Pink Gin

“On the West India Station”


One of the great gin drinks is the simplest: pink gin, or gin and bitters. Generally water and ice are added, but are optional and not additional ingredients anyway, they are dilutions.

I will let Frederick Martin speak, who wrote the essential An Encyclopedia Of Drinks And Drinking. This very useful and entertaining book had an unlikely publisher, Coles, generally known in Canada for producing resumes of literary works.

“Coles Notes” has been a student standby in Canada for generations. Somehow this house published the book by Martin, an ex- British Army officer who had long been in the wine and spirits trade. The copyright is 1978 but internal clues suggest the text was written in the late 1960s. A left field choice for Coles, but one I’m glad it made.

After first explaining that gin was a proletarian drink disdained by the merchant classes and gentry, Martin sets out the slow but steady way gin crossed social barriers. One reason was the following:

Gin was taken up by the Royal Navy, whose prestige was colossal. We do not know quite when officers started drinking pink gin. “Bitters” were originally a medicine, a specific for sundry fevers such as the Royal Navy might encounter on the West Indian station. Since Plymouth was, and is, a distilling centre, it is reasonable to assume that a puncheon of gin found its way aboard a man-of-war and that an officer of an experimental turn of mind tried taking his bitters with gin, thus inventing a drink destined to go far outside service circles.


As to how to make the pink gin Martin is authoritative:

The correct way to make it is to put four or five dashes of Angostura bitters in a suitable glass and shake out all but that which clings to the surface (unless you wish the drink to be specially aromatic). Using ice cubes, or not, to taste, pour in the gin, adding soda or plain water to individual liking. There is a gimmick version in which the bitters are fired.

As an ideal brand Martin specifies the classic Plymouth gin – the sole surviving example of a regional English style that was associated with Devon’s famous port. “Plymouth” was said to be a little more flavourful than London Dry. Martin assures us though that any London gin is likely to be as good.

I always liked Beefeater: bone-dry, good juniper notes, very pure. Never really went for Bombay and Hendricks. Some brands, especially the cheapest, seem to stint on the “botanical” flavourings and also their alcohol base sometimes is too harsh for me.

I just bought the venerable Gilbey’s which is similar to Beefeater but a touch sweeter with more orange notes I think.  Of course there has been a gin boom in recent years with many craft and newer big-company iterations, so the choice is enviable. However, the gin should not be too forward in taste as this can clash with the bitters.

Note re second image above: The painting shown is in the public domain, a fine 18th century work by English marine painter Peter Monamy. For source and further details, see here. Believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Note added July 26, 2019: see my Comment added today to an earlier post of mine on Martin’s book, regarding the well-known, late U.K. drinks writer John Doxat. I discuss there whether Doxat in fact authored Martin’s book and “Frederick Martin” is a nom de plume.



Krausmann Restaurants in Montreal – Part III


Famous for food




– From a 1939 tourist brochure in Montreal

In the last two posts I discussed the history of two restaurants with a German theme in Montreal operated by two brothers, John and William Krausmann. They hailed from Elora, Ontario but had a Germanic heritage that was reflected in the food and drinks served. John had importation rights for some prestige German and Bohemian beers including Kulmbacher and what is now called Pilsner Urquell. John’s restaurant, founded 1901, was in the financial district. It prospered for a generation but appears not to have survived, or for long, his death in 1929.

William’s Lorraine Cafe, founded in 1922, continued in business into the 1980s, changing location at least once. Since 1990, Brisket, a restaurant which offers a diverse, “Montreal” menu, operates on the last site occupied by Kraussman’s on Beaver Hall Hill.*

Brisket continues the Krausmann legacy in a modest way by including “Salon Krausmann” in its full name and also, it features the pickled pork hock dish which was a specialty of the old Krausmann restaurants.

I had thought perhaps Krausmann family descendants were involved with the Krausmann business at least until the Brisket era. This appears not so, due to a surprising twist in the history: by 1927, Krausmann’s Lorraine Cafe had been sold to Traymore Limited, a Canadian restaurant chain comprising (in that year) five cafeterias. You see in this 1927 prospectus for an issue of convertible preference shares that Krausmann Lorraine Cafe is listed as owned by Traymore. Traymore also listed the restaurant among its group on postcards showing the company locations.

traymore-cafeteriafrSince William had health problems by the mid-1920s, it makes sense that he decided to sell. It appears he had no involvement in Traymore management but may have worked at the Lorraine Cafe for a time in an employed capacity. His brother John did not sell his Krausmann’s to Traymore as far as I know, but with John’s death in 1929 that branch seems to have ended its activity.

Traymore Limited was an early restaurant chain, indeed a public company founded before WW I in Toronto. By the late 1930s, some of its locations had gone under due no doubt to the Depression. But the flagship cafeterias under the Traymore name in Toronto and Montreal continued for decades after WW II. It seems they closed in or by 1961. I suspect that Krausmann Lorraine Cafe closed for a time, in 1961 or perhaps earlier, since this advertisement in Montreal in 1964 announced a new and revived Krausmann’s in Phillips Square.

I can’t tell if the new Krausmann was in the same building as the original Lorraine Cafe. The civic numbers old and new don’t seem to tally but the Square had been redeveloped since the 1920s and maybe the building numbers changed. Anyway the new operation was still in Phillips Square.

A Mr. Jacques Fauteux was the manager and the menu was Continental, advertising English, German and Swiss dishes. Entertainment was also offered, which reprised the supper club atmosphere of the Phillips Square Krausmann’s in the 20s and 30s. In general a high tone was promised by the upbeat ad. It does not state when the original Krausmann’s stopped operating.

By the 70s, this Krausmann as I recall it had become a middle-class brasserie, primarily a lunch destination, and I don’t recall a band playing by then. The beer offered was similar to that at other taverns and certainly the era of German imports and “light and dark draft beer” proudly advertised in the 1920s had past. But pickled pork hocks were still on the menu, the family tradition of Sarah Krausmann, who was born in Alsace-Lorraine, still casting its long shadow as I apprehend it. And it’s on the Brisket menu today. Perhaps it wasn’t strictly accurate when I said that the dish has been served for 115 years as it seems Krausmann’s stopped operating for a time prior to its post-1964 revival, but it doesn’t matter, the heritage of the dish is long enough and certainly originated in 1901.

My best guess is that different ownership had taken control after the Traymore era ended and likely the Krausmann family has not been involved with the restaurants since the 1930s. Needless to say any readers who can add to this picture are welcome to comment or contact me and I’ll be happy to write a further note on the history.

We tend today to think of food service corporations and restaurant chains as ultra-modern. In fact they go back a century and more. The idea to supply a chain from one set of sources to ensure volume pricing, and manage them from a central location, made no less sense in 1914 than it does now. Traymore was a pioneering operation in Canada in this field.


I’ll leave you with a bittersweet story about Kraussman’s, in this case relating to the Toronto hotel, probably managed in that period by William Krausmann. A German had worked for a time in the hotel, then went home and ended in Kaiser Wilhelm’s army fighting England and its Dominions. In about 1915 during one of those strange moments when opposing forces declared a brief peace and would mingle in no-man’s-land sharing cigars and coffee, Canadian and German forces bantered, then returned to their own lines. As the Canadians entered their trenches, they heard a voice drifting from the German side, “Hey Eddie McDougall, want to run down to Krausmann’s tonight?”.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from this vintage and genealogical postcard site. The second is from John Chuckman’s fine Toronto historical postcards site, here. Both are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See my note in the Comments to Part I added April 1, 2018.


The Krausmann Restaurant Clan of Quebec and Ontario

Further checks allow me to be more precise concerning the history of Krausmann’s Tavern in Montreal. The main points in my last post are correct, but I add below considerable additional detail, including from a beer standpoint.

The Montreal Krausmanns, two brothers, were not from Lorraine in France, or even from Europe. They were from Elora, Ontario. Elora is a charming, small town about 70 miles from Toronto. The patriarch, Andrew (né Andreas) Kraussman, was born in Hesse, Germany in 1844. He immigrated to Ontario and became a successful innkeeper, then hotelier. His wife was Sarah Poutler/Paudler/etc. – spelling varies in different accounts – born a year earlier. Interestingly, she was from Alsace-Lorraine, which may well explain the origin of the name, “Kraussman’s Lorraine Cafe”.


Lorraine in France is mainly French in culture but with some German influence via its Moselle part and the adjoining Alsace has a distinctly Germanic tone to this day.

Lorraine Cafe may have been considered a good name for a German-style restaurant in Montreal given the dual French and German associations. Also, there is a town called Lorraine in Quebec – I was there only two days ago in fact, attending a wedding.

Andrew and Sarah married in Canada in about 1866. The family was Catholic and I mention this simply because I had thought initially the Krausmanns might be old Mennonite stock. That part of Ontario was settled to a large degree by Mennonites of different orders, they came as early as the late 1700s. The Mennonite churches are connected to Anabaptism and the Reformation, so had the Krausmanns been old stock I’d expect them to be Protestant. But Andrew and his wife came to Ontario in the third part of the 19th century.

The family expanded hotel-keeping to Toronto and owned Krausmann Hotel at King and Church Streets – the location is now an empty lot as the building was taken down in 1970.

Most of Andrew and Sarah’s children followed them in the hospitality business. There were five boys. One, Albert, died in 1915 at only 33. Andrew died the same year. John, who had developed the family’s expansion in Toronto, founded Kraussman’s Restaurant in Montreal in 1901, but not in Phillips Square, it was on 80 St. James Street, or Rue St-Jacques, the official name. This was in the old financial and historic quarter of Montreal. As will appear, the cuisine was German and appropriately, John specialized in imported German and Austrian beer. The amusing post card (pre-WW I, probably) shown below includes top international brands of the era.

After almost 30 years in business on St. James Street, John died of a gunshot in February, 1929, perhaps by his own hand. The account in the Montreal Gazette gives numerous details. I don’t know how much longer Kraussman’s on St. James Street continued. Certainly by the 1970s in Montreal, there was only one Krausmann’s, in Phillips Square. John had left no children.


John’s younger brother, William, founded Kraussman’s Lorraine Cafe in Phillips Square in 1922. That restaurant also was a success, but William died of a heart problem in Montreal in 1933. This obituary gives a respectful treatment of his career: he had obviously made a mark on the city, as had John. William left a son, William Jr., and two daughters. Two brothers survived William and John: Andrew junior, and George, who became a noted physician in Detroit, Michigan.

Krausmann descendants continued to reside in Montreal for many decades. Some may have been involved with Krausmann’s in Philips Square in the 1970s, maybe even after it moved south to Beaver Hall Hill in the 1980s. I believe the current ownership of the successor, Brisket, is unconnected.

In November, 1928 in Goblin, a New Yorker-style magazine published in Toronto in the 1920s, a deft portrait is given of the two restaurants, see here. (Blogger John Adcock has given some interesting background on Goblin, here).

The piece was written in the snappy style of the Jazz Age and intended as a guide for American tourists in Montreal. A sample:

The fame of Krausmann’s has gone as far as the pages of “Vanity Fair”, and the sidewalks of Chicago. There’s a place (or rather two places, Krausmann’s on St. James Street and Krausmann’s of Phillips’ Square) that the tourists “do” know. Krausmann’s on St. James Street is the old original, still run by the famous John Krausmann, but both restaurants specialize in the same sort of Teutonic food. Visitors with a culinary background of Hassenpfeffer, Apfelstrudel and other delicacies invariably think Krausmann’s is a wow. The Kasslerripehen at the Phillips’ Square restaurant is excellent. Interesting too, if you care for that sort of thing, are the various kinds of imported German sausages and the enormous plates of pigs’ knuckles and sauerkraut that are served at the bar. Oddly enough, you can’t get Pumperknickel at Krausmann’s. I asked for it one day and was told they stopped baking it during the war and had very few calls for it nowadays.

During the summer, Krausmann’s, St. James Street, has a steady supply of fresh-caught brook trout, which they cook to perfection and serve with “beurre noir”.

Clearly the pig’s knuckles was a house specialty, and would have been since 1901. You can still get it at Brisket today, which occupies the last location of Krausmann’s Tavern, made to the original recipe.* Albeit it flies under the radar these days the dish has been continuously served for 115 years, which must be some kind of record and deserves the renewed attention of Montreal’s food culture.

Brisket’s continues the Krausmann legacy in three ways I can see: first, in its full name, “Brisket Montreal – le Salon Krausmann“. Second, the restaurant features the famed Krausmann pickled pork hocks, so some small part of the original menu survives. Third, Brisket is a “brasserie” which in Montreal means a restaurant serving hearty foods with a good beer selection – Kraussman’s in the 70s was the same concept except continuing to offer the pork hocks as a connection to the past.

The reference to pumperknickel bread in the Goblin story is interesting. I wonder if the restaurants stopped offering it because black bread is an obvious symbol of German cooking and culture. Maybe Krausmann’s wanted to lower an obvious part of its German profile since Canada was fighting Germany in Europe. Yet that war, and indeed the Second War, seemed not to affect the fortunes of these German-Canadian restaurants. On the eve of WW II anyway I know Kraussman’s was still advertising its German menu. Maybe this changed during the 40s though, in fact I think it is likely. By the 70s the menu was mostly Canadian, or such is my recollection after a mere 40 year gap.


Above is an image of the hotel the family operated in Toronto. It is now a parking lot. I drive or walk by it quite often, never having dreamed the site was connected to the Kraussman Tavern I liked so much in Montreal c. 1980. In the same manner, never would have I thought back then that a tavern with an interesting signature dish had such a rich history, going back to swish times in early financial Canada, over to rural Ontario where its founders were born, and stretching finally Alsace-Lorraine, whence the sturdy and tasty porcine specialty of Kraussman’s probably came.

Note re images above: The first, showing the interior of the Phillips Square Krausmann’s mid-1900s, was sourced from this auction page. The second, a postcard showing the St. James Street Krausmann’s (probably pre-1914), was sourced from this ebay page. The third image, of Krausmann Hotel in Toronto c. 1918, was sourced from a Toronto urban history site, here.  All are believed available for educational and historical use. All feedback welcomed.



*See my note added April 1, 2018 in the Comments under Part I.

A Classic Montreal Restaurant, Krausmann’s


In the late 1970s I was working in Montreal in a small 1960s tower still standing at 1080 Beaver Hall Hill. The street name harks back to Canada’s fur-trading days. Across the street was a typical Montreal tavern, I can’t recall the name now. It served draft and bottled beer and the tavern food of the era, some of which is still served in Montreal.

This tavern was a large room with small round tables and wooden, round-backed “bankers” chairs. The food included hamburger steak, french fries, french fries and gravy (no cheese, this was before poutine), spaghetti, pizza, and “farmer” sausage. There might also be tourtière and other French-Canadian foods, pig’s feet and meat balls in brown sauce, say. There were also small steaks, sandwiches including a club sandwich, and sometimes chicken or meat croquettes. (Croquettes seem to have disappeared from menus everywhere which is a wrong some retro-minded chef should correct soon).


I remember one waiter there, I think he co-owned the tavern. He was medium-height, slim, of calm disposition, with a pencil moustache. He was clad in a black, tuxedo-type outfit, the uniform of the Montreal tavern waiter then. You see similar dress in illustrations of English Victorian restaurants. Most waiters in Montreal by then were francophone but he was “English”. Nonetheless he spoke perfect French, unusual at the time for an “Anglais“. I think he told me he had been a policeman in an earlier career. He was probably 45 at most and could still be living. Like all good waiters he would linger with the clientele to have a chat but was Johnny on the spot when the place was busy.


Beaver Hall Hill is south of what used to be Dorchester Boulevard, and is now boul. René Lévesque, after the late separatist premier of Quebec. On the other side of Dorchester was and is Phillips Square, originally a high-end shopping enclave that served the gentry and merchant classes. You see the Square pictured in the early image above. That’s King Edward VII in the centre and he is still there.

In 1901 a Mr. Krausmann opened a restaurant on the Square’s east side, it was just outside camera range in that image, where the awning is on the right. The concept was a European cafe that mixed German and French influences, which may explain its formal name, the Lorraine Café. By the 1920s and through the second war, Krausmann’s Lorraine Cafe was a noted club venue which specialized in the dinner-and-show, an entertainment genre popular at the time in North America.

In the 1970s, sometimes I went to Krausmann’s too, by then it was just called Krausmann Tavern. I knew nothing of its 75 year history or glory days as a supper club. To me it was just a good tavern with a slightly offbeat menu. The star German dish, maybe the only Teutonic specialty on the menu by then, was the pickled pork knuckles. Perhaps it was from Lorraine, France, as Mr. Krausmann may have been. In fact, I once had a similar dish in Stenay, an old garrison town in Lorraine.

The shanks were brined and spiced, long boiled, and served with plain boiled potato and sauerkraut. It was very good with Labatt 50 or the other light-tasting beers of the time.


I left Montreal in 1983. A few years after Krausmann’s moved from the north side of Dorchester to the south side, taking occupancy where the ex-policeman had his tavern. I never visited that location but knew of the change.

In about 1990 Krausmann’s became Brisket, a restaurant that specializes in Montreal’s famous “smoked meat”, or cured and sliced beef piled high on a sandwich. It’s Montreal’s version of pastrami and corned beef in New York. Smoked meat has Montreal Jewish origins but, like the bagel, has long departed its original precincts to enter the general food scene.

While pickled pork and smoked meat may seem from different universes, both are cured specialties for carnivores. Brisket was new for the locale but in some ways it continued the older heritage.

Yesterday, I was walking down from Phillips Square to Beaver Hall Hill to look at these old haunts and lo there appeared the small, Victorian block of buildings that housed the policeman’s tavern, and then Kraussman’s, and now Brisket.

Men were doing repairs in the doorway. When I explained I had eaten there 40 years earlier, they kindly gave me a tour of the inside as it was closed until evening. It looked different than I remembered but the premises had been modified numerous times since the 1970s. Back then, small frosted glass panes typically formed the window casements in taverns, to prevent looking inside. This was common for Quebec taverns, and was probably required by law.

While the upper windows in the building have changed, look at the sidewalk level: the old frosted glass is still there!

The workmen introduced me to one of the principals, he was working in the kitchen. He was delighted to meet someone who had known Krausmann’s. Indeed the name is remembered in the restaurant’s current name, as Brisket is sub-titled Le Salon Krausmann. Not just that, he told me, improbable as it may seem, that the pig’s knuckle dish of former fame is still served – and follows the original recipe.


Their menu is a good example of how foods of various national origins can combine to form a culinary corpus in a particular area. We see spaghetti, pig’s feet and meat balls, a Middle Eastern dish or two, a hot chicken plate, (many) different poutines, and a range of hamburgers. Note the “Trappist Poutine”, I loved that one.

It’s typical popular fare for Montrealers, and Brisket pretty much covers the gamut. I didn’t get the chance to eat there unfortunately, but it is Stop No. 1 the next time I am in Montreal.

Krausmann’s had to have the pig’s knuckle dish on its menu when it launched in 1901. It is now 2016, and the same dish is still served, a hop and skip from the original location. No one has explained this to the Montreal eating public as far as I know. I doubt there are many other, if any, dishes in Montreal, or Canada for that matter, served continuously for 115 years!

You Montreal foodies on the prowl for the next sensation: go to Brisket and try its historic pork knuckles. Ask for it piping hot so you can see the steam rise as you open it up. Eschew french fries, much less poutine, on the side. You want plain boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. And drink cold blonde lager with it, the house serves Belle Gueule and St-Ambroise beer. It will do just fine, as good or better than Labatt 50.

You will taste quite literally history, not just a very good dish.

Note re images: the first image above is in the public domain and was sourced from Wikipedia, here. The last two are from the website of Brisket’s in Montreal, here.

Addendum: see my following two blog posts for additional detail on Kraussman’s, including that the family was from Elora, Ontario.


Montreal Notes

Another trip to Montreal, still here and time is short, so some quick notes. I had a Labatt 50 ale yesterday and found it very good with a subtle yet pleasing taste.  I couldn’t detect any adjunct taste and wonder if it is all-malt now. Later, I got down a Heady Topper, my first time with this beer from the influential Alchemist in Vermont (I believe). Very good too in a totally different way.

It may be hard for some to understand that if I had had another macro beer and another, even “name” double IPA, I might have disliked them both quite a bit. It’s not the category, it’s the taste of each that counts.

I also tried today a kvass, which I wrote recently was possibly made by monks who had returned from Russia to a restored Notre Dame de la Trappe in Orne, France in the early 1800s.

I have never had this before, and it’s very good too. The label says it is made from rye bread, barley malt, water and sugar. I would prefer it less sweet but clearly each brand will be different. It has an earthy taste and black colour and may well have been what the derisive-but-non-curious taster was served at La Grande-Trappe back then.

I decided today to eat a Trappist-style lunch. At the place I got the kvass, they had a small cafeteria so I had green pea soup, a slice of brown bread (German-type), a small amount of cheese, and a few swallows of kvass. Nothing wrong with it at all, of course I didn’t work in the fields half a day!

I’ll post images later.

Brewing at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, 19th Century


Mount Saint Bernard’s Brewer Rates His Own Product, 1890s

Mount Saint Bernard Abbey (MSB) is one of three Cistercian communities active in the United Kingdom.

The others are Caldey Island in Wales and Abbey Sancta Maria in Nunraw, Scotland. Each is Strict Observance (Trappist). In Ireland, Mount Melleray Abbey is also Trappist.

None currently conducts any brewing, but MSB had beer available in-house for much of the 19th century, and I understand is considering restoring brewing.*

MSB is near Coalville, Leicestershire. It was founded by a delegation from Mount Melleray in Ireland in the 1830s. I discussed earlier Abbaye Notre Dame de Melleray, or Mellerai, in Brittany, France. To summarize a complex history, in 1790 Trappists departed from La Grande-Trappe at Soligny in Orne, Normandy due to repression of monastic life under the Revolution. They sought refuge initially in Switzerland. Invading French armies forced them to flee, to Russia and finally Britain.

In 1795 they were given refuge in Lulworth, Dorset by a sympathetic English Catholic family. In 1817 under changed conditions in France, the monks departed Lulworth to found Melleray Abbey in Brittany. Recurring anti-clerical measures in France forced them to leave France again, and Mount Melleray Abbey in Ireland was founded as the successor.

In the constant migration and re-establishment of Trappist life, Westmalle Abbey in Belgium was established by monks who intended originally to re-settle in Canada. The French Melleray Abbey, and also the original home of Strict Observance, la Grande-Trappe in Normandy (Notre Dame de la Trappe), were re-established finally by others on a permanent footing.

All have continued to the present date, however the Trappists at Melleray Brittany will depart the monastery later this year due to declining numbers.

Other Trappist abbeys in Belgium are connected to this history, as are a number in North America. They are an outgrowth of the repression of monasticism under the French Revolution and later Napoleon.

As a reminder, both La Grande-Trappe and Abbaye Melleray in France brewed beer. The French Melleray, whihc included some British monks, brewed on the English system – this is amply documented, which I discussed in earlier posts. While little is known of the beer they made, it may have been all-barley malt. In the early 1800s beer in England was generally so, whether produced by commercial breweries or in manors or universities.

Melleray’s beer probably resembled one of the grades of English mild ale then available, all rather strong in those days. If strong, it would have been diluted for drinking at refectory. It is possible, too, that Abbaye Melleray made a mixed-grain beer – this might depend on the crops the farm at the domain raised.

Records perhaps are available at Melleray today in Ireland, or indeed still in France, to indicate how the ex-Lulworth monks brewed in Brittany.

As for La Grande-Trappe, almost certainly its beer was low-alcohol. Normandy had an old brewing heritage derived from Viking invaders, but it was partly displaced by cider in the Middle Ages. Nonetheless, beer continued to be made in the region including by some abbeys, and was available certainly at La Grande Trappe after Abbé de Rancé did his groundbreaking reformatory work. At first only cider was used but some fathers found cider didn’t suit them, and in any case it was not always available. Abbé de Rancé, not wishing to have recourse to wine, commanded that a brewery be installed, as confirmed in an 1866 history of the legendary abbot and the Trappists, Histoire de l’Abbé de Rancé et de sa réforme, Volume 1, by Louis Dubois.

Dieulouard Abbey in Lorraine, an English Benedictine establishment, brewed beer for almost 200 years before the French Revolution with a high repute for taste and strength.  A low-alcohol, or diluted, version was probably served to the fathers. An 1890s reference cited earlier states Dieulouard beer “supported dilution”.

Just as today when Trappist monasteries do not serve their strongest beer to the fathers, in former times also monks did not drink strong beer. If they drank at all, a weaker beer was available.

Hence, in terms of contemporary opinion on 19th-century beer at MSB we should not expect connoisseur-level comments. This is particularly so where, as seems the case, MSB offered only one beer, which probably was weak in alcohol. It is true that Westmalle in Belgium excelled from the starting block in the brewing arts, but this may have been an exception, or the strong beer it made was mainly for guests or sale at the abbey gate.

So what did visitors say of MSB beer?

Here are some details in a reversed chronology, from my own research. An article described a visit to MSB in 1890, An English Monastery, published originally in the magazine All The Year Round. The uncredited author asked his host what the fathers eat. The answer: bread, vegetable soup, boiled rice, jam (“to help the rice go down”), and “a cup of beer”. To the rejoinder “then you are not teetotalers?”, the father answered dryly, “The beer is not exactly double X, you know”. The amusing subtext, taken with the tradition mentioned, suggests the beer served was weak ale.

A second statement, by a visitor who drank the ale with the monks in 1872, was the beer was “most indifferent”. This can be read as weak again. Of course it is possible the visitor, a rather supercilious person by the tone of his piece, meant it was sour or tasted bad, but I don’t think likely that was meant.

A third observation is from the person who authored the memoir of Antwerp discussed in my previous post. In the book he includes a parenthetical entry on MSB, which he visited with a friend in March 1847. He states at pg. 150 that he found the beer of “purity and excellence” along with the various foods served. He uses the term “home produce” to describe these items and clearly meant produce of MSB, not of England, or the U.K. in general.




MSB’s beer may have changed over the decades, but I think probably it was sound yet low in alcohol, 1%-2% abv. Possibly the MSB beer was 3-4% abv, this at a time when commercial ale and porter started at 5%, but I incline it was weaker. The above, c.1900 advert is for Mont des Cats Abbey “table beer”, hence weak beer, quite possibly the kind MSB brewed.

Some accounts of visits to MSB make no reference to beer or other alcohol. One states the only beverage encountered was water. Maybe MSB brewed at some times and not others, it is hard to say.

I am not clear when brewing was abandoned, probably before the First World War. I hope MSB does make its own beer again one day. This would be salutary from a number of standpoints, while to be sure the decision must be carefully weighed. If MSB commences brewing, I would suggest it make an ale from all-English materials including the yeast. I wouldn’t use a Belgian yeast, in particular. Making a traditional English ale would honour much of the history in question: it was English brewing skill that was deployed at Melleray brewery in France in 1817. And English Benedictines brought similar skills to Dieulouard Abbey in Lorraine, as I discussed earlier, and made English-style ale the renown of Lorraine for almost 200 years.

Further, the “Belgian taste” is very familiar in the market today from the numerous Trappist beers available, and other beers in that style. I would do something different, strictly English, in particular, with no American hops. This seems consistent with the early MSB brewing history.

Finally, as to alcohol, I would make a fairly rich beer at 5% or 6% abv. 7% seems rather high, anyhow Ampleforth Abbey is currently filling that niche nicely. If the MSB monks will drink the beer and 5%-6% is felt too high, it can always be diluted with 50% sparkling water. There is historical precedent for monastic beer to “take” water in this fashion, as mentioned above.

Addendum: See in Comments below further period commentary on the abbey’s beer.

Note re images: This first image above is from the website of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, linked in the first sentence of the text above. The second image appeared in this news storyin the Catholic journal La Croix regarding issuance of a beer in 2011 by Mont des Cats Trappist monastery in France. It shows a “table beer”, thus with no or very little alcohol, marketed when Mont des Cats abbey had a working brewery onsite c.1900. Images are believed available for historical or educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Added June 27, 2018: Mount Saint Bernard is now brewing again. For an update see, here.


An English Visitor Renders High Praise to Westmalle’s Beer, 1847

Hello Moeder, Hello Vader

George Podesta wrote in 1853 that Westmalle Abbey made the best beer in Belgium. Some may think that was a one-off, or fluke, but a book written six years earlier by an Englishman said the same thing. It chronicled an extended visit to Antwerp which took in also Westmalle Abbey and Brussels. The Englishman was writing only 11 years after the fathers commenced brewing operations in 1836.

The book is Antwerp. A Journal Kept ThereWhile running over 200 pages, it is anonymous, as was frequently the custom then for this type of writing. The author was well-born, and I’d guess in his 20s judging by the context. He indicated that he traveled in company with relations who were a “lady and gentleman”, possibly his parents. The book is not a travel guide of the Frommer or Lonely Planet type, nor is it a formal economic or historical study. Essentially it is travel literature.

Almack's_Assembly_Rooms_insideThere are many interesting nuggets. He wrote that well-born visitors invited to dance at balls were introduced to young ladies as potential partners. So popular were the ladies’ services, they would note the request in a “memorandum“, and frequently respond (I paraphrase), “I can’t do it Thursday, not Friday either, maybe Saturday, I’ll get back to you”. Another interesting remark is a story he relates of a friend travelling with his Yorkshire-born servant in nearby Holland. The friend calls for the man to attend him, but he is nowhere to be found. When he searches the hotel where they were staying, the tardy valet is finally located, he is among a group of “hotel people” (Hollanders), regaling them with funny stories and all laughing up a storm in Dutch.

The astonished master asks him, “How do you know Dutch?”. The attendant responds, “Sir, I never larned nothing of the sort, but bless ye, Sir, it’s nothing but bad Yorkshire”. The author of Antwerp goes on to give a short list of English and Dutch words to show many are essentially the same, e.g., mother is moeder. (Moeder sounds the way someone from Brooklyn, NY would pronounce mother – but then the Dutch founded New York…).

Anyway, the author of Antwerp was blown away by Westmalle’s beer. Here is what he said:

The dinner then on the table consisted of potatoes, Brussels sprouts – a delicious vegetable – eggs, brown bread cut into very thin slices, butter, cheese, and beer, all excellent of their kind, particularly the beer, which is the best I have tasted in Belgium.

On this trip as I said, he spent considerable time in Antwerp, and therefore surely tasted brown barley beer and probably other kinds. He also frequented Brussels, where he would have tried sour beers and possibly others again. So while he didn’t have the familiarity George Podesta had of Belgium – Podesta was an Italian-born writer who called Belgium his second home and had written of the country earlier – his opinion must be given weight. This is especially so because it came from an English pen and the English knew beer, especially then.

Note re image above: This Victorian ballroom illustration is in the public domain and was sourced here. It is believed available for historical or educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Did Abbaye Notre-Dame de la Trappe Serve Bad Beer In the 1800s? (No)

Fermenting_kvassTrappist and Benedictine brewing disclosed a high level of competence in the pre-Revolutionary era and through the 19th century with the restoration of the monasteries and brewing in Belgium and France. Earlier, I discussed the high repute among English and French-speaking observers which Westmalle’s beers had within a generation of brewing starting in 1836. 

I mentioned that Chimay’s beer, at an impressive 7.2% alcohol, was included in an 1877 Belgian journal which measured alcohol and other analytics of contemporary beers. I discussed Dieulouard brewery’s beer in the 1890s, formerly made in the same brewery by English Benedictines. English ecclesiastic tasters – thus permit them an appropriate reticence – found the beer dark and strong with no negative mentions such as sourness.

I mentioned that Melleray abbey in Brittany started up brewing under English auspices in 1817, and only good things can be deduced from the accounts.

An 1853 visitor to Mont des Cats abbey on the French side of the Belgian frontier called the abbey’s brewing “good light beer” and said it “does no little credit to their brewer”.

The fact that these mentions survive at all from the 19th century is quite remarkable, and suggests a broader pattern of high quality throughout the abbey brewing world. This isn’t surprising when one considers that monastic brewing was instrumental in spreading the taste for good beer in Europe after about 800 A.D. Abbey brewing started to decline with the recurring problems monasteries encountered in various religious wars and the rise of secular brewing, but endured into the Revolutionary era in France.

Dieulouard abbey’s brewing, c. 1608- c.1790, was especially noted in this regard. Some German abbeys as well continued to brew concurrently with great skill, of which some evidence exists to this day.

I discussed also Abbaye Notre Dame de Bonne Espérance in the 1890s, in Dordogne, France. Its beer did not please the visitor who wrote about it, but this was due to its (for him) unusual yellow colour and thick unfiltered (“new”) character. There is no reason to think it was sour, or ill-brewed in any other way.

So when you read of apparently duff abbey beer it tends to jar the senses. To be sure, any brewery can make an off-product, it happens to the best of them. But taking all with all, one wouldn’t expect to read this comment from a visitor to La Grande Trappe in Soligny la Trappe, Orne, Normandy:

Our repast consisted of bread, butter, milk, herbs, and fruit; our beverage was equally simple, and far less palatable, being a liquid somewhat like a `half-and-half` mixture of ditch-water and purest Day and Martin in appearance, and in taste resembling nothing so much as `flat` beer, rendered tart by injudicious doses of vinegar.

The account is from a story in National Magazine in 1856, it appeared as well in other journals. I believe it originated in Tate’s Magazine, based in Edinburgh, in 1853. Day and Martin was a boot polish.


The anonymous author, probably Tait, was anti-clerical, indeed anti-religious. His piece is rather scathing, often supercilious, and perhaps was intended not to cast a positive light on any aspect of abbey life, which he painted as unremittingly bleak and devoid even of the spiritual solace it was designed to secure its community. Still, let’s take what he said at face value. The real question is, was he talking about beer?

He doesn’t call what he drank beer as such: he says it tasted somewhat like flat beer that was sour. If it was beer, one would think he would have called it that. He refers to no brewing or a brewery at Notre Dame de la Trappe. While it is true that La Grande Trappe, as it is also known, the founding monastery of what became (officially in 1892) the Trappist order, brewed in its pre-Revolutionary heyday, there is no evidence that it brewed after its restoration from 1815.

In this fascinating 1895 article by Aleide Bonneau describing the abbey, published in a French magazine the Revue Universelle, not a word is mentioned about brewing. The article mentions all the ancillary activities of la Grande Trappe including its chocolaterie, but there no mention of beer, brewing, or any alcohol. It is impossible that the author would have missed this. He describes in detail what we would call an open-doors day, where the abbey allowed people through the porter`s gate to view the buildings and the monks. On the grounds were set up numerous “boutiques” where chocolate and other things were sold to raise money for the abbey’s orphanage. If bottles of beer were sold, the article would have mentioned it.

Readers interested in life in an 1800s monastery might click on the link because the article contains a number of very rare photos, indeed for any period. The monks’ dormitory is shown, a series of small rooms partitioned, almost like a college dorm except each is fully open to the corridor. The monks are shown working in a field, in full white vestments. In this case they stare at the camera, which is contrary to what you normally read, that they pay no or as little attention as possible to visitors. A drawing shows the monks dining in the refectory. Intriguingly, each has a set of bottles in front of him, one of which appears to be corked. But whether it contained beer is unknown.

caviar_prd_284_orgIf the beverage Tait disdained wasn’t beer, what was it? I offer two possibilities. The first is, it was kvass, the East European drink made from stale bread which generally is only lightly alcoholic.

One thing a Trappist monastery always had in abundance unless in extremis was bread. The bread in French monasteries wasn’t like our whole grain bread, not to mention the white Weston bread I had with eggs this morning. No, it was pain bis, a rough country bread made in huge loaves from rye or mixed grains and brown-to-black in colour.

Bread that had gone stale – what do you do with it? You can make kvass, a traditional drink in Russia and Ukraine and extensively consumed in the east. You just add water and let it ferment a bit, sometimes various flavours are added. I will aver that, having checked, I can find no evidence a drink like this was ever consumed in Normandy (nor did I find evidence a black, porter-like beer was ever made – to the contrary).

But bear in mind, monks had returned to France after 1815 who had spent time in exile far afield, including … Russia. They may have brought the idea from there as a quick way to make a lightly alcoholic, beer-like drink. Tait’s taste note – you can say that without tripping after four glasses of kvass, but don’t try it after one of Rochefort’s strongest – sounds a lot like kvass, which can be black as night, earthy, and is always partly sour.

If it wasn’t kvass, it may have been a coffee substitute, chicory, which was grown in France in the 1800s and used as a poor man’s coffee (that’s how it came to New Orleans). Chicory coffee can be sourish too especially to an unaccustomed palate.

But it wasn’t beer, okay? The Trappists don’t do bad beer.

Note re images: the first image shown, of kvass in preparation, is in the public domain and was sourced here. Attribution is as follows: By Edmund Schluessel (Sanyo S750i) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The second image, of La Grande Trappe, is from this French website which markets reproduction of postcards, here.  The third, of a Russian-style black bread, is from House of Petrossian in Paris, here. All are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



A Beer Fan Compares Westmalle Trappist To Other Belgian Beers – In 1853



In Essai sur la Campine Anversoise, 1853, by George Podesta, which I referred to yesterday, Podesta described Westmalle Abbey’s beer as “the best in Belgium”. He also made further comments, which I will discuss here, which illuminate what Westmalle’s beer was.

He wrote (my translation), at pp. 64-65:

I have said the good fathers brew the best beer in the kingdom. Taste it, and you will prefer it by far to the rich faro of the capital, to the barley beer of the region which is always somewhat vinegary, to the bland and insipid beer of Louvain, and even to the beer of Diest which advised drinkers consider equal to the heady lambic of the capital.

This 163-year-old taste note, written by someone who was evidently a discriminating beer drinker, helps us to understand Westmalle’s beer then. First, it wasn’t sour. Podesta tells us squarely that the area’s barley beer – Antwerp and region’s brown barley malt style – was always somewhat sour. Numerous other sources of the mid-1800s confirm this. His reference to faro being rich or sumptuous is probably a reference to its sugary quality. Faro was and is a wild-fermented, malted barley-and-raw wheat beer, mid-gravity, 4% abv, approximately. Numerous sources say it was sour too the sugar would have taken the edge off.

Louvain had two types of beer (at least) and the one Podesta mentioned was clearly the “blanche” – a wheated style not dissimilar probably to the Hoegaarden type you can buy around the world today. I agree with Podesta that a blanche can be bland – it was considered mostly a summer refresher in the 1800s, not a cold weather drink. Louvain white may have tasted like Blanche de Chambly in Quebec, or Anchor Brewery’s wheated beer.

Podesta places Diest beer higher on the scale, with Brussels lambic, and the reason is evidently strength. These could attain 6% abv, maybe a bit more. Diest beer was rich-tasting – one source says “thick and sweet”, and could be sweet-sour as well. Diest used a lot of wheat in the mash, which probably gave it a sharp edge. A modern dark weizen of Germany, if you added a dollop of sugar, might approximate what Diest was.

So what more can we reasonably infer about Westmalle’s beer? It was not notably sweet like faro and Diest. It wasn’t bland like white beer. And it was reasonably strong, “heady” (“capiteux”), like lambic was and Diest too.

I would think Westmalle beer in 1853 – three years before the brown dubbel was produced – was either an all-barley beer – even though the abbey appears not to have grown barley in the 1850s – or a mixed-grain type, but in either case about 6% abv. And again, not sour, not sugary, not bland like a wheat beer. It was probably dark in colour, but this is unknown.

The fact that Podesta found Westmalle’s beer so good is notable given the generally poor reputation Belgian beer had internationally. This early Baedeker travel guide to Belgium mentions, see pg. 68, numerous of the beers mentioned above except for Trappist. It states Belgian beer will generally be “unpalatable” to visitors. The reason is, as many other observers noted, the sourness of most Belgian beer. It was therefore noteworthy that Westmalle’s beer was not sour. No other Trappist or monastic beer I have read of, so far, was sour.

Since monastics, especially Cistercians, were expert brewers and formed an international community with links to eminent brewing nations such as England and Germany, it is reasonable to infer that their beer was never sour and perhaps all-barley malt or reliant on barley for its quality. The strain of Trappist brewing in France and environs influenced by England would have favoured, at least from the 1600s onward, barley malt and no sourness. And we know there was significant English brewing expertise deployed in France in the 1600s-1800s, notably at the Dieulouard and Melleray abbeys.

I’ve said it before, but monks setting up brewing in Belgium were unlikely to borrow expertise and recipes from the next village. That is not how monastic endeavour worked. In many ways, Cistercian and Trappist communities functioned like a modern international corporation. Knowledge and techniques developed by the older abbeys, based on the primal text of St. Benedict and elaborated by his followers, were applied to set up and run the newer, albeit self-governing, monasteries.

As Jane Grigson whom I quoted not long ago wrote in relation to the network of Cistercian abbeys in Britain, the fathers came in with a well-defined plan to establish farming, other industry, and monastic life. This reflected a good measure of central planning and execution. Quentin Skrabec, Jr.’s remarks, in his book on Benedictine business success, are illuminating in this regard. By the 1400s, he says the abbeys were dominant in Europe, not just in brewing, but in many other industries, everything from forging to textiles to coal-mining.

We know cheese-making followed this plan – the Port Salut model is still “the” Trappist type of cheese. Why would brewing have been any different? Belgian Trappist and abbey beers today are strong, malty, not sour, well-hopped. Village beers, in contrast, often were weak, used grains other than barley, and were sour, sweet, or both. Trappist ale was never local and even today there are only really two styles amongst them: dubbel and tripel.  (Or if you will, top-fermented, barley-based blonde and brown beers in different strengths). Orval is something of an outlier, but even then is not a wheat beer, not sour, reliant on barley malt, well-hopped. Close enough.

A pattern emerges…

I will take the point that grains produced by a particular farm in a Trappist community may have influenced the mash-bill for its beer. Somewhere, a text must exist which guided the expansion of monastic brewing in Europe, maybe in Latin. One day it will emerge to public view and it will be interesting to read what it says.

Note re image: The image of a painting of St. Benedict giving his Rule to his followers is in the public domain and was sourced here. It is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Westmalle Abbey’s Beer – Famous By 1853


An extraordinary picture comes down to us from an 1872 article describing a visit to Westmalle Abbey. By the second part of the 19th century, a small genre of travel literature was visits to a Trappist monastery. Numerous examples can be found in English and French magazine and book publishing of the period. They are most revealing of the way the monks lived and did their physical and spiritual work then.

One such report from 1872, by John Macdonald in his Monks of La Trappe, is particularly perceptive, and candid. It describes a scene at Westmalle Abbey where beer is enjoyed as part of the meal:

In spite of their black gowns and blue-collars, they are as jolly over their ale as if they were a company of English farmers at an inn…. The brew of which the hospitable father is so lavish, is inferior to none other in King Leopold’s dominions … one considerately shows one’s appreciation by grave laudatory remarks and repeated raids among the bottles, of which there stand a whole regiment in loose order on the table.

Usually references to beer at monasteries, then and certainly now, are made in a restrained fashion. One almost never reads that good enjoyment was taken in the drink, as the suggestion of it would seem at odds with the spirit of privation and other-worldliness which characterizes religious retreats. Yet in reality life was not so simple, at least not at all brewing monasteries. John Macdonald was prepared to be honest with his readers on the point, although his essay makes amply clear too that monastic life at Westmalle was highly spiritual and also well-organized in the physical and intellectual labours which supported the community. These included farming, brewing, wine-making, shoe-making, laundering, teaching.

Michael Jackson, in his own courteous way, once hinted at something of this nature, he was referring to an abbey’s beer which was only drunk at special occasions, but was told one monk liked to take a glass each morning at 10:00 a.m. The host imparting the information was non-judgmental. Even in the hyper-idealistic environment of the monastery, humanity is always present. Macdonald for his part surely was aware of the popular image of the monk in England, the “merrie monk”, and perhaps was playing up to that, but his account has the ring of truth read in the context of the full account.

Macdonald also describes Westmalle’s hothouses where grapes were grown for wine. The grapes were grey-green in colour, he said. He likened the wine to sauternes. This wine was obviously made from the Muscat variety, indeed this is still grown in Belgium and sometimes added to beer for some extra fermentable sugar and flavour. (It occurs to me now that Westmalle’s early cultivation of grapes and cereals perhaps led to experiments which led to this interesting wine-beer hybrid). Macdonald gives a lyrical description of the abbey wine vaults and pictures himself in “shirt-sleeves”, with chair up against the wall enjoying a “sparkling” drink from the “casks and casklets” and “bird’s-eye”, a form of pipe tobacco. One form of muscatel is sparkling, the “d’asti”, so it all ties in. However, he makes it clear the monks did not take Bacchic pleasures. The wine was reserved for guests and sold to buyers outside.

duck-1What grains was Westmalle’s beer made from in this period? No information is available to my knowledge. In “Essai sur la Campine Anversoise“, 1853, by George Podesta, the writer calls (at pg. 64) the abbey’s beer “the best beer in Belgium”. This was three years before its dubbel was inaugurated, yet already its beer had renown. Podesta stated that the fields of the abbey grew “wheat, rye and oats”.  There is no mention of barley. Barley beers of various kinds were brewed commercially throughout Belgium, and in particular “bière d’orge” (barley beer) was a well-known type of Antwerp and its hinterlands, of which Westmalle’s domains form a part.  This beer was fairly weak, brown, and usually sour according to a number of contemporary accounts. De Koninck, the famous beer of Antwerp, is a descendant of this beer, albeit it lost the sourness on the way – not a bad thing, IMO.

Trappist beer, from my historical researches, was not sour, and in fact there is specific evidence to this effect regarding Westmalle which I will discuss in another post. But albeit not sour, if not made from barley, it might have resembled one of the saison beers of today which aren’t sour. If made from barley, which evidently was available to those who wanted to brew from it, it may have resembled De Koninck of today except that Westmalle’s dubbel, from 1856was stronger.

The achievements of the Westmalle monks are described vividly by Macdonald – his essay is every bit like a modern travel documentary except that words substitute for the images. The success of Westmalle is all the more remarkable given what the fathers had to work with: thin, sandy soil in one of the least productive parts of Belgium, the Campine. When monks were given land by state or nobility to work it, it wasn’t always fecund; the reverse was more usually the case. But monks were looked to for their knowledge, resourcefulness, and dedication to make unforgiving land productive. They often succeeded where secular farming didn’t. Westmalle’s venture began in 1796, faltered with the convulsions of war and displacement, resumed in 1815 and grew steadily from that time with brewing commencing in 1836. Westmalle is today the very picture and image of monastic brewing.

Note re images: The first image, a painting from 1910 by Frans van Leemputten entitled Market Day In The Campine, is in the public domain and was sourced here. The second image, of a glass of De Koninck beer with accompanying illustration, is from the brewery’s website, which I linked in the text above. Both are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.