Garden 2012: I Now Hate All Acalymma Vittatum




Acalymma vittatum or the striped cucumber beetle is the enemy of my now entirely dead blue hubbard squash. The wee bastards not only chop the plants themselves but carry the wilt bacteria in their propagating guts. Bastards. Anyway, all the vines are dead and I seethe with hatred. The only thing that calms me is the vast crop of green beans, lettuce and carrots.

We are eating our greens and have pretty much been since early June. I also built a second raised box bed out of cedar this week and have started to think more systematically about what the front lawn will look like. See, I have a system. And the system demands berries. So, out with the ornamental hedges of juniper and yew and in with the juneberries, raspberries, black currants and other stuff.

And it has rained. It began raining about 4 am and has been raining off and on since then. Big news since we’ve been mostly dry since early June.

Garden 2012: What A Difference A Week Makes

What a difference a week makes. The long vines to the right are yellowed and likely lost. I do not have the heart to photograph them. All for the lack or even delay in application of a little copper sulphate. Really? Apparently I also did not know the golden rule: do not water your winter squash from above but tickle only from below. Who knew? Lesson learned. Well, some are now saved but, as on the Day of Judgement that awaits us all, others may not be saved. In better news, the yellow pettypan summer squash are being eaten, the replacement zucchini are up, the cantaloupe show no sign of disease but no sign of fruit either, the green beans are heroic, the carrots are worth pulling from the ground and leaf lettuce continues to feed us. The grapes greens thrive. Leeks are holding their own. The raised bed built just last week shows good efforts from both the mixed greens and basil. I may mow but only to reshape the weeds. Still no rain.

“…107 Tons Of Beer And Six Tons Of Canary Wine…”

Later this summer, we are spending a few days in Baltimore. Looking forward to it in many ways including things beery… including brewing history. We know a bit about Baltimore and beer already. See, in the 1620s there was a brewery at the first Lord Baltimore’s colony at Ferryland, Newfoundland. And in their voyage of 1633-34, the Ark and Dove apparently carried 107 tons of beer and six tons of Canary wine to what would be the second Lord Baltimore’s colony at St. Mary’s City, Maryland. It would appear likely, then, that the pattern of settlement in the latter might include replication of provision seen in the former for that necessity for the community, brewing.

But can I find a list of the ships’ stores? Not a chance. There is a book The Flowering of the Maryland Palatinate from 1961 that appears to have a reference at page 15. There may even be a list of provisions in this article from the state’s historical society. But Lord Goog is either not so wicked or has not yet found a way to make a buck at displaying these full documents to me. Drag. You would think that lists of ship’s stores from early modern period trans-Atlantic sailing would be the hot item of the internets. The 1670s evidence is there for northern Canada. But Maryland? No. I blame Gen Y. I often do. I know it is easy but that’s why blaming them makes so much sense.

Book Review: Philadelphia Beer, Rich Wagner

3501As recently discussed, the past is a foreign land when it comes to US beer history. More like another planet it seems sometimes. I am not sure why this is but I suspect it has something to do with the drive to be authoritative rather than innovative when it comes to so many of the beer books being published. Sadly, there is more than enough problematic high level description of various qualities out there but far too little of the more interesting and accurate detail.

Then one comes across a book like Philadelphia Beer by Rich Wagner – or rather just pages 17 to 34 – and all my despair falls away. Why? Because Mr. Wagner admitted and actually investigated a portion of that seemingly secret or perhaps oddly discomforting tale of pre-lager moderate to large scale ale production that not only existed but thrived in America from somewhere around the 1630s into the late 1800s. In those few pages, he identifies brewers and breweries by name, location, production and beer brands that existed not only before lager in the 1840s or so but he does the same for pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia, the city that becomes the first US capital. And in doing so, he adds credence to all that follows. I trust his writing on what comes later in the first German lager breweries, the later industrial macro-lager breweries and the craft breweries because of it.

Why have we found ourselves here? There may be a reason for this lack of collective long term memory. The introduction of lager roughly coincides with the expansion of the US from a coastal eastern nation built on a colonial footprint to the nation we know today, care of the Erie Canal and resolution of First Nation, French, Spanish and Russian control of large tracts of what are now the central and western states… and Florida. In a way, American ale was an Atlantic focused thing while lager is mid-western to Pacific. The path of lager, as Maureen Ogle so well describes, defines America as much as the wild west and California surfers so. It is in itself exceptional in all the meanings of that word. This burden of national history bears upon the topic. And it is in addition to the simple fact that a deeper longer view takes the sort of hard work that Wagner takes on himself and builds upon from the few earlier studies. Too often we only see what happens when one confuses facts as they were and the evidence that is available today.

Get yourself a copy of this book. Then, start thinking about how the structure of this small book, applied large, might change the way we see the extraordinary phenomenon that is American brewing. And might create a new tie between craft movement of recent decades and that small scale craftmanship of hundreds of years ago. And then maybe we’ll start seeing not only the similarities but maybe even the links. I had a Yuengling yesterday as it turns out.

Garden 2012: A Raised Bed Is Born

On rolls the summer. The lawn has the texture of shredded wheat cereal. The squash display a range of coping that stretches from vitality to the grave. Next year more zucchini. Not the green hot dog shaped ones though I have rammed more of those seeds into the ground to compensate for the lack luster patch of blue hubbards. No, I want the yellow 1950s spaceship shaped ones, pattypens. Been watering like a mad man. Everything has made its case for increased acreage next year. I would not sow a second round of bok choi, however. Seems to be not liking the heat. Spring and fall for that one. Carrots have been eaten. Onions are robust. Made a box out front with cedar boards. The box itself cost maybe $35 bucks to build but the soil was more. Some handy, though. That’s what I said when I looked upon my work and saw that it was good. “You’re some jeesely handy” I said to myself. And so I was.

Albany Ale: An Annotated Brewing Log From 1834


A bit of a question for you today. Above is a brewing log from just before the world of US brewing learned about lager. I won’t get into the details of whose log it is for now* as I am hoping you may be able to help draw out a few more details than I have. If you click on the image you will see my annotated notes. For the most part, I am clear on the numbers but would like to know more about the techniques involved. You will see that there are three beers made from a single mash but that the two stronger are recombined. That makes for what the brewer calls a double and a single beer. Here is what else I see:

♦ The double seems to have 104 barrels of liquor before the boil. A US barrel has 119 litres. So that is 12,376 litres.
♦ The 190 bushels of malt works out to 6460 lbs at 34 lbs a bushel of malt.
♦ The 220 lbs of hops would be local CNY Cluster hops
♦ The malt would also be local pale malt.
♦ This beer made 7 barrels of small ale and 60 barrels of double ale. I don’t understand how 68 and 36 barrels before boil makes 60 as a result. I ran the malt and liquor through a standard calculator and see the result is a 5.1% beer. But I am missing something. That much concentration should make a stronger beer. Or am I making an assumption.
♦ The notes on the opposing page for batch 140 say this is a Pale Stock NY ale. Also, it is noted that this is a particularly good batch.
♦ Unlike some other brews logged and also comments from the time, no salt is added.

Anyone handy with the abbreviations “HVG” and “HHG” at the tops of columns #10 and #12? I assume the G stands for gravity. Also, note that there are slightly different hand writing. The log is filled in over 9 or 10 days. So, the two numerals “6” in column #10 differ. Also, I am now thinking that the number in column #11 may actually be a “65” when I compare it to other numbers. That might make this a notation from degrees F rather than weight or quantity.

Anyway, all thoughts appreciated. This is part of a bigger project so I am hoping the power of the collective brain effect that the internets always promised will nudge us along. Let’s see.

*OK, it’s Vassar’s log.

American Brewing And The Pre-Lager Question

One of the odder things about the history of American brewing is the failure to get a handle on the extent to which pre-lager brewing existed before roughly 1840. Earlier this fourth of July, Jeff, who is pretty good with this stuff, described it in negative terms this way:

For centuries, it was an immigrant’s drink… Locals pretty much didn’t touch the stuff. In 1763, New England alone had 159 commercial distilleries, yet were only 132 breweries in the entire country in 1810. By 1830, the US had 14,000 distilleries, towns tolled a bell at 11 am and 4 pm marking “grog time,” and the per capita rate of consumption was nearly two bottles of liquor a week for every drinking-age adult. We only started drinking beer when another wave of immigrants, the Germans, brought it in the 1840s. Their lagered beer, in a time when no one understood the mechanism of yeast, was clean, tasty, and popular. We enjoyed a flowering of brewing in the following decades–German beer, brewed by immigrants. It was stubbed out by the great puritan experiment of Prohibition, which also says a lot about America.

Setting aside the question of who was a “local” in the pre-Revolutionary context – are we talking about Mohawks? – by any account, it is pretty clear that there was plenty of ales, beers and porters going around the US before the Revolution and even before that later lager revolution. Craig has mapped at least 18 identifiable pre-lager breweries in Albany, NY – one of the larger national brewing centres with a history there of beer that predates 1776 by about 150 years. Gregg Smith wrote an entire book entitled Beer in America: the Early Years – 1587-1840 which does not seem to get the attention it deserves. Heck, Ben Franklin himself welcomed Washington himself to Philadelphia in 1787 with a cask of dark beer.

As a Canadian, I am not sure why there is this national amnesia with our cousins to the south. Yes, there were certainly other drinks. I recommend highly the chapter on apples in Michael Pollen’s book The Botany of Desire which explains how apples were an important pioneer resource for milder cider, hard applejack as well as the sterilizing properties of alcohol. There was also a strong tradition especially at the frontier wherever it was found for home made fermentables and distilled booze. The Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s in western Pennsylvania is called that for a good reason. But there also seems, despite the available record of ale production, a need to link light lager introduced to America in the 1830s and ’40s as being somehow something of a more American brewing genesis – even though pale light lager was at the time an unwelcome immigrants’ beverage that led to its own share of troubles. We also forget how few Americans there were in the colonial and Revolutionary times and how little of the present US they had actually settled. Beer is always part and product of a larger and a peaceful sort of economy.

American beer history is 200 years older that some would say – and far more complexly interesting, too. Last night I got to annotate a brewer’s log for an 1833 pale ale that, with a little more research, could likely be drilled down to where the field where the malt was grown. With any luck, it will be made for sampling this fall. By a Canadian brewer with pre-Revolutionary connections I won’t get into now. With a bit more luck, more of these brewing account books and day logs will be found and the actual pre-lager history of the US can be described.

Not Beer: A Short Drive Into Prince Edward County


A holiday Monday. After all the frothing at the mouth madness of rabid Canadian nationalism stoked the day before, I found myself needing to clear out the house so that badly needed napping by others might occur. Given this was the weekend of our national holiday, the bridges to the USA were, by all accounts, gridlocked with loyal Canadians seeking US prices. So I drove west. Looking for wine.

“Traitor!” I hear you say. For your information I even drove past a brewery. Because my goal was a set of wineries in southwest Prince Edward County: Norman Hardie, Closson Chase and Huff. I picked up a few bottles at each but, unlike beer, can’t really open a few to share some thoughts. This pinot noir seems to be well thought of. Picked up a couple of this five year old merlot from Huff but it’s not like I sat around and had the equivalent of a few pints of beer before making the decision. The nice folk at Closson Chase did pour me a splash of this white after I bought two – as they plied my kids with Freezees, a nice touch – and it was pretty fine stuff. But it is not like I could tell you whether it was better than the next bottle over or the wine like it made two wineries over. But I think I need to know more especially as this small wine region is at my doorstep so I might as well add the odd Prince Edward county wine review to mix things up hereabouts. As you know, same goes for cider and perry, too.

All this ties into the development of my small suburban vineyard. Twenty-nine vines might make a few cases of wine a year before too many vintages pass. Or a lot of jam. And it all ties to my bok choi patches out back, the 500 onions by the front step and the long greens of squash reaching out to take over the lawn. We could probably make herbed ricotta stuffed zucchini blossoms given that herself makes cheese, too. And bread. Finding out what people are making in the neighbourhood makes me want to see what I can make myself – including grapes. Heck, if I could distill legally, it would be interesting to see what home brew bourbon might be like now that I think of it.