Utica Club Pilsener: 50 Years Behind The Times 50 Years Ago

s-l300The F.X. Matt Brewing Company in Utica, NY is a legend in American brewing. The Matt family’s involvement in the business dates from 1888 although brewing had occurred onsite earlier under different guises.

At one time, thousands of small breweries dotted the country. Matt’s is one of the very few to survive the industry’s consolidation after WW II and successfully transition to the craft beer era.

Its continued family ownership is one reason. Another is that while by mid-20th century the family was committed to mass market-style brews (Utica Pilsener, Utica Club Cream Ale), it never forgot what the roots of real beer were. Not long after craft brewing revived in the early 1980s, Matt’s got involved in the scene. It did this initially by brewing beers under contract for entrepreneurs without a bricks and mortar facility.

Matt’s brewed for Matthew Reich and to this day makes a chunk of the beer sold by famed Brooklyn Brewing Company (Steve Hindy, Garrett Oliver). Matt’s introduced as well its Saranac line, beers made in traditional styles, most all-malt, which reached back to the origins of American brewing.

The first Matt in the business was from Baden in Germany. Partly because he lived so long, to 99, authenticity was always in the mind of the company. The arrival of craft beer therefore provided a natural opportunity rather than a puzzling challenge. For too many small outfits across the country, beer was simply adjunct lager, lightly hopped, pasteurized in can or bottle, difficult to differentiate from 1000 beers in the country.

In the post-war climate, success was determined by innovative advertising, production and other efficiencies, and distribution savvy. The inherent quality of the product became a bloodless “QC” matter, in and of itself salutary, but for most American breweries by the 1970s, real beer was a dim memory if it was understood at all.

thumbnail-1Matt’s was unique in holding on to parts of its heritage and understanding that the market was slowly changing. Small is beautiful was becoming a new mantra. The famous 1960s Volkswagen ads are an example, but there were many others. The Utica Club 50 Years campaign was a parallel example of the greening of business so to speak, a trend now taken for granted internationally. Here is an example of the innovative 50 Years campaign, from the Herald-Mail in Fairport, NY, July 23, 1963.

Yet, business success was –  and is – always a mixture of looking back and looking forward. In the 1950s and early 60s, while intuiting the social changes to come, Matt’s used the resources of sophisticated marketing to get a leg up in its market. It hired DDB of New York, the famed Doyle Dane Bernbach, to come up with campaigns for its beers. DDB is a Madison Avenue legend and, via its current incarnation DDB Worldwide, still an advertising powerhouse. Bill Bernbach is mentioned often in the Mad Men series…

In 1970, DDB’s David Reider explained the genesis of the 50 Years Behind The Time campaign. The slogan initially headlined a display of the Pilsener on a vintage beer tray. Later, it was adapted for a series of print ads showing black and white photos from c. 1910 with men holding beers in saloons, at picnics, and in other settings. The period dress, moustaches, and old beer mugs suggested old-fashioned values, authenticity. As for the beer itself, the ads stated it was aged a few months, not a few weeks as most current beer, and wasn’t artificially carbonated. The ads pointed out that this older way of brewing required extra space and equipment but was retained because it made for better beer.

Yet in other ways, the qualities vaunted for the Pilsener were really quite modern. The ads stated guilelessly the beer was not “bitter” (or sometimes, not too sweet, not too bitter). They freely mentioned non-malt brewing grains as an ingredient, in effect placing it on a par with barley malt by explaining that no sugars or syrups were used. Some old photos pictured dark beers, but the ads skipped lightly over this, saying simply today the beer is light.

While it is tempting to regard the campaign as a savvy attempt to make something new look old, that would be too facile. Tradition really did mean something to Matt, but the concern manifested itself in different ways in different times. The proof again is the onset of the craft beer era: Matt’s got it, when most of its competitors didn’t. Walter Matt was the executive who approved DDB’s work and was the son of the long-lived first Matt. Father and son obviously knew and never forgot what traditional brewing was. That concern was handed down to the Matts who have run the business since.

So when we look at what really ensured the success of the company, it wasn’t just business savvy, it wasn’t gimmicks, it was the respect for traditional brewing.

The_Busy_Corner.tifUtica Club Pilsener is still made by the company. It’s a relatively small part of production now, but adjunct lager is itself now part of tradition, so it has been retained, and rightly so.

A product of its era I liked, Maximus Super, is no longer made (I believe), and should be restored. Michael Jackson had good things to say about it in his first beer book (1977). It was a tasty, high octane beer, a twist on that uniquely American category, “malt liquor”.

I visited Matt’s twice in the last 30 years and would recommend it to any beer fan. The brewery is a handsome Victorian survival in a town nestled in the Empire State’s green Mohawk Valley.

If you want a sense of what the brewery and town were like at the dawn of the craft beer renaissance, read it here in Stephen Morris’ matchless The Great Beer Trek (1984).

Note re images: The images above are respectively from an ebay listing, from the 1963 press story linked, and from Wikipedia’s entry on Utica, NY. They are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All trade marks or other intellectual property shown belong solely to their lawful owners or authorized licensees. All feedback welcomed.

“The American Hop Smells of Garlic” (1906)


New York State before Prohibition was a major hop-producing area, and the industry lingered on for a time after 1933 (Repeal of the 18th Amendment).

Yet, a New York Tribune article in 1906 deprecated American hops. It did not distinguish one variety from another, and stated the hops smelled of garlic: not, as the saying goes, a ringing endorsement.

The odd taste, together with an excess of seeds, was said to place American hops at the bottom of the world league table. Indeed many sources, English and American, from the mid-1800s to the mid-20th century offered a similar view of U.S. hops. Some describe the flavour as “blackcurrant” (a funky, fruit-like taste), some called it pine-like, and some, catty or “tom cat” as English brewing technologist H. Lloyd Hind did in his Brewing: Science and Practice (1938).

In 1885, summing up international opinion, the English brewing writer Southby stated in his Practical Brewing that even the best American hops have a “coarse and peculiar” flavour. He felt they were useful as “yearlings”, aged that is at least a year when some of the strong taste would leach out, or for use in porter and stout. The strong, burned-malt taste of the dark beers would hide some of the coarse hop taste, as would the aging these beers often received.

Southby referred to the practice of “admixture” in regard to foreign hops. Many sources confirm that increasingly in the 19th century, English brewers used U.S. or Bavarian hops to blend with English hops. This would ensure that foreign flavours did not predominate, and provided a measure of consistency from year to year.

American and Canadian brewers used domestic hops for their production except sometimes for the best in the line, usually to impart a refined aroma. German or English hops were imported for this purpose. North Americans became accustomed to their own hops, in a word. Call it “terroir” before the term existed.

As lager always used less hops than ale and porter, perhaps its rise in America can be attributed in part to the feisty quality of North American hops. The increasing use of grain adjunct, or brewing sugars, also had the effect of reducing hop content, as I discussed yesterday. Both factors probably contributed to the hops seeming less “offensive” in beer.

In contrast, traditional English hop varieties were and still are clean and arbour-like, sometimes with a scent of fresh flowers. Saaz hops in the Czech lands always had a reputation for top quality. Buy Pilsner Urquell in fresh condition and you will see why. German hops in my experience are mineral, steely, strong-tasting. Sam Adams Boston lager shows them to good advantage, or the German Jever pilsener if consumed fresh again.

Despite this background, there was the odd dissenting view about American hops. Some American experts felt their hops were as good as any in the world. They were fond of noting that Britons used them freely when English hop yields were down. You will even find the odd comment from a Briton to this effect. Southby implies some of his colleagues had no issues with American hops, for example.

But the boosters could not hide the fact that American hops generally were viewed as second or third class. This only changed when the craft brewing renaissance conferred a star-quality on these hops, not just here but in Britain. So the old learning finally went by the wayside.

But was the garlic story true? It definitely was and in all likelihood, a prime example was Canada Red Vine. Before Prohibition three main varieties of hops were grown in North America: Cluster, of which one or two sub-types existed, Canada Red Vine, and Fuggle. Fuggle was the English hop of the same name, transplanted here.

Cluster was a type long grown in America, apparently a cross between a native (wild) hop and a European variety brought by early Dutch or English arrivals. Red Vine was originally from Canada, as the name suggests. It too seems to have been a genetic mixture of native and European types. For some good background, see herea recent article from the beer magazine All About Beer.


In a 2012 discussion by home brewers, one commented that he found hops growing wild in New York State. He wrote that they had aheavygarlic taste; this is clear confirmation of the 1906 news account.

Does it mean all U.S. hops back then were like that? No, but clearly as a whole the three varieties were felt inferior to German, Czech, and English hops, there was an international consensus.

What changed then to make American hops darlings of the craft beer renaissance? One reason is that new varieties were introduced. The Cascade hop, a story unto itself, was the first, released in 1972. It has a strong grapefruit and pine taste. It isn’t onion or garlic-like. While it may share some traits with pre-Prohibition hops, its clean, citric character is a new element, the result of sophisticated hop breeding.

Cascade was developed in Corvallis, Oregon under a United States Department of Agriculture hop-breeding initiative. Funding in part was provided by large brewers of the 1950s-1970s such as Anheuser-Busch. But those brewers didn’t like the results. The great American hop scientist, Dr. Al Haunold, has explained that to drinkers then after the first beer went down the second “went up your nose”.

Nonetheless a lot of Cascade was grown, used for bittering (vs. aroma) or in hop blends.

The new hop would likely have died out but was picked up by the emerging craft brewers. They were looking for something different and wanted a hop with good aroma to emulate the great English pale ales.

Anchor Brewing of San Francisco was probably the first with its 1975 one-off version of Liberty Ale. It returned as a regular production item in the early 1980s. Anchor’s Our Special Ale in the 1970s also used Cascade. This inspired newer craft brewers like New Albion in Sonoma (1977-1983) and not least, Sierra Nevada Brewing, which commenced in 1981.

Other fruity tastes such mango, tangerine, and peach characterize many of the hops introduced since the revolution worked by Cascade. They have a large following among craft beer devotees.

Yet, even some new-generation hops, as home-brewing and beer discussion forums confirm, can feature garlic, onion, cat’s pee, and so-called dank flavours. Some hops said to have these interesting flavours include Centennial, Chinook, Summit, Simcoe, Citra. Of course, much can depend on the annual crop and where the hops are grown, but I’ve noticed such flavours myself in some of these hops at times.

After all, these hops are still grown in North American soils. They are subject to a North American climate, just as American hops of Southby’s time were. Think of the pinot noir grape: you can grow it far from the original production area, but it won’t taste the same as in Burgundy, France.

And so netting things out, what was regarded as strange in Southby’s time can today be the latest rage. Really, American terroir finally was appreciated, although the garlic taste seems mostly to have subsided, thankfully.

The reasons for the turnaround are, IMO:

– taste is relative to time and place

– England’s great hop fields of the 1800s and mid-1900s have almost disappeared, so there is much less production than formerly. Hence, people will use other sources of hops

– even where English hops form 100% of the hop bill, say for some U.K. cask ales, much less is used than in the heyday of English brewing. The hops make less impact, and accordingly don’t show to best advantage viz. post-1971 American hops

–  the latest varieties of American hops offer a more diverse and interesting range of flavours than before 1933 or even between 1972 and 2000. Flavours such as orange, mango, apricot, and pineapple, if not sometimes chocolate and other exotica, now characterize these hops and the beers they go into.

Note re images: both images above are in the public domain, the first is from Wikipedia’s entry on garlic, the second is from Vol. I of H. Lloyd Hind’s 1938 brewing text mentioned above. Both are believed available for educational and cultural use. All feedback welcomed.



The Historic Rise in Adjunct Rate, the Historic Fall in Hop Rates. Bingo.


A table, attractive due to its simplicity and comprehensive reach, indicates that in approximately 35 years before 1914, the average amount of hops used in the world’s beers fell by half, to .6 lb: see the detailin this article, printed in February, 1914 in the Polk County Observer, in Oregon. Oregon was and is hop country, so an article of this nature gains additional credibility, quite apart from its inherent logic that is.

Students of brewing history know that until recently for certain types of beer (the craft renaissance), hop rates fell fairly steadily from the early 1800s. In c. 1850, nascent American lager used 1.5 lbs per hops per barrel. It remained in this range until about 1880 and then started to fall.

British ales today, excepting some of the craft revival, use much less hops than in 1914. Then, a pale ale might use 2.0 lbs per barrel, today, half a pound. There were variations of course in different producers’ practices, and some allowance should be made that average gravity for pale ale was higher then, but still.

Numerous reasons have been advanced for this. With refrigeration and often pasteurization, it is possible to keep beer stable for longer without the huge amount of hops called for in early recipes, particuarly for top-fermented ale and porter. Lager beer, due to the use of chilling in its production and processing, always used less hops than ale and porter but as mentioned that too came down a lot.

The expansion of the beer market, to include women and younger people, also has been suggested as a reason beer became progessivly less bitter.

But there is another reason, as important or more than those above. It is explained in the article linked: the more adjunct you use, the less hops you need. The reason is simple. Most grain adjuncts and brewing sugars contribute simple sugars which ferment out completely or almost. Little or no protein is left in the wort, little or no dextrin, little or no caramelized sugars which aren’t fermentable or only partly.

Each of these lends body or taste to beer. Grain adjunct and sugar thin out beer, they reduce malt flavour while contributing alcohol to the brew. If you use 1/3rd rice, say, which has very little flavour, you are dialling down your malt flavour and palate impact considerably. Anyone knows this who compares an all-malt beer to a high-adjunct one. I exclude all-malt beers which are highly attenuated but bear in mind that into the 1930s, as A.L. Nugey’s text shows, attenuation rates were much lower than today’s, I discussed this earlier.

In 1880, the “Free Mash Tun” rule became operative in England – all types of adjunct were henceforth permitted, not just sugar. Sugar had been allowed since 1845 but was not widely used until the Free Mash Tun law came into force 35 years later.

The table in the linked article shows the decline in hop rate precisely from 1880, it’s not a coincidence. America never needed that law, but adjunct use only gathered pace from about the same time. Anheuser-Busch was a key early influence in this regard. Budweiser, according to Michael Jackson c. 1985, was using one-third rice in the mash.

By c. 1900, this percentage was frequent in the American brewing industry. Premium beers used less and very rarely no adjunct, but adjunct use had taken hold of North American brewing well before 1914. Probably – it would be interesting to see figures – the rate slowly rose from 1880 as brewers gained confidence using a new material, one not permitted in lager’s spiritual home, Bavaria (it still isn’t).

Since the 1930s, adjunct use has only increased for North American adjunct lager. I don’t know what the average percentage is now, but I doubt it is under one-third and it is probably around 40%.

Britain’s famed ales use adjunct too, I am referring to the norm before the craft renaissance, but Britain commendably always used less than North America (c. 20%) and therefore, in part, used more hops.

It all makes sense but linking two well-understood pieces of data was not so obvious before I read this article, and that is after half a lifetime of studing beer’s technics. I suspect it’s similar for most who don’t haunt the precincts of the brewing classroom or lab (and even then…?).

The result of all this, something which made sense from many perspectives and worked in North America for a long time, was a race to the bottom: bland beers with little taste, light bitterness, no hop aroma.

To this action arose a reaction: craft brewing.

Note re image: this image of a rice field is in the public domain and was sourced courtesy Pixabay, here. Believed available for educational and cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.




“The Most Exquisite Conceivable Extract of Malt and Hops”


Munich’s Beer Wows Foreign Visitors in The Late 1800s (And Still Does)

An American, Edward Payson Evans*, reported in 1889 on the famed court brewery of Munich, the Hofbrauhaus, as detailed in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. While there is much in the article of interest, including an impressive and obviously accurate account of the true origin of bock beer, I will let the writer speak for himself as to the marked impression the beer of Munich made on three visitors he mentioned.

The first is General Ulysses S. Grant, who was on a world tour after leaving the White House in 1879. (In this case Evans was reporting on something that occurred a decade back).

During the Civil War Grant had been famous, or infamous, for his too-zealous interest in Bourbon. Nonetheless given his battlefield successes, Abraham Lincoln was impelled to state that if he knew the brand Grant liked he would mention it to his other generals.

The second visitor was an Australian newspaper correspondent. The third, an American professor on tour with his family.

As a conscientious cicerone, the Consul first proposed a visit to the galleries of painting and sculpture and the treasures of the National Museum, but the General declared that he had been already sufficiently bored by the works of the dead and living masters and had, since landing, become tolerably familiar with the contents of old curiosity shops in England and on the Continent, and would much prefer a change of programme. The Consul then suggested that if he wished to confine his observations to things of a distinctively local character, they would do well to begin with the Court Brewery. A two minutes’ walk brought them to this Mecca of all thirsty Munichers.

After having selected and rinsed their mugs (the tapster would disdain to fill a smaller measure) they took their places in a long file of equally ardent devotees of the goddess Cerevisia, and in due time were able to retire with their portion of the brown foaming beverage to such seats as they were fortunate enongh to find vacant. The General lifted the stone mug to his lips, and having drawn off about half its contents at a single draught, sat it down again with the laconic remark, “That’s good.”

Tradition is silent as to the number of hours they tarried over their beer, and no injudicious chronicler has kept an exact tale of the mugs tbey quaffed, but it is on record that when the Consul called at the hotel the next day and inquired what the General wished to do, the latter replied: “Well, suppose we go to that place again.”

What is here related of General Grant is the common experience of tourists. Not long since, the correspondent of an Australian newspaper visited Munich and devoted several letters to a description of the city and his impressions of the same. He was evidently in a bad mood and nothing pleased him. The so-called Athens on the Iser seemed to him to have been greatly overrated as an art center and not to be entitled to any consideration whatever as an emporium of trade. He described the architectural creations of King Ludwig I. as clumsy imitations bordering on caricatures of famous edifices and the public monuments as poor efforts to immortalize provincial celebrities, whose names were never heard of outside of Bavaria.

By a happy chance our Australian drifted into the precincts of the court Brewery, which struck him at first sight as a very nasty and disgusting place; but no sooner had he taken a good swig of the famous brewage than he turned to his fair spouse and exclaimed with enthusiasm: “Sally, this stuff is genuine, in fact it is about the only genuine thing that I have as yet found in Munich.” From that moment a complete change came over the spirits of the man. Raw winds, rainy weather, rude shopkeepers, sham architecture, weary pilgrimages to worthless works of art, and the like inamenities of the tourist’s life were all forgotten in the intense enjoyment of this most exquisite of conceivable extracts of malt and hops.

Last summer an American professor visited Munich for the first time. He arrived with his family late in the afternoon, suffering from the fatigue of a long railroad journey, and took furnished rooms for two weeks. As he sat down to the frugal supper which had been prepared in anticipation of his arrival and tasted the delicious beer which his landlady had placed before him, he turned to her and said: “I’ll take the rooms for a month”.

*Evans was a scholar with a deep knowledge of the German language and its culture. See more details here in his Wikipedia entry.

A Portrait of Berlin’s Beer Culture in 1892

A vivid picture of Berlin beer drinking in the 1890s comes down to us courtesy the digitized Pittsburgh Dispatch of December 18, 1892. The article was written by Frank G. Carpenter who later became known as a prolific, global travel author.








To write this article, he clearly had assistance from the American consulate. Without meaning anything invidious in relation to what diplomats do, it is interesting that numerous accounts of European beer and wine customs survive from the 1800s, written by diplomats or, as here, with their assistance.

One can’t avoid the feeling that those on foreign postings sometimes had extra time to indulge such interests, although the articles generally contain economic and business data, a function of foreign missions to be sure. Indeed, it isn’t just beer production and pubs whose economic impact are appraised, Carpenter explores as well the waiting profession, male and female, and the market for home servants (mainly female).

The Berlin style of beer he discussed, Weisse, still exists but without its former influence. It is a “white” or cloudy-refractive style with a component of malted wheat. Berliner Weisse can be related broadly to Leipzig’s Gose Bier, Lambic in Belgium, white beer (Wit) in Belgium especially as it was in the 1800s, and other lactic styles which sometimes are flavoured with fruits and spices. These are all top-fermented beers, “ales” viewed colloquially.

Carpenter was careful to note that Berlin liked other styles of beer as well, but he focused on the city’s home style, Weisse.

It was traditionally a weak beer, approximately 3% abv, and still is both in Berlin and as brewed by craft emulators around the world. It is also generally considered a summer brew due to its sharp taste and low alcohol.














The quantities taken in by Berliners (1892) are hard to believe but other evidence of the time is in support and being a professional travel writer, Carpenter had no reason to fib. Four quarts at a sitting was not uncommon. Students were expected to put away 10-12 quarts while many men in the workforce went higher, up to 18, some every day said Carpenter. He was an American and would have meant 32 oz for the quart, not the British 40.

But still, four quarts is 128 oz. That’s almost 11 normal-size bottles of beer, even at 2.5% abv, it equates to almost six standard drinks. Students were putting away 10-12 standard drinks, and many men went higher as a daily occurrence. These habits reflect a pre-industrial, semi-rural pattern which as a societal practice is now only mirrored during Munich’s Oktoberfest or similar events.

Of the Weisse itself, Carpenter reports:

The queerest beer I have ever seen is the famous Berlin product, known as Weiss bier or white beer, and I shall not forget my first experience with it. A man connected with our consulate asked me if I would not have a glass and he took me to a “white beer” saloon and ordered a couple of glasses of white beer. A moment later the waiter brought them. Each glass was big enough for a baby’s bath tub and there seemed to be fully two quarts of beer in it. It was the color of golden syrup and the foam which ran over the top was as white as snow. Each glass was about eight inches in diameter, and I am sure that the contents of mine would have filled the crown of my plug hat. I had to take my two hands to lift the glass to my mouth and I can’t say that I liked the beer as well as our lager or the Bavarian product. The white beer is largely foam, and it is not uncommon for the Germans to drink four quarts of it at a sitting. It is not so heavy as the Bavarian beer and a great deal of it can be drunken without intoxication.

Both then and now, Weisse was frequently dosed with a syrup of woodruff or raspberry, to flavour it and reduce the acidity. This would produce a green- or red-coloured beer. The golden amber mentioned by Carpenter is probably the beer without these additions. In the image shown of modern Berlin Weisse, the colour does rather look like golden syrup.

At the time though, the barley malt component in Berlin white derived from a darker malt than is used today. Together with the pale wheat malt, this may have produced a somewhat darker colour than today’s.

Weisse is not infrequently seen in modern craft beer bars. I saw a Berliner Weisse in Toronto recently, locally made that is, flavoured with mango. Craft versions can be good, but lactic acid in the tummy is an acquired taste (all beer is though, really). It was usual when Carpenter was reporting to eat large amounts of bread and cheese with Weisse, indeed this frequently constituted peoples’ dinner. The simple but sturdy fare may have provided a good foil for the acid beer.

The article ends on a rather American note. In explaining the loyalty of German servant women, who could work for decades for a family and received a trinket in appreciation, Carpenter said American girls would “turn up their nose” at the prospect.

Note re images: the first image shown, of Frank George Carpenter, is in the public domain and was sourced from his Wikipedia entry, here. The second image is from the website of the innovative Brewbaker pub and restaurant in Berlin, here. Brewbaker, a must-visit on the itinerary of  any craft beer fan, is at the north end of the Tiergarten in the city.

Shout-Out To Vienna Beer, 1867


In 1867 a florid travel account of Vienna must have opened a few eyes in upstanding Philadelphia, in whose press it appeared on January 5 in the Evening Telegraph. The tour included the Volksgarten, or Peoples’ Garden, where beer and food were consumed in the open air.

The Peoples Garden is still a major attraction in Vienna although it seems large-scale beer bibbing is gone from the scene.

While disavowing an ability to describe the taste of Vienna lager, the correspondent did a pretty fair job nonetheless:

The Austrian malt liquor is not, except in the cities, a common drink for the humbler classes; for wine, even out of the grape countries, is a cheaper beverage. Tastes can neither be disputed nor be described, and so those whose ill luck has prevented them drinking Vienna beer must be satisfied to hear that it is less bitter, less “capiteux”, and more ethereal in flavor than Bass and Allsop, weaker in alcohol, and more neutral in taste than other German beers; above all, that, when poured into a glass fresh from a cask just brought up from the ice-cellar, it glows like fluid amber, and is crowned with a delicate beading of bubbles, which are true bubbles of the air, and not, like the soapy foam of Scotch ale, bubbles of the earth.

To sip from a glass of Lager, puffing wreaths from a cigarette of choice Latakia, while you gaze vaguely up to a sky flaming with the gold and crimson of a Danubian sunset, and catch the rhythm of waltzes and mazurkas – this is the perfection of ignorant and mechanical bliss. And nowhere else is such blessedness so surely to be found.

“Ignorant and mechanical bliss” – that was the 19th century equivalent of chilling out. I find myself defeated by bubbles of the air and bubbles of the earth. If you can help, let me know.

The writer, clearly of British origin, felt constrained to point out that Barclay Perkins’ brewery (in London) produced almost three times what Anton Dreher’s brewery did and employed a proportionately larger work force. Still, the writer was seduced by Vienna beer, of that there can be no doubt.

A much later writer, Michael Jackson, who inaugurated more or less the Vienna beer renaissance, noted in early writings that Vienna had stopped making Anton Dreher’s foundational amber lager. He even wrote that Austrian brewers disputed with him whether amber Vienna beer had ever existed as a style. Maybe it’s different now, in Vienna, some 40 years on, and anyway craft brewers around the world regularly offer fine examples of Dreher’s ethereal lager.

Still, you can probably find it more easily in a California strip mall, or numerous corners of Toronto, than the stately city of its origin. It’s an irony not quite dispelled by the fact that, at the right time of year, the blueness of their respective sky bears a marked resemblance.

Note re images: the first image above, of the modern Volksgarten in Vienna, is used under and pursuant to Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 40), whose text is linked in the source of the image in Wikipedia, here. The second image was sourced from the Ebay.com website, here. Used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their lawful owners, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.


Munich Lowenbrau in 1895

Lowenbrau-beer_HGR-Oktoberfest (1)We have from The Sun in New York of March 3, 1895 a detailed description of Lowenbrau’s brewing process. The only thing lacking is more information on hop amounts and timing of additions, but from other sources I’d guess at least one lb hops per barrel (U.S.) was used, so like modern Sam Adams lager and possibly modern Lowenbrau itself (I don’t know).  I doubt it was under 1 lb.

The decoction mashing regimen is described in pinpoint detail, as is the aging. Surprisingly, lagering for secondary fermentation was under two months. You can add a month or two more, but the beer had to be consumed within the extra period. We are quite far here from six to nine months or more as in earlier days.

Look at the numbers, the regular lager (not the Marzen consumed in October) was 14 Plato, which is 1057 OG, and at a final abv of 4.45%, I get just under 60% attenuation. This low attenuation corresponds with similar numbers calculated by writers such as Ron Pattinson.

Today, Lowenbrau’s helles must be at least 75% attenuated if not more. I’ve seen recreation specs which start at a lower gravity than 1057 and end at a point or more higher in ABV. Now it must be said, the beer in the subject article was almost certainly dark, a dunkel.

Spaten had just introduced a blond lager the year before, 1894. I doubt Lowenbrau had one in the market in 1895 and if it did, it would have been a novelty, not something the researchers mentioned in the article would have used for their investigation.

By definition the beers were malty in those days. Irrespective of colour and to some extent taste, the attenuation mentioned by Munich’s biggest brewer of the time is a valid point to note, IMO.

There is no question too that many factors can affect attenuation: mash temperature, yeast type, malt type are the main ones. But still I think it is fair to say the 19th century Munich beers were rich and malty drinks. You can see why, in the German lands, malt was the “soul of beer” as the old expression went. It is much less so today. With higher attenuations too, and all things being equal, the significance of all-malt is less and less.

Maybe this is why, when Heineken switched (back) to all-malt 20 years ago, some observers felt it wasn’t greatly obvious in the taste. (I still will always support all-malt over any other strategy, as a philosophy it is a good place to start and end).

And so friends in Germany who support the Pure Beer Law as I do: consider please the historic attenuations of the great lager styles. Who will be the first Munich brewer to issue a special history beer following the old attenuations? Perhaps this is the perfect space for the craft brewers, yes?

Note re image: the old Lowenbrau ad was sourced here, and is believed available for educational and historical use. All trademarks shown are the sole property of their owners or authorized licensees. All feedback welcomed.


Samuel Adams Boston Lager – Quality and Tradition

IMG_20160724_151034The whole history of craft brewing is wrapped up in this beer. Introduced 30 years ago by craft brewing pioneer Jim Koch, it is by far the most influential craft lager ever made. With Sierra Nevada Pale Ale it forms a kind of Adam and Eve of craft brewing. Their progeny are the thousands of craft brews in every conceivable style on the bars of the developed world today.

Samuel Adams lager, like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, is a high-quality beer which has the advantage too of being one of a kind. Unlike the other beer, it didn’t really inspire legions of palate-emulators; rather it inspired by example. To this day, few lagers I’ve had really taste like Sam Adams lager, but countless beers lie in a direct line from Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (which itself had predecessors, notably Anchor’s Liberty Ale and New Albion Ale, but Sierra Nevada eclipsed those in importance not long out of the gate).

Ken Grossman, founder and major domo still of Sierra Nevada, is one of the most important figures in brewing history and Jim Koch, his equal at Boston Beer Company, is the ditto.  For ale and lager respectively.

A recent tasting of Sam Adams lager showed it at a peak of quality. This can is made somewhere in the U.S., the company uses different production facilities, some contracted, some company-owned. The idea is to ship the beer from the closest brewery to destination. I’ve had the lager from different breweries in the group and it is very consistent.

Despite being pasteurized, Boston Lager discloses a fine fresh brewhouse aroma. All-German hops are used, Hallertau and Tettnang. Two malts, pale and caramel, are mashed. The colour is light amber.

The beer has a long history which stretches back ultimately to Europe. Jim Koch comes from a brewing family and his ancestor, German-American Louis Koch, owned breweries in St. Louis, Mo. in the 1860s and 1870s. Jim Koch has always said that the recipe for his beer was provided by his brewmaster father from family papers. That Louis Koch made a beer similar to Sam Adams lager is obvious to me from looking at the major beer styles of German-speaking Europe when Louis Koch was brewing.

At that time, Anton Dreher’s legendary brewery at Klein Schwechat near Vienna was the brewery on the Continent. It was the biggest, with an extensive acreage and cellars and producing some 6,000,000 gallons of beer per year. According to this Philadelphia news account from 1866 relating data gleaned by Americans visiting European breweries, Dreher’s beer for local consumption used one lb hops per barrel (two for export). This 1867 press account from the Urbana Union in Columbus, OH gives further details of Dreher’s many achievements in this period.

Sam Adams Boston Lager also uses one lb hops per barrel, a figure that appeared in early literature about Sam Adams and of which I don’t doubt the accuracy today. The IBUs are in the 30s according to Sam Adams’ website, very respectable by any definition and it shows in the taste.

Blonde German lager didn’t exist in Louis Koch’s time, not in Munich certainly, the prevalent style was dark brown lager, or dunkel.  (Some yellow lager may have existed here and there in Bavaria, but its influence internationally would have been minimal). Quite plausibly Louis Koch’s beer was the Vienna type, as its hop content and colour correspond to period descriptions of Vienna beer. The accounts of colour range from “pale” to “amber”, but we should bear in mind “pale” meant light amber, frequently, in this period.

Yet Sam Adams Lager doesn’t really taste like a modern Vienna beer, it is less sweet and more bitter I think. Perhaps it ends by being a cross between a Vienna and pilsner style. Czech Pilsner beer, famously golden, had been in existence from 1842 and was the other great lager type of influence in the Austrian Empire. It may have been a model for Louis Koch as well given its early fame, equal to or greater than Dreher’s. The two kind of cross anyway since Dreher grew hops in the Saaz district and owned a brewery there.

Louis Koch’s beer probably emulated Dreher’s Vienna beer or Pilsen’s Urquell beer or both. Through an unlikely circumstance – four generations later MBA graduate and descendant Jim Koch takes inspiration from Louis’ recipe – the modern craft brewing renaissance was ignited.

The profusion of craft styles and flavours today is dizzying. From coffee bock to mango Berliner weisse, it’s all out there. A mix-and-match approach has been adopted in the search for ever-newer flavours and sensations. All good. But sometimes it’s salutary to reach back to a true classic, a beer that has inspired, endured and represents 19th century authenticity. Sam Adams lager is too easy to overlook due to its familiarity. Don’t make that mistake.




A Brace of Brandies

IMG_20160722_171343I don’t usually sip on brandy, I like whiskey when I want a hard drink. But I’ve studied all drinks, their manufacture and history, as they’re all related.

If a bunch of siblings, brothers and sisters, are the whiskies of the world, brandies, rums, vodkas et al are the cousins and second cousins.

All these drinks, of European ancestry (broadly), are distillates of a grain, wine, and molasses or sugar fermentation.

All have different flavours due to the different materials used to form the ferment from which the alcohol portion is concentrated by distilling.

In the brandy area, I buy it occasionally to top up a jug of Sazerac cocktail I keep going in an old half-gallon Michter’s crock. I blend whiskeys, brandies, absinthe or similar drinks (Pernod, Herbsaint), and Angostura and other bitters. Sometimes it goes for years, being partly emptied and then re-filled and so the flavours vary although always within a certain range given the constancy of the elements (their type).

My current one though was re-started a few months ago, based on Jack Daniels and two straight-type Canadian ryes. A couple of days ago I added the subtracted part of Valcourt Napoleon you see and the bit missing in the other one.

I’ve used Cognac too, vs. non-Cognac brandy, but I find the non-Cognac type works well and given the price of Cognac today, it’s not worth it to use it. Cognac too has a particular flavour from the loose-grained Limousin oak, a perfumed taste I’ve never really liked. The non-Cognac brandies are probably aged in American oak as they rarely have that taste. I’d guess the Limousin wood is relatively rare and reserved for Cognac.


There is a large range of brandy available today, including at our LCBO. Many countries make them, even Canada. Those from Spain and Portugal tend to be heavy-bodied and can have a heady or hothouse flowers note.

The Duff Gordon brand from Spain has sweet sherry notes too and a lush taste. The French group are generally distilled from wines made from southern grape varieties and are more austere. They vary in taste and most have internal grade categories the top of which can be very good, e.g., St-Rémy Réserve Privée.

I don’t think I’ve had Valcourt before, I know I’ve tried Villard, Cortel, St-Rémy, as well as many examples from other countries.

Of the two pictured, the Napoleon tastes less mature than the other despite being about $8.00 more in price. The odour reminded me a bit of Pisco or Grappa. The taste though shows the effects of aging and the flavour is good with a smooth, soft mouth feel. The Valcourt X.O. is more woody, almost like a Bourbon (!), more harsh on the tongue but more neutral in taste. Blended in the right way with North American whiskeys, absinthe, and bitters, it makes for a fine Sazaerac and the current batch is at a good pitch, I’ll leave it this way for a while.

IMG_20160723_074910Contrary to what some say who make cocktails for maturing in a crock or bottle, I find it doesn’t change much if at all in the container, at least not for the time I keep it. I don’t drink much of it myself but a portion is regularly removed for a devoted reader of Beeretseq.

If you age cocktail or any kind of drink in wood, that is different due to the oxidation factor. Glass or glazed earthenware keeps out out a large invasion of air – there is still some of course in the closed container, but it is fighting a massive amount of alcohol and flavouring and can’t make much headway.

The Valcourt labels state Distillerie de Matha and this is a producer of a well-known line of Cognacs, Brugerolle. I think probably the owner of the Valcourt label has it made at this distillery, unless it’s all one owner and Valcourt is the non-Cognac line.

Online sources suggest too some Armagnac is added to the Valcourt brandies. This is the famous brandy of the Armagnac region of France, made in a simple column still and aged in the sappy black oak of the region (or it was). I can’t say I tasted it but it all goes in to make up the resultant blend and I’m sure it is there for a reason.

Net net, the Valcourt labels shown are very sound but Beeretseq finds their best use in blending, meaning for Sazaerac cocktail as mentioned.

Note re image: the middle image shown is from an old New Orleans guide book (pre-Prohibition), here. Image is believed in public domain and available for educational and historical purposes,. All feedback welcomed.



Burgoo and the Senator

George_Graham_VestOf Burgoo and Horseshoes

That would be a good premise for a tv sitcom don’t you think? Burgoo and the Senator. It’s the Gaslight Era, Kansas City, Mo. A down-home favourite son, when not orating his honey-tones in Washington, tells stories in the cool granite vestibule of the old courthouse.

The show’s name comes from his uncommon knowledge of that toothsome southern specialty, burgoo. The setting is Fifth and Oak Streets, the old courthouse.

First episode opens:

Senator: “Why people did I ever tell you how a gen-u-ine burgoo is con-structed?”

Mouthy lounger: “Yessir Mr. Senator, many times”. (Murmurs of agreement amongst the multitude).

Senator: “I did? You all must be possessed of a powerful memory”.

Another in the crowd: “Tell it again suh, we like the way you talk”.

Senator: “Well son I don’t need to tell it again because some fool scribbler wrote a story ’bout me in the paper and it reached as far as Fort Worth my word”.

(Hands out copies of the Texas newspaper. The scenes unroll onscreen, following the scribbler’s tale):


A party of capitalists from the East, embracing two of the members of the Lombard Investment company of Boston, who have been here several days looking after their investments in this city, had their first taste of burgoo and their first experience of a burgoo party on the banks of the Blue river last Thursday. Several local capitalists having them in charge and wishing to show them something new under the sun, to them at least, decided upon a burgoo party and Thursday morning they started for the Blue river, bright and early, going out as far as Sheffield on the dummy line, taking carriages there and driving a number of miles up the river to a very pretty shaded spot which was sufficiently secluded to suit the promoters of the party as one of the essential features of a burgoo party in seclusion. For it should be known to the uninitiated that a burgoo party is a party where, to use the vernacular, “everything goes”.

It might be well to explain first what burgoo is and what is meant by a burgoo party. There are two definitions of burgoo extant. One is the dictionary definition of the doctrinaires who would not know burgoo from a horseshoe if they were to meet it in the road. The other is by Senator Vest and is a definition suggested by an experience of long standing, a more than speaking acquaintance with burgoo. The dictionary says burgoo is a kind of


or thick gruel used by seamen and says it is derived from the old English buryum, or yeast, and gawl, which means gruel. Without any intention of throwing obloquy on Mr. Webster one is constrained to remark after a careful perusal of the definition that he had never been within a mile of burgoo if that is really what he thinks it is. Senator Vest’s definition is much better. The senator was seated in the courthouse in this city one day surrounded, as usual, by a crowd anxious to hear one of his inimitable stories, when the conversation turned to picnics, and someone in the crowd asked the senator what in the world burgoo was.

The senator paused a moment and said: “A native Missourian who doesn’t know what burgoo is deserves to be transported to Kansas or Iowa, or some other state equally benighted, and there live out his life surrounded by Republicans and prohibition. If there is any worse fate than that on this earth I don’t know what it is.

“My dear sir, the man doesn’t live who can tell you what burgoo is for the simple reason that no two kettles of burgoo were ever made alike. But perhaps by relating a little incident that happened at a burgoo pnrty that I participated in once I may give you a pretty good idea of what it is. The picnic was held on the Current river, a beautiful stream in the southern part of this state, famous for the clearness of its waters and the swiftness of its current. It was several years ago but I remember the day as well as if it was yesterday. When I drove up it was quite late and everybody else was on hand. The burgoo was in course of making then and although I had frequently eaten it I had never seen it made, and wanted to see exactly what went into it.

“You will find it is always the old man of the neighborhood who makes the burgoo, and walking over to the big caldron, I found him stirring about in a thick bowl of soup with a big stick. He dropped in a piece of chicken, a squirrel, a rabbit, onions, cabbage, parsnips, fresh beef –  well I don’t know what else he didn’t put in. Right above him a big tree spread its boughs and on the limb over the caldron was


While I was trying to engage the old man in conversation – a futile task by the way – right down into the soup there dropped a young woodpecker. The pin-feathers were just sticking out of its wings, and its lone neck und head didn’t have a feather, while its eyes stood out like goggles. The old man paused stirring for a moment as if a little startled; and then resumed as he remarked ‘Just in time, just in time!’. That’s about the best idea of burgoo that I can give you.”

The senator’s definition gives a pretty good idea of what burgoo is. Anything from the heavens above or the earth beneath that falls into the caldron is as the old man said “just in time”…

(The story continues, ever more rollicking, in the Fort Worth Daily Gazette, August 24, 1890. Read the remainder, here, and your imagination will unroll further tv scenes as effortlessly as a cup of good burgoo will go down. Or a cup of good sour mash, for that matter. The two, often, went together).




Note re images. The first image above, of U.S. Senator George Graham Vest of Missouri (Dec. 6, 1830 – Aug. 9, 1904), is from his Wikipedia entry, and is in the public domain. The second image is of the Current River in Missouri and was sourced from the Southeast Missourian’s websiteBoth are believed available for educational and cultural purposes. All feedback welomed.