This Is Reasonable Proof That Big Craft Is Losing It

This first hint something stunned was up came in a tweet from Andy Crouch:

Ha ha ha true craft beer. I give up.

Now, before you jump to “haters gonna hate” have a look at this response to that tweet: “Stopped saying “craft”, feels good.” That from the first guy I heard “haters gonna hate” from. You know big graft has already lost its grip when a man of faith such as an Alstrom mocks it. What’s the news they are discussing? This:

…Stone will be participating in True Craft as a founding member. The new venture has received an initial $100,000,000 brought forth from an investor group committed to the long term model. True Craft will welcome a handful of the best craft brewers in the business alongside Stone Brewing. Each brewery may participate in True Craft and in turn the company will provide minority investments to its members with minimal stipulations. All breweries will be aligned in the philosophical mindset of banding together to preserve craft while retaining full soul and control of their businesses for years to come. “This is about setting up a consortium so we can not just survive, but continue to thrive in a world in which craft is being co-opted by Big Beer,” said Steve Wagner, Stone President and co-founder. “This allows companies like Stone to follow an ethos that involves independence and passion for the artisanal. By investing in True Craft now, we can be confident that our vision is locked in beyond our professional lifetimes and we feel privileged to help others in our industry do the same.”

One of the more disappointing things about writing about beer for over a decade is how many folk writing about beer have little interest in studying history or understanding business – let alone tackling the reality that beer and brewing sits in an very wide intersection of human activity that has been regulated in our tradition for at least the best part of a thousand years. It’s a story like this that has the wheels, however, to interest an amateur brewing historian who practices in public construction and commercial law. Let me explain.

See that figure up there? $100 million. Sounds like a lot. Sounds like someone thinks that will make some sort of change. Don’t count on it. Long time readers will recall an early post of mine sweetly titled “Beer is Bigger Than…” in which I pointed out that all beer in Canada in 2003 was worth $7,864,437,000.00. It was bigger than wheat, charity and the Government of Nova Scotia. Thirteen years later, not much has changed. Beer is big and $100 million USD probably now represent maybe 1.5% of the Canadian brewing market. Expect the US market to be ten times that and in the NATO region market maybe double that again. In the global marketplace the fund is piddly. About the cost of building two 18 story apartment buildings or one water treatment plant for a small city. And that’s in Canadian funds – which is about 80% of US right now.

Not only is the fund small, notice also that it is an investment fund. It’s not a grants fund. The capital is to be recovered. A month ago, Jim Koch of Boston Beer was telling a tale of woe about the effect rapacious private equity will have on craft beer. We are toldFunds have finite lives…When those fund lines get to the end, [fund managers] have got to sell those assets.” It’s reported as doomsday. They sky is falling. Well, if it’s true of a professional fund then that reality is going to be true of this one, too. Interest will have to be paid and at some point the fund will cash out. These monies, too, will need to be repaid – passion or no passion.

And it’s also up against clever competition. Recently, the Boston Globe profiled private equity firm Fireman Capital Partners, the investment folk behind the expansion of Oskar Blues and the cash injection into Florida’s Cigar City Brewing. You think those guys are shaking in their boots over the prospect of a rival fund based on Stone’s ethos? Hardly. The experienced private equity players will out bid and out run their deals. It’s their business, not a hobby or a faith-based act of grace. While True Craft may “welcome a handful of the best craft brewers in the business alongside Stone Brewing” we are all too well aware that many of the best craft brewers have already made their minds up and moved elsewhere – whether under the wing of big beer or in partnership with existing private equity.

Finally, look again at one last loony line in the press release: “This allows companies like Stone to follow an ethos that involves independence and passion for the artisanal. By investing in True Craft now, we can be confident that our vision is locked in beyond our professional lifetimes…” Question #1: is Stone the central recipient of funding or an investor in the dreams of others? What is really going on? Question #2: can you see the oxymoron? How can one be independent and also go along with a “vision… locked in beyond our professional lifetimes” when that vision is someone else’s vision? The guy looking forward to retirement’s vision. Who needs that? The greatest thing at the moment in good beer are the thousands of actual small brewers coming forth independently in a complex wave of entrepreneurial vitality. They don’t need Stone or its money. It is a rather modest proposition to set up a small brewery and, in the right market, one that usually is greeted with enthusiasm by the buying public. Unless you suck.

It’s the same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. At the macro level, brewing is a business that undergoes continuous change that is usually misinterpreted as failure. Folk say temperance caused the collapse of breweries leading up to prohibition. It was actually the explosion of the railroad network in the latter 1800s which unleashed basic commercial efficiencies. Hooray for cheaper good beer for all! Folk suggest the old guard of big craft represent some sort of guru class who carved a niche of good beer forgetting that the entire world of consumer goods has raced towards diversity and excellence over the last four or five decades. The big craft era of 2005-15 is relatively late to the game. And, let’s be honest, if these guys didn’t become the millionaires and billionaires someone else would have. It’s not like they invented beer. Folk will say that good beer is in crisis and point to this odd news as some sort of life raft in an ocean of evil big beer and big money. Have none of it. This is just the new boss meeting the old boss all in the great cause of money. Which is good. Because that is success.

Rejoice. Big craft is dead. Brewing continues to move on and on, becoming more affordable and more excellent and more diverse and more interesting because this era of craft is dead.

Sir William Strickland On The 1790s US Barley Crop

battledore4That image up there has little to do directly with this post. It’s from a book entitled A Short Economic and Social History of the Lake Counties, 1500-1830 by C.Murray, L.Bouch and G.Peredur. It popped into my Google search results as an answer to the query “William Strickland barley.” I was looking for William Strickland, 6th Baron Boynton, esq. (February 18, 1753 – January 8, 1834), the 18th-century gentleman farmer and writer from Yorkshire, England who was the eldest son of Sir George Strickland of York, England, from the ancient English Strickland family of Sizergh and who wrote A Journal of a Tour of the United States of America, 1794–95. You will note, however, that both are Stricklands of Sizergh. According to Burke’s the William of 1568 was an MP and may have even sailed with Cabot to the New World. The William I am looking for was the son of George, son of William, son of William, son of Thomas, son of the 1st Baron William, son of Walter, son of the William who may have sailed with Cabot. My William is the great great great great great grandson of the one who in 1568 grew a crop which included 43.5% bigg.

I find this interesting because on 15 July 1797 George Washington wrote a letter to William Strickland which opens with “Sir, I have been honored with Yours of the 30th of May and 5th of Septr of last Year” and containing the following:

Spring Barley (such as we grow in this Country) has thriven no better with me than Vetches. The result of an Experiment made with a little of the True sort might be interesting… You make a distinction and no doubt a just one between what in England is call’d Barley, and Big or Beer, if there be none of the true Barley in this Country—it is not for us without Experience to pronounce upon the Growth of it; and therefore, as noticed in a former part of this letter it might be interesting to ascertain whether our climate and soil would produce it to advantage. No doubt as your observations while you were in the United States appear to have been extensive and accurate it did not escape You, that both Winter and Spring Barley are cultivated among us; the latter is considered as an uncertain Crop—So. of New York and I have found it so on my farms—of the latter I have not made sufficient Trial to hazard an opinion of Success. About Philadelphia it succeeds well.

I haven’t yet laid a hand on a copy of his journal but in the 1800 publication from the British Board of Agriculture Communications to the Board of Agriculture, on subjects relative to the Husbandry, and Internal Improvement of the Country, there is an article starting at page 128 by Strickland “Observations on the State of America by William Strickland, Esq. of Yorkshire. Received 8th March, 1796.” In it you will see that it is actually a set of questions and answers. The questions were posed by the Board of Agriculture and were part of the purpose of his trip to the United States. Britain’s Board of Agriculture was set up in 1793, a private association which received a government grant to undertake research. The Board’s questions for Strickland were basic. What was the price of land in the young USA? What was the price of labour? Might not Great Britain be supplied with hemp from America? In response to the short questions, Strickland wrote pages. Not to ruin a good story with spoilers but his final paragraph on page 167 goes some way to remind us of the geographical limitations not only of his trip but of the young nation:

None emigrate to the frontiers beyond the mountains, except culprits, or savage back-wood’s men, chiefly of Irish descent. This line of frontier-men, a race possessing all the vices of civilized and savage life, without the virtues of either; affording the singular spectacle of a race, seeking, and voluntarily sinking into barbarism, out of a state of civilized life; the outcasts of the world, and the disgrace of it; are to be met with, on the western frontiers from Pennsylvania, inclusive to the farthest south.

Strickland’s America stretches form the Atlantic to the Appalachians. The other limitation we have to keep in mind is how little barley is mentioned in Strickland’s observations. As far as my search engine can tell, there is only the one reference in his observations to barley being sold in New York City in 1794 which sold at about 60% the price of wheat. Barley was not noted in the Albany market.


Look up there. We are well aware of the preference for wheat in the fields of New York. Wheat was worth far more and grew like a grain on steroids. Wheat was the basis of good beer in Albany of the 1670s and, under a decade after Strickland’s trip, the frontier brewery at Geneva, NY in 1803 was still cutting straw into the mash to cope with the high percentage of wheat malt being used. But Strickland was observing a new nation still coping with economic crisis. That Geneva brewery seems to have been established in 1797 in response to the crisis – with the promise of destroying “in the neighbourhood, the baneful use of spirituous liquors.” In New York the post-war economic collapse included depopulation of frontier* for much of the west of Albany as well as the blight of the Hessian fly. Upon seeing this, Strickland appears to be as happy to assist in the agricultural future of the new American republic as he was in reporting to the British Board of Agriculture. In his letter to Thomas Jefferson dated 20 May 1796 Strickland wrote a long passage about barley:

Where the improvement of the agriculture of a country can go hand in hand, with the improvement of the morals of a people, and the increase of their happiness, there it must stand in its most exalted state, there it ought to be seen in the most favourable light by the Politician there it must meet with the countenance and support of every good man and every friend to his country; so is it at present circumstanced in your country: by the cultivation of Barley your lands would be greatly improved; and the morals and health of the people benefited by the beverage it produces exchanged for the noxious spirits to which they have at present unfortunately recourse; besides the labour of the year would be more equally and advantageously divided, the grain being sown in the spring; but it was a striking circumstance that while the government was wisely encouraging the Breweries, in opposition to the distilleries the country should be entirely ignorant of the grain by which alone they could prosper; I have reason to believe that a grain of Barley has never yet been sown on the Continent; the grain which is there sown, under that name, is not that from which our malt-liquors are made; it is here known under the name of Bigg, or Bigg-barley, is cultivated only on the Northern Mountains of this Island, and used only for the inferior purposes of feeding pigs or poultry, and is held to be of much too inferior a quality to Make into Malt, and of the five different grains of the species of Barley known to us, it is held to be by far the worst; I have therefore taken the liberty of sending a small quantity of the best species of Barley, (the Flat or Battledore Barley) and the one most likely to succeed with you; this grain is sown in the spring, on any rich cultivated soil; I recommend it strongly to your attention; and shall rejoice if I prove the means of introducing into your country an wholesome and invigorating liquor.

Fabulous. Brewing was needed to civilize the community, to beat back the effect of rot gut whisky and Strickland saw that a key to this was the introduction of better classes of barley. Last year, Craig wrote about the difference between winter and spring barley in the second half of the 1700s and the transition away from a wheaty monoculture. He noted that “winter barley was euphemism for 6-row barley, and it was 6-row barley that would grow in tremendous amounts across western New York during the 19th and early 20th-centuries.” This week, Jordan colaborated on a brew with six-row barley, a recreation of an 1897 bock by Toronto brewer Lothar Reinhardt. But this is not the barley that Strickland was recommending. Notice he is recommending spring planted barley that is of far higher quality than six-row or what he calls bigg, the same coarser old form of barley his forefather was planting in 1568. In the generous and detailed corrections to the Oxford Companion to Beer – the wiki which was lost then found – a swath of beer writers prepared the following is stated at the letter “B” in response to the entry for “Bere (barley)” at page 123 of the famously troubled text:

“Bere (barley)” at page 123 states that “‘Bere’ has its origins in the Old English word for barley, ‘Bœr’.” The Old English word for “barley” was béow. (See Oxford English Dictionary at “bigg”). It further states that “It is synonymous with ‘Bygg’ or ‘Bigg’ barley, terms likely derived from the Norse word for barley, ‘Bygg’, which itself originates in the Arabic for barley.” The Norse word “bygg” does not originate in the Arabic word for barley. It has been suggested by some philologists (eg Bomhard and Kerns, The Nostratic Macrofamily, p. 219) that a word in the ancestor language of Arabic (and other languages, including Hebrew), Proto-Semitic *barr-/*burr, meaning “grain, cereal”, was borrowed by Proto-Indo-European as *b[h]ars-. Most philologists, however, derive bygg and bere (and barley, which, it should be noted, means “bere-like” – see OED at “barley”) from an Indo-European root *bheu to grow, to be (from which also comes the English word “be”), which gave a suggested proto-Germanic word for barley, *beww-, which became *beggw- in Old Norse, béow in Old English, bygg in Old Icelandic, and big in Norn (the language spoken on Shetland). It further states that “All of the Scandinavian languages used bygg for barley.” This is true only in the sense that the words in all modern North Germanic languages for “barley” are derived from “bygg” in their ancestor language, Old Norse, which was breaking up into its modern descendants around 1400. The modern Norwegian word for barley is still bygg, but the modern Danish is byg, the Swedish word is bjugg, the modern Icelandic byggi.

So, bigg as bygg goes a long way back. Excellent stuff. My only shame is that I forgot to transcribe over who in particular wrote that bit of correction. Sorry. In my grief over such a goof, I also sought some more detail in the section on barley in my copy of Ian Hornsey‘s 2012 book published by the Royal Society of Chemists Alcohol and its Role in the Evolution of Human Society but it turned out to be all about science and stuff. The sort of thing that did no good for my high school grade point average and which I appear to have passed on both genetically and behaviourally to the next generation of arts grads.

One bit of a conclusion, then, for now. We may be able to confidently state that when the new brewery in Cooperstown is looking for barley in 1795 and Gansevoort is looking for barley in 1798 they are very likely expecting to receive six-row, winter or bigg barley. Which makes some sense as it is likely a Dutch strain of barley, not English. Heck, look at the ad from John Mead in 1790 – he’s looking for rye, barley or wheat to brew with – anything he can get his hands on. That being the case, as Jordan has put into practice, recreations of historic northeastern North American barley beer from the period and perhaps for quite some time after need to be based on winter six-row barley and not the two-row spring barley William Strickland advocated for in the 1790s even though it was a far superior product. It was not, however, American – except around Philadelphia as George tantalizingly notes. More on that later.

*…aka the initial Anglo-American populating of Ontario.

Is That A Downward Or Sideways Craft Trend?

More bad news for craft in the media today. Over on Facebook, Lew shared stats reporting that on-premise US drinks sales were weak during the first 13-weeks of 2016. Total beer sales were particularly slow, declining 3.1% year-over-year. This was against particular trends showing Mich Ultra up 6%, Corona brands up 3.5% and Stella up 3.7%. Blue Moon dropped 3% while Sam Adams lost 13%. Conversely Goose Island was up 18% and Ballast Point a whopping 42% on-premise. That’s a pretty major set of shifts in the hospitality side of the beer trade. The not-good-news for beer continues as the Wall Street Journal tolds us late this afternoon that:

…for the first quarter ended March 26, Boston Beer reported a profit of $7 million, or 53 cents a share, down from $13.7 million, or $1 a share, a year earlier. Net revenue slipped 5.4%, to $188.8 million. Core shipment volume decreased 6%, to about 830,000 barrels. Boston Beer said it would focus increasingly on finding ways to cut costs and become more efficient after several years of rapid growth and capital investments.

That’s not good either. Big sales drop. Cutting costs and making efficiencies is not a growth strategy so much as one to slow a retraction. The article suggest job cuts are coming. No wonder James has been “trying to silently decrease his company’s share” as I noted last MayStaff, too.* I followed up with Lew and wondered if it was possible to break out the numbers he had into three classes – macro owned craft, big BA craft and little local craft – to see how broad this pattern was. But numbers are not kept like that given, as Lew said, I just made those classes up. To be fair, I didn’t just make them up but point taken.

Does this matter to you, the beer buyer? Likely not. This is not a bubble bursting. It’s a market shifting as they do. The sky’s perhaps not the limit quite as the BA promised in 2014. That’s fine. Many assumptions usually do not hold and the assumption that craft is marching in a straight line directly towards a 20% market share by 2020 is likely one of those that won’t pan out. But perhaps it’s still going to turn out to be the limit in a way – except that it’s made up of macro owned Goose Island instead of big craft’s Sam Adams. Would you care?

But maybe things develop in a different direction. Lew’s best point was in his reply to a comment: “I think it’s spirits that are taking the share. The thousands of smaller brands are still pretty damned small, and bourbon/Irish is on fire.” Change always comes and usually does so in large part unexpectedly. Craft beer could well split into local and macro with only big craft fading, too big and familiar to be considered authentic as the WSJ suggests. Link that to a far greater shift to wine or spirits coming out of nowhere. Could happen. Macro craft would like it to happen. Could be working towards just that right now. Will that matter much to you? Likely not other that it will be you buying the macro craft, wine or hard liquor. You’ll be happy.

*Shares dropped over 3% while the markets were open today and then another 10% after hours.

The Steelyard, Stillyard, Stylyard and Spelling


Ah, the Hanseatic League. I posted about the Hanseatic League earlier this year, pointing out how it was likely the conduit for the first introduction of hopped beer into England – and, by implication, not the Dutch. I think that might be the case for no other reason that the Dutch were introduced to hopped beer by shipments from the Hanseatic League, the Renaissance corporate port towns of the Baltic which had that handy corporate navy with corporate cannon to enforce its idea of open trade.

Renaissance and Elizabethan brewing and drinking in England is particularly interesting as the period ties a lot of later things together…. or founds them… or whatever. For example, Hull was a 1600s brewing town that also was a Hanseatic depot. Hull ale was a contemporary of Northdown as being a premium drink in London in second half of the 1600s. It’s a coastal ale of the sort that governs until the canals reach deeper into the countryside releasing the odd sulfurous and maybe hoppier beers of Burton in Staffordshire upon the national and international market. Like the railways in the mid-1800s Ontario that gave rural Labatt and Carling the opportunity to explode out into the world, England’s canals of the early 1700s also placed brewing at scale nearer the grain fields, likely cutting out middlemen and displacing premium coastal brewing perhaps by undermining existing price. Theory. Working theory.

What was displaced was the model set by the Hanseatic League. Renaissance Hamburg was the greatest brewing center in the history of beer – 42% of the workforce was involved in brewing. The Hanseatic depot at King’s Lynn still stands, one of the branch locations of Hanseatic activity. London was the Kontor with its headquarters of import / export operation located just west of London Bridge on the north shore of the Thames where Cannon Street station now stands. One of the coolest thing is that there have basically been two owners of that site since perhaps 1250 as the vestigial Hanseatic League interests in Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg sold it to the South-Eastern Railway Company in 1852. The presence of the Hanseatic League cannot be minimized at the critical point in the 1400s. Consider this passage from 1889’s bestseller The Hansa Towns by Helen Zimmern. It has a certain ripe Victorian style but does explain things like this:

Nor was London by any means their only depôt. It was the chief, but they also had factories in York, Hull, Bristol, Norwich, Ipswich, Yarmouth, Boston, and Lynn Regis. Some mention of them is found in Leland’s “Itinerary.” Under an invitation to the Hanseatics to trade with Scotland we find the name honoured in legend and song of William Wallace. In John Lydgate’s poems we also meet with our Hanseatics. In relating the festivities that took place in London city on the occasion of the triumphal entry of Henry VI, who had been crowned king at Paris some months previously, the poet narrates how there rode in procession the Mayor of London clad in red velvet, accompanied by his aldermen 196 and sheriffs dressed in scarlet and fur, followed by the burghers and guilds with their trade ensigns, and finally succeeded by a number of foreigners.

“And for to remember of other alyens,
Fyrst Jenenyes (Genoese) though they were strangers,
Florentynes and Venycyens,
And Easterlings, glad in her maneres,
Conveyed with sergeantes and other officeres,
Estatly horsed, after the maier riding,
Passed the subburbis to mete withe the kyng.”

A love of pomp and outward show was indeed a characteristic of the Hanseatics in England who thus perchance wished to impress upon the natives a sense of their wealth.

Henry IV was crowned the King of England in 1399. Hanseatic League ambassadors are in the procession when he enters London for the first time. They are somebodies. And they are powerful. They had a wee war with England from 1469-74… and won entrenching their right to trade. Hopped beer was not introduced to England by a few straggling sailors showing up at a few coastal towns. It was brought along – even imposed perhaps – by a massive commercial and military complex. Let’s look at some maps at how the Hansa QH has been described:








The illustration to the left is a detail of the 1633 reprint of the 1561 Agas map. You can see the location of London’s Hanseatic Steelyard in blue to the west of London Bridge. Above way at the top of the text is a much finer detail of the site. Notice it is referred to as the “Stylyarde.” In the middle is a 1720s map of Elizabethan London. Notice the site is now referred to as the “Stillyard.” And to the right is a diagram of the site of the Steelyard itself in this case called the “Stahlhofes” – as it was in 1667 according to a late 1800s German atlas. So, we have four ways of spelling the name of the site. Which means that each needs to be run through the dark Satanic
research mills if we are going to have an idea of what’s going on. In a note to the discussion of John Stow‘s Survey of London (editions from 1598 to 1603), British History Online has an extended discussion in a footnote on the variously described Stillyard / Steelyard / Stilliard / Stelehouse / Steleyard which states that there was a trade presence from Cologne there as early as 1157. It also indicates that the German version Stahlhof that appears rather early on means a stall hall – a marketplace. Stow himself describes the site and operations at length in his narrative map of London including the following:

Next to this lane, on the east, is the Steelyard, as they term it, a place for merchants of Almaine, that used to bring hither as well wheat, rye, and other grain, as cables, ropes, masts, pitch, tar, flax, hemp, linen cloth, wainscots, wax, steel, and other profitable merchandises.

Interestingly, as Stow notes, past the intervening church, near the Steelyard in Haywharf Lane in the late 1500s there was a “great brew-house” operated in the past by Henry Campion and then by his son Abraham. Life in the district was… lively. In the poem by Isabella Whitney (1548–1573) “The Wyll and Testament of Isabella Whitney” we read the following:

At Stiliarde ſtore of Wines there bée,
your dulled mindes to glad:
And handſome men, that muſt not wed
except they leaue their trade.
They oft ſhal ſéeke for proper Gyrles,
and ſome perhaps ſhall fynde:
That neede compels, or lucre lures
to ſatiſfye their mind.

So, as we see on the image to the right, there is a wine house. I assumed it was a wholesale depot but it appears to be an Elizabethan retail party palace where lads and lassies mingle as they consider drink, lust and lucre. February 1582 government orders issued by the Privy Council to the Lord High Treasurer show the Stillyard being excused from certain taxation – right under another order allowing the export of 1,000 tuns of beer from London. Elizabethan brewing and trading at scale. You don’t hear about that often. Leaping ahead into the next century, Samuel Pepys, diarist and high government official, records a number of visits to the site in the 1660s. On Friday, 13 December 1661 he wrote:

…to the office about some special business, where Sir Williams both were, and from thence with them to the Steelyard, where my Lady Batten and others came to us, and there we drank and had musique and Captain Cox’s company, and he paid all, and so late back again home by coach, and so to bed.

On Monday 26 January 1662/63 he stated that he was “up and by water with Sir W. Batten to White Hall, drinking a glass of wormewood wine at the Stillyard… while on Sunday, 2 September 1666 he uses it as a location in his description of the Great Fire of London. Perhaps most gloriously, he gives us this image of a part of his day on Wednesday, 21 October 1663:

Thence, having my belly full, away on foot to my brother’s, all along Thames Streete, and my belly being full of small beer, I did all alone, for health’s sake, drink half a pint of Rhenish wine at the Still-yard, mixed with beer.

Rhenish mixed with beer. There’s a challenge to today’s sense of yum. Thankfully, he also drank Northdown and Hull so it was not all weird for Sammy. I am going to leave it there but to review, then, what we have seen is that the Hanseatic League was a massive trading partner which had a huge export trade in beer in the 1400s. It had a very significant governmental foothold in the middle of London which was recognized from at least 1399 to the 1660s as something to be reckoned with. The business presence stretched for 700 years from the 1150s to the 1850s. They ran a retail and entertainment hall of some sort exactly when beer is coming into England at the same time that they operate the largest brewing center in the world at Hamburg.

Suffice it to say, there is more to be found about the role of the Hanseatic League and the history of hopped beer in England. Does it support the rough overlapping sequence Haneastic hopped beer (say Hamburg and later Flemish 1300s to 1600s) => coastal hopped beer (like Hull and Northdown, say, late 1400s-1712) => canal based hopped beer (Burton after 1712)? Could be. Need to find out.

Slavery, Servitude and The Interests of Patroons


What a sad image to come across. A human for sale. It’s from from the 15 April 1734 edition of the New York Weekly Journal. Apparently the sale didn’t come to pass as she was still for sale half a year later. Unless that is another unnamed woman for sale with the same skills. The colonial economy of the Province of New York included slavery. It’s a fact you have to keep in mind when researching the colonial brewing economy. This is not to point fingers. It’s just tragic reality one cannot reach back and undo. There were people enslaved here in my town well after the relocation of the Loyalists from New York to here – some even fighting with their enslavers on behalf of the Crown. The North American economy simply included the use of and trade in forced labour in areas other than what became the Confederacy. Brewing business included. People, both slaves and indentured, were commodities.







How did you deal with oppressive conditions in the 1700s? Options were limited and often at the drastic settling in those times. You could kill your captain if he earned himself a mutiny. You could run away. Look at the first thumbnail. Henry Rutgers, brewer, posted a notice in the New York Mercury of 9 June 1760 offering a reward for a runaway (aka freedom seeking) woman named as Jenny. And it wasn’t just slavery. Under the other thumbnail you will see another notice. In 1753, two indentured servants – both Frenchmen – ran and the one was noted as being a cooper. A maker of barrels. And it was not only about economic oppression. A brewer could even escape from jail – although I am not sure where a brewer named Sybrant Van Schaack could hide.

These sorts of hardships were the lot of mankind through most of time and space. I am sure there are enslaved brewers still today. But in the 1600s, 1700s and even into the 1800s, New York had a special sort of restriction on liberty. The system of patroonship. The patroons were a Dutch introduction, a form of landed gentry in the Hudson Valley which somewhat dysfunctionally off-setted the colonial power of the Governor of the West India Company. Like the seigneurial system in New France, these landlords controlled large tracts with the goal of maximizing economic output – including, as we stated in our book, the brewing trade:

In 1643, the patroon van Rennselaer contracted Evert Pels to work as a public brewer for six years between 1643-1649, in the colony at what would become the colonial brewery in Greenbush. Pels had recently arrived in the colony on the ship Houttuyn or “the woodyard”. He traveled in the company of a Rev. Megapolensis and family a surgeon named Abraham Staes, as well as more farmers, and farm-servants. The ship carried a great volume of supplies for the colony including four thousand tiles, and thirty thousand stone for building. It also carried between 200 to 3000 bushels of malt for the brewery of Mr. Pels.

The Manor of Rensselaerswyck was likely the most successful of these estates and certainly the most relevant to Albany. The original plan for the brewery was that it would supply all the beer for the entire New Netherlands enterprise. The founder of the Rutgers clan, Rutgers Jacobson, brewed for the patroon. In no small part due to the support given to the Federalist leadership during the Revolution, the system lasted through eleven or twelve patroons over 200 years until the 1850s when the last leases were sold off by the van Rensselaer family. Being a controlled community for much of that time, the patroon ultimately controlled the crops as well as the infrastructure like breweries. The fourth patroon married the daughter of a brewer, Maria van Cortlandt, who herself set up a brewery on the estate in 1662. For generations, control of all aspects of the estate’s economy generated vast profits. The last patroon, Stephen III, is considered the tenth most wealthy American of all time. Not the sort of thing a Jeffersonian expected would exist still half a century after the Revolution was won. Rents were to be paid in wheat, a crop which was especially not well suited to the western portion of the estate. Also, the patroon retained all water rights. Not exactly the circumstances which might trigger individual investment in an independent brewery.

The system failed after the Panic of 1819 and the collapse of wheat prices. Tenants declared they were living in a form of slavery but nothing changed until, in the 1840s, there was open revolt. The Anti-Rent or Helderberg War was well underway. Once won, it didn’t take long for the region’s hop plantations to take off. The NY state crops centered in the region expanded nine-fold from 1840 to 1860. Today, Deitrich Gehring is growing hops and barley in the same lands of Helderberg for the Indian Ladder Farmstead Brewery And Cidery. I have met Deiter, through Craig, a few times. He has co authored The Hop Grower’s Handbook: The Essential Guide for Sustainable, Small-Scale Production for Home and Market with Laura Ten Eyck. Such are the fruits of freedom.