Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part IV.

The 1938 Beer Tasting, Cont’d.

I discussed Classes V and VI in Part III. The remaining Classes for the beer tasting are set out, and discussed below.



The Big California Guns

In the California section, we see names that proved solid sellers through the Thirties and beyond including Aztec, Rainier, Los Angeles Brewing, and Maier. A full discussion of their history and brands, or for other breweries in the program, is beyond my scope here.

However, a good way to appreciate the relative position is this chart from The American Brewer in 1939 (via Hagley Digital Archives):



Remarks on Selected Breweries

A Tavern Trove page confirms Regal Brewery in San Francisco, which had pre-Prohibition roots, endured until 1960. A YouTube clip features a late-era, of-its-time commercial, a last gasp.

I discussed Golden Glow, of the Golden West Brewery, in this post, an interesting case of a pre-Prohibition steam beer brewery that shed its carapace for a stylish light lager future.

The famed Czech Pilsner Urquell was available on draft (and bottle) in California in the 1930s, an impressive export achievement. Pilsner Urquell had an unconquerable reputation in American beer circles then, one that largely endures to this day.

Indeed that was largely an international phenomenon, as I documented recently for Polish brewing ca. 1900. The author and critic Henry L. Mencken rendered a supercharged tribute to Urquell in his 1920s Book of Preferences (“stupendously grateful to the palate”).

The condition of draft Pilsner Urquell so far from home is impossible to know at this stage, but one hopes it delivered something close to the authentic experience of rich malt and flowery Saaz hops.

The price differential mentioned earlier – Urquell was four times more expensive than standard California lager – was down, first, to the inherent quality. Second, the long shipping distance. Third, a customs duty of $1.00/gal., quite heavy, and last, a $500 license charge on firms importing beer to California.

The links are to contemporary press stories that confirm these burdens.

Stylistic Variety

Most California beers at the tasting were blonde lagers but Los Angeles Brewing also featured an ale. A 1930s Eastside ale label can be seen in this collector’s webpage.

The typical American ale of that period was a lager-like brew, made to please the palate of a nation that had taken to heart the light, international style of pilsner.

Perhaps the neither fish nor fowl nature of these brews condemned them to relative insignificance, except in pockets where ale still enjoyed its historic reputation. These were mainly on the East Coast.

Rainier had a hearty ale though, and would for decades after WW II. It had something of a connoisseur image, in fact. Those who appreciated, say, Bass Ale from Britain, available at the Wallace gala, might buy Rainier Ale as a local version.

Draft Rainier was at the 1938 event but not the ale, it seems. A late postwar incarnation of Rainier ale may be seen in “bomber” form in this link, devoted to the “malt liquor” style.

While a Rainier Beer is still sold – Pabst owns the label – no Rainier-branded ale is currently brewed, to my knowledge.

Humboldt Brewery, Eureka

Reader Arnold Moodenbaugh, in a comment yesterday to Part III, noted (see his source) that in 1933-1934 sizeable Los Angeles Brewing, which made Eastside Beer, was “aka” Humboldt Brewery.

I had noted that Humboldt’s Brown Derby beer, seemingly of high repute, was absent from the 1938 tasting, and discussion ensued why that might be.

Eureka is a small town well north even of the Bay Area albeit a port city, hence with shipping facilities.

An excerpt of a 1915 history of Humboldt County, via Online Biographies, shows that the same family owned both breweries, the Zobeleins.

A story on June 24, 1933 in the Blue Lake Advocate indicates Humboldt signed an agreement with Safeway and affiliated stores to supply 75,000 bbl of beer annually.

Clearly supply from Eureka was not a problem once the brewery was up and running, but as the press item noted, the plant had to be upgraded for the commitment. A June 16, 1933 story in the Oakland Tribune forecast first delivery on August 1 that year.

In 2011 in KCET, a content channel of Public Media Group of Southern California, Nathan Masters sketched history of both Los Angeles Brewing and its rival Maier Brewing. He stated the former had beer ready on April 7, 1933, when 3.2% abw beer was newly legalized.

Even if Humboldt’s projected August 1 delivery date was met there was a gap before it could supply its important new customer, Safeway. This likely explains why Los Angeles Brewery assumed the persona of Humboldt in 1933-1934, to make Brown Derby for Safeway until its affiliate was fully operational.

The connection between the two breweries is at any rate clearer, although still one wonders why Brown Derby was not at the tasting. Maybe Safeway demurred, not wanting to see a beer for which it planned wide distribution possibly not show well in the Society’s ratings.

And as we saw, Humboldt/Safeway had publicized its own taste test three years earlier, but those tasters were oldsters with evident old-school leanings. A modern audience might not appreciate full-flavoured, Czech-type beer as much.

To his credit, Frank Vitale, who directed the tasting, set Acme beer against the main competition, despite that is his close association with Acme via Bohemian Distributing Company. It would be interesting to see a tabulation of the voting results, but this does not survive, I believe.

Final Thoughts

The 1938 tasting reflected its time in that blonde lager represented the great majority of beers tabled. Still, we must remember that in that period, breweries had greater individuality than was evident by the 1970s, when consolidation and big business had rendered most American beer similarly pale in colour, and bland in taste.*

In the Thirties, East Side Beer likely tasted different to Lucky Lager, say, and both were likely quite different to a premium lager such as Michelob or Miller High Life.

On top of that, a few ales and stouts were tabled, and at least one dark lager, Rio Grande Bavarian. Images of the latter appear in Keith Kerschner’s article on Albuquerque Brewery (webpage of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America).

The additional label detail makes it evident this was a rich old-time Bavarian beer, possibly a bock.

The Ballantine beer listed in Class V almost certainly was an ale, possibly the famous – in advised circles – Ballantine India Pale Ale.

Taking all with all, the 1938 tasting was a daring, full-scale attempt to understand the palate of contemporary domestic and imported beer. It preceded similar forays by the New York branch of the Society by four or five years, to my knowledge.

I doubt any consumer tasting group held such a comprehensive exercise earlier. Nor did the Los Angeles epicureans give up on beer after the Wallace tasting. They would visit the subject regularly, in different ways, for the next twenty years.

We will see the proof, in time.

Part V follows.

Note re copyright: menu extract is copyright of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, reproduced with its kind permission. No further reproduction or use is authorized without its prior written consent. Source of second image is identified and linked in text, with all intellectual property therein belonging solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes, all feedback welcomed.


*Of course the craft revival since the late 1970s has returned a high degree of choice and taste variety to the market, rather akin in fact to the late 1800s.













Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part III.

1938 Beer Tasting and Pit Barbecue

The Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles, today called the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, held its first event in 1935 at a luxury French restaurant in Beverly Hills, the Victor Hugo. The group had a well-established program of dinners and tastings by late 1938.

Dr. Marcus Crahan, in his 1957 compilation The Wine and Food Society of Southern California: A History, etc. (via HathiTrust), described these formative years. He mentioned the 1938 beer tasting briefly, stating the classes of beers served but not individual names or details of a meal.

The full menu, a copy of which George Ronay of the Society has generously shared with me, lists each beer in the five classes – 40 in all. It also describes the scoring system used, and the banquet.

The event was held at Walter J. Wallace’s estate in the Alhambra section of Los Angeles. Alhambra’s origins are described in this Wikipedia entry:

The original inhabitants of the land where Alhambra now sits are the Tongva.

The San Gabriel Mission was founded nearby on September 8, 1771, as part of the Spanish conquest and occupation of Alta California. The land that would later become Alhambra was part of a 300,000 acre land grant given to Manuel Nieto, a soldier from the Los Angeles Presidio. In 1820 Mexico won its independence from the Spanish crown and lands once ruled by them became part of the Mexican Republic. These lands then transferred into the hands of the United States following the defeat in the Mexican–American War. A wealthy developer, Benjamin Davis Wilson, married Ramona Yorba, daughter of Bernardo Yorba, who owned the land which would become Alhambra.

The event was called “A Tasting of Domestic and Imported Beers Together with an Old-Time Spanish-California Pit Barbecue”. The tasting was “under the personal direction of Mr. Frank J. Vitale” with “Barbecue by Mr. Don Adams”.




From the number of beers served, and considering nature of a traditional California barbecue, it seems likely the event attracted, with members’ guests, a couple of hundred attendees or more.

The event was more informal or “down-home” in style than the group’s typical sorties, usually held at upmarket restaurants or private clubs, although as the ambit of its activities widened so did the venues.

While the group was clearly comprised to a good degree by a well-off Southern California coterie, Dr. Crahan in the book made clear its primary purpose:

.. . [we are not] mere monied socialites who … banded together in fashionable snobbery; [our] hard core was a nucleus of high-minded, temperate advocates of haute cuisine as the highest expression of civilization and culture … united to learn and and in turn to teach a better way of life.*

Hence, the members at the Wallace estate were there, not just to socialize with the aid of pleasant comestibles, but to taste and rate. It was not just a beer and barbecue night, in other words.

In fact likely there were two stages to the event, a tasting proper then the eating, albeit few probably got through all the beers. The Society was a student of food, wine, and occasionally other drinks, and beer was now in the syllabus.

The Beer Rating Method

It ran this way:

Members and guests are requested to rate beers on this sheet and leave it, when completed, with the Secretary or the Steward. Beers should be rated in their classes and not as against beers in other classes. It will be remembered that 0 is “Bad”; 25 is “Fair”; 50 is “Good”; 75 is “excellent”; and 100 is “Superb”. You need not sign this!

The six classes were, Class I California Beers on Draught, Class II Other Domestic Beers on Draught, Class III Imported Beers on Draught, Class IV California Beers in Package, Class V Other Domestic Beers, Ales and Stouts in Package, and Class VI Imported Beers, Ales and Stouts.



Most beers in any class were blonde, pilsener-style but some classes had both ale and stout, or ale and lager. The term beer in the listings meant blonde pilsener type usually, but there was the odd Munich (dark) style, Rio Grande Bavarian, say.

It seems price was the main determinant for the classifications.

Therefore, the rating method is quite different to those used today certainly by professional judging organizations.

Nonetheless it has an appealing simplicity and a certain logic. Class II was draft Budweiser, Michelob, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Schlitz. These were “Eastern” beers in the California terminology of the day, moreover of premium class, hence of a type even though Michelob was all-barley malt and the others were not.

(Today, we would consider an all-malt beer different in class to a so-called “adjunct” beer that uses corn, rice or another adjunct to the base barley malt).

Treating draft beers together made sense in that all American draft beer then was unpasteurized, while almost all bottled or canned beer was pasteurized. Draft might be expected to differ in taste from bottled/canned for that reason alone.

“Imported” with its price range was considered enough of a unifier to rate together, say, Bass Ale and Heineken.

Anyway that’s how they did it, and at day’s end, and considering the time, not inapposite, considering too the audience was an enthusiastic but general one.

Beer Tutor

This is where Frank Vitale came in. He was a member of the Society’s Wine Committee and a co-principal of Bohemian Distributing Company, which carried a wide range of beers, wine, and liquors. It evolved out of a grocery store founded by J.S. Foto in the early 1920s. Vitale became his long-time business partner in Bohemian Distributing.

Bohemian was associated closely with Acme Brewery, in particular the Los Angeles plant which was built in 1935. For a good history of Acme, see this page in the Brewery Gems site.

As the tasting was under Vitale’s personal direction, one can assume he instructed the members on beer fundamentals and finer points, a subject he evidently knew well.

Before speaking further on the beer, a word on the food.

The Food

The dinner was described with engaging simplicity as:

Beef – Beans – Bread And What-Not

One should not think some random Southern or Southwestern barbecue type was chosen, paired with any old beans. An “Old-Time Spanish-California Pit Barbecue” meant something quite specific, and still does although the genre, by which I mean the original pit method, is rare on the ground today.

As the term “pit” indicated, the cooking followed the deep pit method used for centuries in the Southwest, derived from Indigenous cultures. It evolved over time including the use of large cuts of cattle raised on Spanish, later Mexican, finally California ranches, seasoned to European taste.

A variant emerged known as Santa Maria-style, which today is the commonly understood California barbecue style. However, the California pit method that preceded it differed in many respects. A Wikipedia essay neatly explains the arc:

Santa Maria-style barbecue originated in the mid-19th century when local ranchers hosted Spanish-style feasts each spring for their vaqueros. They barbecued meat over earthen pits filled with hot coals of local coast live oak. The meal was served with pinquitos, small pink beans that are considered indigenous to the Santa Maria Valley.[4]

According to local barbecue historian R. H. Tesene, “The Santa Maria Barbecue grew out of this tradition and achieved its ‘style’ when local residents began to string cuts of beef on skewers or rods and cook the meat over the hot coals of a red oak fire.” …. [5]

The original cut was top sirloin. Then, as today, the meat was rolled in a mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic salt before being barbecued over the red oak coals, which contribute a smoky, hearty flavor.

In the 1950s, a local butcher named Bob Schutz (Santa Maria Market) perfected the tri-tip, a triangular bottom sirloin cut that quickly joined top sirloin as a staple of Santa Maria-style barbecue.[5]


The original pit method involved building a fire of coast oak in a deep pit using hundreds of pounds of wood. As recreated in 2007 by the Culinary Historians of Southern California, the meat, marinated top round and clods of shoulder, was wrapped in cotton and burlap. These were placed on the superheated embers. The pit was then covered with earth, and the meat left to cook and soften overnight, an ancient method in use long before Europeans arrived.

A webpage of the Culinary Historians of Southern California describes the recreation. The embedded blogpost of “Professor Salt”, essential reading to understand what was done, includes images of the apparatus used and cooked result, with a taste report.

The group was aided by its president, Charles Perry, an internationally known food historian. The blogpost stated in part:

The Culinary Historians of Southern California recently threw a picnic for their members at the Palomares Adobe in Pomona that recreated the mostly lost art of earth pit cooking. Californios brought this technique from northern Mexico, where it is still practiced today, but in America, it’s a rarity to see people cooking this way. Charles Perry, the Historians’ President and an LA Times food writer, invited me to help tend the fire the night before the picnic.

The barbecue for the Wallace evening would have been similar to the 2007 recreation. The beans at the Wallace event almost certainly were the pinquito variety, a type native to California. It is a cross between a pink and the common white bean. It is commonly used for a side-dish at barbecue and other meals.

Pinquito beans are prepared in a wide variety of styles, some involving chiles but not all. The Wallace night may have presented any one or more of these styles. Tomato, vinegar, herbs, sugar, and more can figure.

The “whatnot” was probably salad, desserts, and a few other fixings. But as the laconic description makes clear, beef, beans, beer, and bread were the main event.

A Western “Beefsteak”

The Wallace pit barbecue reminds me in format of the Eastern “Beefsteak” tradition I reviewed in an earlier series, see e.g. here. That communal meal involved mainly beef, beer, and bread, although the cuts of beef and cooking method were quite different to California pit barbecue.

There is some irony here as the Society held a Beefsteak Dinner so termed, in Laurel Canyon in 1939. A toothsome dinner that was, but the Wallace barbecue more resembled an actual American “Beefsteak”, California style to be sure.

Beers Tasted and Omitted

In the next post I will discuss some of the beers tasted, but a word here on some California beers not included. There was no steam beer, one of America’s few indigenous beer styles and a California original.

I discussed steam beer in-depth in my Steaming Into the Thirties series. Suffice here to say by the 1930s the style had much withered in California, its birthplace, in favour of the ubiquitous pale lager.

By 1938, my research suggested that only tiny Anchor Brewery in San Francisco was left among steam beer producers. It made, at the time, only draft beer.

Steam beer then was “live” in the keg with residual yeast, and may have been felt too unstable to ship down south.

In the mid-1930s, California counted over 30 breweries. This tasting, encompassing as it did other American beers and imports, could not in any case cover all the Californian brewers. Still, nine or 10 of the latter made an appearance, not a bad showing.

One California beer with an excellent reputation absent from the event was Brown Derby Beer, distributed by Safeway stores. As confirmed by a Tavern Trove webpage, the beer was made by a small brewery in Eureka, Humboldt Malt and Brewing Co.

A charming ad in 1935 in the San Pedro News Pilot attested to seeming high quality. It is difficult to know why it, at any rate, didn’t appear.

It may be that the breweries contributed the beers. The term “shown”, now disused in promotion and hospitality practice, suggests this I think.

Small breweries like Anchor, and Humboldt, may not have been in a position to do it. Another possibility is, the apparent extra-high quality of Brown Derby was felt not to fit with Acme and other California lagers included, although it is hard to say at this juncture.

All non-draft California lagers at the tasting were listed at $1.95 per case. Probably guests could order, even take home in their Ford “woodies” or car trunks, beers shown at the event.

Hence probably the reason to list prices, which could range significantly. Pilsener Urquell, famed for quality then as now, was the most expensive, at $8.00 per case. In the next post I’ll explore the reasons for such a disparity, apart the obvious one of shipment costs.

Part IV follows.

Note re copyright: menu extracts are copyright of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, reproduced with its kind permission. No further reproduction or use is authorized without its prior written consent. Source of the last image above, linked in the text, is California Digital Newspapers, and all intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes, all feedback welcomed.


*I take the term haute cuisine broadly as the Society even by 1957 had engaged in a broad range of eating, of every class and many nationalities. A European tilt there was, at the time, but the group never restricted itself to French classical cuisine.









Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part II.

In this Part, I will discuss the public attitude to wine tasting events in the 1930s. Part III will discuss in detail the 1938 beer tasting held by the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles.

Food and wine tasting by members of gastronomic societies, or citizens buying tickets to events organized by these groups, was seen as something new.

News reports on both sides of the continent commented, often mordantly, on the novelty.

What had characterized professional circles, including judging at exhibitions of wines, beer, and spirits, was simply being transferred to the public at large, a process that has only accelerated since the 1930s.

But at the time, it puzzled many, even clever journalists seemingly – i.e., some probably appreciated the exercise for its inherent value but knew a good story when they saw it. Newspapers have to sell, after all.

An October 1936 item in the Healdsburg Tribune described an event of the Wine and Food Society of San Francisco in slightly bemused tone:

Connoisseurs and socialites of northern California will gather for three hours next Thursday afternoon, October 15, at a new kind of social function —a “wine tasting”—at which they are expected to taste some 100 kinds of fancy California wine without swallowing a drop.

The “tasting” is sponsored jointly by the Wine and Food Society, an exclusive organization of winelovers and gourmets, and the Wine Institute, organization of California wine producers. It will be held in the Palm Court of the Palace hotel.

Approximately two thousand epicures, including many leading social figures as well as amateur and professional wine experts, will attend the function. It will last three hours, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., during which time the guests are expected to sample most or all of the fancy vintages submitted for their approval by the wine producers of the state.

Note how the term wine tasting is placed in quotation marks, and called “a new kind of social function”. It was new because the tasting was not incidental to another occasion: a speech, entertainment, business or civic function, or the like.

The event occurred so people could learn about the products being sampled, to be sure in a relaxing social setting, but primarily to learn. The fact that 2,000 were expected shows the impressive scale these events attained even before World War II.

Some branches of the Wine and Food Society, including the New York chapter, sold tickets. I would think this was the case for the San Francisco event, given the attendance mentioned.

Not all branches operated in this fashion, but still news reports of this nature are helpful as revealing the general public attitude to such events.

Another example is a report of June 6, 1937 in the San Bernardino Sun by Harry Ferguson of the United Press. The story appeared in newspapers across the United States and probably originated on the East Coast.

He described a tasting of Virgin Islands rum by the Broadway producer Crosby Gaige. Gaige was a key early figure in the New York Wine and Food Society. It was formed, as the other branches I’ve mentioned, in the wake of Andre Simon’s crusading visit to America in 1934.

Gaige had poured rum neat into a jigger, then emptied it. The story continued:

“Now,” he said, “I hold the empty glass in my hand. That warms it, and I am able to attain the basic smell – the odor of the essential oils without the smell of alcohol.”

He smelled it, and droned.

“A bit light,” he said.

He poured a half inch of rum into the jigger, filling it up with lukewarm water. He said ice water kills the taste of liquor and that the rum is too strong to take straight. At last came the breathless moment when he tasted.

“A little young.” he said, “but a pretty clean product. They used to make a supreme rum up in Medford, Mass.” Another sip. “Never could understand why they stopped making it.” Sip. “I certainly would like this better if they had kept the old Danish formula instead of veering toward the Jamaica.” Sip. “Times change, I suppose.”

While no doubt amusing to readers thumbing the paper with their morning coffee, the short exchange shows Gaige knew his onions. By “essential oils”, he was looking for distillery character, produced by distilling the spirit within a certain range (generally under 160 proof, or 80% abv).

As he found the rum light, it was probably distilled at much higher than that, close to neutrality, possibly.

By referring to Medford rum, Gaige showed his appreciation for the hearty rum of this historic American rum appellation, in Massachusetts. I discussed Medford rum in this post.

His reference to Denmark referred to the era when Saint Croix was a Danish possession. It was sold with other islands to the United States in 1916. Clearly he found the rum, when distilled under Danish auspices, of better quality.

The rum he was tasting was called Government House, although not stated in the story. It was an unusual product, in that it resulted from a financial investment made by the U.S. government in the Virgin Islands to stimulate sugar production and rum manufacture, which had suffered in the Depression.

A group of images in the United States Library of Congress contains pictures of distillery activities in 1941.

Manufacture commenced in 1934, so the rum Gaige drank was three years old. A good account of the government’s rum venture, with evocative images, may be had in the blogpost “New Deal Rum” from the blog, New Deal of the Day.

Today, public opinion is more advanced, or nuanced, as to the value of tasting spirits, wine, and beer or indeed any comestible or drink. Tasting, that is, with discrimination, to learn something, as well as enjoy the experience of amity and relaxation.

The pioneering work of the nascent 1930s gastronomic societies helped make it so.

Part III follows.









Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part I.

Introduction to Series

In earlier writing, I described tasting events held from the 1930s through the 1970s by the International Wine and Food Society (IWFS).

The IWFS was co-founded in London in 1933 by a French-born, London-based wine merchant, Andre Simon. Today, there are branches all over the world.

Some branches have considered beer a serious beverage, worthy of evaluation. I discussed for example a large-scale, indeed historic beer tasting organized in 1942 by the New York Wine and Food Society.

In other posts, I examined innovative cheese and wine-tastings, e.g. the event of the same chapter held at the Pierre Hotel in New York in 1945. These societies or clubs – another was the Gourmet Society in New York helmed by George Frederick –  engaged in sophisticated early wine and food forays.

Occasionally they tasted non-wine beverages such as beer, spirits, or tea. In my view, their activities and interests proved influential on the larger culture, helping to form the food and wine world of today.

The Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles, known today as the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, was another early implant of IWFS in America. Earlier, I discussed its first two decades, as documented in a book issued in 1957 by a founder of the branch, Dr. Marcus Crahan.

The book mentioned an elaborate beer tasting conducted by the group in 1938. At the time, I, and no doubt many reading, wished they could see the list of beers tasted and judging method used.

Against long odds, I now have that information, kindly supplied to me by George Ronay, a member of the WFSSC and in his words its unofficial historian.

In posts to follow, I will discuss this and other menus he shared with me. They mainly deal with beer and accompanying food served, but also other topics, such as a 1942 English dinner held at a pub in Los Angeles.

In 2010 the L.A. chapter held its 500th dinner. George Ronay authored for the occasion an essay on the branch’s history. Among his remarks he stated:

It was February 7, 1935 when the first dinner of the newly-organized Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles was held at the Victor Hugo Restaurant in Beverly Hills. Prohibition, the “Noble Experiment,” had formally ended in December 1933, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average had risen from its Depression-era low of 41.22 in February 1932 to close at 101 that afternoon. Andre Simon, born in Saint-Germain-des-Pres in Paris’ 6th Arrondissement and having worked in London as the Agent for Pommery Champagne, had subsequently joined with his friend A.J. A. Symons to form the Wine and Food Society and establish branches throughout the world.

Of the menus for branch events, George Ronay wrote:

Augmenting and documenting every dinner has been a printed menu listing each course and wine served. For the first decades through the 1960’s, the menus, printed by Grant Dahlstrom at the Castle Press, tended to be straightforward folded menus roughly 6 by 9 inches. In the 1970’s under the stewardship of Grafton Tanquary (a member for over 50 years), we entered the “Golden Age” of Society menus with some stunning large-format and artistic menus, many of which are displayed tonight for our enjoyment.

I will examine soon the 1938 beer tasting held by Los Angeles epicureans. It is among the earliest sophisticated, modern-style beer tastings I know of in America or anywhere. By this I mean consumer tastings versus by professionals for judging organizations or exhibitions.

Part II follows.

Note re copyright: menu and essay extracts are copyright of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, reproduced with its kind permission. No further reproduction or use is authorized without its prior written consent.

McLean’s Pub Peel Street

I’m now in McLean Pub, an old-time Montreal tavern of prewar origin as the walls, chairs, and ceiling attest.

It was probably built in the 1920s. In that decade, the urban tavern in Quebec, whose specialty was beer by the glass, was created essentially from whole cloth, by legislation.

This was one of the student hangouts I knew back around 1970.

Although, it had more a business vibe, but it was one of the resorts for us at end of week, or exams.

Labatt 50 ale was served then, and still. Tasting good today, almost wheaty-like, and perfumed.



La Porter, la Ville Natale

Quick trip to my home town, Montreal. I left a long time ago, but some small part of me is still here.

There is almost no time to shop for beer, so I brought a couple of cans.

Collective Arts, of Hamilton, Ontario, makes a fine porter, English-styled as the best are, imo.

The first swallow reminded me of the old Porter Champlain, sold in Quebec into the 1980s.

Actually I think Collective Arts’ is better, but is on the same vector, “le meme ordre d’idees”.

(Apologies for lack of diacritical symbols. Using my phone).


Brewing Supplies in Prewar Poland. Part III.

Whence Mammut?

In Part I, I discussed mammut, the resin to line beer barrels and for other brewery applications. I stated that as far as I knew, beer historical studies had not uncovered the maker’s name or place of manufacture.

I’ve since found an ad that answers the question. It appeared in a 1938 issue of the Polish brewing journal Przegląd Piwowarsko-Słodowniczy:



The ad states Richard Bosche Chemical Works in Marienfelde, Germany produced mammut, with various applications specified, e.g. to seal concrete.

A line suggests Richard Bosche was the only authorized producer. Perhaps the formula was devised by an inventor or firm that licensed it for production.

Hessenmuller is still representing mammut from his base in Bydgoszcz, Poland – part of Prussia before WW I. In older ads, the given name is Karol, not Karl as here. Presumably it was the same person, or a family relation.

The Longevity of Sinamar

Another ad, in the same journal in 1939, touted Sinamar.



Many similar ads appeared in the interwar Polish brewing press.

Due in part to the Weyermann name, known everywhere in brewing today for its specialty malts, I realized I had seen mention of Sinamar earlier.

It is a widely used aid to colour beers. Weyermann’s website explains what Sinamar is, and is not: it is a condensed beer, not a condensed wort like malt extract. An impressive range of modern beers use the product, as explained in the site.

Sinamar therefore is compliant with the current Reinheitsgebot in Germany, familiarly known as the Beer Purity Law, which originated in the 1500s. The law requires bottom-fermented beers brewed in Germany, to be made with malt, hops, yeast, and water.

The 1939 ad notes the product is lawful for production of bottom-fermented beers, an implied reference to this subject.

For a snapshot of the law’s history and current purport, see Jeff Alworth’s recent essay.

Sinamar, according to the historical outline in the website, was invented by Weyermann in 1902 in the historic brewing city of Bamberg, in Bavaria. Weyermann was founded in 1879 by the Johann Baptist mentioned in the ad.

He started as a supplier of coffee substitutes – grain and later malt were ground to emulate coffee. But the business soon pivoted to supplying breweries.

To expand production of Sinamar, in 1902 he set up a colour malt brewery in Potsdam, in the Berlin hinterlands in Prussia. This was to serve German Prussia as then constituted, Poland, and parts further east.

The Potsdam factory was damaged in 1945 and did not revive after the war. The vacuum boilers were moved to the main operation in Bamberg, where the company continues today, still family-owned.

A Weyermann representative explains in a YouTube video how Sinamar works, specifying the formula to achieve different colouring levels in the EBC and Lovibond scales.

Some craft and home brewers have used Sinamar to produce Black India Pale Ale, but it is used for other types of beers as well.

There cannot be many prewar industrial brands still vibrant in the market today; Sinamar is one. It shows, too, that a product designed for a very different beer world, when Hapsburg and Russian monarchs strode their parts of Europe, can still find relevance today.







Brewing Supplies in Prewar Poland. Part II.


I will consider ads in a December 1926 issue of Przemysł Piwowarski, or “Brewing Industry”. This journal preceded the other I’ve been discussing, it was shorter and more business-oriented.

The Edward Lutz ad sheds further light on inputs used in Polish brewing in this period. With other sources, we also get a glimpse into contemporary Polish society and commerce

Edward Lutz – Firm and Products



Edward Lutz in Krakow advertised frequently in these journals from 1925 to 1939. In the ad above (p. 375), exterior coatings for barrels and vats are advertised. There were different colours: brown, yellow and gray are mentioned.

A worker is painting barrel ends. I’ll discuss presently the reasons, but first background on Edward Lutz. Lutz produced a well-known brand of paints, varnishes, and enamels.

As the ad shows, there were Lutz factories in other European cities including Budapest, Paris, and Prague. The Polish business was profiled in Tygodnik Illustrowany, or “Illustrated Weekly”, in 1930, see p. 454.

(This magazine, according to its Wikipedia profile, was a long-running, Warsaw-based publication. It covered a full range of arts, culture, scientific and business stories. Unusually, it remained apolitical).

Some points from the story: the factory in Krakow was founded in 1924 and quickly became known, producing annually 500,000 kg. of product by 1930. Until its founding Polish industry was not notable in the chemicals sector.

The factory, while Polish-owned, held licenses for the various Lutz brands, evidently Implak was one. Presumably these originated elsewhere, possibly Germany.

Numerous industries were serviced including hospitals, auto firms (varnishes and paints for cars), breweries, as well as private and military needs. The story noted that the products used by breweries had no impact on beer flavour.

To  Paint or not to Paint

Why would barrel heads be painted? For English practice, see Boak and Bailey’s notes in February, 2017. I commented there, as did others, raising further points.

I would summarize it this way: there were different reasons over time, and for different breweries. In England a brewery often did this to show that it owned the casks, to show “its colours”. This would make it easier for a publican to avoid error when returning empty casks, and for the brewer when handling inventory.

In an age before universal literacy, such devices helped distinguish and market a firm’s brands. In Ireland, Guinness painted different colours on barrel ends to show the different brands being barreled.

A painted cask is shown on the cover page of the 1970s beer guide Beers of Britain, by Warren Knock and Conal Gregory. Stave ends are red and the head, black with white lettering.



In 1906 F.F. Haldane’s article “Casks: Their Manufacture and Treatment” suggested brewers paint cask ends in a way to distinguish American and European oak types, where the former was used for porter, and the latter for pale ale. See at p. 69.

The context was most English brewers and probably most Irish ones, would not use vanillin-flavoured American wood to store pale or mild ale. But many had no objection to filling such casks with porter. Guinness is the best known case., it had no prejudice against the American cask.

Old-time Guinness must have hada  adsh of vanillin flavour, similar to some modern barrel-aged stouts. Perhaps in some cases, or for larger breweries, the paint schemes even distinguished among European oaks, depending on the brewery’s preferences and practice.

Yet another factor: depending how the cask head was produced, and especially if sawn vs. hand-fashioned, beer might leak through cut ends of capillaries. A thin coat of paint guarded against this and flavour was said not to be affected.

On this latter point, see the Jancis Robinson (wine writer) reference in my comment to the Boak and Bailey post.

Also in Przemysł Piwowarski

On the same page as the ads above, Karol Hessenmuller advertised a range of cooling solutions and fermentation and other tanks for smaller breweries in particular. We saw mention of him in my Part I.

Another supplier, in Warsaw, advertised gauges and other small tools, brass and other. A table of prevailing barley prices also appeared, a regular feature in the journal. Winnipeg, Canada mentioned sign of our early importance as a granary.

As well though, a substantial number of Galicians had emigrated to Western Canada to pursue farming opportunities, encouraged by the famous Sifton policy. This group was, I understand, mainly Ukrainian, but probably some Poles had joined the trek.

Part III follows.












Brewing Supplies in Prewar Poland. Part I.

The beer industry cannot exist with a secondary industry devoted to its input needs, everything from malt and hops to tanks, barrels, and cleansers. A page of trade ads in a 1925 issue of the Polish beer journal Przemysł Piwowarski, or “Brewing Industry”, sheds light on a period of technological advance.

Old and newer technologies jostle for attention in the journal, often in the same ad.



Mammut, an obscure topic even to beer historians, was a proprietary coating for the interior of vats and barrels. It was used not just in brewing but a broad range of food industry applications. The name is German for mammoth. Some ads included a drawing of the extinct mammal, so it is clear the name was a trade or coined term.

Traditionally, brewers on the Continent, and in the U.S. under their influence, coated barrel interiors, lagering vats, and other vessels with pitch, a concentrated, softened extract of conifer tree resin. It had uses as well in other industries.

Brewers heated and applied the resin so a barrier would form between the barrel frame and beer. The idea was mainly to keep a source of infection at bay, microbes that could lurk in hard-to-clean wood barrels. Another reason advanced was to prevent a woody taste in beer (something craft beer has been less concerned with).

The pitching process was tedious and cumbersome, as vessels had to be re-pitched regularly. There were problems with chipping and resin particles entering the beer. Conifer pitches also imparted some odour to beer. Some brewers made capital of this such as Anheuser-Busch in 1899, noting the “mild pitchy bouquet” of Budweiser,

Increasingly from 1900 the industry wanted to avoid side effects of pitching. Mammut was one answer, a proprietary organic compound. Its asserted value was as tight sealant that did not need re-application, and imparted no taste.

Before Prohibition ads appeared for mammut in American food industry journals, including for brewing. The origin was probably Germany – as noted mammut means mammoth in German. The 1925 ad does not use the Polish spelling, which is mamut.

The ad names as well a company representative with a German-sounding name in a city, Bydgoszcz, that was Prussian before World War I. Whether he was connected to the firm that originated mammut I cannot say.

The ad suggests the product dated from 1905 as it noted use by industry for 20 years. I have not found trade ads for mammut before 1905, at any rate. A useful description of mammut by the manufacturer’s American representative Paul Hassack in New Jersey appeared in 1917 in the Vinegar Bulletin., in effect an advertorial.

Coniferous brewer’s pitch nonetheless continued in use, at least until metal finally overtook wood for barrels. Metal also supplanted wood for aging vessels with newer materials also used, e.g. enamelled glass.

In the same journal we see an ad for both metal and wood barrels. Krupp of Germany made the metal type (beczki metalowe Kruppa), capitalizing on its long background in metallurgy. A handsome 1933 ad in the United States, archived in Period Paper, advertised this barrel, showing a sleek, well-tooled item.

Its stainless steel lining, “Silchrome”, made tree pitch and its substitutes redundant. The ad claimed no adverse impact on flavour, foam, or colour of the beer. These barrels were made in the U.S., evidently under license, by Ingersoll Steel.

Other ads in the Polish journal advertised cork and other closures and pure yeast cultures for bottom- and top-fermentation brewing.

Beer and brewing are always a combination of traditional and more recent technologies or methods, The pendulum swings back and forth, with marketing often playing a role when tradition is invoked.

The march of technology in other words is inexorable, at least for brewing of any scale. Few wood barrels and vats are in use today, for example, even factoring that some craft beer is aged or otherwise processed in wood vessels,

A surprisingly old technology, the crown cap, endures for the bottle, but the beer can has taken over much of that market. The can for beer use was devised about the same time the Krupp metal barrel was being touted in Poland and the United States.

Our Part II follows.


World Beer Production Between 1913 and 1934

Polish Interwar Brewing and Malt Review

I’ve been talking for a while of helpful articles in the interwar Polish brewing journal, Przegląd Piwowarsko-Słodowniczy, or Brewing and Malt Review.

Ron Pattinson has had a go at some of the data, and maybe others will too. I find the journal of particular interest for a number of reasons. Representing a smaller brewing country, developments elsewhere attracted local attention: scientific, technological, malt and hop production, beer production, excise systems.

There is a theoretical focus in the journal: lots of articles on fermentation, yeast science, hop characteristics, and other lab-based analyses or discussions.

A fairly austere tone prevails, in general. This reflects I think an old-school Continental approach, but perhaps also Polish academic conventions of the time.

British journals of the period seem more informal in tone, and American equally or more. American journals – some did continue during Prohibition – show a steady focus on the business of brewing.

Articles regularly appeared on how to save money, how especially to advertise, new product development, and other can-do strategies.

The Polish journal seems less focused on such areas although they are addressed implicitly by supplier advertisements. Equipment fabricators, hop suppliers, and dealers in enamels, cleansers, disinfectants and more trump their wares.

On the other hand, the Polish journal also carried historical pieces. The Journal of the Institute of Brewing in Britain occasionally did, but the American journals, rarely, by my canvass.

World Beer Production Between 1913 and 1934

So here is a useful table, from the September 1935 issue, dealing with beer production on a world scale for the years shown. A column is included for 1913, the year before the Great War, which makes it even more interesting.



Output is expressed in 1000s of hl.

One can see for Poland (Polska) in 1929, 2,786,000 hl which shows indeed, as I discussed the other day, that by 1937 production had fallen by half. The prewar and 1920 figures are omitted as Poland’s Second Republic hadn’t yet taken shape, and the data didn’t match up.

Just looking at the top three countries, U.S., Germany, Great Britain, significant fall-offs occurred between 1913 and 1934. Belgium is down somewhat, France actually up but not by a great deal.

And so on for each country, easy to see at a glance how they fared.

Whys and Wherefores of Decline

The toll of war and world economic slump was a big part of this story, yet in addition, changing consumption patterns had to play a role.

Beer increasingly had less of a place in industrialized, and industrializing, countries. This was due to changing habits of work and evolving conceptions of health, even fashion, e.g., slimness was increasingly valued.

This is a generalization: beer obviously gained a greater following in some countries, particularly where a beer tradition was not prevalent. Parts of southern Europe come to mind, and the Soviet Union.

A methodical study of this issue on a global basis would be a rewarding study.