Graham Kerr, The Food TV Phenomenon, Beer Cookery

Galloping-Gourmet-in-kitchenA pioneer in the food tv area is unquestionably Graham Kerr. The debonair, self-deprecating charmer of the 60s and early 70s changed the face of tv cookery shows, permanently.

Always dressed well whether casually or formally, his ever-present smile and quips kept the crowd rapt. It is a sign of his talent and appeal that a Briton who started his television and food career in far away New Zealand became known ultimately around the world.

The award-winning Galloping Gourmet series, produced in Canada from 1969-1971, launched his enduring culinary fame. When the series ended, he relocated to the U.S. He was set for a Julia Child-like ascendancy but a car accident and health issues for his wife set them back for a while. They changed direction in life and became born-again Christians. Kerr stayed in the food and nutrition field and had good success still, focusing on healthier eating and abjuring the wine glass and racy jokes of old.

He has had many shows on PBS and internationally, and is still active at 82.

But it is the old Graham Kerr whom many remember with fondness. As the series is still well-remembered and was so successful, it has been shown again on tv, on the Cooking Channel, as explained in this informative blog entry from Sarah Levine (from which the image shown is taken).

In this clip from c. 1970 you see him at the apogee of his success. He bounds into the kitchen holding a glass of wine, a fixture of the shows but he drank almost none of it when working despite the impressions given. As was typical, he does a stand-up routine that would rival many professionals in comedy. The theme is the recreation of a beef and beer dish he encountered in a hotel in Clifton, England. Sample line, for the “Investiture Ale” used for the dish: “They can’t sell it so they use it for cooking”. His English accent emulations were dead-on, a recondite talent from an American point of view that did nothing to slow his career in North America.

As far as I know, one can’t view online, if any survive, his original New Zealand television programme. It debuted in 1959 and was in black and white, called, Entertaining With Kerr. But his colour Galloping Gourmet programmes can be seen, at least a representative number, and illustrate well a corner of culinary history. He certainly wasn’t the first chef to appear on tv. James Beard did it as early as 1946. I believe very early BBC television, c.1938, featured a cookery demonstration as well. In Canada around 1960, the Canadian chef and food author Jehane Benoit, of whom I have written earlier, appeared on CBC television.

But Kerr was the best of all of them in the estimation of many. As in the case of Julia Child’s brilliant career, it was preceded by years of professional training working with food, in his case in restaurants and catering. His family had owned a hotel in Sussex, he grew up in the business and a deft way with people must have come early to him. He served in the British Army for years in a catering unit, and later did similar work for the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Once established he would poke fun at himself for this. (Military catering is in fact an important and not-well-understood part of the food world, but no one would consider it an apotheosis of military career).

Decades before Anthony Bourdain’s acclaimed food travel series, Parts Unknown, Graham Kerr was doing something similar. Indeed he set the template since the Galloping Gourmet episodes were based on his visits to reputed foreign restaurants and recreating their dishes in an Ottawa studio.

The Cooking Channel has placed online Kerr’s recipe featured in the Clifton episode, you can read it here. It’s rump of beef with beer. The recipe itself to my mind is English in origin but has some Continental influences. The barding of meat with fat to moisten it is a French standby, not an English one or at least a modern English one. The sugar, vinegar and herbs used with the beer have a Belgian ring. The mushroom and oysters part sounds more English. “Beef and ale” is certainly an old country specialty in Britain and my own library of beer cookery offers numerous examples. The Clifton one can be counted a variation.

In Kerr’s day, catering and cookery were much influenced by things “Continental”, a post-WW II concept. This entailed a menu blended from different European traditions and a particular form of service and decor, especially in hotels, and restaurants with an international flavour. The term sounds old-fashioned, but the concept will come back, sole amandine, say. (Fine dish).


The Malts In Porter And Stout


[Originally, the content below was the first section of yesterday’s post on historical brown malt. I decided to separate them to reduce the length. Also, this posting will appeal to a more general audience].

The Keynotes of Porter and Stout

The keynotes of porter and stout are, i) their dark brown-to-black colour, and ii) a taste variously described as roasted, toasted, burned, smoky. Today and since the early 1800s, porter and stout are made from a base of pale malt. A small amount of black or other roasted malt, or sometimes roasted barley or wheat (raw), is added for desired colour and flavour.

Blonde lagers, pale ales, and IPAs are made from (broadly) a similar base malt, but generally do not use the roasted malts. Where they do, it’s a very small amount for colour or minor flavour contribution.

Thus, for most beer today, a pale base malt is used. But darkish malts can also form the base, e.g., for Munich dark lager. Still, Munich malt, and the lighter, amber Vienna malt, are different from the roasted malts used for porter. They are more “luscious”, less harsh, and don’t have a bitter, roasty edge. Porters and stouts tend to have a burnt, expresso or other coffee-like signature. Munich dark lagers, as well as many brown ales, can have sweet, caramel, or drier biscuit notes. (For now I’ll leave out the special class of malts known as caramel and crystal malts although these are not unconnected I believe to the earliest brown malt).

What Kilning Does for Porter Malt

Kilning malt at high temperature (over 212 F) tends to lessen or impair enzymes resident in the barleycorn, which are needed to degrade its starch into fermentable sugar. Modern black and brown malts have no enzyme due to their high roasting temperatures – 400 F +. For modern porter, this is of no moment as the pale base malt contains enzyme in abundance. For German dark lager, the dark malt is processed and dried in a way to retain sufficient enzyme to convert itself in the mash to simple sugars and dextrin. Such malt notably can be finished off in the kiln at about 212 F, well under the range today for black malt, say.

In brewers’ parlance, any malt that is about 50 degrees Lintner (50dL) – one source goes as low as 30dL – can self-convert. Some German dunkel malt, albeit dark brown, meets that threshold. But for modern black and brown malts, the temperature of the roasting impairs the diastatic potential. Modern dark brown and black malts contribute, by contrast, their colour and flavour to porter and stout. Any starch which survived the roasting process will be converted by the ample enzyme in the pale malt.

What Mashing Does 

Mashing is the steeping of these malts, after grinding, with hot water. The drained mash is then boiled with hops to form wort, which is fermented into alcohol and CO2 gas with yeast. Mashing is necessary to convert the malt starches into shorter polymers, or simple sugars, which are susceptible of fermentation. With grape juice, you have the sugar straightaway. Same thing with apple juice, for cider. With beer, you must change a starchy mass into sugar before you can make alcohol. Mashing results in other compounds too, notably dextrin which adds body to beer but isn’t fermentable by normal beer yeast.

Malting and Mashing Permit Vital Enzymatic Action

Malting and then mashing thus activate the barley’s resident enzymes, and also contribute positive flavour effects. In malting, the grains are moistened so they partially germinate. Generally today, this takes place in open box-like structures or huge cylinders. Originally, all malt was spread and turned “on the floor”. Some still is and is considered a choice form of barley malt.

Germination starts the rootlet growing much as would occur when grains come alive in the spring in warming, damp soils.  What nature provides as nutrient for a growing plant, the brewer emulates for his own, quite different purpose. After soaking and germination, the grains are dried in a kiln – both to preserve the malt and for positive flavour effects – and can then be used in mashing and brewing.

When the dried malt is hydrated in mashing, the starches are released into solution. The activated enzymes complete the conversion of the starches to cereal sugars. If raw grains are added to the mash such as raw barley (unmalted), corn, or rice, the enzyme power of the barley malt is strong enough that it converts those grains to fermentable sugar too. Brewers use raw grains for various reasons, mainly IMO because of cost factors. There is no preliminary malting, for example, which saves on the cost. And generally, corn is cheaper than barley. Whether the taste results are equal to 100% malt beer is up to the consumer. I think all-malt beer is superior, generally.

Porter and Stout Originally Used 100% Brown Malt

Porter developed in England in the early 1700s. Until late in the 1700s, it used all-brown malt, no pale. This is attested by many sources. Brown malt was cheaper than paler malt because after higher-temperature drying to get the dark and toasted effect, some of the starch was used up, leaving less to turn into fermentable sugar and alcohol. Still, you could make a beer at an acceptable strength and affordable price. In time, people got used to the roasty, burned taste of the brown beers that came finally to be called porter and stout.

After about 1800 when all malt had gone up in price due to increased taxation, and better science gave a good handle on alcohol yields, brewers started to mix brown malt with pale malt. This permitted an overall better return than using brown malt alone. But the beer became paler, a problem ultimately solved by development in 1817 of a super-roasted form of malt, black malt.

The ability of 1700s brewers to mash all-brown malt and brew an acceptable beer was due to two things: those malts were kilned at much lower temperatures than modern roasted malts, and mashing times were very long by modern standards. Any mash, even a raw grain mash, will convert given enough time. It is not economic to do so, however, due to the extra needs for manpower and energy.

I believe the flavour of both 1700s and 1800s brown malt was more or less similar, with the blown malt subset possibly having its own signature. One must allow too that many maltsters had their own proprietary methods or made a bespoke product. In general, these malts had a hint of wood smoke flavour. It was probably stronger in the 1700s porters since the malt was unmixed with pale malt which generally was cured with some form of coal, or straw in some cases.

Beers Made With Today’s Brown Malt

Recently I discussed Black Creek Porter made in Ontario, which I understand uses a measure of brown malt. Indeed the beer tastes different than your typical pale malt + black malt/roasted barley porter. Did the brown malt taste come close to that of 1700s or 1800s brown malt? It’s impossible to say, but I believe the flavour did resemble some of those malts. The taste is woody and arbour-like, not smoky/combusted since no wood is used in the kilning, but it is still different from the expresso edge of black patent malt. Certainly the beer tasted very good and would have been enjoyed I believe by our fellow Georgian beer fanciers.

Here is a listing for a brown malt made today, by Crisp Maltings in England.


Note re image: The image above was sourced from Cork City And County, Ireland, archives, here, and is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

New Insight Into Brown Malt And 1700s Porter

Beer_Street_-_Calle_de_la_cervezaNew Source To Understand 1700s Porter

As far as I know, no academic or other histories of porter have canvassed a 1760 book which describes in some detail the kilning of brown malt. It was by an anonymous author and published in 1760, in London. The impressive title (yet abbreviated) is The Compleat Dealer’s Assistant: Or, The Maltster’s and Mealman’s Useful Pocket Companion. The author claimed a 50 year history in the malting trade in England.

Certainly his book shows extensive experience and appears technically and historically credible in all material respects.

Other 1700s accounts exist of brown malt, e.g., by William Ellis, and Thomas Hale, but not in this detail.

In the description of brown malt, which you can read here under “Of drying Brown Malt”, The Compleat Dealer states that the “popped” form, which gets most of his attention, was one of a series of brown malts. Two other browns are also described in more summary form, these received progressively longer drying at an overall lower heat. One can infer they retained more fermentable extract, as he said brewers preferred brown malt closest to amber because, buying at the brown price, they would “run away with the profit”.

Here is a partial quotation:

Some Brewers chuse this very high blown, others in a middling way, but now (for the sake of interest) they will have it dried (if possible) as close as fine amber. I myself have blown as high as any person for chapmen in London (for making porter) in the following manner, which has given great satisfaction. The kilns are to be laid on quite thin, and when the malt has had two stirs, in about three quarters of an hour, make a large fire with good billet, well dried, slit small, and laid upon a strong iron bar across the oast hole. Let one man be employed to make up the fire, whilst two others constantly attend the kiln, to stir and keep it from burning, and relieve each other; and when your kiln has popp’d about half an hour, let the fire grow smaller and smaller till you throw off.

I read this that in the 45 minutes after the malt has been laid on, when the two stirs are done, there is no fire underneath. So that when the popping starts, it is right at the beginning. Even if that is not right, the popping phase is started much earlier than was typical of 1800s production of brown malt.

If perhaps popped brown was not the only malt for porter, it was clearly very popular, as he states he sold a lot of it to chapmen (dealers, vendors) to brew specifically for porter. He explains that this malt was placed on the kiln in a thin layer. A high fire was applied to swell the husks, i.e., as I read it again, at the beginning of the kilning and not the end as for 1800s brown malt. The popping took a half-hour, and then the fire was left to bank down for approximately two hours more. After this the malt was taken out of the kiln and would have been left to cool.

Well-dried hardwood was the fuel, which produced relatively little smoke. It is obvious some of this smoke would still get in the malt, but as other 1700s accounts make clear, porter was often long-aged in this period, which would reduce the smoke taste.

The description of brown malt production is basically similar to a number of 1800s accounts, e.g., this one by William Ford from the 1850s, except for the difference of timing when the popping was done.

The difference is significant, IMO. When newly placed on the kiln, the malt would be at its moistest. It was either moist from the maltings or in some cases wetted before being dried on the kiln, which other sources confirm. Various 1800s sources, e.g., here, suggest that the blowing or popping as it was called occurred at between 175-210 F, with the malt starting at about 90F. The lower end of that is mashing temperature. I infer the moist malt kernel would have been been caramelized with that quick initial heat, much as modern caramel malt is, to produce a viscous dark sugar.

Modern caramel malt – which is sometimes made on a kiln, not a roaster – is not diastatic: it has no enzyme content to convert starches to fermentable sugar. But it doesn’t need to be, as caramel malt doesn’t need to be mashed, or not for very long. Brown malt popped in the initial kilning stage, or blown or snapped in other usage, was probably a rough form of caramel malt. This would explain the many references in porter literature to caramel, bitter caramel, burned caramel, which gave porter its unique taste. The sugar did that but also provided, I apprehend, some converted fermentable material.

If you do the super-heating at the end of the kilning as occurred from about 1810 onwards, the barleycorns by then are much drier. While the snapping may occur, I doubt you would get any fermentable sugar production. This explains why numerous commentators of the 1800s stated brown malt wasn’t fermentable. You would still get colour contribution and some flavour. But in the 1800s, they didn’t need fermentability from brown malt. By then, it was mixed with a much larger amount of pale malt which supplied all or most of the fermentables. Black malt, newly available from 1817, would have supplied a bitter grain taste, as well.

In the 1700s, porter was still made from all-brown malt. Brown malt was always less efficient in extract than pale and amber malt since its drying at a relatively high temperature degraded part of the starch. It would have made sense to blow or pop the malt when it had the highest moisture content, to get some fermentable sugar which also contributed evidently a unique flavour to the beer.

To those who might object, that would ruin the enzyme potential straightaway, I say two things. First, good porter malt would not have needed much enzyme if it didn’t need much mashing. Second, some modern dunkel malt (German brown lager malt) finishes at 212 F and remains fully enzymatic to convert all its starches to sugar and then alcohol. Same thing with rauch malt, or smoked malt for Bamberg, Germany beer.

Finally, brewers mashed much longer for porter in the 1700s than later, including possibly the 1800s but I didn’t check this. William Ellis in the London and Country Brewer speaks of three hours in total for porter, albeit some new malt is added, the capping as it was termed. Still, that’s a long time, today most brewers can mash in one hour or half that time. The prolonged mashing assisted the low enzyme content of the malt to complete its work.

The upshot: the reversal in timing of the popping phase may be explained by the switch from all-brown malt mashing to mixed mashes benefitting from the high extract content of pale malt, and possibly as well to shorter mash times post-1800.

Some other things of note from the text: London used very little straw to kiln porter. Beer and ale in London were kilned from wood, certainly for porter, or some form of smokeless coal, e.g., culm, Welch coal, coke. Straw was available at a proper cost too far from London, in “vales” where agriculture allowed its collection from stubble.

The Compleat Dealer did admire beer made from straw-kilned malt which he called “curious”. It means, here, distinctive and high quality. But little of it was actually used to make London porter if you believe someone who started in the English malting business in 1810. I do.




A True Flavour of Porter – Black Creek Porter

IMG_20160310_173603Black Creek Historic Brewery is a tiny, draft/growler brewery in Black Creek Village, a local attraction that demonstrates how pioneers lived in Ontario in the 19th century. The brewery contracts out some of its brands for bottling, and the porter is one. For some years, according to all the buzz, it’s been brewed and bottled by Trafalgar Brewery in Oakville, ON.

The current bottling is very good. The beer clearly uses some brown malt  – I was at the brewery once in Black Creek Village and was given some to crunch in my mouth, I recall the taste – and this helps the authenticity. Brown malt was once 100% of the grist for porter, but starting in the early 1800s, pale and other malts were used to supplement the brown. Good porter can be made just with pale malt and a small amount of malt roasted black much like coffee is made. Using some brown malt though always boosts the authenticity of flavour in historical terms, all things equal.

This batch has the perfect balance of woody, lightly smoky taste from the brown malt, and yet good residual sweetness which porter should have IMO. There is good gathering bitterness in the background but of a neutral type – not aromatic and certainly not citric –  as is appropriate for real porter.

The brew also contains a malt darker than brown malt, both for colour and probably some taste contribution. The website refers to “roasted malt” for the porter, which is barley malt kilned black. But the bottle label speaks of roasted barley. Roasted barley usually means raw, unmalted barley. It’s not clear which is in the current recipe, perhaps the brewery alternates one with the other, as some English breweries used to do. I’d bet on roasted malt for the current batch, as roasted raw barley often leaves an unpleasant burned vegetable taste in my experience, and I don’t get that taste in this beer. But the flavour is excellent either way so if blackened raw barley is indeed used, I’m good with it, in this case.

I am drinking mine with just the lightest chill, it’s basically room temperature in fact – all the flavour elements shine most in this form.

I used to think I could detect a Trafalgar house taste in the contract bottlings but I don’t get that in this one. Either the current bottling is not made at Trafalgar, or Trafalgar’s house profile has evolved, or there is some other explanation. Anyway, the porter is nigh on perfect as it is.

One would hope for a similar recipe but made richer and rather stronger: a double or even Imperial porter, that is. That would be outstanding.

Finally, please note I’ve not mentioned coffee, tequila, lemon, peppers, ginger, green herbs, Mars bar or other chocolate, or other exotica. Good porter doesn’t need it and rarely is improved by any of these things, IMO to be sure.

George Martin RIP

Beatles_and_George_Martin_in_studio_1966I don’t think I’ve written about music yet, so now’s the time. The Beatles’ famed producer, George Martin, died yesterday at the age of 90.

I have been a lifelong rock and roll fan, and people who know me know of my special interest in The Who, but before them I was, and have always remained, a Beatles fan. George Martin, the London-born trained musician who produced almost all their recorded work, was a vital part of their sound. Martin studied music formally after departing the Royal Navy where he rose to officer (1943-1947) and made music and studio production his career.

A marker of many Beatles’ hits (I say as a non-musician) was the “quick-step” or marching band sound. As in Can’t Buy Me Love, say, but there are many other examples. I Want To Hold Your Hand is amongst the best known.

I think this came from Martin’s early immersion in piano and oboe studies and in general his familiarity with orchestral instrumentation and arranging. But also too, his years in the military – the parade ground is never far from the Beatles sound.

To this day, Paul McCartney leans on it, as in this single, called New, from only three years ago. Even at 70, he channelled that Beatles-march tempo sound perfectly. Martin played a lot of the keyboards on Beatles records, and other instruments. In the famous opening flourish of A Hard Day’s Night, Martin sounded a strident piano chord with Paul playing bass and other Beatles on guitar. If you listen closely you can hear it. It’s the way many symphonies start, in fact.

Here, the great Randy Bachman, of Guess Who and BTO fame, explains in his engaging way how the chord was constructed. Randy didn’t mention the piano though! But it’s there, listen closely.

The confluence of talent, drive and/or foresight in Martin, the four from Liverpool, manager Brian Epstein, and Dick James to publish the music, all made it happen. One of those rare things. I actually remember playing the music in the early 60s knowing somehow it would be for the ages.


Porridge And Memories, Both Hot

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Some Reviews: Beer And A Canadian Vodka

Wells Bombardier Glorious English

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

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

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

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

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

Three Brewers Black IPA

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

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



Wellington Russian Imperial Stout

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

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

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

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

Polar Ice Vodka

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

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

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

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





The Spice Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Session – What Is Porter?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Irish-Style Dry Stout

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

For March, it is dry Irish-style stout.

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

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

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

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

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