Cellaring Draught Beers, 1940-2020

It is a lamentable fact that the original good quality of draught beer in the brewery becomes deteriorated through incorrect handling in the public-house. The beer is too often sold flat, having lost all its carbonic acid gas. Now, if draught beer is to be a pleasant-tasting, refreshing and attractive-looking beverage, it is absolutely necessary to preserve its CO2. In order to obtain this result the correct control of the beer mains and casks is essential to the preservation of the keeping qualities and original pure flavour and condition of draught beer. It should not be a difficult matter to set before public-house cellermen simple directions which, if adhered to, will make the serving of a good glass of beer to their customers a very simple matter.

(From “Cellar Management“, G.R. Seton, Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 1908).

It should be a simple matter indeed, but the devil is in the details.  We see above the same basic challenge to cask beer as exists today, pre-Covid 19. Over 100 years later, not much has changed.

Below I survey cellaring methods and advice stretching from today back 80 years. We’ve seen, c. 1955, the view of H & G Simonds in Reading. And yet earlier, the chart the British army used c. 1900 for canteen operations.

So, first, from the revered Joseph Holt’s of Manchester, “Looking After Cask Ale in the Cellar” in its Cask Ale Guide.

Second, an entry by UK cellaring specialist Mark Dorber in the 2011 Oxford Companion to Beer (at 231 et seq).

Third, Roy Hayter in his manual Bar Service (2000).

Last, brewing scientist H. Lloyd Hind in Brewing: Science and Practice, Volume II (1940) (pp. 873 et seq).

Holt’s, for its part, suggests its beers can be spiled and tapped within two to three days.*

Dorber’s discussion is the most nuanced and detailed, as expected from a hyper-specialist, a maven with an admirable appreciation for nuances of taste. He states cellaring is “a blend of the aesthetic and the practical”, so that should tell you something.

He states Bass pale ale was cellared for three to four weeks and some old and other special ales can go two months or even longer. For standard draught bitter, he allows two weeks in general.

His timelines exceed the longest period attributed in the c.1900 army chart, which is one week. That chart did not address strong ale, probably because little of this beer was sold to the soldier for cost and discipline reasons. This appears from the report that followed the inquiry at which the chart was tabled.



Hayter offers a brisk, smartly-paced treatment of this whole area, it is perhaps the best I know. He states two to three days for venting, tapping and commencing dispense.

Lloyd Hind is quite summary in his discussion. He reads broadly in the way of Hayter and Holt’s, which H & G Simond’s advice (1955) accords with as well.

Perhaps because Hind’s Volume II was issued during the war, and/or his focus on brewery (not pub) operations, he doesn’t linger on cellaring, much less insist on subtleties in its execution.

Seton’s article, despite its title, does not describe venting and tapping procedures for cask ale. He focuses more on cellar temperature and cleaning (handpulls, pipes, cellar floors and walls), and raising beer by either air or carbon dioxide pressure. To the extent he approves dispense without pressure, he likes it best straight from the barrel behind the bar.

(Many cask experts if pressed would agree. Author Michael Jackson (1942-2007) once told me this was his view, but the beer needed to be “beautifully kept”).

None of the sources above except Mark Dorber distinguish between beer types for approved service. And Dorber does it in a way different from the army over 100 years before. Let’s recall the army wanted porter and stout dispensed unvented, hence in high condition, with little or no resting at all.



And it had mild ale dispensed within two days simply by removing the bung and laying it lightly on the hole. Dorber treats mild ale like bitter except with faster cellaring due to lower gravities and hopping. And stout and porter are not addressed. He did write a book on cellaring, cited in the link above, so that should be consulted by those wanting the last word.

Looking at this broad-brush, I suggest the army cellaring was kind of mid-way between the hyper expertise of Dorber (for ales anyway) and modern, more peremptory practice. While we don’t know how widespread was army practice for beer cellaring back then – and Seton makes it clear conditions in the field were far from ideal – as a large-scale purchaser of beer, we can take it the army had expertise in these matters.

(This is evident too in other ways from the inquiry’s report, for example its insistence on all-malt brewing).

I like Dorber’s punctilious approach though, he channels the spirit of Edwardian cellaring more than anyone I know today.

Today, the main form of cask ale is bitter. Six full days to the Sunday of dispense, sounds about right to me. If I had my own pub and my own casks to tend, I’d follow the army way. For starters anyway.

N.B. I should mention one situation where cellaring can be achieved in less time than even the shortest windows mentioned above. This is where the beer is partly-conditioned at the brewery before dispatch. Fuller’s in London has done this, see John Keeling’s explanation in this 2017 article by Bryan Betts in Craft Beer and Brewing. What happens here is a centrifuging, re-seeding with yeast (as for some bottle-conditioned beer), development of condition at brewery, and dispatch to pub where the process still continues. Enough condition is in the cask that soft spiling is not needed and indeed not advisable. A day only is needed before tapping, to settle the beer out a bit.

Note re image: the first image above is drawn from Joseph Holt’s website identified and linked above. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Of course, as with all cellaring advice, correct temperature and other right conditions are assumed. Variations may be apt for particular cases. Say a cask of beer is delivered ice cold. More time will be needed to get it right for cellaring.







Postwar Cellaring Practice by H & G Simonds

A descendant of the Simonds family of Reading, U.K., has placed a great deal of company archival material online to assist research into the history of H & G Simonds Ltd. and the family. I’ve mentioned this brewery a number of times, including in connection with testimony by Louis Simonds in 1903 before an inquiry on army canteens.

The Simonds website includes 1950s and early ’60s price lists covering not just draught and bottled beers but wines imported by a branch business. Activities of affiliated breweries (three in the 1950s) are included, and a history of dealings with the army both in Britain and foreign locales (Malta, Gibraltar, Egypt, etc.). There are scans of the house or employees’ magazine as well, mid-20th century era.

To all this (just a partial description) must be added academic dissertations on the brewery; a number are reproduced.

Here, I want to draw attention to a guide on cellar management issued for pub tenants, especially new ones. It bears no date, while a guide to bottling and pasteurizing beer that appears just above it bears a 1951 date. Based on graphics and lay-out I’d place the cellaring pamphlet about 1955.

Things had evolved it appears in British brewing from circa 1900 when the army (for its part) had detailed guidelines for cellaring different beer types. I discussed this earlier in a series of posts. One may start here.

By 1955, at least for H & G Simonds, its guide does not distinguish between different types of beer. The closest treatment between the army guide and Simonds’ is in relation to bitter, and true, Simonds’ appears to have produced draught bitter only (no draught mild) by the late 1950s.

Compare Simonds’ price lists from 1953 (p. 24) and 1960 set out on this page from the site. In ’53, mild and strong draught ales were still supplied along with the pales. By 1960 it’s only pale ale, designated East India Pale. Perhaps though some of Simonds’ affiliated breweries supplied mild ale.

Taking all with all, I think that by the 1950s, generally in British practice, mild ale was being cellared the same as bitter, and older refinements were abandoned.

But even if the guide should be considered specific to pale ale, things were still different from 1900. Instead of seven days to rest, spile, tap, and dispense as in the army chart, it’s now two to three days. There might be numerous reasons for the evolution, including refinements in production and consistency. It’s also possible things were simply “rushed” more in later years, under pressure of more competition and saving time and money.



Notable also is the rationale stated in Simonds’ guide for spiling (insertion of wood pegs to allow a controlled venting of carbonation). There is no reference to palate, to the slight bubble and extra taste or texture today regarded as gastronomic virtues for cask ale.

Rather, we are given a rather clinical explanation. Three reasons are offered up for venting before dispense by spiling:

– the finings in the cask, meant to clarify the beer, are enabled to work

–  the reduced pressure will avoid damage to (evidently wood) casks

–  beer will not be lost in tapping (presumably through spraying out and such).

Can it be that the thin carbonation of cask-conditioned beer, a badge of honour to cask enthusiasts today, had purely practical origins? I think it is entirely possible. It is not as if fizzy beer was ever rejected in British brewing. Bottled and canned beer were always fizzy. Of course today draft lager (and keg ale) is as well, available in almost every British pub.

We saw earlier too that the army’s chart stipulated no venting for porter and stout, suggesting all things equal, drinkers preferred a fizzy body and creamy head. The one thing they didn’t get is clarity, but clarity isn’t necessary in a black-hued beer! It was always a desideratum for pale and mild ales in British practice (with some relaxation under craft protocols in recent years).

Yes, Simonds was one brewery in one period, but necessity often is the mother not just of invention, but pedigree. Those early beer critics in the 1970s who grumbled that keg beer was “all piss and wind, like a barber’s cat”* may have been (sorry) conditioned by generations of practice more than anything else.

The guide was written by Simonds’s head brewer and I think likely he expressed the matter in practical terms as handed down within brewery precincts for generations. It’s different now, but we’ve had decades of beer critics lyricizing the virtues of cask ale.**

Note re image: image above was sourced from the entry on H &G Simonds Lt., at the Brewery History website, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


* From an early book by Michael Jackson.

** Make no mistake, we like it too. It should be said as well, connoisseurship of this sort is relatively new.




Courage Draught Beers 1985-2000

In this post I will mention a beer, or rather two, whose taste and availability were notable in the period of my active visits to London, 1985-2000. For the most part I’ll leave the detailed history of Courage for another day, but will make some points to assist the narrative.

In this period Courage had many public houses in London, from my rambles seemingly concentrated centre and east. In contrast the west parts of town tended to feature Fuller’s and Young’s houses. I don’t address here the actual numbers but more appearances to one constantly on foot in different quarters.

Courage beers were brewed in this period near Reading, at Worton Grange aka Berkshire brewery, operational from 1980. It replaced (or ultimately) Simmond’s historic brewery in Reading. Simmond’s had merged with Courage & Barclay in 1960, Courage and Barclay having combined five years earlier.

Scottish & Newcastle acquired Courage in 1995, hence Scottish Courage. Berkshire brewery was closed in 2010. At some point, 2010 or maybe before, Courage beers were brewed up north in Tadcaster at John Smith’s.

Possibly between 1985 and 2000 some Courage was brewed at George’s brewery in Bristol.

Those reading may have more details, this is a high level review from my understanding.

Courage Best Bitter and Courage Director’s in this period were flavourful and notably fruity. It’s a taste not seen as much today, due I think to long brewing in one location with a distinctive, often multi-strain, house yeast.



Director’s is still brewed, at the Eagle Brewery (formerly Charles Wells) of Marston’s that is now in a joint venture with Carlsberg. I have not had it on cask in many years. I did have it in the can a couple of years ago and was disappointed, the richness of that version 20 years ago, not to mention the draught in pubs, seemed lacking.

Still, I need to re-acquaint especially with the draught and will do so when I can next visit Britain.

In 1985-2000 the cask beers were almost a reddish or garnet, fruity as noted with a fine English bitterness. Different sources state that Target, Fuggles, and Goldings have been used in the brewing, possibly only Target now. However it was (is) done, the result was that Seville orange + English arbour taste of classic English bitter, a sub-set anyway. Nothing tropical-like in the modern hop way though.

Maltiness was stressed, especially in Director’s. Best Bitter was and is a weaker, lower-cost beer more suited to sessions.

Directors’ Bitter quite possibly was a direct link to the naturally-conditioned beers of Alton Brewery in Hampshire in 1903. Courage in London bought Alton’s to expand its pale ale offerings. Brian Glover in his The Lost Beers and Breweries of Britain tells the tale well, see here. 

Muntons, the malt and malting ingredient specialists, offer Courage Director’s in homebrew kit form, and it would be interesting to try this. The kits employ liquid malt extract.

As to the grain beers at the breweries, again one reads different things. I don’t think Directors was or is all-malt, although in 1903 it may well have been.

Some sources state maltose syrup or barley syrup (maybe the same thing) is an adjunct, with most of the grist pale and amber malt. However the recipe ran or does now, the beers when I had them were first rate if properly dispensed. The canned versions were pretty good, too.

Davy’s Wallop at the Davy Wine Bars (London) was said to be Courage Director’s and very good it was.

The term “decent” in the tube poster was typical British understatement. This style is not as evident in U.K. advertising today but styles change in marketing, as in everything. (In fact 19th century ads for British beer had their own style: brash but often with an elaborate courtesy. They were kind of a cross between 1950-2000 and where we are today).

I’ll leave the last word to Muntons. Their description, no doubt supplied by the current brand owner, is exactly how I recall the taste in the London Courage houses:

A rich, chestnut hued, full-bodied brew boasting a clean, bitter taste balanced with burnt, orange peel notes and a dry-hop aroma and flavour…





International Conclave on Ale – 1935

Ale Under the Microscope in Cincinnati

When the Hagley Digital Archives made available mid-20th century issues of The American Brewer sans paywall, it was a big service to beer scholarship. The issues cover the period from 1928-1942, approximately 160 issues comprising thousands of pages.

I’ve uncovered a nugget from November 1935 – at least, I haven’t seen it discussed elsewhere in modern beer studies. The issue reprinted papers given at the Cincinnati convention that year of the Master Brewers Association of America (MBAA). Included were three presentations on ale history and brewing.

It was significant that the conference devoted this attention, as top-fermentation had been relatively minimal in American brewing for decades. And the post-Repeal 1930s was the least propitious time for it. Still, ale continued to be brewed, both in its Northeast heartland and elsewhere in the country.

Indeed as I showed earlier some brewers took especial pains to deliver authentic, British-inspired productions. Louis Wehle tried to recreate authentic Burton pale ale in Syracuse and Rochester, NY. Ballantine in New Jersey, also 1930s, brought back its long-aged India Pale Ale. There were many other examples, to varying degrees of authenticity.

So the profession still turned its mind to ale. Otto P. Rindelhardt addressed his colleagues from a Canadian perspective. Capt. Francis N. Ward spoke on British practice. Henry O. Sturm and Eric Wollesen dealt with both America and Canada.

Rindelhardt worked for Carling Brewery in London, Ontario. He did not deliver the speech, as I surmise he wasn’t well enough to travel. He died in 1936 at 61, and is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Middlesex County, Ontario.

He was with Carling from about 1906 until his death. The American Brewer’s Review (1903) stated he was from Detroit, Michigan and received a scholarship to the Milwaukee Brewing School run by Hantke. By 1906 he had joined Carling Brewing and Malting Co. in London, Ontario, as we see from Letters on Brewing, Volume V.

He had worked under the Carling family and latterly with E.P. Taylor, the financier who created Canadian Breweries Ltd., the pre-eminent brewery “raider” of its era. Rindelhardt was Carling’s long-time superintendent of brewery operations.



Together with Wollesen, they helped create the Master Brewers Association of Canada in 1914, which was (and is) affiliated with the MBAA.

Eric Rindelhardt, perhaps his son, delivered the paper in lieu of its author. The journal made an error in rendering the surname, terming it Rindlehardt, but it was actually Rindelhardt.

There are few if any other lengthy treatments on these lines in American or Canadian sources of that period, hence their value.

There are so many points in them, I don’t know where to start. I’ll simply send it out for scholarship to examine, and will mention just a couple of points.

Both Rindelhardt and Sturm-Wollesen make detailed comments on the history of cream ale. They make a basic distinction I found useful, especially as the various terms in this regard – cream ale, lively ale, sparkling ale, present use ale – were often used loosely even in brewing circles.

Rindelhardt stated that cream ale and lively ale, which he considered synonymous, were devised in the mid-1800s to compete with lager. He said they were ale barrelled before fermentation had completed to build up carbonation in the trade casks, or krausened in those casks, and sent out.

In contrast, sparkling ale and present use ale – again synonymous – might also be krausened, and later force-carbonated, but were a flat stored ale blended with lager krausen. This form, provided the lager krausen was handled correctly, still offered an ale character but in a fizzy, chilled way as lager would offer.

Cream/lively ale was, as I discussed in the steam beer series just completed, a top-fermented equivalent to California steam beer. Both were newly made and highly effervescent from active yeast. These experts’ comments are fully in accord with that schema, imo.

Sparkling/present use ale, in the strict sense, should not be analogized to steam beer as it offered mainly a mature character. It had a similar fizz, and was intended to be be drunk cold, but the flavours contrasted with the relatively green character of cream/lively ale. This is a reasonable inference to draw from their remarks.

The experts pointed out as well, in a restrained but impliedly critical way, that some post-Repeal brewers were selling lager dressed up as ale, for example, by dry-hopping it.

Their comments on the history of stock ale are very interesting too, including that (as in the U.K.) beer stored upwards of two years could taste sour. Sour I.P.A., that craft phenomenon of our time, fits right in there…

I had no luck in tracing Francis N. Ward. He seems not to have been connected to Ward’s Brewery in Essex, U.K., at least not in the patrilineal line of ownership. He was clearly a formally trained brewer. His comparison of the different regional fermentation methods is instructive, as all his remarks. Every phase of the brewing process is reviewed.

The part I liked best is his description of the taste of contemporary mild ale. He stated it was lightly sweet in character, something most beer today offers much less, imo. He seemed of two minds about sugar in brewing. He said modern, little-aged beer needed it to ensure clarity, but seemed to consider as well that sugar was only necessary when malt of lesser quality was used.

There is lots there, read for yourself.

Note re image: image above was sourced from the issue of the The American Brewer identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.







Steaming Into the Thirties (Final Part)

A Steam Brewer Powers into the Thirties – Sans Steam


This series commenced with Part I which showed how the regulatory environment for newly-legal beer in California in 1933-1934 dampened the prospects for steam beer’s return.

Steam beer did reappear post-Volstead, but the élan it had before Woodrow Wilson’s war measures and National Prohibition had gone.

El Rey Brewing and Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, Garden City in San Jose, with its Old Joe brand from the disappeared Eagle Brewery, and Grace Bros in Santa Rosa brought steam back but soon only Anchor was left. Post-Prohibition California brewers focused on lager with a sub-specialty of undifferentiated ale.

In the intervening seven essays, Parts II to VIII inclusive, I examined different aspects of steam beer history and production. I will end again in the 1930s, to show how a former steam beer champion positioned itself in the restored brewing environment.

Past Recalls the Present

In today’s (American) beer world, with over 7,000 breweries at the end of 2019, brewers must stretch their imagination to devise distinctive brand names. Yet as so often, the past is hard to beat. If you can think of a name cooler than Cream Steam Lager, let me know.

Cream Steam was the main brand of the Palace Brewery in Alamada, California and it also made a XXX Porter. The brewery was founded by Henry Schuler, a Prussian immigrant who ran it with his son Lawrence, as memorialized in the book Alameda County: Eden of California, a commercial and historical survey printed in 1898.

But memories are – can be – long in brewing. A modern California brewery, Faction Brewing in Alameda, issued its Palace XXX Porter to commemorate the long-disappeared Palace. A residential nook in the City of Alameda is called Palace Court, also named for the old brewery, see this account by local historian Karen Bey.

Geo. F. Goerl, Steam Brewer and Golden West Brewery

In 1910 George F. Goerl was associated with the Palace brewery. He was the brewer, and apparently purchased the brewery from the Schuler family in 1905. Goerl’s father Fritz had a long run as owner of a brewery in San Rafael, Marin County. Father sold out to English investors in about 1905 and retired, dying not long after in an accident.

See some details on San Rafael Brewery and Fritz (or Fred) Goerl as reported two years ago in the Marin Independent Journal.

It seems likely that the sale proceeds helped fund son George’s entry into brewing in another California county, Alamada, east of the Bay across from San Francisco.

Press reports attested in 1910 and early 1911, for example the San Francisco Call, that the Palace and four other breweries in Alameda County merged to form the Golden West Brewery Co. Like San Francisco County, Alameda County had an active steam beer market, supplied by its own breweries.

The other four in the merger were Washington Brewery in Oakland, headed by George White, Anchor Brewery also in Oakland (not connected to the better-known one across the Bay), Raspiller Brewery in Berkeley, and the Lion in Hayward. Some dated from the 1850s, the first decade of commercial brewing in California.

The squad of five, as this story in Santa Rosa’s Press Democrat explained, had excess production; in today’s terminology, rationalization was the answer:

There has been a combination formed among the brewers of steam beer in Alameda county for the purpose of saving themselves from the unnecessary expenditure of money in the transaction of their business, limiting the cost of their product, minimizing the cost of handling … their output, abolishing disastrous competition and in a word making more money for themselves than they claim to have been making for a number of years past. The new organization is known as the Golden West Brewing Association…

Steam beer was losing popularity to conventional lager, but also, as the Call’s story explained, saloonkeepers were careless how to serve the beer. Steam beer required nicety of technique due to the unusually high pressure and tendency to cloud from its element of krausen, or young fermenting beer. An analogy to the ever-fragile status of cask-conditioned beer in the U.K. may be noted.

The merged five intended to improve the standard of beer service in saloons by educating barkeeps on proper service of the beer. They weren’t, that is, giving up on steam beer, as many California breweries had or were in process of doing; rather, they wanted it served in best condition so customers could appreciate its merits.

While the merger included most breweries in the county, two didn’t join. These were the Co-Operative Brewing Company in Oakland, and Oakland Brewing and Malting (OBM). OBM, established only in 1907, was designed to the highest modern standards. It brewed only conventional lager, its Blue and Gold brand.

This portrait of OBM, in the 1911 book Greater Oakland, suggests the kind of operation older, less efficient brewers needed to emulate to stay alive in the market. They had to become, like OBM, brewers of a “scientific” and “pure” lager. Steam beer didn’t exactly have that image but Golden West would try to keep it alive, while starting to brew lager as well.

Golden West wasted no time. Two breweries in the group were shut. And a brand-new facility was built that rivalled OBM in modernity and style. It was located at Seventh and Kirkham streets in Oakland.

A profile of Golden West Brewery in 1911 can be obtained from E. Blake’s Greater Oakland:



While George Goerl is not mentioned, he was very much involved, as the brewer. The merged business grew in succeeding years but as we have seen, war measures and then Prohibition caused all brewing in California to cease by 1920. Beer brewing, that is. We have seen how Golden West stayed in business to make a steam version of near beer.

Golden West After 1920

Such was its faith in steam beer, or at least the tradition implied by the name, that it marketed the near beer throughout the 1920s and until Prohibition ended. See for example this 1931 ad. This was not a case, therefore, of a brewery foundering with its near beer in the ’20s and leaving the market well before Prohibition ended, as happened with many.

On July 31, 1933 the Oakland Tribune covered Golden West’s re-entry to brewing in a splashy piece that took a full page and part of another. The officers and directors were pictured, mostly in their 60s and 50s judging appearances. Indeed the story stated George White had 43 years in the business and George Goerl, 40 years. The other men too mostly had long decades-long records in malting and/or brewing.



Charles W. Heyer, a key member of the old team, had died in 1932 according to this 1933 story in The American Brewer. We suspect new blood (in a manner of speaking) joined with White and Goerl to permit Golden West to re-equip and enter the newly legal brewing business.

The Tribune explained that in the long years of Prohibition White and Goerl had worked on the formulation of the beer to emerge when brewing was legal – Golden Glow.  The stories in the feature reference the highly scientific and updated plant Golden West became in 1933, with new aging tanks, a restored brewery, and expanded stock house.

Bottling was characterized, said the piece, by an intensive sterilization and pasteurization program. (Seven waters to clean the glass, a temperature so hot it would scald your hands). Golden West once again re-invented itself, just as it had in 1910 when five pioneer breweries merged to live another day.

But one thing is missing from the Tribune’s lavish account. There is not a single mention of steam beer. Clearly, and as a review of its subsequent activities suggests, Golden West never again returned to steam beer. It was part of history, didn’t fit the super-modern image of the reborn brewery. True, steam beer was retained in 1910 during the first transformation, but that was 23 long years before: times had changed.

Whether Goerl was dissuaded by the need to ensure his kegged steam beer did not exceed 3.2% ABW is hard to say, but I incline that had he wanted to make such a beer, he could have. After all he made a near beer with the name steam on the label. Steam beer was, withal and in the end, something of the past for the Golden West executives, if not for all breweries starting up after Prohibition.

Adrienne Schell, a local historian in Oakland, depicted aspects of Golden West brewing history in her blog some years ago. She includes numerous labels for its beers in the 1930s and 1940s – not one is for steam beer. The beers were mostly lagers, but some ale was made, as mentioned below.

The American Brewer also gave good coverage in 1934 to Golden West’s rebirth – again no reference to steam beer. The only brands mentioned were Golden Glow Beer and Golden Glow Ale.

This 1934 ad for Golden Glow Ale, with its attempt to link the beer to old British traditions, may have been Golden West’s way to uphold the old steam beer heritage, as steam beer always had connections to ale-brewing as shown earlier.

As for most American brewers in the post-Volstead era, ale was never more than a minor category. Lager was the mainstay into the 1940s as this forthright 1944 ad for Golden Glow Beer would suggest, but it is just one of many similar ads that appeared since Prohibition’s end.

Golden West’s Position in the post-Volstead Market and Fate

Golden West found its place in the post-Prohibition beer business but it never rose to the topmost ranks of California brewers. Gallonage reports for 1939 in The American Brewer (sourced via Hagley Digital Journals) placed it among the leading brewers but well behind pacemakers Acme, Los Angeles Brewing, General Brewing, and Rainier. See here:



Acme, General (Lucky Lager), Rainier, and Los Angeles Brewery (Eastside) remained the major players for years. Inevitably, smaller breweries – there were about 35 brewers in total in California in the mid-30s – closed or were bought out. Golden West endured through the war but in 1950, was bought out by an expanding Midwestern brewer, Goebel in Detroit. See Peter Blum’s remarks in his book on Detroit brewing history.

For some years the brewery continued operating in Oakland under Midwestern direction, in the same building built in 1910-1911, but finally was demolished.

The Takeaway

Numerous lessons can be learned from steam beer history and the arc of Golden West. One is the indomitable spirit of the brewer to stay in his trade, “a very old and honourable job”, as Oscar A. Mendelsohn called it in his The Earnest Drinker (1950). Men with graying hair waited 13 years to re-enter the brewing fray, keeping up with brewing technology to boot.

Yet, despite nearing their golden years when starting up again in 1933 the Golden West executives weren’t sentimental about beer history, even their own. They didn’t let romance potentially cloud a phoenix-like revival.

In the current vernacular, they didn’t “love a business” – but they did love brewing.

What we can learn from the saga of California steam beer is that even in California, even for many brewers who once specialized in “steam”, beer was more important than steam beer, finally.

Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.





Steaming Into the Thirties (Part VIII)

As stated in our last part, illicitly made steam beer was sold in the Embarcadero, San Francisco for a couple of years after Prohibition commenced on January 17, 1920. In fact, throughout the state, as in many parts of Prohibition America, real beer was being brewed and bottled illicitly. An instance on a fairly large scale was reported by a paper in San Luis Obispo in 1924.

At the same time, through the 1920s one sees ads in California newspapers for well-known brands of steam. Wieland’s, and Golden West’s, say. Here is one of the latter, in 1925, in Madera:



But this was near beer, compliant with the Volstead Act’s limitation of alcohol content to .5% ABV. Such steam brew, we can call it, was both bottled and on draft. John Wieland’s, perhaps the most prominent pre-Prohibition brewer in San Francisco, advertised its near beers extensively.

In 1922 Wieland’s advertised its Special Steam together with an Extra Pale and even a Special Bock.



Were the dockers I discussed in the last part drinking such near beer and “needling” it with alcohol to make a simulacrum? It is possible but I incline more to the fact that they were drinking authentic beer. It was early days under the “new normal”, to borrow a phrase of our time. The machinery to enforce Prohibition especially in corners remote from the centres of power took time to marshal.

Once beer-beer dried up the port workers had a choice between near steam or another kind of near beer, or a soft drink – root beer seems to have been popular. And there was milk. That the dockers chose milk as their go-to may be telling as to the “nearness” of the beer substitutes.

San Francisco had 12 breweries before Prohibition began, of which six continued in business making near beer and other legal products. See this press story of June 1920 in Colusa, CA. Wieland’s was among these, a prominent producer of steam beer and lager before Prohibition. (It would return post-Prohibition, but not in San Francisco).

In Oakland across the Bay, Golden West Brewery Co., a merger in 1909 of five steam beer breweries in Alameda County, also continued operating.

Any concerns that steam beer couldn’t be kegged, couldn’t be bottled, were swept away under the new regime. What made steam beer “steam” – the active fermentation in keg or bottle when sent to consumer – was out of the picture, yet the descriptor “steam” was applied.

However bottled or kegged steam brew was made, and perhaps some was pasteurized, there was no fermentation going on in those containers.

It was an exercise in marketing, to trade on the popularity of steam beer before 1920. There is no question steam beer was under pressure in the market (sorry) before WW I, with cold-aged lager increasingly dominant, but lots of steam beer was still sold.

Maybe the same malt and hop types were used as in the pre-Prohibition real thing, to suggest a similarity.

Be that as it may, steam near beer was marketed for years, especially by Golden West. In fact Golden West seems to have done quite well during Prohibition. Or well enough to emerge at the other end, mid-1933, to fight another day. Of which more in our last part to come.

N.B. This 1921 story out of Stockton, CA addressed the possibility to brew medicinal beer, as the government consented to issue permits to do so, in the fashion similar for distilleries whose products could be prescribed by doctors. This seems to have been a damp squib due to the “red tape” involved.

The remaining Part, the Final one of this series, follows below.

Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Steaming Into the Thirties (Part VII)

Steam Beer During Prohibition

We have seen in earlier parts that steam beer was a form of common beer, typically but not always bottom-fermented.

Common beer, known in Kentucky (and much beyond, it should be added) was a 19th century form of ale (or vice versa), a top-fermented product that could be made in anywhere from three to 12 days for the market.

“Ale” as such in the period generally meant (as for lager) a stored/aged/vatted product. Common beer including steam beer and cream ale was its converse: quick-fermented at warmish temperatures, left to build a strong fermentation in the barrel when sent to market or given a carbonation assist by krausening (or heading or filling if you will).

We can call it a “running beer” in UK terms except UK mild and bitter ales were generally not wanted nearly as carbonated. The various venting techniques of Britain – spiling, removing the bung – were not used in America c.-1900 except for the fast-disappearing still or flat ale.

We have seen how steam beer taps out in its California heartland in 1919, ahead of Prohibition’s commencement in January 1920. Various obstacles including a mandated 2.75% ABW limit took the heart out of the beer and the makers.

So Prohibition comes, and steam beer is forever gone. Yes? Not exactly.

Perhaps due to its location so far from Washington, D.C. over the yawning Continent, California retained a particular insouciance about Prohibition. Certainly the scofflaws existed everywhere in the country. These were the bootleggers, illicit brewers and distillers, and patrons of blind pig bars. But a 1924 news report on longshoremen’s bars and drinking in San Francisco tells us the dockers blithely continued drinking real steam beer for two years after start of Prohibition.

Printed in a Connecticut labour newspaper in October that year, the account gives a vivid picture of a classic market for the drink in its spiritual home, San Francisco. This was the hard-working dock workers, whose daily consumption – outside holidays when it could double – was a couple of gallons!

That’s about 20 12-oz. bottles, and to think some men reached double that on special days is hard to believe, but there it is.

Clearly someone was brewing the traditional drink as if nothing had changed, but finally enforcement or public rectitude, probably both, eliminated the offending fluid and the old saloons. The few bars that were still in business by the time the report appeared, only some 20, were all true soft drink bars. As to the longshoremen, they turned to milk as their restorative cum solace – hardly the same thing except in calories I guess.

Steam beer was now gone, at least in anywhere near the open fashion evident between 1920 and 1922. To be sure the mens’ overall health must have improved: that much must be said.

The drink would return in faltering steps in 1933, but would never regain its pre-Prohibition importance, nothing near it.

There is more to say about steam beer in California after 1924 and before Repeal in 1933. Next part.

Before that though, let’s ponder the glory days of steam beer in old California, as memorialized by The Connecticut Labor News:

No other city boasted [steam beer] … at least not until San Francisco created the demand, and nowhere else was it so good. Almost everybody drank steam: bankers, business men, truck drivers, Van Ness avenue society queens, humble wash ladies. But of all the places in San Francisco where steam was consumed, there was no place that vied in quantity of consumption with the embarcadero. Every day, wide-wheeled brewery wagons, drawn by sleek horses which the brewers refused to supplant with the more efficient auto-truck, used to deliver 800 filled kegs to waterfront saloons. Popular gossip was that the ordinary capacity of each grimy, sweating longshoreman was two gallons daily…

Image below, from National Park Service, shows San Francisco’s Port of Embarkation in 1933, the year National Prohibition ended.

N.B. The statement above of steam beer’s appeal through the social mosaic varies from earlier accounts that type it as a working-class, lower-echelon drink. Social history is anything but reducible to simple formulas.

The remaining Parts (through to Final, so two more) follow in succession below.

Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.






Steaming Into the Thirties (Part VI)

Just Like Woodrow Wilson Did

Earlier in this series I mentioned that upon resumption of legal brewing in 1933, California brewers agreed with the State to limit their draught beer to 3.2% abw or 4% abv. This, according to some experts and press reports, meant steam beer couldn’t be successfully kegged. As a “live” product, continued fermentation might cause the alcohol to exceed the agreed strength.

The same logic applied to bottling, and in any case almost all bottled beer was pasteurized in the post-Prohibition period. The brewers may have felt you could pasteurize steam beer – Anchor Brewing does today, even the draught – but at the time steam beer was mainly a draught product.

In the result a few brewers did sell draught steam beer at the required strength, but except for (tiny) Anchor Brewing steam beer disappeared in the years following. The bad publicity could not have helped.

It occurred to me to check whether a similar issue existed in 1918-1919 because in that period many brewers manufactured beer with a maximum permitted alcohol of 2.75% abw (about 3.5% abv). The short answer is, yes, but first some background.

It is a complex political, constitutional, scientific, and legal story. I’ll simplify as best I can, and if I have anything awry, happy for comments.

Congress passed the 18th Amendment in December 1917. This banned the manufacture, sale and transport of beverage alcohol, to take effect one year after the last state ratified it under the 2/3rds requirement of the Constitution. Meanwhile, in January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure to set the legal limit for malt beverages at 2.75% abw.

He also required that brewers reduce their use of raw materials, effectively their output, by 30% over the previous year. This was justified as a war measure to conserve resources, but came in the wake of the historic 18th Amendment. With some justice many viewed 2.75% beer, “war beer” it was called, as barely beer, almost a temperance drink.

The 18th Amendment came into force in January 1920, one year after the last State ratified it under the 2/3rds formula, Utah. California had ratified earlier in January 1919.

In late 1918 Wilson, as a further war measure, banned any form of malt beverage – regardless of alcohol content. The war was over but not the mobilization set in play when America entered the war. The new beer rules would only end when the mobilization was declared terminated, with the larger issue of national Prohibition looming as ratification proceeded.

By the spring of 1919, the mobilization had ended. Malt beverage could be brewed provided it was “non-intoxicating”. The brewers took the view 2.75% abw beer was non-intoxicating, arguing the government acknowledged that by setting the limit earlier for war beer.

The government said no, and the Internal Revenue branch argued anything over .5% abv was intoxicating. Much litigation resulted, some of which ended in the Supreme Court. Jacob Ruppert, the famed brewer in New York, fought for the right to sell 2.75% abw beer as did a company, Standard Brewing, in New Orleans.

In the second half of 1919 some companies brewed such beer in the hope the courts would side with them; others took a wait and see stance. But many gave up on brewing period with the writing on the wall.

The courts kind of side-stepped the issue. They held the federal government did not impliedly consent to 2.75% abw beer being non-intoxicating but Internal Revenue could not determine for its part how that was defined. It would remain to be litigated based on evidence.

The issue became moot as by the time the decisions came out the Volstead Act had been passed, which set the level for non-intoxicating beer at a maximum .5% abv. (That was challenged too but the brewers lost).

But steam beer production in California had stopped or virtually stopped in 1919. It was due, in part at least, to the concern that a keg of steam beer might exceed a maximum 2.75% abw.

The story below, from Riverside, CA’s Daily Press in December 1917, foretold the trouble albeit with some imprecision:



The trade journal Western Brewer in January 1918 pleaded the brewers’ case:



Brewers tried to get both steam beer and Kentucky common beer (an ale) exempted on the same basis as for porter and ale. The Anti-Saloon League of California campaigned against the move, arguing the President’s order would be rendered “nugatory”. This press story sets out its position, from the Christian Science Monitor in Boston, February 1918.

The brewers were not upheld, at least for steam beer, and with good reason. Ale and porter were surely exempted not because they cannot be made at lower strengths – that is obviously not the case – but because it was traditional for them to be stronger than lager.*

Steam beer and Kentucky Common shared the trait of being in active fermentation at dispense, which is not the same thing, and also were never as strong as some ale and porter despite the kind of press report above (that was good industry lobbying). Continued fermentation in the kegs there was, but I doubt much steam beer ever reached 7% abv.**

Contemporary sources – the trinity of steam beer articles I have mentioned a number of times – suggest a typical strength of between 5% and maximum 6%.

But the linking in the Western Brewer of Kentucky Common and California steam beer underlines the relationship functionally I was discussing earlier.

The Morning Oregonian, in June 1918, amplified on the steam beer dilemma, now a fait accompli, via a reader’s letter, eccentric in expression but making the point that alcohol level could not be strictly controlled in the keg.

In the Western Brewer again, in October 1919, a list of California brewers is included that states a steam beer plant is shut, with little other brewing activity indicated. The list is surely not complete, but is suggestive nonetheless.

Today, Anchor Brewery in San Francisco both bottles and kegs its steam beer, flash-pasteurizing in either case. No live yeast. Whether this affects the character of the beer I can’t say, I’d have to do a “before and after”. I’m sure Anchor has carefully determined the palate it wants and science today too is much better than in the 1960s not to mention the 1910s and ’30s.

Soon I’ll get a bottle of Anchor Steam and provide my taste impressions in light of this grand history.

In subsequent parts, I’ll look at steam beer in the period 1900-1917, before world events and looming Prohibition reversed its fortunes. And I’ll look at steam beer during Prohibition – yes, it had a career then!

N.B. Ale and porter were exempted from the 2.75% abw ceiling enacted in January 1918 but presumably little was made due to the requirement to cut raw materials usage.

The remaining Parts (through to Final, so three more) follow in succession below.

Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*This kind of pleading, while understandable from an industry and lobbying standpoint, is an example of the care that must be taken when reading even technical accounts of the past. Trade journals often contained, or reflected, special pleading in a word. This is less likely today as the world is smaller and lobbying is subject to wider scrutiny than was possible at the time.

**The actual decision issued may be viewed here. It states that “ale and porter” are exempt. Technically this should have included Kentucky common beer, but in any case steam beer was classed with the lager, hence subject to the 2.75% abw maximum.


Steaming Into the Thirties (Part V)

In this post, I want to highlight an early description – 1880 – of steam beer. It appeared that year on January 31 in the Eugene City Guardian. It was a reprint of an article in the Daily Evening Telegram of Portland.

This is well before John Buchner’s account of 1898, Wahl & Henius’s of 1902 in their landmark Handy Book, and Charles G. Kummerlander’s* the next year (all of which I mentioned earlier). While not completely consistent, the latter paint a picture of quick-production beer, fermented warmer than is typical for lager but using bottom yeast, clarified in shallow pans, and krausened to produce a strong carbonation. No ice or other cooling is used in fermentation and no long aging as for conventional lager.

I’ve argued that some brewers used top-fermentation to make a similar product. See Part IV yesterday where an ad of Mason’s Steam Brewery in Oregon City in 1869 arguably showed a “steam ale” among other ale types and a porter.

The distant time and long disappearance of early steam beer breweries make it difficult to determine who began the tradition. 100 Years of Brewing (1903) sets out a general account that states some names for California and Oregon, see here.

Modern writers such as Ray Daniels have added some details, but in general the origins are somewhat misty. One reads, as in 100 Years of Brewing, alternately of both lager and steam beer production for these early breweries. I think some was not really steam beer because an attempt was made to age it. Some for example was brewed in the colder parts of the year, depending on location, and fermented at correct lager fermentation temperatures.

Some early lager probably was steam beer although not consistently called that until a later period. Steam beer was a cant term that, as for all such terms, took time to become generalized.**

But what more can we learn about early steam beer? The context in 1880 was an interview with the owner of Gambrinus Brewery in Portland, Louis Feurer, a lager-maker who vaunted his use of ice. 100 Years of Brewing states Feurer started in 1877 with steam beer; other sources ascribe an 1875 start date.

Feurer had switched to use of ice to make what he called genuine lager. Steam beer is not referred to by that name, but rather “the California Process”. He terms it a “hot” beer, referring evidently to the warm fermentation, and claims it originated in the making of spruce beer. The latter is the first I’ve read of such a connection, and probably simply was meant to suggest a fast, warm fermentation.

Feurer does not state that California process beer does not use lager yeast. I suspect in fact he used the same yeast once he adopted ice and conventional aging, but can’t be sure of course.

Feurer does refer to the strong carbonation factor, clearly from krausening, and considered the product of inferior taste. Probably he was suggesting that steam beer was “green”, perhaps from dimethyl sulphide, and/or lack of cold aging.

It’s an early account, not nearly as detailed as those of 20 years later, but still notable for its early date and, in the essentials, accurate description of a distinct style.

See our Part VI, in this series, here.


Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*See also a discussion of this source by Mike Retzlaff in The Hopline, a newsletter of the Crescent City Homebrewers, here (May 2015). This only recently came to my attention.

**Other terms for what was probably steam beer in early California news accounts or advertisements included California beer or common California beer. Such malt beer must be distinguished from a non-commercial product also called California beer, made from a native hominy-like seed, also called “chia”, or maize-type beer.


Steaming Into the Thirties (Part IV)

Oregon Steam Beer

Steam beer, while apparently Californian in origin (c. 1850), had a surprising geographical and socio-cultural reach, lasting about two generations. If I was 25 and looking for a doctoral subject, I might take on “Steam Beer: a Study in Historic Economic Geography”.

If you are still reading, consider that steam beer was far from just San Franciscan. It was made in numerous counties in California although generally in the north. It was made in Nevada. In Oregon and Washington. In British Columbia, including Nanaimo and New Westminster. And in Alaska and Yukon.

I have seen advertisements for steam beer in all these places, sometimes with reference to the Californian origins.

In part, the peripatetic nature of mining explained its expansion. But also it stands to reason a beer known and liked by many would spread within the general geographical region. And that took in more or less all the places of its migration, so California and straight north through to Canada and Alaska, and some or all of the Mountain States.

Here, I’ll mention one instance outside California, charming for the phraseology of an ad whence we know its existence and the variety of beers produced.

This was Mason’s Steam Brewery in Oregon City, which is about a dozen miles south of Portland, in the northwest of the State.  Here is the ad, as printed in 1869 in a newspaper of the city:

The term brewage is hardly even colloquial English, although I’ve seen it used in contemporary beer writing in England. It suggests a rhyme not very appetizing, but perhaps this was an Oregon City in-joke. Or simply demonstrative of an ingenuous owner.

The neatly-named C.C. Smart took over from the previous owner. I have not been able to determine how long each ran the brewery. A John Mason is recorded for small-scale brewing in San Francisco in the second half of the 1800s. Perhaps he had worked earlier in Oregon.

The product range is noteworthy as except for a steam beer, presumptively made with lager yeast, the other beers were clearly top-fermented in the British tradition. One can read the ad though to mean “steam ale” – in which case it was all top-fermented.

In fact, since no price is quoted for steam beer or ale as such, quite possibly Cream XX was available in two versions: fizzy (steam) and flat (still). If so again both were probably top-fermented.

Note how an XXX, or strong, ale is mentioned as part of the range. When comes time to mention the price, suddenly it is XXK, not exactly the same thing. Printer’s error?

It seems unlikely to me that Smart and his predecessor fermented in two sets of equipment for these beers, but it is possible. In California, Alaska, and British Columbia, an ad might tout steam beer, lager, and porter. By mentioning lager separate from steam beer, it is clear I think that a bottom yeast was used for both. See e.g. George Lauck in Santa Clara, CA c. 1916.

Porter in such ads may have been either top- or bottom-fermented, likely the former for larger breweries.

In the context of a small brewery such as Smart’s, where “lager” is not mentioned, it is much less clear that he had two yeasts in the brewery. If he had only one, it almost certainly was a conventional top yeast.

The flat ale is rather intriguing. Smart was not the only brewer in Oregon to advertise flat beer. In the East it was called still ale, something in my experience seen only in parts of the Northeast, where British influence endured for cultural and historical reasons.

Here out in northern Oregon – across the wide Continent – we find just after the Civil War the same thing, the most British form of draught there is, cask ale in other words.

Perhaps an Anglo cultural strain ran through this part of Oregon at the time. After all, who founded Oregon City? It was the Hudson’s Bay Company some 40 years earlier. It took years for the Northwest border to be settled. British influence competed with American in what became at start of the Civil War the state of Oregon.

On the same page of the newspaper in which Smart’s ad appeared, we find this ad:

Yet more beer connections to Albion, and rather direct ones. Joule’s Stone Ale, which I’ve discussed earlier, was a reputed product of Staffordshire. It was exported as far afield as Australia. I suspect the Shade saloon’s supply came across the Pacific from there. That’s a long journey from England.

The taste must have differed from Smart’s locally-made “brewages”, but how, and what the saloon-goers of newly formed Orego thought of each, we can never know.

Today great ales are again made in Oregon, indeed the State was a cradle of the craft beer revival. In between though a great wash of lager ran through it, taking no prisoners. Even in 1869 flat ale wasn’t long for the (American) world, but hand pumps pull again today in and around Portland – or will once we get from under the blight of this pandemic.

Meanwhile, ponder this scene of mid-19th century Oregon City. Somewhere in the background were being supped fine ales of Britain, mediately or immediately, and an emerging beer style of the United States, or a simulacrum. The weather looks about right for them, too.



The Image immediately above was sourced from the entry on Oregon City in Wikipedia, here.

See Part V for a continuation of this series.

Note: All images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.