A Proto-Michael Jackson Rates World Beers

A wide-ranging article on beer in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1884 sheds light on the international beer picture with commendable accuracy.

It surveys Austria, Germany (indirectly), Pilsen, England, Sweden, Russia, and America. The astute observation is made that pale ale was declining in India and Bass would be well advised to make a “lager Bass”. Bass carried on well enough, for some 80 years in fact until via mergers it had a lager to sell with legs.

A Christiana brand from Sweden was praised, but especially Austrian lager which was pale amber, always served cold, and was never sour. The beer was said not to have a heavy body, but Pilsen’s lager was said to be even lighter. This shows how things have changed, as few would consider Pilsner Urquell a thin beer today. The article did note pilsner’s heavy bitterness, from Saaz hops, a quality that remains today.

American ale came in for a close look. It was said “Fifth Avenue” ignored the local productions in favour of imported ales. Indeed hotel and chic restaurant menus from the period largely bear this out.  Bass pale ale was widely available in the States by this time, despite the Bass stink, which may testify to the power of branding, of image. The article claimed the ales made in New York were mostly second class since brewers could not fetch the highest price for them, but that sales were robust anyway: poor people drank the stuff and were quite happy with the local product.

I’m not sure it is really correct to say American ales were made less carefully than they could have been, or where the journalist got his information (maybe it was from a Brooklyn lager brewer). It is hard to know too what the writer considered inferior quality to be. He may have meant a cloudy mien and warmish serving temperature, for example, which on strict technical grounds can be virtues.

Our own investigations into 19th century ale brewing suggest good quality products were made, e.g., beer was often given a long period of aging. The journalist did say the best of the local ales, made from Canadian Bay of Quinte barley, was very sound. This is satisfying for a Canadian pen to record.

The Barley Days, as the period of the big crops was known from Bay of Quinte over through Kingston, Belleville, and Cobourg to Toronto, were a rich payday for Ontario farming. This is from 1870-1900. Today, the crops are more diverse in the region, but a brewery exists with the name Barley Days in Picton, ON, to remember the palm days of agriculture.

Perhaps feeling he was a little hard on the local ales, the Daily Eagle writer averred in an amusing way that Americans could produce ale as good as Britain’s, if only enough people had confidence in the products of our own land vs. those from far away. The writer would be pleased to see that in our time, American ales have had a world influence, not least in the England which, in 1884, could only be only sniffy on the topic.

In the extract from the story below, the quaint term “dudified” appears. It refers to “dudes”, the meaning of which has changed. Originally, a dude was an upwardly mobile, urbanized type – kind of a combination of a hipster and someone on the social register. Hence the term “dude ranch”, a place  meant to show big city dudes how horses and farming really worked. A dude ranch was the 19th century equivalent to today’s eco-tourism.

The term dandy may get closer to the term dude in the late 1800s. Ain’t that right dudes?


Note re image: the image above was extracted from the issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle linked in the text via the NYS historical newspaper resource. Image appears for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the source resides solely in its lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcome.