Weaving The Threads of a Storied Beer Name(s)

 

Adamjee_Jute_Mills (1)**

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lore of the black or very dark brown beer style known as porter or stout is that it replaced a mixed beer drink called three threads. Three threads was a mix of beers in Georgian England, in London mainly, probably beers of different strength (primarily) but also possibly different styles of beers, such as ale and beer, or ale, beer and twopenny. Ale and beer had separate connotations in the 1700’s and for quite a time after in Britain, at any rate. The beer historian Martyn Cornell has written extensively about porter history in his excellent books and website. So has the academic historian Dr. James Sumner of the University of Manchester who specializes in the history of science. In the 1950’s, essential brewing and economic history related to porter was explicated by the British economist Peter Mathias in this landmark book.

In 2010, I penned “Notes on Three Threads and Numerical Variations“, as the literature discloses that three threads was not the only beer mixture, there was also a two threads, four threads, and six threads. Beer writer and prolific blogger Ron Pattinson kindly agreed that I could post the article on his blog as I didn’t have my own at the time. In those notes, I discussed the thread variations and that English revenue authorities tried to prevent the practice which had the effect of reducing taxes otherwise payable. I also offered thoughts on why the thread drinks were named, and priced, as they were.

Martyn Cornell has recently written on his site about three threads and there was an extended discussion in the comments on various aspects of porter and beer thread history. I want to pick up here on something I stated there. I consider it is an interesting theory not (as far as I know) proposed by anyone anywhere before.

In my 2010 notes, I mentioned that in the British textile industry in the 1600’s and 1700’s, a strange terminology existed, strange because it paralleled terms used to describe beers or beer styles prevalent in 1700’s London. These terms are beer, thread, porter. That is, each had a technical meaning in textile manufacture; each also has a significance in the area of fermented drinks made from barley malt and hops. Was there a connection between in particular “thread” and “porter” as used in textile manufacturing and as understood in the London beer world of the early 1700’s?

In excise official Edward Denneston’s 1713 essay discussed in my 2010 notes, he recounted a visit to the Fortune of War, a pub in the eastern part of London. He concluded that the pub’s beers described by the thread titles mentioned (the spelling “thrid” was used, but it clearly meant thread) were mixes of strong and common beer in different proportions and priced according to strength. Two threads cost two pence, three threads, three pence, and so on. Porter, long said to replace in a single brew the three threads mix, also was priced at 3p for much of the 1700’s. Porter was initially a cant or slang term for “entire butt beer”, meaning a beer from a single gyle or brewing not mixed with beers from other brewings. The hitherto most commonly offered theory, which appears early in British sources, is that “porter” for beer derives from London’s “porters”. These were men who carried goods and other articles expending considerable labour and who favoured the dark three threads as a reviver and fortifier. See some good background, on ticket and other porters, here from Martyn Cornell.

Two types of beer only were found in the Fortune of War’s cellar by Denneston, strong beer and regular (common) beer. Two threads would mean tuppence beer which was relatively weak, three threads, thruppence beer which was stronger, and so on.  There was no five threads offered by the Fortune of War, which seems odd. Why would it offer a three threads, four threads and six threads but no five threads? Setting this aside for now, I think probably two threads was the original mixture. It was probably mostly common beer with a measure of stout (strong in its original meaning, irrespective of colour), but anyway to bring the beer to about 5% ABV. To offer something stronger, you would need another name. It seems natural that the numbers, and price asked, would go up for the stronger, so, three threads was the same mix but with more of the strong, say 6% ABV, four threads had yet more strong beer in it, say 8% ABV, and six threads was strongest, maybe 10% or higher. Six threads has been recorded in other sources, so clearly beers such as this did exist.

Various theories have been proposed for the origin and meaning of the term thread in this connection, e.g., perhaps thread/thrid is a corruption of “third”. I feel weaving terminology may explain the origin of thread in its beer sense, and quite possibly of porter, as well.  My notes in 2010 noted the seemingly parallel terminology in two different fields of industry. Earlier this year, I was reading a 1991 book on packaging edited by Frank A. Paine, entitled The Packaging User’s Handbook. It is available on Google Books in partial viewing. See pg. 491 which explains that two threads, three threads, four threads and six threads each form a “porter” for jute of an (obviously) different grade or quality. There is no five thread jute porter, apparently.

The threads that is together make up “splits” which form a porter. As Paine explains, some cloth seemed actually to have been called porter in the trade, he says Calcutta cloth. It seems clear that the more threads in the jute porter, the stronger the jute. Sacks made from higher-thread jute could hold more weight, and rope strength was tested and determined by the number of threads in the wound, for example.

Perhaps a metaphor arose for beer mixing from jute mill technology. People who worked in textile manufacture, people who worked on the docks and also ticket porters may have patronized pubs where the Fortune of War-type mixtures were sold and dubbed them by reference to their occupations, just as say strong beer was sometimes called “high test” in North America by people knowing the term from filling their car tanks. The fact that brewing equipment was sometimes referred to at the time as a “loom”, see again my 2010 articlewould reinforce the application of textile-related terms to beer mixtures.

It is true that “porter” in weaving is a Scots term, the English equivalent was “beer”. (There can be no connection between the weaving and brewing senses of “beer”, but the fact that beer was a synonym for “porter” in textiles terminology may have encouraged the metaphor). But who knows what some people in London, especially those connected to exporting jute and other cloth, would have called it? And you couldn’t use beer for the mixing term since that already meant other kinds of malt liquor and obviously has an independent origin. I believe “porter” may have been used to describe the mix of beers just as the thread names did, and once the brewers evolved a beer – separate gyle or no – which had the characteristics of three threads, the pub slang, porter, stuck to the new form.

This is complicated, but still I think there may well be a link between the textile and brewing senses of thread and porter. Possibly, naming beers of ascending strength by these terms was a complex form of humour. Maybe advantage was also taken – using a double verbal allusion, that is – of the fact that men who carried articles for hire happened also to like these drinks. Perhaps the latter association was the one that survived, the other, or older, being forgotten. More research in the textile area might uncover further useful information or leads.

 

N.B. (Added later September 17): please note my remarks in the Comments section below which add some clarification and further thoughts. G.G.

 

** The image shown, of an Indian jute mill, appears to be in the public domain, the source used is here.

 


Some Beer Notes From Rhode Island Trip

There was an endless variety in local beer stores, Nikki’s was particularly impressive. My tastings were restricted to what I am interested in, therefore the range might seem narrow. I didn’t select flavoured beers, gose, saison or sours, for example, as I generally don’t drink these. I did try a local hefeweizen, in a flight called “local taste”, and it was good, correct in style.

I like strong and Imperial stout and when in the States buy, i) domestic examples if they meet my interests (small-size bottles, not flavoured), or ii) well-regarded imports. See the beers pictured below which are old-school, Sinebrychoff has had a brewery in Finland since the 1800’s. Guinness of course needs no introduction. I saw Carnegie Porter, and Le Coq’s Imperial Extra Double Stout from Harvey, but just didn’t have the time to taste these.

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The Sinebrychoff unfortunately was (for me) too old, probably 4-5 years old although it was hard to tell from the bottle. A little too winy and soy-like, that is. The Guinness FES was excellent, very fresh and full-tasting. The beer does seem to change a bit over time and seems to have more character than 5 years ago. I couldn’t find the new porters Guinness has introduced in recent years especially West Indies Porter. Guinness might use some kind of food grade acid today to lend the tart note to FES and I think I could detect it, but it’s still an excellent beer.

Anchor’s Great Cloud Stout was halfway in character between the two beers above and quite good although again, not as fresh as I would like. One always takes that risk when buying beers from far away. That doesn’t mean local beers are always better, in one brewpub a kolsch-style seemed clearly damp paper-oxidized.

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A Grand Imperial Porter from Amber Brewery in Poland was very good and a great value ($2.00 plus for a tall bottle), sweet but that is typical of most Polish porters. It gets a deservedly high score on Ratebeer. (The Grand Porter is in centre, sorry for poor image quality).

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In terms of IPA, I had two very good, local ones: Newport’s Storm IPA and  Revival Burnsider Pale Ale. The Storm IPA is as good as they come, big flavours but all cohering. The other had an orangey colour and English-type malt taste, with well-modulated American hopping, and just a touch of fruity vinegar. This latter technically might be a fault, but I liked the beer a lot. Good old Bass Ale was fresh and good, it benefits from being brewed now in the New York State, and has the typical apple muffin taste.

In pumpkin beers, Southern Tier’s Pumking on draft proved to me it is still the best out there, with a characteristic pumpkin pureé flavour. Shipyard’s shown above was good although it overdoes the spicy element IMO. Redhook’s Out Of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter was an excellent blend of  pumpkin and stout flavours but I think I could detect roasted barley, and prefer porter and stout all-malt, but it’s still a good beer. (Idea for a great “four threads” pumpkin porter: 50% Grand Imperial Porter (the mild), 30% FES (the medium-aged), 15% Shipyard Pumpkin Ale (the spice), 5% Sinebrychoff porter (the extra-aged). I like it so the pumpkin pie element is just an undertone. Got all that?).

Spencer Trappist Ale, from the new American Trappist brewery, tasted cidery and gushed on opening. I could taste the Belgian yeast strain and some New World hops as well. Disappointing, but new breweries often need a gestation period to sustain technical stability; I’m sure in time it will improve.

Magic Hat IPL (India Pale Lager) was great, I’d like to have had a pint but had to be satisfied with a few ounces. It’s one of those beers that taste great without being super-busy in flavours, but you need an (English) pint measure to really get this kind of beer.

Given the Boston connection, I couldn’t pass up Sam Adams Boston Lager and Rebel IPA. Very good both with full hoppy tastes, correct and good flavours. It annoys me that Sam Adams Boston Ale was hard to find, even in an area adjacent to the Boston heartland. And it’s one of their best beers.

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Trinity Brewhouse in Providence disappointed on this trip but I’ll revisit in the future, sometimes beers just don’t taste right for whatever reason. Didn’t get the chance to visit the other longstanding brewpub downtown, in the former railroad station.

One of my favourites was Narragansett Innsmouth Olde Ale, this had an intriguing, aged dark ale character without being tart or oxidized, it was more English than American although I couldn’t really place it. I saw a 4 pack in the stores for relatively little but didn’t buy it as I was at my duty-free limit. This is a winner and I hope will stay in the market.

Coda: In one of the stores, I noted Ballantine India Pale Ale wasn’t available. The clerk said it was in stock earlier but wasn’t reordered since it didn’t move quickly enough. I mentioned that in the 1970’s it was brewed in Cranston, R.I. and was a legendary, pre-craft New England beer that inspired the hundreds of IPAs on the shelves. Reaction was nonchalant, but that’s okay: time moves on, people forget and the brand had been out of the market for 20 years. Still, a good little moment whose irony I could savour me myself and I.


Charming Coastal New England

A pictorial memento appears below of our recent stay in Providence, R.I. (to visit relations).  All these were taken in the College Hill area. I was repeatedly struck by the English feel of the place, not just parts of the town layout and architecture, but in the way some people spoke and much of the food. I’ve eaten seafood in coastal English towns and it’s not all that different in Rhode Island, or at least, you can see the connection. Scrod with breadcrumbs – coated on the top – was outstanding. I was thinking that the brown crumb layer probably originally was hardtack pounded down, a seaman’s and colonist’s dish, now a costly item on the menus of recherché restaurants.

Drinks, raison d’être of beeretseq.com, abound in endless variety: whether wines local or brought in, beers ditto, spirits ditto, local soft drinks, they have it all.

I guess my favourite part is the Brown University area, probably mostly because it reminds me of my McGill days in Montreal, but also, for the undeniable charm and elegance.

(Click on images for best resolution).

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Can The Gourmet Society’s 1939 And 1954 Dinners Be Recreated With Fidelity?

Are the foods, drinks and party favours enjoyed at the themed 1939 and 1954 dinners discussed in my post yesterday still available where they were emblematic? If so, how have they changed, if at all? Can a dinner be recreated today with close similarity to what was done then?

To keep this easier, and faster, to do, I won’t (mostly) give hyperlinks which support these notes, but I did read for a while and am confident my conclusions hold up. If anyone wishes more or supporting information, I’ll be happy to supply it.

New Jersey Wines and Beers 1950’s

The journalist who wrote up the Newark Airport restaurant dinner noted a “blonde wine” served, attesting incidentally to a lack of familiarity with wine on the East Coast at any rate, as wine clearly meant something red to this scribe.

In that period, about a half-dozen New Jersey wineries still operated, a much-reduced number even from the 1930’s let alone pre-Prohibition. Today, many more exist, 35 or 40, almost all of them established since the 1960’s. Of this group, only two wineries operated in the 50’s and in fact their roots go back to the 1800’s. One is Renault Winery, the other Tomasello. Renault still makes an “American Champagne” and both make a range of wines from vinifera and native American grapes. Of course too, the clutch of newer wineries re-establishes the kind of tradition which once existed in the State. But still, can you get a blonde or other wine from a winery in business when the New Jersey dinner was held? Yes you can.

Beer wasn’t mentioned for the 1954 dinner but I believe it may have been served, or at any rate would have fit well within the kind of menu presented. A number of old breweries still carried on in New Jersey then, including Ballantine, Hesler, Krueger, and Rheingold (an interloper from New York which bought an old brewery in Orange, NJ in the 40’s). There were others as well, but once again, many more in the 30’s and still more before Prohibition. Ballantine India Pale Ale, which enjoyed legendary status even at the time, and Kent India Pale Ale from Krueger, may have been chosen, or possibly Krueger lager or Rheingold. Perhaps a porter too, from one of these breweries.

Today, only Anheuser-Busch, established in about 1951 in the State, still operates there. There are a clutch of brewpubs and craft breweries newly established, so selecting a porter or IPA to match the kind of good beer available in the 50’s should be no problem.

The current owner of the Ballantine name recently returned Ballantine India Pale Ale to the market, I might add. While very decent, it does not in my opinion resemble the brand as sold in the 50’s. No, I don’t remember the one from then, but I do remember it in the 70’s and until it left the market in ’94 or so. The re-introduced one is more like a good modern IPA with the big grapefruit taste. The original Ballantine IPA had more an English taste.

Rochelle Cheese Ramequins

I thought perhaps “Rochelle” was a misprint for Roselle, localities exist in New Jersey under both names, Rochelle Park is the full name for Rochelle. In any case, northwestern New Jersey was once a heartland for good cheese and creameries, see hereThe cheese in the ramequins was surely from that part. Sadly, as the link explains, this industry has largely evaporated from the area, victim of land development, horse farms, and other changes. However, new artisan operations have opened up in the Garden State: New Jersey-made cheese can be got for ramequins, and that’s enough.

Barnegat Clams

These still exist but Barnegat Bay which supplies them has been greatly stressed by significant land development and fertilizer use in the area. Yields are down considerably but can you still find these hard-shelled clams to make the same dish from the same place? Yes.

Vineland Jellied Chicken Consommé

Vineland, NJ was a well-known chicken- and egg-producing centre in the 1950’s. The industry was given a boost around 1900 when a group which had raised chickens for sport commercialized their activity. A famous egg auction existed in Vineland until the early 70’s. Interestingly, this chicken and egg farming business was mostly a Jewish one. There were many Jewish farmers, some prewar refugees who bought land to avoid working in factories, and others who started quite a bit earlier. The business was delivered a series of blows starting with Hurricane Hazel and the advent of refrigerated trucks which facilitated competition from the south. By the 70’s, the egg and chicken industry was largely of the past. Now that I think of it, the Jewish jellied meat dish petcha is often made with chicken. A consommé is just the liquid though (I think), so who knows. Jellied dishes made a lot of sense in pre-air conditioning days although today they seem relics of an earlier time.

As often happens when an industry leaves a place, the taste for what was the local champion lives on. There is a highly regarded chicken restaurant in Vineland called Joe’s Poultry Farm. It seems it was a farm at one time and possibly still is or has access to one: the point being, chicken is still king in Vineland. We can ask Joe’s for a good one or to suggest a local source to make a jellied consommé.

Ramapo Trout

The Ramapo river is still a fecund source for trout, but it is all “stocked” vs. the stream-bred wild type which I’m sure was served to Gourmet Society members in 1954. However, numerous tributaries of this river, and other watercourses in the State, do offer the wild fish – it is available, so again, no problem there.

Crown of Meadow Veal

I didn’t check if veal was a specialty of Jersey farms back then. Given that German, Jewish, Polish and Italian communities all enjoy this meat, that probably accounted for its availability in the 50’s in New Jersey, since all these communities were represented in number then. “Meadow” might suggest feeding on grass, so this type should be sought. I’d think there must be local suppliers still, but if not, out-of-State would be okay.

Strawberries in Applejack Sauce

Yes! Strawberries are still a good crop in the State, from mid-May to early June, now that you ask. And applejack? Why I explained yesterday that Laird in the State is a famous producer of apple brandy and related drinks, in fact it is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the country.

Orange Wine and Chablis

These items commence our update of the foods and drinks served at the Gourmet Society’s 1939 New Orleans dinner in Manhattan. Of orange wine, I know not if it is still vin du pays in Louisiana, but any version made from one of the old recipes I referred to yesterday will be good. The Louisiana orange, too, is the same thing it was then, the navel Florida type, so no worries there. As for chablis wine, California was clearly the source of the wine served at the New Orleans dinner, and can supply an excellent modern example, i.e., a current Chardonnay in that style. Lots of choice, way more than in the 30’s. So we’re all good here.

Gumbo Shellfish Soup, Vegetables (Artichoke, Okra, Yam), Salad, Desserts

All this group can easily be recreated today and where Louisiana shellfish or produce isn’t available, any reasonable substitute will do.  Thus, shrimp and crab gumbo, the relishes, salad with Creole dressing, all the vegetables, pecan pie, raspberry ice, cafe Brulot  – no problem.

Broiled Pompano From Gulf of Mexico

No issues here either: pompano is still available in abundance, not so much on the Atlantic side but on the other side of Florida, we can get it.

Turkey Stuffed With Pecan Dressing and Oysters

Same thing here, pecans are still grown in Louisiana or elsewhere of course in the south. Indeed, a wild turkey can possibly be found more easily, at least in some parts of the country, than at the tail-end of the hungry Thirties, there’s lots of them around. The Gourmet Society’s annotations explained that originally a wild turkey fed on pecans would have been used, but anyway a wild one can be found whose diet surely will be good enough, and the pecan stuffing will impart a nutty taste. By the way, numerous modern Louisiana recipes for turkey with pecan call for the turkey to be “pecan-roasted” – an interesting variation. This would have entranced George Frederick and the Gourmet Society crew.

Magnolia Perfume, Acacia Flowers

A charming flourish at the dinner was that Magnolia perfume was “sprayed” on the waitresses and given to the female guests present. The menu explained it was from Mme Aucoin in New Orleans. Hélas, il semble qu’un commerce n’existe plus sous cette dénomination sociale à la Nouvelle Orléans. Happily though, magnolia perfume is still made in the city, check out Hové, a perfumery in town. Acacia flowers were sourced as well to scent the room. While knowing next to nothing about flowers, or perfume for that matter, I feel confident that we can get some.

And so net-net, can these meals be recreated? Yes they can, almost to a “t”. Who will take it on? James Beard Foundation, The International Wine and Food Society, Anthony Bourdain, creative restaurateurs, others interested in gastronomic and wine history, hark…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Orange Wine And Gumbo In Metropolis

One of the features of the New York-centered dining scene in the mid-1900’s was the idea of gourmet clubs. The Wine And Food Society, Inc. was a well-organized and influential such body, composed of senior business figures as well as personalities from the food and wine world. It still exists and is very active in the city. Another group, a number of whose lavish dinners beeretseq was pleased to attend in recent years, is James Beard House, the foundation set up to perpetuate the work of the New York-based cookery writer and food authority James Beard.

A less visible group, active from 1935 for at least 20 years and possibly continuing – the online trail has eluded us – is The Gourmet Society. Some of its menus from the early 1940’s survive, preserved in the NYPL’s menu archive, and are very interesting curios. They were typed and mimeographed, in contrast to the more polished productions of The Wine And Food Society. What they lacked in presentation they more than made up in the passion and ethnological curiosity shown. Their dinners prove once again that interest in local, regional and ethnic cuisines is not new. It was being cultivated by small groups of food and wine lovers in Manhattan, and no doubt as well in London and some other influential port cities.

The mission of the Society is described briskly in the early menus:

A dinner club of gourmets and cosmopolites. Six or seven dinners per season at different selected dining places. Membership open to all who have palates aesthetically sensitive to good food and drink, and who have imagination enough to cherish the gourmet tradition.

A driving force of the group was J. George Frederick, an executive who ran a business statistics and research consultancy. His wife Christine is remembered for her work as a home economist and theorist of the consumer society. Representative dinners presented the cuisines of the East Shore, Maryland, Canton, China, and the classic Paris kitchen. The wines listed (in the menus appearing in the NYPL’s archive) were solely American*, even in the 1930’s, supposedly the dark age of American wine appreciation. Usually the producer was shown, Inglenook, Cresta Blanca, Beaulieu or another producer making a varietal or other wine felt worthy to serve to epicures. The menu which follows details a dinner given in January, 1939 to showcase New Orleans’ gastronomic heritage. Note the compact description of the meal’s object under the engaging term, “General Idea”:

Gourmet Society 1939 New Orleans Dinner pgs 1, 2

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Gourmet Society 1939 New Orleans Dinner p 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the Gourmet Society’s functions featured well-known speakers, they might be from the literary, political or entertainment worlds. No doubt this added sparkle and interest to events which, apart from their epicurean interest, would have offered at most social or business networking opportunities.

At the dinner shown, the Midwestern poet, essayist, and biographer, Edgar Lee Masters spoke. Also on the dais were the folklorist and regional historian, Carl Carmer, Thyra Winslow, and W. Irving Moss. Moss was an insurance executive from New Orleans. Winslow was a literary celebrity originally from Arkansas, one of those unlikely combinations one finds only in America.

The Gourmet Society’s menus are notable for their annotations of the foods served or the related cultural traditions. Sometimes a recipe was included, as in the menu above. Frederick had spent time in New Orleans absorbing the variations of Oysters Rockefeller, and decided on his own version to offer the gathering. He noted the bivalves used: Robbin’s Island Box oysters.  It may interest readers to know that Robbin’s Island, in Peconic Bay, L.I., is still noted for oysters. They’re on the menu occasionally at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, NYC.

After some 90 dinners by the mid-1950’s, the group was engaging in bold exercises such as an all-New Jersey dinner. A good press account was published. It was appropriately mordant in tone –  Eisenhower America – and noted the unusual locale, Newark Airport’s restaurant. Details of the meal were noted including a “blonde wine” served. Beeretseq would like to think George Frederick included some of Jersey’s great beers, not least, Ballantine India Pale Ale. One thing I’m fairly certain of is, even had beers not been considered, he’d have responded, “Good idea, Gillman: we’ll do that next year”. If anyone did that Newark Airport gig today, it might attract one of those food and road shows which comb the world for the odd and wonderful in food and drink. Let’s imagine if one of these shows had been with the Gourmet Society at Newark Airport circa-1955:

[Quick-talking host, we’ll call him Anthony]: “So George, who would have thought of next-door Jersey as an interesting place for food, how did you come up with that one?”.

George: “Well Anthony, there is an old Dutch community here you know, in fact the ‘Jersey Dutch’ language only died out earlier this century. They’ve got some interesting dishes and there’s also some food from around Bergen and Passaic which is a fusion of old European and native cuisines. Our Ramapo trout tonight might be from that tradition. The staff in the airport restaurant are mostly from Jersey and they still have these dishes in their family”.

Anthony: “Now that’s fascinating. [Goes into kitchen trailing cameras and tastes a soup from a tall metal “toureen”]. “And that’s amazing, all Jersey ingredients you say? We don’t need to go to the Texas border or Baghdad to find the exotic and tasty, it’s in our own backyard, too, huh?”.

George: “You said it. Try this Renault American Champagne, it’s wonderful!”.

Anthony: “Sure thing. I’ve just got to finish this amazing Laird apple brandy first. I thought only France made that”.

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For the drinks served at its delectable, accacia-scented New Orleans dinner of 1939, orange wine was selected, and also an unattributed “Chablis” from California. The former perhaps was brought to Manhattan by Moss. Orange wine was a notable product in the areas of south Louisiana where navel oranges were grown (and they still are, despite Katrina). The Federal Writers Project took note of the winy specialty around the same time. The recipe is very old, probably arriving via the Caribbean and ultimately from England, home, native or adopted, of most of the world’s great drinks. Of the chablis, one guesses it was a worthy early Chardonnay of the Napa or Sonoma.

Can you still get orange wine in Buras-Triumph, LA, as the orange cultivation area is now called? I don’t know, I’d imagine some families still make it for their own consumption. I wasn’t able to track down a commercial example. Old manuals give recipes though for anyone interested. This modern recipe book offers a shrimp boiled in orange wine, which suggests that down Louisiana way, the old wine of the country has not been forgotten.

 

*See author’s note in the Comments section which revises this statement.

**Note re images shown: both images are believed in the public domain. The first image, the menu from 1939, is from the New York Public Library’s menu archive, hereThe other image is no. 31185 from the aviation archive of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, specifically here.

 

 

 

 

 


A Locavore Wine List In San Francisco, 1937

In reading many early restaurant menus on the New York Public Library’s invaluable online archive, I was struck by the continual mention of California wine. It appears on most menus, regardless of type or class. To be sure, until the 1970’s and later, imported wines tended to dominate, but California and sometimes other American wines were rarely ignored, and occasionally given marquee billing.

One tends to assume that until the Judgment of Paris, California produced mostly bulk dry and sweet table wines, nothing very challenging, of which the serious culinary world took little notice. It may have been so as a general rule, but there were important exceptions, not just in the vineyard (understood by many), but in the retail wine environment. Here is a striking instance from Mayes Oyster House of San Francisco, 1937:

Mayes 1937 wine list**

 

 

 

 

 

 

One might expect that a restaurant in the Bay Area, close that is to the storied vineyards of Northern California, would always have proudly featured local wines. Alas, this was not the rule. As was typical almost everywhere except France and some other places, the assumption was that imported was superior. From cheese to wine to olive oil and much more, this has been a longstanding feature of the retail culinary world. Only recently have locavore and market trends partly reversed this old way of thinking. To be sure, all food and drink were local originally – Mayes itself was founded in a market, in 1867 on California Street (the earthquake forced a relocation to Polk Street). But by the mid-20th century, it was a sign of prestige for an ambitious restaurant to offer the best from afar, literally if it could and via other influence on the menu. This is why the Mayes menu of the 30’s is so interesting: it continued to offer a mainly “market” cuisine, showing confidence in its original mission.

While the Mayes list leads off with a few French wines, almost four times as many California wines were offered. Some names resonate to this day including of course Beaulieu Vineyard, and Cresta Blanca which is now part of Wente. Cristiani, is, I believe, the ancestor of the highly regarded Buonocristiani of Napa – at any rate in the 1930’s, the Cristiani family, originally from Tuscany, were producing wine in the Bay Area and also were wholesale wine suppliers. Note that many styles popular today were available to guests of Mayes in 1937. These included “Riesling” and “Cabarnet”. The use of varietal names suggests that the grape types may have actually been grown. The Chablis and Burgundy mentioned may have issued from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, or perhaps not. Petite Syrah was a major variety grown in Napa in the 1930’s, so possibly that accounted for the “Cabarnet” (thus intentionally misspelled?). At a minimum, an attempt was being made to offer credible local examples of famous foreign specialties. I’d think a high standard was often reached, since the best of California viticulture had reached international attention well before the Volstead Act.

What can one make of the generic category “California wines”, since Beaulieu, Cresta Blanca, Italian-Swiss Colony and Cristiani were obviously also Californian? I think the menu was saying that these other wines came from elsewhere in the State than Sonoma and Napa. After Prohibition ended in 1933, winemaking quickly was re-established throughout California. The Sierra Foothills have grown Zinfandel since the early 1800’s, maybe Mayes’ “California” Zin was from there. Or maybe it was from the Cucamonga Valley in the south which was acquiring a reputation for small-producer Zin even in the 1930’s.

1024px-View_of_Cucamonga_Valley_AVA_from_Cucamonga_Peak

**

 

 

 

 

“Sauterne” is mentioned both as a “generic” and under each listed winery name. I’d guess the south or central region was making its version of the honeyed French classic from the Graves in Bordeaux. The named wineries’ Sauterne cost a lot more than the generic one, which probably says a lot. While the named wines are rather less costly than the French ones, two of Cresta Blanca’s wines cost more than any of the still French wines. The kind of detail and connoisseurship that went into confecting a locavore wine list of this type, a mere four years after Repeal, is impressive and telling.

Wine_label_Mont-Rouge_Vineyard_California_Medoc

**

 

 

 

 

Nothing happens without a history. The quality wine business took an enormous leap after the mid-70’s, as did the California Food Revolution led by people like Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck, but there were progenitors. The Bay Area had wine mavens in the 30’s. Anyone who could afford to patronize a good restaurant in a prolonged economic slump could buy French wine if he wanted to, but the menu – of a respected, long-established restaurant –  offered many more California choices. Clearly, people were interested in them and could sustain the demand

And what a food selection Mayes offered, too. The seafoods covered the region, up to Alaska, in detail but stretched to the East Coast for a few supplies. Toke Point Oysters sounds daring as a name, not a little modern, but I think “Toke Point” is a genuine place name, the West Coast context notwithstanding. Note the 25 salads offered – in 1937. A sprinkling of Italianate dishes suggests some cosmopolitan influence but overall the feel is all-American and suggestive of a liberal use of fresh and local resources. The menu has a modern ring and only occasionally betrays its period origin – the eggplant and bacon dish shows this, and scrambled brains. (Then too they say bacon goes with everything). The basic building blocks of the menu are regional fish and seafood in numerous but straightforward applications, endless salads, a variety of cooked and grilled meats, fresh vegetables served with butter or otherwise simply, wines of the country, and a few simple desserts. This is the foundational approach of modern cuisine. The French classical kitchen, which had influenced the higher reaches of Anglo-American dining until about World War One, was quickly receding as an international force. Elizabeth David would draw similar conclusions based on her experiences in the Near and Middle Easts in the 1940’s. The American kitchen always had a nativist and independent side, but it was coming to early maturity in the form of this Mayes menu of the Roosevelt era.

I’ve become inured to finding that restaurants with a vibrant and storied existence 70, 100 or even 40 years ago have generally expired, usually long ago. It was thus startling to find Mayes Oyster House happily pursuing its good work on Polk Street. Except for the Tadich Grill, it is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in San Francisco. Some things have changed, a nighttime club and bar scene now complements the daytime vocation of classic seafood eatery. I heard there’s a burger bar in there, too, but it all works. In typical insouciant West Coast fashion, the website doesn’t mention the venerable history.

It doesn’t, but I will. You go, Mayes, for doing the regional thing from the beginning. I’m sure your California wine list is still impressive and even though that space is shared now with many others, that’s okay, as an innovator a special glory is all your own.

 

**Note re Source of Images: The first image above is believed in the public domain, the source is the New York Public Library (www.nypl.org), specifically here. The Cucamonga Valley image shown is entitled “View of Cucamonga Valley AVA from Cucamonga Peak” by Mitch Barrie – Flickr: Valley view. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons . The URL for the source of the image is here. The third image is believed in the public domain and the source is here.


Update Regarding Exultet Fortified Pinot Noir (Port-style)

Our post of this morning has come to the attention of Exultet Winery in Prince Edward County, Ontario, who thanked us for the mention and pointed out that its production technique for this brand entails addition of an alcohol distilled from grapes grown on the estate, so all the alcohol in the wine is sourced 100% from grapes grown on the property. The addition increases the ABV and also locks in sweetness due, we infer, to a cessation of fermentation. The winery indicated it added last month a 2014 white port-style wine made in a similar fashion with the Vidal grape.


A Segue Into a Fellow Fermentable

IMG_20150907_185253WINE AFTER BEER, NO FEAR

A visit with G. Hodder is always illuminating. We sampled cheese and nuts on the back deck with a drink or two while his stereo speakers showed ample evidence that Randy Bachman is better than ever: an enjoyable hour or two of a waning Toronto summer. We shared two cans of beer, local pale ale and IPA, and then a half bottle of Exultet fortified pinot noir was brought out, result of his recent wine tour in the Prince Edward County area.

Exultet is a highly regarded boutique winery in the County and this wine is in a style of its own though port seems the closest analogy. Brandy is added to a pinot noir and the result is a lightly sweet, very flavourful dessert wine although a small amount went very well with a little cheese before dinner. I’m not sure how the sugar gets in, either the grapes were late-harvested or perhaps some sweetening is added, either way the melded tastes were very successful, a perfect illustration of terroir. I could recognize the earthy note pinot acquires in our northern lands but the brandy and sweetness made it into something rather different.

Tasting and reporting of it here are an illustration of how the “et seq” in our blog title works: one thing leads to another and anyway all fermented drinks are related, or all drinks tout court.

It was a reminder to try to get out to the County soon. There is no better time as the harvest and grape processing show the wineries in their most active phase.


Session #103 – The Hard Stuff

00-thesession150As someone new to blogging but not to the blogosphere or beer, I thought I would take a shot at the Sessions – apologies for late submission.

Natasha of Meta Blogger asks bloggers to address the hard questions, those not being dealt with in the beer blogging world.

The beer blogging world is a big one, so one has a certain trepidation in suggesting topics that have been overlooked or neglected. Still, despite that some people talk about it once in a while, I think more focus needs to be given to great lager, by which I mean primarily blond lager. From its inception, the revival of craft brewing has not ignored lager. One of the keystones of the quality beer edifice is Sam Adams Boston Lager. Still, in general, craft brewers concentrated on English-style ales and porters, and today other top-fermented styles such as APA and IPA, saison, wit and weizen and sours. The reasons offered for this haven’t changed from the beginning: lager is harder to brew and requires a more technological and methodical approach to brewing than top-fermentation brewing.

Undeniably also there is the unspoken assumption lager doesn’t offer the same complexity of palate as top-fermented beer due to its quasi-industrial history and relatively recent date (1840’s for the blonde pilsner style which revolutionized European and world brewing for 150 years). The dumbing down of international lager in the decades preceding the craft beer revival only reinforced this assumption. Less hops, lower final gravities, more adjunct all conspired to make a beer few thought worthy of emulation. However, blonde lager in its heyday was a rich, flavourful, rounded drink including Pre-Prohibition North American beers at their best.

A great lager was, and still is, one of the best beers in the beer universe. Only rarely though in North America, in my experience, does one encounter it. Sam Adams’ lager mentioned is creditable but doesn’t approach the best European examples. Ditto, say, Creemore in Ontario. While many good examples exist – and I do know the names, I’ve had a good number of them – for some reason, few achieve the heights of the great Central European models. In contrast, American ales, exemplified say by Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, took craft brewing by storm and now are emulated in England, home of fine ales, and around the world.

Pilsner Urquell, even in the pasteurized exported form we get it in, is rarely equalled by a North American or English craft lager. Paradoxically, when North America does emulate well European models, it sometimes chooses the “wrong” ones.  By this I mean, there are too many lagers with the characteristic “green” sulphur or cooked veg tang. It’s true that many European lagers have this taste – I encountered many on a  trip to Germany and Austria some years ago – but it is questionable whether that flavour is a genuine one in historical terms. Terms typically used on rating sites to describe this taste are grassy, hay-like, yeasty, skunky (used incorrectly in this connection, but revealing nonetheless).

Brewers have told me that these tastes age out with time, the yeast in the maturing brew re-absorbs them or they waft away. Lager used to be stored for 3-6 months and more, both in pre-Prohibition America and Europe, but today a few weeks is the more usual norm. It is notable in my view that Urquell does not have this flavour, or Budvar. Neither do the blonde beers from Bernard. 

And so, I think bloggers should talk more about great lager, where to find it both here and abroad, what makes a great one, and to encourage brewers to make more and better lager.

 


A Bonny Beer Tasting

A STRIKING IMAGE*

This image, a remarkable capture from 1844, shows three Scots drinking ale. The beer was undoubtedly rich Scotch ale, probably around wine strength, hence the small Champagne flute glasses.  These glasses were traditional for strong ales in Scotland and England until about 1900, when this style of beer finally fell out. The gent on the right probably had been seated in front of the centre glass, since the other men hover over their own glass. He was (see footnote below) apparently the painter and photographer, David Hill, and either joined his comrades for the exposure (lengthy at the time) and/or had his partner Adamson take the image.

These were the beer fraternity, it can be 1844, 1900, 1960, 2015, 1600. Some things don’t change.

*Image in public domain, see here for source which gives fascinating detail on the photographer and persons shown.

Edinburgh_Ale_by_Hill_&_Adamson_c1844