Another Candidate For First Beer Downed In North America


Martin Frobisher. He was taking a group of miners to what later gets called Baffin Island¹ in the Canadian high Arctic to dig for ores. The image is from The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher, a book from 1938 that reprints the 1576-78 journal of crew member George Best along with other records. It is very likely that this is not of the first beer in any respect. Almost certain. Because it is from the second of the expeditions. The 1576 expedition had five tons of “beare” listed amongst the “furniture” – as in things furnished – for the voyage. So it’s nearly the first… maybe.

The thing I thought I would find as I have seen elsewhere was barrels of malt and hops being shipped over. I’ve seen it on Newfoundland’s shores about twenty years later as well as in Hudson Bay a century later. But this was no crew of masterless West Country men salting west Atlantic cod or factors left to overwinter to trade in northern furs. Nope. Frobisher’s crew was funded by Earls, Countesses and Lords to the tune of 50 to 200 pounds each. The Queen’s Majesty herself threw in a rounded thousand. There was a surgeon on board as well as four tons of cheese. Almonds and raisins plus two firkins of prunes. Just in case. They are living in style. There is both Malmsey and sack, for heaven’s sake. That would now be described as Madeira and sherry respectively.

A gallon of beer for each man each day. Likely downed in wooden tankards like these. A gallon. That is the equivalent of twelve 12 oz or 350 ml bottles a day every day. In 1576, it was two pounds two shillings for a ton of beer but two pound five shillings in 1577. Seven percent inflation over one year is unlikely. Maybe a better grade of beer? Not a lot of detail of the life on shore in the accounts. Just interaction with the local Inuit as well as the work gathering of tons of ore. Each group seemed to appear pretty silly to the other.

¹… because our lad Billy Baffin isn’t even born until around 1584.

The Fourth Internet

It has been a long time since I have been interested in an idea about the internet but this article linked to by kottke

The fourth Internet is scary like Darwinism, brutal enough to remind me of high school… If the first Internet was “Getting information online,” the second was “Getting the information organized” and the third was “Getting everyone connected” the fourth is definitely “Get mine.” Which is a trap.

It sums it up neatly. The end of information. The prostitution of data space. I am not sure it has caused me to consciously draw away from writing on this blog but it may have contributed. “Getting mine” includes those paywall spaces, too. Fees are necessary, agreed, but what ever happened to micro payments? Surely PayPal could be harnessed to let me reach newspaper articles for four pennies a piece. Not that I had high hopes all these years ago. I compared blogging or Web 2.0(a) to CB radio when it was mainly a hobby. Over eleven years ago as it turns out.

Perhaps it is because I make a little money from writing now. I used to make money from blog ads and now make money from book contracts. I am regressing into old media. Because it is reliable. Should I add a question mark to that? Because it is reliable? If I titled this post “Twenty one ways the fourth internet will make you angry… and then leave you amazed!” I would fit in better these days.

May Two-Four And Our Well-Wishing To The Crown

bobdoug1Even though it is just the 17th of May, this weekend is nicknamed May Two-Four. It is Canada’s non-much-observed celebration of the lass who was Queen Victoria. Monday is still called Victoria Day. It also has a quiet subtext of somehow being the celebration of the present Queen’s birthday. If those are the dimming antecedents, the once glowing purposes of the day – they are doubly wrong. Our current absentee monarch was born on an April 21st. Vicky was born in May 24th but, as you may note, that is not today’s date.

And yet this is the weekend of May Two-Four. Not next weekend which contains the twenty-fourth day of May. This one. Why? Because a two-four is the name of a cardboard case of 24 bottles of beer. Twenty-four 12 ounce bottles is that unit that is beyond personal consumption. It implies either sharing or duration. A long warm weekend is apt for both. And gardening and fireworks. Because we have no real remaining cultural focus on this long weekend, unlike any other long Canadian weekend, we are now free to create our own. So we think about drink in itself. We just enjoy ourselves.

It was not always so. In the course of co-writing one book on the history of beer in Ontario and another on Albany, I have written about three drink laced celebrations of the Monarch’s birthday in 1755, 1776 and 1828. As I mentioned the other week, Sir William Johnson supplied the Royal loyal allies of the monarchy, the Mohawk nation of central New York, with beer during the Seven Years War – aka the French and Indian War. One of those deliveries, as noted at page 572, was on June 4, 1755 when he obtained two barrels of beer from Hendrik Fry for the Mohawk at Conajoharee to drink to toast the birthday of George III. As I wrote a year ago, Craig and I located the scene of the drunken tavern brawl 21 years later in Albany which finally ripped that city’s Tories and Patriots apart triggered by overly vigorous toasting to the King. Perhaps my favorite Royal birthday celebration in British North American happened about half a century later. As you will see in Ontario Beer, at a celebration of the King George IV’s birthday hosted by the Canada Company on 12 August 1828, 200 settlers gathered at what is now Guelph when it was at the point where the forest met the clearing of fields. A whole ox was roasted held over the fire with logging chains. As there were few utensils, most of it was eat off of wooden shingle plates with a stick for a fork. After the eating was done:

…toasts were drunk to everybody and every conceivable thing, the liquors of all imaginable descriptions being passed round in buckets from which each man helped himself by means of tin cups…

It is recorded that many were found the next morning reposing on the ground in the marketplace “in loving proximity to the liquor pails.”

Now, I am not suggesting we take our Canadian admiration of the Crown to that point. But… it is a proud tradition. It brought together peoples as loyal allies, insulted our treacherous enemies and celebrated the new frontier in our new homeland. If I had my druthers, that would be what we celebrate today. Not so much the Crown or a particular monarch but the loyal pioneers who defended the cause and created the nation. And drank like idiots as they did and because they did. Because we are like that.

Ontario: All Quiet About Beer On The Election Front

4515OK, so far the Ontario provincial election appears to be playing out as an effort to ensure the same outcome as last time. As a result, even though it is an excellent time to discuss beer buying policy in the province, no one is doing so… yet. Fervent please by bloggers, newspaper columnists, commercial interests which were winding the story up just a few weeks ago have also gone quite quiet. Odd. Can’t be the interim blackout on political advertising. It was not always so. If we consult the book we see that in 1924, when Ontario was fed up with the strictest form of dry law under provincial law beer sales became a widely fought public issue:

Support for temperance was weakening based on the public awareness of the failure of the law and corruption it brought. In October of 1924, when another plebiscite on temperance was held, the vote against repeal had fallen to only 51.5%. Major population centres like Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and Windsor all voted against keeping the law. In response, Premier Ferguson raised the strength of permitted light beer to 4.4 proof from 2.5 and also redistributed the seats in the legislature to remove wet seats and add dry ones. Reaction to the new beer was not rabid as one newspaper noted:

To the imbibers who thought that they were going to get some kick out of the potation, the ordination was as disappointing as a cancelled marriage license to an old maid. Many of them claimed, in fact, that the new beverage bore such a family likeness to the old 2 percent that it might be its twin brother. Unlike the stuff that made Milwaukee famous, there was no blinds staggers accumulated from the new suds. Temperance people who thought the wolf was here in sheep’s clothing will have to wait a while.

Not surprisingly, Ferguson won re-election in December, 1926 on the platform of repeal of the temperance law and replacement with a system of government controlled liquor sales.

So, beer retailing can become a winning story even if it does not seem to be doing so now. Either one of two things is happening. Folk are not as motivated in 2014 to pursue the political route to effect beer retailing change as they were ninety years ago in 1924… or politicians have not had the interests of the public effectively brought to their attention as a vote getter. I suspect it is the first possibility as there has been plenty in the news. It’s just that the story has not been made compelling enough yet to actual inspire real action, to move people to switch habits at the ballot box.

The strangest thing, however, is how like Premier Ferguson in the early 1920’s any of the three main political parties could themselves use it to justify getting votes if they just framed it as an illustration of their core values. Sure, the Tories under Tim Hudak have supported corner store sales but only tepidly so despite it being a tale of small business and personal freedoms. Beer as the drink of the working class sure could be again framed as a boon to the left, the union made drink of the little guy and the NDP – but so far the party is only “open to new ideas.” The Grits under Premier Wynne have sided with the no vote so deeply that it might be tough to now shift, preferring to take the “we control stuff so you don’t have to” route. Gridlock.

What is needed is a compelling new angle for one of these parties to latch on to as a way to present itself as mirroring a compelling positive public need back to the public. What is it and who gets to it first?

Albany Ale: Beer Rewarded Loyalty Against New France

A month or less to go for the delivery of the Albany and Upper Hudson Valley beer history and Craig and I are putting on the almost finishing touches. One difficult stretch was the first two-thirds of the 1700s as, basically, the same families kept brewing and – surprise – got richer generation by generation. Fortunately, a war broke out in the middle of the century to spice things up. I had presumed that the only news would be about the suspension of brewing as that is what war does… among other things. But then I came across this in his papers:














These are accounts from William Johnson, the 1st Baronet of New York and a personal favorite of mine. Near my work there are two streets, “William” and “Johnson” which commemorate the guy whose son helped settle our fair city. But that was after the war after the one just begun when these accounts were noted in 1755. In 1755, the Mohawk, the British and the Dutch were all united against New France and its plans for invasion from the north. In the defense of the empire, Billy Johnson did everything he could think of including, apparently, shelling out beer.

I had known he was a beer buyer but not like this. Names like Hendrick Fry appear in these accounts, some the same as names that appear over a decade later in the lists of members in the Masonic Lodge at Albany. The accounts show how barrels of beer were used to retain and reward loyalty with the Mohawk allies in the summer leading up to a campaign at the south end of the Champlain valley when Johnson took on the French and kept them from marching farther on to Albany.

The last image on the right is interesting. It makes passing reference to one Barent Vrooman. Vroomans were a Dutch brewing dynasty who, like their fellows, expanded from the Hudson valley into Schenectady in the late 1600s and then into the western stretches of what was then called Albany County in the first half of the 1700s. Barent the brewer died in 1746 so this must be a nephew or a cousin. In any event, Johnson seems to have sent him something more useful than beer. He sent a Mohawk warrior to guard him.