The Beer World of 1968 vs. Today

A perusal of a 1968 issue of Brewing Trade Review & Bottling (see also my previous post) paints a telling picture of the British brewing industry ca. 1970.

One focus is pub estates and how they sought new trade. Catering was increasingly stressed, and pub theming, e.g. Dutch costumes for servers to push Heineken.

Product introduction is mentioned – a new sherry (the discussion in class terms), a new shandy, Panda, even Milwaukee’s Schlitz beer by Watney Mann (it sent its beer to Boston in return), but with little or no description of their taste characteristics.

Panda Bitter Shandy is explained as suitable for the patron who expects a true “pub flavour”. By contrast Panda Mild Shandy offers something “sweeter”. That’s it.

We are as far as can be from, say, how hops are described today for taste and aroma, or an obscure European beer style bruited as the latest thing. Our fascination with sour styles, or cloudy beers, would have astounded readers of the 1968 Review.

 

 

The 1968 issue reproduced sample examination questions to qualify in brewing or malting technologies. They offer some glimmer of product characteristics, for example where matured at the pub vs. the brewery, but it is all implied.

The area was completely intramural, whereas today sensory qualities are foremost in the beer conversation, at trade level or any other.

In 1968, billboard, national press, and TV advertising were important, hence continual reference in the journal. Their anodyne character ensured further distancing from product attributes except in the most general terms.

Novelty was increasingly a factor, e.g. a Whitbread pigeon race. A rare departure from the pattern was a brief item explaining the launch of a brand in Australia by Courage, Barclay, Simonds, in joint venture with a tobacco company.

With an accompanying photo, the beer is noted in flavour and colour as “Australian”, but nothing further.

10 years later James Robertson, in his The Great American Beer Book, described Australian Courage as “… cloudy yellow, [with] faintly sour malt nose, light body, sweet and yeasty flavour, [brief] taste, no finish to speak of”.

Today, Australian hops are known and merchandized for specific flavour qualities described by terms such as gooseberry and sauvignon blanc. Sensory evaluations of this type, starting with Robertson’s prescient description, were unheard of in the 1968 trade press.

Hops are mentioned, but it is about comparative acreages (UK falling, Germany’s rising), prices, alpha acid content (i.e., bittering power and related cost), and hop extracts, a short-cut. Ads proliferate too for malt extract and brewing sugars, also short-cuts viewed in a certain historical prism.

Specific qualities and tastes all hidden, not a factor for readers. To a degree the wine world was different, especially in the United States, heralding changes in beverages generally in the next decade. Beer was still a commodity, however.

(James Robertson was a member of a New Jersey wine club and his descriptive approach to beer was clearly influenced by that experience).

Another focus in the journal is brewing or related technologies, of course still important today. Some innovations are still with us, e.g. the Sankey aka Sanke keg, a system to empty and fill a keg aseptically in one operation.

In a publicity stunt the modern beer writer Pete Brown would appreciate, a British duo placed a Sankey keg of Skol lager in a Land Rover and drove it eastward to Pilsen in Czechoslovakia. There, they accepted an award for innovation on behalf of the production factory.

Unlike Brown’s later effort, which involved shepherding a keg of ale to India in an intellectual exploration of the roots of IPA, the land roving duo drank the beer on the way. They saved a last pint though for their host in Pilsen, who pronounced it in perfect condition – a case of old-world courtliness, perhaps.*

Of course, flavour did matter to British brewing in 1968, but internally in the industry. To the extent the pub trade got involved, managers and tenants relayed the intel back to the brewers. All a kind of underground or hidden process.

What changed? The onset of consumer beer lobbies and consumer writing, from a standing start in the mid-1970s. It is the main factor still driving the shape of the industry today.

There is a good irony in this, as for eons marketers and producers stated they were catering simply to consumer wants. But the balance had shifted by the 1960s to the supply side. Wants were created and increasingly “manipulated”.

The creation of the Campaign for Real Ale in 1971, the UK consumer lobby that promotes traditional British beer, was a progenitor of our consumer-led beer culture. Many view CAMRA as old-hat, but the group was revolutionary in its day.

In his trend-setting 1977 The World Guide to Beer Michael Jackson quoted a statement that CAMRA was the most successful consumer movement in Europe. He even termed it a “resistance movement”.

His comments forecast – helped introduce – a completely new era, one the brewers and finally their trade papers could hardly ignore. Jackson charted that evolution by noting that at first, industrial brewing could not “disguise its contempt” for CAMRA, but before long the brewers were “falling over each other” to accommodate its agenda.

We live still in the throes of this sea change, 45 years later. The onset of social media has only intensified the shift.

Note re image: Source of image is identified and linked in the text. Intellectual property in source is sole property of lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*Participants in a venerable brewing tradition are as liable to latch on to new trends as anywhere else. We have seen this especially in the UK, which has partly forsaken its historic hop heritage in favour of more fashionable, American varieties.

 

 

 

 

London ’68: Urquell is hip

Keller in South Ken

Pilsner Urquell is not craft exactly, but certainly a progenitor and inspiration for the revival of quality lager in recent decades. In July 1968, period under consideration, Urquell had been made for generations in its birthplace of Pilsen in then Czechoslovakia.

While long an industrial enterprise, production at the time warranted in many ways the appellation craft. Many features of production in 1910, say, as described in an earlier blog post, were still in operation in 1968.

These included open fermentation in wood vessels and below-ground lagering in pitch-lined wood tuns.*

The owning firm in ’68, an organ of the Communist government, still used as well a complex multi-yeast process, likely to favour beer stability and a consistent flavour. See Peter Emsinger’s article some years ago in More Beer contrasting old and newer techniques at Urquell.

The firm was privatized in 1992 with the onset of modern Czech and Slovak independence, and is now owned by Asahi Group of Japan.

Through all the changes Urquell remains a Sirius of the beery firmament, a remarkable survival from the 19th century that is virtually unique for a widely-marketed beer.

It delights drinkers who delve beyond the refreshing and (always somewhat suspect) “bite” of beer to discover its real mojo. It inspires craft brewers no less to come up with a similar taste or at least something on a parity of quality.

 

 

In 1968, more precisely early summer that year, Czech diplomats and Urquell brewery people decided to showcase the beer in the capital. London was then a centre of world influence due to The Beatles and the rock scene, Mary Quant and London fashion, British car design and engineering, and so much more.

Urquell did this by establishing a Czech-themed bar in South Kensington called the Bauernestube, rendered in English as the Farmer’s Den. It means still in Germany a dining enclave at an inn or gasthaus. The German term, ineluctably, was no naīve error, but rather an attempt to entice the London denizen familiar with the Bavarian bar scene in the city.

It was a period, in other words, when the German beer hall or keller was enjoying one of its periodic revivals in London. This was pointed out in a February 1968 American column sponsored by a state brewers’ association.

A riff on this idea, the Bohemian Farmer’s Den was located at 28 Thurloe Street in South Ken, in a building that now houses a noodle shop. A publication, Brewing Trade Review & Bottling covered the development in July 1968.

 

 

While not a detailed account one can conclude the furnishings rendered some idea of the Bohemian beer bar, probably the food too.

Draft Urquell is not mentioned. Bottled beer was probably the norm although perhaps a keg of draft was sometimes available. And so, Urquell was given a special stage on which to declaim its special merits, in a city then swinging like a pendulum do.

Of course, the beer had long been imported to Britain – it had spread across Europe from the later 1800s. In 1939 Prunier’s in London, a resort of the jeunesse dorée and carriage trade, listed it among other quality brands.

In an earlier post I linked to the source, NYPL menus, of its stunning wine card that year.

 

 

Note how Urquell fetched the highest beer price listed. People were expected to pay for quality of its magnitude. Today, at least in Ontario, it is priced no more than countless beers of far lesser quality, a boon for the discerning imbiber.

We all know – especially in light of current developments – what happened in Czechoslovakia later in the summer of ’68. The Warsaw Pact led by the Soviets rolled in with arms to undo the liberalization inaugurated by Alexander Dubcek, aka the Prague Spring.

Did the Thurloe Street bar, likely one manifestation of that Spring, survive the Russian diktat? I don’t know, and available research takes me no further. Maybe one of my friends in the UK and Europe beer historical communities can find more.

Of course, Urquell continued after Dubcek to be available in the West; it was in Montreal when I first drank it in the early 1970s. It was in a Czech restaurant** near McGill University, almost certainly founded by emigres from the first velvet revolution.

I heard customers order beer this way:

Customer: “A pilsener, please”.

Server: “Czech or Canadian”?

Customer indicated preference. If Canadian was indicated, Labatt Blue Pilsener was served.

So I adopted this ritual when ordering a beer with the schnitzel. I must say sometimes the Urquell was murky, a little weathered, but at its best the AAA pedigree was undimmed.

The bottled or canned one we get in Canada today is very good, as I have often said. I am not a great fan of state-controlled liquor distribution, but an advantage in Ontario is the logistics control exercised on imports.

Urquell and most imports come in fast and fresh, put it that way. I have consumed Urquell in different parts of Europe including the Czech Republic and it tastes pretty much the same there.

And what of Urquell in London, some 55 years after being launched with its own bar in tony South Kensington? It is available all over town, and in one or two places in highly select tankovna form: unpasteurized and shipped cold from Pilsen, for an optimal presentation of palate.

I last had tankovna in Draft House next to Brewdog’s brewpub in Seething Lane. I think Draft House, or that location, is now called Seething Lane Tap, owned, as then, by Scotland’s mighty Brewdog chain.

Last checks show no Urquell at the Tap though, rather Budweiser Budvar is carried. Another worthy Czech beer although not in the Urquell class, in our view. Tankovna Urquell can still be found in London, currently at an Asian-themed pub, The Duck & Rice, in Berwick Street, Soho.

In 2022, to London’s lager mavens, to visitors with the right ken, Berwick Street is the happening place for Pilsner Urquell, the legendary golden lager.

The ken conducted to South Ken almost 55 years ago. The point is, it existed then, existed long before, will always exist. The craft brewing revolution, salutary as it is, did not not reinvent beer, but simply is the latest stage of its evolution.

Note re images: Sources of last two images are identified and linked in the text. Intellectual property in the sources is sole property of lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*Mark Dredge in his A Brief History of Lager has recorded that steel, both for fermentation and lagering, started to supplement wood at Urquell from the late 1950s.

**At this remove, I have to say it may have been a Hungarian restaurant. Montreal had numerous founded in the wake of the 1957 refugee influx. But the exchange as I recorded it occurred nonetheless, etched in memory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1960s British Industry: Lithe for Lager

I have described many aspects of lager’s development both in the UK and territories at one time controlled by Britain or under its influence, everywhere from Bermuda to Baghdad, Malaya to Mandate Palestine.

Other writers have examined many aspects as well even as no comprehensive history of lager in Britain has been written (the next major challenge in beer historiography, I suggest).

In mid-1960s Britain lager had long been imported from the prime European brewing nations. Britain itself brewed lager in numerous localities – London, Burton, Glasgow – for generations. Consumption was still a trickle though, around 2% of the total beer market ca. 1965.

Considering the size of the market, a lot of sterling was still shifted, but comparatively lager was hardly visible – not in gestation, but an infant.

Inside British industry though, preparations were being made for the future. A Guinness-led consortium built a shining brewery in Alton to make the Irish-originated Harp Lager. Writers Boak and Bailey discussed some of the early history, here.

Another group launched Skol lager, the very name suggesting a trans-European comity apt for the buzzing Sixties.

Finally, in the mid-1970s a series of hot summers assailed England. It has been said that combined with lively ad campaigns, this conferred a legitimacy on lager – generally served colder than ale – it never lost. Today lager represents the great majority of UK beer sales – maybe 70%* – although craft success has ensured survival of the top-fermented category.

But again, in the 1960s it was industry – brewers, brewery designers, fabricators, a few marketers – that set the stage for the lager drama later to descend on the national beer stage. Patrons didn’t lead on this one, in other words.

A production with a long gestation, progress quickened in the 1960s, and as important, interested parties overseas started to take notice. As index, they began in fact to look to Britain as resource for expertise to design and build a lager brewery.

Traditionally, this had not been so. Both Britons and foreigners had gazed resolutely to Central and North Europe for inspiration how to do lager. Ireland did it for Harp lager at Dundalk, as I discussed earlier (German help, per a 1962 trade journal article).

Kenneth Thomas’ study of an early-1950s investment in Sudan by London-based brewer Barclay Perkins, which I referenced in this post, states a Danish brewery consultant was retained.

Yet, by the early 1960s, when the Turkish government planned a brewery for a city outside Ankara, in Yozgat, an English firm, Fairclough, was retained to design and build it. It fabricated the plant in Southhampton and erected it at destination.**

In 1967 the Board of Trade Journal described with pride this contract snagged by a British firm, against, it noted, strong West German, French, and Italian competition.

 

 

Lager itself barely still caused barely a ripple in English bars, but British designers and fabricators already had the knowledge and manifest skill to outbid the traditional European sources for such expertise.

Fairclough itself has only gone, in the hackneyed yet apposite British phrase, from strength to strength. See its company bio in Encyclopedia. com.

Think, finally, canaries in the 20th century mine: lager as chic draft selection by the sleek Cunard; West End boîtes offering prime Euro lagers; hard-nosed U.K. firms doing a dab job building lager plant.

Indeed it went back yet further. As I stated in an earlier post:

… consider what [a] journalist wrote in 1893 [regarding] the Wrexham lager project in Wales:

“… this class of beer will be the beer of the future in the United Kingdom, and more especially in tropical countries”.

One of Britain’s great strengths historically was its nimbleness of industry, despite that is continual changes in business and industrial conditions, wrought by an infinity of factors.

*In 2009, the Guardian cited a 70% figure, which shows the arc sufficiently for our purposes, but it was still 66% in 2016-2017 according to Statista.

**The Yozgat brewery was privatized in 2004. The successful bidder was later acquired by Diageo, and the brewing unit closed. One of its brands was picked up by Efes, the major brewery in Turkey, although apparently not made currently. For more information on the history of the Yozgat brewery, a Turkish academic has chronicled the history, see a summary, at EBSCO.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prima German-Style Pilsener in Toronto

I re-acquainted recently with Black & Bold, a label of Brunswick Bierworks in Toronto. I described the Brunswick operation recently in these notes.

The beer is not a dunkel, or other dark German style, but a pilsener. It is however of darker colour than much German pils I have run into, close I would say to (Czech) Pilsner Urquell if not fractionally darker. For some the colour will evoke Vienna lager, but the flavour profile is strictly pils spectrum.

The brewing team at Brunswick has exemplary European credentials and it shows in a product like this. The hops are steely German and pronounced in taste. I would guess Tettnang, Hallertau or both are used.

There is a malty edge to the beer but less than for Urquell, and firm hopping keeps satiation at bay, after bottle #1 anyway. It tastes very traditional, no concession is made to an international, American, or dare I say “craft” approach to lager (valid as these are on their own terms).

Below is a picture of the beer, while you can read a description in the Brunswick website. It is available on draft in the brewery taproom with other beers made on site, both own-labels and some contracted for others.

 

 

A great east end beer destination, among numerous now implanted in that part of town.

 

Draft Beer on the RMS Queen Elizabeth

I have had numerous posts discussing shipboard breweries or service of beer, commencing with the Titanic and into the 1940s for naval shipborne breweries. This three-parts series limned the innovative system pioneered from 1923 by (then lately deceased) Alfred Ballin’s Hamburg-America Line and its competitor North German Lloyd.

Vaulting to a later period, a 1965 article in a catering supplement to Shipping World and Shipbuilder explained succinctly how the Queen Elizabeth was fitted with nine 360-gal tanks to carry Harp lager. The article gives every indication the lager emerged in glass as crisp and clean as UK trade journal writing evidently was then.

The Queen Elizabeth was commissioned on eve of the Second World War as sibling to the Cunard Line’s Queen Mary. After a detour for war service the Queen Elizabeth long served the North Atlantic run. De-commissioned and sent to the Far East in the early 1970s for re-fit as a floating university, the ship was broken up in Hong Kong’s harbour after a ruinous fire onboard.

Numerous details of interest appear in the 1965 account, see pg. 241 (via Google Books). It explains that before the new tank beer facilities were installed the ship had loaded beer in kegs, with the extra handling this entailed.

Nonetheless, as a working technology tank beer – brewery-conditioned beer stored chilled in bulk – had been available in Britain since the 1920s. I discussed this for a rare iteration of Bass ale, Bass Purple Triangle, in my Part I study of beer and breweries in British Malaya.

In that case the beer was bottled from the tanks for export, but in some cases prewar tank beer was sent to high-volume retail outlets for draft service. In today’s craft beer terminology, broadly this is “tap beer” vs. cask-conditioned “draught”. It is sometimes called “keg” but keg beer had a more specialized meaning in the 1960s and 70s.

Although the 1965 article does not explain the reason Cunard ships had lagged on tank beer service, two reasons, or at least one of them, may explain it.

 

 

Another article in the same issue (pg. 239), dealing with catering for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, stated tank beer caused problems with “Customs and Excise” when inshore. Hence its ships carried barrel beer in preference.

It was noted such barrel beer could last three months and barrels might be refilled in foreign stations, with the East given as an example.

Why the customs issue did not apply to barrel beer is not clear. Maybe the relevant exemptions applied only to bottled or barrel beer, vs. beer in larger containers. Alternatively, perhaps the exemptions applied only to closed containers, whereas a 360-gal. tank might defeat even the most heroic thirsts of HM naval personnel.

In the end customs issues proved no obstacle for tank beer on the Queen Elizabeth. A second issue did clearly take time to resolve, or at least clarify: the concern that rocking of the ship would impact tank beer quality.

The earlier use of barrels evidently had not posed this issue – I think probably because it was easier at point of dispense to regulate the proper gas pressure.

In Alton, UK, at the brewery newly erected by the owning consortium (Guinness + others) to brew Harp, staff had installed two test tanks with a rocker to assess beer quality under simulated sailing conditions.

Imagine the trouble they went to, one has almost a Jules Verne impression of serious-mien, clipboard-bearing technicians working out optimum conditions under which to store Harp in bulk for open-sea dispense.

 

 

The final arrangements for Queen Elizabeth involved careful calibration of the size, materials, and length of the conducting pipes, in particular. While far from an ideal short length, which the article hints at, the beer tubing used nonetheless produced beer of pristine quality.

There were two bars, one for staff and of course the passenger bar. The effort was a clear success as, other sources confirm, similar facilities were later installed to dispense Harp on Queen Elizabeth II and a sister ship.

A point that might be noted, though not mentioned in the article, was the service by a marquee ship of a marquee UK liner of lager, a non-British beer style (not ale or stout in other words).

Even though keg bitter was coming on strong in the Sixties, the beer selected by Cunard was Harp lager – British to be sure, as brewed by then in the UK, not just in Ireland where it originated, at Dundalk as I discussed earlier.

Lager was still relatively novel though in Britain, so why, according to this article at any rate, was its selection non-controversial? I think the main reason is the international audience served by the ship. Draught lager was also carried on the Titanic, even before World War I that is.

Lager was by the interwar period the lingua franca of international brewing. And, as noted, Harp was brewed in the UK, so British in that sense (a limited one, imo). Still, the point is worth making how attitudes to beer had changed in Britain, just as the Stones were getting rolling.

The article just before the one I am discussing – look again at the link – took pride to explain that food service on a Royal Mails’ ship, Andes, retained a British stamp. Yet no similar spirit attended draft beer selection by Cunard, or a British trade article covering the development.

Time had moved on, as remorselessly as Cunard made time between Southampton and New York.*

Note re images: Ship image sourced from this Wikipedia link. All intellectual property therein, and in source of first image included, are sole property of lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*Numerous articles in the 1960s UK trade press covered installation of tank Harp on Queen Elizabeth and other Cunard liners. It is possible one of these articles, especially in a brewing review, did comment on beer type selected. It is possible too that some liners carried, or at certain times, tank bitter. Certainly Barclay Perkins, which co-owned the Harp subsidiary distributing draft Harp to liners, made such beer. The other articles I found on such shipboard beer service are not open-view, at present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brewing at Forehill Brewery, Ely, 1930s

The name Ely for beer, in the annals of British brewing, has resonated relatively little among beer historians, at least by my surveys.*

Not a surprise really as the last (pre-1970s) brewery of Ely was one of thousands with roots to the 19th century, one of many hundreds to survive into the 1950s albeit by continual regional merger, only to expire with acquisition by a national giant, Watney Mann.

The Forehill Brewery made Ely ales, and was forever closed in 1969 by Watney’s.  An abbreviated history of the brewery is given by Simon Knott in this Flickr page with an evocative 1960 photo linked. Bits and bobs of information are spread online, but not a great deal as far as I know.

East Anglian Breweries, a later incarnation of Forehill, is a name still remembered of course by brewing historians, but Forehill’s own production, unless I mistake, has not been recalled with any great attention.

But there is always some, and two examples come to mind.

The first is that Briton Karl Bedingfield has memorialized Forehill brewery as it operated in the 1930s. He had worked with the Ely museum to create its website, found a local news piece limning 1930s brewery operations, and reproduced it in this link.

The article originally appeared in 1938 in the local paper, the Ely Standard. Many interesting points are brought out, some of which, as historical markers, are echoed over time in my writing.

One is that c. 1930 the brewery, which dated to the 1890s, was completely revamped, essentially built new. In the 1930s, the ruling idea for business success was technological benchmarking, or so we would call it today.

There was no sentiment expressed about moldering old buildings and equipment. Too many old plants had fallen into disuse via bankruptcy, cessation of operations, or takeover.

New investment was critical to stay ahead of the game. Money was not always easy to come by in the period, but the then owners (see the account) injected enough money to ensure evidently a quality production and continued market.

Despite this, the account was careful to spell out traditional features. The company malted its own grain, clearly in an old-fashioned floor maltings although temperature control was bolted on, to preclude finished malt from humidifying.

In brewing, they did a full two-hour boil, about twice the norm today. No sugar or grain adjuncts such as corn are mentioned in the process. Their absence is unusual by this period, so perhaps sugar was used but omitted from the article from tact. I’d like to think the products were still all-malt.

The beers were conditioned for relatively short periods, the pale ale longer than the mild ale and “dark ale” (probably brown or strong ales),  typical late-1800s practice. Conditioning, at least for bottled beer, followed a careful regimen of warm and cold phases.

You see at Brewery Trays a handsome Forehill serving tray with signature cathedral of Ely highlighted. This was likely from the last phase of operations.

Another special notice of Forehill history dates from 1969 in the journal Brewing Trade Review & Bottling. A valedictory nod it was, sadly, but attention nonetheless, symbolized to boot by a one-off brewing called Bona Cervisia.

The article outlined early monastic brewing in Ely, which the special beer was meant to memorialize, that and the looming closing of the brewery. Certainly in the monastic brewing period Ely beers enjoyed a high reputation.

Brewing Review explained that brewing had continued within cathedral precincts into the late 1800s, until finally the audit ale, brewed by one Southby,** was discontinued in favour of beer sourced from Burton-on-Trent.

The brewing room in the church was tidied up and turned into a grammar school. But commercial brewers carried on in Ely, of which Forehill was the last in the pre-craft period.

Finally, where were Ely’s ales sold in the heyday? In many houses, as then termed, controlled by the successive owning groups until the brewing door clanged shut for good. These were in Isle of Ely itself and often a good deal beyond due to the scope of the owning groups.

One outlet was in Lincoln Central, called the Sloop, probably as it bordered a river. You can view it in this YouTube link, a recent upload.

The images of then and now alternately appear, a feature that reinforces what is forever past. The melancholy soundtrack only adds to the impression.

Sometimes I would trade all the craft beer I ever drank to drink English beer in a place like the Sloop, when the image shown was taken.

If my supping was to be in Ely itself – and probably no better place, as for any local beer – I might choose a pub on the high street shown in this jaunty 1943 Pathe clip. Maybe I would have been in the army, enjoying a respite from training and the unknown to follow.

What would I have selected? Probably the bitter or bottled pale ale, the first glass anyway. In the 1950s the label looked like this (source: the always-excellent Brewery History site):

 

*This post deals with Ely, Cambridgeshire, not Ely in Cardiff, where an eponymous brewery also operated.

**A notable brewing writer of the period, not sure if there is a connection.

 

 

 

Pensées. Vol. 2.

Continuing on from my Vol. 1, a series of notes follows on diverse things present to mind, not limited to food and drink, which may interest some.

Janner Gin

I wrote separate notes on this today due to the length. The purport: the proliferation of gin styles, or regional types – same thing – that once existed, including Plymouth gin.

While Plymouth gin, as a genus, may not enjoy the fame of former times, one old-line brand continues, and very good it is. More soon.

 

 

Cheese Jamboree

We always have a good selection of cheese chez Beeretseq. Not necessarily expensive or exotic, although good cheese is never a cheap item, at least in this country.

I tend to focus on world cheddars, blue cheese also from anywhere, certain French types, and Dutch or German cheese.

You see pictured two Ontario cheddars (the orange Balderson cheddar partly out of range), an English Shropshire Blue (tops, not too salty or crumbly), and rich English cheddar.

Not shown but sampled recently was a German beer-flavoured cheese, Konig Ludwig Bierkase. It had the advertised notes of hay and meadows with a light earthy undertone. Solid, sustaining, satisfying, in the vein of Gruyere but even more rustic, if that’s possible.

After penning the above Libby came home with a Quebec blue cheese and some coffee, both bought at Longo’s in Toronto, the prima Toronto food store chain.

 

 

I should add, in keeping with the monastic theme suggested by the name above, I am a fan of Canadian Oka cheese. At one time this cheese, originally made by Trappist monks in Quebec, made the name of Canada internationally in the world of fromage, along with our best cheddar.

Oka is as good as ever, possibly better with line extensions in e.g., smoked and artisan-style cheese (deeper flavour).

An Ontario Brown Ale

Recently I had one of the best brown ales I’ve had anywhere, from Matron Fine Beer in Bloomfield, Ontario (Ottawa region). Sampled in Toronto on draft at Wvrst Sausage Hall, Union Station branch. It had a rich natural savour of malt with notes of coffee, dark toast, and Ovaltine perhaps. Some good minerally hopping underneath.

On the digital display board it read simply Matron Darkbier. The cool imprecision of “Darkbier” elides the question of style, as does the brewery webpage, but I’d call it an English brown ale style.

At 4.5%, the perfect strength to get through a pint and maybe another. For me it evoked Mann’s Brown Ale, an old-school English brand currently brewed by Hobgoblin in the UK.

Music Bonanza

YouTube is a tremendous resource for music fans, as for so much else: culture, history, politics, art, etc. Apart from old favourites one can find rare live tracks and unusual items such as “isolated tracks”. Even 40-50 years after classic rock I find new things continually appearing.

This recording is an instrumental track of The Beatles’ Drive My Car before lead guitar, vocals, and piano were added. George Harrison plays guitar in unison with Paul McCartney on bass, with Ringo locked into both.

Listening to this one sees how tight and accomplished they were, more “rock and roll” too than the finished track demonstrates. Another example: the isolated guitars of The Who’s Pinball Wizard. The arrangement of the acoustic and electric guitars is almost a perfect recording unto itself.

As with most isolated track recordings details of sound and performance come through obscured on the finished recording.

La France Fait Signe

It looks like our plans to travel in France this year will finally bear fruit come summer. We were supposed to be there now, but Covid restrictions precluded this.

Re-jigging the trip resulted in a switch from south to north as locale, with Paris (always) a part.

There are wines to try, beers to revisit and discover, meals to cook (we will have our own flat), markets and war sites to tour. Quite possibly too a foray in Belgium, in the Lorraine extension if they still call it that, where Orval monastery is.

 

 

Local Gins and Other Products

William Loftus, known for his writing on beer, also wrote a manual (1868) on liquors, Loftus’ new Mixing and Reducing Book. It deals mainly with spirits, the main ones sold in the UK then, so gin, rum, whisky, etc.

It advises how to dilute these from proof, sweeten, and otherwise prepare them for market. His readership were publicans and hotels, selling stock in trade daily over the bar.

At pp. 19-20 he makes interesting statements about gin, which I will summarize in two principles: first, many cities had their own style, so Plymouth, Bristol, etc. Second, within these groups, producers’ palate varied as well, identifiable no less than the fact of geographic distinctiveness.

He uses the analogy of beer and whisky: Dublin stout differed from London’s – evidently experienced drinkers knew this at a taste – and similarly for Irish vs. Scots whiskies. American whiskey would have provided a further example.

In the gin area he explains that two, or rather three differences explain these variations: degree of purity (neutrality, really) of underlying spirit, amount of flavouring material added, and addition sometimes of an aromatic substance, to lend a distinctive bouquet (presumably of fruits, flowers, herbs, etc.).

He claims that Dutch gin’s creamy taste mostly comes from (wood) aging, vs. One may presume mash bill or method of distillation.

His statements remind us how at one time the mantra of drinking local was not so much a consumer choice, but of simple necessity. This led to recognizable differences in drink and of course food styles.

The rapid movement of information across the globe and improvement of transport methods have, since Loftus’ time, radically changed his postulates.

Beer’s ingredients can be shipped around the world and its once-arcane techniques learned, with spirits much the same. Wine remains anchored to its generative soil but even there a certain uniformity exists in world wine markets once undreamt of.

In a post to follow I will discuss a gin type once considered emblematic of its region, not London Dry, of which so much has been written, but Plymouth gin.

 

 

Sherry Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout

Muddy York Brewing Co. in Toronto has been releasing seasonally imperial stout aged in sherry, port, or Cognac barrels. This bottle dates from 2019, to my best recollection. The website describes it in these terms.

 

 

The beer is a clear success for this taster. At this stage, it must be four and a half years old, as it was bottled after 18 months in Fino barrels.

There is clearly a slight undertone of the sherry, dry and flinty as the brewery’s description suggests, but married to the richness of the stout. Gums from the wood likely contribute to the lush effect.

As one conscious of wood types used to age strong stout and other beer, I mulled what type of wood went into the barrel.

It was probably American oak, which is the type generally used in the Spanish sherry industry and has been for centuries. I don’t say for all types for all producers, but in principle.

The Sherry Wines Vinos de Jerez website states:

Of the hundreds of oak species, American White oak (Quercus Alba) is the chosen type for Sherry producers. It comes from the eastern half of the USA and the best source is between the Ozarks and the Appalachians, south of the Great Lakes. Here it grows in huge forests and thus grows tall and straight giving good yields for barrel staves. It was in use in Spain by the second half of the XVII century.

This accords with information I have gleaned over many years. The Inkwell does to my mind suggest an influence of American oak, but it is not the coconut/vanillin taste often encountered in bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout (BBIS).

Also, the “boozy” element many identify in BBIS is absent. Of course the typical taste of BBIS is informed in good part by the whiskey, or rather residual spirit in the wood frame, whereas sherry will impact the beer differently.

It should be borne in mind too that bourbon is always aged in new oak barrels. The barrel has more to give to the whiskey, and later the beer, than for sherry aging, where the barrels would, as in most wine-making, be reused many times.

For these reasons the taste of Inkwell, or this iteration, is different to BBIS, yet still there is a hint of American wood influence (imo). It comes out here as weathered oak and light tannins.

The hops are tamped down from the years in wood and bottle but still support the malt. The sherry and light wood tones blend seamlessly with them to create the special magic – at its best – of imperial stout.

 

 

 

 

The Brill Beer Glass of 1963. Part II.

In drilling down to find the actual glass a British brewery trumpeted ca. 1963, as discussed in my Part I, some hunting produced a stylish glass manufactured until recently by Durobor, a Belgian glass manufacturing firm dating from 1928.

Sadly, it seems Durobor is no more, as this story in 2020 attests in the site Glass International. Note the handsome Art Deco factory design.

Stock is still distributed where available. Listed here, in the website of retailer AZ-Boutique, is the Worthington Durobor glass.* The description specifically references its enhancement of beer taste:

…the 10oz / 32cl Worthington Durobor beer glasses are characterized by their feet facet which make them particularly original glasses. The beer glasses Worthington Durobor increase the aroma and taste of the beer while creating a thick crown thanks to its shape.

The glass is slightly beveled and stem, more chunky than round, but surely this is (the last?) descendant of the 1963 ace beer glass. The connection to Belgium, another great beer country, is a pleasing embellishment.

Even the modern version seems to have a slight nip, below the lip of the glass. I can see how this would be pleasant to sip ale from, or any beer.

Small differences in design can make for a different drinking experience, everything from weight, shape, colour of glass, degree of transparency, etc.

The Worthington Durobor glass c. 2020 is now on our want list.

*Seemingly out of stock at least at this time. The product description is awkwardly written, perhaps reflecting translation from French.