Labatt’s Replica 1840s Brewery

When we was Craft

In 1967, following two years of research, Labatt Breweries of Canada Ltd. built a replica, called The London Brewery, of the 1847 brewery of John Kinder Labatt and Samuel Eccles in London, Ontario. Their brewery had its origins in a brewery built by George Balkwill in 1828 on Simcoe Street. It was later acquired by Samuel Eccles with whom John Labatt partnered in 1847. Eccles exited the partnership in 1853, whence it was called John Labatt Brewery.

The replica was a centennial project, a popular pastime in sunny 1960s Canada: celebrating in one’s unique way the 100th anniversary of Confederation (1867-1967). Many companies had such projects as a way to boost employee morale, and this was Labatt’s.

In craft beer circles of 2019 The London Brewery, which can still be toured in London, seems of little resonance. This is due I believe to a number of factors. First, London, while an important regional centre, is 120 miles from Toronto, the centre of Ontario’s craft brewing culture.

Second, the exhibit commemorates a pre-craft national brewer, now internationally owned (AB In Bev). Big brewers tend not to enter the preoccupations of the craft bubble, shall we say. Many oppose large companies for their size, or scale, really, which never made sense to us, especially as most big brewers now offer some characterful beer, the type craft enthusiasts said they always wanted.*

Third, since 1993 the London Brewery is part of Fanshawe Pioneer Village, so a visit entails visiting the general attraction itself, which will interest only some beer fans of course.

Yet, as I’ve learned even without seeing it, the London Brewery is well worth visiting. A short article by Bryan Andrachuk, linked in this page on Fanshawe’s website, explains the great historical care Labatt’s took in recreating the pioneer brewery, down to sourcing period logs (from old structures) to build it.

A full brewing plant is included on the second floor – mashing tun, bricked in kettle, underlet, fermenting vat, paddles, wood barrels, all the paraphernalia to brew beer in 1840s Ontario.

We know this from a July 2009 posting on a homebrewing forum, text and numerous images, by an American from Detroit who had visited the site.

Obviously he did not cover everything but what he did show explains much about the depth and authenticity of the exhibit. He even shows a pail of “brown malt”. Hence, even 10.5 years ago, and possibly from 1967, in either case before beer historians revved up interest in authentic porter recreations, Labatt knew that porter malt was used in the 1840s and took care to find some for the exhibit.

I first learned of the replica brewery through the 1975 The Great Canadian Beer Bookwhich I bought in the late 1970s. It pictures a man in his early 20s at the exhibit handling a barrel. He portrayed the brewer and probably led the tour. I think the older man shown in the 2009 posting, in pioneer-era costume, may be the same person, and perhaps has the same job today.

I intend to get down to London soon to visit the London Brewery. The Fanshawe attraction seems well-planned (see website) and worth a visit unto itself. 

A second pioneer brewery recreation in Ontario was Black Creek’s in North York, Toronto, at Black Creek Pioneer Village, which portrays an 1860s Ontario settlement. Black Creek’s was different from Labatt’s effort, focusing more on the beer rather than replicating the fit-out of a Victorian village brewery. Black Creek’s brewery was a valid exercise, in part due to the excellent beer brewed there, which did use period techniques such as natural cooling of the wort. Sadly, brewing ceased onsite at the end of 2018, and has not resumed, to my knowledge.

But it shows a key difference from Labatt’s replica. Neither The Great Canadian Beer Book nor the 2009 account mentions beer being made in the replica or at least available onsite to complement the exhibit historically.

Back in 1967, the replica was housed next to the Labatt brewery, and probably figured in the regular brewery tour. Visitors would get a drink at the end of the tour in Labatt’s bar. Labatt IPA was available then, the latter-day golden ale version, likely quite different from what Labatt and Eccles brewed. For one thing, the Labatt brewery did not brew IPA until John Labatt II introduced it in the late 1860s.

Anyway in 1967 the idea of brewing a genuine 1840s beer would not have occurred to Labatt management, this wasn’t on anyone’s radar then.

The replica brewery was moved to Fanshawe Pioneer Village in London in 1993 according to Bryan Andrachuk’s account. That was a chance to introduce a brewing element and make a genuine period beer. However, being a family entertainment venue, even had the idea occurred to the planners, probably it was dismissed due to not fitting the family ethos. This was a time too when craft brewing had little recognition by the general public.

(There is a cafe for visitors, and licensed receptions and weddings are held in parts of the Village, but there is no public bar, as far as I know).

Black Creek’s brewery started up later, and took advantage of an evolving public attitude to drinking and craft beer. Something similar happened with the start-up of Mill St Brewery in the Distillery District in Toronto c. 2000.

Still, there is much to drink in at the London Brewery today, of pedagogic and entertainment value, which forms its own reward. And if “craft” doesn’t describe Labatt’s 1840s brewery, I don’t know what does.

Note re image above: sourced from the website of Fanshawe Pioneer Village linked in the text.


*We are also not persuaded by arguments that large companies tend to co-opt craft culture, for example by disguising their ownership of craft-seeming units. Today, anyone with a phone, which is everyone, can at a stroke or two find out who owns a beer label, or brewpub chain. Most patrons probably don’t care, which renders the issue moot for them. For those who do, they can find the information with little effort, just asking staff often explains everything. While we support maximum disclosure, those who skirt the issue are simply engaging in the time-honoured practice of “puffery”, legally permissible exaggeration. And many small brewers engage in essentially similar puffery. As I recall, Creemore in Ontario prior to its sale to Molson-Coors used to say it was “100 years behind the times”. Well, not really. There were no aluminum or stainless steel tanks then, no brewhouse sanitation such as we have today, single cell yeast isolation was in its infancy, and so forth. But Creemore was making a general point, that it made all-malt beer, non-pasteurized, of full taste. I understood the purport of the claim and never felt mislead.







Allsopp’s 1911 Cask/Keg Beer (Part II)

Moving along, let’s consider this article, published 12 years after Allsopp’s sends pale ale in small kegs to New York. It was by Walter Scott, called “Draught Beer for the Private Trade”, published in what is now the Journal of the Institute of Brewing.

I think it is safe to say that the technical discussion in Scott’s article did not reflect anything new in the industry since 1911, other than the author’s modification of the tapping system for cask beer. Certainly Scott made no claims of novelty for the background he described, at least intra industry.

Beer, of course, had always been sent to private homes and country estates. Smaller containers were used than the standard 36 gal. barrel for pubs and hotels. A firkin, holding 9 gal., or pin, 4.5 gal., were typical containers. The Allsopp’s Pale Ale advertised in “automatic casks” of 1.5 and 3 gal. (possibly American units), was clearly a specialty item, perhaps meant for seasonal or export trade, but the standard pin was functionally similar.

The article advises how brewers can sell more beer for the private or family trade, as well as formerly isolated country pubs finding flat beer an issue due to legions of “motorists” now arriving at their door. He considered two types of small barrel, first, the traditional cask (real ale), second, a barrel that held chilled and filtered beer under pressure.

It is clear from his remarks that cask ale often went flat in firkin or pin casks. This reflected a broader issue of concern to British brewing through the 19th century – flat beer was not just a foreign talking point, in other words. Scott made clear, as many real ale fans know, that a properly conditioned beer – naturally conditioned in cask – offered a satisfactory level of carbonation.

He came up with a personal improvement, which as I understand it, placed not just the tapping hole at the bottom of the round cask head (as invariable for any real ale cask today), but also the cork or bunghole via which the barrel was filled. In other words, for a cask set in tapping position, there was no shive hole at the top “over” the beer level.

He invented a special tap to ensure the beer would still flow. He also discusses priming, or adding sufficient sugar solution, to deliver enough natural carbonation to ensure condition and “displacement” of the beer when drawn.

If I get what he is saying, under his system, there was enough pressure in the cask to force the beer out. It wasn’t dispensed by gravity or only that, but by the pressure of the beer in the cask.

He discusses as well, as an alternate method, chilling and filtering beer for kegging in a way to permit the flow on tapping: he says to fill it only two-thirds, and adjust the top pressure at a level (see article) to ensure the beer will exit the keg. As earlier noted, he does not explain this as new, and in fact refers to some chilled and filtered beer being sent to the trade in the south (he spoke in Birmingham), but states no brewer in the Midlands was using this system.

He makes clear his aversion to this chilled and filtered draft beer, on grounds of palate. Of course, commercial expediency finally pushed matters in a different direction, via development of mass-marketed keg beer and lager from the 1960s.

He uses the term “automatically” once in relation to condition. Interestingly, he relates it, not to chilled and filtered beer, but the opposite: cask ale. He explained that cask ale conditions itself automatically. This is true, in the sense that one doesn’t need to inject the beer with CO2 or nitrogen gas.

In this light, I think Allsopp’s “automatic” cask may have been naturally conditioned beer, perhaps using a nifty term thought to appeal to 20th century Manhattanites. Scott seems clearly to indicate that a high condition can be achieved in cask ale, enough to force it all out. (We know this was true of course with highly krausened American beer casks of the same period, gas injection was not necessary to get the beer out).

So, especially with air hand-pumped in, maybe that was Samuel Allsopp’s pale ale in the automatic cask. On the other hand – see my comment to Part I – we know Allsopp’s was instrumental before WW I in devising technology for chilling and filtering beer…

I don’t know the final answer, but incline that the 1911 keg was an early form of keg beer as understood today.

Finally, on a more general plane of cask ale vs. keg beer, read carefully pg. 738 of the article. Our old friend Memel wood appears, and Scott asserts with confidence that the best beer for palate, condition, and stability was delivered in casks well-made from this wood. The way he talks about metal in contrast, makes one think the Memel beer must have been rather special.

The beer filling in the image above of c. 1950 was almost certainly into Memel oak.

Note re image: the image above  is from the website of the historic Timothy Taylor brewery in Britain, see its gallery of historical images. Image is sole property of Timothy Taylor’s. Used here for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed. 


Allsopp’s 1911 Cask/Keg Beer (Part I)

I won’t cite chapter and verse for a matter well-known to beer historians: Watney’s Red Barrel was a pressurized draft beer (ale) developed in the 1930s following experiments to develop a stable barrel beer for export to India, and to supply domestic trade needing draft beer served non-continuously.

There were apparently, as well, experiments by some brewers in the 1920s with bulk pressurized beer, some was sent (containers) to London pubs with high turnover.

As far as I know, no commercially produced keg beer, i.e., filtered to be bright, gas-charged, perhaps pasteurized, has been documented before World War I. An advertisement that appeared at least twice in a New York newspaper in 1911 seems to show such a product.

It was called the Automatic Cask, advertised for Christmas in the Evening Telegram. The beer itself was Allsopp’s Pale Ale.

The woman seems to be using a hand pump, perhaps the type used today for party kegs that forces air into a CO2 pressurized container. Yes, the air will spoil the beer before very long but the idea is quick consumption, as surely with Allsopp’s automatic cask which was available in small, 1.5 and 3 gal. sizes.

The sizes suggest the market was private homes, clubs, restaurants, and perhaps specialty bars in New York.

A close look shows the faucet about half-way up the standing cask, so the contents had I think to be under pressure. The foam on the glasses seems the type generated by the usual fizzy beer. The term automatic, too, seems to suggest a ready made fizzy beer.*

In this period, Allsopp, the great Burton brewer that helped popularize India Pale Ale around the world, was in receivership. Its affairs were restructured and it continued in business, but it makes sense the business was looking for a silver bullet to restore financial health. As ever, technological innovation is one way, and this automatic cask beer perhaps was an attempt to build a new channel of trade.

This automatic cask must be distinguished from so-called automatic cask systems of the 1890s that were levering systems, designed to lower a true cask (for cask ale) from a cradle or stillions to extract as much clear beer as possible without disturbing the sediment.

If it was keg beer, perhaps had WW I not intervened, the keg beer revolution (in U.K.) of the 1960s-1970s would have happened much earlier, under the appellation automatic cask. It has a nice Futurist ring.

Note re image: image above was sourced from the 1911 press advertisement linked in the text, via the Fulton History website. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*I claim no advanced expertise in technic of beer dispense, so any other ideas welcome.

Rum in Canada’s Maritimes

A Standing Institution*

Nova Scotia is still very much rum country, as all the Maritime provinces to this day, disproportionately to the rest of Canada.  According to latest figures from Statistics Canada:

At the national level, whisky (30.2%), vodka (24.9%) and rum (16.3%) were the most popular spirits sold in Canada in 2017/2018, accounting for 71.4% of total spirit sales. At the provincial/territorial level, whisky had the largest market share of spirit sales in Manitoba (37.2%) and the lowest in the Northwest Territories (15.1%). Vodka had the largest proportion of spirit sales in Nunavut (58.0%) and the lowest in Newfoundland and Labrador (16.0%). Rum was the top choice for spirits in Newfoundland and Labrador (44.4% of spirit sales), while the lowest proportion sold was in the Northwest Territories (12.0%).

While Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest market share among Provinces for rum, the other Maritime Provinces, sharing a regional taste, are not far behind.

Rum played a vital role in early settlement days, even in a locality called Temperance, as Rev. John R. Campbell explained in his 1875 A History of the County of Yarmouth.

The story is parallel to that of early New England (and pioneer Upper Canada), where the rum jug was indispensable to socializing. “Bees” to clear land, scythe crops, and build homes or barns, and just simple socializing, required rum.

The links between New England and our East Coast provinces are ethnic/cultural via the Loyalist influx, and seagoing/commercial. A friend of Newfoundland ancestry told me that at one time, Newfoundlanders felt more at home in New England than in “Canada”, which Newfoundland only joined politically in 1949.

Nova Scotians worked in 19th century Boston brickyards, among other jobs in Yankee states. Naturally they required rum to finish the job, in tune with the old work gang tradition. See Dee Morris’ Medford: A Short History for the details. Rum was a cultural predilection of both regions, in other words.

Another likely factor for Nova Scotia’s rum appreciation is the early importance of the drink in Scotland, as I discussed here. Given the extent of the Scots influx in Nova Scotia, this ancestral taste surely allied with the Loyalist one to solidify the tradition in New Scotland.

I discussed earlier how rum declined as a local industry in New England from the mid-1800s until WW I. Distilling in Nova Scotia was thin on the ground too, by the early 1890s.

Testimony in the House of Commons in an 1890s Royal Inquiry on the Liquor Traffic showed only one distillery still operating in Nova Scotia then (see pp 80-82). Indeed the majority of its counties was dry on account of local option under the Scott Act. But the Act was not always enforced and contraband liquor continued to flow. As well, there has always been significant importation of Caribbean rum to Canada.

This section of the testimony of the sole distiller, C.B. McDougall (see pg. 89) explains that he distilled only rye whisky and a Scotch-type whisky, but he goes on to say he imported rum for sale. He also notes a great deal of the contraband mentioned, or “common rum”, was brought in from the West Indies.

Hence, by the early 1890s there was no functioning rum production in Nova Scotia, but plenty of rum was still available, enough contraband certainly to worry the sole legal distiller (of the illicit rum, McDougall said “too much” was circulating).

Rising Prohibition sentiment, among other factors, had the effect of de-legitimizing the industry in the U.S. and Canada by the First World War, but liquor of course never lost its appeal, and certainly not rum on Canada’s East Coast.

Today rum both imported and Canadian rum share a total market approaching $900 M. Rum’s importance in the Maritimes of 2019 can be gauged by the fact that the original, green-tinged formulation of Captain Morgan white rum is still sold there, and nowhere else.  explains the background.

With the rise of modern craft distilling, rum is being made again locally. Ironworks and other craft distillers are giving new life to an old tradition. It’s a similar story down New England way, Boston itself counts a number of distilleries making rum, Bully Boy is one.

In Stephen Beaumont and Christine Sismondo’s excellent new Canadian Spirits, the authors describe Ironwork distillery’s Bluenose Rum in enticing terms. In part:

Deep and dark, with coffee and sassafras on the nose and a very rich body that combines hints of espresso with a robust but not overly sweet molasses flavour.

The old New England rum was known to have a heavy body, as Harold Grossman explained in his introduction to a luxury 1941 rum tasting event of the Wine and Food Society of New York. Ironwork’s crafted rum revives an old, trans-frontier heritage, “Maritime” in the broadest sense.

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


*This post expands and replaces a post from 2017, Oh Rum of Canada.


Egg-Nog’s Norfolk Bloodline

Some American foods or spices are known to have an indigenous, African, or Caribbean orgin. The term barbecue, for example, seems to derive from the Taino-Arawak barbacoa.

But most early American foods and drinks derive from a British, or other European, source, not surprising considering the pattern of settlement from the 16th century through to the 1800s. Chowder, as I discussed recently, is probably of French origin, via chaudière and modern French dishes like caudière.

Terms like ale, beer, cake, cocktail, burgoo, sea pie (in French Canada, cipaille), pot pie, cobbler, and countless others hail from Britain or Ireland. Sometimes a term got twisted around a bit. We are fairly certain the term highball, for example, derives from the Irish ball of malt for a whiskey drink as discussed a while ago here.

What of egg-nog, a drink of the North American Christmas season? I am saved from unearthing its etymology and history, or most of it, due to Wikipedia’s learned exposition and references, see here.

As you see, the author(s) consider that one way or another, the drink derives from the possets known much earlier in parts of Great Britain – mixtures of egg, cream or milk, sugar, spices, and wine or ale. This seems correct, but many have thought the term egg-nog (or eggnog), being two words obviously of English origin, is an Americanism albeit with conflicting explanations of origin (see Wikipedia again).

Usually if one digs deep enough, an English or other British source or cognate can be found, but I confess I had some trouble with egg-nog. I could not find a single U.K. reference to it, until this one popped up, in the 1894 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer.

As the charming, hand-lettered introduction states, the book was first published in 1870. Brewer was a Norwich-born teacher, author, and lawyer who wrote numerous popular guides to knowledge. He enjoyed good success through a 60-year career. It appears he spent most of his career in Norwich, part of the old county of Norfolk in East Anglia. Later in life he lived in Nottinghamshire with relatives.

Brewer and the book have no evident or even implied connections to America, but he includes egg-nog in a listing of terms for a drink made with sweetened ale or wine and eggs. There is no reference to milk or cream, but some American egg-nog of the 19th century omitted the dairy. See e.g., here in the 1884 The Modern Bartenders Guide by O.H. Byron.

“Nog” is known in the old beer type Norfolk nog, which we discussed in this essay and linked moreover to early London porter development and its predecessor three threads.

Being a Norfolk man, Brewer’s inclusion of the term egg-nog quite possibly reflected local lore, a term alternate that is to the more usual egg flip and egg hot. He may have drawn on knowledge of other regional usage in Britain, but the fact that “nog” has a Norfolk association, as noted, suggests to me egg-nog was a Norfolk regionalism.

Norfolk is not, for the purposes of this discussion, any old part of England. It is in East Anglia, a region of significant early emigration to America. This is known to anyone who has studied in-depth early American settlement. It is addressed with point in the landmark study of British social and cultural influence in America, David H. Fischer’s (1989) Albion’s Seed.

For confirmation of Norfolk influence on American speech, see here in Russell Bartlett’s 19th century Dictionary of Americanisms albeit he does not elucidate egg-nog, for its part. Other glossaries of Norfolk or provincial speech I have been able to locate similarly do not discuss egg-nog, yet “nog” is attributed in at least one of them (William Holloway’s) to Norfolk usage for an ale drink.

A convenient statement of Norfolk’s influence on American culture is offered in the Norfolk official visitors website, “Visit Norfolk”:

Like so many coastal English counties, Norfolk could be relied upon to supply many of the original colonists to North America – Norfolk was the county that had the largest percentage of known passengers on The Mayflower. The county’s motto is ‘Do Different’ – and in the past so many Norfolk people wanted to do just that … An exploration of Norfolk’s towns and villages will unearth many links between the USA and ‘Nelson’s County’.

Hence Norfolk, Connecticut, need I say, and so much more.

As the hallowed phrase goes, “it came on the Mayflower”. It was probably true of egg-nog, not just the genus of drink, but the very term.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from Pixabay, here, and is indicated as available for public use without restriction. Used here for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.







Russian Stout Gains Plaudits in 1975 Canada

A First-of-its-Kind

The Great Canadian Beer Book, edited by Gerald Donaldson and Gerald Lampert, was published in 1975 by McLelland and Stewart, a premier Canadian imprint that is today part of Random House-Bertlesmann. Lampert is long-deceased, while Donaldson, still active, carved a notable career in auto race journalism and biography.

Despite its playful, “scrapbook” design popular in the 1970s, and insouciant tone, the book is full of information on every level: statistical, brewing-technical, historical, culinary, literary, and more. But levity is not absent, to be sure. The first chapter, entitled “How’s This for Openers”, is simply an image of beer openers lying halter-skelter in a pile. It’s funny!

The book comprises, in part, short pieces authored by people of diverse backgrounds: executives (e.g. Ted Dunal, who ran Henninger Brewery (Ontario) Ltd. in the 1970s, a craft forerunner), poets, journalists, admen, novelists, professors. Other chapters, uncredited, were prepared clearly by the editors.

In fact, The Great Canadian Beer Book may be Canada’s first consumer book on beer. For that reason alone it deserves attention, but contains much of value inherently. Earlier, I discussed its essay by the late Marian Engel, an award-winning, Toronto-based novelist.

Two pages of closely written script detail some history of Labatt’s Brewery, with photos showing a “replica of the original Labatt brewhouse built in 1828 in London, Ontario”.* (Is it still there?). A bearded, long-haired chap is shown handling an oak barrel that for all the world could be a scene at modern craft brewery.

Home Made, Home Brewed

There is a light-hearted but informative chapter on home brewing in which author Cromwell Kent writes:

… there is a barm in Toronto to soothe the weary soul. It is said to be descended from a famous Dublin brewery. Sometimes our barm dies on us, because we go a long time between brews and maybe we forget to feed it, and then we have to contact one of the custodians of this noble strain. They are all good people, deserving of their charge.  Mostly they are artists and belong to what is nowadays called the Old Left. From the pictures on a person’s wall, a shrewd judge can tell if he is likely to have the barm.

Cromwell Kent was the pseudonym of U.K.-born (Chatham, England) Francis Sparshott (1926-2015), a long-time scholar of philosophy and classics at Victoria College, University of Toronto. This obituary from the Toronto Star gives a compact overview of his career, extending to his interest in beer.

I wonder what he thought of the craft beer revival. In his way, he contributed to it, I now perceive.

I may return to Cromwell Kent’s essay, as he knew what he was doing. He was particular for example on aging of beer, he felt 12-18 months made all the difference. After that, as he irreverently but perhaps accurately put it, “who knows?”.

An American Adumbrates Beer for Canadians

The book also has things to say about beer styles, surprising as it may sound. Yes, it was written at the height of mass market uniformity of lager and ale in Canada but the book delves into beer as understood elsewhere, including Britain.

The second chapter, entitled “My Love Affair With Beer”, is authored by James Lincoln Collier (JLC). JLC is a distinguished author and professional musician, known for his children’s books and other short and long works, some co-written with his brother, Christopher Collier.

JLC, as it happens, is American. Born and raised in New York City, he still resides there, at 92. It may sound odd that the opening essay of Canada’s first beer book was written by an American, but it’s not, really. If nothing else, I’ve sought to show, via my work on Canadian beer, whisky, and food, as well as the American ditto whose tendrils reached into Canada, that in many ways the traditions of both countries are one.

I think the editors chose Collier due to his international experience, he had drunk beer from “Dublin to Moscow, from Rome to Oslo”, and evidently had the kind of cosmopolitan, gastronomic background not easily found in Canada then. His multi-page piece, a blending of history, brewing technic and personal reminiscence, contains a nugget on that perennial of brewing craftology, Imperial Russian Stout.

Spinning Strong London Stout

The first modern literary appreciation of Imperial stout may be the 1960s magazine essay by an English wine writer, Cyril Ray, “Cyril Ray Cracks a Bottle of 1948 Russian Stout”. U.S. beer writer Michael Weiner reprinted it in his 1977 The Taster’s Guide to Beer. Later that year the Briton Michael Jackson wrote his great éloge to Russian Imperial stout The World Guide to Beer, the most important beer guide ever written.

Of course, Russian stout had been noticed earlier by various commentators, including, say, Michael Hardman in the early 1970s, and indeed since later Georgian times. But placing a literary spin on the topic – that extended finally to Imperial stout being viewed as a separate category of beer with its own history, when it started as simply an extra-strong black beer, is quite new, of the last 50 years.

Earlier, some advertisements conveyed an “exotic” character, a well-known, 1920s print ad of Barclay’s showing Russian wolfhounds led by a greatcoated figure is an example. And see my discussion of a plan in 1950 to export the stout to New York, where the backstory mentions a history involving the Russian court. These, with Ray’s essay, set the stage for the weaving of a beguiling tale that the upper crust of the European east were entranced by a silky black brew from London of exotic palate.

When offered in lyrical photo-essay form, as Michael Jackson did in 1977 using exotic (today) Victorian label and other images, a star was born.

Collier’s brief but impactful exposition predates that treatment by a good two years – presages it in its way – but whether Jackson had read that book before his beer-writing career started is an open question.

As an American, I doubt Collier had seen Cyril Ray’s essay, but having tasted “Courage-Barclay’s” “vintage beer … made only once every three years” he understood inherently, as a good beer man, what great beer was all about. He stated it was “heavy, bitter and musky, with overtones of funeral trombones and Wagnerian heroes at the edge of tragedy”. And movingly, that “its tragic grandeur makes it a truly majestic drink”.

There’s no Place Like Home

Collier still was capable of appreciating good old standard Canadian beer, considering it suitable with “summer foods like lobster, hamburgers, fried chicken and fish”. Well, its palate has evolved since then, Stateside too of course as JLC surely has noted with approval from his New York perch.

Reflect on that the next time you uncork your prize (and it is) bourbon barrel-aged Imperial stout.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Amazon listing linked in the text (see opening words). All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*The founder of the Labatt Brewery, John Kinder Labatt, did not arrive in Canada until 1833 but an item at pg. 65 states an innkeeper, George Balkwill, established a brewery near the Thames River in London in 1828 and Labatt’s Brewery “traces its origin to this pioneer enterprise”.





The American Roots of Labatt’s I.P.A. (Part II)

This description of George W. Smith’s career arc, from an 1890 survey of Upper Ohio Valley history, adds good detail to our understanding of Smith’s brewing history in both Wheeling, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh, PA. This sketch omits reference to his Canadian activities, which included owning a brewery towards the end of the Civil War in Prescott, ON, but this aspect is covered by the modern account linked in my Part I.

To get some sense of the gravitas of Smith’s business in the two states and the importance of his American Bitter Ale, this advertisement in an 1857 trade directory tells much. See also pg. 66 in the same volume which sheds further light on Smith’s brewing, including an annual capacity of 14,000 barrels. Lager was on the rise in Pittsburgh, as pp. 66-67 show, but ale and porter brewing still enjoyed a large market.

William Fleming in Albany, NY, in almost exactly the same period, vaunted his Fleming’s Golden Ale against top British pale and Scotch ale imports. Smith similarly feared not to put up his product against Burton’s finest. Indeed, Smith had brewed in Albany, and New York City, in the 1820s; one wonders if the jaunty ads of both men were inspired by a kind of Hudson Valley brewing hubris.

In such light, we can understand why John K. Labatt, in London, Canada West (now Ontario), sent his bright third son, Labatt II, to Wheeling in 1859 to study the art of India Pale Ale.

In classic American fashion, a classic British-style IPA emerged under uniquely American conditions. It would soon establish a new, much longer-lived home in Canada via its influence on a famous beer of the pre-craft era: Labatt’s India Pale Ale.

The American Roots of Labatt’s I.P.A. (Part I)

My heart lies in old West Virginia…

(From The Kinks’ “Muswell Hillbilly“, 1971)

In my article “Fleming’s Golden Ale” in the current issue of the journal Brewery History, I included among some 150 endnotes an 1861 advertisement* for Mendum’s Wine and Ale Vaults. Mendum’s, at Broadway and Cedar in the financial district of New York, was an ale specialty house that was also a high-end provisioner. In many ways Mendum’s, which deserves a blog study of its own, was the Eataly of its day.

The ad was set out in The Union Sketch Book of 1861, a guide to New York City, see here (via HathiTrust digital library).

Mendum’s, run by two English brothers who retired home finally with a small fortune, carried an impressive range of British (English, Scottish) and Irish ales and porters. It also offered numerous American ales – cream, golden, bitter, and more – evidently felt worthy to stand with famous imported marques.

Among the Stateside beers was Smith’s American Bitter Ale, rather a modern sounding name, indeed it was the “I.P.A.” of its day. The notice described the beer as hailing from Wheeling, Virginia. Wheeling from June 20, 1863 was thenceforth in West Virginia, as on that date West Virginia acquired statehood due to Civil War developments.

For Mendum’s to fetch beer – multiple brands – all the way from what was still a semi-frontier showed its high regard for Smith’s products.

Who was this Smith? He was English-born George Weatherall Smith (1799-1872), from Lincolnshire, who immigrated as a youth to Philadelphia with his father. He returned to Britain after his father died, and then came back, to New York City. After a peripatetic trading career that ranged across America, he ended in the Pittsburgh brewing business, in 1829.

He became successful in ale-brewing there, branching out (1850s) to Wheeling, VA to establish a similar business. See this 1890 biographical account for more detail on his career. During the 1820s his business career including brewing in New York and Albany, so he had some experience in the field before establishing in brewing in Pittsburgh.

He became well-known for his Kennett Ale, Stock Ale, Fresh Ale, and Porter, according to this biographical sketch by Christina Fisanick, a professor of English in Pennsylvania. Her sketch contains much else of interest on Smith including his connections to Canada.

Clearly he later produced other beers. His Champagne Ale, also carried by Mendum’s, may be an example, unless perhaps it was a re-naming of the Fresh Ale. It is unclear if Smith’s reputed I.P.A. was the same as his Stock Ale, as the latter term can denote numerous styles of beer.

An interesting point is how Smith, who had lived in America from the early 1820s, became an I.P.A. specialist. Pale bitter ale did not become a standard article of commerce in Britain, much less reputed (vs. in India), until some years later. Probably he had learned the art from workmen imported from Burton or elsewhere in the old country, or perhaps he used one of the numerous manuals in circulation by the 1850s that explained the brewing of I.P.A., the “tonic” now the toast of Empire.

So good was he at the art, that he attracted attention from the Labatt’s brewing family in London, Canada West, now Ontario. A number of Canadian beer histories, including Matthew Bellamy’s fine new book Brewed in the North: a History of Labatt’s, state that John Labatt II studied brewing in Wheeling with Smith. Smith had met the Labatts years earlier on one of his sorties to Canada.

The purpose of the stint, which lasted for much of the Civil War, was to master the brewing of India Pale Ale. Fisanick writes:

Labatt’s brewed its version of George Weatherall Smith’s IPA for 129 years. It was so successful in the North American marketplace that Labatt’s was able to forestall brewing lager until 1911, which was highly unusual. In 1992, Labatt ceased brewing IPA altogether in favor of investing in technology that would help them produce an ice beer. This new line of beer helped them remain competitive in the brewing industry, and as of 2018, Labatt is still going strong.

The Smith’s American Bitter Ale offered by Mendum’s to tony New York ale-fanciers was clearly the famous I.P.A. Not only that, it is likely John Labatt II had a hand in making that very beer. Hence, a long-disappeared, long-forgotten ale from West Virginia, not a place generally associated with fine ale-brewing, resonated down the ages, into the 1990s, via its DNA in Labatt’s I.P.A.

In a 1941 ad Labatt was still recalling the (overall) English origins of its IPA, and some earlier ads were even more specific about Labatt II in Virginia. Presumably by 1941 it still had a good character.

To my recollection, Labatt I.P.A. as offered from the 70s until the early 90s was much less interesting. By then it was a golden, fairly innocuous beer, not so different from Labatt’s standard lagers or Labatt’s blonde-coloured “50” ale. Had Labatt’s had more vision at the time, it might have renovated its I.P.A. and returned it to its 19th century glory. 1992 was just the time when modern I.P.A. started its ascent to star-status in the constellation that is modern craft brewing.

Fast-forward to 2019. Labatt’s now brews characterful pale ale – from recipes of modern craft brewers purchased by its foreign parent.

Note re images: the source of the first image above is identified and linked in the text. The second image was sourced from a 2013 issue of the Brampton Guardian, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner(s), as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

For my Part II, see here.


*The description of Mendum’s was likely, or in our view, a paid advertisement albeit taking the form of guide-book narrative.



British Beer in India and the Beetles (Part I)

Tell Me Why

The origins and fate of British beer in the Raj, or former British India, will forever be a key episode in the long and storied history of British beer.

In good part this is due to the emergence there of India Pale Ale, aka bitter beer or export pale ale. Later a force in British domestic consumption, I.P.A. spread to the U.S., Canada, and many world markets until lager arrested its development.

Yet I.P.A. proved its longevity and versatility by returning in the late 20th century to underpin modern craft brewing, first in North America, then in the U.K. (setting aside British bitter, itself a derivative of IPA/pale ale), and finally from Paris to Peking.

So what happened in India then, after the first blush of fancy passed? Most beer consumed in India today is mass market lager, in tune with most of the world although craft beer has made some inroads there.

A comprehensive history of British and European beers in India, starting with British India and the self-ruled States, remains to be written. A good end point for a Part I would be 1946, with Part II commencing from 1947 (year of Independence) until the present. An analytical framework would examine why British beer imports declined in the later 1800s. After all, Britain still controlled India, with substantial influence in the Princely States, until 1947 and Partition.

There were three important stages in the history, broadly similar to what happened in Australia, as I discussed earlier. First, the era of beer imports. Second, local breweries emerge to compete with imported ale and porter but still make, as Indian breweries such as Muree did until WW I at least, top-fermented beers in the British tradition. Third, lager overtakes the market almost completely.

Imported – especially German – lager was starting to make inroads in Indian markets prior to WW I, also in South China and Hong Kong. Yet lager had no commanding position in India, certainly, up to 1914.

I will document all this in a Part II, but want now to focus on a potential issue with quality not hitherto explored to my knowledge.

In general terms, there are many statements through 19th century literature that British beer often arrived damaged in some way, sour, or otherwise defective with much thrown in the harbours. U.K. beer writer Pete Brown in his excellent 2011 book Hops and Glory, documents some of the story.

Another part of the quality picture relates however to barrelled beer imports impacted by insect infestation during storage in “go-downs”, or simple shed-type structures used to house supplies.

In 1893, an entomologist called W. F. H. Blandford, of the Royal Indian Engineering College in Cooper’s Hill, Surrey, performed a comprehensive study of this problem. C. 1890 seems rather late for such an exercise, but millions of gallons of British beer were still being imported to India, for the soldiery and others.

Blandford conjures (or for me) the stock figure of the angular, monocled Victorian scientist peering into an iron microscope. Whether he looked anything like that is hard to say, but his study impresses by its dogged detail and mastery of late Victorian entomology.* He identified X. Perforans, a boring insect either of India or “an acclimatized stranger” as doing the damage. Hence, a European species, unnoticed in the wood under a hoop or in a roughly finished part of the cask, might have infested the cask prior to shipment.

Still, cask damage was only apparent after “unshipment” or earliest on the ships themselves. Similar problems in Britain were unknown, in other words.

Takeaways from the study:

  • the insects proliferated near a leaky bung, boring in to lay eggs for reproduction
  • rarely did they bore all the way, but casks tended to fall apart from riddling with burrows
  • barrels were often stored 18-24 months in go-downs before consumption
  • Memel oak from the Baltic, especially of good thickness, resisted the infestation best
  • Whitbread brewery – known as I’ve shown earlier to use Memel oak exclusively – almost never had problems with its casks in India
  • Indian breweries, which by the 1890s were brewing double the quantity of imported beer, rarely experienced infestation problems
  • the fact that barrels were returned fairly rapidly to the Indian breweries, often in 6-8 weeks, seemed to minimize the problem
  • Indian breweries were able to send their beer direct to place of consumption (presumably due to proximity to customers) vs. storage at depots for distribution, so again less time for troubles to arise from damp or unclean store sheds
  • the above factors viz. Indian breweries applied despite that their casks used the same wood types as in Britain for cask plant. Indian sources of wood were tried but found not successful, or if suitable, the wood was too expensive or hard to find

18-24 months storage in India is an incredibly long time considering often the same time was taken to brew, store in Britain, and export the casks by sea. One can only wonder what 6%-7% abv IPA was like three or four years after brewing and half the time in a very hot, damp climate.

Hence, to the problem of sour beer arriving on ship, the problem of cask deterioration of famous-name beers kept long in insalubrious storage, must be added. This surely promoted the decline of British beer importations, as Blandford implies in his study.

Any full-length study of beer history in India would need to factor this and yet further influences, notably pricing, as to why British beer fell off in sales from the later 1800s. Technological factors must be examined too, e.g., bottling and its constant improvements from the later 1800s, also any improvements in logistical arrangements for beer distribution after Blandford’s study appeared.

(Blandford states he approached numerous breweries for information on the subject, but only one or two cooperated closely with him – the reasons why are self-evident).

Nonetheless, by the onset of WW I a few million gallons of British beer – mostly ale and porter but probably too some lager from Scotland or Wales – were still being imported. Indeed between 1902 and 1911 British beer exports to India enjoyed an uptick in sales. More soon on this background.

Note re image: Image above, indicated as being in the public domain, was drawn from the pertinent article on the British Raj in Wikipedia, here. Any intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See discussion in the comments, where we thank Luigi Guarino for spotting an error in spelling of this term in a previous version hereof.

William Lindsay Speaks

Show and Tell

In my post of March 13, 2018, CMOS [Crown Memel Oak Stave] Brewing, I drew attention to a 1939 brewing journal article by William Lindsay dealing with coopering Memel and other types of oak for British brewing needs.

Indeed, this is the same William Lindsay of the Edinburgh cooperage firm William Lindsay & Son, Ltd. that sponsored the film made at his Canonmills cooperage in 1936, as discussed in my last post.

The present post is simply to link expressly the two together – article and film. The two, in fact, bear the same title, “Cooperage – the Craft of Cask Making”. The article is based on a presentation Lindsay gave where he showed the film, and his comments illuminate certain sequences in the film.

Putting it a different way, I found the film mentioned in the article.

His explanation of the differences between hand and machine coopering may be noted in particular, as the machine process of course modified numerous aspects of the older form.

The other comment of note, I thought, is that lined American casks resorted to in Scotland to fill the Memel shortage in WW I had one advantage – the denser American wood stood up to the (largely Scottish) system of compressed air dispense.

The Memel casks were too porous under such conditions of dispense, in other words.

Every cloud has a silver lining, but in any case, a shower of beer, once you get it out.