Notes: Flemmynges, Hans Beerpot, Thirsty Actors And An Odd Crusade

A bit of a jumble, this post. First, here’s an interesting 15th century slag:

Ye have herde that twoo Flemmynges togedere
Wol undertake or they goo ony whethere
Or they rise onys, to drynke a baralle fulle
Of gode berkeyne; so sore they hale and pulle
Undre the borde they pissen as they sitte

Those Dutch – they get so drunk they just urinate under the table as they sit drinking their beer! These sweet poetic thoughts are from Libelle of Englyshe Polycye, a short treatise in verse from the 1430s pumping up mercantile jingoism. I came upon it in the book Representations of Flemish Immigrants on the Early Modern Stage looking for references to a slightly later form of anti-Dutch slag, the stock theatrical character Hans Beerpot. We still have loads of lingering anti-Dutch sentiment in the English language hidden in phrases like “Dutch courage” (drunkenness) and “double Dutch” (lying) and even “going Dutch” on a date (formerly being cheap, now perhaps egalitarian) but I had presumed they arose in the 1600s when England and the Dutch battled for naval domination of the North Atlantic and the North Sea. I was about two hundred years too late in my thinking.

Point? This all ties into my recent noodlings about the question of when the English first brought beer to North America – which I presume depends on when beer first got to the ports of England from which expeditions to North America disembarked.* And, yes, the life in those ports was fairly beery in the first half of the 1400s. In “The Civic Franchise and the Regulation of Aliens in Great Yarmouth” by Liddy and Lambert, we read at page 131:

Cornelius Shipmayster, who also went by the name of Cornelius Ducheman, mariner, kept a hostel in the 1440s; his wife was fined for being a tippler of beer, and it is probably that she sold the beer her husband brewed. Beer production rose substantially in the autumn, to cater to the visiting merchants from the Low Countrys and during the quiet season men such as Robert Phelison were able to pursue multiple trades: a resident of the south leet, he brewed beer, ran an alehouse, and owned a fishing boat, which was arrested for naval service in 1437. In this multi-occupational community, hostelling and beer brewing were often practiced together.

Which leads to an observation: you have to slag someone’s nationality for being beer drinking drunkards only after observing them being beer drinking drunkards. So for the Dutch or Flemish or other sorts of low country aliens to be the focus of slagging they needed to be (i) present in England, (ii) drinking hopped beer and (ii) disorderly drunk.  The stereotype is framed in Hans Beerpot from the 1550s play Wealth and Health.** He arguably plays no function other than to arrive in the plot as a stranger, drunk, singing in Dutch and (as an additional sixteenth century touch) representing military menace. But that’s all a bit late for my purposes. I’m interested in earlier things.

Context. The War of the Roses came to a head in the 1450s just when the Hundred Years War was ending with English loss of French possessions, including Bordeaux where (as mentioned a few posts ago) Bristol had had a thriving wine trade.  There was still a spot of the plague going about. Normal ties, internal and external to England, were being disrupted as the very question of being English was being framed. No wonder aliens were being registered. No wonder the ways of the Dutch amongst them were being observed.

Anyway, this is about beer, right? Let’s go a little earlier.  Three records of the Cofferers’ Accounts of the Gild Merchant of Reading, Berkshire from 1420, 1424 and 1427 seem to indicate part payment to theatrical players was in terms of hopped beer: seruicia or ceruisia in Latin. A later similar record from the 1452 accounts of St George’s Chapel of Windsor, Berkshire again for the part payment of actors states:

Et in ceruisia data lusoribus recitantibus ludum habitum in Collegio erga donatoris festum.

Were these all Dutch actors? Maybe. They were likely travelers, at least. But that makes an odd parallel pattern. Flems in port towns and actors liked hopped beer in the early 1400s. So, to find more similar patters, searches for variants of the root of the now familiar cerveza might be in order to see what might be up.***

And we find some in the 1390 accounts of another sort of traveling, the expedition led by then Earle of Derby, later Henry IV (reign 1399-1412),  crusading through Prussia and, surprisingly, on to Lithuania. In a sort of code mixing English, Latin, French and plenty of numbers you see plenty of  interesting references. When the force passes through the friendly lands of the Hanseatic ports en route, Derby’s clerk of the buttery starts buying beer along with wine and sometimes mead. As a result and for example, in September 1390 we read this sort of expense (amongst hundreds) being recorded:

Clerico buterie super beer per manus Gylder, pro j barello de beer, pro portagio et tractagio beer et vini…

Looks to be a bill for the beer, for the barrel in which the beer sit as the hauling of the beer as well as wine. There are a lot of accounts like that on the expedition. A lot. Which is interesting. Because here we have Englishmen drinking a hell of a lot of beer over a long period of time. High status folk. Well before beer is considered to have been consumed much in England by Englishmen. Never thought to look for that sort of thing before.

Flems in England in the 1430s, actors in England in the 1420s and English crusaders in the 1390s. All having hopped beer very early in the timeline. I have to think about what this might add up to, if anything.

*This approach entirely sets aside the question of Viking brewing hundreds of years earlier in what is now Newfoundland but bear with me on that.
**See “Toward a Multicultural Mid-Tudor England: The Queen’s Royal Entry Circa 1553, and the Question of Strangers in the Reign of Mary I” by Scott Oldenburg – and especially the discussion around pages 110 to 115. The character also appears in the 1618 play Hans Beer Pot, his Invisible Comedy of See me and See me not by Daubridgecourt Capability Belchier.
***Examples of treachery in such matters abound. Consider the 1417 appendix to a will in which the summary states beer was to be brewed but the details make it clear it’s ale that being ordered by the future deceased.

 

Another Brief Update On That Nagging Beery Bristol Question…

What a time to be a beer blogger. So sad so few of us are left to have all this fun! Do I speak of the switch in ownership of a beloved British brewer? The last try or dry of this the first month? No, it’s that idea of when did hopped beer really was brewed or showed up in and, then, was shipped out from British ports as a recognized commercial product.

I have happily read through and even negotiated electrical interconnection agreements. One lawyer more experience gave me the best advice early on. You have to obey the electrons. Similarly with history. It is not just that you need to get the facts straight. You need to obey the chronology. So, if I am being obedient, I need to know that hopped beer was in the ports and that ships were leaving the port in something like that order.

All of which is to say that it was very good to come across the paragraph to the right in 2002’s England and the German Hanse, 1157-1611: A Study of Their Trade and Commercial Diplomacy at page 81 where  beer is described as “the new drink promoted aggressively by north German merchants in the late fourteenth century.” And it is beer being delivered, granted in small quantities, in London. The 1384 shipping record being mentioned is 17 years earlier than the 1401 shipment to Hull on the Elyn I mentioned last time. Which is good. And which sort of indicates to me what is logical – hopped beer showed up as a finished product before hopped beers were brewed domestically.*

As part of scratching at this itch, a bought a copy of The Widening Gate: Bristol and the Atlantic Economy, 1450-1700 on eBay which proved to be a helpful step in clarifying another record mentioned last time, the one about the two brewers apparently referenced in the alien subsidies. I had no idea what the subsidies were but, care of this helpful guide, starting in the middle of the 1400s near the end of the Hundred Years’ War a sort of census listing all residents immigrants was kept. And a small tax or subsidy was paid by the person in question once identified:

Justices of the Peace (JPs) were to assess who was liable to pay the alien subsidy. Names were returned to the Exchequer, which would then issue lists to the relevant sheriff or civic officials, ordering them to collect the tax.  The JPs used juries made up of local men to identify the alien residents in their area… These local men used their general knowledge to identify aliens in their area. Some aliens were identified by their accent and language, some by their name. Some, whose actual origin may have been uncertain, were simply known not to have been born in England.

The helpful guide led to another website containing the complete England’s Immigrants 1330–1550 database which allows you to search by factors like  name, name era within the period and trade. And so, lo and behold, we can see that one of the two immigrant brewers listed in the census for Bristol in 1441 was named Germanus Pownham of St. James Ward. While not in all records, we can see on this list of all 56 alien brewers that many of these brewers nationalities were listed. Scots, French and Irish are joined by others described as being a “Hollander” or “Brabanter” or having their origin in Lucca in Tuscany. Mr. Pownham’s is not listed but with the first name “Germanus” there is at least a reasonable chance he was German. Was he brewing German style hopped beer? The record actually doesn’t say.

The key for me is that, in addition to there being a Hanseatic depot at Bristol, both the beer and the brewer sufficiently predate long distance trade explorations out of England – including Bristol. Two expeditions for spice and silk to the Middle East are described in The Widening Gate in the mid-1400s. Both end in disaster at the hands of Italian merchant navies. Apparently, Genoa controlled the Mediterranean in much the same way the Hanseatic League managed the Baltic and North Seas. So, the idea that the Cabots – either John in the 1490s or his son Sebastian in the early 1500s – brought beer along with them when they crossed the Atlantic is not far fetched at all. All I need, as I wrote last time, is a record or two. Well, now another record or two.

*And all of which aligns with Martyn’s short history of hops in England from 2009.

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.

 

The US Mid-Terms Of Thursday Beery News Notes

Did anything really important happen this week? The USA slid a bit to the left on Tuesday. But only a bit. Me, I slid to the west and the north, taking time to visit two breweries over the last seven days. MacKinnon Brothers of Bath, Ontario and Brassiers du Temp of Gatineau, Quebec. Each had a harvest ale. MacKinnon’s is its third edition and is called Harvest Ale 2018 while BDT’s is Obwandiyag.* Each was all about local ingredients. Plaid as well as toques were seen in each tap room.

One other thing that happened, as reported in the Watertown Daily Times of mighty and nearby Watertown, New York was the delivery by sea and seaway of “vats” for an unnamed central New York brewery. I assume this means fermenting and aging tanks for FX Matt but I could be wrong.

Annoyingly, this image of London Bridge from 1632 flew by on Twitter this week. Annoyingly, I say, as the painter seems to have framed the left of the image on the eastern property line with that proto-German trade mission called the Steelyard, the likely location of the first hopped beer consumed in England no doubt by Hanseatic sailors perhaps as early as the thirteenth century.  It does, however, wonderfully set the immediate scene.

As a man who has high hopes to get much much older, I found this discussion of  the role of the UK pub in addressing adult male loneliness fab:

As the UK population ages, the number of older people at risk of social isolation and loneliness is on the rise, which can have a detrimental impact on physical and mental health outcomes for older adults. Evidence for ‘what works’ in reducing loneliness and social isolation among older people is limited, especially for men. Hence, we turned our focus on the role of pubs and their potential to reduce loneliness and social isolation for older men.

Speaking of old men with high hopes, I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting post from Mudgie and a vibrant conversation in the comments – all on the way changes have caused his well loved local to go off track:

None of these are in themselves showstoppers, except when United or City are on the telly, but added together they make it a pub that I find much less congenial than it once was. If I was showing someone around the area, I’d take them in there for a pint, not least to show them the largely unspoilt interior, but I don’t personally care to drink in there. 

Conviviality. Is that what we want? That and little more, I’d say. Certainly not being chained to a pub. This week… relatedly… perhaps… somewhere… I saw a link to a chestnut of Pete‘s from an OG recent past and I was a bit shocked to see this:

Beer helps us express ourselves and mould our identities. It doesn’t need dancing bears and croaking frogs to do that.

Oh, dear God. No. If beer is shaping your identity you may be a entirely earnest struggling** beer bubble beer writer… or an alky [… or both!] Isn’t even loneliness better than that? But I would hope that you, like me, think of beer like maybe having a cheesecake or perhaps going to see a movie once a week. Or getting, like Jeff, engaged politically. Beer? A momentary escape perhaps but certainly not something core to identity. Life is too short for that.

Dear God, no #2: non-bubbly spiked ‘seltzer’!

Pura Still is a malt-based beverage, like beer but without the color or the hops. It contains a “splash of coconut water” and hints of fruit flavors. It will launch next month in three flavors: Mango, Blackberry and Mandarin Orange.

Western civilization just out-suckered Sucker Juice!! Somewhere some wannabe influencer is trying to figure out how to be the leading authority on non-bubbly spiked seltzer. While they still can, guidance officers really need to help our high school drop outs so that they don’t end up doing that sort of thing. Best of all, given it is malt based and non-traditional, it now qualifies as craft beer!

Update: Beer news item of the week. From the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times:

A Ribble Valley beer writer and BBC Radio Lancashire beer enthusiast has been shortlisted for the British Guild of Beer Writers Young Writer of the Year award. Clitheroe-based beer writer Katie Taylor has reached the shortlist of the prestigious awards, alongside highly-regarded writers from across the industry.

While the use of ripe adjectives is a well-known hallmark of the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times, the extended copy explaining Katie Taylor’s particular interest is fabulous and also unpacks a bit more about the process than the BGBW has. I particularly appreciate the use of “entrants” by ATJ rather than “nominee” given that the process is based on submitting one’s own name. Well done @Shinybiscuit !

There is no doubt as to the photo of the week as shared by BlogTO. Both infuriating and comical, it perfectly captures an aspect of Canadian life – the desire to be correct tied to an abiding interest in not actually being all that concern with being correct. The scene is Ontario’s liquor control commission, the LCBO, and the object is a mass produced sales promotion flier. Now, I can’t say for sure that the LCBO produced the promo-product but it would have had to pass through the hands of about 16 bureaucratic conception, design and approval committees on its way to the retail floor. Oh… Canada.

A bit of a shorter post today. I’ve been on the road as I mentioned and it’s the week of our 26th so, you know, I have been away having my identity moulded by things other than intoxicating liquors. Remember – Boak and Bailey put me to shame most Saturdays with their weekly news nuggets.

*aka the great Pontiac of whom another particular hero of mine, Major Robert Rogers, met and wrote in 1765 : “I had several conferences with him, in which he discovered great strength of judgment, and a thirst after knowledge.
** This, the better sort of GBH thingie, comes to mind.

The Steelyard, Stillyard, Stylyard and Spelling

hans1561map1633sm

Ah, the Hanseatic League. I posted about the Hanseatic League earlier this year, pointing out how it was likely the conduit for the first introduction of hopped beer into England – and, by implication, not the Dutch. I think that might be the case for no other reason that the Dutch were introduced to hopped beer by shipments from the Hanseatic League, the Renaissance corporate port towns of the Baltic which had that handy corporate navy with corporate cannon to enforce its idea of open trade.

Renaissance and Elizabethan brewing and drinking in England is particularly interesting as the period ties a lot of later things together…. or founds them… or whatever. For example, Hull was a 1600s brewing town that also was a Hanseatic depot. Hull ale was a contemporary of Northdown as being a premium drink in London in second half of the 1600s. It’s a coastal ale of the sort that governs until the canals reach deeper into the countryside releasing the odd sulfurous and maybe hoppier beers of Burton in Staffordshire upon the national and international market. Like the railways in the mid-1800s Ontario that gave rural Labatt and Carling the opportunity to explode out into the world, England’s canals of the early 1700s also placed brewing at scale nearer the grain fields, likely cutting out middlemen and displacing premium coastal brewing perhaps by undermining existing price. Theory. Working theory.

What was displaced was the model set by the Hanseatic League. Renaissance Hamburg was the greatest brewing center in the history of beer – 42% of the workforce was involved in brewing. The Hanseatic depot at King’s Lynn still stands, one of the branch locations of Hanseatic activity. London was the Kontor with its headquarters of import / export operation located just west of London Bridge on the north shore of the Thames where Cannon Street station now stands. One of the coolest thing is that there have basically been two owners of that site since perhaps 1250 as the vestigial Hanseatic League interests in Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg sold it to the South-Eastern Railway Company in 1852. The presence of the Hanseatic League cannot be minimized at the critical point in the 1400s. Consider this passage from 1889’s bestseller The Hansa Towns by Helen Zimmern. It has a certain ripe Victorian style but does explain things like this:

Nor was London by any means their only depôt. It was the chief, but they also had factories in York, Hull, Bristol, Norwich, Ipswich, Yarmouth, Boston, and Lynn Regis. Some mention of them is found in Leland’s “Itinerary.” Under an invitation to the Hanseatics to trade with Scotland we find the name honoured in legend and song of William Wallace. In John Lydgate’s poems we also meet with our Hanseatics. In relating the festivities that took place in London city on the occasion of the triumphal entry of Henry VI, who had been crowned king at Paris some months previously, the poet narrates how there rode in procession the Mayor of London clad in red velvet, accompanied by his aldermen 196 and sheriffs dressed in scarlet and fur, followed by the burghers and guilds with their trade ensigns, and finally succeeded by a number of foreigners.

“And for to remember of other alyens,
Fyrst Jenenyes (Genoese) though they were strangers,
Florentynes and Venycyens,
And Easterlings, glad in her maneres,
Conveyed with sergeantes and other officeres,
Estatly horsed, after the maier riding,
Passed the subburbis to mete withe the kyng.”

A love of pomp and outward show was indeed a characteristic of the Hanseatics in England who thus perchance wished to impress upon the natives a sense of their wealth.

Henry IV was crowned the King of England in 1399. Hanseatic League ambassadors are in the procession when he enters London for the first time. They are somebodies. And they are powerful. They had a wee war with England from 1469-74… and won entrenching their right to trade. Hopped beer was not introduced to England by a few straggling sailors showing up at a few coastal towns. It was brought along – even imposed perhaps – by a massive commercial and military complex. Let’s look at some maps at how the Hansa QH has been described:

hans1561map1633lg

hanselizmap1720

hanslondon1667

 

 

 

 

The illustration to the left is a detail of the 1633 reprint of the 1561 Agas map. You can see the location of London’s Hanseatic Steelyard in blue to the west of London Bridge. Above way at the top of the text is a much finer detail of the site. Notice it is referred to as the “Stylyarde.” In the middle is a 1720s map of Elizabethan London. Notice the site is now referred to as the “Stillyard.” And to the right is a diagram of the site of the Steelyard itself in this case called the “Stahlhofes” – as it was in 1667 according to a late 1800s German atlas. So, we have four ways of spelling the name of the site. Which means that each needs to be run through the dark Satanic
research mills if we are going to have an idea of what’s going on. In a note to the discussion of John Stow‘s Survey of London (editions from 1598 to 1603), British History Online has an extended discussion in a footnote on the variously described Stillyard / Steelyard / Stilliard / Stelehouse / Steleyard which states that there was a trade presence from Cologne there as early as 1157. It also indicates that the German version Stahlhof that appears rather early on means a stall hall – a marketplace. Stow himself describes the site and operations at length in his narrative map of London including the following:

Next to this lane, on the east, is the Steelyard, as they term it, a place for merchants of Almaine, that used to bring hither as well wheat, rye, and other grain, as cables, ropes, masts, pitch, tar, flax, hemp, linen cloth, wainscots, wax, steel, and other profitable merchandises.

Interestingly, as Stow notes, past the intervening church, near the Steelyard in Haywharf Lane in the late 1500s there was a “great brew-house” operated in the past by Henry Campion and then by his son Abraham. Life in the district was… lively. In the poem by Isabella Whitney (1548–1573) “The Wyll and Testament of Isabella Whitney” we read the following:

At Stiliarde ſtore of Wines there bée,
your dulled mindes to glad:
And handſome men, that muſt not wed
except they leaue their trade.
They oft ſhal ſéeke for proper Gyrles,
and ſome perhaps ſhall fynde:
That neede compels, or lucre lures
to ſatiſfye their mind.

So, as we see on the image to the right, there is a wine house. I assumed it was a wholesale depot but it appears to be an Elizabethan retail party palace where lads and lassies mingle as they consider drink, lust and lucre. February 1582 government orders issued by the Privy Council to the Lord High Treasurer show the Stillyard being excused from certain taxation – right under another order allowing the export of 1,000 tuns of beer from London. Elizabethan brewing and trading at scale. You don’t hear about that often. Leaping ahead into the next century, Samuel Pepys, diarist and high government official, records a number of visits to the site in the 1660s. On Friday, 13 December 1661 he wrote:

…to the office about some special business, where Sir Williams both were, and from thence with them to the Steelyard, where my Lady Batten and others came to us, and there we drank and had musique and Captain Cox’s company, and he paid all, and so late back again home by coach, and so to bed.

On Monday 26 January 1662/63 he stated that he was “up and by water with Sir W. Batten to White Hall, drinking a glass of wormewood wine at the Stillyard… while on Sunday, 2 September 1666 he uses it as a location in his description of the Great Fire of London. Perhaps most gloriously, he gives us this image of a part of his day on Wednesday, 21 October 1663:

Thence, having my belly full, away on foot to my brother’s, all along Thames Streete, and my belly being full of small beer, I did all alone, for health’s sake, drink half a pint of Rhenish wine at the Still-yard, mixed with beer.

Rhenish mixed with beer. There’s a challenge to today’s sense of yum. Thankfully, he also drank Northdown and Hull so it was not all weird for Sammy. I am going to leave it there but to review, then, what we have seen is that the Hanseatic League was a massive trading partner which had a huge export trade in beer in the 1400s. It had a very significant governmental foothold in the middle of London which was recognized from at least 1399 to the 1660s as something to be reckoned with. The business presence stretched for 700 years from the 1150s to the 1850s. They ran a retail and entertainment hall of some sort exactly when beer is coming into England at the same time that they operate the largest brewing center in the world at Hamburg.

Suffice it to say, there is more to be found about the role of the Hanseatic League and the history of hopped beer in England. Does it support the rough overlapping sequence Haneastic hopped beer (say Hamburg and later Flemish 1300s to 1600s) => coastal hopped beer (like Hull and Northdown, say, late 1400s-1712) => canal based hopped beer (Burton after 1712)? Could be. Need to find out.

Is This One Way Big Craft Might Be Dying?

hansunger1

There is nothing more certain about the brewing trade more than the history is defined an extraordinary limited set of patterns. Those who think that the owners of big craft breweries are special, well, know nothing about the rise of lager in the late 1800s as a premium even healthy drink – and know nothing about the rise of Albany Ale from central New York in early the middle third of the 1800s or the rise of Taunton Ale from southwest England as probably a premium even healthy drink in the last quarter of the 1700s. I suspect Northdown Ale was the premium even healthy drink in the lower Thames valley in the third quarter of the 1600s, too. There are, in fact, only a limited number of things you can say about beer to make people buy it other than that it’s tasty, cheap and gets you a tremendous buzz. They are: (i) it’s premium and (ii) it’s healthy. Check out social media today. The spin doctors are still at it. That quote up there? That is from the fabulously fabulous Dr. Richard W. Unger of UBC. More particularly, it is from his essay “Beer: A New Bulk Good of International Trade” in the book Cogs, Cargoes and Commerce: Maritime Bulk Trade in Northern Europe, 1150-1400. It’s actually the ending. Sorry. Spoilers. It reminds me of craft. Or rather big craft.

Just at the moment, big craft is going through a time of change that is not unlike what happened to the beers of Hamburg in the latter 1400s and early 1500s. Hanseatic Hamburg’s hopped beer as a technology went through an era when it was considered premium, rare and difficult to make. Roughly from 1250 to 1350. Neighbouring markets raised import duties to keep it out or just enough to equalize the cost with local producers. Because Hamburg during that time was the greatest brewing center in the history of beer. 42% of the workforce was involved in brewing. 15% of all Swedish exports were hops sent to the breweries of Hamburg and its allies. Read ye some Unger if you have any doubts. These trading communities had their own warships and a trust based commerce that overcame North Sea and Baltic piracy and storm. A commercial empire. And it all went away. At least the brewing did. They switched to trading in the ultimate beer concentrate – grain.

Here in Canada we are undergoing much more accelerated change at the moment. The collapse of the oil market and the sad performance of the Canadian dollar against the American version means no one in their right mind is even thinking of buying US craft beer either by a quick flip over the border or as an import. Yet there are around 550 craft brewing kettles in the land. As a result, while I can buy 2 litres of Pilsner Urquell for 10 bucks and decent Ontario craft for maybe 12 bucks the equivalent volume of beer in a six pack of fairly pedestrian Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is selling for a silly $15.50 and will likely soon cost more given our new 68 cent dollar. Who needs it? Few if the stock that sits on the shelves is any indication.

This is an accentuated version of what is happening in the US itself. Being well north of 4,000 breweries in the US means fans of good beer in the US are no longer dependent on those Hanseatic Hamburgers of big craft who ship coast to coast. People are making their own better local beer now just as the Netherlands did around 1450 and England did starting in 1520. Big craft is losing sales just as its handmaid bulk cider is. Who needs it? If you are looking for something rare and interesting – premium and maybe even healthy – who needs to go to a grocery store or gas station shelf to buy the beer trucked in from out of state? Fewer and fewer.

The economies of scale in good beer are having their way with the market. Not large scale. Small scale. The era of the great white male multi-millionaire brewery owner is over. The nameless nimble newbie hoards have learned the tricks of Hamburg, leaving the old fests cancelled and the old men the option to sell out, shut down or sit around wondering what happened. Same as it ever was.

Was Hanseatic League Beer The First in England?

hullhans1

Ah, the Hanseatic League. Remember the Championship game of 1922? That was great. Gordie won the Cup.

That chart above is from Britain and Poland-Lithuania: Contact and Comparison from the Middle Ages to 1795 published in 2008 and co-edited by every beer history nerd’s favorite professor, Dr. Richard W. Unger. Before I knew anything about Albany ale, I asked Professor Unger about Dutch brewing in the Hudson Valley. If I have a fanboy crush on anything about beer it’s his research on medieval to industrial Baltic trade. Because I have a brief if beefy Baltic past. While living in western Pomerania, I had beers with a guy who was on trans-Atlantic Polish factory fishing boats in the 1970s not to mention a man who was a colonel in the underground riding German train lines, slipping away from time to time to place a bomb or two. His drink nephew wagged a revolver in my face while we partied. The things you remember from time to time.

Anyway, enough about me. More about beer. Unger shows how the Hanseatic League of northern Germany and Poland was instrumental in moving hopped beer into western Europe in the 1300s. England is often said to receive hops from the Netherlands but the Netherlands receives them through trade with traders from the Hanseatic League. Early 1300s restrictions against hopped beer in the Netherlands were dropped by mid-century due to the popularity of the imported stuff. That table up there is from an article in Britain and Poland-Lithuania: Contact and Comparison from the Middle Ages to 1795 by Wendy M. Childs in an article called “England’s Contacts With Poland-Lithuania.” She is pointing out that the Polish city of Gdansk* had trading routes into England quite regularly from the 1370s including the good ship Elyn and her cargo above via Hull in 1401. Notice that the beer is not showing up from the Netherlands. It’s from Poland’s main Baltic port. Which potentially skips about maybe half a century of trade contracts. Is it possible that the first hopped beer in England was not via the nearby Netherlands** but from earlier, more easterly Hanseatic trade routes? Just speculation for sure but for me at this point the neatest idea might be that North Sea ports like Hull and Lynn might have been enjoying hopped beer a little further back than understood. And what does that mean for the brewers in those ports?

* Where, yes, I drank a lot of Gdanskie in late 1991.
**Where, oddly, I worked and drank in 1986.