Blending beer, as I mentioned in passing yesterday, is an opportunity for the consumer to develop further tastes from existing stock. The results are sometimes preferable to the constituents or some of them, and in any case a good way to use bottle or can ends.
Blending is age-old in brewing, practiced still by some Belgian brewers or non-brewing merchants. Blending characterized both the early and later history of London porter, including at retail stage (the pub).
The “half and half”, for example, has long figured in the history of British and American tavern-keeping, with innumerable variants that sometimes include spirits and other beverages. The Germans mix Coca-Cola and beer, the French have worked out a series of fancy beer cocktails, and on it goes.
Among the literature of mixing we should include a variant that blended Bass pale ale, Guinness stout and a “thimbleful of brandy”. It was recorded in a cheesy piece in the New York Evening Telegram on January 20, 1894.
The derisive adjective is due to the story being apparently conjured simply to record a dozen mixed drinks in vogue in Manhattan then.* Among the daisy, hot scotch, claret punch and other wows of the day, but also the evergreen martini, was the aforesaid mix of pale ale, stout, and a little brandy.
It was a riff on the “half and half”, by then a stock item in American mixology. It was sometimes casually termed “arf ‘n arf”, a reference to the presumed English origins.
In Manhattan of this period, a Newark, New Jersey-based bottler, William Wirtz, marketed his own version of half and half, as seen in this striking label:
(Source: U.S. Library of Congress Archives).
According to this document, bearing the year 1891, the label was a registered trade mark of Wirtz’ firm. Whether he had authority from Guinness and Bass I cannot say, I’d think probably not.
I will summarize my findings on Wirtz mostly sans references, since anyone interested enough can find them, and he is not my primary focus here. He had conducted beer bottling at least between 1884 and 1907.
An 1898 catalogue of New York liquor dealer A.W. Balch mentioned Wirtz for numerous types of lager, ale, and stout. His “half and half” was included albeit its origins not detailed. By the tone of the catalogue Balch was a high-end supplier, and his listings show Wirtz was in good company.
Wirtz’ various labels claimed New York as a location along with Newark. His main plant was in Newark, as confirmed in numerous business listings in the period. He bottled a “Budweiser”, not uncommon before Anheuser-Busch’s increasing vigilance stopped most such misuse of its trademark.
The Wirtz Budweiser possibly was supplied to him by Magnus Beck of Buffalo, New York. At any rate Wirtz was a longtime bottler for Magnus Beck, but also other brewers including George Ehrets in New York.
Later, c. 1910, Wirtz represented Rheingold beer of Brooklyn, New York. By this period Wirtz & Co. may have devolved to other ownership.
Wirtz had also bottled India Pale Ale, brewed in abundance then in New Jersey as I discussed earlier, and evidently Guinness at least in blended form.
Starting in the interwar period a Wirtz family in Chicago made a fortune in real estate and liquor distribution, culminating in ownership of the Chicago Black Hawks. Whether connected to the Newark Wirtzes I cannot say, but both seemed of German-American background.
One can see that a ready mix of Bass and Guinness would form a suitable base to add the shot of brandy. Of course too, lots of Guinness and Bass were available in the Northeast in the late 1800s, sent over by British bottlers who often handled both products.
I decided to try the Evening Telegram blend. I used half-flat Fuller’s 2021 Vintage Ale (London, UK), St-Ambroise Milk Stout (Montreal, Quebec) – about 50-50 – and my own blend of Israel and Portuguese brandies.
The beers are shown separately below. The milk stout is part of an attractive four-pack from St-Ambroise currently listed at the LCBO, as is the Fuller’s Vintage Ale,
I used an ounce of brandy to an Imperial pint, as the Gilded Era direction to use a thimble of brandy suggests not to overdo it. The dryish interpretation of milk stout from St-Ambroise matched well to the malty, fruity English beer, and the brandy melded it yet further.
I’d estimate mine was approaching 7% abv, and a fine half and half it was – an English Black IPA, really.** Did it taste like the mix the Manhattan swells knew in gaudy gas-lit Broadway? I don’t know, but I doubt they would have turned it away.
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*While very much of its time note the strikingly modern term “jag”, or strikingly unmodern, rather.
**The Fuller’s Vintage Ale may not be a pale ale technically, vs. a strong ale of some kind, but it tastes much like a strong pale, or double IPA if you will.