Sauerbraten From Ruth Vendley Neumann – An Appreciation


Sächsischer_SauerbratenSauerbraten, or “sour roast”, is a dish well-known in the cookery of Germany and what used to be known as Mitteleuropa.

Anyone learning about foreign cuisines in the 60s through the 80s knew about sauerbraten. It’s from the time quiche lorraine, green peppercorns, cassoulet, sole almondine, and coq au vin were popular – and I daresay carbonade flamande, the Flemish beef-and-beer stew.

Dishes go in and out of style. This has little to do with their inherent goodness and more to do with fashion and other vagaries.

Chuck Cowdery, America’s authority on bourbon whiskey, recently commented here that my carbonade flamande posting made him think of sauerbraten. Indeed, there are numerous similarities. Both use beef as the main meat, and onion, both use vinegar or another souring agent, and both can have a spicy note.

In fact, there are numerous dishes across a band of north-central Europe which are broadly similar. Yorkshire had a dish of beef and beer, a harvest dish for farm workers. The Czech Republic has beer goulash, see a good example here, as do Germany and Austria. Poland does a turn in beef or game marinated in beer, vinegar and spices. Similar versions appear yet further east. Each is somewhat different though and assumes finally a national, or ethnic, character.

Anyone who knows the sauerbraten may object: but it’s based on red wine! True, but not exclusively. A beer version exists too in the German countries.

Below is a recipe for a beer sauerbraten, but first a note about the source. It is from Ruth Vendley Neumann’s Cooking With Spirits, published by Castle Books in 1961. According to Internet sources, Ruth Neumann grew up in the Detroit area before World War II. She trained as a concert violinist but later became an advertising executive in the Chicago area; she had her own agency in Winnetka for many years. This book is what might be called topical (like most cookbooks), not seeking to mark any kind of culinary achievement or stand as compelling social history or memoir. It is mostly a collection of recipes, many of the author’s own devise, which employ in some way beer, wine, spirits, or liqueurs in cookery, from soup to nuts.

In the 1950s, cookbook publishers, and probably still today, were looking for a new angle, something to catch the attention of the public. In that period, you saw books on lazy susan cookery, Polynesian food, cooking with leftovers, and outdoor cooking. It’s no surprise someone thought to publish a book using, not just wine or beer, but any sort of beverage alcohol in recipes. There was an element of novelty, even fun, to some of the food writing then.

Today, the obsession with supposedly natural food and “clean” eating can cast a Soviet-style humorlessness on dining. The 50s were less sanctimonious. If  there was a certain florid superficiality, so what? It was no worse than the studied gravity which attends the business of fueling the body today. In any case, the enthusiasm and “can do” was understandable as a reaction to the strains and privations of the wars recently ended.

The publisher of Cooking With Spirits found the right person to write it. The book displays the author’s enthusiasm and optimistic attitude, personality traits which must have assisted her professional (non-culinary) work, too. And for those who look, there are a number of entertaining asides in the book, and useful social history.

One is her spare but deft portrait of an Italian-American colleague she encountered in a WPA sewing project in the 1930s. This was a New Deal-era program, for those not familiar with the acronym. The colleague brought zucchini sandwiches from home which entranced Neumann, who gives the recipe, called Zucchini Paganelli. It was her friend’s, except with some Chianti wine added. Another nugget describes a pie Ms. Neumann’s mother made from Concord grapes. She says the only problem with it was you couldn’t stop eating it: “Too darn good”.

There is a story of a beef sirloin dish a friend enjoyed during a 1920s fishing trip in Wyoming. The friend, a young executive with General Motors, was introduced to the dish by a “Turkish rug dealer” who had joined the excursion. The sirloin, a 5lb. centre cut, was treated with cognac, chili sauce, and mustard, amongst other things. The result convinced Ruth Neumann that her previous philosophy, “when I eat steak, I want to taste steak”, henceforth required qualification.

During the early 1950s she traveled with her husband to Germany and Austria. The early 50s was still a time of shortages and rebuilding in Germany, the place wasn’t on everyone’s “Europe” list then. Perhaps she or (I’d guess more) her husband was of German background, as she mentions they went more than once.

During one of the trips, she was much taken with a sauerbraten in which beer, not wine, was the base. She calls it, Ben Burkhart’s Sauerbraten. I’m not sure who Ben Burkhart was or is, perhaps the owner of the hotel where the dish was served. This is how she starts her account:

The date was October 15, 1953. The Schottenhaml Hotel in Munich was just getting back into shape after the ravages of the war; so when my husband and I arrived there from Cologne, we had to tote our bags through the back door. The front façade still presented a gaping hole where a bomb had made a direct hit.

The recipe uses 4 lb. of beef round or chuck, 2 cups wine vinegar, 3 cups beer, 2 onions, 2 tbsp. pickling spices, 3 tbsp. brown sugar, 1 tbsp. salt, flour to dredge the meat, and Mazola to brown. Of course, sour cream enters into it too. Not hard to make but you need time for the marination.

Despite the use of beer, the recipe is not like a carbonade flamande in that much more vinegar is used, and the mustard and herbs of the Belgian dish are absent. Still, it is easy to see the general connection. And indeed for cooks in Flanders or Brussels who use spice bread in their carbonade and put in a swirl of crème fraiche to enrich the dish, it probably bears more than a passing resemblance to a beer sauerbraten.

The more classic wine sauerbraten does have a different taste though. Bacchus puts it on a different vector!

Sauerbraten, any version, is due for a revival. Maybe Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown will hunt down a good one, or Rachel Ray.

I’ve made some of Ruth Neumann’s dishes – her lamb curry with addition of gin, or “Bourbon-cued Chicken” are terrific – but not the beer sauerbraten. One day I’ll try it though. As the saying goes, what’s not to like…

Note re image:  This image is in the public domain and was sourced here.



A Classic Beer Dish: Carbonade Flamande

Carbonade flamande is a simmered or baked dish whose essentials are meat, onions, beer, and sometimes stock. Vinegar, sugar, herbs, and/or mustard often figure as well. A thickening of some kind is usually present: bread, flour, or another starch.

Spelling varies, you will also see carbonnades flamande or à la flamande, and the noun can be singular or plural.

The dish is a star performer in the cookery of old Flanders, an area which straddles three modern countries: France around Lille and into Pas-de-Calais, Belgium, and Holland.

Carbonade flamande is perhaps the best-known dish of beer cookery, rivaled only by Welsh Rabbit, a melted cheese and beer dish. The latter also enjoys popularity in parts of historical Flanders.

There are many recipes for Flemish carbonade, in countless books and online. Most are similar in the main points. I set out below the recipe I feel gives best results. I stick to beef among the meats, as I find the result best that way, but it is interesting to try pork or veal.

“Carbonade” seems to derive from carbonado, which is connected to the terms charbon (coal), carbonized, and cognates.

Carbonade was meat cooked over a bed of coals or burning embers, not a braised or baked dish as it is today. How these evolutions occur is one of the mysteries of food history.

A point of interest: searching Google Books limited to the 19th century produced a few carbonade recipes, yet none that involves beer! The recipes are similar to today’s but call for vinegar, stock, water, or some combination.*

Sources from the Edwardian era, including the great chef Escoffier, type the dish as a Belgian Flemish specialty to be cooked with “old lambic” or another Belgian beer of the acid, lambic group.

Probably the vinegar in older recipes was sometimes in fact a sour Belgian beer. The fact that vinegar is called for today in addition to a standard ale or lager makes sense in this light: the mix emulates the sour taste of lambic or gueuze.

So in all likelihood, the dish is not a 20th-century invention but goes back hundreds of years in Flanders where sour agents – vinegar, acid beer, or verjuice (sour grape juice) were sometimes used in cookery. In general, carbonade flamande appears a survival of medieval cooking methods that feature a sweet-and-sour note.

I give a recipe in summary form below but any moderately experienced cook can follow it. It is not actually mine but from a Belgian beer cookery book dating to the 1970s or 60s. I looked for it but cannot find conveniently find it, it is in a box somewhere.

Still, thousands of recipes in other books and online are similar, differing usually in a detail or two. Some add bacon (I don’t think it helps), some mix beer with stock (I like beer alone), and some use ginger, nutmeg, or mace instead of green herbs.

Some cooks marinate the meat in beer, and some add the sugar or vinegar only at the end, and on it goes

A note on the beer: It may sound odd from a beerman, but the kind used doesn’t really matter. I have used lambic, porter, Imperial Stout, Coors Light, and everything in between. If you use the sugar, vinegar, and mustard – which you should – it comes out very similar.

So my rule is, I use any beer I have, or a blend of bottle ends. A dash of whisky, brandy, port or gin is good too. Don’t add too much, you don’t want a “brandied” note.

You need a kilogram (2.2 lbs) of beef, it should be a second cut like chuck, round, shoulder, or shank. It can be sliced in half-inch slices, or in chunks. You can flour the meat, or not.

Sauté meat to a medium brown in a pan. Don’t add too much beef when browning else it will “steam”, do it in two or three batches. Slice yellow or white onions, four or five, sauté them in more fat, any kind will do but I find butter is best, maybe mixed with olive oil.

Some people like the onions browned, I find it better to have them translucent. Transfer the meat and onions to a casserole dish, I use the oval enameled type. A Creuset-type is good as well but watch the cooking time, as the extra insulation holds the heat and these vessels need less cooking time to avoid drying out the meat.

In a pot on the element pour an Imperial pint (20 oz) of beer or more, you probably will need about 30-35 ounces. Add vinegar, a tablespoon or two. Any kind will do but a good red wine vinegar is best. Sugar is important, you need a tablespoon or less, it modifies and mingles with the beer and vinegar to produce the classic sweet and sour palate. The sugar can be white or brown, and even maple syrup works. In a pinch, honey or molasses is fine.

Add a rounded teaspoon of mixed dried herbs and a bay leaf or two. The herbs can also be in bouquet garni form. Bring all to a boil and skim, the skimming is also important, it makes for a better dish. Pour the hot beer mixture on the beef and onions in the baking dish.

Next, take a couple of slices of semi-stale but good bread, and cover well with Dijon or any good mustard. Place slices of bread, mustard-side down, on the top of the mixture, the liquid should just cover the meat and onion and lap the bread.

Cover and bake at 325 F or even 350 F for a couple of hours. I find at 350 F for barely more than an hour is often enough, but it depends on the meat and oven, so cook until tender.

It is better to let the dish cool on the stove, remove any noticeable fat, and then place in the fridge. Reheat thoroughly the next day.

Proverbially, such dishes improve over a day or two by such cooling and re-heating.

I should add: half-way through the cooking mix everything with a spoon, the bread disintegrates and helps lightly to thicken the sauce. Also, add salt and pepper at outset but don’t over-salt, you can always more later but too much will ruin the taste (for any dish).

I don’t like garlic in this dish, but it’s always optional. Some Belgian recipes use a local spice bread, a gingerbread-type, for the thickening. I have tried that but don’t think it is better than regular bread. The idea is to lightly thicken the sauce. If you like the ginger taste, you can add a little grated or ground ginger.

With the dish drink any beer you like or a red wine that can stand up to a sweet and sour dish, a good Zinfandel, or Beaujolais, say. Riesling works well though, a Spatlëse, say.

Brussels sprouts lightly steamed or boiled, with butter, or cabbage sections cooked the same way, are traditional on the side. Plain boiled potatoes, or noodles buttered, or the classic French fries of Lille and Belgium, as well. French fries may sound odd for a braise but they somehow work with this dish.

One tip: don’t mix too many flavours, you may get a muddled result. Escoffier’s fairly simple recipe (see pg. 398), from 1904, employs the exotic lambic but is otherwise quite basic. The taste will be heightened and improved that way.

Note: For those who wish to add bacon, nutmeg, mace, or ginger this French recipe may interest. It calls for a litre of Pelforth Brune, a sweetish, dark beer. Leffe Brune, a Belgian abbey-type, can be used or a similar beer for yet a “sweeter” taste. You can adjust sweetness though with less or more sugar, so the beer doesn’t really matter, except perhaps at the extremes, Bud Light vs. an Imperial stout, say.

Note re image: image appears to be in the public domain and is sole property of its lawful owner, as applicable, it was sourced from Wikipedia, here. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*I documented some of these in a later post, here.




Cask Days Notes

CSLABYhVAAANs2bA most enjoyable afternoon was spent at Cask Days annual event at Brickworks in Toronto yesterday. This multi-session event is always best attended IMO earlier in the weekend, as the beer choice is more complete (some kegs run out by Sunday especially this year as none were held in reserve). However, no one can complain with something like 200 firkins as a start-off, from some 360 to start.

I had some good beers from B.C. and Alberta, pale ales and bitters notably, also black IPA. Washington State too was still well-represented yesterday, and New York. I had three ESBs from different countries and none particularly impressed, but that can happen anywhere at any kind of beer event, it’s luck of the draw and of the moment.

There seemed less pumpkin beers this year, even at opening of the first session, which I think reflects a trend in the business. E.g., there are fewer at LCBO than in previous years. I like pumpkin beers and would hope there would be more next year. The prevalent style seemed to be IPA with a wide variety of styles – e.g. pilsener, sours, stouts, saisons, wheat or weizens – in lesser number.

Event organization, music, food station variety and layout and other amenities (e.g. the cool pinball machines) were the best ever, as was the easy procedure to enter where they validate your ticket while still in line. I don’t remember it as crowded on a Sunday in previous years which is good, more people are attending in general, clearly.

A first rate festival that attests to the sophistication and maturity of the beer scene in Toronto but also the savvy and sophistication of the Morana family who run this show to the benefit of all beer fans.

Note re Image:  Image is from Cask Days twitter stream received over the past weekend.



Three Disparate Drinks

A tasting of three drinks I found particularly good recently.

Trafalgar Pumpkin Shine


This is a craft distillery product from Greater Toronto Area’s Trafalgar Distillery, an offshoot of Trafalgar Brewery. This makes excellent use of a white (unaged) barley malt distillate which comes off the still at a low proof, in the territory that is to make a fully-aged spirit except not aged. Moonshine, if you will. Since such drinks have a very pronounced taste, they were in the old days often flavoured with sweetening and spices or herbs. Drinks such as Drambuie, say, have their origins in this tradition. The Pumpkin Shine uses puree of pumpkin, ginger, brown sugar and other good things to modify and temper the feisty flavour of unaged whisky spirit.

The result is very successful, a drink that gains its character from precisely being all these things. If you blended vodka with the puree, sugar, etc., it wouldn’t be nearly as good. Although pictured with ice, I found it better neat; the rocks tend to over-stress the distillery, or young spirit, character. Taken neat the drink has a perfect equilibrium.

My Own Blend of Porter









Following ancient tradition, I continue to blend my own beers, especially porter and stout, to get an optimal taste. In this case, I used Wells Young Courage Russian Imperial Stout, 2013 vintage; Old School Stout from Tree Brewing in British Columbia; and Ste. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout from Montreal. The Imperial Stout is a couple of years old and has a marked oxidative note. The other two were in good condition but the B.C. one had (IMO) a noticeable edge of roasted barley (unmalted) which lends a drying note in stout or porter, something I don’t favour unless very muted. The Ste. Ambrose is quite nice but a little light for my taste. Blending these together, I got what I think is a better result than each. Very little of the Wells Young Courage Imperial Stout was needed, 10% or less, as its pungent character informs the whole despite being added in small amount. Guinness used to add – I am not sure if it still does – a few percentage points of vatted, or aged, stout to the standard beer. I can see the logic, i.e., of not going overboard with the “stale” element (to use the old brewing term). Just a little is enough, as an 80’s pop song advises.

Cat Lady India Pale Ale from Bellwoods

Excellent, orange-scented IPA from Toronto’s classy brewpub, Bellwoods Brewery on Ossington Street. It’s a potent 7.4% ABV. The tangerine and orange notes come from Amarillo and other hops used, no actual fruit flavouring is added. This is, I’m sure, what fine pale ale was like in the heyday of the style. While American hops were used, the particular blend resulted in a rather English character, accentuated probably by the good clarity of the beer and clean but savoury malt background. It’s the kind of beer which imparts (seemingly) more a clarity and repose of spirit than a dizzy buzz: the great drinks of the world do that you know, but just have one.

This needs to be a regular offering at the pub.


Oklahoma’s Chock Or Choc Beer

A number of beer types can be considered distinct evolutions from the European lager, ale and stout (porter) which have dominated North American brewing since European settlement. These distinct types include California steam beer, Kentucky common ale, Pennsylvania “swanky” and Oklahoma choc or chock beer. Of these, choc beer has been least documented, but the reason for this will appear shortly.

I first read of choc beer, if memory serves, in All About Beer magazine about ten years ago.

Stan Hieronymous, the blogger and beer writer, has recently posted an informative piece which sheds doubt, correctly in my view, whether the name choc beer is derived from the Choctaw Indians, as has been commonly supposed. This entry from an Oklahoma historical association states the etymology usually accepted, or assumed, for choc beer.

I’ll elaborate here on two comments I made to his post, which suggest an alternative name origin for the beer.

First though, what is or was choc beer? It was an alcoholic drink made, according to various accounts, from malt, hops, corn kernels, herbs, tobacco, and sometimes moonshine whiskey. A strange brew, at first sight. It was a folk drink, made by a range of residents in the Oklahoma Territory in the later 1800’s, native Americans included, but far from exclusively. As Stan noted, choc beer was particularly associated with miners in the Oklahoma coal districts. Oklahoma was a prohibition territory, even after it became a state in the first decade of the 1900’s. Therefore, choc beer was illicit, and this factor probably encouraged a non-standardization of the recipe. It was a home brew handed down by verbal tradition and recipes would have varied with the family who made it or area of production.

The traditional account of the name origin seems questionable on a number of counts. As Stan notes, the Choctaw Nation did not arrive in what is now Oklahoma until the 1830’s (to take up residence in what was called the Indian Territory. The Choctaw’s original territory was in southeast Mississippi and part of Alabama). Thus, an age-old tradition of hospitality to offer this drink, at least in Oklahoma, seems unlikely. It is possible of course the Choctaw brought the drink to their new land, but it is generally accepted that native Americans of the pre-Columbian era did not systematically use alcohol for recreational purposes. While it appears untrue that alcohol use was completely unknown in the pre-European era, the use such as it was was fragmentary and associated usually with religious ritual. To the extent alcohol was known, it was a weak beer or wine made from berries or grains, nothing comparable to the alcohol level of the European equivalents and seemingly different from the frankly intoxicating quality of choc beer. Of course, once introduced to social alcohol use by Europeans, native Americans did start to use alcohol, often with tragic results. It can’t be ruled out that choc beer was developed by native Americans in the mid-1800’s, but the following theories occur to me as more plausible:

  1. Choc beer comes from “Czech” – I elaborate on this in my comment to Stan’s post mentioned above.
  2. Choc beer comes from “shack beer”, is a corruption of this expression. Shack, an Americanism, may come from “jacal“, Mexican and southwest American Spanish for hut or shelter. An Anglo origin seems more likely to me since the “j” in jacal is pronounced as the “h” in “hut”, not the “sh” in “shake”. Shack may simply come from the word “shaky”, for the light construction, and have been viewed as a place typically associated with illicit alcohol drinking, similar to a shebeen, a Gaelic term familiar to the Scots-Irish and Scots as meaning an unlicensed drinking den.
  3. Choc beer comes from “chicha“, the word in Mexico for a fermented drink made from corn. Its etymology is unclear, but may well derive from one or more indigenous languages in central or Caribbean America. A “chock” in Chile, apparently a dialectical term of no certain spelling, means glass of beer. This suggests to me a likely connection to chicha, Oklahoma choc beer, and maybe even jacal for hut. See Ben Henry’s comment here to a post of beer blogger and author Alan McLeod about 10 years ago, which discusses the use in Chile of “chock” in relation to beer. One might think chock for beer in Chile derives from a Romance term related to the French “chope“, for a mug of beer. This is not likely since, apart from the fact I doubt the “p” sound shifts to a “k” in Spanish linguistics, jarra is the Spanish term for the French chope… (The English cup, though, is obviously connected to the said French word).

Some Choctaw did for a time reside in parts of what is now Texas, when it was still Mexico, that is. Their presence there was fairly minimal though and most left for the newly established tribal land in Oklahoma after the 1830’s. Given their origins in eastern U.S., and given also that Mexicans formed part of the corps which worked the aforesaid mines in Oklahoma, I’d think a Mexican Spanish or Mexican indigenous language source for choc beer is more plausible than the name coming from the Choctaw Nation. This article by Stanley Clarke, written in the mid-1950’s, not 1910 as I thought earlier, refers to the different ethnicities which made up the Oklahoma mining population. Both Slovaks and Mexicans feature in reasonable number in the breakdowns given.

Krebs, a town in Oklahoma associated with choc beer, has a brewery and restaurant called Choc Beer Co./Pete’s Place which makes different beers under the choc label: the “1919”, or “Basement Batch”, may well be similar to one of the home brew chocs of Oklahoma before National Prohibition came into force after WW I.



Some IPA History is Illuminated


Back in 2009, pursuing references to India Pale Ale in British journals online, I came upon a story from 1870 by a writer, “Meunier” (likely a pseudonym). He wrote that the ship Crusader sank in the sea off Blackpool, England and a cargo of India Pale Ale was sold as salvage in Liverpool, thus creating the demand for IPA in England. I mentioned Meunier’s account in a comment I made in 200to a post of Ron Pattinson on his beer blog.  

The beer style, IPA, had gained renown in British India as an export initially from London. It was a pale beer, circa 6% ABV, very well-hopped, sent by a brewer called Hodgson to Bombay and other ports.* British administrators and other servants of Empire in India enjoyed the beer with food and in clubs. Hodgson’s trade was later supplemented, and finally replaced, by that of the great brewers of Burton-on-Trent, notably Bass and Allsopp, also Salt, who perfected this form of beer.

For decades, I and many beer fans had read the story of an India-bound ship that had sunk after leaving port in England, with part of the beer cargo (IPA) being saved and sold in Liverpool, thus creating demand in England for a beer previously not consumed there, but only in far-away India. The story originated in an 1869 history of brewing in Burton-on-Trent by William Molyneux.

He wrote that India Pale Ale was not consumed in England until a ship carrying it as cargo, departing from England, wrecked in the Irish Channel in 1827 and some of the beer was sold off in Liverpool. He didn’t state the name of the ship. No trace of such a foundering and sale of beer rescued from the Irish Channel could be found, however, and some considered his story a romantic account, not a historical one.

This is my 2009 comment:

Ron, it is interesting to compare these 1909 pale ale references to comments I found yesterday in a 1871 [sic] scientific journal:

Two people answered a question of a T. O’Brien as to how bitter ale is made.  

“Meunier”, possibly a nom de plume, stated he worked in the beer export trade in London some decades before. He gives a figure of 1066 OG for bitter beer, 1012 at final, with pounds per barrel dropping to 4 from 24 in attenuation. Clearly this was the top quality. Possibly (by 1871 [sic]) he was referring to Burton production. He stated the beer fined of itself. This is a reference I believe to the gypsum in Burton water which promoted rapid clarification.

Meunier refers to the story often heard of a ship foundering off England and bitter ale becoming popular in England after. But he gives interesting details. He states the approximate year as 1839. He states the name of the ship, The Crusader. Internet research quickly confirmed a ship of that name did founder off Black Pool near Preston in 1839, captained it appears by a Wickman, I believe R.G. Wickman. It was outbound to Bombay from Liverpool:

I could not find any further reference to beer being sold by underwriters or publicans in Liverpool, however. Wikipedia states that the ship was carrying silk and refers to looting of the vessel by some people from Marton, but again no reference to beer.  

Some India beer was sold at auction before 1839 in London (Zythophile gives good information on this in his website). But this doesn’t mean this foundering event did not occur and have some influence. The detail given by Meunier and his asserted background in the beer business suggests to me there is something behind the story. I wonder if there is some way to find out what the full cargo was of The Crusader and what happened to it. I found also the date of the foundering, January 8, 1839. There had been a terrible storm in the area, a hurricane, and numerous ships foundered or were lost.  …. “.

Meunier’s account of 1870 (my references to 1871 were a typo), is here, and for the second link, and details of the Crusader and Captain Wickman, see here.

As I stated, I couldn’t find any evidence the ship carried beer or beer was sold in Liverpool from its salvage, and had to leave the matter at that.

As my comment also shows, I still felt there might be something to Meunier’s story. When you live, as I do, by a body of great water used, now or formerly, for navigation, you know that hundreds if not thousands of boats came to grief in the days weather could not be accurately gauged. Along the Great Lakes in certain areas, e.g., off parts of Prince Edward County, Ontario, hundreds of wrecks lie in waters offshore.

Beer was a common cargo from England out to the Indies and other distant parts in the mid-1800’s. It seemed likely to me casks of beer were probably not an infrequent salvage item sold in local towns to help offset the insurance underwriters’ payout. It makes sense that quick local sale was a recourse. The beer would have sometimes been damaged by seawater, for example: that and other practicalities would have suggested a “fire sale” to off-load the goods, so to speak.

Nonetheless, I could not establish that the Crusader actually had carried any beer, so to me at that time, the story of Meunier seemed either a dead end or at worst, a tall tale, another romantic account to add to Molyneux’.

Recently however, Zythophile, English beer writer Martyn Cornell, discovered that the Crusader did carry a beer cargo, and not just that, of ale from Burton bound for India, and that casks of it were sold in Liverpool pursuant to public sale. His detailed account is here.

And so, Molyneux, and Meunier, were right about a sea wreck off the English coast and sale of beer in Liverpool as salvage even though the former got the date wrong. He wrote that the wreck occurred in 1827 when, in fact, it occurred in 1839. The mid-1820s was a time when a theory of domestic introduction of IPA by a sale of salvage made more sense than for 1839. More sense because IPA was already being sold in London and elsewhere in England – even Liverpool –  for years before 1839, as researchers have found, see e.g. Alan Pryor’s account, at pp 13-17.

In 1827 though, India Pale Ale was virtually unknown in English domestic commerce. I am starting to think that Molyneux gilded the lily to make his account of India Pale Ale more attractive. Perhaps Meunier’s account in 1870 was a mild correcting of the record as, in his supposed corroboration (and extending) of the foundation story for IPA in England, he employs the qualifying words, “I believe”, showing doubt whether the Crusader was really responsible for introducing India Pale Ale to the English beer market.

It’s nice to know anyway that my thinking of six years back was on the right track, albeit I didn’t find a key part of the puzzle.

The Crusader, while it never completed its last voyage, nonetheless finally sailed into another kind of port: that of English beer history.


*Note added April 3, 2018: My later research suggests Hodgson’s beer was likely considerably stronger than 6% abv. See here.

The Maturation of India Pale Ale

India Pale Ale was originally a “beer”, that is, a highly-hopped malt beverage, versus the lesser-hopped “ale” which evolved from a fermented barley drink which used no hops at all.

The stocking of IPA, as it was called, was a key part of its processing. It was brewed in certain seasons, stored in casks for many months, then bottled and sold or exported. The exportation would mature it further, making the drink drier, possibly less bitter – hops wear off with time – and liable also to infection by brettanomyces, a wild yeast often resident in cask timbers or the ambient atmosphere. This aspect lent additional flavours which old books call “ethereal”, “pungent”, “apple”.

With time, this stocking became dispensed with so that while retaining its relatively dry and bitter aspect, IPA lacked certain characteristics associated with prolonged aging.

I have experimented at home with aging different IPAs for different periods, sometimes in the fridge, sometimes at room temperature. I find that only those which have a noticeable yeast sediment can stand the process – anything well-filtered generally goes off within a couple of months or so unless pasteurized (I try to avoid buying this type, though).

But yeast-sedimented IPA, whether in cans or bottle, can last a long time. The yeast slowly works on the residual malt sugars and “scavenges” as it’s called the oxygen in the container, oxygen which absent the yeast presence would spoil the beer.

Recently I tried the Toronto-based Duggan Brewery’s IPA 9, stored in the fridge about six months. While I don’t know what maturation, presumably in tank, it got before canning, I’d guess relatively little. When I bought the pack originally, the beers were very fresh-tasting and full of malt and hop flavours, a big taste indeed yet not what I’d call refined or integrated.


Six months cold storage has matured the beer remarkably. The estery elements speak out more, the American hops are less aromatic (while still present) but show a firm bitterness, and withal the beer is much better knitted than when I bought it. It struck me as a cross between Ruddles County Ale from the 80’s, Fuller ESB from the same time, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

There was the faintest edge of acid, nothing the normal person would notice. 🙂 It is something which perhaps would grow if the beer was stored another 6 months.  This is the last can from the pack, so I won’t have the chance to try the comparison without starting again.

I didn’t, also, keep one for the same period at room temperature. It would have been interesting to compare the two.

This kind of lengthy conditioning unquestionably benefits the beer. The old hands of IPA in British India and Victorian England knew this. While the trip to India in varying conditions of heat and humidity may have oxidized the beer – this isn’t clear since oxidation can be retarded by action of brett I understand – it probably lent the barnyard taste associated with Orval and other beers which receive a brett infusion. This is not a plus, IMO, except for those habituated. The best course seems to be to mature the beer on the lees of its yeast for months in a well-sealed container. More than less cold will never damage the beer, setting aside anything close to freezing, but warm maturation possibly can lead to even better flavours than cold aging, possibly over a different period.

I should add I decanted the beer carefully to pour it almost crystal-clear, which assisted its evolved palate, IMO. This left an ounce or so of turbid stuff which I threw down the drain.

I got the No. 9 at its sweet spot, IMO.


Attending A Festhalle at K-W’s Oktoberfest in 2015

The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest in Ontario has been going strong since 1969. It is, today, one of the largest of its kind in the world. A good part of Kitchener, formerly called Berlin, and nearby Waterloo were settled by Mennonite and other incomers of German culture from Pennsylvania and New York starting from the early 1800’s. Perhaps because the German language was established in K-W as it’s called and German was known in church and school, emigrants from Germany came as well. In particular, there was an influx in the 1950’s and 60’s. Due to this cultural background, a number of German-Canadian clubs were established in Kitchener. Some represented people from a given area of Germany, or perhaps were associated with a particular denomination or trade. There are now almost 50 such clubs. Even though the German cultural imprint on the area has diminished over time through marriage with other extractions and general Canadian acculturation, the clubs are still a well-known part of the social scene. They assume an important role during Oktoberfest by offering food, music and dance, and of course beer, to the general public, to whom doors are open during festival period.

The biggest club is, I believe, the Concordia Club. In 1967 and 1968, it held an Oktoberfest which started as a Centennial project (Canada was 100 years old in 1967). A group formed in 1969 then expanded the event, a cooperative effort of local service organizations, the tourist and visitors bureau and city council. It was an immediate success and has grown considerably since these early years.

Many events take place during the Oktoberfest period in K-W that have nothing to do with food and drink including the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade, but this blog entry will discuss my impressions of the festhalle entertainment as I’ve experienced it over the years.


In general, I would say, it’s a great time out, the food and music are always excellent, the atmosphere is fun and family-oriented (at least during the day but I’m sure nothing gets out of hand later in the day, the event is well-controlled). No one who enjoys a festival atmosphere, beer and German-style food and music should miss it.

IMG_20151011_140452From a beer standpoint, the event started decades before the beer revival and has not, from what I’ve seen, been greatly marked by it. I’ve attended 4-5 festhalles over the years and generally one encounters mass market brands for the draft beer. Some clubs may well, especially today, offer a wider range and hopefully one representative of the craft brewing scene in K-W. Even where the range is limited though, you can usually find a brand or two of more interest. Today at Concordia Club, (excellent) draft Hacker-Pschorr was served in the small banquet hall vs. the much larger tent area where Molson Canadian and Coors Light were the only drafts available. At the stand-up bars alongside the tent, Big Rock Traditional Ale was available in bottles: a “dark” of a kind. It’s worthy, but I’m not sure why a dark lager wasn’t obtained from a local brewery, Brick, say, and why an Alberta beer of an English type is served at a German Ontario beer event.

I did find Brick Bock once at another festhalle but they also had Heineken IIRC. All this to say, beer is not a strong focus from a connoisseur’s standpoint, it is though from a more traditional standpoint that lots of quaffable draft is sold to go with the food and suit a general party atmosphere. The beer choice in Munich at its avatar event likewise is fairly restricted in that a given brewery’s draft (one beer) is sold in each tent albeit a tweaked version of its usual helles, with the odd bottle of something else possibly available, maybe a dunkel (dark lager) or a weizen (wheat beer). So net net, the two situations are really not all that different. That said, it would be a good idea for the clubs to offer a range of local drafts, blonde and dark lagers in particular as these are the tradition of Munich since the time the festival started there. It might be a good sales point for the clubs, too; we live in a more “beer-aware” time than 40 years ago. As I walked from the bar with my glass of Big Rock ale, someone came over and asked me what it was.  Clearly he was someone looking for an alternative to Molson Canadian and Coors Light. We talked, and he said he was going to buy one.

The Concordia’s food was top-notch, we had sausage in a bun and also schnitzel in a bun, strudel too. The bars carry a small range of German spirits, white spirits of different kinds and a brandy, but also some flavoured liqueurs and the general kind popular with the younger crowd.

The music is fun and local groups perform various kinds of dances, both traditional German but also sometimes more contemporary.

There is also (at Concordia) a passageway between the banquet hall and the tent area where they sell nuts, have a carnival-type shooting gallery, and games of various kinds, some suitable for children.

We were there for a couple of hours only mid-afternoon and the place was full of kids. Since my wife and I first visited 30 years ago, we reflected that some of the parents of these kids probably had been brought by their parents at our early events.

Basically, the experience is almost exactly as it was 30 and 20 years ago, at the clubs I’ve been to. This is a probably a good thing, certain things should be traditional and gain their appeal from being predictably enjoyable but just once a year. I’d give a little attention to the beer, but apart from that it’s great as it is.


Okanagan Spring Pale Ale


nav_logoThis beer has always been a favourite, an early (late 1980’s) craft beer entrant in B.C., all-malt with a complex fruity/hoppy savour. It must be enjoyed when the beer is very fresh as small deviations in flavour from age or mishandling deliver a different experience. It is a Canadian counterpart, say, to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or Stone Pale Ale as it was before the recent makeover, closer to the latter probably, or Mendocino Red Tail Ale, that style of tasty but approachable pale ale.

Draft is best and while variable in the past due to the long route in from the West Coast, lately the beer is quite reliable, I think this may be due to being brewed at stablemate brewery Sleeman Brewery in Guelph, ON. At its best, it offers a satisfying mid-course between characterless mass market brews and the highly hopped IPAs of more recent craft brewing vintage.

Here is a pint as it looked today at Wylie’s on Yonge Street:



Many craft beer fans, I suspect, are missing out by abjuring beers which appear middle of the road but by their quality and drinkability deliver a more historic beer experience than, say, a highly pungent pine-and-grapefruit IPA much less a double IPA at 8% or so alcohol with sugary, juicy extract.



Note re first and third images. The first is taken from the Okanagan Spring website, the third from the Beer Store’s website.














Wet Hop Beer Originated in England



One meets with wet hop or green hop beers at this time of year, being beers brewed from hops fresh-picked and not dried but perhaps pelletized. A number of festivals have sprouted up, one in  – appropriately as will be seen – Kent, England, and a number in North America.

For 15-20 years I’ve read how American craft brewers created a new category of beer, one that has migrated to England and elsewhere. Americans get the laurels for wet hop beer as a commercial category. But the use of unkilned hop in beer is not an American innovation, it started in England. The truth is, if one goes back far enough, most brewing or beer notions have roots in the old country. When it comes to beer, England is everyone’s old country, not to exclude of course Germany and other important centres on the Continent.

And so England was producing green hop beers centuries ago. In 1729 Richard Bradley, in his The Riches Of A Hop-Garden Explained, wrote, “Some use hops without drying in Brewing, even green as they are gathered…”.

The rest of his remarks seem to indicate disapproval of the practice. He states only a few people consider that using “fire” to dry hops on the kiln harms their flavour, which is “fortunate”. He doesn’t say why but goes on to state if one is using green hops, use half the normal amount of dried hops.

This seems odd as today the learning is the reverse: use much more than standard measure since wet hops are not compacted and concentrated in effect by drying.  Those who didn’t like the effects of fire on the hops probably were objecting to the fumes of charcoal then used in direct heating kilns to dry hops, an understandable objection. Today, all such heating avoids bituminous fuels, but still drying effects changes to the hop vs. the taste when brewed “green”.

One wonders why Bradley didn’t like green hops in brewing. It is possible he had never tasted a beer brewed in this way, hence the lack of explanation. Perhaps he was concerned that showing too much interest in green hop beer might be seen as a threat to an established industry: artisan as it was, hop culture and processing, of which kilning was an integral part, were well-established by his time.

I had a bottle of Sierra Nevada once which used wet hops and it was very good, with a complex, layered flavour. Yet some wet hop beers seem hardly different to standard, dry-hopped beers. One does encounter occasionally a well-known, “grassy” top note in these beers, not a plus in my view. As so often with beer, it is how the hops are used and their freshness and other attributes at the time, hence matters come down finally to what’s in the glass.


** Note re image above: image believed in public domain, original source used is here: