That 1700s Battledore Barley And The Other Four

battledore3These are busy days. The endy bit of April and the first half of May require my time in the garden. Yesterday I took apart the compost bin, sieved all the good bits out, returned all the half-rotted stuff and layered it with last autumn’s leaves and the parsnip greens from the overwintered crop. And it had gone all anaerobic. Much of it was the consistency of warm chocolate, reeking of sweet bog. Hours it took me. Then there was the week’s laundry. I don’t trust it to just anyone. And another Red Sox game to watch. And tweed to covet.* And supper to make. Saturdays are exhausting. No time to swan and noodle about the the London Metropolitan Archives like some. Research gets little time in spring.Yet, at the back of my mind there is that question. You will recall Sir. Wm Strickland’s observations from 1796 set out in a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated 20 May 1796:

I have reason to believe that a grain of Barley has never yet been sown on the Continent; the grain which is there sown, under that name, is not that from which our malt-liquors are made; it is here known under the name of Bigg, or Bigg-barley, is cultivated only on the Northern Mountains of this Island, and used only for the inferior purposes of feeding pigs or poultry, and is held to be of much too inferior a quality to Make into Malt, and of the five different grains of the species of Barley known to us, it is held to be by far the worst; I have therefore taken the liberty of sending a small quantity of the best species of Barley, (the Flat or Battledore Barley) and the one most likely to succeed with you; this grain is sown in the spring, on any rich cultivated soil; I recommend it strongly to your attention; and shall rejoice if I prove the means of introducing into your country an wholesome and invigorating liquor.

The passage is handy. It fills in two of the five grades of barley known to Britain in the 1790s. Flat or Battledore is the best. Bigg or Bygg is the worst. In the last post about Strickland, we reviewed how that latter lesser sort was six-row, winter or bigg barley. So what were the others? Battledore was a thing of the past in 1866 when the fourth volume of The English Cyclopaedia stated that the Sprat, or Battledore – also called Putney Barley – is the hordeum zeocriton. In a 2010 post, Ron noted that it was also called Goldthorpe. It seems to have hit its peak before the popularization of hordeum distichum or Chevallier. In 1785 it was described in A New System of Husbandry: from many years experience, with tables shewing the expence and profit of each crop by Charles Varlo in this way:

The sprat or battle-dore barley, has only two rows of grain; for which reaƒon , the ear is flat, the corn is ƒhort, plump and thin ƒkinned, not inclined to have a long gross ƒtraw, (but indeed this varies according to the richneƒs of the ground it is ƒown on) it is ƒaid it will grow well on many other ƒorts of land. I have had great crops on tough, ƒtrong, cold clay, or gravel land; but ƒuch muƒt be well pulverised, ƒweetened, enriched, mollified and warmed by tillage.

See, now it’s “Battle-dore” as well. And the focus is not so much scientific in the sense of identifying the plant as it was agricultural in the way the author describes its uses. In 1745‘s Agriculture Improv’d Or the Practice of Husbandry Displayd by William Agric Ellis, it was stated that it will produce “a strong straw that will always grow and stand erect to the last” whereas “common Barley… will fall down, and sometimes rot on the Ground.” Being also an earlier crop, the sprat or Battledore was harvested in 1744 before damaging rains came.

It is this Sort of Barley that is most valued by Distillers, for producing the greatest Quantity of Spirits, and is no less profitable to Brewers, for making a Malt that yields the greatest Length of Worts : The Stalk and Chaff indeed are coarƒish, but the Quality and Quantity of this Grain largely compenƒate for it.

More information is provided in The Natural History of Northamptonshire published in 1715 by John Morton, naturalist and Rector of Oxendon.** He records that there were two sorts of barley in his immediate area: sprat or Battledoor barley and Long-eared barley. Rath-ripe barley, however, was being grown in the area of Lowick, twenty mile to the east, and in fact it was the only barley sown by his colleague the Rev. Mr. Poulton of that parish. Each of these are distinguished, again, from common barley. Reaching back another twenty-nine years, we see the sorts of barley described in 1686‘s The Natural History of Stafford-Shire by Robert Plot – perhaps my favourite new old book of the year given how it may contain a creation myth, the very genesis of Burton and its ales. In one exciting passage at page 347, Plot states:

… it remains only that we recount the varieties of each kind sown here; and by what rules they are guided in the choice of their seed: there being as many sorts used here, and perhaps more, than in some richer Counties. For beside the white-flaxen, and bright red-wheat (which are the ordinary grains of the Country) they now and then sow the Triticum Multiplex or double-eard wheat; Triticum Polonicum or Poland wheat; and Tragopyrum, Buck or French-wheat; all described above Chap. 6. And for barleys; beside the common long-eard, and sprat-barley, which are most used; they sow sometimes the Tritico-speltum or naked barley, of which also above Chap. 6. And amongst the Oats: beside the White, black, and red Cats; at Burton upon Trent I found they also sowed the Avena nuda or naked Oat ; described, Ibidem.

Is anything more fabulous than a text that is 330 years old that uses the proper scientific Latin names of things? It’s all so… science-y. But what does it tell us? What does all of it tell us? Here’s what I see:

1. Battledore or Sprat Barley
2. Long-Eared Barley
3. Naked Barley
4. Rath-ripe Barley
5. Bigg Barley

Are these the five sorts of barley Strickland mentioned in his letter of 1796? I don’t know. There must be a masters thesis or two out there on the topic that would give more clarity. And there is that pesky reference to “common barley” that is a bit of a theme throughout these texts. Suffice it to say for now, then, that there were varieties and perhaps ones which are still sown for non-brewing purposes. More research needed. But, clearly, we can be assured that to the gentleman agriculturalist of 1796 Battledore is the best and was spoken highly of for the previous century. Which makes me suggest that if one is recreating porters of that vintage one ought to be using Battledore malt and not the later improved varieties of 1800s Chevallier or mid-1900s Maris Otter. Shouldn’t one? Certainly one would if one is to brew the earliest Burton, like the lads sipped in 1712.


Update: above you will see a passage from John Ray’s 1677 book Catalogus Plantarum Angliae, Et Insularum Adjacentium: Tum Indigenas, tum in agris passim cultas complectens. In quo praeter Synonyma necessaria, facultates quoque summatim traduntur, una cum Observationibus et Experimentis Novis Medicis et Physicis which describes Battledoor barley as a form of hordeum distichum and not hordeum zeocriton. Hmm… in 1838 it was called hordeum disticho-zeocriton. Hmm…This 2003 bit of botany suggests Spratt was a UK landrace out of which other barley strains developed.

*I am having a wee problem over the last six months. It really started in January 2015 with a windowpane tweed bucket hat bought at Pringle in Glasgow. Then, told at work along with other mid-life males to smarten up the look a bit I’ve, well, gone a bit overboard. I can’t recommend Peter Christian highly enough in such tight spots. Clothes for folk with 37 inch arms like me. Delivery by international $25 courier in about five days. I had no idea that I needed a lavender crew neck cotton sweater. But now I have one. And four new sports coats. And new sorts of socks. God, the HJ socksalone have changed my life…
**Which is just nine mile south of the famous Kibworth examined in BBC’s The Story of England mentioned here and here.

Sir William Strickland On The 1790s US Barley Crop

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Beery Update For A Mid-February Monday


While I am not living the snowy hell of the east coast, I am simply sick of winter here on the Great Lakes. It’s not like it’s been a long one either. December and January were pretty soft. But the deep cold has driven me inside and down into the basement. Next to the gas stove. Wrapped in blankets and sipping cold medicines – in which category I include port and stout. Scenes like these from Boak and Bailey now just confuse me. I ask myself: “do they have invisible snow somehow in Cornwall?” I shake my head as soon as the idea comes to me. It goes away. I am reduced to comparing corks to pass the time, to save my sanity. I even asked Facebook a question and then tried to answer it: “can a caged cork be a dud? The one in the middle is from tonight’s under-inspiring Goudenband 2010. It looks like the base did not expand in the neck of the bottle. The cork to the left is from Dupont and to the right St. Bernardus. Never saw this before. The bottle aged standing up so contact with fluid is not the problem. Generates a head and otherwise fine but a dull bottle.” Really? Narrow cork bases? It’s come to this. I could only gather the whisps of energy to write that on a long weekend in a deep freeze somewhere along the way in mid-February. Sad.

=> The more I think about it, the more I think this line of thinking by Stan is the most important thing I have read about good beer for a couple of years. There may well not be enough growth potential in the hops and barley markets to supply very much more good beer. Other crops may simply be more profitable and the farmers may not want to switch. Plus, all the best land is already in production. Plus, who wants to sell to pip squeak craft brewers when you can sell to one big steady customer? Be careful, though. You can get into a lot of data. Just look at those 91 acres of Fuggles in Oregon in 2013? What? None in 2012 and none in 2014. What was that about? I have no idea.

=> Thank God Valentine’s Day is over so we don’t need to pretend that chocolate does not go best with port. [Did I mention I like port?] Hint: buy good cava… cheaper than gueuze. Now that that is settled, we have to listen to the best beer for Shrove Tuesday pancake batter. Answer? None. Make a normal pancake, wouldja?

=> In what other country would a national government announcement of a change to law mean nothing else really changes. Here in Ontario? Won’t make a bit of difference.

=> Interesting. Australia is investigating the big brewers and the wholesale draught beer market. Could there be fiddling going on? Imagine. The question is about the state of competition in the market but similar cases have recently been won there against a pharmaceutical firm and supermarkets.

That’s it. Not the greatest set of thoughts but I blame the season. The stupid evil frozen season. A month from now? With any luck the peas will already be in the ground. For now? Evil sits upon the land.

Another Canadian Barley Farm Brewery

This is maybe my hobby interest in this hobby of mine – brewers growing their own barley. This time its in Saskatchewan:

They wanted to go back to farming, too, and were able to buy back the original farm. Lawrence and his family live there today. Most farmers sell their grain wholesale, but the Warwaruks have figured out a smart, sustainable way to add value to the barley they grow. They do this on a much smaller acreage than the typical large-scale farming operation, where 3,000 acres is usually the minimum to make a profit on the wholesale grain market. The Warwaruks’ farm is just over 160 acres. All the barley grown on the farm is used for Farmery products. “If I was to take that barley to an elevator, I’m getting less than $3 a bushel, which is crazy,” says Lawrence.

What is the big deal? New York has farmhouse breweries all over the place. And I suppose that is right. And Lars is studying the farmhouse brewing traditions of Europe and particularly Scandinavia. It’s everywhere already, right? But in New York, a percentage of the hops and other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State. Not all. And not all on that given farm. It’s a great program but it’s not all from one farm. And what Lars is exploring are really town and country brewing traditions – which is great. But it’s not what I am thinking about.

What I think the Warwaruks and my nearby neighbours the MacKinnons may have in common is that they are involved with (i) family grain operations, (ii) the are using brewing to create a premium value revenue stream to secure the farm from risk and (iii) they are not making overly wrought beers. This model may not scale. It may not ever extend beyond the local market. But it is intensely local. It is malt barley focused. It is also not the result of a funding or a research program. It’s utterly normal.

Any other examples out there? Girardin I suppose.

What A Bumper Crop Of Maris Otter Might Mean

Fabulous news out of England for those few remaining beer drinkers who enjoy the taste of beer:

With much of the harvest already in store, Robin Appel Ltd suggests the low nitrogen levels required by ale brewers have been achieved, with an average of 1.37 – 1.40 per cent against a five-year average of 1.65 per cent. Yields of Maris Otter barley, which normally average two tonnes per acre, look like running at nearer two and a quarter, with good harvests reported from Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Cornwall. Maris Otter is winter-sown, and the damp winter and wet May have ensured good yields. A disease-free growing season has meant the highest ever planted area looked the best in years.

Granted, this might not be of much interest to those watching the North American adjunct market, those day trading in the cherry syrup markets and watching the after hours stemware trading but this should be good news, shouldn’t it? I remember my first bag of Maris Otter like it was yesterday. While other pale malts smelled of grain, this was all summer fields and scything maidens. We cross the big water soon heading to hang out with family for a bit on the sunny south shore of the Firth of Forth. While there, I hope to avoid all contact with DIPAs, miss every bourbon barreled apricot saison and dodge all the pop star brewers. But, with any luck, there shall be the fermented steepings of Maris Otter with nary a cicerone in sight. Can it be done?

And, just to be clear, I have no plans whatsoever to visit the beer can tree of Aberdeen.

1749 Quebec Drinks Advice From Pehr Kalm

image56Home alone on a sick day, what else better to do but catch up with my old pal Pehr Kalm on his travels 264 years ago. Working on the Ontario beer history book in recent days, I am looking for references to brewing in New France to seek if I can established what might have been going on around here before it was even Upper Canada. See, what is now Ontario has been many things in the past, bits and pieces of many empires. Beer and other drinks hitch a ride with most of them. And until 1791, southern Ontario was part of the British colonial Province of Quebec and, before 1758-60, part of New France.

And we have some really swell tidbits of information. On 15 August 1749, Swedish botanist and diarist Pehr Kalm was at a reception for the newly arrived Governor General of New France, the Marquis de la Jonquiere, where he reports the “entertainment lasted very long and was as elegant as the occasion required.” All the greatest and the good of the colony were there but you get the sense that it was a wee bit laddish as this is the main topic he records of the conversation:

Many of the gentlemen, present at the entertainment, asserted that the following expedient had been successfully employed to keep wine, beer, and water, cool during the summer. The wine, or other liquor, is bottled; the bottles are well corked, hung up in the air, and wrapped in wet clouts. This cools the wine in the bottles, notwithstanding it was quite warm before. After a little while the clouts are again made wet, with the coldest water that is to be had, and this is always continued. The wine, or other liquor, in the bottles is then always colder than the water with which the clouts are made wet. And though the bottles should be hung up in the sunshine, the above way of proceeding will always have the same effect.

I need to try that one. We have to remember that Kalm was not an idle wanderer. As the Borgstates, he “was commissioned by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to travel to the North American colonies and to bring back seeds and plants that might be useful to agriculture.” So, he is a scientist on the lookout for things… stuff… doings and goings-on.

He describes a pretty rich diet amongst the elite. Brandy, coffee and chocolate for breakfast. Red claret and spruce beer are in much use at the noontime dinner and again at supper at seven in the evening. He notes that people store their beer in their ice cellars beneath their houses to keep it cool in the summer and notes that it is customary to put ice in drinks to keep them cool. It is likely that the beer is spruce beer as “they make a kind of spruce beer of the top of the white fir” which is seldom taken by people of quality. He also notes that it is “not yet customary here to brew beer of malt” and also “nor do they sow much barley, except for the use of cattle.”

This last bit is interesting as one hundred years before the Jesuit records clearly show efforts to create local brewing capacity as part of the earlier economy of the colony. Kalm, however, describes a wealthier and less self-sufficient colony in the late 1740s at least among the elite. There is no longer a press so all books are imported from France. Large sums are spent on boat loads of wine. Cider and beer are so 1630s it would appear.

What does that mean for Ontario? Well, likely the forts by the end of the French empire were supplied with casks of wine rather than malt made beer. Yet, in the last quarter of the 1600s, that was not necessarily the case. When the likes of Lasalle and Frontenac ruled the spot where the Great Lakes meets the St. Lawrence River… who knows?

Albany Ale: Did The Hessian Fly Play A Role?

tdaf1It has been a bit part of the puzzle for me. As I have mentioned before, Craig as taken more of an interest in Albany Ale as reflected in the 1800s industrial period where I am more interested in the pre-1800s experience. The weird thing has been that not only do the two eras reflect issues of scale but there is that back of the brain niggling question about how, prior to a certain point right around that date, they seem to shift from using wheat malt to barley malt as the base grain. I sense Craig may be less firm than me on this. He may think I am off on a tangent. Which might be right. I think I live at the tangent most days and I trust Craig’s opinion – especially as he actually works in the world of fact at the New York State Museum where I live in the world of rhetoric as a lawyer. But I persist and, pursuing that question, ordered a copy of The Dutch American Farm by D.S. Cohen to see if I could find anything that might help me. I think I might have.

To review, Albany is the capital of New York State. Craig lives there. One of the oldest cities in the US, it is an inland port that was settled by the Dutch in the first half of the 1600s as a fur trading centre. It sits where the Mohawk River, the eastern section of the Erie Canal, empties from west to east into the north to south running Hudson River, a couple of hours drive north of the city of New York, which itself sits at the mouth of the Hudson. As a Dutch settlement distant from other colonial settlements and, from the 1660 to the 1780, being culturally isolated from the British American experience around it, Albany took its own path for a significant period of time. Cohen states:

It is debatable, however, whether a colony in which the Dutch Reformed Church was the established church and the only religion that could be worshipped in public, in which there were large, tenanted patroonships and a company monopoly on the fur trade, and in which there was slavery, could be described as either tolerant or democratic.

As part of this singular colonial economy, Cohen describes the role wheat played in pre-1800s Albany and vicinity and includes that passage from mid-1700s traveler Swedish professor Peter Kalm that I posted earlier describing the malting of wheat as well as the volume of production. Wheat was a cash crop that was shipped south to New York city as early as 1680. Barley along with oats and rye were planted at no where near the volume of wheat. Yet wheat collapses as a Hudson Valley crop in the first half of the 1800s. In part this is due to the Hessian fly that was introduced to New York during the Revolution: “[t]he insect had apparently hitched a ride from Europe with some Hessian mercenaries employed as soldiers by the British, hence its name. First noticed in straw used at a military encampment on Long Island, the fly slowly extended its range, endangering the continent’s wheat fields for many years.

So, there was change from pre-Revolutionary hinterland bubble of Dutch culture to post-Revolutionary national American project. And there was the transportation change from Albany as edge of Empire before the war to being just the left turn to the west after the building of the Erie Canal in the 1820s. But on top of that there was a pest that struck at wheat just as the records indicate that Albany brewers moved from making strong wheat beer in the old Dutch style to making barley based Albany Ale which was exported widely through the 1800s. Combined, all these factors explain the shift from one sort of beer to another. Which leads to the next problem of what each of them tasted like.

Why Did A Brewer In Kingston In 1815 Want Rye?

kgazkbrh1The ad is from page 4 of the Kingston Gazette, 6 January 1816. You can see at the bottom that it was placed on 15 December 1815. So many questions. What were Messrs Robinson and Gillespie up to? Why is rye placed between barley and hops in the large font while oats sit down there with the peas? Also, is “strong beer” something separate, something identifiable to the Kingstonian a year after the war with America? You will recall that a few months later in April, Albany strong beer is for sale. It also comes just a month after Richard Smith’s notice for plain “beer” – so was “strong beer” something they had the taste for still, almost 40 years after having to flee from their central NY homes at the beginning of the American Revolution? And why is it not “ale” when described in the Kingston papers?

I just finished The Lion, the Eagle and Upper Canada by Jane Errington, a historian over at Royal Military College – they of the old school base ball. The book is well reviewed here but, short form, it’s an interesting view of early Upper Canada (1790s to 1820s) based in large part by review of early newspapers. In it, Errington suggests something of a window between the end of the War of 1812 in 1815 and, a few years later, a clampdown in trade and other contacts with the US towards the end of the decade. But even with her level of detail about the community, trade and industry, there is not much about beer itself. Meaning I am left unsure if beer was being traded within months of the end of a war, perhaps as a stop gap until local product restarted… if it was interrupted by the war… which is another question.

So, I was very happy to read in the comments that Steve Gates has published his history of brewing in the city and in the region. I couldn’t get out of the door to go get a copy but will tomorrow. Hopefully it will shed some light on what Robinson and Gillespie were up to.

That Persnickty Barley Carbon Absorption Rate Thing