The Western Saloon Reimagined



In a post some months ago, I wrote:

In 1954 Union Pacific Railroad placed new locomotives and consists (the related cars and equipment) on its Chicago-Denver run. Featured as the club-lounge was “The Pub, a sleek affair meant to suggest a country English tavern. This went against the prevailing ethic of shiny cocktail bar and high circular chairs.

What beers did it serve? America (and Canada) had virtually abandoned the “heavy” 19th-century India Pale, stock, and still ales, descended from U.K. tradition. The core ale and porter – the very things that fuelled the British pub and gave it much of its character – had ended as items of commerce in America.

I didn’t find a drinks list from that train, but found something as good in its way: the list for its immediate predecessor, the “Frontier Shack”.

The Frontier Shack started service in the late 1930s. Its conception and design are described in a remarkable Union Pacific pamphlet, The Frontier Shack, reproduced on the website Streamliner Memories, see here.

The pamphlet explained that Walt Kuhn, a Brooklyn-born artist and illustrator, designed and decorated the bar. The image above is an actual photo in Kuhn records at Smithsonian Institute, as reproduced on Streamliner Memories site, see here.

The Smithsonian’s page gives further background on Kuhn’s connection to Union Pacific:

From 1936 until 1943, Kuhn was employed by the Union Pacific (UP) Railroad Company through his connection with Averell Harriman, husband of Marie Harriman and UP’s Chairman of the Board. He designed and decorated club cars and lounges for Streamliner trains, designed posters and brochures, and consulted for other projects. Kuhn’s historically-themed club cars, “The Frontier Shack” and “The Little Nugget” involved two of his favorite historical themes, the old west and early stage comedians.

The Frontier Shack pamphlet smoothly elaborates:

Among the many unique fa­cilities for your enjoyment en route on The Streamliner “City of Denver” is the “Frontier Shack.” Situated just forward of the coaches, it is an authentic reproduc­tion of a western frontier shack of the period between the close of the Civil War and the early “90’s.” It has the intriguing atmosphere of hospitality so characteristic of the historic hostelries which were land­marks of early pioneer days along the Overland Route.

The walls and ceilings are of unfinished and unmatched white pine boards, face nailed and of uneven lengths and widths…

It’s noteworthy that something so recent could be memorialized, made mythic, in barely two generations. It’s as if Via Rail built a 1960s Toronto beverage room, or Montreal taverne, for the Toronto-Montreal run. I mean, it’s not that long ago, I can tell you what the taverne was like, and I’m no crusty old-timer. Really.

Fortunately, the Railroad Archive site has preserved the 1940 drinks list. Bass ale and Guinness stout are still represented along with unnamed American draught and bottled beer.

A cold collation was available, including what seems an early Reuben sandwich, and caviar, with not much daylight in the prices. Such was 1940 America, still coming out of the Depression.

The foods seem plain Jane today yet with good ingredients, perhaps was as satisfying as anything in fashion now.

Soon the supply of Bass and Guinness would dry up, after Pearl Harbor. Maybe the beery twain returned for The Pub, the next City of Denver lounge car. If I find its menu I’ll do an update.

The 1940 document shows the lasting power of Bass and Guinness in America, an aristo duo we might say. Commencing about 100 years earlier, these brands flew the flag for top-grade imported, non-German beer. The dual reign lasted until about 2000 when Bass seemed to fall from American graces.

Guinness continued as a prestige import, alongside certain German, Dutch, Mexican, and Canadian brands.

What unites The Pub to the Frontier Shack, in my view, is the evolution of an older but still commercial form. There is no loss of Rousseau-style innocence, no “gentrification” as I see it. It’s a continual evolution until finally we end with something clearly separated from the past – something new.

In these two examples, the past is still recognizable, but changed.

One sees the process in music, literature, visual arts, urban design, and countless cultural forms.

Note re images: the image above is from the Streamliner Memories website as noted and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner(s), as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




Reflective Tasting: a Bottle of J&B

There are drinks we try literally only a few times a year if that, one is blended Scotch whisky. Another is mescal or sometimes tequila.

These gain interest for me by being relatively rare tipples. On an ongoing basis I prefer (outside beer) bourbon, Canadian whisky, or a cocktail, often gin-based, or a Manhattan.

But occasionally I will try a Scotch whisky and usually keep one or two bottles. I started to discuss J&B on Twitter but will do a wrap here.

Years ago I investigated the principal blends, and numerous obscure ones, and decided I prefer the single malts. I still do, but bourbon, and later Canadian whisky when better offerings were available, are a more frequent choice these days. In part the price-quality ratio explains this but also a good U.S. or Canadian straight whisky offers a depth of palate I find attractive on a continual basis.

Blended Scotch, and the bulk of Canadian whisky which is also blended, are reliant on a substantial portion of intensively distilled grain whisky, and seem too light for neat sipping. They do well with soda, water/rocks, or a mix, the classic function one might say. Yet, a bottle I have of J&B is particularly good with a rounded, almost silky body and good flavour, light but with a notably smoky edge. The brand was developed some say for U.S. tastes in the wake of Repeal of Prohibition, but unusually for me I’ll elide the history to focus on palate.

Some drinks, although fairly neutral in taste, have a pleasing sensory impact, and this one does, or rather this sample does, as I find each bottle of almost any spirit differs. The variance is not great but enough so a sensitive taster can notice.

We take just a little, an ounce is enough.

Recently tasting this J&B, I was suddenly put in mind of a mescal I like, Leyenda Tlacuache Organic Mezcal. You may view the bottle at its LCBO listing. Of course the signature tastes, Scotch and mescal, differ, with quite a bit of variance in each category. Alba and agave – no obvious connections.

Yet, J&B and the Leyenda share a relatively light body and not dissimilar smoky note. The Leyenda surely is a straight spirit, all distilled I should think at under 160 proof, while the grain whiskies in J&B are high-proof, fairly mild whiskies, but still we note a connection.

I think if I drank them regularly I wouldn’t see this facet of two otherwise quite different spirits. You lose the forest for the trees, to use a well-worn but apt metaphor – very apt in the matter of Scotch whisky at least.

Drinks are less diverse than we sometimes think. Distillation is a technique, originating in China or the Middle East, that became a common patrimony in Western culture. When it started, “spirit” was the object, and classification and types came much later. Infrequent tasting shows up the original links, the common DNA.

In sum J&B proved equable on this outing, at least this bottle of it. When it is finished I will buy it again and hope the next bottle will be as good. Maybe it will be better, and therein lies the piquancy for the reflective taster.

N.B. Contrary to normal practice I selected a British half-pint glass for the whisky vs. a Waterford or other tumbler. One advantage is the thin glass presents the colour well, a kind of canary yellow, highlighted by the product label. This bottle must be 15-20 years old, so not sure of the current labeling.



Guinness’ Role in Craft Beer History

How many études have I done on Guinness stout, perhaps 15 or 20? They cover many aspects, e.g., grist make-up and “heading” to impart foamy richness in the 1800s; the brewery in Ireland during World War II; the failed Guinness initiative in Long Island, NY, ca. 1950; the filtered and finally pasteurized “keg” Guinness that replaced naturally conditioned beer; launching the new draft form in New York and the Midwest mid-1960s; Guinness’s role in creating the international Irish pub; and opening a new brewery in Maryland a couple of years ago.

Shall we add one more facet? I say yes, which is Guinness’ role in stimulating the now world-wide craft beer revival. It’s part of the story imported beer played generally in that process, which I’ve explored in numerous posts. My own memory confirms that Guinness was a keystone in the gateway to the beer revival. It was the top-fermented equivalent of Heineken and Corona in this process, and while never rivalling the latter in sales, it always exceeded them in craft affections.

The Guinness cachet is both pre- and post-craft beer onset. One legacy is the craft staple  of “dry Irish stout”, a direct offspring of Guinness.

And in truth the rep is justified, at least when Guinness is very fresh and well-poured, draft but also some bottled forms. I never cottoned to the “widget” type, bottle or can, but the rest is pretty good when on form, despite many modifications since the 1800s.

So Guinness had and retains the best of both worlds: a special place in beery affections innocent of any craft influence, and the respect of craft enthusiasts worldwide for its history and taste.

At moments in the Guinness chronology you can see the pivot. An example is provided by this 1976 article describing Guinness’ American strategy. In 1976 the pathbreaking New Albion Brewery was formed in Sonoma, CA. The two events, I assure you, are not unconnected.

Journalist Geoffrey Thompson described Guinness’ plan to capitalize on its rising popularity through a profile of its American manager, Desmond Sharp-Bolster. The latter, wrote Thompson, combined Irish wit, British charm, and American business savvy, an ideal combination for the job.

Sharp-Bolster gave Thompson a short but unusually accurate, for the time, account of Guinness history in America. He explained how Guinness reversed sagging fortunes in the 1970s by setting up a standard, domestic beer distributorship with Guinness and Harp lager bolted on as specialties. Soon total revenues were $30-$40M.

The executive noted particular growth in two sub-markets: ethnic enclaves including the Puerto Rican community, no doubt reflecting here the historic Caribbean affection for British stout, and college students, a bellwether he said of evolving tastes. (The Irish-American community was part of the picture, but implied in such discussions).

True it is that students and the younger professoriat tend to presage national trends. It was true of craft beer proper, with quality imports part of the picture. Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada, and Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale lubricated early rock shows in northern California, where jam bands like The Grateful Dead and the college favourite Phish played the “lot scene”. This posting on the City Tap website explains some of that history. Nascent craft brewers took notice and some crafted their image to synch with a hippie ethos.

More recently, cafes on or near campus helped popularize cold brew coffee, kombucha, and probably too the current crop of no-alcohol beers. The still newish term indie brewer derives from indie music or indie label, associated again with the arty bands favoured by students.

Guinness appealed  to them by its foreign yet still familiar (Irish) background, and distinctive black hue. Student newspapers of the 1970s and 1980s carried ads for popular imports including Canadian beers, another example of different-meets-familiar.

So Thompson’s 1976 piece outlined the shape of things to come. His striking intro:

What would you do if your company sold a product which marketing experts concluded was “totally unacceptable to the American consumer?” In all likelihood you’d build a 55,000 – square-foot warehouse in Long Island City, hire a sizeable workforce and make a go of it.

Undeterred by 20 years of reverses Guinness kept at it in America, and this time was amply rewarded. The ubiquity of Guinness today in North America is a testament to its vision and enterprise. Not all big companies exist in torpor and by reaction: they also lead and innovate, then and now. Guinness, now part of mighty, London-based Diageo, was Exhibit A.

Of course, markets and business end as a complex matrix, and those who can master the formulae take the palm. Guinness built on the student interest by astute advertisements in the college press. The ad below is from a 1977 issue of the Oswegonian, a student newspaper of SUNY (State University of New York) at Oswego.

The new Maryland facility shows Guinness enterprise and pluck to be alive and well, although it remains to be seen how the unit will do. Personally, I think it should produce Guinness stout here vs. simply the Guinness Blonde and other non-stout.

No doubt the company fears the loss of the special prestige associated to historic manufacture in Dublin, but on a long-term basis will be motivated, we believe, to brew the stout locally (as it does, say, in Canada for one form of it, in Nigeria, and parts of Asia). Time will tell.

Note re image: image above was sourced from the digitized newspaper identified and linked in the text, courtesy NYS Historical Newspapers. All intellectual property thereto or therein belongs solely to the lawful owner(s), as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

“Toronto Brews” Exhibition, Market Gallery

Last night I attended a reception for the opening of the Exhibition entitled “Toronto Brews: Two Centuries of Beer Culture”. It is taking place at Market Gallery, the historic space above St. Lawrence Market downtown in Toronto. A team from the City of Toronto, led by its Chief Curator of Museum and Heritage Services, Wayne Reeves, organized the event. It runs until December 28, 2019, at 95 Front Street East, Toronto.

This page from the City of Toronto website describes the main features. As stated in the link:

The story begins with tiny breweries established in the early 1800s, then covers the scaling-up of the industry in Victorian times, the impact of Prohibition, the rise of Canada’s macrobrewers in the first half of the 20th century, and ends with a look at the microbrewery movement since 1985 and contemporary craft-beer culture.

A number of special events will be held over the run including special Thursday night tastings, and culinary demonstrations.

The Exhibition achieves its aims well via wall narratives, a video advertising compilation, and the many historical objects on display. A small number of exhibits are pictured below to give the flavour, and I included more on Twitter (@beeretseq) yesterday.

Reeves and the City, the sponsoring organizations, and participating area breweries all deserve a vote of thanks for their efforts and contributions, as do the numerous private collectors who loaned rare items for display. I was pleased to see the original, 1856 menu displayed for Mart Ackerman’s Saloon, which was located nearby on Wellington Street.

I mentioned that fascinating item here in a whimsical piece some years ago. The City had to reach all the way to an archive in New York City to obtain this item.

Anyone who is interested in Canadian brewing, business, or cultural history and can attend should not miss this event.

Item above is from O’Keefe Brewery in Toronto, probably 1930s. Brewery merged in 1989 with Molson Breweries of Canada, now Molson-Coors. The term mild ale in Canadian beer nomenclature was relatively unusual.

Crown & Anchor was the first name for what became Molson Canadian lager, which still enjoys a sizeable market. The Festival lager can was indicated as from 1970, but the nature of the festival was not stated or known. A number of festivals were held in or outside of Toronto in 1970 including what resulted in the rock concert at Varsity Stadium where John Lennon and Yoko Ono played.

Also in 1970 was the Strawberry Fields Festival at Mosport Race Park, Bowmanville. The Festival Express rock star train tour was staged in Toronto in 1970 among other Canadian cities (subject of an excellent documentary film a few years ago). Perhaps the beer was marketed at such events, and/or the Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo, ON in the fall of 1970.

Further images from the Exhibition appear below, of which the first was perhaps an oatmeal stout, with a pun on Dr. Jackson’s Meal. As to who the Jackson was, it was would satisfying to conclude it was an admiring reference to famed beer author Michael Jackson, but this Jackson was likely not even born when this bottle was sold, or at most a young child.

At the time, products like the U.K.’s Dr. Johnson’s Stout had currency – even in Canada – so it was probably a riff on that, the Jackson-Johnson assonance. If the Jackson was a chemist at Copland’s, or a favoured customer, we have a triple pun.

For good information on Copland’s Brewery in Toronto, which also produced the stock ale shown below, see Jordan St. John’s Lost Breweries of Toronto. Indeed we had a nice chat at the reception last night.


Michael Jackson and Adjuncts in British Brewing

In my decades pondering beer and its history, only in the last year or so did the penny drop on an interesting point: Michael Jackson (1942-2007), the great British-based beer writer whose works are a landmark in the ongoing beer revolution, did not examine malt adjunct in British brewing and especially for ale, the focus of his early works when that product formed the great majority of British beer output.

I’ve examined now The World Guide to Beer (1977), The New World Guide to Beer (1988), and his first Pocket Guide (1982), and cannot find such a reference. To be sure at p. 8 of the first book he states that sugar was legalized for British brewing in 1847, but in the British chapter itself there is no discussion of grist material percentages. Here and there in the early books he refers in general discussions to “lesser grains” (corn and rice), and the importance that such grains not reduce beer to “impotence”, but does not state in the sub-chapter on Bitter, for example, that its fermentable sugar was derived on average from about 20% invert or other sugar or cereal starches.

He occasionally refers to sugar priming for real ale, or use of caramel to sweeten or colour beer, but not sugar or cereals as adjuncts in British ale fermentation.* Perhaps much later he mentioned cereals or sugar in the ale mash tun or kettle, maybe in a newspaper or beer magazine article, but I can’t find such discussion in his early works.

Yet, in his chapter on the United States in the 1977 book, he refers a number of times to adjunct use in American brewing, pointing out by contrast that Anchor Steam beer, a craft beer progenitor, was all-malt.

Why not a comparable discussion in the U.K. sections of the early works? The use of sugar or cereal grain adjunct was in the 1970s almost invariable for U.K. ale production, cask-conditioned beer included. This is stated in many sources since the late 19th century. In their Malting and Brewing Science: Volume 1 Malt and Sweet Wort (1971, 1981) British brewing scientists D.E. Briggs, J.S. Hough, R. Stevens, and Tom Watson summarize such use, see pp. 222-223. They state on average that just over 20% of the fermentable extract was derived from sugar in some form or hydrolysed starches. Maize is a prime example of the latter, used worldwide in commercial brewing until craft brewing partly restored the older, all-malt tradition.

Researchers who have studied historical brewing records, notably Ron Pattinson, also Edd Mathers, have confirmed this. See also the path-breaking Old British Beers and How to Make Them by Dr. John Harrison, published 1976, especially the discussion on older and contemporary brewing materials.

The onset of sugar use is also addressed in other historical books on brewing, e.g. Herbert Monckton in his 1966 History of English Ale and Beer, and technical journals such as Journal of the Institute of Brewing.

Historical sugar use is addressed in an article I wrote that will appear shortly in the U.K.-based journal Brewery History. I discuss its use in Great Britain not just from 1847, when it was first made permanently lawful, but even earlier when for limited periods it was allowed by special dispense when barley malt was short.

So why didn’t Michael Jackson “go there”?  Can it be that such practices might have been viewed as sub-optimal, especially in light of the German all-malt brewing tradition that Jackson lauded in the Germany chapters?

It is similar viz. Belgian Trappist brewing at least in the first major book, The World Guide to Beer, which established his reputation and created the legend of Trappist beer. He does not discuss, that I can detect, the grist composition of the beers.

I think quite honestly, to use a modern formulation, he made a political decision here. It is possible, yes, that Jackson did not initially appreciate the extent of adjunct use in British or Trappist ale-brewing, but that seems unlikely to me. I think he did know how the beers were typically brewed, from the outset of his studies, but chose to skip the issue. One way you see it is where he states in one book that the ideal way to appreciate malt character is in German beer. In effect he is saying its all-malt character best expresses the quality. The implied comparison is to other beers, while quite worthy on their own merits, that are not all-malt.

Certainly the high mark of adjunct use in British beer was about 20% – even as different brewers used different percentages, see Briggs et. al. again – while U.S. usage could well exceed that, often reaching 40% or even more for price beers. But that is a question of degree, isn’t it? There is still a “dilution” of character, whether viewed positively, negatively, or without judgement.

I think of Jackson we can say he took the last view of it. Jackson made clear he preferred all-malt character, but still considered British ale a classic beer tradition, and rightly so after all.

To summarise, he surely knew exactly how British ale was confected in 1977, and would have preferred it was all-malt, for example in the 1982 Pocket Guide he commends Timothy Taylor who had, very exceptionally, retained an all-malt tradition. But he let sleeping dogs lie so to speak, to make a larger point about a valuable beer heritage.


*See my Comment added yesterday on a vague reference to sugar in British brewing in the 1982 Pocket Guide, part of a discussion on beer “properties” at the outset of the book.



Laurentide: Lager and Ale

“I got decisions to be made between lager and ale …. cause I’m willing, willing and able…”



Above ad is from the November 13, 1972 issue of The Paper, the student newspaper of Loyola College and Sir George Williams University, now called Concordia University. It was around this time I first drank Laurentide Ale in Montreal.

The brand was only distributed in Quebec Province and by about 2012 seemed to have disappeared.

But in 2017, a spate of stories in the Quebec press reported Laurentide was back. The stories, in French, called it Bière Laurentide, the name it always had in the francophone press.

This story in Le Citoyen in Abitibi stated Quebecker Eric Côté, enlisting a Facebook site, sent a petition of 1000 signatures to mega-firm Molson-Coors Brewery to revive the brand.

The company responded positively, and a batch was made up and distributed. Since then it is brewed periodically as a nostalgia item.

(Côté also petitioned the return of O’Keefe Ale, but so far without result). We commend this monsieur for his ardent efforts to restore brands of yesteryear.

I saw it recently in Montreal and bought some.

When I lived there, and until I left in 1983 Laurentide was always advertised in English as an ale. The bottle labels stated “ale” while as stated above the French rendering was bière. Many ads and other sources I’ve consulted confirm this.

This U.S. news story on October 3, 1972 in the Clarkson Integrator (Potsdam, NY) recounts a visit of college students to Montreal. They went for a baseball game and to tour Molson’s. They were told by “Phillip”, a graduate student Molson had hired to lead tours, that the brewery made four “ales” and one “lager”. The ales were Molson Export, Molson Golden, Brador, and Laurentide. The sole lager was Molson Canadian.

My own memory suggests it was an ale, too. While on the light side it had a lightly fruity taste characteristic of top fermentation. To be sure all mass market ales of that period were fizzy, served cold, and cold-aged, hence presenting some lager characteristics, but still there was a distinction.

If one examines tv commercials for Laurentide on YouTube, one can see that something changed by 1989. In that year, the label reads finally in English, “beer”, see an example here. Whereas in early-1980s commercials, for example this one in 1982, the English description still reads “ale”. Something changed a few years later, and the beer was turned into an international lager style.

There can be little doubt this is still the case, as the Molson Coors website (see citation below) states it is a “pilsner”.

Also, based on tasting the Laurentide currently sold, it tastes like a pilsener in the international style. It is not what I remember, in other words, but still good with quite a full flavour. Some grain adjunct is likely used but it is not obtrusive. The beer tastes even better only lightly chilled.

Yet, in the 2017 Le Citoyen story, Eric Côté states the revived Laurentide is an ale (using the English term)! He tasted Laurentide at the brewery side by side with Molson Canadian, a lager, as some had suggested the two beers were the same. He concluded Laurentide is a different beer, with which I agree, but offered the reason that it is an ale. The listing on La Société des Alcools du Québec’s website states it is an ale too, a “pale ale” in fact. See here.

This is puzzling in light of the clear statement on Molson Coors’ website that Laurentide is a pilsner. Specifically:

Laurentide is a pilsner brewed with two-row pale malt and a variety of quality hops. Using a slow fermentation process, Laurentide is a beer with a subtle hoppiness, with a forthright and smooth taste and an indisputable reputation.

The only other thing I can think of is the beer was never an ale but the latter term was used for marketing reasons until “beer” replaced it on the English part of the label, but this seems unlikely.

James D. (Jim) Robertson reviewed the beer in the second (1982) edition of The Connoisseur’s Guide to Beer. He gave it a good rating, stating:

Bright amber gold, pleasant malt aroma with light hops, highly carbonated, good dry malt and hop flavour, well-balanced, zesty, slightly sour finish and aftertaste. Good tasting brew.

The sour finish was by reasonable inference Robertson’s lingo for cereal or glucose adjunct. Unfortunately he did not offer an opinion on a lager vs. ale character. Evidently still an ale in 1982, it has been a lager for at least 30 years, yet tastes pretty much as Robertson described it.

I can only assume that both the SAQ and many fans of Laurentide think it is an ale in 2019 because for decades the label stated it was. Some things adhere long in the folk memory, as I’ve discussed in other contexts.

When did Laurentide first appear in the market? Published beer histories don’t address that, by my canvassing. This ad of February 8, 1963 in the Sherbrooke Daily Record makes clear it was in early 1963. The ad is quite interesting, and stresses – no surprise for the time – the light qualities of the brand.

The rooster image still appears on the label, a symbol of Gallicism including in Quebec. According to this Quora discussion the symbol seems a play on words in that Gallus in Latin means both Gaul and rooster, although opinion is divided viz. the Quebec implications, as the chat reveals. Laurentide, as the name suggests (in English, Laurentian), was designed to appeal to the newly confident, 1960s francophone market. Laurentide Ale was a symbol for a time of a modernised, French-fact Quebec, consistent with La Révolution Tranquille.

There were many good tv ads for Laurentide, I like this one from 1989, it sums up the beer’s carefree image and demographic in that period. Note the Michel Pagliaro-style soundtrack. Maybe it was Pag.

Note re images: the first and last images above were obtained from sources identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Mr. Wade Comes to Robertson County

This is a follow-up to my post of some years ago on Tennessee’s Robertson County whiskey. In a reminiscence of notable U.S. political figures from the Civil War and early post-war era printed in the St. Landry Democrat of Opelousas, LA in 1887, drolleries were shed on a number of topics interwoven by the writer: deportment, dress, oratory, intellect, and (you knew it) Robertson County whiskey.

No one beats the Victorian southern Americans at this kind of writing, indeed a book could be written on that topic (you knew that was coming, too).

It’s all about Ben Ward’s immediate enrapture with Robertson County whiskey, and Schuyler Colfax retaining a keg sent his way despite being a strict temperance man. Some interesting technical points emerge, such as that the best RC whiskey was given some (post-charcoal vat) aging – this ties into what I wrote earlier – and also it was mashed using spent beer, a topic I extensively wrote about earlier as well, where the residue of distillation is used in place of water to mash and a spontaneous fermentation arises. No yeast is added to ferment the distiller’s beer, that is.

It’s all easy, down-home, wry (not rye, here) and not a little humorous. See the article, here.

A sample:

Mr. Wade had often given ear to panegyrics upon the superiority of this strain of whiskey, but had never tasted the ambrosia. The consequences of this
indulgence may be better imagined than described, especially by those familiar with Mr. Wade’s personal habits. The fiery Ohio senator succumbed to
the insidious but no less agreeable influence of “Robertson county,” but as no headache or disagreeable effects ensued on the “inglorious next morning,” he
pronounced it absolutely the best whiskey he had ever sampled.

For a handsome ad of 1876 for aged Robertson County whiskey, from Woodard & Moore in Springfield, TN, see here.

Griesedieck Beverage Co., St. Louis: 1920-1933

As I’ve discussed in recent posts Prohibition did not spell disaster for all breweries. Some adapted to new conditions and continued to prosper. Anheuser-Busch and Coors are two examples at the mega-brewery level. Trommer’s and Pittsburgh Brewing are smaller examples that kept their plants in spanking order ready to supply beer when 3.2% ABW beer was legalized from April 7, 1933.* There are other bright spots I will canvass in the future.

A story perhaps more typical is described by Alvin Griesedieck, who in 1952 authored an early history of Falstaff Brewery, The Falstaff Story. I’ve discussed Falstaff in other contexts, but not its early decades. The Prohibition years are well-described by Alvin, son of founder Joe Griesedieck, from the front lines.

The Griesedieck family had owned saloons and various breweries in the St. Louis area since patriarch Anton arrived from Westphalia in the late 1860s. The two main forms were Griesedieck Brothers Brewery, which was inoperative during Prohibition but re-started in 1933, and Griesedieck Beverage Co., established by Joe Griesedieck and helmed by son Alvin and brothers after Joe’s death in 1938. Griesedieck Brothers was a venture of cousins, absorbed by Griesedieck Beverage’s successor Falstaff Brewing in the 1950s.

Joe bought a closed brewery, Forest Park Brewery, not long before Prohibition so the first part of Alvin’s career (b. 1895) was working for a legal, Prohibition-era brewery.

He gives a detailed account of his experiences in the book, see especially from Chapter Three. It shows that the company’s near beer Hek – the name was taken from the ancient Egyptian word for cereal beverage – was potentially a profitable business for Griesedieck Beverage and initially enjoyed good sales. Alvin ascribes its decline, not necessarily to the rise of illicit home brewing although it played a role, but to other business factors.

He explains that the company struggled with old equipment in the short boom that followed WW I to meet increased demand. By the time it set up a decent sales and distribution network and could finance improvements to plant, the country entered recession and demand sank.

Hek, like Trommer’s and Pittsburgh Brewing’s product, was a fully fermented beer with the alcohol removed in a final stage of heating and vaporization. Alvin states that Bevo, Anheuser-Busch’s initially successful near beer, was an inferior product due to being made by “check fermentation”. This meant it was fermented just far enough to produce the legally permissible amount of alcohol (maximum .5%), and then filtered and stabilized for sale. Still, it sometimes re-fermented or “spoiled”, and was sent back for refund.

Another factor favouring Hek was that it “took” alcohol well. Alvin explains that some near beer did not blend well with alcohol, to make that is a makeshift beer in speakeasies and homes with illicit grain alcohol. This shows that near beer makers were well aware their beer was often “needled” to make it closer to the real stuff. Sadly, the moral inflexibility of the Prohibition scheme drew even upstanding, law-abiding citizens into conflict with the law; it couldn’t be avoided. Alvin does not discuss the ethical issues on this point: it is clear it was a matter of survival for the near beer makers, and that was that.

And so all said, Hek was well-poised to rival Bevo, perhaps even overtake it (Alvin implies) but business factors that might have been different, weren’t, and precluded this success.

What to do? Diversify, but before that, in a brilliant stroke Joe bought the Falstaff brand from Lemp Brewery, a major St. Louis brewery that closed in 1920 after failing with its near beer, Cerva. The main reason for the purchase was to own a gold-plated brand name, which Falstaff was both locally and further afield, so that on repeal of Prohibition the company could enter the legal beer stakes with high credibility and make money quickly. And that is what finally occurred.

But still the company had to survive until 1933. Apart from near beer it made a line of soda drinks. And it made, perhaps oddly to our ears, cured bacon and ham: vats and the refrigeration system at the brewery facilitated that business.

These new businesses allowed overheads to be covered and nurturing of the prize purchase, the Falstaff name. Alvin records that before Prohibition while mighty Anheuser-Busch sold 1,000,000 barrels per annum of widely distributed beer, Lemp sold 800,000 barrels mainly in St. Louis and nearby regions. In other words it had enormous good will for a St. Louis-based business, which served the Falstaff brand in good stead after 1933.

Much of the book is devoted to describing business and financial transactions, but much of it too deals with the human level. The last brewing Lemp tended to be a cold and calculating businessman, but Alvin thought he sold the Falstaff name to Joe out of personal regard, finally. The Lemps had all become wealthy in brewing and didn’t need to continue their business. Joe, relatively late in life, was starting anew with the former Forest Park brewery. Being offered the Falstaff name at a firesale price was, Alvin implied, a notable gesture by a man in Lemp’s position.

One is impressed by Alvin’s description of his father. Confronted with many obstacles through his career especially connected to financing the Griesedieck and Falstaff companies, he never gave up and maintained a positive mien. For this reason he had many friends in St. Louis, at all levels, as shown by the impressive floral arrangements sent to his funeral, by every level of society and business. Alvin’s description of his father’s qualities suggests a rather different business and social culture, for better and worse, to today’s world.

But netting it down, what did the survival of Griesedieck Beverage mean during the Volstead years, financially that is? As I’ve mentioned, overheads were covered and Alvin states this included a “small salary” for himself. So it was profitable in this sense, but barely. Alvin writes he had thought at times of abandoning the business for something more remunerative. He didn’t, largely because Joe had invested everything – all the family’s wealth – to build a business for his progeny. That loyalty proved rewarding in the end, but it was, and remains, a value unto itself.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from a 1918 Arkansas newspaper courtesy Chronicling America, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*In my recent post on N/A beer and Trommer’s I described the re-introduction date as June 7, 1933; this has since been corrected.

The Cup and the Frog

The “frog mug” is perhaps an unlikely subject for Wikipedia, but so great is that resource I have learned not to minimize it. Indeed a well-written history appears just on that subject, authored apparently by a botany expert.

The mug took different forms, as a cursory image search shows, but the classic type has the little animal crouched at the base, looking up to startle the drinker when the drink descends far enough to see him. In the old days alcoholic drinks were often cloudy – ale, cider, perry and the like – so the drinker did not suspect a jape until thrust upon him or her. The world turns – cloudy drinks are in vogue again – so perhaps the frog mug is due for a revival.

The essay noted explains the mug as a simple joke, originating in the mid-1700s in districts where pottery was produced. Clearly a macabre humour is at work here, but there has to be more to it than that to explain the origins of the practice, one that quickly spread to the New World, as numerous accounts refer to the mug from American Colonial days and into the present.

Going deeper, one explanation, offered in Cheshire Notes and Queries of 1883, states the practice derives from a northern superstition. A frog was sealed in a pot of some kind, over which an invocation was chanted to place ill wishes on an enemy. The idea was the animal would expire slowly and hence too the object of the curse would take sick and wither in parallel. The writer projects that makers of mugs then had the idea to place a frog in the mug for a sly visual joke, and states servants quarters in gentlemen’s houses often featured the item.

Yet Jane Perkins Claney, in her 2004 book-length study of Rockingham Ware in American culture, states the frog, less the toad though, was a fertility symbol in some cultures and the frog mug may be a beneficent practice to recall this early belief.

In this 1878 issue of the The Cultivator and Country Gentleman, it is explained (without reference to frog mugs as such) that a mother of vinegar was added to some cider to hasten its conversion to vinegar. A mother of vinegar is a mass of cellulose and Acetobacter, a bacterium that produces acetic acid under the influence of oxygen. The account likens the mother to the scum on a stagnant pond, known popularly, it states, as “frog spittle”.

Other accounts confirm the popular term frog spittle to describe growth on a pond, which is vegetative in origin, nothing to do with frog emanations as such.

So perhaps (Beeretseq thinking here) cloudy, yeasty beer or cider reminded drinkers of this pond matter, and from there, someone had the idea to place a “swimming” frog in the base of the pot to complete the analogy. Indeed a 1970s joke among those not enamoured of “real ale”, the unfiltered, still-fermenting beer form fancied by connoisseurs, was the “pond matter” often drifting in the beer.

Yet another explanation occurs to us: a toadstool is a mushroom, which is a fungus. Yeast, which ferments apple juice into cider and a boiled cereal mash into beer, is also a fungal organism. The idea of toadstool/mushroom transferred to placing a facsimile of a toad or frog in the beer pot, to make a punning style of joke.

These various explanations may have merged over time with the true origins being forever lost.

On Twitter recently the U.K. beer writers Boak and Bailey mused about fashionable pub names that seem derived from a non-pet animal and an item of common household use, eg. (my own devise) the “Bench and the Bee”.

I propose for the next “arch pub”, as the new-generation pubs are sometimes called, the name “Cup and Frog”. A Thameside location, or indeed along any water, would be apposite.

Note re image: the image shown is drawn from the Wikipedia account referenced above and is used pursuant to the terms of the Creative Commons License No. 4.0 here referenced.





Brewery Success During Prohibition

The fate of American breweries during National Prohibition (1920-1933) is a topic that, by my canvassing, is largely elided in the general brewing histories. It is similar for distilling.

Mention is usually made of “x” number of breweries at the outset of Prohibition (about 1200), the number that remained by repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment (about half), with perhaps mention of various non-alcohol products made by breweries in the Dry Era. Soda pop, near beer of .5% abv, ice cream, ice, and malt extract are all examples, stratagems to survive local or National Prohibition.

But some near beers were well-known in their day, e.g., Anheuser-Busch’s Bevo. The other day I examined Trommer’s near beer from Brooklyn, New York, which had notable success. Bevo did well in the early to mid-1920s but later faltered due, it seems, to the concurrent successes of organized bootlegging and home brewing. In contrast, Trommer’s all-malt near beer sold so well that Trommer invested a large sum to expand production at the end of the 1920s (see sources cited in my post on near beer and Trommer a few days ago).

To the extent that Prohibition-era brewing is examined illicit production tends to be highlighted: bootlegging, Al Capone (“I don’t know what street Canada is on”), speakeasies, and home brewing. Legal breweries are sometimes canvassed that produced real beer contrary to Prohibition laws.

The restricted attention is understandable: beer history is concerned with beer, after all. The dark days are comparatively unimportant compared to the restoration of legal brewing from April 7, 1933.

Yet, the breweries’ lawful activities between 1920 and 1933 are of absorbing interest. Indeed, a book could be written on the subject. In these notes I will refer to two poles, or facets, of that dimension, one economic, the other an excursion in human interest or, in today’s terms, social history.

First, the economic/business side. Carlos Eduardo Hernández holds a UCLA doctorate and is a Professor of Management Studies in Colombia. In 2016 he wrote a paper on how American breweries adapted during National Prohibition and earlier when beer was banned under local option.

The study can be read here, entitled “Adaptation and Survival in the Brewing Industry during Prohibition”. In part reliant on sophisticated maths and econometrics, it concludes that breweries confronted with local prohibition years before National Prohibition took effect adapted better than those whose first experience was under the latter regime.

He argues the case by considering various metrics including inputs used by the breweries, especially equipment purchases. He concludes in part:

… [The] historical context allows me to follow breweries throughout an initial shock of heterogeneous intensity (local prohibition), followed by a common, larger, shock (federal prohibition). By studying survival throughout both shocks, I show that adaptation – the making of irreversible investments in response to the first shock – increases the ability of firms to survive the second shock, even if selection  – the exit of the least productive firms –  also occurs in response to the first shock. My novel dataset on machinery acquisition and product diversification corroborates the testable implications of the adaptation mechanism.

The key components of my mechanism – irreversible investments and multi-product firms –  are present in many industries of today. For example, firms that span multiple industries account for 81 percent of the manufacturing output and 28 percent of the number firms in the US (Bernard et al., 2010).

While many might consider the typical modern brewery a single-purpose business, one need only think of Samuel Adams’ (Boston Brewing Company’s) forays into cider and hard seltzer to see the justice of Hernández’ analysis. Today as well, the advent of kombucha, sake, N/A beer, and marijuana-flavoured beverages shows that breweries can benefit from non-beer beverages and preserve competitiveness in an evolving market.

Considering too the steady numerical decline of American breweries even before National Prohibition – from about 1800 in 1905 to 1200 in 1920 – the decline may have broadened even had National Prohibition never occurred. Local option probably played a small part in the drop before 1920, as in 1915, as I showed earlier, national beer production was at an all-time high. It subsequently fell under war-related materials conservation and finally, the Eighteenth Amendment.

Business efficiency surely played a leading role in the pre-1920 process, as it did for the long-term cull of breweries commencing from 1933. By 1976 there were under 100 breweries in America. Therefore, had National Prohibition never occurred it is quite possible in my view that not more than 600 breweries would have survived to 1933 anyway.

A further notable example of brewery success during Prohibition is Pennsylvania’s Fort Pitt Brewery, which had a 51-year run starting in 1906.

In this December 1932 article in The Pittsburgh Press, the writer profiled the brewery and its Czech immigrant brewer, Joseph Vokral. Vokral had worked for many years in the legal industry before Prohibition, in Chicago, arriving in Pittsburgh relatively late in his career in 1925.

He was taken on due to his brewing skills and ability to make a saleable near beer, its production is described in the article. It sounds like a traditional pilsener except the alcohol was removed in the last stage, similar to Trommer’s product in New York.

Vokral’s college education was a novel element for the journalist. Most brewers in those days received either on-the-job training or perhaps a stint at one of the (fairly new) brewing schools.

Vokral was clearly a partisan of Czech lager brewing, and preferred (understandably) the hops of his native country. His near beer was probably very good, it would be interesting to try it alongside the current crop.

Of course, real beer came back the following year. Fort Pitt Brewery had many ups and downs after Repeal, by some accounts never fully recovering from the death in 1935 of its principal Samuel Grenet, a charismatic politician-businessman.

While many breweries foundered during Prohibition – of that there is no doubt – the twin pole analyses of economic and social history help illuminate a period often thought of as one long disaster for American breweries. It wasn’t.