Cyril on Stout…

… and the Stirrup-Cup

Cyril Ray was an English wine specialist and writer, fairly long-lived (1908-1991). A good bio at Wikipedia explains his background. His name lives on, apart his writings, via his son Jonathan Ray, long-time wine editor of The Spectator.

The image below is of Ray père, from the biographical entry mentioned. Reminds me of Patrick Macnee of The Avengers TV series.



In 1967 Ray issued his In a Glass Lightly, which collected many of his magazine pieces and other occasional writings on drink.* These mainly deal with wine, but other drinks as well. There is a chapter on beer, in which he makes some interesting remarks on pale ale, pubs, and porter.

Image below is via the book’s Amazon listing.



Cyril Ray and Imperial Stout

In today’s beer scene some know his impactful appreciation of Russian Imperial Stout, now an established datum in craft brewing culture. It was originally written for Queen magazine, apparently in the mid-1960s.

I first saw it as reprinted in Michael Weiner’s The Taster’s Guide to Beer (1978), a book I bought over 40 years ago more or less concurrently with Michael Jackson’s more famous The World Guide to Beer (1977).

In the years before I created the Beer et Seq site in 2015, I contributed commentary in other forums. I must have mentioned Ray’s Russian stout remarks to Ron Pattinson as he mentioned me in 2009 when he reprinted the Queen article.

A useful service to beer studies that was. Of the many things Michael Jackson did for Russian stout – a lot – one thing he did not do was reference Ray’s remarks, which seem to have eluded him.

Ray characterized the beer in romantic-historical terms not dissimilar to how Jackson later did it. Therefore, one must credit Ray – and Weiner – in some part with transforming what was simply extra-strong porter into the craft darling Imperial Stout.

In a Glass Lightly incorporates the same Queen passages, so I won’t add anything further on that account.

Ray on Stout Generally

Ray also discusses other stout, some of which revolves around Guinness heir Bryan Guinness, aka Lord Moyne, evidently a friend and confidant. One anecdote states Bryan offered house guests a special drink, a “stirrup-cup”, at homegoing – Ray evidently stayed with him at his estate outside Dublin.

This was:

Guinness Foreign [Extra Stout] and Guinness Porter, mixed and matured to his own taste, and deliciously crisp yet full.

I take it Guinness prepared this special blend in bottles for Bryan, then its Vice-Chairman. One wishes more detail was available on the drink. But the logic is impeccable. (This blending thing for porter does seem to go back a long way, from early origins of porter. Off and on Guinness gets the blending treatment certainly. I’ve done it myself forever).

Ray states of stout that it goes well with jugged hare, Extra Stout in particular. Whereas he likes Guinness draught more with bone marrow and toast. As between Guinness Foreign Extra, then sent to “tropical” countries, and Guinness Special Export Stout, then sent to Europe, he thought the latter richer, a burgundy he says to the claret of the other. Fair enough.

Ray in general preferred Extra Stout (bottled) to draught Guinness, stating he liked the “prickle” of Extra Stout and it was “fresher”. Clearly the draught in the UK by then was the pasteurized keg beer. Extra Stout in 1960s England was still naturally-conditioned.

Ray, Pale Ale, Gold Triangle

Ray preferred naturally-conditioned bottled ale to the filtered, pasteurized stuff coming from the breweries in ever increasing quantities. He mentions Bass Red Triangle and Worthington White Shield in this regard, but – a sign of where the market was going – for home use even he bought the “keg” versions, Blue Triangle and Green Shield.

The bottled beer he had most regard for was the rare Bass Gold Triangle, on which he has much to say.** It was “admirably bitter, mellow, and rather strong”, sold in nips, or 2/3rds of a half-pint. He says it was perfect for a mid-morning or pre-luncheon drink, and by all rights should have been preferred by many to a gin-and-tonic, except for its price: two shillings a nip.

To be clear, this was too cheap, not too dear. He states he told Bass’ chairman to raise the price, so a higher echelon would buy it, but this did not occur. He states that later, when German Lowenbrau gained cachet in London, it could have been Bass Gold Triangle in its place. This puts a different spin on the usual story of lager’s unceasing, inevitable rise in the British Isles.

Assessing Ray as a Beer Critic

All this makes Ray sound like a true beer person, but really he wasn’t. Perhaps strategically, he states at the outset of the chapter that he really doesn’t know much about beer. He understood, and explained well, brewery- and pub-conditioned beer, say, but his heart seemed not really in it.

Perhaps he intended to assure his wine audience he remained on the grape side of the equation. He acknowledged that many in that constituency considered wine the socially superior drink. While he calls the attitude “snobbery”, I think by and large he shared the view.

For example, he states he gave his share of beer dinners but they seemed to make little impact on his guests. On one occasion he served Bass’s King’s Ale, brewed and bottled for the coronation of Edward VII, only to be told it tasted like “a tired old Madeira”.

Even Ray’s wife thought the beer reminiscent of “Parrish’s Chemical Food”. It is not beyond my research abilities to check what that was, or is, but I think I’ll refrain.

Image below is via this Worthpoint auction item.



It would take much independence of mind to stand against such attitudes, especially then, and I think in the end he too, raised two cheers for beer. The confirming point was his professed lack of interest in pubs. “Wet and smelly stand-up places” he called them, even likening the pub to a “public convenience”. Unfair, but there it is.

And so draught beer, really the star of the pub then and now, of the English brewing heritage, seemed to impress Ray only minimally. To the extent he embraced beer, it was the bottled form. This perhaps had its origin in class-based attitudes.***

It puts me in mind that flying officers in the prewar R.A.F. also preferred bottled beer to draught, as I recorded in Part I of my article on beer in British Malaya. During World War II Ray served as officer in a balloon squadron, so it all ties in, you see.

Note re images: images are sourced as 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.


*The edition I used, but it seems a version of the book was published earlier, in 1960.

**Ron Pattinson has a few words, see here. Note the strength he records.

***See further in Comments.









Index To Gary Gillman Series on Prewar Polish and Adjacent Brewing Including for English Beer Styles

The posts, or essays as I like to call them, itemized below represent a body of writing from this past spring with a single exception from July 2018, as it fits the scheme intended.

I deal with English-style brewing (ale, porter) in Poland with a single but notable instance in Germany, starting in the 1800s. I also canvass prewar beer styles in general in Poland, its former Borderlands, and parts further east between ca.1900 and 1939.

Other aspects addressed of prewar Polish brewing include supplies used, for example the cask liner mammut and its source, and per capita consumption patterns in the light of world data.

“Lviv Porter, 1924-1939”, documents, using Polish sources, the continuing appeal of porter in the interwar period, and a likely shift to bottom-fermentation just ahead of World War II by a notable producer.

The essay “A Lviv Idyll, 1936” is a literary sally, finally.

This material both stands on its own and serves to complement my writing in the same period, (spring 2021) which documents the participation of Jews in Central and East European brewing, as indexed and introduced in this post.


Brewing British on the Moselle (July 25, 2018)

English Ales of Pomerania (April 11, 2021)

Ale of Zywiec, Poland. Part I. (April 14, 2021)

Ale of Zywiec, Poland. Part II. (April 18, 2021)

Edward Hall English Porter Brewery, Warsaw. Part I. (May 27, 2021)

Edward Hall English Porter Brewery, Warsaw. Part II. (May 27, 2021)

Historical Polish Beer Resource (May 30, 2021)

A Lviv Idyll, 1936 (June 2, 2021)

Lviv Porter, 1924-1939 (June 3, 2021)  

Polish Brewing Resource, 1899 (June 5, 2021)

Meaning of Piwo “Szynkowe” (June 12, 2021)

Ale and Porter on the Polish ‘Main – Zwierzyniec Brewery (June 13, 2021)

Polish Beer Slump 1930s (June 14, 2021)

World Beer Production Between 1913 and 1934 (June 17, 2021)

Brewing Supplies in Prewar Poland. Part I. (June 19, 2021)

Brewing Supplies in Prewar Poland. Part II. (June 20, 2021)

Brewing Supplies in Prewar Poland. Part III. (June 21, 2021)



Index to Gary Gillman Series on Prewar, Jewish-Owned Breweries in Central and Eastern Europe

Over the spring this year I did 15 posts, or essays I like to call them, on Jewish brewery ownership in Central and East Europe before 1939. Below I itemize them by date, so one can see at a glance the subjects covered.

The first and third set out significant historical and statistical background, in addition that is to the stories painted of individual breweries and their owners or families.

A range is included, from breweries in sizeable cities to village and estate breweries. In some cases the breweries still operate today, owned of course by others, which I discuss as well.

Together the links offer a good picture of Jewish participation in this sector, and its fate – devastation and annihilation – with the advent of World War II. Specifically, I refer to the Nazi persecution, in some cases preceded by Communist seizure of the plants and displacement of the private ownership.

In addition, I wrote 17 essays on non-Jewish breweries in Central/East Europe or aspects of brewing in general. These mostly pertain to prewar Poland, the former Polish Borderlands, and parts further east. This group describes English-style brewing in these areas, with special reference to porter.

The latter are collected in the post, “Index To Gary Gillman Series on Prewar Polish and Adjacent Brewing Including for English Beer Styles”. That writing both stands on its own and serves to complement the work collected in this post.

In its entirety, this material gives therefore both a picture of Jewish participation in prewar European brewing and the general context, or “beer scene”, in which it operated.

Note: A topic of this nature has a broad geographical scope. I dealt with selected breweries mainly in Poland, the former Polish Borderlands (today often Ukraine), and the former Russian Empire. I did not deal with Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, and former Czechoslovakia inter alia but the cases I considered are representative including, for the postwar Soviet bloc, where its regimes nationalized former Jewish breweries after the Nazis were defeated.

In Comments to the first post below, Engelhardt-Brauerei (Berlin-based) and Ottakringer (Vienna) are noted as examples for Germany and Austria of Jewish-owned breweries. I may revisit these, as well as other examples, but there were relatively few in the German lands, certainly.


Jewish Breweries in old Belarus, Part I, Pupko Brewery (April 2, 2021)

Jewish Breweries in old Belarus, Part II: Papiermeister Brewery (April 5, 2021)

Jewish Breweries in old Belarus, Part III, Side Trip to Galicia (April 6, 2021)

Jewish Breweries in old Belarus, Part IV,  the Beers of Indura (April 7, 2021)

“Epstein’s Brewery”, its Fate in Vilnius (April 8, 2021)

Jewish Breweries of old Kolymyja, Galicia, Part I, Brettler Brewery (April 24, 2021)

Jewish Breweries of old Kolymyja, Galicia, Part II, Brettler Brewery (April 29, 2021)

Jewish Breweries of old Kolymyja, Galicia, Part III, Stefan Weiss Brewery (April 30, 2021)

Teitel Brewery of Prewar Poland (May 4, 2021)

Rivne Brewery, Ukraine (May 14, 2021)

The Victoria Brewery of Przemysl (May 18, 2021)

Dr. Henryk Kolischer Brewery, Medenice (May 20, 2021)

The Brewery of Kalush (May 23, 2021)

Amalia Goldberg Brewery, Tarnopol (May 26, 2021)

Arc of the Jelen Brewery, Lublin (June 9, 2021)

[Note added November 13, 2021]. See also “Pictures From a Brewery” (November 12, 2021), my discussion of Asher Barash’s 1929 master-work,





Neomexicanus in Various Guises. Concluding Part.

Following on my notes of yesterday, itemized herein are the instalments I was able to find of J.D. Harlan’s 1941 article “New Varieties of Hops”. This is all or most of it, certainly.

Perusal suggests there may be some repetition or multiple publication in these pieces. I did not methodically review them, apart my interest in Cats-Tails and its American wild hop component.

Clearly though anyone who wants a good idea of what the Geneva Experiment Station Bulletin covered should read them all.

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.

Harlan was a long-time hop specialist with the New York (State) Agricultural Station at Geneva, NY. The Station was tasked post-Prohibition with reviving New York’s hop industry.

The endeavour was ultimately not successful, but not for want of trying. The Waterville Times series was drawn from the Bulletin mentioned, which likely is available elsewhere in toto.

In this series, Harlan records hop performance following a four year trial of varieties planted in an experimental yard near Waterville, NY. Tested were:

  • old American varieties

  • newer varieties developed in England

  • 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. Brewers Favourite was a cross between a Cluster variety and an English landrace.

Cats-Tails is mentioned numerous times for various metrics. Here I would note, per the study, that in general brewers did not favour Cats-Tails. Second, the neomexicanus element originated in Colorado. In one instalment Harlan mentions “foothills” in the Rockies.

Colorado is of course a Southwestern state, directly north of New Mexico. The range of the Rocky Mountains extends southward through Colorado into New Mexico, their southern terminus.

Interwar reports by Professor Salmon on new varieties of hops similarly state the American wild hop (humulus Americanus) crossed with a male English hop (humulus lupulus) originated in Colorado. Such crossings produced Cats-Tails aka OZ79 and other seedlings.

See for example the 1939 report included in the September-October 1940 Journal of the Institute of Brewing. Cat’s-Tails is listed, among other hybrid seedlings.

My object here is not to investigate the relative merits of Cats-Tails. Evidently it did not have a long career. I might add though it had a high soft resin content, in particular for alpha acid content. This was a trait of some hybrids developed by Salmon, and no doubt Cats-Tails came as far as it did due to this factor.

Harlan included a table showing alpha acid rendering for a group of hops including Cats-Tails, in his August 8, 1941 instalment.

“Alphas” for Cats-Tails were 9.40%, impressive for the time. Bullion and another Manitoba seedling, and one variety of Cluster, came in higher but comparatively not by much, considering too seasonal variations. Many hops were under, notably the Czech Saaz, not a surprise of course.

Returning to a point I made in the first part of these notes, brewers might investigate whether hybrids are available today, if not likely Cats-Tails, that reflect genetic history from this Colorado hop. Maybe growers, here or in England, would be minded to plant Cats-Tails anew.

What displeased brewers back then, certainly for ale hops, may well find favour today, as craft history suggests.

Almost certainly the prized “dank” of today would have raised brewers’ hackles in the Thirties. We saw one hop back then, a Manitoban hybrid, termed “rank”. That’s only one letter off from dank, man.





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:


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 August-October 1941 a multi-instalment article 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” in 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. The 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 the concluding part to this post I will reference all parts of the study I found. It appears from one that the neomexicanus 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 another 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.




Christmas and Beer

Last year as it was drawing to a close I wrote three posts on Christmas ale, linked below as they retain full relevance.

The first sets out an early instance of Christmas ale branding, by Hallett & Abbey in England. The second discusses how the association between ale and Noel arose in the Christian calendar.

The third uncovers an early example of Christmas ale marketing, in Brooklyn, New York.

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.