St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

On Malt Lightening and the Beer Style Continuum

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As far as I can tell, every single brewery is issued one of these when they get their license. I’ve never been in a brewery that doesn’t have one kicking around. Look at it sometime and note the visible difference in malt colour. A good rule of thumb is that the lighter the malt, the later it was developed.

Last time we talked about German Beer and Food (scroll down a couple of posts) we had established some pretty basic truths about the situation in Germany prior to the advent of Oktoberfest. We talked about how the flavours in German landrace hops more or less matched the flavours in the herbs and spices available in Germany. We talked about Oktoberfest as an expression of the modernization of the German agricultural system. I know that it isn’t Oktoberfest anymore, but sometimes these things take a while to percolate.

A lot of the styles that you think of as German beer didn’t exist at the beginning of the 19th century. Altbier existed in Dusseldorf in a broad sense although it would have been different from the versions we get today. Bock had been around for quite a while, with the town of Einbeck claiming its advent in 1351. Dopplebock had been brewed by the Pauline monks from the mid 18th century. By 1798, the Bavarian branch of the Wittelsbach family had decided to allow their monopoly on Weissbier to lapse, giving license to several entities to produce a similar product. In Munich, the prevailing style was Dunkel. People were also making things like Kellerbier and Zwickelbier with bottom fermenting yeast[i], especially in the northern bits of Baden-Wurttemberg and Franconia, but they would have been darker in colour than we are accustomed to.

The thing that these beers have in common is that they are uniformly pretty dark in colour. The Weissbier is the exception that proves the rule. In order to make a beer that was much lighter than 15-20 SRM in the late 18th century in Germany, over 50% of your grist had to be wheat.

The early 19th century created a sort of renaissance for brewing in Europe due mostly to technological advancement. Beer Styles as we now think of them, catalogued by Michael Jackson, are thought of usually as entirely separate entities, but their development exists on a temporal continuum. Usually the development of a new style is influenced by an old style and a new ingredient, process or cultural influence. At the moment, we’ve got hops in a wider variety than has ever existed and that’s due to technology, genetic manipulation and cross breeding.

You’ll recall that there were really only four varieties of German hops. They didn’t have a roadmap for genetic inheritance. There was only one kind of yeast and they didn’t really understand how it worked yet. The water was however it was. The single most important discovery in the entire history of brewing, the one that caused brewers all over Europe to suddenly create new beers, was the ability to reliably heat a kiln to a specific temperature.

A direct fired kiln is not bad for pottery, but it’s terrible for malting. For one thing, it’s extremely inefficient. You’ve got to fire the kiln and then wait for it to get to about the right temperature. You’re more or less guessing about what the temperature is and where it will be over a long period. You’d develop a knack for that eventually, but there’s only so much you can do with it. The lack of precision means that your malt is going to turn out darker than you want and it’s going to take on some flavour from whatever fuel you’re using to heat the malt. If you’re in a place where you’ve got to use wood or peat for fuel that means wood smoke. That’s a geographical problem. If you’re in Upper Canada in 1820 and you’re making your own malt, you probably don’t have access to coke or coal. You were probably using wood or charcoal because there’s lots of it. Slight smoke flavour.

Another way that it’s inefficient is that darker malt is going to tend to have less diastatic power. In order to get the beer to the strength that you want it to be as a finished product, you’re going to have to use more malt. More malt is going to result in the darker beer styles that we’ve already mentioned. It’s quite expensive because you need more barley to make the same amount of beer.

Gabriel Sedlmayr's Spaten Brewery. Munich Lager changed irrevocably with the adoption of (and improvement on) English malting techniques

Gabriel Sedlmayr’s Spaten Brewery. Munich Lager changed irrevocably with the adoption of (and improvement on) English malting techniques

By the time that Anton Dreher was a brewing apprentice in the 1830’s, he was touring England to see what techniques they were using. This was pretty common practice amongst brewers in the 19th century. Because no one was in direct competition with each other internationally, trade secrets weren’t particularly highly guarded. By 1836, he had brought English malting techniques back to Schwechat near Vienna. It wasn’t exactly Pale Malt. It was darker than that. It was closer to a light Crystal Malt roast and that’s what’s become known as Vienna Malt.

Informational exchange within the region happened almost immediately because Dreher was friends with the brewmaster at the Spaten Brewery in Munich, Gabriel Sedlmayr. Dreher borrowed Sedlmayr’s yeast and Sedlmayr borrowed Dreher’s malting technique. Informational exchange drives progress in any field, but the string of events these two brewers would put in motion would last until the 1950’s on another continent.

Artistry and refinement happen in German beer as a direct result of modernization of agriculture and industry. You can’t have barley to malt without increased yield and you can’t malt it to any degree of precision with shoddy tools. The hops, yeast and water did not change substantially. The lightening of malt leads to the lightening of beer. The styles exist as a basic continuum because they all result from the previous change. Because of the prevalence of rail and the ability to transport goods, each style inspires the next. They don’t exist in a vacuum.

Viennas
Beer Style Creator Date Avg Bus Avg SRM AVG ABV
Vienna/Marzen Anton Dreher 1841 24 13 5
Marzen/Oktoberfest Gabe Sedlmayr 1872 24 10.5 5.25

 

This is the prime example. Functionally there may not be a difference between Marzen and Oktoberfest beer. However, in practice, Oktoberfest beer was introduced by Spaten in 1872 and the primary difference was the fact that they had developed a new malting technique. Instead of Vienna Malt there was Munich Malt. The lightening is only two and a half points on the SRM scale, but that requires a level of precision. How dark can you make the malt and still have diastatic power needed to convert starch to fermentable sugar?

Lagers
Beer Style Creator Date Avg Bus Avg SRM AVG ABV
Schwarzbier Kostritzer 1543 27 23.5 4.9
Dunkel Munich 1800 23 21 5.05
Pilsner Plzen 1842 40 4.75 4.8
Dortmund Kronen 1871 26.5 5 5.4
Northern German Pilsner Radeberg 1872 35 3.5 4.8
Munich Helles Spaten 1894 19 4 5.05

 

If you start with Black Lager and move through Munich Dunkel which is formalized as a style by 1800, the departure once Dreher imports English malting techniques is pretty staggering. I’d put it to you that while people will talk about soft water and saaz hops, the defining characteristic of Pilsner is that it was nearly 10 SRM lighter than the other beers available during the 1840’s. Yes, it’s hoppy, but it’s also light gold in colour. That’s a huge departure. Northern German Pilsner is lighter and less hoppy. Dortumunder is significantly less hoppy and about the same colour.

That's light enough, mein freund. Put the rake down and step away from the floor maltings.

That’s light enough, mein freund. Put the rake down and step away from the floor maltings.

The brewers in Munich actually had some difficulty with Helles. Spaten created it and took a great deal of criticism from the other brewers for doing so. They thought that it was too light! They thought that it didn’t have enough character! That’s as light as German beer styles ever went.

As I’ve shown in the previous posts in this series, because German beer and food contain essentially the same seasoning agents as a result of the landrace hops and locally available herbs and spices, we can assume that we’re dealing exclusively with complementary pairings when we look at Oktoberfest food. Ultimately, the result of the beer getting lighter is that the food also gets lighter. The food needs less fat and can stand being less heavily seasoned. Weisswurst, for instance, is invented in 1857. Additionally, because industrialization has provided more quantity of food, the individual meals do not need to be as substantial. More people are working in cities. In point of fact, a lot of people are emigrating; they are Emigrating to America.

To this day, the largest ancestral group in the USA is German. It’s about 17.1%. From about the time of the revolutions in 1848, there was a huge wave of immigration to the United States. You’ll notice that by that time there was already Pilsner and Vienna Lager in Germany. It was fairly widespread and these people would have had context for that. They had seen the lightening of beer. The largest wave of immigrants came later on and they had seen even lighter beers in Germany. By 1900, Milwaukee, Cincinatti, and Cleveland were all at least 40% German. Every large town in the Midwest would have been at least 25-30% German. We’ve heard the names: Anheuser, Busch, Blatz, Schlitz, Pabst, Yeungling.

This map will explain more about America's brewing history than any other image I can show you.

This map will explain more about America’s brewing history than any other image I can show you.

When you have a population concentration like that, immigrants bring their ideas with them. In this case, they brought their progressively lighter beers along for the ride. If the defining concept of German beer in the 19th century has to do with making a beer that’s lighter in colour, the restraining factor had been how light the colour could be made with malt. Without the restriction of the Reinheitsgebot, these German brewers could pursue making even lighter beers with adjunct grains like corn and rice.

People claim that prohibition was the factor that created light flavourless commoditized beer, that people had gotten used to soft drinks. Really the blame lies with the fascination of making the beer lighter. It’s a construct that depends on industrial production. It was a good idea that got out of hand.  In Munich, they had the sense to stop at Helles. In America it spiraled out of control.

By the 1950’s we had light beer and America had thoroughly adapted the German feasting culture that is Oktoberfest. Bratwurst had become hot dogs. Frikkedellen had become hamburgers. What is a chicken finger but an unflattened chicken schnitzel? The commonality between the food and the beer is that they have been reduced to their least flavourful form in order to appeal to the largest number of people. There’s an idea that beer and food pairing is difficult, but it’s the foundation of American popular cuisine. America was a feasting culture, but without flavour and without joy.

Whether you believe it or not, this is German food.

Whether you believe it or not, this is German food.

We talk about the 3000 brewery mark in terms of craft beer. There’s an idea that it is important that we have reached the number of breweries that existed before prohibition in North America. The fact is though that the makeup of those breweries is significantly different than it would have been before prohibition. The majority of brewers would have been German and would have made lager. It might be time for Craft Beer to attempt to reclaim that heritage, additional ferment times be damned.

[i] A word on yeast: Throughout my career writing about beer, I’ve run into people who are a little confused about bottom fermenting yeast. I have met professionals who think that lager didn’t exist before 1840. Bottom fermenting yeast had been around and in use for a few hundred years before Emil Hansen managed to separate out a pure strain at the Carlsberg labs. I suspect that these are people who are using “lager” and “pilsner” as interchangeable terms.

The real question is how there was suddenly bottom fermenting yeast in the mid 1500’s. I have an elaborate theory involving Saccharomyces Bayanus, Dutch trading ships and the Rhine as a primary trade route to Bavaria. It’s as good as anyone else’s guess.

 

Advent Calendars – But What If You’re In Ontario

This week in the column, I talked about the growing trend for breweries to produce advent calendars. It’s a fun idea and one that I can get behind. With the short days and cold weather, you want to treat yourself nicely and a single high quality beer a day is not a bad way to do that. It may only give you ten or fifteen minutes enjoyment, but it’s a nicely ritualized thing. It’s an Agent Cooper approved strategy for coping with a seasonal lack of esprit de corps.

You’ll notice that there are no craft beer advent calendars in Ontario. The LCBO isn’t allowed to stock packages over six bottles because of an agreement with the Beer Store. It’s an agreement that they’re threatening to rescind. The Beer Store isn’t a good option for stocking something like an advent calendar because they charge the same for listing whether you’re offering a product year round or as a seasonal option. Even when Andrew Oland from Moosehead says that The Beer Store is doing a great job, you’ll notice that his Hop City and Sam Adams Seasonal products only show up in the LCBO. If The Beer Store is so great, why aren’t they carried exclusively by The Beer Store, huh?

Incidentally, you’d think this would be a great opportunity for the Beer Store to score a PR point and maybe make way for something like that “because Christmas” what with them having been visited by the ghost of Christmas future in the form of Ed Clark. They seem to have decided to cover their ears and reap the whirlwind of public opinion.

Let’s not be scrooges. For the moment, let’s be Fezziwigs.

If you’re in Ontario, you might want to put together an advent calendar of your own. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to do that with the beer that’s available at the LCBO. I notice that the  Craft Beer Advent Calendar out on the West Coast is somewhere between $129 and $145. In Newfoundland, more like $188. If you like rare stuff, that’s probably a good deal. The Phillips and Central City/Parallel 49 packs tended to come in somewhere between $65 and $85 depending on the store stocking them. That seems a little more in line with what I’m willing to spend.

The goal I therefore put together was to create advent calendars that you can use. I wanted them to be affordable and fairly specific. The ones that I have put together will run you approximately $75-$80 bucks and they’re suitable for different beer drinkers. I didn’t put together a Canadian Craft Beer version because that’s really easy. You can do it entirely with canned beer and it requires no imagination. I’ve come up with an English Version and a Belgian Version instead.

The “Full English” is actually 25 beers. You can drink the extra Hobgoblin while you put the calendar together for whomever the recipient might be.

The Full English
Package Beers Included Price
Marston’s Classic Ales Brakspear Bitter $18.95
Hobgoblin
Banks Bitter
Cockerhoop
English Pale Ale
Ringwood Fortyniner
Wychwood Beers of Character Hobgoblin $12.95
Goliath
Wychcraft
Scarecrow
Duchy Originals $3.05
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout $2.95
Abott Ale $2.25
Fuller’s London Pride $2.95
Lancaster Bomber $2.65
Bombardier $2.25
Fuller’s London Pride $2.95
Belhaven Best $2.15
Historic Ales from Scotland Heather $9.95
Elderberries
Gooseberries
Spruce
Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome $3.90
St. Peter’s Winter Ale $4.00
Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout $4.25
$75.20

The Belgian Pack actually came in under budget because the leverage the LCBO has over the Belgians is insane. It’s crazy. I included a Dupont Saison for Christmas day which brings it in three dollars over budget. Whoever you give it to will be just that much happier. Because of the darkness of the short days and the prevalence of St. Bernardus products, I’ve taken to calling it “Bleak End at Bernie’s.”

St. Bernardus Pack St. Bernardus Wit $18.95
St. Bernardus Pater 6
St. Bernardus Tripel
Watou Tripel
St. Bernardus Abt 12
St. Bernardus Prior 12
Belgian Beer Pack Piraat $18.95
Gulden Draak
L’Eute Bokbier
Augustjin Blonde
Augustjin Donker
Augustjin Grand Cru
Pauwel Kwak $3.00
Chimay White $3.25
Rochefort 8 $3.25
Chimay Blue $3.55
Rochefort 10 $3.85
Mort Subite Framboise $3.95
Saison Dupont $7.75
Unibroue 6 Blanche de Chambly $12.95
Don De Dieu
Ephemere Apple
La Fin du Monde
Maudite
Trois Pistoles
$79.45

I’m not going to claim that either of these packages is going to be absolutely unique. I will say that at least wrapping them is pretty simple: Take two wine boxes from the LCBO, arrange beers at random in them and slap a bow on that sucker. Wrapping paper optional, but available at dollar stores for cheap.

Two historical beers you should try at Cask Days

Cask Days is this weekend and for Toronto beer drinkers, that’s an event that is more or less Christmas. This year’s specialties are from California, with nearly 40 beers to choose from. There are also 22 beers from England. As if that were somehow not enough, there are 22 ciders on offer. Also, nearly 250 other beers. It’s the 10th anniversary and they’re going big. There’s not any point in planning for the event at this point. The best you can do is bring about a hundred bucks in cash for food and snacks and pace yourself.

I am pleased to say that I have beers on offer at Cask Days. I make up approximately 2/339ths of the selection, or just over one half of one percent of the beer to be served. Both of the beers that I’ll be serving on Saturday have historical precedent, which befits the recent level of activity over here at St. John’s Wort. As you may know, I’ve written two books this year. It should have been obvious given the links to those books directly to the right of this article and the sheer amount of publicity I’ve been trying to get out for them. They are Ontario Beer: A Heady History of Brewing from the Great Lakes to the Hudson Bay and Lost Breweries of Toronto. I wrote the first one with Alan McLeod from A Good Beer Blog. The second one was my first solo book.

Both of them are relevant to the beers on offer on at Cask Days.

The first beer was brewed with Jason Tremblay from Shacklands and is called Rouille after Fort Rouille in Toronto. You may have been to the Toronto Festival of Beer and posed on top of the cannon. (Yes, it’s funny. It looks like you have a giant cannon for a penis.) What you didn’t know is that that cannon represents the placement of a French fort and trading settlement from the 1750’s.

Spruce Beer was a fundamental part of the growth of Upper Canada. Even in a place without citrus, you are usually able to grow food that contains vitamin C. That doesn’t work very well in Toronto in the winter. We know that Fort York imported real beer from Kingston, being as it was from a later era. Fort Rouille probably made some manner of Spruce Beer.

The verifiable historical recipes for Spruce Beer are just awful. The purpose of spruce beer was not to taste good. It was to hydrate you in a way that would prevent you from having to drink the water and contracting Giardia, a parasite which will cause the contents of your digestive tract to seek escape in as violent and explosive a manner as possible. Spruce Beer would also prevent you from getting scurvy and having your teeth fall out. If Spruce could prevent those two horrible things from happening, you’d gladly suck on a branch.

Traditionally, the recipe for Spruce Beer contained five quarts of molasses per 36 Gallon Barrel. Having done the calculation, I can tell you that it would have barely been alcoholic. If you were extremely lucky and you had an active yeast strain that would chew through fermentables, you might have gotten 1.5% alcohol out of that.

We decided not to make that beer. We decided instead to go with a historically inspired Spruce Beer. We used mostly Maris Otter and a small amount of Wheat in addition to the traditional Molasses. We used Spruce Extract, since neither of us are mighty woodsmen and tips were out of season. Since Jason seems to have a solid grip on the funky stuff, we used nearly a gallon of lactobacillus culture in the boil and used two yeast strains in fermentation, finishing it with Brettanomyces. It’s not your great great great great great grandfather’s spruce beer, is what I’m saying to you.

The second beer on offer is called Helliwell 1832 and it’s a collaboration between myself and Jon Downing from Niagara College. You’ll notice, if you’re observant, that it’s not listed on the Cask Days list. All I know is that it has been delivered to Cask Days. I imagine that it will be available (although, apologies are probably necessary to Tomas Morana for being a logistical omnishambles.)

The Helliwell Brewery was located at Todmorden Mill. I have been given an idea of where we’ll be serving the beers in the Brickworks and I can tell you that we’ll be approximately 385 meters and 182 years from where this beer was brewed. I managed to piece together a large amount of information from the Helliwell Diaries about their brewery and the kind of beer that they would have made.08051

It was difficult because they used an outdated standard of measurement called the Dring and Fage Saccharometer that didn’t use Brix or Plato or even Specific Gravity. It used something called Beer Gravity which represents pounds of extract per barrel. We know they were using it because William Helliwell went to the manufacturer when he was in London in 1832. Using google image search I was able to find a photograph of the slide rule they used for calculation as part of the Saccharometer’s set and found out that the beer would have been somewhere around 9.0%. It’s a sort of unaged Barley Wine. The Helliwells were from Yorkshire, so they didn’t trifle with wheat in the grist.

The Helliwells brought in barley to their own maltings (part of which I’m told still stands, across the river from the brickworks) and kilned it themselves. During the 1820’s and 1830’s they owned nearly a thousand acres and were clearing wood from it to make properties in the area north of the Danforth saleable. They actually had a hop yard on the Don River’s flood plain that I’ve estimated at being about 8-10 acres based on the number of poles they commissioned for it.

I assume that they were using that wood to fire the kiln and we’ve accounted for that with just enough smoked malt to give it a kiss. I also know that the open fermenters that they were using were simply converted puncheons (although he did not adopt this strategy until later) and that being made of wood they would have taken on some souring bacteria. We have lowered the PH of the beer with a hint of acidulated malt. We used Brown Malt and some dark Crystal to replicate the crispy burnt edges you’d get from a single inconsistently kilned malt. We used Golding hops because that’s about the only English variety that existed at the time.

I don’t claim that Helliwell 1832 is an exact replica of the beer that would have been produced in the Don Valley. It’s as close as we’re ever going to get, though, and it’s definitely worth a try. I’ll be pouring both beers myself on Saturday during the day. Stop by and chat. It will also be the first time that Lost Breweries of Toronto will be available for purchase by the public.

German Beer and Food Part 2: Terrines, Terpenes and Terroir

Last week (just scroll down a little), we ended up by talking about Oktoberfest and how it’s a sort of benchmark for the modernization of the Bavarian agrarian system. The impressive thing about Oktoberfest is not that it has been going on for 204 years. The impressive thing is how quickly it was adopted in other parts of the country. While Bavaria may have been out in front, Wurttemberg eventually launched a festival in Stuttgart.

The Canstatter Volksfest started in 1818. This is because the winter was so bad in 1816 that it negated any attempt at growing crops that year. The people of Wurttemberg were starving because there had been snow on the ground until May. The King was basically dependent on grain deliveries from his brother in law in Russia to prevent starvation, riots and uprising. In 1817, they decided that there should be a harvest festival. There should also be a new Agricultural University. These were Monarchs prolonging their reign by making concessions to science and rationality. An educated populous is notoriously bad for a Monarchy, however, one makes concessions when faced with an unruly mob with pitchforks and torches.

This period of privation, incidentally, was one of the reasons for German settlement in Kitchener and Waterloo in the 1820’s. It’s one of the reasons Ontario looks the way it does. In fact, it’s why the second largest Oktoberfest in the world takes place there.

Agricultural science takes a long time to propagate, or at least it did in the early 19th century. Gregor Mendel would not actually establish genetic heredity for another forty years. For the time being German Brewing was like German Cuisine: Taking advantage of scientific modernization, improved technique and vastly improved production to make strides ahead. Another similarity is that for the time being they were largely stuck with “landrace” ingredients.

In an age like we are in with GMO products basically everywhere and Monsanto issuing patents on their designs for plants, it’s a good idea to explain the concept of landrace. Landrace more or less means that the plant or animal variety that you’re using has been there since time immemorial; since before records were kept. There was a time when it wasn’t so easy to transplant crops around and grow them in greenhouse polytubes and glasshouse nurseries. There was a time when you were more or less stuck with what there was on the land when you got there.

Germany had landrace hops. They were actually spoiled for choice on the landrace hops. There are four basic varieties that we’re going to look at: Spalt, Tettnang, Hallertau and Saaz.

(I know what you’re going to say! Isn’t Saaz a Czech hop? It is named after a Czech town called Zatec, but Saaz is the German name for that town. Plzen, which is where you find a lot of all Saaz beers is less than 300 kilometers from Munich. One of the developments they enjoyed was trains. Let it go.)

Hop Variety % Humulene % Myrcene % Caryophyllene % Farnese % Alpha Acids
Spalt 21.5 20.0 12.5 12.5 3-5.5
Tettnang 22.5 22.5 8.0 14.0 3-5
Hallertau 40.0 32.0 11.0 0 2.5-5.0
Saaz 42.5 22.5 11.0 13.0 2.5-4.5

 

Don’t worry. You’re not going to be forced to do math.

In terms of the hops that were landraces in Germany, there are a few things we can tell from this information. The Alpha Acids are pretty low. These days, if you want a bitter beer, you put hops with high alpha acids in at the start of the boil. The Germans would have had difficulty making really bitter beer (by modern standards, anyway) without using a ton of whole leaf hops. The historical hopping rate for Pilsner Urquell was apparently 400-460 grams per hectoliter. That is before hop pellets. That’s a lot of trub at the bottom of the kettle. The beer in the region didn’t really get more bitter than 40 IBU, 45 tops.

If bitterness comes from Alpha Acids, then aroma comes from the oils in the hops. Those are the four columns in the middle. Now, typically aroma doesn’t survive when you add hops early in the boil. The byproducts of Myrcene in particular tend to disappear in a flash when added to the boil. When you dry hop or add hops at flame-out, you get a better result. Think of it like making a stew. If you add fresh herbs at the beginning, they’re going to get overpowered and cooked down. If you add fresh herbs at the end, you can actually taste the freshness of the herbs.

Myrcene’s byproducts are things like menthol, citral, citronellol, geraniol and linalool. More importantly, they are responsible for all of the aromas in your favorite American dry hopped beers. Modern hop varieties have been brew to extract specific byproducts from Myrcene. Take Citra, for example: Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Passion Fruit, Lychee. 65% Myrcene!

You’ll notice that the hops in the chart don’t have a lot of Myrcene. Every single one of the German landrace hops are higher in Humulene than Myrcene. The things that you tend to get out of Humulene’s byproducts are earthy, woody, or spicy. Humulene occurs in things like Bay Leaves and Tobacco and other kinds of herbs. Knee level forest floor stuff.

It’s also good to mention Caryophyllene. It mostly comes across as dry wood, spice and pepper. Some new varieties that you will have tried have bred it out completely. Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin are good examples of hops that don’t have Caryophyllene in any reasonable quantity.

What all this means is that the hops that German brewers had access to at the beginning of the 19th century were herbal, spicy, woody, peppery and potentially a little bit floral. It would have been more or less impossible to make a beer that tasted like an orange without adding some oranges. Landrace hops meant that they were stuck with these four varieties of hops.

That is a good thing because all of the other ingredients in Bavaria were also landrace ingredients. Everything that the peasants were using in their food and everything that would be adopted into the idealized festhallen fare we recognize as German food today was suited to the same terroir as the hops.

Let’s think about the herbs that German cuisine used for flavouring at the beginning of the 19th century:  parsley, thyme, bay leaves, juniper and caraway seeds. They also had salt and pepper.

Herb Aromatic and Flavour Components
Parsley Phellandrene, Myristicin, Myrcene, Menthatriene
Thyme Pinene, Cymene, Linalool, Myrcene, Thymol
Bay Leaves Cineole, Pinene, Linalool, Methyl Eugenol, Humulene
Juniper Pinene, Sabinene, Myrcene,
Caraway Seeds Limonene, Pinene, Caryophyllene
Black Pepper Sabinene, Pinene, Limonene, Caryophyllene, Piperene

 

From a beer and food pairing point of view, this explains just a huge amount about how German beer and food culture develops. For the most part, the beer that they’re making is going to be a complement to the food because the hops contain all of the same flavor components as the food from the region.

The brewers and beer drinkers did not know about hydrocarbons and terpenoids and aromatic compounds. At least, they didn’t have those words for them. They knew that what they liked and which things tasted good and that certain things went together. Most of these people would never have travelled much more than 100 miles from their homes. They would not have had context for other cuisines. What they would do over the course of the next century is refine the beer being made based on technological innovation to make the beer and food work better together.

We’ll talk about the refinement and development next time.

German Beer and Food Part 1: Parliament Frikadeller

(Ed note: This is longer than usual. There are no pictures. Next time there will be pictures. Promise!)

When we talk about beer and food pairing, we try to come up with shorthand rules. I’ve heard Stephen Beaumont suggest you treat Lagers like White Wine and Ales like Red Wine. I’ve heard Mirella Amato suggest light coloured beer with lighter fare and darker coloured beer with heavier fare.

Both of those are pretty good shorthands, incidentally. They address the main anxiety that everyone seems to have about beer and food pairing: There’s so much stuff. We have the entire world at our fingertips, culinarily speaking. It is essentially a form of choice paralysis that makes this difficult for people. If you’ve spent your entire life paying attention and eating good food, it’s less difficult.

We’re spoiled for choice in a way that no one, historically has ever been. I’m in Toronto, which is more or less landlocked and a thousand kilometers from the nearest ocean. There’s a place down the street which, for $17.99, will serve me about 18 different kinds of sashimi on an all-you-can-eat basis. The contents of just the spice bins at one of the Bulk Barn locations in Toronto would buy you a medieval village. If I decide I want to eat Kangaroo or Camel or Moose, I can go down to the St. Lawrence Market and chow down on the various denizens of nature’s splendor.

Given all these constraints something like Oktoberfest seems practically quaint. The simplicity is life affirming. There is a sausage and some cabbage and probably some potatoes or spaetzle. It’s very straightforward and there’s even a specific beer to go with it. Marzen! They brew it in March, it sits underground in casks during the summer and then they serve it to people at Oktoberfest. It’s simple and tasty.

It’s also the result of hundreds of years of refinement, privation, misery and eventual triumph.

Germany has always been in some state of flux if we’re speaking historically. I remember watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on the news as a grade schooler. It didn’t actually become a nation state until 1871. Before 1806, it was more or less the Holy Roman Empire. Really, Germany was a series of pocket fiefdoms and principalities that were all governed by disparate laws and which did not have much in the way of trade with the outside world.

If you were a peasant in one of these principalities, you did not exist legally. The nobles would run roughshod over your fields while hunting. Your property (probably half a slab of bacon and your churchgoing smock) would revert to the nobles when you died. If you were lucky, they wouldn’t take your milk cow from you on a whim. You had to pay a tax to get married. You probably had to pay a tax to have children, depending on your location.

When you look at the surviving dishes in various regions of Germany and at the cuisine as it exists now, it’s pretty clear that the heritage was grim. From a purely carbohydrate perspective, the people in the uplands were able to grow significant amounts of grain. They had wide varieties including barley, wheat, oats, spelt, rye and so on. Bread was of paramount importance. If you cast around a little, you find that most large towns have their own varieties. Since German is a startlingly precise language, the word for supper is “abendbrot,” literally “evening bread.” If you were in the lowlands like Saxony, there might have been potatoes. If you were in a principality that was truly bereft, like Swabia, you didn’t even make bread. You made dumplings.

In terms of meat, you mostly had pigs. They kept cows and goats for milk, but probably didn’t eat them because the nutrional variety gained from dairy. They kept chickens, but mostly for eggs. If you look at a list of traditional German regional dishes, it’s rare to find chicken being used. If you were near the Rhine, you might get fish. In a lot of cases, they got protein from lentils.

From the standpoint of vegetables, you’re talking root veg and fast growing greens. Carrots, Onions, Turnips, Spinach, Broccoli and Cabbage. They didn’t really have spices. They had herbs: parsley, thyme, chives, bay leaves, juniper and caraway seeds.

To sum up, if you’re a peasant in Bavaria or Swabia or Baden or Wurttemberg (They had apples in Wurttemberg. Luxury!), you were eating a narrow variety of very basic grain based carbohydrates, with some pork, some dairy, and cabbage. The cabbage probably prevented you from getting scurvy. In Swabia, you had spaetzle and lentils. Every day. If you were lucky.

If you weren’t lucky, it was before the Reinheitsgebot. People talk about the 1487 Bavarian Purity Law as though it was about beer. It may have been partially about beer, but mostly it was about preventing brewers from competing for grains. If you ensure that brewers can only use barley by enforcing a royal decree, you keep the price of bread down. The only people who will find wheat and rye and oats and spelt useful are bakers. The local economy was so bad that they enforced pricing on beer: one to two pennies a litre.

Barley doesn’t make good bread. However, it’s hardy and easy to grow. It’s basically free calories. Making beer out of it is more or less a method of preservation from a dietary perspective. Barley by itself will go moldy fairly quickly. Beer will keep as long as you need it to, and you can use the leftover grain as animal fodder. It puts Dopplebock in perspective. It makes sense for the monks to fast on beer: It’s one of the only ways to preserve the calories from the previous year’s harvest to survive until lent.

Similarly, hops don’t make for good eating. While they may have some medicinal properties, their best use is as a flavouring agent for beer. Why outlaw gruit? It’s a production problem. You can farm hops. They don’t need a lot of attention. Usually gruit was made with yarrow, bog myrtle, juniper, rosemary or woodruff. These are things you have to gather. It is a massive waste of time compared to hops which you harvest once a year. Some of those ingredients are already culinarily in use, so the dual usage increases their cost.

You might ask what happens without the Reinheitsgebot price controls. Well, you’ll recall that I mentioned Swabia. In 1524, due to a population surplus, labour in Swabia was worth approximately nothing. The harvest that year was poor and the cost of food skyrocketed. These were people who basically ate Lentils and flour dumplings all the time and now they couldn’t even afford to do that. This is the kind of situation where people get killed over a parsnip. The tipping point was apparently when the Countess of Lupfen ordered serfs to collect snail shells so she could use them as spools for thread. The resulting revolts and retributional massacres thinned the peasantry across Germany by 300,000. The total population was only 12 million across all the principalities. In two years they wiped out about 2.5% of the population!

Jumping ahead a couple of hundred years, we suddenly have The Kingdom of Bavaria in 1806. What had happened was that the line of the Wittelsbachs, ruling family of Bavaria had died out and the Elector of the Palatinate had become ruler during a time when the French Revolutionary armies were overrunning the place. By 1806, they were on the second generation of rulers from the Palatinate line of Wittelsbachs and Bavaria was caught between an increasingly powerful France under Napoleon and the Hapsburgs in neighbouring Austria.

In 1806, Bavaria still had serfs. Because it was made out of small principalities that had been ruled in different ways by different nobles, the laws were different from one village to the next. The entire Kingdom was like that: incredibly outmoded. In France, the revolution had done away with monarchy. In Bavaria, they had not even been able to consolidate the disparate monarchic principalities.

Under Maximillian I Joseph of Bavaria, there was actual reform. There had to be; if they didn’t get their acts together, France or Austria would waltz in and take over. Maximilian Von Mongelas as chief minister oversaw the annexation of free towns and church lands and the holdings of lesser royalty. For the first time ever, there was a central government overseeing everything. There was standardization of agricultural production, which is the kind of thing you need if you’re going up against France or Austria. In 1808, the new constitution abolished serfdom. By 1812, they had abolished torture.

In 1810, Prince Ludwig of Bavaria got married. They threw a festival to celebrate. Oktoberfest!

What we tend to think of as German food is Oktoberfest food. Festhallen fare. Sausages and Pretzels and Sauerkraut and Sauerbraten and Schweinesaxe. It is really meat heavy. That’s not what people typically ate prior to modernization. Further, it would have been basically impossible to organize prior to modernization. Essentially, the Oktoberfest celebration demarcates a significant shift in agricultural production in Bavaria. The food being served is a sort of idealized version of the peasant sustenance that existed before centralization of government. It is a kind of annual bread and circus for the Bavarian people. (Ja! Ein Zirkusbrot!)

It is at this point in 1810 that Bavaria begins to produce the construct that dictates the way we think about beer and food pairing. It’s easy to talk about tradition and intent from this side of it. We’re sort of inculcated to think it’s brilliant. Hamburgers, after all, are just Frikadeller. Hot dogs are just Wurst. You have been eating Oktoberfest food at every family barbeque since you were born. It is not as though it was simply put under glass and existed as a static construct, either. Weisswurst, for instance, which I have been told since I started writing about beer is part of a typical mid-morning German snack wasn’t invented until 1857. By 1857, we had been making lager in Ontario for nearly 30 years.

Next time, we’ll look at the german beer and food construct from a scientific point of view and talk about why it works.

Beer and Food Pairing: A Fresh Start

When I was working closely with Alan McLeod from A Good Beer Blog on writing Ontario Beer (See right! Buy one for a friend! Buy a dozen!) one of the things that we would disagree on periodically was beer and food pairing. Alan more or less believes that the entire practice of beer and food pairing as it stands is a load of old cobblers. He also believed that the Blue Jays were going to choke. He’s a useful guy to have around because he’s full of enthusiasms, but skeptical of mass enthusiasms.

It is easy to be skeptical of beer and food pairing because so much of it is cribbed from other sources. If you, like Alan, grew up around good food in a family that actually talked about what went into dishes and what you should be eating for lunch, then pairing beverages with it comes sort of naturally. In fact, I don’t think that I’m misrepresenting his stance when I say that he thinks it’s just something you should be able to do. Why all the hubbub, bub?

Pilsner Urquell in the foreground, and a cornucopia of Basque fair. Heavily tattooed cook in the offing.

Pilsner Urquell in the foreground, and a cornucopia of Basque fair. Heavily tattooed cook in the offing.

Well, the fact is that not everyone has that gastronomic ability. I guess it’s like speaking French. I know I have studied it a little bit, but I can guarantee I’d be fluent if I’d grown up in Quebec.

In my experience, professional cooks tend not to be very good with beer pairing. Around Toronto, we have a few who are very good: David Lee from Nota Bene, Howard Dubrovsky, Jesse Vallins from The Saint, Brook Kavanagh to name a few. They are more or less the exception to the rule.

Cooks, I am given to understand, tend to view beer as a utilitarian beverage that marks the end of a shift. They enjoy beer, they drink a bunch of beer, but it doesn’t occupy the mental space for them that wine does. These are people who work very hard and probably don’t have the time to get into the ephemera surrounding beer. When you think about the amount of information you have to process in order to run a kitchen, you can understand why a bunch of professional cooks tend to stick with cheap, reliable beers they don’t have to think about when it comes to preference. Simply put, in a lot of cases, there is neither the time nor the inclination; just the desire for a can of beer so cold that it tacks to your hand.

Great beer and great food. I am not surprised that it works together.

Great beer and great food. I am not surprised that it works together.

Now, I also know from experience that the beer writers tend to get a little shirty when Beppi Crossariol from the Globe and Mail, a wine writer, reviews beer. Sure he’s usually right, but that’s not the point. Beer writers tend to possess endless reams of information in the form of minute detail about styles and provenance and history. I’m not sure how many of us are actually able to apply that in detail to food pairing. The real issue is that there’s a growing set of knowledge on the topic that contains information both good and bad. I have seen beer cookbooks that are informative and useful (David Ort’s Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook) and some that are best left unmentioned. I have seen a couple of books on the theory behind beer and food pairing. I notice that the literature on the subject is iterative. People read the previous books and add a little to their own version.

Given those problems, I can see that Alan has a point. If you were actually raised to think about pairing food and beverages at home on a daily basis, you’d be right to be dismissive.

Let me tell you about the best beer and food event I went to this year. It was at Taste of Toronto and was organized by the fine people at Pilsner Urquell. They had brought in something like a dozen kegs of Tankova, which is the unpasteurized version of Pilsner Urquell. It is creamier than the canned version, with a deeper, more satisfying hop character. It is somehow more herbal. It’s the genuine article. It explains a lot about why people tried to emulate pilsners in the United States historically.

For the record, I am pretty sure that the one with the most toothpicks won.

For the record, I am pretty sure that the one with the most toothpicks won.

The food was organized by Grant Van Gameren from Bar Isabel. Bar Isabel has a reputation for bringing the friendly cuisine of San Sebastian in the Basque region of the Bay of Biscay to Toronto. The spread that he put on was incredible. It included more or less every kind of tapas ingredient you can think of from anchovies to capers and pepperoncini to blood sausage. There were escabeched quail’s eggs. There were cockles that, if Jesus owned a cannery, would have fit the bill. I ate more jamon than I am really comfortable admitting.

The idea was to select ingredients and place them on bread in order to make pinchos, which is more or less a customizable crostini with carefully chosen condiments. There was a competition to create the best pinchos as a table, but I think everyone was more interested in eating food you usually only get to see in an Anthony Bourdain travelogue and standing around luxuriating in the mid-afternoon summer sun and drinking one of the best beers in the world.

What did I learn from the event? That expensive, high quality beer and expensive, high quality salty snacks go well together.

My pinchos had blood pudding, a quail's egg, caper berries and a pepper for good measure. It lacked somewhat in height.

My pinchos had blood sausage, a quail’s egg, caper berries and a pepper for good measure. It lacked somewhat in height.

To be honest with you, I had grokked that knowledge previously.

It is my goal over the next year or so to help broaden the base of knowledge available about beer and food pairing. I will almost certainly overcomplicate things and I will almost certainly fail frequently, especially if I try to sous-vide something. Hopefully, by the end of this experience, we will all know more than we did.

Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey Stuff

One of the things I don’t see people taking into account frequently when they talk about beer is time.

I don’t mean that you should drink a hoppy beer when it is fresh (you absolutely should) or that a 2008 Thomas Hardy is probably still too young to drink (it is apparently still tasting sort of young) or even that you should probably take a while to linger over a beer (you get more sensory information that way, plus this stuff is getting expensive).

If you’re a craft beer nerd, you’re constantly re-ordering your mental model of what beer is whether you know it or not. Breweries like to refer to the creation of new beers and new styles as innovation. The innovation is not really theirs to claim. The number of ingredients that exist is constantly expanding. Different strains of hops and different kiln treatments of barley and the inclusion of other ingredients like fruits and spices and (yes) pumpkin create a larger number of permutative possibilities. You can think of a brewer like a mathematical function that develops probability.

I mean, don’t walk up to a brewer and tell him he’s an abstract system into which you put ingredients and beer comes out. Most brewers put beer into their systems and hate doing math much beyond brewhouse calculations. Accountants become brewers so they don’t have to do math.

My point is that if you think of beer as a kind of mathematical function in which a brewer’s individual taste acts on a kind factorial permutation, you would not be terribly far off of understanding what innovation looks like. Oh, sure, people would look at you funny when you try to explain that at parties, but deep down in your soul, you’d know you were right.

My point is that ingredients increase over time. Before 1855, we didn’t have Fuggles; Only Goldings. In 1855, English beer got twice as exciting. Before 1971, we didn’t have Cascade. Actually, if you take Wikipedia at face value, no one used Cascade commercially until 1976. The number of distinct hop varieties that have sprung into being in the last thirty years certainly outstrips all hop developments in world history up to that point.

More ingredients means more complexity and that is a function that increases over time.

The shorthand that we have developed for this is the concept of beer styles. Michael Jackson wandered around cataloguing things like some entomologist with a butterfly net, pinning down the different beers that he encountered into different boxes, displaying their colorful labels for the world to see. It’s a useful mode of thought and he did a lot of useful work, probably while having a really nice time.

To borrow from Bill Cosby, “I told you that story so I could tell you this one.”

Sometimes, the function of an entomologist is to discover a butterfly encased in amber. You will sometimes run into beers that were designed at a specific point in time for a specific purpose. There were only so many ingredients available at that time, so the beer is markedly of that time.

On Friday night I drank about a third of a bottle of Foothills Seeing Double IPA. Foothills is in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The family vacation caravan was passing through Asheville, North Carolina and offered to bring be beer if I’d provide a list. I hopped on Ratebeer and came up with the kind of kid at Christmas list you come up with in that situation.

Foothills Seeing Double IPA is a 9.4% Double IPA that clocks in at 126 IBU’s. Foothills is a well-respected brewery that makes some pretty highly thought of stuff. It wasn’t that it was a bad beer, exactly. It was overly hoppy, sure, but I remembered drinking big hoppy beers around the time when I got into beer around 2006 and liking them just fine. Avery’s Maharajah made an early impression. I remember having Moylan’s Hopsickle at Volo. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t like Seeing Double.

Then it dawned on me: I’m old!

I researched Foothills Seeing Double the next day and found out that it was designed in 2005. It’s like a time capsule from a period when people were seeing how many IBUs they could jam directly into your sinus cavity. The criteria in 2005 was “does this beer make your tonsils recoil in horror? does your jaw tingle like Peter Parker’s senses at a villain convention?” 126 IBUs is full quarter above the human taste threshold. It means that no matter how long they keep making that beer at Foothills, it’s going to be 2005 at Foothills. I don’t mean them any ill will. It happens other places too.

I left an unfinished pint of New Belgium’s Fat Tire at the Belgian Beer Lounge at Edmonton Airport. There was nothing wrong with the beer. There was nothing wrong with the taps. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the service. Actually, the ability to order a Rochefort 10 before your flight is sort of delightful. Well done, Edmonton!

Fat Tire was first brewed commercially in 1991, but I feel like the thought process that went into it stretches back before that. Apparently the brewer first thought about it in 1989. The Edmonton Airport was the first time I’d tried it, so it was new to me. To say that it was something of a chore is an understatement. This was a beer from before Stone Temple Pilots roamed the earth. It is an Amber Ale, so it was probably never going to curl my toes and make my hair stand up; however, when you consider that it carried New Belgium and is responsible for much of the success over there, it’s just underwhelming to experience. “Is that it?” was my thinking.

The number of ingredients and the amount of thought about them has expanded exponentially since 1991. It must really be the sign of a great beer to survive as an exemplar; as the sort of evolutionary offshoot that worked. As time goes by new styles are probably inevitable, but feel free to wait on them. The strong will survive as exemplars. The weak will display their age. In ten years you’ll be drinking a 4.1% session IPA with flavours of mango and passionfruit and making pop cultural jokes about One Direction and Skrillex.

Speaking of age, one sure sign of it is when you realize you don’t have to drink the entire beer.

Stone’s Indiegogo Campaign is Cynical and Exploitative

One of the things that I find frustrating in writing about beer is the insistence by people that brewing is not first and foremost a business. I have written two histories now and I can claim to understand from its outset the development of brewing in North America. At no point before 2008 was anyone under the misapprehension that brewing was not a business to be embarked on as a money making venture.

I suspect that the reason for this is that craft brewing in North America is a rebellion against globalization. We don’t have a whole lot of production capacity on this continent anymore for manufacture and it has become a service economy. People like brewing because it provides the ability to create something special and unique. Each brewer has a different fist and while there is a certain amount of sameness between products and always will be, you can make the case that compared to something like Budweiser or Heineken, craft beer is art. It’s small batch analog production.

But, and this is really really important, it is and has always been and will always be a business first.

The modern development of craft beer mirrors almost exactly the development of brewing in the 19th century in North America. Small companies starting up to service local areas. Craft beer has filled in the vacuum left behind by mergers and acquisitions. It has taken advantage of market opportunities presented by Global brands that are too large to care about the vacuum they created. The thought process for the global brands is not “we could open a brewery in Brooklyn.” The thought process is “let’s take over the entire Peruvian beer market.”

The problem is that the concept of craft beer as art comes with baggage because of the way art is perceived in North America; that the important thing about craft beer is that it is a community or that it is a culture or that it should be supported by viewers like you in the manner of a PBS pledge drive. The difficulty is that it is already supported by you. The business model is as follows: You like the beer, you buy more of that beer.

There is no additional business model. That has been the business model since Alewives put out boards and since bread was soaked in pots in Egypt. If the product is good, the product sells. If the brewery sells enough beer, the brewery expands. (There is a corollary here that suggests that upon sufficient expansion the brewery will become beholden to its shareholders and start cutting corners to increase profit. Happens damned near every time. You see it in action in the current market daily.)

To switch gears for a moment, let me tell you how much I hate Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Kickstarter and Indiegogo exist for the purpose of crowdsourcing funds to start a project. Famously, one wag has recently used it to acquire funds to make some potato salad. Some aspiring brewers have been attempting to make use of the site to fund their start-up projects.

Let’s say that you’ve got a hankering to open a brewery and you don’t have enough money to do it on your own. You don’t have your own capital and you can’t get a loan from the bank. You have decided that you must start your brewery now and that the best way to do that is micro-donations. Personally, I feel that the decision to do that marks you as impatient, narcissistic and entitled. I will judge you negatively for doing it. It is not a business plan, by the way. If you don’t get to the goal, you don’t get the money and your alternative is what, “oh, I didn’t want to do it anyway?”

The thing about brewing is that it if you enter into it on a whim, you’re more or less screwed before you start. If you want to own your own brewery and be successful, you’re doing it for life. You want to make enough to retire. Kickstarter and Indiegogo reek like hell of the trend bandwagon to me. Having said that, there are cases where it might be the only way forward and if you truly believe you want to brew as a career and it’s the only path to that, it’s probably excusable. You will almost certainly deal with not being taken seriously for a lengthy period of time, but you can overcome that.

When a really large brewery creates a Kickstarter it’s absolutely inexcusable. Stone’s current Indiegogo campaign is shockingly exploitative and cynical. Worse than that, it is actively evil.

Let me explain: Stone Brewing is, according to their website, one of the 5000 fastest growing private companies for the last seven years in a row. They are averaging 43% year to year growth over the last 15 years. They are the tenth largest brewery in the United States with a 2013 production of 213, 277 barrels. Greg Koch was named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011. He is a millionaire many times over. Stone’s annual revenue in 2012 was just over a hundred million dollars. The figure that I have seen for last year is $137 million although I cannot substantiate that number.

Stone has been rumoured for years to start up a brewery in Berlin. I first heard the rumour about three years ago. It is not a new plan. They have been thinking about it for quite some time. They have had years to acquire the funding for this project through traditional sources. It is my belief that they have the money on hand or that they could easily acquire it. Their Indiegogo is asking for you to help pay for their facility in Berlin because it’s “a fun way to do it.”

This is a project that will make Stone a brewing multinational. It will be a Global business. I cannot tell you how advantageous from a production standpoint having an established craft brewery located in the heart of Europe would be to Stone, but I can state with some degree of confidence that it is a license to print money. It might eventually double their production globally. I should imagine that properly managed the Stone Berlin plant will recoup investment in fairly short order. It is slated to cost something like $25 million dollars. The Indiegogo campaign is asking for a paltry million dollars.

Stone does not need to crowd source a million dollars. They have already funded the Berlin plant and one in the Eastern United States. They just want your money so they can do it faster. In order to get your money they are saying “Stone Brewing Co. was founded with the mission of joining the fight to return the art of brewing to the noble stature it enjoyed before industrialization and subsequent commoditization diminished its luster.”

Firstly, Stone is attempting to become a global industrial company and secondly beer has always been a commodity. If you don’t think it is a commodity, why is it that you think we pay for it? They are fundamentally misrepresenting themselves and I begin to wonder whether they even see the hypocrisy in their position. The Indiegogo campaign is a perversion in this case of the basic business model which I mentioned earlier. They want you to pay money now so that you can have beer later so that they can build a plant that will make them tens of millions of dollars over the next decade. They are essentially panhandling as part of their marketing strategy. Say what you will about MolsonCoors or Anheuser-Busch or SAB Miller, but they don’t expect you to pay them to advertise to you.

Stone’s Indiegogo campaign is actively evil because they are exploiting secondary ideas around the brewery business model like art and community in order to get you to pay them money to do something they are going to do anyway. My suggestion to you is that there are 3000 other breweries in the United States and maybe 400 in Canada and many of them will gladly accept your money without exploiting your sense of belonging to a culture.

The Ghost Tour

“Such is the uncertainty of Human Life we know not the moment we may be called off – the hand that guides this pen may ear another day be stiff and cold” – William Helliwell. April 7, 1837

These were the words of William Helliwell on finding that a maltster that he previously employed, Thomas Woodly, was burned to death in a barroom fire. William Helliwell was the brewer at Todmorden in the Don Valley and he was typically a very brave man. In 1837 in Toronto, people were acquainted with death in a way that is removed from us now. He had lost members of his family on several occasions and in 1832 lost several acquaintances to contagious disease that gripped the city. It wasn’t until the death of Thomas Woodly that he began to realize that he might not live forever; this despite surviving a truly gruesome brewing accident in 1834.

Writing history is difficult, especially if you’ve got source material like the Helliwell Diaries. It’s a biographer’s dream. There’s no need to ascribe any characteristics or intention to the man’s actions because he’s written everything down. He even copied his correspondence by hand. The level of detail is not worthy of Samuel Pepys, but William fared pretty well for a provincial lad from Upper Canada.

The difficulty, then, is in writing the other 16 chapters of your book. It’s hard not to think of William Helliwell as a character; a kind of archetypal pioneer figure slogging through knee deep mud to get to Yonge Street. But he isn’t a character. He was a man. It would be like, to take a modern example, thinking of Jim Koch as the protagonist of a Don Delillo novel. It would exploit some marvelous Jungian memetic structures and create a wonderful base for thematic exploration, but Jim’s just this guy, you know?

In writing Lost Breweries of Toronto, I harnessed two of my greatest skills: monomaniacal drive to research effusively and sitting motionless for hours at a time. No one could have written this book before now. I don’t mean to say that I’m singularly brilliant: I mean to say that the technological resources didn’t exist. The Globe is all archived online from 1844 to the present day. To get correct details of Toronto’s 19th century breweries, I’ve have to comb through half a dozen search strings for each chapter to turn up information: Literally hundreds of disparate articles of dross to find an additional detail; to create another avenue of inquiry. I once spent three hours researching a bear for this book. It amounts to a sentence in the finished version.

If you’ve read Ian Bowering’s book The Art and Mystery of Brewing in Ontario, you will appreciate how long that research must have taken. I believe that he wrote that in 1988, which means that he did it all manually. I can’t even imagine. If you’ve read that book you know that most of it reads as a list or chronology more than anything else. Alan Winn Sneath’s book Brewed in Canada also has a chronology.

Those were more or less the starting point. Mining those two chronologies for data I created a spreadsheet. Using the spreadsheet I created profiles of each brewery. I intentionally avoided using secondary sources where possible because I don’t trust anyone to get the details right. Many of the secondary historical sources conflicted with each other. I used contemporary accounts and guides to Toronto, obscure legal records and first hand accounts, newspaper advertisements. I was able to source quotes from some of the late Victorian brewers. In one incredibly lucky instance I discovered an entire manuscript that was written by William Copland. I discovered the existence and location of three breweries no one seems to have known about. One of them was on the block I live on at Davisville in midtown Toronto. One of them was basically on the site of Bar Volo.

William Helliwell created a difficulty. We know everything about him. That sentence above is a young man realizing that he’s not going to live forever. He’s not a research subject: he’s a man with hopes and dreams and fears. He was clever and observant and detail oriented. He was desperately in love with his young wife. The poetry he wrote her was, from a critical standpoint, awful, but it was enough to win her heart.

The realization that you come to writing history is that you have to stick to provable information. The dozens of other brewers that feature in the book cannot possibly allow for the same level of detail. In culling information from every possible source, you begin to build up pictures of these people in your head. Some of them spring to life more readily than others.  The difficulty is knowing where to draw the line. The respect I’ve tried to accord them is not to assume motivations where they are not obvious; not to ascribe characteristics. It is the respect they are due.

Lost Breweries of Toronto has all the information that you’d expect of such a book: “This brewery was here and the brewers where such and so and it existed from then until then and they made X. X was 6.7% alcohol in 1897. Phew, that’s a strong beer.” Don’t worry. There’s plenty of that.

Mostly though, I ended up writing a book about Toronto. I wrote about the larger social context the breweries existed in. I figured out how all of the brewing families were intermarried. I tried to uncover how the capital from brewing built our city and how that history was more or less whitewashed in the name of Toronto the Good.

I stared for what must be days at fire insurance maps from the 1880’s and 1890’s; At this city’s growth and expansion through maps of acreages and geological surveys and maps of sprawling Victorian redbrick and maps of annexed towns. As I walk around Toronto now, I catch myself thinking of streets that no longer exist and buildings long since gone and taverns that no one has thought of in generations. The geography has changed, but the soul of the place is one that we continue to grow into.

All I’ve done is use beer to explain that.

 

Beau’s MaddAddam Gruit

It must be fun to end the world. So many authors do it.

There’s a giddy thrill that comes through in just about every book that does that and that’s likely the only commonality between them; the desire of the author to play with an entropic collapse. No one who has ever read The Stand will tell you that the latter part of the book is better than Captain Trips wreaking havoc on the landscape. Max Brooks wrote an apocalyptic scenario in World War Z that humanity ultimately survives, but the image I’ll always remember is of the rollerblading zombie fighter getting dragged down a manhole.

When it comes to dystopias, getting there is way more than half the fun.

Margaret Atwood’s recent trilogy of books Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam are no exception to this rule. They have been out for a while now, so I’m not terribly worried about spoilers. If you are, you should probably go to the library and read the books or, better yet, buy them.

Around the new year, I had the good fortune to read two dystopian novels back to back: MaddAddam and Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep.

I’ve noticed that while people laud the works of prominent science fiction writers like Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, they’re better idea men than they are writers. They’re frequently ham handed in attempting to get their ideas across. When you get a better writer doing science fiction like Ray Bradbury or Neal Stephenson, they revel in describing the details of the world they create. Margaret Atwood fits squarely into the latter camp allowing ironies of human self-destruction to play out around the characters rather than using the characters as an excuse for the ideas.

There are similarities between MaddAddam and Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep and they have mostly to do with empathy as a religious concept.

In Dick’s novel, the world is already irradiated and animal species are dying off. There are off-world colonies that are said to be improvements. Things are so bad that Mercerism, the main religion, is based entirely around having empathy for a figure named Wilbur Mercer, a Sisyphean figure who walks endlessly up a mountain while stones are hurled at him by faceless entities. The people who dial into their empathy boxes feel his pain through a collective consciousness. There are other options. A mood organ will allow you to feel however you want.

The idea that enforced empathy will allow the people of a ruined world to obviate a tendency towards nihilism is absurd. People are ultimately alone and the world is beyond redemption. Chaos is evident in the kipple that clutters the buildings and threatens to swallow the remaining life. Even in that context, there’s an emotional scene with J.R. Isidore (Sebastian in the movie Blade Runner), who cannot bear the mutilation of a spider. Ultimately empathy exists, but in the world Dick created the question is always “but for how much longer?”

It’s a very different world in Maddaddam. There are engineered creatures that roam the landscape. Pigoons and Rakunks and Wolvogs. They’re the result of technology run amok. In enclaves, the rich make decisions that will decide the fate of humanity while poverty dehumanizes those who live in ruined cities. There is cannibalism, rape and murder and that’s before things get really bad.

God’s Gardeners manage to survive the apocalypse thanks to their religion which preaches self-reliance, careful marshalling of resources and respect and empathy for the world’s non-human inhabitants. It’s empathy as a communal state; not to dull the pain of existence, but as a guide towards it. Ultimately, if survival is going to be a possibility, you’d better help others.

There is a section of Maddaddam where the God’s Gardeners have come to rest at Cobb House. It’s not unlike Colborne Lodge in High Park: A 19th century building that had been used as a museum. At the time I was reading it, I was researching what brewing would have been like in the 1820’s. I thought, if I were one of those characters, I would probably want a beer. I’m almost certain that Zebulon would want beer. Brewing beer is probably the only marketable post apocalypse skill I’ve got.

This is where having a writer of Margaret Atwood’s quality comes in handy. The detail of the created world is such that you can vicariously experience the scents and flavours: The honey from Toby and Pilar’s bees. The berries growing on Pilar’s grave. The (probably pretty bad) coffee made of chicory and burdock root.

I knew that whatever it was going to be was probably a gruit. There aren’t any hops mentioned. Then I realized that I knew a brewery that specialized in gruit. I somehow managed to get permission from Margaret Atwood through her publisher and then handed off the idea to Beau’s All Natural. They’re brewing it this Friday for the Session Craft Beer Festival in Toronto next month. I had a small amount of input in the recipe, but since I’m in the middle of writing the year’s second book I’m missing out on the brew day.

The project might expose the Oryx and Crake books to some people who would not otherwise have read them. It will expose literary people who don’t know about craft beer to a really interesting gruit. It expands by a little bit the context of what can inspire a beer. A portion of the proceeds will go to help the Pelee Island Bird Observatory, which is an unexpected benefit and a bit of a mitzvah. At some point, I might get to drink a beer with Margaret Atwood. If you’d told me that was a possibility four years ago when I started blogging, I would have stared at you in blank disbelief.

It more or less comes back to the novel’s suggestion of empathy as a road map to survival. Ultimately, this has turned out to be a really good way to share things I like with people I don’t know. Everybody involved in making it benefits from it. It might make other people’s lives better in small ways that are quantified in minutes or hours. It might even save some territory for a Prothonotary Warbler.

Not a bad way to make a beer.