Hodgson’s India Beer: Today’s Double IPA

The great unresolved issue of beer history, well, one of them, is the character of Hodgson’s Pale Ale in its India heyday. London-based Hodgson’s beer had a near-monopoly on pale ale in the early Raj and was progenitor of the IPA style.

IPA was famed in the 19th century, it conquered markets near and far ultimately. It had a long decline as a bottled beer but is today again a world citizen, this time due to attentions by American craft brewing.

18 months ago ago I found a 1850 advertisement by Abbott & Son brewery* in England giving pricing for different qualities and indicating characteristics of the beer that made Hodgson’s reputation in India.

Parsed correctly as I think I did, the ad suggests the beer was quite strong, 8-9% ABV if not more sometimes. You can read about it, here.

This conclusion is reinforced by other evidence, recounted in the post, stating or implying the beer was uncommonly strong. The Burton brewers later made a less potent version which did very well of course, but the 1850 ad suggests Hodgson’s India export beer was heady stuff. Given alcohol content is rarely the least of beer’s virtues, especially in the Britannic conception, uncommon strength may well explain its early fame.

Then, too, more alcohol never hurt a beer’s stability.

The beer shown here, a strong IPA from Brasseur de Montréal Inc. in Quebec, is based on American hops. Still, it has a colour, strength, and taste I feel are proximate to Hodgson’s India beer. The Amarillo hops in particular with their Kentish, orangey note reinforce this. An American cousin so to speak, shipmate if you will with a hard-to-place accent.

For those who need to, bear with the technics in the post, it’s worth the ride.

Here is the ad itself:

Abbott and Son, East India Pale Ale Brewery, Bow. – From a peculiar mode of fermentation instituted at the above brewery, it has been celebrated for nearly a century in supplying India with its choicest beer; but, from the necessity of giving it a greater body to bear the changes of climate and high temperature, its cost, viz., 30s. the 18-gallon cask, has hitherto prevented private families in England from enjoying it  at their daily tables. The objection is now obviated by Messrs. Abbott having succeeded for use of families, clubs and public institutions, a lighter description of their Pale Ale, brewed upon the same principles as for Indian consumption, at the cost of ordinary family beer, viz., 18s. the 18-gallon cask, which they trust, from its being so highly recommended not only as a wholesome luxury to the healthy, but as a most appropriate beverage to the more delicate, will meet the approbation of the public. It is necessary to order a supply in March as, from the lightness of and delicacy of the ale, removal in warm weather injures its qualities.


*Abbott and Son were successor to Hodgson’s original concern in Bromley-on-Bow, London. As to the physical location of the brewery by 1850, it may have changed, closer to the Thames: see more on this in another post of mine, here.

Charles Bronfman’s Memoir, “Distilled”

Charles Bronfman (CB), now 86, son of Distillers Corporation-Seagram czar Samuel Bronfman, wrote a memoir, Distilled, about a year ago that I caught up with over the holidays. The book is written in a clear, accessible style with Howard Green, an author, business journalist, and broadcaster. (It is published by HarperCollins, see Amazon listing here). The book was well-reviewed and below I give my own reaction – in summary, not to be missed by enthusiasts of distilled spirits or business biography.

Green states truly in his introduction that the Bronfmans, “by virtue of their enormous wealth, were equivalent to Canadian royalty”.

The Bronfman family was a legend in Montreal when I grew up, not just for being highly successful distillers of Crown Royal, Seagram VO, Chivas Regal, Martell Cognac, and other fine liquors but for their strong identification with the Jewish community, and Israel, and related philanthropies.

The book makes clear that the Bronfmans’ charitable activities extended beyond Jewish causes, particularly in the area of Canadian history, but support of Jewish need especially in nascent Israel was always a focus. CB’s late brother Edgar also played an important role in this respect, e.g., by heading up the World Jewish Congress. I mention this as both commendable in itself and something not seen as much today, unfortunately.

In addition to his management of the Canadian Seagram business CB was also majority owner of the Montreal Expos, a newly-granted baseball franchise in the late 60s of the National League. His introduction and stewardship of professional baseball in Montreal is still remembered and is conveyed well in a separate chapter. It was also a successful investment for him.

CB describes growing up on the hill in Westmount, the carriage trade section of Montreal then and now. The family resided in a large house and the four children were raised with benefit of retainers such as drivers, maids, cooks, and butlers. They attended private schools either in Quebec or for CB a stint in Ontario.

He describes well the characteristics of father Sam including his legendary temper, great business ability, and less well-known interests such as an addiction to English verse. While the complex mind of Sam Bronfman, e.g., to retain financial details of the business even at a micro level, is well-illustrated, CB also points out his business ethic was based on simplicity and common sense. He believed for example in making products easily understood by people who could buy on a yes or no basis.

Edgar was early seen as the natural heir to the Seagram executive office. Elder brother is described by CB as strong-willed, a natural leader, good-looking: both seem to have known early that Edgar’s fate was to lead Seagram’s business from his office in New York, where he moved in the mid-1950s (era when the famed Seagram Building, a project of sister Phyllis, was erected). This is significant as the book states 90% of Seagram’s liquor business was in the U.S. As CB puts it at one point, Seagram was really an American company run by a bunch of Canadians.

There is relatively little in the book about whisky itself. CB refers to the fact that blending whisky was a mantra of Sam, who was always involved in tasting and formulating the products. Sam was intent on not entering the bourbon business as such and resisted investing in a bourbon distillery when proposed to him by his sons. Of course the business did make those investments in the shape of Four Roses in Kentucky and a distillery in Indiana although this is not covered in the book.*

CB’s career with Seagram started after leaving McGill University mid-course at 19. He was first put in charge of Adams Canadian whiskies, the smallest division, the other two were Calvert and Seagram. Adams derived from a 1950s purchase in Vancouver of a distillery. (As CB puts it later in the book, Sam once said, “I don’t sell businesses, I buy them”).

CB states when the Adams line was acquired the whisky itself “wasn’t very good” but he doesn’t elaborate, e.g., was it too young, too old, not blended properly, etc.? He doesn’t say. His mission was to make Adams a successful brand in the company’s portfolio, which he did.

The whisky discussion emphasizes the importance of sales of course, but also things like labels and bottle shape. Sam was of the view all bottles should be round except Crown Royal. He did finally agree though to an innovative square bottle for Adams which did well. CB mentions the entirely practical approach of the Canadian whisky business then to aging: as he phrased it, the younger the whisky, the more the term old was trumpeted. The idea always was to vaunt tradition and heritage behind the product.

He states there were only two persons in the liquor business whom Sam regarded as fierce competitors: Harry Hatch of Hiram Walker and Lew Rosenstiel of Schenley, both also driven, super-achievers.

The Adams discussion also revolves around executives CB worked with, how to control expenses, how to meet competition firmly but not engage in dirty tricks. If a Seagram account placed Seagram whisky in a competitor’s bottle he ordered it stopped, but the story gives an idea of the (presumably!) wilder days of Canadian whisky. (I’ll discuss the Prohibition era further below).

CB also worked for a time in blending so he clearly knows a lot about distillation and the different types of whisky but this isn’t discussed in the book. If I could ask him one question, it would be:

Did the family ever consider selling one of the straight whiskies used for blending on its own in Canada, say a straight rye? The Pedigree brands qualified circa-1950 but these were only sold in the U.S., correct? Why was no straight rye ever sold under the Seagram banner in Canada?

The answer may be simply what I indicated earlier, that Sam was an ardent proponent of blended whisky, but it would be interesting to plumb CB’s deeper thoughts on this. (True, Distillers Corporation had major interests in Scotch distilling but Chivas Regal was always the main brand, not any of the malts then).

CB comes across as a decent, practical, certainly capable executive, someone as he acknowledges born to great wealth and privilege but who assumed his position well once past the insecurities of youth and inexperience. His success with the Expos shows that, as did his running of the liquor business in Canada for years.

As the book is memoir, not just a business autobiography, there is interesting family history related as well, his marriages, children, travels, etc.

As whisky sales slowed in Canada in the 1970s, Seagram really became a different type of company, and this is well before the debacle with Vivendi. It was 25% owner of Du Pont and received the greatest part of its revenues from that source for many years until the stake was sold.  The need to reinvest company profits in different businesses meant from the 1960s on diversification, starting with the natural resources sector, which lead to the entertainment industry (MGM, later MCA and Polygram), chemicals, and finally communications.

The chapter describing Vivendi, a three-way merger with two French companies in 2000 which resulted in the liquor business being sold, is the heart of the book surely.

That sale was led by Edgar Bronfman and his son Edgar Jr. with CB a reluctant but consenting director. The merger was intended to make a 21st century super-communications company that in many ways, as CB acknowledges, was ahead of its time. But the lack of success of the merged company (the post-merger share price declined steadily and the family sold all its shares) resulted, by CB’s estimation, in a 50-75% loss of the family fortune. He explains in retrospect why the Du Pont stake should never have been sold.

Of course, the family was still very wealthy and this enabled CB to pursue his philanthropic work well-described in the book.

Bronfmans are still in the news, CB’s son Stephen is well-known for his affiliation with Canada’s Liberal Party, which extends to fund-raising, and his friendship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Before I conclude, the Prohibition question: CB acknowledges that Sam was rankled through his life by nagging accusations of being a “bootlegger”, meaning selling whisky that one way or another ended up in the U.S. during the Volstead era as illegal booze. He implies that the Canadian establishment never gave Sam his full due, via e.g. senior board memberships and a Senate appointment, due to this shadow.

CB argues that the whisky sold by Seagram in that period was sold legally, and Canadian distillers even before Volstead parried similar challenges in Canada using legal means, e.g., shipping whisky to another province by mail.

He states that other Canadian distillers including Hiram Walker also sold whisky that ended up in the U.S. as did major Canadian breweries for their product, and further that the Canadian government never tried to stop shipments to the border, no doubt to protect the continuation of industries that fed tax revenues to the coffers.

He implies Sam Bronfman was later unfairly targeted for an unsavoury association with rum-running, and I find his reasoning persuasive. Still, there seems no rancour, he recites the story calmly and after all these are matters now well in the past.

Of the Canadian whisky business today nothing is stated, it would be interesting to glean his thoughts on the resurgence of brown goods as they are termed, whisky and rum – Captain Morgan was another Seagram/Bronfman property…

Final point: when Seagram Spirits and Wine was sold to Diageo and Pernod Ricard, CB states he “briefly” considered buying the liquor business from Vivendi. He does not explain why he didn’t, but perhaps by then he was too removed from it.

You should have done it, Charles!

N.B. I once knew a Seagram executive in Montreal, who, many years ago, brought me into the office Sam Bronfman had occupied in the baronial-style Peel Street headquarters. His large desk was still there, the dark-panelled room pretty much as in his heyday. That was the nerve-centre from which Sam Bronfman created the modern Seagram business. Of course, the Seagram distillery originated in the 1800s in Waterloo, Ontario, a history I’ve adverted to a number of times in the past, but this account deals with the modern (20th century) Seagram. Today, the Peel Street building is owned by nearby McGill University, called Martlet House.


*Used primarily to source elements for the company’s blends.








Reviewing the Trappist Chimay Beers

This is a quick follow up to my earlier post today on Belgian beer and the contemporary Chimay. In the first post I commented on Chimay Red but not the other two beers generally available.

Those interested in 1800s Chimay should consult my two posts in 2016 which uncovered the ABV of the beer – same as now for the Red Cap – and discussed the possible mash composition then.

I’ve now tried the other two beers in the gift pack that supplies Red, Blue, and White plus the Chimay glass or “chalice”. I like the glass and that was one reason to buy this pack.

The Blue Capsule is the best in the group, IMO. It has a full, malty taste and while the yeast background is similar to the Red it doesn’t seem as dominating. Instead, a herbal (not really hoppy) background emerges, one I recognize from Michael Jackson’s commentary in his classic books.

The British make a candy, it comes in green sticks, called horehound. That herbal note reminded me of that. White sage is another comparison that comes to mind.

So, herbal, malty, lightly spicy. While not my favourite taste in beer, it’s clearly good and deserves the wide reputation of the brewery. The White however was disappointing, with a huge yeasty character and little of the hops promised on the label (that I could find).

To my taste, in both the Red and White beers hops and grains play second fiddle to the yeast, which is not how beer should taste in my personal schema. In the Blue, the balance is much better.

So a mixed bag, as often in the world of beer.

I know there is a 5% iteration available, a golden beer, I’ve only had it once or twice and liked it. It seemed to depart from the house style for something more typically beer-like in general European terms. But it’s hard to find, I’m not sure it has ever been sold in Ontario.

My hope is that the new Trappist breweries will use yeast types that depart from the typical Belgian taste. Spencer in the U.S. makes a range of beers, some must taste as their label suggests, e.g., the Imperial Stout. The one I had, the inaugural Trappist Ale, while well-made was very much in the mould of Chimay, Achel, Rochefort, and the others save Orval.

I hope Mount St. Bernard Abbey in Coalville, Leicestershire, U.K. goes a different route and uses a classic English top-fermenting yeast, one that produces dark fruit notes. It would make them stand out, but there are also other reasons, as I’ve argued in earlier posts.



Canadian Super-Premiums


Beers of this class in Ontario and Quebec in the 70s and 80s included Molson Brador (a contraction for Brassée d’Or, wrote Michael Jackson, or perhaps Brassin d’Or), c. 6% abv; Labatt Classic, an all-malt lager; the Frankfurt-licensed Henninger in Hamilton, ON; Heidelberg, released by Carling O’Keefe in a grenade-shape bottle in the early 1970s; and Labatt IPA at least after it shed the previous “grocery store” design for a nifty, embossed clear bottle. All these were 5% abv except Brador.

The Heidelberg may have been all-malt, and seemingly oddly, was initially an ale, at least in Quebec and Ontario. Heidelberg’s proximate origins seem to lie in Washington State, where a brand before WW I was called Alt Heidelberg. Since the beer was an ale on release in Canada, perhaps it was originally an Alt Bier in Germany – top-fermented. Or maybe it was always a lager with “old” meaning, old country. Anyway, it was an ale here. When launched in western Canada it probably was a lager there, as the west was always lager-land.

Heidelberg shifted a fair amount of coin but after being forced to adopt the standard industry stubby bottle sales dropped and the brand left the market. I recall it being not that different from the Canadian lager norm. Carlsberg, brewed under license in Montreal from the early 70s, was kind of similar except its success was long-lasting, to this day in fact when the brand is now a true import.

Some might include as super-premiums the porters and stouts of the era although they weren’t marketed as such, or marketed at all: Molson Porter, say, which tasted rather like Yuengling Porter, or Champlain Porter from Labatt which had a sweet-liquorice note.

Perhaps Labatt Extra Stock, a strongish beer, would qualify too. The odd other beer could be viewed in similar terms, Labatt had a tawny Super-Bock that was pretty good but it was seasonal of course. Molson had something similar. Here is a video by some fellow Canadians reviewing the Labatt one a couple of years ago, a 30-year-old bottle (the taste part starts at 6:16).

None of these are available today as far as I know.

All were a cut above the regular issue, but weren’t really like imports either. They were our version of the “Third Taste” American brewers tried to convince an upscale demographic to buy: Andeker, Erlanger, Coors Herman Joseph or George Killian, Michelob, Augsburger, etc. Even in the 70s I recall lore around Montreal that Brador wasn’t what it had been, it was no longer an “ale”. Michael Jackson’s first Pocket Guide in 1982 states the beer was top-fermented though, so maybe it always remained an ale.

The last time I saw Brador around Toronto was about five years ago, and the beer seemed quite ordinary by then, certainly.

The super-premium route didn’t work in the U.S. or here in any way comparable to the bread and butter brands of the brewers. People either wanted real imports, or finally craft brews, the part of the market prepared to pay more for quality. It’s always a minority but not insignificant, as craft brewing proved over the last four decades.

The craft share in the U.S. is around 12% now by volume but I’d think will be closer to 15% by end of this year or next. In Canada, the craft beer segment enjoys approximately half that share based on the most recent figures I’ve seen. Every percentage point though means lots of money and market share by revenue is almost double the share by volume.

The bigger imports in North America really were and remain takes on the standard domestic taste. Corona, Budweiser when new here (brewed in Canada but considered imported in character initially), Miller, Coors Light, even Heineken, now Stella, are not considerably different to the domestic norm.

In the U.S., Corona, Dos Equis, Molson, Labatt, Heineken filled a similar bill in the 80s and 90s. Bear in mind even Heineken was an adjunct brew in the 80s, it switched to all-malt only in the next decade.

Hence, one can argue that, either side of the border, super-premiums – the Third Taste in which some brewers invested much hope – were bested by the import class. Imports have grown steadily since the early 1970s with barely a dip as the table in Beeronomics showed I referenced yesterday.

As the established brewers did not until recently offer the “Second Taste” – European-tasting blonde and dark lagers, pale ale, porter, wheat beer, etc. – the field was left to craft brewers. It’s been mantra since the 1970s that the domestic beer market in North America is flat, but the bright spots belonged to other players, not the big local brewers.

Due to ongoing consolidation internationally the import incursion is now considerably parried, factoring too distribution deals. Bud Light and Coors Light in Canada are part of Labatt and Molson, Stella Artois in the U.S. is now part of the old Anheuser-Busch…

But the craft advance was not addressed until large breweries started to buy crafts in earnest, which is relatively recently. And the current 12% + share of the crafts is out of their hands, excluding that is craft brands owned by the majors.

Even in 1922, a Molson scion confidently explained to English brewers that stock beers and other 1800s-style beer types were no longer produced. You can read his remarks here (see especially pp 537-538). He stated the new-style beers were lower in alcohol, chilled, and force-carbonated.

Canadian ales were all-malt before WW I but it wouldn’t be long before adjuncts were added, too; in fact Col. Molson implied they were in use by the date of his presentation.

Almost 100 years later, the large brewers still make most of their money in that space.

Why did Molson release Brador in 1969, a slightly more malty, higher-alcohol version of a Canadian ale, when it could have re-introduced highly-hopped Molson India Pale Ale or stock porter from an 1800s recipe? Is it that those beers were completely lost to the corporate memory by then? Or was Molson convinced no Canadian would ever drink such things again? If the latter, they were wrong. If the former, it shows how any industry once matured and on a path for many decades can lose touch with the origins.

Even after the craft era was well underway Molson and Labatt did not release beers in that style. And I do remember, if objection be made, the (brief) Molson Signature period: the products included a Cream Ale but were quite ordinary IMO. Yes, Molson bought Creemore Brewery some time ago, but that is one beer basically, one style.

A few years ago, Molson Coors did finally issue a creditable IPA from around 1908. It was brewed once and hasn’t been seen since. Now of course too, apart from Creemore, there is Granville Island, Batch in Toronto, Blue Moon. It’s something. As well the Mad and Noisy India Pale Lager, now available at The Beer Store and, IIRC, LCBO, is an excellent product.

But much more could have been done especially in earlier years IMO –  to help the bottom line, that is. As a consumer, I have nothing to complain about, but looking at the business side of it I see opportunities missed.

Note re image: above image was sourced from Kijiji, here. All intellectual property belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

A Competition to Ponder

In 1985 Chicago Tribune writer Jay Pridmore described a tasting of numerous Midwest beers.

Two panels did the judging, one of “professionals” – restaurant managers, wine writers, a brewery owner, Fred Huber of Huber Brewery – and the other composed of ordinary drinkers who liked beer, a lawyer, architect, etc.

There are numerous interesting results, for example, Huber did not identify his own beer, called it “musty”, and elected a competitor as best in its class, Hamm’s. (Still, his terminology is interesting, e.g. “bready” was a pre-Prohibition term to describe the staleness resulting from excess or improper pasteurization).

Pridmore noted as well:

Because the super premiums are brewed with high-quality ingredients but for mainstream tastes, one might have thought that these beers would garner high scores. Interestingly, in both tastings, the super premiums did no better than the lower priced premiums. True, the tasters in both groups, amateur and professional, detected “richer color,“ “good aroma,“ and “hoppier“ and “full tasting“ flavor. But the word “bitter“ was used by several to describe either flavor or aftertaste.

The same surprising result was true in the amateur tasting.

Schlitz won in the premium class. Augsburger won in the super-premium.

Numerous reputed super-premiums didn’t make the taste-off, such as Michelob, Erlanger, Stroh Signature.

In the “boutique” class, being the emerging microbrewery beers, Rhomberg Pale Ale got the nod, from Dubuque, Iowa. The Rhomberg tasted was all-malt and clearly was felt to be what is now called a craft beer.

While this is one poll and subject to all the limitations inherent in that, the failure of the super-premiums to trump the premiums bears out what I discussed in my last post: the so-called Third Taste just didn’t have a wide-enough appeal. Too many wanted the usual taste, e.g., one taster, in the professional class too, praised Miller High Life because it was “low-hop” – or found the super-premiums too bitter. This was said of Lowenbrau as one example, by then brewed for some years in the U.S.

One might think the super-premiums would have stood out as gateways, to use today’s term: not so. This makes sense though, otherwise the craft segment that now has upwards of 15% of U.S. beer volume never would have got there.

This is not to say of course some super-premiums didn’t make money for the brewers. Michelob always did. I mentioned recently Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve on the west coast. But even their volumes were never close to mainstay brands such as PBR, Miller High Life, Budweiser, Busch, Coors, and similar. The others were niche products.

The super-premiums would have done far better IMO had they emulated closely the “Second Taste” (European), as American craft brewers did. I’m referring mainly to the large brewers and numerous of the regionals but not all. No question the Saranac beers in Utica, NY, say, are genuine craft, but F.X. Matt was unlikely to grow even with that success to the level of a Anheuser-Busch or Miller. Yuengling is perhaps a similar example, of Latrobe, PA and (now) elsewhere.

While it is true the craft segment took 40 years to get to a c. 15% share, I’m sure Anheuser-Busch would have liked to have a piece of that market, it still means lots of profits, especially now when their North American sales continue to slide (same for Molson Coors). Did their 1980s-1990s execs read Michael Jackson, did they make beer at home, attend the early beer festivals…? If their brewers raised the alarm, did anyone listen to them?

In this regard, I’m not sure how often the brewers spoke up as so many were attuned to the style of beer made for generations in North America. I once met a man who had worked decades ago for a large brewer in marketing. He told me, he once said to the company’s brewers, why don’t you make a product like the little microbreweries are making? They told him: “We make the beer, you sell it”.

But finally large breweries saw how craft products were appealing to a broader demographic than beer nerds. That’s when they started to buy craft breweries in earnest.

Note: Sadly, Rhomberg in Dubuque and Milwaukee didn’t make it, the brewery closed not that long after the story mentioned. Probably they were, as so many early crafts, ahead of their time. The brewery started up again a couple of times after but finally closed for good about 20 years ago.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the invaluable brewery history and label website, www.taverntrove.com. Image appears for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the image resides solely in its lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcome.








The Third Taste

My post of yesterday highlighted beers of good repute in the 1980s that were not craft beers as such:

  • Augsburger from Huber in Monroe, Wisconsin
  • Rhomberg from Dubuque/Pickett’s in Dubuque, Iowa
  • Andeker of Pabst
  • Erlanger from Schlitz/Stroh, brewed at Dubuque
  • Stroh Signature of Stroh in Detroit
  • Anchor Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco (a vital craft influence but not a craft brewery as such given its origins the 19th century)
  • Michelob from Anheuser-Busch as then termed
  • Christian Moerlein from Hudepohl in Cincinnati

All sought to offer a superior taste to the public. The moniker super-premium was attached to these beers partly to reflect their higher price bracket.

At the time in the U.S., apart the tiny craft coterie, there were standard, premium, and super-premium beers. Budweiser and Miller High Life, say, were premium, the mid-point.

A regional beer such as New York’s Genesee Lager would fetch the standard price and there was in fact a fourth, very inexpensive bracket for high-adjunct “7/7” beers – seven days to mash, brew, and ferment,  seven days to age, then out the door.

Most super-premium beers were not all-malt but a couple were, Erlanger by all reports. Christian Moerlein, too.

American industrial brewing hadn’t quite forgotten what all-malt was. The onset of craft brewing helped remind them. But all-malt didn’t guarantee great taste. It meant something if final gravity was not extreme and there was decent hopping.

Due to such factors most such beers including Labatt Classic lager in Canada tasted rather thin (or in my opinion they were) compared to emerging craft beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and ended fi



Why was this? American brewing in 1975 could easily have created the beer revolution with all-malt or high-malt, super-premium beers of character. It didn’t happen, and the super-premium that were issued never sold large quantities compared

Why did the super-premiums fizzle, leaving the way for the craft segment to trump them?

This is a complex question, as of course it took many years for the craft segment to grow to any significance and it is still, depending how you calculate it, about 15% of the total market – after 40 years of trying. So you can argue it wasn’t worth it to the established breweries to go the full monty, to make rich-tasting all-malt beer that became the hallmark of the first decades of craft.

But another part of the answer is, taste. The super-premiums never really tasted like the good imports or, say, Boulder Pale Ale when it came out, or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or Young’s Special Bitter in London. I know, I was there and can testify to this. Moerlein’s was perhaps the closest, but IMO it was a quasi-craft beer and came out after Anchor Steam Beer had made a dent in beer consciousness in the later 70s with adulatory stories in nascent beer publishing and the business press too.

What was wrong with the super-premium taste? Too light. By comparison to the norm of American brewing the beers had more impact, but not that much in relative terms.

One way to understand why this was is to look at two things that happened in U.S. brewing between about 1960 and 1980. The first, was that the super-premiums either were made with adjunct or if all-malt (not the norm) were fairly dry-tasting, and in either case without a marked hop character.

Second, famous imports were localized by being brewed in America but with adjunct added to them. Lowenbrau was an example, brewed in the U.S. by Miller from the mid-70s. Tuborg was another example. Carlsberg in Canada IIRC.

Yet another was the popularity of Canadian exports at the time, Molson’s beer, then Labatt’s and Moosehead’s – all used adjunct, all were viewed as quality imports but did not approach craft brewing, or surely pre-Prohibition all-malt North American beers, in character.

So, more taste than the norm, but not the full monty, not what you’d get in a cask beer in London, not what you’d get in Munich.

One brewer, Hamm in Minnesota, gave a name to this perspective on how super-premium beer should taste, it called it “the third taste”. Hamm’s brewery in the late 1950s released its Waldech, another Germanic-allusion name intended to convey traditional quality. About the time the family sold to Heublein, the cocktail mix people, ads appeared in newspapers giving good detail on this beer, a push was being made with new money (I apprehend) to make the beer a bigger seller, probably to challenge Michelob.

It’s very interesting to read the ads, an example of which you can see here from Life Magazine in 1964. The brewery used the term “third taste”. As the ad states, the third taste was the European taste lightened to the American palate. So not the inherited American taste. Not the European taste. Something in between. Fine Tettnang hops, and 2-row Hannchen barley, were specified, with an implication the beer was all-malt, but I’m not sure it was. Or if it was, something was done to it to make it more like what Americans were used to.

No doubt the flavour was a cut above, but I doubt the beer tasted like Sam Adams Boston Lager, say, or New Amsterdam Beer, another early craft lager, marketed in New York around 1981.

You can see the mantra of the third taste in everything I’ve said earlier about the super-premiums: they used adjunct, or if not rarely had the full flavour of a good import or craft beer. When Lowenbrau was made in the U.S. after 1975 they put corn in it, presumably convinced the American drinker wouldn’t buy, or pay for, the real thing.

Was cost accounting really behind it, given corn has a higher starch content than barley and is cheaper to use from an efficiency standpoint?

Perhaps, but one would think an established American brewer somewhere before the craft era would go all-out with a Munich-tasting lager or English-tasting ale. The few pennies more per bottle an all-malt, high-hopped beer might cost couldn’t have made the difference.

The brewers just didn’t go there, the beer closest in character to this norm of quality, Ballantine India Pale Ale, was a tiny seller and was never promoted on the level of Erlanger/Waldech/Andeker/Moerlein let alone Michelob. (And even it used adjunct then).

When you net it out, I think taste was the final arbiter. The pre-craft American brewing industry had convinced itself, for generations, that beer had to be relatively light-tasting, not too sweet and certainly not too bitter: the opposite to a Liberty Ale, say, from Anchor Brewing. It took strong-headed entrepreneurs to chart a different path, many with a home brewing or foreign travel background.

But it could have been different. Had the super-premium group been made to taste like the European progenitors, had more styles too been introduced (not just Munich Helles/Czech Pilsener but different ales, wheats, stouts), the pre-1980 U.S. brewing industry could have engineered the brewing revolution on its own. It was too hidebound, wedded to an ethos that had become outdated. Most small regional brewers, most of whom expired, were no different to the majors in this respect.

An exception was F. X. Matt in Utica, NY who early on saw the importance of the craft segment, no doubt through making beer under contract for emerging craft brewers such as New Amsterdam Brewing and initially, Sam Adams. Matt released fairly early its Saranac craft line, which helped save the brewery. A couple of other regionals did re-invent themselves in this way but it wasn’t the norm. And certainly the large brewers didn’t want to know despite half-hearted early investments in the boutique segment or releasing their own craft-like products e.g., the early Michelob line extensions, most anodyne to my recollection.

Perhaps when you are part of a long-established tradition, whether big, medium, or small, you don’t see the forest for the trees. It’s difficult to stand against the trend. Was there a brewer at Anheuser-Busch in 1960 who said, why are we putting 25% rice in Michelob, what are we doing…?

Anyway, Hamm’s bet wrong: Americans didn’t want the third taste. They wanted, in the result, the second taste.

N.B. I don’t want to be understood to suggest there were no truer antecedents in the 1970s for craft brewing. Prinz Brau in Alaska, a venture of the Oetker Group in Germany (Radeberger, various foodstuffs), made all-malt beers from 1976-1979 – in vain, the venture didn’t last long evidently. Why did Oetker go to remote Alaska though, why not New York, or San Francisco…? In Canada in the 70s a group in Hamilton, ON with a license from Henninger in Frankfurt made authentic-tasting (I recall) German lagers, all-malt again. The venture did not succeed, finally.

Were these too early, or in the wrong market? Did they still not have the right product, or taste? Whatever the answer, they didn’t have the secret the early successful craft brewers came up with only a few years later. And they were exceptions certainly, mainstream North American brewing did nothing similar until big brewers started to buy craft brewers in earnest, decades later.








Beer Just Ahead of the Craft Wave

A good snapshot of the immediate pre-craft scene appears from the cheerful, generous menu of Leona’s, an Italian-American restaurant in Chicago started in 1950. Leona’s was classic “family-style”, a genre that is evergreen although the phrase is now falling out as a description/category.

Leona’s name endures in the city, as a chain of pizza delivery houses. The full-menu, sit-down restaurant on North Sheffield Street that was the hub no longer exists though. Some years ago, the pizza outposts were sold with the name. A descendant retained the original restaurant and menu, renaming it Lina’s, but it closed after a couple of years.

The menu dates from 1987. Some may wonder how that can be pre-craft when the first modern craft brewery, Jack McAuliffe’s New Albion, started in 1976-1977 (dates vary depending on the account. In The New World Guide to Beer, 1988, Michael Jackson gave the date as 1976).

Certainly by 1987, there were approximately 80 craft breweries in America, of which about a third were brewpubs. An article in 2014 by Stan Hieronymus in All About Beer magazine gives the exact numbers. Goose Island Brewery in Chicago didn’t open until 1988; Leona’s menu shown is from the year before.

The 80-some microbreweries spread through the country in 1987 had made no dent on the national beer consciousness. They were too small and far-flung, craft beer was the passion only of a very few.

Except for a tiny number of people including at bars such as Brickskeller in Washington, D.C., great beer meant top domestics produced by large breweries or old regionals and, often, a sprinkling of imports.

Leona’s menu reflects therefore the perspective of 10 years earlier. Even the best beer lists of the day were almost always similar. A handful of bars might, in New York, say, offer New Amsterdam Amber beer, but there was no brand comparable in Chicago in ’87. Good beer in Chicago meant the mid-west regional favourite Old Style, offered on the menu, or e.g., Stroh, with some under the radar picks.

Yet glimmers of the future existed. Quality brands were carried from the old-regional Huber in Wisconsin (now Minhas Craft Brewery, owned by a Canadian family). This is the second-oldest American brewery still in operation.

Erlanger, originally from Schlitz, later a Stroh brand, was made at Dubuque Star in ’87, an all-malt, Euro-type pils beer.

Andeker, not shown, was another high-malt, European-style lager, introduced by Pabst in the late 1930s.

With Michelob and others, these were “super-premiums”, progenitors of the all-malt craft lagers that soon became a niche, especially Sam Adams Boston Lager.

The menu looks ahead as well with its early taste notes, perhaps rather basic (the Anchor Porter one focuses on colour and fizz, nothing else) but still of interest. It is doubtful Michael Jackson had been engaged to write them – he took such work occasionally – but perhaps the wholesaler supplied a few notes, or a bartender at Leona’s.

The rather qualified reference to Anchor Liberty Ale, that it is excellent “as American ales go”, seems to depreciate the new American hop taste, or maybe it was just a turn of phrase. The fact that Anchor Brewing was covered at all, a proto-craft brewery, is another signal of the future.

Yet another harbinger: the menu’s beer offerings are all-American – no imports. This presages the localism trend that grew with vigour from the 1980s. I’d guess the classic imports were still available if requested, perhaps Heineken, Bass Pale Ale, Guinness Stout, but no import actually appears on the menu.

What about Lowenbrau? Since the mid-70s it had been brewed under licence by Miller Brewing. To include the brand in a list headed American Brews was a bit of a dig, as was the tart comment under Miller High Life, inviting the drinker to decide if it was the Champagne of Beers.

Countless restaurants offered similar beer lists well into the 1990s. It took time for the idea of craft brewing to impress on the national mind and enter normal distribution channels and mainstream restaurants and bars.

What were the super-premiums like? At their best, excellent, e.g., Andeker. Rather improbably, you can taste it again: a recreation is offered at the new Pabst brewpub in Milwaukee. The grist and hop bill are not identical to the 1970s version but reviews are positive.

See here a former Pabst brewmaster discussing the aging and grain bill for Andeker. Ed Reisch explains that the grist was originally all-malt but had been changed to 20% corn “to make the beer more stable”, meaning probably to maintain its brilliance under all packaging and storage conditions. This fact though separated beers like these from Sam Adams lager when they became available.

Erlanger was on the dry side as I recall. Augie, from Huber in Wisconsin, was rich and clean. I never had Dubuque’s Rhomberg, but the (surely) faux-European name was promising.*

As much as iconic Anchor Brewing, the super-premium class was a predecessor of the modern craft era. Canada had a few including Brador from Molson.

(Menu extracts are from the menu archive at www.nypl.org).


*The producing brewery in fact, according to a number of sources including Michael Jackson’s 1986 The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer, was originally called Rhomberg (and much later, Pickett’s, which some still remember), so the name would appear genuine in this sense. I’ve known the brewery as Dubuque or Dubuque Star, in Iowa of course.










My own Navy-style rum

In the last two months I wrote a number of posts on Navy rum. I discussed the Black Tot brand, bottled from last stocks of stored Navy rum as a commercial venture about 10 years ago and sold around the world. I mentioned Pusser’s rum, the only one that claims to follow the Navy recipe used before the rum ration ended in the U.K. in 1970.

I discussed as well various comments opining on the components of the blend used. Clearly, the Royal Navy sourced the rum from different places via a long-time broker and its suppliers, but it seems a solera-type blending system at the Deptford navy yard outside London, in place by the later 1800s, produced a complex blend.

The idea was it seems not so much to produce a connoisseur’s drink, something ostensibly at odds with the practical, even hard-edged ethos of the Navy ratings, but a drink that would hold its flavour when diluted with water. Ratings took the drink diluted 2:1, petty ranks could take it neat. Still, the long development of the drink probably encouraged output of an attractive flavour.

Even without intending it this kind of result insensibly would have resulted; this is the case in fact with many long-established products, they end by being good through a thousand small adjustments over time: Fuller’s beers, say.

Tastings of the 1960s Navy rum via Black Tot online reviews suggest a strong, dry chocolate flavour with complex overtones of fruit, spice, oils.

A credible source I documented stated in the 1960s the rum blend was Guyana, Trinidad, and 10% Aussie or Natal (South Africa).

Given though in the 1930s a witness in Parliament stated the rum was a blend of “Empire rums”, including Jamaica when price permitted, I decided to go about doing my own blend using Guyana rum as the base. Most sources agree Guyana rum was the base of the navy blend, at least in the 20th century.

I made three blends: one a combination of Myers Planter’s Punch rum (all-Guyana with an evident pot still impact), Cockspur rum (light golden from Barbados), and Screech, a rum marketed originally in Newfoundland that is probably from Jamaica. The Screech label states only Caribbean rums are used but it has a Jamaican taste, IMO. All these rums were probably at most a few years old.

The second was the blend above but in different proportions, and with two older rums added: Admiral Rodney Extra Old (St. Lucia) and Westerhall Vintage (Grenada), used for additional complexity and age. The third blend was the same as No. 2 but in different proportions again.

I found the flavour of each excellent, after tinkering to get each right. The blending really did something, the result was better IMO than each on its own, not just the taste but the texture. It’s odd how each rum might finish short or spirity on its own yet the blend acquired length and softness.

At a dinner, I asked a friend who likes beer and whiskey but hasn’t much experience with rum to blind-taste the first and second blends (the no. 2 only of the second) and I included Pusser’s rum as well. Pusser’s is apparently blended from Guyana and Trinidad rums only but from different stills. Demerara Distillers Ltd. in Guyana is famous for its numerous stills, of which some are very old including a couple built from a greenwood of the area no longer available.

The Guyana-Trinidad blend is substantially what the RN was using in the 1960s, as reported above. Pusser’s is at least three years old by all reports I have read, so roughly of the average age of my first blend mentioned, as I estimated it.

My guest chose my second blend as his favourite, he said the taste was deeper and better than the others. I feel my second blend matches up to some Navy rum in its history because the solera at Deptford (mostly destroyed by German bombing in WW II, incidentally) would have imparted some long-aged notes.

The Pusser’s is very good certainly, and was his second choice. Pusser’s has that slight rubber note good pot still rum should have, but wreathed in a molasses-like sweetness, and well, it’s just a good taste. My first blend showed some of the grassy notes of younger Demerara pot still, but was still nice and perhaps a good example of younger Navy rum in its day.

I think I got close to the Navy tradition for each of my blends. They are IMO at least as good as Pusser’s while being somewhat different. I hadn’t the advantage too to marry the blends in wood, or even in vat for a while which may have improved the mix. They just sat in the bottles for a few weeks. But they were very nice all the same.