The Olympics Of Thursday Beer World News

Every four years I wake up and think: “…oh, yeah – people luge…” I am not sure how much those of you out there in my international readership care about the winter Olympics but it is fairly big here in Canada. It’s always nice to learn about the new ways that Mr. Putin has devised to crush the dreams and steal those medals earned by strapping young folk from rural Manitoba. And unlike the recent Super Bowl victory, I don’t expect beer to end up featured in any public rioting. And we know how to maintain a reasonable distance between athletic excellence and beer. Sure we do. Yup.

Enough about sport. How about some art? To the right is an image posted by Martin Taylor on Twitter the other day. Seemingly a plain snapshot, it is one of the best compositions I have ever seen. And a character study. And a morality play. Not to mention the portrait in the portrait. For a still life, there is plenty of action going on. Lovely.

Ron’s wife Delores has made her position clear – Ron needs to make some real money from this whole beer writing lark.

Not beer: unexpected sexism.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Jordan has shown how one big brewery led bleat-fest on the government’s share of beer is fairly poorly founded. Rod Hill, professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick, has added one more factor to the discussion of the taxation of beer in Canada:

Adjusted for inflation, the tax on a 500 ml bottle was 19 cents in 1976, 18 cents in 1987, 19.5 cents in 1999. At just under 16 cents, it is the lowest it’s been in 40 years. Last year’s budget will keep it at that low level into the indefinite future.

Beer choir.

Lots of opinions in the UK about one craft brewer wanting to join the national executive of CAMRA, the fabulous consumer interest lobby group.  A fairly juvenile manifesto was posted, the sort of third-rate entitled stuff that we have to put up with time to time.  The Tand wrote this, weighing the pros and cons. At Lady Sinks The Booze, the analysis was a bit more direct and unimpressed. And BB2* raise two proper points:

Our gut feeling is that this feels like a PR move more than anything and we’re not sure brewers should be on the NE…

Oddly, the candidate’s manifesto is also somehow similar to the somewhat foggy revitalization statement that the Ontario Craft Brewers have published. Both in their own way miss the mark, shimmer with perhaps unspoken motive. Is the fundamental problem with such things that both the rebellious and counter-reformation forces churning around the brewing of good beer basically have little to say? Could it be that beer takes care of itself quite nicely?

By comparison, a very useful and succinct discussion of value and expense related to low strength beers broke out on Twitter amongst a couple of fine beer writers and a couple of small scale US brewers. Exactly as an open marketplace of ideas should work if folk have their brain bucket properly adjusted. There may be hope after all.

That’s enough for now. Sports are on. There’s quad mixed luge coming on the TV soon. And full contact curling after that.  This is great…

*pronounced as in the Dutch: bay-bay-tvay.

What Is… Or Was “Schenk” Beer Anyway?

That’s from the New York Herald of 28 May 1874.  Schenk is one of those words that flits around the edges of US beer history popping up in scientific tables, included in passing references before, say, 1900 that is one of the more irritating to research. One simple reason is that it was / is a reasonably common surname. And it may suffer from that problem of speculation in the guise of conclusion we see too much of. Footnotes and primary records are the regular cure for that ailment so let’s see what we can find out before we form the image in our mind’s eye.

First, let’s start relatively near the end. In every child’s favourite bedtime book, Johnson’s New Universal Cyclopaedia: a Scientific and Popular Treasury of Useful Knowledge, Volume 1, at page 442 we read this in the sub-article on “Lager Beer”:

Three varieties of this beer are made: (1) “Lager” or summer beer, for which 3 bushels of malt and IA to 3 pounds of hops are used per barrel, and which is not ready for use in less than from four to six months. (2) “Schenk” winter or present-use beer: 2 to 3 bushels malt and 1 pound hops per barrel; ready in four to six weeks. (3) Bock bier, which is an extra strong beer, made in small quantity and served to customers in the spring, during the interval between the giving out of the schenk beer and the tapping of the lager. In its manufacture 3 1/2 bushels of malt and 1 pound of hops per barrel are used, and it requires two months for its preparation. 

The encyclopedia was produced by the A.J. Johnson publishing house of New York City run by one Alvin J. Johnson. You can click on the image to the right where each of the  three sorts of beer are prefaced by the word “Munich” – which is interesting. What I also like about that passage is how well it aligns with one other reference from a completely difference source. In 2011, the terribly reliable Ron wrote a post about Vienna malt and quoted a long passage from the British Medical Journal 1869, vol. 1 and particularly from pages 83 to 84:

Generally speaking, the beer drunk in Austria and Germany has less alcoholic strength than that consumed here. The strongest Kinds, such as those known in Bavaria by the names “Holy Father”, “Salvator”, and “Buck”, rarely contain so much as 5 per cent, by weight of absolute alcohol. The store-beer, or lager bier, generally contains about 3.5 per cent., ranging from 4 to 2.8 per cent. ; and the ordinary beer for quick draught, schenk bier, corresponding in that respect to our porter, contains from 2.25 to 3.5 per cent, of alcohol. In the Austrian dominions, the beer is generally preferred rather weaker than in Bavaria ; but in Austria, the organisation of the breweries, and the system of conducting the business, have been developed in such a manner as to assimilate more to the vast establishments we have in this country.

Now, to my mind that looks like two sources from two English-speaking countries within nine years of each other each presenting as fairly authoritative information about a classification of beer from a third culture.* For present purposes, this is useful enough to rely upon as a first principle that, whatever it was, in the latter third of the 1800s, schenk was understood as and also the common word for German beer of a weaker sort than middling lager and stronger bock. It is considered to exist on a continuum and not of a difference class than lager or bock. It is an adjective as much as a noun. A degree of strength.

This is interesting. Boak and Bailey’s bibliographical guide to entering an enhanced understanding of lager included a 2011 article by Lisa Grimm – “Beer History: German-American Brewers Before Prohibition” – which states this about the entry of lager into the brewing culture of the United States:

Many historians attribute the first lager beer brewed in America to John Wagner, a Bavarian immigrant who set up shop in Philadelphia in 1840, though some of that notice is probably due to the chain of events he helped kick off—Maureen Ogle points out in her excellent Ambitious Brew that two German immigrants were brewing lager on a small scale in 1838 in Virginia.

This passage follows the statement “German brewers were a relatively late addition to the scene, arriving in large numbers only in the mid-19th century.” This timing aligns with the post I wrote about a rather alarming New York City Sunday afternoon attack on a public house** which I entitled “An Anti-German Anti-Lager* NYC Riot In 1840” with that asterisk. See, I assumed Germans and lager were common entrants into the NYC scene but as Gary, well, chided me (let’s be frank) in relation to… 1840 slightly predates the date lager is understood to have arrived in New York with George Gillig… or rather the date Gillig takes on brewing lager. It appears he brewed something else from 1840 to 1846.

Additionally, that bit brings up national pride right about now. Jordan, in part of our book Ontario Beer, wrote that the first brewer on record in Waterloo Township was George Rebscher who opened his establishment in 1837:

It should come as no surprise that Rebscher, as a German brewer from Hesse in Franconia, brought with him the brewing techniques that were used in his homeland. Rebscher was the first brewer of lager beer in North America. What we cannot know is exactly what the lager might have been like. It seems likely the unfiltered styles that were popular in Franconia might have represented some of the early output. Given what we know of brewing in the early stages of a settlement in Upper Canada, it is relatively unlikely that George Rebscher’s lager would have been made entirely of barley for the first year or two of production.

Which is all very interesting. In the 1843 edition of Flügel’s Complete Dictionary of the German and English Languages there is a translation given at page 508 for “schenk” and a number of related words.  You can read it if you click on the thumbnail to the right. And if you can struggle with the Gothic script you will see that it is related to ideas of draught and tavern. Sort of table beer, perhaps. By contrast, lager-bier is defined at page 353 as “beer for keeping, strong beer.” Jordan went on to suggest that the early beer from Rebscher was more zwickelbier than kellerbier based on the lack of aging. To my mind, based on the above, that sounds a lot like a beer that is more schenk than lager, too.

And… that’s it. Frankly whether it was Rebscher, Wagner or Gillig really does not matter for today’s purposes. These gents are all examples of the folk included in the wave of German-speaking immigrant to the western hemisphere in Q2 1800s. It’s The Beginning. The beginning of lager. Well, a beginning of what is called lager. The beginning of German beer in North America. New beer for a new wave of immigrants in the 1830s and 1840’s. Sorta. Sorta maybe. The problem with the story is that there are two key elements that exist in North America well before this genesis story: German beer and… Germans. See, the Germans who came to North America in the second quarter of the 1800s were not the first. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has summarized it this way:

The largest wave of German immigration to Pennsylvania occurred
during the years 1749-1754 but tapered off during the French and Indian Wars and after the American Revolution… By the time of the Revolutionary War, there were approximately 65,000 to 75,000 ethnically German residents in Pennsylvania. Some historians estimate the number as high as 100,000. Benjamin Franklin wrote that at least one-third of Pennsylvania’s white population was German.

Which is interesting. There was German beer of some sort and there were Germans not only well before lager shows up in America but plenty of Germans were before the American Revolution.  But they were not necessarily the same sort of Germans. As that piece states, the German immigrants of the 1830s and 1840s came from northern and eastern Germany and were Catholic whereas the earlier Pennsylvania Germans tended to come from the southern German principalities and were Lutherans or other sorts of Protestants. Which may well mean, then as now, the beer was different.





So, armed with that, let’s go further back. If we do, we see that “schenk” was a term with a prior history. As illustrated to above the far left, Heinrich Hildebrand used the term in his early 1700s philosophical treatise Jurisdictio Universa Secundum Mores Hodiernos Compendiose Considerata. You can see it there in Gothic German script as an illustration of his tenth hypothesis set out in Latin. And, no, I have no idea what he’s talking about either. “Schenk” also shows up, as up there in the middle, in this entry in a French language dictionary of German terms from 1788, the Neues Teutsches und Französisches Wörterbuch. And, to the upper right, here it is in an English-German dictionary from Britain published in 1800. So, schenk was a thing before lager came to the USA. At this point, not so much the adjective explaining relative strength. Note also how broad the various associated forms of the word are. In 1800, a tavern  keeper is a schenk or a schenke depending on gender. It has a meaning more its own than by the end of the 1800s.

Let’s go a bit lateral now. Bear with me. We saw a year and a half ago that in the 1820s there was something called cream beer being sold in New York which was associated with the Germans of Pennsylvania. A sort of fresh beer… draught… table beer perhaps. There is another term used around the same time – “Bavarian” – sometimes with “ale” and sometimes with “beer.” The New York Evening Post of 20 January 1836 uses the term “Bavarian beer” in a long article, “The German Prince In Germany And France” where it is said the German author Jean Paul was fond of it.

And then there is swankey which , as noted by Boak and Bailey in the June 2015 edition of BeerAdvocate, was a name of a beer in Pennsylvania which was a lot like a name for a light rustic beer in Cornwall England, swanky.  The word swankey with an “e” was used in a 12 May 1849 article on a crisis at sea in the New York’s Weekly Herald. It was used in rather unflattering terms as you can see to the right: vinegar, brandy, saltwater and molasses. Notice that the ship left from Delaware. Next to eastern Pennsylvania. A lowbrow making a lowbrow reference to probably a lowbrow drink.

Hmm… then we see that the 28 April 1888 edition of the New York Tribune included a passage in a newsy notes column on a enterprise dedicated to the brewing of swankey which I set out in full below:

Brook’s law was an 1880’s temperance law in Pennsylvania. And low strength table beer “is very popular in Germany.” Stan notes a similar add from Wichita from around the same year in his book Brewing Local but suggests swankey started there. Hmm – the police blotter article up top from twelve years before would discount an 1888 start if there is a connection.  I wonder if it actually is something of the end point for the concept. See, swank is an old word, too – like schenk.*** In the common sense has a rather interesting etymology. Full of notions of youth and swagger and stagger before it was a fifty cent word for trendy.

And if we are honest, swanky and schenk can start to sound a bit alike if you mix in various accents especially if the schenk is schenke. Mixed accents of mixing peoples. See, there is a Cornwall and Pennsylvania connection, too. Quakers moved from Cornwall to western New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania in the later 1600s.  Pennsylvania has a few nicknames and one is the Quaker State, immortalized by the engine oil as well as a brand of oatmeal. Did they bring the word swanky in the 1600smeet up with Germans in the 1700s making schenk, merge them in to swankey and maybe brand it as cream beer in the early 1800s to explain it to people who didn’t get the local lingo. That 1880s reference Stan notes might be more of an echo, a remembrance of beer words past.

Seems a bit of a convenient stretch, doesn’t it. But we are talking about a pretty small and culturally discrete population. There are only 240,000 people in Pennsylvania in 1770. And we see three low alcohol not-lager beers coming out of the same community over time and at a time when there was no real finesse about neatly splitting hairs over whether a beer is of one sort or another. Think about it. Maybe a stretch. Maybe not.

*Note also this definition from the 1885  edition (and not the claimed 1835 edition) of The Progressive Dictionary of the English Language: A Supplementary Wordbook to All Leading Dictionaries of the United States and Great Britain published by the Progressive Publishing Company of Chicago: “Schenk-beer (shengk ber), n. [G. schenk-bier, from schenken, to pour out, because put on draught soon after it is made.] A kind of mild German beer; German draught or pot beer, designed for Immediate use, as distinguished from lager or store beer. Called also Shank-beer.

**The term “German public house” was a thing in New York before 1846. The Spectator newspaper used the term on 2 April 1842 to describe one of the buildings lost in a great fire.

***This looks like a reference to “schenkebier” from the 1400s.

What? More Monday Links? Why? Why Oh Why?

Not that I wanted to start up paying attention to the news about beer for this century again… but the time it takes to get one of these early modern posts out sorta leads me to wanting to provide some in-fill. I mean it is exciting stuff but how many tales of hegemonic Euro-explorer types getting scurvy half way across the Atlantic can you take? So…. here is some more Monday in-fill!

First, note that “Grainews is written for farmers, and often by farmers” and late last week they published a fairly detailed article on hop growing in Canada’s easterly and fairly northern province  of Quebec. An interesting and practical introduction to growing at the edge of viability. Note: “Craft brewers want good quality, but are not worried about consistency year to year…” Somewhat self-evident but interesting to see it confirmed at the farmyard stage.

News this morning has come that two huge Canadian conglomerates have swapped dozens of local and regional papers… and then promptly shut down many of them. And with those papers go a large number of columns including the excellent one on good beer in southwestern Ontario published bi-weekly by Ben. Sad to see but, as you can see from the list, this is a bigger shift hitting a wide range of communities, not just beer geeks.

I trust that no one cares about this.

Whenever I read about how awful UK beer prices are I stop and think how wonderful it would be to be pay what they pay for beer in the UK. We seem to have over 50% higher prices for decent beer and, given we tip, that prices is likely pushing 75% over the course of an evening out.

Prepare ye for the new style “sub-session” if this proto-fad gets traction:

With session beer having taken off in the US and the low-alcohol sector on the rise, Grundy and James hope that their new beer, with a lower ABV than is traditionally associated with session beer, will deliver in flavour what it lacks in alcohol. The pair are launching two new lager beers into the UK market: a Pilsner-style lager made with British malt and Saaz hops (2.1% ABV) and a dark lager (1% ABV) described as having “dark berry fruit on the nose” and a “coffee-like palate and smoky finish”.

Hmm. I fully expect this will be gak but, as we have learned from certain things named New England, selling gak with a backstory seems to be suddenly compelling to a significant sector of the beer drinking public.  My advice? If you want something with a coffee-like palate and smoky finish go to a diner that still has a few old guys sitting in the smoking section and have some joe.

Finally, the continuing testiness over who should write what about good beer has led to this fairly incoherent tweet from an other wise semi-reliable largely sensible source. Belief-based expertise extrapolation is a dangerous thing. But this sorta stuff breaks out regularly. Consider this from 2009 as well as this along with this from 2016. I sense we are in a slightly counter-reformation moment in which a retrenching is occurring, a rejection of a wide range of opinion is being played out. These are tight times. The other day, I responded to a known name over a spat involving another known name and my first observation was that I presumed one of the parties was stone broke. S/he was. Remember that and take it into account when these things flair. For all the niceness of good beer, the lack of the overall trade’s generosity to the thoughtful and independent writer is a bit astounding.

Well, that is it for now. Maybe I will do this again next Monday, too. Might the foray lose its rarity? Who knows?

Ontario: Skeleton Park Session Ale, Stone City Ales


Minimalism. I like this sort of labeling. It’s all I really need to know. Even if the Skeleton Park thing seems to be some sort of out of season Halloween branding. It’s actually the name of a district here in Kingston with its own claim to a particular corner of our a rich history. They have an arts fest there every June, just a couple of blocks from the brewery.

scaspsa1Golden amber cloudy ale under a fine clingy whipped egg white foam. Wafts of orange juice and ginger aromas from the Frankenhops these kids are brewing with these days. In the mouth, fruit cocktail. By which I mean the canned fruit cocktail of the 1970s dinner table. Lots of pear, a little cherry and a base of orange – all with a frame of weedy herbal bittering. By Stonch’s law, it is not much different than a lime and lager. Not a barley sandwich. Yet, it’s really attractive at this strength. Flavours that you see a lot a 7% or more but better suited in this more watery form. Lush. I like.

One thin BAer rating but certainly CAMWA approved.

About Oaked Beer: Bam Noir, Jolly Pumpkin, Dexter, MI

jpbn1Just a few days after saying that I could not find copies of Celebrator magazine – I find one at Jolly Pumpkin’s store in Dexter, Michigan. I also found this Bam Noir labeled as Batch #246 even though the brewery does not list that one as a Bam Noir batch. No never mind. Numbers can have that quality.

This beer is a great introduction to the style of this brewer. The drying planks of oak are there in the glass with the tang picked up from whatever was in the pores of the wood. I find that there are hazelnut, fig and brown sugar notes with twig hops. At 4.3% it’s a great candidate for the CAMWA brew of the year. Soft water. But be warned – a full 15% of BAers reject this one. Conversely, Bam Noir makes me want to roast a chunk of fatty salmon as it would cut through that richness well.

Session 7: Visiting The Brew Zoo

galt1It is the first Friday of the month and that means it is the day of The Session. Rick Lyke named it this time and chose “The Brew Zoo” demanding we all drink beers with animals on the labels. I forgot this earlier in the week when I popped a Struis with an ostrich on the front. That would have been perfect. A real shoe in for most exotic. Now I have to drink that beer with a goat on it. Do you know how many beers have goats on them? Good lord. It’s about as many as Belgian beers with monks or elves…or German lagers showing lassies with costume malfunctions. Goats…jeesh.

So I will have to see where I go with this month’s choice or choices for reviewing after work. I have to think about this and get back to you. The photo above has nothing to do with it. I just felt guilty after promising reviews of the growlers I brought back from Grand River the other week – but plans got hijacked last Friday evening after work when BR and Paul from Kingston showed up. Click on the picture. They were that good.


The Actual Beastie In Question: Bam Bière by Jolly Pumpkin. I have never had this one before or anything by this brewer but, as far as I am concerned, the lack of hordes of folks making tiny batches of farmhouse ale thoughout the villages and hamlets of North America is one of the faults of the culture.

Plenty of BAer love but is it a saison or bière de garde? Just farmhouse ale we are told…hmmm… The brewer says:

An artisan farmhouse ale that is golden, naturally cloudy, bottle conditioned and dry hopped for a perfectly refreshing balance of spicy malts, hops and yeast.

It’s only 4.5% and, ok, I admit it – dogs are rarely in the zoo. But who cares? I didn’t pick the topic. And what do I think?

[Ed.: give him a moment, would you?]

Well, this one could do with a cage or maybe just a shorter leash. An explosion of froth out of the 10.00 USD 750 ml bottle leaving me scrambling for a number of glasses to collect it all in. It was worth the scramble. In the mouth, this is like a subdued cousin of Fantome – white pepper and cream of wheat but also lemony like a Belgian white. Straw ale under a massively rocky white meringue head. Hoppy with astringent dried out hops leaving a lavendar. Dry with under ripe strawberry. The nose reminds me of poached haddock with only white pepper that I had as a child but that should mean nothing to you. Fabulous. A cross between straight-up Fantome saison and Orval?

Good doggie.

Ontario: Grand River Brewing, Cambridge, RMW


If Canada has a hub of microbrewing, a very good argument could be made that it is in the cluster of smaller cities around Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph about an hour west of Toronto. Off the top of my head I can think of seven or eight breweries in the area. Maybe there are more but however many there are the newest is Grand River Brewing in Cambridge’s old Galt district.








We stopped in on a two day weekend zip across the Province and were very happy we did. Although they have not been open long, they already have ten draught accounts including some with the finer beer bars of Toronto – and apparently a brisk trade in growlers if our short time at the place was any indication. The brewery is housed in an old knife factory, a long and narrow building lit by sunlight. Even on the largely grey day when we were there, there was plenty to see in the large reception hall and the adjoining brewing rooms and plenty to sample, too.








I heard about Grand River from the discussion on The Bar Towel, like this thread discussing Grand River’s Mill Race Mild. Hearing there was a mild out there to be had was reason enough to stop to check it out given all the interest in session beers as well as my own home brewing interest in milds. But when I got there I found out from one of the owners, Bob Hanenberg, that all of their four beers are under 4.7% and that these sorts of beers was to be their focus. We tried them all and, honestly, all were among the best Canadian micros I have ever tried. Even with the area’s natural hard water, the two lagers and two ales were all rich and more-ish with the mild being the favorite. At 3.5%, it had plenty of grainy and nutty texture and, frankly, it was as big in body than most micros made in Ontario of any style. I took away a number of 15.75 CND (including 5 buck deposit so a good deal) growlers of the mild as well as their rich and hoppy Plowman’s ale, a green hoppy pale ale that was also nicely rich.

I will give a more detailed review of the two brews that I brought home soon but suffice it to say that this is a brewery that is trying and achieving something new – lower alcohol, full flavoured beers with no compromise. Go find them.

CAMWA: The Campaign For Watery Ale

Two Nations Joined By Water
Why can’t we admit it? We are all sitting around drinking flavoured water. We craft beer lovers like to pretend it is like wine, an art based on the manipulation fruit juice – but it ain’t so. In a very real sense, fine beer is a far more crafted product than fine wine. People put it together, do the job of the vine. And it is put together for the most part with water.

My favorite Pennsylvania (unless Mario Lemieux is now officially a Pennsylvanian) Lew Bryson is continuing to develop his very cogent argument, as we have discussed before, for the support of lighter flavourful session ales as an equally legitimate part of the broad beery spectrum. To my mind, the problem is that the water in beer needs to be described in a way that is the equal to the pervasive mass marketing by the macro-industrial BeerCo or as legitimate as the current mania for the big bombastic hophead’s dream or rarefied boozy ancient monkish elixer.

In short, there has to be something about lower strength beer that can be described to capture the imagination. Think about water – it is vital, something we consume daily, it is can be fresh and refreshing…yet to call something “watery” is a slander. And remember when we talk about water we actually are talking about a heck of a lot more than the H20. Water is the conduit for the mineral make up of beer, the very defining element of the terrior that in large part makes the finest wines desirable. We know that Burton and Colorado makes hard water beer while Dublin and central New York make their brews soft due to what is under foot. It is the under foot print.

What is the campaign slogan that can make the water in your beer the preferred characteristic of distinction? All I need to think of is good old batch 29 but that is just me. Twenty five years ago, we Canadian kids, then aware of the then superiority of our brewing, knew the very successful “Tastes Great…Less Filling” ad campaign for southern brew Miller Lite was really all about taste and low alcohol strength. We were all told that anyone could drink it all night and so you could – except we up here would never dream of it because we were looking for the effect, we were going for the buzz. Does that idea of beer should not let you down now need to be added to the cultural mix? Does a long day at work demand a long night’s worth of beer without the hangover or the drunk tank? You can see what would happen. First, MADD would go…mad. It would be glorifying beer drinking even if it would be a campaign for moderation. Then, there would be the issue of price. I should be able to drink four pints of 3% beer for the same price as three pints of 4% and two of 6% or at least there should be some significant reflection. But that may strike at the bottom line. How can that be the story be told without risking the premium rightfully placed on brewing craft ale becoming part of the spin?

So what is the slogan that will frame it all for us so that we get the idea that we can learn to love the water, too? Having one for the road is never the right idea but having another because it is a beer that it built for two might be exactly what we all need.