Your Monday’s Thoughts On The Latest Beer News

Ah, Monday. And a Monday after a quiet weekend on the beer blogging scene hovering just at the cusp of the holiday season. Dreams of Victorian veteran carvers are starting to dance in the head.* Nothing from 1600s or 1700s brewing history is nibbling at my brain at the moment. So, I turn to that other older thing I did on the blog and give a few news items less attention than they deserve. I think something picked up as Stan’s summer intern might be to blame. Enough! Too much self examination leads to bad things like supposing one might need an editor or running off chasing another hobby. No need of that. Here’s the news.

First, Martyn has posted his findings related to a trip to Norway in search of the meaning of kveik. I initially thought this a bit odd given the voluminous obsession with the subject that has been the last few year’s work of Lars Garshol including this post from just a few weeks ago entitled “‘Kveik’ – what does it mean?” But I quickly understood what what going on – a helpful summary and transposition of sorts: kveik for dummies… like me.  Once you read Martyn’s piece, I recommend you set aside a few evenings to go back through the research results posted by Lars. The idea that a third branch of brewing yeast has been quietly living on in rural settings to the north and east of the Baltic is fascinating.

On a far smaller scale, over the weekend I tweeted a tweet:

Thoughts on a can of GK Abbot Ale. Incongruous messages about cold black tea, caramel, whisky malt, potters clay in a body with oddly flat fishy stickiness. Still… relatively cheap.

That got me thinking about how consequential each beer one pours in a glass must be. The beer in question cost $2.30 which translates to £1.38 or $ 1.80 US. If I had not been paying intentional attention, it would have passed by my mind without much comment. That weird little nod to clay would not have raised itself to my consciousness. Yet just 50 cents more would have bought me a fine example of the low end of excellent regional craft. Can we still care at all for bulk imports?

Imagine – taking money to offer a favourable opinion on a beer.  Who saw that coming?

Next up, I have one itchy thought about the whole – let’s be honest – kerfuffle going on in Portland, Oregon between a brewery and the City over the use of a leaping stag logo which has appeared on a beloved landmark sign for decades. Jeff has described the issue from the perspective of one side of the debate, which is a very important one given the small brewery actually is the party that has held the trademark since 2012. But before the trademark, there was copyright. The classes of intellectual property are distinct. The craft brewery did not create the image. The sign permit was acquired in 1940 and, as authorship immediately creates copyright, someone created the image then. So, someone must own or owned the copyright in the design of the stag which is separate from and prior to the trademark. Can one trademark someone else’s design? Apparently so – but does that extinguish the copyright? These sorts of things can vary, but if (according to Wikipedia) the sign was built and owned by Ramsey Signs from the 1940s to 2009 when the City bought the sign from them, did the underlying copyright to the sign design not also pass to the City? Dunno. I once represented a man who argued he owned 25% of Times New Roman font as he owned one of the original sets of hand made typeface. Not everyone agreed but I recall he said he did receive royalty cheques. So, who first drew the leaping stag?

I think following Ypres Castle Inn means you are of a certain age.

Finally, I do tire of references to temperance as code for everything one does not like in beer regulation. It’s up there with anxieties over lack of wine world respect. Face it – public health is a key foundation of modern western civilization. Who would chose to go back to the pre-temperence society? Even when the do gooder sociologists in their laboratories get it wrong no one in their right mind wants them stopping doing their work. Give the church its gruitgeld!!!

PS: boring big craft pretending that it’s pretty much the same as taking outside investor money and the attached strings. Somehow related.

A Little More On Northdown Ale And Margate Ale And Lambeth Ale And…

We have discussed Northdown ale before. One of the seventeenth century’s coastal ales that predate Burton’s arrival on the scene around 1712. Northdown of the strong ales that Locke described as “for sale” as opposed to home or estate use. But in that earlier Northdown post from, what, coming up on two years ago, most of the references to it are not contemporary to the 1600s. A lot of the discussion actually depends on one text, the 1723 The History and Antiquities of the Isle of Thanet by Rev John Lewis of Margate, which was itself then picked up in in an 1865 travel piece on Thanet published in The Athenaeum. To address that situation, I have been collecting more mid-seventeen century references over the weeks and months since then to do a better job of figuring out what was going on in the 1600s. One of the earliest I have found so far sits at the very helpful website Margate in Maps and Pictures compiled by one Anthony Lee, we read that in 1636:

John Taylor reported ‘there is a Towne neere Margate in Kent, (in the Isle of Thanett) called Northdowne, which Towne hath ingrost much Fame, Wealth, and Reputation from the prevalent potencie of their Attractive Ale’.*

Part of that potency related to the health of one’s nether regions, specifically kidney stones. In The Art of Longevity, or, A Diæteticall Instition by Edmund Gayton (1608-1666) we read this passage:

What is ale good for? look against his doors,
And you shall see them rotted with ale-showrs:
It hath this speciall commendation,
To cleanse the ureter, and break the Stone:
Just as a feather-bed the flint doth break,
So th’ other stone your North-down-ale alike…

The author Gayton appears to have been Oxford educated as well as both an accomplished writer as well as a medical man. This work was published in 1659 and is described by the wiki-mind as “a verse description of the wholesomeness or otherwise of various foods.” The passage above is in chapter eight, “Of Ale”. There are chapters on wine as well as meath or metheglin and also beer:

Beer is a hop remov’d from ale, the hop
from a damn’d weed is a common crop…

I like the date of that work. That is two years before 1661’s publication in Wit and Drollery, Joviall Poems: Corrected and much amended, with Additions by the well known coded duo “Sir I. M. Ia. S” and “Sir W. D. I. D.” and the fabulous poem “On the Praise of Fat Men” in which we have the lovely lines which I only saw in a footnote before offering other healthful (or perhaps health-related) properties:

But now, for rules before we eat,
And how to chuse right battning meat,
For spoon-meat, barly-broth and jelly,
Very good is for the belly.
For mornings draught your north-down-ale**
Will make you oylely as a Whale;
But he that will not out flesh wit
Must at the good Canary sit;
For ’tis a saying very fine
Give me the fat mans wit in wine…

And, again, Northdown ale is the drink of the great and good. With a health related effect if not benefit. And, like those 1620s letters seeking September ale or beer for the Sir Horace Vere’s English delegation to the Netherlands, there are letters from Finch family files seeking shipments of Northdown to be sent to Constantinople in the 1670s where Sir John Finch was stationed as ambassador of England to the Ottoman Empire.

It is clear that in at least the second two-thirds of the 1600s, Northdown existed as one of a number of ales of note. It seems to transition into or also be known concurrently as “Margate” ale. This is perhaps due to that town expanding into and absorbing the neighbouring village of Northdown. It is now just a district next to Margate’s town centre. It could also be that Northdown ales were shipped from Margate to London. The article in The Athenaeum from 1865, mentioned above, also links the name change to the death of the brewer and land owner named John Prince whose Northdown was prized in the 1680s or at least until his death in 1687. Could he have been the brewer of the ales reported back in 1636? Maybe but unlikely.

“Margate” hangs on as a descriptor of ale longer than most of its 1600s classmates mainly through the long success of Cobb’s Brewery. A brewery appears to have operated at the site from no later than the first decade of the 1700s. Cobb brewed there from 1760 through to the early 1800s when it owned 53 public houses and three farms and, then, for many decades thereafter. A second local brewery owned by the family from 1808 had a circular brew house. As The London Gazette of 11 October 1892 indicates, it returned to sole proprietorship from the 1890s to the 1937 when FM Cobb died in his 90s. The brewery sold Margate stout in the mid-1900s. The National Archive listings indicate that the sizable Cobb empire generated brewery records right up to 1967 right around when Whitbread bought it and shut it.

The term “Margate ale” is also used generically into the nineteenth century including in 1866’s Passages from the auto-biography of a “man of Kent” on the life of Robert Cowtan. It also appears in the 1869 book Mrs. Brown in London by one Arthur Sketchley. And if you click on the image to the right you will see a passage from  1871’s publication Lectures on the Principles and Practice of Physic as delivered at King’s College, London by Sir Thomas Watson in, likely, the 1830s. Like Gayton above, his fellow medical professional counterpart of two centuries before, no dummy. Later in life, a physician to Queen Victoria. And note that the “cure” he is speaking of, the thing that he cannot discount Margate ale helping with, is abdominal tumours. Jings. Could it really do that? Perhaps it just couldn’t hurt.

As noted, Northdown and Margate stood with other great ales. Consider this poem “The Praise of Hull Ale” which is unfortunately from a Victorian anthology from 1888, In Praise of Ale. The poems follows other that are more Elizabethan than Stuart but follows with the notation “here is a Yorkshire song of the same period, minus a few necessary excisions“! So, no promise that this is not a botched improvement on a more interesting original. Beware! That being said, note the range of beverages described in this most generous cutting and pasting.

Let’s wet the whisde of the muse
That sings the praise of every juice
This house affords for mortal use;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s ale of Hull, which, ’tis well known,
Kept King and Keyser out of town,
Now it will never hurt the Crown;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s Lambeth ale to cool the maw.
And beer as spruce as e’er you saw,
But mum as good as man can draw;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s scholar that has doft his gown,
And donn’d his cloak and come to town.
Till all’s up, drunk his college down;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s North down, which in many a case
Pulls all the blood into the face.***
Which blushing is a sign of grace;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s that by some bold brandy hight,
Which Dutchmen use in case of fright.
Will make a coward for to fight;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s China ale surpaaseth far
What Munden vents at Temple Bar,
‘Tis good for lords’ and ladies’ ware;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s of Epsom will not fox
You more than what’s drawn from the cocks
Of Nuddleton yet cures smallpox;
Which nobody can deny.

For ease of heart, here’s that will do’t,
A liquor you may have to boot.
Invites you or the devil to’t;
Which nobody can deny.

That’s a quite a list. A list showing a wide variety of something that looks a lot like styles – and our darling Sammy Pepys drank it all. A quick search via Lord Goog for various phrases in his diary shows he records drinking Lambeth Ale on at least 8, 10 and 12 June 1661 as well as 27 April 1663. He had Northdown ale on 27 August and 13 September in 1660 as well as 1 January 1660/61. Margate ale is mentioned on 7 May, 27 August and 26 October in 1660. He had Hull Ale on 4 November 1660. He also had Derby ale and China ale. There are many references to Mum, buttered ale, wormwood ale. Bottled beer, too. In fact, he complains on 23 May 1666 of an eye ailment due to “my late change of my brewer, and having of 8s. beer.” A man of wide and varied taste. Notice, however, that there are no references to March ale or October ale according to the Google search. Is that correct? Maybe these were old fashioned labels by the 1660s.

Lambeth. Let’s look at this ale as a last consideration. We’ve written a bit about Hull ale before so, yes, let’s look at Lambeth. Well… except that in the 1670s the poet Andrew Marvel in his side gig as Member of Parliament for the city of Hull wrote a fair bit back to the municipal corporation about the taxation of beer. But set that aside. Let’s look at Lambeth. One problem as Martyn mentioned over at Facebook: “It’s a bit of a mystery where Lambeth Ale was actually brewed.” If you click on that image you will see one reason why. It’s a map from the 1720 edition of Stow and Strype – and even at that time Lambeth was mainly filled with fields and physically distinct from the actual City of London. Consider this painting from the 1680s by F.W. Smith. Open grounds down to the Thames sit all around Lambeth Palace, London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Where’s the brewery?

Perhaps it will help to discuss what Lambeth isn’t. First, it isn’t a brewing scene that seems to continue. As I mentioned in the Locke post the other day, Lambeth is noted in a 1939 book Prices and Wages in England**** covering 1500 to 1900 but it was specified as a type of beer in 1708. The references to Lambeth are found in relationship to Lord Steward’s accounts, royal court records of ale and beer purchases from the late 1600s through the 1700s. Lambeth ends in 1708 in one sense because there is no equivalent of the Cobb family as in Margate that continues and builds upon a 1600s legacy well into the 1800s. Lambeth did have later great breweries in the 1800s including the joint stock British Ale Brewery of 1807 on Church Street to the south of the palace and the Red Lion Brewery built on the site of the Belvedere pleasure gardens in the 1830s but there seems to be no continuity to the use of the words “Lambeth ale” in the 1600s.

“Lambeth ale” is also not a euphemism for London beer. Lambeth ale was brought into London itself. Lambeth is not only physically distinct,***** it is purposefully distinct. It is the ecclesiastical centre. In the 1670s it sits in view of Westminster, seat of secular power both royal and Parliamentary, to the north and across the river. London had its own brewers who we have discussed before. There is the brewing at dodgy and somewhat inland Golden Lane near Cripplegate that extended from the medieval to the Nazi bombings including the Golden Lane brewery of the 1700s. There is also beer to be bought from John Reynonds of London as the Hudson Bay Company did in the 1670s. The City of London itself had its own contemporary brewers separate and distinct from those of Lambeth.

So “Lambeth” is not a fuzzy euphemism for brewing in and around London. It is not Lambeth Hill. Lambeth proper is a bit upriver. Cleaner water. Charles II swam there. And you might think spiritually purer, too. This is an odd thing. Lambeth of the last third of the 1600s seems to have a spicy reputation… though perhaps where in London didn’t. It is the era just after the Restoration of the monarchy as well as the time of the restoration of London after the Great Fire of 1666. The end of Puritanism. In The Journal of Brewery History 135 (2010) we find the article, “Women, Ale and Company in Early Modern London” by Tim Reinke-Williams we learn about a ballad from around 1680, Five Merry wives of Lambeth, which tells how Sarah, Sue, Mary, Nan and Nell “lov’d good Wine, good Ale, and eke good chear” which beings with and is subtitled:

Five wanton wives at Lambeth liv’d I hear which lov’d good wine, good ale, and eke good chear, and something in a corner they would take for which they went abroad to merry make and what they did, if you will but draw near the full conclusion you shall quickly hear. 

Wanton! Deary me. Bawdy maybe lower class lewd encounters! It was a multi-purpose zone. In 1648, Parliament placed a garrison and prison in Lambeth House which they also used as a prison. With the Restoration, came the rebuilding of Lambeth Palace as viewed by Pepys in 1665 but still he went there to gypsy fortune-tellers in 1668. Vauxhall Gardens were also newly developed nearby during that same decade. There was a tavern with ale and, err, bawdy upper class lewd encounters.

So, at this point, a couple of ideas strike me. Lambeth ale may be multi-sourced ale from the zone of sauciness well known to those in London. Think Coney Island.  It could actually, on the other hand, be ale brewed in connection to the Palace. Could it be there are either brewing accounts or brewing records confirming if the Archibishop was a buyer or seller of ale? It could, of course, be something else. Who knows? Stuff for the comments and future posts.

Let’s go back to Locke. In this post all I have done is unpacked and organized what he called “ale for sale” – the 1600s English ales with a city in the title. Two things happen soon thereafter. Things change and, if we obey chronology, things that were not likely anticipated. Burton and porter. Behemoth and Leviathan. Brewing at a greater scale and at an industrial pace is coming with the new century.

——–

Your footnotes attached to today’s reading:

*from John Taylor’s book, The honorable, and memorable foundations, erections, raisings, and ruines, of divers cities, townes, castles, and other pieces of antiquitie, within ten shires and counties of this kingdome namely, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey, Barkshire, Essex, Middlesex, Hartfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire: with the description of many famous accidents that have happened, in divers places in the said counties. Also, a relation of the wine tavernes either by their signes, or names of the persons that allow, or keepe them, in, and throughout the said severall shires, Printed for Henry Gosson, London, 1636.

**Do you see the common problem for the poor amateur beer historian? In each case it is spelled “N/north-down-ale” and not Northdown ale. That’s the real curse of the digital era, Lord Good’s lack of lateralism consideration.

***So, keeping score, it flushes the face full of grace, gets you oily as a whale and breaks down kidney stones.

****Reader Brian Welch was kind enough to scan a few pages from a copy at a library at Harvard.
It appears that after the restoration of Charles II, accounts of expenditures were required if Parliament was to pay for them. Which is why the records mainly begin in 1659. They continue to 1812 and include all beer and ale stored in the palace butteries Pretty good record. They include “bonfire ale” which is ales for bonfires which may be public event where the royals pay for the ale as opposed for ales for the royal households themselves.

*****One traveled to Lambeth. Pepys got there by coach, by horse and by boat and even by foot over the ice.  It was “near” rather than “here” for those describing it in the late 1600s.

As Expected The Beer Health News Ain’t Good

In these exciting new times, we are suddenly aware of the need to sift the news, seeking out the alternative facts and hidden interests to cast aside. It’s normal to want to be on the winning side but, as this stuff gets layered by the shed load, we need to take a responsible approach and act like adults.

As much as anything, this applies to the brewing yap-o-sphere. Fortunately some folks are putting their big boy pants on and debunking the fibs, as we see today in Outside magazine’s article “Sorry, Folks, Beer Isn’t a Health Food” in which we find this particularly telling observation:

…sometimes research—especially on nutrition—is overly reductionist. Food writer Michael Pollan opines about the dangers of studying single nutrients in his 2007 book, In Defense of Food, saying, “A nutrient bias is built into the way science is done: scientists need individual variables they can isolate. Yet even the simplest food is a hopelessly complex thing to study, a virtual wilderness of chemical compounds, many of which exist in complex and dynamic relation to one another, and all of which together are in the process of changing from one state to another.” As you’ll see, some of these beer studies look at only a single compound within the beer and extrapolate results from there, when really, there is likely more going on.

Every time some altfactiod blurts out onto social media about the magical properties of beer, the interested mid-rangers gather like sharks to a wiff. Hallelujah!  If life were only that easy.

I thought of that nutrition point when I went through Pollan’s books back then but didn’t make much of it. I thought of it again this week when, again, a saw a photo of a good young keen beer writer with the slightly jaundiced hue. I worry. A few months ago, Maureen Ogle tweeted a link to a study that talked about how beer health studies were so selective, never took the net effect into account. I lost the link but remembered the lesson. Your health? It’s operating on the net effect.

That article? It’s got a great conclusion. Let me ruin it for you. Beer’s pretty okay. Beer isn’t the new kale.

Nationalistic Jingoism And Your Beer

As our neighbours to the south watch the beginning of what I can only consider the death of conservatism by slowly inflicted suicide, it is instructive to note that the role of beer in nationalistic jingoism is something no longer often given its full weight. That clipping to the right is from the 7 September 1810 edition of that most wonderfully named newspaper from Hudson, New York, The Bee, reprinted from the National Intelligencer. The author is arguing that British porter is unwholesome. Common enough claim at the time. It’s the final of a number of arguments made in an essay published under the pen name Juriscola. The man behind the clever tag appears to be Tench Coxe, aka “Mr. Facing Bothways” for his habit of flapping which ever way the wind blows. By 1810, he was pro-tariff and definitely buy American after a career that saw him welcome the British to Philadelphia in 1777 with open arms.

Nationalism is not solely an argument heard from the USA. Pete maps the role of ale and porter in the second British Empire of the Victorian height in his book Hops and Glory at scale, as we have just discussed.  And ten years after Coxe’s essay, a rabble was being roused right here in in what was the Midland District of Upper Canada by brewer Richard Dalton against the importation of those foreign beers from the south. And likely with good cause if the presence of 160 barrels of Albany Ale in 1816 in our small community is evidence enough. Not even an alternate fact, that. Dalton’s argument is pretty specific: stop bringing in foreign barley. Coxe, by comparison, lays it on thicker. Certainly, the argument is made that domestic grain and fruit supports increased domestic manufacturing. And also that domestic production is superior as an expression of American ingenuity. But then he makes a telling argument: the needs of the military.

The most enormous expense of the American revolutionary war and the deepest sufferings of the patriotic army were those produced by the frequent destitution of wine, good distilled spirits and porter. It is therefore of the greatest importance to our possible military operations that we have a quantity of some of these liquors steadily manufactured in our country from our own materials equal at least to ten millions of gallons.

Note: by “possible military operations” he basically means attacking my town.

So, how will this sort of thing manifest itself in these our own confusing times of the vacuum at the top? Will there be a revival of state sanctioned brewing jingoism? Will, as I suggested soon after the election, Corona and other popular imports face backlash as being unAmerican? Or will the odd and newly joint opposition of the left and free traders take up the slack and prop up sales in defiance?  A new 35% tariff might make those modest brands tough to choose from the grocery shelf even for the idealist.

But will people – err, The People – buy into such protectionism given it is essentially a claim to marketplace weakness, a message of failure? Can such alternate truths gain a foothold?  Depends on the presentation, I suppose.

Nigerian Government Questions Silly Beer Health Claims

Is it fair to say good luck seeing this sort of puffery questioned in North America?

The Council, in a letter signed by its Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, listed some of the claims, which include that beer is not an alcoholic beverage and that if taken regularly and in moderation has many defined nutritional and health benefits and can indeed be part of a healthy life style. Other claims by the company also include that “beer consumption has therapeutic qualities such as prevention of kidney stones, increase in anti-oxidant activity in the body, reduction in the risk of heart disease and blood pressure management”. The government agency expressed its reservation that the claims “in effect suggest that beer is a health drink and have the potential to lure unsuspecting consumers into unwholesome consumption of the product”…

I kick myself often and especially when I don’t note down good sources of information – especially those that I will only realize later I need. A few weeks or months ago, Maureen Ogle tweeted a link to a very sensible medical article which described how the entire problem with health claims related to beer is that they were not holistic, that they did not seek to explain the entire set of effects on the arc of a drinker’s life. I saved it not. What was the point? I just end up shaking my head when beer consultant types make these sorts of claims. But it looks like the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council is taking it seriously and is on the track, investigating claims by Nigerian Breweries Plc on the nutritional, health and therapeutic benefits of beer consumption.

New York: The Fifty Year Disappearance Of Clean Brewing Water

nymap1783aWhat a horrible diagram. It’s just a sketch but it’s a dog’s dinner. It illustrates the expansion of New York City from 1660, almost forty years into the life of the settlement, to 1839 just before the arrival of the fresh water in Lower Manhattan via the Croton Aqueduct. I offer you this to raise a general point. Breweries depend on the availability of resources. Not just hops, water, malt and yeast but also money and people and transportation and peace. The ability to run a brewery depends on the presence of generous stability. True then. True now. The bit of the diagram I am thinking about in particular in this post is the shift from the 1783 map at the left to the 1839 map to the right. What can these first decades of New York City in the early years of the newly independent republic tell us about the need for stability and resources? Plenty. Have a look at these two notices related to the brewer William D Faulkner:

nygaz16april1770faulknerferry1albfaulknygaz22mar1779

 

 

 

 

The ad to the left is from April 1770 while the one to the right is from March 1779. They describe Faulkner operating out of three breweries: the one at Brookland/Brooklyn Ferry, next to the Rutgers’ brewery on Maiden Lane and then on to the one at Mount Hope. In May 1768, brewing was a “new undertaking” to Faulkner. But in fairly short order, though either desperation or the entrepreneurial spirit, he is on the move. The Brookland Ferry brewery seems to have been a loser. Brewer after brewer have a go at running it from the 1760s to at least the 1790s. They each move on or quit. The Rutgers brewery on Maiden Lane seems to have a bit of a chequered career, too. As did the spruce beer brewery at Catherine Street. In the end, Faulkner leaves the lower end of the Hudson Valley altogether and ends his career in Albany by 1790.

There certainly could be a number of factors behind Faulkner’s moves but I am going to suggest that the search for clean water is one of them. One thing you notice from the maps and diagrams of Brooklyn Ferry of the time is that the area where the first buildings are located it just north of a high area, now Brooklyn Heights. Which hints there might have been originally a stream or creek along the path of the curving main street. After the area is built up, that stream would have been overwhelmed and would have lost its usefulness.  Once that happens, the brewery finds itself sitting next to sea water with difficult access to water.

rutgersbrewery1776aA similar story plays out more clearly with Rutger’s brewery. It’s located on Maiden Lane which, like at Brooklyn Ferry, is still visibly subject to road design decisions made hundreds of years ago. It was also a good address in 1790. Click on the thumbnail. That is a diagram of the Great Fire of 1776. I have shown Maiden Lane in green and Gold Street in yellow. They twist a bit. They still do today, 240 years later. Because they are based on watercourses. Metcef Eden locates his brewery up a little hill directly south of a twist on Gold Street. Have a look at this detail from the fabulous 1865 Viele map of New York.

nymap1865maidenlanedetail

Click on it. The pale blue area is the original land mass, the light brown the filling-in of the river. You can see Maiden Lane again in green, Gold Street in yellow. Not only do they twist but they move from higher ground to lower ground. It’s a watershed. You will also see that lower Manhattan was originally very hilly. And, not very too far to the north, boggy. As shown in green. And, if you look at the ugly map way up top, it’s boggy exactly where the population growth occurs from the 1780s to 1840. To understand where was are going, however, we need to take a step back.

Harmenus Rutgers and his son Anthony Rutgers were very interested in water. While I think I need to go back and revisit the geneology but let’s just focus on two facts. First, in a court case, Rutgers v. Waddington, an 1784 ruling of the Mayor’s Court of New York City it states that Harmenus Rutgers bought the parcel on Maiden Lane in 1711 and started brewing at the end of that year. By 1784, the brewery is described as one of the most notable features of that part of the city. Second, in 1732 Anthony Rutgers obtained title to the swamp section of what was called the King’s Farm from the colonial government. If you look at the Bradford map of New York from 1731 or so, you see both Maiden Lane running east-west four blocks north of Wall Street and the King’s Farm to the north of that. Rutgers sets about creating a drain from the swamp which does two things. It regularizes and likely expands the waterway to the river and it formalizes what appears on maps as the Fresh Water Pond or Collect Pond.

nymap1776hintonClick on the thumbnail. That’s a detail of the 1776 Hinton which map has particularly good detail of the drains linking the pond to the river. In the mid-1700s, the Rutgers are clearly locating their interests with an eye to controlling good water. This is what the scene looked like in 1787. If you are familiar with the movie The Gangs of New York which is set, at its outset, in the Five Points district in the mid-1840s you are
familiar with the final years of what is likely the grimmest era of New York history. What you might not know is that the Five Point’s district was located upon the filled-in Collect Pond. It takes about fifty or sixty years for the area to go from well-ordered, drained cultivated fields to bleak hell hole of humanity. And during the transition a brewery plays a central role.

Click on the thumbnail to the left. It’s from the same map but shows this time what is to the south of the Fresh Water Pond. Tannery yards and a gun powder magazine. Even so, in the second half of the 1790s, the pond was still able to the portrayed as sitting in a parkland setting. There was even a little steamboat that took visitors on trips. It rapidly lost that character and, in 1805, in order to drain the now garbage-infested waters, the government widened Rutgers’ drains, opened a forty-foot wide canal that today is known as Canal Street and, by 1811, the City had completely filled Collect Pond. In The Old Merchants of New York City, Volume 5 by Walter Barrett published in 1885 it states:

The house of Cadle & Stringham did a large mercantile business in this city for many years. The first of the Stringhams that I wot of, was Capt. Joseph Stringham, who commanded a vessel out of this port before the Revolutionary War, in 1774. After the war, in 1786, he settled down at 110 Smith (William) street, where I think he died. One son — I think Joseph — was a grocer in Queen street. No. 110. He was concerned with Janeway, under the firm of Stringham & Janeway, in a brewery in Magazine street (Pearl, from Centre to Broadway), as early as 1791.

Magazine Street at the time was that portion of what is now Pearl Street which was immediately south of the Fresh Water Pond. In an 1848 address to the St. Nicholas Society of the City of New York, the main businesses in the 1790s in this area are listed as (i) the pottery of Crolius, (ii) the furnace of McQueen, (iii) the tanneries of Brooks and Coulthard, (iv) the brewery of Janeway, (v) the starch and hair powder manufactory of N. Smith, and (vi) the rope-walk of the Schermerhorns.

George Janeway is listed in The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York of 1862 as having been a brewer, Assistant Alderman, North Ward, 1784 to 1795 and Alderman, Sixth Ward, 1803 to 1804. Issac Coulthard advertised his tannery in the New York Packet on 7 December 1787. Interestingly, around October 1794, Coulthard was involved with the sale of a distillery near the Fresh Water Pond. In the late spring of 1795 his tannery burned down – a total loss. At the end of December 1796, Clouthard has erected a new brewery near the pond and started operations with his son. Not the same brewery as Janeway’s it would appear. Was that “the distillery” being sold a few years before?

nyjournal01july1797coulthardAnyway, the new brewery burned, too. I think they all burned, these old breweries. In the 1 July 1797 edition of Greenleaf’s New York Journal, right, it was reported that all the malt was lost and the whole business was a write off. An errant cigar at the nearby site of the new Lutheran Church apparently started it. He gets up and operating again as by July in 1806, his beers are being advertised as being on sale at the Porter and Punch-House of Henry Gird in Brooklyn. But he soon suffers a series of personal losses. His son dies in February 1807, his daughter-in-law dies in October 1810 and his daughter dies two months later – the latter two both of lingering illnesses. The visitations all are held on Cross Street, the heart of what becomes Five Points. And on 29 January 1812, the death of Isaac Coulthard himself is announced in the New York Gazette. The funeral procession started at Cross Street.

Over the course of his brewing career, the area his business operated out of changed from waterside parkland to a sewer. The pond has been drained and filled in. His son William Coulthard announced in September 1812 that he was carried on with the brewing but the neighbourhood was getting grim. And he had political ambitions, running for alderman for the sixth ward. He is named in a small notice placed for the brewery along with two partners selling double ale and porter in November 1820. One Joseph Barnes is operating the brewery in 1827 after William passed away in June 1822 at the young age of 56 – again of a lingering illness. Odd that so many of his immediate family died young and of lingering deaths. Was it the foul conditions of the neighbourhood? His house at 65 Cross Street next to the brewery is being rented out in 1831. Here is how the website Anthropology in Practice described the scene at that time:

…in 1805 or thereabouts, the city constructed a canal intended to drain the Collect into the Hudson and East Rivers. The canal soon also began to stink, and it was eventually moved underground as a sewer. Its former path was widened to become Canal Street. When this plan didn’t work as intended, city officials elected to raze bucolic Bunker Hill in 1811 and use the earth to fill in the pond to create housing for the growing population. As with any venture, marketing is important. The neighborhood that arose in this spot was named Paradise Square. Unfortunately, the land never fully settled. It was marshy, and mosquito-ridden, prone to flooding, and when buildings in the area began to sink—and the area began to smell—in the 1820s, the remaining wealthy residents fled the once desirable address. Immigrants and African Americans, seeking low cost housing as it was all they were able to afford, filled the area. By the 1830s, the neighborhood had settled into the Five Points, sporting a reputation as a dirty and dangerous place, which would thrive into the 20th century.

oldbreweryfivepointsThe Coulthard Brewery lives at least two more lives, first as a horrible slum and then as a mission house to the poor. The New York Evening Post of 23 February 1847 published an article on the suffering of Irish immigrants who found themselves living or laying dead and unassisted in Coulthard’s old brewery. An article in the New York Herald from January 1848 reports that near the brewery there were three or four killings a day in what was known as Murderers’ Alley. The basement of the brewery housed five families living on the floor and over one hundred hogs. In 1850, a report in the Schenectady Cabinet sets out that there were 32 families totaling 200 people living in the old brewery, none of whom were locally born adults. The end took a few more years but once The Ladies’ Home Missionary Society bought out the place, its days were numbered:
nyherald13nov1856fivepoints
Note: “The labourers who wrecked the Old Brewery carried out sacks filled with human bones which they had found in the cellars and within the walls and night after night gangsters thronged the ruin to search for treasure which was rumoured to be buried there.”

++++++++++++
Well, that was sordid. Next, I need to find out who else is brewing in New York from 1790 to 1840 and whether they had a bit better luck than the folk who lived around the Fresh Water Pond.

According To Me: Forget Units, Embrace Millilitres

drunkmdRemember last July when I explained how I actually tasted beer? This is another one of those posts. Not looking to convince you of anything but just to set out what I actually do.

First, let me get this out of the way. One of the oddest things about beer is how it triggers a particular sort of outrage. We see it often in relation to the libertarian response to public safety advocates lobbying for lowering the levels of acceptable blood alcohol for drivers. My rights! The stats are wrong! The lawyers are lining their pockets! We see the same sort of thing when public health officers bring out advice about lowering your alcohol intake. My rights! The stats are wrong! The doctors are lining their pockets! I find these complaints boring and odd. Amateur LLBs meeting amateur MDs. They come across a bit addled or at least conflicted in ways that I don’t get. And a bit like a 1950’s TV ad for smoking. Certainly, killing yourself off early is preferable to killing off others but still… who really is driven to strongly react to folk seeing to reduce, you know, death. I bet these days even aging 1970s rock stars might be more inclined to wonder what a few fewer trips to the cookie jar might have meant to one’s latter years. If booze means that much to you, find something else to care about. Get a hobby. Or a fish. Find happiness in a snowflake FFS.

But… I am not here to point fingers and certainly not name names. Folk live their own lives and can react to these things as they see fit as long as they don’t harm others. Yet there is one thing I think would help immensely with the dialogue generally. Get rid of the idea of the “unit” that the public health advocacy is based upon. It just fogs up the whole discussion. You see it in Canada. You see it in the UK. Here, we still live in the 15 drink universe. In the UK, the outrage is the announcement of the 14 unit week. Yet what is a unit to you? Nothing. You require an online calculator to understand the implications. And no one is looking at one of those mid-session. By creating an arbitrary standard, you do not describe the experience as the people you are advocating to experience it. It muddles and befuddles.

There is a better way. Milliliters of pure alcohol. Let’s stick with Canada as I never could figure out the UK model.* There are 17.05 ml of pure alcohol in a standard 12 ounce standard 5% bottle of Canadian beer. We like standards. Canadians are obsessed with 5% beer. If a beer has only 4.8%, it’s is dishwater. Another at 5.2% is Satan’s route to your soul. We are very regular in these matters. So the prime unit is really 17 milliliters. Which means 15 of them for a Canadian man in a week is 255 ml. A 750 ml bottle of what most call hard liquor (aka spirits) also comes in as another Canadian standard: 40% alcohol. Which means a bottle of hard liquor has 300 ml of pure alcohol. Are you with me? Good. Wine is trickier as wine has a range of strengths. Light whites can be 9% or under while reds commonly top 14%. But they come in 750 ml bottles. So the quick mental calculation is based around three-quarters. Meaning a 750 ml bottle of mid-weight 12% wine has 90 ml of pure alcohol. 17 goes into 90 around five times. Five servings in a bottle of wine. Simple. You see where I am going?

Which means the average standard week recommended drinking per adult is a bit less than a 750 ml bottles of hard liquor or three bottles of wine or 15 bottles of beer. I don’t know about you but not only does that not seem like a small amount – it also does not seem to be equal. I would likely think myself a bit of a loser if I gunned a large bottle of, say, Gordons or Dewars a week. Three bottles of wine each seems a bit much, too, especially as I would be sharing that over the dinner table with another but I suppose I would feel a bit better about splitting a bottle of wine a night than I would being that gin bomber draining alky even if it might cost me twice as much. And, you know, the beer doesn’t seem like all that little at all. I wouldn’t want to have two or three beers a day most days of the week – but, again, I also would not feel like a gin dipso if I had fifteen in a seven day span. I certainly would not be sitting down to go on about the nanny state… in public… on the internet.

If the numbers were put in those simpler terms, stated as normal purchasing sizes over a week it seems to be folk would more easily get the message – pace yourself over time and keep it sensible. Yes, there is the jerk who drains the Gordon’s quart in one sitting as part of his healthy lifestyle but that person is, in fact, the jerk. These guidelines – all guidelines – should in fact come with a jerk disclaimer: “Warning: you are a jerk, you will not do this anyway so don’t bother complaining on your blog about it.” For most other sensible people it might get the point across better. Works for me. Which is all I was wanting to mention.

*Which, yes, I do see that the “unit” in the UK is only 10 ml and you now only should have 14 of them which is quite funny as it means the recommended amount is 140 ml a week as opposed to 255 ml here in Canada or 55% of the Canadian levels. Is that right? I’d be outraged! Unless… well, I bet Stonch is about 55% of one of me. He’s only wee. Maybe that’s it.

Considering The Badness Of Beer In 1800s Britain

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Hail, Beer!
In all thy forms of Porter, Stingo, Stout,
Swipes, Double-X, Ale, Heavy, Out-and-out,
Most dear,
Hail! thou that mak’st man’s heart as big as Jove’s!
Of Ceres’ gifts the best!
That furnishest
A cure for all our griefs: a barm for all our—loaves!
Oh! Sir John Barleycorn, thou glorious Knight of
Malt-a!
May thy fame never alter!
Great Britain’s Bacchus! pardon all our failings,
And with thy ale ease all our ailings!
 

That’s the first bit of “Ode to Beer” from the Comic Almanack for 1837. What a jolly bauble. Exactly what we largely like to tell ourselves about the merry merry world of the past. Dickens without all the bad bits. The view from outside the Bermondsey¹ public house, as above, in 1854. As we all rush about finding older records to share about beer and brewing in, mainly, the English speaking world, I have wondered about the difference between the official record and the actual experience. By official, I don’t mean governmental or even sanitized so much as the accepted. The approved version. One of the biggest problems leading to the approved version is the love of drawing conclusions or, more honestly perhaps, the use of records to justify comfortable conclusions. We want things to be explicable but we want to be comforted. For authority to be correct we want it to align with out needs. It rarely does. But authorities won’t tell you that. Authority has another interest. Consider this passage in a book entitled England as Seen by an American Banker: Notes of a Pedestrian Tour by Claudius Buchanan Patten published in 1885:

I was at some pains to get at the following authentic statement of methods of beer adulteration. A member of London’s committee on sewers —an eminent scientist — puts forth the declaration that “It is well known that the publicans, almost without exception, reduce their liquors with water after they are received from the brewer. The proportion in which this is added to the beer at the better class of houses is nine gallons per puncheon, and in second-rate establishments the quantity of water is doubled. This must be compensated for by the addition of ingredients which give the appearance of strength, and a mixture is openly sold for the purpose. The composition of it varies in different cases, for each expert has his own particular nostrum. The chief ingredients, however, are a saccharine body, as foots and licorice to sweeten it; a bitter principle, as gentian, quassia, sumach, and terra japonica, to give astringency; a thickening material, as linseed, to give body; a coloring matter, as burnt sugar, to darken it; cocculus indicus, to give a false strength; and common salt, capsicum, copperas, and Dantzic spruce, to produce a head, as well as to impart certain refinements of flavor. In the case of ale, its apparent strength is restored with bitters and sugar-candy.”

Now, this is interesting. And not because all the horrible gak was added to beer back then as it is being again added to beer now. But because it includes the admission of wide spread watering down at the pub. Watered down poisonous gak. Which leads to the question of what people were really experiencing as they looked down into the murky depths of a pewter quart pot a century and a half ago. It makes me wonder it might mean for all those records Ron has dug out of public libraries and brewery attics. The badness of beer by these sorts of additives appears to have arisen after legal changes in 1862 as The British Farmer’s Magazine advised in 1875. But there are other issues, more to do with quantity than quality. This passage from The Farmer’s Magazine of 1800 is simply depressing:

There are some persons who do not drink malt liquor at all; most people of fortune and fashion drink it very sparingly; while great numbers of the lower orders, particularly coalheavers, anchor-smiths, porters, &c. drink it to great excess, even, it Is supposed, to the amount of five hundred, or one thousand gallons a year each. Upon the whole, I apprehend the quantity of malt liquor consumed in the county, would almost average a hundred gallons per head of all ages and conditions. One thousand gallons per annum, is nearly, on an average, about 14 bottles of ale or porter per day, and is almost equal to what is passed through many drains, made to carry off the superabundant moisture from the earth… upwards of three millions of money are expended by the labouring people, upon ale, porter, gin, and compounds, which is 25I. per family of that description of persons. If wages, on an average, be 12s per week, the amount per ann. is 32I. 4s. which leaves only 7I. 4s. for purchasing bread, butcher meat, vegetables, and clothes!

Holy frig. Perhaps we might take a moment to thank our lucky stars that we are not living when our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were scraping together their existence. When I tweeted the stats in that passage above, the good hearted Lars responded “I would guess a large proportion of that was small beer.” One does live in hope but, really, it’s unlikely isn’t it. The life of the industrial labourer and his family was simply horrible before the public health movement. In 1835, harvesting labourers required a gallon of beer every day for a month. In that same issue of The Farmer’s Magazine that that fact came from, there is a very interesting suggestion in an argument on why public houses were not going away despite their menace, why the labouring man had no choice:

…as to the temptation of company at the public-house or the beer-shop, would it not exist in precisely the same degree if the labourer had a cask of beer in his cellar brewed by himself, as if he had a cask purchased of the public brewer? If there were a disposition to avoid that temptation, and to drink his beer at home with his wife and family, what now prevents the labourer from purchasing a cask of beer and so consuming it? Nothing that would not equally apply to his purchasing malt and brewing his own beer. And if he had a cask, what security is there that his wife or children would not consume the greater part of it while he was absent at his daily labour? And would not he himself he likely to fall into the temptation of consuming it most improvidently either alone or with his companions?

We love to see things through rose coloured glasses. When we are not looking through amber coloured beer goggles ourselves. All but the first of the quotes and links are Georgian and pre-date temperance. When alcohol was so normal it was just a personal failing to let it affect your life as it washed over and through you. I honestly do not know what to make of it all. Have we simply forgotten the grim and bought into comforting fictions about the recent past? Accepted some sort of Jacksonian romance? My first reaction to it all is to praise the campaigners, to scribble a prohibition pamphlet – but then I remember that 1832 impromptu drinking party a traveler came upon in a cellar in Albany, NY:

…there was no brutal drunkenness nor insolence of any kind, although we were certainly accosted with sufficient freedom. After partaking of some capital strong ale and biscuits, we returned to our baggage apartment, and wrapping ourselves in greatcoats and cloaks…

The surprise of joy? Or a wallowing in the familiar? Or the land of liberty overlaid upon the event instead of the lives of those in the dark Satanic mills?

¹Yes, that one.

Some Uses Of Beer In Early 17th Century Newfoundland

1574whalers

Richard Whitbourne is one of those guys probably a few people know a whole lot about but a whole lot of people know nothing about. He fought against the Spanish Armada in 1588 and then spent the next thirty years of his life involved with the Elizabethan whaling fleets off and, later, colonization of Newfoundland. He served as Governor for a time and also held the first court of justice in North America in 1615. And he wrote a book. About Newfoundland. He wrote a book , A Discourse and Discovery of Newfoundland, about Newfoundland in 1620 which contained a few interesting references to beer. Because it’s not like you came here to read about Newfoundland history, right? Well, let me tell you it’s good for you so listen up. First, in a section titled “Herbs and flowers both pleasant and medicinable” he states:

There are also herbes for Sallets and Broth; as Parsley, Alexander, Sorrell, &c. And also flowers, as the red and white Damaske Rose, with other kinds; which are most beautifull and delightfll, both to the sight and smell. And questionlesse the Countrey is stored with many Physicall herbs and roots, albeit their vertues are not knowne, because not sought after; yet within these few yeeres, many of our Nation finding themselues ill, haue brused some of the herbes and strained the iuyce into Beere, Wine of Aqua-vita; and so by Gods assistance, after a few drinkings, it hath restored them to their former health.

One interesting thing about this advice is how the straining of the juice of herbs into beer is something our pal Billy Baffin and his crew did four years earlier on the shores of Hudson Bay when they boiled “scuruie grasse…in beere.” I trust you will be doing likewise when scurvy next strikes. In addition to health matters, in a later section he wrote about the economics of the Newfoundland enterprise including how beer played a role:

And this certainely, in my vnderstanding, is a point worthy of consideration, that so great wealth should yeerely be raised, by one sole commodity of that Countrey, yea by one onely sort of fish, and not vpon any other trade thither, which must needes yeeld, with the imployments thereof, great riches to your maiesties subiects: And this also to bee gathered and brought home by the sole labour and industry of men, without exchange or exportation of our Coine, and natiue Commodities, or other aduenture (then of necessary prouisions for the fishing) as Salt, Nets, Leads, Hookes, Lines, and the like; and of victuals, as Bread, Beere, Beefe, and Porke, in competent measure, according to the number and proportion of men imployed in those voyages.

As noted a few years back, it is not necessarily the case that all you needed was to drop off the supplies and take away the fish as by the late 1500s there were autonomous groups of masterless men on the Newfoundland coast likely brewing their own beer while fishing and trading dried cod for Spanish wine and other luxury items. But Whitbourne is writing to promote the plantations for investors so wouldn’t want to note these sorts of vagabonds living, you know, free lives. Moving on and keeping the reader’s eye on the potential rewards of investment, in another section mentioning beer he tells more about what was required to bring colonists over and the benefit of leaving them to over-winter on the coast:

The allowance of victuall to maintaine euery sixe men onely, to carry and recarry them outwards bound and homewards, is sixe hogsheads of beere, and sixe hundred waight of bread, besides beefe and other prouision; which men, when they saile to and fro (as now they vse) doe little good, or any seruice at all, but pester the ship in which they are, with their bread, beere, water, wood, victuall, fish, chests, and diuers other trumperies, that euery such sixe men doe cumber the ship withall yeerely from thence: which men, when the voyage is made, may be accounted vnnecessary persons returning yerely from thence. But being left in the Countrey in such manner, as aforesaid; those parts of these ships that leaue those men there, that are so pestered now yeerely with such vnprofitable things, may be filled vp yeerely with good fish, and many beneficiall commodities, for the good of those Aduenturers that wil so settle people there to plant.

So, a hogshead a man and a hundred pounds of bread for the same per trip. But if they are left on their own and not travel back, the ships can be filled up with cod. And what was the thing stopping people from doing that? The cold. He wrote about the cold and the sort of people who should be sought out for the colonial endeavor:

Now if such men, when they come from thence, that haue but little experience of the colde in other Countries; neither take due obseruation of the colde that is sometime in England, would listen to men that haue traded in the Summer time to Greeneland, for the killing of Whales, and making of that Traine oyle (which is a good trade found out) and consider well of the abundance of great Ilands of Ice, that those Ships and men are there troubled withall at times, they would thereby bee perswaded to speake but little of the colde in New-found-land: yet praised be God, seldome any of those Ships and men that trade to Greeneland, haue taken any hurt thereby…. I doe conceiue, that it is but a little needlesse charie nicenesse vsed by some that trade there, that complaine any thing of the cold in that Countrey, by keeping themselues too warme: which cold (I suppose) some that haue bin there, may feele the more, if they haue beene much accustomed to drinke Tobacco [sic], stronge Ale, double Beere, or haue beene accustomed to sit by a Tauerne fire, or touched with the French disease, such peraduenture may, when they come to a little cold, wheresoeuer they bee, feele it the more extremely then otherwise they would.

Which is another way of saying only sooks can’t handle whaling off Newfoundland in the early 1600s. You mommy’s boys of like to sit by the tavern fire sucking on strong ale or double beer? Same as it was in 1378. Wastrels. Don’t bother. Can’t handle it. Everyone else? There’s money to be made if you can just suck it up a bit. I even cut out the bit about how it is no different than when the “Gentlewomen in England doe the colde in their naked bosomes, neckes and faces in the Winter time“!! A real man doesn’t suck on his double beer by the tavern fire. He’s off to Newfoundland to make his fortune.

What I like about this is how beer is used by Whitbourne, tucked here and there to make his rhetorical arguments. And Elizabethan whaling 200 years before the ship that led to the writing of Moby Dick. That’s pretty cool, too. Yet even then it was not new. The Basques had been doing this for three generations or more before Whitbourne had written his book. Forty-five years earlier, Martyn Frobisher had mined ore well to the north of the whaling grounds. What was different now was the call out to take up the opportunity. It was not an expedition to the edge of the Earth anymore. It was just a reason to step away from the tavern fire.

Considering The Role Of Ale On This Canada Day

canadaday

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

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

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

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

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