New York: The Fifty Year Disappearance Of Clean Brewing Water

nymap1783aWhat a horrible diagram. It’s just a sketch but it’s a dog’s dinner. It illustrates the expansion of New York City from 1660, almost forty years into the life of the settlement, to 1839 just before the arrival of the fresh water in Lower Manhattan via the Croton Aqueduct. I offer you this to raise a general point. Breweries depend on the availability of resources. Not just hops, water, malt and yeast but also money and people and transportation and peace. The ability to run a brewery depends on the presence of generous stability. True then. True now. The bit of the diagram I am thinking about in particular in this post is the shift from the 1783 map at the left to the 1839 map to the right. What can these first decades of New York City in the early years of the newly independent republic tell us about the need for stability and resources? Plenty. Have a look at these two notices related to the brewer William D Faulkner:






The ad to the left is from April 1770 while the one to the right is from March 1779. They describe Faulkner operating out of three breweries: the one at Brookland/Brooklyn Ferry, next to the Rutgers’ brewery on Maiden Lane and then on to the one at Mount Hope. In May 1768, brewing was a “new undertaking” to Faulkner. But in fairly short order, though either desperation or the entrepreneurial spirit, he is on the move. The Brookland Ferry brewery seems to have been a loser. Brewer after brewer have a go at running it from the 1760s to at least the 1790s. They each move on or quit. The Rutgers brewery on Maiden Lane seems to have a bit of a chequered career, too. As did the spruce beer brewery at Catherine Street. In the end, Faulkner leaves the lower end of the Hudson Valley altogether and ends his career in Albany by 1790.

There certainly could be a number of factors behind Faulkner’s moves but I am going to suggest that the search for clean water is one of them. One thing you notice from the maps and diagrams of Brooklyn Ferry of the time is that the area where the first buildings are located it just north of a high area, now Brooklyn Heights. Which hints there might have been originally a stream or creek along the path of the curving main street. After the area is built up, that stream would have been overwhelmed and would have lost its usefulness.  Once that happens, the brewery finds itself sitting next to sea water with difficult access to water.

rutgersbrewery1776aA similar story plays out more clearly with Rutger’s brewery. It’s located on Maiden Lane which, like at Brooklyn Ferry, is still visibly subject to road design decisions made hundreds of years ago. It was also a good address in 1790. Click on the thumbnail. That is a diagram of the Great Fire of 1776. I have shown Maiden Lane in green and Gold Street in yellow. They twist a bit. They still do today, 240 years later. Because they are based on watercourses. Metcef Eden locates his brewery up a little hill directly south of a twist on Gold Street. Have a look at this detail from the fabulous 1865 Viele map of New York.


Click on it. The pale blue area is the original land mass, the light brown the filling-in of the river. You can see Maiden Lane again in green, Gold Street in yellow. Not only do they twist but they move from higher ground to lower ground. It’s a watershed. You will also see that lower Manhattan was originally very hilly. And, not very too far to the north, boggy. As shown in green. And, if you look at the ugly map way up top, it’s boggy exactly where the population growth occurs from the 1780s to 1840. To understand where was are going, however, we need to take a step back.

Harmenus Rutgers and his son Anthony Rutgers were very interested in water. While I think I need to go back and revisit the geneology but let’s just focus on two facts. First, in a court case, Rutgers v. Waddington, an 1784 ruling of the Mayor’s Court of New York City it states that Harmenus Rutgers bought the parcel on Maiden Lane in 1711 and started brewing at the end of that year. By 1784, the brewery is described as one of the most notable features of that part of the city. Second, in 1732 Anthony Rutgers obtained title to the swamp section of what was called the King’s Farm from the colonial government. If you look at the Bradford map of New York from 1731 or so, you see both Maiden Lane running east-west four blocks north of Wall Street and the King’s Farm to the north of that. Rutgers sets about creating a drain from the swamp which does two things. It regularizes and likely expands the waterway to the river and it formalizes what appears on maps as the Fresh Water Pond or Collect Pond.

nymap1776hintonClick on the thumbnail. That’s a detail of the 1776 Hinton which map has particularly good detail of the drains linking the pond to the river. In the mid-1700s, the Rutgers are clearly locating their interests with an eye to controlling good water. This is what the scene looked like in 1787. If you are familiar with the movie The Gangs of New York which is set, at its outset, in the Five Points district in the mid-1840s you are
familiar with the final years of what is likely the grimmest era of New York history. What you might not know is that the Five Point’s district was located upon the filled-in Collect Pond. It takes about fifty or sixty years for the area to go from well-ordered, drained cultivated fields to bleak hell hole of humanity. And during the transition a brewery plays a central role.

Click on the thumbnail to the left. It’s from the same map but shows this time what is to the south of the Fresh Water Pond. Tannery yards and a gun powder magazine. Even so, in the second half of the 1790s, the pond was still able to the portrayed as sitting in a parkland setting. There was even a little steamboat that took visitors on trips. It rapidly lost that character and, in 1805, in order to drain the now garbage-infested waters, the government widened Rutgers’ drains, opened a forty-foot wide canal that today is known as Canal Street and, by 1811, the City had completely filled Collect Pond. In The Old Merchants of New York City, Volume 5 by Walter Barrett published in 1885 it states:

The house of Cadle & Stringham did a large mercantile business in this city for many years. The first of the Stringhams that I wot of, was Capt. Joseph Stringham, who commanded a vessel out of this port before the Revolutionary War, in 1774. After the war, in 1786, he settled down at 110 Smith (William) street, where I think he died. One son — I think Joseph — was a grocer in Queen street. No. 110. He was concerned with Janeway, under the firm of Stringham & Janeway, in a brewery in Magazine street (Pearl, from Centre to Broadway), as early as 1791.

Magazine Street at the time was that portion of what is now Pearl Street which was immediately south of the Fresh Water Pond. In an 1848 address to the St. Nicholas Society of the City of New York, the main businesses in the 1790s in this area are listed as (i) the pottery of Crolius, (ii) the furnace of McQueen, (iii) the tanneries of Brooks and Coulthard, (iv) the brewery of Janeway, (v) the starch and hair powder manufactory of N. Smith, and (vi) the rope-walk of the Schermerhorns.

George Janeway is listed in The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York of 1862 as having been a brewer, Assistant Alderman, North Ward, 1784 to 1795 and Alderman, Sixth Ward, 1803 to 1804. Issac Coulthard advertised his tannery in the New York Packet on 7 December 1787. Interestingly, around October 1794, Coulthard was involved with the sale of a distillery near the Fresh Water Pond. In the late spring of 1795 his tannery burned down – a total loss. At the end of December 1796, Clouthard has erected a new brewery near the pond and started operations with his son. Not the same brewery as Janeway’s it would appear. Was that “the distillery” being sold a few years before?

nyjournal01july1797coulthardAnyway, the new brewery burned, too. I think they all burned, these old breweries. In the 1 July 1797 edition of Greenleaf’s New York Journal, right, it was reported that all the malt was lost and the whole business was a write off. An errant cigar at the nearby site of the new Lutheran Church apparently started it. He gets up and operating again as by July in 1806, his beers are being advertised as being on sale at the Porter and Punch-House of Henry Gird in Brooklyn. But he soon suffers a series of personal losses. His son dies in February 1807, his daughter-in-law dies in October 1810 and his daughter dies two months later – the latter two both of lingering illnesses. The visitations all are held on Cross Street, the heart of what becomes Five Points. And on 29 January 1812, the death of Isaac Coulthard himself is announced in the New York Gazette. The funeral procession started at Cross Street.

Over the course of his brewing career, the area his business operated out of changed from waterside parkland to a sewer. The pond has been drained and filled in. His son William Coulthard announced in September 1812 that he was carried on with the brewing but the neighbourhood was getting grim. And he had political ambitions, running for alderman for the sixth ward. He is named in a small notice placed for the brewery along with two partners selling double ale and porter in November 1820. One Joseph Barnes is operating the brewery in 1827 after William passed away in June 1822 at the young age of 56 – again of a lingering illness. Odd that so many of his immediate family died young and of lingering deaths. Was it the foul conditions of the neighbourhood? His house at 65 Cross Street next to the brewery is being rented out in 1831. Here is how the website Anthropology in Practice described the scene at that time:

…in 1805 or thereabouts, the city constructed a canal intended to drain the Collect into the Hudson and East Rivers. The canal soon also began to stink, and it was eventually moved underground as a sewer. Its former path was widened to become Canal Street. When this plan didn’t work as intended, city officials elected to raze bucolic Bunker Hill in 1811 and use the earth to fill in the pond to create housing for the growing population. As with any venture, marketing is important. The neighborhood that arose in this spot was named Paradise Square. Unfortunately, the land never fully settled. It was marshy, and mosquito-ridden, prone to flooding, and when buildings in the area began to sink—and the area began to smell—in the 1820s, the remaining wealthy residents fled the once desirable address. Immigrants and African Americans, seeking low cost housing as it was all they were able to afford, filled the area. By the 1830s, the neighborhood had settled into the Five Points, sporting a reputation as a dirty and dangerous place, which would thrive into the 20th century.

oldbreweryfivepointsThe Coulthard Brewery lives at least two more lives, first as a horrible slum and then as a mission house to the poor. The New York Evening Post of 23 February 1847 published an article on the suffering of Irish immigrants who found themselves living or laying dead and unassisted in Coulthard’s old brewery. An article in the New York Herald from January 1848 reports that near the brewery there were three or four killings a day in what was known as Murderers’ Alley. The basement of the brewery housed five families living on the floor and over one hundred hogs. In 1850, a report in the Schenectady Cabinet sets out that there were 32 families totaling 200 people living in the old brewery, none of whom were locally born adults. The end took a few more years but once The Ladies’ Home Missionary Society bought out the place, its days were numbered:
Note: “The labourers who wrecked the Old Brewery carried out sacks filled with human bones which they had found in the cellars and within the walls and night after night gangsters thronged the ruin to search for treasure which was rumoured to be buried there.”

Well, that was sordid. Next, I need to find out who else is brewing in New York from 1790 to 1840 and whether they had a bit better luck than the folk who lived around the Fresh Water Pond.

The Spruce Beer Brewery At Catherine Street, New York

nyroyamgaz14april1779rapplebyThe further down the rabbit hole of the breweries in New York you go in the decades around the American Revolution, the further you get from great success. For many of the brewers of the 1700s that we have looked at so far – in the Hudson Valley from Long Island to Albany – brewing led to fame, military honour, riches and political power. The Rutgers and Lispenards became leading citizens to the south while generations of the Gansevoorts held sway to the north. But others weren’t as fortunate to brew for generations or to align themselves with the Revolution’s winning side. Robert Appleby was one of those. It appears. I write that caution as to the victors go the records.

It’s not impossible to establish some understanding. That records up there? It’s a starting point. A firm one. Let me illustrate with the life of someone from the same era who I had to hunt down from outside the brewing trade as part of my work. Reference came up in a report about a James Pritchard who was one of the early Loyalist settlers of my town – Kingston, Ontario. The report I was reviewing said that not much could be found about who he was. I always figure that’s never correct and in a few hours found out a few things which made him pop into three dimensions for me. After finding reference to a tailor by that name in Philadelphia in the 1750s, he was described in a diary – the Journal of Samuel Rowland Fisher – suffering in Tory jail over a year after the British evacuation in 1778:

“11th mos: 27. Joseph Pritchard was brought into my Room, having been this day tryed at what they call the Supreme Court, for having been employed by the Brittish [sic] when in this City to attend at the Middle ferry on Schuylkill to inspect all persons going in or out of the City & was charged with having since used words greatly derogatory of the present Rulers & being by the Jury, so called, found guilty of Misprision of Treason as they term it, he was sentenced to the forfeiture of half his Lands & Tenements, Goods & Chattles, & imprisonment during the War without Bail or Mainprize . . .

11th mo: 29th. While Joseph Pritchard’s Wife was here, James Claypoole, Tom Elton, William Heysham & John McCollough broke into Joseph Pritchard’s dwelling house & took an account of all his moveables that were there; & on the day following they came again with porters and carried off almost every thing, except a Table, a few Chairs, some books & other small matters, to a house in Spruce Street, near Second Street, where they were publickly sold by Thomas Hale & Robert Smith, appointed by the present Rulers for the Sale of what they call confiscated Estates.”

Ruined by the order of the court, he was still in jail two years later. A court document from 24 October 1781 states: “The Council taking into consideration the case of the following persons now confined in the gaol of the city and county of Philadelphia, to wit: Joseph Pritchard and John Linley, convicted of misprision of treason…” He was finally pardoned and released. He makes his way to New York where he signs the New York Loyalists’ Memorial, a war-end request for reparations. Like many Loyalists, he is in a slow state of transit before appearing on a 1786-87 petition to be allowed to settle in Lower Canada – or what is now Quebec and Ontario. By 1792, he is settled in Kingston, sat as a member of a jury and, in December 1793, is a tailor suing over money he is owed. He was awarded fifteen pounds. He’s made something of the end of his life. His funeral is held in the main Anglican church in town on 10 August 1802. In the end he attains a level of stability and, in the end, there were records enough to put together a pretty good picture of a pretty loyal Loyalist. He’s a favourite Kingstonian of mine.








I think Robert Appleby up there has something of a parallel path to that of Pritchard but there is a little less to go on by way of records. But there is some. That notice way up top was placed in the New York Royal American Gazette of 14 April 1779. See that the brewery was recently opened and he has his first shipment of imported spruce boughs. The description of the location of the brewery sounds a bit like someone wrote it who was not local: “…at the corner of Roosevelt and Rutger Street, near the upper end of Queen Street.” He could be brewing just to survive in Tory refugee-filled Manhattan. The boughs are brought in by ship as the city is surrounded. He survives. One year later, however, he appears well settled in. Doing well. Click on the thumbnail to the left for an ad placed in the same paper on 20 April 1780. He is still selling spruce beers but has added ships beer and is even trading in London porter. He is not alone. Another spruce brewer on Staten Island is advertising in The Royal Gazette on 7 October 1780. A third notice was placed by Appleby on 1 November 1781 again in the same paper which indicates he may be moving up still further in life. It’s the middle thumbnail. A snazzier looking notice. He is now brewing with the best English malt and hops. Presumably not just with molasses as was the army’s way in the 1750s. He has also moved to Catherine Street nearer the dock yards and presumably his customers. Notice also he is bragging up his water supply. It will be “equal in quality to the Tea-Water which which the City is supplied.” All of which is good because, as you will see on the thumbnail to the right, he got married to Miss Peggy Moore on Wednesday, 8 August 1781. He did well. He is “of this city, Brewer” and she is “a very amiable young Lady of great merit.”

It didn’t last. Like James Pritchard who is able to live the last decade and a half of his life settled in Kingston, the Robert and Peggy (Margaret) Appleby are thrown into crisis by the Britain’s defeat and their loyalty to the Crown. They had to move on. The records of the New Brunswick Historical Society show he led a company of Loyalist refugees for Port Roseway, Nova Scotia by the ship Williams which sailed from New York on 20 September 1783. His monetary losses are valued at 600 pounds, a sizable sum. He establishes a business in his new country but it fails and, like Pritchard, he finds himself in prison. After petitioning the government – the news of which even makes the New York Morning Post of 24 January 1789 – he is released and returns to some level of status as a member of the vestry in 1788. Again, it doesn’t last. He moves back to the States, to Virginia with his wife. And, like Pritchard, he is recorded as being originally from Philadelphia.

That is a long story – actually two long stories – to make a point about records and the fate of two Philadelphia Loyalists. But notice that there is a third character, that spruce beer brewery at Catherine Street, New York, down by the ship yards. Even though I am not able to learn very much about the brewing years of Robert Appleby, we do see him start up in New York in 1779 no doubt escaping the anti-Tory movement in Philadelphia after the British capture and then retreat from the city. Then we see him relocate to a well located sweet water brewery. That brewery stays put. That brewery then starts it’s own life history. Because when the story of people can’t be traced to the level of detail in records you’d like sometimes their works can be. Let’s see who shows up.








George Appleby! Who the hell is George Appleby? Ten months after Robert leaves the town someone named George is running a very similar operation out of the Catherine Street brewery. Not his son as he just got married. His cousin? A fluke? Who knows? And he has added a treble spruce beer to his products. What the hell is that? The forerunner to Buckley’s? In 1748, there was a man named George Appleby advertising his blacksmith’s shop teasingly near Rutger’s brewery. He is named in a municipal record the next year. A George Appleby shows up on the provincial militia muster roll for what is now Brooklyn in 1755. He is 28, born in Ireland but listed as a labourer. Same guy? He’d be 21 in 1748. Could be. Only 18,000 people live in NYC in 1760 so maybe. Whoever he/they are someone by that name takes over the Catherine Street brewery in 1784 with the same last name as the former brewer. At maybe the age of 57.

And he seems to succeed. If you look at the thumbnail up there to the left, he is brewing pale ale, brown ale and table beer as well as three grades of spruce beer. I never knew the world needed three grades of spruce beer. He is also looking to hire a cooper. And notice that it’s not just George Appleby – it’s “George Appleby & Co.” It’s repeated in the middle ad from 1785. Who are the members of the company? Partnerships are the norm in brewing well into the late 1800s. Is this a real corporation that early into the independence of the USA? Before 1811 you needed a special act of the New York legislature to create an actual corporation. Puffery? Who know? In any event, if you look at the thumbnail to the right you know you can now stop worrying as by May 1788 it’s all over. The Co is no mo. Georgie boy is off with the next truck driving man he can find and takes up with him. And he moves. He and White Matlack are off to nearby Chatham Street to brew their beer there. And they seem to be movers and shakers given they are on the float along with a Lispenard representing all brewers of New York on the occasion of the 1788 constitutional parade in September of that year.They are somebodies – whoever they are. Notice another thing. They advertises in that last ad that that the new brewery is opposite the Tea-Water Pump. I thought Catherine Street had the tea water. Now it doesn’t? A wee secret. After the war, things like infrastructure break down and people flood the city. The water gets a bit crap. And much of it was brackish and disagreeable to begin with. In the mid-1780s they are already looking for good water. Remember that.












On we move. Time marches on. Keeping up? Keep up. George Appleby may be gone but the Catherine Street brewery is alive and kickin’. In the ad above to the upper left, right under the one for Appleby and Watson’s place in the New York Daily Advertiser of 10 March 1790 there is one for the new operators, Watson, Willett and Co. Their technological advance is they are brewing with real spruce essence, not off the bough. Plus table and ship beer on draught or in the bottle. Ale is gone. The two breweries seem to have a hate on for each other as they have run these ads up against each other for months. But then that doesn’t last as by five weeks later, as we see in the upper right ad, Watson and Willett and Co. gives Watson the boot after a fire with the result that the Catherine Street brewery become run by the partnership of Willett and Murray. The survivors struggle on with part of the hops and barley saved. They keep on keeping on. They seem to be in charge of the place still in 1794. As, it turns out, does George Appleby. He gave notice in the New York Daily Gazette of 21 June 1791 that he was operating out of the Golden Hill brewery of our old pal, Medcef Eden according to the lower left ad. He’d be 64 now, if he is him. The lower right ad tells the tale of how his former partner White Matlack kept the Chatham Street place by the Tea Water Pump and carried on, brewing all alone.

Have you got that straight? I need an interactive map and Gantt chart app for my mobile to keep it all straight. We will leave it there in the early 1790s for now. We’ll be picking it up. There’s a fair bit of foreshadowing in all that. A sort of an era is sort of at an end. The era of easy water? The era of the great ale brewing families? Could be. We will have to see.

About That Latter 1700s Brewery At Brookland Ferry

This clean living is killing me. Up at 5:30 am on a Saturday after an eight hour sleep. What a choir boy. What a goodie goodie. As far as I can tell, Lew is still up from the night before boiling beef and pounding ales to wait out the winter storm down there. Seems the right thing to do. What am I up to? Well, for anyone keeping score, I created a new tag yesterday for posts with crude helpful diagrams and linked it to posts back to the beginning of 2013. Need to get those tied in back to 2003. And I have been thinking about those breweries of New York in the second half of the 1700s. Maybe it’s all that revisionist speculation about a shadowy “modern era” of craft – which I read only as the rise and fall of great leader big craft – that leads me to want the consolation of my shoe box of primary resources. But that is good. We need to disagree on these things. Makes for a rich discussion. Who the hell wants everyone to have the one same focus, same idea, the same opinion? Well, other than great leader big craft. Err…

Anyway, let’s get back to the certainty of the distant past. New York around the time of the great betrayal of the American Revolution. To recap:

=> There was a trade in importing beer into New York at least as early as the 1750s that developed into fairly elaborate retailing later in the century.
=> There was a trade in exporting beer out of New York at least as early as the 1790s.
=> In partial response to raids from New France down the Lake Champlain corridor and events like the Schenectady massacre of 1690, established brewing, two established brewing families – the Albany Dutch Rutgers and the New Paltz Huguenots Lispenards – migrated to the south, set up brewing operations along the natural water sources and particularly their own drainage works in lower Manhattan, intermarried and became fantastically wealthy and powerful.
=> They were not alone. Around the corner from the Rutger’s brewery on Maiden Lane – named for the former creek where Dutch maidens washed the laundry in the early 1600s – Medcef Eden of Golden Hill set up his brewery in the 1770s in a former meadow along a branch of the watershed flowing down a few hundred yard to the south to meet up with “Maagde Paatje, a footpath used by lovers along a rippling brook”.
=> William D. Faulkner appears in Brooklyn in the years before the start of the Revolution in 1775 and establishes his brewery further north on Manhattan before ending up in Albany. His reverse route compared to the Rutgers and Lispenards was due to the fall of New France and the securing of the northern route.
=> And the man who was born into this world as rich boy George Harison but died as George Harrison builds a brewery at scale on the west side in the 1760s by a wharf – and it never quite seems to do as well as it should have.

In that last post, I noted that Har(r)ison initially had a partnership with James Leadbetter who from 1764-65, appears in an earlier brewing partnership at Brooklyn Ferry with Thomas Horsfield brewing English ale, table and ship beer. That image above is a notice from the New York Mercury from 15 October 1764 memorializing the brief partnership’s hopeful early days. Horsfield’s “Long Island Brewery” was created in the early 1750s in what has then called Brookland but is now Brooklyn by a family of butchers. It continued operations into at least the 1780s. In an 1867 edition of The Historical Magazine the operation is described in this way:

Israel Horsfield, Senior, left three sons, Israel, Junior, Thomas, and William… In 1764, his brother Thomas formed a’ partnership with James Leadbetter, when they advertised for Barley and Oak-bark. The next year, they have for sale at their brewer}-, English Ale, Table, and Ship Beer ; but soon after they dissolved, wheu Thomas, again had “Excellent Ship and Table “Beer, from the Long Island Brewery” which was kept at the store of his brother, William, opposite to Lot & Son’s, in the City of New York; and, in 1778, Captain Thomas Horsfield had about three thousand weight of excellent fresh ship bread, for sale at Brooklyne ferry. The present Middagh-street was, at an early period, known as Horsfield-street.

The article conveys some sense of the family having both a certain level of established wealth in the 1760s and 1770s as well as an unsettled aspect. In 1769, Israel, Junior tries to sell the property which consisted of a house and lot of ground, a slaughter house and barn. Two years later land is for sale again as five lots at Brooklyn ferry, adjoining the house of Israel Horsfield, Junior, situated on a rising ground “which commands a prospect of the City of “New York, and very commodious for gentlemen to build small seats on, or for gardeners or butchers. And again in 1772: “to let, “The large, new brick house, in which Israel Horsfield, Junior, now lives, at the ferry; is “very convenient for a butcher.” Soon after that, Israel, Junior, engaged in brewing with Thomas about eight years after Leadbetter moved on to the Harrison brewery on Manhattan’s west side.

nymiddaghmap1776Middagh Street is still there in Brooklyn, the west end of which faces southern Manhattan. Click on the thumbnail to the right. That’s John Hinton’s map “A plan of the city and environs of New York in North America” from 1776. It shows what is almost certainly Middagh Street, then Horsfield Street, as a country lane to the south of the very small community of Brookland Ferry proper. This detail from the 1770 Ratzer map’s panorama view gives a sense of how small it was. See also this blurry detail from Ratzer’s later 1776 map. [I am now telling myself that paying attention to keeping the three maps distinct is important.] Notice from the notice up there from October 1764 that the brewery is both “opposite the Ferry” and facing their wharf. Is the Horsfield butchery and brewing complex on the shoreline at the end of Middagh Street or closer in to the main community? Middagh is currently over 300 metres from the suspiciously named Water Street in Brooklyn which I expect was near the actual original shoreline. Although Water Street is between the shore and the even more suspiciously names Front Street. Look at this comparison of the 1776 Hinton and today’s Google maps image. Middagh now appears to be a boundary line between fields back then. Land moves over time. Or at least shorelines do. Maybe the family owned multiple parcels. You can read about more of the later history of the area at the ever excellent Forgotten New York.

nymerc02nov1767landh2To the left you see something of the motherlode. The golden moment you dream of finding. It is the notice of the apparently unsuccessful sale of the brewery placed in the New York Mercury of 2 November 1767. It contains an incredible… or perhaps an extremely credible volume of detail about the brewery. First, notice that the ad is placed by Israel Horsfield, Senior. The old man is still around and in charge of the assets even though it was son Thomas who was operating the business with Leadbetter. Wow.

[Too much wow. I need a break. It’s 10 am. My brain hurts. More later.]

Later: OK, 11:20 am. What do we see in the notice of 2 November 1767. The lot is 112 fronting the river and it has its own dock with a certain depth – “a ten or twenty cord boats could discharge along side. The maps by Bernard Ratzer are largely formed from surveys taken in the same year. As an official British government document, locations of wharves and docks would be an important bit of data. But there is other information in the notice, too. There was 46 barrel capacity in two kettles. There seems to be five structures, four in brick. It has drains. A significant investment. They can steep 140 bushels of malt at a time. The 3:1 ratio of malting a bushel to brewing a barrel looks right.

Why was it for sale? Well, it appears that after Leadbetter left in 1765 for the greener pastures of the boy millionaire George Har(r)ison and his plaything of a brewery, the Horsfields were left without quite the same business position they might have imagined for themselves. In June of 1765, the dissolution of the partnership is announced and, ominously, 300 bushels of malt is offered for sale. The next month, they are offering to sell hundreds of pounds of hops. And in September 1765, even though they are offering beer for sale at the brewery as well as, interestingly, their cellars in the city itself, they are also looking for an investor to buy a 50% stake in the brewery. It appears not to have worked out in 1766 for them at all. By the end of the year, there is a writ of execution being exercised against Thomas Horsfield. Daddyman Israel Sr. must have stepped in at that point given, as we see above, the brewery is up for sale under his name. The Horsfield family’s prospects keeps waffling as brother William with the store in the city goes under but by the middle of 1768, Thomas is sufficiently secure to be the co-receiver of his sibling’s debts and in 1769 get the insolvency discharged.

In 1770 the brewery is still in the hands of the father. He had had brewing tenants earlier but in January one is Garret Rapelje is selling off all the beer and other stock – but not the equipment – while in April of the same year William D. Faulkner takes the same route as Leadbetter did five years before and shifts his operation to Rutgers old brewery on Maiden Lane in the city where another twenty years of success await. By June 1771, the Brookland Ferry brewery is again up for sale. A notice for its sale from February 1772 helpfully adds the dimensions of the buildings. It is still for sale in May 1772 with two interesting addition to the notice. It’s more clearly stated that it is Israel, Sr involved and he brags up the kettle capacity a bit. Maybe it’s just me and tell me after 244 years if it is still too soon – but do you think one issue might be the Horsfields might not be exactly the people you want to do business with?

While this goes on and on, something I appreciate being on the typing end of it all, notice one thing. Or rather one person. In at least the outset of 1770, Garret Rapelje is running the brewery. In one of the Razter maps of New York, there is a reference to the property of one “Mr. Rapailie” right next to one of the two wharves at Brookland Ferry. If the name is Dutch, “Rap-el-yee” would be the pronunciation. Which probably tells us that this doomed brewery was located on the north and east side of the road. Israel Sr dies soon thereafter and in December 1772 his house and the brewery are all up on for sale at an estate auction.

I was thinking that was it. That the operation died with the old man. But eighteen years later, one more notice was posted in the newspapers of the time which adds one more fact. In the New York Daily Advertiser for 6 August 1790, the property is up for sale or lease offered by the owner Cary Ludlow. He doesn’t seem to get rid of it until 1795 when it appears to be in the hands of a Mr. Sing. Good luck to you, pal. In addition to the name of the owner, the address is given in Ludlow’s notice. And 184 Water Street still exists. It looks like this – like something out of a police drama, one end of the Brooklyn Bridge rising in the background.

What Has The Last 35 Years Been About Anyway?

goodbeerhistoryWhat an ugly diagram. Jeff posted a hypothesis to describe the last ten years in good beer and it caused me to come up with an ugly diagram. A scribbel. See, I don’t agree with him but I am not that concerned with agreeability. Not that I am not nice. I am nice as pie. But I just do not think he has it quite right. But that’s OK as we are all in this together. My issue is he awards one of those little gold foil stars that I use to see others get given at Sunday school. His conclusion:

In 2006, as I started this blog, craft brewing was just a sleepy little current in the overall beer market–still a “boutique” segment. In the next decade, growth has been so strong that it is now a given that it’s the future of beer. Imagine what the next decade will hold.

Why do I disagree? Because I think craft beer might well be dying if it is not already dead. What do I mean by this? Well, we are in the middle of a very rapidly developing transition in which many of the folk who began macros are clocking out. Not as immediately as 1970s rock stars but they are handing in their badges and finding something else to do. Papazian has packed it in. Many breweries have broken their world and cashed in or cashed out. Koch spent 2015 adrift on a yogurty sea as the suits moved in. Sales of big craft are down and we are all awaiting the news of how the BA is going to manufacture an increase in craft beer sales while many of its membership abandons the definition for sunnier days. Cider is suddenly not the future. What is?

Who cares? None of that matters. Because I think the future is upon us now. What people do not seem to appreciate is that beer is easy and cheap to make and the 12,000 brewery universe – or at least western world – is largely populated by little, nimble and local brewers. The millionaire toyboys behind BrewDog have nothing really to do with punk. But the little garage breweries do. Look at this. If you ignore the obviously problematic infatuation with the thesaurus, you see a story of nothing to something over a little more than a year. It’s happening in so many local markets that it’s common. It’s happened in my own town. The story is now too complex to be told.

We have a natural inclination to hang on to the things we are familiar with. The people we looked up to. Their ways of doing things. But over the last year the leaders of big craft movement lost the bench. Yet seeing as they only arose under a decade ago – 25 years into the movement – that is fine. A blip. Craft as they describe it might well be over. It’s certainly not rising. The small and confident are. The macro industrial buyers of big craft are. The middle grounds is being abandoned. Soon the pink line will cross the red one. Excellent thing, too. Over the last 35 years, change has been constant. This point is time is not special. It’s just another point of reflection that will be forgotten soon as the next thing comes along. Looking forward to it.

According To Me: Forget Units, Embrace Millilitres

drunkmdRemember last July when I explained how I actually tasted beer? This is another one of those posts. Not looking to convince you of anything but just to set out what I actually do.

First, let me get this out of the way. One of the oddest things about beer is how it triggers a particular sort of outrage. We see it often in relation to the libertarian response to public safety advocates lobbying for lowering the levels of acceptable blood alcohol for drivers. My rights! The stats are wrong! The lawyers are lining their pockets! We see the same sort of thing when public health officers bring out advice about lowering your alcohol intake. My rights! The stats are wrong! The doctors are lining their pockets! I find these complaints boring and odd. Amateur LLBs meeting amateur MDs. They come across a bit addled or at least conflicted in ways that I don’t get. And a bit like a 1950’s TV ad for smoking. Certainly, killing yourself off early is preferable to killing off others but still… who really is driven to strongly react to folk seeing to reduce, you know, death. I bet these days even aging 1970s rock stars might be more inclined to wonder what a few fewer trips to the cookie jar might have meant to one’s latter years. If booze means that much to you, find something else to care about. Get a hobby. Or a fish. Find happiness in a snowflake FFS.

But… I am not here to point fingers and certainly not name names. Folk live their own lives and can react to these things as they see fit as long as they don’t harm others. Yet there is one thing I think would help immensely with the dialogue generally. Get rid of the idea of the “unit” that the public health advocacy is based upon. It just fogs up the whole discussion. You see it in Canada. You see it in the UK. Here, we still live in the 15 drink universe. In the UK, the outrage is the announcement of the 14 unit week. Yet what is a unit to you? Nothing. You require an online calculator to understand the implications. And no one is looking at one of those mid-session. By creating an arbitrary standard, you do not describe the experience as the people you are advocating to experience it. It muddles and befuddles.

There is a better way. Milliliters of pure alcohol. Let’s stick with Canada as I never could figure out the UK model.* There are 17.05 ml of pure alcohol in a standard 12 ounce standard 5% bottle of Canadian beer. We like standards. Canadians are obsessed with 5% beer. If a beer has only 4.8%, it’s is dishwater. Another at 5.2% is Satan’s route to your soul. We are very regular in these matters. So the prime unit is really 17 milliliters. Which means 15 of them for a Canadian man in a week is 255 ml. A 750 ml bottle of what most call hard liquor (aka spirits) also comes in as another Canadian standard: 40% alcohol. Which means a bottle of hard liquor has 300 ml of pure alcohol. Are you with me? Good. Wine is trickier as wine has a range of strengths. Light whites can be 9% or under while reds commonly top 14%. But they come in 750 ml bottles. So the quick mental calculation is based around three-quarters. Meaning a 750 ml bottle of mid-weight 12% wine has 90 ml of pure alcohol. 17 goes into 90 around five times. Five servings in a bottle of wine. Simple. You see where I am going?

Which means the average standard week recommended drinking per adult is a bit less than a 750 ml bottles of hard liquor or three bottles of wine or 15 bottles of beer. I don’t know about you but not only does that not seem like a small amount – it also does not seem to be equal. I would likely think myself a bit of a loser if I gunned a large bottle of, say, Gordons or Dewars a week. Three bottles of wine each seems a bit much, too, especially as I would be sharing that over the dinner table with another but I suppose I would feel a bit better about splitting a bottle of wine a night than I would being that gin bomber draining alky even if it might cost me twice as much. And, you know, the beer doesn’t seem like all that little at all. I wouldn’t want to have two or three beers a day most days of the week – but, again, I also would not feel like a gin dipso if I had fifteen in a seven day span. I certainly would not be sitting down to go on about the nanny state… in public… on the internet.

If the numbers were put in those simpler terms, stated as normal purchasing sizes over a week it seems to be folk would more easily get the message – pace yourself over time and keep it sensible. Yes, there is the jerk who drains the Gordon’s quart in one sitting as part of his healthy lifestyle but that person is, in fact, the jerk. These guidelines – all guidelines – should in fact come with a jerk disclaimer: “Warning: you are a jerk, you will not do this anyway so don’t bother complaining on your blog about it.” For most other sensible people it might get the point across better. Works for me. Which is all I was wanting to mention.

*Which, yes, I do see that the “unit” in the UK is only 10 ml and you now only should have 14 of them which is quite funny as it means the recommended amount is 140 ml a week as opposed to 255 ml here in Canada or 55% of the Canadian levels. Is that right? I’d be outraged! Unless… well, I bet Stonch is about 55% of one of me. He’s only wee. Maybe that’s it.

Is This One Way Big Craft Might Be Dying?


There is nothing more certain about the brewing trade more than the history is defined an extraordinary limited set of patterns. Those who think that the owners of big craft breweries are special, well, know nothing about the rise of lager in the late 1800s as a premium even healthy drink – and know nothing about the rise of Albany Ale from central New York in early the middle third of the 1800s or the rise of Taunton Ale from southwest England as probably a premium even healthy drink in the last quarter of the 1700s. I suspect Northdown Ale was the premium even healthy drink in the lower Thames valley in the third quarter of the 1600s, too. There are, in fact, only a limited number of things you can say about beer to make people buy it other than that it’s tasty, cheap and gets you a tremendous buzz. They are: (i) it’s premium and (ii) it’s healthy. Check out social media today. The spin doctors are still at it. That quote up there? That is from the fabulously fabulous Dr. Richard W. Unger of UBC. More particularly, it is from his essay “Beer: A New Bulk Good of International Trade” in the book Cogs, Cargoes and Commerce: Maritime Bulk Trade in Northern Europe, 1150-1400. It’s actually the ending. Sorry. Spoilers. It reminds me of craft. Or rather big craft.

Just at the moment, big craft is going through a time of change that is not unlike what happened to the beers of Hamburg in the latter 1400s and early 1500s. Hanseatic Hamburg’s hopped beer as a technology went through an era when it was considered premium, rare and difficult to make. Roughly from 1250 to 1350. Neighbouring markets raised import duties to keep it out or just enough to equalize the cost with local producers. Because Hamburg during that time was the greatest brewing center in the history of beer. 42% of the workforce was involved in brewing. 15% of all Swedish exports were hops sent to the breweries of Hamburg and its allies. Read ye some Unger if you have any doubts. These trading communities had their own warships and a trust based commerce that overcame North Sea and Baltic piracy and storm. A commercial empire. And it all went away. At least the brewing did. They switched to trading in the ultimate beer concentrate – grain.

Here in Canada we are undergoing much more accelerated change at the moment. The collapse of the oil market and the sad performance of the Canadian dollar against the American version means no one in their right mind is even thinking of buying US craft beer either by a quick flip over the border or as an import. Yet there are around 550 craft brewing kettles in the land. As a result, while I can buy 2 litres of Pilsner Urquell for 10 bucks and decent Ontario craft for maybe 12 bucks the equivalent volume of beer in a six pack of fairly pedestrian Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is selling for a silly $15.50 and will likely soon cost more given our new 68 cent dollar. Who needs it? Few if the stock that sits on the shelves is any indication.

This is an accentuated version of what is happening in the US itself. Being well north of 4,000 breweries in the US means fans of good beer in the US are no longer dependent on those Hanseatic Hamburgers of big craft who ship coast to coast. People are making their own better local beer now just as the Netherlands did around 1450 and England did starting in 1520. Big craft is losing sales just as its handmaid bulk cider is. Who needs it? If you are looking for something rare and interesting – premium and maybe even healthy – who needs to go to a grocery store or gas station shelf to buy the beer trucked in from out of state? Fewer and fewer.

The economies of scale in good beer are having their way with the market. Not large scale. Small scale. The era of the great white male multi-millionaire brewery owner is over. The nameless nimble newbie hoards have learned the tricks of Hamburg, leaving the old fests cancelled and the old men the option to sell out, shut down or sit around wondering what happened. Same as it ever was.

Was Hanseatic League Beer The First in England?


Ah, the Hanseatic League. Remember the Championship game of 1922? That was great. Gordie won the Cup.

That chart above is from Britain and Poland-Lithuania: Contact and Comparison from the Middle Ages to 1795 published in 2008 and co-edited by every beer history nerd’s favorite professor, Dr. Richard W. Unger. Before I knew anything about Albany ale, I asked Professor Unger about Dutch brewing in the Hudson Valley. If I have a fanboy crush on anything about beer it’s his research on medieval to industrial Baltic trade. Because I have a brief if beefy Baltic past. While living in western Pomerania, I had beers with a guy who was on trans-Atlantic Polish factory fishing boats in the 1970s not to mention a man who was a colonel in the underground riding German train lines, slipping away from time to time to place a bomb or two. His drink nephew wagged a revolver in my face while we partied. The things you remember from time to time.

Anyway, enough about me. More about beer. Unger shows how the Hanseatic League of northern Germany and Poland was instrumental in moving hopped beer into western Europe in the 1300s. England is often said to receive hops from the Netherlands but the Netherlands receives them through trade with traders from the Hanseatic League. Early 1300s restrictions against hopped beer in the Netherlands were dropped by mid-century due to the popularity of the imported stuff. That table up there is from an article in Britain and Poland-Lithuania: Contact and Comparison from the Middle Ages to 1795 by Wendy M. Childs in an article called “England’s Contacts With Poland-Lithuania.” She is pointing out that the Polish city of Gdansk* had trading routes into England quite regularly from the 1370s including the good ship Elyn and her cargo above via Hull in 1401. Notice that the beer is not showing up from the Netherlands. It’s from Poland’s main Baltic port. Which potentially skips about maybe half a century of trade contracts. Is it possible that the first hopped beer in England was not via the nearby Netherlands** but from earlier, more easterly Hanseatic trade routes? Just speculation for sure but for me at this point the neatest idea might be that North Sea ports like Hull and Lynn might have been enjoying hopped beer a little further back than understood. And what does that mean for the brewers in those ports?

* Where, yes, I drank a lot of Gdanskie in late 1991.
**Where, oddly, I worked and drank in 1986.

What The Heck Was Going On in 1680s Staffordshire?


That’s my new favorite quote about sulfurous brewing waters from around Burton. It’s from The Natural History of Staffordshire from 1686 by Robert Plot. It’s slightly misleading as the beer was brewed as a local health tonic but I love that it was available at the Brimstone Alehouse. I want a black t-shirt from that place. What’s that, you say? What’s with another 1600s blog post? Where is this coming from? Well, Martyn mentioned it in a comment but nowhere near as well as in the email he sent that started…

Curse you, Alan, for sending me on a winding chase across many volumes … and proving to me again that you can never trust any other fecker’s references, you always have to confirm them yourself. Peter Mathias’s reference in The Brewing Industry in England (p150) to Burton ale allegedly first being sold at the Peacock in London in 1623 appears to be completely wrong:

Secondary sources. They always let you down.

Where were we? Burton ale. From Staffordshire. A joy and comfort to Britain from, let’s say, 1750 to 1950. Where the particular beers are brewed from particular waters have extremely sulfurous water – though, to be fair, maybe a bit less than the water found at the Brimstone Alehouse. Yet, is a beer being good for scab or itch enough to get it a commercial market in London in the 1600s? I don’t think so. Mathias shouldn’t have been trusted. It’s certainly not something perhaps to travel for. Don’t get me wrong. There was a road from nearish Derby to London in the era, as mapping from 1675 by John Ogilby shows. But in 1675 are you really going to seek out the ales of the area unless you are, you know, (i) scabby and itchy and (ii) in the know? Likely not. And if you are the brewer do you send it off by ox cart to a urban world you’ve never seen down roads you couldn’t possibly trust? Likely not. Why? We have to obey the chronology. Not only was the Trent only made navigable in 1712 or so but that other big transportation innovation, the turnpike, only shows up a few years later. Practically speaking, reasonably good roads are one or two generations away. The Staffordshire County government has an exceedingly interesting and exceedingly lengthy report on the turnpike markers of the area which states:

Throughout the early years of the 18th century parishes were complaining that the upkeep of the roads through them was impossible due to the increased traffic. This is especially true of Staffordshire: so many through routes were being used, the travellers along them having no business with the parishes concerned. Steps were taken to remedy the situation with the increasing turnpiking of major routes, effectively privatising the main roads. Turnpike Trustees were appointed to oversee the collection of tolls, which they used in order to maintain the highways, any theoretical profit returning to the trustees.

Being on the cusp of greatness does not make one great. Safe commercial connections for moving beer in the medium future does not make it safe in the present. So, it may well be those sitting around the bar at the Brimstone Alehouse in 1686 lived long enough to see the ales of Burton on Trent be recognized for being something bigger than a balm for the scab and itch. But in that year they may have been among the few enjoying the particular delights of the region’s sulfurous brew.

Does The Natural History of Staffordshire written at the time help with the question? To be fair or even just honest, Plot’s book is a survey of the natural and economic characteristics of the county, a scientific study based largely on the four humours. It’s not a gazetteer of commerce like you might find in the 1800s. Trades are referenced in connection to the considerations of the air, water and soils. Burton itself gets passing mention and mainly what is mentioned is the bridge. Brewing is not a focus. The word “malt” only shows up once. Yet beer and ale are mentioned. We are told that they have an Art in the county of making good ale.* Folk are described as paying respect to certain wells on the saint’s days “whose name the well bore, diverting themselves with cakes and ale, and a little music and dancing.” One noted human oddity of the county, however, was a person who “drinks neither wine, ale or beer.” Another, a baby who lived only three days even though it “took milk and beer freely enough.” And, perhaps crucially, the setting up of a cheese factory by Londoners is described in some detail as is another group making salt by evaporation – including using in one process “the strongest and stalest ale they can get” to make the crystals set as desired.

Robert Plot describes the Staffordshire he visited in pastoral tones. If there was a trade to London in beer like there was in cheese he might be expected to have mentioned it. But he didn’t. Coming 26 years before the navigation improvements made to the river Trent and many more before the improvement of the roads it’s most likely that the markets did not yet exist for brewing at scale for export beyond the local market. It didn’t not yet sit even in the shadow of other noted brewing centres like Hull and Margate. One record I do not have and which may not exist would be helpful. The excise duties on beer and ale introduced in the 1660s, which came into being with the Restoration of Charles II to his thrown might be quite helpful if they drilled down into county by county assessment, town by town. It would help sort out where the brewing was going on by providing a contemporary primary record. For now, a book like Plot’s is the best we have. Certainly, it seems, better than Peter Mathias’s… at least on this point. We only know what the records tell us so far.

Does Canal Based Burton Ale Defeat Coastal Ales?

A detail from a 17th century map of Hull by
Wenceslaus Hollar. “K” to lower left is Brewer Street. Full map here

Dependencies. Things change in large part because other things have changed first. In the mid-1980s, change happens to beer because other things have changed that lay the groundwork first. Cable TV has brought Julia Child, The Galloping Gourmet, Jacques Pepin and then the Frugal Gourmet into the home. People drinking wine on TV in the middle of the afternoon. Imported beer brought different branding and tastes into the home which in turn lead to home brewing which is also dependent on 1970s home gardening and your mother baking bread. These changes are as important to the triggering of the start of micro brewing as social media was to the last ten years of craft. When I was researching and writing the period 1900-1984 for Ontario Beer I realized there was a fabulous marker right at the end of that span that helps understand where we were just before micro takes off.

There was one last display of pride in Canada’s industrial beer. For a few years Bob and Doug McKenzie were among the most well-known comedy duos in North America. As a regular feature of legendary sketch comedy programme SCTV, the McKenzie Brothers appeared on the CBC in Canada and then late Friday night on NBC across the United States. In each short episode, the brothers from a suburb near Toronto gave their drunken thoughts on a topic in the news while smoking, drinking and grilling back bacon for sandwiches. On the set, cases of stubbies from both Molson and Labatt were featured prominently next to an outsize map of the country. Played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, the skits spun out a top selling comedy album, a hit single featuring Geddy Lee from Rush, and a feature movie all largely centered on their love for and dependency on Canadian beer.

SCTV was big. It wins the 1982 Emmy for variety TV writing after gaining most of the nominations. The McKenzie Brothers skit was big – two knuckleheads and their love of macro. The movie, Strange Brew, comes out in 1983 to mixed review and the moment passes. No mention is made of microbrew despite the entire film and the entire schtick of the skit being about beer. Because it has not been caused yet even if the context has been prepared. We must obey chronology.

northd1After writing my notes about Northdown Ale yesterday, that premium ale from 1640s to the 1690s, I started thinking more about that grump and his complaints published in 1681 about the high price of the stuff. Here it is again. It’s from the 1681 treatise entitled Ursa major & minor: or, A sober and impartial enquiry into those pretended fears and jealousies of popery and arbitrary power, in a letter. The author advocates for the return of the dunking stool for corrupt brewers and in his litany of falsified ales he includes “Hull Ale”. Hull ale has been mentioned in recent writings. In Peter Mathias’s The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830 published in 1959 by the reputable Cambridge University Press it is stated that the Hull ale diarist Samuel Pepys noted drinking in the 1660s was probably really Burton ale. I am not sure this is correct because the context does not appear to me to exist in that particular decade and perhaps not for another half century. The notion is repeated in Pete Brown’s Hops and Glory while Mitch Steele takes a bit of a step back from that conclusion in his 2013 book IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale noting just the shipping port connection of Hull to the inland brewing at Burton. Here is what the chronology looks like to me. See what you think:

=> Records exist of brewing at Hull before the 1600s with plenty of activity from the 1630s to the 1690s.
=>The first consignment of Hull ale is sold in London at the Peacock, Grey’s Inn Lane in 1623 according to Mathias at page 150 with a specific footnote.
=> In the mid-1640s, Members of Parliament including the Speaker of the Commons are noted as being sent Hull ale by the municipal corporation as a bit of a thank you and a bit of a home town PR boost.
=> Pepys drank Hull ale in 1660. He also drank Northdown ale in the same year. And Margate ale. All strong coastal ales.
=> In his 1881 book Old Yorkshire, William Smith recites a line from a 1662 poem what is apparently proverbial “Hull cheese” and states “Hull in the days of yore was a noted place for good ale.”
=> Around the 1660s, the scientist Robert Boyle is studying freezing and uses Hull ale in an experiment.
=> In 1681, the grumpy guy makes his complaint about overpriced over strong Hull ale and does not list Burton among the fellow accused.
=> In 1708, Benjamin Printon became Burton’s first common brewer.
=> In 1711, George Hayne obtained the lease of rights to undertake the work of making the Trent river navigable between Burton and Wilden Ferry, to the southwest of Nottingham.
=> In issue 383 of The Spectator from 20 May 1712, Addison notes going out for the day in London with his pal Sir Roger. A couple of high society lads, they have a glass of Burton ale at an outdoor pleasure grounds, the Spring Garden at “Fox-Hall” or Vauxhall.
=> In Poor Robin’s Almanac of 1759, Hull ale is still included in a list of great British beers being compared to Canary wine. Burton is not.
=> Hull remains a significant and growing brewing center in the 1800s.

So, (i) if there was no canal access out of Burton until 1711 or 1712 and (ii) if there was no common brewer active in Burton until 1708 and (iii) if Addison notes it in 1712 as being in one of the trendier spots in London it is likely new at that point. If that is the case, Pepys’s Hull ale was not made in Burton at all but in Hull as one would expect. But that is not the end of it. Well, it is an end but another sort of ending. Remember in that passage from a travel guide called All About Margate and Herne Bay reviewed an 1865 magazine named The Athenaeumthat it states:

Quoting largely from the Rev. John Lewis’s account of Margate, written in 1723, he notices the once famous beverage, known to Charles the Second’s thirsty subjects by the names of “Northdown Ale” and “Margate Ale” of which drink Lewis says, “About forty years ago, one Prince of this place drove a great trade here in brewing a particular sort of ale, which, from its being brewed at a place called Northdown in this parish, went by the name of Northdown Ale, and afterwards was called Margate Ale. But whether it’s owing to the art of brewing this liquor dying with the inventor of it, or the humour of the people altering to the liking the pale north-country ale better, the present brewers send little or none of what they call by the name of Margate ale, which is a great disadvantage to their trade.”

See, that quip about “the humour of the people altering to the liking the pale north-country ale better”? That is Burton. In 1723, the Rev. Lewis linked the death of Northdown / Margate ale, the darling of 1600s Restoration London to the rise of Burton. In that time – that year of 1712 – did Burton have some sort of advantage over dominant the coastal Northdown / Margate ale and likely Hull ale to a lesser degree? €Price? Clarity? Rarity? I don’t know even if plenty has been written on its properties. But something caused change, that is for sure. There was change and the change was caused by making the Trent navigable to Burton in 1711-1712. Without that, there is no means for Burton to become so popular outside its local market. As cable TV cooking shows were to microbrewing, that canal work provided Burton its opportunity.

So What Was Northdown Ale In The Later 1600s?

Before the curse that is social media was thrust upon us, one key promise of beer blogging was collective research. With the most welcome news that Lew is back into the beer blog game, he reminds us of the point of doing this day after day:

A bit over two years ago, I stopped writing this blog. It wasn’t because blogs are dead — I refuse to believe that — and it wasn’t because I got bored, and it certainly wasn’t because I was running out of things to say. Blogs, good blogs, relevant blogs still are vital, and they don’t have to be on Tumblr, or run through a microplane grater and splattered onto Twitter, or covered in kitties and posted on Facebook. Blogs are the place to do long-form writing, and I like to think I was able to balance somewhere between a tweet and tl;dr.

Even though I shared in the publication of two histories the year before, 2015 was the year I think I took my interest in brewing history most seriously. That few care about the state of brewing and porter selling in New York City in the decades around the Revolution is no concern of mine. It’s important just to write about it. Same with the centuries of brewing on Golden Lane and life in London, England’s district St. Giles’s Cripplegate. These things are interesting because they are true.

We are children of the Enlightenment. Three things we depend on for understanding were all invented and popularized in the 1700s: the application of science in practical matters, mass communications and commercial branding of products. Each is a means to create a lasting record, each a self-archiving activity. People are led to believe, as a result, that things prior to the advent of these phenomena were unlike today. No scientific brewing? No pale ale. No newspaper? No news. Folk actually believe these things. They believe folk didn’t know how to make fine things with available resources. We are slaves to records. We need to distrust them more even as we dive more deeply into them. Which leads us today’s new topic: Northdown ale. Never noticed the stuff until Jay tweeted this quotation from Pepys yesterday. Which got me looking for more information and found an excellent blog post from November 2014 posted on the excellently titled blog Things turned up by Sally Jeffery while looking for something else as well as this passage from a travel guide called All About Margate and Herne Bay reviewed an 1865 magazine named The Athenaeum:

Quoting largely from the Rev. John Lewis’s account of Margate, written in 1723, he notices the once famous beverage, known to Charles the Second’s thirsty subjects by the names of “Northdown Ale” and “Margate Ale” of which drink Lewis says, “About forty years ago, one Prince of this place drove a great trade here in brewing a particular sort of ale, which, from its being brewed at a place called Northdown in this parish, went by the name of Northdown Ale, and afterwards was called Margate Ale. But whether it’s owing to the art of brewing this liquor dying with the inventor of it, or the humour of the people altering to the liking the pale north-country ale better, the present brewers send little or none of what they call by the name of Margate ale, which is a great disadvantage to their trade.” This was the beer which Evelyn calls “a certain heady ale ” ; and it is probable that its popularity with London beer-drinkers influenced the generation of brewers who fixed the immutable properties of “stout.”

So, an 1865 citation of an account from 1723 recalling a drinking experience from forty years before that. Northdown Ale. In her blog post, Ms. Jeffery surveys the evidence and seeks to determine if she can “get a better idea of what the ale was like by looking at how it was made.” Let’s now see if we can add anything. First, I like the reference to Herrick. In one edition of his book, there is a footnote to another poet’s* line of verse anthologized in 1661: “For mornings draught your north-down ale / Will make you oylely as a Whale.” Pepys was drinking Northdown ale the year before. I am not sure why one might want to be so oily. Franklin referenced “he’s oil’d” in his 1730’s Drinker’s Dictionary. I am going to assume it means the beer is staggeringly strong for the moment. In The Curiosities of Ale & Beer: An Entertaining History from 1889, Herrick’s own lines on Northdown Ale from “A Hymne to the Lares”¹ are quoted:

The neighbouring county of Hereford, now a great cider-drinking locality, had in former times at least one town with a reputation for good ale. “Lemster bread and Weobley ale” had passed into a proverb before the seventeenth century. The saying seems, however, to have been affected chiefly by the inhabitants of the county, who, perhaps, were not quite impartial. Ray, writing in 1737, ventures to question the pre-eminence ascribed to the places mentioned. For wheat he gives Hesten, in Middlesex, “and for ale Derby town, and Northdown in the Isle of Thanet, Hull in Yorkshire, and Sandbich² in Cheshire, will scarcely give place to Weobley.” Herrick mentions this celebrated Northdown ale in the lines:—

That while the wassaile bowle here
With North-down ale doth troule² here,
No sillable doth fall here,
To marre the mirth at all here.

Did you see that? Wheat. Is this strong wheat ale? Or is that just a juxtaposition of two products of the region? Not sure. Likely the latter, given Jeffery’s references to an excellent but short lived barley malting trade concurrent with the height of Northdown ale’s prominence. Also, the diarist, botanist and courtier to Charles II John Evelyn describes being in Margate, one mile west of Northdown, on 19 May 1672 and states:

Went to Margate; and, the following day. was carried to see a gallant widow, brought up a farmeress, and I think of gigantic race, rich, comely, and exceedingly industrious. She put me in mind of Deborah and Abigail, her house was so plentifully stored with all manner of country provisions, all of her own growth, and all her conveniences so substantial, neat, and well understood; she herself so jolly and hospitable; and her land so trim and rarely husbanded, that it struck me with admiration at her economy. This town much consists of brewers of a certain heady ale, and they deal much in malt, etc. For the rest, it is raggedly built, and has an ill haven, with a small fort of little concernment, nor is the island well disciplined ; but as to the husbandry and rural part, far exceeding any part of England for the accurate culture of their ground, in which they exceed, even to curiosity and emulation.

Which tells us there were many brewers and much malting in a rich farming district. And notice another thing from the quoted text further up. Thanet. Which reminds us to ask the particular question – where exactly is Northdown? That image above is from this map from 1711. If you click here you will see a supremely confusing cross-referencing of the 1711 map with a 1623 image on Jeffery’s post. See, before branding, newspapers and scientific brewing you needed to know where a beer or ale was from to figure out what to expect. Northdown is located in southeast England in the county of Kent – as in land of the noted hops. But the land of hops most noted about 200 years after Herrick wrote his lines. It was, also, the site of the October 2015 drinking session of the year as recorded by Team Stonch. So in the 1600s, the 1800s and the twenty-first century, a place of good beer but in each era quite distinct good beers.

northd1Click on that image to the right. It’s a paragraph from a 1681 treatise entitled Ursa major & minor: or, A sober and impartial enquiry into those pretended fears and jealousies of popery and arbitrary power, in a letter. Clearly an unhappy guy. But what he’s unhappy about is how, in tough economic times, brewers are making undue profits by not only jacking up prices but doing so by having “devised several name” for drinks including China ale, Hull ale – and Northdown ale. Sound familiar? Double the price for poorer beer? And you thought craft beer invented that trick. It appears to have been quite popular with the well placed in addition to the poets. John Donne – the Younger³ – recounts being sent a poem along with “a dosen bottles of Northdown ale and sack” which means it was good enough to bottle and, seeing as it was sent by Lord Lumley, good enough for the Peerage. Which might explain the jacked up price. A premium ale for those that can afford it.

Notice one more thing. Sally Jeffery suggests there was indication that the ale was dark but also sees that “[t]he wheat stubble that is left is either mown for the use of the Malt-men to dry their Malt…” which, as we know, would make the sweetest, palest malt during that era. Enough to confirm anything? Nope. All we see from this set of records is clearly (i) a premium product, (ii) defined quite clearly to a time and place which was (iii) notably strong and (iv) bottled. The best ale during the Restoration? Maybe.

*Likely this John Phillips, royalist lad and nephew of Milton.

¹Here is the whole text of the poem:

It was, and still my care is,
To worship ye, the Lares,
With crowns of greenest parsley.
And garlick chives not scarcely:
For favours here to warme me,
And not by fire to harme me;
For gladding so my hearth here,
With inoffensive mirth here;
That while the wassaile bowle here
With North-down ale doth troule here,
No sillable doth fall here,
To marre the mirth at all here.
For which, o chimney-keepers!
(I dare not call ye sweepers)
So long as I am able
To keep a countrey-table,
Great be my fare, or small cheere,
I’le eat and drink up all here.

²I understand Sandbich to be “Sandbach” and troule means to “pass about.”

³“…an atheistical buffoon, a banterer, and a person of over free thoughts…”