A Venerable London Brewery Salutes the Duke of Wellington

A Victorian exercise in London pageantry and fine beer was brought to life via a story in the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator of November 27, 1841, a reprint of an Evening Mail story. The account described how a venerable brewery gave a salute to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and hero of Waterloo. He was barging on the Thames to Deptford to assume the position of Master of Trinity.

The brewery was Hodgson & Abbott, formerly Hodgson`s and famed for sending a renowned bitter pale ale to India.

Trinity House still exists and occupies itself with ocean-pilotage, navigation, and related maritime issues of importance to Britain’s economy and military security.

The account, reproduced below, is a spirited picture of the welcome the firm gave the Duke as the party sailed upriver.

Hodgson`s Bow Brewery was by Bow Bridge on River Lea, a branch of the Thames now canalised but still connecting to the river. I think the sail-past went by another brewery, or depot, on the Thames, which Edwin Abbott owned before becoming a partner in Hodgson`s.

Martyn Cornell`s article, here, explains that Abbott initially owned a brewery called Curtiss just east of London Tower. I`d think the drawing room in the 1841 story must have been in that brewery, or building if it had ceased brewing, as Bow Brewery surely wasn`t near enough the Thames.

The Duke travelled in a shallop, a craft suited for sailing in shallow water and rowed or masted (or both). Below I show the Gloriana, a modern Royal barge. The Duke’s sloop probably looked quite a bit like Gloriana as the latter was based on a 1700s design.

One may note that the pale ale mentioned was described, twice, as strong. A number of early accounts of East India Pale Ale describe it as strong drink, while later statements stress its light or moderate alcohol. As always in beer matters, contradiction abounds.

Analyses of pale ales mid- and later-1800s suggest a relatively moderate drink of c. 6% abv, but I have a suspicion that the first pale ales sent to India were stronger, in keeping with the roots of pale ale, a country ale which must have been 8% abv or more. I`ll have more to say about this soon.

Footnote: Abbott evidently was an M.P. and so was Frederick Hodgson of the brewery. Hodgson was known for his swarthy complexion and nicknamed “brown stout“ despite running a pale ale brewery*. The English were never entirely serious about beer, were they, pace CAMRA, yours truly, and my dear fellow-bloggers who obsess on historical questions. Probably a good thing.







Note re images: The first image, the news story discussed, is believed out of copyright and the original source is linked in the first line. The second image, of the Royal rowbarge Gloriana, was obtained from its website, here. The third image, of the Duke of Wellington, was obtained from his entry in Wikipedia, here. All are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*As porter scholar Alan Pryor notes in this 2013 collection of essays, George Hodgson had brewed porter in the mid-1700s. Perhaps Hodgson`s still brewed some porter in its early 1800s heyday, but my jape is in reference to its pre-eminence for pale ale in India.







How Long Should We Age Lager, Brewers?


Time in A Bottle

This is a follow-up to my post of yesterday discussing Horlacher Brewery’s Perfection Nine Month Old Lager, introduced in the immediate pre-craft brewing era (1976-1978).

Wahl & Henius’s American Handy Book Of The Brewing [etc.] Trades (1902), at pp 758-759, reviews ageing of beer. The authors set no fixed period but refer to the benefits as increased clarity due to settling of yeast and proteins and increased stability especially where beer is to be pasteurized. This last reference means, IMO, that beer is less likely to cloud and spoil after pasteurization if it was permitted to age long enough first.

Early articles in brewing literature attest to pasteurization sometimes making beer cloudy and liable to oxidize (oh irony): I have experienced this myself with at least one well-known American beer although recent bottlings are better and the problem presumably licked.

Wahl & Henius also state that “chips”, e.g., the beechwood chip aging method Budweiser has always used, permit shorter lagering. Other writers have said it too and it is because the chips afford a greater surface area for yeast contact with the beer. This emulates to a degree the effect of the yeast over a longer period, permitting the beer to ferment out and become “cleaner”.

Wahl & Henius also confirm what lager brewers had noticed many years earlier, that long aging reduces hop bitterness. This was also noticed by brewers in England for ales and porter long-stored.

Now let’s go to 2016. In this link, a brewer from AB InBev takes questions from readers. He referred to advances in yeast understanding and materials which 1800s brewers hadn’t known. He states:

When I homebrew a lager, I generally ferment at 52-54F to target gravity, diacetyl rest at 60F (3-5 days typically), and lager at 34F. I’ve been able to make very good lagers in 3.5 weeks with this method.

This absolutely requires that you have good temp. control if you’re homebrewing – repurposing an old fridge to serve as a fermentation and lagering cellar is a good way to do this.

Trying to parse his method, if he fermented in 7 days we allow three for the diacetyl rest, he was lagering only 10-12 days.

One of the posters linked another homebrewers discussion from earlier this year where a detailed description was given of similarly short method. The comments there are very interesting, too.  Basically it was suggested excellent results were obtained although one reader who tried the method said the beer wasn’t as clean as it could be.

Some points which stood out for me: In the early days, to attain “CO2 saturation”, long lagering was necessary. Today this can be achieved through force-carbonation as I said yesterday, and also krausening or bottle-conditioning (not usual for lager but sometimes done).

There is also the importance of yeast strain. Some bottom yeasts will produce clean beer – no off-tastes – at higher temperatures than others. It’s always a question of producing to the limit of a yeast’s ability in this sense. The higher the temperature, the faster the fermentation and more quickly the beer can go from grain to glass.

Higher temperatures are more efficient, but it is important not to pass the point where off-tastes result from stressed yeast. In this regard, starting gravity is important too, too high and a faster fermentation may create off-flavours.

There are trade-offs, but if you can increase temperature and save on storage time and overall energy while preserving good taste, why keep the beer for longer?

The point also came out that lagering for “too long” can produce off-flavours, which Wahl & Henius suggest as well by reference to the danger of bacterial contamination.

The list of bacteria is formidable, lactic and enteric types are just the start of it, and that doesn’t account for wild yeasts. One can see that in a former time with wooden vessels and non-sterile plants, the risk was probably greater than today.

I wrote earlier that Schaefer Brewery in New York tried to re-introduce beer aged 7 months in the 1870s. Drinkers rejected it because it was too sour. This probably is an example of what the brewers of 1902 and today were concerned about.

I took it from the discussions that today, typical lagering time for American adjunct lager is about three weeks, probably less in some cases, with grain to glass in approximately one month. Homebrewers traditionally have gone higher, five-six weeks lagering, but as mentioned above some get good results in a commercial time frame.

Some craft breweries add extra weeks for lagering. An example is Anchor Brewing’s California Lager, aged 28 days in secondary fermentation (see its website). Adding primary fermentation and the racking and packaging phase, total production time is probably about six weeks. Anchor’s Steam Beer, a lager fermented relatively warm, is stored in secondary in 10 days.

Yet even a full month’s aging is much less than for Horlacher Perfection in 1976 and what American and German brewers typically did c. 1850.

I would love to have tasted the Horlacher beer. Produced in the period it was, one can be certain it wasn’t lactic or otherwise off-tasting. How did it compare to a similar beer packaged at four weeks, or two months?  Were the extra 10-11 months a waste of time? Were they actually counter-productive? Only a taste test could tell. Written opinions are great but the final proof is one’s own palate.

Craft brewers: put away a batch of pale lager at 5% abv, perhaps hopped a little more than you normally do, keep it near freezing for 9 months and let’s see. Sam Adams Boston Lager would be a good beer to try this with given its mid-1800s heritage and firm hopping.

Finally, you can lager beer yourself, I once tried this with the Keller version of Creemore Lager given the residual yeast content. I wasn’t sure if the yeast count was high enough, but tried it anyway. Isn’t a small can just like a closed fermenting tank?  I didn’t wait nine months but rather five or six.

The beer was very good I thought, cleaner than regular Creemore. I need to try it again and more methodically, e.g., taste it against a fresh can.

Note re draft: The image shown is from the former Gerke Brewery in Cincinnati, OH, part of the impressive vaulted lagering cellars (later-1800s era). It was obtained from the website of the Master Brewers Association of Americahere.  Image is property of its lawful owner or duly authorized licensees. Believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


A Real Lager, Aged 9 Months, Appears In The Disco Era

hor5In 1976, on the eve of the craft brewing renaissance, a beer called Perfection 9 Month Old Lager was released by a small regional, Horlacher Brewing, based in Allentown, PA and founded in 1882. It was a revival of a Horlacher brand from before WW I.

Despite the release of Perfection and another new brand, Brew II, Horlacher struggled to stay in business. It was the era of macro beer dominance. Sadly, Horlacher closed in 1978.

I never had the chance to taste Perfection, so to speak. It was mentioned in the beer books which started to proliferate at the end of the 1970s, but as a curio lost to time. One writer did taste it, Jim Robertson. He said the beer was very good and his two or three year old bottle had survived remarkably well, but his notes are not detailed.

The significance of that release would be so different today, when many beer fans understand the history of lager and what it means for a beer to be lagered almost a year, especially one of regular strength.

Today I will salute Perfection beer and the vision of Horlacher, bootless as it proved to be, but first some background.

I’ve discussed a number of times how both in America and finally Europe lager beer changed from a long-aged (six-nine months) “summer” brew to essentially a “winter” beer.

As handed down in Bavaria, there was, i) schenk or winter beer, and ii) summer beer, which was lager properly speaking. Schenk was brewed in cold weather when wild organisms in the atmosphere wouldn’t sour the beer. It was given little aging and consumed as released. Summer beer was the same brew laid down in cold caves or cellars and consumed many months later, in spring or summer when brewing was suspended due to the warm weather.

When I say “same brew”, that was not always technically true, sometimes the summer lager was hopped more or made a little stronger to assist the long keeping. But basically the two forms of beer, and whether light or dark, differed little but for the aging aspect.

PerfectionThe true lager of old Germany was the summer form. What was initially a strategy to ensure beer was available in the non-brewing season became the prized form. People liked the long-aged beer due to its good carbonation, clarity, and matured taste.

Both schenk and summer lager are bottom-fermented, whereas before their emergence, top-fermented ale, porter, and some old European styles (weisse beers, Gose Bier, Broyan) were the norm.

Bottom-fermented beers tended to be more stable and clean-tasting due in part to the nature of bottom yeast but also their long cold sojourn which inhibited souring and other infection.

Also, and this is an insight I gleaned from numerous 19th century American accounts, the long aging would have knocked down the bitterness. And people liked that.*

How bottom-fermenting yeast evolved is a controversial subject. For a long time, many felt it was a derivative of a top-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae) and developed empirically under unique conditions of cold fermentation and aging.

Recent studies suggest lager yeast is a hybrid of a Cerevisiae yeast and a non-Cerevisiae yeast whose origins have been traced, strangely, to Argentina, Mongolia, and Tibet.

However the new beer yeast emerged, its use over centuries in Bavaria convinced people of its superiority over top-fermented beer especially as I have said in the classic aged form. This style took over finally in the north and east of Germany as well, and in adjoining Bohemia. Finally, lager came to North America (1840s) and in time became the dominant beer style everywhere in the world.

And yet. The lager which became a world-beater was not the long-aged brew cracked open only in the summer. It was really schenk beer which earlier was just one form of lager and not the most reputed. There is no question that in the 1840s and 50s, the true, long-aged summer beer was in the market and captured the public imagination. Schenk was drunk in winter, but that was not what put lager up in lights.

By the 1870s, harvested natural ice and finally refrigeration equipment became routine aids in the brewery. With their help, brewing could occur year round. The old long-aged lager became a memory. The schenk continued to be slow-fermented (8-10 days) vs. half that for top-fermented beer, so that part stayed true to tradition. And it received some storage in the cellar, but nothing near to what it originally received.

Some German and American breweries were still aging lager a couple of months, or more in some cases, in the late 1800s. From that point through to post-WW II the aging got ever shorter, and this accelerated once cylindrical fermenters emerged: they made it easy to collect and dispose of yeast from the base of the tank.

Is lager beer aged two months vs. six or nine as in old times, just as good? What about beer given two weeks storage if that? I’ve asked that question of brewers many times. Most seem convinced long-aging isn’t needed and on the theory (which I’ve bruited myself) that fresh beer is best, aging time can be shortened.

For example, with developments in filtration and carbonation, you could get clear, carbonated beer in a few weeks rather than waiting six to nine months.

A claimed advantage for long age is that “green flavours” including dimethyl sulphide (overcooked vegetable) will dissipate. But brewers say they know how to expel such flavours without long storage.

Indeed, there is some suggestion (I’ve discussed this earlier as well) that not all long-aged lager was exempt from sourness. Can the schenk have been preferred to a lactic tang of age…?

All in all, people liked the young new beer, or at any rate that’s what brewers gave them and they liked it well enough.

This was the environment in which little Horlacher, looking for an angle in a tough market, released a pale beer aged nine months in 1976. This was unheard of then and perhaps more to the point, is unheard of today. I am not aware of any craft lager aged that long. Some strong dark lagers, e.g., Doppelbock, or Eisbock, can receive a few months aging, but no regular strength lager does as far as I know.

Horlacher did this without knowing how the beer landscape would change within a decade, without knowing how New Albion Brewery, which had started up the same year in Sonoma in California, would help work a revolution. Perfection no doubt sold well but nothing to ride a wave on, and the same happened with Brew II, so the brewery continued its downward path.

If you would like more information on Perfection and Horlacher, you need only read Jess Kidden’s pages on the brand, hereKidden has collected a fine range of print artifacts and labels. They point indeed to a high-quality product with a high percentage of malt and hopped for good flavour.

Sadly, Perfection was ahead of its time: being about the best beer in America in 1976 couldn’t save it.

A craft brewer should brew a nine month pale lager today to remember Horlacher’s brave sally in the market. If we can have beer flavoured with tea and oranges – and that’s only the half of it – we can have one flavoured just with malt and hops stored like the old lagers of Bavaria. Advertise it this way: “Beer made in the true Alpine way which made the renown of lager in the 1850s in America. And its yeast is in part all the way from China”.

Note re images: the images above were sourced from Jess Kidden’s web page linked in the text above. They are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All trademarks and other intellectual property shown belong to their lawful owners or authorized licensee(s). All feedback welcomed.


*Earlier, I discussed the c. 1960 ad copy of F.X. Matt for Utica Club, that it was “50 years behind the times”. I said I thought the claim of low bitterness was something tucked into the ad for modern appeal, an incongruity few would notice. Now I think Matt’s knew exactly what it was talking about – it’s often a mistake to second-guess brewers with long experience and, even more important, long memory. The long sojourn in the cellars would tend to take down some of the bitterness, it rounded out the beer in this and other respects as well. A brewer with the heritage of F.X. Matt likely understood that.


The New York Lager Saloon in 1854 – More American Every Day

7638412e51d2dbca689b19c0cf4569a2I have discussed newspaper coverage of the lager-centric New York beer scene in various periods including 1891 and 1877. As the decades wore on you can sense the industry becoming bigger and more sophisticated. The same applied to the bar and beverage business (retail).

Let’s go back a bit, to October, 1854. The New York Daily Tribune wrote up the subject of lager beer in New York. It has an introduction with broader aims, taking in the history of beer and beer-like beverages in Europe and elsewhere, but the heart of the article is on the Manhattan beer scene.

The article stresses that lager beer was “the” malt liquor by this time and had practically effaced the older ale and common beer. 2000 saloons and drinking places offered beer in town, the bulk lager beer. Over 3,000,000 gallons per year were consumed annually. Many other facts and figures are given in the article, which you can read here, including the fact that about 1.5 lbs hops per barrel were used in brewing. This figure tallies broadly with other sources and held to the end of the century.

The article discusses, if only to dismiss, a bunch of northern and eastern German beers, many with odd-sounding names. How does Murder and Manslaughter sound for size? Or cow’s tail?  Then there is Israel, which beeretseq.com is very glad to read about (and has before), but why would a German beer be called Israel? It was a Lubeck speciality.

All these provincial beers outside Bavaria are said to have yielded to the all-conquering lager, which finally hit American shores. The Schaefers in New York, who established a brewery in 1842, were noted early lager-brewers but some accounts state they made ale until 1848.

Any way you look at it, within a tiny number of years an industry went from virtually nothing to some 27 brewers on Manhattan alone making 85,000 barrels per year.*

Britain is one of the great brewing nations of the world. New York was, sociologically, an English town after it was a Dutch one and before it was truly American. How could lager displace the far-famed English ale and porter? The article suggests these beers were too strong and caused fights and commotion while the German saloons were generally peaceful.

It called “ruffians” those who haunted porter-houses. One can infer as well from other sources that the ale and stout were often sour. Lager was not. In 1854, lager still held to the European winter beer-summer beer divide. More was drunk in winter than summer and the summer beer, by being long-stored, was more expensive.

Use of ice and mechanical cooling later effaced this distinction. But whether old-style or new, brown or finally pale, lager captured the American imagination almost from day one.

One of the absorbing parts of the article is the observations on saloons and the typical pub-goer as well as pub landlord. Most were Germans recently arrived and most of the lager made was consumed by Germans. Still, the trade had grown so large the “Trib” took notice. In another 20 years, lager became an American drink, drunk by all comers. Its German associations, while not quite forgotten up to the 1930s, receded into insignificance. But the Trib was talking about a time the drink still had strong ethnic associations.

Acknowledging that a few low-down German places were disorderly or of ill-repute not to mention their sour beer and cheap tobacco, the article said most lager saloons were respectable places. They offered a cool cellar or vault, a repose from the heat or tumult outside. The article noted differences in German and American drinking habits. The Germans sat at their beer and took their time. The Americans took their drink at the bar and left like an “ignited rocket”, not taking time to appreciate the taste.

Again in time these differences evened out. The article points out that many saloon-keepers were formerly men of high standing in middle Europe who had to leave because of the “Revolution”, to escape an “Imperial bullet” or “dungeon”. That’s the 1848 Revolution, if you remember from high school, Kossuth and all that. Lawyers trained in “Roman and German law” found it was not “available” (useable) in New York and most such refugees spoke no English anyway. The same for ex-military men, professors, and other grandees of the old country who bet on the wrong side in 1848.

Many turned to tending bar or hotels in New York, it was the “omnipotence of want“, as the article put it. And for this, they needed a strong stomach, both to endure mouthy loungers who had a “sixpence” but also to drink with the customers. If you couldn’t take the liquor, you had to have a partner who could.

And so, in these trans-atlantic salons, melancholy half-way houses of those “entre deux chaises“, former kahunas of Europe swept the floor and poured ze lager. We had Hungarian restaurants in Montreal like this in the 1950s. The late George Jonas, the Hungarian-born Toronto journalist and author, would have appreciated this earlier recounting of an age-old tale. Although to be fair, success found the uber-talented Jonas not long after his arrival to our shores. He is much missed.

And so, picture yourself a Yankee or Knickerbocker (old Dutch stock), wandering into a peaceable haunt with a German name in 1850s New York. Newspapers in foreign tongues strewn on the tables. The strange odours of sausage and sauerkraut steaming from the scullery. Clouds of pipe-smoke and cigar-effusions making everyone look kind of the same, American. Order your krug of lager, which was probably Munich-style brown beer then. Listen to the piano player, have another krug.

I tell you Willy, this is better than Peterson’s damnable porter-house. That sour stuff he sells is full of “brewer’s drugs” some say, cream of tatar or something. There is always a brawl there sooner or later, and next day I awake with a sore head even if just from the beer. Here, with two or three lagers you feel good and then you’re full and can’t drink any more, time to go home for dinner and you can taste it. Next time I’ll bring John or Patrick from the counting-house, they would like it, too. That ladder seems higher every day at the bank, you know. What kind of turn-over is Herr Mueller doing here, Willy? That much you say? I should escape Wall Street and establish a lager brewery. Willy, didn’t you tell me you worked at a brewery in Munich…?

This way of drinking beer became the American norm for the next 150 years. Our Yankee and finally all New York’s multitudes liked the German beer and atmosphere, in time the foreign quality lessened but the lager was as good as ever – until they started putting lots of corn or rice in it, anyway.


*The true consumption and production numbers appear as reflected in the current version this post, i.e., 3,075,000 gallons consumed in Manhattan with 27 breweries producing 85,000 barrels @ 30 gal. each. The difference was made up by imports from Philadelphia and elsewhere. The article is a little inconsistent with the numbers, probably intentionally to emphasize the huge growth in lager in under 10 years.

Note Re Image: The image above was sourced from Pinterest, here, and is believed available for historical and educational purposes. All trademarks or other intellectual property shown belong to their owner or duly authorized users. All feedback welcomed.



Bradley’s Frothing Powder “Creams” Beer


In 1886 The Brewers’ Guardian, a bi-weekly English journal devoted to all aspects of the brewing trade, contained numerous ads for Bradley’s Patent Dry “Frothing Powder”. The ads read:

Dissolves Bright and Produces a Good Lasting Head on Ale and Porter. Sample by Post 1 1/2 d., to Cream 36 Gallons to the Last Glass. Gives Neither Taste nor Smell.

Earlier in the century, the law was clearly against addition of such foaming agents and books and articles appeared, familiar to those who plumb brewing history, fulminating against additives in beer. Getting a good head on beer, especially porter, was a desideratum of all brewers then. “Beer druggists” ranged the country supplying brewers who needed a little help.

Various nostrums were used for this. They included copperas or green sulphate, and various concoctions which included cream of tartar, an acid derived from wine lees which may lie at the root of the names cream ale, cream porter and cream soda as I argued the other day.

In 1880, the “free mash tun” became law in England. This meant a much larger range of fermentables could be used in mashing than before, things such as corn (maize) and oats. Whether by 1886 the law on adding non-fermentables such as a foaming powder had also changed, I cannot say.

One of the expressed purposes of The Brewers’ Guardian was to deal with legal developments. Given this, I doubt something advertised in its pages would have been unlawful. Even if the use of foaming ads was prohibited for commercial brewers, the ads may have been directed ostensibly to so-called private brewers. They didn’t pay excise tax and weren’t regulated in the same way as the others.

Be that as it may, it shows that some English brewers were using a powder to increase their beer’s foaming. If they were, it is highly likely America’s ale brewers were doing it for their ale and porter. North America’s top-fermentation tradition comes from Britain. Many brewers who founded ale breweries in North America in Victoria’s time came from Britain or were of Anglo-Saxon origin.

These include the founder of Ballantine beer in Albany, NY, Sleeman in Guelph, ON, Greenway in Syracuse, NY, and Lill in Chicago. The last three all made cream ales, and possibly Ballantine did too, I would need to check.

In the full heyday of 1800s Anglo-American brewing, there was much more to unite brewers from the two components than separate them. A separation did finally occur but only after 1900. (In a nutshell, ale here became more lager-like while Britain hewed more closely to its ancestral traditions including in the matter of cask-conditioning).

If anything, the practice of using a foaming aid may have been more prevalent in North America as I believe there were no laws against it in the 1800s.  Cream ale starts to emerge in ads in the 1830s.

Bradley’s nostrum surely was a combination of cream of tartar and a carbonate of some kind. It was a dry powder, as baking powder is, and also, in 1888 Bradley applied to modify the patent by excluding any claim for dextrin. In the application, he referred to the original specifications, and the ingredients included saponin, calcium and magnesium carbonate, and “other salts”. Cream of tartar is a salt in chemistry, of potassium. If a carbonate was there, almost certainly an acid was, too.

Saponin is an extract from the plant world, soap-wort is an example (wort, we can’t avoid the brewing context, eh?…). Saponin is used to manufacture soap and detergents. It makes perfect sense that a mix of saponin and baking powder would make a good head on a beer.

And so there you have the key elements to help those ales foam up and hold the foam. Further proof such things were used by ale and porter brewers lies in another ad a few years earlier for French Cream-Gum Extract, by W.J. Bush. The ad read:

“… for producing a permanent head of creamy richness on all ginger beer, ginger ale, lemonade and other aerated beverages; also on beers, wines, ciders, etc.”.

There you have the link-up with soft drinks; both top-fermenting brewers and soft drink makers used, we can infer, a form of baking powder to ensure good foaming of their beer. It wasn’t just a few lager brewers in the New York area, per the City of Brooklyn investigation and New York State Assembly documents (1880s) I referred to earlier, who were combining an acid and a carbonate to raise a head on their beer.

Nor can it be argued that Every Man His Own Brewer’s advice in 1768 to use (ironically) non-adulterated cream of tartar to make beer brisk was vague or a one-off, as well into the 1880s brewers were buying powders to make beer “creamy” which would have incorporated the very thing.

There is no question that Bradley and Bush were using dairy cream as a metaphor. But this is the 1880s. By then, what I apprehend is the second of the double-associations of the terms cream ale, cream porter, cream soda became the one that resonated with the public, even the average brewer. This doesn’t mean in other words the origins of the name don’t lie in chemistry via the term cream of tartar.

I could be wrong of course but what seems normal to us now, that “creamy” naturally applies to a nice head on a beer, isn’t necessarily how people viewed it when cream of tartar first went into a vat of beer. The association with a viscous thick substance like dairy cream only may have come later, once it was seen as a nice coincidence that cream in its dairy sense applied metaphorically to very fizzy beer and soft drinks.

Indeed the dairy cream analogy was preferable to a sense lying in obscure chemistry, especially as no one wanted to emphasize the chemical meaning due to the always-present public concern adulteration.

By the early 1900s, modern microbiology and biochemistry had commenced. While additives in beer were far from being discarded (au contraire), all that was left in brewers’ and brewing scientists’ minds regarding cream ale was fizziness and the head. This is evident from how Wahl & Henius in their pre-WW I text treat it as I said earlier, and also the way A.L. Nugey discusses cream ale in his 1930s Brewing Formulas Practically Considered, a text I’ve also discussed earlier.

Nugey stated simply that cream ale was “lively” beer and “krausened”. The krausen process is where newly-fermenting beer is added to matured lager to spark a new fermentation to make it foamy and carbonated. Clearly, cream ale’s lively character probably since before WW I has been created through krausening, injected CO2, or some other usual method which eschews additives.

(In other words, while foaming agents certainly are used today by some brewers, I’d doubt they are used any differently for cream ales).

The term krausen and its derivatives are of German origin. While it is tempting to think they suggest a German brewing origin for cream ale, I don’t think that is the case. There are too many associations with English and Anglo-American brewers to suggest that cream ale doesn’t come from an Anglo-Saxon tradition, IMO.

Also, cream ales and cream beers of various styles proliferated in the 1800s and 1900s. See this eBay listing of labels which covers a wide range of breweries and styles for the 1900s. Earlier, I had thought cream ale probably originated in New York State and spread to a couple of adjoining states and Ontario in Canada.

In fact, there were breweries in a much wider part of the States and Canada which had cream ales, cream porters or stouts, and cream pilseners. At least two reputed breweries in Chicago made cream ales before the Civil War.

An old bottle cap for Labatt 50 Ale states, “Labatt 50 Cream Ale”. This tv ad from the 1990s in Quebec’s French market advertised Labatt 50 Cream Ale and the announcer said, “Tout l’arôme d’une ale anglaise“. While this choice of terminology for Labatt 50 came relatively late (the brand only dates too from 1950), it suggests to me a well-carbonated beer of English origin ultimately. “50” was and still is top-fermented, for example.

In the end, I think the tradition behind the cream-denoted beers was neither parochially German nor geographic in the sense mentioned, nor simply the result of a pleasing metaphor involving dairy cream, but rather was characteristic of a wide area where early brewers of English tradition were familiar with powders which ensured a good head on a beer, of which cream of tartar was an essential component.

To me this argues English roots reaching back perhaps to 1768 and Every Man His Own Brewer and to cream of tartar. Still, one can’t exclude the dairy cream metaphor or a German brewing technique, maybe krausening, as explanations, it’s possible.

Note Re Image: The image above was sourced at the Tavern Trove webpage, here, and is believed available for historical and educational purposes. All trademarks or other intellectual property shown belong to their owner or duly authorized users. All feedback welcomed.

“This is How We Make Whisky in Canada”

IMG_20160808_200110The title is a quote from Dr. Don Livermore. He made the statement a couple of times during my memorable visit recently to the Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor.

Having received an invitation to tour the plant in company of Don Livermore, its Master Blender, I wasn’t going to say no. Are you kidding? This was a chance to visit a distillery in operation since 1858 – before Canada became a nation. It produces nationally and internationally-known brands, not just whisky but numerous other spirits, and liqueurs.

Don possesses master’s and doctoral degrees in Brewing and Distilling from the well-known Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. His studies focused on barrel maturation and how different types of barrels interact with alcohol and affect flavour. This background, plus many years at Hiram Walker in different roles, have given him a mastery of the science and practice of distilling and blending.

Hiram Walker was an American who resided in Detroit, he had interests in numerous businesses including a grocery. Interestingly, he crossed the river daily to supervise the business but never resided in Canada.

The Hiram Walker complex runs some 40 acres along the Detroit river and includes the aging warehouses at Pike Creek, about 10 miles away. The Canadian Club Heritage Centre onsite is actually operated by Beam Suntory, a competitor. Hiram Walker makes Canadian Club for Beam Suntory under contract. “CC” was a Hiram Walker brand originally but this changed some years ago when Hiram Walker changed hands. Pernod-Ricard in France acquired the distillery and the Hiram Walker whisky brands except CC, which went to what is now Beam Suntory.

IMG_20160808_093500We started at the general offices where a Wiser’s Brand Centre is in course of planning. An on-premises shop is now in operation as well where different brands can be purchased by the public. A bar is planned, to boot. The Brand Centre will permit public tours and a broader interface with the consumer interest in whisky than has been afforded to date. All to the good, it’s a trend at play for some time at distilleries in Scotland, Ireland, and Kentucky.

The Detroit River and Detroit city skyline across the river will provide a superb backdrop for the Brand Centre.

Tall elevators nearby were built of concrete in the 1950s. They hold the grains that will become whisky. They are held in unmilled form, and ground with a hammer mill before mashing for whisky or other spirits. I met Kristy who checks the grain arrivals to ensure conformance to contract. She looks in particular for geosmin in grain, an earthy off-taste which can show up in the barrels years later.

Also, spent grains sold for animal feed with this defect might be rejected by the animals who instinctively shy from the taste. For this reason, the company is careful to reject all grain with this defect or other non-conformance to contract specifications. Moisture level is another parameter carefully checked.

IMG_20160808_104652The dried, spent grains from the mashing – the residue after the sugars are extracted for fermentation – are stored in an impressive huge pile with different-coloured layers, e.g., rye is darker than corn. Farmers prize the spent grains as feed for livestock. At one time, the area where the grain is received and handled formed part of a separate grain business. Many distillers started as millers or grain dealers and grain trading was once an adjunct to distilling at Hiram Walker.

We went to the rooftop of a silo and apart from the view being pretty impressive – the river glittered far below on a flawless day – we heard a pinging sound. Sonar-type technology is used to monitor the volumes in the elevators. Exact meansurement can be made at any time which assists for financial reporting and other purposes.

IMG_20160808_103745All grains are stored separately by type and are mashed, distilled, and aged separately. This system is generally used at large Canadian distillers. For CC however, separate distillates are combined (when new) for aging. But all the Hiram Walker whiskies including the flagship Wiser brands are aged separately and then blended before bottling.

Mashing occurs for three main types of spirit:

– spirit distilled in a column still and rectified at a high proof, c. 94% abv. This is called Double-distilled by the company. Don said the company has been making spirit at this strength at least since 1906 based on the earliest records


– a spirit called “Star”, distilled once in the column still at 70% abv


– the same Star but finished in a pot still. This is Star Special, which is a few points higher than Star in abv

Backset, the residue of a previous distillation, is used in mashing for Double-distilled but not for the other two. The acidity level in the rye mashes doesn’t require backset to reach the correct level. It is useful for Double-distilled, to adjust the pH which otherwise might climb too high due to nitrogen in the mash which is wanted for its favourable impact on yeast action.

IMG_20160808_104050Most of the Double-distilled is made from corn, which has a relatively mild taste as a grain. Star and Star Special generally are distilled from rye but also sometimes from barley or wheat, and form the keynote flavours in the blends. Star and Star Special are distilled broadly like the American straight whiskies or Scots malts (all under 80% abv), but have their own characteristics. E.g., the pot still used for Star Special is somewhat different than the doubler still used for bourbon since the spirit is condensed first and tanked, after which it is charged into the pot still. In a doubler set-up, the spirit flows directly into it from the column still in one process.

Also, Hiram Walker’s pot still has a notably low lyne arm. Through less reflux (condensing and re-boiling) this makes a more vigorous spirit.

Traditionally in Canada, the idea is to use small amounts of flavoursome whiskies such as Star and Star Special with a larger amount of Double-Distilled to make a balanced blend. One brand, Lot 40, is Star Special not blended, and released on its own. It has a very full, piney/spicy palate. It is our counterpart to a Scots malt or bourbon.

IMG_20160808_114620The fermented mash for Double-Distilled reaches 15-16% abv, a high level by international standards. The more alcohol that can be generated from a mash, the more efficient it is. The distillate’s high proof means no relevant flavour considerations are affected. In contrast, Star and Star Special are mashed to produce about 9% abv, comparable to an American or Scottish distiller’s “beer” for bourbon or malt whisky.

The distillery uses commercial dried distillers yeast for the fermentation. In the past, some malt was used to convert the starches in the raw grains to fermentable sugars but Don indicated the company is moving to all-raw grains mashing with enzyme being added to ensure conversion and fermentation. This ensures better control and reduces the risk of infection which malted grains (due to their processing) can introduce into mashes and the finished whisky. Later in the lab, I tasted a spirit which showed this defect and I thought it was quite familiar from numerous American ryes I’ve had! It was a strong peppermint note, at least that’s how it struck me.

I won’t tarry on bottling and emptying and filling casks except to say the barrel emptying system made an impression. The trucks come in from Pike Creek, barrels enter on their warehouse pallets, a machine takes out the bung,  and the whiskey is vacuumed out in about half a minute. A moment later the barrel is refilled with new distillate and trucked back to the warehouse for aging. The cycle of the business is neatly exemplified in that one operation.

IMG_20160808_135957The labs have the expected high degree of tech sophistication, however employees still nose the products to ensure acceptance to set standards. The human element is still very much part of the picture. Alcohol today is measured, e.g., in a portion of mash, with a densimeter, not a hydrometer.

Don pioneered the use of infrared sensors that can rapidly detect alcohol, sugar, and acid levels in a matter of seconds as to opposed to traditional methods that could take as long as two hours to measure one sample. This technology allows Hiram Walker to have tight controls on fermentation which in Don’s belief is the heart beat of a distillery.

The distilling process is monitored by a sophisticated software program which can report on various parameters especially temperature.

Don showed me an amazing collection of yeast samples gathered by the company over the years from different sources. I saw an “Old Crow” yeast, yeasts from long-disappeared rye distilleries in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and much more. Don hopes to use some of these yeasts to make test batches of products. The company just acquired a smaller still, a hybrid pot and column still, which will facilitate this. Imagine a rye whisky mash fermented as in the 1930s in Baltimore! Maryland was formerly of high repute for rye whiskey.

All the whisky is aged, and some rum and brandy, in large concrete warehouses (1950s, 60s-era) a few miles away at Pike Creek, a suburb of Windsor. The barrels stand end-to-end on wood pallets vs. on their side on racks as in some distilleries. The buildings are ventilated with fans, and large overhead doors are opened and closed to ensure proper air circulation. No artificial heating or cooling is used unlike in some bourbon warehouses. Temperatures in the Windsor areas can be quite extreme, at times the whisky is near freezing but right now can reach 30 C or more.

IMG_20160808_144444Whisky is aged anywhere from three to 18 years or more. Each brand has a set matrix of ages and sources – mix of Double-distilled, Star and/or Star Special. In turn, the whiskies are distilled from different grains and aged in different kinds of barrels.

Red Letter is a relatively recent brand, but based on a historical recipe. Its base is aged in virgin wood, that is, new barrels whose interiors are charred as for bourbon. This gives the whisky a warm, toasted oak topnote compared to the more neutral impact of re-used bourbon barrels.

I tasted at the warehouse Lot 40, a Star Special unblended as mentioned above, at about 55% abv – barrel strength. It had a spicy/piney nose and huge flavour with a good sweetness. This is Canada’s equivalent of a good single malt or bourbon but appropriately, doesn’t taste like either. It would be good to see the cask strength released as a specialty on the market but right now you can buy the very distinctive Lot 40 at 43% abv*.

Back at the main facility, Don took me through an amazing nosing of numerous white and aged spirits, made from different grains and aged in different barrels, to detect differences. He made a presentation on the effect of alcohol on the cellulose and hemi-cellulose of the oak which showed how specific compounds are extracted to lend keynote flavours in the spirit. Lignin is a key source of many of these flavours, it derives from fibre in the oak wood.

Rye also has fibre and the aging of Star and Star Special result in breakdown of its lignin component to provide many of the spicy and other keynote flavours. These include grassy, floral, fruity notes, some of which come from the fermentation, the heart of the process.

A heavy soapy note in Star and Star Special is avoided by discarding most of the “tails” from the pot distillation, these are the high-boiling volatiles. Undesirable low-boiling volatiles including methanol are removed by a “heads” cut at the outset of the run. Still, a touch of these flavours stays in the spirit to lend it character. (Molecules can’t be separated with precision in the fractionating of a grain fermentation, a good thing).

IMG_20160808_134204Although some of the Hiram Walker brands may use relatively little Star and Star Special, so potent is their taste that considerable flavour is imparted to a much larger amount of relatively neutral whisky. It isn’t neutral as such due to aging in wood and being a touch under the distilling-out proof for vodka, but by comparison with the flavouring whiskies, the base is milder and intentionally so.

Don indicated, and I know this from distilling history, that a clean alcohol taste was regarded as highly desirable in the mid-1800s. This was a time when much whisky was made in primitive stills and sold young and raw. The public welcomed a spirit which lacked heavy soapy and oily notes. Indeed readers might reflect how popular vodka is today, the cleanest spirit that can be made.

IMG_20160808_162920When high-proof, clean spirit became available, to give the “whisky” taste people remembered, some whisky made the older way was blended with the newer type. People liked these blends which became the whisky style of Canada. Blended Scotch whisky developed in a very similar manner, the same for most rum. The Americans too had, and still do, their version of blended whiskey.

As a fan of the whisky palate, I must say I incline to the traditionally-distilled products, i.e., made the way Star and Star Special are and long-aged for maximum taste and complexity. I did try one whisky which was long-aged in new charred oak (virgin wood again) to see if it was similar to a U.S. straight rye. It was really quite different, a piney top-note emerged which is not characteristic of U.S. rye. I think our climate partly explains it but also Don pointed out that where the rye is sourced, as well as process differences at the pot still stage, can make for different tastes at the other end.

Consider too that Star and Star Special are typically made from 100% rye. Most American ryes have a considerable amount of corn in them…

It is only appropriate our whiskeys made in a similar manner to other reputed whiskies will not taste identical – it makes them distinctive, both of Hiram Walker in this case and Canada.

IMG_20160808_100245Finally, I did some blending with Don’s help in the room where all the samples were arrayed. I decided to go for a blend of a Double-distilled, Star, and Star Special. The latter two were about 15% by volume of the blend. The taste was very forward and pleasing to me, I think Don agreed. It showed how a relatively small amount of flavouring whiskey can give a defining character to the blend.

Don will be interested, or amused, to hear that when I got home and the level in the flask was 80%, I topped it with Red Letter whisky and just a touch of the barrel-strength Lot 40. I thought this produced a more complex taste and certainly was very good too. The samples left with me by the company were much appreciated.

I recognize the public taste perhaps always will tilt towards the milder, softer taste of the blends, but I hope in the future Hiram Walker will put more emphasis on the single whiskies. It would be good to see a second Star Special, maybe one aged all in new-charred wood. And a cask-strength version of one of these would be nice.

Hiram Walker has the flexibility, resources, and experience to make anything it wants and supply any public need in beverage spirits. The future is theirs, as it has been since 1858.


*An earlier version of this article erroneously stated “40% abv”; thanks to “Megawatt” of www.straightbourbon.com for alerting me to this error.




Virginia Black in More Depth

CpnSysGVMAENn3TSome months ago I wrote brief notes on this new whisky which is being rolled out in Ontario in stages this year.

Bottles have been available to taste at the Summerhill LCBO’s tasting counter (small samples).

Customers could pre-order it from the Vintages department ahead of general listing. I ordered a couple of bottles a few months ago and they came in yesterday.

Tasting the whisky in normal-size measures, I am just as impressed as with the teaspoon measures of the sampling. Virginia Black is obviously bourbon whisky, even though not stated on the label, but dollars to donuts some kind of sweetening is added. In this case the effect is pleasant and works perfectly.

Under U.S. regulations for bourbon, it is not possible to flavour bourbon and call the result “bourbon”. Rye whiskey, provided it is not straight, is a different story, as are the various barrel-finished bourbons due to some hairsplitting IMO.

I speculate it was decided to call Virginia Black simply “whisky” to ensure compliance with these rules, but I don’t know for certain. It doesn’t matter, the whisky is a quality product and that’s all that matters.

I should add, Virginia in the name is neither a type nor source, the label states clearly the whiskey is not from Virginia. Virginia is simply a branding or trade mark here.

The back label refers to Lawrenceburg, Indiana which suggests the whiskey is sourced from MGP, an old distillery there – very old, it was started in 1847. The plant used to be owned by Seagram. MGP is a respected bulk producer, it has no brands of its own but supplies bourbon and rye whiskey to many non-distilling producers or others needing whiskey for a brand.

The whiskey hasn’t a hint of immaturity, that rubbery or detergent note two or three year old whisky can have. I’d guess the Virginia Black is four or five years old, but am not sure again. However it is put together, the people who formulated it did a great job.

Music and media star Drake founded the Virginia Black venture together with the creator of DeLeon tequila**, Brent Hocking. They came up with some nice packaging, too, the bottle is a ridged clear glass which evokes the 40s-60s. The VB logo has a 40s design feel as well but the blingy gold-plate of the label and cap offers a modern note.

Both in colour and taste, the whisky reminded me of a bourbon from the 60s-80s, Benchmark. Like Virginia Black, Benchmark was rich but not complex, easy to get down but tasting good. As it happens, that was a Seagram brand*. It all ties in…


* The name Benchmark has appeared on bottles of bourbon in recent years, a product of the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY (owned by Sazerac Company of New Orleans). Virginia Black tastes much closer to the original Benchmark than the latter-day one, IMO.

**Apologies to Virginia Black, I just was told that co-founder Brent Hocking developed DeLeon tequila, not another brand as mentioned earlier.  Glad to be able to set record straight.




Cream Of Tartar: The Link Between Cream Ale, Cream Soda, Cream Nectar, Egg Cream?

Alan McLeod over at www.agoodbeerblog.com has done some original, in-depth work over the years on Albany ale and cream ale. See e.g. this recent post in which he collects some thoughts on different aspects and identifies an early “cream beer” which quite possibly is of German origin. He raises the question whether cream beer and cream ale may have different roots.

I think cream beer could well be separate in development but that the drinks listed in the title above may be linked, as discussed below.

In my recent post on 1890s brewing practices in New York City, I noted that the journalist of The Sun who visited a brewery there mentioned that it added carbonate of soda to the kegs before dispatch. He was told it was to make the beer “mild” (retard sourness, IMO) and reduce the bitterness.

I stated that the concern with sourness could come (my interpretation) from two sources: normal degradation of unpasteurized beer, and the fact that the beer probably had some acidity from inception. Isinglass finings, commonly used in the period to clarify beer, were dissolved in a weak acid solution.

Cream of tartar was often used in the area to prepare the isinglass according to a City of Brooklyn investigation in 1884-1885. The study also confirmed soda carbonate was added to counteract the cream of tartar and make the beer “drinkable”. The study was looking at whether soda carbonate might be harmful in large amounts.

In this collection of documents from the State Assembly of New York in 1886, it was said brewers try to shorten 8-12 weeks of aging time by artificially clarifying and carbonating the beer. This was done by adding bicarbonate of soda and if the acidity in the beer was not high enough, cream of tartar or another acid was added. It was not just to mix with isinglass: some brewers added cream of tartar to help carbonate the beer faster.

When an alkali such as a carbonate reacts with an acid, the sour taste is reduced and CO2 is developed, which also helps the foam or head of the beer. Bubbles might tend also to reduce the effect of hop bitterness.

Cream of tartar, or potassium tartrate, is a weak acid derived from wine fermentation. When combined with soda carbonate, this becomes essentially commercial baking powder. The reaction it causes in the presence of moisture is leavening, the bubbles in bread or pastry make it rise.

Cream of tartar was used before the days of carbonation stones or cylinders as an alternate to yeast fermentation to make liquid fizz. It is a common ingredient in early ginger beer, root beer, cream soda, “cream nectar”, and other soft drinks. It was used with soda to impart carbonation to all manner of soft drinks, as shown in this modern book on traditional methods by Abigail Gehring.

See the mid-1800s cream soda recipes here, for example. Cream of tartar or tartaric acid combined soda carbonate made drinks fizzy. Cream of tartar I should add is also used to stabilize sugar in soft drinks by inverting it, but I am referring here to the many recipes which combine it with an alkali to make carbonation.

In the 1758 Every Man His Own Brewer, the author clearly states cream of tartar will make flat beer brisk provided it is genuine in origin. Indeed, modern home brewers sometimes use cream of tartar to raise a head. Where they do this, I infer enough carbonate is already in the water, and many brewing waters contain it especially for pale ale, a frequently brewed style.

True, there are other ways to carbonate beer, but in the early 1800s, adding sugar would have been expensive and krausening or the British equivalent may not have been practical. It was a time when nostrums for beer were frequently resorted to.

It appears, too, Albany-area water is hard in nature (alkaline) and many regional springs have a high mineral content as well, e.g. at Saratoga.

And if the water was not hard enough, maybe cream ale brewers also added a piece of bicarbonate, that is what lager brewers were doing in New York and Brooklyn in the 1880s and 90s.

I believe the word cream in, i) cream ale, ii) cream beer at least of the non-alcohol type (there was one, it seems clear per this 1887 ad in the Catskill Recorder), iii) cream soda, iv) cream nectar/Imperial cream nectar, and v) possibly the New York City egg cream, may derive from cream of tartar. The common elements to all are fizziness and no real cream. Egg cream in New York does use milk though, a potential question mark in its regard.

In Wahl & Henius’ brewing text c. 1900, they bracket cream ale with “lively” and “present use” beer, which clearly denotes fizziness as an attribute, vs. say “still” beer which was like modern cask ale.  As Alan noted, present use is English terminology. Cream ale seems associated initially too with ale (top-fermentation) not lager brewers.

Certainly there were some cream lagers, so-called I mean. Alan gave the example of a Brading cream lager in Ottawa, ON. But Pennsylvania cream beer possibly apart, “cream” in beer terminology seems to have been mostly Anglo-American. Once cream ale became a thing, it makes sense a few lager makers would follow but I don’t think there were that many. I incline that cream ale is not German but at the same time lager brewers were adding cream of tartar to lager in the 1880s-90s even if most of these beers were never called cream lager as such.

Now, assuming cream beer as known in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s was German in inspiration, could cream ale have been a take-off in turn, to this one must say yes. But I incline against it. I think cream ale derived from Anglo-American roots and the practice, vs. the name, migrated to lager in later in the 1800s.

Maybe Albany’s ale brewers began the naming practice and it spread to some adjoining states and provinces. Maybe it was called Cream Tartar Ale within the brewery at first, then shortened with the pleasing connotation to the public of a creamy head. Bonded bourbon had a double-association, bonded meant stored in bond (tax unpaid) but later acquired the sense of guaranteed quality. Maybe something similar happened to cream ale.

I readily acknowledge that, to my knowledge, no New York State or other recipe for cream ale mentions cream of tartar and carbonate in water or another form. The public inquiry into brewing practices in Albany in the 1830s makes no reference to these that I can see.

But this doesn’t mean cream of tartar was not used by some to make a fizzy ale. It may have been, but was not attested to, either because of trade reticence or the brewers felt the substance was harmless. I think it is actually, at least for normal quantities of beer consumed. Certainly no law prohibited it then.

A cream of tartar link is attractive. It provides a unifying element to cream ale, the later cream lager, and the various cream soft drinks. It also accounts for the fact that none of these contain dairy cream. Viz. the New York egg cream, while that has its own fascinating history, we feel it is possible that originally it contained no dairy. Later, as a retrospective interpretation, some people may have added milk or cream believing this was authentic.


Current Tastings of Pilsner Urquell, Old Tomorrow Canadian Pale Ale, Two Belgian Whites From “Batch”



This may be the first bottled Urquell I’ve had which hasn’t any, even a hint, of off-taste from light damage. This is down to the brown bottle which replaced the green one some years ago, and also the freshness of this bottle. It was packaged about 6 weeks ago, about as fresh as it can come realistically for an export.

This one had a soft taste and seemed a touch undercarbonated, which I’m good with anyway. I’ve been a devotee of the can for a long time but might switch if this quality keeps up.




This is Old Tomorrow Canadian Pale Ale, an Ontario craft product now well-established here. The draft seems better than the can with extra nuances.

This kind of beer is a cross between IPA as it’s currently understood and traditional pale ale. It drinks better in 20 ounce pints than 14 (or 18), and the older glasses are getting harder to find in Toronto. Will some agree with me the old English pint is the perfect measure for certain beers?




These two were bought from the fridge at Batch, the Molson-Coors brewpub on Victoria Street in Toronto. I like some of the draft beers there, especially the pale ale and the Creemore-brewed Hops & Bolts India Pale Lager, but was disappointed in the beers shown. They have the advertised flavours, but I got strong Belgian yeast notes (clovey, raisins) in both.

I’m not a fan of that taste as it tends, as here, to overwhelm other qualities in the beer. But also, I’ve always thought that the Belgian white style (wit) uses a more neutral yeast to highlight the subtleties of the wheat, barley malt, hops, and coriander or other flavourings in the beer.

For example, the well-known Blanche de Chambly doesn’t have that taste, nor Hoegaarden as far as I know. I don’t even think Blue Moon does.

The collaboration was similar to the regular Batch Witbier but bigger in all respects.

Showman Walter B. Leonard Recalls The American Barroom – Part II

Earlier today, I discussed a 1932 news article in which an aged ex-showman, Walter B. Leonard, recalled the tavern his family operated in the 1870s in the northern New York hamlet of Morley.

Walter Leonard lived from 1860-1949 and a year before he died, a much-expanded version of this article appeared in six parts in the Commercial Advertiser of Potsdam, NY. The first installment appeared in the last week of February, and the next five all in March 1948.

The name of the expanded series was A North Country Tavern – An Early Recounting of a Small Village Hostelry.

Both as regards the bar and the larger context such as town, churches, and local businesses, considerable extra detail was given, which I’ll summarize here. But I suggest to those interested to read the original articles as they have a gentle humour and unique style. Leonard was born at the outset of the Civil War, which sounds so long ago, yet in essence the articles could appear today with a little updating of language.

There is a good description of the village of Morley. It still exists but is not much more than a crossing or junction now. In the 1870s it was a thriving town of 400 inhabitants. It had a tannery, wagon-maker, bootmaker, grocery, clothier, mill, cider-press, and other basic services. And one lawyer!

Below is the Lisbon, NY area today, quite close to Morley and often mentioned in the articles.


There were two churches, Episcopal and Methodist. The surnames of the townspeople are all Anglo-Saxon or Celtic.

The village may have had a proportion of Scots-Irish: inhabitants of Ulster for a hundred years or more of Scots or English descent who moved in large numbers to the U.S. in the 1700s. Morley had an Orange fraternal organization and a popular Orangeman march on July 12 in each year.

The Leonard Tavern was first operated by Walter Leonard’s grandfather. Walter’s father took it over after the Civil War, his father had built it up and it enjoyed good trade both locally and from the surrounding towns  Canton, Potsdam, and Lisbon.

Despite a promising start Walter’s father did not succeed in the venture but Walter doesn’t elaborate. He seemed generally to look at the positive side of things. The recollections are warm, and perhaps his glass-half-full approach helped him reach the advanced age he did.

The bar was a two-and-a-half story white-painted structure with a piazza (veranda). There was a dining room annex where light meals were served such as hot biscuits, ham, cakes, “thick pies”, pickles, preserves, cole slaw, and cookies. The last two were brought to America by the New York Dutch, incidentally.

The beer at the bar was supplied by Greenway, a brewery in Syracuse, NY which was well-known for its ale and porter in the later 1800s, it had been established by two brothers from England.

Peppermint, wintergreen, and other flavourings were kept in corked bottles with a goose quill through the cork. Leonard doesn’t say but these were bitters, to flavour whiskey and cocktails. Powdered sugar and ground nutmeg are mentioned as well. The bar clearly could make a range of cocktails.

Leonard describes special town events like Quadrilles, where people danced until the early hours. The odour of the mens’ hair oil and clove-scented breath stayed with him for 70 years. He reels off a list of mostly obscure dances, or obscure to me! He said most in the town could dance them, too. He describes in detail mens’ and ladies’ dress and footwear; he must have been unusually observant as a child. The mens’ boots were made from fine French calfskin. In general town life is painted as prosperous and happy.


Unlike the relatively short piece in 1932, there is a more detailed description of the bar’s customers. This time, Leonard is more frank about some who had trouble with alcohol, and mentions names. Maybe in 1932 some of their family were still living and Leonard or the editor kept the errant ancestors out of the story.

Some cases are quite sad, e.g., a prosperous farmer who ended spending most of his time with the bottle. A son accompanied him to the pub to help control him but ultimately aped his ways and incurred the same fate.

One man was able to stay away from alcohol for a time but then went on binges and could not return to normal living without medical help. Leonard doesn’t say, but such cases often ended in the asylum.

One loser never had money to pay for drinks and would cadge them from other patrons. His trick was, if you knock a tack in my leg you can buy me a drink.

Thus, in 1948 when he was almost 90, Leonard didn’t hold back from the darker side of the bar trade. I wonder if maybe his father had no stomach for it finally, maybe that explained his early exit from the business.

In sum the life of 1800s upstate New York in that “section”, to use terminology of the day, is painted as idyllic, both the natural surroundings and the social life, for the most part. The description of icy winter sleigh rides is captivating, with people wrapped in buffalo robes lined with colourful flannel and edged with cloth of a contrasting colour.

There were, finally, just two references to nearby Canada. The first was when the cashbox was emptied after the Quadrille dances and suppers. A few Canadian pennies were found to which Leonard registered no objection. The other was in the form of Ira Morgan, a favourite customer of the bar: he was from Canada but the town or province was not known or stated.

Morgan was the overseer at the local tannery. Leonard said he was “fond” of liquor but only “occasionally” over-indulged. Here’s an extract from one of the six parts, but to get the full flavour you need to read the whole thing:

Around the Leonard Tavern all was hustle and bustle! Father was down in liquor cellar tapping a fresh barrel of “Greenway Ale”. He is being assisted by his right-hand man, Oliver Hedden, who is fairly capable, and always willing to assist especially if fluid refreshments were in evidence. Father has a hammer and is driving the bung into the barrel, while Oliver stands ready to place the faucet into the hole in the head of the barrel. This requires considerable skill. As the bung is driven through, Oliver who is a trifle slow, does not locate the bunghole until a stream of highly-charged liquid shoots out and into the face of Oliver, blinding him for a minute. Father believing this delay was uncalled for grabs the faucet, places it in the bunghole hole and pushes Oliver, who falls over a keg of gin, while father, to relieve his pentup emotions, hands Oliver a rapid fire of nouns and adjectives, the recounting of which would not look well in print; therefore, I assume the liberty of eliminating them. After the faucet is properly adjusted, and my parent’s tempest had subsided, several glass decanters are filled with “White Wheat”, rye and bourbon whisky, gin, rum, brandy, and taken up into the barroom and placed in a glass case on shelves just back of the long serving counter. In this rather artistic receptacle are some small bottles with goose quills through the corks, which contain pepper-sauce, extract of peppermint, wintergreen, and some dark fluid called “stoughton”.

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Note re images: The first image, of a farm in Lisbon, NY, is from the website of Posson Realty. The second image is from this Getty images site. The third image, of Stoughton bitters, a replication of a famous brand of the 1700s-1800s, is available from Napa Valley Distillery where the image was sourced. All are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.