A Better Heaven Than Brooklyn

Did the “Half and Half” Exist in the old Country?

Between November 24, and December 3, 1902 an extraordinary correspondence took place in the New York Times. The question was arcane: did Britain know the “half-and-half”, the mixture of beers?

The term half-and-half, and the comical variant (in gaslamp America) “arf and arf”, were well-known in the United States. Jerry Thomas’ has it in his pioneering bar guide, see this edition at p. 101. There, it is a mix of porter or stout, on the one hand, and ale, on the other, or, a mix of fresh and aged ales.

The term regularly appeared in the U.S. press certainly. Prizefighters seemed to like ale when training. Many 19th-century sources, British and American, discuss the use of ale or stout in training fighters, rowers, and runners. See for example here, or this study on bare-knuckle prizefighting.

Some surely took the beers post-bout, altering the usual course.

As the term arf and arf implies, America assumed the drink was of English origin. In this vein, a 1902 story in the Times noted that British habitués in Manhattan’s Abingdon Square, aka the British Quarter, ordered the mix in clubs and saloons.

 

The article, written from a brash American standpoint, stated that an Englishman who carried an air of innocent simplicity into his thirties was the type to drink half and half. Now think about that one.

The writer of the first letter to the Times, a William Alpin, had lived in London decades earlier. When “young, American and full of Dickens and Thackeray” he avid to confirm American impressions of British customs. Yet, once in Britain he could find no trace of the half and half. In his words:

I read with much interest in the Sunday edition of THE TIMES the short article on “Odd Corners,” describing the English colony at and about Abington Square. I am afraid I shall have to dissent with the writer, though, as to the presence there [i.e., in England] of “half-and-half.” I lived five years in London, from 1870 to 1873, during which time I frequently visited Liverpool, Birmingham, Brighton, Dover—in fact traveled athwart and across the country, even to Scotland and Wales—and in all that time I never heard half-and-half once mentioned, nor saw anybody who could tell me what is meant by that word compound. American tourist friends who visited me could scarcely believe that the “typical English” drink, half-and-half, of which they had heard at home so much and so often, was absolutely unknown in England even by name…

A deluge of letters followed. You can read many in this Fulton Newspapers link, printed together on November 30. For the rest, I’ve tried to gather them here.

I have written of the half and half before, including in the earlier New York press. This letter exchange was unprecedented though. Some letters pointed out that Alpin’s accent must have confounded bartenders, and had he asked for “arf and arf” he would have found the drink. Others stated he looked in the wrong place, as only the public bars and other low resorts had it: it couldn’t be found on railways and in the hotels a young American of his sort frequented.

One wrote this challenge:

I am not yet seventy, and, during the years M. Alpin was living in London I was also living there, and I have no compunction in saying I had to carry a jug pretty often for my father’s half-and-half.

Other letters named various kinds of half and half, not just ale and porter but also old-and-bitter [ales], aka mother-in-law. One writer claimed beer and ginger beer could be a half and half. Another denied it and wrote that mixture was a shandy-gaff (he was right).

A notable name weighing in was Frank Vizetelly, the son of English journalist and drinks writer, Henry Vizetelly, presumably one in a position to know. He provided citations for the half and half in literature including in Gentleman’s Magazine in Georgian times.

Alpin wrote back finally, in a huff. He said that despite the “score” of letters protesting his original letter, he was proved right. Reason: the half and half was so various in make-up it meant nothing finally. But he was labouring here.

My point here is not so much to show that the half and half existed around 1900 in Britain.  It had been known there since the dawn of porter in Georgian London, and apparently before.

It’s more to show the unique style and humour of many of the letters. An example follows. For clarity, “four-half” was a type of half and half:

It’s really too bad our unsophisticated friend, Mr. “Willie” Alpin, never had the pleasure of meeting a certain gentleman who was fond of talking about “The Little Nipper.” There’s the man who could have given him some information on the momentous question, “Is there, or is there not half-and-half in England?” I reckon the brewers have to work overtime to keep any in sight.

The next time “Willie” Alpin goes to London he must go down to the House of Commons and interview a brewer on this subject. But meanwhile he must, if fortune gives him the chance, get the ear of “The Little Nipper” man. You remember, “The Little Nipper” enters a “pub” (I believe, Sir, that is what they call the horrible things) with his most adoring parents. The papa orders in his sweet vernacular: “Two pots of four-alf,” whereupon ” The Little Nipper” playfully  remarks: “What, ain’t muffer goin’ to ‘ave none?”.

Yes, I think The L. N. man could put him “wise” on this subject; I will not try, but just say, in conclusion, that I notice that Mr. “Willie” Alpin lives in Brooklyn. Now, I believe the late Ward Beecher made some remark about Brooklyn being like heaven. Well, maybe it is: but if I could have the pleasure of the company of Mr. “Willie” Alpin in London any Sunday from 1 to 1:30 P. M. at any one of, say, 3,000 “pubs.” (excuse me) and he would guarantee to drink all the half-and-half that was passed over the “bar” in response to a demand for “‘arf-and-‘arf” during that short space of time, he’d wake up in a better heaven than Brooklyn, N. Y.

If there remains any doubt, yes half and half did exist in 1900, as beer writer Martyn Cornell elucidated a few years ago, here.

Cornell’s article is helpful too to make clear a misprint or omission on the part of one of the Times letter-writers. The writer described six types of beer in general use in England, one of which was “beer”. The others were porter, stout, mild ale, bitter, and Cooper, a mix of porter and stout. The “beer” didn’t make sense since he mentioned porter and bitter, which would normally take in “beer”, if not one or more other terms in the list.

The Times correspondent was probably recalling a news story in 1900 in London’s Daily Express on the city’s beer. That story was centrepiece in Cornell’s articleThe Express recited the beer types in current use. These were similar, with one exception, to the letter-writer’s list. Hence we know the source he likely used. And “beer” in the Daily Express was prefaced by “ginger”, so it was ginger beer, in other words, which makes sense in context. Clearly the Times editor was clueless. He probably drank Manhattans.

Finally, one letter-writer noted usefully that American ginger beer did not taste at all like the English article. She wrote that ginger beer in England from stone bottles was akin to lemonade flavoured with ginger.

It looks like I’ve been making the beer shandy wrong my whole life. The deuced shandy!

Note re image: The image of Abingdon Square is from the New York City Parks website, here. All ownership in the image resides solely in its lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something in the Air

Call out the instigators
Because there’s something in the air
We’ve got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution’s here … and you know that it’s right

– From Something in the Air, Thunderclap Newman, 1969

New York Rocks Beer, 1971

In this post I discussed a 1971 New York (the magazine) article on a beer tasting organized by the editors.

The tasting presaged countless similar events of today. There were no craft beers available to be sure, but plenty of exotic imports. Exotic is the key word here, then or now.

Still, some period anomalies appeared. The panel was divided between blue-collar and white-collar, all pictured. The white collars wore jacket and tie. The blue collars eschewed such refinements.

On the panel was journalist Patrick Owens, a Montanan transplanted to New York. He worked for the Long Island-based Newsday.

According to this online obituary, Owens was a U.S. Army veteran who started in journalism after high school, editing an army newspaper. He died at 72 in 2002 after suffering a stroke some years earlier. Owens was a well-regarded professional who reported on a wide range of subjects, as testifies this admiring memoir by fellow journalist Paul Greenberg.

Owens wrote a piece in Newsday as a replique or ironic commentary on New York’s report. Clearly he thought the panel rather lightweight in the beer arts with one exception, a brewery worker he called a “hollow leg”. Olives were among the snacks served at the tasting, which struck Owens as contrary to the beer ethos vs. perhaps a liquor drink.

Owens typed the writers and audience of New York as mainly interested in food albeit with an “underground”, value focus.

He went on to describe his ideal beer tasting. Unlike the magazine’s, it would not be in a sterile photographic studio. Instead he named a heaving beer emporium on Long Island where “democrats”, not classified by collar he said, enjoyed beer either for “esthetic” or “budgetary” reasons. He cautioned that “sousers” did not frequent the locale and the typical guest held himself to “two or three dozen glasses”. Owen’s self-described taste in beer was “dilettante”, which must be taken similarly tongue in cheek.

He concludes by telling us that, presented with a glass of “Piel’s”, a Long Island steady sipper likened it to the waste product of a dog. In fact, it was another brand, one that finished high in New York‘s ratings. Conversely, Schaefer, an old Brooklyn favourite, scored indifferently in the latter whereas Owens thought it a surer bet in the company of “experienced” but not “dissolute” or “undiscriminating” hands.

Hence his secret of the suds: the palate of a confirmed imbiber can outpace a trendy magazine’s elect panel. Putting it a different way, the article ends on a wink of the eye.

Certainly Owens saw that something was in the air, that “dabblers” were demanding more of the breweries. He thought New York the perfect tutor for this new type of beer drinker as both were in synch. In this, he was remarkably prescient, as only a few years later the growing interest in beer imports became allied to the budding microbrewery movement, with journalistic pipers soon abounding to recruit followers. Beer would never be the same again.

As Owens lived into the craft beer era I wonder if he remembered this tart essay from the Age of Acquarius.

In truth, and as Owens recognized, to understand beer well, you can’t treat it with kid gloves. You need to get down a certain amount of it, sans olives, preferably.

“Jesus” Beer old and new

This is about a modern beer with an old history that included a variant called Jesus. Some background first.

College and Beer

A while back, I discussed alcohol at McGill University c. 1970, in “Alcohol and the Academy”, see here. In “Union College and the Time of Schaefer“, I discussed a now-defunct bar at Union College in New York State, c. 1960.

As well, aspects of U.S. college drinking before WW I are addressed in my article on musty ale in Brewery History.

Lacon Brewery’s Audit Ale

In “Alcohol and the Academy” I mention a 2008 article in Brewery History called “Audit Ale – a Short History” by John A.R. Compton-Davey. It described the lengthy, honourable tradition of audit ale at (mostly) Cambridge colleges.

Compton-Davey more than touched on Lacon Brewery in Great Yarmouth, U.K., which produced audit ale for numerous colleges in the interwar years. Taste descriptions were included, including by Lloyd Hind, a noted brewing scientist of the era.

Hind found his sample somewhat acidic but “buffered” by “colloids”. It’s an open question what that meant exactly, maybe a yeasty tang.

The descriptions suggest a beer of full body, potency, sweetness, and dark hue. Audit ale was a form of the historic strong ales spread through the United Kingdom that included Scotch ale, Burton ale aka old ale, Yorkshire Old Peculier, and stingo.

Compton-Davey reproduced a leaflet apparently circulated in New York in 1937 by an enterprising Cambridge graduate trying to market the beer there. Maybe he was an American returned home looking to establish an offbeat importation business.

Unfortunately, the ad cannot be deciphered as reproduced online. It would be useful to know the content, which probably referenced taste attributes.

Modern Audit Ale, a Modern Lacon

In 2019, we are eons away from cranky, regional, 1930s brewing with its non-sterile plant, wood vessels, and mixed ale cultures (although revivalists sometimes mimic this experience).

However much Chamberlain-era breweries had advanced over hundreds of years earlier, modern brewing today technically is much further ahead.

If we recreate an audit ale of the past, what can we expect? Does it bear a connection to the 1930s impressions garnered by Compton-Davey?

 

 

Actually, yes. The Campaign for Real Ale’s Champion Winter Beer of Britain for 2019 was just announced: Lacons Audit Ale, from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. It’s not the Lacons brewery discussed by Compton-Davey, as a new one started in 2013. But the new shop found old Lacon recipes, and its yeast culture. Using these, it includes heritage brews in its range.

The  description of the new Lacons Audit Ale is informative:

Lacons Audit Ale is a dark copper barley wine with flavours of berry fruit and spice. The finish is smooth and sweet. A unique style of beer.

Available on limited release.

No fruit or spices are used, these are metaphors. The alcohol range is 8% ABV, not as strong as some audit ale of old times, but strong enough to convey the essential character.

Oxford Chancellor Ale

Some years after Compton-Davey’s article, Terry Foster, a well-known writer on brewing and beer, wrote an article for the same journal on recreating Oxford’s Chancellor Ale. (Historical brewing recreations are nothing new and go back to the 1970s, at least).

Foster took pains to reproduce old recipes, following in particular commentary of the aforesaid Lloyd Hind and others. Venerable country brewer Elgood’s was enlisted to make the brew. Foster wrote:

At this point the unfiltered and unfined beer had aged on the yeast for one year in a stainless steel keg with no artificial carbonation. It poured with just a little head, and a deep black-brown colour, though still slightly translucent in the glass. Since I do not like the use of grandiose and fanciful terms to describe beers, I can only say that it was luscious, full-bodied with some caramel present, and well-balanced; neither the high hop bitterness, nor the high alcohol content stood out. In short, it was voted an excellent beer by the assembled company.

Foster decided against including a lactic character – the acidity noted by Hind. Given the recent fashion in brewing for “sours”, making a lactic beer mightn’t seem as unusual as when Foster was writing. Still, beers, strong or other, would have varied in acidity in the old days. A “clean” beer in this sense was no mistake as such, in other words.

Audit ale in 1902

In 1902 a news piece in the U.S. on collegiate drinking in England and Germany touched on audit ale.* Audit ale at Jesus College Oxford was described thus:

[The Oxford student] … drinks beer at lunch and at dinner, and he has some famous beers too. There is an audit ale at Queen’s of great age and potency. When the Queen’s man wants to give his friends of this weird beverage he has to make formal application, state how many guests he expects, and then get a written order for an exact and somewhat small amount of it [due to strength], to be served to him. At Jesus, too, they have a well-known beer, called “Jesus old”, a rich, soft, mahogany-colored liquor of considerable body. Once it was brewed in the college brewery, but in more modern times, when colleges and private houses gave up brewing their own beer and thus made possible the growth of that part of the British peerage which has been christened the “Beerage,” the recipe was handed over to one of the great brewing houses to manufacture for the delectation of Jesus men and their friends.

And so, we have a continuity of 120 years for the sensory qualities of audit ale, not so shabby.

Revival of old Beers Today

When old beers return, usually American white oak is used for vats or barrels, the same type used to age whiskey or, say, Chardonnay wine. There is nothing wrong with this as such, but such oak was not approved in older British practice, as I’ve often written, due to the characteristic vanillin tang such oak imparts.

British brewers before the era of metal vessels preferred oak of European origin, especially Baltic Memel oak, for its neutral quality on the beer, among other virtues. This oak generally was not lined inside because the wood had a fairly neutral effect, at any rate a liked effect, on the beer.

In my view, today’s usual metal vessels, typically of stainless steel, probably render a more authentic result to recreate the audit ale of old, failing hard-to-find Memel oak vessels.

It seems the revived, champion Lacons Audit Ale was not fermented or stored in American oak. An article some years ago by well-known beer writers Roger Protz and Jeff Evans made no reference to wood of any kind. Evans did, in his taste note, write “slightly woody”, but I believe as metaphor.

If in fact American oak was not used, this enhanced the result, in my opinion, contrary to what some (quite reasonably) would intuit.

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*The source, Fulton Historical Newspapers, does not state the newspaper, the name of which was cut off in the scan. The report probably appeared in New York State or New England.

 

 

 

 

First use of the Term Craft Brewery (Part I)

Obeisance to St. Mike

Off and on over the years the question comes up, who first used the term craft brewery, craft beer, craft brewer, etc.

Until recently, the earliest citation I was aware of was mentioned by Paul Gatza, on Stan Hieronymous’ Appellation Beer site in 2010, in response to Stan’s post on who first used the term “craft beer”.

Gatza stated in part:

The earliest publication of the term “Craft Brewing” here at the Brewers Association that I know about is The New Brewer magazine, Vol. 1, No. 5, September-October 1984, pages 3-4 in Vince Cottone’s article “Craft Brewing Comes of Age.” The term is [sic] “craft beer” is not used in the article, but Vince used the phrases “craft-brewing scene,” “craft brewery” and “craft brewing” in the piece. I have a scan of the article available upon request…

Just the other day I was reading The Pocket Guide to Beer by the late Michael Jackson, published in 1982 by Frederick Muller Limited, London. This was the first appearance of a guide that ran to six or seven editions. They bore varying titles due to differing publication arrangements, but each was an update of the previous one. Each was sold on release in both the U.K. and North America.

On p. 81, in the entry for “Timothy Taylor, Keighley”, Michael Jackson wrote:

TIMOTHY TAYLOR, Keighley. A craft brewery down to the last detail. Very small, producing a wide range of all-malt beers on the edge of the moorland Brontë country. All the draught is cask-conditioned, and the bottled ale is unpasteurized…

In effect, with striking concision he defined keynotes of the beer renaissance for the next 30 years and coined its trademark phrase, “craft brewery” (and by extension the derivatives craft beer, craft brewing, etc.).

He also made clear that the phrase applied in Britain to notable examples of the cask tradition, hence not limiting it geographically, much less to the United States, as is assumed today for its origin.

The next edition was called The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer and came out in 1986. Jackson again praised Timothy Taylor albeit using different terms and the term craft was omitted. The 6th edition, entitled Pocket Guide to Beer, came out in 1997. It again praised Timothy Taylor and again omitted the word craft. I have seven editions of Jackson’s guide. Only the first one, from 1982, used the term craft brewery.

Two other uses of the term “craft” appear in that first edition, one in connection with the top-fermentation tradition at the Belgian brewery Dupont, and the other to characterize the productions of breweries considered of excellence by Jackson. While not on point as such, these usages reinforce the Timothy Taylor one. They show that the term craft was on Jackson’s mind as a signifier of quality and, typically, or often, of small-scale brewing.

See here, in Google Books, for his various usages; just insert “craft” in the snippet box to see them.*

Therefore, the earliest use of “craft brewery” to date (to my knowledge) is by Michael Jackson. Jackson is generally acknowledged as the greatest beer writer of all time. Certainly he was a huge influence on today’s craft brewing culture. It is apposite that he first came up with the term.

The reason it was overlooked is probably that the first edition of his pocket guide is relatively rare. And to the extent the Jackson pocket guide is consulted today, typically a later edition is used.

See our Part II, here.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Wikipedia entry for beer writer Michael Jackson, here, and is believed in the public domain. If not in the public domain, the intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Jackson in the same book also used the terms “craftsman breweries” and “craftsman brewing”, the former in connection with small northern French breweries, the latter viz. the survival in Belgium of old brewing methods. Thus far, no evidence has appeared that Michael Jackson or anyone else used the specific coinage “craft brewery” before 1982, or set out product characteristics for this type of brewery, but see also my last Comment added below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bay Street’s Beer Bonanza

The proliferation of fashionable beer bars continues in the Toronto business “core”. I define it as the area between Yonge, Queen, University, and Front Streets, but it takes in some streets beyond. Fashionable = “upscale but relaxed” to adapt an expression  Reds, a veteran restaurant in the core, uses to describe its ambience.

The latest beer destination is the Wvrst satellite in York Concourse Hall, a revamped section of Union Station. Surrounding are a number of trendy food shops, so far of the snack or pastry variety but more substantial ones are planned. Just opposite Wvrst is Union Chicken, a restaurant that bills itself as free-range for free range people. Hence, two sit-down restaurants in a busy station that formerly offered few amenities.*

A few paces away is a splashy new food court of contemporary design, and behind that the departure lounge of Go light rail.

Wvrst started out west of the core on King Street a few years ago and was immediately popular. The focus is its high quality sausage kitchen and gourmet french fries. Ad-ons in later years – salad was a good one – broadened the appeal and the York Concourse branch offers even more choices. From Day 1 Wvrst was a beer haven too, focusing on the local craft scene and quality imports.

The decor of both locations is a stylized blend of Bier Hallen, English pub, and industrial chic. Stylish touches in the new location include a winking display panel listing the draft beers which mimics a rail timetables board.

The beer list consists of rotating drafts, at least a dozen, and well-chosen bottled and canned offerings. There are some great choices from Belgium in particular, with many lambic-based rarities.

Ciders are a sub-specialty of Wvrst with French, Spanish, and Estonian (!) selections while not ignoring Ontario – or Los Angeles, CA (who knew from L.A. cider?). The U.K., of Olympian importance in cider, seems oddly missing, but they will get to it in time I’m sure.

I ate at the bar, bratwurst on a bun with fries – same quality as the King Street parent, which means very high. The meat had the right touch of mace, so un-North American or English really unless you reach for heritage recipes. The sausages, of which there must be a dozen types again, include good vegan options.

A commuter next to me grabbed a quick Major Small Best Bitter, from Muddy York in Toronto, and left within 10 minutes. Most people were eating as it was lunch-hour. Not a few ordered one of the exotic bottled beers or ciders to accompany.

Wvrst at Union Station was preceded by the Mill St Pub, the craft brewery now owned by AB InBev. It’s in a relatively remote part of the station, adjacent to the train which links to Pearson Airport. With Wvrst, and Union Chicken’s local (bottled) beers, the beer stakes for the rail traveller or interloper are raised at a stroke.

The draft beer choice at Wvrst is careful calibrated. Three imports are currently offered, Weihenstephaner (wheat), Pilsner Urquell (lager), and Paulaner (lager). Each represents high quality, especially the first two. A more sedate choice would be, say, Heineken, Erdinger, and Stella Artois.

The Ontario drafts currently include a half dozen of the wildly popular sour category – a sour stout, anyone? – with good representation of cornerstone styles. Wvrst was never pro forma about beer, which may sound a contradiction in terms but beer bars can “let go” after a while; it never has.

There must have been good competition for its spot, but the re-development managers chose well.

With the pioneering beerbistro at King and Yonge Streets, there are now in the core: Walrus Pub and Beer Hall, the sizeable Taps in First Canadian Place, the huge Craft Beer Market, and the more intimate Boxcar Social, on Temperance Street (yes that’s the name). Goose Island’s brewpub (AB-InBev) and Batch (Molson-Coors), albeit a touch outside the core, count as well. So does the Biermarkt (a small chain) next to Goose Island. Let’s add the Loose Moose, a 10 minutes walk west of the station. All offer an inviting beer variety, or together they certainly do.

There is yet more if we add the older English or Irish pubs in the core as well as Reds and other general restaurants, a Three Brewers, and the new food halls strewn through the canyons. The core can now add brewing riches to the monetary kind tended by the wizards in the towers.

In this area downtown, beer has come a long way in the last 5-10 years. In a word, it has arrived. One of the early flagships for craft beer downtown, the boho-flavoured C’est What, still thrives next to St. Lawrence Market to the east. In business a generation now, C’est What can gaze proudly on the beer ferment in the core today, as it was an indirect influence.

Today good beer is not just hipster, not just suburbia, not just college/intellectual. Craft beer is for everyone. No one owns it, no one can define it.

It’s taken 40 years of trying, and nothing will reverse it, neither takeovers, nor slowdowns in the boom, nor blandishments like alco-pops, cider, and wine. I doubt legal cannabis will have much effect either.

This should not be a surprise really as craft beer is simply, or it aspires to be, fine beer. And great beer is an age-old heritage. It belongs to everyone with the imagination to taste with discernment and curiosity.

A not inconsiderable bonus: the wider the audience for it, the greater the market for our craft brewers.

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*A member of the Toronto beer community subsequently told me there was a bar before Wvrst in the same space, to his recollection curtained and quite basic. Wvrst has an open scheme and looks pleasant and inviting, not to mention its diverse and creative wares as described above. With Union Chicken added to the picture, the situation regarding licensed premises seems clearly improved, certainly in the north-central part of the station.