Struggling With 1600s Derbyshire Strong Ale (Pt 1)

I was thinking I needed to write a post about Derby ale. The other week when I wrote this post with a bit more information about some of the other great 1600s strong ales Margate and Northdown and Hull and Lambeth, I knew I needed to have a look at Derby.  I even had this lovely map, above, of the road to London from Derby* of the era, John Ogilby‘s atlas of 1675 working on the premise that it was going to tell me about how the beer got from Derby to London. A lovely map.

But then I began to read more and realized that I needed to understand more about the roads and the river Trent, the fuel crisis from 1550 to 1700 and period barley varieties. This is because, it strike me, Derby ale might just be the combination of at least three unique elements coming together as opposed the factors which caused its competition. It might actually be quite unlike them altogether – an ale named for a municipality which is not necessarily the municipality in which each example was brewed.

Then after a week of assembling the post and hitting 2500 words, I realized I need to break this down into manageable bits. So, in this post I am going to discuss factors related to Derby ale in the 1600s related to transportation and malt kilning while leaving other factors to another. Hopefully this will be more helpful even if, as Stan commiserated with me, after viewing yet another text “getting it wrong” I am also well aware no one much reads the history posts. Which is fine.

Factor One: Goods and Navigation on the Trent and Derwent

For a beer to be worth the cost of transportation, it is reasonable to expect that it had to have an advantage making that cost worthwhile. Advantage is key. We know that the poet Andrew Marvell obsessed, in his side gig as a Member of Parliament for Hull from 1658 to 1678, over the effect taxation was having on his constituency’s brewing industry. Given its 1600s southerly competition were all much closer, any imposition on the price of Hull ale would affect the position of Hull ale exports to London greatly.

The same is true for other great beers of the pre-Georgian era. In this post, I discussed how the opening of the Trent in 1711 by, George Hayne made the Trent navigable to the southwest of Nottingham leading to, in issue 383 of The Spectator from 20 May 1712, the early journalist Addison notes going out for the day in London with his pal Sir Roger to drink Burton ale. New and improved transit makes for new an improved drinks choices for the wealth drenched.

The city of Derby sits on a tributary of the Trent, the north to south flowing river Derwent** near where the rivers meet. Historically, the Trent was not navigable or at least not safe or perhaps reliable upriver from Nottingham, 13 miles to the east of Derby. According to this source, the Derwent was opened to navigation from Derby to the Trent at Wilden Ferry in 1721 under an Act passed the previous year. After the 1600s. In 1699, the same source states that the authority to open the Trent from Wilden Ferry to Burton was granted by Parliament to Lord Paget*** but only exercised, as noted above, in 1711. Again, after the 1600s.  So, following what might today be a 16 miles portion of the A52, goods would have been carted from Derby to Nottingham for loading on watercraft for London.

But would they? It is clear Derby ale is well known in London in the 1600s well before the opening up of the Trent and Derwent. Pepys drank it in the 1660s. The fame of Derby ale has been argued to be tied to the development of coke during the English Civil War in the 1640s. Hornsey, too, describes in his now ten year old History of Beer and Brewing how Derby produced fine ale by the mid-1600s. So before the rivers were made open in the 1700s, Derby ale was known. Meaning it had to have been, at least, moved by a mix of transport modes.

Notice, too, the scale of operations. As Martyn pointed out in a 2009 post, the historian RA Mott, writing in 1965, said of the town:

“In 1693, when there were 694 family houses, there were 76 malt houses and 120 ale houses, so that malt-making and brewing must have been the dominant occupations. A list of those occupied in the wool, leather, wood, metal and stone trades and the normal supply occupations left room for some 200 maltsters and brewers. Much malt was carried to the ferry on the river Trent, five miles away, whence it could go by water to London; 300 pack-horse loads (each of 6 bushels which each contained 40lb) or 32 tons were taken weekly into Lancashire and Cheshire.”

Which, if you think about it, is interesting. Pre-aggregation. If there are 76 malt houses, there isn’t one central mammoth Derby Malting Co. Similarly, there are 120 ale houses, not one or five big breweries. What is going on is cottage industry production. One alehouse or malt house for every 3.5 households on average. A large number of small operations coming together to make one product. This is different from, for example, the contemporary competition out of Northdown which depended on the reputation of one brewer, the “inventor” Mr. Prince.

Wikipedia tells us that stone barns and warehouses still exist at Shardlow, described as an inland port developed before the improvement of navigation on the Trent. Shardlow sit on the north side of the Trent “about 6 miles southeast of Derby and 11 miles southwest of Nottingham.” It is just to the west of where the Derwent enters the Trent. This is a heritage listing for a 1700s Shardlow barn which sits on “the London Road.” Here is another in the parish of Shardow on Wilne Lane, Great Wilne which sits to the east of Shardlow itself. This is a survey of bats living at another.  The regional tourism development agency describes the key feature of Shardlow today thusly:

Shardlow is one of the best-preserved inland canal ports in the country… A walk along the canal towpath brings you into contact with many of the old buildings of the Canal Age. Mostly now used for different purposes, but still largely intact: the massive warehouses that once stored ale, cheese, coal, cotton, iron, lead, malt, pottery and salt; and the wharves where goods were loaded and unloaded. 

A district with period barns and warehouses for storing bulk grain, malt and other goods indicates something. That it was a hub of storing bulk grain, malt and other goods. A point of aggregation.

Click on the thumbnail to the right. Notice the lay of the land. A narrow winding river in boggy land to both sides of the Trent Canal and the river itself. The Derwent also twists away to the north. No wonder getting goods through this area was difficult. No wonder statutes of Parliament and great investments were needed to get the goods out of the district in the 1700s.

So, to get out of town and down to London, Derby ale had to be transported and transported along a long road or a boggy river yet to be improved. Which, like the extra distance Hull ale needed to cover, is a cost that apparently Londoners were willing to bear.

Factor Two: Coke, Straw and Pale Ale

Derby ale is known to be an early adopter of coke kilned malt. Derbyshire, along with being the valley of the Derwent, is part of a fairly southerly coal mining district. A canal was finally constructed in the 1790s to get the coal out. Hornsey also describes in History of Beer and Brewing how Derby produced fine coke by the mid-1600s due to the particular purity and hardness of the region’s coal. Even so, coke was not immediately or universally accepted as a replacement for wood or straw.

Note that, I said above, the generally accepted date of coke being used for the kilning of malt is in the 1640s. But in 1977, an article in Scientific American states “[b]efore the British (sic) civil war of the 1640s, coke was introduced for the drying of malt in connection with the brewing industry.” Before. This appears consistent with contemporary records. In 1637, Charles I of England received the following petition:

61. Petition of John Gaspar Wolffen, his Majesty’s servant, to the King. Your Majesty gave leave to petitioner to make trial of his invention for brewing with a “charked” sea coal, which, as your Majesty has seen yourself, yields no smoke, and will do as readily, and within a little as cheap, as the ordinary way of brewing. Prays licence for brewers of Westminster and other places, questioned about smoke, who are willing to embrace the said invention, to continue in their brewhouses without molestation.

“Charked.” Made dark as if charcoal. Sea coal. Not Derby mined coal. Sea coal is coal gathered on a beach. It was gathered until at least ten years ago in some parts of Britain. An opportunity to make coke with that coal was suggested earlier by a decade. This is an interesting thing. It’s the sort of thing that was interesting to Martyn back in 2009 when he wrote this about coke kilning and Derby ale:

Coke was invented in the North of England (it appears to be a North Country dialect word, originally meaning “core”, as if the “coakes” were the “core” of the coal), apparently in the 17th century. Its use to make malt was first taking place in Derbyshire in the early 1640s, according to John Houghton, an apothecary and part-time journalist, who issued a weekly bulletin in the 1690s and early 1700s, price two pence, called A Collection for Improvement of Agriculture and Trade. In one issue in 1693 he talked about the coal miners of Derbyshire, and added:

The reason of Derby malt being so fine and sweet, my friend thinks is the drying it with cowks, which is a sort of coal … ’tis not above half a century of years since they dried their malt with straw (as other places now do) before they used cowkes which made that alteration since that all England admires.

Note one more thing about that passage from Houghton which Martyn quotes. Coke is the successor to straw. Not to coal. Not wood. Not even charcoal – aka “charked” wood. We have established, in this post from three years ago, that straw had been used for yoinks to kiln lovely pale and un-smoked malt. As Houghton stated in the 1690s: “’tis not above half a century of years since they dried their malt with straw…” Coke is the next fuel, not the first. We need to accept that pale malts either – sun dried and straw kilned – were a thing well before coke. Why wouldn’t there be? Cheap and effective and no one was sitting around glum waiting for the future when coke was going to be invented.

We know that ale was popular, pale and not smokey in the 1690s after coke was introduced as a kilning fuel as Martyn showed in 2009:

[A]nother late 17th century writer, Mr Christopher Merret*, “surveyor of the Port of Boston”, fills the breach, though writing about Lincolnshire, not Derby. In a paper called “An Account of Several Observables in Lincolnshire, Not Taken Notice of in Camden, or Any Other Author”, presented to the Royal Society in 1695-97, he wrote:

“Here Cool are Charred and then call’d Couk, wherewith they Dry Malt, giving little Colour or Taste to the Drink made therewith.”

Pale ale was definitely being made in Lincolnshire in the 1690s from coke-dried malt. Yet earlier than that point, paleness and purity of taste was not created by coke. Over 100 years earlier a similar observation was made, well before the invention of coke by William Harrison, a scholar clergyman, who published his book A Description of England in 1577. Here is a full copy of the text posted by Fordham University in which you will find this:

The best malt is tried by the hardness and colour; for, if it look fresh with a yellow hue, and thereto will write like a piece of chalk, after you have bitten a kernel in sunder in the midst, then you may assure yourself that it is dried down. In some places it is dried at leisure with wood alone or straw alone, in others with wood and straw together; but, of all, the straw dried is the most excellent. For the wood-dried malt when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke.

Chalk is, you will note, pale and also that smoke is associated with wood. Straw kilned malt has the best of both. This was long remembered. In the seventh edition of the The London and Country Brewer from 1759, this is stated under the heading “The Value of Coak”:

It is a most sweet Fuel for drying Malt, the pale Sort in particular, but is best made from the large Pit Coal, which has supplanted the Use of Straw Fuel; and, when it is made to Perfection, it is the most admired Sort of all others.

This passage is in Chapter IX “Of the Fuel to dry Malt, of Malt, &do.” In that chapter, there is a description of techniques and a variety of fuels in a number of English locations including an unnamed town (ie “…in this Town of ____…“), Warminster, Ispswith, Oxfordshire as well as Derbyshire. A number of fuels are described such as aged wood, Welsh coal, coke, fern after a good shower of rain, wheat straw and “Newcastle Coal burnt in a Cockle-Oast.” A successful malt kilning is described as forcing “a quicker Fire to crisp the Kernel, and thereby save Fuel, Time and Labour.” Which means that even as late as 1759, the driving forces behind making malt are financial efficiency through use of available local resources. Standardization of malt kilning fuel has yet to be imposed through full scientific industrialization. Coke is not yet king.

The chapter also includes a specific discussion of Derby ale:

Mr. Houghton’s Observations of Malt-Making – The Reason, he says, why Derby malt does not make so strong ale as formerly, now they make the pale Sort, is because they lay it too thin on the floor to come, by which a great deal is not malted and the rest only Barley turned. Now in Hampshire, he says, the Barley, which is much smaller and thicker skinned,  is laid thicker on the Floors, and consequently heats, and all becomes rich Malt and makes stronger Beer with the same Quantity.

The Mr. Houghton being quoted is John Houghton (1645–1705), member of the Royal Society, a newsletter publisher writing in the 1680s and 1690s and an apothecary – as was Louis Hébert in Quebec in the first half of the same century. Proto-scientists. The passage above referencing Houghton from the The London and Country Brewer in the 1750s is looking back to Houghton’s opinion in the last two decades of the 1600s by which time Derby ale is already on the downturn, less than it once was. 

We will leave it there for now. This one has hit about 2650 itself. So more in another post soon. Derby ale was something that was worth getting out of the hinterland into the capital. It was made with coke and, before that, straw. Straw was still being used side by side with coke after the new technology was initially introduced. And, whatever it was, Derby ale was already on the way down at the end of the 1600s.

*Which I think is now part of the A6.
**I know “-by” is town so I presume “-went” is river and both relate to “the Der” – whatever that is.
***Another ambassador to Constantinople like Sir John Finch who loved Northdown.

The Charlecote Park 1700s Brew House

Charlecote Park. Hmm. This is interesting:

Charlecote’s brewhouse has mostly 18th century brewing equipment, water pumps, coppers and stalls. It is a typical brew-house of a well-ordered English country estate during late 18th century. They equipment was used to brew beer for the household until early 20th century. Although we can no longer use the equipment that is here we are currently working on a project to make the outbuildings feel full of life again.

Now, you might ask why a four year old blog post by the UK’s National Trust would be all that interesting to me but in those four years I have written a lot about brewing prior to about 1820 and never looked at the archive of images they have placed online.

1803breweryWhat I particularly like about this particular image above* is how well it captures the functional technicalities as well as how similar the equipment is to the detail of a log cabin brewery at Geneva, New York described in the 1803-04 travel diary of Lord Selkirk. In the lower part of the diagram you see the boiler run off into the coolers. In the photo above, that lovely big brass tap and the wooden trough with that rich patina replace Selkirk’s simple line of ink.

Here is another image** of the brew house, one in black and white taken from the top of the stairs. Notice how at the far end of the cooler there is a cube shaped ladle that is used to fill the barrel which sits in its dedicated spot, its own carrel, waiting. Again, as illustrative as it is beautiful. When we consider many of the great mass drinking events that the Georgians loved so much, we recognize that it was these sorts of estates breweries that were brewing the beer.

There are other images at the National Trust archive answering to the searches “brew house” and “brewery” which, as a keen admirer of the Beer Blogger’s Code of Standards, I share for the benefit of sharper eyes than mine.

*See the attribution at the NT site.
**See the attribution at wikipedia.

Bert Grant, One Of Canada’s Gifts To Craft Brewing

As I mentioned the other day, I have been thinking about Bert Grant’s hop oil vial.* In his online obituary as written by Michael Jackson, under the head “How Bert Grant Saved The World”, the vial is described in this way:

“When you were brewing Canada, ales were still very popular. How many units of bitterness did they typically have?” I once asked. “I don’t know. I hadn’t invented the scale,” he replied. He was reputed to carry a vial of hop oil, and to add it to glasses of Bud, Miller or Coors when they were the only brews available. He was said to have done this at meetings of Master Brewers in Milwaukee and St Louis, dismaying his peers. “Michael Jackson adds it to his coffee,” he is alleged to have said, in his defence. Did he really say that? I think that joke was coined by beer-writer and consultant Vince Cottone.

See, that vial is one of the most important artifacts in craft beer history as it contained one key element of the DNA which went into craft beer’s hoppy obsession of today. A bit of a viral vial. I wanted to know where it came from, how early he was using it and in doing a little digging I came to realize, like E.P. Taylor… as well as half the malt in US craft beers today, Bert Grant was one of Canada’s great contributions to good beer as we know it today.

In 1998, three years before his death he published a autobiography, humbly entitled The Ale Master: Bert Grant, The Dean of America’s Craft Brewers. Not a long book, I recommend it highly. The copy found on eBay is a sturdy wee hardcover. And, on page 33, there is a discussion of that hop oil vial… but one that sits a little out of sequence sequence in a side panel. [It’s that sort of wee book, full of snippets and asides… not unlike this aside.] This side panel talks about how he carried a dropper bottle of hop oil and that he had sent another one to his pal George Stein in Toronto. But it doesn’t say when this was – before 1963 when he was living in Windsor, Ontario… or was it before 1959 when he left the Carling branch of E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries in Toronto where he had worked for 15 years, ending up as assistant director of microbiological control. Or was it only a practice he adopted later, after he leaves Canada for Yakima in Washington State in 1967 after working as a consultant and testing out his ideas on a pilot brewery at his house in Windsor across the river from Detroit, Michigan?

He certainly could have developed the hop oil habit before moving to the USA. In the book and according to a summary of a Associated Press article dated 5 September 1997, Grant made that 1967 move moved to Yakima heart of the nation’s largest hop producers to work on hop extracts and here he later pioneered a process of pelletizing hops to preserve freshness. In his San Diego Times AP obituary it states he was technical director of the hops company S.S. Steiner Inc., the company he moved to Yakima to work with. Again, the book suffers a little from same sort of loose chronology. But it certainly seems he could have been fully proficient with a hop oil eye dropper before he left Canada.

It left me wondering if I was going to make a national jingoistic thing out of this damn hop oil vial at all. How am I going to prove that one of the founders of US craft brewing was really just a drop in saying hello from Ontario full of pre-existing ideas? Hmm… then, I saw something else in a story published in The Times News of Idaho on 24 August 1997, also under an AP dateline, there is this passage from Jim Parker, former director of the Association of Brewers based in Boulder, Colo.:

Part of what drove him out of the brewing business and into the hops business was his dissatisfaction with the monotonous beer that most breweries were making. When he ran the pilot brewery for Carling (a subsidiary of Canadian Breweries Ltd.), every year they’d say, ‘Do you have any new products to bring out?’ Each year, he’d bring out the same beer and say, ‘It’s the best damn beer in the world.’ All the executives would agree. But the marketing people would say, ‘But Bert, it’s darker than our regular beer. Will people know it’s beer?’ And sales people pointed out there were three different malts and four types of hops going into the beer. ‘But that’s expensive, Bert. Can’t you make it with one malt and one type of hops?’ And he’d roll his eyes and go back to the pilot brewery. Many years later, Grant served his favorite beer — the same recipe he’d promoted for so many years — at a 1981 Yakima Enological (wine) Society meeting. They all went, “Bert, why can’t I buy something like this in the store? It’s so good!’ He explained, and they all said, ‘Let’s open a brewery and make it.’ And that’s Grant’s Scottish Ale.

Hmm… nothing about the vial but look at that: “three different malts and four types of hops going into the beer. “ That rings a bell. At page 28 of his book, Grant discusses apparently the one beer he had particular fondness for in his early days with Carling in Toronto string in 1944:

… when I started in this business, there was no mucking about with the brands. Carling brewed a copper-coloured ale called Dominion White Label, which was, by our analysis, the most heavily hopped beer in Toronto (with English Fuggles, Kent Goldings and other hip varieties.) 

He described the decision to drop Dominion White Label “the triumph of the mass-production mind-set.” Then on page 75, he goes further:

Scottish Ale was the obvious first choice because it was my favorite home-brewed beer style – and had been my favorite since 1945, when I first tasted Dominion White Label ale at Canadian Breweries. The emigrant Scottish brew masters who made Dominion White Label assured me that I was tasting the same kind of ales that were brewed in Scotland… I knew exactly what I wanted to make: all malt, intensely hopped, naturally conditioned Scottish Ale that would be as close as possible to Dominion White Label.

One email correspondent° who knew Grant described the hoppiness of his beers in this way: “That Scotch was pretty hoppy. And the IPA was in your face. None of this juicy shit.” Hoppiness was a still a key selling point in Canadian ale brewing in the 1950s. As you can see from the ad to the left for Carling’s Red Cap ale, more hops equaled more flavour. And consider this TV ad for Red Cap from the time, for any number of reasons including the massive sandwich on the massive swing. But this beer, Carling Red Cap ale, was the beer that Grant insisted was under-hopped, that was the result of the triumph of the bean counters.

 

 

 

 

What was Dominion White Label? Inspired by Lost Breweries of Toronto by Jordan where Jordan tells the tale of the Dominion Brewery of Toronto in the later 1800s, one blogger has tried his hand at a recreation. The Dominion Brewery was where White Label was first invented. By the 1930s it ends up in the hands of E.P. Taylor as part of his aggregations and consolidations which eventually fall the umbrella Canadian Breweries around when Grant shows up as a 16 year old. As shown above to the left, in the 1893 journal The Dominion Illustrated Monthly, Dominion had a prominent display at the 1983 Chicago Worlds Fair. Its “white label” in the middle was the certificate from its victory at an 1885-86 exhibition in New Orleans. It advertised its many such victories, including in an 1893 magazine aimed at the medical profession up there to the right. So, it was a thing and a great thing and… a Canadian thing. And if Grant is to be believed about not messing with the recipes, in 1944 when he first had it it may well have been much the same thing.

Life goes on and in 1995, a full 51 years after starting out his brewing career at E.P. Taylor’s chemistry labs when he was sixteen, Grant sold out – in a way. He sold his brewery to a conglomerate but stayed on as top brewer with plans of expansion with his own hand still firmly on the tiller:**

Burt Grant has sold out, in a business sense. Yakima Brewing is now controlled by Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates, part of a huge corporate chain topped by UST Inc., the parent company of U.S. Tobacco. But Grant, who continues as brewmaster, says he’s still making quality beers “to please the most demanding palate I have ever encountered: my own.” The Scottish-born, Canadian-bred Grant, 68, began honing that palate at age 16, when he went to work for Canadian Breweries Ltd. (now Carling). His brewing career led to jobs in the hops supply business, which brought him to the heart of Washington’s hop country in Yakima, where he opened a tiny brewery in 1982. “The brewery was doing well, but not spectacularly,” Grant says. “All the stuff I liked doing – product development, quality control – was being diluted horribly by all the worries about financing and marketing.” Stimson Lane “came to us out of the clear blue sky, with an offer we couldn’t refuse.” Grant has been able to double his production capacity, to an annual 40,000 barrels. And he’s talking about building breweries in other parts of the country to expand his market, as Seattle’s Redhook and Pyramid have done.

Grant passed away on 30 July 2001, according to his New York Times obituary, “at a hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he had recently made his home” and where three of his five children then lived. All five were reported to have been residing in Canada at the time of his passing. His life, his beer, his career and maybe even that vial of hop oil framed in large part by the 23 years from 1944 to 1967 when he learned his trade in the bowels of Canadian Breweries owned by another great contributor to the history of brewing, Edward Plunket (E.P.) Taylor.

*Not hop “juice” by the way.
**Sound familiar? The quotation is from a summary of a story by Rick Bonino in the The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, WA, on 12 March 1995.

Brewing As A Far Earlier Step Than Community

In the past I have noted how it is pretty silly to suggest brewing was the cause of middle eastern communities to come together to form civilization given what might have been formed could well have been a very nasty enslavement of otherwise happy hunter gatherers.  But the link is AWOL.* Still, an interesting narrative has come out related to the Gobekli Tepe site in southeastern Turkey that is interesting and perhaps turns our assumptions about the origins of brewing on their head.

Gobekli Tepe is in the news at the moment because a carving there has been determined to be recording the flood narrative. The story of beer, however, may also be set out in the site’s archaeological record. Consider this:

Recently, further chemical analyses were conducted by M. Zarnkow (Technical University of Munich, Weihenstephan) on six large limestone vessels from Göbekli Tepe. These (barrel/trough-shaped) vessels, with capacities of up to 160 litres, were found in-situ in PPNB contexts at the site. Already during excavations it was noted that some vessels carried grey-black adhesions. A first set of analyses made on these substances returned partly positive for calcium oxalate, which develops in the course of the soaking, mashing and fermenting of grain. Although these intriguing results are only preliminary, they provide initial indications for the brewing of beer at Göbekli Tepe, thus provoking renewed discussions relating to the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages at this early time. 

And this:

“The first year, we went through 15,000 pieces of animal bone, all of them wild. It was pretty clear we were dealing with a hunter-gatherer site,” Peters says. “It’s been the same every year since.” The abundant remnants of wild game indicate that the people who lived here had not yet domesticated animals or farmed.

And this:

Since neither domesticated plants nor animals are known from the site, it is clear that the people who erected this monumental sanctuary were still hunter-gatherers, but far more organised than researchers dared to think 20 years ago. 

And this:

Seen from the point of view of nutritional science, there are some advantages in favour of beer. Its lack of oxygen and its low pH value make it less perishable than other cereal products (Back 1994: 16). There is an ongoing discussion about the question of whether most cereals would have been toxic before mankind adapted to them, adverse reactions to gluten proteins (coeliac disease) being the result of a missing evolutionary adaption (Greco 1997). Malting and fermentation could have been a method to weaken these toxic effects as gluten is debranched, agglomerated and filtered to a high extent through malting and brewing. Interestingly, there seems to be a natural lack of toxicity in einkorn (Pizzuti et al. 2006). Whether one of these aspects was known to PPN people remains unknown, but prolonged observations could have led to that knowledge.

If I have it correctly, this means beer existed well before agriculture. Wild grain made a tummy ache. Someone figures out malting makes less of a tummy ache. Malting become centralized over 10,000 years ago – and maybe ceremonialized in whole or in part – but people are still roaming, hunting and gathering happily. For maybe a thousand years or more.

I love it.

*Found it.

The Many Early Vassar Breweries Of Poughkeepsie

The more attentive readers will recall how back in July 2012 I wrote about the Vasser brewing book of the mid-1830s and then in November 2014 wrote about the Vassar general ledger of 1808-11. Then I wrote a whole lot about New York brewing over the last couple of years starting about here…  but I never got back to the Vassars even though, due in large part to the founding of a university, it is one of the more famous 1800s pre-lager American breweries. Wonder why? Too easy? The story is pretty much out there already for all to see. Matthew Vassar is a mid-century magnate along the lines of John Taylor of Albany and perhaps even a more wealthy brewer at the time. Everybody knows that.

But then a notice in a paper like that one up there grabs your attention and off you go again. It’s from the Poughkeepie Barometer of 14 April 1807 and it was placed by James Vassar, the father of Matthew. See what he’s doing? He has imported a European barley strain “more productive and valuable than the common Barley” and is selling it or leasing it to his neighbouring farmers. Leasing. That is fabulous as is the fact that the leased seed is “returnable next fall”! We learned the years around the 1700s becoming the 1800s was a time of crisis and innovation in the grain zones of the youthful USA. And, as Craig has shown, six row reigned far longer as base brewing grain than was understood – just as wheat lasted far longer and was used more widely as the main brewing base before six row was accepted. So, by bringing in European barley and propagating it for a few years until he had enough to spread out to neighbouring farms, James Vassar is in his way participating in the great experiment of making America.

 

 

 

 

Notice that the ad way up top was placed in Feb 1807. A few weeks later, as we see to the nearer left, James posts a notice seeking hops in the same newspaper. And he wants them to be not frost bitten and “gathered last season” too. But which one could gather he was advertising for local hops. Would it be obvious that they would have to be local Hudson Valley hops? Sixteen years later, above middle, we see a notice from the New York Spectator dated 8 April 1823 that gives an update on the London hop market as of the 4th of Mark – and it is all about English hops: Kent, Sussex, Essex and even Farnham* hops all being sold from 42 to 120 shillings. I do not see, however, hop market notices from much before that point.** Hop notices appear to be more of the “I’ve got a few bales” variety like with the one to the upper right from the New York Gazette of 28 September 1821. So… my bet is that in Feb 1807, James Vassar was looking for local hops when he placed his notice in the local paper. That being the case, he is brewing local ingredients but of the best quality he can find both in terms of barley and malt.

 

 

 

 

Which brings us to the 1808-1811 ledger. Vassar is making good ale branded under the name of his town. The ledger, as I mentioned in my 2014 post, places Vassar in the heart of a farming community centered on a supply town. Some of the same farmers who are growing his grain are also his customers. He also is buying hops by the pound from his neighbours, confirming my suspicions from that notice above. He is selling his beers in a town where there is a range of spirits, wine and other luxury goods from around the world according to the grocers notice next to Vassar’s November 1807 notice in the Poughkeepsie Barometer. And note something else important. The ledger runs, as you might have guessed, exactly to a point in the year 1811. This is because it is only the brewery ledger of the father, James Vassar. If you click on that thumbnail to the right you will see that the firm of James Vassar & Co. was dissolved on 15 November 1810 and accounts were settled with the partnership of John G. and M. Vassar, being the sons of James – John Guy Vassar and (“the”) Matthew Vassar.

 

 

 

 

The first brewery hands off to the second. And the next generation has its own dreams. They are brewing both ale and beer and also buying barley as well as hundreds of bushels of oats according to the notice placed by the partnership in January 1811. And they are continuing in their father’s practice of selling seed barley to the local farmers according to the notice in the now fancier Poughkeepsie Political Barometer of 17 April 1811. A happy and successful succession plan has carried forward. It doesn’t last. Weeks later in mid-May, as the article from the 15th of the month to the right explains, the brewery burns as they all seemed to burn in that era at one point or another. After the fire is controlled, however is when the real tragedy occurs. Two days later John G., the elder son of James, goes into the destroyed brewery to see how much can be saved but is overwhelmed by a gas that has settled in one of the vats and dies apparently in agony a short time later. Horrible. Sadder than even the story of Eugene O’Keefe a hundred years later.

 

 

 

 

What happens then? From the notice to the left placed on 25 May, 1811 James Vassar is scrambling to call in debts from both his time running the brewery as well as the term when his sons were. then, according to the notice posted again in the Poughkeepsie Barometer on 24 July 1811, Matthew is out on his own buying up cider which might place him away from the family business at this point… or maybe diversifying. He is only nineteen years old. That Wikipedia entry says M. Vassar & Co. started up in 1814 but this add from three years earlier clearly uses that name. The next year, James is in the market seeking 10,000 bushels of Barley in September 1812. That looks like the continuation of the brewery. Which would make for the third phase. Dad. Sons. Dad.

 

 

 

 

Then what? In the 13 January 1813 paper, Matthew himself is both buying barley and selling ale and beer. Dad. Sons. Dad. Dad/Son? Then on 14 July 1813 he is entering into a brewing partnership with a Mr. Purser, rebuilding the brewery and accepting the casks of James Vassar that are still out there more than two years after the fire. And he gets into other gigs. Matthew is also running a store with a particular focus on cigars… or rather segars – but that ends up in the hands of another partner, a Mr. Raymond as you can see from the notice above to the right dated 14 July 1813, the same day the notice goes up about the new brewery. Dad. Sons. Dad. Dad/Son. Son in Partnership? Maybe. All muddling along. Moving forward.

It’s actually quite the thing that later in life he becomes a magnate given all the ins and outs of the family’s early years in the brewing trade. It starts a bit like the hapless Horsfields of Brooklyn half a century earlier but then, somehow, they spawn a genius. After the early years of the century, Matthew gets into banking and brick works, railroads and politics. But that story, the story of the rise of the great Vassar brewery, is really a separate later one.

*Interesting, given the price being so much higher, that Farnham hops were discussed in New York newspapers as early as this story in the New York Journal of 20 January 1785 shows. This talk of Farnham is all for Ed, by the way.
**See also this set of New York Gazette notices from 20 February 1818 including two for hops and how geographically sourced goods are referenced expressly – Jamaica rum, Sicily Madeira, English Leather, Baltimore flour. Not the hops.

Cream Ale, Cream Beer And Creamy Goodness

This ad in the Jewish Daily News of 30 November 1916 published out of New York has my wee brain spinning – and not only due to the works I can read and those I cannot read. I am starting to think “creamis a nugget of a folk tale, an indigenous memory that keeps appearing generation after generation from, as Gary proposed, the later 1700s to today in the northeastern US for no other reason than its useful pleasantness.

Gotta think about this.

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.

When In Doubt, Consider A Simpler Answer

I left a comment over at Boak and Bailey in response to their noting this week of that Cloudwater cask story which whipped the British beer discussion out of its holiday slumber. That being said, I am still not sure the Cloudwater story has been properly framed so I am unpacking the comment a bit more here.  For starters, here are two tweets from Jeff that I think better get to a key factor underlying the situation:

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The Cloudwater press release was issued on 1 January 2017. They’ve been brewing for 22 month and have announced they are stopping cask production, stating:

We worry that cask beer has backed itself into a corner that risks becoming unattractive to modern breweries. 

I never trust that sort of use of “modern” as it smacks a wee bit of assumed superiority, echoing the new e-conomy of the late 1990s or at least a shortcut being taken. Especially as they don’t quite say they don’t make a profit – just an “insufficient” margin. Then, as you consider that, compare it to the to the brutally honest but tougher news from Dave at Hardknott on the one hand and how under capitalization can force a good brewery to face difficult decisions. Next, consider the positive story from Hawkshead which runs 65% cask that they also call modern beers.

It seems from those business stories that the question could be better asked as why Cloudwater took on cask without the full resources – or apparently a full plan to make it succeed as other success. Is it as simple as that?  I did find Eddie Gadd of Ramsgate Brewery’s tweet a bit telling:

…most new brewers (inc me) don’t look too closely at the numbers during start-up – we don’t want to be put off the dream!

I notice that the Cloudwater press release mentions they are working with Shelton Brothers and I have a suspicion that I have had their beer at the Allen Street Pub in Albany, a cask specialist, where, due to actual friendships, I do not seem at risk of ever being shelted.  Perhaps it was that pint of Black IPA with a balancing splash of someone else’s brown ale to give it some joy.

In any event, the idea that a firm representing about 1/3000th of British cask production not succeeding is cause to raise prices generally is a bit off. It seems from what we are actually being told is that cask places natural productiondistribution and even geographical constraints on the market that the ambitions of international craft can’t overcome or at least cannot easily reconcile without focus and extra capitalization. Makes sense. It is a thing unto itself. Should have been self-evident from proper initial market research.

There is nothing wrong with changing course. Do what makes you money and what you are interested in. But don’t slag the successes of others or blame the market. Congratulate others who succeed where you can’t or shouldn’t have tried.

Moses Granger of Lowville NY Had A Patent

The title of the patent from 1832 is titillating: “US Patent: 6,894X – Restoring sour or musty beer or ale to its original purity by rebrewing.” Sadly the note at the DATAPM data base tells the rest of the story:

Most of the patents prior to 1836 were lost in the Dec. 1836 fire. Only about 2,000 of the almost 10,000 documents were recovered. Little is known about this patent. There are no patent drawings available. This patent is in the database for reference only.

This is sad for us now as well as sad for the inventor, Moses Granger. As you can see above, he started his brewery in Lowville, New York seven or so years before registering his mysterious patent for improving bad beer. The announcement is from the Black River Gazette of 14 December 1825. You can see below from page 28 of the Congressional Series of United States Public Documents, Volume 235 that his patent was issued on 11 January 1832 which means he had to have invented it and then worked on the patent application sometime before that. Notice also that his patent is in a list of “Calorific and Steam Apparatus” which again is a reminder that Steam Beer is a reference to the general introduction of steam powered motors into the brewing trade and not something about the beer itself.

Unlike most of you, I have visited Lowville, New York. It is just about an hour and 45 minutes drive to my south east sitting in Lewis County, the next NY state county to Jefferson which I can see out my office window. It is the home of Lloyd’s of Lowville.  My 2005 post on neighbouring Denmark, NY on the hill north of Lowville gives you a sense of the area. Rural limestone Federalist buildings, analogous to our larger urban and military Georgian ones.

Gary mentioned Moses Granger and this patent in the latest of his further explorations of the odd later 1800s eastern US use of “musty” as a positive term for a class of ale. The patent from an earlier point in time, however, is clearly about the correction of poor beer – restoring it by rebrewing sayeth the patent’s title.  “Rebrewing” is an interesting word. In 1818, another two hours modern travel to the southeast in Schenectady, there was rebrewing going on – the last reference I have found to the ancient and famed double double immortalized by Shakespeare. Beer made by reusing beer as sparge water, ramming more power into the wort. It makes a brain smackingly strong drink.

Lewis County, NY in 1825 was still the frontier. See those military installations in my dear old British fort town? Kept back interest in settling NNY as the Erie Canal was opening up WNY.  It was settled by the generation after the Revolutionary one, as places like Cooperstown and then CNY started filling up and interests became fixed. Spafford described the place in his 1813 Gazette – and he can be trusted as he was born there. One might read the notice posted by Moses Granger in 1825 that he was the first brewer in Lowville. Spafford shows (at page 50 and 51) that in 1813 there were no brewers in Lewis Co. compared to seven distillers. Jefferson Co. had a ratio of two brewers to sixteen distillers. In 1828, Watertown, Jefferson Co. only had one brewery. The area was awash in rot gut whisky. A rebrewed super strength brewing process might well be worth protecting by way of patent.

I will dig a bit more and maybe post more – and wait for Gerry… again… to correct and add to the story. An excellent thing, too, as by collaboratively assembling what we know the history unfolds.  The strange thing is why one would invent such a thing in a frontier setting and then seek the protection of the law – on the one hand just thirty years removed from that log house brewery in Geneva, NY but, on the other, in the era of the scientific brewing of Vassar. An era of great change.

MacKinnon Releasing A Beer With Terroir… Really…

mack1

This is odd. A rare case, indeed. A press release that you are really interested in for what is actually set out in the press release:

Bath, ON – You’re invited to raise a glass with MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company on Monday, November 7th. Get the first taste and celebrate the release of our brand new 2016 Harvest Ale: the first beer made using 100% of ingredients grown on our own family farm. This landmark beer uses Newport and Vojvodina hops, which are grown on trellises in the corner of our brewery pasture, as well as AC Metcalfe barley grown in a field on the west side of the farm. All of the malt for the brew was malted in Belleville by our friends at Barn Owl Malt. As a family farm for 8 generations, brewing a 100% farm-sourced beer has been on our minds since the inception of the brewery. The beer itself is a malt-centric variant on the German Marzen style, using our
favourite ale yeast. At 5.0% ABV and 18 IBU it showcases the unique characteristics of our farm grown barley. Beyond that, it’s instilled with a backbone of hundreds of years of resilience and ingenuity. Need we say more?

It’s two years now since I first began running into the MacKinnon Brothers’ beers around the area. I dreamed of the idea of the heritage grain farmer brewers brewing a beer with their own malt, hops and water… and maybe a few local yeast cells in their. Seems like the are ready to raise the standard for “terroir” as a word with actual meaning in the craft brewing world.

Very cool. Too bad it’s being released while I am shackled to my desk, pinched by the tight black shoes of regret. You could go. Monday, 7 November at 1915 County Rd 22, Bath, Ontario. You could.