Toasting The Defeat Of Napoleon III With Belgian Beer

A quick historic vignette. To the right is a portion of an article entitled “The Surrender of Napoleon” published in the 7 September 1870 edition of the Daily Albany Argus from New York’s capital reporting on events from 1 September, occurring an ocean away after the defeat of France at the Battle of Sedan which took place on the Franco-Belgian border. The full article is here.

The interesting thing for present purposes is, of course, the fact that Bismark calls out for a drink and is presented with Belgian beer. He shares it with the journalist as well as General Forsyth, a US officer who was present to observe the battle from the perspective of Bismark’s Prussian lines. In another article from the day before published in the Commercial Advertiser of New York, there is a suggestion that the beer met the needs of the moment, the Belgian beer washing down the hearty congratulations which were being passed around.

For me, this is one of the earlier references to Belgian beer that I have found. This may be surprising but we need to keep in mind that Belgium only becomes the independent country in 1830 so it would be reasonable for earlier references to be regional rather than national. I would be happily corrected if that is not the case, if others have earlier references.

Immediate Update: via a Google Books search in an 1858 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, I found this passage in a temperance minded travel piece fabulously titled “Vagabondizing in Belgium” which uses the term once:

One day in Antwerp I asked if they had good water there. A washer-woman sitting near me, with lager-pot in hand, promptly answered, “Oh yes, excellent water, all the Englishmen that come here bring such gray, dirty shirts, but once or twice washing here brings them white as milk.” A stevedore close by, seeing by my countenance that my question was not fully answered, undertook to set the matter right by saying, “Ohyes, we have first-rate water, only that sometimes in winter it gets so hard on top that the vessels can’t go at all, then comes tight times for all us commercial people.” The landlady (who is also cook and barmaid), corrected the ignorant, uncivil persons—”it was not the river-water, nor the sea-water that the gentleman was inquiring after at all, but it was the well-water that the gentleman wished to know about, “and proceeded to inform the gentleman that it was the very nicest water in the known world, and made the nicest soup (just by adding a little beef, and cabbage, and turnips, and potatoes, and a few such little things) that ever a gentleman partook of. But the gentleman himself corrected and startled the whole company (as much as so heavy a company could be startled), by asking, “Was it good to drink?” Each heavy head swung slowly upon its heavy shoulders, each heavy eye was aimed directly at the querist’s face and stretched wide open with stark astonishment. At such a crisis only the landlord had words to offer. That important and heaviest individual of them all—he who seldom deigned to make long speeches—whose placid nature was seldom ruffled—who deemed it pious to drink and smoke, and who devoutly followed the path of duty—he who, saturated like a sponge, swelled from the topmost bristle to the tips of his toes with honest lager—he whose favor I had assiduously courted and whose resplendent face had begun to beam benignly o’er my foreign faults—now turned upon me looks of pity and contempt; and, stretching the doubled chin full half an inch above his massive chest, in his sharpest tones demanded, “To what?” then feeling that he had full well resented the serious insult to his profession and his country, he slowly turned upon his broad, flat heels, elevated his ponderous elbow, a connecting spring turned up his face, his jaw dropped down, his eye rolled up, a short faint gurgle, a long-drawn sigh, and he glanced serenely through the bottom of a large glass tumbler. But I never regained the great man’s esteem, nor do I, to this day, know whether the water of Belgium is fit to drink.

Notwithstanding their constant guzzling, I was ten days among Belgian drinkers before I saw a man so drunk that he could not walk erect and treat politely each one he met—which proves it, though an unseemly practice, yet a safer one than drinking whisky. Since Noah left the ark and the sons of Noah raised up new cities, each new-formed nation has found some new stimulant; but not one among the list of findings is at once so wholesome, cheap, and harmless as Belgian beer, and I look upon its introduction into the United States as an important reformatory movement. Temperance, total abstinence, Washingtonian, and other reforms have had their day and are forgotten, and the current year sees more alcoholic destruction than any former one has done. Those villainous mixtures that are labeled Brandy, Port, Champagne, etc., that flow into every street and alley of our cities, to every village and crossroad of our country, are rapidly telling upon our national health, temper, and reputation. Our ambitious men are changed by fiery poisons to reckless adventurers, those of medium virtue to rabid criminals, and we are coming to be looked upon as a nation of desperadoes. One of the first salutations I receive from nearly every person with whom I become acquainted is, “You have a great many murderers and incendiaries in America.” I answer that of course we have, while receiving hundreds per day of the vilest outcasts of all Europe; but feel all the time that that is not all the reason, and am anxious that the introduction of weak malt liquors and the increased growth of light wines should quench that fire which is burning out the best young blood of our country. The almost universal robust health that I meet is a powerful advocate in favor of this least of many evils. Four persons of each five I see have perfect, substantial health, while in the region I came from four native adults in five arc in some way diseased. Of course the constant indoor life of females, the worst of all kitchens, and the infernal quackery that reigns triumphant there, have much to do with that degeneracy; but the effect of our national tipple is not likely to turn out a slight one, provided that tipple continues to increase in quantity and deadly power as it has done for ten years last past.

Hey… if I coped another 400 words from the article this would be a #BeeryLongRead!

Updated Immediate Update: So, let me get there. To reach the 1500 word minimum in an absolutely cheater-pants way I offer you an illustration of a slightly later reference from this magazine article in a periodical named Epoch, 1887, volume 2, pages 31 to 32 under the heading “European Correspondence: French Beer” authored by one Charles Seymour:

French Beer PARIS, August 6, 1887. The rapid and steady increase in the consumption of beer is likely to continue, for the phyloxera, mildew and black rot still make sad havoc with the vines, and although our American plants are well acclimatized in certain districts, the total average under cultivation does not increase. Wine is, consequently, not so good and so plentiful as it used to be, and beer fast replacing it as a beverage. This extension in the use of fermented liquor has finally aroused the French brewers to call attention to the fact that excellent beer is still made in France, and to show their unpatriotic countrymen that a good deal of beer purporting to come from the fatherland is really brewed at no great distance from Paris. For this purpose they have interested the Minister of Agriculture, and that official has decided, in concert with the leading brewers, to hold an exhibition of all the products, materials and machinery used in the manufacture of beer, and all the utensils employed in its distribution and sale. No foreign beer will be admitted, but any country is free to send samples of the raw material, machinery and implements used, provided they are represented by French agents. French brewers confidently believe that when their beer is drank at the Palace of Industry it will be found quite equal to any made in England, Germany or Austria. In fact, it is not impossible that the light, clear and sparkling beer manufactured in this country may prove to be superior in nutritious and digestive qualities to its German rival. Visitors to the forthcoming exhibition—which opens on the 21st inst. and continues until October 31st—will be enabled to sample the brews under the best conditions, as especial pains are to be taken to serve the beer as it should be served; for it is a fact that most of the dealers in wines and liquors have known very little about handling beer. The temperature of the cellar, the care of the casks, and above all, the cleanliness of the pumps and conductors are details utterly ignored by the majority of French liquor sellers. How often have I heard American visitors here complain of the detestable quality of the beer and sigh for a glass of Milwaukee. It is not because the French beer is bad per se, it is because a Frenchman doesn’t know how to serve it. When we remember that France is essentially a wine country, and that beer drinking here is comparatively a modern custom, it is not surprising that so much ignorance prevails about the way to properly handle the “blonde” and the “brune.” Another advantage of the exhibition will be to place before the eyes of French brewers the latest improvements in use in England, Germany and Austria, for it is unfortunately true that in this country the brewers are a long way behind their neighbors in the use of modern appliances. Curiously enough while so many Frenchmen think they prefer foreign beer to that made in their own land, France produces the barley that is used in the brewing of the best English, German and Belgian beer; on the other hand the French hops are not in favor with French brewers, who prefer to import the German and Belgian plant. So you see that beer is the fashion in this gay city, although Frenchmen claim that Gambrinus was a melancholy man with hazy ideas and consequently diametrically opposed to their national genius. Beer drinking, as it is practised in England and America, is, happily, unknown here. No Frenchman will stand up at a counter and toss off a glass of beer, and so all attempts to introduce the bar system have failed. A Frenchman wants to sit down when he takes a drink, and if he has some one to talk to, so much the better; otherwise he will look at the passing crowd, which is always an interesting study in this great city.

Result! Under both the newspaper search as well as Google books, prior to 1900 there are very few references to the topic, just a handful. Which is interesting. Fabulous reference to the phyloxera being a cause of increased interest in beer.

The Post Victoria Day Blues Edition Of Your Beery News Notes

Erg. I have post Victoria Day general body disorder. When one is a young adult in Canada, the May 2-4 weekend can lead to the three day hangover version of VDGBD but in my case it is merely a case of too much gardening. Joining the overwintered leek, kale, parsley, parsnip, garlic and green onion are new seedlings of red lettuce, beets, basil, romaine and radish. Hoeing and mulching and mowing and digging sessions along with timid pruning of the Pinot Noir filled the weekend after which a few well placed Sam Roberts Band ales from my local Spearhead brewery store hit the spot. I have no comment on the concept of the collaboration as that only affects what is outside the can as opposed to inside but as a nice brown ale at 4.5% it did the trick.

Gardening was on my mind in another way this week. If you don’t read the wine writer Jancis Robinson you are missing something. I say wine writer but for my money she is the best drinks writer working today. Consider this column she wrote on “premox” or premature oxidation as currently found in premium white Burgundies. There is a massive raft of information embedded in the writing  including very firm opinion – “One wine, a Boyer-Martinot Meursault Charmes, was as dead as a dodo…” to details on how global warming might affect the value proposition as to grape growing acreage in the Burgundian geography. Fabulous. When I tell Stan that wine making, for me, is at least as complex as brewing, this (along with working my own current second vinyard-ette) is what I mean.

Book news. Jeff says Barrel Aged Stout and Selling Out, the new history of Goose Island by Josh Noel, is a something of revelation, framing important things for we who are sitting as we are now here in this one year seemingly just minutes after the era of the great craft buy-outs:

Throughout the book, people on both sides think there’s a way to square this circle, to bring the best of craft and big beer together. The second half of BASSO lays bare why that was never possible. The good and bad of each approach are actually just the positive and negative qualities of the same thing. It’s just not possible to be both revolutionary and cautious. As the story plays out, these cultures clash, and one comes out triumphant.

Sounds pretty fabulous. Go buy the book.

Blogs are back! As with Jordan two weeks ago, ATJ renews his pledge to his blog and post a tale.  Blogging is totally back, baby. Jordan has even doubled his output with this tale of salty nuts. Totally. Back.

From the twitter feed “Picture this Scotland” comes this view of Glasgow in 1980:

Better than a Bill Forsyth film, that up there. Memories flood in. I remember my father when I was seven giving us a tour of the areas of Glasgow which were still bombed out from the war. Up there with the time when I was fourteen he took us to the square in his hometown of Greenock at noon on a Tuesday to watch the drunk men eat mittfuls of chips while simultaneously falling down. Did I mention Dad was a minister of the cloth? Note: The Squirrel has some history and seems to still be… active.

Well… except for there being no beer in California in 1927 and there being plenty of US dark lager both before and after prohibition…

The Chicago Tribune published an excellent article in the form of real beer business journalism on the fall and possible rise of Constellation’s billion dollar bauble, Ballast Point, a beer brand for me which always screamed “price too high!” for the quality one received. Apparently others agreed:

Michigan-based Founders Brewing Co., best known for its lower-priced, lower-alcohol All Day IPA, was roughly the same size as Ballast Point in 2015, but could end up shipping twice as much beer to wholesalers this year. Founders CEO Mike Stevens called the Ballast Point decline a “perfect storm” of high price point — a six-pack of Sculpin regularly sold for $15 — and what he believes to be a fading trend in fruit-flavored IPAs. “They were obviously just screaming to the top of the peak, riding that price point, riding their fruit IPAs. … Right when that (deal) went down, we kind of all knew that they were going to have to fix the price points because the consumers were going to lose interest,” Stevens said.

Mmm… fruit beer. Expensive fruit beer… Not sure I need a resurrection of that anytime soon. What’s next? Andy is lobbying for a gimmick free summer. That would be nice.

Conversely, news out of central New York… err… the Capital Region… finds the clock actually being turned backwards as a bricks and mortar brewery, Shmaltz reverts* to being a contract brewer – just as they had been prior to 2013. I was a regular buyer of their beer a decade or more ago so it’s certainly a brewer whose brands never suffered from someone else owning the steel. Happy story likely in the making. Maybe?

Ales Through the Ages II looks fabulous. Might I get there?

Ontario election time beer update! Suddenly serious contenders to lead the next government, the New Democratic Party, might review the rather slim introduction of beer, cider and wine into a handful of grocery stores across the province. Current Premier and solidly slipping third-place candidate Kathleen Wynne says expanding beer to more privates stores is just… just… well, “it’s not sensible”! And Doug “Did I Just Peak Early?” Ford says – beer sales everywhere! That ain’t happening but at least, as shown above, he wins the prize for the first beer pour at an election stop, part of Canada’s great “politician pouring beer” heritage. Note: someone’s angry. Note2: Ben says none of this matters. Two weeks to election day. Stay tuned.

Well, look at that. That was largely a fairly positive week, wasn’t it! No inter-consulto insult fests. No big craft hyperbolic pontifications. Am I growing up or something? That would be weird. Don’t forget that the beer news never sleeps and check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday. Stan is on holiday somewhere south of the equator… again. “Good Old South of the Equator” Stan. That’s what they call him. He’s posting from there. But not on Mondays in June. No, sirree. Not “Good Old South of the Equator” Stan.

*As reported by Deanna Fox, someone I have actually met.

The Fabulous Estate Brewery Of Edward Antill (1701-1770)

What a fabulous notice in The New-York Gazette of December 11, 1752. Edward Antill was a man of means, merchant, eccentric and gentleman agriculturalist as well as a member of the Loyalist leadership in colonial New Jersey who passed away in 1770. He was better known for his experiments in planting wine grapes* and being raised (as the return of a favour) by a pirate who Antill’s father, a lawyer, had saved from the gallows. He gave £1,800 to my dear old college, now the University of Kingston College in Halifax, Nova Scotia and not that bold usurper, Columbia University. The estate, Ross Hall, at a long lost community known as Raritan Landing was not sold until 1768 and his house survived until the 1950s.**

The 2,280 square foot brewery*** sounds like a bit of a marvel, “the whole contrived for carrying the Liquor from Place to Place with great ease, by turning of a Cock, or taking out of a Plug.” The property appears to have benefited from both a river shoreline and a creek running though it which would have allowed for both plenty of brewing water as well as a means to transport his ale to market. Ross Hall was built in 1740 of brick, 56 by 42 feet, with four rooms on each floor level, and 12-foot ceilings.****  Around 1910, it served as the club house for a golf course later associated with Rutgers University. Perhaps the brewery is out there under a fairway. Or is it under the Rutgers Ecological Preserve… hmmm…

Not much else to add so this is a bit of a stub post but we’ve seen that sort of thing out of me before, haven’t we. I expect I will spend the next seven months looking for more references to the design of the brewery. Such is life.

*In fact, he was the author of a “grossly untrustworthy essay” on grape growing for the wine trade.
**And English table manners continued there until the early 1800: “…because the “round of beef” served at Ross Hall where a friend lived made her “secretly smile and remember that I was eating at an Englishman’s table.
***Which is 2.5 times the size of the brewery Lord Selkirk found at Geneva, NY in 1803.
****Shown at “K” on this map and is the namesake of a blvd.

Some Beery News Links For The Sudden Coming Of Spring

It is obviously a tough time here in Ontario and in Canada. The mass murder on Yonge Street in Toronto on Monday has struck hard and will affect many for years to come. It has come so soon after the  Humboldt tragedy. And for our house, a neighbour – dearly liked, always been good to the kids – passed suddenly. It’s a rotten end to a hard winter. Ten days we were in a two day ice storm and now suddenly it’s warm. It’s a hard segue, like any sudden transition. Yet when I read Jon Abernathy’s thoughtful warm memorial to his own father who also passed away recently again with little warning, we are certainly reminded there are bigger things in life than beer yet – as Jon put it – it’s hard but we are doing OK. I hope.

So, this weeks links are offered to give some lighter thoughts. One delightful small thing I saw this last week is this tiny 12 inch by 12 inch true to scale diorama of the old Bar Volo on that same Yonge Street in Toronto. It was created by Stephen Gardiner of the most honestly named blog Musings on my Model Railroading Addition.  I wrote about Volo in 2006 and again in 2009. It lives on in Birreria Volo but the original was one of the bastions, a crucible for the good beer movement in North America. The post is largely a photo essay of wonderful images like the one I have place just above. Click on that for more detail and then go to the post for more loveliness.

In Britain, after last week’s AGM of CAMRA there has been much written about the near miss vote which upheld the organization’s priority focus on traditional cask ale. Compounding the unhappiness is the fact that 72% voted for change – but the change needed 75% support from the membership. Roger Protz took comfort in how high the vote in favour of change actually was. Pete Brown took the news hard, tweetingcask ale volume is in freefall.” He detailed his thoughts in an extended post.  And B+B survey the response and look to the upsides that slowly paced shifts offer. The Tandly thoughts were telling, too. While it is not my organization, I continued to be impressed by the democratic nature of CAMRA, the focus on the view of consumers rather than brewers as well as the respect for tradition. I am sure it will survive as much as I am sure that change will continue, even if perhaps at an increasing pace and likely in directions we cannot anticipate. Q1: why must there be only the one point of view “all good beer all together” in these things? Q2: in whose interest is it that there is only that one point of view?

While I appreciate I should not expect to link to something wonderfully cheering from Lars every week, I cannot help myself with his fabulously titled post, “Roaring the Beer.”  In it he undertakes a simple experiment with a pot and rediscovers a celebratory approach to sharing beer that is hundreds of years old. Try it out for yourself.

Strange news from Central Europe: “In 2017, the Czech on average drank 138 litres over the course of the year, the lowest consumption in 50 years.” No doubt the trade commentators will argue self-comfortingly “less but better!” while others will see “less but… no, just less.” Because of course there’s already no better when we’re talking about Czech lager, right?*

As a pew sitting Presbyterian and follower of the Greenock Morton, I found this post at Beer Compurgation very interesting, comparing the use of Christian images in beer branding (usually untheologically) to the current treatment of other cultural themes:

To try and best create an equivalence I have previously compared being a Christian in modern England to being a Scottish football fan in modern England… On learning your love for Scottish football people in general conversation would automatically make two assumptions: 

a) You believe domestic Scottish football to be as good as domestic English football; 

b) You believe Rangers and Celtic (The Old Firm) are capable of competing for the English Premier League title…

The accusations and derision came from assumptions of your beliefs and the discussions would continue this way even after explaining that their conjectures were false. Talking about Christianity here is similar. By existing I am allowed to be challenged directly about my thoughts on sexuality, creationism, mosaic period text, etc.. and people often assume they understand my attitudes beforehand.

Personally, I think the Jesus branding is tedious bu,t thankfully, all transgressors all go to hell to burn forever in the eternal fires… so it’s all working out!

Homage at Fuggled to the seven buck king.

Question: what am I talking about in this tweet?
Hmm. Oh yes! The news that Brewdog is claiming they have brought back Allsopp India Pale Ale. First, it appears that someone else has already brought it back. Weird. Second, as was noted by the good Dr. David Turner last year, this can only serve as a marketing swerve for the hipsters. AKA phony baloney. Apparently, the lads have been quietly cornering the market in some remarkable intellectual property including, fabulously, spontaneity! My point is this. You can’t recreate a 1700s ale until there is 1700s malt barley and a 1700s strain of hops. [Related.] Currently, I would say we can turn the clock back to about 1820 if we are lucky given the return of Chevallier and Farnham White Bine. There is no Battledore crop and I couldn’t tell you what the hops might be even though there was clearly a large scale commercial hop industry in the 1700s, not to mention in the 1600s the demands of Derby ale and the Sunday roadsfull of troops of workmen with their scythes and sickles,”. The past is a foreign land, unexplored. Perhaps Brewdog have found a wormhole in time that has now overcome that. Doubt it but good luck to them.

Well, that’s likely enough for this week. Remember to check in with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday for their favourite stories and news of the week that was.

*Note: see also the work of CAMRA and the protection of cask ale.

The Difference Between Temperance And Prohibition

Looking around the law books the other day… OK, I actually hardly ever look at law books at all these days. Just databases… of cases. And when I should be working the search engine for the latest on “equitable estoppel” or “profit-à-prendre” I sometimes slip in a few phrases related to the laws of liquor. And sometimes I find a paragraph or two  like these from the ruling of the Ontario Court of Appeal in the case Re The Canada Temperance Act, [1939] O.R. 570:

There can be no doubt that the cause of temperance (and by temperance I mean temperance in its true sense, which is the antithesis of teetotalism and of prohibition) has made great strides since the Canada Temperance Act was first enacted [in 1878.] Open drunkenness which was not considered a disgrace at that time is so considered now. The most grievous blow which temperance ever sustained was the enactment in Canada and the United States of prohibitory laws in force throughout those countries, which brought forth the bootlegger and in his train the racketeer, who by illicit trafficking amassed millions of dollars and became a wealthy, organized and powerful criminal class.

Since the repeal of those laws, much has been done to overcome the evil, but it is yet by no means completely cured. Nevertheless I think no one would have the hardihood to suggest that an emergency, such as that described by Lord Haldane, exists in Canada.  At the present time each Province in the Dominion of Canada, with the exception of Prince Edward Island, has legislation regulating and controlling the sale of liquor within the respective provinces, and the validity of this legislation has been affirmed. In all these Provinces the sale of liquor has been made a Government monopoly and the traffic is regulated and controlled by Government Commissions or Boards charged with the duty of controlling the sale. In Prince Edward Island there is a prohibitory law. For these reasons, it seems manifest to me that the emergency, if any existed, has wholly passed away and that the foundation, and the only foundation upon which Russell’s case can be supported, no longer exists.

While the words of Justice Henderson appear in his dissent, they do address the idea that something normally managed under provincial law – like the liquor trade – can be legislated upon at the national federal level under its “peace, order and good government” power if there is a national state of emergency. For Justice Henderson, that emergency had passed by 1939. Blessed control, the state’s temperance tool, had ensured common open drunkenness never returned. For him, prohibition is by contrast the tool of wealthy, organized and powerful criminal class… and, apparently, Prince Edward Island where you couldn’t buy legal liquor until a decade later. So temperance and prohibition are opposites. The majority did not agree however on the facts, holding that there had in fact been no change of circumstances and, as a result, that the national Canada Temperance Act, R.S.C. 1927, ch. 196 remained valid.

If, as some argue, the federal government could now intervene to pass a statute – one to “correct” last week’s Comeau ruling – some sort of national interest would have to be invoked. It could be an interest like, theoretically, a booze related emergency which somehow silently has remained unchanged since the 1870s. That would require arguing, as the lawyers for the churches did in 1939, that “the menace of intemperance is still present.” Not likely now. And probably not really likely in 1939 if we think carefully about Henderson’s dissent. Provincial control boards managing the liquor supply created and still uphold the temperate way we all enjoy in modern society.

So if that national interest is not likely the one that could be relied upon,  what other national interest could there possibly be to justify a federal intervention into the local common sense approach administered by each province?

A New Indigenous Beer Style? Watertown Cold!

Searching the on-line archives on a quiet day off, I found a very interesting bit of news in a June 5, 1988 article in the entirely venerable Watertown Daily Times  under the headline “Prohibition Invention Made in City” which describes one aspect of the local bootlegging trade when distributing Canada’s gift of beer imports was a boon to the good folk of upstate New York. The border area was, as would be expected, a hotbed of smuggling – but in the middle of the article there was this startling passage:

By 1925, even the New York Times carried stories stating that Watertown was the hub of illegal beer shipments. On Aug. 20 of that year, newly appointed Buffalo Divisional Prohibition Chief Romaine Merrick, who was assigned to northern New York, told The New York Times: “In the Buffalo District, I will have the largest distillery in the state. It is in Watertown.” The next day, The Watertown Daily Times wrote a reaction story, stating that only near beer, a legal beverage at the time, was known to be brewed here. 

Little did they know that sometime between 1919 and 1928, the owners of the brewery had constructed a secret cold-distilling and bottling operation worth $50,000, concealing it in a nearby garage. The federal Treasury Agents were amazed. They thought they had sealed off the area nine years before… Federal officials had found two huge vats in the basement of the brewery, where cold water, malt, hops and yeast were being mixed and allowed to ferment slowly into high-alcohol beer. The beer was then filtered through special paper that collected impurities, and piped to an illicit bottling operation nearby.

Now, as I wrote in Ontario Beer, we all know that even though Canada had a form of restriction on the legal sale of beer during our temperance era, there was never actual full on prohibition. Restrictions were largely imposed province by province. The breweries were not shut down as that was under federal law. And the era of temperance ended when the realization was realized that the breweries (and wineries… and distilleries…) were making masses of untaxed wealth off of the export trade. And the Canadian export trade was exporting into the USA. So, that the Feds, the G-men, were on the trail of bootleggers was normal.

But what was going on in that basement was not normal. What the heck was this cold fermented, filtered, high-alcohol beer? The 1988 story quotes a nephew of the final owner of the brewery who said “[e]veryone liked the beer…” and also Watertown resident Samuel Frazitta who said that it had a real kick to it and “tasted real good.”This is important to appreciate as these recollections were reported in the context of an area awash in the 1920s with good Canadian beer and liquor. But what was it? Apparently the secret brewing process did not require boiling the wort as that would have attracted the Federal agents far sooner.

There is more background in this 2017 article and in this 2014 report in Northern New York Business magazine stated that the equipment included “vats that contained 320 barrels of beer in various stages of fermentation” so not a tiny operation. After the end of prohibition, the brewery continued for about another decade as a legitimate operation under the name Northern Brewing Co and was known for its:

…malty, full-bodied, European-style brews, with high alcohol content and a head you could stand a spoon in. Specialties included Watertown Cream Ale, Old Style Lager, and Jefferson Lager Beer.

All of which is interesting. Notice the prohibition beer was made of malt and hops and not just some fifth-rate sugar thrown together to make some sort of hootch. It was both malty and enjoyable. Which is also reasonable as the operation during the prohibition era was actually making legal sub-2% alcohol beer. And reasonable given the brewery had three phases of legitimate brewing: Watertown Brewing Co.(1893 to 1901), Watertown Consumers Brewing Co.(1901 to 1920) and The Northern Brewing Co. Inc. (1933 to 1943). To these can be added the illegitimate operation from 1919 to 1928.

But what was the cold-fermentation, non-odorous brewing process that was used during the bootleg era? Certainly it appears to be a singular process, without replication elsewhere as far as I know. Maybe Stan or someone else knows more. Another indigenous hidden style. Heck, is it a new, mysterious hidden technique for the crafteratti to now explore, appropriate and, then, almost immediately ruin by loading it up with fruit flavours and glitter?  Maybe. Needs more study.

Some Thursday Beer News After The Whole Green Flash Thing

I love the map above, a 1881 Isochronic Chart showing travel time from London under optimum conditions. Which should help understanding the travel time for casks of British beer from that year and perhaps quite a few decades before. Or at least it can be adjusted by a factor. In 1732 the ship Ann crossed the Atlantic, from London to the not-yet colony of Georgia in 88 days. Note how in 1881 Nova Scotia and a bit of Newfoundland are green, meaning transit could occur under ten days. Or about an eleventh of an Ann. Neato. More here.

Gary: Bass master… not Bassmaster. Got it?

Archaeologist Merryn Dineley, is making some great points on Twitter these days about the lack of respect and role of malt and malting through time, both today and and in particular in relation to the study of Stonehenge.

Yup.

Ha ha! Stone sued a party that had nothing to do with it. Will they pay their legal costs? Is that the reason for the delay?

The forces of “don’t worry, be happy” are out in force this week given that the news broke that the assets of Green Flash, the 43rd largest US craft brewery, have been sold off. As the Full Pint reported on Tuesday, this is part of the official memo that Green Flash President and CEO Mike Hinkley sent to over 100 shareholders:

On behalf of myself and the Board of Directors of GFBC, Inc. (the “Company”), I am truly sorry to report that the Company’s senior lender, Comerica Bank, has foreclosed on its loans and sold the assets of the Company (other than the Virginia Beach brewery) to WC IPA LLC through a foreclosure sale which closed on March 30, 2018.  As such, the Company no longer owns the Green Flash and Alpine businesses.  Comerica Bank is currently conducting a separate process to sell the Virginia Beach brewery. After a general slowdown in the craft beer industry, coupled with intense competition and a slowdown of our business, we could not service the debt that we took on to build the Virginia Beach brewery — and in early 2018, the Company defaulted on its loans with Comerica Bank.  

Note a few things. The shareholders were not aware of the decision made apparently by the main shareholder, the lender whose loan bounced. The were told after the fact. I expect that indicates that the lender got the power to do that in a loan agreement. It also might indicate that this was not the first loan agreement as gaining that short of shareholder control is not the stuff of ordinary loan agreements.  The failing of the business has being going on for some time. Also, these are asset sales.  This is not a foreclosure of the business.* The brewing company has not been sold off, just the assets of value. Including the “businesses” which would include the brands, the goodwill if any is left and all operational aspects.  So, the corporation has been stripped to pay the bank. Reason? Forget the other stuff – over extension of debt to move into the branch plant business. The only question that matters is whether others will be found to be in the same boat.

Craft was in the news for other reasons. The Wall Street Journal declared craft beer was “big business.” [Note: “big craft” was discussed in 2014.] I like this plain language sentence in the WSJ piece in particular: “[r]ecent years have seen a world-wide wave of beer consolidation.” No “sell out!” No “got gobbled up!” Just a plain language description of the business of beer doing what it has done for hundreds of years – consolidate.

One example of a consolidation was examined in far greater detail by the Chicago Tribune in Josh Noel’s excellent article “Goose Island Aims to Shake Off Rough Year with New Beers, Ad Campaign.” The only thing I didn’t understand was this passage:

Goose Island’s story is therefore returning to Chicago — an effort to tie the brewery not just to its hometown, but to cities in general: urban and bustling, with a dose of cosmopolitan and hip. “It’s something that can be owned and is differentiating for Goose Island,” Ahsmann said. “Think about it: Can you think of any other nationally distributed craft brewer based out of a city?” There are others, of course — Brooklyn Brewery, Boston Beer Co. and Anchor Brewing in San Francisco — but none that owns the idea of city in the way that Corona is beach or Coors is mountains. Ahsmann wants Goose Island to be that beer. 

If that is what Goose Island is doing under AB InBev it’s not speaking to me. I just thought Goose Island was about geese on an island. Monsieur Jonathan, Le Beerinateur, clarified on Twitter that is was a district of Chicago. Who knew? Without that context, there is no way I would think “gooseness” + “islandness” = “urban and bustling, with a dose of cosmopolitan and hip” because that math just doesn’t work for me even though I have been having the odd Goose Island IPA** since maybe 2010.  [Did all you all know this and not tell me?]

Is the lesson of both Green Flash and Goose Island that US craft and local/regional are more closely tied than big craft thought? Notte note: “It’s a fine lesson…

Celebrator ends its print run. I blame MySpace.

This is an interesting story. It’s about Catalonia’s burgeoning craft beer scene. It’s from March 2013. One key thing was left unexplored then: local sausages. No idea how they measure up compared to the sausages of other regions of Spain. That is not the point. You know, it would be nice to know what each junket sponsoring jurisdiction requires in its funding agreement by way of social media follow up content. That is for another day. Today, I am fascinated by the sudden fascination with Catalonian sausages.

You want a real beer vacation? Three words: Bavarian… theme… park.

My two favourite April Fool’s pranks: “Brewers Brace for Brettanomyces Shortage” and ^Greg, the Sunday intern for Boak and Bailey.

That’s it. I am down to the cheap shots and gags. It wears one down. More next week. Sure thing. You bet. Perhaps cheerier. No promises.  No comment.

U*This could be another aspect of the over all plan.
**Or something or other under that label.

The End Of March Is Already Here And I Do I Have Some Beer News For You!

Time. March 2018 is almost gone and I barely noticed it was slipping away. Q2 looms. Which is great as I hate winter but which is not so great as I turn 55 next month. Did I mention that thing about time? Still frigging cold outside, too.  That in itself should help you put the week’s news about fretting about beer in perspective. Come on spring. Hello? Anyone there?* OK, I get it… let’s see if the beer news is cheerier.

First, another vintage brewery necktie for the collection. Please – send me your neckties. I may not get samples and would stick nails in my eyes before I went on a junket but I will take your ties! That would make me happy.

Next, a number. 6,266!  Wow! That’s more than before and likely less than from a bit from now. That of course, is not the real news. It’s nothing like that deep insight that things are “normalizing” – whatever that is. No, the real news came out in a web PR release that came out a day after the infographic that unpacked the numbered with an inordinate level of honest detail in the section entitled “Per Brewer Growth“:

In absolute terms, per brewery growth was less than 200 barrels last year. In 2014, it was almost 900 barrels. To drop like that suggests both that many brewers probably aren’t seeing the growth trajectories of breweries from a few years ago, and that many brewers are declining. The table below shows the distribution of companies with 2016 and 2017 data (so excluding 2017 openings). I’ve starred the “more than 50% group” as a reminder that a huge chunk of them are 2016 openings—50% will average growth of 100% or more just due to when they opened in 2016.

2017 Growth % of Breweries
-10% or worse 17.0%
-10% to -1% 10.3%
+/- 1% 15.3%
1% to 10% 10.0%
10% to 25% 13.0%
25% to 50% 11.6%
More than 50%* 22.9%

The positive interpretation of the table above is that even in an extremely competitive environment, 73% of breweries were flat or up last year. The flip side is that 27% saw declines greater than 1%, and 17% saw double-digit declines. 

Interestingly – but that is actually not the story. Notice above that there is a category for “+/-1%”… that’s is a weird choice of measurement. Unlike all the other bands. If you remove it, and aggregate it with the categories above it you will see that 42.6% of breweries saw no discernible growth or actually saw significant retraction. Then, understand that this is a percentage of the number of breweries and not a reflection of brewery production.  Since 2014, as the infographic says, there have been over 2,500 brewery openings in the US. 800 in just the last year. As these breweries are going from zero growth to some growth, it is logical that most of the growth by brewery numbers is based in the tiny recent entrants. Old bulky big craft appears to be stagnant or worse. I think we have been coming to that understanding over the last couple of years but it’s good to see the BA set out the numbers that tell the tale. Good news that.

Speaking of old bulky big craft, medium-large US craft brewer Green Flash is pulling up stakes and hightailing it out of the “branch plant out east” business. Likely they found out, as many are, that folk out east have plenty of beer out east that tastes like beer made out east and they like it just fine. Interesting: “…this is a move that was made to solidify investments to keep San Diego’s operations above water.” Wow.

Pete Brown wrote a wonderful thing Tuesday all about how rough his last decade or so has been. Folk called him brave, honest and an example. All true. It’s also a huge success. Kind of a graduation day speech. See, I have had two or three dabblings with what Pete wrote so openly about and, so, I know (i) I still couldn’t write what he wrote and (ii) it’s a measure of his success that he did. Hooray! I am very pleased but also concerned given how many people in good beer I would describe as stressed out, unhappy, dysfunctional workaholic who soothed themselves by eating and drinking too much. Be careful out there.

In another episode of where are the beer bloggers of 2009, Jeff of Stonch [ … now of Rye … but presently in Lunigiana…] reviewed a  beer this week:

Unsolicited trade samples aren’t usually terribly good. In truth, if a brewery’s making good beer, those with an interest in buying it or writing about it will have sought it out themselves. Similarly, beers with obscure geek culture references as names – the type that leave one none the wiser even when explained in detail – also tend to be shit. This one, therefore, surprised me twice.

Fabulously honest writing. Unlike anything edited and sold for payment. Which makes one wonder why, as shared in the recently circulated NAGBW Newsletter 2018.3, that the topics for NAGBW symposium during the Craft Brewers Conference has the three topics for panel presentations:

– “Beyond the Byline”: book publishing and podcasting;
– “Editor’s Roundtable”: leaders from industry publications share insights; and
– “Industry Roundtable”: hear from industry pros about pressing topics in beer.

None of which will lead to be a better writer even if you become a more compliant, less individualized one. It won’t make a Ron. And we all do know there is no real money in beer writing, right? Don’t be doing this for making money from writing… please. And don’t be sloppy researchers. Ben hates that.

Speaking of sloppy research, the great thing about the debunking of myths about lambic (often seemingly peddled by the edited and published) by Roel Mulder of Lost Beers is how the actual far more interesting story of lambic is explained.  It’s younger than the industrial revolution, it has been brewed in a far wider set of locales and didn’t rely on old hops. It’s about as traditional as mass produced Porter in mid-1700s was. Fabulous.

So there you have it. Another week filtering the positive from the dreary, the genuine from the fake, real from the seeming, the worthy from the transient. Ahhh… annnnnd… nothing turns on it. I probably could have done better, too. If I had made the effort. Something similar will happen next week. And I will be there to check it out as will Boak and Bailey on Saturday just as Stan will on Monday.

*making the noise of knocking on a window pane.

À La Recherche Du Bière Perdu

Sitting here with benignly received stitches in my mouth, it’s not only that I look back with fondness on that time before a week ago that I could have a drink. It’s looking back with fondness that I could have anything pretty much not in paste form. I did have a bun the other day. Took me 27 minutes to eat it. Which reminds me of other looking back fondly at the joyful consumption as with this archaeological dig in England:

Once at the cutting edge of Oxford University, the friary building was either torn down or at least fell into disuse during the mid 1500s when the Franciscans fled the country during the dissolution of the monasteries. Built over for many centuries, it is only thanks to redevelopment for a new shopping centre that archaeologists have been able to delve into the treasures it contains. ‘Greyfriars’, as it was known, was home to both the friar lecturers and scholars and their students. So far the archaeologists have found thousands of artefacts, many hundreds of which – in true student fashion – are related to alcohol.

i remember when I could be related to alcohol, too. There is plenty more detail over at this site for Oxford Archaeology which appears to be the firm working with the developers to clear the site. The discovery of a 13th century tile floor was an unexpected surprise. Not unlike my surprise when I learned hummus and yogurt could be an entire meal.

There is much more detail in The Independent. Seems like the monks, unlike me at the moment, had a rich and varied diet:

Mutton, lamb, pork, beef, chicken, geese and song birds were all on the menu, as were sea fish (cod, whiting, haddock, herring, eel, gurnard, conger, grey mullet, thornback ray, salmon and sea trout) and freshwater fish (especially roach and dace). The archaeological investigation has also revealed that they had a liking for oysters and mussels – and for hazelnuts and walnuts. For making pottage – a thick mainly vegetable stew – they used wheat, barley, oats and rye.

They also found “hundreds of medieval beer mugs” – hundreds. The monastery is described as being one of the seats of “super friars” with great academic and political influence which is one of the things, I suppose that lead Henry VIII to getting rid of them. The order reestablished itself in Oxford a bit over a century ago. Their kitchens were apparently preserved in good condition… for archaeology… but I am not sure if they established whether the monk’s ale was brewed within that facility. Medieval Oxford not only had a brewer’s guild starting in the 1400s but they also had a Brewers Street so who knows.

So, there you go. A little light learning for a Tuesday.  From a guy with stitches in his mouth. Did I mention the stitches? I did? Oh, good.

Newsy Beery News For The Thursday That Starts February

Tra-la! It’s February. Said no one ever. Now is the season of our discontent. And it affects the beer writing world. People are unhappy about this and that and writing posts mainly about “hey – it’s beer so just get through all the greater social issues and go back to where we were in 2012!!” I am not sure I am inspired. The blinkers sit tight on most beer writing. For years I have seen folk belittled not only for their gender but their state of mental health, their independent view, their stand on ethics, their hardscrabble decisions… I am inclined not to link to any of this for two reasons. First, it doesn’t seem very inspiring in that there is an underlying theme that somehow “craft” as a prime directive needs to be insulated from investigation or treated with kid gloves. Second, I keep coming back to the common thread in all the dysfunction is alcohol. Beer seems to have its fair share of bigotry and thoughtlessness but does that extra kick fuel the fire that bit brighter? Some of the comments at Ron’s alone makes it hard to debunk the addled nature of the discussion.

I did get some faith back from this post by Melissa Cole. She often swings widely but, in addition to a welcome and generous use of “we” as poised to “they” in this piece, in this particular paragraph she neatly makes a point well worth remembering:

There needs to be a clear acknowledgement that the male voice is still all-powerful in nearly every aspect of society. So perhaps it’s a good idea to think about using yours at a softer volume. Or to use it merely to amplify the vital messages women are sending about how we are frequently pushed aside or patronized or harassed in beer festivals, brewery taprooms, and bars—even if you think people really don’t want to hear it.

For additional points and a very informed approach to considering sexism in beer, the ever excellent braciatrix has provided a start for your library.

Not beer: Santos-Dumont.

The funniest reaction I have seen to this article on the looming hops glut was the one Stan mentioned from the BA econo-PR committee basically saying don’t worry be happy. I await Stan’s further thoughts.

The saddest truest footnote ever.

If anyone ever again says that Twitter is a poor medium for explaining anything, point them to this thread from Mr. B where he makes a clear argument in favour of a dowdy beer that has been reimagined. Speaking of Mr. B, he was a panelist on a TVO (Ontario’s public broadcaster) public affairs show, the Agenda, on the role of alcohol in society. While it was fair and represented a wide range of views, it was an example of how the concerns inside the good beer bubble are fairly irrelevant in the greater discussion – particularly in light of the partner interview broadcast on the same night. He did well but we need to stop mentioning the debunked J-Curve stuff. Folk don’t drink because they are sick. Not the other way around.

Finally and as proof we can all have a big hug Tinky-Winky moment, Mr. Protz has the news about the introduction of Chevallier barley malt into British brewing. Martyn has more on the background in this post from 2013. I have challenged the folks involved to get me some Battledore porter.

That’s it. A bit late today. But hey – tra’ la! It’s February!!!