Life With Father (and his Beer)

Of Pints and Pyramids

It is idle to cite 19th century references for the “half and half” as a mixture of ale and stout (or porter) as they are legion. Indeed they go back to the early 1700s in the form of porter’s predecessors, but also successors as the mixes were always present, and continue in some form to this day.

Beer historical literature has covered well 19th-century examples, so no need to survey them here.

Nonetheless, it is instructive to consider specific examples, not previously cited to my knowledge, for their didactic or entertainment value.

One such appeared in Slang and its Analogues Past and Present by John Farmer and W.E. Henley. The book was self-published in 1893 and sold to private subscribers, exactly where though is not clear. A casual scrolling of the tome shows why, look opposite the definition of Half-and-Half, for example (on p. 248).

Among references for half and half cited by Farmer and Henley we read one from Albert Smith in Punch magazine in 1841:

Ale and porter, the proportion of the porter increasing in an inverse ratio to the respectability of the house you get it from.

Now, this shows us that the proportion of ale was important – in 1841. Why? I’d infer because the ale mentioned was at the time mild ale, not pale ale. Mild ale was strong and on the sweet side from low attenuation.

The cheaper the dive you took your half and half in the more likely the house saved money by using more of the standard-strength, cheaper porter. At least that’s what I think, vs. that too much porter put the taste off, say. Low respectability and elevated palate don’t seem to match up, in other words.

Another discussion of half and half of more than passing interest is in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from July 1875 in a piece entitled Drinks, here.

In fact, two variants of the half and half appear in the article. One was a mix of Bass ale and Guinness porter. The other was a mix of “bitter”, almost certainly draft, with XX London stout. This was termed “stout-and-bitter” and said to be known by its humorous alternate, “mother-in-law”.

That term is often today thought of as a jape on another mixture, “old and bitter” (old ale and bitter ale), but it looks like the joke was elastic enough to apply to the stout-and-bitter too.

The article is by the pseudonymous “Flaneur” and is quite funny and typically American in its rambling humour and irreverence. The ostensible subject is a declamation of drinks that might be suitable for American conditions.

Various bibulous candidates are considered, only to be rejected. Beer (i.e., ale and porter) is good and its mixtures interesting, but it doesn’t really suit the American climate.

Lager does better, but only partly. The various rums enumerated are good, but if you drink them like they do in the Caribbean you’ll be dead in three weeks.

Wine is divine, but too expensive. And so on.

A centrepiece is a description of writer William Thackeray’s drink habits. In one episode, he drinks a glass of stout regularly, this observed by Flaneur in England apparently, but pays in a precise amount of copper pennies vs. lavishing sovereigns or at least asking for change from same. I infer here a charge of meanness although I find the reference to coppers vs. sovereigns vague in a Pythonesque way.

A second episode occurs on one of Thackeray’s tours in America, in Boston. A sophomore takes him to a bar and orders “one of those things”. No further precisions given, evidently a house slang. The drink is provided but it throws the eminent author into a tizzy.

College men were prepared then. The sophomore orders him “one of those other things”. And that fixes up old Makepeace just right! Flaneur was impressed.

The piece ends on a note of anti-climax where Flaneur asks an old boy what he thinks is the best drink. The man tells him, dog’s nose, a mixture of gin and beer. But Flaneur doesn’t like the answer and presses the old gent further who finally walks away in a huff. Deflation.

A strange piece Drinks is, in some ways, as it presents elements of the fantastical sometimes found in comic writing of the period but also today. It’s that surrealist or disconnected touch you see in modern comedy from Monty Python to Sarah Silverman.

A lot about nothing perhaps (not comparable to finding that the term “micro-brewery” first appeared in the American press in 1969, say) but fun to read.

This piece by Flaneur, in the same paper in the following month, is noteworthy for its “harried dad” monologue, something that with a change of a word or two would fit right into Home Alone or a Chevy Chase vacation film.

I ain’t a dad, but I get it completely. My clanging milkmen are the non-stop emergency vehicle sirens that go day long, night long in this town. But they help people, like delivering milk does, so we grin and bear it – like Flaneur did.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the digitized newspaper article linked in the text, via Chronicling America. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




A Black and Tan, Please

In Michael Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer (1977), he wrote:

Some drinkers still mix Guinness with bitter to produce a drink known as a “Black and Tan”, but the military connotations of this mixture’s name are properly dangerous in the light of the recurrent Anglo-Irish Troubles.

This was a reference to the Black and Tans, the British-raised force who fought the Irish Republican Army in the wake of the Irish Rebellion, you can read about them here.

This said, and with due caution (if any needed today) to ordering such mixture in the Republic of Ireland, or possibly certain districts in Ulster, the mixture is a long-established one under this or more anodyne names. Guinness itself, by then an Irish company, advertised such mixtures in the late 1930s in ads similar to the one above (via Chronicling America) albeit the sample shown took a different tack, touting the “long pull” unalloyed.

The origins of the Black and Tan combination are obscure. The American Puck Magazine is said by the Oxford English Dictionary to have referred to it in 1881 but I can’t find any reference in the complete set of magazines available on HathiTrust for that year. If Puck did refer to it, perhaps the origin is American although many British sources refer to the drink.

In The Taster’s Guide to Beer (1977) by the American Michael Weiner a Black and Tan is defined as “stout-and-mild, mixed half and half”. The idea to mix stout with rich mild ale makes sense to me, as stout was sometimes a little sharp or sour from long age.

Weiner’s source is a Whitbread publication, Word for Word: an Encyclopaedia of Beer (1953), so back to the U.K. again.

With bitter ale becoming less bitter and dry in the 20th century, using bitter for the mild made sense too.

I made a Black and Tan recently, half of Stenhouse Porter from Amsterdam Brewery in Toronto, half of Doom Bar, a pale ale from England. I didn’t try the gimmicky American layering, but simply mixed them the way it was done (surely) originally.

The Doom Bar’s blandness was effaced by the rich malt of the Stenhouse while the latter retained a lot of flavour, a perfect blend. It is rather like some of the high-grade Guinness’s available, Special Export Stout, say, but at a reasonable alcohol level.

Would I order one in the Republic? I don’t see why not, if for no other reason my accent would vouchsafe safety, I think. Anyway no harm in asking. One has to be intrepid in beer discovery, to learn and develop.

I ordered light-and-bitter 30 years ago in East London pubs and specified I wanted light or pale ale for the bottled beer. (It’s half that, half draught bitter). I was told in one place, here we do it with lager and bitter so that will do, yeah? I said no thanks, I’d like it the other way.

They did accommodate and while I was not a bird of a feather, shall we say, it went just fine and I remember an engaged conversation over the pint.

Being at home at the moment, I make the drink as I think fit, and it suits very nicely. For me.





The Origins of the Term Microbrewery

The Little Yellow Brewery That Could

When does the term “micro-brewery”, or the same word unhyphenated, first appear?

Paul Gatza, a long-time director of the Brewers Association, stated it was 1980 in a comment to an article by beer writer Tom Acitelli in 2016. Acitelli was examing early appearances of the terms craft and micro beer and the related expressions. The article appeared online in the Food Republic, you can read it here.

Gatza wrote in part:

…the first usage I am aware of the term “micro” in connection with a small brewer is the Winter 1980 issue of Zymurgy. I can scan you the page if you like.

Gatza went on to explain that the group behind Zymurgy, an early, influential magazine of the American Homebrewers Association, started to use the term microbrewery in 1980. One of their team, Stuart Harris, worked in the microcomputer industry and “saw some of the parallels”.

So Harris is said in effect to have originated the term. It first appeared in print, if I read Gatza correctly, in a Zymurgy article under Charlie Matzen’s byline in 1980.

In fact, the term “micro-brewery” appeared earlier, in late 1969, years before the first personal computer emerged, and not in California or Colorado, but in New York State. The first modern craft brewery would not appear in New York until William Newman’s brewery in Albany, NY in 1981, some years after the first new breweries emerged on the West Coast.

Nonetheless, the user of the term was a brewing figure, indeed a famous one in the beer world: the Belgian Jean De Clerck (1902-1978). He was interviewed by a young American journalism graduate, Michael Kuchwara, in an article that first appeared in Ogdensburg Journal on December 30, 1969. While the article does not carry his by-line, later appearances of the same article in the upstate New York press did, so he was evidently the author. Here is an example of subsequent publication.

Kuchwara had spent time in Belgium and in a series of at least 10 articles reported to his home audience on the European Economic Community (as then termed), NATO, and other “European” issues becoming of moment internationally. The brewing article appeared as part of this series.

The young writer was impressed with Belgium’s brewing heritage, which he called a “brewmaster’s paradise”. He gave interesting details on Belgium’s lively beer scene and contrasted it with the “mild” taste of American beer.

De Clerck, an eminent brewing author and teacher, discussed his background in brewing science and his current tour in the United States to learn more about American brewing developments. The famous brewing school in Louvain is described and some of the focus of the teaching. Many of the students were drawn from developing parts of the world whose governments underwrote the cost.

While stating that Belgium still had a sizeable 275 breweries for its population Kuchwara also mentions Stella Artois in Leuven itself as an example of modern, large-scale brewing – and he noted Stella Artois was only a tenth the size of America’s biggest brewery.

Having set the tone to understand the modern brewery Kuchwara then describes, as gleaned from De Clerck, the brewery at the Leuven University School of Brewing.

The pride of the Louvain School of Brewing is a small yellow room which De Clerck affectionately refers to as “our micro-brewery”. Here the entire brewing process can be seen in miniature from the mashing of the special grains to the final placement of the liquid in bottles.

Presumably De Clerck would have used the French “micro-brasserie” or perhaps the term, “mini-brasserie” although the latter is more applicable to a brewpub. De Clerck, who evidently spoke English, must have supplied the term “micro-brewery” to the young and presumably unilingual Kuchwara.

But either way, Michael Kuchwara introduced the term micro-brewery to an American audience in 1969 and was the first, it appears, to mention the term in print.

Of course, the Zymurgy team may have hit on the term independently, but nonetheless this earlier citation is significant, especially considering its source. Large breweries and brewing schools often have pilot or experimental breweries. It sounds like some familiar with their operation used the term microbrewery well before the beer renaissance in the U.S. and U.K.; at any rate Jean De Clerck did. It’s not of course in the context of a for-profit business but the link to the small scale and experimental orientation of future craft breweries is obvious.

The article is revealing in another sense. When referencing the state of American beer in 1969, De Clerck, diplomatic as all brewing consultants are, stated the beer was meant to be drunk ice-cold because of the warmer climate.

Kuchwara though had the nose of a good reporter: he muses to his readers, but why is wine the preferred drink (c.1969) of southern Europe? Having tasted good beer in the not-terribly-warm Belgium, Kuchwara had a sense the Stateside brew could be better.

De Clerck suggested the way forward, again in his urbane way (Europe was more urbane then). He states in the future one can expect beer to be better both in the U.S. and Europe due to combining the traditions of Europe with the technology at which the U.S. excelled.

And that’s exactly what happened to the future of brewing: craft brewing, now a world influence, is built substantially on that premise.

Given the vital Belgian influence on craft brewing of which all dedicated beer fans are aware, it is satisfying and apposite that we can add the term “microbrewery” to the legacy.

N.B. Michael Kuchwara later became a well-known theatre critic for Associated Press, based in New York. He passed away in 2010 at 63, see this obituary in the New York Times. To our knowledge he did not write on the subject of beer again.

N.B. The second and third parts of this post appear here, and here, respectively.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the website of the 2015 Belgian Brewing Conference, here. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Did you Hear the one About Three men and a Beer in Belgium?

A Taste of Belgium: yes, no, Maybe?

Beer is made primarily from barley malt, hops, yeast, and water. Sometimes non-malted grains, or other malt substitutes, or various flavourings (fruits, spices, etc.) are added.

Apart these basic characteristics not much else seems immutable in the beer world, with the result that often, tastes or visual traits considered chic today were only a few generations ago regarded with disdain or worse.

Our age venerates Belgian beers, which takes in a palette of flavours leading finally to the frankly sour. In the 19th century, Anglo-American travellers generally disliked the beers, with sourness often cited as the reason.

There were exceptions, as I discussed in this recent blogpost. Alan at A Good Beer Blog gives further examples of visitors’ reactions to Belgian beer in the 1800s, noting some favourable impressions.

Having read all these again and further sources I didn’t use to date my conclusion is the great majority who encountered Belgium’s beers then did not enjoy them. Now, in truth that is probably not so different from today, in the sense that Belgium’s more extreme beers, Lambic, Gueuze, Kriek, some Flanders Red, some Saison, are surely a minority taste even in craft circles.

IPA, pale ale, lager, porter/stout, and German-style wheat beer seem the main calls, at least judging from what I see on beer lists in pubs and festivals locally and abroad.

But the difference is, the connoisseurs of our time defer to the extreme end of the Belgian spectrum. In the 19th century, they did not, especially the Briton confident of his nation’s fame in the brewing arts, the evidence of which – Burton pale ale, Irish stout – was spread around the known world.

As a telling example, consider the jibe on Belgian beer in the second paragraph of this extract from a long chapter on beer by a proto-Michael Jackson, William Kingston-Beatty. It appeared in a book he authored in 1890, A Journalist’s Jottings:

How funny is that in a time when all Belgian beers except mass-produced lager are a cornerstone of recherché beer culture? Not very.

Who is right? Neither. Every age has its likes and dislikes, its pet causes, its pet villains. Nothing here can be proven right or wrong.*

William Beatty-Kingston

Beatty-Kingston (1837-1900) was a British civil servant turned journalist, librettist, and author, who had long worked in Germany. This brief obituary from the Glasgow Herald gives further data on him.

His exposure to German and Austrian beers was obviously in-depth and assisted greatly to produce the beer survey in the book, which is mainly confined to those countries’ productions.

The rest of the chapter is well-worth reading. Together with George Sala, Henry Vizetelly, and George Saintsbury, all of whom I’ve discussed earlier, Beatty-Kingsbury was a true progenitor of Michael Jackson and Roger Protz (et al) . It’s not so much the volume of output that counts in this regard but how these writers approached the topic.

They were “journos” in the post-WW II British phrase, denizens of Fleet Street (or that type) who learned the technics of beer sufficiently but had the gift to impart keen interest in it.**

It’s half-way between the current scholarly academic writing and authors with advanced scientific training who write brewing technology texts. Modern “beer writers” including bloggers occupy the same space.

The Rest of the Story

Among other current beer fashions, barrel-aging is an example. At one time the American oak barrels usually used to age stout or other beer were avoided by U.K. brewers for what were thought unusual tastes (vanillin, coconut). I discussed the history in a number of posts earlier this year. Today, barrel-aged beers are hot and those specific tastes are sought after by connoisseurs.

Crystal-clear, high-adjunct, low-hopped lager was popular in North America for 100 years but – in craft circles to be sure – has been displaced by high-malt, heavily-hopped pale ales and other pre-lager styles.

What is the constant in it all? Maybe it’s really just the alcohol. People want the buzz, it must be there, and is in all these forms of beer. Since hops change over time, malts too, production methods, tastes, that unchangeable DNA of beer is perhaps the only real constant given the core definition in the first paragraph above.

This should induce people to a due modesty when talking about beer. What was dogma in one time can become a detail in another or worse, bad practice. Enjoy what you enjoy, don’t apologize for it, but on the other hand be chary of imposing standards on others.

Of course, encouraging people to try something new is different, it is all to the good if done with courtesy and the sense genuinely to inspire, not restrict.


*The Chavette mentioned was the French comic novelist Eugene Chavette, see more here.

**Many readers will know that George Saintsbury was a noted literary scholar based in Academe but he also worked for years in newspaper journalism in an early phase of his life, especially in Manchester. His 1920s Notes on a Cellar-Book, which has a chapter devoted to beerreflects influences from his dual spheres.


The Foodies’ Ideal? Freedom of Choice

This opinion piece in today’s The Guardian by Louise Gray argues that in modern Italy, Spain, and Greece child obesity has risen to levels familiar in Anglo-American society and the healthy Mediterranean diet is a thing of the past.

Kids want fast food, especially burgers like people of all ages everywhere (I had one for lunch yesterday, from Wendy’s, the current $4.00 special). Or KFC, or wings, or pizza – oops, pizza was invented in Italy, and not mentioned in the article.

Think of something else, chips, that will do.

Reading the article I was reminded of the many articles that argue the Mediterranean diet is essentially a myth, in the sense of its alleged healthful quality over other diets. See this interesting one by Frederic Patenaude.

Some authorities argue there was a healthy Mediterranean diet at one time, but by the last century it disappeared due to the prevalence of refined flour, sugar, and other processed foods supplied by modern food production. See this recent article by Dr. Phil Maffetone.

Even if one assumes the fast food diet of today is less healthy than what it replaced in these countries, The Guardian piece does not tarry on other salient considerations. What about the ubiquity of motor transport? The bicycle, itself a comparative luxury at one time, was an icon of Italian society, so important it was the centrepiece of a famous film, The Bicycle Thief.

And it takes human motive power to run it.

Today there are school buses, trams and trains, and mom and dad’s car or motorbike to ferry you around. No hikes down the side of a mountain, or across town and vale, to attend school as was commonplace for the many children who didn’t live near one well into the 20th century.

There is no way people today expend the calories earlier generations did walking and cycling. Cycling has returned to all western societies, but mainly as a sports or leisure activity. Only slowly is it re-assuming its early primary role of moving people to place of work, school, worship, or entertainment.

Dr. Maffetone notes the importance of today’s greatly increased sedentariness and “screen time”. The Guardian devotes a couple of lines to it, yet the focus is on fast food as if something special attaches to that component of the modern lifestyle.

What about life expectancy? It is about 83 today for Italy. It was about 68 in 1970. So even with an apparently deficient diet built on processed flour, sugar, and now fast food, you can expect to live over 10 years longer than someone your age in 1900. The diet was better then but people didn’t live as long. Why is that? The article does not go there.

I doubt the current life expectancy will fall because school kids are fatter than they should be; it will probably continue to rise, in fact.

The Guardian piece is rather value-laden with its emphasis on well-known Western, and mostly American, fast foods and the supposed evils of multi-national marketing. As I said earlier, the ur-fast food, pizza, was invented in Italy, and indeed a version of it always existed around the Mediterranean.*

The cheeseburger I had yesterday tasted good, came reasonably hot, had a large piece of fresh lettuce and tomato on it, a little mayo, and a tasty bun. It provided good nutrition in numerous food groups. I skipped the fries and sweet soda, and it was more than enough for lunch – for $4.00! That’s a miracle of modern food technology and production, from the international business system dimly viewed by The Guardian.

Was that meal inherently more dangerous than a bowl of pasta or risotto using some combination of olive oil, cream, sausage or other meat, parmesan, tomatoes, cured olives, and cooked mushrooms? I don’t think so.

Should people eat wisely, follow by and large the old Mediterranean ways and walk, cycle, and exercise like tigers? Sure.

But not everyone chooses wisely when they eat, and diet is or should be a personal, and family, matter. At bottom, families have the responsibility to educate their children on food choices as well as the importance of exercise, less screen time, visiting the doctor and dentist, and the rest.

The state has a limited role – notably via education in the schools. It should not compel though, e.g., telling families what to feed their children for school lunch. Freedom is important too. People at day’s end should have the right to eat, and drink, what they want, for themselves and their progeny. Our tradition of individual liberty vouchsafes that right to us.

Children still belong to the family, not to the state.

Hence, when Gray’s article states that “Ronald McDonald” is everywhere, with the implication of course that there is something wrong with that, we should remember Ronald is wherever he is because people want him there, the people who walk in to lay down their money. Just as many want fish and chips in the U.K. Or chips slathered with mayo in Belgium. Or dirigible-size sausages and dumplings in Germany.

Or pizza in Italy.


*There is no sense in saying that “real” pizza wasn’t laden with meat and cheese like we make it today: it’s full of carbohydrate, oil, and garnishings of some kind that are not part of any reasonable slimming program.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the Wikipedia entry on the film The Bicycle Thief linked in the text. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.






The Newman Arms and Truman’s Beers


On our recent visit to London, catching up on the beer scene was one object, easy to do given lunch, dinner, and the odd reviver at … teatime. We did one excellent pub crawl too with a London friend, focusing mainly on the South Bank.

My approach was, I took it as it came: I didn’t seek out places identified in advance, with two exceptions. One was to try the (matchless) unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell at the Draft House in Seething Lane. The other was to taste the beer from the revived Truman’s, a great name in London brewing that stretches back to the 1600s.

I like to alight upon a place for better or worse rather than pre-select as it gives me a better idea what the average person encounters. In fact, I had very few bad pints, beers that is out of condition or sour which is always a risk with cask-conditioned beer. On average I encountered fewer duff beers that 30 years ago.

The worst were in the City, where sour beer was encountered successively in two places. We had a sourish stout as well in another place where the landlord wouldn’t change it, the first time that ever happened in my years of travelling to the U.K.

But it was still drinkable and with the success of sour beers recently, would be regarded as more than acceptable if sold as “sour stout”. This is a lesson in the relativity of palate.

I ended up attending a local CAMRA beer festival as well, out in Kingston west of London, an easy commuter ride from Waterloo station.

Many beers were “tasters”, or from glasses not finished with an extra cost therefore incurred. I feel it is worth it though, for a number of reasons. I don’t want to drink too much, even on vacation. Also, after a drink or two I can’t really taste the next one – taste that is – so a natural limit is imposed.

Truman’s Brewery

Truman holds a special place in my affections. To my best recollection, it was the first beer I had in Britain, or if not the first, one of the first. It was the early 1980s, some years before the Truman Black Eagle brewery closed in the East End in 1989.

It was not draught beer, but rather a bottled pale ale. I remember clearly where I had it, at a hotel on Berners Street called New Berners Hotel. The place is still there, with another name.

Generally I wouldn’t drink in the hotel with the plethora of pubs nearby. Perhaps I just wanted to try a bottled pale ale as against the insipid “light ale” then available in ranks in a metal tray on the backbar. (The tray was a kind of cooler, the term cool used advisedly).

Another reason to try the bottled pale may have been I couldn’t find any Truman draught so that was a way to understand the Truman taste.

The bottled Truman’s was pitch-perfect, pale ale of the sweetish amber type and aromatic from English hops. It had a blue label similar to that in the vintage coaster above.

On later trips before the brewery closed, I never found the beer again, any form. After closure, I had to be satisfied walking past the old brewery on the edge of Brick Lane. It remains there, today, as a busy heritage site housing shops and offices.

So when I heard that Truman’s was revived some ten years ago, I decided to try the beer when I could, hence looking for it on this trip.

Two entrepreneurs bought the name from its big brewery successor. See this well-written and referenced Wikipedia link for the background, and on the history generally of Truman, Buxton, Hanbury, formerly both of London and (from 1877) Burton-on-Trent.

Truman’s was one of the few breweries whose roots predated the porter era, then grew rapidly with the rise of London porter, participated in the pale ale surge of the later 1800s, endured well beyond Allied victory in 1945, but slowly rolled to cessation especially after the lager wave of the 1970s.

The new label-owners contract brewed initially but set up a brewery in Hackney Wick (east London) a couple of years later.

The original Truman yeast was recovered from a yeast bank and used for some of the beers, including I believe Truman Runner Ale, a 4% abv “session” beer.

If you examine the website you will see a range of beers, a dozen or more, made at Hackney Wick.

The Newman Arms

I tried a number of these at the Newman Arms in Fitzrovia, just a hop and skip from Berners Street as it happens, a satisfying connection to my first taste of Truman’s.

The Newman Arms, 23 Rathbone Street, just re-opened under the Truman banner but existed earlier under the same name, indeed for hundreds of years. The pub is storied and important enough to have its own encyclopedia entry, here.

The prior landlord had a tiff with licensing authorities. The newspaper stories linked render the sad tale, almost tragi-comic: in a mediation designed to avoid a full licensing review, the landlord suggested that neighbourhood disturbance could be minimized if the rate of serving beer was slowed down, intending the comment as light humour.

The authority apparently misconstrued the statement as it requested the pub to do just that! This meant things like settling full debit payment before taking the next order.  Whether for this reason or another, the prior ownership decided to close down. The pub was left dark for a time, and then reopened 10 days ago under the Truman name.

A handsome refitting was done, the former white fascia being replaced with a design of gold lettering on glossy black. The main oak bar is the same but to my mind, when you compare images of the old pub to the new, Truman Newman Arms resembles more a bar, an American bar.

The ground level is a rather small space but there is a first story and basement level to handle a larger capacity.

The beer range is excellent, with four or five cask ales from Truman, a number of keg beers (fizzy, chilled beers or stout), and a good range of lagers, one from Truman, the Raw Lager (not tried).

I liked the Lazarus Very Pale Ale a lot, which to my mind tastes English despite the website’s mention of New World hops in the composition. Lazarus has a big inviting hop taste and good malty character without the caramel malt signature of much English bitter.

It is perhaps a “golden ale” in English terms, but reminded me more of the straw-yellow type of bitter that used to be made in contra-distinction to “best bitter” with its signature of caramel malt.

The Runner Ale tasted “dank” to me, like numerous contemporary craft IPAs in North America. It is doubtful this is from the hops as they are classic English type, floral/herbal/woodsy. The house yeast may well explain it though, as 19th century pale ale could have a barnyard scent as I documented in a recent post.

Certainly the beer wasn’t off-spec, see e.g. Difford’s Guide, here, whose account is similar to my take. Indeed Difford uses language remarkably similar to J-K Huysman in 1884.

One of the ales has a fruit addition, orange and lemons, and will be a great summer beer. It was available both in keg and cask form.

I should mention too the house’s cider, from Brittany, on the sweet side, with a taste not dissimilar to cider from the Cox Orange Pippin, superb. With no yeasty haze or wild yeast taste from Brettanomyces, it’s in my wheelhouse.

The staff were most congenial and helpful, and I have no doubt this pub will soon regain its former level of trade and neighbourhood character. It’s on a fairly quiet street but with a busy commercial area surrounding. The character of the beers and fame of the Truman name – many still remember it – will surely help.

Right now pasties and snacks are being offered and a full menu is being developed as the kitchen ratchets up to full operation.

I’m so Happy Just to Dance With you

Did the beers I try match to the taste of the bottled pale ale c.1985? Not really, but you can’t reinvent history so literally, it almost never happens. I was very happy simply to sip a Truman’s beer again in London.

On the other hand, in regard to the Runner Ale, I’d think there is some real connection to Truman pale ale of 1884. Not the alcohol, which is lower, or the malt grist, which includes some rye and wheat today, but the yeast background.

In that sense, what I had perhaps bested the bottled pale ale of 100 years later, in a historical sense that is. Something that has its own reward, for some.

Note re image: the first image shown, a Ben Truman Pale Ale coaster, was sourced from this Ebay listing, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.








London Notes

London Envoi

With a week in London just past, some reflections.

The city itself, on a first visit since 2011 (but some 20 before from the early 80s), is essentially what I remember except cleaner and more high-rise especially in the City. I think the wartime bombing finally has seen the City to a confident new era of building where parts will look more like Wall Street than anything else, or Wall Street meets Hong Kong, but interspersed of course with the many historical structures which survive.

The low-rise period from 60s-90s in other words, using materials that often did not sit well alongside older vernaculars, is now being supplanted by frankly brash and often creative high rise planning. Centre Point further uptown, built in the 1960s by a visionary developer, finally came into its own, helped on the way by the Canadian-designed Canary Wharf project.

The culture of the newsagent and traditional, full-length newspapers carry on to a much greater degree than here. Something about the tv in our room made me think I didn’t get a full impression: it was mostly American shows or channels, catering perhaps to the expected typical guest.

I used to like watching the English advertisements, but couldn’t find any. I think I saw ITV and the main BBC channel. Most of the coverage was on the royal wedding, so perhaps I didn’t get a fair impression again.

The food scene, always international since the 1970s, is even more so now, reflecting trends seen in any big city. But it’s always different of course too…

The Italian-style coffee bar seems to have replaced the traditional “caff” at least in central business London, together with sandwich specialists Pret A Manger who are everywhere – bigger than ever from its start 20 years ago or more.

English chains like Greggs for bacon sandwiches and similar add another slant.

Evenings we ate Indian and Turkish, mostly. Lunch was a sandwich and a beer. One nice thing was, while you can read daily how the seas are emptying, fish and chip shops abound and the stuff is as good as ever. And I found saveloys too, all good fryers carry them. These are slim, peppery-salty cured sausages, the term comes from cervelat, apparently.

I’ve talked about my beer experiences on Twitter for the ales, and made the point that mainline British bitter is essentially unchanged, this was based on a good dozen beers, some from old regionals, some from newer breweries (1970s-2018).

As examples of excellence: Harvey’s Best Bitter, say, or Young’s Bitter. London Pride disappointed this time, and I don’t favour the Fuller’s imports today either.

A CAMRA festival in Kingston-on-Thames confirmed what I saw in the pubs and on the retail shelves: U.S. craft styles are everywhere, mixing in and blending with the older U.K. tradition.

There is no clear demarcation between these two streams now except at their extremes and one has to know the differences to situate oneself properly. The new generation of drinkers won’t know, to them it’s one big arena of choice and they’ll choose what taste or fancy dictate.

We are long past the time when Londoners understood non-lager beer as bitter, mild or strong ale, Guinness and one or two other stouts, and a few bottled or canned types (brown ale, light ale, etc.).

But all the types you want today are available, if you know what to seek out again.

At most, “best bitter” among the dozens of beers at the festival denoted old-style bitter, of which some were great and some dull I thought. The worst were under 4% abv, thin and almost sourish on the palate but not off in any way. I think this does supply a certain taste, for sessions with those big bags of chips (crisps).

But when you find a superlative one, with a big clean English hop taste and good but not over-rich malt character, crystal-malt influenced or not, you know English beer remains at an apotheosis – and I had a few of those there and in town as well.

I tasted just a couple of the American-style pale ales and they were well-made, similar to here. The Wild Beer Company, which has a stand currently outside the Tate Modern, makes some very interesting beers using materials foraged locally.

Porter at the festival was unflavoured, a good thing imo, but rather licorice-tasting. Perhaps an excess of roasted malt? There was little porter in any case offered and one or two stouts as such: the action was in the bitter, pale ale, and a few milds.

I only had one mild which was superb, rich, perfectly poised, satisfying: like good German dark lager that changed nationalities.

For lager, the great experience was the tank version of Pilsner Urquell, available at the Draft House in the City at Seething Lane. People laud the unfiltered version available at the brewery in the Czech Republic, but I liked the tank version better as the beer does not benefit from the yeast haze, imo.

Other good lagers were Camden Hells, Praha (like a lighter Urquell), Moretti from Italy, and an outstanding Alboni (I think was the name) from Sweden.

One of the best was very fresh Cobra in the Indian restaurants, creamy with a good sweet malt and a fine bitter finish. It’s brewed in the U.K. now by Molson Coors for that market. The ferocious turnover in those establishments must help, but the beer has an obvious inherent quality and is high- or all-malt, clearly.

So, is their beer scene better to what we have, the same, different?  It’s different certainly, we have on average stronger beers, and the trends from the States tend to come here sooner.

But what we don’t have is the old-school tradition that still exists there.

And on average again, the lager is better there given the great European choices easily available to them and the numerous creditable local versions brewed.

It’s really a beer paradise, they’ve got the best of everything but as always, you have to know what to look for. Some of the nationally-distributed beers, which I largely avoided, were very disappointing.

Theakston’s Best Bitter in keg form (fizzy, chilled) for example, had to my taste almost no flavour. Its classic Old Peculier, on cask at Museum Tavern, Bloomsbury only partly made up for it.

But drinking a little of that Theakston’s keg, it made me realize why lager made such strides since the 70s. Even everyday bulk lager, Foster’s, Carling and the like, is more beer-like than that kind of ale.

Of course the new-style keg beers, the Shipyard or Bravo Pale Ales, Punk IPAs, etc., are excellent and completely different. Punk IPA was a great drop of beer there, much better than I’ve had in imported form, canned or draft.

Guinness on the other hand was very good in London, more on that soon – and on my illuminating Truman’s ale experience.

Yesterday and Today

After rambles on Lamb’s Conduit Street yesterday and a few halves, plus small tastes supplied by the house, I can confirm U.K. bitter (in this case, Young’s, Adnams, Redemption, Marston), i) is as good as on any earlier visit over a 35 year period, ii) is an epicurean beer experience, and iii) offers a Gambrinal take no other nation quite can.

Even the Camden Hells is very nice, yet another twist on Bavarian blonde. And Guinness is fresher and more smoky than in Canada, it seems sweeter too. Same back end of adjunct but overall a more subtle beer.

I’m in the right place, at the right time. And the right time is 1811, 1911, 2011 (my last visit) and no doubt 2111.

London in general is pretty much unchanged too, except cleaner.

More soon.


Coarse Grains – Good Whisky

Mash it Up

When raw materials are discussed for whiskey in the 19th century, in Canada or the northeast U.S., the term “coarse grains” often arises. It appears from the late-1700s indeed to this day, for example too in food glossaries of international organizations, see this OECD publication as an example.

One can often infer the meaning in 1800s discussions but sometimes it is spelled out. This 1879 Parliamentary debate in Ottawa defined coarse grains as, “rye, barley, oats and pease”. Corn was not included but depending on the context it might be, particularly by the mid-1800s when wheat became the general grain for bread. Earlier, mixtures of corn and wheat, and sometimes rye and wheat, were common for breadstuff.

A speaker in the 1879 debate stated that 20 years earlier rye “entered largely” in whisky made in Canada. This is consistent with distillers’ ads for grain supplies in southern Ontario going back to the early 1800s. Rye was frequently requested together often with corn and sometimes oats or barley.

But as the Parliamentary discussed noted, corn, and imported U.S. corn at that, had become the main grain used, coincident to the distilling industry being reduced to six important distillers in Ontario from about 85 just 20 years earlier.

The reason was simply cost. Clearly, those distillers who were most efficient at sourcing grain – and using it via improved still technology – survived in a new, consolidated era.

This 1882 House of Commons debate confirms the cost advantage. (“Corn can be bought cheaper relatively than other coarse grains”). Farmers could exchange non-corn coarse grains for the same amount of corn to use for livestock feed and have money to spare.

Cost is the main reason corn supplanted rye for use in whisky but of course some rye continued to be used, to give flavour to the whisky. By the late 1800s and today that is done by mixing some rye-mash whiskey with a high proof or grain whisky distilled from corn.

Putting it a different way, if rye had always been cheapest it would have been used exclusively as it can make both flavouring and base or grain whisky. Corn ended being used as the base by most distillers in Canada for reasons of cost, not flavour.

Today, Beam Suntory-owned Alberta Distillers uses all-rye in its mashing but it is near rich western grain fields and was built was a view explicitly to use that resource.

Sometimes the flavouring whiskey is a bourbon-type, on display uniquely in the Crown Royal Bourbon Mash newly on the market in Ontario (called Blenders Mash in the U.S.) This is made with a majority corn mash but rye is used too and the combination, together with the type of still used, lends a keynote flavour again (“bourbon”), you can taste it in Crown Royal Bourbon Mash.

The whisky, in my opinion of course, is too woody, “fresh wood” vs. a cured new-charred barrel taste characteristic of good bourbon and straight rye. If I was being honest, I’d say the product tasted like a middling Kentucky bourbon. Seagram always used some bourbon-type whisky in its blends, sometimes simply importing genuine bourbon for the purpose. The Bourbon Mash appears to be all-Canadian in composition though.

The price is reasonable, only $37.00, and it is an innovative release in Canada, so no complaints on a price-performance ratio. I’m hoping Diageo-Seagram will select or blend differently for future bottlings to knock down that excess of fresh oaky taste but retain or even boost the essential bourbon character.

Nonetheless, the release is important as the flavouring whiskies issued in Canada in recent years, starting with Lot 40 over 20 years ago, tend to reflect the top-notes of rye. No doubt this is because many distilleries use a straight rye-type whisky as the flavouring element, e.g. for Wiser’s whiskies in Windsor, ON. But some distilleries, or for some lines, used bourbon or that style of whiskey, and this new release is an example.

Diageo-Seagram issued yet another “straight” iteration, Blender’s Select, which I’ll review soon as well. While corn-based, reports of its palate and composition suggest a traditional rye character, perhaps like the 90% of the famous Crown Royal Northern Harvest that is straight rye. On verra.*


*There is no particular reason to think Canadian straight whiskies will be outstanding, i.e., on their own, as for generations they have been developed for use in blending. Something viewed as rye-harsh, say, on its own, or too woody, may by that surplus of character add just the right notes to a preponderant amount of fairly neutral grain whisky in the blend. Still, as connoisseurs have implored the distillers to release these on their own, this is finally being done, to interesting effect.



A Harford Tale


Yesterday we wrote of soldier-epicure-boulevardier Nathaniel Newnham-Davis. Today, it’s about another soldier, the plainly-named John Griffiths. Newnham-Davis was an infantry officer in a good regiment retired from stations in Transvaal, Ceylon and India to take up food writing and other journalism in London.

Sapper J. Griffiths was an enlisted man raised in Haverfordwest, Wales. “Harford”, as it’s called locally, is in southwest Wales, an area with considerable English-speaking history and traditions despite the distance from the English border.

Not to say the Welsh tongue is unknown in the corridor running from Harford to Milford Haven at the sea, and more so today with the revival of Welsh culture.

Griffiths wrote a letter in 1915 from France to his parents. They found it amusing and worthy of notice by the local paper, The Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph.

The editor readily published it (see here) and one can see why.

French Beer Don’t Make You Zig Zag

Sapper J. Griffiths, of Albert Street, writes an amusing letter to his parents from France, where he is attached to the 20th Signalling Company. He says: I am going on fine and you need not worry about me as I am as safe here as you are in England. We are not very far from the firing line and go up there now and again. I am very glad to hear that Phil (his brother) is alright. The poor Terriers got it pretty bad at the Dardanelles, and I am glad we did not go there. We get plenty to do out here and are at it from morning till night, but that does not trouble me as I have got to do my bit as well as the others. I met one of the Rodneys here the other day. He is in the Artillery. The French beer is a penny a glass and you can drink it from morning till night and it won’t make you zig zag as the French people say. I really think I shall learn to speak French if I am out here ten years. I forgot to tell you about the French people giving their children beer and I think they give it instead of tea. I had a feed of frogs the other day and they were quite all right. I suppose you don’t know how Stump (see letter to Guss Hugh in this issue) is getting on? With best from your loving son, John. Mr. Griffiths has also received a letter from his son Phil who is with the 14th at the Dardanelles. He was all right on the 29th of August.

With the British understatement that seems to be going out in our confessional age sapper John rattled off a series of observations calculated to unnerve, a little. Some were based on typical English prejudices of the day, harmless as they were. The others revolved around the Griffiths’ fully justified concerns for their son’s safety, and for John remaining John.

He hits all the bases: he is safe as can be, only going to the “firing line” “now and again” while being at it “from morning till night”.

French beer is washy, not the heady British stuff they would know, so no zig-zagging yet at times he is drinking all day. (Remember the pivotal role of Welsh pulpits in promotion of British temperance).

The food was funny as he just ate a mess of frogs, the eternal English horror story of French eating. And he kind of likes it.

The French have loose family morals as they serve beer to the kids (which they used to, but just a little and it had only a skosh of alcohol).

John is British as can be and “doing my bit as well as the others”, yet incipient Europeanization should be feared as he’s learning French and could be in the country another 10 years!

In other words, despite the benign tone the John they raised in Albert Street of Pembrokeshire seems a different person under stress of war. A little gomping, eh?

But it’s tongue-in-cheek of course, jaunty, John is having some “good fun” as the British say.

This Welsh tourism site states of the area:

Haverfordwest has many famous sons and daughters including the artists Augustus and Gwen John, the poet Waldo Williams, the actors Rhys Ifans and Christian Bale as well as Suggs from Madness.

Soldier John Griffiths was not a noted artist or celebrity but shared with those mentioned a gift for expression. I hope he survived the war, and brother Phil too.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Welsh tourism site, Visit Pembrokeshire, here. All copyright in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner. Used here for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.