First There Was Albany Ale… Now Taunton Ale

I have a great pal with whom I have a recreational and professional interest in events in the Mohawk Valley of New York from around 1750 to 1785 and particularly William Johnson or rather Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet of New York. Johnson was the landowner whose tenants become rather successful Loyalist soldiers under Sir John Johnson, 2nd Baronet, who kept upstate New York largely in British hands during the American Revolution. But for that little thing called the Treaty of Paris, they would have had no reason to become the founders of my town Kingston and thereby the founders of Ontario and thereby in significant part the founders of modern Canada by being the first British colonizing settlers on the Great Lakes.

What am I going on about? You will recall that Albany Ale discovery indicating that there was a sea trade of strong ale out of New York’s capital city from roughly 1800 into the middle of the nineteenth century. Well, my pal had the ability to do a quick word search through the papers of William Johnson looking for the word “beer” and, in addition to a reference to “Hyson tea” which is also along side Albany ale in the Newfoundland newspapers of almost a century later, came up with the following classes referenced in his correspondence:

  • 1755: two barrels beer of Hend’k Fry,
  • 1768: Taunton ale,
  • 1772: six barrels of Lispenards beer.

That last reference is neither to the shipper or the wholesaler as this note from the merchants Hugh & Alexander Wallace from Oct. 2, 1772 shows:

…There is no Red port to be got here [at] this time, if any comes shall secure some for you – The Syder (sic) is not yet made, nor fitt to be bought for [at least] a Month. & Mr. Leispinard Says [he] will have the Beer ready to go along with the Syder (sic), at present he says he has none brewed that he would recommend to you. We hope all the things will please you, we have taken all possible care in the Choice of them, & bought them on the lowest terms.

It looks like Lispenard or Lispinard was the actual brewer. And one month later on Nov. 3, 1772, the following is invoiced by Hugh Wallace to William Johnson:

We have put on board Capt. Marsails in Mr. Adams’s care for your use:
6/-/- for 3 Barrl Strong Beer at 40/
4/10/- for 3 Barrl. Ale @ 30/
1/7/- for 6 Barrels at 4/6
7/-/- for 10 Barrels Newark Syder at 14/
0/3/- for Carting ale to the Sloop

Interesting to see three grades of beer being bought but the more interesting reference for me is to “Taunton ale” as it also is referenced in a 1789 meal put on by George Washington as well as in a shipment to Newfoundland in 1810. It is clearly not a reference to something in passing or personal to some particular step in the supply. But what was it?

One thought on “First There Was Albany Ale… Now Taunton Ale”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Alan – June 16, 2010 5:14 PM
    I just checked that Newfoundland ad again and it says the Taunton ale arrived on a ship from Bristol. Which is interesting.

    Alan – June 16, 2010 5:17 PM
    Taunton ale is also in Quebec City in 1813. Other ads on the same page offer London porter and stout as well as Burton ale.

    Gary Gillman – June 16, 2010 9:57 PM
    It was one of the reputed English ales exported from Bristol, here bracketed with Scotch ale and Burton ale:

    Taunton is in Somersetshire and a number of references on google books mention that the town was noted for its ale as an item of “commerce” (i.e., shipped afar and not just of local repute).

    I believe Albany ale was in the Burton style, due to its high strength and richness. The fact that Ballantine Brewery made a Burton ale into the mid-1900’s seems a nod to the former eponymous specialty.


    Alan – June 16, 2010 10:20 PM
    Good work Gary. I am thinking that the “Albany” that traveled was stronger than that non-IPA Burton, maybe 10%.

    It also comes from an old continuous tradition of Dutch-American brewers. Six Brewers from 1670 to 1690 are named in a book called Repossessing Albany, 1630-1710: The Dutch and English Experiences by Donna Merwick. In a footnote at page 110 it states that their names were Hendrick Cuyler, Pieter Lansingh, Harme Rutgers, Albert Ryckman, Sybrant Goose van Schaick and Jacobus van Vorst. In 1755, Johnson is buying beer from Hendrik Fry and in 1772 by a Mr. Lispenard or Lispinard.

    We’ve already seen that one of the most prosperous brewers of Albany during the 1700s was Harman Gansevoort, who died in 1801 and read one author give an “account of the Province in 1747, that he noticed large fields of barley near New York City, but that in the vicinity of Albany they did not think it a profitable crop, and were accustomed to make malt of wheat.”

    It is its own thing. Whatever it is.

    Gary Gillman – June 16, 2010 10:22 PM
    Alan, here is a detailed description to brew Taunton ale (early 1830’s):

    The same book refers elsewhere to it being a “capital strong beer”, and implies that it might be long aged in vats. Indeed as we know from research discussed on Ron Pattinson’s site, the Somersetshire ales often had the characteristic of being vatted or long aged and blended to acquire a lactic edge. Whether the bottled Taunton sent to Nfld or Quebec or eslewhere outside England had this quality is hard to say…

    The brewing account referenced above seems a general way (more or less) to make strong and other beer, so I am not sure what was special about Taunton beer apart from strength. I suspect again it was the aging that gave it a specific character. Maybe it was like Liefman’s Goudenband or one of the West Flanders red ales – or Gale’s Prize Old Ale is perhaps more apposite…


    Gary Gillman – June 16, 2010 10:27 PM
    Thanks Alan, and I agree probably there was something particular about Albany Ale (not merely a Burton Ale clone) due to that Dutch background, perhaps wheat in the mash, or spices perhaps, or some other feature current in Dutch brewing when the Hollanders first came over. Possibly indeed it was an Anglo-Dutch melding. Different story, but one time my wife and I were wending our way down the Hudson (on the roads along), not far from Albany in fact, and we ate what they called fried cakes with some kind of syrup, something that I was told exists in almost the same form still in the Netherlands…


    Alan – June 16, 2010 10:38 PM
    The Newfoundland ad has it in both bottles and by the cask but all these records lean towards them both being shipping ales of great strength.

    I need to get me to Albany or at least find some sort of research partner there. Fortunately Albany has a bar that ranks #89 of all the beer bars in the world. Trouble is I have to drive by #s 64, 41 and 36 to get to it!

    Alan – June 16, 2010 10:55 PM
    Beer exports out of Bristol England, where Taunton would logically ship from, were between 3000 and 7000 barrels from 1770 to 1820.

    Alan – June 16, 2010 11:14 PM
    It may be shipped in bottles because of the glass blowing industry in Bristol. Bingo – there is the reference.

    Alan – June 17, 2010 8:06 AM
    1. Four Taunton brewers licenced in 1615

    2. The 1640s seige of Taunton causes the price of beer to be immortalized in poetry.

    3. Strong ale as celebratory drink in Taunton, 1819:

    Monday, May 10th, 1819, the deputy clerk of the crown attended the house, according to order, and amended^he return for the borough of Taunton. On this decision, being made known, Mr. Collins made a grand public entry iuto Taunton, attended by an immense concourse of persons in carriages, on horseback, and on foot. The day was celebrated, by the friends and supporters of that gentleman, by dinners at the principal inns, and the populace were regaled on the parade with several hogsheads of strong beer and cider.

    4. Taunton ale sold at a slight premium in Bristol in 1820s, p. 132.

    5. Hops in Taunton, 1829:

    p. 57 Lately, hops of an excellent quality, and fit for any purpose to which they may be applied, have been grown near Taunton; they are cultivated after the Farnham method, and partake of their fine quality, with a greater degree of strength.

    Alan – June 17, 2010 8:19 AM
    Daniel Defoe notes the Bristol bottle trade as a trigger for beer exports in 1734.

    There are no less than fifteen Glasshouses in Bristol, which is more than are in the City of London: They have indeed a very great Expence of Glass Bottles: by sending them fill’d with Beer, Cyder; and Wine to the West Indies, much more than goes, from London ; also great Numbers of Bottles, even such as is almost incredible, are now used for sending the Waters of St. Vincent’s Rock away, which are now carry’d; not all Over England only, but, we may say, all over the World.

    Ed Carson – June 18, 2010 9:30 AM
    I found this about Mr. Lispenard. It’s in “The Roosevelt Genealogy 1649-1902” pg 43. It looks like Sir William was buying New York ale.

    Alan – June 18, 2010 10:32 AM
    Excellent digging. I am starting to look for books (and there are probably libraries) on Albany 1600 to 1800. Oddly enough, there is actually a work connection for me.

    Alan – June 18, 2010 10:38 AM
    Neato! Lispenard was also Treasurer of Kings College. Kings College physically becomes Columbia University after the American Revolution but the school relocates to Halifax with the Loyalists and I went there (Kings) 200 years later.

    Ed Carson – June 18, 2010 1:15 PM
    The New York State Library is quite good. They weren’t able to help exactly with my genealogical problem(there had been a fire,) but they tried. And it is in Albany.

    Ed Carson – June 19, 2010 6:31 PM
    “Sir John Johnson, 2nd Baronet, who kept upstate New York largely in British hands during the American Revolution” I think Henry Fonda would disagree.

    Alan – June 19, 2010 9:18 PM
    I speak of this but “in British hands” is not right. Under Tory Loyalist control is really what I meant.

    Ed Carson – June 20, 2010 9:16 AM
    From what I’ve read, it seems more like raids on Patriot farmers(mostly Germans apparently) and their Oneida allies than any sort of political/military control. And because the Tryon county militia had been all but been destroyed at Oriskany, the Patriot side didn’t have any military to oppose these raids.

    Alan – June 20, 2010 10:24 AM
    There was certainly a power vacuum. I was reading a book about the 1780 raids last night and there is correspondence quoted that indicates Schenectady was the western frontier and that Crown Point was pretty much in British control. This web page has the same information.

    The beer connections or at least implications are interesting as the Tryon Co part of the war was about disrupting grain production as much as anything. The refugee Loyalists likely can’t get crops harvested from 1777 to maybe 1785. War is bad for beer. Finkle’s Tavern near here in the late 1780s to 1800 is the glimmer of peace. I don’t know how far up the Hudson there might have been brewing but as New York City was always British, all production might have all been disrupted.

    Bailey – June 20, 2010 4:00 PM
    This is all very interesting to me — I grew up about 12 miles from Taunton. There are no breweries there now, and it’s pretty hard to find a decent pint at all, let alone anything worth exporting! I’ve never seen hops growing in Somerset either.

    I’ll try to remember to pop into the County Library and see if they’ve got anything interesting on the subject next time I’m down that way visiting the folks.

    Alan – June 12, 2012 8:07 PM
    Another reference to Taunton Ale.

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