A Fine Way With Beer and Chicken

Anne Willan is a distinguished culinary author who established an influential cooking school in Paris over 40 years ago, La Varenne (1975-2007).

She has written well on French provincial food. Her combination of on-the-ground experience and advanced education gives the writing extra verve and depth. (We are great rock fans but the injunction constantly heard a la “we don’t need no education” has limited application here).

Her 1981 French Regional Cooking is a classic, a worthy successor to the great works by Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson introducing French country cooking to English readers.

Unlike many surveys of French provincial eating, she deals in-depth with the north, an area always behind the others as optics go, due probably to propinquity, climate, and unhappy war memories. The volume mentioned is particularly well-illustrated.

Her northern recipe for chicken with beer seems from memory the same as this one under her name from an Internet source, so I followed the latter. You see a picture of the result. I used a few meaty wings of turkey instead of chicken.

Poultry in general can stand substitution in such recipes, one by the other, indeed it is probable most recipes blending poultry with beer were inspired by dishes of rabbit and beer, seemingly an older tradition.

The direction to make the sauce with yogurt and vinegar is intended, although this is not stated, to replicate the crème fraiche, a staple of French cookery. I may not use it as the turkey in this form is rich enough: with breasts or another lean cut it would make more sense. Enough natural gelatine is released to thicken the sauce I think, but I may do it just to see what it tastes like.

I took off a layer of fat last night by blotting with paper towels and the dish looks really good.

What makes it French, or specifically northern French, is not just the beer but the gin, thyme, bay leaf, and shallot. I followed the recipe more or less: onion went in for shallot, for gin I used a blend of a genièvre from the Lille area and Quebec-produced de Kuyper Dutch gin, which certainly adds a definite tang, and authenticity. I omitted the juniper berries as I didn’t have any.

This way with beer and meat omits sugar and mustard, more typically used with beef in the Northern carbonnades.

I think the suggestion of juniper was intended to convey a flavour of Ardenne cooking, allied to Nord-Pas-de-Calais’ but leaning also further east. It’s the taste of the forest and valleys in the area between the north proper and Alsace-Lorraine.

It’s true though that a dash of gin often goes into poultry with beer in recipes around the Lille region. Had I had turkey from Liques, that would have been the perfect touch. Liques is famous for the fine quality of its poultry, which owes its origin to monastic endeavour in the 1700s. How appropriate, given the abbeys’ considerable role in the history of European brewing.

I didn’t use a Trappist or abbey beer either: it was a blend of Lakeport Ice and an Ontario craft dunkel (brown lager).

But I’ll tell you, if I was patron serving this after the market day in Liques at the local bistro ils ne dédaignent pas. Du tout.

Bully for (Good) Canned Beef

At one time, canning technology was prized as a brilliant solution to excess kitchen drudgery. Today, canning companies are under the gun, cowering under weight of competition from whole foods and organic producers.

I’ll set aside whether the fresh food of our day, particularly fruit and veg as shipped to cold-climate countries, is always superior to canned and frozen versions.

But canned food, whose history thekitchn.com summarizes neatly here, proved in any case a lifeline, or at least a high convenience. To harried families with two parents working, or even one, it saved time and provided nourishment at an acceptable cost.

To persons in remote areas, not easily able to procure fresh food, or those living in circumstances where running a “scratch” kitchen was not feasible, likewise. Nay, some people actually liked the taste of these foods.

I was just reading a memoir of the novelist Jack Kerouac by his first wife, Edie Parker, daughter as it happened of Grosse Point, MI grandees. She explained how their favourite quick meal (early 1940s) was canned tomato soup. His mother was a French-Canadian whom it can be assumed kept a master kitchen. This did not prevent the enjoyment of foods easily kept and prepared so people could get on with other things in their life.

Yet today, the iconic Campbell’s is closing plants here and there, one in Toronto recently… Did that Warhol start all this?

Really it’s a question of fashion, of yin and yang. The prosperity brought by the industrial and technological revolutions has enabled people to react against some of the things that made it possible.

At the extreme, familiarity breeds contempt, and the cycle starts anew, except in this case, the food technology that created tinning, freezing, and other labour-saving miracles is keeping the new wave going too, more subtly; it’s another story.

But there’s no question: ever since the 1960s prompted the green movement, Alice Waters, and similar phenomena in the U.K. hungering for the natural and unprocessed – that Jaime fellow – a mass movement has demanded food authenticity. And superheated meat or veg entombed in a can doesn’t qualify.

What once was expensive and chic – canned food – became viewed as downmarket – not worthy of the attention of foodies and the self-aware.

In fact, some canned food actually created a new taste. Even Elizabeth David acknowledged this, well, she or Jane Grigson, in regard to deluxe tinned fish specialties of west European coastal canners. The kind of fish they chose, the olive oil, the canning process, created a new and inviting taste, different from fresh sardines or pilchard, but as good in its way.

And I refuse to see what’s wrong with canned pineapple, for example. It tastes good!

Today, many peoples, not feeling or being able to afford the need to flaunt credentials in green-clean eating, unabashedly enjoy some canned food. Tinned corned beef is appreciated still through the South Pacific. The attachment to Spam continues famously in Hawaii, Philippines, and other parts of the Pacific.

These foods were brought by sojourning seamen or army personnel, locals had a taste and decided they liked it. They had a better life with such preserved foods than before – they thought so, anyway.

With immigration from these areas and the Caribbean too where canned foods (e.g. ackee) are still popular, Canada offers many of these items in supermarkets. Apart from these markets some other Canadians buy them too, to make corned beef hash, for sandwiches, or in some other way they remember from their youth.

And I buy a little, because I like the history, and the taste of a good brand. Pictured is the Grace brand popular here, a top-rate corned beef from Brazil. It’s a low-salt version and just 10% fat (per label).

An index of the salt that went in to the original formulations is that the low-salt one, as ditto for Spam, is pretty salty! It’s more than enough salinity even for fans of the salt kick.

I sliced a few pieces and lightly browned them in a no-stick pan. Served it with a boiled potato – okay, microwaved. And a small salad to accompany. Okay, I lost the salad. Didn’t forget the ketchup though.

Excellent! The meat was not fat at all, a nice rosy-pink, tasty, digestible. The connection to a deli corned beef sandwich was quite evident.

This was probably much better than the Anzac and other Allied troops marched on in two world wars. There was no off-odour, nothing muttony as I recall from some brands 30-40 years ago. Dare I say it’s a cheap luxury food?

Is it for everyday, no, probably not for every week. But it was good, and convenient, pace the food monitors out there. I love you all, but give me a break, sometimes.

In due deference though to the parlous rep this comestible has for those resolute in their greenness, I cite a good one from an Australian food website.

… one story tells of an Anzac soldier throwing a tin of bully beef into the Turkish trenches, perhaps in disgust, maybe thinking it would do more damage than the usual grenades. But the can was soon thrown back with the note: ‘Cigarettes yes, bully beef, no.’

Oops, no cigarettes today either. And those Allied chocolate rations – made at England’s Deptford victualling yard for HM ships – were laden with sugar presumably. Better kept in our old kit bag. Not sure what else would, um, fly.


From France to Fraunce

Or la consommation de bière, initialement limitée au Nord et à l’Est de la France, s’est « nationalisée » au XIXe siècle, permettant l’augmentation de la production de 2,8 millions d’hectolitres en 1815 à 7,4 millions en 1879, malgré la perte de l’Alsace-Lorraine, et à 15 millions en 191312. Les brasseurs alsaciens ont largement participé à cette expansion par leur dispersion sur le territoire français, acquise aux deux tiers avant même 1870. On les signale à Bordeaux et à Pau en 1806, à Nérac en 1808, à Beaune en 1812, à Carcassonne en 1815, à Melun en 1816 et dans beaucoup d’autres villes. A Lyon, par exemple, la fameuse brasserie Georges avec sa salle de plus de 700 m2 fut construite par Georges Hoffherr en 1836 et exploitée au cours des temps par les familles alliées Umdenstock et Rinck ; à Chamalières, la brasserie Kuhn accueillit en 1871 Pasteur qui y mit au point la méthode de la pasteurisation consignée dans les Essais sur la bière publiés en 1876 ; à Rennes, la famille Graff exploita la brasserie de la ville pendant plusieurs générations.

The above quotation is from: Nicolas Stoskopf. Quitter l’Alsace pour faire fortune : le cas des entrepreneurs du XIXe siècle. Diasporas Histoire et sociétés, 2006, pp. 43-55.

The paper studies the dispersion into France in the 19th century of entrepreneurs from Alsace including brewers. Stoskopf makes the interesting point (among many) that 2/3rds of these emigrant brewers left their home province before 1870.

Thus, (me talking here) the lore that the Prussian victory of 1870 cause a mass exodus of Alsatian brewers to the rest of France and beyond is only partly true, and really only minimally so for France itself. The perception may have arisen since, by 1870, brewing had industrialized itself in the east, to a much greater degree than in the north at that time. So that, post-1870 emigrant brewers brought a greater degree of technical skill, notably in the emerging, refrigerated bottom-fermentation (lager) field, than the first wave.

The scale of production associated with that may have led observers to accord greater importance to post-Franco-Prussian War emigration than, viewing the picture as a whole, is warranted.

Indeed Stoskopf notes that most of the early emigrants – to place like Bordeaux, Lyon, Nérac (in the southwest, part of Lot-et-Garonne) founded artisan businesses that did not make the transition to the new industrial brewing era. Yet, he notes that some did, including Georges in Lyon or Graff in Rennes. Other names familiar to brewing historians are mentioned, the Veltins family in particular.

While he mentions implantation to Nérac, he does not mention the main brewery. It was Laubenheimer; the founder of that name came from Alsace. The dates of arrival vary, 1828 is stated in a number of sources as well, see e.g. here.

Still, he was an early arrival, who with his diaspora helped spread brewing through regions where it was unknown, or only minimally represented, in the 1700s.

Laubenheimer and heirs were thus of those able to negotiate the technological changes into the late 19th century and after. They built a large plant in Nérac that endured until 1940 or 1957 (accounts vary).  Therefore, what probably originated as primitive top-fermentation brewing became a sophisticated European lager plant.

Today, only the building that served as the administrative office survives, as seen here:

Laubenheimer Brewery was sophisticated enough that even after WW I it had some presence in export, in fact anglophone markets. Hence the appearance of a “1938 Laubenheimer” on a 1940 menu of famed Fraunces Tavern in New York:

The devastation of WW I in the north and east did not visit remote areas like the southwest. This may have given Laubenheimer’s a boost when competing in the inter-war era.

Still, why would Fraunces, a pre-revolutionary, Anglo-American tavern that operates to this day, carry such a beer? At an obviously high price, too. There were many renowned choices to select, from Germany, the Czech lands, from Alsace if need be: why look to a small town in the old Gascon country, not ever famed for brewing although Laubeheimer’s beer was no doubt quite sound by then?

It’s hard to know. Maybe the sommelier at Fraunces was from Lot-et-Garonne, or … there must have been a connection of some kind that explained it. Maybe it’s as simple as, with nothing coming in from Nazi Germany and Czechoslovakia, from 1938 American importers looked to France for supply. Still, there were many names better known than Laubenheimer in that year, and the war hadn’t started yet.

And why the prefix “1938”? Beers weren’t typically vintage-dated then.

In April 1940, Europe had been at war for half a year. America had not yet joined. Imports were being shut down, but Fraunces may have had older stocks in the cellar. The Heineken mentioned was probably from the Dutch East Indies (Heineken had a business there), even though the Nazis took until May that year to overrun Holland. All this resulted from various blockades, especially Britain’s, and domestic war measures.

One way or another, wartime or eve-of-war conditions probably explained the choice of a regional French beer like this.

Anyway, from a New York standpoint, to offer a prewar import was probably a coup, albeit with price to match.

By this period, Laubenheimer was known for its blonde and brown lagers, but were they good after a couple of years in the bottle? Perhaps, those were the days of reasonably high hopping and probably all-malt.

But good or bad, those splits made a statement on the table, evoking the idea of the Champagne split for high-toned or status-conscious Manhattanites. Here is what it looked like:

Who knows what would have happened had WW II never occurred. Laubenheimer might have grown its U.S. franchise. “Lauby’s” might be as ubiquitous today as Heineken, or even have replaced it.

I can taste Heineken anytime, it is available across the counter at virtually every bar in Toronto. I can’t taste Laubenheimer.

Or, maybe I can, via the lens of history and mellow reflection. Maybe you can, too.


Note re images: The first image was sourced from a French bottle cap collection site, here. The menu extract is from the digital archives of the superb menu collection of Johnson and Wales University, here. The third image was sourced from Ebay France, here. The last was sourced from this French historical site, here. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Further Notes on Chop Suey’s Origin

The endlessly fascinating question of chop suey’s origin was explored by me, here, last year.

I was taken by a 1902 story in California’s Amador Ledger that suggested U.S. Consul (William E. S.) Fales in Xiamen, formerly Amoy, China introduced the dish to America. However, further digging suggests that while the consul did clearly like the dish and praised it in print on November 3, 1901 in the New York Times, see here (“How to Make Chop Suey”), he probably did not introduce it to America given there are at least two citations in 1880s journalism that mention the dish, authored by a Chinese-American journalist.

See the comment to my earlier post, by Tim Shook, which mentions these earlier articles.

In this interesting historical blog about one year ago, Through the Hourglass, whose author I cannot determine, Fales’s China career is recounted: it appears to have been from 1890-1894. He must have hailed from NYC, as friends there gave him a “welcome home” dinner in 1894. The menu is preserved at the NYPL archives and is referenced in the blog post.

The menu is conventional Anglo-French-American fare, except it does contain a “China punch”. However that was put together and while an evident nod to Fales’s days on the China station*, it does not refer to a food. Even if chop suey had been included, it cannot predate the earlier citations mentioned.

Did Fales play a role in enlarging the footprint of a foreign dish that otherwise might have remained of little significance? Possibly, but clearly the dish was known in America, e.g. Wichita, before Faley boarded ship for China.

Still, the recent historical work adverted to in my earlier post, together with apparent notoriety of the dish in the part of China where Fales served, does suggest, or to me, that chop suey is not a faux-Chinese dish, partly American as was long assumed.

It appears to be genuinely Chinese albeit from a remote, coastal region and was not therefore part of the culinary repertoire belonging to the whole country.

Note that the Wikipedia article references Guandong province as the place chop suey originated, whereas Amoy is in Fujian province, which is just to the north. However, a look at the map suggests, at least to me, that a dish known in Guandong probably had currency in adjoining Fujian. Both are on or near the sea and it is understandable that seamen departing this general region brought this old dish with them.

Perhaps – see again Wikipedia – the dish was national at one time in China, although we incline to a regional origin at least when the bulk of Chinese seafarers left for distant ports. True, Taishan in Guandong, said to be the true centre of the chop suey dish, is about 500 miles from Amoy/Xiamen, but a glance at the map will show this is not a huge distance in a country the size of China.

This is especially so as both are coastal centres that would have easily communicated by sea. It is thus understandable in our view that Faley indeed did encounter the dish when on assignment in Amoy. See map details, here.

In sum, IMO, the dish is a regional specialty that became known in America and indeed beyond as I discussed earlier, and finally was forgotten in the originating land. It is a story that attends so many foods…


*Perhaps a pun on the porcelain container, or simply a reference to the latter. “China punch bowl” was a 19th century expression, similar say to Lalique crystal of today.





Gastronomic History Comes Alive in Toronto

On February 21, 1973, the New York branch of the International Wine and Food Society (IWFS) held a tasting event at one of its favoured haunts, the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Last Wednesday, at the Maple Leaf Tavern on Gerrard Street in Toronto, we recreated that dinner and beverage service 45 years later to the day.

While a sommelier was present (as a guest) and the restaurant has an excellent wine list, no wine was served. Beer was served, because the Wine and Food Society held a beer event on that occasion, as it had periodically in its history.

This earlier post of mine described the original event and menu, which I found in the digital menu archives of the New York Public Library. That post is part of a series I wrote examining early tasting events of the IWFS, dealing with both beer and wine.*

Above, you see the recreated menu which followed the original one closely. For the beers, we used a couple that were on the original list, the French Kronenbourg and American Schlitz, and selected others similar in character to the (mostly) imported beers on the original list.

The event was a great success, each course was nigh perfect and the beers matched the sausage-centric night to a “t”. While the beers were mostly the international blonde lager type, we did also have a dark wheat beer – it substituted for a couple of dark lagers on the original list, a fine craft lager from Ottawa, Vim and Vigour, and an English pale ale.

Given the rich flavours of the food, I am not sure highly-flavoured ales and stouts characteristic of the current beer renaissance would have paired better, although it would be interesting to try! (Any takers to do this event again, let me know).

Greg Clow of Canadian Beers News co-hosted with me. The guests were most impressed with the skills of chef Jesse Vallins, who is not only an experienced professional but specialises in the sausage art. All his productions were made in-house and plated in inviting and attractive fashion.

The centrepiece was a pairing of two sausages, German Bratwurst and Weisswurst, with a tangy appley sauerkraut and a rich chunky potato salad. The famed German white sausage part of this duo is (or was) generally a morning specialty in Germany.

We served at it night following the original menu. It was paired with creamy Erdinger Dunkel, a dark wheat ale, and the zesty, malty Vim and Vigour lager.

The last course, Swiss cherry layer cake with a small Cognac to pair, added a final touch of 1973 Waldorf elegance.

It always surprises me that historic menus aren’t created more often. It offers a window on the past, and will often show that past generations enjoyed a high standard of gastronomic excellence.

The modern culinary scene is one of great diversity and constant creativity. Enviable it is to be sure, but it’s not really new: in the past small, often elite groups enjoyed similar or parallel experiences.  Today, the same idea is available to a greater number due to the successes of capitalism and the technological revolution.

if you want to find a recipe for Chorizo con Tostada, say, you can find numerous accounts online, and recipes. But I doubt most will be able to make it with the skill Jesse did! A fortiori for the rest of the menu, as a lawyer would say.

I brought out these points in my presentation to the guests, and also that this kind of event has a significant cultural resonance. Food and drink, in other words, are not just about sustenance, conviviality, or even a family’s or ethnicity’s tradition: they can also be about discovering, learning, comparing.

This is what “gastronomy” means, a term devised by early 1800s French food theorist Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, another lawyer by the way. So were two English food writers of the early 1800s whom I quoted at the event.** They commented how beer made a welcome “variety” at the dinner table. I’m not sure what it is about law and gastronomy…

In a word: food, beer, and wine culture today may often be different, but are not better, than what came before. And they are certainly available to a wider spectrum of the population. More than a certain income or social status today, what is needed primarily is a good sense of curiosity and an online connection.

Readers can consult tweets last Wednesday and Thursday by Greg for good images of the event, check @CanadianBeerNews. I posted a couple as well including of Todd Morgan, major domo of Maple Leaf Tavern without whom this could never have happened. See my tweets @beeretseq See also recent tweets by @mapleleaftavern

The original 1973 menu is below, sourced from the digital menu archive of New York Public Library (www.nypl.org). See here for the specific page.


*As an example, see this earlier post on the history of the wine-and-cheese party.

**For more details, see here.


1870 “AK” and Time in a Bottle

Sources for the AK Brewing

This is a follow-up to my post on brewing a collaboration AK with Amsterdam Brewing Co. in Toronto earlier this month.

As the basis, we used the brewing directions of “Aroma”, a pseudonymous brewer – evidently he was a brewer – who answered a question in an 1870 issue of the periodical English Mechanic and World of Science.

In an earlier post, I reproduced the account, see here, bottom-right corner. The related discussion may interest some as well.

I found it a few years ago when searching for the answer to why “AK”, a member of the bitter beer family, bears that name. Indeed, Aroma offers his explanation, it means ale for keeping, or keeping ale evidently. This is the only evidence I am aware of that suggests what AK actually means.

Aroma’s directions, which apply both to AK and higher-gravity IPA, were supplemented by recourse to numerous brewing texts, brewing journals, and encyclopedia discussions of the period.

The sources covered part of the late-1800s, when the key elements to bitter beer were more or less constant, e.g. fairly heavy hopping, one (pale) malt only, starting/finishing gravities, typical methods to cleanse and clarify the beer, pitching and maximum fermentation temperature, storage temperature, storage time, timing of hops additions, etc.

Of course even in a single source one might read different approaches. Aroma himself for example states that the boil could occur for one to two and a half hours. We used one hour.

He stated a somewhat higher maximum range for fermentation temperature than we used, but other sources were in accordance with our maximum. It would have varied for some brewers at different times of year anyway.

As in any brewing, a final choice was made that we felt represented reasonable parameters for this type of beer. The idea was to brew a beer that in its essentials would be recognizable to a person from the era, not least Aroma himself.  We shall never know for sure of course, but I believe we got close.

Back in the 1970s an early modern beer historian, Dr. John Harrison, had both the theoretical and practical interest. He served a London porter to an aged person who had worked in London before WW I. She was at the home of someone involved with the recreation.

In an Independent news column reproduced on his still-extant website, beer guru Michael Jackson wrote:


In 1976, Dr. Harrison made a black potion and offered it as “Guinness” to a lady who was 86 years old. “This isn’t “Guinness”, she scolded him. “This is London porter. I used to drink this when I was in service.” The sample had been based on a Whitbread London Porter from 1850. Soon, all such witnesses will be gone.


Similarly, I am hoping my 1870 time trekker would state, “this isn’t your ‘IPA’ made with the new style American hops, this is our English AK” – even as he or she must remain imaginary, a conjuring.

Thanks again to Amsterdam and Iain McOustra’s brewing team for their interest and commitment to this project. Beer (name is not finalized yet) should be ready in another three to four weeks.

The Original, Intentional American “Sour” (Beer)


If you look at pg. 29 in this cocktail manual, The Reminder by Jake Didier, published c.1905 (no date shown) at pg. 29 a recipe for “beer sour” appears.

This is very interesting, it is: add four dashes of lemon juice in a glass and fill with lager beer.

A dash’s quantity will always be controversial, perhaps pedantically so. Take a lemon wedge, then do four, not over-energetic squeezes in a glass, you’ve got it. Pour in your lager.

Given the whole history of 19th century bottom-fermentation and of improving brewing technology to banish acidity, why introduce it in beer? I think the reason was, as lager replaced the often-tart ale, some people missed the tang of slightly-off ale.

So, put lemon juice in good beer. A similar trick was used earlier in Britain to make very new ale taste old, Seville orange, sulphuric acid, or something similar was added.

Didier’s book ran to a 5th edition, the one I linked is I believe the first and rather crudely printed and bound. The last edition I read, 1917’s, omits the “beer sour”.

Yet today sours are a successful category of craft brewing. Many people like the tart taste, and it has come back in this form. Belgian lambic and other sourish ales inspired the trend here. Albeit the taste had just barely survived in Belgium itself.

The lemon wedge with some wheat beer is a stand-by of course, although I think there it is not to balance a sweetness, but more to complement the wheaty taste.

Pre-Prohibition lager was quite malty, as I have documented earlier, and remained so in post-Repeal brewing until World War II. Some ale drinkers who couldn’t get ale easily probably figured out that lemon juice masked the sweetness and provided a tang they recalled in old ale, hence it becoming a bartender’s trick.

I’m not sure the panaché/shandy idea is similar as those are very sweet drinks but the lemony connection may mean something.

I don’t know about four dashes but acidity is a funny thing, you need a certain amount of it in any beer. I’ve added different acid agents and sometimes you wouldn’t know anything of the like was added, if you don’t add too much that is.

Anyway, purpose-made sours: what’s old is new again. However, it is safe to say the sour taste was even then, and is certainly today, the preference of a decided minority, indeed a minority within a minority where craft beer is concerned.


Beer Cuisine in the 1930s

Malt Grain Bread and Other Specialties With Beer

In some 40 pages, Virginia Elliott, a 20th century journalist and writer based in New York, delineates in some detail an approach to beer cuisine. It’s set out in the seemingly oddly-titled Quiet Drinking, although the date of publication, late 1933, suggests I think the reason: raucous drinking in well-insulated speakeasies, or perhaps in the memories of some who knew the pre-Prohibition saloon, was now of the past.

Probably because legal beer was so new, Elliott does not explain the different styles or traditions. The most she gets into it is “light and dark”.

Her palate advice is restricted to: buy a few brands. Taste successively, eating a bit of white bread between. Decide which you like, and it may end as a local brand and not the most expensive (good advice). Lay in a supply and forget hence about brands.

It’s one way to go about it, and not necessarily the worst.

The book really shines, first, in the area of beer-drinking accessories. The full range of paraphernalia is discussed including glasses, mugs, trays, picnic hampers, and cooling devices – she did not appreciate warm beer, which perhaps suggests the limits of her expertise, but still.

She also spends time on draft service and how to do it properly, probably for a new generation of legal bar owners arising. Yet, it seems too people then regularly got in a quarter-keg for a party, and she insists on the right ways to handle such beer to avoid waste.

She states baldly that draft is superior to bottled because not pasteurized. It’s something often stated in beer or brewing literature of the early 1900s and late-1800s, but not often heard today. In part this is because most craft beer is not pasteurized, but it’s a point always to be retained, as the process does exact, I think, some cost albeit it provides benefits in some scenarios.

The food discussion in the beer chapter is where Virginia Elliott really takes flight. She describes a long list of hot dishes suitable for beer. Everything from kidneys to curry. Most dishes are from bourgeois cuisines, generally from northern Europe where beer is a tradition.

Welsh rabbit and variants feature, a host of different hot sandwiches, German-style frankfurters and knockwurst with kraut of course, smoked and picked fish, cheeses, cold Teutonic sausage plates (called “Dutch lunch” then), hams, and similar.

The foods are described in good detail including, say, four different kinds of imported liverwurst. One German sausage containing donkey is mentioned without the usual verbal frisson – sign of the true gastronome.

The 1940s beer tastings of the New York Wine and Food Society that I’ve referred to earlier featured selections from most of these categories except the supper dishes. One can see the influence Elliott’s book exercised.

I can’t find much on her biographically. She died in 1977, was married, and in the 1920s had collaborated on another drinks book with Iowa-born author Phil Stong (not her husband), famous for writing State Fair. A strange feature of 1920s gastronomy in the U.S. is the considerable number of books issued on drinks and related advice.

Even though it implied encouraging people to seek illegal alcohol, writing such guides was not unlawful as such. One book I saw even contained a recipe to brew beer at home.

Although part of a larger book on wines and cocktails, Elliott’s book is a useful window on how food was viewed from a beer standpoint in the mid-1930s. There is much from pre-1920 that she continues, but her discussion is perhaps the most comprehensive I’ve seen in America to that date.

There is no usage, except in Welsh rabbit, of beer in the supper recipes or theory advanced in that regard: otherwise conventional foods meant to accompany beer were the focus. No unusual combinations are suggested although she does encourage the reader to come up with his or her own ideas.

Beer used in recipes in the way of wine, or as accompaniment to non-traditional dishes, was still decades away. Still, Elliott’s book is a part of the long pathway that led to today’s plethora and beer-and-food books.

Some final advice from Ms. Elliott, on the different breads for beer and its foods:

The peasant or dark breads belong with beer. Pumpernickel of course is a German favorite. If you like the very heavy kind any good German deli­catessen can furnish you with an imported one, done up in many layers of foil, which is thinly sliced, very soggy and quite delicious.

The pumpernickel which is made by your local baker will not be as heavy nor have as decided a flavor, but is good. Jewish deli­catessens have one with a particularly nice twang. 

Imported Khommissbrot, the coarse, heavy bread eaten by the German soldiers, is good with cheese. It comes in pound packages, thinly sliced, and is only fifteen cents a pound. 

Malskorn* is the very heaviest of the pumpernickels. Black Russian bread is good with beer, but is not very popular because of its very strong flavor. Rye bread, with or without caraway seeds, should be served with salt fish, smoked meats, or the more piquant spreads. It should be thinly sliced. 

German salt-rising bread is delicious with beer, but should be eaten with butter only. It has a peculiar flavor which does not combine well with most foods. Swedish breads make a good carrier for pastes and fish. 

Rye Krisp is primarily a health bread and is less fattening than others. It is made in a large thin round wafer and has the consistency of asbestos. It may be served in the whole piece, and broken off as it is wanted. It costs fifty cents a pound and lasts forever.

Have you run into German salt-raised bread, lately? It sounds perhaps similar to the Jewish bialy roll, for which the term saline only starts to describe Neptune’s tight embrace. The bialy, named for the Polish city Bialystok, likewise suits only butter or at most the blandest cheeses.
*Malt grain bread, satisfyingly connected to beer via malt.




Tilting at Windmills

Are You Experienced?

… he ate some roast beef and drank two pints of ale, stimulated by the flavor of a cow-shed which this fine, pale beer exhaled.

His hunger persisted. He lingered over a piece of blue Stilton cheese, made quick work of a rhubarb tart, and to vary his drinking, quenched his thirst with porter, that dark beer which smells of Spanish licorice but which does not have its sugary taste…

The above words are from this online edition of French novelist J-K Huysman’s 1884 A Rebours, translated as Against the Grain.

This novel was mentioned in beer critic Michael Jackson’s early work, but not in connection with the above quotation. Jackson examined the part where Huysmans (pictured) imagined an all-black meal, one featuring black soups, dark game, sauces the colour of “bootblack”, and ebon drinks such as kvass and porter.

Huysmann was looking to describe extreme experiences of the senses, both taste and perception, to counterpoint the moderation and juste moyen of bourgeois society.

His all-black meal is periodically reproduced in small food circles but has never caught on as a food fad. Today’s careening culinary and beverage worlds seem perfect for it, yet simultaneous appearance in happening restaurants in London, Paris, and New York, – need I add Berlin – is elusive.

(Anthony Bourdain would seem perfect for this gig, but anyway…).

The quotation though is further support that well-aged 1800s pale ale, often denominated IPA, had the barnyard Brettanomyces smack. Modern brewers sometimes seek to impart it in beer, with evident historical justification, were any needed.

Beers of various kinds have always featured “extreme” flavours, probably accidentally initially, that finally grab and retain drinkers’ affections. Bitterness itself, from hops, is the best example. Musk features in perfumes, soaps, and other things: why not eatables? It becomes a whet, a stimulant, and this is what Huysmans was getting at both literally and as metaphor for artistic sovereignty.

I argued in my American musty ale study last year in the journal Brewery History that the signature of late-1800s U.S. “musty” may well have been the brett tang, analogous to the contemporary “Bass [pale ale] stink” identified and documented in the same article.

A good example of the palate today is Belgian Trappist Orval beer. In taste and colour, Orval may well be close to Huysman’s Gothic-tasting English pale ale. A number of ironies abound in that proposition but I’ll let it be.

The accidental irony of the English translation of the book’s title, Against the Grain, is more satisfying to contemplate: the book bruits the flavours of Victorian English beery specialties, it didn’t deride them. The comment on porter underlines this: it had a liquorice note, well-known as an acquired or “grown-up” flavour, while avoiding a sugary taste.

Sugar rightly or wrongly is the sign of the undiscriminating, or inexperienced – its beverage zenith was probably Coca-Cola which probably not ironically was invented around the same time. I’m not knocking Coke, I like it myself, but I’m trying to write some cultural history here.

The term à rebours has also been translated as “against nature”, or “at loggerheads”. It sounds literally as a rebounding, against something. Anyhow, the sybarite protagonist evidently had nothing again floor-malted English classic beers.

My current collaboration with Amsterdam Brewery to produce a c. 1870 AK, a lower-gravity, “domestic” form of India Pale Ale, sought intentionally to avoid brett character. The reason was storage of pale ales for a few weeks, even in the 19th century in uncoated wood, probably didn’t produce brett, or not invariably.

Brett generally needs longer to appear in beer as the yeast type awaits the finish of fermentation by the conventional brewing yeast – unless of course we inoculated with brett for primary or secondary fermentation, but we wouldn’t do that here.

I’d think a lactic note was perhaps more frequent, but I didn’t want that either. And anyone with a glass before him can emulate a lactic character by adding a few drops of Seville orange or something similar.

The beer will be ready in about a month, incidentally.

N.B. Huysmans, who was about, um,10 years younger than I when pictured, appears the picture of bourgeois propriety – as expected from someone with a 30-year career in the French Fonction Publique. Maybe he was a secret hippie at heart.

Brewing a Victorian AK With Amsterdam Brewery

Here are some images of my great brewing day yesterday with Amsterdam Brewery brewers, headed by Iain McOustra, at the Brewhouse on Toronto’s Harbourfront. Cody, Jeff, and Mike brewed at different times and I participated throughout.

The brewery is set in a glassed-in room alongside the large vaulted Amsterdam Brewhouse restaurant. It’s a prime location right on the water.

We collaborated to make an AK, of the pale ale family, from the era of 1870. I provided the recipe from my own research some years ago, which also stated that AK meant “ale for keeping”.

OG was 1050 with final abv likely 5-5.3% abv. Only one malt was used, as typical of the day. We elected floor-malted Maris Otter from Crisp, marketed under its Gleneagle name. This was after tasting a number of pale malts, unmilled that is, including Crisps’ non-floor malted Maris Otter.

The floor malt was cracker-like and fresh, tasted from the drained mash it was almost like a toasty oatmeal (porridge): if you added sugar and milk the similarity would seemed marked. The non-floor-malted Maris Otter when tasted unmilled was less cracker-like, more mealy perhaps. If I could choose an analogy, the floor version was like whole-grain bread; the other, like a high-quality bread from white flour.

Both seemed deeper in character than standard North American 2-row malt.

Two hops from Charles Faram were used, Golding and Fuggle, both in leaf form. The hops went in at different times with Fuggles in this case having the say for aroma. Most will be kegged but we hope to do a few casks, and if the casks are dry-hopped we will use one of the two leafs. Any dry-hopping for kegged beer will be with pellets added at tank stage.

The Golding was floral and lemony, the Fuggle like an arbor, leafy and fresh-woodsy.

These hops come in heat-reflecting tight paks flushed with nitrogen, and are stored cold until use. One was harvested 18 months ago but smelled fresh and sweet, its expiration date was still one-and-a-half years away.

We decided on 3 lbs hops per finished barrel of beer (36 Imp. gal.), with 1 lb more/bbl if dry-hopped (will depend on tasting later). The IBU estimate was 45.

This level of hopping – not a shrinking violet – was typical of the period for this class of beer. Yet, for IPA, similar in character to AK but stronger, the hop levels only went up…

We elected two hops on the idea of boosting both complexity and all-English character. Some beers of the pale ale family back then may have used two hops, even if the norm was one. Anyway it seemed right.

We chose an American yeast of relatively neutral character. We wanted to ensure the character of the malt and hops would shine through. Still, we hope to get some estery development from fermentation temperature and a few weeks of relatively warm storage.

The beer should be ready in about 30 days. While Brettanomyces character was  likely part of the long-aged pale ale in the 1800s*, I specifically requested that no brett addition be made. Despite the use of mixed yeast cultures then, I feel the horsey brett character was unlikely with beer aged just a month or two. AK was kept for a relatively short period, where brett character was less likely to form. The idea was to go for a “mild” pale ale palate from this standpoint.

(In other words, some pale ale then was stored for relatively brief periods in comparison especially to export IPA).

Obviously, we used modern fermenters and pure culture yeast. There was no atmospheric exposure once beer ran from heat exchanger to fermenter blended with the yeast drawn from a sealed keg. Vessels are all-metal through the process, no wooden mashing or fermenting vessels. Together with a high degree of sanitation and modern pumping and powering technology, the brewhouse did not resemble in many ways one of the 1800s; few today do.

But still we hope to attain a character that people of that era would recognize as their own, hopefully a very high example of their own.

I should add: the liquor was Burtonized to match the profile of some gypsum-laden waters classically used for Burton pale ale.

The wort from the (relatively short) boil was candy-sweet but very bitter. It carried a striking russet colour the brewers said was unusual in their experience and must have derived from the Crisp malt and the type of malt it was. Indeed, images of pale ale I have seen in colour from the 1800s do resemble it in hue, that orangey-reddish look.


*See some telling narrative evidence, here.