, the acid notes were not objectionable as the beers had a high final gravity – rich malty taste – notwithstanding their strength, which resulted from a very high original gravity.

Wright argues old-style vatting should be continued, either to sell the beers on their own, or for superior blending especially for stout, where an “amalgamation” of flavours from blending some vatted beer with new sweet porter is desirable. This amalgamation has a “sub-acid” component he finds attractive.

This old blending practice has largely been by-passed in modern craft brewing although some breweries have been known to do it and some Belgian breweries never stopped, Rodenbach is the classic example. Lambic blending is another example although the lambic palate would have been considerably more acid than Wright’s vatted beer even one-way as he says the beer should not be sour as such.

Yesterday I tweeted an older post of mine which analyzed the likely strength of Hodgson India Pale Ale, the beer which launched the India pale genre and whose reverberations live with us to this day. I argued that in 1850, Abbott’s East India Pale Ale, successor to Hodgson’s ditto made in the same brewery, had a gravity designed to deliver 8-9% abv and maybe more. Given the country pale ale origins of the style, this is not surprising albeit the IPA style evolved later to a mean of 6-7% abv.

That mid-1800s strong Hodgson’s/Abbott’s East India Pale Ale fetched about the highest price charged for beer in the 1800s, 60 s per barrel. These were the kind of beers mentioned by Wright as being vatted for one and two years. True, the ales seem not to have been aged in bulk (vs. trade casks or other smaller containers) as porter was, but the principle is the same: development of exotic fruit characters and some acidity from long keeping in wood.

Wright doesn’t distinguish between porter, stout, pale ale, and old ale in his advice to vat the old-fashioned way. Any such beer could be long-aged provided only it had a high starting gravity and was brewed strong. In the Eltham brewing advertisement discussed in that earlier post of mine, and the Chilcott’s one in Bristol also referred to, beers of these different styles all had a top-end, and these were examples of Wright’s long-aged beers which developed this “ethereal” character. We know too sometimes brettanomyces was a result of long wood aging, which would add its own earthy or barnyard notes. A quick development of acidic beer would not have permitted the brett yeasts time to do their work.

How were strong were the old worts to be? Wright recommends as high as possible and at least 30 pounds per barrel, which is 1083 OG (390/360). This is exactly the range I calculated the Hodgson’s India beer c. 1850, producing alcohol of 8-9% abv, maybe more. Of course, the pale ales were attenuated lower than the ordinary ales meant to be aged, but still the general character discussed or implied by Wright would be the same, IMO: fruity, winy, port-like.

Final note: Wright offers no heroic/romantic explanation why vatting had largely dispappeared, nothing that is about changes in public taste. He explained it prosaically as the result of consolidation of the breweries and better financial management, i.e., to turn over the capital faster. Then why was porter long-aged in the 1700s? The brewers were hardly unsophisticated then. Alan Pryor has made a persuasive case in recent issues of the (U.K.) journal Brewery History that 1700s porter-brewers stored beer to maximize gains from favourable grain prices. When the cost of the input went up, they drew on their stocks rather than brew at a greater cost.

If he is right, what was different in the later 1800s? Perhaps grain and malt prices had stabilized by then. Or perhaps if they hadn’t, they became a relatively small part of the cost of brewing.

A good topic for someone’s doctoral study…

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