Dora Keogh Irish Pub and Gary Gillman to Recreate Upscale 1944 Beer Tasting August 5, 2015

In September, 1944 The Wine and Food Society, Inc. of New York held a “Tasting of Beers, Ales & Stouts” at the famed Waldorf Astoria hotel on Park Avenue in New York City.  As accompaniment to the beer, a variety of foods was offered: smoked fish, marinated herring, smoked hams,  brandy-flavoured blue cheese, authentic Swiss cheese, “Devonsheer” (a type of dried bread or cracker), and popcorn and nuts.  The provenance and quality of the foods were carefully noted, as one would expect of a gastronomic society.

I found the menu while perusing the historic menu archive of the New York Public Library recently.

The Society’s main focus, as indicated by its name, was wine, but occasionally beers and other drinks were explored. And so it was on September 28, 1944 that Society members with an interest or curiosity about beer entered a Waldorf salon to sample the “malt”. The organizing committee, composed of three ladies, did excellent work. They selected 18 beers, both draft and bottled. Some were the same brand, no doubt so the guests could appraise any differences.  Almost all beer styles then usual were represented. The menu contains modern-sounding taste notes such as “sparkling old-time”, “all-malt”, “full-bodied”.

On August 5 Dora Keogh Irish Pub and I will present a recreation of that event. The Program can be seen here: Beer Tasting – August 5, 2015

The 1944 tasting is nothing less than fascinating. First, it was held during the war. This may explain the all-domestic beer choice except for Guinness, which was probably pre-war stock. This Guinness was almost surely the”Foreign Extra Stout” brand, unpasteurized and with residual yeast, so any extra time in the cellar was benign or a boon.

The vibrant, post-Prohibition New York-New Jersey beer scene afforded numerous lagers, ales, and stouts for the tasting, famous names such as Ruppert, Rheingold, Trommer. The Committee also reached further afield, to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, for beers clearly regarded as having cachet. The reputed Prior Light, a pilsner-style, and Prior Double Dark, a pre-craft Czech or Bavarian dunkel-type, were on the roster.

The tasting, if one allows for some period language, could easily be given today. Such was the foresight and creative thinking of those who organized something around 40 years before it became common to do so. Independence of mind they certainly had because not only would some Society members have objected to “tasting” beer, society in general tended to view beer as not worthy of prolonged musing. It’s an attitude that endures to this day. But the Society cast aside all such irrelevancies and forged ahead to take on beer as a gastronomic subject.

The event at Dora Keogh Irish Pub on August 5 is intended to recreate and imagine how the original guests enjoyed a gastronomic adventure of a different kind, and to honour an early foray into reflective beer appreciation. Mostly Ontario  beers will be selected, and the food similar in type or spirit to what was served at the original event. Beers will be offered from breweries of different sizes although the preponderance are craft beers. As different-size breweries were represented at the Waldorf tasting, we wanted to follow suit.

I will write in the future on other aspects of the 1944 tasting, such as the influence of the wartime context, and a more elaborate beer event the Society held a few years earlier – one whose taste notes read like an extract from a top beer or wine writer of today.

Meanwhile, beer or wine fans in the Toronto area should consider buying a ticket for August 5 – it is expected to sell out.

Cask Beer Over The Summer in Perfect Surroundings – Evergreen Brick Works, Toronto

Sipping at Bar Volo tonight the new Mountain Lager from Sidelaunch Brewery in Collingwood, ON (a real winner, soft and rich), I learned that Cask Days, the Morana family’s long-established and essential, annual Toronto cask beer festival, has partnered with Evergreen Brick Works to present cask ales, and some cider, at the Sunday farmers’ market.

The feature will run from July 12-September 13 of this year, each Sunday from 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

More details here and note the stunning art work!

All beers and ciders will be served by gravity as at the wonderful Cask Days festivals.  I can’t attend the opener this Sunday but will be there the Sunday following.  It’s a great notion, fitting in perfectly to the ethos of the farmers market.


Thomas Hardy’s Ale – Hale and Hearty In Its Mid-30’s

John Maxwell, restaurateur par excellence in Toronto (Allen’s, Dora Keogh Irish Pub), rang me up and said I’m intent on opening a Thomas Hardy’s Ale brewed 34 years ago. We met posthaste and the bottle indeed showed it was brewed on July 1, 1981.   We met on July 1 just past: it was exactly 34 years.

Image Provided by John W. Maxwell

The beer poured very dark, darker than I remember it when new (oxidation?).  It had a rich coffee and Madeira odour, and tasted very much in this vein, with a slight lactic note.  No (acetic) sourness, no damp paper oxidation.   John noted some vegetal notes, which I thought might be autolysis.   But the palate was very “logical” in its way, it all made sense…

A lovely drink of beer, “sound old” by my lights, i.e., what the devotees in the 1800’s of old ale would have regarded as right proper old beer.

A rare experience and a grateful one for me.  Beer is funny, six months can go by and render a 6% ABV beer undrinkable from damp paper oxidation or vinegar spoilage – here a 34 year old beer, albeit much stronger, was like those bands which go out 25 years after their bloom of youth and prime – older, wiser, still good but in different ways than of yore, withal delivering top value.

A Beer Gambol – 1970’s -2000’s

[This article was published earlier this year by and is reproduced here without change].

As one of the older members of the esteemed beer discussion forum on, I have had the chance to survey the beer scene for a long time.

Knowing of my relative longevity, Cass Enright, developer and owner of the website, kindly suggested I set down some thoughts on how the beer scene has changed since I started to drink the malt.

I was born in Montreal and lived there until 1983 whence I moved to Toronto where I live today.

My first taste of beer is a distinct memory.  I was 12 or 13, in my grandmother’s flat on Esplanade Street in Montreal, a handsome old triplex.  We were in the kitchen – this is the 1960’s – and I remember being given a sip of beer, it was probably a Molson Export or Dow Ale.  To me at the time the taste seemed huge, bitter and roiling in the mouth, a bit like root beer but not really.  I had a few more sips in the Laurentian Mountains during summers as an older teenager, either at the adults’ bonfire parties or occasionally in local taverns where the proprietors would sometimes look the other way for the age requirement.  All these early occasions were similar in that I didn’t really like the taste.

Finally, in university from ’68-’74, I had the chance to try a range of beers, all domestic initially, and acquired the taste.  Generally I liked Export Ale, Labatt 50, Laurentide Ale.  With O’Keefe Ale, these were the main types available in Quebec at that time.  Molson Canadian, a lager, was available but few drank it in Montreal at the time, same thing for Labatt Blue Pilsener.  Before I knew anything about beer, I had a distinct preference for ale, i.e., top-fermented beer.  When Carlsberg was first introduced to the market in about 1972, the taste struck me as quite different both because of the European heritage and the softer, lager flavour.  The ale group didn’t taste all the same.  O’Keefe was softer, Export earthy and firm, 50 aromatic, Laurentide kind of fruity.  When Guinness Stout was first made under license in Montreal, I tried that and the odd porter you could still buy in the grocery stores such as Champlain Porter.  The taste was quite different, burnt, soy-like or licorice, and I liked it once in a while.

The draft beer in taverns was just “draft”, no one cared or asked about the type or source.  Some men ordered bottled beer “tablette”, meaning not chilled, which I found odd but it wasn’t uncommon especially in the long winters there.  Some added salt to the beer, which magically raised the head.

My first taste of beer not made in Canada was probably not one of the few imports available at the Societe des Alcools (Quebec Liquor Board) but in U.S. bars in border towns such as Plattsburgh, NY.  My friends and I would drive down sometimes to have a drink and listen to live bands.   I tried the American beers, brands such as Schaefer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Genessee, Piels, Matt’s Premium, Budweiser, and immediately liked these.  Not so much because they were each unique but because of the general difference in flavour to the Canadian ales.  They were lighter, and seemed less alcoholic (which later I found was true but only by a smidgeon).  I started to buy a six-pack of this or that in the local stores and brought them back.  Sometimes on the weekend with friends we would try and compare.  At some point, I must have added one of the SAQ imports, probably Tuborg (which was sweetish and aromatic and much better than today) or Pilsner Urquell or McEwan Scotch Ale.  The McEwan Scotch Ale recently re-introduced to the Ontario market is quite similar to that mid-1970’s Scotch Ale.

I remember also drinking Chimay in Old Montreal in 1980 and finding it very different, sweetish and candy-like – better then than now, in my opinion.

Probably the key turning point in my beer history was buying my first beer book.  It was All About Beer by John Porter (good name eh?).  I still have it.  This was in 1975, so a few years before Michael Jackson’s first book came out. Porter had started as a brewer’s apprentice in New York City in the late 1930’s.  He gave a good overview of where beer came from to where it was – fairly undifferentiated American adjunct lager – by the mid-70’s.

I learned the essentials from Porter’s book and after that looked more intensively for different beers especially on those U.S. trips.    The U.S. always had a good range of imports and I started to buy those, I remember liking Wurzburger from Germany, La Belle Strasbourgeoise from eastern France, British ales such as Ruddles and Theakston’s, and the odd Belgian beer.  Both because of cost and probably the freshness factor, I continued to buy a wide range of American beers.

In this period, while it is true that nothing compared to the richness of the current craft scene, the American beers, as ours, did not taste quite alike.  Each had a particular flavour and also, there were “super-premiums” like Erlanger, Andeker, Michelob; we had Brador in Canada.   These were half way between a standard North American adjunct beer and an all-malt or high-malt European lager or ale.   There were also “darks”, beers in the original Munich style but lightened a lot and probably coloured often with caramel, as well as seasonal bock beers.  They had a touch more taste than the regular run but not by much.

I kept buying beer books, Michael Weiner’s 1977 The Taster’s Guide To Beer, Jim Robertson’s 1978 The Connoisseur’s Guide To Beer, other smaller books including funny English ones which spoke, puzzlingly, of “real ale”, and finally Michael Jackson’s landmark The World Guide To Beer in 1978 or ’79.

Because I had sampled the beers from Anchor Brewing, which were much better than the reputed Coors when it finally reached the (U.S.) east coast, and because I had the chance to drink some good imports and the super-premiums, I did have an inkling of what real beer was like.  Just as an example, Tooth’s Sheaf Stout from Australia was – is I’m sure – full-flavoured, quite similar to craft stouts of today.  Therefore, when the first craft beers became available, I searched them out with avidity but kind of knew what to expect.  (I had never home-brewed or knew anyone who did).

Unfortunately, I could never find the beers from New Albion Brewing Company in California, the first true modern craft brewery (1976-1984).  But I remember around 1981-’82 finding beers from Boulder Brewing and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and the special releases from Anchor Brewing which became the basis for its Liberty Ale.  I thought these were wonderful and together with having the chance to try an increasing range of imports (still in the U.S., the choice here was very small), I feel I was able to scope the full beer palate fairly early on.

The first craft beer in Quebec was made by a brewpub in Lennoxville and perhaps ironically I never had a chance to taste it.  I was busy with work in Montreal and then the move to Toronto in 1983.  I believe the pub is called Golden Lion and is still going strong.  But moving to Toronto opened up new vistas.  The centres in New York State near southern Ontario offered a large import range so my palate was continually being exposed to good imports and to the developing brewpubs there.  Even then I tried to be careful about date codes to ensure good quality but often there were disappointments.  In general, imported beer is more reliable today.

Upper Canada Brewing and Creemore Brewery opened in the later 1980’s and I supported their beers ardently although the taste wasn’t quite what I liked.  I liked traditional top-fermented English beer, this was honed as well by regular trips to England starting in the mid-1980’s.  I finally got what real ale was all about but could see the connection clearly, too, to unpasteurized North American craft beers.  Sometimes Upper Canada would offer a wood keg of real ale though, I remember drinking it sometimes at the old Allen’s downtown (relocated for some decades now to the Danforth), and at Babbage’s in the Beaches. John Maxwell of Allen’s, a beer stalwart then and now, helped found the Toronto Gambrinus Society which organized various trips to breweries, I recall one bus trip to Creemore and meeting John Wiggins, one of its principals, who had an ad agency background.

I met Michael Jackson on his second trip to this area in about 1985 and helped him organize future visits including to Granite Brewpub and Allen’s where he spoke.  I also organized a trip to Sleeman Brewery for Jackson.  Even then I could see its beers occupied a mid-range in the craft beer palate (of course appreciated by many then and now).

Really the story since the end of the 1980’s is just bigger and better.  As the best of the old commercial beers died away, e.g. Molson Porter and Labatt IPA, an increasing number of craft breweries took root in Ontario making beers of character in a range of styles – nothing to what we have today but making good solid tasty beer with a natural taste.  The proliferation of Toronto brewpubs or craft bars – C’est What, the Rotterdam, the Amsterdam – helped spread the word.  So did the English pub phenomenon, e.g., Wellington Brewery’s beers were available early on in some of these.  The ubiquitous IPA of today has its roots in Bert Grant’s IPA made out in Washington State in the early 1990’s.  But really that was a continuation of the Liberty Ale and American Pale Ale styles albeit amped up somewhat.  It’s all been a steady stream of development, very organic.

A salutary change from 25 years ago is that quite a few brewpubs back then relied on malt extract to make their beers.  This is pretty much a thing of the past.

The major difference I’d say since 1990 is not so much the palate range – this is more on the level of detail than anything else – but the public perception of beer.  Today, the average person is much more amenable to trying a beer with a genuine taste, one which recalls how beer was made and tasted in the 1800’s.   Craft beer isn’t regarded as the oddity it was and of course large brewers are getting into the game with their own brands as well as those purchased from craft brewery pioneers.

It’s all good, and a part of tradition has been restored.  It took a lot longer than I thought, but the future of good beer is now assured.

Copyright Gary M. Gillman, 2015.

Welcome to My Beer Blog

I began studying beer as a hobby back in the 70’s.  (Yes, in one of H.L. Mencken’s memorable formulations, I even “got some down”, and still do).   By studying, I mean I bought a lot of magazine and books, both consumer books describing tastes and styles as well as tomes on how to brew beer in a commercial setting.  I’ve never brewed at home, while having great respect for those who do.  I did a weekend, hands-on brewing seminar in the 1980’s with William (Bill) Newman in Albany, NY.  Bill founded one of the early craft breweries.  This enhanced the book knowledge I was acquiring, as did countless tours of production breweries.

I’ve also travelled quite a bit with my wife Libby, mostly in Canada, the U.S. (most regions), England (extensively), France, Belgium, and once in Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic. On my travels,  I had the chance to try a lot of beers and develop a good understanding of beer styles and the related culture, extending to the cuisines which accompany beer in its heartlands.  For a time I concentrated on cooking dishes using beer as an ingredient, dishes scattered in books from North America, the U.K., France and Belgium, and one day may write a book collecting these recipes.  Chicken with beer sauce spiked with genever gin, anyone?

A key point in my beer education was meeting the late beer authority Michael Jackson on many occasions.  Indeed Libby and I travelled with him for a week once, in the early 1990’s, to explore the brews and beer culture of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in France.  I am privileged to say he mentioned me a couple of times in his writing.  He was a key influence on me and I never would have developed the kind of interest I did in beer but for him.  One of the things I learned from him is that beer doesn’t stand alone, it exists in a social, economic and cultural context and understanding beer well means exploring many facets of this larger world.

Of course, I followed craft brewing closely from its earliest days in California.  In addition, I have always had a deep interest in beer history.  I have contributed a lot of comments over the years on blogs of people I admire greatly who focus on that area, but also on the blogs of many other beer, and food, writers.  Many of them, with others, encouraged me to set up my own blog, and finally I have done this.

I intend to explore every facet of beer as I have come to know it but also stretch beyond that occasionally into other drinks, and food.  For some years I learned about bourbon and Canadian whiskey, and travelled extensively to Kentucky where the bourbon industry is centered.  I was named Bourbonian of the Year a few years ago by, the leading consumer bourbon site in the world.

I hope you enjoy my particular take on what beer and “et seq.” are all about.