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.

The Day Ended With The Game At Fenway With Andy


Spent the evening with Andy Crouch watching the Yankees play the Red Sox at Fenway. The only thing missing was a New York loss. Like all the best baseball games, it was a morality play on the fields and in the stands. I was looking down the first base line from our seats in the right field corner when A-Ro(i)d got absolutely pegged square in the upper back by good guy Canuck pitcher Ryan Dempster. But that was when the Sox were winning. Next time up? A-Rod hits a long lingering homer.

Oh, yes. This is a beer blog. Andy suggested we meet at Citizen Public House just by the ball park. Excellent choice. The best sort of blend of good beer and drink, interesting food and comfortable but stylish setting. He was a little delayed so I was given the time to have a few Jack D’or by Pretty Things. And I added another species to the list with a flounder dinner. Once in the park and once the surreal feelings of walking into the TV that may only be experienced by a sports fan who has not seen his team at home since he was 10 years old, we sat. And talked about a lot of things. We both work in the law but in different fields and under different constitutions.

And we talked about beer. At the park, there was the feeling that a page had been turned back. Long Trail pale ale, Harpoon IPA and Wachusett Green Monster were on offer at nine bucks for a 12 ounce pour. Solid beers but not the range you might find in other parks. We touched on an idea I raised in passing the other week on Twitter, retro-craft. I wonder whether, once this era of over hopping, over souring and, frankly, the sort of over producing that reminds me the relationship between R+B and disco… we shall have retro-craft. Well balanced beers highlighting the main components of water, malt and yeast with hops returning to their proper job of framing and cutting the cloy. Will it happen?

There was another sort of good beer future on display elsewhere in town on Sunday. We were out on a forced march for the kids through the MIT campus in Cambridge looking for a little something something when we came upon a team of volunteers shredding and slicing pumpkins at the CBC. Got to speak with brewmaster Will Meyers a couple of times as the kids enjoyed the part of the vacation known as “Dad at the Beer Related Business”. We talked gourds, Will describing how he was looking for sugar pumpkin flavour, not pie and not even so much spice. This meant ensuring the pumpkins had limited fermentables, so the beer became an expression of the fruit, not a mirror of a dish made with pumpkin. The growing season was late so the crop was brought in from an Amish farm near Augusta, Maine. One of the group, Lee Movic of Belmont’s Craft Beer Celler, in passing called the beer they were help make was a fresh pumpkin ale. I will post some photos of the scene in a bit. I am still figuring out how to post images on the new iPad.

So, what is the take away? Three scenes: one comfortable, one a bit higher end and one all about exploring possibilities.

Is CAMRA Run By Puristans Or Precisionists?

monkey4That is surely an unkind thing to say but recently I read a fascinating book about the first leader of the good if extreme folk who settled Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1600s. In that book, I came upon the distinction between “puritanism” and “precisionism” which boiled down to the distinction between the passionate approach or a technical approach to matters of correctness in faith… and the precisionist’s need to be correcter than the next guy. I was reminded of the distinction when I read Martyn’s strongly worded post this morning about some unfortunate things said by Colin Valentine, the chairman of the UK’s Campaign for Real Ale:

Excuse my intemperate language, but I’ve just been reading some total lying crap by the chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale about beer bloggers. Apparently we’re the “bloggerati” (eh?), and we’re “only interested in new things”, and for beer bloggers, Camra’s “40 years of achievement means nothing, as the best beer they have ever had is the next.”

Sitting at a distance across an ocean and up a rather large river, I have wondered about the point of CAMRA’s pronouncements from time to time. At one level, it’s really just like an automobile club offering discounts to members and lobbies for sensible things like pouring full measures. But the organization is also argumentative and seems to lack its senses of humour and perspective. For example, CAMRA is as much anti-keg as pro-cask. And now it appears to be anti-beer-blogger.

To be honest, I couldn’t care less what Colin Valentine thinks, says or has for breakfast as he represents a financial interest in the brewing trade that is as established and self-serving as any brewery or pub chain or industry publication. He also no doubt has an abiding faith in the correctness of doing so. But, regardless of correctness, Valentine has a huge stake in making sure CAMRA continues to be considered the authoritative voice on things beery within the marketplace of ideas. And if Dredgie is correct – and I am not quite sure he is – beer bloggers are the new vanguard of modern beer media. Which means a threat to CAMRA.

Which brings me back to those first Bostonians. Who in the beery discussion are the puritans and who are the precisionists? And who are neither?

America’s Communalist Christian Foundation

I have been reading a lot this winter. Lots and lots of histories – mainly US but plenty about the founding of Upper Canada, too, though those texts are fewer and far between. Right now, I am reading John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father by Francis J. Bremer, a book about the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony founded in 1630 a decade after the Pilgrims hit Plymouth Rock. It is a great ride, covering his grandfather’s birth in 1480 to his own death in 1648 and contextualizes his life in the ebb and flow of the state’s regulation of religious practices from pre-Luther to the lead up to the English Civil War, also the name of an excellent song by The Clash. But this is the key bit. The middle bit to his sermon to his fellow passengers on the event of their departure to New England from the Old World:

… for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going…

See that? The new order of New England shall not only be a candle on a stand rather than under a bushel (basket) – but if they were to screw up “wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants.” That is a heavy burden but one that acts as a prophesy, reaching to today from 381 years ago. What was the way to avoid having “prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us”? Worship of those other gods, pleasures and profits. And also failing to make “others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke.” Pinkos! I see Pinkos! Pinkos like me!

Next time you hear about how American was founded on faith, you may want to agree in part and note that what sort of Christian by which it was founded.

Massachusetts: Jack D’Or, Pretty Things, Holyoke

If you have read this blog for a while you will appreciate that I like saison. A few years back I wondered out loud if it was going to ever be the next big thing and I may have had my wish granted to some degree as they are out there even if they haven’t exactly bumped macro pilsner off the shelf. Pretty Things, which calls itself a beer and ale project, says this is simple table beer but they are being coy. A sensible $5.99 paid for a bomber belies the quality here. A while back, I inhaled upon one of their Saint Botolph’s Town rustic dark ales. It happened so fast, without a moment to type notes. I have high hopes for this one.

It pours yellowed straw ale under a fine white head. The aroma is lightly citrus with herbals. I once grew lemon verbena and which I can’t say it reminds me of that it did remind me that I once grew lemon verbena. There is also a creamed sweet maltiness. In the mouth, there is pith and white pepper, twiggy minty notes as well as a cream soft malty underbelly, smoothed from the oats. A bit of pear juice but also a nod to cox orange pippin apple as well as a mid-mouth astringency. Apparently no spices whatsoever if the brewer is to be believed (who’s calling them liars? you??) so it coaxes all the herbal notes from hops. And yeast strains. Why don’t we argue more about having more interesting yeast strains? But no spices. Sorta like those early Queen albums proclaimed in the liner notes that no synthesizers were used now that I think of it. In fact it goes rather well with 1974’s Queen II now that I think of it. I don’t know if it would be Zepworthy for, perhaps, even Houses of the Holy, a record I might rather pair with Fantome but still it does remind you that these earthier manorial beers like certain aspects of the 1970s overly dramatic folk tale art rock playbook, even for their pre-democratic roots, are far more than table beer.

I would like to try it against Hennepin. I am thinking this is a bit bigger and maybe more complex but shares the moreishness. Like all saisons, primal. I particularly like the use of the cap security label to tell me that this is a representative of their April 2009 Third Batch. We are in this for the data after all. BAers are in love.

Massachusetts: Beer Of The Gods, High And Mighty Beer

botg1What to have for the day Obama gets to grasp the brass ring? Something from a blue state, that’s obvious. And something that doesn’t look like one of those designer beers. And one with a name that speaks to hyperbolic hope. High and Mighty’s Beer of the Gods passes the test on all counts.

At a pleasant and prudent 4.5%, this take on “kolsch meets alt” works wonders. The beer pours a slight lemony light amber with a snow white billowy foamy head. There is plenty of steely-twiggy hopping going on as well as a lighter yet creamy touch of malt all within a fresh moreish body. In the malt there is light plum and apple and plenty of grainy texture. A great session beer.

Ridiculously good value at $5.50 for a 22 ounce bomber. BAers are oddly not amused.

Massachusetts: St. Hubbins Abbey, High and Mighty Beer, Holyoke

sha1Excellent. A Spinal Tap reference in a well-priced Belgian-style ale, named for the patron saint of quality footwear. The brewery’s website is but a page – refreshingly Tap-tastic as well. The brewery apparently uses the equipment at fellow Holyokarians at Paper City, whose mixed 12 packI reviewed three summers ago…when I was but a pup.

This ale pours an attractive orange amber with a cream head that resolves to frothy rim and foam. A light citrus scent is followed by a orange peel nutmeg and black pepper spiced wash of soft water fruited maltiness. Perhaps nutty but that’s mixed up with some black tea astringency right in the middle of all the $6.75 for a bomber at Tully’s of Wells. Great value and, at 6.2%, not a skull crusher. I envy myself having one in hand, I really do. BAers give respect…but not to eleven or anything.

My Deep And Witty Analysis Of The Big Hop Giveaway!

My computer ate it. It was a virtual unified theory of beer blogging, an apology draped in an accusation resting on a question with its feet up on satisfaction. Brilliant. Gone. In sum: I didn’t like their variety packs, the special glass, Utopia, the ’90’s triple bock or their white-like thing; but, once called out, I found liked their value-priced Scotch Ale and premium Imperial pilsner a lot and the ads have grown on me; remember that good business knows it does one good to do good; remember, too, they are a big raft brewer with a range from perhaps some kraphtt, much craft, and some special; I have no idea what percentage of their total hops ordered this giveaway of allotment represents; but in the end it is great to see a breakaway brewery remember that a rising tide raises all boats. Good work, Jim.

The long version was better. An epic.

Craft Or Kraphtt: Sam Adams Scotch Ale, Boston Beer, Mass

Stan was rightly giving me grief the other day or at least a lesson in life when I spoke of the Sam Adams line of beers. I didn’t mean to be mean and I am a delicate flower in the face of such dressings down – but, as you all know, I am working with what I am thinking about beer pricing and value. To that end, I’ve suggested five general categories of beer quality. What is the goal of the five point scale? I suppose it is as useful as a Top 25 Brewers list or using the numbers 1 to 10 to rate a beer: it is a means to give order to things. And it is supposed to give order based on deeds not claims – sure, subjectively (as that is the essence of the experience of beer) but not to bash as I live in a post-sticks-and-stones universe. Further, taking up the challenge of Matt at Rutgers, I drove into another country and bought up not six not eight but seven different Boston Beer brews to make sure I had a clue.

Scotch ale is something one would think is very important to a Scot yet it is neither the national drink or the other national drink. There are plenty of examples in the archives and they share that sweet, toast and smoke malts the style is known for. Surely a nod to style that is otherwise defective can send a beer teetering from craft down into kraphtt, no? So – what with this one, 5.4% with a best by date of April 2008? If smell alone could win the day (and who amongst us has not thought that thought before?) this one would surely stand proud as craft with the deep apple butter aroma it gives off. Chestnut ale under a rocky lacing tan head, goes down in a rich wave of sweet malt (butterscotch, pear, apple butter, licorice, and maybe even blackcurrent) tempered by the burnt toastiness of blackened malt with a hint of twiggy hops, perhaps Fuggles, in the end. A lovely brew. “Tha’s a braw bricht brew the noo!” Oor Wullie would say…if he ever grew up to be old enough to try one.

A solid effort and one that makes me offset the same brewer’s white ale over there on the other side of line between craft and what is not quite craft. And, as part of a variety twelve pack for 14.99, great value. 19/20 BAers agree.