Plattsburgh, Beer, Chocolate

A discussion on Twitter among beer writers today reminded me of a tableau, or so it is in my mind, in Plattsburgh, New York, late 70s probably.

I was buying, in a small store on a corner, beer from a cooler and chocolate. The candy was definitely M&Ms, a chocolate bar not available at the time in Montreal.

The beer may have been Genesee Cream Ale, made in Rochester elsewhere in upstate New York. But I think it was Michelob.

I said to the clerk: “two fine tastes”. She agreed but added, “But one after the other and man …”, making a gesture with both hands away from the midsection.

So it is with two good things, or a surfeit of anything (culinary) in succession. A wealth of calories. Too much, usually, for most.

Whether literally to pair them is a matter of preference. For me, after a few decades of experience, beer is best served, usually, on its own. Maybe have cracker or some cheese. hallowed exceptions:  a burger, fries, pizza, wings. And yes, a Belgian dish or two, e.g. carbonnade).

It’s also a question of metabolism and age, frankly.

Plattsburgh at that time had talismanic significance for us in Quebec, for young Beer et Seq anyway. It was a way to experience the United States yet arrive back even the same day. They had McDonald’s, Burger King, and regional chains like Lums. If you haven’t had a Lumburger you haven’t lived. Its Ollieburger, with its own interesting history, was the prize jewel in the range.

And a frosty “schooner” of Schaefer lager, Genny, Piels, etc. went well with an Ollieburger, surfeit or no. You’ll have to take my word for it.

When I think of Plattsburgh, a small ,upstate border town, I think mostly of icy air  – often we went in winter. It was easier to cross the border then, and we had more time. The summer was busy with cottage life, or summer camp, or first overseas trips.

It was music at local clubs, first taste of bourbon, and American cigarettes. The distinctive odour (odor) of Camels, Phillip Morris, Parliament (oddly), and Kents – with the Micronite filter – lingers with me to this day.

In memory only, of course.





U.S. Army Beer 1943-1946 (Part III)

Beers for Local Populations in Western Europe and North Africa, World War II

When the American forces engaged breweries overseas to brew for their troops, the breweries were already brewing, in a manner of speaking.

The two articles I discussed in Parts I and II reviewed, not just beer made for U.S. troops under contract, as I explained, but also beer for the domestic population.

Leonard Saletan, in the 1946 article in American Brewer, stated that German breweries, due to war conditions, were brewing beer of only 1-2 Balling. So did, he wrote, French and Belgian breweries he worked with.

He wrote that such beer was “brewed in at about 8 B and cut during or subsequent to fermentation”.  In other words, output was watered to stretch the quantity, but this would have produced a barely alcoholic drink. He doesn’t say but I’d think between .5% and 1% abv resulted, almost or equal to near beer during Prohibition.

Saletan doesn’t say once again but maybe the beers were hopped more or less normally for the volume. That would give the impression of a beery drink – a “hop ale”, it was called, in older British terminology.

He did state that “hops were generally available in Germany”. Indeed, when the breweries turned to making real beer for American forces, the hops (in Germany) remained German and amounts were “left to the discretion of the brewery”.

The tenor is that hops were not an issue for brewing, so I suspect more rather than less was used for “barely there” wartime beer. As to hops for similar quasi-beer in France and Belgium, Saletan doesn’t say. His remit of course was to describe the beer made for American Forces, so his comments on brewing for locals was more incidental.

Allan Barney’s 1946 article in Wallerstein Laboratory Communications, linked in my Part I, states that brewers in Oran, Algiers, and Casablanca made beer of “3 Balling”, or “1%”. I believe this meant the brew was 1% abv.

Starting at 3 B. with a finish, say, at 1 would produce just over 1% abv. Maybe he was referring to 1% abw, which would produce about 1.25% abv. In that case, attenuation would be greater of course, with less body in the beer.

It seems on average that breweries in North Africa had been brewing slightly stronger beer than in Germany, but this is hardly a distinction, as all this beer was barely alcoholic.

Nonetheless it is noteworthy that such Axis or Vichy breweries were functioning at all, or that barley and hops were still grown throughout the war, as the two articles make clear they were, indeed for Saaz hops in Bohemia.

Saletan in particular marvelled how few breweries he encountered suffered much damage from fighting. Lowenbrau in Munich got the worst of it, he said, and even then it didn’t affect actual production that much.

This may bear an analogy to the limited effect even Allied bombing of Axis industry had on the Axis war effort. Maybe the thought occurred to Barney and Saletan on their unusual stint working with wartime European breweries.




U.S. Army Beer 1943-1946 (Part II)

American Army Brewing in Benelux, France, and Germany

In Part I, I discussed a 1946 article in Wallerstein Laboratories Communications which described brewing for American soldiers in North Africa and Italy, supervised by the U.S. Army.

It occurred in the concluding years of World War II, in some cases continuing to 1946.

Allan J. Barney authored the piece, who had directed the program. Before the war he worked as a chemist for famed Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis.

In Europe, by then a U.S. Army officer, worked with local brewers to make a beer with a starting gravity 10.3 Balling, ending at 3.3 B (1013 FG), or 3.7% abv. This was a little lighter than even today’s light beer.

His beer was all-barley malt, sourced from the States, except in one case and contrary to specifications, oats or other unmalted grains were mixed with the malt once in Europe, which lowered the yield he wrote.

This mixture was “distributed” for some brewing runs. All hops were imported from the States as well.

Some beer made in Italy used European malt and hops still in the brewery stores, i.e., once the Germans had left.

As I noted earlier, while not specified the American malt was probably six-row type, then a workhouse of American brewing, vs. the two-row malt standard in Europe.

Barney did not explain how the Army’s beer was brewed in France and Germany, but focuses on North Africa and multiple plants of Peroni Brewery in Italy.

I since found a second article, one that substantially adds to our knowledge of U.S. Army brewing in wartime Europe. To my knowledge, neither has previously been examined by brewing historians.

The second is “Brewing Beer for Soldiers in the European Theatre” by Leonard T. Saletan, described as a chemist for Tivoli Brewing Co. in Detroit. The Tivoli history is outlined in Stephen Johnson’s (2016) Detroit Beer: a History of Brewing in the Motor City.

Saletan’s article appeared in a 1946 issue of American Brewer, a trade journal of the U.S. brewing industry (neither article is online).

In five closely-written pages Saletan explained how brewing was organized for troops in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Austria, and Germany.

His article is a good counterpart to Barney’s, covering points the latter’s did not, and vice versa.

Beer had been shipped earlier to American forces from the U.S., but evidently it was decided to brew locally. Presumably this saved costs as compared to importing finished beer in bottles or cans.

Broadly, the Army brewing was arranged and supervised in similar way as described by each writer. Local brewers were hired to make beer to American specifications, supervised by American personnel working with Barney and Saletan.

In Germany, local malt and hops were used (exclusively) in the brewing. From Saletan’s account where he used American malt, it is clear it was product of six-row barley.*

Saletan explained that J.G. Shakman of Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee, reporting to the Army Exchange Service, engaged six staff. Saletan was one, and each supervised brewing in a different geographic area. These staff were brewers or chemists in various American breweries including Schlitz, Pabst, and Pfeiffer.

The project Saletan describes was of considerably larger scope than Barney’s. During 1945 and 1946 some 30 breweries, each listed by Saletan, made beer for the U.S. Army in western Europe. Not all operated concurrently since beer needs depended on troop strength.

Only when a stable occupation force existed in postwar Germany was a fixed number of breweries settled on. The Army also worked with five malt houses in Germany, each also listed.

By way of illustration, the breweries in France included well-known plants such La Meuse in Paris, Champigneulles in the city of that name, Graff in Rennes, and Hornung in Chartres. In Belgium breweries included Piedboeuf in Liège, Lamot in Malines, and Léopold in Brussels.

For Holland, there was Brand in Wylre, for Luxembourg, Mousel, and in Austria, Stiegel in Salzburg. For Germany there were Schultheiss in Berlin, Hasen in Augsburg, Hofbrau in Bamberg, and Sandler in Kulmbach.

Only lager is mentioned or at least implied, the same for Barney’s account. There is no suggestion that top-fermented beer – e.g. ale, porter, or European varieties of top-fermented beer, were made. I would assume top-fermented wheat beer was “out” due to the pressing food supply problem in the immediate postwar years.

Of the considerable detail Saletan conveys I focus below on brewing specifications, versus that is production figures, pricing, packaging, distribution, German practices foreign to Saletan such as “bunging” (i.e., spunding, to carbonate from the fermentation stage), and quality control.

The brewing followed two main forms. Outside Germany, barley malt and grits, a form of unmalted corn adjunct, were used for mashing. The grits formed 25% of the mash in dry weight. Saletan wrote:

The beer produced was to have an O. G. of 11.3° B … The beer produced was to have 3.2% alcohol by weight, and 13.5 kg. of malt, 4.5 kg. of grits, and 200 g. of hops per hl. were to be used in producing the specified beer.

But in Germany, only local malt and hops were used. Of German hops there was enough supply, but malt was harder to get. Special permission was needed to obtain barley for malting given postwar shortages. Nonetheless, considerable beer was brewed.

This all-malt German beer was set at starting 10.6° B, to produce a 3.2% abw beer (4% abv); hence, this malt beer was drier than the adjunct beer made. I calculate an impressive 1015 finishing gravity for the adjunct one (so, rich-bodied), and 1012 for the all-malt, less rich, but still respectable by modern standards.

Whether the differences were due to the different mash bill or some other reason – penury of materials in Germany, possibly – is interesting to ponder. Ditto for the beer Barney was tasked to brew.

The adjunct beer was hopped at what works out to approximately .5 lb. hops/bbl (U.S.). This was about typical for the time but would exceed, probably, the modern mass-market norm (since much depends on alpha acid content, which is higher today for many varieties, in Galena say).

We can compare a 1960s recipe for Schlitz, from the Brew Your Own site. Saletan wrote that most production had “an excellent taste” and was comparable to “a good glass of American beer”. None of it was pasteurized, the same for Barney’s beer.

American draft beer in that period was unpasteurized, so the analogy held in that sense, but domestic American bottled and canned beer was mostly pasteurized, so there was that difference (as pasteurization can blunt flavour to a degree).

Regarding the all-malt German beer, Saletan wrote that as it was 100% malt, it differed in character but was “very good in taste” and “greatly appreciated”. I don’t doubt it – Saletan here likely was being diplomatic, not wanting to say the different character was superior to the American adjunct norm.

At a generous finishing gravity of 1015, the adjunct Army beer likely was pretty good anyway, as some craft beer brewed in a similar fashion has shown. Still, all-malt beer tends to have a unique signature compared to the other form.

The hops in the Army adjunct brewing likely was Cluster, or a form of it, a workhorse again of the American brewing scene at the time, most of it grown in the Pacific Northwest, still a major hop region today.

Of the breweries Saletan worked with, Piedboeuf in Liège impressed him the most due to its modernity of design and size of the building. It was constructed in the late 1930s following Art Deco industrial design and used reinforced concrete. Its clocks and roof-top flood lamps were storied in Liège for decades.

Closed in 1992, the Piedboeuf building, known locally as the Jupiler Tower, endures in degraded form. If I have it right from online checks, a developer bought the site from Anheuser-Busch InBev, and it will be, perhaps already has been, demolished due to its asbestos content. An urban re-development scheme will arise on the ashes.

On this Facebook site you may view the building as Saletan knew it glistening in black and white Art Deco splendor. Saletan wrote that German V-2s hit the city hard but “despite its great height” and apart from blown-out windows, the structure escaped harm. Indeed it brewed for another day – and another nation.

Part III follows.


*Saletan describes how using it caused consternation among European brewers due to differing husk size and lower yield than for two-row malt.







U.S. Army Beer 1943-1946 (Part I)

The Yank Beer of Casablanca … of Napoli …

Allan J. Barney (1913-1995) was an American brewer and business executive. He worked as a chemist for Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis from 1938 until 1942. U.S. Army service followed, including in Europe. In 1946 he re-joined Anheuser-Busch, and later worked for a brewery in Dallas as master brewer.

Further details on his career may be obtained from this entry, at the Free Online Library. It states in part:

He took part in the invasion of North Africa in 1943. Following the Tunisian campaign, he was assigned to army headquarters in Algiers to supervise the production of beer for the U.S. Army in Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. When the U.S. Army entered Naples, Italy, Barney was put in charge of restoring beer production at the Peroni Breweries in Naples, Leghorn and Rome.

Allan Barney wrote a detailed report on the brewing he supervised in these cities, called “Operation of the Overseas Breweries for the U.S. Army”. It is significant for brewing historical studies. See pp. 28 et seq.

It was published in 1946 in Wallerstein Laboratories Communications, Volume IX. This publication was the eponymous house journal of a well-known New York-based brewing consultancy. I discussed Wallerstein and its founders a number of times earlier.

The report has considerable detail on the brewing, particularly at multiple facilities in Italy. I will summarize aspects here, but anyone concerned with brewing history will want to read it in full. It will be of special interest to those familiar with brewhouse operations.

If you know Italian, all the better as some data is in that language.

The beer produced in these places was, unusually in an American context, all-malt, or mostly. Malt was shipped from the United States, hops as well. Unless I missed it, the report does not state whether the U.S. malt was two-row or six-row, simply that it was “pilsener” malt.

One of the Italian breweries had enough malt in inventory for brewing, and at least two had enough hops, as well. Fine seedless Saaz, in fact.

In North Africa Barney worked with French-speaking brewers. He does not refer, or in Italy, to language issues, so the people he dealt with either knew English or he had language assistance.

Speaking the international language brewers do anyway, once a deal was worked out to brew the beer it went smoothly enough, or so we may conclude from Barney’s formulations.

The biggest challenge was in Italy as the Germans had dynamited parts of the breweries before departing. In Naples, the head brewer and chemist were German and left with the retreating German Army. Barney worked with the staff under them, most of whom stayed on the job.

Barney does not state why all-malt beer, common enough then in Europe, was made when of course adjunct beer (using rice, corn, or sugar to supplement the malt) was standard in American brewing including at Anheuser-Busch.

He states simply that no adjuncts were “ordered” from the U.S. Perhaps the North African breweries had no facilities to prepare adjuncts for brewing, no cooker and the related plant. In Naples it appears Peroni had brewed from both all-malt and adjunct mashes, but mostly all-malt beer was produced for U.S. personnel.

On a daily brewing sheet reproduced in the article, ris appears on a pre-printed form, hence rice. This confirms Peroni sometimes used rice in the mash. Barney states some malt that ended with the Army for brewing was milled in Europe before he received it, and had been mixed with unmalted grains, unspecified except for oats.

The reason is, it was meant for horse feed, not brewing. Barney called the adjuncts “unheard of”, meaning not the corn or rice he was familiar with as adjuncts. He states the mixed malt was “distributed” among a few of the brews, and that this lowered the yield.

Peroni used the decoction process to mash, and this was used for the American brewings. This evidently rankled with Barney who tried to discuss infusion mashing with the Italian staff, but to use our vernacular, they didn’t want to know. (Probably to the benefit of the brew).

A stroke of luck was finding tons of fresh Saaz hops, as mentioned, in some Peroni plants. Clearly Czech hops were sourced through the war years by some breweries in countries under German occupation. Barney indicates the Saaz greatly assisted the quality of the beer – no surprise of course to those who know, as he did, the reputation of Czech brewing.

Barney gives detailed data on malt and hop quantities used, and the hopping schedule. Again, consult the report for this and other historically important information.

By my calculation, a beer emerged at about 3.7% abv – he states OG 10.3 B., FG 3.3 B. At that closing Balling, which is 1013 FG, a rich-tasting beer certainly emerged. It was not pasteurized due to a rapid consumption after production. He notes with interest that a lab sample showed good clarity for one month, before slightly clouding.



We see here the influence of his American adjunct brewing background. American brewing then was dominated by the felt need to use adjuncts to maximise beer clarity, by diluting the proteins in high-nitrogen malt, especially six- row malt. In fact from this angle it seems likely the malt sent from the U.S. was six-row.

Much else of interest appears in Barney’s article. In Naples, surplus yeast from the Army beer was dried and debittered, and added by the workers to their pasta in lieu of cheese!

Barney in general was complimentary to the foreign plants, finding their mashing, brewing, and fermentation systems comparable to American standard. Where the foreign breweries fell down he said was for bottling and packaging as the plants were using equipment regarded as outmoded in the United States.

In time-honoured G.I. fashion, scrounging and other expedients were employed to help package the beer, by adapting metal water cans for instance. Wood barrels of course were mainly used. Some beer was dispensed straight from the cask by faucet, while other beer was pressurized for dispense.

In “Arms and Ormolu”, my recent post on U.S. Army rest and recreation facilities in Nice, France in 1945, I mentioned that beer was arranged for the troops, but had no details at the time of army brewing in Europe. Possibly it was the beer Barney described, procured a (relative) short distance away in Italy, but may have been brewed locally for the army.

Barney states some beer was sent to Sicily and Sardinia, but does not mention France.

As one might expect from a professional and given, too, the context of war, Barney does not employ superlatives to describe his beer, but there can be no doubt he was proud of it and the flavour.

Part II of this study follows.



In Homage of J.L. Shimwell

A Brewing Iconoclast and Visionary

In 1937 John Lester Shimwell, a bacteriologist and, at the time, professional brewer, wrote a paper in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing called “Practical Aspects of Some Recent Developments in Brewing Bacteriology”.

Biographical sources indicate he held a B.Sc from Birmingham University. He was a prolific author of papers in brewing bacteriology. In recognition of his work, the same university later granted him a D.Sc.

English-born Shimwell was born in 1901 and died in 1964. In the 1930s he was head brewer and on the board of directors of Beamish & Crawford brewery in Cork, Ireland.

A side note is that his wife at the time, Birmingham-born Olive Seers, wrote successful mysteries under the name Harriet Rutland. The Passing Tramp website, in 2015, reviewed her career and noted a recent revival of interest.

The couple lived near Cork, St. Ann’s Hill, and moved to England in 1939. A  “hydropathic” institute at St. Ann’s Hill formed the setting for Rutland’s first novel but in altered, “Devonised” form.

For useful background see Curtis Evans’ introduction to the reissue (2015) of Rutland’s Knock, Murderer, Knock!  A good discussion (2017) also appears in the website Promoting Crime Fiction. Both include details of J.L. Shimwell’s career.

So in Shimwell we have both man of theory and practice. Dr. Raymond Anderson, the U.K. brewing historian, wrote that Shimwell was a “great reforming” figure in brewing bacteriology but also “combative”. See his article (2012) on the origins of pure yeast culture in top-fermentation brewing, in the Journal of the Brewery History Society.

Shimwell worked in the 1940s for Whitbread Brewery in London, and later in the British vinegar industry. Much of his work concerned scientific classification, especially for acetobacter, the family of bacteria that causes souring in ferments.

However, unlike many brewing scientists, he held or at least publicly expressed firm views on how modern technology impacted beer taste. Perhaps the frankness arose from his practical experience in brewing, perhaps from personal traits, the combativeness noted.

Specifically, Shimwell did not concede that technology always made for better beer to drink.

From the 1937 article:

No one, surely, would contend that pasteurised, carbonated beer is better than unpasteurised, naturally-conditioned beer, and it is therefore perhaps not untrue to say that the quality of beer, as at present retailed, is just as good as bacteria and yeast will allow it to be, since pasteurisation is enforced at the dictation of yeasts and bacteria.

Hoffman Beverages Co. in Newark, New Jersey, only a few years earlier (see my last post) underscored the point, quite unusually. It vaunted its Hoffman Draught Beer in the Bottle as unpasteurized: a beau geste in that time from the industry or science ranks.

Shimwell added in his article that chilled, filtered, pasteurized beer, while biologically stable, is “not very palatable”. That was a nervy thing to write in a staid industry in a staid country, at the time.

As Dr. Anderson wrote in his article, Shimwell had a higher regard for the role of Brettanomyces, or wild yeast, than most in the British brewing establishment.

Likely it is that Shimwell’s appreciation for Brett‘s role in beer maturation was derived from its continuing relevance in Irish brewing. Whereas in British brewing, that style of vatting and re-ferments had mostly been abandoned in 1937.

In time, as Shimwell had to know, Irish brewing would follow suit by filtering, carbonating, chilling, and finally pasteurizing its stout, a drink that became world-famous under alternate conditions, still obtaining (almost certainly) when Shimwell brewed in Cork.

No doubt Shimwell would be astonished (but also gratified) at the current success of unpasteurized beer, a spiritual centre of the craft movement. He would be no less amazed at the niche “wild” beers have established, the group that includes Brett-injected and barrel-aged beers.

How is it technical challenges viewed as indomitable in the 1930s are less significant today? Because brewing science moves on. In particular, brewing in the all-enclosed Nathan fermenter provides better temperature and bacteriological control than the old open vats. This minimizes the risk of acetobacter infection, the greatest danger to beer stability then or now.

Better sanitation in the brewery, and easy-to-clean brewhouse materials like stainless steel and aluminum, help as well. Likely too improvements in transport and logistics.

Shimwell stated in the same article if a way could be found to ensure infection didn’t rule brewing, “brewing trade conditions might be very different from what they are today”.

In effect, that has come to be. Yes, the danger of infection is still present. But beer can be distributed over a wide area today, and remain not only unpasteurized but unfiltered, and still remain stable and excellent to drink.




The First Draught Beer in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle

What is the first draft beer in a bottle? By this I mean, not beer bottled with its residual yeast, which is near-ancestral, but filtered, bright beer?

We must qualify further with “modern”. In the 19th century there had to be unpasteurized, bottled beer that was roughly filtered – filtered enough to pour clear in the glass. Pasteurization only become general late in the 19th and early 20th centuries, certainly for brewers with any geographic reach.

There were many debates within the industry on beer pasteurization then. These are mostly a dead letter today. While craft beer is mainly unpasteurized in can or bottle, the inherent taste advantage (in the opinion of many, I should add) is something tacitly understood rather than vaunted to consumers, today.

This is one by-product of a beer renaissance now some 40 years old. Some craft beer is, in fact, pasteurized, but rarely is much hay made on the point in consumer beer writing at any rate.

Pasteurization is used in brewing, including for most imports and mass-marketed beers, not to make it safe for consumption as in the case of milk, say, but to render it stable from a microbiological aspect – to retard souring in particular.

Thus, for modern, bright, bottled or canned beer that is not pasteurized, which is the first?* Coors beer is a notable early case, at least the domestic U.S. Coors.** Coors did not abandon pasteurization in bottles until 1959 though, as we discussed earlier in this post.

Miller Genuine Draft is another case, rolled-out in 1986 as beer writer Tom Acitelli set out some years ago in the (now defunct) magazine, All About Beer.

So what is out there before MGD, before Coors?

It is always chancy to claim the first, but in 1934, Hoffman Beverages Co. in Newark, N.J. made bold claims for its “draught beer in the bottle”. A number of ads make clear Hoffman felt its unpasteurized draft beer was singular in the industry, see this one in March, 1935.

Morean Breweriana has a small bottle for sale which states clearly “unpasteurized”.

How many persons these claims confused or dismayed in the 1930s is hard to say. The industry knew exactly what was meant. But the period was one of high public confidence in scientific methods including as applied in industry.

The success of Hoffman’s brand, which seems not to have been stellar, was possibly affected by stating an undoubted positive to industry insiders. Hoffman did try to explain to consumers why its unpasteurized beer was superior. A September 1934 advert, in question and answer format, is an example. Whether very many reading “got” what was said is another matter.

The plant had been built from the ground up in the early 1930s to prepare for post-Prohibition, although standing apparently on the grounds of earlier breweries.

The bottles shown are sturdy-looking things, probably made heavier than normal to resist any re-fermentation in the bottle. At the same time, the tall bottle in particular, containing an impressive 29 oz., has an elegant look, not unlike a Champagne bottle.

An ad in the New York Times in 1934 shows the bottle clearly and, given the context, contains a detailed explanation of the bottling process.



Script on the labels suggests an all-malt product. One tag line reads “from world-selected malt and hops”. If that wouldn’t fit neatly into the branding of a modern craft brewery, I don’t know what would. Plus ça change…

A 1934 advertisement in the trade journal American Brewer proudly explained with images that Hoffman had adopted the Nathan fermentation and cooling system. The core of the Nathan system was, and is, the cylindro-conical fermenter, a stand-by of craft and other brewing around the world. Then, it was still novel.

Hence, there was all-enclosed, sterile fermentation and cooling. In conjunction presumably with fine filtration, evidently Hoffman felt it could bottle beer at least for regional sale without heat-pasteurization. The bottling stage itself was possibly conducted under aseptic conditions as well. Such technology was known in the general period. I will return to it in a later post.

Hoffman Beverages lasted from 1933 until December 1945 when Pabst Brewing in Milwaukee bought it out, see this New York Times report. That was an important deal, beyond the significance of the relatively small Hoffman, as it gave Pabst a first entry on the ground into the important Eastern market.

The mighty Anheuser Busch of St. Louis, now Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, followed a few years later, in Newark to boot. If you ever deplaned from Newark Airport you saw the plant on your way in.  It’s still there.

For decades the Hoffman-Pabst plant had a rooftop bottle-shaped water tower, a landmark in Newark. It was finally dismantled with the rest of the plant a dozen years ago. The big bottle is pictured in the Roadside America site, a monument to a now vanished era of New Jersey industrial history.

Ironically (in some ways), the type of beer Hoffman Draught Beer in a Bottle was has never been more popular, pace the segment of IPA that is happily cloudy, and most wheat beers.

Most craft beer you buy today is made from world-selected malt and hops, is unpasteurized, and pours bright or almost.


*The context here is modern American. In Britain from about 1900 bottled beer was marketed as bright, diamond, sediment-free, no-deposit, etc. Some was chilled, filtered, carbonated and filled by counter-flow, but not pasteurized. In the 1930s pasteurization became routine, which it did in America earlier, at least for brewers distributing widely. What stands out for Hoffman is, advertising lack of the process.

**The one brewed today in Canada is, according to our last inquiries, pasteurized, the draft as well. In this regard it should be said there are different types, and intensities, of pasteurization, depending sometimes on the type of package used. It is likely, too, today that all methods of pasteurization are less damaging to beer than 80 years ago. The technology is likely better, in other words. That said, our taste impressions over the years confirm the superiority of unpasteurized beer whether bottled, canned, or on draft.







British Taste in the Dominion

The taste of modern British pale ale – in cask-conditioned form the classic “bitter” – varies among brewers in its homeland. Despite this desirable variety in palate, there are markers.

I would describe them as malty, often with a caramel tone; flowery or bitter-herbal, from the hops; fruity or mineral-like, from the yeast.

Generally this bitter ale is not strongly citric in the way we associate with IPA of craft brewing. A famous English hop, Golding, can offer a lemony tone but is noticeably different to Cascade, Centennial, Citra, and other foundational hops of the craft renaissance.

The true British taste is rarely encountered on these shores, in my experience. That is, most craft brewers choose not to brew it. They work in other directions and in the process have created a vibrant craft industry, but to my mind an opportunity is missed by not giving greater attention to a classic resource.

Some craft brewers do market of course an English-style ale, or Irish or Scotch type which is related in parentage. These can be excellent but only rarely again does the true “pub taste” emerge.

(More fidelity is achieved in porter and stout but that is a relatively small part of the beer market; I’m speaking here of an equivalent to classic pub bitter).

As for imports, cask-conditioned beer is almost never imported due to its fragility. A bottled equivalent is sometimes sold – unpasteurized, unfiltered – but these seem rarely to reach our markets.

We do get pasteurized, fizzy, British and Irish beer. It comes bottled, canned, and even on draft, meant to be served cold. Valid on its own terms, this form rarely achieves the character of cask- and bottle-matured beer.

Draught bitter as a category doesn’t exclusively use English hops, for which the crop is small today. It uses enough of them, usually, to impart a keynote. Also, hops are often used like Target, Challenger, Nugget, and Galena that fit the British profile albeit developed in the last century with some U.S. lineage.

Classic English varieties like Fuggle and Golding, also Styrian Goldings (related to Fuggle despite the name), are still grown. Used alone or with a simpatico type as mentioned and the right malts – in sufficient quantities – the true British character emerges.*



Occasionally one can find a letter perfect British style made here. An example is pictured, made by Mille Iles in Terrebonne, Quebec, a 30-minute drive from Montreal. I drank it at the warm end of cellar temperature. This was perfect to deliver the full effect especially when some carbonation had lifted.

The beer is evidently unpasteurized, and unfiltered, which adds to the authenticity. The choice is yours how to pour it, I poured the first half which emerged crystal clear, the second half was lightly veiled as seen above.

The brewery calls it Irish Red Ale but Irish and English pale ales are, in the view of many, really one style. Irish-style, frequently made by craft brewers with New World hops, accentuates the russet colour but a lot of British bitter has a similar hue.



One could also call it extra-special bitter. In fact, it reminded me very much of Director’s Bitter, Fuller’s ESB, and Ruddles County Ale as experienced in British pubs 30 years ago. It’s that type, for those who know, which means, very good!

Mille Iles also markets a paler beer styled English Best Bitter, so the Irish designation perhaps helped to differentiate the two.

The Irish Red Ale also has a fruity note (non-tropical), probably from an English yeast used. Every element, in sum, was in perfect synch.

Montreal is not ideal to visit at the moment. Pandemic restrictions. As soon as I can get back I will get more Irish Red, in fact all of the brewery’s English SeriesAu fur et à mesure…

N.B. Mille Iles, run by two brothers, was founded only three years ago. It has definitely made a mark with brewing of this quality.



*See Comment added which clarifies some points re the hops.

Sorting the Sardine

The popularity of sardines during the lockdown/quasi-lockdowns got me thinking about this old staple of the pantry.

Even before the pandemic, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and some northern European brands (also for brisling, sprats, pilchards) were enjoying good popularity. The classification of the various sorts can be daunting but suffice to say numerous kinds of fish are canned as sardines, most of the herring or a closely related family.

Good canned fish was always appreciated in Europe, but fashionable restaurants and bars are now featuring top brands, as a specialty. In part it entices younger patrons with something that seems new. Often the can arrives at table with the top peeled back. Many tins are colourful and attractively designed, which helps.

Right here in Toronto Birreria Volo, one of the top beer destinations in the world, offers a superb quality line of tinned sardines and other fish. See here.

Some reading may remember the sardine sandwich of school days or from picnics or community gatherings. That food was always good but a good can with compatible foods – olives, salads, good bread, etc. – and drinks well-selected – wine, beer, cider – can raise things to another level.

I mentioned a book recently for its beer notes, the 1932 Gone Abroad by Charles Patrick Graves. In the book he states he indulged a lifelong wish, by eating a restaurant meal, in Belgium, composed solely of hors d’oeuvres!

His wish can today be our command, particularly in present circumstances. Graves was avant la lettre, so to speak.

A top brand of sardine will improve with aging, it seems. In Fish Cookery (Penguin, 1974) Jane Grigson suggests rotating the stock, to treat the comestible as a vintage item. The oil penetrates more fully when the fish is kept longer, in particular.

She states too in her forthright way:

…methods of canning have produced not just a poor substitute for the real thing (like canned crab and lobster) but a product worth eating in its own right.

Grigson opines that the French do the finest work, due largely to their cold Atlantic waters. Many feel cold water fish have a firmer, better texture than from other waters. Yet, some consider Iberian sardines the best – more meaty, says one account. As always, tastes will vary.

The Algarve was once a famed fishery and cannery region; today, the venerable, family-owned Ramirez still carries the flag. There may be one or two other local producers as well.

An engaging history of Ramirez is offered in this link, from one of its associated brands, LaRuche. It states Ramirez is the oldest fish cannery in the world.

Nowadays in the countries mentioned the fish being canned may be imported, from waters off North Africa or further afield. The cans will indicate the source, or least the fishing area or “zone”.

Ramirez still cans some sardines from local waters, its Queen of the Coast range. The quality of graphic art displayed in these examples is impressive, no doubt with quality to match inside.

It’s not just the fish itself though that denotes quality. Much depends on the kind of oil or other medium used, the spices, and other flavouring.

Some packers use recipes handed down for generations that have a winning taste. New flavours are continually introduced as well, as for other prepared foods and drinks.

Norway, for its part, specializes in smoked sardines. Its brisling enjoy a market around the world. This type, noted for its mild flavour, is also canned in Britain.

I remember from my youth the iconic Brunswick brand in Canada. Checking on Brunswick today, I learned that Quebec celebrity chef Ricardo Larrivée is a particular fan. In 2019 he made a short but lively video of the sardine fishery in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick.

He interviewed one of the canners who stated Canada stands at the top of the quality range due to our cold waters and quality in production. Brunswick enjoys an enviable export market, certainly, and is available everywhere across the country. I intend to revisit the brand soon, to add to the four pictured below.



I’ll sample them all as the weather gets colder. With good bread, prima butter, a crispy salad, and firm, brown-black olives, delectation awaits, I have no doubt.