One of the sillier things I have seen pass across the internets lately came up as part of the anti-shaker campaign. You will recall that the function of that campaign is to convince you, the beer buyer, that an 8 oz serving of beer for “X” bucks is better than a 16 oz serving for “X” bucks by insinuating that you are not capable of sensing taste and smell in a drinking vessel without acute curves and a thin stem. Silly. But expensive. They hope you are are that sort of sucker. The silliest thing I have heard as part of this campaign is that shaker glasses are “old fashioned” – that they are a lingering legacy of the age of big macro, the age of industrialized adjunct corn lagers. Add your doom-laced adjectives to taste.
Like so many things that depress one about discussions of beery things, it’s not correct. I knew as much from my months of perusing newspaper and magazine ad images for the writing of the beer histories. But how to prove it to you? Ah, Jay Brooks to the rescue. See, Jay has been posting many things for a mighty long time over at his beer blog and one of the best is an accumulated archive of beer advertising from the golden age of pre-craft. As of the date of this post, Jay is up to ad #1354. If you scan through the ads you will not see any glassware that looks like a shaker. Or at least not many. You will see lots of tall narrow “pilsner” glasses. You will see squarish tumblers. And you will see goblets.
I love the goblet. I love this one in particular bought, as you might guess, in Maine. It has images of sailboats and lobsters and diving girls. Click on the image for the full fine detail. It has hefty dimples at the bottle of the bowl that help it fit the hand. It is thick and heavy and holds a full serving. It is ever so slightly tapered in at the top. It is built for a richly carbonated corn based lager circa 1966. And it does the job just fine. A pal whose friendship I deeply value was jealous when I spotted it at the second hand store before he did. He was right to feel that way.
As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, if you want to smell your beer, get your nose in there. One of the most irritating things about the snifter is how it (i) does not allow snifting until it is half empty thus lying to you for the first half of the drink and (ii) you often cannot get your nose in their so it lies to you for the second half. The goblet and the shaker and the nonic do not lie. You can be immersed in the full aromas if you wish to engage with the glassware. You can choose not to and avoid looking like the guy who relies on sandwich tongs when reaching for a hot dog.
Household hint. If you really want to open up the beer and add to your aroma experience, clean your glassware. Me, I use PBW powder when I am being a keener and wash a bunch of glasses before I am having a focused session. It’s the same stuff you ought to be using when you home brew. On everything. Everything the beer will touch should have this touch it first. That and Star San. Strip every bit of gunk off the glass and even the most basic good beer will have the best head ever, will give up all its scent potential, will tell you all it can.
Why is this not the main message promoted by folk telling you how to serve your beer? Well, there is no money in it for anyone. A supply of PBW and Star San might cost you about $12 a year. Any other reasons? Can’t think of any. It is, however, the best thing – and the cheapest thing – you can do for yourself and your beer.
A few hours on the fourth floor of the Royal Ontario Museum Saturday found me looking for beer stuff in the exhibits. Just a game. You think of how pervasive beer has been in western culture and how places like museums like to not discuss it all that much and it starts to be a fun game to play for a tired mind after a long night in a noisy hotel. Fun? Time passing maybe. Temper maintaining perhaps. Anyway, there was some fairly interesting stuff to be found.
Like that friend of Bertie Wooster who passes time when walking through London by imagining golf shots, I think about the beers I would have from these museum pieces. Not hard when the drinking vessel in question is a 1750s Silesian glass tankard but what about a fourth century Sudanese clay drinking cup. Clay asks for something like thin boozy porridge but there’s not much of that going around these day in this civilization. Chip shot into the Shaftesbury Memorial pool at Piccadilly.
Then I think about the techniques the curators are using to get the beer stuff into the displays but not really mentioning. In one room of the exhibit, two Georgian silver tankards are in the back placed on bookshelves along with other curios as if they were not really used for drinking beer at all. In another display, pewter pots are lined up in a row to describe weights and measures as opposed to the uses to which they were put. The weighted and measured. Odd. No pottle. The fifteenth century mead drinking jug made of spruce sits next to the leather canteen in a daring juxtaposition of old things, weirdly shaped and made out of strange stuff. Two iron glanced off Shakespeare’s forehead neatly carries on down Charing Cross Road. Kids are getting tired feet. Me, too.
We took the subway back to the hotel, three stops south to Osgoode the TTC car as empty but for us as the sidewalks had been on the way north earlier. The kids said that Toronto was nice but it was no Montreal. I knew what they meant but it was not a bad Toronto, either. University Avenue looked like the MIT area of Cambridge if the MIT area of Cambridge had stopped being built in 1973 or so.
I was never much good at math. I liked patterns and making the calculator make words if you loaded in a certain formula. “Esso Oil” could appear on the small LCD screen if you knew the right numbers. So I never became an accountant or an engineer. I was reminded of this when I came across this 1674 entry in the minute books of the Hudson’s Bay Company in London, part of that year’s provisioning of that year’s expedition to Canada’s Arctic coast. I understand that 17 men x 28 days x 3 months x 3 quarts = 5 tunns. Or 4284 quarts. But is it true that 4284 quarts equals 5 tunns? What is a tunn? Is there 4284 quarts ÷ 4 quarts in a gallon ÷ 5 tunns mean there are 214.2 gallons to a tunn? This would be a measure way off the pottle chart of the 1840s. Unless I have the math wrong.
Which is exactly the point at which I try to make words appear on my Texas Instrument solar powered pocket calculator in early 1981 or look out the classroom window daydreaming of Friday nights, past or future.
Now there’s a sexy title for a blog post. A real whooah-ish search engine optimization blog post title. Letterhead Pr0n. I should have paid more attention to the lighting when I was at the archives last week with Jordan in Ottawa. But, still, these are pretty sweet. It is amazing how elaborate the Taylor and Bates letterhead is. Rich old guys in suits drinking beer and having the time of their lives because they own a brewery and a radio station.
So, could the menu offer a Woman Wine? I would have preferred that the mug was manly as opposed to simply masculine. I had no idea mugs were, in fact, gendered. What do they get up to in the dishwasher? I also didn’t know that while their masculinity was superior when not in frosted form – something many males might agree upon – that they were inferior to pitchers. Makes one want to work on that two fingered fastball a bit more… if you know what I mean.
A few months ago, I referenced a wooden tankard that had been found on Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, as part of my review of Mitch Steele’s book IPA. I didn’t clue into one aspect of the tankard until I read this story about another similar wooden tankard from the 1500s found last year in the mud of the River Thames as described in this story posted at the Museum of London’s website:
It is comparable in shape to a modern beer mug, however, this tankard holds three pints. Was it used to carry beer from the barrel to the table or, was this someone’s personal beer mug? The quantity of liquid held in the tankard and markings suggesting it once had a lid, may indicate that it once served as a decanter. However, the lack of a spout seems to contradict this theory. The only other items that are contemporary and similar in appearance come from the Mary Rose, although the Mary Rose examples carry 8 pints.
Eight pints!! That is otherwise known as a gallon. Click on the picture to the right for a full version of the Mary Rose tankard. Notice how it appears to have straps of split branches rather than metal. Notice also how the photo above of the three pint tankard neatly illustrates how the handle shape likely indicates there was a lid just as on the Mary Rose tankard. Otherwise, why does the handle rise up above the rim as it does? Nothing like the well applied use of scientific photography in the cause of drinking vessel description accuracy by Murray Saunders for the Daily Mail and the unnamed photographer in the Wharf article. Perhaps a guild of their own is in order.
Speculation goes on that these large vessels may have been used as jugs but I wonder. Not only is there no spout, obviously a known technology in those times but it presumes very odd handling of the beer. Barrel to jug to mug. Why not just barrel to mug? B => M is better than B => J => M technology as it needs no staff person as middleman. No waiter. Why wouldn’t these sailors just be lined up daily and given their full gallon, the measure for consumption throughout day? It’s not like they are sitting in a pub as they drank the stuff. Besides, ship’s beer was weak. And anyway, serving jugs had a different shape.
To the left, the Riedel O-Riedel Series Red+White glass: seven inches high, holds seventeen and one quarter US ounces of fluid. To the right, the Spiegelau IPA glass, seven and one third inches high and holds nineteen US ounces of fluid. Riedel and Spiegelau are closely related companies or perhaps even two brands of the same international firm. In the rush to question, mock or ignore the alleged new Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada thingie, only one comment maker at Time magazine website’s story on the glass has bothered to suggest the relative lack of innovation which could be at play. Amazon reviews of the object associated with wine go back a few years. So, when a source like Fast Company magazine states:
In April, the Bavarian glassmaker Spiegelau will release the world’s first glass designed specifically for India Pale Ales, whose hops-heavy brewing process gives them an especially pungent, fruity aroma. Designed in collaboration with Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada–two craft brewers known for their IPAs–the unusual glass features wave-like ridges toward the bottom that help bring out the beer’s flavor…
…where do the uses of the words “designed” or “specifically” or “in collaboration” or “unusual” come from? Still, it sure broadens the utility, no? Makes it more of a multi-purpose glass. Perhaps call it the “Red and white as well as bunch of shades of brown” glass… perhaps?
In my quest for objects out of which to drink ale, I have a 1940s ceramic part pint, an 1840s pewter quart pot and have declared 2013 the year of the 1700s etched ale glass. But, what ho! Something came before my eye today that I had not only never seen before but never had heard of – the pottle! Not an actual pottle but just the concept.
As you can see, that is archaic word for a half-gallon. The image above is a handy illustration from the entry for “Ale” in 1725’s smash best selling book Dictionaire oeconomique: or, The family dictionary. Containing the most experienced methods of improving estates and of preserving health, with many approved remedies for most distempers of the body of man, cattle and other creatures…. You will have to excuse me for deleting more than half the title but you get the hint. But now you know that there are 16 pottles to a firkin. That’s knowledge, baby.
There are a few references to pewter pottle pots on Google mainly referencing legal cases where a whole bunch of things are listed as being stolen or being in a will. In 1267, it is recorded in The Court Rolls of Ramsey, Hepmangrove, and Bury that a number of naughty brewsters of Ramsey were brought before the rather ripely named William De Wassingle – who I have no doubt was called “Assingle” behind his back – to pay fines and pledge security. Earlier in the day there was a far more interesting case which is recorded as follows:
6 d. from Emma Powel for making unclean puddings, as presented in the last view. Pledge: Simon de Elysworth. Order that henceforth she not make pudding.
You wag, Assingle. Anyway, in the brewster cases on that day, the security pledged against failure to pay the fine included many pottles. Four centuries later but still over 350 years ago, in 1659, the court heard an action of trover and conversion brought against one Gervase Maplesden by one Gabriel Beckraan for a number of things including one pewter gallon pot, one pewter quart pot, one pewter pottle pot and one pewter pint pot. Battlin’ pewterers action! Nothing like it.
But where are the pottle pots now? Not only can I find none on the internets for sale but none even pictured. Can you send an image to one of these massive drinking vessels? Have you ever seen one?
So, you recall that I bought that rather swell Wedgewood 1940s sage green tankard? I seem to have caught a bit of a fever. And there is only one cure for that… a tankard you can play like a cowbell. For the record, here is the information which came with the online listing:
This quart mug which is of quart capacity, dates to around 1840, and is by the well known Birmingham makers Yates & Birch, whose mark is to the right hand side of the handle above “QUART”. There are three verification marks below the rim, two of which are a crowned VR over HB above H (Haslingden in Lancashire – see Marks and Marking of Weights and Measures of the British Isles – Ricketts & Douglas). ). There are two wrigglework cartouches to the front of the body which read “P. Pollard, Talbot Hotel” and “Old Talbot 1626”. The inscriptions suggest the mug was originally used in the Talbot Hotel, Oundle in Northamptonshire which was rebuilt in 1626, using stone and a staircase from the ruins of nearby Fotheringhay castle. Mary Queen of Scots was executed at the castle in 1587 which led to it being subsequently demolished by Mary Queen of Scots’ son and grandson. How the mug acquired verification marks for Haslingden in Lancashire remains a mystery. The mug is in good condition with general wear commensurate with age (see images) but no splits, holes or repairs, and would make a great display piece.
A mystery. Neato. Came in the mail today. Picked up at eBay, it ended up being $75 bucks all in for door to door delivery across the ocean. Best of all, it is a quart with plenty of interesting markings indicating that it was from this still functioning hotel in Northamptonshire from perhaps the 1840s. Definitely marked for the Victorian era. But it is old pewter so I may have to do a bit more research before I make it my primary drinking tankard. Never cared much for the look around the gills of any Victorians I have run across. But it does pose the prospect that a few more could be acquired with a good chance of having a thinking persons quart tankard drinking association. Extra points for showing up with one like this.
But I found this which will do for now.
In George Orwell’s 1949 essay The Moon Under Water – mentioned here, here and here – we are taken perhaps though the looking glass to an idyllic perfect pub of post-war Britain. It is a gorgeous physical essay that sets out the elements of Orwell’s dream establishment including even the mugs:
The special pleasure of this lunch is that you can have draught stout with it. I doubt whether as many as 10 per cent of London pubs serve draught stout, but the Moon Under Water is one of them. It is a soft, creamy sort of stout, and it goes better in a pewter pot. They are particular about their drinking vessels at the Moon Under Water, and never, for example, make the mistake of serving a pint of beer in a handleless glass. Apart from glass and pewter mugs, they have some of those pleasant strawberry-pink china ones which are now seldom seen in London. China mugs went out about 30 years ago, because most people like their drink to be transparent, but in my opinion beer tastes better out of china.
There is also a small surprise of a garden… and stamps. I have been looking for a strawberry-pink china mug for a while now but have made do with this in the interim. It is a Wedgewood 1940s sage green tankard designed by Keith Murray. I got it on eBay for about $53 Canadian which is a lot but it is also not as I could likely put it on eBay tomorrow and get about $53 Canadian… which is what I tell people about my soccer jersey collection of about eight years ago that sits in boxes waiting for another five for the teens to discover it. I like the way the handle looks a bit like antler. Not sure what beer I will have from it. Looks nice where it is.