Fine Whiskey and Aging

The British Bourbon Society recently posted a tweet that resonated with us, on the merits of Old Tub bourbon. Old Tub is a Beam brand, of which Jim Beam bourbon is best known. Beam today is owned by the Japanese multinational beverage and food company, Suntory Holdings.

The tweet noted an appealing youthful quality in the bourbon including its nose. Bourbon, like most whisky, so often is prized for long years in oak barrels. At times there seems almost an obsession with long aging: 10, 12, 15, and many more years old.

The tweet upheld the merits of a good younger whisky. Old Tub is a bonded bourbon, hence 50% ABV, at least four years old, but probably not too much older.

For further product and corporate background on Old Tub, I can’t improve on this Whiskey Wash post (Cameron Hoick).

My interest here is to uphold the validity of a good younger whiskey. Having studied whiskey history in-depth, I know just from the name Old Tub that an allusion is made to the character of old-time whiskey. Whiskey in the 1800s was often mashed and fermented in a series of small wood tubs. In the post A Maven of Intelligent Blending  I discussed some of those features.

Today, sour mashing means only the practice of adding backset, or the residue of distillation, to a mash to replace part of the water. In the 19th century there were numerous variations on sweet and sour mashing and fermentation. From my post:

Preyer’s [1901] explanation of sweet mash and sour mashing is broadly similar to others I’ve discussed, but with a gloss on back-yeasting. He states that at the beginning of a distilling season a mash is left to ferment naturally in small tubs which he says (correctly) is sour mash. Once a fermentation is secured, the yeast, or barm, is used to seed the next one and so on. He calls that a sweet mash, which is correct as well because yeast is being added by the distiller.

Clearly some distillers operated in this way but some distillers never yeasted back and relied for all their fermentations on purely natural (spontaneous) fermentation as I’ve showed in the past.

Then too, sometimes you would start with a sweet mash and move to sour, in that once enough backset was produced, you would mash with that and add no further yeast. This was the system C.K. Gallagher laid down as I’ve also explained recently.

Beam bourbon today is, according to its website, mashed in a 10,000 gal. cooker. It is fermented with a proprietary jug yeast in large domed, metal tanks, as in most larger distilleries. Calling one of its whiskeys small tub is meant, I should think, to suggest an old fashioned character. This derives from the bonded status including four years of age, the 50% ABV (vs. the norms of 40% or 43%), and the fact of not being chill-filtered.

Distillers worldwide chill-filter spirits to maintain their clarity under various handling and storage conditions. It is felt superfluous though with extra-strong spirits, particular some bourbon and single malt whisky.

In any case today consumers are rightly not obsessed with crystal clarity, as the success of cloudy beer types shows. Compounds not removed by chill-filtering add to the traditional character.

The relatively young age, though, is another factor. The aging of American whiskey, as I’ve discussed in many posts, developed over time in the 19th century. While there was always some old whiskey in the market, even early in the 1800s, much of it by many accounts was sold young: 1, 2, 3 years of age.

The longer a whiskey is in the barrel, the more colour and sweet wood gums are imparted by the charred interior. At the same time, the assertive, “distillery” character of new whiskey is modified by a complex process of oxidation. The wood pores allow entry of oxygen. A multi-years’ breathing matures the whiskey.

When I was active in the consumer group Straightbourbon.com 10-15 years ago, long-aged whiskey was readily available: 10, 12, even 15 and more years. And it didn’t cost that much more than standard 6-8 year old whiskey.

With the success of bourbon and straight rye since then, the supply of such old whiskey has dried up or available stocks are rare and pricy. Fair enough, that’s how the market works.

Yet, I noticed when buying a lot of that old whiskey that often the barrel tones covered over everything else. And the distillery character was reduced due to the long oxidation process mentioned.

The whiskey taste, originally, is what made whiskey, whiskey. The malts of the U.K., or Ireland, are no different.* To efface substantially that feature in whiskey is to diminish the product, in my opinion.

People will have different preferences on age. A 12-year-old Scottish malt is often ideal because aging differs there and the barrel type too. (Bearing in mind that age statements are a minimum, a vatting of whiskies 12 years of age and older usually perfects the batch).

But for Kentucky whiskey, I think six to eight years of aging is usually right, with some whiskey reaching a good balance at about four years. It seems Old Tub may have that sweet spot.

I look forward to trying it, when I can next visit the U.S. – but who knows when that will be?

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*Irish single pot still too, of course.

 

Heritage Gastronomy – Tarrytown, 1970

Intermittently I have charted here, through an historical lens, the activities of the International Wine and Food Society (founder, André Simon) and Gourmet Society (George Frederick). I must have a couple of dozen posts, covering different countries for the former. The latter was U.S.-only, but not its menus!

The 1930s, 40s, and 50s have been the main focus, with an occasional sally in the 60s or 70s.

A duo of dinners circa 1970 will add further insight. In each, one can trace themes that later resonated more broadly in American food and wine.

The first is a dinner for which the menu seems not publicly available, but was reported in detail in the Times-Union of Albany, New York in January 1970. You may read the account, here.

The dinner was held in the certainly historical – we once visited – Tarrytown, New York. Manhattan-born (1763) Washington Irving, famed author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (and more) explored Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow as a young man. (It started when his family sent him for refuge from fever-ridden Manhattan. Hmm…).

He later inhabited a riverside estate in Tarrytown.

That Tarrytown was the site of some eventful early American history made it ideal to recreate the heritage menu described in the article.

The menu sounds lush, and probably as a set piece was quite unknown in pioneer days except perhaps at the grandest tables. Still, elements seem clearly historical, and it must have been fun putting it together.

The drinks included the Stone Fence – sweet cider and applejack, later bourbon – and “cold ale”. The term ale probably struck the average American as old-fashioned in 1970, so job done. The “cold” adjective probably addressed two things: the time of year – a cellar in early Tarrytown’s winter would have been darn cold – and the American expectation by 1970 to have cold beer. Win win.

What kind of ale, ah there’s the rub. It is not stated. The New York branch of the Wine and Food Society, which held this do, perhaps chose something more authentic than the golden ale then produced by many U.S. breweries. Ballantine India Pale Ale would have been perfect, in fact it appeared in the Society’s 1940s beer tastings as I’ve described.

Perhaps an import was chosen, Whitbread Pale Ale, or Watney’s Red Barrel, in deference to early imports of ale or at least the malt, from Britain.

New York wines, then viewed mostly as quaffing or table wine, were served in carafe as the main moistener.

The food? Well, how does a pigeon-based chowder sound? What say ye of salt dried beef, or smoked reindeer? Or salad with nasturtium?

Also served were turnip tops with salt pork, wheat and oat mush, black bread, and … Champagne. Well, allowances must be made.

I didn’t find these preparations on a quick perusal of Amelia Simmons’ classic American Cookery (1796). The report stated selections represented Tarrytown cuisine of the 17th through the 19th centuries. I’d think research was done in local books and manuscripts to glean ideas, but in any case a period ring sounds.

Below is a depiction, author unknown, of Tarrytown c. 1828 (via Wikipedia):

 

 

délice in the menu was cider and honey sauce; numerous poultry types were plated with it. A sauce of that description appears today in Yorkshire, U.K., with pork chops.  The indispensable All Recipes UK gives the lowdown.

Yorkshire sounds far away from southern New York State, but much of the emigration of the time came from Britain, so it all ties in. Now, what of Dutch foods? Irving famously described the surviving Dutch customs in isolated places like Sleepy Hollow.

Nothing in the menu seems, offhand, to suggest that tradition. Maybe the frumenty-like mush, or black bread? Americans used rye in their early loaves to make a brown bread, one thinks of New England or Boston brown bread. But black? Maybe that was a Dutch survival.

Various modern recipes can be found for blackish Frisian or other Dutch rye bread. Here is one, from the Flour and Leaven site.

The then-head of the New York Wine and Food Society was interviewed in the story. His remarks reflect a democratic ethos: e.g. that “gourmet” means different things to different people (it’s true). The Society’s representatives strived, it seems to me, to emphasize a non-exclusive spirit since the inception of the group (1933) – no doubt one reason for its success.

Other dinners of the New York group were described, one a meal solely of different beef cuts. The idea to serve one food throughout a meal is intriguing, and appears through the history of gastronomy here and there.

Soon I will describe such a dinner held by the New York Society, in the same period, but involving a different meat than beef.

N.B. The same UPI account of the dinner appeared in October 1969 here, in the Schenectady Gazette, with concluding paragraphs omitted from the Times-Union version. It made clear the dinner was carefully researched, a process that took two months. The service of the one sauce for each entrée was explained as an historical practise, for example.

 

 

Flavour and Fermentability

And the Focus Group and Funnel

Is beer less rich in taste today, on average, than historically? I think probably yes. This hasn’t to do with changes in malt types, or other brewing materials, but the terminal point at which the fermentation concludes, or gravity.

As reprinted some years ago in MoreBeer, Peter Ensminger wrote of famed, Czech Pilsner Urquell:

The original gravity of the export is about 12 °P (1.048 S.G.), with a final gravity of 3.8 °P (1.015 S.G.), and an alcohol content of 4.4% (v/v).

Literature I’ve seen on Urquell suggests these gravities are unchanged at least since the early 20th century, and probably well before that. Other pale lager of Central Europe was often similar as many analyses show.

One may compare the 1015 FG to final gravities of various modern pale lager styles, except commendably Czech Premium Pale Lager. See e.g. this chart from the website Brewer’s Friend. 1015 is outside the top end of those – the average would be a few points lower.

There is a further exception for Dortmund Export, but even there 1015 is the maximum stated. Modern Dortmunder I’ve tasted seems rather under that, in fact.

If one compares the special bitter, American pale ale, and amber ale to 1800s pale ales in a chart prepared by Ron Pattinson, clearly the modern average is lower (see pp. 164-165). To be sure a couple of examples in the latter show extreme fermentability, or attenuation as brewers say.

This occurred usually with beers impacted by so-called wild, or Brettanomyces yeast. It often manifested in beers exported to distant climes or long stored in the U.K. I’ll have occasion to show an example in my article to appear early next year in Brewery History.

But c. 1880 in the U.K., “domestic” pale ale finished generally much richer than today’s equivalent. By that chart it is in the mid- to higher teens in most cases.

Having seen the full arc of modern craft brewing from inception to today, I’d say the beers generally have not changed much in finish over that period – generally on the dry side.

Mass market lager – American Lager in the Brewer’s Friend chart, and Light Lager – is even drier, so this is relative to a point.

And there are craft types known for sweetness, New England India Pale Ale, or milk or Imperial stout. But I’ve had fairly dry examples in each category, as well.

There is such a range of production today that one can always find a taste to satisfy, but in general I would say much craft beer seems on the dry side. I mean here the taste of malt or other grains in the finish, not the hop character. It’s two different things.

Each brewer will decide what to make based on his or her taste but also the market, so a levelling tends to occur as for any food or drink product.

I think many factors explain this. First, craft did not re-invent brewing completely. The first craft brewers made something better – certainly different – than the norm in existence. Yet, they were still influenced by what they thought the market expected, by what they expected themselves.

That was impacted by what came before. Craft brewers often professed to disdain the mass market, “computerized” taste of 1970s mass-market lager, but to think it had no influence on them would be fatuous.

Just as the unpasteurized craft beer that emerged had industrial precedents, just as the all-malt brewing did, so did the mouthfeel and finish of much craft beer.

Fair enough. Brewers must make money and I’m all for whatever they make if they turn a profit. If brewers don’t make money and wither in number, the possibility for some to make beer that appeals to a certain palate withers in proportion.

Speaking for myself, I plump for rich taste, for what I think represents the brewing ideal. The old German saying “malt is the soul of beer” meant malt you could taste.

One can use the finest German or any malt in the world but if attenuated to marked dryness, how much of the character remains?

Pilsner Urquell is Exhibit A for the kind of malt finish in beer I like.* There are many other examples I could choose, but Urquell serves well due to being so well known.

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*Hops too, for that matter.

 

 

 

 

Whiskey Kings Meet

Before the first world war there was a minor genre in American, and surely Canadian, journalism: the leisurely description of a junket. I’ve discussed a few examples in these pages. One was a banker’s outing in the Midwest to sample a real burgoo, the Southern stew of mixed meat and vegetables on a starch base. Some were tours of breweries and distilleries. The best have an understated, downhome humour, not hard to achieve in a time before our era of sound-bite, relentless jargon, and clamouring “personalities”.

 

 

In the past leisure was appreciated for what it was: people “set” awhile, had harmless fun, with beverage alcohol often a part, but not the greatest part. A drink or three might facilitate a literary or other artistic flight in persons not accustomed, solid citizens like bankers. The occasions were diverse: a running race, a fishing outing (no fish was ever caught, one editor mused), or simply chanting some songs.

A July, 1898 story fits the bill, but with deeper interest for those who plumb the history of spirits. A group of newspaper editors from Maysville, Kentucky took a trip up north to visit Hiram Walker Distillery in Walkerville, Ontario.

That’s Kentuckians, mind, making homage to a Canadian whisky town, and not just that, but from Maysville. A charming locality on the Ohio river, Maysville is not just any town in Kentucky, but may be where bourbon was named. At any rate Maysville is considered by many the spiritual home of bourbon whiskey.

I’ve been to Maysville, twice in fact. It was originally called Limestone, a river port that shipped corn whiskey by flatboat to New Orleans and other distant markets. The long rest in wood and motion of the boats helped create the character. Maysville was only in famed Bourbon County for three years – changing county lines put it in another county even before 1800 – but it might be where bourbon was named, as the name for whiskey emerges early in its newspapers. (Other theories exist, too).

Now, why would Kentucky town notables sally north to any whiskey destination? It’s coals to Newcastle, isn’t it? Well, Canadian Club whisky had achieved good success in the United States in the 1880s and ’90s. It sold for top dollar and while not a “straight” itself, people clearly liked it. It was 100% aged, contrary to American blends that typically used un-aged neutral spirits as the base. So that was part of it.  As well, it was imported, with the cachet most imports have.

Word about “C.C.” obviously had gotten ’round, even to proud Kentucky, where no one needed lessons how to make whiskey (then or now really). Maybe Hiram Walker hosted the group to get some good press in the heartland of American whiskey.

The news account describes the trip in a more restrained fashion than some others of its type. Maybe the editors didn’t want to offend the native industry, or too much. Also, Prohibition was just 20 years away. The chilling effect was already being felt across the country. Bourbon historian Henry Crowgey described this as “a wave of Victorian rectitude”. The junket occurred in summer, and there was room in the account for some mild levity, but things were kept in bounds.

Still, the party had fun and Hiram Walker clearly entertained them royally. No taste notes are offered on Canadian Club (or that made it in print), no invidious comparisons with good old sour mash. It might have been embarrassing for either Kentucky or Canada. No doubt thoughts as to quality – either way – were shared in private counsels on steamer and rails home, but that’s all. In fact drink is little described except obliquely by mention of “punch”, and “Champaign”.

Walkerville had a reputation then as a temperance town, strange as it may sound, but some whisky must have gone into the punch. And Hiram Walker’s people probably slipped a few flasks to the esteemed visitors as they took the gangplank for the Lake steamer back.

Rail, boat, and even carriage were employed on the trip. The Kentuckians took great pleasure encountering our bracing Lake winds in July. If you have ever been to Kentucky in summer, you’ll know why!

At day’s end, two honourable whisky traditions met up. Like most parleys between Canadians and Americans since the 1812 War, at personal level anyway, it seems to have ended in good humour and handclasps.

As reported, the visitors didn’t hold back in one respect. They were obviously impressed with the layout and construction of the Walkerville plant, to the point Kentucky distillers might take lessons.

The steamer landed the crowd on a pretty lawn in front of a large three story brown stone building.* The building and its surroundings, clean gravel and stone walks, the pretty lawn with patches of lovely flowers, with a crowd of sturdy Canadians, in white flannel suits, off at one side engaged in a ball game,(bowling on the green), and an orchestra discoursing sweet music at the opposite end of the lawn, suggested a summer resort, but such was not the case.

 The building contains the general offices of Hiram Walker & Sons, proprietors of the famous “Canadian Club” distillery. The establishment is an immense one that puts to shame our Kentucky distillers. They can get a good many points from Walker & Sons. The various buildings of the plant are brick surrounded with drives and walks, while within all is scrupulously neat and clean.

Canada didn’t do, not in Walkerville c. 1900, the low flagstone still house covered with creepers and moss, fine as the whiskey was that coursed from Kentucky’s hollows. The Walkerville plant resembled more a Brahmin’s playing ground, or modern university campus. It was the Canadian way, one manifestation.

Note re image: the image above of Maysville, KY was sourced from this town website. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Still there.

Pasteur, Piel’s, and Pale Ale

One of the landmark American craft breweries, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Brewers and engaged consumers everywhere are justly lauding the achievement. Its Pale Ale (available in Ontario), Celebration Ale, Porter, Bigfoot, and the many line extensions since inception need no introduction to friends of brewing.

The founder Ken Grossman, a southern Californian still only 65, wrote a memoir a few years ago, Beyond the Pale. It combines autobiography, company profile, and business guide. In the book he explains his stance against pasteurization of beer, you may read it here.

He almost casually mentions that he also eschews “sterile filtration”. Molson-Coors Beverage Co. probably was the first to introduce non-pasteurized, sterile-packaged canned beer, in 1959. I discussed the history in this post, based partly on detailed, contemporaneous press coverage.

A small exception to no-pasteurization at Sierra Nevada is for barrel-aged beers. They get a dose of the pasteurizer, as wood barrels can introduce a cocktail of bothersome organisms in the brewery. Long-time Sierra Nevada brewer Steve Dressler five years ago explained the rationale.

Coors still uses, at least in the United States, a combination of sterile filtration and asceptic packaging. While costly and tech-intensive, the company feels it gives the beer a leg up on taste – keg up, to coin a phrase. Whether it does or not is a matter for consumer assessment.

The outsize success of Coors Light seems to bear out the logic, at least in part. Yet Bud Light, say, is pasteurized and also has enjoyed good success.

Molson-Coors periodically updates and improves its processes, like all industrial companies. A 1985 article abstracted by the Master Brewers Association of America shows how cost factors, in particular, impact its technology. As explained by the author M.H. Beckett (again, as of 1985):

A charge modified cellulose filter mass, designated Cuno ZP820, has been developed to replace the cotton/asbestos Enzinger pulp pad used for sterile filtration of beer. The Enzinger pulp pad is prepared by hydropulping the filtration material and processing the pulp through several washing stages.

In contrast, Sierra Nevada bottles and cans unpasteurized beer with a measure of yeast to promote a gentle bottle- or can-conditioning.

Whether re-seeding is done to roughly filtered beer, versus using the original fermentation yeast, I am not sure, but the beers – Pale Ale, Celebration, etc. – all contain a small charge of yeast that keeps the beer “live”. Coors beer is not pasteurized either, but is not live in the can or bottle due to the micro-filtration that eliminates virtually every yeast cell from the package.

All beer, before pasteurization became generalized in industrial brewing, was unpasteurized. With the onset of new small breweries in the last 40 years, most brewers dispensed with the process, although not all, e.g. Anchor Brewing in San Francisco (founded 1899 but re-set on a craft vector by Fritz Maytag in the 1970s).

Most crafts sell beer for consumption within a few months in a local market, and justly dispense with the need to pasteurize. Like Sierra they want neither the expense of pasteurization nor its flavour-dampening impact (due to application of high heat whether for tunnel or the less intrusive flash pasteurization).

Yet, in our post on Hoffman Brewing of New Jersey, we showed that even in the 1930s – well after pasteurization was standard in American brewing  –  some beer was bottled unpasteurized. This is a kind of analogy to the standard today of craft brewing.

I’ll record now additional 1930s references for such unpasteurized (non-draft) beers. Then I’ll reach over to the 1960s, after Coors’ innovation, when another canned draught entered the market.

I mentioned in the Hofman’s post that its unpasteurized bottled beer, introduced in 1933, did not apparently enjoy a long run. The brewery itself was bought by Milwaukee’s Pabst in late 1945.

Yet, the beer lasted at least until the autumn of 1938, when an advertisement appeared in a Batavia, N.Y. newspaper. The ad was unusually frank on the characteristics of Hoffman’s beer. It noted the beer contained “active yeast” and this was “good for you”. It also stated:

 

… Unpasteurized beer and ale have been supplied in this territory for some time in half-gallon bottles, under refrigeration and sold with a warning for immediate eonsumption.

Further:

For more than two years the Hoffman Beverage Company of Newark, N.J., has produced unpasteurized beer in 12 and 29-ounce bottles for shipping and sale without constant refrigeration.

Such a process requires absolutely aseptic conditions, sterile bottles, and hermetically sealing with sterile crowns. Thus Hoffman’s guarantees you real purity as well as better flavor and all the benefits of draft brews.

In the summer of the same year, 1938, a news story in Schenectady, N.Y. described different-size beer bottles in the market. Among them was a quart-size and “giant”, or 64 oz., both for unpasteurized beer. The 29 oz. bottle in Hoffman’s ad was perhaps this quart – not quite 32 oz., then.

This array of bottles for unpasteurized beer suggests Hoffman was not the only brewer in the game. And it wasn’t. In August 1936 in Jamestown, N.Y. Lang’s Brewery in Buffalo, N.Y. advertised its Lang’s Draught Beer in the half-gallon “giant”. A picture is included showing a pot-stopper closure, mentioned in the story on bottle sizes.

(You know, I can almost see the old burg across lake and plains of Ontario from my apartment perch in Toronto).

The bulbous shape brings to mind the old saying, “a face only a mother could love [the industrial designer]”. It’s hard to parse the aesthetics of past ages, sometimes.

If Lang’s too was selling bottled unpasteurized beer, there had to be others. The Lang’s ad stressed the “old time tang” of the beer. No doubt veteran beer types in Lang’s market knew the real deal from back in the day, the pre-Prohibition day for some.

How did Hoffman’s beer, at any rate, differ from Coors’ over 25 years later? Aseptic packaging is generally considered to have gained legs since about 1960. Yet it was clearly known in the ’30s. As was sterilization of bottles and crown caps.

I suspect the difference was the beer itself. Hoffman’s beer, as the ad quoted shows, had live yeast. It was probably filtered as closely as technology permitted then, but nowhere near as efficiently as the micro-filtration Coors has used since 1959. Then again, maybe Hoffman’s beer tasted better as a result.

In the canned/bottled draught beer stakes, another historical entrant is Piel’s Draft, introduced in 1965-1966. Your humble (?) scribe remembers buying this in the 1970s, on visits to alluring locales (they were, to us) like Plattsburg and Albany, N.Y. And Cape Cod – no need to sell that one.

A January 1966 ad in Troy, N.Y. vaunted Piel’s new beer as follows:

The biggest news for beer drinkers in 50 years comes from Piels. Real Draft Beer in a can. A 12-oz. can of beer that tastes just as if it came from the tap. That’s right, straight from the tap. We worked long and hard to bring you this remarkable new development.

The “biggest news” for 50 years? Well, not really. Coors had done the trick a few years earlier. Then too in the 1960s, Coors was not distributed on the East Coast. Piels, of Brooklyn, N.Y., possibly had the first canned draught beer on that coast, so fair enough.

Piel’s Real Draft was introduced some 20 years before Miller Genuine Draft (1985), we may add.

Just as for craft beer tout court, everything comes from somewhere. Even a phenomenon as daring and romantic as craft brewing had progenitors, and not only distant ones like the apprehended practises of Dickensian red brick breweries. Breweries from the anodyne 1930s-1960s had an impact too, when plants stretching blocks, mass production, and the pocket protector ruled.*

The seeming bad days for beer, when palate was uniform due to remorseless corporate raiding and cost-cutting, laid the basis for our funky artisan brews no less than our gilded notions of Meuse Valley farm breweries, or stone-built English breweries with waterwheels.

In faceless post-Prohibition factories – or so they seemed – there were brewers wary of the taste impact of pasteurization. In their way, they tried and sometimes succeeded to speak up for the beer palate. Their counterparts today, mostly in craft brewing, work in a different time, but the spirit is the same.

And so, the beer palate is not dependent on country, time, or technology as such. It is dependent on taste. The real beer people get that, and always did. It’s an unshakeable constant in the long and winding road that is beer history.

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*Of course, industrial draft beer was usually unpasteurized until relatively recently anyway. That too influenced the craft adoption of a similar standard for all packaging forms. In this post I am focusing though on bottled and canned beer.

A 1950s Food Idea Needs Revival

Back to l’Avenir?

There is a tendency, despite the hits it has taken in recent decades, to consider “progress” as inexorable. When it comes to applied food technologies, for example, nothing in the past seemingly can compete with what we know today.

While older methods continue – canning, bottling, freezing, curing – today, sous vide – low temperature cooking in a sealed bag to retain taste and moisture – is commonly used in home, restaurant, institutional, and transport settings.

Sous vide was perfected in the 1960s and 1970s by industrial technologists (the technique itself is not quite new). Thence it sprang to the commercial world including some restaurants. Troisgros in France probably made it fashionable at the high end.

Other technologies have gathered pace since the ’60s: cryovac packing, aseptic packaging (which has its own separate history including in brewing), and food irradiation. Or take the stand-up pouches widely used today for soups and other fluid foods.

Some old school tech falls by the wayside, not from inherent defects of design or cost limitation, but due to public policy that overrides. Carbon emission control seems destined to end fossil fuel engines, gasoline or other. Plastics pollution measures are another instance, which impact food systems especially.

Sometimes though one finds in the past applied technology that seems due for revival. What follows is an example, in our view.

The famed citadel of cuisine Maxim’s of Paris, on rue Royale in the “8th”, is today a Pierre Cardin brand. In the ’50s, when the Vaudable family was the owner, Maxim’s deployed a clever idea: send out food to the United States in frozen, pre-packaged portions. This used an efficient, proven technology to sample French food, quite literally, far from home – and from an icon of haute cuisine.

In 1955 the press in Philadelphia carried a splashy story on the launch in that city, a fashionable dinner at John Wanamaker, the upscale department store. City “hostesses” arrived in force, one is pictured being kissed on the hand by a Parisian from Maxim’s displaying old-school charm.

Maxim’s partnered with Pan American Airlines to fly the food with dispatch to sales points Stateside. What did the matrons, captains of industry, and other notables eat?

The Belgian staple of beef carbonnade, for one. Maybe the hearty taste was thought to survive the freezing and trip over well, or American palates.

There was also veal blanquette, and lamb sauté, both postwar classics of “French cuisine”. And Normandy trout. Channel sole, too – Dover sole no doubt. It was planned that the sauces, then emblematic of French cooking, would ultimately be manufactured and sold in the U.S.

Maxim’s was an early proponent of scientific methods, always looking to expand its reach with new techniques, and methods of commercialization. It established a branch in Hong Kong as early as the late 1950s. Finally one arrived in New York, in 1985, although it closed 15 years later.

Exporting full meals in frozen form is one idea I’ve never seen here. It clearly occurs within the E.U., which after all is a polity of sorts, but I’m thinking of North America as a market for notable prepared foods of Europe, or Asia, say.

I’ve never seen French, British or German dinners sold frozen here, for example. Individual foods, yes: fish, ham, cheese, chocolate, etc., that goes without saying. It is always interesting to eat prepared fresh food* from another country, especially one with a storied food tradition.

Maxim’s merchandized its ready-to-eat meals through premium delicatessens in New York and Jersey. The same dishes enjoyed by society in Philly were advertised in 1954 by a “gourmets'” shop in Princeton, New Jersey. (The locale should give away the reason, all those academics…).

 

 

The idea seems to have lapsed, although perhaps Maxim’s still does a form of it, I don’t know. It has numerous restaurants around the world today, which perhaps made the export of pre-packaged meals seem unnecessary.

Of course as well, there was the rise of popular interest in international cooking. It was encouraged by the success of Julia Child’s and many other cookery books. Those interested probably focused on their own kitchen. Why buy a frozen imported meal when you make “the same thing” here?

Yet, foreign ingredients and preparation techniques often end as quite different to local emulations. The French beef I used to make a carbonnade in a Boulogne-sur-Mer apartment earlier this year had a different taste than our beef. The Gallic meat was seemingly softer and sweeter (sugar beet feed, perhaps?).

And, what better time to revive the idea than right now? International travel is almost at a standstill. As we can’t quite travel to foreign locales to sample a local meal, surely fast travel, improved logistics, and latest food technologies can conspire to bring it to us. A real Bolognese sauce, not in a bottle or can, would be something I’d like to try, on Italian-made pasta.

Government regulations may have to change to allow this in certain places. Governments have proved flexible in other ways to accommodate the current pandemic.

And the transport fleets of our carriers can use the business, eh?

Note re image: the image above, an 1899 Maxim’s menu, was sourced at Wikipedia, here, and is noted as public domain. Any and all intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*I mean, not canned or bottled. So excluding, say, British baked beans as currently marketed in Canada.

 

 

 

 

Forthcoming Publication of new Theory on Name Origin of Porter

Some five years have passed since I penned my post, “Spitalfields Weavers, Three Threads, and Porter“. That post, dated September 20, 2015, argued that porter, the famous London black beer, and three threads, for a related beer type, quite plausibly were named for terms used in the Spitalfields London weaving industry of c. 1700.

In turn, the argument had its origins in a paper I wrote in 2010 called “Notes on Three Threads and Numerical Variations”, as explained in the 2015 post.

My theory is completely novel, there was no hint of it in porter studies preceding. It is the first new idea on the name origin of porter for hundreds of years.

While there are elements of speculation in it, the pieces I put together, in my opinion, are rather compelling, especially as no other theory accounts nearly as well for the term three threads, or the related thread beers (two threads, four threads, etc).

(The hitherto generally accepted theory for the origin of the name porter, that it came from the men who moved goods in London because they liked the beer, also is speculative, in that it is based on inferences from period terms such as “porter’s liquors”).

I bring the blog work forward, hyperlinked above, as it may interest those who have never read it, and perhaps also some who would like to revisit.

Further, I have now completed a formal, referenced paper on this subject that has been accepted for publication by the prestigious, UK-based food history journal, Petits Propos Culinaires. PPC, as it is known, is edited by well-known author, publisher, editor, and journalist, Tom Jaine.  It will appear in print by mid-2021.

Plattsburgh, Beer, Chocolate

A discussion on Twitter among beer writers today reminded me of a tableau, or so it is in my mind, in Plattsburgh, New York, late 70s probably.

I was buying, in a small store on a corner, beer from a cooler and chocolate. The candy was definitely M&Ms, a chocolate bar not available at the time in Montreal.

The beer may have been Genesee Cream Ale, made in Rochester elsewhere in upstate New York. But I think it was Michelob.

I said to the clerk, “two fine tastes”. She agreed, and said, “But one after the other and man …”, making a gesture with both hands away from her midsection.

And so it is with two excellent things, or beer and chocolate in general. A wealth of calories. Too many, for most, if you take these in any quantity.

Whether literally to pair them is a matter of preference. Beer for me, after a few decades of experience with it, is best served nearly always on its own. Maybe with a cracker or some cheese. And of course with a burger, fries, pizza, or wings. A Belgian dish or two, yes (carbonnade).

But beyond that I think the bulk is too much, and wine suits better.

It’s also a question of metabolism and age, frankly.

Plattsburgh at that time had a talismanic significance for us in Quebec, or for Gary Gillman anyway. It was a way to experience the United States but arrive back even the same day, if wanted. They had McDonald’s, Burger King, also regional chains like Lums. If you haven’t had a Lumburger, you haven’t lived. Its Ollieburger, which has its own interesting history, was a prize jewel in the line.

Candy and beer together may be dubious, but a frosty “schooner” of Schaefer lager, Genny, Piels, etc. went well with an Ollieburger. You’ll have to take my word for it…

When I think of Plattsburgh, a small upstate border town, I think of icy air  – often we went in winter. It was easier to cross the border then, and we had more time. The summer was busy with cottage life, or summer camp, or first overseas trips.

It was music at local clubs, first taste of bourbon, and American cigarettes. The distinctive odour (odor) of Camels, Phillip Morris, Parliament (oddly), and Kents – with the Micronite filter – lingers with me to this day.

In memory only, of course.

 

 

 

 

U.S. Army Beer 1943-1946 (Part III)

Beers for Local Populations in Western Europe and North Africa, World War II

When the Americans arrived to engage breweries to brew beer for their troops, those breweries were already brewing, of a sort anyway.

The two articles I canvassed in Parts I and II recorded, not just the beer made for the troops under contract as I have explained, but beer for their own people.

Leonard Saletan, in his 1946 article in American Brewer, stated that the German breweries, due to war conditions, brewed a beer of only 1-2 Balling. So did, he said, the French and Belgian breweries he worked with.

He writes that the beer was actually “brewed in at about 8 B and cut during or subsequent to fermentation”.  In other words, the produce was watered to stretch the result but this would have produced a barely alcoholic drink. He doesn’t say, but I’d think between .5% and 1% abv was the result, almost or equal to the near beer of Prohibition times.

Saletan doesn’t say again, but perhaps the beers were hopped more or less normally for the volume. This would lend the impression of a beery drink – a hop ale in the old English terminology.

He does state “hops were generally available in Germany”. Indeed when the breweries turned to making real beer for the Americans, the hops remained German and the amounts used were “left to the discretion of the brewery”.

The tenor of all this is that hops were not an issue for brewing, so I suspect more rather than less was used for the barely there wartime beer. As to hops for similar beer in France and Belgium, Saletan doesn’t address that issue. (His remit of course was to describe the beer made for American Forces).

Allan Barney’s 1946 article in Wallerstein Laboratory Communications, linked in my Part I, states of the brewers in Oran, Algiers, and Casablanca that they made a beer of “3 Balling”, or “1%”.  I believe this meant the brew was 1% abv.

A starting of 3 B with a finish, say, at 1 would produce just over 1% abv. Possibly he was referring to 1% abw, which would be about 1.25% abv. In that case the attenuation would be greater of course, hence less body.

It seems on average breweries in North Africa had been brewing slightly stronger beer than in Germany, but this is hardly a distinction worth mentioning, as all this stuff was barely alcoholic.

Nonetheless it is noteworthy that Axis or Vichy breweries were still brewing at all. And that barley and hops were still grown throughout the war, as the two articles make clear they were, and Saaz hops in Bohemia.

Saletan in particular seemed to marvel how few of the breweries he encountered had suffered much damage. Lowenbrau in Munich was about the worst, and even that didn’t affect actual production much.

It’s something that bears an analogy to the limited effect even heavy bombing of industry had on the Axis war effort. I’d think the thoughts occurred to Barney and Saletan on their unusual European brewery pilgrimage.

 

 

 

U.S. Army Beer 1943-1946 (Part II)

The American Beer of Benelux, France, Germany

In Part I, I discussed an article in the 1946 Wallerstein Laboratories Communications that explained how the American army supplied beer for its soldiers in North Africa and Italy in the latter part of World War II.

That article was written by Allan J. Barney, an officer with the U.S. Army during the period covered. Before the war he had worked as a chemist for Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis. Barney directed the brewing and worked with local brewers in these areas to make a beer of starting gravity 10.3 B., ending at 3.3 B (1013 FG), 3.7% abv.

That beer was all-malt except that some malt that had been mixed in Europe, contrary to the specifications, with oats or other unmalted grains. That malt was “distributed” for use in some brewing runs. Except for some beer in Italy that used European malt and hops in store at some breweries, imported American malt, and American hops, were used in all brews.

As I noted earlier, it was probably six-row malt.

Barney did not explain how beer was brewed for troops in France and Germany. He described only brewing in North Africa and in multiple plants of Peroni in Italy.

I have now uncovered a second article that substantially adds to the picture of U.S. Army brewing in wartime Europe. To my knowledge, neither article, hence the detail they disclose, have previously received attention in beer historical studies. I therefore put my pen to it.

The second article is “Brewing Beer for Soldiers in the European Theatre” by Leonard T. Saletan, described as a chemist for Tivoli Brewing Co. in Detroit. Tivoli’s history is outlined in Stephen Johnson’s (2016) Detroit Beer: a History of Brewing in the Motor City.

Saletan’s article was published in a 1946 issue of American Brewer, a trade journal of the U.S. brewing industry. It is not available online.

Saletan, in five closely written pages, explains how brewing was organized for troops in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Austria, and Germany. His article is an excellent counterpart to Barney’s as it covers many points Barney did not, and vice versa.

Together they give a good picture of how the Army approached a supply and logistical issue that, as both stated, had its origins in the morale factor.

Broadly, brewing was arranged and supervised in a similar way in both instances. American brewing experts worked with local brewers to make beer to American specifications. In both cases American materials were imported but with some use of local (European) malt and hops.*

Saletan explained that a J.G. Shakman of Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee, reporting to the Army Exchange Service, engaged six staff. Saletan was one, and each supervised brewing in a given geographic area. They were brewers or chemists from different American breweries including Schlitz, Pabst, and Pfeiffer.

The project Saletan described was of considerably larger scope than Barney’s. During 1945 and 1946 some 30 breweries, each listed by Saletan, made beer for the Army in western Europe. Not all operated concurrently as beer needs depended on troop strength.

The complement constantly varied until, as Saletan explained, a stable occupation force (postwar) existed in Germany.

Further, the Army worked with five malt houses in Germany, also each enumerated.

Just as illustration, breweries included, in France, La Meuse in Paris, Champigneulles in the city of the same name, Graff, in Rennes, and Hornung, in Chartres. In Belgium: Piedboeuf in Liège, Lamot in Malines, and Léopold in Brussels.

In Holland: Brand in Wylre. In Luxembourg, Mousel. For Austria: Stiegel, in Salzburg. In Germany: Schultheiss in Berlin, Hasen in Augsburg, Hofbrau in Bamberg, and Sandler in Kulmbach.

Only lager brewing is referenced or at least implied, similar to Barney’s account; there is no suggestion of any form of top-fermented beer, although it is possible some was made.

Of the great amount of detail Saletan conveyed, below I will focus on the brewing specifications, vs. production figures, pricing, packaging, distribution, unfamiliar (to Saletan) German practices like “bunging” (spunding, to carbonate from the fermentation stage), or quality control.

Brewing followed two main forms. Outside Germany, malt and grits, a form of corn adjunct, were used for the mash. The grits formed 25% in dry weight. Saletan wrote:

The beer produced was to have an O. G. of 11.3° B … The beer produced was to have 3.2% alcohol by weight, and 13.5 kg. of malt, 4.5 kg. of grits, and 200 g. of hops per hl. were to be used in producing the specified beer.

In Germany, only malt and hops were used, product in this case of Germany. Of hops there was enough, malt was more difficult. Special permissions were needed to obtain barley for malting, given postwar shortages. Nonetheless, considerable beer was brewed.

This all-malt German beer was set at 10.6° B starting, but still to produce 3.2% abw (4% abv); hence it can be seen the malt beer was drier than the other. I calculated an impressive 1015 finishing gravity for the adjunct beer and 1012 for the all-malt, still respectable certainly by modern standards.

Whether the differences noted were due to the difference in mash bill or for some other reason – greater penury of materials in Germany, possibly – is interesting to ponder. Ditto for the beer Barney was tasked to brew.

The adjunct beer was hopped at what works out to approximately .5 lb. hops/bbl (U.S.). This is expected for the time, and continued broadly for the same type beer into the 1960s. Today surely it is the maximum that would be used for mass market light beer, but changes in alpha acid content must be factored as well.

Compare a 1960s recipe for Schlitz, from the Brew Your Own site.

I would conclude the Army’s adjunct beer represented an average of specifications from American breweries at the time, at least for the “3.2” beer introduced after Prohibition. Saletan wrote that the beer was designed to taste, and did, like the beer American soldiers were familiar with at home.

Indeed he said most of the production had “an excellent taste” and was comparable to “a good glass of American beer”. None was pasteurized, as for Barney’s beer as well. American draft beer then was unpasteurized, so the analogy held here in that sense, especially as most beer produced was barrelled.

As to the all-malt German beer, Saletan wrote that being 100% malt it differed in character, but was “very good in taste”, and “greatly appreciated”. I don’t doubt it.

At a generous finishing gravity of 1015 the adjunct beer likely was pretty good too, as some craft beer similarly brewed has shown.

The hops in the adjunct beer was probably Cluster, or one form of it. A venerable pre-craft American variety, the American soils of its birth would still have conferred a craft-like character.

Of the breweries Saletan worked with, Piedboeuf in Liège impressed him the most due to its modernity of design and great size. It was built in the late 1930s following Art Deco industrial design, of reinforced concrete. Its clocks and roof-top flood lamps were storied in Liège.

Closed in 1992, the building, known locally as the Jupiler Tower, endured in degraded form. If we have it right, it was bought by a developer recently from Anheuser-Busch InBev, and will be (or has been) demolished due to asbestos content, as precursor to a grand urban re-development scheme.

On this Facebook site you see an image of the building as Saletan knew it, glistening in Art Deco black and white. Saletan said the V-2s hit the city hard but “despite its great height”, apart from blown-out windows, the building escaped harm.

It brewed for another day, another nation, and then some.

Part III follows below.

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*Saletan’s account, for its part, makes clear the American malt he worked with was six row. He describes how this caused consternation among the European brewers, due to differing husk size and lower yield as compared to the two row malt heretofore standard in European brewhouses.