A Bridge To The Beery Past

The label below is another from the fine collection of Montreal’s McCord Museum. Once again we see the term “stout porter”, which shows that the black roasty beer, porter, had different qualities. One way to express a strong, superior quality was to call porter, stout. Another, older term for the same thing was brown stout.

J.W. Bridges doesn’t come to mind as one of the classic porter breweries of London. It wasn’t, it was a bottler and exporter of beer, based in London, as confirmed in The Encyclopedia of Ephemera by Maurice Rickards and Michael Twyman (Routledge, 2000, NY), specifically here.


There are numerous references in commercial publications from New Zealand to California and beyond that Bridges’ beers were actively being exported through the world. This company selected porter, stout and pale ale from its sources in England and used its own label to supply the goods. In the form we see above, it was a kind of contract brewing really, a practice very modern and one sees it too in the whiskey world, particularly in the United States. This is where the brewer is not identified on the label although the importer might have been told the source.

Some of Bridges’ main suppliers were the high-quality Guinness and Bass concerns, as show in this 1901 advertisement from the New Zealand Daily Telegraph.

I don’t know whose beer went into bottles for the label above, but would think they were reputed sources to get the name Bridges had around the English-speaking world.

Bottling of beer was once a specialized business. People would buy beer in bulk and sometimes age it until the right conditions for bottling were achieved, and then bottle and sell the beer to its customers. Stout could be kept in cask nine months before bottling. Guinness used independent bottlers for much of its history until it finally took in the business after WW II. Dog’s Head was a famous bottler’s brand of Guinness, and there were many others. Different bottlers achieved their own reputations for stability in particular (beer not going sour or becoming infected), or the beer having other particular qualities.

This fine collection of Guinness labels, from The International Society of Label Collectors & British Brewery Research, shows some of the many concerns which bottled Guinness at one time for the market.

Some exported beer certainly was dosed with preservative in the days before pasteurization. The quality of much of the exported beer may be doubted and although I can’t find it readily, I recall reading a comment of a Victorian beer fancier who said no bottle of Bass Ale he had drunk on the Continent approached the same article back home. Still, a local market – one not familiar necessarily with home conditions – could easily form a particular taste, which may be at the origin of the famed India Pale Ale.

Note re image: Commercial label of J. W. Bridges, Best Stout Porter, John Henry Walker (1831-1899), 1850-1885, 19th century, Ink on paper on supporting paper – Wood engraving 6 x 6 cm, Gift of Mr. David Ross McCordM930.51.1.490 © McCord Museum. Link back to source of image: http://collection.mccord.mcgill.ca/scripts/imagedownload.php?accessNumber=M930.51.1.490&Lang=1&imageID=191052


Porter, Stout, What’s It About?


It’s All The Black Stuff, Me Currant Buns**

As this evocative label from the 1800s shows, the term “stout porter” has been used for a long time, and didn’t result from the fevers of a craft beer writer. Beer historians seem unanimous – anyway they should be – that there is no essential difference between porter and stout. First there was dark brown beer, and the strong kind was sometimes called brown stout. This was a bitter, somewhat roasty drink of beer but otherwise made from the materials all beer is. The regular kind, of lower strength and lighter body, ended by being called porter. Arguably, porter is the genus: all stout is porter, not all porter is stout.

Even this understanding of it breaks down in the sense that some strong brown beer was always called porter, or double porter or Imperial porter, and some stout was sold on the weak side and could be another brewer’s porter.

The British never laid down statutory rules for such matters, one of their strengths. There can be two words or yet more for the same thing – it’s a free country (still).

One of the few negative consequences of the great beer writer, Michael Jackson, was that in noting Guinness stout uses – today – a measure of unmalted barley, people got the notion stout must be so mashed (except Imperial stout), and porter should be all-malt. Not so. All porter and stout were all-malt by law in Britain until first sugar was allowed in brewing, in 1845, and finally any fermentable grains malted or no.

This is why many stouts, especially on draft, have the dry, acerbic taste characteristic of modern Guinness and many porters are richer in character. There is nothing wrong with this modern schema, but it has no historical basis.

One can cite many 1800s proofs that at best, stout was simply a stronger porter but otherwise both were the same. If you ask, I’ll show you.

The conjoined term, “stout porter”, proves the proposition, were more convincing needed.

*London rhyming slang for “son”.

Note re image: Commercial label of Extra Stout Porter, Dow & Co., John Henry Walker (1831-1899), 1850-1885, 19th century, Ink on paper on supporting paper – Wood engraving 5.2 x 5.2 cm Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord, M930.51.1.500 © McCord Museum. Image source is http://collection.mccord.mcgill.ca/scripts/imagedownload.php?accessNumber=M930.51.1.500&Lang=1&imageID=191064








Old English Brewing’s Lingering Echoes in Canada



Old Beer Styles Are New Again

This handsome label appears to date from the 1920s and belonged to Brading Breweries Limited, a smaller Ontario brewery with its main facility in Canada’s capital of Ottawa. Brading was the cornerstone of Canadian Breweries Ltd., the brewery conglomerate forged by legendary industrialist Edward Plunkett (E.P.) Taylor. CBL became Carling O’Keefe which was absorbed in 1989 into what is now Molson Coors.

The history of Brading in Ottawa is set out in this well-paced story from 2014 in the Ottawa Citizen by Ian Macleod.

Brown stout was a term used in 1700s England to denote the strong version of porter, itself around 6% abv in its heyday. Brown stout was about 7.5% but this varied with producer and the batch in the days before accurate measurement of beer gravity and the real extent of fermentation (attenuation). Stout was any strong beer, and pale stout was known along with the brown version.

Brown stout beer, later brown stout porter or stout porter, became finally just stout. In the 1800s, adjectives other than “brown” were often used for brewhouse or sales purposes such as double stout, Imperial stout, export stout, XX stout, and so on. Still, brown stout as a term had some currency in England throughout the 1800s and even into the 1900s.

For this reason, breweries in North America implanted by British incomers or influenced by British brewing culture continued also to use the old term into the 20th century. The American breweriana specialist Jess Kidden (apparently a pseudonym) has collected some fine examples, here.

The term finally disappeared from North America, and Britain, after the 1950s only to come back – the original term or one of its 19th century alternates – in the guise of the craft or indie beer movement. Thus, for 30 years or so, craft breweries in North America and elsewhere make dark brown or black stout with characteristics very similar to the classic brown stout of 1700s-1800s. They are usually called just stout, or Baltic stout (which may be bottom-fermented), or yet Imperial Stout.

The point is, the taste of Brading Brown Stout, certainly as it was in the late 1800s, was likely very similar to numerous strong stouts again being made.

In Ron Pattinson’s Bitter!, an analysis is included of Brading brown stout in 1898. It’s derived from a Canadian government study of that year which analyzed beer and various foods for purity. It shows that Brading was 7.38% abv and Ron concluded that final gravity was about 1010. Thus, the stout was strong, similar in strength to Guinness’s stouts of the time, and fairly dry. Today, the typical mass market brew is about 1008 final gravity. This means the solid fermentable content was reduced by fermentation to 8 parts if 1000 is held as pure water.

Looking at Ron’s table, it can be seen some stouts and porters finished higher than 1010, and thus were richer in taste, all things being equal. Dawes’ stout, from Lachine, Quebec, was an example. Yet some of the black beers finished even lower than 1010. Then, as today again, consumers were offered a range of options.

By the 1920s or 30s when the Brading label above appeared, the beer had probably changed in character, certainly the alcohol was down since 9% proof spirit equates to about 5% abv (alcohol by volume). Perhaps too the beer used some corn or rice in the mash by this time. I’d bet dollars to donuts the original Brading brown stout was all-barley malt and pretty well-hopped, too, but maybe it held its essential character until the end. Surprisingly, Brading Brown Stout was still being sold until about 1950, and more modern examples of the above label can be found online.

Numerous Ontario craft stouts might be similar to the Brading original certainly, such as Wellington Brewery’s Russian Imperial Stout and Grand River’s Russian Gun Imperial Stout. Both of these are about the same alcohol content, and pleasing without being super-rich on the palate.


Note re image above: it was sourced from this Ottawa Citizen article, which obtained it courtesy Molson Coors. We include it here for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Dow Ale – A Great Beer Name With a Sad Ending


Dow Ale was a legend in Quebec brewing until a strange event in the late 1960s spelled the end of the brand as a force. Quebec City, the old capital of the Province of Quebec, was a stronghold of the Dow brand. William Dow had started brewing in the 1800s in the Province. By the 1960s and after various mergers and takeovers, Dow, formerly named National Breweries, had four main brands: Dow Ale, Kingsbeer (a lager), Champlain Porter, and Dow Porter. Dow Ale was the big seller.

In 1966, hospitals in Quebec City started to notice that a spate of men in their 40s-60s, known to be heavy beer drinkers, were suffering from cardiomyopathy. It’s an ailment often manifested by irregularity of heart rhythm. Many died, something like 20-25 persons. Not all these men consumed the Dow brand but most did. Dow in Quebec City – it had a brewery there and in Montreal –  made the fateful decision to dump its inventory of Dow Ale, a good faith gesture meant to reassure people. However, the population viewed the action as an admission of culpability. The beer forever became known as “la bière qui tue“, or the beer which kills.

Medical studies conducted by Quebec authorities never established a direct link between Dow’s beer and the deaths. Nevertheless, many experts felt that cobalt sulphate, then used in some brewing to improve head or foam retention, probably caused or exacerbated the medical issue. To be sure, these men were heavy drinkers, they consumed a dozen beers each day or more. Also, the malady seemed to be concentrated in Quebec City, yet Montreal was a large market too for the brand.

But while many breweries in Quebec added cobalt sulphate to their beer at the time, Dow apparently used an unusually large amount, some accounts state ten times the normal quantity. Hence the feeling on the part of many doctors that cobalt was probably responsible, but it was never conclusively proved. Still, Dow stopped using the chemical after the debâcle and the deaths did not recur, at least not in the concentrations that had been noticed.

Needless to say Dow beer fell sharply in sales after the disaster. In 1972 the brand was sold to another brewery, Molson Breweries in Montreal, which continued to brew the beer until the early 1990s. In 1987 Molson merged with Carling O’Keefe, the final successor to National Breweries (itself a combination of 14 breweries formed after WW I of which Dow was a key component).

Online there are numerous examinations of this unique incident in both Canadian and international brewing history. Here is a good place to start, for those interested in more information.

In recent posts, I was discussing the great Quebec and Canadian culinary authority Jehane Benoit, and it turns out she had a connection to Dow.

Benoit had studied food science in Paris in the 1920s under a master nutrition expert, Edouard de Pomiane. I was discussing beer cuisine in various francophone areas in the world, and noted that Quebec cuisine appeared to have only a few recipes using beer.

But Dow Brewery was a client of Mme Benoit in the 1950s, she did promotions for them and this led to a book of recipes called, in English, Cooking With Dow. While the origin of the recipes in the book is diverse and some were probably invented by Mme Benoit, this book must be considered to enlarge the number of Quebec dishes which employ beer in cooking. It is not, therefore, just in the last 20 years or so that books have appeared in Quebec proposing a beer-based gastronomy. The creative and enterprising Mme Benoit was doing it in the 1950s.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

In a later post, I will discuss some interesting recipes proposed by this great food authority.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the Thomas Fisher Library beer label collection at University of Toronto via Flickr, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Of Venison, Bacon And Beer – Beans Optional

White-tailed_deerThis is an English recipe, published in the English newspaper the Guardian a few years ago, for venison cooked with beer.

It is interesting to compare it to the Canadian recipes I mentioned in my posts of yesterday (here and here).

They are all very similar except Lorraine Boisvenue’s recipe, recorded in 1979, uses no sweetening. To be sure, the Guardian’s recipe uses no beans, but beans and bacon is an old English dish – well preceding the Boston and other American versions, indeed clearly inspiring them. This 1803 recipe from Hannah Glasse shows the recipe goes back a long way in England, and Glasse didn’t get it from Boston, that much is clear. One can foresee some people in England would have added feathered or furred game to the bean pot, if they had it, to eke out the bacon or salt pork.

I have seen other English recipes for venison with beer, and they almost always involve a sweet element. Most beer cookery does, in fact, and for good reason.

Perhaps the Canadian recipe has British origins way back, although sugar or syrups, and before that dried fruit, have been used in northern French and Belgian meat recipes for a long time.

Maybe this type of preparation emerged independently in various areas where the ingredients were ready to hand.

In this Toronto blogger’s entry of July 5, 2015, a further Jehane Benoit recipe for beans and game appears, from a magazine article she wrote in the early 1960s. In this case, she did evince a historical interest, and searched old books for inspiration relating to “Upper Canada” (Ontario).  The recipe is very similar to the Chevreuil des Guides I discussed earlier, except a wild bird, or if need be stewing hen, is used instead of deer meat, and for soaking and simmering just water, no beer.

Of course, the mix of stock/water/beer/wine/cider etc. would vary depending on availability and personal preference. This particular recipe suggests to me again a possible English origin for this dish, at least as known in Canada, since Mme Benoit refers to Upper Canadians having prepared it. They were generally of British background in the period mentioned, the later 1800s.

That little group of recipes is very interesting as even in Victorian English Canada one can discern Amerindian influences, e.g., the use of corn husks in which to roast fish, and old French influence, namely for the pot au feu recipe given.

Canadian cooking has been a melange for a long time.

If anyone is curious what Mme Benoit was like on tv, this early 1960’s clip from an old CBC show, Take 30, will tell you. The meat dish demonstrated is a loin of back bacon, a cured but not smoked cut of lean pork, cooked with a “glassful” of brandy. Here that’s a cup, maybe. 🙂 Mme Benoit’s roots and culinary inspirations de base were solidly French and no better evidence than this charming clip.


Note re image used: the image above is in the public domain, and was sourced here.

Jehane Benoit – Canada’s Greatest Food Authority (and Her Recipe For Beans, Deer and Beer)

The doyenne of Quebec and Canadian cookery will always be Jehane Benoit (1904-1987), whose career spanned the 30s through the 70s. This lady was thoroughly French Canadian, from a privileged background, yet was a bridge-builder to Anglo-Canada and became almost as well known in that world as in Quebec. She was open to every influence in cookery in her time.

From running a vegetarian restaurant in the 1930s to responding with enthusiasm to the microwave in the 70s, she was for anything that could help make a tasty and nutritious meal and save time. She wrote many volumes, appeared on radio and tv and was “the” personage in cookery and culinary education in her day. She was certainly equal to Julia Child in Canada in her influence.

She had studied at Cordon Bleu in France before the war and also held qualifications from the Sorbonne in food chemistry. This “double” interest, gastronomy and food science, plus her engaging personality – not to mention her industry – were the keys to her success.

An example of her ‘cookery without frontiers’ approach, in a day when interest in ethnic foods was tentative and guarded, is the inclusion of many ethnic and foreign recipes in Madame Benoit’s Library Of Canadian Cooking (Les Messageries du St. Laurent Ltée, 1972). “Canadian” fare, to most at the time, basically meant American, British, French, and French Canadian dishes, or derived from those traditions. She gave those in plenty but in addition, offered Polish meat balls, meat sauce for spaghetti, Greek-style barbecued lamb with mint, chow mein, and hundreds more recipes brought to Canada by what were then called “New Canadians”.

My eyebrows raised when she wrote – this is 1972, but possibly earlier – that she often made liver especially to cook with baked noodles in the Jewish fashion – she was referring to kugel with nodes of cooked liver in it, popular amongst my crowd in Montreal in the post-war era.

Without doubt she was a smoked meat maven and a souvlaki maven and a chow mein Cantonese maven – if it was good and interesting, she was in.

In Vol. 2 of the series mentioned, she has a heading, New Ways With Chicken. Rather than complain that “advanced methods to raise chicken” resulted in tasteless birds and advising people to buy free-range animals which only a tiny percentage could afford, she lauded this advance of our food industries, noting the birds were sold “plucked, drawn and dressed ready for cooking”. She was (surely) all-too-aware that ménagères for generations had had the hard work of raising, killing and dressing birds before they could be cooked to reach the hungry table – she didn’t want to go back to that time.

If there was some trade-off in flavour from the old days, she didn’t complain. She advised brightly, “Add your own personal ‘zing’ to the following recipes and you will be responsible for the creation of another variation – to me this is the great challenge of cooking”. Formidable, Madame.

Mme Benoit would have been amazed and delighted to work in our wired world, with any recipe available at the touch of a key and the ability to keep in touch with fans via Twitter, websites, Instagram and other social media. She would have been perfect for our time. Indeed, she presaged it: the Bourdains, Olivers, Rays and other celebrity chefs all follow in her footsteps, she along with people like Julia Child, James Beard, Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson set the stage for our modern food culture.

Mme Benoit was, at the same time, very conscious and proud of her Québécoise heritage and the books contain many recipes from this tradition. Needless to say, their authenticity is of the highest order. Of these, this rustic preparation of beans, ale and venison evokes the iron pot on the fire under star-lit northern Quebec nights.


The recipe is obviously drawn from experience, her own or people she knew, as it has relatively few ingredients, thus easy to carry by a float plane or small craft, and the typical Quebec touch of savory (sarriette). We see, too, the old-fashioned dollop of molasses. Now, I know I’ve seen English recipes for venison which combine molasses, beer and the meat. Was the dish, to which she gave a French title, of distant British inspiration?

It would have been interesting to ask Mme Benoit this question. Rarely does she include historical notes or entertaining asides in her writing. I don’t think it was lack of interest, but more likely that she had so many recipes to convey, so many ideas to improve daily living while saving time and money, but little or no space in the books to explore this aspect. Perhaps had she lived longer, she would have written of the historical roots of Quebec cuisine.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter, she was multicultural before anyone thought of the word. She may have answered, who cares, just enjoy it. Et voilà.

Quebec Cuisine Including A Few Beer Dishes

a103073First, I’d like to make some remarks about Quebec (French Canadian) cuisine in general, I grew up in Montreal and by the 70s (I had left in ’83) was starting to taste the foods outside the Jewish-Canadian orbit of my youth. One day I should – will – write about that tradition too, as, apart from being my own, the Montreal Jewish kitchen was non-pareil anywhere in the world. For another day.

I suppose as for our foods, famously bagels and corned beef/smoked meat, it’s only the most prominent foods which the larger society notices. The deeper couches, to keep with the French vein, remain known only to insiders so to speak, les initiés. So it is with the foods of the Québécois people. Unless one had experience close to a French community when growing up, in a social sense I mean, the true traditions of Quebec cuisine were only known to their practitioners.

Even in the 1960s though, most people in Quebec, whatever the social background, knew that pork-based tourtière was a famous Quebec dish (une tourte in France). It was probably the same for fèves au lard, the sweet-edged Quebec bean dish. Cretons, a pale, spiced meat spread similar to France’s rillettes, was known by many too in Montreal, as breakfast menus used to feature it as an alternative to bacon or ham. I’ve mentioned Quebec spruce beer in an earlier posting. In the patisserie area, Quebec’s excellent sugar pie – la tarte au sucre – also had fans amongst Quebeckers of all stripes.


Beyond these, the Americanized fast food such as patates frites and later poutine, and hot dogs vapeur (steamed) or “Michigan”, were, for most native English speakers, the face of Quebec cuisine. This was unfortunate as Quebec families for centuries had evolved a repertoire of savoury dishes using the full range of ingredients: meat, fish, eggs, cereals, vegetables, maple and brown sugar. This was real food, in other words. This tradition, before the era of air conditioning and refrigerators, also featured a “summer cuisine” with many distinctive, lighter dishes. As well, Quebec is a very large province of Canada and many foods evolved as regional specialties. Even “national” dishes such as tourtière had particular features depending on which part of Quebec you came from.

One needs to read a book like Lorraine Boisvenue’s Le Guide De La Cuisine Traditionelle Québécoise (Stanké, 1979) to understand the full range of dishes in the French Quebec community at large. The book has sections on soups (some 60 including fish soups), charcuterie, lamb, beef, veal, pork, ham, chicken, turkey and numerous other fowl, tourtières and pains de viande, fish and seafood, game, eggs, vegetables, salads, puddings, pastries, pies and beignets. There is yet more, extending to home-brewing and distilling. It is very clear from the objectives explained in her introduction that the dishes are solidly of tradition, not worked up to write a book that is. They were drawn from a family’s cuisine handed down in the maternal line, either her own or that of friends who suggested the dishes to her. It is a cuisine of oral tradition as she does not rely on earlier published sources for recipes – she didn’t need to.









Amongst its many interesting features, certain herbs were characteristic of Quebec cuisine, especially savory (sarriette) but also a preparation called herbes salés whose roots go back to the first French settlersQuebec’s gelées, usually a fruit and sugar conserve served cold, are notable too and resemble the Portuguese marmelada. The bouillis need notice too, similar to the pots au feu of France.

With the urbanization and modernization of Quebec society in the 1950s and 60s which have only accelerated since – what was called la révolution tranquille – this culinary tradition, itself an amalgam of old French, British, American and some aboriginal influences, started to disappear. In the cities, people ate a diet similar to most Canadians. This was influenced by industrialized food production and distribution, various American trends including its franchise food systems, and the newer ethnic cuisines introduced by Italian, Greek, Chinese and Jewish Quebeckers. Since the 1980s, in common with many parts of the world, Quebec chefs and restaurants have sought to fuse some of these traditions or create their own freewheeling gastronomies. This has further obscured what belonged uniquely to French Canadians as their own.

No one knew this future better than Ms. Boisvenue. She concludes her introduction with this statement: “Nous ne saurons peut-être pas apprendre à nos petits-enfants les gestes de nos grand-mères; saurons-nous au moins les raconter…” (We likely won’t be able to teach our grandchildren our grandmothers’ ways with food; but at least we can tell them what existed…).

6419926811_55eeb22168_bSince I was talking earlier this week about the use of beer in France’s far northern belt stretching from Dunkirk to Strasbourg, what of beer-and-food in another northern francophone belt, Quebec? The use of beer goes back to Quebec’s earliest days, well-before the British took over the province in the 1770s. One might expect there to be a broad range of beer dishes given that wine was never grown in Quebec. In fact this is not so but we first must make a crucial distinction. If we are talking about the new food world since the 1980s, one could say there is a developing beer cuisine in Quebec. Numerous books (I have one or two) have been written to extend Quebec gastronomy by including beer in everything from soup to nuts.

These books take inspiration from Belgian traditions, say, or the writer’s own ideas, and are no less valid for that, but this doesn’t mean the dishes explained have an age-old ancestry. Sometimes this is obvious, e.g., spaghetti sauce with beer, in other cases less so, but if you know Quebec’s food history reasonably well, you can usually tell the difference.

From what I have been able to tell, only a handful of dishes existed which used beer. As to why this is so, it is hard to say. Since Quebec grew no grapes once again, why not use beer in a broad range of dishes? I think the reasons are, first, unlike northern France, Quebec never had thousands of very small breweries. It had comparatively only a few, generally in the larger centres (eg. Montreal, Quebec City, Trois Rivières, Sherbrooke). Second, Quebec was never the most prosperous part of Canada, and I suspect when beer could be purchased, it was used to drink, not cook with. Third, Quebec had and still does a tradition of fermenting apples, inherited from their Norman ancestors. Cider features more than beer in some of its traditional foods.

Despite this, a few beer dishes exist. Ms. Boisvenue gives a recipes for pork stew and beer which involves the meat, garlic, onion, potato, cabbage and apples, brown sugar, clove and dry mustard. Her ham boiled in beer and molasses has an old English ring to my ears, maybe a Yorkshire soldier who mustered out after the British took Quebec married a Canadienne and introduced it to her family…

The great Quebec cookery writer, Jehane Benoit, has a few beer recipes in her extensive publications. There is one with game, beans and “pale ale”. In fact, Lorraine Boisvenue has a similar one, it calls for two pounds of deer, 3/4 lb salt pork, 4 cups beans, a quart of beer, carrot, onion, dry mustard, savory, pepper and salt. This one has no sweetening added, but I think Jehane Benoit’s did (can’t find that book at the moment). Most of the bean dishes in Ms. Boisvenue’s book in fact are sweetened, and there is an ardent debate in Quebec culinary circles whether Boston baked beans are really at the bottom of the famous Quebec fèves au lard, but it doesn’t really matter, the dish is so old it has acquired its Quebec garland of authenticity. Same thing for la cipaille, which probably comes from the English sea pie, which, despite its name, was a meat dish, but one cooked at sea.

Probably sailors brought it to the Montreal and Quebec ports, but who knows? Here is a young Quebec chef’s version: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/cipaille-meat-pies-on-d-is-for-dinner-1.3378571. Ms. Foucault speaks lightly of how the dish is constructed (not of its taste, but how you make it). This ties into Lorraine Boisvenue’s statement that the various words for the dish – the different spellings – don’t correspond to any regional identification, rather all spellings and variations in the recipes attest that each mère de famille had her own version.

Well, as a Quebec native albeit non-resident for 30 years, I offer my notional version: I’ll use Ms. Boisvenue’s “grandmother’s” recipe as the base. It calls for not less than beef, veal, pork, deer or moose, chicken, partridge, hare and salt pork, amongst numerous vegetables and seasoning. Got that? Then, I’ll replace part of her bouillon (stock) addition with beer. Which beer? Any one. Ms. Foucault is right, after many hours slow baking, cipaille will meld into a glorious whole. Molson Export Ale, Creemore Lager, Fuller’s London Pride, Orval Trappist … it will taste great regardless.


Note re images used: The first image above is entitled Quebec, Winter Scene, ca. 1872 and was sourced from Library and Archives Canada/L.P. Vallée/PA-103073, here. The second image was sourced from this Quebec tourism site.  The third image, of Set. Agathe-des-Monts in the 1950’s, was sourced here. The fourth image was sourced from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library of the University of Toronto, here. All are believed available for non-commercial use. Any feedback welcomed.




Beer and its Cuisine Have no Borders in France

france-regions-map-500      (Map reproduced by authority of the travel website www.allaboutfrance.com)


In my last three posts I discussed the beer cookery of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Alsace, and the Lorraine regions in France. It is useful to spot them on the map above. “IdF” below Picardy is Isle de France, in other words Paris and hinterland, as many will know.

Immediately noticeable are the regions adjoining including Champagne, Picardy, and the northern section of Normandy. Indeed, Champagne is really two regions, Champagne proper and the Ardennes in the north, the French counterpart to the Belgian Ardennes.

The Ardennes is a forested, largely rural area, a hunting territory famous for game, hams, and pâtés but also beer and breweries. Champagne-Ardenne as a whole had more breweries than Lorraine in the heyday of brewing in these regions (latter 1800s), over 300. It is no surprise therefore to find a Soupe à la Bière de Mézières in the Recueil de la Gastronomie Champenoise et Ardennaise by Annick and Patrick Demouy (Editions S.A.E.P., 1983).

Their version uses blonde beer, onions, butter, and garlic – no cream, eggs, brown sugar, or hard alcohol as in some neighbouring recipes – it is a lean, spare version, as suits a handsome but austere land. The book says to serve it with toasted bread and grated Gruyère.


[Attribution: By MOSSOT (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

As in many countries where boundaries are fluid and traversed regularly for trade and other reasons, culinary traditions blend imperceptibly. Picardy has a tradition of beer dishes influenced by French Flanders. Ninette Lyon, the learned French food writer of the 1960s-1980s, stated that one encounters a “perfume” of Flanders in Picardy. Rabbit with prunes, leek tart, and things with brown sugar are examples. In all these beer sometimes makes an appearance. Picardy too had an active brewing tradition in the past, one revived in recent years with the craft beer phenomenon.

The coastal region between Boulogne and Dunkerque, the littoral of the Picard and Flemish corner of the northwest, has its own beer dishes. Many are based on fish and crustaceans. In one recipe, haddock, meaning here the fish salted and smoked, is bathed with beer to freshen and spice it. Smoked herring is sometimes treated similarly.

The region in general is a vegetable larder. One recipe blends beer, white wine and the local gin with celery root, cauliflower, onion, shallot and tomato. This is served lukewarm (tiède) and is a kind of northern ratatouille. Boozy, too, but the northerners like it that way. Try their spiked coffee, or bistouille, which can include rum, brandy, or genever gin – or all three!

Brittany has enjoyed in the last decades a brewing renaissance to match its age-old cider tradition. Normandy too, to an extent. Certainly over a wide belt of the north in France a “beer cuisine” exists, not just in the Flemish and Alsatian heartlands that is. In a word, the pays without an indigenous brewing culture are influenced by the dishes from the adjoining “county”.

Paris not least is an example. Beer has been enjoyed there for hundreds of years. Even before the revival of top-fermentation and craft brewing, bars or restaurants focusing on French or foreign beer traditions, say German or British, were found on both sides of the Seine. The Académie de la Bière on boul. Port Royal, founded in the 1950s, is a classic old school Paris beer temple. It was and remains largely a Belgian-style bar but features good French and foreign beers, too. A typical dish there is mussels cooked in beer.

A glance at the rating site Beer Advocate shows that new generation of beer bars and brewpubs in Paris has joined the older school of Belgian-, German-, and English-style bars to represent contemporary brewing trends. This has been stimulated by international craft brewing developments and the implantation of small breweries all over France. They sell I.P.A., wheat beers, saisons, and other styles familiar to craft beer fans everywhere. There are literally thousands of breweries in France now. In the early 1990s, perhaps there were 30.

This report gives an excellent update c.2015 of the progress beer and its culture has made in Paris alone. Given that craft brewing is now a vibrant industry all over France there is every reason to think that beer cuisine will develop local roots in areas it was previously a novelty.





Lorraine’s Beer Cuisine


Lorraine, an Old Beer Region

Lorraine is often bracketed with Alsace in the term Alsace-Lorraine to express the territory encompassed by these old provinces. Implied too is a certain cultural distinctiveness, albeit it varies between Alsace and Lorraine and even within them.

Certainly Alsace and Lorraine have many different traditions, reflecting their distinct earlier history. Lorraine, especially outside the Moselle area annexed by Germany in 1871 together with Alsace, had a notable admixture of old Latin elements. Accordingly, Romance dialects survive there together with Germanic ones.

Lorraine and its cross connote the industrial – steel, textiles, lumber; touristic, as the Vosges mountains, and spas; and military, latterly, Verdun but much else associated to the First World War. As well, there are the number and influence of its principal cities such as Metz, Nancy, Epinal, and Thionville. Alsace has fewer concentrated population centres.

Still, Franco and German influences have intermingled in these provinces for centuries, and an appreciation for malted beverages is common to both, both historically and today in terms of a renaissance.

This post is concerned with the brewing tradition of Lorraine and more particularly as manifest in its cuisine.

Like Alsace, Lorraine is an old brewing region. There were many breweries at one time but closure and consolidation reduced the old-established ones to a handful. The survivors today are part of trans-national companies, including a famous name of Lorraine brewing, Champigneulles. Champigneulles, however, is not in a mega-group such as Heineken or Carlsberg. A German company comprising three breweries owns it, and the French wing operates much as it always did.

Champigneulles was a byword in France as a whole for fine beer after 1945. The name has been restored to the brewery’s labels after a long gap, a welcome step. The website describes the main brands produced today and they sound very good.


A number of craft breweries (mini-brasseries) have arrived to add welcome variety to the remaining old school breweries. Those interested in the beer traditions of Lorraine would profit, as I did,  from visiting the fine beer museum in Stenay, an old citadel town. It is housed in a venerable structure used variously in the past as a military storehouse and for a maltings. 

Lorraine’s Beer Dishes

Lorraine’s beer cookery is rather hidden. One may consult reputable sources on its regional cuisine, and find no reference to any beer dish. Still, it cannot be denied that a beer cuisine exists in Lorraine, without being trumpeted to be sure. A source of incontestable veracity in this regard is the historical survey of Lorraine brewing, Bières de Meuse et de Lorraine by the late beer historian, Philippe Voluer (Editions de L’Est, 1991).

One of the many of M. Voluer’s publications on French brewing, the book’s culinary chapter sheds light on an obscure corner of Lorraine cuisine. The chapter insists on the authenticity of its beer dishes, to the point M. Voluer felt obliged to note of Lorraine’s beer soup that for its part, the tradition may not predate WW I. Indeed, he did not shrink from suggesting that the dish arrived with German occupation.

Of the recipes whose authenticity is not qualified M. Voluer offers one for hop shoots cooked in water. He recommends it to accompany an omelette, or to be covered with béchamel and finished in the oven. Such is the local interest in this obscure vegetable, said to resemble young asparagus, that he states a mustard sauce is de rigueur.

Fish of the Lorraine rivers – pike, say or carp – is cooked traditionally in blonde beer with shallots, garlic, thyme, bay, and fennel. The book notes that in the 1800s locals used a spiced beer for this and a Belgian white beer is advised to copy the effect. There is beef cooked with beer, onions, carrots, green herbs – different it appears from the famous carbonnade of French Flanders.

The famous sauerkraut of Alsace is almost as popular in Lorraine. Voluer states beer was always used in some versions and renders the dish less acidic than wine. Chicken with beer pops up, a recipe rather similar in this case to that of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, but carrots appear, which I don’t recall in the recipes of Lille and surroundings.

A recipe in another book I have advises adding diluted beer to the pan of a roasting goose. I mentioned in my previous post on Alsace beer cuisine that Lorraine’s cooks also use beer to baste turkey.

Returning to Bières de Meuse et de Lorraine, its “carnival” beignet is enriched not just with beer but orange or lemon zest, cream, butter and eau de vie. The batter is also used to encase slices of apple which are, to boot, given a preliminary soaking in plum eau de vie. A crêpe recipe calls for not less than a bottle of beer. With all this use of beer in pastry, I could not locate a recipe for quiche lorraine – the queen surely of Lorraine gastronomy – that uses beer as an ingredient. Not even modern chefs resolutely on the road to personal creativity seem willing to take that one on.

Somme toute, we have in Lorraine a small but respectable inventory of local beer dishes. Beer cuisine is a small branch of the river that is Lorraine gastronomy, but is no less valid for that.

It is likely too, as for Alsace, that beer cuisine was the province of countless ménagères, whose food was handed down for generations in the maternal line. This bonne femme cooking is not the kind, I apprehend, automatically included by those who prepare repertories of provincial cuisine.


Note re images: The first was sourced at a French tourism site, here, the second, here, and the third, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Beer In Cooking in Alsace, France


Aperçu On The Beer Cookery Of Alsace

I’ll continue my discussion of cooking with beer by examining some of the traditional dishes in Alsace in France. This tradition should be regarded as quasi-German since Alsace has changed sovereignty several times over the centuries, albeit it has never quite lost its original German character. I will deal with beer cookery in the adjoining province, Lorraine, later.

In a popular but detailed study of Alsatian brewing, La Bière En Alsace by Jean-Claude Colin and Jean-Dany Potel-Jehl (Coprur, 1989), the authors state that traditionally beer-and-gastronomy have no history in Alsace, apart from pretzels and “charcuterie“, or delicatessen. They indicate a group of chefs decided to remedy this situation and books were recently published showing beer could be used creatively in local cooking.

Colin and Potel-Jehl list about 20 dishes of this type. Some are clearly creations of a new cuisine, such as lobster with beer and parsley sauce as amongst other things, lobster is hardly native to the region. Another example is a composed butter using chopped lettuce and hop flowers, intended as a spread. Yet another is surely escargots cooked with beer, chanterelle mushrooms and crème fraiche. Escargots are typically Alsatian, and so is cream with beer – the combination is used in the region’s chicken-and-beer dish – but using the sauce with escargots is a more recent idea.

On the other hand, a number of the recipes evoke the battered old farmhouse more than the gleaming kitchens of multi-starred restaurants. A beer soup, for example, whose French name tells the tale: “Soupe paysanne à la bière“. Or, fried carp where the batter incorporates beer.  Rabbit with beer, and fresh ham hock cooked in a cherry-beer, are further examples. In the last one, cherry vs. ordinary beer seems the only new element but really that is not so novel. One can imagine the housewives of old Alsace threw in surplus cherries or plums in a dish like this, after all the region is famous for orchard fruits.

On a visit to a beer museum in adjoining Lorraine in the late 1980s I had this same dish cooked with Jenlain beer or La Choulette (not the cherry version!). It was in Stenay, a former garrison town. The dish was very similar to one in La Bière En Alsace, and similar dishes exist in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and indeed in Quebec in Canada. The rabbit with beer is a standby in Lille and surrounding areas and into Belgium. Versions exist also in England and other countries.

I think it likely the chefs who provided the recipes for La Bière En Alsace drew on ancestral or local knowledge of beer in cooking, but also devised new recipes with novel ingredients to present a wider range of dishes.

Copyrighted between 1977 and 1985, three slim volumes appeared entitled Gastronomie Alsacienne, published by Editions S.A.E.P. Despite the grand-sounding term gastronomy – at least to English ears it is – these books, according to the introduction, feature dishes from “a long family tradition”. In the third volume, it is explained the recipes were taken from old manuscripts in the back of a drawer or supplied from the memories of older relations of the authors. The books therefore stress that authentic regional dishes are offered, not new creations, and everything in their composition suggests this is so. The same applies to the photography of the dishes, all presented in a rustic setting with appropriate tableware.

Beer figures in a few recipes in these books. Apart from the expected beer soup, there is also a dish of veal, beer and juniper, coq à la bière, which is somewhat different than the one from French Flanders, and “beignets” – doughnuts – prepared with beer yeast. (One can imagine too that unprocessed local beer was often used as such in these fritters). In another Alsatian cookery book, it is mentioned that the skin of a turkey was rubbed with dark beer to assist the browning and caramelization of the bird when roasting.  (Try it – it’s a brilliant idea). In yet further sources, recipes are offered for perch cooked in an aromatized “steam of beer”, and for stuffed cabbage braised in beer.

One or two of these may be the more recent creations of inspired chefs but most have the ring of old regional food.

Net net, while one would not claim beer is a star performer in the traditional cookery of Alsace, it has a definite place in the region’s culinary history, in my opinion. And to that heritage, trained chefs in the last generation have added further dishes, inspired both by local tradition and their own imagination.


Note re image used: The image above is believed in the public domain, and was sourced here. All feedback welcomed.