Process Cheese, Recherché Wines

A high-toned and prescient wine tasting was held in Baltimore, Maryland in 1948, which I discussed in my previous post. The Borden Creamery contributed cheese including a process type, Vera-Sharp. You see it below from a period ad in Life magazine, the picture magazine emblematic of 20th Century mass-culture America.



Borden extensively advertised processed cheese from the 1940s through the 1960s. The company was finally sold to venture capitalists in New York. The dairy component and other food businesses of Borden (pasta an important line) were spun-off.

From our determinations, it appears today two food companies, one in Texas, the other in Mexico, make Borden-brand cheese under license, with no other connection to the original business.

Borden’s slogan “Elsie the contented cow” still has currency some 60 years after its heyday. Beloved consumer trade names can long endure in the public mind.

But all to say, cheese slices and other Borden-brand products are still available. Not spreads from what I can tell, it’s all chunks, slices, singles. And strings. Shreds too, you know.

Most of the current line seems real cheese but some is the emulsified type that first emerged in the early 1900s, working a revolution in food technology.

At the Baltimore tasting Vera-Sharp and apparently Wej-Cut, a spreadable cream cheese, represented the newer process type. The other cheeses tabled were the traditional types, American or imported.

Why the process cheeses? I’d think Borden sponsored the cheese table and wanted them there. Or perhaps the committee organizing the tasting simply liked them. Cheese selection in regional America was probably limited at the time, too, a few years after WW II.

Process cheese, of which there are numerous, delphic varieties, remains popular in English-speaking countries and other places. We like it, and stock one of the Kraft brands, usually.

I prefer when the slices are not individually wrapped and now know this type as “stacked”. I buy Kraft Real Cheddar which is similar to the stacked process cheese I recall from the 1960s, except today it comes in an oblong shape double-stack – you can’t buy just one.

I’m not sure how exactly it is made but would think it’s process cheese with some real cheese blended in.

The pimento-flecked type we used to get decades ago in a single stack is gone with the wind, I believe. There was a white stack too, a Swiss-style, distantly. Where did that go?

It’s incorrect in evolved food circles to admit such likes. The power of local, organic, natural, non-GMO sends technologically-driven foods to Coventry, at least as far as many will admit.

But would real cheese have matched better with even select wines than Wej-Cut in 1948 Baltimore, or in every case? I wasn’t there, but will retain an open mind.

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Over a Damask Cloth – a Vital Early Wine Tasting

Historic 1948 Wine Tasting in Baltimore

The Event

On a wintry day in February 1948 the newly founded Baltimore branch of the Wine and Food Society mounted an event called, simply, “Wine Tasting”. The place was the posh Sheraton-Belvedere hotel. After describing the wines, the program listed five cheeses, by type and attributes. No other food was tabled.

So this was really a “wine-and-cheese” party, an early one as discussed below.

The Cheese

They had “Swiss”, Camembert, Roquefort and two strictly American cheeses. One of the Americans bore the trade name Wej-Cut, a cream cheese. The other was a cheddar-type, Vera-Sharp. Both were from the Borden creamery. That’s the Borden of the contented cows.

The nifty, entrepreneurial trade names have a pre- “greening of America” charm that contrasts nicely with the impressive-sounding French names. We are not in Kansas, Dorothy, but it’s not the Left Bank of the Seine, either.

Among the cheeses only the Roquefort was actually imported. The Swiss and Camembert were American imitations. Today of course there might be a great selection of artisan, domestic cheese equal to Europe’s best, or from an almost unlimited supply of imports. Here, though, it’s not long after the war – early days, generally speaking, in modern American food culture.

I discussed earlier, see for example here, that the International Wine and Food Society held wine and cheese events in both New York and Britain in the late 1930s. The Baltimorean branch probably took its cue from these earlier, path-breaking events.

Reviving a Local Gastronomic Heritage

The wine tasting was as sophisticated as any held anywhere at the time judging by the careful design and informed commentary of the program. A photo of the wines was included, with notes on each wine including their taste attributes. A section concludes with the origins of the Baltimore branch of the Society, and this:

We who have lived in these United States through the past three decades have experienced two devastating world wars, prohibition, an unprecedented depression and rationing.

Little opportunity has been afforded to indulge in the amenities of the table. The appreciation of wines over the damask cloth has been denied us. It is time we sought again to re-establish a realization of the gentlemanly art and prerogative of proper wining and dining together with their inevitable corollary, the almost lost art of conversation.

The enjoyment of wines has ever been associated back through history with those who have most contributed to the human race in literature, music and art. Royalty, diplomats, international financiers and peasants have shared through centuries the glowing inspiration of the grape.

If the Wine and Food Society of Baltimore can recapture for us a modicum of the “joie de vivre” that comes from the vine, and from viands well prepared and served, to re-establish the standards of the table as gentility and dignity through the ages have partaken of it, we shall feel our “raison d’etre” has been justified.

Setting aside the old-fashioned (even then) yet charming prose, the U.S. culinary scene as it developed over the next 70 years surely fulfilled the promise implicit in these words. Modern culinary America has a more democratic, even anarchic shape than the patricians of the 1948 event envisaged, but such are the vagaries of culinary history.

The vision made sense as Baltimore had a long-established, native epicurean tradition. It was partly obscured by the Jazz Age, the Depression, and WW II but was still remembered. The kitchen was based on crab and other sea food, the turtle, the hoecake (from corn), planked shad, and more. It was this older tradition, consciously or otherwise, that was referenced by the orotund phrases in the program.

The Wines

Characteristic French and German wines were tabled, each paired with a proffered American equivalent. The Stateside wines were made from the same grape as the foreign mate, or if made from a different grape, with an explanation.

The same approach was followed for sherry, Riesling, and Champagne. A top German Riesling, a Mosel (Piesporter) in this case, bore the rather strange vintage year of 1943. At least I thought it was strange. Germany must have continued some winemaking while their main cities were being reduced to ashes by the Allied air forces.

I wonder if the committee hesitated before including it in the tasting, but taste it they did. Indeed 1943, for Mosel at any rate, was apparently a great year, so maybe the usual sensitivities were disregarded.

While not billed as a comparative tasting one can see it was exactly that. The wine notes are very helpful and the writer must have tasted the same or similar wines before. He gives us, therefore a good indication of their attributes. He was generally deferential to the imported wines for best quality but praised some American wines on their own merits. For one such wine he thought it better for “steady use” than the European type it emulated.

Tabling American wines  in 1948 at a posh culinary event surely helped to spur the appreciation of American winemaking that developed in the next 60+ years. Other branches of the Wine and Food Society, especially in New York, were engaged in a similar process.

The Spirits of 1976 vs. 1948

The 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, aka the Judgment of Paris, took place 28 years later. The Baltimore and Paris events are quite different, yet still related in my view. The sensational results of the 1976 event – an American Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon trumped the French equivalents – did not occur in 1948. At least, there is no reason to think that happened. Indeed, the Baltimore program notes tend to the opposite conclusion: Europe won out.

Still, the goal of both tastings was a shared one: to taste and compare New and Old World wines fashioned on similar lines. But the context was different. The Baltimore tasting was an early attempt to revive a depleted epicurean spirit in a still-recovering, postwar context. Whereas by 1976, well after the Marshall Plan, for one thing, times were buoyant, subject to the looming oil shocks. By 1976 we can already recognize the “Mondo” character of today’s wine and culinary scene.

In 1948 there was still an insularity, even in sophisticated circles – both tastings got at the same thing but in a different way.

Summing Up

I salute the founders of the Baltimore Wine and Food Society. Their New York colleagues had held many wine events since 1934, even during the war (stripped down as I’ve written elsewhere, but still they were held). Yet, I doubt any Big Apple affair outdid the sophistication and visionary aspect of the 1948 tasting at the gracious Sheraton-Belvedere hotel in Baltimore.

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Wine Sages of Baltimore

Wine, Baltimore, France, Uncle Sam

The Wine and Food Society of Baltimore, Maryland was another branch of the André Simon-founded Wine & Food Society in London. It held an intriguing wine taste-off in 1980. The program may be read heredigitally archived at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore.



The document refers to the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, or famed “Judgment of Paris”, an epochal tasting held in France. A California cabernet sauvignon, Stag’s Leap, and a chardonnay, Chateau Montelena, had highest average score in a blind tasting of French and American examples. The wine world was shaken, and it is generally agreed California and New World winemaking received a major fillip as a result.

In tune with such blind tasting Baltimore wine devotees held their own such tasting of American and European wines. Wines were tasted in groups of two, in foil-wrapped bottles. Tasters were told the wine type but not the origin of each bottle.

Only one set of taste notes is included with the program. It opines which wine was Californian or European and states attributes of nose and taste.  The winners were judged by a show of hands, with the results not tabulated here.

The sociological implications of the event are at least as important as the taste opinions of the panel. Putting American wines up against top European wines in a regional American centre at that time showed a high level of pride already existing in American winemaking.

It was not the first such comparative tasting in the U.S., or indeed the first this wine society did. The Baltimore chapter compared American and European wines as early as 1948. I will return to it later. The context is not quite the same as for the 1980 tasting, but still, the tasting is significant.

The early records of the Wine and Food Society of Baltimore, which still goes strong, are lodged with the Enoch Pratt – a fine resource for gastronomic researchers. A list of the dinners and tastings held by the Society since inception may be reviewed online. Intelligent and creative they are especially given the periods covered. Wines from a wide range of countries or regions were tasted.

So were Scotch whiskies in 1975, at an event called “A Wine Tasting of Scotch Whiskies”. The somewhat contradictory title shows that tasters were starting to apply wine judging methods to non-wine alcohol, as is legion today, and later occurred for beer.

Still, the list of Baltimore events (see pp 17-22) appears not to reflect a beer tasting. A pity considering the lengthy and variegated beer and brewing culture of Baltimore. Was it an upstairs-downstairs thing, or the happenstance that attends any endeavour of this type? I cannot say.

The New York chapter of the same society held at least three beer events in the 1940s, for example.

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Mr. Byass’s ales Come a Cropper

In a series of earlier posts I explored aspects of Australian brewing history. One facet was the colonies’ unusual social attitudes on beer: largely unfeigned and unashamed. In this vein the press regularly carried pieces on beer, especially its quality, that were notable for being unselfconscious.

To say Australia has always venerated beer is probably not going too far. In the 1970s and 80s the country was noted internationally for an exaggerated attachment to beer. This was seen as a funny, but questionable if not frivolous symbol of maturing nationhood. The Aussies took it all in their stride.

Today the beery image is half-forgotten but press sources from early days show a solid basis for the bluff image.

An example is how the press regularly fretted that “Colonial” beer was wrongly seen as inferior to U.K. importations. By WW I local productions, ale and porter, sparkling ale, and finally lager were more appreciated by the man in the street.

Indeed Australia became a lager nation par excellence. It pioneered deployment of the Leopold Nathan fast-fermentation system, today a brewing standby world-wide.

(I’ve written about Swiss-based Leopold Nathan’s important invention and the man himself, who is rather more mysterious).

At the same time, a concurrent counter-tendency to the hedonism cannot be discounted. Early on the anti-drink campaigners tried to mobilize but had a hard go. Perhaps the colonies’ initial isolation, and the social origins of many settlers (the transported convicts and such), explain the frank embracing of a drinking culture.

Indeed even to call alcohol consumption a “question” seems irrelevant in Australian history. In contrast by the late 1800s most English-speaking places were experiencing upheaval over the role of alcohol in society.

Against this background it is understandable that the Sydney Morning Herald in 1860 carried a detailed piece on beer, in this case depreciating the quality of imports, for which 1860 is rather early. “Cask after cask” right off the ship was no good, it said, sour and often flat. We are speaking here too of the flower of Victorian and Empire brewing, India Pale Ale.

The main shipper accused was Byass, a well-known English agency in the 1800s that specialized in bottling and shipping Bass pale ale. Robert Blake Byass founded the business and had also formed a partnership in the Spanish wine trade with a Señor Gonzáles, scion of an old aristocratic family. A modern legacy of the business is the renowned Gonzales Byass labels: Tio Pepe dry sherry is a star example. The Byass’ have been out of that business for about 30 years, and on the beer side even longer as an ale bottler called Hibbert bought them out around 1900.

The Sydney article chided Byass that if quality did not improve importers would look elsewhere for supplies. In this era and for a long time to come, independent export bottlers supplied the major Burton and Irish brands. So when things went wrong the fault was laid at their feet even though the true cause probably often lay with the brewers.

Red and blue labels of barrelled pale ale were mentioned. The red was clearly the produce of the original, or “old”, Bass brewery in Burton. The blue from was a later brewery Bass built in Burton, for expansion. There was also, or in some markets, a white label Bass, representing yet a third brewery in the Bass system. I’ve not investigated how this colour scheme connects to the later red and blue triangle labels of Bass beer. The red was bottle-matured and the blue a pasteurized, filtered version, but there is probably some connection.

In the mid-1800s – long before single cell yeasts were isolated and before sterile brewery operations were routine – brewing sometimes went wrong. That the beer could be flat on arrival in Sydney suggests possibly a failure of the beer to undergo secondary fermentation. Other reasons might explain why flat beer arrived in the casks (leaks, pilferage, infection, etc.).

The inconsistency and always-higher cost of imported beer would have encouraged the domestic brewers, if for no other reasons. Yet, they too were afflicted with troubles, especially, sources tell us, an off-taste resulting from uncontrollably high fermentation temperatures. The arrival of modern brewing science c.1900 put paid to these problems.

Was the uniformity of Australian lager in the pre-craft era – say, up to the 1990s – too high price to pay? Arguably yes. The survival of the distinctive Cooper’s ales in Adelaide was the great exception to the lager tide, but even Cooper’s ales ended by acquiring a quasi-lager character.

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Etiquette 101, 1943-style

Bloggers and authors Boak and Bailey have brought to attention an Allied propaganda film of 1943 explaining the English pub and other aspects of U.K. life to American soldiers in England.

It’s a good piece, as always for an item of this vintage it reflects its time, but as B & B note, the core advice is still relevant, in fact for any culture. (There were/are dicks in English pubs too or on parade in favoured tourist destinations. You read about them in the popular English media every day…).

A few observations viz. the subject film: note the presence of Scots, which is emphasized. This was done I think to suggest the heterogeneity of British society but also to reflect that many Americans were still conscious of Scots, or the connected Scots-Irish, heritage. English heritage in contrast was probably considered too distant or diluted. The name Meredith in fact sounds more English than anything else but he sounds and looks, I would say, like a prototypical New Yorker of indeterminate origins.

From a beer standpoint, it’s ironic that Burgess Meredith’s father and uncles, certainly their fathers, would not have been ignorant of “bitter and mild”, served indeed from handpumps, in American ale houses of direct British lineage. I’ve written often of this tradition here and considerably in my musty ale article.

That it was felt the average soldier was ignorant of this history shows that an Americanized German brewing had completely taken over by the 1940s.

In the end, what this film was teaching was good manners, something always salutary which could have applied as well within the United States. A bunch of New Yorkers on the loose in towns of the deep south were probably as strange/threatening to local denizens as the Yanks were to their English hosts in wartime. And vice versa.

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A Vivid Musty Ale Description From 1921

Moxie, Musty and Mutton

The following amusing piece in the Paterson Morning Call on January 1, 1921 is pertinent to (but was not cited in) my work on American musty ale:

It was printed almost exactly one year after National Prohibition became law. Seemingly it is about Billy Park’s, the old chop house in Boston that had closed many years before. The article was either a repeat of one printed years before, or perhaps simply memoir, or it concerned another “grill” in town.

By deprecating drinking and ostentatious eating the article suited the Volstead era, but the incident described was probably not invention. The depictions are too detailed to suppose fabrication for temperance or general bluenose purposes.

The impression of musty ale is intriguing, especially as so little record of how the beer tasted is available. Moxie is a soft drink, it originated in New England at the end of the 1800s. The name is, today, owned by Coca-Cola and the drink is still sold. It reflects flavours more popular in the past I think, medicinal, bitter-sweet flavours. Suze, red vermouth, Jagermeister, some Italian soft drinks, Dr. Pepper, and root beer are broadly examples. Gentian is an ingredient it seems of Moxie, a bitter root variously described as tasting of wintergreen, bubblegum, or cough syrup.

A remarkable compilation on “Wikipedia Talk” offers good commentary on Moxie. This quotation is notable for its impressive detail (from J Casto in 2006):*

It tastes like a combination of 8% Diet Coke, 15% root beer, 72% cough medicine, 3% cloves, and 2% turpentine. I had it about 4 months ago. I didn’t really like it. Its kinda like Dr. Pepper. When DP is put in your mouth, it tastes like Coke, but when you swallow it, it tastes like grape soda with Coke. Same with Moxie: it tastes like root beer with a tad bit of cough medicine when first put in your mouth, but when you swallow it, it tastes much [more] like cough medicine and other things…”

Other statements in Wikipedia Talk are in similar vein. Turpentine or fluoride are mentioned, which ties into the “mothballs” in the Morning Call. It is tempting to think that by mothballs the 1921 writer meant musty in the sense of the sulphury “Bass stink” or barnyard of Brettanomyces, both discussed in my article. But mothballs don’t really smell of either, in fact they are intended to preclude or at least disguise such odours. Mothball has a pungent chemical note, but turpentine and fluoride do get it at.

The writer was a tyro at ale, so his fastidious dislike must be viewed partly in this light. As he put it, he should have started with a lower order of the “genus ale” rather than an evidently challenging specialty like musty ale. Maybe he had never known beer of any kind although perhaps he was familiar with lager. He doesn’t state in the article that he never drank alcohol before.

Going for musty ale and mutton on the bone in today’s terms is like opting for Imperial Russian Stout with red deer chops when you know Bud Light and hamburgers.

Still, the musty ale description evokes something rather like a modern Trappist or abbey ale. St. Bernardus, say, or the herbal/earthy Orval. I suggest in the article that musty ale was often simply Bass Pale Ale or another IPA or stock beer. At the time, these likely had both a Brett note and the “Burton snatch”, from gypsum in the brewing. The combination may have given rise to the musty keynote, but the matter remains in doubt as some musty ale was advertised as not in fact musty.


* The quotation from Wikipedia Talk reflects a couple of spelling adjustments.

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Guinness Special Export Stout

Drilling Down on GSX

[To serve as today’s posting, below is the comment I just posted in the Guinness Wood Barrel thread, replying to a comment by English reader Ben Morgan, but adding some hyperlinks and with one edit].

Ben, David Hughes’ history of bottled Guinness states that from 1912 John Martin in Belgium got a special version of Guinness called Special Export or GSX in Guinness code.

On the current website of what is now called Anthony Martin, the same code is mentioned, GSX. I am not clear if this is a Guinness extract (hopped wort reduction) or the racked beer but in any case, Martin was bottling and selling this from before WW I. All Guinness was all-malt then. If you page through references to Martin and Belgium in the book, Martin also states when the second war started, Guinness closed the agency in Antwerp and all records were moved to London.

Then Guinness started up again after the war with Martin, ’46-’47. I think what happened was, in 1944 Martin crossed the channel to discuss the restoration of the brand to his market. It doesn’t seem the brand originated then or any stout was shipped to Belgium during WW II, at least from what I can tell, unless some went earlier in 1944 (before D Day) and then stopped until war’s end.

Anthony Martin still markets Special Export in Belgium, which possibly is all-malt (or maybe roasted barley and the rest malt). Guinness sells its Antwerp 1944 one which I think is the same recipe. One online review, in the Barley Blog, likens the 1944 Antwerp to Carnegie Porter which is high praise. I know Carnegie and Guinness Special Export as I recall it from 20-30 years ago was similar to Carnegie. Yet in 2011 in Paris I bought Special Export and didn’t like it, but I’m not sure what I had was the Belgian one aka 1944 Antwerp Stout, maybe it was just a stronger version of Extra Stout (Original).

This is as best I can piece it and happy for anyone to add more detail.

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My Early Experience With Guinness Stout

Guinness seems to exercise a special fascination on the beer community, despite that Guinness draft, its marquee product for decades, has a rather mainstream flavour. Or non-craft flavour if you will.

I’ve probably got a dozen pieces now here on various aspects of Guinness, the last one discussed the views of a Dubliner who remembered pre-nitrogen-dispense Guinness.

I’ve mentioned a number of times tasting Special Export, Foreign Extra Stout, Extra Stout and Guinness draft. Today I thought I’d mention my earlier impressions of Guinness, serially as I tried the products from about 1971.

The first Guinness I had was the Labatt-brewed one introduced in Canada in 1965. I encountered it first in Quebec, maybe 1971.

Guinness and Labatt (now AB InBev) formed a venture where, according to online sources that sound credible, Labatt brewed a pale ale mash to which was added a hopped wort extract sent from Dublin. Its fermentation became Guinness Extra Stout here, at 5% abv.

It’s still sold, and tastes about the same as way back then.

It had a dry, burnt “chalky” taste, not a bad drink but not one that really seemed, looking back in the light of so much taste experience including historical recreations of stout, all that traditional. But you wouldn’t mistake it for any usual Canadian beer, true.

The next one, again early 1970s, was Guinness Extra Stout (nominally the same beer) as sent to the U.S. from Dublin. That one was much sweeter, richer, and I think higher in abv than the Canadian one. I remember a soy-like quality. There are good period descriptions in U.S. beer books whose authors I’ve often mentioned here.

The next was Guinness draft, the nitro-charged one that resulted from the savvy of Guinness brewing technologists. It was sent out internationally from the 60s if not earlier, and finally supplanted cask stout in the Republic by the mid-60s. How this beer aroused such passions in 1960s and 70s London is a mystery to me.* Its blandness was the main trait I noted, and this when I had had few if any craft beers (that was just starting).

It`s not a question of beer not travelling well either, as I`ve had Guinness draft many times in England, France, and once at Dublin airport and they tasted very similar.

I think my dislike of the nitrogen system started then. It has as much to do with the gas itself as the beer, I don’t like it as applied even to flavourful craft beers.

So net net to that point, the basic exported Extra Stout, filtered and pasteurized as it was, was a good product and worthy of the Guinness name and heritage.

After that, I tasted Foreign Extra Stout including one from Nigeria, one from Hong Kong and one or more from the Caribbean. The Irish one was best and the earliest samples, maybe early 1990s, were better than today’s, IMO. The lactic edge seems reduced, and in general the beer is rather light for what was all-malt and heavily hopped originally.

After that came 8% Special Extra Stout in France and Belgium, also early 90s. Excellent certainly but as tasted five years ago, rather less good IMO. I thought Special Extra Stout was all-malt 20 and 30 years ago. My last tasting seemed to suggest it’s not today. That may be one factor in the change if in fact my recollection of all-malt is right.

And then I found Guinness West Indies Porter a couple of months ago in France: best of the bottled bunch and something I would buy here happily. It is the closest to a 19th century flavour so far and clearly some effort was put into that although as always with large companies the fine points of production can be elusive.

Current Extra Stout, also labeled Original, as sent to the U.S. is good, but once again the second time I had it, it seemed less good. (Up until a few years ago, Labatt-brewed Guinness was sent to the U.S. to serve as Extra Stout, but this has now been replaced by Irish-brewed Extra Stout, a more creditable arrangement).

Guinness has issued other tweaks of its famous drink. There was a 200th anniversary one that seemed little different from the normal one except a tad more roasty. There is the newish Dublin Porter (bottled), I haven’t had it yet but online reviews don’t seem that encouraging.

And I almost forgot: the widget can and widget bottle Guinness, intended to deliver the draft nitro effect. I’m not a fan. While the adjunct element in any Guinness grates to a purist like myself, it seems most prominent in the latter format.

So where does it end up? There’s a couple of good products in there, notably the West Indies Porter and Foreign Extra Stout. Maybe Special Export and the 1944 Antwerp version (seemingly the same beer) too but I reserve judgment until I taste them. And none of the beers just mentioned are available in Ontario or anywhere in Canada.

Considering the gold-plated history of this company, considering that it still has not issued a bottle- or cask-conditioned version of current Guinness much less a 19th century recreation, it’s not that much really. I say it more in sadness than annoyance. I know well how large companies operate. I’ve seen many storied old names become rather ordinary, not just beer but other drinks and many foods. It does seem an almost inevitable pattern.

But there are exceptions, Pilsner Urquell, say, or Heineken to a degree. A number of German beers. Fuller’s beers in London. Etc.

Does it matter? Well, to me, yes. Despite the plethora of craft products, Guinness is special simply because it is Guinness. Its procedures, ingredients, especially the yeast and hop bill, are not quite like any others. Deployed in a craft way, which is another way of saying going back to the roots, should produce something, not just very good, but Guinness-good.

I think Guinness should focus on the new Blonde beer which is very nice, on launching West Indies Porter and a draft version into many more markets, and on making available some naturally-conditioned stout. This will delight fans who know the Guinness history well and admire the many creditable features of the company including its longevity, importance to Irish history and its economy, and adapatiblity to changing market and other conditions.


*If it was all-malt then, or even all-malt but for roasted barley adjunct, that might explain it.

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Black Horse Ale, an International Affair

Reader David Conant mentioned enjoying Black Horse Ale when made by Fred Koch in Dunkirk, NY in the 1970s and early 80s. This is a different Black Horse than the one made by Dawes Brewing/National Breweries/Dow Breweries in Quebec. Their successor, Molson Coors, still makes a Black Horse today but for the Newfoundland market, and it is a lager.

I will compress some history below gleaned from numerous online and print sources. Forgive me for not citing sources in most cases, but it will be easier and faster to relate the story.

Dunkirk is a small town west of Buffalo on Lake Erie. This is the northwestern corner of the Empire State, across from Niagara in Canada and to the west but comparatively a stone’s throw.

That brewery, founded 1888 and always very small, closed in 1985. Despite its size and obscurity, or perhaps because of it, the brewery was purchased in 1982 by another small, northern brewery, Vaux of Sunderland, England, a story unto itself. Hence (I presume) the oddity of seeing Jubilee Porter sold on the shores of Lake Erie in an atmosphere of Friday night fish fries and quasi-Midwestern accents. (But porter and Catholic parishes …. maybe the Jubilee idea wasn’t so dumb…).

The story is yet more intricate as Carling in Waterloo, Ontario brewed a Jubilee porter too in the 1950s-1960s. Carling, given its extensive U.K. interests starting in the 1950s, probably had a connection to Vaux if not owning it at one point.

This online reference for Fred Koch refers to its Black Horse Ale as introduced in the early 1960s and initially made under contract by Diamond Spring Brewery in Lawrence, MA.  See a basic outline of the latter’s history here. In the 1960s the brewery was called in fact Black Horse Brewery. It closed in 1970 and presumably Fred Koch bought, licensed, or continued the name for its production in later years.

Champale, Inc. of Trenton, NJ, also known under the moniker Iroquois Brands, had since 1939 brewed its malt liquor line, still produced today by Pabst. Champale also made a Black Horse originally licensed by the Lawrence, MA brewery. James D. (Jim) Robertson, in his 1978 The Great American Beer Book, considered the Champale Black Horse the best ale in America. That’s pretty tall praise and Robertson had an excellent palate.

See an extract of his comments included below.

I had the Fred Koch Black Horse a number of times and remember an odd talc taste, but this was when Fred Koch was on its last legs. Perhaps the beer had declined in quality. I never had the Trenton one.

Online collections show the Black Horse labels of Lawrence, MA and Dunkirk, NY as almost identical, both had a legend claiming an English ale character.

In his comments on the Champale version, Robertson speculates that it “descends” from the Dow (Dawes, originally) Black Horse which was marketed as an import in the Northeast in the 1940s. He also states in the 1950s a brewery in Lawrence, MA was making a Black Horse Ale.

Indeed Tavern Trove labels for the Canadian Black Horse show a version marked imported from what seems the 40s or 50s. Tavern Trove also shows a Michigan brewery in 1933 making a Black Horse Ale with a label quite similar to the Canadian Black Horse. Maybe that was the first American-made one.

Perhaps the Diamond Spring brewery, as it was known in the 1950s, or another brewery in Lawrence, licensed the brand initially from Dow in Quebec, or the Michigan brewery did, but this is unclear.

Certainly under the name Dow’s Black Horse Ale, the Canadian beer was still being sold in the U.S. in the 1970s. There must have been a particular legal situation which allowed two U.S. Black Horse ales to be sold concurrently as well. One can speculate endlessly, e.g., maybe the Canadians had not trademarked the Black Horse name early enough in the U.S. and local producers acquired common law rights in their region.

It’s hard to say until more information may become available.

Note re images: The first image above was sourced from this website and the second from Tavern Trove here. The last was extracted from my print copy of Jim Robertson’s book mentioned above. Full publication and purchase details may be viewed here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.





Beer in the Elizabeth David Oeuvre


English beer and travel author Adrian Tierney-Jones, see his website here, shares my high regard for the English food writer Elizabeth David. We were discussing on Twitter recently whether she supported the cause of good beer. I pointed out she made a few approving references, for example in connection with picnics, and never disparaged beer or brewing in her writing. Adrian agreed but pointed out she was not an advocate of beer.

That’s true, as far as it goes. Yet, she was capable of appreciating elements of the beer culture. For example, she wrote a multi-page essay, collected in an Omelette and a Glass of Wine, on the use of hops in cooking. She was especially interested in the shoots of the wild hop, used in parts of Italy for soup. The term lupari is given this vegetable in the local vernacular. Beer students will see the etymological relation to lupulin, the resinous and aromatic quality of the hop which gives zest and aroma to beer. David also talks about wild hops in Italian cooking in her Italian Food.

She supported beer as an alternative to wine in cooking – and whisky to replace brandy. In Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, she gives a recipe for Sussex Stewed Steak. It’s a braise of beef which includes port and stout to form the sauce, with mushroom ketchup. In the “Omelette” book she devotes a few pages to the fondue group of dishes and approves using Guinness to make an “Anglo-French” version. She makes the telling observation here that Welsh Rabbit, originally a primitive dish of melted cheese and beer, has evolved into a quasi-fondue dish.

This is a reasonable acknowledgement of the place of beer in English foodways given that place was never very large to begin with, a topic I’ve addressed before.

She took a strictly gastronomic, non-judgmental approach here, which in the 1900s was innovative given England’s complicated culinary and sociological landscape. By this I mean English society was characterized by regional, social and class differences, and its food and drink reflected that.

David was product of an upper-middle-class family in Sussex, surnamed Gwynne. Her father was a Member of Parliament. She came to maturity before World War II and prior to writing on food had a shelter-skelter career in London, including as an actor and model, until ending in Cairo during the war with the British government. A person of that background and a woman to boot was not likely to take an interest in beer.

Beer at the time too was a male preserve. For a woman to walk into a pub alone in mid-century was often a perilous venture. David was a singleton most of her life.

But again: beer was associated with a different socio-economic level than she grew up with.

In the classic The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook (1982) the statement is made that the male Sloane will drink “any kind of beer”. That was a compliment to beer, but kind of left-handed. In contrast, wine has always had a revered status among the elite. This fostered wine appreciation, the institution and high status of the wine merchant, and wine writing. Wine writer Henry Jeffreys, who is fully capable of appreciating good beer by the way, gives a masterclass on the importance of wine in the English social matrix in his current Empire of Booze.

Today, English society including its culinary facets are more democratic, a pattern seen in all countries. Old shibboleths are rightly abandoned, at least that is the tendency even if not fully achieved.*

The task for the gastronomic adventurer, including the quester of drink, is to approach these topics as far as possible without prejudice or preconception. Elizabeth Davis did this for food in general and approached drink – never her specialty area – pretty much the same way, or as much as was reasonably possible for her gender and era of influence (1950s-1970s). She did explore the history and palate range of mead quite extensively, but mostly as a historical exercise. And she does mention cider occasionally, both to cook with and drink. On a hiking tour of the Wye Valley, she sampled local cider and found much of it “rough” or “very rough”. But she did try it…

Perhaps had she lived in our era she would have approached beer gastronomically in all its dimensions, that is with the seriousness and intrepid spirit it deserves.


*One of the ironies of the present discussion is that the leading edge of the culinary scene, excepting of course the gastro-pub, seems largely to ignore the merits of craft beer and eschews its culture and passions. This is a complex topic to which I’ll return.