Russian Stout in 1975

A First 

The Great Canadian Beer Book, edited by Gerald Donaldson and Gerald Lampert, was published in 1975 by respected McLelland and Stewart, today part of Random House-Bertlesmann. Lampert is long-deceased, while Donaldson, still active, has carved a notable career in auto race journalism and biography.

Despite its playful “scrapbook” design popular in the 1970s and insouciant tone, the book is full of information: statistical, brewing-technical, historical, culinary, literary.

Yet levity is not absent. The first chapter, “How’s This for Openers”, pictures simply a pile of bottle openers. It’s funny, or was then!

The book in part comprises short pieces by people of diverse backgrounds. There is Ted Dunal. He ran Henninger Brewery (Ontario) in the 1970s which made a clone of German Henninger beer.

Poets, journalists, ad executives, novelists, and professors are also represented, while the editors wrote some chapters, clearly.

 

 

This book may be Canada’s first consumer book on beer. For that reason alone it deserves to be remembered, but has value beyond that. Recently I discussed the contribution of the late Marian Engel, an award-winning, Toronto-based novelist.

Two pages offer important history on Labatt Brewery. Photos depict a “replica of the original Labatt brewhouse built in 1828 in London, Ontario”. A bearded, hippie-looking man is shown grasping an oak barrel. For all the world it could be a scene in a craft brewery of today.

Home Made, Home Brewed

A light-hearted but informative chapter on home brewing was written by Cromwell Kent. He states:

… there is a barm in Toronto to soothe the weary soul. It is said to be descended from a famous Dublin brewery. Sometimes our barm dies on us, because we go a long time between brews and maybe we forget to feed it, and then we have to contact one of the custodians of this noble strain. They are all good people, deserving of their charge.  Mostly they are artists and belong to what is nowadays called the Old Left. From the pictures on a person’s wall, a shrewd judge can tell if he is likely to have the barm.

Cromwell Kent was the pseudonym of U.K.-born Francis Sparshott (1926-2015), a long-time professor of philosophy and classics at the University of Toronto. An obituary in the Toronto Star gives a good overview of his career, including his interest in beer.

(I wonder what he thought of the craft beer revival, well underway prior to his passing. In his fashion, he helped make it happen).

He had definite views and was particular on the aging of beer. He felt from 12-18 months made all the difference. After that, he said, “who knows?”. True enough.

An American Adumbrates Beer – Here

The book addresses beer style even though published at the apogee of bland mass-market beer.

The second chapter, “My Love Affair With Beer”, was from James Lincoln Collier (“JLC”), a distinguished author and professional musician. He is known for children’s books and other works, some written with his brother Christopher Collier.

JLC is American, born and raised in New York City where he resides today at 92. Is it odd that the opening essay of Canada’s first beer book was written by an American? Not really. We are two very connected countries, beer is just the least of it.

JLC had drunk beer, by his words, from “Dublin to Moscow, … Rome to Oslo”. Clearly he had a cosmopolitan and gastronomic background, perhaps not easily found in Canada then. His multi-page essay, a blend of history, brewing technics and reminiscence, includes a nugget on that stalwart of craft brewing, Imperial Russian Stout.

Strong London Stout

The first “literary” treatment of Imperial stout is, as far as I know, a 1960s magazine piece by the British drinks writer (mainly wine), Cyril Ray. It is titled “Cyril Ray Cracks a Bottle of 1948 Russian Stout”.

The American beer writer Michael Weiner reprinted it in his 1977 The Taster’s Guide to Beer. Later that year the Briton Michael Jackson wrote his great éloge to Russian stout in The World Guide to Beer, the most important (consumer) beer study to date. Jackson essentially created Russian Stout as an eminent style in that article.

Russian stout had been noticed by some beer personages earlier, in Britain. 1920s advertisements for the beer conveyed an “exotic” aspect – Barclay Perkins’ ads showed Russian wolfhounds led by a greatcoated figure. The lush treatment of Cyril Ray and especially, Michael Jackson was still in prospect.

Yet, JLC’s comments predate Jackson’s by a good two years. With hindsight we can see he was a kind of bridge between Ray and Jackson.

He described the beer as “… heavy, bitter and musky, with overtones of funeral trombones and Wagnerian heroes at the edge of tragedy”. He further stated: “… its tragic grandeur makes it a truly majestic drink”.

Elements of modern beer writing can be found in those words, written and published as a cross-border exercise in the far-off North America of 1975.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Amazon listing linked in the text (see opening words). All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.