All The Good News Beer News For 03Q218

What day is it? The meds are making for a blur. Without getting overly graphic, the other day there were four hands within inches of my nose and two of them were working a thread and needle. Gums were tightened. Rearranged. Anyway, it’s not been a time for gulping buckets of ales and lagers but it has been a great time to wallow in both mild misery and brewing related social media with a slight sense that things are either not right or, you know, the meds… so…

First off, given Vlad’s news in the lead up to the Russian performance art event mimicking an election that he now controls a nuclear powered cruise missile as well as a submarine bomb that now hover and skulk amongst us all ready to strike if we… what… say bad things about him… well, in light of that the news about Russian barley seems a little less important. But, it is interesting to read how Russia has become a key bulk exporter of our favorite grain. I don’t expect this to directly change much – but indirectly, the overall market might get shifted in a way that benefits the Western beer buying public due to new malt quality barley flooding the market.

While we Canadians are (i) subject to the Crown-in-Canada and (ii) members of the Commonwealth, I can’t imagine setting the opening hours according to somebody’s wedding. Do my UK readers care?

Lew blogged.

Next, if you click on the thumbnail to the right, you will see a promotional photo for BrewDog* from, I am told via Stringers on Twitter, the year 2014. Yet neither of the Google Image searches for “BrewDog sexism” and “BrewDog feminism” are otherwise particularly productive. So… keep all that in mind as you read on about their great new PunkNotWorthy class PR stunt (coming just days on the heels of their million beer giveaway PR stunt) and then their still a teensie-weensie bit odd apologetic confessional. Why mention the “talented team of women at BrewDog” as you ask to be excused for an admittedly botched stunt? Being newbies to taking an actual stance on an actual thing exterior to their imperial corporate existence, it seems they also borrowed this from (or at least failed to heed the failings of) the sexist / not sexist stratagem behind last week’s gaff by Stone. The best that can be said now might be that it is bad if superficial marketeering. The best we can hope upon reflection is that it was an entirely miscalculated act of sincerity by a corporation that is fairly immune to simple sincerity. Further comment: Mhairi McFarlane, Craft Queer, and many more. And M. Noix Aux Bières made an interesting observation:

There’s something badly wrong with the beer media when a company messing up its marketing gets more coverage than their announcement, in the same week, that they messed up one of their recipes.

Is that all there is? Big bulk craft. Getting it fairly wrong. Again? Leaning on the PR. Again. Because that’s what big bulk craft does. Does anyone care about these globalists anymore? It’s great route to medium term millions but the long term often see weirdnesses arise. The yeasty yogurt non-movement of 2016, for example. If you need any further proof of that reality, look at the news released on Tuesday that Sierra Nevada is changing direction, dropping innovation, getting back to lean on its flagship SNPA and hiring a PR firm to flog it.  Subtext: branch plant expansion hasn’t panned out, sales have dropped, panic setting in, “let’s not let SNPA turn out like Sam Adams” muttered around the executive committee room during breaks even as they set out on that same path.

There is another way. A more thoughtful path. This interview of Francis Lam, host of NPR’s The Splendid Table contained this interesting tidbit about the relationship between good drink and food:

There are people who have a beautiful wine with every meal, but for a lot of people that act signifies something special. You have to eat, but you don’t have to drink, so the idea of having something at the table that is there, almost purely for pleasure, is meaningful. I think for a lot of people that signifies that we’re here to actually enjoy, rather than just feed.

This is an aspect of the beer and food pairing discussion does not focus on, giving all the attention as it does to restaurant settings. Simply gathering and enjoying. How rad. It is even more interesting when considered along with this column from the ever excellent Eric Asimov of The New York Times in which he discusses how austere herbal old school value Bordeaux go so well with food even if not separate sipping. It would be interesting to see unloved or less understood beers highlighted alongside foods served at home that bring out their better natures… but that would require craft beer and pop beer writers to admit (i) value matters and (ii) some prominent beers are, you know, sorta duds.  But you are not a slave to either trade associations or the other voices who would control you, are you. Have some pals over, treat them swell and see what works over dinner. After all, this is only beer we are talking about.

Infogramtastic news! This important NEIPA tasting graphic passed by my eye this week. Click for a larger size for the full details. This decade’s wide leg jeans.

Celebrity newbie brewer or local newbie brewer?

And finally, Pete added a strong contribution to the discussion about pay-to-play in beer writing** as sort of a wrapper around a disclosure statement about a drinky junket to Catalonia:

I’m going because I’ve been keen to check out the explosion in Spanish craft beer for several years now and think there will be some genuinely interesting stories, but haven’t been able to afford to do it under my own steam. Will my reporting of the trip be influenced by the fact that I’m being given hospitality? I don’t believe so (beyond the fact that I’m actually there, of course.) But any story I write about it will carry a disclaimer explaining that it’s been paid for by someone else, so the reader can make up their own mind.

While we have never met,*** Pete and I have gotten along as web-pals for well over a decade but don’t really see eye to eye on this in each instance… but we see the same questions the situation raises so it was good to read his commentI was wondering what your reaction would be!” For me there are two things: self-certification and subject matter control.

As I have said before, it is not up to the writer to suggest that they are the self-certifying measure of any reliability. Only the reader can judge the result. But as long as there is disclosing, the judgement is informed. When I hear of folk presenting as beer experts or, worse, journalists quietly running review-for-pay schemes or side-gigs as law firm holiday tap takeover party as partnering hosts but not openly disclosing, I tend to place their other work in, umm, context. I am entirely sympathetic to the need to make money in a minor niche like good beer but one person simply can’t be all things. Promote and influence or research and write. The key word being “or” of course.

The bigger problem is one Pete might be implying in passing: “…beyond the fact that I’m actually there, of course…” It’s not, in fact, that he is there. It’s that he is not somewhere else. Where no one else is. Where no trade or tourist association pays the bills for travel and hotel. Where the beer isn’t free. I put it this way:

I need to better unpack your thoughts. You sit near a line. Main general quib? Lost stories of the unjunketed topics. Explorations. The work of @larsga is best example. Deep down, though, perhaps I never admired you more than when you were mid-Atlantic alone on a container ship!

Lars Marius Garshol, without a doubt, has done more to exemplify what researching in the service of understanding beer and brewing should be than anyone else in this decade. He has spent what seems to be every spare moment and every dime on seeking out the rural, secret brewing patterns lurking in the countryside of the northern third of Europe from Norway to Russia. These sorts of creative efforts and the resulting independent focus is what leads to innovative, interesting and reliable writing.  He sets a very high standard for not only me, the playboy amateur armchair historian, but even places more driven and diligent traveling researchers like Robin and JordanBoak and Bailey, Ron and (yes, of course) Pete**** in rich context. But it is a shared context. Pete makes that very clear, sets out the whole picture and places himself in that picture at his own angle of repose. We all do that. It’s just that some do it better and more openly than others while a few don’t at all. It shows.

There. Another week in the books. Please also check out Saturday’s take on the news from BB2 as well as Monday’s musings from Stan. I look forward to their corrections and dismissals and outright rejections of some or all of what sits above. It’s no doubt what’s needed.

*Disclaimer: I got boxes of BrewDog samples a decade ago. And I think I may have bought one small can of their beer coming up on five years ago on this trip.
**Disclaimer: I got boxes of BrewDog samples a decade ago. And I think I may have bought one small can of their beer coming up on five years ago on this trip.
***Because I hardly ever go anywhere…
****In fact, if I had the money, I would fund them all to chase after narrow and likely hopeless projects knowing they would come up with some of the best finding and writings as a result.

Newsy Beery News For The Thursday That Starts February

Tra-la! It’s February. Said no one ever. Now is the season of our discontent. And it affects the beer writing world. People are unhappy about this and that and writing posts mainly about “hey – it’s beer so just get through all the greater social issues and go back to where we were in 2012!!” I am not sure I am inspired. The blinkers sit tight on most beer writing. For years I have seen folk belittled not only for their gender but their state of mental health, their independent view, their stand on ethics, their hardscrabble decisions… I am inclined not to link to any of this for two reasons. First, it doesn’t seem very inspiring in that there is an underlying theme that somehow “craft” as a prime directive needs to be insulated from investigation or treated with kid gloves. Second, I keep coming back to the common thread in all the dysfunction is alcohol. Beer seems to have its fair share of bigotry and thoughtlessness but does that extra kick fuel the fire that bit brighter? Some of the comments at Ron’s alone makes it hard to debunk the addled nature of the discussion.

I did get some faith back from this post by Melissa Cole. She often swings widely but, in addition to a welcome and generous use of “we” as poised to “they” in this piece, in this particular paragraph she neatly makes a point well worth remembering:

There needs to be a clear acknowledgement that the male voice is still all-powerful in nearly every aspect of society. So perhaps it’s a good idea to think about using yours at a softer volume. Or to use it merely to amplify the vital messages women are sending about how we are frequently pushed aside or patronized or harassed in beer festivals, brewery taprooms, and bars—even if you think people really don’t want to hear it.

For additional points and a very informed approach to considering sexism in beer, the ever excellent braciatrix has provided a start for your library.

Not beer: Santos-Dumont.

The funniest reaction I have seen to this article on the looming hops glut was the one Stan mentioned from the BA econo-PR committee basically saying don’t worry be happy. I await Stan’s further thoughts.

The saddest truest footnote ever.

If anyone ever again says that Twitter is a poor medium for explaining anything, point them to this thread from Mr. B where he makes a clear argument in favour of a dowdy beer that has been reimagined. Speaking of Mr. B, he was a panelist on a TVO (Ontario’s public broadcaster) public affairs show, the Agenda, on the role of alcohol in society. While it was fair and represented a wide range of views, it was an example of how the concerns inside the good beer bubble are fairly irrelevant in the greater discussion – particularly in light of the partner interview broadcast on the same night. He did well but we need to stop mentioning the debunked J-Curve stuff. Folk don’t drink because they are sick. Not the other way around.

Finally and as proof we can all have a big hug Tinky-Winky moment, Mr. Protz has the news about the introduction of Chevallier barley malt into British brewing. Martyn has more on the background in this post from 2013. I have challenged the folks involved to get me some Battledore porter.

That’s it. A bit late today. But hey – tra’ la! It’s February!!!

The Tale Of Two Harvest Ales

You will recall my slight obsession with MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co., located a mere 20 km to my west in the Loyalist town of Bath, Ontario. Attentive readers will recall that brewmaster bro* Dan joined me to represent Canada at the 1780 Challenge organized by Craig three years ago, back in the spring of 2015 in central NY, where two brewers used cut straw stalks as part of the wheat beer mash just as we discovered they did back then. A fun day. In fact below, in the leftmost thumbnail, you will in fact see Dan MacKinnon mock inviserating Craig Gravina in one of the greatest “brewer gets back at blogger” moments in recorded history. I’m getting verklempt.

Well, this week I got an email and then a box at the door both from Laura Voskamp, the rapidly expanding brewery’s media contact. The box came two half growlers labeled “Batch #1” and “Batch #2”, two bags of malt labeled “2016” and “2017” along with a note. The image above and to the right is the note. Below in the middle thumbnail are the bags of malt in the cool clinical laundry room light. I did my part to share the news of their first 2016 release of the Harvest Ale which was generally received as one of the best beers to come out of Ontario. Jordan and Robin dubbed it “estate beer” which works for me. So, very much looking forward to this bit of a beery performance art piece in a box.

 

 

 

 

Ivan MacKinnon** added a bit more information by email. Both malt sample were  Munich malt made from the Metcalfe barley strain malted at Barn Owl. The 2017 is darker, quite clearly stained.   In both cases, the quality is excellent but their differences reflect the growing season, mainly. Rain and insects hammered the 2017 crop while the 2016 basked under the sunny sun.  Out of the situation, as stated above to the right, MacKinnon made two batches of Harvest Ale out of their 2017 barley. The first, straight up bug and rain reality and the second a blend of four-firth 2016 malt cut by one-fifth of the 2017. Batch #2, the blend of 2016 and 2017 is lovely. When I wrote my notes on Friday night, I waxed poetical:

Light copper coloured ale. Approaching the colour of that good French cookware. Taste: Brewery characteristic apple richness while still a level of dry attenuation. Mid- mouth prominent note of smoke wells up but more like unsliced rye than just sootiness. Hefty note yet woodsy. If this is harvest, it’s late in the season. A sensation leaf pile. October not late August. Even a fattiness that remind me of my favourite Polish Krakowska sausage. White pepper.  Leek and wild mushroom sauce on venison. And a jug of this. Then it fades – a diminishment of the rustic. In the finish as apples and nut flair up to stand with it. Malt smoke russet apple in quick succession. With, then, light toffee plus a hint of  an unfiltered McDonald Export A green label tobacco as a last lingering hello. Your uncles coat including the hard candy he’d slip to you if you were a particularly clever pest to your parents. Earthy sweetness. Their Crosscut making the big leagues? Lovely.

Hmm. I suspect the sample may have contained alcohol. The pure laine uncut Batch #1 from 2017 is not as lovely. While the brewery describes it as phenolic off-flavours, I would say celery and cumin. Which is not what many are looking for in a beer and to be honest, on a Sunday morning doing laundry while skipping church, it’s a very spicy dry experience. But the underlying malt sweetness is there and this clearly has the brewery’s house style. So, it’s an educational moment rather than one poetical.

Still, it has its use. Not a drain pour. I am having a bit with Brie on a bun as T-Rex plays on the turntable while the clothes get done.*** And it is being bashed into the crock pot of baked beans I have gurgling away in the oven, dry beans I grew myself out in the garden. Batch #1 is perfectly geared to sit along with the mustards, molasses, ancho pepper, ginger root, Seed to Sausage saucisson sec from just north of here and all the good other things I threw in there. Local barley. Local malting. Local sausage. Very local beans. Local terroir aplenty.

*An actual bro, by the way.
**Also an actual bro.
***Turntable dust matching dryer lint. One side of the LP matching the wash cycle almost exactly. No doubt this lifestyle is exactly what Bolan meant when he said “born to boogie.”

Another Year, Another Bunch Of Beer News For Thursday

OK, I still seem to be doing this. I did regular weekly news blog post years ago but never thought I’d find myself coming back to it. It’s like 2011 again. Is it because beer news is less boring? Not really. Is it because I am a slacker? Likely. Let’s see what the lazy man sees this week.

Very oddly, a Super Bowl beer and cheap snack crap pairing article a published a full month too early. It’s such a useless thing it’s rather sweet: “Barbecue chips give you the sauce without the meat“? Wow!

Story of 2018? More breweries are failing as more come into being. I am quite content to understand that we have moved from an era of growth to one of stasis and churn. The story of closure linked above does give concern whether we have given false hope through funding flawed dreams from the public coffers. Could it be that we, the people will be holding the bag as more come and go? Good chance that’s the case.

Two years ago.

Looking less further back, Pete gave us the best farewell to 2017 by cutting and pasting stuff accumulated through the year. Good to see that he has to note in passing the question of junkets and, let’s be honest, not all that convincingly.*  A gaffaw at an annual shareholders’ meeting. It remains a question needing questioning even if, in a pleasure trade like beer, no one really loses an eye. Sure sure. Is it that junkets don’t matter because good beer ultimately is not that important? Could well be. Why not? And it that is the case, can we really care if the ownership of a pub chain expresses a political point of view? Who cares?

Speaking of “no one cares” news: Hanson.

Two excellent observations on beer history writing from merryn: (i) errors – I presume we are burdened by errors because, in case you didn’t notice, we are writing about alcohol; (ii) The history of civilization? Because maybe we needed to gather and gorge and not kill each other.

“No more highly viscous wort” news.

Bryan Roth has written the piece of the week, exposing in some detail the intense culture of the shit-wallowing pigs inflicting itself upon a corner of craft beer and… apparently a shadow social media world of mock piggery. Hmm. [Ed.: The Beer Nut has actually captured an image of events in progress.] Though I still am a bit unclear on the slight hesitancy to draw obvious final conclusion – I would not have written “building friendships through participation in memes and challenges for fun” so unadorned – Roth’s take is at least brave if messy and frenetic especially in the tight world of US craft Caucasoid maleness. The pressure to stroke the buffer of phony “community“, to toe the line imposed on self-evident observation is often sad if impressive. Backlash. For a view from another, read this: “That was a nice chat, honey. Now send Tom over. I want to actually order a beer.” Now, that was pretty clear.

Best non-beer thing? The Telharmonium.

There you are. Good things and bad things. A normal week. Adjust your perspectives accordingly.

I had also meant to praise Pete in equal measure his identification that there is no such thing as a beer expert, something I raised three years ago. Stan caught it in his blog post today. Which makes me wonder if Stan is now moving in on Thursdays. (By the way, I just realized I have the power to update Thursday bullet point news all the way though each Thursday. So good to self-publish.)

Your Thursday Bullet Points For A Beery Yule

Are we in Yule yet? I think we are. The old town is at least looking wintery as you can see above. Our warm spell has flipped to cold snap so fast that the last of our garden tomatoes ripening on the window sill looked out at -17C this morning. But enough about comfort and joy. This blog is about beer, not… not beer.

First up in the news is all this  fuss about the shadowy Portman Group telling a brewery with childish colours and cartooning in their branding that childish colours and cartooning might be attractive to children. Infantilization indeed. I am pleased that the response of the UK brewery in question is so sensible and support the take by  in large part. BUT… a bit shocked was I by the (i) weepy hand wringing over the decision, (ii) weepy hand wringing over the process, and (iii) the collective amnesia about the Portman Group rulings on 2008. So much #poohwiddowcwaft! Now, I realize that the demise of most actual beer blogging has left an imprint on the minds of some that beer blogging was never all that good but it is rewarding to reach back in the archives to find sensible discussion about those events in a way that neither social media or trade-based beer journalism can apparently cope with these days.

Speaking of sensible application of the law, good to see that Beyoncé got here reputation unshackled from those freelancers who would attach their profit making to her hard earned fame.  It is quite stunning how we see this appropriation by craft brewers of the intellectual property of others. I still haven’t heard who drew and, so, owned or owns the copyright as opposed to the trademark as it relates to that White Stag. Yes, yes… it’s all a bit of fun. But that’s what the sexists and racists say, too, right?

Gerald Comeau, hero.

Robin and Jordan got a generous amount of coverage by TVO, Ontario’s public TV and interwebs broadcaster this week. My only sadness is the entire misrepresentation of the sixty years from 1927 to 1987 and the glory that was E.P. Taylor’s contribution to the world of brewing with his war on waste under the banner of lightness and modest price. The point, however, on “local” is especially well made and avoids our muddiness about all of Ontario being “local” to the entire 13,000,000 persons province.

Finally, interesting news about the jump in Canadian malting barley sales to China including this tidbit:

Canadian malting barley commands a higher price, especially for China’s premium beer market, because of its dark color and higher protein, which allows for better foaming, Watts said.

Because its all about the foaming. Good to see us kicking some Argie-Aussie-Euro butt for one in something other than curling.

I am off. Not like Stan is off. I should be back sooner than he is. I am going to think about Thursdays. Gonna think some more.

Struggling Again With 1600s Derbyshire Strong Ale (Part 2… the Son of…)

Building on part one of this struggle, let’s consider the passage above again for a minute. It is from volume 7 of The Reliquary, by John Russell Smith, 1867. It looks a lot like the passage by Mott from 1965 that I quoted (poaching as I noted from the Martyn of 2009) in my previous part of this consideration of 1600s Derby ale. If we unpack it we see a number of things at the outset: small scale decentralize industry, great fame… and two products. Both ale and malt. But what made Derby ale… Derby ale? Let’s start from the last bit.

i. Two Commodities

Both ale and malt. It’s a common theme. In Magna Britannia: Volume 5, Derbyshire by Cadell and Davies published in 1817 we find another similar statement like the one made by J.R. Smith above:

The chief trade of Derby, about a century ago, consisted in malting and brewing ale, which was in great request, and sent in considerable quantities to London; in corn dealing also, and baking of bread for the supply of the northern parts of the county

And again, in The History of the County of Derby by Glover from 1829 is is stated:

About two centuries ago, according to Camden, the chief trade consisted in malting and brewing ale; which he spake of as being in great request, and much celebrated in London, to which city large quantities were sent.

Camden is William Camden who, conveniently for our purposes, dies in 1623 after writing a survey of Britain but well before coke. In his chapter of “Darbyshire”* in the late 1500s Camden wrote:

…all the name and credit that it hath ariseth of the Assises there kept for the whole shire, and by the best nappie ale that is brewed there, a drink so called of the Danish word “oela” somewhat wrested, and not of alica, as Ruellius deriveth it. The Britans termed it by an old word “kwrw” , in steede whereof curmi is read amisse in Dioscorides, where hee saith that the Hiberi (perchance he would have said Hiberni , that is, The Irishmen ) in lieu of wine use curmi , a kind of drinke made of Barly. For this is that Barly-wine of ours which Julian the Emperor, that Apostata , calleth merrily in an Epigramme πυρογενῆ μᾶλλον καὶ βρόμον, οὐ Βρόμιον. This is the ancient and peculiar drinke of the Englishmen and Britans, yea and the same very wholsome, howsoever Henrie of Aurenches the Norman, Arch-poet to King Henrie Third, did in his pleasant wit merrily jest upon it in these verses:

Of this strange drinke, so like to Stygian Lake
(Most tearme it Ale), I wote not what to make.
Folke drinke it thicke, and pisse it passing thin:
Much dregges therefore must needs remain within.

The next paragraph is even more interesting:

Howbeit, Turnebus that most learned Frenchman maketh no doubt but that men using to drinke heereof, if they could avoid surfetting, would live longer than those that drinke wine, and that from hence it is that many of us drinking Ale live an hundred yeeres. And yet Asclepiades in Plutarch ascribeth this long life to the coldnesse of the aire, which keepeth in and preserveth the naturall heat of bodies, when he made report that the Britans lived untill they were an hundred and twenty yeeres old. But the wealth of this towne consisteth much of buying of corne and selling it againe to the mountaines, for all the inhabitants be as it were a kind of hucksters or badgers [salesmen].

Dealers. In grain. Fabulous. Brewers of beer and dealers in grain. Look at that passage from Mott (quoted in part one) again:

Much malt was carried to the ferry on the river Trent, five miles away, whence it could go by water to London; 300 pack-horse loads (each of 6 bushels which each contained 40lb) or 32 tons were taken weekly into Lancashire and Cheshire.”

The trade in malt is not the trade in ale and it’s not the trade in barley. We see the malt from Derbyshire referenced as late as in the mid-1700s. Pamela Sambrook in her 1996 book Country House Brewing in England, 1500-1900 wrote:

Particularly prized among midland brews houses in the early eighteenth century was ‘Darby’ malt. It is mentioned repeatedly by William Anson in his notebooks as the basis of the best-quality strong brews at Shugborough. Derby malt was also used by the Jervis household near Stone and the Farington household of Worden in Lancashire in the 1740s.

The export of Derby malt also pre-dated the generally accepted 1640s application of invention of coke to the malting process. And it was worth taking a risk over. Dorothy Bentley Smith in Past Times of Macclesfield, Volume 3 describes the laying of malt related charges:

On December 1629, James Pickford (former Mayor of Macclesfield 1626/27) a tanner by trade of Pickford Hall on Parsonage (Park) Green together with tow accomplices, George Johnson and Roger Toft, appeared in Court in Chester. Their crime: They had erected a handmill or quern in Wildboarclouggh to the detriment of the three Macclesfield mills. Pickford had family connections in Derby and admitted supplying the inhabitants of Macclesfield with Derby malt “as others had done” Malting was the principle trade in Derby, from here supplies were sent to the greater part of Cheshire, Straffordshire and Lancashire, with a considerable portion taken to London by which many good estates have been raised” (a comment written by a historian, Mr Woolley, in 1712).

So, it’s pretty clear that well before coke, Derby malt was a thing and a desired thing. Moved by massive pack horse trains, by water as discussed in the first post or by subterfuge as the Pickfords of Macclesfield illustrate. Folks wanted their hands on it.

ii. Top quality selected barley

What made Derby malt so popular? Was there a singular characteristic like the particularly sulfurous waters in Staffordshire where in the 1680s a satantic ale was brewed at the Brimstone Alehouse that later may well have been tamed to become the hallmark of Burton ale a quarter century later?

Just as the function of pre-coke straw kilning played a role as discussed in the previous episode of this head scratching tale, so too was the sort of barley being malted important. Houghton in his book on husbandry recites a reference from one of his earlier writing’s from 1682, as you can see above. Note that states that it is made of “sprat or battledore” barley. Careful readers will recall that Battledore was one of the identified varieties of barley in the 1700s.** It was also known as Spratt or Sprat and as such was a parent to that darling of English brewing before mid-1900s Maris Otter, Spratt-Archer.  And it was in a way, selected and treated as an improved variety well before Chevalier was introduced in 1823. Consider this passage from The Modern Husbandman, Vol II at page 9 and 10 written by William Ellis from 1750 where Battledore is described by another of its common names – Fulham barley:

…the Hertfordshire Farmers, several several of them, send for Fulham Barley-seed above thirty Miles an End, and all by Land carriage. Now, though we have sandy, chalky, and gravelly Lands just by Home, yet, we at Little-Gaddesden chuse to be at the extraordinary Charge of sending for this Fulham Barley-seed, though we live Thirty-four Miles from it, and find our Account in so doing for as we sow it in our stiff Loams, from off a fandy short Loam, it returns us a very early Crop, with a Kernel much bigger than that we sowed, and is so natural for making true Malt, that it is commonly sold for two Shillings a Quarter more than our common Barley…

Ellis goes on to list other reasons for “Fulham Barley seed before all others.” You can grow a turnip crop  or rape-seed or wheat in a cycle with it. it is so early, it gets a good air drying. It has a shorter season making it useful in northern plantings. It is also available as seed grain by water transportation. Plus we know it made excellent straw which mean not only could it withstand a storm but it provided one means, other than sun drying, before coke to make pale malt by flash kilning the barley with clean fuel. So, the use of Battledore – by one of its many names – was the use of the choicest barley known to the England of the 1600s.

iii. Growing and Integrated but Decentralized Barley Production

And it was not just the quality of the barley. It was the quantity of the quality. Access to lots of top quality barley was also important.  You are not building a pre-industrial hive of… industry without a fair bit of the raw resources. In volume 16 of the Derbyshire Miscellany, there is a wonderful study of the inventories and wills of farmers in the parish of Barrow-upon-Tweed to the south of Derby. What it describes are many farms growing barley at the time in question. At page 24 there is a very helpful table that shows how from the early 1500s to the late 1600s the percentage of farmers growing barley rose from 18% to 45%. Interestingly, mention is made of not only barley but big barley as a distinct crop sometimes stored separately. The sophistication in separating and blending grains is evident. Farmers also store malt and some even have separate well appointed brew houses. In Elizabethan Barrow-upon-Trent one farmer posessed eight steepfatts, aka steeping vats or mash tuns.

But local barley feeding in to the Derbyshire machine was not enough. In 2016’s Farmers, Consumers, Innovators by Dyer and Jones, there is a description of how the demand for Derby malt was so great that barley was brought in from neighbouring districts. They state that similar probate inventories indicated that large quantities of barley were being grown in neighbouring Nottinghamshire and that Derby maltsters depended on it and other sources:

…it seems that the inhabitants of Derbyshore were keen to make up any shortfall they might have had in the barley output of their own county by buying in barley and malt from elsewhere. Derby was famed as a centre for malting; according to Camden its trade was “to buy corn [grain], and having turned it into malt, to sell it again to the highland counties.”

Which tells us a few additional things. At a time when many grains were grown and stored both separately and blended in mixes, Derby malt was focused on barley and, as seen above, top quality barley.  And then it was made into a regional trade named product, aggregated in the storage barns by the river described in part one or by the 300 weekly loads by pack-cart and sold on to markets.  The aggregation of the trade is similar to the one in hops we saw in the mid-1700s court ruling discussed two and a half years ago where the purchasing agent went rogue on his boss, the hop dealer:

London-based James Hunter is described as being “one of the one of the most considerable dealers in hops in England.” His agent, named Rye, worked in the Cantebury area for years had been well known as Hunter’s man. But in 1764… there was another good year with hops bearing top price. Rye set out to make deals as an independent – without telling Hunter or anyone else.

So, the many maltsters in derby 1690 Houghton were a part of the same sort of supply chain well before control of all stages in an industrial output was considered. The key spot in that chain which Derby places itself is important, too. Malt was by far a premium priced bulk product over unmalted barley. William Ellis above noted in the mid-1700s that malt was worth two shillings more a quarter compared to barley. And as Broadberry, Campbell, Klein, Overton and van Leeuwen show in their 2015 text British Economic Growth, 1270–1870 (as summarized in the remarkable and remarkably clickable table to the right) that premium coincided with a general jump in barley production in the 1600s:

The output of barley increased markedly in line with demand for better-quality ale and beer brewed from the best barley malt.

So, the folk of Derby build the name for their malt and sell it to the country just as ale quality is peaking in general demand.

iv. Speculative Conclusion

All of which leads me to a question. As Jordan and I saw in our research that went into our cult classic history Ontario Beer, the cost of transportation was a great issue in the colonial boom of 1800s before 1867 and national Confederation. Beer was heavy and the roads were poor. Which meant whisky was carted inland and beer was for the lakeside towns. Above, we see that discussion by William Ellis on around 1750 describing the extraordinary costs being paid to move Fulham barley seed just thirty-odd miles. Yet, Derby malt is shipped out by pack horse and cart from county to county and Derby ale is prized in London. Why is it worth it?

What if Derby malt was so singular that ale made with it anywhere carried the mark? What if the malt was thicker, stronger, paler and so clear of smoke that even a London brewer could make identifiable Derby ale that matched what was brewed in its home county and stood above the competition? Was that what Pepys was drinking? I don’t know. So I will leave it there for now to see if I can find more about the shipment of malt into London from Derbyshire in the 1600s. I need to learn more about who was receiving what was being shipped out of the county.

*Note again the plague that is foisted upon the pure hearted digital document scanning historian.
**Pete B in his Miracle Brew suggests at page 30 that barley prior to the cultivation of Chevallier in 1823 was simply a landrace. Use of “landrace” as it comes to hops, say, in NY State in the early 1800s can be code for “an inability to go back farther in records” sometimes unfortunately laced with a dash of “I could not be bothered looking for more information.” My inclination was to consider this not correct as this 1790s discussion – let alone Houghton in 1682 – confirms. There were clearly species of barley known and made subject to husbandry before 1832 in England. But then consider this: “[a] landrace represents the equilibrium… within… a crop… under a given set of climactic, soil and husbandry conditions.” That seems to be what Battledore was… yet it was also selected and traded. Conversely, the same text Diversity in Barley discusses “barley breeding” as “conspicuously… different plants within local landrace populations together with separate harvest and seed multiplication.” So, landrace triggers breeding. Which makes landrace not a simple thing at all.

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.

The Many Early Vassar Breweries Of Poughkeepsie

The more attentive readers will recall how back in July 2012 I wrote about the Vasser brewing book of the mid-1830s and then in November 2014 wrote about the Vassar general ledger of 1808-11. Then I wrote a whole lot about New York brewing over the last couple of years starting about here…  but I never got back to the Vassars even though, due in large part to the founding of a university, it is one of the more famous 1800s pre-lager American breweries. Wonder why? Too easy? The story is pretty much out there already for all to see. Matthew Vassar is a mid-century magnate along the lines of John Taylor of Albany and perhaps even a more wealthy brewer at the time. Everybody knows that.

But then a notice in a paper like that one up there grabs your attention and off you go again. It’s from the Poughkeepie Barometer of 14 April 1807 and it was placed by James Vassar, the father of Matthew. See what he’s doing? He has imported a European barley strain “more productive and valuable than the common Barley” and is selling it or leasing it to his neighbouring farmers. Leasing. That is fabulous as is the fact that the leased seed is “returnable next fall”! We learned the years around the 1700s becoming the 1800s was a time of crisis and innovation in the grain zones of the youthful USA. And, as Craig has shown, six row reigned far longer as base brewing grain than was understood – just as wheat lasted far longer and was used more widely as the main brewing base before six row was accepted. So, by bringing in European barley and propagating it for a few years until he had enough to spread out to neighbouring farms, James Vassar is in his way participating in the great experiment of making America.

 

 

 

 

Notice that the ad way up top was placed in Feb 1807. A few weeks later, as we see to the nearer left, James posts a notice seeking hops in the same newspaper. And he wants them to be not frost bitten and “gathered last season” too. But which one could gather he was advertising for local hops. Would it be obvious that they would have to be local Hudson Valley hops? Sixteen years later, above middle, we see a notice from the New York Spectator dated 8 April 1823 that gives an update on the London hop market as of the 4th of Mark – and it is all about English hops: Kent, Sussex, Essex and even Farnham* hops all being sold from 42 to 120 shillings. I do not see, however, hop market notices from much before that point.** Hop notices appear to be more of the “I’ve got a few bales” variety like with the one to the upper right from the New York Gazette of 28 September 1821. So… my bet is that in Feb 1807, James Vassar was looking for local hops when he placed his notice in the local paper. That being the case, he is brewing local ingredients but of the best quality he can find both in terms of barley and malt.

 

 

 

 

Which brings us to the 1808-1811 ledger. Vassar is making good ale branded under the name of his town. The ledger, as I mentioned in my 2014 post, places Vassar in the heart of a farming community centered on a supply town. Some of the same farmers who are growing his grain are also his customers. He also is buying hops by the pound from his neighbours, confirming my suspicions from that notice above. He is selling his beers in a town where there is a range of spirits, wine and other luxury goods from around the world according to the grocers notice next to Vassar’s November 1807 notice in the Poughkeepsie Barometer. And note something else important. The ledger runs, as you might have guessed, exactly to a point in the year 1811. This is because it is only the brewery ledger of the father, James Vassar. If you click on that thumbnail to the right you will see that the firm of James Vassar & Co. was dissolved on 15 November 1810 and accounts were settled with the partnership of John G. and M. Vassar, being the sons of James – John Guy Vassar and (“the”) Matthew Vassar.

 

 

 

 

The first brewery hands off to the second. And the next generation has its own dreams. They are brewing both ale and beer and also buying barley as well as hundreds of bushels of oats according to the notice placed by the partnership in January 1811. And they are continuing in their father’s practice of selling seed barley to the local farmers according to the notice in the now fancier Poughkeepsie Political Barometer of 17 April 1811. A happy and successful succession plan has carried forward. It doesn’t last. Weeks later in mid-May, as the article from the 15th of the month to the right explains, the brewery burns as they all seemed to burn in that era at one point or another. After the fire is controlled, however is when the real tragedy occurs. Two days later John G., the elder son of James, goes into the destroyed brewery to see how much can be saved but is overwhelmed by a gas that has settled in one of the vats and dies apparently in agony a short time later. Horrible. Sadder than even the story of Eugene O’Keefe a hundred years later.

 

 

 

 

What happens then? From the notice to the left placed on 25 May, 1811 James Vassar is scrambling to call in debts from both his time running the brewery as well as the term when his sons were. then, according to the notice posted again in the Poughkeepsie Barometer on 24 July 1811, Matthew is out on his own buying up cider which might place him away from the family business at this point… or maybe diversifying. He is only nineteen years old. That Wikipedia entry says M. Vassar & Co. started up in 1814 but this add from three years earlier clearly uses that name. The next year, James is in the market seeking 10,000 bushels of Barley in September 1812. That looks like the continuation of the brewery. Which would make for the third phase. Dad. Sons. Dad.

 

 

 

 

Then what? In the 13 January 1813 paper, Matthew himself is both buying barley and selling ale and beer. Dad. Sons. Dad. Dad/Son? Then on 14 July 1813 he is entering into a brewing partnership with a Mr. Purser, rebuilding the brewery and accepting the casks of James Vassar that are still out there more than two years after the fire. And he gets into other gigs. Matthew is also running a store with a particular focus on cigars… or rather segars – but that ends up in the hands of another partner, a Mr. Raymond as you can see from the notice above to the right dated 14 July 1813, the same day the notice goes up about the new brewery. Dad. Sons. Dad. Dad/Son. Son in Partnership? Maybe. All muddling along. Moving forward.

It’s actually quite the thing that later in life he becomes a magnate given all the ins and outs of the family’s early years in the brewing trade. It starts a bit like the hapless Horsfields of Brooklyn half a century earlier but then, somehow, they spawn a genius. After the early years of the century, Matthew gets into banking and brick works, railroads and politics. But that story, the story of the rise of the great Vassar brewery, is really a separate later one.

*Interesting, given the price being so much higher, that Farnham hops were discussed in New York newspapers as early as this story in the New York Journal of 20 January 1785 shows. This talk of Farnham is all for Ed, by the way.
**See also this set of New York Gazette notices from 20 February 1818 including two for hops and how geographically sourced goods are referenced expressly – Jamaica rum, Sicily Madeira, English Leather, Baltimore flour. Not the hops.

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.

Kingston Chronicle, Friday Afternoon, 1 September 1820

Below are six thumbnails which form an article printed in the Kingston Chronicle on Friday, 1 September 1820. It’s the record of a meeting held at Ernest Town, about 30 miles to the west of Kingston, led by Richard Dalton of the the Kingston Brewery.  Dalton was out rabble rousing and lobbying in order to “receive effectual protection from the opposition of Foreign Brewers.” The thing of note that pops out at me is how barley is being described as a new crop or at least a newly encouraged one that needs fostering to ward off those “Brewers of the United States.” Prior to that time, wheat was king – wheat for the Empire.  W.S. Herrington noted the same thing in his diary. He also notes that ten years later, “Ernesttown” had at least a dozen taverns so something must have been done to get the drinks based economy on the right road.

The early 182os were a time of downturn in the USA. Maybe New York grain was getting dumped in the northern marketplace. The meeting comes at the end of the brief period of open trade after the War of 1812 with the USA was over and the shutting of the border was undertaken by the new post-Napoleonic administration of Upper Canada. Upper Canada was buffeted by such international force. The border only truly reopened in the 1860s until the 1890s when the barley flowed the other way, south into the thirsty expanding Republic, known as the Barley Days. If the farmers at the meeting in 1820 had been told that this would be their grandchildren’s future they likely would have laughed.