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

4971
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.

Albany Ale: Horatio Spafford’s Gazetteer Of 1813

It is not often you get to see such ripping drama in the very first paragraph of a gazetteer of two hundred years ago but there it is. He had to radically alter the plan of his work. Wow. What did he mean by this? Well, he wrote letter to people. See, he had planned to travel around and then got tired of it. So he used letters to gather information instead. Amazing!

Anyway, the really neat stuff in the Spafford Gazetteer are the stats that feed the narrative of that point in Albany ale story and also line up with later Gazetteers to sketch a greater picture of change over time. But then you find these great passages which illuminate the author’s own observations and perhaps prejudices. Like this on page 36:

The increasing use of ardent spirits, calls for consideration of these matters but to examine the characteristic diet of our varied population, would be deemed invidious. If breweries of malt-liquors were multiplied over the country with the rapidity of small distilleries of grain and fruit-spirits, the increase might prove a national blessing instead of a curse. I do not know that intemperance is more prevalent in this, than in the other American states ; but I know that social meetings depend too much on the bottle for their convivial pleasures; and that hilarity is dearly purchased, when obtained from this source.

You know, if someone had said that I ought to consider how dearly I was purchasing hilarity back in my twenties maybe things would have turned out differently. Here embarking on my sixth decade, however, it is more obvious and especially obvious now given all this history, research and writing. There is one thing pretty clear that jumps out when one considers eastern North America circa 1620 to 1820 and that is that temperance was not only inevitable but a pretty good thing. Temperance won and we are it. Just as we have to put up with people who say beer is greater than wine we all know the wag who will use phrases like neo-prohibition, folks talking down temperance. Don’t believe it. All that hilarity was in fact dearly purchased and sure needed someone to turn on the lights, lift the needle off the LP and let them know the party was over. Or at least that sort of party was.

Just have a look at what Horatio found out about Jefferson Co., NY. That is the county nearest me as I sit across on the royalist side of the river. At pages 80 to 81 he says it was divided off the neighbouring county in just 1805 and has a population of 15,136. There are two breweries there already as well as a whopping sixteen distilleries. Large ashery operations are selling large qualities of pot and pearl ash likely into the Montreal market, bringing “much money into the country.” Boom times even with the War of 1812 begun.

At pages 50 and 51 there is a handy table that has masses of data. It states that the price of beer was 17 cents a gallon while the local whiskey was 80 cents a gallon. The two breweries produced a total of 25600 gallons or 31 gallon barrels or around 826 barrels. The sixteen distillers made 32000 gallons of the hard stuff. “Fruit spirits”? Maybe apple cider hootch? Maybe it was too soon for that many apple trees to be in place. There are cloth mills about which Spafford says quite extraordinarily:

The automaton habits, and the immoral tendencies of these establishments, will be better understood in this country 50 years hence.

The grim satanic mills of Watertown, NY? Carding machines and fulling mills. We learn at page 323 that the city was first settled in 1798 and that five of the 16 distilleries are there along with both breweries. For 1849 souls with almost 14 gallons of beer each between them. Plus the rot gut. Ah, the pre-temperance world of Watertown. Spafford what all very Old Testament prophet raging in the storm about these things… except without the religiosity in his concerns as we see again at pages 36 and 37:

The vast number of inns, taverns, and groceries, licensed to retail strong drink, is a growing evil, felt most in cities, but extends in some degree to every borough, village, town, and settlement in the state. By an actual enumeration in 1811, of those in the city of New-York, there were 1303 groceries, and 160 taverns. A small revenue, is collected from licenses, but it is the moral duty of the Legislature to attempt a remedy for the growing evils of intemperance, the source of numerous ills. It is presumed that Albany has as large a proportion of these houses as New-York ; and there is hardly a street, alley, or lane, where a lad may not get drunk for a few cents, and be thanked for his custom, without any questions how he came by his money, or perhaps any care. Parents and guardians face the evils of this system most sensibly, and first perceive the deep wounds thus inflicted on the public morals. The inn, is the traveller’s home, and groceries are also convenient, if duly restricted in number, and well regulated. But the multitudes of mere grog-shops serve only to encourage idleness, dissipation, intemperance, and as the prolific nurseries of vice.

OK, maybe a little moralizing but he likely had a very good point. Frontier hellholes and urban booze shacks abounding. That’s New York State a couple of hundred years ago. You know, unlike a lot of Gazetteers, this one hardly comes off as being commissioned by any chambers of commerce. Which makes it – as well as the inevitable reflections on the two hundred years of progress since – quite pleasant reading even if the implications are grim.

Quebec Beer-Drinkers Cardiomyopathy?

This article at the CBC.ca website answers a question about a major event in Quebec’s brewing history:

One of the first published reports on cobalt intoxication was in 1967. Called “Quebec beer drinkers’ cardiomyopathy,” doctors described 44 men in their 40s to 60s who were heavy drinkers who died unexpectedly. “There was a suspense element to the story,” recalled cardiologist Dr. Yves Morin of Quebec City. “It took a lot of time and effort to find a cause of the disease.” It turned out the men all drank beer made at the Dow brewery in Quebec City. The brewery had added cobalt to stabilize the beer’s foam.

Here is the actual medical journal from the 1960s on the outbreak. I had heard more about that the brewery had denied responsibility and dumped its inventory in the river than they were putting cobalt in the beer. Cobalt. Yum.