Did Hipsters In The 1850s Like Adulterated Beer, Too?

uhvb1aThis is a pretty interesting bit of news in the New York Post:

The scientists discovered the glass “California Pop Beer” bottle on Bowery Street near Canal Street, where a popular beer hall, Atlantic Garden, bustled in the 1850s, scientists said. “It’s a light summer drink, slightly minty and refreshing” said Alyssa Loorya, 44, president of Chrysalis Archaeology, which headed the project. The beer is infused with ginger root, sarsaparilla and wintergreen oil, and other herbs, giving it a one-of-a-kind kick, Loorya said.

If the beer bottle collector nerds are to be trusted, California Pop Beer was produced as Haley & Co. Celebrated California Pop Beer out of Newark, New Jersey… but apparently sometimes in New York as well. The archaeologists reproduced the beer based on research that led to finding a patent for the stuff. I suspect that. I suspect something about it all. I am suspicious. Seems a bit weird that you would get a patent for a beer when every other brewery in the world relies on and has relied on trade secrecy as opposed to a patent telling the whole world about what goes into the bottle. Fortunately, someone in the Google Borg decided we should all have access to patents so we can have a look at what went into this stuff at least in 1872. Hmm…. not really beer. A yeast and an extract of wintergreen, sassafras and spruce are prepared and then, if I read correctly, they are combined with “ten gallons of water one hour, after which seventy pounds of granulated sugar”. Or maybe 105 gallons. Yum? Does it matter?

What is most interesting to me is that this is an example of a second half of the 1800s popular beverage. It relies upon the word “beer” but really is more like a an alcopop or cooler. It comes from a time when, like today, purity is less important than flavour. It also plays upon California in the branding right about when Quinn & and Nolan in Albany, New York were advertising their California Pale XX and XXX Ales. Maybe California was just neato right about then. I like the idea that spruce is part of the taste profile. An old regional favorite flavor that you can learn more about if you BUY THIS BOOK. Oh. That was a bit gratuitous, wasn’t it.

Never mind that. The point remains. The past is a foreign land and so were their drinks.

So That’s Us Back From Scotland. Did I Learn Anything?


The Golfer’s Rest in North Berwick, East Lothian. When we sat down on the bay window sofa cushions, I said to the kids “now, this is a pub” by which I meant a space that had the feel of a shared public rec room combined with a well managed courteous corner store. With beer. There are analogies to North American spaces but they don’t always have strong drink. The nearest comparison in Canada is more the Tim Horton’s coffee shop in a small town than a bar. Places where all sorts of people meet. The guys at the bar were discussing their latest golf games as well as great golf moments. No different than a bunch of rec leaguers anywhere. I wish I had a pub like this in my life.











A bit of a photo essay. To help me think about the things I liked on the trip as well as the things I thought about. This being a family vacation centered on visiting more family, there was not all that much bouncing around my brain about beer, frankly, but there was a bit. I can’t get over how good it is to have flavorful reasonably bodied hop-shy beers of under 4% readily available. For me, the only measure of strength is milliliters of pure alcohol in the glass or bottle in front of me. Having the option of a 500 ml or pint of roughly 20 ml strength beer is a treat. Deuchars IPA at 3.8% kept my attention a couple of times as did the lowly rated EPA I had with my Balmoral chicken at a pub on Rose Street in Edinburgh called 1780. It was great to have a glass of beer then continue with the unending march that was the holiday. Made me wonder if the current US trend towards low alcohol high hop beers is a last ditch effort to avoid the difficulty of making the lighter UK style beers that more people would likely find attractive.











I am not sure that I like sparkers all that much but it was not a strong impression for me. I have come to think that I don’t really yearn for more Wetherspoon experience. The rules were too much for me. The numbered tables. Maybe my brief experience was not representative so consider that should you actually ever make the mistake of relying on my view. I did learn I like Timothy Taylor. I had three pints over the time I was there. I passed up a very good glass of Côtes du Rhône Villages to have another pint with my lamb chops. Yet, I also had a very good pint of Carling. I was so surprised I had another and confirmed my impression. Was it the company of my cousin-in-law Jim and the chat with his pal the owner at the Ye Olde Anchor, built in 1707 in my mother’s hometown? Who knows? It was a rich experience walking around the streets, seeing pubs like the one grandfather barred my cousin from taking my brother to in 1977. And the one that was the start and finishing place of a majestic 14 hour bender with another cousin in 1986. Or was it just the fact that in all these settings the beer was not the primary function of what was going on. I did, after all, see BrewDog in Edinburgh and passed it by – not out of disinterest as the fact that, as was often the case, there was likely another better thing to do. In that case, The Holyrood 9A was the better thing.






scot2014sIf you like the sort of holiday that gets you familiar with a small patch with lots to do – like, say, Montreal – I can’t recommend Edinburgh and the Lothian area more highly. Even for almost two weeks. It’s not just about the golf, either. We spent three hours in the Scottish National Museum in the early section and had to explain to the kids that in all that time we had not really seen anything related to the clan given that we only came to Scotland in 1250 AD. The city during the Fringe Festival was as animated as I have seen in a community. One real treat was the trip out to Bass Rock on the boat run by the Scottish Seabird Centre. And, as you can see, there was beer, Puffin Best Bitter. A good low strength tasty pint that in no way interfered with the rest of the day’s to do list. A beer that functioned exactly like a cup of tea. It refreshed and set one up for whatever was next. Who knew? It made me realize how little I like the idea of “session beer” with all due respect as I wanted one of these when I was not having a session. It’s not like there’s a need to label something session tea.






What did I learn? I learned that I might want to change a few things but that I come from people from a great place and also that I am lucky that my parents decided to make the jump across the ocean, too. I also learned that it’s only twelve hours door to door. A taxi, a plane, another plane, a bus, a train, a bus and a half a block’s walk in fact. Thinking already about a repeat soon.

If This Is Monday Is That Longniddry?


scot2014kBy the second week, I’ve given up on most places listed in the guides like The Malt Shovel as there are rules against kids even in their mid-teens coming into some pubs that have me befuddled. I never inquired so I might be entirely wrong about the place. Some pubs like The Ship Inn in North Berwick are good for families until 8 pm. Others like The Abbotsford on Rose Street in Edinburgh are fine with the family upstairs in the restaurant but not downstairs in the bar. One Wetherspoons had so many rules (give the man your table number and your pint may arrive in twenty minutes… but only if you are in that room with the 14 year old) that I thanked them and left. Fortunately common sense reigns at the Old Clubhouse in Gullane where Timothy Taylor flows even if through a sparkler. Up there with The Holyrood 9A as best stops so far.

The Ship Inn was all sparklers, too. The pub sat in a dark red sandstone building on corner a few blocks back from the shore, tenament style, apartments upstairs, established 1895. Big windows and a few picnic tables out front under shady tree… well, shady when it’s not raining. Inside, dark wood and comfortable leather benches and arm chairs. Friendly service but they appeared to have never conceived of hot chocolate and Baileys. It was, you know, raining. It was remarked upon a few times by the staff. Said they would add it to the drinks list. Being Canadian seems a natural thing, having eight months of winter and all. Three hand pulls of local beers along with ten or so taps, mainly from larger breweries. Large selection of bottles, mirrored shelves. Open central space by bar. Tip jar. Tipping is interesting. Neither encouraged or refused. Asked in a few places and consensus is 10% is appreciated but not expected or demanded. Uncle and I both agreed upon the Broughton IPA – which came in at 5.5% even if on sparkler. Creamy mouthfeel, pronounced chewy hops.

That’s all for now. The train is approaching the sunny Clyde the noo.

Scotland: The Holyrood 9A, Edinburgh

image224Made it. Fourteen hours door to door to Uncle and Auntie’s. Next day? Children down to the pub. Well, a pub. The Holyrood 9A in Edinburgh’s Old Town. It’s warm. The warmest room so far. Williams Caesar Augustus is a tasty pint. Very full for what would be a light beer at home. Tropical hops, sure, but a good malt backbone balancing them out… well, almost. A venison burger is coming. Half the tables, like ours, have happy kids.

What A Bumper Crop Of Maris Otter Might Mean

Fabulous news out of England for those few remaining beer drinkers who enjoy the taste of beer:

With much of the harvest already in store, Robin Appel Ltd suggests the low nitrogen levels required by ale brewers have been achieved, with an average of 1.37 – 1.40 per cent against a five-year average of 1.65 per cent. Yields of Maris Otter barley, which normally average two tonnes per acre, look like running at nearer two and a quarter, with good harvests reported from Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Cornwall. Maris Otter is winter-sown, and the damp winter and wet May have ensured good yields. A disease-free growing season has meant the highest ever planted area looked the best in years.

Granted, this might not be of much interest to those watching the North American adjunct market, those day trading in the cherry syrup markets and watching the after hours stemware trading but this should be good news, shouldn’t it? I remember my first bag of Maris Otter like it was yesterday. While other pale malts smelled of grain, this was all summer fields and scything maidens. We cross the big water soon heading to hang out with family for a bit on the sunny south shore of the Firth of Forth. While there, I hope to avoid all contact with DIPAs, miss every bourbon barreled apricot saison and dodge all the pop star brewers. But, with any luck, there shall be the fermented steepings of Maris Otter with nary a cicerone in sight. Can it be done?

And, just to be clear, I have no plans whatsoever to visit the beer can tree of Aberdeen.