Three 1700s English Court Cases About Hops


Have you even noticed I particularly like beer related stuff from before 1800. Have you noticed I like beer related stuff related to the law? Imagine then my joy when I came across a searchable database for the English Reports, the law reports series from the Magna Carta in 1215 to the Judicature Act of the 1870s… or so. The first word I put in the database was “hops” and then “hoppes” just like I did when I cam across this early modern print aggregator tool a few months back. Why hops? Something of value worth arguing over, something with a relatively clear entry point into English culture. Plunk it into the English Reports and, right off the top, three court cases pooped up from the second half of the 1700s. A perfect moment to pull out the image I tucked away for just this situation, the mid-1700s hop picking scene “Hop Pickers Outside a Cottage” by George Smith (1714 – 1776). Notice how in the image, the hop polls are brought into the yard and then are picked by hand there. It’s not without relevance.

The first case has the best narrative. In the ruling in Tyers v. Walton T. 1753. 7 Bro. P.C. 18, there is a dispute between Rev. Walton, rector of Mickleham in Surrey and vicar of Dorking, and Mr Tyers who had a certain acreage of hops within those parishes. The dispute arose because the good vicar had the right to be paid a tithe of the hops in all these two parishes. In 1745, Tyers paid the tithe in the form of 20 guineas. from 1746 to 1750, he provided a tenth of the crop after the hops were picked. 1751, however, was a bumper year and great quantities of hops grew upon the 28 acres that Tyers controlled. Tyers got greedy. He offered a maximum of 20 shillings an acre. This was refused. In response, Tyers seems to have cut the bines on every tenth hill, did not pick the hops and told the vicar to gather them himself. The law was not amused. At trial the court held that “that hops ought to be picked and gathered from the binds before they are titheable” meaning, pick ’em then divide out the 1/10th share. At the appeal hearing, the court held “the appellant had not made the least proof that the tithe of hops were ever set out before they were picked from the bind or stem.” Not the sort of thing an appellant like to hear. 1-0 vicar.

In the second case, Hunter v. Sheppard and others 1769 IV Brown 210, there is no vicar. Just a hop merchant and his purchasing agent. London-based James Hunter is described as being “one of the one of the most considerable dealers in hops in England.” His agent, named Rye, worked in the Cantebury area for years had been well known as Hunter’s man. But in 1764… there was another good year with hops bearing top price. Rye set out to make deals as an independent – without telling Hunter or anyone else. The case gets quite involved. There is much unraveling of what each landowner knew, which agent was working for which buyer and what the prices were. The Court took the matter seriously as Hunter’s purchases for that one autumn in just the Canterbury area were worth a total of 30,000 pounds. In current UK currency, that is worth £394,200,000! Money. At trial, Mr Hunter did not win the day. The judge ordered an elaborate sharing of the proceeds among a number of parties. Hunter appealed and at the appeal the Court made a wonderful observation on the nature of Hunter’s business:

The trade was at that time very particularly circumstanced, hops being in 1764, like South Sea stock in 1720, or India stock in 1767, and it required great precaution to deal in them with safety and advantage; in all which cases, the great art is to conceal the real intention; and the appellant being the most considerable dealer in England, was not obliged to let into the secret every man who pleased to speak to him on the subject, whether upon the road or elsewhere.

The panel hearing the appeal was not impressed with Hunter. One is never encouraged in court when being compared to the South Sea Bubble. The Court held Hunter sought to seriously play the Canterbury hops market and “to support these propositions he had entangled himself in a series of contradictions; and the assertions in both the answers were in many respects falsified by the evidence for the respondents.” The word fraud is then used. Too bad for you, Mr. Hunter.

In the final case, Knight v. Halsey 1797 7 T.R. 88, we find ourselves thirty years in the future but back to the question of tithes. Unlike the previous two cases, the interesting thing is not the narrative tale like something of a distant backstory employed by a Victorian novelist to establish why two families in the 1860s hate each other. The interesting thing is the recitation of the law. Knight is described as “the occupier of a certain close in the parish and rectory of Farnham” while Halsey grew hops. The dispute arose in the manner in which the hops were to be picked and divided. The Court considered the 1753 case of Tyers v. Walton discussed above but reached back farther in time to a case called Chitty v. Reeves in the Court of Exchequer, from Michaermas term 1686 brought by Ann Chitty, the widow and executrix of C. Chitty, against Reeves of the parish of Farnham. It quickly gets even better as in that case, the Court relied on even earlier evidence and held:

It fully appearing to the Court that the custom, usage, or practice of paying tithe hops in the parish of Farnham, in the county of Surrey, for above sixty years past, hath been that the impropriator or his lessee hath had for their tithe the tenth row when equal, or else the tenth hill; that the same have been left standing with the hop binds uncut, and that the impropriators, &c. have always had convenient time to come and cut the said binds the hops upon the grounds…

Fabulous. This means that in the 1797 case, the court is relying on a finding of fact based on evidence from the 1620s that people, like those in the painting above, could take their time to gather the hops owed to the church when it suited them. Boom! That is law as good clean fun. The court reviews a heck of a lot of tithe law but keeps coming back to dear widow Chitty from the time of Charles I. It also points out, conversely, that a custom which is against reason cannot prevail and is, accordingly, legally void. We gotta move on. At a time of transition into the next century’s looming industrial era, it is quite extraordinary – and Lord Kenyon, the Chief Justice admits as such when he states “[w]hether tithes be or be not a proper mode of providing for a numerous class of persons of great respectability, the clergy, I will not presume to say…” In the end, Kenyon throws up his hands at all the information before him and, I understand, orders a new trial to get to the bottom of this claim of a long standing custom versus commercial common sense.

Wow. Such drama. The good widow Chitty and the mercenary Mr. Hunter all jump out off the page, all in the name of their share of the value of the hops crop as England is balancing its rural traditional past and its modern commercial future. Neato!

Unlike Most Gimmicks Fog-Based Beer Is Real

I like the gimmick that are also based on something actual, a rare sight in the craft beer scene these days. Stuff like when thirty years ago I had a beer from the Falklands. And it really was. Fog based beer is apparently real as well:

Since a particularly bad drought in the 1950s, now-retired physics professor Carlos Espinosa Arancibia has been testing nets that could help capture water in Chile’s driest regions, the BBC reports. This current iteration of the net has openings less than one millimeter across around which water droplets condense out of the fog. The drops accumulate and grow until they drip into a pipe at the base of the net, from which it flows into a container, so clean that it’s immediately ready for human use. One of Espinosa’s test centers is near the town of Pena Blanca, home of the Atrapaneblina (fog catcher) brewery. The beer–a golden-amber Scottish ale with brown foam–is made only with the water collected from the fog nets. The brewery produces a meager 6,300 gallons of beer per year, but its owner says the water gives the beer a unique taste and quality.

OK… a golden-amber Scottish ale with brown foam? What the hell is that supposed to be? The brewery’s website only has images of the beer in bottles. Images online show a rather more comforting off-white head. There is just one lonely BAer review.

But what about the science? The Daily Mail published some respectable images of the fog nets of Chile a couple of years ago. The eggheads over at MIT are apparently involved with Chilean fog harvesting and have promised a five-fold increase in production. Their studies of the carapace of the Namib beetle, native to the Namib desert of southern Africa have led them to that conclusion. [Ed.: how many times have I heard that!?!?] Apparently, at certain times of the year a square meter of the better mesh might yield up to 12 liters per day or more. Which means only a ten by ten meter net might be needed to get you that litre of beer a day.

Given the Californian drought, a net of 41,650,000,000 m² is all they need to support current craft beer statewide production. That’s 41,650 km² of netting or about 10% of the state’s total land mass. So… it’s possible.

Thoughts On The Introduction To The Anthology

4913Maybe I am a morning person after all. Again, I am up, wanting to write. The niggling thought in my head about how too much beer writing is sadly like what’s found in the auto section, to quote a newspaper editor I know. I was thinking about this as well as the wee hidden essay I found in the e-book… ebook… “Eeee! Book!!” Boak and Bailey put out. No, I have written them back and forth enough that by now we should be on a first name basis. So it’s Jessica and Ray’s new wee ebook. [Ressica? Maybe.] It’s just a compendium of old blog posts [“Just!” tisked Ressica] but its got this new introduction. Not unlike the “best of” records with that one new hit. Hittish thing. Bonus track? Extra content, perhaps. It’s just 12 paragraphs long but in it they consider the “why” of thinking a lot about beer and then, extraordinarily, writing about it.

The suggestion is that drinking is an experience diminished by involving the brain, or perhaps even that the very point of drinking is to shut the blasted thing down for a couple of hour. Maybe sometimes, that’s true – no-one wants to be the plum on a hen or stag party asking for tasters of ale and taking notes later – but surely the two activities, thinking and drinking, are not always mutually exclusive?

Aside from the questions of punctuation that I as a minimalist would spot, it’s an interesting question. Are they? I wonder. Alcohol briefly might heighten the senses and open the mind but with any extended experience both those effects rapidly crash as the door to the outside closes and the mind takes over with its newsreel of past associations, the recollections of things past. Are you fully thinking when even on a semi-lash? One half-sentence alludes to the experience: “[t]here is also something special about walking down a street and seeing a vision of a long-gone pub, or even the ghost of a vast but vanished brewery.” I might argue that there are somethings special about that experience which may be fairly distinct depending on a number of variables including how many pints you’ve downed to that point. A dentist pal used to have a modest amount of beer when studying and then one before the exam. He knew how to leverage alcohol’s power of ripening the recollection.

But then there is the other problem. Is the experience transferable? In addition to exploring historical context, BB asks us to consider the examples of greater mindfulness and even meditation as answers to the “why write about beer” they pose at the outset. While awareness of one’s beer a part of one’s life is rightly considered a good thing – if only due to the dangers it also carries – does this person’s appreciation of this sort of experience have anything to offer that person over there… keeping in mind that person is concurrently going through a grab bag of subjective experience of their own already. Again, another hint: ‘[t]hey are the posts on which we worked the hardest and cared most about.” An excellent and honest observation. We write to tell. Admittedly, many write mainly to sell but that’s not always the most thoughtful stuff. The human need to fill a fridge has left much on the cutting room floor. Finding those who write to actually tell regardless of return is key. They will be most honest in the endeavor, no?

But, lastly, have they skill enough? Once the author has observed and, then, observed honestly, does the writing convey the observation well? As you might expect, Jessica and Ray demure. They thank and hope at the introduction’s end. They hope the reader will enjoy. They hope other writings will be explored next. This is good. I have noticed an ugly trend recently in the tightening pack of beer writers jostling for attention. The use of the words “trust me” – surely an admission of guilt. The writer who asks you to “trust” them has just told you that they are incapable of expressing something compelling enough for your to actually read. Fortunately, Ray and J. need not worry. Their writing entertains and expresses themselves inherently. Not only are their observations keen but the slightly reserved style they employ hints to their own nature. English reticence balanced with… perhaps even struggling with a touch of hypomania. Likely minds irritated by those seeking to stick them with nicknames yet minds that are, as they say, perhaps prone to causing trouble. Too rare a thing.

“Back of a Beer Mat: Bits from the Blog” can be found here and, tah-dah, it’s free. Worth exploring.

Session 99: A Little Mild And A Little Excitement


This month’s edition of The Session is hosted by Velky Al who asks us to consider American mild. Mild of the Americas? Pan-American mild? I am game. After all, the Western Hemisphere is the happeningist hemisphere if all.

Mild. I actually have had two glasses of the stuff over the last few months. Here in the central section of the hemispheric upper quarter. That is an upgrade from most years here in Ontario where mild is rare as… as… a very rare thing. That glass above? I had it in Toronto in early December. After the day of sitting in a strange city studying the difference between a semi-colon here and a comma there, considering whether “shall” or “must” is better placed in that sentence. Seriously. Contract drafting skills are not particularly thrilling. So, a stop at C’est What, a bar I wrote about a decade ago, was needed. The venerable basement tavern has always struck me as Toronto’s rec room and the pint or two of mild fit right in and washed away the classroom, the grammar and the concrete landscape of 90 degree angles before I jumped on the train back home.

mild2Two months later I was in small town Ontario – Collingwood on Georgian Bay – and we stopped for a great dinner at Northwinds Brewhouse. Again, a reviving hit of malt and lush fluidity framed rather than cut but modest hopping. And under 4%, the drink didn’t hamper my ability to take on the last leg of the trip to the hotel another hour down the road. Brewmaster Bartle had three beers on under that level of strength – the mild, a grodziskie and a farmhouse ale – the details of which you can see on the chalkboard if you squint at that photo… yes, there… way in the back. Yup.

But that is it. Good news? Well, I’d like more but at least this all represents and improvement over Session #3 which was also about mild ale. Back in 2007 I really couldn’t find one. Had to post a picture of a book to find something to talk about. I was a bit naive, too. I wrote “you are never going to see a flavoured mild or an extreme mild.” AHHAAHHAHHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHA. Had I but known how stooooopid craft beer was going to get over the intervening years. What a fool I was.

Your Saturday Morning News Not From Boak And Bailey

Six thirty Ay Hem. That’s what you get when you go to bed early on a Friday. After having a nap around supper time. That’s how I think of myself on this sort of Saturday. Okocimiski.

Three elections in a row this week plus, you know, the life of a desk jockey did me in. The first election last Monday in my former tiny jurisdiction of PEI saw my old law school prof get in as Premier. The next on Tuesday in the western Canadian home of the conservative puritans saw a landslide by the socialist hoard. And in the Old Country Thursday the nationalist lefties beat out the unionist pinkos to send the aysmetrical quasi-federation into a dither. The combined effect of many split votes in the last one caused the astounding “great victory of no more votes” – quite an accomplishment. What’s this got to do with beer? Not that much. But I work in governance so am aware that some things do actually matter. What else has been going on?

=> Jim Koch is cashing in some of his shares. Note that his balance of equity seems to be worth around 63.4 million. Sure, it’s a small brewery. Sure it is.

=> In one post, Ron has explained the point of Asheville NC far more clearly than the output of 1,000 subsidized junkets. That he got there via a milk run back country bus was a deft bit of contextualization even if he had to sit on his luggage… no, his actual luggage.

=> It’s been three weeks since beer retailing in Ontario was reformed and absolutely not one thing has actually changed. Classic boondoggling. And no one is complaining. Classic Ontario. Perhaps by 2028 we’ll be allowed to hold our beer bottles with our left hands in public. After all, what really matters is the posing. Like calling something “a game changer”, Toronto has a wee problem calling itself “world class” like the needy kid back in kindergarten who told you his uncle went to space. The phenomenon is described by the term world classy.

=> Go read BB. And then do it again. Where don’t their tentacles reach? It’s like they are becoming a vast industrial complex. [Thankfully, we can trust they did not write “here’s how to unearth the ‘ultimate’ session beer” in that header.] Note: their post on May Day celebrations at Padstow in North Cornwall is one of their best ever.

=> This is funny. In far western British Columbia:

The final report of the B.C. Liquor Policy Review recommends the government consider establishing a quality assurance program for craft beer and artisan-distilled spirits, similar to the VQA, or Vintners Quality Alliance, program — which currently guarantees wines are made in B.C., with 100 per cent B.C. ingredients.

Trouble is no one checked that “local” and “craft” in beer bear scant relationship to wine so… they are left with the same sort of fibs and platitudes we always see – which led to the refreshingly honest admission: “that’s kind of thrown a wrench into the ability to focus on what the next level would be.

=> Just realized that if I started my own periodical I could name it “Al About Beer.” I would have to work on my ra-ra superlatives so maybe not.

=> Might I suggest unless one is extreeeeemely certain that a surprise beer and brunch pairing for Mother’s Day is only one thing: a quick route to the dog house. Don’t be stupid. Just because the love of your life puts up with your dependency / “hobby” it does not mean she likes it. Not at all.

Saturday. And maybe a stinking hot one as well. It was +25C¹ after deep into dusk last night. That means gardening. Letting more lettuce seed buried. Or drinks in the yard. Might get a bit Okocimiski. Jest Sobota Okocimiska? Może. Or I could just go get a growler. You have to remember that they sell lettuce at the grocery store in July, too, you know. Enjoy your Saturday. 7:45 am. People are starting to get up. Better make coffee.

¹ Disclosure: in Canada in spring there are a few days when you have to still make clear you are talking about +25C and not -25C.

“Selling Beer and Keeping Houses of Rendezvous”

barrie2One of the good things about being in my job is the records one comes across or co-workers with an interest in history share with you. I got this tidbit below in my email last week. That’s from the first document I came across in a larger scanned file called “Tavern Inspectors Records 1849-1853“.

To the Honourable the Municipal Council of the Township of Pittsburgh in Session aforementioned, We the Undersigned Tavern Keepers of the Village of Barriefield humbly and respectfully sheweth – whereas that there are persons residing in the said Village or premises adjoining Selling Beer and Keeping Houses of Rendezvous against the Law and to the great Desparagement of Her Majesty her [maybe “Crown”?] and Dignity seeing that we have to pay to the [?] the sum of Eight pounds with additions whereas these are paying [odd symbol for “zippo”] therefore we humbly beg your Honours will be pleased to look into the prayer of this our petition and dispell all such Houses unless they pay the same apportioned as in the City of Kingston vis [?] and we humbly beg that if such is granted that this shall be [?] for seeing that if such is not stopped we Your Petitioners will not be able to pay the Monies apportioned. But trusting that Your Honours will be pleased to looking into the prayer of this Petition and as In duty bound.

Barriefield is a small village in a largely rural township that was amalgamated into the City of Kingston in 1998. It was originally set up in the War of 1812 as an officer’s residence area associated with nearby Fort Henry. The document seems to be dated from 18 April 1850. It’s title on the back page is blurry and ink blot messy but seems to state Petition of [blah, blob, blur] for Beer Shops. It looks like the Tavern Keepers of Barriefield were not happy with the informal competition. I like the suggested threat, too: shut them down or we will maybe not pay our fees. That is the “zippo” emoticon circa 165 years ago in question up there, by the way. Click on it for a bigger bit of the document. I would also attach the whole file but it’s an 80 page pdf. Oh, what the hell. Have a look. By the way, a notation in the petition states that the matter was referred to the next Session and a bylaw was to be prepared… in case you are keeping track.

The beginning of the well regulated marketplace. What follows in those 80 pages is the licensing of all sorts of establishments in the community over the next few years. Afrirmations that the applicant is an honest, steady and sober man. The Township of Pittsburgh hadn’t been long in existence on the date of that first petition of April 1850. In the emails I was sent, there was also another file with the Minutes of the Midland District Municipal Council, a larger regional jurisdiction that was only abolished in 1849. So, one of the first things the new government has to deal with is the standardizing of licensing of the taverns and beer shops. Maybe it was just the fact of a thirsty British military base down the road. Or maybe it was the need to provide regulation as the Georgian ways of the century’s first have gave way to new Victorian expectations.