A Taste of the Old Country in 1941 Montreal

Guinness Foreign Extra Touted in a Mobilized Canada

In October 1941, the war was accelerating on all fronts. Things looked perilous for the Russian army as hundreds of thousands of German troops encircled them. The Nazi persecution of the Jews had reached an unprecedented level of depravity, and would get much worse. Imperial Japan continued its pitiless military conquests. Pearl Harbor was a few weeks away. And much else.

The outlook was and would remain grim for years to come.

Canada had been on a war-footing for two years, and local newspapers were full of war news. At the same time, life went on. The Montreal Gazette of October 15, 1941 reflected the war but also local life as it had always been – local and church news, fashion ads, other business news and ads, political developments.

I grew up in Montreal, indeed with the Gazette as we called it tout court. The paper carries on, which I always read on my return visits there.

Many of the ads or other mentions from 1941 resonate from things I remember as a kid, e.g., Morgan’s Department Store on Ste. Catherine Street. (It is still there, now called The Bay). If I was 12 in 1962 – I was – this is only 20 years later. Lots had changed by then including the suburbanization of the city and rising French nationalism, but lots hadn’t changed.

Reading the 1941 Gazette reminds me of my youth but as an alternate version so to speak.

The actual physical stuff of 1940s Canadian war-making was still in evidence in c. 1960 Montreal. Armouries were still active and advertised for cadets. I almost signed up once. Newspapers still carried ads for surplus clothing, vehicles, and weapons. I remember the .303 Lee Enfield rifle in particular offered for sale. You could find it and much more in the numerous army surplus stores.

Of course war memories were still fresh, added to by the Korean War. My father was a 17-year-old private in the Canadian Black Watch (RHR) in 1945 and trained at Farnham, QC. A number in the family had enlisted, some fought in Europe. There were no direct persecutions from the Germans as our people came before WW I. But I remember the stories from friends. At the corner Jewish bakery, the ladies serving had blue-inked numbers on their arms.

The 1941 papers still carried beverage alcohol ads, whether this continued until VE Day I can’t say. The availability of alcohol to the populace was surely seen as a morale-booster and it was probably felt a few ads would do no harm.  The ads themselves have both a pre- and post-war feel, that is they reflect the interests of a consumer society, just as the fashion ads do. This was part of the binary mentality that always continues in any war setting. People carry on but it’s always on the backdrop of something out of kilter – at least that’s how it strikes me reading the 1941 Gazette 75 years later.

I will look at three of the ads.  The first is for Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the strong, exported version of Guinness still sold (but not in Canada, today). The beer perhaps was still being imported from a bottler in neutral Ireland. Either that or it was prewar stock, or perhaps obtained from a Guinness warehouse in New York.

A few things to note. The ad made hay of a number of Guinness attributes:

  • all-barley malt
  • no filtration (“never, never“)
  • aged for at least one year in “oak vats”
  • not pasteurized and retaining “active yeast”.

None of those selling points characterizes Guinness today, to my knowledge.

It’s interesting that the ad invites readers to ask anyone “from England” about the beer. It goes on to state that anyone in “the Old Country” knows its value. These vague references perhaps were intended to suggest Guinness was at least as British as Irish. Ireland had only been independent for some 20 years, so this was a natural connection anyway. Also, the appeal to Britannic and Irish (the ad does refer to Dublin) tastes implies the superiority of Old World production.

This was a big part of British beer’s appeal for generations in North America. The tug was strongest from the mid-1800s until perhaps the 1930s but endured until about 20 years ago. Finally the turnaround came with the success of American craft beer, especially IPA, in Britain today. It took a while though, like 200 years.

I’ll deal with the next two drinks in subsequent posts.

 

Note re image: Above image was extracted from the news story linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Guinness Stout in the Wood Barrel Days

A Taste Report on 1960s Wood Barrel Guinness

I have discussed often, e.g., here, and  here, that Guinness stout used to be a naturally-conditioned beer. This meant it was racked (transferred) to wood barrels, or bottled, with its residual live yeast. In brewing, much of the yeast which has turned the maltose into alcohol and CO2 is removed in the traditional process. Some always remained, sometimes throwing a haze unless the beer was left to stand for a while or certain clarification methods were used.

During the 1960s, the draft system more or less employed since the inception of Guinness in the 1700s was replaced in Ireland. The beer was now filtered and chilled (later pasteurized, too) and dispensed from a metal canister by a mix of CO2 and nitrogen gas. This was a technical innovation of some sophistication.

The unfiltered bottling was retained for about 20 years still, but finally this form too was eliminated. All bottled and canned Guinness has been filtered and pasteurized for decades.

Beer containing residual yeast, especially where dispensed from wood containers in which bacteria and wild yeast could lurk, is liable to deterioration in various ways. Obviously Guinness’s fame meant most pints must have been sound during its lengthy history, but the brewery wanted to promote a greater level of stability. The new system ensured this. In general, similar technological changes were occurring elsewhere in brewing.

Indeed most large plants had become “sterile” (in the technical sense), a change also meant to favour product stability and consistency. Guinness adopted this as well.

We have always wondered how Irish bar customers reacted to the new form of the beer. There must still be people in Dublin today who remember Guinness before the switch to the current system.

To me, it is interesting to glean their thoughts from a palate or “gastronomic” standpoint. In a word, did any of them notice a change in taste? Was the new form different, if so how? Today, in the wake of the craft brewing renaissance, many beer fanciers would state they prefer beer in unfiltered and unpasteurized form.

Was that the case for the beer fanciers of 1960s Dublin, or some of them?

Recently, via the kind offices of a museum in Dublin, I was put in touch with a gentleman, Edwin, who remembered the old Guinness. He stated he was just an occasional drinker of Guinness, but he did recall when the system changed over. He was in his late teens at the time. I’ll quote his own words to me:

I’m no expert. I do remember Guinness from the old days. It came in barrels as you describe or bottles. Draft from wooden barrels was very creamy and had a nice head. You would find it not cold or even warm. The bottled beer which I preferred had a malty flavour. It was served unchilled, mostly. From the fridge might have been an option, however most bars would not have been so modern as to boast a fridge. The main change with the metal casks was the beer came out cold. Soon most drinkers wanted it that way.  I would have been in my late teens when the changes were introduced. I preferred the old products, however one got used to the new.

Later, I asked Edwin if he recalled that any customers grumbled about the change. He said for a time, you could get Guinness in both forms in the city, so both tastes were satisfied, but finally the old system was phased out and people just accustomed to the new form. Although he didn’t say this, I’d guess that some who really liked the unfiltered character of the old draft switched to bottles, since bottled Guinness remained unfiltered for a considerable time as I said.

The takeaway for me is, even in the great beer-drinking country of Ireland, people just accepted over time changes in their beer.

And it was true elsewhere. In eastern Canada before WW I, ale was still a strong beer, c. 7% abv, and aged in the cellar for months, similar to its model of English stock ale including India Pale Ale.

By the 1920s, the norm in Quebec and Ontario had become cold, fizzy, medium-strength ale (5% abv). People accepted the change and there is reason to think many welcomed it.

It’s the same with milk – I can just recall that some bottled milk – it came in large, skittle-shaped bottles – had a layer of cream on top. Who remembers that now or cares?

It’s an old story though whether a brewer or any supplier of comestibles responds to or creates the public taste. The answer probably is, it’s somewhere in the middle, a complex process where each factor has more or less influence for various reasons.

For example, by the 1970s England was characterized by relative prosperity, better communications, and a more assertive public. The favoured the creation of The Campaign For Real Ale, or CAMRA. CAMRA’s lobbying ensured the preservation of English cask-conditioned beer. CAMRA also helped spark the craft/indie brewing renaissance underway for the last generation, now internationally. CAMRA was called by renowned brewing writer Michael Jackson Europe’s most successful consumer movement.

CAMRA started about a decade after Guinness implemented its new draft system in Ireland. Perhaps had Guinness waited another 10 years a campaign to save the old Guinness would have started.  But regardless of that, changes for a mass-produced product like Guinness were probably inevitable. Had an Irish CAMRA existed in 1964, at most maybe a small supply of naturally-conditioned Guinness would have been assured. That would have been valuable unto itself, though.

Edwin’s comments about temperature are interesting, and probably reflect the typical reaction of the day. Probably too in practice some pubs served the new beer warmer, or arrayed the glasses on the bar to let them settle and warm a bit. So any temperature/palate needs of a specific clientele were probably handled that way, or by people switching to the bottled form as I said.

Net-net, people took to the new Guinness.

Today, the need for a cask-conditioned Guinness is less strong. Ireland now has a few dozen small, independent breweries, spawned in the wake of CAMRA and the success of U.S. craft brewing. Numerous of them make a stout or porter in the old way.

The history took care of itself, finally.

N.B. Guinness is starting to address the demand for more distinctive – and historical – forms of its famous stout. The porter pictured, which I found in Paris recently, is a first-rate product albeit not bottle-conditioned. One hopes it will be sent to all important markets for Guinness internationally, including Ontario. It’s been out for a couple of years though, and I haven’t seen it here yet.

Note re image: the second image above shows the handling of Guinness casks on a Dublin quay in the mid-1950s. It was sourced from Pinterest, here. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

A Cool Visit

 

Recently I passed by Cool Brewery in Etobicoke, Toronto and had a chance to chat with brewer Adrian Popowycz (pictured). The brewery has operated for two decades, in recent years at the south end of Islington road near the lake. Adrian has impressive professional brewing credentials and considerable experience in the industry.

The plant expanded since my last visit to encompass part of the parking area on the west side. The new space houses some of the 36 stainless steel cylindro-conical fermenters in the plant, the latest Chinese-made to Cool’s specs.

Cool is known for its Cool Lager, Stonewall Light and the darker Buzz, the last with a hemp addition. The first two are styled to the mass market, using some grain adjunct, while Buzz is more a craft style with light toasted malt and a racy edge.

Cool’s line is value-priced, which assists its sales as it does little marketing. It is easy to forget that most beer sold in Ontario (and Canada) offers a mainstream taste. Cool has a space in that market but in distinction to the “big names” is locally-owned and operated.

I tasted the lager on draft which on a 90 F day went down like no trouble, the flavours of clean malt, corn and German hop lingering in the mouth. The beer’s helles inspiration is obvious, except it’s lightened with the corn. This style of beer emerged in the U.S. in the last quarter of the 1800s and is still going strong for a large part of the market.

To my taste, and irrespective of price, Cool Lager is superior to most of the lager made by the international brewers. It just seems more beer-like, and fresher. The company makes a point of advertising that no preservatives or additives are used.

Does Cool ignore the burgeoning craft/indie market with its IPAs, saisons, stouts, and much more? Not at all, it makes all these and more but for contract brewers, under co-pack arrangements as it’s termed in the industry. Cool can make any kind of beer it wants, and to a high degree of proficiency. Beer fans in town tend to know where some of the contract beers are made, and Cool is one of the specialists in the co-pack field. Two or three other breweries in Ontario handle this market as well.

In the business of brewing, Cool has carved out its space. Any beer fan has to be impressed with many of the products it makes both for itself and others, but also simply its success in staying the course in a competitive, highly-regulated field.

 

 

 

A Carrot For Your Thoughts

In 1996, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise published a recipe for carrot cake “with a tropical twist”.

A propos the cake, famous now in North America including its muffin form, the paper wrote:

Carrot cakes have been an American favorite since the 1960s, when home cooks and restaurant chefs started combining carrots, walnuts, raisins and spices to bake a fruit-and-nut cake, smothered with a cream cheese frosting.

Many standard American cooking references state a similar time period for the origin of the cake. I recall that it became common in the 1970s, and was seen initially as a novelty. Once you ate it and it didn’t taste of carrots, everything was cool. 🙂

These cakes have also been called loaves, as the article shows, and occasionally just carrot bread, maybe because the small bread shape is often still favoured for it. It was always vaguely associated with health food although the typical carrot cake is anything but. It did become popular among the back to the land crowd, of a piece with muesli, trail mix, home-brewed beer and wine (yay), vegan eating, that general thing.

Generally the modern recipe is a blend of flour, ground carrot, sugar or honey, nuts of some kind, spices, but beyond that there are many variations including a fruit addition. If a beer carrot cake hasn’t been devised, I’d be surprised. (Anyone got one?).

In fact, carrot cake is very old: it didn’t start in the 1960s, certainly. There are recipes in American newspapers from the early 1900s, and British cooking manuals of the 1800s offer recipes although sometimes the cake is different from today’s. This 1912 recipe from California is essentially today’s standard recipe except for the addition of chocolate, which seems out of place, but maybe it worked.

One early 1800s English recipe states the cake should be eaten hot. Here we see an influence of the older tradition the cake sprung from, the carrot pudding. It may be that the English books took the idea from the Continent, see the history notes here, which suggest a French and Swiss connection.

The history is further explicated in this uncredited article from the splendid, virtual World Carrot Museum.

The European Jews always had tzimmis, a sweetened carrot pudding eaten for the High Holidays. The rather anodyne one pictured in Wikipedia is not what I remember, ours used well-minced carrot to form a smooth but substantial pudding. It had salt, white pepper – the Montreal Jewish homes I knew always used white, never black – and honey, not too much it. That was it, but some people added pieces of prune or other fruit. Dumplings sometimes went in too, just plain white ones, the kind in chicken soup from matzo meal. Sometimes pieces of beef brisket or flank meat are mixed in, or the next day if you see what I mean.

This pudding is always served hot with the main courses and has a decided carrot taste. It is quite different from carrot cake, but one can see that medieval carrot puddings, of which tzimmis is probably a descendant, morphed into the cake form known today.

The recipe shown, from the Lorraine volume (1980) of the superb regional gastronomy series of Editions S.A.E.P Ingersheim, Colmar, is styled cake (gâteau) and clearly meant to be served cold, as dessert. But it bears some resemblance to the kind of carrot pudding of which tzimmes is an example. It has no flour, just a little starch to bind, and almond, which appears in some American carrot cake as well. The kirsch addition would lend a spicy cherry note, and is an analogue to the spicy, often fruity note in American carrot cake.

The Lorraine version kind of stands mid-way between medieval and Middle Ages carrot pudding and the modern American cake.

U.S. carrot cake may derive from the Alsace-Lorraine, Swiss, or German form. Lots of families have that background in the Midwest in particular. Later, maybe to reduce the carrot taste, flour was added to arrive at the form we know today. An English origin seems less likely to me even though many classic American foods have that history. One reason is that today’s carrot cake seems not to exist in Britain before the 1800s. I doubt the Mayflower brought it over. There are desserts associated with New England which must have a provincial English origin, apple pandowdy, say, but carrot cake is probably not one.

Note re images: Images shown were extracted from the book identified in the text. They are included herein for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the publisher stated in the text. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

Chop Suey All Over Again

The Wanton Winds of Cuisine

Chop Suey is one of those lodestones of American cuisine, in the sense that, like the hot dog, or hamburger, it has mysterious origins. Long considered a bastardization of “real” Chinese food, today the picture is more nuanced.

First, the dish under the same or similar names exists in other places, mostly far-flung outposts of early China trade, reached by sea.

Jack Kerouac wrote in On The Road, “The waves are Chinese … the earth is an Indian thing”.

So you find it in east end London, in Port Darwin, in Rio de Janeiro, and in Malaya (I like the romance of the older spelling, sorry).

Recent advances in food history have confirmed pretty much that it is an authentic Chinese dish, simply from a distant southern province whence many emigrants departed, hence implantation in other places.

All details are in this impressive Wikipedia entry for chop suey. At least two books have been written on chop suey, both cited in the article mentioned, hunting its origins and contributing to its status as a dish with the cultural importance of pizza, the burger, the bagel.

We claim a modest part in tracing the origin of chop suey, having uncovered this 1902 article in the Amador Ledger in California, which states an (American) Consul to Amoy, in the Chinese province mentioned, gave his chop suey recipe to the paper.

Truth to tell, chop suey has probably slipped from the cultural food pantheon. I doubt most millennials know what it is. Today, Chinese cooking is at a high pitch in North America with every conceivable regional type presented, not to mention fusion and other novel styles. Older dishes which sound half-American and evoke the small town to boot don’t appeal as much. It’s dad’s era, if not gran-dad’s.

Still, you find it on menus around this burg without, I’m glad to say, ironic overtones. Not yet anyway.

The example shown was spotted on a walk mid-town yesterday.

Maybe now is the time to say this: I have never had chop suey. Ever. It’s not intentional, but for some reason we don’t think of ordering it when out. I think I had egg foo young, a dish with some parallels to chop suey, once. I plan to remedy this omission soon.

When researching the history of musty ale, I came across an early (1903) description of chop suey in a Chicago newspaper, the Quincy Daily Tribune. It is a detailed and interesting account, the dish is like “hot salad”, the journalist said. The same scribe said it was enhanced with a rich sauce unknown to its place of origin, but whether that is true is hard to say.

The English food scholar Elizabeth David wrote that “the girl in West End theatre programmes”, this is early post-Second War, said “I want everything Chinese tonight”. That was the kind of atmosphere developing in our big cities 50 years earlier. Chinese food was not just a single dish but an experience, eaten with numerous brother dishes and of course the tea for which China is a byword. And the atmosphere of these restaurants added allure, as the full 1903 article makes clear.

Chinese cuisine, of which chop suey was an early symbol, was jostling for attention with local foods and drinks. The Daily Herald worried there would be no more post-show tètes-à-tètes with musty ale and red lobster, it’s tea and chop suey now.

Well, not really. Musty ale did disappear without (almost) a trace after Prohibition, as its fast friend the Welsh rabbit, but this hadn’t much to do with Chinese food. They had their day.

As for red lobster, it’s as popular as ever. In fact Chinese restaurants do about the best work with it, it’s the ginger and garlic I think. Win-win you might say.

Note re image: the first image above was extracted from the news article contained in the newspaper issue linked in the text, archived by the California digital archive service stated in the link. Image is used herein for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the source belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable All feedback welcomed.

 

Early Craft IPA and Bert Grant

Alan at A Better Beer Blog has written some good notes on the late Bert Grant, a Scottish-born Canadian who worked at Carling in Ontario in the 1940s and 1950s. Grant later moved to Yakima Valley in Washington State, did hop research and helped pioneer the modern IPA style via his Bert Grant’s India Pale Ale first released in 1982. Grant was also noted for his Scottish Style Ale, a beer that excited comment at the time for its apparent non-Scottish character. It was darker and more malty than the India Pale Ale but fairly well-hopped.

Alan makes a good case for Canadian involvement in the worldwide fashion for IPA via Grant’s obsession with hops and his IPA.

Well-hopped beers had appeared earlier in U.S. craft brewing including from Anchor Brewery in San Francisco. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was released around the same time as Grant’s first beers, perhaps a little earlier (1980-81). There was also Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve, a mid-1970s lager from Blitz-Weinhard, an old-established regional, which had a Cascade accent quite different from regular adjunct lager of the day.

But Grant was the first craft brewer to market a bottled beer, at any rate, under the India Pale Ale label. Ballantine India Pale Ale, which has 19th century, East Coast roots, was in the market until about 1996 (and was returned again some years ago). Ballantine India Pale Ale influenced the early American craft ale brewers. Why no one thought of using the India part of the name on their label until Grant is an interesting question.

Perhaps they thought the word was too exotic and would not be understood by consumers. Perhaps some were worried about being sued by Ballantine for trade mark infringement. Today we know that India Pale Ale is an old type-description for beer but early craft brewers may not have realized that. Grant would have known it, as beers were still sold in the 1980s in Canada using the generic description India Pale Ale, e.g., by Labatt and Alexander Keith.

Alan explains that Grant was influenced by a beer he liked at Carling’s Dominion Brewery in the mid-1940s, a White Label brewed by emigrant Scottish brewmasters. It was amber and used lots of English hops.

I remember both of Grant’s beers well. His IPA was austere in flavour, very dry and very hoppy/herbal. While Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewery was in this vein, Liberty Ale was not styled IPA then. A version of Liberty Ale is now available under the IPA moniker, incidentally.

So while Liberty Ale’s importance in the history remains – indeed it had to have influenced Grant’s IPA –  it had no influence on the use of IPA or India Pale Ale as a beer description.

Todd Alström at beeradvocate.com has an excellent 1998 taste note on Grant’s India Pale Ale, which is exactly as I recall the beer. At the time, I didn’t really like it but I see now how the high attenuation was authentic to the 1800s. Beers like that were the type actually sent to India, the “tonics” spoken of then, very hoppy and dry except using English hops not American-citric ones. Grant used the very bitter Galena hop and some Cascade.The beer was a floral/grapefruit bomb as most IPAs are to this day.

As for Grant’s Scottish Style Ale, I think it is quite clear that it was really an English pale ale. It was in the vein of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Boulder Pale Ale, and other early craft ales. See e.g., the same Todd’s review here from 1998.

It is not surprising that emigrant Scottish brewers would make this type of beer because breweries in Scotland were brewing IPA since the 1800s. At times this Scottish IPA has been confused with the older, Scottish strong ale which is the type people thought of when assessing Grant’s Scottish Style Ale, e.g., c. 8% abv McEwan Scotch Ale. Ballantine Brewery’s brewmaster after 1933 was also a Scot who arrived on our shores (North America) to brew after long experience at home.

Any professional Scottish brewmaster of the mid-1900s would have been an expert at brewing pale ale.

I think Grant would have been better off calling it a pale ale, it would have been a good stablemate to the “export” or India version he rightly called India Pale Ale.

Underlying all this of course is that pale ale and India Pale Ale are really the same thing. They can be differentiated, if at all, only by their extremes. This is why Grant’s Scottish Ale was not dissimilar to Ballantine India Pale Ale, there is no “contradiction” in saying that. But in general it’s fair to say, pale ale was probably less hoppy, and richer in taste, than IPA. Beer that didn’t need to go to India didn’t need a ton of hops and could afford an ample body. The beer would be drunk before bacterial or wild yeast infection got to it.

In this loose way, one can say that Grant’s Scottish Style Ale, really a pale ale with apparent influence from a 1940s pale ale brewed in Toronto, was in the same class as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Pete’s Wicked Ale, and similar early craft U.S. ales. Whereas Grant’s resolutely pale (blondish) India Pale Ale:

  • was at the “export” end of the spectrum, as Liberty Ale earlier
  • resulted from Grant’s obsession with hops and probably history he absorbed working in breweries in Canada
  • was innovative in establishing the India Pale Ale/IPA terminology

Note re image: the image above was obtained from this label collection website. Image is used herein for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

Ace Bar Server Margaret Winfield of The Eagle, London

What was Hal Boyle, the U.S. war correspondent who wrote about how to get a drink in wartime London, doing some 25 years after the war? He was only 57, and still writing his column.

He was still interested in what goes on in bars including English ones. So interested he wrote a piece in 1968 on a London server, Mrs. Margaret Winfield, who won an award for the Ideal Barmaid in England.

She was on a promotional visit to the U.S., I’d guess for Whitbread who probably organized the competition.

While a touch condescending, the article sheds light on contemporary bar customs in both countries. England’s best servers never wasted a drop pulling a pint, while American bartenders lost too much beer when pouring.

How the English avoided drippings isn’t explained. Maybe the system they once had of recycling the leavings into the cask explains it. The Americans are pictured as more laissez-faire, hence more generous. The same implication arises when Boyle mentions the low wages a server received in England then.

Particularly interesting to us is the recitation of 19th century English names for drink concoctions, especially the dog’s nose (gin and beer), but also the granny (old and mild beer) or mother-in-law. In 1968 in greater London, at the height of flower power and Carnaby Street, there were still calls for these tastes of Sherlock Holmes’ era. The term wallop is mentioned as well, for mild, a term we believe originated in the 1800s when mild was c. 7% abv.

Americans were gulping the bullshot, a mix of vodka and beef bouillon. Until recently at any rate this drink was almost forgotten, as lost in time as the dog’s nose, frankly. But Colleen Graham argues at www.spruce.com it is coming back. What’s old is new again, maybe.

Gin is popular now in hipster circles, so perhaps we are a hop and skip from the return of the dog’s nose, too.

Boyle stated where Margaret Winfield worked, the Eagle pub “not far from London”, but not the precise location. Still, we can deduce it: Tamworth Road, Croydon. Croydon is in what Michael Jackson called transpontine London, the south part. It was and is a busy place, a business hive of Greater London.

We know it was Croydon because she is pictured there in a short newsreel on youtube. She looks very cheerful and expert, it’s not hard to see why she did well in the business. Here, she draws a Whitbread Tankard bitter (pressure dispense) and does it like a pro indeed, hi watt smile in full evidence.

The announcer mentioned her age, 27, so at 75 she may still be living, presumably in well-earned retirement. If she is still with us, one wonders what she thinks of pubs today and today’s fashions in beers and drinks. Her recollections of pubs and the “chaffing” culture in vogue then would be interesting to hear.

Chaff is a term new to us, evidently different from chav and chuffed – it means to tease or speak with someone in a joshing or jocular way.

They still chaff in England, yah?

As to the Eagle itself, the building still stands but the invaluable Beer in the Evening site reports it closed in 2010 and is used now as community centre. Judging by readers’ comments between 2004 and closing date, the pub was on the slide in the last years: the sad but frequent denouement of a once-vibrant bar or restaurant.

The bottles behind the bar in the newsreel are Whitbread Pale Ale and Whitbread is the advertised name in the first image above of the Eagle in its prime. Hence the thought it was Whitbread who organized the competition Margaret won. See this picture of Margaret in 1968 standing behind the Whitbread handpumps.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from this trolley bus history site, here. The second image was sourced from the Beer in Evening site linked in the text. Images appear herein for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources resides solely in their lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.

 

Anchor California Lager

After The Gold Rush

I’m always on the lookout for a really good blonde lager. I have had very few, most IMO do not reach the heights the style is capable of. In Europe, there is Pilsner Urquell, still probably the best. I like the Bernard beers as well from Czech Republic.

I now include in their class Bohemian Rhapsody, a beer from Westerham Brewery in Kent, England I discovered in France.

Few lagers I’ve had anywhere can approach those mentioned, but of course I’ve had only a comparative few, so must hold judgment until I taste the rest. 🙂

In Ontario, my favourites are Side Launch Mountain Lager and Ace Hill Pilsener. As for any crafted beer, some variation is noted glass to glass, but in general those are the best in Ontario currently, IMO.

Outside Ontario in North America, the acme is probably Anchor Brewery’s lager pictured. It commemorates California’s first lager brewery, a tiny, short-lived operation called Boca in the north of the state. The beer uses 100% 2-row California barley and all-Cluster hops, the classic West Coast variety before the modern C-hop, etc. era.

The beer just arrived in Ontario and judging by the best-by date – March, 2019 – is very fresh, probably three months old. It has a creamy/milky taste hard to describe, but I recall it in Tuborg and Michelob from the 1970s. It is kind of a cross of those, which is high praise.

It bears some similarities to Side Launch lager as well, or rather I consider all these as exemplary of a certain, non-Pilsen, non-Bavarian type beer. (Ace Hill’s is more in the Bavarian vein IMO).

The California Lager may well deliver a taste similar to the best lager on the West Coast at the end of the 1800s, a period when steam beer was starting to decline and lager taking its place.

I tasted it half-warm and I’ll be darned if I don’t taste a tinge of the pasteurization. It’s a slight roast caramel or perhaps day-old bread taste. It probably isn’t noticeable at full chilling, and doesn’t bother me, but is a reminder that we perhaps pay a price for a delicate lager of high quality to be shipped and enjoyed so far. Ideally, it would be unpasteurized but when expected to last two years, evidently the treatment is necessary to ensure palatability.

The Anchor has no green flavours, no DMS in particular, a taste I don’t like. Anchor Steam Beer seems clearly to have a touch of it, not surprising given it is a type of lager not aged very long and krausened with yet newer beer.

But the brother lager skips the taste somehow, to its credit.

We get very few Anchor line extensions here. After years of Steam Beer and Liberty Ale, it’s good to see something different from Anchor, which brews an impressive line today. Bring more.

Blondes, Taxis, and the West End

Beer Et Seq is always interested in period descriptions of beer flavour. It’s a rare window onto tastes of the past. Technical brewing descriptions help a lot too, but more by inference and deduction.

In 1944, a mordant piece by Hal Boyle appeared in the Free-Lance Star, a Fredericksburg, Virginia newspaper still published. Boyle, a top wartime correspondent, examined the shortages in London for spirits and wine. He said beer was more easily obtained but had comments in its regard as well.

His vivid picture of shapely Jean the blonde bootlegger evokes an Avengers-type tableau, only it’s 20 years earlier and Diana Rigg was a blonde. The well-dressed woman-about-town emerging with a package from a black cab in deserted street… Maybe Honor Blackman is the better analogy, for those who remember.

The Americans in wartime London completed dominated the market for illicit Scotch and gin – because they had the scratch, the dosh, the gelt. This must have caused no little resentment among their British hosts, as the article implies, probably with understatement in the interest of Allied cooperation.

But onto beer flavour: seeking to explain mild ale and bitter beer to Americans, Boyle said mild is like mixing your beer with rainwater and sugar. And bitter is like mixing it with rainwater and quinine. (Today he might say the IPA that is the rage around the world is like mixing Bud with vodka and grapefruit juice).

Given that American lager in this period was still fairly bitter, it shows that English beer – pale or bitter ale – easily outstripped it. Since no unusual bitterness was detected in mild ale, one can assume its bitterness was about equal to mid-century American lager.

The weakness of British beer was remarked on, something I’ve discussed before as noticed by an Australian journalist. He stated the government must have pondered long and hard to get the stimulant/austerity balance exactly right. The American soldier’s reaction was typically popular and idiomatic: it’s like our beer if you drink it and get hit in the head with the bottle.

No doubt such GI metaphors had their real-life counterparts judging by the riots and disturbances that occurred in and around the various camps, any Allied country, in 1939-1945, but that’s another topic.

Anyhow, Jean Jeanie was catering to a mostly-Yankee trade and some British thirsts went unsatisfied. On the other hand, the profits went into British hands. It takes two to tango, eh? Or to jitterbug.

 

A Double Recipe: Pumpkin Pie and Squash Pie

 

Double Your Pleasure, Double the Mystery

In this recipe from the Eagle in Silver City, NM in 1894, recipes for both pumpkin and squash pies are offered. The pumpkin one uses sugar and the other does not. Also, the pumpkin one is more highly seasoned, relying on numerous spices; the squash pie uses simply nutmeg.

The pumpkin version may have been the pepo or field type with a fairly watery and loose flesh. The long cooking time suggests a watery flesh as it is stated after six hours of steaming only a little moisture is left, akin to a mashed potato.

The squash version may have used a moschata, but this is unclear and perhaps depended on area and custom. (Thanks to Alan Bishop whose comments in my previous post gave great pumpkin information including the basic classifications).

The area is New York City since the article is a reprint from the New York Tribune, yet it is printed away to the west in dry New Mexico. This may suggest readers in both parts of the country had the same understanding of what was squash and what was pumpkin proper.

This is just a guess, but I think the squash type in the article was the Long Island Cheese, a moschata well-known by the late 1800s as discussed in this informative Slow Food USA article (from which the image above is drawn).

According to quotations in the article, the LIC was commercialised in the early part of the 19th century, so relatively late: the first Puritans arrived about 200 years before that. The pumpkin they used was probably different, perhaps the pepo type although I don’t really know.

I suppose it’s possible though that the “pumpkin” in the Eagle was the LIC, and the squash something else, maybe butternut, although both are moschata-family. Pictured is the LIC and it certainly looks like the layman’s idea of a pumpkin, maybe a tad less orange but colour varies anyway in this, um, field.

For a long time, Americans pronounced and often spelled the pumpkin, “punkin”. That has a pleasing modern ring, it could be a hipster expression, à la kickin’.

I like pumpkin a lot in beer. The fashion for it seems to have subsided in the last couple of years, but hopefully there will always be some around. The right combination of pumpkin flesh, pumpkin pie spices, hops, and malt is a kickin’ flavour both in amber ale and porter.

Pumpkin for pie to be properly cooked must be slowly steamed. Peel it, remove the seeds, cut it in pieces and put it in a large iron pot, with about a quart of boiling water to one good sized pumpkin. Cover it close. Let it boil hard for about five or ten minutes, and then set it back where it will steam slowly for about six hours. At the end of this time nearly all the water will be absorbed, and the pumpkin will be sweet and tender. Press it piece by piece through a vegetable press. By this means the pumpkin should be well drained and thoroughly strained, hardly more moist than a well-mashed potato. Take four cups of this strained pumpkin, add four cups of rich milk, a teaspoonful of salt, two of ginger, one of nutmeg and one, of mace, a small cup of sugar and four or five eggs according to their size. Some housekeepers prefer to bring the milk to a boiling point before they use it, and this undoubtedly gives a richer pie. Turn the pumpkin thus prepared into deep pie plates that have been lined with pastry. A properly made pumpkin pie is at least an inch thick. See that at least half the plates are square tins, which give the delightful corner pieces oí old times. A squash pie is much more easily made and this may be the reason why it has taken the place of pumpkin in some localities. For among vegetables: the fittest does not survive, but that which is the easiest handled and gives least trouble. To make a squash pie use five cups of strained and cooked squash to one quart of boiling milk. Add a grated nutmeg, a heaping teaspoonful of salt, the juice of half a lemon, a tablespoonful of butter and five or six eggs, according to size. Bake the pie for from forty-five to fifty minutes in a rapid stove oven. In the old fashioned brick oven they were baked about one hour.  N. Y. Tribune.