Porridge And Memories, Both Hot

Oatmeal_(1)A few years ago, I recall reading that oats had unusual nutritive values. Not long after, I started to notice oatmeal on menus, I think Portland, OR was the first place.

Anyone reasonably familiar with Scots traditions knows that oats hold an iconic position in that country’s history. It was boiled and eaten plainly, with a wooden stick or spoon. Oats were eaten standing, too, at least the male adults ate them that way. How I know this is unclear even to me, but it’s true.

Famed English writer Samuel Johnson made the jibe that oats is a food for horses but in Scotland supports the people, rather unfair considering England had its own share dishes hardly at the edge of international fashion (broiled kidney, boiled sheep’s head, simmered tripe…).

Anyway in Canada in the 50s and 60s, porridge as we called it too, was popular. No doubt this reflected the strong Scottish element in Montreal then. In those days there was no instant oatmeal, so it was boiled long in water in the auld Scots way. In our house, we ate it with milk and some salt. Some people used sugar. We had a surfeit of sucrose in other forms: honey cake, chocolate cake, chocolate bars (Smarties, Cadbury bars, Aero bars, etc.), Quebec sugar and raisin pie, soft drinks of various kinds. So the sugar saved from the porridge pot was more a blessing than anything else, not that it didn’t keep the dentists’ chairs busy in my case, indeed to this day.

I think it was last year that Mrs. Beer Et Seq placed some porridge down for brekkie and I had a go, first time in decades. First, the taste hasn’t changed. People say you can’t go home again, but the taste of boiled oat is one of those constants. The attentions of agronomers and breeders haven’t dented the basic flavour at all, it’s the same earthy metallic taste I recall from 50 years ago. The salt now may be sel gris from Brittany, or evaporated stuffs from the Dead Sea, but it tasted like I remember.

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Only, where’s my (leather) breeches, my double-zippered, fleece-lined overshoes, the No. 161 bus on Van Horne Road, Mrs. Quackenbush at Coronation School…? Where is the guy who drove his car from New York filled with Beatles and other 45s and sold them to my cousin Gary and me from the curb? His influence was long-lasting too, like the chocolate bars’, but more benign, nay salutary. Where is Morty, who owned the corner shop which sold the chocolate that kept all those dentists in clover for generations? Where is Socky, from the charming Greek-Canadian family next-door, or Butchy from down the block? Where have they all gone?

 

Note re images. These images were sourced here and here and are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Some Reviews: Beer And A Canadian Vodka

Wells Bombardier Glorious English

IMG_20160305_180553This is the export version, 5.2% abv. It’s rich, with a crystal malt signature but also good plummy notes which derive from the yeast and, I’d guess, a higher-than-usual fermentation temperature. There’s a reasonable amount of sugar used in the recipe, I’m sure, but the body is not thin and it all works well.

It’s a good example, except in a can, of English “keg beer”: pasteurized, filtered and carbonated, but made with care and to a reasonable abv. By keg beer, one means the more industrially evolved version of beer as opposed to “cask” or real ale which is unpasteurized, only roughly filtered (and not mechanically), and not charged up with CO2 gas.

The hops, at least after a few months in the tin, are somewhat subdued in aroma but quite evident in the taste. It’s English hops too, which lack the white pith hit of Yank hops from the West Coast. Some people suggest English ales can never have the impact of your typical American “hop bomb” (IPA and such).

This feeling, however, derives (IMO) from tasting current examples of beers made with English hops. On average they are less impactful than American IPA because less hops are used. If Charles Wells stuffed as much Challenger and Goldings in Bombardier as Stone puts American hops in its IPA, it would be six of one half a dozen of the other. The characteristics will still be different of course, but the impact similar. To extend the military metaphor, one’s a Tommy gun, one a Sten: take your pick.

I wonder what style Bombardier ale would have been called in 1800. Maybe an amber beer? It’s too dark for a pale ale and too rich too I think for that description. Maybe the kind of amber the Thames boatmen added gin and bitters to and called a “purl”. I’m all for gin, all for bitters, indeed together in the glass but no ale, aka the old naval drink, Pink Gin. Of that another post soon.

Three Brewers Black IPA

This is by far the best beer from this house I’ve ever had, and was tasted at the Yonge St. and Dundas location in Toronto. It lacks the yeast signature of the other beers in the range, I’d guess a California or other neutral-tasting yeast was used. The rest of the range generally have a strong Belgian/Northern French top-fermentation note.

It was rich and brimming with hop energy. The hops are American, surely, but unlike many Black IPAs the hops worked in the best possible way, strongly but with gastronomic purpose.

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Wellington Russian Imperial Stout

IMG_20160303_191700A long-established craft brewery in Guelph, ON, Wellington Brewery makes a range of English-type beers, mostly. The best of them are Iron Duke, a strong ale and kind of a Burton style, and a Russian Stout. The stout’s abv is 8%, not classic 10-12% territory, but strong enough and the beer has the rich character of a classic Impy stout.

There is a particular twist to the current batch, almost a “milky” quality I can’t put my finger on. I doubt lactose would be used for an Imperial, but who knows? Anyway it is the real thing, rich and velvety and bitter a plenty in the way suitable for stout, i.e., not featuring too much aroma.

Georgian beer fanciers may have quaked to see a fine export stout served with the chipotle wings pictured, given too Hades was surely invited to consult on this particular recipe. Then too the English invented “pull’d chicken”, ancestor to the American pulled pork which can be plenty spicy, so it’s safe not to make any grand assumptions here.

Anyway the combination works very well. All combos of beer and food do in my schematic of the culinary, that is, if I like the food and I like the beer, we’ve achieved a pairing.

Polar Ice Vodka

I always have some vodka at home, but only taste it two or three times a year. Tasting for me means, on its own.  Apart from that it is good for a Bloody Mary.

This particular flask was exceptionally good. It had almost no nose but a sweetish, refined palate. I couldn’t place the background taste but I think it may be charcoal, from charcoal filtration. All vodka made in Canada must undergo charcoal filtration before sale. Just for fun, I bought another flask of Polar Ice at a different store. This one had a noticeable alcohol nose and the taste was somewhat different – not radically so, it is vodka after all, but they weren’t identical.

I’m good with this as even a super-refined distilled beverage such as vodka is still a natural product – made from grains or potatoes (in Canada). No matter what treatment they get in processing, these feedstocks change over time, yeasts may change somewhat, the temperature in fermentation or distillation will vary a bit, etc. Such differences are even more pronounced with whisky. Not every cask is the same – the type and source of oak will vary, and the mix of ages – and many other factors play into it including annual climactic variations.

Save some spirit from any distilled drink – pour into a mini bottle and close it up full to prevent air from affecting the residue. Then, compare it, neat, to your next bottle of the same brand. I doubt it will taste exactly the same, even a standard brand vs. a single barrel or small batch type.

 

 

 

 

The Spice Route

Spice_Market,_Marakech_(2242330035)See note below for image attribution.

Flavoured beers in general are very popular today. The subset with spices, anything from ginger to coriander to cinnamon and much more – is legion.

In a recent discussion of porter for the Session, many of the contributions mention flavoured porters, e.g., those with cocoa or coffee, as of particular interest to the taster. The addition of coffee or chocolate is one of the innovations of the craft brewing renaissance. It is now so well-established that it isn’t felt necessary (often) to mention that porter wasn’t flavoured with anything other than malt and hops for hundreds of years.

True, some old writers suggested to add elderberry juice or more nefariously, “drugs” of various kinds to enhance the effect (if not the taste). At least one writer in the mid-1800s advised that “orange powder” was a good thing to add to porter. But in general, these were not used, partly because the laws in Britain forbade such additions in commercial brewing, partly because, or I’d infer, brewers thought the beer didn’t need it. Ginger was used in one or two English brews until the 1950s it seems, so I’d think the law must have changed to permit this, unless the practice was sub rosa.

In Belgium as many beer fans know, the use of spice and other flavourings did survive commercially. Saison beers as well as wit, the Belgian wheat beer style, are sometimes flavoured with some of the spices mentioned and a wide variety of others. Almost always, hops are used too. This harks back to the early days of brewing, either before hops were used at all, or when hops were used variously with a grab bag of other flavourings.

Rochefort Trappist beer apparently uses coriander although to my mind it doesn’t taste of that really, more cumin I would say or sweet gale, somewhat like those Pictish ales some U.K. brewers make. Perhaps it is the seeds that are used, as there is an earthy, musty-like taste vs. orangey as such. The leaves of coriander do not taste the same as the seeds, it may be noted.

The real question is, are flavoured, including spiced, beers worth drinking? I will say straight off I almost never drink a chocolate or coffee porter. They don’t taste right to me. When porter or any beer is well-made, you don’t need anything other than malt and hops (+ sometimes other grains). I make an exception for some spices if used with discretion. Anything orange seems to work well with porter and stout. Ginger too. But it is too often overdone, and the drink is ruined. (The bane of most pumpkin beers). You need a substratum of hop bitterness and flavour and then just a soupçon of the spice.

An old expression says, good wine needs no bush. More prosaically, good beer needs no spice.

Note re image: Image is by Michael Day (Spice Market, Marakech  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Image was sourced here.

The Session – What Is Porter?

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Mark Lindner, of By The Barrel, is hosting the current Session, and invites a wide-ranging discussion on porter. He mentions many resources to understand porter including the protean classifications of a beer-judging certification society, the BJCP.

I have read very widely in recent decades on porter and its history, and indeed have come up with an original theory as to the name’s origin, discussed here and here. It comes I believe from the weaving terminology used by weavers of silk in London’s Spitalfields quarter in the latter 1600s. I won’t revisit that here since the earlier posts are detailed on the point, and will address today subjects of palate and whether porter and stout are the same or different.

First, stout vs. porter. It’s a false issue. There is no difference, none that history at any rate ever knew except that sometimes stout was richer and stronger than porter, the luxury version of the same drink.

Labatt Porter 2015 imageIf you read porter history from its inception (later 1700s) to about 1900 when its decline as a drink had been pronounced, there is never any argument or extended discussion what the difference is. That is because, everyone knew, e.g., Accum, 1821 that stout at best was simply a stronger species of porter, to use one formulation of the difference such as it was.

In this source from 1849, a “Strong Old Porter” sold for 4 shillings the pint. A “Double Brown Extra Stout”, which some merchants might have called Imperial stout, sold for the same price. They were similar in quality and the stout did not contain raw barley because in 1849 that was unlawful. Were further comfort needed, the same listing includes a “Brown Stout Porter”…

Today, Irish stout is considered different to porter by many and supposedly is characterized by use of roasted and unroasted raw (unmalted) barley. That is an incorrect deduction from the facts. Stout which uses these ingredients is simply porter with adjunct. Just as pale ale, in England today, often uses sugar but didn’t before sugar’s use became legalized c. 1845.

It’s all porter: robust porter, brown porter, American porter, dry stout, imperial stout, imperial porter. The only hesitation I have is including Baltic porter in the description since today, much of it is bottom-fermented. But even then, originally, it wasn’t. The porter both sent to and made in the Baltic in its earliest days was the same type as sold in London, where porter finds its origins in the 1700s.

Porter and stout find their key distinction from other beer styles in their very dark colour and burned or roasted cereal quality. That burned taste, which for a long time was called “empyreumatic”, has itself evolved over time. It used to have, often, a wood smoke quality; today generally it does not. But the deep kilned notes of porter and stout are still distinctive when compared to, say, a dunkel, or a black IPA, or a brown ale.

Just as for many beer styles, the ingredients used for porter and stout vary. Some use grain adjunct in addition to barley malt. Some use American hops. Some use only English hops. Some use sugar of various kinds, or molasses, or oatmeal. The best are all-malt, but there are countless variations even for all-malt porter and stout. A few porters, most experimental, even use all-brown malt, as all porter and stout did originally in Georgian England.

IMG_20150920_175555_hdrThe style classifications of BJCP evolved from a particular historical context and are unlikely to change much. There is no harm in this, and it facilitates the judging process. But to suggest in any meaningful way that robust porter is all-malt, say, and Irish stout typically is not is simply not the case.

Even a cursory glance in 1800s sources will show that some Imperial stout was called Imperial or strong porter, and Guinness used porter and stout (the terms) at different times to mean the same or a similar beer. What Guinness calls stout now is in the strength range, or less, of what it called porter for much of the 1800s!

Finally, porter never disappeared for a time in England (certainly in North America it never disappeared at all except during Prohibition). Rather, the name did. For a time in the 1970s, a beer called porter could not be found in the U.K. But beers could be found, called stout, which were porter by any reasonable historical understanding of the term. Mackeson Stout in England was also a porter, a particular type which uses milk sugar in the recipe. There was – still is, I believe – a stout in Australia then called Carbine Stout. That was a porter too.

Yuengling made, and still does, a porter, which some brewers elsewhere might have called a stout. In Canada, some of our national brewers called their porter a stout in different provinces, for whatever reasons of marketing or otherwise that appealed to them, since they knew the beer types are one and the same. You can call one the other, or not, as meets your fancy.

 

 

 

 

Irish-Style Dry Stout

Culverden All Malt Stout-1This is a response to Jay Brooks’ salutary call for contributions to his recently revised beer typology series. Now, on the first Tuesday of each month, he invites bloggers to post on a style he selected, with good scope given for direction and ideas.

For March, it is dry Irish-style stout.

I have some very definite ideas about this style, few of them positive. It’s not that I don’t like porter, the general name for all stout and porter. It’s that dry stout reflects a historical misunderstanding IMO, in that generally it is made with roasted barley for the darkening agent and frequently with a measure of flaked or plain raw barley (not roasted) to substitute for what used to be malt, that is before the laws were changed in the U.K. to allow such adjuncts. The cue was taken from modern Guinness and other Irish stout producers, which Michael Jackson and others wrote about in the last generation and were emulated by countless craft brewers.

The use of flaked or raw barley in any reasonable proportion results IMO in a thin, astringent beer. Not just that, but unmalted barley in roasted form frequently imparts an unpleasant, burned vegetal note, often in my experience again. In contrast, roasted malt – malt vs. raw grain – imparts more the traditional flavour of beer. Few Irish-style stouts I’ve ever had really appealed to me, and too many of them taste too alike. Probably the best of them are malt + roasted barley to lend the dark colour. Sinha Stout from Sri Lanka fits that description, I believe – we can ignore the gravity difference for a moment. A goodish beer but I think it would be better if 100% malt.

Indeed, my view is all porter and stout should employ grists similar to what was used in the 1800s in the pre-sugar, pre-grain adjunct days. This means, some combination of pale malt, amber malt (Vienna or some modern malt of that hue), brown malt, and black malt.

The great Michael Jackson knew well the history of porter and all English beer, but was mainly concerned in his writing to describe what was currently available. His descriptions of modern Irish stout entranced craft brewers who wanted to evoke what they felt was the mystique of the black stuff. And so we have dry Irish-style stout, made typically with a grist that never existed in the heyday of porter and stout. More power to those who like it, but I plump for all-malt, as all porter was originally.

Note re image above: Image was sourced from this beer label site and is believed available for educational and historical purposes.  All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Must Be The Season of Saison

You’ve Got To Pick Up Every Stitch..

IMG_20160229_210808Two friends recently said to me, your blog is great but why don’t you review a broader range of beers? It’s mostly ales, porter/stout, and lager. What about fruit beers, other flavoured beers, wild beers, wheat beers, saisons, bières de garde, and so on?

Well, I admit my bias in favour of beers in the English tradition, and fine lager. I don’t often try other styles, because rarely do I find they are as good. I do occasionally stray to the farther shores of beerdom, pumpkin beer is an example, which I always liked. Or wet hop beer, if that counts.

But recently I came into possession of the beer shown in the image, and will review it. Jordan St. John, the Ontario beer writer, gave it to me, and I understand had some role in its development. Thanks Jordan.

It has upfront sour notes, seemingly acetic or from brettanomyces (wild yeast). As well, light malt, lemon and funk, and an earthy aftertaste. Pretty good, and I haven’t had a Belgian one lately I could compare it too although I recall Belgian saison as less sour than this.

An interesting beer, from the innovative and well-regarded Innocente craft brewery in Ontario. Not something I would normally turn to, but I could see it accompanying a rich Belgian beef and beer braise, ham and endive in cream, or good french fries. Many of the Belgian beers probably developed in a way that suited local cuisines.

Saison is a fairly flexible beer style anyway. I know from my own reading there was new and old saison, and sometimes they were blended. They did, too, tend to use off-piste grains, such as spelt. Innocente uses rye in the mash, which is appropriate to the oddball nature of the style and lends a buckwheat-like note.

But I’m not a fan really of the sour side. I always think of Fritz Maytag’s (of Anchor Brewery fame) comment that that he could never acquire the taste for lambic since in the early days he made too many batches of sour beer unintentionally, before that is he modernized Anchor’s plant and processes. It is precisely the rustic, do-it-yourself nature of saison that will appeal to many, though. It’s kind of a beatnik beer style. I doubt it ever made anyone rich, even in Belgium, but it offers colour and variety on the beer scene.

Ace Hill Pilsner Reviewed, And Other Beers

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Ace Hill Pilsner

This is a new Ontario product, just out from Ace Hill Beer Co. Styled a pilsner, it is a medium-bodied, all-malt winner. It is clean yet with good complexity and a good aftertaste, and leans to Austrian or German helles, IMO.

The beer was tasted at the cool Boxcar Social in the Summerhill area of Yonge St. It comes in a white can of elegant design. Looking forward to the draft, so far it’s in cans only.

Jopen Hoppenbier

At the Wallace Gastropub further north on Yonge St., this saison-style Dutch import (draft) has a slightly fruity note and good bitterness while not going over the top. It apparently represents an old beer style of The Netherlands.

As the beer is excellent, one would wish the glass larger, as the brewery’s etched glass is used, which holds 9-10 oz I’d guess. I couldn’t place a slight vegetal note, then noted from the brewery’s website that oats are used in the mash, plus barley malt and wheat. The oats must explain the “different” quality I noted.

The draft survived the journey from the other side remarkably well.

Muskoka Winter Weiss

Tried this at the Dominion Pub and Kitchen, the venerable bar on Queen Street East which had a makeover recently under new ownership (same group which owns Murphy’s Law and Against The Grain in town). This was good but not at the level of the great German dark wheat beers, IMO. The “dark” element reminded me of something more like you’d find in a porter or stout, a black patent malt taste or that type.

It did have some of the wheat banana notes of the style. Certainly good, but not really what I look for in the style.

Blue Point Brewing Toasted Lager

Draft, tasted also at the Dominion on Queen Street. A good solid lager, not German-leaning, more an American interpretation but all-malt, clearly. Well-made, and I’d guess brought in quickly from Long Island, NY due to the distribution network of the owner, AB InBev.

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The Ontario Butter Tart, Considered

Not_So_Gooey_Butter_Tarts_IMG_8938-thumb-960x541-264571The Canadian chef, Anna Olson, gives a good recipe for the classic Ontario butter tart in this posting.

The image shown in her recipe is similar to that shown in the first image here.

The butter tart often has an irregular or crenelated edge of firm but flaky pastry, but otherwise there are numerous variations. Some people use currants, some dark raisins, some no fruit at all. Some favour maple or corn syrup for the filling, or molasses, or a mixture. But plain brown sugar is hard to beat.

In my view, the filling should be slightly runny, but there are different views on that as well. You can add rum, or (why not?) strong ale, and a variety of spices although a plain Jane butter tart is perhaps best.

Chocolate versions are known, but they don’t work well, in my experience.

To be sure, butter figures in all butter tarts save debased commercial versions, but no more than in many pastry and pie dishes. So why the “butter” in the name?

The butter tart is more than an Ontario thing, as some parts of the Maritimes lay claim to it as well, and elsewhere outside Ontario. But it is less than national Canadian.

_44257439_fechantart203It seems the butter tart is not documented in Canada before 1900. It was initially called simply, “filling for tart”. Only in the first and second decades of the 1900s do recipes appear in Canada for the butter tart proper. See this Wikipedia entry for good general background.

So where does it come from? Did Ontario invent it? Alas, this is doubtful. One theory says the name is a corruption of border tart, a rather similar bakery specialty of Britain’s Borders country, which straddles England and Scotland. In fact, in Ecclefechan, Scotland they have the butter tart itself (that spelling), an example is shown just above. It is similar to the border tart, meaning a smallish pastry with a soft or liquid sweet filling in which ground almond, walnuts, glacé cherry, or raisins and other dried fruit appear.

The Canadian version is basically the same except simpler: no cherry, no almonds, although sometimes chips of walnut are used.

This U.K. blog entry describes the Ecclefechan butter tart. It is sometimes called simply Ecclefechan tart, or border tart. One of the comments states that the writer’s family mostly used currants in the filling; many Ontario butter tarts are exactly the same.

Given the strong Scottish element in Ontario, the Ontario butter tart probably derives from the part of the Borders where the confection was called butter tart, as in Ecclefechan. Either butter is a corruption of border, or the other way around, but that Canada’s is not original seems undoubted.

Consider further these sources.

A 19th century book, the Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, states that a”butter tart” was a sweet, spiced mixture of butter, citrus, eggs, and almonds (macaroons) spread on a thin pastry. It was then covered with another layer of pastry, baked and served with sugar and orange flowers. It cites as source a cookery book, The Queen’s Royal Cookery, first published in 1709. The nature of the dish though shows it is much older than c. 1700 – probably Middle Ages if not medieval in origin. This butter tart is not like the modern, compact, semi-deep British/Canadian one, but elements are similar: almonds, butter, pastry, a fruit element.

I think today’s border and butter tarts, wherever they be, have their ultimate origin in this baked dish of pastry with Middle Ages, or older, origins.

Ultimately the butter tart may be Norman – have come in with 1066 – as the French frangipane is very similar.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280I will offer an original theory. Perhaps The Queen’s Royal Cookery butter tart was originally called “barded tart”. In the 1709 recipe, a direction states to “bard” a layer of pastry on the filling which is placed on a first layer of pastry. To bard means to layer a food on another one, e.g., bacon or salt pork on a roast. The term bard also meant armour in older English, so a protective layer. The French have a similar word for the culinary meaning, the verb barder.

In different local accents and over time, “barded tart” may have been corrupted into both butter and border tart.

Alternatively, since the dish in Britain does seem characteristic of the Borders country, the name was originally border tart and was corrupted to butter tart in some places.

It has been proposed that the Ontario butter tart is connected to pecan pie down south, or the Quebec tarte au sucre, but I don’t think so. The shape and taste of these other delicacies, albeit similar ingredients often appear, are rather different. Perhaps though the predecessor of pecan pie comes from the Scots-Irish, who were composed partly of the Borders people. Quebec’s sugar pie comes from France, IMO, as there are pies called tarte au sucre in different French provinces which bear a clear resemblance to the Quebec sweet specialty.

What is the connection of all this to beer? Well, we have a Maple Butter Tart Ale in Ontario, see the description here at the LCBO listing. The conjoining of two favourite Ontario things, beer and butter tart, in fact three if we include the maple, shows the high regard they enjoy among Ontarians even in today’s deracinated (relentlessly international) food culture.

We even have a butter tart festival! It’s discussed in this Toronto Star report from not long ago.

Any other ideas out there on the provenance of our butter tart?

Note re images shown: the images were respectively sourced here (CBC website), here (BBC site) and here (LCBO site) and are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owner. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

Canadian Beer Until WW I And Albion’s Shadow

6419926811_55eeb22168_bJOHN BULL FORMED CANADA’S BREWING HERITAGE UNTIL THE GREAT WAR

A look through sources in the last decade of the 1800s shows that Canadian brewers, certainly in the east, continued a remarkable adherence to English beer types. A typical list, I give examples below, looks like something you might see on the blackboard of a modern craft beer pub more than anything one thinks of as Canadian beer of the pre-craft era.

Numerous Canadian breweries were represented at the landmark, 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition aka the Chicago World’s Fair. The beers exhibited which won awards can be noted in this Canadian government publication of the period. John Labatt’s beers were:

Bottled extra-stock ale, winter brewed; bottled extra-stock ale, autumn brewed; bottled extra pale ale, summer brewed; bottled India Pale Ale; porter in wood; India Pale Ale in wood; extra-stock ale in wood; XXX bottled stout.

All these types were well-known to English brewing, a good example is extra-stock ale. It was probably a strong ale of 8-9% abv, something Labatt still put a focus on as it offered two vintages in bottles, and if that wasn’t enough, it did a draft (“in wood”) version, too. The listing from Dominion Breweries in Toronto –  the saloon adjacent to the old brewery still functions as a bar – also offered a draft stock ale. Dominion Breweries forebore from marketing a bottled stock ale, but as consolation perhaps, seems to have had available two versions of its India Pale Ale in the bottle.

A glance through the full list shows it replete with these old-fashioned beer types. Only two breweries, Carling in London, ON and a brewery in Winnipeg, offered lager. One or two “export ales” were offered, which was probably the progenitor of the lighter, “sparkling” Canadian ale style which, by WW I, had pushed out the old strong heavy ales. What a difference 20 years made.

IMG_20160211_213351“Amber ale” appears numerous times in the list, and it is well-known to brewing history sleuths that northeastern American breweries also did a turn in amber ale in the mid-to-later 1800s. What was this beer? I would argue it was the amber ale, sometimes called twopenny, brewing author Friedrich Accum described in this 1821 text. Different accounts of amber ale are scattered in British Victorian brewing literature. Accum’s account rings true to me due to its length and anecdotal detail included. Amber ale seems to have been sold mild, or new, and technically was an ale, i.e., hopped less than a beer. Its best use was for purl, a heated, compound drink of amber ale, bitters, gin and sometimes orange flavouring.

When Accum likened amber ale to porter, I think he was referring to their somewhat comparable dark colours, and perhaps a lightly smoky taste, since porter was always a beer (well-hopped), not an ale, technically again.

Accum notes that amber ale was out of date by the time of writing (1821), but the style lived on in the colonies or former colonies to the dawn of Edward’s age. In this 1897 Canadian government listing of beers, assessed by the Inland Revenue Department to determine strength and other attributes, one amber appears, from B&M Co. in Toronto. The “pc” of alcohol shown in this table appears clearly to be by weight, not volume. B&M’s amber was a strong ale, therefore, about 7% abv which accords with the strength of the staple mild ale in England into the mid-1800s – before gravities started to fall, that is.

Frequently, when an article of commerce takes root in an outpost or export market, it lasts much longer there than in the home country. This is why, say, goat’s head soup is still a well-known dish in parts of the Caribbean, when it had largely been excised from the British diet by 1900. Countless examples can be given, possibly Ontario’s famous butter tart qualifies. Despite what you read, the best explanation for its name, or so Beer Et Seq is persuaded, is that it is a corruption of border tart, a similar item of baking or confectionary in the Scottish-English borders.

Amber ale, and strong old stock ale – at least its prevalence in 1890s Canadian brewing – were examples of such distant survivals. They had taken root early in Colonial days. They lived on to about 1900 in reasonable flower despite that Britain’s beer preference had long turned to other styles, well-represented in Canada too until WW I such as porter, stout, pale ale, IPA and mild ale.

By the mid-1920s, temperance rules passed during or in the immediate wake of WW I had been repealed or relaxed. The surviving Canadian brewers, certainly the large ones, modernized their production and fizzy ales of 5% strength or, increasingly, blonde lager beer, became the norm. The strong old English beers were largely a memory.

Craft brewers have brought back these venerable tastes and Molson Coors has just done so from its own archive, to its credit, see the 1908 pale ale pictured above.

Note re first image above: this image is from the Thomas Fisher Library of the University of Toronto, and was sourced here. It is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

Two Countries Divided By A Common Beer Style (IPA)

Edouard_Manet,_A_Bar_at_the_Folies-BergèreIndia Pale Ale, or IPA, is a blonde-to-amber beer which tends to stress the hops.

It comes from England. In the later 1700s a London brewer called Hodgson sent some pale beer to India, then a British province. It took off and was “the” beer of the Raj until knocked down a peg or two by competition from Burton-on-Trent in the form of Bass Pale Ale and similar beers from the Trent Valley. Pale Ale is the same as India Pale Ale. So is bitter, of “pint o’ bitter” fame. Terminology was never precise and all that can be said is, the exported form of pale ale was often called India Pale Ale, IPA or East India Pale Ale. Ultimately, some domestic pale ale was called that too.

Hodgson’s beer seems to have been inspired by cellared (aged) country pale ale, a drink of the better-off. Hodgson pale ale was not unusually strong although a couple of vague early accounts suggest it was. By the mid-1800s, the strength of IPA in general was about 6% abv. This was not as strong as the staple mild ale of the period but stronger than most porter was in the 1800s. Strong enough, let’s say.

More than its relative strength, what distinguished IPA was its dry character. In a time when most beers were relatively sweet, pale ale was fermented more thoroughly and had dry, clean character on the palate. To be sure it had some malty quality, but not a thick heavy one. The reason for the dryness was that in a time before refrigeration and pasteurization, if the beer had more than traces of fermentable sugar, it might “fret” or spoil on the trip to India or other distant markets. Wild yeasts and bacteria can easily consume available sugars with the risk of making the drink sour. When beer has few or no fermentable sugars, it will remain relatively stable especially as IPA was made very bitter from a massive infusion of hops: hop resins are a natural preservative.

Bottles_of_Bass_beerIPA became famous around the world. It was in Paris in the 1880s when Edouard Manet painted his renowned scene of the bar of the Follies-Bergères. IPA was manufactured in Canada and the U.S. by British incomers who were following the ways of the old country. Even by 1900 some of the North American IPA was around 7% abv, attesting in my view to the character of the earliest British examples (1770-1820). A living time capsule of this 1900-era pale ale, at 6.8% abv, can be tasted in the form of Molson Coors’ recent recreation of a 1908 recipe. I discussed this beer here recently.

Of course, time moved on and by the 1990s, pale ale, initially a bottled specialty, was largely in Britain a draft beer, better known by its pub name, “bitter”. Classic English bitter was sometimes dry but not always – once again pale ale was never a matter for the statute books, its boundaries are naturally elastic. This bitter did remain fairly astringent from the hop resins released in the boil, or flowery/herbal from the hop’s aroma. In the U.S., the last old-established IPA, Ballantine India Pale Ale, was withdrawn from the market in 1996. That beer, although reduced from what it had been, was similar to modern English bitters but stronger, more in line with IPA’s origins. A couple of beers in Canada were still called India Pale Ale and pale ale but these were lager-like in character by then.

The craft brewing movement returned quality pale ale and IPA to the brewing scene. The beers called IPA as such on the label tended to be drier and stronger than pale ale tout court, but again there is no statutory lineThe first commercial IPA to be revived so-called was in the early 1990s and made by Yakima Brewing And Malting, in Washington State. It was owned by the late Bert Grant, who had worked for decades in the Canadian brewing and hop industries. I remember it well and it was a lean beer with a huge hop presence which spoke of American hop fields, understandable given Washington State is a hop heartland. There was lots of grapefruit, citrus pith and pine in the nose and taste.

It is not too much to state that IPA became the star of North American and international craft brewing. The American form – often stronger than contemporary bitter and always redolent of American hop varieties – has become popular in the U.K. It sits next to the older English bitter ales as the brash upstart on the scene. (And yes, for various reasons, modern English bitter isn’t identical to the pale ale and bitter of 1880, say. But it is close enough).

IMG_20160222_130137Recently I tried one of the latest IPAs on the U.S. market, from Tired Hands Brewery in the Philadelphia area.  It’s called, in the jazzy idiom of today’s beer scene, Kick Phone iFlip. It’s got some wheat in it and that, plus the way it’s brewed, and the four American hops used potently for aroma, give it a light and very refreshing quality. In this modern form of IPA, post-modern shall we say, the beer is not really bitter, it’s more the hop flavour you are getting. This is the hyper-cool, contemporary style of IPA, it looked in the glass like cloudy limeade and tasted a bit like it too if you left out most of the sugar. The Ratebeer website, with some 17 reviews in, gives it an astonishing 99 out of 100.

There are lots of IPAs still sold from an earlier time in the craft revival, Stone IPA is an avatar of this type. They tend to have a similar hop taste to Kick Phone but are more bitter and richer in malt taste. But whether new school or older, U.S. IPA always has a different taste to original English bitter. English hops were used for generations to flavour English pale ale and bitter. The English hop taste tends to be much less citric than the American flavour, and often flowery and arbor-like. Also, English pale ale usually has a caramel note lacking in American IPAs. I am excluding here newer English styles such as golden ale and session IPA, both of which have a marked American influence.

Bass Ale, progenitor of the world vogue for IPA which commenced about 1825,  is still available. It is owned by a large group, and nothing wrong with that, Bass was a big boy itself in its classic era. We used to get it in bottles and kegs as an import. I never really enjoyed the taste, which was kind of “old toffee apple”, sometimes with banana or sulphur notes. But I always felt that pasteurization and long transport altered the “brewery-fresh” profile.

In Canada today, or rather Ontario, we get now a draft Bass brewed by Labatt in Toronto. It is very good, you see it in the image above of the amber pint. While somewhat reminiscent of the import formerly available, it is much fresher and has a pleasing, complex aftertaste particularly when left to warm. It is somewhat malty with a fruity quality of some kind and good racy hop edge. It is nothing remotely like the fragrant, citric American IPAs.

I like both types, although the English style of pale ale is hard to beat. I know people always lauded the cask (unfiltered, real ale) version of Bass Ale, which you can still find in England. But this Toronto-made, brewery-conditioned version is plenty good. Any admirer of the brewing arts would have to give it kudos, if he or she is being honest.

Note re images used: The first two images above are believed in the public domain and were sourced via Wikipedia in this entry on Bass Brewery, here. All feedback welcomed.