The Imperishable Jane Grigson

As for all the great food writers, one can read them for sheer delight.

I don’t think I’ve had whitebait more than once – it was in London – and being frank, I was left with an iffy impression.

Perhaps they didn’t come at their best, as scholarly but practical eater Jane Grigson was an unqualified admirer.

In (1973) Jane Grigson’s Fish Book she devotes a chapter to the “treat” she recalled as a child when accompanying her mother to Lyon’s Corner House in Piccadilly.

The fish came with lemon and brown bread and butter, whence ensued a lifelong attraction.

(White bread seems best for fried fish and chips in England, at least at Harry Ramsden’s it does. This was proved to me indubitably at their outlet in Salford).

Plumbing literature for fellow admirers, Grigson drew on everyone from Thomas Walker to Thomas Love Peacock, Bashô, and Frederick Tennyson.

Walker, in his weekly The Original in 1835, described a dinner that included whitebait. Grigson quoted Walker on the meal plan:

Turtle, followed by no other fish but whitebait; which is to be followed by no other meat but grouse; which are to be succeeded by apple fritters and jelly.

(For booze, punch with turtle, claret with grouse, Champagne with the whitebait).

The party were well satisfied with the repast except “a water-souchy [waterzooi] of flounders should have come after the turtle”. Oh well.

She ends her musing on Neptune’s small fry by noting how Bashô, the famed haiku poet, viewed whitebait:

… in the situation of powerless masses restrained by the powers of the few:

“The whitebait

Opens its black eyes

In the net of the Law”.

Quiet a thought next time you buy a packet of frozen whitebait!

You can find dozens and dozens of similar stories in her Fish Book, and all her books. As a mainstream food writer of her time, is there anyone comparable today, who has the kind of publisher she did (Penguin)?

Certainly there were popularizers of food and cooking then, as many today, but erudite writers like Grigson, Elizabeth David, and Theodora FitzGibbon (Irish) had national followings, sometimes appearing on television or radio.

Their books were available in independent and chain-store bookshops across the U.K.

Does something similar exist today? Probably, but I sense the market is more fragmented now, with distribution apace.

Jane Grigson (1928-1990) is pictured below, from 1989 (source: Wikipedia).

 

 

 

British India Greets the English Pub. Part VII.

Late Flourishing of English Pub in India: Dewar’s of Bangalore

Via Boak & Bailey today, our attention was drawn to Rashmi Narayan’s article Bangalore’s Rendezvous With Beer, which just appeared at the Burum Collective.

Narayan is a food and travel writer based in London. Her article paints a lively and informative picture of current craft brewing and pubs in Bangalore (India). The city’s official name today is Bengalaru.

While not mainly concerned with beer and brewing history in India, she referred to aspects of it, including a storied bar in Bangalore called Dewar’s, which no longer exists.

Citing a 2013 article by Rasheed Kappan in the Deccan Herald, she noted Dewar’s was a resort of the British soldiery during the Raj.

Hence Dewar’s must be counted as one of the British-inspired pubs of that period, and fits well in our series of earlier this year, “British India Greets the English Pub”.

Kappan wrote that Dewar’s, at 3 Cockburn Road, was established in 1933 by the last owner’s grandfather, who later established Dewar’s wine shops in the city. The chain still goes strong but has long been out of family hands.

Some sources date the founding of Dewar’s Bar to the 1920s. Whether 1920s or 1930s, the bar clearly originated in the inter-war period, a late stage of the British Raj.

It was always Indian-owned. The name and decor were adopted to appeal to its initial British constituency.

My series has discussed other examples of late-stage, English-oriented pubs in British India, two during World War II.

Dewar’s ceased trading in 2010 or 2011, and by 2014 was being torn down, as Sunil Bellubbi related mournfully in a blogpost in May 2014 in the Bangalore Mirror. It seems the building was not quite old enough to warrant historical preservation.

I am unclear when the porticoed structure housing Dewar’s actually went up. To my eye it had a characteristic prewar, blocky look.

One still sees the type in parts of the Anglosphere, e.g., a bank or two in Ottawa and Toronto, Canada. Some accounts suggest the building was originally a bungalow.

A 2008 blogpost by “Soldier of Fortune” (Samil Malhotra) conveys interesting information pertaining to Dewar’s final phase. He described well its decor, drinks, food, and lingering “English ghost air”.

The website Mumbai Paused in January 2010 published an evocative photo-essay, “British Hangover at Dewar’s Bar, Bangalore”. (The actual author appears uncredited).

It emphasized, as other accounts, the resolve of the proprietorship through the generations to leave original furnishings and décor unchanged. Sample quote:

The building is the same. The bar behind the counter is the same. The round rosewood table that was originally imported from Singapore looks age proof [and] is the same.

Among diverse items pictured: a faded, 1950s/60s colour advert for Tuborg Lager. Another, the figurine of a well-known Scotch whisky. Indian art festoons as well, some picturing deities.

A fine depiction of Dewar’s exterior in the 1970s, by the Bangalore cartoonist and illustrator Paul Fernandes, is included in a 2011 article in The Hindu.

A spin-off of Dewar’s, called Dewar’s Marine, continued business in another location, reproducing the bar’s famous fried fish and other dishes. I am unclear whether it operates at the present time.

I have identified yet further drinking places in Bangalore of the last century representative of the old era, when bar patrons initially, as for Dewar’s, were Britons, other Europeans or Anglo-Indians.

This period must be set off from the modern period of the Indian beer bar per se, as Narayan’s article explains. There is some cross-over in the sense that some modern Bangalore bars offer British theming or ambience, as I noted earlier in this series (see footnote #1).

Part VIII will follow.

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam Brewery Bought by Royal Unibrew

Faxe Beer from Denmark

The craft beer scene in Canada reacted with interest to the announcement that Royal Unibrew of Denmark, a sizeable independent active in the Baltic and some other parts of Europe, has purchased Amsterdam Brewery in Toronto.

For further background on the deal, see this story by Rachel Arthur in Beverage Daily.

My checks indicate Royal Unibrew is the second-largest brewer in Denmark, making not just Faxe beers but Royal, Ceres and other well-known marques in its market. It also makes a range of non-alcohol drinks, and is increasingly active in the craft space.

Royal Unibrew is owned by a private non-profit foundation, Augustinus Fonden, together with a passel of investment and money management funds. Long a smaller independent on the Danish scene, a 1989 merger with other independent brewers helped vault the group to its present position.

My congratulations to all concerned with this deal. I have worked with the brewers at Amsterdam on the recreation of 1870 AK English Bitter, which resulted in some fine-tasting and historically compelling beer. I have only the highest regard for them, headed by Toronto brewing veteran Iain McOustra.

I wish them all the best, and all the staff at Amsterdam, for the post-acquisition phase.

Those in the beer world with long memories know Faxe beer enjoyed a cult status decades ago, via its Faxe Fad, an unpasteurized version of the beer. It was produced not just on draft but in cans and bottles, although whether that continues at this time, possibly in Denmark, I cannot say.

I and other beer fanciers in Ontario know, certainly, the imported Faxe Premium, a Faxe flagship, and some others in the line (e.g., Faxe Amber) imported for some years by LCBO or The Beer Store.

Now the prospect is clearly for Faxe to be produced at Amsterdam in Toronto. I will be interested to try the beers when that happens. Faxe Premium is all-malt, and perhaps will be sold here unpasteurized, whereas I would think the current import is pasteurized.

The Danish Faxe line currently comprises about a dozen beers including a Mosaic-fueled IPA, a stout, a black lager, and Faxe Gold, all-malt but presumably richer than Faxe Premium. Maybe these beers will be made here too, I hope so.

I hope too the core, high-flavour brews of Amsterdam including Boneshaker IPA and the seasonal Fracture strong IPA, will continue to be brewed. And other beers that represent its own, locally-valued tradition.

I am an optimist and look on the bright side of these deals. Nothing stays the same forever, in business, in life.

Amsterdam had a great run as a locally-owned, pioneering Ontario craft brewery – now it enters a different phase, one I will follow avidly.

 

 

Justice With a Twang

A news report (via British Newspaper Archive) appeared thus in the Northwich Guardian, December 14, 1904:

ALE TASTING

A publican who was sued at Southwark for beer supplied returned some of the stuff because it was very poor.

Judge Addison: How do you judge of that?

Defendant : I am a practical brewer.

Judge Addison: But did you judge its taste, because that is the way I should test it? (Laughter.)

Defendant: Yes, and there was “twang” about it.

Judge Addison: That is something we object to in people’s voices. (Laughter.) What you mean by a “twang” beer?

Defendant: It left an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

Judge Addison: That is what good beer does if you take too much—at least, that is what I am told. (Laughter.)

Defendant: I thought it had a tendency to acidity.

Judge Addison: But what is this “twang?”

Defendant: Well, it did not down easy. (Laughter.)

Judge Addison: I suppose beer does not go down easy if you not like it. (Laughter.) It goes down easy enough if you do like it. (Renewed laughter.)

Defendant: If beer is palatable it does go down easy. (Laughter.)

Judge Addison: Yes, with most us. (Laughter.)

Defendant: You can’t drink lot of it when it has got “twang.”

Judge Addison: But why? What is this “ twang?” If I had some here I could sample for myself. (Laughter.)

Defendant: Well, it has an unpleasant taste.

Counsel: The “twang,” your honour, is so subtle that it transcends language. (Laughter.)

Assuming this was representative of how the case went, it was discreditable to the judge and justice. The publican made a reasonable argument: the beer had an unnatural taste, and when pressed by the judge, he explained it as acidity, or tending to same.

We who know beer can understand what was meant.

The fact that the publican had brewed beer himself adds weight to his claim.

The judge seemed to treat the matter for sport, reeling off one-liners more worthy of a comic on stage. There is a place for humour on the bench, but unless this passage was atypical of the court proceedings, the judge took it too far.

His remark about twang in accents sits ill no less.

I hope the parties, both of them, got justice, whatever the result. Reading this exchange though, I have to wonder.

(I think it’s clear the “Counsel” quoted represented the brewery suing for its money).

 

 

 

 

 

Barometer Rising in Halifax

On August 19, 1932 The Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian treated of the barometer rising, no not in a way that inspired novelist Hugh MacLennan’s 1941 master-work, but more prosaically, in relation to beer.

Prosaically prosaically, if you will. In a different Halifax, too.

The report spoke of problems the current heat wave caused for publicans, especially that it was harder to keep the beer cool. And they had to bring in supplies of lager, not a usual drink in Britain then.

While the “man from the East” could be recognized by his order for iced lager or frosty mixed drinks, in such hot English times it was anyone’s guess what the punter in pubs wanted.

The journalist wrote it up this way (via British News Archive):

COOLING THE BEER

Publicans’ Problem During Hot Weather

Down in the Cellar

The heat wave has made the publican feel “hot under the collar.” For while it may seem that the spell of heat makes men more thirsty, actually the ordinary man becomes far more fastidious regarding his drinks. In ordinary weather he enters the bar of his favourite hostelry and calls for a ” bitter” or a ” mild ” or a “mixed,” and as long as he obtains his own particular beverage he is satisfied. But when we get heat such as we have had during the past week or two the ordinary man tasting his beverage says, “This is warm!”

It is then that the publican’s troubles come to a head, although they have had their beginnings long before, when he has spent hours in his cellars trying to keep his beer cool.

“The public do not realise the trouble we have to go to, to keep our beer cool,” one licensed victualler said. “When you have a rock cellar as we possess, the business is bad enough, but publicans that do not possess this advantage have a busy time trying to cool their beer.”

WET SACKS.

“Some of the best bitter beers require nursing if our customers are to be satisfied in these hot days,” he continued, “and even with advantages regarding cellarage I have to keep a succession of wet sacks over my casks to keep them cool.”

In one restaurant sacks, thoroughly dampened, are placed over the casks of beer, and from time to time a system of sprayers pours ice-cold water over them.

During the summer there is a big demand for lager beer, and where the publican or restaurant serves this liquid “on draught,” a most elaborate arrangement is used.

In a leading hotel and restaurant there was an ice-cold cellar. Near a cask of lager beer there was an oxygen cylinder. From the cylinder a tube went to the bottom of the cask, forcing the beer upward. Then it passed through some of piping and two refrigerating boxes until it was drawn through ice-packed taps on the counter, where frothily it gave the thirsty soul its lager on ice.

Unlike beer, spirits need less nursing and in the tropics beer is called for less frequently than the “John Collins” and the “Sundowner “whisky and soda”. In the big hotels and restaurants these hot days they recognise the man from the East by his orders. He may order a “lager off the ice” or a whisky or gin with “lots of soda with plenty of ice.” To satisfy the stay-at-home Briton, however, such weather keeps the publican guessing. With such a variety of orders no wonder he feels harassed.

This report tells us much – that British beer, even traditional cask-conditioned ale, was always wanted cellar-cool and sometimes cold, including in iced lager form.

 

 

While the ideal was often not met in practice, best form dictated that publicans should try. The most conscientious, at least those with the requisite facilities, succeeded often enough, as the article shows.

The North American idea, still current among laymen, of “warm English beer”, is justified by the frequent lapses on the ground from the ideal, but the reality is more complex as we see.

The “jackets” used for cooling casks at modern British beer festivals have a lengthy heritage, as we also see. Sophisticated insulated materials have replaced the wetted jute of former times, but to similar purpose.

In my post “Lager – Made in the Shade” I discussed how, contrary to practice in metropole, lager was a stand-by in far-off British possessions, usually in warmer parts of the world.

In summer 2022 the heat is on closer to home. Publicans struggle to keep the beer cold.

But August 1932 was also hot. And famously in the 1970s a passel of torrid summers vaulted lager into a position of British beer eminence it has never lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Stout – a 1976 Russian Stout Recipe

In the November 19, 1976 issue of the Harrow Observer, a home-brewing recipe was published for Russian Imperial Stout. At the time imperial or Russian stout was brewed commercially only by Courage Ltd. of London.

The recipe was part of a series in the paper by Ben Turner. He had made wine and beer at home since the 1940s and authored books, whence the recipe was taken.

He calls it a “super stout” and the recipe is not without interest. For example, it calls for wheat malt, probably to help head retention. One would not see this in a classic traditional recipe for imperial stout.

As to sugar, good old brown sugar is enough – no special invert or other brewing type is specified. Such raw sugar had been used for a long time in Australian brewing, so this rough and ready approach was not quite catch-as-catch-can.

He calls for all-Fuggles hops (a classic English variety), if same can be obtained. I like this. And just “water” – nothing about water adjustment. Keep it simple lad.

His 2 oz per 16 pints of beer works out to about 3/4 lb per standard UK barrel, enough certainly for a drink meant for quick consumption.

Only a half-hour is prescribed for boiling hops, not terribly long. Perhaps he wanted minimal bitterness and maximum flavour.

His original gravity is 1054 so the beer was not terribly strong, not that imperial, really, in historical terms. Courage Imperial Russian Stout was about twice as strong, in fact.

But this recipe should not be read as a history lesson, in general. It is of its time and place, and let’s appreciate it for that.

Turner’s version, it should be noted still, was rather stronger than standard pub beer of the time. His readers would have expected to drink their brew in reasonably quantity, as in the pub, so fair enough.**

Homebrewing in this period had a good following in the UK, and would soon in the US with legalization, which came three years later.* This was certainly part of the group of influences that created modern craft brewing.

Anyone up to brewing this approach to Russian Stout? Extract is via British Newspaper Archive (“BNA”).

 

 

 

Note re image: source is BNA as referenced. Used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property in source belongs solely to lawful owner. All feedback welcomed.

*See comment on this point added by our reader Arnold Moodenbaugh.

**Turner does state some readers may be satisfied to drink just a half-pint of this stout, but I suggest you take that with a grain of salt.

 

 

 

 

A Ex-Sailor Remembers the Rum Ration

I had a series a while back on the tradition of Navy rum, specifically the British Royal Navy “rum ration”. Strong rum was offered daily to ratings and other non-officers on ship until July 31,1970 (“Black Tot” day).

I described the handling of the rum – its receipt from Caribbean ports, aging in special vats, and blending at Deptford, London – in this post.

When in France recently staying at a hotel in Arras, a group arrived in tour buses from Britain, visiting the “fields” (les champs) as the many war memorial sites are termed.

In the evening they convened at the bar around big glasses of lager. Chatting with one man, somehow the topic of rum came up.

I told him of my interest in the Naval rum ration. I met the right person as he had been a R.N. sailor in the late 1960s, and remembered the ration well.

He described the rum as dark, viscous (almost like molasses, he said) and hearty in flavour. He said some men foresook the ration for a cash payment, I think it was 3d., but most took the drink, in his recollection.

It had to be diluted with water, except petty officers were not required to do this. Even diluted the effect was plenty strong still, he emphasized.

He said he still likes rum, and buys one or two types that are similar, but not exactly the same as what he recalled from his Navy days. Unfortunately I didn’t get the details as the group suddenly left as a bolt, for dinner in town.

For him it was just a casual thing, this memory – even as the stock of men who remember these long-past days is ever-declining.

The bottle below is a prime expression of Demerara rum, from Guyana. Naval rum by my researches always had a good measure of Demerara, or in the heyday certainly. It is indeed hearty, with an oily undertone long aging doesn’t quite efface.

These oils and other “congeners”, as distillers say, are left in to confer much of the character. Single malt scotch, tequila, brandy, all share this trait among other traditional drinks. It derives from the older way these are distilled, either by batch in pot stills, or in more modern column stills adapted to similar purpose.

There is a smoky note and some cocoa from the weathered wood of barrels and warehouses, the aforesaid molasses, and finally a taste all its own.

 

 

 

 

 

Barley Prices and Beer Strength

The Case of Flower’s Brewery, Stratford-on-Avon, 1850

In a comment recently to a post by Ron Pattinson I noted that Flower’s of Stratford-on-Avon sometimes in the 19th century advertised that it was increasing the strength of its beer due to more favourable barley prices.*

This is an example, from the Leamington Advertiser, etc., January 19, 1850, via British News Archive:

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON BREWERY.

E. F. FLOWER

RESPECTFULLY informs his Customers that in consequence of the present low price of Barley he has increased the Strength of his Ales and Beer, and finding that an Article of intermediate strength and price is frequently required, he has made arrangement to supply

GOOD TABLE ALE at 9d. Per GALLON,

In Barrels of 36 and Kilderkins of 18 Gallons, and the [?] Firkin of 9 Gallons.

Orders received at the Brewery, Stratford-upon-Avon; and in Leamington by Mr. W. S. BRETT, 27, Upper Parade.

Jan. 1850.

Taxation and temperance concerns sometimes spurred a reduction of strength by brewers, especially in later periods, but basics of the market could too.

Unless compelled by law, when input prices caused brewers to lower beer strength they were loathe understandably to advertise it. The reverse course was less objectionable.

Strength of course might be maintained by increasing price, which also frequently occurred, but unless the race to the bottom was complete, lowering strength was, if you will, more palatable.

This suggests that statements of brewing strength in textbooks, brewing records, brewing journals, excise records, and other sources, especially of a former time, sometimes did not record the full story, particularly for ephemeral changes driven by market forces.

Added to this was the problem of adulteration by publicans. While sometimes strength might be factitiously increased in this way, especially by adding sugar, molasses or honey for a quick re-fermentation, often it was reduced by a simple and widely-followed expedient: watering.

An old tavern lament, “Damn his eyes who waters the workman’s beer”, had a very real basis in reality.**

….

*I could not determine how to comment otherwise than as “Anonymous” but appended my name to the remarks.

**Cited in (1975) The Great Canadian Beer Book, Gerald Donaldson and Gerald Lampert, eds.

Belgian Beer, me, and Michael Jackson

 

[Replaces an earlier post due to editing and updating].

Michael Jackson’s important book, Great Beers of Belgium was first issued in 1992. Five editions were issued during his lifetime (1942-2007). While never selling great numbers the book proved highly influential.

It is the only full-length book he wrote on the beers of one country. In earlier writing he promoted numerous obscure or minor (at best) beer traditions in Belgium, which caused the initial interest internationally.

It rippled through the craft world he helped create in general. Slowly but steadily Belgian beer acquired a connoisseur’s reputation it has never lost, despite reality checks such as use of malt adjuncts or sugar in much of its brewing, and a sameness of palate across many styles.

I say “slowly” because while Belgian beer has been reputed internationally since 1977 when Jackson’s landmark The World Guide to Beer appeared, it took time for craft brewers to emulate the styles, or for importers to feature examples in their range.

As late as 10 years ago Belgian beer bars were still opening in New York, maybe still for all I know. This attests to the long gestation of Belgian beer as a key member of the pantheon.

But certainly in the last few years we see a proliferation of Saison, sour or wild, abbey-style, fruited, and Wit beers from North American and British craft brewers.

In terms of palate, English ales and German and Czech lagers have always impressed me most. I still feel those beers – at their best –  are best in the world.* Jackson’s promotion and adulation of these reinforced, but did not create, my basic regard.

I never followed him as closely for Belgian beer. In this respect I am atypical in the craft community where obeisance to Belgian styles continues unabated, at least professedly. This includes for example corrosively sour Belgian beers.

Jackson’s writing, directly, or indirectly via countless other writers, tweeters and bloggers, had a lot to do with this.

I first had Trappist Chimay around 1980 and remember it being perfumed and flowery; perhaps it became less nuanced later. The next Trappist encountered was I think St. Sixtus, so not technically the revered Westvleteren but the formula brewed by an outside brewery. I recall its heady cinnamon, banana, and brown sugar notes to this day – not my thing.

As issued by the monks at Westvleteren itself, the famed “12” did make a better impression, with a subtlety and quality few Trappist and abbey beers have. That’s one out of a relatively large group.

Although the Chimay labels can vary by batch and aging (imo), I recognize the basic yeasty profile in most Trappist beer except idiosyncratic Orval. I recognize it in Antwerp’s De Koninck, in Saison Dupont from the Ardennes and other Saisons, in Leffe Abbey Ale, in Grimbergen, in Floreffe, in…

Much craft Belgian-style beer, e.g. Belgian I.P.A., has it too. I don’t knock it for others, and if it helps the craft segment grow, great.

Gueuze and Lambic styles don’t feature it. Their signature tends to be lactic, acetic, with a funky yeast background, not my cup of tea either. Flanders red and old brown are similar, sans the funk (no spontaneous fermentation).

As to the wheat-based Wit, I like it especially when coriander and similar flavourings are used. Fresh Stella Artois, a lager, is quite good although the flowery nose I recall from 30 years ago is gone.

Most other Belgian lager I’ve encountered, Jupiler say, seems rather ordinary, mass-market-styled.

Occasionally I’ll run into other Belgians I like, Leroy Sweet Stout, say, or a pale or Scotch ale. I like the (family-owned) St-Feuillien range, which doesn’t overdo the yeasty phenolic taste.

A sub-genre of Belgian beer Jackson wrote about in 1977, Scotch Ale (before the La Chouffe era, theirs is more artisanal), was excellent: rich, malty, clean-tasting with a clear U.K. influence.

Campbell’s Scotch or Douglas Scotch were examples. I’m not sure if these still exist or, as important, taste the same.

What I really like about Belgian beer, somme toute, is how Michael Jackson wrote about it. How he singlehandedly created a pantheon of styles that remains enormously influential. He just had that ability.

He was (and is) a pleasure to read and I was happy to read him whether I liked the beers or not.

Had the tables been turned, and he was a new writer entering the kind of field he helped create, could he have created a similar mystique for American adjunct lager, the antithesis of what the craft revolution stood for?

Probably, given the relativity of taste and the large role promotion and publicity play in its formation.

Craft brewing has itself taken tentative steps toward this end, eg by vaunting rice lager or Asian rice lager. Maybe we will come full circle, back to American adjunct lager.

….

*Some Alt Bier as well, from Dusseldorf.