Personal Liberty and the Stimulating Cup

Following on my last three posts, here are some further references to give a sense of early pioneer days in central and eastern Pennsylvania and the strong Palatine German influence.

The extract below is from Pennsylvania Agriculture and Country Life, 1640-1840 by S. W. Fletcher (1950). Rye whiskey is called by a German word, “schnaps”. This reflects a regional usage even in English of a term from overseas brought evidently by Mennonite and other German settlers.

While the German communities were satisfied often to use the English word whiskey, sometimes it worked the other way around. At a minimum this suggests the familiarity of the German communities with rye spirit and perhaps their origination of it in America. Schnapps is a general term still used in Germany to mean a body of distilled spirits of which the korn group are derived from grain: wheat, rye, etc.

I should add as well that korn is said to have a less than neutral taste, which would liken it to North American white whiskey. I plan to test this soon with the single (unflavoured) variety available at LCBO.

See also pp 151 et seq in Fletcher’s book for the importance of rye as a crop in early “America” and its primary use in distilling. The exact same thing applied in Ontario, just north of Pennsylvania over Lake Erie, by my reading.

Next, these pages from Papers and Addresses of the Lebanon County Historical Society, v.5, 1909-1911, illustrate the high number of distillers of German extraction in early Stumptown, later Fredicksburg, PA, in Lebanon County. Note again the German terminology. Vorlauf means, not pure alcohol as the text might imply, but the foreshots of distillation.

I’d guess the vorlauf was higher in price due to a higher alcohol content than double-distilled high wines reduced to drinking proof for sale.

The foreshots was high in alcohol due to being the first run off the low wines at relatively low temperature. It also contained potentially dangerous methanol, especially in a fruit wine distillation. Presumably the distillers knew how to render a safe product as repeated casualties in their small communities would have been noticed.

Distillations from grain tend to produce lower methanol levels than from apples or other fruit, so perhaps the foreshots here was from rye or other grain distilling.


Finally, from the same Lebanon County Historical Society volume, here is a bit of doggerel verse in Pennsylvania German dialect with its presumed, um, wry reference to the “whiskey fass” (whiskey keg).

It’s an example of the frequent use in that tongue of the English term, whiskey. I offer a pint of craft ale midtown in Toronto to anyone who will translate it accurately. And no recourse to Google translate by non-German speakers, I can do that!
Note re images: the first image above, of Fredericksburg, PA, was sourced from the Library System of Lebanon County, here. The others shown are from the volumes cited and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Distillation and Distilleries Among the “Dutch”

The term Dutch here means Pennsylvania German, a term generally used to denote the peoples of the Rhine Palatinate and northern Switzerland who emigrated to William Penn’s Pennsylvania from about 1717. They were fleeing religious persecution and the instability of war and famine.

Our title is taken from a 1963 article of that name, see pp 39 et seq, by Richard H. Shaner, a specialist on Pennsylvania folklore. It was published in a quarterly magazine, “Pennsylvania Folklore”. He described the distilling tradition of this large ethnic group in Pennsylvania.

Initially they settled mostly in the central part of Pennsylvania, as the best land in the southeastern corner was already peopled by settlers of English and Welsh ancestry, the first to come under Penn’s tutelage. The southwest of the state, taking in counties such as Westmoreland, Somerset, Greene, Fayette, Washington, is associated traditionally with the Scots-Irish although that is a generalization.

The historical reality was more complex, as explained in Leland Baldwin’s 1939 book Whiskey Rebels. His opening chapters explain that the Monongahela region was settled by a mix of Scots-Irish, English, and Welsh with some admixture of German, Dutch, and Swedish.

Shaner’s account is not an academic one but local history in the best sense as he lived in Kutztown in Berks County, a centre for this community, and relied on local records and memories of descendants for his information. The account gains authenticity from this and in any case offers a fine picture of a once-vital tradition, distilling in the original, largely self-sustaining rural communities.

The economic arrangements described were not unique to the “Dutch” of course, they had their counterpart elsewhere in the state and in Upper Canada, but what is distinct about Shaner’s account is the focus on the discrete “Dutch” community.

While he does not state in so many words that these settlers brought distilling skills from Europe, the inference is irresistible, so seemingly hermetic is the world he describes. See also the other articles in the link given, which round the picture.

All the families mentioned are of “Dutch” origin and spoke and lived in German for generations. Indeed the language still continues in Pennsylvanian Mennonite and Amish country – and for that matter in Ontario whence some of those people emigrated after the Revolution.

In this account of distilling of rye and fruits for whiskey and fruit spirits, the people profiled seem mostly uninfluenced by other cultural practices. It seems unlikely to me they could have learned distilling from the Scots-Irish or Scots settlers. First, there weren’t that many in eastern Pennsylvania especially when the “Dutch” country was first settled. Those British immigrants are more associated with towns in the Cumberland Valley such as Carlisle and McConnellsburg and the counties I mentioned further southwest.

Added to this, we know that korn, often made from rye or with this grain forming part of the mash, is an old German spirit. Today it is associated more with northern Germany, and fruit spirits with the south, but the modern commercial industry doesn’t necessarily resemble farming practices of the early 18th century.

There were large numbers of German distillers in the early days of settlement in central and eastern Pennsylvania, taking in famously Michter’s/Bomberger founded by the Shenk family in the 1750s. They are documented in histories of the counties in question, and other sources, many of which I have reviewed. I think these Palatinate and Swiss settlers must have brought rye distilling with them.

The Ulster Scots and plain (unqualified) Scots unquestionably brought a strong distilling tradition to the areas they settled. But their use of rye may well derive from this other, “Dutch” distilling tradition.

I am trying to emphasize that when people speak of the Monongahela whiskey tradition that sparked the bourbon heritage, that is only part of the story. Distilling in the east of the state preceded it.

Distillation from cereals – the sources often are unclear – seems to have been engaged in fitfully from the mid-1600s, by the Dutch in Manhattan, perhaps also by some English settlers, but as a folkway and later a commercial industry the Palatinate and Ulster Scots/Scots influences are the main factors.

This has to be true, as if whiskey distilling had been significant before these communities made their mark, whiskey, not rum, would have been the prime Colonial drink.

Perhaps the Scots-Irish would have distilled with any available grain, but the fact that rye was and to this day is distilled for spirit in Germany suggests to me the traditions merged in regard to a prime grain used in America for whiskey.

The luminous serving tray above is from the I.B. Stein distillery of Kutzdown, PA, mentioned in Shaner’s account. It subsisted almost 100 years, expiring with Prohibition and never to return. The whiskey in the ad clearly was red and indeed Shaner confirms it was aged, between three and eight years. This would have represented the whiskey as it was before WW I, but almost 200 years earlier it was probably more typically a white spirit, as most German korn is today.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from this collectibles auction websiteAll intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



S.S. Brumbaugh’s Pure Rye Whiskey, Part II

There is one other reference to distilling in Bedford County, PA in Ben F. Van Horn’s book, Bible, Axe, and Plow (1985) mentioned in Part I of these posts. The part which follows deals with the S.S. Brumbaugh distillery. It appears in section 3 of the sixth chapter dealing with local industries.

The largest and most famous of the distilleries in Bedford and Blair Counties was the Brumbaugh Distillery which stood at the foot of the mountain on the road to St. Clairsville from New Enterprise. Built around 1860 by Aaron W. Reed, and purchased some twenty years later by Simon S. Brumbaugh, it continued in “production” by his son, Oscar, until 1920. In that year such operations were closed by the federal government in compliance with the provisions of the Eighteenth Amendment (enacted in 1919). The Brumbaugh Distillery’s stock was shipped under government orders to a Philadelphia warehouse. The distillery was padlocked and stood idle until razed in 1961.

Brumbaugh’s “Pure Rye Whiskey” had the reputation of being of a special quality. It is claimed that its “after effects” on those who imbibed for pleasure were not as painful as that of other distillers. While this might be more legendary than factual, Mr. Brumbaugh’s product was in demand over a wide market throughout central Pennsylvania. For some reason not much rye was raised by the farmers of southern Morrisons Cove and he had to have grain shipped in from western states.


The Morrisons Cove Herald’s special edition of July 1, 1971, issued in observance of the Bedford County Bicentennial, included a feature story on the Brumbaugh Distillery. With permission of the publisher, an abstract of the article will be found as Appendix C.

Note re extract: The quotation above is from Ben F. Van Horn’s book, Bible, Axe, and Plow, linked in Part I of these posts. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. Extract is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

S.S. Brumbaugh’s Pure Rye Whiskey of Pennsylvania, Part I

I have, over the summer, written numerous posts which establish (IMO) that the taste for whiskey and basic template of its manufacture was introduced to Ontario by United Empire Loyalists and later American arrivals.

But what was that American whiskey like, its characteristics? If we can know, that will help us understand what Canadian whisky was like in the 1800s. Of course, whiskey in that period had to vary among producers. It depended on the grains used, the type of still, any aging given, and other factors (yeast, whether flavouring was used, water, etc.).

There was probably every type of cereal whisky, from raw white dog to grain mash whiskey aged in new charred oak to pure spirit. In Pennsylvania, Monongahela rye ended as the latter type (straight, aged in virgin charred wood, the rye version of bourbon). Ontario must have offered such whiskey occasionally especially until the 1860s. See this 1857 listing for a distiller in St. Catherines, ON, Francis Stinson, selling “monongahela”, which was probably this type. Stinson is not listed as an importer or dealer and clearly offered the straight style among his range.

Perhaps due to consolidation of Ontario distilling in the second half of the 1800s, straight rye in the American sense disappeared here. Blended whisky became the typical style for Canada in the last 30 years of the 19th century.

Still, there is little detailed information as to what specific distilleries, of any size, in the U.S. or here, made. Certain things are known for some of them: aging length, whether charcoal was used to filter, still types over time. But as to how the whiskey was actually made, in reasonable detail I mean from which we might deduce what it tasted like, information is sparse on the ground.

Enter S. S. Brumbaugh distillery. I have found a detailed set of notes which describe the rye whiskey made by this pre-Prohibition, central Pennsylvania distillery in the final stages before Prohibition.

The first Christian name of S.S. was Simon, active in the late 1800s. His son Oscar ran the distillery until closing under National Prohibition.

The notes are contained in the four pages constituting Appendix C in a book of local history entitled Bible, Axe, and Plow, written by Ben F. Van Horn in 1985. Van Horn was a longstanding educator in Bedford County, PA.

Van Horn included the Appendix with permission from a local newspaper which printed a fuller version (it appears) in a special edition in 1971. Since that paper, the Morrison Cove Herald, still exists, I won’t set out Appendix C here, but you can read it in the book, see the first four of the last seven pages – they are not numbered, but scroll to the end and they are easy to find.

The notes must have been prepared from a memorandum in the possession of a Brumbaugh descendant. The data is too detailed to have been reconstructed casually from general historical records such as historical news accounts and business directories.

For example, the capacity of the aging vats, there were three, is given. Thus, it seems the whiskey was not aged in small barrels, probably because most of it was sold locally in jugs from the distillery.

The whiskey was generally given two years age. Some was sold older though, for example, six years old.

There is a rough parallel to Canadian Club of the time, sold at approximately seven years of age (it varied) with Walker’s regular rye whisky sold at two and later three years of age. In Hiram Walker’s case, the deluxe “CC” became the flagship, but Brumbaugh’s whiskey was mostly sold at two years old. After all, unlike for CC the market was local and people didn’t tarry over distinctions of age with associated variations of price.

The distilling-out proof of Brumbaugh rye was 180, or 90% abv, a very interesting and specific piece of information. This is within the current U.S. definition for whiskey, but higher than is stipulated for bourbon or rye whiskey (maximum 160 proof). So it was a kind of light whiskey and its reputation may have been due in part to this. The vats had to be reused many times, so the wood probably didn’t do much for the whiskey. A less congeneric product would have been greeted favourably by the customers.

The still types are explained too, there was a copper still which was probably a pot still, and two wood two-chambered stills. These were clearly a variant of the three-chambered, steam-driven still which a number of Ontario distilleries were using c. 1860. A two-chambered still would have resulted in a more congeneric white dog than the three-chambered still. No charcoal filtering process, a la Tennessee or otherwise, is mentioned for Brumbaugh rye.

Bedford County was settled by different ethnicities. A prominent group was the Germans, many of the famed Palatinate immigration of the 1700s. The Brumbaugh name was originally Brumbach. The first ancestor to arrive of Simon Brumbaugh was Johannes Henrich Brumbach. He came to Maryland in 1754 with his wife and children. The family later relocated to central Pennsylvania.

Johannes sailed, according to genealogical works I consulted written by Brumbaugh descendants, from “south Germany”. The Brumbaughs were, and no doubt still are, a sizeable group in the U.S. Numerous persons of this surname or related spellings came to America, Johannes was simply one. The descendants spread through the country, and even before WW I some had become doctors, judges, and politicians.

The S.S. Brumbaugh distillery never opened after Repeal and the building was razed around 1960. It was solid brick, three stories, with older wooden structures appurtenant.

Brumbaugh’s rye likely was a fairly pronounced whisky. It may not have had the full oily character of bourbon or straight rye, but being nine points in proof under the maximum for whisky (189), it had to have whisky-mash character. This was especially so given the generally short aging in reused vats vs. “small wood” such as the typical bourbon barrel.

And so, I feel some Ontario old rye was probably very similar to Brumbaugh whiskey. After all, many Germans came to Ontario from Pennsylvania, and of course Loyalists in general. Some were Mennonites and Amish, some were not, some of the Germans were technically Loyalists, some not. But the early Ontario rye whisky has to be related to the kind of rye whisky made in Pennsylvania. While rye whiskey was distilled in other parts of the northeast such as New York and New Jersey, or say in North Carolina, it in turn had to be related to the Pennsylvania type.

I wrote earlier that one of the Davis clan of North Carolina who settled in Long Point, Upper Canada made rye whisky on arrival here, and the clan were known to have distilled in North Carolina. “Davis” sounds Scots-Irish or Scottish to me, not German. Even still it is possible all distilling down the Appalachian range was inspired by an original German form (Pennsylvania’s) or at least German input via notably the use of rye.

But before we conclude Pennsylvania and maybe U.S. rye in general was German-origin, it should be noted that Simon commenced distilling by buying the distillery in the later 1800s from one Aaron Reed – of his origins I am unaware. He might have been Scots-Irish, or other Anglo-Saxon, or possibly German as the names were often changed.

The label shown was included in the book mentioned. Some whisky evidently was bottled but the account referenced makes it clear most was sold locally in bulk to the people. S.S. Brumbaugh was the quintessential, pre-Prohibition country distillery, which had its counterpart throughout early Ontario.

Note re image: the image above is from a label contained in the book linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Come One, Come All For David Allan’s Pure Rye Whisky!

This Canadian whisky advertisement is from 1871, in Guelph, ON. It has a striking elegance which results from both skill in design and economy of expression.

Perhaps the native practicality of the Scottish-born distiller and miller, David Allan, led to such pleasing results.

David Allan’s father, William, bought a small mill on the Speed river in Guelph as a rude, wood-frame building, in the 1830s. Father and son were builders and architects with European experience. They expanded the operation to include a distillery, fulling, and furniture business.

The Allans were connected to Sir Hugh Allan (shipping, finance, and more) in Montreal who is well-known to anyone versed in Canadian business history. The Allans were among the elite capitalists of their day.

The Guelph distillery of David Allan sold thousands of barrels of whisky and other liquors per year, a good example of a distillery that resisted the growth of the Big 5 in Ontario. These were Gooderham & Worts in Toronto, Hiram Walker in Windsor, Seagram in Waterloo, Wiser in Prescott, and Corby in Belleville.

David Allan became ill in 1877 and this apparently foretold the end of the operation, but c. 1870 it was doing well. The product line is interesting to parse.

The “old rye” was probably pure spirits, perhaps blended with a straight rye (whisky mash) component, aged a year or two in barrels. Malt whisky was a Canadian version of Scottish malt whisky. Not all Canadian distilleries made a malt whisky, and in this case perhaps it was a nod to Allan’s Scottish origins.

“Com. whiskey”, that is, common whiskey, was perhaps unaged rye whiskey mash, or maybe alcohol (see below) proofed for drinking strength.

Alcohol was probably distilled at 94% abv, sold for industrial purposes, while pure spirit (95% abv or almost) was alcohol further treated with charcoal or re-distillation to remove all residual secondary constituents. The percentages of alcohol in these types may have been lower though, depending on the type of still used by Allan in 1871.

Old Tom gin was the pure spirits or alcohol flavoured with juniper, sugar, and citrus or other things to make a sweetened gin. There was no dry gin offered, which perhaps meant the local market hadn’t yet developed the taste for London Dry.

Toddy was probably one of the whiskeys sweetened with sugar, ready for hot water to make the now-disappeared 19th century staple, whisky toddy.

It is hard to know for certain though on the composition of these without recourse to distillery records. Each distillery probably made something different anyway, especially smaller ones, and the trade terms mentioned had no legal definition at the time.

It’s nice to know a distillery will once again operate in the old Allan milling complex: see this report out of Guelph a few months ago. It states that a development called Metalworks will build a new distillery and restaurant in the old Allan mill complex. Some of Allan’s original buildings are pictured in the account, looking spruce as ever. They built well, those Scottish engineers…

Note: The above image was sourced from the Gazetteer And Directory Of The County Of Wellington for 1871-1872, published by A.O. Loomis & Company in Hamilton, ON. This volume was reprinted by the Wellington County Museum in the 1970s. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

The Mexican Village of Coronado, CA

I’m adding one more menu from 1967 (courtesy the New York Public Library, in terms of the introduction of Mexican cuisine to a mainstream audience in the U.S.

It’s from the Mexican Village, established as a small cafe in 1943 in Coronado, CA, on the peninsula of San Diego Bay. While Cafe del Sol had approximately a 50-year run, Mexican Garden did it one better: it closed in 2009-2010, so almost 60 years in business. The restaurant was enlarged numerous times, as this interesting report from 1990 observes.

Before I go further, I should say I’m well aware that the type of cuisine introduced to Americans as Mexican since the 1960s, is i) not really new, ii) usually a hybrid of Mexican and American food traditions. It’s not new because ever since the 19th century in the southwest, Mexican and Spanish-American foodways have interacted with “American”. The styles that emerged have been broadly called Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex, or more recently for southern California, Baja-style aka Baja-Cal and Fresh-Mex.*

Even before the 1960s this cooking was available in Latino enclaves in the southwest and sometimes diners and other informal eateries.

There are differences too amongst these categories and within them, depending on the region/town and sometimes the restaurant. (Angelenos like crispy tacos, the Texans like the soft kind, etc.).

As to the hybrid nature of the food, in general things like wheat-based tacos (vs. corn), use of cheddar cheese, use of beef and more meat in general as well as guacamole and sour cream, were largely American contributions.

However, the northern belt of Mexico, the provinces of Baja California, always ate something closer to American Mexican food than the other five or six regions which often differ quite a bit among themselves.

But rather than go further here, I will focus more on what American restaurateurs offered to diners as “Mexican” from the 1960s.

The menu below shows the approach of Mexican Garden, which was clearly more adventurous than Cafe del Sol as it presented not just a few Mexican dishes, or non-Mexican dishes gussied up to sound Mexican, but a full array of Mexican dishes familiar to us today.

Rather than describe each one, read them for yourself, but before you do, note how American dishes similar to Cafe del Sol’s were also offered: charcoal steaks, lobster, fish dishes, fried chicken, sandwiches, foods familiar to a mainstream audience. I think Mexican Garden always hedged its bets, covering both ends of the spectrum that is, indeed it seems this continued to the end.

Coronado is well south of L.A. and its conurbation, not so far from the Mexican border, and it had the Navy base as a natural constituency. It’s not the same IMO as being in Santa Barbara or L.A. itself and seeking a mainstream audience. I doubt a restaurant with that menu could have done it in L.A. in the 1940s, although if I’m wrong I’m happy to see the results!

At a minimum, Mexican Village was a gateway to a new category of American ethnic dining and paved the way for restaurants like Cafe de Sol and indeed another Mexican Village, this one started in 1965, in L.A. Its menu for the core Mexican items is not all that different to the Coronado original but it offers many more dishes. Some sound regional Mexican or perhaps reflect the current Baja-Cal cuisine.

I don’t think there was an ownership connection between the two Mexican Villages, but they are linked surely spiritually. You can read the L.A. restaurant’s menu – it is still going strong – and its own interesting history, here.

I’ll deal with the drinks of the Coronado Mexican Village in a separate post.



* I am speaking broadly here, today, distinct Mexican regional cuisines are often available in Los Angeles. The popular Baja-style takes inspiration from the work of modern chefs in nearby Baja California, Mexico. This is relatively new though, and the hybrid, Americanized form is still the type generally understood in North America as “Mexican”.

The Master’s Will

Red Red (and Other) Wine of the Country

I had linked, but hadn’t reproduced, the 1967 Cafe del Sol menu discussed in my last post.

Below (click for perfect resolution) is the wine section of the menu. With regard to beers, there are only four, but Coors was highly reputed at the time – and better than today I can attest from personal experience. Two Mexican imports were available, one was Carta Blanca, available in the U.S. since the 1930s. It was included in the New York Wine and Food Society’s 1940s beer and food tastings I’ve discussed earlier.

What was El Paseo Gold Rush sparkling wine? Perhaps a bulk or house sparkling, given the price and the name: El Paseo is an historic Spanish enclave in Santa Barbara, CA.

Of the foreign wines, Liebfraumilch makes a de rigeur appearance – I recall my family buying it in this period, from Deinhard IIRC. Almaden was a domestic mainstay then, is it still? Note the taste note, precise and forward-looking, indicating region of origin (Santa Clara).

Only the Sauterne strikes a clearly anachronistic note, as the sweetness would not suit service for dinner today.

“Pink” wines are back in fashion. A French one was offered, a Portugal version, and two domestics. I haven’t been able to trace the Santa Nella, surely another California label of the time.

The note on Buena Vista’s Zinfandel is again in perfect pitch – Zin did become a California classic and the pedigree described is correct to my knowledge. Buena Vista was a venerable California winery of high repute, but today is not operating I believe. But many of the other names are as strong as ever. I always liked Wente’s chardonnays with their characteristic pineapple note.

Beaulieu, speaking of pedigree, needs no introduction. And everyone knows Louis Martini. These are classics of the California vineyards and restaurants like Cafe de Sol helped make it so with their forthright support for the local.

The 19th century poem included applies just as much today as then, Mondo Vino notwithstanding. The only modification needed is to substitute irrigation (often) for rain.

The legend “Cocktails” perhaps was meant ironically as none are mentioned, although the word might have meant the main types were available. But withal, this menu looked resolutely to the future of bibulous refreshment in America.

It is in striking contrast certainly to countless menus of the day, from tony restaurants and wine and food clubs, which featured wines of France and Germany, and sometimes Italy and Spain, to the exclusion of what was made in their own back yard.

Cafe del Sol struck no such pretensions. It introduced more gingerly the Mexican dishes hinted at in the building design and the menu graphics, but got there finally. The television news story linked in the italicized note in my post yesterday made it clear that in latter days the menu was fully Mexican, at least that was my conclusion.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from, and appears courtesy of, at the page linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Chile Relleno – ¡Olé!

Cafe del Sol Wowed Southern California

California pioneered many innovations in food and gastronomy in America. As a larder for the fruits and vegetables that are indispensable in good cuisine, as well as repository of a viticulture stretching back centuries, it has everything necessary to support good dining and good living. Did I mention its place on the long littoral of the Pacific, ensuring access to good fish and seafood from its full length? What it doesn’t have was shipped by fast refrigerated rail from “the East” and later by plane as necessary.

Hence its pivotal place in the history of wine and cheese tasting as I discussed earlier, its creation of an array of salads including the famed Caesar and Cobb salads, and its interest in market cuisine of which world-famous Alice Waters is avatar in Berkeley. California invented the Moscow Mule (1946, at the Cock and Bull Pub in L.A.), and the ancestor of the Martini (Martinez). It came up with the Bloody Mary. Oh, it had something to do with craft beer too.

It started the trend for “warehouse”-style restaurants of which the first was probably the Old Spaghetti Factory in the 1950s, a former pasta plant. Its eclectic mix of bare factory walls and pillars with old chandeliers, lanterns, and ceiling-suspended chairs created a new style in American and finally world dining.

(This alone created a huge industry in faux/distressed period piping and ductwork – in a word in industrial chic).

While California did not of course create Mexican cuisines, the propinquity of Mexico and large number of Latino residents whose cultural capital included foodways made it a natural gateway for Mexican food and fusion with American dishes.

Julia Child later in her life spent a lot of time in California especially the Bay Area, paying obeisance to the new trends after her own revolution in American culinary habits. We once saw her close up walking through a restaurant, I think in Sonoma, the mirthful smile just like in pictures.

And so by the 1960s, the earlier food traditions brought by the settlers from the East, more or less standard American, underwent modification starting of course with restaurants.

Still, to show an interest in Mexican food in the 1960s was unusual. Mexican immigrants were regarded as an underclass and their foodways did not receive much investigation from the culinary establishment. To be sure ethnic restaurants could be found, mainly Italian, German, and Asian of course, but Mexican food was a no-go. Even fast food stayed away until Taco Bell started to expand and introduce people to its simplified version of some Mexican classics.

But being the cradle of the American food revolution from the 1960s – c. 2000, California could not ignore the great storehouse of Mexican cuisine.

The way the new interest first manifested was how restaurants were named and designed. Thus, a Mexican ambience was created without necessarily offering very many Mexican foods.

The Cafe del Sol is a perfect illustration including the evolution of its menu. A 1967 menu is preserved in the archives of the New York Public Library. It shows that this restaurant, located initially in Montecito in a plaza – it later moved to adjoining Santa Barbara – offered a mild “casa” exterior design. The menu featured a similarly restrained Latin design motif.

When you look for the Mexican food, there is relatively little, but some. A couple of appetizers, one or two of the main dishes – I’m not sure paella qualifies.

But the elements of the future food revolution are in place. Apart from the building design and “atmosphere” being Mexican, as the menu explains, the first page is devoted entirely to non-food matters. It discusses the history of Santa Barbara and Montecito. It talks about winemaking in the area and some unusual 19th century history in that regard. It tells a romantic story. This didactic but charming style – they didn’t write like Beer Et Seq – would have appealed to an educated and aspirational middle class. Food became interesting, something to think about, enjoy in an enhanced context.

But most of the dishes were standards of national or continental cuisine: steak, sole amandine, frogs’ legs, coq au vin, beef burgundy. Only one main dish seemed Mexican: enchiladas with chile relleno and refried beans. But there was guacamole as an appetizer, probably familiar to many diners from its use in salads, and chile relleno again. The germ was there.

And look at the wines: California was solidly represented through its up and coming marquee names of Concannon, Louis Martini, Beaulieu, Wente. That was a harbinger of larger changes to come both in California’s world famous wine culture and food too. “Local” in wine encouraged a similar approach to food and ingredients.

In the mid-1960s, restaurants which stressed gastronomy, meaning its European and especially French roots, did not focus on local wines. Food and wine societies had made forays, but in general good wine meant nothing Californian. It was middle class restaurants that pioneered the discovery of the quality and distinctiveness of California vineyards. Indeed the trend started in the 1930s and even before as I explained in earlier posts but was delayed in … fructification by the Depression and WW II.

In later years, the Cafe del Sol’s menu became fully Mexican. The restaurant lasted until 2014, approximately a 50-year run, impressive for any restaurant. The site briefly became a conference locale, then was purchased by principals of the Magic Castle to become a further location for the well-known magicians night club and restaurant in Los Angeles. However, that has not occurred as yet as far as I know.

Looking back some 50 years, the menu of Santa Barbara’s Cafe del Sol seems rather dated. But it was actually ahead of its time, and the restaurant’s longevity proved that.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the website of California news channel KEYT 3 which featured a story on the Cafe del Sol, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




The Taproot of Canada’s Whisky Heritage

Yesterday, I mentioned E.A. Owen’s important early study, the 1898 Pioneer Sketches of Long Point Settlement. His chapter on whiskey is worth reproducing (see below, via HathiTrust). It gives the flavour of whiskey’s importance in early pioneer life and for the rye and corn in its composition.

Owen mentions the migrating North Carolinian Davis clan in numerous respects, but does not mention their distilling history or John Davis’ implantation of the practice in Norfolk County in Canada. This was probably to avoid casting an important pioneering settler in a negative light, in the mind that is of late-Victorian Ontario.

The importance of rye and corn in distilling is highlighted. Readers may also consult pg. 370 of his book for another reference to these grains in whiskey-production. What this shows is that second-grade wheat middlings or other miscellaneous leavings of the mill weren’t always used for whiskey.* Often, purpose-grown rye and corn were mashed, grains familiar to Americans for spirit ever since the Scots-Irish and various Germanic communities had settled Pennsylvania and down into Appalachia from the early 1700s.

One third of Pennsylvania was German stock by the time of the Revolution, and Germans used rye in their own distilling and for breadstuff. Many famed Pennsylvania rye or other whiskeys had German-American origins including Michter/Bomberger and Old Overholt.

The origin of rye in American distilling may lie with them, especially as the korn distillates of Germany and some adjoining lands use rye as a base (e.g., in the Netherlands for genever, or formerly). The Ulster Irish came first to America though, some as early as 1717, and may have resorted to rye since, i) it grew well in Pennsylvania,  and ii) was not in competition for baking, as Anglo-Saxons always favoured wheat for bread.

Be that as it may, rye and corn were well-established in the North American distilling of whiskey by 1800, one need only consult the Pennsylvanian Samuel M’Harry’s distilling manual of the period, to which I have often referred.

Today, the County of Dover is one of Ontario municipalities, the main towns are Delhi, Port Dover, and Simcoe. Simcoe is the largest at some 13,000. It is named for John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, newly created in 1791 to accommodate specifically the needs of a settler community whose cultural specificity differed from the French element which dominated in Quebec. Hence the partition of the lower and upper St. Lawrence basin into Lower Canada and Upper Canada.

Simcoe allocated much of the land settled by Loyalists, to whose needs he was unusually attuned: this Eton- and Oxford-educated Briton had led loyal Americans in the famed Queen’s Rangers in the Revolutionary War.

And so the ironies of history: the British army and navy in the period drank brandy, rum, wine, and beer, depending on rank and availability. Whisky was then not an English drink (see my earlier posts and citations), meaning not typically one and not a military one certainly.

Yet the British army-supervised settlement of English Canada permitted the implantation here of a whiskey tradition. It was formerly associated with remote Scotland and Ireland and rural America especially on its frontier; the latter directly, and the former proximately with a possible role for German distilling practice, are the taproot of Canada’s whisky heritage.





*There is no question substantial quantities of wheat were also distilled in early Upper Canada. The economist Douglas McCalla has documented some of this activity in his articles, and other evidence attests to it including popular histories and antiquarian studies. For McCalla’s work, see e.g., the table for wheat production in his 1983 article, “The ‘Loyalist’ Economy of Upper Canada, 1784-1806”. At the same time, as I’ve mentioned earlier, American distillers were no less familiar with wheat for spirit as shown by Samuel M’Harry’s and other early distilling manuals, e.g., Harrison Hall’s (wheat has a good yield but “too high a price“). The choice of rye and corn finally as “the” distilling material in the U.S. and Canada was driven by the optimum cost/yield ratio and perhaps too a catering to the public sentiment that wheat should be reserved for bread. Still, some wheat was always distilled for liquor, “white wheat whiskey” was a commodity on both sides of the border in the late 1800s, for example.

The Distilling Davises of North Carolina and Ontario

Long Point, ON is a sandy projection in eastern Lake Erie which fronts on the townships of Norfolk County. They were settled by thousands of Americans after the Revolutionary War who came from the Canadian Niagara after making the crossing at Niagara River. They had petitioned Governor Simcoe for land to recompense losses for supporting the Crown in the late battles. Simcoe wanted to open up the area around Long Point, which was largely virgin forest and by its location and other factors felt suitable for settlement.

Many may not realize that not all Loyalists were Northeasterners: quite a few came from the south, as far afield as North Carolina and Florida.

R. Robert Mutrie is a modern local historian in Ontario who has placed online numerous materials printed in hard-to-find local publications. Some pertain to the Davis settlers of Long Point and can be read here.

The Davis clan originated in Orange County, NC and migrated to Upper Canada after an earlier, exploratory visit. John Davis set up a well-constructed mill and distillery in Norfolk County. Quite a few details are known, as the account linked above, The Davis Family of Norfolk County by James Stengel, shows.

There were two stills for example with a known capacity, the second smaller and obviously the spirit still. This is drawn from license records discussed by Stengel whose account is referenced in an academic fashion. John Davis was granted a licence to operate these stills in 1800.

What is further of interest is that the Davis family were distillers and brewers on their plantations in North Carolina. Stengel makes the point distilling was a family tradition, implanted to Canada.

This 1898 book, a well-known chronicle by Egbert A. Owen of early Norfolk County, ON pioneer life, explains that rye and corn were used in distilling. Numerous ads attest to the same appearing throughout Ontario in the first decades of the 1800s.

These grains were not the only ones used in early Ontario distilling but rye and corn feature prominently in many early accounts and ads. They were the basis as well of American distilling.

As there were at least 200 legal distilleries in Ontario through the 1840s, and as much of the province was settled by Americans, it is obvious general whiskey knowledge arrived here as a cultural acquis, given too that before the Americans came, whiskey, as I discussed earlier, was not a usual drink here.

But Stengel’s account is an example where specific distilling expertise came to Canada from the U.S. as well.

Note: Stengel calls John Davis a “pioneer distiller” in Norfolk County and a “pioneer industrialist”.