Notes On Turning Into A Book Fair Carny, Etc

nowayI had not expected to make myself into a book fair carny but forty-five quiet minutes into the four hour book booth manning at last weekend’s NY State Brewers Association Festival I looked at Craig and said something to the effect of “we better think of something quick or we are going to hate each other around three hours from now.” It’s not that the fest wasn’t swell so much as it was a beer fest, not a book fest. So… I stood up and began to shout “GETCHA BEER BOOKS… GETCHA BEER BOOK HERE!!!” until I was quite hoarse. Sales picked up rapidly. And they continued to pick up as folk drank more beer. So, two tips for the beer book selling public for the price of this one post: (i) act like an idiot and (ii) act like an idiot in front of folks getting drunk. Which leads me to a few other thoughts:

=> “To grangerize: to illustrate with material taken from other published sources, such as by clipping them out for one’s own use.” Isn’t this what beer blogging really is?
=> Thirty-four dollars and ninety-nine cents!?!? I am sure some young aspiring consulting craft beer mixed revenue dreamer has a grab bag of cliches by which such things are justified but… thirty-four dollars and ninety-nine cents!?!? Seen at the Cicero, NY Wegman’s grocery store.
=> Chad was more sensible. He had some beer, too. I just shouted a lot.
=> I consider the fear of sweetness and the denigration of crystal malt to be hallmarksof this era which shall be mocked in the new future after the paradigm collapses. But I can say that about a lot of things.
=> I have no idea about how many pubs or taverns represents a crawl but some people have very fixed ideas. Having done one, as one must, by taxi in Toronto in the last year I would accept a walking four-stop crawl in two small neighbouring villages myself.
=> Words that beer bloggers might have recently chosen not to use: intended, unravelling, instantly.
=> My answer? Use the machines – whether you own them or not? You’re a “brewery” while the others can use “brewing” or “beer company” or something else.

There. Monday notes. It’s thawing out there. We are a long way from warm but the dripping roof has created the driveway trickle which leads to the gurgling roadside drain.

Albany Ale: Straw In Wheat Beer Is Next Big Thing

It’s not quite like ten years ago when one’s name could appear in The New York Times, but I got word from cousin Mike Malone of, amongst many other things, “Books and Beer” on 1460 AM radio WVOX that news of the May 16th event in Middleburgh, NY had hit the Ale Street NewsCraig has been working on a press release:

On May 16th, The Middleburgh Public Library, The Albany Ale Project, and Green Wolf Brewing Company are hosting a day long (1pm to 5pm), family-friendly event celebrating beer, brewing, and Middleburgh’s Revolutionary War history to benefit the Middleburgh Public Library. MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company, of Bath Ontario, will also be participating. The event will be held on Baker Avenue around Green Wolf Brewing Company (315 Main Street, Middleburgh) and behind the Middleburgh Public Library (323 Main Street, Middleburgh.)

The day’s activities include a Revolutionary War encampment, colonial brewing and cooking demonstrations, 18th century toys and games for kids, talks on the history of beer and hops in upstate New York and the Schoharie Valley, a Schoharie Valley hops display at the Middleburgh Library, beer samples from Green Wolf and MacKinnon Brothers.There will be Green Wolf brewery tours, as well as food from Middleburgers BBQ and Under the Nose gift shop and bakery. Craig Gravina and Alan McLeod will be selling and signing copies of their book Upper Hudson Valley Beer, and the day culminates in “The 1780 Beer Challenge”, cask tapping and tasting.

This is really neat. Looking forward to learning more about one of the areas of New York where the people who found refuge in eastern Ontario came from 240 years ago. And really looking forward to seeing recreations of how straw was used to make strong wheat ale. The more I learn about straw the more I think it was critical to pre-industrial scale brewing even if we have all forgotten its usefulness. Go straw!

Certain Georgian Drinking Habits In Pre-Reform Upper Canada

lbotAs a careful reader of this blog may have picked up, I have a certain preference for the pre-lager pre-Victorian world of British Empire beer – if only because it’s so widely ignored. As beer writers and nano brewers are now painfully aware, too many claims against too little content makes for thin rewards. Always best to specialize where no generalists have yet trod as far as I’m concerned. In our book Ontario Beer, Jordan and I came across many such areas of unexplored history – much to our surprise. Turned out that no only had the province’s brewing history been little explored but there was no set of competing books, no library shelf filled with books even on the topic of this colony and province’s general history. A shame. But a gap we were happy to take some small steps to help fill.

Through our research, one thing I really came to understand was how what is now Ontario not only has a Victorian past but also Georgian, Stuart and even Baroque ones. One favorite book I came across was The Annals of the Town of Guelph, 1827-1877 by Charles Acton Burrows. In that book there are a few passages, one of which I mentioned here, that describe the pre-lager pre-Victorian drinking habits on the Upper Canadian frontier. Here is a more complete description of the events of 12 August 1827 at Guelph:

It was now the month of August, and the 12th being the king’s birthday, and also the anniversary of the formation of the Canada Company, he determined to celebrate it by a general holiday and public dinner….On the Monday morning the town was in a state of the greatest excitement, it being determined to roast an ox whole on the market place, and have a right jovial time generally, in which they appear to have succeeded. Early in the morning four huge posts, which remained as a memento for many years, were let into the ground, from which, by means of logging chains, the carcase was suspended, an immense log fire being kindled on each side. While the ox was roasting a large number of guests, who had been specially invited by Mr. Galt to take part in the festivities… When dinner time had arrived the roasted ox was carried into the market house, and placed upon a strong table, where it was carved ,and the guests, to the number of about two hundred, enjoyed a right royal feast… the first thing to be done to lend an air of refinement to the meal, was to provide forks, which each man did for himself, by going to the lumber pile and selecting or cutting a suitable stick, whitling a fork out of it with his jack knife, which indispensable article every man of course had with him, and with which he afterwards cut up his beef. Plates being somewhat scarce, and the few possessed in the town being far too valuable to risk at such a gathering, each selected as clean a shingle as possible, from the pile, which remained after the market house roof had been finished, and with keen appetites all sat down and enjoyed a hearty meal. “After the cloth was removed,” toasts were drunk to everybody and every conceivable thing, the liquors, of all imaginable descriptions, being passed round in buckets, from which each man helped himself by means of tin cups, about two hundred of which had been supplied for the occasion…

…those who remained continued to celebrate the day in an exceedingly hilarious manner, most of them, who had not succumbed to an overpowering somnolency, celebrating the night too, many of them being found next morning reposing on the ground in the market place, in loving proximity to the liquor pails, in which conveniently floated the tin cups. This celebration was taken hold of by the fault finders, not on account of the quantity of liquor consumed, for that was a mere trifle in those days, and an indispensable adjunct to such an occasion, but because they asserted that the health of Sir Peregrine Maitland, the Lieutenant Governor, had been omitted from the list of toasts.

And here is another from the celebration of the laying of the foundation of the community’s first school house:

A few fights brought the public proceedings to a close, when the elite adjourned to the Priory, where a dinner on a somewhat grand scale had been prepared. Mr. Galt presided, the vice chair being filled by Dr. Dunlop, and about eighty guests being present. What followed the removal of the cloth it is not necessary particularly to describe, but

“The nicht giew on wi sangs an clatter,
“An* aye the ale was growing better,”

As the “wee sma hours” approached some of the guests grew a little pugnacious, and Thomas Brown, the father of Miss Letitia, acting as constable pro tem, was called on to quell the disturbance, and in his attempts to restore peace had his hand badly cut by a carving knife in the hands of one of the rioters. He was consequently disabled from working for some time, and was therefore appointed to the honorable position of “grog boss” among the Company’s workmen, the duties of which he filled to the entire satisfaction of the men.

Such times. Such foreign times. Dr. William “Tiger” Dunlop is among my favorite early Ontarians. He was born in my father’s home city of Greenock so I was raised on stories of his life… or at least I was in the room when things were stated even if I only paid half the attention I should have. In 1827-28 when the stories above unfolded, Dr. Dunlop is in his third year as a senior official of the Canada Company. John Galt is the enterprise’s founder, corporate secretary and first superintendent. When these men were carving farming settlements out of the forest which had fed the Ojibwe who had lived there, here was a great deal of strong drink in Upper Canada – including a wide range of ales if you could get your hands on them. As we noted in the book, the roads were bad and beer was heavy. Much of it was strong. Thirty years later, in 1858, courts ruled in nearby New York that lager was not intoxicating because of its lack of a strength. Which means what came before most likely was quite intoxicating.

All of which is presented to you in response to one point Jordan made in relation to his recent and by all accounts excellent recreation of an 1832 mild ale from Helliwell‘s, a brewery located in what is now Toronto. In his weekly article, Jordan also states that the function of the 9.1% beer was its caloric strength and

it explained why Helliwell only ever mentions having “a glass of beer” in his diaries. Two of them would put your lights out.

This my only quibble. While Helliwell the brewer may have liked a glass and the calories were important, I am pretty sure that what we now consider intemperate drinking was common and socially acceptable – even perhaps socially required and welcomed. Soon, the scales would tilt as the new settlers become established and by the 1850s are creating a middle class with its new values and interest in spawning reforms. Temperance starts to become a measure of one’s virtue. But even at the highest levels it is many decades before that is the new normal. Even in the mid-1860s, Canada’s founder Sir. John A. Macdonald, whose law career began in the last Georgian years, led a debate on constitutional changes needed to bring Confederation into being while being “on a spree” and “half drunk” as well as “quite drunk with potations of ale.” It is hard to imagine a century and a half later. It is probably good that it is hard to imagine. But there is every reason to understand that a fair share of those who created this create land were half schgoggled from what can only be considered wild-eyed barrel draining a significant part of the time.

Thank God for the temperance movement. It saved us all from our forefathers’ ways. Jordan has more of the story in his new book Lost Breweries of Toronto. You really need the whole set, right?

Considering The Role Of Ale On This Canada Day


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Have No Irish In Me And Don’t Drink On Sundays

This is a difficult date on the calendar for me. Like in many places, the Irish, lapsed or otherwise, and their fellow travelers in small town eastern Ontario have gathered and tightly packed themselves into traditional bars like the Douglas Tavern or the Tweedsmuir drinking macro lager dyed green and/or Guinness and/or whatever else is going. But I am not of them. Scots me. These celebrations can get quite elaborate and have been mentioned in our national Parliament. They seem to rival the… err… passion seen in the larger urban St. Paddy’s events in US centers like Syracuse where it lasts so long it forms its own season. The day seems to serve the need for a New Year’s Eve party ten weeks after that hammering of the brain cells – and one with less of the pretense, more of the getting pickled for being legitimately pickled sake.

I say legitimately as these descendants of the Irish in this part of North America embrace themselves and the generations before them through this ritual. Me? It’s been tea and water for me today. A Saturday even. I am being sensible, see. Sensible. Four years ago, I called for the embracing of March 17th by the fans of good beer. Things may have changed. From the Twitter feeds and Google news items floating by good beer fans seem to be rejecting rejection. And some craft brewers are getting into the day. Beaus, as Bryan recently noted, has a seasonal beer out now called Strong Patrick. Are there others? Why not? If ever there was a reason to brew a seasonal beer it is in response to a season focused on beer. One problem, however, is that craft beer has somewhat abandoned standard Irish stout. As Andy noted last fall, it was the least competitive category at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival. Imperial Irish reds are all very fine in their way but why not make an Irish dry stout for when the Irish are dry? I might even join in.

Back Home From Beaus Oktoberfest 2012 And…

… and what did I learn? Well, the nicest guys to drink with are the off duty local OPP who watched the crowd’s back the night before. And there was the realization that having smartguys in the room who have brewed in industrial and craft settings for decades adds a hugely positive level of understanding to a discussion where there are many levels in the room from hard core beer thinker to nano craft brewer to happy two-four pop beer buyer. Interesting to note that value and authenticity were the factors of the greatest interest to those at the presentation.









Plus, I learned that a Tim’s chocolate glaze will almost entirely strip the taste of the cigar from your mouth… thought not your sinuses. Then, I also learned that in Buffalo NY Tim Hortons is called Timmy Ho-Ho’s which is just wrong. Also, you never know where you will meet people who know people you know. Additionally, I learned from having the mango hoppy Vassar Heirloom as well as Dieu de Ciel imperial stout that mixing two strong tasting beers can actually not lead to a strong tasting blend. I was surprised by the negation.

I don’t know how many of these I could go to in a year. The perfect weather, setting, company, program, volunteer work, community support, staff dedication, food and beer selection, insane taxi drivers, tone and fun of this event might actually be hard to beat.

What Matters On Saturday At The Beaus Oktoberfest

Ron was on fire. Sure, I had to threaten the audience before to ensure that they had to listen if they knew what was good for them. But they did listen. And it was good for them. After about seventeen genial interjections the lady in the back told me to shut up. That was excellent. Then we were done and retired to the room at the back, opened the fridge and found the five pounds of Quebec blue cheese that the previous panel had left behind. That was some friggin’ good cheese. Tomorrow? Pub games. Spent a happy half hour this morning buying and then sanding junks of wood for an Aunt Sally set for the noon. That’ll be cool. Knocking down a stick. By throwing a stick. Excellent.