Some Beer Notes From Rhode Island Trip

There was an endless variety in local beer stores, Nikki’s was particularly impressive. My tastings were restricted to what I am interested in, therefore the range might seem narrow. I didn’t select flavoured beers, gose, saison or sours, for example, as I generally don’t drink these. I did try a local hefeweizen, in a flight called “local taste”, and it was good, correct in style.

I like strong and Imperial stout and when in the States buy, i) domestic examples if they meet my interests (small-size bottles, not flavoured), or ii) well-regarded imports. See the beers pictured below which are old-school, Sinebrychoff has had a brewery in Finland since the 1800’s. Guinness of course needs no introduction. I saw Carnegie Porter, and Le Coq’s Imperial Extra Double Stout from Harvey, but just didn’t have the time to taste these.









The Sinebrychoff unfortunately was (for me) too old, probably 4-5 years old although it was hard to tell from the bottle. A little too winy and soy-like, that is. The Guinness FES was excellent, very fresh and full-tasting. The beer does seem to change a bit over time and seems to have more character than 5 years ago. I couldn’t find the new porters Guinness has introduced in recent years especially West Indies Porter. Guinness might use some kind of food grade acid today to lend the tart note to FES and I think I could detect it, but it’s still an excellent beer.

Anchor’s Great Cloud Stout was halfway in character between the two beers above and quite good although again, not as fresh as I would like. One always takes that risk when buying beers from far away. That doesn’t mean local beers are always better, in one brewpub a kolsch-style seemed clearly damp paper-oxidized.









A Grand Imperial Porter from Amber Brewery in Poland was very good and a great value ($2.00 plus for a tall bottle), sweet but that is typical of most Polish porters. It gets a deservedly high score on Ratebeer. (The Grand Porter is in centre, sorry for poor image quality).









In terms of IPA, I had two very good, local ones: Newport’s Storm IPA and  Revival Burnsider Pale Ale. The Storm IPA is as good as they come, big flavours but all cohering. The other had an orangey colour and English-type malt taste, with well-modulated American hopping, and just a touch of fruity vinegar. This latter technically might be a fault, but I liked the beer a lot. Good old Bass Ale was fresh and good, it benefits from being brewed now in the New York State, and has the typical apple muffin taste.

In pumpkin beers, Southern Tier’s Pumking on draft proved to me it is still the best out there, with a characteristic pumpkin pureé flavour. Shipyard’s shown above was good although it overdoes the spicy element IMO. Redhook’s Out Of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter was an excellent blend of  pumpkin and stout flavours but I think I could detect roasted barley, and prefer porter and stout all-malt, but it’s still a good beer. (Idea for a great “four threads” pumpkin porter: 50% Grand Imperial Porter (the mild), 30% FES (the medium-aged), 15% Shipyard Pumpkin Ale (the spice), 5% Sinebrychoff porter (the extra-aged). I like it so the pumpkin pie element is just an undertone. Got all that?).

Spencer Trappist Ale, from the new American Trappist brewery, tasted cidery and gushed on opening. I could taste the Belgian yeast strain and some New World hops as well. Disappointing, but new breweries often need a gestation period to sustain technical stability; I’m sure in time it will improve.

Magic Hat IPL (India Pale Lager) was great, I’d like to have had a pint but had to be satisfied with a few ounces. It’s one of those beers that taste great without being super-busy in flavours, but you need an (English) pint measure to really get this kind of beer.

Given the Boston connection, I couldn’t pass up Sam Adams Boston Lager and Rebel IPA. Very good both with full hoppy tastes, correct and good flavours. It annoys me that Sam Adams Boston Ale was hard to find, even in an area adjacent to the Boston heartland. And it’s one of their best beers.









Trinity Brewhouse in Providence disappointed on this trip but I’ll revisit in the future, sometimes beers just don’t taste right for whatever reason. Didn’t get the chance to visit the other longstanding brewpub downtown, in the former railroad station.

One of my favourites was Narragansett Innsmouth Olde Ale, this had an intriguing, aged dark ale character without being tart or oxidized, it was more English than American although I couldn’t really place it. I saw a 4 pack in the stores for relatively little but didn’t buy it as I was at my duty-free limit. This is a winner and I hope will stay in the market.

Coda: In one of the stores, I noted Ballantine India Pale Ale wasn’t available. The clerk said it was in stock earlier but wasn’t reordered since it didn’t move quickly enough. I mentioned that in the 1970’s it was brewed in Cranston, R.I. and was a legendary, pre-craft New England beer that inspired the hundreds of IPAs on the shelves. Reaction was nonchalant, but that’s okay: time moves on, people forget and the brand had been out of the market for 20 years. Still, a good little moment whose irony I could savour me myself and I.

Charming Coastal New England

A pictorial memento appears below of our recent stay in Providence, R.I. (to visit relations).  All these were taken in the College Hill area. I was repeatedly struck by the English feel of the place, not just parts of the town layout and architecture, but in the way some people spoke and much of the food. I’ve eaten seafood in coastal English towns and it’s not all that different in Rhode Island, or at least, you can see the connection. Scrod with breadcrumbs – coated on the top – was outstanding. I was thinking that the brown crumb layer probably originally was hardtack pounded down, a seaman’s and colonist’s dish, now a costly item on the menus of recherché restaurants.

Drinks, raison d’être of, abound in endless variety: whether wines local or brought in, beers ditto, spirits ditto, local soft drinks, they have it all.

I guess my favourite part is the Brown University area, probably mostly because it reminds me of my McGill days in Montreal, but also, for the undeniable charm and elegance.

(Click on images for best resolution).



Recreating 1939 and 1954 Dinners of the Gourmet Society

The 1939 and 1954 dinners discussed in my post yesterday featured emblematic foods, drinks, and party favours. Can the events be recreated today using the same or similar products?

Part I – the 1954 New Jersey dinner

NJ Wines of 1950s

The journalist who covered the Newark Airport dinner noted a “blonde wine” served.

In that period, a half-dozen New Jersey wineries still operated, reduced from the 1930s let alone before Prohibition. Today, many more exist, 35 or 40, almost all established since the 1960s.

Of the current group, only two operated in the 1950s, in fact their roots go back to the 1800s. One is Renault Winery, the other, Tomasello. Renault still makes an “American Champagne”, and both issue a broad range of wines using Vinifera and native American grapes.

But can you get a blonde or another wine from a winery in business in New Jersey in the 1950s? Yes you can.

Rochelle Cheese Ramequins

I thought perhaps “Rochelle” was a misprint for Roselle, as there are localities in New Jersey under both names. Rochelle Park is the full name for Rochelle. But clearly north-western New Jersey was once a heartland for good cheese and creameries, see the discussion at New Jersey Skylands

The cheese used for ramequins was surely from that part of the state. Sadly, as the link explains, the industry has largely evaporated, the victim of land development, horse farming, and other changes. However, artisan cheese is made today in the Garden State: Good New Jersey cheese can be found for ramequins.

Barnegat Clams

Clams still exist in Barnegat Bay but clamming has been greatly reduced by land development and fertilizer use. Still, hard-shelled clams from the Bay can be found to make the dish again.

Vineland Jellied Chicken Consommé

In the 1950s, Vineland in New Jersey was a well-known chicken and egg centre. The industry was given a boost around 1900. A group which had raised chickens for sport commercialized the activity. A busy egg auction once existed in Vineland, until the early 1970s.

Interestingly, this farming was mostly a Jewish business. There were many Jewish farmers in the state. Some were pre-WW II arrivals who bought land as an alternative to factory work, others had started earlier.

The business was reduced by Hurricane Hazel and refrigerated trucks that arrived from Southern producers. By the 1970s New Jersey egg and chicken farming was largely of the past.

Jellied dishes made more sense in pre-air conditioning days and today can seem relics of the past, but it’s still good eating, for some.

There remains a well-regarded chicken restaurant in Vineland, Joe’s Poultry Farm. It appears it was once a farm, and may still be one, or with access to a chicken farm. If you look I think New Jersey-raised chicken can be found to make a 1950s jellied consommé.

Ramapo Trout

The Ramapo river is still a good source for trout, all “stocked” today vs. the stream-bred, wild fish probably served to the Gourmet Society. Numerous tributaries though of the Ramapo, and other streams in the state, still have wild fish. It is available, so this dish can be recreated as well.

Crown of Meadow Veal

Veal was possibly a specialty of Jersey farms in 1954. “Meadow” can suggest grass feeding, so this type of meat can probably be found, if necessary out of state.

Strawberries in Applejack Sauce

Strawberries are still a crop in the state, from mid-May to early June. And applejack? Oh yes, the venerable Laird’s in New Jersey is famous for apple brandy and related drinks. Craft distillers probably offer something similar, in or out of New Jersey.

A Jersey “yeah”, we can do the berries and applejack sauce again.

Part II – the Gourmet Society’s 1939 New Orleans dinner (menu and my earlier discussion linked above)

Orange Wine and Chablis

For chablis wine, California was clearly the source of the wine served at the New Orleans dinner. It can supply a modern example, say a current Chardonnay, legion in the state. Louisiana (citrus) orange wine may be harder to find but if necessary a version can be made at home. Recipes abound online, many very old that stretch back to Britain.

Gumbo Shellfish Soup, Vegetables (Artichoke, Okra, Yam), Salad, Desserts

This group can easily be recreated and where Louisiana shellfish or produce isn’t available, reasonable substitutes will do. So shrimp and crab gumbo, the relishes, salad and Creole dressing, the vegetables, pecan pie, raspberry ice, cafe Brulot  – it’s all a go.

Broiled Pompano From Gulf of Mexico

No issues here either: Florida pompano is still available, not so much on the Atlantic side today, but on the other side. And some is imported from China. It can be found.

Turkey Stuffed With Pecan Dressing and Oysters

Pecan is still grown in Louisiana and elsewhere in the South. The menu states that originally wild turkey feeding on pecans was used for the dish, but it substituted domestic turkey with pecan stuffing. Using a domestic bird for this dish is perfectly doable today, of course, and wild turkey may be available in some places.

Some modern Louisiana recipes for turkey call for it to be “pecan-roasted” – an interesting variation (easy to find online). This would have satisfied George Frederick and the Gourmet Society, surely.

Magnolia Perfume, Acacia Flowers

A charming flourish was the Magnolia perfume “sprayed” on waitresses and given as a present to the female guests. The menu stated it was from Mme Aucoin in New Orleans. This business seems defunct but magnolia perfume is still made in the city, e.g. by Hové, a well-known perfumery in town. Something similar is therefore available.

Acacia flowers were used as well to scent the dining room. Acacia can be found too, today, not a problem.









Orange Wine and Gumbo in Metropolis

A notable feature of New York dining in the 1930s was nascent gourmet clubs. The Wine And Food Society, Inc. was a well-organized and influential such body. Its members included business figures, celebrities from the arts, and food writers. 

The New York branch still exists, part of the London-based The International Wine and Food Society co-founded by André Simon in 1933.

Less visible in this period was the Gourmet Society of New York, founded in ___ [GG to check]. Some of its menus survive in the New York Public Library’s menu archive, and elsewhere. They are fascinating curios, typed and mimeographed in contrast to the more polished productions of the Wine and Food Society.

What they lacked presentation they more than made up in passion and creative thinking. Their dinners prove once more that public interest in local, regional, and ethnic cuisines is not new.

It was being promoted by small groups in Manhattan, London, and elsewhere where questing spirits gathered even before the Second World War.

Each Gourmet Society menu contained this brisk mission statement:

A dinner club of gourmets and cosmopolites. Six or seven dinners per season at different selected dining places. Membership open to all who have palates aesthetically sensitive to good food and drink, and who have imagination enough to cherish the gourmet tradition.

The driving force was J. George Frederick, who owned a business statistics and research consultancy. His wife Christine assisted him and is remembered as a home economist and theorist of the consumer society.

Representative dinners of the group featured cuisines of the East Shore, Maryland; Canton, China; haute cuisine; and New England, but this is just a sampling.

The wines in American-themed menus are mainly American even though in the group’s heyday, appreciation of domestic wines was at an early stage. Usually the producer was listed. Inglenook, Cresta Blanca, and Beaulieu, were some that made a splash in Gourmet Society menus.

A dinner held in Manhattan in January 1939 showcased the New Orleans gastronomic heritage. The menu, as archived at the NYPL may be viewed here.

A special dinner guest, the Midwestern poet, essayist, and biographer Edgar Lee Master, addressed the diners. Also on the dais was folklorist and regional historian Carl Carmer, Thyra Winslow, and W. Irving Moss. The number of luminaries that evening was unusual, suggesting a truly special occasion.

The Society would regularly invited speakers to its dinners, singing for their supper but also stimulating a higher level of discourse at the meal.

Winslow was a literary celebrity, originally from Arkansas. Moss was an insurance executive from New Orleans, a background which proved useful for the night’s dining.

Gourmet Society menus usually contained cultural notes, which adds to their historical interest. Often recipes were included as well.

Frederick had spent time in New Orleans absorbing variations on Oysters Rockefeller, designing on his own take for the 1939 gathering. The oyster type used was noted, Robbin’s Island Box oysters. Robbin’s Island, in Peconic Bay, Long Island, New York, is still known for oysters.

They feature occasionally at the historic cellar Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

At the accacia-scented evening the dishes were accompanied by “orange wine”, also an unnamed “Chablis” from California.

Orange wine – not the currently fashionable brownish white wine of that name – was a notable product of south Louisiana where navel oranges were and still are grown, despite Hurricane Katrina’s best efforts.

The Federal Writers Project noted this specialty around the time the dinner was held. Recipes for orange wine go back centuries, probably to Britain or a possession, originally. I suspect the drink arrived in the American South via the Caribbean. Old manuals give the recipes.

Can one still get such a thing in Buras-Triumph, Louisiana, as the orange district is now called? Some families may still make it for their own use.

modern recipe book includes shrimp boiled in orange wine, which suggests the fruity fermentable is still available, at least to some.

After some 90 dinners, by the mid-1950s the Gourmet Society was engaging in recondite exercises such as an all-New Jersey dinner. A press account of the latter is revealing, and appropriately mordant in tone –  this was Eisenhower’s America.

Details of the meal were conveyed by the journalist in bemused tone, e.g. a “blonde wine” served, or (surely) the locale, the Newark Airport restaurant.

The past is famously a foreign country but I found George Frederick’s culinary world rather modern (not moderne), withal.
31185Note re image above: sourced from the aviation archive of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey see here. Used for educational and historical purposes.


*Foreign wines figured at some Gourmet Society events but for American menus, domestic wines were usually served, or a non-alcohol of some kind.






A Locavore Wine List In San Francisco, 1937

In reading many early restaurant menus on the New York Public Library’s invaluable online archive, I was struck by the continual mention of California wine. It appears on most menus, regardless of type or class. To be sure, until the 1970’s and later, imported wines tended to dominate, but California and sometimes other American wines were rarely ignored, and occasionally given marquee billing.

One tends to assume that until the Judgment of Paris, California produced mostly bulk dry and sweet table wines, nothing very challenging, of which the serious culinary world took little notice. It may have been so as a general rule, but there were important exceptions, not just in the vineyard (understood by many), but in the retail wine environment. Here is a striking instance from Mayes Oyster House of San Francisco, 1937:


Mayes 1937 wine list

One might expect that a restaurant in the Bay Area, close that is to the storied vineyards of Northern California, would always have proudly featured local wines. Alas, this was not the rule. As was typical almost everywhere except France and some other places, the assumption was that imported was superior. From cheese to wine to olive oil and much more, this has been a longstanding feature of the retail culinary world. Only recently have locavore and market trends partly reversed this old way of thinking. To be sure, all food and drink were local originally – Mayes itself was founded in a market, in 1867 on California Street (the earthquake forced a relocation to Polk Street). But by the mid-20th century, it was a sign of prestige for an ambitious restaurant to offer the best from afar, literally if it could and via other influence on the menu. This is why the Mayes menu of the 30’s is so interesting: it continued to offer a mainly “market” cuisine, showing confidence in its original mission.

While the Mayes list leads off with a few French wines, almost four times as many California wines were offered. Some names resonate to this day including of course Beaulieu Vineyard, and Cresta Blanca which is now part of Wente. Cristiani, is, I believe, the ancestor of the highly regarded Buonocristiani of Napa – at any rate in the 1930’s, the Cristiani family, originally from Tuscany, were producing wine in the Bay Area and also were wholesale wine suppliers. Note that many styles popular today were available to guests of Mayes in 1937. These included “Riesling” and “Cabarnet”. The use of varietal names suggests that the grape types may have actually been grown. The Chablis and Burgundy mentioned may have issued from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, or perhaps not. Petite Syrah was a major variety grown in Napa in the 1930’s, so possibly that accounted for the “Cabarnet” (thus intentionally misspelled?). At a minimum, an attempt was being made to offer credible local examples of famous foreign specialties. I’d think a high standard was often reached, since the best of California viticulture had reached international attention well before the Volstead Act.

What can one make of the generic category “California wines”, since Beaulieu, Cresta Blanca, Italian-Swiss Colony and Cristiani were obviously also Californian? I think the menu was saying that these other wines came from elsewhere in the State than Sonoma and Napa. After Prohibition ended in 1933, winemaking quickly was re-established throughout California. The Sierra Foothills have grown Zinfandel since the early 1800’s, maybe Mayes’ “California” Zin was from there. Or maybe it was from the Cucamonga Valley in the south which was acquiring a reputation for small-producer Zin even in the 1930’s.


“Sauterne” is mentioned both as a “generic” and under each listed winery name. I’d guess the south or central region was making its version of the honeyed French classic from the Graves in Bordeaux. The named wineries’ Sauterne cost a lot more than the generic one, which probably says a lot. While the named wines are rather less costly than the French ones, two of Cresta Blanca’s wines cost more than any of the still French wines. The kind of detail and connoisseurship that went into confecting a locavore wine list of this type, a mere four years after Repeal, is impressive and telling.




Nothing happens without a history. The quality wine business took an enormous leap after the mid-70’s, as did the California Food Revolution led by people like Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck, but there were progenitors. The Bay Area had wine mavens in the 30’s. Anyone who could afford to patronize a good restaurant in a prolonged economic slump could buy French wine if he wanted to, but the menu – of a respected, long-established restaurant –  offered many more California choices. Clearly, people were interested in them and could sustain the demand

And what a food selection Mayes offered, too. The seafoods covered the region, up to Alaska, in detail but stretched to the East Coast for a few supplies. Toke Point Oysters sounds daring as a name, not a little modern, but I think “Toke Point” is a genuine place name, the West Coast context notwithstanding. Note the 25 salads offered – in 1937. A sprinkling of Italianate dishes suggests some cosmopolitan influence but overall the feel is all-American and suggestive of a liberal use of fresh and local resources. The menu has a modern ring and only occasionally betrays its period origin – the eggplant and bacon dish shows this, and scrambled brains. (Then too they say bacon goes with everything).

The basic building blocks of the menu are regional fish and seafood in numerous but straightforward applications, endless salads, a variety of cooked and grilled meats, fresh vegetables served with butter or otherwise simply, wines of the country, and a few simple desserts. This is the foundational approach of modern cuisine. The French classical kitchen, which had influenced the higher reaches of Anglo-American dining until about World War One, was quickly receding as an international force. Elizabeth David would draw similar conclusions based on her experiences in the Near and Middle Easts in the 1940’s. The American kitchen always had a nativist and independent side, but it was coming to early maturity in the form of this Mayes menu of the Roosevelt era.

I’ve become inured to finding that restaurants with a vibrant and storied existence 70, 100 or even 40 years ago have generally expired, usually long ago. It was thus startling to find Mayes Oyster House happily pursuing its good work on Polk Street. Except for the Tadich Grill, it is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in San Francisco. Some things have changed, a nighttime club and bar scene now complements the daytime vocation of classic seafood eatery. I heard there’s a burger bar in there, too, but it all works. In typical insouciant West Coast fashion, the website doesn’t mention the venerable history.

It doesn’t, but I will. You go, Mayes, for doing the regional thing from the beginning. I’m sure your California wine list is still impressive and even though that space is shared now with many others, that’s okay, as an innovator a special glory is all your own.


Note re images: The first image above, believed in public domain, was sourced at New York Public Library,, here. The second image, of Cucamonga Valley, is entitled “View of Cucamonga Valley AVA from Cucamonga Peak” by Mitch Barrie, and used under the terms of CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Image was sourced via Wikipedia, here. The third image, believed in the public domain, was sourced at Wikipedia Commons, here.

Update Regarding Exultet Fortified Pinot Noir (Port-style)

Our post of this morning has come to the attention of Exultet Winery in Prince Edward County, Ontario, who thanked us for the mention and pointed out that its production technique for this brand entails addition of an alcohol distilled from grapes grown on the estate, so all the alcohol in the wine is sourced 100% from grapes grown on the property. The addition increases the ABV and also locks in sweetness due, we infer, to a cessation of fermentation. The winery indicated it added last month a 2014 white port-style wine made in a similar fashion with the Vidal grape.

A Segue Into a Fellow Fermentable


A visit with G. Hodder is always illuminating. We sampled cheese and nuts on the back deck with a drink or two while his stereo speakers showed ample evidence that Randy Bachman is better than ever: an enjoyable hour or two of a waning Toronto summer. We shared two cans of beer, local pale ale and IPA, and then a half bottle of Exultet fortified pinot noir was brought out, result of his recent wine tour in the Prince Edward County area.

Exultet is a highly regarded boutique winery in the County and this wine is in a style of its own though port seems the closest analogy. Brandy is added to a pinot noir and the result is a lightly sweet, very flavourful dessert wine although a small amount went very well with a little cheese before dinner. I’m not sure how the sugar gets in, either the grapes were late-harvested or perhaps some sweetening is added, either way the melded tastes were very successful, a perfect illustration of terroir. I could recognize the earthy note pinot acquires in our northern lands but the brandy and sweetness made it into something rather different.

Tasting and reporting of it here are an illustration of how the “et seq” in our blog title works: one thing leads to another and anyway all fermented drinks are related, or all drinks tout court.

It was a reminder to try to get out to the County soon. There is no better time as the harvest and grape processing show the wineries in their most active phase.

Session #103 – The Hard Stuff

00-thesession150As someone new to blogging but not to the blogosphere or beer, I thought I would take a shot at the Sessions – apologies for late submission.

Natasha of Meta Blogger asks bloggers to address the hard questions, those not being dealt with in the beer blogging world.

The beer blogging world is a big one, so one has a certain trepidation in suggesting topics that have been overlooked or neglected. Still, despite that some people talk about it once in a while, I think more focus needs to be given to great lager, by which I mean primarily blond lager. From its inception, the revival of craft brewing has not ignored lager. One of the keystones of the quality beer edifice is Sam Adams Boston Lager. Still, in general, craft brewers concentrated on English-style ales and porters, and today other top-fermented styles such as APA and IPA, saison, wit and weizen and sours. The reasons offered for this haven’t changed from the beginning: lager is harder to brew and requires a more technological and methodical approach to brewing than top-fermentation brewing.

Undeniably also there is the unspoken assumption lager doesn’t offer the same complexity of palate as top-fermented beer due to its quasi-industrial history and relatively recent date (1840’s for the blonde pilsner style which revolutionized European and world brewing for 150 years). The dumbing down of international lager in the decades preceding the craft beer revival only reinforced this assumption. Less hops, lower final gravities, more adjunct all conspired to make a beer few thought worthy of emulation. However, blonde lager in its heyday was a rich, flavourful, rounded drink including Pre-Prohibition North American beers at their best.

A great lager was, and still is, one of the best beers in the beer universe. Only rarely though in North America, in my experience, does one encounter it. Sam Adams’ lager mentioned is creditable but doesn’t approach the best European examples. Ditto, say, Creemore in Ontario. While many good examples exist – and I do know the names, I’ve had a good number of them – for some reason, few achieve the heights of the great Central European models. In contrast, American ales, exemplified say by Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, took craft brewing by storm and now are emulated in England, home of fine ales, and around the world.

Pilsner Urquell, even in the pasteurized exported form we get it in, is rarely equalled by a North American or English craft lager. Paradoxically, when North America does emulate well European models, it sometimes chooses the “wrong” ones.  By this I mean, there are too many lagers with the characteristic “green” sulphur or cooked veg tang. It’s true that many European lagers have this taste – I encountered many on a  trip to Germany and Austria some years ago – but it is questionable whether that flavour is a genuine one in historical terms. Terms typically used on rating sites to describe this taste are grassy, hay-like, yeasty, skunky (used incorrectly in this connection, but revealing nonetheless).

Brewers have told me that these tastes age out with time, the yeast in the maturing brew re-absorbs them or they waft away. Lager used to be stored for 3-6 months and more, both in pre-Prohibition America and Europe, but today a few weeks is the more usual norm. It is notable in my view that Urquell does not have this flavour, or Budvar. Neither do the blonde beers from Bernard. 

And so, I think bloggers should talk more about great lager, where to find it both here and abroad, what makes a great one, and to encourage brewers to make more and better lager.


A Bonny Beer Tasting


This image, a remarkable capture from 1844, shows three Scots drinking ale. The beer was undoubtedly rich Scotch ale, probably around wine strength, hence the small Champagne flute glasses.  These glasses were traditional for strong ales in Scotland and England until about 1900, when this style of beer finally fell out. The gent on the right probably had been seated in front of the centre glass, since the other men hover over their own glass. He was (see footnote below) apparently the painter and photographer, David Hill, and either joined his comrades for the exposure (lengthy at the time) and/or had his partner Adamson take the image.

These were the beer fraternity, it can be 1844, 1900, 1960, 2015, 1600. Some things don’t change.

*Image in public domain, see here for source which gives fascinating detail on the photographer and persons shown.



Oystering And Roistering



(Circa-1620, Oysters, Fruit and Wine, Beert the Elder, Osias)*


Or do they? The lore of a deep union is so established it seems nothing can unseat it. In the striking image above, a Flemish master, from a seafaring and brewing country, chose to portray the briny comestible with wine. (To be fair, the image does obviously reflect a table of the elite class. Prized as beer was, and is, in Flanders, its depiction in a table of this type would probably have been incongruous to say the least).

My earliest recollection of beer-and-oyster is attending a couple of beer and oyster fundraisers held by the Royal Canadian Legion in Montreal in the 1970’s. The bivalves were served different ways, in soup, on half-shell, fried. The beer was the regular Canadian brands then dominant in the market. These were lively affairs, but I’m not sure that oysters and beer go especially well together. Both at their best are enjoyable and therefore a pairing can’t be bad, but whether there is a special affinity, I’m not sure…

Whence though the old association of beer and oyster? Both were commonplaces in Victorian England, both at the time popular foods too, yet many things common then in cuisine aren’t associated as pairings. Beer and french fried potatoes seem a more natural combination, and are in North America, but not in England particularly, even though “chips” started in the London East End. Michael Jackson observed that fish and chips suits a cup of tea more than beer.

The reason beer and oysters have an association IMO is that oyster shell’s lime carbonate was once used to neutralize acidity, i.e., prevent sourness in beer before the era of refrigeration and sterile plants. The shell was cleaned, ground up and added to the barrels. This practice in time (surely) made people associate beer and the seafood in a culinary sense. Some brewers, especially those on the seaside or near ports, probably had ground their own oyster shell from whole oysters. Eating them with beer on the spot would have been a way to get some nutrition and source the raw material needed for their vats. And it must have spread from there.

Once can envision that brewers, probably forgetting the original purpose of the oyster, later added its meat or concentrate to the beer to remember the old association in brewing. Even though oyster itself wasn’t added originally, this has a kind of logic since even when just the shells were used some briny or fishy taste probably got in and some people got used to it. Today, craft brewers have revived the “oyster stout” tradition and I’m good with it when, as almost invariably, you can’t taste fish in the beer. At most a very light salty taste seems characteristic, which can enhance beer taste or doesn’t seem to hurt it at any rate. It should be said too some “oyster stout” does not employ any oyster at all: the idea is simply that the beer will accompany well the seafood.

Here are some early and mid-19th century explanations of why oyster shell was added – and they don’t refer to a culinary marriage. First, David Booth, from his Art of Brewing, 1829. See top left of page linked, in which he adds:

“It remains … with the drinker whether he prefers this new bitterish taste to that of the acetous acid which would otherwise predominate”.

It seems that as the lime carbonate in the shell did its good work, a new taste arose which in Booth’s view meant the cure was worse than the malady –  or at least as bad. This 1850’s American Family Encyclopedia  advises oyster shell to this same end or ground egg shells or marble, as they too contain the vital calcium carbonate.

Given Belgian-style and other “sours” and “wilds” are all the rage in craft brewing these days, a brewer wanting to make hay of the old connection between beer and oysters should obtain ground oyster shell and see if it works a change on the vinegary taste. It sounds, according to Booth, like a new strange bitterish taste will arise, but craft beer is all about new and sometimes strange tastes. I hope someone tries this.

Informative and Attractive Label for a Contemporary Oyster Stout:**











*Image in public domain. Source used is here.

** Image taken from Internet which indicates production brewery is the source.