The State Of English Fuel And Malt In 1593-ish

tudorbeer1Ah, the 1500s. Remember them? They were great. Jeff’s comments yesterday got me thinking about causes for changes like the introduction of coke in the early 1600s and its application in malting at mid-century. See, there is this idea that goes well beyond brewing history that somehow folk in the past were dim and ate poorly that casts a shadow on the idea that coke was introduced to make pale malt and while Jeff didn’t speak to that, the temptation to reverse the clock and make chronology run backwards can be seen at play. I don’t believe any of it. For the most part, folk didn’t sit around glum at the state of their technology wishing for a better tomorrow. They were pretty much as clever as we are just that they operated within a construct of technology and knowledge that differed from us. No? Well, just don’t be thinking what the future will make of us, then.

What was the English speaking beery world like over four centuries ago? In his “Dietary” of 1542, Andrew Boorde made himself clear about what he considered was the best ale:

“Ale is made of malte and water; and they the which do put any other thynge to ale than is rehersed, except yest, barm, or goddesgood doth sophysicat there ale. Ale for an Englysshe man is a naturall drinke. Ale muste have these properties, it muste be fresshe and cleare, it must not be ropy, nor smoky, nor it must have no wefte nor tayle. Ale shulde not be dronke under .V. dayes olde. Barly malte maketh better ale than Oten malte or any other corne doth…

Not smoky. Interesting. In the latter 1500s we are still in the world of beer and ale with beer being very much the newcomer on the block. In the 1550s, beer is a manly burly drink while ale is for the ladies and young. By 1577, it is described as being for the old and ill.¹ Malt markets were part of the weekly cycle of life. In York:

…the 16th century the malt market was held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, near St. Martin’s Church in Coney Street; the hours of sale to citizens and foreigners were regulated and a bell rung to announce its opening. It was permissible for malt to be brought into the city on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays if it had already been sold.

Note that it is a market for sales to citizens by maltsters coming into that city. In Elizabethan England was less than five million and Stratford upon Avon had just about about 1,500 inhabitants. A report in the town’s records by Shakespeare’s local pal still living there, Richard Quyney, gives a contemporary picture of the important role of malt: “Auncient in thys trade of malteinge & have [sic] ever served to Burmingham from whence, Walles, Sallopp, Stafforde, Chess. & Lanke allso are served.” Stratford is a regional malt hub with an extended reach. Quyney also noted a downside of this community asset:

….houses made to noe other use then maltinge’ and complains that the town is “deceived by reson of contreye malte kylnes wch make ther owne Benifytt in malting ther Barley att home, wch usuallie was Brought to be solde att or m’kett & ther made & converted to malte.” A survey taken in 1598, a year of high prices and great distress, shows that 75 persons, probably a third of the more substantial householders in the borough, had stores of malt on their premises, amounting in all to 696 quarters, while 30 of them had also 65 quarters of grain of various kinds…. Of the malt returned in the survey of 1598 rather less than two-thirds is classed as townsmen’s malt; the remainder, 250 quarters, is strangers’ malt.

The “strangers” storing their malt included many leading citizens from the neighbouring region. In a time of famine, this stockpiling in Stratford was not welcome and a resident of Stratford invited the Earl of Essex, a favorite of the Queen, to come to the town and restore commercial order by having the maltsters hanged “on gibbetts att their owne dores.”² Sounds like speculation going on. Why? In that same decade, use of malt for home use is being restricted due to a lucrative market export market for English beer having been established.³ There is now a developing opportunity for making money in brewing and malting at a scale.

In addition to pressure from investors and speculators, there was something of a crisis in malt and fuel supplies as far back as the mid-1500s:

…the forests around York had greatly diminished and receded. Chiefly for this reason the malt kilns were in 1549 closed for two years and a survey of disforestation for eight miles around was instituted. At this time, too, the commons included the dearness of fuel in their bill of grievances and the M.P.s were asked to seek a commission from the king to check disforestation.

The crisis of English deforestation led to a search for fuel alternatives and the main alternative was coal. The timber crisis was most acute in England from about 1570 to 1630 during which making coke from coal was invented. The vast majority¹¹ of coal, however, was not appropriate for malting. Unlike the best malt from wood kilns, coal would be worse than smoky, it would be fouled. Which, when you have a population needing beer as well as new speculating investors wanting beer to export is not good.

So where does that get us? To a world around 1600 where traditional pale malt making continues using diminishing resources including wood but also wheat-straw, rye-straw, barley-straw or oaten-straw… and, if it is all you have, dried ferns. In 1642, an entire contemporarylifetime later, coke – only conceived of as a product derived from coal in 1603 – is first used to make pale malt without the traditional bio-mass. Was it actually due to the need to “invent” smoke-free pale ale? Not really. But greater volumes of pale ale would have become available. Was it due to the opportunity to invest in brewing to maximize the export opportunity as part of a larger reordering of society and resources? Probably. Tensions from the middling gentry, the rise of non-conformity, English colonization of America and trade with other parts of the world took all off at this same time, creating the world we live in today. But, really, the shift to malting with coke occurred because there was no choice. The forests and other sources of bio-mass were disappearing fast.

¹See A History of Beer and Brewing by Ian S. Hornsy, (RSC, 2003) at page 353.
² See Shakespeare’s Professional Career by Peter Thomson, page 10.
³ See Honsey at page 351. Also there were objections to the number of malt-kilns in York according to “The Tudor economy and pauperism“, footnote 31 at British History Online: “Richard Layton told Cromwell in 1540 that the demand for malt played into the hands of corn regraters and also caused every idle knave in York to get an alehouse, so impairing honest trade.” A regrater was a middleman, a retailer, a taker of a slice.
¹¹In the late 1880s, a grade of Welsh coal was called “best malting coal” due to it having less than 1% sulphur, 0% arsenic and very low ash. One business listing from 1881 from a Swansea merchant claims: Carvill Bros. (& importers), 34 Merchants quay, Drysdale G.A. (best malting coal as supplied to many of the largest maltsters, brewers and distillers in the kingdom. Prices quoted delivered in truck loads to any railway station in England, also f. o. b. at Swansea, or delivered to any port, including cost, freight, and insurance ; exporter of best lime burning & hop drying anthracite coal) ­ Address, Mailing Coal Offices, Swansea.

Book Review: IPA, Brewing Techniques, Etc., Mitch Steele

ipamitch1This is another book from Brewers Publications that bridges the worlds of brewers and drinkers. As with Stan’s excellent For The Love of Hops, the book provides context, history, categorizations, practical application of the topic in brewing and plenty of evidence of sheer enthusiasm. That being said, a few initial quibbles:

⇒ The advent of pale malt did not occur in the late 1600s as suggested at page 15. Coke is used to dry malt first in 1642 and straw dried malt goes back well before that, probably as a folk skill unrelated to commercial enterprise or estate management. Makes sense. After all, grain-drying was known in the medieval centuries as a means to preserve a damp crop and preference for better beer was known to the hipsters of the 14th century.

⇒ Beer on English ships goes further back than described at page 19. It was present on board Elizabeth’s navy during the second half of the 1500s. Here is the wooden tankard from Henry VIII’s Mary Rose from the 1540s. Unlikely beer on ships was key to the instigation of 1700s beer exports from Britian.

⇒ The trade in beer by ship described around the same point predates the suggested time frame by centuries and was not created by England. Unger shows how Wismar of the Hanseatic League – in what is now Germany located on the Baltic coast east of Denmark – barred the import of beer by sea in 1356.¹ What creates the opportunity for the Burton beer trade to Russia as much as anything in the latter end of the 1600s for England is the usurpation of Dutch dominance of Baltic shipping.²

Let’s be clear. There are nothing wrong with the facts were they just characterized as a little less conclusive but rather more part of a pattern in a larger flow. And the choices made are done so in support of the narrative. And to create that narrative levels of abstractions are used by necessity to achieve a consistent voice. So, these are quibbles only but they are ones that get noticed if you are looking for this sort of thing. And the audience is not meant to be looking for this sort of thing, is it.

Worth noting is how the book’s introduction is an amazing “who’s who” of folk thinking about beer these days, most of them thinking intelligently. I found the statement that Martyn and Ron had fact checked the material in the book odd as it, at first, gave me that sinking feeling that we were facing authority by reputation. As we know, like the Gospels, Michael Jackson can be cited for any proposition that might be wanted to be made in relation to good beer these days. I would hate for such a fate to be extended to others. But – and note I did say “at first” two sentences back – we are blessed with a bibliography that includes each of their writings as well as, blessings fall upon the head of Mitch Steele, actual footnotes. These give you the ability to see whose work was relied upon for each sentence in certain sections allowing you to judge accordingly as well as provide the reader with the tools to undertake some follow up reading.

Much of what is written above focuses on a limited portion of the history of IPA as described by Steele and should give you a sense of the engagement with his topic he offers the reader. Unlike this review, the book spends most of its time discussing variants of IPA across time and continents up to and including gag-reflex tickling evolutionary dead end of White IPA: “…effectively a blend of the Belgian Wit and the American IPA.” I would have liked to see a discussion of IPA as brand in which anything hoppy can have the “IP” slapped on as a prefix and, voila, a style is born. I would have also liked to see a bit more of a discussion on how IPA as we know it now is a bit of revisionist concept a bit decontextualized from its relatives pale ale and the variants.³ But this is an enthusiast’s text, not a critical study. Nor should it be.

Bottom line? Another excellent volume that should satisfy the intermediate and experience beer nerd. It should also be mandatory bedside reading for any brewer or aspiring brewer.

¹See: Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, (Fenn, 2006) at page 73.
²See Peltries or Plantations, (John Hopjins Press, 1969) at pages 63 to 71; see also Holland on the Hudson, (Cornell, 1986) at page 209.
³For a similarly structured book that accomplishes this better if in less detail, see Pale Ale by Terry Foster from 1990, from the same publisher’s, Brewers Publications, earlier generation of style guides.

Illinois: Sofie 2012, Goose Island Beer, Chicago

The beer that proves craft v. crafty is a big sloppy fib – and well within the range of possible futures for brewing generally. $8.99 last weekend just across the border. I look for it and its siblings whenever I cross over as it is one of the best values in good beer.

Lemon, pears and fine herb aromas. In the mouth, bright mid-weight beer with a creamy texture up front followed by slightly astringent green apple and lemon acidity. Overarching bready huskiness, light spice, a bit of sulfurous funk and a slightly yoghurty yeast. White pepper note in finish. Loverly and reasonable. Rare combination.

An absolutely swell beer made by a brewery owned by an international faceless monolith. Deal with it. BAers have the love.

Now There’s A Better Side-By-Side To Try

stupidglass1To the left, the Riedel O-Riedel Series Red+White glass: seven inches high, holds seventeen and one quarter US ounces of fluid. To the right, the Spiegelau IPA glass, seven and one third inches high and holds nineteen US ounces of fluid. Riedel and Spiegelau are closely related companies or perhaps even two brands of the same international firm. In the rush to question, mock or ignore the alleged new Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada thingie, only one comment maker at Time magazine website’s story on the glass has bothered to suggest the relative lack of innovation which could be at play. Amazon reviews of the object associated with wine go back a few years. So, when a source like Fast Company magazine states:

In April, the Bavarian glassmaker Spiegelau will release the world’s first glass designed specifically for India Pale Ales, whose hops-heavy brewing process gives them an especially pungent, fruity aroma. Designed in collaboration with Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada–two craft brewers known for their IPAs–the unusual glass features wave-like ridges toward the bottom that help bring out the beer’s flavor…

…where do the uses of the words “designed” or “specifically” or “in collaboration” or “unusual” come from? Still, it sure broadens the utility, no? Makes it more of a multi-purpose glass. Perhaps call it the “Red and white as well as bunch of shades of brown” glass… perhaps?

More Fibby Fibs They Tell Us About Beer

What is it about good beer that makes people layer ridiculous claims over it, against it or in its favour. What did beer do to deserve this? It’s just a fluid of simple natural ingredients that offers a little intoxication and a little nutrition. I had a Korea tea today made of green tea and brown rice. Something like this. Simple. Tasty. Like beer without the buzz. Why can’t beer be happy to be like that Korean tea? Here’s a few of the beer claims which have passed by in recent days:

⇒ Beer goes not cause weight gain: Again, with the magic of beer. Advocates of this silliness need to rely on the “guns don’t kill people, people do” argument as it is clear that beer has a significant number of calories and if you do not reduce your other caloric intake or begin to run daily, yes, beer will make you fatter. Unless you drink it in daily 100 ml doses. And if you swap out food for beer – what other nutrients are you losing? Note: it’s “industry-sponsored research” produced for the British Beer and Pub Association. Crystal Luxmore has a far more balanced view which includes a pragmatic warning to craft beer nerds.

⇒ You need to buy the glass: Advanced marketing science in the hands of US big craft have brought us the next thing – an IPA specific glass. Tragically, there is no double IPA version. Mr. B makes the point that the glass itself is harmless but, as with so many things related to good beer, much effort is being made to manufacture need. Me, I swirl the beer in whatever glass by – ready for it – slow movement of my hand. Experiment if you dare taking on unbranded responsibility.

⇒ Valentine’s means beer with chocolate: Brave is the man who tries this without giving warning. Sam Adams Boston Lager? Let me know how the relationship weathers that one, will you? Beers with chocolate flavour added? Safer but I’d still recommend giving fair warning. Days ahead. Likely too late now already. Perhaps plan for 2014 now. Or take Jordan’s advice and do something that’s self-evidently slightly nuts and may well actually taste good.

⇒ Beer innovation drives opportunity: Fun following along with the hashtag #beerinnovation today as marketing and PR placed adjectives like “passionate,” “inspiring,” “brilliant” and “excellent” before nouns like “networking” and “growth” and “future”! Hey, I didn’t type that exclamation mark!! Or those!!! Clearly, the computer is getting excited about inspring growth and a brilliant networking future. Best of all, it was a summit which is great because summits are brilliant.

Can we live without these things? Are we better off without them? Is beer? Imagine a world where people respect beer as an energy powerhouse, drank from normal glassware, gave loved ones treats the loved ones liked and passed on the saving from not layering marketing costs on to your beer. Simpler, cheaper, better balanced and happier. Like hyeonmi nokcha. Or yesterday’s parsnip soup. Who wouldn’t want that?

As Pleasant A Snow Day Lunch As Ever I’ve Had

Ron as Švejk caught in a beam of angelic light.
My favorite place to have a beer is a block from work and two from my folk’s place. Today, during today’s Snowmageddon, I looked outside at noon, then looked at my workload and realized an impromptu declaration of a half day vacation was in order. Five minutes later saw me within minutes stomping my snowy boots and brushing off my coat in the vestibule of the Kingston Brew Pub. I’ve been going here for coming on 20 years and love the place. Owner Van was settled into the corner of the bar. I joined him to chat and also try Beau’s Dubbel Koyt released today. Helping them brew the 1500’s gruit beer was something of Ron Pattinson‘s, as illustrated on the day, gift to Beaus for bringing him over for last fall’s Oktoberfest as the Vassar was mine, Craig and Chad’s… and Ron’s.

Like their Vassar with it’s unexpected mango tastes, the Koyt was surprisingly moreish. Slick even to the point of glycerol, I have yet to have a gruit beer until today that managed to place the herbal counterpoint as neatly in the back as this did. Honey and mineral tones in the front end reminded me of Mosel in a way. Others at the bar took tasting glasses on offer, too. With a well hidden 6.8%, the beer went down well with a strip loin and arugula sandwich.

Towards the end of the pint, I was reminded by something that Anders Kissmeyer, traveling Dane about the fest, shouted out at the end of a seminar at the fest. He said that there was no chance that the Vassar tasted anything like a beer from the lower Hudson Valley in the 1830s. Likely true. The same is likely the case with the Dubbel Koyt as well. The techniques and equipment used by Beau’s are too fine. The malts and gruit employed too well made. It’s all phony fun after all. This age’s consistency and top quality are something of a curse to the culinary archaeologist whether looking back to 1830 or 1530. But what can you do?

But does it matter? Never had a pale beer made with 50% oat malt and 20% wheat malt before. If something in the past inspires that experiment, why not? After all, it’s just a bit of relief here in the deep end of winter.

Wednesday’s Beery Thoughts From The Sick Bed

Kidney stones, a CT scan of my innards, visits to the ER as well as my GP not to mention a bunch of blood tests with a whack of other acronyms have literally put me off my beer. And not just because I have been reminded to be careful as we all should with the effects of malty goodness on our internal health. Given that I have been given the big pills that one takes when that invisible knife digs in and twists, you sorta have to be abstaining just in care you need to hit the big red button and take one. So, I am taking a break which has led to a number of observations:

⇒ One belt buckle notch has been gained. Already. At this rate, I might have my burly boyish figure back by next autumn. It is tempting… yet slightly shocking. It’s not so much that I am losing weight as deflating. Drinking 20 litres of water a day doesn’t hurt with this either. Taking a break may be good even when it is forced upon me.

⇒ The stash is looking good, too. I have a quite separate joy in shopping for beer, you know. In fact, during one particular bout of, shall we say, moderate flank mega-noogie, there was nothing I found more comforting than a stroll amongst beer shelves picking out a few to stick away. That, too, can be one’s happy place.

⇒ And samples will come in. I got a phone call last night during a very bad zap from the nicest people in beer, the good folk behind the new beer from the new Bush Pilot Brewing telling me a sample was on its way. Between wincing, I had to tell them I had to tell them the bottle would have to sit. But, as my friend in beer shared the 25 ingredients (listed on the label by the way) , I realized what a hypocrite I was. It’s a collaboration with a traveling Nordic brewer, a contract brew, a brew filled with fancy non-beer ingredients, it will be likely past my normal price point and, when the sample came, I saw it had a dipped wax top. And yet I want it. It may need a new name – as metheglin is to mead. But I want it.

⇒ Beer writing also fills a space. I actually have two pieces on the go, not just the longer bit with Max but a medium scale one with Craig. Both footnote laden, one is formal and one is not. One on request and one on spec. But both are serious. So productive I am.

Funny. The imposition is not turning out to be an imposition. Not sure I am ready to take up swishing, spitting and pouring out the stuff in the stash. But there is a heck of a lot to explore about beer other than beer. I had no idea.

Who Is Afraid Of Facts On Beer Bottles?

Interesting if light-ish article from the publication The Drinks Business on the question of labeling beer with their caloric content:

According to public health minister Anna Soubry, officials have been in talks with the drinks industry about the possible inclusion of calorie content on labels. Ministers are hoping that displaying the calorie content in beers, wines and spirits could encourage those who are watching their weight to drink less. Most manufacturers already include information on units of alcohol on labels in a voluntary agreement with the Government. A recent study by the Drink Aware Trust has linked the large amount of calories in alcoholic drinks to people being overweight and obese.

Makes perfect sense to me. Every box of crackers in the cupboard tells me how many calories are in a handful already. I can look up the calories in meats and other ingredients because they are fairly standard measure as these things go. But a beer is not a beer is not a beer. Who knows what people are sticking in there and what it means over the long term? Some of the big bombs out there might as well be mugs of piping hot icing and should be handled with great care. And the drive to have more proper sessionable low alcohol beers might get a kick if the truth about stronger stuff were wildly known. Makes sense.

And why stop there? One thing that drives me a bit nutty are abstract standards like the UK’s absolutely silly use of “units” as a measure of alcoholic strength. What we need on a bottle is the actual ml of pure alcohol. A 500 ml can of 7% of semi-DIPA has 35 ml. Two of these innocent pals are well within the ball park of a 750 ml corked top bottle of that swell 10% beer but far less, err, red flaggy. Is it too much to ask for a universal standard based on a standard that is basically universal?

Is there pressure to keep this sort of information away from the beer buying public? Or do you actually just not want to know. Are they, like price, things of no interest to the… umm… passionate?

Albany Ale: In 1670 The Best Ale Was Wheat Ale

You ever wonder why the reference you find after two and a half years took two and a half years to find? Look at this:

Their best Liquors are Fiall, Passado, and Madera Wines, the former are sweetish, the latter a palish Claret, very spritely and generous, two shillings a Bottle; their best Ale is made of Wheat Malt, brought from Sopus and Albany about threescore Miles from New-York by water; Syder twelve shillings the barrel; their quaffing liquorsare Rum-Punch and Brandy-punch, not compounded and adulterated as in England, but pure water and pure Nants.

This is a description of the drinking habits of the Dutch population of the Hudson Valley of New York from page 35 of a journal published in 1670. It was written by Daniel Denton and was called A Brief Description of New York: formerly called New Netherlands, with the places thereunto adjoining. So in addition to the 1649 legal ordinance barring brewing with wheat during a crop collapse and the 1749 reference by a traveling scientist to the malting of wheat, we have not only confirmation that wheat ale was brewed but it was the best to be had. The description by Denton is particularly trustworthy as it is incidental to other cultural references about the Dutch, particularly about their smoking and drinking habits. There is another reference to beer in his writing, too, that is quite revealing. It sits in this passage about the freedoms being enjoyed in the newish New York:

Here those which Fortune hath frowned upon in England, to deny them an inheritance amongst their brethren, or such as by their utmost labors can scarcely procure a living—I say such may procure here inheritances of lands and possessions, stock themselves with all sorts of cattle, enjoy the benefit of them whilst they live, and leave them to the benefit of their children when they die. Here you need not trouble the shambles for meat, nor bakers and brewers for beer and bread, nor run to a linen-draper for a supply, every one making their own linen and a great part of their woolen cloth for their ordinary wearing.

There you go. Freedom loving prosperous newly absorbed New Yorkers making their own wheat ale and bread from good malt grown around Albany over 100 years before the American Revolution.

So who is going to brew some up? Are there any mid-1600 Dutch guides to household management that include brewing techniques?