Your Beery News For A Mid-September’s Week

The week saw a sweater weather day but now the house is hot and humid again. Spring was late be summer is holding on by the hair on its chinny-chin-chin. The Beer Nut was by over the weekend. I mean he went by… on a train. He took a picture of where I wasn’t standing to wave at him as he went by. His half month-long Twitter diarized trip to Quebec and Ontario so far is like the stay-cation I could never afford. I am just happy that he discovered where the beating heart of Canada can be found. That a view! We really do put out best foot forward for the rail traveling public, don’t we.

The Tand starts us off with a fabulously clear discussion on what is needed to handle cask ale properly and there is a simple set of rules to follow:

They all begin with C. Cleanliness, condition and cellar temperature are the basics. The other is somewhat contrived, but is chronology. Time. Rack the beer to settle. give it a day at least. Vent when the beer has rested. Know when the beer went on and when it ought to be sold by.

He himself aka Tand no doubt would appreciate the cellar instructions and cellar thermometer posted by Brad Wright on Wednesday.

Neolithic beer questions! It’s all about the neolithic this week it seems. What did they drink at feasts? Did they brew bread before they baked bread?

More mod-ren-ly, the Pursuit Of Abbeyness posted some thoughts of the state of “craft” as illustrated by two neighbouring breweries in Cornwall, England. Among other things, it is a good reminder of how not all craft is created equal:

Rebel was established in 2011. Verdant started in 2014, but arguably did not hit its stride until it upgraded to its current, 16-hectolitre brewery in October 2016. Rebel is barely known outside of Cornwall. Verdant is now one of the UK’s most visible craft breweries, a producer of sought-after beers that receive enthusiastic reviews across social media.

This line about Rebel is fairly brutal: “The beers are the sort to win CAMRA awards, but not the sort that grabs the attention of the urban Millennial on the look out for the latest craft-beer sensation.” Given that knowledge, is investing in beer any less of a crap shoot these days than it ever was? Strong on average but fickle in the particular.

Jordan illustrating the only thing he remembers from those undergrad years. Ouch. Right in the brain pan.

Beer community spirit, graphically illustrated:

Speaking of the organized representation of data, Jeff published the results of the survey he was running on US brewery staff compensation. The results are both rare given how little actual use of stats is applied in craft beer (other than as compiled for compromised PR purposes) and useful given the focus he places on real issues:

I gave respondents a list of other benefits employers sometimes offer their workers. Nearly half of respondents (45%) received no additional benefits beyond PTO and health care (if they received those at all). Of the benefits I listed, only training and retirement planning were offered by an appreciable number of breweries (29% and 32% respectively). I was shocked to see that not a single brewery in this pool offered child care. 

Jeff was encourages by the findings but I am less impressed. Saddened even. For all the money in beer there seems to be little money in beer. Still, fabulous work by Jeff.

‘s’truth: every city needs widely available, low-priced craft option.

This is a hard one to sift: a US craft brewery doing a crowd funding campaign to move because the area’s presumed gentrification did not occur:

According to the Star-Tribune, owner Kevin Welch moved into the overwhelmingly white city’s most diverse neighborhood where he “hoped to be part of West Broadway’s transformation.” Instead of a “transformation,” though, Welch and his employees have witnessed violence and seen customer’s cars damaged. They complain that “biker gangs started peddling drugs in the alley” outside. The last straw was a fatal shooting of a black man who is unnamed in the Star-Tribune story, Steven F. Fields. Fields was a hotel employee who was smoking a cigarette when he was murdered.

Reactions not entirely sympathetic. I’d like to know what the realtor’s advice was.

Finally, Ed posted some science-y stuff about brewing that maybe 0.1% of you will get. Gems like this:

Brewers can have problems with processing aids. Antifoams in Fermenting Vessel can clog cross flow filter membranes over time, though this is not a problem with kieselguhr filters. Single shot PVPP may also cause problems with cross flow. Tannnic acid can be a great help but can cause problems if added immediately upstream of filtration.

What the hell is that about? What the hell is a “kieselguhr filter“??? I am glad that there are people like Ed out there worrying about that stuff so I can just concern myself with what is tasty in the glass.

That’s it. One more week of news for the summer of 2018. Baseball in coming into its last handful of regular season games and the NHL is starting camp. Three months to Yuletide. There’s still plenty of veg in the garden but… but…

All The Beer News That Matters For The Middle Third Of April


Matters? None of this really matters all that much. Fine. Maybe posts like this are just the stuff you need to get you to – or through – the stuff that matters. Let’s go with that. It’s OK. A quiet week now and then is nice. No need to puff it up with claiming this post is a “deep dive” into this or that. Is that why so much get the head scratching these days? Is there actuallyan increase in beer media types tweeting about beer just because they want freebies“? Does that really matter? Yet… who thought that, by Wednesday, the TV ad up there from 1995 would matter so much now, twenty three years later? But it does as it’s a matter the center of a lawsuit that might end up maybe marking the end of an era. More below. Deep down there.

Before that – first, but not exactly unrelated – I find a certain sort of post, illustrated this week by one Pete, a bit… odd. You may not agree – which is fine – but let me express myself for just this one instance.  Please. What I don’t get is while he concludes that what he finds odd is an article motivated by the desire to “create specious claims” he spends a lot of time saying things like “that’s certainly food for thought” and “there are certainly some interesting points” which, for me, leads to the critique of the article sounding a lot like a sibling of the article. Which leads me wondering why the article, the one he didn’t like, would matter to Pete that much. It’s not like I don’t sympathize. I was shocked when I read about “The Secret Brewery Battle That Could Kill Manchester’s Booming Craft Beer Scene“! but then couldn’t believe my eyes when I read about “The Secret Brewery Battle That Could Kill Wales’ Booming Beer Scene“!!! Clearly there is less than 85% overlap between the two articles so… journalism can’t be dead! [Note: intracraft warfare now clearly out in the open with the use of “beer bullies” by one local Mancunian know-it-alls. Well… sometimes they do know something, right?]

All I mean is what we are all seeing around us is far more interesting : the expansion of craft by including and retaining anything claiming to be craft; freakshake pastry stouts, the churn of increased brewery closures aligning with the uncertainty tiny brewers bring; and the seven year itch that, yes, is hitting the craft beer monogamists. Being a spectator in a ripe time of transition behooves us all to spectate. Which sounds a lot like speculate but it’s really quite a different thing all together. Let’s just sit and watch for a bit. There. That’s better. [Note: if you love something let it go.]

Perhaps conversely… but maybe not, my own dear old hometown newspaper ran an article on my own dear old undergrad alma mater’s historic brewing studies – and it’s perhaps the most honest bit of beer related journalism I’ve read in yoinks. [Note: Apparently, we usually can’t handle the truth.] So much of what was made sounds horrible. Did anyone get an F for their project?

In an even more real case of matter… and perhaps even anti-matter,  I think we can all agree that we don’t need to check out the Royal Oak in Wigan. Don’t go. The back streets of Ron’s Amsterdam, however, are where the clever should aim there feet.  [Note: Ron hit the exact sweet spot for mushy not mushy this week. Govern yourselves accordingly.] And speaking of travel and also as a matter that surely matters, I would still be mesmerized even if it turned out that Lars has been stringing us all along, weaving an entirely fictional fraud upon us all with his northern farmhouse ale studies. “Koduõlu, the traditional farmhouse ale from the large Estonian islands in the Baltic“? Who researches that? Lars!

What else? Well, given my recent doubts as to the point of taproom fever, it has been playing the role of interesting subtext of the week. What is a taproom anyway? Beeson, J. is of the opinion that if the beer is not brewed on site surely it’s just a bar. Yet the utterly venerable Laxfield Low House in Suffolk clearly has a taproom yet does not brew. It is the room where casks are tapped and served on gravity. [Note: it has a taproom but is not a taproom.]  The Royal Tavern here in Kingston, Ontario has a sign over the door that says “Tap Room” but – even though the establishment predates Canada and was a haunt of our first Prime Minister – it’s just a bit of a hard dive.  Not Wigan Royal Oak hard… mostly… mainly. [Note: it has no taproom and is not a taproom but claims a tap room.] I suspect taproom is like curate, code for “modern thing or action which needs not be investigated and considered so much as put up with and outlived.” [Note: Did I mention I turn 55 next week. Does it show? If you call it “double nickels” it sounds way cool, too, just like “curate“!]

You know what matters? You, the kind reader. And this has to be the most heart warming response to a weekly newsy notes post ever:

OK, then. I will.

Finally, that matter at the top of the page. That 1995 TV ad way up top… that’s actually referenced in the Answer and Counterclaim filed by MillerCoors in the Stone vs. Keystone lawsuit archived at Syracuse, NY attorney Brendan Palfreyman’s website.  Much of US-based beer social media was humming about the contents of the Answer as well as Brendan’s analysis on Twitter. The bottom line is this. Stone launch a court action a couple of months ago claiming a bit of the moral high ground. But, as I noted last February, there is plenty of evidence of the use of “Stone” related to Keystone beer before their trademark was registered and under US law this is important. As stated at paragraph 29 of the Answer:

…Coors’ use of STONE and STONES predates Stone Brewing’s use of STONE. When co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner decided to adopt the moniker Stone Brewing in 1996, Coors was already selling Keystone beer nationally in cases labeled STONES and running marketing campaigns advertising Keystone beer as STONE. MillerCoors did not “verbatim copy” Stone Brewing’s trademark. If anything, it is much more likely that Stone Brewing copied the STONE name from Coors, since Keystone beer was already advertised as such in the market.

It sounds like bravado but at section 23 of the Answer, it states that Koch said the following in an interview about Keystone’s 1995 “Bitter Beer Face” ads (like the one up there at the top of this post):

Basically it was a misinformation campaign. It was designed to tell the American public ‘You’re not sophisticated enough.’ Let’s try to tell you that you don’t want better beer. It’s really a form of oppression. There’s just nothing short of it.

This is an amazing bit of evidence. Needs to be proven in court but, funny enough, that is what MillerCoors apparently is going to do. Watch the TV ad again. I had no idea there were “anti-hoppy” ads running in the mid-1990s. What is not to love about that ad? Well, maybe not if you like that bitter puckery micro beer. Which might cause a mid-1990s upstart with oddly strong impressions about what oppression means to take aim at the gargantuan brewery making fun of your dreams on the TV.  Wouldn’t that be funny if over two decades that attitude were now to come back to bite someone. Sometimes a particular stone is the best means to clarify what is real. Who knows? Let the court decide, I say!

So there you go. What looked like another dull week explodes again by my Wednesday deadline to send this baby to the printing shop… boom. No doubt there will be even more for you to consider from Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday.

Some Thursday Beer News After The Whole Green Flash Thing

I love the map above, a 1881 Isochronic Chart showing travel time from London under optimum conditions. Which should help understanding the travel time for casks of British beer from that year and perhaps quite a few decades before. Or at least it can be adjusted by a factor. In 1732 the ship Ann crossed the Atlantic, from London to the not-yet colony of Georgia in 88 days. Note how in 1881 Nova Scotia and a bit of Newfoundland are green, meaning transit could occur under ten days. Or about an eleventh of an Ann. Neato. More here.

Gary: Bass master… not Bassmaster. Got it?

Archaeologist Merryn Dineley, is making some great points on Twitter these days about the lack of respect and role of malt and malting through time, both today and and in particular in relation to the study of Stonehenge.

Yup.

Ha ha! Stone sued a party that had nothing to do with it. Will they pay their legal costs? Is that the reason for the delay?

The forces of “don’t worry, be happy” are out in force this week given that the news broke that the assets of Green Flash, the 43rd largest US craft brewery, have been sold off. As the Full Pint reported on Tuesday, this is part of the official memo that Green Flash President and CEO Mike Hinkley sent to over 100 shareholders:

On behalf of myself and the Board of Directors of GFBC, Inc. (the “Company”), I am truly sorry to report that the Company’s senior lender, Comerica Bank, has foreclosed on its loans and sold the assets of the Company (other than the Virginia Beach brewery) to WC IPA LLC through a foreclosure sale which closed on March 30, 2018.  As such, the Company no longer owns the Green Flash and Alpine businesses.  Comerica Bank is currently conducting a separate process to sell the Virginia Beach brewery. After a general slowdown in the craft beer industry, coupled with intense competition and a slowdown of our business, we could not service the debt that we took on to build the Virginia Beach brewery — and in early 2018, the Company defaulted on its loans with Comerica Bank.  

Note a few things. The shareholders were not aware of the decision made apparently by the main shareholder, the lender whose loan bounced. The were told after the fact. I expect that indicates that the lender got the power to do that in a loan agreement. It also might indicate that this was not the first loan agreement as gaining that short of shareholder control is not the stuff of ordinary loan agreements.  The failing of the business has being going on for some time. Also, these are asset sales.  This is not a foreclosure of the business.* The brewing company has not been sold off, just the assets of value. Including the “businesses” which would include the brands, the goodwill if any is left and all operational aspects.  So, the corporation has been stripped to pay the bank. Reason? Forget the other stuff – over extension of debt to move into the branch plant business. The only question that matters is whether others will be found to be in the same boat.

Craft was in the news for other reasons. The Wall Street Journal declared craft beer was “big business.” [Note: “big craft” was discussed in 2014.] I like this plain language sentence in the WSJ piece in particular: “[r]ecent years have seen a world-wide wave of beer consolidation.” No “sell out!” No “got gobbled up!” Just a plain language description of the business of beer doing what it has done for hundreds of years – consolidate.

One example of a consolidation was examined in far greater detail by the Chicago Tribune in Josh Noel’s excellent article “Goose Island Aims to Shake Off Rough Year with New Beers, Ad Campaign.” The only thing I didn’t understand was this passage:

Goose Island’s story is therefore returning to Chicago — an effort to tie the brewery not just to its hometown, but to cities in general: urban and bustling, with a dose of cosmopolitan and hip. “It’s something that can be owned and is differentiating for Goose Island,” Ahsmann said. “Think about it: Can you think of any other nationally distributed craft brewer based out of a city?” There are others, of course — Brooklyn Brewery, Boston Beer Co. and Anchor Brewing in San Francisco — but none that owns the idea of city in the way that Corona is beach or Coors is mountains. Ahsmann wants Goose Island to be that beer. 

If that is what Goose Island is doing under AB InBev it’s not speaking to me. I just thought Goose Island was about geese on an island. Monsieur Jonathan, Le Beerinateur, clarified on Twitter that is was a district of Chicago. Who knew? Without that context, there is no way I would think “gooseness” + “islandness” = “urban and bustling, with a dose of cosmopolitan and hip” because that math just doesn’t work for me even though I have been having the odd Goose Island IPA** since maybe 2010.  [Did all you all know this and not tell me?]

Is the lesson of both Green Flash and Goose Island that US craft and local/regional are more closely tied than big craft thought? Notte note: “It’s a fine lesson…

Celebrator ends its print run. I blame MySpace.

This is an interesting story. It’s about Catalonia’s burgeoning craft beer scene. It’s from March 2013. One key thing was left unexplored then: local sausages. No idea how they measure up compared to the sausages of other regions of Spain. That is not the point. You know, it would be nice to know what each junket sponsoring jurisdiction requires in its funding agreement by way of social media follow up content. That is for another day. Today, I am fascinated by the sudden fascination with Catalonian sausages.

You want a real beer vacation? Three words: Bavarian… theme… park.

My two favourite April Fool’s pranks: “Brewers Brace for Brettanomyces Shortage” and ^Greg, the Sunday intern for Boak and Bailey.

That’s it. I am down to the cheap shots and gags. It wears one down. More next week. Sure thing. You bet. Perhaps cheerier. No promises.  No comment.

U*This could be another aspect of the over all plan.
**Or something or other under that label.

Your Beery News For The Sudden January Thaw

Nothing slows down life as much as three weeks of the freezing weather that we are just about to get a break from. Well, that and regularly keeping track of the beery news again. It’s been since November since I started back up.  I was last August’s jaunt as Stan’s intern that did it, I suppose. Give me a few years. I might get reasonably good at it. Maybe. Sorta. Bet I pack it in come spring.

Anyway, first up, all that hope and rage you have balled up into the narrative that moderate alcohol is good for you? It’s very likely a crock. Why? Because “…low-volume drinkers may appear healthy only because the ‘abstainers’ with whom they are compared are biased toward ill health.” My take? If you regularly wake up hungover you are likely hurting yourself. Start with a few liver function tests.

Crap. Eric Asimov has mentioned Prince Edward County wines in The New York Times. I’ll never be able to afford to drink the local stuff now.

More bad news? Why not? The sudden shutting of central New York’s venerable Saratoga Brewing was covered in great detail by central New York’s venerable Don Cazentre. It’s not that often that beer business news gets covered as business news but Don is regularly the one doing it. Another form of the death of the dream of national big craft – along with, you know, less and less of the stuff being sold. Hail the new boss! Local murky gak in a sterile monoculture branded taproom where everyone wants to tell you about how great the beer is. Now, that’s my kind of entertainment.

Now, how about something positive? I definitely award the best long writing this week to the two part essay by Matthew Lawrenson on pub life for the perspective of someone with autism:

I’ve been told that people are wary of me due to my “beer blogging’s greatest monster” reputation and are surprised when I’m more anxious and less obnoxious than they’ve been lead to believe. All I can say is that, usually, things are rarely what people expect them to be.

My favourite thing about the essay is how plainly described it all is. Matthew treats the subject objectively, with the respect it deserves. Very helpful. By way of a bit of contrast, because it’s important to keep this dynamic, Jordan took on the argument being made by Canada’s macro brewers about our excise tax regime and found it seriously lacking, working both the numbers as well as his sarcasm skills:

…let’s do the math. Wow! The average price of a case of beer is $36.50 if you go by the examples that Beer Canada have used. Now, let’s see. 24 x 341ml = 8,184 ml. How many ml in a HL? Wow. That’s 12.218 cases of beer per hectolitre. That’s 293 bottles and a low fill! Hmmm. What’s $31.84/293? Oh wow. It’s 10.8 cents a bottle in federal excise!

I was left (again) with the feeling that all cost inputs deserve that level of scrutiny. It’s we the buyers and our cash that runs the whole industry, after all. Why shouldn’t we get a simple straight answer? Consider J.J. Bell’s news today that he is dropping Harvey’s from his pub’s line up because “They’ve been using their strong position in the local market to price gouge, pure and simple.” Now, that’s some plain speaking about value.

How did we get here? Maybe beer 5,000 years ago in Greece. Merryn Dineley ordered the article so I am looking forward to greater analysis that just the abstract but the reference to “remains of sprouted cereal grains as well as cereal fragments from the Bronze Age” sure seems interesting.

Not beer: Al Tuck. Listen for a bit. There you go. Feel better, right?

Coming to the end but still enough time for my favourite use of Twitter in beer-world for 2018. Josh Noel’s fictional life of John Holl started on New Years Day this way:

On a Thursday evening in 1986, as a spring storm pounded the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport, John Hall sat in an airplane on the rain‐glazed tarmac and did something he would recount for the rest of his life. He reached for a magazine.

Finally. All things come to an end. And speaking of ends – bumboats. Say it fast five times over out loud… in public: Bumboats!  Bumboats!  Bumboats! Bumboats! Bumboats!” Hah – made you do it.

Laters.

Brewing As A Far Earlier Step Than Community

In the past I have noted how it is pretty silly to suggest brewing was the cause of middle eastern communities to come together to form civilization given what might have been formed could well have been a very nasty enslavement of otherwise happy hunter gatherers.  But the link is AWOL.* Still, an interesting narrative has come out related to the Gobekli Tepe site in southeastern Turkey that is interesting and perhaps turns our assumptions about the origins of brewing on their head.

Gobekli Tepe is in the news at the moment because a carving there has been determined to be recording the flood narrative. The story of beer, however, may also be set out in the site’s archaeological record. Consider this:

Recently, further chemical analyses were conducted by M. Zarnkow (Technical University of Munich, Weihenstephan) on six large limestone vessels from Göbekli Tepe. These (barrel/trough-shaped) vessels, with capacities of up to 160 litres, were found in-situ in PPNB contexts at the site. Already during excavations it was noted that some vessels carried grey-black adhesions. A first set of analyses made on these substances returned partly positive for calcium oxalate, which develops in the course of the soaking, mashing and fermenting of grain. Although these intriguing results are only preliminary, they provide initial indications for the brewing of beer at Göbekli Tepe, thus provoking renewed discussions relating to the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages at this early time. 

And this:

“The first year, we went through 15,000 pieces of animal bone, all of them wild. It was pretty clear we were dealing with a hunter-gatherer site,” Peters says. “It’s been the same every year since.” The abundant remnants of wild game indicate that the people who lived here had not yet domesticated animals or farmed.

And this:

Since neither domesticated plants nor animals are known from the site, it is clear that the people who erected this monumental sanctuary were still hunter-gatherers, but far more organised than researchers dared to think 20 years ago. 

And this:

Seen from the point of view of nutritional science, there are some advantages in favour of beer. Its lack of oxygen and its low pH value make it less perishable than other cereal products (Back 1994: 16). There is an ongoing discussion about the question of whether most cereals would have been toxic before mankind adapted to them, adverse reactions to gluten proteins (coeliac disease) being the result of a missing evolutionary adaption (Greco 1997). Malting and fermentation could have been a method to weaken these toxic effects as gluten is debranched, agglomerated and filtered to a high extent through malting and brewing. Interestingly, there seems to be a natural lack of toxicity in einkorn (Pizzuti et al. 2006). Whether one of these aspects was known to PPN people remains unknown, but prolonged observations could have led to that knowledge.

If I have it correctly, this means beer existed well before agriculture. Wild grain made a tummy ache. Someone figures out malting makes less of a tummy ache. Malting become centralized over 10,000 years ago – and maybe ceremonialized in whole or in part – but people are still roaming, hunting and gathering happily. For maybe a thousand years or more.

I love it.

*Found it.

Babylonian Cuneiform And Brewing Patterns

The other day, I read that The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had freed thousands of images from their intellectual property right shackles for free and unrestricted public use. This is good. And being a dutiful beer blogger, I immediately put in the word “beer” in the search engine to see what would pop up. And this is what popped up. A chunk of dried mud with scratchings. I love stuff like this. Three years ago, I stared at Mesopotamian brewing things at the Royal Ontario Museum, aka the ROM.  Somewhere I have photos I took thirty years ago of myself, when a selfie took a tripod, at the British Museum staring at Mesopotamian brewing things made of mud. Scratchings made a person over 150 generations ago. On just a piece of mud.

It’s actually more than that. It’s Urra=hubullu, tablet 23 from Mesopotamia in the late 1st millennium B.C.  “Twenty-three, eh?” thought I. Being a clever man I realized there must be twenty-two others. So off I went. Or, rather, I put a few words in Google… and found what I am sure you all expected I would findCuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Literary and scholastic texts of the first millennium B.C. by Ira Spar, Wilfred G. Lambert published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005 where I learned about what had been scratched into the dried mud thingie over three thousand years ago. Tablet 23 is a vocabulary of food and drink terms. The passage on this piece of cuneiform cites, at page 234, a 1950 article “On Beer and Brewing Techniques in Ancient Mesopotamia According to the XXIIIrd tablet of the series HAR.ra=hubullu” by Oppenhiem and Hartman which describes the content of tablet 23 in the context of brewing.

Fabulous. So fabulous as it is all seemingly quite authoritative. The Spar and Lambert text goes on to state what exactly was written down on three thousand odd years ago in that clay. There is great beer, dark beer, white beer, cloudy beer and beer for the tigi-songs whatever they were. My favourite might be the symbol for “clear/clean beer” indicating, of course, that folk were both skillful and appreciative of skill. That information is all in column 2. In column 3, the words are about process. Yeast is pulverized, barley bread is crushed and spread just right. It is soaked and dried then soaked and mashed. It is rinsed, pressed, crushed, broken and mixed. Malt is dried, watered, opened, spread and warmed. To my mind, this is more than a vocabulary. This is a guide not so very much different from Samuel Child’s 1768 guide discussed the other day.

This is interesting. How is it that I can read a Mesopotamian clay tablet and pretty much immediately understand what is going on? If it was about religion, governance or astronomy I wouldn’t have a clue. But beer and brewing are not strange. They are, in a very meaningful way, constant. You can see that if we go back to column 2 where you see words for 1:1 beer, 2:1 beer, 3:1 beer and even triple beer. The ratio is the relationship of grain input to beer output. If you scroll down to page 238 of the 2005 Spar and Lambert text you see there are footnotes and in the footnotes an explanation of Mesopotamian methodology. I am just going to cut and paste the footnote in relation to column 2, line 11 and what follows as I think it is one of the more extraordinary things I have ever read about beer in a couple of ways:

 

 

 

 

First, it is extraordinary as it basically sets out the scheme of brewing over 3,000 years ago in a manner which is readily understandable to anyone who has home brewed from an all-grain mash. Second, not only is it understandable… it is very familiar. It looks a lot like the parti-gyle process which makes a lot of sense as no one in their right mind wastes resources. So, the first sparging of the mash gives a 18% sugar solution wort, the second a 6% wort and the third a 1.5% wort. Roughly declining to a third each time. And sometimes the wort is recirculated to strengthen it even more to make what the footnote’s author describes as “very powerful” beer.

What is extraordinary to me is that this ratio looks a heck of a lot like the proper way to brew that I have read about from Piers the Ploughman in England’s 1370s to Matthew Vassar in New York’s 1830s. It reads like the 1825 advert for Thomas Molson’s brewery here in my hometown. Strong ale, single ale and small or ship’s beer with what looks like double double thrown in for good measure, that hazard from Shakespeare to Schenectady.

Which leads to another thought. Is that pattern a constant? Four grades of beer naturally created solely by the relationship between the sparge fluid and mash?  Following these rules you will have a 11%-ish beer, a 4%-ish one and a 1.25%-ish one. As well as whatever the heck double double was to create all that toil and trouble. A constant pattern. Could be. Could be.

Fuzzy Photos Of Drinking Things From A Museum

rom1A few hours on the fourth floor of the Royal Ontario Museum Saturday found me looking for beer stuff in the exhibits. Just a game. You think of how pervasive beer has been in western culture and how places like museums like to not discuss it all that much and it starts to be a fun game to play for a tired mind after a long night in a noisy hotel. Fun? Time passing maybe. Temper maintaining perhaps. Anyway, there was some fairly interesting stuff to be found.

Like that friend of Bertie Wooster who passes time when walking through London by imagining golf shots, I think about the beers I would have from these museum pieces. Not hard when the drinking vessel in question is a 1750s Silesian glass tankard but what about a fourth century Sudanese clay drinking cup. Clay asks for something like thin boozy porridge but there’s not much of that going around these day in this civilization. Chip shot into the Shaftesbury Memorial pool at Piccadilly.

rom2

rom3

 

 

 

 

Then I think about the techniques the curators are using to get the beer stuff into the displays but not really mentioning. In one room of the exhibit, two Georgian silver tankards are in the back placed on bookshelves along with other curios as if they were not really used for drinking beer at all. In another display, pewter pots are lined up in a row to describe weights and measures as opposed to the uses to which they were put. The weighted and measured. Odd. No pottle. The fifteenth century mead drinking jug made of spruce sits next to the leather canteen in a daring juxtaposition of old things, weirdly shaped and made out of strange stuff. Two iron glanced off Shakespeare’s forehead neatly carries on down Charing Cross Road. Kids are getting tired feet. Me, too.

rom4

rom5

 

 

 

 

We took the subway back to the hotel, three stops south to Osgoode the TTC car as empty but for us as the sidewalks had been on the way north earlier. The kids said that Toronto was nice but it was no Montreal. I knew what they meant but it was not a bad Toronto, either. University Avenue looked like the MIT area of Cambridge if the MIT area of Cambridge had stopped being built in 1973 or so.

Maybe Beer Helped Create Violent Tyranny?

I find this beer “created civilization” line going around funny. Sure, it is an easy cut and paste story for bloggers needing to fill space. And, sure, it is an easy story for a newspaper to run. But really?

Hayden told Postmedia News that “there are lots of implications” of the team’s findings, and that “brewing was just part of the picture” during humanity’s pivotal shift to settled, stable communities with enough food supplies to foster more complex cultural developments. But beer-making, he added, was one factor “that we think was important in making feasts such powerful tools for attracting people and getting them committed to producing surpluses.”

Attracting people? Getting them committed to producing surpluses? Such verbs we choose for such things. How about rounding them up, enslaving them and forcing them into labour to provide an oligarchical hierarchy based on grain monoculture with the rich rewards of being the enslavers going entirely to the enslavers. How about the slaves were perfectly happy in their outlying tribal hunter gatherer lives beyond the fields of horror filled with barley they will never taste and certainly never chose to grow. It is lovely to hope and wish and, sure, springtime is upon us giving us thoughts of baseball and everything but is there any evidence that the step towards brewing-focused agriculture in any way formed the basis what we value today as “civilized”? Maybe it just occurred as a crop contemporaneous with, say, turnips.

Did turnips found civilization? Could well be. Like mostly anything could well be. Like shackles and whips.

Book Review: A History of Beer and Brewing, Ian S. Hornsey

I have been working thought my review copy of this 632 page paperback published by the Royal Society of Chemistry for the best part of a month now. It is fascinating. Likely the best book on beer I have ever read. Clear, comprehensive and incredibly well-researched, this book contextualized beer and related beverages in the cultural and scientific world contemporary to any given era from pre-historic cave dwellers to the modern era and CAMRA. Yes, insert your joke of convenience now…

It is this latter aspect, the context, that really is a treat. As we learn how beer and brewing evolved, we also learn about about such things as potting techniques, movements of peoples across continents as well as how scientific advances such as in the Enlightenment came about. I had no idea that Ancient Egypt was pretty much a society on the bottle all of the time or that the Stuarts in the 1600s were the originators of much of the alcohol related law that still exists today – including taxing drinking as a mechanism for reducing drunkenness…outside of the Egyptian-esque Court of King James I, that is.

This is such an expansive work that it is really hard to write a review of this length. It has a certain scale others I have read do not. For example, Hornsey describes 15 different peoples between the Israelites and the Celts over almost 50 pages to trace the likely route of beer making from its birthplace in Egypt and Babylon to north-eastern Europe and Britain at the time of Christ. In addition to such anthropology, there is plenty of archaeobotany where the stuff in the pot found in the grave or the newly uncovered early medieval basement as well as review of primary documentary sources going back to the beginning of writing. Also, this is a peer-reviewed sort of scientific text which both adds to its trustworthy completeness compared to some of the recent pop histories on beer as well as to its practical status as a benchmark against which other histories are measured. For the casual reader, it should serve as either a dispute settler in itself or at least as a pointer, though its extensive bibliography, to most solutions to the questions that can arise between nerds.

I may think of more to add later as I get through the last third of the book but I can leave it here by saying this is the best history I have encountered to date.