The Pub Game Project: Pub Conkers!


I think I only know about conkers because I am the child of immigrants. When I was little, grandpa came over from Scotland and was quite pleased to see that the schoolyard had a chestnut tree. Away he went picking up the windfalls and – all personal ethics and the Conkers Association rules being apparently damned – he soaked them in vinegar and baked them in the oven. After stealing all my Dad’s shoelaces, he drilled a neat hole in each horse chestnut and sent us off first to teach the game in the playground and then destroy hopes of all our elementary school classmates through unleashing the doctered nuts on the unsuspecting.

Apparently, some dreams are harder to dash as this story shows:

The Eagle pub in Askew Road, Shepherd’s Bush, held the tournament on Sunday which was attended by around 20 people…General manager Linda Sjogren said: “People were cheering the contestants on, there was lots of enthusiasm. “One of our regulars had collected about 60 conkers from a secret location. We still have some left over.”

The winner got a free pint a week for a year. Note: 20 contestants. Good news that it does not take a large crowd to actually pull off something so pleasantly batty in any given pub. Good also to know that there is a World Conker’s Championship held each fall in case your ambitions aim even a bit higher still.

Group Project: Defending Blogging – Stale Dated Or Free?

This is quite a charming piece. Doc Searle. Remember him? Rob1 (there used to be a Rob2) to the right posted it on Twitter and I thought it was worth asking you about. I, obviously, have something about blogging as I do it daily and have done so for about 12% of my life. But is it actually that zone of freedom that social networks lack? It could be. But it takes a heck of a lot of work, too, not to mention requiring a bit of an obsession.

I compare that to my very recently discovered obsession with – finally a collaborative web thing. I have long kicked at the web for being such a loner zone. And you have to admit that even Facebook has that “I’m down here in this pit!” feel to it, right? So do blogs actually reign supreme? Or would only an obsessive blogger think so?


Jeffery Amherst’s Spruce Beer Circa 1759

amherstI am a bad home brewer. I have had supplies in for months to do a couple of all-grain batches but still they stiff wrapped and wrapped again in plastic in a cool, dark place. I did buy another mash pot yesterday but, given my failure to avoid napping and reading this afternoon, no beer again was made. Yet, beer knowledge expanded as I was reading The French and Indian War, a pretty good read by Walter R. Borneman, and came across this recipe for spruce beer from 1759, taken from an order by General Jeffery Amherst, to be supplied to the British troops moving to take the fort at Crown Point from the French:

Take 7 Pounds of good spruce and boil it well till the bark peels off, then take the spruce out and put three Gallons of Molasses to the Liquor and and boil it again, scum it well as it boils, then take it out the kettle and put it into a cooler, boil the remained of the water sufficient for a Barrel of thirty Gallons, if the kettle is not large enough to boil it together, when milk warm in the Cooler put a pint of Yest into it and mix well. Then put it into a Barrel and let it work for two or three days, keep filling it up as it works out. When done working, bung it up with a Tent Peg in the Barrel to give it vent every now and then. It may be used in up to two or three days after. If wanted to be bottled it should stand a fortnight in the Cask. It will keep a great while.

Yum. You see the key phrase, don’t you: “till the bark peels off”. The British army was using whole branches, not just needles and boughs. Again I say – yum. Google gives us that recipe, too, but give up has more on the brew – in the form of a digitized copy of the 1759 orderly book from Amherst’s expedition north up Lake Champlain, setting out how the army brewed:

Spruce Beer will be Brewed for the Health and Conveniency of the Troops, which will be ƒerved at prime Coƒt ; 5 Quarts of Mollaƒƒes will be put into every Barrel of Spruce Beer ; each Gallon coƒt nearly 3 Coppers. The Quarter-maƒters of the Regiments, Regulars and Provincials, are to give Notice to Lieut. Colo. Robiƒon of the Quantity each Corps are deƒirous to receive, for which they muƒt give Receipts and pay the Money before the Regiments marches. Each Regiment to ƒend a Man acquainted with Brewing, or that is beƒt capable of aƒƒifting the Brewers, to the Brewery to-morrow Morning at 6 o’clock, at the Rivulet on the Left of Montgomerys. Thoƒe Men are to Remain, and are to be paid at the Rate of 1 8 Pence Currency per Day. One Serjt. of the Regulars and one of the Provencials to ƒuper-intend the Brewery, who will be paid is 6d per Day. Spruce Beer will be deliverd to the Regiments on Thursday Evening or Friday morning.

Sweet use of the long “s” HTML, eh what? Let me know if you can’t see them and I will report back to The 1700s Typeface Open Source Beer Recipe Project.

More? OK, Borneman points that “rum and other spirituous liquors” were prohibited under his command but that spruce beer provided some protection against scurvy among other benefits…aka “conveniency”. Here is a 5 gallon clone of the beer for the inconvenienced homebrewer. But not me. I have those other beers I have yet to make lined up first.

Beer Hunting in Michigan and Quebec

I have a couple of big trips coming up in October. Circumstances place me to the west in London, Ontario relieved of duties before noon on a Friday which means I have an hour to head further west still to the border at Sarnia and the afternoon to shop in Michigan. Having been there before, I have a sense of what I am looking for: something wet hopped, a case of Two Hearted Ale…as well as a little Bud American Ale…just to see. I don’t think I’ll make it as far as Jolly Pumpkin but Ron has given me the name of some of his most north-easterly clients so with any luck I will land some anyway.

The next weekend, however, sends me far east through largely uncharted territory as I head to a small IT/brainiac conference called Zap Your Pram in PEI. I will try to stop in a few government stores out east but on the way back on Sunday, I hope to hit a beer store or two in Quebec City like Le Monde des Bieres or Dépanneur de la Rive. I want to get my hands on some Dieu du Ciel for sure but, as John Rubin mentions in today’s Toronto Star, there are plenty of Quebec-made brews we never hear about in English-speaking Canada. The same is true of any regional brews due to our wacko inter-provincial trade restrictions but Quebecers, arguably, have a taste for a broader range of flavours than the rest of we Canucks and it shows in their brews. So maybe I’ll grab something from Microbrasserie Charlevoix or Hopfenstark, both unknowns to me but well regarded by the BAers.

Any hints before I undertake the 4,000 km two-part tour?