Oklahoma’s Chock Or Choc Beer

A number of beer types can be considered distinct evolutions from the European lager, ale and stout (porter) which have dominated North American brewing since European settlement. These distinct types include California steam beer, Kentucky common ale, Pennsylvania “swanky” and Oklahoma choc or chock beer. Of these, choc beer has been least documented, but the reason for this will appear shortly.

I first read of choc beer, if memory serves, in All About Beer magazine about ten years ago.

Stan Hieronymous, the blogger and beer writer, has recently posted an informative piece which sheds doubt, correctly in my view, whether the name choc beer is derived from the Choctaw Indians, as has been commonly supposed. This entry from an Oklahoma historical association states the etymology usually accepted, or assumed, for choc beer.

I’ll elaborate here on two comments I made to his post, which suggest an alternative name origin for the beer.

First though, what is or was choc beer? It was an alcoholic drink made, according to various accounts, from malt, hops, corn kernels, herbs, tobacco, and sometimes moonshine whiskey. A strange brew, at first sight. It was a folk drink, made by a range of residents in the Oklahoma Territory in the later 1800’s, native Americans included, but far from exclusively. As Stan noted, choc beer was particularly associated with miners in the Oklahoma coal districts. Oklahoma was a prohibition territory, even after it became a state in the first decade of the 1900’s. Therefore, choc beer was illicit, and this factor probably encouraged a non-standardization of the recipe. It was a home brew handed down by verbal tradition and recipes would have varied with the family who made it or area of production.

The traditional account of the name origin seems questionable on a number of counts. As Stan notes, the Choctaw Nation did not arrive in what is now Oklahoma until the 1830’s (to take up residence in what was called the Indian Territory. The Choctaw’s original territory was in southeast Mississippi and part of Alabama). Thus, an age-old tradition of hospitality to offer this drink, at least in Oklahoma, seems unlikely. It is possible of course the Choctaw brought the drink to their new land, but it is generally accepted that native Americans of the pre-Columbian era did not systematically use alcohol for recreational purposes. While it appears untrue that alcohol use was completely unknown in the pre-European era, the use such as it was was fragmentary and associated usually with religious ritual. To the extent alcohol was known, it was a weak beer or wine made from berries or grains, nothing comparable to the alcohol level of the European equivalents and seemingly different from the frankly intoxicating quality of choc beer. Of course, once introduced to social alcohol use by Europeans, native Americans did start to use alcohol, often with tragic results. It can’t be ruled out that choc beer was developed by native Americans in the mid-1800’s, but the following theories occur to me as more plausible:

  1. Choc beer comes from “Czech” – I elaborate on this in my comment to Stan’s post mentioned above.
  2. Choc beer comes from “shack beer”, is a corruption of this expression. Shack, an Americanism, may come from “jacal“, Mexican and southwest American Spanish for hut or shelter. An Anglo origin seems more likely to me since the “j” in jacal is pronounced as the “h” in “hut”, not the “sh” in “shake”. Shack may simply come from the word “shaky”, for the light construction, and have been viewed as a place typically associated with illicit alcohol drinking, similar to a shebeen, a Gaelic term familiar to the Scots-Irish and Scots as meaning an unlicensed drinking den.
  3. Choc beer comes from “chicha“, the word in Mexico for a fermented drink made from corn. Its etymology is unclear, but may well derive from one or more indigenous languages in central or Caribbean America. A “chock” in Chile, apparently a dialectical term of no certain spelling, means glass of beer. This suggests to me a likely connection to chicha, Oklahoma choc beer, and maybe even jacal for hut. See Ben Henry’s comment here to a post of beer blogger and author Alan McLeod about 10 years ago, which discusses the use in Chile of “chock” in relation to beer. One might think chock for beer in Chile derives from a Romance term related to the French “chope“, for a mug of beer. This is not likely since, apart from the fact I doubt the “p” sound shifts to a “k” in Spanish linguistics, jarra is the Spanish term for the French chope… (The English cup, though, is obviously connected to the said French word).

Some Choctaw did for a time reside in parts of what is now Texas, when it was still Mexico, that is. Their presence there was fairly minimal though and most left for the newly established tribal land in Oklahoma after the 1830’s. Given their origins in eastern U.S., and given also that Mexicans formed part of the corps which worked the aforesaid mines in Oklahoma, I’d think a Mexican Spanish or Mexican indigenous language source for choc beer is more plausible than the name coming from the Choctaw Nation. This article by Stanley Clarke, written in the mid-1950’s, not 1910 as I thought earlier, refers to the different ethnicities which made up the Oklahoma mining population. Both Slovaks and Mexicans feature in reasonable number in the breakdowns given.

Krebs, a town in Oklahoma associated with choc beer, has a brewery and restaurant called Choc Beer Co./Pete’s Place which makes different beers under the choc label: the “1919”, or “Basement Batch”, may well be similar to one of the home brew chocs of Oklahoma before National Prohibition came into force after WW I.

 

 

Some IPA History is Illuminated

THE CRUSADER FINALLY REACHES A PORT – OF A DIFFERENT KIND

Back in 2009, pursuing references to India Pale Ale in British journals online, I came upon a story from 1870 by a writer named “Meunier” (likely a pseudonym). He wrote that a ship called Crusader sank in the sea off Blackpool, England and a cargo of India Pale Ale was sold as salvage in Liverpool, thus creating the demand for IPA in England. I mentioned Meunier’s account in a comment I made in 200to a post of Ron Pattinson on his beer blog.  

The beer style, IPA, had gained renown in British India as an export initially from London. It was a pale beer, circa 6% ABV, very well-hopped, sent by a brewer called Hodgson to Bombay and other ports. British administrators and other servants of Empire in India enjoyed the beer with food and in clubs. Hodgson’s trade was later supplemented, and finally replaced, by that of the great brewers of Burton-on-Trent, notably Bass and Allsopp, also Salt, who perfected this form of beer.

For decades, I and many beer fans had read the story of an India-bound ship that had sunk after leaving port in England, with part of the beer cargo (IPA) being saved and sold in Liverpool, thus creating demand in England for a beer previously not consumed there, but only in far-away India. The story originated in an 1869 history of brewing in Burton-on-Trent by William Molyneux. He wrote that India Pale Ale was not consumed in England until a ship carrying it as cargo, departing from England, wrecked in the Irish Channel in 1827 and some of the beer was sold off in Liverpool. He didn’t state the name of the ship. No trace of such a foundering and sale of beer rescued from the Irish Channel could be found, however, and some considered his story a romantic account, not a historical one.

My 2009 comment:

Ron, it is interesting to compare these 1909 pale ale references to comments I found yesterday in a 1871 [sic] scientific journal:
http://books.google.com/books?id=noEAAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA234&dq=meunier+pale+ale#v=onepage&q=meunier%20pale%20ale&f=false

Two people answered a question of a T. O’Brien as to how bitter ale is made.  

“Meunier”, possibly a nom de plume, stated he worked in the beer export trade in London some decades before. He gives a figure of 1066 OG for bitter beer, 1012 at final, with pounds per barrel dropping to 4 from 24 in attenuation. Clearly this was the top quality. Possibly (by 1871 [sic]) he was referring to Burton production. He stated the beer fined of itself. This is a reference I believe to the gypsum in Burton water which promoted rapid clarification.

Meunier refers to the story often heard of a ship foundering off England and bitter ale becoming popular in England after. But he gives interesting details. He states the approximate year as 1839. He states the name of the ship, The Crusader. Internet research quickly confirmed a ship of that name did founder off Black Pool near Preston in 1839, captained it appears by a Wickman, I believe R.G. Wickman. It was outbound to Bombay from Liverpool:

http://books.google.com/books?id=-iYoAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA1-PA167&dq=The+Crusader+1839+Wickman&lr=#v=onepage&q=&f=false

I could not find any further reference to beer being sold by underwriters or publicans in Liverpool, however. Wikipedia states that the ship was carrying silk and refers to looting of the vessel by some people from Marton, but again no reference to beer.  

Some India beer was sold at auction before 1839 in London (Zythophile gives good information on this in his website). But this doesn’t mean this foundering event did not occur and have some influence. The detail given by Meunier and his asserted background in the beer business suggests to me there is something behind the story. I wonder if there is some way to find out what the full cargo was of The Crusader and what happened to it. I found also the date of the foundering, January 8, 1839. There had been a terrible storm in the area, a hurricane, and numerous ships foundered or were lost.  …. “.

Meunier’s account of 1870 I referred to (my references to 1871 were a typo), is here, and the second link, and the details of the Crusader and Captain Wickman, here.

As I stated, I couldn’t find any evidence the ship carried beer or beer was sold in Liverpool from its salvage, and had to leave the matter at that.

As my comment also shows, I still felt there might be something to Meunier’s story. When you live, as I do, by a body of great water used, now or formerly, for navigation, you know that hundreds if not thousands of boats came to grief in the days weather could not be accurately gauged. Along the Great Lakes in certain areas, e.g., off parts of Prince Edward County, Ontario, hundreds of wrecks lie in waters offshore. Beer was a common cargo from England out to the Indies and other distant parts in the mid-1800’s. It seemed likely to me casks of beer were probably not an infrequent salvage item sold in local towns to help offset the insurance underwriters’ payout. It makes sense that quick local sale was a recourse. The beer would have sometimes been damaged by seawater, for example: that and other practicalities would have suggested a “fire sale” to off-load the goods, so to speak.

Nonetheless, I could not establish that the Crusader actually had carried any beer, so to me at that time, the story of Meunier seemed either a dead end or at worst, a tall tale, another romantic account to add to Molyneux’.

Recently however, Zythophile, English beer writer Martyn Cornell, discovered that the Crusader did carry a beer cargo, and not just that, of ale from Burton bound for India, and that casks of it were sold in Liverpool pursuant to public sale. His detailed account is here.

And so, Molyneux, and Meunier, were right about a sea wreck off the English coast and sale of beer in Liverpool as salvage even though the former got the date wrong, as he wrote the wreck occurred in 1827, when, in fact, it occurred in 1839. Mid-1820’s was a time when the theory of domestic introduction of IPA via a sale of salvage made more sense than for 1839. More sense because IPA was already being sold in London and elsewhere in England – even Liverpool –  for years before 1839, as researchers have found, see e.g. Alan Pryor’s account, at pp 13-17. 1827, though, was a time when India Pale Ale was virtually unknown as an item of English domestic commerce. I am starting to think that Molyneux gilded the lily, to make his account of India Pale Ale more attractive. Perhaps Meunier’s account in 1870 was a mild correcting of the record as in his supposed corroboration (and extending) of the foundation story for IPA’s implantation in England, he employs the qualifying words, “I believe”, showing doubt whether he thought the Crusader was really responsible for bringing India Pale Ale to the local English beer market.

It’s nice to know anyway that my thinking of six years back was on the right track, albeit I didn’t find a key part of the puzzle.

The Crusader, while it never completed its last voyage, nonetheless has sailed finally into another kind of port: that of English beer history.

The Maturation of India Pale Ale

India Pale Ale was originally a “beer”, that is, a highly-hopped malt beverage, versus the lesser-hopped “ale” which evolved from a fermented barley drink which used no hops at all.

The stocking of IPA, as it was called, was a key part of its processing. It was brewed in certain seasons, stored in casks for many months, then bottled and sold or exported. The exportation would mature it further, making the drink drier, possibly less bitter – hops wear off with time – and liable also to infection by brettanomyces, a wild yeast often resident in cask timbers or the ambient atmosphere. This aspect lent additional flavours which old books call “ethereal”, “pungent”, “apple”.

With time, this stocking became dispensed with so that while retaining its relatively dry and bitter aspect, IPA lacked certain characteristics associated with prolonged aging.

I have experimented at home with aging different IPAs for different periods, sometimes in the fridge, sometimes at room temperature. I find that only those which have a noticeable yeast sediment can stand the process – anything well-filtered generally goes off within a couple of months or so unless pasteurized (I try to avoid buying this type, though).

But yeast-sedimented IPA, whether in cans or bottle, can last a long time. The yeast slowly works on the residual malt sugars and “scavenges” as it’s called the oxygen in the container, oxygen which absent the yeast presence would spoil the beer.

Recently I tried the Toronto-based Duggan Brewery’s IPA 9, stored in the fridge about six months. While I don’t know what maturation, presumably in tank, it got before canning, I’d guess relatively little. When I bought the pack originally, the beers were very fresh-tasting and full of malt and hop flavours, a big taste indeed yet not what I’d call refined or integrated.

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Six months cold storage has matured the beer remarkably. The estery elements speak out more, the American hops are less aromatic (while still present) but show a firm bitterness, and withal the beer is much better knitted than when I bought it. It struck me as a cross between Ruddles County Ale from the 80’s, Fuller ESB from the same time, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

There was the faintest edge of acid, nothing the normal person would notice. 🙂 It is something which perhaps would grow if the beer was stored another 6 months.  This is the last can from the pack, so I won’t have the chance to try the comparison without starting again.

I didn’t, also, keep one for the same period at room temperature. It would have been interesting to compare the two.

This kind of lengthy conditioning unquestionably benefits the beer. The old hands of IPA in British India and Victorian England knew this. While the trip to India in varying conditions of heat and humidity may have oxidized the beer – this isn’t clear since oxidation can be retarded by action of brett I understand – it probably lent the barnyard taste associated with Orval and other beers which receive a brett infusion. This is not a plus, IMO, except for those habituated. The best course seems to be to mature the beer on the lees of its yeast for months in a well-sealed container. More than less cold will never damage the beer, setting aside anything close to freezing, but warm maturation possibly can lead to even better flavours than cold aging, possibly over a different period.

I should add I decanted the beer carefully to pour it almost crystal-clear, which assisted its evolved palate, IMO. This left an ounce or so of turbid stuff which I threw down the drain.

I got the No. 9 at its sweet spot, IMO.

 

Attending A Festhalle at K-W’s Oktoberfest in 2015

The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest in Ontario has been going strong since 1969. It is, today, one of the largest of its kind in the world. A good part of Kitchener, formerly called Berlin, and nearby Waterloo were settled by Mennonite and other incomers of German culture from Pennsylvania and New York starting from the early 1800’s. Perhaps because the German language was established in K-W as it’s called and German was known in church and school, emigrants from Germany came as well. In particular, there was an influx in the 1950’s and 60’s. Due to this cultural background, a number of German-Canadian clubs were established in Kitchener. Some represented people from a given area of Germany, or perhaps were associated with a particular denomination or trade. There are now almost 50 such clubs. Even though the German cultural imprint on the area has diminished over time through marriage with other extractions and general Canadian acculturation, the clubs are still a well-known part of the social scene. They assume an important role during Oktoberfest by offering food, music and dance, and of course beer, to the general public, to whom doors are open during festival period.

The biggest club is, I believe, the Concordia Club. In 1967 and 1968, it held an Oktoberfest which started as a Centennial project (Canada was 100 years old in 1967). A group formed in 1969 then expanded the event, a cooperative effort of local service organizations, the tourist and visitors bureau and city council. It was an immediate success and has grown considerably since these early years.

Many events take place during the Oktoberfest period in K-W that have nothing to do with food and drink including the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade, but this blog entry will discuss my impressions of the festhalle entertainment as I’ve experienced it over the years.

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In general, I would say, it’s a great time out, the food and music are always excellent, the atmosphere is fun and family-oriented (at least during the day but I’m sure nothing gets out of hand later in the day, the event is well-controlled). No one who enjoys a festival atmosphere, beer and German-style food and music should miss it.

IMG_20151011_140452From a beer standpoint, the event started decades before the beer revival and has not, from what I’ve seen, been greatly marked by it. I’ve attended 4-5 festhalles over the years and generally one encounters mass market brands for the draft beer. Some clubs may well, especially today, offer a wider range and hopefully one representative of the craft brewing scene in K-W. Even where the range is limited though, you can usually find a brand or two of more interest. Today at Concordia Club, (excellent) draft Hacker-Pschorr was served in the small banquet hall vs. the much larger tent area where Molson Canadian and Coors Light were the only drafts available. At the stand-up bars alongside the tent, Big Rock Traditional Ale was available in bottles: a “dark” of a kind. It’s worthy, but I’m not sure why a dark lager wasn’t obtained from a local brewery, Brick, say, and why an Alberta beer of an English type is served at a German Ontario beer event.

I did find Brick Bock once at another festhalle but they also had Heineken IIRC. All this to say, beer is not a strong focus from a connoisseur’s standpoint, it is though from a more traditional standpoint that lots of quaffable draft is sold to go with the food and suit a general party atmosphere. The beer choice in Munich at its avatar event likewise is fairly restricted in that a given brewery’s draft (one beer) is sold in each tent albeit a tweaked version of its usual helles, with the odd bottle of something else possibly available, maybe a dunkel (dark lager) or a weizen (wheat beer). So net net, the two situations are really not all that different. That said, it would be a good idea for the clubs to offer a range of local drafts, blonde and dark lagers in particular as these are the tradition of Munich since the time the festival started there. It might be a good sales point for the clubs, too; we live in a more “beer-aware” time than 40 years ago. As I walked from the bar with my glass of Big Rock ale, someone came over and asked me what it was.  Clearly he was someone looking for an alternative to Molson Canadian and Coors Light. We talked, and he said he was going to buy one.

The Concordia’s food was top-notch, we had sausage in a bun and also schnitzel in a bun, strudel too. The bars carry a small range of German spirits, white spirits of different kinds and a brandy, but also some flavoured liqueurs and the general kind popular with the younger crowd.

The music is fun and local groups perform various kinds of dances, both traditional German but also sometimes more contemporary.

There is also (at Concordia) a passageway between the banquet hall and the tent area where they sell nuts, have a carnival-type shooting gallery, and games of various kinds, some suitable for children.

We were there for a couple of hours only mid-afternoon and the place was full of kids. Since my wife and I first visited 30 years ago, we reflected that some of the parents of these kids probably had been brought by their parents at our early events.

Basically, the experience is almost exactly as it was 30 and 20 years ago, at the clubs I’ve been to. This is a probably a good thing, certain things should be traditional and gain their appeal from being predictably enjoyable but just once a year. I’d give a little attention to the beer, but apart from that it’s great as it is.

 

Okanagan Spring Pale Ale

 

nav_logoThis beer has always been a favourite, an early (late 1980’s) craft beer entrant in B.C., all-malt with a complex fruity/hoppy savour. It must be enjoyed when the beer is very fresh as small deviations in flavour from age or mishandling deliver a different experience. It is a Canadian counterpart, say, to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or Stone Pale Ale as it was before the recent makeover, closer to the latter probably, or Mendocino Red Tail Ale, that style of tasty but approachable pale ale.

Draft is best and while variable in the past due to the long route in from the West Coast, lately the beer is quite reliable, I think this may be due to being brewed at stablemate brewery Sleeman Brewery in Guelph, ON. At its best, it offers a satisfying mid-course between characterless mass market brews and the highly hopped IPAs of more recent craft brewing vintage.

Here is a pint as it looked today at Wylie’s on Yonge Street:


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Many craft beer fans, I suspect, are missing out by abjuring beers which appear middle of the road but by their quality and drinkability deliver a more historic beer experience than, say, a highly pungent pine-and-grapefruit IPA much less a double IPA at 8% or so alcohol with sugary, juicy extract.

 

okanaganpaleHERO

Note re first and third images. The first is taken from the Okanagan Spring website, the third from the Beer Store’s website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green Hop Beer Originated in England

Harvesting_hops_near_Independence,_Oregon

THE GREEN GREEN GRASS OF ALBION, NOT OREGON 

One runs into wet hop and green hop beers at this time of year: beers brewed from hops fresh-picked and not dried, pelletized (usually) and stored in the traditional manner. A number of festivals have sprouted up, one in  – appropriately as will be seen – Kent, England, and a number in North America.

For 15-20 years I’ve read how American craft brewers created a new category of beer, one that has migrated to England and elsewhere. Americans get the laurels for wet hop beer as a commercial category. But the use of unkilned hop in beer is not an American innovation, it started in England. The truth is, if one goes back far enough, most brewing or beer notions have roots in the old country. When it comes to beer, England is everyone’s old country (not to exclude of course Germany and other important centres on the Continent).

And so, England was producing green hop beers centuries ago. In 1729, Richard Bradley, in his The Riches Of A Hop-Garden Explained, wrote, “Some use hops without drying in Brewing, even green as they are gathered…”.  The rest of his statement seems to indicate disapproval of the practice. He says only a few people consider that using “fire”, i.e., drying hops on the kiln, harms their flavour, which is “fortunate”. He doesn’t elaborate on his view, but goes on to state if one is using green hops, use half the normal amount of dried hops. This seems odd as today the learning is the reverse: use much more than standard measure since wet hops are not compacted and concentrate by drying.  One wonders why Bradley didn’t like green hops for brewing. It is possible he had never tasted beer brewed with this material. But also, encouraging green hop beer might have been seen as a threat to an established industry: artisan as it was, hop culture and processing were well-established by then.

I had a bottle of Sierra Nevada once which used fresh hops and it was very good, with a complex, layered flavour I never encountered subsequently. I’ve had some decent ones but many wet hop beers seem hardly different to standard, dry-hopped beers. One does encounter as well occasionally the well-known “grassy” tendency of these beers, not a plus in my view. As so often with beer, it comes down to what’s in the glass.

 

** Note re image above: image believed in public domain, original source used is here: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/88/Harvesting_hops_near_Independence%2C_Oregon.jpg

 

Montreal Beer Experiences, Old School and Newer

Family reasons have brought me to Montreal numerous times a year in the last few years. Occasionally I get out to try a new shop like Harricana, but usually I don’t have time to check out the beer “scene”. This means the beer I get to try is what is available, which on a recent trip included Molson Canadian, Corona, and Moralité IPA by Dieu de Ciel. Moralité is of course new school, a big-flavoured West Coast-style IPA with everything in the right place.

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Also essayed was a half-litre of the brown ale at long established (25 years) Les Trois Brasseurs, the French-owned brewpub chain.The brown beer from Trois Brasseurs was excellent, earthy and full-tasting, to my mind a Munich dunkel-type although I’d guess the fermentation is more in the ale tradition. Generally, the house yeast (every branch I’ve ever visited at least outside France) has a strong taste, sharp and doughy. This was in evidence certainly in the bar’s beer “of the moment”, a German helles-style. The brown beer though had very little of that noticeable. Les Trois Brasseurs should make more beer in this way. As a traditional brewer – all-malt except for wheat styles – using obviously top ingredients and brewing onsite, the beers have every reason to be as good as beer comes. However, the particular yeast signature does not add to their attractiveness, in my opinion.The bar itself, downtown on Ste. Catherine Street, was attractive, clean and efficient with the stylized beer hall atmosphere the house has perfected in two continents. (Personally I’d take down the garish sports screens though).

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The Corona was at a wedding and good enough, not light struck effect and better than I remember it. It was fine with hors d’oeuvre.

Molson Canadian on Via Rail had a good beerish taste, the hops quite evident with even a slight flowery note. The yeast background can at times have a strong, dimethyl sulphide taste (over-cooked vegetable), in my view. This sample had almost none of it though. I did notice a slight ferruginous note on the tail, like water from a rusty pipe, though I doubt most people would notice it. An excellent mass market product which retains its popularity for a reason.

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Molson Export ale, formerly the senior member of the Molson brand range, was very disappointing, a canned sample with a thin, starchy taste – very different from the “Export” I remember from the 70’s and 80’s. I had two sips and left it on the counter. The beer I recall had an earthy note with more malt and hops.

Finally, there was an all-malt pale lager called Vieux Montreal, from BVM, in business since 2000. A well-made “blonde“, the kind of beer you could get as a demi at one time from a local brewery in France, and probably typical too of older (pre-1970’s) North American lager at the quality end.

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And so, a pot-pourri, of the old school and older part of the newer one. It can be worse.

 

Beer Et Seq Bruits The Best In Bottom-Fermentation

prisonbreak-900px-234x300I stand second to no one in my admiration for the best beers of the top-fermented group, especially fine ale and fine porter. Top-fermented beers are those fermented at a relatively warm (ambient, often) temperature. They use yeasts adapted to this treatment which tend to produce a fruity palate. Lagers are a later, quasi-industrial development, relying on cooler fermentation and storage. The yeasts used to ferment the worts of this class tend to produce more neutral tastes, yet this also allows the qualities of good malt and hops to shine.

Perhaps because I came up in the pre-craft era, when even local ales had a lagerish quality, I never lost the taste for lager. With the advent of fresher imports and the craft beers, this gave the opportunity to sample fine lagers, which come in light, dark, black hues and everything in between, ditto for the different strengths beer can exhibit. Still, blonde lager is pre-eminent amongst these types, certainly in the public taste but on gastronomic grounds too, I’d say.

A great lager is a special treat and there is a reason blonde lager took over the world of beer in a steady march from the 1850’s. At its best, in certain Czech and German iterations, it is beer as good as it comes. Pilsner Urquell can often (it does vary a bit I find, even in the can or bottle) be extremely good with the particular flowery note of Saaz hops and the honeyed, decocted Moravian malt signature. But other lagers not really in its style can be as good, some in the same country, some in Germany, even in France and Belgium and elsewhere. A blonde lager should have a clean but pronounced flavour, good malty quality, be rich but not harsh, bitter but not IPA and not grapefruity. Some lagers of the more traditional type, especially German ones, tend to have a “sulfur springs” note, or boiled veg, not a plus in my view. (Think of this the next time you try Molson Canadian, it has it too, IMO). I’ve had Heineken in past years with this note, yet recent bottles don’t have it, maybe the company is rubbing it out. This is a flavourful, slightly sweet beer when fresh, showing good subtleties. You need to drink it in gulps, shall we say, most good lagers fit this bill – decorous sips are for other beers – or drinks.

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I’ve mentioned before a couple of local craft lagers I’ve enjoyed, recently I find Double Trouble’s Prison Break Pilsner very worthy. Taste is famously hard to describe but I’d call it grainy-fresh, perhaps a touch fruity, clearly all-malt (so no starchy aftertaste from adjunct) with a good but not unpleasant bitterness. Not a hint of barnyard character from various sulfur compounds which can feature in a lager fermentation particularly of light-coloured beers.

Freshness and being correctly served helps a lot. The greatest lager in the world isn’t worth anything if it comes damp paper-oxidized or light-struck or is just too old. I tend to drink it on draft but the Prison Break is good in the can too.

I think the indifferent taste of most mass market lager has rubbed off on craft lagers, it’s unfair but undeniable. Those beers weren’t like that 100 years ago (surely), they became that way over a long period for various reasons: cost-cutting, an attempt to widen the traditional market of beer, and industry consolidation, primarily.

Consider a good lager as your next port-of-call. IPA and porter are all to the good, as well as the dizzying plethora of other styles and variations offered today. But a really good lager is worth 1000 indifferent ales, or more.

I say gently to any craft brewers reading: I certainly don’t mind trying a lager flavoured with a spice, or roses, or berries of some kind. But it’s best to master the basic styles before essaying exotica of this nature. Additions like that won’t make an indifferent beer better; a great beer on the other hand doesn’t need additions to show its stuff.

 

(Note re first image: Taken from Double Trouble’s website at www.doubletroublebrewing.com. Second image is in public domain and sourced from pixabay, here.)

The True Taste Of Beer

IMG_20150927_165720If someone said to me, give me an example of a “real” beer, one that deserves the appellation with a capital B, I’d have to say Hofbräu Dunkel, the dark lager of the storied old Munich brewer.

This is a recent import here and at under four months from packaging, renders the local taste with good fidelity. Too many German imports over the years get here too late in the distribution channel, or are damaged in some way (light, heat) or … just don’t taste right.  Recently though, we have had a number of good imports in this genre and it’s good to see: the blonde helles and pils-type beers are over-represented. DAB Dark has been tasting very good lately, and ditto the aforementioned Hofbrau Dunkel. On top of this there is a handful of good local versions of dunkel, of which Side Launch Munich-Style Dark Lager is the best in my estimation.

Dunkel means dark lager and the coloured malts are in evidence, you get a complex coffee/butterscotch/light liquorice note, very appetizing when the beer is fresh but which tastes indifferent or worse when the beer is too old or damaged. The sample pictured was in tip-top shape, with just enough hop to lift the taste but not traduce its classification (stylistically) as the original lager of Bavaria, which was dark or in that direction, not blonde.

The people who make this know everything there is about fine beer, one taste confirms it. I’m sure locally without pasteurization it’s even better but this sample is very good. Beer, to be great and regardless of style, has to have the “right” taste; this one does.

More On The Theory London Silk Weaving Gave Porter and Three Threads Their Names

Following up on my keystone post here (see also Addenda in the Comments section), page 31 of this link is instructive. It’s a 1772 French discussion, from a science and mechanical arts repertory, of different types or qualities of fabrics. Note the statement for velvet from Genoa: “Le toile est composée de soixante-trois portées de quatre-vingts fils chacune“. This means, the tissue or warp is composed of sixty-three portees (I’m using a contemporary English spelling) of eighty threads each. Another example from page 31: “Peigne de vingt-cinq portees ou milles dents; trois fils de toile & deux fils de poile dans chaque dent”.  A reed of twenty-five porters or one thousand splits; three threads of tissue, and two threads of ply, in each split.

Tissue means the warp threads and clearly there are forty splits in each porter in this case (40 x 25 = 1000), with three threads in each split. The number of splits could vary although in England and Scotland it seemed generally 20 per porter. “Tissue of three threads” was known in English commerce in the 1600’s. Canvas was so described, for sailcloth and military tents, into circa-1900.

Also, as I said in my earlier post, for some cloth the term porter was used in the commercial trade description,  e.g., 20-porter linen, 16-porter jute. 

I think this shows clearly that anyone familiar with the textiles trade, not just a few people working at a Spitalfields workbench, would twig to the metaphor of threads and porters as applied to mixed beers. To this day, bed sheet quality is shown by stating thread number on the packaging, in Canada, in threads per inch. Originally, this was the number of porters (or beers/bares) specified for the fabric times the total threads in each porter, divided by the reed length, generally 37. I say originally since today, but not the 1600’s-1800’s, the porter system of measuring threads in a given width has fallen into disuse.

At the same time, I theorize that journalists such as Ned Ward wouldn’t have known necessarily this kind of trade or household detail. When he and other writers heard “porters liquors” or “porters guzzle”  they wrote it in the possessive thinking of ticket or other porters who carry articles or goods. I believe porters liquors meant – and it may have been “porter liquors” originally – any beer mixed from two or more beers. Each such porter was distinguished by its number of threads, which was drawn from the pricing. Why not call each glass a splint or dent? Perhaps portée/portee/porter were felt more understandable, but in any case as one sees above, some cloths were described just by reference to the number of threads in the porter.

Here is the page (see D2) from William King’s 1699 book, referred to in my 2010 article mentioned in my last post, which mentions some of the thread beers for the period I am discussing. Porter doesn’t appear in this list, but numerous references exist from about 1698 to porter’s liquors, porter’s guzzle, and the like. I believe entire or entire butt beer, and possibly plain porter, were beers that had the gravity of three threads and probably tasted like the typical three threads, but weren’t mixed.

Pre-Huguenot English silk weavers in London probably knew the French term “portée“, they certainly knew of course the English word thread. It is possible mixed beers were already being called porter, or porter malt liquors, before 1685, perhaps this occurred because the English weavers couldn’t use the term beer: the mixes were already beer. However, given that the first references to the thread beers and terms such as porter’s guzzle are in the 1690’s, I incline to Huguenot influence here. As well, the 1713 Fortune of War was right next to the Huguenot heartland in Spitalfields. So close was the association that a modern developer has called two buildings on the site Silk House and Satin House in recognition of its history.

All this, considered with what I argued earlier, would be too much of a coincidence for there not to be a direct tie to the beers in question, especially as it explains the puzzling term thread well. The ticket porter theory of porter’s origin doesn’t account for the term thread. One might argue it doesn’t need to if the drinks evolved separately, but how then does one explain the circa-1717 “porter’s liquors” (in Edward Ward’s Vade-Mecum for Malt Worms) and his earlier porter’s guzzle? The only explanation could be, they were an early form of aged brown-black entire, separate from mixed beers. I don’t believe that because first, liquors in the first term mentioned is plural. They liked a group of drinks, those doughty men. What group could that have been apart from the thread beers? “Liquors” suggests beer and ale mixed, as indeed a very early dictionary definition of three threads said it was. If it was an early form of aged entire, it would be purely beer, not partly (or of occasion) ale, so why it call “liquors”? I just don’t see it. Porter’s beer does later appear, i.e., after 1722, but the period before – before entire butt came in – is the important time frame.

Porter became singular when the new aged entire emerged, the “improved”, more-hopped brown beer Poundage spoke of in 1760. The thread beers faded, perhaps from tax-related legal pressure, or maybe it was more economic to brew entire butt beer as has been argued recently (John Krenzke’s thesis which I find persuasive, discussed here). The form of porter, three threads, closest to porter in ABV and likely palate – and identical in price –  was thus dubbed porter tout court. The French, I now think, via their unwilling Protestant emigrants to London after 1685, are behind one of the greatest beer styles in the annals of malt beverage – behind its name, I mean.

Finally, that this explanation eluded English observers for almost 300 years is not really a surprise given the occult foreign and trade influences in question.