The First Week Of December Finds Every Child’s Mind Drifting To Beery News Notes

This week’s big news saw me and mine on the road. I was up in the nation’s capital over Saturday and Sunday and took part in my kind of beer tourism. By that I mean actually doing normal things while noting beer around me and having one when the more important things in life were not imposed upon. We took in an hour at the National Gallery of Canada and spent time in the Canadian exhibits, where I came across this painting, Manitoba Party, from 1964. Cheery and folk artsy, right away I noticed the kegs and beer distribution smack dab in the middle. More detail below.

 

 

 

 

Speaking of Canada, Frank Zappa once said that you can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. Canada obsesses about such things, often when there is little in the news other than, you know, affirmations. Mr. B has picked up the theme:

I’ve no idea what Canada’s national beer style might ultimately be, whether it will be hop-focused or yeast-based or feature some ingredient that it true to the Canadian spirit. 

Not sure that is a big worry of mine. Zappa went on to that that it also “helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” We have our own form of football. And, really, the good neighbour has enough of those bombs. Art, however. That works for me.

Looking back on the rest of my week, I find I have to take something back* from last week’s news notes. I wrote that we would have to spend a “happy early December without an edition of #TheSession” but Stan is giving us one last kick at the can with the topic “One More For The Road” in which we are asked to:

Pick a beer for the end of a life, an end of a meal, an end of a day, an end of a relationship. So happy or sad, or something between. Write about the beer. Write about the aroma, the flavor, and write about what you feel when it is gone.

Not particularly Yule-drenched but there will be a few weeks afterwards to get oneself back in the spirit. With any luck, the responses will give J. Wilson some cheer, given his tweet this week which is about as broadly grim as one might get:

Sometimes I worry about the future of beer since so many beer lovers today don’t even like the taste of beer.

Me, I am more hopeful than that – especially given how beer and brewing has survived any number of false gods and dead ends over the centuries.  December is actually an excellent time to get back in touch with the classics and leave the NEIPAs and other alcopops to the amateur drinkers. Alistair of Fuggled fame has offered us one route to set things back in their proper order:

…it seems that Craft Beer™ Advent Calendars have been all the rage in recent years and I thought I’d jump on the old bandwagon. Only one minor issue, I have an aversion to having stuff curated for me, I much prefer to survey what’s available and make my own decisions, yes I can be something of a contrarian, I know. The plan as it currently stands is to buy 24 bottles of seasonal beers, drink one each day of Advent, and then write a blog post about it…

Wonderful. A blog plan. Nate has also offered us a route forward for his beer blogging for 2019 and beyond:

…I gave up on the Beats element about music years ago as I stopped listening to so much music, and frankly, my music reviews weren’t very good at all. So, I needed to replace Beats with something and given my love for professional wrestling, why not change it to Beatdowns and write about wrestling since I watch so much of it? So, from now on, this blog will be known as Booze, Beatdowns and Bites.

There was a university radio show near me that I liked a decade ago named something like “Hardcore Grooves and Wrestlin’ Moves” so this should work for me.

Here’s an interesting twist on the recreation of one historic brand of beer – the rights to brew Syracuse NY’s Congress beer were acquired by the local historical society!

In more real news, BarMas that objectified human point of fascination of mine – for his superhuman chore doing and vernacular booze production skills – has posted about his new orchard:

Originally, the ends of every row had cherry trees, which our current plot is missing, so we will gain, I think, 5 very large cherry trees. Inside the cherry trees, each row then had a few pear trees, and this is repeated a thee ends of the rows we are purchasing. Mostly they seem to be conference, mirroring the ends of the current rows, but there are a few other varieties, like Bürgermeisterbirne/Köstliche aus Charneux, and I hope some perry pear trees and more Williams Christ.

Wow.  Riddled. Jealousy.

The serious news in the business of beer as it affects Canada and beyond has been reported upon by my pal Josh Rubin in the Toronto Star:

DME, a P.E.I.-based equipment manufacturer with facilities in B.C. and South Carolina, was in receivership, with more than $18 million owed to RBC and an unspecified amount to other creditors, including the company’s own 250 employees. The company’s directors have all resigned, and a B.C.-based receiver has been appointed to explore either a liquidation or sale of the company, with offers due by Jan. 7.

Big news. And a bit strange news. First, though, gotta tell you. I know folk involved, the lawyer bringing the receivership and even the judge granting it,** and have no doubt as to the realities but the effect is going to be widespread. Josh*** got Jason Fisher**** on the record to explore what losing a $800,000 deposit means to him and his brewery. What gets me is that the required cash injection was allegedly only $5,000,000 which seems like a paltry sum in the face of 250 jobs – that’s just $20,000 a job  – and especially given the work they were getting including being a supplier to the new Guinness brewery in Baltimore. Where is the ACOA money? Where was Wade… who I also know… former law school prof. Also, before you buy brewing equipment, here is some reasonable advice on securing your deposit.

There. By next week will be another one gone and one closer to Yule. I am more of a Dec 15th to Jan 10th sorta holiday season person. Other versions exist. Many are US Thanksgiving to Dec 25th holiday-ers, immediately stripping the house of tree and tinsel thereafter and, presumably, getting a bit drunk on New Years Eve then staring out the window waiting for spring.  Not me. I want to realize that the sun has made at least three weeks worth of its way back to equinox before I come around to reality.  Then, I want be out in the winter woodland to hear the chickadees calling out for mates and, well, we all know about chickadees, right?

I am sure there still will be beer news throughout. Just like Boak and Bailey know and report out on each Saturday.  Feel nostalgic? Go check out some Xmas contest entries from Yuletides past. Link to the right…

No, not what caused this weird blurt… which looked like a 1.3 violation with perhaps a 1.2 twist.
** I practiced law in PEI from 1998 to 2003. Respectively (i) co-associate pal and (ii) respected partner of another firm and colleague of my counterpart respectively.
*** Who I know in the fellow beer writer sense.
*** Who I don’t know but think I had a brief flame war with once.

The Very Last Thursday Beer News For August 2018

So how did your summer go? Mine was fine, thanks, even if I did have to work a lot. Finally got a real week off and I have been lazing about. Might go our to a favorite posted late last week on Twitter, Jasper Johns, “Ale Cans,” 1964. I like it. I have been just sitting here looking at things I like between stretches of doing things I like. Which is pretty good for a holiday.

More beer health news. Nice to see that “minimal risk of harm” has replaced the silly J-Curve as a reasonably expression of the limited impact that moderate alcohol consumption has won out. Here is a good analysis of the study. The semi-paid semi-amateur trade spin doctors may still be out in force but the general rule is still minimal harm from minimal consumption… statistically. The always relevant question, as Jeff pointed out recently, is how minimal is your consumption… really.

I liked Andy’s tweet as it tied in with issues related to value and supply:

Going into a liquor store these days to buy beer is like stumbling into an episode of the Walking Dead. Zombie beer brands just sitting warm and dead on store shelves waiting to attack the unsuspecting consumer.

Layer on that the fun folk at The Sun had asking normal folk about some heavily priced UK craft brands:  (i) “I work in a bar and have tried a lot of beers – and this one, from Evil Twin Brewing, is awful. I wouldn’t even pay a pound for it, let alone 12. On the tin it says it tastes of honey but I think it tastes more like sewage“; yet (ii) “I like a dark beer and this is pretty good from Evil Twin Brewing. We drink a lot of dark beer where I come from. In the background you can taste a burnt biscuity, caramel flavour which is nice.” The semi-paid semi-amateur trade spin doctors were again out in force defending… something… but I thought they were reasonable “person on the street” comments.

Then – get this – comes the news… nay, admission that the main brewery participating in the Back to the Future style buck-a-beer government program is losing money on the process. The biggest retailers has already backed out after mere days according to BlogTO (via Crystal.) What I think Andy, The Sun and this article are all noting is how little understood the value of beer is. I might suggest that it is because there is alcohol in beer and its price serves the intended of the consumer in given contexts but that would be opinionated of me.

Speaking of opinion, Josh Noel in the Chicago Tribute explored how US craft is expressing its opinion(s) of the current US Federal government:

In the Trump era, more than a few Chicago bar and brewery owners have worn their left-leaning politics on their sleeves. With an openness unseen in most corners of the hospitality industry, bars and breweries have openly worked on behalf of immigrant rights, gay and lesbian equality, transgender rights and even that third rail of politics, abortion.

Nice to learn from a link in that article, too, that Jim Koch‘s support of the President led to a boycott in his appropriated state of choice:

“Marketers really haven’t had to deal with something like this for 50 years — since the Vietnam War,” said Robert Passikoff, president of the New York consulting firm Brand Keys. “There is no win on this thing. There’s only dealing with it,” he added. “Now, everything is political.” Koch and Boston Beer have faced a backlash on social media driven by figures such as Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone , who pledged in a Twitter post to “never drink Sam Adam’s beer again!” In the physical world, a Jamaica Plain teenager and his father hung a spray-painted sign within sight of the company’s Boston brewery reading, “SHAME! SAM ADAMS [heart] TRUMP SHAME!”

Now, no need to just do a Koch pile-on when we have BrewDog. I don’t need to actually link to their latest failed marketing strategy (which I have a certain familiarity with being myself an early marketing strategy) but I would like to link to Carla Jean who unpacked their sexist and racist junk.

And Stan‘s last weekly update contains an excellent extended extract on the means by which Henry King (who served as president of the United States Brewers Association from 1961 to 1983) made sure the industry as a whole did not take a wrong step in marketing or brewing – he acted in the best interests of the trade and consumers:

“We beat the federal government by seven weeks. We reported the cobalt problem, we were out of it and no longer had production seven weeks before the Food and Drug Administration even got their act together on it.” He acted decisively not just because it was good for the beer industry, but because it was right. When the nitrosamine proved to be a carcinogen in the 1970s, King again moved swiftly. 

Hero of beer!

There. Another week done, another month done and another summer almost done. Damn good thing I am immortal or I’d be getting all anxtity over this passing o’time stuff. B+B has more news on Saturday as always but I was going to also remind you that Stan will be back Monday… but he won’t!  I was thinking of moving this summary of the news back a day or two. I will see how that goes…

Your First Beery News Update For Spring 2018

It all got messy mid-week. It was looking dull and then a number of big things happened. More about those things later. The best thing, a littler thing, is not really one of note – it’s that Ron wrote a few travel posts as he wandered about England as a Goose Island consultant. Not that I mind his recipes and quotations from rulings of the magistrate’s court circa 1912 but his real gift is capturing the normal life of a guy and his problem with beer. Consider the gorgeous photo he attached to one post which I have pilfered and plunked right there. I have dubbed it “Ronnui“: lovely wood and glass inside with unloveliness outside and across the road. And a man considering the emptiness of it all. You sense that even the umbrella he brought won’t be enough. A fire extinguisher serves as a warning to you.  Not the sort of thing you’ll see in one of the new dipso guides to global vagrancy. Editors don’t like that sort of detail. No, this is honest stuff. Click on the image, look upon Ron’s work and despair.

US big picture: 4,900,000 fewer barrels of beer were made in 2017 compared to 2016.*  A retraction of a little more than 2.5% and twice the drop for 2015.  What you will hear about will include how 30,000** more barrels were consumed at brewery taprooms.   That represents 0.6% of the total loss of overall production. Pick your top trends accordingly.

More big brainy stuff. I found a 2008 MA thesis on beer and tourism in Yorkshire. I found it as part of finding out more about York Brewery (1996-present) whose necktie I just added to the old man office wear collection. So not really really big stuff – but it is a 62 inch tie so that is good.

Biggish? In just two weeks two glossy quarterly Ontario-centric beer mags have been announced. Overlapping writers. Won’t last. Can’t last. Who will blink? Or will they both starve the other enough that each folds?

Pretty big. Dave Bailey announced the closure of  hi brewery, the much-loved Hardknot (2006-1018). I was not shocked but certainly saddened. I was one of those who this time last year was muttering at a laptop screen saying “don’t!… DON’T sell your house to save your business!” even though I was rooting for him and his family. While others missed the point entirely, Mark Johnson gathers together a fabulous remembrance of when, among other things, Hardknot was as big as BrewDog when both were small. Big news that:

Of all the comrades that e’er I had
They’re sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I had
They’d wish me one more day to stay.
But since it fell unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all.

Then? Good to see he is already planning his next phase, Guerrilla Brewing.

Big but not big. One thought that the ascendancy of  “juicy” or “hazy” to the preference of “NEIPA” or, the most honest, “London murk” was as big a day as when almost everyone got to join the US small craft brewers. What next, adding makeup sparkles? As if that would happen!

Conversely, the best thing of the week is this 1975 news item on the making of Traquair Ale. Plainness and excellence.

And one last thing… hmm… how about this. Is this you?

Recovered beer snobs, also known as “geeks” or “nerds,” are generally Gen Xers who’ve spent years swirling and sniffing taster-sized samples, waiting in line for Heady Topper, and posting pictures of their beer hauls. They’ve gone through a lupulin threshold shift that carried them from IPAs to 100-IBU imperial IPAs, and then on to sours because their palates had basically grown numb to anything that didn’t blow it to pieces. But, as observers predicted, they eventually got tired. They overloaded. They grew up. And they stopped wanting to think so hard about beer.

They grew up“! Fabulous. And not without some basis. Lisa noted that we are on the top of the craft beer cycle wheel again. Andy is noting the return to lite. I get it. I am not much interested in anything too strong and certainly nothing too cloudy, fruited or hopped. Did I grow up? Did you? Did Lew? No, not you…Lew! We all know you didn’t. He’s in the story bearing witness: “glassware is such a first-world problem.” Boom.

*my typo as to date fixed.
**See snark in the comments. I added links to BA and TTB documents that explain. The 30,000 figure is actually for unsold beer consumed in the brewery – staff drinking, spillage and samples? The increase in taproom sales (for both craft and macro) is 385,000 barrels or so. Or 7.85% of the overall gross retraction. But they are two separate sorts of numbers. The larger one is a retraction, the other a shift in format. Context: gin and whisky are up.

The Olympics Of Thursday Beer World News

Every four years I wake up and think: “…oh, yeah – people luge…” I am not sure how much those of you out there in my international readership care about the winter Olympics but it is fairly big here in Canada. It’s always nice to learn about the new ways that Mr. Putin has devised to crush the dreams and steal those medals earned by strapping young folk from rural Manitoba. And unlike the recent Super Bowl victory, I don’t expect beer to end up featured in any public rioting. And we know how to maintain a reasonable distance between athletic excellence and beer. Sure we do. Yup.

Enough about sport. How about some art? To the right is an image posted by Martin Taylor on Twitter the other day. Seemingly a plain snapshot, it is one of the best compositions I have ever seen. And a character study. And a morality play. Not to mention the portrait in the portrait. For a still life, there is plenty of action going on. Lovely.

Ron’s wife Delores has made her position clear – Ron needs to make some real money from this whole beer writing lark.

Not beer: unexpected sexism.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Jordan has shown how one big brewery led bleat-fest on the government’s share of beer is fairly poorly founded. Rod Hill, professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick, has added one more factor to the discussion of the taxation of beer in Canada:

Adjusted for inflation, the tax on a 500 ml bottle was 19 cents in 1976, 18 cents in 1987, 19.5 cents in 1999. At just under 16 cents, it is the lowest it’s been in 40 years. Last year’s budget will keep it at that low level into the indefinite future.

Beer choir.

Lots of opinions in the UK about one craft brewer wanting to join the national executive of CAMRA, the fabulous consumer interest lobby group.  A fairly juvenile manifesto was posted, the sort of third-rate entitled stuff that we have to put up with time to time.  The Tand wrote this, weighing the pros and cons. At Lady Sinks The Booze, the analysis was a bit more direct and unimpressed. And BB2* raise two proper points:

Our gut feeling is that this feels like a PR move more than anything and we’re not sure brewers should be on the NE…

Oddly, the candidate’s manifesto is also somehow similar to the somewhat foggy revitalization statement that the Ontario Craft Brewers have published. Both in their own way miss the mark, shimmer with perhaps unspoken motive. Is the fundamental problem with such things that both the rebellious and counter-reformation forces churning around the brewing of good beer basically have little to say? Could it be that beer takes care of itself quite nicely?

By comparison, a very useful and succinct discussion of value and expense related to low strength beers broke out on Twitter amongst a couple of fine beer writers and a couple of small scale US brewers. Exactly as an open marketplace of ideas should work if folk have their brain bucket properly adjusted. There may be hope after all.

That’s enough for now. Sports are on. There’s quad mixed luge coming on the TV soon. And full contact curling after that.  This is great…

*pronounced as in the Dutch: bay-bay-tvay.

Gord Downie And Al Purdy’s poem “At The Quinte Hotel”

I love this poem so was delighted, on the day of his passing, to discover that our local lad Gord Downie had recorded his version of Al Purdy’s poem “At The Quinte Hotel” in 2011 or so. It is a great way to understand Ontario-ness. Once upon a time, I had the poem posted on the former version of the blog. But I was asked to remove it by Purdy’s publisher by way of one of the nicest cease and desist letters ever written. I also received an email over ten years ago from the late Roy Bonisteel, another famous Canadian, forwarded by a family member friend and colleague who wanted to clarify one point:

I like the beer blog….it’s very good. An interesting fact that a lot of people don’t know is that although Bellevillians are very proud of Al Purdy‘s poem about the Quinte Hotel…it is not the Belleville Quinte.  It is the Trenton Quinte…now called something else…where Purdy drank. At this same time I had a room at the Quinte when I was driving cab and working at the Courier. At that time we didn’t know each other…but year’s later over many a beer, talked about the fact that we had both been there at the same time. Tell your friend I’ll keep up with his blog.
Cheers,  Roy

One thing I love about that is that the bar is called a hotel in the title but a tavern in the text of the poem. I call any place a tavern or, better, a tav until I learn otherwise.

Session 127: Autumn’s Here, What To Drink?

Alistair has asked us to write about Oktoberfest beers for this edition of The Session but, like others, I like in a fairly sparsely serviced area. Boak and Bailey faced a similar problem and tried to see if there was a modern British equivalent. Sadly, they concluded not. But if we look back perhaps there was. This passage below is from a book titled Art and Nature at Home and Abroad From 1856:

September ale. Hmm. What was this stuff? The slaves to style will no doubt tell us that because it hasn’t been listed in the BJCP guide now it never really existed then. But as we have learned from archival brewings like Taunton ale, mid-1850s New York brewed IPA or cream beer we see again and again that the people of the past weren’t stupid and that sorts of beer labeled as this or that met the expectations of those drinking them.

The problem is not so much determining if it was as what it was. I have to admit a few things. I am writing this on an iPad mini and, while I co-wrote two books on it between laptop deaths, it is slow going. Plus I am in the middle of moving the kid into college. Perhaps another has already unpacked it. Dunno yet. So with the promise of a future exploration – let me suggest that what it tastes like, if the passage above is to be believed, is what Keats described in his poem. Autumn.

 

How To Deal With Folk Like Elynour Rummyng?

So said John Aubrey in his book Perambulation of Surrey written between 1673 and 1692. When I came across reference to the book I was hoping it was going to be an economic survey similar to The Natural History of Staffordshire from 1686 by Robert Plot. But instead it was more of a gazetteer, a recitation of things which can be found in the churches and hints as to where the bridges used to be. However, as one must, I ran a few beery words through it and the passage above sprang outThe town in question is named Letherhead alias Ledered alias Lederide by Aubrey. It is still there under the spelling Leatherhead.

And near Leatherhead lived Elenor Rumming who sold her good ale. According to Aubrey in the late 1600s. But in John Skelton’s poem, “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng which celebrates its 500th anniversary (very probably… well, maybe) this year its really not the goodness of the ale that is celebrated.

And this comely dame,
I vnderstande, her name
Is Elynour Rummynge,
At home in her wonnynge ;
And as men say
She dwelt in Sothray,
In a certayne stede
Bysyde Lederhede.
She is a tonnysh gyb ;
The deuyll and she be syb.

The devil and she be siblings. And fat – a tonnish gyb. Yet also a “comely gyll” or Jill… “this comely dame”… hmm. Armed with only my trusty half-an-honours BA in English Lit from over 30 years ago, I thought about this as many other had before me. The poem is beyond unflattering. It’s libelous. Unless, of course, it is true. But what is the truth five centuries later? How to deal with such a thing. How true is it? In The Pub in Literature: England’s Altered State by Steven Earnshaw published in 2000 he argues:

Whilst John Skelton’s “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rumming” draws on a traditional view of the alehouse as wholly disreputable, its twist on Landland’s* alehouse scene is that Elynour’s establishment is graced only by women. Even though her name has been traved to an actual Alianora Romyng who kept the Running Horse near Leatherhead in Surrey, it is highly unlikely that the all-female drinking den is taken from actuality. According to Peter Clark, women would probably have been customers on special festive occasions, but not at other times. The level of the ballad derives from a genre which present groups of women together as gossips, and the list of names Skelton uses for the drinkers is mostly taken from a fifteen-century carol, “The Gossips Meeting.”

Highly uncomfortable stuff in these times. As Judith M. Bennett discusses in her 1991 work Misogyny, Popular Culture, and Women’s Work:

Literary critics laud the descriptive power, wittiness, and irony of The Tunning of Elynour Rummyng, yet its misogyny is blatant, vicious, and terrifying. Satirically twisting the traditional literary commendation of a woman 170 History Workshop Journal through a detailed catalogue of her appealing features, Skelton describes Elynour Rummyng in careful detail as a grotesquely ugly woman. Beginning by telling us that she is ‘Droopy and drowsy/Scurvy and lousy’, Skelton then details her features: her face bristles with hair; her lips drool ‘like a ropy rain’; her crooked and hooked nose constantly drips; her skin is loose, her back bent, her eyes bleary, her hair grey, her joints swollen, her skin greasy. She is, of course, old and fat. She is also ridiculous, wearing elaborate and bright clothes on holy days and cavorting lasciviously with her husband like – as she proudly tells it in Skelton’s poem – ‘two pigs in a sty’…

In the 2008 text The Culture of Obesity in Early and Late Modernity: Body Image in Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, and Skelton by E. Levy-Navarro there is another somewhat related view in the chapter “Emergence of Fatness Defiant: Skelton at Court.” See, Skelton wasn’t just anyone. In the late 1400s, he was he was appointed tutor to Prince Henry, later King Henry VIII of England. Bennett states “Skelton’s social world was broad, running from the royal court and various noble households, through the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, to the lanes and fields of his parish at Diss, in Norfolk.” Levy-Navarro builds on the idea to take another view – that in the last decade or so of his life, Skelton was on the outs with court and in fact may have had a strong distaste for court:

Much scholarship has assumed that Skelton aligns himself with men in power. A long line of modern scholars makes this point when they assume that Skelton is a modern “man”… who aligns himself with the men of Henry’s court against the lowly women of the tavern world.

Levy-Navarro states that such readings ignore the discontent and defiance in Skelton’s work and, further, that “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng” is a defiant statement against the courtly styles and superficiality:

Skelton offers outrageous, bulging and revolting bodies of the tavern women. These bodies may not yet be “fat” per se, but they are protofat to the extent to which they are seen as revolting against a civilized ethic.

As such, Skelton is observing a the point of the English Renaissance at which manners come into being in a sense that we can recognize as early modern, materialistic self-made people showing wealth and power through a display of expensive and even architectural clothing as well as through the dismissal of intellectual and priestly men like Skelton. In this way of reading the poem, Skelton may not admire or completely side with Elynour Rummyng but he expresses something admirable about her liberty and perhaps is noting the impending passing of that sort – as well as his own sort – of life.

Taking all that in hand, the poem is no longer just a now grotesque, obviously misogynistic romp through the low life of those found in her tavern but also a larger social commentary. It might well be, yes, making fun of the horrors found there but also lamenting a day when such a free and lewd life could no longer possible given the plans for society being made by the newly formed betters to be found in court.

If that is the case, as with science-fiction today, the structure of the alternate reality needs firm grounding in truth as it was understood by the audience. Farce and fantasy do not mix well. There needs to be substance that is credible for the commentary to be acceptable to its contemporary audience. Let’s have a look from, for ease, a modern reading of part of the text which can be found here. Notice first that the tavern sits on a hill, near a road and is readily accessible:

Now in cometh another rabble:
And there began a fabble,
A clattering and babble
They hold the highway,
They care not what men say,
Some, loth to be espied,
Start in at the back-side
Over the hedge and pale,
And all for the good ale.
(With Hey! and with Ho!
Sit we down a-row,
And drink till we blow.)

Sounds like good fun for these ale-slugging women patrons. Note also that the ale is made in the tavern.. the ale house – with a bit of a special twist as this section in the original indicates:

But let vs turne playne,
There we lefte agayne.
For, as yll a patch as that,
The hennes ron in the mashfat ;
For they go to roust
Streyght ouer the ale ioust,
And donge, whan it commes,
In the ale tunnes.
Than Elynour taketh
The mashe bolle, and shaketh
The hennes donge away,
And skommeth it into a tray
Whereas the yeest is,
With her maungy fystis :
And somtyme she blennes
The donge of her hennes
And the ale together ;
And sayeth, Gossyp, come hyther,
This ale shal be thycker,
And flowre the more quicker ;
For I may tell you,
I lerned it of a Jewe,
Whan I began to brewe,
And I haue founde it trew ;
Drinke now whyle it is new ;

So chickens run around the tavern and even into the mash vat, leaving their droppings of dung on the fermenting ale. As learned from a Jewish brewer when she was young, the hen-dung is skimmed but sometimes some is left in the yeast tray so that the ale might be thicker and the yeast “flower” quicker. And it is not just chickens. She has to “stryke the hogges with a clubbe” because they have drunk up her “swyllynge tubbe”! Note how many of the elements of her brewery operations are described.

Look a bit more at more of the language about the ale. It is offered both new and stale. It is nappy and noppy. It is stated to be “good” twice. It is also worthy of a lot in payment or barter so some pledge their hatchet and their wedge, some their “rybskyn and spyndell”, even their “nedell and thymbell” because it is that good:

Some haue no mony
That thyder commy,
For theyr ale to pay,
That is a shreud aray ;
Elynour swered, Nay,
Ye shall not beare away
My ale for nought,
By hym that me bought…

By him that me bought. Christ. It is all so excellent even if, effectively, otherworldly. You may read it many ways but what you are reading is a window not only to a now uncomfortable commentary on early modern life but life within a tavern. Even if a ribald farce, it’s still a tavern as they would have known it. Lovely.

Beer and Art: The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

Nosing around the Met‘s digitized collection a bit more, I came across “The Harvesters” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder from 1565. Not hard as it was on the front page. I have posted a few times about paintings by his son, the imaginatively named Pieter Bruegel the Younger, over the years but this one struck me as perhaps illustrating a few things worth thinking about.

Look at the scale of the people compared to the height of the grain. One of the characteristics of Battledore barley two hundred years later in Britain was that it had a short stalk. It could survive hail or wind better than other varieties but didn’t provide all that useful straw that we learned about in relation to beer in New York before the switch to barley from wheat. The stalk was in itself important to the community as a multi-purpose material for mattress stuffing to looser wheat mash spargings. In “The Harvesters” the stalks are tall and entire stooks* are taken from the field with care. The stooks are strong enough to serve as a bench for the workers having their meal.

Harvest time is big stuff. The image is a narrative of agricultural economy in the Renaissance. If you click on the image at the met site, you can zoom in quite closely. Look at how the topography is used to illustrate the economic activity. The field being harvested is on the top of a hill. Scythed and stooked, it is carried one by one to the bottom of the hill where it is loaded on a cart and carried away. There are three communities in the painting. The hilltop has a church to the upper left seen through the trees. Down below there is a manor of some sort where some are swimming while others are killing a tied up goose as a blood sport. In the far distance, there is a coastal town with ships in the harbour. Is one point of the painting’s structure that the grain gets exported?  Or is beer made from the grain getting shipped out?  I should cross reference the painting with Unger.

Where is this place? The blurb attached to the image by the Met says:

Bruegel’s series is a watershed in the history of western art. The religious pretext for landscape painting has been suppressed in favor of a new humanism, and the unidealized description of the local scene is based on natural observations.

But is this really a local scene or an imaginary one? Where is it? Bruegel lived in coastal Antwerp, Belgium a city of about 100,000 at the time and the richest in Europe. He was born in the river town of Breda, another community now in the Netherlands but then also in the Duchy of Brabant. Perhaps one of those two centres is in the background.  Could you find the field and stand where the artist stood?

But what about the beer? As one commentator notes, the scene is about producing and consuming. Or – if you are the goose – producing, torturing then consuming. The workers are eating bread and cheese as well as pears that one guy is shaking from the tree to the upper right. And they are drinking. A central character is a man carrying two large jugs up the path. Another man in the circle having a meal drinks directly from a jug. A fourth jug with what looks like a loaf of bread on top sits in the uncut wheat to the lower left.

We are told by Markowski that saison and biere de garde were brewed for centuries in the Low Countries and northern France to attract and retain workers. Farmhouse beers. The scene in “The Harvesters” is smack-dab in the middle of that culture, in the saison zone that included Brabant. Unger explains that particularly in the sixteenth century, tax records indicate a wide number of names for various grades of beer: “… dun and scheynbier and volksbier and scharbier and scherbier all turn up. No matter the name, it was always cheap.”** Was that what was in the jugs? We can’t reach back to ask those in the picture what they called their drink or even if it was in fact beer. But it could be and, frankly, likely was so… it is what it was. Day drinking 1565.

*I use the SW Ontario usage, spelling and pronunciation of the in-laws.
**at page 129.

Ben Jonson And The Devil Tavern Rules, 1624

In 1939, Percy Simpson published his article “Ben Jonson and the Devil Tavern” in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 34, No. 3. Jonson lived from 1572 to 1637, a poet and playwright whose early career overlapped with Shakespeare. The Apollo was the room at the Devil and Saint Dunstan tavern near the north end of Middle Temple Lane in London, on Fleet Street near Temple Bar – the City gate of the Knights Templar. You can see the location on this map from Jonson’s time.

The Devil was where Jonson and his literary contemporaries Herrick, Carew and others met, subject to this code that Jonson wrote. They are described as Leges Convivales by Simpson – the laws of conviviality.The name of the room itself is an allusion from Plutarch, a reference to an excellent room of hospitality. Excellent. The more saintly congregation of St. Dunstans still gather, though a bit back from the road since the 1830s.

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Beer And Art: Bruegel’s “Return From The Inn”

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A couple nights in Montreal leads to a lot of good things. A number of forced marches for the family through an alarmingly frigid city to this meal or that shop. Buying beer in a grocery store. Five new pairs of Converse sneakers for distribution across the clan. And a stop at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where I saw this, “Return from the Inn” by Pieter Bruegel the Younger (again with the PBtY) … or is it Return from the Inn? Such things elude me. It’s not the greatest image in terms of sharpness but a larger scale image is clickably before you if you want a closer look.

Aside from all the allegorical stuff, I noticed the two items related to brewing right away: the massive sacks of grain on the untended cart as well as the sign of the wreath indicating, I understand, that strong drink is on offer within. I would expect the birds pecking away at the spilled grain which has fallen to the ground would be a sign of decadent waste to someone 400 years ago. Not sure if the load has been left by carters now inside filling their bellies with ale or whethers it’s the inn’s own supply. Lot of snow on those wheel spokes.

I suggest you ignore all the brawling gifts swinging agricultural tools and the steamy suggestions of sexual faithless. Reminds me too much of the final half hour of a craft beer fest. A rather snazzy explanation of the whole thing can be found here. The image is from around 1620 or just when various European nations are setting up colonies in what are now Quebec, New York, Delaware and Boston. This would be what normal would look like to those earliest colonists, the way they would have approached – or avoided – this sort of inn if out looking for a beer of an afternoon.