The Waldorf Bar Rocks Beer Before Rock

A Proto Craft Beer bar

The Culinary Institute of America, the famed teaching and vocational school headquartered in Hyde Park, NY maintains a historic menu collection on its website.

We’ve looked at one or two of their menus in the past, and today consider the 1930s beer list of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The notation states that the date of the menu is unknown. However, various indices point to 1935.

Budweis beer labelled Nazdar was only imported with that designation in the middle Thirties. Confirmation is available from a judicial source no less, Anheuser-Busch v. Du Bois Brewing, heard in 1947:

18. With the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic at the conclusion of World War I, the name of the City of Budweis was changed to Budejovice.

19. For a short time after Repeal, during the years of 1934 and 1935, imported beer from Budejovice was sold in small quantities in this country along the Eastern seaboard under the name “Nazdar”.

20. Subsequently, the importers changed the label to “Imported Budweiser” and small amounts of imported beer so labeled, which plaintiff contended violated the 1911 contracts, were sold in this country during the years 1936-1938.

The Waldorf-Astoria hotel is currently closed for a long-term condominium conversion. It was needless to say one of America’s premier hotels, and internationally famous. Sited as it was in New York, a vibrant brewing region into the 1950s despite the depredations of Prohibition, one would expect many local heros of brewing to be represented, and they were.

Trommer was not least, being chosen also as the draft lager. Trommer was the last important New York brand to remain all-malt. The Waldorf bar stewards knew their beer, clearly. Other local/regional names of repute they selected included Schaefer, Piel’s, and Rheingold.

Horton Brewing was a new entrant, with Repeal it had bought an old plant – originally built by still-vibrant Yuengling of Pennsylvania – and made a pilsener. In 1997 the New York Times answered a reader’s question about the beer:

No Microbrewery This

Q. I have a clear 12-ounce bottle I found years ago in my backyard in Brooklyn Heights. On the bottom it says ”Horton Pilsener Brewing Co. 460 W. 128th St., New York.” Can you tell me about this brewery?

A. The brewery was built by the Yuengling Brewing Company in 1876, in the village that was then known as Manhattanville — a dense, industrial enclave in the deep valley between Morningside and Hamilton Heights near the Hudson River. Nearby were the D. F. Tiemann pigment factory (from which Tiemann Place takes its name), a worsted mill and the first buildings of Manhattan College. The giant red-brick brewery included a swimming pool and opulent parlors for entertaining dignitaries, who included King Edward VII of England.

More buildings and equipment were added after the brewery was purchased by the Bernheimer & Schwartz Brewing Company in 1903, and a 1911 advertisement for the beer depicts a brewing complex stretching from 127th to 129th Streets along Amsterdam Avenue. Prohibition closed up the brewery in 1920, and the sprawling parcel was purchased by the Horton Pilsener Brewing Company, which resumed production after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Though the plant closed long ago many of its buildings remain in commercial use. DANIEL B. SCHNEIDER

The separation of “beer” (lager in America) and “ale” (ale and stout) was another pre-Prohibition practice. In fact we see it on some menus into the 1940s, and after in a few cases.

The Waldorf’s beer selection was carefully made, covering both beer and ale of course but also notable pre-Prohibition names as well as some newcomers. There was some interest to achieve balance in this respect, clearly.

The imports represented both ale and lager again but also a stout, Guinness. The countries tapped were Germany, U.K., Holland, and Czechoslovakia, all non pareil brewing lands. Canada was represented in a manner of speaking as well, see further below.

Of the imports, the Czech Budweis would have been a rarity in New York, and Heineken. The famed Dutch lager was re-introduced with éclat to U.S. markets after 1933 by the enterprising Dutchman Leo Van Munching. See further background in this 2016 New York Times obituary of his son, Leo Van Munching, Jr.

Allsopp’s Pale Ale, the renowned Victorian pale beer, still had cachet in export markets, evidently. Two bottlings of Bass were offered thus continuing a pre-Prohibition practice of smart hotels and restaurants. One was from Burke, the Guinness bottling and distribution agency on Long Island, NY that also brewed its own brands.

There was no Ballantine India Pale Ale but probably it hadn’t been launched yet. The flagship Ballantine XXX was on the menu, indeed it was the draft ale selection.

Kent ale was an IPA made by Krueger in Newark, NJ, the regular ale was listed as well.

The list comprises some 45 beers. That would have been unusual in New York not just immediately after Prohibition but at any time until the 1960s. The breadth of choice is significant because the Waldorf was not an ethnic establishment a la Janssen Hofbrau Haus,* not a showcase for a foreign country’s specialties as, say, appeared during the 1939 World’s Fair.

The Waldorf was a mainstream albeit high-end catering establishment that made sure to offer a well-curated list of products, to use our jargon. They were into beer, in a word.

Canada was, rather oddly, absent from the list except in the form of Carling Red Cap ale. The beer was newly available in America in the 30s but brewed under license in Cleveland, OH. See further details in this website devoted to Carling U.S. history, whence this 1960s-era image is drawn:

It’s no surprise that the Wine and Food Society of New York held elaborate beer and food tastings at the Waldorf, some of which I’ve described here. The hotel applied an unusual detail to its beer offerings, the knowledge and skill behind it show. It was the perfect place to do those events.

One should emphasize that the market was not hipster. The cool crowd was gestating downtown in Greenwich Village and (frankly) trying to survive the Depression.

All beer then was a matter of conventional industrial business and marketing. Its upper reaches, as here, was concerned with solid citizens and an international elite. The only plaids you might see were the scarfs, skirts, and jackets of moneyed tourists or uptown New Yorkers frequenting the hotel’s luxe services.

It is only when established brewing forgot its roots, still evident in splendour here in the 1930s, that the poets rallied to legislate, so to speak. Today they’ve been acknowledged so the tables are reversed. But the large concerns are waking up and taking back some of the turf foregone, to the consternation of some who forget, or never knew, how it all started.

Note re images: The extracts from the Waldorf-Astoria’s wine and spirits list, and Carling label, were sourced from the links identified and given in the text. The Allsopp’s ad is from the Coaster-Beerdekel collection on Pinterest, here. The Horton label is from the Tavern Trove website, hereAll intellectual property in the sources used belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See our earlier post on this great Manhattan establishment.



Birthday Bourbon

The Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria, B.C. is a western jewel in the crown of the old Canadian Pacific hotels. It was built in the Edwardian era to service the city’s steamship terminal. CP’s website explains compactly its history:

Incorporated in 1881, Canadian Pacific Railway was formed to physically unite Canada and Canadians from coast to coast and the building of the railway is considered to be one of Canada’s greatest feats of engineering.

The CPR played a major role in the promotion of tourism and immigration, as well as Canada’s war efforts and through the years, the railway grew and diversified to include steamships, hotels, airlines, mining, oil and gas exploration, delivery and telecommunications companies.

Today the hotel is part of the Fairmont chain and remains a premium marque in Canadian hotels.

CP had an important shipping arm, whose history you can read here.

It offered a passenger service between Vancouver and Victoria but this stopped during WW II. The business role of the hotel declined in consequence but Victoria steadily increased its tourist trade. The hotel became predominantly a destination for well-off visitors vs. the business and political establishments it had mainly served earlier.

At the same time the hotel continued to serve a business clientele, many now arriving in town by air.

I’ve been to the Empress, once, we flew in from Vancouver (helicopter) and had tea in the afternoon. I was with some British business connections from Leeds. Later, of course, we had a beer at the pioneering brewpub on the outer harbour, Spinnakers.

(I regret to say I found the beer quite iffy. We all preferred the light lager also sold in Ontario now, Kokanee. But this is a long time ago and I’m sure it’s all top notch now given the sophistication of West Coast craft brewing).

Victoria has always had the image of a provincial, rather sleepy place, conservative and a relic of colonial times, a favoured resort of retirees.

This is unfair, today certainly, and probably always was. The climate there is most appealing by Canadian standards, never ferociously hot or cold, breezy. The city has all the services any urbanite expects today. The views and attractions of the harbour and surrounding coastal areas are of definite interest, especially the flora and fauna which have many unique features there.

I’m more familiar with Vancouver across the Georgia Strait but enjoyed the time I spent in Victoria. It’s a great base too to start a tour up Vancouver Island.

Somehow the vast wilderness there seems to impinge on urban life in a way different from, or not as evident, here.

Anyway visitors abound, many from cruise ships on Asia routes or on the scenic trip up the coast to Alaska. Many who stop in Victoria stay at the Fairmount Empress and enjoy its many services. It will all be first-class, the bar no less.

But what was it like in 1950? 1950 you ask? Well yes, that’s my birth year (July 4 to be precise), so let’s take that as an example. What did the bar offer at the hotel then?

Had you asked me before yesterday, I’d have thought, a small spirits section, a few beers, a small but decent wine list, maybe a couple of pages or so in total.

In fact the wine and spirits list runs 15 pages, you can read it here. It is identified in the UBC notation as from 1950 and bears the inscription, Coronet Room. Now, research suggests the Coronet Lounge did not open until 1954, see this 2016 Times Colonist story.

This image of the newly-opened room, certainly handsome, from the Royal B.C. Museum also suggests (see caption) a 1954 opening. It also conveys something of the former use of the space, a reading room. The Coroner Room (or Lounge) was renamed Bengal Lounge during a 1960s renovation. The space has been dark for some years now and other facilities in the hotel supply the want.

Either some type of Coronet bar preceded the 1954 version, or perhaps the menu really is from 1954. Still, I incline that it is from 1950 and as it serves the conceit of this post to think so, let’s proceed on that assumption.

Five years after the war, still isolated and no longer serviced by CP’s shipping line, the hotel contrived to offer an enviable selection of drinks in every category. I’d think perhaps it was emulating, in the old Victoria way, English models like the Savoy. But in any case, from Cocktails to Coca-Cola, it’s all there and then some.

The extracts of the menu in this post give some idea of it. They were sourced from the Chang Collection at the University of British Columbia’s Open Library, see again the link above. The University and benefactors mentioned are to be commended for making such valuable social history available.

Remark on the large number of Canadian rye whiskies available, no less than 30 and it doesn’t even include “bar ryes”.

The beer selection is most impressive, offering an early regional choice rather than two or three domestic beers and a few imports. The beer selection is locavore before the word existed.

Someone at the hotel must have taken an interest in beer as 20 domestic brands alone were offered, most regional B.C. selections.

The imports were classics: Guinness, McEwan’s (two brands), Whitbread, Bass. Nothing German, or Dutch, the war had just ended…

Just to take one B.C. example, Old Dublin Ale, perhaps it was an early “Irish Red” emulation. This ale was brewed by Princeton Brewery in the town of the same name in the extreme southern part of the province. It operated from 1902-1961.

The brewery also made an all-malt beer, Royal Export, also available at the Empress. It was likely a Dortmund-style. The word Royal would have covered any disagreeable lingering Teutonic associations from the recent wars.

For images of Princeton Brewery beer labels and brewery trucks, see here from a website, Hank’s Trucks.

Finally, there was Canadian bourbon. Canada always made a spirit much like bourbon to use as a component in its blends. Some was sold at times unblended, particularly the Pedigree brands of rye and bourbon from Seagram. The bourbon isn’t identified by source but perhaps was Pedigree.

Canadian bourbon was sold during the U.S. Prohibition era, in Canada to appeal to U.S. visitors and of course smuggled into the U.S. one way or another. It was exported after Prohibition to the U.S. as well, and ads can be found for it in national U.S. media c.1936.

Clearly though it was sold in Canada in the early 1950s, many years after Prohibition ended. A hotel of the standing of the Empress could easily have obtained American bourbon, certainly available in quantity again by 1950, but it chose to offer a Canadian version, so the quality must have been pretty good.

With a heavy duty being imposed shortly on American whiskey imports, offering a bourbon-type whisky again will fill a gap. It’s good business anyway to diversify out of the blended category that served Canada well for a long time but whose long-term future in my opinion is questionable.

This is due to the growing “premiumisation” of many standard consumer products from burgers to lager beer.

Seagram already markets in Ontario its new Bourbon Mash product, which isn’t bad but I’m sure Canadian distillers can come up with even better versions of straight corn- or rye-based whisky. Pedigree came in both rye and bourbon versions, incidentally.

Lot 40, in the market some 20 years now, and Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye whisky, both straight rye types, can point the way. Perhaps in time our craft producers will do similar.

Certainly I’ll buy more of these whiskies rather than bourbon and Tennessee whiskey at a 25% mark-up if it comes to that.

The image above of Pedigree Bourbon, sourced from the excellent Dutch Whisky Base website, is accompanied there by a super review of a vintage bottle by “Malt Marvin”, see here. The whisky certainly sounds very interesting! The “menthol” finish is one I recall as well from tastings of vintage U.S. whiskies at bi-annual gatherings in Bardstown, KY.


Note re images: the source of the images above is linked in the text except for the Revelstoke 3X Pale Beer bottle, sourced from this B.C. museum site, and the Princeton Brewery sign, which was found herea website devoted to the history of Princeton, B.C. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



An Office of Importance

All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard…
            – From “All I Wanna Do”, Sheryl Crow, 1999


Father’s Office (FO) is a historic beer bar and restaurant in Santa Monica, CA (Culver City). While it dates from 1953 it was re-made as a beer-aware destination in 1985 and prefigured the craft beer bar to be found in almost every city and many towns today.

Earlier, I profiled the historic beer menu of another Los Angeles beer bar, Barney’s Beanery, see here.

The approach to beer of Barney’s was fundamentally different to FO. Barney’s Beanery continued an older tradition of offering a wide selection of international beers, most bottled. Famous names from Britain and Germany predominated. Tommy’s Joynt in San Francisco was of this type, too. So was the Brickseller in Washington, D.C., and Peculier Pub in Greenwich Village, New York.

In time, this type of bar accepted American craft beer products too. It took time to develop confidence in America’s native brewing scene.

But FO appears not to have been an imported beer emporium before 1985. This 2007 LA Times article by Todd Martens explains that FO provided an important early role to introduce craft beer to Angelenos.

The post-1985 beer list offered no Budweiser or other mass-production American beer, and no imports. In the early years, walk-ins made the inevitable protest. The bar countered by providing an education function, see further details in this account of the phoenix years.

This artisan beer focus was particularly important since L.A. resisted for many years the craft brewery trend that became legion in northern California, the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and East Coast. Why was this?

In his 1991 Pocket Beer Guide (3rd ed.) Michael Jackson speculated that the extra-warm climate of southern California discouraged interest in big beers. He felt as well that the transient nature of L.A. life kept its attention span short for such interests.

But also, Todd Martens had noted that Eureka, a splashy L.A. brewpub project of chef-entrepreneur Wolfgang Puck, failed in 1990. He said this example discouraged craft brewing in the area for many years. Greg Stone of now world-famous Stone Brewing in Escondido, CA, interviewed for the story, agreed with that theory.

FO filled the gap by offering a good selection of California and West Coast microbrewery beers. In the early years its approach has a classic simplicity, as we see from the c.1988 beer list above.

Jackson states in the 1991 Pocket Guide that by the early 1990s California had between 65 and 70 craft breweries and brewpubs. The country as a whole had about 200. The craft beer scene was still very small and almost nil in Southern California.

Yet, FO offered a quality selection, showing the marks of the connoisseur but also someone not beholden to the (often false) glamour of an import name. Almost all the beers are top-fermented even though California had a number of craft lager breweries. This reflects the bias of craft brewing toward top-fermentation styles in its first decades.

Hence the assortment of ales, porter/stout including Imperial Stout, and wheat beers. A range was featured from iconic Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, a brewery that provided a more authentic link to America’s brewing past than, say, Anheuser-Busch.

I visited FO a few times in the 1990s. By then the beer selection broadened but always with an artisan focus. I recall a wheat beer flavoured with desert white sage that was particularly good. While its list looks conservative today, it was revolutionary in 1988.

FO today comprises two locations with a third planned. It is known under the current ownership for its innovative food as well as great beer – currently 36 draft beers are offered. Physically, the original location on Montana Blvd. looks pretty much as it always did, perhaps a little sleeker: this L.A. visitor page offers a tour d’horizon.

FO was a true tastemaker and path-blazer, setting the tone for places like Toronado in San Francisco, C’est What in Toronto, Horse Brass in Portland*, Arendsnest in Amsterdam, and countless other beer pubs that put the focus on locality, small-scale, and often terroir.

Footnote re Grapevine Brewery: Grapevine Brewery, mentioned in Jackson’s 1991 Pocket Guide, was an early, rare southern California brewpub. It appears to have started in 1987. By 1990 it had changed ownership, and the name became Okie Girl Eatery. A quake did it in by 1994, see details in this 1994 news account.

The Grapevine bar was located in Lebec, CA, about 80 miles northwest of L.A. Lebec and the adjacent Grapevine are localities in which dramatic canyons dominate with their stark, dun-coloured beauty. In a time when very little craft beer was made in southern California FO made sure to get some from the fledgling operation.

The fact that FO advertised the Grapevine’s light stout and two other beers served at room temperature tells you something about the commitment of the real beer people. They have always existed, in all kinds of places, often under adverse conditions.

But confidence, and commitment again, they did not lack. To call Sierra Nevara Pale Ale the “traditional” pale ale of the Sierra Nevada foothills a bare seven or eight years after the brewery started takes a certain chutzpa, cheek for the U.K. readers. Except that they were right, or time proved it so anyway.

The true beer people exist of course today no less. Except now they get lots of publicity and kudos. In fact it’s something taken for granted especially by those half my age. Above is some of the wellsprings.

Postscript: most of the breweries on the historic FO menu, and most of the beers, continue to this day. Of course ownership has changed in many cases. But the beers amounted to templates that still appeal and of course launched a thousand ships, or the waters they sail on…

Note re images: the first image, the interior of Father’s Office as it is today, was sourced from Pinterest, here. The next two were sourced from the historic menu collection of Los Angeles Public Library. The fourth was sourced from this free campsite webpage, and the last from the producer’s website. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*The Horse Brass in Portland, OR and its guiding spirit Don Younger are closely connected as well to the early craft beer ethos. But Horse Brass started in 1976 and for years specialized in domestic and fine imported beer. It sold craft beer early but did not AFAIK reinvent itself as solely devoted the budding craft brewery scene.




Molson’s Rice Beer

One of things that strikes us in the history of branding and marketing is how durable well-established names are. Once a reputation is earned, a name carries on practically forever. Something in the folk memory keeps it going. It may be on a long slide, but that can last 100 years until it’s time, gentlemen (“please” not being an option by then).

Only an event out of the blue can really kill such a brand. Of course, instances abound. Dow Ale was fatally wounded in the mid-1960s by a scandal involving the deaths of a score or more heavy beer drinkers. It was thought a foam-enhancing additive in Dow caused or exacerbated heart ailments in the drinkers.

Yet, I probably get more views on a 2016 Dow post than on any other. People still remember, or know somehow, the name. The product hasn’t been sold since about 1990, yet it lives on even in memoriam. Coca-Cola was almost done in when the flawed New Coke was introduced, but a more inspired Coke Classic saved the day.

Returning to beer, Schlitz, mentioned in the above ad, was harmed by a mistake in processing that changed the palate. It was never the same after but a brand of that name is still sold.

So imagine how good a trade name is when no unusual difficulty besets it other the typical market forces and changes in habits and technology.

Look at the ad reproduced above (via New York State Historic Newspapers, here) from Drutz Supermarket in Saranac Lake, NY. It appeared in 1955 in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise of that town. Saranac Lake is a well-known tourist and vacation area in the Adirondack Mountains.

Of the 16 beers in that list 13 still exist and most do quite well in the market. Only Ruppert, a grand old name in New York City lager, Kingsbeer, a Canadian lager associated with the Dow brand, and Fitzgerald’s beer, have departed the market. Fitzgerald was a long-established brewery and soft drinks distributor in Troy, NY, a comparative hop and skip from the area.

The Fitzgerald brewery lasted until 1963 as documented in a number of sources. The beer, or at least the one advertised, was what was called a price beer, not the most luxe, in other words. For some excellent background on Fitzgerald, read Jay Brooks’ 2017 essay, here.

But look at the other names: Carling, Guinness, Budweiser, Ballantine, Pabst, Miller High Life among others, all top end at the time. And Crown & Lager Rice Beer.

Crown and Anchor Rice Beer? What’s that? It was the lager made by the Quebec-based Molson Brewery when it first expanded to Toronto, in 1954. Various sources state that in 1959 the beer was rebranded as Molson Canadian.

(Can “Canadian” as we call it really have rice in it? Adjunct, yes, but rice? Who knew).

Well, this was a time when brewers could be ingenuous, even vaunt such things with pride. No one told the public then – there were no beer writers to do it – that rice in brewing was an American innovation that arguably detracted from lager’s traditional palate. So why not trumpet it? Anheuser-Busch had, before WW I, but not after in any significant way.

I don’t think it was so much turning a negative into a positive, but not realizing the rice thing was a negative at all, at least as viewed by many informed parties.

In fact, there seems to have been an attempt by Molson to create a new image for the Ontario market, almost to give the impression Crown and Anchor Rice Brewery (see the label) was a new entrant in brewing. Maybe it was thought the Molson name had no particular resonance in Ontario of the 1950s, or possibly was viewed negatively since Molson originated in Quebec. (The old Quebec-Ontario rivalry lives on).

The word Molson does not appear on the label shown. Today, people knock big brewers for setting up “Potemkin” breweries, fake units dressed up in craft livery that have no independent existence and are meant to gull the public. Well, it’s not really new, is it? Companies have used divisional or unit names to suggest a separate identity forever, brewers no less.

Be that as it may, Molson discarded the artifice after a few years, and discarded the rice claim, too. Perhaps it got letters from European brewmasters skiing in the Adirondacks saying, “Vy are you fellows advertising the use of rice? Vy is it in the brewery name?”.

For additional information on the unusually-named brand, see from 2010 Jay Brooks again (and the comments), here.

So, yes, even Crown and Anchor Rice Beer still exists – only it’s called Molson Canadian lager beer.

Note re images: The first image above was sourced from the news story linked in the text. The second, from Ebay, here. The third, from the Fitzgerald Brothers website (the bottling and distribution business still exists), here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Respect Beer: Matt’s Brewery Always Did


The above ad is from F.X. Matt Brewing in Utica, NY, in 1964. It appeared in June that year in the Fairport-Herald-Mail in Fairport, NY, see source here.

Matt’s is one of the few old-regional breweries to transition fully to the new craft era. With roots in 1800s German-American brewing (see this earlier post for more Matt’s history), it survived into the 1980s partly due to its isolated location in regional New York State.

Genesee Brewing in Rochester is a somewhat similar example. Like Matt’s, it introduced a successful line of craft-style products to appeal to a new generation of beer consumers, and like Matt’s again, also does contract brewing.

Yuengling, Straub, and Lion Breweries (all Pennsylvania) are similar survivals but their products tend to the pre-craft in profile. Matt’s reinvented itself from the mid-1980s as a craft brewery with its Saranac line under tutelage of brewing maven Joseph Owades.

We recently discussed his vital yet under-appreciated role in the craft revolution in this post.

One of the reasons family-run Matt’s was able to make the transition noted was, it never lost an understanding of the brewer’s importance – simply put of the beer palate.

True, all was relative in the pre-craft days. Still, from the ad above and others of the same period I’ve discussed you can see that Matt’s focused on the product in a way that wasn’t just marketing flim-flam.

The ad above states, unusually for the time or even our time, that Utica Club pilsener is a “twelve-balling” beer. It made the claim of superior quality due to the beer being “substantial”. I think the company was saying, the starting gravity of this beer is 12B or 1048 on the more commonly referenced scale today.

Since almost all U.S. lager then was just under 5% ABV, I’d think Matt’s was finishing the beer at 1012 gravity for an abv of 4.7%. Or perhaps the final gravity dropped a shade with abv going slightly up.

Since the competitors were selling beer at virtually the same alcohol content, I’d infer many of them were starting with a lower gravity. If you started at 1042 you could finish at 1006 with virtually the same alcohol as in my example above but a rather drier palate. So I think Matt’s was saying, our beer tastes richer in comparison.

Also, the ad refers to beers of the “50s and 60s” – we are only in 1964 – as “extremely light and highly carbonated”. That’s a pretty telling statement in the pre-craft era. It’s exactly what the first beer book writers stated from about 1975, 10 years later.

Many in the pre-craft beer industry were ready to acknowledge what Matt’s did, and I’ve documented examples earlier, but not to the public! It was pretty ballsy of Matt’s to do that in 1964.

How do pre-craft reviews read? Jim Robertson’s first The Great American Beer Book, issued in 1978, describes the beer in no special terms: “… aroma of Concord grapes and corn …light malty vegetal flavour, neutral finish”.

Yet, the relativity factor may explain that: Uncle Charlie, as the beer is or was known in Upstate New York, is no Lowenbrau much less Brooklyn Lager, but maybe it rocked in comparison to Schlitz and Bud.

Is there any reason to think Utica Club pilsener tasted better than the mass-market competition? Actually, there is. It’s not conclusive, it’s not even the usual type of source one would use, but it’s some evidence.

The student newspaper of the Oswego campus of SUNY, or State University of New York, reported the results of a blind beer-tasting in 1985.

The account is written – the term is used advisedly – in an intentionally-exaggerated “obnoxious” style. Think old John Belushi movie, that was the tone of much campus humour then. The handful of brewpubs and craft breweries in the country hadn’t penetrated the college scene let alone the public mind as such.

Of course too beer, the quintessential popular drink, only encouraged such derisive, backhanded treatment. Indeed the attitude still persists, hence the salutary injunction of the rating service Beer Advocate: Respect Beer, a formulation that oddly, or perhaps not, echoes the 1964 Matt’s ad.

Still, the results are revealing. The four beers were Bud Light, Utica Club, Molson Golden, and Pabst (PBR). You can see that Uncle Charlie came first:

To read the full student report see here from the Oswegonian of March 14, 1985. I can’t say it makes uplifting reading. But it does give a snapshot of beer’s campus role then and the frat house-style hilarity that is now infra dig.

Utica Club bested even Molson’s, and Molson’s then – Canadian beer in general – was considered superior to American lager, by Americans I mean.*

So he must have had something, old Uncle Charlie. Matt’s would have been pleased even if the tone of the piece hardly bespoke the respect for beer Matt’s promoted well before the first glimmers of a beer renaissance.

Utica Club pilsener is still made by Matt’s. Current reviews are so-so but of course the bar has moved, so to speak, in 40 years. Also, given that the nourishing Saranac beers are the main output now perhaps Uncle Charlie has been put on a diet since his heyday.

But my point remains: Matt’s cared about good beer at a time most American breweries thought about a million other things first: brewing technology, business systems, marketing, logistics, etc. Not that these other things aren’t important, they are, of course.

But caring about the beer finally ensured Matt’s survival and good health today. The same could not be said for the many breweries of the 1960s and 70s, now closed, for whom the beer came last.

Note re images: The images above were sourced from the respective news stories linked in the text. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*It’s true that one of the four beers was a light, the Bud, but still, Matt’s beer bested two full-strength beers, one a generally well-regarded import. Also, light beer manufacturers always stressed that their beer tasted great a la “all you want in a beer, and less”, so the fact of a light beer being included in a tasting of this nature should not be held against the winner.







Mount Saint Bernard’s Tynt Meadow Trappist Ale

The Trappist (Cistercian Strict Observance) Mount Saint Bernard’s new brewery in Leicestershire, U.K. is now operating. This is a major development in both U.K. and international brewing circles. The first and only beer to be released is Tynt Meadow, named after a patch of land where the first monastic arrivals in the area built shelter until removing to premises in nearby Charnwood Forest, Coalville, Leicestershire.

This page from this abbey’s website gives full information on the monks’ vocation, the brewing project and underlying aims, and how to source the beer. It is available in bottled form only and bottled with its residual yeast, a technique at least hundreds of years old.

Such “bottle-conditioning” is not dissimilar (in substance) to the part of Champagne production that generates the famous fizz. Champers is said to be, pleasingly in this context, of monastic origin via the historical originator, Dom Perignon, although the story may be mythic or in part.

Mount Saint Bernard beer sales will help support the trust that funds the abbey’s activities, promotes its good works. The brewery is one of only a dozen authorized to use the Trappist designation. Most Trappist breweries are in Belgium with a scattering in other countries, including now the U.K.

First reports indicate a rich brew of traditional English character. As the web page makes clear the beer is mashed and brewed from all-English materials including malt, hops, and yeast. We were very glad to read this and had called substantially for this style of beer in our 2016 essay discussing the history of brewing at the abbey, here.

While it is doubtful this type of beer was made at Mount Saint Bernard in the 1800s vs. the low-alcohol, “small beer” I discussed in my 2016 post, earlier monastic brewing history suggests a full-strength ale was made in the U.K. that influenced European monastic brewing before the French Revolution.

This earlier tradition, as deployed notably at the Benedictine Dieulouard abbey in France before the Revolution, had to in our view in turn influence the strong beers made at the Belgian Trappist monasteries post-Napoleon. See my earlier posts cited in the 2016 post that discuss this earlier history.

Needless to say the beers once “Europeanized” evolved over the generations. In particular, a Belgian Trappist yeast signature emerged, possibly too in association with the typically high ale fermentation temperatures used. The impact on palate is quite different, for the most part in our experience, to that resulting from current English brewing yeasts and fermentation practice.

The Belgian yeast signature is a chalky, clovey note whereas English yeasts generate a range of flavours from mineral notes to soft black or other fruit character. I realize this is generalizing and doesn’t take account of factors such as water profile but still this bright line can be drawn in my view.

Regarding the true nature of the beer brewed (or sourced, perhaps) by Mount Saint Bernard in the 1800s, I should add that quite possibly it brewed a typical, 7% abv “first mash” strong ale but diluted it for service in the refectory. If it did brew such a beer, the new one just issued can be said to follow more directly in its footsteps.

As pointed out in my earlier posts, there is evidence that strong beer in the abbey tradition “supported” dilution, meaning sometimes it was cut with water to reduce the alcohol.

Until such time as 1800s’ Mount Saint Bernard brewing records surface – apparently the monastery can’t locate them – the precise character of the monks’ beer in that century can’t be known. Nonetheless, as I documented earlier, from 1842-1890s numerous visitors to the abbey recounted that a small beer was served with the meals; we know that much.

Any way one looks at it, the type of beer Mount Saint Bernard has decided to brew in 2018 is fully within the relevant traditions. And, it offers a (welcome, in our view) change from the typical Trappist/Abbey/Belgian ale palate.

To be sure, Orval Trappist Ale, for its part, does not have the typical yeast background of Belgian ale including Trappist and Abbey beer. By “Belgian ale” I mean, apart the Trappist and Abbey beers, mainly saison, grisette, De Koninck in Antwerp, golden ale (Duvel and similar), and the non-specific Palm Ale type.

The West and East Flanders red and old brown styles divert from this palate due imo to their lactic component. The wit style does too because of its raw wheat and spices, so does lambic and its derivatives due to the cocktail of fermentative organisms.

La Flûte et Le Beck’s


In a witty exchange today on Twitter among beer writers Adrian Tierney-Jones, Melissa Cole, John Porter and others, a new Beck’s beer package was discussed: a can of Beck’s dressed up as a champagne flute.

Phoebe French of (see full report here) explains the concept:

The new can, called Le Beck’s, was created … in a bid to “earn an enhanced premium perception”.

…. Beck’s … claim[s] that the cans are “a first in world beer packaging”. The inspiration behind the packaging was to bring canned beer to venues and events where it is not traditionally consumed. As a result, the Le Beck’s cans have been trialled in art galleries, classical music concerts and other “exclusive” events in Germany. Due to the “overwhelming response” Beck’s is now considering launching the beer flutes globally.

I posted a reply to the tweets stating I recalled reading of a Lowenbrau ad from long ago which stated: “When you’re out of champagne, open the Lowenbrau”. I said maybe Beck’s has a long memory, which got a smile or two.

Checking further I see I was right about a Lowenbrau-champagne ad, but apparently got the line reversed. In the 1960s this ad circulated in American media:

Either formulation – my apparently erroneous one or the documented one above, gets the point across: Lowenbrau is the beer equivalent of the most famous wine in the world.

Still, I’m wondering if Lowenbrau perhaps did run the line as I recalled it in an earlier period, pre-WW I to my recollection, and a 1960s ad agency reversed the wording for the U.S. market.

I actually like my version better: more subtle, more honest in its mild self-deprecation. No beer however great is likely to challenge champagne for luxury but if you run out when celebrating open the Lowenbrau, a great beer to follow the best wine in the world.

So I’ll continue the research, but for now it’s the version pictured above that Lowenbrau ran. And certainly it did great work to sell the beer. Brian Tracy in his book Victory! (2002) states how the campaign turned a previously languishing product into a star import, see here.

The power of advertising.

Note re images: The first image was sourced from the news story linked in the text. The second was sourced from an eBay listing, here. All intellectual property in the images belongs to its lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Falstaff Brewery: an Executive Foretells the Future, Unwittingly

In 1963 Joseph Griesedieck, Sr. (“Joe Sr.”) was the third in paternal line to head up Falstaff Brewing Corporation in St. Louis, MO. He chaired its Executive Committee and was on its Board of Directors. Griesedieck had graduated in engineering from Cornell University. He started as a trainee in the fermentation and brewing halls, and by ’63 was in senior management.

He authored that year an article in the Financial Analysts Journal, here, another gem from the JSTOR scholarly research resource. It is called, Brewing Crosses the Threshold.

His audience: financial analysts who reviewed industry groups and publicly-listed securities for the investment industry. Clearly Joe Sr. wanted to impress this sector with the recent growth and bullish prospects of the brewing segment and his own company, which was traded on the NYSE although still family-managed.

The article is upbeat, confident, and secure in its feeling the American brewing industry had many sunny years ahead, and by implication Falstaff as one of its leading lights. In 1963 Falstaff was the third-largest brewer in America selling 6M/bbl per annum. It had built a stable of breweries by acquisition, reaching into different parts of the country.

The Griesediecks were a clan originally from Catholic Westphalia who came to America at the Civil War’s end. They started in malting and then brewing, running a number of breweries under different names. American patriarch Anton fathered Papa Joe, Joe Sr.’s grandfather, and it is Papa Joe who laid the post-Prohibition foundation of Falstaff.

He had purchased the iconic St. Louis brand from another brewery, Lemp, that had stopped operating with the advent of Prohibition. Papa Joe had confidence that Prohibition would one day end and he would return a famous beer to the market.

In 1963, Joe Sr. explained the changes the post-Prohibition industry had to confront:

In the years since the hardy pioneers quaffed their homemade brew, beer has had its ups and downs. Some of the downs, particularly prohibition, made the going pretty rough. In fact, with repeal, a complete industry was – in effect – born anew. Changes in consumer habits and distribution methods had to be caught up with at the same time the industry was analyzing the changes of the future.

There have been many such changes. Among the major ones are the rapid rise of the supermarket as a family shopping center; the growth of convenience packaging and cash-and-carry trade; the increasing popularity of beer among women and its acceptance as a family beverage of enjoyment and moderation; and consumer reliance on national and semi-national brands for quality and dependability.

…. During these recent, somewhat hectic years, competition in the industry has been honed to scalpel-sharpness, forcing some marginal and less efficient brewers to throw in the towel. To survive, brewers have had to demonstrate flexibility in meeting changing marketing conditions. And successful marketing has had to have the backing of strong management leadership. The total effect, however, has been a strengthening of the relative positions of the brewers who have operated profitably during this period, plus a new status – a “streamlined look”- for an industry that traditionally has been regarded as a bit old-fashioned in its development. Today, scientific management methods are as much a part of brewing technique as the fermentation processes. The men who make the beer are a young and energetic group, specialists all, and the tools with which they work are the most efficient to be had.

Electronic data processing has been harnessed for brewing efficiency. At Falstaff, for instance, orders from all eight breweries funnel to a control center in St. Louis over leased wires. Here EDP takes over verifying the accuracy of orders, signalling urgent needs for materials and supplies, and arranging a weekly production schedule for each plant exactly tailored to each week’s demand in each distribution area.

Joe Sr. also noted the ongoing consolidation trend but saw it as a positive, to realize efficiencies in the face of ever-rising costs and taxes and ensure the capital investment vital to remaining competitive. He noted that many smaller concerns couldn’t keep up and fell by the wayside.

He doesn’t give any hint of being worried his company would be taken over. Rather, it was the other way around: Falstaff had regularly acquired breweries, including a modern St. Louis plant in the mid-1950s that had been owned by cousins who operated the Griesedieck Brothers Brewery.

But fate intervened: in 1975 a controlling interest in Falstaff was purchased by Paul Kalmanovitz, the premier U.S. brewery corporate raider of the time. Mr. Paul, as commonly referred to by his employees, invested $20M in exchange for a one-third equity stake and voting control.

By 1977 Mr. Paul shut the St. Louis head office and brewery of Falstaff, firing most of the workers and managers. Surviving management was moved to San Francisco, CA to work with Mr. Paul and his General Brewing which had absorbed Falstaff. Falstaff’s farther-flung breweries were closed in subsequent years. Thenceforth Falstaff beer was manufactured in another of the breweries later acquired by Mr. Paul.

The last to be bought, Pabst, is still a successful, mass-market brewer albeit owning no significant brewing operations: most production is contracted out. Mr. Paul died about 20 years ago and other hands now own Pabst. Falstaff beer itself has been off the market since 2005.

Joe Sr.’s son Joe Jr. headed Falstaff when Mr. Paul took it over, fourth in the family line to do so and last to run the business. He survived the cull of management and went out to San Francisco to join Mr. Paul.

Some of the drama associated with the takeover is described in the article “The Falstaff Brewery, St. Louis” by Chris Naffziger, published in Brewery History in 2015, see here.  

According to the article, by the early 1960s the seeds of Falstaff’s fall were sown in that the company had bought aging breweries whose per-barrel production cost well exceeded that of highly efficient breweries such as Anheuser-Busch.

Also, a costly anti-trust lawsuit in Rhode Island in the early 1970s, connected to the purchase of Narragansett Brewery there in 1965, drained the coffers of funds needed to modernize. Naffziger wrote:

Falstaff began its attempt to expand into the Northeast United States, purchasing Ballantine in New York and the Narragansett Brewery in Rhode Island. Disappointing sales of Ballantine and an expensive, if ultimately successfully defended, anti-trust lawsuit in Rhode Island further sapped Falstaff’s finances.

Ironically, the logic of survival of the fittest advanced by Joe Sr. in the 1963 article, when Falstaff seemingly was impregnable, did the company in a scant dozen years later.

In terms of beer itself, as a drink, there is not a single word in Joe Sr.’s article, that is about its taste or the different styles of beer. Beer is assumed to be a given thing, understood by all in the industry, and the interest and challenges in brewing lay in other areas, economic efficiency foremost.

Fermentation and brewing are mentioned briefly but only as subjects of further refinement by scientific processes. The article reflects the perspective of the committed technocrat. There seems some affection for beer whose long history he outlines briefly. But he implies that the lore of the brewmaster and his special skill was more for public consumption, its marketing value, than anything else.

Joe Sr. did hint at a major business breakthrough, one he was not at liberty to discuss. Perhaps it dealt with continuous fermentation, heavy brewing, or some other leap forward of a technological nature. More plausibly perhaps, the purchase of Narragansett Brewery in Rhode Island was already in view.

He certainly did not envisage the craft revolution and that rich, heavy-hopped beer, the type Griesedieck ancestors made in the 1800s, would return to American brewing and enrich (some of) its innovators. Yet another irony: Ballantine India Pale Ale, an important progenitor of American and world craft brewing, was in the Falstaff stable from 1972 due to the Ballantine purchase in Newark, NJ.

Of course, Joe Sr. was not alone in viewing beer this way. Mr. Paul, for this part, never moved in that direction either with no evident harm to his interests. Such was the temper of the times: no one was thinking of “the beer” except to make it at the lowest possible cost. In fact most U.S. beers by then were rather peas in a pod.

In the Brewery History article a brother of Joe Sr., a Monsignor (in the priesthood), expressed bitterness at Mr. Paul’s ruthlessness, and derision for what he viewed as his uncouth manner. Joe Jr. was also interviewed extensively but is more nuanced in his assessment of Mr. Paul, a man he clearly admired in many ways. Chris Naffziger sums up the antimony as the perspectives of morality vs. business.

As someone who has been involved in the business world for decades, I see it like Joe Jr. Business is a complex process, never completely amoral, never completely profit-driven. Different businesses reach a balance suitable for them but at a certain point, sustained profitability is a sine qua non.

As Naffziger notes, maybe the right way to view it is Mr. Paul did the dirty work no one else at Falstaff was willing to do and had he not done so, the company would have gone under anyway.

I wonder if Joe Jr. had his father’s 1963 article in mind when assessing the legacy of Falstaff and the various responsibilities for what went wrong.

N.B. Some years ago Griesedieck descendants in St. Louis founded a business to offer St. Louis two beers under their name and the “GB” shield used by the old Griesedieck Brothers Brewery (both made under contract, I understand). See details in their website here including some absorbing history on their brewing ancestors and Falstaff. This is a commendable continuation of important local brewing history, related to Falstaff Brewery but not using the Falstaff brand as such. The name still belongs to Pabst.

Note re image: Image sourced from eBay, here. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Spaten Makes a Splash

Recently I talked about Beck’s beer, historically in terms of its true style but also its current profile.

In a series where I will revisit classics from 40 years ago – from the time that is when beer critique first assumed modern form – let’s look at Spaten. The one we get is the Helles, the regular, pale-coloured lager of the house that is a standard-bearer of Munich brewing.

Spaten makes a Pilsener too, hoppier in character, a Dunkel, a Bock, and various other types according to the Beer Advocate rating site. The German site for the brewery mentions (if I read it right) only the Helles (called Hell there), an Octoberfest style, and an alcohol-free but the rating sites list a much broader range with quite current reviews.

Of course too Spaten was always associated with a noted wheat beer, Franziskeller, but I won’t deal with that here.

Spaten until 2003 was family-owned, since then it is in the powerful AB InBev family of breweries.

1970s and 80s American beer books describe the Helles as heavy-bodied and very bitter. While it is always hard to know if beer changes over such a long period, or if a relativity factor is at work, I’d suggest the Helles has gotten lighter.

But when you get it in optimum condition, as the sample shown – it is about 90 days from packaging – it can be very good.

There is a barley sweetness to it, a light, interleaved bitterness, and subtle notes of lemon and earth. The sample has no swamp gas or boiled veg notes, the tell-tale DMS (dimethyl sulfide) of so many Euro lagers.

It’s a taste old-time learning suggests should be aged out in blonde lager. But so prevalent is it – even some mass-market North American beer has it, PBR and Molson Canadian, IMO – it must be accepted as a trait of lager brewing. It comes from a precursor in very pale malt.

I know I’ve had Spaten as fresh and possibly even newer than this sample with seemingly strong DMS. It’s sometimes called in beer description grassy or hay-like. Read online reviews for many German lager imports, or Heineken, or Grolsch, etc., and you will see terms like this used, and sometimes “skunky”, often mistaken for the DMS taste.

But this sample doesn’t have that. I think the beer probably differs from time to time in this respect, i.e., irrespective of time in the can or bottle. Despite every precaution of science I think beer does change from time to time, not just due to inevitable variations in process but to seasonal and other variations in ingredients.

Even well-known brands can vary more than most people think. Because it’s in a range not material for the average consumer it’s not an issue from a sales standpoint, but experienced tasters can pick up on it.

I opened this can at room temperature and it tastes great. Later, I drank a second half of the can cold, which brought out other features: an icy spring-water-like character, the equable carbonation, the barley sugar again. The hops are quite noticeable too – it’s not a vapid beer by any means but achieves its quality through balance and flair.




New Canadian Beer Definition

Of course I’ve reviewed the changes floated earlier this month by the government, which given the long lead-up are likely to be final when the new rules take effect. I had submitted, to my best recollection, comments in an earlier stage of the process. It must be two years ago or more now.

Just as a general or high-level reaction (not granular/legal opinion style) the process seems evolutionary and the changes reasonable.

Most beer made won’t be affected but some will. Beer remains an alcoholic infusion of barley malt or wheat malt,* to which other things can be added, classically hops or extracts made from them and cereal grains (malt adjuncts) but also many other substances.

It is clear once the amendment becomes law that herbs and spices can be used. The present beer standard permits use of any “carbohydrate”, which these are anyway, but clarification is provided.

Adding bacteria to yeast as a permitted fermentation agent takes account of certain styles using lactic acid bacteria, so this is new.

Brews with nuts, among some others, may need an allergens notice. The idea is that existing substances and new ones to be allowed in brewing may cause allergic reactions or contain gluten (dangerous for celeriacs), so the existing exemption of beer from the requirement to state these contents will be removed. (This explains the statement on some beer labels now, “contains barley”).

The new four percent by weight residual sugar limit is an alternative to the present, vague requirement that beer must have the taste, aroma, and character traditionally associated with beer. It may cause a few practical problems, e.g., for some very rich beer styles such as Imperial Stout or Barley Wine.

If there is one area for a re-think that’s it. The new rule applies to glucose, maltose, sucrose, and other basic sugar units, not dextrin for example.

This delphic-seeming requirement is intended to mark off traditional beer from malt-based alcoholic beverages, so-called malternatives, that traditionally are much sweeter in character and not really beer-like. A factor here is, the malt is often used essentially to provide the alcohol with flavours coming from fruit or other sugars added.

The new rules will not become effective until published in Part II of the Canada Gazette, likely next year. Also, the Regulatory Impact Statement issued by the Food and Drug Directorate states viz. a transition period:

There is a proposed transition period that would allow brewers to continue to use the requirements under the current FDR [Food and Drug Regulations] for a period of two years [from adoption of the new law sometime next year] in order to provide sufficient time for stakeholders to make necessary labelling or formulation changes. Regulated parties may follow either the former requirements or the new requirements during the two-year transition period. At the end of the transition period, the new requirements must be applied.

It is largely a regulatory area where the trade lobbies Beer Canada and Ontario Craft Brewers Association, as well as the Canadian Chapter of Master Brewers Association of America’s Technical Committee, will work closely with members to promote compliance.


*An earlier version of this post suggested that wheat malt was a “bolt-on” to the beer standard. However, on checking the current standard in the Food and Drug Regulations, I note it permits barley malt or wheat malt in beer, so a Gratzer/Grodziskie, say (all-wheat malt-based, or it may be) was always legal, and the wheat malt is not new as a potential 100% mash for beer. To my best recollection, an earlier version of the new beer standard required barley malt as a component in beer, that is what I was thinking of.