A Block in St. John’s Wood…

… vs. Kicks in Sydney

The British pub in wartime provides a near-inexhaustible subject for study. So much has been written on it, not a little in our pages here. So much remains to be written, given the resources in libraries, newspaper and official archives, and private papers.

Take this example, from Neville Thomson, a staff writer for the Daily Telegraph in London. The year was 1944. The locale: the Abbey Pub, St. John’s Wood, London. Thomson was on assignment in Australia, working for an affiliated Sydney paper.

There had been publicity locally about reforming the infamous “six o’clock swill”. A 6:00 p.m. weekday closing hour was long mandated for hotels. Over-drinking often resulted, to beat the closing hour.

Thomson portrayed an idyllic London pub, in part to encourage reform of these regulations, although they endured in some areas until the 1970s.

Before television, before Instagram and other social media, the written word counted for a lot to inform public. A good journalist could do this in a few lines, as Thomson’s article deftly shows.

In calm, well-paced prose he set his purpose as follows:

So the U.L.V.A. [United Licensed Victuallers of Australia] wants to give Australians pubs modelled on the British pattern … with civilised drinking instead of the crazy swilling that goes inevitably with six o’clock closing. And what is the typical British pub like? Here is a profile of my “local” in St. John’s Wood, London. Characters are not fictitious, and any resemblance to real life is intentional. The pub is the Abbey Tavern, in Violet Hill, five minutes’ walk from Lord’s.

The account, short as it is, is almost cinematograph. He focuses on the patrons, not on the beer or food (or deficiencies in same), not on the landlord. He describes each by name and occupation, and the entertainments of the pub, provided by the customers themselves.

The Abbey was a Whitbread pub and long remained so but finally was converted into a private residence. Towards the end it appeared as below:

 

 

The Abbey was near the Lord’s cricket ground. Originally a thatched house, it was re-built with the development of St. John’s Wood. I am not certain when it occurred, probably in late 1800s.

You can see the original structure in bucolic splendour in this Getty image.

When reading Thomson’s account, George Orwell’s famous essay on the ideal pub, The Moon Under Water (1946), came to mind. Might George Orwell have seen Thomson’s piece before penning his own? It is possible.

Thomson’s article prompted a few letters-to-the-editor. At least one complained that Thomson exaggerated the harmlessness of the British pub. It stated Australia should keep its closing hours intact to prevent the return of wide-spread intemperance.

Some sided with Thomson, though. This letter is a good example, written by a lieutenant of the 18th Brigade, Australian Imperial Force. The officer had visited pubs when stationed in England and was impressed by them. He mentions a family’s Sunday gathering at The George, in Colchester, as an example of civilized socializing.

Unlike Neville Thomson the lieutenant remarks on the variety of beer available in the pub. There was mild, bitter, and lo, “I.P.A.” – not the tropical fruit-like beer of our time but descended from the original India Pale Ales. Maybe it was an implied rebuke to the standardized lager emerging in Australia even in the 1940s.

Flowers Brewery of Stratford-on-Avon made an I.P.A. in the period, as illustrated in another piece of ours.

Australian soldiers wrote uncommonly well, all ranks. For another example, see our discussion here.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Closed Pubs site (Lost Pubs Project), here. All intellectual property therein belong solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the Future (Part II)

In a posting yesterday, I discussed how a book in the 1870s forecast the “beer of the future” for France and Belgium. By extension the predictions applied more broadly, given how brewing was quickly becoming an international business, not in ownership but exchange of knowledge and methods. The book itself canvassed methods in the main brewing countries then (France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Britain).

Indeed the author, Auguste Laurent, wasn’t so far off from the mass market lager we have today.

Craft brewing is not the story here, in other words. It is important, but largely as a reaction to the trend these experts forecast.

The book promoted English top-fermentation and long storage as the way forward. This may sound odd, given most beer today is lager (bottom-fermented) and not long aged. However, in its essentials modern lager is similar to what the book argued was the ideal beer: at circa 5% ABV, not too weak, not too satiating or bitter, not sour like vinegar (as much Belgian and some French beer was), and otherwise stable.

The author solicited the opinions of subscribers to his trade magazine Moniteur de la Brasserie on the ideal beer of the future. He printed the responses in the book.

One of the most interesting was from Georges Muller in Lierre, Belgium. I could be wrong, but the name suggests a displaced Alsatian, a brewer who departed for greener pastures after the France lost Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Laurent notes in the book that brewers had left Alsace for this reason.

Muller made an argument not so different from Laurent’s. He stated the beer of the future would efface “local” styles (so lambic, faro, saison, white beer, etc.); would be pale; around 4% ABV (similar to modern light beer, which is very popular); not perishable; and again not too bitter or sweet.

Also, he forecast as did Laurent that breweries would become much larger and malting would become a separate business. At the time, many brewers still did their own malting.

Muller made an interesting statement in regard to fermentation. He states, it doesn’t matter whether the beer of the future will be bottom-fermented or top-fermented, provided it will be possible to, a) lower the temperature at will of top-fermenting beer, and b) maintain cold temperatures in the cellar. This is exactly what happened, he was prescient in this, and in most of his predictions. He even forecast the wide use of adjuncts in brewing. See pg. 153 in the link provided.

The distinction between top and bottom fermentation subsists, a complex story unto itself. However, due to modern temperature control, and I should add the cylindro-conical fermenter that gathers yeast sediment in its cone-shape base, the distinctions formerly evident between the two forms of beer have been significantly reduced.

One way to tell this is, India Pale Lager tastes rather similar to India Pale Ale. Kolsch Bier in Germany is lager-like, as is Labatt 50 Ale, and so on. It is more malt and hop types that enable to distinguish the two forms today. This is because certain hops and malts have become associated with specific lagers and ales. Very pale malt for lager, say. The Cascade hop to flavour and give aroma to IPA, and so on.

I don’t say there is no difference due to the yeast type used, but the importance is greatly reduced from formerly.

Muller was smart, he knew that precise temperature control was the key to brewing’s future. In the result other technical advances contributed, but he mentioned the most important one.

Hence, Laurent’s focus on top-fermentation is even less important when viewed in this light, and he got the rest of it pretty right.

These experts, in sum, saw the future well. It took in many cases generations for world brewing to do the job they forecast, but by the 1970s it was all in place. Then writer Michael Jackson came and rolled it back, partly.*

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*Jackson was U.K.-born, active from the 1970s until his death at 65 in 2007. The Campaign for Real Ale, Roger Protz (the dean of world beer writers), Charlie Papazian and American home brewers, the first craft brewers on the West Coast, and many others were also influential in this change.

 

 

 

 

 

When Black IPA Rules

I really like Black India Pale Ale. A product of the mid-era of craft brewing, it offers the stylings of West Coast IPA with lashings of black malt flavour.

While I dig beer history, here I will discuss more the taste I favour. I will say though, the style is not completely new. Some years ago I drew attention to a late 1800s English beer manual, authored by Frank Faulkner, that described stout (“black beer”) made in Burton-on-Trent, U.K., which he said tasted more of pale ale than porter.

So it’s a similar idea albeit inadvertent in this case. See Faulkner, here. Presumably Bass and the other Burton stars weren’t thrilled with his remarks, and thought no doubt they were emulating classic London porter.

On the other hand, as the modern Black IPA, something different and distinct emerged from pale ale and porter.

First, the type of Black IPA I don’t like. I don’t like when the beer is too dry. The finish should be slightly sweet, as indeed IPA should be by my lights – or almost any beer, apart Brut IPA and a couple of two others.

I also don’t enjoy when the hops really go to town. If it’s hard to drink, what’s the point?

I don’t like when the black malt taste, as in porter plain and simple, has an espresso flavour. The signature (imo) should be a burnt or roasted note, not espresso, or “scorched cereal” either. To be sure in Black IPA the taste is more subtle than for ordinary porter or stout, but it should be there.

As well, I avoid usually Black IPA flavoured with a spice, herb, fruit, coffee, or chocolate. I don’t mind a little rye or oats, but the game is lost imo with non-cereal additions. Well-made Black IPA is perfect as it is, and these other things put it off, to my thinking.

Of the Ontario Black IPAs I’ve had, the above, from Silversmith in Virgil, Ontario, is first rate. (Virgil is in Niagara-on-the-Lake and was settled by United Empire Loyalists, i.e., Americans, as much of Ontario was in its early phase).

The beer has everything in the right place including the malt taste. I’ve only had one or two beers from them. The black lager never particularly appealed, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Problem Bears certainly impressed.

I suppose it’s like that with every brewery I encounter. Rarely do I like everything they do, but I’m glad when I find something I really like.

As promised on the label the hops do offer “pine”, not grapefruit or citrus, to the advantage of the beer. “Tropical” is mentioned as well. I get that too, and it all works very well.

The strength is 7.2% ABV, and the flavour impact matches the strength – not always the case with modern craft beer, but 19th century brewers understood this well.

Next, I enjoy the Black IPA currently made by Creemore Batch House, the brewpub owned by Molson-Coors Beverage Co. on Victoria Street in Toronto. It is less strong and perhaps a tad sweeter than the other, but not dissimilar in taste.

Both are exemplary brewing, redolent of the natural, the real.

 

 

 

 

Back to the Future (Part I)

A Belgo-French Beer Expert Predicts the Future; “Running Beer” Explained

Among the “Brewing Library” series sponsored by the 19th century trade journal, Le Moniteur de la Brasserie, was La Bière de L’Avenir, or The Beer of the Future. It was authored by Auguste Laurent, clearly of the Brussels Laurent family behind the Moniteur. Perhaps he wrote the uncredited volume on blending also published by the Moniteur two years earlier, which I discussed here two days ago.

Just as today when a few years – or a few days, as in 2020 – can make a large difference to an industry, this appears from the 1873 book, compared that is to 1871.

Laurent in 1873 stated there was almost no aged beer in the market except for some old lambic and Faro in Belgium. The ancestral bière de garde (keeping beer) of France, he states, and presumably the analogous bière de saison of Belgium, had disappeared in favour of low-gravity, young beers, the bières courantes. The term literally means in English, everyday or ordinary beers.

Parenthesis. A previously unnoticed (or unpublicized, to my knowledge) connection may be noted between the term bières courantes and the “running beers” or “runners” of late-1800s British brewing, words that have caused no little puzzlement to today’s beer writers. This is not for the meaning, which has always been clear – beers with little no aging sent out for quick consumption – but the etymology. Why “running”?

I and others have speculated it was a borrowing from a sprinting human or conveyance (cart, car, train). In other words, a metaphor for moving fast to point of consumption, to ensure deal condition. One thing you can’t do with cask ale – the running beer of our time – is keep it very long. It runs, not walks, to reverse the axiom.

But I think now this is all wrong. Courir, the French verb, means to run. “Running beer” was probably simply a hasty or mistranslation of “courante“. “Courante” itself, for beer, perhaps was a rendering of the English “ordinary” – a pint of Young’s Ordinary, eh? In fact ordinary equates to running in English brewing, and likely preceded the latter in usage.

It seems less likely that courante was borrowed from “running”, as courante in its usual French meaning describes well a non-aged, or vintage if you will, beer. There is no reason to look to British brewing usage to explain the term. Vins courants is a standard term in French wine terminology, for example.

Returning to Laurent’s thesis, he argues that taxes on beer in France and Belgium were too high and, especially for France, complicated to administer. He advocated the English tax-on-malt system, even thought it would be replaced in a few years by a tax on beer gravity.

He also states there were too many brewers – 6,000 between the two countries. This, with the tax load, lead to excessive competition and a lessening of beer quality. Specifically, since it cost money to age beer, it was cheaper to make beer for everyday consumption, and cut corners on materials. Laurent states these beers were “table” quality or not much higher.  Contemporary analyses of late-1800s beer strength for France and Belgium bear this out, apart a few local specialties (lambic and some beer in Lille then on the strong side, 6% ABV territory).

Laurent states originally, most beer was stronger and aged – the bières de garde. This beer he notes, could have a vinous edge, but this contributed to its digestibility in his view. Between the two books, it is clear he includes in this class the beer of Strasbourg, whose aged form, the bière de mars, was made between January and March and meant for drinking in summer but often was kept longer, a year or two.

(This March beer differed from that of Brussels which was young beer often blended with lambic to form faro. The Strasbourg beer was notable as well, this from other sources, for a lightly smoked quality and use of German hops. The smoke taste came from using wood to kiln the malt. Clearly, Rauch [smoked] Bier in Germany is a descendant of this tradition).

However, Laurent states this Strasbourg beer, while still ostensibly available, resembled an aged château whose bricks were shedding – a charming image of 19th century beer commentary. So again, the idea that taxation and competition were affecting quality.

His remedy, and I simplify as any who can read the book, should, was to restore the older, stronger, aged beer. He advises to take inspiration from England, specifically Burton-on-Trent where pale ale was stocked to maturity before being sent to market including in bottled form. He was writing at a high point of the British beer trade and noted with envy how British beer had a large part – more than half he states – of the world export beer market.

The strength of this pale ale, at 6%-7%+, clearly trumped the Franco-Belgian norm, and the high quality of the malt and hops was noted as well.

There are comments in the book that a defect of English pale ale was excessive dryness. Likely this was noticed in beer imported to France and Belgium whose attenuation ran close to FG 1000 (zero, in effect) due to a prolonged secondary fermentation in cask or bottle. That said, English brewing was still felt the ideal, with double stout being mentioned as a particular type to emulate.

Now, why not German brewing as a model? Laurent hardly ignores the subject, but dismisses Bavarian lager, as well as the Vienna form, as too rich in taste and hard to digest. Indeed at that time, lager was generally high in final gravity and fairly low in alcohol. Laurent states it was consumed for its food value in its home lands but in Britain, France, and Belgium, people did not drink beer for sustenance, and needed something less filling.

He also is dismissive for another, interesting reason. He views lager as an artificial beer due to its reliance on chilling in many stages of its production and consumption. In this sense, I think he appreciated the gastronomic superiority of the best top-fermented beer, a form of brewing that long predated bottom-fermented lager and its industrial refinements.

The net is, he vaunted English-style beer as the future, which he felt again would simply reinstate the ancestral keeping beers of France and Belgium.

He also argued for a greatly diminished number of breweries. He looked again to Burton, where he said 20 breweries did the lion’s share of production.  It was better, he said, to have fewer but larger, well-equipped and financed breweries than thousands of village breweries. In another striking image, he states some French and Belgian beers didn’t even make the rounds of their own village whereas Burton beer was known around the world.*

In this respect the predictions rang true.

It looks like he was radically wrong about top-fermenting British beer trumping lager as beer of the future, given how lager has swept the world since the 1870s. Yet, looking beneath the surface, Laurent was not far wrong. Look at the kind of lager that conquered the globe. It wasn’t the dark, heavy, sweet, beer of 1870s Bavaria. That beer has changed. It became much lighter in colour (not too far in fact from pale ale in its English heyday), drier, and also rose in strength to its present c. 5% ABV.

That is the Heineken, Stella, Carlsberg, Peroni, Budweiser, etc. of today.

True, long aging was finally dispensed for this beer. Not too long after Laurent wrote, industrial refrigeration was perfected. Further, other means, notably cylindro-conical fermentation, were adopted that precluded the need for lengthy conditioning.

But the type of beer broadly that Laurent wanted – a beer not too weak, and not too dry or sweet – is essentially what good quality, modern lager is. Modern lager is certainly not sour, and it must be said that much bière de garde/saison was tart, judging at least from the historical record.** But as I noted in my earlier post, the Moniteur stated that the best aged beer should not taste of vinegar. Some British beer observers held the same in the 1800s. A term used to describe this was “sound old”.

(The decline of ale and porter vs. lager historically may be due, in good part anyway, to the fact that rarely were the former at their best).

Today, with a renewed fashion for barrel-aged and keeping styles of beer, a range attends the market. They run (sorry) from the frankly sour to a piquant type that I think Laurent would have admired.

For a continuation of this post, see Part II.

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*Of course today, craft culture, under impetus of the landmark beer author Michael Jackson (1942-2007), reversed the calculus. Jackson lauded and created a world sensation for precisely the type of breweries, and many of the beers, Laurent felt were retrograde.

**See pp. 245 et seq. as an illustration, here, in the manual of Lacambre, a pioneering, mid-1800s French beer author. Laurent refers to him numerous times in his book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Arms and Ormolu

 

 

The international resort of Nice, France, which we visited recently, was host to the American armed forces in 1945, acting as a rest and recreation centre. The French called their newly-arrived guests les restées.

Hotels, restaurants, and terraces filled up with sun-glassed personnel, both men and women, seeking R&R after the European campaigns.

There is a brewing connection, as a brewery in Nice was enlisted to make American-type beer for the restées. A Coca-Cola bottling plant was set up, too. I wish I could find more information on the brewery.

Possibly – probably, I think – it was an operating plant before the war, leased from the French owner.

Maybe he put rice or corn in the mash, in the American way (and still for mass market beer), and Washington State hops in the kettle, but who knows.

All the colour, literally and otherwise, is in the story, published in the Sydney (Australia) press in late 1945. It has a trademark humour that perhaps combined American and Antipodean insouciance.

A sample:

Hotel proprietors, maîtres d’hotel, and waiters, some of whom crossed the Mediterranean during the occupation, are coming back, too, and serving, with not so much grace as before the war, meals made from American Army rations to men and women. Dining is olive drab beneath high ormolu and gilt ceilings. It is significant that the president of all the chefs of Nice (M. Sauvan) is cooking for enlisted women. He isn’t even in supreme control. He is working under the direction of a woman sergeant …

N.B. Ormolu was new to us, but no longer due to this fascinating Wikipedia account.

 

 

Blend That Thing

Here is the full text of a 140-page book on beer blending (coupage) issued in 1871 by Moniteur de la Brasserie, a brewing industry periodical published in Brussels, in French. The Moniteur and its publications had wide distribution in France as well and the blending book is addressed in fact to brewers of both nations.

Its full title is Livre de Poche de l’Apprêteur de Bières en France et Belgique. The sense of apprêteur is not easy to render in English, it means a “finisher” or final processor of a product. Today, especially in light of the (very few) actors in Brussels that continue this work, we would term them “blenders”. The book was meant to apply to this trade but also to brewers thinking of turning their hand to blending, or improving the blends they already made.

The Moniteur issued a series of books on different aspects of brewing, including the blending book (text via Gallica in France).

By way of background, the book appeared at a specific juncture in French and Belgian brewing history. Top-fermentation was still widely practiced in Belgium and the north of France. But bottom-fermentation, often styled Bavarian, was not unknown in these places. In fact, Paris counted numerous breweries making beers broadly in the Bavarian (dark lager) and Vienna (light amber) styles.

Britain, whose beers are mentioned periodically, was still vowed to top-fermentation, that is, mild and pale ales, porter, stout, and strong ale.

The book argues that the blending of beers is a necessary adjunct to the top-fermentation brewery. This is due to the frequent imperfection of the beers (at the time before modern temperature controls and yeast science), but also the desirability of achieving a consistent and pleasing palate for the public.

It is stated that the perfect beer doesn’t need blending – almost an echo of the theory of “entire” porter of the early 1700s – but in practice blending is necessary and salutary.

The book (no individual is credited) advises that a good blender can make greater profits than a non-blending brewer. The blender needn’t invest in expensive plant, simply enough store space for the beers and some simple manipulations.

The book reviews blending in various countries: Belgium, where lambic (aged 1-3 years) and (always young) March beer (bière de Mars) were blended to make Faro; Britain, for its porter; even Germany, which added young beer to aged lager to carbonate and freshen it (krausening).

The book explains how blending was practiced in Brussels to a high art, not just by middlemen, but by the bars (estaminets), and each often applied trade secrets of some complexity. That said, the book acknowledged that Brussels beers had a daunting sourness for many, and advised careful blending to offer the best advantages of young and old beers.

It was stressed that a good aged beer, and certainly a good blend, should not be sour in the sense of vinegar. French bière de garde should exhibit, wrote the author, tastes of lactic and even acetic acid but not taste of vinegar. A sour-sweet palate was advised.

The author noted in Belgium, even old lambic was often sent to the pub with sugar added, 1.5-2 kgs/250 litre tun.

Generally, sugar or syrup was necessary for all coupages, to induce a re-fermentation for carbonation and a creamy head. It’s similar to the U.K. practice of priming. (This is different from adding sugar to the brewing kettle or fermenting tank, and more supportable as a matter of palate and convenience, IME).

One fascinating statement confirms historical work published a few years ago by British beer historian Alan Pryor in the journal Brewery History, that when malt was cheap brewers made large quantities of beer for aging, and less new beer (meant for quick sale). In the obverse, more new beer was made and cut with the aged beer on hand, to drop the production cost. I discussed his work in this post earlier and identified further support, from America in that case, and also from the 19th century.

The book discusses blends of various types, not just of old and new beer, that is. The author has no objection to blending top- and bottom-fermenting beer. He states some German brewers do so who lack sufficient space to age all their output. This suggests, or to me, that so-called Schenk Bier, the pre-lager beer of Bavaria made in the winter for quick sale, probably originally was top-fermented.

There is much more in the book..

 

 

When the Americans Arrived

Foreigners stationed or working in one’s country in wartime provide, or did at one time, a sub-genre of humour for journalism. The fun was often the mordant kind.

Foreign troops or diplomats provided good fodder for these investigations, in particular.

The Americans in “England”, as Britain was summarily called by many then, was an evergreen subject. The social confrontation “Over There”, in both world wars, was typically pictured as a tectonic clash. The grinding of cultures has been studied by historians and other specialists ever since.

A 1944 article by British-toned journalist Beverley Baxter is a good illustration. It was published, or probably reprinted, in Australia’s Townsville Daily Bulletin. Baxter was a noted U.K.-based journalist and editor for the Beaverbrook chain, and by the time of writing a Conservative M.P.

He was well-enough known to be asked regularly to speak to American Forces’ organizations. He also hosted senior American officers for dinners and têtes-a-têtes. To his credit, he interviewed the American wounded on regular hospital tours.

His article, written with style and verve, expressed the popular resentment at flashing of money, taking over cabs and restaurants, and “The Girl Question”.

He also compares the drinking habits of Britons and Americans. Of the Briton, he noted:

Beer has a progressively soporific effect on the Englishman. He soon passes from the argumentative to the sentimental — usually he is sentimental about his old mother— and eventually he becomes sleepy. In a pleasantly tired and friendly mood he goes back to camp, probably singing…

In contrast, the “psychological tempo” of the American increased under influence of his favoured drink, whisky. The result often was, looking for “a scrap”.

Baxter also offered a mild critique of early American battle performance, blaming (perhaps diplomatically) a green general staff. He noted that British forces in Tunisia wryly assessed their ally’s performance by the slogan, “Praise the Lord and pass the Guards Division”.

But soon the tone changes. He notes Americans toughened in the Italian fighting, and expressed frank admiration for their progress in France.

He ends by saluting Americans as friends and “humanitarians”, among other superlatives. He states that, having spent time in Britain, and proven themselves in the European theatre, they came to a deeper understanding of their hosts. Having gone through what we would call now a learning curve, the American soldier ended as “courteous and nuanced”.

Returning to the earlier, problematic period, this passage further illustrates (from one point of view) the hapless foreigner:

The American is much more girl conscious than the Briton. Despite the endless attempts of American advertisers to prove that the American girl suffers from an extraordinary number of physical disabilities which render her social success difficult, men of the U.S.A. insist upon placing women on a pedestal, instead of sharing the platform with them like the Englishman does. The Romeo of Pittsburgh searches the caves of metaphor to find new terms of endearment… Let there be no mistake. … [the] epithets fall most agreeably upon the female British ear…

Baxter mentions Canadians a couple of times but in an oddly off-kilter way. He states that like the British, but unlike Americans, Canadians were not inclined to trumpet their achievements. But finally, he seems to view the two nationalities of a piece.

It seems he couldn’t get a fix on Canadians, or didn’t want to go there for some reason. This got me thinking, who was Beverley Baxter?

It turns out, he was a Canadian! His parents were Yorkshire-raised but he was born in Canada, grew up there, and served in its Expeditionary Army during WW I. Almost 30 when the war ended, he decided to stay in Britain.

The Canadian background probably assisted his bonhomie and ease with Americans. He must have retained a good part of his accent, for example.

His envoi: Britain will miss the Americans and Canadians very much for the sparkle they added to domestic life.

 

 

 

 

Testing the Human Spirit

In a time of national, and especially international travail, usual customs are stretched to the limit accommodate the non-normal.

Wartime provides a classic instance, and journalism does not lack for investigation of the altered ways of living.

The blackouts, curfews, and shortages of war, described regularly in such journalism, provide some analogy to our current pandemic. A key difference is the enforced civil isolation required for the latter; that’s different than even a blackout, even a curfew.

It makes reporting a challenge, since the usual places of investigation – bars, restaurants, shops, hotels – are not hosting guests. On the other hand, social media provides inventive ways to report on current living, fuelled by innovative technologies.

A wartime report on life in Imperial Japan is instructive, contributed by a U.S. diplomat who had been interned, and released after 18 months. There are surprises. Despite its spartan existence the population did some social drinking, albeit this was “frowned on”. And despite an iron discipline imposed on everyday life, a black market functioned.

This 1943 report, by American correspondent A.D. Rothman is another example. He wrote it after a tour of American cities that year.

Conditions were grim: beer and liquor short, hotels overwhelmed, housing tight, restaurant menus pared to the minimum, and taxes climbing.

Yet, this news report in January 1944, on Miami, Florida, offered a marked contrast. It was entitled, perhaps ironically, “Wartime Living”. Even the writer seemed surprised at the relative normality. Fashionable clubs were in full-tilt. Mass sporting events such as the Orange Bowl, and betting at the track, well-frequented.

Accommodations were sufficient (hotels, apartments) if not cheap. Most enjoying the “everyday” were civilian although some worked in war factories. A complement of American forces was in the area, stationed or on furlough.

I’ve written of wartime wine, beer, and food tastings of the Wine and Food Society in New York, a kind of counterpart to the club scene in Miami.

In a word, some parts of society managed to enjoy a stylish life, while for others in America things were much harder, not to mention on the fronts.

The geographical edges of the country, at least the urban centres, tended to exhibit a relative normality. Even though it was an important naval centre San Francisco did, not just through entertainment and other amenities but even in politics. At the height of the war the Bay Area had a bohemian poetry movement that helped spark the mid-1950s San Francisco Renaissance.

Yet further, a tiny but vocal pacifist movement was active, an atypical phenomenon still examined by historians.

Finally, an Australian journalist assessed the state of wartime humour in this account.

His words below are worth pondering in our grim time as well.

There is nothing drearier in the dreary atmosphere of war time than cold-blooded attempts to cheer us up. Deliberate fun-making seems out of place, and only emphasises the tragic note. But out of every war, as out of every tremendous human experience, there emerges a real humour, produced not by plan, but by the strange, gallant reaction of the human spirit against the forces of darkness.

Will this upholding of the human spirit 80 years ago prove prophetic for 2020? We will see.

N.B. Our next post continues this theme.

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Selling Beer Like How

The 1950s was perhaps not the heyday of TV beer promotion but was surely its cradle, the proving ground in which tested themes emerged that endured for years.

Billboard Magazine put beer in the spotlight for an issue in 1957. Neatly summarized were six leading themes used in brewers’ ad copy especially on TV. The piece was called, “A Copy Checklist for Beer Commercials”.

The six categories were light-not-filling, flavour and taste, traditional processes and settings (Germany big here), notable brewing locales (Milwaukee), pure water (e.g., Rocky Mountain Spring Water for Coors), and soft sell/gimmicks. The last encompassed animated characters such as Bert & Harry for Piel’s. This discussion some years ago on Beer Advocate recalled the series and its appeal.

One of the best in that genre came a few years later, the talking mugs of West End Brewing in Utica, New York (aka Matt’s Brewing). The deathless Schultz & Dooley, voiced by comic legend Jonathan Winters, live on on YouTube, and in periodic retrospectives by advertising historians.

As Billboard noted, variations were constantly being introduced. The 1960s would bring more hip ideas – take Schlitz’ “three’s a crowd, four’s a beer party”.

Still, the Billboard categories are mostly evergreen. The long-running cold-themed ads for Coors Light are emblematic. That’s Cold, featured on Channel 4 U.K. last year, illustrates it well. The “refreshingly wet” campaign of Ortlieb in Philadelphia, mentioned by Billboard, is a distant ancestor.

Some verbal formulae almost defy logical meaning. Labatt beer tasted “crystal”. Or take the “sweeping smoke” of sylvan Bavarian ski country. (It wasn’t Rauch Bier). But specifics are less important than a good feeling, or positive atmosphere. The Mad Men knew their stuff, and still do.

I’ve written before of early efforts to acquaint U.S. brewers with the latest advertising techniques. In 1914 The Western Brewer, a trade magazine, ran a multi-part series on effective use of advertising. Here is the ninth instalment, on advertising ale. The advice is far from unsophisticated, but still there is a flavour of Gibson Girls and gas lamps.

Writing only 43 years later, Billboard’s coverage seems light years ahead. More than 43 years have elapsed since 1957 – 63 to be precise – yet Billboard in 1957 speaks to 2020 much more than 1914 did to the ’50s. The tight writing, with its indented bullet points, is one index. The clarity of the lay out and contrasting bold type are notable as well. Moderne.

Some verbal formulations are passé – things aren’t “tricked out” any more, and “every man Jack” will puzzle not a few. It means, “every single one of you”.

But adjusting for that and new forms of media, the Copy Checklist fits our world pretty well. The 1957 issue, taken as a whole, is pretty contemporary in fact, especially the music coverage for which Billboard is famous.

1957 was ground zero for rock-flavoured pop culture. Much of the language and vibe apply to our world of Eilish and Drake – or the half-time Super Bowl show. Ren Grevatt reported (see pg. 27) that they were “rocking and rolling it between halves” for the Rose Bowl Game…

 

 

 

Coors and the Aluminum Can – Whys and Wherefores

Local press stories that covered Coors Brewery’s introduction of aluminum cans, with other sources, confirm and extend a complex story.

Coors first deployed aluminum cans in 1959. The can had been in development for years under a company-funded, self-manufacturing scheme by its Porcelain Division. The latter made ceramic equipment used or sold by Coors including beer filters and lab vessels.

This January 1959 story in the Colorado Transcript details the research history (“4000 research headaches”), and rationale. In particular, the cans were much lighter than steel cans and would be recycled. Steel cans, at the time, were considered to have “no salvage value”.

The change did not occur overnight. In 1959, only a seven ounce can, or pony, was used for the new process, sold in eight-packs. Through the 1960s cans in progressively larger sizes came on stream. They were extruded in two pieces, body and lid, from a small disc that replaced the tin-coated steel formerly in use.

This 1970 governmental collection of environment studies, see from pg. 573, confirms that Coors still used some steel cans into 1971, but subsequently only aluminium was used.

A September 1968 story in the same newspaper reported the progress in intervening years to replace the remaining steel at Coors. It noted that the initial plan to collect for one cent each, and recycle, the empty cans was abandoned in 1966. There had been problems with retailers collecting the cans and properly accounting for the deposits.

Also, in the mid-60s there wasn’t enough aluminum packaging yet available to recycle economically, but a recycling program was later restored and expanded by Coors.

The 1968 story states something I have never read elsewhere. Despite being lined – steel beer cans had used an epoxy-enamel or other internal coating from their first use in the 1930s – a “minute” amount of iron entered the beer. In deed it was detectable by expert tasters. Coors wanted to preclude this effect, and aluminum was the answer. From the story (via Colorado Historic Newspapers):

Tinplated steel cans, in spite of the best of internal coatings, impart a minute iron content to beer. While perhaps only an expert beer taster can detect with certainty the effect of iron from a tinplate can on flavor, Coors always has taken whatever steps necessary to improve quality, and the minute amount of iron was not acceptable.

The aluminum cans were also lined but clearly the issue affecting tinplate steel did not apply to aluminum. Why this was is a separate and interesting question, but it appears the contact of aluminum with beer has a neutral effect. The main reason a lining is still used is to regulate the discharge of carbon dioxide from the cans.

Hence, the lore among many consumers in the post-war era that beer from steel cans had a metallic taste may have been accurate.

Pasteurization, or rather its absence, is part of this story as well. Starting in 1959 Coors packaged in its new containers “asceptically”. This meant, using a sterile environment and fine filtration to eliminate yeast and bacteria in the finished beer. Hence, the beer would not re-ferment or cause off-flavours.

As an alternative to pasteurization end-to-end refrigeration was introduced, from fermentation through to deliveries at wholesale and retail, to maintain the integrity of the beer. The company felt that “cooking” the beer with pasteurization, where temperature can reach 140 F in the tunnel used to sterilize cans and bottles, altered the flavour.

In this respect, Coors was always a traditionalist company.

Coors’ approach historically is worthy of respect, a vestige of its 19th-century, German-American roots.

For years Coors used cold packaging and distribution of fresh (unheated) beer to distinguish itself in the market. Its distribution arrangements, initially restricted to 11 Western states, reflected that as the beer had to be kept cold through the distribution chain.

These extracts from Federal Trade Commission hearings in 1973-1974 attest to the rigour with which Coors approached such brewing. Coors claimed in this period that its cost to manufacture, age, and ship beer exceeded those of any other brewer.

The extra expense, it was claimed, was off-set by lower advertising and marketing costs. Coors was famous in those years for under-advertising. It relied mainly on market penetration, abetted by restrictive distribution arrangements that finally got it in trouble with anti-trust regulators. Word of mouth, in the era when Coors beer was chic, helped as well.

As far as I know, Coors Light (introduced 1978) and Coors Banquet Beer remain, in 2020, cold-filtered and unpasteurized in the United States.* Today, a number of mass market beers eschew pasteurization, including Miller Genuine Draft which is also made by Molson-Coors Beverage Co. And most craft beer is unpasteurized regardless of package.

Hence, the advantage of selling canned and bottled unpasteurized beer no longer is unique to Coors, and it does not vaunt the process as it did formerly. But when it did, it showed that American beer, even in the 1970s when it was fairly uniform in palate, could be differentiated by other than just branding and smart ad copy.

Coors’ manufacturing and distribution methods meant something, and were responsible in good part I believe for the marked success of the beer then. There was no more hip or cult beer than Coors in the 1970s, everyone from actor Paul Newman to the Secret Service favoured it.

While regular Coors was light-bodied even before the introduction of Coors Light, the beer had a certain something by many accounts. Most 1970s reviewers gave it high marks. Michael Weiner in his (1977) The Taster’s Guide to Beer gave it a five star rating out of a seven, and noted its “purity”.

There was the odd naysayer, but often on the East Coast where (at the time) Coors arrived in bootlegged form and was often too old.

As I read the history, the aluminum can was not tied as such to Coors’ decision in 1959 to abandon pasteurization for non-draft beer (draft was always unpasteurized). Rather, two “firsts”, in the language of the press stories, were accomplished: the aluminum can, and packaging beer unpasteurized.

For those not aware, unpasteurized beer is not dangerous to health. The taste may alter in time, but the beer, due to the alcohol content, is not considered harmful to human organisms. No form of beer is pathogenic, that is, where correctly manufactured.

Coors was a pioneer in introducing aluminum cans to the brewing industry. It was no less a pioneer for packaging beer unpasteurized. It must be credited for this and its environmental foresight, which stretches way back to the Eisenhower era and Rachel Carson.

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*Coors Original, mentioned in my previous post, is now brewed in Canada for the Canadian market. It replaced the Coors Banquet previously imported from Colorado. Interestingly, it seems Coors Original is pasteurized. We thank Canadian beer authority Jordan St. John for that information, who tapped his industry contacts. I’d think the Coors Banquet formerly imported to Canada was also pasteurized, as exported beer usually is, apart some craft beer. Hence, for Canadians, the question of any effect on palate likely is moot.