Sarsaparilla in old Sydney

The Australian press in early 1948 was full of breathless stories about a weeks-long beer strike in Sydney. This stopped deliveries, but not production, from Tooth’s/Resch and Toohey’s, the city’s main brewers. A smaller firm, Millers continued deliveries but was swamped by demand.

The strike was by maintenance workers, not production staff, but this was enough to parch Sydney’s version of Australia’s legendary beer thirst.

Some beer came in from Adelaide and elsewhere, but Sydneysiders were desperate while the strike lasted. A report in Adelaide’s The Mail on May 1, 1948 (via Trove Newspapers), conveyed the angst in mordant language. Brief sample:

…wine saloons are now crowded, noisy places, where the regulars are a mere protesting minority, while the pubs for the first time in living memory are places where people may talk in ordinary tones and still be heard.

Evidently an early form of wine bar existed in Australia, not surprising considering the long history of viticulture there. It seems it was socially demarcated from beer pubs by a few notches.

Australian reportage of this period, as I showed by at least one other example, had a notable drollery and wit: Old World literary flair married to New World brashness.

I cite the item here, though, to show the revival in Sydney bars, likely short-lived, of a 19th century staple, sarsaparilla. Some Sydneysiders deprived of their usual drink resorted to the nostrum, here with soda. This was the sarsaparilla pop beloved of old Western films and American TV shows such as Chuck Connors’ The Rifleman.

An international generation grew up in the 1950s and 60s, of which I was one, thinking it was an old American drink and nothing else.

In fact, sarsaparilla once had widespread use in the Anglosphere. Mixed in drinks it was considered a general pick-me-up or tonic, in the adroit phraseology of Victorian marketers. It was often sold in concentrated, sweetened form.

In fact, the smilax root, sourced ideally from South and Central America, was thought a remedy for everything from Ague to Zoster. In a time of few genuine drugs, it took its place with many other barks, herbs, and spices as a hoped-for cure-all.

An article in the Sydney Mail on March 11, 1876 described the natural history of sarsaparilla, attesting to its importance in British and Colonial trade. The contributor quoted the medical writer Pereira on its wellness attributes, as we might term them today:

“….Its best effects are seen in those depraved conditions of system which are ascribed to the presence of a morbid poison, or to a deranged condition of the fluids. Hence it is frequently denominated a purifier of the blood”.

Nothing equals the ingenuity of 19th century writers to laud the effects of the Earth’s natural larder. Whether those who traded in the commodity really believed it all, who knows, and at least some early sarsaparilla was macerated in alcohol, as common in home remedies then.

There is no suggestion from the 1948 Adelaide report that it was mixed with beer, after all too beer was short. Yet we know sarsaparilla was blended with stout at the bar into the 1980s in parts of Australia. Tasmania-based home brewer Steven Clark mentioned this on Twitter recently, a personal recollection.

Another way I think we can tell stout was blended in this way, is from the website of Murray Breweries, located in Beechworth, Victoria. Despite the name, the output is a range of non-alcohol drinks, one is Sarsaparilla Cordial.

The page linked suggests its use in various drinks including lemonade, soda water, and cola. While no form of beer is mentioned, the cola suggestion likely is a echo of the earlier practice to lace stout with sarsaparilla.

Billson’s is another name by which sarsaparilla is merchandised in Australia, in this case with soda or vodka. This form also issues from the Beechworth facility. Billson’s and Murrays Breweries appear to be related lines, but perhaps Australian readers know more.

I would think in other parts of the world similar extracts of sarsaparilla, and Indian sarsaparilla in some cases (a similar taste but not smilax), are sold. If I can get some I will add it to porter or stout to approximate a 19th century sarsaparilla stout.

Some craft brewers already make one, each with its way to impart the characteristic flavour. The taste is often likened to root beer, itself not flavoured by sarsaparilla today or sassafras, but that is a different story.*

I discussed recently Halo Brewery’s stout in Toronto which uses Indian sarsaparilla, but may try my hand at it if I can find the essence.

*It is beyond my scope here but I should add some modern root beer uses a concentrate of sassafras from which the safrole has been removed. This is the agent thought to cause cancer under some conditions.

 

Sarsaparilla Porter of old New York

I wrote earlier of Toronto’s Halo Brewery’s stout flavoured with Indian sarsaparilla. This is not the American (smilax) sarsaparilla, which is not permitted in foods today due to its safrole content, associated with increased cancer risk.

Indian sarsaparilla is close enough in taste and lacks the safrole, so is a permitted substitute in beverages and other comestibles. It is often sourced from India where it has a long history in folk medicine.

In fact a sarsparilla porter was brewed in the 1830s in New York, so the idea to use the flavour in beer is not a craft beer invention. But first, did the UK brew something similar in the past?

British Faux Sarsaparilla Porter

Based on checks in British historical newspapers, I have not identified a historical example of sarsaparilla stout or porter in the UK, except for one or two products ca. 1900 that in fact were not beer. One maker advertised a sarsaparilla (presumably smilax) porter together with a dandelion porter.*

These and further non-beer drinks were manufactured by Brothwell and Mills of Fletcher Street, Workington, and advertised in the West Cumberland Times on August 8, 1896.

The ad read:

BROTHWELL AND MILLS Beg to call attention to their justly famed AERATED WATERS.

LEMONADE, GINGER ALE, ORANGE CHAMPAGNE, HOREHOUND, GINGER CHAMPAGNE, TIT-BITS.

SYPHONS.

SODA WATER, SELTZER WATER,

POTASS WATER.

LIME WATER CAREFULLY PREPARED.

TRY OUR CELEBRATED HOP BITTERS,

BOTANIC BEER, SARSAPARILLA,

Dandelion Porter, and Brewed GINGER BEER.

CORDIALS.

Hot SARSAPARILLA, GINGER, RASP-

BERRY, PEPPERMINT, BLACK CURRANT, RED CUR-

RANT, ELDER-

BERRY, STRAWBERRY,

PINE APPLE.

Bottles from the firm are still collected, see for example the handsome ginger beer and soda siphon bottles in this Flickr page.

The Flickr source includes a biographical note on founder George Henry Brothwell, written by Russell Barnes, who states Brothwell was a Temperance promoter.

One reason a commercial stout version cannot be traced in Britain is, sarsaparilla would have been excluded from the permissible ingredients in beer. Hops of course were allowed, sugar since 1847, malt, and malt adjuncts since the Free Mash Tun Act of the 1880s, but I doubt sarsaparilla would have been permitted (question mark perhaps for licorice, and salt).

Such flavourings might appear in a home-made beer, not subject to the legislation that governed commercial, licensed brewers, but that is a different thing.

An example along the lines just mentioned is the sarsaparilla beer for which the 19th century English chemist and author Arthur James Cooley gave recipes in his Cooley’s Encyclopedia.

One involved mixing a decoction of sarsaparilla with multiple cups of “India ale” . This was one of his “medicated ale” nostrums (see p. 78), not a commercially-sold product.

American Commercial Sarsaparilla Porter

The May 29, 1839 Morning Herald in New York advertised the sarsaparilla porter of Whiting & Babcock, a firm located at 31 Liberty Street in Lower Manhattan.

I was not able to trace a brewery under this name, or recognizable variant, but this is long ago and small brewing firms existed that are not traceable today. The firm might come up in a business directory search, interested readers are free to check.

Perhaps the firm was an agent or distributor, not the brewer itself. Brewers even in America, where no law precluded adding sarsaparilla to beer as far as I know, would not have wanted, generally, to trumpet a non-traditional ingredient in their beer.

The Albany, New York, state-led inquiry of the 1830s into beer adulteration, shows, were proof needed, the public was skittish enough about what went into beer.

[Note added August 8, 2022: reader Tim S identified a firm of this name at 21 Liberty Street as selling “drugs” in 1839. This is the firm in question, and not a brewer, as when I checked the ad again in the 1839 Morning Herald, the address stated is 21 Liberty Street, not 31 Liberty as I originally wrote. See his Comment and my additional remarks].

The 1839 ad made clear the porter taste was not effaced by the additive (presumably the full Monty smilax was used back then):

SARSAPARILLA PORTER—A new and healthy beverage.—This porter is manufactured by the subscribers from ingredients perfectly inoffensive, there being no narcotic used in the composition. It combines an agreeable tonic, with an alterative, admirably calculated to invigorate aad produce a healthy action throughout the system.

The most delicate can use it without the possibility of creating an undue excitement, at the same time derive all the advantages from its tonic properties that can be obtained from the best London porter.

The Sarsaparilla (introduced into the porter) has long been celebrated as a renovator of the system, purifying the blood, eradicating cutaneous diseases, etc.

For a summer beverage for health it is believed that this porter is unsurpassed by any article ever offered to the public it being highly carbonated and very grateful to the palate.

Sarsaparilla in Today’s Beer

I like the effect of Indian sarsaparilla in Halo’s version, as it doesn’t clash with the porter flavour but somehow complements it. In this sense it seems similar to the 1839 example. And I say this as one who doesn’t generally like non-hop additives in beer.**

A number of craft breweries have issued a sarsaparilla porter, examples may be found online.

It is also easy to find more information on Indian sarsaparilla, this article at Golden Poppy Herbs is a good start.

Below you see me evidently in good mood enjoying draft Halo stout with Indian sarsaparilla, last winter al fresco in Toronto.

 

 

See my post following for a sequel.

*Clearly, as seen from the advert included, a (non-alcohol) dandelion porter was made. The sarsaparilla mentioned in the hop bitters section seems either a sarsaparilla porter or perhaps simply a hopped drink with sarsaparilla, not sarsaparilla porter as such. Either way these were hopped beverages flavoured with sarsaparilla that were not real beer. The hot sarsaparilla mentioned in the cordials section was evidently a cordial of some kind, another Temperance drink by all evidence.

**A little ginger is okay, or coriander or other orange flavouring. Peppermint, too.

 

 

British India Greets the English Pub. Part VIII.

Disappeared Old-School Pubs of Bangalore

Zac O’Yeah – I would presume a nom de plume, but am not certain – is an accomplished, Bengalaru-based detective novelist and journalist.

He has an earlier history in Europe as rock musician and music producer. You may learn more of him from his website, and biographical notes in Good Reads.

See also a sampling of his journalism collected in The Indian Express.

He is Swedish-born and -raised but has long resided in Bengalaru, known still to many in the west as Bangalore.

He has, from my gleaning, re-invented himself as an Indian resident and writer, giving his unique slant on the east and cross-cultural phenomena such as Scandinavistan.

He writes in both Swedish and English.

Bangalore is one of India’s prominent urban communities, counting almost 9,000,000 people and nerve centre of Karnataka state in the South.

In my previous post I discussed Dewar’s, a now-defunct, British-type bar in Bangalore that originated between the two world wars, hence relatively late in the British Raj.

Modern pub culture in Bangalore dates from the 1980s, as also discussed in my previous post.

Dewar’s dated from before that time, when Indian pubs still reflected, in decor, drinks, and patronage, the British period.

O’Yeah has written an article that memorialized Dewar’s and other disappeared pubs of that earlier period in Bangalore.

(The scope of this series does not permit to address the course of alcohol policy in India since Independence in 1947. Suffice to say it has gone throught different phases, e.g. an early one of discouragement if not repression. Bangalore was it seems an exception, due probably to a marked history of British brewing in the city).

Probably inadvertently, and quite apart the value of the piece as general journalism, O’Yeah has provided an undoubted service to beer historical studies.

His article, entitled “Last orders at Beer-Uru’s Classic Watering Holes”, appeared in The Hindu Business Line on January 15, 2018.

He collected a half-dozen of the old school beer pubs of the city, offering pungent and otherwise informative memories and other information. Consider this article-opener:
“Where did they go?” I gently lament as I tread on, with the high-altitude Deccan sun, augmented by global warming and shrinking green cover, hammering down on my balding pate. The name Bengaluru is, according to local lore, Kannada slang for ‘beer galore’. If you were ET and landed anywhere in town in the 1990s, there’d be a handy watering hole within 333 metres of your UFO, as attested to by statistical data (three per sq km was the norm), which made this city attract lots of aliens who wished to get ‘Bangalored’.
Of Dewar’s he wrote:

… I spent so much time lounging in the cane chairs at Dewar’s in Bamboo Bazaar that some drunks mistook me for the portrait of Queen Elizabeth that hung behind the bar — I am unapologetically nostalgic. Dewar’s, born in 1933 and gone in 2010, was like a caring mother, a homely bungalow where those in lungis mingled with khadi-clad intellectuals, and everybody felt safe, as the rosewood tables were too heavy to be used in bar battles. The beer snacks were excellent, too. Apparently the bread-crumb coated fish fillets were introduced by an Irishman who manned the kitchen until he went home after Independence.

Among the establishments he canvassed was Sarovara on Lavelle Road, “an unpretentious beer hall”. He notes that in 1995 the site formed the set for the “epic bar fight scene” in “the gangster classic OM (1995)”.

He adds the property was later sold to an upscale hotel chain, and today only a filmic record exists of Sarovara (at least publicly, I’d infer).

The hugely popular film earns regular re-release. The famous fight sequence has been uploaded to YouTube, you may view it here. Indeed clear images of the bar appear, in what seems perhaps an eastern pastiche of a Europa-era beer hall.

The name Sarovara appears at the outset, in red letters on a white canopy over the bar counter.

A broad, undivided hall is shown, painted white with shades of pastel;  an outdoor component also appears. Some scenes picture drinks on the bar: glasses of beer in apparently two shades,* and bottles of liquor.

Another stroke of fortune for beer historical studies.

I will never sit in the fraying cane chairs of a Dewar’s, never place a drink on its rosewood tables the colour of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, sent from prewar Malaya.

I will never know the ambience of a Sarovara.

But these resources help to get some sense of it, and that has value in itself, I hope you will agree.

*Unless one is whisky-and-soda or similar.

 

 

 

 

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.