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Tales From “Beer & Food: An American History”

Posted by Bob Skilnik on December 28, 2008

     In the last decade or so, there has been an explosion of new beer-themed cookbooks that have either attempted to pair up food with various styles of beer or use beer as an ingredient in its preparation. The craft beer movement and its impact in reawakening the brewing of styles of beer that had long been forgotten in the United States seems to have had a strong influence on the authors of these cookbooks. Though many of the recipes that have been created in the last few years have ambitiously tried to match these forgotten beer styles with various foods, the efforts often seem too esoteric for my taste, too demanding of my time and certainly not of common everyday fare.

A cedar-planked wild salmon matched with a highly-hopped pale ale sounds delicious on a restaurant menu but way beyond the sort of entrée one might whip-up at home. Let’s face it, there are few home cooks who have a supply of untreated cedar boards stored away or have ready access to wild salmon for this sort of a dish. And what would be a proposed vegetable accompaniment to such an entrée? Suggestions in the latest beer cookbooks might include the steamed, young tender shoots of the hop vine, similar, so we’re told, to the springtime harvest of asparagus. My local supermarket doesn’t carry young hop shoots. Does yours? Since supermarket asparagus continues to be flown in from God-knows-where and priced at $3.99 to $4.99 per pound in late December, imagine what a price of hop shoots would cost, if they could even be found.

As we look at the evolution of the use of beer in American food recipes, I hope to convince readers that beer, the drink of the common man, might be more appropriate and more user-friendly in less esoteric culinary excursions. After reading through a number of contemporary beer & food cookbooks, I couldn’t stop from thinking, “What ever happened to the old simple recipe of soaking bratwurst overnight in beer and then throwing them on the grill?”

        Initially in a search for simpler recipes of food using beer, I decided instead to begin by looking back at the roots of American cookery and its use of beer as an ingredient, to discover when the marriage of food and beer really took hold in our country’ s colonial kitchens. Using food recipes from some of the earliest American cookbooks through an assortment of recipes from the publications of pre and post-Prohibition breweries that have long past into oblivion, I have gathered, edited and tested a generous collection of old tried-and-true attempts at bringing together American food and beer.

American Food Meets American Beer

A number of well intentioned individuals have sent me scores of purported recipes using beer in food from Medieval times and earlier during my early research efforts, but I have chosen instead to use nothing more than published recipes from American sources. My avoidance of European cookbooks is deliberate, an acknowledgment of the chasm that developed in the late 1790s between cookbooks using English-styled recipes and ingredients and the first publication of a true American cookbook in 1796, written by an American using ingredients indigenous to the New World. With the beginnings of a uniquely American cuisine (actually a fusion of the best and most practical recipes from English cuisine) runs the parallel development of the United States brewing industry.

Like early American cooking efforts, early brewers also utilized indigenous ingredients for their brews. Amelia Simmons’ ground-breaking American Cookery, or The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes….Adapted to this Country and All Grades of Life, makes no mention of beer or ale using the customary malted barley in any of her food recipes but does give instructions for the brewing of “spruce beer” and the use of “emptins” to leaven bread, a fermenting mixture of wild hops and starch. The lactic but leavening quality of this mixture was usually aided with the addition of saleratus, a naturally forming white crystalline substance having a sweetening alkaline quality, used like today’s baking soda. With the chemical reaction of the alkaline saleratus and the sour or lactic quality of a home made yeast, a leavening effect was assured. This homemade yeast starter, more a staple of forced necessity than choice, was a virtual cauldron of unpredictability, an aspect of fermentation that also plagued early commercial brewing efforts.

The preparation of spruce beer and the use of emptins in the kitchen hint at the widespread lack of high grade English malt or reliable brewing yeasts in many parts of the colonies, at least before the Revolutionary War. To a degree, this regression in brewing is startling. During the 1600s, settlements in the New Netherland and New England colonies had actually developed more than the semblance of a brewing industry in the Americas. Excessive taxation by local politicians of commercial beer and the abundance of cheap imported West Indies rum had caused the young American brewing industry to retreat to colonial households.

G. Thomman, in his 1909 book, American Beer, Glimpses of Its History and Description of Its Manufacture notes that good quality ingredients for brewing in the colonies were often difficult to attain during this era.

“…at one time the importation of malt was forbidden, in order to stimulate domestic malting; yet, within a short time thereafter, the malting of domestic wheat, rye and barley was prohibited on account of the scarcity of these cereals. At another time, a desire to encourage the exportation of wheat led to the enactment of a law imposing upon a brewers a fine of ten shillings for every bushel of wheat used in brewing. Ordinances encouraging brewing by exempting beer from taxation were counteracted in their contemplated effects by regulations prescribing the quality and fixing the price of malt liquors without regard to the increased cost of materials and production.”

 

By the late 1600s, even New York and Pennsylvania, where the brewing industry had flourished, fell into disrepair, though a few breweries continued to operate in Philadelphia, brewing quality porters and other ales. The widespread result of excessive taxation of beer and the lack of good quality brewing materials brought about not only a hodgepodge of unpalatable home brews using indigenous American ingredients such as corn, ginger, molasses or sassafras, but also a lack of readily available sources of good quality “barm,” or brewer’s yeast. Without this catalyst for fermentation, it often became difficult to make either a palatable home brew or a consistent supply of commercial malt beverages for those few breweries that still attempted to ply their trade.

The use of brewer’s yeast in households to leaven bread would eventually become a practice that would establish itself in the early 1800s of American home and commercial baking when, not coincidentally, the brewing industry began to regroup and expand.

Small Beer

            This is not to say that beer was completely lacking in the colonies during the Revolutionary War era. Victor S. Clark in his History of Manufactures in the United States talks of the humble retreat of the American brewing industry.

            “When the Constitution was adopted many housewives still brewed small beer for their families, and for fifty years thereafter numerous village breweries continued in operation with an equipment and a volume of business hardly exceeding those of a village bakery…”

 

            This “small beer” that Clark speaks of was a weak brew, meant to be consumed almost immediately after it was brewed. Its lower alcoholic strength, and oftentimes lack in the brew of hops with their preservative qualities, necessitated quick consumption since the proper sanitation of brewing equipment and storage vessels and the chemistry involved in making a proper beer were sorely lacking. The unpredictability of a successful batch of beer was based on an all too common reliance on wild yeasts to activate the fermentation. Most household yeast starters were filled with the wild yeast qualities of Saccharomyces exiguus and Lactobacillus bacteria. More often than not, these two critters would win the battle for survival in the young brew even if the beer-making Saccaromyces cerevisae yeast was present. This unpredictable blending of yeasts was just the right mixture of mischievous fungi for setting off the leavening of sourdough bread, the deliberate (though more often than not, accidental) making of vinegar and the occasional batch of good-quality beer.

The result was often a spoiled batch of beer or one that could turn quickly, whether brewed at home or in the few commercial breweries of the era. If consumed quickly, however, there was the chance that the wild yeasts that had caused the fermentation to occur did not have time enough to completely spoil the brew, fended off, perhaps, by the valiant efforts of a particularly determined colony of Saccaromyces cerevisaeyeast. In other words, early brewing efforts were often a crapshoot, an example of brewing being more of an art then a science.

American cookbooks of this era and beyond occasionally used “sour beer” as an ingredient in recipes, also described as stale beer. Lydia Maria Francis Child in The Frugal Housewife: Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy, Boston: Carter and Hendee, 1830, suggested the addition of soured beer as a substitution for wine in stew-like dishes, either liquid ingredient having the necessary acidity to tenderize meat. Another mention of what to do with sour beer can be found in another recipe in her book for making batter for fritters or pancakes. Many contemporary batter recipes using beer still call for flat beer, a reflection of its earliest use when beer soured and was often left devoid of any natural carbonation. The call for flat beer for batters in today’s cookbooks serve no purpose different than the usage of carbonated beer; it merely is a holdover from the days of an abundance of flat beer. Waste not, want not — but contemporary recipe book authors merely reflect a centuries-old practice, unaware of why flat beer is called for.

If the household supply of beer had soured beyond all hope, Child’s book also suggested a mixture of the beer, molasses, water and a vinegar starter, all of which could be added to the family’s never-ending barrel of homemade vinegar. Not only did this practice illustrate the reality of beer turning bad on a regular basis but also Ms. Child’s and the early American settlers’ frugal philosophy of “waste not, want not.” It’s no wonder that some early American breweries also sidelined as vinegar purveyors. What better way to profit from a failed batch of beer!

            A manuscript of George Washington’s writings includes this recipe for small beer.

 

“Take a large Siffer [Sifter] of Bran…Hops to your Taste—Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a Cooler  put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Molasses into the Cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot.  Let this stand till it is a little more than Blood warm then put in a quart of Yea[s]t  if the Weather is very Cold cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask—leave the Bung [Stopper] open till it almost don[e] Working—Bottle it that day Week it was brewed.”

 

            The unknown variables in this recipe for beer by President Washington would be frightening for any modern-day brewer, a mention of sanitation procedures and the quality of the yeast strain lacking in Washington’s brewing instructions. It’s a wonder whether the father of our country was a better brewer or maker of vinegar!

 

Don’t Go Near the Water

            If the brewing of beer was such a crapshoot, with the final product often destined to succumb to spoilage, why did early Americans even bother to brew? More than likely, the reason was poor quality water, or more accurately, the perception of bad, unpotable water. Now this might seem an odd notion considering the pristine rivers, babbling streams and crystal clear bodies of water that the early settlers surely came upon in the New World. Immigrants, however, had seen what polluted water could do to a once healthy person in the Old World. Diseases like typhoid and dysentery were common in built up areas such as established European cities and large villages. Though the concept of bacteria and its connection to hygiene were yet unknown, there was an almost inherent knowledge, shared from the educated lawmaker to the lowly peasant that the consumption of water seemed to foster disease.

Little wonder why. By the 1700s, many European waters were already polluted with human waste. Add to that the run off from tanneries and slaughterhouses and other industries that found the local rivers and lakes to be ideal dumping grounds for the unwanted by-products of their industrial efforts.

            When settlers arrived in the New World, their wariness of drinking any water was understandable. However, by boiling water and getting an infusion of fermentables from ingredients such as spruce, corn, barley or bran, as Washington’s beer recipe shows, the people of the Colonists era sensed that boiling was critical in insuring a healthy drink. It’s no wonder that beer, hot cocoa drinks, tea, and later coffee, all had the common element of using boiled water. Even potions such as rum toddies, oftentimes diluted with water, were finalized before consumption with the insertion of a glowing red poker to stir the concoction and heat the drink to a frothy boil.

 

Strong Beer

            There are recorded instances, however, of the higher-strength “strong beer” or “ship’s beer” also being used in some early American food recipes. In the these instances, the brew could be used in the place of a fortified Madeira, but for the most part, the strongest beers were sought out by the landed gentry who could afford them and stored away with the household’s supply of expensive wines. In other words, they were meant to be savored by beer drinkers as intended and not necessarily as a cooking ingredient. These beers were typically imported from England and brewed using quality malts and more reliable yeast strains and astringently hopped for a preservative effect. Strong beer’s use in early recipes, however, does occasionally show up in cookbooks of this era.

 

To Stew Brisket of Beef

Having rubbed the brisket with common salt and saltpetre, let it lie four days. Then lard the skin with fat bacon, and put it into a stew pan with a quart of water; a pint of red wine, or strong beer, half a pound of butter, a bunch of sweet herbs, three or four shallot, some pepper and half a nutmeg grated. Covet the pan very close. Stew it over a gentle fire for six hours. Then fry some square pieces of boiled turnips very brown. Strain the liquor the beef was stewed in, thicken it with burnt butter, and having mixed the turnips with it, pour all together over the beef in a large dish. Serve it up hot, and garnish with lemon sliced.

Susannah Carter, The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook; Wherein the Art of Dressing All Sorts of Liands is Explained in Upwards of Five Hundred Approved Receipts New York, Printed and sold by G. & R. Waite, no. 64, Maidenlane, 1803

 

           

Expansion of the Brewing Industry

As the country continued to develop and expand, a number of things occurred that reinstigated the brewing of beer on a commercial scale, limiting the need for home brewing and even the necessity of small rural taverns to simultaneously act as boarding rooms, eateries, stables and ersatz breweries. Although normal trade relations with Englandwere interrupted again with the War of 1812, and with it, the importation of good quality English malt, the growing of native barley as a cash crop had increased substantially in the states to fill the void of imported brewing grains. This indigenous grain of six-row barley, along with the deliberate cultivation of the wild hops that could be found in the rural areas of much of the East Coast, brought together the necessary ingredients to make a qualffable beer.

One of the first brewers’ of note during the expansion of the early American brewing industry was Matthew Vassar. This brewer shrugged off the destruction by fire of his brewery in 1811 and restarted his brewing business soon after. Although his initial efforts amounted to no more than the brewing of three barrels of beer at a time, the reputation of his products gave him enough capital to open up a saloon in the basement of the Poughkeepsie, New York courthouse to sell his products. Vassar is more well-known for his later founding of Vassar College, but for our purposes, it is interesting to note that he also was responsible for introducing oysters to the beer drinkers of Poughkeepsie, years before the philanthropist provided the capital for the institution of an all-womans’ college. I’m still amazed at beer enthusiasts today who gush over the notion of pairing a dark beer with oysters when the practice had bee commonplace for centuries. An absolutely delightful book about the importance of the American oyster trade, centered around New York City, is Mark Kurlansky’s “The Big Oyster,” History of the Half Shell. Stopping in the many “oyster saloons” in New York for a dozen freshly-schucked oysters and washing them down with beer was a common indulgence.

His father, James, also a brewer, had a reputation years earlier for brewing quality ales, milds, porters and small beers, as well as the selling of “skimmings” or yeasty barm to families for the use in baking products. Those families that had access to brewery yeast found that it helped to make a good quality leavened bread.

This bread recipe below also takes advantage of corn meal, often called “Indian meal” or simply “Indian” in early American cookbooks.

 

Rye and Indian Bread

Sift two quarts of rye, and two quarts of Indian meal, and mix them well together. Boil three pints of milk; pour in boiling hot upon the meal; add two teaspoonfuls of salt, and stir the whole very hard. Let it stand till it becomes of only a lukewarm heat, and then stir in half a pint of good fresh yeast; if from the brewery and quite fresh, a smaller quantity will suffice. Knead the mixture into stiff dough, and set it to rise in a pan. Cover it with a thick cloth that has been previously warmed, and set it near the fire. When it is quite light, and has cracked all over the top, make it into two loaves, put them into a moderate oven, and bake them two hours and a half.

Esther Allen Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper, and Family Receipt Book, Cincinnati: H.W. Derby, 1845

 

By the early 1800s, however, the brewing of good quality ale had once again become more common place, especially in regions where German immigrants had settled. Pennsylvania was particularly noted as the leading brewing center of the United States during the first few decades of the nineteenth century, with New York, Massachusetts and Maryland adding to the beginnings of large scale brewing in America. By 1850, four hundred and thirty-one breweries accounted for 23,267,730 gallons of beer, and with it, a more common source of brewer’s yeast for baking.

 

The Temperance Effect on Cooking

Part of this expansion of the American brewing trade was a result of the inadvertent influence of the early temperance movement to steer imbibers to the lower-strength malted beverages. This movement was a reaction to the free-wheeling countryside bootlegging of whiskey and the importation of cheap rum into the U.S. At the time, drunkenness was a problem in the states, especially in the rural areas where a bumper crop of bulky corn could be easily mashed and distilled into the more portable and potent American whiskey. Though whiskey could be used as a bartering tool in the back woods and farm lands where money was scarce, it was also subject to abuse by settlers during the downtime of the winter months. Various government efforts were made to convert whiskey drinkers to the less inebriating enjoyment of malted beverages. By the 1880s, beer, or more specifically, lager beer, would indeed take over in popularity as the drink of the common man. Unfortunately, decades later, U.S. brewers, boastful creators of the resultant “drink of moderation,” would also find themselves targeted by both advocates of temperance and the more forceful prohibition movement.

In a reflection of the times, this first wave of American temperance in the 1830s was not only exhibited in the development of “dry” organizations such as the Washingtonian Movement and its Total Abstinence Society, ironically conceived in a Baltimore tippling house by a group of repentant drunks, but also in some cookbooks of the era. The dedication page of Ann Allen’s The Housekeeper’s Assistant, Composed Upon Temperance Principles: With Instructions In The Art of Making Plain And Fancy Cakes, Puddings, Pastry, Confectionery, Ice Creams, Jellies, Blanc Mange: Also, For The Cooking Of All The Various Kinds of Meats…, Boston, J. Munroe, 1845, preaches to readers that the “authoress” has dedicated the book to the temperance movement and hints of the apparent use of liquor [most likely including beer] in everyday cooking. In the dedication, Allen vows that she does not use alcoholic drinks “…as a beverage or in cookery.”

By the 1840s, as some states started to wrestle with the gradual move from the softer-stanced temperance movement and towards the harsher prohibition of the manufacture and consumption of all alcoholic drinks, a new type of beer would come on to the American scene, one that would change the history of the United States brewing industry and begin to seal the relationship between food and beer.

 

Food Recipes of the pre-Lager Era

There are various example of yeast recipes for home baking during the years before lager beer, some using the very American pumpkin as a fermentable yeast starter, bran, indigenous white potatoes and the chancy emptins concoction, as described earlier. The following recipe for a yeast starter utilized malt from a local brewery and, though it’s not explicitly stated here, probably also utilized a sample of good quality yeast from the same brewery. The publication of this cookbook in 1840 by Eliza Leslie reflected the growing, and for many, the more familiar sight of a local brewery in the immediate area. Yeast starter recipes for the next few decades usually recommend picking up either malt or yeast barm from a brewery, a luxury the household cook couldn’t envision from the colonial era until the early to mid-1830s or so.

Also note the addition of pearl ash in the yeast to counteract the inevitable souring of the starter that sat around a little bit too long. Potash, as it’s more commonly known today, was originally obtained from wood ashes and used to counteract the eventual lactic qualities of a yeast starter with its alkaline properties. Its usage was similar to that of saleratus.

Also note that by the time of this recipe book’s publication in 1840, molasses had become an everyday-cooking ingredient, this New World sweetener having replaced the once traditional English treacle in U.S. cooking usage.

 

Baker’s Yeast

To a gallon of soft water, put two quarts of wheat bran, one quart of ground malt (which may be obtained from a brewery), and two handfuls of hops. Boil them together for half an hour. Then strain it through a sieve, and let it stand till it is cold; after which put in two large tea-cups of molasses, and half a pint of strong yeast. Pour it into a stone jug, and let it stand uncorked till next morning. Then pour off the thin liquid from the top, and cork the jug tightly. When you are going to use this yeast, if it has been made two or three days, stir in a little pearl-ash dissolved in warm water, allowing a lump the size of a hickory-nut to a pint of yeast. This will correct any tendency to sourness, and make the yeast more brisk.

 

Eliza Leslie, Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches. Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & Hart, 1840

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Though many of the soup/stew-type recipes of the late 1700s and early 1800s call for the addition of Madiera, red wine or, as a last resort, sour beer, as a tenderizing ingredient, this soup is an example of the much rarer use of ale, simply as a flavoring component.

Asparagus Soup

Take five or six pounds of lean beef, cut into lumps and rolled in flour; put into your stew-pan, with two or three slices of fat bacon at the bottom; then put over a slow fire, and cover it close, stirring it now and then till the gravy is drawn: then put in it two quarts of water and half a pint of ale. Cover it close, and let it stew gently for an hour with some whole pepper, and salt to your mind; then strain off the liquor, and take off the fat; put in the leaves of white beets, some spinach, some cabbage, lettuce, a little mint, some sorrel, and a little sweet marjoram powdered; [after removing fat from the gravy, pour back into the stew] let these boil up in your liquor, then put in the green tops of asparagus cut small, and let them boil till all is tender. Serve it up hot, with a French roll in the middle.

 

Susannah Carter. The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook; Wherein the Art of Dressing All Sorts of Viands is Explained in Upwards of Five Hundred Approved Receipts… New York, Printed and sold by G. & R. Waite, no. 64, Maidenlane, 1803

 

 

            Below is another example of ale being used for flavoring, not as a tenderizer. Note that this recipe specifically calls for “…good table beer.”

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To Make a Craw Fish Soup

 

Cleanse them [the crawfish], and boil them in water, salt and spice: pull off their feet and tails, and fry them [the crawfish, not the feet and tails]; break the rest of them [the feet and tails] in a stone mortar, season them with savory spice, and an onion, a hard egg, grated bread, and sweet herbs boiled in good table beer; strain it, and put to it scalded chopped parsley, and French rolls; then put in the fried craw fish, with a few mushrooms. Garnish the dish with sliced lemon, and the feet and tail of a craw fish.

 

Susannah Carter. The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook; Wherein the Art of Dressing All Sorts of Viands is Explained in Upwards of Five Hundred Approved Receipts… New York, Printed and sold by G. & R. Waite, no. 64, Maidenlane, 1803

 

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            Though we’ll see numerous interpretations of stew using beer as an ingredient throughout the book, this early recipe holds up well throughout the scores of stew recipes of the next two centuries. Note, however, that red wine is the first choice as an ingredient, not beer.

Burnt or dried bread is often called for in early gravy-based dishes to thicken the sauce.

 

To Stew Beef

Take four pounds of stewing beef, with the hard fat of brisket beef cut in pieces; put these into a stew-pan with three pints of water, a little salt, pepper, dried marjorum powdered and three cloves. Cover the pan very close and let it stew four hours over a slow fire. Then throw into it as much turnips and carrots cut into square pieces, as you think convenient; and the white part of a large leek, two heads of celery shred fine, a crust of bread burnt, and half a pint of red wine (or good small beer will do as well). Then pour it all into a soup-dish and serve it up hot, garnish with boiled and slice carrot.

 

Susannah Carter. The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook; Wherein the Art of Dressing All Sorts of Viands is Explained in Upwards of Five Hundred Approved Receipts… New York, Printed and sold by G. & R. Waite, no. 64, Maidenlane, 1803

 

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Dutch Cakes

 

Take five pounds of flour, two ounces of caraway seeds, half a pound of sugar, and something more than a pint of milk, put into it three quarters of a pound of butter, then make a hole in the middle of the flour, and put in a full pint of good ale-yeast: pour in the butter and milk, and make these into a paste, letting it stand a quarter of an hour before the fire to rise; then mould it, and roll into cakes pretty thin; prick them all over pretty much, or they will blister, and bake them a quarter of an hour.

 

Susannah Carter. The Frugal Housewife: Or, Complete Woman Cook; Wherein the Art of Dressing All Sorts of Viands is Explained in Upwards of Five Hundred Approved Receipts… New York, Printed and sold by G. & R. Waite, no. 64, Maidenlane, 1803

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Read More In Beer & Food: An American History

Review

“The first book that gives a historical look at why beer and food are truly partners in today’s kitchens.”  —John R. Hall, president, Goose Island Beer Company
“Kudos to Bob Skilnik for creating this absorbing and informative resource.”  —Keith Lemcke, marketing manager, World Brewing Academy
“This enjoyable read merits a pint of your favorite ale by your side, so you may sip and browse throughout!”  —Lucy Saunders, editor, Beercook.com, and author, Grilling with Beer
“A tasty history, from beer soup to Beer Nuts, with pickled pigs’ feet in between.”  —Don Russell, a.k.a. “Joe Sixpack,” beer reporter, Philadelphia Daily News

 

 

 

Posted in Beer & Food Pairings, Beer And Food Pairing, Beer History, Beer In Food, Book Reviews, Books & Beer, Cooking With Beer, Food History, Food That Demands To Be Paired With Beer, Plugs | 2 Comments »

So Do We All Agree That December 5, 1933 Is The End Of National Prohibition?

Posted by Bob Skilnik on December 4, 2008

I’ve been bitching and moaning for the last few years about April 7, 1933 being celebrated by various groups as the end of Prohibition when the real end was December 5, 1933. On that date, the 18th Amendment was nullified by the passing of the 21st Amendment. In the meantime, I’ve heard all the contorted stories by a dwindling number of revisionists who still want to hang their hats on April 7.

Today is December 5, the 75th Anniversary of the end of Prohibition. Period. And as expected, beer writers and bloggers are wringing their hands about the significance of the date, its meaning in the grand scheme of things and whether it should be seen as a day of celebration or reflection. And with these postings, there seems to be a need to also tie the date to homebrewing and its supposed illegality during the dry years.

I contend, however, that homebrewing, per se, was NEVER illegal; what was illegal was the way in which malt extract (called “syrup” back then) was labeled and advertised. To support this argument, I’ve included a section from my last book, Beer & Food: An American History. What makes this book so interesting is that while it takes a look at the early marriage of American beer and food and how this union was cultivated, and gives a fascinating glimpse into why there might be a beer in your fridge today, it really details the history and development of beer in the Colonies and the eventual United States of America.

It’s this history that too many beer drinkers, writers, amateur historians and bloggers don’t understand, and as a result, the same old tired beer stories are told over and over. For instance;

1.) If I had a dime for every uninformed claim that corn and rice were dumped into beer coppers as a result of Prohibition (“They were brewing lighter beers for women,” “Brewers wanted more profit so they cheapened their beers”), I’d be writing this entry from the southern coast of France.

2.) Speaking of Prohibition, one of my “favorite” quotes and quite often pouring out of the mouths of some respected contemporary beer writers and “authorities,” is this, “National Prohibition forever changed the face of the U.S. brewing industry and the beers of old.” However, if you look at the neverending changes in the character, quality and brewing of American beer, you’d see that change was and is constant in the industry. In the short time of just a few decades, U.S. beer went from a creature with British origins but often brewed with indigenous American ingredients and brought to fermentation in a manner that some Belgian breweries still use today, to a murky German lager, in short time. . .cleaned up as a golden-colored Bohemian-styled pilsner, soon changed to a lighter version of the product from Pilsen with the addition of costly corn and rice, a product that eventually enjoyed shelf stability with pasteurization, benefited from the change from brewing as an art to brewing as a science and the resultant “cleaner” brew with the isolation of a single and pure cell of yeast, widespread bottling, the use of crown caps, a demand for ice-cold beer, the use of mechanical refrigeration, a wave of brewery closings and consolidations throughout the country when British investors bought into breweries throughout the U.S., only to find that intense competition had taken the bloom off the industry’s rose, increased beer taxes during the Spanish-American War, the brewing of a mandated weakened beer of 2.75% alcohol during WW I, the cessation of brewing in the United States on December 1, 1918, the later resumption of beer with an alcoholic strength of 3.2%, and finally. . .National Prohibition. So I find it hard to accept the argument that Prohibition irrevocably changed beer and brewing in the U.S. Folks, it was changing the moment the first colonist fired up his brew kettle, and it has continued to see change to this very day.

3.) Homebrewing was illegal during Prohibition. No, it wasn’t. Read on.

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History of St. Pat’s Corned Beef Recipes

Posted by Bob Skilnik on March 10, 2008

As you read through the early recipes in Beer & Food: An American History thatcorned-beef.jpg include beer or ale as an ingredient, consider the suggestion that many of today’s beer-themed food dishes might not have been recently “invented,” but are rather the results of an evolution in their preparation. It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to see that a homemade pot roast with an added

can of Miller High Life or your mother’s rib-sticking stew with a dose of Guinness, could all stem from earlier recipes.

Londoner Susannah Carter and her later edition of The Frugal Housewife, or, Complete woman cook; wherein the art of dressing all sorts of viands is explained in upwards of five hundred approved receipts, in gravies, sauces, roasting [etc.]…also the making of English wines. To which is added an appendix, containing several new receipts adapted to the American mode of cooking, offers a number of good examples of early American food recipes, especially derived from English cookery.

 

This recipe book, originally published in England around 1765, was quite popular in British-America, with a later printing in Boston in 1772. The book’s engraved plates are attributed to Paul Revere. In 1803, Carter added new recipes for her American audience that listed very American dishes such as pumpkin pie, recipes for maple syrup and buckwheat pancakes, and even methods of raising turkeys.  

 

Carter also makes an interesting observation that too many contemporary household cooks gloss over when using beer in food. Highly-hopped beers, with their accompanying bitterness, are the last thing you want to add to a dish whose broth will be reduced. If a highly-hopped twelve-ounce beer makes your lips pucker and curls your toes with just one sip, imagine what it will do to your taste buds if concentrated down to a four-ounce reduction!

The following recipe for beef brisket might be viewed as an early step in the evolutionary path of the contemporary brisket and beer dish. Every St. Patrick’s day, innumerable slow-cooked beef brisket or corned beef recipes, usually adding Guinness or Harp to the pot for “authenticity” (while overlooking the fact that that the “Irish” corned beef and cabbage dish is really an American blarney-inspired culinary creation), are rolled out by food writers in the food sections of U.S. newspapers and magazines.

The pre-cooking rub of salt and saltpeter [saltpetre] on the brisket, and a rest time of four days, probably resulted somewhat in the reddish color of the corned beef we enjoy today, although the use of saltpeter in any of today’s food recipes is not recommended. The boiled New England meal of corned beef might have actually stemmed from this very British beef brisket recipe of the late 1700s or early 1800s:

TO STEW BRISKET OF BEEF

Having rubbed the brisket with common salt and saltpetre, let it lie four days. Then lard the skin with fat bacon, and put it into a stew pan with a quart of water; a pint of red wine, or strong beer, half a pound of butter, a bunch of sweet herbs, three or four shallots, some pepper and half a nutmeg grated. Cover the pan very close. Stew it over a gentle fire for six hours.

 

Then fry some square pieces of boiled turnips very brown. Strain the liquor the beef was stewed in, thicken it with burnt butter, and having mixed the turnips with it, pour all together over the beef in a large dish. Serve it up hot, and garnish with lemon sliced.

To make this dish “authentic,” grab a Guinness Stout.

Posted in Beer & Food Pairings, Beer History, Beer In Food, Cooking With Beer, Food History | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

National Prohibition; Its REAL Anniversary

Posted by Bob Skilnik on December 4, 2007

april7behindhotelunloadingbeer2.jpg 

Unloading beer behind the Hilton, April 7, 1933

December 5, 1933 notes a “first” in constitutional history. It was on this day, 75 years ago, that American voters, through state referendums, added the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It was the first time in our history that a constitutional amendment was passed, not simply by the will of legislators, but instead through popular mandate, i.e., the power of the U.S. citizenry. For some of us, December 5, 1933 will always be remembered as the end of National Prohibition. Unfortunately, there are too many writers and trade organizations who should know this, but have chosen, instead, to revise U.S. history for their own purposes, and if I might, usually for self-promoting ones.

You might recall my rants back in April when organizations like the Brewers Association, the A & E network and Anheuser-Busch, with its pimping of “The American Brew” an hour-long movie commissioned by the St. Louis brewery, and beer geek sites like Beeradvocate proclaimed April 7 as the day that Prohibition was “repealed today in 1933.” The Jacksonville Business Journal went so far as to proclaim that “The 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect April 7, 1933…” , an amazing feat since the states hadn’t even gotten around to setting up constitutional referendums and state conventions to vote for delegates who would set the constitutional change into effect. They weren’t alone in repeating this historical inaccuracy, but the list of offenders would probably be longer than this entire blog entry.

So once again, let me beat this dead horse one more time. The passages below are from my book, Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago, (I have NEW copies, signed, available at Amazon under the NEW/USED link) and gives the story of events leading up to December 5, 1933 from a Windy City perspective. But throughout the story, the thread leading up to the end of Prohibition can be found.

On another note, keep in mind that April 7, 1933 brought back beer, and only beer with an alcoholic strength of 3.2 % alcohol by weight. Although somewhat an arbitrary alcohol level, it was the result of a modification of the Volstead Act that was passed by Congress on October 27, 1919 in order to put an end to the brewing industry’s question, as it pertained to the 18th Amendment, of what constituted an “intoxicating beverage.” Typical of laws that Congress passes—even today—it usually falls into the robed lap of courts to sort out a vague bill or amendment that is the result of compromise or simply a rush to get something passed. In the case of the 18th, the brewers claimed that the mandated cessation of the manufacturing of “intoxicating beverages,” as proclaimed in the amendment was too vague, and until a legal definition of what constituted an “intoxicating beverage” could be determined, the 18th Amendment would be open to challenge. Before this predicament dropped into the lap of courts, Congress went back and defined the alcoholic strength of any beverage with a content of 1/2 of 1% of alcohol to be considered “intoxicating.” This was done through the passage of the Volstead Act in the fall of 1919.

What brought 3.2% beer back on April 7 was merely a rewriting of the Volstead Act. There was no consitutional amendment, no nullification of the 18th nor passage of the the yet-to-be-voted-on 21st Amendment. A month earlier, on March 13, President Roosevelt used the bully pulpit of his office to formally recommend to Congress a looser interpretation of the Volstead Act, which limited alcohol in beer to one-half of one percent. “I recommend to the Congress the passage of legislation for the immediate modification of the Volstead Act, in order to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer…”

On March 21, 1933, the United States House of Representatives completed action on the Cullen-Harrison bill, permitting the resumption of the manufacture and sale of 3.2% beer and light wines in those states that were now legally considered wet. The next morning, President Roosevelt was scheduled to sign the bill, but a bureaucratic mix-up postponed his signing until March 23. If the bill had been signed by FDR on March 21, as originally scheduled, 3.2% beer would have actually returned on April 5, since the bill stipulated a 15-waiting period before it could go into effect. 

With 3.2% beer’s return on April 7, 1933, that still left wine, liqueurs or liquor to deal with. It actually meant that stonger beers would also have to wait for their return. Nobody was toasting April 7 with a barleywine in hand. There’s also an interesting sidenote here, suggested by the dates of the Cullen-Harrison bill and FDR’s delay in signing the bill until March 23.

At this time in U.S. beer history, the brewing industry was still under the influence of German and German-American brewers. Lager was the most popular beer, not a surprise with wide-girthed Braumeisters still turning out the golden brew. One demonstrated point of their pride of product during the pre-Prohibition era was the brewers’ insistence of a lagering period of at least one month. Now with events as chaotic as they were prior to April 7, and with FDR’s delayed signing of the C-H bill on March 23, they would have had to be clairvoyant to have good-quality and properly aged beer conveniently ready for April 7.

So how did they do it? They used weaker, and I would go as far as to claim, inferior beer. In Chicago alone, there were 5 legally-licensed breweries that were pumping out real beer and then extracting the alcohol from the beer and selling it as “cereal beverage,” in other words, near beer. I made an earlier reference back in April that the beer was “weak-assed” and some beer blogger made the remark with some disdain that there was nothing wrong with weak beer, or as geeks like to put it “session beer.” I agree; there is nothing wrong with lighter-alcohol session beers. If your group is babbling at the bar after something like 3 barleywines or Imperial Stouts, it might be an early end to your little bier klatsch…and that’s no fun. But think about what you would do if you were a brewer back then. How would you handle the grain and hops bill if you knew that in the final process, you would be required to boil the hell out of the beer and collect the vapors of alcohol for shipment to a government-bonded warehouse where alcohol was stored? Would you start with a nice heaving load of fine Moravian malts, maybe throw some crystal malt in for color and a little more body, and then dip into your supply of “noble” hops for character; maybe some for bittering and then topping off the batch with a touch for some added nose?

Of course not! You’d probably use some indifferent malt—and certainly not a lot—and most likely the minimum amount of hops (and who knows how old those hops were?) Why strive for a quality brew when you knew that the beers would be stripped of alcohol and then, either at the local speakeasy or on the delivery truck, the beer would be injected with alcohol through the bung-hole of the wooden barrel, giving rise to the Roaring Twenties speakeasy standby, “needle beer?”

To give you another example of the quality of the beer that was consumed on April 7 and somewhat beyond, city and federal agents were hitting the streets and testing beers in Chicago on April 7, 1933 to make sure the brewers were conforming to the 3.2% alcohol by weight limit, about 4% alcohol by volume (abv). Not one beer sample was in violation. On the contrary, the agents remarked that the beers were well below the legal limit. Why? Because the beer that rolled into the streets of the U.S.A. on April 7 was the indifferent beer that had been brewed for alcohol extraction, brewed to be near beer. It was brewed with the least amount of grains and hops and probably hard to argue that it had been aged for at least a month. What would be the purpose?

After the euphoria and initial beer supplies ran out throughout U.S. breweries, the suds factories started turning out “green” beer, beers that demonstrated little lagering, if any at all. It became so bad that Blatz (and others) began running full-page newspaper ads, thanking FDR for bringing “Democratic” beer back to the masses while pledging to the President and all beer drinkers in the country that they would release no beer, despite the demand, until it had gone through a proper period of maturation. That wasn’t “session beer,” my blogging critic, that was shit beer that they were drinking in the aftermath of April 7, 1933.

But boy, did I digress. Ah yes, December 5, 1933…

As required by Congress, Illinois was busying itself in late April of 1933 in preparation for a state election and convention to act on the 21st Amendment, hopefully to repeal the disastrous 18th Amendment. After Congress had refused the state’s request for a special cash grant to fund state elections for Repeal, Illinois decided to incorporate a June judicial election with the Repeal election, combining the expenses of two separate elections. Downstate democrats, however, worried that incorporating the judicial election and the vote for Repeal might bring about a backlash from local dry advocates and hurt the chances of some of their Democratic judges running for reelection. As a result of this political concern, the Illinois State Senate, led by these wary Democratic forces, unbelievably voted to postpone the election for Repeal until April of 1934. 

Republicans had a field day with the Senate vote, expressing disbelief that the same party that had been swept into the Oval Office on a platform of repeal, the party of “democratic beer,” was now voting to delay the state ratification of Repeal. “Evidently,” sneered State Senator Martin R. Carlson of Moline, “you Democrats don’t care to repeal the 18th Amendment.”

Colonel Ira L. Reeves of Chicago, Commander of the anti-Prohibition organization called the Crusaders, and a pro-Repeal lobbyist, thought he saw a darker explanation for the actions of the Democrats. “Naturally they (the brewers) want to prolong their present monopoly as long as possible, and apparently they are lining up the downstate dry legislators to accomplish that purpose.” Reeves went on to suggest that brewers had made a pact with Prohibitionists. Reeves singled out the boisterous State Senator Frank McDermott with his brewery in Bridgeport, owned by McDermott since 1923. How could McDermott go back to his Stockyards constituency and tell them he voted to defer Repeal until next year, Reeves wanted to know?

The logic of Reeve’s argument seemed solid. Other Repeal advocates affirmed his contention. Since years before Prohibition, brewers and distillers had maintained an adversarial relationship. Their divisiveness was one blatant reason that later prohibitionist efforts had so been so successful. Commenting on the charge that brewers wanted to continue a monopoly on the drink trade, Captain W. W. Bayley, Chicago Chief of the Association Against the 18th Amendment said, “…it would not be surprising to have proof show up that such is the situation now.”

It was too much for editors of the trade magazine, The Brewer And Malster And Beverageur, who demanded an apology from Reeves. “It is unthinkable that they (the brewers) would ally themselves with the bootleggers and gangsters and the fanatics of the Anti-Saloon League.”

Days later, with pressure from all sides and a chance to rethink their positions, the Democrats capitulated. The Illinois Senate voted to restore June 5, 1933, as the day for the election of delegates to the State Repeal Convention. Additional pressures from Governor Henry Horner and various lobbyists groups, including the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, had persuaded the Senate to wisely reverse their ill-advised prior decision. Without protest, the Illinois House of Representatives concurred with the Senate’s actions.

On the morning of June 5, expectations were high for the repeal of the 18th Amendment. With chances for thunderstorms forecast throughout Monday, a voter turnout for a Chicago judicial election would normally have been predicted to be low. Historically, this pattern of a small voter turnout was in Chicago, and still is, typical for such an election. But, this was no simple judicial election. With reports coming in from ward headquarters throughout the city, the Cook County Democratic Organization was predicting an unprecedented turnout of 710,000 votes. Nonetheless, ward heelers continued to heavily canvass the city during the day. As a further enticement to get constituents out to vote, local Democratic leaders pragmatically stressed the household economics of Repeal. As part of their door-to-door strategy, it was pointed out by Democratic party officials and ward heelers alike that unless the 18th Amendment was repealed, $6 to $10 out of every $100 earned in a weekly paycheck would revert back to the Federal Government in new taxes. Repeal meant beer, booze, and no new taxes—one hell of a “read my lips” argument that any tax-paying voter could understand.

Democratic Party leader Patrick A. Nash wasted no words in his final communiqué to Chicago voters before the polls opened. “Support President Roosevelt. Repeal the 18th Amendment. Elect judicial leaders. Vote the Repeal ticket straight. Vote the Democratic judicial ticket straight.”

Republican County Chairman William H. Weber was not quite as direct or forceful in his party’s approval of Repeal. “Vote the Republican judicial ticket straight and destroy the receivership ring,” taking a final shot at the Democrats. Although the parties shared an equal amount of delegates for the Repeal of the 18th Amendment, Weber’s statement conservatively avoided the paramount issue of Repeal. The national Republican’s Party endorsement and enforcement of Prohibition and the local organization’s lukewarm embrace of Repeal were noted by beer-drinking Chicagoans. From post-Prohibition on, the Democratic Party, the party of democratic beer and Repeal, has held sway in Chicago.

Illinois’ Repeal Election
On April 28, 1933, at 1:43 A.M., Governor Horner signed the House bill ordering the Illinois Prohibition Repeal Convention to assemble on July 10. With the required nominating petitions finally signed, Chicago precinct workers started to flood their wards with sample ballots. Mayor Kelly asked the people of Chicago to support the vote for Repeal. “I urge that all citizens of our great city support the President and his administration in his efforts to bring back prosperity and eliminate the evils which Prohibition has cast into our midst. This can best be done by voting for the Repeal candidates.” Perhaps as a further inducement to the electorate to get out and vote, Kelly overruled an earlier opinion by Leon Hornstein, first assistant to Chicago Corporation Counsel William H. Sexton, that the sale of beer on election day would be illegal. Hornstein claimed that the state legislature had forgotten to repeal the pre-Prohibition election law requiring saloons to be closed during elections. Kelly disagreed, Sexton demurred and the saloons of Chicago were allowed to stay open on Election Day.

The tally of votes was no surprise. Not only was the vote for Repeal in Chicago overwhelming, it was a vote of approximately 11 to 1 in favor of it. In Committeeman Moe Rosenberg’s 24th Ward on the West Side of the city, reports showed that Repealists had voted yes at an astounding ratio of 76 to 1. Not surprisingly, a Republican precinct captain complained that in one precinct of Rosenberg’s ward, 200 votes had been stuffed into a ballot box when that many voters had not even registered in the precinct. Rosenberg, recently indicted by a federal grand jury for income tax invasion, scoffed at the report. In Bridgeport, voters followed the dictates of native son County Treasurer Joe McDonough and voted 40 to 1 for Repeal.

The next day, the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune declared National Prohibition officially dead in Illinois and expressed hope that the remaining dry states would soon follow Illinois’ lead. “A law which made the drinking of a glass of beer a crime was unenforceable..,” said the paper. As evidence of the state citizenry’s overwhelming rebuff of Prohibition, a total of 883,000 voters turned out to for approval of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, more than 560,000 votes for Repeal coming from Chicago. All that was left was the state convention.

The Repeal Convention
On July 10, Governor Horner opened the convention and officially signaled the beginning of the end of National Prohibition in Illinois. “The eighteenth amendment is doomed. Let us pray that with it will go the political cowardice that made it possible.” At noon, Democratic state leader Patrick A. Nash presented the resolution to ratify Repeal of the 18th Amendment at the state repeal convention. In just fifty-four minutes, the fifty bipartisan delegates went through the necessary procedural motions and unanimously voted to ratify the 21st Amendment, nullifying the 18th.

The Prairie Schooner, Illinois, now became the tenth state to moor at the wet dock of Repeal.

At 4:31 P.M., December 5, 1933, Repeal took effect in Chicago with the ratification by Utah of the Twenty-First Amendment. The “Noble Experiment” had lasted 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours, and 32 1/2 minutes. President Roosevelt officially proclaimed an end to National Prohibition and urged all Americans to confine their purchases of alcoholic beverages to licensed dealers. The President also issued a special plea to state officials not to allow the return of the saloon. A check of the City Collector’s Office, however, indicated that close to 7,000 liquor dealers were now ready to serve the 3,500,000 residents of Chicago, averaging one saloon for every 500 Chicagoans. It was about the same number of saloons that had operated in Chicago before the onset of National Prohibition.
*************
So as you can see, even using the Illinois/Chicago above as a historical example of a national event, please, please, please, quit bending the truth when it comes to U.S. history, even if beer is involved.

Read more about Chicago’s fascinating beer and brewing history.

Posted in Beer & Food In The News, Beer History, Editorial, Food History, Neo-Prohibition | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Beer, Plymouth Rock & The Pilgrims—The Real Story

Posted by Bob Skilnik on November 14, 2007

beerandflag.gifOne of the interesting things I’ve learned while donning the cloak of an author is
my love of research. Unfortunately, falling under the spell of a good story or three
that has ever so slightly the remotest connection to your main topic can lead to a
manuscript that most publishers will take a scalpel to. The economics of getting
published in today’s market often means writing a lean story, just enough to keep
the reader interested, but not so many pages as to bring down an entire forest for
an 800-page opus.
While working on Beer & Food: An American History, I found so
many interesting and often odd ball stories to tell, ones that might have peaked
the interests of beer geeks, foodies, and even the weekend historian.
But publishing,
dear readers, is a business
, so many stories never made the aftermath
of the editorial cut.

Since the release of my seventh book, I’ve posted a few of these cutting room floor
stories that have rubbed against the grain of some popular bits of American beer folklore.
Not surprising to me, I’ve been chastised by a number of critics who just
know I was
wrong when I explained that
Ben Franklin never had an infatuation with beer as he did with wine.
I guess living in France for so many years can do that to people, even old Ben.

“I doubt the veracity of Bob’s research,” said one poster on another beer blog,
even while admitting that he had no evidence to contradict my story of Franklin’s
love of wine, not beer. Even corroborating evidence supported by a computer word
search by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary that proved that Ben was writing to
his friend, Andre Morellet about wine (
“Behold the rain which descends from heaven
upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a
constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
) and NOT beer, was
challenged.

“He’s pushing a new book, so what do you expect?” chimed another armchair
historian.

I went a few rounds with fellow bloggers and the Brewers Association in April, 2007
about the true date of National Prohibition on December 5, 1933. Despite the fact
that 36 states had to vote on the repeal of the 18th Amendment—the first time
that U.S voters ever had a hand in the institution of a new amendment to the
Constitution, voting for the 21st
which nullified the congressionally-originated 18th
Amendment,
too many weekend historians insisted that April 7, 1933 was the true
end of Prohibition.
April 7 allowed those states that wanted to, to ignore the
Volstead Act and bring back “light wines” and beers with an alcohol by volume of
no more than 3.2%. It did not bring back hard spirits, full-bodied wines, or even
bock beers, but to this day, there are some who insist that April 7, 1933 was the
end of Prohibition. Of course, if that was so, what was the whole purpose of the 21st
Amendment?

It’s a bitch when facts get in the way of a good argument, especially concerning
beer and all its folklore.

So I was a bit hesitant to write about another popular bit of U.S. beer folklore—beginning
with the silly notion that the “Pilgrims” chose to land at Plymouth Rock because they
had run out of beer.

MORE HERE

 

Posted in Beer & Food In The News, Beer History, Food History | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Crumble A Jays Snack On The Curb For Another Former Homey Of Chicago Cuisine

Posted by Bob Skilnik on October 30, 2007

jays_animation_chips01.gifIf you’ve ever lived in or visited Chicago, there are quintessential foods and drinks that you have to experience while you’re here, tasty treats that are part of Chicago’s cuisine. Vienna hot dogs (Chicago-style, and please, NO catsup—or Mr. Burns, is that ketchup?), Italian beef sandwiches, Old Style beer (although this is an illusion since Pabst contracts the brewing of the beer out to Miller, but more importantly, nobody drinks Old Style except out-of-towners who stop at Wrigley Field, say stupid things like “Go Cubbies” (aargh!), and throw down a few Old Styles as the Cubs lose, because they heard that it’s “Chicago’s Beer,” maybe a chunk of deep-dish pizza (even though most Chicagoans eat thin crust), and a bag of Jays Potato Chips.

Long story short on the history of Jays, but the company used to be named for its original owner, Leonard Japp, Sr., who started his bar snack business during Prohibition in Chicago. Since 8,000 licensed saloons were replaced with 10,000 to 15,000 speakeasies, Leonard did OK. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, however, the name “Japp” didn’t play too well with Chicagoans. The family was going to change the name to “Jax,” but there was a brewery in New Orleans with the same name, so “Jays” became the new name of the Chicago snack food business, more or less by default.

Jeffrey Dunn, president and CEO of Ubiquity Brands, the contemporary owner of Jays and Select Snacks has announced that the business has filed for Chapter 11. Reported more than $20 million in debt to unsecured non-bank creditors (how the hell this happens in “Big Business” is always beyond my comprehension. Go to your bank and ask for a $10,000 unsecured loan and watch how fast they show you the door), the rumor is that Synder, another snack food company, might reach into the bag of crumbs of what will be left of Jays after the owners scramble to pick up some quick cash from bits and pieces of the operation. The bankruptcy follows by three weeks the company’s sale of its Lincoln Snacks division to ConAgra Foods.

So, for the hell of it, why not pick up a sixer of Old Style and a big bag of Jays (“Can’t Stop Eatin’ Em!) this weekend and spill a sip of beer and a greasy chip or two on the curb for all the homeys of Chicago’s former food and drink businesses who are no longer with us…

Or maybe try this recipe for Jays Potato Chip Cookies and wash them down with a cold Old Style.

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