Oh, What A Loverly Word Usage Graphing Tool…

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See that? Click on the image and you will see it better. That is a word search for the word hop[pe]s in English language texts from a site called Early Modern Print: Text Mining Early Printed English which explains itself as follows:

Early Print offers a range of tools for the computational exploration and analysis of English print culture before 1700. Early Print offers a range of tools for the computational exploration and analysis of English print culture before 1700. The site was designed to help scholars make sense of the incomparable textual archive produced by the EEBO Text Creation Partnership, consisting of a set of transcriptions of the first two centuries of English print. While EEBO-TCP provides access to a massive collection of texts that promises to transform the way scholars approach this period, it also presents significant technical and conceptual challenges. The relative accuracy (given its scale) of the EEBO-TCP corpus that makes it such a valuable resource for scholars also makes it complex for computational analysis.

Got it? Yikes. It appears to be a far more complex version of the New York Times search tool that is so useful in confirming how late “craft” beer came into accepted usage. Except, this fun widget focuses on texts from 1480 to 1700. I am still having some problem figuring out how to properly run searches given all the swell code that can be used to run searches. But when you do, you get wonderful – even if possibly misleading – results like this one confirming that “hops” or “hoppes” came into far more common use on a very particular date roughly around 1518. Look at “ale“! I am sure folk more clever than I may make more interesting use of it so let me know what you find. Be careful. Remember that around 1577 “biere” was a common spelling. Have a go. Meanwhile, I wonder if anyone mentioned “craft beer” during that era…

“Click Bait!” Not Really Code For Good Beer Criticism

monkey4This week’s craft beer tantrum has come in reaction to a very well written personal essay attacking a number of specified effects of craft beer snobbery. In particular, strong reaction has come from the mixed revenue stream writer / consultant / appearance fee good beer personality seats in the audience. I have absolutely no idea why this column caused those in the front pew to reach for the book of common prayer to announce “click bait!” as one. But it does make one sad given how this exemplifies at least part of the state of critical thinking about beer these days. Makes one wonder what that agenda behind the Sturm und Drang is all about. Consider this passage from the impugned opinion piece:

When I go to the pub I want to talk to my friends about their lives, our jobs, politics, funny things we saw on public transport that day. Ward says that “craft beer is a conversation”, which really gets to the heart of the matter: I don’t want to have a conversation with my beer, I want to have a conversation with my mates. Combined with our loose culture of buying rounds, this “beer-as-backdrop” phenomenon is why it’s important for tap beers to be sessionable and relatively inexpensive. Beer blogger Martyn Cornell’s exploration of sessionability pinpoints the crucial difference between a “craft beer” kind of beer and what I, from an Australian perspective, would call a “normal beer”…

While Martyn has not entered into the “clickbait-clickbait” din, he has disavowed the citation on a Facebook comments thread. Which is unfortunate. Because what is described is a perfectly reasonable and attractive experience of beer. Who would want to see that imposed upon? Hmm? What’s that? Not good enough for some? Why? I don’t know. Not sure they do. Frankly, the knee jerk reaction has gotten to be such a matter of rote. There is a such race to post something righteous on Twitter that actual reading of the text in question seems to be optional.

Which, without getting into the bushes too deeply given how little I care about the uni-clique¹, let’s think about two things Boak and Bailey have noted lately. First, during the craft beer emo-crisis of a few weeks ago (they are coming so fast and furious that they seem to be the hallmark of 2015’s discourse) they noted of another article: “It actually made us laugh; the author writes with flair; and, unlike other pure clickbait articles (‘craft beer sucks and people that drink it are dicks’) it has an argument.” Then, last week they wrote the following in their discussion of the London-centricity of the UK’s good beer discourse:

Where there is a gap in regional coverage is, unfortunately, the blogoshire. A few years ago, beer blogging was all but dominated by Leeds. Now, Leigh Linley has taken a job in the industry and temporarily put his blog on hiatus; Zak Avery posts infrequently (though it’s always good when he does); while others have moved to other parts of the country, had children, or otherwise run out of steam. By their own admission, Birmingham bloggers Dan Brown and David Shipman are both ‘semi-retired’. And our favourite Bristol beer blog hasn’t posted since 2013.

See, it is not just that blogging is dead but as a prominent beer writer has confided this week, we lack those now who “stir the pot occasionally. Lord knows the readers could use the perspective.” Which makes me wonder.² A long time ago the happy land of beer blogging suffered an outrage – the invasion of pro writers pretending to be bloggers. We found a measure of peace. But then beer bloggers went off in a few directions in the last couple of years. Too many for the available cash decided to make a living out of it. From that we have received many interesting books and articles but we have also witnessed the rise of the mixed revenue stream writer / consultant / collaborateur / appearance fee good beer personality chasing the tail of craft. We then have also seen, as B+B said, the loss of interest by the pure amateur out of boredom at, I suppose, the now dull lock step cultish homogeneity of the scene due to the previous group separating off. And we still have those game actual professionals who actually do well thought out, critical and carefully presented writing about good beer. What a business. What a state of affairs…

Does one despair, fight the power or make pitches to the patient but not infinitely resourced opportunities for a beer writing cheque? Not sure other than I am sure it is all more to be pitied than scorned. By the way, I hope you disagree…. which would require you to make up your mind independently and not follow someone else’s agenda like a drunken lemming. See what you can come up with. Make Stonch proud.

¹ Which reference may actually qualify me as a “clique baiter”… neato …

² See Mr. Chimp Head up there? That is the “Al is wondering” icon if you haven’t picked that up yet.

Bayonne Outside Cider Off Newfoundland In 1520

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I had lost this book. I found it again yesterday. The precursors of Jacques Cartier, 1497-1534: a collection of documents relating to the early history of the Dominion of Canada. Notice that it is a book published under the authority of the Canadian Federal Minister of Agriculture published by the Government Printing Bureau in Ottawa in 1911. We really used to know how to do government right.

Attentive readers will recall last March’s post in which I speculated on who might actually have been the first brewer in New France. A year earlier I wrote about the masses of beer transported along with the English Arctic iron ore mining mission led by Martin Frobisher in the 1570s. This is half a century earlier and might at least exemplify the earliest sort of alcohol use in North America – cider. Newfoundland is an obvious candidate. I suspect West Country fishermen drying cod for the summer caught on the Grand Banks were brewing at their coastal camps in the late 1500s. In the early 1600s they were clearly using beer and aqua vitae. So, its pretty much obvious that the earliest crews were enjoying strong drink in their earliest voyages as this record from 1520 shows:

To My Lord the Lieutenant of My Lord the Mayor, Sheriffs and Notable Council of Bayonne:

Messrs. Michael de Segure and Matthew de Biran make humble petition, setting forth that they have decided, at God’s pleasure, to send their vessel as far as Newfoundland to fish, and they need a large quantity of provisions, and among other things the number and quantity of forty butts of cider, of the best that can be found. And this being so, that the said de Segure has an orchard on his farm at St. Stephen, which is worked at his expense and from this he has a certain amount of cider; and also the said de Biran has certain debts at Seinhanx, for which he is willing to take payment in cider. In consideration of this, the said petitioners beg, supplicate and ask that you will be pleased to grant them permission, by special favour and without prejudice to the regulations of the said city, to load on board the said vessel forty butts of outside cider, part from the farm of the said de Segure and the surplus from Seinhanx, for the provision and victualling of the said vessel ; and you will be doing well.

Signed : M. de Biran.

The present request having been read and considered here in council, it has been ordered that the said petitioners, after they have taken oath before My Lord the Lieutenant, shall be allowed and permitted to load cider in their said vessel for the provisioning of the same, half the amount necessary thereto being grown in the city, and the other half being that belonging to the said petitioners. And this by special favour, in consideration of the voyage the said vessel is to make, and without prejudice to the regulations of the city making mention of wines and ciders, and to other restrictions and edict of the king, our lord, relating to the ports, loading and unloading. And should they be found doing the contrary, they will incur a fine of one hundred livres tournois, to be applied to the affairs of the city.

Given in council, 6 March, 1520.

Bayonne is a port town on the Atlantic coast just north of the French-Spanish border. You seem to be able to get cider and cod fish tapas there still. Early relations on the Canadian coast appear to have been friendly, Mi’kmaq chiefs joining them on the return trip over wintering in Europe on occasion. Crews from Bayonne had been sailing long distances for centuries before this request for cider was made. The Grand Banks cod fishery continued for decades after, well before settlement attempts. Strong drink would have accompanied them throughout the centuries. We even had a fish war with Spain in the 1990s. That image up there? It’s actually from 178 years after M. de Segure and M. de Biran set out with their 40 butt in the hold – according to the Government of Canada website where I found it. Hey. We still do this stuff through government action.

So… what is outside cider? I have no idea.

One Brewery And The Problem With Records

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I hate records. Well, I really like them. But I hate them. See, we are subject to their limitations… or at least two of them. Or three. The last one first. Finding them. For a while I have been grabbing images of maps including the sites of early breweries in Kingston. I have not seen the actual maps. Just the scans. So I realize that, over time, I have noticed that the maps do not focus on my needs but the needs of others. How surprising. But then I next realize there are other records I know nothing about. The maps above are from the 1790s, 1801, 1810, 1815, 1828, 1845, 1849, 1850, 1850, 1850, 1853, 1858, 1866 and 1869 respectively. There must be others. Yet, I know there isn’t the set I need. A set of maps about the Kingston Brewery first built no later than 1793 and then build up and added to… and renovated… then burned down then rebuild and added… and renovated… then burned down… and built again. What did we write about this spot in Ontario Beer?

In the garrison communities of Kingston and Niagara-on-the-Lake, larger and more formal breweries were founded to supply the colony generally and the troops in particular. They were built with government approval to provide beer to the colony and its protectors. In 1793, at Niagara-On-the-Lake, John Hewitt placed a notice announcing both establishment and official approval of his brewery. It was set to open in time for that year’s grain harvest. In that same year, John Forsythe built his brewery in Kingston at the south end of the aptly named Brewery Street. Forsythe appears to have been an investing capitalist, apparently without the skill or inclination to brew the beer himself. He moved through a number of partners and tenants before John Darnley took over operations in 1797. Darnley managed the brewery until 1810.

Steve Gates has more detail in his book The Breweries of Kingston and the St.Lawrence Valleybut the most interesting thing is that part of the structure of the brewery as it grew and aged and hung on and got turned into condos is still there. Which got me thinking… what is still there? So, we go to the maps. In the 1790 map, the road is called Brewery Street which makes one think there is a brewery on the street but the brewery is not shown where it is later shown. The 1801 map shows a couple of buildings on water lot “C” and the 1810 map names lot “C” as being in the hands of John Forsyth – no final “e”. So we know we have the right spot. The 1828 map shows the location of buildings in quite a realistic style oriented towards the shoreline just north of where it takes a 90 degree turn. A small Georgian colonial enterprise.The 1845 map shows one building sitting in the way of the northern ambitions of Wellington Street. It also shows water lot “C” as the property of Phillip Wenz who bought it in 1826.

The 1849 map is a peach. It shows the brewery clearly and also how the water lots are getting filled in. The brewery is starting to seem out of time with the surrounding land uses. It’s not on the first 1850 map. It is on the second one and seems to have a lane working its way around the front of it to take into account the odd orientation of the building. The shoreline is getting farther and farther away with all the filling going on. The last 1850 map and the 1853 one shows up to ten buildings located on water lot “C” all entirely higgle-piggle to each other. The 1858 one shows no brewery building but a whack of new fill proposed to take into account the snazzy new railway. The 1866 map shows Wellington now reaching all the way to Bay Street, built on fill, the brewery noted on the new street corner. By 1869, it appears the brewery is all neat and tidy and faces the road neat and tidily like all the other orderly Victorian structures in the neighbouring roads. None of your organic Georgian ways for this modern brewery.

What does all this mean? Well, there could be the recording of four or five configurations of the buildings. None of which were the location I noted in 2012. If you click on the left hand image at the top of this post, you can see some of the oddly oriented buildings were still there in 1908. And bits of that era continue today as you can see in this post from 2003 the building hundreds of feet inland from the 1824 waterfront location. It moved overtime. Reconfigured. If you had enough of the right records you could write an entire book on the history of that one patch of land. If you had the right records.

The Beer On My Path To Owen Sound And Back

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I had one of those happy sad events over the weekend, a remembrance of someone two generations older than me, forty-eight years older to be exact. I won’t get into details but suffice it to say that anyone who ensured there was a good beer in the fridge was an ally as much as anything. The weekend was moderation itself with plenty of time spent listening to stories of generations past as well as seeing who might make the funniest strangest face, me or a seven year old. But there were stops and there were meals. So – as a service – I offer a few thoughts.

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I will mention the last first. On the road home, we stayed off the main highways given the snow and went with the 1930s era ones, now secondary roads. Which brought us into the towns on the north shore of Lake Ontario. In Trenton, we came across Port Bistro Pub. A burger for me which I might have enjoyed more had the other plates not looked better. The picture above in the middle does not do justice to the architectural nachos consumed by the boy. The salsa was light and lime while the cabbage cole slaw was cut with shredded green apple. You wanted that intel, correct? I mean one needs to project to all parts of the theatre, no? Fine. I admit it. The reason for that all is as background to me now mentioning the one glass of milk stout I had which was made by Gateway Brewing, also of Trenton. It was good. I shall hunt it out again. I took no notes so that is about it. Sorry. Did I mention I was six hours into a none hour snowy drive? Worth a visit.

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On the way up, I was more prepared. Or at least I aimed and when I found Northwinds Brewhouse, I had… a burger. But as it was a burger eaten on a Friday unaware of the one I order on the next Sunday. I shouldn’t have had two. But I should have had this one. I had a gratzer as well as a mild. I did make the mental note that it was really grodziskie. But then I noted that these were two of the three beers under 4%. And each passed a critical test, the favour of the one who doesn’t really like beer. I took away the 3.8% farmhouse ale, too. That’s the bottle shop’s chalk board up there. All extremely well made and all the beers entirely avoiding the trend of adjunct craft. No phony baloney fruit sauces in the saison, no silly “vanilla note from a vanilla note giving” bourbon barrel aging. Just that sort of well managed expert brewing that occurs when the basic ingredients meet an intelligent ambitious brewer. I like. Oh, and the chance of a fried egg on your chips. That helps, too.

What did the two places have in common. The spaces were clean, contemporary and well suited for the offerings. I particularly liked how Northwinds employed some clever sound dampening panels up in the rafters. Made what might otherwise have been a bit of an echo laden industrial space into a very strong candidate for my favourite Ontario beer house. Port Bistro? It was the wall of glass facing the river. Another faces the road. So tidy I might have felt awkward if that was an emotion I was capable of feeling.

Not Beer: Welcome To Seed Catalogue Reading Time

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I know I mentioned I am sick of winter but did I mention I am sick of winter? I did? OK. Did I mention that I am already gearing up for spring planting. With any luck, three or four weeks from now I will take out the bag of soil I keep in the basement all winter, dump it on the ground and ram in a bunch of pea seeds. It’s my way of shaking a fist at the lingering frost. Peas like a few other common vegetables survive early frosts quite well. Not hard in these parts to get a few crops in that might start providing some salady bits before mid-May. The first peas are as good as the first tomatoes – except they come two months earlier.

It’s not the only bet I will have at play in the garden. I’ve left parsnips and leeks to overwinter. More than one pot of soup to be made of the sweetened roots. Saison Dupont’s true partner is fresh spring harvested parsnip. I pulled that batch up there out of our suburban front lawn a couple of years ago. Need fresh seed for the 2016 crop. There’s parsley and chives and maybe a few other herbs under the drifts waiting to send out fresh shoots, too. The other great spring crop is bok choi. I only learned this two growing seasons ago when I bought a pack on a whim. It grows like mad in the cool spring air and again in a second season in autumn. Ten bucks gets you 1,000 seeds if you buy the commercial grower size packs. That’s a lot of small shoots, a lot of dinners.

I am convinced one of the best ways to understand beer is to understand all the things you can eat and drink. Better than buying hydroponically fed, commercially produced veg growing food will give you an earthier experience as well as a small but direct appreciation of agriculture and some of the tensions plants face. Beer, after all, is a result of our relationship with edible plants.

Your Beery Update For A Mid-February Monday

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While I am not living the snowy hell of the east coast, I am simply sick of winter here on the Great Lakes. It’s not like it’s been a long one either. December and January were pretty soft. But the deep cold has driven me inside and down into the basement. Next to the gas stove. Wrapped in blankets and sipping cold medicines – in which category I include port and stout. Scenes like these from Boak and Bailey now just confuse me. I ask myself: “do they have invisible snow somehow in Cornwall?” I shake my head as soon as the idea comes to me. It goes away. I am reduced to comparing corks to pass the time, to save my sanity. I even asked Facebook a question and then tried to answer it: “can a caged cork be a dud? The one in the middle is from tonight’s under-inspiring Goudenband 2010. It looks like the base did not expand in the neck of the bottle. The cork to the left is from Dupont and to the right St. Bernardus. Never saw this before. The bottle aged standing up so contact with fluid is not the problem. Generates a head and otherwise fine but a dull bottle.” Really? Narrow cork bases? It’s come to this. I could only gather the whisps of energy to write that on a long weekend in a deep freeze somewhere along the way in mid-February. Sad.

=> The more I think about it, the more I think this line of thinking by Stan is the most important thing I have read about good beer for a couple of years. There may well not be enough growth potential in the hops and barley markets to supply very much more good beer. Other crops may simply be more profitable and the farmers may not want to switch. Plus, all the best land is already in production. Plus, who wants to sell to pip squeak craft brewers when you can sell to one big steady customer? Be careful, though. You can get into a lot of data. Just look at those 91 acres of Fuggles in Oregon in 2013? What? None in 2012 and none in 2014. What was that about? I have no idea.

=> Thank God Valentine’s Day is over so we don’t need to pretend that chocolate does not go best with port. [Did I mention I like port?] Hint: buy good cava… cheaper than gueuze. Now that that is settled, we have to listen to the best beer for Shrove Tuesday pancake batter. Answer? None. Make a normal pancake, wouldja?

=> In what other country would a national government announcement of a change to law mean nothing else really changes. Here in Ontario? Won’t make a bit of difference.

=> Interesting. Australia is investigating the big brewers and the wholesale draught beer market. Could there be fiddling going on? Imagine. The question is about the state of competition in the market but similar cases have recently been won there against a pharmaceutical firm and supermarkets.

That’s it. Not the greatest set of thoughts but I blame the season. The stupid evil frozen season. A month from now? With any luck the peas will already be in the ground. For now? Evil sits upon the land.

What To Do In This Wintery Winter?

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What to do with a weekend in the middle of February? 11 reps of various dumbbell things along with 30 minutes on the recumbent bike in the basement. I am pretty sure that the bike is good training to sit on a recumbent bike in a basement. Then, eleven or nine loads of laundry. Laundry is a good therapy. I am even ironing shirts once in a while. If I am going to wear a tie, the shirt is going to be seersucker even in winter. A portion of life is dedicated to ensuring you feel like you are in pajamas even if you look ready for business. Roasting. Made a pork roast with pear, ginger and Madeira sauce yesterday and then had it cold on a bun for breakfast. 325F oven turned down to 300F until an internal temp of 140F. Dijon mustard on the crisscrossed fatty side placed up. Looking out the window at the filling driveway is good fun. Three weeks to march and maybe six to peas in the ground. People make Glasgow. Peas may signal the spring but people make Glasgow.

Or Is The Oddest Thing Dismissing Common Answers?

Further to last week’s post, it appears now that Ontario has a special cultural strength, dismissing the common and obvious answer before all the facts are even in! Witness:

Wynne says changes are coming to the way beer, wine and spirits are sold once a review is completed of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and its relationship with the Beer Store and wine retailers. When pressed today for details, the premier flatly dismissed the idea of beer sales in convenience stores, something the previous Liberal government of David Peterson promised in the late 1980s but never delivered.

There you have it. The end of imagination. The limits of review. The most telling thing is that there is nothing more to the story. No explanation of the “why” or “because” or even “what” for that matter. Just a flat no. This is a silly place.