Neomexicanus in Various Guises. Concluding Part.

Itemized below are the instalments I was able to find of J.D. Harlan’s 1941 article “New Varieties of Hops”. This is most of it, certainly. Harlan was a long-time hop specialist with the New York (State) Agricultural Station at Geneva, NY.

His group was tasked post-Prohibition with reviving New York’s hop industry. The endeavour was ultimately not successful, but not for want of trying. The article was drawn from a Bulletin issued by the Agricultural Station, which quite possibly is available elsewhere in toto, I did not check.

Harlan explains in these pieces that the task was to verify performance in New York yards of old American varieties, newer ones developed in England, and some Continental varieties. Professor Salmon’s hybrids were clearly to the fore for the second group including Brewers Gold, Bullion, Cats-Tails, and Brewers Favourite (a cross of Cluster and an English landrace).

Cats-Tails is mentioned numerous times for various metrics, but points I would make here are, first, Harlan states in general brewers did not favour it, second, the neo-mexicanus element in Cats-Tails originated in Colorado.

The instalment containing that information is partially obscured in the upload but the Colorado part seems clear enough.

Colorado is of course is one of the Southwest states, directly north of New Mexico. The range of the Rocky Mountains extends southward through Colorado into New Mexico, which is their terminus at that end.

August 1 (all 1941, all The Waterville Times).

August 3.

August 3, part II.

August 8. 

August 20.

August 27.

September 4.

Sept. 10.

Sept. 11.

Sept. 17.

Sept. 24.

October 1.

 

 

 

 

Neomexicanus in Various Guises. First Part.

Grabbing the cat by the Tail

Beer writer Hollie Stephens has a good article just out, “The Rise of Neomexicanus” in Craft Beer and Brewing. She draws attention to systematic development in recent years of the wild American hop known as neomexicanus, found not unexpectedly in New Mexico, often along rivers and streams.

The hop is native to the Rocky Mountain states, and has long been known by hop scientists and hop breeders. What seems actually new, as described in the article, is development of stable breeds derived from the “mother” plant by rigorous selection to maximize desirable characteristics.

She notes:

Hop breeding—growing seeds from male and female plants—can be an arduous process. [New Mexico-based Todd] Bates says that he began by growing them in five-gallon buckets, 200 or 300 plants at a time. It took time to develop a winning breeding group …

Culture was later extended to Washington State, famed as a hop growing region. As I understand it, these hops are not crossed with a domesticated, or non-wild hop variety. Rather, seedlings are developed from male and female plants to get a stable breed with good brewing characteristics.

Medusa, described well in Kegerator, is considered a particularly successful result of such work.

As Stephens noted, some years ago Sierra Nevada Brewery innovated by using neomexicanus when some became commercially available. I tasted its Harvest Wild Hop IPA back then, and it was extremely good. It is not currently brewed, but Sierra Nevada’s website states it might be again.

This description in the webpage accords with my memory of the taste, and with statements in Stephens’ article:

HARVEST WILD HOP IPA – NEOMEXICANUS VARIETAL ….

The finale in our Harvest series features Neomexicanus, a wild hop native to the U.S. that imparts striking melon and apricot aromas as well as a floral undercurrent and citrus-like flavor.

It is of interest to note that American neomexicanus was long the subject of a hop breeding programme at Southeast Agricultural College at Wye, Kent, U.K., or so I have concluded from what follows.

Professor Ernest Salmon, long-time director of the programme, wrote up the “‘Cats-Tail'” hop in 1935 in the journal of the college, see summary in a 1936 American publication, Experiment Station Record, Volume 74, by United States, Office of Experiment Stations.

In September 1941 a multi-instalment article written by J.D. Harlan of the “Geneva [New York] Experiment Station” was published in the Waterville Times. It reported on various metrics of early and late Cluster, but also lesser-known types, Cats-Tails among them, and a (Czech) Saaz variety. An extract:

 

 

Soft resin data, green weight, dry weight as a percentage of green weight, and other characteristics were compared among the hops.** Note the term neomexicanus is used clearly to show an American, Rocky Mountain hop entered into Cats-Tails.

An English male hop, presumably a landrace such as Golding or other (one would need to read Salmon’s full 1935 article) was crossed with neomexicanus to raise the Cats-Tail seedling. The hop is referred to regularly in issues of the U.K.-based Journal of the Institute of Brewing from the late 1930s until about 1950.*

The alpha-numerical designation was OZ79 but Journal reports written regularly by Salmon suggest numerous variants were developed each with its own number.

Cats-Tails had high wilt resistance but disclosed some flavour of its American origin, not always liked by those used to landrace flavours in British brewing.

One can see an analogy here to Salmon’s better-known work crossing a Manitoba wild hop with British landrace varieties, to produce especially Brewers Gold, Bullion, and Northern Brewer (all-1930s-’40s).

The Manitoba cutting was another in the family of wild hops distributed around the world. Whether it is technically neomexicanus or not I am not certain, but it seems clear Wye College and a station at East Malling in Kent used both the Manitoba and (U.S.-origin) Rocky Mountain wild hops to develop hybrid hops.

In 1940 Wallerstein Communications in New York, a brewing consultancy, summarized some interesting data on both neomexicanus and Manitoba hybrids of Wye College, see here.

Emerging from the 1930s-’40s as well were the Keyworth varieties, both “midseason” and “early”. They were named for a scientist in East Malling, Kent who selected Salmon hybrids for field development. These were I understand, like Cats-Tails, a cross between English landrace and Rocky Mountain neomexicanus, not landrace + the Manitoba hop.

A July 1936 article in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing refers in a table to two hops trialled in brewing, one clearly a hybridized Manitoba hop, the other which bears a different number apparently a cross with Rocky Mountain neomexicanus:

 

 

Ian Hornsey’s 2nd. edition (2013) of his book Brewing appears to draw a similar distinction between the Keyworth hops that incorporated “American female H. lupulus var. neomexicanus” and (for Bramling Cross, he states) “‘Bramling x a wild Canadian hop‘”. See pp. 77-78.

It can get confusing because the Manitoba hop is sometimes loosely called neomexicanus.*** Conversely, some sources, including this one of the British Hop Association, state Keyworth – some is still grown – has “‘Manitoba'” character. It appears nonetheless that hybrid hops from both these sources, not just the Manitoba one, emerged from the Wye programmes.

The webpage of the British Hop Association places the Manitoba in quotes as well. This may suggest it is using the term in a general sense, not literally to suggest Manitoba lineage. Clearly there is some link in the respective aroma and taste although it is interesting that the Rocky Mountain one, from that standpoint, seems preferred in the July 1936 table.

This may feed in to the quality evidently recognized today from bred examples of New Mexico origin.

As far as I know, Cats-tails aka (OZ79) is not raised today. But the point being, brewers interested to use Rocky Mountain neomexicanus might inquire of hop suppliers whether a hybrid with such neomexicanus in the lineage is available, of which it appears both Keyworth types are examples.

Given the small amounts available of 100% neomexicanus, this may be a more practical way for many brewers to access the character.

Concluding Part.

………

*See e.g. Salmon’s “Thirtieth Report on the Trial of New Varieties of Hops, 1946” published in the Jan.-Feb. 1948 the Journal of the Institute of Brewing. “‘Cats-Tails'” is identified as “(OZ79)”. A list of variants follows each bearing its own code, e.g. OC5, AII16. This group is identified as “Seedlings raised from the wild American hop (Humulus americanus var. neo-mexicanus)“.

**Harlan was a hop specialist at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station based in Geneva, New York. In a second part to this post I will reference all parts of the study I found. It appears from one of them, although that part of the article is partly obscured in the upload, that the neo-mexicanus in “Cat’s-Tails” came from Colorado.

***Loosely in the sense that the sources mentioned seem to reserve “neomexicanus” for the Rocky Mountain, American-origin hop while “Manitoba” or “Canadian” describes the other hop from North America. While classification as such for regional examples of North American wild hops is beyond my scope here, it might be noted that location – terroir, if you will – plays an important role for all hop attributes, even relatively locally as Stephens explains in her article.

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

 

 

 

Brock St. Scotch Ale

Brock Street Brewery in Whitby, Ontario is within the wider Toronto conurbation, another fairly recent arrival to craft ranks: only a half-dozen years in business.

Yet like other crafts I’ve mentioned it seems a fixture on the scene, due evidently to its popularity and awards it has won (a gold medal for the subject Strong Scotch Ale).

The four principals have extended the line to vodka sodas, sours, and other riffs on modern craft brewing. You can see in current offerings. I had only tried one or two earlier, but nothing impressed like this Strong Scotch Ale:

 

 

The first sip, even after a bottle of Guinness (so the palate not “first beer”), shined by the intensity of taste – good taste, which makes all the difference. British-style hops underpin, just 15 IBUs although in palate terms it seems more.

The website itself, after the formal designation, calls it a strong British ale, perhaps a hint it could have been styled strong mild, strong red ale, even ESB, designations I’d hardly quarrel with.

It did remind me of some Scottish beer, Traquair House Ale, also McEwan’s Scotch Ale without its smoky edge. Perhaps even more so, in an opposite part of the British Isles, Harvey’s Christmas Ale.

Michael Jackson the beer bard (1942-2007) reported on early appreciation for Scottish ale by a German eminence, Bismarck or a royal, if memory serves. The term “Burgundy of Scotland” was used, an honorific fully earned by Brock St.’s beer.

Rich malt is to the fore, the strength meeting a suitably high finishing gravity, without that “biscuit” note some reddish ales have I find off-putting (probably used in excess). Everything is smooth, lush, winy/fruity, but full of taste.

Any English or Scottish ale brewer would be wowed by this beer, and in truth I’ve had few beers in Britain as good.

So, having lamented recently the paucity of emphatically British-style beer in North America, this example must be upheld as a beacon.

 

Porter Pursuit. Part III.

Guinness Extra Stout, Canada-style

This is the Labatt-brewed version of Guinness Extra Stout, 5% abv, available in Canada since 1965. I try it every couple of years or so, so we can add this 2021 review to those of previous years.

According to the label, the licensed brew is produced only in Montreal, not at any other Labatt plant in Canada. Labatt of course is a unit of Anheuser Busch InBev.

This is the best taste yet imo, at least for many years. The key elements – bitterness, roast character and malt background – seem boosted. David Hughes’ book “A Bottle of Guinness Please” states the formulation changed in 1971, with a starting gravity of 1052.

As it is 5% abv (always been, the Canadian version), this would produce something like 1013 FG, allowing too for tolerances in the ABV.

 

 

The beer seems about 1012-1013 FG, noticeably richer than the canned “widget” Guinness and draft versions, both sent here from Ireland. If the spec changed later again and the OG is, say, 1050, the beer at 5% abv would be correspondingly drier.

To my taste it’s quite similar to Dublin Guinness Extra Stout. There used to be a more evident “Canadian” background taste but the current brew seems deeper in character. Perhaps the years of craft success have impelled Guinness to re-examine some of its recipes, although I find its stouts middling at best.

Still, the Labatt Guinness is good, and reminds me of when I first tasted it in Montreal in the 1970s. As to its make-up, I noted in an earlier post:

Guinness apparently still relies on “Guinness flavour extract” to impart the Guinness character to a local pale brew. The essence is exported around the world to this end. Bill Yenne in his Guinness history explained it in fairly non-technical terms, see here.

I am convinced most beers, perhaps more typically in craft hands but not restricted to that, get tweaked over time. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes not.

Guinness should brew Foreign Extra Stout in Canada or import it here, and its milk stout, etc. We get no line extensions except the two lagers, Blonde American and Hop House 13. Our state-controlled beer distribution system does not favour listing smaller volume extensions, even those routinely available in the United States.

 

 

 

The Christmas Beer

Last year just as it was drawing to a close I wrote three notes on Christmas ale. First I set out an early instance of Christmas ale branding by Hallett & Abbey in England. Next, I discussed how the association between ale and Noel arose in the Christian calendar.

Finally, I looked at another early example of Christmas ale marketing, this time in Brooklyn, New York.

The work is here, and more apt for this year really as we are still in the run-up to the festive period, before the satiation and post-Yule lassitude set in.

Hallett & Abbey Christmas Ale (19/12/20)

Ale, St. Thomas, and Christmas: (19/12/20)

Christmas Ale in Brooklyn, NY: (22/12/20)

 

 

 

 

 

Porter Pursuit. Part II.

I just found another worthy porter, not labelled dry in this case. Still, grateful to have in an environment where classic, full-tasted porter – unflavoured, hopped traditionally – is the exception not the rule.

It is Cameron’s Brewing Crooked Nose Stout, from the craft stalwart Cameron’s in Oakville, Ontario, within the Toronto conurbation. I opened it moments after completing Part I. It’s a seasonal release for some years now but I’ve just caught up with it.

5.1% abv. Good malty body, not too much though, but more importantly not too little. No raw burnt notes, which good porter should not have, but rather roastiness and sweet malt playing off each other.

45 IBUs, so not underhoppped as too many of the genre. See company webpage for more description.

 

 

Tasting the beer, before reading anything about it I knew the hop taste was “right”. Then, I checked the can and website: East Kent Goldings. Why am I not surprised?

The mash bill includes some wheat and oats, but these do not mar the English porter profile. If you want, classify it as an oatmeal stout.

Good to see this, we need more of the same.*

 

 

We continue with Part III looking at Canadian-brewed Guinness.

*In this type of discussion many cite Fuller Porter from London as a standard. It is okay, but this Cameron’s is much better, imo. As for many porters, “more” of what is in the Fuller – same profile, just more – would make it a better product.

 

 

Porter Pursuit. Part I.

Finding That Ideal taste

Porter is evergreen for discussion here, whether historical aspects, or offering taste impressions of samples in the market.

I must say rarely do I encounter a perfect one. They exist mostly in memory, such as Courage Russian Imperial Stout of ca. 1980, Carnegie and Sinebrychoff in north Europe, Anchor in San Francisco, and a couple of others. Fuller double stout, a historical recreation, was one, some years back.

One can find endless very pale, very grapefruit IPAs. The style deserves a respectable hearing but its writ has travelled much further than warranted, imo.

One can also find a stream of dry Irish stouts. Glance at its specs as stated in the 2015 Beer Judges Certification Program, and one can see what is confirmed by my tastings for years. Dry means dry.

BJCP has 1011 at the top end of finishing gravity, so most will fall under, confirmed again by my taste impressions.

What explains this rasping dryness, one that to my taste takes all the verve and life from the style? Granted a brewer may use the best ingredients in the world; of what avail if the thing is dry as a bone, what can you taste of them?

Hops you will taste if used in abundance, and where the right kind, all the better. But often they are out of balance, as there is insufficient malt present, body, call it what you will, to “absorb” them. Same applies for the roasted barley or malt component, it often ends by “sitting” on the beer.

19th century brewers understood this better than modern brewers, excepting cases like well-attenuated India Pale Ale. Pale ale only became a pub staple much later though, mainly in the form of draught bitter, by which time it was a friendlier beast.

Modern-day Guinness must explain the dry Irish stout category of craft beer. It’s one of many influences, more than we realize, of pre-craft brewing on craft beer. I’d think Guinness, speaking here of the canned “draught” and pub draft, must finish around 1007, 1008 gravity.*

Bottled Extra Stout probably goes higher but I doubt past 1012. Even “English Porter” in the 2015 BJCP has a top end of 1014, so again the norm will be under.

If this moves product for brewers, I’m all for it, but that doesn’t mean I like the beer any more.

True, some styles of porter and stout aim higher in finishing gravity, especially export and Imperial stout. Many though are aged in bourbon barrels, which to my mind doesn’t do justice to the style.

Some have flavours added, again not a personal predilection. Some have a frank American hop taste, so ditto.

For porter unadorned, mid-level in ABV, how many really good ones have I encountered?

Well again, relatively few. I do like Clifford Porter and Collective Arts’ in Ontario. These are close to the ideal taste for me, while not quite rich enough.

Offhand, I can’t think of another locally available porter as good as these two.** An import I recently tried, I believe for the first time, is Founder’s Porter, from Michigan. Image below is via the product description on Founder’s website.

 

 

Only after I tried and gave it a personal top rating did I check taste reports. A Beer Connoisseur rating of 96/100 simply confirms what I feel. I don’t need them to validate my view, but it’s nice that they do.

Certainly there are other porters as rich and “cozy”, but few come my way that have the authentic English taste. Some, as noted above, use American hops, which can create a good beer but is off the vector I am talking about.

So, in the mid-1800s, was mid-gravity porter richer than now? I append three sources that, taken together, suggest that it was. I won’t elucidate much further, it’s a technical matter, not of interest to all, but will add there are many statements in literature referring to good porter as “nutritious” or “balmy”, or similar terms.

No doubt Guinness then, its everyday porter, qualified. A modern 1008 dry Irish style is not likely what was meant by those terms.

I know well that some 19th century sources refer to porter as characteristically dry, with almost all the saccharine taken out. This was assisted by prolonged secondary fermentation powered often by Brettanomyces.

That taste, sometimes blended into fresh porter, seemed by mid-century to morph into mild porter, the type pre-supposed in this discussion. The taste for “hard” beer famously changed, at least when people were given the chance.

In this sense, I do believe that much abused concept “the public taste” did play a role. The people knew what they wanted, and I suppose those today do too. After all, Guinness is a famous world-wide product.***

Are craft brewers though, for their part, having a preponderant say due to the implicit authority of the modern Guinness product?

Britannica entry on Brewing, 1854

The British Medical Journal Report on Porter and Stout, 1870

2015 BJCP Guideline on dry Irish stout.

See now our Part II.

*My canvass of clone brews for draught Guinness seems to confirm it, apart the organoleptic impression, that is.

**I don’t try them all, always open to new suggestions. Of course you may run into a good limited edition porter, I recall one at Avling in Toronto last year, and at Creemore Batch, but I’m referring more to beer reasonably in general distribution. I will say too despite the moniker, the odd dry Irish stout can feature a decent body. It happens. Dry is a potent marketing term, but also one open to different opinion.

***I’m sure I’m on record as having enjoyed a draught Guinness. Sometimes, it just hits you right. In the UK I’ve sometimes had it very fresh when it is quite acceptable. But a high-class, traditional porter? In the category of those I mentioned at the outset of these notes? I would say no, and the same for the line extensions I’ve had the opportunity to try.

 

Bières du monde Quebec Style

A suitably international beer range characterizes Brasseurs du Monde, a craft brewery in Quebec. So fast do things move in the business that it seems they’ve been a part of Quebec microbrewing forever, while having set up business just 10 years ago.

They are in Saint-Hyacthine, Quebec, 32 miles from Montreal. The founders are described in a local press story by Nicholas Dubois from 2011. A man with capital and business smarts teamed up with a young brewer of talent to start the firm.

Some government money was obtained but, from detail in the story, less than 10% of the invested capital.

They brew a wide current range, as the website shows. In my image below two beers are “gamme IGA”, brewed for the IGA supermarket chain. These, headlined “expressions d’ici”, highlight Quebec popular expressions. It must be amuse/attract buyers as the phrases don’t relate to the beer types.

The third-to-the-right literally means, “arranged with the movies man”. I had to look it up as nothing twigged further. Yes, I grew up in Quebec but we spoke English at home and in social circles. Quebec’s popular everyday expressions sometimes still elude.

It turns out “vues” meant at one time the cinema, perhaps a rendering of the American “the pictures”. So, since everything about a film is known in advance – by those who make them – it’s a metaphor for something foreordained, foretold.

This beer is an English Extra Special Bitter, aka ESB. There are lots of professed English styles among Quebec craft breweries, more I think than for Ontario’s industry.

The first can reads “vite sur ses patins“, fast on his skates. I got that one off the bat, to mix metaphors, or languages at any rate, a quick study, a sharp tack. This is a Czech pils-style.

The middle can is a regular release, although I couldn’t find it in the current website. A strong English nut brown ale. The brand is “L’écurieux“, a play on words when taken with the squirrel’s binoculars (écureuil = squirrel).

Why English and other British, and Irish, styles regularly appear in Quebec I am not exactly sure. Perhaps it’s a lingering influence of the old British era, and the long period ale and porter were the dominant beer types in Quebec.

Ontario, for its part, always liked lager more, although today the default mass market style in both places is lager.

I’ll review these soon, and see how they measure up, both to good UK examples and Ontario examples.

 

An Ontario Pumpkin Lager

Flying Monkeys Brewery in Barrie, Ontario is now some 15 years in the business. If the name doesn’t convince of craft, the labels should. Wacky and wild is emblematic, with (often) an “interstellar” theme.

It’s quite a shift from the first incarnation, the relatively stodgy Robert Simpson Brewery. Under the Flying Monkeys moniker the range and depth of flavours have expanded, to match the way out labelling.

In Theatre of Madness Pumpkin Lager, malt sweetness and pumpkin pie meet adroit spicing and herbal hops. And per the can, “a creamy dollop of lactose add[s] depth to the performance”. Let’s roger that.

No “balance” is claimed here, or “drinkability”. These have their market, but here we get full-on beery/spicy/seasonal taste. Of course a big flavour cannot itself ensure a great beer. The recipe must shine.

For Theatre of Madness: Mission Accomplished.

Among the aptly florid prose in the website the formula is set out more crisply:

ABV 6% alc./vol.|IBUs 20
Malts: 2-Row Pale Malt, Honey Gambrinus Malt, Raven Roasted Wheat
Hops: Cascade, Pahto
Special Additions: Pumpkin Puree, Cinnamon, Allspice, Nutmeg, Demerara Sugar, Lactose.

It’s beer to the max, as much beer originally was. A performance for the ages, it’s the best pumpkin beer I’ve had, well in this solar system.

 

 

 

 

A Tang of Beer History. Part II.

In Part I, I discussed that “returned” beer was consumed by painters at Bass-Worthington Brewery, Burton on Trent, in the mid-1950s. It was decanted by a labourer into large bottles, and left for the men in their shed to use daily, so much a head.

We can infer reliably in most cases this beer was sour, as returns in the British industry generally meant this, at least until pasteurization was widespread for keg beer and lager.

The source I referenced described the work of the painting department such as maintaining delivery vehicles, other equipment, and keeping premises spruce.

The source did not address whether such beer was distributed to other workers or office staff, vs. that is fresh brewery beer.

I know I read once that Potteries workers in Staffordshire drank sour beer, something about the synergy of the beer and chemicals they encountered at work.

Despite a careful search I could not locate the reference, but found others that serve effectively not just as confirmation but explore the rationale for such use. They suggest as well, implicitly, that the sour beer ration was probably confined to painters and others who worked with lead, not the workforce at large.

In 1893 a Report was issued by the U.K. Home Department on hazardous conditions of workers in chemical industries. A focus was potteries workers in Stoke-on-Trent, who worked with lead, both white and red, to prepare glazes for ceramics:

 

 

The fear was to contract the infamous blue line in the gums, denoting over-exposure to lead, with lead poisoning a distinct risk. The Report contains numerous references to acid-diluted drinks consumed by workers to parry such risk.

It was believed acid drinks, or so-called rinsing the mouth, reduced absorption of carbonates and other dangerous lead compounds by the gastric system, in that they became less soluble.

Sulphuric acid was mixed into beer, see #8395, also into ginger beer and lemonade. One factory used oats and water – oats are lightly acid. To find specific references, consult Index at p. 419.

A 1911 United States Bureau of Labor study challenged this belief, suggesting alkaline drinks be used instead. As one sees from this study, some factories still operated on the older belief.

I think this now explains why Potteries workers preferred or were required to drink (if alcohol at all) sourish beer, or as evident above, normal beer or other beverage diluted with an acid.

As to paint, it often contained lead into the 1970s, including vehicle paints. The lead poisoning risk likely explains, here as well, why Bass-Worthington painters drank hard ale (sourish beer) for the daily beer ration.

Needless to add for beer historians, but a general audience might wish to know, in Victorian times sulphuric acid was sometimes added to beer to make it hard, for palate reasons. See eg in Henry Watt’s 1883 A Dictionary of Chemistry.

As I mentioned earlier, then as now sour beer was appreciated by some although for a long time in British and even world beer cultures, it has been a minority taste.

But all to say, if some reading might think normal beer dosed with sulphuric acid, and returned sour beer, were different, they were not, in the context under discussion.

A brewery would use returned beer for the painters since it was easy to hand, and actually saved the company money. Its use therefore, far from being an economy measure, was actually the reverse, win-win for Bass-Worthington, we might say.

Correlatively, an inference arises that shop or office workers who did not encounter lead in their work got fresh beer as the ration.