PR, Profit, and Porter: Champlain and National Breweries

Yesterday, I posted discussion on annual reports of National Breweries Ltd. in Quebec Province of the late 1940s. I mentioned that National Breweries,  public-traded and representing the major breweries in Quebec outside Molson Brewery, purchased the Champlain Brewery in Quebec City, in 1948.

The 1948 annual report stated of the purchase as follows:

 

 

The 1940s annual reports are contained in McGill University’s business digital archive. Most are in English but the 1948 report is in French. (The reports were issued in both languages but examples in the archive appear just in one or the other).

The last paragraph states that due to the purchase Champlain will gain greater marketing opportunities – given, in other words, National’s sizeable advertising budget and staff. Further, “a much larger distribution network … will enable the four corners of Quebec province to purchase Champlain ale and porter”.

Champlain made India Pale Ale and porter. National Breweries already made similar beer via its Dawes, Dow, and Boswell units, and porter too, via Dawes and Dow again.

Was National sincere to maintain the product lines of Champlain? It apparently did so until 1952 when Toronto-based E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries Ltd., took over National Breweries.

Did National fail to realize efficiencies that Taylor was more pitiless to exact from his new purchases? It is hard to say. Either way, the bland, reassuring 1948 annual report echoes today’s press releases that accompany big brewery buy-outs of craft breweries.

Business does not, in the essentials, change over time. In 1948 National Breweries wanted to convince its shareholders and Champlain’s customers that a local hero was better off in National’s fold – even though National Breweries had an existing brewery, Boswell, in the city.

 

 

My sense is National would have made the same decisions ultimately as E.P. Taylor: cut excess production capacity and trim staff, unless a turn-around in profitability and industry prospects came soon.

Clearly, National was in trouble by the early 1950s. Why is hard to say without an in-depth study of Quebec brewing at that time. Even a cursory glance at the annual reports shows, though, the large spike in taxes the industry had to cope with since 1940, imposed to help pay for WW II. It must have kept management up at night.

Ontario-based Edward P. Taylor appeared at the right time, offering a convenient and less risky alternative to an in-house reorganization.

It came at a price, as such deals always do. The still-surviving (1952), separate Dawes Black Horse, Boswell, and Champlain ales disappeared before long, the first two with roots in the early 19th century. Dow Ale was selected as the Quebec champion. The other brands withered although Champlain Porter continued to be produced.

Champlain’s building in Quebec City still exists in modified form, as offices. Canadian Breweries Ltd. after many peregrinations was absorbed into Molson Breweries in 1989.

Molson to this day is run by canny descendants of Lincolnshire-born John Molson. Molson stayed out of the 1909 merger that created National Breweries Ltd.  A bruited 1944 marriage of Molson and National Breweries, see Allen Sneath’s book I cited yesterday, came to nought. In retrospect, perhaps a good move by Molson, although perhaps it would have fended off E.P. Taylor Quebec.

Finally, therefore, Molson got it all. In time it made its own compromises, the deal with Colorado’s Coors Brewery about 10 years ago. Still, Molson survives as a substantial Canadian and Canadian-managed business.

 

 

Craft Beer Community: Real or Illusory?

Martyn Cornell and Boak and Bailey have had a go at this question.

In my view, there is a community of the beer palate, understanding and caring about it in-depth. To use an unfashionable term, it’s a gastronomic interest, that much but not more.

Lots of people like beer but have nowhere near this degree of interest and commitment. I like coffee but the borders of the interest are close to the cup. I can see how some people want to investigate it much further, but I am not one.

I do have the beer bug though and share it with many others. It’s a sub-culture. I’ve participated in it for 40 years and I know it’s real.

We don’t have to like the same kinds of beer, we don’t have to like each other (always), but the community is no less real for that.

This unites me to a broad range of people, from CAMRA volunteers to bar owners, bloggers/writers, brewers, many brewery owners. The instant rapport when we meet or chat cannot be explained otherwise.

Not everyone in commercial brewing cares about beer in this way. For some, it’s more an avocation, or perhaps something temporary, or a good business opportunity. Even in small-scale brewing you find that but it’s the exception, not the rule in my experience.

It follows that nothing is owed by craft brewers in the sense of solidarity beyond the circle as I’ve defined it, say, with those who oppose takeovers/investments in small brewers by international groups or venture capital. At best that’s in the penumbra of the true beer community.*

But the beer community is not illusory for the ground it validly covers.

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*H.L.A. Hart’s thinking in legal jurisprudence helps clarify the issue for me, perhaps for others. See this summary by John Gardner in 1988, from the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies.

 

Quebec Ale and Porter: the 1940s Heyday

These images are from striking colour plates in the 1948 annual report of National Breweries Ltd. (NBL). NBL comprised six breweries in Quebec province, with its headquarters in Montreal.

A 1909 merger had combined, as the main components, the Boswell, Dow, Dawes Black Horse, and Ekers breweries. These were joined by the Frontenac and Champlain breweries in later decades.

NBL was publicly traded but the top management still derived from the pre-merger breweries. The Dawes, Boswell, and Ekers surnames regularly appear in the documents.

In 1952 E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries Ltd. scooped up NBL and considerably trimmed the production facilities and product lines.* Taylor had started in Ottawa before the war with Brading’s, a brewery founded by his grandfather. Its ale was available into the 1960s in Ontario and Quebec.

The star beers of NBL in the late 1940s, a time seemingly indomitable for the group but proving evanescent, included these:

 

 

While Frontenac offered a lager, ale and porter dominated the NBL portfolio, inherited from early Canadian brewers working in the British way. The founders were typically immigrants from the U.K. or Ireland.

The beers had evolved by the late 1940s, but there is reason to think they preserved features of their ancestry.

The 1948 and 1947 reports are luxurious in presentation and design. The 1949 report is, by contrast, slimmed down, likely reflecting the increased financial pressures that resulted finally in takeover.

The reports show the sophistication of Canadian business by this time. The tone is perfectly pitched between business needs and “PR”. Selling the virtues of “drinking local” is nothing new: the reports vaunted NBL’s large purchases of Canadian barley, and hops grown in British Columbia.

 

 

Then, as now, brewers made hay of taxes they paid. Then, as today, brewers argued the virtues of taking over inefficient, small brewers. One report stated smoothly that buying Champlain Brewery improved distribution and meant the beers would be available all over Quebec. (Sound familiar?).

The brewers lauded their employee benefits and public service record, the latter on display notably during WW II. In truth the breweries did make many contributions to the war effort. I documented some of this viz. Dawes earlier, as gleaned from issues of its house magazine.

One difference from today is the stress placed on efficient modern production methods, with an implied critique of historical brewing methods. Eg. a pictorial compares aging barrels of beer in dank-looking, old cellars to tall ranks of orderly tuns (albeit made of wood) in spic and span modern halls.

Today, the public mind favours, or ostensibly, the old-fashioned, the local, the small. In the 1940s business vaunted the ultra-modern, the “hygienic”, with the implication products were better, and safer. Both are constructs in which marketing plays a large if not decisive role.

 

 

In their favour, NBL’s ales and porter were all-malt; the reports make no reference to brewers’ grains apart from malt. I discussed earlier that in the 1930s American brewing albeit reliant on corn and rice as brewing adjuncts, still featured high hop rates and high final gravities – compared that is to today’s mass-market norm.

NBL’s beers were likely as good or better since they were still 100% barley malt. Indeed it was an era in which Canadian beers had a high reputation in America. NBL’s beers likely approached modern craft beers in quality.

Champlain Brewery’s India Pale Ale is noteworthy. Champlain’s porter is remembered by beer historians but its IPA is rarely or never mentioned. Here you see it in its glory.

Champlain’s facility in Quebec City closed in the 1950s and the IPA forever disappeared. The porter was made into the 1990s by Molson Breweries which had absorbed Carling O’Keefe in 1989, the successor to NBL. Champlain porter, which I drank many times, had a frankly sweet, liquorice taste.

Note re images: The images above were sourced from the National Breweries Ltd. Annual Report linked in the text, part of McGill University’s digital business library. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images are included for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*See Allen Sneath’s summary in his 2001 Canadian brewing history, Brewed in Canada, here.

**Old-time B.C. hop cultivation is explained by an online museum exhibition, Brewers Gold, at Chilliwack Museum, Chilliwack, B.C.

 

 

Taverns and Beer in Working Class Montreal,1963

In 1963 the City of Montreal took dozens of black-and-white images of a quarter known colloquially as Faubourg à M’lasse, to store in archives. The odd-sounding name comes from the fact that nearby docks unloaded barrels of molasses in the 1800s. The odour, as well as the sight of urchins licking the droppings from the tuns, gave the quarter its name.

The pictures were taken to memorialize the buildings, businesses, and daily life of the heart of the area, soon to disappear under urban renewal. The national broadcaster Radio-Canada decided with the city to build its headquarters there. Where its office tower now stands, including the parking areas, the people of the Faubourg once lived and worked.

The lands were expropriated under Crown authority, and the people were moved to new dwellings elsewhere.

You can see the photos here on two pages of Flickr uploaded by the City of Montreal. In total they make a melancholy and pensive statement, one with greater impact if you know Montreal but I think compelling for anyone interested in urban life or French Canada.

Parts of the Faubourg, in the broader radius, survive especially north of the arterial Ste. Catherine Street but the core was razed. This is where the oldest buildings stood, the small shops and manufacturing plants, workshops, garages, and the like.

The Faubourg was one of the poorest areas in the city and almost exclusively French-Canadian. It symbolized for many the inferior status of the Québecois in what they viewed as their homeland (80% or more of Quebec Province has always been francophone).

However, in recent years a more complex memory has emerged, one that recognizes the spirit of the inhabitants and pride they took in their community with a knowledge that conditions had to change.

The images really are a kind of visual form of the famous English social research project, Mass Observation.

About a dozen pictures are of taverns or grocery stores selling beer. These contain great detail for the beer historian. From them alone you can tell the domestic beers available in the city then: Dow Ale, Dow Kingsbeer (lager), Dow Champlain Porter, Molson Ale, Molson Laurentide Ale, Molson Canadian (lager), Molson Porter, Labatt 50, O’Keefe Ale, and Carling Black Label (lager).

These were the same beers still popular in the mid-1970s when my memory starts for this aspect of Montreal life, except that porter had almost (not quite) disappeared. Dow ale had declined a lot due to the additives scandal c.1965 but was still sold in the 70s, indeed to about 1990.

To see the beer-specific images, on page 1 go to the sixth row, second image; seventh row, third image; tenth row, third image; and 11th row, first image.

On page 2, it’s first row, second and third images, and fourth row, all three images. But it doesn’t take long to view all the images row by row and that way too you see how the tavern life fit in to the larger picture.

The Flickr upload permits superb magnification, you can see many details including names of cigaret brands on the backbar (Player’s, Export, Du Maurier). Note the black pants and white shirt of the waiter in the sample image above. A matching black jacket was often worn but he took it off as the pictures were taken in July, 1963. It’s 55 years ago.

The suit of clothes for this métier descended from similar dress of waiters in the 19th-century that resembled today’s tuxedo. While in international use by the early 1900s, the British surely brought it here.

In the sample image you can also see, second bottle from the left on the hoarding above the bar, Molson Porter being advertised. Ale and porter were almost exclusively the beers sold in Quebec at this time, an inheritance of British rule and cultural influence again from the 1800s.

Porter had disappeared in its home city of London by 1963 but it was still commonly available in Montreal.

I want to emphasize that not all of urban French Canada lived in conditions like these. There was of course a middle class and an elite too, from which, say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau partly issues.

And there were English-speaking deprived areas as well. Examples include Little Burgundy, Goose Village, and parts of Verdun. I should not exclude the Jewish tenements east of St. Lawrence Boulevard which were very substantial until the 1950s.

But both statistically and in the general understanding I believe it is true to say that on average French speakers were less well-off than the English minority in Quebec. That has been reversed since The Quiet Revolution, La Révolution Tranquille, which started about the time these photos were taken. The term needs no explanation, je crois.

N.B. There was no English and French beer by the way, everybody drank the same stuff.

Note re images: The image above is from the City of Montreal’s photo archive identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

The McCord’s fab Menus

McCord’s Collection

The McCord Museum of social history in Montreal is a branch of the city’s internationally-known McGill University. The McCord has archived, including on its website, a fascinating series of historic Canadian restaurant menus. These are of great interest to food and drink historians, collectors of culinary ephemera, and students of Montreal and Canadian history.

The collection, somewhat under the radar, mainly takes in Montreal restaurant menus between 1967 and 1969. Some predate that period, and a few are from restaurants outside Montreal (in Quebec Province).

The collection is organised under the headings Transportation, Special Events, Clubs and Associations, Advertising and Promotion, and General. Hospital menus are included, an overlooked area in food historical studies.

See here for the index page. One must scroll through each group to view the items, and there is no master list. Some menus are numbered by hand, but are not consecutive. Still, it doesn’t take long to review each group.

The menus were gathered by Shirley Courtis who worked in the research department at Noranda Mines, see its history here. I imagine she assisted an executive who collected the menus as a pastime, as the subject matter has no apparent connection to Noranda’s business.

The website identifies various individuals as donors, probably Noranda executives or others with connections to Courtis or her boss.

Below, I discuss the menus in general, with notes on the imported beers they featured. These beers are to be distinguished from beers at the Montreal tavern of the era (la taverne), a male-only resort that sold beers brewed in Quebec.

Restaurant Types and Menus

The restaurants cover classic French cuisine, Québécois dishes (often then called Canadien), seafood, Italian, deli, steakhouse, Chinese, German, Hungarian, and Continental/hotel cuisine.

Some restaurants were of modest class but most catered to a high-end market. The scans are high-quality and the colour reproductions often striking. Menu graphical design then was an art, a tradition descended from the 19th century, now mostly lost.

Some menus contain historical notes and even recipes. Mother Martin’s menu, from a downtown business restaurant I patronized numerous times, offers a recipe from Alsace. Mother Martin’s specialized in French provincial and Québécois food.

The building that housed Mother Martin’s (La Mère Martin) earlier had been owned by a descendant of the Quebec Harts, of whom I have written for their c. 1800 brewing recipe. It is perhaps the oldest surviving commercial brewing recipe in North America.

My Personal Connection

I am a native of Montreal, and was 19 in 1969, so I lived when these restaurants were active and remember most of the names.

I dined in comparatively few given most were in the luxe category – I was on a student budget, and dining out was a special occasion.

Nonetheless having lived in Montreal until 1983 I had the chance to visit a few marquee names. This was after I started working, and was more prosperous. In Old Montreal, the historic and tourist section, I recall a memorable meal at Restaurant St. Amable, quail with green grapes. The dish duly appears on the St. Amable menu in McCord’s collection. Seeing it caused a frisson after all these years.

It was eerie too examining the menu for Ben’s Delicatessen. Ben’s was near McGill University and a frequent lunch or dinner destination between classes, or spells at the library.

In Ben’s I would sweep my eyes over things I never ordered to focus on two or three favourites, usually involving Montreal’s specialty of smoked meat (corned or salt beef). Looking at the menu today I instinctively did the same thing, except it’s 45 years later and Ben’s has long disappeared!

Some restaurants in the collection still exist but only a few. Moishes Steak House and the Bar-B-Barn, a rib and chicken restaurant, still continue but few if any others.

British-style Pubs Invade

Starting in 1967 with the Cock and Bull Pub on Ste. Catherine Street West a spate of British- and Irish-style pubs arrived. Two, the Fyfe and Drum and the John Bull, were near what is now Concordia University downtown. I patronized them during my years at university, 1967-1975.

My alma mater is McGill, and the British-style pubs were further west, near Concordia University (then called Sir George Williams University). We walked the 15 minutes through downtown to get there.

When having a beer out we generally went to the tavern, a male-only establishment as noted above. In about 1978 the dual-sex, differently-appointed “brasserie” was created. New licenses could only be issued for this newer type of beer parlour. The older type offered simpler drink and food and only basic atmosphere, intended for a working class/clerical or student clientele. The tavern was destined to disappear, an index of changing times.

The British-style pubs were a cut or two above these others and were really themed restaurants, often featuring live music.

There must have been a dozen by the early 1970s. A later entrant, founded in 1977, is Chez Alexandre on Peel Street which is still going strong. It was instrumental in introducing British draft beer to Montreal. It was founded by an immigrant Frenchman, Alain Creton, who runs it to this day. I saw him there a few years ago and he has hardly changed.*

Then as now the first floor of Alexandre was a French bistro. The second floor was the pub, now called John Sleeman Pub.

These pubs were stylized, rather distant interpretations of the real thing. The potent cultural power of the “British pub” drew the people, the rest mattered little.

These facsimile pubs were spurred IMO by the highly popular British pub at Montreal’s Expo ’67, which I discussed in this post.

Beer in Montreal Restaurants

The most beer-oriented menu in the McCord is from 1969, for Charlie Brown’s Ale and Chop House, see Partie III, group #3 of the general category. The beer list is shown in the third image above.

A draft beer, brand not stated, was also available at Charlie Brown’s. Perhaps it was Heineken or another international lager rather than an English ale, as Chez Alexandre always claimed to be the first (in modern times anyway) to offer draft British beer and Guinness stout.

Charlie Brown ceased operating about 1970, but had an enduring influence. I will discuss in a future post the Sir Winston Churchill Pub, now called Winnie’s. A popular watering hole, it soldiers on, some 50 years later in the Crescent Street entertainment district.

Other Restaurants and Beer

Other menus featured fewer imports than Charlie Brown. Except it seems for Irish Harp lager and famed Pilsner Urquell it seems Charlie Brown had them all.** A German restaurant downtown advertised Helles and Dunkel in the barrel but these may have been domestic brewings. No Quebec brewery then to my knowledge made a dark lager. Maybe the Dunkel in those barrels was really porter, still made at the time by Canadian breweries.

Many menus are accompanied by restaurant reviews clipped from the Montreal Gazette or Montreal Star, which adds to their interest. Helen Rochester wrote these for the Montreal Star, and her work came to life again many decades later.

Restaurant reviewers in the dailies then rarely mentioned alcohol so no form is discussed.

Another beer list of note was at the stylish Kon Tiki at the Mount Royal Hotel, see again in Partie III. The colour reproductions of its signature Tiki drinks are quite stunning with Day-Glo vividness.

Beer was a sideline at the Kon-Tiki but still the bar offered Brading Ale from Ontario, an old-style stock ale; Carling, either Red Cap Ale or the lager; Dow Ale; Bass Ale; Labatt’s, probably the “50” brand; Molson, this meant Export Ale then; O’Keefe, an ale; and Guinness stout. Brading was unusual being from Ontario. Any non-import beer then in Montreal usually was brewed in Quebec.

The Mount Royal attracted visitors from Ontario, hence probably this choice. The Carling may have been brewed in Ontario too.

(Today the hotel, considerably altered, is commercial and retail premises).

Some menus list bottled Guinness stout as an import but that form was made in Canada starting in 1965 as a Labatt historical timeline confirms. Ditto for Charrington Toby Ale, first brewed in Canada in 1962 as Allen Sneath confirms in his book Brewed in Canada. Then, as now, a locally-brewed beer of foreign origin might be touted as imported. The restaurateurs themselves hardly knew the difference, or cared, in most cases.

Envoi

Do I remember any of these imported brews? I do. I remember Whitbread Pale Ale’s sweet grainy character. I remember Danish Tuborg for its elegant, cakey taste. Bottled Guinness at the time (well, technically not an import) seemed burnt-tasting and quite unlike any Canadian beer I knew.

I have a memory of a scented, amber beer for the Bass Ale. I enjoyed Czech Pilsner Urquell and German Beck’s but remember thinking, even then, the wending route to destination did them no favours.

I also recall British draft beer in an Indian restaurant in the early 1980s, and enjoying the match with the food. It may have been Watney Red Barrel Ale, that type, certainly. The Worthington name rings a bell too, 40 plus years on.

Note re images: The images above, except for the last, were sourced from the McCord Museum’s digital menu archive identified and linked in the text. The last image is from Bouteilles du Québec, a bottle-collection site and discussion forum, see here. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*This interview with Creton last year in a Montreal newspaper explains his durability. Creton states that his first importation of beer was in 1982. It shows how relatively meagre was the beer scene in Quebec then. But a few years later (1986) the first modern brewpub started up, the Golden Lion in Lennoxville, Quebec. Today the province is a craft beer haven. To my knowledge the Golden Lion is still going strong, buoyed by venerable Bishop’s University nearby.

**The Hunter’s Horn downtown, vaguely in the Irish genre, offered Harp lager. The “Horn” was a resort of Montreal’s English-language journalists and other media.

 

 

Lager Makes Waves in London, 1939*

One way to write history is the linear marshalling of details. Another is more impressionistic, using social and intellectual history to gain insight. This can engage the personal, even romantic.

Combining these methods helps understand a complex story, say, how the non-American English-speaking world embraced lager as its “go to” beer.

For an excellent survey of lager history in Britain, start with Martyn Cornell’s (2010) Amber, Gold and Black, here.

Of course there is much else to uncover, both written and unwritten. A comprehensive history of lager-brewing, and lager-drinking, in Britain and former domains is still to be written.

For present purposes, I’m looking at specific examples of lager’s on-the-ground thumbprint before 1970, from which we can draw a larger picture.

Yesterday, I discussed the beers of a chic hotel in Bermuda in 1927. I mentioned too that rock stars c.1970 were drinking lager publicly while most Britons still drank bitter or mild in the pub. Ale still had over 90% of the market entering the 1970s.

This blogger compiled images of mostly U.K. rock figures hoisting a beer, starting with The Beatles. In almost all cases, it’s lager or another type not so different. I like especially Joe Cocker cooly appraising a line-up of Cooper’s beers in (it appears) Australia.

Maybe some stars took whatever was available but still, it paints a certain picture bearing in mind the publicity or knock-on effect.

Surely when readers of New Musical Express or The Sun had the chance to try lager they recalled those pictures. Maybe they asked for brands they saw there.

This factor alone can’t have caused the sharp spike in lager after 1970, but it is a social detail, part of the picture. Solutions to problems that exercised brewing executives’ minds in the 1960s, how to brew Harp nationally, say, or ensure draft lager was cold when served, don’t explain it either, not on their own.

My countryman, mogul Edward Plunkett (E.P.) Taylor, did a lot to spread the gospel of lager in Britain as Cornell explains. But even he can only claim part of the credit.

The die was cast long before – in the colonies or overseas possessions, in the minds of increasing numbers of Britons who visited Europe from the 1960s on, in the minds of ex-Forces members who became accustomed to lager overseas. Lager even formed part of HM’s ships’ stores, as the 1975 article I mentioned yesterday notes. See Watts, H.D., Lager Brewing in Britain, Geography Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1975), pp. 139-145 (accessible by JSTOR).

Returning to restaurant menus, consider this splendid 1939 wine list of Prunier’s in London (via NYPL menus archive):

 

 

Once again Barclay’s lager appears, this time in its home city. If you had spent time in the Guards in Bermuda in the 1920s and knew the beer there, you would remember it in Prunier’s years later.

Prunier, as the name suggests, was French. The founder established a well-known eponymous restaurant in Paris. A second outlet was opened in France, and one in London, too. These were expertly tended by his daughter after his death. Today, the Paris location still continues under another name. The English branch closed in 1976.

You might say, but this was literally a French restaurant, the beers therefore would bear the imprint of the mother-land, hence lager would dominate.

Yes, but that’s my point, international influences had an impact on local practice. It was an early form of globalization, always a factor in European life but accelerating with modern transportion and communications, growth of tourism, and sadly war.

After all, WW I explained (largely) the British beer styles in Belgium in the interwar years. Scotch ale was as Belgian as it was Scottish, beer writer Michael Jackson showed us. At least around 1980 that as so.

Most lagers on the 1939 menu were famous names by then, even more so after WW II. There were five blond lagers, Worthington and Bass ales, and ever-present Guinness stout.

One lager was less well-known, a pilsener from Van Den Heuvel. This was a Brussels brewery, and likely it made a particularly good lager to be featured on this Anglo-French menu.

This excellent beer historical site (in French) reviews many aspects of historical Brussels brewing including Van Den Heuvel. It stopped production in the early 1970s after controlling shareholder, Watney’s, closed it in favour of the Maes brand.

Belgium, too, was fast adopting lager as the staple beer, tending away from its idiosyncratic and often temperamental top-fermented beers.

I’m not sure who drank Guinness in Prunier’s – probably mostly Parisians. The NYPL archive has a Prunier menu for 1938, as well where two lagers are listed, one from the Meuse in France, Comète, Guinness, and Bass. The next year, Worthington is added but lagers are increased by three.

Look in the NYPL archive at the same restaurant’s menus for the 1950s and 60s. By then it was called St. James, for its street address in S.W.1. Same thing though: mostly lager with Bass and Guinness hanging on.

The situation after the war had to be similar in other West End restaurants and hotels.

The reason, in my view, why lager gained market dominance in Britain was not the thousands of business decisions U.K. and international brewers made to present it to the public. It wasn’t slick advertising, or even American soldiers’ tastes in WW II although it probably played some role.

It was because, as one of those rock musicians sang, “there is something in the air“. To mix metaphors, at a certain point there was critical mass.

The industry, or its observers, weren’t so dull of course 70 years earlier, the most clever saw the future. I think Charles Graham did, the noted U.K. brewing scientist I discussed earlier.

And consider what this journalist wrote in 1893, viz. the Wrexham lager project in Wales:**

… this class of beer will be the beer of the future in the United Kingdom, and more especially in tropical countries.

In St. James, in West End restaurants and hotels, lager was the drink by the 1950s. In pubs down the road, it was still virtually unknown. That wasn’t to last.

This was inevitable finally, as lager could be produced more or less for the same cost as ale and stout. If lager had remained as costly as, say, Champagne, it would be reserved for the upscale market as the real Champagne still is.

Note: All intellectual property in image above belongs solely to lawful owner. Source is linked in the text. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Text lightly edited for clarity April 21, 2021.

**The oldest commercial venture in Britain making beer by bottom-fermentation is, as far as I know, the Austro-Bavarian Lager Beer Company in Tottenham, London. It commenced business in 1881 and exited the market by end of the decade. See details here in an issue of the Lancet from 1884. In this post last year, I reviewed a company brochure on the types of beer made.

 

 

Lager – Made in the Shade

Above is the wine list that accompanied a special dinner held by the Princess Hotel in 1927 to commemorate George Washington’s birthday. The item is preserved in the menu archive of the Culinary Institute of America.

Wine you say during Prohibition? The hotel was, and is, in Bermuda.

Long a resort of monied tourists especially from North America, Bermuda was a favoured destination particularly in the winter. While still under British dominion and housing an important naval base and garrison, income was generated by the 1920s in no small measure from tourism.

American Prohibition enacted in 1919 gave a huge impetus to that trade. The island was reached by boat as commercial air service did not commence until the later Thirties. Lots of thirsty Americans with money and time steamed over to Bermuda for good times.

This online account of the still-thriving hotel states:

From the moment it opened, The Princess was considered the gem of the island. With long shady verandas and a blue slate roof, the four-story building comprised 70 rooms, each equipped with gas lights, hot and cold running water and a five-inch mirror to allow guests to primp before stepping out for the night. Staff dressed in white jackets and waving pink handkerchiefs greeted luxury liners.

As word got out, celebrities started to appear. Mark Twain, a regular at the hotel, loved to smoke cigars on the veranda and wartime guest Ian Fleming is said to have used its fish tank-lined Gazebo Bar as a motif in his novel, Dr. No.

The beers offered at the Princess are, from an historical standpoint, very interesting. They pivot between the old Victorian era when British productions ruled in U.K. fiefs and the new era when European lager, especially blond lager, would become the dominant form.

True, it took until the 1970s for lager to make significant gains in the U.K. itself. Much earlier though it was increasingly consumed in places of U.K. influence in preference to pale ale and stout.

From Canada to India, Australia to (finally) Cornwall, Singapore to Hong Kong, in short from the West to the East, Victoria’s beers steadily lost writ for her 20th century man. The sun may never have set on empire but lager was very happy to be made in the shade.

Lager was initially the burgher’s drink in Bavaria and especially Munich. Later it became the toast of the world due to rubbing shoulders with elite and governmental society including the army and navy. It became smart, in a word.

When you see pictures of British rock bands partying on tour c.1970 they drink Skol, Carlsberg, Heineken, Coors, even though it would have been easy to bring pale or Scotch ale on the road. It finally clicked with the man and woman on the British high street – this is our drink too.

Now, to be sure the large contingent of American visitors to Bermuda had an ingrained preference for blonde lager. That explained in part the make-up of the list. Still, the shape of things to come was clear and the Princess’s bar steward understood that.

He chose lagers from countries that in time, in most cases, would prove key elements in world lager exports: Danish Carlsberg, pilsener from St. Pauli, Bremen, another Bremen pils (one or both would have been Beck’s), yet another pils from another German port, Hamburg, and two Dutch lagers, one certainly Heineken or Amstel.

There is also an early international sighting of London-brewed Barclay’s lager. It was never to be a Heineken but U.K. brewers were starting to notice.

Perhaps hedging his bets the steward ordered two Munich dark lagers, the original form of Bavarian lager. And certainly John Bull favourites were included: two Bass bottlings, the newish Simonds milk stout, and two bottlings of Guinness.

Things have a way of mutually re-inforcing. Long familiarity with these beers by Britons outside the country, officers being entertained in the Princess’ ballrooms and gardens, say, set the stage for a broader acceptance at home. The success of British pale ale in India in the early 1800s and later in Britain itself is an obvious parallel, not without some irony here.

Still, up to the 1970s the market for U.K. lager, with exceptions including in Scotland, was largely export-oriented (see Watts, H.D., Lager Brewing in Britain, in Geography Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1975), pp. 139-145 (accessible by JSTOR)).

But the U.K. caught up to the rest of the world. Craft brewing has only partly reversed the seemingly inexorable rise. The reason craft beer appealed was that lager became increasingly uniform in style and bland in taste, especially in the U.S. which after all had innovated in its early development.

Craft brewing responded initially by restoring and extending the earlier top-fermentation tradition but in time will help restore lager itself. We see it with the recent growth of the Camden Hells brand in Britain and similar products that are craft in taste.

A premiumization of lager is taking place such that, for example, Stella Artois is now the default mass market lager of AB InBev/Labatt in parts of Canada. While not a craft beer it replaced beers that many would argue were inferior in taste, Labatt Blue, say.

Peroni, an all-malt beer in its export form, is growing, so is Pilsner Uquell, and there are many brands similarly positioned. Heineken led the way not just by marketing savvy: it is all-malt and a good drop of beer all things equal.

Much of the impetus started on menus such as the Princess’ in Bermuda in 1927. The U.S. of course had sparked the trend, outside Europe I mean, much earlier. But its resolute focus for most of the 1900s on adjunct, low-hopped lagers kept it behind, finally. The result: most of its marquee names stopped brewing or became internationally-owned.

 

Note re images: The first and last images were sourced from the Culinary Institute of America’s digital menu archive identified and linked in the text. The St. Pauli Girl label was sourced at the label collection and brewery information site, www.taverntrove.com, hereAll intellectual property in the sources used belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

The Waldorf Bar Rocks Beer Before Rock

A Proto Craft Beer bar

The Culinary Institute of America, the famed teaching and vocational school headquartered in Hyde Park, NY maintains a historic menu collection on its website.

We’ve looked at one or two of their menus in the past, and today consider the 1930s beer list of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The notation states that the date of the menu is unknown. However, various indices point to 1935.

Budweis beer labelled Nazdar was only imported with that designation in the middle Thirties. Confirmation is available from a judicial source no less, Anheuser-Busch v. Du Bois Brewing, heard in 1947:

18. With the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic at the conclusion of World War I, the name of the City of Budweis was changed to Budejovice.

19. For a short time after Repeal, during the years of 1934 and 1935, imported beer from Budejovice was sold in small quantities in this country along the Eastern seaboard under the name “Nazdar”.

20. Subsequently, the importers changed the label to “Imported Budweiser” and small amounts of imported beer so labeled, which plaintiff contended violated the 1911 contracts, were sold in this country during the years 1936-1938.

The Waldorf-Astoria hotel is currently closed for a long-term condominium conversion. It was needless to say one of America’s premier hotels, and internationally famous. Sited as it was in New York, a vibrant brewing region into the 1950s despite the depredations of Prohibition, one would expect many local heros of brewing to be represented, and they were.

Trommer was not least, being chosen also as the draft lager. Trommer was the last important New York brand to remain all-malt. The Waldorf bar stewards knew their beer, clearly. Other local/regional names of repute they selected included Schaefer, Piel’s, and Rheingold.

Horton Brewing was a new entrant, with Repeal it had bought an old plant – originally built by still-vibrant Yuengling of Pennsylvania – and made a pilsener. In 1997 the New York Times answered a reader’s question about the beer:

No Microbrewery This

Q. I have a clear 12-ounce bottle I found years ago in my backyard in Brooklyn Heights. On the bottom it says ”Horton Pilsener Brewing Co. 460 W. 128th St., New York.” Can you tell me about this brewery?

A. The brewery was built by the Yuengling Brewing Company in 1876, in the village that was then known as Manhattanville — a dense, industrial enclave in the deep valley between Morningside and Hamilton Heights near the Hudson River. Nearby were the D. F. Tiemann pigment factory (from which Tiemann Place takes its name), a worsted mill and the first buildings of Manhattan College. The giant red-brick brewery included a swimming pool and opulent parlors for entertaining dignitaries, who included King Edward VII of England.

More buildings and equipment were added after the brewery was purchased by the Bernheimer & Schwartz Brewing Company in 1903, and a 1911 advertisement for the beer depicts a brewing complex stretching from 127th to 129th Streets along Amsterdam Avenue. Prohibition closed up the brewery in 1920, and the sprawling parcel was purchased by the Horton Pilsener Brewing Company, which resumed production after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Though the plant closed long ago many of its buildings remain in commercial use. DANIEL B. SCHNEIDER

The separation of “beer” (lager in America) and “ale” (ale and stout) was another pre-Prohibition practice. In fact we see it on some menus into the 1940s, and after in a few cases.

The Waldorf’s beer selection was carefully made, covering both beer and ale of course but also notable pre-Prohibition names as well as some newcomers. There was some interest to achieve balance in this respect, clearly.

The imports represented both ale and lager again but also a stout, Guinness. The countries tapped were Germany, U.K., Holland, and Czechoslovakia, all non pareil brewing lands. Canada was represented in a manner of speaking as well, see further below.

Of the imports, the Czech Budweis would have been a rarity in New York, and Heineken. The famed Dutch lager was re-introduced with éclat to U.S. markets after 1933 by the enterprising Dutchman Leo Van Munching. See further background in this 2016 New York Times obituary of his son, Leo Van Munching, Jr.

Allsopp’s Pale Ale, the renowned Victorian pale beer, still had cachet in export markets, evidently. Two bottlings of Bass were offered thus continuing a pre-Prohibition practice of smart hotels and restaurants. One was from Burke, the Guinness bottling and distribution agency on Long Island, NY that also brewed its own brands.

There was no Ballantine India Pale Ale but probably it hadn’t been launched yet. The flagship Ballantine XXX was on the menu, indeed it was the draft ale selection.

Kent ale was an IPA made by Krueger in Newark, NJ, the regular ale was listed as well.

The list comprises some 45 beers. That would have been unusual in New York not just immediately after Prohibition but at any time until the 1960s. The breadth of choice is significant because the Waldorf was not an ethnic establishment a la Janssen Hofbrau Haus,* not a showcase for a foreign country’s specialties as, say, appeared during the 1939 World’s Fair.

The Waldorf was a mainstream albeit high-end catering establishment that made sure to offer a well-curated list of products, to use our jargon. They were into beer, in a word.

Canada was, rather oddly, absent from the list except in the form of Carling Red Cap ale. The beer was newly available in America in the 30s but brewed under license in Cleveland, OH. See further details in this website devoted to Carling U.S. history, whence this 1960s-era image is drawn:

It’s no surprise that the Wine and Food Society of New York held elaborate beer and food tastings at the Waldorf, some of which I’ve described here. The hotel applied an unusual detail to its beer offerings, the knowledge and skill behind it show. It was the perfect place to do those events.

One should emphasize that the market was not hipster. The cool crowd was gestating downtown in Greenwich Village and (frankly) trying to survive the Depression.

All beer then was a matter of conventional industrial business and marketing. Its upper reaches, as here, was concerned with solid citizens and an international elite. The only plaids you might see were the scarfs, skirts, and jackets of moneyed tourists or uptown New Yorkers frequenting the hotel’s luxe services.

It is only when established brewing forgot its roots, still evident in splendour here in the 1930s, that the poets rallied to legislate, so to speak. Today they’ve been acknowledged so the tables are reversed. But the large concerns are waking up and taking back some of the turf foregone, to the consternation of some who forget, or never knew, how it all started.

Note re images: The extracts from the Waldorf-Astoria’s wine and spirits list, and Carling label, were sourced from the links identified and given in the text. The Allsopp’s ad is from the Coaster-Beerdekel collection on Pinterest, here. All intellectual property in the sources used belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

……………………………..

*See our earlier post on this great Manhattan establishment.

 

 

Birthday Bourbon

The Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria, B.C. is a western jewel in the crown of the old Canadian Pacific hotels. It was built in the Edwardian era to service the city’s steamship terminal. CP’s website explains compactly its history:

Incorporated in 1881, Canadian Pacific Railway was formed to physically unite Canada and Canadians from coast to coast and the building of the railway is considered to be one of Canada’s greatest feats of engineering.

The CPR played a major role in the promotion of tourism and immigration, as well as Canada’s war efforts and through the years, the railway grew and diversified to include steamships, hotels, airlines, mining, oil and gas exploration, delivery and telecommunications companies.

Today the hotel is part of the Fairmont chain and remains a premium marque in Canadian hotels.

CP had an important shipping arm, whose history you can read here.

It offered a passenger service between Vancouver and Victoria but this stopped during WW II. The business role of the hotel declined in consequence but Victoria steadily increased its tourist trade. The hotel became predominantly a destination for well-off visitors vs. the business and political establishments it had mainly served earlier.

At the same time the hotel continued to serve a business clientele, many now arriving in town by air.

I’ve been to the Empress, once, we flew in from Vancouver (helicopter) and had tea in the afternoon. I was with some British business connections from Leeds. Later, of course, we had a beer at the pioneering brewpub on the outer harbour, Spinnakers.

(I regret to say I found the beer quite iffy. We all preferred the light lager also sold in Ontario now, Kokanee. But this is a long time ago and I’m sure it’s all top notch now given the sophistication of West Coast craft brewing).

Victoria has always had the image of a provincial, rather sleepy place, conservative and a relic of colonial times, a favoured resort of retirees.

This is unfair, today certainly, and probably always was. The climate there is most appealing by Canadian standards, never ferociously hot or cold, breezy. The city has all the services any urbanite expects today. The views and attractions of the harbour and surrounding coastal areas are of definite interest, especially the flora and fauna which have many unique features there.

I’m more familiar with Vancouver across the Georgia Strait but enjoyed the time I spent in Victoria. It’s a great base too to start a tour up Vancouver Island.

Somehow the vast wilderness there seems to impinge on urban life in a way different from, or not as evident, here.

Anyway visitors abound, many from cruise ships on Asia routes or on the scenic trip up the coast to Alaska. Many who stop in Victoria stay at the Fairmount Empress and enjoy its many services. It will all be first-class, the bar no less.

But what was it like in 1950? 1950 you ask? Well yes, that’s my birth year (July 4 to be precise), so let’s take that as an example. What did the bar offer at the hotel then?

Had you asked me before yesterday, I’d have thought, a small spirits section, a few beers, a small but decent wine list, maybe a couple of pages or so in total.

In fact the wine and spirits list runs 15 pages, you can read it here. It is identified in the UBC notation as from 1950 and bears the inscription, Coronet Room. Now, research suggests the Coronet Lounge did not open until 1954, see this 2016 Times Colonist story.

This image of the newly-opened room, certainly handsome, from the Royal B.C. Museum also suggests (see caption) a 1954 opening. It also conveys something of the former use of the space, a reading room. The Coroner Room (or Lounge) was renamed Bengal Lounge during a 1960s renovation. The space has been dark for some years now and other facilities in the hotel supply the want.

Either some type of Coronet bar preceded the 1954 version, or perhaps the menu really is from 1954. Still, I incline that it is from 1950 and as it serves the conceit of this post to think so, let’s proceed on that assumption.

Five years after the war, still isolated and no longer serviced by CP’s shipping line, the hotel contrived to offer an enviable selection of drinks in every category. I’d think perhaps it was emulating, in the old Victoria way, English models like the Savoy. But in any case, from Cocktails to Coca-Cola, it’s all there and then some.

The extracts of the menu in this post give some idea of it. They were sourced from the Chang Collection at the University of British Columbia’s Open Library, see again the link above. The University and benefactors mentioned are to be commended for making such valuable social history available.

Remark on the large number of Canadian rye whiskies available, no less than 30 and it doesn’t even include “bar ryes”.

The beer selection is most impressive, offering an early regional choice rather than two or three domestic beers and a few imports. The beer selection is locavore before the word existed.

Someone at the hotel must have taken an interest in beer as 20 domestic brands alone were offered, most regional B.C. selections.

The imports were classics: Guinness, McEwan’s (two brands), Whitbread, Bass. Nothing German, or Dutch, the war had just ended…

Just to take one B.C. example, Old Dublin Ale, perhaps it was an early “Irish Red” emulation. This ale was brewed by Princeton Brewery in the town of the same name in the extreme southern part of the province. It operated from 1902-1961.

The brewery also made an all-malt beer, Royal Export, also available at the Empress. It was likely a Dortmund-style. The word Royal would have covered any disagreeable lingering Teutonic associations from the recent wars.

For images of Princeton Brewery beer labels and brewery trucks, see here from a website, Hank’s Trucks.

Finally, there was Canadian bourbon. Canada always made a spirit much like bourbon to use as a component in its blends. Some was sold at times unblended, particularly the Pedigree brands of rye and bourbon from Seagram. The bourbon isn’t identified by source but perhaps was Pedigree.

Canadian bourbon was sold during the U.S. Prohibition era, in Canada to appeal to U.S. visitors and of course smuggled into the U.S. one way or another. It was exported after Prohibition to the U.S. as well, and ads can be found for it in national U.S. media c.1936.

Clearly though it was sold in Canada in the early 1950s, many years after Prohibition ended. A hotel of the standing of the Empress could easily have obtained American bourbon, certainly available in quantity again by 1950, but it chose to offer a Canadian version, so the quality must have been pretty good.

With a heavy duty being imposed shortly on American whiskey imports, offering a bourbon-type whisky again will fill a gap. It’s good business anyway to diversify out of the blended category that served Canada well for a long time but whose long-term future in my opinion is questionable.

This is due to the growing “premiumisation” of many standard consumer products from burgers to lager beer.

Seagram already markets in Ontario its new Bourbon Mash product, which isn’t bad but I’m sure Canadian distillers can come up with even better versions of straight corn- or rye-based whisky. Pedigree came in both rye and bourbon versions, incidentally.

Lot 40, in the market some 20 years now, and Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye whisky, both straight rye types, can point the way. Perhaps in time our craft producers will do similar.

Certainly I’ll buy more of these whiskies rather than bourbon and Tennessee whiskey at a 25% mark-up if it comes to that.

The image above of Pedigree Bourbon, sourced from the excellent Dutch Whisky Base website, is accompanied there by a super review of a vintage bottle by “Malt Marvin”, see here. The whisky certainly sounds very interesting! The “menthol” finish is one I recall as well from tastings of vintage U.S. whiskies at straightbourbon.com bi-annual gatherings in Bardstown, KY.

 

Note re images: the source of the images above is linked in the text except for the Revelstoke 3X Pale Beer bottle, sourced from this B.C. museum site, and the Princeton Brewery sign, which was found herea website devoted to the history of Princeton, B.C. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

An Office of Importance

All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard…
            – From “All I Wanna Do”, Sheryl Crow, 1999

Father’s Office (FO) is a historic craft beer bar in Santa Monica, CA (Culver City). A conventional bar dating from 1953, it was re-made as a beer-aware destination in 1985, prefiguring the craft beer bar found nation-wide today and beyond.

Earlier, I profiled an early beer list of another influential L.A. beer bar, Barney’s Beanery, see here.

Barney’s approach was fundamentally different from that of FO. Barney’s continued an older tradition of vaunting a wide selection of international beers, mostly bottled. Famous brands from Britain and Germany predominated.

Tommy’s Joynt in San Francisco was originally of this type, too. So was the Brickseller in Washington, D.C., and the Peculier Pub in Greenwich Village, NYC.

In time, this type of bar embraced – merged with – the craft beer bar. It took time, in other words, for the old school (one version of it) to develop confidence in a home-grown brewing culture.

But FO was not, it appears, an imported beer emporium before 1985. This 2007 LA Times article by Todd Martens depicts FO as coming to the role directly after 1985.

Thenceforward certainly, the FO offered no Budweiser or other industrial American beer, and no imports. In the first years some customers made the inevitable protests. The bar countered by providing education on  artisan beer. For further details, this account of its phoenix years will illuminate.

The quality + home-grown focus was particularly significant as L.A. had resisted for years the craft brewing trend warmly embraced in northern California, the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and the East Coast. Why did southern California (the odd exception apart) tarry?

In his 1991 Pocket Beer Guide (3rd ed.) Michael Jackson speculated that the hot climate discouraged the taste for big-bodied beers. He considered as well that the transient nature of L.A. culture kept the attention span short for such off-beat interests.

Todd Martens noted that Eureka, a splashy L.A. brewpub started by trendy chef Wolfgang Puck, failed in 1990. He thought this discouraged craft brewing in the area for many years. Greg Stone of now widely-known Stone Brewing in Escondido, CA, interviewed for the story, agreed with that theory.

FO filled the gap by offering a good selection of California and West Coast microbrewery beers. In its earliest years, the beer list had a classic simplicity, as seen in the c.1988 beer menu above.

Jackson stated in his 1991 Pocket Guide that at time of writing California had between 65 and 70 craft breweries and brewpubs. The country as a whole had about 200. The craft beer scene was still very small, and almost nil in Southern California.

Yet, FO prospered with its quality regional selection. Its success showed the crutch of famous-name imports was not necessary to for a quality beer bar. Almost all the beers, too, were top-fermented (ale or porter, mainly) even though a number of craft lager breweries were operating in California when Jackson wrote.

This reflected the bias of early craft brewing towards top-fermentation beer, generally more characterful than cool-fermented lagers.

FO offered an assortment of ales, porter or stout including imperial stout, and wheat beer. Numerous beers as well were offered from iconic Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, founded in 1896 but a bridge to the craft era due to being re-imagined by beer legend Fritz Maytag, a scion of the washing machine fortune.

I visited FO a few times in the 1990s. By then the beer selection had broadened but the bar has always retained an unvarnished, laid-back feeling. I recall a wheat beer flavoured with desert white sage that was particularly good, the kind of brew one only saw nationally years later. The 1988 list looks conservative today but was revolutionary for the time.

FO today comprises two locations, with a third planned. It is known for its innovative food menu as well as great craft beer – currently 36 drafts are offered. Physically, the original location, on Montana Blvd., looks pretty much as it always did, maybe a bit sleeker. See this L.A. visitor’s page for a tour d’horizon.

FO was a tastemaker and path-blazer, setting the tone for early beer bars like Toronado in San Francisco, C’est What in Toronto, Horse Brass in Portland, and Arendsnest in Amsterdam. These bars in turn inspired countless others to vaunt “small is beautiful” and “drink local” with success.

Footnote re Grapevine Brewery. The Grapevine Brewery, mentioned in Jackson’s 1991 Pocket Guide, was a rare, early, southern California brewpub. It appears to have opened in 1987. By 1990 it had changed ownership, and became Okie Girl Eatery. A quake did it in a few years later, as detailed in this 1994 news account.

Note re images: the first image, the interior of Father’s Office as it is today, was sourced from Pinterest, here. The next two were sourced from the historic menu collection of Los Angeles Public Library. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.