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The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was initially a secret society, formed in 1848 in London and designed as a rejection of the art academy process. Rejecting the academic painting approach and what it stood for, these group of men ( William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner) instead chose to approach art in the styles of late medieval and early Renaissance Europe. A time that was Pre-Raphael.

What that meant is their art, at first, had a  ”minute description of detail, a luminous palette of bright colors that recalls the tempera paint used by medieval artists, and subject matter of a noble, religious, or moralizing nature”. Their intent was to make art approachable to the common man, through themes and stories that recognizable to anyone, and not through subtext that was unapproachable by most.

They rejected hackery, any idea that showed  ”anything lax or scamped in the process of painting … and hence … any thing or person of a commonplace or conventional kind.” They initially focused on the familial stories of the bible, but soon turned to landscapes, heading out into the world with canvas and paints. This seems obvious now, but before them, an artist would sketch a landscape, take it back to the studio, and then recreate the colors from memory.  What the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood did was to capture the colors as they saw them at the time that they saw them. The result? Paintings had more detail than ever before.

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shallot

More than anything else, the PRB moved the art world, begrudgingly at first, out of its traditions of the time. While the diversity of the Brotherhood’s work makes it difficult to tie it to one or two basic themes, what the PRB accomplished more than any other movement was to make the artist the driver of the work, not the ideals era in which they were born. What the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood fostered for more than any thing else was that artist had the right and the duty to develop their own identity and styles.  This belief would soon change the art world forever.

Understanding Belgian Beer

Let me work with a simple premise – A country’s beer culture is a reflection of that country’s history. It may not be a full reflection, but it does show enough to illuminate some important aspect of that country.

So why is it, that a country that’s the size of the state of Maryland, holds the rapt attention of most beer aficionados?  It’s not as if Belgium is a major European tourist destination – at least not in comparison to England, France, Italy, and Spain.  It’s certainly not a primary player in the history of Europe, having not even been a country until the 1830′s. So, why is Belgium so keen on beer?

The answer lies in its history. It’s a gross simplification, but the basis of the Belgian brewing industry lies in the fact that during industrial brewing’s formative years 1850-1920 , Belgium had other primary concerns than figuring out the level of regulations that dictated limited styles of beer. This lack of oversight actually made imports into Belgium cheaper than what they could brew in 1900.  The Belgian brewing scene was poor at this time.

Then, occupation in World War I set back the industry even further.  It wasn’t until the Belgian government banned genever from cafes and taverns that the industry started to take off.  The marketplace, demanding some level of inebriates, welcomed local beers into the fold.  New things were tried in order to differentiate one beer from another. Never having a Reinheitsgebot helped, and as well as a lack of a brewing “tradition”. Brewers were able to try different spices and herbs, even adding sugar to their drinks.  Add in the unique yeasts of the region, and a predilection for the taste of malt over that of hops, and the resulting melange of beers available to Belgians increased.

As breweries in England and the United States consolidated, and the industry shrank (in terms of breweries, not in sales), and as the Belgians rejected German beers (for obvious reasons) Belgium breweries soared with variety.  Yes, pilsners ended up on top as they did in other countries (Belgium’s most popular beer is a pilsner called Jupiler), but the marketplace was diverse, enough so that it became a source of pride for the region, quickly evolving into its state today.

Belgium’s brewing traditions are truly only about a century old, rather recent in the grand scheme of things. But this has worked in their favor, making them a “must visit” for any fan of beer.

 

 

The Reader’s Choice Finals – Hendrick’s Gin versus No. 209 Gin

This is it – the finals. Out of the initial sixteen gins selected, these were the two that you deemed best. Your final task here is to pick one over the other. Will be be the lesser known No. 209 gin from San Francisco? Or will it be the popular Scottish Gin, Hendrick’s?

The choice is yours.  You have one week to vote.

[poll id="18"]

Video – The Pre-Raphaelites

A nice intro to the Pre-Raphaelites from the BBC.  The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 byWilliam Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I’ll discuss in further detail soon. Video’s are below the jump.
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The History of the Martini

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia

 (As with any post or book dealing with Food History, the typical caveats, dealing with regionalism and incomplete records, apply.)

For such a classic cocktail, the history of the Martini is murky, with various stories being thrown about as truths, when in fact most of these are half-truths at best, out and out fabrications at worst.  The most common story out there is that “Professor”  Jerry Thomas invented the drink in San Francisco, and documented it in one of the first book of cocktail recipes called How to Mix Drinks. While the historical aspect of this book should not be undervalued, the fact remains that it has little, if anything to do with the history of the martini.

There is no indication of the martini in the first edition of his book. The closest we get to the recipe is one called Gin Punch. The recipe is as follows:

11. Gin Punch
(From a recipe by Soyer.)
1/2 Pint of old gin.
1 gill of maraschino
The juice of two lemons.
The rind of half of a lemon.
Four ounces of syrup.
1 quart bottle of German Seltzer Water.
Ice Well.

This is the basis of what we know of today as a Tom Collins, but it’s no where close to a Martini.

He does add a recipe called the Martinez in his 1887 edition of The Bar-tender’s Guide or How to mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks

Martinez Cocktail.
(Use small bar-glass.)
Take 1 dash of Boker’s bitters.
2 dashes of Maraschino.
1 pony of Old Tom gin.
1 wine-glass of Vermouth.
2 small lumps of ice.

Shake up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail
glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve. If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup.

This is a little closer, but the maraschino makes it a little further away than what I’d like.  But due to the nebulous nature of recipes back then, it is a start. As far as the first documented use of the name “martini,” that comes from Harry Johnson’s The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders’ Manual; circa 1888.

57 Martini Cocktail

(Use a large bar glass)

Fill the glass up with ice;
2 or 3 dashes of Gum Syrup;
2 or 3 dashes of Bitters; (Boker’s genuine only)
1 dash of Curaçoa;
1/2 wine glassful of Old Tom Gin;
1/2 wine glassful of Vermouth;

stir up well with a psoon, strain it into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, and serve. (See Illustration, Plate No. 13.)

However, I came across this recipe for a Turf Club Cocktail, from book/pamphlet called How to mix drinks. Bar keepers’ handbook published in 1884. The recipe is straight-forward:

Turf Club Cocktail

Two or three dases of Peruvian Bitters;
One-half wine glass of Tom Gin;
One-half wine glass of Italian Vermouth;
Fill glass three-quarters full of fine ice, stir well with spoon and strain in fancy cocktail glass, then serve.

This recipe is closer to the martini, and was published three years prior to Thomas’ Martinez.

From The Hostess of To-day, by Linda- Hull Larned in 1899

Martini:

1/2 c Tom gin,

1/2 c Italian Vermouth,

1 tsp orange bitters,

serve with a curled lemon peel in each glass or rub rim of glass with lemon zest then dip in powdered sugar .

A magazine called The Bachelor book, released in September1900, has a similar sweetened recipe for the martini in an article called The Soothing Syrup:

Martini Cocktail

A mixing glass half full of fine ice, three dashes of orange bitters, one half jigger Tom gin, one half jigger Italian vermouth, a piece of lemon peel.  Mix well and strain into a cocktail glass. Many persons add a half teaspoonful of sherry but this is a matter of individual taste

In the May 15, 1903 release The Mixer and Server, Official Journal of the Hotel and Restuarant Employee’s International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, Volume XII No.5, page 64, there was printed this tidbit:

“Golf Cocktail”

Extra Dry

There is always something new under the sun in an up to the minute cafe. New drinks are constantly being launched upon the sea of popularit,y and the palates of the vast army of lovers of well compounded and refreshing beverages do not suffer as a consequence. Jake Didier, author of the “Reminder” has unfolded another drink, which he calls “Golf Cocktail.” A feature of the concoction is that it is “Extra Dry.” People who have delighted in imbibing in extra dry champagne have now turned to the extra dry cocktail. Competent critics declare the cocktail to be one of the best in Jake’s extensive repertoire.

A goblet 2/3 full of cracked ice, 3 dashes of Hostetter’s bitters, 1/3 drink of French Vermouth, 2/3 drink of Gordon gin;  stir well, strain into cocktail glass put in olive, and serve.

That, my friends, is a recipe for a dry martini. it is the missing link between the Sweetened Martini recipes of the nineteenth century and the dry recipe of today.

By 1913, we see advertisements in various magazines differentiating between a martini and a dry martini. Somewhere in the previous ten years, the golf cocktail takes off, but is defined as a drier derivation of the more traditional sweet martini. But up until prohibition, the traditional martini used Tom Gin, rather than a London dry. The proliferation of faux “London Dry” gins during prohibition sounded the death knell for the sweetened martini, and its popularity waned. The dry version become the defacto defintion of “martini”.

So, the history of the martini in a nutshell? It started off as a sweetened cocktail in the late 1800′s, roughly around 1880, give or take. A dry version was introduced around 1900, and took off in popularity. Prohibition saw the end of production of Tom Gin, but the bathtub gins led to the popularity of the dry version of the drink, so much so, that when America came out of Prohibition, the martini was thought of as first, foremost, and only as a dry cocktail.

The Lambics

 

Out of the entire catalog of Belgian Beers, there is one category that mystifies me. And being born and bred in the United States, where beer ignorance is part of a national DNA, I hadn’t even heard of this style of beer until I was way past my thirties. I am speaking the Lambics, of course; a style of beer noted for its ties to beers historical roots, what with its emphasis on open-air, spontaneous fermentation, as well as the wacky notion that beer tastes better after it ages in a cask.  As we come from a culture where mega-breweries harp on the idea of “freshness dating”, the fact that there are good to great beers out there that requires 1-3 years of aging before it gets its optimal taste is unique in the worlds where Budweiser and Coor’s reign supreme.

What the lambics are, in my opinion, is evidence that the marketing arms of industrial breweries are full of it.  For every claim of freshness, for every claim of precision in brewing, lambics demonstrate an exception.

Their are several varieties of lambics out there, from the pure lambic and the fruit lambics, to krieks, and something called gueuze, an oddity so different from what one thinks of beer, that the folks at the Good Beer Guide to Belgium describes it thusly:

Your first encounter…(with oude gueze)…can be astonishingly awful. It may make you want to send it back immediately, but then persuades you to hold on for just another mouthful. Having soldiered through the bottle and awarded  yourself a gold rosette for adding painfully to your knowledge of  brewing history, it should make you vow neer to try it again. Then order another just in case you got it wrong….After your third you will never think about beer in the same way again.

It’s this sort of talk that gets me all hot and bothered about how it tastes and what it represents.  A well-made gueuze is seen as the apex of brewing; the golden fleece; the beer that’s kept in hiding until that one special moment in one’s life that calls for something  both wonderful and unique.

The beers are not just unique to the beer world, they’re unique to Belgium, with most coming from an area just to the west/south-west of Brussels, in an area called The Pajottenland, in a region of land that’s only a little larger than the size of Brussels itself. This is a theme we’ll run into again and again with Belgian Beers – namely, how can an area so small (Belgium is comparible in size to the state of Maryland) do so much with beer?

John Ruskin and Modern Painters

John Ruskin goes hand-in-hand with the work of J.M.W Turner, because as critics ravaged Turner’s new, non-traditional approach to art, it was Ruskin who defended him and other artists like him, with the release of the book Modern Painters.

The well-reasoned critique within Modern Painters helped set the stage, or at least, provided enough rationale to new and different approaches to art, that it is a variable that needs to be accounted for in the transition from Romanticism to Impressionism.  There is much in the book that should be devoured with glee, but I want to point out a specific quote: There is a moral as well as material truth – a truth of impression as well as of form – of thought as well as of matter.

In other words, there is truth in perception as there is in reality.  A mountain exists in the landscape whether I see it or not. It is true by its nature. But when I do finally see that mountain, my impression of it is equally true, regardless of how it measures up to its nature.

What Ruskin states in Modern Painters is that an artist is obliged to be truthful to the thought of the mountain as to the mountain itself.  And if the techniques of paintings used to convey the truth of the thoughts run counter to the techniques employed by the Italian and Dutch masters of the seventeenth century, than so be it.   For an artist, it is truth one is after, not a specific technique or approach to the truth.

So when J.M.W. Turner showed this piece…

…yes, it was different, new, and non-traditional in its approach.  But from Ruskin’s point of view, Turner was being truthful to the impression of what he saw,  and was effective enough in his technique to convey it. This is, in part, what makes Turner great.

There’s far more to Modern Painters than that simple idea. His take down of the painters who we deem “The Masters” is, in of itself, masterful. From an art history perspective, however, just know that this book exists and that it challenged the notion of what “art” was at the time of its release in 1843.