Session 121: Bock – Unloved And Sorta Local

Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site (the great-grandfather of beer blogging to my great-uncle of beer blogging role) is hosting this month’s version of The Session and he askes about bock. As M. Noix Biereois d’Irelande pointed out excellently today, bock-style beers aren’t as common on the shelves as they were seven or eight years ago. As true in northeastern North America as it is in Ireland. Bock does not demand respect and it no longer attracts many of the inquisitive. Yet, I asked in 2009 whether Mahr’s Weisse Bock was the greatest smelling beer of all time. I must have once had an interest. A year later I tweeted my admiration for Koningshoeven Bock. Indeed, as recently as just three years ago, I posted about two Canadian craft takes on bock that I had received as samples.

Yet I do not hunt them out. Well, I hunt out fewer and fewer beers as enough good beer to satisfy anyone short of a case of dipsomania comes to me care of (i) the new wave of local small scale brewers and (ii) the slump of the Canadian dollar to US dollar exchange rate. Who in their right mind would? It’s fun actually, given that reality, to watch the last gasps of globalism inspiring the junketeers to still – just in this one week – witness them trundling up to the groaning buffet spreads of Asheville, New Zealand and even Peru! Oh, how I do need that report on the craft replicants of Peru. Please hurry.

Bock, however, is not that at all. Not a flog is being offered for bock. It is fusty. Maybe even owly. Bock, however, has a venerable North American heritage. It is a traditional local beer if we are talking about the Great Lakes watershed and environs. As Craig posted on Facebook, it stood amongst the greats – if the Free Press of Waverly, New York from 1886 is to be believed. In the New York Herald of 30 April 1860 there is something of a primer on the nature of bock in a column from “Our Berlin Correspondent” which might indicate that bock came here to our shores after that date, much later than lager in the 1840s or that earlier shadowy thing, cream beer. Bock is described by OBC in slightly harrowing terms:

The stronger more heady sort is termed bock beer, from the German word bock, which means a billy goat, the person who drinks it being excited to such a pitch of exhilaration that he capers like a goat… the above mentioned bock as hitherto kept up its reputation. Recently, however, a company has been formed on shares with a handsome capital, for the avowed purpose of opposing it…. They have built a large brewery, with extensive cellars, saloons and other accommodations, on the same hill, and propose to brew a lighter and milder beer than bock., selling it at a lower price, and the mania for imbibing vast quantities of the cerevisian fluid being still on the increase, they are very likely to succeed… 

Terrifying stuff. If I can find me some on the way home I might buy a bottle if I can find one in these times of IPA driven hegemony and homogeneity. So I can, you know, imbibe a vast quantity… and caper like a goat.

Beer and Art: The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

Nosing around the Met‘s digitized collection a bit more, I came across “The Harvesters” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder from 1565. Not hard as it was on the front page. I have posted a few times about paintings by his son, the imaginatively named Pieter Bruegel the Younger, over the years but this one struck me as perhaps illustrating a few things worth thinking about.

Look at the scale of the people compared to the height of the grain. One of the characteristics of Battledore barley two hundred years later in Britain was that it had a short stalk. It could survive hail or wind better than other varieties but didn’t provide all that useful straw that we learned about in relation to beer in New York before the switch to barley from wheat. The stalk was in itself important to the community as a multi-purpose material for mattress stuffing to looser wheat mash spargings. In “The Harvesters” the stalks are tall and entire stooks* are taken from the field with care. The stooks are strong enough to serve as a bench for the workers having their meal.

Harvest time is big stuff. The image is a narrative of agricultural economy in the Renaissance. If you click on the image at the met site, you can zoom in quite closely. Look at how the topography is used to illustrate the economic activity. The field being harvested is on the top of a hill. Scythed and stooked, it is carried one by one to the bottom of the hill where it is loaded on a cart and carried away. There are three communities in the painting. The hilltop has a church to the upper left seen through the trees. Down below there is a manor of some sort where some are swimming while others are killing a tied up goose as a blood sport. In the far distance, there is a coastal town with ships in the harbour. Is one point of the painting’s structure that the grain gets exported?  Or is beer made from the grain getting shipped out?  I should cross reference the painting with Unger.

Where is this place? The blurb attached to the image by the Met says:

Bruegel’s series is a watershed in the history of western art. The religious pretext for landscape painting has been suppressed in favor of a new humanism, and the unidealized description of the local scene is based on natural observations.

But is this really a local scene or an imaginary one? Where is it? Bruegel lived in coastal Antwerp, Belgium a city of about 100,000 at the time and the richest in Europe. He was born in the river town of Breda, another community now in the Netherlands but then also in the Duchy of Brabant. Perhaps one of those two centres is in the background.  Could you find the field and stand where the artist stood?

But what about the beer? As one commentator notes, the scene is about producing and consuming. Or – if you are the goose – producing, torturing then consuming. The workers are eating bread and cheese as well as pears that one guy is shaking from the tree to the upper right. And they are drinking. A central character is a man carrying two large jugs up the path. Another man in the circle having a meal drinks directly from a jug. A fourth jug with what looks like a loaf of bread on top sits in the uncut wheat to the lower left.

We are told by Markowski that saison and biere de garde were brewed for centuries in the Low Countries and northern France to attract and retain workers. Farmhouse beers. The scene in “The Harvesters” is smack-dab in the middle of that culture, in the saison zone that included Brabant. Unger explains that particularly in the sixteenth century, tax records indicate a wide number of names for various grades of beer: “… dun and scheynbier and volksbier and scharbier and scherbier all turn up. No matter the name, it was always cheap.”** Was that what was in the jugs? We can’t reach back to ask those in the picture what they called their drink or even if it was in fact beer. But it could be and, frankly, likely was so… it is what it was. Day drinking 1565.

*I use the SW Ontario usage, spelling and pronunciation of the in-laws.
**at page 129.

Babylonian Cuneiform And Brewing Patterns

The other day, I read that The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had freed thousands of images from their intellectual property right shackles for free and unrestricted public use. This is good. And being a dutiful beer blogger, I immediately put in the word “beer” in the search engine to see what would pop up. And this is what popped up. A chunk of dried mud with scratchings. I love stuff like this. Three years ago, I stared at Mesopotamian brewing things at the Royal Ontario Museum, aka the ROM.  Somewhere I have photos I took thirty years ago of myself, when a selfie took a tripod, at the British Museum staring at Mesopotamian brewing things made of mud. Scratchings made a person over 150 generations ago. On just a piece of mud.

It’s actually more than that. It’s Urra=hubullu, tablet 23 from Mesopotamia in the late 1st millennium B.C.  “Twenty-three, eh?” thought I. Being a clever man I realized there must be twenty-two others. So off I went. Or, rather, I put a few words in Google… and found what I am sure you all expected I would findCuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Literary and scholastic texts of the first millennium B.C. by Ira Spar, Wilfred G. Lambert published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005 where I learned about what had been scratched into the dried mud thingie over three thousand years ago. Tablet 23 is a vocabulary of food and drink terms. The passage on this piece of cuneiform cites, at page 234, a 1950 article “On Beer and Brewing Techniques in Ancient Mesopotamia According to the XXIIIrd tablet of the series HAR.ra=hubullu” by Oppenhiem and Hartman which describes the content of tablet 23 in the context of brewing.

Fabulous. So fabulous as it is all seemingly quite authoritative. The Spar and Lambert text goes on to state what exactly was written down on three thousand odd years ago in that clay. There is great beer, dark beer, white beer, cloudy beer and beer for the tigi-songs whatever they were. My favourite might be the symbol for “clear/clean beer” indicating, of course, that folk were both skillful and appreciative of skill. That information is all in column 2. In column 3, the words are about process. Yeast is pulverized, barley bread is crushed and spread just right. It is soaked and dried then soaked and mashed. It is rinsed, pressed, crushed, broken and mixed. Malt is dried, watered, opened, spread and warmed. To my mind, this is more than a vocabulary. This is a guide not so very much different from Samuel Child’s 1768 guide discussed the other day.

This is interesting. How is it that I can read a Mesopotamian clay tablet and pretty much immediately understand what is going on? If it was about religion, governance or astronomy I wouldn’t have a clue. But beer and brewing are not strange. They are, in a very meaningful way, constant. You can see that if we go back to column 2 where you see words for 1:1 beer, 2:1 beer, 3:1 beer and even triple beer. The ratio is the relationship of grain input to beer output. If you scroll down to page 238 of the 2005 Spar and Lambert text you see there are footnotes and in the footnotes an explanation of Mesopotamian methodology. I am just going to cut and paste the footnote in relation to column 2, line 11 and what follows as I think it is one of the more extraordinary things I have ever read about beer in a couple of ways:

 

 

 

 

First, it is extraordinary as it basically sets out the scheme of brewing over 3,000 years ago in a manner which is readily understandable to anyone who has home brewed from an all-grain mash. Second, not only is it understandable… it is very familiar. It looks a lot like the parti-gyle process which makes a lot of sense as no one in their right mind wastes resources. So, the first sparging of the mash gives a 18% sugar solution wort, the second a 6% wort and the third a 1.5% wort. Roughly declining to a third each time. And sometimes the wort is recirculated to strengthen it even more to make what the footnote’s author describes as “very powerful” beer.

What is extraordinary to me is that this ratio looks a heck of a lot like the proper way to brew that I have read about from Piers the Ploughman in England’s 1370s to Matthew Vassar in New York’s 1830s. It reads like the 1825 advert for Thomas Molson’s brewery here in my hometown. Strong ale, single ale and small or ship’s beer with what looks like double double thrown in for good measure, that hazard from Shakespeare to Schenectady.

Which leads to another thought. Is that pattern a constant? Four grades of beer naturally created solely by the relationship between the sparge fluid and mash?  Following these rules you will have a 11%-ish beer, a 4%-ish one and a 1.25%-ish one. As well as whatever the heck double double was to create all that toil and trouble. A constant pattern. Could be. Could be.

The Promise Of Every Man His Own Brewer, 1768

I’ve been thinking about Samuel Child’s 1768 work Every Man His Own Brewer, Or, A Compendium of the English Brewery for a few days and particularly its fine narrative flow. Consider this brief passage in the preface:

I was once on an election, at a certain borough in Wiltshire, and, in the course of our canvass, drank sometimes to the amount of two quarts of beer in the forenoon, not only without sensible prejudice, but that it rather mended my health, and gave me brisk spirits. As I had not been used to drinking, especially in the morning, I admired at this, and found, on the most strict scrutiny, that nothing was used in this liquor but malt and hops, and that its happy vinos flavor was merely the result of good ingredients, well cured, a fine a fine chalk water, and not being too much boiled…

What a lovely way to introduce the basic idea of beer, a bit of knowledge that has been repeated in pretty much every book on brewing and good beer in the intervening 249 years but seldom stated so well. I have dug around in brewing texts from before 1800 hunting for facts about fern ale or that fib about smoke-ridden gak that so many beer experts erroneous suggest was the state of affairs back in the era that, you know, the expert never much studied. But I have not thought about the texts as writing or even read them from beginning to end. Maybe only for Coppinger because he was such an odd duck. 

I’ll do that, save the text to a reader of some sort. But right now look at the table up there. It’s from page 37. First, I love its title. The TABLE. As if Child would have added a few exclamation marks. As if he was just figuring out how to make a table out of HTML. Yet… there is another table also titled “The TABLE” just seven pages later. The thing I like next best is how it is immediately bragged up by the author:

These are hints sufficient to guide any one in the choice of his malts, as it respects the color of his beer, and the time it will be fit for use if judiciously brewed; and the experiment is to be made in the kiln as soon as the malt is perfected, and used as soon after as possible to preserve the genial spirit.

Brew with the malt as soon as kilned to attain the desired colour of the beer. Which means nine grades of beer brewed from any given malting should be considered attainable. Child then over pages and pages describes many sorts of beer: “London Beer under the name of Porter,” London Amber, Burton Ale, table beer, oat ale, Marlborough beers, Dorchester beers, Nottingham beers, Western White Ale.

The variety is quite extraordinary. As a whole, the book frames not so much the state of British brewing in the decade before the American Revolution, at a point before traditional brewing shifts to industrial with the shift to steam power starting with Whitbread in the 1780s as it now provides a guide how to go back and recreate them from the few basic elements he first considered on that election campaigning in Wiltshire. Including, towards the end, exotics including three pages on Brunswic Mum  and a shorter passage on Newfoundland spruce and molasses beer.

It would be a great project to annotate and experiment with the techniques described in the book. It is, after all, only through the use of a guide that one figures out if its any good or not.

 

 

Issac Bobin’s Letter, 6 September 1720

As I was going through the blog posts shifting them over to the new platform for the past few months I realized that I’ve had tight waves of writing enthusiastically separated by other phases of, you know, treading water.  If I had a topic to run with, a new database to explore I got at it. But I also skipped over some things. Failed to suck the marrow. I had in my head that I had a stand alone post on Mr. Bobin’s letter above from 1720 but in fact had only written this in one of my posts about the Rutgers brewing dynasty in New York City from the 1640s to the early 1800s:

In a letter dated 6 September 1720 from Isaac Bobin to George Clarke we read:

…As to Albany stale Beer I cant get any in Town, so was obliged to go to Rutgers where I found none Older than Eight Days I was backward in sending such but Riche telling me you wanted Beer for your workmen and did not know what to do without have run the hazard to send two Barrels at £1 16/ the Barrels at 3/ and 6/. Rutgers says it is extraordinary good Beer and yet racking it off into other Barrels would flatten it and make it Drink Dead…

Isaac Bobin was the Private Secretary of Hon. George Clarke, Secretary of the Province of New York. So clearly Rutgers was as good as second to Albany stale for high society… or at least their workers. And in any case – we do not know if it was from Anthony’s brewery or Harman’s.

The Smithsonian has a better copy of the book of Bobin’s letters. What I didn’t get into were the details of the letter itself. Riche. Albany stale Beer. Drink Dead. Just what a whiner Bobin was. Riche? He seems to be the shipper, moving goods from the New York area to wherever the Hon. George Clarke was located. In another letter dated 15 September 1723, Clarke’s taste in fine good – including beer – is evident:

THERE goes now by Riche (upon whom I could not prevail to go sooner) a Barrel of Beef £1. 17f 6d; a Qr Cask of Wine @ £6; twelve pound of hard Soap @ 6£; twelve pd of Chocolat £1. if; two Barrls of Beer; a pd of Bohea Tea @ £ i.; Six qr of writing Paper. Will carryed with him from Mr. Lanes four Bottles of Brandy with a Letter from Mr. Lane.

In another letter dated 17 November 1719, beer and cider are being forwarded. Bobin’s job includes ensuring Clarke and his household has their drinks and treats. It all is very similar to the shipments for the colonial wealthy and well-placed we’ve seen half a century later from New York City to the empire’s Mohawk Valley frontier where Sir William Johnson received from the 1750s to 1770s: his beer from Mr. Lispenard, his imported Taunton ale and Newark cider .

I find the reference to stale in the 1720 letter interesting as it suggests a more sophisticated beer trade that merely making basic beer quickly and getting it out the door. Albany stale beer. Stale distinguishes as much as Albany does. Plus, Bobin compares to the “Albany stale” to the young Rutgers beer and seems to get in a muddle. What will the workers accept? Or is it perhaps that he is concerned what Clarke thinks the workers will accept. I worry about words like stale like I worry about the livers of the young beer communico-constulo class. We need to do better. Stale seems be a useful word in common usage for (exactly) yoinks but Martyn certainly places it, in the context of beer, as in use around the 1720s so Bobin’s usage is fairly current in England even if at the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s thrown around generously in The London and Country Brewer in 1737 and used by Gervase Markham in the 1660s.

Aside from stale-ness, the dead-ness of the beer obviously is about its condition but why raking off is considered is unclear. Was it just at the wrong point in Rutger’s brewing process or was he operating his business by holding it in larger vessels and selling retail to his surrounding market, like the growler trade today? Again, not just any beer will do. In Samuel Child’s 1768 work Every Man His Own Brewer, Or, A Compendium of the English Brewery we see this passage referencing deadening at page 38:

It has been said before, what quantity of hops are requisite to each quarter of malt, and how the same are to be prepared; but here it must be considered that that if the beer is to be sent into a warmer climate in the cask, one third more hopping is absolutely necessary, or the increased heat will awaken the acid spirit of the malt, give it a prevalency over the corrective power of the hop, and ferment it into vinegar: to avoid this superior expence of hopping, the London and Bristol beers are usually drawn off and deadened, and then bottled for exportation; this really answers the purpose one way; but whether counterbalanced by charge of bottling and freight, &c. those who deal in this way can best determine. 

Just bask in that passage for a moment. It’s (i) a contemporary that British beer was prepared for transport to warmer climates and (ii) among a few other techniques, the intentional deadening a beer followed by bottling was a technique used for export. Burton was, after all, brewed for export. As was Taunton for Jamaica’s plantations. The British simply shipped beer everywhere. IPA was not unique. Was there a beer brewed for Hong Kong that we’ve also forgotten about? Dunno. What we do know is that Bobin is saying is that Rutgers warns against a deadened beer for local use. Would he have been deadening beer for export? In 1720s New York City?  We know that porter was shipped out of town later. We know that late in the century shipments of bottled porter were coming in.

Excellent stuff. I need to think about this more. But, like the seven doors of the Romantic poets, suffice it to say that a good record in itself can open up a wonderful opportunity to chase an idea. In an era of such early and falsely confident conclusion drawing, a useful reminder.

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.

Burton Ale: “…They Brewed Not For Home Consumption…”

I hate… yet love… the small nuggets of information I come across when scanning the news reports from the 1700s. That’s a report from the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury of 24 July 1780 describing a debate in the House of Commons in London on a committee report on the taxation of malt. The regional rivalries between the big (or bigg) of Cumberland and Westmoreland as opposed to Scottish malt is one thing but that tidbit about the taxation of Burton Ale is gold… maybe.

Burton appears to be in the New York City market from 1770 from the notices like this one from the New York Gazette of 12 November of that year that offering it for sale at the Wall Street store of Samuel Hake. Eight years later, according to the NYGWM of 24 April 1778, it is being sold at the Vendue Store of John Taylor near the Fly-Market at the foot of Maiden Lane at the mouth of the stream associated at the time with the breweries of Medcef Eden and two Rutgers.  Taylor is also selling Bristol beer and our beloved Taunton ale along with porter.  Plenty of the results of English brewing is ending up in the colony.

Notice that Sir William Bagot does not deny the argument that Burton is brewed primarily for export, just that it opens a door to other presumably less valid claims – and perhaps illicit domestic sales. About a year ago, Martyn and I exchanged a few thoughts about the lack of understanding about the origins of Burton ale. But this bit of a Parliamentary debate is one of the only references I have found indicating an understanding at the time that Burton – like Taunton, porter and others – was part of large and organized North American export trade during the second half of the 1700s.

I wish I could figure out how to determine its scale.

The Business Case Study Of My Late 1980s

I do not often let out a squeal of giggly delight but I did last evening when I came across this university course business case study from 1995 entitled “Peddler’s Pub and JJ Rossy’s Ltd.” It was written by Professor Jeremy Hall of Saint Mary’s University for the Acadia Institute Of Case Studies and sets out a description of the downtown pub scene from my hometown of Halifax in the years when I was in my mid to later 20s. It lines up well with two early posts of mine for The Session but has masses of detail on the business side of the taverns and bars I knew as second homes. I came across the document when Norm, the Boston Beer Nut, and I were a’tweeting and I was making the case that there is a forgotten phenomenon from the early micro era – the “beers of the world” bar / pub / tavern. The Hall study mentions the principle establishment of this sort in Halifax, the still operating Maxwell’s Plum:

“Nobody is focusing as much as we are.” According to co-owner-operator Scott Little, Maxwell’s Plum had the largest selection of single malt scotch and imported beer in Metro: 21 single malts, three blends, one Irish whisky, five imported draft and dozens of imported bottled beer. Importing so much does have its drawbacks, especially cash drain, as payment was due before delivery for special orders through the NSLC.

The atmosphere of the bar could be best described as traditional – the focus was on a large, well stocked bar with dark hardwood fixtures. Most of the time management played low volume music from a selection of 200 CDs and live jazz on Sundays, without a cover charge. “We want people to be able to talk to each other and be comfortable” (S. Little).

I remember, vaguely, being in a beers of the world bar in Paris in early 1986 and also seem to recall a few years earlier that our undergrad bar having beers of the world nights where you had a passport that was ticked as you bought your syrupy black McEwan’s Export or a thin glassed bottle of Dortmunder Union. Chris Begley reports that there was a place like this in Vancouver called “Fogg n Sudds” about the same time. A version seems to still exist connected to an airport hotel. Calgary seems to have had its own Bottlescrew Bill’s since 1985.

The Hall study has a number of other tidbits of information that frame the downtown scene, starting with this map. I kid myself that I could sketch this blind folded in a isolation tank but most of the locations pop back to mind immediately. The map also illustrates the general university student flow from southwest to north east, the march many evenings being from Your Father’s Mustache to the Lower Deck. And there is a concise description of what “draft” was:

Draft beer could be purchased from the two local breweries, Moosehead or Oland’s (a division of Labatts), and was generally the least expensive form of alcohol. Draft beer was allowed under all categories of licenses. Draft came from the same vats as bottled beer, but did not go through a pasteurization process, and therefore had a short shelf life.

When I started my Halifax pub life, this fresh tasty pale ale was ordered in pairs of eight ounce glasses but by the mid-80s that was being replaced by the 20 ounce imperial pint. I think this might have been started by the opening in 1986 of the Thirsty Duck which had the first keg Guinness in town. The days of the “draft wars” are also fondly recalled. I remember one place that had a horrible business plan based on Monday selling 29 cent draft, Tuesday 39 cent draft, etc. Lasted only a few glorious months.

One thing the report illustrates is how the narrative that micros changed everything is a bit of a fib. There was a bit of that. We certainly could buy New Brunswick’s Hans Haus lager in the stores or go have a Peculiar at the embryonic Granite Brewery, then housed in one half of the early rougher incarnation of Ginger’s on Hollis Street.  They did not, however, set the scene. While society generally has enjoyed a great diversification in all sorts of consumables over the last 30 or 40 years, the drinking experience was still laced with the perception of variety that included, well before micros became popular, a variety of imported beer choices. I’d be interested in learning how many other places like Maxwell’s Plum were out there in other communities but my inclination is to consider imports opened or at least eased the entry to the market for micros.

For The True Beer Gent, A Hopsack Suit Perhaps?

From Sessional Papers, House of Lords, 1840

—-

The following was recorded in evidence at the Old Bailey on 9th December 1778 in a case of grand larceny.

Mr. PETER CORBETT sworn.

I am Bengal warehouse-keeper to the East-India Company. I have in my hand the invoice of the Duke of Portland; this was delivered to me from the company when the ship arrived, and it is my duty to see that every thing comes out clear from these packages into the warehouse agreeable to the invoice sent from the company’s servants at Bengal . In the second page, here is a No. 4. S. Taffety, which means striped taffety. Upon the opening of this chest, the servants under me gave me what we call a piling bill; they found only 176 pieces and a small bale containing ten, and this piece, which was kept for evidence. These goods were in a strong chest, nailed down, and there was a strong gunny or hopsack sewed upon it.

Hopsack. I know a bit about hopsack now as I own a blue blazer made of the stuff as well as a pair of black trousers. Neither Mr. Corbett in 1778 nor Mr. Lidbetter likely did. For them hopsack was definitely a packing or wrapping material. It’s formed by making your cloth in a basket weave. Often wool for clothes. Hemp and jute for bagging. Made into a jacket, it’s light summer weight cloth, the open weave letting the air flow. Fine fashion by the 1890s. For sacks and bags it’s strong, perhaps a grade or two above burlap.

The House of Lords was inquiring into the general economic circumstances when it was considering hopsack during its 1840 session, J. Mitchell, Esq., LL.D., Assistant Commissioner of the Hand-Loom Inquiry Commission reporting from the east of England. They learned about sacking and floor-cloth weaving in Reading, Berkshire and specifically Mr. William Harris of the delightful address, the “Hit or Miss beer-shop in Boarded-lane” who described the sad local state of affairs:

In the year 1815 there were as many as 11 masters and about 200 looms; now there are not 12 looms. The trade began to fall off in 1821, and has gradually become less and less, and when the old men, the present weavers, are gone, it is supposed this trade will be at an end in Reading. No person has learned the trade for years past. The price paid for weaving in 1815 was 2 J d. the square yard; this was reduced to 2 4 d., and afterwards to 2 d. per square yard. The sacking is three-quarters wide, or a little more. There is a great deal of time lost for want of regular employment.

There is now only one loom at work making floor-cloth. The web is six yards broad. There are looms which make floor-cloth eight yards wide, and even 10 yards wide. The cause of the want of employment in this branch is inability to manufacture the goods, and come into the market at the same price as the manufacturers of Dundee. The local advantages of that town in obtaining the raw material, in spinning and weaving and sending the goods to market, are such as to leave no chance for competition. The remnant of the business still lingering in Reading is the supply of the neighbouring farmers with sacks. There is no remedy, and with the present race of weavers the trade becomes extinct.

As stuff in demand, locally made Reading coarse packing cloth was on the way out. Why? Trains. It’s always the trains. Or the canals before them bringing in that cheap Dundee sacking… or a cheaper or tastier strong ale. Secondary manufacturers making the packing for the primary producers don’t need to be local when the trains can bring in stuff that’s as good for less. Mr. Lidbetter up there up top? He seemed to still be bucking the trend. He had a market the lads of Dundee couldn’t crack:

There is one article in which there is a decided advantage, that is hop bagging. The town is the very centre of a rich hop district. The consumer, therefore, is close at hand. The hop bagging is made very substantial. As it is the custom when the hops are sold to pay by the pound of the gross weight, hops and bag together, the hop grower has no interest in using a slight fabric. 

See the trick? Heavy sacking for the hops, higher price for the sack of hops. You don’t get that advantage by the train load.

What A Difference A Year Makes – 2017 Edition

Over the holidays, I was thinking about what to do with this blog in 2017. It’s been a heavy slog over the last few months ensuring the important and favorite and representative bits of bits of 10,000 posts get across the River Jordan to the next bloggy life but that’s largely behind me now. What I need to do now is look ahead and take on the new opportunities that the coming year offers in style. It a bit of panache. Even. Maybe.

A lot can happen in a year. Last year this time we were still in the grip of learning that US craft brewery owners were (horrors!) not all evangelists willing to starve for the cause. No, the sweet taste of gravy was too much for many – or the actual goal all along. Click on the score card and have a look. You’d have a hard time filling that chart out properly now. You might need different colour pens. Funny thing –  no one really cares now. As is often the case with the leadership clique within even a small circle, they are barely missed as others are ready and willing to fill the gap. Beer is nimble like that. Beer itself is a survivor. The survivor. The rest of it all comes and goes.

Not sure blogging is surviving along with it. I could try out a new structural twist like the B+B “Breakfast Debate”… except I am only one person and I wrote my homage in two-fisted dialogue to The Compleat Angler with Max a few years back. But I like the idea. Keeping it fresh. These winter months are great for working on an historic era, for working through a data base. I have a notion to work away at the erroneous ideas that (1) temperance was some sort of trick played on the many by the few and (2) that, contrarily perhaps, it was all that effective. And greater early 1900s social history. I sit above a small outdated law library. It’s great stuff and holds masses of facts proven by evidence, tinged with authority. Rare.

I would also like to figure out a way to crack the nut of getting into the ledgers of contemporary craft brewing. What are they actually up to as businesses? It’s the only way to break the cycle of brewery owner cheery pozzy obvsy bios we’ve been stuck with for the last few years.* You would have thought that the craft sellouts would have taught a lesson but gate-keeping editors will have their way. The narrative must go on. And it will be even more popular in the new Trumptastic era. Boo to the questioners! Down with those losers asking “why?”!  Hmm. I would need to present it at a statistical abstraction. And I would need some helpful assistants in the business offices of craft breweries. Any takers? You can voice flabbergasted serious objections in the comments below and send me your non-disclosure agreement template to beerblog@gmail.com. Let’s talk.

What else can I do? We do? I am interested in another unpopular idea. What is it that makes us lose interest in novelty, makes us find a home in certain pop culture things like beer? Most folk I know have packed in chasing the beery tail. Novelty is for novices. Some lasting things are actually better. Think of it this way. I am a lucky man. I was 14 to 24 from 1977 to 1987 which means I was in the front row to a very strong point in pop and alt** music history. I have not been persuaded since that another period is superior but I also realize its not only the music I heard but that I was that age in my life when it was popular. I would hope those years were golden for each of us – though being 14 in 1977 was pretty sweet. Does the same idea work for good beer? Will we all just end up accepting Rochefort is fabulous or will today’s twenty somethings actually get a bit verklempt over memories of weird fruit flavoured gose thirty years from now? Could you imagine? It’s be like getting nostalgic over Mumford and Sons.

So. Any suggestions? Any idea I might explore? Conversely, any lakes you might, perhaps, direct me to jump into? I am for too entrenched to care if you take offense. Last year saw a peak in the “how dare you!” emails suggesting a personal slight directed to folk I really never thought that much about. Could you imagine thinking that much of yourself that you took the minute and 27 seconds of deep consideration it took from outrage to pressing send? Well, we won’t be having any of that in 2017, will we. Nope! And that is because this is the year where people get a grip, learn we are not each the centre of the beery world and get about doing what needs to be done!

Remember: it is only beer and, by way of corollary, you are only you. Well… fine. Can we at least start with this is the year we give it a try?

*aka “it’s amazing work – but, trust me, everyone is broke.”

**Is it too soon to use “alt” again?