Richard Grant White in England

A Multifaceted View of English Drinking Customs

Richard G. White was a notable American journalist, editor, and author in the mid-century. That’s the 19th century, a frequent haunt here. He was Manhattan-born, descended from the proverbial old New England family. He was the father of Stanford White, the infamous architect.

Biographical material abounds on father Richard too, e.g. this Wikipedia entry. We see him below in characteristic Victorian pose, via this link.

White had studied both medicine and law, electing the latter as a profession. After some years of practice he pivoted to professional writing. Among his specialties were Shakespearean scholarship and musical and general literary criticism.

His book England Without and Within published in 1881 chronicled his travels to England in 1876 in the time-honoured fashion of American pilgrimage for that period.

By pilgrimage, I mean, not just a visit to a country obviously influential in American history, but by someone of English ancestry, who felt a special pull to visit, a “filial bond”. The opening lines explain well the yearning:

… I went to England; to visit which had been one of the great unsatisfied longings of my life. I found there even more to interest me than I had looked for, although I saw less of the country and of my many friends within it than I had hoped to see. It was almost inevitable that a man who had written about matters much less near to him than this was to me should tell the tale of such a journey; and hence this book, which, although an honest one, I believe, and written in a candid spirit, is truly a labor of love.

Indeed despite being eight generations a Yankee he states he never felt as much “at home” as in England. He allowed his sentiment permitted him to be “semi-critical”.

His work had been published in London before the journey, so he was a known quantity there, which facilitated the visit. My interest here is mainly the beer, to which White devotes many passages, indeed a full chapter (the 20th) entitled “A National Vice”.

Despite these forthright words he was somewhat measured, indicating, as other sources attest, that unabated drinking was being reigned back. He made clear nonetheless his distaste for what he regarded as excessive consumption. He asserted the labouring classes were especially afflicted, but exempted not others in the English social pattern.

His remarks on drinks pertained to London certainly but also other parts of England including Cambridge, Birmingham, and Stratford. He notes an almost total absence of water-drinking, perhaps due he says to so much of the stuff “being applied by nature to the inhabitants externally”. American humour.

He does note an apparent shortage of potable water for ordinary drinking, however. He says he drank much less water than at home, but much more than the average English person. He observes that even for everyday dining, both mid-day and evening, no one drinks water but rather “heady, strongly narcotic” beer, or wine, although his dining seems to have been limited to restaurants and chez prosperous hosts.

Only once did he see water being taken in a home setting, by a nephew of his host. The host by an aghast demeanor “royally” rebuked the young relation, which seems hard to believe today, but there it is.

 

 

White was struck by how women also drank, of all backgrounds, often combining different drinks in one evening. The American pattern is more temperate, he says, with coffee or tea ruling (apart the staple water) although “a little” lager might be seen on some tables. He states however that English ways had applied at an earlier period in American history.

As to American drinking, he deprecates all beer as “coarse”. White states when he left college he had not imbibed more than three pints of beer in his whole life. Whereas in England, he notes for many this is simply a daily tally.

His style of writing is typically Victorian: rather ornate and with a rhythmic pattern in the clauses and sub-clauses. Still, flashes of the American insouciance appear.

Despite his decided anti-booze drift it would be a mistake to think White wrote a temperance tract. He actually exhibits, rather too much I think for one chary of drink, a liking for English beer. At Trinity College he was much taken with its ale, then brewed at the college, and expressed appreciation to his host.

So enthusiastic was White for this ale, the host bade him drink a special version, the “audit ale”. The Dean of beer writers today, the Briton Roger Protz, described well this historic beer type in a blogpost some years ago. He also discusses modern expressions of the style, which adds further interest.

Protz actually referred to Richard Grant White, not by name, but by noting a 19th century writer compared audit ale to Chateau d’Yquem, the famous French Sauternes. It was White who had made the comparison, stating:

… such a product of malt and hops had never passed my lips before. It was as mighty as that which Cedric found at Torquilstone, as clear as crystal, and had a mingled richness and delicacy of flavor as superior to that of the best brewage I had ever before tasted as that of Chateau Yquem is to ordinary Sauterne.

He goes on for yet another page, savouring concurrently the “aroma of scholarship” arising from quadrangles and elegant book-lined chambers. He even takes home a bottle with him.* He adds, turning more forthrightly away from stock dismissals of drink, that if one is what one drinks, the English have done fairly well given, say Macaulay issued from Trinity.**

For the black beer called porter, another English specialty (more particularly of London) he states:

I was surprised not only at the quantity that I could drink at any time and at all times with impunity, and with apparently good effect, but at the eagerness with which my whole body seemed to imbibe it. I shall never forget a certain place — it was in Fleet Street, I believe… It is well known for the quality of its tap, and a friend took me to it one day… We had just had a hearty breakfast; but as I turned up my glass of this black fluid I seemed to absorb a good part of it on its passage down my throat. It was of delicious flavor, cool without being cold, and of an inexpressible lightness, notwithstanding its thick, heavy look…  In “America” I should as soon think of drinking pure alcohol directly after breakfast as a glass of porter.

These material and consequent physiological conditions should always be considered in judging English habits of drinking.

Yes they should Mr. White, setting aside the ambiguity of your last sentence. Indeed one could be forgiven for thinking your frank appreciation of English ale and porter rather diluted your anti-drink prelude.

All a question of the just mean, you say? Well, I could hardly disagree, in that case.

Note re image: Image above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.

….

*Sadly, it didn’t evoke the magic of the College tasting. Just as occurs today, a drink that seemed special on travels failed to impress on home turf. White thought the return trip and interval until re-tasting was the reason but allowed too that absent the original context the experience was lesser.

**Thomas Babington Macaulay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Dogs a la Lum’s

Lum’s was a chain of casual restaurants in the United States in the 1960s, lasting until the early ’80s. I patronized the outlet in Plattsburgh, New York, some 40 years ago.

I’ve collected information on Lum’s, and may revisit its arc, as there are many points of interest. For now, this essay at Wikipedia covers the basic history well. It includes an evocative early photo of Lum’s in Florida.

At its peak the corporate office had some good money behind it, and good technical resources, but success eluded at national level for some reason. By the mid-1980s Lum’s as a chain was no more, but individual restaurants carried on here and there. The last apparently was in Bellevue, Washington.

I mentioned earlier the Ollieburger, a staple of Lum’s menu. It was named for an Oliver in New York who devised the recipe and cooking technique.

And now to the famous Lum’s hot dog. Lum’s billed it as “steamed” in beer, but it was more simmered I think. This humble offering stretched back to Lum’s origins as a curb-side wiener palace in 1950s South Florida.

I had tried cooking hot dogs in beer before but without a clear success. Of course, Beer et Seq pours in the beer with fervour, usually of tongue-stripping qualities (all those hops!). The results were too bitter, and unbalanced.

In researching Lum’s history I found what seems to be the original hot dog recipe. In the website Talk of the Village, some seven years ago, “Senior Citizen” contributed a recipe he dubbed authentic.

In the Parafu site in 2018 the same recipe appeared, with photos and other good details. So I followed their approach.*

It blends beer and water (proportions of 1:2), caraway seed, powdered garlic, sugar, and sliced onion. The mix is simmered with the dogs for 15 minutes.

Having cooked many a hot dog in my time, I’ve found a quarter of an hour is needed, for boiling that is. Less time, the dogs do not heat through thoroughly. More time, they swell too much.

Senior Citizen knew the original dish in Florida and stated it came with a sauerkraut or a chili topping. He said the kraut was doused with sherry, which I can see being really good.

I didn’t have kraut or chili, so a zip of winey alcohol was moot. I’ve got a Bual** somewhere, and must remember it when I get some sauerkraut.

For the current try I used just ballpark mustard and relish. It worked just fine. In fact, best hot dog ever.

The type of hot dog will be your choice. I happened to have chicken-based ones, which proved excellent. And not too heavy – I had two without discomfort, the, um, acid test.

The onion definitely gave a flavour. The beer imparted only faint bitterness due to being diluted. I used Kozel, a Czech beer, but almost any will do, light, dark, etc., I don’t think it matters.

It’s hard to say how the other seasonings affected the taste. I couldn’t pick any one out, but a good recipe can work like that, where the result is savoury and just right.

Escoffier, it’s not. But good scoff, it is.

……

*[Note added July 20, 2021]. The two links for the claimed Lum’s hot dog recipe appear no longer to work. A reader drew this to my attention. See in the Comments. I suggest there another way to obtain what seems the original recipe.

**Madeira, not sherry, but it should work as well.

 

Stella Artois – Current Product Review

According to Michael Jackson’s (1992 edition) The Great Beers of Belgium, “Belgian Pilseners are usually 80-95% malt”. This presumably included Stella Artois, the well-known Belgian pilsener, long imported to Canada.

Stella, which means star, was first released in 1926. It was quite possibly all-malt at origins. When I first drank it in Belgium some 30 years ago, it was by then probably a malt-and-adjunct brew, as the case for most Belgian pils.

According to (1996) Belgium by Beer: Beer by Belgium by Annie Perrier-Robert and Charles Fontaine, since the last quarter of the 19th century adjuncts have been steadily used in Belgian brewing. Of course, not by all brewers, or for all styles.

The authors cite lower cost as the main reason, viz. barley malt.

They state the percentages in the mash as from 10-15% – similar enough to what Jackson wrote. Mass-market brewing in North America typically employs much higher levels of adjunct.

In Belgium, Stella is brewed by InBev Belgium, a unit of Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, which also owns Labatt Breweries in Canada. And Stella is now being brewed in Canada.

At The Beer Store (TBS) in Ontario, some outlets still carry both the Belgian and Canadian brewings, in cans. The bottles seem still only Belgian.

So I bought cans of each, first, to try Stella again, second, to compare the two versions. I tasted them blind, poured in the same style glass, at same temperature.

The colour as later observed was similar but sample no. 1 seemed fractionally darker.

Not surprisingly, the two beers tasted quite similar. I’m sure the typical consumer could not detect a difference. Still, to my palate, sample no. 1 seemed a touch richer and longer in finish, with the hop taste more defined.

No 1 was the Belgian, No. 2 the Canadian.

I confess to some surprise, as going by the ingredients list on the can, Canadian Stella is all-malt, hence no corn, rice, or other adjunct is used. The Belgian can doesn’t say, but presumably Belgian Stella uses adjunct, as other reports have stated. Once the import warmed I thought I could taste the adjunct, but it’s a light touch.

Of course, all-malt of itself does not denote a better beer. The degree to which the fermentation is taken (in particular), the hopping, and other factors play into it as well.

Jackson’s book of 28 years ago noted a marked Czech hop character in the nose. I didn’t get that in either version, or in Stella I tried in Belgium earlier this year.

As to why the Canadian brew is all-malt, I could ask Labatt, but my interest is not keen to that extent. It may have to do with duplicating in Canada a beer mashed with European malt.

In other words, presumably Canadian Stella is brewed, or mostly brewed, with North American malt, and other ingredients. Perhaps to align the profiles it is best to use all-malt here. Or maybe there is another reason, I don’t know.

Anyway such are my views, your mileage may vary, of course.

N.B. A licensed version of Munich’s Lowenbrau similarly replaced the import on our shelves some years ago. A few months ago, having forgotten it is brewed here now, I poured one and thought, “typical German blond lager, nice and fresh, too”. There you go.

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*I’ll try the newbie in a few months. My experience with breweries of any size, although more typically small ones, is tweaks can be made in the first year or two of a new release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fine Whiskey and Aging

The British Bourbon Society recently posted a tweet that resonated with us, on the merits of Old Tub bourbon. Old Tub is a Beam brand, of which Jim Beam bourbon is best known. Beam today is owned by the Japanese multinational beverage and food company, Suntory Holdings.

The tweet noted an appealing youthful quality in the bourbon including its nose. Bourbon, like most whisky, so often is prized for long years in oak barrels. At times there seems almost an obsession with long aging: 10, 12, 15, and many more years old.

The tweet upheld the merits of a good younger whisky. Old Tub is a bonded bourbon, hence 50% ABV, at least four years old, but probably not too much older.

For further product and corporate background on Old Tub, I can’t improve on this Whiskey Wash post (Cameron Hoick).

My interest here is to uphold the validity of a good younger whiskey. Having studied whiskey history in-depth, I know just from the name Old Tub that an allusion is made to the character of old-time whiskey. Whiskey in the 1800s was often mashed and fermented in a series of small wood tubs. In the post A Maven of Intelligent Blending  I discussed some of those features.

Today, sour mashing means only the practice of adding backset, or the residue of distillation, to a mash to replace part of the water. In the 19th century there were numerous variations on sweet and sour mashing and fermentation. From my post:

Preyer’s [1901] explanation of sweet mash and sour mashing is broadly similar to others I’ve discussed, but with a gloss on back-yeasting. He states that at the beginning of a distilling season a mash is left to ferment naturally in small tubs which he says (correctly) is sour mash. Once a fermentation is secured, the yeast, or barm, is used to seed the next one and so on. He calls that a sweet mash, which is correct as well because yeast is being added by the distiller.

Clearly some distillers operated in this way but some distillers never yeasted back and relied for all their fermentations on purely natural (spontaneous) fermentation as I’ve showed in the past.

Then too, sometimes you would start with a sweet mash and move to sour, in that once enough backset was produced, you would mash with that and add no further yeast. This was the system C.K. Gallagher laid down as I’ve also explained recently.

Beam bourbon today is, according to its website, mashed in a 10,000 gal. cooker. It is fermented with a proprietary jug yeast in large domed, metal tanks, as in most larger distilleries. Calling one of its whiskeys small tub is meant, I should think, to suggest an old fashioned character. This derives from the bonded status including four years of age, the 50% ABV (vs. the norms of 40% or 43%), and the fact of not being chill-filtered.

Distillers worldwide chill-filter spirits to maintain their clarity under various handling and storage conditions. It is felt superfluous though with extra-strong spirits, particular some bourbon and single malt whisky.

In any case today consumers are rightly not obsessed with crystal clarity, as the success of cloudy beer types shows. Compounds not removed by chill-filtering add to the traditional character.

The relatively young age, though, is another factor. The aging of American whiskey, as I’ve discussed in many posts, developed over time in the 19th century. While there was always some old whiskey in the market, even early in the 1800s, much of it by many accounts was sold young: 1, 2, 3 years of age.

The longer a whiskey is in the barrel, the more colour and sweet wood gums are imparted by the charred interior. At the same time, the assertive, “distillery” character of new whiskey is modified by a complex process of oxidation. The wood pores allow entry of oxygen. A multi-years’ breathing matures the whiskey.

When I was active in the consumer group Straightbourbon.com 10-15 years ago, long-aged whiskey was readily available: 10, 12, even 15 and more years. And it didn’t cost that much more than standard 6-8 year old whiskey.

With the success of bourbon and straight rye since then, the supply of such old whiskey has dried up or available stocks are rare and pricy. Fair enough, that’s how the market works.

Yet, I noticed when buying a lot of that old whiskey that often the barrel tones covered over everything else. And the distillery character was reduced due to the long oxidation process mentioned.

The whiskey taste, originally, is what made whiskey, whiskey. The malts of the U.K., or Ireland, are no different.* To efface substantially that feature in whiskey is to diminish the product, in my opinion.

People will have different preferences on age. A 12-year-old Scottish malt is often ideal because aging differs there and the barrel type too. (Bearing in mind that age statements are a minimum, a vatting of whiskies 12 years of age and older usually perfects the batch).

But for Kentucky whiskey, I think six to eight years of aging is usually right, with some whiskey reaching a good balance at about four years. It seems Old Tub may have that sweet spot.

I look forward to trying it, when I can next visit the U.S. – but who knows when that will be?

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*Irish single pot still too, of course.

 

Heritage Gastronomy – Tarrytown, 1970

Intermittently I have discussed historical activities of the International Wine and Food Society, co-founded in London by French-born André Simon in 1933, and the Gourmet Society in New York, founded by executive and author George Frederick in the same period. Mainly events in the1930s-1950s, with a few into the 70s.

A duo of dinners ca.1970 reveal themes that would resonate more broadly in American food and wine in the years to come.

The first was reported in some detail by the Times-Union in Albany, New York in January 1970. You may read the account here. The actual menu seems not publicly available.

The dinner was held in the historically significant enclave of Tarrytown, New York. Manhattan-born (1763) Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, explored Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow as a young man. It started when his family sent him there for refuge from fever-ridden Manhattan.

He later resided in Tarrytown, in a riverside estate.  Today the area is an upscale suburb of the New York metro area with a concentration of head offices.

That Tarrytown was the site of eventful early American history made it an ideal location to recreate the heritage menu described in the article.

The menu is fairly elaborate and as a set piece was probably unknown in pioneer days, except perhaps for the grandest tables. Still, elements seem clearly historical, and it must have been stimulating to research and create the menu.

The drinks served included the Stone Fence, which is sweet cider and applejack (apple brandy), with whiskey later used. “Cold ale” also was featured, type not stated. The term ale probably struck the average American as old-fashioned by 1970, so job well done in that sense. The “cold” modifier probably addressed both the time of year – a chilly Tarrytown cellar – and the American expectation by the 1970s to drink beer well-chilled.

The kind of ale was not stated. The New York branch of the International Wine and Food Society, which held the event, perhaps chose something more authentic than the golden ale then produced by many U.S. breweries. The amber Ballantine India Pale Ale would have been a good choice, and had appeared in the Society’s 1940s beer tastings as I discussed earlier.

Perhaps an import was chosen, Whitbread Pale Ale, or Watney’s Red Barrel, in deference to early imports of ale or at least the malt, from Britain.

New York wines, then viewed mostly as quaffing or table wine, were served in carafe as the main moistener.

The food? Well, how does a pigeon-based chowder sound? What say ye of salt dried beef, or smoked reindeer? Or salad with nasturtium?

Also served were turnip tops with salt pork, wheat and oat mush, black bread, and … Champagne. Well, allowances must be made.

I didn’t find these preparations on a quick perusal of Amelia Simmons’ classic American Cookery (1796). The report stated selections represented Tarrytown cuisine of the 17th through the 19th centuries. I’d think research was done in local books and manuscripts to glean ideas, but in any case a period ring sounds.

Below is a depiction, author unknown, of Tarrytown c. 1828 (via Wikipedia, here):

 

 

délice in the menu was cider and honey sauce; numerous poultry types were plated with it. A sauce of that description appears today in Yorkshire, U.K., with pork chops.  The indispensable All Recipes UK gives the lowdown.

Yorkshire sounds far away from southern New York State, but much of the emigration of the time came from Britain, so it all ties in. Now, what of Dutch foods? Irving famously described the surviving Dutch customs in isolated places like Sleepy Hollow.

Nothing in the menu seems, offhand, to suggest that tradition. Maybe the frumenty-like mush, or black bread? Americans used rye in their early loaves to make a brown bread, one thinks of New England or Boston brown bread. But black? Maybe that was a Dutch survival.

Various modern recipes can be found for blackish Frisian or other Dutch rye bread. Here is one, from the Flour and Leaven site.

The then-head of the New York Wine and Food Society was interviewed in the story. His remarks reflect a democratic ethos: e.g. that “gourmet” means different things to different people (it’s true). The Society’s representatives strived, it seems to me, to emphasize a non-exclusive spirit since the inception of the group (1933) – no doubt one reason for its success.

Other dinners of the New York group were described, one a meal solely of different beef cuts. The idea to serve one food throughout a meal is intriguing, and appears through the history of gastronomy here and there.

Soon I will describe such a dinner held by the New York Society, in the same period, but involving a different meat than beef.

N.B. The same UPI account of the dinner appeared in October 1969 here, in the Schenectady Gazette, with concluding paragraphs omitted from the Times-Union version. It made clear the dinner was carefully researched, a process that took two months. The service of the one sauce for each entrée was explained as an historical practise, for example.

Note re image: Images above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Flavour and Fermentability

And the Focus Group and Funnel

Is beer less rich in taste today, on average, than historically? I think probably yes. This hasn’t to do with changes in malt types, or other brewing materials, but the terminal point at which the fermentation concludes, or gravity.

As reprinted some years ago in MoreBeer, Peter Ensminger wrote of famed, Czech Pilsner Urquell:

The original gravity of the export is about 12 °P (1.048 S.G.), with a final gravity of 3.8 °P (1.015 S.G.), and an alcohol content of 4.4% (v/v).

Literature I’ve seen on Urquell suggests these gravities are unchanged at least since the early 20th century, and probably well before that. Other pale lager of Central Europe was often similar as many analyses show.

One may compare the 1015 FG to final gravities of various modern pale lager styles, except commendably Czech Premium Pale Lager. See e.g. this chart from the website Brewer’s Friend. 1015 is outside the top end of those – the average would be a few points lower.

There is a further exception for Dortmund Export, but even there 1015 is the maximum stated. Modern Dortmunder I’ve tasted seems rather under that, in fact.

If one compares the special bitter, American pale ale, and amber ale to 1800s pale ales in a chart prepared by Ron Pattinson, clearly the modern average is lower (see pp. 164-165). To be sure a couple of examples in the latter show extreme fermentability, or attenuation as brewers say.

This occurred usually with beers impacted by so-called wild, or Brettanomyces yeast. It often manifested in beers exported to distant climes or long stored in the U.K. I’ll have occasion to show an example in my article to appear early next year in Brewery History.

But c. 1880 in the U.K., “domestic” pale ale finished generally much richer than today’s equivalent. By that chart it is in the mid- to higher teens in most cases.

Having seen the full arc of modern craft brewing from inception to today, I’d say the beers generally have not changed much in finish over that period – generally on the dry side.

Mass market lager – American Lager in the Brewer’s Friend chart, and Light Lager – is even drier, so this is relative to a point.

And there are craft types known for sweetness, New England India Pale Ale, or milk or Imperial stout. But I’ve had fairly dry examples in each category, as well.

There is such a range of production today that one can always find a taste to satisfy, but in general I would say much craft beer seems on the dry side. I mean here the taste of malt or other grains in the finish, not the hop character. It’s two different things.

Each brewer will decide what to make based on his or her taste but also the market, so a levelling tends to occur as for any food or drink product.

I think many factors explain this. First, craft did not re-invent brewing completely. The first craft brewers made something better – certainly different – than the norm in existence. Yet, they were still influenced by what they thought the market expected, by what they expected themselves.

That was impacted by what came before. Craft brewers often professed to disdain the mass market, “computerized” taste of 1970s mass-market lager, but to think it had no influence on them would be fatuous.

Just as the unpasteurized craft beer that emerged had industrial precedents, just as the all-malt brewing did, so did the mouthfeel and finish of much craft beer.

Fair enough. Brewers must make money and I’m all for whatever they make if they turn a profit. If brewers don’t make money and wither in number, the possibility for some to make beer that appeals to a certain palate withers in proportion.

Speaking for myself, I plump for rich taste, for what I think represents the brewing ideal. The old German saying “malt is the soul of beer” meant malt you could taste.

One can use the finest German or any malt in the world but if attenuated to marked dryness, how much of the character remains?

Pilsner Urquell is Exhibit A for the kind of malt finish in beer I like.* There are many other examples I could choose, but Urquell serves well due to being so well known.

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*Hops too, for that matter.

 

 

 

 

Whiskey Kings Meet

Before the First World War a minor genre in American journalism was the leisurely account of a junket. I’ve discussed a few examples in these pages. One was a banker’s outing in the Midwest to sample real burgoo, the stew of mixed meat and vegetables on a starch base.

Some visits targeted breweries or distilleries. The best have an understated, downhome humour, typically American I would say, or it was.

 

 

Before the age of instant media, leisure was appreciated for its own sake. People “set” awhile, had harmless fun, with beverage alcohol often a part, but not the greatest part. A drink or three might facilitate a literary or other flight in persons not accustomed, solid citizens like bankers.

The occasions were diverse: a running race, a fishing outing (no fish was ever caught, one editor mused), or just chanting songs. Our era of the sound-bite, relentless jargon, and clamouring personalities sounds completely different, but this older world must still exist, here and there.

A July 1898 story exemplified the style and has particular interest for those who plumb the history of spirits. Newspaper editors from Maysville, Kentucky took a trip into Canada to visit the Hiram Walker distillery in Walkerville, Ontario.

That’s Kentuckians paying homage to a Canadian whisky centre, and not just that, from Maysville. A charming town on the Ohio river, Maysville is not just any town in Kentucky, it might be the place bourbon was named. At any rate, the town lays claim to being the spiritual home of bourbon.

I’ve been to Maysville, twice in fact. It was originally named Limestone, a river port that shipped corn whiskey by flatboat to New Orleans and other remote markets. The sojourn in wood and motion of the craft helped create the oaky sweetish bourbon character.

Maysville was located in famous Bourbon County, KY for only three years. The changing of county lines placed it in another county even before 1800, but those three years may explain how bourbon got its name. For one thing, mention of bourbon as a whiskey-type appears early in Maysville newspapers.

Why would Kentucky notables travel to any whiskey destination outside Kentucky? Coals to Newcastle surely. But Canadian Club had achieved good success in the United States in the 1880s and ’90s. It sold for top dollar and while not a “straight”, people clearly liked it. It was 100% aged, unlike typical American blends that combined white (un-aged) neutral spirits with some aged bourbon or rye.

As well, Canadian Club was imported, and held the cachet imports often glean in any market. Word about “C.C.” had gotten around, even to old Kentucky where no one needed lessons in how to make whiskey. Likely Hiram Walker hosted the group to win some press in the U.S. whiskey heartland.

The 1898 account described the trip in more restrained fashion than others of the genre. A tone of mild levity informs the report, but not the rollicking spirit of the 1887 burgoo party, say.

Maybe the travelling editors wanted to avoid offending the native whiskey industry. And Prohibition too was just 20 years away. Journalism was conscious of the changing tone for the subjects of whiskey and drinking.

In his (1963) Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking, historian Henry Crowgey called the new spirit (sorry) “a tidal wave of Victorian righteousness”. Even Walkerville had a reputation as a temperance town, strange as it may sound, but if its famous whisky didn’t thread the punch served, well I’ll be darned.

And Hiram Walker probably slipped flasks to its esteemed visitors as they strode the gangplank for the steamer home. Thus fortified or not, the Kentuckians took great pleasure encountering the Great Lake winds in July. If you have ever been to Kentucky in summer, you’ll know why.

The visitors admired the layout and construction of the Walkerville plant, to the point, said the report, Kentucky distillers might take notice.

The steamer landed the crowd on a pretty lawn in front of a large three story brown stone building.* The building and its surroundings, clean gravel and stone walks, the pretty lawn with patches of lovely flowers, with a crowd of sturdy Canadians, in white flannel suits, off at one side engaged in a ball game,(bowling on the green), and an orchestra discoursing sweet music at the opposite end of the lawn, suggested a summer resort, but such was not the case.

 The building contains the general offices of Hiram Walker & Sons, proprietors of the famous “Canadian Club” distillery. The establishment is an immense one that puts to shame our Kentucky distillers. They can get a good many points from Walker & Sons. The various buildings of the plant are brick surrounded with drives and walks, while within all is scrupulously neat and clean.

Canadian distilleries didn’t feature, not in Walkerville c. 1900, ancient flagstone still houses mottled with creeper and moss as in Kentucky. The Walkerville plant was more a combination of enlightened factory town and Brahmin’s playing ground.

It was the Canadian way, one manifestation.

At day’s end, two honourable whisky traditions met up. Like most parleys at personal level between Canadians and Americans since the 1812 War, people got along as fast friends – which Canadians and Americans are, at bottom.

Note re image: the image above of Maysville, KY was sourced from this town website. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Still there.

Pasteur, Piel’s, and Pale Ale

One of the landmark American craft breweries, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Brewers and engaged consumers everywhere are justly lauding the achievement. Its Pale Ale (available in Ontario), Celebration Ale, Porter, Bigfoot, and the many line extensions since inception need no introduction to friends of brewing.

The founder Ken Grossman, a southern Californian still only 65, wrote a memoir a few years ago, Beyond the Pale. It combines autobiography, company profile, and business guide. In the book he explains his stance against pasteurization of beer, you may read it here.

He almost casually mentions that he also eschews “sterile filtration”. Molson-Coors Beverage Co. probably was the first to introduce non-pasteurized, sterile-packaged canned beer, in 1959. I discussed the history in this post, based partly on detailed, contemporaneous press coverage.

A small exception to no-pasteurization at Sierra Nevada is for barrel-aged beers. They get a dose of the pasteurizer, as wood barrels can introduce a cocktail of bothersome organisms in the brewery. Long-time Sierra Nevada brewer Steve Dressler five years ago explained the rationale.

Coors still uses, at least in the United States, a combination of sterile filtration and asceptic packaging. While costly and tech-intensive, the company feels it gives the beer a leg up on taste – keg up, to coin a phrase. Whether it does or not is a matter for consumer assessment.

The outsize success of Coors Light seems to bear out the logic, at least in part. Yet Bud Light, say, is pasteurized and also has enjoyed good success.

Molson-Coors periodically updates and improves its processes, like all industrial companies. A 1985 article abstracted by the Master Brewers Association of America shows how cost factors, in particular, impact its technology. As explained by the author M.H. Beckett (again, as of 1985):

A charge modified cellulose filter mass, designated Cuno ZP820, has been developed to replace the cotton/asbestos Enzinger pulp pad used for sterile filtration of beer. The Enzinger pulp pad is prepared by hydropulping the filtration material and processing the pulp through several washing stages.

In contrast, Sierra Nevada bottles and cans unpasteurized beer with a measure of yeast to promote a gentle bottle- or can-conditioning.

Whether re-seeding is done to roughly filtered beer, versus using the original fermentation yeast, I am not sure, but the beers – Pale Ale, Celebration, etc. – all contain a small charge of yeast that keeps the beer “live”. Coors beer is not pasteurized either, but is not live in the can or bottle due to the micro-filtration that eliminates virtually every yeast cell from the package.

All beer, before pasteurization became generalized in industrial brewing, was unpasteurized. With the onset of new small breweries in the last 40 years, most brewers dispensed with the process, although not all, e.g. Anchor Brewing in San Francisco (founded 1899 but re-set on a craft vector by Fritz Maytag in the 1970s).

Most crafts sell beer for consumption within a few months in a local market, and justly dispense with the need to pasteurize. Like Sierra they want neither the expense of pasteurization nor its flavour-dampening impact (due to application of high heat whether for tunnel or the less intrusive flash pasteurization).

Yet, in our post on Hoffman Brewing of New Jersey, we showed that even in the 1930s – well after pasteurization was standard in American brewing  –  some beer was bottled unpasteurized. This is a kind of analogy to the standard today of craft brewing.

I’ll record now additional 1930s references for such unpasteurized (non-draft) beers. Then I’ll reach over to the 1960s, after Coors’ innovation, when another canned draught entered the market.

I mentioned in the Hofman’s post that its unpasteurized bottled beer, introduced in 1933, did not apparently enjoy a long run. The brewery itself was bought by Milwaukee’s Pabst in late 1945.

Yet, the beer lasted at least until the autumn of 1938, when an advertisement appeared in a Batavia, N.Y. newspaper. The ad was unusually frank on the characteristics of Hoffman’s beer. It noted the beer contained “active yeast” and this was “good for you”. It also stated:

 

… Unpasteurized beer and ale have been supplied in this territory for some time in half-gallon bottles, under refrigeration and sold with a warning for immediate eonsumption.

Further:

For more than two years the Hoffman Beverage Company of Newark, N.J., has produced unpasteurized beer in 12 and 29-ounce bottles for shipping and sale without constant refrigeration.

Such a process requires absolutely aseptic conditions, sterile bottles, and hermetically sealing with sterile crowns. Thus Hoffman’s guarantees you real purity as well as better flavor and all the benefits of draft brews.

In the summer of the same year, 1938, a news story in Schenectady, N.Y. described different-size beer bottles in the market. Among them was a quart-size and “giant”, or 64 oz., both for unpasteurized beer. The 29 oz. bottle in Hoffman’s ad was perhaps this quart – not quite 32 oz., then.

This array of bottles for unpasteurized beer suggests Hoffman was not the only brewer in the game. And it wasn’t. In August 1936 in Jamestown, N.Y. Lang’s Brewery in Buffalo, N.Y. advertised its Lang’s Draught Beer in the half-gallon “giant”. A picture is included showing a pot-stopper closure, mentioned in the story on bottle sizes.

(You know, I can almost see the old burg across lake and plains of Ontario from my apartment perch in Toronto).

The bulbous shape brings to mind the old saying, “a face only a mother could love [the industrial designer]”. It’s hard to parse the aesthetics of past ages, sometimes.

If Lang’s too was selling bottled unpasteurized beer, there had to be others. The Lang’s ad stressed the “old time tang” of the beer. No doubt veteran beer types in Lang’s market knew the real deal from back in the day, the pre-Prohibition day for some.

How did Hoffman’s beer, at any rate, differ from Coors’ over 25 years later? Aseptic packaging is generally considered to have gained legs since about 1960. Yet it was clearly known in the ’30s. As was sterilization of bottles and crown caps.

I suspect the difference was the beer itself. Hoffman’s beer, as the ad quoted shows, had live yeast. It was probably filtered as closely as technology permitted then, but nowhere near as efficiently as the micro-filtration Coors has used since 1959. Then again, maybe Hoffman’s beer tasted better as a result.

In the canned/bottled draught beer stakes, another historical entrant is Piel’s Draft, introduced in 1965-1966. Your humble (?) scribe remembers buying this in the 1970s, on visits to alluring locales (they were, to us) like Plattsburg and Albany, N.Y. And Cape Cod – no need to sell that one.

A January 1966 ad in Troy, N.Y. vaunted Piel’s new beer as follows:

The biggest news for beer drinkers in 50 years comes from Piels. Real Draft Beer in a can. A 12-oz. can of beer that tastes just as if it came from the tap. That’s right, straight from the tap. We worked long and hard to bring you this remarkable new development.

The “biggest news” for 50 years? Well, not really. Coors had done the trick a few years earlier. Then too in the 1960s, Coors was not distributed on the East Coast. Piels, of Brooklyn, N.Y., possibly had the first canned draught beer on that coast, so fair enough.

Piel’s Real Draft was introduced some 20 years before Miller Genuine Draft (1985), we may add.

Just as for craft beer tout court, everything comes from somewhere. Even a phenomenon as daring and romantic as craft brewing had progenitors, and not only distant ones like the apprehended practises of Dickensian red brick breweries. Breweries from the anodyne 1930s-1960s had an impact too, when plants stretching blocks, mass production, and the pocket protector ruled.*

The seeming bad days for beer, when palate was uniform due to remorseless corporate raiding and cost-cutting, laid the basis for our funky artisan brews no less than our gilded notions of Meuse Valley farm breweries, or stone-built English breweries with waterwheels.

In faceless post-Prohibition factories – or so they seemed – there were brewers wary of the taste impact of pasteurization. In their way, they tried and sometimes succeeded to speak up for the beer palate. Their counterparts today, mostly in craft brewing, work in a different time, but the spirit is the same.

And so, the beer palate is not dependent on country, time, or technology as such. It is dependent on taste. The real beer people get that, and always did. It’s an unshakeable constant in the long and winding road that is beer history.

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*Of course, industrial draft beer was usually unpasteurized until relatively recently anyway. That too influenced the craft adoption of a similar standard for all packaging forms. In this post I am focusing though on bottled and canned beer.

Let’s Revive a 1950s Food Idea

Back to l’Avenir

The concept of progress inherited from the 19th century has suffered undoubted injuries in recent decades, or its prestige has. Still, “progress” is an inexorable, underlying force few societies can afford to ignore. When it comes to applied food technologies, especially to preserve foods, probably the impact of science and industrial technologies has never been greater.

While older methods continue – canning, bottling, freezing, curing – the newer sous vide method is commonly applied today in home, restaurant, institutional, and transportation settings. This is low temperature cooking in a sealed bag to retain taste and moisture.

Sous vide was perfected in the 1960s and 1970s by industrial technologists, as even then the technique was not quite new. From there it sprang to industrial food production and even some restaurants. Troisgros in France, starting in _________, probably launched a fashion in this segment.

Other technologies have gathered pace since the ’60s: cryovac packing, aseptic packaging (which has its own separate history including in brewing), and food irradiation. Or take the stand-up pouches widely used today for soups and other fluid foods.

Some old school tech falls by the wayside, not from inherent defects of design or cost limitation, but due to public policy that overrides. Carbon emission control seems destined to end fossil fuel engines, gasoline or other. Plastics pollution measures are another instance, which impact food systems especially.

Sometimes though one finds in the past applied technology that seems due for revival. What follows is an example, in our view.

The famed citadel of cuisine Maxim’s of Paris, on rue Royale in the “8th”, is today a Pierre Cardin brand. In the ’50s, when the Vaudable family was the owner, Maxim’s deployed a clever idea: send out food to the United States in frozen, pre-packaged portions. This used an efficient, proven technology to sample French food, quite literally, far from home – and from an icon of haute cuisine.

In 1955 the press in Philadelphia carried a splashy story on the launch in that city, a fashionable dinner at John Wanamaker, the upscale department store. City “hostesses” arrived in force, one is pictured being kissed on the hand by a Parisian from Maxim’s displaying old-school charm.

Maxim’s partnered with Pan American Airlines to fly the food with dispatch to sales points Stateside. What did the matrons, captains of industry, and other notables eat?

The Belgian staple of beef carbonnade, for one. Maybe the hearty taste was thought to survive the freezing and trip over well, or American palates.

There was also veal blanquette, and lamb sauté, both postwar classics of “French cuisine”. And Normandy trout. Channel sole, too – Dover sole no doubt. It was planned that the sauces, then emblematic of French cooking, would ultimately be manufactured and sold in the U.S.

Maxim’s was an early proponent of scientific methods, always looking to expand its reach with new techniques, and methods of commercialization. It established a branch in Hong Kong as early as the late 1950s. Finally one arrived in New York, in 1985, although it closed 15 years later.

Exporting full meals in frozen form is one idea I’ve never seen here. It clearly occurs within the E.U., which after all is a polity of sorts, but I’m thinking of North America as a market for notable prepared foods of Europe, or Asia, say.

I’ve never seen French, British or German dinners sold frozen here, for example. Individual foods, yes: fish, ham, cheese, chocolate, etc., that goes without saying. It is always interesting to eat prepared fresh food* from another country, especially one with a storied food tradition.

Maxim’s merchandized its ready-to-eat meals through premium delicatessens in New York and Jersey. The same dishes enjoyed by society in Philly were advertised in 1954 by a “gourmets'” shop in Princeton, New Jersey. (The locale should give away the reason, all those academics…).

 

 

The idea seems to have lapsed, although perhaps Maxim’s still does a form of it, I don’t know. It has numerous restaurants around the world today, which perhaps made the export of pre-packaged meals seem unnecessary.

Of course as well, there was the rise of popular interest in international cooking. It was encouraged by the success of Julia Child’s and many other cookery books. Those interested probably focused on their own kitchen. Why buy a frozen imported meal when you make “the same thing” here?

Yet, foreign ingredients and preparation techniques often end as quite different to local emulations. The French beef I used to make a carbonnade in a Boulogne-sur-Mer apartment earlier this year had a different taste than our beef. The Gallic meat was seemingly softer and sweeter (sugar beet feed, perhaps?).

And, what better time to revive the idea than right now? International travel is almost at a standstill. As we can’t quite travel to foreign locales to sample a local meal, surely fast travel, improved logistics, and latest food technologies can conspire to bring it to us. A real Bolognese sauce, not in a bottle or can, would be something I’d like to try, on Italian-made pasta.

Government regulations may have to change to allow this in certain places. Governments have proved flexible in other ways to accommodate the current pandemic.

And the transport fleets of our carriers can use the business, eh?

Note re image: the image above, an 1899 Maxim’s menu, was sourced at Wikipedia, here, and is noted as public domain. Any and all intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*I mean, not canned or bottled. So excluding, say, British baked beans as currently marketed in Canada.