The Krausmann Restaurant Clan of Quebec and Ontario

Further checks online allowed me to be more precise concerning the history of Krausmann’s Tavern of Montreal. The essential points in my last post are correct, but I add below considerable detail including from a beer standpoint.

The Montreal Krausmanns – there were two – were not from Lorraine in France, or even from Europe. They were from Elora, Ontario. Elora is a charming small town about 70 miles from Toronto. The patriarch, Andrew (né Andreas) Kraussman, was born in Hesse, Germany in 1844. He immigrated to Ontario and became a successful innkeeper, then hotelier. His wife was Sarah Poutler/Paudler/et seq (spelling varies in different accounts), born a year earlier. Interestingly, she was from Alsace-Lorraine, which may well explain the origin of the name, Kraussman’s Lorraine Cafe in Montreal.


Lorraine is primarily a French province, yet with some German influence via its Moselle part and adjoining Alsace which has a distinctly Germanic feel to this day.

Lorraine Cafe may have been felt a good name for a primarily German restaurant in Montreal given its dual French and German associations. Also, there is a town called Lorraine in Quebec – I was there two days ago attending a wedding.

Andrew and Sarah married in Canada in about 1866. The family was Catholic and I mention this simply because I thought initially the Krausmanns were old Mennonite stock. That part of Ontario was settled to a large degree by Mennonites of different orders, they came as early as the late 1700s. The Mennonite churches are connected to Anabaptism and the Reformation, so had the Krausmanns been old stock I’d expect them to be Protestant. But Andrew and his wife came to Ontario in the third part of the 19th century.

The family expanded hotel-keeping to Toronto and owned Krausmann Hotel at King and Church Streets – the location is now an empty lot as the building was taken down in 1970.

Most of Andrew and Sarah’s children followed them in the hospitality business. There were five boys. One, Albert, died in 1915 at only 33. Andrew died the same year. John, who had developed the family’s expansion in Toronto, founded Kraussman’s Restaurant in Montreal in 1901, but not in Phillips Square, it was on 80 St. James Street, or Rue St-Jacques, the official name. This was in the old financial and historic quarter of Montreal. As will appear, the cuisine was German and appropriately, John specialized in offering  imported German and Austrian beer. The amusing post card (pre-WW I, probably) shown below includes top international brands of the era.

After almost 30 years in business on St. James Street, John died of a gunshot in February, 1929, perhaps by his own hand. The account in the Montreal Gazette gives numerous details. I don’t know how much longer Kraussman’s on St. James Street continued. Certainly by the 1970s in Montreal, there was only one Krausmann’s, in Phillips Square. John had left no children.


John’s younger brother, William, founded Kraussman’s Lorraine Cafe in Phillips Square in 1922. That restaurant also was a success, but William died of a heart problem in Montreal in 1933.  This obituary gives a respectful treatment of his career: he had obviously made a mark on the city, as had John. William left a son, William Jr., and two daughters. Two brothers survived William and John: Andrew junior, and George, who became a noted physician in Detroit, Michigan.

Krausmann descendants continued to reside in Montreal for many decades. Some may have been involved with Krausmann’s in Philips Square in the 1970s, maybe even after it moved south to Beaver Hall Hill in the 1980s. I believe the current ownership of the successor, Brisket, is unconnected.

In 1928 in Goblin, a New Yorker-style magazine published in the 1920s in Toronto, a deft portrait is given of the two restaurants. Blogger John Adcock has given some interesting background on Goblin, here. Its piece was written in the snappy style of the Jazz Age and intended as a guide for American tourists in Montreal.

The fame of Krausmann’s has gone as far as the pages of “Vanity Fair”, and the sidewalks of Chicago. There’s a place (or rather two places, Krausmann’s on St. James Street and Krausmann’s of Phillips’ Square) that the tourists “do” know. Krausmann’s on St. James Street is the old original, still run by the famous John Krausmann, but both restaurants specialize in the same sort of Teutonic food. Visitors with a culinary background of Hassenpfeffer, Apfelstrudel and other delicacies invariably think Krausmann’s is a wow. The Kasslerripehen at the Phillips’ Square restaurant is excellent. Interesting too, if you care for that sort of thing, are the various kinds of imported German sausages and the enormous plates of pigs’ knuckles and sauerkraut that are served at the bar. Oddly enough, you can’t get Pumperknickel at Krausmann’s. I asked for it one day and was told they stopped baking it during the war and had very few calls for it nowadays.

During the summer, Krausmann’s, St. James Street, has a steady supply of fresh-caught brook trout, which they cook to perfection and serve with “beurre noir”.

Clearly the pig’s knuckles were a house specialty and must have been since 1901. You can still get it at Brisket today, which occupies the last location of Krausmann’s Tavern, made to the original recipe. Albeit it flies under the radar these days, the dish has been continuously served for 115 years, which must be some kind of record and deserves the renewed attention of Montreal’s food culture.

Brisket’s continues the Krausmann legacy in three ways I can see: first, in its full name, “Brisket Montreal – le Salon Krausmann“. Second, the restaurant features the famed Krausmann pickled pork hocks, so some small part of the original menu survives. Third, Brisket is a “brasserie” which in Montreal means a restaurant serving hearty foods with a good beer selection – Kraussman’s in the 70s was the same concept except continuing to offer the pork hocks as a connection to the past.

The reference to pumperknickel bread in the Goblin story is interesting. I wonder if the restaurants stopped offering it because black bread is an obvious symbol of German cooking and culture. Maybe Krausmann’s wanted to lower an obvious part of its German profile since Canada was fighting Germany in Europe. Yet that war, and indeed the Second War, seemed not to affect the fortunes of these German-Canadian restaurants. On the eve of WW II anyway I know Kraussman’s was still advertising its German menu. Maybe this changed during the 40s though, in fact I think it is likely. By the 70s the menu was mostly Canadian, or such is my recollection after a mere 40 year gap.


Above is an image of the hotel the family operated in Toronto. It is now a parking lot. I drive or walk by it quite often, never having dreamed the site was connected to the Kraussman Tavern I liked so much in Montreal c. 1980. In the same manner, never would have I thought back then that a tavern with an interesting signature dish had such a rich history, going back to swish times in early financial Canada, over to rural Ontario where its founders were born, and stretching finally Alsace-Lorraine, whence the sturdy and tasty porcine specialty of Kraussman’s probably came.

Note re images above: The first, showing the interior of the Phillips Square Krausmann’s mid-1900s, was sourced from this auction page. The second, a postcard showing the St. James Street Krausmann’s (probably pre-1914), was sourced from this ebay page. The third image, of Krausmann Hotel in Toronto c. 1918, was sourced from a Toronto urban history site, here.  All are believed available for educational and historical use. All feedback welcomed.


A Classic Montreal Restaurant, Krausmann’s


In the late 70s, I was working in Montreal in a small 1960s tower still standing at 1080 Beaver Hall Hill. The name harks back to Canadian fur-trading days. Across the street was a typical Montreal tavern. I can’t recall the name now. It served draft and bottled beer and the tavern food of the era, some of which is still served in Montreal.

This tavern was a large room with small round tables and wood, round-backed “bankers” chairs. The food was hamburger steak, french fries, french fries and gravy (no cheese, this was before poutine), spaghetti, pizza, “farmer” sausage. There might also be tourtière and other French-Canadian foods, pig’s feet and meat balls in brown sauce, say. There were also small steaks, sandwiches including a club sandwich, and sometimes chicken or meat croquettes. Croquettes seem to have disappeared from menus everywhere which is a wrong some retro-minded chef should correct.

IMG_20160520_165137I remember one waiter there, I think he co-owned the tavern. He was medium-height, slim, of calm disposition, with a pencil moustache. He was clad in a black, tuxedo-type outfit, the uniform of the Montreal tavern waiter then. You see similar dress in illustrations of English Victorian restaurants. Most waiters in Montreal by then were francophone but he was “English”. Nonetheless he spoke perfect French, which was unusual at the time for an “Anglais“. I think he told me he had been a policeman in an earlier career. He was probably 45 at most and could still be living. Like all good waiters he would linger with the clientele to have chat but was Johnny on the spot when the place was busy.

IMG_20160522_163325Beaver Hall Hill is south of what used to be called Dorchester Boulevard, it is now boul. René Lévesque, after the late separatist premier of Quebec. On the other side of Dorchester was and is Phillips Square, originally a high-end shopping enclave which served the gentry and merchant classes who resided nearby. You see the Square pictured in the early image shown above. That’s King Edward VII in the centre and he is still there.

In 1901, a Mr. Krausmann opened a restaurant on the Square’s east side, it was just outside camera range in that image, where the awning is on the right. The idea was a European cafe with mixed German and French influences which may explain the formal name, the Lorraine Café. By the 1920s and through the second war, Krausmann’s Lorraine Cafe was a noted club venue which specialized in the dinner-and-show, a concept then prevalent in North America.

In the 1970s, I sometimes went to Krausmann’s too, by then it was simply called Krausmann Tavern. I hadn’t known of the 75 year history and glory days as a supper club, it was just a good tavern with a slightly different menu. The star German dish, maybe the only Teutonic specialty by then, was the pickled pork knuckles. Perhaps it was from Lorraine, France, as Mr. Krausmann may have been. (In fact, I once had a similar dish in Stenay, an old garrison town in Lorraine). The shanks were brined and spiced, long boiled, and served with plain boiled potato and sauerkraut. It was very good and the beer of the time, similar to the light but tasty Labatt 50 still sold, suited it.

menu2015-frI left Montreal in 1983. A few years later, Krausmann’s moved from the north side of Dorchester to the south side, taking occupancy in the tavern of the ex-policeman. I never visited that location but knew of the change.

In about 1990, Krausmann’s became Brisket, a restaurant which specializes in Montreal’s famous “smoked meat”, or cured and sliced beef piled high on a sandwich. It’s the Montreal version of pastrami and corned beef in New York. Smoked meat has Montreal Jewish origins but like the bagel has departed its original precincts to become part of the general food scene.

While pickled pork and smoked meat may seem from different universes, both are cured, carnivores’ specialties. In some ways Brisket was new, but in a certain way, it continued its older heritage.

Yesterday, I was walking down from Phillips Square to Beaver Hall Hill to look at these old haunts and lo, the small Victorian block of buildings which housed the policeman’s tavern, the re-located Kraussman’s, and now Brisket still stands.

Men were doing repairs in the doorway, and when I explained I had eaten there 40 years earlier, they kindly gave me a tour of the inside as it was closed until evening. It looked different than I remembered but the outside and inside have been modified numerous times since the 70s. Back then, small frosted glass panes typically formed the window casements of taverns, to prevent looking inside. This was common for Quebec taverns, and was probably required by law. While the main windows have changed, look at the sidewalk level: the old frosted glass is still there.

The workmen introduced me to one of the principals, he was working in the kitchen. He was delighted to meet someone who had known Krausmann’s. Indeed the name is remembered in the restaurant’s current name, as Le Salon Krausmann is a sub-title of the Brisket name. Not just that, but rather improbably, he told me the famous pig’s knuckle dish is still served and follows the original recipe.


That menu (click twice for perfect readability) is a good example of how foods of various national origins can combine to form an area’s preferred eating: you see spaghetti, pig’s feet and meat balls, a Middle Eastern dish or two, hot chicken plate, lots of poutines, and an interesting range of hamburgers. Note the Trappist Poutine, I loved that one!

It’s typical daily fare for Montrealers and Brisket offers pretty much the full gamut. I didn’t get the chance to eat there unfortunately but it is Stop No. 1 the next time I am in Montreal.

Krausmann’s had to have that pig’s knuckle dish on its menu when it opened in 1901. It is now 2016, and the same dish is still served, a hop and skip from the original location. No one has explained this to the Montreal eating public as far as I know. I doubt there are many other if any dishes in Montreal or Canada for that matter served continuously for that long.

You Montreal foodies investigating the new school of this and that – go to Brisket and try its historic pork knuckles: tell them to make it so it comes piping hot, you need to see the steam come out as you open it up. Forget french fries much less poutine with it, you want plain boiled potato and sauerkraut. And cold blonde lager, the house carries Belle Gueule and St-Ambroise beer, that will do just fine.

Note re images: the first image above is in the public domain and was sourced from Wikipedia, here. The last two are from the website of Brisket’s in Montreal, here.



Montreal Notes

Another trip to Montreal, still here and time is short, so some quick notes. I had a Labatt 50 ale yesterday and found it very good with a subtle yet pleasing taste.  I couldn’t detect any adjunct taste and wonder if it is all-malt now. Later, I got down a Heady Topper, my first time with this beer from the influential Alchemist in Vermont (I believe). Very good too in a totally different way.

It may be hard for some to understand that if I had had another macro beer and another, even “name” double IPA, I might have disliked them both quite a bit. It’s not the category, it’s the taste of each that counts.

I also tried today a kvass, which I wrote recently was possibly made by monks who had returned from Russia to a restored Notre Dame de la Trappe in Orne, France in the early 1800s.

I have never had this before, and it’s very good too. The label says it is made from rye bread, barley malt, water and sugar. I would prefer it less sweet but clearly each brand will be different. It has an earthy taste and black colour and may well have been what the derisive-but-non-curious taster was served at La Grande-Trappe back then.

I decided today to eat a Trappist-style lunch. At the place I got the kvass, they had a small cafeteria so I had green pea soup, a slice of brown bread (German-type), a small amount of cheese, and a few swallows of kvass. Nothing wrong with it at all, of course I didn’t work in the fields half a day!

I’ll post images later.

Brewing at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in England, 19th Century


Mount Saint Bernard’s Brewer Rates His Own Product (1890)

Mount Saint Bernard Abbey (MSB) is one of three Cistercian communities in activity in the United Kingdom. The others are Caldey Island in Wales and Abbey Sancta Maria, Nunraw, Scotland. Each is Strict Observance (Trappist).

In Ireland, Mount Melleray Abbey is also Trappist.

None currently conducts any brewing, but MSB did for much of the 19th century, certainly, and I understand it is considering restoring brewing.*

MSB is located near Coalville in Leicestershire. A delegation came from Mount Melleray in Ireland to found MSB in the mid-1830s. I have written earlier of Abbaye Notre Dame de Melleray (or Mellerai) in Brittany, France. To summarize a complex history, in 1790 Trappists departed from La Grande-Trappe at Soligny in Orne, Normandy due to the repression of monastic life under the Revolution. They sought refuge initially in Switzerland. Invading French armies forced them to flee, including to Russia and finally Britain.

In 1795 they were given refuge in Lulworth, Dorset by a sympathetic Catholic family. Finally, in 1817, under changed conditions in France, the monks departed Lulworth to found Melleray Abbey in Brittany. Recurring anti-clerical measures in France forced the monks to leave France again, and they established Mount Melleray Abbey in Ireland as successor.

In this process of constant migration and re-establishment of Trappist life, Westmalle Abbey was founded by monks who intended originally to re-settle in Canada. Melleray Abbey in Brittany, and also the original home of the Strict Observance, la Grande-Trappe in Normandy (Notre Dame de la Trappe), were re-established finally by other faithful on a permanent footing. All indeed have continued to the present date, however the Trappists in France’s Melleray will depart the monastery later this year due to declining numbers. Other Trappist abbeys in Belgium are connected as well to this history, as are a number in North America. All are an outgrowth of the repression of monasticism by the French Revolution and later Napoleon.

Just as a reminder, both La Grande-Trappe and Abbaye Melleray in Brittany brewed beer. The French Melleray, founded by monks who departed Lulworth and some of whom were British, brewed on the English system – this is amply documented, which I discussed in earlier posts. While little is known about the beer they made, I would think it was probably all-barley malt. In the early 1800s beer in England generally was so, whether produced by commercial breweries or in manors or universities. Melleray’s beer probably resembled one of the grades of English mild ale then available, all rather strong in those days. If strong beer, it would have been diluted for drinking at refectory. It is possible, too, that Abbaye Melleray made a mixed-grain beer – this might depend on what the farm at the domain grew.

I would think records might be available at Melleray today in Ireland or indeed still in France to indicate how the Lulworth arrivals brewed in Brittany once established there.

As for La Grande-Trappe, almost certainly its beer was low-alcohol. Normandy had an old brewing heritage derived from Viking invaders, which partly was displaced by cider-making in the Middle Ages. Nonetheless beer continued to be made in the region including by some abbeys and certainly was available at La Grande Trappe after Abbé de Rancé did his groundbreaking reformatory work. In fact, initially only cider was used but some fathers found cider didn’t suit them, and in any case was not always available. Abbé de Rancé, wishing not to have recourse to wine, commanded that a brewery be installed, as confirmed in this 1866 history of the legendary abbot and the Trappists.

Dieulouard Abbey in Lorraine, an English Benedictine establishment, brewed beer for almost 200 years before the French Revolution with high repute for taste and strength. It was probably served to the fathers in a low-alcohol version or was diluted – an 1890s source I cited earlier said the beer “supported dilution”. Just as today the Trappist monasteries don’t serve their strong specialties to the fathers, in former times the fathers likewise did not drink strong beer. If they did drink at all, a weaker version was used for daily use.

I explain all this as, in terms of what the 19th century monks drank at MSB, we should not expect necessarily to encounter unmixed (so to speak) reports. This is particularly so if, as seems the case, MSB made only one beer, as it would have been weak in alcohol. It is true that Westmalle excelled from the starting block in the brewing arts, but it may have been an exception or made strong beer mainly for its guests and sales at the abbey gate.

So what did visitors say of MSB beer?

Here are the details in a reversed chronology. In an article describing a visit to MSB in 1890 entitled An English Monastery, published originally in the magazine All The Year Round, the (un-credited) author asks his host what the fathers eat. The answer is, bread, vegetable soup, boiled rice, jam (“to help the rice go down”) and “a cup of beer”. To the reply “then you are not teetotalers?”, the father says, “The beer is not exactly double X, you know”. Apart from the amusing subtext, one can deduce the beer was weak, in line with the tradition I explained.

The second statement, by a visitor who drank the ale with the monks in 1872, was that the beer was “most indifferent”. This can be read to mean weak again, of course it is possible the visitor (who seemed rather supercilious by the tone of his piece) meant it was sour or tasted bad, but I don’t think likely that was meant.

The other statement is from our friend who authored the memoir of Antwerp I discussed in my last post. In this book, he included a parenthetical entry on MSB which he visited with a friend in March, 1847. He states (at pg. 150) that he found the beer of “purity and excellence” along with the various foods served. He uses the term “home produce” to describe all these items but clearly he meant the produce of MSB, not England or the U.K. in general.


Now, true enough the beer could have changed over the decades, that is possible, but I conclude finally that MSB’s beer was likely fairly low in alcohol but otherwise sound. If the beer was small beer of 1% or 2% abv, it probably didn’t taste great. Some reading who are familiar with non-alcoholic beer may see what I mean (useful as that article is, sometimes). Possibly the MSB beer was 3-4% abv, this at a time when ales and porter started at 5% and just went up from there, but I incline that it was very weak: see above the c. 1900 ad for Mont des Cats table beer, this may well have been the kind of beer MSB brewed.

One odd thing is that a few accounts of visits to MSB make no reference to beer or other alcohol at all. One states simply that the beverage was water. Maybe MSB brewed at some times in the year and not others, or in some years and not others, it is hard to say.

I am not clear when brewing was abandoned at MSB, I’d think perhaps before the First World War. I hope MSB does make its own beer one day again. This would be most salutary I believe, from a number of standpoints, while (to be sure) it’s a decision that must be carefully thought. If MSB commences brewing, I would suggest it make an ale from all-English materials including the yeast. I wouldn’t use a Belgian yeast, in particular. Making a traditional English ale would honour much of the history in question: it was English brewing skill which was deployed at Melleray’s brewery in France from 1817. And it was English Benedictines who brought similar skills to Dieulouard Abbey in Lorraine, as I discussed here, and made English-style beer the renown of Lorraine for almost 200 years.

Further, the “Belgian taste” is familiar in the market today from the numerous Trappist beers available and other beers in that style. I would do something different, strictly English, in particular, but no American hops (for historical reasons).

Finally, as to alcohol, I would make a fairly rich, 5% or 6% beer. 7% is rather high, anyhow Ampleforth Abbey is filling that niche nicely. If the monks will drink it and 5%-6% is felt too high, just cut it at refectory with 50% English sparkling water.

Note re images above: This first image is from the website of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, linked in the first sentence of the text above. The second image appeared in this news story in the Catholic journal La Croix on the issuance of a beer in 2011 by Mont des Cats Trappist monastery in France. It shows a “table beer”, thus with no or very little alcohol, marketed when Mont des Cats abbey had a working brewery onsite c. 1900. These are believed available for historical or educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.






An English Visitor Renders High Praise to Westmalle’s Beer, 1847

Hello Moeder, Hello Vader

George Podesta wrote in 1853 that Westmalle Abbey made the best beer in Belgium. Some may think that was a one-off, or fluke, but a book written six years earlier by an Englishman said the same thing. It chronicled an extended visit to Antwerp which took in also Westmalle Abbey and Brussels. The Englishman was writing only 11 years after the fathers commenced brewing operations in 1836.

The book is Antwerp. A Journal Kept ThereWhile running over 200 pages, it is anonymous, as was frequently the custom then for this type of writing. The author was well-born, and I’d guess in his 20s judging by the context. He indicated that he traveled in company with relations who were a “lady and gentleman”, possibly his parents. The book is not a travel guide of the Frommer or Lonely Planet type, nor is it a formal economic or historical study. Essentially it is travel literature.

Almack's_Assembly_Rooms_insideThere are many interesting nuggets. He wrote that well-born visitors invited to dance at balls were introduced to young ladies as potential partners. So popular were the ladies’ services, they would note the request in a “memorandum“, and frequently respond (I paraphrase), “I can’t do it Thursday, not Friday either, maybe Saturday, I’ll get back to you”. Another interesting remark is a story he relates of a friend travelling with his Yorkshire-born servant in nearby Holland. The friend calls for the man to attend him, but he is nowhere to be found. When he searches the hotel where they were staying, the tardy valet is finally located, he is among a group of “hotel people” (Hollanders), regaling them with funny stories and all laughing up a storm in Dutch.

The astonished master asks him, “How do you know Dutch?”. The attendant responds, “Sir, I never larned nothing of the sort, but bless ye, Sir, it’s nothing but bad Yorkshire”. The author of Antwerp goes on to give a short list of English and Dutch words to show many are essentially the same, e.g., mother is moeder. (Moeder sounds the way someone from Brooklyn, NY would pronounce mother – but then the Dutch founded New York…).

Anyway, the author of Antwerp was blown away by Westmalle’s beer. Here is what he said:

The dinner then on the table consisted of potatoes, Brussels sprouts – a delicious vegetable – eggs, brown bread cut into very thin slices, butter, cheese, and beer, all excellent of their kind, particularly the beer, which is the best I have tasted in Belgium.

On this trip as I said, he spent considerable time in Antwerp, and therefore surely tasted brown barley beer and probably other kinds. He also frequented Brussels, where he would have tried sour beers and possibly others again. So while he didn’t have the familiarity George Podesta had of Belgium – Podesta was an Italian-born writer who called Belgium his second home and had written of the country earlier – his opinion must be given weight. This is especially so because it came from an English pen and the English knew beer, especially then.

Note re image above: This Victorian ballroom illustration is in the public domain and was sourced here. It is believed available for historical or educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Did Abbaye Notre-Dame de la Trappe Serve Bad Beer In the 1800s? (No)

Fermenting_kvassTrappist and Benedictine brewing disclosed a high level of competence in the pre-Revolutionary era and through the 19th century with the restoration of the monasteries and brewing in Belgium and France. Earlier, I discussed the high repute among English and French-speaking observers which Westmalle’s beers had within a generation of brewing starting in 1836. 

I mentioned that Chimay’s beer, at an impressive 7.2% alcohol, was included in an 1877 Belgian journal which measured alcohol and other analytics of contemporary beers. I discussed Dieulouard brewery’s beer in the 1890s, formerly made in the same brewery by English Benedictines. English ecclesiastic tasters – thus permit them an appropriate reticence – found the beer dark and strong with no negative mentions such as sourness.

I mentioned that Melleray abbey in Brittany started up brewing under English auspices in 1817, and only good things can be deduced from the accounts.

An 1853 visitor to Mont des Cats abbey on the French side of the Belgian frontier called the abbey’s brewing “good light beer” and said it “does no little credit to their brewer”.

The fact that these mentions survive at all from the 19th century is quite remarkable, and suggests a broader pattern of high quality throughout the abbey brewing world. This isn’t surprising when one considers that monastic brewing was instrumental in spreading the taste for good beer in Europe after about 800 A.D. Abbey brewing started to decline with the recurring problems monasteries encountered in various religious wars and the rise of secular brewing, but endured into the Revolutionary era in France.

Dieulouard abbey’s brewing, c. 1608- c.1790, was especially noted in this regard. Some German abbeys as well continued to brew concurrently with great skill, of which some evidence exists to this day.

I discussed also Abbaye Notre Dame de Bonne Espérance in the 1890s, in Dordogne, France. Its beer did not please the visitor who wrote about it, but this was due to its (for him) unusual yellow colour and thick unfiltered (“new”) character. There is no reason to think it was sour, or ill-brewed in any other way.

So when you read of apparently duff abbey beer it tends to jar the senses. To be sure, any brewery can make an off-product, it happens to the best of them. But taking all with all, one wouldn’t expect to read this comment from a visitor to La Grande Trappe in Soligny la Trappe, Orne, Normandy:

Our repast consisted of bread, butter, milk, herbs, and fruit; our beverage was equally simple, and far less palatable, being a liquid somewhat like a `half-and-half` mixture of ditch-water and purest Day and Martin in appearance, and in taste resembling nothing so much as `flat` beer, rendered tart by injudicious doses of vinegar.

The account is from a story in National Magazine in 1856, it appeared as well in other journals. I believe it originated in Tate’s Magazine, based in Edinburgh, in 1853. Day and Martin was a boot polish.


The anonymous author, probably Tait, was anti-clerical, indeed anti-religious. His piece is rather scathing, often supercilious, and perhaps was intended not to cast a positive light on any aspect of abbey life, which he painted as unremittingly bleak and devoid even of the spiritual solace it was designed to secure its community. Still, let’s take what he said at face value. The real question is, was he talking about beer?

He doesn’t call what he drank beer as such: he says it tasted somewhat like flat beer that was sour. If it was beer, one would think he would have called it that. He refers to no brewing or a brewery at Notre Dame de la Trappe. While it is true that La Grande Trappe, as it is also known, the founding monastery of what became (officially in 1892) the Trappist order, brewed in its pre-Revolutionary heyday, there is no evidence that it brewed after its restoration from 1815.

In this fascinating 1895 article by Aleide Bonneau describing the abbey, published in a French magazine the Revue Universelle, not a word is mentioned about brewing. The article mentions all the ancillary activities of la Grande Trappe including its chocolaterie, but there no mention of beer, brewing, or any alcohol. It is impossible that the author would have missed this. He describes in detail what we would call an open-doors day, where the abbey allowed people through the porter`s gate to view the buildings and the monks. On the grounds were set up numerous “boutiques” where chocolate and other things were sold to raise money for the abbey’s orphanage. If bottles of beer were sold, the article would have mentioned it.

Readers interested in life in an 1800s monastery might click on the link because the article contains a number of very rare photos, indeed for any period. The monks’ dormitory is shown, a series of small rooms partitioned, almost like a college dorm except each is fully open to the corridor. The monks are shown working in a field, in full white vestments. In this case they stare at the camera, which is contrary to what you normally read, that they pay no or as little attention as possible to visitors. A drawing shows the monks dining in the refectory. Intriguingly, each has a set of bottles in front of him, one of which appears to be corked. But whether it contained beer is unknown.

caviar_prd_284_orgIf the beverage Tait disdained wasn’t beer, what was it? I offer two possibilities. The first is, it was kvass, the East European drink made from stale bread which generally is only lightly alcoholic.

One thing a Trappist monastery always had in abundance unless in extremis was bread. The bread in French monasteries wasn’t like our whole grain bread, not to mention the white Weston bread I had with eggs this morning. No, it was pain bis, a rough country bread made in huge loaves from rye or mixed grains and brown-to-black in colour.

Bread that had gone stale – what do you do with it? You can make kvass, a traditional drink in Russia and Ukraine and extensively consumed in the east. You just add water and let it ferment a bit, sometimes various flavours are added. I will aver that, having checked, I can find no evidence a drink like this was ever consumed in Normandy (nor did I find evidence a black, porter-like beer was ever made – to the contrary).

But bear in mind, monks had returned to France after 1815 who had spent time in exile far afield, including … Russia. They may have brought the idea from there as a quick way to make a lightly alcoholic, beer-like drink. Tait’s taste note – you can say that without tripping after four glasses of kvass, but don’t try it after one of Rochefort’s strongest – sounds a lot like kvass, which can be black as night, earthy, and is always partly sour.

If it wasn’t kvass, it may have been a coffee substitute, chicory, which was grown in France in the 1800s and used as a poor man’s coffee (that’s how it came to New Orleans). Chicory coffee can be sourish too especially to an unaccustomed palate.

But it wasn’t beer, okay? The Trappists don’t do bad beer.

Note re images: the first image shown, of kvass in preparation, is in the public domain and was sourced here. Attribution is as follows: By Edmund Schluessel (Sanyo S750i) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The second image, of La Grande Trappe, is from this French website which markets reproduction of postcards, here.  The third, of a Russian-style black bread, is from House of Petrossian in Paris, here. All are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



A Beer Fan Compares Westmalle Trappist To Other Belgian Beers – In 1853


In Essai sur la Campine Anversoise, 1853, by George Podesta, which I referred to yesterday, Podesta described Westmalle Abbey’s beer as “the best in Belgium”. He also made further comments, which I will discuss here, which illuminate what Westmalle’s beer was.

He wrote (my translation), at pp. 64-65:

I have said the good fathers brew the best beer in the kingdom. Taste it, and you will prefer it by far to the rich faro of the capital, to the barley beer of the region which is always somewhat vinegary, to the bland and insipid beer of Louvain, and even to the beer of Diest which advised drinkers consider equal to the heady lambic of the capital.

This 163-year-old taste note, written by someone who was evidently a discriminating beer drinker, helps us to understand what Westmalle’s beer was like. We can deduce a number of things: first, it wasn’t sour. Podesta tells us squarely that the area’s barley beer – Antwerp and region’s brown barley malt style – was always somewhat sour. Numerous other sources of the mid-1800s confirm this. His reference to faro being rich or sumptuous is probably a reference to its sugary quality. Faro was and is a wild-fermented, malted barley-and-raw wheat beer, mid-gravity, 4% abv, approximately. Numerous sources say it was sour too but the sugar took the edge off.

Louvain had two types of beer (at least) and the one Podesta mentioned was clearly the “blanche” – a wheated style not dissimilar probably to the Hoegaarden type you can buy at many bars around the world today. I agree with Podesta that a blanche can be bland – it was considered mostly a summer refresher in the 1800s, not a cold weather drink. Louvain white may have tasted like Blanche de Chambly in Quebec, or Anchor Brewery’s wheated beer.

Podesta places Diest beer higher on the scale, with Brussels lambic, and the reason is evidently strength. These could attain 6% abv, maybe a bit more. Diest beer was rich-tasting – one source says “thick and sweet”, and could be sweet-sour as well. Diest used a lot of wheat in the mash, which probably gave it a sharp edge. A modern dark weizen of Germany, if you added a dollop of sugar, might approximate what Diest was.

So what more can we reasonably infer about Westmalle’s beer? It was not notably sweet like faro and Diest. It wasn’t bland like white beer. And it was reasonably strong, “heady” (“capiteux”), like lambic was and Diest too.

I would think Westmalle beer in 1853 – three years before the brown dubbel was produced – was either an all-barley beer – even though the abbey appears not to have grown barley in the 1850s – or a mixed-grain type, but in either case about 6% abv. And again, not sour, not sugary, not bland like a wheat beer. It was probably dark in colour, but this is unknown.

The fact that Podesta found Westmalle’s beer so good is notable given the generally poor reputation Belgian beer had internationally. This early Baedeker travel guide to Belgium mentions, see pg. 68, numerous of the beers mentioned above except for Trappist. It states Belgian beer will generally be “unpalatable” to visitors. The reason is, as many other observers noted, the sourness of most Belgian beer. It was therefore noteworthy that Westmalle’s beer was not sour. No other Trappist or monastic beer I have read of, so far, was sour.

Since monastics, especially Cistercians, were expert brewers and formed an international community with links to eminent brewing nations such as England and Germany, it is reasonable to infer that their beer was never sour and perhaps all-barley malt or reliant on barley for its quality. The strain of Trappist brewing in France and environs influenced by England would have favoured, at least from the 1600s onward, barley malt and no sourness. And we know there was significant English brewing expertise deployed in France in the 1600s-1800s, notably at the Dieulouard and Melleray abbeys.

I’ve said it before, but monks setting up brewing in Belgium were unlikely to borrow expertise and recipes from the next village. That is not how monastic endeavour worked. In many ways, Cistercian and Trappist communities functioned like a modern international corporation. Knowledge and techniques developed by the older abbeys, based on the primal text of St. Benedict and elaborated by his followers, were applied to set up and run the newer, albeit self-governing, monasteries.

As Jane Grigson whom I quoted not long ago wrote in relation to the network of Cistercian abbeys in Britain, the fathers came in with a well-defined plan to establish farming, other industry, and monastic life. This reflected a good measure of central planning and execution. Quentin Skrabec, Jr.’s remarks, in his book on Benedictine business success, are illuminating in this regard. By the 1400s, he says the abbeys were dominant in Europe, not just in brewing, but in many other industries, everything from forging to textiles to coal-mining.

We know cheese-making followed this plan – the Port Salut model is still “the” Trappist type of cheese. Why would brewing have been any different? Belgian Trappist and abbey beers today are strong, malty, not sour, well-hopped. Village beers, in contrast, often were weak, used grains other than barley, and were sour, sweet, or both. Trappist ale was never local and even today there are only really two styles amongst them: dubbel and tripel.  (Or if you will, top-fermented, barley-based blonde and brown beers in different strengths). Orval is something of an outlier, but even then is not a wheat beer, not sour, reliant on barley malt, well-hopped. Close enough.

A pattern emerges…

I will take the point that grains produced by a particular farm in a Trappist community may have influenced the mash-bill for its beer. Somewhere, a text must exist which guided the expansion of monastic brewing in Europe, maybe in Latin. One day it will emerge to public view and it will be interesting to read what it says.

Note re image: The image of a painting of St. Benedict giving his Rule to his followers is in the public domain and was sourced here. It is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Westmalle Abbey’s Beer – Famous By 1853


An extraordinary picture comes down to us from an 1872 article describing a visit to Westmalle Abbey. By the second part of the 19th century, a small genre of travel literature was visits to a Trappist monastery. Numerous examples can be found in English and French magazine and book publishing of the period. They are most revealing of the way the monks lived and did their physical and spiritual work then.

One such report from 1872, by John Macdonald in his Monks of La Trappe, is particularly perceptive, and candid. It describes a scene at Westmalle Abbey where beer is enjoyed as part of the meal:

In spite of their black gowns and blue-collars, they are as jolly over their ale as if they were a company of English farmers at an inn…. The brew of which the hospitable father is so lavish, is inferior to none other in King Leopold’s dominions … one considerately shows one’s appreciation by grave laudatory remarks and repeated raids among the bottles, of which there stand a whole regiment in loose order on the table.

Usually references to beer at monasteries, then and certainly now, are made in a restrained fashion. One almost never reads that good enjoyment was taken in the drink, as the suggestion of it would seem at odds with the spirit of privation and other-worldliness which characterizes religious retreats. Yet in reality life was not so simple, at least not at all brewing monasteries. John Macdonald was prepared to be honest with his readers on the point, although his essay makes amply clear too that monastic life at Westmalle was highly spiritual and also well-organized in the physical and intellectual labours which supported the community. These included farming, brewing, wine-making, shoe-making, laundering, teaching.

Michael Jackson, in his own courteous way, once hinted at something of this nature, he was referring to an abbey’s beer which was only drunk at special occasions, but was told one monk liked to take a glass each morning at 10:00 a.m. The host imparting the information was non-judgmental. Even in the hyper-idealistic environment of the monastery, humanity is always present. Macdonald for his part surely was aware of the popular image of the monk in England, the “merrie monk”, and perhaps was playing up to that, but his account has the ring of truth read in the context of the full account.

Macdonald also describes Westmalle’s hothouses where grapes were grown for wine. The grapes were grey-green in colour, he said. He likened the wine to sauternes. This wine was obviously made from the Muscat variety, indeed this is still grown in Belgium and sometimes added to beer for some extra fermentable sugar and flavour. (It occurs to me now that Westmalle’s early cultivation of grapes and cereals perhaps led to experiments which led to this interesting wine-beer hybrid). Macdonald gives a lyrical description of the abbey wine vaults and pictures himself in “shirt-sleeves”, with chair up against the wall enjoying a “sparkling” drink from the “casks and casklets” and “bird’s-eye”, a form of pipe tobacco. One form of muscatel is sparkling, the “d’asti”, so it all ties in. However, he makes it clear the monks did not take Bacchic pleasures. The wine was reserved for guests and sold to buyers outside.

duck-1What grains was Westmalle’s beer made from in this period? No information is available to my knowledge. In “Essai sur la Campine Anversoise“, 1853, by George Podesta, the writer calls (at pg. 64) the abbey’s beer “the best beer in Belgium”. This was three years before its dubbel was inaugurated, yet already its beer had renown. Podesta stated that the fields of the abbey grew “wheat, rye and oats”.  There is no mention of barley. Barley beers of various kinds were brewed commercially throughout Belgium, and in particular “bière d’orge” (barley beer) was a well-known type of Antwerp and its hinterlands, of which Westmalle’s domains form a part.  This beer was fairly weak, brown, and usually sour according to a number of contemporary accounts. De Koninck, the famous beer of Antwerp, is a descendant of this beer, albeit it lost the sourness on the way – not a bad thing, IMO.

Trappist beer, from my historical researches, was not sour, and in fact there is specific evidence to this effect regarding Westmalle which I will discuss in another post. But albeit not sour, if not made from barley, it might have resembled one of the saison beers of today which aren’t sour. If made from barley, which evidently was available to those who wanted to brew from it, it may have resembled De Koninck of today except that Westmalle’s dubbel, from 1856was stronger.

The achievements of the Westmalle monks are described vividly by Macdonald – his essay is every bit like a modern travel documentary except that words substitute for the images. The success of Westmalle is all the more remarkable given what the fathers had to work with: thin, sandy soil in one of the least productive parts of Belgium, the Campine. When monks were given land by state or nobility to work it, it wasn’t always fecund; the reverse was more usually the case. But monks were looked to for their knowledge, resourcefulness, and dedication to make unforgiving land productive. They often succeeded where secular farming didn’t. Westmalle’s venture began in 1796, faltered with the convulsions of war and displacement, resumed in 1815 and grew steadily from that time with brewing commencing in 1836. Westmalle is today the very picture and image of monastic brewing.

Note re images: The first image, a painting from 1910 by Frans van Leemputten entitled Market Day In The Campine, is in the public domain and was sourced here. The second image, of a glass of De Koninck beer with accompanying illustration, is from the brewery’s website, which I linked in the text above. Both are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Some Recent Tasting Notes

Just some beers I’ve liked in the past weeks:


Above is Molson Coors Hops ‘n Bolts, via its Creemore unit (it’s brewed up there, I believe). It’s an India Pale Lager. This one was first-rate because no sulphur notes. Sometimes it has it, sometimes it doesn’t. The beer is much better without it, where the hops and malt have their full say without that boiled eggy thing hanging over the taste. I hope the brewery will work on this as I believe it will sell much more of it in this perfect form.


Since I’ve been writing so much about Trappist and abbey beers, I thought I would try one, or rather one in their style, brewed in Quebec. This one, which has some kind of connection to the Oka Trappist Monastery, is full-tasted, sweeter than many Belgian examples and all to the good with a sweet gale-like herbal note. The Belgian yeast is there but it doesn’t overpower the drink as it does in many Belgian examples. A textbook golden ale in the Belgian way.


Above is Palm Ale, the “spéciale”  which is derived from an English pale ale model c. 1900 and became a popular beer in Belgium as an alternative to lager. It’s good, and flowery English hops are there (O when will a craft brewer use them in the quantity they were meant for vs. another “terrific” grapefruit bomb?). However, the body is light and there is evidently adjunct there. It would be better all-malt and with more of those hops. I still liked it though, served very fresh at Biermarkt, Don Mills Shops branch.


I’ve mentioned this a few times but it deserves reiteration: this beer is first league all the way. Rich, malty, fresh, natural. Virtually a perfect dunkel, short of Ron showing me something better in Franconia. Also tasted at Biermarkt recently.

Chimay’s Original Trappist Beer: Was It From Wheat or Spelt?

spelt__15577.1366129174.1280.1280Today, Chimay’s beers are mashed from malted barley, with sugar and wheat flour added as adjuncts for additional fermentable material. There is some discussion in beer circles for how long the adjuncts have been used. I have read different things. The beers clearly use a large amount of malt but their body is probably lighter and “cleaner” in taste as a result of these other materials.

Other Trappist breweries and abbey beers also use malt and sugar, generally, but some may be all-malt or all-grain at any rate.

In the 1800s, as monasteries and brewing were being restored or newly established in the wake of the French Revolution, it is unclear what grains were used for Trappist beers in Belgium. As I have explained, there is an English strain in Trappist brewing, via e.g., English procedures applying at Melleray in Brittany (early 1800s) and at Dieulouard abbey (early 1600s-c. 1790). This might suggest barley malt was the basis of the beers brewed there and perhaps 100% of the mash. Bear in mind too that when Dieulouard was operating there were few brewing abbeys (if any others) left in France on the eve of the Revolution, so the English influence would have been stronger when abbeys and brewing re-started after 1815 in France and in what became Belgium.

Still, as scholar Richard Unger and others have documented, mixed grain bills were often used in Middle Ages brewing in England and France. Second, brewing would often depend on what a monastery had available to it and in particular what crops it produced. There was probably a variety of grain bills used in French, Flemish and Walloon monastic brewing from 1300, say, until the French Revolution. German abbeys in Bavaria would have used all-malt from the time of the Pure Beer Law – at least one supposes this, but then they had or could obtain malt by virtue of being in an area known for brewing which used this material as a matter of course.

Bioland Bayern Dinkel, Juli 2002, Kloster Plankstetten, ökologischer Landbau ,Getreideanbau

In my recent post describing a visit to a brewing monastery in France in the 1890s by E. Harrison Barker, I noted he called the brew there, “monastic barley brew”. This implies that barley figured in the recipe, but we don’t know for sure. Barker may have reflexively called the beer “barley brew” because of his English background and knowledge that beer was made from barley. Also, the beer’s taste seemed rather foreign to Barker, and one reason for that may have been its non-barley malt grain bill.

What did Chimay, for its part, use in brewing after its founding on land ceded the Trappists by the Prince of Chimay at Scourmont in 1850? The monastery probably knows from its own records, but if it does, I don’t think this information has ever been disclosed.

We have a way to infer what was used from an account of its farm operations written in 1869. In that year, a book was published containing a description of the monastery, called “Histoire de l’Abbé de Rancé”, written by Abbé Louis Dubois. He stated in detail the crops grown: wheat (2/3ds of the field), rye (1/3rd), but with spelt (a form of wheat) and oats also produced. Perhaps proportions varied with crop rotation. No mention is made of barley, and indeed other sources suggest barley did not grow well in Belgian Hainaut at least in this period.

We know, too, from Georges Lacambre’s French-language brewing manual of the same period, that saison beers in Hainaut used barley malt and spelt but often only spelt. The spelt was always malted. Other grains if used, such as rye or oats, were not malted (he said).

This leads me to think that Chimay, including the 7.2% abv one I discussed recently from 1877, was a wheat or spelt beer, or possibly a mix of the grains I have mentioned known to have been grown at the abbey then. In this regard, the beers would taste, all things equal, lighter than a barley malt beer and be fairly frothy, as modern wheat beers are.

If in 1877 Chimay was a wheat or spelt or mixed grain beer, it might resemble certain modern saisons; in fact this seems likely to me.

Of course, possibly Chimay in the decades after its founding did grow some barley for brewing and other purposes. Perhaps the fathers obtained it by trading or otherwise from outside the abbey’s domain, as well. But I incline to think they used what was typically grown by them.

The modern use of sugar and wheat flour in connection with barley malt makes sense to me as a way to lighten the body of a beer which, in its formative years, may have been notably light-bodied due to a substantial malted spelt or wheat content. The monks may have, probably did, know the earlier history of farming and brewing onsite. Once barley malt was fixed on as the base material, they may have decided to leaven it, so to speak, with other materials. Purpose: to achieve a profile similar to the beers originally made on the estate.

I still feel English brewing influence contributed to the dubbel style and strength, but the knowledge now of what Chimay actually grew between 1850 and 1870 suggests to me some early Trappist beer, or at least Chimay’s, was not all-barley malt and may have used none in the mash.

Note re images shown: the first image shown is from this homebrewing supplies website. The second is from this organic farming website of the German government. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.