Innis & Gunn Presents Don’s Choice

Canadian Beer News provides the backstory to this latest release by the Scots brewers Innis & Gunn. We have written much of them and their innovations in the brewing world, not least here.

It’s a Black IPA devised in a “next beer” consumer competition for Canada by winner Don Guimond from New Brunswick. The full name: Don’s Choice Black IPA With Coconut and Rhubarb.

(Acknowledgement: Beer et Seq entered the contest too, and, no surprise, I didn’t win! My recipe was simply, a double or Imperial stout made to 19th-century specifications, stored for a time in Memel or Baltic oak from Eastern Europe. As the idea is nestled in I & G records, we hope it will see light of day at some point).

We are on I&G’s distribution list for beer writers, publicists, and similar, and a bottle was sent our way.

It’s a delicious beer, and here is the point: whether you can taste coconut or rhubarb, which I could not, is neither here nor there. The point is, does the recipe make for an excellent beer? It does. It is malty-sweet, which I like, has notes of cocoa, and a New World hop accent that is more subtle than the sledgehammer which is the typical Black IPA.

Dialled down? Perhaps, but it tastes great – it all depends, after all, what you feel about the “baseline”.

To me the beer is rather like a good milk stout, or call it a late-19th-century mild ale if you like. It’s not really black in fact, but more a rich dark brown. Putting it another way,  I’d guess good American porter, or brown stout if you will, was not dissimilar back in the day.

There is no “musty vanillin” tang from American oak aging or treatment, a plus in my view. The label doesn’t claim oak aging so I’d think none was used.

I’d like to try it on draft, one, in an English pint glass. Because it tastes traditional-British, finally, which is partly what makes it so good.



The German Beer Fest Became a World Citizen


In a Part I we cited milestones of the modern craft beer festival including the first national beer tasting, in Richmond, VA in 1859. The age-old German beer festival with its related cultural expressions – folk music and dance, costumes, beer gardens, traditional foods and games – influenced the shape of pre-craft festivals.

I discussed examples notably in America and Canada, but also in Ireland 1964-1973.

At the same time, some early festivals demonstrated an “American” or deracinated character, especially large-scale ones. These events, billed to the general community, were a progenitor of the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), template for the modern craft festival.

GABF’s first program in 1982 focused in great detail on varieties of beer and was de-anchored from an ethnic German context.

German Alps Festival, Hunter Mountain, NY; Typical German Fests

The German Alps Festival held for many years at Hunter Mountain, NY in the Catskills, which included an “international beer exposition”, exhibited dual traits: secular-national and German-ethnic.

The cultural tone was German but hang-gliding and falconry competitions, a flea market, a petting zoo for kids, and puppetry were also featured. The national and stylistic range of beers offered, and a show of beer memorabilia and cheese-tasting, also reflected the interests of a general American audience.

If the event had been as traditionally held by a German restaurant or social organisation, there would be no need for a wide variety of American and international beers. A few standard American lagers and maybe a German import or two would suffice.

Many examples can be shown of the “parochial”-type event, held continuously since German communities first appeared in North America. Indeed the Kitchener, ON Oktoberfest, while marketed far and wide, retains an ethnic character to a remarkable degree.

This is due largely to the strength of German ethnic heritage in Kitchener-Waterloo underpinned by the large number of German clubs such as the Concordia Club.

From probably thousands, this example will suffice for an American example, held in 1964 in Richmond Hill, NY by a local hofbrau. If anything it is atypical by stating brands of bock beer, most such ads dispensed with naming brands or at most mentioned one:

A good supply of Rheingold Golden Bock, Lowenbrau and other domestic and imported bock beer, is on hand to satisfy the thirst of its patrons. Music will be another feature from 7 to 11 p.m. each evening.

The beer range at Hunter Mountain’s German Alps Festival comprised over 140 beers by only the second year of the beer fest in 1978. (The German Alps Festival itself started in 1975). Even in 1977, the first year of the beer event, the range was impressive and culturally non-specific. Examples of the brand list are contained in this press report:

A Broad Beer Selection and Other Markers of the Modern Beer Fest

Tangy Berliner Weisse (the craft “sour” of the time), hearty Bavarian double bock, incisive English pale ale, and diverse European blonde lagers were on parade at Hunter Mountain in 1977, years before the craft beer revolution started in earnest. Such a selection was not to be sneezed at, then or now. In addition, the pan-American range offered would have appealed to many, mostly from now-disappeared large and small breweries.

In contrast, German-character fests showed no obsessive emphasis on beer, not in the sense we understand today where many different beer types, their origins, and detailed characteristics are set out in the event program.

Pointillist interest in international beers including production characteristics and related cultural lore was largely absent until the craft beer era excepting only the most dedicated German restaurants such as Janssen’s and Luchow in New York (as I’ve chronicled earlier), and even then one sees this mostly before WW II.

The pairing of a trade exhibition to consumer beer enjoyment is another “secular” marker, familiar at many large-scale beer fests today. The U.K. Campaign for Real Ale’s festivals have, to date, sedulously avoided the commercial angle. This lends a pleasing purity to the festivals while one wonders if the commercial viability could be enhanced by going the Full Monty.

Cleveland Brewing Exposition of 1933

The 1933 American Beer Exposition in Cleveland was a combined trade fair and public tasting held at the Cleveland Public Auditorium. It attracted an astonishing 100,000 people from September 2-9 that year.

There was a huge beer garden with German ethos equally evident in some entertainment and decor. Still, the event was also “American” or at least cross-cultural. For example, it also had “Parisian cafes”, and offered nationally-known musical attractions and “Barbary Coast” and other light entertainment.

Beers from both American” and “foreign” brewers were featured, not just local beers much less from one brewery as could typify the German-style fest. For the latter, beer is indispensable but in truth not the focus. The beer is taken for granted in a sense, a good sense, but not more.

Other North American Progenitors of Current Craft Beer Fests

While not styled a beer festival, the “long bar” at the 1976 Vancouver, B.C. Habitat “peoples’ conference” I discussed in this post was a proto-beer and wine fest of the modern type. An effort had been made to secure a variety, not just of regional beers, but beers from Eastern Canada, as well as an import or two. At the time this was innovative in Canada.

The atmosphere of milling about a semi-enclosed, exhibition-style structure had the flavour of the modern drinks festival. So too did the Canadian beer selections and related foods I described available at the brewers’ pavilion at Montreal’s Expo ’67.

In our Part I, the essentially American quality of the first, 1859 national beer festival speaks for itself. It was advertised, barely 20 years after lager’s first appearance in America, to a general audience in an English-language newspaper that touted lager beer as an “institution”. No German ethnic references are written in the event advertisement.

The Kilkenny (Ireland) Beer Festival, 1964- c.1973

The 1964-1973 beer festival in Kilkenny, Ireland, while it had partial German inspiration, ended by offering Irish music and other cultural attractions. This image shows Guinness executives at a reception in Dublin for the 1972 edition, one is holding the event program.*

Just by virtue of offering drink brewed in Ireland and being attended by thousands of Irish and foreign visitors, it was destined to be more than a copy of the Munich Oktoberfest. Sadly, it expired in c.1973.

This occurred, interestingly enough, because it was not Irish enough. Cited were its “questionable cultural credentials”, per this later Irish Times press report.

The Pivotal Campaign For Real Ale Festivals, Starting 1975

The Campaign for Real Ale in England wasn’t inhibited by such mixed origins and goals. Its first festivals, from 1975, showed elements of the German beer fest but married to simple English food and great English beer. The novelty of helping cask beer survive provided an important indigenous element, to be sure.

The Irish could have done something similar in the 1960s by vaunting to the world their tradition of naturally-conditioned draft stout rather than jettisoning it with all due dispatch, but they didn’t…


CAMRA in any case worked an important part of the craft fest revolution. The Irish can claim some credit nonetheless for influencing its form, via a path that took in the CAMRA festival – which had to be influenced by the Kilkenny example – and in their wake the first Great American Beer Festival in Denver in 1982.

And, as I’ve shown, America and Canada had examples of a culturally non-specific beer festival before 1982 that resembled in many ways the modern craft festival.

Finally, seminal beer critic Michael Jackson (1942-2007) wrote part of the playbook for today’s events. You can see his influence in that first 1982 GABF program where beers are described serially by brewery, style/brewing method, malt and hop types, and not least, taste.**


*This 1975 spring issue of the Advocate, an Irish-American weekly, indicates the Kilkenny beer Festival was still running that year, which would bring it into the early CAMRA era.

**Another formative factor, operative too for CAMRA festivals, was the influence of homebrewers. This is another element in the “secularization” of the earlier, German-flavoured festivals.






Beer Fest Parade

And America’s First National Beer Festival

Beer festivals existed well before today’s countless large and small beer-tasting events. Excluding Germany, which has held them for centuries or more, modern beer festivals are often considered to start with the U.K.-based, Campaign for Real Ale’s early large-scale festivals. The debut was 1975 or 1977, depending how you interpret it, see here. In 1974, CAMRA held a small festival in Cambridge that is part of the history as well.

For a literal glimpse of the 1975 event in Covent Garden, London, see this youtube clip. Any readers recognize themselves, or friends?

But of course beer festivals outside the German lands have existed for much longer, by which I mean beer-sampling open to the public vs. industry beer exhibitions or expert panel judging.

In 1977 a German-theme summer festival at Hunter Mountain, NY held its first International Beer Exposition. The number of beers tasted was impressive, rising to 146 beers in 1978. A glad prospect, then or now.

Contemporary ads in New York from specialist retailers illustrate a choice of beers from Canada, Australia, Mexico, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Czechoslovavia, and other foreign countries with solid brewing traditions.

Styles from weisse to IPA, from stingo to dark lager, from stout to Dortmunder, abounded. And of course America offered a range of beers from lights to “price” to premium to super-premium. It wasn’t all dross by any means. Sir Edward Stout, anyone (from Cincinnati’s Schoenling)?

In 1969 in Kitchener, ON the first city-wide beer festival took place associated to the city’s now-highly popular Oktoberfest. This historical sketch of Kitchener’s Oktoberfest, prepared by the officiating organization, gives details. A black-and-white snapshot shows citizens drinking from incongruous-looking stubby bottles.

While craft beer is available at some of the tents today, the Kitchener Oktoberfest values beer in a way largely separate from the craft ethos, or so it strikes me. None of this has impeded its great popularity.

In 1968 in Australia, a two-day beer fest was held in Victoria by the Beer Appreciation Society of Australia (BASA). It was attended by a generally older crowd wearing business and formal attire. A good account is available via this video clip. Attendees laid stress on drinking for enjoyment, not to get drunk. This shows the novelty of the exercise then.

In interviews, attendees point out beer should be appreciated for different attributes: flavour, body, a sour or sweet note, a bitter one. More than one pinpointed regional differences in Australia’s brews. After a sip one chap says, “evidently not a Victoria brew” but it’s “quite pleasant”. Hard to tell if he was playing to the camera.

Some vocabulary differed from today, two men refer to a beer’s “workability”, a positive attribute meaning perhaps it’s sessional, you can have a few.

Imported beers were trialled as well. BASA continues to this day, judging by a quick online check.

In the 1960s the Kilkenny Beer Festival was held in Ireland. It attracted thousands and was set under a tent in a “biergarten” atmosphere. The Irish-American weekly the Advocate reported in May 1964:

Kilkenny Beer Festival

IRELAND’S first beer festival began in Kilkenny, when the first event in a week of special entertainments and sporting fixtures brought thousands of visitors to the city.

The centre of attraction in the 20-acre festival park was, of course, the gigantic 2,000 seat marquee, where beer was served in German biergarten atmosphere with a band, specially flown from Munich, playing German drinking songs.

The festival was opened by the cutting of a tape across the entrance to the six centuries old Kilkenny Castle. Mayor Thomas Delaney, P.C., performed the ceremony accompanied by Mr. William Pinnegan, chairman of the festival committee and Mr. Walter Smithwick. chairman and managing director of E. Smithwick and Sons, principal sponsors of the event.

Mayor Delaney welcomed about 20,000 visitors from many parts of Ireland, Britain and the Continent. He was glad, he said, that Kilkenny had been selected as venue for the festival as it could boast of having Ireland’s oldest brewery. He added that he was also pleased that the festival would encourage Irish culture through music and dancing.

Competitions in and around the city throughout the afternoon attracted large attendances and the biggest was at the “crazy football game” in aid of the Rehabilitation Institute.

Spectators overflowed on to the pitch.

Later reports in the same paper indicate that Guinness was a sponsor.

It is obvious – or shall I say obvious to me – that this event, which ran between 1964 and 1973, had an influence on CAMRA beer festivals. Things don’t come out of nowhere.

This particular festival is of interest in that it did not directly issue from German ethnic social customs. I mean this in the sense that there is no long-established German community in Kilkenny whose cultural celebrations mutated into wider form, as occurred in Kitchener, ON (name changed from Berlin during WW I).

At the same time, the Munich Oktoberfest influenced the form of the Irish affair, at least initially, as this press account states.

The Great American Beer Festival emerged in the early 1980s and established henceforward the “craft beer festival” format. Before that, American beer fests were typically outgrowths of German-American cultural practices. Still, there had been some indications of a broader, “American” character.

A good example is the “First Annual American Beer Exposition” held in – wait for it – 1933 in Cleveland, OH. It gathered beers from different regions and internationally for a large-scale public festival, not specifically of German character.

It was set to run during the first week of July. Breweries were so pressed to make regular deliveries in the wake of beer’s legalization that the festival was postponed to September of the same year.

It was a resounding success. Here is one of the early news reports, which gives some sense of the excitement elicited. The idea was to introduce beer in general to an avid, post-Prohibition audience. In many ways, it was the pre-Pro equivalent of what CAMRA did and Great American Beer Festival did in their early years, for their era.

I believe the Cleveland event did not continue past 1933. The onset of the Dirty Thirties may have quelled the idea and/or the appearance of the Nazi regime in Germany. Beer in America was long associated with Germany and German social mores.

Mounting a beer event in America of noticeable scale, while Hitler was ranting and persecuting, would not have been well-received by public opinion.

Earlier, I found details of the “great” 1877 New York lager tasting, and described it here.

I’ll mention one more, important because it is almost certainly the truly first national American beer festival. It has not been cited to my knowledge previously with one exception, mentioned below.

In 1859 a “Great Union Lager Beer Trial” was announced in these terms by the Daily Dispatch in Richmond, VA:

It may seem surprising that the first national lager beer tasting – beers from north, east, south, west – was organized in Richmond, a southern city in what would soon be a Rebel state. However, lager was shipped to Richmond throughout the 1850s and people evidently acquired a liking for it.

Richmond finally established its own lager breweries, the first of which, apparently Goodman & Richter, debuted at the event on Boxing Day, 1859. Richmond had an increasingly sophisticated water-and-rail transport system on the eve of the Civil War. This facilitated clearly the audacious plan to gather American lagers for a national tasting.

The Daily Dispatch ad is referred to in Lee Graves’ useful 2014 study, Richmond Beer: a History of Brewing in the River City. He focuses on the event’s significance to Richmond brewing history rather than the broader implications, which makes sense given the scope of the book.

But make no mistake: Richmond’s Great Lager Beer Trial was groundbreaking. It helped establish a tradition that, but for occasional temperance laws, National Prohibition, Depression, and war, made a permanent mark on American gastronomic customs. It is especially significant as it comes only 20 years after lager is first brewed in America.

Everything comes from somewhere, again.

The above is a conspectus – I could write the proverbial book, in other words. But it will serve to tell a story.

Note: Part II follows, here.

Note re images: the quotation and images above are drawn from the links respectively provided in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Toronto’s Cask Days 2018 – a Report


The Toronto Cask Days beer festival, organized by beer hospitality experts the Morana family, has just completed its 14th-edition in Toronto. We attended two of the four sessions, the opener on Friday and closing session yesterday.

The festival is one of the largest of its kind in the world, held in the atmospheric Brickworks, a long-disused brick manufacturing plant in the Don Valley. It’s the perfect location for such an event. The unenclosed, gracefully aging work places, with antique machinery and kilns fixed in place, mingle perfectly with the lush greenery surrounding.

The event features mostly beers in the cask or real ale style. It’s a method of dispensing beer long-associated with Britain but all beer originally was stored and served in a similar fashion, before refrigeration, filtration, and gas pressure emerged.

All casks are set on “stillages”, or frames, spiled with thin porous pegs to control the carbonation, and tapped by a hand-turned valve, the old-fashioned way. The method precedes even the Victorian handpump system often associated with cask ale.

A small but good selection of regular (pressure-drawn) draft beer was also offered and various bottled exotica, making the selection over 400 beers in total. There were beers from Ontario, Quebec, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and California.

Add to this a good range of Ontario ciders, a cocktails selection with craft spirits, and even a wine stand, the bibulous or curious could hardly be disappointed.

Virtually every style of beer currently offered in craft brewing world-wide was represented. Of the hundreds of selections, we tasted perhaps 30 as our approach is to sip a little and then discard the contents to try more.

The cost can add up, but it is the only way to get a sense of the range there without getting snookered by the alcohol.

Our favourite beer was a British Columbia Extra Special Bitter from the skillful Driftwood, due to its full, English-styled flavour. The beer actually uses North American hops according to the brewery’s description but they are used in a way that has an English effect. One of the hops is Amarillo, which I’ve said before has an orangey, English stamp to it.

We liked as well a couple of double IPAs from California and a 12% abv Fred barley wine from Hair of the Dog in Oregon. A Barrier IPA from the New York City area, a collaboration with another New York brewery, also impressed with its well-knitted but strong American hop flavours.

I liked too Amsterdam Brewery’s ironically-named Bad Life Decisions IPA, made right here in town of course, and a pumpkin ale with lactose, one of the home-brewing group offered.

The features surrounding the main event – DJs, Arcade machines, food selection, were excellent and all went smoothly. Even the music level seemed perfect for the space and buzz needed. The full attendance was enhanced with travel packages offered, see this description of the amenities from the website.

This year too an information booth was set up, to guide on beer styles, staffed by the knowledgeable Lauren Richard, well-known in the Toronto beer community. A couple of educational seminars were included as well.

Almost all the beers I had were in good condition. Real ale is famously fragile in nature, and shipping such beer across continents is not without risk. None was out-and-out bad. One or two, from California and from New York, had an edge of sourness that seemed atypical but then too as sour beers are prevalent as a style today, few would have noticed.

As for anyone, we stick to what we like, which meant swaths of beers not broached, mainly saisons, flavoured beers, sours, and barrel-aged beers. Still, there was lots to try in the parts we do like: pale ales, IPAs (regular, double, black, etc.), bitter and strong bitter, porter and stout in various strengths, strong ales, Scottish-style beers, brown ales, and various lagers.

If I have one cavil, and it’s not directed to Cask Days since they select what is currently available and popular, it’s that too many of the porters and stouts were flavoured: with coffee, plant extracts, herbs, fruits, cocoa of some kind, you name it. In fact most seemed to be, and/or barrel-aged with its coconut-like aftertaste.

I like these beers unadorned, as the styles originally were. I still found some of course, but none, I might add, that really stood out in the way, say, Fuller’s Imperial Stout does. (We are not fans of the rose petal addition in this beer, like why? But it is barely if at all detectable, a good move by the brewery IMO).

Later this week I’ll look into some North American beer festival history. It’s too easy to think that the early (1980s) Great American Beer Festivals in Denver, CO inaugurated the beer festival on this side of the Atlantic.

In fact, the first national American beer festival was held before the American Civil War.

After that I return to the late Irish writer Charles Duff, and explore his views on 1950s English pubs. This time, in regard to Duff, we take a deeper look, one that examines how such “pub guide/drink tourism” could even be written at the time.

It wasn’t that much earlier that to write publicly of such things was at best viewed as eccentric, at worst as unrespectable.




Charles Duff on the Circa-1950s Irish pub

Charles Duff was an Irish writer of the mid-20th century. While largely forgotten today, an attempt has been made to revive interest in his work. The Ulster History Circle unveiled a blue plaque this year to honour his achievements, as explained 10 months ago in the Belfast Telegraph.

The article notes:

Mr Duff, described by the Ulster History Circle as a “largely forgotten son of Enniskillen”, died in 1966.

Its chairman Chris Spurr said: “Charles Duff has a different and distinctive profile as an author, to two other Irish writers already commemorated by blue plaques in Enniskillen, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.

Duff shared with Wilde and Beckett a Protestant background, and may be described with them as Anglo-Irish unless this foreign observer mistakes the terminology. That being said, Duff had a deep interest in all corners of Ireland, north and south, and authored a travel book in 1953 called Ireland and the Irish.

He wrote a similar book about England, and also covered what can only be described as an eclectic range of subjects. This took in language instruction (he was multilingual, having mastered six or seven tongues), capital punishment (he campaigned against it), Spain under Franco, social satire, and much else.

His career path can be described as wayward: after a limited education he entered the merchant marine, was a soldier in France (WW I) and gassed for his trouble, and, before turning to writing, ended his conventional careers in the Foreign Office and the Bar – he qualified as a barrister, I mean.

This diverse background seems to have opened his mind to many interests and influences; or perhaps it was the reverse that was true. In his Ireland book he devotes some good thinking to the pub, which I’ll turn to in a moment. It is noteworthy as one of the few reflective considerations on the subject to be made, seemingly, in the mid-1900s, versus the journalistic notations from the American press I discussed in my last post.

I’ve looked at a half-dozen histories or accounts of the Irish pub, some academic, and none cite Duff. I’d think this is down to his obscurity today, but perhaps too his Ulster background?

Duff was not a trained scholar, and was autodidact in many fields. Hence, his work retains a popular feel. For lack of a better term, it “relates” to actual social life more palpably than much scholarly writing, which typically serves different, certainly valid, goals.

I can summarize his views in this fashion: the pub was an important social centre in Irish life on both sides of the partition line. Northern and Southern pubs shared many traits except that Ulster pubs tended more to resemble English ones.

The Republic’s pubs, in contrast, could show unique features such as absence of the pub tie, cheaper prices, and sharing the business of selling drink with grocery and other functions. The so-called “spirit-grocery”, which seminal beer author Michael Jackson had noted carefully and illustrated with photographs in his 1977 The World Guide to Beer, was a common feature especially in rural areas. Perhaps it still is today – others can testify more accurately to this.

Duff stresses as well that the pub of the Irish everyman expressed its most authentic character. Pubs frequented by the more prosperous classes were more restrained in character, more inhibited we would say today.

In this respect, unlike the Irish observer of some 20 years later who found pub denizens rather dull (see my last post), Duff found them “interesting” and “congenial”.

Both in this book and other writings, Duff made it clear he sympathized with Irish independence, not perhaps extending to island unification, but in regard to the 1922 treaty with Britain and membership in the Commonwealth. He recognized the deformations in the Irish economy and psyche that English diktat had entailed for so long.

He was no socialist, but seemed a liberal democrat who realized that British empire had reached its terminal point by the early 20th-century. He saw it was futile to resist the impulse of subject lands to self-government, and deprecated in particular British handling of the Easter Rebellion.

At the same time, while he puts it diplomatically, he thought it best that for the time being and barring an unusual event, Ireland should stay divided.

Duff puts great emphasis on the deterioration in his view of the design ethic of pubs in the Republic. Elsewhere in the book he cites the Davy Byrnes pub as an object lesson. He was particularly against the excessive use of chrome for decor and fittings, and said the pub’s 1940s renovation evoked a hygienic American film set.

He preferred the simple wood tables and chairs of Joyce’s Dubliners era. Again diplomatically, he states that Ulster pubs resisted the worst effects of this trend. Nor did he confine the decline to Dublin, as he makes clear similar “improvements” existed in places like Cork. In general he regarded Dublin as more coldly efficient than Ulster even in the early 1950s, which strikes one as counter-intuitive today.

Perhaps everyone regards the physical structures familiar in their youth as inherently superior to today’s architectural fashions. I still like the concrete bunker or “Brutalist” design of many public and private buildings in the 1970s. Was that better than today’s, er, polished metal and glossy glass? Not really, but it’s what I remember in a formative time of my life.

Young people discovering bars and pubs in 1953 Ireland were probably less enamoured of the dusky wood and brass of c.1900 Dublin than Duff, almost 60 by then. After all, the Edwardian period was their dad’s or gran-dad’s era.

Anyway, Duff knew how to write, so I’ll let him argue the matter in his way (pages via HathiTrust).


Note re images: the images above are drawn from the links identified and stated in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Gentlemen, ye are About to Witness the Return of the Old-fashioned Irish pub

Irish Pub: Tradition, Mutation, Adaptability

I’ve proposed a distinction between early Irish pubs in North America, founded by new arrivals or continued by progeny, and a later, more Americanized version. This history of Chicago Irish pubs by Ilison Hantschel will assist those seeking to understand the immigrant wellsprings of the American Irish pub. This 1961 column by a Jewish writer, Harry Golden, spotlights early Irish bars on the Upper West side, Manhattan, that had mostly disappeared even by then.

The later, Mark II version may have been started by someone of no Irish background, or who purchased a pub from Irish-Americans, or maybe too an Irish-American long assimilated, perhaps one who made a sentimental trip to the Free State.

A third stage arrived with the onset, c.1990, of the Irish Pub Concept, of which the Dublin architect and designer Mel McNally in concert with Guinness/Diageo was a principal mover. McNally in this youtube clip from 2011 gives an excellent overview of the goals of IPC and methods by which corporate organization exported thousands Irish pub interiors around the world.

(Diageo has no commercial ties today to IPC but evidently still has a good relationship with it. McNally remains active in the venture some 40 years after first studying, as a student project, the design characteristics of pubs in his homeland).

A fourth stage of Irish or Celtic pub is the craft version, of which a number exists in Toronto, say Dora Keogh, Céilí Cottage, and Stout. Indeed we have examples of pubs in all four classes, and I enjoy examples of each. A good pub is down to the actual experience, which can’t be defined in advance, for any food or drinking place.

The categories are fluid to a degree, and suggested for convenience, but broadly hold in my estimation. This is based not just on considerable reading and reflection but practical experience in Toronto, Montreal, New York, London, Paris, and elsewhere – latterly Kitchener, ON.

In New York in the 1960s the ascension of pub Version II occasionally ruffled feathers. Consider this letter to the Irish-American weekly the Advocate, published in 1967:

Condon was a regular letter-writer in the Advocate. He must have been about 60 and I’d guess a retired transport or other worker. He mentions in one letter having worked on Manhattan subway construction in 1936.

He had definite views on Irish politics – staunchly nationalist – on pubs, and beer, evidently, recalling how bottled Guinness (i.e., Foreign Extra Stout) was served in Manhattan in the 30s.

The Advocate printed many articles on Irish history and culture. At least in the 1950s – 1970s, the period covered by my review, it didn’t take a strong stance on unification. Nonetheless many of its readers were strongly nationalist or at least demonstrated a resolute ethnic pride.

Condon’s letter is an illustration. You can’t blame him in one sense, as into the 1970s at least, a close connection with an ethnic pub entailed knowing its owner well who was a key part of the social network. Condon felt more at home with an owner of his background, and expressed that sentiment in his letter.

Times change, and concepts of ethnicity and citizenship with them, so the letter has an old-fashioned ring.

The Advocate reported regularly on the pubs of Ireland, the model for the bars Condon admired. Most of the articles were complimentary and often quite funny.

One describes a group of customers being surprised by an itinerant vendor who announces, “Gentlemen, ye are about to witness the return of the old-fashioned top”. He entrances them by jigging on a spinning top, appealing to their memories “as childer”.

In the process he unloads not a few of the toys on their gladdened souls. The writer remarks: the jar the next night foregone.

Another piece describes the singing styles in a “singing pub”. Not unexpectedly, the English come in for good ribbing in the craic. In this piece:

Tom Kelly blasted out his own version of ‘If I were a Blackbird’. It’s a good job that Tom isn’t a blackbird because if so it would be too bad for the Queen of England when he flew over her.

Some of the articles pointed out differences from American practise to alert those planning first-time visits. Pat Greene noted dryly:

What I like most about the Irish pub is the uncertainty of it. First of all, though you know to the minute what the opening time will be, when it comes to the closing time you could find your calculations out as much as an hour or for that matter much more.

But not all the treatments were adoring/affectionate. This 1970 piece by a correspondent born and bred in Dublin offered a more nuanced, even dissenting, view. He deprecated the tendency to romanticize and elevate the Irish pub beyond its just place in the scheme of Irish culture.

Not only that, he offered the opinion that in general, New York Irish pubs were superior. (No doubt a safer proposition than if offered verbally in an Irish bar either side of the sea).

A sample (the author refers to himself in the third person):

He does, however, try in an Irish fashion to refute the false notion – that Dublin pubs are full of playwrights, artists and the like – whose de­light in life is – to sell his bill of goods to the visitor, and I must admit – whatever the fash­ion – in this he is sincere. For the Dublin pub is indeed over­rated both as to clientele and the establishment itself. The clien­tele is invariably quite dull, un­less inebriated and the establish­ments – though perhaps semi-historic is not of the historic nature that a nation would seek to preserve. Yet the average visitor, es­pecially the Americans, seem far more interested in the Irish pubs than in the Irish culture.

Another thing notable in the pub reports whether by Irish or American correspondents is the relative lack of interest in beer as such. To be sure Guinness’s activities and sometimes those of other breweries were chronicled, for example when Harp lager was launched in 1960, or when Guinness staff went on strike in the early 70s.

But apart from noting regularly the founding year of Guinness, there was little interest in porter and stout as drinks: their origins, their changes over the years, nothing of that order. Guinness was respected as a strong emblem of Ireland; that was enough and there was no need to deconstruct the drink as became usual after international beer writing started in from about 1975.

Harp lager was greeted with great interest for being something new from Ireland. Its Continental inspiration was noted but not considered inapt for a stout- and ale-drinking country. It must be said Guinness smoothed matters along by trumpeting the drink as Hibernian to the max, as you see here:

Blarney, did they say?

It’s all good, to use a non-Irish expression. (Or it was).

Little was said in the Advocate of Irish whiskey except to note sometimes in the pub you could get a “half-one”, I assume a small drink vs. a double.* Today no touristic coverage of Ireland is complete without a charge into the distilleries old and new. Inevitably the visitor rhapsodizes over a style, single malt Irish, that isn’t particularly Irish to begin with.

I think at bottom this means, the Irish themselves and their wiser relations overseas have always been pragmatic about the country. If building pub interiors for the world gave jobs to Irish workers and contributed to a benign image for Eire, all the better.

If chilled lager, or single malt whiskey, ended by pleasing the Irish equally or more to stout or the old single pot still whiskey, bring them on.

All countries are like this in their organic development, and will refuse to be pigeon-holed except, of course, where it might be to their advantage. The development of tourism has perhaps had this effect in Ireland. But so too has it in England, Scotland, Canada, San Francisco, Venice, and … where has it not?

North Korea, maybe, but that’s no recommendation.

Note re images: the images and quotation above are from the Fulton History newspaper archive, with source for each linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*I should qualify this to state that there are numerous articles in the Advocate from the early 1950s addressing whether Irish distillers should attempt the U.S. market, where they had almost no sales at the time. One solution recommended to them was to blend their straight pot still whisky, to lighten it in the fashion of blended Scotch, but they (commendably) resisted. Today the major regular brands of Irish whiskey are blended – Jameson, Powers and the like, but such blending only came in in the late-1970s. I meant in the text that as for beer, comment is rarely offered (that I found) by the consumer on whiskey choice in Ireland, comparative flavours, ways of serving, etc.










The “First” Draft Guinness in North America

The question of the expansion of the Irish pub internationally has captured the attention of the general media (e.g., New York Times, 1976), beer media, academics (see e.g., Kevin Martin’s stimulating Irish pub history), and everything in between. This Thrillist piece from 2014 by Dave Infante is illustrative of the beer/food/travel press approach.

My interest initially was not so much the “Irish pub” in North America, but the first appearance of nitrogen-dispense draft Guinness. I mean, the form of draught Guinness that replaced naturally-conditioned Guinness, or real ale if you will, from about 1961 in Ireland.

Still, it is impossible to separate meaningfully the two questions, so I discuss both here.

To my knowledge, no one has pinned down the first appearance Stateside of modern Guinness draft, so I’ll step in. It was in 1965, in St. Louis, Missouri.

An article that year in the Advocate, an Irish-American weekly based in New York that lasted until 1989, stated:

For three years beginning Sept.13th draught Guinness will be sold in Famous-Barr, well known St. Louis, Missouri department store. This will be the first time Guin­ness is sold on draught in the U.S. If the experiment proves successful, it will be introduced in other parts of the country where bottled Guinness is now sold. A special Irish pub, now being built on the second floor of the well known store as part of a store-wide Irish promotion, will serve the famous stout. The draught Guinness and the dis­pensing equipment in a unique Guin­ness design are being shipped es­pecially from Dublin, the stout being contained in special casks. Harp Lager beer, Guinness’s only other product, first brewed by the 206-year-old Guinness in 1960, will be on sale in the bar, as well as in the sixth floor restaurant, where Guinness will also be sold in the bottle.

At first blush, why St. Louis, and not New York, or Boston? I think Guinness was cautious, chastened by the failure of its American branch brewery in 1949-1954. Rather than test its new “widget” dispense in New York or Boston, it elected a Midwest location. It’s a frequent gambit, too, of marketers to choose a regional location for a new launch.

At the same time, St. Louis has always had a strong Irish component, so that didn’t hurt.That St. Louis was centre of the Anheuser-Busch empire was probably coincidental, as all American cities then were dominated by the light adjunct lager style. There was no “dawk” to the Buschs, in other words, except in the sense of finding a good beer town to deploy the black stuff.

An additional point I’d make is, before the post-1990 era of design, construction, and world-wide shipment of Irish pubs, now commodified by large business,  the Irish pub was far from a cipher.

That is, it was a real, living thing in Irish expat communities and American ones still marked by Hibernian culture through the generations. This is evident from reading issues of the Advocate in the 1960s-1970s.

They attest to the close link between Irish-Americans, pubs owned by them that advertised in its pages, and indeed Guinness Brewery, whose various doings are chronicled carefully, whether in Ireland or here.

This included the launch in 1960 of Harp lager, which received no little attention in its pages.

In a word, the Irish pub before the nouvelle vague was genuine and nourished an authentic, living community. The pubs were built in North America and poured, before draft Guinness was available, the taps of the locality. They were no less Irish for that because what made them Irish was the people.

That said, from the early 1960s on in North America and elsewhere outside Ireland, the Irish pub’s packaging and commercialization had started. The Hunter’s Horn pub in 1960s Montreal is surely an example. Shown are extracts from its menu and related documents now in the archives of Montreal’s McCord Museum.

This development was not, I infer, simply an organic outgrowth of an Irish-American community.

Hence, one can probably identify four stages of Irish pub in North America. First, the one referred to by Infante where immigrant Irishmen put up their sign on a pub otherwise local in design and atmosphere (yet he doesn’t in my opinion credit them with enough Irishness).

The famed McSorley’s Old Ale House is a good example in New York, but there were and still are thousands more including in Toronto.

Second, there is the 1960-1990 semi-commercialized Irish pub, perhaps appearing initially at a world exhibition, or simply the vision of an astute businessperson. The English pub with its early decor of red phone booth, flock wallpaper, and banquettes was a similar, and parallel phenomenon.

Third, there was the brilliant turn-key concept pioneered from 1990 by Guinness/Diageo and their numerous competitors, as chronicled by Infante. The result was thousands of Irish pubs from Paris to Peking.

Last, there is the craft emulation of the Irish pub, of which the always-uplifting Allen’s in Toronto and Dora Keogh bar adjacent, are pioneers in Ontario at least. In other words, the vision of one person, not a planning team, and focused more on craft beers and fine whiskeys than the average “corporate” pub.

It’s all grist for further reflection and study, it really is. Some of the academic writers observe for example that music sessions in Irish pubs, indelibly part of the genre today from Dublin to Dubai, were a 1960s development, in part sparked by the American folk revival.

Well, I never. You could write the proverbial book on the Irish pub.*

N.B. Of course draught Guinness, the pre-nitro kind, was widely available in America before Prohibition. The 1965 Advocate piece didn’t mention that, if the journalist even knew it, but anyway the context was the first draft Guinness in the U.S. in recent memory, and post-Prohibition.


*Or rather, another one, as a few already exist.




Guinness’s Shot Across the Bows

The Tipperary Rifle Barks

How was Guinness brewed in America in 1951? Well, three-quarters of the barley malt was from Ireland:

For a while the bottled mixture had been shipped from abroad, but finding that the stout shipped this way was not a good sailor, brewing was started in this country. Irish malt makes 75 percent of the malt used. Roasted barley, to give color, also comes from Ireland. A blend of American and English hops is preferred. Water, specially selected for purity and softness, and the special brand of Guinness yeast, flown specially from Dublin, are other ingredients used.

The quote is from a September 1951 story in the Brooklyn Eagle. It reported on the Guinness Extra Stout first brewed in 1949 in Long Island, NY by the otherwise resolutely Hibernian, Guinness Brewery.*

The 75% figure, and general context, suggest some American malt was used. Roasted barley by then – not roast malt, as before the 1930s – was also used, to lend the signature colour and burned taste. Perhaps there was no flaked (raw, unroasted) barley in the mash then, although it came soon enough.

The compound was presumably richer than today, when the standard Guinness seemingly has only 60% barley malt, see David Hughes’ analysis, here. 

The fermentation or attenuation limit has an effect too though. Likely it was fairly pronounced in the Long Island version, as 1930s Guinness ads in the U.S. and Canada mention its dry character. See my earlier essay referencing such ads.

That was in relation to the imported Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, stronger and more acidic than Extra Stout was by then. I doubt American Guinness was fashioned to be more malty, though, and the related ads support this. And certainly it was less tart, in keeping with Extra Stout as a domestic vs. export beer.

The old bottled Guinness, pasteurized or not, seemed to offer inconsistencies the brewery didn’t like. The prospect, too, to offer Guinness at something like half the import price was obviously attractive.

Still, American Guinness was likely impactful on the palate. Much of the Eagle article focuses on ways to blend it with, say, Champagne for a Black Velvet, or 7-Up to form a “Cincinnati”.

Guinness gathered food writers and trade magazine editors in an Astor Hotel salon to teach them about this new Yankee Guinness. Its publicists came up with old and newer ways to entice use of the black stuff.

Some of the mixtures are traditional including the grandly-named Tipperary Rifle, stout with gin. The Rifle is the old blackthorn cudgel, or shillelagh, used by Irish fighting factions of old – pre-Troubles, I might add.

London knew the mix as a dog’s nose, rather pacific an image in contrast, isn’t it. All this can be misleading, as Irish history attests only too well.

A stout and rum mixture was also handed round in the Astor. I just bought a Quebec porter infused with rum – plus ça change.

Good attention was given to pairings with food. A spread of cheeses and choice oysters – the local Peconic was one – was sampled and approved.

The event was also covered in the New York Times, which completists should read for its further detail. The Times account mentioned an interesting etymological variation on the beer shandy, a topic I discussed the other day. It is the Dandy, from South Africa, a mix of lemon soda and stout.

Really, when you think of Guinness (any form), its Velvet and other mixtures, apt foods such as the Astor offered, and the romance of beer’s history, it all brings to mind the modern beer or wine vernissage. Not too much has changed really, especially when well-heeled companies lay a spread.

Even though the consumer society was dawning in its full plenitude and the Korean War was raging, they knew how to do these things. The pre-craft era wasn’t all a rec room of thin lager, chips-and-dip, and pretzels.

Far from 1951 being the beer and culinary stone age, the Astor reception showed the sophisticated side, one that ranks with our best today.

Let’s organize a re-do and confirm. Diageo, give me a call. Speaking of Diageo, it should be noted Guinness is back – in the U.S.A., I mean. Its new brewery, the Open Gate Brewery and Taphouse, opened near Baltimore earlier this year. USA Today dished the details. I’ve written about it too, see here.

One difference is Guinness isn’t trying to brew stout again in America. The stout at Open Gate, except perhaps the odd small-batch experimental, is Irish-brewed and imported.

Today, Guinness is a good sailor.

N.B. For history on the shillelagh, or bata, see the excellent website Irish Culture and Customs, whence the image above is taken.


*For further information on the Long Island, NY brewery of 1949 – c.1952, see my post yesterday.


Beamish Stout Journeys to America

But Gets a Dawk in New York

Beamish & Crawford was a famous porter brewery in Cork, Ireland. It closed in 2009 with the single brand, Beamish stout, now brewed at Heineken’s ex-Murphy plant in the same city.

In 1950, Beamish’s made a determined push into the American market. Earlier, it had expanded cautiously, a history you can read in its own words in an advertoriathat year in the Advocate, a long-established paper in New York City catering to the Irish diaspora.

In the article, Beamish described its current brewing range:

At present four types of Stout are brewed:

A Porter for consumption “on draught” in Ireland.
“XXX” Stout for consumption “on draught” and in bottle for Ireland and in bottle for the United King­dom.
“Knuckleduster”—a stronger stout for consumption in bottle for the United Kingdom.
“Foreign Extra”—a still stronger and well matured stout, in bottle, for export to all countries abroad, in­cluding, of course, the U.S.A.
And so, with progress and expan­sion, the aim of those who guide the destinies of the Company to-day, Cork men and Irishmen, will have reason to continue to feel justly proud of this Brewery they have known for genera­tions …

Of these beers, seemingly only the Foreign Extra was sent to New York. The Knuckleduster name evoked the pre-war atmosphere in which the Deasy Brewery’s stout earned the moniker the Wrestler, see some Deasy history here by Martyn Cornell.

(Beer et Seq knows a Mr. Deasy in Toronto with Cork antecedents, maybe he is reading, are you related to the brewing Deasys, sir? That would be grand).

Considering the image of “Irish bars” in the U.S. then, one thinks Knuckleduster would have appealed to the trade, indeed to New York beermen in general. But the brand seems to have gone to the more mild-tempered Britain. Oh well.

This four-cornered beer strategy, with gravities rising from four to eight per cent ABV (approximately) was followed by Guinness too, always Beamish’s “bigger brother”. See e.g., R. Pattinson’s tabular data here, and Jess Kiddens’ extensive review of Guinness’ c.1950 activities in which the following appears:


As is well-known by brewing historians and Jess Kidden limns in his notes, Guinness bought a brewery in Long Island, NY, the E & J Burke Brewery, to brew Guinness domestically. Burke was the venerable distribution arm for Guinness in America.* The Stateside Burkes finally went into brewing for themselves just after Prohibition.

A Burke Stout and Burke Ale were marketed in the New York area, evidently with Guinness’ approval. Finally Guinness bought up both distributorship and brewery, the former in 1943 according to the Kidden timeline, and the latter in 1949 as confirmed from other sources.

Kidden states that Guinness Extra Stout was brewed and distributed in the U.S. following this purchase, but that (higher gravity) Guinness Foreign Extra Stout continued to be imported. At first blush that’s an unusual arrangement, but I can think of a possible reason for such anomaly.

First the question: why would Beamish choose this moment to enter the U.S. market, when Guinness was making a determined effort to implant itself, quite literally, in the U.S.?

I think Beamish must have looked at it a different way: it would market itself as truly Irish, given its beer was still made in Ireland. On the same page as the advertorial, a box ad for Beamish states “Imported” in prominent type. Additional text puts further emphasis on the Irish origins.

The message to the intended market surely was: Guinness is no longer the real stuff as it’s brewed in America.

I don’t know how long the Beamish imports lasted but Guinness is a formidable adversary. While the Guinness Long Island brewery closed in 1952 or 1954 (accounts differ), Guinness stout continued to be imported, initially via Heublein and later other arrangements.

If Beamish did appear in the U.S. much after the early 1950s, it never made a big splash, I’m sure.

But the path for Guinness was not smooth: in 1952 it was sued for anti-trust violations by Dublin Distributors, Inc. (“DDI”), a local (NYC) business. DDI for years was a sub-distribtor for Guinness, obtaining its supply from Burke, now Guinness/Burke, warehouses in Manhattan and Long Island.

Why would DDI sue Guinness? Because DDI also agreed to represent Beamish, and Guinness, anxious to protect its newly-hatched domestic business, didn’t want that competition and terminated DDI’s distribution for (now domestic) Guinness.

I infer that possibly the litigation was resolved on the basis that DDI could sell Irish-brewed Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the type historically imported by Burke, but not the locally-brewed Guinness Extra Stout.

If so, it wasn’t the best resolution for Guinness, but preferable to years in U.S. courts on debilitating anti-trust issues. In fact on the face of it I’d think the court debacle contributed to premature closing of the new domestic business.

Most accounts recite that people didn’t want to buy domestically-brewed Guinness, but with a dual source of supply confronting consumers, Guinness could not have implemented a  coherent marketing strategy.

By the early-1960s, Guinness bought DDI too, which would have resolved any lingering issues with Beamish.

Note re images: the source for the Guinness product description is identified and linked in the text. The source for the Beamish Knuckleduster label is the excellent BestBeerStuff t-shirt and apparel site. The last image was sourced from the excellent Tavern Trove site, here. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See my Comment below which clarifies that E & J  Burke may not have imported Guinness after Repeal to New York, vs. before Prohibition that is, but another New York company may have.





The other day I noticed a half bottle (PET-type) of Canada Dry ginger ale in the fridge. I had a can of beer partly-filled from a couple of days earlier, it was Amsterdam Autumn Hop Harvest Ale, but I’d have used any IPA or pale ale available for what follows.

(The Amsterdam beer, a wet hop seasonal release, isn’t labelled IPA as such, some have called it American pale ale, but I think it has an IPA character).

It’s been hot in Toronto again, earlier this week I mean. And after a long walk, I mixed the two. It’s shandy-gaff, sometimes called simply shandy, or beer-shandy.

It’s one of the family of beers mixed with a gaseous or other non-alcohol drink in varying proportions, e.g., Radler, bitter tops, clara, Diesel, etc. Tasting it I was reminded how good it can be.

The Canada Dry, while not as assertive as ginger beer, still has a good smack and had the telling flavour in the mix. The beer was not hidden though, especially the hops which gathered round the edges.

The etymology of shandy-gaff is very obscure. I won’t rehearse the different theories except to note they range from a nonsense term to a corruption of a certain blacksmith’s favourite drink (sang de Goff) and yet more. Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (ed. Jonathan Green) offers up two other theories, one related to a sense of “shanty” as a quart, or quart of drink.*

1853 for the compound word, and 1888 for the unadorned shandy, have been cited as first appearances, but searching ’round in Google Books I found this 1846 reference to the full expression. It’s in Charles Dickens’ magazine Bentley’s Miscellany. This is the earliest citation to date, as far as I know.

Bentley’s defines the drink quite precisely as a mixture of ale and ginger beer. Scotch ale was used in that instance which would have produced a quite sweet and still strong mix if 50-50 was used at any rate.

The one I made was only 3% ABV if that, and I think shandy should be not too strong, it is of its nature.

I tend to stay away anyway from strong beer. I still try them but usually add sparkling water to reduce them to 5% or less. It’s surprising how much character is retained in the original drink.

A shandy in Canada to many would mean mixing beer with 7 Up or another lemon soda. You don’t see it as often as years ago. Certainly it was a golf clubhouse or summer fixture at one time.

Brewers have plumbed the depths of the Radler mixture and should launch into shandy. The possibilities are endless and different flavours and strengths can result.

I think an Imperial stout mixed with ginger beer should be very good, an analogue to a Dark and Stormy, the rum and ginger beer mix. The ginger beer would pick up the dryness of much porter as it’s now brewed, too.


*See my additional remark in the Comments below.