A New Whisky From Toronto Distillery Co.

first-barrels-color_edit1Toronto Distillery Co. is releasing its First Barrels Straight Canadian Whisky, one of the few aged whiskies released to date by an Ontario craft distiller. It is listed at $49.95.

[Disclosure: The brewery gifted me a bottle. I mention too with pleasure I was recently named Historian-in-Residence of the Ontario Craft Distillers Association].

Toronto Distillery Co. is a venture of Charles Benoit and Jesse Razaqpur, both lawyers who entered the craft spirits field. Until now they have focused largely on unaged (white) grain spirits, as well as a gin and an applejack (the applejack got some aging).

Each grain spirit is distilled from 100% of a given grain, corn, rye, and wheat to date. A beet spirit is also produced which expresses the pure flavour of that vegetable. A shot of it in borscht is dynamite.

Distillation proofs vary but are below 95% abv – the U.S. ceiling to define a grain distillate as “whisky”. This leaves plenty of  flavour in the spirit, what the late Michael Jackson called “distillery character”.

Charles explained that he likes to highlight particular characteristics of rye, wheat, or corn in a distillate and for an aged product that the caramel and vanilla of the barrel balance (not efface) those characteristics.

The white rye spirit has a strong spicy nose, something you can connect to the more forward Canadian rye whiskies but much more floral, the Marshall amp vs. unplugged, you might say. The wheat spirit is always the mildest, as bourbon fans know from comparing wheat-recipe bourbon to a rye-recipe.

First Barrels evokes the days whisky was made on the frontier, when processing was minimal and flavour maximal, but with 21st century process control and modern still technology.

Many world spirits are consumed new or with moderate aging and always were, everything from rum to tequila to arak. (I don’t include vodka since it is made from the get-go to be neutral in taste).

For First Barrels, Charles and Jesse combined barrel-aged rye, corn, and wheat spirits. The barrels were all new charred wood, similar to those used for bourbon. Aging was from two to 26 months. The 26-month-barrel was made by Pete Bradford at Carriage House Cooperage in Prince Edward County, ON and aged the soft winter wheat distillate. Its irregular size of 90L reflects the artisan scale of this small traditional cooperage.*

Part of the wheat was toasted: lightly kilned before being milled and mashed. All grains used are certified organic. No malted grains were used, a practice shared by many large distillers. Commercial-grade enzyme is added to assist conversion of the starches to fermentable sugars. The reason is simply that malted grains produced no flavour enhancement when tried in the past.

First Barrels has a creamy mouthfeel and pleasing, natural, wood tones. Think blonde butterscotch combined with Turkish delight combined with good alcohol (42% abv).

In my view, it is analogous to a reposado (“rested”) tequila, a French marc brandy given some aging, or an Irish pot still or U.S. straight rye if not too aged.

First Barrels is part of a diverse and ever-growing spirits market and is hand-made, artisan, home-grown.


* 770 liters of the whisky was aged in 90 to 110L Canadian Oak barrels provided by Carriage House Cooperage and Canadian Oak Barrels. 217 liters of the whisky was aged in 10-20L American Oak barrels provided by Thousand Oaks. The smaller American Oak barrels were since sold off to home brewers, mostly from Toronto Home Brewing. Going forward Toronto Distillery Co. is planning to use just Canadian Oak.




Pabst Brewery in the Gilded Age



Pabst Brewery celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1894 and issued a swish commemorative volume. In my intermittent series on lavish corporate histories of the 20th century or earlier we see a here prime example, where no expense was spared to produce a frothy-prosed triumph of gas lamp-era marketing.

Every corner of brewery operations was explored from brewhouse to bottling to the aging in cellars and much more. The book’s main feature is its lavish pen and ink illustrations, giving good details and almost like photography.

image-37There is only one failing: no description of the current product line. A couple of illustrations are included of bottles sold, included here.

Above you see a fine depiction of what were probably the three main styles of the company: Export, the older type of American lager which was light amber or reddish brown as I’ve discussed earlier (possibly more a Vienna type than anything else); Bohemian, an emulation of the pilsener first released at Pilsen, Bohemia in 1842; and a Munich-style dunkel or dark lager.

Below you see the famous Pabst Blue Ribbon – and the origin of “blue ribbon” in the name, reflecting an award it won at the World Columbian Exposition or Chicago World’s Fair, 1893. This may be the Bohemian beer in new dress.*

Malting is discussed in good detail and a picture is shown of the older floor malting system vs. the new pneumatic method recently introduced.

There is no reference to corn or to rice. While American scientists confidently proclaimed the virtues of these cereals in an American context, the book, which hardly shrinks from the smallest production details, doesn’t go there. I think this reflected some uncertainty, particularly when German and Austrian eyes would page the book, whether cereal adjunct really showed an advance in American brewing. The scientists were not so reticent but they were talking largely to a professional audience.


In 1893, the company sold 1,300,000 barrels per annum. Of that number, some 15% was bottled. While admittedly the bottling number was growing annually (per the book), I was surprised it wasn’t much higher. As I have explained, American scientists, led by J. Siebel, A. Schwarz, M. Henius and R. Wahl, laid stress on the need for American beer to use raw cereals so bottled beer would not cloud under often-adverse shipment and storage conditions.

Yet in the 1890s, when adjunct use was well-established, Pabst was selling only 15% of its production in that form. The same had to be true for the competitors because the narrative explains that Pabst bottled more beer than most other brewers.

image-39This suggests to me that other factors were at work in the calculus of using 10-50% grain adjunct in the mash (a datum from Wahl & Henius’s 1902 brewing text) including the higher yield of this form of starch as against barley malt – i.e., it was cheaper.

Withal this book shows the power, status, and confidence of American brewing and more generally American industry at close of the 19th century. The future seemed bright – quite literally as the revolution of electric light was nigh.

Yet within a generation the superstars of American brewing and the smaller time players would be brought to their knees. Not by foreign competition. Not by wine, coffee or Coca-Cola. But by purse-lipped Prohibitionists, a nativist motley of preachers and social engineers/reformers who felt they could refashion an ethos existing for millennia. And they did, for a time. But Pabst emerged from the wreckage, and still makes Pabst Blue Ribbon, amongst other brands.



*Further reading suggests that Pabst Blue Ribbon replaced the brand previously called Best Select. This may have been different from Bohemian, perhaps with less body/more adjunct. Also, the question of what Pabst won at the 1893 Exposition is a little tangled, see this discussion by historian Neil Gale. One thing that seems clear is the brand carried a ribbon for some years before the Exposition.

Note re images: the image above are all sourced from the 1894 Pabst publication linked in the text. All trade marks or other intellectual property in or to the images belong to their owner or any authorized licensees. Images are believed available for educational or cultural purposes.  All feedback welcomed.

Ridgely Hunt Dishes on the Bourbon Industry

bourbon-supreme-1962In 1964, a feature appeared in the Chicago Tribune, “A Billion Barrels of Bourbon”, profiling American Distilling Inc.’s business in Pekin, Illinois. This kind of article had not appeared in the American press for a long time, if ever. A generation had to pass after Repeal for the detailed workings of a whiskey distillery to be acceptable, even tempting, public fare*.

The article has the stamp of the consumer society. Increasingly, buyers of liquor wanted to know who made their brands and how.

By 1964, consumerism was an indelible part of the business and social fabric of North America. We have seen how Consumer Reports, the product-rating magazine and service, helped pioneer this approach. It got its start in New York City in the late 1930s. I discussed also how a New York newspaper set up a product testing institute during the first world war and ran pieces analyzing and rating everything from soup to near beer. It was run by a former government mandarin who was the right-hand man (woman, actually) of the famous Dr. Wiley, author of legislation designed to protect buyers of foods and beverages.

The trend was also noticeable in the form of burgeoning food and wine columns post-WW II, wine clubs, books such as Ralph Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed or Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and Julia Child’s and Graham Kerr’s first tv shows.

Ridgely Hunt was a Trib writer and editor. The piece is very amusing with many arresting turns of phrase. Apart from being better written than most beverage alcohol journalism today, a similar piece could appear with virtually no change, despite that is the 50 years gone by. All his central points: examining the source of a well-known product, delineating some history, interviewing management and workers, explaining the production method, are today stock features of food and beverage writing.

There are antecedents to articles such as these stretching back to the 19th century – lengthy pieces describing visits to London’s porter-breweries, for example. But by 1964, in the flush of America’s business expansion of the 1950s, the template was perfected and hasn’t changed much since.

The head honcho of American Distilling explained that its flagship product, Bourbon Supreme, was light-bodied in keeping with the post-war trend (one that would continue until about 15 years ago). A photo-illustration speaks of a second distillation stage involving charcoal, and period ads also mentioned this apparently unique feature. It seems to have been more than merely dumping powdered carbon in the finished spirit, but anyway people seemed to have liked the results. The brand still exists, owned by Luxco, a well-known non-distilling producer. I am not sure it is still marketed but I recall seeing Bourbon Supreme on the shelves about 10 years ago. Of course by then, it was made by another distiller, probably Heaven Hill of Bardstown, KY.

The Pekin distillery still exists, it is partly owned by MGPI,  a midwestern distillery known for its distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, a producer of bulk whiskeys (and other alcohol). However, the Pekin plant today makes no whiskey. It produces industrial, fuel-grade, and beverage-grade alcohol, the latter presumably for vodka.

The earlier history of American Distilling Inc. is well-described in this blog entry from American historical whiskey blogger, Jack Sullivan.

I leave you with some choice words from Ridgely Hunt:

“Distillers today maintain a feverish affability, as if an ingratiating manner might ward off the ghosts of the Volstead act”.

Or his comment on a brand of vodka produced by the company:

“[It comes] in nine appalling flavors including lemon, grape, and coffee”.

Finally, one of the handwritten labels Hunt found “cryptic” on a bottle in the company’s lab:

“Orange gin including new flavor”.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from Vintage Booze, a repository of classic beverage labels, here. All trade marks or other intellectual property in or to the image belong to their owner or authorized licensees. Image believed available for educational or cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*In the early 1950s an article in Fortune magazine, well-known to bourbon historians, profiled Jack Daniels. It presented many of the features of the Chicago Tribune story, but was less broad-based so to speak and after all appeared in a business magazine, not a family newspaper.





Eminent American Brewing Scientist Anton Schwarz

Of the founders of modern brewing science in America, three figures were pre-eminent: John Siebel, Max Henius, and Anton Schwarz. Perhaps Robert Wahl should be bracketed with them, he co-authored with Henius the 1902 American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades, a landmark publication in U.S. brewing history, amongst many other writings.

They brought brewing in America – North America – from rule of thumb, empirically-based methods to a systematic, science-based approach. One that is where practice was continually informed by science. These men introduced in North America or helped standardize cereal adjunct brewing (primarily Schwarz), pasteurization, pure yeast culture, refrigeration, and many other innovations, most of which remain today at least in mass market brewing. They also founded influential brewing schools in Chicago and New York, Schwarz’s school in New York, United States Brewing Academy, was the first (1882) to continue on a permanent footing.

All were European-born except Wahl although his name suggests a European, probably German, heritage. Henius and Schwarz were Jewish-born, in Denmark and Bohemia, respectively. Henius’s father was a Polish-born emigre to Denmark of modest origins who made good in the distilling business.

Contemporary references to both including professional notices and obituaries rarely if ever mentioned their Jewish background. I am not sure why this is, I think they were not practicing Jews, and probably agnostic or atheist in belief. This plausibility is increased, although certainly not guaranteed, given their training as scientists.

Nor do they seem to have professed a cultural attachment to Judaism. Schwarz was buried in New York’s Cemetery of the Evergreens, for example, established in the mid-1800s specifically as a non-denominational cemetery. Their obits I have been able to find refer to their support or involvement for example with Danish (Henius) and German (Schwarz) cultural bodies, but not specifically Jewish ones.

Given American brewing then was largely a German-influenced world and Jews were far from numerous in that sector of industry, one wonders if people like Henius and Schwarz downplayed their background, particularly as Europe was still a breeding ground of anti-semitism as melancholy events proved only too well in the 20th century. This is speculation though.

As a Jew, Schwarz’ career was noticed by the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, which had this to say of him and also his able son Max, who died even younger than his father:

Austrian chemist; born at Polna, Bohemia, Feb. 2, 1839; died at New York city Sept. 24, 1895. He was educated at the University of Vienna, where he studied law for two years, and at the Polytechnicum, Prague, where he studied chemistry. Graduating in 1861, he went to Budapest, and was there employed at several breweries. In 1868 he emigrated to the United States and settled in New York city. The following year he was employed on “Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer” (“The American Brewer”) and soon afterward became its editor. A few years later he bought the publication, remaining its editor until his death. He did much to improve the processes of brewing in the United States, and in 1880 founded in New York city the Brewers’ Academy of the United States.

Schwarz’s eldest son, Max Schwarz (b. in Budapest July 29, 1863; d. in New York city Feb. 7, 1901), succeeded him as editor of “The American Brewer” and principal of the Brewers’ Academy. He studied at the universities of Erlangen and Breslau and at the Polytechnic High School at Dresden. In 1880 he followed his father to the United States and became associated with him in many of his undertakings.

Both as editor and as principal of the academy he was very successful. Many of the essays in “The American Brewer,” especially those on chemistry, were written by him. He was a great advocate of the “pure beer” question in America.


  • The American Brewer, New York, Nov., 1895, and March, 1901.

The depth of Schwarz’s scientific achievements can be best gleaned from John P. Arnold’s and Frank Penman’s History Of The Brewing Industry And Brewing Science in America (1933)Max Henius was still living and an essay is included from him referencing Schwarz’ many achievements in brewing science (Henius saluted John Siebel as well, giving them both equal billing in the pantheon).

When Anton Schwarz died, numerous trade and professional journals lauded him in unusually expressive terms. Here is one example, from Henius and Wahl’s American Brewers Review (see top-right column, double-click for high resolution):


Here is another example (pp 54-55) of the very high regard in which he was held, from the Proceedings of the 36th Annual Convention of the United States Brewers’ Association. The writer, a graduate of Schwarz’s school, noted that every year the school provided a free seat in its programme for an impecunious student.  The writer had occupied that free position and his gratitude was very nicely expressed.

The passing of the elder Schwarz, at a relatively young age, was attended by an element of mystery. Obituaries stated he was a heavy smoker which apparently contributed to his early demise, but some accounts used the term “peculiar” to describe his passing. A son, Gustave, later told newspapers that his father had suffered from heart ailments for years and died from this cause.

Anton lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in a handsome brownstone. He worked in Manhattan in Chatham Square, pictured below in its heyday.


The tragedy of Anton’s passing was deepened by the fact that his widow, Augusta, took her own life not long after, at only 48. Augusta, the second wife, hailed from Stuttgart and was the daughter of a brewer. She must have participated with her husband in their financial affairs as the press noted she owned numerous properties in the Brooklyn area.

As recounted in the New York Sun, she was disconsolate, had medical issues, and seemed worried that a contest would ensue over his estate involving the stepchildren. Oddly to my mind, the story suggested she had confessed to a loveless marriage not long before her husband died. The manner of her passing, involving gas, poison, and a self-inflicted gunshot, were gruesome. The spectacle of the dying mother must have shocked her son who found his mother after hearing the shot.

Just a few years later, in 1901, Max, a son of Anton from his first marriage, died at only 38 after a failed appendicitis operation. Max, too, received warm tributes from his colleagues judging from eulogies in the brewing trade press. He had continued his father’s work and assumed sole direction of The American Brewer. Given Anton’s first wife had died in Europe when his first two children were very young, this was a family which tragedy had touched in unusual proportions.

Tasting Two Modern Viennas, And The Historical Ottakringer

img_20160924_162623_editLet’s drill down on historical Ottakringer. In one of Ron Pattinson’s always-impressive tables, two samples from the brewery are included in a group of Vienna beers analyzed in the 1870s. As Ron notes, the data was from Julius Thausing’s brewing text of 1882. This was an English translation of the original German, edited with another by Anton Schwarz, the influential American brewing scientist.

(Schwarz was born and educated in what is now the Czech Republic but made his career in the United States. I’ll have more to say on him soon, but he had studied law before mastering a rather different field, chemistry. He was of Jewish background, one not commonly encountered in the brewing and allied fields. It’s something he shared with fellow-brewing scientist Max Henius and indeed the Kuffner family who owned Ottakringer from 1850 until they were forced to sell in the Nazi era).

The first Ottakringer in the table, sourced at a hotel in Vienna, had an ABV of 4.89 and FG of 1015.70. The second, from the brewery’s taproom, had ABV of 4.15 and a gravity of 1009.80.

The first has lower final gravity than Dreher’s beer I discussed yesterday (1019.76) but one may note the Dreher is almost a point higher in alcohol, 5.64%. But 1015.70 is considerably higher than modern Ottakringer’s 1007 while the modern beer is higher in alcohol by about a half-point…

The second Ottakringer from the 1870s is closer to the modern in FG, almost 1010 FG vs. 1007, but that is still 3 points different – and the oldie was weaker by more than 1% abv.

I think it can be seen the 19th century Ottakringers had to be much richer in taste.

As for Dreher, Ron – see his table under “Schwechat” – gives gravities for three of them, all about 1017, so three points less than the Dreher the British analyzed in 1869. But the 1869 beer was 5.64% abv – higher by at least a point than any of those three beers. So the difference in FG is not as significant as may seem and anyway 1017 FG is a rich beer, I think most would agree. To get a sense of what this means, modern Pilsner Urquell is 1015 FG and 4.4% abv. Dreher’s beers in the 1870s analyses were about the same alcohol but richer even than Urquell, a beer few would call dry…

Viz. the modern Ottakringer Vienna, even if you took the mid-point in FG of the brewery’s 1870s beers, or 1013 (to round a bit), again that is a much fuller body than 1007 would produce.


Comparing now Ottakringer’s current Vienna to a local craft version (the beers pictured), I would say the Ottakringer has the edge. It is simply more complex even while not being particularly rich. The Lake of Bays one, perhaps a bit on the dark side for the style, has a good rounded taste. Indeed it’s fuller-bodied than the Ottakringer, but less impactful albeit (presumably) non-pasteurized vs. the pasteurized import.

All modern Oktoberfest- and Marzen-designated beers provide another basis of comparison to the Ottakringer as these styles are all related. Their history is complex and a bit tangled, but broadly I think it is fair to say they are in the same family. The signature (IMO) is a caramel edge but without the pronounced dark toffee of Munich dunkel. A pils or helles beer is drier than either with little or no Maillard notes.

“Vienna”, it should be stressed, was primarily based on the malt type. The beers of Vienna in the 1800s could be of different strength, hence the different designations in the table linked (Export, Lager, etc.). As Thausing’s book makes clear, Vienna lager (in the broad sense) also had particularities of mashing and hopping method. But the malt was the key and in this sense, the colour and flavour of Ottakringer’s recreation are authentic albeit the beer could – should IMO – be richer in taste.



A 19th Century Vienna Beer Is Recreated – In Vienna



In the last couple of years, the venerable Ottakringer in Vienna has released its Wiener Original. It is in our TBS (The Beer Store) at the moment, and about three months from packaging, new enough by international standards. (I don’t like to go longer though).

This is what Ottakringer says about the beer on the website:


Our master brewer’s latest creation makes beer lovers’ hearts leap for joy. This historic beer composition made from Viennese malt and melanoidin malt as well as fine Saaz hops captivates you with its eye-catching amber-coloured reflexes. Smell and taste reveal a fine nutty note turning into an elegant malt aroma. In its finish, Wiener Original leaves a distinct, yet smooth bitterness. This highly drinkable creation goes extremely well with traditional Viennese cuisine and is based on a recipe of the Ottakringer brewery dating back 100 years.

ABV: 5.3 %
Original gravity 12.0°

Like most Austrian, German, and practically all breweries anywhere, the house standard is a pilsener derivation, in this case a helles which is a big seller and hometown favourite. In other words, the preferred beer of Vienna today is not the Vienna style properly speaking, that is more a historical datum today.

I tried the helles on draft in Vienna a few years ago. I regret to say it didn’t appeal, it had a strong boiled veg note but then almost all the helles on that trip did whether Austrian or German. A lot of craft lager has it too. So that is neither here nor there.

When I saw the Wiener Original in the TBS, I was hoping for something better given the origins and fame of the Vienna style.

Viennese Anton Dreher was one of the great lager innovators of the 19th century. He is remembered for what became known as the Vienna style. His malt had a orangey or light reddish tint, and quite possibly was influenced by British pale malt; indeed the colour of the Vienna style and classic English pale ale can be similar. Vienna beer has been described as stressing a caramel richness and craft examples tend to show this.

It isn’t known whether Ottakringer, which started in the city in the 1830s, made the same kind of beer as Dreher. I would have to think it did, as Dreher was a competitor and in most markets, producers make similar styles. Anyway Ottakringer tells us on the packaging and on the website that its Wiener Original is a recreation from its archive, and I have no reason to argue with them.

Indeed the colour is a classic Vienna bronze. The palate too suggests a connection to Dreher’s innovative style. It is sweetish, natural-tasting, almost like a craft beer. Yet, the taste is fairly restrained. If you look at reviews on the rating site Beer Advocate, the average score is 6 or 7 out of 10, and Ratebeer’s results are similar.

Why is this, given the brewery has a long history in the very city associated with the famed Vienna style? Can we assume Dreher’s style was perhaps never that great to begin with? Not at all, and the reason I say that is, we have some evidence of the characteristics of Dreher’s beer. English analysts in 1869, writing in the Journal of the Society of Arts, told us the gravities of Dreher’s beer. It finished at 1019.76 and started at 1062.27. The alcohol content was stated as well, by volume it was 5.65%.

How does Ottakringer’s compare? Converting from the Balling scale, the website states 1048 as the original gravity. The alcohol is 5.3% abv. That means the final gravity must be 1007.

Can you see where I’m going? The alcohol content of both is for all practical purposes the same but the gravities of Ottakringer’s version are much lower. A 1007 finishing produces the restrained taste. It’s not the hops, the hop taste in the beer is quite pronounced and satisfactory, but the beer “should” be much sweeter. In fact, the Journal’s writers stated Dreher’s beer was sweeter than English beer. English beer then, the standard mild ale certainly, was not known for dryness and even pale ale, which was drier than mild ale, would have averaged higher than 1007 FG.

Why didn’t Ottakringer make a beer finishing much closer to what was reported in 1869, not just for Dreher’s beer, but a second Vienna beer whose characteristics were almost the same as Dreher’s?

I don’t know. I’d think Ottakringer must know how Vienna beer was brewed in the 1800s, but perhaps, rather than produce that, it made something people today would find acceptably dry (given the profile of most mainstream beer). The brewery may have felt, that is, that people would reject a beer anywhere near 1020 FG as much too rich. Of course, one can’t rule out Ottakringer’s original Vienna beer really did have a dry palate, but I incline against.

Assuming Ottakringer’s historical Vienna beer finished in the same neighbourhood as Dreher’s, I’d have made a beer finishing at 1014, splitting the difference so to speak.

The Wiener Original is still good, indeed it’s more beer-like and natural-tasting than most German and Austrian imports we get, but still I feel an opportunity was missed.

Note re image: The image above is from Ottakringer’s websitehere. All trade marks and other intellectual property therein belong to their owner or authorized licensees. Image is believed available for educational and cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.


A Fine Night Courtesy Mr. Adams

img_20160922_193617I spent some time last night at Sam Adams’ For The Love Of Beer promo at 99 Sudbury, the event space downtown. I much enjoyed the event, Jim Koch was there and I had never met him so it was a chance to exchange a few words. I also asked him a beer historical question, which he gave a good answer to, explained further below.

There were some unusual draft offerings, my favourite was the Gratzer. It was a letter-perfect version of the smoked malt Polish style, 4.4% abv with a clean, natural smoky quality and light body. Best of the new offerings that night, IMO.

Grumpy Monk was 55 IBUs and 6.5%, excellent and not Belgian-like but more like an India Pale Lager, a bigger brother to Sam Adams Lager. It had a similar hop profile but the background taste seemed slightly different. (Could it be a higher-gravity version of Boston Lager? Not sure).

Sam Adams Boston Lager is always a winner for me, I’ve mentioned it frequently as a benchmark of pre-adjunct, 19th century quality. Apart from being full of taste, it has its own signature, no other lager out there, local or imported, is like it.

The Chai Saison was a little sweet for me with cardamon and big spicy flavours. I had a taste of Rebel IPA but have never warmed to it, BBC might consider a reformulation.

The only thing I’d change is to have included a porter-style, say the fab Dark Depths of BBC, or its ditto Boston Ale, both too little seen internationally. Hark, LCBO…


The food was ample and suited the beers: e.g., wings, cheese thingies, fish tacos, all well-made and not greasy.

Jim Koch made a short but effective address and spoke about being a pioneer in the industry and having visited Toronto in the late 80s when he met Jim Brickman, whom he rightly saluted as a Canadian pioneer. (Brickman is still at it I understand at Brick Brewing in the Kitchener-Waterloo area*).

Jim Koch was very complimentary to Ontario craft brewing. He noted there are almost 300 breweries here now and it represents a high per capita even by American standards. He mentioned how North America has become a world magnet for quality brewing and diversity of taste and style.

Since I have been studying American 19th brewing in-depth, I asked him why his family’s lager recipe (handed down from the 19th century Koch Brewery) is all-malt when so much of German-American brewing went adjunct back then. He said the first Koch to brew in St. Louis started in the 1860s and never even learned English. Albeit an immigrant in St. Louis, he was brewing in a German world and before adjunct became popular. That accords with my knowledge, as lager brewing started about 1840 and had a 30 year run toward national acceptance before scientists stated to promote raw cereals in the mash.


I should say too that the relatively dark colour of Sam Adams Lager fits into the lager norm in America then: the standard lager was more a Vienna colour than the light blonde it later became under “Bohemian” influence.

It was nice to see Greg Clow there as well. Greg very kindly encouraged me years ago to take up the blogger’s pen and gave tips on formatting for online writing. His site is very useful as a repository of beer news, local and international, in a fast-changing scene.


*Note: In fact Jim Brickman is no longer with Brick, see Greg Clow’s comment below. Thanks to Greg for this info.

Flavour Terms, Then And Now

pumpernickel-topSometimes an old taste note jumps out at you, in the sense you can see the same thing in the same kind of drink today. A while ago I wrote about this in the context of rye whiskey.

On the other hand, trades and arts in earlier days often had their own lingo. Sometimes it reflected a certain technology used then. Sometimes it was more how the English language was used in general (longer words, more ornate especially in the English context).

Recently, I was puzzled, in reading about pasteurization of beer c. 1900, by a recurring term, “bready”. Its boon companion, “the steam taste”,  is easier because “steaming” was a trade cant for pasteurizing. (It is remarkable how only 10-15 years after Pasteur’s groundbreaking work on beer stability, his name became a synonym for beer sterilization). The steam term came from the hot water baths in which bottles were immersed.

But why bready? Today, those who feel they can detect the pasteurized taste often say “cooked” or “burned sugar”. In the past beer was often termed liquid bread anyway, so what does “bready” add in a pasteurization context?

I’ll give my answer to this in a moment, but first some remarks on pasteurization. While it has enormous advantages, I am not for it as a general rule, as apart from the cooked taste mentioned (which is not always apparent or in all brands), the process tends in my view to remove the “live” taste of beer. The difference may be subtle but it’s there and most brewers I’ve discussed this with agree there is a difference. Most say though the average drinker can’t detect it and the trade-offs argue in favour of the practice.

I’m not so sure as I believe someone may select another brand because of that something “indefinable” which is different. Just because most cannot articulate the difference doesn’t mean they don’t react to it.

There is a fine science to pasteurization today, both tunnel and the much quicker flash system. They impart a stability whose extent is determined by the maximum temperature and then hold and cooling times. Scientists know the number of yeast cells and other microbiological content in the beer after such treatments, it’s all a carefully calibrated process.

Anchor Brewing in San Francisco has always pasteurized, even the draft. Abita and New Belgium use pasteurization for some beers, I’ve read, Sam Adams too (all the bottled in its case). Many craft brewers – most, I believe – don’t use it, relying on filtration (which takes many forms) or bottle-conditioning for stability. Of course the market and other factors will dictate the best solution for each brewer.

Sierra Nevada uses a cellulose filter, and centrifuging, to clear primary yeast from its famed pale ale, then adds a new dose to the bottle to ensure a slight conditioning. Cellulose filters were common in America in 1900, it’s very traditional but other systems especially in mass-market brewing are perhaps more common today including  diatomaceous earth filters. Membrane systems, for their part, are particuarly adapted to cold-filtering. Coors Light uses the latter I understand – no pasteurization at least in the U.S., I’m not sure about Canada.

I prefer bottle- and can-conditioning of all the systems, it produces the most natural-tasting drink IMO and has good longevity, as much as pasteurized beer if not more. The current fad for “unfiltered” beer (cloudy-looking) often means the beers are bottle-conditioned. Technically some are not as there isn’t enough residual yeast to assist a secondary fermentation, but either way the beers are still “live”.

The filtered-but-unpasteurized way – so the beer looking bright – was the main method used by craft brewers in North America in the first decades, it works fine but the beers, at least of average ABV, can’t be kept that long, even refrigerated.

As light blonde lager became the main American style as WW I approached, pasteurization was routinely used by brewers even those with a local market. It became “the thing”. At the time, given the sanitation in breweries including widespread use of wood in production, and lack of home and distribution chain refrigeration, not to mention where bottled beer was long-shipped in different climates to areas without breweries, it made sense to pasteurize, but the logic today is less persuasive.

Based on my own taste tests, I believe the flash system, where the beer is heated for only a minute vs. 40 minutes or so for the tunnel system, is a superior way to stabilize beer if pasteurization is to be used.

I think bready, a term used both in Europe and here up to 1914, was meant in reference to a dark bread with sweet notes. German brewers would have been familiar with dark, rye-based breads. True enough, bread types differ regionally in Germany, but in general I think they were thinking of a sweetish baked taste which dark rye breads can certainly have.

This 2013 study in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing confirmed that pasteurized beer has a certain quantity of “Maillard” compounds, it’s the same caramelized taste as occurs in baked pumperknickel and many cooked foods from the sugars being heated:

Fresh pasteurized beer contained some Maillard-related volatile compounds and the fresh unpasteurized beer contained slightly more alcohols and volatile ester compounds…

Note too the reference to higher ester content in the unpasteurized beer: it’s something I’ve noticed myself over many years. The study is an interesting read even if the science is daunting: e.g. the beers were kept for about 41 days at 40 C – that’s hot! Most craft beer in Western  Europe and here would never be treated like that, but it shows the extreme conditions larger brewers at any rate feel their beers must survive to be reliable in the market.

And so, most mysterious terms can be parsed by thinking out the larger picture. Why was light Bohemian-style pilsner called wine-like here and in Germany in the late 1800s? These beers had lower extract than dark Munich beer, so their acidity levels, which were rather higher than today’s, were less masked. And the light colour, and greenish hue imparted by hops, would have reminded the brewers of Rhenish wines. (“Wine” as used in a German-American context meant white, period).

Some terms just require a dictionary: empyreumatic, for porter, meant a burned vegetal taste, or smoky. This was due to wood-kilned browned malt being used for porter or stout into the late 1800s. A twang? Hoppy. Mucilagenous? Sweet and sticky. “Sickly”? That one’s harder, I think it meant a degraded yeast taste, primarily.

Onion- and garlic-like? Easier, it’s dimethyl sulphide and possibly hydrogen sulphide, a taste young blonde lager can (still, very much) have due to precursors in pilsener malts.

Many words have changed but beer, much less so.

Note re image: The image above is from the website of Kasseler Breads, the Toronto-area baker which makes fine German breads. All trade marks and other intellectual property thereto or therein belongs to their owner and licensed users. Image believed available for educational and cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Robert Everett Corradini


“In The New Order of Things … There is No Room For the Old Saloon”.

Reading some of the pro-Temperance literature of the 1920s, one is reminded of the many talented people enlisted in the cause of no-alcohol. They ranged from ministers of the cloth to physicians to educators to politicians – and ordinary people.

Robert Everett Corradini should be remembered, because he wrote and spoke eloquently in this cause. Even if many, perhaps most today, won’t agree with him, the intelligence and hard work behind his commitment are obvious.

The book I mentioned from 1924 in the previous post chronicled the passing of the saloon in New York City. It is relatively short, really a photo-essay, but I now see it was part of a series of books he wrote, at least four, which came out in 1924-1925. One looked just at the changeover of the saloon all along Broadway in New York. It examined how the closing of the bars affected neighbourhoods which were quite different and was preceded by a penetrating historical sketch of New York and its ethnicities.

The Manhattan focus of the books makes sense, not just because his employer, the World League Against Alcoholism, was based there on 5th Avenue, but because as he noted in the above extract, Temperance was primarily an achievement of Main Street America and Broadway was its obverse. He understood that America was founded mainly by rural-based Puritans seeking religious freedom, while New York was founded and developed by people with primarily mercantile goals and settled by a heterogenous population of diverse origins and values. He rightly saw that New York was a premier battleground on which the fight for permanent Temperance would be fought, hence his keen interest in its early results there.

In adverting to the ethnic issue, he was thinking no doubt mainly of the large Italian and Central European populations in the city. He did mention also the Jewish population, and made clear that while sobriety was a value traditionally associated with the Jews, their neighbourhoods were not exempt from the depredations of the saloon and liquor merchants. He viewed retreat of the drink merchants from all these neighbourhoods as salutary, in other words.

His main book, 1924’s Saloon Survey New York City, was a detailed statistical examination of various liquor and sociological issues five years after Prohibition. It looked for example at the number of shops selling distilling equipment or wine for sacramental reasons, at the incidence of illegal public drinking, the new uses the old saloons were put to, comparative rates in hospital admissions for drunkenness, and the effect on real estate values of saloon closures. He often sought to show the new businesses employed more people than the saloons had.

Robert E. Corradini was born in Madison, NJ in 1891 and died in Elmira, NY in 1972. He appears to have had some training in statistics and studied in Switzerland during WW I.

In later life, it seems he was a minister, but certainly for many years he was associated primarily with various anti-addiction causes. In the 1930s he was still writing books on addiction, one dealt with narcotics and youth and had significant influence. With Repeal in 1933 his work broadened to take in the drug issue.

He was frequently quoted in the press in the 1920s on issues such as crime and Prohibition (did Volstead reduce crime, increase it, etc.?) and appeared before Congress. In this period, he was in the research department of the World League Against Alcoholism, an outgrowth of Ernest Cherrington’s Anti-Saloon League. The World League Against Alcoholism withered after alcohol came back in ’33 but Corradini continued his work with groups whose broader remit was to control narcotics. The Anti-Saloon League still exists, incidentally, but under a different name.

My sense is after WW II Corradini mainly focused on his ministry, but I am not certain.

Reading his and other “agit-prop” of the era, one cannot fail to remember the price alcohol does exact from society. It always did and it still does, while providing enjoyment and interest to many. Its important role in the economy and public finance must be recalled as well.

The anti-drink crowd had a good argument, and perhaps in a perfect world there would be no drink. But in a perfect world, no one would ever take sick, die, hurt, or suffer in other ways. The world is not perfect and for better and worse alcohol is part of it.

Note re image: The image above is from Robert Corradini’s book dealing with the effects of Prohibition on Broadway in New York, via HathiTrust, here. All trade marks and other intellectual property therein belong to their owners or authorized licensees. Believed available for educational and cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.

The old Saloon During Prohibition

Early-1900s temperance literature is now an obscure field, not least the 1920s studies that investigated diligently the shuttered saloons. Researchers would comb former bar locations to see how the uses had changed under Prohibition. This writing has an eerie quality, for which the term necrology is not too strong.

In this vein, in 1924 Robert Everett Corradini, the Research Secretary of the World League Against Alcoholism, wrote The Passing of The Saloons in New York City. The book explains how hundreds of saloons were transformed into more productive business units, as he saw it. Evocative black and white photos accompany the text to point up the message.

Many saloons had occupied choice locations such as street corners. These abandoned locations were ideal for emerging national chain stores such as the 5 and 10 Cent. Some ex-saloons became restaurants, others grocery stores, and furniture outlets, clothiers, professional offices.

The tone of his somewhat grisly study is ostensibly sunny, upbeat: landlords were obtaining higher returns, he said. Society was better served by the new tenants, upstanding, respectable people, vs. the gin mill keepers of yore. The only bleak spot was the premises that retained the form and aspect of a bar but served non-alcohol drinks.

Even the physical reminder of the old bar life annoyed Corradini, in other words. He wrote derisively that such dry bars sought an “amphibious existence”, based on “near beer and ham sandwiches”.

In fact, that near beer never got too close to the real thing. Will Rogers’ famous quip, that the person who gave near beer its name was a poor judge of distance, proved its worth.

Despite or because of its limitations, the “temperance” saloon of America mostly had a short or straitened existence. But the fact that even a simulacrum could nonpluss a Corradini showed the unrelenting zeal of temperance campaigners.

Putting it another way they couldn’t take yes for an answer. Now, maybe some were worried near beer would be “needled” with illicit alcohol. This did occur sometimes, but illicit drinking went much deeper, and you didn’t need the temperance bar to needle a drink. Anyone with a bottle of near beer and some ethanol could do it, at home or anywhere not under watch.

A few books of this type were published, some with sophisticated photo-illustration. They stand as curios of the Volstead period. One wonders if the anti-drink campaigners also tried to expose “blind pigs”, the true illicit drinking dens. Maybe hefty bouncers and Thompson guns dissuaded such exposes.

Either way, sub rosa drinking was widespread, and put the lie to the decorous world the Prohibition marchers wished for America.

In the image below from Corradini’s book, we see on the site of a former saloon, in 1924, a spaghetti restaurant. The location as it appears today is also shown for contrast. Despite changes to the facade the building is recognizably the same. Note the trap door on the sidewalk, just behind the “Do Not Enter” notice. That is where beer barrels were lowered to the basement before Prohibition clanged shut its door on drinking America.

I know Manhattan pretty well, and can see that many corner restaurants and grocery shops in the sandstone and red brick buildings were old-time saloons, in old New York.



Note re images: the first image above was sourced from the book referenced in the text (from HathiTrust). The second is from this New York real estate listing. All intellectual property therein belongs to their lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.