Buy Now, “Sich Beeilen”!

The German-American press did not limit itself to ads about beer and related festivals, charming as many of these were. The Detroiter Abend-Post in a Sunday supplement of April 21, 1918 contained a dramatic full page ad for liquors and various wines, no beer in this case.

This was not so far ahead of a June 30, 1919 federal ban on selling liquor with more than 2.75% alcohol by weight. After that the 18th Amendment was ratified, in January 1919, to take effect nationally one year later. That law banned any beverage alcohol, period.

In addition to this national dimension, the states for years had imposed their own partial or total prohibition. Michigan’s was slated to start, state-wide, May 1, 1918. (See further details in this informative 1995 Michigan history).

One way or another, the end was in sight when the ad was placed. One senses the liquor merchant was going for broke. Let it all hang out so to speak.

Not many newspapers would have accepted such advertising, or on that scale, but the German press had been in the habit of advertising alcohol for many years. In for a pfennig, in for a pound, if I may mix metaphors and nations.

Anything you want we got it right here in the U.S.A. Just buy up before the law and Senator Volstead could catch you, because in this case they can, and did (in many cases). That’s a Motor City shakedown you don’t want.

Note re image: the image above was extracted from the original ad linked in the text, available via the Chronicling America newspapers digital archive. Image is included for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the source mentioned belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized users. All feedback welcomed.


It’s the Time of the Season

A story out of Salt Lake laid out a novel idea of bock beer’s origin, or at least purpose. The explanation is that with the exhaustion of winter’s beer (schenck beer, in effect), the lager proper of the later spring and summer provided a different taste, which drinkers found objectionable. To smooth over the transition, the brewers introduced bock beer for a few weeks.

Ostensibly this seems an odd explanation. To mediate two different tastes, you introduce a third taste?

But consider this. Both the bock and succeeding spring/summer lager were aged many months. Winter lager was only aged briefly before release, a week or two. As I’ve discussed often here, new lager can have objectionable tastes connected to primary fermentation, the green flavour. Long aging tended to eliminate the dimethyl sulphide and other rough edges of new lager.

As the story implied, despite that the aged beer was superior, drinkers became used to what they had, so grumbled when the short-aged winter brew was replaced by smoother, stored lager.

And so, maybe the bock eased them into the aged flavour, the sweetness and higher alcohol beguiling them as it were.

All these beer types, by the date the story was written (1908), could be brewed throughout the year due to the ubiquity of industrial refrigeration. But the bock tradition was established by then. So even if the bock origin-story was out of date when written, it may have reflected a much older idea.

Or it could be more mythologizing, which is plentiful in the beer arena, bock’s no less than others.  Still, something in it may reflect an essential truth.

The Germans used (use) the French-sounding saison to describe the beer seasons, hence Bock-Bier Saison, much as the English had their “season-brewed” ale, the Wallonians their saison, the Flemings their sezoen. These shared being made in one season to be stored and drunk in another, and also top-fermentation, even for bock, initially. I think Europe even in the distant past had a common vocabulary in certain arts, hence also stock beer/keeping beer, bière de garde, provisie bier. Perhaps this is why the bock beer season wasn’t called Bock-Bier Jahreszeiten in the German lands.

Anyway, it’s the time … of the season … when the foam runs high… for cheering.

Note re image: the image above was extracted from the original source, here, available via the digitized newspaper resource Chronicling America. The image is included for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the source belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users. All feedback welcomed.







Bayrisches Bock-Bier, North Syracuse

The Bocks From Syracuse*

As expected, the German-language Syracuse Union had a long history of carrying beer advertisements. Numerous breweries touted in its pages, both before and after Prohibition, not just Haberle Congress as discussed yesterday. Some were local heros, some from further afield, e.g., Utica Brewing.

In a 1913 issue, the Union carried a series of brewery ads, shown below in part.

Zett’s was founded, as its north Syracuse neighbour Haberle, in the 1850s. Like Haberle too, it revived after 1933 but ceased operations in 1937. (Haberle endured until 1962). Zett’s and Irish-sounding Thomas Ryan’s Consumers Brewing were advertising their bock beer for spring. Ryan proudly noted its bock was made with imported caramel malt.**

In 1937, the regional powerhouse – then and now – Utica Club of Utica, NY paid for a handsome ad which took much of a full page. The ad was in both German and English, the English part was a profile of the Baden-born founder, Francis-Xavier Matt. The patriarch was still active in the business 58 years after founding it.

The last line read, “he typifies the immigrant boy whose efforts were crowned with success”. The sub-text, as underlined too by the bio being in English, was, we know our roots and they are reflected today in this ethnic publication, but net-net we are American and a product of this land.

In the ad, Utica Club listed seven beers. Five were English or Anglo-American styles, only two clearly German-type, pilsner and wuerzburger. In general, ales endured for much longer in upstate New York than probably anywhere in America, reflecting the original pattern of settlement (British) but also the area’s relative isolation. Given some local breweries were founded by Britons who made beers in staunchly British styles, e.g. John Greenway, the German breweries weren’t going to be caught short. (It worked the other way too of course).

Genesee Cream Ale is perhaps the last survivor of this old tradition of German-founded breweries making beers with an English resonance. Utica Club’s cream ale was delisted some years ago. Of course, Utica Club, and Genesee too, make many beers today of the top-fermented type inspired by the craft beer revival. The whole thing has come full circle, and then some.

One can presume that central New York’s German ethnic community, or really, communities – they were disparate in origin and dialects spoken – liked the ales no less than older-stock Americans. Still, lager probably had the bulk of sales, after 1900 certainly. Then too most of the ales were quasi-lagers, e.g., cream ale and sparkling ale.

For the average German-speaker in Syracuse in the 1930s, when he drank a pale ale of Haberle or Utica Club, did he ever think the style originated in Britain, a country increasingly at odds with the Nazified Germany of post-1933? I would doubt this, not so much due to political insouciance, but rather to the general popular ignorance of beer and brewing technics. Beer can be part of cultural identity – already watered down in America for any ethnicity – but knowing how beer is made and what the names mean is a different story, then and now.

*Apologies to Rodgers & Hart.

**Ryan had been city mayor. Initially he was one of a joint ownership group, then bought sole control, and finally sold to one of his former partners c. 1900. Ryan’s associates in the venture were German Americans to all appearances.

Note re images: the first and third images shown were extracted from the original ads linked in the text, available via the New York newspapers historical digital archive. The second image was obtained from the website of the Onondaga Historical Association, here. The images are included for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources stated belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized users. All feedback welcomed.


Häberle’s Bitte!

Many communities had non-English language newspapers for a considerable period, not just in the U.S. but Canada and Mexico. In Syracuse, NY in the 1870s, no less than two German newspapers operated, one, the Syracuse Union, endured until 1941 when America’s entry into WW II put paid to continued publication. Syracuse had a strong German population from the later 1800s until assimilation and the Second World War tended to blur the the distinctiveness of the community.

In the 1930s, the Union carried beer advertisements, probably reflecting a long history. The example shown, from a 1934 issue of the Union, appealed to the German-American ethos with its recitation of brewing ingredients and German rendering of “dry hopping”.

Of course, thousands of miles from an increasingly deranged and militarized homeland, the beer presented to German-speakers in 1930s Syracuse differed from classic German models (dunkel, helles, etc.). First, a majority of the brands mentioned had names derived from English, or at least Anglo-American, brewing. Second, most or all the beers probably included non-malt adjunct such as corn or rice, almost invariable in U.S. brewing by the 1930s.

The brewer, Haberle Congress Brewing, was a local stalwart with origins dating to the 1850s. Despite being in America almost three generations, the business projected a Germanic image, but this may have been – probably was – mostly a question of marketing. The brewery was founded by German-born Benedict Haberle, a veteran of the 1848 Revolution who fled to avoid the bounty on his head. Many American breweries were founded or staffed, and the same for lager houses and saloons, by veterans of the 1848 liberal revolt in Central Europe.

Harberle Congress was one of hundreds of German-American breweries revived after Prohibition ended in 1933. This May, 1933 news article shows the sophisticated planning that went into creating the post-Pro incarnation of Haberle. In many ways it was a completely new business albeit helmed by Frank C. Biehle, a grandson of the founder. As always, past and present intermingled, an omnipresent feature of the brewing industry.

Frank Biehle died in 1944, see this link for informative detail on his life and career. The brewery continued to be managed by family descendants and endured until 1962 when it was bought out by a brewery in Rochester, NY. It was the last local brewery still standing (figuratively). From thirty or more breweries post-Civil War, Syracuse came down to one and then none, until the craft revival restored both lager and ale traditions starting some 20 years later.

So today, Gordon Biersch, Middle Ages Brewing, Empire Brewing, and others carry the flag for fine beer. Indeed I read Empire’s building incorporated bricks from the dismantled Haberle brewery (the bottling house is pictured pre-Prohibition), a satisfying link to the past.

The ad shown represents a kind of mid-point in both American brewing and ethnic history…

N.B. Black Bass Ale was renamed Black River Ale later in the 1930s, for reasons that will be evident to most readers.

Note re images: the first image above was extracted from the original ad linked in the text, via the New York newspapers historical digital archive. The second image was sourced here and is believed in the public domain. Images are included for educational and historical purposes. The intellectual property belongs solely to the owner or authorized users.  All feedback welcomed.



A Successful Own-Blend of Irish Whiskey

Recently, using four Irish whiskies, I made my own blend I thought was particularly good. The four were regular Jameson, Jameson Crested, Powers Gold, and Powers Signature. The first three are blends, that is, a mixture of grain and single pot still whiskies, and the last all-pot still.

The taste of each on its own didn’t quite please. The grain whiskey in regular Jameson seemed quite forward in this bottling, although the minty/oily pot still part was there. The wood background of the Signature and Crested didn’t hit me right, etc.  I could tell the sherry influence in the latter, but wanted it to work in a different way. Small differences matter to some, especially when you drink them neat or with a cube.

Blending can adjust the palate to something more to my taste. All these whiskies, I understand, come from one distillery (at Midleton) so it’s really a question of blending grain and pure pot stills from the same place, coming up with an alternate approach to what the distillery does. Even if the whiskies were from different distilleries  it would be just as valid, similar to Scotch whisky blending, but here there was a unity to start with, so to speak.

I wanted the pot still element to dominate, to show the typically Irish oily (linseed, fresh leather) character, and have the grain working behind it. I don’t mind the grain whisky provided it doesn’t bite at the back of the palate, sometimes it can lighten and “brighten” the pot still element and not obtrude as it were.

I got a very good blend for almost a full bottle, and I have another half (from the same four) I need to work on. The rest was consumed before or used in a “Celtic” blend I keep going, the majority of which is Scotch whiskies. I’ll need to buy something new to add to my half-bottle to bring it around, maybe Green Spot, or another Powers Signature, we’ll see.

This own-blend has the pot still character forward, a light background of sherry, and the grain whiskies all working in close harmony. The finish is lightly vodka-like, but very good vodka, and the dominant flavour is the oily/sherried pot still note.

I can only estimate the pot still part, maybe 70%. It drinks neat very well, no peppery bite from the grain element, and with an ice cube equally, or water. As I’ve said earlier, it seems to me the high-end pure pot stills are presenting less Irish character than 20 years ago. They seem more neutral in taste, not in the grain whisky sense, but more like a Lowland malt, say. In the standard brands though, given the pot still element has to show in the final palate, I’d guess younger pot stills are used or selections are made to show a stronger character, else the blends would be too vapid. That’s why I buy the regular and mid-price but if they don’t appeal as such I’ll blend to get a better result, better for me that is.

You can do this with any type of whisky, any national or other classification. Make your own Islay vatting, say, or Scotch blend, or Canadian blend, etc. The distilleries and blenders have always done it; you can do it, it’s not rocket science, but to get good results you need to have an understanding of the building blocks.

I don’t work to any predetermined formula. I’ll mix them to what seems right, taste once or twice to adjust, and leave it at that. This time I got a perfect result after just two adjustments. It might be equal parts each, or close to that, I think.

Note re image: the image shown was sourced, via HathiTrust, from a pre-Prohibition cocktails text, The Great American Cocktail, here. Image is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its owner or authorized users.  All feedback welcomed.

Restoring the Bock Beer Season

The craft brewing movement, while undeniably a boon, arguably has a blind spot: the old bock beer “season”. Into the 1980s, beer fans duly anticipated the few springtime bocks still available. In Ontario and Quebec, Molson Brewery offered a Spring Bock, and Labatt, its Super Bock. Over the border you might find a bock from Genesee Brewery in Rochester, and other examples.



In general, these were darker than regular beer, and Super Bock was a point or so higher in alcohol. Label images may be seen online and even some reviews. A few old-school brands lasted into the early craft era. Genesee still makes a bock, in fact.



I remember these beers as mild-tasting, with a light molasses or dark sugar note.

Beer historical studies has advanced in the last decade but not to alter the generally-accepted account for bock’s origin: it started as a strong beer, made partly from wheat, in Einbeck, north Germany in the early 1300s.

Further, the original, made by top-fermentation, was later adopted and altered in distant Bavaria to the south. Einbeck, the place of origin, was corrupted in the Bavarian dialect to ein bock. A key stage in the evolution was brewing by bottom-fermentation, the lager way that is.

Today’s Weizen Bock of Germany, a  strong, hearty wheat brew, may recall the original style since it is top-fermented and uses malted wheat along with barley malt.

Because bock in German also means goat, the idea of the goat and its proverbial kick became associated with bock beer. Hence the images of goats appearing on bock labels and the related advertising.

From the late-1800s until present day, more fanciful or “heroic” explanations have been offered for bock’s origin, for example that bock described the effect on the loser in a drinking contest. The goat association is still latent here.

The long-discredited sediment-in-the-vat theory – that bock is drawn from the dregs of aging vats – is still occasionally repeated. It must have seemed silly even in the late-1800s as few press stories advanced this notion.

An interesting origin account in 1936 in Plattsburgh, New York (via New York State Historic Newspapers) took more trouble over the details. The idea of toasting the fertility goddess, which I hadn’t seen elsewhere, makes sense. In this notion, bock beer honours the malt and hops of the last season, functioning as a midwife for a new season’s fertility and hoped-for bounty.



In America, the bock season was from beginning of March until early May. March is the German time, as well, but the period was often extended in North America, maybe because American brewers issued only one bock, generally a dark, malty brew. Germany had (has) variations for other seasons including the paler Helles and strong double bocks.

There are yet further variations, eg. the extra-strong, amber Eisbock – all worth exploring.

Craft brewing has not quite ignored bock. In Ontario a few brands appear each spring although some use unorthodox ingredients such as coffee, chocolate, or smoked malt.

The beers usually are quite good but few really get at the German palate, in my experience. The true taste of spring bock is, in my view, a molasses-like signature, underpinned by mineral-like German hops.

Doppel-Hirsch from Germany is a classic bock, although lighter in body than some.

There is enough resonance for bock in the popular memory to support a renewed spring tradition, but craft brewers need to get behind it more. A formal return of the old bock season, perhaps helmed by a craft brewing associations, is one way.

Note re images: the first image is from an April 30, 1935 news article in the Commercial Advertiser, Potsdam, NY, sourced from the NYS digital newspaper archive, here.  The second image is from the 1936 article, in the same archive, linked in the text. Images are used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to their owner or authorized users.  All feedback welcomed.



Remembering Frederick Martin and his Idiosyncratic Drinks Book

Oh Captain My Captain*

I’ve mentioned a couple of times Frederick Martin’s An Encyclopedia of Drinks and DrinkingIt is well worth buying despite having been written c. 1970 albeit published 1978. Coles in Canada published it, something unusual in itself as Coles is well-known as a producer of student guides, summaries and critiques of books on high school and other curricula. Somehow the master of potted classics was persuaded to publish a book which is or became a classic in its own field. (Maybe the potted part was the common thread).

The U.S. equivalent of Coles Notes is CliffsNotes. Coles Notes still exists, it was originally an outgrowth of the Coles bookstore chain, but both publishing arm and the book shops are now part of the big Indigo Books chain.

Martin, as gleaned both from the book and various Internet sources, was an old-school wine and spirits merchant and an officer during the Second World War in a good regiment. Despite a starchy-sounding background, the book is full of good sense and advice and is practically free from snobbism. A bit obtrudes, as when he finds baloon-size Cognac glasses “inexpressibly vulgar”, but the humour saves him.

There are many bon mots in the book. Of the new keg (pressurized, pasteurized) beer then emerging, he noted its popularity, then added, “with the brewers anyway”.

Of Canadian whisky, he said:

… to my mind it is smoother, though less flavoursome, than straight Bourbon, is much superior to ordinary American blended whisky, but lacks the special character inherent in a fine Scotch; and I am endeavouring to be descriptive and not pejorative when I say it is a “compromise” spirit.

I do feel he would have said more of the recent crop of Canadian whiskies of straight character such as Lot 40, Canadian Club Single Rye Chairman’s Select, WhistlePig, Dark Horse, etc.

Another zinger: “I have gone on record as saying ‘there is no much thing as one Dry Martini’, but I do not really believe more than four a good thing before dinner (or lunch)”.

In 1970, you had to write snail mail to friends or contacts in different countries to learn about social drinking customs. When he inquired of Bermuda, the lapidary answer came back, “A great deal all the time”.

Finally, a good point conveyed in his restrained English way: “Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with drinking spirits with a meal”. Traditionally, whisky and other spirits was a between meals/late night practice, one not to be reflexively dismissed in our oh-so-sophisticated time (there is a good deal of logic to it). But he was being non-categoric and practical, a good idea for anyone taking on the complex field of drinks, their history and customs.

Here’s to you Captain Martin, and it’s a Canadian whisky dare I say, you will give it a chance, after all dogmatism is the refuge of … not the scoundrel but the dull and narrow-minded.


*See my Comment added below at July 26, 2019 viz. John Doxat, the well-known (late) British drinks authority.



An Early Planter’s Punch Recipe in the U.S.

A Washington, D.C. newspaper in 1903 gives a recipe for Planter’s Punch which is both simple and very good. This has to be one of the older references to the drink in the U.S., perhaps the oldest.

It seems to us that rum, even very good rum, is one of those drinks best mixed.* We used our current supply of Newfoundland Screech or Myer’s Rum to good advantage in this recipe:

Planter’s Punch.

The Creole receipt for this delicious drink is given in the following ancient doggerel: –

“One of sour.
One of sweet.
Two of strong,
And one of weak.”

This means that the juice of one lime must be squeezed into a glass and mixed with one dessertspoonful of sugar. Next, two tablespoonfuls of old Jamaica rum must be put in the glass, and the glass then filled with ice water. A little nutmeg should be grated over the top, and a thin slice of lime float on the surface. This makes a very delicious and refreshing drink, and it is not strong in spite of the rum. Jamaican planters say that when a man has once tasted this punch he will never want to drink anything else.

The detailed part of the recipe seems to diverge from the ditty formula, as a glass is filled with ice water. Even a small glass would mean more than one measure of “weak”, water or ice, is used. Many such formulas require three, or four, of the weak. In the end, it’s personal to the maker, the directions are a guide, not more. But to keep to what may be an original method, I would stick to the four ingredients, lemon or lime, sugar, rum, water/ice.

(In fact the one of weak means it`s similar to the Saint-Martin ponche, i.e., a short strong drink. Maybe the newspaper`s editor turned it into a more friendly drink for a time when Prohibition was looming).

Some punches of the Caribbean use new overproof rum (Barbados, Trinidad), some various fruit juices, some abjure ice (the said Saint-Martin ‘tit ponche), the variations are countless. Simple is sometimes best, though.


*Rum is a very large subject and we would not wish to be categorical. Certainly the best Guyana rums, El Dorado is the name we know, are very good snifter rums. But the complexity of a fine whisky or brandy seems to elude most rum, in our experience.

Canadian Whisky Make-Up Circa 1957

In 1957 the United States Tariff Commission examined the distilling industry chiefly from the standpoint of whisky, the main spirit at the time. The issue was how tax or tax-related changes would affect the various players in the U.S. market. These were mainly American and Canadian companies, in some cases with interlinked ownership. Scotch whisky imports was the third variable.

The investigation was comprehensive, covering such things as product types, production methods, sales channels and data, names of large industry members, and ownership details. Extensive data was sourced from distillers to support the statements in the study. Many interesting statements are made especially regarding the new charred barrel for bourbon and straight rye, e.g., its use became mandatory only in 1938. The effects of the charred barrel on the spirit  vs. used barrels was considered, also national preferences for spirits and how they arise.

The statement was made that the new charred barrel only became an industry practice for bourbon and straight rye – vs. something legally compelled – in the second half of the 1800s. This is consistent with the arguments Hiram Walker successfully made in 1909 that a grain distillate composed in part of a light-bodied, almost neutral whisky was entitled to the appellation whiskey no less than straight bourbon or rye.

The first paragraph in the page reproduced below (from HathiTrust) states the nature of the distillates in the typical bottle of Canadian whisky.

Today, the explanation is still generally accurate except that the high end of the range for light-bodied whisky is probably typical, i.e., 94% abv. The percentages of each whisky type used for the blends was not stated on this page. IIRC the study elsewhere states about 1/3rd heavy whisky was used. Some Canadian blends today would match or exceed that. I’d think for the bulk of production the percentage is rather lower, based on various gleanings over the years. The strip stamp system mentioned is not currently used but many older readers will recall when Canadian whisky bottles bore the stamps. Canadian whisky is still of course bottled under Canadian government supervision.

In other parts of this study, one may find statements concerning the permitted use of flavouring in Canadian whisky (very similar to today’s rule for exports, the 9.09% rule) and many other interesting observations on the industry as it then was, and still in many cases is.