A Case of Champlain

Mega Merger Gives Rise to Champlain Brewery

In my writing on the history of Quebec brewing, I highlighted a 1909 merger of breweries in the Province. All joined the resultant National Breweries Ltd. (NBL), except Molson Brewery in Montreal and the small Silver Springs Brewery in Sherbrooke, QC.

Proteau & Carignan, a small Quebec City brewery, joined the merger. An ex-employee, Alfred-Pierre Robitaille, decided to establish his own brewery, in 1911. See details from the Quebec Historical Society. My searches suggest M. Robitaille was an accountant not a brewer, but it’s not fully clear.

His Champlain Brewery, named for the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, remained independent until 1948. In that year NBL bought its shares, as I described in this post.

Larger Context of the 1948 Sale

37 years of independence seems pretty good, comparable to modern craft breweries bought out after a generation’s run. But in Quebec, such events had – still do – significance beyond the purely commercial.

And it relates to language and culture. Brewing, even in the historical capital of Quebec City, had been Anglophone-dominated since the British Conquest. But spirited Francophone firms did make periodic attempts to crack the market. Proteau & Carignan was one, established in 1891 in Quebec City.

Frontenac Brewery, established in 1912 in Montreal was another. Champlain Brewery a third.

Yet a fourth, Imperial Breweries Ltd, was incorporated in 1907 as a cooperative managed by French speakers, in Montreal again.

All ended being absorbed by NBL. Its senior management was dominated by Anglophones who formerly had run the Dawes, Dow, Ekers, and Boswell breweries, the main components of the merger.

The NBL in-house magazine of the 1940s was bilingual, as I discussed earlier. Clearly two languages were used at work. But the business was not owned and run by French-speakers, who formed about 80% of the Province-wide population.

French-speaking business in many sectors couldn’t get a foothold, or not a permanent one. Frontenac was absorbed in 1925, just 13 years after being formed. Imperial Breweries was taken into NBL after only two years of operation.

Why Francophone breweries couldn’t keep pace with NBL is beyond my examination here. It would make an interesting study in some branch of the social sciences or economics. They had the advantage of appealing to national sentiment. Imperial Breweries did, as I explained in earlier accounts here.

So did Champlain. Frontenac seems to have been more nuanced, but even there the sub-text could not be ignored. French speakers there made a product popular among the population; it only made sense their compatriots would buy the beers.

Not enough did, it seems, but there may be more to it than that. A range of technological, economic, and market questions need careful study.

I’ll cite one example where Champlain made a clear attempt to appeal to nationalist sentiment, in the 1930s.

La Madelon Beer; a Famous Tune

In 1935 Champlain launched a new brand, La Madelon. This was clearly an ale, British in pedigree, not a “Continental” lager such as Frontenac was making. Surviving labels for Madelon state “ale” next to bière. The charming label below illustrates this (via Thomas Fisher Rare Book Collection on Flickr).



In 1936 the brewery listed its current range and made a frank appeal for French-Canadian support. From Le Soleil of June 30, 1936 (via Quebec Government Archives):



“French-Canadians: If we helped each other in all aspects of life, so much stronger would we be!”.

Clearly La Madelon, with its French name, was intended to support the nationalist appeal. The brand was named for a patriotic French song of WW I, also called Quand Madelon. The stirring tune endured in popular memory, remaining a rallying point into the Second World War.

The song was popular in Britain and the U.S. as well, with many recordings in English. A recent version, included in an informative blog entry at The University of Melbourne, is affecting.

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

Emotive Features of the Madelon Brand

It is noteworthy that Champlain selected the Madelon name and image. On the one hand, the allusion was French, not British as such despite the two flags on some labels (a version of the Union Jack, the Red Ensign, served as Canada’s flag too, at the time).

This precluded the charge of over-sympathy with the British-inspired war effort, always a sensitive point for French Canada. (This derived from being defeated by the British on the Plains of Abraham in 1759).

On the other hand, the name commemorated the Allied victory, something most citizens, Anglophones too of course, could gather round. Why alienate that part of the Quebec drinking public? Many French Quebeckers fought in the war, in any case – need I mention the Van Doos?

The depiction of rustic-looking Madelon also had to remind French Quebeckers of a less urbanized, more old-fashioned French Canada, one modern life was quickly effacing.

In sum, the right notes were struck. Still, the brand seems to have languished. It was not included as a keynote brand in the 1940s annual reports I mentioned.

Mid-1930s Beer Range of Champlain

The range in the 1936 ad is interesting to analyze. The first beer, the Special, was an old-line India Pale Ale. This is made clear in 1940s company reports, which I discussed here.

This Thomas Fischer item shows that Special meant the IPA, as well. The third beer, Champlain XXX, was likely the regular gravity porter. The “Real Stout”, termed “Porter anglais” vs. porter alone for the XXX, was probably higher gravity.

Real Stout may have been all-malt or without licorice – something in other words more strictly English in character.

(I recall the descendant of Champlain Porter in the 70s and 80s being sweet and with a licorice tang).

The Madelon was perhaps a lower gravity, filtered version of the Special India Pale Ale. In the 1920s Champlain marketed two IPAs, one subtitled Export as this advert shows.

The Export was perhaps filtered and “sparkling”, à la Molson Export Ale introduced before WW I. Maybe La Madelon was simply the Export IPA rebadged.

Endgame for Champlain and Similar Breweries

In the end, NBL scooped the Francophone businesses – for a time. By 1952 it was gobbled up by a bigger fish, Edward 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, assuming at least a free market.

True, the Francophone breweries had a seeming advantage of shared national identity with the market. But whatever business was extracted thereby wasn’t enough, or other factors were determinative.

Canadian Breweries Ltd. and Anti-trust

The buy-out of NBL and closure (1951-1952) of Champlain Brewery (Boswell Brewery in Quebec continued, it became Dow Brewery)  probably contributed to a subsequent, federal anti-trust investigation of Canadian Breweries Ltd.

A March 1951 item in Le Soleil stated a union delegate had requested the support of his Trades Federation to cause the government to inquire into whether a monopoly in brewing now existed.

The NBL deal followed many acquisitions and closures of regional breweries in Canada by Canadian Breweries Ltd. The Quebec example was similar to the others in economic impact – rationalization of plants and trimming of brands.

Economic consolidation though had an added dimension in Quebec, where the Francophone breweries’ distinctive character was lost initially to NBL, then to Canadian Breweries Ltd.

Charges were finally laid against Canadian Breweries Ltd. for violating Canada’s Combines Investigation Act. The company was acquitted though, mainly because it was found provincial regulation of beer markets necessarily excluded a normal competitive market.*

A Hockey Connection?

Howie Morenz was the great star of the Montreal Canadians hockey team in the 1930s. He had a connection to a Montreal restaurant called Madelon, which specialized in French cuisine. In a website collecting his memorabilia a restaurant card features his name.

Whether Champlain Brewery was connected I cannot say. The time period seems right, and the links between big brewing and hockey are well-known.

Yet the Madelon name was widely used by different establishments at the time, so it may be a coincidence. Indeed a brewery in France had the name.**

Morenz died tragically young after a bad check on the ice. When I grew up in Montreal he was still legend.

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.


* For more detail see this study by the Toronto lawyers Tim Kennish and Janet Bolton.

**I believe it exists today, in the Vosges, after revival some years ago.










A Beery Thespians’ Regale

Early Beer Cuisine, “Mixed ale”

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



The Cliff remained a lodestone of the local social scene for much its lifetime but forever disappeared in a 1974 conflagration.

In 1900, the trade journal Hotel Monthly printed a menu served to a “company of actors”. Beer figured not a little – it is mentioned in the menu three times. Beer dinners before the 1980s were unusual in American gastronomy.



They still play a minor role, associated with the craft beer revival. Nonetheless beer dinners, or informal meals built around beer service, did exist in previous generations. I have described a number of them. They included a German-American dinner served in 1898 at the Pabst Estate outside Milwaukee, and Virginia Elliott’s menus of informal dining published early post-Repeal.

This menu for actors is interesting because it was a set affair, probably a luncheon or post-performance supper. No detail is given on the group, who must have performed in a local playhouse or perhaps the hotel.

Scituate is old, seaside New England, of which North Scituate is an extension. Scituate was settled by emigrants from Kent in the early 1600s. Today it functions as a suburban idyll, one that ramps up in summer for the “season”.

A town historical site offers good background.

The menu started with Manhattans, a cocktail already established in the Northeast as a pre-meal bracer. Some Europeans worried – still do – that strong drink ruins the food and wine to come.

Americans were insouciant – still are.

The next drink was “mixed ale”. Mixed ale, on the Beer et Seq radar for some time, had special significance between the 1880s and about 1910. It meant some combination of beer leavings, hence none too refined. Saloons specialized in it, sometimes adding camphor, grain alcohol, and other suspect ingredients.

At the bottom end of this trade the mixtures could induce a clattering or worse in the drinkers. The end was often criminality, judging from period press reports.

The term became a cipher for low living, for something disreputable or tawdry. A fighter past his prime might be called a mixed ale pugilist.

The theatre scene can have its raffish side, so the association with acting is not surprising. At least one burlesque was called Mixed Ale. Billy Golden, a vaudevillian of the period, had a song called Mixed Ale, a strange yodelling tune.

In an early social investigation The Sun in New York in 1894 inquired into mixed ale, you may read it hereIt noted:


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 Sun explained, in a way the beer historian understands completely, that mixed ale originally was a worthy drink: simply new ale and old combined, but became something different, a cheap simulacrum.

Mixed ale in a high-end hotel would not have been the degraded form. It was likely lager and ale mixed (one form of American musty ale as I have written elsewhere), or a proprietary bottling from a reputed Massachusetts brewer.

Appearance on the menu was an in-joke, no doubt pleasing to the actors being served. Just as hippies of the 1960s neutralized the charge of “freak” by assuming it as honorific (“Gonna wave my freak flag high”, sang Jimi Hendrix), these patrons didn’t mind being typed a mixed ale troupe.

The festivity’ s respectable nature was emphasized by the second beer served, King’s Bohemian lager, from a Mass. brewery.

At Worthpoint is an actual pre-Prohibition bottle of King’s, probably the same as the actors drank. In that period, the brewery was called Continental Brewing Co.

(The same plant marketed a King’s malt tonic during Prohibition. It appears a King’s Bohemian Beer returned in 1933, but not for long sadly).

If two courses 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 the food, there was broiled lobster, much associated with beer in the Gilded Era. And tomato salad – tomato was just starting its career as a fresh vegetable on menus, not cooked to disguise its once-suspect origins.

Also, three sandwiches, of plain ingredients but surely toothsome in the all-organic, market days. To end, cheesed crackers, and fruit.

Poised, lovely provender for a beer-fuelled affair. Not too heavy, to allow room for the semi-food, beer.

The Cliff’s steward, L.F. Brundage, was an old hotel man, see p. 14 in the same volume of Hotel Monthly. He knew his trade, which included knowing his customers.

Mixed ale, by his plan clearly, was set dressing in the Cliff’s dining room that night, a playhouse different from the actors’ usual sort. Most 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.



Confectionately Yours

Pastry Stout Avant la Lettre

Dear Readers:

Guinness Brewery had a brilliant ad poster in the 1950s, co-signed with a butterscotch-making subsidiary. The headline: Confectionately Yours.

Alamy has a sample up for sale, see here. (It takes a second or two to load).

The sweets maker was an old London firm, Callard & Bowser. Guinness acquired it in 1951, divesting finally in 1982. The Let’s Look Again site has a good capsule history.

One may be pardoned for thinking Guinness was ahead of its time, given the current fashion for pastry stout. (Bemused readers should read Kate Bernot for the lowdown).

In truth though the Guinness ad took pains to separate while still likening stout and sweets, in a dazzling Lewis Carroll pastiche.

Guinness did not think evidently of combining the two for a new product. Had it done so and named it Confectionately Yours, it might be the grandfather of all pastry stout, who knows.

What remains clear is, such advertising, next to today’s, is like comparing a Rolls Royce to a push wagon.

Expressionately 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 Kiddens’ survey of Guinness’ c.1950 marketing. Kidden includes 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, going back to 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 offered in New York. This 1934 ad for Burke ale touts its “winter ale” qualities, suggesting a robust beer of the stock type.

A 1938 ad in the Advocate depicted a tall bottle of Burke stout with an “old sod” look, promising a traditional, “dry” flavour.

In 1949, Guinness owned the Burke brewery. It had started brewing Guinness-branded stout there, having ceased 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 Guinness locally?

Inferentially, 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 placed emphasis on the Irish origins.

The message to the intended market seemed clear: 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 book “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-owned, later Guinness-Burke, warehouses, and wholesaling through the New York area.

But DDI had also agreed to represent Beamish, for its push mentioned. It argued some of its customers wanted an all-Irish stout. Guinness, trying to protect its domestic business, understandably didn’t want that competition. It terminated DDI’s distribution rights for its 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 occurred, with a dual Guinness supply again in the market, Guinness’ market profile was again muddied. For his part, David Hughes attributed the failure of Guinness’s brewery in Long Island to the beer brewed: too strong and sweet, although it made adjustments in the early 1950s.

In the mid-1950s, Beamish and Guinness are duking it out in New York for a small, mostly ethnic market. An interesting news item in the Advocate listed a series of Irish products the Irish Export Board was promoting in New York in that period.

Both stouts were featured, also food and other items. A marmalade maker, Lamb’s, featured two sorts, one a special old kind made with coarse-cut peel aged for seven months to lend a “winey” flavour. (Sounds good).

By the early 1960s, Guinness buys out DDI. But that was years after closing the Long Island brewery. Would Guinness have succeeded with domestically-made stout if Beamish hadn’t made a determined pitch for the American market, and but for the lawsuit by DDI? Or was the product just “wrong”, as Hughes has argued?

Guinness in recent years re-established a brewery in America, near Baltimore. It produces lager but not the classic Guinness stouts.** The earlier experience was probably telling in this regard, although we are 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.

This continues from our Part II.

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

The data on the Genesee label was derived, as shown on the label, 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 improper additives were used.

A newspaper report of that year in Geneva, NY contained the same information, as well as data on three other breweries’ beers, as I discussed in 2016 in an earlier post.

What the Genesee label adds though is that the data applied to Liebotschaner, not another lager brewed by Genesee. The news story accounts of the assay 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 is over 5% ABV (volume, not by weight as shown in the study). I suspect this was higher than Liebotschaner Brewery’s Lager-Bier (sold domestically) but possibly the same as the Export presumably shipped overseas.

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

The Pilsen beer 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 beer to exhibit among reputed brands attests to international favour for the beer, albeit never enjoying the renown of Pilsen 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 in that time for many central European lagers, as I’ve shown earlier from assays performed on imports in America.

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

Not too much about hops, but other indices of the time can help there. Genesee Liebotschaner was possibly fairly well-hopped, with a question mark as Anheuser-Busch in 1889 described its version as “delicate”.

In 1892 an advertisement in New Haven, CN touted Genesee Liebotschaner as made from “German hops” and “Canada malt”.  The hops could have been Saaz, given German culture permeated Libotschan at the time. Canadian malt, from the Bay of Quinte area 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? We know it used rice in 1935, under Louis’ stewardship as owner.

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

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

Was there anything else in the 1884 Rochester beer distinctive of the Libotschan original? This is hard to say at this juncture. Maybe the yeast type, maybe something else.

Mashing regime, boiling, hop schedule, fermentation, water: any one or more might have had a distinctive feature associated with Libotschan brewing at the time.




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.

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.

In 1974 its local rival The Lion, Inc., established in 1906 as Luzerne Brewery, bought out Stegmaier. The Lion still roars. 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 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.

Genesee Beer today, a notably light, some might say inoffensive brew, gains fuller context in this light. Because, 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.

It seems at present the cream ale is not being brewed, but these things have a way of coming back. Indeed 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 at 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 exported beers were certainly lagers).

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

Why? 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 did for its Liebotschaner 100 years earlier. Tradition. The Lion didn’t forget. Breweries often know more than outsiders think, then or now.

In a 1997 proxy statement issued when the brewery was 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 a lager yeast meant the beer was a lager. California steam beer remains a lager even though fermented at near the range for ale.

For his part, Jim 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 anyway. His impression relied, we can be quite sure, on his 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 is elusive.

I’ll have to be satisfied with my research, as I hope you are.

For Part III of my study, see here.