Some Uses Of Beer In Early 17th Century Newfoundland


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


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 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.

Ontario: 1600’s Hudson Bay Company Arctic Ale

image_thumb83So, we are working through the final draft of the history of beer in Ontario and I realize something has been staring me right in the face for quite a while now. Here is the passage in question:

The early ships’ crews considered its beer of great importance and even survival. In 1668-69, the crew of the Nonesuch over wintered on the James Bay coast and reported upon their return:

…they were environed with ice about 6 monethes first halting theire ketch on shore, and building them a house. They carried provisions on shore and brewd Ale and beere and provided against the cold which was their work…

See what I missed that was sitting right before my eyeballs? They brewed ale and beer. The news was reported in issue 408 of The London Gazette, too. Not that they made both ale and beer but that they survived a winter in the Canadian Arctic. The Nonesuch was small and tough, custom picked to both survive the trip to the edge of the known world and be hauled out of the water to avoid the crush of ice. Only 53 feet long, a replica can be found in a museum in Manitoba. Manitoba? Yes, well, after the British Parliament’s Canada (Ontario Boundary) Act of 1889 introduced a boundary that divided the former Rupert’s Land that included the watershed of the big bay, including much of what became Ontario’s north.

Got it? Wonderful. But let’s get back to the point. They made two things to drink. Two fermented beverages. Why? You are stuck in a situation that may as well be the dark side of the moon, you have cleverly brought a survival space pod as well as sufficient supplies (think food in tubes) to make it though the six months of frozen horror… and you make two types of booze? Why the heck do you do that? Well, just a century and a generation before the voyage, the benefits of ale was described in 1542 by the physician Andrew Boorde in his book A Dyetary of Helth. The key was conveniently referenced by Martyn this week: “Ale for an Englysshman is a naturall drynke.” Yet he is also the man who wrote:

If it do come by an hurt in the head, there is no remedy but pacience of all partes. If it do come by debilite of the brayne & head, drynke in the mornynge a dyshe of mylke, vse a Sirupe named Sh’upus acetosus de prunis, and vse laxatiue meates, and purgacions, if nede do requyre, and beware of superuflous drynkynge, specially of wyne and stronge ale and beere, and if anye man do perceuye that he is dronke, let hym take a vomite with water and oyle, or with a fether…

….so it is hard to know what to believe. Especially if you remember what Pepys said folk on ships got up to when they were on the ale on April 30th, 1660:

After that on board the Nazeby, where we found my Lord at supper, so I sat down and very pleasant my Lord was with Mr. Creed and Sheply, who he puzzled about finding out the meaning of the three notes which my Lord had cut over the chrystal of his watch. After supper some musique. Then Mr. Sheply, W. Howe and I up to the Lieutenant’s cabin, where we drank, and I and W. Howe were very merry, and among other frolics he pulls out the spigot of the little vessel of ale that was there in the cabin and drew some into his mounteere, and after he had drank, I endeavouring to dash it in his face, he got my velvet studying cap and drew some into mine too, that we made ourselves a great deal of mirth, but spoiled my clothes with the ale that we dashed up and down. After that to bed very late with drink enough in my head.

Is that what they were doing with that ale up there in the Arctic in 1668? My heavens.

Wednesday’s Beery Thoughts From The Sick Bed

Kidney stones, a CT scan of my innards, visits to the ER as well as my GP not to mention a bunch of blood tests with a whack of other acronyms have literally put me off my beer. And not just because I have been reminded to be careful as we all should with the effects of malty goodness on our internal health. Given that I have been given the big pills that one takes when that invisible knife digs in and twists, you sorta have to be abstaining just in care you need to hit the big red button and take one. So, I am taking a break which has led to a number of observations:

⇒ One belt buckle notch has been gained. Already. At this rate, I might have my burly boyish figure back by next autumn. It is tempting… yet slightly shocking. It’s not so much that I am losing weight as deflating. Drinking 20 litres of water a day doesn’t hurt with this either. Taking a break may be good even when it is forced upon me.

⇒ The stash is looking good, too. I have a quite separate joy in shopping for beer, you know. In fact, during one particular bout of, shall we say, moderate flank mega-noogie, there was nothing I found more comforting than a stroll amongst beer shelves picking out a few to stick away. That, too, can be one’s happy place.

⇒ And samples will come in. I got a phone call last night during a very bad zap from the nicest people in beer, the good folk behind the new beer from the new Bush Pilot Brewing telling me a sample was on its way. Between wincing, I had to tell them I had to tell them the bottle would have to sit. But, as my friend in beer shared the 25 ingredients (listed on the label by the way) , I realized what a hypocrite I was. It’s a collaboration with a traveling Nordic brewer, a contract brew, a brew filled with fancy non-beer ingredients, it will be likely past my normal price point and, when the sample came, I saw it had a dipped wax top. And yet I want it. It may need a new name – as metheglin is to mead. But I want it.

⇒ Beer writing also fills a space. I actually have two pieces on the go, not just the longer bit with Max but a medium scale one with Craig. Both footnote laden, one is formal and one is not. One on request and one on spec. But both are serious. So productive I am.

Funny. The imposition is not turning out to be an imposition. Not sure I am ready to take up swishing, spitting and pouring out the stuff in the stash. But there is a heck of a lot to explore about beer other than beer. I had no idea.

Who Is Afraid Of Facts On Beer Bottles?

Interesting if light-ish article from the publication The Drinks Business on the question of labeling beer with their caloric content:

According to public health minister Anna Soubry, officials have been in talks with the drinks industry about the possible inclusion of calorie content on labels. Ministers are hoping that displaying the calorie content in beers, wines and spirits could encourage those who are watching their weight to drink less. Most manufacturers already include information on units of alcohol on labels in a voluntary agreement with the Government. A recent study by the Drink Aware Trust has linked the large amount of calories in alcoholic drinks to people being overweight and obese.

Makes perfect sense to me. Every box of crackers in the cupboard tells me how many calories are in a handful already. I can look up the calories in meats and other ingredients because they are fairly standard measure as these things go. But a beer is not a beer is not a beer. Who knows what people are sticking in there and what it means over the long term? Some of the big bombs out there might as well be mugs of piping hot icing and should be handled with great care. And the drive to have more proper sessionable low alcohol beers might get a kick if the truth about stronger stuff were wildly known. Makes sense.

And why stop there? One thing that drives me a bit nutty are abstract standards like the UK’s absolutely silly use of “units” as a measure of alcoholic strength. What we need on a bottle is the actual ml of pure alcohol. A 500 ml can of 7% of semi-DIPA has 35 ml. Two of these innocent pals are well within the ball park of a 750 ml corked top bottle of that swell 10% beer but far less, err, red flaggy. Is it too much to ask for a universal standard based on a standard that is basically universal?

Is there pressure to keep this sort of information away from the beer buying public? Or do you actually just not want to know. Are they, like price, things of no interest to the… umm… passionate?

Has An Unacceptable Level Of Drinking Been Described?

Pete Brown has run a series of posts this week and last that delve into stats being issued by various government agencies and health lobby groups in the UK. It is important work that Pete is doing as there is no stat worse than the unexamined stat. Today’s post was called “More Hilarity with Statistics” which examined claims about the level of drinking in Scotland. I made a comment over there but did some more rooting around to make sure I agreed with what I was seeing and, to avoid looking like a totally rude idiot being all finger pointy in the comments, thought I would set it out here instead. I also got thinking because even if a stat can be discredited it does not mean that the underlying facts necessarily do not exists, only that they are not well described. But, as I said in the comments, I am really bad at math so I am happy to be corrected.

The BBC story Pete began with was titled “Scots ‘Drink 46 Bottles of Vodka‘” by which they mean per person per year on average. Pete suggested that this was not particularly well researched as tourism trade taking the booze away was not figured in – but then when I ran the numbers I saw this pattern:

  • Scotland has about 8% of the UK population
  • total UK booze sales in 2007 were worth over 41 billion pounds
  • and therefore, Scotland’s booze sales can be approximated at around 4 billion pounds.

I took the numbers from this soul suckingly slow .pdf source. I read them to meaning that if every penny of the 25 million pounds spent at distillery shops was non-Scots resident alcohol sales, removing it entirely from Scottish consumption, it only represents well under 1% of total Scottish sales? If that is the case, the variation is under a bottle of vodka a year. I said that even if I was off by a whole decimal point and the distillery sales represent 10% of sales isn’t it still a little bit alarming that every Scots adult averages 41 or 42 bottles of vodka a year? By which I mean I had a gut feeling it was in fact pretty high. But is it?

A little more looking around further, found information stating that 30% of Scots adults say they do not drink – which means the drinking Scot averages 58 or so bottle a year working off the conservative 41 bottles a week stat. It is more like 65 a year if you go by the BBC’s number of 46. I got the “did not drink” percentage from this pdf. So you have 30% of Scots not drinking, 35% drinking up to the average and 35% drinking over the average.

What does that mean? 58 bottles a year on average means 1.12 x 700 ml bottles a week at 40% that means 313 ml of pure alcohol a week. By comparison, a standard Canadian 12 oz 5% beer has 341 ml. Which means that average Scots drinker’s booze consumption is the equivalent of 19 standard 5% Canadian beers a week. Sounds like a bit more than you might think is a good idea, week after week day after day. But not fatal. It’s maybe what we expect the average healthy working Joe would drink in a week. Similarly, a US 22 oz bomber has 650 ml. At 8% that is 65 ml of pure alcohol. Which means that the Scot’s drinker’s booze consumption is the equivalent of 4.8 bombers of 8% US craft beer a week. Is that going to scare off a craft beer fan? Hardly.

But it is an average and that is what I think is the real concern. It means 35% of Scots drinkers adults drink more… because 65% drinkers there drink less including the 30% who abstain. I think those numbers are troubling. They may well be wrong so please do your own a arithmetic. But if they are not wrong – is there not a valid public health concern where 35% of your population is doing that level of drinking. I don’t really care if you think there is no such thing as a public health concern from a libertarian point of view as that is not the point here. Nor does someone called “Alan Campbell McLeod” care if you think this is only a Scottish problem. I think we can all agree that there is a point beyond which alcohol is unhealthy. Is that point been identified by the BBC report?

“BrewDog Go Bonkers” by Roger Protz, 30 November 2009

[Stored for cross referencing…]

BrewDog have surpassed themselves with their over-inflated egos and naked ambition. They chose — deliberately, of course — to launch on the very day the Scottish Parliament was discussing a minimum price for alcohol a “beer” with a strength of 32%. Naturally, the wild buckeroos in Fraserburgh claim this is the world’s strongest beer, even though technically it’s not beer at all, as brewer’s yeast cannot work beyond a strength of 12 or 13 degrees. Clearly the new product, called Tactical Nuclear Penguin (what were you smoking last night, chaps?), was finished with a wine or champagne yeast. James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, said the beer was “completely pushing the boundaries”. Indeed, and it’s also pushing beyond breaking point what sensible beer writers and connoisseurs will take from this bunch of ego-maniacs. Those of us who attempt to paint an image of beer as a fine drink enjoyed in moderation by sensible people have the ground cut from beneath our feet by BrewDog, which just plays in to the hands of the yellow press, ever anxious to give beer a bad name. I don’t often agree with the likes of Alcohol Concern but I think Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, hit the soft spile on the head when he said BrewDog was guilty of “childlike attention-seeking”. He added that the fact that the beer, priced at £30 a bottle, had achieved a new record was not admirable. “It’s a product with a lot of alcohol in it, that’s all. To dress it up as anything else is cynical.”

So How Many Calories Are In That Beer Anyway?

calories1You would never confuse me for a jogger. I am big. I like that. I was over six foot at twelve. A small giant. I can pick up things others can’t. Move large objects. I am often asked by little old ladies to reach the high shelf for them at the grocery store. But you have to watch it. Over two decades ago I took the advice of a doctor to watch my blood tests right after he told me I had the results of an 80 year old. In my family of Scots coffin nail puffers, whisky tipplers, fish ‘n’ chip eaters and sofa lobby dossers, well, the genes aren’t that good and my 1980s fry pan diet was not helping. Twenty odd years later filled with daily salmon oil pills, soy and other bits and pieces of the good stuff has resulted in having the cholesterol and blood sugar levels of a daily runner. But I am still big. Good for leaning into the bumper of a car needing to be unstuck in the snow. Not so good for the second 45 years I consider my allotment in life.
calories2So, what to do about that? What to do about the beer? Got me thinking. You know how you play the game of justifying beer. I knew a guy in undergrad who, as part of his “fit yet party” plan, made sure he had over 50% of his caloric intake dedicated to the beer. He didn’t look real good. He invented new shades of grey with his body. Checking around the internet I found a few sources of information on calories and beer but not the real nugget I was searching for. I wondered what was the number of calories in a huge Belgian beer like a 750 ml Trappist quad. Hard to find out. Too much information is couched in the round about approach, in the comforting justification like those found in this article by Michael Jackson from 1994:

On the question of quality, I realised I was worrying unnecessarily: speciality beers would exclude anything as watery tasting as Miller Lite (96 calories per 12oz or 35cl, standard American bottle) or as bland as a regular Budweiser (150 calories). We could have a similar serving of a European-style lager or a pale ale for about 180 calories or less.And, curiously, a beer full of flavour and colour such as Guinness stout weighs in with only 140 calories per 35cl serving. The same amount of wine could rack up more than 240 calories, although we usually serve grape in smaller glasses. But whichever the accompaniment to a meal, the drink contributes far fewer calories than the food.

I mean, there is nothing wrong with that information but who really has the 200 ml glassware which that Jack Michaelson fellow set out with the meal he described? OK, let’s just say I wouldn’t. And what of that big Belgian bomb? Here are a couple of handy lists setting out the of beer to calorie ratio for a huge number of brands. They work on the 100 ml principle. Unfortunately I don’t and neither do you. So let’s think in terms of a 2000 ml scale which is roughly the equivalent of a North American six pack or four UK pints. What does the available data tell us?

  • Guinness (4.1%) – 2000 ml equals a little under 840 calories.
  • Blue Moon (5.4%) – 2000 ml is around 1026 calories.
  • Anchor Porter (5.7%) – 2000ml equals 1180 calories.
  • Dragon Stout (6.8%) – 2000 ml equals 1240 calories.

You can see where I am going with this. I feel like I am breaking some sort of guy rule. Some sort of unwritten law of the beer men. But we have to walk in this world in awareness. So you will not cringe when I note that one McDonalds Angus burger and medium fries is 950 calories or that the same number of calories in raw chopped red cabbage is found takes over 30 cups…which is like 3 bushels, right? You can handle this information. Because you are strong. Because you really prefer a six of Anchor Porter to 46 cups of raw chopped red cabbage.

But how do you know what is in what you put in you? Bob Skilnik, author of Beer and Food, is on the job with his Drink Healthy Drink Smart project that goes along with his book Does My BUTT Look BIG In This BEER. I think it is a great idea, especially for those of us who are closer to (yes, I will say this) retirement than high school. I have not downloaded a copy of DMBLBITB but at only seven bucks you and I probably should. With any luck he’ll tell you what’s in that corked bomber of craft brew quad. Once you know, you may want to plan around it. You may want a few cups of cabbage after all.