We Never Found Mart Ackerman’s, but it was a Find Nonetheless

Gary: “Hey, guys, we were talking about a beer downtown before the game”.

Steve R.: “Right, so Gary, where? You know all the places”.

Gary: “Well, I just read about a place I didn’t know called Mart Ackerman, I saw their menu on the Internet when looking for something else. I was looking quickly but it looked good, a kind of retro concept – a “saloon” they call it, kind of cool. The beer looks good, some British imports too, and the food is chops and that kind of thing, retro again”.

Steve R.: “Mort Ackman’s you say…? I don’t know it, must be new”.

Gary: “No Steve, Mart Ack-er-man, a ‘saloon’ on Wellington St.”.

Steve R. “Must be one of those suit-type bars, fancy import beers but nothing really local”.

Gary: “Well, yes and no”.

Steve R. “What kind of beers do they have?”.

Gary: “English pale ale, Irish stout, a ‘Burton’ – that’s strong English ale – and some stuff too from a local brewery I haven’t heard of. There are so many new ones, hard to keep up”.

Steve R.: “What’s the new brewery called?”.

Gary: “Bains & Thompson, they supply an ale but also a cider too, makes sense since cider is in now”.

Steve R.: “Bains & Thompson?  Never heard of it”.

Gary: “Well I looked into it, I didn’t have much time but it’s in a book on Toronto breweries. Let’s just walk down Wellington Street past the Fashion District, it’s obviously in that part, we’ll find it. Don’t check online, it’s more fun just to happen upon a new place”.

Steve R. “Alright, we’ll go there, I’ll tell the others. We’ll meet at 6:00 p.m. at University and King and walk from there, the weather’s still good”.

The group met after work at University and King and ambled westerly and south along Wellington. It’s busy on the streets too, must be all the young condo-buyers, they stay downtown after work now, no mass heading north like in our day. No Mart Ackerman’s though, where is it? They reach the end of Wellington St., no Mart Ackerman. Gary checks his Blackberry again, “Gosh, guys. This is crazy, but Mart Ackerman was an 1856 bar in Toronto. It probably hasn’t existed for over 100 years! I must have read too quickly”.

Steve R.: “Oh wonderful, but what’s all that about Bains & Thompson?”. (Exasperation, which the good-humoured Steve rarely shows).

Gary: “Er, sorry, Steve, of course, I see now, it’s from the same era. I’m looking at an online account now. It explains the brewery became part of Cosgrove, well-known in Toronto for a long time and later absorbed into E.P. Taylor’s group in the 1930s, and later into O’Keefe”.

Steve R.: “Fascinating Gary, thanks. Hey [to another in the group], Ron, do you know a good bar around here, I mean a bar that exists today?”. And so the group found its way finally to a decent place for a drink before the game, for which they were late. Gary was thinking how the beers there, from Molson-Coors, were kind of a link back to Cosgrove and B&T via O’Keefe’s merger with Molson in 1989, etc. He made some some comments about it but the others harrumphed and didn’t want to know.

Later, at home, chastened but intrigued by this old Toronto bar, Gary checked further, taking time now to get the facts right. He found the saloon menu again, which you can read, here.

Just as he gleaned the first time, it offered English Pale Ale, Younger’s Ale (Scottish), Burton Ale, which was probably English too, and local ale and cider from B&T – well, they were local at one time. They were at Queen St. and Niagara St., just a hop and skip from Mart Ackerman’s, probably. He found striking early photographs of Toronto in the 1850s, hardly more than 30,000 souls then, see them in this link.

In the group of pictures is a photo of Wellington Street, and a map from the time showing Garrison Creek wasn’t buried then and ran by the brewery.  So that’s where they got the water for the beer and to cool the fermented wort, it all makes sense. He wondered if Mart Ackerman’s Saloon was in one of those buildings shown on Wellington St., maybe it was further west though, it’s hard to say. It says something, though, doesn’t it, to gaze at the actual street Mart Ackerman’s was on in the very same decade the menu was from.

He put this together and sent it by e-mail to the guys who had been so cruelly (but innocently) misled. “See guys, this is amazing, this must be one of the very early bars in Toronto, they had fancy imported beer and Champagne and oysters too, for the ancestors of the bright young things at Bay and King. Don’t you see…?”.

One answered back, not Steve R. (he actually gets a lot of this stuff) but another one, who said: “Gary, next time, I’m choosing where to meet before the game, got it”?

I got it, yes, but a lot more than he meant.

 

Cocktail Ad Lib

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Just once in a while I “build” a cocktail, and these days tend to start with an established formula and add to it. In this case, I started with a Sazerac formula – whiskey, bitters, absinthe-type cordial – and made additions until it tasted right. A teaspoon Eastern Ontario maple syrup, sourced at Kingston’s charming market a year ago, helped raise the foundation, but the structure was completed by a burble of  Rose’s Grenadine. The latter must be 10 years old and was stored in the most indifferent circumstances, but the taste never changes, a testimony to the soundness of an old recipe but also – I suspect – modern food science.

So what we get is a lightly-sweet yet bitter whiskey cocktail with a cherryish aftertaste.

Most of the whiskey was Jack Daniels Single Barrel and the rest was a dash each of Old Overholt Straight Rye and Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon. Why the mix? I find blending two or three whiskeys adds complexity and gets a better taste.

I think next time I’ll eschew the Tennessee classic as the base. Jack has a slightly earthy note, even in the mix, which doesn’t quite mesh with the other parts. But I’ve got a good thing going here and will try again with another straight whiskey(s), not tonight though. One of these is enough.

I wonder if this formula is something to be found in an old cocktails text with a name like, say, the Red Rocket, or Hogtown Hoo-Hah. Who knows? Given there are only so many ingredients to blend for cocktails, I’d think something similar must be inscribed in Jerry Thomas‘ or another classic work. But if not, that’s okay, cocktails by definition is a do-it-yourself endeavour.

The image above is shaded in grey and ebon but autumn is nigh upon us, plus it is just about sundown, so it suits the moment actually encountered.

 

California Wines Gain Currency In The American Imagination

Shanley's Wine List 1917

This one-page wine list from Shanley’s on 42nd Street in New York hails from 1917.*

Shanley’s appears to have been a solid mid-town restaurant, much above a diner and that sort but not a society or epicurean haunt. The food menu shows a range of dishes likely to appeal to the prosperous middle class of different ethnicities, including the old stock of New York, out for a show or other entertainment.

In a compact page, a variety of drinks groups is covered. Notable attention is given to “California wines”.  As far as I know, this is one of the first menus to feature such wines under that description and not part of a general “American” category which could include, for example, New York State sparkling wines and the native-grape Catawba type. Indeed many earlier menus simply avoided American wines; this started to change about this period, and gained in speed from the 1950’s on after the interruptions of Prohibition.

While still described by reference to European original types (Moselle, Burgundy, St-Julien (Bordeaux), etc.), these California productions clearly found favour with people, as they did on Rector’s higher-end menus of about the same period. Americans were starting to take pride in their own. Cresta Blanca produced numerous of the wines featured by Shanley’s. This property still exists and is now owned by the well-known Wente house, it is used as a special event locale and I believe grapes are still grown on the property.

On the beer side, one sees the usual suspects as bottled imports and Budweiser offered as a premium domestic beer. Another beer from Anheuser-Busch is available as a draft beer, probably the same brand. Budweiser then was probably a very good beer and perhaps tasted more like a modern Czech lager than the present Bud – but who knows. A Beverwyck beer was the other draft selection. Beverwyck was an old house from the State capital, Albany, up the Hudson.  Likely it was an ale. Beverwyck lasted into the early 1970’s but had been purchased by Schaefer in the 50’s, whence the bell started to toll.

Fetching its ale from upriver showed that Shanley was intent on presenting something different from the beers of Manhattan, boroughs and Jersey, but still “Empire State”.

Shanley’s looked like a fun place, probably offering excellent quality without pretension, qualities valued no less today – when you can find them.

 

*The full menu is at http://menus.nypl.org/menus/32763 and is from the New York Public Library’s (www.nypl.org) archive collection of historic menus.

 

 

 

 

IPA Classique From Brasseurs Illimites in Quebec

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This brewery in Saint-Eustache, QC essays a “classic” style IPA, ce qui veut dire that a darker colour is wanted than for current (American) IPA, and presumably a hop taste different from the typically grapefruit salad palate of Stateside IPA.

The colour is close to modern English pale ales but a little darker I think than most of those.  The malt taste is sweet and shows the likely addition of crystal malt, again following modern English practice. Ironically, the all-pale malt American IPA is likely closer in colour and perhaps malt taste to many 19th century – or truly classic – English pale ales/IPAs, but let’s set that aside.

The hop taste is complex, showing the mix of five hops advertised on the label. The types are not indicated, but I’d eat my hat if one of them isn’t Saphir.

Withal one has a taste of dark sweet tea, rosewater and dank green herbs.  I’m good with it, whether classic in style or not.  This is another room temperature tasting, and while I’m jiggy with that too, I can see this beer going great well-chilled with a cold weather tourtière or similar hearty old dish. Santé!

Further Thoughts on Descriptions For Lager, Ale And Porter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lager And Ale, Redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Bear Inn, Oxford. UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Beer Awesomeness in 1908

MEET THE OLD BOSS, SAME AS THE NEW BOSS

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

New York once had a tradition of German eating, a heritage of the substantial influx of German-speakers that began in the mid-1800s. Famously they concentrated in the Yorkville area on the Upper East Side. A classic product of German Yorkville was Lou Gehrig, for example.  Donald Trump’s paternal line descends from New York-area German incomers of the 1800s. For that matter Jacob Astor was a German immigrant, albeit of an earlier generation.

A significant sub-set of this German crowd was Jews, the upper crust memorably portrayed by Stephen Birmingham in his social history, Our Crowd.

The menu of Janssen’s Hofbrau covered many bases in German and some American eating but primarily rendered the metropolitan and hotel cuisine of contemporary Germany and Austro-Hungary.  Whether hot dishes or cold, fish-based or game, eggs, delicatessen, grills, there was an enormous choice. Only the famed Luchow’s had a comparable range of menu items.

With the onset of WW I the Hofbrau Haus remained open despite sentiment that ran high against German-Americans following the Belgian invasion and the Lusitania disaster.  Overt displays of the German ethos were held to a minimum in New York to avoid the charge of siding with”Kaiser Bill”, but Hofbrau Haus never closed.

Its high-end, international reputation helped it survive the period of anti-German sentiment. The same thing occurred during the next war. By then the restaurant had relocated to Lexington and 44th street in the still-standing Greybar Building.

(It is possible Hofbrau Haus had some connection to the famed German beer hall of this name, however I’ve not been able to substantiate one).

Even in 2015 New York hasn’t quite forgotten its German history. There are German restaurants and pubs scattered in Manhattan – one or two still in Yorkville – and beyond, notably in Staten Island, Queens, and New Jersey. A Goethe Institute does its good work in Manhattan albeit at Irving Place, far south of Yorkville.

The original Munich Hofbrauhaus now has a small outpost mid-town, as does Paulaner which brews onsite in a restaurant in the Bowery. Still, it is probably a safe bet that no German restaurant in New York today, and probably few outside Germany anywhere, can equal the breadth of Janssen’s menu.

The menu is distinguished by a carefully-wrought Germanic design theme and features scenes from the Teutonic decor of Janssen Hofbrau Haus. The restaurant’s artistic and cultural goals are well expressed in Baroque narrative in the handsome and ornate menu.

The authenticity extended to the small but well-curated and explicated beer list, set out on page 9. The best saved for last, we might say.

There were four beers described by name, all imports from Germanic territories, all draft, and amazingly, each from a brewery still in operation. As the menu explains, the restaurant took significant pains to ensure a quality “seidel”, noting that 36 barrels were kept in constant operation with temperature carefully controlled.

How beer was shipped then from Central Europe to America is not something easily fathomed but I’d guess the trip took a lot longer than now. These draft beers surely were not pasteurized, so how they arrived in a drinkable, let alone ideal, state is hard to understand.

The boss beer bar of pre-WW I may have arranged a way still to ensure a top glass every time. Its critical clientele would have expected no less. In any case, the beer list clearly was of repute.

Domestic beers were available too at Hofbrau Haus but not dignified by name  – presumably these local productions were not felt worthy to bracket with great Central European originals. One wonders if cultural pride and the lure of the import made people drink long-travelled beer that was actually inferior to the best New York brewing kettles. We will never know, but in a good-size city one can do the test today and decide for oneself.

Each of the four beers was accompanied by a taste note which, if one ignores the puffery on health and doctors’ opinions, wouldn’t be out of place on BeerAdvocate or a current beer blog.

Beer is the description of each, shorn of the puffery:

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

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

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

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

Nurnberger Tucher Brau

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

Wurzburger Burger Brau

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

It’s easy to check reviews of these beers on a modern rating service. For the last two breweries, beers differently named correspond closely to colour and taste on the Janssen’s menu. Pilsner Urquell is not “veiled” (lightly cloudy) as available anywhere today unless you get a Keller version in the Pilsen cellars, so the beer sent to New York in the early 1900s sounds pretty authentic.

Let’s raise a New York cheer – not a Bronx cheer, a real one – for what was an important beer and dining haunt in the Gilded Age and long after. And it’s more proof that great beer was always taken seriously by some people in some places – it was always part of gastronomy, a conclusion reinforced for us recently with the success of our Waldorf Hotel 1944 Beer Tasting Recreation held recently at Dora Keogh Irish Pub in Toronto.

*Note added August 21, 2015: Please see the comments below of noted ephemera and menu-collector Henry Voigt who states that the menu in fact dates from 1934, despite bearing a copyright notice of 1908. On page 7 of the menu we read “Ten years ago…the doors of the Hofbrau Haus were first opened to the public”. As it opened in 1898, this, plus the curator’s notice Henry Voigt referred to, convinced me initially this menu is a 1908 original but in fact it appears not the case. Many thanks to Henry Voigt for his sleuthing. Clearly one way or another, these fine beers were long available at Janssen’s, probably from near to inception and into the 1930’s at least.

The Grace of Serendipity

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

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

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

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

Serendipity, what?

Munich-On-The Hill Of Vankleek

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A REMARKABLY AUTHENTIC GERMAN LAGER MADE HERE

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

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

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

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