Versions of this advertisement ran in newspapers in New York though the middle of 1798. This one is from the New York Gazette of 12 March. There is a reason the run ended when it did. On November 23 of that year Caleb Haviland’s widow is granted letters of administration after he dies without a will. Which is unfortunate as he seemed to have a good bit of business going for himself. You can go see where his shop was located on 77 John Street in Lower Manhattan but it looks a bit different now. You can see what the district is like at this page from Forgotten New York.
Enough about the geography. Look at the beer he is selling. Nine sorts at least. At least two had been brought into New York from Philadelphia where it had been landed from Britain the previous fall. This business of repackaging and coastal shipping of imported luxury goods is something I’m noticing is fairly common soon after the Revolution. It’s a wonder anyone could tell a Whig from a Loyalist. Porter vaults seem to have been a thing.
It’s one of the last ads I’ve seen listing Dorchester ale. No mention of Bath, Liverpool or Gainsborough ales in Coppinger. Liverpool was not even particularly pro-Revolution. The typo in “Ameriban Porter” is eventually cleaned up in later editions. Hibbert‘s London Porter was still being sold in Mobile, Alabama in 1857. But was it ripe and brisk? Ripe and brisk we are assured are qualities of the best possible order. If the words have the same meaning in the 1850s, ripe appears to mean conditioned, all bubbly like. Not necessarily soured. These sorts of adjectives are rare in ads earlier than this point. This ad from a 1764 edition of the New York Mercury shows how dry they were. You want Dorchester beer? Edward Pollard has some for you.
Ah, Utica Club. Craig brought Utica Club. He brought a few other beers. Beers that even came in caged cork topped bottles. But he brought Utica Club. It’s a funny beer. An old school macro lager made by a regional craft brewery. Is it hidden craft? Faux macro? Whatever it is, it’s five bucks for three litres at central NY gas stations. Summertime beer. Maybe even a cure for the summertime blues. Maybe. We talked over a pint or two before turning to a few more complex beers. Sweetish with a well placed jagged edge. Everything in its proper place. Nothing off or awkward. A beer for craft’s endtimes. Both pure and XX. According to the label. We talked of these endtimes. I blame Boak and Bailey, writing that non-derivative book that no one else will match. Takes the wind from the sails, didn’t it. So much for no one ever going beyond what’s gone before, been done before. Things get confused once those sorts of things get going. Not knowing your place. Can’t tell heterodox from orthodox. Hard to find which side of the map is up. Things go round and round. The saison driving north from Virginia or the Carolinas was wonderful after the cork popped. But so many are in a similar way, aren’t they.
The last year has been the scene of many a revelation when it comes to my relationship with beer. Among other things, out of nowhere two fabulous breweries opened up in my immediate vicinity after years of claiming my town was the least served by fresh beer for its size in the northeastern bit of North America. One is MacKinnon Brothers which I have discussed before. The other is Stone City Ales who have a great socialmedia presence and a website with great generational honesty. One feels a certain pain knowing one has kept a beer blog for over a decade appreciating that it’s like knowing how to properly maintain an 8-track player.
The great thing about having local beer choices finally after a quarter of a middle-aged life waiting is now normal it is. I did my Saturday morning shopping run and hit Stone not long after the 11 am opening. I picked up a ridiculously under-priced Rochefort 8 at the LCBO to soak a flank steak from Pig and Olive in. Hit Bread and Butter bakery as well as the Quebec-based Metro grocery, too, with all its ever so slightly exotic tendencies and, then, home and unloading the making of a good feed. What has changed is that the good local beer fits in now as just a stop on the way. Nothing precious, special or even – frankly – craft. Just as good as all the other excellent stuff you can buy in my very foodie town.
I bought a growler of Stone’s Windward Belgian Wheat. Eleven bucks after growler returns. It’s a 4.9% cloudy thing. See that picture? Cloudy. I am working on my cinéma vérité approach to representing beer in my art. The beer gives off very evocative aromas. Is it just me or do some wheat beers smell like babies straight from the bath? Maybe its just me. I diapered for 14 years. Anyway, the scents are twiggy herbal – mace, rosemary and lavender – with cream of wheat and meadow in mid-spring. Maybe even oolong tea with its earthiness. In the mouth, there is a grassy acidic bite then a wall of dry French bread crust with more of all that rich tangy complex herbal construct. The effect is drying rather than astringent. Extremely appetizing. I would love to soak pork shoulders in this for the best part of the day and slow smoke it for another, too.
Early signs of BAer respect. Every beer from here is a favourite. As I found in last December‘s taste test at Bar Hop in Toronto, Stone’s beers stand up to the best. This one is just another chapter in the same story. Lucky me.
Further to last week’s post, it appears now that Ontario has a special cultural strength, dismissing the common and obvious answer before all the facts are even in! Witness:
Wynne says changes are coming to the way beer, wine and spirits are sold once a review is completed of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and its relationship with the Beer Store and wine retailers. When pressed today for details, the premier flatly dismissed the idea of beer sales in convenience stores, something the previous Liberal government of David Peterson promised in the late 1980s but never delivered.
There you have it. The end of imagination. The limits of review. The most telling thing is that there is nothing more to the story. No explanation of the “why” or “because” or even “what” for that matter. Just a flat no. This is a silly place.
Update, Thursday: A rousing 17% of Ontarians want beer in grocery stores. Because we can’t handle what Quebeckers, New Yorkers and those of Michigan can. We must suck.
That’s a video posted in the Toronto Star the other day summarizing where this Province sits in its own internal debate about the retailing of beer in Ontario.Its attached to a story titled “Time to take ownership of the Beer Store: Cohn” The Star is taking a lead in the discourse and doing an excellent job but as the video displays there are some weird aspects to this issue that might seem odd to those from beyond the borders. When we were writing Ontario Beerthe tasks got chopped up and I was assigned primary attention to the years 1900 to 1980 which, as you might guess, were not expected to be the most exciting for the development of good beer in the culture. What I found, however, through the review of law and brewer’s public appearance as much as the family trees of families who owned the brewery was that the community, culture and marketplace in Ontario has a number of abiding characteristics which continue to pop up through the decades and centuries of its relationship with beer:
-> Ontario is very comfortable with state ownership. You will notice in the story as retold an unhappiness that The Beer Store, the sole retailer of about 90% of all sales, is not government owned. Many assume it is. Many would say it should be. Many want more beer variety in the existing government LCBO which sells primarily macro six-packs as well as single bottles of craft brews and imports.
-> Ontario is very comfortable with a controlled market. Amongst those who reject the model of the Beer Store a prominent response being heard is that the small brewers of Ontario ought to be able to replicate the model to create boutique craft beer shops. It appears the idea would be sell Ontario made craft beer to Ontario through shops run by Ontario craft brewers. This appears to be adding a small oligopoly to a tiny oligopoly to defeat the evil forces of oligopoly.
-> Ontario is very comfortable with fairly dull macro beer. Nowhere in this discourse is there a great public outrage at the quality of most of the beer consumed in Ontario. The vast bulk of beer consumed in Ontario is frankly bulk beer. Most people I know who buy beer buy slabs of 24 bottles of lighter fairly flavourless stuff that gives them a mild buzz and cuts the crap out of your mouth when you’ve been physically active. It reminds me a lot of ship’s beer in fact, one of the functional classes of everyday beer that fell out of flavour somewhere between the Georgian and Victorian colonial eras. For many, talking about more interesting beer is like talking about more interesting ketchup.
-> Ontario is very comfortable with fairly not inexpensive beer. For a while there was a trend of “buck a beer” discount products but that’s been gone for the best part of a decade now. No one moved forward to fill the market and Ontario’s beer buyers have found themselves buying beers for $1.50 to over $2.00 a bottle at the shops without much quibbling. No one is looking for a better retail experience and no one really is looking for a price cut. Bulk beer in Ontario is comparable or even a bit higher than craft in nearby northern NY.
These are just themes I see. I didn’t want initially to drill into news articles, blog posts or the details of history to create a mess of links mainly for one reason. Even having studied 400 years of beer culture, law and politics in the place it still surprises me and sometimes leaves me shaking my head. But there are reasons it is like this. Ontario was set up as something of a conservative utopia that reaches back to the 1780s with the resettlement of the Loyalists running from the newly created USA. This lasted until the reforms of the 1840s when we were then introduced to the new trend in temperance. After the flop of Ontario’s version of prohibition ended in 1927, we have had the control system of alcohol retail that we have today. Three forms of restraint. Three eras of doing what one is told. Three eras of being concurrently happy and prosperous, too. It might, given all that, be more reasonable to ask why wouldn’t things be as they are in today’s discussions about retailing beer here. Me? I just want beer in grocery stores and gas stations like people in all the nearby provinces and states enjoy. Not likely going to happen.
I may layer more into this but for now this is the best I have to explain the culture I live in to myself. It’s a bit weird, isn’t it. But in a weird way it also works for most people.
I visited a brewery today. Barns filled with brewing equipment. No one was there. Walked into the keg storage building and saw kegs. Tried a door with a padlock on it. Padlock was open as it turned out. Even had the key still in it. Went in and looked at all the fermenters. Shouted hello a few times just in case someone was up a ladder. It was quiet. Good looking stainless steel. Outside a dog was looking at me from across the road. A big dog. Didn’t bark but, still, I thought I better get out of there.
You may have guessed this was MacKinnon Brothers Brewing to my nearby west, on the north side of Bath Ontario. Well, I suppose you should be expected to read the post titles. Anyway, I’ve taken today off work to make a four day weekend and spent mid-day roaming in the next township. Had a face full of fresh Wilton cheese curds before heading over land with no real idea of how to get to the brewery. Then we remembered the iPhone thingie. Turning onto the country road, we passed the family farm. The MacKinnon lads come from a seed farm. Above is a picture I nicked from their Twitter feed showing them harvesting the malting barley crop. Know any other breweries with their own combine harvester? Given they are a seed grain operation, I expect that they will be making some special ales over the next few years. But I hope it still reflects the
relaxed country life approach seen in the security system, too.
They already do. As part of the long weekend, we’ve been eating out a bit. Friday night, I went to Harper’s, a great local burger place where the MacKinnon’s English Pale Ale was on tap. Had a couple. Tastes like a grain field on a hot August afternoon. Has that husk of the barley roughness that I love. But also honey notes and maybe some weedy jag. Had a portabello mushroom burger with a slab of Seed to Sausage bacon on it. The next night, we were at Bella Bistro. Our anniversary dinner out. Up on the chalkboard it said MacKinnon Wild Peppermint Stout. I hadn’t planned this sort of thing happening, getting all beer and food… but I ordered one. The herbal edge made me thing that the beet and arugula salad was the right call. Stout and salad. The best pairing advice is to avoid the pairing advice. Pumpkin seeds and goat cheese made it work. Was the mint from the farm fields? Maybe 5,000 other beers would have been just as good. Likely the case. But the stout was mighty fine with dinner.
After that dog looked at me at lunchtime today, we thought that the feed of curd was not quite enough. We headed to Bath itself. At the Loyalist Grill, we split a salad and a chick wrap. More salad. Must be making up for a summer’s worth of hot dogs. The beer today was MacKinnon’s Crosscut Canadian Ale, an amber beer with a bit more sweetness than the EPA but, still, that husky jag of grain that tells you the beer was brewed with real stuff. Like the rest of the food at the Grill. I have great hopes for this brewery. Just the idea that it is an additional operation to the family’s successful grain seed business – not to mention the family farm was established in 1784 – gives you a sense that they have the time and resources to get it right. Rural brewing reflecting local reality right in the beer. Stan would be proud.
Session beer. 5.5% and sufficiently sour that a personal sized 750 ml gives at least two hours – or four laundry loads – worth of sips. It pours a slightly clouded golden straw. Plenty of must and funky tang when the nose is rammed into the nonic. Still, a bit of fruit in there. Maybe lingonberry. Just a hint. Much more going on in the swally. Sour, yes, certainly sour with a light summer apple, lemon, creamy wheat, nutmeg heart. “Rotten lemon, more like it!” says the lad after he sticks a finger in the glass. Which pretty much sums it up.
What is my relationship to this sort of brutal beer after all these years of study? I certainly have an appetite for any I get a chance to lay my hands on but they come along so few and far between for Ontarians given out mediocre retail options that I wonder if the scarcity makes them more interesting. I bought this in Albany a few months ago and do like to have a few bottles of panic gueuze… but wonder if I would be quite so excited if I could buy one of these any old day down the street? Or should I just be happy that one of these every three or four months is just what keeps me happy. You really can’t measure the relative value of the exotic.
This was the beer that caused a slight rift in the fabric of that great evening three weeks ago with Ron, Jordan and Peter. We were at the end of the middle act of the night at 3030 when we all had this same one last beer, brewed within walking distance of the bar. “Mmm… sweet malty goodness,” says I. “Yik, crystal malt,” said another. And we were off. The brewery says of this beer: “Our signature brew is Conductor’s Craft Ale, a ‘hopbacked’ hybrid ale utilizing British, German and American brewing techniques.” I can see your furrowed brow. Me, too.
The beer pours a pleasant clear filbert paper brown under a rocky egg white head. Plenty of nut aromas. In the mouth, this is quite interesting. More nut than dried fig along with a crusty brown breadiness and a touch of dry cocoa. The whole thing is framed by a really clever hop choices: black tea and twiggy, then a bit of steel and then spicy pine resin at the end. There is a lot going on. When I described some of these flavours, Ron suggested disapprovingly it sounded like Wells Bombardier, a beer I wrote positively of a a decade ago. This one has more acidity and complexity than likely you would find in Bombardier now.
The main thing I thought the beer illustrated were the off pale malts, maybe the lightest of the crystals. In certain circles, these are unfashionable flavours in beer right now. Beery flavours. Boethius would understand. Perfect match for a plain Snappy Griller with its white pepper jag on a billowy bun. I look down at the average BAer’s view.
A month or less to go for the delivery of the Albany and Upper Hudson Valley beer history and Craig and I are putting on the almost finishing touches. One difficult stretch was the first two-thirds of the 1700s as, basically, the same families kept brewing and – surprise – got richer generation by generation. Fortunately, a war broke out in the middle of the century to spice things up. I had presumed that the only news would be about the suspension of brewing as that is what war does… among other things. But then I came across this in his papers:
These are accounts from William Johnson, the 1st Baronet of New York and a personal favorite of mine. Near my work there are two streets, “William” and “Johnson” which commemorate the guy whose son helped settle our fair city. But that was after the war after the one just begun when these accounts were noted in 1755. In 1755, the Mohawk, the British and the Dutch were all united against New France and its plans for invasion from the north. In the defense of the empire, Billy Johnson did everything he could think of including, apparently, shelling out beer.
I had known he was a beer buyer but not like this. Names like Hendrick Fry appear in these accounts, some the same as names that appear over a decade later in the lists of members in the Masonic Lodge at Albany. The accounts show how barrels of beer were used to retain and reward loyalty with the Mohawk allies in the summer leading up to a campaign at the south end of the Champlain valley when Johnson took on the French and kept them from marching farther on to Albany.
The last image on the right is interesting. It makes passing reference to one Barent Vrooman. Vroomans were a Dutch brewing dynasty who, like their fellows, expanded from the Hudson valley into Schenectady in the late 1600s and then into the western stretches of what was then called Albany County in the first half of the 1700s. Barent the brewer died in 1746 so this must be a nephew or a cousin. In any event, Johnson seems to have sent him something more useful than beer. He sent a Mohawk warrior to guard him.
Crossed south at the TI Bridge at 11 am and got back to Canada about 3 pm. Beer was not the biggest buy. We have a thing about NY state groceries. White hots. A better class of green pasta. Old cheddar and laundry soap for a third of the price. Wild blueberry syrup from Maine. Why? Why do you drink better beer? “Why not?” Is the better question.
I was quite disappointed that there was no Six Point and limited cider choices but a couple of six packs of Bells from Michigan will hit the spot as soon as the weather warms enough for an afternoon of pork shoulder smoking. It may be sunny out there right now but it’s still -8C. The big surprise will the two sorts of beer from St. Lawrence Brewing in Canton, NY one county to the east from Watertown. I am pals with pals of the brewers and a volunteer at the public radio station over there so it’s one of those moments. I will pretend it is from from Tennessee or Idaho.
But what of the value? It’s a 90 cent dollar these days so you have to boost the prices by that much. We got the customs wave through so that’s a bonus but is Big A IPA really worth that much more than Old Chub or Bells Two Hearted? Price points can be such a curious thing. I usually avoid the curse of the four pack but Big A is favourite.It’s another way that craft gets you in the wallet, though, isn’t it. Yet it is all about the big picture. Five bucks bought me a discounted Montreal Expos tuque with a bright red pompom on top. I needed that. Which means it is all working out. You forget things like that when you stay in one country for more than one month at a time. Better not stay away for four months again. Who knows what deals I missed.