A Jubilee Dinner of the RC Archdiocese of Toronto

One of the most specialized menu collections in the world must be the one maintained at the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto (ARCAT). ARCAT maintains a website, the Archivist’s Pencil, which selects and discusses archival materials of all types from its records.

A few years ago, it reproduced a half dozen menus which commemorated celebratory or other special events in Archdiocese history.

Here is one of them, from 1892.

The celebration was clearly special, a double Jubilee of the founding of the Toronto Archdiocese.

The menu is unusual nonetheless in that it features a wine selection. The other menus reproduced on the ARCAT website do not. I cannot decide if the spatial treatment given the three wines, sherry, Champagne, claret, was intended to set opposite the dishes the wines were meant to accompany. If so, the claret was to be consumed with the dessert and fruit.

Before you raise hands to suggest the spacing is simply a design feature, I will note that at one time in British-influenced dining, Bordeaux red wine was, or could be, drunk at the end of the meal.  See this 1890s edition of Table Talk, where claret is advised with the cakes. So a possibility is, sherry was served after the soup, then Champagne throughout, then claret to finish.

Although this is 1892, and rather late for such treatment, given the meal occurred in distant Canada, and perhaps too the intramural nature of the Archdiocese, an older custom may have been followed in this instance.

In contrast, the menu’s typographical design is rather modern, especially the right side where the foods are listed. That style would not be amiss today in some upscale restaurants downtown.

The dinner was held at the Palace, Church Street, Toronto. Are you expecting me to outline a short history of a hotel of that name? I won’t, because I can’t.

The Palace was a different type of building, it was the rectory for the Archbishop and Bishops of Toronto. Not only that, this fine example of Victorian Gothic is still standing, see below. The historical Toronto website, Taylor on History, from which the image below was taken, gives an excellent overview of its history and design features.

The Palace was built to serve St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, whose website notes as follows:

St. Michael’s Cathedral endures as the principal church of the largest English-speaking diocese in Canada. The Bishop’s Palace remains in use as the Cathedral Rectory and is recognized as the oldest building in the City of Toronto still in use for its original purpose.

The Palace must have had the dinner prepared in its own kitchen and perhaps sourced the wines from its own cellar.

The food was what I would call prosperous middle class, not excessively ornamented and sauced in a French way (perhaps the sweetbreads apart), but offering solid choices like joints and fowl with minimal dressing, some game, and one fish. The inevitable turtle soup appears. The desserts do look nice, taking them as a unit with the entremets and ices.

The luxury was more in the choice of things rather than elaborate recipes and presentation.

Another modern touch is to serve tomatoes as a vegetable. Up to the end of the 1800s it was uusually restricted to ketchups and conserves. These tomatoes were almost certainly cooked though, not eaten raw.

I love the violet and vanilla ice cream. Apart from the pleasing alliteration, the combination sounds wonderful and even contemporary. Yet, together with the ginger and glazed fruits it conjures withal a Victorian atmosphere.

And so, the yin and yang of the familiar and the distant…

Violet is the colour of some vestments, isn’t it? And of the wine used in sacraments? Here I will stop as I am entering territory quite foreign to me.

Note re images: the images above were sourced from the websites identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized users. Images are used herein for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Edwin Guillet’s “Pioneers Inns and Taverns” – an Appreciation

“Pioneer Inns and Taverns” is a landmark five-volume work published by the Canadian historian Edwin C. Guillet (1898-1975), a native of Cobourg, ON. His ancestors arrived in Upper Canada in the early 1800s from Jersey. Mr. Guillet was of distant French Huguenot origin. He claimed in fact a blood connection to another distant son of Jersey and writer, Henry David Thoreau.

The first volume issued in 1954 and succeeding volumes appeared by 1962. Volume One states clearly that it was self-published; the latter bear the imprint of “Ontario Publishing Company” but I think that was an alter ego of Mr. Guillet.

The set comprises four printed volumes since Volumes Two and Three were bound together. They were republished at least once, in a two-volume set.

Succeeding historians of early Ontario tavern life and drinking culture have acknowledged the importance of Mr. Guillet’s work while seeking to chart new directions. He was what is today called an independent researcher. Part of his career was in teaching, including at a technical high school in Toronto. He was later an archivist for the Ontario government.

Guillet held a master’s degree in history and English from McMaster University and had considerable talents as a researcher and writer. Every generation has its writers, explicating the past but, inevitably, reflecting their time. Since Guillet’s time, the academics Craig Heron, Douglas McCalla, and Julia Roberts, among others, have examined similar subject matter from new perspectives. For example, Julia Roberts has looked in her work at how the tavern functioned as a public space for different social classes and particular groups among them, such as women and blacks.

History has always been written at different levels. Mr. Guillet, as Pioneer Inns and Taverns shows, was more than a popular historian, or antiquarian as it is sometimes termed. I use those terms without suggesting anything pejorative. Many non-academic writers have done important work to advance their fields.

His detailed, multi-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources forms an impressive basis for his study and includes rare items not previously available for study.

His work is not referenced in the academic style, but much of the text quotes extensively from sources he identifies, so in effect it is referenced, in his particular way. He lets the writers speak and the reader can form his impressions even though no specific thesis is advanced.

The book reflects its time in that consideration of liquor’s role in various localities is followed by an outline of the temperance movement there. Still, the book is less moralistic than one might think given it was written only 25-30 years after Prohibition ended in Ontario and the fact that Mr. Guillet was a public servant (which might suggest caution in advocating for the licensed trade as it were).

The book makes amply clear Mr. Guillet was not a bluenose. For example, he recounts early in Volume One an amusing anecdote how an early traveller in Upper Canada was forced to share his room with other guests. Thinking initially he had the chamber to himself, the man was taken aback by the sudden image of five “buxom” females disrobing for the night.

To his self-professed relief, in the result they chose another part of the room to seek their repose. The traveller’s satisfaction was short-lived, however, as he was disturbed by their snoring, and chattering – in German. (They sought another place in the room after a glance in his direction – they told him this. This seemed to discomfit him, he said it was the first time his appearance resulted in sleeping the night alone. A window on pioneer conditions, indeed…).

The tone of the book is even and quite balanced. Mr. Guillet presents many absorbing aspects of early tavern and inn culture such as the food and smoking available (people shared a communal pipe), accommodations including for horses, architecture, the staffing of a pub, the origins of the tavern-keepers, entertainment, and much more.

Perhaps oddly to our ears, Guillet does not offer a detailed description of the drinks available at the inns. I read a good part of Volume One and skimmed the remaining volumes but unless I missed it, this dimension is absent.

He mentions of course whether a pub served whisky, brandy, beer, wine, etc. But he does not give a rigorous account of the types of beverages available and pricing. Some of the pioneer and traveller accounts quoted of course offer information in these areas, whether someone’s whiskey was bad, say. It’s more catch-as-catch-can though.

Why this was is hard to say. In 1950s Ontario there was no consumer alcohol appreciation akin to today’s. Moralism set the tone for public life, and an undue interest in liquid tavern offerings might have been viewed askance. Given Mr. Guillet’s government service again, he may have considered it was inapt to “go there”.

Alternatively, the reason may have been simple lack of interest. The passage below, from the introductory part of the first volume, contains a clue on this point.

Mr. Guillet doesn’t state he was an abstainer, although he may have been. But clearly he did not patronize a tavern or bar very often if ever. Maybe this circumstance favoured his impressive production – over 30 volumes on different aspects of early Ontario history, so a boon for readers in another way.

I should add that Pioneer Inns and Taverns also covered Quebec (Lower Canada) and numerous parts of New York State. The fifth volume is a history of English pub names and signage.

By drawing attention to his work, I hope one day it can be re-published with a modern introduction. The pictorial record it contains – hundreds of drawings and photos of historic inns for example – alone justifies this although the text, and bibliography, offer many additional reasons to do so.



A Cider Sampling

Below is a trio of ciders, selected not quite at random but quickly off the shelf for a comparison. They were tasted over a few nights. Kept in the fridge, the cans hardly lose carbonation over that time.

The English Blackthorn is slightly sweet with a good apple taste, but the flavour is hard to place in terms of “national” classification. It’s not quite English and not quite North American, I’d guess the formula aims at an indistinct “international” profile. Blackthorn Dry, the original formulation – or original since the 1960s when the Blackthorn brand was first introduced – is now sold only in England vs. this sweeter and stronger export.

Apple concentrates are used with added sugars. I support authentic methods but at the same time, the taste is fine, so this is not something I would linger over.

The Okanagan, from British Columbia, is by far the sweetest cider I’ve had, a liqueur cider if that makes sense. It would go well in small glasses iced after a light dinner with a biscuit. The apple used seems yellow Golden Delicious or of that type.

I plan to blend it with a lean stout – Ontario has a number of dry (“Dublin”) stouts with a burnt cereal edge – to create a Black Velvet. The extra dryness of the stout will be offset by the sweetness of the cider, and the latter’s sugary quality will be diffused in the mix.

The Thornbury, from Ontario, had a bright, North American apple taste and an alluring carbonation, soft and enveloping. It was least sweet of the three with a nice acid undertone, yet not a scrumpy-style, not, that is, bone-dry and strong. It shows how far cider has come in Canada as it offers good complexity yet without losing the appealing fresh quality. Thornbury is well known too for its brewing line.

None of the three had a Brettanomyces or wild yeast note which in my view ramps up the quality. Brett is such a dominant taste, even in small amounts, it tends to overwhelm the appealing qualities of cider. But it’s a question of taste of course.

Ontario has been making cider for a long time, it’s probably another early Yankee import. It pops up in tavern bills of fare from at least 1800.

Quebec’s cider scene surely derives ultimately from the Norman and Brittany apple yards and fermenting vats, after all most Quebeckers’ ancestors came from those regions.

I am not sure what the antecedents of British Columbia’s cider industry are. Perhaps it is truly home-grown given the long repute of the Okanagan Valley fruit orchards.

The cider barrel was a stock notion of the 19th century. It been reinvented for our time by artisans and ambitious multi-national companies.


Whiskey Gap

There is another connection of Americans to Canada in the matter of liquor, less creditable than their ordered introduction of whiskey to Upper Canada.

It is referred to in the National Film Board documentary The Days of Whiskey Gap from 1961, which you can view here. The film was directed by Colin Low and narrated by Stanley Jackson whose bios you can read in Wikipedia. They were highly respected professionals, indeed Low’s award-winning work influenced some American film-making including by Stanley Kubrick.

Jackson was famous for almost creating a certain NFB style. The precision and cadence of his voice illustrated well the educated Canadian accent of the mid-20th century. It’s still heard among the older generation here but is disappearing fast. (One feature was the breathy “wh” sound, as when he pronounces “white”).

The film is mainly concerned with Western settlement and policing in general, not so much the liquor issue which was a prime reason to create the North West Mounted Police, now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Aged persons are interviewed who participated in settling the Canadian west, one, an ex-Mountie, showed his scars from skirmishes with Indians.

Whiskey Gap is a passage in the Milk River Hills in southern Alberta through which Americans smuggled liquor into the Northwest Territory. There was a sparsely settled locality there, now a ghost town.

That Territory, formerly Rupert’s Land, was controlled by the historic Hudson’s Bay Company until the new Canadian Confederation (1867) assumed control in 1869. HBC was established by the Crown in 1670 to exploit the riches of the wilderness here. The Territory is now encompassed by the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, more or less.

The background to the liquor trade is complex. As such dealings – liquor for furs and pelts – became condemned and rendered illegal in the U.S. due to the devastating effect it had on local tribes, unscrupulous traders sought new opportunities.

Fort Benton had been established in Montana, about 100 miles below the Alberta border and Gap mentioned, by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company. It was later used as a base to establish a series of trading posts, finally made into forts, extending into Canada. This was late 1860s, early 1870s. One was Fort Whoop-Up (the name origin is disputed), now part of the tranquil Lethbridge, AB. Another was called Fort Standoff. You get the idea.

So Americans “invaded” Canada to set up an illicit alcohol trade with the Blackfoot nation which caused great distress in the form of rampant crime, malnutrition and disease. The growing temperance movement in the east contributed to the feeling that this had to be stopped.

The NFB quite accurately refers to this malignity, however it elides a similar culpable role of British and Canadians for about 150 years after 1700, when HBC regularly traded or gifted alcohol for furs in Canada. The HBC from the early 1800s became concerned about the alcohol trade and slowly eliminated it, first by stopping the sale of alcohol to Indians, and then ending the gifting of liquor.

There is some question how closely the bans were enforced into the 1860s but in general, by the time the Americans in the Whiskey Gap were trading rotgut for pelts, the Canadian trade had mostly stopped (a problem lingered on the western coast). Canada was intent to stop Americans from re-introducing the scourge.

So one must take account of the slightly sanctimonious tone in the film because both English and French traders in Canada had also traded booze to Indians, for a long time.

The film also has a tinge of mild anti-Americanism, something that took hold in Canadian society by 1960, at least in the chattering classes.

The film paints the history of the Canadian west as a well-policed frontier versus the lawlessness and gunplay of the frontier south of the border. That may be true in general terms, but I’m not sure the subtext is all that different.

The Northwest Rebellion is an example of the power of the Canadian state being used to subdue a rising of the Metis, a mixed blood people who had Indian allies. Another interpretation is that Canadian Indians did not want a repetition of the Indian Wars occurring south of the border, as the end result was only too clear.

Anyway, in 1874-1875 the Mounties did put an end to the American illicit liquor traffic on the Canadian Prairies. The new troop travelled on horseback from the east under great travail, it included Charles Dickens’ son.

The romance of the Mounties started early and was later abetted by admiring U.S. film treatment. The redcoats always “got their man”… This was a stock feature of 1900s popular culture but is mostly forgotten now.

Reading the accounts of the liquor sold in the forts, a lot seems to have been white whiskey doctored with tobacco, molasses, drugs of various kinds, hot peppers, and other adulterations. They probably added to the harm the ethanol caused when imbibed in great quantities. Lurid names were applied to such concoctions, such as hootchinoo (still with us in the shortened hootch), bug juice, and the denigrating Injun juice.

As various accounts make clear, historically both in Canada and the U.S. liquor was one of many items traded for furs. Blankets (especially), tools, guns, salt, molasses, flour, and other basic commodities also were traded. Once alcohol became banned, honest traders stuck to the legal side of the ledger.

But alcohol did an outsized damage to the tribal societies, who had no or little experience with it before. It is a black mark on European settlement here whose consequences endure to this day.



Thoughts on Gin

In social history terms gin probably offers the greatest interest among the spirits, and maybe too the wines and beers, save Champagne, or maybe porter.

A lot has been written on it, which saves us the trouble of outlining the history. So we will move to palate.

While most spirits at their best require no additive except maybe a little water, I think gin requires mixing in principle. It was never drunk neat before recent years (I exclude cases of clear abuse), and there’s a good reason for it. It blends to perfection with tonic, soda, and good water, meaning not too saline and not chlorinated.

Canadians used to use “bitter lemon” with it as well. To this day I’m not sure if this was an English thing or where it came from. This arch, early 1960s advertisement in the Montreal Gazette claims it was invented in the 20th century and only lately conquered the market as a mix for gin. It notes even “hardened British palates” were swayed, um, by the concoction. Could it have come from some lab in Delaware maybe?

Bitter lemon is a sweet-sour soda pop really. It contains quinine though, the advertised bitter part, to which lemon contributes as well. But there is a shed-load of sugar in it too. I think it may have been a commercial way to produce a quick Gin Twist which is gin, water or seltzer, lemon, and sugar or syrup.

Tonic water needs no explanation, I trust, to anyone who has gotten this far in this post.

I exclude the Martini from this discussion, not because gin is not relevant to it, but Martini is almost a separate subject given its strength, Byzantine history, singular taste, and take-no-prisoners approach (if you have more than one, which seems mandatory).

The aromatic, not to say romantic, Pink Gin – the romance is from its naval history – sort of falls in the Martini class, at least if you drink it straight, which I do. So it’s ultramontane this post.

And so with gin, what to leaven it with/bring out its best qualities? Water. Not the dew on the rose thing with malt whisky, but enough to knock it down to half bottling proof or less. Lately I like 20% abv, it seems to let the gin flavour have full flower while retaining a definite kick.

I have tried many gins at all price points. The English London Dry type is still the best I think, and this discussion is about the English style of gin, not Dutch geneva from which London gin derived.

And the classic brands, apart from offering good price, seem about the best to buy: Gordon’s, Beefeater, Hayman, Bombay Saphire, Plymouth Gin, Boodles among others.

I like a decided orange note in gin, which all these have I think. I don’t like cucumber, celery, anise, or something too flowery. Lemon is good but not too much. Juniper is good but not too much.

The old U.K. or imperial proof (57% abv) Hayman’s, its Royal Dock brand, is about the best I’ve had. It’s got a touch of sweetness too, which I like in gin. 2:1 water to gin in this case delivers the right taste: soft and flowing, lots of flavours, the orange on top, but nothing obtrudes.

Gin used to be called white wine by the genteel, to disguise the reference to something whose slightly disreputable aura had not been shed. That came from the bad days in the 1700s and early 1800s, the societal chaos evoked by Hogarth’s Gin Lane, and all that. This is all in the past, and while no one needs the nod of the bon ton to appraise something’s worth – indeed that factor is often inimical to good value – there is some satisfaction in knowing that good things out finally.




A Toronto Cocktail Bar’s Offerings in 1962

The blogTo website has some excellent articles on Toronto bar and tavern history, this recent one by Derek Flack on the late lamented Silver Rail gives the essential details. See also this piece by Doug Taylor at the Historic Toronto site. It has great information on the design history of the bar.

Ontario alcohol prohibition was in force from 1916-1927, t-total except that local wines were allowed for sale. When alcohol came back, liquor could be bought at the new Ontario liquor commission stores. You could have beer or wine with a meal in a restaurant, but cocktail bars proper were not allowed. Beer parlours existed of course, generally male preserves but sometimes with entrances for women or “mixed”.

From a wide-open frontier alcohol culture to a more measured Victorian tolerance for the saloon, Ontario ended with almost nothing in 1916, ostensibly as a war measure.

The older tradition gingerly returned in 1947 after the war and Silver Rail was the first to be licensed.* While always a restaurant and a noted one in its day, you could walk up to the bar, down a Martini or rye and ginger, and go about your business as in most of the civilized world.

The Silver Rail operated until 1998 and I visited there a couple of times in the 90s. I took good note of the art deco and 1940s aluminium stylings as I knew the place was not long for this world. (The art deco part derived from an older restaurant there, a cafeteria from the prewar era).

Below is the Silver Rail drinks menu from 1962, stolid but well-laid out.

It is an interesting curio as potations of the distant past, more recent past and the future glimmer from its (presumed) laminated pages.

The presence of egg nog and flips, drinks of 19th century origin or older and more American than Canadian, attest that this oldest part of the liquor tradition was still remembered and thought important to offer in soon-to-be zippy postwar Hogtown. The same applies for sherry and port, that was the Victorian part restored for the nuclear age. (Some of the Canadian sherry and port then did have a kind of lurid glow, in fact!).

The cocktails include many classics, I wonder what the first listed, the house specialty, was. If you said, back bacon-infused rye and soda, in ’62 people would have thought you were joking if not making fun of Canucks. Today, bacon in drinks is a happening thing, or was that two years ago?

What was the “Martina”? A sweet Martini probably, maybe a descendant of the Martinez, the original Martini Jerry Thomas and others chronicled before the modern dry Martini emerged.

And long tails, a term I’ve never heard before. It means here a long drink, a mixed drink vs. cocktail in technical terms, but the term is new to me after 40 years reading on cocktails and spirits.

The beers: most brand names still exist, notably Labatt, Molson, Carling. No more Dow though, or Brading. The latter was from Ottawa originally. Did Black Label taste then as now?

“Pilsner” was probably Pilsner Urquell from what is now the Czech Republic, although maybe it meant Labatt Blue Pilsener, as distinct from Labatt 50 Ale, that is. No American beer names are listed, we drank our own styles then, even our lager was regarded as different at the time, “stronger” as the multi-generational wisdom held.

There seems to have been a “Canadian” Scotch then, Old Mull, probably the base of the Scotch sour denominated “Can”. Maybe that was imported bulk Scotch blended with some of our own. Or perhaps it was a surviving malt whisky of our own distillers, as most made a whisky of that type in the 1800s.

All the Scotches were blends, or so it appears. The Irish whiskeys then were straight though, the blends hadn’t come in yet including (I believe) for Bushmills.

The rye whiskies were all Canadian, many of the names still exist. Kentucky Tavern bourbon was not Canadian certainly, and I remember drinking it downtown here circa 1990. It was I believe from Medley in Owensboro, KY and fine it was.

Dutch gin was still on offer here, from Bols in this case, an echo of Empire when “Hollands” or Geneva, predecessor to London Dry, was a standing refreshment in all the Anglo-Saxon countries.

The wines are a mixed bag, it’s interesting to see Australian red even then. Canadian wines were minimal: the LCBO-bottled sherry and Diamond Jubilee (probably), the Canadian champagnes, and Bright Wines’ claret. Our wine industry, a few bulk producers apart, was all in the future.

Good rum selection, most of the names are still available.

Where is the vodka?? All in the future, but a foreshot, so to speak, is the “Tovarich” mentioned in the cocktail section. Maybe it was served chilled with an olive and nothing else, as a Martini then was surely just with gin.

Tovaritch vodka, from Russia, is still a top-seller and gets high ratings by tasters. It is available in some local restaurants but not listed with the LCBO to my knowledge.

Maybe I’ll have a flip tonight. Any recipes?


*According to Mike Filey in Sketches of Toronto, Silver Rail was actually no. 2, the Hotel Barclay was first. Details here.

Note re images: the first image above appears from the Tovaritch vodka website, and the second, from this Toronto history site, Lost Toronto (from p. 138). All intellectual property in these images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable.  Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.





Guinness Comes Alive in a 2009 Book

Given our longstanding interest in Guinness and some dozen posts in the last two years on various aspects of the stout and its history, we decided to revisit a small volume bought some years ago, The Guinness Story by Edward J. Bourke.

The book, published in 2009 by a now-retired Diageo microbiologist, contains a fine collection of historical photos, over 100. The text deals, as the subtitle indicates, with Guinness family history, the beer itself, and how the business grew.

Initially we only skimmed the text, considering it was at best an adjunct to the photos. On now reading the book in full, we see it is a well-presented, multi-faceted introduction to the story of Guinness.

There are many nuggets including for those interested primarily in the historical palate of Guinness.

Bourke’s family had owned pubs for two generations, and he gives some interesting information on Guinness bottling in the pub or distributor’s cellar, the old way that is before Guinness conditioned the beer at the brewery and assumed the bottling itself.

The beer was poured from the cask into a trough from which it was siphoned into bottles labelled by the publican. It was then at its best from conditioning in the bottle within seven to 10 days. The informed reader, wondering at the oxygen risk from such transfers, is answered by his statement that the yeast activity took up the oxygen in the bottle, at least without evident risk over the short period mentioned. He states this bottled Guinness was considered the best in the country by some.

Bourke indicates that this form was duplicated in factory production – this was the unpasteurized bottled Guinness that was the last available form of naturally-matured Guinness – but that finally it was pasteurized for increased stability.

The other form of pre-metal keg, nitro-dispense Guinness he upholds as a paragon was barrelled beer shipped by barge to Limerick. The “gentle” passage down the canal and Shannon river system to the southwest “whipped” oxygen into the beer and resulted in an ultra-good pint.

I would think this remained draft beer, i.e., wasn’t bottled at destination, as he states a cask was difficult to bottle once conditioning had started (due to the lively character). Bourke mentions that unfermented wort formed part of the mix in the barrels. This “heading” technique dated from the 19th century if not the origins of the brewery.

Regarding the adoption of nitrogen dispense, Bourke states relatively little, except to say, as some students of Guinness know, that the idea in part was to put nitrogen in the beer as this had occurred naturally from compressed air dispense in the old days. He doesn’t elaborate too much in this area, perhaps due to company sensitivities, hard to say.

Thus, we are not explained how the old draft Guinness was dispensed in the pubs, the presumed system of high and low cask, etc. which is important historically especially as the cream character and palate were said to be special.

(Of course cask-conditioned beer, including for some porter in Ireland, has returned via the new generation of craft brewers).

One striking thing: stainless tanks shipped to Guinness’ plant in Nigeria, no doubt to send the concentrate meant to darken a local brew for porter, sometimes came back with live snakes crawling out! A snake catcher was employed in Africa but didn’t quite catch them all. The creatures mostly expired once in the cool Irish climate, but in summer you could get a live one, as they say. The Dublin zoo has a fine collection of these specimens, he notes.

Many other bits are of good interest including on water transport in general for Guinness, other forms of transport (rail was used a lot but it shook up the beer), “roll-on roll-off” for trucks which can handle thousands of pints, and evolution of barley varieties especially Plumage-Archer.

Mr. Bourke’s Linkedin page states he is currently writing books on distillation and brewing history in Ireland, which is great news. His scientific knowledge and family history in the pub business are the ideal combination for this. He writes well too and has authored a series of books on shipwrecks around Ireland.

As I have often expressed, I hope Guinness will re-focus on its core specialty. Guinness West Indies Porter was a step in the right direction although it can be hard to find in export markets. But we need to see naturally-conditioned stout too, in bottle and cask, and with all-malt recipes as in the 19th century. Short of that, and while I find Guinness’ history compelling especially as presented here, Guinness will have limited interest for me and, I suspect, many students of the beer palate. This is due to its mild taste, substantial adjunct content, and perhaps the elimination of natural conditioning.

Still, from the viewpoints mentioned above the book is an excellent resource. I recommend it to any Guinness or beer history enthusiast.

Note re image: the image above appears in the Amazon.com page listing The Guinness Story for purchase, linked in the text. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable.  Image is used solely for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Canadian Whisky Has an American Origin – Here’s Why (Part II)

Following on Part I, I now draw attention to historian Julia Robert’s 1999 doctoral study, at University of Toronto, of early Upper Canadian taverns: Taverns and Tavern-Goers in Upper Canada, 1790s-1850s.

This is an invaluable resource. In the first chapter, she studies the functioning of a tavern in 1802 in York – later Toronto – run by Ely Playter, son of a Loyalist father from New Jersey. York, although I haven’t mentioned it, was also a Loyalist destination in the 1780s-90s.

From pg. 43 she addresses the drinks served which included whiskey, rum, gin, bitters, and various shrubs and sangarees. Cider too. She states that rum was “dominant” in the 1790s – so whiskey was still available, while by the 1830s, the distribution among whiskey, rum, and brandy is more equal.

She also gives prices at certain periods, e.g., in the 1830s a glass of rum at retail was more expensive than whiskey but not by that much. This suggests to me that changing tastes, not just price sensitivity, played a role in the switch to whisky as the main hard spirit in Ontario.*

The taste in Toronto, vs. other parts of a largely rural colony, may have inclined more to brandy and rum given the presumed greater prosperity here. Even without that assumption, whiskey by the 1830s was clearly an important part of the spirits offerings. That is when Messrs. Gooderham & Worts came here from England to set up milling and later distilling.

In other words, whiskey had been consumed for over a generation in York and had risen, by her account again, at least to a parity with other hard drinks.

Roberts states that most tavern owners in early Upper Canada were of Yankee origin and that the functioning of the taverns often followed American lines. This included some aspects of tavern design and the way food and accommodation were combined in pricing, the “American plan” vs. “English plan”.

Another index of the American complexion of our early taverns is the free mixing of social classes, something British visitors often disapproved of. Nonetheless some features of the taverns followed English practice and she makes certain analogies to period taverns discussed in Peter Clark’s well-known history of the English ale-house.

Playter himself was an interesting figure at 26, well-educated and keeping company with York notables. His tavern clearly was no low-down resort and Roberts makes interesting comparisons to ruder rural taverns, some through Playter’s own eyes.

This more extended study of subject matter her later book in part addressed, amply supports IMO her thesis, which is that the tavern despite some abuses functioned as a sane and well-regulated part of pioneer society.

Some drunkenness and disorder existed but at the same time, the tavern operated to satisfy many normal needs of the community, indeed as it does today.

Her balancing treatment is salutary and reflects probably a corrective to the earlier treatments, the 1931 article by Garland and Talman is an example, which viewed the alcohol culture in a more moralistic way.

Roberts’ analysis of the daily average of spirits consumed by a tavern-goer in the 1830s shows a not unreasonable amount, something approaching 5 oz per person. By this, I don’t mean to suggest it is a proper amount from a health standpoint, but simply that from a public safety standpoint, the colony was not going to collapse from such indulgence (and evidently did not, as I see from gazing at the vibrant expanse around me as I write).

Even without knowing the ethanol content of such measures, this is a reasonable conclusion IMO.

The primary sources she cites, or others yet unplumbed, may provide the kind of smoking gun I mentioned in my previous post, a la “father ensured the trusty copper still bought by his father in Boston 60 years ago came with the family to our new home in York/Kingston/Belleville/Port Hope/Paris/ along with gran-dad’s treasured rye whiskey receipt”.

Failing finding the gat, I am satisfied that the work of our historians to date provides ample evidence from which to infer reasonably that whisky came to Canada from the United States via the earliest American incomers.

Below is an image of a local landmark, the Horseshoe Tavern (courtesy its website). Not as old as a number of surviving Ontario taverns, it still conveys a venerable atmosphere. For many years it has been a country, folk and pop music shrine. I had a pint of Molson Stock Ale there last night, in fact. It’s not inapt to add, John Molson was brewing in Lower Canada when Playter was running his business in York-town…



*This is at retail again in a licensed establishment in Toronto. Compare a grocer’s price for whiskey and rum in 1828-1829 in another part of Upper Canada as illustrated by historian Douglas McCalla, discussed in my previous post. The latter figures show a decided price advantage for whiskey as well as a (presumably correlative) high market share. The narrower price differential in Toronto taverns can be explained perhaps by the urban environment, in a different part of Ontario, and the different levels of trade.

Canadian Whisky Has an American Origin – Here’s Why (Part I)

In recent posts, I have argued that various indices suggest that the taste for whisky in Canada was abetted by the large number of Americans who settled in Upper Canada via the Loyalist influx and Americans who came later, in their wake. I discussed that into the 1840s, there were about 200 distilleries in the United Province of Canada. The distillers themselves appear to have been of varied origin even as no study has been done comprehensively to classify their family backgrounds. (More is, of course, known of the marquee names but that hardly tells us the full story).

What is more clear is who the original market for spirits was in Upper Canada, say, 1790-1825: people of largely American origin. Distilleries were set up in many areas where those Americans settled, especially around Lake Ontario. I’ve mentioned some, e.g., in Kingston, Port Hope, Paris.

I’ve noted that people of British background also drank and made whisky, not just Scots and Irish although whiskey is typically associated with them. Some Britishers who set up distilleries here were English-born. Also, defined styles of cereal spirits, as whisky, Dutch gin, London gin, only emerged really after the 1700s. Whisky was to undergo of course further change, into blended, straight, bourbon, rye, and other forms.

By this I mean, in the early days, the broad distinctions were cereal spirits (whisky, gin), fruit spirits (apples, other fruits), rum (from sugar and molasses). Someone could make whisky credibly even if at home it took the form of gin especially in a time both these were white spirits.

These are general assertions I believe to be true, but I want to drill down and see if we can identify more specifically the origins of whisky in Ontario.

Let me say also, in investigating this question, it forms part (largely) of academic historical studies that are complex and multi-faceted. Generally, it is professional teachers and researchers who have the time, funding, and training to investigate complex questions. This enables them to compile and study primary sources and the other extensive literature needed to look, say, at how taverns operated in Canada in 1810, or what people drank, how much, on what occasions, etc.

Many aspects of Canadian alcohol history have been examined by such specialists, from standpoints that include the economic, medical, agricultural, historical (settlement patterns) and technological.

So, we need to look at their work in the main. The kind of literature I considered before is still important because it suggests patterns and tendencies. Hence, if the Canadian Yankees Susanna Moodie met in the 1830s liked whiskey, presumably their U.S. ancestors did. If Absalom Shade from Pennsylvania distilled whisky once established in Canada (1820s), he must have been familiar with it at home.

But academic research probably contains the final answer, at least as far as can be known at this date.

So first, how many Americans came here anyway? Inferences drawn from their presence would be affected by their numbers, or rather percentage in the population.

Historian Julia Roberts’ book In Mixed Company: Taverns and Public Life in Upper Canada (UBC Press, 2009) states that in 1815, “nearly 80%” of the colonists in Upper Canada were Loyalists or later American arrivals.

That became diluted in the following decades. But still, the Americans were almost 80% in 1815, that’s about 30 years after the first Loyalists arrived.

So, in terms of the spirits market here into the 1820s, it is fair to say most of it was American, and surely serviced by Americans, i.e., tavern-keepers and store owners. I’d infer that vital taste preferences were formed in this early period, as well as the supply networks to maintain them.

Well, what did they drink? Consider this essay from 1998 by the historian Douglas McCalla, “Customer Purchases of Alcohol at an Upper Canadian Country Store in 1808-1809 and 1828-1829”. He analyzes sales of different beverage alcohol near Brockville, ON, in Yonge Mills. Certainly that’s Loyalist country, and his storekeeper was of Loyalist stock.

Rum outsold whisky by a fair margin in the first period. In the second, the situation is totally reversed which shows the trend that took over in Upper Canada as a whole.*

This is one store in one area, and also, we don’t know how many distilleries were in striking distance of this store in the first period and then the second.* I’d guess there were more in the second period since 1808 is early days in Upper Canada. We also don’t know the relative quality of the whisky between 1808 and 1828.

But even taking the Yonge Mills store as the norm, we must recall that rum was the main spirit in the United States before the Revolution. Due to a variety of circumstances, whisky became cheaper finally but this took some time. The landmark The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition by W.J. Rorabaugh (1979) explains this transition and, for example, that only by 1820 did rye whiskey’s price fall by half, which helped propel the switch to grain spirits.

While the fiscal and economic factors to explain pricing in Canada differed in 1808 and/or 1828 from the U.S. – one assumes rum or sugar/molasses imports would not have been taxed as high, in particular – even by 1808 whisky was cheaper here; this would have set the stage for a reversal of tastes, just as occurred in the U.S.

Whisky was famously distilled in Pennsylvania by the whiskey rebels of the 1790s, and in fact some whisky had been distilled in America since the 1600s. The Loyalists knew what whisky was when transitioning from rum to whisky as their preference. Unless the British presence in Upper Canada when the Loyalists arrived explains a taste for whisky, the Loyalists must have brought the taste or at least enough knowledge of the spirit to found its later production and consumption here.

In fact, a number of historians have stated baldly that the Loyalists brought whisky to Canada. However, when you examine the sources, they don’t really back it up. Most revert to Susanna’s Moodie’s or other pioneer accounts of encounters with Yankees liking whiskey or backwoods people getting into trouble over it. This is suggestive but not conclusive.

One study of this nature has credibility in a kind of negative sense though, in that the authors make the point that the British army did not use whisky for the soldiery or regimental messes before 1800. This work, “Glass of the British Military ca. 1755-1820” (1985) is a scholarly examination of the vessels used by British forces for various purposes including wines, beers, brandy, etc. See pg. 11 where the authors state that at the end of the 18th century “whisky is not an English drink”. They attribute its use in Upper Canada specifically to Loyalists but their sources, which I checked, lead back to general pioneer accounts again.

The authors, Olive Jones and Ann Smith, note that whisky was used in the 18th century in Scotland, Ireland and the U.S., but as it is not an English drink, they conclude it must have originated in what is now Ontario with incoming Americans.

It is a theory I find, for all the reasons previously offered, entirely logical, but smoking gun proof is lacking. The same applies to a seminal 1931 study by historians M.A. Garland and J.J. Talman, writing in the Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 27 (1931): “Pioneer Drinking Habits and the Rise of Temperance Agitation in Upper Canada Prior to 1840″.

The study is important and continues to be cited in scholarly works, but if you read it (I did), it doesn’t offer direct proof. There is a general statement in there, not supported in the endnotes, that use of “intoxicating liquor” may have been brought by some immigrants from the “mother land”. This can be read in a number of ways, e.g., to comprehend England and include beer for example, so again it’s suggestive but not definitive.

The authors do credit the U.S. with a lot actually, but ironically for early temperance agitation here, via certain Protestant denominations.

The study is useful in many ways though and is written in a clear, modern style, no Victorianese and free of the academic jargon that permeates much academic writing today. I recommend it to anyone interested in this area.

So, we are left with where I started, which is to make reasonable inferences from the available data. Probably a good many early distillers were Loyalists or later American arrivals. The use of whiskey here followed that of rum just as it did south of the border, the “same” people were doing both. Whiskey was something not foreign to the British mind, and a Briton whether Scots, English or Irish would go into the business if he could make a shilling. But the use of whiskey before 1800 in the U.S. and similar mash bills there and here in the 1800s suggests the Americans brought the taste here.

There is no other theory as persuasive, e.g., an implant of British foodways, or a local phenomenon with no reference to anything external.

Our Ontario rye whisky is of U.S. origin, in a word.


*In this 2015 book-length study of consumer purchasing habits in Upper Canada, Douglas McCalla elaborates on his 1998 essay. He states that whiskey was more costly than rum in 1808-1809 (45 cents @ quart vs. 35 cents),  which suggests that rum’s dominance in sales, at least at this store at this time, was price-driven. In 1828-1829, the price of each had fallen significantly but whiskey was now cheaper than rum by half (12.5 cents @quart vs. 25 cents), which probably explains its capture of the greater part of the market by then. Whether the accounts of this store reflect Upper Canada market conditions in general for these supplies is unknown to us, as is the full economic/tax/importation circumstances to explain these changes. However, the picture does seem broadly similar to what W.J. Rorabaugh describes for the U.S. in The Alcoholic Republic, i.e., whiskey in the first two decades on the 1800s fell considerably in price and became a more cost-effective alternative to rum.

**McCalla’s 1998 essay states distilling in the area is documented by the 1830s and that it likely occurred sooner, but this is unclear.

[Part II of this article follows, here].




A Social Revolution in Canada

From Black Bottle to Babbitt

The centre of modern-day Cambridge, ON was formerly called Galt. Indeed the old term is still heard today. It is only 14 miles from Paris, ON and broadly in the same region, the old Dumfries township. Galt was in the north part, Paris the south.

Both towns are watered by the Grand River, a source of power for many early industries. Galt perhaps had a stronger Scottish admixture, in part due to an influential Scot who owned lands on the Grand and solicited countrymen to work the fields.

However, Galt too had its share of American incomers. One was the builder and industrialist Absalom Shade who came in the 1820s from Pennsylvania and established distilling. Galt counted two distilleries by the 1840s.

In 1880, an Ontario politician and newspaper publisher, James Young, wrote a history of Galt. His comments on liquor there set out in miniature a number of themes discussed here recently. In a few neat phrases he charts a quickstep transition from frontier whisky culture to ordered, prosperous burg.

As he notes, it was a change the Province underwent as a whole within a single generation. In fact something similar had occurred in the United States.

Young notes that until “white-eye” whisky made its appearance, the workmen wanted rum. Once again, the same historical shift occurred over the border, just earlier.

But why did “white-eye” take over in Canada as well? Presumably rum could still have been imported albeit at higher cost. Whisky suited the developing farm economies, as surplus grain, not easily transportable or storable, was turned to spirit. The farmers got needed cash, or cash and spirits, from distiller-millers in exchange for rye, wheat, corn, oats, barley.

But also, it may be noted Slade came from Pennsylvania, home of straight rye whiskey. This can’t be unconnected to his distillery in Galt, in my view. It’s the same thing for the presumed taste inclinations of the many Americans in the township who came from the northeast where whiskey was the drink of preference from about 1800 on.

The many whisky distilleries around Lake Ontario’s north shore, settled in large numbers by Loyalists and later American arrivals, support this inference for Upper Canada as a whole, IMO. It is useful here to examine Tanya Lynn MacKinnon’s spatial diagrams of the industrial geography, I’ve referred to her book a number of times here.

Now, the Scots know a few things about whisky, that’s the “drouthy” tendency drolly noted by Young.

Against this background, rum’s salad days were over. In contrast, it held on much more so east of Quebec. To this day rum is a strong seller in the Maritime provinces. Certainly, many Loyalists went to Nova Scotia and some other parts of the Maritimes. The question why whisky did not “take” as well there is an interesting one. Many American arrivals came from New England coastal states where rum held some market, albeit declining, through the 1800s. I wrote earlier here about New England rum’s attenuated career.

Cereal agriculture too probably was nowhere near as fecund in the Maritimes as in southern Ontario. And many parts were settled long before any Loyalists came, notably Newfoundland with its direct links to Caribbean trade, and these stayed to their old practices.

It would make an interesting academic study to know why rum prospered in the east but foundered in Ontario and Quebec after the American Revolution. I suspect the factors I outlined above may be decisive.

You will see that Shade did not actually want to supply liquor to his work gangs. This strategy was no doubt linked to the alteration occurring in “the public mind”, a term in another Canadian book from the same era as Young’s. Also, perhaps Shade wanted simply to advance productivity and avoid the kind of industrial accident Young mentioned. This boss mentality was a rising part of the new temperance zeitgeist (apologies in etymology proferred).

Let Young tell it in his own words:

Note re images: the second image above, of Galt, ON in the 1890s, was sourced from this Canadian Virtual Reference Library. The last two images were sourced from James Young’s Galt history linked in the text, via HathiTrustAll intellectual property in and to these images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized users. Images appear for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.