Beer Sampling

Here sampling is borrowed from its musical sense. It’s been stated of music sampling that it is:

…  the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.

This, by analogy, is what I do when blending beers. You combine two or more beers to get a new and different whole.

Blending beer has an old commercial history, which is probably where I got the idea, but it has its own justification.

Remember, it is all malt, all hops, and brewers blend malts and hops to make the beers they sell to begin with. If you do it right, you can get an excellent result. If you do it wrong, it won’t be terrible.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “there are no second acts in American lives”. What did he know about beer? Bathtub gin – maybe.

It is perfectly correct to buy beers with sampling in mind. I occasionally do this, say, to make a pumpkin porter from a pumpkin ale and a porter.

But usually I blend from open cans or bottles I have. I have them because, I taste so many beers over time that I can’t finish them all after opening. I may open a couple one evening, drink part of both, and save them for another day.

I used to seal them in some way but now I just put them in the fridge, the cans open and bottles with crown cork loosely reattached.

If you wait one day, it’s like drinking regular draft beer in the bar. If you wait two, it’s like drinking a good (English-style) cask ale, only lightly carbonated in other words.

I had the three beers shown, kept in the fridge two nights, or maybe three for one of them. Each was slightly less than half-full.

I blended them about one-third each and then adjusted the pint until I got it right. It’s interesting how small additions change the taste or texture noticeably.

What you see tastes like a good West Coast IPA if served on cask. There is a bitter, lightly blackcurrant finish, a caramel sweetness, and fruity (pineapple?) background. The alcohol by volume is about 6%, perfect for the style.

It reminds me of Ballantine India Pale Ale as brewed before 1981 by S&P/Falstaff at Cranston, R.I. I bought it once on a trip to the dunes of Cape Cod and Provincetown, MA.

Provincetown then looked like an English coastal town or towns around the Caribbean or the Maritimes in Canada. Maybe it still does.

The funny thing is, I remember also buying cans of light American lager, Piels, say. They were thin aluminum cans you could easily crush with a fist. (Hence, by a wending route, the hip term for an approachable craft beer of reasonable strength, “crushable”).

Somehow, I liked those and the IPA equally. I’m not sure what that means.

Note re image: The Ballantine India Pale Ale image was sourced from Dan Hodge’s article on Ballantine at the (excellent) BeerNexus site. The Piels Draft Style image was sourced from this Ebay listing. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


BIG Makes a Splash in Guelph, ON


(BIG means Brewers in Guelph, discussed further below).

Last night we attended Guelph Civic Museum’s formal reception for the opening of its excellent “Brewing Changes Guelph” exhibit which runs to the end of February next year.

Guest curator Eric Payseur, a historian engaged to consult on the project, spoke along with curator Dawn Owen.

They explained the genesis of the program and thanked the many persons who helped make it possible. I mentioned earlier John Sleeman and Charles MacLean but was glad to hear also names such as Lawrence Sherk, who was there and a pleasure to meet, and Gordon Holder.

All who know the roots of post-1970s interest in Canadian beer and brewing history know these names. I met Jim Duffy too who remembered me from the Bartowel discussion forum days.

Lawrence Sherk is a pioneer in the collection of Canadian beer labels, containers, and related collectibles. He started his work in 1972.

There were others to chat with but our time was limited.

BIG are releasing a beer a month to salute the exhibit, starting with Wellington Brewery’s Way Hey Hey, a session bitter style. The beer is meant in a general way to evoke the kind of beer made in Wellington County by early British incomers. It doesn’t replicate a historical recipe as such, we believe.

It was debuted in town at the historic Albion Hotel, now a restaurant-bar where we had an excellent dinner. A comfortable old country tavern it remains despite some updating and attention to the menu.

The beer (pictured above) is on the light side, a latter-day Wellington Brewery characteristic in our view. As it warmed and decarbonated some virtues came out: lightly sweet, with an interesting orangey hop note. I thought it might be lightly spiced or even use a heritage hop culled from an old hop yard.

It will be available on cask in some places and this form would show it to best advantage. You can buy it by growler and at the bar of the Wellington Brewery, currently.

In the Albion is an old painted window of a youthful Eastern dignitary. It seems inspired by mythological, religious, or other art of India. The image might date from around 1950 when there was a “Raj” theme to some bar decor in Canada. I remember seeing survivals in Toronto in the 1980s.

The dark wood in the bar and parts of the restaurant seems mid-1900s but could be older.

The Albion is clad in 19th-century stone and the whole makes a certain impact. The structure was once a town hub and it continues in dignified old age.

A nice evening in a handsome, liveable town. Some streets retain a Scottish rural aspect, as you see below: it could be a street in any number of Highland towns today, down to the impassive sky grey.




English Master Brewer Arthur Vaughan Comes to America

Below we profile this brewer who came to Depression America to recreate the ancestral pale ale of his home country. But first to resume:

The present post is the fifth, and so far final, in our series on:

i) the beers George Zett Brewery in Syracuse made from 1933-1934, and

ii) the Burton-style pale ale Louis Wehle, founder of post-Prohibition Genesee Brewery in Rochester, NY, introduced via Zett’s successor, Syracuse Brewery, Inc. (1935-1937 or 1938).

As discussed in our last post, due to the timing of release of various beers all identified as of Burton or English character, we think it possible, even likely, that Wehle placed imported Burton fermenters and aging casks both in Rochester and Syracuse.

In February 1935, Niagara Falls was supplied with Old Stratford Ale while Syracuse news reports I linked showed it was mid-1935 before Syracusans got a similar beer.

Hence, possibly Wehle was running two Burton Unions to supply Rochester, Syracuse, and various points in the Niagara Frontier and upstate.

We think the history might have gone, in 1934 based on advice from brewing scientist Francis Moritz in England he buys and installs a Union set in Rochester. And in 1935 he does the same for Syracuse but brings Arthur Vaughan, an English master brewer, to run them since Wehle was not on the scene to supervise, he was in Rochester at Genesee.

In any case, and as confirmed in Wehle’s autobiography, he gave up on Burton Union production within a few years of launching the plan. 1938 seems the last year a beer of this type was marketed, Genesee Light Ale.

Both Old Stratford Ale and Genesee Light Ale were advertised with varying amounts of detail on Burton Union production. Some ads even showed a line drawing of linked Burton Union casks with the distinctive trough running on top.

What beer was sold in Syracuse though once Arthur Vaughan, brought from England in May 1935 to brew for Syracuse Brewery, Inc., had the Burton set running?

This was Dickens Ale. Ads for Dickens Ale, also sold outside Syracuse, did not trumpet Burton Union details. But Dickens Ale seems to have been the same beer as Old Stratford Ale and Genesee Light Ale, or essentially, i.e., just differently branded.

Syracuse Brewery Inc. had emerged in 1935 from bankruptcy proceedings and was on a tight budget. It makes sense, therefore, that ads for Dickens Ale were less elaborate than Genesee could afford to run for Old Stratford Ale and later, Genesee Light Ale.

Perhaps at some point Wehle stopped using all-English ingredients for Dickens Ale or even Genesee Light Ale but continued Burton fermentation and large cask dry-hopping and aging. The answer is somewhere deep in Genesee Brewery archives.

The more traditional American ale in the Genesee line of the 1930s was 12 Horse Ale, sometimes described as a stock ale. It was probably quite fizzy and made mainly or only with American hops and malts.

Not until the craft era inaugurated by Fritz Maytag and others in the 1970s did America get ales consciously made on traditional British lines again, with methods such as open-fermentation and both generous and dry-hopping.

Of course the ales that emerged showed an evolution as they featured (initially) the distinctive American Cascade hop taste. Cascade was a new variety introduced in 1972.

As to Burton fermenters, the craft producer Firestone Walker, founded 1996 in California, introduced a (rather modified, in our view) version. To my knowledge, the only two Burton sets used in production in the world today are Marston’s in Burton, and Firestone Walker’s.

The above news story of 1935 in Syracuse, “Expert Brewer From England Works Here”, profiled Arthur Vaughan further.

The detail offered is quite specific, yet some of it seems possibly exaggerated. We have had no success in tracing his line of brewers or the alleged ownership of famous breweries by his father.

Maybe others know more.

Coda. The 1935 story on Vaughan states that the fermenters, bought by Louis Wehle on his English trip that year, were “century old”. As I’ve mentioned and documented earlier Burton beer production was in serious decline by the 1930s. There was lots of excess kit, as the British say, in the sheds and yards of the sooty old town. Did a brewery or cooperage unload some wormy old stuff on a rich, star-struck American brewer?

Was Wehle the Daisy Miller of brewing? I don’t think so. His record and success show the kind of person not easy to flim-flam. Anyway, it seems Wehle wanted old equipment because his book states – I included the extract yesterday – he wanted to capture the original Burton pale ale flavour he thought hidden in those boards.

The fact that he wanted an English set, meaning it was made from English or other European oak, shows too he thought American oak wasn’t suitable for Union fermentation. Otherwise, why not build a Union from American oak in Rochester or Syracuse?

Francis Moritz surely told him the wisdom then conventional and unchallenged in British brewing circles: don’t use American oak in any part of processing if you want English pale ale.




From Stratford to Syracuse: Burton Pale ale in 1930s America


In an earlier post I explained that Zett’s Brewery in Syracuse, NY, with pre-Prohibition origins, was revived in 1933-1934. Genesee Brewing of Rochester, NY, then mainly owned and controlled by Louis Wehle, was its principal backer.

Out of the gate the new Zett’s focused on ale, Zett’s Sparkling Ale, and later a lager, Par-Ex. But Zett’s ran into business difficulties – the Depression was intensifying – and in 1935 reorganized in bankruptcy court under a new name, Syracuse Brewery, Inc. Genesee Brewery was still owner and  injected $25,000 to cover operating costs for the next two years.

From mid-1935 until 1938 Wehle threw the dice again behind ale in Syracuse. This time, he imported a Burton Unions fermentation set and conditioning casks from Burton-on-Trent, Great Britain. These were installed at Syracuse Brewery, Inc. For more on this aspect, see our post, here.



Wehle intended the new ale to be a strict copy of Burton pale ale. He seemed to be using the Syracuse brewery as a hub to serve other parts of the state. In 1938 Wehle marketed in various upstate towns a similarly-made Genesee Light Ale. Perhaps he bought two Burton Union sets, one each for the Syracuse and Rochester breweries, as (see below) he was selling Burton Union beer in Rochester, called Old Stratford Ale, even before a similar brew went on the market in Syracuse.

However it worked between the two cities, this was no half-hearted effort. A trained brewer himself, Wehle engaged as consultant the Briton Francis Moritz, scion of a noted brewing science family. Wehle also brought from Burton a brewer, Arthur Vaughan, to supervise brewing in Syracuse. Vaughan arrived with his fiancée whom he later married, which made a splash in Syracuse’s social pages.

In his autobiography of c.1960 I mentioned here, Wehle stated the Syracuse venture did not succeed. But he added he should have persisted, as American beer tastes were changing. In his words:



It’s an extraordinary statement, as 1960 would seem to be the apogee of the American light lager style. Why did the Wehle of 1960, a lion in winter, think a true Burton ale would work if it hadn’t years before? The old-fashioned but connoisseur’s choice Ballantine India Pale Ale was just hanging on in Newark, NJ, as he had to know.

One factor may have been the growth in America of Dutch-based Heineken, something Wehle had to notice. German imports were gaining good sales as well. Maybe he thought a quality English beer brewed locally would challenge these beers for cachet.

Or maybe in the end Wehle remained a visionary, still believing a genuine British-style ale would fly due to its quality,

In a sense it finally did, in the form of Americanized pale ale and India Pale Ale introduced by craft brewing pioneers such as Fritz Maytag, Jack McAuliffe, Ken Grossman, Joseph Owades (a brewing consultant), Bill Newman, and Bert Grant.



The first image above is from the Wehle memoir, This was my Life. I recommend it to beer researchers and historians despite the difficulty to find it. The picture was taken during a tour in England in 1958.

Wehle writes that he first visited Britain in 1932. He must have planned his new ale in 1934 as news ads and related news stories start to appear in February 1935. He states that he bought fermentation and storage equipment on the 1935 trip, yet he was brewing the new ale in early February 1935. There must be another explanation for why the ale was already being made, at least in Rochester.

He also writes that Moritz made several trips to America for him, so I’d think Moritz came in 1934 to install the Burton Unions, and have beer in place in Rochester by start of February 1935. Finally Arthur Vaughan arrived in Syracuse, this is documented, in May 1935 to operate the system there.

Why did a German-American brewer have an intense interest in British pale ale given lager had overtaken ales in upstate New York by the 1930s, and given too Wehle’s German-oriented background?

Wehle seems to have been an Anglophile, for one thing. The book is complimentary of landscapes and other aspects of life in Britain and Ireland.

Also, when Wehle trained as a brewmaster before WW I Burton-on-Trent still enjoyed a world reputation in brewing. This may have inclined Wehle to a special appreciation for what by the 1930s was old-fashioned in America – ale.

Yet another potential factor: Bartholomay Brewing and Genesee Brewing in Rochester had been owned by an English syndicate before WW I, when Wehle worked in both. He states in the book his family owned shares in the syndicate.

See this Genesee outline of the syndicate’s formation.



Wehle probably met English representatives who  discussed their native ales with him, and he acquired a taste and interest.

As noted, Initially Wehle’s beer was called Old Stratford Ale. Detailed news ads of 1935 explained that all-English malt and hops from Kent, England were used for the beer. English yeast was, also.

He clearly admired a tradition he wanted to implant in America, and went to great trouble to do so.



Old Stratford Ale did not succeed. Wehle re-named it for another try, Genesee Light Ale, but by 1942 the beer was another damp squib, at least in its true Burton form.

Likely Arthur Vaughan and his wife went home. Wehle gave up, finally, on brewing these ales in Syracuse and Rochester but went on to create a regional powerhouse in Genesee Brewing. Lager as well as sparkling and cream ales (lighter than the Burton-type) formed the main brands.

“Genny” lager in Rochester remains successful to this day, under aegis of Costa Rican ownership.

But we have seen that Wehle, a businessman to the core, never lost his old affection for Burton pale ale. Even nearing his death he harboured hopes to re-launch it. In this sense, he was a visionary and a photo-craft brewer.

Note re images: The images above, except for the first whose provenance is noted, were drawn from mid-1930s searches in the Fulton Historical Newspaper archive. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


This Saturday: Henderson Brewing Joins the Gardiner Museum for Maker Break

Ale of the Ancients

A collaboration of a unique kind is occurring this Saturday at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, part of the museum’s innovative Maker Break series.

The Gardiner, founded 1984, is Canada’s national ceramics museum, located at 111 Queen’s Park, Toronto.

In its own words, Maker Break:

invites local makers, artists, chefs, and brewers to lead an intimate, open-dialogue forum on ceramics and its ties to social cultures. Focusing on ceramics’ historical connection to sustenance, this unique experience will offer new perspectives on the Museum’s permanent collection alongside curated drink and light fare.

The forum this Saturday with Steve Himel, majordomo of Henderson Brewing, is described as follows.

Henderson Brewing Co. is an independent neighbourhood brewery in downtown Toronto. Since the summer, Henderson and the Gardiner have been collaborating on a special brew inspired by chicha, one of the earliest beers rooted in the Ancient Americas. Fermented in special vessels made by local ceramic artist Keenan O’Toole, beer enthusiasts will have the opportunity to sample this exclusive small batch, as well as a variety of other beers. Access the Gardiner’s Ancient Americas collection and hear Henderson co-founder Steve Himel discuss this ale of the ancients and local microbrewing with Gardiner Adjunct Curator of Ancient Americas Siobhan Boyd.

We attended a preview at Henderson recently and viewed the striking ceramic vessels made by Keenan O’Toole in which a brew inspired by chicha is fermenting. We didn’t taste it as the brew was not ready; tasting will occur this Saturday. Event runs from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. at the Gardiner Museum.

Admission is $30.00, $25.00 for registered friends of the Museum. See the website to obtain tickets.

Further details on the beer will be available at the event but we understand it is not made from corn, a barley malt base was used. Chicha, although typically made from corn (different varieties), can be made from numerous grains and fruits. It depends on the era and region.

Both alcoholic and non-alcohol versions exist, the Peruvian version generally is the latter we understand.

The spirit of making of the drink was followed in the collaboration including vessels specially crafted after historical example.

Siobhan Boyd in this link summarizes the traditional preparation of chicha, a drink still made by artisans today. Having heard her speak at the preview, I can say she is a fount of knowledge on the subject from all standpoints: processes of manufacture including raw materials, regional variations, fermentation, storage, methods of consumption, and of course the vessels in which chicha was and is prepared.

An event not to be missed for those appreciate the cultural dimensions of beer and related drinks, which often far exceed the mere drinking experience.




Molson Canadian – Named by Americans?

18 years ago this tv ad for Molson Canadian featuring actor Jeff Douglas became the most famous tv commercial ever aired in this country. As time passes many reading, especially if a younger demographic, probably have never seen it. The ad is known as “The Rant” and it portrayed clean-cut, (Nova Scotia-born) Douglas as Joe Canadian.

The script reeled off a series of fervent affirmations of Canadian identity ostensibly for a clueless America, but with Canada as the real, aggrieved audience. Joe Canadian ranted that we have a Prime Minister, not a President, a mistake in nomenclature Americans are prone to: even President Barack Obama tripped up on this.

The Rant went on: “we don’t live in an igloo”, “or eat blubber” (well, some do actually, but it’s broad-brush marketing), or “know vacationing Suzy whom you once met on a Florida beach”, etc.

The tone was strident and made good fun of age-old American myths about Canada but in an exaggerated, almost tongue-in-cheek way. The effect finally is somewhat self-deprecating, so Americans will know when push comes to shove we really love them. The quaver in the actor’s voice is part of it: Joe Canadian expresses pride but not quite self-confidently.

It’s the passive-aggressive mode, the perfect vehicle to express how Canadians feel about the U.S. (and a form of discourse Canadians are often comfortable with, in our view).

It’s like in all families: strains occasionally show. Similar ads followed until, of course, Molson flip-flopped and joined Colorado-based Coors. But for years the spots helped keep Molson Canadian high in the brand rankings. Even today “Canadian” is the third or fourth largest seller nationally, behind Coors Light, Joe Canadian would be saddened to know.

Molson Canadian was originally called Crown and Anchor, see my earlier notes, “Molson’s Rice Beer”, here. I reproduce a 1955 American news ad that states innocently the brew included rice.

In the next few years, similar Crown and Anchor ads appeared in northeast U.S. newspapers but sans the rice appellation. Molson surely figured out that in an ad for premium beers, the usual context at least in America, rice was not the best idea. (It’s verboten in German lager-brewing, the model for the Molson Canadian type of beer).

Molson’s first plant in Ontario (Toronto) opened in 1955 and Crown and Anchor poured from its vats the same year. Until then Molson had brewed solely in Montreal. Once established in Ontario though Molson clearly had the U.S. market in its sights, too.

I recall the beers being sold around 1970 in upstate New York when I lived in Montreal, they had cachet. Local students and U.S. airmen from a now-closed base in Plattsburgh, NY drank “Molsons” in the roadhouses. When visiting there I was into Schaefer and Michelob.

(The lure of the foreign, it was always thus).

Molson’s push into Stateside deepened after it set up its Martlet distribution arm in 1971 in L.I., New York. In the 1980s-90s Molson finally went big in the U.S. imported beer stakes, second only to the likes of Heineken. Molson Canadian, Golden, Export, and Brador were the main brands.

Beer historians agree that around 1960 Molson changed the name of Crown and Anchor to Molson Canadian. A few years ago, Lori Ball, a Molson-Coors archivist, pinned the year to 1959 in this comment on a Brookston Beer Bulletin discussion:

The crown and anchor imagery has been part of Molson’s history for a long time. It appeared on our oldest brand (Molson Export) which dates back to 1903 and still appears on our Stock Ale brand. And, as for Molson’s first entry into the lager market, the Crown and Anchor brand was followed very closely by Molson Canadian which was launched in 1959 – hard to believe that brand is already 50 years old.

Examining a dozen or so books on Canadian and Ontario beer history and other sources, I cannot locate a discussion of why the new name name was chosen, the specific theory and rationale.

By 1960, branding was as sophisticated as today. Market surveys, attitudinal studies, focus groups, were mothers’ milk to manufacturers and marketing agencies. Companies as established and consumer-dependant as Molson didn’t turn on a dime when adopting new branding strategies: they thought things through.

Today, the name Molson Canadian seems natural, normal, burnished by 60 years of successful history. But was Molson Canadian a “normal” name to adopt in the Canada of 1959?

The answer is deep in a file folder in a Molson-Coors vault. Pending that turning up, let’s posit why the name was changed to Molson Canadian.

One plausible reason is Molson wanted to give its newish Toronto lager a more local image. Molson at the time, as an old Montreal business, had little or no Ontario resonance to most consumers.

It must be remembered too that Quebec in Ontario means “French” to most, a part of Canada of course but different than ROC (rest of Canada).

To sell Crown and Anchor successfully in ROC, the brand had to speak to them, in a word. What better way than to call the brand “Canadian”? The ingrained patriotic character was just a plus, made brilliant use of in The Rant many years later.

But was this the real reason? Consider this November 1959 Molson ad in Potsdam, NY (via NYS Historical Newspapers):

The ad states in part, “Consumers surveys have proven that Canadian Beer is the beer preferred above all others.” – this must mean surveys in the U.S.  Further, “In naming this beer CANADIAN BEER you, the people, have told us that no other name could better express its true Canadian taste.”

The wording is not 100% clear, few ads of the modern type are (rather intentionally, we think), but it seems to say Molson chose the new name by surveying U.S. beer consumers. An intended push in that market could be the only reason.

But there’s another possibility. Canadian considerations (as mentioned) inspired the name but it worked out fortuitously to tell Americans they did so, given their known preference for “Canadian beer”.

Which is it? Or is a third explanation the real one? It would be ironic if the hyper-patriotic name Molson Canadian had origins in the United States, to which Joe Canadian stood up, but stranger things have happened.

The fact that rice was used in the brewing then – and perhaps today still, I don’t know – makes an American twist not unplausible. Mighty Budweiser always had a measure of rice in its grist…

Note re images: the first image above is from the Molson Canadian listing at the Beer Store, here. The second is from from the NYS Historical Newspapers site linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.








“Brewing Changes Guelph”: September 15, 2018 – February 24, 2019

Yesterday, I attended a new exhibition mounted at the Civic Museum, a component of Guelph Museums in Guelph, ON. See

Guelph, often called by its blue blood nickname, the Royal City, is some 60 miles west of Toronto. It’s an active place due to its diversified economy of light manufacturing, agriculture, and health care as well as being situs of University of Guelph. Yet it still maintains a rural calm and peace in welcome contrast to frenetic Toronto.

The showing is called “Brewing Changes Guelph”. I first learned of it some months ago when visiting the nearby Wellington Brewery with Tim Holt, editor of the U.K.-based, Brewery History.

The museum is in a glass-fronted, historic grey-stone structure next to the imposing Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate. Guelph always had a Catholic component, strengthened by early Irish immigration. The basilica is beautifully maintained to this day to serve that body.

Guelph was largely founded by Scots and other Britons under the leadership of John Galt and his Canada Land Company. This differentiates the area from the pattern of settlement seen in other Ontario communities, where United Empire Loyalists (from the United States) were the first (non-Indigenous) settlers.

The exhibition is in two phases, a main-floor exhibit that chronicles the history until the 1930s, and a third floor showing that explains the revival of brewing since the 1980s.

It is certainly well done, compact yet delivering considerable, focused information. We liked the aural components as well which included interviews with craft distilling pioneers John Sleeman and Charles MacLean.

We have lived in Ontario through the modern period and can attest to the accuracy and point of the treatment. Having studied many aspects of Ontario brewing history, not to mention Ontario’s distilling history in-depth, we say the same of the exhibit’s first phase.

Distilling is also treated to an extent in the exhibit. The Allan Distillery is mentioned, of which I wrote earlier, here.

John Sleeman refers to a historic family book of recipes, handed down in his family until brewing could be resumed. I recall him showing it to me when I visited Sleeman brewery with the late beer writer Michael Jackson some 25 years ago.

Mr. Sleeman added some interesting details about the cream ale of Sleeman Brewery, among its most popular brands. He said it was originally made by his Sleeman ancestors in the 1800s by combining an ale and a lager but later they evolved a specific recipe to produce the taste.

The wall-mounted narratives will appeal to the layman and those with more specialized knowledge, not to mention the displays of historic bottles, prints, advertisements, and brewing or labelling equipment

One hopes many Ontarians and other visitors will have the chance to see the exhibit. It is also very well-priced, at only $5.00. This includes access to the general exhibits and another museum in the network.

Given the many attractions of Guelph and Wellington County, Torontonians with the beer or history bug should make the visit to the Royal City this fall or winter.




Louis Wehle: Founder of Post-repeal Genesee Brewery

Below are some thoughts on Louis A. Wehle’s c.1960 book, This was my Life. It was self-published and privately distributed, but the title has made its way to some public catalogues, which is how I knew of it.

A few copies are in booksellers’ hands, and I bought one. Half the book, 180 pages, is text. The other half contains news articles, photos, and memorabilia. A fie item is the menu for a southern-style dinner he gave in Florida. The venue was his “beachcomber” shack outside Palm Beach.

The centrepiece is the revival by Wehle of Genesee Brewery in 1933. He had worked there before Prohibition in key roles but was still in his prime in the 1930s. Hence, he offered a fascinating perspective on the full span (pre-craft) of 20th century brewery operations.



Wehle was born in 1889 and died at 75 in 1964. He was from a German-American family, one fairly prosperous. His grandfather had done well with a sausage-making factory. His father was a superintendent at Bartholomay, a sizeable brewery in Rochester.

The family was frugal despite – or because of – its middle-class prosperity, a habit absorbed by Louis – he was always money-conscious. He credited his outlook on life to his background but is mildly critical still of his ethnicity, stating it had a tendency to emotional reticence, and intolerance different ways.

While marked by his background he was essentially American in character. He never learned German well, for example.

Louis was a striver from the beginning. As a young person he worked continually at odd jobs such as soda jerk, as his parents paid no allowance. He was boisterous at times, engaging in pranks as some youth will. On reaching 16 he became determined to make his way in the world.

After leaving high school, a decent education for the time, he worked in a law office. From there he went to Bartholomay, handling various office roles.

At 20, on the suggestion of brewery management he took a course in New York City at the National Brewers Academy, and qualified as brewmaster. The school was associated with the Wallerstein brewing consultancy, of which I’ve written earlier.

This set Louis apart from many others in brewing, who started as brewers and entered management later. Louis became assistant brewmaster at Bartholomay.

Between 1911 and 1918 he was brewmaster at Genesee and the Lang Brewery, in Buffalo, New York. So he had years of experience in brewing and brewery management prior to Prohibition. He explained that this background was invaluable to resurrect Genesee in 1933.

During Prohibition he worked in chain grocery and bakery ventures in Buffalo, and finally established a successful bakery in Rochester. He sold it in 1929, six months before the market crash, for $1.3M, a lot of money then.

When in the bakery business he had learned the skill of raising capital. He retained control of as major shareholder, but had equity associates. They made money with him when the baking business was sold. Some joined him again for the Genesee financing.

He bought the Genesee site in 1929 on the calculated guess Prohibition’s Repeal would occur within a reasonable window. Of course, it did.

The organization of New Genesee, as he called it, was a complex endeavour. First, there was the need to raise money again. He stretched his finances to the breaking point. Second, equipment for refurbishment needed to be sourced. Used equipment was obtained from existing, idle breweries except for new refrigeration plant bought in New York.

He hired many former staff of Old Genesee or other pre-Prohibition breweries. This included a brewmaster (he only finally retired in the 1950s), sales managers, and maintenance and technical staff. Even though 13 years had passed many were still available to return to Genesee. It is often said American brewing changed dramatically after Prohibition.

What struck me reading the book was the continuity New Genesee demonstrated with pre-Prohibition brewing, in this case.

Wehle believed strongly in advertising and engaged experts to plan new campaigns. He wrote, no matter how good one’s product was it must continually be brought to the public’s attention in new ways.

As to beer, what did he say? Sadly, very little! There is almost nothing on beer as such with one major exception. That was his attempt to bring genuine Burton ale brewing to America between 1935 and 1938. I’ve discussed this in previous blogposts. Now having read the book, I may discuss it further as the book adds considerably to the picture.

Apart from that, there is his statement that in Rochester before Prohibition, 95% of all beer sold was draft, the rest bottled.

He does not address what Bartholomay and Genesee brewed before 1920, or Genesee’s products after 1933. No discussion of ale vs. lager. No discussion of any difference in beer recipes before Prohibition or after, or viz. cereal adjuncts, hop varieties, and hopping rates.

He simply states Genesee made “good beer” and once its trucks trundled through Rochester at the end of Repeal, every drop was sold instantly.

The brewery was successful from the beginning and remained so during Wehle’s lifetime. By 1960, son John was helmsman. Louis’ descendants finally sold the business to management in 1999.

I should add that with one of his brothers, Louis also operated a small distillery during WW II, to supply ethanol to the government for munitions. They made money at that too.

Wehle visited Britain and Germany, as well as other parts of Europe, in the 1930s. He states he disliked German militarism and was glad to leave Nazi Germany to come home. He does not advert to Hitler’s persecutions, but probably he felt this was not within the scope of the book.

As an example of his focus on the dollar, he recounts a story telling in retrospect. At Simpson’s-on-the-Strand, the iconic London restaurant, he enjoyed its famous roast beef. He asked for a second helping as the house was known to offer it without additional charge.

At the end of the meal, on checking the bill he noted an extra two shillings was added. When he protested, he was told a 100-year-policy not to charge extra had been changed the day before. He still remembered that, a man wealthy beyond most peoples’ dreams, 25 years later.

Wehle comes across as highly intelligent, driven, and perceptive of human nature. He had a sense of public duty and community spirit that today might sound old-fashioned. He later became a New York civil servant in charge of conservation (mid-1950s), and led charitable and other civic endeavours of value. A Democrat in politics, he supported civil rights and fair employment practices.

Although Catholic, he married a Protestant, Elizabeth (aka Libbie) Raab, who was Scots-Irish and German in descent. I mention these ethnicities only because he does, and he stresses what he felt were their positive values: the need to work hard, to provide for oneself and one’s dependants, to save, to learn, and to give back to society.

One statement resonated with me in particular: that community was something developed with sacrifice and struggle by previous generations, on which everyone’s success depended. He explained that to improve and sustain the community, each must contribute in his turn and not take the inheritance for granted.

He also stated many people are capable of success but do not achieve it for various reasons including being perfectionist. He states one must often take a chance in business even though not all information is known, even at the risk of failing. He mentions, although not in great detail, some investments he made that were not successful.

He states self-confidence is essential in business, plus various skills, but one needn’t be the smartest person to succeed. Two of his investments that failed were in magazine-publishing – an interesting business for an avowed non-intellectual or “pusher”, as he called himself.

It’s good common sense, which the book displays in abundance. For hobbies, he fished and hunted, including at a camp in Quebec. He raised prize-winning livestock and poultry at a large farm outside Rochester.

There have always been people like Wehle. The semi-conductor and software industries were, and are, full of them, as of course early and modern brewing was and is. The type doesn’t really change, but society as he describes it has changed, I think.

It is hard to say how he would view society today; I don’t think he would be a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, but many aspects of life today would be troublesome for him, I think, especially how the role of families and genders are perceived today.

One disappointment reading the book was the absence of a “beer” chapter. He states he had to decide what to include and to leave out. I think he probably felt beer per se was a technical area, not of interest to family and friends, the main intended audience for the book. But the book would be much richer had that aspect been covered.

All told, the book portrays an interesting and surpassingly successful business executive and American.

N.B. Of the many photos in the book, only one shows Louis Wehle holding a glass of beer. It is a full pint of ale at the bar of the Cheshire Cheese pub, Fleet Street, London.





Samuel Adams “The Disruptors” in Toronto

We attended a preview two nights ago of a neat promo event, The Disruptors, from Samuel Adams beer. It was the launch of a unique pop-up store now open to the public. The space, on Queen Street West downtown, features Sam Adams-branded merchandise and the wares of four separate retailers under one roof: Loch Eyewear, 8.1.2 leather travel bags and accessories, Soft Focus loungewear, and Xpand Laces.

The shop will be open until October 14, 2018. For now, it’s exclusive to Toronto.

And different Sam Adams beers can be sampled during the event.

See further details in this press release on the boutiques with images of the space and store hours. (Image below from that link).

Marketing is the soul of business. Sam Adams has done plenty disruption in the beer market. And it keeps young by maintaining the same spirit and hooking up with ambitious entrepreneurs in other fields putting out quality products. We were glad to attend.

And cold Sam Adams Boston Lager is a friend anytime, especially in the hot weather we’ve been having. It was all good.

P.S. We came home with a pair of glass frames from Loch. It’s fine work fashioned in the Peterborough area from maple and other logs sunken in the Great Lakes for hundreds of years. Logs were floated down rivers and lakes in big booms in many parts of Canada. Many didn’t reach destination due to being broken up and sunken in storms or accidents. The wood is often in perfect condition and can be restored to different uses.

Wild Hops and the Canadian Spirit

Recently, I looked at one perspective (1933) on wild hops. In that year, beer was re-legalised in America. That account did not view the wild vine as potentially useful for commercial brewing. Rather, it was reflective, musing on the hop as emblem for the lost pioneer spirit.

Since the early 1900s wild hops have been used in breeding programs, famously by Professor Salmon at Wye in England. This has resulted in some well-known varieties. Bullion and Brewer’s Gold are two early examples. Both were widely used in North American and some other brewing.

But commercial brewing eschewed the wild hop as such until quite recently. One reason was its low yields compared to evolved commercial varieties.

This September 1941 article in the Waterville Times, in New York State, reports dry and wet data for different hop varieties grown experimentally in 1940. See the low numbers especially for Cats Tails, a type of Neomexicanus.

The same applied to Canada Red Vine, another hop considered of wild origin although grown commercially at times in New York State.

Despite this, some modern hop researchers consider that Canada Red Vine has potential for renewed commercial use. Bo McMillan reported two years ago on work being done in North Carolina, see this All About Beer story.

(A couple of commercial varieties similarly underperformed in the 1940 tests but the writer noted they were likely weakened from disease).

Sierra Nevada Brewery used Neomexicanus a few years in a beer, to great effect IMO. Sierra Nevada, the king of the craft brewers for many, was part of an early group exploring this avenue. Probably homebrewers started it, as a number of their online forums discuss wild hop brewing in the last 10 years or so.

Ontario is not exempt from what is a trend, or a small trend. Pleasant Valley Hops in Prince Edward County, ON, a farm that grows fruit and hops, markets its pleasingly-named Wild Loyalist, see details here.

The hop is thought to have been brought by Loyalist settlers arriving from the U.S. after the American Revolution.

The tourist site The County offers good background on the inspiring personal and business story of the couple behind Pleasant Valley Farms.

Tavistock Hop Company in southwestern Ontario is growing a hop it calls Heritage, found 30 miles to the east on the edge of a former hop yard, in Cambridge. The type is still being examined to confirm its identity.

This blog post by Kyle Wynette, a co-owner of Tavistock, explains how he found the hop. An image from the account:

Wynette stated:

We took a short walk down to the river (about a block from his house) and before long he [a contact who helped Wynette locate the hops] had re-located where he had seen the plants the year prior. To our amazement, there they were! In the very place where I had walked by just a few weeks prior, we just hadn’t looked up high enough.

If not for the cones on the plants, they would have been hard to identify because much of the leaves had been defoliated by insects. I inspected the cones and couldn’t see any seeds which to me means there must not be any males nearby and therefore these plants were all female which would be what you’d expect if they were from the old hop yard. These plants were right at the edge of the old farm, the rest of the area now covered by subdivisions. I can’t say with 100% certainty, but my belief is that these roots are part of plants that have been in the ground for over 100 years on land that ceased being a hop yard nearly a century ago.

How about a beer that actually uses a Canuck wild hop? Sure. Railway City Brewing in St. Thomas, ON has made its Graveyard Beer, after the moniker Graveyard Hop grown by Vandeslyke Hop Farm.

The name is less gruesome than it sounds: the wild vines were found at a cemetery once used for yet another old Ontario hop plantation.

A year ago journalist Agatha Podgorski gave the low down in her article,”10 Fall Craft Beers”:


Railway City Brewing St. Thomas, Ontario

Brewed using Ontario-grown Bartlett Pears from the Turville Family Orchards in Port Stanley, this seasonal sipper also features locally grown hops from Vandeslyke Hop Farms and what they call ‘Graveyard Hops’. What’s Graveyard Hops? Simple: wild hops from an 1800’s Hop Field which is now a Graveyard.


Hopefully the beer is appearing again this season.

One can be sentimental about the wild hop, about thoughts it evokes of pioneer and past days. But even better, you can literally taste the history when wild hops are harvested and dipped in boiling brew to form magical beer.

When tasting the results, think back on olden times, you are reliving a tangible part of it.