A Soldier-gastronome and the Jewish Kitchen

An important figure in the field of food writing is Lieut.-Col. Nathaniel Newnham-Davis. He was active from the latter 1800s until the First World War. He was an acknowledged influence on Elizabeth David, the greatest food writer of the post-WW II era, in my opinion, or perhaps any era.

A restaurant reviewer and author of books on food and travel, he was a progenitor of today’s Rays, Olivers, Ramsays, etc. That he could write circles around all of them is perhaps less relevant today given how culinary information is primarily conveyed by images and in short-form bits on social media.

At the same time, his ability with the pen, which disclosed a mild humour, great knowledge and an affable spirit, makes the work attractive to this day.

The soldier-writer had joined an elite infantry regiment after his education. Even then he was a gastronome-in-training, during the long years in garrison in India and elsewhere.

Upon retirement at only 40 he alighted in London as a (never-married) man-about-town, blasé he called himself with some exaggeration, and opened a cookery school for the aspirational classes.

He wrote novels and plays as well, and the books for stage and ballet productions. He knew his way around literary and bohemian London while bringing an upper-crust, post-Harrow sensibility to it all. I don’t know if he knew Oscar Wilde or William Morris, say, but such associations would have been natural for him.

His first book published at the turn of the century and later issued in further editions reviewed London-area restaurants of many different types.

This essay reviewed a Jewish restaurant, Goldstein’s. It is the type of restaurant I discussed earlier that once was common in western cities, offering home-style cooking vs. the delicatessen or bagel genre that prevail today. Extracts of the menu may be seen (via Hathitrust) here, and some of the Colonel’s opinions are shown above.

He was impressed with the meal almost to a dish. I was struck, too, by the respectful tone exhibited towards Jewish customs and rites. Too often in 19th-century writing and well into the 20th century for that matter, general writers (American, English, European, etc.) revealed prejudice in regard to Jews, hard-edged in some cases.

Often such writers, or others of their ilk, were equally derisive of people of African or other non-Anglo-Saxon background. The Irish, too, came in for their share of abuse on these accounts.

Newnham-Davis appeared free from such animus. True, the meal was hosted but that doesn’t fully account for the warm tone; I think he was just like that. Perhaps his mixing artistic and bohemian circles inclined him to a greater tolerance than the average writer, then.

Eliza Acton was another Victorian food writer of great influence on Elizabeth David. Writing earlier than Newnham-Davis, she showed a similar toleration and interest in Jewish cookery and ritual customs. It seems unlikely Newnham-Davis was unfamiliar with her work.

The Colonel’s essay on the Cheshire Cheese tavern is good, too, in the same volume. He drank beer there – a bitter ale – but his account is mostly of the atmosphere, food, and people he encountered.

Newnham-Davis is much more than a curio: he forms a direct link to our modern food culture. Academic food studies is aware of his importance, as testified for example by Andrea Broomfield’s Soldier of the Fork published in Gastronomica a few years ago, see here.*

Broomfield focuses on the Colonel’s conscious, successful effort to make eating out an easy experience for the rising classes in Britain. Those who previously relied on hired cooks and other domestic staff were eating out more, and the Colonel guided them through the ritual language of menus and wine lists.

Most dishes in Goldstein’s menu are familiar to anyone who knows Jewish food of European (Ashkenazi) origin. He was also served from its deli kitchen, including something that appears similar to Montreal smoked meat or New York pastrami.

The Colonel protested against the plenty offered him – too much for one dinner, he said. But he had gotten through similar horns of plenty – multiple courses and wines – in the town’s others restaurants; such was the style of Edwardian eating, then. I suspect he enjoyed it, withal.

Did a food critic’s enforced regimen, particularly of that era, contribute to a relatively early demise? It’s hard to say.  He was only in his mid-60s on expiry, when working at his first job again, the Army, tending to German POWs in a British camp.


*See in the comments below where I link to a pdf of Prof. Broomfield’s full article, available on her website.


An American Urges Adoption of Faro Beer in 1857

Reading from “At the same time…”, the first paragraph above calls for the creation of Faro beer in America.  It was written by Edward H. Dixon (1808-1880), an American physician writing before the Civil War in his journal, The Scalpel.

Dixon is largely forgotten but in his day was a well-known figure in public medicine, writing simultaneously for the profession and the public at large.

He was a forerunner of Dr. Christian Jessen, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Drew, and the other numerous “celebrity doctors” – those who popularise medicine and professional thinking.

Dixon did this through his books, journal articles, and occasional journalism. He wrote frequently on sexuality, as many of his modern equivalents do today.

His pre-Civil War Scalpel pieces, collected in numerous volumes, are an amalgam of medical views, autobiography, sociology, and other disparate opinions which together spelled his personal vision of how to live.

Some of it is pure entertainment, for example he includes letters from an American friend reporting on a visit to England.

Dixon writes frequently on alcohol and had decided views on it. While he proposed that Americans emulate the Belgian Faro – which they finally did, only 150 years later – in general he viewed drinking with great concern.

In the volume from which the page above is drawn he makes it clear he despised the “lager mania” and devotes a complete essay on this animus. It contains some spurious anatomical and cultural observations about beer-drinking Germans, e.g., the size of one’s head or neck, or being able to appreciate no higher music than polka.

It’s mainly of interest for showing how German customs were viewed by many in the early years of German immigration to America, especially the Anglo-Saxon establishment, the WASP for want of a better word.

It’s tempting to think he was actually teetotal but this can’t be so, as the page above shows he had tasted Faro. Elsewhere in the volume he states that Berlin white beer is preferable to lager beer and should replace it in the market. (He was a little off on that hope).

He advises people in a section on homesteading to use a little “wine or ale” in their diet. His correspondent friend in England, just landed in Gravesend, reports drinking two pots of “mild ale” (served by a “cherry-cheeked” girl), and Dixon offers no reproof. So he didn’t disapprove of limited use of some drinks and must have indulged himself, of occasion.

I sense he reserved a certain toleration for the ancestral ale and porter of WASP Americans while the strange lager received his full obloquy. Hardly fair, but Dixon is a man mostly of historical interest vs. medical/scientific. (On the other hand, he did support the practice of circumcision for men based on extensive clinical experience in New York, and this part of his work had a certain influence for a long time).

But why wave the flag for a highly obscure drink like Faro? When you read his lager mania remarks, it is clear why. He viewed lager as fattening, too gassy, and soporific from its excess of hops as much as its alcohol. Whereas Faro is vinous vs. malty (he seems not to have understood alcohol harbours most of the calories), not so carbonated, and not so hoppy.

So his Faro enthusiasm was a qualified one, but is still notable especially in an age when the general, non-technical visitor to Belgium would diss the Lambic family in no uncertain, sometimes violent terms. Even brewing writers often could hardly hold their disdain.

One could write a decent-sized essay for Brewery History, say, on the confrontation between Victorian tourists in Belgium and the local beers. They disliked the lavish sourness almost to a man. It is idle to give examples as most reading will know what I mean, but if you want a sample jeremiad just ask.*

Dixon’s bon mot of lager and oysters not mixing points to the reason, I think, why porter became associated with the bivalve. Porter was often acerbic from charred malt or tart from long aging. The kinds of wines apt for oysters, recommended by gourmets then or now, are similarly tart, Muscadet, Chablis, and such.

I guess the wash of acidity sweeps away the tongue-print of Neptune. Sweet malt and oysters don’t really match, it’s true. Now, the Canadian Legion held lots of oyster parties in the 1970s and 80s, I attended a few in Montreal, but while lager or lager-like ale were the staples they weren’t the c. 1015 final gravity of the typical 1800s lager.

The Molson Canadian and O’Keefe Ale by then were dry and snappy both from low final gravity and a healthy measure of malt adjunct. And they weren’t very hoppy by this period.

So an acidulous, dry, not-too-bitter beer was ideal with oysters, and in truth the Lambic family does suit that type of eating. An odd observation from a health wonk, yet no less apt for that. Dr. Ted had quite specific views on diet, in fact.

He states elsewhere in the volume that as a child he hit upon a diet of cold potatoes, cold pudding, and ill-baked (heavy) bread. This doesn’t sound very interesting or particularly healthy but fashions change of course. Our kale, protein shakes, lean meat, and salads would probably have elicited a frisson of dislike from Dr. Ted.

If you want to eat like pre-Civil War Fifth Avenue grandees, those who followed Dixon certainly, it’s cold potatoes or bread pudding, Faro, and oysters for you. In a pinch, swap Berlin-style wheat beer for the Faro.

Stone Brewing of southern California and lately Berlin soon is bringing this beer near you. And there are lots of options in today’s diverse beer scene for that kind of taste.

It doesn’t sound so bad really albeit no greens, no fruit, little or no meat. But you’re tasting history, isn’t that enough? You can’t have everything. I’ll keep looking though.

Obs. Needless to say, tastes change over time, this applies to many kinds of drink and food. And even though a product may retain the same name, it may differ in make-up from an earlier era. Also, people often dislike what they don’t know, or understand.

Sour beers appeal to many today, and did to many early modern beer writers, Michael Jackson famously, who promoted interest in them. The beer pictured in the text received a very high rating from fans of the style on Beer Advocate, see here.

Note re image: The image of Coolship Resurgam, a spontaneously-fermented American beer produced by Allagash Brewing Company, is drawn from its website, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*I link two relatively mild examples, and a third that is virulent in the dislike, in the comments below.



The Geography of Brewing

The new Brewing World: not Where you Brew, What you Brew

I was going to post about something else today, a starkly favourable American view of Faro – from the mid-1800s. Faro is the Belgian beer blended from Lambic and the weaker Mars beer, or their worts. Given its sourish nature, it was almost unanimously disapproved by casual anglophone tourists of the Victorian era, and this thumbs-up is a rare departure.

In fact it forecasts a late, unlikely development in world brewing: wild or sour beers as a high-end niche.

But having read the interesting post today on Staropramen lager by British beer bloggers and authors Boak and Bailey, I’ll deal instead with beer origin and labelling.

They look at where Staropramen is brewed, finding the labelling for the U.K. market unclear. It is rather unclear, mentioning “the spirit” of Prague and production in the “European Union” but not stating in so many words where the beer is brewed. B&B conclude on a note of uncertainly for the locale of brewing, pending any new information.

I looked at the origin issue yesterday (in response to their general twitter invitation), and couldn’t find a clear answer either, although I think it is probably brewed in Prague at the historic Staropramen brewery there.

The canned one sold at The Beer Store in Ontario seems to be brewed in Prague: the ad copy states it is brewed in Czech Republic and the word Prague appears on the label, see here.

Of course, the one sent to U.K. may have a different origin, and even the Canadian-destination beer could be brewed elsewhere in the Czech Republic. “Prague” on the label could be a vague kind of heritage marker, as if one said, the beer is in the tradition of Prague lager-brewing.

As B&B note too, the beer might be brewed in Prague with Molson-Coors holding out as it were the possibility to brew it elsewhere in the future for the U.K. market at least.

The formula of brewed “in the European Union” may have another rationale though, although I can’t guess it at present. But here’s the point: does it matter today where a beer is brewed and whether the place is clearly stated on the package?

Beer classically was assessed and categorized in terms of national or regional origin, it made up a good part of a beer’s appeal. Conversely, beer brewed in a place not known for weighty beer tradition was thought lesser: American beer for a long time.

So, for example, in the 1970s to drink a beer from Germany really meant something as the country was famed for beer quality and a storied brewing tradition.

“Import” thus gained an aura, something we see at least since porter first found an appreciative market in the Baltic region but in truth long before when mumme and other early beers of note were exported to distant markets.

It’s the story, initially, of bock beer: originally from Einbeck in north Germany, it was appreciated as an import in pre-unification Bavaria, and finally brewed in Bavaria in tribute. The true origin of the name Bock shows this.

Therein lies the key to this post: no one in Germany, or outside, would think bock beer not brewed in Einbeck unusual. Long ago some in Munich may have preferred the import to local brewings of the style. But that faded in time.

Fine bock can be made anywhere in Germany, indeed anywhere full stop, if there is the will. The beer is a style more than anything else, more even than being German.

Since the 1970s a sea change has occurred in the way of looking at beer. Back then, when Lowenbrau was first brewed in the U.S. (it is again today in North America, at least in Canada) the true beer fan was aghast.

Even a few years ago when Beck’s and Bass Ale were first brewed in the U.S., hackles were raised. Beck’s got into a particular jackpot since its labels were thought misleading on the point of origin, something the brewer later mended.

But today beer styles have migrated all over the world and, or I believe, we have technology that can brew anything anywhere. The time is long past when local ingredients, water, and know-how necessarily meant a beer could not be made faithfully outside the region.

I’ve had Helles-style lager in Toronto, the 2018 brand by Amsterdam Brewery, say, that was as good or better than any Helles I’ve had in or from Bavaria. It is brewed from ingredients that originate in Germany except for the water and is a faultless, high-quality expression of the Helles style.

The Becks and Bass mentioned, and Lowenbrau in Toronto, are excellent beers, very close to what I recall in Europe (except for cask Bass). Where there are small differences, I don’t think it really matters, given too that beers evolve in their homeland frequently.

If a Briton or American buys a Paris baguette at the bread counter no one expects it to be from Paris or labelled to origin. It can be made just as well in Britain or America, often better as I confirmed last year when visiting Paris twice.

The idea of local beer manufacture as talisman is really obsolete, and therefore labelling precision is not as important as formerly.

This struck me when when drinking a draft Brooklyn Lager in Paris made by Carlsberg in Denmark. The heritage and taste are Brooklyn. It doesn’t need to be made in Brooklyn.

The bottled Brooklyn Lager sold in Europe still is, apparently. But if brewing shifted to Denmark and the label was equivocal it doesn’t really matter now, at least to me but I suspect most of the post-2000 beer consuming public.

Lambic surely can be made in North America essentially the same as in the Senne Valley near Brussels. I have heard this opinion expressed by some North American brewers and I understand some Belgian brewers hold the view (as opposed to using the term Lambic outside its historic region, which is a different question).

When you read Lambic history, much of the distinctive character does not relate to atmospheric influence but to the containers used to age the beer.

One source specifies old wine barrels for production especially for a new brewer of lambic, as resident wine yeasts in the wood are said to be an essential part of the cocktail of organisms that make Lambic what it is.

If such a chancy, artisan product can be emulated in many or most places, why not something whose production is rigorously controlled and monitored via an industrial/technological process that can be applied anywhere? Water type can be adjusted, ingredients imported, essential local brewing methods copied.

This is a new era, where origin is increasingly unimportant – the style of beer once came from somewhere, yes, but that’s all. Hence I read on Twitter that New England IPA can now be found in regional beer festivals in England…

Location too is a relative thing, isn’t it? Peter Ballantine brewed his famous ales initially in Albany, NY, then in Newark, NJ, and he changed locations once in Newark too, building a brand-new plant down the river at one point. Were the ales still Ballantine…?

N.B. I think it was in the 1990s that Bass in Burton brewed Staropramen at one point, which raised eyebrows in the days the issue was hot-button for the beer community. After the fuss production shifted back to Prague. I could be wrong but I think in part this suggests the Staropramen sold in Canada and the U.K. today are made in Prague.

Note re image: the image shown was sourced, here, from the Perry-Casteñada historic map collection of the University of Texas. Used here for historical and educational purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs to its sole owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.





Meet the Burtons and Their Friends

The Burtons and Nowhere Beer

My 17-page article Four American Beer Writers of the 1970s was just published in the journal Brewery History. One of its themes is that these writers, writing before Michael Jackson made an impact on world beer criticism, were agreed on what one called the “anorexia nervosa” of most American beer.

They understood well the decades-long cumulative effect of high malt adjunct levels, low final gravities, reduced usage of hops, fine filtration, and other techniques that tended to make beer increasingly bland and uniform in taste. Some of them questioned, as people do today for such beers, whether brewers were responding to public taste or imposing their view of such taste on the people – in the words of John Porter, “conditioning” the public.

It is instructive to examine this post-Repeal advertisement in a Washington, D.C. newspaper, the issue it appeared in in 1938 is here.

Gunther Brewing in Baltimore had roots in German-American brewing of the 1800s. It made near beer for much of Prohibition, and rallied under new ownership in 1933 to become Baltimore’s second-largest brewery. It expired as an independent in 1960 when Hamm’s of the Midwest bought it, and the brewery itself was closed in 1978.

But in the 1930s it was hot to trot. Its rather daring illustrations of fashionable young things wondering what beer to serve at their soirees remind us that the drumbeat of light, dry, not sweet, predates World War II. Whiskey was affected no less than beer, but not soft drinks, oddly, not then.

Gunther’s was a revived, small independent, not a big national that one presumes could pay big dollars for the latest marketing advice from the Mad Men.

So where did Gunther’s get this idea that the main demographic for its beer, newlyweds and other young people with the appetite for beer young people have, wanted it dry and not filling? Was the idea in the air then, or did it reflect perhaps the taste of the new owner of Gunther? It is difficult to say at this remove.

Maybe Gunther’s was profitable enough by 1938 that it could afford to hire Mad Men and they told the owner you need to go light. Some of the New York-area breweries had or would soon develop the same message, Rheingold is an example.

But the campaign must have been one of the first on the bandwagon of eternal light. Of course, it hedged its bets by also trumpeting the beer as beery and tasting like beer should. Marketers always want to cover the bases: it’s good marketing no less than good baseball. “Everything you always wanted in beer, and less” – same thing 40 years later.

Now, how light was Gunther’s beer in actuality? My studies of 1930s U.S. beer gravities suggest they were on average high by today’s standards, but every brewery was different. Was Gunther’s like a modern PBR, maybe, or Budweiser? We can’t know unless brewery records become available or another source where Gunther’s disclosed the data.

Writ large though the trend to the mass market norm in 1978 is clear. One of the four 1970s writers termed it “computerized lager”. They each had their way of saying it.

Some were still kind to the big guns of their day – Budweiser, Coors, Pabst – but one senses a relativity factor at work. Coors didn’t pasteurize, for example, and the writers generally viewed the pasteurization of beer askance. Today the issue receives little attention, unfortunately.

An oddity in the ad is the accompanying dinner recipe from The Gunther Hostess, it is super-rich. As if adding three rather fat meats is not enough, we are advised to add half a pound of chicken fat to the dish.

Where the bright young things of the Baltimore-D.C. corridor might find such rusticana is open to question, but we’re in the realm of make-believe here, or at a minimum, aspirational appeal. You may therefore indulge, as it were.

And so a caloric dinner fest like this was not viewed as inapt for people wanting light and not filling in their beer. In time the food would be roped in too via Jean Nidetch’s Weightwatchers and “dietetic” products of which diet sodas were some of the first.

Perhaps for a 1930s brewery with German ethnic roots, there was a limit to the light crusade.

The bottom line remains that somewhere, somehow Gunther’s and many more breweries got the idea early on that beer shouldn’t be sweet, shouldn’t be filling, shouldn’t be bitter, and shouldn’t be, well, beer.

Ergo the reaction that finally set in inaugurated by the Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood and CAMRA in the U.K., by Michael Jackson, the most influential consumer beer writer in the history of the genre, by homebrewers in the U.K. and North America, and by the new breweries that emerged in both places from about 1976.

N.B. Does anyone think the Burtons who served sweet, heavy, out-of-fashion beer were surnamed randomly? A brewery in-joke, surely. But one thing I know: if Madison Avenue was enlisted to draw these ads, the joke was lost on them. “Say, Fred [in the cubicle next to him] the old-timer running Gunther’s in Baltimore wants a couple in the new spread to be named ‘Burton’. That okay with you? I thought an indistinct European name might be better, more … inclusive (is that a word?) but he’s firm on it so I told him sure thing”.



An ad too far?

The well-known beer writer Jeff Alworth has written a blogpost that got a lot of attention, taking Anheuser Busch InBev to task for linking its new Freedom Reserve Red Lager to George Washington’s small beer recipe.

This is the second of AB InBev’s Reserve series, the first was the oddly-named 1933 Repeal Reserve amber lager. The beer itself was pretty decent, I haven’t tried the new beer yet.

Jeff’s point is the Washington recipe for small beer, scribbled in a journal when he was 25, is based on molasses and the bran used in it had little starch. Therefore, Washington’s small beer recipe is almost not a beer, and there is no palpable connection between it and a lager, a style that didn’t exist in America until German immigrants popularized it later in the 1800’s.

I sympathize with Jeff’s perspective, although not quite with everything he says. I have no issue with veterans being mentioned in connection with AB InBev beers, for example.

It’s one thing to link a beer broadly to America’s first President due to his liking for (real) beer. Washington did enjoy real beer, as historian Mary V. Thompson amply documents on this page from the mountvernon.org site.

On April 17, 1915 this ad in Goodwin’s Magazine, shown above, reflected this kind of advertising for Budweiser. Linking famous men to quotidian products was commonplace at the time. Business invoked history for its own purposes, it always has and always will. ‎

This story in USA Today states the reasoning of AB InBev for the new product: it has a caramel taste with a hint of molasses (and of course hops) – that seems to be the extent of the claimed connection.

Tenuous? Certainly. It’s advertising, the lifeblood of business, so I don’t get too exercised about these things, but as I said, I do get Jeff’s main point.

I’d much prefer AB InBev draw on its company archives, especially for Budweiser and Michelob, to make new Reserve beers. I’ve found some of the information in my own investigations, e.g., Budweiser’s finishing gravity was higher in the late-1800s than today. It had a whiff of brewers’ pitch, as well, and used Saaz hops.

So I’d make a new Reserve beer on those lines. The company must have complete internal records to do a great job, but instead chooses to plumb well-worn ad formulas, less effectively than in the past.

I have nothing against new beers (non-historical), but then promote them on their merits, end of story.

As to what the first President’s molasses beer tasted like: bran from barley has rather low starch content, under 10%.  But wheat bran has double the starch, and after all bran muffins can be made without any flour. Some bran especially in the 1700s probably had pieces of endosperm or kernel in them, too.

Boiled up albeit presumably not converted to fermentable sugar (no malt), the bran would impart some cereal taste to the beer.

But it’s not really beer, I agree.

Note re image: the source of the image above is the 1915 article in Goodwin’s Magazine linked in the text, digitized by Chronicling America. All intellectual property in the article belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



I had a chat recently with Henderson Brewing’s general manager Steve Himel and got some good background on the brewery and principals. The brewery hit the ground running four years ago, benefitting from careful pre-production planning and market research.

A driving principle was and remains locality, the Toronto character is emphasized in different ways. The main products are Henderson Best, a flavourful ESB style, and the lighter Food Truck ale.

A fairly wide range is offered at the Henderson bar including currently an Imperial Porter and Export Stout (meaning I need to get back there soon). There is also an ongoing program of limited or special releases.

I like the emphatic Union Peason Ale (UPA), a West Coast-styled IPA that has a full but appealing taste. It reminds me of Ballantine India Pale Ale (1970s-80s), Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, and Arrogant Bastard, an amalgam of those. This means high praise.  🙂

Zerostomia was just released as part of the company’s Ides series, a full-flavoured lager yet only 3.5% abv. The name is a pun on the medical condition for dry mouth. The ad copy hints that when cannabis is legal this beer will hit the spot to refresh. It’s part of the overall message: a beer low in alcohol but full in body and hop character.

It delivers the goods certainly, achieving what a lot of 19th century lager did: rich taste but alcohol under 4% abv.

The hops are Magnum and Triskel, which lend a German blonde lager character. The Magnum betrays some citrus, probably from the U.S. part of its heritage (Galena), so there is a New World touch as well.

Triskel is somewhat like Strisselspalt from Alsace-Lorraine which forms part of its heritage, the other part is English. All in all a continental character is conferred, we’re in classic Helles country, mainly.

Zerostomia is really an 1800s-style lager as one can see from these numbers I calculate using data on the website: OG 1040, FG 1013, 66% attenuation.

It’s first-rate and fairly unique in the low-alcohol stakes. Most lights stress lean body and light flavour, sometimes assisted by malt adjunct. This beer is all-malt, indeed the Bohemian pilsener malt component is floor-malted.

This is good enough for permanent release. The UPA is, too.



Why Chevalier Malt?

Chevalier all Over Again

Chevalier malt (sometimes spelled Chevallier but the spelling is optional here) is a currently fashionable choice for “heritage” and some other brewing.

This is due to the welcome revival of the seed, a story told numerous times, Martyn Cornell’s account in 2013, see here will illuminate. The type emerged early in the 1800s, not a hybridization but a landrace, or traditional, variety.

See also for background this page by Crisp Maltsters advertising its Chevallier Heritage.

In 1905 long-lived E.S. Beaven, an English maltster and plant breeder, cross-pollinated two barleys to form Plumage Archer. Further crosses followed with enhanced characteristics. Plumage Archer derived from a Danish variety, Plumage, crossed to an old English barley, Archer.

Chevalier appeals today as a presumed, pre-cross-pollinated exemplar of British malt. Indeed it was certainly dominant before WW I in British barley agriculture.

In a 1936 article for the Journal of the Institute of Brewing entiled Barley for Brewing Since 1886, E.S. Beaven reviewed its origins and development. He estimated its production in the previous century as representing at least 80% of the domestic barley crop.

Hence, 20% was left to other varieties, including even some native six-row barley, as Beaven explains, with the rest two-row varieties of which Archer was an example.

More importantly, barley was frequently imported to Britain by maltsters, even before the passage of the Free Mash Tun Act in 1880. That law changed the basis of beer taxation, hence permitting use of cereal adjuncts. In turn this facilitated use of non-traditional malts (say, high in nitrogen). Still. Beaven wrote:

There appears to be a prevalent idea in some quarters that the use of imported barley for brewing in Great Britain has largely increased in recent years. But in many years before 1886 British maltsters and brewers purchased large quantities of imported barley. They did so whenever, in consequence of bad harvest conditions, there was a shortage of sound native barley. I have no doubt that these bad harvests were more frequent in the eighties and nineties of last century than since… I cannot recall any other such bad harvest as that of 1879. In that year much barley was lying in the fields in November, fit only for pig food, and from my old “Bought Barley” book I see that 75 per cent, of the barley we steeped in 1879-1880 was foreign—mostly Danish; imported in small schooner cargoes of about 1,000 quarters each to Weymouth; with some French from the Saumur district, and a little from the Saale district, now part of Czecho-Slovakia…. All this was two-rowed (H. distichum) barley, then and afterwards often called “Chevalier” to distinguish it from the thinner six-rowed (H. vulgare and H. hexastichum) kinds. From the Board of Trade returns of imports for the five years, 1881-85, I estimate that the average use of imported barley for brewing was about 25 per cent, mainly of Chevalier type from Denmark, France and mid-European countries; but increasingly of the six-rowed type from Mediterranean ports. At the time that our survey commences [1886] the use of this type of barley was fairly well established and many British brewers had begun to use a proportion of it. Up to the early nineties nearly all the imports of six-rowed barley were from Mediterranean ports, notably from Smyrna. Since that time Chevalier Californian and Chilian, also two-row Danish and mid-European barleys have been imported in limited quantities from time to time;

Imported two-row barley was often loosely termed Chevalier, especially the Danish barley that is probably in Plumage Archer’s bloodline. Beaven goes on to explain that a “Chevalier” Californian barley and later a six-row type especially favoured by British brewers (probably the famous Bay Barley) were regular additions to a mix of barleys malted for U.K. beer.

Some of this crop was probably seeded from English Chevalier, but whether all of it was is unclear. My reading suggests Danish Chevalier was from English stock, see here in William Saunders’ 1890 Barley.

In any case, Chevalier grown in foreign climates would have acquired different characteristics (moisture, nitrogen, kernel size, etc.).

Chevalier was not, in other words, so singular that its name couldn’t be used to describe the some barley of foreign growth and/or (likely) different lineage. These were often blended with English barleys for malting well  even before the Free Mash Tun law.

The Fuller Past Masters recreation series, now approaching a dozen beers, used Plumage Archer for the 1891 XX Strong Ale and I believe the 1893 Double Stout. The stout was superb, one of the best I ever had and firmly in the tradition of Sinebrychoff Stout or Carnegie Porter, porters of authenticity that deliver the roasty quality of porter in a non-acerbic way.

The XX pleased much less, but whether this was due to Plumage Archer or other factors in the brewing I can’t say.

I don’t think I’ve actually had a beer made from Chevalier. I thought earlier I had but it was the Fuller XX Strong Ale and it used Plumage Archer. Online reports suggest a richer character possibly than Maris Otter, with a slightly higher finishing gravity and higher protein content. Some reports mention a longer than usual maturation time is needed to avoid a raw, unfinished character.

Adjustments in mashing temperature can probably even out the gravity difference. At least one report, see here in December, 2016 by a homebrewer, “bierhaus15”, suggests the difference in IPA is not detectable due to the high hopping rate. Relatively low attenuations for pale ale, particular relevant for IPA recreations, would further reduce any distinctiveness from the malt.

The homebrewer comments that he felt the malt showed more in his 8% strong ale with a cocoa, earthy character, yet he used some roasted and crystal malt in the recipe, so perhaps that was the source of the flavour.

He does recognize a particular quality to Chevalier but states it is similar to floor-malted English malt, of which Maris Otter is an example.

These comments on Untappd are interesting for Govinda, an IPA recently brewed with Chevalier. Most seem to focus on the hop aspects although one refers to “sumptuous” malt. See also here from The Cheshire Brewhouse, which issued the beer.

The message I get is, the malt is distinctive in some beers under some circumstances, but in part shows traits of other floor-malts.

For his part Beaven in 1936 hinted at superior organoleptic qualities:

It is fairly certain that before 1886, 80 percent, (or more) of the barley grown in England was the progeny of one plant discovered growing in the garden of one Andrews, employed by the Rev. Dr. Chevalier, at Aspall Hall in Suffolk, in the year 1823. It is not on record that the reverend gentleman himself ever made a profit out of his barley. However that may be, no race of any species of any farm plant ever before, or since, spread so extensively as this. The barley was commonly well and truly called “Chevalier*—(vide Oxford English Dictionary); it went into all the best of the beer in England for about 100 years. It is my belief that the best samples of Chevalier barley grain (but perhaps not the general run of them) were as good malting and brewing material as any we have ever seen since—perhaps better from the point of view of the best brewers. Certainly these brewers thought so, and no one doubts that they knew what was best for their beer.

But again, this is only in the best of the barley known as Chevalier, not the “general run” of British brewing then. The imponderables mean we can never know if someone’s brewing of Maris Otter, Plumage Archer, or Chevalier of 2018 is similar to what Beaven considered really good.

All we can do is try for authenticity on numerous levels, and we should. As I suggested yesterday, it’s the cultural exercise that is important: stimulating, creative, fun. And it offers potentially some interesting beer at the other end of the pipe, quite literally.

Finally, we should remember that what previous generations thought important to breeding and malting quality had relatively little to do with flavour. Consider this article in 2005 by Peter Brookes in Brewery History, entitled Barley Breeding and Development in the U.K., an Historical Perspective, especially this extract:

The general objectives of barley breeders can be summarised as (Briggs, 1998):

  • Improved grain yields as expressed in tonnes/hectare
  • Shorter and stiffer straws so the plant is resistant to ‘lodging’ (collapsing in the field prior to harvesting)
  • Ears that do not shatter so can be effectively mechanically harvested
  • Earlier ripening to avoid the vagaries of Autumn harvest weather
  • Greater disease resistance
  • Greater uniformity

To these general objectives can be added more specific requirements of the maltster, brewer and distiller (for a general discussion of malting to provide background to this discussion see Briggs, 1998):

  • Increased yield of soluble extract (the so called hot water extract) so that a greater volume of beer or spirit can be produced from a given weight of malt. This partly manifests as the propensity to yield lower nitrogen grains (hence higher levels of carbohydrate)
  • Sufficient dormancy to prevent preharvest sprouting of the grains in the ear, but not extreme dormancy that prevents the barley form being malted for several months after harvest
  • Rapid germination of the grain under malting conditions with the minimum of dry matter loss and the development of a sufficient complement of enzymes
  • Minimised content of substances that will give problems in subsequent brewing and distilling processes such as β-glucans (gums that can cause filtration problems) and proanthocyanins (constituents of beer hazes)

To provide all these characteristics in a variety of barley is a formidable and laborious task!

Of the nine breeding objectives noted, not one addresses flavour. Had added taste suitability been suggested as a tenth factor, I think Brookes would have thrown up his hands. This reflected the overriding commercial imperatives of the past.

What we are doing now, to unearth new and fascinating tastes long buried in dusty records and obscure seed banks, would have bemused the practical men of previous times.

I’d like to think E.S. Beaven would be on our side though: his essay shows the musings of a well-educated, inquiring mind, with a romantic bent to boot.