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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showman Walter B. Leonard Recalls the American Barroom


The history of alcohol in both America and Canada has by now a considerable literature. It deals with technological, business, consumer, temperance/Prohibition, and sociological aspects.

What of the social life of the saloon: quirks of customers, brands of beverages, that kind of thing? There is of course the anti-saloon tract, which forms part of anti-drink literature. Lurid essays are not lacking, generally by ex-drinkers or ex-saloonkeepers, that chronicle the evils of liquor. Far from me to put them down, as the saloon did its share of wrong certainly. Still, it provided a service that people wanted and will find one way or another, today no less than earlier, and as American National Prohibition (1919-1933) showed too clearly.

What of “happy days” in the old bar? Did they exist? Is there a balanced study of the old saloon? Christine Sismondo’s fine study, America Walks Into A Bar, certainly supplies a want here. But in general from what I can tell, period testimony on the benefits of the saloon is rare due to the social opprobrium attached to liquor-selling by the later 1800s. To write a happy account of running or patronising a bar in this period would have offended established authority.

One example of a benign or even sympathetic look at the old bar was written in July, 1932 by Walter Brown Leonard. Prohibition would end soon. The newspapers, including the Republican-Journal of Ogdensburg, NY which published the article, felt encouraged to portray the bar’s positive attributes.

While written in 1932 the article describes a much earlier period, the 1870s. Leonard was born in 1860 and as a boy had helped his father run the family’s bar and hotel in Morley, NY. So he described bar life from the inside so to speak.

By the 1930s Walter Leonard was a sometimes journalist and music teacher, but had enjoyed a colourful career in a different field, show business.

The piece is full of human interest and describes with colour  various personalities. The most vivid is an old man for whom parting with a bank note, the old “shinplasters”, took an effort of will. He never bought a drink for others, and would occasionally stiff the tavern when claiming to have forgotten his money, omissions Leonard said were never repaired. The pub must have indulged him as a regular.

Another colourful story: two “sons of Erin” would come in once a week, get drunk, fight good-naturedly (I guess that’s possible) and then walk home tipsily singing Irish songs.

Leonard wrote that he never saw a youth take alcohol, only lemonade. He also never saw a woman drink in the bar, or act drunk in the town.

Overall the image is of a business sanely run that supplied a social need, was approved in the community, and a part of daily life.

On the drinks side, a few details are of interest: beer was dispensed by a “silver tap” from the end of the bar. Customers would serve themselves if they walked in and no one was there. A cask of bock beer was brought in in the spring.

Lager beer was a new concept when Leonard was helping in the bar. He says old-timers stuck to their “ale” and “beer” (the latter probably was porter). Initially lager was only drunk by a younger set but gradually caught on.

Whiskey was served by the drink, and Leonard says bottle sales were not allowed, they were the preserve of the pharmacy. But he implies bottles sometimes were supplied to customers, perhaps because the village was so small. The nearest town of any size, Canton, was a few miles away. Morley was a hamlet on a small river in St. Lawrence County, NY, just the other side from Canada (which never figures in his account).

There is a good nugget in the piece which shows the genesis of Leonard’s long career in show business. After some training, he went on the road in his teens as an actor and musician. He “trouped”, and appeared in vaudeville and circus shows. He was an acknowledged authority on minstrelsy. In later days he wrote and produced shows and was a stringer for Billboard magazine and the North Country press in New York State.

One account states of him that his work brought him everywhere in the United States but omits any reference to Canada, except for British Columbia. Having grown up more or less a stone’s throw from Canada, he seems to have never been to Ontario or Quebec. In those days, the two countries were more hermetic, which is odd since a good part of Ontario was founded by American Loyalists, but that’s another story.

The long obituary of Walter B. Leonard in 1949 in the Commercial Advertiser of Potsdam Junction, from which many details here are taken, wrote aptly of him:

He had a long life, his life was filled with incidents of interest, he made it so.

Note re images: the image of Morley, NY was obtained from this Canton, NY library source. (Almost certainly, one of the buildings shown contained Leonard’s Tavern and Hotel). Image is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

See Part II of this article, here.

Cause Beer Year Round Gonna Do It

If the lager that emerged in the United States by 1870 had been memorialized in song, it might have gone like this:


Ballad of the New Lager (with apologies to Mars and Ronson)

I’m Too Good
Not Long-Aged and People Swoon
I’m Too Good
Nine Month Beer is His-tory
I’m Too Good
Machines that Chill, Powder that cures
I’m Too Good
Cause Beer Year Round Gonna Do It
Beer Year Round Gonna Do It
It’s Saturday night and lager is king!


Initially in the United States, lager as in Europe was a long-aged summer specialty. It emerged from the need to have a drinkable beer in warm weather. Before mechanical refrigeration or heavy use of natural ice, brewing could only reliably take place in cool weather and even then ideally only in certain months. In Britain, October and March were considered the best seasons.

Beer was consumed “mild” or new from either brewing but also laid down to keep a year or more.

This keeping was done both to have beer in a season it could not be brewed and because some felt aging improved it. The story with lager is similar.

Beer brewed from December to February could be consumed new, this was the schenk or pot beer, but some of it was extra-hopped and made stronger. It was laid away to be consumed eight or nine months later. Lager was fermented colder than ale and porter, and initially available where natural cold, in Alpine caves or via ice added, would ensure a near-freezing environment.


The intense cold ensured, said many writers in the 1800s, that acetic acid and lactic acid would be suppressed. The chill and lager yeast, somewhat different in shape and characteristics from ale yeast, would produce a slow secondary conditioning: carbonation would be imparted and the palate refined. Once again this took the better part of a year.

Yet, this long-aged and presumably fine beer disappeared almost without a trace by the 1870s in America. What replaced it was bottom-fermented beer drunk fairly new, or “new lager”. Since ice and, later, refrigeration equipment could produce beer year round, there was no reason to lock up beer and capital for many months.

Lager reverted to schenk beer, essentially.

Was the long-aged beer better, though? Many assumed it was, as some English brewers did for ale and porter. New beer can have “green” flavours which are said to lift off with time, although how this occurred in sealed wood casks is not immediately evident. Still, in 1946, a time when scientific analysis had gained sophistication, the well-credentialled B. Jellinek argued in a reputed English journal that aging improved the taste of lager.

Long aging also reduced the bitterness of beer. Porter-brewers had observed this, and given most people don’t like very bitter tastes, lager-brewers too may have liked the natural reduction of bitterness which would occur from a long spell in storage.

But if the long-aged lager was so good, why did American breweries abandon it, something that happened in Europe too albeit later? Did they sacrifice the best quality for commercial convenience and profit? Why did they not sell some long-aged lager as a specialty?  Most consumer products have different grades.

In fact, there is reason to think well-matured lager was never that much more than an expedient.

With better science and even practical experience, people found ways to parry each advantage of long keeping. Various substances could be added, isinglass or gelatine, say, to clarify beer within a few hours, not months.  As I showed yesterday, American brewers were adding (or many of them) bicarbonate of soda to reduce the risk of acidity from sourish clarifying agents.

I now think too the old German foreman was right when he said the soda also lessened hop bitterness. For beer kept a month or so, the soda did what even eight or nine months could not do sufficiently, reduce hop impact. (In time too of course, hop content was lowered and a beer not meant for aging tended to use fewer hops anyway).

Yeasts could be selected, or the new beer otherwise manipulated, to ensure expelling of green flavours.

And fresh fermenting beer could be added to flat, fermented-out beer to impart the necessary fizz, and finally CO2 injection was used.

And so, newly-made beer replaced old. Of course, it happened to ale and porter too. Long aging of the English stuff though had a fault – the beer tended to go sour or at least tart. Blending old and new beer partly alleviated the problem, but once new fresh beer was regularly available to the market, that’s what people wanted, and the old “vatted” or aged beer died out.

Since stability was said to be a hallmark of the old lager and it was exempt from the action of lactic and acetic acid bacteria, you might think the “fresh beer” logic didn’t apply to it, at least in the sense that brewers would have still offered some long-aged beer as a specialty. They didn’t. Today, Pilsner Urquell, the queen of blonde lagers, is aged about four weeks based on my research…

Few detailed taste notes on beer survive from the 1800s, and almost none which compare lagers of different ages. One can find analyses of beer in which acids are sometimes mentioned, and in general, acid content was higher than today, for all beers. Did nine month lager have the potential to taste sour? Yes it did.

Proof is available via this detailed 1877 article on lager-brewing in New York, from the New York Times. In that article, it was said, twice, that the old lager tended in the public estimation to be sour or “hard”, and also (still) too bitter. Hard was a term used in the alcohol industries then to mean sour. The term survives in the expression hard cider, which indeed can approach sourness in palate.

The writer said that use of soda carbonate in young beer, combined with ice-assisted, year round brewing ensured fresh product and this was preferred by the market to the supposedly better beer aged much longer earlier. It noted that Schaefer and another brewer tried to re-introduce a seven month-aged beer; people didn’t want to know.

Could it be that Americans never mastered the art of making well-aged lager as well as their German forbears did? I doubt it. And if that old beer was so good it should have survived as a speciality in the market, fetching a high price. We have old whiskey, old port, old Bordeaux, why not old beer? Apart from a few craft producers, no one makes it, and where the craft people do, it is generally for stout or strong ale. I can’t recall seeing many old lagers in the market.

Maybe, despite the theory, it was never that good, here or in Europe, especially in an age of wood vessels and non-sterile plants.

An alternate explanation is, once reliable fresh schenk was available year round, the market wouldn’t pay for fine lager considering especially that beer is the drink of the people. But again, usually there is a market for quality, any product. And laying away a few metal barrels or vats to age seven, eight, nine months should be no trouble for a nice extra margin.

But there is no extra-aged Carlsberg, or Spaten Helles, or Pilsner Urquell, or Creemore, or Sam Adams.

Those experienced with the beer palate know that fresh beer is best. Maybe it always was.


“Notes From A Brewery”

Prosit, Mein Herr

2002_1_3205_JacobRuppertBarTray_img1_0In New York in February, 1891, The Sun’s man visited a local brewery. It was a lager brewery, not named. Perhaps Schaefer, perhaps George Ehret’s, or Jacob Ruppert’s, Rheingold.

Although nearing the period when Prohibition sentiment was at its peak, the paper didn’t cavil from giving a full page to this topic, with pen and ink illustrations to boot.

In this period, the Sun and other New York papers carried brewery advertising and occasionally (not this time) featured articles on the industry in a kind of special issue, where for two or three pages lavish brewery ads would appear with articles on different aspects of the business.

The Sun’s 1891 article was more human-focused and with a humorous edge. Still, numerous technical details emerge of interest including some I’ve not heard before.

The focal point was the German foreman, whose “curious” mixture of English and German the writer found amusing. There is a recurring punch line in the story, but I’ll let you read it for yourself to get the full impact.

The quantities consumed by workers at the brewery every day almost beggar belief. 20 or 30 beers are downed and they couldn’t have been small measures, a large wooden mug is pictured at the men’s bar in the courtyard. The foreman sometimes pulled a beer into “glasses” strategically placed throughout the plant to the amusement of the visitor, perhaps these were smaller in size.

58195_GeorgeEhretsHellGateBrewery_0The beer was probably 4% abv, similar to a modern light beer (in alcohol), maybe a bit stronger. Accounting for some foam, maybe the men netted 12 ounces of “solid” beer (a term used in the article) with each drink. 20 glasses of 4% beer is 15-16 beers at 5% abv. Some workers, including the foreman, could hit 30. That’s like a two-four down at The Beer Store. It seems hard to believe people could work like this, but the article says there was no obvious intoxication.

Two technical points stood out for me. The first was that “natron” was added to the kegs, this is a white, chalk-like substance, a carbonate of soda. In an explanation both familiar and odd-sounding, the foreman told the writer it was added to keep the beer “mild” and take out the bitterness.

The mild part makes sense. Natron is an alkali, and would tend to minimize acidity in the beer. Sourness could result from unpasteurized draft beer going off. But also, new beer being kegged might have been a little sour due to isinglass being added, which was typically dissolved with cream of tartar then or another sourish agent. Perhaps the natron neutralized the acidity from this source.

But the part about lessening bitterness doesn’t tally IMO. If you want less bitterness, just use less hops. Indeed that’s just what happened by mid-20th century.

I think the foreman’s explanation was a bit muddled, maybe drinking a case a day can do that.

The writer had the presence of mind to ensure he tasted the beer without the natron to see if it made any difference. Unfortunately, he failed to report on any difference in taste, if noted.

85468d_FreshCoolLagerBeer_CurrierIves_0The other tech matter of interest: the brewery took pains to ensure no iron, nails and similar, would enter with the hops as they were loaded into the wort. The chutes delivering the hops were equipped with strong magnets to catch all such debris. The foreman explained it like this:

If metal got in it could ruin the beer or even cause an explosion. I am not sure what this is referring to. Maybe as whole hops went into the strained mash – there were no hop pellets or fluid extracts then – sparks from metal fragments could set off a fire (the dust). I’ve never heard of this being done though, if anyone knows about it do say something.

The men’s wives and other female relations brought them lunch during their break. The women would share the meal with them and all drank from yet another keg brought in for the crowd. The spell with the family makes sense given the long day, 6:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. (Later, a strike in New York ensured it was cut back).

I find it interesting that the brewery’s name wasn’t mentioned. Maybe the piece was viewed as what we call today generic advertising, and the space paid for by multiple breweries. Hard to say.

The recurring punch line in the story reminded me of a comedy sketch when the great Jonathan Winters appeared on Johnny Carson’s famous late-night show. Winters was riffing on his youth, probably spontaneously, and described the family Christmas after the family had lost its money in the 1930s. Winters: “Johnny, that was when the toys became wooden, a broomstick with a face carved. And in the stocking bag it was always walnuts. I put my hand in and pulled out a walnut. And then another one, and another one, and anoth…”. (See from 8:00-10:11 in the link given).

Note re images: The images above were sourced from the website of the New York Historical Society, here. The Society mounted a well-received exhibition on New York brewing history in 2012. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




New York Magazine Does Beer

New_York,_New_York_1977_(1)1971 was five years before the first true “craft brewery”: Jack McAuliffe’s New Albion Brewery in Sonoma, CA. In 1971 McAuliffe was still posted with the U.S. Navy in Great Britain, learning about fine beer.

Washing machine scion Fritz Maytag in San Francisco had owned the venerable Anchor Brewery (founded 1899) since the mid-1960s and was well underway to restore the integrity of its Anchor Steam Beer. Anchor’s Liberty Ale and Anchor Porter, important, influential beers in the early craft history, were designed later in the 70s by the savvy, prophetic Maytag.

But what was the beer scene like in New York in 1971? Despite post-war industry consolidation and considerable levelling of the palate there were still breweries in or around New York, and lots of imports in the stores.

With consumerism in full march for decades attention was turning to wine, and slowly beer, as suitable subjects of gastronomic attention. The change, which started in small influential circles (wine groups, culinary societies), took time due to long-lasting Prohibition attitudes shaped by the 19th century Protestant ethic. Growing popular interest in wine and beer, increased travel, and a loosening of social attitudes finally caused a larger revolution in how beer and wine were viewed, commencing in the late 1960s.

New York tended to be open-minded in such matters anyway. The history of speakeasies during Prohibition is testament to that alone. And before Volstead the New York press regularly covered matters of interest to the beer drinker, as I’ve covered here earlier. And so this tradition broadened after Prohibition and especially after WW II.

As an example of loosening attitudes the pathbreaking Consumer Reports featured a beer-rating article in 1949. To do that in, say, Philadelphia in the 1950s-60s would have seemed impossible. In contrast, by 1971 beer in hip New York was cool, and warranted a closer look by a food-oriented consumer magazine.

New York magazine was founded a few years earlier by Milton Glaser and Clay Felker. It is the progenitor for the urban lifestyle magazines found around world today. The magazine’s short but illuminating beer article can be read here. It was titled, a little grandly but no doubt with New York irony, The Underground Gourmet’s 1971 Beer Olympics. 

One is pleased to learn – it’s 45 years ago – that Milton Glaser at 87 is still active in the graphic design field. It is he who invented the “I Love New York” slogan and logo in 1977. Just the other day the New York Times interviewed him in this story. I wonder if Glaser still likes beer. Presumably yes, as he also designed another well-known logo, for New York’s Brooklyn Brewery, a craft brewing pioneer.

The Underground Gourmet’s ratings are interesting to consider. Many beers that did well are still available and probably taste quite similar. Of the beers one would expect to do well that did not, Dinkelacker from Germany, say, or Ballantine India Pale Ale, perhaps the bottles were too old, and the article mentioned the risk of over-age.

A hook for the tasting was to divide the panel into Blue Collar and White Collar. As the tallies showed though, the judges on either side largely agreed on their findings. Glaser and co-writer Jerome Snyder wrote that social and psychological factors probably influenced the results but were not “measured”. They may have meant that a taster with, say, an Italian background might be less likely to dismiss a beer coming from Italy.  But all in all, the two Collars viewed the beers similarly. The men wearing ties perhaps liked dark beers a bit better.

Each panel agreed that a dark German Wurzburger earned the No. 1 place. The brand had a long import history in the States, which would explain in part the excellent quality.

The Dutch Heineken did well, New York was its first market in North America after Prohibition was repealed, so it was probably fresh and certainly familiar to Gothamites.

Watney’s Red Barrel, the bane of 1970s English “real ale” pioneers, did well too. Americans always liked Red Barrel. Next to the American lager norm it cut a swath, in any case.

Presidente from Dominican Republic was a top-scorer and indeed was an excellent beer then – I remember it – malty, with a vibrant, appealing flavour. Peroni from Italy did well, and is fashionable today – justly so when in good condition.

As mentioned earlier Ballantine India Pale Ale scored unusually now. How odd considering that I.P.A. is the toast of American brewing in 2019, the quality end anyway. Too much time had passed since the days of well-hopped, old-fashioned ales, one presumes.

old-bohemian-bock-104-15-fNo American beer ranked as Excellent except for a bock beer, Old Bohemian. Clearly it was an outlier since it wasn’t from a generally reputed source, to our knowledge. Beer can be like that, unpredictable.

The tabulated results seem to err at least once. The score for Prior Dark shows that each panel gave it 4 1/4, yet it’s listed in the Fair group. Prior was a small seller but a topmost quality beer: it couldn’t get a break.

Labatt Blue Pilsener from Canada made it into the Excellent category, though. I think “Blue” was better at the time, but that is speculative.

Someone should hold the same tasting again, and why not New York magazine? Collect all the beers still available in the market and substitute similar ones for beers no longer made. Send me an invitation, will you?

Note re images: The image of Times Square in 1977 was sourced at Wikipedia here and is by Derzsi Elekes Andor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. The image of Old Bohemian Bock is from this breweriana websiteAll intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Utica Club Pilsener: 50 Years Behind The Times 50 Years Ago

s-l300The F.X. Matt Brewing Company in Utica, NY is a legend in American brewing. The Matt family’s involvement in the business dates from 1888 although brewing had occurred onsite earlier under different guises.

At one time, thousands of small breweries dotted the country. Matt’s is one of the very few to survive the industry’s consolidation after WW II and successfully transition to the craft beer era.

Its continued family ownership is one reason. Another is that while by mid-20th century the family was committed to mass market-style brews (Utica Pilsener, Utica Club Cream Ale), it never forgot what the roots of real beer were. Not long after craft brewing revived in the early 1980s, Matt’s got involved in the scene. It did this initially by brewing beers under contract for entrepreneurs without a bricks and mortar facility.

Matt’s brewed for Matthew Reich and to this day makes a chunk of the beer sold by famed Brooklyn Brewing Company (Steve Hindy, Garrett Oliver). Matt’s introduced as well its Saranac line, beers made in traditional styles, most all-malt, which reached back to the origins of American brewing.

The first Matt in the business was from Baden in Germany. Partly because he lived so long, to 99, authenticity was always in the mind of the company. The arrival of craft beer therefore provided a natural opportunity rather than a puzzling challenge. For too many small outfits across the country, beer was simply adjunct lager, lightly hopped, pasteurized in can or bottle, difficult to differentiate from 1000 beers in the country.

In the post-war climate, success was determined by innovative advertising, production and other efficiencies, and distribution savvy. The inherent quality of the product became a bloodless “QC” matter, in and of itself salutary, but for most American breweries by the 1970s, real beer was a dim memory if it was understood at all.

thumbnail-1Matt’s was unique in holding on to parts of its heritage and understanding that the market was slowly changing. Small is beautiful was becoming a new mantra. The famous 1960s Volkswagen ads are an example, but there were many others. The Utica Club 50 Years campaign was a parallel example of the greening of business so to speak, a trend now taken for granted internationally. Here is an example of the innovative 50 Years campaign, from the Herald-Mail in Fairport, NY, July 23, 1963.

Yet, business success was –  and is – always a mixture of looking back and looking forward. In the 1950s and early 60s, while intuiting the social changes to come, Matt’s used the resources of sophisticated marketing to get a leg up in its market. It hired DDB of New York, the famed Doyle Dane Bernbach, to come up with campaigns for its beers. DDB is a Madison Avenue legend and, via its current incarnation DDB Worldwide, still an advertising powerhouse. Bill Bernbach is mentioned often in the Mad Men series…

In 1970, DDB’s David Reider explained the genesis of the 50 Years Behind The Time campaign. The slogan initially headlined a display of the Pilsener on a vintage beer tray. Later, it was adapted for a series of print ads showing black and white photos from c. 1910 with men holding beers in saloons, at picnics, and in other settings. The period dress, moustaches, and old beer mugs suggested old-fashioned values, authenticity. As for the beer itself, the ads stated it was aged a few months, not a few weeks as most current beer, and wasn’t artificially carbonated. The ads pointed out that this older way of brewing required extra space and equipment but was retained because it made for better beer.

Yet in other ways, the qualities vaunted for the Pilsener were really quite modern. The ads stated guilelessly the beer was not “bitter” (or sometimes, not too sweet, not too bitter). They freely mentioned non-malt brewing grains as an ingredient, in effect placing it on a par with barley malt by explaining that no sugars or syrups were used. Some old photos pictured dark beers, but the ads skipped lightly over this, saying simply today the beer is light.

While it is tempting to regard the campaign as a savvy attempt to make something new look old, that would be too facile. Tradition really did mean something to Matt, but the concern manifested itself in different ways in different times. The proof again is the onset of the craft beer era: Matt’s got it, when most of its competitors didn’t. Walter Matt was the executive who approved DDB’s work and was the son of the long-lived first Matt. Father and son obviously knew and never forgot what traditional brewing was. That concern was handed down to the Matts who have run the business since.

So when we look at what really ensured the success of the company, it wasn’t just business savvy, it wasn’t gimmicks, it was the respect for traditional brewing.

The_Busy_Corner.tifUtica Club Pilsener is still made by the company. It’s a relatively small part of production now, but adjunct lager is itself now part of tradition, so it has been retained, and rightly so.

A product of its era I liked, Maximus Super, is no longer made (I believe), and should be restored. Michael Jackson had good things to say about it in his first beer book (1977). It was a tasty, high octane beer, a twist on that uniquely American category, “malt liquor”.

I visited Matt’s twice in the last 30 years and would recommend it to any beer fan. The brewery is a handsome Victorian survival in a town nestled in the Empire State’s green Mohawk Valley.

If you want a sense of what the brewery and town were like at the dawn of the craft beer renaissance, read it here in Stephen Morris’ matchless The Great Beer Trek (1984).

Note re images: The images above are respectively from an ebay listing, from the 1963 press story linked, and from Wikipedia’s entry on Utica, NY. They are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All trade marks or other intellectual property shown belong solely to their lawful owners or authorized licensees. All feedback welcomed.

“The American Hop Smells of Garlic” (1906)


New York State before Prohibition was a major hop-producing area, and the industry lingered on for a time after 1933 (Repeal of the 18th Amendment).

Yet, a New York Tribune article in 1906 deprecated American hops. It did not distinguish one variety from another, and stated the hops smelled of garlic: not, as the saying goes, a ringing endorsement.

The odd taste, together with an excess of seeds, was said to place American hops at the bottom of the world league table. Indeed many sources, English and American, from the mid-1800s to the mid-20th century offered a similar view of U.S. hops. Some describe the flavour as “blackcurrant” (a funky, fruit-like taste), some called it pine-like, and some, catty or “tom cat” as English brewing technologist H. Lloyd Hind did in his Brewing: Science and Practice (1938).

In 1885, summing up international opinion, the English brewing writer Southby stated in his Practical Brewing that even the best American hops have a “coarse and peculiar” flavour. He felt they were useful as “yearlings”, aged that is at least a year when some of the strong taste would leach out, or for use in porter and stout. The strong, burned-malt taste of the dark beers would hide some of the coarse hop taste, as would the aging these beers often received.

Southby referred to the practice of “admixture” in regard to foreign hops. Many sources confirm that increasingly in the 19th century, English brewers used U.S. or Bavarian hops to blend with English hops. This would ensure that foreign flavours did not predominate, and provided a measure of consistency from year to year.

American and Canadian brewers used domestic hops for their production except sometimes for the best in the line, usually to impart a refined aroma. German or English hops were imported for this purpose. North Americans became accustomed to their own hops, in a word. Call it “terroir” before the term existed.

As lager always used less hops than ale and porter, perhaps its rise in America can be attributed in part to the feisty quality of North American hops. The increasing use of grain adjunct, or brewing sugars, also had the effect of reducing hop content, as I discussed yesterday. Both factors probably contributed to the hops seeming less “offensive” in beer.

In contrast, traditional English hop varieties were and still are clean and arbour-like, sometimes with a scent of fresh flowers. Saaz hops in the Czech lands always had a reputation for top quality. Buy Pilsner Urquell in fresh condition and you will see why. German hops in my experience are mineral, steely, strong-tasting. Sam Adams Boston lager shows them to good advantage, or the German Jever pilsener if consumed fresh again.

Despite this background, there was the odd dissenting view about American hops. Some American experts felt their hops were as good as any in the world. They were fond of noting that Britons used them freely when English hop yields were down. You will even find the odd comment from a Briton to this effect. Southby implies some of his colleagues had no issues with American hops, for example.

But the boosters could not hide the fact that American hops generally were viewed as second or third class. This only changed when the craft brewing renaissance conferred a star-quality on these hops, not just here but in Britain. So the old learning finally went by the wayside.

But was the garlic story true? It definitely was and in all likelihood, a prime example was Canada Red Vine. Before Prohibition three main varieties of hops were grown in North America: Cluster, of which one or two sub-types existed, Canada Red Vine, and Fuggle. Fuggle was the English hop of the same name, transplanted here.

Cluster was a type long grown in America, apparently a cross between a native (wild) hop and a European variety brought by early Dutch or English arrivals. Red Vine was originally from Canada, as the name suggests. It too seems to have been a genetic mixture of native and European types. For some good background, see herea recent article from the beer magazine All About Beer.


In a 2012 discussion by home brewers, one commented that he found hops growing wild in New York State. He wrote that they had aheavygarlic taste; this is clear confirmation of the 1906 news account.

Does it mean all U.S. hops back then were like that? No, but clearly as a whole the three varieties were felt inferior to German, Czech, and English hops, there was an international consensus.

What changed then to make American hops darlings of the craft beer renaissance? One reason is that new varieties were introduced. The Cascade hop, a story unto itself, was the first, released in 1972. It has a strong grapefruit and pine taste. It isn’t onion or garlic-like. While it may share some traits with pre-Prohibition hops, its clean, citric character is a new element, the result of sophisticated hop breeding.

Cascade was developed in Corvallis, Oregon under a United States Department of Agriculture hop-breeding initiative. Funding in part was provided by large brewers of the 1950s-1970s such as Anheuser-Busch. But those brewers didn’t like the results. The great American hop scientist, Dr. Al Haunold, has explained that to drinkers then after the first beer went down the second “went up your nose”.

Nonetheless a lot of Cascade was grown, used for bittering (vs. aroma) or in hop blends.

The new hop would likely have died out but was picked up by the emerging craft brewers. They were looking for something different and wanted a hop with good aroma to emulate the great English pale ales.

Anchor Brewing of San Francisco was probably the first with its 1975 one-off version of Liberty Ale. It returned as a regular production item in the early 1980s. Anchor’s Our Special Ale in the 1970s also used Cascade. This inspired newer craft brewers like New Albion in Sonoma (1977-1983) and not least, Sierra Nevada Brewing, which commenced in 1981.

Other fruity tastes such mango, tangerine, and peach characterize many of the hops introduced since the revolution worked by Cascade. They have a large following among craft beer devotees.

Yet, even some new-generation hops, as home-brewing and beer discussion forums confirm, can feature garlic, onion, cat’s pee, and so-called dank flavours. Some hops said to have these interesting flavours include Centennial, Chinook, Summit, Simcoe, Citra. Of course, much can depend on the annual crop and where the hops are grown, but I’ve noticed such flavours myself in some of these hops at times.

After all, these hops are still grown in North American soils. They are subject to a North American climate, just as American hops of Southby’s time were. Think of the pinot noir grape: you can grow it far from the original production area, but it won’t taste the same as in Burgundy, France.

And so netting things out, what was regarded as strange in Southby’s time can today be the latest rage. Really, American terroir finally was appreciated, although the garlic taste seems mostly to have subsided, thankfully.

The reasons for the turnaround are, IMO:

– taste is relative to time and place

– England’s great hop fields of the 1800s and mid-1900s have almost disappeared, so there is much less production than formerly. Hence, people will use other sources of hops

– even where English hops form 100% of the hop bill, say for some U.K. cask ales, much less is used than in the heyday of English brewing. The hops make less impact, and accordingly don’t show to best advantage viz. post-1971 American hops

–  the latest varieties of American hops offer a more diverse and interesting range of flavours than before 1933 or even between 1972 and 2000. Flavours such as orange, mango, apricot, and pineapple, if not sometimes chocolate and other exotica, now characterize these hops and the beers they go into.

Note re images: both images above are in the public domain, the first is from Wikipedia’s entry on garlic, the second is from Vol. I of H. Lloyd Hind’s 1938 brewing text mentioned above. Both are believed available for educational and cultural use. All feedback welcomed.



The Historic Rise in Adjunct Rate, the Historic Fall in Hop Rates. Bingo.


A table, attractive due to its simplicity and comprehensive reach, indicates that in approximately 35 years before 1914, the average amount of hops used in the world’s beers fell by half, to .6 lb: see the detailin this article, printed in February, 1914 in the Polk County Observer, in Oregon. Oregon was and is hop country, so an article of this nature gains additional credibility, quite apart from its inherent logic that is.

Students of brewing history know that until recently for certain types of beer (the craft renaissance), hop rates fell fairly steadily from the early 1800s. In c. 1850, nascent American lager used 1.5 lbs per hops per barrel. It remained in this range until about 1880 and then started to fall.

British ales today, excepting some of the craft revival, use much less hops than in 1914. Then, a pale ale might use 2.0 lbs per barrel, today, half a pound. There were variations of course in different producers’ practices, and some allowance should be made that average gravity for pale ale was higher then, but still.

Numerous reasons have been advanced for this. With refrigeration and often pasteurization, it is possible to keep beer stable for longer without the huge amount of hops called for in early recipes, particuarly for top-fermented ale and porter. Lager beer, due to the use of chilling in its production and processing, always used less hops than ale and porter but as mentioned that too came down a lot.

The expansion of the beer market, to include women and younger people, also has been suggested as a reason beer became progessivly less bitter.

But there is another reason, as important or more than those above. It is explained in the article linked: the more adjunct you use, the less hops you need. The reason is simple. Most grain adjuncts and brewing sugars contribute simple sugars which ferment out completely or almost. Little or no protein is left in the wort, little or no dextrin, little or no caramelized sugars which aren’t fermentable or only partly.

Each of these lends body or taste to beer. Grain adjunct and sugar thin out beer, they reduce malt flavour while contributing alcohol to the brew. If you use 1/3rd rice, say, which has very little flavour, you are dialling down your malt flavour and palate impact considerably. Anyone knows this who compares an all-malt beer to a high-adjunct one. I exclude all-malt beers which are highly attenuated but bear in mind that into the 1930s, as A.L. Nugey’s text shows, attenuation rates were much lower than today’s, I discussed this earlier.

In 1880, the “Free Mash Tun” rule became operative in England – all types of adjunct were henceforth permitted, not just sugar. Sugar had been allowed since 1845 but was not widely used until the Free Mash Tun law came into force 35 years later.

The table in the linked article shows the decline in hop rate precisely from 1880, it’s not a coincidence. America never needed that law, but adjunct use only gathered pace from about the same time. Anheuser-Busch was a key early influence in this regard. Budweiser, according to Michael Jackson c. 1985, was using one-third rice in the mash.

By c. 1900, this percentage was frequent in the American brewing industry. Premium beers used less and very rarely no adjunct, but adjunct use had taken hold of North American brewing well before 1914. Probably – it would be interesting to see figures – the rate slowly rose from 1880 as brewers gained confidence using a new material, one not permitted in lager’s spiritual home, Bavaria (it still isn’t).

Since the 1930s, adjunct use has only increased for North American adjunct lager. I don’t know what the average percentage is now, but I doubt it is under one-third and it is probably around 40%.

Britain’s famed ales use adjunct too, I am referring to the norm before the craft renaissance, but Britain commendably always used less than North America (c. 20%) and therefore, in part, used more hops.

It all makes sense but linking two well-understood pieces of data was not so obvious before I read this article, and that is after half a lifetime of studing beer’s technics. I suspect it’s similar for most who don’t haunt the precincts of the brewing classroom or lab (and even then…?).

The result of all this, something which made sense from many perspectives and worked in North America for a long time, was a race to the bottom: bland beers with little taste, light bitterness, no hop aroma.

To this action arose a reaction: craft brewing.

Note re image: this image of a rice field is in the public domain and was sourced courtesy Pixabay, here. Believed available for educational and cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.




“The Most Exquisite Conceivable Extract of Malt and Hops”


Munich’s Beer Wows Foreign Visitors in The Late 1800s (And Still Does)

An American, Edward Payson Evans*, reported in 1889 on the famed court brewery of Munich, the Hofbrauhaus, as detailed in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. While there is much in the article of interest, including an impressive and obviously accurate account of the true origin of bock beer, I will let the writer speak for himself as to the marked impression the beer of Munich made on three visitors he mentioned.

The first is General Ulysses S. Grant, who was on a world tour after leaving the White House in 1879. (In this case Evans was reporting on something that occurred a decade back).

During the Civil War Grant had been famous, or infamous, for his too-zealous interest in Bourbon. Nonetheless given his battlefield successes, Abraham Lincoln was impelled to state that if he knew the brand Grant liked he would mention it to his other generals.

The second visitor was an Australian newspaper correspondent. The third, an American professor on tour with his family.

As a conscientious cicerone, the Consul first proposed a visit to the galleries of painting and sculpture and the treasures of the National Museum, but the General declared that he had been already sufficiently bored by the works of the dead and living masters and had, since landing, become tolerably familiar with the contents of old curiosity shops in England and on the Continent, and would much prefer a change of programme. The Consul then suggested that if he wished to confine his observations to things of a distinctively local character, they would do well to begin with the Court Brewery. A two minutes’ walk brought them to this Mecca of all thirsty Munichers.

After having selected and rinsed their mugs (the tapster would disdain to fill a smaller measure) they took their places in a long file of equally ardent devotees of the goddess Cerevisia, and in due time were able to retire with their portion of the brown foaming beverage to such seats as they were fortunate enongh to find vacant. The General lifted the stone mug to his lips, and having drawn off about half its contents at a single draught, sat it down again with the laconic remark, “That’s good.”

Tradition is silent as to the number of hours they tarried over their beer, and no injudicious chronicler has kept an exact tale of the mugs tbey quaffed, but it is on record that when the Consul called at the hotel the next day and inquired what the General wished to do, the latter replied: “Well, suppose we go to that place again.”

What is here related of General Grant is the common experience of tourists. Not long since, the correspondent of an Australian newspaper visited Munich and devoted several letters to a description of the city and his impressions of the same. He was evidently in a bad mood and nothing pleased him. The so-called Athens on the Iser seemed to him to have been greatly overrated as an art center and not to be entitled to any consideration whatever as an emporium of trade. He described the architectural creations of King Ludwig I. as clumsy imitations bordering on caricatures of famous edifices and the public monuments as poor efforts to immortalize provincial celebrities, whose names were never heard of outside of Bavaria.

By a happy chance our Australian drifted into the precincts of the court Brewery, which struck him at first sight as a very nasty and disgusting place; but no sooner had he taken a good swig of the famous brewage than he turned to his fair spouse and exclaimed with enthusiasm: “Sally, this stuff is genuine, in fact it is about the only genuine thing that I have as yet found in Munich.” From that moment a complete change came over the spirits of the man. Raw winds, rainy weather, rude shopkeepers, sham architecture, weary pilgrimages to worthless works of art, and the like inamenities of the tourist’s life were all forgotten in the intense enjoyment of this most exquisite of conceivable extracts of malt and hops.

Last summer an American professor visited Munich for the first time. He arrived with his family late in the afternoon, suffering from the fatigue of a long railroad journey, and took furnished rooms for two weeks. As he sat down to the frugal supper which had been prepared in anticipation of his arrival and tasted the delicious beer which his landlady had placed before him, he turned to her and said: “I’ll take the rooms for a month”.

*Evans was a scholar with a deep knowledge of the German language and its culture. See more details here in his Wikipedia entry.

A Portrait of Berlin’s Beer Culture in 1892

A vivid picture of Berlin beer drinking in the 1890s comes down to us courtesy the digitized Pittsburgh Dispatch of December 18, 1892. The article was written by Frank G. Carpenter who later became known as a prolific, global travel author.








To write this article, he clearly had assistance from the American consulate. Without meaning anything invidious in relation to what diplomats do, it is interesting that numerous accounts of European beer and wine customs survive from the 1800s, written by diplomats or, as here, with their assistance.

One can’t avoid the feeling that those on foreign postings sometimes had extra time to indulge such interests, although the articles generally contain economic and business data, a function of foreign missions to be sure. Indeed, it isn’t just beer production and pubs whose economic impact are appraised, Carpenter explores as well the waiting profession, male and female, and the market for home servants (mainly female).

The Berlin style of beer he discussed, Weisse, still exists but without its former influence. It is a “white” or cloudy-refractive style with a component of malted wheat. Berliner Weisse can be related broadly to Leipzig’s Gose Bier, Lambic in Belgium, white beer (Wit) in Belgium especially as it was in the 1800s, and other lactic styles which sometimes are flavoured with fruits and spices. These are all top-fermented beers, “ales” viewed colloquially.

Carpenter was careful to note that Berlin liked other styles of beer as well, but he focused on the city’s home style, Weisse.

It was traditionally a weak beer, approximately 3% abv, and still is both in Berlin and as brewed by craft emulators around the world. It is also generally considered a summer brew due to its sharp taste and low alcohol.














The quantities taken in by Berliners (1892) are hard to believe but other evidence of the time is in support and being a professional travel writer, Carpenter had no reason to fib. Four quarts at a sitting was not uncommon. Students were expected to put away 10-12 quarts while many men in the workforce went higher, up to 18, some every day said Carpenter. He was an American and would have meant 32 oz for the quart, not the British 40.

But still, four quarts is 128 oz. That’s almost 11 normal-size bottles of beer, even at 2.5% abv, it equates to almost six standard drinks. Students were putting away 10-12 standard drinks, and many men went higher as a daily occurrence. These habits reflect a pre-industrial, semi-rural pattern which as a societal practice is now only mirrored during Munich’s Oktoberfest or similar events.

Of the Weisse itself, Carpenter reports:

The queerest beer I have ever seen is the famous Berlin product, known as Weiss bier or white beer, and I shall not forget my first experience with it. A man connected with our consulate asked me if I would not have a glass and he took me to a “white beer” saloon and ordered a couple of glasses of white beer. A moment later the waiter brought them. Each glass was big enough for a baby’s bath tub and there seemed to be fully two quarts of beer in it. It was the color of golden syrup and the foam which ran over the top was as white as snow. Each glass was about eight inches in diameter, and I am sure that the contents of mine would have filled the crown of my plug hat. I had to take my two hands to lift the glass to my mouth and I can’t say that I liked the beer as well as our lager or the Bavarian product. The white beer is largely foam, and it is not uncommon for the Germans to drink four quarts of it at a sitting. It is not so heavy as the Bavarian beer and a great deal of it can be drunken without intoxication.

Both then and now, Weisse was frequently dosed with a syrup of woodruff or raspberry, to flavour it and reduce the acidity. This would produce a green- or red-coloured beer. The golden amber mentioned by Carpenter is probably the beer without these additions. In the image shown of modern Berlin Weisse, the colour does rather look like golden syrup.

At the time though, the barley malt component in Berlin white derived from a darker malt than is used today. Together with the pale wheat malt, this may have produced a somewhat darker colour than today’s.

Weisse is not infrequently seen in modern craft beer bars. I saw a Berliner Weisse in Toronto recently, locally made that is, flavoured with mango. Craft versions can be good, but lactic acid in the tummy is an acquired taste (all beer is though, really). It was usual when Carpenter was reporting to eat large amounts of bread and cheese with Weisse, indeed this frequently constituted peoples’ dinner. The simple but sturdy fare may have provided a good foil for the acid beer.

The article ends on a rather American note. In explaining the loyalty of German servant women, who could work for decades for a family and received a trinket in appreciation, Carpenter said American girls would “turn up their nose” at the prospect.

Note re images: the first image shown, of Frank George Carpenter, is in the public domain and was sourced from his Wikipedia entry, here. The second image is from the website of the innovative Brewbaker pub and restaurant in Berlin, here. Brewbaker, a must-visit on the itinerary of  any craft beer fan, is at the north end of the Tiergarten in the city.