Peter Pan As Craft Beer’s Archetype

Given we are in this “less research sharing and more blue sky dreaming, tea-leaf reading forecasting” era, I am less inclined to care all that much about what the mass of beer writing is broadcasting but this over at Stan’s is a very interesting thing:

This was, and in many cases still is, a familiar story. Hate your job? Become a brewer. This is an example of why J. Nikol Beckham writes in a new collection of essays that “the microbrew revolution’s success can be understood in part as the result of a mystique cultivated around a group of men who were ambitious and resourceful enough to ‘get paid to play’ and to capitalize upon the productive consumption of fans/customers who enthusiastically invested in this vision.” The title of this fourth chapter in Untapped: Exploring the Cultural Dimension of Craft Beer is a mouthful: “Entrepreneurial Leisure and the Microbrew Revolution: The Neoliberal Origins of the Craft Beer Movement.”

My immediate response was it might explain why today’s craft remains so male leisure-class driven:  because the entry to craft may require pre-existing privilege. Peter Pans? Which would also explain all the jockeying for position amongst the commenting classes, that irritation we may be seeing as the theme of mid-2017. Makes sense. Not only is craft beer writing a niche but access to publication and (not always a given) paid publication is as much drawn of that same leisure class as the brewery owners are. I commented to Stan thusly:

Well, I don’t know that we are seeing a lot of cultural analysis of the critical sort that identifies the issue of white, privileged, male and leisured in GBH or elsewhere as most beer writing these days is largely a celebration of the opportunities within this leisure class written by folk largely already in or aspiring to the same class – with, yes, tepid nods to those not in the class but no real suggestion of change. Half the discourse can’t even get on board of an anti-sexist branding movement.

How wonderful. I have had my head in a bit of a funk since the dawn of 2017 trying to get a sense of what was going on – but that is it! No wonder it makes me so uncomfortable.

“Style” In Its Early Pre-Jacksonian Form

This label got me thinking. Its one of those old labels you see floating around the internets in places like this. But look at that pesky little word “style” sitting there in the loop of the beer. I am informed that the label is from 1914. About six years ago, I asked what it was exactly that Jackson meant when he first wrote about style back in 1977. I think today I am wondering why we think Jackson first used the word style as it relates to beer. Interestingly, I think the use on the label and the use by Jackson in 1977 are very closely related.

Hmm.  A few more examples for your cogitations:

That Time In 1986 When Mr. Jackson Came To Albany

This is an interesting notice in the October 31, 1986 edition of the Times Union from Albany, New York under the heading “Newman’s Brews Beer Tasting”:

English beer authority Michael Jackson will visit Albany Nov. 4 to conduct “The Quintessential Beer Tasting,” at 8 p.m. at the Century House in Latham. The international beer tasting, sponsored by Albany’s Newman Brewing Company, will be open to the public. Jackson, known as “The Bard of Beer” and author of “The World Guide to Beer,” has been called the world’s best authority on beer. He has led beer tastings at Harrods in London and the Pierre Hotel in New York City. For the Albany show, he will lead a guided tour through a selection of 13 international beers. Tickets at $6 per person are available through Newman’s Brewery at 465- 8501 and at the door.

What is really fun about the item is that a few days later, on 5 November 1986, a report on the event written by Fred LeBrun was published in the same paper under the headline “Beer Guru Salutes Newman’s” which I need to reproduce in full to properly undertake a review of the implications:

The real Michael Jackson came to Albany yesterday. Downtown was snoring because it was Election Day, so he did what he frequently does when he’s on the road anyway. He had a well-thought-out Newman’s Albany Amber Ale at Ogden’s. Now Ogden’s, a reasonably serious restaurant, is not a bistro that would first come to mind for a casual beer. But then the real Michael Jackson is not a casual beer drinker.

It should be noted about here that this real Michael Jackson rarely sleeps in an oxygen tent, at least by choice, nor is he likely to be caught fondling a Pepsi. He did wear a sequined glove for a while as a goof, but grew tired of it in a couple of hours. This real Michael Jackson is 44, bearded, a touch pudgy, tweedy and scholarly, wears glasses and speaks with a pleasant, all-purpose British accent. He is also the world’s most respected authority on beer. His “The World Guide to Beer” of a decade ago is still the definitive text on the subject, and his newly published “Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer” will do still more to educate a world awakening to the great variety and styles of beers and ales available, using much the same critical language in the past reserved for fine wines. From Adelaide to Nairobi to Anchor Steam country out in San Francisco, wherever beer and ale is brewed, this Michael Jackson is The Word.

He was in Albany on a pilgrimage of sorts, paying respects to one of his favorite American alemakers, William Newman, and sampling a fresh batch of Newman’s Winter Ale, due out for the general public in a couple of weeks. A few months ago, when Jackson was interviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times, he listed Newman’s Winter Ale as one of his five favorite American beers. Anchor Steam, for the record, remains his favorite.

For Albany, in its Tricentenniel year, Jackson’s visit offers a double dose of irony. Albany, and the Capital District in general, was once a brewing center of the United States, according to Jackson, along with Philadelphia. At one time, there were breweries in practically every Albany neighborhood, brewing a variety of styles – 18 at one point. But when the Newmans, William and Marie, opened their microbrewery five years ago exactly, there wasn’t a single brewery left in town. Schaefer, the last major brewery, was newly gone, and shortly before that Hedrick’s, owned by Albany County Democratic Chairman Dan O’Connell, and Fitzgerald across the river.

Yet in the five years since, the Newmans has struggled mightily to carve out a steady little market for itself with deep, full-flavored, hoppy ales sold in kegs and jury-rigged take- home containers. They have fought against the biggies, which in this market is Genesee, and Miller, and the ever-present Budweiser, and recently a hot run by Stroh’s. They have eked out standing in this crowd. Now Albany Amber Beer is available in bottles, created to Bill Newman’s fussy specs by the Schmidt’s Brewery in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the active center of new breweries in America has moved to the West Coast, notably Oregon and Washington State.

Out there, the Newmans are positively venerated, idolized, for what they’ve done. They were the first on the East Coast to create a new-style baby brewery offering traditional beers and ales of great character. Now there’s Samuel Adams in Boston, and New Amsterdam and Royal Amber in New York and dozens more. “Newman’s has never had the credit it deserves,” writes Jackson in his newest guide. “Its misfortune is to be in Albany, which may be the state capital but is an unimaginable distance – about 140 miles – from downtown Manhattan.” Prophets in their own land.

Jackson strongly recommended making the trek up the Hudson to sample draft Newman’s, much better than the bottled stuff. Good news for Jackson’s next book, as far as the Newmans are concerned, was his delight with the soon- to-be-released Winter Ale, an ale Bill Newman varies each time it comes out. “It has a very rich aroma, with a lot of fruitiness to the palate,” Jackson said Tuesday, referring to a little notebook he always keeps with him. The Word has spoken.

Craig mentioned a Jackson visit in our 2014 book, Upper Hudson Valley Beer. A photo caption states that Michael Jackson, in the middle sporting his Jeff Lynne lid, said on a 1985 visit: [i]f Newman succeeds in his heroic venture, he will undoubtedly inspire many others.” Newman is the guy in the necktie. As we told the tale, Newman spent three months in 1979 under the tutelage of the father of the British independent brewery movement, Peter Austin, at his Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire England. With Austin, Newman received a crash-course in all things brewing, and toured many of the countries breweries—both big and small. He returned to Albany with plans for his own version of Austin’s 10-barrel, open fermenting brewing system and, within a year, was brewing Newman’s Albany Amber as the 1980s were hitting their stride. 

Look what the LeBrun article notes. Jackson knew in the mid-80s that Albany had been one of the great brewing centres. As Craig has learned, that was forgotten history locally.  And Newman’s wasn’t just early, it was good if Jackson’s word the Winter Ale was worth anything. There is an implication that the west coast had passed an earlier east coast prominence in micro brewing – not part of the triumphalism of today but, as we know, history gets forgotten. And Newman was considered their forebearer.

In December 2015, Gary wrote about his own trips in the 1980s from Montreal south to visit Newman’s. It makes for a great companion piece. It was all over soon. On 15 August 1987, it was reported in the Knickerbocker News that Newman’s had filed for bankruptcy and, while it would live on as a contract brewed beer for a few more years, the brewing era was over.

A User’s Guide To Dealing With 2017

It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
               “That is not it at all,
               That is not what I meant, at all.”

 

It’s tough writing in 2017 about a pleasure hobby like good beer. Remember 2016 when all the celebrities were taking their final exit from this mortal coil? When norms in US politics collapsed? 2016 made sense compared to 2017. Bryan Roth captured that sense of doubt when he struggled this week with what appears to be the word of the moment, authenticity. His coda was excellent: “I have no idea what just happened here.”  

Stan responded in his flickering light bulb of a blog’s Monday links commenting “[b]ut that’s not the rabbit hole. Authenticity is the rabbit hole.” He went so far as to shout out in dispair, even in paranthetically “[i]t might be time to bring back the Good Beer Blog chimp.” Good thing Stonch is off social media for Lent. He haaaates Mr Chimp Head. The inclusion to the right is completely gratuitous.

My take is this. Like J. Alfred above, we search for both a meaning in and a validation of our experience. We humans do that inherently even when we stand in the face of apparent meaninglessness. We seek solace. For some, solace is found in the spectrum that runs from nostalgia to anti-novelty as B+B discussed earlier this week. We hope we can convince ourselves that milds, bitters and stouts without all the phony pricey additives are better. Such things are more grounded, more rooted into… something. Authentic. But, as those of you who like me have participated in construction contracts with grounding issues know, things need to be grounded into something. Not all stone has acceptable conductivity. Authenticity is like that. Authenticity is not a characteristic but a quality of a characteristic.* It needs its own grounding.

Even having made myself a student of brewing history – largely out of sheer dismay at the state of what I saw as good beer culture – I am not sure what that grounding, however, might be. In the face of this year’s confusion, there is such a rush on opportunistic self-congratulation, guru-label affixing and tantrums over what the young and happy are up to. Authority wants its place at the head table despite the sense that the centre cannot hold.** Hasn’t held. Private correspondents still complain that what is considered good writing to the dull editor, under the guise of keeping it light, often seems to seek compensation conformity with an extra expectation of a nod to deemed authority or even a scratched familiar back. Oh dear.

Yet, out there in the actual marketplace what was expected a few years ago is simply no longer a viable expectation.*** Things are far less dull on the ground. The other day, I had a beer so thick and murky I immediately thought that it would be perfect for my kid who likes wheatgrass and kiwi smoothies. Which, when I thought about it, is exactly the point – and its immediate market.

The craft schism has occurred. It is done even if not complete. Not only is it impossible now to be a beer expert it may be impossible to be an expert even in one of the growing number of sub-classes. With all due respect to the honest and excellent exertions of even Mr. B, the beer atlas approach is now too old, too slow. Too big. The global style guide no longer provides hope to those wanting to understand their immediate surroundings. That tower of Lego lays shattered and scattered around the crying child.

This is, however, a situation laced with hope. Two months ago Stan wrote an incredibly (well, if it wasn’t so credible) well put observation in one comment thread that I was busily filling, as I am known to do:

To return to the notion that you “don’t seem to be learning from all this plump and very nicely packaged writing,” doesn’t the reality that you’ve been reading and commenting in this space for so long factor in? I certainly feel that way. There are a lot of things I feel like I’ve been many times over that are “gee, look at that, it’s new” to many others.

 
New! New marketplaces. New techniques. New fans. New interests. What care they for the pioneers and their lessons framed in their acquired comforts?  They might as well be those who invented coke, who first plucked a hop blossom. Who cares? Fortunately, good beer is so forgiving and so varied, the real excitement’s in what’s to be had today and tomorrow. And near. Why buy a plane ticket when a bus ticket will do?

Authenticity? It’s in the context. And more and more that context is local and varied. If you read someone still writing about the beer community or industry in the singular you know they’ve slept through the shattering schism, dreaming their dreams of global conformity. Or wasted time at the moveable buffet meeting the same entourage encountered at the last fest or city. Forget that. Be brave. Explore your own corner of the world instead. Find that dimpled pint of mild or stemmed thimble of fruited gose. See how the new beer fits in your world before wishing away the hours over the pretty story told by someone else about some place else. Dare.

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.

The Promise Of Every Man His Own Brewer, 1768

I’ve been thinking about Samuel Child’s 1768 work Every Man His Own Brewer, Or, A Compendium of the English Brewery for a few days and particularly its fine narrative flow. Consider this brief passage in the preface:

I was once on an election, at a certain borough in Wiltshire, and, in the course of our canvass, drank sometimes to the amount of two quarts of beer in the forenoon, not only without sensible prejudice, but that it rather mended my health, and gave me brisk spirits. As I had not been used to drinking, especially in the morning, I admired at this, and found, on the most strict scrutiny, that nothing was used in this liquor but malt and hops, and that its happy vinos flavor was merely the result of good ingredients, well cured, a fine a fine chalk water, and not being too much boiled…

What a lovely way to introduce the basic idea of beer, a bit of knowledge that has been repeated in pretty much every book on brewing and good beer in the intervening 249 years but seldom stated so well. I have dug around in brewing texts from before 1800 hunting for facts about fern ale or that fib about smoke-ridden gak that so many beer experts erroneous suggest was the state of affairs back in the era that, you know, the expert never much studied. But I have not thought about the texts as writing or even read them from beginning to end. Maybe only for Coppinger because he was such an odd duck. 

I’ll do that, save the text to a reader of some sort. But right now look at the table up there. It’s from page 37. First, I love its title. The TABLE. As if Child would have added a few exclamation marks. As if he was just figuring out how to make a table out of HTML. Yet… there is another table also titled “The TABLE” just seven pages later. The thing I like next best is how it is immediately bragged up by the author:

These are hints sufficient to guide any one in the choice of his malts, as it respects the color of his beer, and the time it will be fit for use if judiciously brewed; and the experiment is to be made in the kiln as soon as the malt is perfected, and used as soon after as possible to preserve the genial spirit.

Brew with the malt as soon as kilned to attain the desired colour of the beer. Which means nine grades of beer brewed from any given malting should be considered attainable. Child then over pages and pages describes many sorts of beer: “London Beer under the name of Porter,” London Amber, Burton Ale, table beer, oat ale, Marlborough beers, Dorchester beers, Nottingham beers, Western White Ale.

The variety is quite extraordinary. As a whole, the book frames not so much the state of British brewing in the decade before the American Revolution, at a point before traditional brewing shifts to industrial with the shift to steam power starting with Whitbread in the 1780s as it now provides a guide how to go back and recreate them from the few basic elements he first considered on that election campaigning in Wiltshire. Including, towards the end, exotics including three pages on Brunswic Mum  and a shorter passage on Newfoundland spruce and molasses beer.

It would be a great project to annotate and experiment with the techniques described in the book. It is, after all, only through the use of a guide that one figures out if its any good or not.

 

 

What A Difference A Year Makes – 2017 Edition

Over the holidays, I was thinking about what to do with this blog in 2017. It’s been a heavy slog over the last few months ensuring the important and favorite and representative bits of bits of 10,000 posts get across the River Jordan to the next bloggy life but that’s largely behind me now. What I need to do now is look ahead and take on the new opportunities that the coming year offers in style. It a bit of panache. Even. Maybe.

A lot can happen in a year. Last year this time we were still in the grip of learning that US craft brewery owners were (horrors!) not all evangelists willing to starve for the cause. No, the sweet taste of gravy was too much for many – or the actual goal all along. Click on the score card and have a look. You’d have a hard time filling that chart out properly now. You might need different colour pens. Funny thing –  no one really cares now. As is often the case with the leadership clique within even a small circle, they are barely missed as others are ready and willing to fill the gap. Beer is nimble like that. Beer itself is a survivor. The survivor. The rest of it all comes and goes.

Not sure blogging is surviving along with it. I could try out a new structural twist like the B+B “Breakfast Debate”… except I am only one person and I wrote my homage in two-fisted dialogue to The Compleat Angler with Max a few years back. But I like the idea. Keeping it fresh. These winter months are great for working on an historic era, for working through a data base. I have a notion to work away at the erroneous ideas that (1) temperance was some sort of trick played on the many by the few and (2) that, contrarily perhaps, it was all that effective. And greater early 1900s social history. I sit above a small outdated law library. It’s great stuff and holds masses of facts proven by evidence, tinged with authority. Rare.

I would also like to figure out a way to crack the nut of getting into the ledgers of contemporary craft brewing. What are they actually up to as businesses? It’s the only way to break the cycle of brewery owner cheery pozzy obvsy bios we’ve been stuck with for the last few years.* You would have thought that the craft sellouts would have taught a lesson but gate-keeping editors will have their way. The narrative must go on. And it will be even more popular in the new Trumptastic era. Boo to the questioners! Down with those losers asking “why?”!  Hmm. I would need to present it at a statistical abstraction. And I would need some helpful assistants in the business offices of craft breweries. Any takers? You can voice flabbergasted serious objections in the comments below and send me your non-disclosure agreement template to beerblog@gmail.com. Let’s talk.

What else can I do? We do? I am interested in another unpopular idea. What is it that makes us lose interest in novelty, makes us find a home in certain pop culture things like beer? Most folk I know have packed in chasing the beery tail. Novelty is for novices. Some lasting things are actually better. Think of it this way. I am a lucky man. I was 14 to 24 from 1977 to 1987 which means I was in the front row to a very strong point in pop and alt** music history. I have not been persuaded since that another period is superior but I also realize its not only the music I heard but that I was that age in my life when it was popular. I would hope those years were golden for each of us – though being 14 in 1977 was pretty sweet. Does the same idea work for good beer? Will we all just end up accepting Rochefort is fabulous or will today’s twenty somethings actually get a bit verklempt over memories of weird fruit flavoured gose thirty years from now? Could you imagine? It’s be like getting nostalgic over Mumford and Sons.

So. Any suggestions? Any idea I might explore? Conversely, any lakes you might, perhaps, direct me to jump into? I am for too entrenched to care if you take offense. Last year saw a peak in the “how dare you!” emails suggesting a personal slight directed to folk I really never thought that much about. Could you imagine thinking that much of yourself that you took the minute and 27 seconds of deep consideration it took from outrage to pressing send? Well, we won’t be having any of that in 2017, will we. Nope! And that is because this is the year where people get a grip, learn we are not each the centre of the beery world and get about doing what needs to be done!

Remember: it is only beer and, by way of corollary, you are only you. Well… fine. Can we at least start with this is the year we give it a try?

*aka “it’s amazing work – but, trust me, everyone is broke.”

**Is it too soon to use “alt” again?

Hello From The Blog’s Back End – And The Road…

It’s been busy at the system admin end of the blogging life even if not so active here out front. Since mid-October, I have happily shifted over 650 posts to the new WordPress platform and am starting to see a bit of daylight. There will be an opportunity to receive a bulk loading of posts in a few weeks but I wanted key posts well in place before that happens. To get the house in order. In doing so, I have had the experience of reliving my last 14 years or so as a public writer. It’s very instructive. There seem to be clear phases to my – and our – beer blogging, the fourth or fifth of which we are in now.

a. The first from maybe 2003 to 2006 was marked by reviews, by news items about beer taken from the news, by figuring out the lay of the land.

b. Then the beer blogging explosion of 2007 to, say, 2010 saw a lot of active discussion including plenty about the role of beer blogging. And the Xmas photo contest going full speed. Participation was riding high.

c. Next, we have the difficult period. The Oxford Companion to Beer was a problem faced in late 2011. In May 2013, we lost Simon, one of the brightest beer bloggers, the bringer of viciously accurate humour.

d. An about turn led me more deeply into history in 2013-15, building on the Albany Ale Project, as well as utter dissatisfaction with the state of things. The self appointed consulto-expert. The acceptance of the shoddy. The rise of unaffiliated certificate programs. Three books resulted. New York City history in the 1700s began to get unpacked.

e. Next and up to today, the sudden great collapse brought on by a number of things like the great buyout phenomenon, murk, short form social media, long long form amaze-balls storytelling, the deletion of old blogs and All About Beer sucking up all the beer bloggers ideas and then dulling them down for general non-boat rocking comfortable digestion without much resulting chitchat. Yet, despite this, this is now the time of the wonderful rise of the many and tiny and clever as well as, perhaps, a return to more of the substantive sort of books 2010 promised.

That image up there? It’s from the journal of the Napanee Beer Company’s Geordan Saunders. When I stopped in there yesterday while on the road for the first time to see how things were going since they opened last spring, we immediately had a “I know your face” and “And I know your face” moment. Four and a half years before he had popped into my office to ask me what I thought of his dream to be a small town brewer. Good thing I was helpful (or at least not a big wet neg) as their beers are fabulous – in particular their Blacklist, a schwarzbier. When I thought about it, at least three of those chats have now been followed by brewery openings in my area.

I don’t know if I am a great resource.  Geordan was kind to think I was. I do know, however, that reviewing all these posts and ensuring my favorites are well manicured and comfortably housed has led me to realize there is a point to it all. The collection as a whole traces the arc of something. Something continuously moving forward inveigling itself into the culture. It’s reminded me to be very hopeful.

Unhappy New York Hop Inspection: 1827 to 1835

hopinsp1

It’s a funny thing, history. Sometimes you can only see a bit. Just the effects of something but not the cause. Or just one rabbit hole to chase down all the while missing the larger field below which it sits. Coming across the Article Ten above in a set of laws entitled The Revised Statutes of the State of New-York: Passed During the Years One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-seven, and One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-eight… immediately struck me that way. It’s a bit of a dislocated. It sits among laws about the inspection of other things: pickled fish (Art.4), sole leather (Art. 9) for but two examples. It seems pretty clear that in 1827 the need for inspecting things was important to New Yorkers. Section 161, however, may have laid an unintended trap in the general scheme:

Hops inspected in the city of Albany, may be exported thence, or be sold in and exported from the city of New-York, without being subject to re-inspection in the city of New-York.

First, note that the laws of the state of New York described the state of New York as coming from “New-York” is in itself a question… I wonder if I can find a highly placed New York law librarian who might address this question. Second, notice that there are two points of export. As you the careful reader might have picked up over the previous six or seven years New York had two centers, one for the Dutch and one for the English, which became one center for the administrative life and one for the financial. A certain tension was being addressed in the law.

Helpfully, there are other books one can find on line. Such as the General Index to the Documents of the State of New York, from 1777 to 1871, Inclusive published by the New York State Assembly. And in that index there is the following fabulous entry:

hopinsp2

What do we see? Well, it took a bit of time to get the whole hop inspecitng thing going. The law came into being in 1827-28 but the first report only is presented to the government in 1830. Plus there were three inspectors over one decade. But none overlap. Which is a problem. Because there are supposed to be two concurrently operating inspection processes going on. Scanning around I find the answer. In 1871’s General Index at a page 109 pages before the page above has the index entry “HOPS, INSPECTOR OF, see Albany, New York” – note: without a hyphen. And when one goes looking for that you find on page 17:

hopinsp3

So, the Albany inspector was John C. Donnelly of whom I immediately presume Craig will have a list of prior offenses the length of my arm. Why would I say such a thing? Did I ever mention we co-wrote a book on the history of brewing in Albany?  You will also see, he did not last long. Why might that be? Well, let’s look at what else is out there to have a look at. We actually have the 1830 report out of the New York City office which reads in full:

ANNUAL REPORT
Of Robert Barnes, an Inspector of Hops, for the county of New-York.
To the Honourable the Legislature of the State of New-York.

The hop inspector respectfully sheweth :—In conformity with the state laws on the subject of inspection, I herewith transmit to the Legislature a statement of all the hops inspected by me during the last twelve months, ending 1st mo. 1st, 1831.

Inspector’s Report for the City of New-York, for the year 1830.

606 bales of hops, 127,840 lbs., average price, say, 12 1/2 cts $15,980
Inspector’s fees at 10 cents per 100 lbs.,….               $127 84
Deduct for extra labor, materials, and other
incidental expenses, at 31 cents per bale,                     21 21
Inspector’s available funds, (no emoluments)         106 63

From the inadequate means, as stated above, towards supporting a competent judge of the article of hops, I respectfully solicit the legislature to abolish the Albany Inspection, on all hops exported from the state. Shipments when confined to a single brand, would render it more hazardous for those making encroachments on our state laws, which in some degree is followed, and by superior management, rendered difficult of detection.
ROBERT BARNES
New-York, 1st mo. 1st January, 1831.

So, Robert Barnes of New York City… err… County had John C. Donnelly kicked out of a plum appointment at the bottom of his very first report. Is that it? I take it that rendering “it more hazardous for those making encroachments on our state laws” by superior management is an oblique way of suggesting that Mr. Donnelly was in on some bad behaviour. It wasn’t a one sided discussion. The Donnelly report was received by the State Assembly on Friday February 4, 1831.

A month later, as a final matter of its working day on Friday March 4, 1831 the New York House of Assembly voted as follows:

Resolved, That the annual reports of Robert Barnes, inspector of hops in the city of New-York, and John C. Donnelly, inspector of hops in the city of Albany, be referred to the committee on trade and manufactures; and that said committee report to this House, what alterations (if any) are necessary in the law regulating the inspection of hops in this State.

It appears that the victory by Barnes might not have been entirely the sort of self-serving move one might expect from appointees of the era. In his 1835 report to the government he set the following out as part of his request to continue in the position:

My having been a brewer upwards of thirty years in this city, and since, seven more as inspector, a sufficient time to complete a thorough knowledge of its necessary duties, and respectfully solicits a continuance in office, which would confer a lasting obligation on your friend.

It is not like Barnes was not connected to the industry. Craig actually mentioned him in a post back in 2012. Here’s a notice of his from the New York Commercial Advertiser of 1807. His role as inspector appears to be a part time gig. Note also that during those years from the 1830 crop to that of 1834 (each reported the next year) there was an increase in value from $15,980 to $129,656. The volume of hops exported as well: 606 bales of exported hops in 1830 became 4,235 bales reported in the 1835 report. So why were the inspectors unhappy? Why did one report shutting down the other’s office? We actually have John C. Donnelly’s report from Albany submitted in February 1831 which has this fabulous table:

hopinsp4

Turns out all of the 606 bales of hops reported in Barnes’s 1831 report were entirely sourced in upstate New York to the west and directly upstream… err, up the Erie Canal from Albany.  So, as a first thing, if all the hops are passing both cities why have two inspection points?  As a second? Not sure. I can’t find reference to hop inspections referenced in either the Journal of the NY State Assembly for 1832 or in the Documents recorded as being filed with the Assembly in that year. I may update if I find more information on the run in between Messers. Barnes and Donnelly but for now let this be a lesson to you all. Even a decent set of records should be considered partial and, therefore, imperfect. Ah, the human condition made manifest, as it usually is, in the inspection reports of primary agricultural production.

Session 117: I Predict More Predictions Ahead

sessionlogosmThis month’s edition of The Session finds us being asked by Beer Means Business to think to the future:

Over the last 10 years, numerous topics have been presented and the bloggers who discussed them expressed a rich diversity of perspectives or specific areas of interest. Therefore, I refrain from giving you further ideas or examples. There are no limits in time, space or nature either. I would like you to let your imagination free, and capture ONE thing you think we will see MORE of with an explanation of the idea.

Forecasting is a pretty tedious affair. What we will “see more of” is all a lot of folk are writing about these days. The last year has seen the rise self-appointed seers unaccountably yapping about fascinating topics like “a bubble is coming” to “there is no bubble coming.” Oh… and the brewery who brought me, fed me and watered me is going to be important to you. Personally. Soon. Count on it. You know, this sort of forecasting appears to be largely a matter of explaining how what ever is happening today will continue. My favourite one is how ABInBev is, again, in peril of imminent collapse. As it dismantles big craft. Wow. We need a word for that. Beforecasting? Borecasting?

None of this sort of writing matters – but I expect to see more of it.  It’s the packing styrofoam of beer writing. The filler between the interesting bits. I wish it weren’t so. I wish folk would be a bit braver in putting their own ideas into the discussion. I wish publications were a bit more risk taking and independent. I wish the actual business of beer were explored like any other industry of comparable impact. There are a lot of big brains out there. Good brains. And not just moaning negs like me. Folk who can create the better next thing.

I am not holding my breath. Because I need to breathe. But I have hope. I am a hopeful person. As I move blog posts from the old blog system to this one I am reminded how much richer the discussion was from, say 2007 to 2013. So I know it can be done.