These Are The Greatest Mid-April Beery News Notes Yet!

Howdie! It’s definitely spring now. Definitely. I’ve planted radish seed and the snow’s all gone.  More planting to come this weekend.  It’s a busy time in the beer world with the great retreat having begun in earnest. The Craft Beer Conference is going on in Denver so plenty of hope and new instructions* being delivered. And, in a real sense, nothing immediately new has actually been done under the umbrella of craft has been done for quite a while. Whither glitter 2.o? No one knows… or perhaps cares. Not Martin Taylor who posted the photo of the week up there on Wednesday, clear glowing golden goodness.

Oh, speaking of the Craft Brewers Conference, apparently they hauled an old rocker (who, for some reason, is a brewery cross-branding project) out to speak to them all and he regaled them with a few sexist jokes! Fabulous. Conversely, all hail the greatest mind in the beer world over at least the last decade:

…the ruination of nomenclature leaves you with no power to describe things.

How many times have I said that very thing? Never? You’re probably right. But I like it.

In exciting rule of law news, the Canadian federal government has announced it is changing the rules barring inter-provincial trade in booze! Too bad it is regulated at the provincial level as last year’s Comeau ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed. Will there be a constitutional conference on all this? Likely not. Somehow, somewhere a bilateral agreement between two will start the ball rolling. My bet? Nova Scotia and Manitoba!

Neolithic malting techniques explained!

Next up, Thornbridge Brewery in the UK announced a new take on beer and, in a move I trust might be appreciated by our last quote giver up there, it’s a step back of the best sort:

Seeing as the current beer market is awash with Citra/Mosaic US-style IPAs, I wanted to create a beer that uses only British ingredients that was slightly different.  I took the concept of German Kellerbier, a timeless, classic style of unfiltered lager, which is as close to cask conditioned real ale as the Germans get, and put a British spin on it to create our new beer, which we named Heartland.  Kellerbier is known as a fresh-tasting, highly drinkable style with flavours drawn from the yeast (as it would have been served direct from the tank) with a fine bitterness.

Read the whole thing. I have never wanted to have a glass of a new beer more. That sounds entirely yum.

One a word: why?

More research has been published in The Lancet showing that regular alcohol is never a good idea if avoiding health issues is part of your life plan. Note again: no j-curve. You are just trading off long term health for short term jollies. Which can be quantified apparently. I am sure your favourite beer writer will disagree with the medical opinion – but who takes health advice from a paid booze trade advocate? Oh, some of you do? Interesting.

Speaking of things that set of craft crybabies, in even greater neg the UK’s newspaper The Independent has asked the questions we all want answered. Has craft actually succeeded in making beer no fun? Has good beer gone uttlerly boring?

Another day, another press release with the words “craft beer” in the title – perhaps the second or third this week. This time, a madcap alternative to craft beer fun runs, craft beer mini golf, craft beer rafting, craft beer cycle tours, craft beer billiards, craft beer haircuts and craft beer yoga: a new London “craft beer hotel” from the people at BrewDog. It’s apparently a revolutionary place with “craft beer in every room”. Please excuse me for a moment while I consign said email to subfolder “CRAFT CRAP.”

It’s true, isn’t it. Who thought a decade ago that ten years of money and ego could actually succeed in making beer so boring? But they have! I like the article’s tag line… sub-title… whatever you call it: “Big business has killed the authenticity of small-batch brews.” I probably have not paid a nickel into the BrewDog coffers for half a decade so you can’t blame me. I like micro and local too much to bother with big craft.

The Beer Nut again takes one for the team and compares discount Italian lagers. Sadly, the better one will never make our side of the Atlantic.

Martyn has written an excellent post on an unexcellent thing… the disappearance of the word “bitter” from the English landscape:

Exactly when it started happening I’m not sure, but bitter, once the glory of the British beer scene, is disappearing. In the place of all those marvellously hoppy, complex bitters and best bitters we once sank by the pottle and quart, we now have brews sold under the same brand names, made by the same breweries, very probably to the same recipes, with the same ingredients – but describing themselves as “amber ales” instead.

Fortunately, Ontario is behind the times so our old school local preferences are still out there to be enjoyed: sweetish husky pale ales, nut browns, dark ales that might be milds but no one has bothered to inquire.

Finally, we here in Ontario and across Canada heard the news of the sad early passing of Joel Manning. Ben Johnson wrote a fitting warm remembrance:

To a person, anyone I’ve heard speak of Manning is likely to note that “he is a good dude.” He was affable, open, steadfastly committed to helping people in his industry, and always willing to talk. He was also, in every sense of the word, a professional brewer. Manning began brewing beer at age 20 when he was hired as a brewing assistant at the original Amsterdam Brewpub in 1986. He worked his way up to Brewmaster there in just three years and held that position until 2004. In 2005 he took over as the Brewmaster at Mill Street Brewery and remained in that role until his retirement last year. He worked in the beer industry for 32 years.

There we are. Another week has passed and if it had a theme in good beer, it was one of loss, both welcome and deeply sad. I hope it’s a better week ahead. Taxes loom** but so does the four day Easter long weekend. Did I mention the 150 garlic that overwintered outback are suddenly popping up green? So there is good in the world. I expect more of it to be reported by Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday. You should, too.

*Surely, independent malt.
**Which I still do by hand and pencil and paper for four tax returns for some unknown reason…

England’s Increasing Concern Over Beer Brewing, 1430s to 1580s

I have a thing for a beer I have never had. Double Double. As I understand it, this beer was made by recirculating perfectly good wort and rebrewing it through a new batch of malt. In the mid-1500s, it was a great bother for the nation, it even gets a mention in Shakespeare,* somewhat in open view. In 1560, Queen Elizabeth became directly involved as the supply of single beer was tightening.  She ordered that brewers should brew each week “as much syngyl as doble beare and more.” Hornsey discusses a 1575 letter from the Earl of Leicester discussing a trip he took with Elizabeth, a summary of which from another source is noted above. When she wanted refreshment, she found her ale was as strong as Malmsey, heavy sweet strong Madiera wine. Not pleased.**

In the article “The London Lobbies in the Later Sixteenth Century” by Ian Archer, published in 1988 in The Historical Journal the resulting legal restrictions on brewing double double within and near to London was discussed:

The parliamentary diarist Cromwell describes a bill in 1572 “restraining the bruing of double double ale or doble double beere within the Citie or iij miles thereof, and no beere to be sould above 4s. the barrel1 the strongest, and 2s. the single beere.”

Archer explains that the goal of the regulation of ‘double double’ beer was supposed to ensure that the most intoxicating and expensive of beverages were not available to the poor, while also limiting the consumption of grain. To that, we might also add the waste of wood. England in the mid and later 1500s was not only facing speculation in malt  was having a fuel crisis. Whole forests had been lost. Double double requires not only the loss of volumes of single ale and beer to the production process but also a second firing of fuel. The Common Council of the City of London had regulated double double for years before the statute of 1572 was considered. In 1575, as we can see above to the right, another general statute against the brewing of double double throughout all of England was before Parliament. Notice, too, that it was the brewing of both double double beer as well as double double ale that was being reined in by the law. The hopping of the beer in itself was not key to the question.

Beer brewers themselves were a bit suspect at this time. Strangers. Archer states that the Brewers’ Company was an unpopular group dominated by aliens and thought to be profiteering at the expense of the poor. As we saw a few weeks ago, “aliens” or “strangers” were foreign nationals who were subject to being recorded in a  form of census. Yet, of the 1400s mood one can state that “stranger beer brewers found the Crown to be an ally throughout the fifteenth century because of their ability to supply beer to the military.” We also remember that Henry VIII created a beer brewing complex in 1515 at Portsmouth to supply the needs of his navy. Prior to that, the English navy had to buy beer from a group of 12 brewers in London. Probably including many alien beer brewers.

The role of hopped beer in military victuals continued.  In 1547, the supplying of the Scottish town in England, Berwick, required a steady provision of beer by the tun. Likely in support of the army of Edward Seymour, maternal uncle of Edward VI, who upon the death of Henry VIII became Lord Protector. The expedition culminated in the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in which 8,000 Scots were killed to 250 English. All too reminiscent of the outcome of that 1513 misadventure at Flodden when 10,000 Scots died and the English leader Lord Howard noted:

The Scots had a large army, and much ordnance, and plenty of victuals. Would not have believed that their beer was so good, had it not been tasted and viewed “by our folks to their great refreshing,” who had nothing to drink but water for three days.

In a letter dated 29 January 1587, James Quarles, the surveyor general of victuals for the navy sets out his request to regularize the supply of provisions as England prepared to face the Spanish threat. He requests continued control of Her Majesty’s brewhouses, bakeshouses and storehouses and then sets the standard for a pottle of beer per seaman a day, at a price of 1 and 3/4 pence per day. Interestingly, he also notes that a tun of beer had increased in price by about 50% from the 1540s to the 1580s, from 18 shillings to 26 shillings 8 pence. As noted above, resources like fuel and malt were tightening.

While both the armies and navies of England depended on hopped beer, the civic beer brewers were not only suspect but, like the state run beer breweries of the later 1500s, they were busy. As we noted before, Kristen D. Burton in this 2013 article describes the scale of brewing being undertaken in the whole of the City of London during Tudor times:

The beer brewers of London established England’s capital city as the leading producer of beer throughout Europe by the end of the sixteenth century; a notable feat considering the late arrival of hopped beer to England. In 1574, London beer brewers produced 312,000 barrels of beer and by 1585 that had increased to 648,690 barrels…

Scale. So, it may be that beer brewing was more welcome or less of a concern to England in the middle of the 1400s than in the latter 1500s. Or perhaps it was too critical to the nation. This might go a bit against the existing narrative. Perhaps that is because it was first a fairly benign practice in harbour towns supplying the immigrant community. Hops being imported from the continent, just a few bales at a time as in 1480. One hundred years later, it has gone from being perhaps a local port town quirk to a key military asset to a danger to social order if let loose without controls on its supply, strength and price.

If that is all correct, one of the keys to the advancement of hopped ale was not consumer preference so much as military demand. Beer was stable where ale was transitory. Beer could be held on a ship or in preparation for a battle on the field. Ale needed constant production. It also needed rationing if that was the case. And Double Double, perhaps the sucker juice of its day, was no part of a rational rationing program.

Its last sighting was in Schenectady, New York in 1820 of all places and times.  A few weeks ago, Craig unpacked the history of the brewers of that beer. They were men in transit during the great push west, the brewing of a Double Double apparently also transitory. Will I ever have one? I expect so. Perhaps Jeff is right and we are ripe for the wheel turning again. A massively malty beer would be just about right for a return to garage punk band brewing, shrugging off this era of discontent, this time of disco brewing of Franken-beers as foreign to ale as Malmsey.

*Conversely, Shakespeare gives “good double beer” a fairly respectful mention in Henry VI, Part 2, Scene III care of that unforgettable character, the Third Neighbour: “And here’s a pot of good double beer, neighbour: drink, and fear not your man.” Also note that it is beer, not ale. The play is set in around the last half of the 1440s so very little beer going about, one would have thought. Perhaps an anachronism? Or maybe a coy cultural reference to something lost to time.
**Not a wine without an unblemished past in court circles.

Your Mid-March Thursday Beery News Update

What a week. I can’t really get into it but… what a rough week. Not Elizabeth May rough but rough enough. Brendan Palfreyman Esq. has not had such a bad week. He seems to be on holiday along a sunny bit of the US Atlantic shoreline from whence he tweeted the photo of the week. I commented how pleased I was that fancy was apparently not as good as good in that bar’s parlance.

Good news! “Craft beer” has now been defined… by the UK’s SIBA. Note that #3 disqualifies most faceless bulk craft.

Cellar palate“? That sounds really bad. Could you imagine the doctor telling you that you had that? Great-uncle Louie had shed knee back in the 1950s. That was bad. Oh… oh, it’s not a medical condition:

Suffering from ‘cellar palate’ means that you’ve become so immersed in a local style that you become blind to the faults or shortcomings in the wines. It’s a condition more commonly associated with winemakers, but it can affect anyone tasting lots of wines from a specific region, such as wine critics or even holidaymakers.

No doubt a condition that afflicts most beer nerds as well. Well, maybe it’s called tap tongue. I recommend a month on bracing pots of tea. Rare teas. Intoxicatingly fabulous teas. You’ll go tea crazy! Then you end up with tea tonsils and you need to hit the wine to straighten yourself out.*

Speaking of things to learn from wine fan culture, Matt has been exploring the way of the vinous and…

I learned that wine is just as fallible as beer and that this was reassuring to me. And maybe we need to figure out how to better communicate faults as constructive criticism to help both industries improve.

I agree. And I dump and I spit. Getting loaded on tasting samples is for chumps who depend on convincing folk that beer culture is unique when it is patently not. Try spitting next time you are out and about. See what happens.

Jeff invited Matt Meador of the now defunct Oregon Beer Growler magazine to share his thoughts about the fate of publications like his:

…back at the 2019 Oregon Beer Growler, we were fighting a battle we didn’t win. Our challenge was perhaps best illustrated by one well-established Oregon craft brewery who refused to advertise with us. Each month, the brewery’s marketing people would repeat: “we don’t need to advertise our beer, it sells just fine without advertising.” This highly successful brewery — as was its right — was solely focused on a hard return for any advertising expense. That’s okay, I guess — it’s sound business to spend carefully. But this brewery saw no value in supporting the publications devoted to promoting and celebrating the Oregon craft brewing industry.

Years ago, early on in the life of this fifteen year old blog, I remember writing an established beer writer complaining about how it was that – for all the money in beer – there was no money in writing about beer. Lesson? There is no money in writing about beer. That in itself is a #MoneyMakerMarch message.

Did you watch BBC’s broadcast of Inside the Factory that focused on brewing? Was it any good? I am blocked online so have to wait until 2023 when it will be shown on TVO, Ontario’s educational channel.

Good news! Dann and Martha are back and they are making Jack D’or again!

I can’t get too worked up about the “secret lies that macros tell” approach to this recycling big story, now this week in The Guardian out of the UK:

The British craft beer report, due to be released by small brewers’ trade body the Society of Independent Brewers (Siba) this week, will say that 98% of drinkers do not believe a global firm such as Budweiser owner Anheuser-Busch InBev or Molson Coors can make craft beer. The findings cast doubt on the credentials of a growing number of beers bought or launched by major brewers, such as Camden Town, Fourpure, Goose Island, Meantime, Hop House 13, Blue Moon, Lagunitas and London Fields. The report said 43% of 2,000 survey respondents believe craft beer has to be made by a small brewer…

Of course big macro can make craft beer industrially! Most craft beer is brewed industrially. Have you actually visited a craft brewery? Massive things filled with management driving around in golf carts, evil robots and computerized equipment in much the same way as macros are. Truck fleets and logistics staff just like the macros. Bank accounts with funds for advertising and junket payments… just like macros. That’s craft today. You want good beer, find yourselves some micro. Mmm… micro brewed beer, that’s the stuff. Owner still working on the floor, a decent level of variation from batch to batch – and right in your neighbourhood. Don’t let craft fool you.

Josh Noel has written on the tale of Goose Island’s disappearing Honker’s Ale, a sad reality about which I shared a “beer writer’s scoop”** two weeks ago:

Honker’s was among Goose Island’s oldest beers, but never the most popular at the brewpub. That would have been an accessible beer most approximating Bud or Miller, such as Lincoln Park Lager or Blonde Ale. But when deciding what beer to lead with in liquor stores, bars and supermarkets, Goose Island needed to differentiate itself. Sierra Nevada had done so with a pale ale. Samuel Adams did it with dark, hearty Boston Lager. Goose Island opted for Honker’s Ale.

A sad loss for us all… well, in theory. Days of future passed beer. In the sense that we are now back in an era that loves green beer filled with adjuncts and adulteration. That could be the name of my new craft beer bar – Adjuncts and Adulteration.

Speaking of the colour of beer, this post by Rach Smith on the meaning of, the purpose of boring brown bitter from an ornithological point of view is worth a read:

…the winter sun had lingered as it held off the evening from drawing-in any closer, just a little longer than it had the previous day. Shadows were being cast high in the trees against a backdrop of holiday-blue sky. I shot up from my comfy seat and ran upstairs to get a better view of the fancy birds bobbing around outside my window. Curiosity had got the better of me. Only, they weren’t fancy at all, they were just sparrows.

Dirty birds. That’s what I call house sparrows. Invasive. Bullies. Reminds me of something. Now, white throated sparrows? Chipping sparrows. I can listen to those all day. Indigenous sparrows. At home in my yard any time.

Well, that’s it for this week. Rash and rushed. That’s what you’ve come to expect from me. Make sure you make time for the more thoughtful thoughts from Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday. Laters!

*Sing along. Look at those guys singing almost 50 years, just better well groomed hipsters.
**That rare combination of following up on someone else’s work yet still getting it not quite right.

Now That It’s March It Must Be Thursday So Here’s The News

Well, here we are. March. -15C this morning with the wind chill but at least it’s March. Things could be worse, I suppose. I could find myself at what the British call a hen party like we see in the photo of the week captured by temporarily angry Katie apparently practicing her mind control in the attached photo… except I’m not in Britain so she can’t reach me… and… I’d be at a Rooster Do or whatever they call it to make sure we are not getting all inter-species. The rural Ontario stag and doe makes so much more sense. But I am struck how fabulous Katie is… for some reason… give her money… give her power.

We continue with a rather odd tale out of Syracuse NY where we find a craft beer bar shut down due to a rather firm boycott:

Talisman struggled to attract business after its August opening due, at least in part, to a boycott effort from former J.Ryan’s regulars and bartenders. They blamed Carvotta for J.Ryan’s sudden closure and the firing of bartenders and other staff. Former J.Ryan’s fans also posted false negative reviews on the Talsiman Facebook page, attempting to make it difficult for the new bar to get off the ground. They derided the new bar as the “Taliban Tap Room.”

Yikes. Staying in upstate New York, Craig has proved again how flammable he is… and the answer is very… because his FB posts and new findings relate to Albany Ale are on… wait for it… fire. This clickable one to the right from 1832 is my current favourite notice related to Albany ale because it’s from a notice for immigrants to a frontier village in what is now suburb or city to the west end of Lake Ontario, then in Upper Canada, seeking specifically a person who is a tanner, currier and brewer of Albany Ale. Fabulous.

Back in Britain, there was another sort of unhappiness with CAMRA facing apparent or at least alleged revolt from within based on generational shift in appropriate standards:

A war is brewing among members of a real ale campaign group after younger reformers accused the ‘sexist’ old guard of treating the organisation like a ‘pensioners drinking club’.  The feud has been made public after seven reformers – all in their early forties or younger – of Campaign for Real Ale wrote a scathing letter claiming the organisation was ‘riddled with allegations of sexism and cronyism’.  In the letter published in this month’s newsletter, they wrote: ‘We need to see a campaign thinking more seriously about the next generation of pubgoers — a campaign whose public image is not riddled with accusations of sexism…’

Good. Very good. But how many old guard members are there really out there? You’d know better than me. ATJ knows more and he wrote an article for The Telegraph. Here’s a handy Twitter search for “CAMRA sexism” to measure the temper of today.

Crystal takes one of more obligatory sort for the team.

Jordan on why his beer appreciation college course is the best beer appreciation college course:

Luck doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it. I basically started from the proposition that I’ve got to be more useful for less money than both established programs. Cicerone can’t customize their content. Prud’homme can’t customize their content. I can tell the students what happened last week and change out recipes between semesters. 

Martyn has written a cheery attack on the shadowy Portman Group, all over its stance on strong ale:

Among the beers that break the new Portman Group guidelines, and therefore face a potential ban, by being stronger than eight per cent and sold in 75cl bottles, are beautiful brews from the US, such as Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops, or Local 2, Rogue’s XS Old Crustacean barley wine and Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments; a rake of great beers from Italian craft brewers, who go for 75cl bottles in a big way – pun semi-intended – including the wonderful Xyauyù Barrel from the Italian brewer Baladin; and a fair number of beers from the Netherlands and Belgium… and Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux.

The bastards. The only thing that lets me go on is knowing that there’s Avec Les Bons Voeux out there. Matt took an interesting take on the subject via tweetfest:

…there are thousands of videos of people chugging cans of DIPA on Facebook and Instagram like it’s a game. If we want to encourage responsible drinking of a premium product, perhaps we start by addressing the reality of the situation.

In very happy news… Go Ray… go Ray… go go go Ray!!!

More great news, this out of CBN and the east coast Canadian fabrication scene:

Diversified Metal Engineering (DME) in Charlottetown ceased operations and went into receivership last November along with its sibling business, Newlands Systems (NSI) in Abbotsford, BC. The company and brands have been bought by CIMC Enric Tank & Process B.V. (CETP) of the Netherlands, and the Charlottetown facility has been reopened under the name DME Process Systems. Previous DME staff members have returned to work, and the plant will continue to manufacture DME and NSI equipment, as well as provide parts and technical support to previous DME and NSI customers.

There’s background on the DME story in former weekly news.

I had no idea that there was a German tradition of drinking beer and throwing political insults on Ash Wednesday but state radio folk Deutche Welle says there is:

…every Ash Wednesday the gloves come off, and political leaders are allowed to push the rhetoric to the limits of fairness — and sometimes beyond. That’s been the case this year, too, in the centenary edition of the ritual. Here are some best zingers from the 2019 edition of the political roast day Germans call “political Ash Wednesday.”

The zingers include such winners as “Good PR isn’t going to lift one single child out of poverty” and, of a leader of another political stripe “In her heart of hearts, she’s a Social Democrat.” Wow.  Consider my knee well and truly slapped.

That’s it for this week. A little thin… unlike me in either respect. I got through a kid’s 19th birthday and the intro to drinking legally as well as an radical expansion of the life at work and survived. By next week, the clocks will have changed and the snow will be muchly melted. Check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday as well as the slowly simmering #MoneyMakerMarch that everyone… well, Stan… is talking about.

Putting The 1390-91 Crusade Beer Buying Notes Through A Latin Translator

Now, as you know, I did take one year of Latin in undergrad but it’s not like I learned anything. So, the other day, when I found the notes from the provisioning of the English forces in the 1390-91 crusade eventually against the Lithuanians, I knew it was provisioning notes in Latin but there were plenty of assumptions. For example, when I read this from the 10 September 1390 provisioning records:

Clerico buterie super beer, pro iij barellis de beer emptis ibidem, xxx scot. Et pro ij barellis beer emptis ibidem, xxij scot. Et pro portagio dicte beer…

I made at least one error in relation to “emptis” and its variant conjugation siblings as well as the various declinations of “ibid…” “Emptis” is not related to empty beer barrels. It’s the verb for purchasing. And the final “j” in numerals is just a “i” like the rest. I thought it might be another indicator for a five. So, the translator give us this:

Clerk buterie the beer, the beer purchased for three barellw place, thirty Scot. He bought beer for two barellw place, twenty Scot. And portagio said beer …

Which I might clean up as:

The Clerk of the Buttery bought three barrels from the same place. He bought two barrels from the same place. And delivery for the beer…

I left out the price. Notice that the three barrels cost “xxx” thirty currency units but the two barrels cost “xxij” or twenty-two units. Different grades of beer? The currencies are also odd. Nearby we read “Clerico buterie super beer pro iij barellis beer emptis ibidem, j marc. vj scot.” which seems to suggest three barrels were bought at the same place for one marc and six Scots – which means one mark is worth 24 of those Scots thingies if the price for three barrels were stable. Consider this note of wine and beer purchases on 26 August 1390 which may give a hierarchy of currency units:

CLERICO buterie super vino per manus eorundem pro vino ibidem empto, ij marc. xxij scot. ij s. pr. Clerico buterie super beer, pro beer empta ibidem ix scot., viij d.

Marc. > scot. > s. > d.? The last are likely shilling and penny but what are “marc.” or “scot.”? All seem to be abbreviations given they are followed by a period. Crack that question and this document is a playground for anyone trying to work out beer prices on the eastern Baltic markets in the 1390 during an inflationary setting such as a crusade.

Oh… that might be just me.

OK – various sources of the currencies must be being described. A Hanseatic  League mark? Or a Scottish merk? “Scot.” could well be the Scottish pound which was worth 1/12th of an English pound and 150% of a merk – and made up of 20 shillings with 12 pence each.  Which makes it more sensible as the price point of a barrel of beer. But were they are actually using Scots money? No. Here is a helpful table from the introduction to 1894’s hit text Expeditions to Prussia and the Holy Land Made by Henry Earl of Derby (afterwards King Henry IV.) in the Years 1390-1 and 1392-3Being the Accounts Kept by His Treasurer During Two Years, Volume 52

So, they are using local money as they are fighting along side the Teutonic Order against then mighty Lithuania just prior to the formation of the very mighty Polish-Lithuanian alliance.

Going to leave it there for now. Internet getting dodgy. Wind storm and thunder in February. Odd doings.

UPDATE: Interesting chat on Twitter pointed out that “cervisia”* would have referenced ale, not hopped beer.  This is more directly illustrated by the contemporary Dunster Castle household accounts kept by John Bacwell, Steward, from 27 June 6 Henry IV, to 27 June 7 Henry IV (or 1405-1406) in which the word is included in this record from 11 June 1406:

In factura 6 barelles pro cervisia imponenda 2s, Et pro 1 eerda et 2 citulis’ prope novum fontem faetum emptis 2s.

So, if that word ceruisia was ale and that word appears in the accounts for the 1390 expedition, then the same account kept by the same clerk of the buttery using the word beer should be expected to mean another substance. And logically that substance would… beer. Local hopped beer.

*Or as Martyn noted a decade ago, a variant of that spelling.

In 1480 Two Bales Of Hops Came To Bristol

That image above is from The Overseas Trade of Bristol in the Middle Ages, a publication of the Bristol Record’s Society Publications. The BRS is now one of my favorite things, a society dedicated to record keeping. Interestingly, there is one data point in this record that is not really referenced on the map. The passage taken by one ship that landed at Bristol on 24 February 1480. The record for that voyage reads as follows:

Fascinating. What that means is a ship registered to the Basque port of Guetaria named the Seint Sebastian, with someone named Lope as her master, sailing from Flanders came to Bristol on 24 February 1480 carrying madder, tar, wainscot and hops. The ship is en route to the south but stops in at Bristol, a half point between Flanders and what is now in northern Spain.

Look at the offloaded cargo. Madder is a plant that gives a red dye. Tar is likely pine tar which was a product of the far eastern reaches of Baltic Hansa. And wainscot (anglicized from the Dutch word wageschot) was measured by the hundreds as we see with that “C” and a fine grade of lumber for interior paneling. And those hops.

Look at the hops record.* Notice that the hops are in identified units. Two bales. Not just some plant matter slung in the corner of the hold. They have a recipient listed: John Cockis. So, it is a shipment and not just a delivery on speculation to be sold on the wharf. It is a priced. Three pounds for the two bales. It is worth less per bale than the madder. And that price relates customs valuation. Which means there was a process for valuing hops. And a customs duty that would apply to their three pounds of value on their importation. All a very formal affair. Very bureaucratic. Very legal. Very normal.

Interesting. Lots to think about with that wee record.

*page 258.

 

Beer News For The Week When You Learn 1/52nd Of All Human Thought Relates To The Super Bowl

Well, that was quite a something. The game was dull and boring the halftime show was worse. But it’s over. And, really, you only get one “Prince in the rain for your halftime” experience in a lifetime. It’s all degrees of sucking from there. Otherwise, three weeks to March. That’s all I know… so, let’s go crazy with some beery news on a Thursday.

In a surprise move, the beer ads on the Stooper Stupor Super Bowl broadcast actually triggered actual discussion. It started with the odd message from ABInBev summed up neatly with this tweet.

To be clear, Bud Light is not brewed with corn syrup, and Miller Lite and Coors Light are.

Which immediately pissed off big corn. So MillerCoors sent corn farmers their beer! Since then we have been reminded that much high test US craft also relies on corn sugar to boost its strength. This is called chaptalization in wine and it is not considered good. Mainly because it is considered bad. But with US craft beer it is apparently considered – on the near highest authority – to be very good. A rice v. corn debate then broke out. It was exciting. Me, I was caught up in the moment and noted that “138 years of a massively popular rice-based beer and its cultural place still confuses some commentators.”  Stan piled on historically and noted with both flair and panache:

On January 30, 1881, well before A-B took aim on beers brewed with corn, the author of a full-page article in the Chicago Daily Tribune chose the side of rice in the rice versus corn debate. The author stated, “Corn beer is not a drink for Americans or Germans. It is good enough for the Spaniards, Greasers, Indians, and the mongrel breeds of South America.” Instead the author lauded the exceptional crisp taste that resulted with rice, and added, “for years the ‘blonde,’ or light colored beers have been fashionable and grown into public favor in America.” The author also suggested most breweries in Chicago used rice, while Milwaukee brewers used corn.

Me, I’m pro-corn since at least 2008. And I am pro–rice, too. And Jeff’s from sugar beet farming stock. So we are all the better for the whole thing.

Changing gears but still on the general theme of “Knowing v. Not Knowing What’s Real” last Saturday England’s newspaper The Telegraph broke the news that no one had considered ever before – that there is a craft beer bubble! To be fair, the article mainly focused on the bubble from an investor’s point of view.

“There is still growth, but the market is now much tougher for new entrants,” says Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst at market research group Mintel. “The number of brands is outstripping the growth and now people with money are wising up to the market. If someone asked me to invest in a craft beer company now, I’d say ‘no way, that ship has long sailed.’”

Hard to disagree with that.* And in Colorado, a fourth brewery had announced its closing – the fourth just since 2019 began. Remember: money likes money, not fads. Apparently thermometers are sorta fads… or at least not traditional…. or someone was having a bad day. Speaking of making money, there was an interesting follow up to the news last week of Fuller’s sale. Head Brewer, Georgian Young tweeted:

Thank you @Will_Hawkes it has been a strange week with so many uncertainties for some colleagues but my great team @FullersHenry @FullersHayley @FullersGuy along with the Engineers, Tech services, Quality et al are looking forward to the next chapter friends

Then the former Head Brewer, John Keeling, tweeted: “Today I took people on a Fullers Tour, not sure if there will be many more.” Melancholy days even if the future is arguably… well, hopefully no less as bright.

Attentive readers will remember Robert Gale. He won the 2012 Christmas Beery Photo Contest. Well, Robert is living with Crohns Disease and recently had a stoma  – or alternative nether region – installed. He recently tweeted about a post he placed on his blog with this fabulous invitation to readers: “Here’s my experience when I tried beer for the first time since having a new bum installed“! Here is his post entitled “Beer and Stoma.”

Once upon a time, an anonymous brewer berated R(Hate)Beer on this here blog. Now, with the announcement that it has been fully owned by ABInBev, he is not alone.  Which is a bit unfair but not entirely unfair. Oddly, the former principle owner wrote on the competing – and for my money superior – BeerAdvocate:

RateBeer is a quality-focused organization, and our value to the community has always depended on our integrity, and willingness to put in greater effort to produce more meaningful scores and information. I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to serve you all. It’s been a great pleasure meeting so many of you in person, and through this more fully understanding our important role in industry, and the joy, pride and responsibility felt by so many out there in RateBeeria.

That’s nice. As I have reminded you all often, always remember there are people out there behind the blogs, forums, tweets and… what else is there? People. And money. People and money. And beer. People and money and beer.

#FlagshipFebruary is one week in and – boy oh boy – are there ever more days in the month than actual flagships out there, aren’t there. We learned that macro brewed Euro-imports are allegedly flagships. We learned that a brewery can have eight flagships.  And another can have a sexist flagship. We learned that it’s  departure lounge beer, “stupid” and a “legacy craft promotional thing.” It’s cloudy and new, too! We also learned that all the sponsorship were only to make sure the writers chosen to write blog posts got paid.  [Ed.: we are just having a personal fugue state experience for a mo… and… we are back.] That’s nice. The upside is that it did not die a dumb death.** And this one won me (even with the “moule frites” for mussels and fries***) by proving this is not just, not solely #OldBeerForOldGuysFebruary. Plus I was reminded how wonderful McAuslan Oatmeal Stout is from a modestly priced can. Fabulous! The downside is we still have no idea what it all really means other than some sort of odd booze-laced homage to the Counter-Reformation. Whatever it is, what it is now won’t likely be what it is a couple of weeks from now. Stay tuned. I’m rooting for it. Really. Like almost 50/50 on the upside. Well, except for money for writers. I’m 100% on that especially given how much money they are getting each!

That is it. Early February ice storm out there as this goes to press. Need to shuffle along not knowing exactly when my feet will be cut out from underneath me. Meantime, look to Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday for updates on these and many more good beer news stories.

*Some always try.
**An actual phrase in our household: do not die a dumb death. Like the award winner “Doubt it, Ralphie!” which I thought was a line from some forgotten early 1960s TV comedy until Dad told me that when there was a neighbourhood kid who hung around when I was maybe four who just lied all the time. Name? Ralph.
***I just can’t shake the sub-motif of Turgenyev’s Fathers and Sons.

As January 2019 Dies Off Another Set Of Beery News Is Born

A surprisingly long set of links face me in my inbox today. Folk send me suggestions all the time… well, some of the time… OK, once in a while. Honestly, for the most part to make this weekly update of the news in good beer I just email myself links as I notice a story through the week. Usually there are seven or nine by early in the week. This week, I had over twenty by Monday. And, yes, emails. So… let’s dive right in.

First off, if you are in Toronto this evening (and I will be if only passing through via VIA) you can pop over to this fabulous fundraiser for an important cause to witness some top notch curling action (like that to the right from last year) at the Beer Sisters’ Charity Hopspiel:*

On January 31st, brewers from across Ontario will gather at the Royal Canadian Curling Club in Toronto’s east end. Clad in array of plaid, denim, light-up shorts, toques and matching jerseys, 24 brewing industry teams will face-off to raise money for the Native Women’s Resource Centre in Toronto. The Beer Sisters’ Charity Hopspiel, hosted by beer writers and educators Crystal and Tara Luxmore, is in its 7th year. The event has raised over $32,000 for the centre, and the sisters hope that this year they’ll cross the $40,000 mark.

Fabulous! And at the Royal Canadian Curling Club! An actual place I am assured, not just a mid-range brand of rye whisky from the 1950s.

Next, Katie wrote a wonderful piece on heritage barley published in Ferment that explores the use of Chevallier, the darling English malting from around 1820 to WWI. I immediately started badgering her about joining my Battledore revival crusade.

Note: Victorians represented in under 1% of the graph and the most striking thing is not their habits so much as the near replication of the feat right before the economic meltdown of 2007-08. Nonetheless, a very handy set of charts and who doesn’t like handy sets of charts?

Not journalism.  Or at least not good journalism.** Just badgering. Easy enough to get a quote from someone but it usually requires letting them speak.

An clear and accurate guide to tipping in Canadian tavs, pubs and bars.

Beer Ramen. Kill me now.

Update: We’ve had an actual update on #FlagshipFebruary and I couldn’t be more grateful for the clarification:

…it is in our and the industry’s best interest if we take a moment occasionally to appreciate the flagship beers of the industry’s foundational breweries…

So, the brewery has to have continued through the good beer era and the current flagship is the brewery hallmarks to recognize. Andy Crouch wrote a wonderful dense poem of a tweet on the same topic:

Revisiting long established flagships tastes of antiquity, success, failure, unfulfilled dreams of resurrection, and ultimately nostalgia. A place in time to momentarily revisit if only to remind you how far you’ve come but rarely a place to linger long.

I noticed this statement in a piece on German brewing culture and I thought it was extraordinary for suggesting agricultural capacity of a landscape is not the governing factor in whether beer was made or not:

Alsace is on Europe’s religious faultline. Beer is often thought of a drink of the Protestant north, but the facts don’t really bear that out. Belgium, Bavaria and Bohemia are historically Catholic (even if that religious attachment has faded); only Britain, of Europe’s foundational beer cultures, is Protestant. Does this suggest beer is less Protestant than thought? Perhaps, but I also think Catholic cultures are (as you might assume) better at preservation.

Well, I suppose someone has created a jam/jelly faultline based on religion. Me, I’d suggest many western and central European brewing traditions were pretty much established before the Reformation.

The effect of the US government shutdown on the brewing trade is measurable. Why the difference in processing wines and spirits? I blame the slackers attracted to a career in the beer label branch.

Gary’s piece on Watney’s Red Barrel as experienced in eastern North America at the time contains plenty of those links to contemporary primary documents that leave you persuaded. By way of contrast, this could really be read in two entirely opposite ways:

“I actually am mystified myself,” says Jeff Alworth. He should know…

Fine. I’ve held on long enough. Let’s talk Fuller’s or at least the highlights of the discussion. Promethean Jordan found a very helpful Brexit angle on the timing based on last year’s visit. Martyn argued convincingly that the whole sale spoke of business success and a strong future going forward. Then he added a bonus history of Asahi to deal with, you know, the legitimacy issues. Jeff at distance took it as a hefty body blow and mainly sees that it poses great risk to the English cask ale scene. Boak and Bailey wrote from their semi-characteristic personal perspective, supposing they are facing another long goodbye to a treasured relationship. Matt sided with the corporate success group and then started blatantly and publicly gambling with Boak and Bailey over the matter. Pete wrote first about his lack of levelheadedness when faced with the news and then got level headed and then sorta wobbled again in the semi-revisionist Book of Genesis stuff.***

My take? First, Fuller’s has been masterful in building up its reputation with good beer conversationalists over the last ten years. Remember how fun it was when @FullersJohn started tweeting? How beer writers were brought in and got their names on the label? What is really being noticed now is how the emotional credit Fuller’s they earned through that clever outreach has been truly a rich investment. And notice how none of the commentary comments upon that even though it was all done openly and with integrity.  Second, the only constant about the beer business over the centuries has been the goal of continuous growth, merger and acquisition. Brewing has two great outputs: beer and wealth. This is just the latter being successfully served after a long stretch merrily servicing the former.

I love this tweet by Jancis R:

Never ceases to amaze me when we get messages like this: ‘We’d like to find out how to go about having our wines scored by Jancis Robinson, as well as the costs involved.’ Who charges to taste wine?

Who charges to taste beer? I know some but it would be rude to mention, no? Conversely, there is a craft beer fraudster working the US south:

“The phone rang and rang and rang…I checked the house and it was empty. The door was unlocked,” Brandon Oliver says. “His chickens were still in the backyard…about 90% of his clothes were gone…he left as if he only had six hours to leave.” Foster left his tools out at the unfinished beer garden. He and his family left town overnight.

The abandonment of the chickens is a sweet detail.

As someone with hearing that will never get any better, I really like this inordinately nice idea from a campaign under the heading Quiet Scotland:

Ever left a shop or been unable to enjoy a meal or drink because the background music has been so loud? Don’t like complaining? Try leaving one of our polite cards to get your point across.

An email went around from NAGBW HQ about the impending demise of the All About Beer web archive and I first thought it was an oddly presumptuous thing to send… and then I thought it was kind to alert me. I did not save any of my own work as anything I pitched was not dubbed worthy – which made me happy. I really hate editors and others paid to make things duller. But I did save Stan’s story How Craft Became Craft for very obvious reasons.

And, finally, let’s just watch this**** and listen to the screams of those precious darlings witnessing a part of their personal emotional foundations, the rebellious idols of their youths, being washed away out from underneath their feet:

That’s it! A big week in the contemporary detritus of good beer culture. Please check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday for more sensible and refined responses to the week in good beer.

* For those not in the punny know, see Bonspiel.
**Which is quite another point we never explore when a writer claims the journalism label… or at least the helpful bits. Seldom the adoption of the concurrent ethics lead at that moment.
***“Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale began life as an attempt to imitate Fuller’s ESB.” Really? How many beers is SNPA an clone of? Ballentine IPA. Burt Grant’s work. What else?
****And this, for that matter.

Your Thursday Beer News Notes For The Week Winter Showed Up

I should not complain about having to shovel snow on the 20th of January when its the first real snow of the winter. It’s not that tough a life. Five weeks to March today means it won’t be all that bad from here on out. What effect has this on my beer consumption? Not so much in volume but now is the time when a pint of stout and port is added to any sensible diet. I say “a” pint with care given the concoction should be somewhere in the area of 10% alc. Yowza. But when does great reward comes without some risk?

Not long after last week’s deadline for news submissions, Ed tweeted that he had “[j]ust been sent an excellent article on rice malt beer 😉” The study describes the potential of rice for brewing and sets out an optimized malting program allowed water saving.  Which is cool. But it is also cool that it is about the use of rice which, except for corn, is the most hated of fermentables. This is despite the fact that rice beer came to Canada about 93 years ago – well after it was brewed in the U. S. of A. – a fact which has been fabulously preserved for us all in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case The King v. Carling Export Brewing & Malting Co. Ltd., [1930] S.C.R. 361 at page 373 about the production of beer during the era of US prohibition:

I do not think we can accept the suggestion that there was no market for lager beer in Ontario. The learned trial judge dwells upon the fact that rice beer is peculiarly an American taste, and infers that it is not sold in Ontario. The evidence in support of this does not proceed from disinterested sources and I wonder whether the boundary line so sharply affects the taste in illicit liquor. In truth, it is stated by Low that it was not until some time in 1926 that the respondents began the manufacture of rice beer, and we are not told at what date, if ever, in their brewery, rice beer wholly superseded malt beer.*

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we stopped calling it “American-style lager” and just called it rice beer… or corn beer as the case may be? Will it take another century to pass for good beer to admit this fundamental reality of North American brewing culture?

Beer at the Post Office? Thanks Vlad!

I am still not sure what to make of #FlagshipFebruary.** Like a lot of you, I have been making up alternative hashtags like #GoldenOldieAles, #FlogshipFebruary and #PartyLikeIts1999. But it’s earnestly offered and, you know, as long as there isn’t a secret spreadsheet being sent around to members of the good beer PR-consulto class prearranging who are going to each write about this or that fabulous flagship as a way to artificially drum up interest and maybe future paying PR gigs, I think we might actually come away with a reasonably good taste in our mouths.

It reminds me a lot of by far the most successful of such hashtags, #IPADay created in 2011 by this blog’s friend Ashley Routson aka The Beer Wench.*** But (and this was not really the case in 2001 so laugh not) I would argue was easier to determine what an IPA was in 2011 than figure out what “flagship” mean today. As I am l not clear what a flagship really is, I asked some questions like if the Toronto brewery Left Field consider their oatmeal brown Eephus (1) their foundation (2) their flagship (3) both or (4) neither. They wrote:

We’d be comfortable calling it a foundational beer. We don’t really refer to any beer in the lineup as a flagship. Along with a few others, it’s one of our year-round offerings.

Seefoundational does not (usually) mean flagship. More evidence? Consider this September 1990-ish beer column on the state of affairs in Lake Ontario land. It mentions the venerable and largely forgotten Great Lakes Lager. Foundation? Sure. Not the flagship. That’s now Canuck Pale Ale. You know, flagship might also even be a slightly dirty word in the trade. A tough row to hoe for the industry marketers behind this scheme. But hope lives on eternally in such matters as we learned from the new CEO of Sierra Nevada who, faced with the task of turning things around for the musty ales of yore, stated:

…he’s bullish on Sierra Nevada’s prospects heading in 2019 and he’s projecting 5 percent growth. He believes that advertising will help turn around Pale Ale’s negative trajectory, and that continued growth for Hazy Little Thing, combined with increased focus on Hop Bullet and Sierraveza, will propel the company forward this year.

Advertising! How unlike beer macro industrial crap marketeers!! If that is the case, me, I am launching #FoundationAlesFriday come March to get my bit of the action. Join my thrilling pre-movement now.

Beer so horrible that it can’t really be called beer is rising in popularity in Japan as sales of the real stuff and the semi-real stuff drops.

Elsewhere, I tweeted this in response to the wonderful Dr. J and I quite like it:

Well, the multiplication of “style” to mean just variation leads to a dubious construct that bears little connection to original intent and leaves beer drinkers more and more bewildered when facing the value proposition of fleetingly available brands however well made.

Let’s let that sit there for a second. Fair?

Send a furloughed US Federal employee a beer. Or help with some unplanned bridge financing for an out of luck new brewery.

Even elsewhere-ier, Matt Curtis is to be praised and corrected this week. Corrected only in the respect that he wrote the utterly incorrect “in true journalistic style I was too polite to say” in his otherwise fabulous piece**** on what it was like going booze free for three weeks:

As I walked down Shoreditch High Street on my way to an event from the British Guild of Beer Writers showcasing alcohol free beers I passed some of my favourite bars and restaurants. I found myself pining to sit within them, simply to soak up the atmosphere. In that moment I felt that merely the sound of conversation and conviviality would sate my urge to drink more than any can or bottle of low alcohol vegetable water that has the indecency to call itself beer.

Lovely stuff.

Note: an excellent lesson in what it means to understand beer.  “It’s what [XYZ] told me…” is never going to serve as reliable research. Just ask, beer writers! Ask!!! Conversely, this article in The Growler serves as an excellent introduction to the 18 month rise of kveik on the pop culture commercial craft scene. I say pop culture commercial craft as it has been around the actual craft scene for a number of hundreds of years. Much more here from Lars.

How’s that? Enough for now? Winter getting you down? Remember: things could be worse. I think so. Don’t forget to read Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday if you want to stay on top of things. Perhaps he will update the impending contiguous v. non-contiguous acreage rumble we’ll all be talking about in a few weeks.

*Buy Ontario Beer for more fabulous facts like this!
**Though I do like the concept of the pre-movement.
***Note: I make no comment on the wide variety of beer “wenches” or “nuts”… or “foxes” or “man” or any such other monikers. At least they don’t claim to be an expert.
****The current edition of Boak and Bailey emailed newsletter contained this bit on Matt’s experiment: “…it all seemed pretty reasonable to us. But even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be any of our business. We did wince to see people in the business of beer berating him for his decision, and winced even more deeply when we saw people nagging at him to break his resolution.” I agree that this is sad and, I would add, smacks of the nags shouldering the alky’s burden themselves.

 

Beer And Trans-Atlantic English Explorations Of The Later 1400s

That passage above is from the The Voyage Made by M. John Hawkins Esquire, 1565. According to the wisdom of Wikipedia, Hawkins was the chief architect of the Elizabethan navy, the first English trader to profit from the Triangle Trade and Treasurer of the Navy from 1577 to 1595. Its from a part of his journal that records French colonial efforts in Florida at their short lived Fort Caroline. While the colony had only been settled in 1564, they had already turned local grapes into wine, apparently the first in North America.

It’s not the earliest record of alcohol use in North America – even if it might be the earliest of production. We have seen before how the French were drinking cider as they worked the Newfoundland shore in the 1520s. But what is interesting to me is that the French in Florida had their choice of products, given the ample source of good bread making grain, but made wine. Which is reasonable as wine is simpler to make than beer, given there is no intermediary stages like malting or mashing.

A few years ago now, I discussed the  provisioning of Martyn Frobisher’s 1578 voyage to mine iron ore on Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic. The post was based on my luck find of the victualing records. Have a look by clicking on the image to the right. You can see how much biscuit, meal, beer, wine and pork was loaded on board. Note: beer, not malt. He was not brewing beer up on Baffin that year. I’ve discussed late 1500s trans-Atlantic ships’ provisions of malt before, too.

I have been a bit fruitlessly looking for more of those sorts of records, feeling a bit like Manilov in Dead Souls, not getting very deep into things.  I want to turn the clock back further, back past Cartier in the mid-1530s. I have been primarily thinking about what was down in the hold of John Cabot‘s ships on his 1490s voyages to eastern Canada. Until I got into the Cabot era, I had no idea how lucky I was finding the record for Frobisher. An actual victualing bill from the 1570s. Lucky also that the scholarship on that adventurer was not as quirky and proprietary as was the case (perhaps until recently) with Cabot. That has recently broken somewhat in recent years. In 2012, The New York Times reported:

In 2010, an international team of scholars working together in what is called the Cabot Project came upon a set of 514-year-old Italian ledgers that Dr. Ruddock had found decades earlier but which had disappeared from view. They showed that in the spring of 1496, Cabot received seed money for his voyages from the London branch of a Florentine banking house called the Bardi.

Plenty has come out related to the new Cabot findings that has given me a bit more hope. We know that Henry the VII gave notice in 1496 that Cabot was authorized to buy victuals for his first voyage and also authorized the second voyage in 1498. We also know that in 1499, a Bristol merchant named William Weston sailed to Newfoundland.* Cabot also might have settled friars at Carbonear, Newfoundland on his third voyage. But there is that problem of the vulnerability of scholarship… ie, people who I can poach from. That hoarders of ideas Cabot scholar Ruddock died in 2005 and Peter Pope who wrote wonderfully about the early Newfoundland trade died in 2017. So I am left to my own wits.

Which means I have to come up with rules for my own research. What do we know? Well, we do know that Bristol was the gateway for English expeditions to the west just as London and other eastern facing ports served, generally speaking, the North and Baltic Seas. In particular, Bristol had a flourishing wine trade in the 1400s. The quantities involved were significant – between 1,000 and 2,500 tons of wine a year through the 1400s, depending on the politics. We have to recall that the English held Gascony from the 1200s until the 1450s. Gascony is know for wine, even including the Bordeaux region. Bristol was where that wine was received for English consumption. So, it is reasonable to expect provisioning of vessels leaving Bristol in the 1400s to have a supply of wine.

Additionally, to find trans-Atlantic provisioning records you need to find trans-Atlantic voyages. Where were the merchant adventurers of Bristol during the English Renaissance sailing towards? First, we have to remember that the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386 is arguably the oldest alliance in the world. The Portuguese were also makers of wine for the English market as well as explorers. And that wine landed at Bristol. So they were sailing back and forth from there. Voyages, trade links and colonization out into the Atlantic was not a particularly wide-spread European habit before the 1400s. The Canary Islands, populated by a semi-Stone Age people, the Guanches, were only taken by Spain in 1402. Yet trade links with Iceland were developed by Bristol’s merchants by the mid-1400s which included a:

diversity in food [which] increased as the English… imported large quantities of beer and wine, salt and pepper, malt, wheat, sugar and honey.

Which means if the Bristol merchants are shipping beer to Iceland… there is beer on Bristol ships heading north. And, fabulously, malt. And other targets for the adventurous traders of Bristol were developed like the voyage of the Trinity in 1480-81 seeking out opportunity in North Africa. Was there beer in that hull, too?  It’s not unreasonable to think so. We do know that the well-armed naval merchants of the Baltic-based Hanseatic League did not themselves get out into the Atlantic but they did bring hopped beer to England as early as the mid-1200s.  Remember the cargo of beer brought on the Elyn of 1401. Which means that you have the conditions to have hopped beer moving out of England, too, as a transferred on trade good. Quite a bit early than I had thought.

I will illustrate my working date with some fairly common understanding of dates. Professor Unger identified “about 1520” as the time when the English mastered the new technology of brewing beer with hops. That is backed up by the records showing written references to “hops” or “hoppes” were not so common until about that same time. Yet, if you dig around the records a bit, that date starts to look a bit late. In records (“alien subsidies”) of foreign merchants for Bristol in the mid-1400s we read that:

…the returns to the 1449 and 1453 alien subsidies, which in some cases give either occupational descriptions or surnames that suggest an occupation: there are two beer-brewers, two tailors, a pinner, pointmaker (maker of laces for securing clothing), shearman, bellmaker, leatherworker, goldsmith, smith and, possibly, heardsman…

Which means that there were two immigrant beer brewers in Bristol well before Cabot and about the time of the Icelandic trade. Which means the beer heading north could well have been English beer and even made close to the port.  Further, in the 2014 PhD dissertation by  John R. Krenzke of Loyola University in Chicago, “Change Is Brewing: The Industrialization of the London Beer-Brewing Trade, 1400-1750” we read, at page 42, that a similar timeline is at play in London:

Ale brewers were successful in 1484 in having the City of London lay down the ingredients that could be used in ale brewing—“only liquor (heated water), malt, and yeast”—to limit the competition that ale brewers faced from beer brewers. In response the beer brewers of London were able to obtain a charter to become their own guild in 1493. The two groups were to remain apart and in direct competition to each other until 1556 when they were merged.

The “stranger” beer brewers were allowed to sell beer freely in London in 1477 and were not as unwelcome at all as we read on page 7:

…at first, beer remained primarily a beverage brewed by foreigners, known as strangers to their English hosts, for themselves and, because of its stability, for English soldiers. Stranger beer brewers found the Crown to be an ally throughout the fifteenth century because of their ability to supply beer to the military.

Nothing like government demand to validate new technology. And we need to recall in all this that Henry VIII himself created great state-owned naval brewing capacity at Portsmouth in 1515, producing 500 barrels per day to supply his military ambitions. Just before Unger’s date of 1520. The question, then, is how large the capacity of the privately operating beer brewers of Bristol was half a century earlier and did it supply the merchant adventurer ships heading west to Canada in the 1490s. That is the question I need to dig at. All the conditions are present: confident merchant adventurers, established beer brewing and thirst. All we need is a record or two.

*Much more here on the scale of the oceanic Bristol trade missions in “The Men of Bristol and the Atlantic Discovery Voyages of the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries,” the MA Thesis of Annabel Peacock from 2007.