Albany Ale: When Did They Stop Using Wheat Malt?

I came across this reference to the malting of wheat in a 1869 series of essays and reports called The Annals of Albany. Apparently one Peter Kalm, a professor from a Swedish university, visited North America from 1748 to 1750 making some sort of economic and natural resources survey. He made these notes on 15 June 1749:

They sow wheat in the neighborhood of Albany, with great advantage. From one bushel they get twelve sometimes : if the soil be good, they get twenty bushels. If their crop amounts only to ten bushels from one, they think it very trifling. The inhabitants of the country round Albany are Dutch and Germans. The Germans live in several great villages, and sow great quantities of wheat, which is brought to Albany : and from thence they send many yachts laden with flour to New York. The wheat flour from Albany is reckoned the best in all North America, except that from Sopus or Kingston, a place between Albany and New York. All the bread in Albany is made of wheat. At New York they pay the Albany flour with several shillings more per hundred weight, than that from other places. Rye is likewise sown here, but not so generally as wheat. They do not sow much barley here, because they do not reckon the profits very great. Wheat is so plentiful that they make malt of it. In the neighborhood of New York, I saw great fields sown with barley. They do not sow more oats than are necessary for their horses.

This passage was referenced in an earlier quotation I included in an Albany ale post back in April and cropped in June but it has me thinking. If they aren’t even growing barley and are malting wheat in 1749, then it is likely the strong ale that Sir William Johnson of the Mohawk Valley, west of Albany, was drinking from 1750 maybe to his death in 1774 was a wheat beer. But by 1835, the brewers of the area responding to a set of questions posed by the New York State Senate all respond by saying that they use pure ingredients including barley malt. I don’t catch any reference to wheat malt. The use of barley by this point is corroborated by this quotation from 1827.

So – am I slowly, clumsily chasing two Albany Ales? A strong wheat ale made by the Dutch up to the latter 1700s and then a strong barley ale in the early 1800s?

One thought on “Albany Ale: When Did They Stop Using Wheat Malt?”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Ed Carson – September 1, 2010 9:34 AM
    Two things come to mind: 1) If they are trading wheat and wheat flour with NYC, then they maybe getting barley from elsewhere. Empty jachts do no one any good., and 2) I found this quote looking for something else: ” In Albany, which in former times had a very good reputation for its beer, the first brewery of modern times was established in 1796 by James Boyd. This first brewery in Albany was able to turn out 4,000 barrels a year”(The brewing industry and the brewery workers’ movement in America By Hermann Schlüter,pg.45) It seems that war was not good for beer here.

    Alan – September 1, 2010 9:53 AM
    I don’t know about “of modern times”, Ed, as there are plenty of references to brewing back into the 1600s in Albany. And even if that is the case, I think it is likely that they were brewing with the wheat malt they made. I wondered this morning on the drive in if they might even be distilling. These were the Dutch after all.

    But I take your point about the return shipments. That is something that a reasonable supply of three hundred year old shipping way bills would answer…. now if I could just find them!

    Ed Carson – September 1, 2010 12:24 PM
    For Mr Schlüter, “modern times” seems to have started around the founding of the US Federal Government. He may been working from Federal tax records.
    A Person of Interest to pursue might be Hendrick Frey. He was a German miller and politician close to the Johnson’s.

    Ed Carson – September 1, 2010 12:26 PM
    And a Albany “tarwebok” sounds tasty!

    Alan – September 1, 2010 12:50 PM
    Isn’t it an interesting idea – a strong wheat ale no one has remembered.

    While it won’t get me into the 1700s, I am going to see if I can find anything through the NY Agricultural Society which first met in Albany in 1832 – right when my new hero Charles H. Haswell was calling Albany ale “a mighty good drink.” I wonder what he may have meant by “mighty”!

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