Tasting the Past – Rye Whiskey

The Continuity of Taste



The vocabulary of food and drink description has changed over time, in general. The language evolves, and also people tend to view things differently.

It is customary now to describe beer and whisky flavour in a metaphorical way, much as for wine in the last 40 years. Wine vocabulary changes too with time, but due to the venerated position of wine in western culture I would say less than for other drinks.

The British beer writer Michael Jackson (1942-2007) had a lot to do with creating how beer and whisky are described today. The influence of wine writer Hugh Johnson (still active) and other wine authors on Jackson’s early writing seems evident. Here, flavour is described by comparison to fruits and other foods, flowers, spices, and minerals.

Professional wine writing popularized the method as the consumer society took flight post-WW II. Indeed one can say British wine-writing did so, with the rest of the world soon following.

A typical modern taste note for beer might read: sweet biscuit, flowery/piney hops, citric aftertaste. In the 1800s it was rare for beer to be described this way. People had different impressions then: “washy”, “empyreumatic” (i.e., burned or smoky), “mucilaginous” (thick and sugary), “heady”, “sickly” (infected, probably), “blinked” (soured or off) were some of the terms.

Often, just a “good” or “bad” sufficed, or that Victorian stalwart, “sound”, as in “sound old ale”.

We can tell sometimes what was meant but in general, impressions seemed less precise than now, at least outside professional circles.

A famous beer writer before Jackson was the Victorian Alfred Barnard. He rarely described actual taste, vs. long descriptions of buildings and manufacturing methods, but sometimes did so. Once he wrote that old ale had a “Madeira odour”. This is a fruity, oxidative smell, familiar to those who know bottle-age in beer – or Madeira wine.

Occasionally, terms did appear in general literature that resonate today. A tourist in 1892 compared Louvain white beer to soapsuds, pitch, and vinegar! That’s pretty clear, and was not meant as a compliment. Belgian beer is viewed differently today outside the country, but taste is relative to time and other factors.

In The French Wine And Liquor Manufacturer: A Practical Guide (different editions, 1860s), the American John Rack stated that “when old and pure, [rye whiskey] resembled the odor of new-mown hay”. 

Even a modern urban-dweller can conjure that idea. We’re talking loamy, herbal, maybe perfumed. Also, maybe funky or vegetal. That part is from fertilizers perhaps, or natural conditions.

In various grasses the smell is caused by an organic chemical, couramin, isolated in the late 1800s. It is used today in perfume and food processing. Clover in particular displays the note, which makes sense: clover is often a component in hay.

Moving to the modern time, Booker’s Straight Rye evoked for the whiskey writer Savannah Weinstock “raisin bran and fresh sweet hay”.

Some Canadian rye whisky tastes like that too. 150 years on, rye can show remarkable continuity of taste.

It is often said we can’t know what drinks tasted like in the 1800s, too much has changed. Yet, Booker’s Rye smells of fresh hay, just as the 1860s rye did that put John Rack to flight.

Tastes are more constant than many think, but it’s not often we see the evidence, due to changing language and other habits over time.

Note re image: noted as public domain, sourced from Wikipedia’s entry “Hay”, here. Any rights therein belong solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Silent Spirit, Silent Sam

cq5dam.web.1280.1280 (1)This is really a postscript to my post of earlier today, but it may be noted that a brand of vodka sold at the LCBO, Silent Sam, recalls 19th century distilling when the term “silent spirit” was devised.

The term was not just Canadian, it was used in Britain and the U.S. as well. As this 1883 English article states, “silent spirit” meant a spirit of such purity that it was silent as to its origins.

In turn this meant, you couldn’t tell if it was distilled from rye, wheat, sugar, corn or anything else capable of being fermented and distilled into a spirit. The distillation was so thorough that the only compounds left, practically, were ethanol and water. And all ethanol tastes the same regardless of source.

In traditional whisky distilling and ditto for brandy, rum, and the other traditional spirits, chemical compounds other than ethanol are allowed to remain which speak of the materials they derive from. Hence some rum tasting of molasses, or tequila of cactus, etc. (Rye sometimes tastes like soap or pine, not sure why, but it does).

Silent Sam, from Diageo/Schenley, was the kind of spirit Charles Richardson was referring to when mentioning how Canadian whisky was confected in the last part of the 1800s. It must be recalled though that all Canadian whisky must be aged in wood barrels at least three years, so the silent spirit part is modified by such wood and air contact.

Some distillers consider that notwithstanding the great purity their neutral spirit, or grain whisky as it is known, achieves, there is still some flavour contribution from the spirit, vs. only the wood tannins and sugars it acquires from barrel aging. This could result from trace amounts of congeners – higher alcohols, acids, esters – which remain in the spirit even at 94-95% abv.

This is possible, but in my view, this extra flavour is minimal. The real flavour comes, apart from wood tastes, from the straight rye or other straight whisky added in blending. That is why they are called “flavouring whisky”, it is a distillers’ term, not mine or anyone else’s.

Canadian Whisky Perfected 1870-1894

1024px-Column_stillLegend: A. Analyzer B. Rectifier 1. Wash 2. Steam 3. Liquid out 4. Alcohol vapour 5. Recycled less volatile components 6. Most volatile components 7. Condenser


Between 1892 and 1894 the Canadian Royal Commission on the Liquor Traffic held hearings to study all facets of the liquor question. This arose in the wake of burgeoning pressure for legally-enforced temperance by well-organized advocates across the country. The work and results of the Commission are well-described, here, by Jack S. Blocker, Jr., David Fahey, and Ian Tyrrell in Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: a Global Encyclopedia (2003).

At a hearing in Ontario in 1894 the Commission took evidence from a Charles Richardson, described as holding a lectureship in chemistry at the Ontario Veterinary College. In his testimony Richardson stated that he had previously worked for the Brewers Association of Canada as a chemist.

Richardson was questioned on a range of topics pertaining to beverage alcohol in its different forms. He was asked at one point if he thought the law that required aging of whisky was beneficial to consumers. In 1890, Canada enacted a law stating that whisky produced here must be aged at least two years (today it is three years). In this regard, readers should consider that two years under present U.S. law is the necessary period to call bourbon whiskey “straight bourbon”.

Richardson in the course of his answer stated that Canadian distillers were now blending whisky from two types: i) a “silent spirit” (a grain neutral spirits distilled to 94% alcohol purity and largely free of disagreeable-tasting fusels), and ii) whisky which retained its fusel oil component and required lengthy barrel- aging to remove the off-flavours.

He did not specify the percentages of each, but we know from the general literature that the amount of non-silent whisky in the blends was quite low, generally 5%-10%. This probably explains why many brands tested for a opalescence in 1892 didn’t show any, or only a slight amount, as I explained yesterday. (Cloudiness is a sign of fusel oils and therefore the presence of traditional whisky).

Richardson testified that Canadian distillers had devised this new blended whisky only since the time they were able to produce “silent spirit”, which he said was “fifteen or twenty or twenty-five years ago”. He said before that, distilling technology did not permit rectifying the whisky to silent (neutral) status. In other words only long barrel aging produced a clean pleasant taste albeit one not neutral certainly.

Richardson’s explanation is confirmed in Tanya Lynn MacKinnon’s masterful study (2000) of the historical geography of the early Ontario distilling industry. This was the period in which a handful of industrially savvy distillers emerged to dominate the market by 1900: Hiram Walker, Gooderham & Worts, Wiser, Corby, and Seagram.

MacKinnon explained that up to around 1850, Canadian distillers used the old fashioned pot still. Starting from the 1850s, some distillers invested in the newer, three-chambered column still (a form of it is still used in France to make Armagnac). The spirit was brought to 50 Over Proof in the old British proof system, or 85.6% abv. The new distillate was then filtered in vats holding layers of charcoal, stones, and felts.  Readers who are familiar with Jack Daniels and its maple charcoal leaching might reflect that it is nothing new, simply a survival of general 19th century practices. Tiny apertures in these materials trapped some of the oily fusel matter, the stuff that gave the spirit a petrol smell and taste. Canadian distillers used the same techniques as Jack Daniels still vaunts today, but with the same limited results: the spirit was further cleansed but not to the degree getting it to 94% abv purity would do.

By the time of Confederation (1867), the most ambitious distillers were using yet newer technology which involved condensing the spirit in a second, rectification column. The first column got all the alcohol out of the weak cereal beer, the second one brought it to 94% abv or practical neutrality. The old charcoal vats were dismantled, and the era of modern distilling arrived.

The new vodka-like drink didn’t taste like the whisky people remembered from the pot still or single column still, charcoal filtering days. So Ontario distillers started to add a little of the traditional whisky to the silent spirit type, with all of it aged for at least two years after 1890. This became the Canadian whisky style, and the original straight whiskeys dropped out of the market.

Some of those older whiskeys were straight rye made from all-rye or a mash in which rye predominated, which is why the name rye whisky lingered to describe the new blended form.

Thus, by the 1890s when most of what was in a Canadian whisky bottle was made from corn, the name “rye” stuck to describe our national whisky type.

When you read Charles Richardson’s testimony carefully, it is clear he considered the new Canadian whisky quite different from traditional whisky. The blend was preferable to the old form only when the latter hadn’t been properly aged. That is, he implied that traditional whisky distilled at a low proof was superior to the new blended form when properly aged. Hence his approval of the two year aging rule although by the time that rule became law most Canadian whisky was blended. Aging might improve the taste but it was the silent spirit that did the brunt of the work to make the drink palatable.

While opining that adding real whisky to silent spirit cannot copy real whisky Richardson stopped short of calling the new form factitious or adulterated. Some in the international whisky industry at the time were not so reticent including a group of traditional distillers in Ireland and U.S. bourbon makers.

Uncertainty over what was really “whisky” led to a legal definition being adopted in the next 20 years in Britain and the U.S. The decision in both places was that silent spirit made from grain (vs. say sugar) was entitled to the description of whisky. Canada followed the same path, as it had earlier in regard to the blending revolution that gave rise to this problem. In other words U.K. and U.S. distillers were adopting blending when Canadians did, it all happened around the same time.

Richardson’s statements were probably largely lost on the Royal Commission. I doubt the Commissioners understood the technical reasons behind his testimony, and the questioning soon turned to other topics.

What this history shows us is that by 1894 Canadian whisky was mostly (aged) neutral spirits and no longer straight whisky. It had assumed the mild form we know today, in other words, e.g., Canadian Club or Crown Royal.

But Canadian distillers recently have issued products whose character stretches back to an earlier time than the 1890s, when whisky still had piney, petrol, or waxy notes. That was considered traditionally the “whisky” taste especially at a time when whisky was little aged if at all.

Some of the new products from Canadian distillers taste like this again although as a group the whiskies are probably much better than anything known in the early 1800s. This is due to the longer aging they now receive, three to 12 years or even more.

Note re image above with legend: the image with legend is by Karta24 (Own work – Création personnelle) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, and was sourced here. It is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Canadian Whisky In the 1890s

1024px-Coffey_StillIn the 1890s the Canadian government analyzed numerous food and beverage products for adulteration, this in the wake of then-new consumer legislation. Beer, butter, coffee, tea, were some of the substances analyzed in government labs – and whiskey. The analyses are very useful.

Canadian whisky was not found to contain harmful substances. Sugar, and glycerine (for body) were sometimes found, but in small amounts, nothing that should cause concern. The alcohol levels – both “draught” (in barrel) and “case” goods (bottled) – were sometimes found too low, under 40% abv often. This was a situation which attended many alcoholic drinks back then and arose usually from duplicitous retail practices.

The most interesting finding was that almost all Canadian “rye”, sometimes called “old rye”, showed no “opalescence” when diluted with water. This was a test used to detect the presence of congeners or secondary chemical constituents, in a word the fusel oils characteristic of spirit distilled at a low proof traditionally in a pot still vs. neutral spirit from the newer patent stills. One product showed slight opalescence and was thought therefore to be a blend of traditional whisky and neutral spirit.

In one of the assays (there were several for a few years), “old rye” from Seagram showed considerable genuine whisky character under this test, which makes sense judging by the name: straight rye was surely the original type, made in western Pennsylvania and New York before Ontario was settled, and adopted in Canada. Straight rye was “the” U.S. straight whisky before bourbon overtook it later in the 1800s.

In addition to other period evidence, this suggests that a lot of Canadian whisky by the late-1800s was aged neutral spirit and if it contained any flavouring whisky, it was a very small amount. Different qualities were probably produced following the emerging Scots practice, as Usher, John Walker, Teacher and others there were evolving blending in a way that would have been noticed in Canada. The links to Britain were still strong before WW I.

By this time, corn (maize) was the main grain used in Canadian whisky production. Before 1850, other grains were used, notably rye, wheat, oats, and barley malt. The term old rye must derive from that earlier time when, before the column or patent still was in general use, spirits were made on Scots or Irish lines – or akin to how Dutch geneva gin was made which is rye-based. Note in the table linked above how well Dutch genever scored for pot still character.

Before 1850, some, not all of Canada’s pot still production was from a mixed mash: wheat, barley, oats, rye. The strong taste of rye as against corn and wheat might have impelled distillers to call their product “rye” too.  Bourbon today which has a high rye content, e.g., Old Gran-dad, has an evident rye taste for example.

In the 1890s, the whiskeys produced in Canada were the new patent still form of rye, “bourbon” (perhaps aged in new charred barrels but judging by the analyses mentioned, typically from neutral spirits too), Scotch and Irish whiskies, which were barley-based, and white wheat whisky, which was similar to today’s vodka. There were no appellation rules then or sophisticated trade accords to protect distinctive national products, all this came later.

At some point, by the 1890s or a little later – perhaps as a spin-off of the “what is whisky” controversies in Edwardian Britain and Teddy Roosevelt’s America – Canadian distillers perfected the blending of whisky which relied on a little straight whiskey being added to aged neutral spirit to bump up the flavour. Straight rye was generally used for the straight element, but not invariably. Some distillers used a bourbon, Scotch, or Irish-type whiskey. Rum could be used too, or brandy.

Setting aside the new crop of releases I discussed yesterday, it is evident that Canadian whisky, post-Hiram Walker, post-Jos. Seagram and the other distilling pioneers, was a mild-tasting drink. That is its nature, and it has achieved wide consumer acceptance, at least up to now.  To produce a clean mild alcoholic drink in the 1890s was a feat of technology. “Heavy” spirits – distilled under 160 proof or 80% abv – had an unpleasant chemical taste from the oily congeners unless aged six years and more. Buy a three year old Kentucky bourbon, not to mention the white dog, or unaged straight whiskey, being sold today by craft distillers, to see the challenging taste involved.

What Hiram Walker and his peers introduced, plain Jane as it may seem to some of us, was applauded by all except a few hold-outs in Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, the Scottish Highlands and the hollows of green Ireland. I’d like to include the ravines of Toronto and port towns of Lake Ontario in that, but I can’t.

Note re image: the image of an Irish column still is by HighKing (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. It was sourced here. Believed available for educational or historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Canadian Whisky’s Top End



For many years, Canadian whisky was what one writer has called a compromise spirit, meaning it did not achieve the quality of the single malt or bourbon category, but had a ready market due to its versatility (especially for mixing) and price.

The reason for this has a complex historical and technological background, but to summarize, Canadian whisky is typically a blend. A blend means, most of it is a vodka-like, neutral alcohol (made from grain), but aged in wood for at least three years. This aging imparts a degree of “whisky” flavour, but the neutrality of the spirit when young means it can never mature in the way a traditional whisky would. The traditional types were and are made in pot stills. The more industrial and modern column still is used to make the neutral type but it can also be used to make the older type. It is not the type of still which counts but the type of whisky you want to make.

Using a little of this traditional whisky (5%-10%) to “flavour” a much larger amount of aged neutral spirit became the Canadian style. Often too, sherry or sugar of some kind is added to round out the whisky’s flavour or give it a browner tint.

For almost 60 years, this became the only style you could buy in Canada that was produced here. To drink straight whisky – in effect the flavouring whisky uncut – you had to buy U.S. bourbon or single malt whisky. The Canadian distillers made the straight type, but used it only for blending. In America and Scotland, straight whiskeys were also used for blending – Seagram 7 Crown, Cutty Sark, say – but the straights – the original type – were never taken off the market as in Canada.

With the rise of the whisky renaissance, Canadian distillers have started to release their straight whiskies uncut or produce blends with more straight whiskey than in the past. In either case, the flavour result will be much more impactful than the classic restrained Canadian blend such as Seagram V.O. or Alberta Premium.

Dark Horse, Lot 40, Wiser’s Legacy, Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye, Seagram Northern Harvest, all fall in the new category, they are very flavourful from being 100% straight or blends in which a high percentage of straight appears. Most of them are, for the straight element, rather young in palate. Even when aged seemingly long (7-10 years), account must be taken of the fact that Canadian distillers, with some exceptions, age their whiskeys in reused oak barrels vs. the new charred barrels used by U.S. bourbon distillers. The reused barrel is perfectly good to age whisky – that is what the Scots use for their famous malts – but it takes a long time for straight whisky to acquire its maximum quality in such wood.

Putting it a different way, few people today would rate a single malt very high which isn’t at least 10 years old and often the benchmark starts from 12. Yet most Canadian straights produced for blending are much less aged than that. The reason is partly cost but also, a younger whisky will make more flavour impact on a large amount of near-neutral spirit than an old, well-modulated spirit. On its own, it may taste, as some of the new releases do, piney/congeneric, but that can be a plus for blending.

This is why the whisky pictured was of such interest to me, not so much the jazz about sour mash, but the fact it is a bourbon mash, and aged 14 years. Bourbon mash means:

i) distilled and entered in barrel in the territory traditional for bourbon, under 80% abv and 62.5% abv, respectively, and

ii) made from a mash of >50% corn plus rye and barley malt.

Last Barrels was aged in all-reused barrels, and bourbon by U.S. law is aged in new charred barrels. However, the 14 year period for which Last Barrels was matured more or less equates in palate to what you would get with half that time in new charred wood. The new charred barrel has a “red layer” (just under the black char layer) which imparts caramelized wood sugars to the bourbon. It is said to be exhausted after one fill of bourbon, but while it will take longer, you will ultimately get similar rich, wood sugar qualities in the whisky as any good malt will show.

Last Barrels tastes very much like a high quality bourbon. I doubt people would place it as “Canadian” if included in a blind bourbon tasting. But it is Canadian because it was made here and qualifies as Canadian whisky under our broad definition. The important thing to appreciate is, the straight whiskeys used in Canada for blending always were U.S., Scots, or Irish-type straight whiskeys. We never had a straight style of our own, we had a blended style of our own.

Canadian distillers should release more whiskies like Last Barrels. Their straight character – I use the term not in the American technical sense but in a broader, international one – lends an inimitable traditional whisky character. You can age the typical Canadian blend until the cows come home, and some distillers do, but more wood doesn’t equal more whisky quality, it just means more wood. Yes, other things happen too with aging any spirit.

But from a palate standpoint, there is no substitute for genuine whisky meaning in particular whisky distilled under 80% abv as all malt is, all bourbon is, all straight rye is.  (All brandy and tequila too, by the way). This is due to its complex chemical composition which results from low proof off the still vs. the nearly pure ethanol-and-water of spirit distilled at 95% pure alcohol.

The blends are all very well to be sure, they can be sold at a reasonable price – generally half or less what Last Barrels costs – and are good for mixing. But as mentioned, they cannot be compared in palate to the original straight whiskies.

Pink Gin

“On the West India Station”


One of the great gin drinks is the simplest: pink gin, or gin and bitters. Generally water and ice are added, but are optional and not additional ingredients anyway, they are dilutions.

I will let Frederick Martin speak, who wrote the essential An Encyclopedia Of Drinks And Drinking. This very useful and entertaining book had an unlikely publisher, Coles, generally known in Canada for producing resumes of literary works.

“Coles Notes” has been a student standby in Canada for generations. Somehow this house published the book by Martin, an ex- British Army officer who had long been in the wine and spirits trade. The copyright is 1978 but internal clues suggest the text was written in the late 1960s. A left field choice for Coles, but one I’m glad it made.

After first explaining that gin was a proletarian drink disdained by the merchant classes and gentry, Martin sets out the slow but steady way gin crossed social barriers. One reason was the following:

Gin was taken up by the Royal Navy, whose prestige was colossal. We do not know quite when officers started drinking pink gin. “Bitters” were originally a medicine, a specific for sundry fevers such as the Royal Navy might encounter on the West Indian station. Since Plymouth was, and is, a distilling centre, it is reasonable to assume that a puncheon of gin found its way aboard a man-of-war and that an officer of an experimental turn of mind tried taking his bitters with gin, thus inventing a drink destined to go far outside service circles.


As to how to make the pink gin Martin is authoritative:

The correct way to make it is to put four or five dashes of Angostura bitters in a suitable glass and shake out all but that which clings to the surface (unless you wish the drink to be specially aromatic). Using ice cubes, or not, to taste, pour in the gin, adding soda or plain water to individual liking. There is a gimmick version in which the bitters are fired.

As an ideal brand Martin specifies the classic Plymouth gin – the sole surviving example of a regional English style that was associated with Devon’s famous port. “Plymouth” was said to be a little more flavourful than London Dry. Martin assures us though that any London gin is likely to be as good.

I always liked Beefeater: bone-dry, good juniper notes, very pure. Never really went for Bombay and Hendricks. Some brands, especially the cheapest, seem to stint on the “botanical” flavourings and also their alcohol base sometimes is too harsh for me.

I just bought the venerable Gilbey’s which is similar to Beefeater but a touch sweeter with more orange notes I think.  Of course there has been a gin boom in recent years with many craft and newer big-company iterations, so the choice is enviable. However, the gin should not be too forward in taste as this can clash with the bitters.

Note re second image above: The painting shown is in the public domain, a fine 18th century work by English marine painter Peter Monamy. For source and further details, see here. Believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Note added July 26, 2019: see my Comment added today to an earlier post of mine on Martin’s book, regarding the well-known, late U.K. drinks writer John Doxat. I discuss there whether Doxat in fact authored Martin’s book and “Frederick Martin” is a nom de plume.



Krausmann Restaurants in Montreal – Part III


Famous for food




– From a 1939 tourist brochure in Montreal

In the last two posts I discussed the history of two restaurants with a German theme in Montreal operated by two brothers, John and William Krausmann. They hailed from Elora, Ontario but had a Germanic heritage that was reflected in the food and drinks served. John had importation rights for some prestige German and Bohemian beers including Kulmbacher and what is now called Pilsner Urquell. John’s restaurant, founded 1901, was in the financial district. It prospered for a generation but appears not to have survived, or for long, his death in 1929.

William’s Lorraine Cafe, founded in 1922, continued in business into the 1980s, changing location at least once. Since 1990, Brisket, a restaurant which offers a diverse, “Montreal” menu, operates on the last site occupied by Kraussman’s on Beaver Hall Hill.*

Brisket continues the Krausmann legacy in a modest way by including “Salon Krausmann” in its full name and also, it features the pickled pork hock dish which was a specialty of the old Krausmann restaurants.

I had thought perhaps Krausmann family descendants were involved with the Krausmann business at least until the Brisket era. This appears not so, due to a surprising twist in the history: by 1927, Krausmann’s Lorraine Cafe had been sold to Traymore Limited, a Canadian restaurant chain comprising (in that year) five cafeterias. You see in this 1927 prospectus for an issue of convertible preference shares that Krausmann Lorraine Cafe is listed as owned by Traymore. Traymore also listed the restaurant among its group on postcards showing the company locations.

traymore-cafeteriafrSince William had health problems by the mid-1920s, it makes sense that he decided to sell. It appears he had no involvement in Traymore management but may have worked at the Lorraine Cafe for a time in an employed capacity. His brother John did not sell his Krausmann’s to Traymore as far as I know, but with John’s death in 1929 that branch seems to have ended its activity.

Traymore Limited was an early restaurant chain, indeed a public company founded before WW I in Toronto. By the late 1930s, some of its locations had gone under due no doubt to the Depression. But the flagship cafeterias under the Traymore name in Toronto and Montreal continued for decades after WW II. It seems they closed in or by 1961. I suspect that Krausmann Lorraine Cafe closed for a time, in 1961 or perhaps earlier, since this advertisement in Montreal in 1964 announced a new and revived Krausmann’s in Phillips Square.

I can’t tell if the new Krausmann was in the same building as the original Lorraine Cafe. The civic numbers old and new don’t seem to tally but the Square had been redeveloped since the 1920s and maybe the building numbers changed. Anyway the new operation was still in Phillips Square.

A Mr. Jacques Fauteux was the manager and the menu was Continental, advertising English, German and Swiss dishes. Entertainment was also offered, which reprised the supper club atmosphere of the Phillips Square Krausmann’s in the 20s and 30s. In general a high tone was promised by the upbeat ad. It does not state when the original Krausmann’s stopped operating.

By the 70s, this Krausmann as I recall it had become a middle-class brasserie, primarily a lunch destination, and I don’t recall a band playing by then. The beer offered was similar to that at other taverns and certainly the era of German imports and “light and dark draft beer” proudly advertised in the 1920s had past. But pickled pork hocks were still on the menu, the family tradition of Sarah Krausmann, who was born in Alsace-Lorraine, still casting its long shadow as I apprehend it. And it’s on the Brisket menu today. Perhaps it wasn’t strictly accurate when I said that the dish has been served for 115 years as it seems Krausmann’s stopped operating for a time prior to its post-1964 revival, but it doesn’t matter, the heritage of the dish is long enough and certainly originated in 1901.

My best guess is that different ownership had taken control after the Traymore era ended and likely the Krausmann family has not been involved with the restaurants since the 1930s. Needless to say any readers who can add to this picture are welcome to comment or contact me and I’ll be happy to write a further note on the history.

We tend today to think of food service corporations and restaurant chains as ultra-modern. In fact they go back a century and more. The idea to supply a chain from one set of sources to ensure volume pricing, and manage them from a central location, made no less sense in 1914 than it does now. Traymore was a pioneering operation in Canada in this field.


I’ll leave you with a bittersweet story about Kraussman’s, in this case relating to the Toronto hotel, probably managed in that period by William Krausmann. A German had worked for a time in the hotel, then went home and ended in Kaiser Wilhelm’s army fighting England and its Dominions. In about 1915 during one of those strange moments when opposing forces declared a brief peace and would mingle in no-man’s-land sharing cigars and coffee, Canadian and German forces bantered, then returned to their own lines. As the Canadians entered their trenches, they heard a voice drifting from the German side, “Hey Eddie McDougall, want to run down to Krausmann’s tonight?”.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from this vintage and genealogical postcard site. The second is from John Chuckman’s fine Toronto historical postcards site, here. Both are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See my note in the Comments to Part I added April 1, 2018.


The Krausmann Restaurant Clan of Quebec and Ontario

Further checks allow me to be more precise concerning the history of Krausmann’s Tavern in Montreal. The main points in my last post are correct, but I add below considerable additional detail, including from a beer standpoint.

The Montreal Krausmanns, two brothers, were not from Lorraine in France, or even from Europe. They were from Elora, Ontario. Elora is a charming, small town about 70 miles from Toronto. The patriarch, Andrew (né Andreas) Kraussman, was born in Hesse, Germany in 1844. He immigrated to Ontario and became a successful innkeeper, then hotelier. His wife was Sarah Poutler/Paudler/etc. – spelling varies in different accounts – born a year earlier. Interestingly, she was from Alsace-Lorraine, which may well explain the origin of the name, “Kraussman’s Lorraine Cafe”.


Lorraine in France is mainly French in culture but with some German influence via its Moselle part and the adjoining Alsace has a distinctly Germanic tone to this day.

Lorraine Cafe may have been considered a good name for a German-style restaurant in Montreal given the dual French and German associations. Also, there is a town called Lorraine in Quebec – I was there only two days ago in fact, attending a wedding.

Andrew and Sarah married in Canada in about 1866. The family was Catholic and I mention this simply because I had thought initially the Krausmanns might be old Mennonite stock. That part of Ontario was settled to a large degree by Mennonites of different orders, they came as early as the late 1700s. The Mennonite churches are connected to Anabaptism and the Reformation, so had the Krausmanns been old stock I’d expect them to be Protestant. But Andrew and his wife came to Ontario in the third part of the 19th century.

The family expanded hotel-keeping to Toronto and owned Krausmann Hotel at King and Church Streets – the location is now an empty lot as the building was taken down in 1970.

Most of Andrew and Sarah’s children followed them in the hospitality business. There were five boys. One, Albert, died in 1915 at only 33. Andrew died the same year. John, who had developed the family’s expansion in Toronto, founded Kraussman’s Restaurant in Montreal in 1901, but not in Phillips Square, it was on 80 St. James Street, or Rue St-Jacques, the official name. This was in the old financial and historic quarter of Montreal. As will appear, the cuisine was German and appropriately, John specialized in imported German and Austrian beer. The amusing post card (pre-WW I, probably) shown below includes top international brands of the era.

After almost 30 years in business on St. James Street, John died of a gunshot in February, 1929, perhaps by his own hand. The account in the Montreal Gazette gives numerous details. I don’t know how much longer Kraussman’s on St. James Street continued. Certainly by the 1970s in Montreal, there was only one Krausmann’s, in Phillips Square. John had left no children.


John’s younger brother, William, founded Kraussman’s Lorraine Cafe in Phillips Square in 1922. That restaurant also was a success, but William died of a heart problem in Montreal in 1933. This obituary gives a respectful treatment of his career: he had obviously made a mark on the city, as had John. William left a son, William Jr., and two daughters. Two brothers survived William and John: Andrew junior, and George, who became a noted physician in Detroit, Michigan.

Krausmann descendants continued to reside in Montreal for many decades. Some may have been involved with Krausmann’s in Philips Square in the 1970s, maybe even after it moved south to Beaver Hall Hill in the 1980s. I believe the current ownership of the successor, Brisket, is unconnected.

In November, 1928 in Goblin, a New Yorker-style magazine published in Toronto in the 1920s, a deft portrait is given of the two restaurants, see here. (Blogger John Adcock has given some interesting background on Goblin, here).

The piece was written in the snappy style of the Jazz Age and intended as a guide for American tourists in Montreal. A sample:

The fame of Krausmann’s has gone as far as the pages of “Vanity Fair”, and the sidewalks of Chicago. There’s a place (or rather two places, Krausmann’s on St. James Street and Krausmann’s of Phillips’ Square) that the tourists “do” know. Krausmann’s on St. James Street is the old original, still run by the famous John Krausmann, but both restaurants specialize in the same sort of Teutonic food. Visitors with a culinary background of Hassenpfeffer, Apfelstrudel and other delicacies invariably think Krausmann’s is a wow. The Kasslerripehen at the Phillips’ Square restaurant is excellent. Interesting too, if you care for that sort of thing, are the various kinds of imported German sausages and the enormous plates of pigs’ knuckles and sauerkraut that are served at the bar. Oddly enough, you can’t get Pumperknickel at Krausmann’s. I asked for it one day and was told they stopped baking it during the war and had very few calls for it nowadays.

During the summer, Krausmann’s, St. James Street, has a steady supply of fresh-caught brook trout, which they cook to perfection and serve with “beurre noir”.

Clearly the pig’s knuckles was a house specialty, and would have been since 1901. You can still get it at Brisket today, which occupies the last location of Krausmann’s Tavern, made to the original recipe.* Albeit it flies under the radar these days the dish has been continuously served for 115 years, which must be some kind of record and deserves the renewed attention of Montreal’s food culture.

Brisket’s continues the Krausmann legacy in three ways I can see: first, in its full name, “Brisket Montreal – le Salon Krausmann“. Second, the restaurant features the famed Krausmann pickled pork hocks, so some small part of the original menu survives. Third, Brisket is a “brasserie” which in Montreal means a restaurant serving hearty foods with a good beer selection – Kraussman’s in the 70s was the same concept except continuing to offer the pork hocks as a connection to the past.

The reference to pumperknickel bread in the Goblin story is interesting. I wonder if the restaurants stopped offering it because black bread is an obvious symbol of German cooking and culture. Maybe Krausmann’s wanted to lower an obvious part of its German profile since Canada was fighting Germany in Europe. Yet that war, and indeed the Second War, seemed not to affect the fortunes of these German-Canadian restaurants. On the eve of WW II anyway I know Kraussman’s was still advertising its German menu. Maybe this changed during the 40s though, in fact I think it is likely. By the 70s the menu was mostly Canadian, or such is my recollection after a mere 40 year gap.


Above is an image of the hotel the family operated in Toronto. It is now a parking lot. I drive or walk by it quite often, never having dreamed the site was connected to the Kraussman Tavern I liked so much in Montreal c. 1980. In the same manner, never would have I thought back then that a tavern with an interesting signature dish had such a rich history, going back to swish times in early financial Canada, over to rural Ontario where its founders were born, and stretching finally Alsace-Lorraine, whence the sturdy and tasty porcine specialty of Kraussman’s probably came.

Note re images above: The first, showing the interior of the Phillips Square Krausmann’s mid-1900s, was sourced from this Delcampe.net auction page. The second, a postcard showing the St. James Street Krausmann’s (probably pre-1914), was sourced from this ebay page. The third image, of Krausmann Hotel in Toronto c. 1918, was sourced from a Toronto urban history site, here.  All are believed available for educational and historical use. All feedback welcomed.



*See my note added April 1, 2018 in the Comments under Part I.

A Classic Montreal Restaurant, Krausmann’s


In the late 1970s I was working in Montreal in a small 1960s tower still standing at 1080 Beaver Hall Hill. The street name harks back to Canada’s fur-trading days. Across the street was a typical Montreal tavern, I can’t recall the name now. It served draft and bottled beer and the tavern food of the era, some of which is still served in Montreal.

This tavern was a large room with small round tables and wooden, round-backed “bankers” chairs. The food included hamburger steak, french fries, french fries and gravy (no cheese, this was before poutine), spaghetti, pizza, and “farmer” sausage. There might also be tourtière and other French-Canadian foods, pig’s feet and meat balls in brown sauce, say. There were also small steaks, sandwiches including a club sandwich, and sometimes chicken or meat croquettes. (Croquettes seem to have disappeared from menus everywhere which is a wrong some retro-minded chef should correct soon).


I remember one waiter there, I think he co-owned the tavern. He was medium-height, slim, of calm disposition, with a pencil moustache. He was clad in a black, tuxedo-type outfit, the uniform of the Montreal tavern waiter then. You see similar dress in illustrations of English Victorian restaurants. Most waiters in Montreal by then were francophone but he was “English”. Nonetheless he spoke perfect French, unusual at the time for an “Anglais“. I think he told me he had been a policeman in an earlier career. He was probably 45 at most and could still be living. Like all good waiters he would linger with the clientele to have a chat but was Johnny on the spot when the place was busy.


Beaver Hall Hill is south of what used to be Dorchester Boulevard, and is now boul. René Lévesque, after the late separatist premier of Quebec. On the other side of Dorchester was and is Phillips Square, originally a high-end shopping enclave that served the gentry and merchant classes. You see the Square pictured in the early image above. That’s King Edward VII in the centre and he is still there.

In 1901 a Mr. Krausmann opened a restaurant on the Square’s east side, it was just outside camera range in that image, where the awning is on the right. The concept was a European cafe that mixed German and French influences, which may explain its formal name, the Lorraine Café. By the 1920s and through the second war, Krausmann’s Lorraine Cafe was a noted club venue which specialized in the dinner-and-show, an entertainment genre popular at the time in North America.

In the 1970s, sometimes I went to Krausmann’s too, by then it was just called Krausmann Tavern. I knew nothing of its 75 year history or glory days as a supper club. To me it was just a good tavern with a slightly offbeat menu. The star German dish, maybe the only Teutonic specialty on the menu by then, was the pickled pork knuckles. Perhaps it was from Lorraine, France, as Mr. Krausmann may have been. In fact, I once had a similar dish in Stenay, an old garrison town in Lorraine.

The shanks were brined and spiced, long boiled, and served with plain boiled potato and sauerkraut. It was very good with Labatt 50 or the other light-tasting beers of the time.


I left Montreal in 1983. A few years after Krausmann’s moved from the north side of Dorchester to the south side, taking occupancy where the ex-policeman had his tavern. I never visited that location but knew of the change.

In about 1990 Krausmann’s became Brisket, a restaurant that specializes in Montreal’s famous “smoked meat”, or cured and sliced beef piled high on a sandwich. It’s Montreal’s version of pastrami and corned beef in New York. Smoked meat has Montreal Jewish origins but, like the bagel, has long departed its original precincts to enter the general food scene.

While pickled pork and smoked meat may seem from different universes, both are cured specialties for carnivores. Brisket was new for the locale but in some ways it continued the older heritage.

Yesterday, I was walking down from Phillips Square to Beaver Hall Hill to look at these old haunts and lo there appeared the small, Victorian block of buildings that housed the policeman’s tavern, and then Kraussman’s, and now Brisket.

Men were doing repairs in the doorway. When I explained I had eaten there 40 years earlier, they kindly gave me a tour of the inside as it was closed until evening. It looked different than I remembered but the premises had been modified numerous times since the 1970s. Back then, small frosted glass panes typically formed the window casements in taverns, to prevent looking inside. This was common for Quebec taverns, and was probably required by law.

While the upper windows in the building have changed, look at the sidewalk level: the old frosted glass is still there!

The workmen introduced me to one of the principals, he was working in the kitchen. He was delighted to meet someone who had known Krausmann’s. Indeed the name is remembered in the restaurant’s current name, as Brisket is sub-titled Le Salon Krausmann. Not just that, he told me, improbable as it may seem, that the pig’s knuckle dish of former fame is still served – and follows the original recipe.


Their menu is a good example of how foods of various national origins can combine to form a culinary corpus in a particular area. We see spaghetti, pig’s feet and meat balls, a Middle Eastern dish or two, a hot chicken plate, (many) different poutines, and a range of hamburgers. Note the “Trappist Poutine”, I loved that one.

It’s typical popular fare for Montrealers, and Brisket pretty much covers the gamut. I didn’t get the chance to eat there unfortunately, but it is Stop No. 1 the next time I am in Montreal.

Krausmann’s had to have the pig’s knuckle dish on its menu when it launched in 1901. It is now 2016, and the same dish is still served, a hop and skip from the original location. No one has explained this to the Montreal eating public as far as I know. I doubt there are many other, if any, dishes in Montreal, or Canada for that matter, served continuously for 115 years!

You Montreal foodies on the prowl for the next sensation: go to Brisket and try its historic pork knuckles. Ask for it piping hot so you can see the steam rise as you open it up. Eschew french fries, much less poutine, on the side. You want plain boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. And drink cold blonde lager with it, the house serves Belle Gueule and St-Ambroise beer. It will do just fine, as good or better than Labatt 50.

You will taste quite literally history, not just a very good dish.

Note re images: the first image above is in the public domain and was sourced from Wikipedia, here. The last two are from the website of Brisket’s in Montreal, here.

Addendum: see my following two blog posts for additional detail on Kraussman’s, including that the family was from Elora, Ontario.


Montreal Notes

Another trip to Montreal, still here and time is short, so some quick notes. I had a Labatt 50 ale yesterday and found it very good with a subtle yet pleasing taste.  I couldn’t detect any adjunct taste and wonder if it is all-malt now. Later, I got down a Heady Topper, my first time with this beer from the influential Alchemist in Vermont (I believe). Very good too in a totally different way.

It may be hard for some to understand that if I had had another macro beer and another, even “name” double IPA, I might have disliked them both quite a bit. It’s not the category, it’s the taste of each that counts.

I also tried today a kvass, which I wrote recently was possibly made by monks who had returned from Russia to a restored Notre Dame de la Trappe in Orne, France in the early 1800s.

I have never had this before, and it’s very good too. The label says it is made from rye bread, barley malt, water and sugar. I would prefer it less sweet but clearly each brand will be different. It has an earthy taste and black colour and may well have been what the derisive-but-non-curious taster was served at La Grande-Trappe back then.

I decided today to eat a Trappist-style lunch. At the place I got the kvass, they had a small cafeteria so I had green pea soup, a slice of brown bread (German-type), a small amount of cheese, and a few swallows of kvass. Nothing wrong with it at all, of course I didn’t work in the fields half a day!

I’ll post images later.