Estrella Damm Gastronomic Congress Comes to Toronto

On the list for Moosehead and the affiliated Premium Beer Company promo events, we are attending the following on May 15.* Some details from Moosehead’s website:

Join Estrella Damm for Gastronomy Congress: A Journey to Joan Roca Cuisine from El Celler de Can Roca.

London, Miami, Lisbon, and Melbourne have all played host to the Estrella Damm Gastronomy Congress – a one-of-a-kind event that showcases top culinary personalities from around the world. On May 15, it’s Toronto’s turn – Chef Joan Roca will headline Toronto’s first-ever public Gastronomy Congress.

Roca is the chef-owner of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. In 2013 and 2015, El Celler de Can Roca was named the World’s Best Restaurant. This special event will feature a live cooking demonstration by Roca, followed by an engaging discussion about modern gastronomy between Chef Roca and top Toronto chef Grant van Gameren.

The event will take place at the new Crow’s Theatre. The first professional performing arts facility of its kind east of the Don Valley Parkway.

Estrella Damm has been sponsoring these Gastronomy Congresses for some years. While Spain is not usually regarded as having a long beery heritage, beer accompanies tapas and some other Spanish food well, as we found on a visit to Barcelona some years ago.

The opportunity to pair an ever-increasing range of city or area beers is provided by the spike in the craft brewing movement in Spain including Catalonia. Estrella Damm itself is the “old school” with roots to an expatriate Alsatian brewer, August Damm, in 1876.

The flagship lager is a classic late-1800s adjunct blonde beer. Just about the time Budweiser emerged with its malt-and-rice formula, the same occurred for Estrella Damm – it was in the air.

Damm S.A. has issued numerous other styles including a Munich-style dark lager, Hefeweizen, red lager, and other variations, but Estrella Damm is the mainstay. It has been available in Toronto for at least a half-dozen years via LCBO.

I look forward to tasting Roca’s handiwork – as a world-famous chef it promises to be good. His thoughts on current culinary trends will be interesting to hear as well. He is known among other innovations for promoting the sous-vide method about 20 years ago. What was initially an expedient is today widely followed in restaurant practice, although whether at famed El Celler we don’t know.

For prices and ticket details check this Eventbrite page.

Noteworthy fact: Spain has a much older beer tradition than one would think, anchored in early Celtic settlements – it was interrupted by the Romans and their vines! More on this soon with a c. 1958 recipe for a beer puchero from Canadian chef legend Jehane Benoit.


*Our attendance is complimentary, courtesy Estrella Damm and Moosehead.




Entire Porter: It’s all About the Grain, Says Mr. Redman

I was going to make this poster longer and rehearse various porter history, including my original theory that the names “porter”and “three threads”, a predecessor of porter, are derived from the Spitalfields, London silk trade of c. 1700.

However I will limit my remarks to the following.

Nicholas Redman, a former archivist at Whitbread, stated at p. 2 in his The Story of Whitbread PLC 1742-1990:

The business in which he now had a share was on two sites. At the larger, the Goat Brewhouse, on the corner of Old Street and Upper Whitecross Street, the partners brewed porter and small beer. Strong beer, or porter as it was generally called (Faulkner’s 1741 edition of Swift’s works calls Stout ‘a cant word for strong beer’) was brewed from grain malt only, and this led to the name Entire or Intire Butt. The use of dark sugars and the blending of pale malts with the brown was practised by some brewers, but was never allowed in the Goat Brewhouse or later in Chiswell Street. Small beer was a weaker extract of strong beer. Across Old Street, in Brick Lane (now Central Street), stood a small brewhouse which produced pale and amber beers. These beers, the equivalent of bitter, were brewed to meet a limited demand and were known as Table Beer.

This explanation of entire or entire butt is new to me and alternate to an idea accepted by many beer historians that entire meant each mashed run-off was combined for one brewing.

Some will dismiss Redman’s explanation about dark sugar, since sugar was not generally permitted for public brewing in the 1700s, or the 1800s until 1847, so he was channeling an interpreattion, perhaps from Whitbread records, that arose when the real meaning of entire was forgotten, even in brewing circles.

However, molasses was used in brewing in the period just before porter comes to public attention, in the early 1720s. This use was not lawful, but was used anyway, especially when the malt tax was hiked, as it had been in the Georgian teen years to pay for foreign wars.

The excise official Edward Denneston wrote a booklet in 1713 on how to defeat frauds on public revenue, so just a few years before porter appears. I referred to it before to help interpret the meaning of three and the other numbered threads, a matter also preparatory to porter.

But in the present context, we may note his comments on the use of molasses by public brewers, at pp 31-32. He states that “most brewers in England” used it, “vast quantities” in place of malt. I know from other research that even at the end of the 1700s molasses was similarly used when cheap brown malt was found wanting (due to insufficient extract).

See, for example, at p. 290 in Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts, Vol. 36 by Arthur Young, an instance in Norfolk.

It makes sense an upstanding brewer, as Samuel Whitbread was always said to be, abstemious, also a benefactor, would want to advertise his use of all-grain beer. Maybe Redman’s explanation is not so off the mark after all, although the combining mashes idea has good historical justification certainly.

William Ellis in the London and Country Brewer (1830s) discussed an intire guile small beer that clearly was “entirely” made from one quarter of malt, in the sense no other beer was also made from that quarter. In particular there was no successive production of strong ale and weak beer from separate mashes.

But here is the thing: whoever originated the term, it doesn’t mean the sense he gave it was shared by all. This was a time when businesses kept their knowledge in-house. There was no internet, no publicity or educational network such as a Brewers Association to inform brewers or the public how products were confected, processed, and sold.

Samuel Whitbread, the main founder and surviving partner of Whitbread’s brewery, may well have used the term in the sense Redman suggests. Yet in other contexts, entire appears to have been understood as meaning well-aged beer, or beer made from all-brown malt vs. incorporating some (higher-yielding, like sugar) pale malt.

Is the entire grain idea a dead end? Maybe. But Nicholas Redman was no accidental beer author. He wrote numerous other brewery histories. He spoke at the celebration of life of the lately-deceased Michael Jackson in 2007, an honour attesting to his standing in beer historical studies.

Redman is still with us, and perhaps can be encouraged to explicate the statement I quoted. I understand he has been concentrating on his other passion, how whale bones are used in different countries for decorative and other purposes. He has a series of volumes on this, an interesting topic certainly.



The Session: Beer Blogging Friday #134

This month’s Session is hosted by Tom Cizauskas. No better Session leader can be imagined due to his impressive resume in beer and brewing, he’s covered so many areas: brewer, pub owner, writer, beer educator, and more.

You can read the topic in Tom’s post from mid-March. I can summarize it (but be sure to read his full post) with this excerpt:

What is a beer garden? Or what isn’t a beer garden? Or what should a beer garden be? Or where is a beer garden?

Preface: in parsing the rules to participate in this Session, I’m hoping this post doesn’t disqualify due to its left field approach. By this I mean, I propose, not my own contribution on the topic but one written by a New York journalist some time ago – 1869 in fact. That’s 1869, no typo.

I need only reference an earlier blogpost where I discussed what amounts to, in many ways, Junius Browne’s answer to Tom’s questions, see A Yankee Views Askance the Lager Beer Garden

As well, I know I’m a few days late to participate. In defence, I plead, as Junius’ agent, his advanced age. We request Tom’s indulgence on that account as well.



A Right Royal Porter

The great brewing name of Whitbread survives today, but as a different business from its origins. Today, the company, a listed concern based in London, focuses on hotels (Premier Inns), coffee shops (Costa), and a range of branded restaurants and a few family-style pubs.

Brewing was sold off in 2001 to what is now Anheuser Busch InBev. Whitbread sold its once-vaunted pub portfolio as well but kept its beer brands. If any beers still bear the name in Britain they are produced under licence by other breweries.

(For a clear account of how most of the major brewers of Britain after WW II spun-off their plants and pub estates, see this 2005 article in Brewery History by Pat Saunders).

But until the early 2000s the name Whitbread meant beer and brewing prowess and an extensive pub network in England – for many it still does.

We write this post for those “many”.

Whitbread issued or sponsored a number of company histories over its long existence, which began with Samuel Whitbread and two partners in 1742.

Earlier, we had an off-and-on series discussing brewery and distillery company histories. We’ll return to the subject today to consider the one issued by Whitbread Brewery in 1935. (The publication date is not stated in the book but various factors point to it).

In this period, Whitbread was still a potent force in brewing albeit the porter that powered the company’s rise was largely replaced by other types of beer.

As for businesses anywhere in any period, they like to keep in touch with their customers, and breweries especially given their intimate link with the consuming public.

The book in question was probably sold at the shop on exit from a tour at Chiswell Street, London or given to pub landlords, suppliers of materials, and other trade connections.

What is the equivalent today? Probably glossy pdfs linked to company websites or in their Facebook pages. Facebook itself serves as a kind of ongoing “story” for many companies, Instagram too.

The business “story” of our time – as in “we tell our story” –  existed no less in a former day, but in less continuous form.

You can read Whitbread’s Stanley Baldwin-era story, Whitbread’s Breweryhere, stored in University of Glasgow archives. As for most analogous accounts it used good paper and included well-chosen photo- and other illustrations.

Still, a “luxe” tone was avoided, appropriately as the Depression was still operative and these histories were written mostly for a non-technical audience. They tended to balance technical discussion (unavoidable) with a layman’s perspective, Whitbread’s book no less.

The tone is even, “quiet” yet assured: a typical example of English public writing in this period. One may contrast it with the brash American commercial style of the late 1800s, or the chatty-technocrat business prose of the 1950s-1960s.

We like especially Whitbread’s three pages on the Royal Visit by King George and Queen Charlotte in 1787, with three Princesses in tow.

Royalty had visited business works before, but this visit was a landmark in the evolution of capitalist enterprise and its relation to aristocracy and the landed estates. One sees the seeds of the current busy public program of the Royal Family.

Here is part of the account, itself excerpted from contemporary (1787) newspaper coverage:

The cooperage was looked at from an adjoining room; and it was at this window, looking into the street, that the people without, who by this time had gathered into a great crowd, first seeing the King, gave breath to their loyalty, and repeatedly huzzaed. The Queen, whose worth, were it her sensibility alone, would be beyond our praise, paid the people with a tear!

In all that related to the Brewery, and the passages through them —all that was necessary, was done; but, very properly, nothing more. Matting covered the way that was dirty—lamps lighted where had been dark.

When everything was seen, the walk ended in the house. Their Majesties were led to a cold collation, as magnificent as afluence and arrangement could make it. The whole service was plate. There was every wine in the world. And there was also that, without which the board had been incomplete, some PORTER, poured from a bottle that was very large, but, as may be thought, with better singularities than the mere size to recommend it. As there was no want of anything else, there was no want of appetite.

The Duchess of Ancaster and Iady Harcourt sat at the table as well as the Princesses; but the Duke of Montagu and Iord Aylesbury finding in another room a second banquet, scarcely less sumptuous than the former—prepared for their attendants, had there been any—very heartily boarded there, that it might not seem so much good cheer had been thrown away.

This being done, it became two o’clock; when the King and Queen, not more than completely satisfied with the wonder of the works, than the good sense and elegance with which they had been shewn, took leave of Mr. Whitbread and his daughter, and returned to Buckingham House.

Note the Georgian precision of language and cadence; the sentences almost dance with each other. Yet all is informative and concise, sometimes amusing. This is the obverse of today’s emotive, feverish/confessional style, but this is now, eh?

Returning to the 1930s, the pages on cooperage note the importance of Memel oak to build or repair the company’s casks, a topic I discussed recently. Good images of the casks are shown.

It is noted the work was conducted in a former porter “vat”. This could mean simply a surface area where one of the huge wood vats had stood, or perhaps a sub-floor where a large cistern once held porter.

So what were the “singularities” of the upper case – upper caste – porter served to Royal personages? One can only speculate. Perhaps it was an unusually good blend, or a particularly aged porter from the huge cisterns and vats.

Porter was made then (we know) from all-brown malt, malt that despite toasting in the kiln would convert to fermentable sugar. It was often not more than 10-15% less the equivalent weight of pale malt, so pretty good mashable stuff, with diastase intact (or enough) to produce the essential maltose for fermentation.

The porter was probably a touch phenolic without (we think) being a Bamberg forest fire in the mouth. It was probably a little fruity from yeast esters, and surely quite bitter from hops. One may see the impressive hop pockets, or elongated sacks, used in the Thirties in the book. They probably looked quite similar in George III’s time.

A porter royal for a visit no less noble. British royalty survived into the period the book was written, and endures today.

What do Princes Harry and William drink, I wonder? If they drink at all that is, I’d be nonplussed if they don’t.* Some kind of lager, probably, or any kind. Remember, aristos aren’t known for connoisseurship, that’s more a middle class or academic preoccupation.

So-called Sloanes, certainly not immune to being drunk on royalty, will drink any kind of beer, said Sloane Ranger Handbook (1982). I read the book on an airplane once, someone in the seat before me had left it. An interesting book, and I never forgot that little bit on beer.

True, “wine merchant” was among the traditional occupations of this class, the book made that clear too, but not the customers really; that was the point of the discussion and it makes sense I think.

I like Prince Harry, and am very impressed with his Invictus work. It takes conviction, courage, and good values to do that, not to mention a suitable personality, and he does it well. Few causes are more worthy.

When he gets marries I’ll raise a personal toast, in singular porter. Canadian porter though, Hazz.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from the excellent U.K.-based Gracie’s Guide site, here.  The second image was sourced from the Wikipedia entry on Whitbread, here. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in said images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.


*Nonplussed is used in its North American sense.









Tasting Amsterdam 1870 AK Bitter

Last night Amsterdam Brewery released the 1870 AK brewed as a collaboration with me. It’s a limited run, part of the brewery’s Adventure Brews series.

The beer is available at Amsterdam restaurant bars currently in “keg” form, and in cans at the retail shop in the main brewery in Leaside.

Last night the beer was available in cask form, served by thumb tap straight from a spiled cask (no handpump), and in keg form.

The reception was held in the main cocktail area of Amsterdam Brewhouse and Restaurant on Laird Street. Despite the area being quite spacious it was full-up without being crowded.

As I’ve discussed technical aspects of the beer in earlier posts, I’ll focus here on palate. Despite the large amount of leaf hops used, the beer was not overwhelming bitter. I think the palate softened down through many weeks aging, or “keeping” in older terminology.

The reasons for this in my view are, the relatively short boiling time (one hour), the relatively low alpha acid values of the English hops used compared to many varieties today, and the multi-stage addition of the hops. Had they all been added at the beginning of the boil stage, for example, or the boil increased by 50% or 100%, the bitterness factor probably would have been more pronounced.

Even with Fuggles dry-hopping – the keg received one week’s treatment in the dish-bottomed conditioning tank – the beer, while full of English hop character, showed an integrated palate. The hops and malt interleaved to create a kind of unity.

The keg version seemed a touch more hop-forward, tending more to IPA as one brewer put it. The canned will be similar to the keg.

This may be down to the different contact of the hops and beer in both forms, or perhaps too the sugar priming added to the cask. All this said, I didn’t find the two forms that different. If anyone lets the keg or canned version warm up and decarbonate, they will be very similar.

Finings were not used for the cask-conditioned form, hence a turbid look but it didn’t taste “yeasty” at all. The quality of the hops and malt came through strongly which was one of the goals of the brewing.

As a 5.2% beer, it suited perfectly a reception that lasted two hours. Had it been a c. 7% IPA the beer would have intoxicated too fast over that time. Being a medium-gravity style, it worked perfectly to refresh or for a session, just as it would have in the pub or household of the 1800s.

The main difference with modern English bitter was not having the toffee-sweetish edge of caramel malt, and being (certainly) more hoppy in total character. In this respect, 1870 AK reminded me of American pale ales and IPAs that don’t use crystal malt, not used in English brewing in the period in question.

Was it radically different to any other beer I’ve ever had? Not at all, nor could that be expected as it is brewed today of course with ingredients of today albeit selected for their traditional character. It reminded me of some bitters first encountered on English visits in the 1980s, especially Young’s bitter in London, and of other beers I remember from the U.K. trips.

Some of our brewers who focus on English styles, e.g. Granite brewpub in Toronto, make beers on a similar vector.

But this is the value of historical recreation, it shows the differences and continuities.

One experienced taster said the beer had a “rustic” quality, one he thought came from the single floor-malt used. I agree with that. Although it did not taste at all like a Belgian or modern farmhouse beer or a craft cider, it reminded me that type of beverage: honest, nothing fussed over, clean, natural. This style must have been a staple of many village public houses back in the day.

Indeed despite a few large glasses the head is clear as a bell today, due to that honesty of character I think and, to the extent we could achieve it, lack of processing.

I’l try it as the weeks go forward at the Amsterdam bars, and see how it tastes in the cans I have particularly when it falls bright (or brighter).

Many thanks again to Amsterdam and especially Iain McOustra and Cody Noland (pictured) of the company’s brewing team for their dedication and skill to bring this special release to market.


Dry-Hopping of Porter and Stout

Tim H in the comments to the last post had asked about the dry-hopping of stout and porter, pointing to some evidence it was done. Dry-hopping means adding a handful or more “dry” (unboiled) hops to the beer when barrelled or sometimes when stored in a vat or tank before barreling.

At p. 400, here, from A Textbook of the Science Of Brewing (1891) by Edward Moritz and George Morris, you will read that dry-hopping was generally not used for stout and mild ale.

The reasons are evident from the way Moritz explained the advantages of dry hopping. It was primarily for bouquet and taste in pale ale, and also to stimulate an after-fermentation for long-stored beers. Export stouts were the latter case, so that Brettanomyces yeast would consume the non-fermentable (by normal brewers yeast) dextrins and complex sugars.

In contrast, for mild ale a fresh, sweet quality was sought, with the malt to the fore. The hops play a lesser role versus the pale ale family.

Porter was increasingly sold fresh in the 1800s and correlatively maltiness was a signature, with a roasted malt flourish. I think it likely a flowery or herbal note was felt to clash with the malty character of new porter or stout and only a neutral bitterness was wanted, as say Guinness has today.

Certainly porter as handed down before the craft era, in my experience, did not have a strong hop smell and taste: Sinebrychoff Porter, Carnegie Stout, Anchor Porter, Molson Porter, the surviving U.S. regional porters, Guinness, Murphy, Beamish, Sheaf Stout, Lion Stout, the East European porters – none had a pungent hop smell from dry-hopping that I can recall.

Many of these beers survive, and remain unchanged in this regard.

It’s in tune with what Moritz wrote and he was a highly regarded brewing scientist of the era.

To my recollection Victorian brewing writer Frank Faulkner stated the same thing, or in substance. I recall as well similar statements in issues of the Journal of the Institute of Brewing.

Did some breweries diverge from a rule of thumb? Yes, Moritz himself noted this. But this was not typical, judging from his comments and other factors I’ve noted.

20th century practice is less significant as gravities had fallen. Dry-hopping can encourage stability, as Moritz noted too. Nonetheless it was only with the onset of craft that one started to see dry- or aroma-hopped porter and stout, particularly with citric New World varieties.





From Crop to Craft

What is stout, what is Black IPA? The beer above, from Magnotta in Ontario – a winery, brewery, and distillery – is a Black IPA.

This style emerged in the U.S. in the last 20 years, and is a dark-coloured India Pale Ale. The idea is to retain the hoppy burst of an IPA but with a dark colour and touch of roast flavor.

If IPA was a Supermarine Spitfire with eight Browning guns, Black IPA is the night fighter version.

A stout is black, or very dark brown, beer with the same element of roasted malt or barley, but enough to lend a decided toasted or even scorched flavour, burnt cordite comes to mind. Traditionally, stout was very bitter but in a neutral way, not aromatic like some pale ale was.

Stout is still often associated with Ireland but it emerged in the 1700s in London with its brother-in-arms, porter. The expedition to Ireland was later, under British auspices when Ireland was British, that is.

Stout and porter are really the same thing, the only difference was a general tendency that porter was less strong. Stout could describe a pale beer too and did before porter emerged – meaning in other words simply a strong beer. Once porter conquered the London beer market stout meant the brown kind, and has ever since.

Some Black IPA crosses into stout territory, some leans more to the IPA encampment. It’s a no-man’s-land of beer styles, really.

Generally, the “IPA” in Black or most contemporary IPA denotes a modern American hop signature: floridly fruity, often citric, sometimes weedy or “dank”.

IPA in England, where it originated also in the Georgian era, and also in London, can be as sharply bitter – was originally – as American IPA but the hop flavour is different. English hop yards produced flavours more like garden flowers or an autumn forest.

Sometimes English IPA had an acerbic bitterness but not much aroma at all, the Burton style could be like this.

Even before craft beer mobilized, some IPA as such survived in U.K. but the pint of “bitter” still available in many English pubs is a descendant. If you want to know what English IPA was like, the closest surviving examples in English pubs today are the bitter.

Magnotta’s version of Black IPA commendably uses Ontario-grown hops. These ended by not tasting very American at all, or are used at any rate in a way to impart a neutral bitterness. Some Ontario hops are rather acerbic or dank in my experience but not here, the taste is very good and traditional.

The result is to approach more closely an English heritage, perhaps like the old Black and Tan, a mix of bitter and stout.

In general the beer is excellent, with a full malty taste. Nothing crow about it except the colour!

Magnotta has been brewing for many years now, but this beer is the best I’ve tasted from them. I hope to get out to Vaughan, ON soon, where the company is based, to revisit the range.


Bass Obsessed Man


No, I don’t mean me, although I appreciate Bass ale – more especially its history.

In 1987, C.C. Owen wrote a scholarly article, “The History of Brewing in Burton Upon Trent”, published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing. You can read it here.

He writes:

After 1790 the deteriorating political situation in the Baltic began to adversely affect commerce, while the onset of the Napoleonic wars in 1793 obliged the brewers to pay high insurance charges, convoy dues and excessive prices for grain. By 1806 this branch of overseas trade had become so precarious that it was no longer profitable and the six remaining [Burton] brewers were obliged to seek markets at home. Although the Baltic ale trade never revived, its development had been of great significance in establishing a viable brewing industry of high repute and a thriving industrial community of 6,000 inhabitants.

This point is central to the subsequent development of India Pale Ale as a staple of Trent valley brewing. It suggests too, rather more incidentally, that Burton would hold no particular brief for Napoleon Bonaparte, who had forced an important industry and its intermediaries to do a major reset.

Yet, about 20 years ago, as part of its Bass Obsessed Man ad series in the U.S., Bass announced in this tv ad that “Napoleon Bonaparte” wanted to set up a Bass brewery in Paris.

The ad is funny, and not surprisingly its director had been involved with the film Spinal Tap.

When you hear something like the Little Emperor and Bass ale were fast friends, many are tempted to think it’s pure invention. So many beer stories handed down the ages are said, after all, to be untrue or mostly untrue.

Yet some stories long understood to be mythic end by being true. The story of a departing ship capsizing with a load of (appropriately) India Pale Ale off the English coast, with the ale being sold at salvage, is actually true.

This kind of beer had been sold in England before, and the event’s connection to IPA’s later rise in Britain is unclear. But the ship (the Crusader) did exist, did carry IPA, did sink, and the ale and other cargo were sold as salvage, that is true as beer historians now know. I recounted the story and brewing historian Martyn Cornell’s discovery in this post some time ago.

And in regard to Bass and Napoleon, why would Madison Avenue, famously inventive as the genre is known to be, make up something like the Bass and Napoleon story? No one could simply conjure this, there had to be some basis for it.

No doubt Bass told the ad writer. But where did Bass get it from? I haven’t traced that, a book called Bass: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Ale (1927) may reveal some part of the story.

But I know the answer, or I’m pretty sure I know. I found it in an ostensibly unlikely source, a Victorian book on temperance. Temperance studies, even of the breathless 19th century type, often end by being useful sources on the alcohol industries. After all, know your enemy…

The book is the The Temperance Dictionary (1862) by Rev. Dawson Burns. See his entry for Michael Bass, descendant of the founder William Bass:

Ah, so it was Napoleon III, not Bonaparte. This makes sense. The nephew who finally crowned himself Emperor of France was active when Burton was in its glory as a centre of the world ale trade.

Even had Bonaparte been minded to help Bass in Paris – and found a pacific moment to launch the plan – in his time Burton ale was a strong, sweet, brown drink, one not likely to appeal to Parisian becs. Burton brewers only developed IPA from the 1820s. By then, Bonaparte really had gone for a Burton.

But exhilarating Burton pale ale, snappy and clean on the palate, is different. Indeed IPA gained good early sales in Paris as part of its general international expansion.

And Napoleon III might be expected to welcome one of the world’s greatest breweries to his rebuilt city. Remember? He commissioned the engineer Haussmann to design a new centre for the city. A perfect opportunity to welcome a famous brewery to the zones industrielles created strategically in the new city.

Napoleon III ensured the creation of Les Halles, the famous food market of Paris, so he had an interest in food supply and logistics.

He even got behind a project to create a reliable substitute for butter. Now that part doesn’t sound very Paree, very gourmet, yet Napoleon III was no misty-eyed romantic; had he been he wouldn’t have torn down half of Paris to put up something new and untested.

So it makes sense it was he who tried to entice Bass to Paris.

Back to the 1998 commercial: It’s revealing in a number of ways. First, an interest in beer history is being mocked, basically. Even in the context of a short, hardly serious pitch the beer nerd is made to look like a pedant/blowhard.

The cool guy is the one trying to order a beer and he doesn’t want to know from beer history. The chick behind the bar, well, she’s heard it all before.

Then there is the stuff about the water being filtered through gypsum. Yes, gypsum is part of the story of Burton ale success, but it isn’t being told exactly right. The implication is the water is clarified, or purified in the actor’s words, by the gypsum.

Gypsum, or calcium sulphate, is a common mineral. It actually works in brewing to accentuate hop bitterness and add a sulphur note. These encourage the stability of beer, an important issue before pasteurization was developed.

Finally, they conflated Bonaparte and the nephew. Not so serious in the context of commercial advertising, nature of the beast one might say.

And it’s just a beer commercial and they had little time, so…

If the ad was done today, some 20 years later, I think the history would be treated more respectfully, and the facts better nailed down. Maybe.

But why didn’t Baron Michael Bass go to Paris? Why is an interesting question. Can it be he was in no mood to conciliate the descendant of a man who had destroyed his ancestors’ brown beer trade, even were it to his advantage?

Can it yet be Napoleon III was trying to make amends for his uncle’s devastation of that trade?

Perhaps, à la longue, the “water is different” theory really is true.

We can’t know, or I don’t know, at any rate. One thing is clear though: Napoleon III had vision, since beers are commonly brewed today far from source with great fidelity.

(That Napoleon clan really had something, we could use their like today).

N.B. The image above is a glass of genuine Bass Ale, brewed in Toronto by the Labatt unit of AB InBev. Whatever the whys and wherefores of creating the beer in mid-1800s Paris, it’s no trouble to make it far from Burton today.



I’ll Have a Light and a Dark

The Ace Hill Light pictured on the left is the latest release from the Toronto-based Ace Hill Brewery, which has its beers produced at Brunswick Bierworks in east Toronto. Although I forgot to take a picture of the poured beer, it has a notably pale colour, a la American adjunct style of the 1960s-2000s. This can be Mexican too, as stated on the label, as both are grain adjunct, light-tasting styles.

Indeed the label indicates wheat and flaked corn are used with the malt to produce a 4% abv beer.

The Mexican reference may point as well to the light lemony tang in the beer. I don’t think there is a citrus addition (not sure), it’s probably from the hops blend.

Ace Hill always had stylish packaging and imagery but this new can outdoes anything that came before, it must be the most attractive in Canada and maybe anywhere. The company has been astute to identify a market few small breweries exploit: craft light.

How is it craft? Well, it is produced in small amounts clearly, it may be unpasteurized (not sure again at time of writing), and it actually has a full flavour. Nothing bland about it, but the tang of adjunct is there of course, that’s the style.

It should rock a few patio tables and beach coolers this summer, I have no doubt.

It’s not my preferred style, but from a business standpoint it’s a great idea and potentially has a large market. It’s a much better beer too than any of the macro brewery efforts at a light.

The Czechvar Dark pictured has a really good Dunkel flavour, but repeated tastings in the last couple of years confirm the brewery is going for a light palate. If they ramped up the taste – same taste but just more – it would be a world classic brown lager, but it’s dialled down too much.

The best way to drink it is almost shelf temperature, as this makes the taste stronger. The yeast taste comes out more too, one I find hard to describe, but you know it when you taste it. Almost yogurt-like, maybe, or buttermilk.

Anyway most Dunkel styles, certainly those I’ve tried in North America, don’t really get close to the “original”. This one, via a Czech city, does, and it’s good to investigate for that reason alone.

The LCBO brings it in real fast too, it’s just a couple of months from packaging and the super-freshness shows.

Come to think of it, consumed iced it would make a great summer beer too. It’s traditional Mitteleuropa bottle and labeling don’t encourage the idea – more Black Sea resort under greyish skies – but it would be perfect for that.