Further Thoughts on Descriptions For Lager, Ale And Porter

Regarding my post of yesterday, I am not suggesting the term “lager” was not used by American brewers and brewing writers from, say, 1875-1975 to describe bottom-fermented beer produced at cold temperatures: of course it was. Similarly, the brewing industry always knew the sub-distinction between mild ale – ale not stored, meant for immediate consumption – and beers proper such as porter, stout and pale ale, stored for a time and with a higher hop rate than mild ale. However, based on my reading, the American brewing industry often used the term beer to mean specifically lager. That is, for day-to-day purposes including production, sales and marketing, “beer” was lager – usually a blonde lager in the light American style, but not ale or porter/stout.

One sees evidence in numerous references in A.L. Nugey’s mid-1930’s brewing manual, for example. I’d have to think Nugey was repeating something familiar to the pre-Prohibition brewhouse given the halt in production from 1919-1933. And this usage was paralleled in the market at large which included finally some restaurant menus as we saw in the early Rector’s example.

Did the usage begin in the market and filter back to the brewhouse and distribution channels? Entirely possible. It is interesting that Rector’s did not include the term lager in its listing of bottled and draft lager beers – “bottled lager” would have been a more correct heading to use to contrast with the bottled ales, but this wasn’t done. I believe as well that most beer labels at the time, i.e., later 1800’s until about Prohibition, didn’t use the term lager. In the colour plate section entitled “Pre-Prohibition Breweriana Advertising” contained in Michael Weiner’s The Taster’s Guide To Beer (1977), one sees e.g., Miller High Life Beer, Seipp’s Extra Pale Beer, Providence Brewing Co.’s Bohemian Beer, National Lager Beer, Moerschel’s Sedalia Beer, Wiener Blatz, Falk’s Export Beer, Feigenspan Bock Beer, Busch Beer, and so on.

As always, there is the exception: H. Clausen on its label advertised Export Lager Beer. The West End Brewing Company in Utica, NY, still going strong under a different name, advertised its Pilsener and Wuerzburger brands on a beer tray. That is not the same thing as using the term lager – beer was often described, indeed internationally, by reference to a town or area of origin. In about forty-five ads in Weiner’s book “lager” was only used on a couple of labels. Not a scientific sample, but still.

Only much later did lager, as a term to describe the main American beer type, enter the general market and in advertising. In a word, it had lost its foreign connotation and strangeness by then.

It may be noted that this uniquely American usage of “beer” was the obverse in the same period of British usage: there beer meant porter/stout, pale ale/bitter and (finally) the mild ale which in the 1800’s had been considered apart. Lager was the term used to describe the Continental blond beer, served cold and fizzy, which was a relative newcomer to the British scene until finally there too all forms of malt beverage could be called, or by most, beer.

Once again I don’t for a minute say that some people in the Anglo-Saxon world weren’t always pleased to call any form of malt-based alcoholic beverage beer, of course they were, but it is also true that for a long time in common and trade parlance, the term beer meant something more specific.


Lager And Ale, Redux

img988e                     (Image courtesy The Henry Voigt Collection of American Menus).

Above is a page from a circa-1900 wine list of Rector’s, a storied restaurant in New York in the early 1900’s. I spotted it when reading Henry Voigt’s masterful blog entry here on the history of the Rector’s establishments.

In an earlier blog entry, I discussed lager and ale in their current signification.  In this “redux”, I go back 110 years to point up the different terminology these terms then had in America. That meaning was well-established intramurally in breweries in the later 1800’s, but the menu is an early illustration that the same understanding was being gained by the public generally. This is not to say that beer didn’t always, in North America, connote any form of malt beverage, but in brewers’, retailers’, and restaurant and bar circles a particular meaning became established as the 20th century gained pace.

“Beer” meant lager beer, which at the time could be dark or light, and in its American form generally used rice, corn or some type of sugar addition to bulk out the malted barley base. Ale meant what it does today, but also comprised porter and stout. Bracketing ale with porter and stout was not correct in historical terms but for a long time in America, anything that wasn’t beer was ale, and Rector’s menu shows this by including Guinness Stout in the ale category.

Lager, which in German means something stored (think of “locker”), is fermented at cold temperatures with single-cell lager yeast. The American form, as well as say Labatt Blue in Canada or Molson Canadian, all derive from the lagers which German and Bohemian brewers commercialized industrially from the mid-1800’s. These in turn were inspired by the beers which, for hundreds of years, brewers in Alpine areas had stored in cold mountain caves to preserve from winter to summer. Traditionally, brewing had to cease in later spring since warm weather would render the new brews highly unstable. Brewers in areas where natural cold was available stored the winter brews into the summer and perceived the yeast sank slowly to the bottom of the vats. This yeast acquired the characteristics which assisted the cold fermentation and preservation of the next brew, and so on. In general, lager was cleaner and rounder than ale. With the benefit of mechanical refrigeration and better science in the 1800’s, brewers in the German lands developed methodically the same kind of lager beer. Initially most lager was dark but later the blonder style associated with the first Pilsener lager, Pilsner Urquell (1842), became the standard for international lager beer.

“Ale”, in contrast, pre-dated all these forms. It is a beer fermented at ambient or at least warmer temperatures than lager and the yeast tended to gather at the top of the brew before it was skimmed off. Ale in general had a more fruity taste than lager and sometimes a tart one. Some Belgian beers to this day retain that old sour edge, and indeed have inspired the current craft fashion for “sours”, but in general people didn’t want it: clean, round-tasting lager took up the part of the market ale couldn’t satisfy.

Thus, all beer was ale originally – top-fermented at warm temperature – including on the Continent. But lager took over almost everywhere and finally even in the United Kingdom, where nonetheless top-fermented beers refused to die and enjoy a minority share of the market today. Indeed those beers largely formed the inspiration for the craft brewing revival in North America.

English and other British settlers in America, as well as early Dutch incomers to New York, brought this older, top-fermentation tradition.  It held sway until German immigrant brewers started to implant the taste for lager.  Still, in 1900 and even at the dawn of the craft brewing revival in the 1970’s, ale in North America had never quite left the scene. Certainly many characterful ales were still being made in America, not just the U.K., when Rector’s was going strong, including the ale from C. H. Evans mentioned on the menu. Evans was a Hudson Valley concern which followed the old English ways, as appears from this excellent short history.

In menus I have seen from before 1900, beers are generally included in one group without any attempt to classify them by style. This practice held on for the draft section of the Rector’s menu: ales and beers are combined under the one heading of beer. But Rector’s innovated by showing the kind of distinction we now take for granted for its premium bottled beer selection. (It may be too that draft was itself regarded as a kind of category apart).

Thus remained the schema until about 30 years ago. Starting then, the previous opinion that beer was lager and the other kinds of malt beverage were ale, started to die.  (For simplicity, I’ll leave out the special case of Colt 45 and other “malt liquor”). Today, it is all “beer” and sub-classifications, which are often very learned, abound such as BJCP’s. Arguments continue of course whether these classifications are correct. These debates are likely never to end since taste is subjective and brewing technology constantly evolves, which are the main factors impinging on any classification system.

But in 1900 anyway, Rector’s took care, with some novelty in my view, to set out a brewer’s and wholesalers’ distinction for its chic clientele. Certainly, the enviably large beer selection would have been a draw for any beer buff, well-classified or not. But as Henry has shown so well in his piece, Rector’s was initially a society haunt and later attracted other crowds, from parvenus to show people to pre-Jazz Age hot dancers. None of these were probably students of beer, shall we say. The carefully drawn beer menu probably elicited few second thoughts. But across the ages, we can open what Stan Hieronymus has referred to as a time capsule, and apply our knowledge to understand the significance of what Rector’s was doing.






Meet The Old Boss, Same As The New Boss, Cont’d.

The Bear Inn, Oxford. UK

(Image is © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar/ CC-BY-SA-3.0)

The fragmented attention of our age, which has only gained tremendous pace with the growth (paradoxically) of the global village, can deceive as to origins and trends. The beer renaissance started  in the late 1970’s and one of its hallmarks is “cask” beer: beer served from a barrel in which a slow secondary fermentation continues and dispensed without additional pressure, direct from a thumb-tap or more typically by a hand-pump system (similar to the one still seen in the country which operates with a piston and vacuum system). Beer dispensed in this way was called real ale when coined by CAMRA enthusiasts in the U.K. in the early 1970’s. The term now has a period flavour and is rarely uttered except by the historically minded or superannuated.

Despite the beer revival mentioned, cask ale was slow to take root here, unlike in England where it still has an honoured place in the market albeit reduced from its pre-1970 heyday. The reasons are many: it is difficult to handle and can easily turn sour or become infected; also, it dispenses at less than a chilled temperature, which puts off a lot of people; finally, due (IMO) to a misapprehension here that such unfiltered beer should look cloudy in the glass, the pints often poured rather turbid. Many people don’t like this, for aesthetic or taste reasons. Nonetheless as craft brewing has grown, cask has grown too, and most beer bars of any repute now offer a cask beer or a few of them, at least periodically.

While many beer fans know that cask beer hails from and has been long-honoured in the United Kingdom, and that analogues exist elsewhere in Europe which have been followed here, such as Keller Bier and variations (some entail added pressure, some don’t), few understand that top-fermented beers were commonly dispensed in this way in North America. This was at an earlier stage of our brewing history, from the 1800’s until at its latest the 1930’s.

A frequenter of the famed McSorley’s in New York, if he peers carefully through the people and the dust, will perceive a disused set of hand pumps on the backbar. They are arrayed in a curved housing similar to what you see in this image from Billie’s Bar of New York City from the mid-1930’s. The 30’s hand pumps at Billie were still in use as one can tell from the pitchers beneath them. (Now did those pitchers contain ice water, intended to be placed on tables as customers walked in? This is possible but I don’t think so. Stock, India Pale, Burton and other ales, as well as brown stout and porter, were still being made by some breweries in the New York and Jersey area then; this form of dispense was a natural for such beers. Even if they were water-pumps by then, their existence attests to their original function at an earlier date, pre-Prohibition that is).

If McSorley’s and Billie’s had beer hand pumps, other places had to have them too.  It was probably a small handful, but this type of beer service, inherited from English influence in the earlier 1800’s, hung on for a quite a time in America. It’s not new here, and likely the same applies for Canada: the craft beer revival simply brought back an old practice.

As in our day, those pumps probably sometimes spouted clear beer, hazy and yeasty/sludgy. Whether it tasted similar to our countless varieties of “cask” is hard to say though.


Beer Awesomeness In, Er, 1908*


A diamond of an old menu appears here, from the classic German-American restaurant, the Janssen Hofbrau Haus. It operated in New York City from 1898 to some time in the 1960’s. It was founded by August Janssen, a real estate mogul and restaurateur (1867-1939). The house slogan was, “Janssen Wants To See You!”.

New York once had a tradition of German-style eating, a heritage of the substantial influx of German speakers which began in the mid-1800’s. Famously, they concentrated in Yorkville on the Upper East Side. A classic product of German Yorkville was Lou Gehrig, for example.  Donald Trump’s paternal line descends from New York-area German incomers of the 1800’s. For that matter, Jacob Astor was a German immigrant albeit of an earlier generation.  A significant sub-set of German New York was the German Jews, memorably portrayed in Stephen Birmingham’s Our Crowd. The menu of the Hofbrau seems to have covered many bases in Germanic, and also some American foods, but primarily from my reading rendered the metropolitan and hotel cuisine of contemporary Germany and Austro-Hungary.  Whether hot dishes, cold, fish-based, game-based, eggs, delicatessen, grills, it had it all. Only the famed Luchow’s had a comparable range of offerings, in my view.

With the onset of WW I, the Hofbrau Haus continued despite the sentiment which ran high against German-Americans in the wake of the Belgian invasion and the Lusitania disaster.  Overt displays of the German ethos, even culinary, were held to a minimum to avoid the charge of siding with”Kaiser Bill”, yet Hofbrau Haus’ high-end, international reputation helped it survive a period of anti-German sentiment. The same occurred during the next war although by then the restaurant had relocated to Lexington and 44th street, in the still-extant Greybar Building. (It is possible Hofbrau Haus had some connection to the famed German beer hall of similar name, however I’ve not been able to substantiate this).

Even today in 2015, New York hasn’t quite forgotten its German side. There are German restaurants and pubs scattered in Manhattan – one or two still in Yorkville – and beyond (Staten Island, Queens). A Goethe Institute does its good work albeit at Irving Place, far south of Yorkville.  The Munich Hofbrauhaus mentioned has a small outpost mid-town, and Paulaner does too – brewing onsite in a mini-plant – in the Bowery. Still, it is probably a safe bet that no German restaurant in New York today, and probably few anywhere at least outside Germany, can equal the breadth of the menu and the consciously imparted ethnicity of design and decor featured by the Janssen Hofbrau Haus.  The artistic and cultural goals of the owner are expressed well in inimitably baroque language in the handsome, beautifully designed menu-book linked above.

The care of the house extended to its small but carefully chosen and explicated beer list. It’s contained in page 9 of the menu – the best saved for last?  Today we would say it is a short but well-curated list.  And so, what of these beers of long ago, always the prime interest, subject to necessary and other digressions, of beeretseq central?

There were four described by name, all imports from Germanic lands or places of Germanic influence, all draft and amazingly, each from a brewery still in operation. As the menu explains, the restaurant took significant pains to ensure a quality “seidel”, noting that 36 barrels were kept in constant operation with temperature carefully controlled. How beer was shipped then from Central Europe to America is something not easily answered, but I’d guess the trip took a lot longer than now. I’d think these beers were not pasteurized, so how they arrived in a drinkable, let alone ideal, state is hard to fathom. The boss beer bar of 1908 may have had a way to ensure a top glass every time though. Its critical clientele would have expected no less.  Domestic beers were available too at Hofbrau Haus, but not dignified by name  – presumably these were local productions, not felt worthy to bracket with great Central European originals. One wonders if cultural pride and the lure of the import made people drink long-traveled beer that was actually inferior to the best that New York brewing kettles could offer: we shall never know, but in a good size city one can do this test today and decide for oneself.

Each of the four named beers received a taste note which, if one ignores the puffery about health and doctors’ testimonials, wouldn’t be out of place on BeerAdvocate or any 2015 beer blog. And this is almost 110 years later.  Here is the description of each, shorn of the puffery mentioned (to see the full original text, consult again page 9 and magnify as needed):

Burger Brau Pilsener [this is the same beer as Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic]

Light, bitter, slightly veiled. This is the lightest [meaning in colour] of all beers and contains the smallest amount of alcohol [4.4% ABV then and now, not so shabby actually].

Münchner Hofbrau [this is the modern dunkel, or dark lager of Hofbrauhaus in Munich].

Dark, sweet, creamy. The finest brew in the world.

Nurnberger Tucher Brau

The burgundy of all beers; very dark, creamy and full of character.

Wurzburger Burger Brau

A little lighter in the color than the Munchner,not quite so sweet, and therefore a good medium between Pilsner and Munchner.

Check out these beers on a modern rating service. For the last two beers, find one in the brewery’s range corresponding most closely to the colour and taste mentioned for 1908. The modern equivalents are pretty much, well, “the same as it ever was” as David Byrne, another New Yorker, sang. Probably more Scots than German is Mr. Byrne, but we’ll forgive him that. Pilsner Urquell is not “veiled” (lightly cloudy) as imported to North America today but some Urquell specially available in the Czech Republic is exactly that including some beer served to tourists in the deep cellars carved from the soft stone under the Urquell brewery in Pilsen.  That’s what I call consistency.

Let’s raise a New York cheer – not a Bronx cheer, a real one – for what was a key beer and dining haunt of New York’s Gilded Age. And it’s more proof that beer was always taken seriously by some people in some places – always part of gastronomy, a datum that gained renewed currency recently with the success of the 1944 Historic Waldorf Beer Tasting Recreation held at Dora Keogh Irish Pub in Toronto. There’s an Irish factor, well, in matters of fine beer it will come up, just as Germany, or the United Kingdom, comes up (other places too now courtesy the beer renaissance).  And so it should be in the expansive, generous and interconnected world that is beer.

But this discussion is kaput as all hurrahs of the bibulous are followed by a draught of the best, of which mine is next to the Mac and not getting any colder. Or shall I speak for myself?

*Note added August 21, 2015: The reader is referred to the comment of Henry Voigt published below that the menu referenced in this article in fact dates from 1934, despite bearing a copyright notice of 1908. On page 7 of the menu, there is the statement, “Ten years ago…the doors of the Hofbrau Haus were first opened to the public”. As it opened in 1898, this, plus the curator’s notice information Henry referred to, convinced me the menu is a 1908 original but in fact this appears not the case.  Thanks again to Henry Voigt for his sleuthing on this point.

The Grace of Serendipity

IMG_20150818_185731English drinks and food writer Henry Jeffreys has sagely observed that a resolute focus on a top scorer or style is not the only route to finding a gem, that serendipity plays a role if only given the scope, with the pleasure being commensurate. This truth was brought home to me recently when I found an Engineer’s IPA  more than half-full, closed with a whiskey cork, behind a group of whiskeys in a drinks cupboard.  I had put it there a couple of months before and had completely forgotten. I had consumed part of the bottle, closed it and placed it in an available spot behind a forest of whiskeys, well a grove anyway.

Sometimes I keep bottles in this form for a short time to drink later or use in blending experiments, of which I am a proponent. (It is surprising how blending can cause consternation among even the cognoscenti let alone the non-advised: once after nonchalantly tipping two malts together at a LCBO tasting counter a lady at the other end said, “how interesting, but is that legal?”. I explained that if Scots grocers could do it in the 19th century and thus inadvertently create blended Scotch, one of the most famous drinks in the world for the next 100 years, I could do the same. Somehow she didn’t seem convinced, but thanked me nicely).

And so I fished out this dusty item, and took the cork out, at which there was a loud report. One of the stories of how bottled beer started in England is, a fisherman put some ale in a bottle, went to a stream with his rod, and when he came back realized he had left the bottle on the bank, partly consumed. (Was it Isaak Walton?  I need to check this). Some time later he fetched rod and reel and returned to brave his luck on the lazy English river or branch. Lo, he finds the abandoned bottle, still partly full and closed with a rag or something else in the neck, and extracts the closure.  He recorded that the bottle had become a “gun”, referring to the build-up of CO2 from the beer working away at a warmish temperature and the cloud of vapour which burst from the neck when the bottle was opened. And he found the beer excellent.

Well that’s exactly what happened to me, the bang was loud just like the angler said, with a puff of steam coming out as from a gun. Despite all the pressure in the bottle, the beer wasn’t that fizzy and was well-rounded, in a word, matured. In the past, I’ve found that opened bottles kept for a time unrefrigerated will often go south but this beer was just fine, better once again than the first sally.

Serendipity, what?

Munich-On-The Hill Of Vankleek



I was attracted to this “Farm Table” offering from the innovative and ambitious Beau’s Brewing Co. due to the fact frankly that the beer is not an obscure or laboured style as it were (beers dosed with coffee, cocoa, hot peppers, ginger, Thai spice or other things I find generally don’t add much and often take away from what beer should be).

This is labeled as “helles lager”, a classic Bavarian type of beer of which numerous brands are available as imports at LCBO. I was much impressed with the fidelity of the beer – it tastes very similar to Jever, Warsteiner, Konigsberg and other German blonde lagers. It is dry for a helles but the style has become so in Germany too in recent decades (it used to be sweeter and richer). The beer has the classic oniony yeasty note, a lager fermentation flavour that many helles and pils beers have.  It tastes exactly like many beers I had on my trip to Munich a few years ago, and similar to numerous canned imports of this style when fresh.

I won’t say it’s my favourite style but I enjoyed the bottle for the exact mirror Beau has offered of what good beer often is like in the homeland of the style.

Now Beau, can you do an exact clone of a great English bitter, say with two-row floor-malted English malt, no or just a little sugar and lotsa Kent hops? I’m there.

An Ode to Genesee

GeneseeBeer (Genesee Beer Sign Outside Genesee Brewery, Brian Stiehler, September, 2010, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GeneseeBeer.JPG)

John Holl (@John_Holl) has alerted to an excellent article just up at All About Beer by Tom Acitelli, here. Tom explores the history of Genesee Cream Ale, an iconic brand of the old Rochester concern.

It’s a good beer especially on draft, and more importantly to some, it recalls a certain time. I’d hope the same malt percentage and hop spec are used as per original formulation. I wonder what Gary Geminn would say of Genesee 12 Horse Ale, particularly its original formulation. By the time I came upon it in the 80’s, it was hardly more flavourful than the Cream Ale. At inception, I’d have to think it was a much better beer.

Off South Winton Drive in Rochester aka the Flour City, the pioneering retailer Beers of the World had its main store for many years – now relocated elsewhere. Because I went there a number of times, I learned about Fox’s Deli next door, an excellent New York-style deli with its own take on things as all good delis should have. It offered Genny Cream on draft in stemmed schooners and it always tasted best to me there.  I looked at the current menu and am glad to see Genesee beers are still mentioned, the bottled form specifically. One hopes mavens of the draft cream ale will be rewarded by a quick scribble on the pad followed by a frosty schooner as I remember.  A Reuben at Fox’s, schooner of Genny draft, and a Kent with the Micronite filter after.  (Oops, let’s lose the Kent).

I hope one day I can meet Tom and John for lunch at Fox’s – give me some dates, gents, and I’ll brave the border.




Of Bitter Beer, Hot Weather and Some Current Reading

IMG_20150816_175707As I write it’s over 8o F in the room and I’ve just opened a l’Interdite from Brasseurs du Monde in Saint-Hyacinthe, QC (brasseursdumonde.ca). It’s taken straight from a 12-pack – tablette – of three of their beers. The first one, the Assoiffée, a Belgian-style dubbel, was as much a winner as this one. The beers are bottle-conditioned, which means they retain their original yeast or enough to ensure a slow conditioning.

Despite some weeks at ambient temperature and being knocked around before that on the trip from Montreal, they are fresh-tasting and as good as can be. The yeast in the bottle uses up the residual oxygen, preserving high quality despite daunting storage conditions. Had brewers stuck with bottle-conditioning vs. the ubiquitous heat-pasteurization, overall beer quality would be superior in my opinion, but that’s an issue for another day.

The Interdite is a 6.5% IPA and claims an American style, which it is, as it has the American citrus punch (thank you Oregon) notably in the aftertaste.

However, there is a grateful English influence as well, both in the Ovaltine-and-quinine flavour but also the darkish colour. It reminds me quite a bit of the legendary Ballantine IPA in its heyday.

How can you drink IPA, or any beer, room temperature in this soaking heat? Mais c’est bien simple. “When you’re a Jet you’re a….”, okay? I’m not saying I would turn down the beer in chilled form but it’s best this way to scope all the subtleties. You wouldn’t chill a red wine – or very much – same thing for a beer of this quality.

I’ve placed next to it a book I was re-reading recently, one that had a big influence on me, Stephen Morris’ The Great Beer Trek (1984). I’ll write a separate post on this book but suffice to say it’s one of the top 5 beer books I’ve read. Morris and his wife took a beer tour of America in 1978, so essentially at the dawn of the beer renaissance but it was early enough that he covers the first craft brews to emerge, e.g. Sierra Nevada and New Albion. Essentially though it is a lively canvas of the light North American lager style as produced by the national and surviving regional breweries of the day. Morris, a Vermonter with the idiosyncratic perspective of many from that state, is still going strong and I had an e-mail palaver with him a couple of years ago. The book’s engaging hand-drawn artwork is another plus, including drawings of Dogbone Brewing Company and its “tap”, McDogbone Ale House, Morris’s projected ideal small brewery. It is one of my regrets that a planned Dogbone brand, Bolt Upright, never saw a bar-top. Morris had come out of the home brewing culture of upstate hippie Vermont and …  well… more anon about this fine book.

The brown volume in the image is Complete Practical Brewer, a mid-1800’s tome that is a constant reference. The red volume is a biography of the poet Allen Ginsberg – I went through a beat phase about 20 years ago (the literary aspects not the political such as it was) and was reading about him again. You don’t really hear much about him now, all things must pass, as George Harrison, from a band rather better remembered, wrote. But there was a connection after all, think of the Beatles’ name.

The white volume is Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days And Collect. Whitman was a forerunner of the Beats and much more of course. A very interesting writer, the parts about the Civil War are very moving, someone should do a film of Whitman’s time spent in hospitals in Washington, D.C. during the war.

It all ties in and it all makes sense at beeretseq central.


A 1920’s Montreal Grocery Fascia and Its Beers


(Source: Ville de Montréal. Gestion des documents et archives).

Above is a fine image from the City of Montreal’s historical photographic archive. One can see with a couple of clicks some great period detail of beers and beer styles offered by some Montreal breweries.

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, bière et porter (“ale and porter” in English) was a typical description for the main types of beer then sold in mid-1900’s Montreal. You see the words under the vertical letters spelling Molson. This particular grocery store advertised other brands including Ekers I.P. Ale (India Pale), and Black Horse Ale, which was from Dawes of nearby Lachine, QC and later Montreal. The general type of Molson ale then sold, still brewed as Molson Export Ale (but does it taste the same?), was not a IPA, and Black Horse Ale was probably the same. Ekers’ IPA was probably more intense in flavour and somewhat darker.

Barely legible just across from the vehicle in the background is a sign between sidewalk and window display for Frontenac, another Montreal brewery. Here is a fascinating (to amateurs of brewing history) tidbit about Frontenac and its too-short history.

Molson Porter was still sold, in Ontario at any rate, into the 1980’s and was pretty good, the Sleeman Porter I mentioned yesterday is somewhat similar.

No, I can’t remember the 1920’s, but updated versions of these signs endured into the 1960’s and 70’s, and je me souviens.




Ale and Porter – “Biere et Porter”

Growing up in Montreal in the 60’s, I remember grocery store signs with the legend “Ale and Porter”.  In French, it was “Bière et Porter“.  I recall wondering what those meant. Beer was delivered to homes in the area by small black pedal bicycles (no gears), these were fitted with a wide, low metal basket which held a case of beer – 24 12 oz. beers that is. I’ve looked online for the fascia of a store that says Ale and Porter or Bière et Porter, but can’t find one.  Such are the ephemera of one’s years… A verbal description will have to do but anyone who grew up in Montreal in the period I mention, or earlier, will understand, comprends, farshtey.

It was only years later that I actually had a chance to try the ale and porter of my native Quebec province.  The ale – Molson Export, Labatt 50, Laurentide Ale, O’Keefe Ale – were tasty enough. The porters were reduced by the time I could broach any to Porter Champlain which was a sweet, licorice-tasting black beer.

These were somewhat attenuated versions of  the real thing, and in later years with the onset of the craft beer revival I got to see what real ale and real porter were all about. Here are images of the ditto, savoured recently in my adopted city of Toronto.

This is Stone IPA, all the way from San Diego, CA but tasting very sound thousands of miles from home: rich and sweet, resinous and rather bitter, withal the real deal of old England via Oregon hop fields.


The porter is a rather mild example of the genre, courtesy House of Sleeman in Guelph, ON, and apparently a replication of an 1800’s porter as brewed by a Sleeman family ancestor. There is an old book of recipes from that time and while a certain cynicism takes hold often in the beer world, I saw the book myself 25 years ago when touring the place with the late Michael Jackson. It’s still a good beer and may well be similar to the palate of some of the porters which had hung on in Quebec province in the 50’s and 60’s.


The beer traditions of Quebec, while indubitably inaugurated by French colons, not least l’Intendant Jean Talon, were later appropriated by English settlers after la Cession of the 1770’s. However, all residents, whether French, English, or other, seemed to like the beers they installed. I was an other.

In Quebec taverns circa-1970, the call, “donne-moi une Porter Champlain tablette [room temperature]” was commonly heard – I was listening, farshtey?