Post-Prohibition Beer Watery?

I mentioned earlier that American food and wine writer G. Selmer Fougner, active from 1933-1941, loyally reported readers’ negative reactions to post-Prohibition beer. Most were rather vague in nature, but one bore down with some detail. It was reported in a 1934 column in, of course, the New York Sun:

“I enjoy a glass of good beer, but find that the majority of beer served in New York is far inferior to that dispensed prior to prohibition,” writes our correspondent. “It has a flavored watery taste. There is not enough creamy body to it”.

Well, that’s pretty clear. Fougner gave the letter-writer space to vent his reasons. The best beer he had ever encountered, he wrote, was in Germany, at a country tavern where it had been stored for four months. In that case the storage was a necessity as the bar was distant from a railway station and the owner had to lay in stocks. The reader had drunk beer in Pennsylvania that was similarly superior, he stated, as the brewery always withheld deliveries until its beer was properly aged.

The reader seems to have confounded aging beer at the brewery, when it is not completely filtered and fermented, with a retailer storing finished and kegged beer at the bar, when it is unlikely to improve with prolonged keeping. But if we telescope his comments, he is likely stating, as had other readers, that the new post-Repeal beer was not sufficiently aged by the brewery.

Fougner had stated in earlier columns that while some “green” beer was released soon after Repeal to satisfy the huge demand, the brewers were now mostly aging beer properly.

In truth, five or six months aging had become the exception in American lager brewing even before Prohibition. The post-Repeal brewers were probably correct that the aging regimen after Repeal was similar to that of pre-Volstead.

Also, I don’t think aging would affect body. It would at most remove green flavours from lager such as dimethyl sulphide (DMS) which is the boiled veg or egg smell. Aging can affect beer in that sense, although today it is possible to vent off DMS without prolonged lagering, but this should not affect the body, really.

There are three things that might have accounted for a thinner body: 1) a greater use of barley malt adjuncts, rice or corn or sugars of some kind, than earlier; 2) a lower attenuation point than earlier, i.e., to create 3.2% abw from less fermentable materials; and 3) the disappearance of most pre-1920 all-malt lagers – this is a variation of point No. 1. True, adjunct use was extensive before 1920, but there were still many all-malt lagers on the market, and many fewer after Repeal.

Fougner lets the reader make his point, hobbled as the Trailer was by lack of technical knowledge, and does not seek to help him, I think because such deep diving was not Fougner’s forte – in beer. Fougner himself was satisfied with the new beers, or said he was, and left it at that.

I think there had to be something to the reader’s point, people don’t necessarily imagine such things, and the sensory recall was quite specific. Memory can mean a lot in some cases, I know this from my own experience. For example, I believe to near-certainty that current Fuller Extra Special Bitter in England does not taste the same as it did circa 1983.

Whereas, when I tasted, say, San Miguel Negra (Dark Lager) recently for the first time in at least 20 years, it tasted exactly as I remembered it.

Hence, if most beer did change in New York post-Repeal which I think it probably had, the cause was one or more of my three reasons advanced above.

I will return to Fougner soon, this time in regard to food and wine.



Fougner’s Deft Réplique

A Food Column Reader Challenges le Maître

A 1940 column of food and wine critic G. Selmer Fougner demonstrates, with the page it is on, a number of features of 1940 gastronomy in New York.

First, note the impressive range of international cuisines featured in the Sun’s restaurant advertising section. I actually remember that typography and layout being used into the 1950s and early 60s in New York, Florida, and Montreal. You can still see it in some of the old-style tourist magazines and pamphlets in New York hotels.

But you could select from 20 or so international styles, from Armenian to “Rumanian” and more. New York was surely unique in the world in offering such palette of world cuisines then. As the home of noted gastronomic societies, old and new, of the best culinary and wine writers, of top liquors wholesalers, retailers, and importers, it was the nerve-centre for food and wine probably world-wide and remains so to this day.

Note the advertisement for Cribari Rielsing, from an ethnic Italian family that owned 1200 acres of vineyard in northern California, established in the state since 1865. The vineyards were finally sold decades ago but the name Cribari survives on brands of bulk wines distributed by CVI Bulk Wine and descendants are still involved with the business.

Gastronomic societies were, in some cases gingerly, in others with less inhibition, promoting American wines and Fougner was very much involved in the effort. I will return to this subject, but for now wish to point out his savvy as a classic wine man of the old school.

He stated in earlier columns that sherry in the traditional, French-influenced meal service was only served at the outset of a meal, with soup or nuts. A reader wrote in, as Fougner recounts in the column, in effect with an “ah-hah!”, or I’ve got you. The reader had sent an 1890 menu for the marriage celebration of the daughter of no less than Adolphus Busch of St. Louis. And the menu showed sherry was served in the middle of the meal. The reader asked Fougner: who is wrong, you or the Busches?

However, try as he might to embarrass America’s leading consumer authority on food and wine, he failed. I will let you read the account to see why.

(It is unlikely the reader thought the Busches made a social faux-pas, considering their standing in American life ever since the late 1800s).

On a different point, while Fougner didn’t mention it, your humble chronicler of 2019 was more than a little miffed to see that no beer appeared on the menu. Come on, America’s most important brewer, who unquestionably made great beers at the time, could not find a place on this impressive menu for one of his own products? It would have been a nice salute to the family’s origins and fortune, after all. A rich Doppel Bock might have worked, say, after the Champagne.  Just as a gesture.*

But, no Bier is present, or so it appears from the menu as reproduced in this 1940 story. Probably Busch wanted the food service to be seen as of impeccable European pedigree; indeed Fougner found it no less.

We see from Fougner’s account that as much as a new school was developing in food and wine – interest in regional American dishes, promotion of California wines, interest in world cuisines – mastery of old school knowledge, Cordon Bleu-style, classified growth-style, was still important to culinary credentials.

And Fougner had it down pat. From time to time he showed it, as here, but together with other 1930s New York epicures he was prepared to enlarge his horizons, too. In the process, it influenced national American and finally international food habits. 2019 is a long way from Fougner’s 1940 New York but I think he would have felt very much at home here.

Still, had Adolphus Busch insisted that a beer appear on his daughter’s wedding menu, I wonder how Fougner would have reacted. We will never know.


*A blend of iced Champagne and porter, or Black Velvet, would have been ideal. Indeed Fougner once gave directions to make it.


G. Selmer Fougner on Beer

A Baron, but Perhaps not of Beer

I referred once or twice earlier to G. Selmer Fougner (1884-1941), a pivotal figure of 1930s gastronomic and culinary New York. He was famous for his column in the New York Sun, “Along the Wine Trail”. He authored three books on drinks or dining and also sold bound copies of his columns.

He was the Lawson, Oliver, Bourdain, Twitty of his time. He presaged them and intervening generations of food and wine personalities that included James Beard, Julia Child, Graham Kerr, Robert Parker, and Hugh Johnson.

Fougner was born in Chicago, of Norwegian ancestry on both sides.* He father had worked in sales advertising for an ethnic newspaper, which likely suggested to the son the press as a career, and seems later to have had a banking career in Chicago and possibly Paris.

Before and during WW I G. Selmer worked in New York for different newspapers including the Sun and Herald, with stints in Paris and London as foreign correspondent. He also translated into English a French war novel, Private Gaspard.

He was a member of noted gastronomic societies and created not a few, hobnobbing with other Thirties food luminaries that likely included George Frederick of New York’s Gourmet Society, Lucius Beebe, Alfred Knopf, and the main springs of the newly-formed (1934) New York Wine and Food Society. He travelled regularly to Europe and was well-known by its food and wine elite.

The knack Fougner had was to popularize and demystify these subjects. Today, the world of food is resolutely popular, or at least presents that mien to the world. Then, to be a “gourmet” suggested an exalted social status and pocket-book, and he aimed to break that down. He brought the art of good living to the people, at least the broad middle classes who read the Sun.

Many of the interesting pieces of 1800s beer journalism appeared in the Sun and it maintained a lively focus on food and drink until ceasing publication (1950). Indeed it was partly responsible for creating “food and wine” as a factor in the modern consumer lifestyle.

Now, Fougner was not really a beer man. Did he respect beer? Certainly. Did he write about it? Regularly, but with a sense of pro forma to my mind. His passions were saved for traditional French and other European gastronomy as well as American culinary traditions, hence encompassing wine, spirits, cocktails. (One column reproduces a letter from a reader who wrote that railway men at an 1880s clambake connected barrels of clams, corn, and potatoes to steam discharge hoses from their locomotives. When the engines were turned on the blasts made the casks “dance with joy”, cooking the contents in an instant. Wow!).

In 1933-1934 he had a nine-part series on whether post-Prohibition beer had the same quality as before the Volstead Act. He printed numerous letters from people who thought it hadn’t, either that the beer wasn’t as strong, or wasn’t aged as long as before, or used “malt syrup”. Rather than offer his own opinions he consulted persons in the brewing world, such as a Piel of Piel’s Brewery, or a Mr. Pearlstein of Pabst in Milwaukee. The brewery people sought to refute the charges of a lesser quality in the post-Prohibition beer.

However, some readers were not satisfied and he printed more than one plaint that stated in effect, “With all due respect Mr. Fougner, beer has changed, sorry, but it has”. And it may well have in some way we can never understand today. I’ve gathered most of the nine parts in the series here, for your perusal.

In 1940 he published a letter from a beer drinker who was convinced that Canadian ales were superior to the American, and displayed a “common denominator of taste”. He asked Fougner if he agreed but Fougner demurred. I think he was good at the politics, rarely, by my reading, disparaging his own country’s produce. Anyway, he stated while not an expert on ales he thought the American brands he favoured were on a par or better than the Canadian beers.

It may be he wasn’t sensitive enough to the beer palate to notice anything, or perhaps he didn’t want to say. The Canadian ales then, I suspect, had more malt, more hops, and less or no krausening (especially with lager) than the general run of American ales. I hoped he would at least recommend a New York-area India Pale Ale of the type I have been discussing recently, but he does not do that, or maybe its cost did not improve the prospects of the reader, who wanted a cost-effective alternative to the expensive Canadian beers.**

Finally, read this column from 1938 where, despite his limited interest Fougner defends beer as worthy of gastronomic attention. A reader derides, amusingly enough to be sure, beer as something essentially to be gulped and enjoyed at its best (“Pilsner”) with an exclamatory sigh rather than the dainty sipping and high-flown orations of wine appreciation. Fougner responded in disagreement, stating beer has always been appreciated by literature and the arts.

… there is almost as much delightful lore to beer as there is to wine. And as to literary associations, why, a good-sized library could be built up of books praising nothing but beer!

He deflated the subject by stating it is high time that the fancy phrasing be dropped in wine discussion, where it frequently serves as a pose. In this, I suspect he was catering to the American democratic impulse as much as venting a genuine sentiment, but there you have it.

Fougner, always portly and addressed by his friends as “Baron”, died of a heart attack in 1941 when driving south to visit his son in the army. There were appreciative remembrances in the New York press for this important figure in its wine and restaurant life, and at least one grand commemorative dinner was held. But his “Trailers”, as he called them, had forever lost their interlocutor willing to publish and (often) critique their comments.


*After writing this post my attention was drawn to an (excellent) 2016 article on Fougner by American drinks writer David Wondrich, entitled “America’s First Drinks Writer: G. Selmer Fougner”. Wondrich states Fougner was partly French in origin, with interesting detail on his early life in France. A French upbringing would explain certainly his facility with French. My statement about his parents’ Norwegian ethnic origin was drawn from A. N. Rygg’s Norwegians in New York, 1825-1925, published 1941, see pg. 207.

**This ad from Lang’s Brewery in Buffalo, New York claimed its ale in a blind tasting easily trumped reputed Canadian brands, for what it is worth.








A Still Ale That Sparkles (Part IV)

“A Still Old World Ale”

We have now determined, see Part III, what “still ale” really was: a stock, mainly draught India pale-type beer. Let’s examine one more early, post-Prohibition example, in 1934 in Plattsburgh, New York.

The beer was an India Pale Ale, advertised in October that year in the city’s Daily Press and brewed by the historic Fidelio Brewery in New York.  Even though dispense of ale from the barrel or by hand-pump had declined before Prohibition, the tradition was recalled half a generation later and revived. Plattsburgh was possibly a test market.

In the late 1800s ale, that is the pre-chilled, pre-carbonated draught form inherited from England, had a reputation as a winter drink. Here we see a vestige of the tradition so many years later, in the early New Deal period.

An India Pale Ale of itself was not remarkable in the Thirties – there were still quite a number of them. But to see one not served force-carbonated and chilled, or bottled of course, was unusual. By its description, a “Still Old World Ale”, Fidelio was telling us surely that the beer was naturally-conditioned, in the tradition of British cask ales.

However, even this IPA had to be spritzy to a degree. Horace Brown, the English brewing scientist who had investigated American breweries at turn of the century, stated a still ale bore a condition similar to the most carbonated English beers, meaning cask-conditioned beers. I suspect Fidelio’s IPA was well-primed to produce this level of condition. Probably as well it was roughly filtered or fined to present a reasonable clarity.

A day earlier a story in the same newspaper tipped the public that the beer was being released, and unlike the ad itself, described it as “sparkling”. This is the same term used by Quandt Brewing in Troy, NY the year before to describe its still ale, as we saw earlier in this series. Quandt’s beer was advertised in August and almost certainly was served cold and well-carbonated.

But here the Fidelio beer is being served the original way, at ambient temperature. Quite possibly the different season accounted for it. Since the beer was being served just “cool” at best, a lower than normal pressure would not be critical for the drinker, at least one prepared to broach a naturally conditioned beer to begin with.

I wonder if Plattsburgh-area soldiers drinking in English pubs 10 years later remembered the same thing back home in ’34…

The legendary Ballantine India Pale Ale, until being unwisely withdrawn by Pabst in about 1996, was the last of this tradition of still and frankly sparkling (in its case) American India Pale Ales.

In 1982 it was getting “four to five months” aging “in wood” according to Michael Jackson’s The Pocket Guide to Beer. Not so long earlier it was a full yearbut a few months still qualified. It was also, then, 1076 OG, with Brewer’s Gold and “Yakima” in the kettle, the latter probably the 19th century Cluster type.

Pabst brought back Ballantine India Pale Ale a few years ago. It had some wood treatment but to the puzzlement of some had the grapefruity signature of modern IPA hopping. A missed opportunity, in my view, and it seems the product was later withdrawn from the market. Hopefully Pabst will revisit the matter before long.



A Still Ale That Sparkles (Part III)

Well, I now have my answer, and perhaps you will agree, it is yours. It is courtesy an impressive work, Nelson’s Perpetual Loose-Leaf Encyclopedia, published originally in 12 volumes in North America and Britain. Commenced before WW I, the project ended in 1934; what survived the First World War could not surmount the onset of World Depression, it seems.

The text is detailed and authoritative, this is not the effort of a popularizer of knowledge of the 19th century, useful as those compendia can often be. The North American editors were senior academics at the University of the State of New York and McGill University in Montreal (Sir William Peterson). How I remember Peterson Hall (pictured) at McGill in the 1970s. How apt that my alma mater has helped solve the riddle of sparkling still ale.

The brewing chapter is a densely printed 5000 words. What it states about still ale, aka as flat ale, is that it was aged in storage vats, as I forecast in my Part I. Also, that it came out without a head or very little, consistent with what Horace Brown stated viz. carbonation level. This can be assumed certainly for draught, but for bottled beer the carbonation was often boosted by priming or injection and the beer filtered, hence the post-1900 fashion for “sparkling ale”. Nelson’s noted the suitability of bottled beer in particular for such treatment.

Further, this still ale is likened to India Pale Ale, so we can see it was another term for stored draught pale ale. By 1933, as Quandt in Troy, NY is advertising draught “sparkling still ale”, we now can see that the carbonation and clarity familiar to the public even before 1920 in bottled pale ale was applied to draught. This is consistent with the removal by the 1930s of hand pumps from the few places in New York that still carried it before Prohibition, at Billy’s Bar uptown or McSorley’s in the East Village, say, as I discussed earlier.

This was not Horace Brown’s stock ale as that was (he said) higher gravity than present use or still ale. His stock ale was akin to a British strong ale, Burton, Scotch, etc.

Read for yourself the references to still ale, and indeed still porter – the aged form vs. newly-fermented, “lively” porter – in the extract above.

I do not know what Dr. Wyatt wrote in American Brewers’ Journal, I do not know exactly what Nathaniel Kendall claimed as still ale, but I think it is clear that, say, Ballantine’s, or Evans’ I.P.A. of c.1915 (two years aging) would qualify. The 1935 bracketing of still ale with India Pale and stock types, see my Part II, in a food technology text now makes perfect sense.

What American still ale was not, was, a) a running ale, b) anything to do with lager, barring something unusual coming from Dr. Wyatt’s article when found, and c) anything really different to mid-19th century British draught pale ale. See the average composition for American I.P.A. on the last page of the brewing chapter.

And so, the answer to my question, how can a still ale sparkle is, it cannot, unless you process it to have that effect, which occurred as a later stage in its development. But the old terminology, still ale, meaning a stocked pale ale, had hung on long enough in the early 1930s to seem confusing.

The process likely started with bottled beer and there is an analogy here to the dinner and gem ales that emerged in Britain in the same period. By 1933 in America the carbonating was applied to draught India pale ale as well. In Britain too it finally occurred via the spread of “keg beer” in the 1960s-1970s (and still very much with us, e.g. Guinness Draught).

This North American draft pale ale was different originally to cream ale as, it was aged much longer, not krausened, and more attenuated, but in time the two types more or less merged, hence e.g., Keith’s India Pale Ale as it now is. In fact the surviving stock ales in Canada merged too: current Molson Stock Ale, at 5% ABV, fizzy and with a light colour, is similar to Keith’s, essentially.

Quandt’s beer nonetheless remained a still ale because it was a stored beer. The storage was underlined in the advertisement (see my Part I) by the statement that the beer was held at the brewery, despite the avidity of the public for beer after Repeal, until it acquired the necessary “tang”. Possibly this was a secondary fermentation effect, even Brettanomyces.

Still ale was the American version – one name for it – of pre-running draught British pale ale. So was Boswell’s I.P.A. in Quebec City, aged a full three months in the early 1950s, as I showed here some years ago.





A Still Ale That Sparkles (Part II)

Part I is now lightly amended to be less categoric that still ale was akin to a stock ale. The logic and conclusions remain but as a reasonable possibility among others. Here, I’ll explore those further possibilities.

Still ale had currency between c.-1890 and 1914. There are many advertisements for it by different breweries in the Northeast, in New York mainly but extending also to Connecticut and probably Massachusetts. It is a late-onset type of American ale, well post-dating musty ale, cream ale, India Pale Ale, stock ale, and other types of ale that breweries produced in the second half of the 1800s.

There are one or two examples early after Prohibition – I gave an instance in my Part I – but after that nothing, that I found certainly.

Both before and early after Prohibition, ale breweries occasionally advertised a half-stock ale. Here is one example from December 1935 in the Greenfield Daily Recorder (Mass.) from Hampden brewery. Here is another example, Berkshire half stock, from 1915 in Albany but apparently Mass.-made. These appear to have been a mixture of new and old ales, a time-honoured technique from Britain, long used there for ales and especially porter, as is well-known. Such blending is still done today, notably by Flanders red ale brewers.

So, when Quandt Brewing Co. in Troy, NY in 1933 advertised its “sparkling still ale”, it is possible I think that this was a compound, a mix of aged still ale and new carbonated beer. Had it read Sparkling-Still Ale, that might have been more clear but is hardly an elegant formulation.

Another possibility is, still ale was not simply a regular ale, different only from present use ale by being less carbonated and possibly older, but a completely different type of beer. And if it was, what type of beer might that have been?

Well, odd as it sounds, it may have been an ale brewed using a decoction mash.

Some preliminaries: A Mr. Kendall made a confident presentation to brewing colleagues related in Transactions of the American Brewing Institute (1901-1902), see here. 

There, in the presence of the Dr. Wyatt he mentioned, a well-known brewing scientist of the time, Kendall claimed to have originated still ale. (If anyone reading can find the account of still ale production apparently published by Dr. Wyatt in the “Brewers Journal“, you will do a service to beer historical studies).

Who was this Kendall? His Christian name was Nathaniel and he owned the Yale Brewing Co. in New Haven, CN. That brewery was formerly called Quinnipiac Brewery, founded in 1881, but had foundered. In 1885 it was bought and henceforth operated by Kendall who changed the name finally to Yale Brewing around 1901. It had good success until 1919 when he sold it to the Feigenspan group. The brewery in New Haven was revived for about 10 years after Repeal of Prohibition. See (among other sources) Will Siss’s 2015 Connecticut Beer: a History of Nutmeg State Brewing, at pp. 17-18, here.

Siss notes that Kendall used “German immigrant labor”, which makes sense given the brewery under its original name was founded by two German-Americans, or to all appearances they were. As well, Siss states the brewery originally made lager and later installed (under Kendall) sophisticated refrigeration equipment.

Indeed in a publication in 1898 by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, an analysis of beers lists Quinnipiac Brewing’s “still ale” in a rubber-stoppered bottle. If still ale was bottled, it could hardly have been akin to a modern cask ale, it had to have a higher condition than that, which Horace Brown’s remarks support if broadly interpreted. But at a minimum it shows the beer could be bottled, it was not draft-only as all examples I have heretofore discussed, even Quandt’s in 1933.

In the 1900-1902 Letters on Brewing, a technical publication, a “so-called ‘still ale‘”, described as “manufactured for experiment”, was founded wanting by virtue of being too sour and low in alcohol. It is stated it was brewed by decoction, a classic lager technique where part of the mash is abstracted, boiled, and returned to the mash to increase the temperature.

Could still ale have originally been an ale brewed by decoction and presumably, or by all evidence, bearing a low carbonation? Or was it a standard infusion-mash ale and happened to be brewed on this occasion by decoction, which is why Letters called it a so-called still ale? The latter seems probable to us, but still, this is some evidence, taken too with the German and lager production origins of Quinnipiac/Yale brewery, that some technique of lager production may have had something to do with the beer, perhaps long cold-aging.

Against this is the fact that in a 1935 analysis of beers, Food and Beverage Analyses, by Milton Bridges, still ale is bracketed with stock and India Pale Ales, suggesting it to be of that character. Had it been a quasi-lager, why not classify it with “American ale, cream ale”, or with “lager beer”? The records too were supplied by Ruppert Brewery in New York who obviously had access to pre-Prohibition records and can be taken to know what still ale was.

Regardless whether Kendall originated the beer, there were likely different versions of still ale in circulation, just as today, New England India Pale Ale is not made the same way everywhere.

I think what is clear at a minimum is, still ale was not a quick-production or running cask-conditioned ale.

See Part III, the last in this series.







A Still Ale That Sparkles (Part I)

In 1897 a famous British brewing scientist, Horace T. Brown, visited American breweries, apparently in New York and New England (the old ale region). He wrote a long report, “On Some Recent Advances in Brewing in the United States”. It was published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, you can read it here.

Summarizing the ale types observed on the visit, he classified them as present use or lively ale (well-carbonated); still ale (not very fizzy); and stock ale:

This triptych has come to mean to beer historians, essentially two forms, carbonated and still, of what the British called running ale, and stock ale. The running beers were sent out almost as brewed for ready sale; the latter was the long-vatted type, often a little acidic from the long rest in wood.

India Pale Ale was not mentioned by Brown but would have been the stock type, as confirmed by contemporary trade ads, e.g. of Evans Brewery in Hudson, NY, but also many others, as I’ve referenced earlier.

It’s a reasonable interpretation on the face of it, since the U.S. stock ale clearly meant long aged, upwards of a year as Brown stated, and hence the other two terms must have meant running ale even though grammatically Brown seems to exclude the still ale from its ambit. As well, today almost all cask ale is the running type, so this fits into the idea of still ale as similar. (The American stock ale, IPA or other, was by my reading typically aged in large vats versus 31 gallon ale casks, but that is neither here nor there, Brown was using a shorthand clearly and we know what he meant).

Wahl & Henius in their landmark 1902 American Handy-book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades have a slightly different scheme: present use aka cream ale; brilliant ale; and stock ale.  See p. 851. The first two are clearly running though, and stock is clearly stock, so presumably the authors left out the still form as it was going out; indeed Brown seems to imply that when he writes “until recently…” and notes that almost all present use beer was the lively, high-carbonated type.

Wahl & Henius are useful in making clear that present use condition was often achieved by kräusening the ale – with lager wort – or by not doing that and simply carbonating the ale after a short period of standing. The latter was the brilliant variation, the former, still somewhat turbid from all that fermenting lager wort added.

I’d like now to suggest that the understanding of still ale in this way is at best a simplification, and quite possibly an erroneous take on what still ale meant to the brewers circa-1900.

The reason results, in part, from an interesting press account of the dismantling of obviously large wood vats in the cellar of an ale brewery, the T. Briggs Brewery in Elmira, NY, a town in south-west New York State near the Finger Lake country. It appeared in 1912 in the Elmira Star-Gazette, see here.

15,000 gallons of ale was held in the “great” wood tanks, called “‘still ale’ tanks”. The reason given for the replacement was the wood imparted an undesirable taste to the beer. This perhaps arose through an uncontrollable infection, or maybe simply from the tannins of the wood, probably cypress or American oak. Similar steel and glass equipment was also in this period being installed to replace hooped wood vats used to age lager, essentially the same kind of vats Briggs had used to cellar its ale.

The wood tanks, if of equal size, held 250 gallons each about eight normal ale casks. This is a vat, tun, call it what you will, but clearly not a trade cask and must have been used for prolonged storage. Even if the aging was of different durations depending on the type of ale (India, stock, winter stock, etc.), this could not have typically held still beer for present use. Why were the tuns called still ale tuns?

One possibility is with aging time the ale became still in the wood unless at some point treated to make it carbonated or sparkling. And that could be done for example by adding sugar as priming, which Wahl & Henius advised to make a carbonated stock ale (see extract above).

And if you didn’t prime or force-carbonate, what would you have? A lightly fizzy ale, that retained some original carbonation from fermentation with perhaps some additional CO2 from any secondary fermentation in the tuns.

Brown’s still ale may have been this type, what he called equal to the most fizzy beer in England, the most fizzy cask-conditioned ale, that is. Note too Brown states the still ale was more attenuated than present use, which might suggest a period of aging beyond present use, a few months, say.

My second reason for thinking in this vein is this ad in 1933 by Quandt, a revived early post-Pro ale brewer in Troy, NY, in the Cohoes American in Cohoes, NY:

Now, how can a still ale be “sparkling”? I refer to my comments earlier above.

Finally, this ad was one of many in the early 1900s from Bartels Brewing Co. in Syracuse, NY, vaunting its impressive top-fermentation range as well as different lagers. It appeared in 1901 in the Daily Sentinel in Rome, NY. Many similar ads from Bartels appeared in the first decade of the 1900s. There are two types of still ale: export and brilliant. It’s a rare type, going out by all accounts, but Bartels finds room to market two. Why?

At least one, but maybe both, were likely stored in a 250 gallon “still ale tank” a la Briggs. Perhaps the export was the long-aged one, in effect a higher-gravity stock ale, but not carbonated when sent out. Note that Bartels does not use the term stock ale in its adverts, stock porter yes, I.P.A. yes, but not stock ale. Perhaps it called its stock ale still ale. The brilliant one was likely carbonated in my view and either young or old.


For Part II of this essay, see here.



A 1976 Beer Symposium

My trilogy on c.-1980 full-text beer articles in American SpectatorGreat American Saloon Series ends with its “Symposium” on beer. The term is appropriately high-toned with its classical allusions. It consisted of three repliques to Aram Bakshian, Jr.’s beer encomium I described in Part 1.

The writers were John Coyne, Jr., also an author and Presidential advisor to Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., founder and editor of American Spectator, and Karl O’Lessker who was an academic (political science and the environment) and author. The articles appeared in the October 1976 issue of the magazine (see website for archival issues).

(Coyne and Tyrrell are still active in political writing and commentary, lifelong conservatives as it happens, O’Lessker died some years ago).

Each replique takes a different tack, and some of it is certainly dated, not just in the period references which of course is expected, but in style as well. Still, together the essays with Bakshian’s, form a snapshot of informed consumer commentary prior to the rise of craft brewing, legal home brewing, and modern beer journalism.

It would be bootless to take bits of each article and offer my reaction, when you can read them in toto and decide for yourself. But I’ll include here one quotation from Tyrrell, as it shows what some valued in American beer at the time. The choice in stylistic terms was far less than today, but reflective beer drinkers thought about what the drank, made distinctions, and counselled others. In a word they were connoisseurs, and proto-beer journalists certainly.

Of the middleweights there are many that have engaged my attention and high respect. Schmidt’s of Philadelphia comes to mind as does Waldech produced by Hamm’s and Andeker produced by Pabst – though Andeker is a bit too sweet. The champion in this division, and – truth to tell – the title-holder over all American beers, is, in my opinion, Budweiser. It is a beer of poignant taste, balanced animation and clarity. Clarity is one of the attributes that sets high-grade beers apart from the flotsam and jetsam, and the King of Beers has it. It also has ample body, bouquet, and consistency; the latter being a quality often ignored even by the cognoscenti.

Budweiser sounds like a different beer then, and in my view it was. Today it has very little flavour, in my estimation, and certainly no bouquet, none I can detect.

And on it goes, he greatly admired the German Wurzburger, which shows his good taste right there. He also liked Guinness, at the time certainly in the bottle (Guinness Extra Stout) a prime product. He considered Stroh of Detroit heavy-bodied, and maybe it was; it sounds like he was in a position to tell.

Tyrrell’s remarks on how to appreciate beer, with due reverence and pace yet in large sips, gets at the correct ethos too. I wonder if he is still a beer man, in his mid-70s. We hope so.




A Visit to New Albion Brewing Co. (1981)

A Chat with Jack 

The Great American Saloon Series of The American Spectator, mentioned in my second-to-last post, turns out to be a fecund source of circa-1980 American drinking lore.

And this time, no it’s not a disquisition on the merits of Olympia, Coors, Budweiser, or Ringnes from Norway (interesting as that can be), but rather a multi-page account of a visit to the landmark New Albion Brewing Co. Yes, the literal gran-daddy of all modern craft breweries.

Douglas Bartholomew, a regular contributor to the Saloon Series, penned the account in the July 1981 issue. Rather than multiply quotations, just read it for yourself, from the website of the American Spectator.

But a tidbit to tempt you, Bartholomew’s description of New Albion Porter:

And Jack’s brew is not to be missed, especially the porter. The porter is a mellifluous blend, a richly hued amber liquid that is cloudy because of final fermentation in the bottle. It combines the best of New Albion’s heavier, darker stout and the light bodied, traditional ale. The stout is, typically, bitter and throaty, yet somehow lacking in the classic bite of the ubiquitous Guinness. All three “beers,” as McAuliffe is wont to lump them, are fully natural, embodying only malt, hops, yeast, and water.

Not least interesting is the account of the 19th century brewing texts Jack consulted daily in his brewing, books that are mother’s milk (sorry) to beer historians. He knew what he was doing, and he was doing it before almost anyone. Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing in San Francisco was a contemporary of importance in this regard, although Jack did not seem to think much of his beers, due mostly I think to their filtration and pasteurization.

Sadly, as those who care about beer history know, New Albion went under in 1983, two years after the article was written. Yet, after a long and winding road, Renee DeLuca, Jack’s daughter, produces the original New Albion Ale in a venture with Platform Brewing Co. at its Cleveland, Ohio location.

So we have the best of both worlds, don’t we, we can see how it was when hopes were high and Jack was building a revolution, and the beer can still be tasted today, alongside to be sure its million and one progeny. Cheers.

Beer Judging in Toronto: July 9, 2019

I am pleased to be on the Canadian judging panel again for World Beer Awards, July 9, 2019 in Toronto, chaired as in the past by Steve Beaumont.

Last year’s judging was both instructive and enjoyable. As I stated then, any judge must separate personal preference from an objective assessment based on intended style. I’ll continue my best to achieve that objectivity.

To learn more about the awards and structure of the competition, consult the organizer’s web information, here. The annual World Beer Awards, based in the U.K., are part of the annual World Drinks Awards which cover numerous beverage categories. See their main web site, here.

Brewers: there is still time to enter! From a recent communique of World Beer Awards:


New Entry Closing Date: 7 June 2019

We’ve just extended our closing deadline to enter the World Beer Awards 2019.
Don’t miss out on your opportunity to showcase your beers to an international panel of expert judges and to be crowned one of the World’s Best!

Entering Is Simple

There are two options when entering our World Beer Awards:

1. If this is your first time entering into the World Beer Awards, simply visit and select “Register” on the left-hand panel. This will take you through to our registration form to complete with details of your company and product being entered.

2. If you’re a returning entrant to the World Beer Awards, simply visit and “log in” to access your account. From here you will be able to enter your product into the awards.

Want More Information?
Head over to our website
or email us at

Best of luck!

Anita Ujszaszi
Awards Director

I encourage all brewers to participate. It’s a premier forum to obtain an independent and valuable tasting note, with the chance to win an award and the resultant buzz and publicity.

Awards are a valuable and integral part of many consumer businesses, not least brewing, in which they have a long and and storied history. The World Beer Awards performs an important service to the industry, of international scope, in this regard.

Good luck to all the entrants!