September Ale And Beer And Then Sidetracked In The 1600s



September ale. You will recall a few days ago I wondered what it was. I still am. If you look back you to that post, will see a fairly early Victorian, Walter Thornbury, in 1856 painting a fairly ripe picture of an Elizabethan manor in which the stuff is mentioned. Above snippet references September beer, not ale. It is from a summary of the Vere and Holles Papers recorded in the fabulously named Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, Volume 13, Part 2 published by Great Britain’s Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts in 1893. The first “same” above was Francis Wrenham while the second is Lady Vere. She is the wife of Sir Horace Vere, and Wrenham was their secretary / staffer of sorts. These 1620s letters are not unlike that of Issac Bobin to his master of 6 September 1720. Sir Horace was on business in Holland on behalf of the Earl of Southampton at the time. AKA people of note. It meant something. But what?*

My first instinct – that “these September thingies must be something” – is quickly and deeply dented. Little or no other references to chase. Probably it’s likely whatever was in the barrel rolled out then, maybe noted for its strength… perhaps. Then I realized something else. I started nosing around the RRCHM, vol 13(2) and just searching for references to “ale” and “beer” in themselves. Boom. Many references. Many. More for “hops” too.

What is this thing? It’s quite a remarkable bit of work to have been undertaken, especially for a public body. The Historical Manuscripts Commission (“HMC“) was established in 1869 to survey and report on privately owned and privately held records of general historical interest. In the early volumes, the records of government, universities and great houses are described. Consider just the index of RRCHM, vol 1 to get a sense of the scale of this project. A daunting yet tantalizing scale for anyone prone to search for words like “ale” or “beer” or “hops” in digital archive search engines.

Over 200 volumes were published before the project was discontinued in 2004. It’s full of amazing things. For example, in what I now affectionately call HMC13.2, we find the text of a travel diary related to Thomas Baskerville’s jaunts around England in the 1680s. It’s full of images like this one at page 303:

As to the town of Winchcombe, when the castle had its lord, and the abbey its abbots and monks to spend the estates and income of both places here, then here was more to do that at present, yet the town for the bigness is very populous, and the people of it in their callings very dilligent to get their livings. Here in a morning at 4 o’clock I saw many women of the older sort smoking their pipes of tobacco and yet lost no time, for their fingers were all the while busy at knitting, and women carrying their puddings and bread to the bakehouse lose no time but knit by the way. Here also lives in this town an ingenious cooper or carpenter who makes the best stoopers with a screw to wind up the vessel gently so that the liquor is little or nothing at all disturbed by that motion. We lay at the sign of the Bell, Mr. Houlet, a very respectful man our landlord, and his wife, who gave us very good entertainment, and seldom fail of good ale, for they have very good water in their well. They keep market here on Saturdays and have afair on St. Mark’s day and another on the 17 of July to which many good horses are brought to be sold.

We learn from Baskerville at HMC13.2p266** that from Bury to Beccles the “country afl’ords good and well tasted beer and ale, both in barrels and bottles” as well as, immediately after, how a man plowed with two horses “with great dexterity, turning very nimbly at the land’s end.” March beer is mentioned twice, once near Faringdon in Oxfordshire (“strong march beer”) and again at Pumfret or Pontefract 18 miles from York. But not September. Ale or beer. In Gloucester, Baskerville met one Langhorne, the keeper of the prison who “entertained us kindly and gave us good ale.” He also noted:

The best wines to drink in Gloucester are canary, sherry, white wine, for we neither drank nor heard of any good claret in town, but Gloucester surpasses this city for all sorts, where not long before we drank excellent canary, sherry, and claret, canary 2 shillings, sherry 1s. 8d., claret 1s. as good as in London, but for cyder and ale Gloucester doth surpass Worcester, for here we had excellent red-streak*** for 6d. a quart, and good ale 2d. a flagon. Here the people are wise and brew their own ale, not permitting public brewers; for curiosity of trades seldom found in other towns, here are 2 or 3 hornmakers that make excellent ware of that kind, viz. :— clear horns for drinking, powder-horns, ink-horns, crooks, and heads for staves, hunter’s horns, and other things.

It goes on. One town is praised for the clear well that makes the ale while the next is flagged for its brackish water. Note to file: be wary of the Three Cranes inn at Doncaster even if Charles stayed there. Brackish spring. Plus, at a groat a flagon, it’s twice the price of Gloucester ale.  Now, consider one last image, this of harvestime in Kent from 1680 at HMC13.2p280**:

And now to speak a little in general of Kent. It is one of the best cultivated counties of any in England, and great part of my way that I went being through delicious orchards of cherries, pears, and apples, and great hop gardens. In husbandry affairs they are very neat, binding up all sorts of grain in sheaves; they give the best wages to labourers of any in England, in harvest giving 4 and 5 shillings for an acre of wheat and 2s. a day meat and drink, which doth invite many stout workmen hither from the neighbouring country to get in their harvest. So that you shall find, especially on Sundays, the roads full of troops of workmen with their scythes and sickles, going to the adjacent town to refresh themselves with good liquor and victuals…

Fabulous. You can imagine the packed dusty road taken from field to alehouse. And this all, of course, also presents a problem. This is the September of my fifty fifth year. Do I have time to go off doing this word searching and rearranging of information to present a deeper expression of the later end of the early modern English relationship with brewing and all its facets? Yet, it might explain what September in fact means. And what else do I have to do? What indeed.

*Update: a play in 1614 also includes a reference to “September beer” in Act Three as you will see if you click to the left. The full text of The Hog Hath Lost His Pearl can be found here. Again, like the letter of a decade later, people seeing the play knew the reference meant something. But what?
**I have immediately fallen deeply in love my new code for citation so get used to it.
***Redstreak

Flattery Will No Doubt Get You Any Number Of Places

I have been doubly flattered by the firm of Boak and Bailey this week. First, I received my copy of their new book 20th Century Pub with the lovely inscription you see to the right. I had asked that they write something accusatory but, as much to their nature as their credit, they are kinder than I deserve.

Second, I has set them on a task and they have taken it on gangbuster style. For some time I have thought about the Amateur Winemaker books from the 1960s and ’70s which, as I discussed in edition #15 of The Session, were my first recourse when I wanted to learn more about good beer. Thirteen years ago,* I wrote about the triad of Berry, Shales and Line as illustrated below. As far as I can tell, they had a massive audience for their writing about homebrewing (i) from grain and (ii) in a wide variety of styles (even if “style” has not been invented yet) but other than five or six books, I have not had access to any of the actual magazines.

C.J.J. Berry, Ken Shales and David Line

I have been so obsessed I have saved C.J.J. Berry’s obituary (or a recollection I found on-line) from 2002 and was delighted to see that his son-in-law responded in the comments. Note 1: C.J.J. Berry’s book by 1984 had sold 650,000 copies. Note 2: in his book, Ken Shales (who died in 1971) includes a reference to lambic – but then does nothing with it! Weirdnesses abound.

Well, B+B found an issue of the magazine and posted their findings today. Fabulous. A beginning. My expectation is not that pursuit of this untapped vein will overturn history but enhance it. The magazine ran for almost thirty years from the 1950s to 1980s. And for perhaps a bit more than the last half of its life ran discussions on beer. That means there may be almost 200 issues to review. Big project. Hard to manage alone. Hard to manage from the left side of the Atlantic. Do you have a copy of an issue laying around? Get it and write about what is in it. Very exciting. For a beer nerd. Like me. Who poses (ahem) challenges…

*Christ!

Session 127: Autumn’s Here, What To Drink?

Alistair has asked us to write about Oktoberfest beers for this edition of The Session but, like others, I like in a fairly sparsely serviced area. Boak and Bailey faced a similar problem and tried to see if there was a modern British equivalent. Sadly, they concluded not. But if we look back perhaps there was. This passage below is from a book titled Art and Nature at Home and Abroad From 1856:

September ale. Hmm. What was this stuff? The slaves to style will no doubt tell us that because it hasn’t been listed in the BJCP guide now it never really existed then. But as we have learned from archival brewings like Taunton ale, mid-1850s New York brewed IPA or cream beer we see again and again that the people of the past weren’t stupid and that sorts of beer labeled as this or that met the expectations of those drinking them.

The problem is not so much determining if it was as what it was. I have to admit a few things. I am writing this on an iPad mini and, while I co-wrote two books on it between laptop deaths, it is slow going. Plus I am in the middle of moving the kid into college. Perhaps another has already unpacked it. Dunno yet. So with the promise of a future exploration – let me suggest that what it tastes like, if the passage above is to be believed, is what Keats described in his poem. Autumn.

 

Your Monday Beer New Links For The Return To Office Work

It’s not like I dislike office work. It’s just that I like a week off in summer better. Drove too much.  About 2500 km all in all. Did home repairs and lawn stuff. Took trousers to the tailor. Visited a tiny new brewery. Yes, that one right there. I expect to post on the beers I dragged home hidden amongst the kids’ camp and cottage crap. What else went on this week?

Flying Dog Quits The Brewers Association

The recently Maryland-based brewery Flying Dog announced it had quit the Brewers Association and folk quickly took sides or at least thought a bit about which side they might take. Nothing better than when libertarians and progressives face off over something even though the both have a thing for tie-die shirts. The press release is pretty clear about what’s behind the move:

The BA’s new Marketing & Advertising Code is nothing more than a blatant attempt to bully and intimidate craft brewers into self-censorship and to only create labels that are acceptable to the management and directors of the BA. By contrast, Flying Dog believes that consumers are intelligent enough to decide for themselves what choices are right for them: What books to read, movies to watch, music to listen to, or beers to consume (and whether or not they like the labeling).

What’s really interesting about this is how it is tied in as part of the new optional (and seemingly stalled at about 20-25% buy-in) logo thing. And… freedom!!! Or just licence… or debauchery… or something co-opted. J. Notte summed it up this way on Sunday: “BA sees itself as a parent setting the rules, Flying Dog sees BA as a roommate who just set a fire in the living room.”  What I don’t understand was where the BA membership outreach and committee work was on the logo and the code of conduct? Was this all actually just imposed without any trial balloons? More to the point, will others quit, too?

The Economist Noticed Craft Beer!!!

I found this story entitled “Craft Beer in America Goes Flat” interesting, pretty cool in fact as The Economist isn’t this micro focused [Ed.: get it? An economics pun!!] usually but it gets to the point: “the number of brands has proliferated, the number of drinkers has not.” [Ed.: sweet attention to that verb structure, too.] It might have been a link for last week but the lack of chit chat about the story since it came out is interesting in itself. I am sure if we ever see a retraction in US craft beer we’ll have months and months and months of explanation of how it’s not a retraction from all the smart people with careers invested in the expansion of US craft beer.

Why Even Call It “Contract Brewing”?

Ben Johnson expanded on his article in Canada’s newspaper, The Old and Stale, with a blog post that unpacks the contract beer situation in a pretty clearheaded manner. Me? I take nothing from the argument that consumers don’t care given that labeling laws don’t require that anyone tell consumers that a beer is brewed somewhere that isn’t the little sweet Grannie’s cottage the branding would make you think… but the other arguments are pretty good.

Let’s be clear. The firm that brews the beer bought on a contract is a “contract brewer.” Other folk in the retail supply chain are maybe a “beer company.” Nothing wrong with being a beer company. Also, it obeys English as one who does not brew can’t also be brewing. Doubt me? Ask one of them to change the yeast strain to improve the batch. Oh, not allowed. By whom? Oh, the actual brewer.

And the Co-opting Of “Punk” Started A Decade Ago

Good to see, as reported by Matt C., a Sussex-based brewery Burning Sky… a wee actual-ish crafty brewery has back away from BrewDog’s weird insistence that they are somehow connected to “punk.” [Ed.: they are only getting that in 2017? It’s like your nerdy accountant cousin Ken who likes to pretend he gets that hop-hip all the kids are listening to.] Anyway, BrewDog is great at marketing, aiming to be wonderful at opening branch plants globally as well as a chain of bars and half their beers are even sorta OK. But, let’s be honest, it’s hardly craft anymore let alone punk. A fledgling lawyer and his pal, a very successful brewer, dreamed up a way to get rich through beer with a smidgen less – what? – less of something… than even Malcolm McLaren‘s relationship to the actual invention of punk. Tellingly, Matt could only find a managing director for the BrewDog bars division to get a quote from. Small. Traditional. That’s it. Keep in line. Punks do that. Keep. In. Line. And… err… something co-opted.

Other Things of Great Importance

Jeff Bell posted a lovely short vignette of an encounter on the streets of London with a man sharing his beer.

Tweet of the week? From Matthew Osgood who neatly summed up the irritation posed by craft beer evangelists who just won’t stop it what with their knocking at the door fun, pamphlets in hand:

…my issue is that I don’t need a six-beer tasting session every time I come over to watch a game.

Jeff Alworth was exploring what things were like ten and twenty years ago in his fair town of Portland, Oregon care of a tweet and one of his best posts ever. Recent history benefits as much from reliance on records as much as the far dimmer past I wallow about in.

Rebecca Pate reported on her visit to our mutual hometown, Halifax, where she had a Pete’s Super Donair and… visited 2 Crows. Which is interesting as “crows” was a slag in my years at our mutual undergrad college.

Is Andy Crouch the first beer writer to actually pay with his own money when visiting Asheville? Seems incongruous.

And last but certainly not least remember to follow Timely Tipple for the weekly brewing history links.

Your Monday Morning Beer Links For Canada Day Weekend

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

Wine News

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

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

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

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

The Logo

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

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

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

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

The Video

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

Other things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Value And Adulteration Of Porter Circa 1757

I found this passage below in The General Evening Post of London, England of December 1, 1757. It’s a very useful passage because it reminds us of many things which are quite alive in the brewing trade of today.

Notice how the concern is framed from the position of the public. The natural tension is with the interests of brewers and the solution is the need for regulation. Brewers are “men of large capital” who use “other ingredients” – the fact of which is “notorious from the conviction of some brewers.” Brewers are also avaricious:

… a combination is forming amongst them to raise the price of beer…

This is an “additional tax which the brewers want to saddle on” the public. Sounds like something out of early CAMRA pamphets from the 1970s, doesn’t it?

Boak and Bailey have somewhat restated the question in terms of the craft era in their post today about “Experiences vs. Commodities” – a form of question which has been bounced around for at least as long as the terms “beer blogging” and “craft” gained popular attention in around 2006. Around 2008, we were introduced to the idea of single cask short run beers which promised in themselves to be an experience conveyed via 750 ml corked bottles for the mere price of merely $24.99. One Colorado comment maker* of the time indicated that the trend really started with La Folie by New Belgium.

Unlike Probus in the 1750s, the point of view of writers has not been clear cut. The responses in the comments to this post in from October 2007** are instructive and in some cases a bit startling. But that was when it was still quite fair – or at least somewhat credible – to say that craft was still a lot like little Bambi struggling on its wobbly legs, trying to make sense of the great big bad world. Too soon to speak of value. Now things are different. Craft has shattered into at least three general forms of market presence – local, big craft and international macro – none of which are in any real risk of going away even if players come and go.

Because of this, I would suggest that we need to heed Probus’s words published a quarter millennium ago and leave the views of ten years ago behind. Craft has become commodity and it’s going to be OK. It’s a commodity in the standardization of international styles such as IPA and murk as well as in single brands like Goose Island. You can find pretty much the same beer everywhere. And if you can’t you are still seeing the internationalization of the fib of “craft” pretty much everywhere. We cling on to outdated ideas about craft and the value of any beer at our peril. We miss the actual in favour of the hype. We chase the marketed (whether from the PR consultants or the semi-pro enthusiasts) in favour of the quieter, local and lovely. The experience? Yes, it is still about the experience but that includes learning from our experience.

[By the way, not sure who Probus was. Apparently, Thomas Chatterson used the pen name but he was born in 1752.]

*Scroll down.
**Again, scroll down.

How To Deal With Folk Like Elynour Rummyng?

So said John Aubrey in his book Perambulation of Surrey written between 1673 and 1692. When I came across reference to the book I was hoping it was going to be an economic survey similar to The Natural History of Staffordshire from 1686 by Robert Plot. But instead it was more of a gazetteer, a recitation of things which can be found in the churches and hints as to where the bridges used to be. However, as one must, I ran a few beery words through it and the passage above sprang outThe town in question is named Letherhead alias Ledered alias Lederide by Aubrey. It is still there under the spelling Leatherhead.

And near Leatherhead lived Elenor Rumming who sold her good ale. According to Aubrey in the late 1600s. But in John Skelton’s poem, “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng which celebrates its 500th anniversary (very probably… well, maybe) this year its really not the goodness of the ale that is celebrated.

And this comely dame,
I vnderstande, her name
Is Elynour Rummynge,
At home in her wonnynge ;
And as men say
She dwelt in Sothray,
In a certayne stede
Bysyde Lederhede.
She is a tonnysh gyb ;
The deuyll and she be syb.

The devil and she be siblings. And fat – a tonnish gyb. Yet also a “comely gyll” or Jill… “this comely dame”… hmm. Armed with only my trusty half-an-honours BA in English Lit from over 30 years ago, I thought about this as many other had before me. The poem is beyond unflattering. It’s libelous. Unless, of course, it is true. But what is the truth five centuries later? How to deal with such a thing. How true is it? In The Pub in Literature: England’s Altered State by Steven Earnshaw published in 2000 he argues:

Whilst John Skelton’s “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rumming” draws on a traditional view of the alehouse as wholly disreputable, its twist on Landland’s* alehouse scene is that Elynour’s establishment is graced only by women. Even though her name has been traved to an actual Alianora Romyng who kept the Running Horse near Leatherhead in Surrey, it is highly unlikely that the all-female drinking den is taken from actuality. According to Peter Clark, women would probably have been customers on special festive occasions, but not at other times. The level of the ballad derives from a genre which present groups of women together as gossips, and the list of names Skelton uses for the drinkers is mostly taken from a fifteen-century carol, “The Gossips Meeting.”

Highly uncomfortable stuff in these times. As Judith M. Bennett discusses in her 1991 work Misogyny, Popular Culture, and Women’s Work:

Literary critics laud the descriptive power, wittiness, and irony of The Tunning of Elynour Rummyng, yet its misogyny is blatant, vicious, and terrifying. Satirically twisting the traditional literary commendation of a woman 170 History Workshop Journal through a detailed catalogue of her appealing features, Skelton describes Elynour Rummyng in careful detail as a grotesquely ugly woman. Beginning by telling us that she is ‘Droopy and drowsy/Scurvy and lousy’, Skelton then details her features: her face bristles with hair; her lips drool ‘like a ropy rain’; her crooked and hooked nose constantly drips; her skin is loose, her back bent, her eyes bleary, her hair grey, her joints swollen, her skin greasy. She is, of course, old and fat. She is also ridiculous, wearing elaborate and bright clothes on holy days and cavorting lasciviously with her husband like – as she proudly tells it in Skelton’s poem – ‘two pigs in a sty’…

In the 2008 text The Culture of Obesity in Early and Late Modernity: Body Image in Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, and Skelton by E. Levy-Navarro there is another somewhat related view in the chapter “Emergence of Fatness Defiant: Skelton at Court.” See, Skelton wasn’t just anyone. In the late 1400s, he was he was appointed tutor to Prince Henry, later King Henry VIII of England. Bennett states “Skelton’s social world was broad, running from the royal court and various noble households, through the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, to the lanes and fields of his parish at Diss, in Norfolk.” Levy-Navarro builds on the idea to take another view – that in the last decade or so of his life, Skelton was on the outs with court and in fact may have had a strong distaste for court:

Much scholarship has assumed that Skelton aligns himself with men in power. A long line of modern scholars makes this point when they assume that Skelton is a modern “man”… who aligns himself with the men of Henry’s court against the lowly women of the tavern world.

Levy-Navarro states that such readings ignore the discontent and defiance in Skelton’s work and, further, that “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng” is a defiant statement against the courtly styles and superficiality:

Skelton offers outrageous, bulging and revolting bodies of the tavern women. These bodies may not yet be “fat” per se, but they are protofat to the extent to which they are seen as revolting against a civilized ethic.

As such, Skelton is observing a the point of the English Renaissance at which manners come into being in a sense that we can recognize as early modern, materialistic self-made people showing wealth and power through a display of expensive and even architectural clothing as well as through the dismissal of intellectual and priestly men like Skelton. In this way of reading the poem, Skelton may not admire or completely side with Elynour Rummyng but he expresses something admirable about her liberty and perhaps is noting the impending passing of that sort – as well as his own sort – of life.

Taking all that in hand, the poem is no longer just a now grotesque, obviously misogynistic romp through the low life of those found in her tavern but also a larger social commentary. It might well be, yes, making fun of the horrors found there but also lamenting a day when such a free and lewd life could no longer possible given the plans for society being made by the newly formed betters to be found in court.

If that is the case, as with science-fiction today, the structure of the alternate reality needs firm grounding in truth as it was understood by the audience. Farce and fantasy do not mix well. There needs to be substance that is credible for the commentary to be acceptable to its contemporary audience. Let’s have a look from, for ease, a modern reading of part of the text which can be found here. Notice first that the tavern sits on a hill, near a road and is readily accessible:

Now in cometh another rabble:
And there began a fabble,
A clattering and babble
They hold the highway,
They care not what men say,
Some, loth to be espied,
Start in at the back-side
Over the hedge and pale,
And all for the good ale.
(With Hey! and with Ho!
Sit we down a-row,
And drink till we blow.)

Sounds like good fun for these ale-slugging women patrons. Note also that the ale is made in the tavern.. the ale house – with a bit of a special twist as this section in the original indicates:

But let vs turne playne,
There we lefte agayne.
For, as yll a patch as that,
The hennes ron in the mashfat ;
For they go to roust
Streyght ouer the ale ioust,
And donge, whan it commes,
In the ale tunnes.
Than Elynour taketh
The mashe bolle, and shaketh
The hennes donge away,
And skommeth it into a tray
Whereas the yeest is,
With her maungy fystis :
And somtyme she blennes
The donge of her hennes
And the ale together ;
And sayeth, Gossyp, come hyther,
This ale shal be thycker,
And flowre the more quicker ;
For I may tell you,
I lerned it of a Jewe,
Whan I began to brewe,
And I haue founde it trew ;
Drinke now whyle it is new ;

So chickens run around the tavern and even into the mash vat, leaving their droppings of dung on the fermenting ale. As learned from a Jewish brewer when she was young, the hen-dung is skimmed but sometimes some is left in the yeast tray so that the ale might be thicker and the yeast “flower” quicker. And it is not just chickens. She has to “stryke the hogges with a clubbe” because they have drunk up her “swyllynge tubbe”! Note how many of the elements of her brewery operations are described.

Look a bit more at more of the language about the ale. It is offered both new and stale. It is nappy and noppy. It is stated to be “good” twice. It is also worthy of a lot in payment or barter so some pledge their hatchet and their wedge, some their “rybskyn and spyndell”, even their “nedell and thymbell” because it is that good:

Some haue no mony
That thyder commy,
For theyr ale to pay,
That is a shreud aray ;
Elynour swered, Nay,
Ye shall not beare away
My ale for nought,
By hym that me bought…

By him that me bought. Christ. It is all so excellent even if, effectively, otherworldly. You may read it many ways but what you are reading is a window not only to a now uncomfortable commentary on early modern life but life within a tavern. Even if a ribald farce, it’s still a tavern as they would have known it. Lovely.

Babylonian Cuneiform And Brewing Patterns

The other day, I read that The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had freed thousands of images from their intellectual property right shackles for free and unrestricted public use. This is good. And being a dutiful beer blogger, I immediately put in the word “beer” in the search engine to see what would pop up. And this is what popped up. A chunk of dried mud with scratchings. I love stuff like this. Three years ago, I stared at Mesopotamian brewing things at the Royal Ontario Museum, aka the ROM.  Somewhere I have photos I took thirty years ago of myself, when a selfie took a tripod, at the British Museum staring at Mesopotamian brewing things made of mud. Scratchings made a person over 150 generations ago. On just a piece of mud.

It’s actually more than that. It’s Urra=hubullu, tablet 23 from Mesopotamia in the late 1st millennium B.C.  “Twenty-three, eh?” thought I. Being a clever man I realized there must be twenty-two others. So off I went. Or, rather, I put a few words in Google… and found what I am sure you all expected I would findCuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Literary and scholastic texts of the first millennium B.C. by Ira Spar, Wilfred G. Lambert published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005 where I learned about what had been scratched into the dried mud thingie over three thousand years ago. Tablet 23 is a vocabulary of food and drink terms. The passage on this piece of cuneiform cites, at page 234, a 1950 article “On Beer and Brewing Techniques in Ancient Mesopotamia According to the XXIIIrd tablet of the series HAR.ra=hubullu” by Oppenhiem and Hartman which describes the content of tablet 23 in the context of brewing.

Fabulous. So fabulous as it is all seemingly quite authoritative. The Spar and Lambert text goes on to state what exactly was written down on three thousand odd years ago in that clay. There is great beer, dark beer, white beer, cloudy beer and beer for the tigi-songs whatever they were. My favourite might be the symbol for “clear/clean beer” indicating, of course, that folk were both skillful and appreciative of skill. That information is all in column 2. In column 3, the words are about process. Yeast is pulverized, barley bread is crushed and spread just right. It is soaked and dried then soaked and mashed. It is rinsed, pressed, crushed, broken and mixed. Malt is dried, watered, opened, spread and warmed. To my mind, this is more than a vocabulary. This is a guide not so very much different from Samuel Child’s 1768 guide discussed the other day.

This is interesting. How is it that I can read a Mesopotamian clay tablet and pretty much immediately understand what is going on? If it was about religion, governance or astronomy I wouldn’t have a clue. But beer and brewing are not strange. They are, in a very meaningful way, constant. You can see that if we go back to column 2 where you see words for 1:1 beer, 2:1 beer, 3:1 beer and even triple beer. The ratio is the relationship of grain input to beer output. If you scroll down to page 238 of the 2005 Spar and Lambert text you see there are footnotes and in the footnotes an explanation of Mesopotamian methodology. I am just going to cut and paste the footnote in relation to column 2, line 11 and what follows as I think it is one of the more extraordinary things I have ever read about beer in a couple of ways:

 

 

 

 

First, it is extraordinary as it basically sets out the scheme of brewing over 3,000 years ago in a manner which is readily understandable to anyone who has home brewed from an all-grain mash. Second, not only is it understandable… it is very familiar. It looks a lot like the parti-gyle process which makes a lot of sense as no one in their right mind wastes resources. So, the first sparging of the mash gives a 18% sugar solution wort, the second a 6% wort and the third a 1.5% wort. Roughly declining to a third each time. And sometimes the wort is recirculated to strengthen it even more to make what the footnote’s author describes as “very powerful” beer.

What is extraordinary to me is that this ratio looks a heck of a lot like the proper way to brew that I have read about from Piers the Ploughman in England’s 1370s to Matthew Vassar in New York’s 1830s. It reads like the 1825 advert for Thomas Molson’s brewery here in my hometown. Strong ale, single ale and small or ship’s beer with what looks like double double thrown in for good measure, that hazard from Shakespeare to Schenectady.

Which leads to another thought. Is that pattern a constant? Four grades of beer naturally created solely by the relationship between the sparge fluid and mash?  Following these rules you will have a 11%-ish beer, a 4%-ish one and a 1.25%-ish one. As well as whatever the heck double double was to create all that toil and trouble. A constant pattern. Could be. Could be.

The Promise Of Every Man His Own Brewer, 1768

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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