Donald F. Hyde Visits Barclay Perkins, 1950

Is Donald Hyde the Connection to Importing Russian Stout in 1950?

In a recent post I identified a plan in 1950 to send Barclay Perkins Russian Imperial Stout to the United States. Before WW I the beer had reached some markets in North America, including Victoria, Canada.*

A story in the Buffalo Evening News in 1950 stated some beer had already arrived, with more planned.

We think this was a flash in the pan, a commendable idea but well-ahead of its time. To our knowledge the beer was not available in America in the 1950s although some very small sales may have occurred before the Korean War intensified.

Certainly the Imperial Russian Stout of Courage, successor to Barclay Perkins, did reach America by the 1970s. So did stout in that style from some European breweries, I gave examples in my article on 1970’s American beer writers in the journal Brewery History. By the 1980s the growing boutique brewing phenomenon embraced the style as its own.

I found what may be a clue to the genesis of the 1950 plan. A letter dated July 19, 1950, stored in the Samuel Johnson Collection of Houghton Library at Harvard University, was written by Barclay Perkins to an American in New York, Donald F. Hyde. The letter appears in a Harvard blog entry in 2007 by John Overholt, a cataloguer with the Houghton Collection.

Hyde had visited Barclay Perkins’ Anchor Brewery that year during a European tour. The letter enclosed labels of various Barclay Perkins’ beers including Russian stout (see link above), and promised to send a book on the brewery being prepared for the forthcoming Festival of Britain.

There is no reference to a plan to export Russian Stout to New York or any involvement by Hyde in this effort. Still, I think it quite possible there is a link between Hyde’s 1950 visit and the export plan, as the two events viewed independently would seem rather coincidental.

Who was Donald F. Hyde? He was not just a curious American taking an off-beat tour on vacation. He was a lawyer and wealthy society figure with a deep interest in Samuel Johnson, the writer and trustee of the estate of Henry Thrale, a predecessor of the Barclay Perkins partnership.

Ohio-born, Harvard alumnus Donald Frizell Hyde moved to New York in the late 1930s when he married Mary Morley Crapo, a member a prominent Michigan family with origins in New England. By 1950 both were well-known collectors of books, other literature, and memorabilia pertaining to Samuel Johnson as well as John Keats and Oscar Wilde.

Today, Harvard University maintains the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson. In its words:

The bequest of Mary, Viscountess Eccles (1912–2003), Houghton Library‘s Hyde Collection contains a comprehensive collection of the published work of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English author best known for his Dictionary of the English Language (1755).

Mary Hyde married the Viscount Eccles after Donald Hyde’s passing and took up residence in Britain.**

Hyde’s death in 1966 at only 56 was memorialized by numerous literary and university associations, here is one example from a papyrologists society. A lengthy, highly respectful obituary also appeared in the New York Times, see here.

The Times noted that in addition to his distinguished collecting he maintained a number of business interests although the ones mentioned seem not to relate to wine and spirits.

The answer, if there is a link between Donald Hyde and importing Russian stout to America, resides in the Houghton Library and/or Barclay Perkins archives.

Note re image: the letter above is from the Houghton Collection of Harvard University as reproduced in 2007 on a blog of the University. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*For a good sketch of the history of Barclay Perkins brewery, see Ian Hornsey’s A History of Beer and Beer and Brewing, from p. 555. (Published 2003).

**See also the Guardian’s obituary in 2003 of Mary, Viscountess Eccles, formerly Mary Hyde. It gives good detail on the depth of the Hydes’ interest in Dr. Johnson and the Thrale family.



The Saxon Vintage

Alphonse Esquiros is a name unknown to British beer studies, as far as I know, so I will remedy the omission here.

He was a Paris-born writer, radical politician, and teacher who lived in London between 1859 and 1869. To understand how this came about, this biographical sketch by C.D. Warner from 1917 is instructive. A sample:

For years he lived in England, where he made many friends and was for some time professor of French literature at [the military college at] Woolwich. He thoroughly investigated the different interests and industries of the country, the various forms of religion, the departments of government, the army and navy; and obtained a just and comprehensive knowledge of English life, which he embodied in serious and interesting studies which ran through a long series in the Revue des Deux Mondes. They were translated into English, and in book form, ‘L’Angleterre et la Vie Anglaise’ (England and English Life), and ‘Les Moralistes Anglaises’ (The English Moralists), were greatly enjoyed on both sides of the Channel….

For more detail on Esquiros, whence the illustration above is taken, consult this entry (in French) from Histophilo, a website on the history of French thought.

During his English exile Esquiros wrote essays on a wide variety of topics pertaining to English life and manners. This writing essentially was of a travel and journalistic nature, colourful and with many observations of interest. He wrote in French but, as stated above, the work was translated and published in various forms including his five-volume The English at Home. 

The work serves today as valuable and entertaining social history, on the lines of Jan Morris, Bill Bryson, or William Least Heat Moon.

From page 222 he devotes not less than 61 pages to the subject of English beer. He deals specifically with four topics: hop culture, malting, brewing, and public houses. Esquiros had a high appreciation for English ale and porter. His detailed description of these phases of “the Saxon vintage”, as he called it, is informed by having toured the hop and barley fields, breweries, and pubs described.

The brewing section consists mainly of a visit to porter-brewer Barclay Perkins capped by a tasting of its best in pewter. He termed it “rich” and superior due to the absence of ministrations by intermediaries, a common problem of the day.

As examples of observations of note, he describes porter fermentation as lasting two days and a night, i.e., before cleansing in rounds. Revivalists: take note.

His coverage of the hop fields and harvest work is picturesque and almost lyrical. An Irish girl is asked, in his presence, who fathered her child. She answers, as lyrically, “he is the son of the hop”. (She was speaking “in jest”, Esquiros supposes). The Irish hop-pickers are portrayed as especially witty and lively.

Hops are dried with charcoal fumes penetrating a porous roof of the kiln, lending weight to scientist Charles Graham’s observation (I related it earlier) that English beer had a “cooked” quality.

A portrait of the infamous Dirty Dick’s pub in Bishopsgate surprises by the statement that patrons were only allowed a single serving of “intoxicating liquor”, presumably gin or other spirits (not beer). This resulted from a tragedy when a drinker died due to over-serving.

Net net, one’s impression of the public house is not too much has changed except for the abolition of the division between the public bar and high-toned saloon sections. They were then termed the tap and parlour, respectively.

One affecting observation is how the brewers Truman Hanbury were especially attentive to workmen’s moral and intellectual needs, insisting that their staff have a minimum education. They provided a library of books for the workmen, which were well-used says Esquiros.

Finally, have you heard of “Havelock, Campbell, and Blücher”? “Bayard, Milton, Remus, and Nelson”? No? They were not a firm of solicitors, nor eminent accountants, nor brewery architects.

They were the names of huge dray horses which hauled beer to market from the breweries visited, horses that displayed to Esquiros a “brutal grace”. The Gallic writer has memorialized them.

I invite a brewer to issue a series of ales and porters so named, to honour the Frenchman’s love and admiration for the English, something not usual among French writers then, or perhaps at any time.





Russian Imperial Stout in Truman’s America

A Super Stout

There was a plan to send Barclay Perkin’s Russian Imperial Stout over to America in 1950, so much did Yank soldiers dig it during the war (?).

Even in the nascent motivational research days, the exporter was smart enough to relabel it – this is 1950 – as Imperial Extra Stout. See details in this 1950 issue of the Buffalo Evening News:


Special to The Buffalo Evening News and Chicago Daily News

LONDON, April 26. — One of the popular beers in England is “Russian stout,” so-called ever since it was first brewed in 1781 for export to Russia.

In old days Russia’s aristocracy demanded a super stout and a British brewery rose to the occasion, naming the brew after its destination. From 1781 until World War I, thousands of barrels of Russian stout were shipped over every year.

But times have changed. Russia is now behind an Iron Curtain, which even Russian stout is not able to penetrate. There’s a new potential market in America, however, which the brewers hope to open up….

Barclay’s Russian Stout had been imported to Victoria, Canada, at least, before WW I, as we see in this issue of the Daily Colonist in 1909, along with other stouts from Barclay Perkins.

(Both links are via the Fulton Historical Newspaper resource).

After commencement of the Great War, I believe the predecessor of Courage Imperial Russian Stout, as the brewery’s strongest stout was finally named, did not reappear in North America until the 1970s, unless in fact some did arrive in 1950, as the Buffalo story states.

American beer writer Michael Weiner gives the beer high praise in his 1977 The Taster’s Guide to Beer, calling it “Smooth, rich, velvety. Sweet, yet carries the bitter tang of hops”.

Weiner’s book was written without knowledge of Michael Jackson’s landmark The World Guide to Beer published in the same year. Jackson’s book lyricised and made Imperial stout a permanent part of the craft pantheon.

According to this notation from Barnes and Noble, Weiner’s text was published on January 1, 1977. Hence the 1977 year is nominal and the book had been readied for print before (should there be any doubt whether he knew about Michael Jackson, that is. In any case, Weiner’s book contains no internal evidence of influence from the Englishman).

Weiner also stated of the Imperial stout that it was “Perhaps the most unusual commercially produced beer … [and] …is also among the strongest in the world”. He included a lengthy, admiring account of its history and production by the English wine writer Cyril Ray, reprinted from Queen magazine (1960s era). Ray writes about the beer in a way that likens the best “vintages” to fine burgundy.

The import of Lacon’s audit ale to New York in 1937, as I discussed recently, shows no less that even in Depression America a rich, expensive beer was available representing the top end of British brewing.

In sum, for those who knew where to look fine imported beer could be had. Certainly by the 1970s many categories familiar today such as strong ale, Imperial stout, pale ale, Belgian Trappist ale, Belgian saison, and many German types of course were available, even the tart Berliner Weisse, as 1970s American beer books attest.

But for the Korean War, one assumes, English Russian stout could have been a hit in 1950s connoisseur circles Stateside. After all, it wasn’t much earlier that Americans knew what top-end stout was. Ballantine Brewery in New Jersey made a rich brown stout in the 1930s, as did other breweries in the northeast.

Maybe Barclay Perkins wanted to capitalize on this old taste although it couldn’t have had much to sell given the small quantities made at the Anchor Brewery.

What does seem clear is the thinking of some major British and Irish breweries that they could sell stout in early post-war America. Famously, Guinness tried with its satellite brewery in Long Island (closed 1954), a matter I also covered earlier. It was all for nought, America didn’t want to know – then.

But I repeat, the pre-craft era was not a desert. There has always been a beer culture. There has always been fine beer. Some was still made in America itself such as Ballantine India Pale Ale, all-malt draught Michelob, the Prior Light and Dark beers, and Anchor Steam Beer.

Note: See this post added March 4, 2019 for a sequel to the above.

Note re image: image above was sourced from the Tavern Trove LLC label collection, hereAll intellectual property in the image belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Label used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Beer and Cultural Capital

Our reading on beer constantly ranges among many fields including business, technological, health, and consumer appreciation, both contemporary and historical. Occasionally we encounter specialist studies in other fields including now this study by Thurnell-Read, T., 2016, The embourgeoisement of beer: changing practices of `real ale’ consumption. See Journal of Consumer Culture,

Thurnell-Read is a cultural sociologist and lecturer at Loughborough University in the U.K.

The article is very interesting for the frame of analysis used, consumer theory as adumbrated by various experts in sociology including in particular Pierre Bourdieu.

From Bourdieu’s Wikipedia entry:

[He] developed theories of social stratification based on aesthetic taste in his 1979 work Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (in French, La Distinction), published by Harvard University Press. Bourdieu claims that how one chooses to present one’s social space to the world — one’s aesthetic dispositions — depicts one’s status and distances oneself from lower groups.

Thurnell-Read, while not concurring with Bourdieu in all respects, identifies the consumption of beer since 1970 as acquiring hallmarks of competence and specialization previously seen in areas of wine and food appreciation.

The article studies how this shift came to be and in particular focuses on the “real ale” phenomenon although it does refer to craft beer as well. Indeed the author’s conclusions viz. the evolution and prestige of real ale clearly are applicable as well to the current interest in craft beer in Britain.

In his Conclusions, the author states that beer has become:

A trend … in which beer appreciation and connoisseurship appear to thrive as the practice becomes more complex and intellectualised and are, as such, now widely recognised as a field of consumption dominated by the middle class struggle for status and cultural capital.

I and thousands like me in Britain and North America are probably Exhibit A in this process, the group of us in particular who came of age to drink around 1970 and have become deeply involved in the beer culture, or hobby if you will. The very term, hobby, would likely be a hallmark to sociologists of the change in attitudes beer drinking has undergone in the last 50 years.

Every job or profession has its technical vocabulary and it took me a while to accustom to the one used in the article, but with a little work I understand the analysis and argument made.

These brief comments in no way imply a rebuttal, as for one thing sociology is not my field but speaking for myself, for which my claims can go no further, I never wanted to acquire “cultural capital” or status of any kind.

I simply wanted to try new tastes. It is no different than going out for pizza and ordering a different type than you had before. Most people have something different for dinner every night, don’t they?

And once you taste something different, you may want to learn more about it. India Pale Ale, eh? Well, why is India in the name? What does pale mean if the beer often looks amber? Et seq.

At one time this was not possible for beer in a practical sense as so little choice was available. Then it changed, partly under the influence of people who wanted to try something new. That is how a free market works, too, supply and demand interact in a complex way.

The beer interest is no different to many consumer interests whether it be music, cars, fashion, pets, stamps, what have you. Everyone is interested in something, and beer happened to capture the imagination of many. This resulted from some of the factors mentioned in the article, the rise of the CAMRA lobby in Britain, certainly, but also simply the exercise of personal choice.

In North America, parallel “public” factors such as the legalization of homebrewing and the eminence of British beer writer Michael Jackson created a similar atmosphere here for those interested to participate.*


*It is no little irony that Michael Jackson (1942-2007), the greatest modern exponent of consumer beer appreciation, was from a working class family and left school at 16.



A Better Heaven Than Brooklyn

Americans Argue: did the “Half and Half” Exist in the old Country?

Between November 24 and December 3, 1902 an extraordinary correspondence ensued in the New York Times on a rather arcane question: did Britain know the “half-and-half” as a drink of the beer family?

The term half-and-half, sometimes under the humorous (in gas-lamp America) variant “arf and arf”, was well-known in the United States. It is in Jerry Thomas’ famous bar guide of some decades earlier, see in this edition at page 101. It appears there as a mix of porter or stout and ale, or a mix of fresh and aged ales.

The term regularly appears in the U.S. press of the time. Prizefighters seemed to like ales when training. Some probably took them post-bout, altering the usual course.*

As the ring of arf and arf implies it was assumed the drink was of English origin. In this vein a 1902 story in the Times noted that British habitués in Manhattan’s Abingdon Square, aka the British Quarter, ordered the drink in clubs and saloons.

The article, written tartly from a brash American standpoint, stated that the type of English man who carried an air of innocent simplicity into his thirties drank half and half.

Parenthetically, it always surprises me how by 1900 even Americans of evident Anglo-Saxon ancestry, as most journalists were then, looked at Britain as a truly foreign country – so completely had the distinct American character emerged.

The writer of the first letter, a William Alpin, had lived in London some decades earlier. As self-described, he was “young, American and full of Dickens and Thackeray” and clearly avid to confirm U.S. impressions of U.K. customs. Yet, once in Britain, he could find no trace of the half and half. In his words:

I read with much interest in the Sunday edition of THE TIMES the short article on “Odd Corners,” describing the English colony at and about Abington Square. I am afraid I shall have to dissent with the writer, though, as to the presence there [i.e., in England] of “half-and-half.” I lived five years in London, from 1870 to 1873, during which time I frequently visited Liverpool, Birmingham, Brighton, Dover—in fact traveled athwart and across the country, even to Scotland and Wales—and in all that time I never heard half-and-half once mentioned, nor saw anybody who could tell me what is meant by that word compound. American tourist friends who visited me could scarcely believe that the “typical English” drink, half-and-half, of which they had heard at home so much and so often, was absolutely unknown in England even by name…

A deluge of letters followed, many of which you can read in this Fulton Newspapers link, printed in the same issue on November 30. For the rest, the search function of the New York Times will assist, I’ve tried to gather them here.

I have written of the half and half before, including in the earlier New York press, but this exhibition of interest was unprecedented. The letters all disagreed with Alpin. Some pointed out that his accent confounded bartenders, and had he spoken of “arf and arf” he would easily have found the drink. Others stated he looked in the wrong places, as only the public bars and other low resorts would supply the article, it couldn’t be found in railways and hotels which a young American of his sort presumably frequented.

One simply wrote:

I am not yet seventy, and, during the years M. Alpin was living in London I was also living there, and I have no compunction in saying I had to carry a jug pretty often for my father’s half-and-half.

Other letters named types of half and half, usually a mixture of ale and porter but also variants such as old-and-bitter, aka mother-in-law. One writer stated beer and ginger beer could be a half and half. Another denied this and stated that mixture was a shandy-gaff (true).

One notable correspondent was Frank Vizetelly, the son of noted English journalist and drinks writer, Henry Vizetelly, so one in a position to know on these matters. His contribution was to provide citations for the half and half in literature including for an issue of Gentleman’s Magazine in Georgian times.

Alpin wrote back finally in a huff. He stated that despite the “score” of letters protesting his assertion he was proved right since the half and half was so various in character it meant nothing finally, but he was labouring here.

My point is not so much to show that half and half in Britain existed around 1900. It is an old item in the U.K. drinks inventory that stretches back at least to porter’s origins in the early 1700s. The term continues in use to this day or at least is understood by most familiar with the bar lexicon. Certainly various American beers were sub-styled half and half into the post-Prohibition era as these examples amply show, from Jess Kidden’s historical beer pages.

But I draw attention to the Times letters for their various opinions and the felicity in many cases of the prose, down to the dry humour. Here is a sample (for clarity, “four-half” was a type of half and half):

It’s really too bad our unsophisticated friend, Mr. “Willie” Alpin, never had the pleasure of meeting a certain gentleman who was fond of talking about “The Little Nipper.” There’s the man who could have given him some information on the momentous question, “Is there, or is there not half-and-half in England?” I reckon the brewers have to work overtime to keep any in sight.

The next time “Willie” Alpin goes to London he must go down to the House of Commons and interview a brewer on this subject. But meanwhile he must, if fortune gives him the chance, get the ear of “The Little Nipper” man. You remember, “The Little Nipper” enters a “pub” (I believe, Sir, that is what they call the horrible things) with his most adoring parents. The papa orders in his sweet vernacular: “Two pots of four-alf,” whereupon ” The Little Nipper” playfully  remarks: “What, ain’t muffer goin’ to ‘ave none?”.

Yes, I think The L. N. man could put him “wise” on this subject; I will not try, but just say, in conclusion, that I notice that Mr. “Willie” Alpin lives in Brooklyn. Now, I believe the late Ward Beecher made some remark about Brooklyn being like heaven. Well, maybe it is: but if I could have the pleasure of the company of Mr. “Willie” Alpin in London any Sunday from 1 to 1:30 P. M. at any one of, say, 3,000 “pubs.” (excuse me) and he would guarantee to drink all the half-and-half that was passed over the “bar” in response to a demand for “‘arf-and-‘arf” during that short space of time, he’d wake up in a better heaven than Brooklyn, N. Y.

If there remains any doubt, yes half and half did exist in 1900, as beer writer Martyn Cornell elucidated a few years ago, here.

Cornell’s article is helpful too to make clear a misprint or omission on the part of one of the Times letter-writers. The writer described six types of beer in general use in England, one of which was “beer”. The others were porter, stout, mild ale, bitter, and Cooper, a mix of porter and stout. The “beer” didn’t make sense since he mentioned porter and bitter, which would normally take in “beer”, if not one or more other terms in the list.

The Times correspondent was probably recalling a news story in 1900 in London’s Daily Express on the city’s beer. That story was centrepiece in Cornell’s articleThe Express recited the beer types in current use. These were similar, with one exception, to the letter-writer’s list. Hence we know the source he likely used. And “beer” in the Daily Express was prefaced by “ginger”, so it was ginger beer, in other words, which makes sense in context. Clearly the Times editor was clueless. He probably drank Manhattans.

Finally, one letter-writer noted usefully that American ginger beer did not taste at all like the English article. She wrote that ginger beer in England from stone bottles was akin to lemonade flavoured with ginger.

It looks like I’ve been making the beer shandy wrong my whole life. The deuced shandy!

Note re image: The image of Abingdon Square is from the New York City Parks website, here. All ownership in the image resides solely in its lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Many 19th-century references, both U.S. and U.K., discuss the permissible use of ale or stout to train fighters, rowers, and runners. See e.g. here, or in this study of the bare-knuckle prizefighting era.






Something in the Air

Call out the instigators
Because there’s something in the air
We’ve got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution’s here … and you know that it’s right

– From Something in the Air, Thunderclap Newman, 1969

New York Rocks Beer, 1971

In this post I discussed a 1971 New York (the magazine) article on a beer tasting organized by the editors.

The tasting presaged countless similar events of today. There were no craft beers available to be sure, but plenty of exotic imports. Exotic is the key word here, then or now.

Still, some period anomalies appeared. The panel was divided between blue-collar and white-collar, all pictured. The white collars wore jacket and tie. The blue collars eschewed such refinements.

On the panel was journalist Patrick Owens, a Montanan transplanted to New York. He worked for the Long Island-based Newsday.

According to this online obituary, Owens was a U.S. Army veteran who started in journalism after high school, editing an army newspaper. He died at 72 in 2002 after suffering a stroke some years earlier. Owens was a well-regarded professional who reported on a wide range of subjects, as testifies this admiring memoir by fellow journalist Paul Greenberg.

Owens wrote a piece in Newsday as a replique or ironic commentary on New York’s report. Clearly he thought the panel rather lightweight in the beer arts with one exception, a brewery worker he called a “hollow leg”. Olives were among the snacks served at the tasting, which struck Owens as contrary to the beer ethos vs. perhaps a liquor drink.

Owens typed the writers and audience of New York as mainly interested in food albeit with an “underground”, value focus.

He went on to describe his ideal beer tasting. Unlike the magazine’s, it would not be in a sterile photographic studio. Instead he named a heaving beer emporium on Long Island where “democrats”, not classified by collar he said, enjoyed beer either for “esthetic” or “budgetary” reasons. He cautioned that “sousers” did not frequent the locale and the typical guest held himself to “two or three dozen glasses”. Owen’s self-described taste in beer was “dilettante”, which must be taken similarly tongue in cheek.

He concludes by telling us that, presented with a glass of “Piel’s”, a Long Island steady sipper likened it to the waste product of a dog. In fact, it was another brand, one that finished high in New York‘s ratings. Conversely, Schaefer, an old Brooklyn favourite, scored indifferently in the latter whereas Owens thought it a surer bet in the company of “experienced” but not “dissolute” or “undiscriminating” hands.

Hence his secret of the suds: the palate of a confirmed imbiber can outpace a trendy magazine’s elect panel. Putting it a different way, the article ends on a wink of the eye.

Certainly Owens saw that something was in the air, that “dabblers” were demanding more of the breweries. He thought New York the perfect tutor for this new type of beer drinker as both were in synch. In this, he was remarkably prescient, as only a few years later the growing interest in beer imports became allied to the budding microbrewery movement, with journalistic pipers soon abounding to recruit followers. Beer would never be the same again.

As Owens lived into the craft beer era I wonder if he remembered this tart essay from the Age of Acquarius.

In truth, and as Owens recognized, to understand beer well, you can’t treat it with kid gloves. You need to get down a certain amount of it, sans olives, preferably.

Of “Jesus” old and new

This is about a modern beer with an old history that includes a variant called Jesus. First, some background.

A while back I discussed drinking at college in, “Alcohol and the Academy”, see here. It included my reminiscences (some aspects) of supping at McGill University and environs, 1968-1974. In a more recent posting, “Union College and the Time of Schaefer“, I discussed a now-defunct bar at Union College, NY.

I also addressed aspects of U.S. college drinking before WW I in my article on musty ale printed in the journal Brewery History not long ago.

In “Alcohol and the Academy” I mentioned in passing this 2008 article in Brewery History, “Audit Ale – a Short History”, by John A.R. Compton-Davey. It describes the lengthy and honourable tradition of audit ale at (mostly) Cambridge University colleges.

Compton-Davey more than touched on Lacons Brewery in Great Yarmouth, U.K. as it produced audit ale for numerous colleges in the interwar years. Taste descriptions were included, including by Lloyd Hind, a noted brewing scientist of the era. Hind found his sample somewhat acid but the feature “buffered” by “colloids”. (We open comments to our learned readers to explain colloids for hipster brewing 2019).

The taste descriptions generally concur in colour, richness, and savour. Think full body, potent, sweetish, dark-coloured, that’s the picture and it sounds alluring. These ales were a form of the strong ales spread through the U.K., the Scotch ales, the Burtons, Old Peculier, the stingos, barley wines, the old ales.*

Here we are in 2019, eons away from cranky regional 1930s brewing with its non-sterile plant, wood vessels, and mixed ale cultures. However much Neville Chamberlain-era breweries had advanced from hundreds of years earlier, it is a safe bet modern brewing technically is further ahead by miles.

And if we recreate such an audit or other strong ale from past times, what does it taste like? Does it bear a connection to the 1930s impressions garnered by Compton-Davey?

Actually, it does. The U.K.-based Campaign for Real Ale’s Champion Winter Beer of Britain for 2019 was just announced, Lacons Audit Ale, from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Not quite the same Lacons as the one discussed by Compton-Davey as the new Lacons started up in 2013. But the new shop found old Lacons recipes, and its yeast culture, and includes numerous such heritage brews in its range.

Media reports concur in their description of CAMRA’s champion winter brew of 2019, and I’ll use Lacon’s own formulation since it is similar:

Lacons Audit Ale is a dark copper barley wine with flavours of berry fruit and spice. The finish is smooth and sweet. A unique style of beer.

Available on limited release.

No fruit or spices are added, these are metaphors to get at the flavour. The alcohol range is 8% ABV, not as strong as some audit ale of old times, but strong enough to convey the essential character. Anyhow, some college ale of yore was probably in the same alcohol range, you can depend on it given the variety of brewing procedures then, and vagaries of targeting gravity.

A couple of years after Compton-Davey’s article Terry Foster, a well-known brewing scientist and author of numerous books on brewing and beer styles, wrote an article for the same journal on his recreation of Oxford’s Chancellor Ale. Historical brewing recreations are nothing new and go back to the 1970s at least.

Foster took great pains to reproduce essential features of old recipes, following in particular statements by Lloyd Hind and others. The venerable country brewer Elgood was enlisted to help make the brew. Foster writes of the results:

At this point the unfiltered and unfined beer had aged on the yeast for one year in a stainless steel keg with no artificial carbonation. It poured with just a little head, and a deep black-brown colour, though still slightly translucent in the glass. Since I do not like the use of grandiose and fanciful terms to describe beers, I can only say that it was luscious, full-bodied with some caramel present, and well-balanced; neither the high hop bitterness, nor the high alcohol content stood out. In short, it was voted an excellent beer by the assembled company.

Foster states he expressly decided against including a lactic character, the acidity noted by Hind, while today the fashion for “sours” makes that decision perhaps stand out. Still, the beers in the old days would have varied in acidity anyway. Beers consumed relatively soon after brewing would have had little or none, and even some well-aged beers probably didn’t suffer from it.

Then as today, a brewer’s reputation meant something and many knew how to please the public taste. There are plenty of references in 19th century brewing literature that make clear an aversion to sour beer or at any rate, frankly tart beer.

If further proof is needed on the essential character of audit ale, let’s go back to 1902 and a long article in the American press on collegiate drinking customs in England and Germany.** An audit ale produced for Jesus College Oxford was described as follows:

[The Oxford student] … drinks beer at lunch and at dinner, and he has some famous beers too. There is an audit ale at Queen’s of great age and potency. When the Queen’s man wants to give his friends of this weird beverage he has to make formal application, state how many guests he expects, and then get a written order for an exact and somewhat small amount of it [due to strength], to be served to him. At Jesus, too, they have a well-known beer, called “Jesus old”, a rich, soft, mahogany-colored liquor of considerable body. Once it was brewed in the college brewery, but in more modern times, when colleges and private houses gave up brewing their own beer and thus made possible the growth of that part of the British peerage which has been christened the “Beerage,” the recipe was handed over to one of the great brewing houses to manufacture for the delectation of Jesus men and their friends.

And so, we have a continuity of 120 years in the essentials of the sensory impact of these beers. Despite all the changes in materials (presumably) and technologies over that period, audit ale seems to retain its character of a rich lusciousness. (That’s lusciousness, not lushness, although some might say, not much to choose…).

As a brewer at Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewery observed to me when we first brewed 1870 AK Bitter, “for us it’s the ingredients”. He meant that the brewery was seeking to express the character of traditional ingredients from the country that produced that beer in 1870. I could only concur. Our methods differ from the 1870s, the hops and malts can’t be exactly the same even if varieties known to exist at the time are used, and brewing technology is considerably different, but an enduring national and in this case period character hopefully came though.

I think it did, and we see by the rapt reception of Lacons Audit Ale in 2019 that the beer seems very similar to the audit ale known to many generations before Hitler’s war. This is primarily due to the ingredients used in brewing and especially the quantity, the malt, hops, yeast, water. The equipment manipulating them changes over time, but the essence of malting, brewing, and fermentation, when well-conducted – ah there lies the rub – does not.

In considering that the beers of past times can be recreated with good fidelity, we enter a qualification where they are stored in barrels made from American oak. This wood is now virtually the norm where wood vessels are used in craft brewing, but was not liked in former times in British brewing, as we have amply documented earlier. Its use imparts a characteristic coconut or “bourbon” note that, in short, Britons didn’t like in beer.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with current artisan use of American white oak barrels or tuns, if people like the results. If the beers fetch a good sale, that is good for today’s brewers and I’m for it. But this is a modern innovation, a step too far in historical British brewing, in my opinion.

It may sound odd to suggest that today’s ubiquitous metal plant, typically of stainless steel, produces a more authentic result. But I think it does, as the old learning had it that Memel oak, the favoured wood for British breweries except Guinness and a few others, was notably neutral on the beer, as metal is today. See here for evidence of this view.

I believe Lacons Audit Ale is not fermented or stored in American oak, see for example this article on the beer a few years ago, a bottled version, by the eminent beer writers Roger Protz and Jeff Evans, writing in the magazine All About Beer. They make no reference to wood vessels of any kind. Evans, in his taste note, does state “slightly woody” but I believe this a metaphor.

Still, if some Lacons Audit Ale is, or will be, stored or fermented in Stateside oak, all power to those who like the variation, and of course the brewery.

In a word, congratulations to the revived Lacons of Great Yarmouth, U.K. – for winning 2019 Champion Winter Beer of Britain, for continuing quite literally and credibly an age-old tradition.


*Included in the Compton-Davey article is a period advertising leaflet used in New York where an enterprising Cambridge graduate was trying to market the beer, in 1937. Unfortunately the type cannot be read in the reproduction, at least online. Despite Compton-Davey’s comment that the bumph was typically American in its exaggeration, elements of it would be useful to understand better the palate of Lacons Audit Ale in the 1930s. I might observe as well that the pitch couldn’t have been all typically American if a Cambridge man was behind it. Perhaps he was an American Cambridge man, or woman for that matter, but neither possibility seems likely for the time.

**The source, Fulton Historical Newspapers, does not in this case reveal the name of the publication, and it was cut off from the top of the page. It was probably a newspaper in New York, since that is a focus of Fulton, or one of the New England states, given, too, the Ivy League references.





The Enchanted Forest

The Brewery and the Boudoir

I must, I will, revert to the subject of Memel oak. This is wood from forests of Russia and Poland that had ideal properties for British brewers, especially for “cask plant”, the barrels in which beer was shipped to public houses, clubs, and hotels.

Memel, the Baltic port from which the eponymous oak was sent to world markets, is now Klaipėda, in Lithuania. I’ve written seven or eight postings on this subject, this one brings many of the points together.

In brief, until World War I Memel had near-universal use in British ale brewing. In London this applied to porter as well. Guinness was one of the few breweries that adopted the tight-grained American oak, but most others used Memel for casks and other vessels, uncoated.

American brewers used barrels made from the native white oak but the interiors were invariably coated with brewers’ pitch, a subject I also covered earlier. It’s an interesting question what wood Canadian brewers used, I can’t recall seeing any references. I’d assume it was North American oak.

As a vestige of a once-standard industry practice, the historic Traquair brewery in Scotland still uses antique Memel vats to ferment its beer. See images here from the company’s website under “How the Beer is Brewed”.

In a blog posting at Pat’s Pints, the vats can be seen more clearly including their russet tinge, which also appears in some of the logs (freshly harvested) shown in my post linked above.

So important were the Memel stands that the Czars sought to bring them under their control, according to a 1936 story in the New York Post. The Post‘s report had nothing to do with beer as such. It had to do with something many would regard as incongruous or antithetical in a beer context, perfume. (I set aside the reveries of the beer connoisseur here).

A Miss Terry was employed by a perfume and apothecary company on Lexington Avenue. She devised a perfume for a Russian singer, Tamara. Her full name was Tamara Drasin Swann, a Russian-born singer who appeared on the New York stage in the 1930s. Some accounts have her origins as Ukrainian.

She often played an exotic or vamp of old Europe. She was killed in a plane crash near Lisbon in 1943 while on USO service. For more details see her Wikipedia entry, here.

The perfumer’s object was to personalize a scent that conjured associations with Tamara’s birth land. I know little about perfumes but do know that their complex formulas seek often to evoke the scents of forest, glade, grotto. To achieve this, oakmoss was used to lend the keynote effect.

The reporter noted: “Miss Terry uses it as being redolent of the Memel Oak for which Russia has been famed for centuries”.

In fact, oakmoss, which grows on oaks and shrubs, is a venerable ingredient in perfume-making. It is sourced indeed in Europe, not America from what I can tell, and currently at any rate the Balkans exports the crop to the perfumeries of the globe, as this online resource,, states. Its French name is poudre de Chypre.

Some years ago, in its wisdom the European Commission limited the permissible quantity in perfume. The lichen can irritate the skin, it seems, but perfumers still use it, in a modified way.

In many countries the dark forest has an enduring cultural resonance, often with magical or mystical connotations. We can’t rule out certainly a romance/marketing factor in making a “Russian forests” perfume for an alluring Slavic songstress.

Still, truth can reside in interstices, in implications. The perfumer knew about the Memel forests, probably from her client. She drew on this to create an ideal scent for a Broadway femme fatale.

In this light, can we infer Memel oak added an ineffable quality to English beer? Certainly, no amount of caustics coursing through a new barrel would leach out all the taste, that is impossible. Some taste had to remain, at a subtle, appealing level, we infer.

A special quality is implied in numerous accounts of Memel oak usage by the breweries. The smell and taste were evidently mild, “neutral” William Lindsay called it in 1939, see my posting linked above. He meant this, of course, to contrast with the vanillin twang of American oak.

Perhaps the taste complemented English hops, which can be arbour-like and, in the current cant for British bitter, “twiggy”. It all connects in an odd kind of way, doesn’t it? To the Gillmanesque mind it does.

Traquair has persisted with its old Memel vats because it thinks it gives the beer something. The vats may impart a lightly earthy note – see the discussion in Pat’s Pints again. Other reviews of Traquair’s beers refer to a similar earthy or even oaky note but nothing approaching American wood, the John Phillips Souza of the oaken race.

Of all the brewing fads under the sun, I cannot recall any where someone obtained Memel oak from Klaipeda, made a cask, cleansed it the old way, and filled it with good British bitter.

Who will do this? A wood that inspired a perfume for a Russian diva was a stand-by in the hard, un-perfumed business of brewing beer.

From Courrèges to Courage. We need to see why.

N.B. It always amazes me how, contrary to intuition, many businesses in the news 80 or 100 years ago still exist. Miss Terry’s employer was Caswell-Massey, which still sells fragrances and soaps in New York. See details from its website.  It remains American-owned and is one of the oldest businesses in the country. Surely it has a file, perhaps the colour of ochre and dusty, that lists the specs for a perfume that breathes the bowers and glades of the Czar’s forests.

Note re image: the image above, of Tamara in 1933, was sourced from this Pinterest page. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.










First use of Term Craft Brewery

Obeisance to St. Mike

Off and on over the years the question comes up, who first used the term craft brewery, craft beer, craft brewer, etc.

Until recently, the earliest citation I was aware of is from Paul Gatza on Stan Hieronymous’ Appellation Beer site in 2010, in response to his post inquiring who first used the term “craft beer”.

Gatza responded in part:

The earliest publication of the term “Craft Brewing” here at the Brewers Association that I know about is The New Brewer magazine, Vol. 1, No. 5, September-October 1984, pages 3-4 in Vince Cottone’s article “Craft Brewing Comes of Age.” The term is [sic] “craft beer” is not used in the article, but Vince used the phrases “craft-brewing scene,” “craft brewery” and “craft brewing” in the piece. I have a scan of the article available upon request…

Just the other day I was reading The Pocket Guide to Beer by the late Michael Jackson, published in 1982 by Frederick Muller Limited, London. This is the first appearance of a guide that ran to six or seven editions. They bore varying titles due to differing publication arrangements, but each was an update of the previous one. Each was sold on release in both the U.K. and North America.

On pg. 81, in the entry for “Timothy Taylor, Keighley”, Michael Jackson writes:

TIMOTHY TAYLOR, Keighley. A craft brewery down to the last detail. Very small, producing a wide range of all-malt beers on the edge of the moorland Brontë country. All the draught is cask-conditioned, and the bottled ale is unpasteurized…

In effect, with striking concision he defined keynotes of the beer renaissance for the next 30 years and coined its trademark phrase “craft brewery” (and by extension the derivatives craft beer, craft brewing, etc.).

He also made it clear the phrase applied in Britain to notable examples of the cask tradition, hence not limiting the term geographically, much less to the United States, as is often supposed in British beer circles today.

His next edition, The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer, was issued in 1986. In that book, Jackson praises Timothy Taylor no less but in different terms and the word craft is omitted. The 6th edition, entitled Pocket Guide to Beer, was published in 1997. It again confers praise on Timothy Taylor but also omits the word craft. I have seven editions of Jackson’s guide. Only the first one, from 1982, uses the term craft brewery in connection with Timothy Taylor.

There are two other uses of the term “craft” in that first edition, once in connection with top-fermentation at the Belgian brewery Dupont, and once to characterize brewing by his selection of top-ranked breweries. While not on point as such, these reinforce the Timothy Taylor reference and show the term was on Jackson’s mind as a signifier of quality and (often) small-scale brewing.

See here, in Google Books, where you may view all these usages by inserting “craft” in the snippet box.*

Therefore, the earliest use of the term craft brewery – or that I am now aware of – is by Michael Jackson. Jackson is acknowledged by many as the greatest beer writer of all time and certainly was a huge influence on today’s craft brewing. It is entirely apposite that he first used the term.

The reason it was overlooked is probably that the first edition of his pocket guide is relatively rare. To the extent the guide is consulted today, many would examine a later edition, unless a specific historical question posed itself.

I found it by accident, I just wanted to read a compact statement from Jackson on Timothy Taylor’s. I happened to pull the first edition out first.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Wikipedia entry for beer writer Michael Jackson, here, and is believed in the public domain. If not in the public domain, the intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Jackson in the same book also uses the terms “craftsman breweries” and “craftsman brewing”, the former in connection with small northern French breweries, the latter viz. the survival in Belgium of old brewing methods. Thus far, no evidence has appeared that Michael Jackson or anyone else used the specific term craft brewery before his 1982 usage in regard to Timothy Taylor or set out product characteristics for the genre, but see also my last Comment added below viz. earlier use by him of related expressions in the context of surviving small breweries in French Flanders and Belgium.







Bay Street’s Beer Bonanza

The proliferation of fashionable beer bars continues in the Toronto business “core”. I define it as the area between Yonge, Queen, University, and Front Streets, but it takes in some streets beyond. Fashionable = “upscale but relaxed” to adapt an expression  Reds, a veteran restaurant in the core, uses to describe its ambience.

The latest beer destination is the Wvrst satellite in York Concourse Hall, a revamped section of Union Station. Surrounding are a number of trendy food shops, so far of the snack or pastry variety but more substantial ones are planned. Just opposite Wvrst is Union Chicken, a restaurant that bills itself as free-range for free range people. Hence, two sit-down restaurants in a busy station that formerly offered few amenities.*

A few paces away is a splashy new food court of contemporary design, and behind that the departure lounge of Go light rail.

Wvrst started out west of the core on King Street a few years ago and was immediately popular. The focus is its high quality sausage kitchen and gourmet french fries. Ad-ons in later years – salad was a good one – broadened the appeal and the York Concourse branch offers even more choices. From Day 1 Wvrst was a beer haven too, focusing on the local craft scene and quality imports.

The decor of both locations is a stylized blend of Bier Hallen, English pub, and industrial chic. Stylish touches in the new location include a winking display panel listing the draft beers which mimics a rail timetables board.

The beer list consists of rotating drafts, at least a dozen, and well-chosen bottled and canned offerings. There are some great choices from Belgium in particular, with many lambic-based rarities.

Ciders are a sub-specialty of Wvrst with French, Spanish, and Estonian (!) selections while not ignoring Ontario – or Los Angeles, CA (who knew from L.A. cider?). The U.K., of Olympian importance in cider, seems oddly missing, but they will get to it in time I’m sure.

I ate at the bar, bratwurst on a bun with fries – same quality as the King Street parent, which means very high. The meat had the right touch of mace, so un-North American or English really unless you reach for heritage recipes. The sausages, of which there must be a dozen types again, include good vegan options.

A commuter next to me grabbed a quick Major Small Best Bitter, from Muddy York in Toronto, and left within 10 minutes. Most people were eating as it was lunch-hour. Not a few ordered one of the exotic bottled beers or ciders to accompany.

Wvrst at Union Station was preceded by the Mill St Pub, the craft brewery now owned by AB InBev. It’s in a relatively remote part of the station, adjacent to the train which links to Pearson Airport. With Wvrst, and Union Chicken’s local (bottled) beers, the beer stakes for the rail traveller or interloper are raised at a stroke.

The draft beer choice at Wvrst is careful calibrated. Three imports are currently offered, Weihenstephaner (wheat), Pilsner Urquell (lager), and Paulaner (lager). Each represents high quality, especially the first two. A more sedate choice would be, say, Heineken, Erdinger, and Stella Artois.

The Ontario drafts currently include a half dozen of the wildly popular sour category – a sour stout, anyone? – with good representation of cornerstone styles. Wvrst was never pro forma about beer, which may sound a contradiction in terms but beer bars can “let go” after a while; it never has.

There must have been good competition for its spot, but the re-development managers chose well.

With the pioneering beerbistro at King and Yonge Streets, there are now in the core: Walrus Pub and Beer Hall, the sizeable Taps in First Canadian Place, the huge Craft Beer Market, and the more intimate Boxcar Social, on Temperance Street (yes that’s the name). Goose Island’s brewpub (AB-InBev) and Batch (Molson-Coors), albeit a touch outside the core, count as well. So does the Biermarkt (a small chain) next to Goose Island. Let’s add the Loose Moose, a 10 minutes walk west of the station. All offer an inviting beer variety, or together they certainly do.

There is yet more if we add the older English or Irish pubs in the core as well as Reds and other general restaurants, a Three Brewers, and the new food halls strewn through the canyons. The core can now add brewing riches to the monetary kind tended by the wizards in the towers.

In this area downtown, beer has come a long way in the last 5-10 years. In a word, it has arrived. One of the early flagships for craft beer downtown, the boho-flavoured C’est What, still thrives next to St. Lawrence Market to the east. In business a generation now, C’est What can gaze proudly on the beer ferment in the core today, as it was an indirect influence.

Today good beer is not just hipster, not just suburbia, not just college/intellectual. Craft beer is for everyone. No one owns it, no one can define it.

It’s taken 40 years of trying, and nothing will reverse it, neither takeovers, nor slowdowns in the boom, nor blandishments like alco-pops, cider, and wine. I doubt legal cannabis will have much effect either.

This should not be a surprise really as craft beer is simply, or it aspires to be, fine beer. And great beer is an age-old heritage. It belongs to everyone with the imagination to taste with discernment and curiosity.

A not inconsiderable bonus: the wider the audience for it, the greater the market for our craft brewers.


*A member of the Toronto beer community subsequently told me there was a bar before Wvrst in the same space, to his recollection curtained and quite basic. Wvrst has an open scheme and looks pleasant and inviting, not to mention its diverse and creative wares as described above. With Union Chicken added to the picture, the situation regarding licensed premises seems clearly improved, certainly in the north-central part of the station.