A Case of Champlain

Mega Merger Births Champlain Brewery

Earlier I discussed a 1909 merger of breweries in Quebec Province. All breweries in the Province joined the resultant, Montreal-based National Breweries Ltd. (NBL), except famed Molson Brewery, and small Silver Springs Brewery in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Proteau & Carignan, a small Quebec City brewery, was in the merger. In 1911 an ex-employee, Alfred-Pierre Robitaille, decided to establish his own brewery in the city. Further details are set out in a webpage of the Quebec Historical Society. My searches suggest he was an accountant, not a brewer.

His Champlain Brewery was named for the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain. It remained independent until 1948 when NBL bought its shares.

The Larger Social Context

37 years of business independence seems pretty good, comparable to a modern craft brewery bought out after a generation. But in Quebec, such events can have significance beyond the purely commercial.

It relates to language and culture. Brewing in the Province had been Anglophone-dominated since the British Conquest in the late 1700s. But spirited Francophone firms did make attempts to crack the market. Proteau & Carignan was one, established in 1891 in Quebec City.

The Frontenac Brewery, established in 1912 in Montreal, was a second. Champlain Brewery a third, and a fourth, Imperial Breweries Ltd, was up as a French-managed cooperative in Montreal again, in 1907.

All ended being absorbed by NBL. NBL’s senior executives were mainly Anglophones who formerly had managed the Dawes, Dow, Ekers, and Boswell breweries, the main components of the merger.

NBL’s in-house magazine of the 1940s was, to be sure, bilingual. Clearly, two languages were used on the shop floor and by the sales force. But NBL was not owned or, for the most part, managed by French-speakers.

Yet, Francophones formed, and still do, about 80% of Quebec’s population. French-speaking business in many sectors could not get a foothold, a historical legacy connected to the British takeover.

Frontenac Brewery was absorbed by NBL in 1925, 13 years after starting business. Imperial Breweries was also absorbed by NBL, after only two years of operation.

A full explanation why Francophone breweries could not keep pace with NBL is beyond my scope here. It would make an interesting study in a branch of the social sciences or economics. Francophone firms had the advantage certainly of appealing to national sentiment. Imperial Breweries tried this tack, as I discussed earlier.

It appears Frontenac was more nuanced in this regard, but still the sub-text could not be ignored. French-speakers at Frontenac made a product popular among the population – it made sense their compatriots should buy the beers.

Not enough did, it seems, but again a comprehensive study using an appropriate methodology awaits.

La Madelon Beer and a Famous Tune

Champlain Brewery did try an appeal to Francophone nationalist feeling to market its beer. In 1935 it launched its new brand, La Madelon, with an evident French name and themed to francophonie.

At the same time, Madelon was clearly an ale, British in pedigree, not a “Continental” lager such as Frontenac made. This charming label shows “ale” next to “bière” (source: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Collection on Flickr):



At the time ale had the great bulk of beer sales in Quebec, irrespective of the consumer’s mother tongue. In this sense the brand was a kind of hybrid.

In 1936 the brewery listed its current range, making a frank appeal for French-Canadian support, in the newspaper Le Soleil (June 30, 1936, via Quebec Government Archives):



In English: “French-Canadians: If we helped each other in all aspects of life, so much stronger would we be!”. The brand was named for a patriotic French song of WW I, which was also known as “Quand Madelon”. The stirring tune persisted in popular memory and remained a rallying point into the Second World War.

The song was popular in Britain and the United States as well, with many recordings made in English. A recent performance is affecting, linked in an informative blogpost at The University of Melbourne.

Whether sung in French or English, the Madelon of the tune was a young waitress whom Allied soldiers encountered at her father’s tavern. She reminded them of home, of the values they were fighting for.

An Emotive Brand

Champlain’s selection of the Madelon name and image was strategic. The allusion mainly mainly had Francophone resonance even though a Union Jack appeared on some labels. A version of the Union Jack, the Red Ensign, served as Canada’s flag as well then, so the British flag, particularly given the recent war effort, did not offend as such.

The flag would also appeal to Anglophone beer drinkers, and why alienate that market? The rustic-looking Madelon had to remind French Quebeckers as well of a less urbanized, old-fashioned French Canada, one quickly receding in memory as Quebec became increasingly industrialized and modern.

In sum, the right notes were struck. Still, the brand seems to have languished, and is not mentioned in post-acquisition business reports of NBL.

Champlain’s Mid-1930s Beer Range 

The beer range in the 1936 ad is interesting to consider. The first, the Special, was a classic India Pale Ale. This is made clear in later company reports, as I discussed here.

A label at Thomas Fischer also shows that Special was an India Pale Ale. The third beer, Champlain XXX, was likely a medium-gravity porter. “Real Stout”, described as a “Porter anglais“, was probably a stronger stout.

Madelon was perhaps a lower gravity, filtered version of the Special. In the early 1920s Champlain marketed two I.P.A.s, one subtitled Export as this press ad shows:



The Export Ale was probably filtered and “sparkling”, as the better-known Molson Export Ale was introduced before WW I. Likely the Special was stronger, more hopped, and perhaps bottle-conditioned – older school.

It seems likely La Madelon of the next decade was the Export version of India Pale Ale –  renamed and relaunched.

Endgame for Champlain and Similar Breweries

Although NBL scooped up the Francophone-owned Champlain Brewery in 1948, in 1952 NBL itself was gobbled up, by E. P. Taylor’s Toronto-based Canadian Breweries Ltd.

Business, finally, is impersonal in its objects – it has an internal logic irrespective of patriotic and other considerations, at least assuming a free market.

True, Francophone breweries had a seeming advantage of cultural identification with the majority population. But whatever business flowed from that wasn’t enough, or other factors were at play, as an in-depth study perhaps would show.

Canadian Breweries Ltd. and Anti-trust

The buy-out of NBL and subsequent closure of Champlain Brewery – Boswell Brewery in Quebec City alone continued, as Dow Brewery – probably contributed to the later anti-trust investigation of Canadian Breweries Ltd.

A March 1951 story in Le Soleil stated a union delegate requested the support of his Trades Federation to ask the federal government to investigate whether a monopoly in brewing existed.

I don’t rule out that cultural factors were at play here, beyond the usual economic impacts.

The NBL purchase followed many acquisitions and closures of breweries by Canadian Breweries Ltd. across Canada. The NBL example was similar to the others in economic impact: rationalization of plants, trimming of personnel, and reduction of brands, but it also weakened the French-Canadian economic base.

Charges were eventually laid against Canadian Breweries Ltd. for violating Canada’s Combines Investigation Act. The company was acquitted though, mainly because it was found a normal competitive market did not exist in the brewing industry, given the significant regulation of breweries by each Province.

Note re images: the source of each above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.












A Thespians’ Regale

Beer Cuisine; Mixed ale

The Cliff, or Cliff Hotel, was an upscale hotel in North Scituate, Mass., built in 1896. Surviving postcards and other ephemera depict a handsome, rambling white clapboard. This image with surrounding aspect is via Mass. Digital Commonwealth:



The Cliff was a lodestone of the area social scene for much its existence, but it all ended in a fierce 1974 conflagration. The hotel was never re-built.

In 1900 the trade journal Hotel Monthly printed a menu served at The Cliff to a “company of actors”. Beer figured not a little – it is mentioned three times – yet beer dinners were unusual in American gastronomy at the time.



Beer dinners – where beer is paired with food or used in recipes – now enjoy a modest place in the American culinary scene, boosted by the craft beer revival. Yet meals oriented to beer existed in earlier times. I have described a number of them in these pages. They included a German-American dinner held in 1898 at the Pabst Estate outside Milwaukee, and menus in Virginia Elliott’s book, published not long after the Repeal of Prohibition.

The Cliff’ menu was a set affair, probably a luncheon or post-performance supper. No detail is given on the show, the players must have performed in a local theatre, or perhaps the hotel.

Scituate is old seaside New England, of which North Scituate is an extension. It was settled by emigrants from Kent, England in the early 1600s. Scituate today is a suburban idyll that ramps up in summer for the season.

The town website offers good historical background on the area.

The menu of 1900 started with a pre-prandial bracer, the Manhattan cocktail, well established in the Northeast by then. Some Europeans worried – and still do – that strong drink before the food ruins the meal to come.

Americans were insouciant, some still are on such matters. The next drink was “mixed ale”, which had special significance from the 1880s until about 1910. This was a mixture of beer leavings or stale beer, hence none too refined a drink.

Saloons that specialized in mixed ale might add camphor, grain alcohol, or other suspect ingredients. At the bottom end of the trade the drink might induce a clattering or worse in the drinker. Criminality was often connected to the bibbing according to press reports of the time.

Mixed ale in figurative terms often denoted, therefore, low living or something disreputable, tawdry. A fighter past his prime might be termed a mixed ale pugilist.

The theatre can have its raffish side, so a connection with the stage is not surprising. At least one burlesque was entitled Mixed Ale. Billy Golden, a vaudevillian of the day, sang a song called Mixed Ale, a strange, yodelling tune.

The Sun in New York in 1894 conducted a social investigation into mixed ale, which you may read here, noting:


No drink ever invented by man for the delight or destruction of his fellow man so characterizes its imbiber as mixed ale. A man may drink whiskey sours and be either a Southern Colonel or a backwoods sport; he may drink gin fizzes and be a gay and giddy clubman or simply a sufferer from weak kidneys; he may stick to plain seltzer and not be a temperance advocate necessarily, but perhaps a penitent of last night’s revels … and simply because a man opens champagne, that does not stamp him as a millionaire; he may be a wine agent. As for beer, everybody drinks beer who drinks anything; but when you see an individual swagger up to the bar, fix the barkeeper with a menacing eye and growl, “Gimme a cooler o’ mixed ale”, you can set him down as a good person to keep away from.

The writer went on to explain, in a way the beer historian understands completely, that mixed ale originally was a worthy drink: new ale and old ale combined. But in time it became something different, a cheap simulacrum.

Mixed ale at a high-end hotel likely was not the degraded form. Quite possibly it was lager and ale mixed, which is one form of American musty ale. Alternatively, it was perhaps a respectable, proprietary mixture of beers, apparently marketed in the period.*

Mixed ale on the players’ menu was surely an in-joke and pleasing to the actors served. Just as 1960s hippies neutralized the charge of “freak” by adopting it as honorific (“Gonna wave my freak flag high” sang Jimi Hendrix), these diners could not have minded being typed a mixed ale crowd.

The respectable nature of the meal was emphasized certainly by the second beer served, King’s Bohemian lager, from a Massachusetts brewery. Nothing was more chic in the beer world than pale, light Bohemian lager, at the time.

At auction site Worthpoint, a pre-Prohibition bottle of King’s may be seen. In that period the brewery was called Continental Brewing Co. The same plant marketed King’s malt tonic during Prohibition. King’s Bohemian Beer returned to the market after Repeal in 1933, but it proved evanescent.

If two servings of beer weren’t enough for the players, a third was available, signalled by the laconic “More Beer”. Nothing sums up the beer ethos better.

As to food, there was broiled lobster, much associated with beer in the Gilded Era. And tomato salad – tomato was just starting its culinary career as a fresh vegetable. Earlier it was always cooked to neutralize any suspect properties.

Three sandwiches were offered, of plain ingredients but surely toothsome in the all-organic, local market days. To end, “cheesed crackers”, perhaps like cheese sticks, and fruit.

Suitable provender for a beer-fuelled affair – not too heavy, which made room for the semi-food, beer. The Cliff’s steward, L.F. Brundage was a seasoned “hotel man”, in the cant of the day, see p. 14 in the same volume of Hotel Monthly. He knew his trade, which meant knowing your customers.

Mixed ale, by his plan clearly, served as set dressing in the dining room that night, a gesture the actors had to appreciate. After all, a good dining room ends as playhouse itself.

Actors are demonstrative, either by nature or profession. I’m sure they toasted old Brundage with verve, for a grateful respite from a long tour on the provincial boards.

Note re images: source of images above is identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*See e.g. Alfred Rickerby’s registration for this and other beer mixtures. He was a bottler in Brooklyn, NY.



Confectionately Yours

Dear Readers:

Guinness Brewery had a brilliant ad poster in the 1950s. A bit of an odd affair, it was a joint effort with Callard & Bowser, a Guinness-owned business that made butterscotch. The headline: “Confectionately Yours”.

Alamy has an example for sale, see here. The sweets-maker was an old London firm. The Let’s Look Again site has a good capsule history of Callard & Bowser. Guinness acquired them in 1951, finally divesting ownership in 1982.

One can be pardoned for thinking Guinness was ahead of its time with Confectionately Yours given the current infatuation for pastry stout. In a dazzling Lewis Carrol pastiche, Guinness took pains to distinguish, yet also liken. sweets and beer.

Guinness did not think, evidently, of actually combining the two, in a bottle or keg I mean. Had it done so and named the brew Confectionately Yours, Guinness might be the grandparent today of all pastry stout.

For those not familiar with this rich-tasting riff on good old stout, the American beverages writer Kate Bernot gave the lowdown in this article.

Well, they weren’t thinking that way back in the Fifties in St. James Gate Dublin. Today, though, Guinness makes a milk stout, which uses lactose, so the ship has turned to a degree.

One thing is clear: some ads of the 1950s were literate and creative. Less of that is seen today.

Literarily Yours,

Beer et Seq


Beamish Stout Journeys to America

Beamish & Crawford were famous porter brewers in Cork, Ireland. The brewery closed in 2009. Beamish stout is now brewed at Heineken’s ex-Murphy plant in the same city.

In 1950 Beamish made a determined push in the American market. Read the background in an advertorial-style piece that year in the Irish-American Advocate, a long-running New York weekly that closed decades ago.



In the article, Beamish reviewed the current brewing range:

At present four types of Stout are brewed:

A Porter for consumption “on draught” in Ireland.
“XXX” Stout for consumption “on draught” and in bottle for Ireland and in bottle for the United King­dom.
“Knuckleduster”—a stronger stout for consumption in bottle for the United Kingdom.
“Foreign Extra”—a still stronger and well matured stout, in bottle, for export to all countries abroad, in­cluding, of course, the U.S.A.
And so, with progress and expan­sion, the aim of those who guide the destinies of the Company to-day, Cork men and Irishmen, will have reason to continue to feel justly proud of this Brewery they have known for genera­tions …

Of these beers, it appears only the Foreign Extra was sent to New York. A fine image of the modern-sounding Knuckleduster label appears at the BestBeerStuff t-shirt and apparel site.

This four-cornered brewing strategy, with gravities rising from four to eight per cent ABV (approximately), was followed by Guinness too, Beamish’s “bigger brother”. See e.g. Ron Pattinson’s tabular data here, and Jess Kidden’s survey of Guinness’ c.1950 marketing. Kidden included the following:



As beer historians have long known, in the 1940s* Guinness bought a brewery in Long Island, New York, the E. & J. Burke Brewery. Purpose: to brew Guinness domestically. Burke had been the venerable distributor for Guinness in America, starting in the 1800s.

The Stateside Burkes finally went into brewing for themselves, shortly after Prohibition. A Burke Ale in 1934, and Burke Stout in 1938 (see Kidden timeline) were marketed in New York. A 1934 ad for Burke ale touts its “winter ale” qualities, suggesting a robust beer of the stock type.

A 1938 ad in the Advocate depicts a tall bottle of Burke stout with an “old sod”-theme label. It promises a traditional, “dry” flavour.

By 1949 Guinness had purchased the Burke brewery, and was brewing Guinness extra stout there, ceasing finally to brew Burke’s stout. Why would Beamish choose this time to expand in the U.S. market, when Guinness was making a determined effort to brew stout locally?

Inferentially, because Beamish could market itself as truly Irish, given its beer was still made in Ireland. This seems confirmed by its advertising. On the same page as the advertorial, a Beamish box ad states “Imported” in prominent type. Other wording in the ad places emphasis on the Irish origins.

The message to the intended market: Guinness in America was no longer quite so Irish as in the past. For a time after Guinness started brewing in Long Island it still imported Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, but this was stopped to avoid confusion in the market. See David Hughes’ discussion in his “A Bottle of Guinness Please”.

In 1952 Guinness was sued for anti-trust violation by Dublin Distributors, Inc. (DDI), a local business. DDI for years had been sub-distributor for Burke, obtaining its supply from Burke, later Guinness-Burke, warehouses, and wholesaling beer through the New York area.

But DDI had also agreed to represent Beamish, for its push in New York. DDI argued some customers wanted an all-Irish stout. Guinness, trying to protect its domestic business, understandably didn’t want that competition, and terminated DDI’s distribution of Long Island stout.

It appears the litigation was resolved on the basis DDI could distribute Irish-brewed Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the type historically imported by Burke, but not locally-brewed Guinness Extra Stout. Some years ago, when an earlier version of this post appeared, I believe I saw a news item confirming this but cannot locate it now.

If this deal did result, with a dual Guinness product again in the market, Guinness’ market profile became muddied once more. For his part, David Hughes attribute the failure of Guinness in Long Island to the beer made there: too strong and sweet.

He notes Guinness did make adjustments to the brewing in the early 1950s, but this seems not to have helped.

By the mid-1950s Beamish and Guinness are duking it out for a small, mostly ethnic market in the U.S. In that period an interesting news item in the Advocate listed a series of Irish products being promoted by the Irish Export Board in New York.

Beamish and Guinness stouts were featured, plus food and other items. A marmalade maker, Lamb’s, featured two sorts, one of coarse-cut peel aged seven months, to lend a “winey” flavour. (Sounds good).

By the early 1960s Guinness has bought out DDI. But this was years after closing the Long Island brewery. Would Guinness have succeeded with U.S.-made stout if Beamish had not made a determined pitch for the American market, or if DDI had not launched its lawsuit? Or was the product just wrong, as David Hughes argued?

Guinness in recent years has re-established a brewery in America, near Baltimore. It produces lager but not the classic Guinness stouts.** The Long Island experience was probably telling in this regard, although I am not so sure it would be a mistake to brew Guinness in America again.

Note re images: source of images above is identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Hughes says 1943.

**It has brewed a draft milk stout at its Open Gate facility, and other experimental types.




The Origins of Robust Porter

The Spirit of ’91

Virginia-based Alistair Reece writes on beer, home brewing, and pubs, including at his Fuggled site and Twitter. He invited comments the other day on the origin of the term “robust porter”.

The term has been used since the 1990s on some beer labels. One of the earliest commercial examples is the excellent, flavourful Smuttynose Robust Porter.

The term once appeared in the style guidelines of the BJCPor Beer Judging Certification Program. (The history of the BJCP is of great interest, which I may revisit). The BJCP does not currently use the term, other than as a simple adjective to describe some beer qualities.

Some beer labels or websites still tout a robust porter though. In Ontario offhand I can think of Beau, Halo, Henderson, and Amsterdam, but there are numerous others. In the 2008 BJCP the following was noted of the “style”:

Stronger, hoppier and/or roastier version of porter designed as either a historical throwback or an American interpretation of the style. Traditional versions will have a more subtle hop character (often English), while modern versions may be considerably more aggressive. Both types are equally valid.

This is fairly vague, and from a historical standpoint cannot be justified, hence the abandonment of the term by BJCP. Still, “robust porter” has an acquired resonance in the market, and is not likely to disappear any time soon.



The answer I gave to Alistair’s question was one I found in Terry Foster’s 1992 book, Porter. London-born, American-based Foster has written a couple of books on porter and stout, and other books on beer.

He has advanced academic qualifications and is well-known in the American brewing establishment. Read his bio in the site Brewers’ Publications.

An excerpt from the book reads:

The American Homebrewers Association, in its specifications for entries in the 1991 National Homebrew Competition, deems it necessary to define two types of porter. The first is “Robust Porter”, with the accent on black malt flavor and no roast barley character; the second is “Brown Porter”, with no roast barley or strong burnt malt character. Personally, I would prefer to think of porter as one beer with a whole continuum of roasted malt flavours.

One can see by the last sentence that Foster understood the deficiencies of this two-fold definition, but he was simply explaining its origins.

In the U.K. where they originated, porter and stout were originally brewed with all-barley malt.* The dark colour came from brown, black, and/or amber malts. Later, roasted (unmalted) barley might be used to impart the colour, and malt adjuncts or sugars added to the mash.

In my view, what the people drawing the robust porter definition were getting at is that porter originally was all-malt and relied on dark malt for the distinctive palate.

Whereas modern Guinness uses a high proportion of unmalted grains, including roasted barley, with a correspondingly different palate. Guinness had considerable influence on craft thinking in the last 30-40 years, via in part the landmark writings of Michael Jackson.

It is reasonable that the 1991 competition inspired the now-abandoned BJCP usage and still-current commercial usages.

I’ve pointed to Foster’s book for the origin-explanation, and thus far no better one has emerged to my knowledge.

There is always a tension between historical and contemporary commercial realties. They meet somewhere in the middle; always did, always will. The robust term has a cool sound, and in time suggested variations to brewers such as a stronger beer.

Brown porter, in contrast, is an anodyne formulation, and has enjoyed less popularity, although one does see it occasionally on a beer label or blackboard listing of draft beers. It was getting at the (undoubted) fact that the earliest porters were brewed from all-brown malt, and hence lacked a strong burnt taste from highly roasted or black malt.

Some modern robust porters use both roasted barley and black or other dark malts, some are higher-alcohol, some are flavoured, and so on. Commercial life takes a shape of its own, as it should.

Finally, attendees of the 1991 competition – it was held in Manchester, New Hampshire – may have a paper in their basement on which that first definition was written. It might offer more insight on how the term emerged.

And god bless the domestic mixers of magic malt potions who present their brews for the delectation of the like-minded. Without them there would be no craft brewing industry today.


*Unless made at home where standards laws did not apply, but porter was pre-eminently an industrial phenomenon.




Chillin, Old-school. Part II.

The history of beer and the history of brewing technology are separate subjects, while clearly interrelated. In Part I we discussed that until at least the 1930s some newly-built breweries, both top- and bottom-fermenting, employed a double system of cooling the boiled wort.

(Wort is the sugar-rich extract of a barley-based mash. It is boiled with the aromatic and resinous hop, and then fermented with yeast to produce beer. The starch of the malted barleycorn must first be converted to fermentable sugar to permit production of alcohol, unlike the case, say, for wine fermentation. The sugar is ready-made in the grape envelope).

See the Comments where a brewing specialist usefully pointed out that a shallow surface cooler, apart from partially cooling wort, separates well the trub (or sludge) in wort. This is various lipids, proteins, hop debris, and other coagulants whose removal produces a clear wort, generally favoured for fermentation.

The question of sludge separation, the related cold and hot break removals, the reasons therefore and how it was and is done, is far from simple. This is why we have brewing schools and brewing technologies.

Here, I simply want to explain what the 1930s-era Malayan Breweries Ltd. in Singapore and Marine Brewery in Brussels had in mind, as well as older breweries using similar methods, when using the open cooler + heat exchanger.

A representative of the Singapore brewery told a reporter that open cooling, which used purified air in that case, had a beneficial impact on the beer.

Exactly the same thing was stated in 1930 by the great brewing engineer Dr. Leopold Nathan. Nathan was the Swiss-based designer of the cylindro-conical fermenter. Today this equipment is used all over the world in breweries of all scales.

He wrote that year in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing that surface coolers, used in the right conditions, produced an especially fine palate for lager. He explained this meant “volatile” substances in the wort detrimental to flavour, that resulted in an “onion” taste, were removed by the atmosphere.

See especially p. 539, bottom-left corner.

The beneficial effect was greatly assisted by cold, dry, snowy weather as the always-present risk of infection was minimized. He felt lager would not succeed in the U.K. using the traditional open cooler, as its climate was often foggy and humid. The volatiles would condense back into the wort due to these conditions.

His fermentation system had an enclosed tank that received and cooled hot wort over aluminium plates prior to fermentation in what is now called the “conical”. At the time, even for lager brewing his system, some 40 years in the making and now viewed as revolutionary, was just coming into use internationally.

Further, his system had a way to vent fermenting beer of these volatiles, by a scrubbing action of carbon dioxide – I discussed this in earlier writing.

While similar surface coolers were used in the U.K. and in 1870s Australia as noted, the problem of these volatiles was not quite the same. The infection risk remained, but the other was much less important.

The reason is the “onion” taste, a perceived defect in pale Continental beer discussed since the late 1800s, resulted mainly from dimethyl sulphide. DMS as it is known arises from use of very pale malts suitable for lager. His article noted that different materials were used in U.K. brewing, which implied that the problem was not acute there.

The malts used for ale and porter were kilned darker than for lager malt, with the result the volatiles of concern were produced in much lower concentrations. The onion taste did not appear.

Still, the infection risk remained for any form of beer produced, hence Dr. Nathan’s proprietary system that avoided the risks in question.

Traditionally, as Dr. Nathan alluded, long aging in large casks or tanks was employed to allow the objectionable volatiles to escape. Sometimes success was partial though. The use of krausen or newly-fermented beer to carbonate the old also potentially countered the beneficial effect of long aging.

Nathan’s system produced “clean” lager in much less time, with less risk of infection, than the old pan cooler-based and lengthy aging systems.

Even though Nathan fermentation was still quite new, period literature shows lager breweries had other alternatives to the double cooling system noted. These included deep hot wort receivers and various forms of filtration both before and after chilling in the heat exchanger, which itself was undergoing improvement notably by being enclosed.

While 1930s breweries had different options to chill and clear the wort, quality considerations for many still mandated use of the open cooler + heat exchanger (or refrigerator) system.



Chillin, Old-school. Part I.

From Sydney to Singapore

I have maybe two dozen posts on Australian brewing and beer culture in different periods. A subset dealt with beer and the Forces including the Brisbane Beer Riot.

In regard to Toohey’s of Sydney, now owned by Lion Group (a Kirin affiliate), I discussed its ale brewing just ahead of WW I and the looming lager revolution.

I uncovered a series of early (1880) taste notes on Australian ales, three Toohey’s beers figuring among the group. Read the assessments, which are mostly complimentary, here.

Let’s go back to an earlier period, 1874. This is when the Toohey brothers were working from their first, Darling Harbour brewery, before it relocated to larger premises.

Their process was described in a Sydney Morning Herald piece on March 4, 1874, part of a series on Sydney breweries.

The account is very detailed in some respects, particularly for steam powering, other technology, and capacities. The malt was, in this early period, all English, imported in bulk in large metal containers.

I suspect metal was used, as against jute sacks or other storage that allowed ingress of air, to minimize the impact of humidity on the malt.

There is no reference to hops in the article, which seems odd; perhaps the writer felt the subject was covered in his treatment of Tooth’s or other breweries in the city. I will try to find these.

Note the Burton Unions fermentation system, receiving the beer from 80-barrel fermentation vats (two for ale, one porter). Beer was then racked into different size barrels for trade or bottled, with cases resting in cellar until conditioned to result in a “creamy” state.



(Darling Harbour. c. 1900. Source: Wikipedia).

Something that caught my eye was a constant feature of many breweries, in Europe as well, until the mid-1900s. And that is, cooling the wort by using the traditional, open-pan cooler as well as the newer heat exchange apparatus.

Ultimately most breweries around the world dispensed with the open cooling stage, due to the risk of infection. Nonetheless use of open coolers, or coolships to many in craft brewing, has returned. This is partly due to their survival in a corner of Belgian artisanal brewing.

Whether or not the worts are left to culture spontaneously, it is thought exposure to air in cooling gives some indefinable quality to the beer, which may well be right.

Is this the reason Toohey’s used a combination of old and newer systems? Or would it have used all heat exchanging had it been able to technically?

The article suggests the latter in my view, when it mentions the refrigerators could not be made larger due to lagging pressure in the tubes.

It was probably a mid-1800s Baudelot system, see a filmed illustration in this Instagram clip. Later, heat exchangers were made more efficient, with shell and tube and other variations that minimized, as well, undue exposure to air.

Still, as late as the 1930s, we find open cooling combined with heat exchanging being installed in new breweries.

I mentioned one example on Twitter in the late 1930s after reading a period description of Brussels brewing posted by the Brussels-based beer writer Eoghan Walsh. It concerned the Marine (or Navy) Brewery.

Another example, also 1930s, was Malayan Breweries Ltd.’s new brewery in Singapore, built in 1932. I discuss the brewery at length in my new article, An Outline on Beer and Brewing in British Malaya: 1827-1957. Part I, in Brewery History just published.

Although every modern convenience was available to the planners – Heineken played a large role – they elected this combination of cooling the wort. We can doubt the retention of an open cooling stage was due to technical limitations.

I quote a news report that it was felt “air cooling had a subtle effect on the quality of the beer”. The Brussels brewery, also designed in the latest fashion, must have come to the same conclusion.

Whether it was that extra bit of aeration, or some other factor, must be left to brewing technologists to ponder. But from 1874 Sydney to late colonial Singapore, a straight line can be drawn.

There is good reason to think the beer benefited as a result. In the case of Toohey’s, it was perhaps a chance effect more than anything else. In the case of Malayan Breweries, it looks to have been a conscious choice.

Part II follows.

Note re images: source of image above is identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.







Breaking Bread

A bit late to the game but we’ve been baking bread the last couple of months, a half-dozen times anyway.

One recipe was from the LCBO magazine, the other from the New York Times, both no-knead. These and similar ones are easy to find. We are not opposed to kneading in any way, but lack any real skill in the process.

Our loaves came out pretty well. The results reminded me of a solid country loaf, or some sourdough. We used a mixture of white and brown flour, just the usual types in the supermarket. Robin Hood was one brand.

I found the bread got better with a few days in the hamper. It dried out a bit which made it lighter. Toasting it worked well, too.

I liked making our own partly because I could reduce the salt content. I find it too high in most commercial breads, even – maybe especially – artisan types.

We did do one kneaded bread, a challah loaf, which came out pretty well despite rudimentary skill at kneading. The braiding came out, well, serviceable, but practise is needed there, too.



While the proving overnight took time and preparation, once you got the hang of it the routine was quite pleasant, or not unpleasant.

With a few more tries I think we could get better at it, in sum.

Reaching a few years before the Internet age, well, 1885, a vibrant explanation of preparing dough was offered by Emma Ewing in The Chautauquan, see second column, p. 85.

She placed fermentative power first in importance for dough to reach its proper condition. She didn’t state not to knead, but seemed to imply it’s not necessary, while advising to stretch and pull dough if possible.



I wonder if bakers’ yeasts had greater vitality at the time compared to our dried commercial yeasts of today. In any case, albeit after the fact, I took comfort that a Gilded Age authority felt kneading was not essential.

There is, anyway, almost a literary merit to her explanation. Clearly she viewed dough as a kind of living thing to be held in high respect. Punch it with your fist and it comes right back at you, she said (more elegantly than my paraphrase).






Liebotschaner – of Genesee, of Liebotschan. Part III.

Data is available on Genesee’s pre-Prohibition Liebotschaner beer – the brewery has performed a service to historians by tweeting it in 2018. See details here.

As stated in the label the data derived from a Professor Lattimore’s study. He had been engaged in 1884 by a number of Rochester breweries to analyze their beers to parry the suggestion that improper additives were used.

A newspaper report that year in Geneva, New York set out the same information as set forth on the label, as well as data on three other breweries’ beers, as I discussed earlier.

What Genesee’s label adds is that its data applied to Liebotschaner, not another lager brewed by Genesee. The news accounts of the assays mention only lager, no brand names.

This is an extract from the Geneva story:



Genesee, and the others, used all-malt, no surprise given the early date and claimed inspiration of a reputed beer of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Genesee’s alcohol was over 5% ABV (volume, not weight as shown in the study). I suspect this was higher than Liebotschaner Brewery’s Lager-Bier sold domestically, but possibly similar to the Export version likely shipped overseas.

A Libotschan brewing, sent to the 1889 Paris Exposition, rated at what in volume terms is just over 4% abv. The table appears in other words to state alcohol by weight, although some resultant values seem anomalous.

The Pilsen beer in the table would translate to 4.2% abv, which seems about right if it was Urquell’s or anyone’s in fact. However, if the table shows values by volume, the Libotschan sample seems unusually weak, not necessarily for local sale but for export to America.

Sending Liebotschaner to exhibit among reputed brands attests to contemporary, international favour for the beer, albeit it never enjoyed the renown of Pilsen’s or Budweis’ beers.

In the 1884 Genesee analysis, look at the final gravity. 1015 FG, making for a beer with good body. 1015 or that neighborhood was typical then for many central European lagers, as I discussed earlier for assays performed on imports in America.

Many pils-type beers of craft brewing one encounters day-in, day-out could use more extract post-fermentation. The old school knew its knitting.

There is not too much about hops in the Genesee label, but other indices can help here. Genesee’s Liebotschaner was probably well-hopped, with a possible question mark for Anheuser-Busch’s version in 1889, described as “delicate”.

In 1892, an advertisement in New Haven, Connecticut touted Genesee Liebotschaner as made from “German hops” and “Canada malt”. The hops could have been Czech Saaz, given German culture permeated Libotschan at the time. Canadian malt, likely from the Bay of Quinte in Ontario, was considered a choice product of the time.

A similar 1894 ad shows a line drawing of Genesee Liebotschaner.

By the time Louis Wehle is an employed brewer at Genesee in the second decade of the 20th century, did the brewery use rice adjunct, or corn for its Liebotschaner? We know it used rice in 1935, under Louis’ stewardship as owner.

Louis in 1938 then reverts to all-malt – possibly what he brewed himself at Genesee before Prohibition. The all-malt initiative did not succeed though. By late 1939 Genesee goes back to adjunct, which it has retained ever since, apart special brewings at its Rochester Brew House.

Genesee, in the 2018 Twitter thread, stated it brewed an all-malt pilsener in the Brew House that probably resembled the 1884 beer, for its 140th anniversary. I would like to have have tasted that.

Was there anything else the 1884 Rochester beer featured that was distinctive of the Libotschan original? Maybe yeast type, maybe something else, short of reviewing a brewing record we cannot know.

Mashing regime, boiling, hop schedule, fermentation, water: any one or more might have been distinctive of Libotschan brewing, at the time, and adopted in America, at least by some brewers.


Even factoring what we don’t know, we have seen the arc in this series of a peculiarly American style of beer, yet one inspired by a European original, with both unjustly neglected (until now) by brewing studies.

Liebotschaner in America seems to have been a pale quencher, setting aside one dark version, a bock, and a cream ale, albeit all bottom-fermenting.

Further historical investigation, especially in Europe, may uncover the Libotschan “secret” that Genesee and other American breweries sought to emulate.

ln our world today, when many brewers are avid to recreate the styles of the past, Liebotschaner beer, both European parent and American progeny, deserve a respectful attention.




Liebotschaner – of Genesee, of Liebotschan. Part II.

Liebotschaner Cream Ale

We saw in Part I that Johann Munzer’s industrial-scale brewery in Libotschan, north-western Bohemia, sent a brew to America in the late 1800s. It became a type in American brewing, Liebotschaner.

Both light and dark beers were likely made by Munzer. I identified Export, Lager, Schank, and Doppel beers, at least.

American Liebotschaner seems mostly to have been a pale, mild-flavoured pilsner beer. In the 1960s Stegmaier Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, PA issued both dark and light versions under its Select label, but this dark, and the bock apparently issued, may be an outlier.

In 1974 the local rival The Lion, Inc., established in 1906 as Luzerne Brewery, bought out Stegmaier. The Lion still roars, indeed like Genesee, it is an amazing regional survival beer writers might pay more attention to.

Anheuser-Busch described its Liebotschaner in 1889 as a very pale, “delicate” brew, that nonetheless used Saaz hops, the famed aromatic product of Libotschan’s region.

Libotschan’s beer had to differ in some way from the Saaz-perfumed beers of Pilsen, Budweis, and Michelob. Then as now not all pale lager of Bohemia tasted the same. Something about exported Liebotschaner got the attention of numerous American breweries, that is clear, and the name survived at Genesee into the 1930s.

Genesee Beer today, a notably light, some might say inoffensive brew, gains fuller context in this light. Because, while not bearing the name today, it has a Liebotschaner heritage, as we have seen.

The last beer of note to bear the Liebotschaner name, indeed a GABF medal winner of the mid-1990s, was Liebotschaner Cream Ale, brewed by The Lion, Inc.

After acquiring the Liebotschaner trademark from Stegmaier, The Lion used it to brand a Cream Ale and also a bock beer, according to James Robertson’s (1982) The Connoisseur’s Guide to Beer.

At present the cream ale is not being brewed, but these things have a way of coming back. In 2008 beer writer Lew Bryson covered a re-launch of Liebotschaner cream ale. No doubt it will repeat, at some point.

(Label source: Lew’s post).



Now, some might hesitate when seeing the Liebotschaner name on an ale label, even a hybrid type such as cream ale. An ignominious or at least anti-climactic end to a notable heritage, some might say.

In its heyday Liebotschaner was always a lager, presumably as well in Libotschan. (Might its schank beer have been top-fermented? Possibly, but the export beers were certainly lagers).

Given the long period Liebotschaner has been naturalized in America, did insouciance, or the arrogance of marketing, cause an anomaly? Not at all.

Because, Liebotschaner Cream Ale was in fact a lager. BeerMenus states in part:

… [Liebotschaner Cream Ale] is brewed with lager yeast at higher than usual temperature to give it a creamy ale like taste with a malty aroma. Lieb utilizes two varieties of pale malt and three varieties of hops, including imported Czech Saaz and American grown Mt. Hood and Galena hops. Delivers a pale straw color and a light crisp body …

Two pale malts were used, and Saaz hops, just as Anheuser-Busch used for its Liebotschaner 100 years earlier. Tradition. The Lion didn’t forget, methinks. Breweries often know more than outsiders think, then or now.

In a 1997 proxy statement issued when the brewery became publicly listed, The Lion described its Cream Ale much as BeerMenus did.

Did an ale-like character actually result from higher-temperature fermentation? Maybe, but using a lager yeast meant the beer was a lager. California steam beer remains a lager even though fermented at close to the range for ale.

For his part, beer writer James Robertson felt Liebotschaner Cream Ale was pilsner-like. He wrote:

… pale color, very malty aroma,  … not really an ale on the palate, more like a pilsener.., but quite good, thirst quenching and slides down easily.

Robertson did not travel to the breweries he reviewed, not for his first book, certainly. His impression relied, we can be quite sure, on palate alone.

That it jibed perfectly with, not just how The Lion’s cream ale was made, but with history, is a matter of satisfaction, to the beer historian at any rate.

I’m quite sure I sampled Liebotschaner Cream Ale back in the day, although a taste memory eludes.

This series concludes with Part III.