An Ode to Genesee

GeneseeBeer (Genesee Beer Sign Outside Genesee Brewery, Brian Stiehler, September, 2010,

John Holl (@John_Holl) has alerted to an excellent article just up at All About Beer by Tom Acitelli, here. Tom explores the history of Genesee Cream Ale, an iconic brand of the old Rochester concern.

It’s a good beer especially on draft, and more importantly to some, it recalls a certain time. I’d hope the same malt percentage and hop spec are used as per original formulation. I wonder what Gary Geminn would say of Genesee 12 Horse Ale, particularly its original formulation. By the time I came upon it in the 80’s, it was hardly more flavourful than the Cream Ale. At inception, I’d have to think it was a much better beer.

Off South Winton Drive in Rochester aka the Flour City, the pioneering retailer Beers of the World had its main store for many years – now relocated elsewhere. Because I went there a number of times, I learned about Fox’s Deli next door, an excellent New York-style deli with its own take on things as all good delis should have. It offered Genny Cream on draft in stemmed schooners and it always tasted best to me there.  I looked at the current menu and am glad to see Genesee beers are still mentioned, the bottled form specifically. One hopes mavens of the draft cream ale will be rewarded by a quick scribble on the pad followed by a frosty schooner as I remember.  A Reuben at Fox’s, schooner of Genny draft, and a Kent with the Micronite filter after.  (Oops, let’s lose the Kent).

I hope one day I can meet Tom and John for lunch at Fox’s – give me some dates, gents, and I’ll brave the border.




Of Bitter Beer, Hot Weather and Some Current Reading

IMG_20150816_175707As I write it’s over 8o F in the room and I’ve just opened a l’Interdite from Brasseurs du Monde in Saint-Hyacinthe, QC ( It’s taken straight from a 12-pack – tablette – of three of their beers. The first one, the Assoiffée, a Belgian-style dubbel, was as much a winner as this one. The beers are bottle-conditioned, which means they retain their original yeast or enough to ensure a slow conditioning.

Despite some weeks at ambient temperature and being knocked around before that on the trip from Montreal, they are fresh-tasting and as good as can be. The yeast in the bottle uses up the residual oxygen, preserving high quality despite daunting storage conditions. Had brewers stuck with bottle-conditioning vs. the ubiquitous heat-pasteurization, overall beer quality would be superior in my opinion, but that’s an issue for another day.

The Interdite is a 6.5% IPA and claims an American style, which it is, as it has the American citrus punch (thank you Oregon) notably in the aftertaste.

However, there is a grateful English influence as well, both in the Ovaltine-and-quinine flavour but also the darkish colour. It reminds me quite a bit of the legendary Ballantine IPA in its heyday.

How can you drink IPA, or any beer, room temperature in this soaking heat? Mais c’est bien simple. “When you’re a Jet you’re a….”, okay? I’m not saying I would turn down the beer in chilled form but it’s best this way to scope all the subtleties. You wouldn’t chill a red wine – or very much – same thing for a beer of this quality.

I’ve placed next to it a book I was re-reading recently, one that had a big influence on me, Stephen Morris’ The Great Beer Trek (1984). I’ll write a separate post on this book but suffice to say it’s one of the top 5 beer books I’ve read. Morris and his wife took a beer tour of America in 1978, so essentially at the dawn of the beer renaissance but it was early enough that he covers the first craft brews to emerge, e.g. Sierra Nevada and New Albion. Essentially though it is a lively canvas of the light North American lager style as produced by the national and surviving regional breweries of the day. Morris, a Vermonter with the idiosyncratic perspective of many from that state, is still going strong and I had an e-mail palaver with him a couple of years ago. The book’s engaging hand-drawn artwork is another plus, including drawings of Dogbone Brewing Company and its “tap”, McDogbone Ale House, Morris’s projected ideal small brewery. It is one of my regrets that a planned Dogbone brand, Bolt Upright, never saw a bar-top. Morris had come out of the home brewing culture of upstate hippie Vermont and …  well… more anon about this fine book.

The brown volume in the image is Complete Practical Brewer, a mid-1800’s tome that is a constant reference. The red volume is a biography of the poet Allen Ginsberg – I went through a beat phase about 20 years ago (the literary aspects not the political such as it was) and was reading about him again. You don’t really hear much about him now, all things must pass, as George Harrison, from a band rather better remembered, wrote. But there was a connection after all, think of the Beatles’ name.

The white volume is Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days And Collect. Whitman was a forerunner of the Beats and much more of course. A very interesting writer, the parts about the Civil War are very moving, someone should do a film of Whitman’s time spent in hospitals in Washington, D.C. during the war.

It all ties in and it all makes sense at beeretseq central.


1920s Montreal Grocery and Its Beers


(Source: Ville de Montréal. Gestion des documents et archives).

Above is a fine image, vintage 1920s, in the City of Montreal’s photo archive. With a couple of clicks there is great period detail of beers and beer styles sold then by Montreal-area breweries.

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, bière et porter (“ale and porter” in English) was a typical description for the beers sold in mid-20th century Montreal. The phrase appears in the image above, under the letters spelling Molson. This particular store also advertised Ekers I.P. Ale (i.e., India Pale) and Black Horse Ale, from Dawes of nearby Lachine, QC (and later Montreal).

The general type of Molson ale then sold, still brewed today as Molson Export Ale was not a IPA, or at best a watered down version. Dawe’s Black Horse Ale was probably similar. Ekers’ IPA was probably more intense in flavour and of darker hue.

Barely legible, just across the vehicle in the background, a sign between the sidewalk and window display advertises Frontenac, another Montreal brewery.

Here is an absorbing sketch about Frontenac and its too-short history as an independent, French Canadian-owned brewery, this at a time when brewing was almost completely dominated by Anglophone business interests.

Molson Porter, for its part, was still sold in Ontario at any rate into the 1980s and was pretty good, the best of the old-school porters. There are modern craft porters at the bland end of the spectrum not very different.

No, I can’t remember the 1920s, any appearances to the contrary, but versions of these signs endured into the 1960s and 70s, and as to those,  je me souviens.




Ale and Porter – “Biere et Porter”

Growing up in Montreal in the 60s I remember grocery signs with the legend “Ale and Porter”.  In French, “Bière et Porter“. I recall wondering what they meant. Beer was delivered to homes by a small black pedal bicycle (no gears). Cases were fitted into a wide, low metal basket, of 24, 12-oz. bottles. I’ve looked online for the fascia of a store reading Ale and Porter or Bière et Porter, but can’t find one.  A verbal description will have to do but anyone who grew up in Montreal in the period mentioned or earlier, will know what I mean.

It was years later that I actually had a chance to try the ale and porter of my native Quebec province.  The ales – Molson Export, Labatt 50, Laurentide Ale, O’Keefe Ale – were tasty enough. The porters were reduced by the time I could find any to Porter Champlain, a sweet, licorice-tasting black beer.

All these were probably reduced in character from earlier in the 1900s. In later years with the onset of the craft beer I got to see what authentic ale and real porter were all about. below are some images of beers tasted recently in my long-adopted city of Toronto.

This is Stone IPA, all the way from San Diego, CA but tasting very sound far from home. It’s rich and sweet, resinous and rather bitter, the real deal for old England beer via the Oregon hop fields.




The porter is a mild example of the genre, from Sleeman in Guelph, ON, apparently a replication of an 1800s porter as brewed by Sleeman’s in the 1800s. An old book of recipes still exists from that time, I saw it myself 25 years ago when touring Sleeman with the beer writer Michael Jackson.

The porter a good beer and may be similar to some porter still sold in Quebec in the 50s and 60s.




The beer tradition of Quebec, inaugurated by the French colons including notably l’Intendant Jean Talon, was later continued by British and other English-speaking settlers. They came after the Conquest in the 1770s. However, all residents, French, English, and other, seemed to like the beers from the newer tradition.

The beers may not have changed that much anyway, given local grains and hops were used before and after (with any imported), as well as a top-fermentation process.

In Quebec taverns circa-1970, the call, donne-moi une Porter Champlain tablette (room temperature] was commonly heard. Today, with all the refinements craft brewing has brought, that way to drink beer seems lost to history, at least in bars and restaurants.

“May I have an I.P.A., that new one on the blackboard, shelf please?”. Incomprehension would follow.



Quebec Hiking Memories and Quebec Cider

Dieppe_Rocky_Otterburn copy(See below for image attribution)


Back when I was a student at McGill University in Montreal, occasionally I would visit the Gault Estate with friends and climb Sugarloaf Mountain (in French, Pain de Sucre), which is part of the Mont-Saint Hilaire hills pictured above. This protected nature reserve has been owned by McGill since the late 1950’s and is now a UNESCO-recognized biosphere with old-growth forest and other pristine features of the original landscape. As I recall, it took a couple of hours or so to reach the top, from which there were panoramic views of the countryside and Richelieu Valley.

We would drive down there from Montreal, I think a half-hour drive or so, this is when Montreal and area traffic still had human dimensions unlike today’s semi-gridlock pattern.

Usually we would stop at farmhouses on the way and buy three things: a white loaf (Quebec country bread was quite plain, a simple white loaf with a light crust), white cheddar curd cheese which was salty and would squeak on the teeth – if it didn’t squeak it was too old – and, if he had some, the farmer’s apple cider, typically made from the McIntosh variety which is still a big eating and cider apple in Quebec. The Mac hails from Ontario originally and still has a good crop here, but Quebec adopted the variety as its own early on and does the best work in the field, in my view. Quebeckers quite naturally took to apple cultivation as many French colons were from Normandy where apple cultivation and derivative products are both legion and legendary.

In the early 1970’s, cider had not yet been legalized for sale in Quebec, this came a little later. So it was sold under the counter as the expression goes, either that or perhaps it was sold as apple juice with the purchaser deciding if he liked the sharp tang that week’s version offered. 🙂  I recall that it was quite rough in taste, usually bone-dry too, similar to some scrumpy cider I later drank in England. After a good walk up the wending path to the top, this tripartite snack really did refresh and I recall a fourth element too, a good cigarette as these were the smoking years. It might have been Export A hand-rolled, a favoured Quebec brand then – that was a long time ago – or maybe one of the American brands I would bring back from beer runs to Plattsburgh, NY. Kent in the long white pack, say, or Camels or Philip Morris, no filter. The good old days. 🙂



Image attribution: “Dieppe Rocky Otterburn” by Guillaume Hébert-Jodoin – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The Great Cloudy vs. Limpid Taste-Off

I’ve been on this issue for years as well, initially my experience came simply from noticing that an “all-in” glass of bottle-conditioned beer tasted inferior to one decanted carefully. The hop and malt character can be blurred by too much yeasty stuff in the glass. Then I noticed, or thought I did, the same thing for cloudy pints. Whether the same proportion of yeast and protein gets in both forms, I have no idea, but it has been my impression “on the ground” that fined pints are better – nothing to do with “learned cultural prejudices”.

Now in these discussions, people never do the obvious thing. Just do blind taste tests! Boak can do it tonight with one of the beers in their bunker and serve it to Bailey in the same glass, who noses and drinks with eyes closed. So easy to do. (Of course you can do it vice versa well, but I think Bailey will rather object :)). And it can be done in a pub too, I mean with cask beer, although more preparation is needed.

The great cloudy vs. limpid taste-off, come on guys, just do it and report well and truly. I am not against all the theorizing in print and have contributed to it not a little myself, but time to do some work in the field. It may well, as some have projected, depend on particular brand and if so fair enough.


Why Did American Beer Tend to Blandness Prior to the Craft Era?

I haven’t read the book which is the subject of this interesting Atlantic article, but would like to offer some thoughts.

First, even post-Prohibition, American beers must have had plenty of taste. Look at A.L. Nugey’s table of beers circa-1936 I posted a few days ago. Those beers were hopped at .5 lb to upwards of 1 lb per (American) barrel, which is much, much more than the modern norm – I’m speaking here of the typical mass market beer, not the craft segment. It’s rather more than English bitters were achieving in the period leading up to the craft beer onset in the U.K.

Even though most of those beers used some rice and corn adjunct (or sugars), they had to be far more impactful on the palate than the typical modern light beer or standard macro offering. This is due both to the much larger hop content than today but also the probable average lower percentage of adjunct used as compared with modern mass market beers.

Sam Adams Boston Lager uses about 1 lb hops per U.S. barrel and is based on an 1800’s recipe of the founder’s ancestor: would anyone claim it is bland? Would anyone claim Pilsner Urquell, the “first” blonde lager and 4.4% abv as it was in the 1800’s, is bland? The American Budweiser in the 1800’s surely tasted much closer to both these beers than it now does… I don’t see that German immigration or lingering Volstead attitudes had much to do with the decline of beer flavour. The lowest alcohol level permitted in some states after 1933, 3.2 alcohol by weight, is about 4% by volume, fairly respectable. Foster’s lager, a large-selling brand in English pubs, is currently 4% abv. And many states post-Volstead had higher limits on beer abv or no limits.

I believe the blandification of North American beer started mainly in the post-war era and gathered pace from the 1950’s in particular. This was for a variety of reasons: cost-savings under more sophisticated business strategies (use less or less costly materials = make more money), expanding the beer market to include more women and young people, and foremost, industry consolidation. Also, the U.S.  and Canada had a corn crop, thus corn (or rice) became acceptable to use as an adjunct to barley, for which too there were technical brewing reasons at the outset, e.g., they promoted clarity.

The UK has a lower-alcohol, inexpensive lager-based beer culture.  So does France, Spain, many other countries. Well how did they get there then? No Prohibition, no huge German influx. I think the same factors explain the watery mass market taste as occurred in America after WW II. I do agree that a lot of lager was on the weaker side in the 1800’s, but this was so in Germany too at the time – the achievement of the circa-5% abv norm only occurred somewhat later both in the U.S. and Germany. This was probably connected, or in my view, to reduced multiple unit consumption vs. the later 1800’s, something which made sense both in light of greater health knowledge but also the increasing urbanization and mechanization of society. Of course this discussion is largely of a historical nature since the craft beer segment now ensures a range of very characterful beers (as the Atlantic piece noted), but still I thought it useful to indicate some thoughts in reaction to what I read.

August 5 2015 Recreation of Historic New York Beer Tasting

IMG_6947                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Image courtesy Rick Radell, Toronto)


[Below is the printed version on which my speech was based, inevitably it wandered a bit from the strict text but not the spirit.  It was a great evening].

Thanks to everyone for attending this event, very much, and to John Maxwell for believing in this project and making it happen “on the ground”. No one could do it better, due to John’s unquestioned status as one of Toronto’s premier restaurateurs. John, also, has been a long-time supporter of fine beer, and fine local wines, in Dora Keogh’s, and Allen’s next door, in our fair city.

I am a full-time business lawyer in Toronto and research beer and brewing history as a pastime. I found the 1944 beer menu recently when perusing historical menus uploaded to the New York Public Library’s online menu archive. When I saw it, I realized we had to recreate that event as a time machine to enjoy some rare gastronomic history.

As John observed to me recently, beer was always part of gastronomy and always appreciated as such. But until recently, appreciation at the level of investigation and reflection was restricted to a few privileged groups, mostly in London and New York (the same applied to wine, for that matter). In addition though, to organize any kind of epicurean event at the height of WW II took some doing.  After all, wartime involved food shortages, rationing, and other privations both imposed and voluntary. Still, the organizers found a way to mount a very respectable tasting by any definition. Indeed, the same Society had organized a similar but even more lavish beer event in 1942, also at the Waldorf. That menu has twice the number of beers of the 1944 tasting and many more foods and taste notes. After two years and some of hard slogging in the war and countless sacrifices, I think the organizers of the 1944 event felt they should be more restrained. Still, the intricacy of their menu speaks for itself and once again, the mid-40’s was very early times for this.

Many of the foods presented at the 40’s beer tastings of the Waldorf were regional American specialties. They included Virginia ham, Mohawk Valley, NY Limburger and Swiss-type cheese, NY sharp cheddar, “Nova” Salmon, Smoked Black Cod, various smoked lake fish, whole-grain breads, Saratoga and Devonsheer biscuits and crackers, and the rather modern-sounding shrimp chips. Many of these were from New York State or prepared there. While these were cold foods, it is notable that many distinctive American dishes were featured. In the 1930’s and earlier, cuisine more typically was an imitation of French or other European cooking.

What of the beers (18) chosen for the 1944 tasting? Many were from the greater NY area, in particular Brooklyn, a brewing powerhouse until the 1970’s. Most were blonde lagers, but there was also dark lager, different types of ale, and two black stouts. Even the blonde lagers could be divided between the original Germanic, all-malt type and the Americanized, lighter version which used grain adjunct or sugars. The menu in its subject headings made an attempt at a logical style division but the actual listings didn’t follow it strictly, due probably to the haste with which the event was organized, or last minute changes to the selection. Well before the mid-1900’s, lager beer had become the dominant American style, acquired via German immigration in the 1800’s, and had displaced largely the ale and porter of the English colonists.

Some beers at the tasting were sourced from Pennsylvania and Maryland, and one or two other states. Guinness Stout, almost certainly Foreign Extra Stout, was the only import.

The strong focus on domestic beers and distinctively American foods may have resulted from sentimental or practical reasons, or both. Whatever the explanation, we can infer that, from these 40’s tastings, a new appreciation of “local” was gained. The “locavore” and food and wine scenes of today have their origins distantly in events such as the 1940’s Waldorf beer tastings and the other tastings (usually with wine) held by the pathbreaking Wine and Food Society, Inc. from the 1930’s through the 60’s. It was not alone of course but played a large role in the history, in my opinion.

I’d like to close by saying, one of the first people I sent tonight’s Program to said to me, “Gary, you say in here the Wine and Food Society, Inc. of New York in 1944 was instrumental in the tasting of beer as a, quote, ‘aesthetic’.  That may well be. But I’ll tell you one thing the Society was not instrumental in”.

I said, “What’s that?”

He said, “Tasting beer as an anaesthetic”.

Have a great evening.





1930s American Beer Styles at a Glance

Brewing Formulas !! (Rotated)

A few days ago I drew attention to A.L. Nugey’s important, 1937 book Brewing Formulas, and his hand-drawn “compositive table” for some 16 beers. It is actually more since he gave alternate versions for most of the styles. The document is above for further detail.


Lager and Ale

It occurs to me that a good subject for those monthly hosting sessions – where a blogger selects a topic for longer treatment by the Faculty – would be thusly: if you could choose on every outing to have the perfect beer experience, would you? Or would you rather negotiate the twists and turns of many bar sorties, i.e., where some or all of the beer inevitably is disappointing or middling? I think I’d opt for the former. When all goes right it induces a particular well-being rather beyond the efficacies of mere alcohol. On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for seeking the wilder shores of beerdom: the inevitable founderings, and dull destinations, are off-set by the El Dorados found.

FullSizeRenderDurham XXX

A pint of County Durham XXX on hand pump today at Bar Volo was as perfect as cask can be: limpid at the sight, low bubble but just enough, full-tasted with English tradition written all over it. Not a single fault (oxidation, over-age, etc.) to mar the experience. Durham, long-established as a quality ale purveyor at the city’s eastern edge, rarely disappoints, but this particular pint of XXX was surpassingly good.

Later, in the Pilot a few blocks north, the new Mountain Lager from Side Launch Brewing Company in Collingwood, ON stunned by its rich clean malt qualities and complex, just-right Noble hop underpinning. The hops had a decided peppery note, not sure which sub-set of German hop mastery was employed here but the brew was like a fully-realized art work, in a word the apotheosis of the helles tradition.  Amongst the many qualities, there was no hint of DMS, a taste traditional for some helles and other blonde lagers to be sure, but which does not enhance top quality, IMO.

Side Launch Can

And so it was a two-run homer out there in the brewing fields.  The fine Canuck rock song, Kim Mitchell’s Lager And Ale, was ringing in my mind as I departed down the aluminum stairs, my decisions this time gave the very best results.

The metallic-theme decor of the Pilot reprises the look of the original location on Yonge Street, not far away.  During the war it was a resort of RCAF and other fliers training in the area, hence the all-time-zones 40’s-style clocks which festoon the main room and other period touches.

The Pilot, Toronto Image



(Thanks to my buddy Rick Radell for his kind help to improve the first image above).