Christmas Ale O’er the Sea

As we saw the other day, in 1857-1860 Hallett & Abbey advertised in Brighton, England their Christmas Ale.

Just a few years later, an American saloon did the same, the Hole-in-the-Wall (HITW) in Sprague’s Alley near Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York. Ads in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle between 1865 and 1867 trumpeted that “Thomas” would “broach” his Christmas Ale.

A string of ads may be seen here, of which this example was typical (via the Daily Eagle archive linked):



A park, Cadman Plaza, now covers the street where saloon-keeper Thomas ministered to his faithful. See the Forgotten New York site for useful background.

The photo below (via Wikipedia) recorded the land assembly for the park in 1936. It seems likely one of the crosswise roads or paths traced the old alley where HITW had been.



The earthy name was almost certainly inspired by English example, perhaps the one under a railway arch next to Waterloo Station, London.

The ads state that HITW offered patrons “the London papers”, a further clue to its character.

As in Britain, it wasn’t common in the U.S., then or later, to brand a beer Christmas Ale. The occasional example made express the old connection between ale and the Yule period, however.

Before 1980, a few American breweries did advertise a Christmas Beer here and there. In 2016 Judy Steffes of the Washington County Insider recalled the mid-century Lithia Christmas Beer, from Wisconsin.

But paging through James Robertson’s (1978) The Connoisseur’s Guide to Beer I could not find a single example of a Christmas ale or beer, American or other.

He did include a Holiday Beer from Potosi, WI, but the brewery name was Holiday Brewing.

The few Christmas beers of that era were probably a standard item in inventory, maybe made a little stronger or darker. Lithia in fact came in a special dark version, as Steffes recorded.

Of course breweries might advertise their regular line at Christmas, linking them to festivity, just as ale in Britain was always linked to Yuletime, in a general way.

Our Thomas of 1860s Brooklyn seemed quite the man, judging by the monikers “Immortal Thomas” and “presiding genius”.

As ancestrally for the bar trade, his no doubt ebullient character defined the house atmosphere, drew the crowds. He may well have been of British origin as many 1800s American barkeeps were, or Irish.

The Jones Brewery in New York advertised its English-style beers just below some of the HITW ads. The brewery was located on Sixth Street in Manhattan. I think probably it supplied Thomas’ Christmas Ale.

Indeed Jones probably paid for both ads to appear. A hand-in-glove arrangement, of course.

The Christmas Ale was advertised in December and January mainly, occasionally in February and sometimes (skipping March) in April. Why April is hard to say, maybe Thomas held back a keg to be opened later for an unexpected treat.

It is within the realm of possibility that he did this to parry the growing appeal of springtime German bock beer.

Christmas Ale was brewed traditionally in England on December 21 and typically consumed in December and January, as we saw earlier. As the bulk of Thomas’ ads appeared in December and January, that part ties in, too.

I discussed earlier that December 21 was St. Thomas Day in the old Catholic calendar.

How strange that a namesake over the sea, in Walt Whitman’s America, served a specialty of Christmas Ale.

Was it an in-joke, possibly? “Dang it Johnnie, why did the Eagle call ya Thomas, got a silent partner by that name, mebbe?”.

Mebbe, mebbe not.

Note re images: Images above were sourced from the links identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Ale, Christmas, St. Thomas, December 21

The question of Yule, its origins, pre- and post-Christian forms, festivity and drink, are far beyond our scope here.

Nonetheless I have now reviewed dozens of 19th century references in general literature to Christmas and ale. I thought there had to be a proximate cause, at least, for the association.

There is, or so I conclude, it is St. Thomas’ Feast Day. St. Thomas of course is one of the 12 apostles. December 21 was originally his day, one devoted to Christmas preparations. The date was later changed in the Catholic calendar to July 3, but some Anglicans still remember the earlier date.

December 21 (this Monday) is the Solstice, the shortest day of the year in our part of the hemisphere. On that day in England and many parts of northern Europe, Christmas preparations began: preserving, baking, mending garments or tools, etc.

John Harland, in a journal of archeological and religious history in 1865, explained the old practice of recording the days by pictograms on sticks or staves. In a chronology drawn from one of these, December 21 is the day the “Christmas ale” was brewed. Often, a barrel was engraved to convey the significance to a pre-literate society.

A modern (2017) blog account of St. Thomas’ Day references the tradition especially in a Norwegian context, but it existed in many northern places. The different names for the stick have recognizable variants in the different places.

Messedag stick was one term known in England (Mass Day). The blog account includes an image of a stick (portion) showing a barrel with drinker for 21 December. A second stick appears to depict a tub of some kind, for mashing or fermenting on that date.

Other accounts suggest that in Norway, the beer was actually tasted on December 21 and hopefully pronounced good, with brewing taking place earlier in the month. Some explanations suggest the beer was subjected to fermentation on December 21, so broadly brewing again.

One way or another the day was connected to the beer to be enjoyed at Christmas and through Yule-time.

Of course such beer would be “mild” by Christmas, meaning newly brewed. This does not mean all Christmas beer was new beer.

But the fact that freshly-brewed (mild) beer was often associated with Noel, probably in many cases made from carefully husbanded ingredients, shows a connection to St. Thomas Day, in our view.

According to the Harland account the Winterside of the stick reflects that for January 13, the 20th day after Christmas, “the Christmas ale is then finished”. The pictogram is an upturned horn or barrel. Points for clarity to the craftsmen of these devices.

So this gives some idea how deep is the taproot of Christmas and ale, in those parts of the world. Is there a straight line to Hallett & Abbey’s Christmas Mild Ale of 1857-1860? No, but it’s all connected.

Unlike much that concerns brewing history, beer style is not the point here. The type of beer would have varied depending where and by whom it was made.

The keynotes are brewing as such, the Yule period, and Christianity.


Hallett & Abbey Raise a Cheer

Arc of Hallet & Abbey

The James Gray Collection of the Regency Society shows a solid maltings that serviced Hallett & Abbey Brewery in Brighton.

The legend traces the arc of the brewery, from c. 1850 until Charrington Brewery absorbed the successor, Kemp Town Brewery (in 1954, as we saw earlier). The brewery continued in the Charrington group until final closure in 1963.

And so another brewery with its distinctive local range closed, further diminishing the inventory of national beer taste.

Hallet’s had origins earlier than the period associated with Hallett & Abbey. Some of that history is referenced in Richmond’s and Turton’s The Brewing Industry: a Guide to Historical Records.

Henry Hallett was the driving force of Hallett & Abbey. He forms a regional example of the “representative men”, to use a 19th century term, who gained distinction in the business and civic life of Victorian Britain. He was a town alderman, also its mayor in 1884, when the Health Exhibition took place in London. Hallett took an interest in that event, as I discuss below.

He died in January 1892 and received respectful tribute in the Brewers’ Guardian. The biographical detail, short as it is, gives additional point to a otherwise wispy name in UK brewing’s past.

Hallett’s Bavarian Ale Reborn

In that year, what seems indubitably the same beer as his Bavarian Ale was advertised as Brighton Lager Ale, in the Health Exhibition’s catalogue. Henry had a municipal role in town sanitation, managing its sewer works, hence the connection to the Exhibition.

Lager Ale. It’s like the song Linda Ronstadt sang 40 years ago, Get Closer … lager yet it’s not. Had it been the true article, “ale” would not have been mentioned. “Lager”, or “lager beer”, would have sufficed.

It seems unlikely, as I argued in recent posts, that Hallett’s brewed real lager at any time, while the possibility cannot be ruled out.

The no-lager hypothesis is strengthened in that as we now know, Anglo-Bavarian Brewing in Shepton Mallet did not make lager in 1886, or likely at any time either.

Still, the phraseology is worth noting, one that has returned in our day as “lagered ale”.

Hallett’s Christmas Ale

Perhaps drawn to the offbeat, Hallett’s advertised another beer, or rather description of beer, not usual for the time: Christmas Ale.

Two ads attest to it, one in 1857, the other in 1860. The first was in Chamber’s Journal of Popular Literature. The second, in A Sketch of the Natural History of Brighton and its Vicinity. The ales are described as XXX in 1857 and both XX and XXX in 1860, the latter further described as mild ales.

It is relatively uncommon, by my canvass, to see a brewery bill its beers this way at that time. While Hallett’s may not be the first, offhand I cannot think of an earlier instance.

The Amorphous Beer Style: Christmas Ale

Certainly in the 19th and 20th centuries it is common to read in a general way of ale for Christmas, e.g. to supply poorhouses, or of a special beer for the Season, perhaps spiced, sweetened, extra-strong, or extra-old.

But branding beer as Christmas this or that seems only to gain critical mass by the 1930s. A good example is a 1930s poster for Navy Christmas Ale, brewed by the Marine Brewery and Maltings in Brussels. (Image source: Heritage Auctions at this link).



So striking is the advert I’d argue it is the apogee of the genre, viewed as graphical art.

Navy Christmas Ale appears to have been, broadly, a British dark strong ale, about 9% ABV. It seems brewing continued until about 1980, per a page on Untappd. The latter day images shown are also evocative.

The Belgians and northern French took in general to branding beer for Christmas especially after World War II. It was a progenitor to the current widespread practice by craft brewers to label beers for the Season.

Anchor Brewery’s annual Christmas Ale was influential here. Its beer is spiced, a different formula each year, reflecting that part of the Christmas beer tradition.

Christmas ale was never, in other words, a fixed style or type of beer. At best it might mean something special made available at Christmas.

Sussex-based Harvey’s award-winning Christmas Ale, a barley wine (old Burton type), is an outstanding current example in the UK.

Another brewery might do a Christmas strong porter, and so forth. Of course too and more often these days, a similar beer might be branded festive, winter, celebration, holiday. It all gets at the same thing, something warming, special, offpiste to raise a cheer in late December.

Hallett & Abbey, Envoi

I’d like to have tried Hallett & Abbey’s XXX, mild or old. (I think it would chase well the Bavarian Ale aka Lager Ale, don’t you?).

Whether and how the beers differed from the usual sort described as XXX and XX can only be guessed at, now. Perhaps they were a little stronger than normal.

Postscript added Dec. 21, 2020. Author, journalist and blogger Eoghan Walsh, Irish-born but long-time resident of Brussels, just wrote a book on Brussels beer history, see here viz. his work. Eoghan mentioned on Twitter today that with WW II the larger Wiels bought out Marine brewery and the site still stands today for warehousing use. I found this 1954 invoice form from the Delcampe auction site. Eoghan kindly provided on Twitter this highly informative link (in French) on history of the Marine and related breweries.

Note re image: Image above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.






Brighton, Beer, and Bavaria. Part III.

Bavarian Ale, finis

The Bavarian Ale story has developed its own momentum, with the spotlight dimming on Hallett & Abbey as such. Later, I will do a series on Hallett’s proper, as there are many interesting points. Not least: it had yet a second beer that was hardly typical of English (or other U.K.) sales lists of the time.

I’ve collected now some two dozen further citations for Bavarian Ale in the 19th century. This Part III continues the story. I’ve made an important finding viz. the beer made by Anglo-Bavarian Brewery, with other Bavarian Ale still up in the air.

I can now state conclusively that Anglo-Bavarian ale, for its part, was not a lager. A local agent’s trade ad in the November 29, 1886 issue of the Daily Telegraph in Sydney said so. It recited that Anglo-Bavarian ale was neither a Burton pale ale nor a lager:

… this is not a Burton Pale Ale, although brewed in England, nor a Lager Beer; but … has special and distinct characteristics of its own, viz — great softness and mellowness…

It went on to mention a restrained carbonation, so in this sense hardly lager-like. Another characteristic was a light, silky quality, and good clarity – more a lager characteristic. Read on, in the source.

That clarifies matters for that brewery as of 1886. We saw in Part I that three years later, another ad in Australia for Anglo-Bavarian described the beer as lager. Well, either that was puffery, or possibly Anglo-Bavarian later introduced a true lager.

While the finding for 1886 is suggestive of the answer for the other breweries, this is not dispositive. So let’s see what else there is for the broader picture.

An 1885 American temperance tract in the Bioletti Pamphlets stated that “lager or Bavarian ale” was preferred by German-Americans, while Irish-Americans favoured whiskey and rum. Setting off lager from Bavarian ale suggests the latter was not a true lager, but it’s not really clear.

On Twitter, members of the beer historical circle, Liam from Ireland (@beerfoodtravel) and Lost Lagers from the U.S. (@lostlagers), provided useful citations.

Beamish & Crawford in Ireland as Liam showed were producing “Bavarian” brown and pale stouts in 1844. The pale sounds quite similar to Hallett’s Bavarian Ale. Pale stout meant a pale, strongish beer, close enough functionally to Hallett’s version in my view.

Lost Lagers (Mike Stein’s) reference, a 1849 news mention of an American beerhall Bavarian ale, focused on the all-malt construction. The formulation suggests a Munich lager contour, but again clarity eludes.

It turns out Bavarian Ale was a kind of world citizen, not on the scale we see today for I.P.A., but perhaps like the New England subset, the cloudy-fruity type.

Bavarian Ale turned up in Dybeck, Sweden; Dedham, Mass.; Paris, France; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Denmark. Per a World Exposition catalogue of 1873 the Swedish article was dubbed Dybeck Bavarian Ale.

The Reykjavik beer actually hailed from Denmark. In the 1861 travel memoir The Oxonian in Iceland Frederick Metcalfe described it as “Bayersk öl (Bavarian ale)”. He contrasted it favourably to beer made in Iceland itself.

In 1857 numerous American newspapers, including in Indianapolis, reported the rise of Bavarian Ale in Paris, terming it “a sort of lager“.

Bavarian ale, a sort of lager, has become the favorite Parisian tipple.

“Sort of lager” doesn’t get us too far, this can be likened to the Anglo-Bavarian non-lager mentioned above.

I’ll leave the matter with a news item from Mass., U.S.A. in 1854, viz. a court case originating in Dedham in the state. It had to do with whether Bavarian Ale was intoxicating. There is a lager beer undertone to the case, although lager is not mentioned, as in this period Americans were unsure whether the recently introduced lager had the power to inebriate.

The reporter wrote:

… Bavarian ale … what that was no one seemed to know.

An apt epitaph for the subject, seemingly.

Still, despite the implausibility of a Hallett & Abbey brewing lager in Brighton in 1864, I can’t exclude the possibility. This is especially so given the lager-like description of Bavarian Ale by two mid-century technical writers, Loftus and Francis, as mentioned in Part II.

I may revisit this whole subject for scholarly publication.

Meanwhile, I have visions of spiny squarish gurnards gently roasting on long ranks of iron trellis at the Anglo-Bavarian Beerhall, Munich, Germany. It never existed, to be sure, but is lodged immutably in my imagination. Do forgive me.




Brighton, Beer, and Bavaria. Part II.

In considering what exactly was “Bavarian Ale” in the mid-19th century, it is useful to examine citations from before 1864, when Hallett & Abbey use the term in Brighton to brand a prime beer of the house.*

First, I found no earlier use of the term by a British brewery. Should same exist we are all ears, of course.

Second,  the term does appear earlier, in literary treatments where it is used vaguely to mean beer connected to Germany in some way. But there are also technical treatments. This one, from William Loftus in his 1857 brewing text The Brewer, will illustrate.

There are one or two others of similar stripe, here is a second, earlier, by George William Francis in his (1853) Dictionary of Practical Receipts.**

(Note his comments on the lambic-like fermentation method. By this I refer to the cooler serving as fermentation vessel, not the yeast, which presumably was a pitched bottom yeast, unless the beer was naturally fermented, in which case it would be a true ale (top yeast). Whether such beers (using wild yeast) were actually fermented in Bavaria in the mid-1800s I cannot say, I would have thought not).

Each seems clearly a recipe for lager given the temperature of fermentation – 45-50 F. – the length of time to complete the fermentation (weeks), and the behaviour of the yeast. It looks a kind of bock beer, made in the winter says one of the writers.

Could Hallett’s have followed this method, at least for its star performer, Bavarian Ale? Again, I don’t rule it out although it seems unlikely. Rather, standard ale brewing was probably done, with some tweaking to give a German character, maybe even from imported hops.

The term also appears erratically in the U.S., in a way to suggest loosely beer of German type, but not more (that I found).

This doesn’t solve anything, but does suggest to me, given Loftus especially who was a well-known brewery writer, that a lager process may have been employed commercially by Hallet’s. If so that would be most noteworthy, but until its brewing records pop up, it seems unlikely much progress can be made.

I’m getting ahead of myself, but in 1954 Charrington bought out Hallett’s, by then called Kemp Town Brewery. So the records may still exist, wherever Charrington’s papers reside.

Our Part III follows.


*See my Part I, here.

**I’ve tracked earlier editions at least to 1848.




Brighton, Beer and Bavaria. Part I.

English Beer With a German Accent

The Anglo-Bavarian Brewery of Shepton Mallet, Somersetshire, so-named from 1872, was set up in 1864 as a pale ale brewery. It did not manufacture lager during its fairly long run, even from 1872.

At least, that seems the critical consensus. Rather, Anglo-Bavarian fermented by usual English means a conventional group of ales that in some fashion resembled lager.

Period sources speak of its “imitation” lager (per Edward Willoughby’s 1890s Handbook of Public Health and Demography). A principal, William Garton, had evolved an invert sugar to use in brewing.

Not very Bavarian as Willoughby noted, but this probably assisted an unusually clear drink. Together with water adjustment, a moderate strength, and fizzy body, his darkish ale might have resembled a Vienna, or some Munich beer.

Possibly, too, the vats and casks were lined with a resin or enamel in the fashion of Continental lager to impart a taste noted by some British tasters then.

Further supporting the no-lager case is a statement in Brewers’ Guardian in 1878 quoting a taster’s comment at the recent Paris Exposition:

… “where is the Bavarian style implied by the name of the firm?”

Yet, in a box ad in 1889, an “Anglo Bavarian Lager Beer” was advertised in the Year-book of Australia. Ron Pattinson in a blogpost of 2012 seemed not to exclude the possibility that lager was made, I should add.

Still, most critical opinion, which I share, inclines toward ale-brewing, see in particular R.G. Wilson in (1993) A Special Brew: Essays in Honour of Kristof Glamann, and (2010) Martyn Cornell.

As to the first true U.K. lager, while trials occurred earlier in the 1800s, regular commercial production seems to have started with London-based Austro-Bavarian Brewing Company, in 1881 or 1882.

See this confirmation in Modern Refrigeration, 1951, which has interest due to mentioning the owners: not Germans, although some Germans did staff and consult to the company, but a family called Evans.

There followed shortly after in Wrexham, as well-known to brewing historians, an eponymous lager brewery. I discussed it in 2017 in this post, notably for an early, Michael Jackson-style taste note in the Wrexham Advertiser in 1890 that attested to a pale-coloured beer with a Champagne effervescence.

Returning to Anglo-Bavarian, the local history site Sotonopedia states that William Garton arrived in Southampton in the late 1860s. Garton helped refashion the Shepton Mallet brewery to one making lager-style beer after he bought the site at bailiff’s sale in 1871.

But his original Southhampton business that brewed beer with his new sugar styled the beers Anglo-Bavarian even before that. In his essay M. Cornell cites an 1869 advertisement in a Hampshire newspaper styling the ales “Anglo-Bavarian”. The compound name, apparently the formal name of the Southampton business, was later bestowed on the brewery in Shepton Mallet purchased to concentrate on this line.

William was brother to Charles Garton, who brewed in Bath and later Bristol where first trials with inverted sugar occurred. The Gartons in time became known for their line of brewing sugars, manufactured in premises separate from the brewing.

The year 1869 was the earliest I knew for a British brewery to sell beer monikered to suggest German influence, until I found an older one recently. In Folthorp’s Directory for Brighton, etc., “corrected to July 1864”, Hallett and Abbey of Brighton include in a handsome ad their Bavarian Ale:



It was billed as “extra quality (XXX)”, at 18d./gal., clearly among the top-priced offerings. A strong ale of this type did not emulate, clearly, a typical Bavarian lager of moderate gravity. These rarely reached beyond 5% ABV.*

But perhaps the model was a strong bock beer, there were of course such specialties of high ABV then, as still today. Ron Pattinson, citing Wahl & Henius (1902), mentioned a Kulmbacher Actien in 1880 at over 7% ABV, and another of the era even stronger.

Hallett & Abbey’s English ale à la Bavaria may have been 7-8% ABV. Later, in 1881, the same business directory, now titled Page’s, has an ad for the same ale, called here Bavarian Strong Ale. It now carries a slightly higher price, 19d./gal., fetching more than the I.P.A.

By this year the era of regular commercial production of (true) lager finds its legs. Yet, would-be’s were in the market earlier, with some success evidently; Hallett and Abbey seem to have been the first.

This brewery is of good interest, little explored to date; I will revisit it in a further part. I love, don’t you, its homely fish logo. No sleek herring, or gastronomic star like sole was chosen, but an ungainly spiny looking thing.

To all appearances it seems a gurnard; a face only a fish-mom could love!

It’s that kind of humble touch we love about the history of brewing. In many cases in the old days superlatives were avoided due to natural modesty, or a quiet pride. The graphic symbols and copywriting made an impact through understatement, you see.

N.B. As in the case of Anglo-Bavarian, it seems doubtful Hallett & Abbey made true lager. But I can’t rule it out, either. The fact that the term Bavarian appeared foursquare in the logo mentioned shows, atypically for the period, some pride was taken in this foreign-sounding beer.

See here for Part II of this study.

Note re image: Image above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*(Added December 19, 2020). By the mid-1880s Hallett & Abbey’s Bavarian Ale was styled Brighton Lager Ale. See our post today, on this point.







National Brewery, Netanya (Part II)

My post on July 31, 2020, National Brewery, Netanya, was a coda to my multi-part series on beer and brewing in British Mandate Palestine.

I’ve found interesting photos of National Brewery in its earlier years, which emphasize points made in the coda. Hence, this post serves as a kind of coda to the coda.

For clarity, my intention was and is not to trace brewery history in modern Israel, i.e., from 1948. Not that this wouldn’t be a valuable exercise, but lacking Hebrew makes it problematic.

I did the first National Brewery post as an epilogue, a summing up of the history I delineated to ’48. Its first beer, brewed by a Czech, was typical of the quality pilsener style that had prestige in the Thirties. Even its equipment was 1930s plant or earlier, fetched half a world away in New York where once it powered the storied Fidelio Brewery.

This is an image, via Wikipedia Commons (public domain), that shows aging tanks at National Brewery in 1964. The tanks appear to hold 177 hl.



Note the handsome wood construction, which appears well-maintained. The stray planks on the right may be for maintenance. The iron cradles look venerable, and I’d think it’s a safe bet that these tanks once served Fidelio Brewery, possibly originating before Prohibition.

1964 is only a dozen years after National Brewery was founded, on the plain between Netanya and Tel Aviv. The tanks are probably those installed in 1952.

(The piece of wheeled equipment in front of the tanks is not known to me, any ideas? I thought perhaps a carbonating unit).

To see the brewery shortly after construction, this Facebook link contains a rare image. As discussed in press stories I linked in the earlier part, the brewery is mostly one level. In this respect it reflected the future, as newer technology permitted to dispense with the tall designs of earlier that took advantage of gravity.

Nonetheless, there are upper stories, possibly used for storage, or offices, as all production functions (mashing, boiling, fermentation) were apparently on the main floor.

The site outside the main building is crowded with what appears be packaging inventory: cases, probably bottles, and kegs among the stock. In the background some details of topography may be noted.

Finally, this Ebay link shows a colourful label from the brewery that appears to be late 1950s, early 1960s vintage. It is for a “British Shandy”. This is another inheritance of prewar habits, no doubt installed by the British when they ran the show under the Mandate.

It may be too that the tourist market was primary for this beer, as British tourism to Israel started to burgeon in the 1960s.

National Brewery merged, according to numerous sources, with Palestine Brewery and Galilee Brewery in 1973. Incidentally, I found very little on Galilee apart a few labels. There is a modern craft brewery of that name, not connected to the earlier one, to my knowledge.

Today National Brewery is part of Tempo Industries as I mentioned earlier, a publicly-traded integrated drinks company. Tempo is partly owned by Heineken, as confirmed in a recent news story (Times of Israel).

Note re image: Image above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.






Tea? Totally! (Part II)

The Breakfast of Disconsolates

Having discussed the nonplussed reaction of a visiting American to English ways with tea in 1832, it’s instructive to examine the converse.

John George Wood was a noted natural historian of the Victorian era. Well-educated at Oxford (some bio here)he was a curate before turning to the natural sciences.

He joined the ranks of many Britons who made the reverse trek to the former colony, America, to “compare and contrast”. He came to give lectures, covering large swaths of the country by train.

This provided good material for magazine pieces, and one appeared in 1885 in the London-based Gossip of the Week, called “Among the Americans“.

Like many travellers from Great Britain his experiences seemed largely negative. The tone is querulous, impatient, not discerning really, but as social history of good interest.

Of American ways with tea, Rev. Wood had firm views:



One doesn’t have to know Latin to get the full meaning: the American stuff, a) had little connection to English tea, b) wasn’t particular to the breakfast hour despite the name.

Even though I knew, until recently, almost nothing about tea, I did know that breakfast tea is orange pekoe. And breakfast tea is a term widely used still in North America; I am less sure of the UK, as British blends imported here might carry a different description at home.

Still, pekoe is breakfast tea and breakfast tea is pekoe. After all, I asked the Internet if this was so, and it answered:

In fact the term “orange pekoe” identifies a leaf size or a grading measurement. Most teas labeled orange pekoe are a blend of black teas from India or Sri Lanka. The popular “Breakfast” blends – English, Irish, Scottish – are created by blending together several different types of orange pekoe black teas.

So, whatever its status as a trade description in Britain, breakfast tea here means, and has for a long time evidently, orange pekoe or a proprietary blend of same. It’s black tea of course, the main type always consumed in the U.K., too.

Coming from the main English-speaking tea country Wood’s critique deserves a hearing. So why did American tea not rate? One or more reasons may explain it.

First, coffee has always been the main caffeinated drink here, aside the soft drink/energy group. Tea is an after-ran, and maybe an indifferent quality (with price commensurate) had writ versus the better qualities available in Britain.

Second, before the tea bag was adopted, Americans probably didn’t make tea as well as the British. That still probably applies for the true brewed loose tea vs. the tea bag way.*

Third though, maybe a different blend, this Breakfast, became established in America and was simply different – not inferior to – the home article. Before globalization and ultra-efficient logistics, this was plausible, just as America evolved its own beers before craft brewing, and even after, for that matter.

However you look at it, Rev. Wood was an unhappy customer. Oh well. He wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last of the disapproving foreign tourists. That said, my experience has been that British visitors to our shores are much taken with our ways in the last generation or two.

If anything, cultural leadership in many fields has shifted here. For good, bad, or indifferent, well, that’s another matter.

Note re image: Images above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*This is a general statement. Obviously there are many here with expertise including in various Asian communities.





Tea? Totally! (Part I)

But not Teetotal

Since we talk here about brewing, does tea fit? Tea is brewed, of a fashion. Well, steeped really, but let’s not be technical. For once.

I always liked tea and probably started drinking it even before coffee, in my early or mid-teens.

My first memory is drinking it in my grandmother’s flat in Montreal: tea with honey cake, or roly-poly, or poppy seed cookies. We took it plain, no milk or sugar. In later years I might add milk, but for many years drink it plain again.

50-60 years ago in Montreal, the type we drank, as in most of Canada then, was orange pekoe. Until recently I never knew exactly what orange pekoe was, other than being a black tea. Green tea was familiar to us too, at Asian restaurants, but not used at home.

Looking into this, I found an excellent description at Lady Baker’s Tea, in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

In part it states:

First of all orange pekoe is not an orange-flavoured tea nor in any way associated with the orange fruit!

… [it is] a classification of black tea based upon the origin of the leaf. To be classified as pekoe, the tea must be composed purely of the new flushes – a flush being the leaf bud plucked with two youngest leaves. (Any other leaves produce teas of lower quality.)

So…the orange pekoe term refers to a grade of black tea based on the size of leaf and its location on the tea plant.

The site has good additional discussion with links to further information.

The orange pekoe taste I recall in in the 50s and 60s was dominated by a floral note, both the taste and scent. However, I can’t recall the brand(s) we used.

I asked my mother, whose memory is excellent generally, but she can’t recall either. It might have been Red Rose, always popular in Canada, or Salada, or another brand.

Until recently the orange pekoes I’ve tried in Toronto, including some well-known UK imports, seemed somewhat different. There is an earthy tone, even slightly smoky. I like this too, but it’s not quite as I remember it.

I did finally find the taste I remember, but first an interlude.

An American’s impression of English ways with tea was recorded back in 1832. Zachariah Allen was from a prominent Rhode Island family. He made a pilgrimage to England as many Anglo Americans (his term) did in the 19th century.

His memoir The Practical Tourist records the trip and is full of engaging detail. Upon landing in Liverpool, his first impressions were anti-climatic. Buildings looked similar to those in the main American cities, and people dressed and spoke similarly.

Later in England he might note differences in accent and vocabulary, here and there. He makes no reference to a distinctive accent in Liverpool, which makes me wonder if the way the Beatles spoke developed later on.

The buildings were coloured differently, he said. Pervasive coal smoke had a darkening effect vs. the brightly painted American structures.

Slowly he unpacks further differences, like tea service. You may read it here, but summarizing, in America the tea came hot and ready made in the cup.

In Liverpool, one was presented with a box of different teas from which to make a selection. The guest had to place his tea in a freshly rinsed teapot, into which the waiter poured hot water from a  flagon.

Allen is confused what to do but finally twigs, in part. He selects a few strands from the box and puts them in the teapot. The water duly goes in (the waiter saying nothing) but the tea emerges useless, barely coloured.

Allen on his next try took a much bigger quantity of leaves, but this produced a black tannic drink also undrinkable.

Allen later became a noted industrialist, inventor, and benefactor of Brown University. A man of that stripe wasn’t likely to muff his third try with the tea, and he didn’t. Thenceforth he knew the drill.

He noted too the English habit to mix green and black tea, not done in America, he said. This is not generally practised today, I believe (anywhere), which is interesting.

As to my quest for a Proustian taste of tea-youth, quite by accident recently I found it. Emerging with a cup of tea and a muffin from a local coffee shop, the tea had the floral note I remember. Looking at the triangular bag, the tag read Sloane Breakfast Tea. It’s a Toronto-based tea merchant.

This website describes the various brands, and I plan to stock up on Breakfast soon.

Although I am quite happy with the tea of our time, it’s good to know I can get this other taste, one I remember from Sunday afternoons visiting grandparents on rue Esplanade. Now all I have to do is get the roly poly. Hmmm.




Guinness Extra Stout – Canadian Version

In parts of Canada including Ontario, Guinness is available as an import, canned or draught, and locally-made brew. The local one, from Labatt (Anheuser-Busch InBev), is Extra Stout, a form Guinness Dublin has long exported to the United States and the U.K.

Interestingly, the Canadian Guinness is also sold in some U.S. states, but in different channels than the import Guinness.

The first Guinness I ever had was the Labatt version, some 45 years ago in Montreal. The second was Extra Stout as exported to the U.S. Both had a strong characteristic flavour, with an edge in richness and character to the Dublin import.

In contrast, the imported draught, which I also first tasted back then, seemed rather milder – and not much changed today, in fact.

Tasting the Labatt Extra Stout again after a hiatus, it seems reduced in character from the 1970s. While quite pleasant on its own terms, the stout “character” was hard to detect. Although I did drink it quite cold.

I’ll try it again warmer, but I think a porter or stout should have a frank characteristic taste at any temperature.

In its favour was a good body – better than the import, IMO – and interesting dryish/acidic finish. It’s not so much a roasted (burnt, charred, etc.) taste as a drying one, if that makes any sense.



Guinness apparently still relies on “Guinness flavour extract” to impart the Guinness character to a local pale brew. The essence is exported around the world to this end.* Bill Yenne in his Guinness history explained it in fairly non-technical terms, see here.**

The main difference, today, from the canned “Pub Draught” and barrelled import seems to be carbonation. Extra Stout has a full, fizzy character, probably all-CO2 driven. The others have a restrained, nitrogen-influenced carbonation that derives from the pre-1960s, naturally-conditioned or “real ale” era.

So where does it leave me with five beers to go in the pack? Actually, I’m chill, although the second one to taste won’t be – more around cellar temp, let’s say. The last four will be put to good use in home blending.

As always I have a variety of stout and porter of different strengths and origins – local craft, import, etc. I like to blend them to get the kind of taste and strength I like. For example, 10-15% bourbon barrel Imperial stout can add a lot to a 5% ABV porter, or a mix of them.

A mild-tasting beer such as Labatt Guinness can work well to smooth out a blend of flavours, or to reduce the alcohol level.

This often can produce something better than the parts – so Beer et Seq judges. And who can gainsay that?


*I could ask Labatt or Diageo, but my interest is not that acute. If Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and the newer Guinness stout iterations were sold here, I’d be much more interested. It is a sticking point with me that these are not available in Ontario.

**For the more detail-oriented, David Hughes’ “A Bottle of Guinness Please” is indispensable.