Tasting (Mostly) New Brews From Moosehead, Innis & Gunn, Sam Adams

We visited Moosehead Brewery’s sales and marketing offices in Toronto to try some new products which are or will soon be available in Ontario. (Disclosure: two gratis entries were provided). The offices are in a massive, early-1900s pile which once made munitions. The area, called Liberty Village, was a manufacturing enclave for much of the 20th century. It is now redeveloped as a condo/commercial centre and has quickly assumed an image that speaks contemporary, urban, cool.

The visit revealed some fine beers and a surprise or two. Brews from Scottish-based Innis & Gunn and Boston Brewing Company (Sam Adams) were included as Moosehead distributes them here.

Some impressions.

Moosehead Anniversary Ale

Labelled a limited release, one hopes it will be permanent. It has a full, natural beer taste. New-generation hops give a citric and piney blast and lots are used. It’s the kind of beer I prefer in general, many beer drinkers do today.

The Anniversary name salutes both the company and Canada, as each is 150 years old. Moosehead is still based in New Brunswick and family-controlled – a factor in its favour (but making good beer and the right beer must always come first!).

Anniversary Ale fills a gap as it has a frankly craft taste but bears the Moosehead name. Moosehead has not ignored the craft segment, its unit in Brampton, ON has issued lagers and ales of craft style for some years, but under the Hop City moniker. I like its 8th Sin Black Lager, a beer that should be released under the Moosehead brand.

Using the Moosehead name for top-range craft-styled beers is the way to go IMO. Moosehead has the name, the history, the expertise, it can win big if it makes increasingly characterful, full-flavour products. At least the customer base should be offered the option. And it would offer a leg up over, say, Molson-Coors which doesn’t offer craft beers under the Molson label in Canada.

Moosehead Pale Ale

Moosehead’s main products are the well-known lager, and pale ale. The pale ale is again being introduced to the Ontario market. The Beer Store had it a couple of decades ago but this time an extra marketing push is being made.

The intended market is likely the one that buys Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale or Labatt 50, and probably too the Bud-type drinker looking to scale up. Moosehead Pale Ale is the older style of Canadian ale, I’ve often written about the type. It emerged in the early 1900s to compete with the burgeoning lager market.

Moosehead states the pale ale recipe is the same as in 1933 when the brand was launched. It is lager-like and in the mass-market zone. I’ll say straight off it’s not my preference, I prefer the much fuller taste of craft ales which themselves are a throwback to 1800s brewing. But there is a sizeable potential market, and Moosehead is going for it, which makes sense.

Innis & Gunn Session IPA

Soon available in cans, I had this on draft and was wowed by the clean, punchy-yet-natural taste. Everything was right, the alcohol, not far under 5% abv, the malt quality, the hops.

As it happens, I had it in Paris a few weeks ago. Nic Rennie of I&G told me the Session formula was devised for Canada but a few kegs were sent to France to test the waters. He said the beer was not pasteurized for the trip here. I’m glad it wasn’t as it promotes a full, real beer taste, perhaps one reason I liked it so much. The best part for me was the lack of a woody/vanilla/coconut top-note, a signature of I&G Original and numerous other beers in the line. Obviously a lot of people like it, but offering new options is a smart move. Session IPA is a winner out of the gate.

Innis & Gunn IPA

This IPA iteration also is new. Like the Session, it avoids a notably sweet woody taste, but at 5.6% abv is not just “bigger brother”. It has a big roiling hop taste, more “tropical” as well as the label states. These should be distinguished from I&G’s Oak-Aged IPA released some years ago, and are much better beers in our view.

A great duo, I&G’s Session IPA and regular IPA.

Innis and Gunn Maple and Thistle Rye Ale (Bottle-Conditioned)

A special release to commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday, it was aged in 150 oak barrels for 150 days. It uses three malts including one from rye. An addition of maple syrup and thistle is made before bottling, a gracious nod to the special and historic relationship of Canada and Scotland.

So lots happening in this beer. It’s a clear success with medium malt, herbal notes and a faint aftertaste of the maple.  The ferny thistle shows through very nicely. The I&G woody quality is not much apparent, maybe offset by the mix of ingredients. A great digestif, with cheese and nuts, or with a cigar or vape for those who indulge. A beer like this is as good or better than a Madeira or port, people need to think of these options.

Sam Adams Fresh as Helles

A recent release, I had it on draft in Toronto a couple of months ago. On this occasion I tried it in bottle, and was much more impressed. (Sometimes beers evolve in the early stages, or maybe something else was in the pipe that day or mixed, who knows).

Orange blossom is added and used with a single hop, Mandarina, that is already citric as the name implies. It’s an interesting tweak for a lager. Mandarina is a cross between the American Cascade and two German hops, one established, one experimental (Hüll Melon). A delicious drink chilled, and against type so to speak as many would think of Mandarina and a floral addition in ale terms.

Sam Adams Summer Ale

This perennial had a sharp lemon note, stronger than I recall. The peppery spice addition, grains of paradise, is perhaps downplayed now.

The beer is well-named, and will please many on the patio at a BBQ.

Sam Adams, if you’re reading: please bring Boston Stock Ale to Ontario. It’s a perfect recipe, a genuine English flavour which needs distribution here. Few local beers really deliver the classic flowery/woodsy ale palate like Stock Ale does.

Tea for Two or…

I didn’t get to taste Twisted Tea, a tea-flavoured “malternative” from Sam Adams, but will review it as the opportunity arises.


Most of the beers were excellent, and showing good progress by those concerned. Moosehead put out a cheese table, I might add, that would be the envy of any haute Toronto eatery. Numerous cheeses were Canadian including a superb Quebec blue.




Of Pilsener and Poobahs

Mittel-Europa Forsakes Not a Native Son

A dish of Austrian cuisine, huhner-puree, is a mince or purée of chicken or perhaps partridge. It is or was typically served as an appetizer, probably on toast rounds. A 19th century recipe appears here. The original German has largely defeated us – any help from interested readers is appreciated – but we think we have the gist right.

The dish appeared on a menu from 1903, reproduced below. It was published in 1915 in World’s Fair Menu and Recipe Book; a Collection of the Most Famous Menus Exhibited at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition by Joseph Charles Lehner. Lehner is identified in the book as “the American gastronom”. The odd spelling offers a period charm. Half the book is a menu collection, the other half deals with what used to be called home economics. The latter was surely added to ensure relevance to a commercial exposition.

The book was drawn to our attention on Twitter by menu collector and blogger Henry Voigt, see www.theamericanmenu.com for details on his work.

We would guess Joseph Lehner was a German or Austrian who at some point during a hotel and catering career relocated to San Francisco, site of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The book collects menus gathered in the prior 25 years. It seems Lehner was often engaged to travel the world to prepare dinners for the great and good. Just as an example, he created a dinner in Cairo for General Viscount Kitchener, of Khartoum fame, offered by “past and present” officers of the Egyptian army. The striking menu cover is reproduced in the book.

Most of the menus pertain to royalty, senior military or political figures, society people, and similar. A number of White House menus are included. Many are of good interest, in part for the artwork often featured. As well, the cuisines were diverse, not always French albeit French food (then) was typical of “public catering”, as explained in the introduction.

The book explains too that Lehner had displayed his menus in various places around the world, and finally published them in the form of this book for people to buy. This must be an early example of the collecting and dissemination of dining menus to shed light on social and political events of the day, to record social history in a word.

Our interest in huhner-purree is that it is paired with pilsener beer, beer that is from Pilsen, Czech Republic. Pilsener is usually associated with the Urquell brand from the famous Burgher’s, or Citizen’s, Brewery, founded 1842. In that period through to WW I German cultural influence pervaded Pilsen and Bohemia, and this extended to the vogue for bottom-fermented beer, the lager of which Urquell is now avatar. But the Pilsen beer which accompanied the chicken offering was likely not Urquell. It was almost certainly from another brewery in town, Erste Pilsener Aktien-Brauerie. A foraging of early Pilsen beer history by the specialist on Czech beer and travel writer, Evan Rail, supports this inference.

Nonetheless, regardless of its precise origin, the beer at the dinner is notable simply for being –  a beer. It is the only beer, not just on that particular menu, but in the entire book. Given the formal nature of the entertainments recorded by Lehner, beer would generally be far from the scene. Dining at an epicurean level, then and to a large extent still, meant wine was served, not beer, cider, or hard spirits. But exceptions there always were.

The cuisines of central Europe were devised by peoples familiar with beer as an old tradition. Accordingly, they did not always neglect it for the table, even for formal occasions. The meal in question was Germanic in temper probably because it was served in the Vienna town hall, in honour of a local priest. But a bourgeois meal it was not, much less family-style. It blended hallowed local traditions with French influences such as the serried rank of wines accompanying the main courses (some vintage-dated), or salad after the savoury food. The dessert and cheese courses too suggest a French influence, including that an assortment of cheeses was offered.

The dinner was in essence “Continental”, a term old-fashioned today. It denoted a specific approach to cuisine that was neither purely local nor strictly Right Bank Escoffier.

I have referred earlier to the rare appearance of beer on early menus, I gave this example from 1900, a meal at an estate of the Pabst brewery in Milwaukee. Three beers, each named and of different style, were paired with specific courses. Even then, Champagne appeared and gave the beers a run for their money (see the account of the meal in the link I gave). Once again we have a blending of high and low influences.

Lehner appended a note to his menu to explain presumably why a beer appeared in a collection of haute“artistically designed” menus. He stated since “cocktail” doesn’t exist in Vienna, beer was served as an appetizer. It seems he considered the beer as much a food as the chicken it was partnered with. This was still the prevailing view then, at least in a German cultural context: beer was liquid bread.


Note re images: the images herein were sourced from Joseph Charles Lehner’s 1915 book linked in the text via HathiTrust. Images appear for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources resides solely in their lawful owners, as applicable. All feedback welcome.

A Proto-Michael Jackson Rates World Beers

A wide-ranging article on beer in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1884 sheds light on the international beer picture with commendable accuracy.

It surveys Austria, Germany (indirectly), Pilsen, England, Sweden, Russia, and America. The astute observation is made that pale ale was declining in India and Bass would be well advised to make a “lager Bass”. Bass carried on well enough, for some 80 years in fact until via mergers it had a lager to sell with legs.

A Christiana brand from Sweden was praised, but especially Austrian lager which was pale amber, always served cold, and was never sour. The beer was said not to have a heavy body, but Pilsen’s lager was said to be even lighter. This shows how things have changed, as few would consider Pilsner Urquell a thin beer today. The article did note pilsner’s heavy bitterness, from Saaz hops, a quality that remains today.

American ale came in for a close look. It was said “Fifth Avenue” ignored the local productions in favour of imported ales. Indeed hotel and chic restaurant menus from the period largely bear this out.  Bass pale ale was widely available in the States by this time, despite the Bass stink, which may testify to the power of branding, of image. The article claimed the ales made in New York were mostly second class since brewers could not fetch the highest price for them, but that sales were robust anyway: poor people drank the stuff and were quite happy with the local product.

I’m not sure it is really correct to say American ales were made less carefully than they could have been, or where the journalist got his information (maybe it was from a Brooklyn lager brewer). It is hard to know too what the writer considered inferior quality to be. He may have meant a cloudy mien and warmish serving temperature, for example, which on strict technical grounds can be virtues.

Our own investigations into 19th century ale brewing suggest good quality products were made, e.g., beer was often given a long period of aging. The journalist did say the best of the local ales, made from Canadian Bay of Quinte barley, was very sound. This is satisfying for a Canadian pen to record.

The Barley Days, as the period of the big crops was known from Bay of Quinte over through Kingston, Belleville, and Cobourg to Toronto, were a rich payday for Ontario farming. This is from 1870-1900. Today, the crops are more diverse in the region, but a brewery exists with the name Barley Days in Picton, ON, to remember the palm days of agriculture.

Perhaps feeling he was a little hard on the local ales, the Daily Eagle writer averred in an amusing way that Americans could produce ale as good as Britain’s, if only enough people had confidence in the products of our own land vs. those from far away. The writer would be pleased to see that in our time, American ales have had a world influence, not least in the England which, in 1884, could only be only sniffy on the topic.

In the extract from the story below, the quaint term “dudified” appears. It refers to “dudes”, the meaning of which has changed. Originally, a dude was an upwardly mobile, urbanized type – kind of a combination of a hipster and someone on the social register. Hence the term “dude ranch”, a place  meant to show big city dudes how horses and farming really worked. A dude ranch was the 19th century equivalent to today’s eco-tourism.

The term dandy may get closer to the term dude in the late 1800s. Ain’t that right dudes?


Note re image: the image above was extracted from the issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle linked in the text via the NYS historical newspaper resource. Image appears for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the source resides solely in its lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcome.



Brewers Helping Brewers

The United States Brewers’ Association*, founded 1862 as an association of lager brewers, was the main trade association of brewers in the U.S. Albeit the largest it was one of many. Taking in various state and other associations, there were almost 40 by 1900. An Ale Brewers Association of New York and New Jersey existed (whose efforts sadly did not arrest the decline of ale-brewing, as we have seen).

In a Documentary History on the United States Brewers Association, Etc. (1896-1898), light is shed on a thought-provoking early practice of lager brewers. Where one could not supply his customers from existing inventory, he had what seems almost a right to “remove” stock from another brewer and sell it in his own packages, under his own brand, without informing customers. Consider the following (via HathiTrust):


Clearly, this arrangement existed where it would cause no difficulty, or no undue difficulty, to the obliging brewer. If customers noticed any change in the beer substituted, presumably they raised no complaint. After all, beer was provided, or rather potable, grain-derived beverage alcohol was, the main object of any beer purchase, so enough said; at least in an older period that was the case. One can imagine too that even a brewery’s regular production c. 1860 was subject to inconsistency due to the state of brewery science (almost nil). So a taste of a different concern’s beer probably raised no undue wonderments.

This practice would have been most common in the 1850s, the cradle-years of lager brewing, before an excise was placed on beer. The first tax was levied in 1862 by the Union to raise revenue for the Civil War. Since the tax statutes thenceforth regulated transportation of beer from breweries, permission was sought to legitimate the former customary practice, provided of course the beer was tax-paid. The USBA made the proposal in a draft revenue law submitted to the government after the war ended.

We didn’t pursue whether the requested provision became law, our interest here is more the cooperative practice. It has long been known that early communities of brewers helped each other in various ways. The main way was to supply yeast when a brewer needed a new supply due his yeast expiring or losing full fermentative power. Probably too brewers helped each other with supplies of malt and hops as circumstances allowed. Some of this tradition exists to this day. Some years ago a large brewer had a project (maybe still) to supply hops to small brewers, who sometimes have difficulty obtaining hops in small quantities or at a good price. Volume purchasing assists obtaining trade discounts.

In this vein, the Documentary History also states brewers supplied new beer to those with old but lacking new beer so they could “ferment” the old brew. This is a reference to conditioning stock lager with new beer, krausening it, that is, to make it saleable in the market. This is interesting too, since I discuss in my new article on musty ale whether old ale was conditioned with lager-krausen in Cincinnati in 1860 and acquired a “green” or musty flavour as a result.

But actually to provide one’s completed, ready-to-ship beer to a competitor to sell in the latter’s packages, under his own name, seems a step of a different order. Doing this, together with the other practices mentioned, almost made early American lager-brewers a collective, or a loose joint venture. Supplying beer to a competitor would be questionable under current anti-competition laws certainly, and selling at retail a beer different than the label suggests raises other legal questions.

The primal community as it were didn’t tarry over such things. People in relatively isolated settlements needed to, and found ways, to get along. He who supplied beer to a fellow brewer in need might lose some of his own sales, possibly, but one day might need such help himself. One for all, all for one.

Capitalism was never simply, and is not even today, the monochromatic, rapacious system its detractors like to present. It is easy to deride business too when the many who trumpet its failings have never tried to establish one and have no idea of the difficulty, travail, and indeed the creativity involved.

By 1976, a common complaint in beer circles, which helped stimulate the craft renaissance, was that “all beer tastes the same”. Well, early practices such as mentioned help explain why.

One of the ironies, harmless as they are, of the real food and allied movements is the imaging of an Eden of choice in the primal community, be it for beer, bread, cheese, etc. In fact, many of these staples were probably much more uniform than is commonly supposed, certainly in particular communities.

This is what I meant when I suggested yesterday that craft brewing pioneers, and the consumer writers who partly inspired them, had a mythological view of brewing history. Certainly we have a greater choice today for beer than in 1976. Yet, all IPA tastes rather similar doesn’t it? The reasons may differ from those which explain presumed lager similarity in 1850s America, but as so often happens, things have a way of not changing, in their essentials, over time.


*Now The Beer Institute.




In Memorium: American Ale, 1600s-1904


One of the oldest ale breweries on the west side of town after having been established more than half a century has gone out of business owing to the competition of the lager beer breweries. This is in line with a general diminution in the sale of ale through the city … the demand for ale has been declining except among the old fashioned who frequent New York saloons but whose patronage gets less important every year.

The article from which this is drawn, printed in 1904 in the New York Sun, is the culmination of some 30 years of journalistic investigation of the brewing industry in the New York press.

I have cited most of these articles in recent posts. The tenor is that lager beer proved by far the bulk of production by the 1880s, whereas 20 years earlier ale (which would take in porter) was still a dominant trade. The 1904 piece explains the main reasons for the change: a reduction in immigration to the city from Britain and the supply by the lager brewers of a substitute for ale as a winter drink.

The articles in toto explain that ale was favoured in the winter for its heating properties, meaning essentially its greater alcohol content vs. lager. There is an implication ale had more body as well, which may reflect that more ale was all-malt than lager by this time (1885-1905). The warmer temperature ale was served at suited this warming function as well.

The 1904 piece stated that lager brewers devised a “strong beer” to compete with ale as a winter staple. While this was not specified, the Salvators, bocks, and doppel beers appearing in period ads make it clear lager was not always the relatively weak, benign drink its ardent defenders liked to suggest.

The German brewers outclassed the old stock American ale and porter brewers, in a word. Lager completely dominated the summer trade and found a way to compete with ale in cold weather. And the influx of Germans and other non-Britishers inclined them away from a drink which, as the article explained, was designed for “moist and humid localities” (read British) rather than America’s extremes.

An earlier article (1886) pointed out that some ale brewers were devising their beer to be drunk cold and free from “discoloration”, or the cloudiness so prized by today’s generation of beer fanciers. Indeed this form of ale – sparkling, cream, or fizzy present use ale in brewers’ terminology – was the main surviving form of ale up to Prohibition. It came back with Repeal.

Ballantine XXX, still sold but marred by too much adjunct IMO, was a poster child in New York for this type. Even this adapted ale was a small part of the revived trade, under 10% nationwide by 1940.

The ale brewer was able to survive, but he had to make a lager-like beverage to do it. The IPA of olde England, exemplified by Ballantine India Pale, was a rarity in post-Repeal America, a weird survival as if preserved (quite literally) in amber. There were numerous such beers in the market, especially in the northeast, but they had an insignificant sale in the overall picture.

The New York newspapers realized, as the gas-lit era took hold, that something was being lost, and in their way they memorialized it. They would be amazed at the revival of ale drinking today. Indeed sometimes ale and stout are drawn by the very “pullhandles” and “goosenecks” which the journalists had noted, with no sentimentality one might add, had practically disappeared from the nation’s bars by the 1880s.

Perhaps in a different time these scribblers, counting no doubt a few ale fanciers, would have campaigned more ardently to save the remnant of New York’s ale heritage still operating. But looming Prohibition dissuaded them, surely. Even in New York, trumpeting an alcohol interest was not a smart thing to do no matter the historical and cultural trappings brought to assist.

In all the articles mentioned, not one comment is made about simple palate: that lager tasted different than ale irrespective of alcohol content and serving temperature. This is in stark contrast to the post-Michael Jackson way of writing about these drinks. It was understood and mentioned that ale was brewed by top-fermentation and lager by cold-, but no suggestion was made that ale had a uniquely estery, and arguably more complex, character.

Not until the 1970s would people value and strive to restore the ancestral taste. Ironically, their surnames reflect a United Nations of ethnicities: (Fritz) Maytag, (Ken) Grossman, (Jack) McAuliffe, (Bill) Newman, (Charlie) Papazian.

The reason this could happen is a fundamental change in how people looked at the ale heritage. In sociological or cultural history terms, one might say they viewed it mythologically. This was made possible by a relatively prosperous period, one which favoured reflection, looking back, and blending past with present (“Back to the land”). The emerging information era played no small part, as well.

All this was embryonic amongst the newspaper fraternity c. 1900. And any proto-Michael Jacksons among them were cowed by a wave more powerful than any which poured from a busy lager brewery: the Prohibition sentiment. It proved unstoppable, after a fashion to be sure as the alcohol business did continue in New York and elsewhere. But the sub rosa form, and later, depression and world war, meant an old brewing tradition could not be restored until 1970s prosperity and Marshall McLuhan’s global village made it possible.

“At the speed of light there is no sequence; everything happens at the same instant”. (Marshall McLuhan, 1976).

Note re image: the Ballantine advertising image herein was sourced from Pinterest, here. Image appears for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the source resides solely in its lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcome.


Evans Ale Returns in the 1930s

What’s Old is New Again, or Newish

Aftertaste, a stock term in the organoleptic vocabulary, also has been appropriated for generations by marketers. Not just for beer, but for other consumer products including coffee and cigarettes. What is aftertaste? Wikipedia helpfully tells us: “[the] taste intensity of a food or beverage that is perceived immediately after that food or beverage is removed from the mouth”.

Yup, that sounds about right.

Those who know the beer palate well generally like a good aftertaste including one where the hop resins are telling. Yet, humans are conditioned not to like bitter tastes, probably because many poisons are bitter, so bitterness in beer has long been a challenge for brewers and marketers who, after all, need a larger market to survive. Hence devising tasty beers with no hop aftertaste, not that anyone has really mastered the trick IMO, but brewers keep trying.

The so-called Vermont IPA type seems prone to minimising hop aftertaste although it really depends on the brand, I think.

References to aftertaste in advertising are older than one might think, going back to the mid-1800s. Initially, the term did not have an invariably negative sense. Some beer ads before WW I speak of a “pleasant aftertaste”, for example. But some edge toward the use legion today, for example when beer was said to have no “bitter aftertaste”.

By the 1930s, aftertaste as used in marketing assumes its present shape, as you see from the nifty ad from 1936 for Evans Ale. I have often referred to Evans, which was primarily a pre-Prohibition brand out of Hudson, NY.

The brewery forever shut with Prohibition, however a brewery in Binghampton, NY revived the name in the mid-30s. The revival did not succeed, and a taste of history – if it was that – quickly disappeared.

The reason I say if it was that is, the ad touts that the beer had no aftertaste while in the eternally win-win world of Madison Avenue, also bruiting virtues of old-fashioned, pre-Prohibition beer. It stated that Evans’ beer was a “real ale”, “for discriminating people”, and indeed made by a brewer who worked at Evans “for many years prior to prohibition”.

Master marketers know how to combine the virtues of pedigree with those of modernity, a stock technique of alcohol marketing to this day.

Was Evans’ beer before Volstead really denuded of all aftertaste? It seems unlikely given, for one thing, Evans used to advertise the benefits of aging, which required lots of hops then, and pushed too its India Pale Ale and musty ale. These styles weren’t known, or so one would think, for palate subtlety.

But covering the bases in this sense didn’t seem to work in Binghampton in the FDR era. Or maybe the fact that Binghampton is in a different section of the state from the original brewery explains why the phoenix didn’t rise.

Still, curate’s egg or not, I’d guess the Evans Mark II was pretty good. We can only wonder. It’s satisfying to report though that a descendant of the Evans brewing family successfully established a brewpub in Albany, NY, some years ago, the Albany Pump Station. The Evans name is used in some of the branding.  All details here, and it looks great.

Note re images: the first image above was extracted from the original ad, here. The newspaper in which it appears, the Endicott Bulletin, is available courtesy the NYS digitized newspaper archive. The second image, of modern Binghampton, NY, was sourced from the travel site www.city-data.com. All intellectual property in the sources resides solely in their lawful owners, as applicable. Images appear for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Close the Saloons

Of Town and Country

In Norwood, St. Lawrence County, NY a newspaper printed a take-no-prisoners anti-saloon tract in 1886. The article was reprinted from the “Independent”, possibly a newspaper of that name in New York, NY. It focused on the increasingly popular lager beer and the saloons it was sold in.

It is interesting to compare the tone of the piece to the contemporary, big city coverage we have often related pertaining to beer, breweries and booze. The Sun in New York, Daily Eagle in Brooklyn and other larger New York-area papers were writing in a proto-hard-boiled style, one that would mature in mid-20th century popular culture (“dick” films, guys and dolls dramas, Walter Winchell columns, Dashiell Hammett and similar).

The big city writers were kind of blasé about booze, explicating the endless chambers of massive breweries for readers, explaining European cafes and drinks, charting the decline of ale vs. lager, and generally covering booze in a way similar to today’s media.

One sees the shadow of temperance attitudes in some of this writing, but not much more. For example, a pro forma sentence might be included that, we intend here to talk about the way beer is brewed and sold, not the right and wrong of drinking it. Beyond that, down to business.

In small towns, it was very different, one would never read articles of this type except possibly where liquor was manufactured, as in Kentucky. Norwood is in St. Lawrence County and I’ve written before how liquor, legal and otherwise, was appreciated there too but the public face of it was always the obverse of what New York said. Propriety was everything in a small place. You couldn’t run or hide, and the preachers and others on their side had writ of the land.

The story below, which I’ve reproduced in full, covered all the bases: family integrity; morality and religion; and keeping strikers out of the workplace. It has a stark frankness and simplicity. There is no dissimulation, no fine distinctions made, no fence-sitting as are legion in our politics today. It’s more, this is what we’re going to do, and don’t cavil with us else we’ll steamroller you.

There is even an implication that if “Germans” got in the way of total Prohibition they would be dealt with, too. How was not specified. I’d assume this part of the article, at least, was simple hyperbole.

The resolution exemplified by the article grew and prevailed in the country by 1919, it is fully prescient as to what would occur within a generation. While I don’t agree with the specifics of the issue as addressed here, I do admire the forthright tone and stance, the refusal to cavil before what was seen as a mortal threat to the land. There is a lesson in it for today’s politics and today’s challenges.

The Lager Beer Saloon.

The old whisky bar, or rum-hole was bad enough; but it had this advantage, that it had the credit of being frankly disreputable. It had no defenders. Lager beer is not so intoxicating as those distilled liquors, but the lager beer saloon is more demoralizing than the old doggeries [sic]. The importation of lager beer is the worst evil that has come into this country since slaves were first brought to Virginia. The effect is not immediate, but the evil is progressive and the habit debasing. A young man who has got into the habit of frequenting the lager beer saloon, is pretty nearly ruined.

It is because lager beer tippling is not so disreputable that it is so dangerous. In our cities the lager beer saloon is everywhere and it is patronized by the mass of the workmen. Little children are sent by scores to bring a pail of beer to their parents. They are taught to haunt these spots, and to drink from their earliest years. Our modern drunkenness begins on lager beer, so that lager beer makes the most of our drunkards. It is the parent not only of drunkenness, but of all stupid inefficiency aud unthrift. It is a besotting drink, where it does not produce absolute intoxication.

The lager beer saloon is the haunt of lazy and crazy fools. It tempts men to sit still and do nothing but talk silliness and mischief. The one danger which threatens the Knights of Labor, comes from the lager beer saloon. Mr. [Terence] Powderly has again and again warned them of it. If their members can keep free from the lager beer saloon they can be trusted to be clear-headed and diligent. It is the men who hang about the lager beer saloon that stir up differences between employers and employed. We never had a report of a strike, perhaps a just one [sic], degenerating into violence, but that it is out of the saloons that a crowd runs to beat an honest laborer. It is the lager beer saloon that is always the headquarters of violence, lawlessness and anarchy. The Chicago anarchists did their plotting in their saloons. The leaders of the same crew in this city keep lager beer saloons. Shut up the lager beer saloons and you have broken up the whole organization of the anarchists.

The corrupt politics of the day has its center in the lager beer saloons. That is where the pot-house politicians gather, where the candidate sets up a keg for the crowd. Shut up the lager beer saloon, and you have done three-fourths of what is necessary to purify the politics of the country. So we say whatever else is left, shut up the lager beer saloon.

There is a curse in it. It must be abolished. It should have no quarter. The man who sells lager beer ought to be shut out of the Church. The man who makes it should be ostracised from decent society. These men are foes to God and their country. There should be no mercy shown to the traffic. The sacred cause of prohibition must make war on the fermented as well as the distilled stuff.

It makes no difference what the politicians say, what German vote the Republican party may lose, for the lager beer saloon must go, and if the German vote or the Republican party resist they must go too. Downright abolition and prohibition, sweeping and complete, unyielding and compulsory, is the only thing to which we can give consent.

Note re images: the image above was extracted from Pinterest, here. The quotation was sourced from the original newspaper article linked in the text above, available courtesy the NYS digitized newspaper archive. Image and quotation appear for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources resides solely in their lawful owners, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.

The Bass Stink

Americans Expected a Stenchy Smell on Opening a Bottle of Bass

It always comes as slight shock to know that some reputed foods or drinks don’t taste “good” on first acquaintance.

For these one needs to “acquire” a taste. From Sauterne wine in which “la pourriture noble” or noble rot colours the flavour to the best caviar – always a little fishy – great food and drink can taste a little strange. Food habits are largely arbitrary, which explains the great diversity of things people eat and drink. Fermented mare’s milk, 100-year-old Chinese eggs, Asian fish sauces fermented as in Rome of old (garum), Limburger cheese, farmhouse cider redolent of a horse blanket – these are just some of the things the producing nations admire while in other places they are anathema. And vice versa.

National preferences tend to favour either strong and impactful or bland and soothing. Britain’s traditional food has been said to show the latter traits. But even there exceptions exist, and more so in the past. Ever had a bloater, a form of smoked herring? Old Stilton blue cheese used to run with maggots. The British for centuries liked mutton, and game hung for weeks. Not for shrinking violets.

One kind of British beer, the famed pale ale of Burton-on-Trent, often had a stenchy note akin for some to (apologies) passing gas. Sulphate ions from dissolved gypsum in well waters explains it, in combination perhaps with certain yeasts. People got used to the taste and it became a regional, national, and finally international taste, in the form of Burton India Pale Ale.

One might wonder how a taste not immediately attractive could gain a market foothold, especially internationally. It was thought the hard water in Burton beer created a tendency not to sour (see top right-hand column), a consideration which perhaps trumped all others in pre-pasteurization, pre-refrigeration days.

It may be too people just liked the taste – German lager often discloses dimethyl sulphide, a compound deriving from pale lager malt, not from water used in mashing and brewing. Lots of people like that taste in beer, in Germany and outside.

Bass and other Burton pale ales superseded the original form pioneered by Hodgson of Bow, London. Whether Hodgson’s beer, which presumably lacked the stench because London’s water is soft, was superior gastronomically is an open question. Soft water is considered more suited to porter production, a London speciality in the past, but if the water produced a bitter ale without a taste of over-boiled egg, I’d say Hodgson’s had the edge.

The commercial skill of Burton’s brewers rendered this moot, as they took over the trade from Hodgson in India, which formed the basis for their later success in the domestic U.K. market. Even when pale ale could be vouchsafed from instability by microbiological controls and pasteurization, the Burton stench or snatch, as it is known in brewing circles, remained from tradition and pedigree.

When I first tasted Bass ale in England about 30 years ago I was disappointed by the Burton snatch, as I hadn’t grown up with it. It’s noticeable in Marston’s ales too, the other surviving Burton brewer of the old school. Today, a good English pale ale/IPA often still has the Burton snatch regardless of where brewed in the U.K. as brewing chemistry can mimic the effect.

In America in the second half of the 1800s, Bass beer was a reputed import, as it was around the world. It always cost more than domestic ale. It was from England, home of great ale, and the main ancestor in cultural terms to the American project. Domestic brewers argued their beer was as good or better, but they always had an uphill battle. Late-1800s press accounts on the domestic ale trade in New York continually attest to its falling position and rather downscale image, in contrast to the Germanic lager that is. See for example this 1880s Brooklyn Daily Eagle piece, or this one.

As an import, Bass ale retained its cachet, but at the time sales of imported beer were negligible in terms of national beer consumption: America drank its own, and it was to be almost exclusively lager by WW I.

It must have taken courage to call this Bass “stinky”, but Americans mustered it without discomfiture. In 1900 a Congressional hearing on food safety and additives in beer heard evidence that when opening a bottle of Bass drinkers expected the “Bass stink”. Given the state of science at the time, even experts didn’t really know the reason(s), as disclosed in the transcripts.

Some speculated the smell was from lime or sodium bisulphite, a preservative that can lend a sulphury tang to foods and liquids. Brewing writers in the period often commented on this effect but the need to preserve foods and drinks trumped all refinements of flavour. This was a time of technological transition, when pasteurizing beer to neutralize residual yeast hadn’t taken full hold, especially for draft beer. People had recourse to what worked. Better pongy than putrid…

Today, we know that another potential cause of the stink may well have been Brettanomyces, as Bass ale then was long-stored at ambient temperature in uncoated wood before bottling. A Dutch scientist, Custers, around 1940 isolated Brett yeast from bottles of Bass. This followed on the landmark discovery c.1900 by Nils Claussen that vatted or long-stored English beer underwent a secondary fermentation from wild yeast, or Brett, which caused the flavour in question.

In the Congressional testimony Bass strongly denied using preservatives. In my article on American “musty ale” in Brewery History I referenced this evidence and wrote that the likely cause(s) of the stink were the Burton snatch (gypsum in water), Brettanomyces, or both. Still, the fact that Bass was bottled by numerous separate concerns – Bass didn’t take over the bottling function until much later – suggests that some bottled Bass was probably dosed with bisulphite, and the preservative might have imparted a noticeable off-smell. But whatever the cause, one of the great beers of the world, Bass ale, was odoriferous. Some classic Burton ale still is.

And so once a drink, or food, acquires a cachet it is difficult to dislodge the reputation even if “objectively” it has what can be viewed as faults in flavour. Even today the status of certain beer and wine imports is magical. Example: many craft lagers by virtue of being unpasteurized and sold soon after production are superior to imported lagers. Still, many people endlessly order the import. It’s the factor of “name”, or recognition. It’s true for many kinds of cheese (Stilton, Roquefort) and wine as well. It takes a long time for things to turn around, for people to develop the confidence to support local production even when arguably it is superior either due to less processing or simply a higher standard of production.

Bass ale prospered as an export to the U.S. after National Prohibition (1920-1933) just as before. You can still buy Bass in America, it is brewed today under license in New York State. There is no more snatch in it, no Brettanomyces, it’s been rubbed out. The English draught original, now brewed at former rival Marston’s in Burton, still features it though, or so I understand.

Note re images: the first image was extracted from a 1902 issue of the New York Sun, here, available courtesy the NYS digitized newspaper resource. The second image was extracted from a 1904 issue of the same newspaper, here, courtesy the same resource. The last image is via the HathiTrust digitized library as linked in the text. Images appear for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources resides solely in their lawful owners, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.




Wine of the Orchards

Drink of golden fire … wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apple

-Cider With Rosie, Laurie Lee (1959)

Cider is something I try only occasionally. I like it, and its traditions and gastronomic interest are second to none in the world league of drinks, but somehow it gets left aside in favour of beer as a staple.

Still, some cider coursed our way recently. One was French, not from the west but Camargue in Provence. The second: the craft-sounding Caple Rd. from the old-established regional, Henry Westons in Herefordshire, England. The third was local, from Peller Estates in Niagara, best known as a winery.

The French one issued from Le Mas Daussan, an apple orchard which stresses organic production. You can read about it here. It had the intense perfumed notes I associate with Normandy cider. The Weston product, aged 18 months in stainless steel and wood, was rich but equable. Clearly apples of different types were blended, the west’s typical cider varieties but also probably a touch of Cox Pippin or other dessert types.

The Canadian one, No Boats on Sunday, was full of McIntosh apple character, with a good balance of sweet and sharp. The latter has hops in it too although one wouldn’t know from the taste.

While the southern Rhone mightn’t seem propice for cider, the Camargue is subjected to the mistral. Its climate is not the “baking Mediterranean” type, perhaps one reason the apples performed so well in a drink more typically associated with the Viking and Celtic pays of Atlantic France.

None of the three had brettanomyces flavours, a plus IMO. I dislike the barnyard haut goût of much farmhouse-style cider. I recall a scrumpy sold from the bar top in a paper box in London some years ago which literally stank of it. To be sure, many gastronomic specialties have tastes that objectively are unpleasant or at least must be acquired – good beer, say – but brett should be used with caution I think in (any) drink.

The mass market side of the business probably goes too far the other way – Strongbow in particular seems much blander than even 10 years ago. The big sellers in general seem sweet and simplistic but obviously a lot of people like them.

The “Mac” apple has an appealing flavour and has long been “the” Canadian variety. It hails from eastern Ontario but has long been associated with apple orchards throughout eastern Canada, and is the basis of Canadian apple juice. The flavour is bright and partially of the wild apple the Mac derives from, but without the sourness.

Quebec has an established cider industry since the 1970s. Before that it was sub rosa, farmers would make it for their own use or to sell to passers-by. It had a rough, characteristic taste, kind of cardboard-like. Some of the cheaper commercial brands in Quebec still remind me of it. The Mac flourishes in particular in the Rougement area near Montreal.

Even though each country makes a variety of cider styles, sweet, dry, flavoured, etc., there is a national imprint of flavour I think. The English and French types are close cousins. The North American ones remind me, generally, of our apple juice standard and once again the Mac profile. Varying apple types are used in Ontario, I know, but still there is something in our soils I think which confers a characteristic flavour.

Ontario must have 15 or 20 cider makers now and there is every hope the future will bring more variety and taste.



Brooklyn Lager – A Taste of History

Having enjoyed a glass of Brooklyn lager on draft in France recently, I sought out a can of Brooklyn lager here to test and compare. The canned one was brewed in New York, I assume in Utica at F.X. Matt Brewing Company where Brooklyn Brewery has long made the bulk of its production until its planned large-scale brewery in Staten Island, NY (or possibly elsewhere per last press reports) is up and running.

Brooklyn Brewery is a pioneering, East Coast craft brewer which first marketed its contract-made brews in the late 1980s. Later, some draft production was supplied from the company’s small showcase in Brooklyn, NY.

According to the website, this is the origin of the lager recipe:

… Steve [Hindy] and Tom [Potter] commissioned fourth-generation brewmaster William M. Moeller, a former head brewer at Philadelphia’s Schmidt Brewery, to brew Brooklyn Lager at the FX Matt Brewery in Utica, New York. Moeller pored over the brewing logs of a grandfather of his who had brewed in Brooklyn at the turn of the last century to develop a recipe for Brooklyn Lager. The result was an all-malt lager beer with a tangy aroma created by “dry-hopping,” an age-old technique of adding hops during the maturation process to create a robust aroma. Brooklyn Lager made quite a splash in the 1980’s beer scene in New York City, dominated by the light, rice and corn lagers sold by Budweiser, Miller and Coors.

It was interesting to read this, as when I tasted the beer in France, brewed under license by Carlsberg in Denmark, I immediately thought of my research on the main form of 19th century American lager. It was malty, reddish-brown, hoppy, exactly like Brooklyn lager. This form of lager preceded the paler, Bohemian type which became the template for American adjunct lager. In retrospect, one can see it was a bridge from the pre-1850 top-fermentation days to the new, German-influenced era.

To read this morning the beer was in fact inspired by a c. 1900 brewing log makes perfect sense, everything ties together. I had been aware that Sam Adams lager was inspired by a 19th century recipe, and broadly it shows the traits the research disclosed, but I hadn’t known that Brooklyn brewery’s lager had similar roots.

I’ll admit when I first tasted the beer around 1990, I didn’t like it and didn’t favour the other productions of the brewery either, in any form – bottled or draft. To me, the beers were just not “on”, something wasn’t right. Obviously the market as a whole liked them and the company grew. It now makes a baker’s dozen brands year-round with seasonal specialties and one-offs. Indeed it is reaching overseas with distribution and contract brewing help from the likes of Carlsberg.

So why did I enjoy that beer in France, and the canned one last night no less? (They were virtually identical in character).

I think the beer improved, frankly. It’s probably been that way for some time, but I hadn’t revisited it in a long time due to my initial reactions.

It is my experience that the craft breweries who stay in business generally improve their products unless they are pitch-perfect on release, as Sierra Nevada’s beers were, for example, or Anchor Brewery’s since the 1970s. Few breweries get it right right off the bat though. Time often has a way of bettering the product as the brewery learns with experience, better technical resources, more capital, etc.

In fact, I now recall that I had a glass of the Brooklyn lager at the Dominion pub on Queen Street last year. I liked it a lot and made a mental note to buy it again but forgot later in the general hubbub of the beer scene/beer business. I’m sorry now I didn’t try the East India Pale Ale in Paris when I had the chance – it was on draft in a couple of places, too.

But I’ll catch up with it somewhere before long.