Pubs Without Pints

As something different today, my friend Stephen Rive (pictured), of Toronto, authors a guest post entitled “Pubs Without Pints”.

. . . in France she learned to savor a drink by small mouthfuls, and is no longer used to bolting great quantities of liquid as beer-loving requires.

—Milan Kundera, Ignorance

One of the pleasures of beer is ‘volume.’ You fill your mouth with beer, you take great, thirst-quenching gulps of it. This full-mouth feel of beer is just as important to the overall experience as the brewing, the level of carbonation and the serving temperature. It’s also unique to beer and quite different from the small sip of scotch or cognac, or the “small mouthfuls” of wine that that set Irena, Kundera’s returning exile, apart from her former friends in post-Communist Prague.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding, by volume I don’t mean chug-a-lugging one glass after another, with a view to getting falling down drunk as quickly as possible. I mean that each time that you raise the glass to your lips you want to feel the volume of the beer filling your mouth, especially for those first few mouthfuls when the flavour is most intense. Now part of that feel of volume in the mouth is pressure—like the pressure in a water pipe or behind a dam—and that pressure is in turn a function of volume in the glass. And herein lies both a problem, and the subject of this blog: the disappearing pint.

I was at a pub in Toronto this week that boasted over twenty high-quality beers on tap, a comfortable, un-pretentious atmosphere, good food and staff who really knew and loved their beer. But there was not a single pint on the menu. Think about that. The largest serving size for a draught beer was eighteen imperial ounces, two ounces short of a pint, and there was only one! All the others on offer were considerably less than a pint. To be fair, there was no misrepresentation. The serving size for each beer was clearly shown on the menu, and the word “pint” was nowhere to be seen.

This is different from what happened to me many years ago, when a bartender claimed that what looked to me like a half pint was in fact a “Leffe pint.” When I politely but firmly pointed out that a pint was a pint and that there was no such thing as a “Leffe pint,” I came close to getting thrown out. I had no idea that that incident of the rogue “pint” was just the beginning, that one day we would have pubs without pints of any kind, real or fake. Repeat that to yourself: pubs without pints. How strange it sounds. But it’s true—hidden in plain sight, open, above board, in black and white on the menu. Pubs. Without. Pints.

Why does this matter? It matters because anything less than a pint not only lacks that wonderful heft as you raise the mug or sleeve to your lips—that sense of abundance, of the fullness of life—it also fails to provide the all-important pressure behind the volume of beer filling your mouth. It’s just not the same.

I feel like the prole in Nineteen Eighty-Four, whom Orwell’s protagonist, Winston, has followed into a “dingy little pub”:

“’E could ’a drawed me off a pint,” grumbled the old man as he settled down behind his glass. “A ’alf litre ain’t enough. It don’t satisfy. And a ’ole litre’s too much. It starts my bladder running. Let alone the price.”

But with this difference: a half liter is about seventeen and a half imperial ounces—not that far short of a pint, and considerably more than the drink sizes on offer at most pubs these days.

At great personal risk, Winston has followed this “very old man, bent but active, with white mustaches that bristled forward like those of a prawn” into the pub, hoping to draw him into conversation about a past that the Party has all but erased and that Winston is trying to reclaim. But we’re more fortunate than Winston. There are more than just a handful of octogenarians left who can testify to the fact that we did indeed used to drink pints. Didn’t we? I’m sure we did.

Is it time to start a Campaign for Real Pints, along the lines of CAMRA? Maybe “CARP” doesn’t quite have the right ring to it, maybe it sounds more like cranky old age than the generous, progressive movement for gastronomic justice that I have in mind. But it’s worth thinking about. Over a pint.


Dr. Johnson’s Stout Waters a Distant Shore, Part II

This is a sequel to my Part I earlier today. To understand the history and state circa 1909 of beer exports from Barclay, Perkins & Co. would require, a) a detailed review of the company’s business and legal archive, and ii) a comprehensive understanding of the post-1900 economic environment of the U.K. beer industry. Neither is a simple endeavour.

But some thoughts. This business story in the New York Sun on May 30, 1915 indicates the troubles British brewers experienced even before the first steep beer tax increase by David Lloyd George in the Asquith government (1915).

Before the war the breweries were paying about half their profits to the Exchequer. Also, many breweries including Barclay Perkins had overpaid to expand their pub estates and had to write down asset values, by $5,000,000 (U.S.) for Barclay Perkins. The businesses (as public companies, Barclay Perkins was since 1896) were still profitable but had less value after the write-down.

With declining production during the war under food conservation measures, and price controls on the pint, the industry was between a rock and a hard place. Thoughts of exports to more productive markets had to be delayed or canceled. Revisiting Canada after 1918 was a no-go due to the patchwork of post-war prohibition laws in the country.

That said, despite the German U-boats some beer must have been exported in April 1915 when Barclay Perkins was advertising in a Victoria, B.C. newspaper, unless it was selling prewar stock perhaps.

In terms of the position up to the war, and most of the ads I referenced were between 1909 and 1911, clearly the company saw opportunities in Victoria and perhaps as I’ve said to trans-ship further west. The push makes sense to parry declining prospects after 1900 caused by new challenges. (The Daily Colonist lists some ads for Barclay Perkins products in 1916 and 1917, which seems late in the war for exports, but these are expressed as clearances, perhaps for old stock).

In The History of the Beer and Brewing Industry (2018), ed. by Ignazio Cabras and David M. Higgins, it is noted that U.K. beer production fell annually for 10 years from 1899 and by a total of 14%. Nearing the end point is about when Barclay Perkins seems to have started its push in B.C…

The reasons for the industry’s decline were diverse: falling working class incomes, the new suburbs that lessened access to Central London public houses, and prohibition attitudes which in turn were linked to the respectability issue pubs and drinking could no longer sidestep, as I discussed earlier.

An industry-wide turnaround did commence after 1910 (see Cabras and Higgins) but it would not have affected each brewer in the same way. In C.C. Owen’s 1987 journal article History of Brewing in Burton on Trent he states:

After 1900 opposition to the brewers grew even stronger, with talk of prohibition and a steady decline in beer-drinking. Falling demand and lack of retail outlets drove some of the smaller Burton firms out of business or forced them to amalgamate…

Albeit in relation to Burton, these words summarize a long-term trend in Britain a few years respite before WW I could not arrest. In this climate, an attempt to promote Barclay Perkins in a western Canadian seaport makes sense.

To be sure Barclay Perkins had repute in North America in the 1800s. It wasn’t coming in unannounced, so to speak. A newspaper article in the Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel in 1869, so down the coast for our purposes, called Barclay Perkins one of the two or three dominant brewers “on both sides of the Atlantic”. It is not difficult to find examples of Barclay Perkins ads for its porter a.k.a. brown stout across the United States, and Canada could not have been very different.

Hence, limited as this purview is, I think it is fair to say that by 1909 the company felt impelled to open up a fresh market in Canada, with ancillary plans possibly as noted earlier.

Once the war began, this prospect was stopped in the water. A long slide continued, for social and economic reasons largely outside the company’s control that are well-documented in the literature. The end point was the 1955 merger of Barclay Perkins with Courage & Co., close by it Thameside, London.

For a continuation of the above, see Part III.






Dr. Johnson’s Stout Waters Distant Shores, Part I

From Thameside to the Pacific

Approaching WW I the population of greater Victoria, British Columbia was c. 50,000. This was small in relation to Canadian cities of equal prominence since Victoria was, and remains, the capital of British Columbia.

Today, Greater Victoria is about seven times that number but the city itself, only some 85,000.

Despite an ostensibly small market Barclay, Perkins & Co., the venerable London porter and ale brewery, targeted Victoria as a market early in the 1900s. Evidence appears in numerous, substantial news ads in Victoria’s Daily Colonist by prominent grocers such as Copas & Young, or Hudson’s Bay.

Whether Barclay Perkins paid all or part of the cost is unknown, but it seems not unlikely. Ads for Guinness stout sometimes appeared in the paper, usually a single-line listing, or Meux brewery from London, Whitbread’s, but the large box ads of Barclay Perkins in Victoria stand out by their size and detail.

In contrast, this ad in Victoria lists beers serially without a special “push” behind one brand. Carnegie Stout (aka Carnegie Porter) from Copenhagen, always highly reputed, is included

This 1910 ad is typical of the “dedicated”, Barclay Perkins style, about 18 sq. in. Numerous similar ads appeared between 1909 and 1917. London stout, oatmeal stout, and Russian Imperial Stout were advertised by pints and sometimes, “nips”. This ad described the Imperial Stout as “Russian Porter” (“very rich”).

Three main types of beer were offered despite variant terms used. These were the London or brown stout, an oatmeal stout, and the Imperial stout.

Ads for the oatmeal stout depict a handsome bottle with a plaid label, see an example here. This is suggestive, therefore, of a Scottish origin for the oats. A 1913 ad stated there was a difference of flavour between this oatmeal stout and the brown (or regular) stout.

So important was the market that some wartime ads state that the supplier will absorb the lately increased Canadian tax on beer, e.g. here (1915):

Important Announcement

To the People of British Columbia

Since 1781 the famous London firm of Barclay, Perkins & Co.has been manufacturing stout and ale for the entire British Empire and the world at large.

During that time this firm has established a reputation for dealing fairly with the public, not alone in making THE BEST STOUT and ALE on the market, but in selling it at a price within the reach of every family.


Since the war the tax on malted beverages in Canada has largely increased, but, in order to more thoroughly introduce their STOUT and ALE, Barclay Perkins & Co. have decided to ABSORB THE ENTIRE WAR TAX on their products and will continue to sell, for a limited time, OATMEAL STOUT and ALE at the same price as before the war.

Interestingly, the above demurs on the question of selling the best, insisting more on the aspect of price.* But some ads relied heavily on tradition with the implication of quality. Those which invoke Dr. Samuel Johnson’s association with the brewery are a good example.

Famously, Johnson when selling the brewery as a co-trustee described the rewards to come as “beyond the dreams of avarice”. Barclay Perkins was still bustling around the edges of empire in the 1910s to fulfill that prediction, in its own way to be sure.

But why the focus on such a small and distant market? I think there are a number of reasons. First and foremost, even though British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871 Victoria retained strong associations with the British Isles in habits and customs, something that endures to this day.

The city’s Empress Hotel was famous for its afternoon tea service through the 20-century, and perhaps still. This cultural background derived from the many British retirees who settled in Victoria in the last century. Their descendants retained an enduring attachment to the British cultural style.

Second, nearby Esquimalt, facing the Pacific to the west, hosted the Royal Navy’s Pacific Fleet throughout the 19th century. A complement of British officers, ratings and support staff was a ready market for authentic London porter. Many such personnel probably stayed on to work or retire in the city after the Royal Canadian Navy took over Esquimalt from 1910.

As well, the city enjoyed a realty boom in the Edwardian years, as well as being a hub for trans-Pacific and coastal trade. Prosperity never hurt one’s ability to indulge in a foreign luxury.

These factors together suggest too, in our view, that Barclay Perkins viewed the city as a supply depot for shipments across the Pacific to U.K. possessions, or other markets, in Asia. Further work would be needed substantiate this, however.

The building that housed Copas & Young still stands, a handsome, corner building you may view here.

See Part II of this post, here.

Note re image: the image above, of Victoria, B.C. early in the 1900s, is believed in the public domain and was sourced from Flickr here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Rereading the ad, I think perhaps an implication of superiority was meant for quality as well. The term “alone” may have meant simply, “just”.



Gammel’s Beer Bonanza, Utica

The following is based on search of archival information in various sources including, Google Books, and Fulton Historical Newspapers. In the late 1800s and at least until 1910 George Gammel operated a restaurant and off-license business at 17-19 Liberty Street, Utica, NY.

The restaurant had been started by George’s German-born father Robert, a son of ’48, the fighters for liberty who fled Central European states seeking freer lands.

The hull of a building stands today that is likely the site of Gammel’s business, see details here, via Google Maps. Very different the site was c.1900 when Utica was a manufacturing and commercial hub in the Empire State.

George Gammel bottled beer in no. 17, probably the smaller structure on the left, and ran the restaurant at no. 19, likely the structure to the right.

He was clever in his advertising strategies, sometimes placing short banner ads in local papers that mentioned different beer brands. These were the pop-ups or rotating panel ads of their time.

Sometimes advertisers chose other strategies, especially around the concept of the advertorial, which is hardly new in America.

An amusing ad of this type appeared in the January 10, 1897 issue of The Journal in Utica. It attests floridly to Gammel’s expertise in the beer arts. 27 men were assembled in their club telling jokes and seeming tall tales, the fireside aglow. They were persuaded on a bet to troop to a local restaurant, Gammel’s, to see if they could order as many (different) beers as their number.

The promoter of the proposition had to pay if he lost, and if he won, a doubter had to ante. Both were probably put up by Gammel who likely repaid the “loser”.

Below are the beers, a “world of beers” of their day in a small but prosperous American city. Even well outside New York City or a Chicago, beer expertise of this sort was not lacking, evidently.

Now, I counted 26 beers in the story. One of the clubmen is described as a long-haired scribe. I’d think he didn’t order a beer – he wrote the story.

  1. Schlitz Export.
  2. Pabst Export
  3. Pabst Bohemian
  4. Rochester Rienzi
  5. Consumer’s
  6. Rochester Bohemian
  7. Culmbacher (imported)
  8. Rochester Bavarian
  9. Ralph’s Cream Ale
  10. Ralph’s Old Ale
  11. Ralph’s India Pale Ale
  12. Ralph’s Old Stock Ale
  13. Munich Augustiner
  14. Kaiser Beer (imported)
  15. Coburger Bock
  16. Guinness Stout
  17. Greenway’s India Pale Ale
  18. Bass Imperial Stout
  19. Younger’s Scotch Ale
  20. Evan’s Cream Ale
  21. Allsopp’s India Pale Ale
  22. Eagle Bohemian
  23. Smith’s India Pale Ale
  24. Bass Pale Ale
  25. Smith’s Philadelphia Stout
  26. Philadelphia Weiss Beer

I have discussed beer bars in different pre-craft periods, as well as beer festivals offering an enticing range of beers. To these we must add busy Utica, NY of the Gilded Age, as Gammel offered beers from (at least) Utica, Rochester, then a reputed brewing centre, Syracuse, Milwaukee, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, and England.* Moreover, he ensured representation of around a dozen styles.

The equivalents today would make a fine palette of beers, for anyone, anytime who cares about the genre.


* See my earlier post where I discuss the innovative advertising of a different kind by Oneida Brewing in Utica. Oneida was successor, even by 1897, to the earlier Ralph’s Brewery but the Ralph’s name was still being used clearly to describe beers from this source.



Donald F. Hyde Visits Barclay Perkins, 1950

Is Donald Hyde the Connection?

In a recent post I identified a plan in 1950 to send Barclay Perkins Russian Imperial Stout to the United States. Before WW I the beer had reached some markets in North America, including Victoria, Canada.*

A story in the Buffalo Evening News in 1950 stated some beer had already arrived, with more planned.

We think this was a flash in the pan, commendable but well-ahead of its time. To our knowledge, the beer was not available in America in the 1950s although perhaps some small sales occurred before the Korean War intensified.

Certainly the Imperial Russian Stout of Courage, successor to Barclay Perkins, did reach America by the 1970s. So did stout in that style of some European breweries, I gave examples in my article on 1970s American beer writers in the journal, Brewery History. By the 1980s the growing boutique brewing phenomenon embraced Imperial Stout as its own.

I found what may be the genesis of the 1950 plan. A letter dated July 19, 1950, stored in the Samuel Johnson Collection of Houghton Library at Harvard University, was addressed by Barclay Perkins to an American in New York, Donald F. Hyde. The letter appears in a 2007 Harvard blog entry by John Overholt, a cataloguer with the Houghton Collection.



Hyde had visited Barclay Perkins’ Anchor Brewery that year, during a European tour. The letter enclosed labels of Barclay Perkins’ beers including the Russian stout (see link above), and promised to send Hyde book on the brewery being written for the forthcoming Festival of Britain.

There is no reference to a plan to export Russian Stout to New York or any involvement by Hyde in this. Still, I think it quite possible there is a link between his 1950 visit and the export plan, as the two events viewed independently would seem rather coincidental.

Who was Donald F. Hyde? He was not just any curious American taking an off-beat tour when on holiday. He was a lawyer and wealthy society figure. He had a deep interest in Samuel Johnson, the writer and trustee of the estate of Henry Thrale, predecessor to the Barclay Perkins partnership.

Ohio-born, Harvard alumnus Donald Frizell Hyde moved to New York in the late 1930s when he married Mary Morley Crapo, a member a prominent Michigan family with roots in New England. By 1950 both were well-known collectors of books, other literature, and memorabilia pertaining to Samuel Johnson, John Keats, and Oscar Wilde.

Today, Harvard University maintains the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson. In its words:

The bequest of Mary, Viscountess Eccles (1912–2003), Houghton Library‘s Hyde Collection contains a comprehensive collection of the published work of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English author best known for his Dictionary of the English Language (1755).

Mary Hyde married the Viscount Eccles after Donald Hyde’s passing and took up residence in Britain.** Hyde’s death in 1966 at only 56 was memorialized by numerous literary and university associations, here is an example, from a papyrologists society. A lengthy, very respectful obituary also appeared in the New York Times, see here.

The Times noted that in addition to his distinguished collecting work he maintained various business interests although those mentioned seem not to relate to wine and spirits.

The answer, if there is a link between Donald Hyde and importing Russian stout to America, resides at the Houghton Library and/or in Barclay Perkins archives.

Note re image: the letter above is from the Houghton Collection of Harvard University as reproduced in 2007 on a blog of the University. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*For a good short history of Barclay Perkins, see Ian Hornsey’s A History of Beer and Beer and Brewing, from p. 555. (Published 2003).

**See also the Guardian’s obituary in 2003 of Mary, Viscountess Eccles, formerly Mary Hyde. It gives good detail on the depth of the Hydes’ interest in Dr. Johnson and the Thrale family.



The Saxon Vintage

Alphonse Esquiros is a name unknown to British beer studies, as far as I know, so I will remedy the omission here.

He was a Paris-born writer, radical politician, and teacher who lived in London between 1859 and 1869. To understand how this came about, this biographical sketch by C.D. Warner from 1917 is instructive. A sample:

For years he lived in England, where he made many friends and was for some time professor of French literature at [the military college at] Woolwich. He thoroughly investigated the different interests and industries of the country, the various forms of religion, the departments of government, the army and navy; and obtained a just and comprehensive knowledge of English life, which he embodied in serious and interesting studies which ran through a long series in the Revue des Deux Mondes. They were translated into English, and in book form, ‘L’Angleterre et la Vie Anglaise’ (England and English Life), and ‘Les Moralistes Anglaises’ (The English Moralists), were greatly enjoyed on both sides of the Channel….

For more detail on Esquiros, whence the illustration above is taken, consult this entry (in French) from Histophilo, a website on the history of French thought.

During his English exile Esquiros wrote essays on a wide variety of topics pertaining to English life and manners. This writing essentially was of a travel and journalistic nature, colourful and with many observations of interest. He wrote in French but, as stated above, the work was translated and published in various forms including his five-volume The English at Home. 

The work serves today as valuable and entertaining social history, on the lines of Jan Morris, Bill Bryson, or William Least Heat Moon.

From page 222 he devotes not less than 61 pages to the subject of English beer. He deals specifically with four topics: hop culture, malting, brewing, and public houses. Esquiros had a high appreciation for English ale and porter. His detailed description of these phases of “the Saxon vintage”, as he called it, is informed by having toured the hop and barley fields, breweries, and pubs described.

The brewing section consists mainly of a visit to porter-brewer Barclay Perkins capped by a tasting of its best in pewter. He termed it “rich” and superior due to the absence of ministrations by intermediaries, a common problem of the day.

As examples of observations of note, he describes porter fermentation as lasting two days and a night, i.e., before cleansing in rounds. Revivalists: take note.

His coverage of the hop fields and harvest work is picturesque and almost lyrical. An Irish girl is asked, in his presence, who fathered her child. She answers, as lyrically, “he is the son of the hop”. (She was speaking “in jest”, Esquiros supposes). The Irish hop-pickers are portrayed as especially witty and lively.

Hops are dried with charcoal fumes penetrating a porous roof of the kiln, lending weight to scientist Charles Graham’s observation (I related it earlier) that English beer had a “cooked” quality.

A portrait of the infamous Dirty Dick’s pub in Bishopsgate surprises by the statement that patrons were only allowed a single serving of “intoxicating liquor”, presumably gin or other spirits (not beer). This resulted from a tragedy when a drinker died due to over-serving.

Net net, one’s impression of the public house is not too much has changed except for the abolition of the division between the public bar and high-toned saloon sections. They were then termed the tap and parlour, respectively.

One affecting observation is how the brewers Truman Hanbury were especially attentive to workmen’s moral and intellectual needs, insisting that their staff have a minimum education. They provided a library of books for the workmen, which were well-used says Esquiros.

Finally, have you heard of “Havelock, Campbell, and Blücher”? “Bayard, Milton, Remus, and Nelson”? No? They were not a firm of solicitors, nor eminent accountants, nor brewery architects.

They were the names of huge dray horses which hauled beer to market from the breweries visited, horses that displayed to Esquiros a “brutal grace”. The Gallic writer has memorialized them.

I invite a brewer to issue a series of ales and porters so named, to honour the Frenchman’s love and admiration for the English, something not usual among French writers then, or perhaps at any time.





Russian Imperial Stout in Truman’s America?

A Super Stout

There was a plan, in distant 1950, to ship Barclay Perkin’s Russian Imperial Stout to America – so much, said a news report, did Yank soldiers admire it during the war (?)

Even in the early days of motivational research, but bearing in mind also the Cold War, the brewery was clever enough to relabel the beer “Imperial Extra Stout”. Further details are set out in this 1950 story in the Buffalo Evening News. It reads in part:


Special to The Buffalo Evening News and Chicago Daily News

LONDON, April 26. — One of the popular beers in England is “Russian stout,” so-called ever since it was first brewed in 1781 for export to Russia.

In old days Russia’s aristocracy demanded a super stout and a British brewery rose to the occasion, naming the brew after its destination. From 1781 until World War I, thousands of barrels of Russian stout were shipped over every year.

But times have changed. Russia is now behind an Iron Curtain, which even Russian stout is not able to penetrate. There’s a new potential market in America, however, which the brewers hope to open up….

Barclay’s Russian Stout had been exported to the even more distant Victoria, British Columbia, even before WW I. See e.g. the advertisement in this issue of the Daily Colonist in 1909, which also mentions other stouts of Barclay Perkins.

After the start of WW I it seems Courage Imperial Russian Stout, as the Russian Stout came to be called by 1970, did not reappear on our shores until the mid-1970s. Unless, that is, some arrived during the Korean War as the Buffalo news item suggests.

The American beer writer Michael Weiner praised the beer in his (1977) The Taster’s Guide to Beer: “smooth, rich, velvety. Sweet, yet carries the bitter tang of hops”.

Weiner wrote the book without knowledge, surely, of Michael Jackson’s landmark The World Guide to Beer, published in the same year. The book shows no internal evidence of influence from the Englishman, Jackson.

According to this notation from Barnes and Noble, Weiner’s book was published January 1, 1977. Hence, the 1977 is nominal. The book was readied for print earlier, whilst Jackson’s book came out mid-1977.

As beer historians well know, Jackson’s book lyricised Imperial stout. This made it a permanent part of the craft brewing pantheon to come.

We can conclude there was budding American interest in this historic beer type before Jackson dominated the beer scene, which began with his early books here.*

Weiner also wrote Imperial stout was “Perhaps the most unusual commercially produced beer … [and] …is also among the strongest in the world”. He reprinted a lengthy, admiring account from English wine writer Cyril Ray, published in Queen magazine (1960s-era). Ray wrote about the beer in a way that likened it to fine Burgundy, using literary flourishes to emphasize his point.

The sale of (the English) Lacon’s audit ale in New York in 1937, as I discussed recently, showed similar sophisticated interest even in the early days of consumer beer awareness, namely that rich, expressive beer could be had. In these cases, it was from the top end of British brewing.

Certainly by the 1970s, for those who knew where to look, fine imported beer was available, in many categories familiar today. Strong ale, Imperial stout, pale ale, Belgian Trappist, Belgian saison, and many top German types were represented. Even tart Berliner Weisse, a forerunner of today’s sour styles, could be found, at least in major cities such as New York.

Had the Korean War not intervened British Russian stout might have been the toast of 1950s beer connoisseurs. After all, it wasn’t much earlier that Americans knew what top-end stout was. Ballantine Brewery in New Jersey revived from pre-Prohibition days a rich brown stout in the 1930s. Other breweries in the Northeast did similar.

Barclay Perkins likely wished to capitalize on this inherited tradition, narrowed as it was, although it couldn’t have had much to export given the small quantities made at Anchor Brewery by this period.

What does seem clear is that a few British and Irish breweries after WW II considered they could sell prime stout in America. Famously, Guinness tried via its satellite brewery in Long Island, NY (closed in 1954), a matter I also discussed earlier. There was a brief fashion for oyster stout in California of all places, also as I reviewed.

It was all for nought, America didn’t want to know, then. But it is useful to recall the history: the pre-craft beer era was not a desert. There has always been fine beer in North America, albeit inconsistently and not always easy to find.

Some was made in America itself such as Ballantine India Pale Ale, or the originally all-malt draught Michelob, or Prior Light and Dark beers from the Keystone State. And there was Anchor Steam Beer, which formed a bridge finally to the craft beer era.

Note: See this post added on March 4, 2019 for a sequel.


*[Added Dec. 30, 2019]. In fact, The Great Canadian Beer Book published in 1975 in Toronto contained an admiring, literary-style notice of Courage Imperial Russian Stout, invoking funeral music and Wagner to suggest its heavy, musky character. We wrote of this, here. It is perhaps the first North American critical commentary on Imperial Stout, now a mantra of the craft beer movement.



Beer and Cultural Capital

Our reading on beer constantly ranges among many fields including business, technological, health, and consumer appreciation, both contemporary and historical. Occasionally we encounter specialist studies in other fields including now this study by Thurnell-Read, T., 2016, The embourgeoisement of beer: changing practices of `real ale’ consumption. See Journal of Consumer Culture,

Thurnell-Read is a cultural sociologist and lecturer at Loughborough University in the U.K.

The article is very interesting for the frame of analysis used, consumer theory as adumbrated by various experts in sociology including in particular Pierre Bourdieu.

From Bourdieu’s Wikipedia entry:

[He] developed theories of social stratification based on aesthetic taste in his 1979 work Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (in French, La Distinction), published by Harvard University Press. Bourdieu claims that how one chooses to present one’s social space to the world — one’s aesthetic dispositions — depicts one’s status and distances oneself from lower groups.

Thurnell-Read, while not concurring with Bourdieu in all respects, identifies the consumption of beer since 1970 as acquiring hallmarks of competence and specialization previously seen in areas of wine and food appreciation.

The article studies how this shift came to be and in particular focuses on the “real ale” phenomenon although it does refer to craft beer as well. Indeed the author’s conclusions viz. the evolution and prestige of real ale clearly are applicable as well to the current interest in craft beer in Britain.

In his Conclusions, the author states that beer has become:

A trend … in which beer appreciation and connoisseurship appear to thrive as the practice becomes more complex and intellectualised and are, as such, now widely recognised as a field of consumption dominated by the middle class struggle for status and cultural capital.

I and thousands like me in Britain and North America are probably Exhibit A in this process, the group of us in particular who came of age to drink around 1970 and have become deeply involved in the beer culture, or hobby if you will. The very term, hobby, would likely be a hallmark to sociologists of the change in attitudes beer drinking has undergone in the last 50 years.

Every job or profession has its technical vocabulary and it took me a while to accustom to the one used in the article, but with a little work I understand the analysis and argument made.

These brief comments in no way imply a rebuttal, as for one thing sociology is not my field but speaking for myself, for which my claims can go no further, I never wanted to acquire “cultural capital” or status of any kind.

I simply wanted to try new tastes. It is no different than going out for pizza and ordering a different type than you had before. Most people have something different for dinner every night, don’t they?

And once you taste something different, you may want to learn more about it. India Pale Ale, eh? Well, why is India in the name? What does pale mean if the beer often looks amber? Et seq.

At one time this was not possible for beer in a practical sense as so little choice was available. Then it changed, partly under the influence of people who wanted to try something new. That is how a free market works, too, supply and demand interact in a complex way.

The beer interest is no different to many consumer interests whether it be music, cars, fashion, pets, stamps, what have you. Everyone is interested in something, and beer happened to capture the imagination of many. This resulted from some of the factors mentioned in the article, the rise of the CAMRA lobby in Britain, certainly, but also simply the exercise of personal choice.

In North America, parallel “public” factors such as the legalization of homebrewing and the eminence of British beer writer Michael Jackson created a similar atmosphere here for those interested to participate.*


*It is no little irony that Michael Jackson (1942-2007), the greatest modern exponent of consumer beer appreciation, was from a working class family and left school at 16.