International Conclave on Ale – 1935

Ale Under the Microscope in Cincinnati

When the Hagley Digital Archives made available mid-20th century issues of The American Brewer sans paywall, it was a big service to beer scholarship. The issues cover the period from 1928-1942, approximately 160 issues comprising thousands of pages.

I’ve uncovered a nugget from November 1935 – at least, I haven’t seen it discussed elsewhere in modern beer studies. The issue reprinted papers given at the Cincinnati convention that year of the Master Brewers Association of America (MBAA). Included were three presentations on ale history and brewing.

It was significant that the conference devoted this attention, as top-fermentation had been relatively minimal in American brewing for decades. And the post-Repeal 1930s was the least propitious time for it. Still, ale continued to be brewed, both in its Northeast heartland and elsewhere in the country.

Indeed as I showed earlier some brewers took especial pains to deliver authentic, British-inspired productions. Louis Wehle tried to recreate authentic Burton pale ale in Syracuse and Rochester, NY. Ballantine in New Jersey, also 1930s, brought back its long-aged India Pale Ale. There were many other examples, to varying degrees of authenticity.

So the profession still turned its mind to ale. Otto P. Rindelhardt addressed his colleagues from a Canadian perspective. Capt. Francis N. Ward spoke on British practice. Henry O. Sturm and Eric Wollesen dealt with both America and Canada.

Rindelhardt worked for Carling Brewery in London, Ontario. He did not deliver the speech, as I surmise he wasn’t well enough to travel. He died in 1936 at 61, and is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Middlesex County, Ontario.

He was with Carling from about 1906 until his death. The American Brewer’s Review (1903) stated he was from Detroit, Michigan and received a scholarship to the Milwaukee Brewing School run by Hantke. By 1906 he had joined Carling Brewing and Malting Co. in London, Ontario, as we see from Letters on Brewing, Volume V.

He had worked under the Carling family and latterly with E.P. Taylor, the financier who created Canadian Breweries Ltd., the pre-eminent brewery “raider” of its era. Rindelhardt was Carling’s long-time superintendent of brewery operations.



Together with Wollesen, they helped create the Master Brewers Association of Canada in 1914, which was (and is) affiliated with the MBAA.

Eric Rindelhardt, perhaps his son, delivered the paper in lieu of its author. The journal made an error in rendering the surname, terming it Rindlehardt, but it was actually Rindelhardt.

There are few if any other lengthy treatments on these lines in American or Canadian sources of that period, hence their value.

There are so many points in them, I don’t know where to start. I’ll simply send it out for scholarship to examine, and will mention just a couple of points.

Both Rindelhardt and Sturm-Wollesen make detailed comments on the history of cream ale. They make a basic distinction I found useful, especially as the various terms in this regard – cream ale, lively ale, sparkling ale, present use ale – were often used loosely even in brewing circles.

Rindelhardt stated that cream ale and lively ale, which he considered synonymous, were devised in the mid-1800s to compete with lager. He said they were ale barrelled before fermentation had completed to build up carbonation in the trade casks, or krausened in those casks, and sent out.

In contrast, sparkling ale and present use ale – again synonymous – might also be krausened, and later force-carbonated, but were a flat stored ale blended with lager krausen. This form, provided the lager krausen was handled correctly, still offered an ale character but in a fizzy, chilled way as lager would offer.

Cream/lively ale was, as I discussed in the steam beer series just completed, a top-fermented equivalent to California steam beer. Both were newly made and highly effervescent from active yeast. These experts’ comments are fully in accord with that schema, imo.

Sparkling/present use ale, in the strict sense, should not be analogized to steam beer as it offered mainly a mature character. It had a similar fizz, and was intended to be be drunk cold, but the flavours contrasted with the relatively green character of cream/lively ale. This is a reasonable inference to draw from their remarks.

The experts pointed out as well, in a restrained but impliedly critical way, that some post-Repeal brewers were selling lager dressed up as ale, for example, by dry-hopping it.

Their comments on the history of stock ale are very interesting too, including that (as in the U.K.) beer stored upwards of two years could taste sour. Sour I.P.A., that craft phenomenon of our time, fits right in there…

I had no luck in tracing Francis N. Ward. He seems not to have been connected to Ward’s Brewery in Essex, U.K., at least not in the patrilineal line of ownership. He was clearly a formally trained brewer. His comparison of the different regional fermentation methods is instructive, as all his remarks. Every phase of the brewing process is reviewed.

The part I liked best is his description of the taste of contemporary mild ale. He stated it was lightly sweet in character, something most beer today offers much less, imo. He seemed of two minds about sugar in brewing. He said modern, little-aged beer needed it to ensure clarity, but seemed to consider as well that sugar was only necessary when malt of lesser quality was used.

There is lots there, read for yourself.

Note re image: image above was sourced from the issue of the The American Brewer identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.







Steaming Into the Thirties (Final Part)

A Steam Brewer Powers into the Thirties – Sans Steam


This series commenced with Part I which showed how the regulatory environment for newly-legalized beer in 1933-1934 dampened the prospects for steam beer’s return in California.

Steam beer did reappear post-Volstead, but not with the élan it had prior to Woodrow Wilson’s war measures and National Prohibition.

El Rey Brewing and Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, Garden City in San Jose, with its Old Joe brand from the old Eagle Brewery, and Grace Bros. in Santa Rosa brought back steam beer, but soon only Anchor was left.

Post-Prohibition California brewers focused on lager with a sub-specialty of undifferentiated ale. In my intervening seven essays, Parts II to VIII, I examined different aspects of steam beer history and production.

I will end again in the 1930s, to show how a former steam beer champion positioned itself in the new brewing environment.

Past Recalls the Present

In today’s (American) beer world, with over 7,000 breweries at the end of 2019, brewers must stretch their imagination to devise distinctive brand names. Yet so often, the past is hard to beat. If you can think of a name cooler than Cream Steam Lager, let me know.

Cream Steam was the main brand of the Palace Brewery in Alamada, California, and it also made a XXX Porter. The brewery was founded by Henry Schuler, a Prussian immigrant who ran it with his son, Lawrence. The brewery is memorialized in Alameda County: Eden of California, a commercial and historical survey printed in 1898.

But memories are – can be – long in brewing. A modern California brewery, Faction Brewing in Alameda, issued its Palace XXX Porter to commemorate the long-disappeared Palace. A residential nook in the City of Alameda is called Palace Court, named for the old brewery. See this account by the local historian Karen Bey.

Geo. F. Goerl, Steam Brewer and Golden West Brewery

In 1910 George F. Goerl was associated with the Palace brewery. He was the brewer, and apparently purchased the brewery from the Schuler family in 1905. Goerl’s father Fritz had a long run as owner of a brewery in San Rafael, Marin County. Father sold out to English investors in about 1905 and retired, dying not long after in an accident.

See some details on San Rafael Brewery and Fritz (or Fred) Goerl as reported two years ago in the Marin Independent Journal.

It seems likely that the sale proceeds helped fund son George’s entry into brewing in another California county, Alamada, east of the Bay across from San Francisco.

Press reports attested in 1910 and early 1911, for example the San Francisco Call, that the Palace and four other breweries in Alameda County merged to form the Golden West Brewery Co. Like San Francisco County, Alameda County had an active steam beer market, supplied by its own breweries.

The other four in the merger were Washington Brewery in Oakland, headed by George White, Anchor Brewery also in Oakland (not connected to the better-known one across the Bay), Raspiller Brewery in Berkeley, and the Lion in Hayward. Some dated from the 1850s, the first decade of commercial brewing in California.

The squad of five, as this story in Santa Rosa’s Press Democrat explained, had excess production; in today’s terminology, rationalization was the answer:

There has been a combination formed among the brewers of steam beer in Alameda county for the purpose of saving themselves from the unnecessary expenditure of money in the transaction of their business, limiting the cost of their product, minimizing the cost of handling … their output, abolishing disastrous competition and in a word making more money for themselves than they claim to have been making for a number of years past. The new organization is known as the Golden West Brewing Association…

Steam beer was losing popularity to conventional lager, but also, as the Call’s story explained, saloonkeepers were careless how to serve the beer. Steam beer required nicety of technique due to the unusually high pressure and tendency to cloud from its element of krausen, or young fermenting beer. An analogy to the ever-fragile status of cask-conditioned beer in the U.K. may be noted.

The merged five intended to improve the standard of beer service in saloons by educating barkeeps on proper service of the beer. They weren’t, that is, giving up on steam beer, as many California breweries had or were in process of doing; rather, they wanted it served in best condition so customers could appreciate its merits.

While the merger included most breweries in the county, two didn’t join. These were the Co-Operative Brewing Company in Oakland, and Oakland Brewing and Malting (OBM). OBM, established only in 1907, was designed to the highest modern standards. It brewed only conventional lager, its Blue and Gold brand.

This portrait of OBM, in the 1911 book Greater Oakland, suggests the kind of operation older, less efficient brewers needed to emulate to stay alive in the market. They had to become, like OBM, brewers of a “scientific” and “pure” lager. Steam beer didn’t exactly have that image but Golden West would try to keep it alive, while starting to brew lager as well.

Golden West wasted no time. Two breweries in the group were shut. And a brand-new facility was built that rivalled OBM in modernity and style. It was located at Seventh and Kirkham streets in Oakland.

A profile of Golden West Brewery in 1911 can be obtained from E. Blake’s Greater Oakland:



While George Goerl is not mentioned, he was very much involved, as the brewer. The merged business grew in succeeding years but as we have seen, war measures and then Prohibition caused all brewing in California to cease by 1920. Beer brewing, that is. We have seen how Golden West stayed in business to make a steam version of near beer.

Golden West After 1920

Such was its faith in steam beer, or at least the tradition implied by the name, that it marketed the near beer throughout the 1920s and until Prohibition ended. See for example this 1931 ad. This was not a case, therefore, of a brewery foundering with its near beer in the ’20s and leaving the market well before Prohibition ended, as happened with many.

On July 31, 1933 the Oakland Tribune covered Golden West’s re-entry to brewing in a splashy piece that took a full page and part of another. The officers and directors were pictured, mostly in their 60s and 50s judging appearances. Indeed the story stated George White had 43 years in the business and George Goerl, 40 years. The other men too mostly had long decades-long records in malting and/or brewing.



Charles W. Heyer, a key member of the old team, had died in 1932 according to this 1933 story in The American Brewer. We suspect new blood (in a manner of speaking) joined with White and Goerl to permit Golden West to re-equip and enter the newly legal brewing business.

The Tribune explained that in the long years of Prohibition White and Goerl had worked on the formulation of the beer to emerge when brewing was legal – Golden Glow.  The stories in the feature reference the highly scientific and updated plant Golden West became in 1933, with new aging tanks, a restored brewery, and expanded stock house.

Bottling was characterized, said the piece, by an intensive sterilization and pasteurization program. (Seven waters to clean the glass, a temperature so hot it would scald your hands). Golden West once again re-invented itself, just as it had in 1910 when five pioneer breweries merged to live another day.

But one thing is missing from the Tribune’s lavish account. There is not a single mention of steam beer. Clearly, and as a review of its subsequent activities suggests, Golden West never again returned to steam beer. It was part of history, didn’t fit the super-modern image of the reborn brewery. True, steam beer was retained in 1910 during the first transformation, but that was 23 long years before: times had changed.

Whether Goerl was dissuaded by the need to ensure his kegged steam beer did not exceed 3.2% ABW is hard to say, but I incline that had he wanted to make such a beer, he could have. After all he made a near beer with the name steam on the label. Steam beer was, withal and in the end, something of the past for the Golden West executives, if not for all breweries starting up after Prohibition.

Adrienne Schell, a local historian in Oakland, depicted aspects of Golden West brewing history in her blog some years ago. She includes numerous labels for its beers in the 1930s and 1940s – not one is for steam beer. The beers were mostly lagers, but some ale was made, as mentioned below.

The American Brewer also gave good coverage in 1934 to Golden West’s rebirth – again no reference to steam beer. The only brands mentioned were Golden Glow Beer and Golden Glow Ale.

This 1934 ad for Golden Glow Ale, with its attempt to link the beer to old British traditions, may have been Golden West’s way to uphold the old steam beer heritage, as steam beer always had connections to ale-brewing as shown earlier.

As for most American brewers in the post-Volstead era, ale was never more than a minor category. Lager was the mainstay into the 1940s as this forthright 1944 ad for Golden Glow Beer would suggest, but it is just one of many similar ads that appeared since Prohibition’s end.

Golden West’s Position in the post-Volstead Market and Fate

Golden West found its place in the post-Prohibition beer business but it never rose to the topmost ranks of California brewers. Gallonage reports for 1939 in The American Brewer (sourced via Hagley Digital Journals) placed it among the leading brewers but well behind pacemakers Acme, Los Angeles Brewing, General Brewing, and Rainier. See here:



Acme, General (Lucky Lager), Rainier, and Los Angeles Brewery (Eastside) remained the major players for years. Inevitably, smaller breweries – there were about 35 brewers in total in California in the mid-30s – closed or were bought out. Golden West endured through the war but in 1950, was bought out by an expanding Midwestern brewer, Goebel in Detroit. See Peter Blum’s remarks in his book on Detroit brewing history.

For some years the brewery continued operating in Oakland under Midwestern direction, in the same building built in 1910-1911, but finally was demolished.

The Takeaway

Numerous lessons can be learned from steam beer history and the arc of Golden West. One is the indomitable spirit of the brewer to stay in his trade, “a very old and honourable job”, as Oscar A. Mendelsohn called it in his The Earnest Drinker (1950). Men with graying hair waited 13 years to re-enter the brewing fray, keeping up with brewing technology to boot.

Yet, despite nearing their golden years when starting up again in 1933 the Golden West executives weren’t sentimental about beer history, even their own. They didn’t let romance potentially cloud a phoenix-like revival.

In the current vernacular, they didn’t “love a business” – but they did love brewing.

What we can learn from the saga of California steam beer is that even in California, even for many brewers who once specialized in “steam”, beer was more important than steam beer, finally.

Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.





Steaming Into the Thirties (Part VIII)

As stated in our last part, illicitly made steam beer was sold in the Embarcadero, San Francisco for a couple of years after Prohibition commenced on January 17, 1920. In fact, throughout the state, as in many parts of Prohibition America, real beer was being brewed and bottled illicitly. An instance on a fairly large scale was reported by a paper in San Luis Obispo in 1924.

At the same time, through the 1920s one sees ads in California newspapers for well-known brands of steam. Wieland’s, and Golden West’s, say. Here is one of the latter, in 1925, in Madera:



But this was near beer, compliant with the Volstead Act’s limitation of alcohol content to .5% ABV. Such steam brew, we can call it, was both bottled and on draft. John Wieland’s, perhaps the most prominent pre-Prohibition brewer in San Francisco, advertised its near beers extensively.

In 1922 Wieland’s advertised its Special Steam together with an Extra Pale and even a Special Bock.



Were the dockers I discussed in the last part drinking such near beer and “needling” it with alcohol to make a simulacrum? It is possible but I incline more to the fact that they were drinking authentic beer. It was early days under the “new normal”, to borrow a phrase of our time. The machinery to enforce Prohibition especially in corners remote from the centres of power took time to marshal.

Once beer-beer dried up the port workers had a choice between near steam or another kind of near beer, or a soft drink – root beer seems to have been popular. And there was milk. That the dockers chose milk as their go-to may be telling as to the “nearness” of the beer substitutes.

San Francisco had 12 breweries before Prohibition began, of which six continued in business making near beer and other legal products. See this press story of June 1920 in Colusa, CA. Wieland’s was among these, a prominent producer of steam beer and lager before Prohibition. (It would return post-Prohibition, but not in San Francisco).

In Oakland across the Bay, Golden West Brewery Co., a merger in 1909 of five steam beer breweries in Alameda County, also continued operating.

Any concerns that steam beer couldn’t be kegged, couldn’t be bottled, were swept away under the new regime. What made steam beer “steam” – the active fermentation in keg or bottle when sent to consumer – was out of the picture, yet the descriptor “steam” was applied.

However bottled or kegged steam brew was made, and perhaps some was pasteurized, there was no fermentation going on in those containers.

It was an exercise in marketing, to trade on the popularity of steam beer before 1920. There is no question steam beer was under pressure in the market (sorry) before WW I, with cold-aged lager increasingly dominant, but lots of steam beer was still sold.

Maybe the same malt and hop types were used as in the pre-Prohibition real thing, to suggest a similarity.

Be that as it may, steam near beer was marketed for years, especially by Golden West. In fact Golden West seems to have done quite well during Prohibition. Or well enough to emerge at the other end, mid-1933, to fight another day. Of which more in our last part to come.

N.B. This 1921 story out of Stockton, CA addressed the possibility to brew medicinal beer, as the government consented to issue permits to do so, in the fashion similar for distilleries whose products could be prescribed by doctors. This seems to have been a damp squib due to the “red tape” involved.

The remaining Part, the Final one of this series, follows below.

Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Steaming Into the Thirties (Part VII)

Steam Beer During Prohibition

We have seen in earlier parts that steam beer was a form of common beer, typically but not always bottom-fermented.

Common beer, known in Kentucky (and much beyond, it should be added) was a 19th century form of ale (or vice versa), a top-fermented product that could be made in anywhere from three to 12 days for the market.

“Ale” as such in the period generally meant (as for lager) a stored/aged/vatted product. Common beer including steam beer and cream ale was its converse: quick-fermented at warmish temperatures, left to build a strong fermentation in the barrel when sent to market or given a carbonation assist by krausening (or heading or filling if you will).

We can call it a “running beer” in UK terms except UK mild and bitter ales were generally not wanted nearly as carbonated. The various venting techniques of Britain – spiling, removing the bung – were not used in America c.-1900 except for the fast-disappearing still or flat ale.

We have seen how steam beer taps out in its California heartland in 1919, ahead of Prohibition’s commencement in January 1920. Various obstacles including a mandated 2.75% ABW limit took the heart out of the beer and the makers.

So Prohibition comes, and steam beer is forever gone. Yes? Not exactly.

Perhaps due to its location so far from Washington, D.C. over the yawning Continent, California retained a particular insouciance about Prohibition. Certainly the scofflaws existed everywhere in the country. These were the bootleggers, illicit brewers and distillers, and patrons of blind pig bars. But a 1924 news report on longshoremen’s bars and drinking in San Francisco tells us the dockers blithely continued drinking real steam beer for two years after start of Prohibition.

Printed in a Connecticut labour newspaper in October that year, the account gives a vivid picture of a classic market for the drink in its spiritual home, San Francisco. This was the hard-working dock workers, whose daily consumption – outside holidays when it could double – was a couple of gallons!

That’s about 20 12-oz. bottles, and to think some men reached double that on special days is hard to believe, but there it is.

Clearly someone was brewing the traditional drink as if nothing had changed, but finally enforcement or public rectitude, probably both, eliminated the offending fluid and the old saloons. The few bars that were still in business by the time the report appeared, only some 20, were all true soft drink bars. As to the longshoremen, they turned to milk as their restorative cum solace – hardly the same thing except in calories I guess.

Steam beer was now gone, at least in anywhere near the open fashion evident between 1920 and 1922. To be sure the mens’ overall health must have improved: that much must be said.

The drink would return in faltering steps in 1933, but would never regain its pre-Prohibition importance, nothing near it.

There is more to say about steam beer in California after 1924 and before Repeal in 1933. Next part.

Before that though, let’s ponder the glory days of steam beer in old California, as memorialized by The Connecticut Labor News:

No other city boasted [steam beer] … at least not until San Francisco created the demand, and nowhere else was it so good. Almost everybody drank steam: bankers, business men, truck drivers, Van Ness avenue society queens, humble wash ladies. But of all the places in San Francisco where steam was consumed, there was no place that vied in quantity of consumption with the embarcadero. Every day, wide-wheeled brewery wagons, drawn by sleek horses which the brewers refused to supplant with the more efficient auto-truck, used to deliver 800 filled kegs to waterfront saloons. Popular gossip was that the ordinary capacity of each grimy, sweating longshoreman was two gallons daily…

Image below, from National Park Service, shows San Francisco’s Port of Embarkation in 1933, the year National Prohibition ended.

N.B. The statement above of steam beer’s appeal through the social mosaic varies from earlier accounts that type it as a working-class, lower-echelon drink. Social history is anything but reducible to simple formulas.

The remaining Parts (through to Final, so two more) follow in succession below.

Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.






Steaming Into the Thirties (Part VI)

Just Like Woodrow Wilson Did

Earlier in this series I mentioned that upon resumption of legal brewing in 1933, California brewers agreed with the State to limit their draught beer to 3.2% abw or 4% abv. This, according to some experts and press reports, meant steam beer couldn’t be successfully kegged. As a “live” product, continued fermentation might cause the alcohol to exceed the agreed strength.

The same logic applied to bottling, and in any case almost all bottled beer was pasteurized in the post-Prohibition period. The brewers may have felt you could pasteurize steam beer – Anchor Brewing does today, even the draught – but at the time steam beer was mainly a draught product.

In the result a few brewers did sell draught steam beer at the required strength, but except for (tiny) Anchor Brewing steam beer disappeared in the years following. The bad publicity could not have helped.

It occurred to me to check whether a similar issue existed in 1918-1919 because in that period many brewers manufactured beer with a maximum permitted alcohol of 2.75% abw (about 3.5% abv). The short answer is, yes, but first some background.

It is a complex political, constitutional, scientific, and legal story. I’ll simplify as best I can, and if I have anything awry, happy for comments.

Congress passed the 18th Amendment in December 1917. This banned the manufacture, sale and transport of beverage alcohol, to take effect one year after the last state ratified it under the 2/3rds requirement of the Constitution. Meanwhile, in January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure to set the legal limit for malt beverages at 2.75% abw.

He also required that brewers reduce their use of raw materials, effectively their output, by 30% over the previous year. This was justified as a war measure to conserve resources, but came in the wake of the historic 18th Amendment. With some justice many viewed 2.75% beer, “war beer” it was called, as barely beer, almost a temperance drink.

The 18th Amendment came into force in January 1920, one year after the last State ratified it under the 2/3rds formula, Utah. California had ratified earlier in January 1919.

In late 1918 Wilson, as a further war measure, banned any form of malt beverage – regardless of alcohol content. The war was over but not the mobilization set in play when America entered the war. The new beer rules would only end when the mobilization was declared terminated, with the larger issue of national Prohibition looming as ratification proceeded.

By the spring of 1919, the mobilization had ended. Malt beverage could be brewed provided it was “non-intoxicating”. The brewers took the view 2.75% abw beer was non-intoxicating, arguing the government acknowledged that by setting the limit earlier for war beer.

The government said no, and the Internal Revenue branch argued anything over .5% abv was intoxicating. Much litigation resulted, some of which ended in the Supreme Court. Jacob Ruppert, the famed brewer in New York, fought for the right to sell 2.75% abw beer as did a company, Standard Brewing, in New Orleans.

In the second half of 1919 some companies brewed such beer in the hope the courts would side with them; others took a wait and see stance. But many gave up on brewing period with the writing on the wall.

The courts kind of side-stepped the issue. They held the federal government did not impliedly consent to 2.75% abw beer being non-intoxicating but Internal Revenue could not determine for its part how that was defined. It would remain to be litigated based on evidence.

The issue became moot as by the time the decisions came out the Volstead Act had been passed, which set the level for non-intoxicating beer at a maximum .5% abv. (That was challenged too but the brewers lost).

But steam beer production in California had stopped or virtually stopped in 1919. It was due, in part at least, to the concern that a keg of steam beer might exceed a maximum 2.75% abw.

The story below, from Riverside, CA’s Daily Press in December 1917, foretold the trouble albeit with some imprecision:



The trade journal Western Brewer in January 1918 pleaded the brewers’ case:



Brewers tried to get both steam beer and Kentucky common beer (an ale) exempted on the same basis as for porter and ale. The Anti-Saloon League of California campaigned against the move, arguing the President’s order would be rendered “nugatory”. This press story sets out its position, from the Christian Science Monitor in Boston, February 1918.

The brewers were not upheld, at least for steam beer, and with good reason. Ale and porter were surely exempted not because they cannot be made at lower strengths – that is obviously not the case – but because it was traditional for them to be stronger than lager.*

Steam beer and Kentucky Common shared the trait of being in active fermentation at dispense, which is not the same thing, and also were never as strong as some ale and porter despite the kind of press report above (that was good industry lobbying). Continued fermentation in the kegs there was, but I doubt much steam beer ever reached 7% abv.**

Contemporary sources – the trinity of steam beer articles I have mentioned a number of times – suggest a typical strength of between 5% and maximum 6%.

But the linking in the Western Brewer of Kentucky Common and California steam beer underlines the relationship functionally I was discussing earlier.

The Morning Oregonian, in June 1918, amplified on the steam beer dilemma, now a fait accompli, via a reader’s letter, eccentric in expression but making the point that alcohol level could not be strictly controlled in the keg.

In the Western Brewer again, in October 1919, a list of California brewers is included that states a steam beer plant is shut, with little other brewing activity indicated. The list is surely not complete, but is suggestive nonetheless.

Today, Anchor Brewery in San Francisco both bottles and kegs its steam beer, flash-pasteurizing in either case. No live yeast. Whether this affects the character of the beer I can’t say, I’d have to do a “before and after”. I’m sure Anchor has carefully determined the palate it wants and science today too is much better than in the 1960s not to mention the 1910s and ’30s.

Soon I’ll get a bottle of Anchor Steam and provide my taste impressions in light of this grand history.

In subsequent parts, I’ll look at steam beer in the period 1900-1917, before world events and looming Prohibition reversed its fortunes. And I’ll look at steam beer during Prohibition – yes, it had a career then!

N.B. Ale and porter were exempted from the 2.75% abw ceiling enacted in January 1918 but presumably little was made due to the requirement to cut raw materials usage.

The remaining Parts (through to Final, so three more) follow in succession below.

Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*This kind of pleading, while understandable from an industry and lobbying standpoint, is an example of the care that must be taken when reading even technical accounts of the past. Trade journals often contained, or reflected, special pleading in a word. This is less likely today as the world is smaller and lobbying is subject to wider scrutiny than was possible at the time.

**The actual decision issued may be viewed here. It states that “ale and porter” are exempt. Technically this should have included Kentucky common beer, but in any case steam beer was classed with the lager, hence subject to the 2.75% abw maximum.


Steaming Into the Thirties (Part V)

In this post, I want to highlight an early description – 1880 – of steam beer. It appeared that year on January 31 in the Eugene City Guardian. It was a reprint of an article in the Daily Evening Telegram of Portland.

This is well before John Buchner’s account of 1898, Wahl & Henius’s of 1902 in their landmark Handy Book, and Charles G. Kummerlander’s* the next year (all of which I mentioned earlier). While not completely consistent, the latter paint a picture of quick-production beer, fermented warmer than is typical for lager but using bottom yeast, clarified in shallow pans, and krausened to produce a strong carbonation. No ice or other cooling is used in fermentation and no long aging as for conventional lager.

I’ve argued that some brewers used top-fermentation to make a similar product. See Part IV yesterday where an ad of Mason’s Steam Brewery in Oregon City in 1869 arguably showed a “steam ale” among other ale types and a porter.

The distant time and long disappearance of early steam beer breweries make it difficult to determine who began the tradition. 100 Years of Brewing (1903) sets out a general account that states some names for California and Oregon, see here.

Modern writers such as Ray Daniels have added some details, but in general the origins are somewhat misty. One reads, as in 100 Years of Brewing, alternately of both lager and steam beer production for these early breweries. I think some was not really steam beer because an attempt was made to age it. Some for example was brewed in the colder parts of the year, depending on location, and fermented at correct lager fermentation temperatures.

Some early lager probably was steam beer although not consistently called that until a later period. Steam beer was a cant term that, as for all such terms, took time to become generalized.**

But what more can we learn about early steam beer? The context in 1880 was an interview with the owner of Gambrinus Brewery in Portland, Louis Feurer, a lager-maker who vaunted his use of ice. 100 Years of Brewing states Feurer started in 1877 with steam beer; other sources ascribe an 1875 start date.

Feurer had switched to use of ice to make what he called genuine lager. Steam beer is not referred to by that name, but rather “the California Process”. He terms it a “hot” beer, referring evidently to the warm fermentation, and claims it originated in the making of spruce beer. The latter is the first I’ve read of such a connection, and probably simply was meant to suggest a fast, warm fermentation.

Feurer does not state that California process beer does not use lager yeast. I suspect in fact he used the same yeast once he adopted ice and conventional aging, but can’t be sure of course.

Feurer does refer to the strong carbonation factor, clearly from krausening, and considered the product of inferior taste. Probably he was suggesting that steam beer was “green”, perhaps from dimethyl sulphide, and/or lack of cold aging.

It’s an early account, not nearly as detailed as those of 20 years later, but still notable for its early date and, in the essentials, accurate description of a distinct style.

See our Part VI, in this series, here.


Note: all images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*See also a discussion of this source by Mike Retzlaff in The Hopline, a newsletter of the Crescent City Homebrewers, here (May 2015). This only recently came to my attention.

**Other terms for what was probably steam beer in early California news accounts or advertisements included California beer or common California beer. Such malt beer must be distinguished from a non-commercial product also called California beer, made from a native hominy-like seed, also called “chia”, or maize-type beer.


Steaming Into the Thirties (Part IV)

Oregon Steam Beer

Steam beer, while apparently Californian in origin (c. 1850), had a surprising geographical and socio-cultural reach, lasting about two generations. If I was 25 and looking for a doctoral subject, I might take on “Steam Beer: a Study in Historic Economic Geography”.

If you are still reading, consider that steam beer was far from just San Franciscan. It was made in numerous counties in California although generally in the north. It was made in Nevada. In Oregon and Washington. In British Columbia, including Nanaimo and New Westminster. And in Alaska and Yukon.

I have seen advertisements for steam beer in all these places, sometimes with reference to the Californian origins.

In part, the peripatetic nature of mining explained its expansion. But also it stands to reason a beer known and liked by many would spread within the general geographical region. And that took in more or less all the places of its migration, so California and straight north through to Canada and Alaska, and some or all of the Mountain States.

Here, I’ll mention one instance outside California, charming for the phraseology of an ad whence we know its existence and the variety of beers produced.

This was Mason’s Steam Brewery in Oregon City, which is about a dozen miles south of Portland, in the northwest of the State. Its ad as printed in 1869 in a newspaper of the city:



The term brewage is hardly even colloquial English, although I’ve seen it used in contemporary beer writing in England. It suggests a rhyme not very appetizing. Perhaps this was an Oregon City in joke – or simply demonstrative of an ingenuous owner.

The neatly-named C.C. Smart took over from the previous owner. I have not determined how long each ran the brewery. A John Mason is recorded for small-scale brewing in San Francisco in the second half of the 1800s. Perhaps he had worked earlier in Oregon.

The product range is noteworthy as, except for a steam brew, which normally would be made with lager yeast, the other beers were clearly top-fermented, in the British tradition. One can read the ad though to mean any of the beers came in steam (fizzy) or flat, or more likely, just the Cream XX did.

Note how an XXX, or strong, ale is mentioned in the range. When price is mentioned, suddenly it is XXK, not exactly the same thing. Printer’s error?

It seems unlikely Smart and his predecessor fermented in two sets of equipment, but it is possible. In California, Alaska, and British Columbia, an ad might tout steam beer, lager, and porter. By mentioning lager separate from steam beer, it is clear I think that a bottom yeast was used for both. See e.g. George Lauck in Santa Clara, CA c. 1916.

Porter in such ads may have been either top- or bottom-fermented, likely the former for larger breweries.

In the context of a small brewery such as Smart’s, where “lager” is not mentioned, it is much less clear that there were two yeasts in the brewery. If he had only one, it almost certainly was a top yeast.

The flat ale is rather intriguing. Smart was not the only brewer in Oregon to advertise flat beer. In the East it was called still ale, something in my experience seen only in parts of the Northeast, where British influence endured for cultural and historical reasons.

Here out in northern Oregon – across the wide Continent – we find just after the Civil War the same thing, the most British form of draught there is, cask ale in other words.

Probably an Anglo cultural strain ran through Oregon at the time. After all, who founded Oregon City? The Hudson’s Bay Company, some 40 years earlier. It took years for the Northwest border to be settled. British influence competed with American in what became at start of the Civil War the state of Oregon.

What Mason’s ad does show at least, I think, is in the West steam for beer meant fizzy, probably still fermenting beer. And therefore, at least initially, one could have steam ale or steam beer (lager). The new lively character was the key.

Cream ale typically is highly carbonated, so a steam cream ale makes sense, at least.

On the same page of the newspaper in which Smart’s ad appeared, we find this ad:



Yet more beer connections to Albion, and rather direct ones. Joule’s Stone Ale, which I’ve discussed earlier, was a reputed product of Staffordshire. It was exported as far afield as Australia. I suspect the Shade saloon’s supply came across the Pacific from there. That’s a long journey from England.

The taste must have differed from Smart’s locally-made “brewages”, but how, and what the saloon-goers of newly formed Orego thought of each, we can never know.

Today great ales are again made in Oregon, indeed the State was a cradle of the craft beer revival. In between though a great wash of lager ran through it, taking no prisoners. Even in 1869 flat ale wasn’t long for the (American) world, but hand pumps pull again today in and around Portland – or will once we get from under the blight of this pandemic.

Meanwhile, ponder this scene of mid-19th century Oregon City. Somewhere in the background were being supped fine ales of Britain, mediately or immediately, and an emerging beer style of the United States, or a simulacrum. The weather looks about right for them, too.



The Image immediately above was sourced from the entry on Oregon City in Wikipedia, here.

See Part V to continue this series.

Note: All images or quotations in this series were sourced from the historical newspaper, historical brewers’ journal, or other source as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.




A Really Good Margarita

Below, as a guest post, is the recipe A Really Good Margarita from my friend Steve Rive in Toronto. I can attest it’s prima! He took the image as well.



How to Make a Really Good Margarita


  1. Ingredients: Don’t bother with any fancy, expensive tequilas or with Cointreau, which is also expensive. A basic tequila and Triple Sec will do just fine for a mixed drink of this kind.  (The exception is if you want to substitute a smoky mescal for the tequila, where the flavour of the mescal is quite distinct and will stand out.)  However, you absolutely must have fresh limes.  This is the key to a really good margarita.  It is also why I don’t order margaritas in bars and why a lot of people think that they don’t like margaritas: the use of lime syrups that are too sweet and have the flat, dull taste of artificial flavourings.  In a really good margarita the tart burst of freshly squeezed lime juice is tempered by the Triple Sec alone.  No sugar! The other essential ingredient is kosher salt for the rims of the glasses.  The very large grains make a huge difference, both to the tactile feel of the salted rims on the mouth and tongue, and to the sour/salty “pre-taste” that is essential to the whole margarita drinking experience.  Of course, the other essential point is to use lime juice, not water, to stick the salt to the rims, as set out below.  Otherwise, there simply is no sour/salty pre-taste.


  1. Equipment: You will need glasses, a shot glass for measuring, and a container of some kind in which to mix the ingredients. (A stainless steel cocktail shaker is the ideal mixing container, but a glass container is OK too.) You will also need a manual, stainless steel citrus juicer—the kind with a dome and strainer on top and a little dish below to collect the juice.  This two-part design is the best in terms of function.  But the stainless steel is important too.  What adjectives come to mind when you think of what a really good margarita should be? “Sharp,” “tart,” “tingling,” “clean,” “fresh,” “refreshing,” “crisp,” “bracing”—i.e., the opposite of what you think of when you think of mulled wine, or a good cup of hot chocolate.  And that is stainless steel.  It has a similar, slightly electric tingle on your tongue.  It even smells clean!  Stainless steel also feels good when you handle it and is strong enough to allow you to press down really hard to squeeze out every last drop of juice. No plastic!


  1. Squeeze the juice of half of one lime into the juicer and remove the top part of the juicer. Now rinse and dry your hands, so you don’t make sticky marks on the glasses, dip the rim of each glass into the dish of the juicer to coat it with lime juice, and then—keeping the glasses upside down–sink each rim into a plate of kosher salt.  You don’t want salt falling off the rims into the glasses, so before turning each glass upright, pat it on the bottom or tap it on the sides to knock off any loose grains.  Put the glasses upright in the freezer. Note that we salt the rims before we have squeezed all of the lime juice that we are going to need.  This is in order to get the glasses into the freezer as soon as possible. The longer they spend there the better.


  1. Squeeze the rest of the lime juice that you need, using the shot glass to measure it out into the mixing container. How much you need depends on the size and the number of margaritas that you are making.  The proportions are equal parts of lime juice, Triple Sec, and tequila.  I use 1 ½ ounces of each per drink.


  1. You now have in your somewhat sticky hands a shot glass that is coated inside and out with the lime juice. At this critical stage in the process, when all of the really hard work has been done, pour some tequila into the shot glass, let it soak up the lime juice residue inside and then knock it back.  Savour it.  Let it roll around in your mouth for a bit while you stare absently at the wall, or, what is better, out of the window at the back garden, lost in thought.


  1. Swallow.


  1. Thus refreshed and fortified, you are ready to mix. Rinse and dry your hands again. Add the equal parts of Triple Sec and tequila to the lime juice in the mixing container and stir.  If you are making the margaritas in advance, you can now put the mix in the fridge to let it chill.  But the pre-chilling is not essential, and if you leave the mix in the fridge too long, you lose the immediacy and freshness that is the essence of what a really good margarita is all about.


  1. Remove the glasses from the freezer. Take the mix out of the fridge, give it a final stir, and then fill the glasses, being careful to pour into the centre of each glass, so you don’t wash salt off the rims.  Add ice. (A recent innovation is to use just one of those really large ice cubes.  This has the usual cooling effect, but with less rapid melting, and therefore less rapid dilution, due to the larger cubes having a lower ratio of surface area to volume.  But ordinary ice cubes are fine.  The key thing obviously is that you want the margaritas to be cold.)


  1. That’s it. Your guests will be wondering why they have never tasted a margarita that is this good before.


American Writers Confront Lager

Below I link a starkly funny piece from 1866. The writer is uncredited, signing himself only “Hunki-do-ri”, but internal and other evidence suggests he was a Philadelphia journalist.

I think most reading, regardless of age, know the meaning of “hunkydory” – satisfactory, alright, okay. It’s not quite an antiquated term – David Bowie used it after all.

The phrase was popular cant during the Civil War, with a misty etymology no one has ever fully explained, to my knowledge.

Hunki-do-ri’s comic style has a slightly surreal or fabulist edge, reminding me of Monty Python, Jonathan Winters, or Robin Williams. Hence, while 1866 is a long time ago, the piece is rather contemporary in comedic style.

In the 1860s an issue preoccupied America: is lager beer intoxicating? Because the drink was relatively new in the country and less strong than ale or porter, it wasn’t well understood. This was exacerbated by its association with German and other Central Europeans, new Americans still in process of integration and acceptance.

Countless journalistic sallies, essays, court cases, and reports studied whether lager was intoxicating and the extent to which it should be regulated. This area has been, and will continue to be a fecund field for cultural historians and other studies.

In earlier postings I discussed a few examples of this journalism; to these let’s add the 1866 example. Hunki-do-ri’s premise: I must spend a full day drinking lager in its usual habitats to understand fully its effects. Whence a journey that begins with the breakfast hour and ends only at bedtime.

It started this way:

9 A.M. —Took a glass of lager at a Third street saloon. Exceedingly cooling to the system. It diffuses a gentle and agreeable exhilaration throughout the brain.

9.05 A.M. —Took another glass with brown bread, salt, and cardamon seeds. Thoughts run in agreeable channels. Disposed to look leniently upon the frailties of humanity. Wouldn’t refuse to receive cash in full from a debtor, or force money upon a man I owed. Pat the head of a little Dutch* baby that toddles by me. Am carried back in imagination to the days of my youth (which the nights of my mature years had put out of my head somewhat.) …

Right away the tone is set – the second drink is consumed five minutes after the first.

The writer does not much concern himself with the cultural fact of German-ness in America. Many pieces of the day depicted German-Americans in stereotypical, often denigrating terms. Hunki-dor-i largely stays away from this field, and qua drink, certainly liked lager.

Occasionally he references foreign emblems for mainstream Americans, the spiced bread is an example. In general though the tone is humorous, upbeat, finally riotous.

A counterpoint to this treatment are the pages of Bob Brown on the Turner Park Beer Garden outside Chicago in his Let There be Beer (1932). It appears in the chapter “An American Beerhood” at pp. 114 et seq.

I discussed the book, an overlooked classic in American beer studies, in two posts earlier.

Brown was raised in Oak Park, Illinois, which adds to the authenticity of the account. I say this because Brown had a rambling, arch, rollicking style and at times could be forgiven for historical inaccuracy. Still, there seems little doubt his beer garden existed.

The period is circa-1900. Brown locates the park six miles from the Chicago suburb of River Forest, reachable by foot through forest or on water.

Turner Park, says Brown, was named for “gymnast” in German, turner (the masculine noun). The park seems to have been the locale of a Turnverein club, the gymnastic and social clubs that spread through German-America in the last quarter of the 1800s.

Brown focuses on the beer amenities, stating that “among rustic tables standing four-square to hold the stagger of thick glass mugs” the “brew-master” “Ran the place single-handed, milled the malt, brewed the beer, and waited on tables…”.

The best time was in spring, when “Bock was on tap, dew was on the firecracker green grass, froth fresh on the seidel”.

The account tells the adventures at the park of “Joe”, the protagonist. Joe almost certainly was a lightly disguised young Bob Brown. Joe flees the starchy, orderly, indeed officially dry confines of River Forest for the pleasures of “outlawed” Turner Park.

Written two generations after Hunki-do-ri’s lager adventures, Brown’s account is notable for an evident sympathy with German-American culture. He portrays the old-stock burghers of River Forest as judgmental, prejudiced, hypocritical. No doubt there is some exaggeration here, given the florid style, but the portrait is striking nonetheless.

The “foreign customs” of “Dutch-town”, the enclave where Germans and other newcomers lived, are contrasted to “padded”, “tailor-made”, “Bible class” River Forest.

Brown shows how harsh were Joe and his classmates to the Dutch kids, making fun of their language and customs “from a safe distance”. In his own way, Brown critiques the bullying culture that he probably observed, maybe participated in, as a school-child.

Joe visits the beer garden, stube Brown also calls it, in all seasons. In winter he would skate the six miles down the (Des Plaines) river to get there. He explains that the exertions meant by the time he got home, no evidence of intoxication showed, yet his mother noticed how the household supply of “cloves” (chewed to mask alcohol) kept diminishing. No slouch, she put it down to Joe and his father tippling.

For supporting evidence that Turner Park and its beer garden/stube really existed, see e.g., this Illinois historical study from c. 1998. It states the associated gymnastic club was an extension of one in Decatur, and mentions the adjacent beer garden. The garden ran, it appears, at least from 1896 until 1914, although it seems Turner Park originated in some form c. 1875.

See for example this report in September 1875 describing a German shooting fest at the park. The availability of lager at numerous “stands” is mentioned. A small community, River Grove, grew alongside the park and is now a town of some 10,000 but the park itself seems no longer to exist.

Brown was born in 1886. Oak Park is 2.5 miles from River Forest…

Still a drink of some mystery in 1866, by 1900 lager had almost completely taken over American beer customs. It took only 50 years or so.

Brown nonetheless in separate chapters lovingly depicts the older ale and porter tradition, with its associated hostelries. I’ll return to this before long.

N.B. For some general background on the emergence of beer gardens in Chicago after the Civil War including as connected to the Turners, see Perry Duis’ study, The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston 1880-1920, at pp. 154 et seq.

Note re image: image above, of Des Plaines river in winter, is sourced from the Lake County Forest Preserves Site, here. All intellectual property belongs solely to lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Means German here, probably.

Rich Creamy Porter and Stout (Part III)

In my previous two parts, I discussed the late 19th century blending practices of some Irish and British porter brewers, by reference to various texts and other sources.

One book I had read years ago, but didn’t come to mind until the other day, was James Steel’s 1878 manual, Selection of the Practical Points of Brewing and Malting. It’s an interesting book, clearly the work of a non-scientific brewer, as most then were, and one with very definite views.

Steel was a Scot, I assume, as the book was published in Glasgow.

He was insistent on the need to long-age porter, so old school in this sense. He believed also that draught porter should be blended with unfermented wort (or barely fermented if you follow his instructions closely). See his discussion from p. 80, here.



He believed that the base of the mix should be well-aged, but allowed that some mixes used young porter as the base.

Where young beer is used, he advised 90% and 10% wort (filling he calls it). For his preferred mix, it was 80% old beer and 20% wort. So this is a bit different from Frank Faulkner’s discussion that we saw, as he blended old beer, young beer, and wort.

However, all these are variations on a theme, as brewers’ practice evidently was as Steel states London porter brewers generally did not add the wort themselves, rather London “retailers” did.

Of course writing as he was from the outside, and in Scotland as well, he surely was not privy to all London porter methods. Still, overall his discussion supports what seems to be, by 1900, the approved way to deal with porter and stout: charge it up with gas via the wort addition and serve from unvented casks.

Steele states, another of his views, that serving porter without this conditioning – more or less how cask porter would be served today – produces a lesser pint. A matter of opinion again, but Guinness’ practice today, long after the two-cask system of the 20th century passed, still ensures a creamy pint.

Guinness remains in this sense (and not only that of course) a true custodian of history.