Bert Grant, One Of Canada’s Gifts To Craft Brewing

As I mentioned the other day, I have been thinking about Bert Grant’s hop oil vial.* In his online obituary as written by Michael Jackson, under the head “How Bert Grant Saved The World”, the vial is described in this way:

“When you were brewing Canada, ales were still very popular. How many units of bitterness did they typically have?” I once asked. “I don’t know. I hadn’t invented the scale,” he replied. He was reputed to carry a vial of hop oil, and to add it to glasses of Bud, Miller or Coors when they were the only brews available. He was said to have done this at meetings of Master Brewers in Milwaukee and St Louis, dismaying his peers. “Michael Jackson adds it to his coffee,” he is alleged to have said, in his defence. Did he really say that? I think that joke was coined by beer-writer and consultant Vince Cottone.

See, that vial is one of the most important artifacts in craft beer history as it contained one key element of the DNA which went into craft beer’s hoppy obsession of today. A bit of a viral vial. I wanted to know where it came from, how early he was using it and in doing a little digging I came to realize, like E.P. Taylor… as well as half the malt in US craft beers today, Bert Grant was one of Canada’s great contributions to good beer as we know it today.

In 1998, three years before his death he published a autobiography, humbly entitled The Ale Master: Bert Grant, The Dean of America’s Craft Brewers. Not a long book, I recommend it highly. The copy found on eBay is a sturdy wee hardcover. And, on page 33, there is a discussion of that hop oil vial… but one that sits a little out of sequence sequence in a side panel. [It’s that sort of wee book, full of snippets and asides… not unlike this aside.] This side panel talks about how he carried a dropper bottle of hop oil and that he had sent another one to his pal George Stein in Toronto. But it doesn’t say when this was – before 1963 when he was living in Windsor, Ontario… or was it before 1959 when he left the Carling branch of E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries in Toronto where he had worked for 15 years, ending up as assistant director of microbiological control. Or was it only a practice he adopted later, after he leaves Canada for Yakima in Washington State in 1967 after working as a consultant and testing out his ideas on a pilot brewery at his house in Windsor across the river from Detroit, Michigan?

He certainly could have developed the hop oil habit before moving to the USA. In the book and according to a summary of a Associated Press article dated 5 September 1997, Grant made that 1967 move moved to Yakima heart of the nation’s largest hop producers to work on hop extracts and here he later pioneered a process of pelletizing hops to preserve freshness. In his San Diego Times AP obituary it states he was technical director of the hops company S.S. Steiner Inc., the company he moved to Yakima to work with. Again, the book suffers a little from same sort of loose chronology. But it certainly seems he could have been fully proficient with a hop oil eye dropper before he left Canada.

It left me wondering if I was going to make a national jingoistic thing out of this damn hop oil vial at all. How am I going to prove that one of the founders of US craft brewing was really just a drop in saying hello from Ontario full of pre-existing ideas? Hmm… then, I saw something else in a story published in The Times News of Idaho on 24 August 1997, also under an AP dateline, there is this passage from Jim Parker, former director of the Association of Brewers based in Boulder, Colo.:

Part of what drove him out of the brewing business and into the hops business was his dissatisfaction with the monotonous beer that most breweries were making. When he ran the pilot brewery for Carling (a subsidiary of Canadian Breweries Ltd.), every year they’d say, ‘Do you have any new products to bring out?’ Each year, he’d bring out the same beer and say, ‘It’s the best damn beer in the world.’ All the executives would agree. But the marketing people would say, ‘But Bert, it’s darker than our regular beer. Will people know it’s beer?’ And sales people pointed out there were three different malts and four types of hops going into the beer. ‘But that’s expensive, Bert. Can’t you make it with one malt and one type of hops?’ And he’d roll his eyes and go back to the pilot brewery. Many years later, Grant served his favorite beer — the same recipe he’d promoted for so many years — at a 1981 Yakima Enological (wine) Society meeting. They all went, “Bert, why can’t I buy something like this in the store? It’s so good!’ He explained, and they all said, ‘Let’s open a brewery and make it.’ And that’s Grant’s Scottish Ale.

Hmm… nothing about the vial but look at that: “three different malts and four types of hops going into the beer. “ That rings a bell. At page 28 of his book, Grant discusses apparently the one beer he had particular fondness for in his early days with Carling in Toronto string in 1944:

… when I started in this business, there was no mucking about with the brands. Carling brewed a copper-coloured ale called Dominion White Label, which was, by our analysis, the most heavily hopped beer in Toronto (with English Fuggles, Kent Goldings and other hip varieties.) 

He described the decision to drop Dominion White Label “the triumph of the mass-production mind-set.” Then on page 75, he goes further:

Scottish Ale was the obvious first choice because it was my favorite home-brewed beer style – and had been my favorite since 1945, when I first tasted Dominion White Label ale at Canadian Breweries. The emigrant Scottish brew masters who made Dominion White Label assured me that I was tasting the same kind of ales that were brewed in Scotland… I knew exactly what I wanted to make: all malt, intensely hopped, naturally conditioned Scottish Ale that would be as close as possible to Dominion White Label.

One email correspondent° who knew Grant described the hoppiness of his beers in this way: “That Scotch was pretty hoppy. And the IPA was in your face. None of this juicy shit.” Hoppiness was a still a key selling point in Canadian ale brewing in the 1950s. As you can see from the ad to the left for Carling’s Red Cap ale, more hops equaled more flavour. And consider this TV ad for Red Cap from the time, for any number of reasons including the massive sandwich on the massive swing. But this beer, Carling Red Cap ale, was the beer that Grant insisted was under-hopped, that was the result of the triumph of the bean counters.

 

 

 

 

What was Dominion White Label? Inspired by Lost Breweries of Toronto by Jordan where Jordan tells the tale of the Dominion Brewery of Toronto in the later 1800s, one blogger has tried his hand at a recreation. The Dominion Brewery was where White Label was first invented. By the 1930s it ends up in the hands of E.P. Taylor as part of his aggregations and consolidations which eventually fall the umbrella Canadian Breweries around when Grant shows up as a 16 year old. As shown above to the left, in the 1893 journal The Dominion Illustrated Monthly, Dominion had a prominent display at the 1983 Chicago Worlds Fair. Its “white label” in the middle was the certificate from its victory at an 1885-86 exhibition in New Orleans. It advertised its many such victories, including in an 1893 magazine aimed at the medical profession up there to the right. So, it was a thing and a great thing and… a Canadian thing. And if Grant is to be believed about not messing with the recipes, in 1944 when he first had it it may well have been much the same thing.

Life goes on and in 1995, a full 51 years after starting out his brewing career at E.P. Taylor’s chemistry labs when he was sixteen, Grant sold out – in a way. He sold his brewery to a conglomerate but stayed on as top brewer with plans of expansion with his own hand still firmly on the tiller:**

Burt Grant has sold out, in a business sense. Yakima Brewing is now controlled by Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates, part of a huge corporate chain topped by UST Inc., the parent company of U.S. Tobacco. But Grant, who continues as brewmaster, says he’s still making quality beers “to please the most demanding palate I have ever encountered: my own.” The Scottish-born, Canadian-bred Grant, 68, began honing that palate at age 16, when he went to work for Canadian Breweries Ltd. (now Carling). His brewing career led to jobs in the hops supply business, which brought him to the heart of Washington’s hop country in Yakima, where he opened a tiny brewery in 1982. “The brewery was doing well, but not spectacularly,” Grant says. “All the stuff I liked doing – product development, quality control – was being diluted horribly by all the worries about financing and marketing.” Stimson Lane “came to us out of the clear blue sky, with an offer we couldn’t refuse.” Grant has been able to double his production capacity, to an annual 40,000 barrels. And he’s talking about building breweries in other parts of the country to expand his market, as Seattle’s Redhook and Pyramid have done.

Grant passed away on 30 July 2001, according to his New York Times obituary, “at a hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he had recently made his home” and where three of his five children then lived. All five were reported to have been residing in Canada at the time of his passing. His life, his beer, his career and maybe even that vial of hop oil framed in large part by the 23 years from 1944 to 1967 when he learned his trade in the bowels of Canadian Breweries owned by another great contributor to the history of brewing, Edward Plunket (E.P.) Taylor.

*Not hop “juice” by the way.
**Sound familiar? The quotation is from a summary of a story by Rick Bonino in the The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, WA, on 12 March 1995.

“…Uncompromised Beer That Is Marketed Locally…”

I post this by way of adjunct to a comment that I made in my post the last edition of The Session. In that post I stated that all beer is, as a result, properly understood as local and personal and that the ecology is small and getting smaller with the return to more naturally scaled micro and happy tap rooms. The comment even received Stan approval status… so there.

Happy, then, was I when came upon this passage quoted below in the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, 1989: Staplefoods : Proceedings, edited by Harlan Walker. It is actually footnote 30 to Appendix A to the chapter “Staple Foods of the American West Coast (A Semi-Historical Perspective; or, Cultural Change in Action)” by John Doerper.

Perhaps the best definition of “microbrewery” comes from Vince Cottone, Good Beer Guide, Breweries and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: Homestead Book Company, 1986, p.9. Cottone who prefers the term “Craft Brewery” describes this as

a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients to produce a handcrafted, uncompromised beer that is marketed locally.

Curiously, despite the supposed local distribution of these brews, supermarkets in the Northwest commonly stock many Californian “microbrews” while California carry virtually no Northwestern beers.

My first observation was that we are back to that spot here 28 years later, back to beer “that is marketed locally‘ if we think of the current resurrection of the taproom. But then I looked at the other elements: small, handcrafted, etc. Other than the word “traditional” in the era of every twig and leaf being shoved in a brew pot, it seems to fit. Sweet to note, however, that how in 1989 interstate distribution was already creating inequality and bending the meaning of local.

So, is “that is marketed locally” an idea that could be returned to now that big craft and macro are merging, mating or in a battle to the death? It would be a bit hard for many to track given that the forces that peddle national craft and throw about the junkets are hardly going to speak in favour of it. But as consumers, is this a standard we should return to – one to insist upon?

Once we’ve done that, perhaps we can clarify what local means, too. The 100 mile diet sort of local? As far as a truck can drive in 48 hours local? Here in Ontario, getting to a definition with some semblance of reality is a problem. By common parlance and perhaps trade association politics, the entire 1.076 million km² is local unto itself. I suspect in a place like Portland, Oregon local might not even include the whole city.

As I Consider Bert Grant, Torontonian

I have been thinking about the Torontonianness of Bert Grant,* the owner of the the first brewpub to open in America since Prohibition. We are told that after “a long career working in big breweries on the other side of the country, Burt* Grant moved to Yakima in 1981 to build his own brewery: Grant’s Brewery Pub.” This 1997 news item on that year’s sale of his brewery (which includes some timely puff about expansion tied with quality control all care of his new partners whose skill set including running a big tobacco firm) describes his origins in this brief passage:

The Scottish-born, Canadian-bred Grant, 68, began honing that palate at age 16, when he went to work for Canadian Breweries Ltd. (now Carling). His brewing career led to jobs in the hops supply business, which brought him to the heart of Washington’s hop country in Yakima, where he opened a tiny brewery in 1982.

On 3 August 2001, Michael Jackson published a rich obituary for Grant that is still there online which describes, along with a few of his odd character traits, his early hop obsession:

“When you were brewing Canada, ales were still very popular. How many units of bitterness did they typically have?” I once asked. “I don’t know. I hadn’t invented the scale,” he replied. He was reputed to carry a vial of hop oil, and to add it to glasses of Bud, Miller or Coors when they were the only brews available. He was said to have done this at meetings of Master Brewers in Milwaukee and St Louis, dismaying his peers. “Michael Jackson adds it to his coffee,” he is alleged to have said, in his defence. Did he really say that? I think that joke was coined by beer-writer and consultant Vince Cottone.

I am nosing around working on the hypothesis that I was discussing with Jeff on the weekend via tweet. And down one alley I found this fabulous passage below from the Fred Eckhardt Oral History Interview of July 23, 2014 stored as part of the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives Oral History Collection at the Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries. The interview of Fred Eckhardt (FE) was conducted by Tiah Edmunson-Morton, Tim Hills (TH), and John Foyston (JF):

FE: Yeah. Yeah. And then, the fella from England. What was his name? He was a nice guy too. Um…
JF: Not Michael Jackson?
FE: No, another…
JF: Oh. Was he a brewer here?
FE: Yeah, he had a brewery finally, over in Washington, and then here. I can’t think of his name either.
TH: Oh, Burt* Grant?
FE: Burt Grant! Yes.
TH: He was English?
JF: That was the “nice guy”. That threw me off. [All laughing]
FE: You knew him?
JF: Yeah, I knew him.
FE: And you didn’t think he was…
JF: Well, he was uh, a character, but see, you were an equal, and I was not. I was a mere sprout. So… [Laughter]
FE: [Laughter] You just got older recently. [All laughing] I’m not gonna tell everybody you were 67.
TH: Happens all of a sudden. But yeah, Burt was really early.

Beautiful. Makes sense. I have not read as widely about Bert Grant as I hope to soon but it is so nice to read that he was a bit weird, maybe uppiddy and a touch disagreeable. We are all so quick to praise and beatify to the point of blandification that coming across the mere human in craft is becoming sadly rare.

*Oddly, seeing his name spelled as both “Burt” by some sources like the interview transcription but “Bert” by Michael Jackson and The New York Times.

“Style” In Its Early Pre-Jacksonian Form

This label got me thinking. Its one of those old labels you see floating around the internets in places like this. But look at that pesky little word “style” sitting there in the loop of the beer. I am informed that the label is from 1914. About six years ago, I asked what it was exactly that Jackson meant when he first wrote about style back in 1977. I think today I am wondering why we think Jackson first used the word style as it relates to beer. Interestingly, I think the use on the label and the use by Jackson in 1977 are very closely related.

Hmm.  A few more examples for your cogitations:

That Time In 1986 When Mr. Jackson Came To Albany

This is an interesting notice in the October 31, 1986 edition of the Times Union from Albany, New York under the heading “Newman’s Brews Beer Tasting”:

English beer authority Michael Jackson will visit Albany Nov. 4 to conduct “The Quintessential Beer Tasting,” at 8 p.m. at the Century House in Latham. The international beer tasting, sponsored by Albany’s Newman Brewing Company, will be open to the public. Jackson, known as “The Bard of Beer” and author of “The World Guide to Beer,” has been called the world’s best authority on beer. He has led beer tastings at Harrods in London and the Pierre Hotel in New York City. For the Albany show, he will lead a guided tour through a selection of 13 international beers. Tickets at $6 per person are available through Newman’s Brewery at 465- 8501 and at the door.

What is really fun about the item is that a few days later, on 5 November 1986, a report on the event written by Fred LeBrun was published in the same paper under the headline “Beer Guru Salutes Newman’s” which I need to reproduce in full to properly undertake a review of the implications:

The real Michael Jackson came to Albany yesterday. Downtown was snoring because it was Election Day, so he did what he frequently does when he’s on the road anyway. He had a well-thought-out Newman’s Albany Amber Ale at Ogden’s. Now Ogden’s, a reasonably serious restaurant, is not a bistro that would first come to mind for a casual beer. But then the real Michael Jackson is not a casual beer drinker.

It should be noted about here that this real Michael Jackson rarely sleeps in an oxygen tent, at least by choice, nor is he likely to be caught fondling a Pepsi. He did wear a sequined glove for a while as a goof, but grew tired of it in a couple of hours. This real Michael Jackson is 44, bearded, a touch pudgy, tweedy and scholarly, wears glasses and speaks with a pleasant, all-purpose British accent. He is also the world’s most respected authority on beer. His “The World Guide to Beer” of a decade ago is still the definitive text on the subject, and his newly published “Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer” will do still more to educate a world awakening to the great variety and styles of beers and ales available, using much the same critical language in the past reserved for fine wines. From Adelaide to Nairobi to Anchor Steam country out in San Francisco, wherever beer and ale is brewed, this Michael Jackson is The Word.

He was in Albany on a pilgrimage of sorts, paying respects to one of his favorite American alemakers, William Newman, and sampling a fresh batch of Newman’s Winter Ale, due out for the general public in a couple of weeks. A few months ago, when Jackson was interviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times, he listed Newman’s Winter Ale as one of his five favorite American beers. Anchor Steam, for the record, remains his favorite.

For Albany, in its Tricentenniel year, Jackson’s visit offers a double dose of irony. Albany, and the Capital District in general, was once a brewing center of the United States, according to Jackson, along with Philadelphia. At one time, there were breweries in practically every Albany neighborhood, brewing a variety of styles – 18 at one point. But when the Newmans, William and Marie, opened their microbrewery five years ago exactly, there wasn’t a single brewery left in town. Schaefer, the last major brewery, was newly gone, and shortly before that Hedrick’s, owned by Albany County Democratic Chairman Dan O’Connell, and Fitzgerald across the river.

Yet in the five years since, the Newmans has struggled mightily to carve out a steady little market for itself with deep, full-flavored, hoppy ales sold in kegs and jury-rigged take- home containers. They have fought against the biggies, which in this market is Genesee, and Miller, and the ever-present Budweiser, and recently a hot run by Stroh’s. They have eked out standing in this crowd. Now Albany Amber Beer is available in bottles, created to Bill Newman’s fussy specs by the Schmidt’s Brewery in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the active center of new breweries in America has moved to the West Coast, notably Oregon and Washington State.

Out there, the Newmans are positively venerated, idolized, for what they’ve done. They were the first on the East Coast to create a new-style baby brewery offering traditional beers and ales of great character. Now there’s Samuel Adams in Boston, and New Amsterdam and Royal Amber in New York and dozens more. “Newman’s has never had the credit it deserves,” writes Jackson in his newest guide. “Its misfortune is to be in Albany, which may be the state capital but is an unimaginable distance – about 140 miles – from downtown Manhattan.” Prophets in their own land.

Jackson strongly recommended making the trek up the Hudson to sample draft Newman’s, much better than the bottled stuff. Good news for Jackson’s next book, as far as the Newmans are concerned, was his delight with the soon- to-be-released Winter Ale, an ale Bill Newman varies each time it comes out. “It has a very rich aroma, with a lot of fruitiness to the palate,” Jackson said Tuesday, referring to a little notebook he always keeps with him. The Word has spoken.

Craig mentioned a Jackson visit in our 2014 book, Upper Hudson Valley Beer. A photo caption states that Michael Jackson, in the middle sporting his Jeff Lynne lid, said on a 1985 visit: [i]f Newman succeeds in his heroic venture, he will undoubtedly inspire many others.” Newman is the guy in the necktie. As we told the tale, Newman spent three months in 1979 under the tutelage of the father of the British independent brewery movement, Peter Austin, at his Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire England. With Austin, Newman received a crash-course in all things brewing, and toured many of the countries breweries—both big and small. He returned to Albany with plans for his own version of Austin’s 10-barrel, open fermenting brewing system and, within a year, was brewing Newman’s Albany Amber as the 1980s were hitting their stride. 

Look what the LeBrun article notes. Jackson knew in the mid-80s that Albany had been one of the great brewing centres. As Craig has learned, that was forgotten history locally.  And Newman’s wasn’t just early, it was good if Jackson’s word the Winter Ale was worth anything. There is an implication that the west coast had passed an earlier east coast prominence in micro brewing – not part of the triumphalism of today but, as we know, history gets forgotten. And Newman was considered their forebearer.

In December 2015, Gary wrote about his own trips in the 1980s from Montreal south to visit Newman’s. It makes for a great companion piece. It was all over soon. On 15 August 1987, it was reported in the Knickerbocker News that Newman’s had filed for bankruptcy and, while it would live on as a contract brewed beer for a few more years, the brewing era was over.

Imperial, Yes, But Cream Ale Was Also Light As Well As…

The more I get into the records referencing cream in 1800s New York brewing, the more obvious it is that the term was pervasive. It illustrates excellently, as a result, how branding existed independent of those claims to copyright we suffer from today. In law, there is an excellent and better word for such stuff that applies as much now as then – puffery. Claims made as to quality that are never ever really expected to be challenged. Look at that ad from the Jewish Daily News of 30 November 1916 again. Imperial Cream Ale. Is that the same as the Imperial Cream Ale of the Taylors of Albany from the early 1830s to the late 1860s? Or is the cream just a puff?

That image to the upper right? It’s a part of a column in the Plattsburg Republican from 21 August 1858 entitled “Items: or Crumbs for all kinds of
Chickens.” Is that puffery? Seems a bit more than that. Cream beer is being lumped into a class: non-intoxicating drinks. Sounds like a bit of a vague concept but at the same time the courts in New York State were struggling with the same term as it related to lager and the wider issues related to acceptance of the German immigrant wave in the middle third of the 1800s.

The book De Witt’s Connecticut Cook Book, and Housekeeper’s Assistant from 1871 includes these two recipes, one after the other, on page 100. The first for “common beer” has yeast added, the second, for “cream beer” doesn’t. Is “cream” then code for no alcohol? When I was a kid out east in Nova Scotia, one of my favourite things was cream soda. There were two types as I recall. Pink or clear. Pink was like drinking candy floss. Clear was like drinking candy floss… but was not pink. I hated pink cream soda. I was a clear cream soda man. Crush, if you have it… but only in Canada. Pop… soda… soda pop… was a class of soft drink that morphed out of beer. In the 1850s you could speak of California Pop Beer. In the 1830s you could speak of the Lemon Beer of Schenectady. In the excellent short book Soft Drinks – Their Origins and History by Colin Emmins, small beer is described as a progenitor of British soft drinks along with spa waters, syrupy uncarbonated cordials and that favourite of George III, plain barley water. [Continuum. Perhaps continua.] Consider the simple lemon…

The earliest English reference to lemonade dates from the publication in 1663 of The Parson’s Wedding, described by a friend of Samuel Pepys as ‘an obscene, loose play’, which had been first performed some years earlier. The drink seems to have come to England from Italy via France. Such lemonade was made from freshly squeezed lemons, sweetened with sugar or honey and diluted with water to make a still soft drink. 

It appears that 1660s lemonade plus small beer could be a cause of that fancy 1830s upstate NY lemon beer. Could be. There would be other intermediaries and antecedents. Think of how the sulfurous spas of Staffordshire in the late 1600s, saw the invention a drink introduced the local hard to swallow spa water into their beer brewing. Is this how it works? Isn’t that how life works?

When you consider all that, I am brought back to how looking at beer through the lens of “style” ties language to technique a bit too tightly for my comfort. The stylist might suggest that in 1860, this brewery brewed an XX ale and in 1875 that brewery brewed an XX ale so they must be some way some how the same thing. I would quibble in two ways. Fifteen years is a long time in the conceptual instability of beer and, even if the two beers were contemporaries, a key point for each brewery was differentiation. The beers would not be the same even if they were similar.

Layered upon this is the fact that “style” is an idea really fixed somewhere in the 1980s after Jackson’s original expression which was altered in the years that followed. The resulting implications are important given how one must obey chronology. This means if (i) Jackson’s 1970s “classics and cloning” idea didn’t last more than ten years until (ii) the more familiar “corner to corner classification” concept comes into being then the application of “style” to brewing prior to the 1970s (if not 1990) is also a challenging if not wonky practice. Brewers brew to contemporary conventions even though they are but points in a fluid continuum. You can’t conform to an idea that doesn’t yet exist.

All About Beer published the article “How Cream Ale Rose: The Birth of Genesee’s Signature” by Tom Acitelli on 17 August 2015 which, as we can see above, contains an origins narrative for cream ale which (though very condensed so somewhat unfair to parse) is now really not all that sustainable:

Cream ale is one of the very few beer styles born and raised in the United States. Predating Prohibition, the style grew up as a response to the pilsners flooding the market via immigrant brewers from Central Europe. Cream ales were generally made with adjuncts such as corn and rice to lighten the body of what would otherwise end up as a thicker ale; brewers also fermented and aged them at temperatures cooler than normal for ales.

I think I am good until to the word “the” in the second sentence after the comma. If style can be applied to the concept at all, cream ales at best probably represented styles. They were not a response to pilsners as they predate Gillig and were in mass production happily in their own right though the mid- and latter 1800s. They became made with “adjuncts such as corn and rice to lighten the body” but so did ales as our recreation of Amdell’s 1901 Albany XX Ale illustrated. The last sentence may well be fine.

BUT! – now notice the gem of a wee factual trail actually setting out as the specific origin of Genesee Cream Ale as related to Acitelli:

His father and grandfather, a German immigrant, had been brewers in Belleville, Illinois, about 15 miles southeast of St. Louis. Bootleggers had approached his father, in fact, about brewing during Prohibition, but he demurred. Clarence Geminn himself was completely dedicated to the craft, according to his son, a fourth-generation brewer. “Saturday and Sunday he would go into check on things,” Gary Geminn told AAB from his home in Naples, New York. “Summer picnics had to wait until the afternoon; any outing had to wait.” As for the exact formula behind his father’s most enduring beer, no one’s talking—obviously not the brewery itself, nor did the beer’s progenitor.

Mid-west Germans? Now that starts sounding more like the parallel universe of cream beer than cream ale. Does its DNA include Germans moving to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, then on inland into Kentucky in the early 1800s then into the Mid-West later that century only to back track to upstate NY by the mid-1900s? Can we draw that line? Either to connect or perhaps delineate? Maybe we need to be prepared to do both if we are seeking to understand events prior to the point of conceptual homogeneity that is achieved with the crystallization of style when MJ meets what becomes the BA.

As for cream? It’s a lovely word. So many meanings. So many useful applications. So many more leads to follow.

Cream Ale, Cream Beer And Creamy Goodness

This ad in the Jewish Daily News of 30 November 1916 published out of New York has my wee brain spinning – and not only due to the works I can read and those I cannot read. I am starting to think “creamis a nugget of a folk tale, an indigenous memory that keeps appearing generation after generation from, as Gary proposed, the later 1700s to today in the northeastern US for no other reason than its useful pleasantness.

Gotta think about this.

The Business Case Study Of My Late 1980s

I do not often let out a squeal of giggly delight but I did last evening when I came across this university course business case study from 1995 entitled “Peddler’s Pub and JJ Rossy’s Ltd.” It was written by Professor Jeremy Hall of Saint Mary’s University for the Acadia Institute Of Case Studies and sets out a description of the downtown pub scene from my hometown of Halifax in the years when I was in my mid to later 20s. It lines up well with two early posts of mine for The Session but has masses of detail on the business side of the taverns and bars I knew as second homes. I came across the document when Norm, the Boston Beer Nut, and I were a’tweeting and I was making the case that there is a forgotten phenomenon from the early micro era – the “beers of the world” bar / pub / tavern. The Hall study mentions the principle establishment of this sort in Halifax, the still operating Maxwell’s Plum:

“Nobody is focusing as much as we are.” According to co-owner-operator Scott Little, Maxwell’s Plum had the largest selection of single malt scotch and imported beer in Metro: 21 single malts, three blends, one Irish whisky, five imported draft and dozens of imported bottled beer. Importing so much does have its drawbacks, especially cash drain, as payment was due before delivery for special orders through the NSLC.

The atmosphere of the bar could be best described as traditional – the focus was on a large, well stocked bar with dark hardwood fixtures. Most of the time management played low volume music from a selection of 200 CDs and live jazz on Sundays, without a cover charge. “We want people to be able to talk to each other and be comfortable” (S. Little).

I remember, vaguely, being in a beers of the world bar in Paris in early 1986 and also seem to recall a few years earlier that our undergrad bar having beers of the world nights where you had a passport that was ticked as you bought your syrupy black McEwan’s Export or a thin glassed bottle of Dortmunder Union. Chris Begley reports that there was a place like this in Vancouver called “Fogg n Sudds” about the same time. A version seems to still exist connected to an airport hotel. Calgary seems to have had its own Bottlescrew Bill’s since 1985.

The Hall study has a number of other tidbits of information that frame the downtown scene, starting with this map. I kid myself that I could sketch this blind folded in a isolation tank but most of the locations pop back to mind immediately. The map also illustrates the general university student flow from southwest to north east, the march many evenings being from Your Father’s Mustache to the Lower Deck. And there is a concise description of what “draft” was:

Draft beer could be purchased from the two local breweries, Moosehead or Oland’s (a division of Labatts), and was generally the least expensive form of alcohol. Draft beer was allowed under all categories of licenses. Draft came from the same vats as bottled beer, but did not go through a pasteurization process, and therefore had a short shelf life.

When I started my Halifax pub life, this fresh tasty pale ale was ordered in pairs of eight ounce glasses but by the mid-80s that was being replaced by the 20 ounce imperial pint. I think this might have been started by the opening in 1986 of the Thirsty Duck which had the first keg Guinness in town. The days of the “draft wars” are also fondly recalled. I remember one place that had a horrible business plan based on Monday selling 29 cent draft, Tuesday 39 cent draft, etc. Lasted only a few glorious months.

One thing the report illustrates is how the narrative that micros changed everything is a bit of a fib. There was a bit of that. We certainly could buy New Brunswick’s Hans Haus lager in the stores or go have a Peculiar at the embryonic Granite Brewery, then housed in one half of the early rougher incarnation of Ginger’s on Hollis Street.  They did not, however, set the scene. While society generally has enjoyed a great diversification in all sorts of consumables over the last 30 or 40 years, the drinking experience was still laced with the perception of variety that included, well before micros became popular, a variety of imported beer choices. I’d be interested in learning how many other places like Maxwell’s Plum were out there in other communities but my inclination is to consider imports opened or at least eased the entry to the market for micros.

Are Canada Red Vine Hops… Canadian?

The other night I had my nose deep into a bag of Canada Red Vine hops, a variety revived in Tavistock, Ontario.  The scene was Folly Brewpub in Toronto and the bag was care of Jordan who had picked it up at The Tavistock Hop Company. The fact that some of the bag of hops exists at all is pretty neato as this news item explains.

Wynette dug up some rootstalks, called rhizomes, on the banks of the Speed River. He grew a new generation of plants on his farm in Tavistock. He took cuttings from those plants, and soon had enough for a small crop. “So now in Tavistock we grow these same hops cloned off 100-plus-year-old plants,” Wynette said. Based on a chemical analysis of the plant, Wynette believes he cloned a type of hops called Canadian Red Vine.

My nose was pleased but my mind was racing. I had heard of this reintroduction a few days before and had asked Stan about it. His tweet in reply was succinct: “Grown in US NW into the 1970s. Origin of name unknown.” Hmm. I don’t like unknown. Someone once told me that the history James Pritchard, Loyalist, was unknown. Nope.

So, being that way, I started to look around and found this reference in the Documents of the Senate of the, 139th Session, 1916 which, as you know, contains the 34th Annual Report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station located at Geneva, Ontario County. The 34th year was 1915. I found this in a passage about mildew:

That there are other influences which affect the growth of the mildew is very apparent. Yards near enough together to be equally affected by periods of wet weather frequently show great differences in severity of mildew attacks though new spots may appear in both at the same time. Different varieties and even different leaves on the same plant vary in susceptibility. Named in order of susceptibility beginning with the most susceptible, the New York varieties would be arranged as follows: Canada red vine, English cluster, Humphrey and native red vine. No serious injury has been noticed, so far, on the native red vine variety though planted near badly infested yards and, in some instances, scattered through yards of a susceptible variety. It is said to be a light yielder, however.

Not a lot of references to Canada Red Vine out there on the internets and this one describes it as a New York Variety. Things get a bit weird in terms of naming conventions around the east end of Lake Ontario. Notice above there that Geneva, New York is located in Ontario County. In 2009, I wrote about running into a pal at a gas station north of Utica. It was right where route 12 meets route 28 – near West Canada Creek, NY. Country well known by Sir William Johnson in the 1750s and well known to his son Sir John Johnson in the 1770s and 1780s during the American Revolution as a Loyalist military force escape route back north. It was called that because it was the way to Canada… aka New France… aka Quebec.

Here’s a thought. People take what this like with them when they move. If that is correct, a third generation of US northwest farmers may well have still be growing the hops their settler great-great-grandparents carried with them to the West. The grandparents of those settlers may have dug up the rhizomes in central New York as they started the family’s trek west after the Erie Canal opened up in the 1820s. And some of their cousins may have had other plans and shifted north into what was then Upper Canada. Many did, euphemistically now called Late Loyalists. And they may have carried the rhizomes with them to Tavistock, Ontario and rammed them into the banks of streams.

Tracing hop lineage is difficult. Consider this observation from William Blanchard Jr. published in the 13 September 1823 edition of The New England Farmer:

The Hop is a native plant. It is found growing spontaneously on the banks and intervales of many of our large rivers. There are several distinct species, all bearing a near affinity to each other; (I have noticed five.) At present they are cultivated together, promiscuously; no preference having been given to any particular one of them by the brewer. But I am of the opinion that there is an essential difference in their qualities—that one may be the best for pale ale; another for strong beer; and a third for porter; and I presume, ere long, particular attention will be paid to ascertain their different qualities.

I love at least two things in that passage. Obviously, the foreshadowing of the use of specific hops for specific beers. And also the fact that only 92 years stand between Mr. Blanchard’s letter to the paper and the Report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station mentioned above. [And the river banks. Fine. Three.] I expect that the noticing of five distinct species of hops had advanced, through the application of science, some way in those years. Yet – in the 1860s, only a few sorts are propagated in central New York, including Pompey and Cluster. And of the New York varieties identified in 1915 only four are named: Canada red vine, English cluster, Humphrey and native red vine.

Are all three instances of Canada red vine the one variety? Is it one of the five one could spot in a promiscuously planted patch? How can I figure that out?

Is The Data Overload Becoming An Issue?

It was a bit of a revelation. Well, a joke and a revelation. I have a brother who is a bookman who sends rare finds for birthdays and holidays. This year for my 52nd I got this book on cheese. Published in 1960, it is a simple thing. More like a long magazine article than a full book. The author describes one trip taken in a car traveling from farmhouse cheese maker to farmhouse cheese maker. Cheeses are gathered in the back seat and the trunk… sorry, boot… and the taken back to London where they are eaten at dinners and parties with guests like Dame Margot Fonteyn and Stirling Moss. It’s all very light and comforting. It’s not all that unlike Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis which I reviewed six years ago now. Yes, a voice from another era and one imbued with class and cultural distinctions which don’t matter anymore. Yet it is filled with discovery:

Mrs. Roberts DOES still make Caerphilly but not in her cool dairy, which I had foolishly asked to see. That is only used for storing milk and cream! Her cheeses are made in the kitchen, with vats and presses a hundred years old, and they mature in the bedroom. As these ancient, heavy wooden vats are irreplaceable, she may soon have to give up her cheesemaking.

OK, like Amis perhaps without the ever present danger of arrest for driving whilst intoxicated. Perhaps. There are still bottles consumed as she goes about. But there is nothing snobbish about any of it. In the second paragraph, snobbery is the word used for the one who sniffs contemptuously at the mere mention of the cheeses of ones own country. It’s an essay about the pursuit of the real in a world where imports and processes have become the norm. Sound familiar?

This is a voice like the one in my head when I became interested in beer. Not a voice I hear very much of anymore, sadly. Between the quantity chasing tickers and the off-flavour seminarians and the worshipers of the next ever so slightly different hop strain, there seems to be little being left to individual discovery. Too much expertise in the beer to be assimilated from above. Not enough simple pleasure in the experience of it. The current bleat about poor quality in new craft is just the latest twist. The hand of industrial process now reaches down as one’s betters warn that if you eat that cheese matured in the bedroom you might encounter something unexpected, unplanned.

This is not to suggest all was better. The second half of the book is filled with recipes which range from the traditional – like that very attractive cheddar biscuit – to the weirdly experimental. I will not, for example, take up the recommendation to wrap eight bananas in ham and bake them in a sauce made with a whacking pile of grated Lancashire cheese. But there is a joyfulness about it all which big craft seems to be drumming out of me, drumming out of good beer. I don’t care. The errors and trials and surprises of all these new actual small brewers are too interesting to care about their elders and betters, the self-appointed senex with the standard operating procedures, marketing staff and strategic plans for the annual trade show.