The Stout, the Oyster, the Fairies. Part III.

Rivers of Gold, but as to Canada…

In this last part I quote further the 1861 article “A Glass of Beer”, from which some lessons at least can be drawn.

I am not ashamed to confess that, in the pursuit of various scraps of information regarding this grand national beverage, I have had occasion to taste some hundred different kinds of beer – that is including its varieties, however designated. I have drunk the “lager bier” of the sedate Germans in quiet nooks in New York, where one smoked interminable pipes and played dominoes and talked metaphysics, until evening after evening passed away – the same “lager bier” which I have drunk in little hostelries near the Rhine, and which dear friends of mine may now be quaffing, at Heidelberg or Magdeburgh, with the “Burschen”, singing their student songs with glee. I have drunk, too, Canadian beer, and very bad it was, in little towns which bore the names of Europe’s most famous capitals, which, though only emerging from the forest and bursting from their state of log-cabinhood, rejoice in Alma and Inkerman Terraces, situated in Panmure or Herbert Streets. I have quaffed the “white biere de Strasburgh” in a village Auberge near Paris on a hot, scorching day in August…

This man was a proto-modern beer writer, one of our own you see. While he professes no interest to write on beer full time – a practical impossibility then – he did hope to:

… spend my honey-moon at Burton-upon-Trent; perhaps even to have a brewer for a father-in-law!!! Oh, blissful vision!

The marital joy he envisions being part of a brewing family is not completely, um, divorced from mercantile considerations, as he insists a number of times on the riches of brewers. He even queries whether a poor one exists, which is taking it too far surely, certainly in the crowded marketplace of today.

Still, he sees the brewer’s life as:

… a kind of Pactolus – a golden river to those who make [beer], and who dwell on its amber banks.

From invaluable Wikipedia:

Pactolus (Greek: Πακτωλός), now named Sart Çayı, is a river near the Aegean coast of Turkey. The river rises from Mount Tmolus, flows through the ruins of the ancient city of Sardis, and empties into the Gediz River, the ancient Hermus. The Pactolus once contained electrum that was the basis of the economy of the ancient state of Lydia which used the naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver to forge the first coins under Alyattes of Lydia.

As to the Burschen, our German readers may correct me, but I take it as the boys, the gang, the crew.

Now, gingerly I tred into his Canada ruminations, which are one big plaint. It seems London, Ontario was in his sights, as the John Labatt Brewery was in operation from 1847.

There are streets in this London today called Herbert and Inkerman. It is not clear if the writer is referring only to Canadian towns named for a European capital, or any town with a street named after one in a European capital.

If the latter, Toronto was probably included as to this day, it too has streets named Inkerman and Herbert. Panmure is a road in Ottawa named for a locality just outside.

There is a Panmure Court in Edinburgh, and Edinburgh lays fair claim to being the capital of Scotland, with of course London the capital of the United Kingdom.

It looks like the writer didn’t like our beer, one way or another. Perhaps it had to do with the hops used, as elsewhere the article insists on the importance of hops for the character of beer.

Yet, he admired New York lager, which relied on home-grown hops as Canadian breweries did. Indeed he seems to compare favourably this lager to lager he enjoyed on peregrinations in Germany.

Many reports of New York’s early, Germanized beer saloons emphasize their raucous and loud character; his visits suggest the opposite. But as frequently occurs one finds an inconstant pattern.

Returning to Labatt, finally, I’d have to think the man would have piped another tune had he consumed its India Pale Ale. This later achieved fame and not just on home ground.

But Labatt was still developing the beer type, only after the Civil War did its India Pale Ale come to florescence.

For early Labatt history with good period images, read scholar Matthew Bellamy, in the Labatt Heritage website.

I covered the origins of Labatt IPA in a series some years ago, but again it postdates the period addressed by the author of “A Glass of Beer”.



8 thoughts on “The Stout, the Oyster, the Fairies. Part III.”

  1. I would bet German saloons were no more or less rowdy than other ethnic bars, but the reaction of writers had a lot to do with their feelings toward Germans specifically, or immigrants in general. I’m sure sometimes it had to do with a particularly obnoxious bar down the block from the writer’s home, but more often it was just scapegoating in one form or another.

    • Possibly Clark, but as I recall, cultural differences like constant music and presence of families (vs all men) discomfited some observers, presumably accustomed more to the inn-style handed down by the British. I’ll see if I can find an example. Cultural stereotypes probably figured to a degree though, wouldn’t disagree there.

      • Clark here is one account, from 1854 in New York, of a survey nature. The traits observed including how the drink is taken, extensive smoking, the food (eg. “sardines”), the political disputations, connected to “1848” and exiles well-born who took up barkeeping, illustrate cultural differences of the time imo.

        This is pre-Civil War, and in time these differences would be muted and disappear entirely finally. This account denies a rowdy element, indeed compares these bars favourably to “ruffians” at porter-houses. By rowdy in my post I did not mean physical altercations – too many accounts stress the lively but peaceable nature of the bier hall, partly due to occasional family presence. I was referring to music, dancing, picnicking, and such type of exuberant behaviour, no doubt as seen at some Oktoberfests today.

        The account too stresses the different social categories of these establishments, in part dependent on their location. This would have influenced their atmosphere. But eg when in the post I referenced “metaphysics”, I think that referred to a type of conversation in lager beer bars not known to Anglo-American saloons. You know how Czech bars have a “philosophical” image due to the type and quality of the political and literary discussions; I think something like that was visited on America in the mid-19th century that had not been seen there earlier.

        • I can easily believe there were cultural differences, loud music, and the rest in German saloons. But my big point is that 19th Century US saloons were very often that way even when they were full of old line Yankees.

          The political cartoon which headlines this article is an example of how drinking and ethnic identity were used as propaganda against Germans and Irish.

          The rest of the article doesn’t really touch on ethnic drinking , but it talks about notorious nativist William Poole who died after a NYC bar dispute led to a shooting with Irish boxer John Morrissey. One of the main rallying cries of the Know Nothing Party and people like Poole was against drunken immigraants, with the obvious irony that Know Nothing mobs were fueled by alcohol themselves.

          I think one of the challenges, to be sure, is sorting out fact from fiction. It’s certainly possible that German drinking establishments were worse or better or sometimes worse and sometimes better, but one of the challenges is a lack of easy comparison. For most of the 19th Century the Germans had their press and the English speakers had theirs, and I don’t think either side was eager to make their own case look bad.

          I’d certainly love to know more. One of the challenges too is the huge difference within German subpopulations. German Silesians and Bavarians are practically two different people, but to US writers at the time they would all be the same.

  2. Hello,

    I think that more precisely the Burschen are part of the (in)famous Burschenschaften, the germanic student organisations. But indeed, Burschen are the lads, the boys.



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