Two Countries Divided By A Common Beer Style (IPA)

Edouard_Manet,_A_Bar_at_the_Folies-BergèreIndia Pale Ale, or IPA, is a blonde-to-amber beer which tends to stress the hops.

It comes from England. In the later 1700s a London brewer called Hodgson sent some pale beer to India, then a British province. It took off and was “the” beer of the Raj until knocked down a peg or two by competition from Burton-on-Trent in the form of Bass Pale Ale and similar beers from the Trent Valley. Pale Ale is the same as India Pale Ale. So is bitter, of “pint o’ bitter” fame. Terminology was never precise and all that can be said is, the exported form of pale ale was often called India Pale Ale, IPA or East India Pale Ale. Ultimately, some domestic pale ale was called that too.

Hodgson’s beer seems to have been inspired by cellared (aged) country pale ale, a drink of the better-off. Hodgson pale ale was not unusually strong although a couple of vague early accounts suggest it was. By the mid-1800s, the strength of IPA in general was about 6% abv. This was not as strong as the staple mild ale of the period but stronger than most porter was in the 1800s. Strong enough, let’s say.

More than its relative strength, what distinguished IPA was its dry character. In a time when most beers were relatively sweet, pale ale was fermented more thoroughly and had dry, clean character on the palate. To be sure it had some malty quality, but not a thick heavy one. The reason for the dryness was that in a time before refrigeration and pasteurization, if the beer had more than traces of fermentable sugar, it might “fret” or spoil on the trip to India or other distant markets. Wild yeasts and bacteria can easily consume available sugars with the risk of making the drink sour. When beer has few or no fermentable sugars, it will remain relatively stable especially as IPA was made very bitter from a massive infusion of hops: hop resins are a natural preservative.

Bottles_of_Bass_beerIPA became famous around the world. It was in Paris in the 1880s when Edouard Manet painted his renowned scene of the bar of the Follies-Bergères. IPA was manufactured in Canada and the U.S. by British incomers who were following the ways of the old country. Even by 1900 some of the North American IPA was around 7% abv, attesting in my view to the character of the earliest British examples (1770-1820). A living time capsule of this 1900-era pale ale, at 6.8% abv, can be tasted in the form of Molson Coors’ recent recreation of a 1908 recipe. I discussed this beer here recently.

Of course, time moved on and by the 1990s, pale ale, initially a bottled specialty, was largely in Britain a draft beer, better known by its pub name, “bitter”. Classic English bitter was sometimes dry but not always – once again pale ale was never a matter for the statute books, its boundaries are naturally elastic. This bitter did remain fairly astringent from the hop resins released in the boil, or flowery/herbal from the hop’s aroma. In the U.S., the last old-established IPA, Ballantine India Pale Ale, was withdrawn from the market in 1996. That beer, although reduced from what it had been, was similar to modern English bitters but stronger, more in line with IPA’s origins. A couple of beers in Canada were still called India Pale Ale and pale ale but these were lager-like in character by then.

The craft brewing movement returned quality pale ale and IPA to the brewing scene. The beers called IPA as such on the label tended to be drier and stronger than pale ale tout court, but again there is no statutory lineThe first commercial IPA to be revived so-called was in the early 1990s and made by Yakima Brewing And Malting, in Washington State. It was owned by the late Bert Grant, who had worked for decades in the Canadian brewing and hop industries. I remember it well and it was a lean beer with a huge hop presence which spoke of American hop fields, understandable given Washington State is a hop heartland. There was lots of grapefruit, citrus pith and pine in the nose and taste.

It is not too much to state that IPA became the star of North American and international craft brewing. The American form – often stronger than contemporary bitter and always redolent of American hop varieties – has become popular in the U.K. It sits next to the older English bitter ales as the brash upstart on the scene. (And yes, for various reasons, modern English bitter isn’t identical to the pale ale and bitter of 1880, say. But it is close enough).

IMG_20160222_130137Recently I tried one of the latest IPAs on the U.S. market, from Tired Hands Brewery in the Philadelphia area.  It’s called, in the jazzy idiom of today’s beer scene, Kick Phone iFlip. It’s got some wheat in it and that, plus the way it’s brewed, and the four American hops used potently for aroma, give it a light and very refreshing quality. In this modern form of IPA, post-modern shall we say, the beer is not really bitter, it’s more the hop flavour you are getting. This is the hyper-cool, contemporary style of IPA, it looked in the glass like cloudy limeade and tasted a bit like it too if you left out most of the sugar. The Ratebeer website, with some 17 reviews in, gives it an astonishing 99 out of 100.

There are lots of IPAs still sold from an earlier time in the craft revival, Stone IPA is an avatar of this type. They tend to have a similar hop taste to Kick Phone but are more bitter and richer in malt taste. But whether new school or older, U.S. IPA always has a different taste to original English bitter. English hops were used for generations to flavour English pale ale and bitter. The English hop taste tends to be much less citric than the American flavour, and often flowery and arbor-like. Also, English pale ale usually has a caramel note lacking in American IPAs. I am excluding here newer English styles such as golden ale and session IPA, both of which have a marked American influence.

Bass Ale, progenitor of the world vogue for IPA which commenced about 1825,  is still available. It is owned by a large group, and nothing wrong with that, Bass was a big boy itself in its classic era. We used to get it in bottles and kegs as an import. I never really enjoyed the taste, which was kind of “old toffee apple”, sometimes with banana or sulphur notes. But I always felt that pasteurization and long transport altered the “brewery-fresh” profile.

In Canada today, or rather Ontario, we get now a draft Bass brewed by Labatt in Toronto. It is very good, you see it in the image above of the amber pint. While somewhat reminiscent of the import formerly available, it is much fresher and has a pleasing, complex aftertaste particularly when left to warm. It is somewhat malty with a fruity quality of some kind and good racy hop edge. It is nothing remotely like the fragrant, citric American IPAs.

I like both types, although the English style of pale ale is hard to beat. I know people always lauded the cask (unfiltered, real ale) version of Bass Ale, which you can still find in England. But this Toronto-made, brewery-conditioned version is plenty good. Any admirer of the brewing arts would have to give it kudos, if he or she is being honest.

Note re images used: The first two images above are believed in the public domain and were sourced via Wikipedia in this entry on Bass Brewery, here. All feedback welcomed.



Whisky Straight Up

IMG_20160220_164712There has been much press recently about an iteration of Crown Royal being the best whisky in the world. As far as I know, that is a blended whisky. I’m going to be frank and say, in my best whisky pantheon, first and foremost, the candidate has to be a straight whisky. If it is blended, meaning straight whisky combined with one or more  “grain whiskies” –  distilled at a high proof – it doesn’t qualify. It can be very good, but in my experience, blends just don’t have the full complexity and mouth-feel of an all-straight.

By straight I mean, a whisky which more or less complies with the American rules for a straight whiskey. Those rules are, whiskey from a mash of malted or raw cereals, distilled out at under 160 U.S. proof which is 80% alcohol by volume. For reasons I won’t explore here, whiskies (or brandies, rums, tequilas) distilled at 80% abv or less tend to have full, distinctive flavours which age under wood influence into something complex and very drinkable. Whiskies distilled over 80% abv, and the typical grain whisky comes off the final still at 94% abv or even more, tend to be more neutral in taste and a little sharp on the tongue.

Grain whisky starts, essentially, as vodka. Vodka is not grain whisky because it isn’t aged in wood. The grain whisky component of a Canadian or Scotch whisky blend is barrel-aged though, so in that sense is considered whisky, but to my mind, the flavour is never the same as a traditional straight spirit aged for the same period.

In American whiskey standards, there are other markers of a straight, notably the new spirit must be barrelled at not greater than 125 proof or 62.5% abv – this is to ensure sufficient wood influence on the spirit when diluted for bottling – and aged in new charred barrels.

These last two criteria are not vital though to international straight character. The Scots and Irish don’t use (generally) new barrels to age their single malt and single pot still whiskies. And distillers there and in Canada might be barreling whisky for aging at over 62.5% abv, of that I’m not sure. (But if they are, they aren’t going too high over).

All this to say, my favourite Canadian whisky right now is Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye. It is distilled, according to information online which sounds reliable, at Alberta Distillers Ltd. in Alberta. It is a straight whisky in that it is distilled under 160 proof and is aged in that case in new charred oak barrels, something like 6-8 years. That distillery is part of the same corporate group to which the Canadian Club label belongs today, Beam Suntory.

The more traditional CC-brand whiskies, all made in Windsor, ON, are, to my knowledge, all blends: they incorporate a small amount of straight whisky with an almost-neutral grain whisky, except in that case, both spirits are married for aging when they come off the still, in other words, aged together. Some Canadian distillers distill the straight and grain whisky elements separately and blend them at maturity. Seagram does this, and indeed Alberta Distillers does for its various blends.

I reiterate: blends are not bad. Grain whisky lightens and, in whisky-industry parlance, “broadens” or “displays” the character of the straight whiskies they are blended with, but again a blend and a straight are just different things.

There may be one or two other all-straight whiskies made in Canada today, I think Lot 40 may qualify, a Corby brand. Excellent product too, but CC Chairman’s Select 100% Rye has a more approachable palate in my eyes, while still offering rich taste.

The CC Chairman’s Select is (or seems) all-straight, essentially like a U.S. straight rye or bourbon except made in Canada. Forget the all-rye moniker even though it is a selling point I know. The important thing is being distilled at a low proof, in the territory for the traditional spirits. If it was all-rye and distilled out to a grain whisky proof, the fact that it came from from rye would be neither here nor there because all the “rye” taste would be stripped out. Compare a vodka distilled from rye, a good Polish brand, say, with vodka distilled from wheat. Can you tell which used either grain? Not likely…



Anchor Steam Beer – Same as it Always was?

Steam Beer Today and of the Pre-Fritz Maytag era 

Something that always struck me about Anchor Brewery of San Francisco: it never made huge efforts to associate its star brand with the pre-Fritz Maytag brewery, or California steam beer in general. Fritz Maytag, of the famous washing machine family, is a legend in the beer business. He rescued Anchor from the edge of bankruptcy in 1965 and placed it on a solid financial and quality footing. This helped finally to kick-start the craft brewing movement on the West Coast and ultimately everywhere.

Craft breweries usually go to great lengths to stress reliance on tradition. They like to say they make things the historical way and are channeling “the good old days” rather than relying on latest advances in beverage chemistry and science. Of course, the reality is more complicated, but vaunting the old ways is still a mainstay of the business. Even when novelty is offered, for example, an unusual spice is used, people will often say in the old days they used everything under the sun to flavour beer, so…


Anchor has an unquestioned status as craft brewing avatar. Still, I feel the company has been somewhat equivocal about steam beer history and the extent to which it continues the tradition. To be sure, Anchor explains its history and heritage proudly on its website. It notes the brewery has functioned under its present name since 1896 and has made steam beer since then, and some information is given on historical steam beer practices.

Further, Anchor’s labeling and advertising have always stressed an against-the-grain, even anti-“corporate” approach: small, hands-on, artisan have been the watchwords for Anchor. At the same time, this extract from an Anchor coaster is instructive, and one can read similar things on bottle labels or in interviews with company personnel:

“The word ‘steam’ may have referred to the pressure of natural carbonation developing in the beers. Today the brewing methods of those days are a mystery, and for many decades Anchor alone has used the quaint name ‘steam’ for its unique beer. Today Anchor is one of the smallest and most traditional breweries in the world. San Francisco’s famous Anchor Steam beer is unique, for our brewing process has evolved over many decades and is like no other in the world”.

As one sees, Anchor considers the brewing methods of steam beer’s classic era, approximately 1850-1919, “mysterious”. An explanation is offered for the name steam but Anchor doesn’t commit to the story. Indeed the website suggests another possible origin, steam rising from wort fermenting on the rooftops of old Bay Area breweries. I find this persuasive, myself.

By saying Anchor Steam is “unique” – twice – and like no other beer in the world, the brewery is marking its beer off from all others, but also to an extent from steam beer history. I offer some suggestions below why Anchor has taken this approach.

But first, what was steam beer in the heyday mentioned? We have a fairly good idea from a number of articles or passages in books written around 1900. This article, from the December, 1903 American Brewers Review, gives a detailed account of California steam beer production. Some highlights are, use of lager yeast to ferment in the temperature range for ale or top-fermentation brewing; an all-malt character but with some brewers opting to include grain adjunct or sugar; use of black malt or caramel to give an amber cast to the beer; fermentation in shallow pans with an initial fermentation in “starting tubs”; hopping at about 3/4 lb per barrel of wort; use of hops from the West Coast; and use of local malting barley.

The account states that for brewers without refrigeration equipment the wort was cooled in cooling equipment which was, as other accounts of steam beer breweries make clear, located on the top floors of the breweries. These often had shutters to control in a primitive way air flow and temperature. The louvers can be seen in the image of Anchor Brewery above, from 1896.


Malting barley often used in California then was a particularly prized six-row type called Bay Barley, it was said to have plump kernels and similar to fine, European-raised two-row barley. Hops then, as California still had active hop culture, was a Cluster type.

Cluster apparently derived from a cross-breeding of wild American hops and a variety(ies) brought from Europe by British or Dutch settlers.

In 1903, much steam beer was krausened as well, meaning some freshly fermenting beer was added to clarified, fully-fermented beer to make a final, strong carbonation and add a fresh note.

So that was then, for steam beer generally.

How is Anchor Steam brewed today? The company uses 2-row pale malt as the base, and some caramel (darkish brown) malt to ensure a medium amber and a little sweetness. The hops used are (the hybrid) Northern Brewer, at about one pound per barrel of beer, which would offer a combination of old and new world hop tastes, as Cluster did.

A classic, shallow fermenter and a deeper, square tank are used in a two-step process to ferment Anchor Steam Beer. Open coolers to cool the wort are no longer used as they have a potential to infect the beer – one of the quality issues Fritz Maytag addressed early on, so wort is mechanically cooled similar to what other breweries do. Anchor krausens its beer, too.*

Today all Anchor Steam Beer is pasteurized, however a flash process is used that is felt less impactful on the beer than the more intensive tunnel process.

Cooling the wort the modern way and even flash pasteurizing are simply ways to better ensure a beer’s stability. They don’t alter the character of the beer in any meaningful way.

My view is that in every important respect, Anchor Steam Beer reflects classic steam beer tradition. The beer has the expected, slight aleish quality (fruity note) from a warm ferment but the roundness and clean quality of a lager beer. It is all-malt and uses a hybrid hop, as much steam beer around 1900 did, etc.

Therefore, Anchor Steam is probably quite similar to much of the steam beer available before WW I. Since most breweries then used wood vessels, which are hard to clean, some steam beer had unusual tastes.  One surviving report, reprinted on Jess Kidden’s historical beer pages, called the taste “wild and gamy”. This may have meant some steam beer had a Brettanomyces, or “animal”, note or possibly a sourish edge from lactic acid bacteria.

The 1903 article linked above likens the taste of steam beer to “weissbier”, of which some styles are sharp and lactic in taste. Anchor Steam Beer does not have those tastes, but I’d think the best of the original steam beers were similar to today’s Anchor Steam.


Why then would Anchor distance itself from early steam beer history? One answer is clear and understandable, something Fritz Maytag has discussed in interviews many times. When he bought the brewery the beer was inconsistent. Often it would go sour and bar owners were hesitant to stock a beer which was not reliably stable when sold. Also, due to the straightened finances of the previous owner (from c. 1960 Lawrence Steese, and Joe Allen before him), sometimes sugar was used in the mash to reduce cost.

Whether by 1965 hop content had fallen from historical levels, see the 1903 article mentioned, is unknown to me. In any case today Anchor Steam uses the aforementioned one pound hops per barrel. This is well within the historical range, in fact 3/4 lb per barrel of wort (unfermented beer) might equate pretty closely to 1 lb hops/bbl after evaporation and process losses.

Also, the brewery back in 1965 was so small and faltering it had almost no fan base, certainly no cachet. Quality had be addressed to make the brand saleable and Maytag did so, not just in the changes noted but by buying new equipment, improving sanitation, and finally moving the brewery to a new, purpose-built location. He therefore focused on these factors as explaining the brand’s appeal rather than the romantic but variable, earlier history.

So far so good, but after a few years of success I’d think many breweries would link their product more directly to their early history or at least, to the beer style in question.

Anchor didn’t, though, as brewery spokesmen have always been non-committal when asked what steam beer was. Typically they have stated no one really knows today, and as we are the only ones who sell a steam beer, a beer that evolved in our particular way, steam beer is what we make. This ties steam beer, the style, to Anchor Brewery.

The name Anchor Steam Beer was registered in 1981 as a trademark as no other brewery had used the name steam beer since the 1930s. So indeed Anchor’s steam beer is the only one in the world in that sense.

One can ponder whether product uniqueness based only in part on a vague historical character made the legal argument to gain a registered trademark more acceptable. “Steam beer”, once a descriptive term for a style made by many breweries in California had become distinctive in Anchor’s hands as it was the last company standing to use it when the trade mark was granted.

It’s a good argument, if that was the strategy from a trade mark viewpoint, as no other company has been able to market a steam beer since. At the same time I consider Anchor’s beer firmly within the frame of early steam brewing.

In other words, I think Maytag did want to restore his beer to the best of early steam beer tradition but, understandably from a business viewpoint, made a (hitherto) successful argument that only his company can use the term steam beer.

Final note: how does Anchor Steam Beer taste today? It tastes great particularly on draft in California or from a fresh bottle. Current bottles at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario are vibrant with sweet malt, a light estery (fruity) quality, and flowery hop taste. I’ve been drinking it off and on since the 1970s and it has never been better.

Truth to tell, it does seem to change somewhat from time to time. The current version seems more or better-hopped than I recall. This may simply reflect improved handling before purchase.**

Note re first image above: The image shown of the Anchor Brewery, from 1896, was sourced from this website ( and is believed available for educational and historical purposes.


*Further reading confirms that Anchor pitches its yeast at 60 F, similar to what c. 1900 sources specify for steam beer. This is important as much of the steam beer character derives from lager yeast being used, atypically, at warm temperatures.

**Note added May 2, 2018. Text was lightly edited to sharpen the focus and reasoning, but nothing essential was changed from the original posting. Also, Anchor Steam Beer on draft is now available in Ontario, I had it last night at beerbistro, a bar-restaurant on King Street just east of Yonge Street. Anchor Brewery was sold to family-owned but sizeable Sapporo Brewery of Japan a few years ago. Sapporo also owns Sleeman Brewery in Guelph, ON. As far as I know, the Anchor Steam draft in Ontario is from San Francisco, but if it is or will be made at Sleeman, I’d have no objection. Beer can be replicated anywhere now with today’s technology.







Welsh Country Eating



In Jehane Benoit’s Cooking With Dow, a beer cookery book I discussed a few days ago, she has a Welsh recipe called Sausage Bake.

You split some pork sausages in the length, spread them with mustard and place in a pan with slices of cooked beet. Add cup of beer, sprinkle with pepper and nutmeg. Bake 30 minutes at 400 F. Nothing could be easier.

Mme Benoit advises toasted French bread on the side with buttered green beans. As usual with this most experienced of chefs, this simple but toothsome country meal proves that a region’s typical products often go well together. Terroir, some people call it.

Is Mme Benoit’s attribution of the recipe as Welsh correct? I have no doubt because first, beets are well-appreciated in Wales as we see e.g., from the website of Bodnant Welsh Food. That red is famously emblematic of Wales can only have encouraged this association, to be sure. Wales has always raised a variety of livestock including pigs, and beer is an old drink there.

David-Cameron-visits-Welsh-SA-Brain-Co-LtdIn former times, beer vied with mead (honey wine) as favoured drink of Wales. Indeed, a fusion of these from the Celtic mists, braggot, has been brewed for hundreds of years in Wales and some craft brewers have revived it. The Toronto-area brewery Trafalgar makes a potent version. This was par excellence a spiced drink, and when nutmeg therefore is added under Mme Benoit’s recipe, it fits perfectly into the historical picture.

Any sausage could be used for the dish, lamb or beef or why not vegetarian? For vegans who eat dairy, the perfect choice is sausage made the old Glamorganshire County way: with cheese. In this historic county of Wales, the Glamorgan breed of cattle produced a unique cheese which was blended with leek – another symbol of Wales – and bread crumbs to make a meatless sausage. One sees a picture of it in this link from The Guardian in England, with a recipe. Today, any dryish, British hard cheese works well in the dish.

Let’s sing out for Wales and its rustic cuisine, one you can recreate wherever you live.


Note re images above: the first image, a representation of the national flag of Wales, is in the public domain, and was sourced here. The second image, of Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife visiting Brains Brewery in Cardiff, Wales, is from CLH (Caterer, Licensee, Hotelier) News, sourced here. The last image, of the Welsh countryside, believed in public domain, was obtained here.  Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Early Brewery in Quebec Leaves a Recipe, c. 1800


The Harts of Trois-Rivières, QC, or Three Rivers as it was often called, were a founding family of Quebec under the new British Regime. Three Rivers is a small city on the St. Lawrence River half-way between Montreal and Quebec City.

The Harts are notable in Canadian history for another reason: their Jewish faith. They were the first Jews to settle in Quebec. Under the French regime, Jews were not permitted entry as the territory was barred to non-Catholics. It’s not part of the story here, but their Judaism continually impacted the Harts in various areas of public affairs. In the wake of British rule and the Quebec Act (1774), many British incomers, or others speaking English associated with them, established businesses in Quebec. The first Hart, Aaron Hart, came to Quebec c. 1760 with Jeffery Amherst’s forces and was a commissary officer, or possibly a civilian sutler (purveyor of goods to the Army on expedition).

Aaron’s business affairs were very successful, he was a retail goods merchant (hardware and other staples) who also imported and exported goods. He ended by acquiring extensive landholdings, including some lands formerly belonging to the French colonial aristocracy.

One of his sons was Ezekiel Hart who was born in Three Rivers in 1770. The Harts were Ashkenazi Jews, not Sephardic ones. Typically in this period, Jewish merchants coming to the New World under British auspices were Sephards because most Jews residing in England were. Aaron Hart was born either in Germany, or England to a father from Bavaria, accounts vary. But being Ashkenazi, he came to Quebec as a minority within a minority within a minority, one might say.

In December, 1796, Ezekiel and two brothers set up a maltings and a brewery in Three Rivers called M & E Hart Company. There is a reasonably detailed account of the brewery in this biographical entry on Ezekiel Hart. (My account is indebted to that entry, and others in the same Dictionary of Canadian Biography, for some of the information here). Ezekiel left the partnership some years later to focus on other businesses and it seems the brewery went out of business by the mid-1800s: information on its fate is sparse.*

Rather improbably, a recipe for their beer survives. You can read it here, preserved in the archives of the Quebec government. (Click where it states “voir les image(s)“). Various sources attribute a c.1800 to it, although the exact year is not known. In the historiography of early Quebec breweries, very little is said of this brewery, leading me to think it did not last more than ten or 20 years.* That, and the way manuscript is written – it appears scribbled on the reverse side of an invoice or ledger document – suggests to me it was written very soon after the brewery was established.

While more a series of simple directions, the document may constitute the oldest surviving North American commercial recipe for beer. One recipe known to be older is George Washington’s for “small beer” from the 1770s, however, that recipe is a domestic one I believe. John Molson in Montreal had been brewing for 10 years or so, so perhaps recipes exist in the Molson family archive, but I am not aware of any that have been published.

Returning to the Harts’ beer, we can draw at least the following from the recipe:

– it was all-barley malt, no sugar was used or other grains

– the malt was steeped for 2-3 days and turned regularly before being dried

– malt was kilned like this: “for pale malt, slow fire, for porter, a high fire”

– the malt was mashed with water at 176-180 F for 30 minutes

– it was allowed to stand for two and a half hours

– it was boiled for 50 minutes

– 1/2-1 lb hops were added per minot. (A pre-metric French measure, a minot was about 39 liters. I calculate this as about two to four lbs hops per English barrel of finished beer, certainly in the range for common ale and porter of the day).

I’d infer the ale was “mild” – probably not long-stored and got the lesser amount of hops, while the porter was kept longer and got the larger amount, but this is speculative, and possibly the different additions depended on quality of the hops, or other factors.

There are directions for placing the beer in the “working tub” when cooled to 52 F, and then further directions for the cleansing which mention temperatures again.

The Hart Bros grew their own hops – quite successfully, it seems. Another source (see my recent entries) from later in the 1800s confirms that hops were grown in the Three Rivers area mid-century.


What has happened to the Harts, I mean the descendants? I don’t know other than that some moved to New York City at some point. The family had long had connections in New York State and Ezekiel was partly educated there. A Henry Hart, brother of Aaron, was established at Albany, NY, for example. One source suggests some Harts who stayed in Quebec intermarried and became assimilated into French Canadian society. Yet, another says that most of the descendants retained their Jewish faith to this day.

Ezekiel helped found a historic Sephardic synagogue in Montreal, so I’d guess some people there might know what happened to the clan. (Sephardic is not a typo, most Jews in town were Sephards then, so he went with the flow, to use our vernacular).

The descendants didn’t continue the brewing side for very long – perhaps other businesses were more profitable, or the English tour de main with beer trumped the Harts’. Another Hart had notable success though with rum. Lehman Hart, another brother of Aaron, founded a rum business in Penzance, Cornwall which later moved to London. It is famous to this day under the more familiar name Lemon Hart. (No, I didn’t make it up, it’s true).

But points to Ezekiel and his brothers for trying their hand at the more temperate beer. Their recipe, rude and hastily written as it surely was, shows they made something of value, it was real beer, not some factitious knock-off.

Note re images used: The image of Ezekiel Hart is available from Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec, and was sourced here. The second image, of a handsome Victorian manse in Trois Rivières, QC, was sourced from this Quebec tourist site. Both are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Subsequent to writing the above, I noted that a 2012 book by Denis Vaugeois on the early history of the Hart family states that Dow Brewery of Montreal purchased the Hart Brewery from Moses Hart in the “1830s”. Moses was one of the brothers who had founded the business in 1796. The brewery lasted, therefore, at least a generation. It is possible hop culture was continued in the area after the sale, at least for a time. See this link for further details (in French) on the book mentioned and its author.


Gambrinus Dances in the Cookpot

“The Use of Beer in Cooking is a Very Ancient Custom…”

[From Cooking With Dow, Jehane Benoit, 1958]


As I’ve mentioned earlier, beer cuisine can mean two things: beer as an ingredient in food, or pairing foods with beer whether or not beer is used in the cooking.

Both are legitimate areas to investigate although the pairing part can be contrived in modern writing. In the old days, beer usually went with a specific group of foods, generally salty ones like ham, herring, potato chips, oysters, cheese, hot dogs, sandwiches. It was also understood that beer featured in the cookery of some regional cuisines, generally from northern Europe.

Today, sophisticated suggestions are made to pair beer with food where styles or even brands of beer are suggested. These often make sense but my view really is, if you like the beers a lot and the food a lot, there is no reason not to pair them. Orval Trappist with mint ice cream, why not? Imperial stout with chicken tetrazzini – sure.

Cooking with beer is the more interesting area. It has an old history. It’s easy to find medieval recipes using ale, for example. The malty or herbal taste of beer adds flavour to foods just as wine adds its specific quality although both are different.

Cooking with beer breaks down into two ways to look at it: collecting recipes someone originated earlier and were felt worthy to record and pass down to the generations, and a purely personal, creative beer cookery where you come up with your own combinations and ideas. These interrelate too of course – e.g., say you find a Belgian carbonnades recipe (beef and beer stew) and decide to make it using lamb instead of beef.

18831164542_8401d3162a_zThe creative approach is perfectly valid, and after all that is how any cuisine got going, at one time. Not the best example, but someone somewhere stuck a can of beer in a chicken cavity once, probably as a joke in that case, and it became a classic.

My own interest is to read and sometimes cook recipes someone has written down and which belong to a national or regional tradition. These have at least some permanence, or acceptability, about them, which I find appealing.

When I read recently that Jehane Benoit, the great Canadian food authority of the 20th century, had written a book on beer cookery, I determined to get it and it now forms part of a collection I have of beer cookery books.

Mme Benoit (how she was always termed in her lifetime, so I will use the same honorific) was a superb chef, there wasn’t much about food she didn’t know and she was a rare example of both culinary master and trained food scientist. I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed in the book even though it is more a pamphlet, called Cooking With Dow, which dates from 1958.

Dow was a brewery in Quebec Province which had a crashing fall from grace about 10 years later, I have written about this recently on this blog. In 1958 though, years before cobalt salts were used in Canadian beer to assist its foaming, Dow was a full-flavoured, well-regarded sparkling ale. Thus, not the modern IPA-type beer, more like a full-flavoured blonde lager with (probably) some fruity notes from top-fermentation. Dow Brewery had hired Mme Benoit as a spokesperson, and Cooking With Dow was one result.

The book offers good interest and has recipes from many different countries, not all of which are typically associated with beer. Still, Mme Benoit in the introduction states the recipes are, “for the most part traditional and belong to the everyday cooking of many lands: Germany, Spain, China, England, France, Belgium, Italy and even America”.

Some may doubt this assertion, e.g., did people really add beer to the Spanish/Latin American punchero soup? (The name is usually spelled, puchero). Or to a Sicilian cabbage soup? I searched online for similar combinations and in fact found dishes similar to what Mme Benoit described. Beer has been known for 1000 years in parts of southern Europe albeit its commercial impact is of more recent note. Mme Benoit was too good and knowledgeable a food authority for me to doubt her on this. Also, by writing “for the most part”, she was clearly telling us just a few of the recipes were her own, probably the vegetarian group.

IMG_20160212_200023And so we find Quebec partridge with beer, a combination probably inherited from the Quebecois’ French ancestors since similar dishes are known in Picardy and elsewhere in the north; and Normandy pork chops, Austrian backhendl, kidneys Danish-style, Hungarian red cabbage, and ginger snaps, each made with beer. And on it went, over 100 recipes.

As for what beer to use, Mme Benoit had only one suggestion. Dow Ale! She has a short note on the brand at the back which shows the beer fancier she probably was as, when advising to keep the beer at 40-45 F, she states some prefer it “room temperature”. (That was called “tablette” in Quebec – off the shelf). It is easy to see that in the early 1900s, to which her memory extended, many liked beer that way, when it was all-malt and well-hopped. Quebec is cold too much of the year, so that fits in there also.

We have rich beers like that again today and you might try beer that way, or only half-chilled.

I’ve written about beer cookery off and on for a bit, but haven’t spoken as yet what the taste is like. It is hard to describe, something of the beer flavour endures in the dish but it is modified by the almost invariable use of spices, sugar, mustard or vinegar. Most people wouldn’t guess certainly beer is used, except perhaps in beer soup. It’s a unique flavour, and matches some meats well – beef best, in my view, and pork next to that. But its use extends well beyond that area and Madame has recipes for fish, desserts, eggs, vegetables, and beverages (compounded drinks).

As to what kind of beer to use, after many years’ experimentation, my feeling is, it almost doesn’t matter, somewhat as for wine. The beer cooks down and loses much of its individual quality, leaving something in common to all of them. Many years ago, a restaurant I knew on Mount Pleasant Avenue in Toronto was run by a chef from Roubaix, France. Roubaix, on the northern fringe of France, is in a classic beer area. I asked him to make me a coq à la bière his way, a well-known dish up in French beer country. It came in a white porcelain tureen, used tarragon and cream like I had read about and had piping hot french fries on the side, also as I had read about. (Which poet said the locomotives’ wheels in le Nord run on the oil for fried potatoes…).

This was the best chicken with beer dish I ever had. I asked what beer he used and he said, Labatt Blue. There you go.


Image above is Tram Lille Place Du Théatre, February, 1982, by Smiley.toerist (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Note re first two images above: These old advertisements are believed in the public domain and were sourced here and here, respectively. Last image was sourced here.



Beer in Victorian French Canada


Image Attribution: By Smudge 9000 (originally posted to Flickr as The City Wall) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Quebec’s John Bull Character in the 1800s

Saying “Victoria” and “Quebec City” in the same breath may sound contradictory. Quebec City, or Ville de Québec, is the historic capital of Quebec Province, French Canada’s heartland. It was founded in 1608 and has always been predominantly French.

Yet, from many points of view, the city was indeed Victorian, at one time. Quebec was ceded to Britain by the 1763 Treaty of Paris. This followed the fateful defeat of General Montcalm’s forces on the Plains of Abraham by General Wolfe of the British Army. Certainly the Quebec Act of 1774 enabled the survival of French civil and religious society by recognizing the French language, the Catholic faith, and French civil law. But British rule in Quebec was consequential, to say the least.

One result was that major areas of the economy became the preserve of incomers from Britain or the United States. A good example is brewing, via eg. John Molson who came to Montreal in the 1780s and established what is the oldest surviving brewery in North America, now called Molson Coors. Fortunes similar to Molson’s were created in many sectors of the economy including sugar refining, mining, furs, forestry, shipbuilding, insurance, and banking.

Numerous English-speaking settlers came to Quebec City after the 1770s, not just the larger Montreal. Quebec City is about 150 miles downriver from Montreal, east along the St. Lawrence River. Quebec City was and still is the spiritual centre of the St. Lawrence Valley, itself the historic destination of French settlement in Quebec. (One of the 1940s projects for Quebec independence envisaged the new country as “Laurentia”).

While modern Quebec is a huge territory and settled well beyond this heartland, its Laurentian core has always expressed its French character most completely.  Still, the arrival of English commerce changed Quebec City, and Quebec province, considerably. At one point later in the 1800s, Quebec City’s population was 40% anglophone. The “English” side was in fact a mix of citizens of Scots, English, Irish and American background.

This large and influential anglophone group declined precipitously in the 1900s, and today is hardly noticeable although not quite forgotten. The Scottish-extraction Simons have been in Quebec City for hundreds of years and still run what must be Canada’s oldest department store controlled by the same family.

Brewing fit in well with the local scene because under the French regime, brewing had been conducted continuously since the earliest arrivals. Its first commercial manifestation was in 1668 when Intendant Jean Talon set up a brewery on the site of what was later the Intendant’s first palace. Finally (1852) the site was a brewery again, the Anchor Brewery of Joseph K. Boswell, a Dublin-born immigrant.

In Quebec City in the 1800s, the larger breweries belonged to Paul Lepper, James McCallum and not least, Joseph Boswell. Boswell’s sons continued to manage the business until (and even after) the brewery became part of the National Breweries group in 1909.


The breweries of the Anglo-Saxon incomers reflected an organisation and technology similar to what was occurring in elsewhere in the English-speaking world. This extended quite naturally to beer styles. The sorts of beer made by the early brewers of Quebec Province were similar to those made in Britain at the time, for example porter, mild ale, pale ale, Burton ale, Scotch ale. Simply put, they were the beers familiar to the people who set up the breweries, by dint of homeland memory or as cultural inheritance (handed down in the new land).

Although it is another story, the domination of major parts of the Quebec economy by English-speakers always rankled in Quebec. French-speakers after WW II were about 80% of the Quebec population… This sentiment triggered a series of changes to Quebec society, some enforced by language or expropriation laws, which transferred parts of the economy to French hands.

But we are talking in this post of an earlier time, when Anglo-Saxons or others with English as mother-tongue tended to dominate the business scene. This was a time for example when a brewery in Quebec could use English in its advertising and signage without feeling obliged to include a French version. Today, that would be an anomaly, indeed impossible under the French language laws.

Our interest here may further be defined to know how residents of Quebec City, who took more than an average interest in beer, viewed its palate and quality. Two sources, one in English and the other in French, shed light on this question.

Willis Russell

Willis Russell was American-born. He came to Quebec from New England when he was about 30 and became the best known hotelier in the city. His career is well-summarized in this early Canadian biographical entry. Russell was active in numerous other businesses and investments, and also in civic government.

He wrote a history of Quebec City in 1857, no doubt to help promote his hotel interests, and took notice of the brewing businesses in town. He spent numerous pages lauding the plant and products of the Boswell brewery, in particular. (Whether Boswell paid him some coin for this lavish attention, we shall never know). Some of Russell’s comments reflect an imperfect knowledge of beer and brewing, but it is clear from his discussion that Boswell made India Pale Ale, porter, probably mild ale, and a strong, Burton-style ale.

Russell notes that the beers were never sour and were made without addition of – permit me the Victorianism – factitious ingredients. Russell noted that some hops were imported from Kent, England but some were sourced in Canada and barley malt was locally obtained as well. He considered local ingredients of excellent quality. While approving the beers made by other breweries in Quebec City, only Boswell’s came in for an extended encomium.

His connoisseur’s estimation, in his own words: “Indeed Quebec can produce the fine India Pale Ales of Edinburgh; the rich sparkling amber ale of Burton; the stingo of Dorchester; the entire or half and half of Barclay Perkins, London; and famous dark porters of Dublin”.

Hubert LaRue

Hubert LaRue was a French Canadian physician who was one of those protean 19th century figures. He was interested in literature, agriculture, politics and history. He mixed in the elite set of Victorian Quebec City, and had connections to the University of Laval of which he was the first medical graduate. Today, we would call him a public intellectual. This impressive figure – quite appropriately – took an interest in the topic of beer. In his 1881 Mélanges historiques: littéraires et d’économie politique, Volume II, he made many observations on the beer of his native city and “Canadian” beer in general.

These included: hops were being grown in Quebec province but generally without success due to early frosts or other problems; hops were also available from New York and Wisconsin but were variable in quality; none of these hops could equal the best from England and Bavaria; and imported hops were used for the finest beers. LaRue said that domestic hops reminded him of the nauseous quality of aloes. Aloe or aloes is a botanical often described as bitter, acidic, and bad-tasting in various ways: one source says baby vomit! The poor opinion of North American hops at the time accorded with professional brewing opinion in England, then.

Brewing took place in Quebec, he said, all year round, vs. the malting of barley, due to the availability of ice. (Beeretseq remembers wood shed-stored ice during the summer in the 1950s, sheathed in sawdust). An analysis of Canadian beers by LaRue showed they contained 7-8% alcohol, he specifically states “Gay Lussac”, which means alcohol by volume. This alcohol level accords with much historical data on the bottled beers of the day; stout and various ales all easily inhabited this range.


LaRue credits Montreal-based William Dow with bringing major improvements to Quebec brewing inspired by English practice, and says all Quebec beer improved considerably as a result of Dow’s influence.

Then, LaRue makes a very interesting statement: he says Canadian beers reminded him a lot of beer in Bavaria on trip he took there in 1856. This statement can be parsed in different ways, but I believe he was referring to the good stability of Canadian beer – it wasn’t sour or infected. In good part, this was probably the result of the liberal use, even prior to mechanical refrigeration, of ice in the brewing and storage process. England in this period, France too, simply didn’t have the ability to ensure long-keeping of beer without some acidification or wild yeast development. This was despite the use of heavy hopping for some styles of beer and the blending of beers to obtain a drinkable product.

Bavarian beer was, by the 1850s, lager beer. It benefitted from stability due to being being stored cold in deep cellars or Alpine caves (initially) and being kept cold until dispense to customers. This common climatic factor and availability of ice in large quantities was the key factor, I believe, despite that all Quebec beer in this period was top-fermented (ale or porter) and Bavarian beer was mostly lager.

Note re second and third images used: the McCallum’s Pale Ale label is from the collection of the McCord Museum in Montreal. All details on its full name and ownership can be found here. The third image was sourced from the Thomas Fisher Library of the University of Toronto, and similar details in its regard are here. These are believed available for use for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Brewing Industry Advances In The Jazz Era


1920s Innovations in Packaging Beer Echo Down The Ages

Some may wonder why the 1908 Molson Pale Ale, or that style of “real ale”, was out of production for so long.

Increasingly after WW I, bottled ales, in areas influenced by British beer traditions, became clear, fizzy and well-filtered. In Canada they tended to resemble lagers. In England they retained a more traditional character but were still different from beer naturally-matured in the bottle.

The technological pace quickened after WW I. The brewers claimed that is what the public wanted, which is at least partly true. There were complaints before the war that beer with a yeast deposit required discarding a portion of it – in those years people liked to pour their drink clear – to decant it.  Another reason was to ensure better stability in the bottle. To further this end, a lot of this new type of beer was pasteurized.

The new style was variously called sparkling ale, dinner ale, gem ale. In Canada and the U.S., draft beer took this form too. In England, the draft beers were still for another 40-50 years cask-conditioned and reasonably traditional in nature, albeit somewhat altered too, being weaker and less hopped than before.

Molson Export Ale, first released in 1903, was a harbinger of this new style. Today, beers such as Labatt 50 and Keith’s India Pale Ale best exemplify the type.

In 1908, one can infer that Molson still made some of the older style. The recreation is 6.8% abv and accords pretty much with known characteristics of pale ale before 1900: placed in the bottle unfiltered; light amber in hue; 6-7% abv; aged in cask and then the bottle before being released to the market.

IMG_20160211_213351One could infer all this history from the product types known to be in the market at different times and from English brewing sources. But as it happens, confirmation comes from Molson itself, in the form of a speech a fourth generation member of the family gave in 1922 to a group of British brewing experts. The presentation was called, The Brewing Industry In Canada and given by Col. H. Molson who had scientific and legal credentials. It was published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol. 28, Issue 7. The account provides a clear and authoritative short history of Canadian brewing (not just Molson’s) from inception to 1922 and contains much of interest.

When discussing the kind of beer Molson’s had fixed on for the future, it is clear this beer was 5% abw or less (a law enacted a year earlier in Quebec required that, it should be noted), filtered and carbonated, aged mid-50sF*, and with characteristics of both ale and lager. Molson said the “stock” beers of the 1800s, strong, aged nine to 12 months in wood and then bottled and aged again, were a memory. Indeed this proved accurate for the next 95 years, but this 1908 pale ale is a rare return to the past, one which proves that Canadian brewing in its early years had the hallmarks of craft brewing.


*In an earlier draft, I stated “aged cold” but changed it to the phrasing stated as, re-reading Molson’s remarks, I see he states the beer was held at 52-56F for eight to 16 weeks, and dropped to freezing (32F) only before bottling. Clearly, in 1922, the beers (ales) were processed in a way to retain some traditional character including still being all-malt. This changed in later decades with increasingly shorter storage times, colder storage, and introduction of grain adjuncts, generally in the Canadian industry that is.

Note re first image used: the image above is called Art Deco Border by Dawn Hudson, and is in the public domain. It was sourced here.

Molson Digs In The Archives – Finally


Molson Coors Takes A Look In Its Old Books, To Our Benefit

I was always puzzled why large breweries didn’t make beers from their own archives. Why buy craft brewers when you have all the history in your own file cabinet? For years I have been on this theme, on beer websites, others’ blogs, finally my own.

Pabst did release in the last couple of years Ballantine India Pale Ale and Burton Ale. With good results even though not every beer inevitably will please every punter. Coors released a supposed pre-1919 lager recipe a few years ago (so-so, in my eyes). Fuller has done stellar work in London with super-fine stout and strong ale releases from c. 1900.

In Canada, nothing – until today. John H.R. Molson & Bros. 1908 Historic Pale Ale is in the local Beer Stores, just out this week they told me. Well, what do you know…

The ad copy on the case states that a recipe of that year was used to brew it, of which I have no doubt. Molson isn’t going to fib about this. And the results show the authenticity: it has the true orangey colour of Victorian-into-1900s pale ale, a firm, mineral hop character with light orange notes, definite (non-DMS) yeast character, and a pleasant, light malty taste. Pale ale was not a rich, sweet beer traditionally, it was on the dry side and did not satiate. This beer is exactly like that.  It is 6.8% abv, and unfiltered by which I take it, it is unpasteurized.

Ron Pattinson has a spec for a J.H.R. Molson 1897 pale ale here (at p.241), and there it is about 1% lower in alcohol than this recreation. But close enough certainly, and numerous IPAs in the table from other brewers, including Boswell which I discussed here recently, are much closer in strength to the Molson 1908. Even from the same brewer, beers varied more then than today for a number of reasons, long storage alone could add a point of ABV.

In other words, that table just confirms the authenticity of what’s in this bottle, IMO.

All in all it tastes English, it reminds me of many fine bitters – pre-the craft penetration of the U.K. – from the 80s and 90s.  It’s sort of like Orval too without the brett, and Michael Jackson always said Orval was an English pale ale style. Or like John Martin’s Pale Ale actually, for those who know it.

Good on Molson Coors. Now, as Alan said in a tweet today, let’s see a 1808. 🙂

Creemore Springs urBock


I will return to the subject of beer in 1800s Quebec City, but for now a straight-up beer review.

This is Creemore Bock, and is very similar to what it always was, i.e., before Molson Coors scooped up the brewery just over ten years ago.

It is milk chocolate malty, lightly bitter, withal an accurate rendition of the Einbeck, Germany strongish beer style that gained favour centuries ago in Bavaria.

This particular canning impressed more than some as the yeast background, generally prominent in the Creemore line, hangs back here. Long aging in the old days (1800s-1950s) would have removed most of the grassy, loamy volatiles associated with a fresh young beer. Perhaps this batch was longer-aged – we are later in the winter now – than others I’ve tried.

Anyway, it’s all good.