Why Does The NYT Perpetuate A US Craft Fiction?

Stan linked to a NYT opinion piece by Steve Hindy who is correctly identified as “a founder and the president of Brooklyn Brewery and a member of the Brewers Association board of directors.” I think it struck me a little differently from Stan. Consider this:

…state laws continue to empower distributors to select brands and manage them however they want — selling those they choose to sell, while letting other brands sit in their warehouses. The only recourse is to sue, and many small breweries lack even a fraction of the resources needed to take on a big distributor in court. As a result, they’re stuck with the bad distributor, which severely hampers their ability to perform and grow as a business. Buy a small brewer a beer, and pretty soon he or she will be regaling you with war stories about fights with distributors…

See what’s going on? Small brewers. No discussion about the different effect regulations have on actual small brewers compared to big national craft brewers like Brooklyn and the other oft cited Dogfish Head. As the owner of Notch Brewing, Chris Loring, recently shared with Max, the interests of big national craft are very much at odds with the interests of actual small and local breweries. The opinion piece, as would be expected from its source, references nothing of that. Gripes about regulations from state to state are only a burden to those business folk whose aims include 18 wheel transportation and national advertising campaigns.

So, while the title of the bit is “Free Craft Beer!” it really could better be “Unleash The Opportunity For Brewers With Scale!” We know what would happen were this sort of shift to occur. We’ve seen it before. It happened in North America in the 1860s to 1890s. It wasn’t that laws were change so much as the railway established itself. All over Ontario many many small brewers making good beer were crushed when previously local brewers like Labatt and Carling out of the southwestern town of London got their casks out of their towns and into the province, the nation and then the world. Yes, that Labatt and that Carling. Prohibition did not close the breweries. Advantages of scale did. The wiping away of borders and other obstacles did. As you can read in the article “The Canadian Brewing Industry’s Reponse to Prohibition 1874-1916” by Matthew J Bellemy in Brewing History, there were 61 breweries in Ontario at the turn of the twentieth century. There were 49 in 1915 and 23 two years later. The strictest form of temperance law imposed locally came into force in 1916. Historically, it is clear that beer and brewing likes a few things like peace and a good growing season. It also likes oligopoly. Beer responds well to aggregation. We know that because all big beer was once small.

Actual small, local and well made beer is antagonistic to oligopolistic economic forces. Actual small batch beer made by actual small brewers is easily crushed. By perpetuating the idea that there is that one homogenous thing called “craft beer” and “small brewers” we ignore that big commercial brewing enterprises are different. We cover over the fact that intra-national importing brewers moving beer coast to coast in the US like Brooklyn, Dogfish Head, Stone or Sierra Nevada pose as much or a greater danger to actual small brewers than Bud or – what ever is like Bud but not Bud – does. It is not wicked that this is the case… but it is a natural economic force. If you want to live in a world with brewers making good beer in every second town you may want to take what national and now exporting international craft argues with a healthy dose of skepticism. A healthy dose of skepticism actually pairs extremely well with actual small scale, local and good brewing.

Albany Ale: Horatio Spafford’s Gazetteer Of 1813

It is not often you get to see such ripping drama in the very first paragraph of a gazetteer of two hundred years ago but there it is. He had to radically alter the plan of his work. Wow. What did he mean by this? Well, he wrote letter to people. See, he had planned to travel around and then got tired of it. So he used letters to gather information instead. Amazing!

Anyway, the really neat stuff in the Spafford Gazetteer are the stats that feed the narrative of that point in Albany ale story and also line up with later Gazetteers to sketch a greater picture of change over time. But then you find these great passages which illuminate the author’s own observations and perhaps prejudices. Like this on page 36:

The increasing use of ardent spirits, calls for consideration of these matters but to examine the characteristic diet of our varied population, would be deemed invidious. If breweries of malt-liquors were multiplied over the country with the rapidity of small distilleries of grain and fruit-spirits, the increase might prove a national blessing instead of a curse. I do not know that intemperance is more prevalent in this, than in the other American states ; but I know that social meetings depend too much on the bottle for their convivial pleasures; and that hilarity is dearly purchased, when obtained from this source.

You know, if someone had said that I ought to consider how dearly I was purchasing hilarity back in my twenties maybe things would have turned out differently. Here embarking on my sixth decade, however, it is more obvious and especially obvious now given all this history, research and writing. There is one thing pretty clear that jumps out when one considers eastern North America circa 1620 to 1820 and that is that temperance was not only inevitable but a pretty good thing. Temperance won and we are it. Just as we have to put up with people who say beer is greater than wine we all know the wag who will use phrases like neo-prohibition, folks talking down temperance. Don’t believe it. All that hilarity was in fact dearly purchased and sure needed someone to turn on the lights, lift the needle off the LP and let them know the party was over. Or at least that sort of party was.

Just have a look at what Horatio found out about Jefferson Co., NY. That is the county nearest me as I sit across on the royalist side of the river. At pages 80 to 81 he says it was divided off the neighbouring county in just 1805 and has a population of 15,136. There are two breweries there already as well as a whopping sixteen distilleries. Large ashery operations are selling large qualities of pot and pearl ash likely into the Montreal market, bringing “much money into the country.” Boom times even with the War of 1812 begun.

At pages 50 and 51 there is a handy table that has masses of data. It states that the price of beer was 17 cents a gallon while the local whiskey was 80 cents a gallon. The two breweries produced a total of 25600 gallons or 31 gallon barrels or around 826 barrels. The sixteen distillers made 32000 gallons of the hard stuff. “Fruit spirits”? Maybe apple cider hootch? Maybe it was too soon for that many apple trees to be in place. There are cloth mills about which Spafford says quite extraordinarily:

The automaton habits, and the immoral tendencies of these establishments, will be better understood in this country 50 years hence.

The grim satanic mills of Watertown, NY? Carding machines and fulling mills. We learn at page 323 that the city was first settled in 1798 and that five of the 16 distilleries are there along with both breweries. For 1849 souls with almost 14 gallons of beer each between them. Plus the rot gut. Ah, the pre-temperance world of Watertown. Spafford what all very Old Testament prophet raging in the storm about these things… except without the religiosity in his concerns as we see again at pages 36 and 37:

The vast number of inns, taverns, and groceries, licensed to retail strong drink, is a growing evil, felt most in cities, but extends in some degree to every borough, village, town, and settlement in the state. By an actual enumeration in 1811, of those in the city of New-York, there were 1303 groceries, and 160 taverns. A small revenue, is collected from licenses, but it is the moral duty of the Legislature to attempt a remedy for the growing evils of intemperance, the source of numerous ills. It is presumed that Albany has as large a proportion of these houses as New-York ; and there is hardly a street, alley, or lane, where a lad may not get drunk for a few cents, and be thanked for his custom, without any questions how he came by his money, or perhaps any care. Parents and guardians face the evils of this system most sensibly, and first perceive the deep wounds thus inflicted on the public morals. The inn, is the traveller’s home, and groceries are also convenient, if duly restricted in number, and well regulated. But the multitudes of mere grog-shops serve only to encourage idleness, dissipation, intemperance, and as the prolific nurseries of vice.

OK, maybe a little moralizing but he likely had a very good point. Frontier hellholes and urban booze shacks abounding. That’s New York State a couple of hundred years ago. You know, unlike a lot of Gazetteers, this one hardly comes off as being commissioned by any chambers of commerce. Which makes it – as well as the inevitable reflections on the two hundred years of progress since – quite pleasant reading even if the implications are grim.

Albany Ale: Not Served In Only The Best Places

Well, at least not in 1865, that is, according to this travel tale in the Sydney Morning Herald on 5 June 1865 by name of “America in the Midst of War: Low Life in New York”:

The first “full-blooded” establishment we entered was many degrees noisier than the lager beer saloons. There was an atmosphere of roughness and rowdyism not to be mistaken. The same respectable and blue spectacled Germans were sawing away at the double bass or blowing lustily into brazen instruments in the orchestra; but little attention was paid to the music. There was much beer about, but it was not all lager. Philadelphia and Albany ale, and an especially nasty compound retailed in ginger beer bottles, and libellously called “Edinburgh ale” were plentiful; nor was a dreadful combination of turpentine and white rye whisky, falsely called “London Dock gin,” wanting. This colourless poison is brewed from I know not what, unless from the most inferior rye, but it forms the basis of much hell-broth, sold indifferently as gin and whisky. It tastes like camphine which has been racked through a cask full of Seven Dials “all sorts.” It is not unlike the Russian vodka; but it must be less pure, and consequently more unwholesome. In Canada it goes by the name of “fixed bayonets,” and is much affected by the military stationed there – in fact, overdoses of “fixed bayonets” have brought many a gallant, foolish British soldier to the halberts.

You know, one of the plainest effects of the writing the Ontario beer book with Jordan and diving back into the Albany’s beer history for that book with Craig is the sneaking suspicion that the temperance crowd of the second half of the 1800s not only had it exactly right but… we is them. No matter what your drinking habits are, I suspect none of you are drinking a hell-broth called fixed bayonets on your way to the halberts.

Halberts? No, me neither until now. Viva not drinking fixed bayonets on way to the halberts! Viva!! Viva!!! Errr… funny that I was no struck by this so much on the book with Max. By the way, a second installment of our excellent adventures through time and space is in the works. Short stories. Like the Hardy Boys series but with more… colourless poison.

Four Hours In The USA After Four Months Away

bearworldCrossed south at the TI Bridge at 11 am and got back to Canada about 3 pm. Beer was not the biggest buy. We have a thing about NY state groceries. White hots. A better class of green pasta. Old cheddar and laundry soap for a third of the price. Wild blueberry syrup from Maine. Why? Why do you drink better beer? “Why not?” Is the better question.

I was quite disappointed that there was no Six Point and limited cider choices but a couple of six packs of Bells from Michigan will hit the spot as soon as the weather warms enough for an afternoon of pork shoulder smoking. It may be sunny out there right now but it’s still -8C. The big surprise will the two sorts of beer from St. Lawrence Brewing in Canton, NY one county to the east from Watertown. I am pals with pals of the brewers and a volunteer at the public radio station over there so it’s one of those moments. I will pretend it is from from Tennessee or Idaho.

youppiBut what of the value? It’s a 90 cent dollar these days so you have to boost the prices by that much. We got the customs wave through so that’s a bonus but is Big A IPA really worth that much more than Old Chub or Bells Two Hearted? Price points can be such a curious thing. I usually avoid the curse of the four pack but Big A is favourite.It’s another way that craft gets you in the wallet, though, isn’t it. Yet it is all about the big picture. Five bucks bought me a discounted Montreal Expos tuque with a bright red pompom on top. I needed that. Which means it is all working out. You forget things like that when you stay in one country for more than one month at a time. Better not stay away for four months again. Who knows what deals I missed.

Update: Expos tuque modelled by Youppi.

Session 85: When I Drink Is There A Why?

The Lower Left Of My Favorite Ontario Beer Picture


As we now move from writing to editing and proofing the Ontario book, the question of my understanding of things related to publishing has come to the forefront of my brain. But, just when one’s brain is melting, you see a lovely thing like the lower left corner of a Victoria image of the Grenville Brewery in Prescott. Click on the picture above for a wildly large version of this corner of the image. It’s from the Library and Archives of Canada, part of the Molson Collection.

Your Sunday Morning 1940s Ontario Beer Update


As Jordan and I wrap up the writing and rewriting of our book on the history of beer in Ontario, it is interesting to go back and revisit stretches I wrote a couple of months ago. Of all the bits in the book from 1610 to today, I had not expected the mid-1900s to be all that thrilling when we signed the publishing contract. Not the case. The pace of social change in the second quarter of the century alone occurring along with the advance of modernity could give you whiplash. Certainly at the heart of that time is the massive fact of World War II but the flow of cultural change was only accelerated by the war. This was reflected in both commercial restructuring of the beer market and shifts in public perception of the role of beer in the community.

Boak and Bailey invited us all to post some long writing this weekend so, in support of an increase in new long writing related to beer and brewing – including new forms of writing – I give you excerpts from a late draft of Ontario Beer: A Heady History of Brewing from the Great Lakes to the Hudson Bay. Final tweeks continue…

In 1927, at the close of the Province’s dalliance with prohibition, Brewers Warehousing Co. Ltd. was founded as a brewers’ distribution co-operative. The provincial government retained control of the sale of wine and spirits through the LCBO, but beer, with its lower alcohol content, could be distributed by the hundreds of mom-and-pop stores. Initially, the brewers were involved only in wholesale operations, jointly warehousing and distributing their product to stores operated by private contractors. But in 1940, the brewers bought out the contractors and took over the stores, changing their name to Brewers Retail Inc. The stores were later renamed, creatively, The Beer Store…

Labatt also took its place in the war effort. In 1943, it was reported that not only were patriotic efforts such as war bond drives undertaken but trucked shipments were moved back to railroads while a trade school for army motor mechanics was operated out of the brewery’s garage. The brewery also ran a series of weekly panel cartoons on good citizenship standards under the title “Isn’t It The Truth by TI-Jos”. Topics included household prudence, supporting price controls, rumour mongering as treason as well as the evils of the black market. In doing so, the brewery clearly was associating itself with middle class as well as patriotic values…

Wartime on the home front changed social attitudes to public beer drinking. Higher employment and earning levels increased disposable income. Hotels serving beer to men and women no longer carried a dangerous air so much as a patriotic one. Increased accommodation for beer sales also served the financial interests of business and governments during the war. Beer sales more than doubled during the war years and the Federal excise tax on each gallon of beer brewed increased by 36%. Further, a difference in the relative level of taxation in Ontario caused a significant shift in drinking patterns to beer from spirits.

Two forces combined to impose upon the expansion of beer sales in the second half of the war: a renewed temperance movement and resource scarcity. Under direction of the Prime Minister Mackenzie King, temperance as a countervailing patriotic theme was promoted causing a public clash between King and EP Taylor. At the same time, the national Wartime Prices and Trade Board imposed a quota system to distribute beer as it would other commodities which created shortages. In March 1943, when Kingston received an increased allocation to reflect troops being stationed there, other communities received a reduction in their share. Overall, a 90% reduction was imposed on beer distribution, beverage room hours were restricted and, as a result, the beer casks were dry when the night shift at the factory ended. Some took to wearing “No Beer – No Bonds” buttons.

After victory was won, the topic in one of the last editions of Labatt’s “Isn’t It The Truth” series was the return of the young soldier to the family home. When mother tells him there’s no rush to get a job, he replies “I’ve been doing a man’s job for four years. Now I am all ready to get going here at home.” Now, Labatt was associating itself with the sort of moral productivity that continued into the post war boom. Life in Ontario was a worth working hard for as well as fighting for. The brewery continued that theme in 1946 in a series of ads asking Ontarians to do all try can to make tourists from the United States feel welcome with hints from “a well-known Ontario hotelman” including that in business dealings, Canada’s reputation for courtesy and fairness “depends on you!”

The new economic opportunities led to changes in Ontario’s brewing industry addressing the need for consolidation and succession in light of financial success. In 1945, Canadian Breweries falls under Argus, E.P. Taylor’s larger holding company. After spending the first years of the war at the top levels of the British effort to maximize production, Taylor had returned home in 1942 exhausted to focus on Canada’s war efforts a member of National boards as well as to prepare for the future of his brewing empire. Well before the war had ended, he had given instructions to have modernization and expansion plans in place for facilities to be ready for brewing in Waterloo, Toronto and Ottawa as soon as the fighting ended. He also moved to secure assets in the malting industry as well as in an American brewery to reduce his exposure to Canadian government policies as he took steps to meet what he believed was a post war boom market for beer.

In December 1945, something happened in Ontario that had not occurred for over 30 years. A new brewery opened. The Peller Brewing Company in Hamilton. It was founded by Andrew Peller, a former brewer with the Cosgrove brewery who was backed by Hamilton businessmen. Although it operated independently for only eight years, the bricks and mortar brewing facility he built shows up a few more times in the province’s brewing history. Peller went on to open a daily newspaper in Hamilton that soon failed but moved on to create one of Canada’s first large scale wineries, makers of Baby Duck and Peller Estates brands. In brewing, he is perhaps best remembered for getting around the restriction on advertising by opening an ice company and plastering the brewery’s trucks and ads “Don’t Forget The Peller’s Ice” with the emphasis on the Peller.

The new Liquor Control laws of 1944 and 1947 divided the administrative functions of retailing alcohol from licensing. These changes created the fourth legal regime beer drinking Ontarians had to live with since the beginning of 1927. They represented a further unraveling of the temperance web of control but not an elimination. The LCBO was still able to announce in a publication in that year that there was no reason Ontarians should not be able to buy what they wished if they were law abiding and financially able. It was still the role of authorities to sift who was who. Changes to the law were brought in by another change in provincial government with the Liberals being replaced by the Conservatives of George Drew in 1943. The new laws brought in by Premier Drew sought to distance it from allegations of political patronage in the distribution of licenses and also to respond to public attitudes. In April 1944, a Gallup poll indicated that 73% of Ontarians now rejected any steps toward prohibition.

The brewing industry was interested in public opinion as well. In a private polling undertaken in 1946 and 1947, attitudes of Ontarians were measured related to beer ads in the media as well as the management of breweries and retail outlets for beer. The polling, conducted on behalf of Quebec brewers Molson, captured post war perceptions at a time of further changes to the province’s Liquor Control Act. A drop was noted from 90% to 80% on the question of whether beer was an intoxicating beverage. The shift was even bigger drop for those under 30. A great one-year jump of 40% to 88% was recorded for support for Brewers’ Retail stores with far higher marks for their management compared to hotel beverage rooms.

These opinion polls capture not only post war changes in public attitudes but also changes to the system of selling beer in Ontario which came into force on 1 January 1947. Announced the new further relaxed regulations, Attorney General Leslie Blackwell confirmed that throughout the war years beer consumption more than doubled from 24,000,000 gallons in 1939 to 51,000,000 in 1946. The old rules were described as restrictions which amounted to partial prohibition which were being “disobeyed by increasingly large numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens.” Apparently the generation that wanted to get to work after fighting the war wanted a beer as well.

The changes in attitudes behind the polling reflects the social leveling that occurred through the years of economic depression followed by years of war. The hand of political influence was no longer an accepted norm. Nor was the moral superiority of your dry betters. Brewers were involved. Labatt was staking a claim for beer as a normal part of life by placing ads in newspapers asking for public support of the St. John’s Ambulance Society, sponsoring events like a UK food drive and organizing safe driving demonstrations at small town Legions…

At the end of the first half of the 20th century, Ontario was undergoing social transition. It was just a few years from the first human rights legislation protecting against discrimination in employment and accommodation. The Progressive Conservative party was still in the early years of a forty-two year run of uninterrupted power. The population of the province expanded over 20% in the 1940s and the economy was booming. E.P. Taylor controlled 50% of the provincial beer market compared to 20% for Labatt. At the century half way point, Ontario’s brewing industry and beer itself was changing to keep up with the race forward.