When Steam Was King… It Was Common

Two years ago – well, 23 months ago, I wrote a brief passing thing about the concept of “steam” beer in a post about another thing, cream ale, but given this week’s sale of Anchor, makers of steam beer who proudly proclaim they are San Francisco Craft brewers since 1896,  to an evil dark star in the evil dark galaxy of international globalist beverage corporations, I thought it worth repeating and expanding slightly. Here is what I wrote:

Adjectives from another time. How irritating. I mentioned this the other day somewhere folk were discussing steam beer. One theory of the meaning is it’s a reference to the vapor from opening the bottle. Another says something else. Me, I think it’s the trendy word of the year of some point in the latter half of the 1800s. Don’t believe me? Just as there were steam trains and steamships, there were steam publishers. In 1870 there was a steam printer in New Bedford, Massachusetts. A steam printer was progress. Steam for a while there just meant “technologically advanced” or “the latest thing” in the Gilded Age. So steam beer is just neato beer. At a point in time. In a place. And the name stuck. That’s my theory.

And here is what I would like to add. To the right is a news item from the Albany Gazette of 10 March 1814. As I have looked around records from the 18o0s for example of the use of “steam” I describe above, I found this one describing a steam battery both early and entertaining. I assumed on first glance that this was some sort of power storage system. In fact it is for a barge loaded with cannon. 32 pounder cannon which are rather large cannon indeed. Well, all cannon are large if they are pointed at you I suppose but in this case they are significant. For the nationalist vexiologists amongst you, I can confirm that the proposed autonomously propelled barge system of cannon delivery was reported six months before the Battle of Baltimore. Were they part of the sea fencibles? Suffice it to say, as with steam publishing and steam train engines you had steam based warfare by battle barge.

Next – and again to the right – is a notice placed in the New York Herald on 11 September 1859 indicating that John Colgan was selling three grades of ale and perhaps three grades of porter after “having made arrangements with W.A. Livingston, proprietor of steam brewery…” This appears to be an example of contract brewing where Livingston owns the brewery and contract brews for the beer vendor, Colgan. Aside from that, it is a steam brewery. Livingston’s operation was listed in the 1860 Trow’s New York City Directory along with a number of other familiar great regional names in brewing such as Vassar, Taylor and Ballantine. And it lists over two pages a total of four steam breweries, including Livingston’s. Which makes it a common form of industry marketing.

“Steam” is quite venerable as a descriptor of technology. If you squint very closely at this full page of the Albany Register from 29 January 1798 you will see steam-jacks for sale. It is also a term that moved internationally. In the New York Herald for 15 September 1882, you see two German breweries named as steam breweries. And again in the Herald, in the 10 August 1880 edition to the right, we see the sale of the weiss brewery at 48 Ludlow Street details of which included a “steam Beer Kettle” amongst other things. One last one. An odd one. If you look at this notice from the Herald from 14 June 1894 you will see a help wanted ad seeking a “young man to bottle and steam beer.” Curious.

What does any of it mean? Well, steam beer and common might have a lot more to do with each other than the just the name of a style.

 

 

The Intern’s Beery Links For Mid-July

Ah, the mid-July week off. Nothing teaches you more about how life is a fleeting interim stage than July. The poppies and irises are already in the past. The last of the early radishes have long been dug under. Time is passing. One day you wake up and discover you are a 54 year old intern for some guy named Stan. Hmm.

What’s gone on this week in beer?

When The Selling Out Game Has Some Weird Players

The BeerCast has posted an excellent unpacking of the sale of the discount shelf of London Fields (mothballed) brewery by an experienced guest of the Queen to those oddest of flatmates, the Danes of Carlsberg and the Empire State folk at Brooklyn Brewery. Expect a shedding of everything associated now with the name and then a massive leveraging of the name. For a mere four million pounds, most owners of craft beer won’t get out of bed in the morning. Given the situations of all involved, this deal looks like and smells like money all around.

Cheery Not Niceness

I enjoy these teletext messages from Matthew Lawrenson on Twitter. They retain his snappy direct humour but it’s like the words are coming out of the mouth of Tinky-Winky. I love the format he is developing. Thirty years ago visiting family in Scotland, I would sneak into the TV room to play with the remote, exploring teletext. Checking the weather forecast for Skye in multi-colour dot matrix… then checking out the soccer scores. All while the TV plays on underneath the text info. Magic. As a form of brewing and craft commentary this singular and effective. This one was posted Friday morning my time here in North America. Note the author. And the cheeky image.

Being Nice

I am less certain about this conversation one Twitter – while making no comment on the particular conversation.  It’s the pattern. You see it quite often, a double form of delicacy. The desire to speak discretely of a brewery or bar doing something wrong being jumped upon for either (1) not name the names or (2) raising the real issue without naming the names. I am never quite sure what makes folk more upset, not getting all the juicy gossip or finding fault with a craft community member without first satisfying a level of procedural test for bringing evidence before a criminal court. Yet, it is only beer. I dunno. Folk seem happy to slag airlines and coffee shops. It seems a particularly southern Ontario concern but you see it pop up in England, too. In this case, the misapprehension that brewery or bar staff have some deep loyalty if not a monogamous bond with the boss seems the root of the problem.

Oliver Grey expanded on this concern mid-week. He primarily discusses the tribal divide between big craft and big beer, framing it from the perspective of Campbell’s narrative structure:

I get it, the hero of the story needs a villain to triumph over. I wrote about it at length. But it’s important to remember that to the villain, the hero can often look like a terrorist. For every story a perspective, for every perspective a truth. Therein, the issue slumbers.

Seeing as he has to deal with fools like this, I get the point. But there is the greater risk that is engaged with far too much in beer – the Hosannas, all the Hosannas. Given alcohol makes you initially feel good, it is not unexpected that people like saying nice things about it but taking the next steps of treating it like something beyond criticism and discord has always struck me as a bit weird, leaving ideas and interests unexamined. Give me cheery naughtiness anytime.

Mentioning the Bad

Jeff Alworth made a promise on Friday that definitely borders on the niceness question:

…enough of the excuses: Boak and Bailey are right, I should be writing about bad beer more often. I’m actually going to start looking for them. Rather than just writing scathing reviews, though, I’ll use it as an opportunity to discuss why I think the beer is bad, because “bad” is in many dimensions an objective evaluation. A good brewer may fail to execute on a vision, which is one kind of bad. A mediocre brewer may compose an uninspiring recipe, a different kind. Or the beer may have faults and off-flavors, a kind of bad that is now rarer, at least in these parts. Beer may be bad because of technical, aesthetic, or other reasons–and there’s actual value in discussing the nature of the problems.

I am delighted by this declaration, if only because it is framed as contrary to the Jacksonian model we have inherited. I would note that it is not what was first given that was inherited but what was later devised. Change is good. Let’s change some more, please.

Jet Setting

In an effort to bite the hand that feeds me (not), I wonder about this tweet:

It’s not that I equate this sort of event with junketeers who dash off to lap up the gravy and PR before regurgitating some or all, then claiming to be clever. My question is whether this is simply another form of the internationalization of commodity craft, that globalist mono-culture that leaves nothing local in its wake. I would be thrilled to hear about what local beer questions and successes were discussed in South Africa by South Africans. Not sure I will.

Other Stuff

Interesting to see that Diageo via Guinness USA has a money flow to another beer site on the internets. GBH calls it underwriting. Beervana calls it sponsorship. This pays for interesting writing. Good. Also interesting that this goes largely uncommented upon especially compared to other funds flowing from other big drinks empires into smallish bank accounts. Just to be clear, I have happily spent sometimes shockingly generous sums for running ads on this website and its predecessor. To be fair, they were largely from outside the brewing world due to my (way back then) huge following. I call them ads. In the glory days, it paid for a lot of travel. Still, interesting quiet little pay packet play.

Yes, Mirella. Very good tee.

And finally, the best use of a GIF ever. Thanks Zak. This is going to end up dumber than “crafty” isn’t it.

Craft? Why Not Micro Brewing? Heck, Why Not Mini Brewing?

One of the interesting things about the language of beer is how little we think about it. Sure, there have been useful churnings over the origins of “craft“* and discoveries that before it became the popular term a little over a decade ago.  But the reality is in the thirty plus years of this revival of good smaller scale brewing, “craft” is a word that has had its day. Refer to the new Brewers Association logo if you don’t believe me.

So, before we had craft when all the current commentators were still in high school we had micro brews made by micro brewing at micro breweries. But why? Why was “micro” the prefix of choice? The image above is a passage from that bedtime favourite Seminar on Micro-local Analysis by  V. GuilleminM. Kashiwara and T. Kawai published by Princeton University Press in 1979. “Micro” at that time was a science word.  Which make sense given since at least the later 1800s interest in the microscope was a popular interest.  In the book The Micro-macro Link by Jeffrey C. Alexander, published by University of California Press in 1987** the progression of the concept of “micro” is described in this passage in the introduction:

Although the micr0-macro theme has entered sociological theorizing as a distinct and firmly established issue only in recent decades, its prehistory can be traded from late medieval thinking through postwar meta-methodological debates over science, epistemology and political philosophy.

In brief, in the 1970s and early ’80’s the use of “micro” as a handy catch-all concept was relatively new. It appears to me that the route “micro” took from egghead to everyday was computing. We have the 1980 text Distributed Micro/Minicomputer systems: Structure, Implementation, and Application, for example, in which the future was described in this way:***

The continuing decline in processor and memory cost couples with the lower cost communications based on fiber optics, micro-wave transmission, and satellite communications, to use a few examples will hasten the development and widespread use of distributed systems based on micro- and minicomputer [technologies]…”

One is reminded of the SCTV character Gerry Todd from 1981-83 played by Rick Moranis to be brought back to the era when issues around what we might now call “personal” technology were sufficiently new and niche to be mocked.**** It is, in fact, always necessary to seek to place yourself back in a context when searching for a particular meaning. Otherwise, we are left with recollection and a lot of IMHOs which are often worse than useless. Fortunately, digital records give us a chance to reach back and pretend to relive the past – or at least can be used to cross reference the to often positive recollection.

Applying that principle, we see another interesting thing that is interesting for immediate purposes because it is included in the heading for this blog post.***** We see the words “micro” and “mini” bandied about. What did they mean in relation to the trendiest thing at this point in time? No, not beer… computers. Consider this articles in The Times Union of Albany, NY from March 11, 1986 under he title “Overbooked Libraries Seach for Space May Be Overdue”

At the central library of the Schenectady County Public Library across the street from City Hall, a space shortage has forced books to be stored on the second floor where administrative offices are located – off-limits to library patrons. Staff gofers bridge the gap between floors. “The lack of space is getting pretty serious,” said Ronald Lagasse, director of the Schenectady County Public Library. “The problem is we’ve had to increase the variety of formats of information we provide.” A micro-computer requires 200 feet, space the books used to get. Videocassette recorders, microfilm readers and printers and the storage for them have further eroded what was once the sole domain of books. 

First, shoot the person who put that pun in the headline. Then – notice that “micro” was not very… micro. Now, look at this schedule of events and the mid-afternoon listing under the title “Wildlife Expo is Four Shows in One” published by the same paper five days later:

*2 p.m – Bruck Brodsky of Upstate Computer will feature “Home Use and Education With Micro and Mini Computers.” Attending this one will surely help you in the operation of many computers used throughout the Expo.

Hilary Dustin of U.S. Forest Service will lecture on the Finger Lakes National Forest.

“Micro” and “mini” are two things, two points on a scale. Why do we care about this? Because “micro” and “mini” brewing may also be a bit older than you realize. Look at these images:

 

 

 

 

The image to the left is a Schlitz ad from Schlitz ad found in Black Enterprise magazine’s October 1977 edition. A similar ad ran in U.S. News & World Report and Saturday Review in 1977 as well as Business Week in 1976. This use of “mini-brewery” was the same as Bert Grant’s Ontario-based pilot brewery operated first at Carling in the 1950s and then at his home in the early 1960s. See also Food Engineering, Volume 43 from 1971 which described producing beer in a “laboratory mini-brewery.” Scientific beer.

The other two images above are for another thing. They are ads for Bierhaus International’s “mini-brewery” as seen in Mother Jones Magazine Feb-Mar 1981 and Feb-Mar 1982 editions. Variations of the “Try My All Natural” advertising were also placed for years in magazines like in Kiplinger’s Personal FinanceField and Stream, Popular Science and The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Tremendously manly and busy ads they are, too. I hope someone will be able to tell me about Bud Weckesser, the president of Bierhaus International Inc., if only because he clearly seems to be a man of international intrigue.† More to the point, he was selling a “mini-brewery” to subscribers of those fine journals. Science at home.

Like the Schlitz and even Bert Grant’s pilot breweries, the Beerhaus International set ups were small. Small enough to fit in a home. Schlitz’s was only a five gallon set up providing “a world of care in miniature.” So you would think that “mini” is less than “micro” right? Not always. At least when it comes to brewing. Let’s have a look at that bit of the end of an article placed in the May 1982 edition of InfoWorld 17 magazine entitled “Micro Firms Vie for European Market at Hannover” in which the following is stated:

You can take comfort from one thought in all this scale. Although Information Technology is growing incredibly, it is still not the biggest section in the seven-pound-plus Fair catalog (supplied with extra-strength handles). That is reserved for Electrical Engineering. When you reach the part of Fair reserved just for new railway locomotives, you begin to grasp that there are still worlds for the micro to conquer. There aren’t any micros used yet in the mini power station, not the mini brewery that run each year for only eight days in the Spring as part of the Fair on the flat German plains of Hannover.

It’s a delicious description of a transition point. [The heavy catalog has handles alone was worth the price of admission.] “Micros” are under too new to be pervasive but the “mini” brewery seems to have been around for yoinks. “Mini” is just small. “Micro” is both small and new.

So what happened to mini? As we see today with “independent” being proposed as the new “craft” just as “craft” was once the new “micro” we know these things are propped up and then later taken down once stale. But did “mini’ ever get its day in the sun? In the 1989 Canadian book Ale & Beer A Curious History by Alan D. Butcher published by then powerhouse bookseller McClelland & Stewart we read this lovely transitional passage:

…scores of other mini-breweries are also simply satisfying local tastes? Upper Canada Brewing, an Ontario-based “micro” brewery, sells across Ontario and has recently entered the European market.

A few years earlier, the Australian publication Beverage Review appeared to use the term generously. In 1984, The Economist magazine’s Intelligence Unit published an issue on retail business which contained the description to the right. It describes a Whitbread pub, the still operating Alford Arms, as then having a brewing set up in house. A mini-brewery appears in this context to refer to the equipment more than perhaps than the business model. Similarly, in a 1986 publication from the apartheid era South African Information Service South African Panorama a similar description is used:

Barney’s Tavern and Heritage Brewery, which are administered by South African Breweries. The beer is brewed on site and Is called Digger’s Draught. The brewery is the only fully-fledged mini brewery of Its kind in South Africa.

The term shows up in the USA as well. A 1986 article on plans for Kentucky’s first micro, the Oldenburg Brewery, stated that it:

…will be a mini-brewery licensed under the new Kentucky microbrewery law enacted by the legislature in 1984. The brewery will have a limited capacity of 12,500 barrels of traditional German beer made only with malted barley and hops …

And in the 1982 travel guide Making the most of Sonoma: a California guide by Don Edwards we read one of the founding American micros being described in this way:

A wine country mini-brewery, New Albion, produces traditional British-style ale, porter, and stout— all good companions to Sonoma’s cheese, bread, and sausage.

And then? Not so much more. “Micro” soon starts to go macro as the inevitable dreams start to kick in. It then reigns for the best part of twenty years before it became clear that micros were not going to be in view of mini in the future. Change and growth occur. The idea that New Albion might lead to international scale big craft would have seemed very much a dream (if not a farce) to those sipping a stout with their Sonoma bread and sausage. Language needs to compete, keep up or fall away. “Mini” just never really got very deep into that game.

 

*Which includes some of the best sources ever including this clever one: “New Belgium is one of several breweries Alan McLeod, co-author of The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer—A Rant in Nine Acts, describes as big craft. “What bugs me about ‘craft beer’ as a term is that it arose to cover up that micro beer was less and less crafted and more and more industrialized. It is double speak,” he wrote via email. “… New language was required to mask the industrialization and then nationalization of what is now big craft.”
**Note obvious use of egghead texts found on Google Books to laydown a questionable baseline of cleverness.
***Interestingly, a now charming foreshadowing of only the nonthreatening parts of the argument of “Why the Future Does Not Need Us” from 2000. I actually cited this in my 2000-2001-ish LLM thesis so I don’t feel entirely dirty writing this footnote.
****But were more likely then thought of as “home” technology. Note: I also still have my rude 45 of “Turning Japanese”… so there.
*****You don’t post a blog. You post a blog post to a blog. Blog is short for “web log” which makes it a log and a log has entries. A log is not each entry. It is the total of all entries. A blog is not each post.
More here.

Your Monday Morning Beer Links For Canada Day Weekend

As threatened and then oddly certified, I am stepping in for July as Stan has scampers off somewhere. And it seems Boak and Bailey are putting their feet up, too. So my July 2nd and a bit of the 3rd will be spent pounding the keyboard for your sideward glance – instead of focusing on the can of Bud and Coors Light like most beer loving Canadians will be doing. No rush. I have to make the best use of that lawn chair out back. Hmm… has there been anything going on worth discussing?

Wine News

As is Stan’s habit, I begin the week’s highlights with news from Clarence House. Prince Charles and herself spent a part of last Friday about an hour’s drive west of me partaking of the wines of Prince Edward Co., Ontario. I have written a few posts in the past about the region which you may wish to review before checking out the story as covered by the UK’s Daily Mail. Excellent exposture to the greater world market likely means my local prices go up. Thanks, Chuck.

In other wine news, Eric Asimov in The New York Times has made the case for simplicity and pleasure in his regular “Wine School” column:

That is especially true with the thirst-quenching wines we have been drinking over the last few weeks. These easygoing wines are primarily focused on the No. 1 task of any wine: to refresh. They do so deliciously, but these wines don’t offer much to think about. They are the lawn-mower beers of wine, ready to stimulate, energize and invigorate. They provoke physical reactions, and do not leave much room for contemplation.

I can hear the teeth grinding but being honest – for 99% of the time 99% of beer drinkers don’t sit around and contemplate 99% of their sipping anyway. Thinking about such things might include less thinking about such things. Think about it.

The Logo

Once again, the US Brewers Association PR committee has made a bit of a botch of a well meant bit of communications. At the start of the week, they revealed a new logo for their organization, then limited its use to only members who signed the special pledge and watched as their plans for market share demarcation got ripped. Given these folks came up with the fabulous failure of “craft v. crafty” what were we expecting? So many fonts for one image – is it five? And that weird outline. And an upside-down bottle.

The really problem the BA faces is that it can’t use the proper word that beer fans are really interested in – local. This is because it has spent a decade chasing the false promise of national craft with truckloads of California beer selling in New York gas stations and corner stores while Maine brewed Belgian-styled ale sell in Hong Kong and Dubai. So, the campaign and the logo have to fall back on second rate concepts.

The key concept in the messy logo is something called “INDE… PEN… DENT” which sits uneasily along with inordinate use of a “TM” and “CERTIFIED” given the limited visual geography. [Note: I couldn’t find the image’s trademark registration when I looked for 47 seconds and nothing about the logo relates to certification.] The problem with “independent” as a core message is that big industrial macro is independent too and the diversity of small local brewers can hardly be expressed with the “one ring to rule them all” approach that centralized trade industry branding offers. Plus anything can be “independent” can’t it.

Jeff Alworth takes a different approach which is quite compelling, separating message from branding. He argues that by moving away from “craft” and embracing “independent” as the core concept, the BA is taking back control of the debate. Bryan Roth also explores “independence” more from just the branding angle. But, for me, both these approaches (as both Jeff and Bryan state) are not without long term issues. Consider Mr C. Barnes at The Full Pint who is even less hopeful.

The Video

This is even sillier. Andy called it correctly when he called it “whining and whinging.” You may have more thoughts on the thing but I don’t see why anyone would bother. Why make that sort of ad when you have made this fabulous one?

Other things

The Sun newspaper-like thing reports that hipster craft is causing an inflationary effect on the price of lager. Who saw that coming?

The Sammy Smith “no swearing in our pubs” rule has led to at least one pub closing up for an evening due to naughty bad bad people being rude. Pete Brown, no fan apparently, called Humphry Smith, the head of the company behind the scheme to wipe out bad language the “nastiest, most unpleasant person in the brewing industry” by way of his introduction to a story on Humph in The Guardian which discloses this tidbit:

Smith’s eccentricity is the source of local legend and seems to know no bounds. Regulars inside Smith pubs claim he habitually dresses up as a tramp and poses as a customer to make sure his rules are being enforced. Punters in the Commercial Inn in Oldham claim Smith once sacked a bar worker for not handing him the correct change – another tale of summary sacking it has not been possible to confirm.

Quite the nut – but it is his ball so he can take it home whenever he gets in a huff, I suppose.

Finally, happy to report that the Canada Day long weekend was celebrated with Ontario made regional and local small brewery beers from Perth, Riverhead, Beyond the Pale, Great Lakes and Side Launch. Those two gents up there with their Buds? They are the 90%. It’s everywhere.

Fine. That’s enough for this week, Stan. Time to hang up the bloggers smock. Send your complaints and spelling correction suggestions to him via Twitter.

Once Upon A Time I Was Stan’s Summer Intern

It happened so fast:

I officially endorse this idea. “What I did on my summer vacation.”

What idea? Covering for Stan as he blows off July’s obligations and skips the Monday beery links stuff. And he deputized me. Me?!? The good news is I have done this before. Stan likely started out just copying my old Friday links from about a decade ago. You know, when blogging was cool. Not like now. Now, when it’s like slipping out quietly to attend the CB radio fan club meetings.*

To be fair to what he privately calls Team Stan – and in line with the terms and conditions he surprisingly sent me via email immediately after he tweeted – I might need a few hints. So little of what is written these days has any oomph that I might need guidance to a hidden gem. But, let’s be honest: anything Lars writes is fabulous and will always make the cut. Twitter outrage? Not so interesting. There. You have your marching orders. Send me links via beerblog@gmail.com.

Five Mondays. That’s all. Let’s see what we can learn.

*All foreseen 14 years ago.

 

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.