Ontario: Patricia, Stone City Ales, Kingston

A beer with subtitles: autumn saison, brewed with sweet potato and squash. I bought two bottles of this a few Fridays ago from the retail counter at Stone City, a short march up the hill from work. The first bottle gave me a bit of pause. This was an example of something. An excellent beer thoughtfully made that I liked but, still, one that I was not sure about.

And my uncertainty was fuelled by my own uncertainty as to why I am uncertain. So I am glad I bought two. This is a fabulous beer. The base saison is white peppered and dry. The gourd and rhizome quite restrained. On this warm Sunday afternoon in the middle of this strangely warm autumn, it tastes like the rich earthy air flowing in through the wide open windows. It is a clever timely release with adjuncts which are right up my alley. I grow squash and we even have use the nickname Swee Apado around the house, given we eat so much of it. So what is wrong?

Clouded vintage gold ale under a lacing fine white head. On the nose, it is classic saison in the Dupont style. Not the DuPont one, if you know what I mean. Backing it up is the dirt-tang of sweet potato. In the mouth, immediately dry and twiggy herbal with an very pronounced opening of flavours in the swallow followed by a long long hot herbal finish that resolves into the squash. The vegetable elements hide, show, hide then show.

I worry that my problem is this beer is cleverer than I am. Rustic and elegant. I can personally only claim the first. In my mind, I am searching for a place to put the beer. Pigeon hole it. I want to have it with spurting hot venison sausages. In a coconut curry. Or pork shoulder roasted on a bed of parsnips. I want a balancing fattiness. But is that fair to the beer in itself? Yeats spoke about loving something, someone for herself alone.  I have never claimed to be all that nuanced in my tastes but this may well be suggesting, strongly, that I revisit my limitations. I don’t like to not get the point of something this good.

So… I consulted Keats and his poem Ode to Autumn. The subtitle asked me to, no? And this explains everything. This is not the autumn of mists and mellow fruitfulness in the glass. That’s the autumn of back to school. A month ago. This beer speaks to a later point – the brittle leaf pile, warm welcome corduroys. Early sunsets and chilly walks back up Cobourg Road to get to college, to happy hour. Soccer practice with freezing knees. Remembrance Day and singing “Abide with Me” down at the Grand Parade.

We are not there yet. Here the leaves are still on the tree and I am picking cherry tomatoes off the vine a month after the equinox. I mowed today. Soon it will be six months to May. Four to March. This will be a short winter if autumn still is a ways off yet.

 

Session 124: That Old Beer I Loved, Where Have You Gone?

I have been away.* Again, as it turns out. In the last weeks of winter, I drove home alone to Nova Scotia for the funeral of a close pal. I drove the sixteen hours there and sixteen back to think about what he meant to me as I headed east and to decompress on the return. It was a heavy time but the fabulous views of the lower St Lawrence River at Kamouraska and passing by rural high schools where he and I played on the sports fields put things in their place. But it was heavy.

So, last weekend I did it again. College reunion. And a couple of pals getting married. The same views got me there and back. The same round domed worn volcano cores pretending to be islands and near shore hills near the corner, the point where the drive north up through northern New Brunswick and across Gaspe becomes the drive southwest from the mouth to the source of the river that made Canada. The sun was out for long stretches. This time the stereo wasn’t as loud. I didn’t need the Foo Fighters’ anger as much. As Friday morning drizzled, I took time to listen to the old guys at the gas station coffee shop explain how the St.John valley had been in drought, so the rain was good. I even thought on the way home to try out mumbling in half French to the waitress at the Exit 177 chicken BBQ place. 690 AM sports radio taught me about the Montreal Canadiens from Edmundston to Brockville. I drove as you do on long familiar roads, slightly glazed.

When I got to my small university at the sea and checked into the dorm I had lived in 35 years before, there were friends – all in makeup, pretending to be themselves in middle age. Within minutes I had been called old, fat, and an idiot in a bunch of ways by a bunch of pals. I was back home. I jumped in someone’s new red SUV and headed to a hotel with a gang to meet up with another gang. We laughed, told each other about our jobs and our hobbies, our kids, our spouses past and present. We talked about our dead friends. Not too much but enough.

One pal walked in the room with a case of Oland Ex, a plain old Nova Scotian pale ale. Undergrad beer made by a regional brewery generations old. Now owned by a company owned by a company but still brewed in town. Hadn’t had one in decades. Bread crusty, not quite as light as a macro lager. A little sweet and a jag of rough hop hinting at nothing German, British, Belgian or American. A perfectly fine Maritimer pale ale. I actually said “God, that’s good” out loud. A friend asked, given I was a beer nerd, what made it so good. I said the bread crust malt but I meant the company as much as anything.

*This month’s edition of The Session is hosted by All the Brews Fit to Pint.

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.

“It’s a Shopping Mall for Alcoholics Out There”

When I was a kid thirty years ago, maybe 22 or 23, I got in an elevator to find myself moving upward with the folk singer Ed McCurdy. I was likely a bit worse for wear. He looked at me and proclaimed just that – it’s a shopping mall for alcoholics out there. Meaning downtown Halifax. My old hometown. Haven’t been here for 15 years, since playing in an alumni soccer game in 2002. He was right, too. It can be a blur out there.

I drove across a third of North America to get here. 1600 km of highway up along the St. Lawrence and then, once past Maine, south through the forests to the sea. All to be at the funeral for a friend, one of the best loved pals in my broad gang of undergrad pals. Gone far too young.  Kept in touch on the phone when I had a business question he could help with. We played on the law school team, too. Once made a sweet long looping pass from my spot in the rear at sweeper that he took off on, scoring on the breakaway. Told me with a grin as he ran back “hey, you don’t suck as much as I thought you did.”

We may well gather after the service to share stories. Friends flying in from across the country. Friends I haven’t seen for maybe 30 years. Halifax will still be ready. Ready aye ready. I was out with my brothers for a bit of dinner last night and then had a beer later with a newer pal who moved here a year ago from where I’ve lived in Ontario for that decade and a half. We walked around, me telling him what used to be in the empty store front or the bustling bar, him being somewhere between patient or interested.

Actually looks much the same. The pubs are still full. And are actual pubs. Lights higher, music lower. Big tables of people talking, shouting, laughing. I had New Ross cider at one place, Hell Bay oatmeal pale ale at another. Ate a good bit of haddock at the Henry House. Ate a big plate of Brussels sprouts and bacon later at a place on Argyle near where The Graduate used to sit. Cheery chatting waiters working at a busy clip.

Fog is starting to lift. Might go find some breakfast. Schooner Books is still there. So is Taz Records. Good old town.

 

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.

It’d Be Nice To Get More Actual Spruce Beer Brewed

——-

How I Feel Now That I Have Nickelbrook’s Wet Hop Ale

hfxriot1a

That’s a new photo for me. It is from Halifax’s Victory in Europe Day parade in 1945 apparently before it became the VE Day Riot. Click for more of the photo. I have mentioned the Halifax riot of 1945 somewhere around here but can’t find the link. [Later: here it is.] If you don’t believe things got bad, here is an image of the spot later in the day when the jeweler had been hit by looters.

Why do I mention this? Because above is about 10,000 times how I felt when I saw Nickebrook’s Ontario Wet Hop Ale finally on my local LCBO shelves this morning. I say 10,000 times in the best sense as the guy is clearly ecstatic from the destruction of fascism, the coming years of peace along with the successful defense of freedom. I just found a beer in a store. It is, however, a very good beer. It pours a light greenish-gold. On the nose, a very attractive mix of spicy, bitter and sweet greens. Romaine lettuce, arugula and honey. In the mouth, a light crisp body. More honey with a nip of hoppy heat. Bitterness both on the roof of the mouth and under the tongue. A little lighter finish. Reminds me of one of those confident light white wines in the sense that it makes its case calmly.

Local in the sense of 100% Ontario grown ingredients. Ontario is rather big, however, so you will have to judge what local might mean accordingly. $7.95 for 750ml of 5.3% ale. Unduly tepid praise from the BAers. RBers have a little more sense. PS: a post I wrote in 2006 about wet hop beers.

My Recollection Of Pizzaria Tomaso, 1984

applepizza

So, this was dessert. We made a stack of pizzas tonight. This was the last one. I even have the blister on the back of my wrist where I brushed the hot oven wall to prove it. But apple pizza? Thirty years ago in the north end of Halifax, Nova Scotia there was Pizzeria Tomaso with Mr. Tomaso still holding sway before he sold the business to a local family who promised to keep up his standards, brought from Sicily. It was only open Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 7 pm. He was about 80 and had 15 high school kids working behind him. I remember going in once and among the stacks and stacks of pizzas seeing, among those destined for law firms head offices and nearby neighbourhood families, boxes marked “the Cabinet” meaning the five or six extra larges were destined for the cabinet room of the government of the province. I remember asking for anchovies on my ‘za and he came past the clerk taking the order to slap my face saying “You want anchovies? You a good boy.” He used to cook pizzas 90% of the way and offer then tax free as “cook at home” pizzas because he was really mad that there was tax on pizzas. The CBC Halifax evening TV news was presented live from his pizzeria counter once a year when Frank Cameron and Doug Saunders hosted the show in the ’70s and early 80’s. He used to give away wine when you were waiting for your order because he was so mad that he was not allowed to sell it. And they still make an apple pizza.

What I Watched The First Saturday Of Grade Eight

God love the nerds who load information into the internet:

Saturday, Sept. 11, 1976 TV listings
CHSJ (CBAT) Channel 4 Saint John / Channel 7 Moncton (CBC)
12:30 Circle Square
1:00 Onedin Line
2:00 Space: 1999
3:00 Saturday Sports
5:00 Water Skiing
6:00 Klahanie
6:30 Pop! Goes the Country
7:00 Hawaii Five-O
8:00 Baseball – Montreal @ Pittsburgh
10:30 Horse Race – B.C. Derby
11:00 CBC News
11:15 News
11:25 Movie – Viva Maria (1965; Jeanne Moreau, Brigitte Bardot)

Space: 1999 and an Expos game!

Our Collective Family Record Of Slavery

I have the TV on in the mornings. It drones on and if I am lucky and the kids sleep in past 4:45 am, I get to pay half-attention to the CBS Morning Show to learn about all the real news. And this morning there was a short piece about the genealogy of Michelle Obama which told about the five generations from slavery to the White House:

She began working on Michelle Obama’s roots at the behest of the Times before President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Smolenyak said her mother, like Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, carried the surname Shields, and an “instant affinity” pushed her interest. The first lady’s ancestors lived across the South and Midwest, and many were part of the Great Migration that saw blacks leave the South for the industrialized North. It was the 6-year-old slave Melvinia Shields, bequeathed in her master’s will and later sold for $475, who tugged at the genealogist’s heartstrings. “It’s still jarring to see dollar signs associated with human beings,” said Smolenyak.

In my work I am bumping into history more and more and find the specifics of personal history and who was related to who the most interesting stuff. A few months ago, I asked myself who was the last slave in my town. I didn’t really answer the question but found some information – especially the story of the man who seemingly incongruously fought at Sackets in red during the War of 1812 even as had also been brought to Ontario at the end of the American Revolution as a slave to Loyalists. Makes me wonder if any were on the ships from New York City in 1783-84. There were plenty of possibilities in those days… possibly. I still need to find the 1812 soldier’s name but it also reminded me of the prof who taught slavery in first year property class to illustrate the principles in a way that stuck in the mind. Nothing like a children listed in a slave sale advertisement to bring a point home. Now I wonder who the last slave sold in my town might have been. And where was the sale held? I had no idea they were curious about the same questions in Largs.