Nice Narrative

This is Libby again, guest blogging for Gary about our travels.

For a change of pace, Gary and I decided to visit Nice in the French Côte d’Azur for a bit of sunshine and respite from the grey February doldrums of Toronto. After spending a couple of days in Paris, we took the TGV from Gare de Lyon last Saturday and set up our household in Nice for a two week stay.



Even though it is winter here, the daytime temperature is a consistent 15-17 degrees Celsius and the sun shines 26 out of 30 days. And what beautiful sunshine it is! The light bathes the yellow-hued buildings so radiantly. Artists from Matisse to Chagall revelled in the Nicoise sunlight. It’s easy to see why.



We’re based this time in a fully-equipped, third floor apartment in the Vielle Ville just off Place St. Francois. Like our Boulogne apartment, there is no elevator but the building is 18th century vintage, 200 years newer than our last French abode. The Vielle Ville is a warren of winding streets occupied by purveyors of food and clothing and other local products (e.g., herbes de Provence, lavender and other soaps, local honey, and confitures, from fig to Corsican clementine).

There is an annual Carnival in Nice from mid-February to early March, featuring big ballooned “geants”. (People in head-to-toe costume get in free). Yet, the city appears to us to be relatively quiet. It’s off-season in the Riviera, but for us, it’s just perfect.


Nice is the 4th largest city in France with a population of about 500,000. It is an elegant southern city with Italianate influences on its architecture and cuisine.


The square-shaped, old port of Nice is another attraction. There are boats and ships of all kinds, from small fishing vessels to large, luxury yachts. One of the houses near the harbour was home to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1794.



The luxury yacht pictured below, the “Maraya”, can be chartered for the small sum of $300,000 per week. Based on an Internet check, for that you get a crew of 15, six cabins with a capacity of 12 persons, a dedicated ski boat, and a water misting system in case you get too hot while sunbathing. As they say, “champagne dreams and caviar wishes.”



There are more restaurants than one can imagine in Nice serving foods of all nationalities and, of course, many specializing in interesting Provencal and Nicoise regional specialties ranging from olives and tapenade to pissaladiere (the traditional onion tart) to salade nicoise (salad with tuna, hard-boiled egg, olives, anchovies and green beans).

There is also daube nicoise. The one Gary had was braised beef in a dark, clove-scented wine sauce with ravioli stuffed with cheese and chard. We also discovered socca, a chickpea pancake which is the quintessential street food here and ravioli nicoise, a pasta filled with daube de boeuf and chard.

We plan to visit some neighbouring towns and villages over the next week, such as Eze, Antibes, St. Paul de Vence, Villefranche-sur-Mer and maybe others, as time allows, before we head back for a few days in Paris. We’ll keep you posted on our further travels this trip, so stay tuned.

A bientot!

Spag Bol – From Bol or not?

In a November 1939 column in the New York Sun, drinks and food columnist G. Selmer Fougner gave a recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese.

You may read it here.

A reader had asked Fougner for the recipe to Macaroni with Bolognese Sauce, served at the Italian Pavilion restaurant at the New York World’s Fair. Macaroni typically is a dried pasta, as spaghetti is.

Fougner answered that the sauce was undoubtedly the same as for Spaghetti Bolognese, the recipe for which he was given two years earlier when in Italy. Fougner then printed the recipe.

Neither milk nor bacon of any kind features in Fougner’s version, yet both are common in today’s recipes for Bolognese sauce. There is also no garlic, or herbs. A prime cut of beef is used, vs. the ground beef commonly seen today.

For years now I’ve been reading that Bolognese sauce, or ragù, is never served with spaghetti or macaroni in Italy, much less Bologna. Rather, a few fresh pastas are, especially tagliatelle. The Mayor of Bologna, in well-publicized remarks last year, sputtered that spaghetti Bolognese wasn’t a genuine dish of the city.

And yet, another native of the city, Pierro Valdissero, as reported four years ago in the Guardian, disagrees. He researched the dish in-depth and declares, to some local discomfiture one supposes, that it is an authentic dish of the area. He states that for hundreds of years some families served spaghetti with the ragù, notwithstanding that dried pasta is more typically a staple of the south.

This arose, he said, since fresh pasta was not affordable by families of average means except for special occasions. He argues that a higher-echelon version of the dish made with fresh pasta emerged in local restaurants that attracted a more monied clientele, and in time the connection with dried pasta was forgotten.

Seemingly, the debate rages on, but here is my point.

Surely the Fougner column supports Valdiserro’s account. After all, why would the Italian Pavilion, sponsored by the Italian government, serve a non-authentic dish in its restaurant, one meant to showcase national culture? It would have been no trouble to make fresh tagliatelle every day surely for the crowds.

Second, what motive could Fougner have had to misstate the nature of the dish? As an experienced gourmet he had to know the difference between fresh pasta and dry.

Would he have cavalierly substituted spaghetti for an approved fresh pasta and not tell his readers? It’s true that spaghetti was on its way by 1939 to being if not already a national American dish, and hence relatively familiar to readers (vs. fresh pasta), but I don’t think he would elide the fresh pasta without mention.

Fougner was a well-known and successful journalist and author by this time, and tended to stress authenticity when discussing food and drinks. To my mind Valdiserro’s conclusions gain credence when viewed in the light of Fougner’s recipe.

It’s really an old story, that culinary or drinks memories can be surprisingly short, or incomplete. The quotidian can, in a few short years or under new conditions, seem never to have been.

It would be preferable to find the menu of the Italian Pavilion to see exactly how the dish was described. A few menus of the national restaurants are available digitally (I discussed beer on the British menu earlier), but can’t find the Italian one.

Note re images: the second image above is copyright of Sven Manguard, and is used pursuant to Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0. Image was sourced from Wikipedia’s article on Bolognese sauce, here. The first image was sourced from the Fougner column identified and linked in the text, via Fulton Historical Newspapers.




Amsterdam 1870 AK Bitter – Mark III

Recently I met brewers Iain, Cody and Mike at Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewery to plan our next 1870 AK Bitter collaboration. As in past years it is a limited edition release, there will be some draught including hopefully in cask-conditioned form, with the rest canned for sale at the brewery. It sells out typically in a few weeks.

Historically, AK is a pale ale not meant for long keeping, and not as strong as some pale, or India Pale Ale, typically reached. We’ve had it out at just over and just under 5% abv (first two years), and this year will be about 5% again. I’m not sure yet about the final gravity, I prefer it on the higher end for more palate richness but it will be within period norms in any case.

(I’ve extensively documented the prior brews in past posts. Easy to find by searching “beeretseq + 1870 AK” but I can supply links on request).

This year we will use regular Maris Otter malt, not floor-malted as for Mark I; two hops, not one as in each previous year; and an English yeast, probably multi-strain. Mark I used a California yeast, Mark II, English Whitbread 1099.

No dry-hopping this year, we want all the hops to undergo the heating of the brewing process.

I’ll talk more about the hops later, the two will be English-grown with a small American component in the genetics, the rest traditional English. The idea this time, is because American hops were sometimes added to 19th-century British brews, we’ll use hops that offer a little of that character yet nothing associated with the “C-hop” taste of modern craft brewing.

So no grapefruit, guava, strong pine. Not that there is anything wrong with that as such, but we want to stay broadly within a traditional compass. When American hops, generally from New York or California, were added to British beer in the 19th century, they were added in small amount so as not to dominate the character, and we will follow the same idea.

We may get a touch of orange or blackcurrant (wild fruit) character but I’m good with that. Some traditional English varieties have an orange note character in my experience, Golding for example (sometimes).

The multi-strain will not include any wild yeast or Brettanomyces, whose barnyard character a short-maturation ale, whatever the yeast make-up, likely would not have exhibited. But a mixed U.K. culture may add a certain something nonetheless.

Any modern emulation is just that, emulation, with some guess-work what even the most faithful attempt can ever achieve. Flavour in beer then, as many authorities show, was various anyway, even for the same style with similar materials, so we feel our effort should be within the ballpark.

At day’s end, for us it’s all about the materials. They are all from the country that issued the 1870 recipe (except the water, which will be “Burtonized”); they will be used in quantities and at temperatures reasonably approximate to the original; and the hops element will not exhibit any marked notes associated with modern craft beer.

If there was one thing I would change, it would be to use some wood in the process. Not American oak, as generally it was not used in British brewing back then, but say in unlined casks made from Baltic Memel oak. Maybe one day, but we are not there yet.

The 1870 recipe also called for making India Pale Ale alternatively, with all same materials, in different quantities and from a different starting gravity of course. Next year we may do that, but we wanted another try at the AK, to work out its contours more.

N.B. This is the original recipe. See the second #4991, signed by “Aroma”, on the right lower side. The paragraph just above with the same number, signed “Meunier”, deals with pale ale as well and was also of interest to factor.



Canadian Beer Taxation and its All-malt Beer

Canada’s Reinheitsgebot – Introduction

Under its excise tax rules between at least 1877 and 1952, Canada enforced in practical terms a regime of all-malt brewing. That is, almost all beer brewed here was all-malt, with an insignificant amount of “adjunct beer” made, or beer that used rice, corn, sugar or another substitute for part of the traditional malt.

The announced reasons were twofold: first, to protect the Canadian farmer, second, to preserve the integrity of the beer palate. Below, I explain how this occurred through highlighting certain stages in the government’s scheme.

The Divergence in Tax Treatment Over Time

1931 U.S. Congressional trade report, see p. 411, recorded that Canada taxed domestic malt, apparently as at 1929, at $0.03/lb. If beer was fermented from any materials other than malt in whole or part, the tax was $0.15 cents per (finished) gallon of beer. A rule of thumb of the Canadian government, as shown below, held that three pounds of malt made one gallon of beer. Hence, that gallon, if all-domestic malt was used gave rise to an excise of $0.09/lb. So, we have nine cents for all-malt beer vs. $0.15 for adjunct beer.

In 1944, as this U.S. Treasury study showed, the prevailing Canadian excise rate on all-malt vs. adjunct beer resulted in a calculated duty of (CDN) $8.68 vs. $11.62 per 31 wine gallon barrel, respectively. So again, a clear advantage accrued to the all-malt product.

Adjuncts like corn, rice, and especially invert sugar syrup are more fermentable than malt, but of course adjuncts only supplement a beer mash, are not used for 100%, that is. Neither corn nor rice at the time, or sugar cane, was raised commercially in Canada.  

In 1922, Col. Herbert Molson stated in an article that year in the Journal of Institute of Brewing:

The system of taxation for excise purposes existing in Canada differs from that followed by Great Britain and the United States, in that the taxes are levied on the malt used and not on the beer brewed. Should a brewer in Canada desire to use any material other than barley malt, such as corn, rice, glucose, sugars, etc., special arrangements must be made with the Excise Department of the Government, in which case a duty of so much per gallon is placed on the beer brewed. This duty has been kept for many years at approximately double the duty which would be paid on the equivalent amount of malt required to produce the same amount of beer. This has acted as a natural deterrent to any use of other materials, and the amount of beer brewed in Canada from materials other than malt is infinitesimal.

A Canadian federal government report on the brewing industry issued in 1933 confirmed this practise. It showed, see p. 5, that corn and other adjuncts used in Canadian brewing represented a very small percentage of the malt used in brewing in Canada. I calculate about 3% for all the adjunct types, under 3,000,000 lbs, vs. about 87,000,000 lbs of malt.

In 1952, the then $0.45/gal. excise on beer brewed from an adjunct mash was lowered by $0.03, to $0.42. The government stated, per an April 9, 1952 Globe and Mail press story (paywall) on the budget that year, that this put the two types of beer on a parity of excise treatment, but revenues would not change much. I cannot confirm the revenue projection without a fuller study, but the ongoing consolidation of the Canadian beer industry spearheaded by Canadian Breweries Ltd. since the 1930s ensured the savings that did result would be maximized by economies of scale.

In the Comments below, see my two remarks which explain more specifically how the dovetailing of tax treatment was achieved.

Even in 1891 a divide in the excise rates existed that made brewing adjunct beer in Canada uneconomic. We can see this from an exchange that year in Parliament where House Member Foster (p. 4001 et. seq) stated that Canada wanted to protect its barley farmers, and also, “prevent the manufacture of poorer quality beer”. He argued that rather than ban substitutes like sugar, it was better to increase the tax burden on brewing with adjuncts.

Foster was Sir George Eulas Foster, Minister of Finance under Macdonald’s government. Here is some bio on him, it’s interesting to observe he was a temperance advocate.

Foster introduced a resolution to increase the per pound rate to $0.02 from $0.01, and hence proposed an increase in the adjunct beer rate, to $0.10 per gallon. Under a rule of thumb he used of 3 lbs malt to produce one gallon of beer, that meant $0.06/gal for all-malt vs. $0.10/gal for adjunct brewing.

I have not substantiated as yet that the change went through, but clearly something similar did that led to Canadian brewers continuing to brew from all-malt, or mostly.

In 1880 the change was legislated in Britain for taxing beer based on alcohol content, or more correctly, its original gravity. This levelled the playing field among fermentable materials and opened the door to use of economical, non-malt options. Canada’s course was different, of which palate protection was an asserted element, a notable factor.

Some National Breweries Limited annual reports in the 1940s, I cited them in earlier posts, mention barley malt as a key input but never mention corn, rice, sugar, or syrups. In this February 1944 issue of the company’s house magazine The Review, an article on the in-house laboratory stated, quoting the group operating manual, that only malt and hops were used. Hence, each brewery in the group followed this rule.

NBL was clearly promoting all-malt as a quality or “PR” measure, as many European brewers had who were trained in all-malt brewing. NBL’s head brewer in the 30s and 40s, surnamed Meyer, was of Danish extraction by my research. He perhaps trained at Carlsberg or a similar brewery, and likely viewed all-malt as superior beer.

In 1945, the first year Labatt Breweries went public, its annual report states that the beers were made with hops, malt, water, and yeast. No reference to adjuncts of any kind is made.

Col. Molson’s comments in 1922, considering too the full tenor of the article, suggest that Molson Brewery would have used adjuncts had it been able to economically. Probably NBL, and Labatt’s, were no different, but the option wasn’t there, as yet.

To be sure, some adjunct was used in Canadian brewing before 1952, before, that is, the rise of mass-marketed Canadian adjunct beers. After all, various adjuncts comprised the 3% figure I drew from the 1933 report. In their Ontario beer history, Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John showed that Carling Brewery was using rice in 1926 to make lager, not all of which was illicitly exported to Dry America.

Possibly this adjunct beer sold for more than standard beer to allow the brewer to recoup the extra duty paid, but in any case, very little such beer was brewed, as the references I’ve gathered make clear.

As long as the disparity of tax treatment continued, clearly all-malt brewing was the resort for most brewers, almost invariably. Some brewers, as noted above, made a point that their all-malt beer was superior. Were they making the best of a bad situation, bad from a cost standpoint? This is difficult to say, as a difference of opinion existed then and exists now viz. whether all-malt beer is superior.

Nonetheless there was a practical Reinheitsgebot in place in Canada until 1952 and/or ongoing brewing industry consolidation made any subsisting disparity acceptable.

When did the Taxation Disparity Start?

In 1877 (at least) the regime was in place. In that year, a statute was enacted that provided that the per pound malt rate was $0.02, or $0.06/gal under the rule of thumb, and the per gallon charge where adjuncts were used, $0.08. That represented a 33.3% difference even though the extra yield from cereal adjuncts was likely less than that percentage.

Further, as noted in the 1891 debates and reflected in the 1944 Treasury study which used 2.1 lb to obtain one gallon of beer, many brewers could brew a gallon of beer with less than three pounds of malt.

The Quality of Beer the Regime Encouraged

Considering the typical finishing gravities of beer in the 1930s, see A.L. Nugey’s 1930s brewhouse formulas including his chart at p. 42, the all-malt beers of the time had to be pretty good, judged by the standards of beer connoisseurship that is.

In contrast, from the 1950s onwards it is generally accepted that Canadian beers got ever lighter by using more adjunct, and lower final gravities. Hopping is also a factor here, as hop rates generally fell over the same period.

The onset of craft brewing in Canada from the mid-1980s returned things from a palate standpoint to the period 1877-1952. Craft brewing has, after all, to a large degree been based on the idea of all-malt brewing. The spur in the 1980s was not taxation as such but rather taste quality as exemplified in the mind of many by the German Pure Beer Law, or Reinheitsgebot.


A study (in French) of Boswell and NBL history by the Quebec scholar Nicole Dorion included a chart describing the manufacturing process, see Tableau 1 under Organisation du Travail. I am not clear if this was a document of NBL or Boswell Brewery, or was prepared by Ms. Dorion. It states when describing boiling with hops that “sucre” (sugar) is added to the kettle, Epsom salts as well. The date of the chart is not mentioned, if from NBL it appears to be from the late 40s or early 50s. Two brands are mentioned in the document, Dow and Boswell, clearly their ales.

According to this story in Le Soleil of Quebec City on June 3, 1952, Boswell’s brands were to be withdrawn from the market “in a few weeks” in favour only of Dow and Champlain Porter, in order that the business might produce only the most profitable brands. Canadian Breweries Ltd. probably had taken over by then, as the head office is referred to as Dow brewery in Montreal, which is the new name given NBL by Canadian Breweries Ltd.

I suspect sugar was employed late in NBL’s arc, perhaps 1950-1952, or Canadian Breweries ordered the change after the takeover earlier in 1952. True, in the first instance, the tax position had not yet changed, but NBL may have been able to save money depending e.g., on the price of sugar. Canadian Breweries Ltd. probably knew, if it ordered the change, that the excise reduction on adjunct beer was coming, indeed it is a fair assumption it helped lobby for it.



All-malt Brewing. A Critic’s Rationale.

In many posts and comments elsewhere, I have upheld my preference for all-malt beers. In practical terms this means barley malt although it is true other grains can be malted, such as wheat, which figures in German wheat beer.

Brewers’ use of other materials to supplement malt is motivated by many factors, of which cost is one and probably the most important one, as a general rule, by my study of brewing history. Other reasons cited to use non-malt sources of starch or ready sugar include to promote the stability and clarity of beer, to adjust colour, add flavour, save space in the brewery, and assist production of high-alcohol beer.

I have never found a better explanation of the use of adjuncts and sugars in beer than Julius E. Thausing’s, in his 1882 text on malting and brewing. Thausing was a professor of brewing in Vienna. The book was translated for the U.K. and American markets, and “thoroughly” edited for this purpose by two American scientists including highly regarded Anton Schwarz. See pp. 430 et seq.

Similar statements on the primacy of cost can be found periodically in technological literature to the present day.

I would point out Thausing and the editors firmly supported the use of adjunct, explaining how, in their view, it could be used without impacting quality.

The Briton Michael Jackson (1942-2007), not a beer scientist or cost accountant but a beer critic, once made the case for all-malt beer, based that is on palate. He wrote at a time when there were few all-malt beers outside Germany particularly in the English-speaking world.

In his 1982 The Pocket Guide to Beer, he wrote:

Beers that lean heavily on lesser grains and sugars manifest in their palate a lack of confidence … The true malt palate can best be experienced in the full-bodied beers of Bavaria. The malt that makes beer, like the grape that makes wines, is inherently sweet, but in each case the degree to which this characteristic is allowed to endure is a matter of the preference of the producer…

He then explains that all-malt beers in the U.S., meaning clearly the all-malt, “super-premium” beers fielded by pre-craft brewers in the 1970s and ’80s, “tend to restrain their potential”. This referred mainly, as did his words “allowed to endure”, to how far the beer was fermented out before packaging and sale. For, no matter what materials beer is made from, if the fermentable sugars are completely consumed by the yeast, the beer will have less richness of taste and body than if the fermentation was stopped sooner.

But then he adds:

Even then, the all-malt character [of the American beers] is evident in their remarkable firmness and cleanness of palate.

He was saying, he preferred even a well-attenuated all-malt beer to one that relied, certainly, “heavily” on adjunct grains or sugar. Of course, much depends here, as Thausing in effect held, on that word “heavily”.

I have occasionally had excellent craft adjunct beer, beer that probably used 20% or less adjunct and wasn’t over-fermented. The Belgians, too, are often careful to use adjunct in a way not to adversely affect the palate. One can argue this too of many British beers that used sugar or maize in proportions less than North Americans often used for their mass-market beers.

In a U.K. text on industrial microbiology written about 20 years ago, it is stated that “British beer” typically uses 75% malt, 25% cereal adjuncts or sugar. We can take this as some evidence of the “norm” in British brewing, at least for top-fermentation products, before British beer was impacted by craft developments.

Of course, Jackson was well aware of the Belgian and his own tradition. In choosing to highlight how malt best expressed itself in beer, he chose German all-malt beer as his example. (His most complimentary reference to British beer in the same section of the book is its distinctive hop character).

Jackson’s words, repeated elsewhere in different forms, considerably influenced early American craft brewing, which made all-malt beers that did not “restrain their potential”. And to a large extent this is still true, the core of craft brewing today is assertive, all-malt beer. A little wheat may be added, or lactose, or rye or oats, sometimes. But in the main modern craft brewing still relies on full-malt-character ales and lagers.*

This signature, paired with the distinctive flavour of American hops used in quantity, caught the attention of the British, and other Europeans. They were inspired to make beers of similar character (some revivalists already had), although all-malt, well-hopped beers were appreciated earlier in their own brewing history.

American craft showed that all-malt beer could be crystal clear, could make fine barley wine and other strong beer, as once it did in the U.K., and most important had a vibrant malt palate that could be equated in impact to good German beer.

40 years of tasting beer have convinced me of the truth of Jackson’s words.

I’ll return to the all-malt question in the context of National Breweries Limited in Montreal, which used all-barley malt until its demise in 1952. While it would be satisfying to say the company had a Jacksonian view of all-malt, the truth is more nuanced. More soon.


*This is not to say there aren’t all-malt craft beers that taste too lean from a low final fermentation gravity. In fact there seem to be more of these than in the past, an attempt no doubt to appease the drinker with mass market inclinations. This palate, in our view, has some justification, as Jackson noted in the above. Also, some pale ales in the past had very low FGs due to a prolonged re-fermentation in the bottle or cask. But such beers are not likely the best ambassadors of craft, because they end often as simulacrums of mass market beers.