A Festhalle at K-W Oktoberfest, 2019

A news story in Kitchener, Ontario summed up one view of the 51st edition of the nine-day K-W Oktoberfest that ended earlier this month. Taking place in Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge some 60-70 miles west of Toronto, a non-profit corporation has run the event since the early ’70s.

Organizers like to emphasize that K-W Oktoberfest is more than about beer, German food, folk dancing, and oom-pah. There are family breakfasts, various sports competitions, a Kitchener food walking tour, a new citizen welcoming event, a PRIDEtoberfest, the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade, and much more. The official 2019 FestGuide gives a good overview.

Some new elements featured this year – an open, daytime Bavarian marketplace was one. This story from the Waterloo Chronicle lists other new elements.

For many though, the Festhallen remain a key attraction. This year we attended an evening at the Alpine Club. The club, founded in the early 1950s, is a German cultural touchstone in K-W. It’s not the biggest festhall – Concordia Club with its huge tent has always held that honour – but offers a pleasing mix of intimacy and spaciousness.

Not as many German clubs and other venues participated this year as officially-approved Festhallen. There was a total of nine, versus perhaps two dozen in past decades. Still, the K-W Oktoberfest draws some 600,000 annually. It’s still a potent regional attraction in the Province and will remain so for many years.

Bingemans, the large recreation and event centre outside Kitchener, was an approved Festhalle from Day 1 but two years ago, went its own way, setting up tents for its own event. Beers from Paulaner in Munich and Waterloo Brewery, founded in K-W over 30 years ago, could be purchased.

International beer giant Molson-Coors is an important sponsor of K-W Oktoberfest and hence its beers have been dominant at participating clubs. Due in part to this restriction, Bingemans disengaged from the official event, allowing it to offer beers of its own choosing. Probably for this reason the 2019 event permitted sale of various German brands at the venues (see the Chronicle story above).

A further option for craft beer fans is Craftoberfest, held over a weekend in early October. It features German and other foods as well as harvest-themed craft beer and cider from across Ontario.

People who appreciate craft beer and good imports, especially a younger demographic, expect a broader choice today. It looks like it’s coming at K-W Oktoberfest, but it’s taken some time. As a result, the event has less traction (IMO) among craft beer fans than it otherwise might.

The Alpine Club is about the size of a high-school gymnasium and was comfortably full the night we attended, I’d estimate 200-250 people. The demographic was weighted to an older crowd but there were younger people too, considering also it was a Thursday.

On the beer side, there was (very fresh) bottled Hofbrauhaus Original from Munich, German Erdinger wheat beer, California’s Lagunitas IPA, Dutch Heineken, Molson Canadian, Ontario’s Creemore Lager, and Coors Light among others. Pilsner Urquell was also listed but none was at the bar that night. Plus, there were local and German wines and a few traditional German spirits.

Craft beer central? Not at all, but preferable to earlier years. I’d like to see a Festhalle at future K-W Oktoberfests that’s dedicated to craft beer and quality imports. It’s a logical next step.

At bottom, Festallen offer a German cultural experience for a time to a larger community. The Alpine’s version served excellent food – I had cabbage rolls and sausage – great live music, German-themed but with early rock and roll and pop favourites, non-stop folk dancing, and dazzling costumes.

K-W Octoberfest is on the original “beer calendar” of this Province, and is still there. Hopefully the festival will find ways to attract greater numbers from the GTA and beyond, and in particular the craft beer segment. So much of craft beer culture derives one way or another from Germany, that closer ties between the two communities makes perfect sense.

Some GTA brewers and other Metro groups host their own Octoberfest – Amsterdam and Steam Whistle have in Toronto. These are always fun, and the beer of course prima. But K-W Oktoberfest has a unique character, not just via the world-famous Munich inspiration but also the longstanding German cultural presence in K-W.

It began in the late 1700s when Mennonite communities from Pennsylvania and New York came north to the area. Due to this initial presence, German-speaking immigrants later arrived from various lands, an influx that probably peaked in the ’60s and ’70s. Today, many more ethnic communities and nationalities are represented in the area, all contributing to its growth and future.

Staying the same and being relevant for the future is never an easy path to negotiate, but I hope K-W Oktoberfest finds a way. Meanwhile, I’m planning to attend next year.




How Irish Whiskey Became Blended (Part III)

Between 1955 and 1959 in the Irish Dáil, numerous exchanges attest to the growth of blended Irish whisky, as an item of export, to America. Yet as we shall see, some of that blended whiskey was already being sold in Ireland. From 1955 the blended category was being increasingly produced by the major distillers left in the country. There were three by my count still operating in the south ca. 1960. Bushmills, plus the affiliate Coleraine, were left in the north.

There must have been enough aged Irish grain whisky for this purpose. There could be multiple uses for it earlier – to fortify sherry or port-type wine, for gin, for bulk sale to other countries – but anyway it seems the component was available. I have not found any discussion that an aging period had to expire before bottling and sale of blended whiskey could proceed. This 1955 debate, and this 1959 one, are useful bookends to understand the shift that occurred from ca. 1950 when an obdurate group of Irish distillers – admirable in their way – cavilled from blending their rich, waxy, fruity wine of the grain.

As this account on the Gapwines site confirms, British retail magnate Isaac Wolfson bought Bushmills Distillery after WW II but it continued to be managed by its former owner, the Belfast-based Boyd family who started as wine and spirits retailers. Wolfson quickly expanded sales to the U.S. What was he selling? U.S. ads we have been able to check between, say, 1937 and 1957 refer simply to Bushmills whisky eight or nine years old, type not specified. If it wasn’t blended whiskey from the outset, that must have changed by the late 1950s, we think.

However, this 1997 issue of the trade magazine Night Club and Bar states (snippet view but clear) that Black Bush, the premium blended version of Bushmills, was developed at Antrim, home of Bushmills, in 1934. It recites the well-known specification, 80% malt, 20% grain whisky. Hence, the Bushmills sent post-Prohibition to America even before grain whisky was produced at Antrim may have been Black Bush, or some of it, vs. an all-malt Bushmills.*

Two indices presage Bushmills’ later ramp-up, including internationally, of blended whiskey: a 1944 American news story from Belfast, which reported “Irish” distillers intended to send blended whisky after the war to meet American tastes as determined from U.S. soldiers’ requests for “Scotch”, and this April 1954 story in the Advocate which stated Bushmills was building a grain whisky plant. It was the first grain whisky, the Irish-American organ reported, since Dunville in Ulster ceased that business 20 years earlier.

The same story states blending firms in the north – non-distilling independents, surely, but likely also Bushmills itself – had previously obtained supplies “outside”. That probably meant the Republic where two plants were producing it or Scotland (what labelling issues may have ensued, I cannot say). 

Hence, Bushmills might have supplied America from the mid-1930s with Black Bush, but in any case had in-house capacity by the late 1950s. As is well known, both a Black and less costly White Bush were heavily marketed in North America once the whisky renaissance got underway.

To access the 1944 story, use this Fulton search interface, and insert GI Calls for Scotch in search box. It is the second citation, from a Schenectady, NY newspaper. The first citation, from North Tonawanda, is the same story but edited to take out the most important part. The full report ends with an eloge for pot still whiskey, rather contradictory to the earlier paragraph that calls for a milder, blended article to be exported to Americans, but this is journalists not fully understanding what they were reporting.

The 1944 story is interesting as coming from Belfast. As we know, the Irish Pot Still Distillers Association did not initially want to adopt blending; so who were the Irish distillers so anxious to blend after WW II apart Bushmills, clearly? We think it possible the idea was northern initially, with the south signing on under pressure finally from the Irish government via Coras Trachtala Teoranta (CTT); see my Parts I and II in that regard.

The important thing is that some Irish distillers wanted to get on the blended bandwagon again, i.e., after the 19th century experience with it that withered especially in the south by WW I. And this was years before the CTT got going. The CTT didn’t reinvent the wheel, the concept was always there in Irish distilling circles, Republic or Six Counties. The return to it was perhaps inevitable given the evident, global appeal of non-single malt Scotch, even in distant America, but still CTT’s role was vital, hence my drawing attention to it.

Irish whiskey enthusiast and memorabilia collector Charlie Roche wrote us after our first two Parts appeared to send some useful items, for which we thank him here as well. The first is from October 12, 1954, a story in the Maryborough Chronicle of Queensland. It appeared to all evidence only in Australia, but confirms that Gilbey’s Crock o’ Gold, a blended Irish whiskey, was being marketed that year in New York and further, had been available for some years at the bar of “Shannon [airport]” where Americans had taken to it.

Gilbey was the British gin distiller and blender with 19th century roots in England, and had an Irish branch. Gilbey was famous for gin but also had produced blended Scotch whisky successfully and clearly now Irish as well. Gilbey, today part of Diageo, originated as well the all-pot still Redbreast, name and formula now owned by Irish Distillers at Midleton.

It may be noted Riley was a blender, not a distiller of Irish whiskey or at least pot still Irish, to our knowledge, but helped get the ball rolling, surely. It sounds like CTT was campaigning to blenders too, as the Australian story notes briefly that it encouraged development of this brand.

The part about Shannon is interesting, in particular. The received story on Irish Coffee is that Irish chef and bartender Joe Sheridan developed the concoction at Foynes Seaplane base on the other side of the estuary from Shannon, during the war. He was engaged at Shannon International Airport after the war, served it to San Francisco journalist Stanton Delaplane in 1951, who brought it to America and thence to national fame and beyond.

The Australian press story suggests to me Irish blended whiskey was in the coffee as made famous in America from Day One, even though in 1942-43 when Sheridan devised the mix, he would have used pure pot still whisky. As I speculated earlier, the comparative lightness of a blend may have contributed to the drink’s ultimate wide appeal.

What about introduction of Gilbey’s new Irish whiskey in the Free State itself? Good Cooking was an early Irish food journal edited by a husband and wife team, the O’Caseys. Their magazine, of excellent quality, lasted only a year – in 1958 – but contains much information of interest to food and drink historians. The Dublin Institute of Technology, which has a long-running culinary branch, has placed digitized copies on their site with the kind permission of the O’Casey heirs.

In the March 1958 issue appears what sounds like an advertorial for Gilbey’s Crock o’ Gold. Part of it, with pardonable Irish blarney, reads:

A great deal of thought and experiment by this very experienced firm [Gilbey] has gone into the creation of Crock of Gold. It is a lightly blended whiskey, partly liqueur [i.e., pure pot still], which the Americans especially have gone for in a big way, and big orders continue to pour in particularly from the area along the Western Seaboard. This blend has also made a ready appeal in Ireland. Most people here do not drink wine with their lunch because of its soperific effect, and the ordinary type of whiskey has the same result. More and more business executives and others who have to keep wide awake during the afternoon are finding this lighter blend a real blessing.

And so modern blended whiskey was being sold in Ireland before the 1960s or 1970s, periods sometimes cited for first introduction at home. The full-page piece, presumably originating with Gilbey, also states that sales were better on the Western than Eastern American Coasts, but this is not surprising. The big Irish-American communities in New York and Boston et al. knew the older form of Irish whiskey well – pure pot still. It makes sense it took time for the new blended form to make headway with them, vs. the more heterogeneous marketplace out West.

(Yet as I’ve discussed earlier, something as exotic as Manx Oyster Stout had a niche market in that same California – the State can be a surprising mass of contradiction!).

Finally, in the very first issue, January 1958, of Good Cooking, a recipe for Irish Coffee was included. It reads:

Heat stemmed goblet. Pour in jigger of whiskey or Irish Mist. Add sugar. Fill goblet with strong black coffee to within one inch of brim. Stir to dissolve sugar. Top off to the brim with whipped cream. Do not stir after adding cream.

Hence, only some five years after Stan Delaplane launched the craze in America, the recipe “rebounds” to Ireland for distribution locally, without irony or raised eyebrow. This may be the first published recipe for Irish Coffee in Ireland in a drinks- or cookery book, except for any publicity materials from the enterprising Gilbey. I’d think likely Gilbey gave the recipe to the O’Caseys, but can’t be certain.

What a pity Good Cooking did not continue! It was written with a warm spirit and evident high degree of intelligence. Maura O’Casey appears to have authored the text, her husband Ian did layout, design, and solicited advertising: see the first PDF listed (“2017”) for background on the couple.

There is much of interest in the journal. Maura clearly appreciated fish cookery, then overlooked as a datum of Irish cookery (“Fish are as good as a new product as far as many towns are concerned” – March 1958 issue). There are recipes from the Continent, from Ireland, from America, and beyond. Menus current and past are included as well, e.g., a dinner given to Ernest Shackleton (from Kildare) at the Savage Club, London in 1909. Numerous menus are reproduced from the Irish branch of the International Food and Wine Society, of which we have written considerable earlier.

Like many pioneers, the O’Caseys were ahead of their time.


*For what it is worth, a 1959 Practical Encyclopedia of Alcoholic Beverages, ed. Frank Haring, characterized whiskey from the Republic of Ireland as pure pot still, while describing the whisky of Northern Ireland as a mix of malt whisky and grain whisky. See here. There is always a time lag when such works are issued, especially at the time. One can see that this broadly described the position since Prohibition, and, we apprehend, probably since the 1908 Royal Commission on Whisky in the U.K. if not earlier.  This does not mean some blended whiskey wasn’t sold in southern Ireland in the 19th century and up to 1908 at least: the testimony of various witnesses at the Royal Commission including William Jameson makes clear it was, at the wholesale level (i.e., blenders would mix the two forms and supply it to the retail trade).

But at production level – what the distilleries themselves branded and sold – this basic distinction seemed correct, e.g., Jameson and Power’s did not sell at the time a branded blended whiskey. This is consistent with my findings. However, the distinction in Haring’s book was breaking down when it was published, due to the important work of the CTT, development of Crock O Gold by Gilbey, and export by the late 1950s of numerous other blended whiskeys to America from the Republic. That is the story in these posts: how that process occurred, and why.







How Irish Whiskey Became Blended (Part II)

Irish Whiskey, Irish wit

For those interested to follow this question of how modern Irish blended whiskey originated, this link to a debate in 1954 in the Dáil, or Irish Parliament, will illuminate many aspects. A private member’s bill, finally withdrawn, was introduced to favour the creation of a State-sponsored corporation to produce patent or grain whisky to blend with pot still Irish for export, especially to America.

The members discuss many aspects raised or alluded to in my Part I and add further useful perspectives, addressing notably:

  • the history of the main Irish distillers’ antipathy to blended whisky
  • the reality that American and world markets wanted a lighter, blended article
  • difficulties faced by Irish distillers during the war when barley was short and whisky exports were in the main disallowed by law
  • pros and cons of changing the minimum age then required for sale of Irish whisky in Ireland (five years)
  • the advisability of altering existing industrial alcohol facilities in Ireland to produce potable patent whisky

In the result, the distilling industry in Ireland adopted blended whisky after 1954 through its own efforts, initially for export to North America and finally for home use.

For those who read an early version of my Part I mentioned, it now includes additional hyperlinked sources, further discussion on Irish coffee, and a more nuanced reference to pre-WW II blending of Irish whiskey.

Most members participating in the 1954 debate accepted the commercial utility of creating blended whisky production while trying to promote sales where possible of the traditional pot still article. I infer from the article that some blended whisky was already being sold in America by a small distiller or blender (not named), but it is also clear that the main distillers – Jameson and Powers – were traditionalists only slowly being wooed to the desirability of introducing a blended form of their famous whiskey (as they ultimately did).

There was also an interesting Dáil debate in 1950 when a law was passed to legislate a definition of Irish whiskey, commendable in its brevity. You may read it here. That law clearly allows blended whisky to be called “whiskey” in Ireland as indeed Great Britain, America and Canada had determined earlier for their whisky. Method of distillation was not material, in other words.

The definition of Irish pot still whiskey was more limited, but without any attempt to specify percentage or type of cereals used except for malted barley being necessary for saccharification:

… spirits described as Irish Pot Still Whiskey shall not be deemed to correspond to that description unless they have been obtained by distillation solely in pot stills in the State from a mash of cereal grains such as are ordinarily grown in the State saccharified by the diastase of malted barley.

I suspect “ordinarily grown” was meant to exclude corn, or maize in other words. It is interesting to compare this flexible definition to the current EU technical standard for the use of the term single pot still whiskey, which is rather more specific. See this summary of the current rules by legendary distiller Barry Crockett on the site of Irish Distillers (Pernod Ricard), owner of Midleton distillery in the town of the same name.

There is some controversy in Ireland whether this definition is at odds with the historical record and too restrictive, in particular viz. the emerging group of craft distillers. We are aware of it and it is an interesting issue, but beyond our scope here.

At the end of the day, good whiskey, as good beer, wine, or cider, should raise a beneficent smile. Indeed a sharp wit can do the same, even without ethanol’s spur.

An example is provided in the 1954 Dáil debate mentioned above.  In a verbal peregrination on the true Irish whiskey, Seán Francis Lemass (1899-1971), today regarded as a founding father of Ireland, stated:

Many years ago I tried to do some trade promotional efforts for Irish whiskey in Canada. I thought it might be easier there because there was a Government monopoly in whiskey in some of the Canadian States, but we found there was a very bad whiskey exported from Belfast with more shamrocks, round towers and greyhounds on the label than you would see in the whole of Connemara. It had so prejudiced public opinion against Irish whiskey that you just could not get them to look at Irish whiskey.

As they say, ouch – on a couple of scores.

Note re image: Image above, sourced from the Wellcome Collection, is entitled “An Irish greyhound standing in a mountainous landscape. Etching by J. Scott after P. Reinagle”. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

(See our Part III to this post which immediately follows).


How Irish Whiskey Became Blended (Part I)

The main objection raised to Irish whiskey in America is that it is not blended. The Irish distillers have made it clear that they consider their product the best in the world, and refuse to change from the traditional pot still method of distilling.

(From The Advocate, January 23, 1954).

1953 and all That

Most Irish whiskey today is blended. This means, a light-flavoured grain whisky, distilled to a high-proof in a column still, is blended with a smaller (often) amount of single pot still or single malt whiskey distilled to a lower proof, or both. Single pot still, formerly known as pure pot still whiskey, is a traditional Irish triple distilled whiskey using a mash of malted and unmalted barley and in the past, other grains (wheat, oats, rye) in varying, generally smaller percentages.

The main exponent of single pot still Irish today is Midleton Distillery owned by Irish Distillers (Pernod Ricard). Single malt is produced classically by Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland, along Scots lines but is also made by numerous other distilleries in Ireland, Cooley’s is an example.

The Irish blended style is an analogue to Scotch blended whisky, Canadian blended whiskey, and broadly, American blended whiskey. For a good overview of Irish distilling today that focuses on whiskey types, this Forbes article from May 28 this year by Joseph V. Micallef serves well.

Now, if pure pot still aka single pot still Irish was the inherited form, whence the blended form? Blending in Scotland originated in the 19th century. Did the same occur in Ireland? Not in any way that, contrary to Scotch, became emblamatic, as all or most Irish whiskey by the early 20th century was pure pot still. Everyone is agreed on this, I believe.

What is less clear is how it became blended, or rather why. The answer lies in a series of news articles in the Irish-American press in 1953-1955. See my sources below in nos. 1-7, all from the Advocate, published in New York, which chronicled the tale.

In a nutshell, in 1953 Coras Trachtala Teoranta (CTT) commissioned a market study to determine how better to market Irish whiskey to Americans. Alan C. Russell, a marketing expert in New York, performed the study, delivering a report of 100 pages. (Now that would make fascinating reading, but we were not successful to locate a copy).

CTT was the (Irish) Dollar Export Promotion Board, a government body set up in 1951 and tasked with increasing Irish exports. See further details in this U.S. Bureau of Foreign Commerce publication from 1959.

What the Advocate records is that Irish distillers, there were five still in business then, were committed for quality reasons to pot still whiskey – they did not want to blend. But pressed by CTT and Irish legislators, soon they did. They sent initially the produce to America, introducing it later at home apparently in the 1960s.

The first export for the new blended form was contracted in 1955 (see no. 7), a satisfyingly large order that pointed to the future for Irish distilling. The first shipments appear to have gone over the following year, according to a trade publication of January 7, 1957 issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

CTT convinced the distillers to do this to increase their export business, to try to catch up with Scotch exports which were far ahead in the U.S. market. Indeed Advocate stories stated, sometimes ruefully, that blended Scotch had a respectable sale in the Republic of Ireland itself.

In the story below by Sean Cronin (no. 5), he states:

Irish domestic consumption takes most of the production—some 700,000 gallons. Scotch, of course, has been Britain’s greatest dollar-earner and only a relatively small percentage of total production stays at home. Why does Scotch control the whisky market of the world? Is it a better product? What’s wrong with Irish whisky?

Cronin then added:

Experts of the Irish distilling industry have traipsed across the United States and into Canada to find the answers. They think that as between the pure pot still Irish and the blended variety the latter is what the American whisky drinker wants. The reason they insist is because large numbers of Americans like ginger ale in their whisky. To the connoisseur this sounds like sacrilege but you don’t shake a fact by swearing at it. And whereas the blend and the ginger mix favorably the pure stuff wouldn’t deign to sit still in the same glass (or stomach) as the mineral.*

So, Irish pot still didn’t work well for mixed drinks; blended Scotch, by then the main form sent to the U.S., did. A further story in the series states Irish distillers hadn’t the capital to invest massively in advertising to switch American preferences to pure pot still. Ergo, turn Irish whiskey into a blend, to meet American tastes. That is the story these Advocate pieces tell if you read each one.

None of the stories, interestingly, refers to price. If a low pricing strategy played any role, we are unaware of it, although we suspect there was something about pricing in Alan Russell’s report to CTT. On the face of it, the decision to blend was a function of two factors: a) American taste, b) lack of distillers’ capital to market pure pot still nationally in America.

This ad in an Ossinning, NY newspaper in 1956 shows a Murphy “blended whiskey” that is clearly the new type, choc-a-bloc with a seven year old Jameson that appears the old type. The price for the eight-year-old Murphy was slightly more than for the seemingly pot still Three Star Jameson. This suggests price was not a factor in deciding to send blended whiskey to America. That said, we have not undertaken a systematic price investigation based on late 1950s and 1960s trade ads.

Much of the Irish coffee craze in the U.S. in 1950s-60s appears to have relied on the new blended whiskey. A blend of Irish whiskey amusingly termed Royal Irish – a reflection on the insouciance of the American consumer? – was touted in California in 1958 as ideal for Irish coffee.** See, for example, this example in San Bernadino, CA.

Whether the outsize success of Irish coffee was reliant on this form vs. the more vigorous pot still is impossible to answer at this point. Certainly Irish coffee was publicised in America before the new blended whiskey was imported, but we suspect the lighter form made the mixture more palatable to more people.

All the above said, a review of 1930s-early 40s trade ads in the U.S. shows that considerable Irish whiskey was described as blended, see e.g., in nos. 8 and 9 below. I believe, however, this whiskey was not pot still or single malt blended with grain whisky, but rather a mix of Irish straight whiskeys, perhaps in some cases single malt and pure pot still.

One reason is, some ads state the advertised blended whiskey, Jameson, for example, was the same as that sold in Ireland. Another reason is that contemporary American standards of identity for whiskey required that Irish whiskey be described as a blend if it was a mixture of whiskeys.*** Say, for example, Jameson had mingled some of its own seven year pot still with similar whiskey purchased from another, or an out-of-business, distiller.

Jameson’s Irish American Whiskey, well-known to historians of Irish whiskey, was a combination of a young American straight whiskey and old Irish pot still first marketed in 1936, i.e., in the post-Repeal period. It was abandoned by WW II, probably due to the widespread availability by then of properly aged American straight whiskey. This 1936 ad for the product in Buffalo, New York shows the great hopes invested, vainly, in its future.

Clearly however, some Irish whiskey before the landmark decisions in 1953-54 was blended in the sense of containing column still grain whisky. Numerous references in literature on both sides of the Atlantic in the 19th and early 20th centuries are to this effect especially in regard to exports, at least to England. This fed into the “what is whiskey” controversy and the pre-WW I Royal Commission inquiry that resulted in important regulatory decisions in Britain and North America including on how to label column still grain distillate where mixed with pot still. In a word if all made from grain it was entitled to the appellation whisky.

At the same time, from our survey, blending in this sense was in Ireland disfavoured in time and from ca. 1900 so-called “self” whisky (pure pot still in southern Ireland) became the main form produced and sold. All or nearly all of what was exported to America after Prohibition must have been 100% pot still, otherwise the tone of the Advocate series is inexplicable.

Yet we can’t rule out that some truly blended whiskey – grain whisky + single pot still and/or single malt – was sent to America in the 1930s. If so it was a progenitor of the CTT-inspired blended whisky that became popular in America and ultimately Ireland.

CTT was later absorbed into Ireland’s current Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In the 1950s certainly, CTT had an office in Manhattan and did a fine job promoting Irish exports of all kinds, including whiskey.

It is my conclusion that indirectly, a trade decision viz. the American market ultimately influenced the main form Irish whiskey would take in its homeland.

N.B. My purpose here is not to outline Irish distilling history over the period discussed or beyond, as such. I do wish to show, based on my research, that modern Irish blended whiskey has its origins in a plan to export a blended article to America hatched by the CTT and Irish legislators, one to which initially reluctant but finally compliant distillers of pure pot still whiskey signed on. I found this of note as normally, product innovation arises from business dynamics such as competition, or the introduction of new technology. The group of reluctant distillers was John Jameson and Powers in Dublin, and Cork Distillers, Locke, and Tullamore outside. Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland stood in a somewhat different position as a single malt producer – no mashing of raw grains – but did share the pot still. In fact Bushmills would enhance its blending capability in about the same period, as I will discuss before long.

(See our Parts II and III to this post which immediately follow).


* “Mineral” in Ireland means, or used to mean, what we call pop. See as well our comment added to this post.
*It is possible though the brand originated somehow with Dunville Distillery in Ulster, known at one time as Royal Irish Distilleries. The distillery closed in 1936, but the name may have been picked up later, perhaps by a blending firm. Dunville had an extensive export business in the U.S., in fact.
*** We thank Irish whiskey maven Charlie Roche who after reading this post, sent us an early-1930s Jameson print ad stating that blended meant Jameson pot still whiskey older than 7 years was combined with its 7 year pot still – what is called in bourbon speak today mingling. The ad stated U.S. laws on whiskey description required the blended indication. Hence, at least in Jameson’s case, its prewar exports in this period, and likely always before, were pure pot still. A hyperlink (source) wasn’t given, but this ad, while not as detailed as the one Charlie sent, is to similar effect.



4)https://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2018/New%20York%20NY%20Irish%20American%20Advocate/New%20York%20NY%20Irish%20American%20Advocate%201952-1954/New%20York%20NY%20Irish%20American%20Advocate%201952-1954%20-%201238.pdf (Oct.2, 1954)
7)https://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2018/New%20York%20NY%20Irish%20American%20Advocate/New%20York%20NY%20Irish%20American%20Advocate%201955/New%20York%20NY%20Irish%20American%20Advocate%201955%20-%200496.pdf (Sept. 3, 1955)
8) https://fultonhistory.com/highlighter/highlight-for-xml?altUrl=https%3A%2F%2Ffultonhistory.com%2FNewspaper%252024%2FBayside%2520NY%2520Times%2FBayside%2520NY%2520Times%25201936-1937%2FBayside%2520NY%2520Times%25201936-1937%252000855_1_1.pdf%23xml%3Dhttps%3A%2F%2Ffultonhistory.com%2FdtSearch%2Fdtisapi6.dll%3Fcmd%3Dgetpdfhits%26u%3Dffffffffdfea14cc%26stgd%3Dyes%26DocId%3D5743102%26request%3Dblended%2520Irish%2520whiskey%2520%2520and%2520%2528Filename%2520contains%2520%25281933%257e%257e1939%2529%2529%26index%3DZ%253a%255cDISK%2520X%26searchFlags%3D17897728%26autoStopLimit%3D50%26SearchForm%3D%252fFulton%255fNew%255fform%252ehtml%26.pdf&uri=https%3A%2F%2Ffultonhistory.com%2FNewspaper%252024%2FBayside%2520NY%2520Times%2FBayside%2520NY%2520Times%25201936-1937%2FBayside%2520NY%2520Times%25201936-1937%252000855_1_1.pdf&xml=https%3A%2F%2Ffultonhistory.com%2FdtSearch%2Fdtisapi6.dll%3Fcmd%3Dgetpdfhits%26u%3Dffffffffdfea14cc%26stgd%3Dyes%26DocId%3D5743102%26request%3Dblended%2520Irish%2520whiskey%2520%2520and%2520%2528Filename%2520contains%2520%25281933%257e%257e1939%2529%2529%26index%3DZ%253a%255cDISK%2520X%26searchFlags%3D17897728%26autoStopLimit%3D50%26SearchForm%3D%252fFulton%255fNew%255fform%252ehtml%26.pdf&openFirstHlPage=false (1936, so-called blended Irish whiskey before WW II).
9) https://fultonhistory.com/highlighter/highlight-for-xml?altUrl=https%3A%2F%2Ffultonhistory.com%2FNewspaper%252018%2FNew%2520York%2520NY%2520Irish%2520American%2520Advocate%2FNew%2520York%2520NY%2520Irish%2520American%2520Advocate%25201940-1942%2FNew%2520York%2520NY%2520Irish%2520American%2520Advocate%25201940-1942%2520-%25200918.pdf%23xml%3Dhttps%3A%2F%2Ffultonhistory.com%2FdtSearch%2Fdtisapi6.dll%3Fcmd%3Dgetpdfhits%26u%3Dffffffff9ee6b20e%26stgd%3Dyes%26DocId%3D5110199%26request%3Dblended%2520Irish%2520whiskey%26index%3DZ%253a%255cIndex%2520I%252dE%252dV%26searchFlags%3D17897728%26autoStopLimit%3D50%26SearchForm%3D%252fFulton%255fNew%255fform%252ehtml%26.pdf&uri=https%3A%2F%2Ffultonhistory.com%2FNewspaper%252018%2FNew%2520York%2520NY%2520Irish%2520American%2520Advocate%2FNew%2520York%2520NY%2520Irish%2520American%2520Advocate%25201940-1942%2FNew%2520York%2520NY%2520Irish%2520American%2520Advocate%25201940-1942%2520-%25200918.pdf&xml=https%3A%2F%2Ffultonhistory.com%2FdtSearch%2Fdtisapi6.dll%3Fcmd%3Dgetpdfhits%26u%3Dffffffff9ee6b20e%26stgd%3Dyes%26DocId%3D5110199%26request%3Dblended%2520Irish%2520whiskey%26index%3DZ%253a%255cIndex%2520I%252dE%252dV%26searchFlags%3D17897728%26autoStopLimit%3D50%26SearchForm%3D%252fFulton%255fNew%255fform%252ehtml%26.pdf&openFirstHlPage=false (Jan. 7, 1942, so-called blended Irish prior to the mid-1950s)




A BBC Documentary on Problem Drinking

Periodically we examine, as part of a general study of beer and alcohol history, textual and film treatments on temperance/Prohibition, alcohol control, and alcohol abuse.

This essay is one of many, dealing with the fate of pre-Prohibition saloon premises in the new dry era. Here is another, looking at alcohol in the university and a recent scholarly study.

Examining 1970s French film studies on alcohol abuse, we noted recently on YouTube’s sidebar a 2018 British Broadcasting Corporation documentary, written by and featuring Adrian Chiles. Birmingham-born Chiles is a well-known public figure in Britain through his broadcasting and other media work.

It runs a full hour and can be viewed here. The film looks at his own relationship to alcohol, but in a way to provide food for thought to many viewers.

We thought the production well-conceived, written, and filmed. It has to a non-Briton that uniquely British documentary film style: the stately pacing, the friendly but authoritative narration, the absence (largely) of background music, and, well, you know it when you see it.

Whatever view one takes on the issues – the recommended maximum number alcohol units per week, the medical and other risks of this or that degree of consumption – the film provides a public service by examining an area not typically front and centre in public consciousness.

Chiles should be commended for his searching honesty viz. a dependance he viewed finally as pronounced, but the film has good value beyond that. The interviews with a doctor and other professionals who deal with alcohol abuse are salutary, as are numerous interviews with citizens about their drinking and the steps some took to control or eliminate it.




“Beer and Ale: A Video Guide”

In 1990 a video was produced for the VHS market by two Americans, Timothy Lorang and David Golden. It was an early chronicle of craft beer culture, in fact “craft beer” is explained at one point as synonymous with the more commonly employed “microbrewing”.

Michael Jackson’s video The Beer Hunter preceded it by a year or two, and probably influenced the production. In fact Jackson appears in Lorang-Golden film, to introduce the subject. Characteristically, he speaks clearly and cogently, yet this segment was shot in one take as Lorang explains in a backgrounder linked in the synopsis.

Lorang has generously uploaded the full original programme to YouTube, which you may watch here. As he notes in the accompanying essay, a striking feature is that India Pale Ale aka IPA receives only one or two mentions in the film.

One was by brewing industry legend Teri Fahrendorf, now with Great Western Malting in Vancouver, WA. Her many professional accomplishments include a long-time stint as brewmaster at Steelhead Brewing Co. in Eugene, Oregon. She is also founder of the Pink Boots Society.

A second reference is a visual one, a colour shot of Grant’s India Pale Ale included in a tableau of pale and amber ales. One can see, or rather infer, that IPA then was viewed as a sub-set of the pale ale family, which is entirely correct historically.

In time, the situation would be rather reversed, but the point is, pale ale and IPA have no clear demarcation when viewed historically and for their essential characteristics.

The interviews with Fahrendorf, Bert Grant, Mike Hale, and the other subjects are highly informative and on point. Much of what they say applies no less today, especially the characteristics of different hops and how they are used. In effect one can see the genesis of modern hoppy beers, indeed in their birthplace of the Pacific North West.

Charles Finkel, a pioneering importer of distinctive, often artisan beers (via Merchant du Vin) and craft brewer (Pike Brewing, Seattle, WA), makes an impactful statement about palate. He argues that a taste for assertive drinks is a natural human inclination. I think there is a lot of truth in that.

It’s a great snapshot of an earlier time, one I remember well from U.S. travels and early craft days in Canada, but also most relevant to brewing culture today.





Michael Jackson and Modern Beer Culture

In this second post – and maybe I’ll do more – on “what if” scenarios, I’ll consider what our modern beer scene would look like had the writer Michael Jackson (1942-2007) not existed. Jackson was the Briton who authored the landmark The World Guide to Beer in 1977 and wrote other influential books, including a widely read Belgian beer tome and multi-edition pocket guide.

He considerably shaped the modern beer landscape through his detailed yet literary evocations of beer style, and by devising or popularizing beer terminology (“beer style”, “craft brewery”, “session beer”, “dry Irish stout”, etc). His pioneering travel video The Beer Hunter, countless lectures and appearances, beer dinners, and prolific magazine journalism helped spread the message for decades before his untimely passing.

Of course, before Jackson there were consumer writers on beer: British ones, American ones, notably. There were authors of home brewing manuals. There was even a group in the U.K., the Durden Circle, devoted to historical beer recreations.

Some of the early American beer books – I described them in an article a couple of years ago in the journal Brewery History – were similar in style and language to books on wine then gaining a general audience. Those beer books resembled some of what Jackson wrote and of course he was influenced himself by some of this earlier writing.

Jackson certainly acknowledged indebtedness to a wine writer still active, Hugh Johnson, author of an influential (annual) pocket wine guide.

Craft brewing in the U.S. started before Jackson’s books first appeared, notably at Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, in Sonoma, CA by Jack McAuliffe, and by others, some of whom had been home brewers before going commercial. CAMRA of course was in existence in 1971 and doing its good work in Britain to revive interest in real ale, or cask-conditioned beer. New breweries had started to appear in the U.K. in its wake.

An important aspect of the pre-Jackson world was the growing interest in beer imports, a relatively small business before the 1980s if one excepts large-selling, premium brands such as Heineken, Beck’s, Tuborg, and similar.

And so we would have all this today – beer imports, a home-brewing movement, craft breweries, beer writers, historical recreations of past styles. What wouldn’t we have?

We wouldn’t have the emphasis on beer style we have in 2019, a phenomenon so intense it has led to the creation of new beer styles and the amazing taxonomy of beer types catalogued and described by the BJCP, say. And I don’t think we would have as many, and as many literary/philosophical, and historical, beer writers.

Instead, the dominant trope would still be national – thinking of beer as German, British, Belgian, Czech before it was Helles, Bitter, Trappist, Pilsener. Beer menus from the 1800s and mid-1900s, of which I have analyzed many in these pages, show this markedly. As just one example, consider the beer menu from Los Angeles c.1980 discussed in this post.

So dominant was this way of thinking even Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer was organized by nation. Yet, within each chapter he focused intently on style – and even more so in later books.

Certainly, style was discussed in pre-Jackson beer writing, but in a more rudimentary way than exists today. A lot of the information conveyed, at least in sources I’m familiar with, was incomplete or out of date, but it didn’t matter because people rated beer by where it came from before anything else.

The German travelling in his or her country relied on beer being national in origin for its quality and ordered – still often does – “ein Bier”, not a Dunkel, Kolsch, or Alt-Bier. Because the beer was made in his country he assumed it had an inherent quality. So did the Briton, asking for Bitter or Mild wherever he was in Britain. Stout was considered quintessentially Irish (even though of Georgian English origin), and so on.

Consumers followed the pattern for imports – you knew the countries with a reputation for beer made the best. For this reason, a rare classic India Pale Ale still made in America in the 1970s, Ballantine India Pale Ale, languished on the shelves.

Consumers knew local or regional types might vary, but this was less important than the national origin of the beers. Beers had reputation, or less reputation, simply by that fact. Today, due largely to Jackson, for many knowledgeable about beer, type is more important than origin. Something of the old attitude still exists in the general population, but it is turning over.

Technology and logistics have been a powerful aid to what Jackson achieved. A Helles can be made as well and maybe better in Brazil, say, than in Munich. Craft beer has famously become an international citizen and beer types, even those famously associated with place of origin, win awards made far from birthplace.

Ingredients can be shipped and stored easily. Water adjustment, yeast management, fermentation styles – all can be adapted to produce a given beer style anywhere. (Jackson was famously a traveller, but would acknowledge if living today that this is not the first requisite to understanding world beer types).

There are some exceptions to this pattern, for Belgian lambic, say, and perhaps Czech pilsner, but examples are ever fewer.

Wine is a different story, ditto cheese, coffee, tea, since place of production still exercises a powerful influence, as well perhaps as their longer history of epicureanism. A better analogy to beer is bread. Need you travel to France today to taste the true baguette? The answer is no, as I had occasion to confirm recently.

That is, in sum, what Jackson did, an enormous or tectonic shift in a consumer picture that had remained relatively static for a couple of centuries at least.





Alternate Histories, or What if…?

History is the result of a complex interaction of people and events, rarely predictable. The Campaign for Real Ale, the consumer lobby started in the early 1970s in Britain, is dedicated to the promotion of traditional cask-conditioned beer. At the time and still to most, it seemed an heroic attempt to save a high-value part of British brewing heritage.

Of course, to a degree this was so: the beer was unpasteurized, unfiltered except for a rough fining, and consumed very fresh – about as real as then existed. In contrast, breweries ca. 1970 were vaunting chilled, bright-filtered, and heat-pasteurized keg ales and blonde lagers. These seemed to lack the soul of the cask ales, although many drinkers liked them and to this day, such beers enjoy a large sale in Britain.

But cask beer itself seems arguably of late-19th century origin, the outcome of a long process of brewing evolution. By about 1900 use of sugar or another malt substitute was generalized in British brewing. More refrigeration was being used, and less hops. The beer was sent out and consumed “running”, for the most part, versus standing and “maturing” for months or years as porter, pale ale, and much strong ale had been for generations.

Clarity of such running beers was assured, in those days, by finings – kind of a shortcut, from an unlikely source, fish innards – the gelatine attracted minute particles of yeast and other solids to the bottom of the cask. Yet, in 1970 that was typical of cask beer, so its use was felt traditional. Same thing for the general use by then of metal casks, which did not exist when running ales emerged in the late 1800s.

When running beers came into fashion, the long-stored, wild yeast-inflected porter and India Pale Ales largely receded into history. One might have argued that the newer beers were not a patch on Britain’s earlier staple of stock porter, India Pale, and strong old ale. A few voices did, here and there, usually in brewing technical journals read by a tiny, mostly unsympathetic number.

Was there a layman in Britain who, 100 years before CAMRA got rolling, campaigned for a restoration of Britain’s old and true vatted beers? Beers with a soupçon of tartness and other wine-like qualities? Not that I am aware.

People then just accepted change as brought on by actors of the economic system. If anything, change and innovation were openly welcomed vs. today’s more tacit acceptance. In 2019, outside technical circles, who really swoons over the latest, cost-effective, computerised brewing system? But they are snapped up as soon as available. Progress has a logic of its own.

But say there had been an influential person, an independent thinker in Victorian Britain, who adored the old beers, porter in particular, that great old London specialty. (Well, venerable since the early 1700s but set that aside for a moment).

Might he, or she, not have campaigned for a return of the wondrous but disappearing hooped vats built of solid Baltic or English oak? For a return of the staple porter aged at least 18 months? For a return and new appreciation of stock beers akin to a fine old burgundy?

Might such person, perhaps a titled or other monied type, not have founded a Society for the Restoration of Porter, a “SOROP”? If 1870 was too soon for that, maybe the 1930s was not too late, when porter was still sent to pubs in the capital, and even some strong old Russian stout was available.

It didn’t happen – but could have. Say Britain had not been in Depression in the 1930s, or that a special advocate emerged in late Victorian times, or…

I am glad for what CAMRA did. CAMRA helped restore palate to beer, and that meant something and still does. We are fans of cask ale and have supported it from first becoming aware of it. And in part cask ale was responsible for a much greater revolution, craft beer, through CAMRA’s considerable influence on American craft brewing.

But it is interesting to speculate on an alternate history. Had it occurred, perhaps cask ale today would be viewed as many cask beer fans view lager and keg beer (in its original sense), as part of the beer scene but not emblematic of British brewing. (I’ll leave craft out of the matrix, the perms and combs are too innumerable).

The limited return, via the craft beer movement, of wood-aged stouts and other barrel-aged beers, and also beers with a tart edge and/or a Brett influence, shows that these older forms of beer are again being appreciated. We have the best of all possible worlds today, and that is a good thing, but history can often incline to reflect on how things might have been different.

In a next instalment, I will consider what our modern beer world might look like had an influential beer writer, Michael Jackson, not existed.


Whitbread’s Past and Present on British Documentary Film

A half-hour documentary film on Whitbread Brewery resides in the invaluable Huntley Film Archives. As the Archives provides a detailed synopsis, there is no need to summarize the film, but I’ll make these few remarks.

The film was almost certainly issued in 1951, as various internal keys suggest, but also a pamphlet shown, The Brewer’s Art (well-known to beer historians) was published that year and the film appears a visual counterpart.

From location of barley fields to malting to the type of hops used – East Peckham mid-Kents are shown – a great number of details is conveyed, in every phase of brewery operations.

What struck us was the degree of manual labour still employed. Personnel seemed to work largely in groups, whether in mashing, brewing, fermenting, even lab work. The desired clarity of cask ale is demonstrated by a glass being held up to a bare lamp – let’s just say it wasn’t hazy (while not quite brilliant either).

Bottling is greatly stressed in the film’s second half. It is clear in retrospect that bottled beer of perfect clarity was in a sense the predecessor of the lager future envisioned by Ind Coope Group in its 1961 film I discussed a few posts ago. Cask ale is only intermittently alluded to, notably at the end of the film by reference to Whitbread’s public houses.

Domestic and export sales of bottled beer receive far more attention than the tied house draught trade, which shows you where the company wanted to go, nor was it a postwar development. It is explained that expansion of bottling had been encouraged by the company for 50 years, hence its continually growing network of bottling plants that received tanker trucks of beer for bottling and distribution in every corner of Britain and for export.

Many of the venues for sale of bottled beer are portrayed as upscale locales, in tune with aspirational 1930s print advertisements of Whitbread.* The Henley Regatta is one example.

Some of the brands shown are Mackeson Stout, Whitbread Stout, Whitbread Pale Ale, Whitbread Forest Brown Ale. Note the flourish by waiters to the service of bottled beer, clearly there was a certain style to it, all now lost to history.

This film neatly bookends the more sophisticated Ind Coope effort of 10 years later. It is clear from both that some large brewers – and I’d presume finally all of them – held little romance for the tradition of cask-conditioned ale, even in the early postwar period.

One can see the psychology that led to the revival of cask ale in the 1970s through the creation of The Campaign for Real Ale (1971) and emergence of a corps of writers and other enthusiasts dedicated to its promotion.

Here is the film.


*The best known depict well-known actors enjoying a beer in smart surroundings.


Barging Beer to Belgium

I’ve been focusing lately on unexplored riches of newsreel archives. (When I say unexplored, I mean to my knowledge by others who do beer historical research. If I have overlooked any such commentary by others, by all means tell me, so I can cite and link it here).

For millenials: a newsreel was a short film that profiled a news or other event of general interest, popular from the end of WW I until about 1970. Generally these were distributed for public viewing in film theatres, but often industrial and educational or training films were made for a specialised audience.

Movietones and Pathe were perhaps the best known newsreel producers, but there were others, e.g. Associated Press, and many from all these sources can be viewed on YouTube.

Frequently full view is afforded, sometimes only with the producer logo on the clip with HD, video or other higher-quality format available for a fee.

The publicly available material is usually sufficient for our purposes, and here is such a gem from U.K.-based Huntley Film Archives. It is a mid-1950s film, with good detail yet smartly paced, showing how beer is exported to Belgium by Whitbread Brewery in Chiswell Street, London.

The steps are shipment of beer to a Belgian port, probably Antwerp, in hogsheads or other large wood barrels. The destination is a Whitbread depot where casks are brushed clean, emptied into tanks, and filled into bottles for sale in Brussels and elsewhere in the country.

Based on various branding and advertising shown, Whitbread pale ale seems the main type exported, but probably stout was as well. One sign seems to say Export Pale Ale, likely a higher gravity version of Whitbread Pale Ale. We drank a Whitbread Pale Ale with a  blue label in the late 1970s but likely not made at Chiswell Street as brewing operations there ceased in 1976.

Notable in the film are the clarity and foam on the beer when poured invitingly over the Channel. Now that was a good drop of beer, as I remember that 1970s version sent to Montreal: mealy, flowery from hops, a touch caramel sweet.

British or British-style beer in Belgium was a significant subset of the country’s beer scene as first chronicled by the beer authority Michael Jackson in his landmark early books. The photo-essay style of the 1977 The World Guide to Beer was a key stage in understanding this history.

And some British and Irish beer is still sent to Belgium, and some local beer made in styles of those places, although harder to find today with the restoration of Belgian artisan brewing and now the encroaching influence of craft beer.

But in a time when the main beers in Brussels were the decidedly sour lambic family or relatively mild lagers, Whitbread Pale Ale made an impression, as its stout surely did too.

What happened we wonder to the Whitbread Depot shown? To those brushes, to that antique-looking filling equipment? To the very taste of the beer ca. 1955? Gone with the wind, likely. (To the punning mind, not an unsatisfactory fate given the context).

N.B. For more background, see Ron Pattinson’s article on Whitbread Pale Ale in Beer Advocate from 2017, here. It is a useful aid when watching the film, and indeed an export version of Whitbread Pale Ale at 1057 OG is mentioned.