“Grain Suffisamment Pour Faire De La Biere”

hebertThe footnote quoting a text from 10 August 1620 actually reads in full:

Nous avon du grain suffisamment pour faire du pain and de la bière

That statement was written by Denis Jamet, Récollet missionary at Quebec in New France. When I wrote the bit about New France in Ontario Beer a year ago, I only thought to state that beer “came to New France at the latest in the 1630’s with Jesuit priests who brewed as part of their daily duties.” Hadn’t thought of the Récollets. The Jesuits come along a little later and, by 1634, they have a full brewery was being planned but in Quebec the Récollets were here first. I’ve been reading about their entry into the extremely sparce European population along the St. Lawrence Valley in the early seventeenth century in Champlain’s Dream by D.H. Fischer. In 1617 when there were 50 or 60 male residents of New France, there were four Récollets, three at Quebec and one further west at Huronia in what is now central Ontario. Denis Jamet was one of them. He came to New France for a second stint on board Champlain’s spring 1617 sailing from France to the new world.

Early New France did not do without strong drink. As part of their provisions, every year “they imported generous quantities of eau-de-vie, wine and cider.” People were arriving, too. Along with Denis Jamet, in 1617 the first permanent colonial family arrived in New France: Louis Hébert and Marie Rollet along with their three children. Hébert takes up planting, serving as apothecary to the settlement and starts over the next few years to create some economic stability and wealth for his small clan. He dreams of being on a stamp one day. He dies in January 1627 but not before he he becomes, as noted, also associated with “une chaudière à brasserie” – a brewing kettle. This document mentions it arriving in 1622. Which means, if Jamet is to be trusted in that first bit I quoted up there, the first colonists were making beer at least two years before the kettle arrive. Makes sense. Raw ale was a thing. And these technologies like kettles took time to all get in place. Apparently the plough Hébert requested showed up a year after he died.

Which leads to a bit of a puzzle for me. When Jamet made that statement, who is the “nous” – the Récollets only or the population of New France as a whole. Perhaps just the priests yet this brewing history of Quebec seems to indicate that both Hébert and the Récollets were brewing in or before 1620. None of this will win the prize as to the first beer brewed in what is now Canada as that was clearly going on in Newfoundland at Cupids in the early 1610s and was likely also being done for a few decades before that by summering West Country English fishermen on the Newfoundland shores who brought along barrels of malt. I do think, however, that Hébert and/or the Récollets may be the first to grow their own grain for beer making, to take control of the whole process. Hébert is understood to be the first wheat farmer in New France.

He was also the apothecary. You will recall that I posted a while back about Richard Whitbourne, who was in Newfoundland around the same time and described how “many of our Nation finding themselues ill, haue brused some of the herbes and strained the iuyce into Beere.” One of the things folk were struggling with was how to survive in North America. Baffin and his crew get hammered by scurvy in the Arctic 1616 and in the years before that Champlain loses many early overwintering explorers to the disease. He thought that it had to do with having access to fresh meat. They are working out new Baroque era medical science on the edge of known world. And likely experimented with the properties of their beer as part of that process.

What is not to like? Exploring farmer scientist educated devout brewing adventurers. What did you do today?

One thought on ““Grain Suffisamment Pour Faire De La Biere””

  1. [Original comments…]

    Martin L’Allier – January 26, 2015 11:00 PM
    I do believe, from reading the document you are referring to that the “nous” refers to the Récollets. The relation is established from the footnote 2 and the note itself.

    “Quand à la bière, les récollets en fabriquaient déjà en 1620.2”

    2. “Nous avons du grain suffisamment pour faire du pain et de la bière…”

    As a descendant of Hébert and an avid home brewer I really would wish to have an idea of the type of beer they where brewing in those days and in the conditions.

    Alan – January 26, 2015 11:17 PM
    Excellent stuff! Did you notice that I added that line about raw beer? If they are doing it for nutrition, fast turn around ale would likely be what they are making. How many generations back is your forefather and mother?

    Oh, and I notice that the footnote is dated early August 1620 which tells me at that latitude the grain they are brewing with is the 1619 crop. I would still think that there must be earlier brewing, however, in New France. Seems odd to me that the colony begins in 1608 but that there was no indigenous brewing for a decade. Then again, if they are well supplied with cider maybe there was no point.

    Martin L’Allier – January 27, 2015 12:44 AM
    Generations: I haven’t a clue unfortunately.

    Raw beer: it does makes sense.

    They might have brewed some form of simple farmhouse ale. Maybe using balsam fir or spruce (as the hypothesis behind the “Annedd’ale” a beer style that was created in 2012). Maybe fermenting in the kettle.

    I’m not aware of what the brewing culture and techniques were in rural France in those days, this would have been a strong reference for them.

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