Father’s Day Tomorrow May Find Me Typing

There may come a time that beer and brewing will only mean writing to me. Not that I have any real issue with beer but right now I have three co-writing projects all of which add up to around 150,000 words. I realized just now that that’s a lot of words when I finish typing out all those zeroes. But I am, frankly, inspired by Boak and Bailey and their jump at long writing about post WWII UK beer culture. I notice, however, that they are each other’s sole co-writers and they are sensible enough to be writing one book. So, maybe an explanation of what the hell I am up to is in order.

=> The first, the Alan and Max book is the furthest ahead already at over 35,000 but I am not sure what to make of it. It’s intended to be funny and all about craft beer culture. It might be titled “Lies Craft Beer Taught Me” but probably not. Unlike the other two projects, it is largely creative writing, an exploration of good beer culture with little respect for space and time – let alone craft beer culture. Writing with Max has been a truly refreshing experience as we have completely different paths in life and come from different cultures yet have come to a very similar place in our thoughts about the good beer community and the pressures as well as interests imposing upon it. We are planning on a Kindle release when it is ready to go.

=> And, as you may well have suspected, Craig and I are writing about Albany Ale with a real return to focus. We are working on a series of article we were invited to write for Brewery History. The first, on the brewing scene in the upper Hudson in the 1600s is about 70% there. There have been spin-offs, too, which is to be expected after more than two and a half years. Craig has already done a presentation with more to come as well as some interviews with local media. Living five hours drive away from the subject matter is a bit of an issue for me but, well, you do what you can. We have spoken to a publisher about a proper book on the topic, too. We shall see what the future holds but we are very confident there is enough information there to justify two covers and an index.

=> Third project? Can’t tell you yet because papers are in transit. Jordan and I were invited to write it and we are all a giggle about the prospect. It may end up having aspects of the other two projects though I can confirm that, unlike Max, it will not include a description of a tube up Jordan’s butt. I can also confirm that we have a reputable publisher. I can tell you that because during a conference call I asked “so, can I confirm that I have a reputable publisher?” and was told that I could. More detail should be forthcoming in the near future but suffice it to say there shall be interviews, research and plenty of emails before the thing comes into the world.

All of which means I must like co-writing. I think I do even though I’ve been a solo operation for most of the ten years that I have been writing here. What I like about co-writing is the chance to see a large idea through the eyes of another. What is really interesting at the moment is seeing large and related ideas through the eyes of three others concurrently. Craig brings more zeal than I have as well as a greater capacity for detail. Jordan has an inordinately large vocabulary by far plus a wider vision. Max is more incisive and also not weighed down by presumptions about both beer and writing that I carry as part of my own personal baggage. Sounds like therapy when you put it that way. Which it might be. The overall effect is making sense of these past ten years writing in a basement, putting it all into some order. Which may leave little time for the drinking of beer due to the thinking about it.

Ontario: Perhaps The First Upper Canadian Beer Ad

This isn’t an ad for the first brewery in Upper Canada but it is an ad for a brewery in the first edition of the Upper Canada Gazette issued the same date as stated in the ad. It is also not necessarily the first brewery in the colony but that might be a tight race. Steve Gates, sometimes comment maker around these parts, identifies Forsythe as building the Kingston Brewery in 1793, too. And, of course, it would post date the likely first brewing in what becomes Ontario by about 120 years given the Hudson’s Bay Company was packing malt in the hold on its first adventure in the 1670s. Plus, there was posssibly even commercially brewed beer in Niagara at least when the brewery was set up as the paper the first edition was printed on was from Albany NY meaning a cask or more of Albany ale may well have traveled the same journey as it had a habit of doing. It appeared on the lower right of the last page of the paper, the only ad in the whole first edition.

Beer Shopping: Oliver’s Beverage, Albany, New York


oliv1So, did you know I went to Albany, New York last week? It was a five hour drive down last Tuesday and another five back the next day. I enjoy the drive inordinately as it is a drive back in time south through lands settled in the early 1800s, along following the Erie Canal finished in the 1820, past pre-contact Mohawk communities, past the noses and down into the Hudson Valley first settled by the Dutch in the 1610s. And there is a great beer store. Which sorta covers two of my interests fairly well. The beer store is Oliver’s Beverages, nicknamed the Brew Crew, associated with but legally distinct from Albany Wines and Spirits presumably due to the state’s liquor laws. It’s all there in the photo above.













Craig, as master of ceremonies for the trip, took me there on Tuesday night and I went back to buy a mixed box to take home on my way out of town. This is a point to be understood clearly. It is amazingly handy for the traveling beer nerd. You pass the place if you are driving from Boston to any points west of Albany. You pass the place if you are driving from Quebec or any part west of it in Canada to New York City… or Boston. It sits near where Interstate 87meets Interstate 90 and is only, as we say, one jig and one jog from exit 5. Handy does not explain how handy this place is for the motoring beer nerd.

Second… and appreciate this coming from me… I think this is the best beer store I have ever seen. Let me explain “best”… it is massive. 1500 types of beer. I did not count. I was told. But the selection is mind boggling. And I mean this as someone whose mind in fact boggled. If you click on the two thumbnails above to the left, you will see Craig illustrating the scale of the place by first pointing to a bottle near the camera. And then running to the far end of the aisle and pointing at one there. I have a rule about US beer stores. I touch no bottle for five minutes as the whole boggling thing is to be expected. Twice this year I have read the phrase “well curated” in relation to a beer selection offered at an establishment. Screw that. I want it all. I did notice an absence of Girardin but there wasn’t much else I would miss.

The prices were also quite fair. Dupont Bon Voeux was $11.59 before the 10% mixed case discount. Ale Smith Nut Brown was $6.49. And, while it is not curated, there is curator. If you click on the thumbnail to the centre-right you will see Nico, the craft beer selection manager down at the end of another aisle. Nico, as he kept loading shelves, had all the time to chat with Craig and me on both visits, was very knowledgeable about beer nerd culture as well as his stock. I asked him about the effect of the scale of the selection and we discussed how the store was organized in such a matter that it helped the buyer cope with that. Styles and breweries are gathered within an overall geographical location, There are also shelves and shelves of ciders and perries and such.

It is in a way an artefact of this point in time. The physical space, the need to organize, the warehouse style shelving, the data all around you on signs, cards, stickers, labels and bottles. I am increasingly aware of how I am informed by space. If you look at the thumbnail to the far right up above you will see another example. It’s taken on Beaver Street just by the intersection of Green. The corner is the site of the mid-1700s King’s Arms, the 1776 flashpoint of the American Revolution in the Albany area and the founding business of the Cartwright clan of Loyalist Tories that were key to the establishment of my city of Kingston Ontario and in fact, the entire province and indeed the nation of British North Americans. But that, oddly, is not my point in posting that picture. Do you see how the street distinctly turns to the left? That turn expresses something a hundred years older than the King’s Arms, the southern design of the palisades of the original settlement. You can see it in this map from 1770 but, more particularly, you can see it in the 1695 map Craig posted to describe the community in the 1600s Dutch era. The intersection of Beaver and Green is located to the left, mid-way up. Beaver Street arcs in parallel to the settlement’s wall.

Which is interesting. Which reminds me that you can see things even when they are no longer there or, even, see things implicit in a space. Like the wall of the palisade that hasn’t been there for the best part of 300 years. Or the sound of that tavern brawl two hundred and thirty-seven which, in part, led to the creation of two countries. Or the state of good beer culture from the scale of a store.

Garden 2013: Lots To Eat… Including By Rabbits

Rabbits. I have seen them around the raised beds out front in the mornings when I head to work. But I had no idea that it had come to this. Beet eating. Frigging cheater pants rabbits are eating my beets and swiss card even if they are leaving the mustard greens, spinach and basil. Thing is… I like beets. Which is, of course why I planted them in the first place. For my eating, not theirs.







Out back there are parsnips, carrots, bok choi, onions, leeks, grapes, radishes, lettuce, peas and the amazing tower of potatoes. A chipmunk is eating the sunflowers but I feel less offended by that. I don’t eat sunflowers or chipmunks. And I am not allowed to trap the rabbits to eat them. It is an unfair deal. The tower of spuds is the year’s biggest innovation. Multilayer rings of seed potatoes on the outside of the tower, compost rich soil in the core and layered between the rings. They grow out the top and through the sides of the mesh. We’ll see what happens.

1750-60s New Yorkers Drank Lots Of Taunton Ale

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Three years ago, I asked what the heck Taunton ale was. I found a few more things that I noted in the comments but, still, was pretty much left with the idea it was a bit of a fringe thing, a bit of a one off. After all, India Pale Ale gets all the attention because it deserves its adoration and the long haul beer of the Georgian era, right? But there I was in the New York State Library’s reference section this morning. Looking for ads for brewers by last name when I started to play around with other odd words and – whammo – 17 ads for Taunton Ale being shipped into New York harbour in the 1750s and 1760s. It was a commonly traded good. One note. Up at the top is the metadata on the image. These are screen shots.

A few preliminary thoughts of mine for your consideration, correction and elaboration. First, I had understood it was a bottled beer as part of the trade in Bristol glass. See, someone had figured out that shipping a full bottle was shipping two products – the bottle as well as its content. Second, it appears to be a product of quality. See the 1764 advert from Thomas Fogg? He’s importing something he doesn’t name but it is as good as Taunton. Sure it was. Sure it was. Third, what the heck is Dorchester beer? Fourth, Craig and I are working on the idea of what 18th century New York state… err… province beer was like and we are working on the idea of a few overlapping things or production techniques: weaker tavern brew, stronger northern Dutch-style wheat ale, NYC-made English/British-style barley ale and with this information there appears to be a fourth class. Wide – spread premium imports.

Four ideas is enough for now. Lots of data. What else do you see?

Albany Ale: How Was 1700s Brewing Structured?

More books in the mail today. Books on colonial American economics – trade and agriculture. As Craig pointed out the other day, the last third of the 1600s and the first two thirds of the 1700s is the last bit of the story of Albany ale and associated Hudson Valley brewing that we have been looking at though he has an excellent post on the big picture. Happy, then, was I to find the following passage in 2002’s Merchants & Empire: Trading in Colonial New York by Cathy Matson:

Brewing beer, on the other hand, was a ubiquitous household undertaking and could be expanded to export production with readily available local commodities. Females throughout the countryside were probably taught at an early age how to brew for household consumption, but New York’s demand for publicly sold beer grew steadily as well. The earliest brewing houses were owned by the distillers De Foreest and Van Couvenhoven. Soon, merchant families such as the Beekmans and the Gansevoorts also brewed beer for public sale. But by the 1730s, families that ran taverns or inns owned most breweries, as in the case of Nicholas Matteysen and John Hold. Moreover, since beer was cheaper than distilled spirits, and increasingly identified with the tastes of the “lesser orders,” its production dispersed over time into the various neighbourhoods, where brewer-tavernkeepers also dealt directly with rural producers for hops, barley, and containers.

This description of production is consistent with the 1810-11 Vassar log, sibling to the mid-1830s one, that shows local farmers supplying casks, hops and grain. This makes sense as there was no great technological shift between 1700 and 1800 that should have shifted patterns of production – especially in a region still struggling with the difficult economic aftermath of the Revolution. Unfortunately, wide-spread small scale commonplace activity tends not to get recorded so we get only glimpses as in diaries from 1670 and 1749.

So, I am off to Albany tomorrow for a couple of attempts to find sources on the topic and to talk with Craig. Do they still have card catalogues? Someone must have done a study of the economics of upstate NY’s farmers between the exit of the Dutch empire and the convening of the Sons of Liberty. Surely, there is an economic argument or at least observations being made that describes the British era as not simply the prelude to independence. We’ll see.