Carry On Shall We, Mustily

It seems there was a Musty Ale Stores in Liverpool, England in the second half of the 1800s. See these references, to which however I don’t have the full access. Even from the summaries though it is clear such a place existed in Williams-street, held by different tenants over time including a James O’Connor.

The first story seems to recount judicial proceedings in which a justice, Sir James Hannen, questions the oddity of the name Musty Ale Stores, only to be told it denotes some old type of Welsh ale! While the term, ale stores, would suggest a place to stock ale, the Musty Ale Stores appears to have been a public house or a victualler of some kind.

I won’t go into Welsh ale of yore except to note some used honey, the famed braggot, and some was spiced. This gets more curious by the minute. Might American musty have been spiced, possibly? I can’t rule it out, but I’d incline against and will stand by my theory in the last post, which gains support from bartender Tim Daly’s suggestion in 1903 to blend  lager and old ale to make a musty. Bartenders have lots of bitters and spices at their disposal, or an expert like Daly would have, so it would have been easy for him to suggest spices for his musty; he didn’t.

Given the long literary use of the term musty ale, it is not a surprise some people used the term concurrently, I mean in real commerce. Whether the usage was anything more than regional, isolated, erratic, or whimsical I can’t say.

It’s in a Philip Massinger play, A New Way To Pay Old Debts, but once again that doesn’t mean the term was in daily commerce everywhere, and many years of reading technical and popular historical literature on British beer and brewing has never produced an example (until now).

Still, the Liverpool example seems quite real. Maybe the term was used just there and, being a port, a Scouser found his way to America. Maybe.

The Ale Tradition of Old New York, Remembered

A recent post by Boak and Bailey (see here), referenced a periodicals index I wasn’t aware of, It has proved a good source for beer references in popular literature of the mid-1900s. Take the extract below from a 1932 article by Don Marquis. He was an American author active from about 1900 until his untimely death not long before WW II.

Marquis was a humourist, playwright, and journalist. He was familiar with Greenwich Village in its first phase of Bohemia, and Brooklyn too which then as now was an artists’ lair. (W.H. Auden lived near Williamsville, the part overlooking Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge. I need hardly refer to Walt Whitman, and these are just some of the best known).

I’ve mentioned earlier how there are relatively few appreciations of America’s ale and porter tradition by this time. The great success of the Germanic lager washed away, quite literally, almost all trace of the top-fermentation beers the British settlers had brought.

It’s interesting too that Marquis adverts to possible Dutch influence on surviving examples, but I think that’s not the case. The reason Brooklyn beer stood out from Manhattan’s was probably the relative isolation of Brooklyn. It hewed to older traditions both for lager and ale – more malt, more hops, longer aging.

Indeed “Bushwick pilsner” endured as a thing into the post-Prohibition era. See this appreciation by Ben Jankowski. It probably tasted a lot like Coney Island Mermaid Pilsener, a current property of Sam Adams for which I predict big things. Its stablemate Coney Island Lager is a right number too.

There is some irony in that Marquis’ eloge of B.V. (before Volstead) beer focuses on C.H. Evan’s ale. After all, Evan’s was brewed upriver in Hudson, NY, near Albany. However, it was easy to put the kegs on boats for a quick gambol down the Hudson to reach thirsty Brooklyn.

Evan’s can be viewed as an honorary Brooklyn beer, like Stilton cheese, say, which did not hail from Stilton but was sold there – at the Bell Inn if you want to know, beer and English cheese go round and round in an unbreakable circle.

And so let Marquis tell the tale of the surviving, B.V. Brooklyn and Manhattan ale houses. If you want to see a good image of the wood kegs he referred to, Jan Whitaker’s new post on “multi-tasking” American restaurants shows a fine example from about the same period.

Incidentally the James Huneker mentioned was another writer well-known around the period of the First World War. He was a pal of H.L. Mencken, the “Sage of Baltimore” (the benign-sounding moniker is belied by Mencken’s mean streak, one aspect of which I referred to in a comment to Boak and Bailey’s post mentioned above).

Huneker is still remembered as a skilful, somewhat florid critic of numerours arts. He and Mencken were part of a group that included George Nathan, Philip Goodman, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Ben De Casseres, William Carlos Williams, Dorothy Parker, and many more.

I will return to “musty ale”, English of nomenclature but essentially American, a rare bird amongst the rare flock that was U.S. ale and porter of c. 1900.

Of the ale houses in question, McSorley’s Ale House on East 7th Street is an authentic survivor albeit not mentioned by Marquis. Another is probably Pete’s Tavern, on East 18th Street in a chic nook. O. Henry was a frequent visitor.

… My serious beer drinking of that period was largely done in a saloon which stood in the triangle where Nassau Street and Park Row come together; a wonderful place which was practically a newspaper man’s club, and was known as “Lipton’s.” Ben De Casseres, Kit Morley, and I have solved most of the problems of the universe in that place, sitting in wooden booths under queer-stained glass windows.

A good place for ale at that time was Farrish’s Chop House, which used to stand at the corner of William Street and . . . and what? John? Or Fulton? I forget. I used to go there for the musty ale served in pewter mugs with glass bottoms, for the lush mutton chops, and, now and then, following a substantial lunch with a quart or two of ale, a delicate dessert consisting of a Welsh rarebit poured over a wedge of hot mince pie.

But the best ale served anywhere in the greater city in those days was set before you in the barroom of the old Clarendon Hotel, in Brooklyn, just across the street from the Post Office building. It was Evans’s ale, and it was drawn from wooden casks, through wooden spigots. A great deal of it was sold there, so it was always running fresh and cool—never very cold, only cool. It was, to my mind, better than Bass’s. I never got anything as good in the way of beer or ale anywhere in Manhattan, not even at the far-famed popular resorts; not even the imported German brews. That, of course, must be a matter of individual taste.

Brooklyn, for the most part, working through the streets in a casual catch-as-catch-can spirit, always seemed to me to have better draught beer and ale than Manhattan. Perhaps there was some lingering sentiment from the old Dutch days on Long Island which worked into the brew.

Before we leave beer and writers, here is a little note about the late James G. Huneker. I never met him, but about a year before he died he wrote me a letter asking me to have lunch with him. But towards the end of the letter he evidently grew a little melancholy, for he wound it up with a postscript which read: “Oh, what the hell is the use of having lunch together—we can’t get any good beer nowadays!” It was my impulse to get hold of a dozen bottles and hunt him up; but at just that period I couldn’t find any decent beer anywhere.

Note re images: the first image is taken from the Wikipedia entry on Don Marquis linked above. The next two are from current Ebay listings. All intellectual property therein or thereto belong solely to their owners or authorized users, as applicable. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Canadian Club

A Classic Gets a Road Test

I buy CC every once in a while, the regular white label issue. I’m fairly sure it used to state a six years age, now omitted from the label, but how old the contents actually are I can’t say.

Recent samplings seem a touch less good than I remember. To me, this whisky, lacking as it does an all-straight character, benefitted from a complex wood-and-clove character, “cigar box” I called it. It’s still good with a light sweetness and hard-to-parse complexity, but not what I recall.

Anyway this is now. It has the finish it always did, that crackly character derived from the element distilled at high proof in the blend.

One thing I always wanted to try was the rye flavouring stream on its own, however I’m not sure any is aged separately. I think all of it is married when new to the high-proof element and it goes into the barrels for years.

Blended whisky will never be my first choice – Canadian, Scotch, Irish or any other – but this is a well-made product which has historical interest for me. I’ll look for a six year version when next in the States, i.e., as a dusty, and will compare to the current one if I can find it.

The Palace and the Pub

This 1853 article in a Canadian engineering journal states that the party held that year for British engineer Robert Stephenson (see my earlier post, here) took place in the building that previously housed the legislature of the United Province of Canada. Just a year earlier, 1852, the Assembly moved from Toronto to another place in Ontario. It frequently changed locations until Queen Victoria fixed it in By-town, now known as Ottawa, where it remains.

The writer described the dinner as a public one although whether a charge was exacted to attend is not known. I’d think the affair was by invitation only, for grandees of the young city.

The account makes clear that the event was of the highest order socially. Both in provisions and decorations the Colony did everything it could for a first-class affair. The hall was decorated with symbols and insignia of the young Canadian engineering profession. Stephenson and some of his hosts made speeches carefully noted by attending journalists.

Stephenson was also fêted in Montreal on his Canadian visit, such was the importance of one planning a vital transportation link on which the colony’s development depended.

The assembly complex was on Front Street near Simcoe Street, just a mile or so from where I write. The buildings have long since disappeared. Ontario’s legislature now meets in a different part of the city, not too far north at Queen’s Park.

Within close view of the Stephenson reception was a resort where the more usual preoccupations of Beer et seq were addressed: the Greenland Fisheries tavern. It was owned by a citizen named Wright who was also an alderman. The tavern hosted municipal elections, as customary at the time. Wright got himself elected in his own saloon, a neat arrangement.

The pub’s interesting name derives from a sign in the premises depicting a scene in Greenland and hunters snagging a whale. One account states it was painted by a sailor of some artistic skill to pay his “reckoning”.

Lake Ontario was nearby, indeed closer than it is today as, at the time, the lake lapped the southern fringe of Front Street. Later, part of the waterfront was filled in for industrial and commercial space. The Greenland Fisheries motif probably attracted sailors and, at the least, suited the atmosphere influenced by the adjacent port facilities.

And so, while the leaders of Toronto society sipped Champagne and sherry, and picked at lobster salad and Scotch salmon to fete Stephenson, the hoi polloi was hoisting pots of ale and porter, maybe with a whisky or rum, across the street. As for the food at the Greenland Fisheries, it would have been decidedly plainer than the engineers and their guests enjoyed.

The tavern had existed for 20 years before Toronto held its dinner for Stephenson, and continued in business for decades longer. A good image of it appears in this Toronto history. Very few 19th-century taverns still stand in Toronto but the Wheatsheaf Tavern on King Street downtown is an example. The latter wears its history lightly and draft beer, chicken wings, and burgers are the stuff of the menu. History, if it comes at all, is a last course, eh?

Below you see a handsome colour image of the Ontario Legislative Assembly from government archives, as it was in 1834. The tavern was very likely the white building at the far left, built only a year before. You see also below a sketch from City of Toronto archives showing the two structures in propinquity, c.1850.

Let’s compare palace and pub. One, a handsome set of buildings ringed by a fence and a ground. The other, a modest two-story building in whitewash. The first, a place where lawyers, politicians, and civil servants worked and occasionally played. The other, a respite for lower orders in society: artisans, labourers, small tradesmen, soldiers – who nonetheless had good things to drink and eat, too.

The rich and less-well-off lived and frolicked side by side, one in view of the other. So it was in society, and so it remains today.

Toronto Threw a Party for the Bridge King


Beer, whisky, rum, and cocktail. Mainstays of the drinking set in Canada from its inception, they were set aside in August 1853 in favour of aristocratic wines, brandies, and liqueurs.

The occasion was a banquet in Toronto for Robert Stephenson (pictured), the great British engineer and bridge designer. He invented the Rocket, shown on the menu below, an early ace locomotive.

Stephenson designed or worked on famous bridges in Britain and elsewhere including the still-standing Britannia Bridge in Wales and Victoria Bridge in Montreal. His father was also an eminent engineer, George. The Stephensons, together with Brunel, a close friend of Robert’s, represented the acme of Victorian engineering.

In the summer of 1853 Stephenson was visiting Toronto in Canada West. “C.W.”, as the nickname went, was the progenitor of the Province of Ontario. C.W. was the English-speaking part of the United Province of Canada. Canada East was the mostly French-speaking part. With Confederation in 1867, these became respectively the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Stephenson was in town to advise Grand Trunk Railway on its plan to create a continuous link from Toronto to an ice-free port in Maine. Part of that involved conceiving the Victoria Bridge. Construction began in 1854 and ended a few years later but Stephenson died before completion due to Bright’s Disease, possibly contracted as a result of his work.

Also pictured on the menu (courtesy HathiTrust, the other images are from Wikipedia) is the Britannia Bridge.

The wines and foods would have done credit to any sizeable city in the world let alone the small burgh of Toronto. The town hardly counted more than 30,000 people. Yet, period photos show the city developing nicely then. One or two churches still stand and look the same.

The central part of Osgoode Hall, headquarters then and now of the legal profession in Ontario, is virtually unchanged. Even where the buildings are altered most of the streets have a similar aspect today.

They ate up a storm at Stephenson’s party: prairie chicken, fish of all kinds including salmon from Scotland, all kinds of game, butcher’s meats fresh and cured, fruits and vegetables (it was high summer), fine desserts, and much else. And look at those wines: Champagne, Bordeaux, old sherry, port, and Madeira: they had it all.

As always in such matters there are strangely modern touches. Patties, for instance, which you can get in many quarters of Toronto, Caribbean-style at any rate. Lobster, lobster salad, oysters – all still popular today. Margaux, Leoville, Mumm’s, Sandeman wines – luxury items today no less than in 1853.

While it would have been nice to see an Imperial Stout along with the Curacao, Maraschino, and pale brandy, I’ll take the menu as it comes. Wouldn’t you?

Toronto knew how to throw a party, even way back in the 1850s.

Note: Part II to this post appears here.




Canadian Punch, Cont`d.

Last night, I posted a recipe for Canadian Punch from 1935. I suggested that the combination – Canadian whisky, rum, sugar, pineapple, lemon – would produce a smooth but potent number.

A punch-up it was but under the Queensbury Rules so to speak. The Canadian whisky, mixed with rum 4:1, would have been the approachable blended rye Americans had come to love in the parched 1920s. Canadian Club or one of the Seagram brands would have been the preferred type without a doubt.

If Canada had by then acquired in general its reputation for politesse and restraint, this punch would have exemplified that to a t.

It all makes sense, except for one thing. Virtually the same recipe existed in 1862, a time when Canadian whisky was a more unruly fellow. A very similar recipe can be found in Jerry Thomas’ landmark book of that year entitled How To Mix Drinks, Or The Bon-Vivant`s Companion. The Thomas recipe differs little from G. Selmer Fougner’s, and there is every reason to think G. Selmer simply recast it for his 1935 book. (Nothing unusual in that, as for food recipes, cocktails books, especially in an earlier time, often relied on previous publications for ideas).

The idea that rum filled out – flavoured – a fairly bland whisky doesn’t work for 1862. As Tanya Lynn MacKinnon documented in 2000 in her superb study of Ontario`s whisky industry from inceptions to 1900, Canadian whisky c. 1860 was still in process of development. It was the product of one distillation, either in a primitive multi-chambered wood still or the original pot still. The congener-laden run was given a douse in a vat of wood charcoal (as Jack Daniel’s still gets today), and aged perhaps a month or two, at most a year.

This was vigorous, young whisky, probably quite similar to many craft whiskies and the youngest bourbon and straight rye of the large distillers today.

Mixing that with rum – even if the rum tasted like, say, Captain Morgan, which is debatable – would have produced a feisty drink. No Queensbury manual regulated that affair, it was more a melee or free-for-all. Of course the lemon, pineapple, and sugar would have ordered things a bit. Indeed that is the way of punch, and cocktails, where you mix disparate elements and come up with a new and inviting taste.

The Canadian Punch made both ways surely would taste quite different. I invite those interested to try, let me know the results. I may take a shot at it … of it, myself, over the holidays.

But there’s another thing. Jerry Thomas advised to use approximately twice the amount of water Fougner did. So Thomas’ version was less alcoholic by about half. The more you dilute any mixture, the more inoffensive it will taste. Even if liquor on average was stronger in 1862 than 1935, Thomas’s confection would have been less potent. But the bigger flavour of the 1862 whisky might have evened the difference, for the taste anyway.

Two ways to pick a fight. Take your pick.


Canadian Punch-Up

A number of “Canadian” cocktails or whiskey blends in 19th- and early 20th-century literature calls for mixing whisky and rum.

At first sight, this strategy seems suspect given the expected clash of sugar-derived spirit and something minty/piney/grainy from rye. In fact though, it makes perfect sense as Canadian whisky early on had developed into a fairly mild blend, of which I’ve written earlier on these pages.

Given this postulate, the rum functions as a useful flavouring and illustrates the flexible definition of Canadian whisky which permits addition of any domestic or imported wine or spirit as flavouring.

(You can turn it around, too, and use a fairly neutral white rum against a highly flavoured whiskey distilled at a low proof, or with a good component of same. Say, Lamb’s white rum with Dark Horse, but the former approach was probably more the intention).

The Canadian Punch recipe shown opposite is potent as advertised, i.e., notwithstanding that an equal amount of the spirits is mixed with mineral water, as it is at least 20% abv. Most punch would come in under that, consistent with a drink served in cups not shot glasses at a garden party or seasonal or other festivity. Drinking iced punch of this nature will make its effect felt pretty fast.

Give it a try, the recipe is easy to scale down, too. The lemon and pineapple have an odd synergistic effect. No spices are prescribed for this recipe, and you don’t really need them. I’ve used Wiser’s (a regular brand, not Legacy, say) and Myers dark rum and the effect is superb.

I recall Captain’s Table, an old McGuinness whisky that needs to be brought back. Did it contain some rum? I’m not sure, the name of course and bottle shape did conjure a naval image. But anyway you can make your own rum-infused Canadian whisky – unpunched I mean – just add some good rum to a bottle of any light-bodied whisky.

The recipe (via HathiTrust) is from Along The Wine Trail: An Anthology of Wines and Spirits (1935) by G. Selmer Fougner (1884-1941). He was a wine and food columnist in New York and issued books in the wake of Repeal to educate the public on gastronomy and wine culture. He was a top food writer of his day, like Anthony Bourdain of our time, but also took an equal interest in the bibulous. He would have made, I’m sure, a fine host of the modern tv food-and-travel documentary.

Raise a Canadian punch – don’t throw one – to his memory, eh?



What’s Old Is New Again

Looking at the cocktails menus of some of the in bars of New York, one is encouraged to see that the Old-Fashioned Cocktail is still a mainstay. Yes, it might have lemonade added or a dash of hefeweizen, but the main elements are recognizably the same: whiskey, gomme syrup, bitters, and a fruit element of some kind (usually).

The cocktail itself was originally was whiskey (or other spirits), sugar, bitters, and the Old-Fashioned was so named in the later 1800s to remember the original confection.

The best one I had on my recent NY sojourn was a fairly sweet one at The Gingerman, made with Old Overholt rye. A current article in the NYT bemoans the severe shortage of aged rye, but fortunately for fans of the Old Fashioned, young rye or other fairly vigorous whiskey (not > six or eight years IMO) is best anyway. Nothing worse in a cocktail than the taste of cold woody char.

Looking at my resources to make one, I decided, first, to use American whiskeys. While excellent results can be gleaned from Canuck rye or a combination of that and American, I thought I would use just American.

I had some high proof Pikesville, probably around six years old, antediluvian by modern standards unless you have a 1000 sawbucks in your pocket. But it works well and the extra proof is just a bonus. The fairly young Bower Hill Reserve Rye, a non-distilling producer’s product sourced from MGP in Indiana (a former Seagram plant), would blend well with this.

A case of May to December so to speak. But what to do for the sugar?

I never know where to find bar syrup, and while I can use granulated and liquefy it with hot water as the old manuals suggested, I looked around for another, um, solution. Jacquin’s Rock and Rye, a cordial which is a very sweet combination of sugar, rye whiskey, and fruit flavourings, was just the thing.

I used about a third each, and came up with a fine Old Fashioned. Even that dilution hardly blunted the sweet attack of the Jacquin given how much sucrose it has to start with. And its riot of citrus and other flavours – celery, oddly, makes an appearance – gave the cocktail its needed fruity tang.

Finally, with Angostura, the result was perfect.

Taste Is Relative, But Diverting


As we see in this 1909 article from American Brewers Review, detailed instructions were given how to avoid the “pitch taste” in beer. It was said, “The prevention of ‘pitch taste’ has always been a matter of vital importance to the beer Brewer”.

Yet as I explained recently, until then a faint taste of pitch was considered part of the profile of lager. American beer writers, including the New York brewer George Ehrets, mentioned this trait in books before 1900. And only 10 years earlier, Budweiser was advertised as having a “pitchy bouquet”.

Which is it?

Contradiction, and making a virtue of necessity, characterize human endeavour in general, and not least brewing, where the prime and overriding factor has always been delivery of a weak alcoholic solution to the public. National Prohibition proved this starkly when near beer became a damp squib…

In an era when large wood vats were used to age the beer for months, and these were lined with pitch, some of the taste got into the beer, even bottled beer, where pitch-lined trade casks were not used. For draft beer, the effect had to be more marked.

Once Pfaudler tanks lined with glass were substituted by the larger brewers at any rate, the pitch taste went away at least for bottled beer and was reduced in draft beer. Indeed we have seen that Anheuser-Busch advertised the Pfaudler tanks at virtually the same time as the article above appeared. I doubt the two things were coincidental.

(The glass enamelled tanks were substituted not to rid the beer of the pitch flavour but to render it more stable, less likely to sour for example from hard-to-excise microflora resident in the wood of the older tanks).

Hence articles such as these. All the old lore of the “incense” smell of pitch, of the romantic odours of Bohemian towns and how they infused the finished product, went out the window.

In my view, differing commercial rationales explained the virtues of corn and rice in brewing, of pasteurization, of short lagering, finally of reduced hop content. It’s not really any different today. Do the very pronounced tastes of U.S. hops have any inherent value? Not really. Indeed some of them were rejected by European brewers just for that reason, yet today they are the acme of terroir.

Is heavy gravity brewing a bad thing, or Nathan conical fermenters viz. their effect on top-fermenting  yeast? No, it is what it is and we attribute value to the results, provided it is beer.

This is normal as taste is relative if not almost arbitrary. We like a heavy and bitter-sweet beer because we want to, not because it is inherently superior to a light and almost tasteless one. At one time, and still for many, it is precisely the obverse.

Creating a detailed classification of tastes is an economically useful and often absorbing endeavour, but ultimately an unnecessary one. Perhaps the Russians were the most honest in that when it became possible to produce virtually tasteless alcohol as drink, they did precisely that, in the form of vodka.

Did the advice in the 1909 article work? I doubt it. A road made of tar always has a faint smell of the material, particularly on a warm day. It can’t have been much different for a barrel of beer. I am quite sure I remember the pitch taste in Pilsner Urquell in the 70s and 80s, lightly musky as I recall it.

Now that I think about it, incense can smell like that. It would be great to see it again, because it is interesting – that’s reason enough. Craft brewers are the perfect people to do it.

Note re images: The first image above is via HathiTrust and source is linked in the text. The second is from Wikipedia, here. All intellectual property therein or thereto belong solely to the owners or authorized users. Images believed available for educational or historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.






Riding The Wave

img_20161203_114052_editContinuing the theme of my last post, I show here part of a drinks menu from a restaurant in the vicinity of Grand Central Terminal – as midtown as it gets. It is near The Beer Bar, whose sign I showed yesterday (but not from that pioneering establishment, founded 1994. The Beer Bar now blends easily into New York’s beer scene but was a scenemaker in its day).

Kona, the Hawaii-originated, nationally distributed brand from Craft Brew Alliance, makes an appearance. So do two beers from Sam Adams, Rebel IPA and Boston Lager. Two wits appear, both well-known, had it been me I’d have selected one of the two shown and a wit from the New York area.

Stella, the new Bud, is front and centre as is Bud Light – a doughty survivor from the old days – but after that it’s big crafts again, plus Chimay White and Guinness.

This type of list is typical around town but often with variations such as Lagunitas or Stone, or perhaps Barrier, the New York-area brewery whose profile increases every day. Even the average street bar often offers a salting of distinctive local or other craft brands.

The posted list nonetheless is very acceptable with some fine beers, my only argument is there is no characterful porter or stout. Now if Guinness released its 5.3% extra stout currently on supermarket shelves as a draft, that would fix that as it is much tastier than regular Guinness. Of course a strong stout or porter from a New York state craft would be appreciated, too.

This type of menu increasingly will characterize the big cities and finally smaller areas, with adjustments that take in local brands and big craft distributed in the area. Will it displace the diversity of a true local beer scene? Not at all. Brewpubs and beer bars specializing in great beer will ensure further choice.

gamme_4bouteillesConsidering the realities of business and distribution in many parts of the U.S., the menu shown is a reasonable working out of trends started in the 70s by Michael Jackson, the American Homebrewers Association, All About Beer magazine, Jim Koch, Ken Grossman, Fritz Maytag and many others. Ale Street News, the long-time “brewspaper” edited by Tony Forder, played its part and is still to be found in beer hangouts all over Manhattan.

N.B. The term “chalice” for a characteristic Belgian beer glass, was originated by Michael Jackson. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.