Albany Ale: Did The Hessian Fly Play A Role?

tdaf1It has been a bit part of the puzzle for me. As I have mentioned before, Craig as taken more of an interest in Albany Ale as reflected in the 1800s industrial period where I am more interested in the pre-1800s experience. The weird thing has been that not only do the two eras reflect issues of scale but there is that back of the brain niggling question about how, prior to a certain point right around that date, they seem to shift from using wheat malt to barley malt as the base grain. I sense Craig may be less firm than me on this. He may think I am off on a tangent. Which might be right. I think I live at the tangent most days and I trust Craig’s opinion – especially as he actually works in the world of fact at the New York State Museum where I live in the world of rhetoric as a lawyer. But I persist and, pursuing that question, ordered a copy of The Dutch American Farm by D.S. Cohen to see if I could find anything that might help me. I think I might have.

To review, Albany is the capital of New York State. Craig lives there. One of the oldest cities in the US, it is an inland port that was settled by the Dutch in the first half of the 1600s as a fur trading centre. It sits where the Mohawk River, the eastern section of the Erie Canal, empties from west to east into the north to south running Hudson River, a couple of hours drive north of the city of New York, which itself sits at the mouth of the Hudson. As a Dutch settlement distant from other colonial settlements and, from the 1660 to the 1780, being culturally isolated from the British American experience around it, Albany took its own path for a significant period of time. Cohen states:

It is debatable, however, whether a colony in which the Dutch Reformed Church was the established church and the only religion that could be worshipped in public, in which there were large, tenanted patroonships and a company monopoly on the fur trade, and in which there was slavery, could be described as either tolerant or democratic.

As part of this singular colonial economy, Cohen describes the role wheat played in pre-1800s Albany and vicinity and includes that passage from mid-1700s traveler Swedish professor Peter Kalm that I posted earlier describing the malting of wheat as well as the volume of production. Wheat was a cash crop that was shipped south to New York city as early as 1680. Barley along with oats and rye were planted at no where near the volume of wheat. Yet wheat collapses as a Hudson Valley crop in the first half of the 1800s. In part this is due to the Hessian fly that was introduced to New York during the Revolution: “[t]he insect had apparently hitched a ride from Europe with some Hessian mercenaries employed as soldiers by the British, hence its name. First noticed in straw used at a military encampment on Long Island, the fly slowly extended its range, endangering the continent’s wheat fields for many years.

So, there was change from pre-Revolutionary hinterland bubble of Dutch culture to post-Revolutionary national American project. And there was the transportation change from Albany as edge of Empire before the war to being just the left turn to the west after the building of the Erie Canal in the 1820s. But on top of that there was a pest that struck at wheat just as the records indicate that Albany brewers moved from making strong wheat beer in the old Dutch style to making barley based Albany Ale which was exported widely through the 1800s. Combined, all these factors explain the shift from one sort of beer to another. Which leads to the next problem of what each of them tasted like.

Garden 2012: The Eating Has Begun

vines0412Bok Choi is now my favorite garden crop. I had no idea it grew this quickly. While we still wait for lettuces to get to a point where thinnings could be added to a salad, the bok choi is ten times the size. Peas are flowering. I need more carrot seed. More space, too. I want to dig up the lawn and ram potatoes in its place.

The grapes are all in and buds are popping quite nicely. There are 29 vines on the lot now. Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Concord and Pinot Noir. I want more. I am having a hard look at the front lawn for next year. It can’t all be onions and squash, can it?

Ontario: Finally A Beer Fan Video I Like


Remember a few years ago when there were all those needy videos about “I Am Craft Beer” on YouTube and everywhere else that went on and on as if all brewers were demi-gods, all good beer fans were long lost friends and lovers and craft beer was what would fuel that rocket ship that was going to get us all to Mars? I know. It’s a bit embarrassing when you look back at it, right?

Well, I have to say that this new vid-ad-eo for Ontario Craft Brewers is a far better take. No phoney hero worship or weird cult-like claims to community. It’s just about the first time you had a good beer. Sure there is that waaay over caffeinated editing but the theme is actually about something that is real – the recollection of your first good beer… the one that you can at least recall, that is. The most fun for me is that it was filmed at the Brewers Plate 2012 that I attended in Toronto back in April and features the folk I hung out with. But not Jordan. I don’t know if he was rude or all mumbly when he was asked the question on camera but he didn’t make the final cut. Josh did. Clow did. And at 1:24 you do get a semi-slo-mo Mr. B. drinking shot. That is one of the ages. They even cut the clip of him before the beer shot out his nose, too, so that is good.

Most of all you get folk who know, work with or just like good beer in action shots displaying their fondness of good beer. From goofy to earnest. No scripts. No great plan. Just the thoughts of people at the gig invited to say something for posterity. I like it.

Two Years After Taunton Ale We Have Bowood Strong




I should have known this I suppose, an apparently famous quote from the Governor of Nova Scotia appointed at the close of the American Revolution celebrating what he finds waiting for him at his new post. It is set out in a letter written by Governor John Parr on October 23, 1782 – eighteen days after his arrival – to his friend Colonel Grey:

Plenty of Provisions of all sorts except Flower, with a very good French cook to dress them, A Cellar well stock’d with Port, Claret, Madeira, Rum, Brandy, Bowood Strong Beer &c, a neat Income (including a Regimt of Provincials of which I am Colonel) of 2200 [pounds sterling] Sterg p Annum, an Income far beyond my expectations, plenty of Coals & Wood against the severity of the Winter, A house well furnish’d, and warm Cloths, that upon the whole my Dear Grey, your friend Parr is as Happy and comfortably seated, as you could wish an old friend to be…

Bowood Strong Beer! What was that in 1782? You will recall that we figured out that strong beer from Taunton England was shipped to the other side of the Atlantic making it to the very Mohawk Valley frontier in the 1760s. It was shipped through Bristol, a port which exported beer since at least the 1730s. Taunton is about 48 miles from Bristol. Bowood is closer – if we mean Bowood the estate, 38 miles to the east of Bristol. Bowood still exists and has been the home of the Marquesses of Lansdowne and one of whom, aka the Earl of Shelburne was Prime Minister in 1782 – the very man who appointed Parr to be Governor. We read here that the Marquess / PM is actually Parr’s patron, as he was to Grey. Parr is his minor supporter. They are both Irish.

So, there are at least two possibilities. Either Bowood was like Taunton – a brewing centre that shipped to North America likely also through Bristol or, on the other hand, the strong beer is from Bowood Estate, a gift from the Prime Minister to his new Governor. Interestingly, Joseph Priestly, the man who discovered oxygen, was librarian at Bowood. He had earlier studied gases at a brewery. Priestly had a laboratory at Bowood House with the Earl acting, once again, as patron. The Earl and Priestley fell out in 1779. The poet Coleridge shows up at Bowood House a few decades later and moves, in fact, to the nearby town of Calne – where the folk who own the big house… also own a brewery. It could also still exist – as illustrated above in the era of really big tall hats – though as a hotel run by Arkells. It is a listed propertyand, maybe, where the beer that welcomed Governor Parr was brewed.

Garden 2012: Friggin Rabbits!!! Or Squirrels!!! Or… Or… Or…

Beet greens do not exist on my lands. Swiss Chard needs to be renamed Swiss chewed. What the hell is going on? Lettuce is not touched. Bok choi booms but there plans are eaten down to the stems. They seem to be making a fight for it, re-sprouting leaves only to see them nibbled again days later. Sugar snap peas full the multi-story shelf unit I set out for them to climb into. No buds yet which bodes very well for plenty in the near future. Had to move a couple of tomato plants due to rouge swash popping up unexpectedly. Two Cabernet Franc plants yet to locate. 27 vines in the ground so far. Four varieties. If that turns into a lot of jam and nothing more, is that so bad? Dandelions are a thing of the past. Why do we fret? It is a 2 week event. Leeks roar as only green hairs can roar. Rabbits apparently do not like leeks either. Parsnips continue to pop out of the ground 48 times more slowly than carrots.

Garden 2012: French White Wine Grapes And Raspberries

When you plant a garden, you really should be thinking about meals. Today, the meal I was thinking of happens in 2021 or so when I have my own white wine from our own vines and a raspberry pie from our own canes. The grapes may have paid for themselves by then. Sure, it will all be for nothing if the Mayan calendar thing is correct but you have to have dreams. Beet root is starting to impose itself on my mind. I like me a good roasted beet. And a pickled one, too. Which leads you to meat and cheese. I was thinking that my small property couldn’t produce either until I saw the state of the Swiss chard out front. A rabbit got to it. So, if I am feeding the rabbit ought not the rabbit feed me. I knew a perfect rage only known by Elmer Fudd for a minute there. The squash is producing flowers already. The nasturtiums are up. I ate a bok choi leaf. Or was the other one the bok choi? I look at lawn like a desert now. A pointless patch of the inedible yet time consuming. Every front yard is a ton of carrots lost.