Beau’s Thursday Night Tasting In the Backyard

A fun way to spend the evening. Beau’s had their quarterly business meetings in town and they all came over for a few hours of opening bottles – including the father, son and a sizable host. We nine started well with two saisons and biere de garde: Hennepin, Jack D’or and 3 Monts. Batch 10 from Pretty Things was much better than the more recent bacth 13. Lesson: let it sit.

Things got a little wobbly with three Quebec takes on Belgian white beer. We thought RJ’s Coup de Grisou was fine and a good value beer. And Barbier from L’Ilse D’Orleans was not well understood given its level of rich maltiness. But Blanche from Charlevoix was a revelation in nasal interaction with beer. Freesia. Fabulous.

Three more bottles were opened. Trade Winds Tripel from the Bruery was a bit muddled with a nice aroma. Too much of the malt ball for the style or maybe just our level of interest given the other choices. Next, the Poperings Hommel Ale, as always, was amazing. The greatest pale ale in the history of the planet? Could be.

Then the taxi was called for the eight to be off. It was time. The mosquitoes had begun to bite. Just time to open a quart of Drie Fontienen’s Oude Gueze, one of the few beer that could follow a Poperings. Like any divider of people, some were not with it. They got the first taxi. The rest of use stood on the driveway, waiting on the warm quiet summer night sipping. Then the taxi and then they were off and away.

Ontario: Dark Ale, Muskoka Cottage Brewery, Bracebridge

1934Just learned that my camera died. Also just learned what a crappy camera I bought my kid last birthday. No focus. No warm tones. The corner of the cold room looks like the corner of a cold room. Sad.

Today for Ontario craft beer week, I went out to the LCBO and bought a few cans of beers that I hadn’t tried before. Muskoka Dark Ale is one of them. Dark ales were Ontario’s version of ambers in the States – an entry style that first generation craft brewers relied upon. Upper Canada Dark was a pitcher beer for me in the mid-90s pre-kid days in Ottawa Valley taverns. Easy and moreish. But, as Stan noted about ambers, they can suffer from sameness and the blahs. This one, however, is a great take on the idea. It’s like Theakston Peculier light. Molasses on the nose and in the mouth except a bit of Frye’s dry cocoa, too. HP sauce, even. Yogurty yeast but in a good way, more rich than sour. Nice dusty texture like the cocoa was sifted in at the end. Like it a lot. Some respect from the BAers.

Who Made Ontario’s First Lager And Where?

1932In the 1868-69 edition of Sutherland’s City of Hamilton and County of Wentworth Directory there is listed a little listing that says “Eckhardt, August, brewer, Hamilton Lager Beer Brewery…” This corresponds with Sneath‘s first listing for a lager brewery in 1868 which states:

Edward Eckhardt opens the Hamilton Lager Brewery in Hamilton and it closed three years later.

The name is right as Albert is confirmed as the brewer and Edward the proprietor in another section of the directory. So they must have started lager beer there. No one else is listed even if the Spring Brewery established in 1868, makers of “ale, porter, beer, etc., in great quantities, either in wood or bottle” are working on “an addition is now being made for an ice house.” Except for one thing. In the same directory there are at least six listings under “lager beer saloon” with proprietors with the names Goering, Grell, Kerner, Mansfeld, Schaupp and Winckler. Maybe more. How could all those businesses get up and running selling lager beer in time to get printed in the directory in the same year that the brewery opens? Could it be that the saloons pre-dated this brewery? Oh, for a copy of the 1866-67 edition of Sutherland’s City of Hamilton and County of Wentworth Directory!

I dunno. I do know that the author of this travel piece about Kingston, Ontario published in The New York Times in 1890 states “in all my travels extending through hundreds of miles of Ontario, beginning at this place, [I] have seen the sign ‘lager beer’ displayed only once.” Ontarians were long time pale ale and stout hold outs when their southern mid-Atlantic and mid-western US neighbours were following their immigrant Teutonic ways and breaking out the lager, much to the chagrin of 90 year old Charles H. Haswell in 1899, as is discussed in Maureen Ogle’s book Ambitious Brew.

1931There was another issue, of course, in that the rush of German immigrants was more of a late 1800s rather than mid-1800s event here. There needed to be cold. And the first refrigeration system in Canada is only turned on, according to Sneath, in 1886 in Montreal. So… we had ice houses… and folks doing what they could… figuring out the large investments required compared to the smaller population centres and… well, when you figure all that out… wouldn’t you really like a nice old fashioned trusty Ontario stock ale?

The King Brewery Pilsner clocks in at a sessionable 4.8%. It pours an actively carbonated burnished gold that supports a rich white froth and foam. On the nose, there is plenty of pale malt and graininess with Saaz hopping. In the mouth a jag of steely mentholated spicy herbal weedy hops but plenty of rich maltiness to back it up, more bread crust and biscuit that malteser. A complex beer with waves of flavours. Plenty of BAer respect.

Ontario: Stock Ale, Mill Street Brewery, Toronto

mssa1Where was I? The 1830s and 40s? About there. Local breweries popping up as settlers move west, filling up southern Ontario right up to the Lake Huron coast. Familar names start popping up. In 1835, James Morton is operating out of the old Molson brewery on the Kingston waterfront. John Sleeman starts up in 1836. In 1843, Thomas Carling builds a brewery in London, Ontario. And in 1847 John Labatt enters into a partnership with an existing brewer also in London and Quebec brewers Molson have another go, this time further west along the Lake Ontario shore at Port Hope. It lasts until 1868. Facts stolen from Sneath.

A number of the brewers are also distillers, maltsters, flour millers and a bunch of other things. Which leads me to my first utterly unfounded theory of beer in Ontario. It is related to this beer. When I think of Canadian pale ale, this is the taste I associate with it. It’s ale-y. A musty quality that tastes like the Legion Hall dance or a curling tournaments in 1956. Or 1907. Or 1877. It’s heavy on the grain. Given the small scale farming economy of the first and second generations of most of southern Ontario to the west of Toronto through the mid-1800s, the same entrepreneurs were likely handling all sorts of grains and distilling some, brewing with others.

mssa2They had to make products that both reflected and appealed to their clients and the environment. The had to go with a shot of whisky – whether it was made with barley or rye. In 1862 here in Kingston, Mr. Creighton of the Frontenac Brewery was selling stock ale and porter with the promise of a winter beer in the fall. Farther to the west in 1872, Labatt is selling only pale ale and stout in its local paper.

The Mill Street Stock Ale pours the colour of a pine plank in a lumber yard and resolves to a thin rim and froth. But it’s that smell – like a bag of wet grain. In the mouth there is a round ball of pale malt sweetness and, then, a heck of a lot of drying grain huskiness. The huskiness is joined by a measured but roughish sort of hop in the finish – more weedy than twiggy. I don’t know how this compares to an 1862 Frontenac Stock but I can day dream about it. Worth more respect than the BAers give it.

More Thoughts On That Pesky Albany Ale Question

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I have been thinking more about this pre-1850 invention called “Albany ale” and I am a bit surprised to find so many references to it of one sort and so few references of another. The stuff was made in volume, transported and traded over great distances but now seemingly forgotten to memory. As we will see [Ed.: building suspense!] when we discuss the quote above, it was the stuff of memory even at the end of the 1800s.

But what was it? As noted this morning by Robert in the comments, there is a brief description of Albany’s production of ale in the 1854 book The Progress of the United States of America by Richard Swainson Fisher at page 807:

The business of malting and brewing is carried on to a great extent In Albany; more than twenty of such establishments are now in operation, and Albany ale is found in every city of the Union, and not unfrequently in the cities of South America and the West Indies. The annual product is upward of 100,000 barrels of beer and ale.

Similar text was published in the Merchant’s Magazine in 1849 except it was 80,000 barrels. Interesting to see how far it traveled – California, West Indies and South American in addition to references to Newfoundland in yesterday’s post. There is also this passage in 1868’s A history of American manufactures from 1608 to 1860 Volume 1 by John Leander Bishop and a few others:

…Kuliu mentions, in his account of the Province in 1747, that he noticed large fields of barley near New York City, but that in the vicinity of Albany they did not think it a profitable crop, and were accustomed to make malt of wheat. One of the most prosperous brewers of Albany during the last century was Harman Gansevoort, who died in 1801, having acquired a large fortune in the business. His Brewery stood at the corner of Maiden Lane and Dean street, and was demolished in 1807. He found large profits in the manufacture of Beer, and as late as 1833, when the dome of Stanwix Hall was raised, the aged Dutchmen of the city compared it to the capacious brew kettle of old Harme Gansevoort, whose fume was fresh in their memories.’ [Note: Munsell’s Annals of Albany. Pleasentries at the expense of Albany Ale and its Brewers are not a recent thing. It was related by the old people sixty years ago of this wealthy Brewer, that when he wished to give a special flavor to a good brewing he would wash his old leathern breeches in it.]

Was Albany ale originally a wheat ale? It was obviously big stuff in the state’s capital for decades.

Reference to Albany ale also appears in an illustration of a principle in a book of proper English usage. In the 1886 edition of Every-day English: A Sequel to “Words and their Uses” by Richard Grant White where we read the following at page 490:

I cannot but regard a certain use of the plural, as “ales, wines, teas,” “woolens, silks, cottons,” as a sort of traders’ cant, and to many persons it is very offensive. What reason is there for a man who deals in malt liquor announcing that he has a fine stock of ales on hand, when what he has is a stock of ale of various kinds ? What he means is that he has Bass’s ale, and Burton ale, and Albany ale, and others; but these are only different kinds of one thing.

The fifth 1886 edition of Words and their Uses by the same Mr. White contains no reference to Albany ale but does indicate he was a prolific US author who lived from 1821-1885. Does the later use by White imply it was an easily understood example? Probably.

albale2In the New York journal The Medical Record of 1 March 1869, there is an article entitled “Malt Liquors and Their Theraputic Action” by Bradford S. Thompson, MD the table to the right is shown that clearly describes Albany ale as a sort of beer the equal to the readers understanding as London Porter or Lager-Bier. I am not sure what the table means from a medical point of view but it clearly suggest familiarity… at least amongst the medical set.

In 1875, it is described in a travel book called Our Next-door Neighbor: A Winter in Mexico by Gilbert Haven (who seems to not have been a lover of the drink himself) at page 81:

Here, too, we get not only our last look at Orizaba, but our first at a filthy habit of man. Old folks and children thrust into your noses, and would fain into your mouths, the villainous drink of the country – pulqui. It is the people’s chief beverage. It tastes like sour and bad-smelling buttermilk, is white like that, but thin. They crowd around the cars with it, selling a pint measure for three cents. I tasted it, and was satisfied. It is only not so villainous a drink as lager, and London porter, and Bavarian beer, and French vinegar-wine, and Albany ale. It is hard to tell which of these is “stinkingest of the stinking kind.” How abominable are the tastes which an appetite for strong drink creates! The nastiest things human beings take into their mouths are their favorite intoxicants.

So, along with grammarians and the drinking medical set, Albany ale was also a name known to the non-drinking traveling set in the post-Civil War United States. It was, as a result, something we might consider “popular” in its day.

Oddly, the story of Albany ale does not seem to make it deep into the 1900s. Without making an exhaustive study, I don’t see reference to “Albany ale” in Beer and brewing in America: an economic study” by Warren Milton Persons from 1940. It is not indexed in Beer in America: the early years, 1587-1840 by Gregg Smith. It does not seem to be in Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer by Maureen Ogle as it really starts with the the rise of lager is in the second half of the 1800s. Why did it fall so far so fast?

That quote way up there? The one at the top? It’s from an 1899 New York Times article entitled “Kicked 90 Years Ago Just the same as Now” in which a 96 year old New Yorker still employed as a municipal engineer who was interviewed about the City’s old days. Talking about his youth in the 1830s, he said “Albany ale was the beverage then that lager beer is today, and a mighty good drink it was.” So, lager likely killed it off but only after it had its day and was enjoyed widely in the days before rail transportation both within the United States and abroad.

2015 Update: came across book by Mr Haswell, the 96 year old New Yorker mentioned up there.

Trends 2010: Is There Really Simplicity In Beer?

I wrote this in the year end review but I am not sure I know what I mean or even if I mean it:

…bigger craft brewers and even some regionals are making interesting beers which are not bombs. Lew recently noted both Magic Hat Odd Notion Fall ’09 and Narragansett Porter both of which I also found to be stunning for their value as well as their elegance. Yesterday, Andy was thankful for well crafted simplicity. Expect 2009 to be remembered for how we learned that cacophony in glass is not a brewers or a drinker’s “go to” brew.

I think by I mean the opposite of a big bomb. When I used to home brew, I was well aware that it was far easier to make a bigger porter with about 6 sorts of dark malt and a few extra dark sugars than to make a good brew with only one or two pale malts. Bombastic was an entry level approach to tasty beer. Lots of interesting stuff going on. But simplicity should also not mean boring. It should mean balanced where are one or two showpiece ingredients. McAuslen’s smooth oatmeal stout. The bread crust graininess of a Hook Norton Haymaker. The white pepper in Fantome saison. I am having a Margriet by Het Anker right now and I’d call that simple – quenching, lemony, peppery, herbal and creamy but also simple without being basic. Maybe that is pushing it, however.

Simplicity should mean easier, too. You don’t need to pair even if you can eat and drink. You should also not be sent on a quest. An interesting discussion has broken out at Zak Avery’s place. In which I am supporting the validity of good beer at home. Beer should not only be simple but having beer should be simple. Is that too much to ask?

A Week With Softer Side Of German Brews

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It was time to clear out a few obscure brews that have been hogging stash shelf space and I grabbed nothing but the Germans. I thought it was going to turn out to be about sharp hops of one sort or another, the sort of thing I ran into over two years ago. I was absolutely stunned when top after top was popped to expose another soft deep dark brown earthy complex beer of one sort or another. These beers were not particularly to a style or a region that I know of. I bought them at different times and different places without a plan and really without really looking. But it didn’t strike me as a fluke.

I’ve had simple German dunkels before and while I liked them I was not blown away. Too little a step up from black lagers. I was looking for more oomph. But I’ve had hints that the sorts of beers were within reach, liken when I had a Korbinian from Weihenstephaner. But this week was proof – everyone one a keeper. Here is, to quote Joe, my “vaguely pornographic list of bottles opened“:

  • Der Weisse Bock: by Mahr’s. Is this the greatest smelling beer of all time? Black cherry so thick it verges on licorice. All over a mat of pumpernickel. In the mouth, it is bright and sweet with the aroma flavours enhanced by a citric acidic zip as well as a decent level of grain texture. At 8.5%, heavy but not hot. The goat on the label is actually licking the foaming head off the glass. I would too if I had enough of these. So nice I don’t even feel shelted. Great BAer respect.
  • Moosbacher Kellerbier: By Private Landbrauerei Scheuerer. Appled barley candy, a little smokiness in the bitter. Not unlike low carbonation Scots ale like Caledonian 80/ but with a little zag of steel to the hops. Six months past the best before date. Bought at the Galeville Grocery some time ago for $3.69 a 5.2% half litre swing top. I am a big fan of the style this being my fourth. Solid BAer respect.
  • Bavarian Dunkler Weizenbock: by Brauere Michael Plank: Fabulous looking lively carbonated chestnut ale with a well hidden 7.5%. Very light on the usual weizen banana and clove but plenty of flavour date and thompson raisin under wheat grain and grass that adds up to a sort of black cherry effect when you look at it that way. Fresh and moreish even at this strength. Far less spicy than its style mate Adventus. BAers take this one another notch higher.
  • Schwelmer Alt: by Brauerei Schwelm. I got this for 1.90 USD somewhere. It pours a lovely bright chestnut under mocha froth and foam. On the nose, as big and malty rich as concentrated as opening a can of malt extract. Lighter in body that the nose would leave you expecting. A slight smoke note, a little metallic tinge, fresh water and tastes of dry fruit and apple butter. Massively moreish. Oodles of BAer respect.
  • Jubelfestbier: by Mahr’s. How many ways can I say deep chestnut ale with a mocha rim and foam. Another soft water malty gem. Scents of earthy dark dry fruit and cocoa. In the mouth, again, it is lighter than the smell might have suggested. Nutty brown malts, a nod to steel hops sitting very much below the profile. Chalky cream yeast. Again moreish. Extremely moreish. Just 4.9%. You could drink buckets of this beer. Huge BAer respect.

I had no idea. Easy drinking yet complex yet comforting beers. These are the sorts of beers you imagine good English milds and browns would turn out to be but those are really are lighter, more guzzlable. These beers are slower, reminding me of the Scots malty beers I got to try on the old tartaned family trips – though different again. Why aren’t these sorts of beers being made in North America? And if they are… where can I find them?

The Birth of Japan’s Third-Category Beer Explained

Wow. Just imagine the thrill I felt this evening when I came across a summary of the history and taxation based reason for Japan’s dai-san biiru or thirdcategory beer, as you know a minor fascination of mine. Thrill along with me to the genesis of the substance caused – as we see all too often – as a response to taxation regimes which create both hardship and opportunity:

In 1994, Suntory began marketing beer-like happoshu with malt content of 65 per cent, while Sapporo developed happoshu containing less than 25 per cent malt. Each attracted lower tax rates, and hence could be sold much more cheaply than real beer. From 1996, however, the government responded by hiking the tax rates for both types of happoshu. In 2003, it also raised tax on happoshu with 25-50 per cent malt content. However, its tax and that of happoshu with less than 25 per cent malt remained less than that on high-malt happoshu or real beer. In 2004, Sapporo and Suntory responded with a zero-malt dai-san biiru, which incurred an even lower tax, and hence retail price, than any happoshu.

Previously I believe I have called third-category beer happoshu. I have failed you. I have failed the honour of beer blogging. I am but a grasshopper the ways of Japanese beer categorization. We also continue to await a brave reviewer who has documented the way of dai-san biiru. Life is so rich, when you think of it.

More Vital Information On Third-Category Beer

I suppose that if I ever tried it or if it had a name that did not sound like something out of Blade Runner I would have less of a fascination with that fluid in Japan that is called “third category beer.” This article in the The The Daily Yomiuri, however, is full of tidbits that make me wonder what this stuff is really like:

“Faced with gasoline and food price hikes, consumers are looking for better deals on some products. Third-category beer, which is often made from soybeans, corn and peas, is priced cheaper than regular beer and happoshu low-malt beer. Beverage makers are fiercely competing to keep prices low, while trying to produce tastes close to that of regular beer. The key to third-category beer’s success is the low price, and shipments surpassed those of happoshu beer in May. A 350-milliliter can of third-category beer sells for about 140 yen at convenience stores, about 20 yen less than happoshu and 75 yen less than regular beer.”

How excellent: “…close to that of regular beer.” Yum. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had similar clarity in our macro-brewing? How many beers would have to call themselves happoshu that now hold themselves out to be beer from barley?

Nothing Says “Yum!” Like Third-Category Beer

While little translates as badly as regulatory text in another language from another country, there is a special place in my heart for Japan and its “third-category” beer which are described as nonmalt beerlike alcoholic beverages. Not third-rate. Third-category. Mmmmm. But apparently the average Joe in the land of the rising sun is switching to the stuff with a new-found zest:

The recent rise in prices of food products and services is hitting consumers, who are in turn cutting unnecessary spending from their family budgets. One example of the cutbacks can be seen in April beer shipment numbers released last week by the five major breweries. The numbers show sales of popular low-priced “third-category” beer, or nonmalt beerlike alcoholic beverages, rapidly growing, while sales of regular beer plunged significantly.

In the case of beer drinkers shifting to third-category beer, a decisive factor seems to be the price of the product. A 350-milliliter can of third-category beer costs about 140 yen, approximately 75 yen less than a can of regular beer. The April shipment of third-category beer increased by 9.3 percent, while shipments of regular beer dropped by 11.3 percent in the same month.

You can consider one yen a cent. We are, then, talking the difference between $2.15 and $1.40 a can so we are not likely talking about the craft beer fan…except that this could cause a domino effect across the board leaving out the top end of the market or those planning to supply it. And this seems to mirror what Stan noted might be happening in the USA. Beer in Japan has some odd aspects but we’ve been watching this third-category stuff for some time now and have found the description a “beer-tasting alcoholic beverage” the most informative so far though “a product two steps removed from actual beer” is up there. For the unknowing, this is a brief glimpse into the steps that are those two steps away:

A vital technological issue in producing a “third beer” product is achieving the right taste and color. Kirin’s solution, for which patents are pending, is browning, a process in which sugar is added to the fermented soy protein and then the mixture is heated, caramelizing the sugar and giving the beverage the color as well as the taste of beer.

One wonders whether the same machinery and ingredients might also make beer broth or automotive lubricants. Could it be that the there is nothing to gain from comparing craft brew to this sort of product and the budgetary issues which give rise to its production? Or are we all destined one day to be hoping for a bit of the old category three when we leave our underground factory jobs at the end of another thirty day cycle, marching merrily home in unison under the glow of another blazing green sunset? Is it the future?