The English Pub Then and Now

“The Quiet Pub is the Mirror of England”

Godfrey Blunden was an Australian war correspondent who was in the thick of key campaigns in WW II. In October 1943, temporarily in England, he painted a vivid portrait of the English pub. When not in the field some of his work was of this “domestic” nature, reporting on local life. As an Australian, he brings a unique perspective to England of the 1940s. His incidental comments about drinking in Australia are of interest too.

Blunden saw the importance of the pub to morale, and in fact his is one of a number of sympathetic treatments which appeared in the press in the last years of the war.

The pub was seen, in this perspective, as  something to stand for, an inherent part of English social life.

Showing the pub as a friend to the community rather than the insidious evil depicted, say, in Victorian temperance literature would remind people what they were fighting for, and help stay defeatism.

George Orwell’s famous essay on the ideal pub, The Moon Under Water, written shortly after the war ended, is another example in more literary form. Blunden’s essay combines literary flashes with the investigative tone reminiscent of the sociological studies of the English by Mass-Observation.

Sample quotes from the piece:

The life of London today is very thin beer. By that I mean to submit that British morale would long ago have collapsed without the English pub. That English pub has no connection with the rowdy beer halls of Australia, where a beer monopoly stooge throws you a drink, and tells you to get out before the police arrive. The English pub does not have [as the Australian hotel] buff-coloured tiles and miles of glittering mirrors. It is very small, very old, and very quiet. The pub I am thinking about has a bar not more than 12 feet long. Its top is a piece of polished jarrah, which has a deep red lustre as a result of many decades of polishing. Handles of beer pumps are big and white, and stick above the bar top…. Your order is half a pint of bitter, which is a darkish fluid, said to contain a percentage of alcohol. That percentage, of course, is fixed by the Government, and one can imagine the profound discussion and wide exercise of statesmanship which counsels just how little alcohol can be left in English beer without undermining British confidence. That is not intended to be funny. It is part of my submission that the principal factor which has held the British together, kept them sane during long, dreary years of blackout, has been the English pub, and that the British Government knows that very well, and is wise and judicious in its regulation.

Much has changed since then. To read the customary New Year’s eve reports of public drunkenness in the English high streets is to enter a different world. Blunden’s pub is characterized by sobriety and high prices, which as he notes were interrelated. The beer during the war was about 3.5% abv (see Ron Pattinson’s many analyses to this effect), and this encouraged restraint.

In 1943, most of the coloured bottles behind the bar (spirits) were empty.

Blunden later never returned to Australia. He married a Frenchwoman and lived in New York working for Time magazine. He issued numerous novels and made his final home in France before passing at 90 in 1996. One wonders what he thought of the Bacchanalian scenes depicted in the press over the holiday period, or of English revels on the Iberian coast, as these were already evident in his last years.

Of course, riotous behaviour and unhinged drinking are nothing new in England. Periodically the country seems to go through these bouts, one can trace it intermittently from Tudor times at least until today. Hogarth’s etching of destructive gin boozing is only one of the best known examples. Beer in the 1800s was plenty strong and Henry Mayhew, among others, noted its toll.

Lloyd George in WW I and the Depression, however, encouraged a long period of relative restraint which reached its apogee in the Second War.

What the wartime pub does show is that behaviour can be adjusted by taxation and rules on alcohol strength. Today, the typical pint is closer to 5% abv and vodka coolers and other alcohol are easily obtained.

None of this is to say the 1943 pub does not exist anywhere in Britain today. Of course it does, and not every pub permits over-drinking and rough customers. But many more do than existed in the straightened war era.

In the past when alcohol use became viewed as a public threat, various measures were introduced to rein it back. That day may come again, especially if Brexit results in an independent United Kingdom.

One thing unlikely to come again is the submissive behaviour to government and the civic order demonstrated in the article. The average Briton then accepted things as they are, mostly. However, the problems of coal supply adverted to in the piece were related to ongoing labour disturbances which became more common after the war. They were a harbinger of the extremes of politics and sociology one sees in the country today.

There was something to be said for the country being guided by the sure hand of the great and the good. We have gained a lot since the 40s, but also lost a lot.

Note re images: the images above of World War II war correspondents is drawn from this Australian military history website and profile of Godfrey Blunden. In the first image, he is depicted second from left. In the second image, he is second from right. Copyright belongs solely to the lawful owner. Images believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


“Ale and Art is the New Slogan…”

British Brewers’ Initiative Early Post-War

An innovative program ahead of its time by a few decades was Ale and Art, introduced in 1946. It was a joint effort of the Central Institute for Art and Design and four brewers in the capital.

The idea was to give work to London artists who would paint original works to brighten the brewers’ pubs.

The story, reported by the Associated Press, was reprinted in at least two Australian newspapers as there was an indirect connection to the pub where the program was launched.


The nub:

During the next 80 weeks, as he sits in his favourite pub, the Englishman will gaze at the work of over 30 artists, many of whose pictures are well known in the London art galleries. And the pictures are not just “extra-special” advertisements of public houses, quite the contrary. Although the brewers financed the scheme and made some suggestions as to subjects, the artists had a more-or-less free hand. They ranged far and wide through London and the Home Counties, painting churches and villages, hop fields and country market places, maltings and the River Thames.

The story has a concise, even tone typical of British journalism in the 1900s. Withal the style conveys a quiet authority. And the accuracy should be noted. When it was stated art did not generally festoon the English pub, an exception was made for Chelsea, then an artists’ quarter.

Augustus John was the leading artist in the group and was quoted by the journalist at the launch. John’s comment that brewers should support art because artists are some of their best customers was doubtless a bit of drollery, but rounded the story nicely.

Brave London which fought so hard against the Nazis! Grey, half-destroyed, exhausted London, still to be on rations for years. Despite these challenges, the government and brewing chiefs had the foresight and spirit to brighten the post-war pub and provide paid work to the art sector, who can usually use it.

Art and Ale would have cost relatively and was an early example of public-private cooperation.

The Cogers pub mentioned is today, as far as I can tell, the modern St. Brides Tavern, pictured above, see also here for more informationCogers was – is – the name of a storied debating society.

The term “coger” comes from cogitate, not codger. The club used to meet at this pub, apparently. I am not clear if St. Brides pub was the actual meeting place or a pub behind it called the White Hart.

Both pubs were located in a stylish Edward Luteyns block of the 1930s.

Formerly, the pubs were independent, older, structures, elements of which were retained by Luteyns. The club met in one of these but I think it was St. Brides pub, which faces Salisbury Square. The second pub mentioned is now an airy City restaurant, Luteyns.

One wonders what happened to John’s paintings done for the scheme. Perhaps some still hang in St. Brides pub. In this gallery page of the pub’s website, a number of paintings are shown adorning the walls. Some seem of the vintage required. Could they be by the famous Augustus John, or other artists part of the scheme?

John’s name is, appropriately, remembered by a pub in Hampshire, in the village where he lived, you see it pictured.

Why doesn’t a brewery or pub group create a plan like this now, does anyone think of these things? I’d guess in a time when family descendants still ran big breweries and perhaps were art lovers or who had a son in that line, it occurred to one to chat with a senior bureaucrat and make this happen.

I know that some craft breweries have encouraged artists in similar ways but it would be good to see it done on a wider scale, say all the Fuller managed pubs, or Wells Youngs’.

Note re images: The first two images were sourced from the brewery history site linked in the text. The third, at this bed and inns site. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


India Pale Ale – an Amazing Double Act

In 1863, an Adelaide, South Australia newspaper printed an article on India Pale Ale which had appeared in Illustrated London News.

The article was, I’d guess, partly an advertorial by Allsopp, the great Burton-on-Trent brewer profiled in the story. Nonetheless there is considerable information in the piece of interest which could only have come from the personal knowledge of the writer or those he knew. In particular, he makes the point that India Pale Ale really was new in England when, in the early years as he says of Queen Victoria’s reign, it started to take off.

We might consider his statements as instructive for our time when IPA was re-invented with American push and panache and has since become the star of brewing again, including back home in Britain, whence sprang the brew originally.

There is something special about IPA in this regard, something even lager – which IPA itself is partly responsible for (another story) – can’t claim. Lager is undoubtedly the biggest beer type in the world but it has lost its distinctiveness through mass market production. There are many fine lagers still made, but they almost constitute a separate category from the type which rules the brewing world today.

IPA, on the other hand, never was blandified into a commodity. Even traditional English bitter – some would say especially – retains the essence of what made IPA great to begin with. Add to that the brash Americanized versions now on offer around the world, you have a phoenix worthy of the name.

They say there is no such thing as a double act. IPA has proved the old adage wrong. The reasons it has come back are in many ways the obverse of what the earnest English writer argued in 1863. Then, IPA was viewed as a more temperate drink than brandy-and-water and double stout, tipples it partly displaced. (I said partly). Its strong bitter was not liked initially but finally people accustomed to it and viewed it as a tonic, a quasi-medicine.

Today, IPA, whose average strength is about what it was in 1863, is sought out because it is stronger than adjunct lager and offers a more bitter and zesty taste.

Different reasons, but both resulted in a market phenomenon, some 150 years apart, for the same drink.

In India, as may presently be shown, this delightful beverage has been known and appreciated since the early part of the century; but in England it was long considered with us a potation fit only for exportation, and had to work its way gradually and laboriously ere it could obtain favour. We well remember the first appearance of pale ale in the metropolis, when our beloved Sovereign was quite a newly-crowned Queen. People made wry faces at it at first, talked about gall and wormwood, and disparaged the new ‘Indian ale’, as it was called, as a nauseous potion, fit only for Indian ‘griffins’ with no palate, and Indian Judges of Sudder Adawiut with no livers.

Speedily, however, it was discovered that the sparkling, brightened decoction of malt, hops, and pure water known as pale ale was in verity the ‘cup that cheers and not inebriates’— that it did not stupefy or lead to congestion and heartburn like double stout— that it did not tend to vertigo and the endangerment of the centre of gravity like Scotch ale taken ‘so early in the morning’ — that it did not lower the system or impair the digestive organs like soda-water— that its alcoholic properties were sufficient for gentle stimulation but not for intoxication— that its medicinal qualities were manifold; and that in many cases its moderate consumption gave health to the invalid, and made healthy persons healthier. In process of time pale or bitter ale became a great fact.

It has been called the champagne of the middle classes; but it is ten times more palatable than bad champagne, and twice as wholesome as the very best. Pale ale, having made its mark, has continued year after year to increase in popularity. That popularity has now attained an amazing pitch. Everybody drinks pale ale, either in bottle or in draught. It refreshes the Royal Duke at his modest Horse Guards lunch — it consoles the subaltern pining in his hut amidst the desolate boredom of Aldershott — it is the solace of the commercial traveller, who is beginning to eschew those potent magnums of brown brandy and water of which the abuse is so pernicious. Pale ale relieves the dulness of a sea voyage. Pale ale is to be had at the refreshment-rooms of every railway station in the kingdom.

British Beer in Boulogne, France c. 1850

As we have seen from considering the productions of American ale and porter breweries of the 1800s, English styles had a huge influence while occasionally suffering modification. An odd situation resulted, in that by 1890, say, considerable ale and stout were hopped and stored in a way which had virtually disappeared in England. As well, the Americans were still making all-malt products (pale ale, strong ale, stout) while British breweries generally adopted sugar or maize adjunct, with various justifications.

Still, American cream and crystal ales and perhaps musty ale were an adaptation of styles inherited from Britain and showed traits borrowed from the nation’s burgeoning lager culture.

Another country where British beer had a long history either directly (through imports) or by influencing local brewing, was France. In the 1970s when Michael Jackson started writing about beer, he explained that English beer was chic in Paris. In truth it has been so, in France generally, for 200 years and more.

Being inland and a great French and international city, Paris was such that British beer, while making a mark, tended to get lost among the wines and French beers. However, in the 1840s in Boulogne on the coast, English and Irish beers were big sellers and well-represented.

This is partly because Boulogne then was an English resort, frequented by upper and prosperous middle class tourists. Many were passing through but some stayed for the season. A cottage industry sprung up in the town of English-run and staffed businesses to supply needs familiar from home. There were hotels and taverns, bakeries, florists, beer “depots”,  insurers, bird-stuffers, even undertakers – all the comforts of home.

An English-run hotel and bar, the Royal Oak, had a good run in different locations in town in the mid-1800s. You can see the beers it offered in this 1846 guidebook, a “Tableau” published to help visitors. If you turn the page you will see a similar ad from the indubitably English Stubbs with his beers listed. Yet further examples are strewn through the book. Bass East India Pale Ale is mentioned, for example.

In this period, and as Boulogne was (relatively) far from England where trends accordingly were slower to appear, stout, porter and strong ale hadn’t been eclipsed by the rising star at home, pale ale. Porter and stout must have been the major draw in the Royal Oak as they are listed first, indeed pale ale appears last. Lane & Co. of Southgate, Cork supplied most draught and bottled porter and stout. Reid’s stout was offered and bottled Guinness but the way the ad is written shows the Lane offerings were primary.

Lane & Co. were choc-a-bloc to the more famous Beamish & Crawford, and much smaller. When pioneering beer writer Alfred Barnard was in town to take in details of Cork productions, he visited the big shop only. Still, Lane’s beers must have been good enough to fetch an export market. Cork’s harbour facilitated such trade, as for its corned beef exports which I discussed earlier.

It may seem unlikely that some decent taste notes of Lane’s beers survive, but they do. In 1883 the beers were exhibited at the Cork Industrial Exhibition. The judges were rather more explicit on the beers’ qualities than often appeared in such affairs. The porter was described as “full, sweet, clean”, the stouts as bitter and durable although one was thought to contain preservative. You can see the details at pp. 344, here. (The comments on Beamish’s beers are interesting, too, the description of its single stout applies to a t for many craft stouts I know!).

I would think the journey over to the French coast probably didn’t hurt the beers too much. The North Atlantic climate too is equable – from a beer standpoint – and turnover must have been good.

I always liked Boulogne. It was the second French centre I visited, the first was Calais and both reached over water from England in the 80s. Boulogne unfortunately was bombed in 1944 and the lower town has many modern features, but the Upper Town survived better. Still, it’s a charming place to walk around and the fishing industry is still important with its produce well-represented in the local restos.

Boulogne, being in the French north, has a brewing heritage of its own, which deserves its own article. Suffice to say it had a brewery, Facon, into the 1980s. It made the peach-coloured Saint Léonard, a bière de garde. The brewery closed before I got there but the brand was later made elsewhere in the north, and maybe still.

Canadian Fifth Infantry fought the Germans there in 1944, and its contributions are recalled in at least one local memorial.

Lots to think about walking around in, or writing of, Boulogne-sur-Mer, including the many parallels to Quebec province in architecture, surnames, even the way of talking. Ben oui.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the Brewery History Society site, here.  All intellectual property in or to the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user. Image is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Tasting Musty Ale in ’91

That’s 1991, not 1891.

It is against the odds that a decent taste note was written on a defunct Victorian beer type, let alone as late as 1991, but it happened. It was authored, appropriately, by a Briton, given the English origins (in etymology, possibly brewing history) of the beer.

The writer was on a working visit to Washington, D.C. He or she was dining in Harvey’s Restaurant, a Washington institution started in 1858 which had a long run as a high-end resort of the powerful and famous. Unfortunately, it went out of business not long after the report was written.

The record is preserved in a February, 1991 issue of New Scientist magazine. The article is by “Ariadne” and can be read online at the website of New Scientist, here. An extract:


On a trip to Washington DC I was taken to a famous restaurant. It specialised in fish, I think but such was the insistence on hygiene that the prawns tasted strongly of chlorine and not much else. One of the place’s attractions was that it served what it called ‘musty ale’. This turned out to be a thin drink resembling a watered-down English mild. Having said that, and in an effort to ward off the inevitable letters from the US accusing me of being anti-American, I should state that I have memories of splendid meals in the US, including one at a restaurant in which it was Christmas every day of the year.


The writer was let down, but that’s not the first time a beer was tasted with anticipation only to come away disappointed.

How extraordinary that musty ale lasted that long. A couple of restaurants, chophouses and fish houses of the old style, kept it going decades after WW II, but Harvey’s appears to be the last.

Harvey’s history is well-described by John DeFerrari in his (2013) Historic Restaurants in Washington, D.C.: Capital Eats, you can read about it here. 

In a 2009 article by Kent Boese on a Washington, D.C. information site, much additional information is related on Harvey’s with evocative period photos. One shows musty ale prominently advertised at its horseshoe-shaped oyster bar before Prohibition. The site collects reminiscences of people who knew Harvey’s or had worked there. I posted a note on the site requesting any further data known on the musty ale.

The venerable Keens Steakhouse in Manhattan had musty ale on the menu too after WW II, as late as 1972. You can view the menus at the invaluable archival menu site, Keens still exists but sans the musty ale, sadly.

In 1989, Fodor, the well-known travel series, also reported that musty ale was sold at Harvey’s. In 1980 the food critic for the Washington Post, Phyllis Richman, had the presence of mind to ask Harvey’s what musty ale was. She wrote it was a mixture of ale and “beer” (i.e., American lager), which is exactly what bartender Tim Daly wrote in 1903 and an 1890s patent for a dispense system had claimed, all as reported here earlier.

The 1989 and 1980 references to Harvey’s musty ale appear from this Google Books search link.

This 1949 Harvey’s menu (from an eBay listing) shows musty ale being sold as a draft beer at Harvey’s along with Michelob and Piel’s (lager). Numerous domestic and imported bottled ales and stouts of quality were sold as well. The musty may have been a mix supplied by Piel’s. The brewery name was Rubsam & Hormann of Stapleton, NY. It also marketed a number of ales, see the list of its products post-Pro at the Tavern Trove website, whence the R&H XXX Ale label image comes. The brewery closed in the early 1950s.

In Cincinnati when musty ale started to get a reputation c. 1860, ale would have been strong, stored long, and bitter if not sometimes acid. It makes sense the city’s Musty Ale House thought to mix it with fresh lager beer, if it did so. Cincinnati certainly had lots of lager by 1859, so that part ties in.

As to the (apparent) reference I’ve cited earlier to musty ale in Vermont in the 1840s and contemporary (more or less) examples in England, they almost surely didn’t use lager in the blend. But they may have blended old ale and new, or enlivened old ale with “heading”, that is, partly-fermented wort. These were occasional practices in English brewing and may have come over the Atlantic. 100 years of Brewing (1902) by John Arnold discusses these techniques at pp 77-78.

One can infer that some who prepared ale in this way used an old term, musty ale, to convey the idea of something old being made new or freshened. Mustum in Latin means new and appears the source for this sense of musty. Moisty and moist are cognates…

What probably started as a way to condition or improve a stock of old ale became in America and isolated parts of the U.K. a thing, in a word a marketing concept, just as some people argue today for craft beer.

After all this, I wasn’t expecting a taste description akin to that for a 1945 Bordeaux, but thin, watered-down mild…? On the other hand, this was 1991, 100 years after musty’s heyday. There is no reason to think it tasted like that back in the day. The lager and ale for Harvey’s musty ale in the early 1990s and 1960s would have been different to ones of 100 years before, for one thing. I still feel my “recreation” reported yesterday conveyed an idea of some of the musty ale of its salad days.

The menu page below is from a stylish Harvey’s menu of the early 1960s, reproduced again courtesy Note the claimed “secret formula”:

Net net, the key American evolution was probably using newly-fermented lager, or “shenk” beer technically, to smarten up old ale, an adapted krausening which Anglo-Saxon brewers borrowed from their German colleagues. Finally, many saloons just mixed ale and lager at the bar.

I look forward to its revival, under gloomy London railway arches and the chic chalets of Vail.

Note re images: The first image above was sourced from Pinterest. The second and third, from the Tavern Trove and sites linked above. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

“Facts for Ale Drinkers”

Consider this ad which appeared in the Ogdensburg Journal, Ogdensburg, NY on February 20, 1894.

The same ad ran from January through September in that year. C.H. Evans, the Hudson, NY brewer I discussed earlier, had placed a similar ad in New York-area newspapers some years earlier. Evans probably helped J.P. Ames place the ads although numerous other brewers were mentioned. If Evans did pay the cost or part, it was commendable as competitive products were not excluded.

In a two-part article in August this year I discussed the 1930s reminiscences of Walter Leonard, an ex-showman.

After the Civil War his father owned a bar and hotel in Morley, near Canton in St. Lawrence County, the northern end of central New York where the St. Lawrence River divides the U.S. from Canada.

Leonard recalled how ales were popular in the region and his father’s bar carried those of Greenway in the not-too-distant city of Syracuse, NY.

Ogdensburg is the main city in St. Lawrence County. Potsdam is nearby and will prompt readers to recall WW II history, when a famous conference took place there at which the U.S. and Canada set their wartime strategy.

The ale and porter heritage of New England and New York State has often been commented on. In recent writings I have reviewed many ads for these products and gleaned the names of many brewers (all now disappeared except for one or two).

I am still struck by how long the tradition lasted. The lager deluge which saturated the Midwest and New York City and boroughs came later to central and northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and the “north country” in general.

Ale and porter outsold lager in parts of the region until the dawn of Prohibition. John Arnold, who had brewed in Ogdensburg, chronicled a good part of this history in his (1901) 100 Years Of Brewing.

In 1894 J.P. Ames brought Evans’s ales from its downriver location on the Hudson, not a hard trip by the later 1800s. But look what else he sold: Bass’s ales, which meant the pale ale and the stronger Bass’ Burton ale, Allsopp’s pale ale, a renowned international pale ale and legend of the India trade, but also Arnold’s beers from Ogdensburg and even Brosomer’s beers from the hinterland’s Oswego, NY.

German-born Brosomer was a relative latecomer, establishing ale brewing in Oswego in 1893 (see 100 Years of Brewing). Ames was probably giving him a boost.

And Guinness was carried by Ames, too, it was everywhere in the 1800s – still is.

That’s a pretty good sampling of British top-fermentation specialities for a small city like Ogdensburg. One can imagine that barroom comments assessed the local ales in relation to the imported. New York brewers often trumpeted that their beers were as good or better than Bass and other imports, but who knows.

In 1878, 16 years before the above ad, J.P. Ames was selling lager too, Bartholomay’s from Rochester, NY, see here.  The Cape Vincent ales mentioned must have been brewed in the locality of that name in the Thousand Islands of the region.

John Ames was an English immigrant who built an enviable wine and liquors importing and wholesale business in Ogdensburg. It was operated from a four storey brick building on Isabella Street. The city’s numbering system has changed and I couldn’t find evidence the building still stands although I’d think it must.

You can read biographical detail on John Ames in this trade directory.

Ogdensburg, originally spelled with a terminal h, was founded by families hailing from Morristown, NJ, where Beeretseq has family as it happens. Some francophone families endured after the French era, but once the Jersey crowd came in the town assumed an old stock American aspect, which was manifest in its foodways no less than other areas of culture. The intervening British period perhaps contributed to the liking for ale and porter too, the British held forts up there until the Jay Treaty in 1794 cleared the path for settlement.

It took a long time until Germanic lager largely ousted the ancestral taste for ale and porter in St. Lawrence County, although in fact lager-brewing started quite early – see once again Arnold’s book. Also, a brewer called Crichton brewed “lager bier” in Ogdensburg in the 1850s, no doubt seeking to offer an option to Arnold’s hegemony. See details on page 6 of this historical article on the city from 1965.

I’d like to think Ames’ English origins inclined him to keep ale and stout going in the town including emblematic English pale ale and Irish stout. But he dealt in lager too as the 1878 ad linked above shows. In the liquor business then as now, playing favourites is a mug’s game.

Note re images: The first image is my photo of the ad from the NYS digitized newspaper linked above. The second was sourced from the historical page of an Ogdensburg newspaper’s website, here. The third was sourced from this map resource site, here. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


The Name’s The Game

The images which follow show the rich variety of trade terms for top-fermentation beers, especially ales, in America before WW I.

Broadly speaking,  there was cream ale, stock ale, half-stock ale, musty ale, old musty ale, India Pale Ale, XXX Ale, Burton ale, and yet further variations on these themes. Some very old ages were advertised for some stock ales and Burton ales, see eg. here and hereAt least one newspaper account referenced a “Bass’s old musty ale”, however the musty moniker was probably an American addition, it seems doubtful Bass of Burton used the term.

The non-retail trade used the term “fresh ale” to mean an ale intended for quick sale and which would sour within a week or so failing sale. See this New York State court decision involving a brewer’s attempt to gain damages from a creditor of a customer who stored stock ale for the brewer due to lack of space at the brewery. The only terms used in this decision are fresh ale and stock ale.

The brewer’s terms “present use”, “lively ale”, “still ale” were largely intra-mural although isolated examples can be found in trade ads. (Of these present use was most frequent but this was from 1860s-1890).

Musty ale may have been made to a specific technique such as mingling stock ale and new production, or stock ale and fresh lager (the kind used for krausen), or stock ale and partially-fermented wort. Maybe some musty ale was made by adding a tart stock ale to an ale fermentation or in some other way during mashing or brewing but I incline against this.

I don’t think musty ale was cream ale as such or lively ale. Some ads show both forms, for example. In the ad linked, Smith Cream Ale, probably Robert Smith’s of Philadelphia, is shown above a “musty ale”. While it’s possible they were from two different makers, it is unlikely especially as Robert Smith produced a musty ale. See the ad in this posting from last year by Jay Brookston where a musty ale is shown, also a Burton ale, and numerous others. While cream ale is not shown, the XXX shown was likely its cream ale. Finally, this news ad from 1910 seems to clinch the matter.

Musty ale seems to have had a fresh character as part of its make-up. This is attested by this 1920 brewing record in Virginia, a home-brewing contrary to the Volstead law. The brewer called his ale, ready in nine days, a “good musty ale”. It’s a normal brewing, using malt extract and sugar in this case. Why would the brewer have likened it to musty ale? Presumably due to its fresh, yeasty character. That could have been achieved in the commercial brews in a number of ways, as indicated above.

However, half-stock ale perhaps was the same as musty ale, or some musty ale, since it was obviously a mix of fresh ale and aged (stock) ale.

The musty ale in the ad below may have been a blend of the brewery’s crystal ale and stock ale.




Note re images: The first image above was sourced from HathiTrust. The second was sourced here. The third, here. The intellectual property in or to these images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user. Believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.





Flame War in “The Sun” Over Musty Ale

Between September 29 and October 6, 1911, a brief but intense readers’ exchange occurred in The Sun in New York concerning musty ale. A (satisfyingly named) “G.G.” on the first date replies to an inquiry from Harold Dobbler of Staten Island, NY. Dobbler asked, as I have 105 years later, what is musty ale, and whence its name? I can’t locate that earlier inquiry, but Dobbler pops up – twice – after G.G.’s response.

G.G. sets forth that Jimmy Hartigan’s on Thames Street in New York sold a real musty ale. He offers a description, that it was creamy, and – wait for it – imported from Ireland and black. G.G. recalled longingly the lingering savour, which sounds for all the world like a rich stout.

This is the first reference I’ve read of a connection to Ireland. I’ve referred earlier to the contemporary Irish practice of adding “heading”, or partially-fermented wort, to a blend of new and old stout. It imparted the creamy head and soft carbonation (today nitrogen gas does the trick). I suggested perhaps an Irishman brought the idea to Liverpool where a number of musty ale pubs existed in the 1800s, and thence to America.

While it would be going too far to suggest musty ale was Irish-style porter, the idea that an Irish form of conditioning was at the bottom of musty is not so far-fetched. As I argued earlier, musty ale likely was a conditioning method and (often) the blending of fresh and mature elements, rather than a type of beer as such.

Ironically perhaps, Jimmy Hartigan’s stout had little or no heading in it. Heading was not suitable for exported stout, it would cause the beer to “fret”. See brewing author Frank Faulkner on all this whom I cited earlier. Still, an Irish technique might have been at the origin of musty ale, and perhaps even the unusual name although no Irish source for the name is documented to my knowledge.

To read G.G.’s letter and the replies see the last series of images in this link, G.G.’s is first on the left. Then skip to the last two in that line. Next, turn the page and read James Dewell, Jr.’s letter (October 6).

Dobbler, when re-entering the fray, expresses disappointment no Sun reader really answered his question. He leaves readers with a doggerel poem, “Ode To Musty Ale”.

Here are the last lines:

They drink and love you, musty ale, but de’ll [sic]*a one can tell,

Where you in blazes first did get your name,

What caused you to be “musty” though you look clear as a bell

Well, musty, here is to you just the same.

On October 6, James Dewell, Jr., of New Haven, Conn., wrote in to laud the musty ale of Mory’s Inn in his town, in suitably poetic mode. Mory’s was an old Yalie retreat. In fact, I was delighted to learn it still is.

Per James Dewell, Jr.:

“What is musty ale”? Ah, as you sit supping a mug of musty on an autumn afternoon in the corner of the fireplace with Louis Linder in his gemutlich old Mory’s inn watching the dying day cast her golden shadows through the little window panes, it is music, poetry, art!

Hank, G.G., James, if you have been reading from on high, I’ve tried my darndest to get at the mystery of musty. I think I’ve come close, too. But at the end of the day, especially one limned as nicely as you did, James, I’ll concede your summary, for its higher truth.


*This may be an oblique invitation to his friend Dewell to weigh in. Dewell was a young town lawyer in New Haven, see here. However, the reference may have been a jeu de mots, playing on duel.

Eulogy For an Old Alehouse

The great Billy Park’s chophouse in Boston, the house that waived the flag for old English (?) drink and the honest sheepmeat of Albion and other specialties of the auld land, forever closed its doors in 1895. Even with Prohibition marching relentless upon the nation, a few brave souls rued the passing of an institution. An example appears below from The Sun in New York.

Perhaps as America’s melting pot deepened, there was no room for an Anglophile refuge, one which in its modest way stood as a monument to the culture and foodways of the first (white) settlers of America.

Or maybe Billy’s simply had its run. All things must pass, as George Harrison mournfully sung.

The Sun in New York laid out poetically what was lost.


We print this morning a melancholy bit of news from Boston. Billy Parks is going to close next Monday. Who that knows Boston knows not Billy Park’s? The broiled live lobsters that have been eaten there would make a red cravat of their own width around the world. The musty ale that has kissed pewter there would be an adequate and improving substitute for the Gulf of Mexico. All the fowls of the air and the coop, every aligerent edible from roe to reedbird, was to be had at Billy’s. Oliver Wendell Holmes used to live on the street since made more memorable by Billy’s. In later days the pious pilgrim visited Montgomery place, as it used to be called, then went to Billy’s and sat there reflective, dipping his beard in the musty ale. The traveller came from Bunker Hill full of patriotism and sallied down to Billy’s and put down one or two red-coats. A rather shabby place perhaps but with lobsters too good for the gods – the old heathen! – and musty ale that recalled some jovial October or stout stingo preserved miraculously from English thirsts of the eighteenth century.

It must be that the world is nearing the last of its lobsters, and that hops are to grow no more, otherwise Billy Park wouldn’t be willing to shut up his estimable and ancient establishment.

“Ave”, Gulielme Parce, “dolituri te salutamas”.

The last line translated from Latin is, “Hail, William Park, we in our dolor salute you”. It is a slight alteration of the Roman gladiators’ salute recorded by Suetonius: “Hail, Emperor, we who are about to die salute you”. That was their beau geste, and above you read The Sun‘s in regard to a Boston watering hole valued by some, not least the journalistic fraternity.

The romance extends to likening musty ale to some antique British style miraculously preserved thousands of miles from origin. But I think it is safe to say the writer had no idea what musty ale was, whence it came. We are in the realm of the bardic here, not historic.

Note how skilfully the writer marries fondness for British tradition with a lingering revolutionary pride, especially that use of “red-coat”. It’s called having it both ways, something only possible 100 years after the Colonies rose up.

To the elegant formulations of the 19th century press: I salute you.

The Session: Exploring the Beer Discomfort Zone

The current Session is hosted by Alec Latham whose excellent blog can be read here, don’t miss it including for Alec’s striking use of language.

He has asked us to give an example of a beer or beer style that challenged our comfort zone and describe the outcome, not necessarily a binary of shun or shout-out, but taking in the intermediate.

I’ll give two examples, both illustrative I think of the relative nature of taste and consumer choice. Since my early years drinking beer were prior to the onset of craft brews, my palate was adjusted to 5% abv beer.

That was the commercial norm in Canada including for the few imports we had. The only “strong” beer available in the later 70s in Quebec province, my birthplace, was Brador, at 6.2%. This was something rarely consumed due to its higher strength, it was regarded as something for a special occasion, not a go-to. It was also hard to find, relatively.

The car trips down to Plattsburgh, NY did produce a wider range, but as American adjunct lager was mostly available, we were still in the c. 5% area. The odd Belgian or English import exceeded 5% but it was hard to tell since alcohol percentage was often not stated on the label. Anyway these were occasional, specialty items.

I actually recall having early craft beers higher than 5%, and not liking them in the sense they seemed to have a different effect on me. I didn’t like the more “heady” feel of the stronger beer. It took years for me to broach them regularly especially on a weekday. So I did get to like them although I still always want to know what I’m taking in and how strong.

It shows the relativity of the beer experience, what one is used to is the norm, and it takes time to break the mould.

The other example I’d give, with the result of take-or-leave, is the American hop taste. Starting about 1983 my wife and I travelled regularly to the U.K. and the taste of pale ale and cask bitter became encoded, in part I think because the English hops at the base were so good. The best of these beers were the apotheosis IMO including Old Hooky, Courage Director’s and Best Bitter, Fuller ESB, Young’s Special, Old Peculier, but also many others. Bottled Guinness, too, and Courage Imperial Russian Stout.

When American Cascade hop-based beers became regularly available in the later 80s-90s, it was a shock to the palate, so different was the grapefruit-and-white pith taste. It took me years to come to terms with it and now I like it when it is particularly well done. (I find addition of Amarillo helps a lot with its Seville orange signature). But to this day the first taste, even of a “good” one, is somewhat off-putting: in this sense I never left the comfort zone, defined for me by the top-end of English bitter.

Is the English taste the best, based as it was on the local hop yards, fruity English yeasts, and two-row malts? Or is it just a matter of time, place, and habit? I’d say the former, on purely gastronomic grounds. The fact that so many English have cottoned to the American taste suggests perhaps I’m wrong. Or maybe they are.