Pre-1600 Ale And Beer Not All Dark And Smoke-Laced


This has been a bit of a brain worm for me for a while. No, not that kind. The other kind. And for a longer while, I’ve been reading about how, before a certain point, all English beer and perhaps elsewhere was brown and smokey. But, quite rightly, the other day I was righteously snapped at for referring to the one post I have written on the idea. I should do a better job that that if I am going to get any sort of passing grade. So, here are some ideas that I am plunking together now. This is not to be definitive. I am showing my work and will build it upon going forward:

• Mid-1200s: In the first half of the 1200s, when England and northern France were under one government but still two cultures, Walter of Bibbesworth wrote Le Tretiz, an English-French primer to teach Anglo-Norman children about life and language. He describes the things in the world including ale making. A current edition of the book ishere. This is a translation from which we find this passage about malting:

Now it would be as well to know how to malt and brew
As when ale is made to enliven our wedding feast.
Girl, light a fennel-stalk (after eating some spice-cake);
Soak this barley in a deep, wide tub,
And when it’s well soaked and the water is poured off,
Go up to that high loft, have it well swept,
And lay your grain there till it’s well sprouted;
What you used to call grain you call malt from now on.
Move the malt with your hands into heaps or rows
And then take it in a basket to roast in the kiln;
Baskets, big or little, will serve you in plenty…

That tells us the basics of malting in a way that one commentator states “…medieval malting was, except for the lack of mechanical processing equipment, essentially identical to modern techniques.” Maltings from the 1200s were discovered this year in Northampton.

• Mid-1300s: One hundred years and more after Walter of Bibbesworth, there is a record that confirms, ale was not uniform within a single local market for as reasonably a long time as one needs to consider it a hell of a long time. In 1378 or so, in a moral narrative called Piers The Poughman at least three sorts of ale: thin or mean ale, good ale and best brown ale. He also uses the phrase “halfpenny ale” but that may well be good ale. Variety of ale brewing must include consideration of the potential for variety in malting techniques.

• Mid-1500s: As discussed in February of 2013, in his “Dietary” of 1542, Andrew Boordemade 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 smokey. Pretty clear statement.

• Later-1500s: In this 2004 report on an archaeological excavation of a medieval malting kiln it is stated:

The fuels used in the malting process were documented in 1577 by William Harrison, who wrote: “In some places it (the malt) is dried at leisure with wood alone, or straw alone, in other with wood and straw together, but of all, the straw dried is the most excellent. For the wood dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke.

Notice that again we see grades of now hopped beer just as we did in 1378 but it is not quality of strength that differentiates but the quality of the malt. And wood-kilned malt is noted to be both darker and the means to make a poorer beer – because of the smokey quality wood added. Harrison published his book A Description of England in 1577. Here is a full copy of the text posted by Fordham University in which you will find this: “The best malt is tried by the hardness and colour; for, if it look fresh with a yellow hue, and thereto will write like a piece of chalk. Chalk is, you will note, pale.

• Late 1500s to early 1600s: Also as stated before, 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 ten 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.

• Mid-1600s: In an edition of A Way to Get Wealth by Gervase Markham from 1668, a book first published in 1615 we have an opinion on the preference for straw… and not just any straw:

…our Maltster by all means must have an especial care with what fewel she dryeth the malt; for commonly, according to that it ever receiveth and keepeth the taste, if by some especial art in the Kiln that annoyance be not taken away. To speak then of fewels in general, there are of divers kinds according to the natures of soyls,and the accommodation of places-in which men live; yet the best and most principal fewel for the Kilns, (both tor sweetness, gentle heat and perfect drying) is either good Wheat-straw, Rye-straw, Barley-straw or Oaten-straw; and of these the Wheat-straw is the best, because it is most substantial, longest lasting, makes the sharpest fire, and yields the least flame…

Again, as Harrison half a century before, you have grades of malting based on the fuel used but now not just wood or straw are described but in this passage four separate sorts of straw. But Markham continues. After these light grain straws he lists fen-rushes, then straws of peas, fetches, lupins and tares. Then beans, furs, gorse, whins and small brush-wood. Then bracken, ling and broom. Then wood of all sorts. Then and only then coal, turf and peat but only of the kiln is structured to keep the smoke out of the malt. If you go back to that 2004 archaeological report you will see a reference to evidence of that sort of malt kilning in practice in the 1400s: “… [A] charred deposit overlying the brick floor of the cellar was sampled and found to comprise mainly charcoal fragments from narrow twigs, several straw culm nodes and occasional charred weed seeds.” You can learn more about culm nodes here.

• Late 1600s: In his book A New Art of Brewing Beer, Ale, and Other Sorts of Liquors…published in 1690, Thomas Tryon discusses malting. Large parts of the book was reprinted in the 1885 text Malt and Malting: An Historical, Scientific, and Practical Treatise… by Henry Stopes. Tryon confirms the ascendancy of coke over straw due to its “gentle and certain heat.” Straw, he has to admit, is still a close second but depends more on the skill of the maltster. Wood kilning is called unnatural in that it leaves a smokey taste.

• Late 1800s: A big jump in time to the document from which that table waaaaay up top comes from page 66 of the Transactions for 1884 of the Society of Engineers based in London, England. That table is found in an article “The Engineering of Malting” read by one Mr. H. Stopes at the meeting of that organization. He also read it at the eleventh meeting of the Society of Arts on 18 February 1885. In his article, Stopes describes the malting process briefly in this way: “The English system, briefly, is steeping corn in an open vessel, germinating it upon flat exposed floors at very shallow depths, and drying upon an open-fire kiln with single floor at from nine to twenty-one days after steep.” As noted above, that sort of description could have been written by Walter of Bibbesworth 650 years earlier because the making of malt was an incredibly stable practice. He goes on to describe many sorts of malting he has witnessed including the most basic:

The simplest form of malt-house possessing any capacity for work is a plain two-story building, having attached to it a kiln or drying-house, and consisting of a ground floor of clunch, a brick steeping-cistern, and a first-floor of timber, with or without partitions for separating the stored grain or malt. The only implements are a wooden shovel and a winnowing-fan or sieve to separate the roots or “combs ” from the malt prior to its use in the brewhouse. The author has seen malt made in Italy in an open court or loggia, where the barley was steeped in a tub, allowed to germinate upon the stones in the open air, and dried in a small lean-to building, with only a hole in the roof for the exit of smoke and vapour. This was furnished with a floor of perforated sheet iron and a furnace similar to that used under an ordinary washing copper in an* English scullery. Even more primitive operations are performed in Nubia, as there millet, when malted, is dried in the sun. Such rude malteries Concern us only so far that they occupy the lowest end of the scale, and indicate the necessity for moisture, growth, and curing or drying, the three essential conditions of making malt.

Sun dried malt. That’s be pale. Stopes does not really explain his table. But he includes a column for sun-dried or air-dried malt as opposed to kiln dried. And shows that it, like plain barley, it contains no products of torrefaction. Torrefaction is toasting, roasting, etc. He does however state that kilning pale malt and amber malt is a difference of 200° to 240° F and that the time for malting is counted in days. Plenty of time to control the process. Not something in 1885 that needed scientific instruments. And if not in 1885 likely not in 1385.

I am going to keep working on this and posting updates. I may also be seeing this rudimentary traditional pale malt production evidenced in frontier New York in the first decade of the 1800s. I need to think more about that. And all of this. Suffice it to say, I am pretty certain there is evidence that the making of pale malt was not dependent on the invention of coke and that English speaking peoples in centuries past enjoyed ales which were not dark and smokey. This is in no way to say that most beer was not dark and smokey. It just seems to me that this may be found where (i) the folk are poor, (ii) resources and skills are limited or (iii) standardized industrial techniques such as – or rather concurrent to – the use of coal and coke beginning in the 1600s forced people to put up with beer that was dark and smokey. I also need to tie it into grain drying as well as bread ovens, both technologies used since the middle ages which could be overlapped with the kilning of malt.

Some Thoughts: Month One Of James Vassar’s 1808 Day Book

vassar1808pageI have started a winter project. I am transferring the data in the 1808 Day Book kept by James Vassar‘s brewery at Poughkeepsie NY into a spreadsheet to allow me to grind the data to see if I can learn anything. Careful readers will remember that two and a half years ago (Good Lord!) I posted about the brewing log from his son Matthew Vassar‘s days heading his own brewery in the mid-1830s. That book described ale batch after ale batch, details the particulars of each session. It traces seventeen or so stages from heating the water to selling the barrels. The log that starts in March 1808 log is different. Being earlier and prior to the advent of things like agricultural societies, it is slightly pre-scientific. It is a business general ledger showing purchases and sales, identifying customers and suppliers as well as the prices of supplies bought and ale barrels sold. I hadn’t expected to see things worth reporting on after just copying the first month’s worth of entries but here’s what I see so far:

• The record may confirm that he was still brewing with the local wheat as the Dutch in the Hudson Valley had been since for almost 200 years. For the first four weeks he notes purchases of “grain” by the bushel from a number of sources. Then in the second week of April he buys “seed barley.” Why note the sort of grain only that one time otherwise? In January 1809, there is an entry for the purchase of rye. What indeed is “grain”?

• He seems to know most of the people he is dealing with. Only two receive special notation. One supplier of grain is noted as “Dutch Farmer” while another, William Jackways, is stated to be from “Rhine Beek.” Most of the others are both repeatedly referenced in the book as well as listed without citation, some without even a first name like Mr. Cunningham and Dr. Thomas. Rhinebeck NY is across the Hudson and maybe tent to twelve miles north of Poughkeepsie. Why did the man from Rhinebeck come that far? Who knows but he bought 13 barrels of ale for 39 pounds. By more than ten times, the biggest sale of the first few weeks.

• As I noted on Facebook, cross referencing the brewery logs to other web based documents like cemetery records helps identify the some of the guys who are buying beer from Vassar in 1808. It seems that a rather good class of chap likes Vassar’s ale. One Thomas Oakley, likely this one, buys a half gallon of ale on 19 March for just one shilling, 3 pence. That’s a growler in today’s measures. He’s the eighth account entry on that day busy with grain deliveries. It’s also the year before he marries, he is a twenty-five year old lawyer early in his career and long before he is in Congress. It was a Saturday. Good for you, Tom.

• On that same March 19th, Vassar buys 14 pounds of hops from Thomas Harden. The price is 1/6.1.1 which I am not quite clear about. Maybe one pound six shillings and change? We can leave it at that. No, in June he buys 93 pounds of hops from someone else and the rate is given there as 1/7 or one shilling and six pence per… whatever… and then the price paid of seven shillings and seven pence. it seems to be that hop prices are bargained for while grains are bought for a straight shilling per bushel. Hops by weight but grain by volume. Note that.

• One man who both buys and sells beer is only listed as Mr. Cunningham. Likely he is Garwood Cunningham, landlord of the Poughkeepsie Hotel. It was the successor of the Van Kleeck House – note that name – which was the first tavern in Poughkeepsie, and was kept as such for nearly a century. It was built in 1797. Garwood himself was quite a lad:

CUNNINGHAM, GARWOOD H., son of Garwood and Mary, became a man of considerable importance in Woodbury, as a military officer, and Major of the 13th Regiment of Infantry. Representative to the General Assembly from Woodbury, three sessions; twice in 1799, and once in 1801 ; also a selectman, &c, and sheriff’s deputy many years in Litchfield County. He m. Sarah Hawkins, of Derby, Conn., a sister of Joseph Hawkins. He removed early in the 18th century, to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he remained several years as keeper of the principal hotel there. In the war of 1812, he was connected with the American army, near Canada, where he was taken sick and died;

Looks like he was an officer in both wars. He also may have had a son called Garwood. He sells Vassar grain in seven separate ten bushel batches in that first month and buys six full barrels of ale throughout that first month. Not only does he have the hotel but he keeps a farm.

That is it for now. Expect more as the winter weather ebbs and flows. Or flows and ebbs. I have a sense that both the economics of running a brewing business in 1808 are right there to be spun out and perhaps also a significant part of the life of a small community in the early days of the new nation. One fellow recorded, Rufus Potter, ran for election as a village trustee in 1811. Another, Oliver Holden, was President of the Board of Village Trustees in 1825 when one Matthew Vassar, son of James, also sat on that body. Fabulous.

Some Uses Of Beer In Early 17th Century Newfoundland


Richard Whitbourne is one of those guys probably a few people know a whole lot about but a whole lot of people know nothing about. He fought against the Spanish Armada in 1588 and then spent the next thirty years of his life involved with the Elizabethan whaling fleets off and, later, colonization of Newfoundland. He served as Governor for a time and also held the first court of justice in North America in 1615. And he wrote a book. About Newfoundland. He wrote a book , A Discourse and Discovery of Newfoundland, about Newfoundland in 1620 which contained a few interesting references to beer. Because it’s not like you came here to read about Newfoundland history, right? Well, let me tell you it’s good for you so listen up. First, in a section titled “Herbs and flowers both pleasant and medicinable” he states:

There are also herbes for Sallets and Broth; as Parsley, Alexander, Sorrell, &c. And also flowers, as the red and white Damaske Rose, with other kinds; which are most beautifull and delightfll, both to the sight and smell. And questionlesse the Countrey is stored with many Physicall herbs and roots, albeit their vertues are not knowne, because not sought after; yet within these few yeeres, many of our Nation finding themselues ill, haue brused some of the herbes and strained the iuyce into Beere, Wine of Aqua-vita; and so by Gods assistance, after a few drinkings, it hath restored them to their former health.

One interesting thing about this advice is how the straining of the juice of herbs into beer is something our pal Billy Baffin and his crew did four years earlier on the shores of Hudson Bay when they boiled “scuruie grasse…in beere.” I trust you will be doing likewise when scurvy next strikes. In addition to health matters, in a later section he wrote about the economics of the Newfoundland enterprise including how beer played a role:

And this certainely, in my vnderstanding, is a point worthy of consideration, that so great wealth should yeerely be raised, by one sole commodity of that Countrey, yea by one onely sort of fish, and not vpon any other trade thither, which must needes yeeld, with the imployments thereof, great riches to your maiesties subiects: And this also to bee gathered and brought home by the sole labour and industry of men, without exchange or exportation of our Coine, and natiue Commodities, or other aduenture (then of necessary prouisions for the fishing) as Salt, Nets, Leads, Hookes, Lines, and the like; and of victuals, as Bread, Beere, Beefe, and Porke, in competent measure, according to the number and proportion of men imployed in those voyages.

As noted a few years back, it is not necessarily the case that all you needed was to drop off the supplies and take away the fish as by the late 1500s there were autonomous groups of masterless men on the Newfoundland coast likely brewing their own beer while fishing and trading dried cod for Spanish wine and other luxury items. But Whitbourne is writing to promote the plantations for investors so wouldn’t want to note these sorts of vagabonds living, you know, free lives. Moving on and keeping the reader’s eye on the potential rewards of investment, in another section mentioning beer he tells more about what was required to bring colonists over and the benefit of leaving them to over-winter on the coast:

The allowance of victuall to maintaine euery sixe men onely, to carry and recarry them outwards bound and homewards, is sixe hogsheads of beere, and sixe hundred waight of bread, besides beefe and other prouision; which men, when they saile to and fro (as now they vse) doe little good, or any seruice at all, but pester the ship in which they are, with their bread, beere, water, wood, victuall, fish, chests, and diuers other trumperies, that euery such sixe men doe cumber the ship withall yeerely from thence: which men, when the voyage is made, may be accounted vnnecessary persons returning yerely from thence. But being left in the Countrey in such manner, as aforesaid; those parts of these ships that leaue those men there, that are so pestered now yeerely with such vnprofitable things, may be filled vp yeerely with good fish, and many beneficiall commodities, for the good of those Aduenturers that wil so settle people there to plant.

So, a hogshead a man and a hundred pounds of bread for the same per trip. But if they are left on their own and not travel back, the ships can be filled up with cod. And what was the thing stopping people from doing that? The cold. He wrote about the cold and the sort of people who should be sought out for the colonial endeavor:

Now if such men, when they come from thence, that haue but little experience of the colde in other Countries; neither take due obseruation of the colde that is sometime in England, would listen to men that haue traded in the Summer time to Greeneland, for the killing of Whales, and making of that Traine oyle (which is a good trade found out) and consider well of the abundance of great Ilands of Ice, that those Ships and men are there troubled withall at times, they would thereby bee perswaded to speake but little of the colde in New-found-land: yet praised be God, seldome any of those Ships and men that trade to Greeneland, haue taken any hurt thereby…. I doe conceiue, that it is but a little needlesse charie nicenesse vsed by some that trade there, that complaine any thing of the cold in that Countrey, by keeping themselues too warme: which cold (I suppose) some that haue bin there, may feele the more, if they haue beene much accustomed to drinke Tobacco [sic], stronge Ale, double Beere, or haue beene accustomed to sit by a Tauerne fire, or touched with the French disease, such peraduenture may, when they come to a little cold, wheresoeuer they bee, feele it the more extremely then otherwise they would.

Which is another way of saying only sooks can’t handle whaling off Newfoundland in the early 1600s. You mommy’s boys of like to sit by the tavern fire sucking on strong ale or double beer? Same as it was in 1378. Wastrels. Don’t bother. Can’t handle it. Everyone else? There’s money to be made if you can just suck it up a bit. I even cut out the bit about how it is no different than when the “Gentlewomen in England doe the colde in their naked bosomes, neckes and faces in the Winter time“!! A real man doesn’t suck on his double beer by the tavern fire. He’s off to Newfoundland to make his fortune.

What I like about this is how beer is used by Whitbourne, tucked here and there to make his rhetorical arguments. And Elizabethan whaling 200 years before the ship that led to the writing of Moby Dick. That’s pretty cool, too. Yet even then it was not new. The Basques had been doing this for three generations or more before Whitbourne had written his book. Forty-five years earlier, Martyn Frobisher had mined ore well to the north of the whaling grounds. What was different now was the call out to take up the opportunity. It was not an expedition to the edge of the Earth anymore. It was just a reason to step away from the tavern fire.

239 Years Ago There Was This Tavern And These…


“Settling the Affairs of the Nation”… that is what it’s called. After yesterday’s 1919 barroom scene from New York City, I was looking for an earlier characteristic tavern scene. Sadly, photography did not exist in 1775 so this print will have to do. Click for a bigger image. The first thing that caught my eye was the architecture with that serving stall in the corner. Late 1790s and early 1800s Ontario taverns were build with that sort of structure according to In Mixed Company by Julia Roberts. There are a few interesting commentaries on this image.

The British Museum dates it at 1784 describes the copy of the print above in fairly technical terms:

Interior of a tavern, where four men are sitting in the left foreground, one carrying a basket on his back, listening to a soldier who stands with his back to the hearth, one hand raised as he talks, while a woman pours out a glass behind a counter on the right; shelves with plates, a pot over the stove, a gun by the counter, leaves tucked into the panes of the window, bird-cage and branch of foliage hanging from the ceiling, a print of Pine’s portrait of John Wilkes above the door, and two tubs of vegetables on the flagged floor in the foreground.

1775tavern2The blog The Still Room provided an alternative version of the image – which is under that thumbnail to the right. Another male figure is added to the right:

There are a lot of fun things to explore in this print sold by Bowles & Carver in London. I’m enjoying the tavern maid’s cap, the spitjack (which rotated roasting meats over the fire, the standing man’s pack basket, the sprigs in the tavern windows (anyone know the purpose? and the branch hanging from the ceiling next to the bird cage?), the vegetables in the bucket and tub on the floor, and so forth.

The blog Hiddendirk dates it at 1775 and explains the purpose in this way: “Notice the mistletoe hanging from the ceiling, the wreaths on the door and the evergreen cuttings in the windowpanes. It is a Christmas scene. The image discussed is again the one with the extra man to the right. Even bigger version here. Still more on the Christmas theme of the image at this Colonial Williamsburg webpage.

The thing I noticed first is the man sitting nearest the center is drinking a quart. Not sure how he can be wrapped up in a coat when he is about sitting six feet away from about 300 pounds of blazing charcoal. The first does look a little over stoked. The officer with the roasting buttocks is holding court. All eye’s are upon him. The version with the man by the door is finer. The sign above the door and at the drinks stall are legible. The latter says “Punch in Large Quantities”. Does the other read “Heart’s Ease”? There is a cask labeled “GIN” on the counter behind the server. There is no cask in the British Museum version and tankards are hanging from the shelves.

The painting above the door is described as being a portrait of John Wilkes the member of the British Parliament who was a radical and supporter of the American Revolution. The soldier is facing it as he expounds. I like the way the gun is resting by itself in the corner. There are a few messages about plenty. Is the message that the authority of the soldier is out of place? Or is he back from the wars? The pamphet on the table reads “The King’s… [something]”… is it “speech”? The pot is about to boil over. The man attending the fire is asleep as his his dog.

Beer Math: “Micro>Macro>Craft, That Works”

I am watching and commenting on an interesting Facebook thread started by Maureen Ogle this weekend that was triggered by the article “A Not-So Nefarious History of Craft and Crafty Beer” by Daniel Hartis. It also triggered some thoughts from me which I am pasting here as both a place holder and to see if I can build on them. See if I can make the selected bits of the conversation make sense:

=> Alan: “That is an interesting bit of reverse engineering. “Craft” does not gain general traction until the mid to late 2000s except in early adopting regions. We had early 90s efforts in Canada by Molson and Labatt to pretend to be micros – not “craft” as the word and the brand/ethic did not firmly exist yet. It would be better if the author had tied how “craft” itself was marketeering itself injected into and upon micro brewing and created more of a juxtaposition of the malleability of all marketing of all beer. Part of the continuum that in the 1880s saw lagers advertised as temperance drinks.

=> Hartis: “Hey Alan, I noted that craft was not often used, and that many used specialty instead. However, note that Miller’s specialty line — which they created in 1994 — was called “American Specialty and Craft Beer Co.,” so I’m sure the term was out there at the time. And just as “craft” wasn’t used early on, neither was “crafty” — they usually referred to such brewers as “stealth.”

=> Alan: “I agree but I am coming to believe that micro and craft are sufficiently distinct that the relationship of macro to each is not a continuum – and that micro and craft have significant tensions between them. So if what we call craft now does not conceptually exist 20 years ago we can’t go back and draw the same conclusion from 2014 experience. Micro had not so much of the artisanal or even punk ethic then so much as the home brew, garage band think. “Craft” would connote a snootier approach or more precious word. It’s much clearer if you go back to the 1970s writers life David Line. The last thing the self sufficient skilled small scale brewer would defer to is the argument that beer is “crafted” as in difficult let alone a rare art.

=> David Edgar: “The word “micro” no longer applied once we had more than a few brewers eclipse the 15K Bbl mark. Thus we gravitated towards “craft.” The first year when we added up all the volume for Micros, Brewpubs, Contract Brewing Companies and Regional — we called it the Craft Brewing Index. After the first ‘craft’ definition was created, we changed the name to the “Domestic Specialty” Brewing Index so that it could still include the volume of ‘craft’ beer from Redhook, Shipyard & Widmer etc. … The Sam Adams radio commercials that were all over FM radio in those days also repeated the phrase “we craft brew…”

=> Alan: “This is interesting as it validates a bit of what I have been seeking but without so much of the “hand of doom” insinuation that Lisa was alluding to. If craft organically gets introduced as micro starts receiving bodies and ideas from macro, the transition makes sense.

=> Mitch Steele: “I know a number people besides myself who have done this transition-so if it does get written, let me know. I don’t think I ever felt tainted, but my story is a bit different than some, I started out as a craft brewer, then went micro, and then came back. I’ve been told that people at Stone were nervous when Steve hired me, but once I came on board and met everyone, that went away.

=> Alan: “If I might, you may have gone from micro to macro to craft. As craft is not used until the mid90s and only gains popular traction a decade later, the shift in language describe a shift and division in the trade that still exists today:

=> Mitch Steele: “Micro>Macro>Craft, that works. I told Daniel Hartis yesterday via Twitter that I never wanted people at AB to use the word “craft” to describe our efforts here-I felt it wasn’t an accurate representation, and would open us up to the critics. So we used “Specialty” instead. Chris Shepherd thank you. One of these days, I hope to brew that recipe again. It is in my IPA book too!”

=> David Edgar: “The whole microbrewing movement was about reintroducing flavor in beer and creating ales and lagers that were not available from domestic brewers — or from anywhere. “All-malt” was the flag that Fritz and Anchor were the first ones to wave. Simultaneously micro or craft became about 1) purity and 2) authenticity. (Some perhaps unfairly denied Anchor its rightful place as the father of this whole movement because Anchor did not start out as a microbrewery.)

=> Alan: “We may be speaking at different ends of the question but I understand the microbrewing movement was also about recreating flavours coming in from the UK through imports and pioneers like Peter Austin who trained people who trained people like Pugsley in Maine and Noonan in Vt. “Craft” comes in twenty years after Austin as well as UK home brewing guides from folk like David Line inspire early US micros. The “crafty” branding campaign is a bit of an unrelated bungle that has backfired and now reminds many that great beer can come from breweries at many points of the scale continuum. It also reminds that “craft” is something a bit distinct from the ethic of micro. “Micro” is a result of everyone being able to brew as Line taught. “Craft” includes a reversal of that – beer becomes claimed to be difficult and rare and even an art as well as certainly available only at a premium price. In The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer, we used the phrase disco for the worst excesses of craft. But I think that it’s in a way like pop music in 1976 – somewhere a garage band revival is in the works.

I have to think about all this but I like the information that I had not placed into the “micro v. macro v. craft” construct. Just for those keeping score, David Edgar is the owner of Mountain West Brewery Supply in Colorado and was Executive director, Institute for Brewing Studies in Colorado from 1987 to 2001 so speaks from that context. Mitch Steele is brewmaster at Stone Brewing formerly with Anheuser-Busch and author of IPA, Brewing Techniques, Etc.

Beets, Beet Greens, Fence Posts And Poppies


A busy Remembrance Day. Elementary school assembly hall at 9:15 am then right over to the main City of Kingston gathering. I say the main one as there is another which starts about 15 minutes earlier for the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery about 200 yards away, then one for the Burma Star after the main one, then one after that at the naval memorial. All are well attended. And well protected. A large police presence with other sorts of security moving around us. All well received. Except by that guy with the black back pack on the bike. Seriously. He went on his way after a good searching.

Lunched. Being off work while the kids are at school does wonders for the luncheon scene. Luncheon dates need a revival. Our first time at Carmelinda’s. No avacado to be seen but a solid and surprisingly good chicken sandwich. Thence to Home Depot for stuff to further fix the fence. 12 gauge metal plate to screw in across a week spot. $3.39. It must be 45 weeks since the ice storm of last December. I have the fence 78% fixed and will have to get through another winter in that admittedly enhanced state even if the rot is in. It actually feels fairly solid even if it’s all jury rigged. Cheap and jury rigged. Needs to be cheap seeing that the new in-the-wall oven is coming in two weeks. Why?

Oh me nerves. Convection oven fan motor fried right at the end of roasting the chicken for dinner. It made a funny noise and, when I looked in the oven, the fan at the back was glowing bright orange like the coals at the foot of the gates of hell. Race downstairs. Shout to the kids to get upstairs. Thinking of how to call the fire dept. Pull fuse for oven. No flames when I get back upstairs. Leave oven door open to let everything cool. Then find a really good bottle of port. Because the chicken was, in fact, done. Like the oven. And roasted chicken and roasted convection oven fan both good with good port.

That was Saturday night. Me on Facebook, Oh. Me. Nerves. So, a new oven is coming.

And then the beets. Maybe 15 pounds of them? A third of a bucket with a full bucket of greens. Chopped the greens, sauteed them in olive oil and garlic, added a little ham, a little mustard. Kids ate it with a 60% rate of enthusiasm. I’ve seen worse.

A Blog For The Ages Rears Its Ugly Head…

Once upon a time I received an email. Can’t find it now but it was a notice that either then National Archives or the National Library of Canada was archiving the posts at this blog as a part of the record of the phenomenon. Whatever it was it is pretty much done. Once upon a time I applied for an ISSN for the blog. Imagine that. Blogging in the end was killed off by blogging as much as anything. At least the political blogging was. People will point to Facebook and Twitter as the reasons for the demise of blogging a few years back but really it’s the taking on of the word “blog” by paid journalists who were writing internet columns as much as anything that killed off the interest in the amateur comment maker observing on the world. I was lucky. I was paid to blog the Federal Election for the CBC in 2006 right around the time I was giving up on the CBC for good. Boy do those observations on Jian look good now.

I started this blog when I was 40. Now I am 51. Think I will start it up again. If only to fingure out who the Red Sovine of blogging is or, now, was. If only to post photos of breakfasts like the one above from this last August when I visited Nardini’s in Largs, Mom’s hometown in Scotland. So that generations of Canadians hereafter will know.


My Weekend With MacKinnon Brothers Brewing


I visited a brewery today. Barns filled with brewing equipment. No one was there. Walked into the keg storage building and saw kegs. Tried a door with a padlock on it. Padlock was open as it turned out. Even had the key still in it. Went in and looked at all the fermenters. Shouted hello a few times just in case someone was up a ladder. It was quiet. Good looking stainless steel. Outside a dog was looking at me from across the road. A big dog. Didn’t bark but, still, I thought I better get out of there.

You may have guessed this was MacKinnon Brothers Brewing to my nearby west, on the north side of Bath Ontario. Well, I suppose you should be expected to read the post titles. Anyway, I’ve taken today off work to make a four day weekend and spent mid-day roaming in the next township. Had a face full of fresh Wilton cheese curds before heading over land with no real idea of how to get to the brewery. Then we remembered the iPhone thingie. Turning onto the country road, we passed the family farm. The MacKinnon lads come from a seed farm. Above is a picture I nicked from their Twitter feed showing them harvesting the malting barley crop. Know any other breweries with their own combine harvester? Given they are a seed grain operation, I expect that they will be making some special ales over the next few years. But I hope it still reflects the
relaxed country life approach seen in the security system, too.

mack2They already do. As part of the long weekend, we’ve been eating out a bit. Friday night, I went to Harper’s, a great local burger place where the MacKinnon’s English Pale Ale was on tap. Had a couple. Tastes like a grain field on a hot August afternoon. Has that husk of the barley roughness that I love. But also honey notes and maybe some weedy jag. Had a portabello mushroom burger with a slab of Seed to Sausage bacon on it. The next night, we were at Bella Bistro. Our anniversary dinner out. Up on the chalkboard it said MacKinnon Wild Peppermint Stout. I hadn’t planned this sort of thing happening, getting all beer and food… but I ordered one. The herbal edge made me thing that the beet and arugula salad was the right call. Stout and salad. The best pairing advice is to avoid the pairing advice. Pumpkin seeds and goat cheese made it work. Was the mint from the farm fields? Maybe 5,000 other beers would have been just as good. Likely the case. But the stout was mighty fine with dinner.

After that dog looked at me at lunchtime today, we thought that the feed of curd was not quite enough. We headed to Bath itself. At the Loyalist Grill, we split a salad and a chick wrap. More salad. Must be making up for a summer’s worth of hot dogs. The beer today was MacKinnon’s Crosscut Canadian Ale, an amber beer with a bit more sweetness than the EPA but, still, that husky jag of grain that tells you the beer was brewed with real stuff. Like the rest of the food at the Grill. I have great hopes for this brewery. Just the idea that it is an additional operation to the family’s successful grain seed business – not to mention the family farm was established in 1784 – gives you a sense that they have the time and resources to get it right. Rural brewing reflecting local reality right in the beer. Stan would be proud.

Sour Studies: Timmermans Oude Gueuze 2013, Belgium

image232Session beer. 5.5% and sufficiently sour that a personal sized 750 ml gives at least two hours – or four laundry loads – worth of sips. It pours a slightly clouded golden straw. Plenty of must and funky tang when the nose is rammed into the nonic. Still, a bit of fruit in there. Maybe lingonberry. Just a hint. Much more going on in the swally. Sour, yes, certainly sour with a light summer apple, lemon, creamy wheat, nutmeg heart. “Rotten lemon, more like it!” says the lad after he sticks a finger in the glass. Which pretty much sums it up.

What is my relationship to this sort of brutal beer after all these years of study? I certainly have an appetite for any I get a chance to lay my hands on but they come along so few and far between for Ontarians given out mediocre retail options that I wonder if the scarcity makes them more interesting. I bought this in Albany a few months ago and do like to have a few bottles of panic gueuze… but wonder if I would be quite so excited if I could buy one of these any old day down the street? Or should I just be happy that one of these every three or four months is just what keeps me happy. You really can’t measure the relative value of the exotic.

BAers give it solid respect.