Session 89: A History Of The Hop And The Malt And The Beer…

sessionlogosmIt’s that time again. The monthly edition of The Session. Beer blogging boys and girls gather ’round the coal fired ISPs throughout the world to share their thoughts on a topic. This month our host is the Pittsburgh Beer Snob who writes:

At many points in history you can look back and find alcohol intertwined. A lot of times that form of alcohol is beer. Beer is something that connects us with the past, our forefathers as well as some of our ancestors. I want this topic to be a really open-ended one. So, it should be fairly easy to come up with something and participate. If you were among any readers I had when I posted most of the time you have a very good idea of where I might be going with my post when the time comes. The same doesn’t apply to you. Do you want to write about an important beer event with great historical significance? Famous figures that were brewers? Have you visited an establishment that has some awesome historic value? Maybe a historically-themed brewpub? I wouldn’t be surprised to even see a few posts on Prohibition. It doesn’t really matter when it comes to history!

History is good. I am actually of the opinion the best histories of beer and brewing are yet to be written. But I also believe the best beer writing, thinking, constructs, descriptions and criticism are all a fair ways off, too. We wallow in times of self-satisfaction. Would you just look about you at the works so far, Ozzy?

Anyway, that being or not being the case, what to make of the state of brewing history? I have written a bit of my bit to be sure but I am still not satisfied. I have come across beer in the Arctic in the 1570s, the 1670s and the 1850s. Fabulous facts. Beer for those living on the edge. Why? Because it kept them alive. Happy and alive. Billy Baffin, that giver of what I think the most Canadian surname, on his fifth voyage in 1616 got into a real pinch and had to hightail it to an island off Greenland and make a tea to keep he and his crew alive:

Now seeing that wee had made an end of our discouery, and the yeare being too farre spent to goe for the bottonie of the bay to search for drest finnes ; therefore wee determined to goe for the coast of Groineland to see if we could get some refreshing for our men ; Master Hei’bert and two more having kept their cabins above eight days (besides our cooke, Richard Waynam, which died the day before, being the twenty-six of July), and divers more of our company so weake, that they could doe but little labour. So the winde favouring us, we came to anchor in the latitude of 65° 45′, at six a clocke in the evening, the cockin eight and twentieth day, in a place called Cockin Sound. The next day, going on shoare on a little iland, we found scuruy great abundance of the herbe called scuruie grasse, which we boyled in beere, and so dranke thereof, using it also in sallets, with sorrell and orpen, which here groweth in abundance; by meanes hereof, and the blessing of God, all our men within eight or nine days space were in perfect health, and so continued till our arrivall in England.

God is good, indeed. Beer is a bounty that is provided to us for health and joy and the lessons of history prove it. Yet, history also proves the wages of not only drunkeness but seeking out the best and brownest. Beer is neither benign or neutral but a powerful tool. That is what history teaches us. It can trace empires for us. Fortify a frontier. Collapse a region. Give hope. And bring despair.

Considering The Role Of Ale On This Canada Day

canadaday

Nine years ago, back around those heady days of political blogging, I wrote a series of posts on a fictitious Atlantic Canadian separation movement focused on a mde-up new capital called Tantrama City. One post set out details of the Canada Day celebrations under the new governmental order and featured the photo of Neil and Larry above. I have no idea who these guys are but I love it. It may be the most Canadian image I have ever seen. The nutty bow ties in the national colours, Neil’s boring earnest shirt and Larry drinking a Bud. And the fact they don’t give a crap and are just having a good time.

Is there a Peru Day or a Norway Day? Canada Day is such a politely bland concept but, this being a confederation with lingering prickly regional identities, it suits us. We are the country that cancels recreations of historic events. Why recall past unhappinesses? What we remember in particular is the formation of one semi-autonomous colony out of three in 1867 (or was it four… Canada was sort of split into Canada East and Canada West but had formerly been separately Lower Canada and Upper Canada from 1791 to 1841), two of the invitee colonies not joining in until six (PEI) and eighty-two (Newfoundland) years later. My particular part of the nation remembers the events with mixed emotions.

So, on this we day celebrate the fourth version of Canada after the one that was otherwise a bit chunk of New France up to 1760, then the one with the Upper and the Lower, then the one that didn’t work from 1841 to 1867. And maybe the one from 1763 to 1791, too. OK, maybe this is the fifth Canada. Most of all we recall the man who is attributed with bringing the four colonies together, Sir John A MacDonald. Larry and Neil might well have been making a joke or two about him – as the founder of a large part (but not all) of our current constitutional structure (yes, it is a bit messy) was a bit of a drinker. A bit of one. Consider this description of one of the planning sessions from the pre-Confederation years:

“…The Council was summoned for twelve and shortly after that we were all assembled but John A. We waited for him till one – till half past one – till two – and then Galt sent off to his house specially for him. Answer – will be here immediately. Waited till half past two – no appearance. Waited till three and shortly after, John A. entered bearing symptoms of having been on a spree. He was half drunk. Lunch is always on the side table, and he soon applied himself to it – and before we had well entered on the important business before us he was quite drunk with potations of ale.” But, after two and a half hours of debate, the wound up their discussions of the constitutional changes and agreed on the course to be followed…”

So, we are a nation imagined and brought into being by a drunk. That is the story we are told. Historian Ged Martin in 2006 published this detailed study of the record of Macdonald’s drinking patterns which both confirms the fantastic level of consumption, his personal struggles as well as the possible causes. It is a very sympathetic piece. If they read it, I am sure Larry and Neil would like him more… and raise another beer to the nation imagined mid-spree thanks to potations of ale. They’d probably raise an American one come to think of it. But only if it was the nearest one. We are not that fussy.

Another Candidate For First Beer Downed In North America

1578beer

Martin Frobisher. He was taking a group of miners to what later gets called Baffin Island¹ in the Canadian high Arctic to dig for ores. The image is from The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher, a book from 1938 that reprints the 1576-78 journal of crew member George Best along with other records. It is very likely that this is not of the first beer in any respect. Almost certain. Because it is from the second of the expeditions. The 1576 expedition had five tons of “beare” listed amongst the “furniture” – as in things furnished – for the voyage. So it’s nearly the first… maybe.

The thing I thought I would find as I have seen elsewhere was barrels of malt and hops being shipped over. I’ve seen it on Newfoundland’s shores about twenty years later as well as in Hudson Bay a century later. But this was no crew of masterless West Country men salting west Atlantic cod or factors left to overwinter to trade in northern furs. Nope. Frobisher’s crew was funded by Earls, Countesses and Lords to the tune of 50 to 200 pounds each. The Queen’s Majesty herself threw in a rounded thousand. There was a surgeon on board as well as four tons of cheese. Almonds and raisins plus two firkins of prunes. Just in case. They are living in style. There is both Malmsey and sack, for heaven’s sake. That would now be described as Madeira and sherry respectively.

A gallon of beer for each man each day. Likely downed in wooden tankards like these. A gallon. That is the equivalent of twelve 12 oz or 350 ml bottles a day every day. In 1576, it was two pounds two shillings for a ton of beer but two pound five shillings in 1577. Seven percent inflation over one year is unlikely. Maybe a better grade of beer? Not a lot of detail of the life on shore in the accounts. Just interaction with the local Inuit as well as the work gathering of tons of ore. Each group seemed to appear pretty silly to the other.

¹… because our lad Billy Baffin isn’t even born until around 1584.

May Two-Four And Our Well-Wishing To The Crown

bobdoug1Even though it is just the 17th of May, this weekend is nicknamed May Two-Four. It is Canada’s non-much-observed celebration of the lass who was Queen Victoria. Monday is still called Victoria Day. It also has a quiet subtext of somehow being the celebration of the present Queen’s birthday. If those are the dimming antecedents, the once glowing purposes of the day – they are doubly wrong. Our current absentee monarch was born on an April 21st. Vicky was born in May 24th but, as you may note, that is not today’s date.

And yet this is the weekend of May Two-Four. Not next weekend which contains the twenty-fourth day of May. This one. Why? Because a two-four is the name of a cardboard case of 24 bottles of beer. Twenty-four 12 ounce bottles is that unit that is beyond personal consumption. It implies either sharing or duration. A long warm weekend is apt for both. And gardening and fireworks. Because we have no real remaining cultural focus on this long weekend, unlike any other long Canadian weekend, we are now free to create our own. So we think about drink in itself. We just enjoy ourselves.

It was not always so. In the course of co-writing one book on the history of beer in Ontario and another on Albany, I have written about three drink laced celebrations of the Monarch’s birthday in 1755, 1776 and 1828. As I mentioned the other week, Sir William Johnson supplied the Royal loyal allies of the monarchy, the Mohawk nation of central New York, with beer during the Seven Years War – aka the French and Indian War. One of those deliveries, as noted at page 572, was on June 4, 1755 when he obtained two barrels of beer from Hendrik Fry for the Mohawk at Conajoharee to drink to toast the birthday of George III. As I wrote a year ago, Craig and I located the scene of the drunken tavern brawl 21 years later in Albany which finally ripped that city’s Tories and Patriots apart triggered by overly vigorous toasting to the King. Perhaps my favorite Royal birthday celebration in British North American happened about half a century later. As you will see in Ontario Beer, at a celebration of the King George IV’s birthday hosted by the Canada Company on 12 August 1828, 200 settlers gathered at what is now Guelph when it was at the point where the forest met the clearing of fields. A whole ox was roasted held over the fire with logging chains. As there were few utensils, most of it was eat off of wooden shingle plates with a stick for a fork. After the eating was done:

…toasts were drunk to everybody and every conceivable thing, the liquors of all imaginable descriptions being passed round in buckets from which each man helped himself by means of tin cups…

It is recorded that many were found the next morning reposing on the ground in the marketplace “in loving proximity to the liquor pails.”

Now, I am not suggesting we take our Canadian admiration of the Crown to that point. But… it is a proud tradition. It brought together peoples as loyal allies, insulted our treacherous enemies and celebrated the new frontier in our new homeland. If I had my druthers, that would be what we celebrate today. Not so much the Crown or a particular monarch but the loyal pioneers who defended the cause and created the nation. And drank like idiots as they did and because they did. Because we are like that.

Is There Anything Sadder Than The Law Not In Force?

monkey4Despite having two law degrees as well as 20 years under my belt in practice, the law can still confuse me. Consider this:

Note: On a day to be named by proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor, section 62.1 is repealed by the Statutes of Ontario, 2006, chapter 32, Schedule D, subsection 7 (2) and the following substituted…

62.1 (1) A municipality may pass by-laws extending the hours of sale of liquor in all or part of the municipality by the holders of a licence and a by-law may authorize a specified officer or employee of the municipality to extend the hours of sale during events of municipal, provincial, national or international significance. 2006, c. 32, Sched. D, s. 7 (2).

That is a cut and paste job of a section of Ontario’s Liquor Licensing Act and it follows a provision that currently reads “The City of Toronto may pass by-laws extending the hours of sale of liquor in all or part of the City…” Notice the difference? The current law only applies to that city at the other end of the lake. The portion I quoted from above is a pending amendment to the law. Pending. Pending as the law has already passed the legislature, The decision has been made by the law makers. We are just waiting for the proclamation. We are waiting for the paperwork. Excellent.

Excellent? See, there is a big game tomorrow morning at 7 am in which the national pride of Canada is on the line. The gold medal game in men’s Olympic hockey. It’s our World Cup final and we hope to beat the Swedes. People are excited. Churches will be empty. Some provinces are allowing early morning tavern openings and some are not. Which is fine as it is up to each Province to make up its mind in these matters under the division of powers under our constitution. But in Ontario, Toronto has been granted the power to make local decisions but every other municipality is prohibited. The results are obvious. Confusion and a bit of annoyance. The City of Kawartha Lakes council thought it was within its rights and passed a special bylaw last Wednesday only to be advised by the bureaucracy that the action was void. Because someone forgot to proclaim the amendment. How’s that for a salute to democracy?

Personally, I am not missing out on anything. Even in Ontario’s tightest period of alcohol control in the early 1920s, we were subject to a form of regulated temperance which allowed home drinking and even home brewing. So, if I want a drink that early in the morning nothing is stopping me. But – solely because someone forgot to proclaim the amendment – only if I was in Toronto could I go out and have a beer at 7 am like normal people elsewhere do all the time. Most irritating is having to read Josh’s tips for drinking in Toronto tomorrow morning. Nice to know, however, that the general rule that you can be wrong when drinking beer has reared its head. Me? If I can have unsweetened grapefruit juice along with hot sauce on my eggs, I think I might be able to handle an IPA in the morning, Mr. B. If I was allowed.

Ti-Jos: Something That Won’t Make The Beer Book

itta1

Somethings just won’t make the book on Ontario’s beery history that I am writing with Jordan. I am working my way these days through the period after our version of prohibition ends in 1927 until, roughly, the beginning of microbrews in 1985. Jordan is back there somewhere untangling the Victorians.

This image is one from a regular series of serial cartoons placed in Ontario newspapers by Labatt during WWII under the pen name Ti-Jos. They are obviously patriotic but there is a theme of moral economics that flows through the set. They are set largely in the home or shops but the message is about what citizens need to do on the home front to aid the war effort. In this edition, you better damn well not be spreading rumours if you don’t want shortages.

Which is my message for each of you today, too.

The Best Christmas Present For Ontario Ever?

I hadn’t thought of an attack on Ontario’s beer retailing weirdness from the Federal level but that may be just what is lining up for 2014:

A spokesperson for the Competition Bureau confirmed Friday that it’s “currently examining the differences between the beer industries in Ontario and Quebec and exploring the effect that these differences have on competition in each province….” “The bureau chose to focus on the beer industry as there have been a number of conflicting reports as to why the price of beer varies between Ontario and Quebec,” Phil Norris, a spokesperson for the Competiton Bureau, said via email. Sources told Global News Beer Store officials and others have been interviewed by the bureau. Regulators were “collecting information from industry participants,” Norris said.

Collecting information? I suppose if the mandate is limited to assessing a nutty regulatory system’s effect on pricing one must make a study of the obvious. As Jordan has detailed, the pricing arguments may not be all they appear but for me that is not the point. I have no interest in limiting my choice when it comes to my shopping whether for beer, cheese, shoes or books or anything. I buy at least half my beer ever the course of the year in Quebec or the USA. I’ve gotten the occasional wee lectures from overly eager border guards telling me I should not buy in the States but, really, when you allow yourself to take consumer product advice with folk with sidearms where are we?

I am happy to pay full freight. I am happy to declare purchases at the border, support local and support actual well crafted just about anything. But, when it is all boiled down, what I am most happy with is the idea of reducing the intermediaries. I prefer two parties to a transaction, the maker and me. Add a third as retailer and I am not upset but getting into wholesaler, bonding firms, distributors, importers and clearance certificate issuing laboratories and you start seeing not only why a simple product like beer is over priced but over wrought. As in what hath this system wrought?

At the moment – as it has since 1927 in Ontario – it hath wrought market constriction to the point one cannot be sure of value or even preference. We get what we are given and are expected to line up and praise the short shelves of selected goods. No thanks. I’ll continue to take much of my money elsewhere until that changes. If that takes a prosecution of the provincially regulated monopoly by Federal officials, so be it.

The Math Of 1600s Beer Can Befuddle Me

image55

I was never much good at math. I liked patterns and making the calculator make words if you loaded in a certain formula. “Esso Oil” could appear on the small LCD screen if you knew the right numbers. So I never became an accountant or an engineer. I was reminded of this when I came across this 1674 entry in the minute books of the Hudson’s Bay Company in London, part of that year’s provisioning of that year’s expedition to Canada’s Arctic coast. I understand that 17 men x 28 days x 3 months x 3 quarts = 5 tunns. Or 4284 quarts. But is it true that 4284 quarts equals 5 tunns? What is a tunn? Is there 4284 quarts ÷ 4 quarts in a gallon ÷ 5 tunns mean there are 214.2 gallons to a tunn? This would be a measure way off the pottle chart of the 1840s. Unless I have the math wrong.

Which is exactly the point at which I try to make words appear on my Texas Instrument solar powered pocket calculator in early 1981 or look out the classroom window daydreaming of Friday nights, past or future.

A Trip With Jordan To Canada’s National Archives

image45It took four levels of security to get Jordan and I from the front door of the Library and Archives of Canada to a table with 20 neatly stacked boxes of brewery records to look through. The two hour drive north was fueled by caffeine. Finding a place to park was the biggest hassle. Once in the building we were issued ID, then signed in by security and then provided the access rights granted in writing before we were shown our table and provided with the boxes we had requested. We were assisted by at least seven by different staff members.

And such things we found. Correspondence between names which have altered the global beer markets. Early Victorian beer labels. Public opinion surveys from an era long gone. The cost of 100 lbs of brewers yeast in 1932. We’ll have to confirm what can be shared but suffice it to say that the book has been enriched.

And Steve Is The Crown-In-Parliament, Too

Today’s news speaks to some fairly basic constitutional ideas:

The Harper government said Monday it will not include Governor-General David Johnston in any future policy discussions with First Nations, further clouding its battle of wills with aboriginal leaders. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said Monday Stephen Harper will meet with Assembly of First Nations’ National Chief Shawn Atleo “in the coming weeks,” and has no plans to abide aboriginal leaders’ demands for a summit Thursday. “[First Nations people] are very insistent on having the Governor-General there, but the Governor-General says this is a policy matter with the government and that [he] shouldn’t be there,” Andrew MacDougall said. “We agree with that.”

This is interesting stuff. What is a Prime Minister and what is a Governor-General? In his book Federalism and the Constitution of Canada, David E. Smith uses the proper name of one institution the Prime Minister leads: the Crown-in-Parliament. Even though the Glorious Revolution of 1688 changed a lot of the constitutional principles it did not great autonomous spheres of power so much as rearrange the existing ones. As a result, Smith can write:

Sovereignty in a constitutional monarchy rests in the Crown-in-Parliament (or, legislature), except where the subject is the reserve powers (dissolution of Parliament, for instance) that remain as a matter of prerogative in the hands of the Crown’s representative.

So, unless the topic is one reserved to the G.-G., it is a matter of Parliamentary oversight. In section 91 of our Constitution of 1867, part of the division of powers discussion it states “the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say,” and then lists a number of topics. It is generally taken that the list serves to distinguish between the Federal level and the Provincial one but the assignment of the classes of subjects is to the Parliament of Canada. Item number 24 in the list is “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.” Later in the constitution it states under the heading “Treaty Obligations” that:

The Parliament and Government of Canada shall have all Powers necessary or proper for performing the Obligations of Canada or of any Province thereof, as Part of the British Empire, towards Foreign Countries, arising under Treaties between the Empire and such Foreign Countries.

Interestingly, as Smith points out in his book, this only means that the Feds have the power to conclude treaties not to implement them. Where the subject matter is not in the list of subject matters assigned to the Federal Parliament, it is up to the Provinces to implement. And, in any event, the power relates to foreign countries. What was the nature of the “in Empire” domestic treaty that the British and then Canada happily signed from East to West as European Canada asserted itself? Mr. Harper is asserting that whatever it is, it is something that section 91(24) assigns to Parliament and he is the head of Parliament. Clearly an argument available to be made. Because he, like the G.-G. represents the Crown in his own way, too.