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  1. #1
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    Beer in the later 1800's in the New York area

    The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, digitized and searchable, gives fascinating information on beer and how it was sold in this period. I will summarize salient points from about a dozen articles written between about 1875 and 1895.

    Reporters made fields trips to saloons and breweries and reported in detail on these topics. No taste notes are given, except in the sense of noting that each brewery made a beer distinguishable by devoted consumers. Also, beer faults are noted, e.g., if it was "acetic", "muddy", or not the right temperature.

    It was observed that whiskey was generally consumed by those who imbibed earlier in the century but slowly beer became more popular, to the point that "seventeen out of twenty" drinkers in a barroom would call for lager beer. Of the remaining three, two wanted ale and the last whiskey.

    I suspect (although this is not stated) that in the North East, inexpensive whiskey (young or little aged or blended) lost its market largely to beer, but quality bourbon and rye became favored by the well-off classes, as did mixed drinks.

    It was noted (as is known to beer historians) that German immigrants brought lager beer to America and this became much more popular than "ale" (the latter included stout and porter). It was explained that lager's cold temperature made it "the" summer drink, and it was preferred by many in other seasons as well. Ale was regarded as potentially of good quality, as e.g. in England (constantly cited as a model), but was inferior to lager because often served too warm or cloudy. While not stated as such, clearly top-fermented ales were going sour more often than stable, long- and cold- aged lagers. However, it was noted that ale quality was improving in that ales were becoming "lighter", "clearer" and colder. Indeed, cream ale and other blonde ales emerged by the end of the 1800's to take back some of the market lost to lagers.

    The color of lager is never (that I found) mentioned except in a vague sense of referring to a refreshing "amber" quaff. Probably lagers then were dark or amber, mostly, although Budweiser was of a color similar today's since it followed the Pilsener style (broadly) emerging in Pilsen, then part of Austria. Old beer ads of Bud I've seen (circa-1900) seem to confirm its light color.

    Lagers were fermented at near freezing temperatures using bottom fermenting yeasts and ales were made at 60 F. or over using top yeasts - the distinction then seems similar to that today. The best lager breweries then aged their lagers for 8 months - few would do that today. Lager was also sold new and this is referred to as "Schenk" beer and some of it was possibly unfiltered.

    Ales in common use were India Pale Ale, Pale Ale or XXX, Canada Malt ale and Burton, the latter clearly patterned after the famous ales of Burton-on-Trent. Ale, too was sold new or aged. Burton was by the mid-1800's in England not as strong and sweet as it had been, and probably was like a good special bitter or ESB in the UK (and parts of the U.S.) today. The Canada name in Canada Malt ale came from the origin of the barley malt used for this type, it was grown in Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario. This beer was dark and not well-hopped. It was said to be somewhat in a Scotch ale style, which would make sense since much of Ontario was settled by Scots and they would have brought the taste. Perhaps that beer would taste like a modern MacEwan's Scotch Ale.

    India Pale Ale was stated to be well-hopped as one would expect, the color is not mentioned but other sources of the time suggest these beers were not amber or dark but truly pale as the name suggests. It was stronger than XXX or regular pale ale.

    One Daily Eagle article states (1870's) that ale quality hadn't much improved in the previous 20 years except that one did not see any more "handpulls" and "goosenecks". This appartus, familiar to anyone who knows real ale well and which has endured in England uninterruptedly since the early 1800's, had disappeared from Brooklyn by the 1870's! How amazed would the scribes of the Daily Eagle be to see beer hand pumps reappear behind some bars in modern America! The article did project however that ale would improve and it did of course as I have stated - by transmuting ultimately into an ale/lager hybrid. (Canadian sparkling ales, such as Molson Export Ale, devised in around 1903, represented a similar evolution).

    Perhaps the American climate, more extreme than the U.K.'s, made this change inevitable although of course today the pre-lager styles have come back full bore via the microbreweries. It is still true though that these ales are more stable, even without pasteurisation, than their forbears. This is due to modern methods of filtration, temperature control and packaging.

    Ale was also regarded as stronger on average than lager beer - true then as now (broadly speaking of course).

    Beer was served in "seidels", a German term for mug, or "schooners". I recall a restaurant in Plattsburgh, NY in the early 1970's serving draft beer in glasses called schooners on the menu. Probably the term has since completely died out, but it hung on for 100 years in some parts of New York State after the time in question.

    One aspect of beer sales which has disappeared (mostly) is selling beer in "cans" or "growlers", i.e., in containers to be taken out for drinking at home. Young people often were sent to the saloons for this purpose, and it was noted they became adept at insisting on full measure and receiving the correct change.

    It was claimed that little margin was earned on selling beer in cans or growlers, but that it was a loss leader and no barroom could afford to dispense with the practice.

    The institution of the "free lunch" was analysed with picturesque or wry references to patrons who abused the practice. The items on offer varied but included pretzels, "Saratoga chips" (these must have been our modern potato chips), smoked and other herrings, cheese, crackers, and sausages of different kinds.

    The intermittently busy life of a bartender was described with some compassion for people who worked, then, 6 days a week, and long hours on each day, and who spent their one free day often at "Sheepshead" (Sheepshead Bay on Long Island) or Coney Island, which needs no introduction. Despite their grueling schedule they often retained their good humor. It was noted that a good bartender was the guarantee of success of an establishment - little has changed in this respect.

    Reading through these articles, one gets a sense that overall, saloon life was becoming oriented around draught beer (as it still is to a large degree), and whiskey was becoming more a specialist item available on its own or in mixed drinks. The fashion for mixed drinks seems to have waxed and waned, one article in around 1875 states that cocktails were losing popularity in favor of whiskey unadorned - there were trends and fashions then as now...

    To the pioneering drink journalists of the later-1800's Brooklyn Daily Eagle I lift a glass, for the engaging apercu they gave us of drink types and customs in their time - a time withal that despite many changes is quite recognisable today.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 01-26-2008 at 19:28.

  2. #2
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    Re: Beer in the later 1800's in the New York area

    When I visited Australia fifteen years ago or so the word "schooner" was used for a size of beer glass. I don't remember what size it was, but the options were something like "pint or schooner?"

    I have taken growlers home from many brewpubs in the past few years. Where permitted by law I think almost all of them do. I've seen a sign at Liquor Barn that implies they sell draught beer to go, too.

  3. #3
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    Re: Beer in the later 1800's in the New York area

    Yes, I think the term schooner has survived in Australia, I recall in Jackson's earlier books a reference to the term (and if I am not mistaken, he referred also to the "ferocity of premier league drinking" in relation to certain establishments of the Antipodes - this was back in the late 1970's and perhaps that part anyway has changed, or so one would hope!).

    I'll mention one more Daily Eagle story, which is a replique to an earlier story which presented the temperance views of a noted spokesman of the day. The story is an alleged interview with a Brooklyn bartender named Miller. I say alleged, because the tone of the interview, which by "Miller's" choice takes the form of a near monologue, allied to the numerous classical references and other unusual bits of learning in the speech, makes me think that Miller was none other than the journalist himself, who used a rather transparent device to set his own views against those of the temperance man.

    At the end of Miller's long speech in which beer and the moderate use thereof is defended, Miller states that his defense is predicated on "one condition". At this point, the journalist reappears in his official role and asks him "breathlessly", and what is that?

    And Miller replies: "That it be drawn from the keg fresh".

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 01-26-2008 at 20:57.

  4. #4
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    Re: Beer in the later 1800's in the New York area

    Gillman,

    By any chance are you doing research for some kind of publication?

  5. #5
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    Re: Beer in the later 1800's in the New York area

    No no not at all, I just do this in my spare time, just for the enjoyment of it (really). There are many beer fans here I know (and some fine brewers), and I just thought these descriptions would interest some of these.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 01-26-2008 at 20:46.

  6. #6

    Re: Beer in the later 1800's in the New York area

    Coincidentally, I've also been doing research on some breweries using the digitized version of the New York Times. Sadly, most of the references are for various birth, death and wedding announcements of brewers' families. Will have to find a library with the Brooklyn Eagle. (While the searchable/digitized NYT is quick and easy, I sorta miss the old days of rolls of microfilm where one saw the entire paper to get a sense of the era.)

    As for the color of late 1800's US lager beer, I like to refer to this following quote from the book "25 Years of Brewing"(1891) by George Ehret (his NYC firm, Hell Gate Brewery, was the #1 US brewery in the late 1800's, altho' soon after was surpassed by Pabst):

    "The data (on US barley usage)here will be better
    understood, if it be borne in mind that all light beers
    of that peculiarly vinous taste, which has late
    become somewhat popular, are made of malt and
    rice or corn, as in the case of the excellent Pilsen brands.
    The prevailing taste, however, still calls for a brewage
    of a deep reddish-brown color, peculiar to heavily-malted beers,
    such as emanate from Hell Gate Brewery."

    I think many often think of the "lager beers" of the US in the 1800's as similar brews- but obviously from Ehret's quote is the fact that many US brewers of German heritage continued to market a more "Bavarian" influenced, darker all-malt beer, even as the "Bohemian"-influenced beers (what Ehret calls "Pilsen brands") from Anheuser-Busch, Pabst and Schlitz -which used corn or rice as adjuncts to "lighten" the beers- were coming to dominate the market.

    Even in the post-Prohibition era, the lagers of the East Coast were a bit hoppier and richer tasting (one could even say that it was the cause of their demise, as US beer preference went lighter and lighter)- as noted in this article on "Bushwick" style beers.

    When the subject of draught beer in the 1800's came up recently elsewhere, I did a little digging into the massive "100 Years of Brewing" and was somewhat surprised that
    by 1903 "pushing" draught beer with what they called "carbonic acid gas" was already used for 3/4's of the draught beer served in the US.


    Last edited by jesskidden; 01-27-2008 at 06:16.

  7. #7
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    Re: Beer in the later 1800's in the New York area

    Thanks for this, as indicated on another thread of SB dealing with my impressions of the Daily Eagle's articles on whiskey, the source can be searched at www.brooklynlibrary.org

    On the left side of the home page is the button for its digital collection. Press that and a page comes up with the Daily Eagle under Historical Newspapers.

    It is possible to view the full pages of the newspaper also.

    I think the (broadly) Munich dark style was contemporaneous with paler beers, e.g., in the Daily Eagle are ads from Anheuser-Busch which mention six of its beers of the late 1800's. One clearly is the ancestor of the Bud we know today but others include "Muenchner", which must have been such a Munich dark.

    There are hundreds of articles dealing with beer in one form or another.

    The journalists were interested in ale-type beers too and numerous articles discuss the effect the lager surge was having on the pre-existing ale beers.

    One such article states that before lager came in, the beer brewed was "small beer" and it did not have a wide sale because it could not last more than three days. This was maybe an exaggeration (since surely stronger ales and porters were brewed by numerous companies before lager arrived in the mid-1800's) but one gets the sense that in the urbanising Brooklyn and New York of the time, the barroom patrons did not drink much beer until lager took hold.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 01-27-2008 at 07:02.

  8. #8

    Re: Beer in the later 1800's in the New York area

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillman View Post

    I think the (broadly) Munich dark style was contemporaneous with paler beers, e.g., in the Daily Eagle are ads from Anheuser-Busch which mention six of its beers of the late 1800's. One clearly is the ancestor of the Bud we know today but others include "Muenchner", which must have been such a Munich dark.

    Oh, yeah, while it's now seen as somewhat unique to craft brewers to market a large number of different styles, the breweries at the turn of the 19th century also made numerous styles, even those that were primarily "lager" brewers of German heritage.

    A-B's brands, circa 1895, included "Standard", "Budweiser", "Pilsener", "Pale Lager", "Burgundy", "Liebotschauer", "Erlanger" and "Faust" (they even had a "Black and Tan", well before the English military unit with the same nickname which some claim is the "origin" of the name for the mixed beer drink). Pabst's bottled beers, in the same era, included "Export" "Bavarian" "Bohemian" "Hofbrau" and "Select"- the latter which came with a length of blue ribbon around the cap and soon took that as it's name. IIRC, one of the well-known Milwaukee brewers even had their own "Budweiser" for a time -as did many US breweries (A-B was still taking them to court to defend their trademark through the 1960's).

    But, in the quote from Ehret, it seems to me that he was referring to what today we call the "flagship" beers of the various breweries. The big mid-Western "shipping" breweries like A-B, Pabst and Schlitz which rose to the top of the US breweries in the two final decades of the 1800's were mainly marketing their "Pilsner" style beers. Those beers came to be seen as more "modern" and replaced the older, darker "lagers" of the Eastern brewers.
    Last edited by jesskidden; 01-27-2008 at 08:25.

  9. #9
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    Re: Beer in the later 1800's in the New York area

    Agreed, not sure what he meant though by "vinous", a term I'd associate more with top-fermented styles. Probably he meant a dryness that some may have found similar to the palate of white wine (assisted by the adjunct and pale malt, 6 row I assume, used in these new, lighter beers).

    Gary

  10. #10

    Re: Beer in the later 1800's in the New York area

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillman View Post
    Agreed, not sure what he meant though by "vinous", a term I'd associate more with top-fermented styles. Probably he meant a dryness that some may have found similar to the palate of white wine (assisted by the adjunct and pale malt, 6 row I assume, used in these new, lighter beers).

    Gary
    Yeah, I know what you mean about "vinous". It was a popular term for beer description at the time. I've, too, always assumed it meant "dry", as opposed to a malty sweetness.

    Here's quotes from "100 Years of Brewing" describing various beer styles in 1903, for instance, that also uses the terminology, and then says "winelike":

    "The German beer is expected to be made of a more dextrinous wort, rich in extract, of full-mouthed taste, moderate in alcohol, mostly of dark color, and possessing a rich and permanent head of foam."

    "The Bohemian beers have more of a vinous character and possess a fine and strongly noticeable hop flavor, a pronounced bitter taste, and light in color."

    "The American lager beers taste more winelike than the German ones and in character are nearer related to the Bohemian or Austrian beers, being very effervescent and combing the quality of preserving the foam with a more or less full-mouthed taste. Their color, with the exception of special brands, is light throughout."

 

 

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