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.


Top Toronto Tastes

Amsterdam Sticke Alt, Rush Canadian Golden Ale

Amsterdam Brewery recently released under a loose Oktoberfest banner a four-pack comprising the Sticke Alt shown, a Rauchbier, a Marzen, and Unfiltered Lager. More detail at Greg Clow’s Canadian Brewing News.



The Sticke Alt has appeared before at Amsterdam but shines especially this year with rich malt, a steady current of German hop support, and a slightly fruity palate.

As the brewery claims, there is a note of raisin in the taste but it does not dominate as in some Belgian ale. And while looking rather English in the half-pint glass, it is not quite Britannic either.

Instead it is perched half-way between, as quite appropriate for a German take on dark, top-fermented beer.



I have not patronized the Dusseldorf pubs as yet but apart from bottled examples, did drink two glasses of Zum Uerige Sticke Alt flown over for a Baltimore beer festival some years ago.

It was tapped from a wood keg and as fresh can be. Amsterdam’s version is close, malty and satisfying yet inviting another sip, another can.

As always, one should drink beer of this quality not chilled to within an inch of its life. I leave mine open in the fridge a day or two (and even outside the fridge won’t hurt), to bleed off some carbonation, and then it is even better.

Now the beer below came out in mid-August, justly trumpeted due to its unusual genesis: a collaboration between legendary Canadian rockers Rush* and Henderson Brewing in Toronto. The Henderson website has a good taste note.



in the same page Geddy and Alex are shown talking up the brew. And so they should because it rocks, man.

To Henderson’s notes I’d add the beer has a good malty quality, as does Amsterdam’s Sticke Alt. In neither is it overdone, the right balance is reached, for me and I suspect most who will try them.

Having studied Canadian ale make-up of the 1930s and 40s, I think the Rush Golden Ale probably is close in character. True, rye wasn’t used in beer mashes back then (even in wartime to my knowledge) but here it enhances the malt without obtruding.

And that’s kind of nice, to those of a beer-historical bent.


*Of course the two surviving members, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson. Drummer Neil Peart passed away some years ago.



A Tang of Beer History. Part I.

The National Brewery Centre in the U.K. has posted an interview with a former English brewery worker who painted vehicles and other equipment or plant in the 1950s.

The document was archived with numerous accompanying photos. An ostensibly jejune subject reveals some interesting detail.

Among the points, the ex-employee giving evidence, Terry Bassett, did not drink. One tends to assume particularly in that setting everyone did, barring a health issue perhaps. Not the case.

The brewery was Bass Brewery in Burton on Trent, the great hub of pale ale brewing. Burton as a brewing centre was in long decline, at least since the interwar years, but Bass was still a busy place. Departments served many functions, from wheelwrights to the painting force.

As vehicle “livery” provided an important, and otherwise free advertising function, a smart vehicle and plant appearance were prized. The best example is pub signboards, referred to in the exhibit.

A sample of the painters’ work is shown, on a gleaming black Fifties lorry, a tanker that ferried filtered, pressurized beer to pubs.

Also of note is that returns, or substandard beer sent back by the pubs, served as the painters’ allotment. I wonder if Bass had always done it that way, vs. a postwar economy measure.

Returned beer would frequently have been sour or infected. Neither was dangerous to health but had a non-standard twang in the taste. This didn’t stop the men – most of them – from enjoying their ration:

Ale allowance
Terry didn’t drink but he still received the ale allowance. This was returned ale, 1 quart a day, put in bottles on a shelf in the cabin, a rest area for the workmen. A labourer received the allowance and filled up the bottles, which had a person’s name on, from a large enamel jug. Terry would leave his bottle on the shelf but others would drink it for him often before he started work at 7.30am.

I cannot recall now where I saw this, but it was said men* working in the Potteries favoured hard ale, or beer naturally sour from long aging. There was some synergy between the acid in the beer and the chemicals encountered in their daily work.

Interestingly, Burton is also in Staffordshire, classic locus of the Potteries industry.

I wonder if it was similar with the brewery painters at least, that sourish beer was actually preferred to onsite fresh material. Or did the Bass allotment take this form for all its workers?

At the time, and not just in Britain again, returned beer was sometimes added to a batch of brew being dispatched to the trade. This reflected an old practice in breweries, sometimes to balance the taste, but more often probably to reduce a deadweight loss.

This further use, to supply workers in the brewery, seems at odds with the first traditions that offered them the freshest beer possible, in quantity too. Countless brewery accounts from around the world attest to it, from the early 1800s until the 1960s.**

Today, sourish beer is a well-established niche in the inventories of craft breweries globally, kettle sours you know, the Belgian wild types, and yet others. Those who enjoy it represent a long tradition, although never a very weighty one, at least not since brewing industrialized in places like that very Burton on Trent.

See now Part II, which gives the likely answer as to use of this sour beer.

*By all evidence I’ve seen, workers such as I refer to were all male at the time, barring wartime emergency replacements.

**After that industrial, if not cost efficiency, eliminated the practice, at least the onsite drinking part.







Bangkok Crosswalk Pale Ale

Bangkok Crosswalk is a pale ale from the Ottawa, Ontario area, from a brewery established only four years ago.* The beer stands out among the pale ale clan, as slightly darker than most I see, with emphasis on the hops.

The four-hop blend, two apparently used for dry-hopping, imparts an interesting signature. Two of the four hops are Magnum and small pellet Idaho 7. I can’t recall the other two, didn’t keep tin long enough! One was Australian.



The website styles the beer North East Pale Ale, with a taste note I can’t improve on:

Big fruity notes of pineapple, passionfruit, mango, evergreen and citrus.

(See also under their tap listing). I’d abbreviate it to “pine and pineapple”. Most associate these things with different parts of the world but they mesh well here.**

As applied to this beer, “North East” does not signal the opaque Vermont style, at least to my mind. It seems more an evolution of early craft Northeastern pale ale, itself a spin on the British original.

But then, such matters of definition have limited interest for me. What’s in the glass trumps the rest. We have here a good, even stylish taste, with oomph for the gravity. And not too dry in the malt.

Oats are in the mash but don’t “cut in” on the flavour, unlike many beers using oats.***

Ottawa Life has some good background on the principals.  It’s a classic craft foundational story, à la Canada. To see this kind of quality after only four years in business shows the great leaps craft brewing has made in the last 10-15 years.

It took some 30-40 years to get here though. In that earlier period there were rare flowers you had to travel miles or traverse frontiers to find. Today, they are on your doorstep courtesy the local beer retailer.

*Overflow Brewing Company. Not sure of derivation for the brand name. There is no obvious connection to Thailand. Perhaps a whimsy of the namer, as many brands are in craft brewing.

**There is a species of pine native to parts of China.

***A factor here is overuse of the grain.



Are English Hops “Delicate”? Part II.

In Part I, I considered stages in the history since Ernest Salmon, working in the first half of the 20th century, bred hybrid British-North American hops at an agricultural college in Wye, Kent.

These were later widely used in UK and other brewing. Successive types, considered more successful – higher yielding, better resistance to blight, and/or higher resin content – tended to replace earlier varieties.

Little if any Bullion is grown today, for example, but at one time it had extended use especially in top-fermented beers. Ballantine used it in America for its famous India Pale Ale.

Bramling Cross, originated in 1927 at Wye College, is still widely used. Nick Carr in 2017 gave a neat summary of its history and  rationale in the Kegerator, “Bramling Cross Hops: The English Hop With an American-Type Aroma”.

Here, I want to focus on earlier developments in English brewing and hop factoring that must be seen as prelude to Salmon’s work. I already mentioned that British beer technologists of the late 1800s, Charles Graham was one, promoted development of lager, and other light or running beers, to replace strong, long-stored India Pale and stock ales.

Although it took time for lager to become the default pub beer in Britain –  a few generations – the die was partially cast for the long-term decline of English hop culture. Its varieties were always seen, justly or otherwise, as adapted for English-style beer, with the contrary the necessary correlation.

Another 19th century development had immediate impact to British hop culture, the custom by the late 1800s for many brewers to use some American or German hops in formulations.

Belgian hops were used as well, and yet other imports. This is documented in many sources, including at the level of historic (brewhouse) recipes by Ron Pattinson.

American hops and other imported types were liked for their “strength”, vs. their flavour or aroma, but also their price. There were exceptions, as one always will find in any history survey. No doubt some brewers liked a particular foreign hop for all-purpose use, just as a few British brewers didn’t mind using casks of American oak (pre-World War I) to store pale ale.

But as a rule the imported hops were seen as workhouses in the brewhouse, to bitter the beer. Higher-quality English types were reserved for flavour, aroma, and dry-hopping (“hopping down”).

The latter were East Kent, the Mid-Kent, then others, Worcester and so on, a gradation still above the imported norm according to the weight of evidence.

In my previous post, for brevity I termed the imported use a stopgap; call it what you will, but the totality of evidence as I have gleaned it was for a cost-effective source of bittering power. This was especially important for pale ale, which comparatively, especially at Burton, was longer-aged and longer-boiled.

Putting it differently, if the British brewers could have obtained adequate supplies of English hops with the same properties as imported, including as to price, they would have done so. In 1890 a Select Committee in the House issued a report on hops in brewing, and the hop trade, to understand the steady decline in British hop acreage.

Even then, the trend was in place. It would only intensify under effect of various shocks in the 20th century.

The transcript of the evidence makes absorbing reading. I invite to read for a bird’s eye view paras. 1003 et seq., from William Nethersole who formerly had grown hops in East Kent, and paras. 5246 et seq. from John Norwood.

Norwood owned the largest hop trading firm in Britain, hence both were highly experienced in the hop business. Norwood also owned a hop plantation in Bavaria raising Golding hops (his comments in that regard are most interesting).

I’ll mention two other sources, on the other side of the Atlantic, which can be viewed as complementary although of course an American source would boost more the merits of local production.

In 1891 a British hop firm, E. Norman & Co. wrote a letter to a grower in British Columbia who had sent samples of East Kent hops raised locally. While diplomatic in tone, one can see the ingrained feeling of the British hop establishment that New World hops were constrained by their “peculiar flavour”.



A story in 1902 in the Albany, New York Times-Union reiterates the flavour issue for Britain posed by American hops, while confirming considerable quantities were used when mixed with English hops, a practice by then well-established.

As the story also shows, in 1902 English hop culture had improved, with better weather also a factor, which rendered American hops less competitive than formerly. Such factors change with time of course, and American hops continued to be exported to Britain for decades.

This background in my view is essential to understanding why Ernest Salmon undertook the work he did. If mixing produced a satisfactory result, why not develop a home-grown hop that combined the merits of imported and domestic?  A “twin-hops”, as the journalist called it.

Of course, Salmon did not mean to traduce an English hop heritage. He wanted to improve it, to obtain the best of both worlds: good English flavour, good bitterness potential, hardiness of stock.

I know Bramling Cross, the Ernest I mentioned earlier, and other well-known Wye College hops. In my view, these are quite different from landrace English hops, and closer to the pre-craft American hop taste, Cluster and that type.

And so something different resulted perhaps than many brewers wished for at any rate. Ernest for example was set aside when broached in the 1950s as too strong in American taste. See the compact discussion of Ernest history in hop merchant Charles Faram’s informative website.

Nonetheless a succession of hybrids was widely used, still with traditional English varieties in the brewhouse. Of course too, some hybrids later emerged showing predominant English character. I believe most brewers would agree for Target, released at Wye in 1992, and there are others.

Pre-craft hybridization, taken as a whole, worked for the industry, and can’t be gainsaid to that extent. Still, could things have developed differently?

Until recently to my knowledge, German, Czech, and French hop breeders did not seek to develop European-New World hybrids.* Was the climate that much better in, say, Bavaria to raise a consistent, stable variety?**

Were brewers or beer drinkers in those places more chauvinistic than in Britain, expecting their beer to reflect historic local, or at least regional, influences? Could more intensive UK science have ensured reliable, hardy landrace varieties including older forms such as Farnam White Bine?***

Why the British committed to hybridization and not other countries raises interesting questions of agricultural, industrial, and cultural history.

*Under craft influence there has been some movement, e.g. Mandarina Bavaria. See details in Hop List.

**In his testimony Nethersole said it was.

***According to taste reports of Hogs Back Brewery’s Farnam White, made with the Farnam White Bine, the hop features notes of orange, lemon, and pepper. The hop seems of great potential if the necessary groundwork can be laid.



Are English Hops “Delicate”? Part I.

Et tu, Brute?

In my last post I suggested the interchange between food and beer is mainly a one-way street: in favour of food. I gave the example that as soon bakers could replace hop-laced beer yeast with a bitter-free alternative, they did.

Another: beer is little used in food recipes, comparatively. But beer likes food, not just as table-mate but literally in brewing itself, everything from cocoa to name your orchard fruit.

The bitterness issue for beer yeast was irrespective of beer or hop type. Within the beer world though, how hops are used in a given brewing, and hop and beer type, can affect perception of hops in the drink.

To experienced drinkers, some beers seem almost devoid of hops. In other beers, the hops are stentorian, as in a good West Coast IPA. In this regard, English hops, once prized the world over, are the Walter Mitty of world hops.

In contrast, New World hops are seen as robust, florid, big-boned. It pains one to note many Britons agree with this. I needn’t cite evidence, one sees it in beer media every day. A mantra it is, no less. Is it justified?

No. Modern hopping rates for traditional bitter and mild ales are modest compared to earlier eras, certainly the 1800s, so English hops as used today don’t, usually, show to advantage.

When English varieties are used in quantity, e.g. in historical recreations or by the few craft brewers who do so, they show up very well. The big woodsy or garden flower notes are at least as attractive as the citric wonders lauded around the globe today, and I would argue more so.

From the heyday of English hops, shown is a pre-1914 English oast house. An oast house shelters a kiln, to dry hops fresh from the field for storage.



The Oast House, in Hadlow, Kent had suffered a fire. In retrospect, rather premonitory.

Yet, it must be said: even in the past in Britain, and even in professional circles, some felt English hops were mild. A spokesman who could not be said to misunderstand the English hop heritage was Professor Ernest Salmon.

His work in the first half of the 20th century at Wye College in England is legendary. He was a hop breeder who developed varieties that combined, or so he claimed, the best qualities of English and American hops.

The U.S. hops used were of course pre-craft type, but still showed considerable upfront flavour, not citric or tropical as today but blackcurrant, pine, and forest fruit. They had good lupulin content and resisted well wilts and other blight that famously attend hop culture anywhere.

Salmon’s breeding produced well-known varieties such as Brewer’s Gold and Bullion, and many others. One was Ernest, named after the man. I used it with the Minstrel hop for the last collaboration I did with Amsterdam Brewery in Toronto, for 1870 AK Bitter.



Both hops were grown in England but the pre-craft American character of Ernest came through clearly, via the wild Manitoba hop in its veins. There was English character as well, from the Minstrel hop which has Golding-like, floral notes despite some non-UK ancestry.

Professor Salmon’s work reached Fleet Street, even in war-torn Britain. A July 1944 story reprinted in Melbourne’s The Herald was headlined “Better Beer for Britons”. This future awaited only the end of the war.

The story noted:

Experiments began when Professor E. S. Salmon, of the Kentish Agricultural College, sought to produce a plant uniting the qualities of both British and American hops. English hops, says the professor, are too delicately flavored and in some seasons actually lack flavor. American hops are coarsely and strongly flavored, but are much more robust.

The journalist, sounding for all the world like a hip modern beer writer, vaunted Salmon’s “twin-hops” as combining “American strength” with “British old-world subtlety”. But it was London 1944, with V-2 rockets from German Europe soon to rend pale English skies.

And so, this idea of English hop mildness – subtlety in positive terms – goes back a long way. The idea that American hops were brawny was not new in 1944 of course. The idea that they offered anything more than a stopgap, was, or at least since the time Salmon started his work 30 years earlier.

After World War One and into the Second World War hop rates and alcohol content were reduced considerably in Britain from pre-1914 levels.

Salmon was speaking in this new environment and in this light American hops exhibited previously unappreciated merits. As well, by 1944 Salmon was professionally invested in American hops, given when he started his work.

Suddenly therefore British hops, formerly pride of world brewing – on a par (at least) with Bohemia’s and Germany’s best – acquired a more nuanced value. It’s not much different to how we view them today.

In November 2020 Beer Maverick told the tale of English hop production, only part of which was landrace to boot (Goldings, Fuggles)*. The farms extant produced 3.7 MM lb. Germany and the U.S. together: 219 MM lb, each representing about half.

Judith Evans and Alice Hancock, in Hop Industry Risks Collapse as pub Shutdowns hit Demand, Financial Times, June 19, 2020, cite two factors to explain a long-term decline. One, the postwar success of lager, with its reliance on non-British hop varieties.

The other, the ever-present risk of disease for what admittedly is a temperamental plant – any hop in any field in the world though.

But questions arise. Was the future of English hops long ordained before World War II? If not, did events between 1944 and 2020, such as the FT noted, consign a formerly great industry to minor status?

Or did the Professor, and the British brewers behind him, let the side down? Certainly no one would fault industry professionals working under pressure of wartime constraints. But Professor Salmon’s work had started long earlier.

The Czech Republic and (primarily) Germany and the U.S. continued to focus on native varieties and developed an active export market that compensated for flat or falling domestic consumption. Britain could have done so, but did not.**

Is the answer simply that its classic landrace hops were not suited to lager, which became the default international style? I doubt it is as simple as that. Was Cluster in the U.S., that feisty early workhorse of American brewing, more suited?***

Countries not previously known for hops have even vaulted ahead of Britain in recent years, China notably. My sense is Britain lost confidence finally in the native product, and everything that made it what it was.

There are yet earlier indices of what seems a long-term trend. British scientists were questioning the value of their top-fermentation tradition in later Victorian times, in favour of the siren lager.

Salmon’s work and the recasting of the merits of both English and American hops was a stage in this process.

In this optic, the post-1960s embrace of lager, and finally of American IPA and other craft styles, alongside a much reduced cask ale tradition, is just the latest in a long train of events.

N.B. The whole point of writing notes like these is, it is never too late. The core of the industry is still there. It needs support from consumers and the beer media foremost, particularly for landrace varieties. The rest will take care of itself.

See our Part II.

Note: First image was sourced from Wikipedia as 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.

*Small quantities of heritage hops are grown, e.g. Farnam White Bine in a hop garden owned by Hogs Back Brewery. An inspiring example. In an ideal world, White Bine-fuelled ale, or beer informed by similar hops, would be the new IPA.

**In 1910 British hop acreage stood at some 32,000, in recent years it has been about 2,500.

***Long derided by European brewmasters in an earlier period for its coarse flavour. For more background, see this earlier post.



Beer and Food: Unrequited Love

In the past, on the frontier between beer and bread lay (beer) yeast. It was once extensively used in bread making, in Britain and cultures derived therefrom, but also for long periods in Belgium, France, and elsewhere (Germany for a time).

Scooped from a prior ferment, beer yeast found its way into the town and village loaf. Its use, antique as it may sound, was a first revolution in bread making as identified by Elizabeth David in her classic 1977 English Bread and Yeast Cookery.

A second revolution was the Vienna steam baking system in the early 19th century. The third was the origination of compressed (or cake) yeast, predecessor to modern dried yeast.

Prior to use of ale barm, bread ancestrally was baked by the spontaneous leaven system. This could result in very large loaves with a heavy crust, reaching 16 lb in France.*The taste had a tang from lactic acid bacteria in the “old dough” ferments.

The sour taste, familiar in the modern sourdough form, was not always liked. It was considered less digestible and of coarser flavour than light, airy loaves raised by ale yeast.

Still, when lager beer became dominant in large parts of the Continent in the 19th century, its yeast proved less satisfactory for this purpose. The loaves were too damp and dense, the yeast taking too long to work, not surprising given the properties in brewing.



This stimulated the development of compressed yeast in central Europe, which finally reached Britain, called there “German yeast”.

But ale yeast too had a disadvantage: bitterness from hops. The beer type seemed little to matter, except (this from another source) that porter yeast was the least liked, due to the difficulty of removing the bitterness.

Beer yeast was washed carefully in water to reduce this effect as David explains, but it was a laborious and chancy process.

The type of hops used in brewing when ale yeast dominated in bakeries seemed to matter little, either. Whatever the type, just as for the type of beer, the bread had a slight twang from the hops.

The development of the later forms of yeast noted obviated this problem.

Today, on the frontier between the beer and bread lands, taking bread metaphorically for all food, a Berlin wall governs interchanges. And few are allowed from Beer Territory to Foodland except, to be sure, as an accompaniment to food, but that’s not really the same thing.

The ingredients of beer, especially malt, find use in baking and confectionary, but that’s not the same thing either. The fact is beer as an ingredient in cooking, with some limited exceptions as I discussed previously, is rare on the ground.

And this is to keep out the bitter taste in our daily staples. A few vegetables have a natural bitterness, kale, arugula, Brussels sprouts, from natural compounds. These are hardly the most popular vegetables in the food world, despite the latter-day fashion for kale.

The lemon of course is bitter, or bitter-sour, but is never eaten alone as Trini Lopez famously sang.

Beer is more tolerant than food in this respect. The guards Beerland appoints at the Berlin wall – beer tastemakers in their homeland – allow ingress more liberally.

A glance at a modern beer shelf shows use of chocolate, maple syrup, confectionary in general, even bacon, garlic, and other foods. Spices associated with food often appear in beer. Wine too sometimes, often via the effects of a wine barrel.

Rarely does it work the other way. Foodland and its ally Winenation, gazing at Beerland over the frontier, are more picky.

Beer is equable. Yet I think, it pines for a closer relationship.

*Extra-large loaves with a heavy crust resulted in a relatively fresh crumb for a week. This precluded need to bake more often. Smaller breads with thin crust needed daily baking, which the arrival of professionalized baking in France facilitated. David writes to this day, the crumb of bread is emblematic in Britain. In France, the reverse.