How Colour of American Lager was Measured

Colorimeter. AG*MHI-M-9479.
Colorimeter. AG*MHI-M-9479.

 

The image above can be seen in much better resolution here, a page of the National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center (via DPLA and Smithsonian Institution). It is a late-1800s colorimeter, not produced by Joseph Lovibond, the English originator of the colour slide system to measure colour in malt and beer, but something similar used in an American brewery. An extract from the narrative on the page:

 

This colorimeter is part of a large collection of brewing material donated to the museum in 1967 by former brewmaster Walter Voigt, of Ruxton, Maryland, near Baltimore. Voigt’s collection consists of objects and archival materials reflecting the history of brewing in the mid-Atlantic region between 1870 and the beginnings of consolidation and large-scale, industrial production in the 1960s. His correspondence reveals an interest in preserving the history of brewing in America before brewmasters were “replaced by chemical engineers and highly trained chemists in modern laboratories.” Voigt’s papers are housed in the museum’s Archives Center, Collection #ACNMAH 1195, “Walter H. Voigt Brewing Industry Collection, 1935-1967.

It appears the instrument was used in a pre-Prohibition brewery in Baltimore and possibly after Repeal as well.

While time has dimmed many of the slides and also the light doesn’t penetrate each in the same way*, the amber slide on the left-centre (opposite the white oblong) has a remarkable clarity. This is no. 13 of 16 slides counting from the top-centre clockwise.

In A.L. Nugey’s 1937 Brewhouse Formulas Practically Considered, which I have referred to numerous times on the blog, he states as a rule of thumb that anything over 12 degrees L. can be considered dark, anything under 12 pale or light, but also that both pilsenser style and Dortmund beer top out at 8 degrees L.

IMG_20160218_182528Given Nugey was writing just a few years after Repeal, there is every reason to think his comments represented a pre-Prohibition norm. (Other data in the book show similar reliance on the older industry, in particular finishing gravities and hopping rates).

Look at no. 13 slide again from the link given (i.e., best resolution) and consider what nos. 12, 11, 10 would have been like: marginally lighter on a decreasing scale. When you compare these to the various images I have posted of 19th century lagers,  one can see that the pre-Pro norm for the older form of lager, the reddish-brown I have discussed, was 9-12, while the newer pale Bohemian style was probably 6-8 L.

Anchor Steam beer, and Sam Adams Boston Lager which is a recreation of an early American lager, give some idea of what the older lager was like, indeed in taste as well as colour.

In the post-war era, Nugey’s no. 8 if not often lighter became much more characteristic of American beer.

Today, the SRM system is used in North America to measure colour, but it operates to a similar principle (multiply L. by 1.3 to get a working equivalent in SRM). The Europeans have another nomenclature and scale, but again similar in principle. A Lovibond scale is still used to denote colour in the malting industry.

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*I’m thinking now the metal “tray” is a handle that rotates the disk and opens the window to illuminate the slide needed. If so, it’s remarkable that it is fixed to no. 13 which I posit as “the” color of 19th century standard American lager.

 

The Autumnal Lager Of The 1800s

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A review of numerous 19th and early-20th century beer and brewing references suggests that American (and probably Canadian) lager took three main forms:

  • an emulation of dark Munich beer that was all-malt between 1845 and 1875
  • a reddish-brown beer, all-malt initially but increasingly with adjunct up to Prohibition
  • an emulation of Bohemian beer, or the blonde Pilsener style which became popular around the world ultimately.

The Pilsen style, although all-malt in its homeland at least today, frequently employed corn or rice adjunct in North America. This beer was paler than the reddish-brown lager, drier, and sometimes quite bitter. Robert Wahl, in his What Is Beer? essay of 1912, stated the Bohemian style could be high-hopped or low-hopped.

In his text reproduced above George Ehret, who founded the famed Hell Gate, NY brewery of his name, wrote in Twenty-Five Years of Brewing (1891) that reddish-brown lager was being challenged by the Bohemian style. Note his reference to adjunct as a characteristic of Bohemian beer, while he calls the reddish brown lager “heavily malted”.

Some accounts, as Ehret’s, called the Bohemian style “winy”. I think this was meant to denote a drier, cleaner taste than the rich-tasting standard lager.

Of course in practice brewers could differ in the specific colours of their beers, and e.g. some offered both a Bohemian and “extra pale” beer.

A fourth type could be added, bock, almost always dark brown, but I think this was a variation on Munich dunkel. Sometimes Kulmbacher (or Culmbacher) was the term used describe a dark strong lager of similar Bavarian origin.

The reddish-brown standard lager continued into the post-Prohibition era although the Bohemian/extra pale style became dominant by mid-century and probably even before 1920. It was exemplified by Pabst Blue Ribbon, Budweiser, Miller High Life, Schlitz, Coors Banquet.

Red-brown lager was possibly influenced by the light amber of Vienna beer but in any case was the default American style in the latter 1800s. Given most of the hops used in all these beers were American-grown, they would have constituted distinct styles as compared to European originals.

What became American adjunct lager by 1977 – very dry, light (low FG), spritzy was a derivation of the Bohemian/extra pale type. The reddish-brown type disappeared although Anchor steam beer may be a survivor in colour and some other characteristics.

It is not always easy to pin down colour from over 100 years ago, even when you have the benefit of well-executed colour illustrations. And certainly black and white photography rarely delivers the proper nuances even to distinguish pale, brown, and black. Still, occasionally a good illustration tells the tale, as I showed with Pabst bottled beers recently. And here is a glittering example, from a Boston brewery called Roessle, a lager brewer (c. 1850-1919).

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Here is another depiction of beers from Pabst:

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The beer in the centre, called I believe Standard, clearly has a reddish-brown tint as does Roessele’s beer. Those were the flagships of those breweries and countless others. PBR is on the right, lighter. The beer on the left is either a dunkel or a malt tonic (no alcohol, Prohibition was on the horizon).

Note re images: the first image above is via HathiTrust from the link provided in the text. The second, is via DPLA and Digital Commonwealth Massachusetts, here. The last is via DPLA and Wisconsin Sheet Music Database, here. All copyright therein or thereto belong solely to their owners or authorized users. Images believed available for educational or historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

The Passing Of Two Brewery Titans

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Within the first 10 days of October, 1913 two brewery kings died, Toronto’s Eugene O’Keefe and Adolphus Busch of St. Louis. The trade news of the United States, generally insular from brewing on the other side of the border, took notice of O’Keefe’s passing – it had to given the size of his brewery and importance as a benefactor. In 1911, O’Keefe could produce 500,000 barrels a year.

Of course Busch needed no introduction, and as one account of the day put it, his passing sent a shock wave through the nation. Even as Prohibition fervour was cresting, everyone knew how important he was to American industry and in St. Louis. Indeed his name was known internationally, not least in Germany where he retained a residence and high social connections until his death.

There is no substitute for a contemporary account of any important figure’s passing. Apart from the charm of older turns of phrase, nuggets emerge which recent biographies don’t get at, or not in the same way. Below, I reproduce accounts of the mens’ passing from an American trade journal, The Western Brewer.

A number of things connect O’Keefe and Busch even though they never had business dealings as far as I know. Both were immigrants. O’Keefe was Donegal-born Irish, and Catholic. He was a major Catholic business figure in Orange Ontario of the 1800s.

Busch was Hesse-born, a Lutheran. O’Keefe came earlier, at only 5, Busch in young manhood after his education and some formative experience in a shipping house. Both had good educations, Busch in gymnasia and a Brussels technical school, O’Keefe in both public and church schools. (Busch spoke German, English and French perfectly, skills which assisted his career).

Both men had experience in different fields before entering brewing, Busch notably as a grain and hops dealer, O’Keefe in hotels, a grocery and finally banking.  Busch later expanded into railroads, refrigeration, even hotel-keeping (he built a grand hotel in Dallas).

Both lived reasonably long for their day especially O’Keefe who was past 80 when he died, this at a time when the brewing press regularly reported people passing in their 40s, 50s, early 60s.

Both were lager pioneers. Budweiser was the American avatar of pale Bohemian beer. O’Keefe, no doubt seeing the rise of lager in the U.S., built a bottom fermentation facility in 1879 and introduced mechanically refrigerated warehousing in his market. He was one of the first here to chart a course for brewing which departed from its ale and porter origins and set the tone still evident in the mass market today (although the original O’Keefe pilsner lager was all-malt, as this informative account of O’Keefe from the Toronto Historicist site makes clear).

Not least, both figures are well-remembered to this day, Busch via Budweiser and the famed Anheuser-Busch brewery which stayed in family hands until comparatively recently, and O’Keefe via philanthropies in Toronto and for his O’Keefe Ale, still recollected by many who know beer well. The Carling name, famous for beer internationally, is indelibly connected to O’Keefe since the descendant brewery was called Carling-O’Keefe before joining with Molson (now Molson-Coors) in the late 1980s.

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Note re images: the first image shown is available at numerous sites on online. The second two are from the American brewing journal The Western Brewer, via HathiTrust. All intellectual property thereto or therein belong to their lawful owners or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational or cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

The British, Their Ale Yeasts, and Traditional Flavours

1366In 1936, perhaps the leading British brewing scientist of the mid-century, H. Lloyd Hind, wrote a review of technological developments in British breweries in the last 50 years. It was published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, here.

One of the endearing traits of the piece, and perhaps of the English beer ethos as it was (and perhaps of the English people as they were), was noting where European innovations had made little dent in English practice.

He explains for example that 70 years before, a description of the Burton “unions”, the system of linked open casks to clarify beer, could apply virtually unchanged to Burton production in his day.

Of course some things had changed, he explains for example that use of wood in brewery fittings had declined very significantly (storage vats, fermenters, etc.). Where wood was retained it was often lined.

One area where the English remained notably impervious to the blandishments of European science was pure yeast culture. The Dane Emil Hansen’s legendary work in 1883, showing how a pure strain could be cultivated from the mixed lager yeasts then in use, made little impact on British brewing. Hind notes that most English breweries carried on with their traditional mixed culture. The reason he gave is instructive: they feared the flavours produced in their beers would change with adoption of pure yeast culture.

Although he expressed it with tact, Hind made clear such flavours were not always ideal. Mixed strains had the potential to result in unplanned flavours, even spoilage. Also, attenuations could not be as accurate as with a pure culture yeast.

Nonetheless as consumers in a brewery’s trading area had become accustomed to the flavour, this was a satisfactory arrangement. Belgian brewers were similar, up to quite recently anyway. The end result of this process was a range of flavours, something partaking of the nature of gastronomy but not in any planned way. In 1977 when Michael Jackson wrote his landmark The World Guide To Beer, that range of flavours was still evident in bitter ales produced by those breweries.

Jackson said some beers were on the sweet side, some “cabbagey”, some “sickly”, some “toffee-like”, etc. Of course yeast was not the only factor in such tastes, but it is an important one and can affect for example perception of hop bitterness.

Hind stated that one or two brewers used mixed strains composed of selected pure yeasts, but even that was a distance from what Hansen urged of English brewers. Most stuck with their old system. This had its risks with the seeming oddity – it depends how you look at it – that at different times of the year the strain would differ in composition. This implied the beer was better at some times than others. All this resulted from ancestral methods of yeast “management” and that most plants then were not sterile in the modern sense. Guinness for example didn’t change to fully sterile  plant until after World War II.

With a depression and soon a world war to deal with, Britain had other objectives and priorities than bringing brewery yeast management into line with European practice. That did finally change. At Ind Coope in Burton, as this 1966 article by T.J. Stevens shows (also from the Journal of the Institute of Brewing), pure culture yeast had recently been adopted, with good results. In particular it was noted the conditioned beers had less haze than with the former yeast used.

The article makes no reference, unlike Lloyd Hind’s, to the issue of flavour. Presumably though the lab people worked with the marketers and pub managers to ensure that taste stayed within acceptable bounds.

But it took another 30 years for the English to change in this regard – something admirable IMO. The concern to maintain traditional flavour clearly was the primary reason the change was delayed so long.

Today, my understanding is – please correct if I’m wrong – almost all yeast used in top-fermentation brewing is pure culture yeast. Perhaps it is different still in Belgium, but I doubt it. In distilling, use of pure culture yeast is a given in the industry.

In a few cases, a brewing yeast supplier will offer a mixed strain. You see an example here where White Labs offers the California ale yeast combined with another strain to produce a rounder, more lager-like taste.

Maybe some craft breweries use an evolved mixed strain which they keep going by yeasting-back or culturing up from the jug for the next brew.  Whether their beer is better than produced with a selected single strain can only be tested “in the field”, by comparison of taste. But also, other brewing characteristics must be taken into account such as attenuation, flocculation, hazing, temperature and energy consumption. As in anything, brewers weigh different factors and make choices: no one factor can be determining.

I do feel that probably with the success of pure culture yeast something was lost. Someone recently noted on twitter that a customer who asked for IPA was proferred a long list by the server. After gazing at it, customer said, “you choose one”…

Note re image: the image shown was sourced at this book vendor site, here. All intellectual property thereto or therein belong to the lawful owners or authorized users. Believed available for educational or cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

The Fine Whiskeys of Old Baltimore

Whiskeys For The Carriage Trade

A snapshot of Baltimore, MD’s post-Civil War whiskey industry was offered in The Monumental City by George W. Howard (1873):

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It is known that “vast quantities” of rye were being turned into whiskey in Maryland as early as 1818. Sixty years later the industry was rapidly being placed on a modern technological footing. Indeed more and larger distilleries would implant in Maryland between 1873 and the end of the century, as documented in the late James Bready’s classic study (1990) of Maryland’s whiskey heritage.

Taken together with the very sizeable wholesaling and rectification/blending side of the business, distilling in general and whiskey in particular were a major part of the state’s economy in the last quarter of the 1800s.

One of the most important Baltimore liquor dealers was the Walters family, of whom I wrote back in 2010 on a U.S. bourbon discussion forum. From my posting:

… Walters was a family which made their fortune initially in liquor dealing and retailing (not distilling). Later, it branched into railroad and financial investments. Baker was one of the reputed brands it sold in the mid-1800’s, it was Pennsylvania rye, a classic type of rye whiskey, country cousin to bourbon. Rye whiskey is still sold…. When the heiress and descendant Mrs. Walters died in the 1940’s, her estate sold the collection of fine spirits remaining after the liquor business had long ceased, or which had been acquired on the way by her ascendants. It included wines, brandies and many other spirits, but also some of the rye whiskey which had helped to make the family’s name and fortune. Foremost among those was Baker’s rye…. Indeed the Walters Museum [in Baltimore] is going strong and houses the fine art collection which the family had amassed…. My information is from a Walters family history which you can buy at the museum.

William Walters was the founder and both he and his son Henry expanded the family’s reach into other business ventures. I had visited the Walters Art Museum in 2010 and bought the book, William and Henry Walters, The Reticent Collectors, by William R. Johnston. It’s a fine read and highly recommended.

From George Howard’s 1873 book above, here is an advertisement from the Walters agency, and you see barrels of the Baker’s rye mentioned:

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The bracketing of rye whiskey with Cognac deluxe shows the high status the market attributed to fine rye whiskeys in the 19th century. Rye wasn’t just a frontier drink, indeed common whiskey – un-aged or little aged – and bourbon fulfilled that office more than rye. As George Howard explained, the best rye was sent to the deep south. This is why the Sazerac cocktail of New Orleans was always associated with rye whiskey, and the same was true initially for the Manhattan cocktail.

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Certainly the “Eastern Ryes” had a high reputation for quality. In part this was due to the inherent method of production, involving as it did sweet mash fermentation and heated warehouses. But also, you had a sophisticated blending and rectification business.

The careful selection and blending of whiskey was an art in the old gastronomic centre of Baltimore. Perhaps the dealers’ long experience with brandy and French blending methods for Cognac impelled them to adopt similar methods for the rye whiskeys of their own state and nearby Pennsylvania.

In comparison, Kentucky whiskey proudly bruited its straight character. Indeed such has remained the case to this day. And there isn’t anything wrong with Kentucky Bourbon, oh no.  But the whiskey market then was one of diversity. A choice was offered for different palates and different pocketbooks.

So it should be today.

Note re images: the first two images above are via Hathitrust (the link is given in the text). The third is from the Walters museum’s website, also linked above. All copyright therein or thereto belong to their lawful owners or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Melrose: Aristocrat of Whiskeys, Made by Patricians

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Amongst the dulcet-toned, lushly printed encomia to the great distilleries and breweries of the world, not least is Melrose: Honey of Roses. Published in 1943, wartime exigencies didn’t dent the quality of its production.

The book chronicles the story of Melrose whiskey and its guiding family, the Goldsboroughs of Baltimore, MD*. The founders of great American drink companies represented all kinds: German immigrants, some Jews; Italians (prominent for wine and brandy); old-stock frontier people like Jack Daniel; Irish immigrants of the 1800s; old Catholic English families, long associated with Maryland but many of whom decamped to Kentucky; and one or two like the Goldsboroughs.

The Goldsboroughs were American nobility. They traced their heritage to a prosperous past in England where the hamlet of Goldsborough still dots the map, near Harrogate (Leeds). The maternal line of Melrose’s founder includes French nobility.

The first Goldsborough, Nicholas, came in 1669 and settled on Kent Island, on the East Shore, Maryland.

An apt quote from the book:

For scoff if you like at background and tradition, the manufacture of Melrose is altogether different from that familiar American saga of the boy who rose from obscurity to riches by his energies and wits. The sensitivity and loyalty to quality so necessary in the preservation of this whiskey are distinctly family characteristics.  As the ability to make Persian rugs, Swiss watches, and other precious hand-made products is in-bred and handed down from craftsman to craftsman, so the production of Melrose is dependant on traits that spring from inheritance and tradition.

I can dig it.

This family was blue blood but also notably accomplished. They provided not less than six governors for their state, and other men of influence. The whiskey saga began when Henry Goldsborough returned to Baltimore from a business venture in Texas with his wife and young family, this was the late 1880s.

He invested in a liquor rectification business, Records, Mathews. It became known finally as Records & Goldsborough. It specialized in blending whiskeys but also sold some straight, e.g., Canton Maryland Straight Rye Whiskey. Its brands included (c. 1943) at least two blends of straight whiskeys – no neutral spirits.

Initially the house bought whiskey from distillers but acquired its own distillery in Canton, MD (a suburb of Baltimore) in 1897 to ensure a sufficient supply.

The book’s author is Stirling Graham. He was husband to Helene Goldsborough Graham, daughter of Henry and a well-known society figure in the interwar years. She was a writer too, and I suspect may have written the book with her husband; at a minimum her assistance would have been invaluable.

melroserare6yo3Maryland was a great rye state. In Edgar Preyer’s c. 1900 portrait of the American whiskey business, he divides rye whiskey into two categories: Eastern Ryes and Western Ryes. The former were those made in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and probably New York. The latter were made in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana (probably Missouri too). In this period, these states were still a frontier in the public imagination. What is now the west was often called the Far West, or West of the Rockies.

Much of the Maryland production was blended but as I’ve said, high-end blends were all-straight and fully comparable therefore to straight whiskeys – perhaps superior in some cases. Distilling in Maryland was never as significant as in Kentucky and indeed stood behind that of Pennsylvania. But its whiskeys were always highly regarded. I was able to taste some, courtesy friends years ago at gatherings in Bardstown, KY. They were very good and seemed different to the ryes made today in Kentucky.

Initially Kentucky was almost exclusively bourbon country but increasingly in the 1800s it distilled rye too which proved effective competition for the Eastern Ryes. Today, straight rye is still made in Kentucky, Indiana as well, and until recently nowhere else. But the rise of craft distilling has produced a few examples of “new” straight rye in Pennsylvania, possibly Maryland, and some other states.

Maryland rye often had a characteristic red colour especially the Sherwood and Sherbrook brands, Melrose too. Maybe this was achieved, for the blended straights, with a blending agent, but the result was very good. A commenter on a bourbon forum once said a brand he tasted had a juniper character. Not a bad description, the rye mash gin of Holland can have that even where no juniper is added. Or perhaps it came from estery yeasts, as Baltimore was ale and porter country before the blitz of lager c. 1850.

Anyway there was a regional characteristic to Maryland rye.

The industry was partly killed off by Prohibition but some of it, including Melrose, came back in ’33. By the 70s, it was all gone but the last maker sold the Pikesville name to Heaven Hill Distillery (maybe licensed it) in Kentucky. Heaven Hill makes this excellent rye to this day although I feel it isn’t in the Maryland style really – but possibly the Maryland Pikesville had its own character.

the-frank-l-wight-distilling-co-wrights-sherbrook-rye-whiskey09-2In the 1940s, rye distilling – subject to the war ending soon but it occurred by April, 1945 – was still a bankable proposition. Melrose came back in good shape after the war but finally was absorbed by liquor giant Schenley.

The book details how Melrose, the flagship blended straight, was put together. It took months to combine and marry five constituent whiskeys. A blending agent was added, not specified. The author claimed it didn’t contribute flavour but served as a marrying and catalytic agent. I’d guess it was a fruit-based additive, or maybe an old sherry or port.

Suave yet complex rye whiskey fit well into the gastronomic heritage of Maryland, always regarded as a cradle of fine living. I’ll let Stirling Graham tell it in his velvet tongue:

It is only natural that Melrose, a blend of straight rye whiskies, should have originated in Maryland, famous as a “rye state”, as well as for its fine foods, whose people are noted as connoissuers of good living, and whose Chesapeake Bay provides such delicacies as the diamond-back terrapin, oyster and crab. And it is no less natural that so exceptional a whiskey as Melrose should owe its creation and preservation to none other than one of the most distinguished families of the Free State.

Note re images: the first image is drawn from the Amazon site, here. The second is drawn from this whiskey collection site, here.  The third from this bottle site, here. All copyright therein or thereto belong to their owners or licensed users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*After completing and posting this entry, I came upon Jack Sullivan’s posting a few years ago, here. It appears a different branch of the Goldsboroughs was also involved in the whiskey business.  I wasn’t aware of that, and Jack doesn’t refer to Henry Goldsborough and Canton Distillery from what I can see. I have heard of Highspire Distillery (it was in Pennsylvania). I didn’t know it had a connection to the Goldsborough family. I’ll check Stirling Graham’s book again to see if he refers to this other business. If I find anything I’ll post it in the comments.

 

 

How to Set Up A Brewing School

_57On the eve of WW I, the Siebel Institute of Technology, a leading international brewing school based in Chicago, published proceedings which included commemorating its founding in 1901. The school emerged from the Zymotechnic Institute of Dr. John Siebel, the Dusseldorf-born chemist and physicist and one of the founders of American brewing science.

Siebel’s original activities were as a scientific station, or analytical laboratory as we would call it today. It serviced the brewing industries but also various branches of the food businesses such as sugar refining. Siebel had tried to set up a brewing school 20 years before, a venture with a Chicago brewer, but it didn’t take. They attracted one student who persevered for a time but then left to work in brewing on a practical basis. Practical brewing was a term much used then, but has disappeared from a field today resolutely technical in emphasis.

Practical brewers learn on their own, from other brewers, and by experience. They have resurged in the area of craft brewing, and often produce some fine products. Still, to get to another production and industrial level, craft brewers often end by hiring brewers with formal training. These emerge from places like the Siebel Institute (still going strong), the UC Davis school in California (beer and wine fermentation science), or Heriot-Watt in Scotland.

After Siebel’s first school closed he focused on his lab work and as mentioned this did finally provide the basis to set up a successful school. Indeed it continued through Prohibition days, and flourishes to this day. By 1901, he had his sons to help him and their assistance was key to set up the school on a successful basis. Further information on the school’s history can be read here, from the company’s website.

Between the two Siebel essays at establishing a brewing school, two things happened. In New York in 1882, Anton Schwarz whom I discussed earlier established his United States Brewing Academy. His was the first brewing school in the United States to continue on a permanent footing albeit it did not survive (I believe) the relatively early death of the founder and untimely passing of his son, Max. Max died in February, 1901, the same year the Siebel school was founded. I wonder if the Siebels saw the likely closing of the New York school as an opportunity, I think it’s possible.

As well, Robert Wahl and Max Henius established in 1891 their brewing academy in Chicago, which was very successful. It grew out of their analytical lab, started in 1886 at the back of their drugstore. The presence of a competing school in Chicago would have concerned the Siebels, but still they went ahead and ended as the surviving institution. A school of this nature, then and now, drew a good part of its students internationally, so there was room for two schools in one city.

John Siebel spoke at the 1911 Second International Brewers Congress in Chicago. In discussing this history, he indicated that his first effort to establish a school was simply too early: the value of scientific training was not perceived by a trade which had long practiced on an empirical, conservative basis.

In referring to Anton Schwarz’ successful effort, Siebel suggested New York was simply more propitious at the time as a larger, international city, to the idea. In the volume mentioned above collecting proceedings of the Siebel Institute from 1909-1910, he tells an interesting story of how in his view Schwarz succeeded. He states again that brewers were notoriously conservative on the idea of letting science penetrate the brewing hall, but the account also shows his understanding, or later understanding, that business has a marketing side. I’ll let him tell it in his own words:

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Note re images: the first two images are drawn from the volume of the Proceedings of the Siebel Institute of 1909-1910 referenced in the text above, via HathiTrust. The second image is drawn from an eBay listing, here. All copyright therein or thereto belong to their owner or licensed users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

Beer And The 1893 World’s Exposition – Aftermath

The Beer Committee Reports In

Eugene F. Weigel authored the special report on beer for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It was published finally in 1901 with the other special reports.

Weigel was a member of the five-person committee formed to judge the beer category of the agricultural exhibits.

A reader non-au fait with the background would find it odd he gave no data along the lines found in the special reports for whisky and wine summarizing the awards given, names of winners, details of the judging, etc. He barely refers to the Exposition at all except to note some of the non-American and in particular southern hemisphere beer contributions. He noted that South America sent 50 items to be judged and that beers had been exhibited from Japan, Italy, and Australia.

Almost all the essay is a short history of brewing and the brewing industry, useful as far as it goes. He focuses on contemporary production methods especially large scale use of refrigeration machines which made brewing a year-round affair and assisted production in warm countries.

In regard to the brewing committee of which he formed part, he says nothing and does not even mention the names of the other judges.

There was a good reason for Weigel’s silence. The judging of beer had been a debacle in the fair, one of its few failures as in general the Exposition was a glittering success. But even by 1901 it was deemed important to sidestep the sorry episode of whether Pabst or Anheuser-Busch was top brewing dog back in ’93. Unfortunate, but understandable.

Who was E.F. Weigel? Little is available on him, he was a Union Army veteran and held senior positions in the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic). Most of his career was spent in public administration in the state of Missouri and he held two terms as its secretary of state. Later, it appears he worked for the City of St. Louis where no doubt he had known some of its brewery chieftans.

One of the brewing innovations he is dubious of is the use of cereal adjuncts. I include below an extract from the report (via HathiTrust and subject to my usual acknowledgment in that regard) in which he makes his preference for all-malt beer quite clear. In the matter of pasteurization, he seems to accept it without reservation as a necessary means to ensure the expansion of the industry. But as someone who had tasted probably a few hundred beers for his judging duties, it is notable that he held out for all-malt, even in a period when corn and rice had become an article of faith for U.S. brewers and their scientific backers.

He makes clear that large brewers had evolved a consistent, “refined” beverage. One might be tempted to think American beer had become the very light, fizzy refresher which typified North American beer on the eve of the craft revolution. But everything is relative. Publications by Pabst during or proximate to the Exposition show it was brewing 1.3 million barrels per annum and made annual purchases of almost 2,000,000 lbs of hops.

That averages 1.5 lbs per barrel. By way of comparison, that is rather more than Sam Adams lager uses (1 lb per barrel). Even if Pabst’s main brand, what became Blue Ribbon, used 1 lb hops in 1901, that was a very hoppy beer by today’s standards especially for lager.

This Canadian government study of the same period shows that for a number of Pabst beers available in Canada, their starting gravities were just over 12 P (probably 12 was the target but perhaps it varied with different brands). Final gravities, see other parts of the report, were between 1011 and 1016.  This means ABV between 4 and 5%. Attenuations would be 65-75%.

Today, American Lager, see the 2015 BJCP, places the FG range at 1004-1010, with alcohol of 4.2-5.3% abv. Attenuations today for lager start, not end, at 75%. (Ironically, it includes PBR as an example).

Irrespective of adjunct use then and now, it is obvious the c. 1900 beers had much more character than today.

When milk pasteurization and industrial food processing were in their infancy, a refined taste in beer was something quite different to today. It meant a taste free from yeast infection, sourness, an old or cheap hop taste, or other artisan-scale problems. These had been eliminated by modern science, and money. Refined didn’t mean bland.

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Beer Rating In A Different Era

img_20161003_092046_1_editDozens of news accounts in 1893 discussed the hotly contested beer awards made at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The awards committee for the brewing category was composed of five judges: Messrs. Lund (Canada/U.K.), Lichtenfeldt (Germany), and Wahl, Weigel, and Rolf (all U.S.).

A government agricultural official working in the executive awards committee’s office, named Browning, put together reports written by the judges for each brewer. He notified Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis in October that its beers gained the highest score. But the judges had not yet met to finalize and issue their findings. When they did, on November 15, the highest score was attributed to Milwaukee’s Pabst Brewing.

This press account of December 26, 1893, published in Houston but originating in Chicago, as well as this Indianapolis news account, give considerable detail on what occurred. In a nutshell, it seems Pabst was docketed two points each on two beers for chemical purity by the government chemist, Dr. Harvey Wiley (a familiar name on these pages).

When the judges restored those points, alleging clerical error in their deduction, it put Pabst ahead of Anheuser-Busch on the beer called Standard –  I think this was Best Select, later called Blue Ribbon – which rose to 99 points. With Pabst’s Hofbrau also gaining two points, at 98 it gained equality with A-B’s Munchener. Overall for the six beers stated by A-B in its ad reproduced herein, Pabst stood first at 291 points.

Thus, Pabst had the highest scoring individual beer, and lead by one point as to this group of six beers. More than six prizes between them for beer were won by both companies, but on any view of it, the judges’ decision in November gave the palm to Pabst.

A-B challenged what it viewed understandably as a flip-flop, but an appeal under the Exposition’s rules didn’t alter the points revision as such.

A-B also contested deduction of points from its own beers and litigation ensued into 1894 at least. Each brewer put out ads claiming to be the Exposition winner but despite A-B’s efforts Pabst generally was regarded as winner.

In her Ambitious Brew: The Story Of American Beer (2006), Maureen Ogle gives a lively and informative account of the brouhaha, involving as it did outsize personalities and important commercial interests.

Below, I’d like to focus on the beer rating system the judges used. The judges used a 100-point scale, divided into 15 for brilliancy, 20 for flavour, 20 for commercial importance, and 45 for chemical analysis (purity or absence of improper foreign matter). I find this system very interesting viewed from the perspective of a beer fan of 120 years later.

Under the judges’ system, if a beer reached 80 points, it was entitled to an award. The numbers in the image above, from a typical ad published by A-B in the wake of the judging controversy, show the result from its viewpoint.

Taking brilliancy first, until recent years it was regarded, as in 1893, as a sine qua non of quality. Yet, as with so many things in life, it is gone with the wind, not to be sure for the mass market, but for the craft and “progressive” side of the business. Cloudy beer is “in” and has been for some time, probably because it is regarded as more natural. It is partly too a result of the influence of cask beer, which in England historically was not meant to be cloudy but usually was in North America, and beer bottled with some residual yeast, or bottle-conditioned beer.

But in 1893 a cloudy bottle would dock you points for your beer exhibit. Indeed as we have seen, contemporary science strived to justify use of corn and rice adjunct mainly because it would ensure a clear bottle of beer.

Today, under the influence of the “drink local” ethic and (surely) better process controls, cloudy beer is not the non-starter it was in the 19th century.

20 points for flavour seems low to me, even for 1893. I’d have made it 40 points and removed “commercial importance”. This latter category caused controversy even before the judges sat down to drink any of the exhibited beers. As Maureen Ogle indicated, there is reason to suspect it was designed to favour the beers of the largest brewers, and there was no one larger then than Pabst and A-B in America.

Assuming the formulation was meant in good faith, I think it could have meant, in effect, drinkability or general appeal. Lots of beers today would rate very high on a pure flavour scale, say Stone IPA or Pilsner Urquell, but few would argue they have wide appeal. Anyway at the very least this category was ambiguous and should have been combined with the flavour one. (Maybe “flavour and general appeal”?).

Now why 45 points for chemical analysis, the category that caused so much trouble in the judging? Would we include anything today on this ground, require that is the beers to be tested for chemical purity? Not to my knowledge. It is assumed today that products on the market, including beer, comply with food and drug compositional laws. Indeed each country’s laws provide for various things that can appear in finished beer or not, additives if you will.

But as discussed earlier here in various contexts, in the 1800s purity was a large concern in the nascent consumer economies. People were increasingly worried about what went into the daily bread, beer, and other comestibles needed for survival and health. Hence the large number of points attributed to this value then.

Today, beer rating systems typically look at different values: adherence to style, for example. Not a concern in 1893 when beer styles were still emerging and not regarded with the sanctity of today. Other criteria today, partly related to style, include conformity to prescribed colour, bitterness, alcohol, and gravity targets or ranges.

Of course, flavour remains as an important element. It is the most important, really. I think it was then too but in the context of Victorian America, an industry in full expansion, and the dynamics of a major commercial exposition, the rating system that resulted to a considerable degree reflected its times.

 

 

 

 

New Amsterdam Vodka

img_20161002_171905We plump here for whisky, generally, but I keep a bottle of vodka for Bloody Marys and this and that. I always buy a different one and am always struck how each, tasted neat, is different. Years ago on www.straightbourbon.com, I recall discussions where some insisted only the water, or any flavourings added, made the difference, versus that is the fermentables source used, which can range from wheat to rye to corn and more, or a combination.

I believe small differences in still type, final ABV and feedstock used can affect palate, not just the water for dilution. So can the type of filtering or polishing it gets before bottling.

Recently I was struck by how good the pictured bottle was. The liquor flows on the palate softly and has a very good taste. I believe it is not flavoured especially with sugar as some vodkas are. There may be some charcoal treatment as I think I can taste it. Many vodkas undergo this stage and some national legislations require it in fact.

Few would buy vodka to taste a microsip neat, as I do, and to be sure mixing in cocktails will efface all subtle differences, at least in the medium- and high-price categories.

But for those who will taste a bit on its own, I believe they will see some vodka is superior. New Amsterdam definitely qualifies.

The price is the regular vodka price here, I’ve had others that are double the price and not as good.

The more I learn about the history of beverage alcohol, the less likely I am to be peremptory in judgment. Things become part of the commercial scene for a reason, generally. That Genessee beer I had the other day (the regular lager) is the obverse of the craft beer taste yet I can see how it developed over a century and that many people like it (evidently). It may not be – won’t – something I will buy again very soon, but that doesn’t mean I will put it down, and in fact (maybe the historical angle influenced me) I kind of liked it.

Same thing with vodka versus whisky. It’s like Doug Philips used to say on the discussion board at www.straightbourbon.com, consider each experience as palate training vs. being dogmatic about good, bad, and in between.