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.

Session 118: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

sessionlogosmThis month’s edition of The Session sees host Stan Hieronymus of asking everyone to write about their doomed dream dinner plans:

If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?

Elephant in the room: I have been to one beer dinner and never ever plan to ever go to one again. I wouldn’t do that to any guest. So, let’s swap that out and think about four folk I would invite to a pub, to sit around and drink and snack with. No pairings. Not in my doomed dream dinner.

Other than that, this is a great topic for where I am in my life as a beer blogger. I have migrated 565 posts from the old platform to this new one and in doing so have revived some old friendships by revisiting some posts long forgotten. Based on that, my first guest to the pub is Pete Brown. Pete won the big prizes and a few others at last evening’s British Guild of Beer Writers Awards. Like may of the other beer writers I have met over the internets, Pete and I never have been in same the physical space even though he did participate in a ship to shore Morse code discussion with me back in 2007 as well as an interview with Knut and me back in 2006 upon the release of his second book. The beer I would serve Pete would be Double Double, the lost style that lasted from about 1520 to 1820. Its Elizabethan roots would, I hope, inspire him as a topic for his next book.

Next, I would build upon the Elizabethan theme by asking Martyn Frobisher to join us to explain what it was like to put in an order for 80.5 tons of beer as part of his preparations for his 1577 iron ore mining expedition to the high Arctic of what is now Canada. One of the more fascinating topics I have been able to research has been the unexpected presence of beer and brewing in Canada’s eastern Arctic well before the creation of the nation, during the great and grand first wave of northern exploration. I would serve him a gallon of whatever it was he requisitioned and let him explain it to the table. In the 1660s we have seen beer brewed in the Arctic and in the 1670s at least two sorts of beer being brought along  for the trip.

Two more? I would invite Sarah (alias Jenny) who was in the 1730s a runaway slave, the legal property of the brewer Hendrick Rutgers. And I would also invite the unnamed twenty year old woman from Barbados whose own brewing skills were included in the 1760 notice offering her for sale.  The notice said Sarah ran south with a white man while her Barbadian dinner mate was turned down at market, her advertisement running again a few month later. When I wrote about them I thought it was the saddest corner of the story of brewing I had ever encountered. I’d serve them whatever they wanted as they came to the table but I would be very interested in knowing what beer meant to them.

I am going to cheat… twice. I am adding another guest and one who was never ever dead or alive. I can’t think of anyone who might bridge the odd set of table mates than Piers the Ploughman, the hero/everyman of the 1370s morality epic. As we are told, Piers would get his halfpenny ale as he would think fit. He would hammer at Frobisher, himself a knight, on the order good government demanded. He would in turn comfort the enslaved and then round upon Brown, lecturing him on the rumours of everything from junketry to Putinesque vote rigging, saying with the wagging finger:

Then would Waster not work · but wandered about,
Nor no beggar eat bread · that had beans therein
But asked for the best · white, made of clean wheat;
Nor none halfpenny ale · in no wise would drink,
But of the best and the brownest · for sale in the borough.

Then, once the moral order was established, I would have them served the best and the brownest ale of the borough – especially for the ladies. They’ve earned it.

The Steelyard, Stillyard, Stylyard and Spelling


Ah, the Hanseatic League. I posted about the Hanseatic League earlier this year, pointing out how it was likely the conduit for the first introduction of hopped beer into England – and, by implication, not the Dutch. I think that might be the case for no other reason that the Dutch were introduced to hopped beer by shipments from the Hanseatic League, the Renaissance corporate port towns of the Baltic which had that handy corporate navy with corporate cannon to enforce its idea of open trade.

Renaissance and Elizabethan brewing and drinking in England is particularly interesting as the period ties a lot of later things together…. or founds them… or whatever. For example, Hull was a 1600s brewing town that also was a Hanseatic depot. Hull ale was a contemporary of Northdown as being a premium drink in London in second half of the 1600s. It’s a coastal ale of the sort that governs until the canals reach deeper into the countryside releasing the odd sulfurous and maybe hoppier beers of Burton in Staffordshire upon the national and international market. Like the railways in the mid-1800s Ontario that gave rural Labatt and Carling the opportunity to explode out into the world, England’s canals of the early 1700s also placed brewing at scale nearer the grain fields, likely cutting out middlemen and displacing premium coastal brewing perhaps by undermining existing price. Theory. Working theory.

What was displaced was the model set by the Hanseatic League. Renaissance Hamburg was the greatest brewing center in the history of beer – 42% of the workforce was involved in brewing. The Hanseatic depot at King’s Lynn still stands, one of the branch locations of Hanseatic activity. London was the Kontor with its headquarters of import / export operation located just west of London Bridge on the north shore of the Thames where Cannon Street station now stands. One of the coolest thing is that there have basically been two owners of that site since perhaps 1250 as the vestigial Hanseatic League interests in Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg sold it to the South-Eastern Railway Company in 1852. The presence of the Hanseatic League cannot be minimized at the critical point in the 1400s. Consider this passage from 1889’s bestseller The Hansa Towns by Helen Zimmern. It has a certain ripe Victorian style but does explain things like this:

Nor was London by any means their only depôt. It was the chief, but they also had factories in York, Hull, Bristol, Norwich, Ipswich, Yarmouth, Boston, and Lynn Regis. Some mention of them is found in Leland’s “Itinerary.” Under an invitation to the Hanseatics to trade with Scotland we find the name honoured in legend and song of William Wallace. In John Lydgate’s poems we also meet with our Hanseatics. In relating the festivities that took place in London city on the occasion of the triumphal entry of Henry VI, who had been crowned king at Paris some months previously, the poet narrates how there rode in procession the Mayor of London clad in red velvet, accompanied by his aldermen 196 and sheriffs dressed in scarlet and fur, followed by the burghers and guilds with their trade ensigns, and finally succeeded by a number of foreigners.

“And for to remember of other alyens,
Fyrst Jenenyes (Genoese) though they were strangers,
Florentynes and Venycyens,
And Easterlings, glad in her maneres,
Conveyed with sergeantes and other officeres,
Estatly horsed, after the maier riding,
Passed the subburbis to mete withe the kyng.”

A love of pomp and outward show was indeed a characteristic of the Hanseatics in England who thus perchance wished to impress upon the natives a sense of their wealth.

Henry IV was crowned the King of England in 1399. Hanseatic League ambassadors are in the procession when he enters London for the first time. They are somebodies. And they are powerful. They had a wee war with England from 1469-74… and won entrenching their right to trade. Hopped beer was not introduced to England by a few straggling sailors showing up at a few coastal towns. It was brought along – even imposed perhaps – by a massive commercial and military complex. Let’s look at some maps at how the Hansa QH has been described:








The illustration to the left is a detail of the 1633 reprint of the 1561 Agas map. You can see the location of London’s Hanseatic Steelyard in blue to the west of London Bridge. Above way at the top of the text is a much finer detail of the site. Notice it is referred to as the “Stylyarde.” In the middle is a 1720s map of Elizabethan London. Notice the site is now referred to as the “Stillyard.” And to the right is a diagram of the site of the Steelyard itself in this case called the “Stahlhofes” – as it was in 1667 according to a late 1800s German atlas. So, we have four ways of spelling the name of the site. Which means that each needs to be run through the dark Satanic
research mills if we are going to have an idea of what’s going on. In a note to the discussion of John Stow‘s Survey of London (editions from 1598 to 1603), British History Online has an extended discussion in a footnote on the variously described Stillyard / Steelyard / Stilliard / Stelehouse / Steleyard which states that there was a trade presence from Cologne there as early as 1157. It also indicates that the German version Stahlhof that appears rather early on means a stall hall – a marketplace. Stow himself describes the site and operations at length in his narrative map of London including the following:

Next to this lane, on the east, is the Steelyard, as they term it, a place for merchants of Almaine, that used to bring hither as well wheat, rye, and other grain, as cables, ropes, masts, pitch, tar, flax, hemp, linen cloth, wainscots, wax, steel, and other profitable merchandises.

Interestingly, as Stow notes, past the intervening church, near the Steelyard in Haywharf Lane in the late 1500s there was a “great brew-house” operated in the past by Henry Campion and then by his son Abraham. Life in the district was… lively. In the poem by Isabella Whitney (1548–1573) “The Wyll and Testament of Isabella Whitney” we read the following:

At Stiliarde ſtore of Wines there bée,
your dulled mindes to glad:
And handſome men, that muſt not wed
except they leaue their trade.
They oft ſhal ſéeke for proper Gyrles,
and ſome perhaps ſhall fynde:
That neede compels, or lucre lures
to ſatiſfye their mind.

So, as we see on the image to the right, there is a wine house. I assumed it was a wholesale depot but it appears to be an Elizabethan retail party palace where lads and lassies mingle as they consider drink, lust and lucre. February 1582 government orders issued by the Privy Council to the Lord High Treasurer show the Stillyard being excused from certain taxation – right under another order allowing the export of 1,000 tuns of beer from London. Elizabethan brewing and trading at scale. You don’t hear about that often. Leaping ahead into the next century, Samuel Pepys, diarist and high government official, records a number of visits to the site in the 1660s. On Friday, 13 December 1661 he wrote:

…to the office about some special business, where Sir Williams both were, and from thence with them to the Steelyard, where my Lady Batten and others came to us, and there we drank and had musique and Captain Cox’s company, and he paid all, and so late back again home by coach, and so to bed.

On Monday 26 January 1662/63 he stated that he was “up and by water with Sir W. Batten to White Hall, drinking a glass of wormewood wine at the Stillyard… while on Sunday, 2 September 1666 he uses it as a location in his description of the Great Fire of London. Perhaps most gloriously, he gives us this image of a part of his day on Wednesday, 21 October 1663:

Thence, having my belly full, away on foot to my brother’s, all along Thames Streete, and my belly being full of small beer, I did all alone, for health’s sake, drink half a pint of Rhenish wine at the Still-yard, mixed with beer.

Rhenish mixed with beer. There’s a challenge to today’s sense of yum. Thankfully, he also drank Northdown and Hull so it was not all weird for Sammy. I am going to leave it there but to review, then, what we have seen is that the Hanseatic League was a massive trading partner which had a huge export trade in beer in the 1400s. It had a very significant governmental foothold in the middle of London which was recognized from at least 1399 to the 1660s as something to be reckoned with. The business presence stretched for 700 years from the 1150s to the 1850s. They ran a retail and entertainment hall of some sort exactly when beer is coming into England at the same time that they operate the largest brewing center in the world at Hamburg.

Suffice it to say, there is more to be found about the role of the Hanseatic League and the history of hopped beer in England. Does it support the rough overlapping sequence Haneastic hopped beer (say Hamburg and later Flemish 1300s to 1600s) => coastal hopped beer (like Hull and Northdown, say, late 1400s-1712) => canal based hopped beer (Burton after 1712)? Could be. Need to find out.

Ale Tunners And Tunner’s Ale in 1500s Leicester

beer1522People don’t give municipal records the respect they deserve. Where the rubber hits the road, that’s what a municipality is. Consider this from the Records of the Borough of Leicester Being a Series of Extracts from the Archives of the Corporation of Leicester, 1509-1603:

Aile tasters and sworne men within the towne of Leicester aforesaid to make inquiries there of the defaltes of tunners & typplers and especially to inquire and present the defaltes and trespaces of common dronckerdes that do vse to sitt typplynge at the aile houses all daye and all nyghte vnthryftely, and their wyves and children almost sterve at home for lacke of good releffe and sustentacion.

That cheery wee note from the Tudor world was entered into the records on November 18, 1569. Another dated April 7, 1592 just states “Ale 2\d. a gallon “as well strong ale as the tunner’s ale.” What’s a tunner? Or tunner’s ale? In the records of the municipal corporation of Boston, there may be a bit more information:

According to the Corporate records, the brewers in 1547 were ordered to sell good ale for 1¼d the gallon, double beer 1½d. the gallon, and single beer 1d. the gallon. In 1552 small ale was sold at three gallons for a penny, “till malt rise in price;” and good ale 2d. the gallon. In 1558 the brewers were to sell double beer at 20d. the firkin, and single beer for 10d. In 1575 certain persons were appointed ale-tunners to taste the ale and beer before it was sold. Brewers, before they “tunne their ale and beer, to send for the ale-tunners to taste the same to see that it is good wholesome drink:” prices to be regulated according to the price of malt.

That doesn’t look right. Muddies whether the ale tunner is an officer who is required to ensure that the beer is in good order or if they are someone who needs ordering about by an officer. The tunner seems to be consistently defined elsewhere as the cask filler, not the judge of anything. Hmm. This record from Nov. 16, 1520 also from Leicester helps a bit with the process:

Allso that no brewer within this towne sell forthe no ale tyll the allderman of that ward and too of ye XLVIll haue tasted their alls bothe the best and ye second in pene of forfeture the fyrst tyme iiij”. Wnd. and so to dowbyll as ofte as they make defawte; and yf the alderman of the ward be a brewer hymselfe or thos that [are] of the XLVIII, then to call the alderman of ye next ward to taste as aboweseyd for they that be brewers schallbe no tasters.

I love that “best and ye second” as the same was still going on in Vassar’s brewery in 1808 before things got too scientific. And there are a string of separate Tudor functions and trades all in those passages up there: the XLVIII, aldermen, brewers, tunners, typlers, tasters. The XLVIII or “the 48” appear to be members of a secondary level municipal council, beneath the one formed by the aldermen. A typler is a retailer as we can see the Leicester’s law of around that time provided “that no typler within this towne sell no ale with onlawfull mesures.”¹ It looks like the tunners and the typlers answer to the alderman and the tasters all to ensure thedronckerdes get their proper aile. If the aldermen and tasters are checking on on the tunners and typlers, they may be ensuring proper measures are sold at both the wholesale and retail levels and not just whether the stuff is foul or tasty. Quantity as well as quality control. Tasters were municipal officers who were otherwise titled better known as “ale conners” and lesser known as “ale founders” – the last of which lingers on as an especially obscure family last name. They also confirmed price. In 1853, of the 234 boroughs in England and Wales, 26 had officers titled “ale tasters”, six had an “ale founder” while only four officers were called “ale conners”. Martyn has explained that they did not sit in puddles of ale as part of their job despite modern sillinesses. Hornsey has more of both the law and the silly.

If all that is correct, the note about Boston is wrong and the tunner is not the taster as these were separate and separated tasks. Checks and balances. Still not sure what “tunner’s ale” was in 1500s Leicester… or any other place or time for that matter. Another day for that perhaps.

¹The named measures include “strykes”, gallons, “potell”, quarts, pintes. I can spot the pottle but not sure what a stryke is. By the way, I am not sure if that image is related to ale, is English or even from the 1500s. Looks swell, though.

The Hillars Of Golden Lane, Cripplesgate Without

hillarsUp there, that is a detail from the Agas map, a wood cut map of London from 1561. In the upper right you will see Golding Lane. If you were cleverer than I am you would have noticed that in the last couple of weeks I mentioned Golding Lane twice. In this post, I referred to a court case about the improper pulling down of a brewery in 1680. And in this post, I made mention of the Golden Lane Brewery of the early 1800s, a brewery set up as a joint stock company. It took me a few days to realize that Golding Lane was the same place as Golden Lane – as is Goldyng Lane and Gouldinge Lane. It’s still there but not much of the past remains. Its part of a district that was flattened by the Nazis in the Blitz. It’s not very long, running the few blocks from Old Street south to Beech Street now as it did in that map above 454 years ago, in the suburbs of Cripplesgate Without, the north part of an ancient ward of of the City of London. One thing has survived. The church. St-Giles-without-Cripplegate avoided being taken out by both the Nazi bombers and the Great Fire of 1666. My hero and early Canadian beer man Martyn Frobisher is buried there.

Golden Lane and the immediate vicinity seems to be inordinately beery. Or maybe just that its beeriness is well recorded. That’s the funny thing about records. Things recorded where the records survive gain as much importance as those breweries and brewing towns with a ripe habit of offering generous beer writer junkets. To be mentioned is to be important. Yet… there is something about the place worth considering. In Stow’s 1603 A Survay of London it notes that the Brewers Hall stood a few streets inside Cripplegate, one of the gates in London’s medieval wall. Stow states that the Company of Brewers was incorporated by Henry VI in 1438 but it was the brewers of London who built the gate in 1244.

I am not going to try to write about all the brewing connections to Golden Lane in one post. Let’s start with something fairly manageable. The brewery which was torn down in 1680 by a rather self-confident tenant. You will recall from that recent post that the case of Greene versus Cole – both at trial and appeal – provided a lot of information about the place including how William Cole came to be the owner, as successor to one John Hilliard who himself received it as son an heir from his father John Hilliard who died in 1651. The son himself only made it to 1658 at which time Cole received it under will of John the father. But it does not stop there. Mike Brown in his article “Some named brewhouses in early London” published in Brewery History issue 144 identified a bit more of the brewery’s history sets out a passage in a will probated in 1591:

To Robert Hyllyar my son for his life I give my messuage or brewhouse called the sign of the Flower de Luce lying in Gouldinge Lane, now in the tenure of Robert Allyson, brewer; and after his decease the remainder thereof to the issue of his body; for default, I will that the reversion thereof shall remain to the maintenance of the poor distressed people inhabiting within the freedom of the City of London in the said parish of St. Giles without Creplegate for ever, and the lease of the said messuage and brew-house shall from time to time be made by the good advice of the parson and Churchwardens of the same parish of St. Giles.

A more complete record of the will of John Hillar from 1591 can be found on line here. The brewery is said to be worth £6 annually. Richard the son of John was just 26 years old when he received the brewery in 1591. Which makes him a very likely candidate for being the father of John Hilliard who died in 1651. John (d. 1591), Richard (b.1565), John (d. 1651), John (d.1658) all owned the brewery on Golding Lane, which would be shown somewhere on that woodcut up there from 1561. Neato.

And it goes even further back that that as Brown in his article shows that in a will from 1407, a bequest was granted by Robert Gerthe to Agnes his wife to whome he left “a brew-house called ‘le Flourdelys’ in Goldynglane in the parish of S. Giles aforesaid for life.” Flower de Luce. Flourdelys. Fleur de Lys. A brewery just outside the wall of London for at least 273 years, torn down 335 years ago.

Beer And Art: Bruegel’s “Return From The Inn”


A couple nights in Montreal leads to a lot of good things. A number of forced marches for the family through an alarmingly frigid city to this meal or that shop. Buying beer in a grocery store. Five new pairs of Converse sneakers for distribution across the clan. And a stop at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where I saw this, “Return from the Inn” by Pieter Bruegel the Younger (again with the PBtY) … or is it Return from the Inn? Such things elude me. It’s not the greatest image in terms of sharpness but a larger scale image is clickably before you if you want a closer look.

Aside from all the allegorical stuff, I noticed the two items related to brewing right away: the massive sacks of grain on the untended cart as well as the sign of the wreath indicating, I understand, that strong drink is on offer within. I would expect the birds pecking away at the spilled grain which has fallen to the ground would be a sign of decadent waste to someone 400 years ago. Not sure if the load has been left by carters now inside filling their bellies with ale or whethers it’s the inn’s own supply. Lot of snow on those wheel spokes.

I suggest you ignore all the brawling gifts swinging agricultural tools and the steamy suggestions of sexual faithless. Reminds me too much of the final half hour of a craft beer fest. A rather snazzy explanation of the whole thing can be found here. The image is from around 1620 or just when various European nations are setting up colonies in what are now Quebec, New York, Delaware and Boston. This would be what normal would look like to those earliest colonists, the way they would have approached – or avoided – this sort of inn if out looking for a beer of an afternoon.

Oh, What A Loverly Word Usage Graphing Tool…


See that? Click on the image and you will see it better. That is a word search for the word hop[pe]s in English language texts from a site called Early Modern Print: Text Mining Early Printed English which explains itself as follows:

Early Print offers a range of tools for the computational exploration and analysis of English print culture before 1700. Early Print offers a range of tools for the computational exploration and analysis of English print culture before 1700. The site was designed to help scholars make sense of the incomparable textual archive produced by the EEBO Text Creation Partnership, consisting of a set of transcriptions of the first two centuries of English print. While EEBO-TCP provides access to a massive collection of texts that promises to transform the way scholars approach this period, it also presents significant technical and conceptual challenges. The relative accuracy (given its scale) of the EEBO-TCP corpus that makes it such a valuable resource for scholars also makes it complex for computational analysis.

Got it? Yikes. It appears to be a far more complex version of the New York Times search tool that is so useful in confirming how late “craft” beer came into accepted usage. Except, this fun widget focuses on texts from 1480 to 1700. I am still having some problem figuring out how to properly run searches given all the swell code that can be used to run searches. But when you do, you get wonderful – even if possibly misleading – results like this one confirming that “hops” or “hoppes” came into far more common use on a very particular date roughly around 1518. Look at “ale“! I am sure folk more clever than I may make more interesting use of it so let me know what you find. Be careful. Remember that around 1577 “biere” was a common spelling. Have a go. Meanwhile, I wonder if anyone mentioned “craft beer” during that era…

Bayonne Outside Cider Off Newfoundland In 1520


I had lost this book. I found it again yesterday. The precursors of Jacques Cartier, 1497-1534: a collection of documents relating to the early history of the Dominion of Canada. Notice that it is a book published under the authority of the Canadian Federal Minister of Agriculture published by the Government Printing Bureau in Ottawa in 1911. We really used to know how to do government right.

Attentive readers will recall last March’s post in which I speculated on who might actually have been the first brewer in New France. A year earlier I wrote about the masses of beer transported along with the English Arctic iron ore mining mission led by Martin Frobisher in the 1570s. This is half a century earlier and might at least exemplify the earliest sort of alcohol use in North America – cider. Newfoundland is an obvious candidate. I suspect West Country fishermen drying cod for the summer caught on the Grand Banks were brewing at their coastal camps in the late 1500s. In the early 1600s they were clearly using beer and aqua vitae. So, its pretty much obvious that the earliest crews were enjoying strong drink in their earliest voyages as this record from 1520 shows:

To My Lord the Lieutenant of My Lord the Mayor, Sheriffs and Notable Council of Bayonne:

Messrs. Michael de Segure and Matthew de Biran make humble petition, setting forth that they have decided, at God’s pleasure, to send their vessel as far as Newfoundland to fish, and they need a large quantity of provisions, and among other things the number and quantity of forty butts of cider, of the best that can be found. And this being so, that the said de Segure has an orchard on his farm at St. Stephen, which is worked at his expense and from this he has a certain amount of cider; and also the said de Biran has certain debts at Seinhanx, for which he is willing to take payment in cider. In consideration of this, the said petitioners beg, supplicate and ask that you will be pleased to grant them permission, by special favour and without prejudice to the regulations of the said city, to load on board the said vessel forty butts of outside cider, part from the farm of the said de Segure and the surplus from Seinhanx, for the provision and victualling of the said vessel ; and you will be doing well.

Signed : M. de Biran.

The present request having been read and considered here in council, it has been ordered that the said petitioners, after they have taken oath before My Lord the Lieutenant, shall be allowed and permitted to load cider in their said vessel for the provisioning of the same, half the amount necessary thereto being grown in the city, and the other half being that belonging to the said petitioners. And this by special favour, in consideration of the voyage the said vessel is to make, and without prejudice to the regulations of the city making mention of wines and ciders, and to other restrictions and edict of the king, our lord, relating to the ports, loading and unloading. And should they be found doing the contrary, they will incur a fine of one hundred livres tournois, to be applied to the affairs of the city.

Given in council, 6 March, 1520.

Bayonne is a port town on the Atlantic coast just north of the French-Spanish border. You seem to be able to get cider and cod fish tapas there still. Early relations on the Canadian coast appear to have been friendly, Mi’kmaq chiefs joining them on the return trip over wintering in Europe on occasion. Crews from Bayonne had been sailing long distances for centuries before this request for cider was made. The Grand Banks cod fishery continued for decades after, well before settlement attempts. Strong drink would have accompanied them throughout the centuries. We even had a fish war with Spain in the 1990s. That image up there? It’s actually from 178 years after M. de Segure and M. de Biran set out with their 40 butt in the hold – according to the Government of Canada website where I found it. Hey. We still do this stuff through government action.

So… what is outside cider? I have no idea.

Pre-1600 Ale And Beer Not All Dark And Smoke-Laced


This has been a bit of a brain worm for me for a while. No, not that kind. The other kind. And for a longer while, I’ve been reading about how, before a certain point, all English beer and perhaps elsewhere was brown and smokey. But, quite rightly, the other day I was righteously snapped at for referring to the one post I have written on the idea. I should do a better job that that if I am going to get any sort of passing grade. So, here are some ideas that I am plunking together now. This is not to be definitive. I am showing my work and will build it upon going forward:

• Mid-1200s: In the first half of the 1200s, when England and northern France were under one government but still two cultures, Walter of Bibbesworth wrote Le Tretiz, an English-French primer to teach Anglo-Norman children about life and language. He describes the things in the world including ale making. A current edition of the book ishere. This is a translation from which we find this passage about malting:

Now it would be as well to know how to malt and brew
As when ale is made to enliven our wedding feast.
Girl, light a fennel-stalk (after eating some spice-cake);
Soak this barley in a deep, wide tub,
And when it’s well soaked and the water is poured off,
Go up to that high loft, have it well swept,
And lay your grain there till it’s well sprouted;
What you used to call grain you call malt from now on.
Move the malt with your hands into heaps or rows
And then take it in a basket to roast in the kiln;
Baskets, big or little, will serve you in plenty…

That tells us the basics of malting in a way that one commentator states “…medieval malting was, except for the lack of mechanical processing equipment, essentially identical to modern techniques.” Maltings from the 1200s were discovered this year in Northampton.

• Mid-1300s: One hundred years and more after Walter of Bibbesworth, there is a record that confirms, ale was not uniform within a single local market for as reasonably a long time as one needs to consider it a hell of a long time. In 1378 or so, in a moral narrative called Piers The Poughman at least three sorts of ale: thin or mean ale, good ale and best brown ale. He also uses the phrase “halfpenny ale” but that may well be good ale. Variety of ale brewing must include consideration of the potential for variety in malting techniques.

• Mid-1500s: As discussed in February of 2013, in his “Dietary” of 1542, Andrew Boordemade himself clear about what he considered was the best ale:

“Ale is made of malte and water; and they the which do put any other thynge to ale than is rehersed, except yest, barm, or goddesgood doth sophysicat there ale. Ale for an Englysshe man is a naturall drinke. Ale muste have these properties, it muste be fresshe and cleare, it must not be ropy, nor smoky, nor it must have no wefte nor tayle. Ale shulde not be dronke under .V. dayes olde. Barly malte maketh better ale than Oten malte or any other corne doth…

Not smokey. Pretty clear statement.

• Later-1500s: In this 2004 report on an archaeological excavation of a medieval malting kiln it is stated:

The fuels used in the malting process were documented in 1577 by William Harrison, who wrote: “In some places it (the malt) is dried at leisure with wood alone, or straw alone, in other with wood and straw together, but of all, the straw dried is the most excellent. For the wood dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke.

Notice that again we see grades of now hopped beer just as we did in 1378 but it is not quality of strength that differentiates but the quality of the malt. And wood-kilned malt is noted to be both darker and the means to make a poorer beer – because of the smokey quality wood added. Harrison published his book A Description of England in 1577. Here is a full copy of the text posted by Fordham University in which you will find this: “The best malt is tried by the hardness and colour; for, if it look fresh with a yellow hue, and thereto will write like a piece of chalk. Chalk is, you will note, pale.

• Late 1500s to early 1600s: Also as stated before, there was something of a crisis in malt and fuel supplies as far back as the mid-1500s:

…the forests around York had greatly diminished and receded. Chiefly for this reason the malt kilns were in 1549 closed for two years and a survey of disforestation for eight miles around was instituted. At this time, too, the commons included the dearness of fuel in their bill of grievances and ten M.P.s were asked to seek a commission from the king to check disforestation.

The crisis of English deforestation led to a search for fuel alternatives and the main alternative was coal. The timber crisis was most acute in England from about 1570 to 1630 during which making coke from coal was invented.

• Mid-1600s: In an edition of A Way to Get Wealth by Gervase Markham from 1668, a book first published in 1615 we have an opinion on the preference for straw… and not just any straw:

…our Maltster by all means must have an especial care with what fewel she dryeth the malt; for commonly, according to that it ever receiveth and keepeth the taste, if by some especial art in the Kiln that annoyance be not taken away. To speak then of fewels in general, there are of divers kinds according to the natures of soyls,and the accommodation of places-in which men live; yet the best and most principal fewel for the Kilns, (both tor sweetness, gentle heat and perfect drying) is either good Wheat-straw, Rye-straw, Barley-straw or Oaten-straw; and of these the Wheat-straw is the best, because it is most substantial, longest lasting, makes the sharpest fire, and yields the least flame…

Again, as Harrison half a century before, you have grades of malting based on the fuel used but now not just wood or straw are described but in this passage four separate sorts of straw. But Markham continues. After these light grain straws he lists fen-rushes, then straws of peas, fetches, lupins and tares. Then beans, furs, gorse, whins and small brush-wood. Then bracken, ling and broom. Then wood of all sorts. Then and only then coal, turf and peat but only of the kiln is structured to keep the smoke out of the malt. If you go back to that 2004 archaeological report you will see a reference to evidence of that sort of malt kilning in practice in the 1400s: “… [A] charred deposit overlying the brick floor of the cellar was sampled and found to comprise mainly charcoal fragments from narrow twigs, several straw culm nodes and occasional charred weed seeds.” You can learn more about culm nodes here.

• Late 1600s: In his book A New Art of Brewing Beer, Ale, and Other Sorts of Liquors…published in 1690, Thomas Tryon discusses malting. Large parts of the book was reprinted in the 1885 text Malt and Malting: An Historical, Scientific, and Practical Treatise… by Henry Stopes. Tryon confirms the ascendancy of coke over straw due to its “gentle and certain heat.” Straw, he has to admit, is still a close second but depends more on the skill of the maltster. Wood kilning is called unnatural in that it leaves a smokey taste.

• Late 1800s: A big jump in time to the document from which that table waaaaay up top comes from page 66 of the Transactions for 1884 of the Society of Engineers based in London, England. That table is found in an article “The Engineering of Malting” read by one Mr. H. Stopes at the meeting of that organization. He also read it at the eleventh meeting of the Society of Arts on 18 February 1885. In his article, Stopes describes the malting process briefly in this way: “The English system, briefly, is steeping corn in an open vessel, germinating it upon flat exposed floors at very shallow depths, and drying upon an open-fire kiln with single floor at from nine to twenty-one days after steep.” As noted above, that sort of description could have been written by Walter of Bibbesworth 650 years earlier because the making of malt was an incredibly stable practice. He goes on to describe many sorts of malting he has witnessed including the most basic:

The simplest form of malt-house possessing any capacity for work is a plain two-story building, having attached to it a kiln or drying-house, and consisting of a ground floor of clunch, a brick steeping-cistern, and a first-floor of timber, with or without partitions for separating the stored grain or malt. The only implements are a wooden shovel and a winnowing-fan or sieve to separate the roots or “combs ” from the malt prior to its use in the brewhouse. The author has seen malt made in Italy in an open court or loggia, where the barley was steeped in a tub, allowed to germinate upon the stones in the open air, and dried in a small lean-to building, with only a hole in the roof for the exit of smoke and vapour. This was furnished with a floor of perforated sheet iron and a furnace similar to that used under an ordinary washing copper in an* English scullery. Even more primitive operations are performed in Nubia, as there millet, when malted, is dried in the sun. Such rude malteries Concern us only so far that they occupy the lowest end of the scale, and indicate the necessity for moisture, growth, and curing or drying, the three essential conditions of making malt.

Sun dried malt. That’s be pale. Stopes does not really explain his table. But he includes a column for sun-dried or air-dried malt as opposed to kiln dried. And shows that it, like plain barley, it contains no products of torrefaction. Torrefaction is toasting, roasting, etc. He does however state that kilning pale malt and amber malt is a difference of 200° to 240° F and that the time for malting is counted in days. Plenty of time to control the process. Not something in 1885 that needed scientific instruments. And if not in 1885 likely not in 1385.

I am going to keep working on this and posting updates. I may also be seeing this rudimentary traditional pale malt production evidenced in frontier New York in the first decade of the 1800s. I need to think more about that. And all of this. Suffice it to say, I am pretty certain there is evidence that the making of pale malt was not dependent on the invention of coke and that English speaking peoples in centuries past enjoyed ales which were not dark and smokey. This is in no way to say that most beer was not dark and smokey. It just seems to me that this may be found where (i) the folk are poor, (ii) resources and skills are limited or (iii) standardized industrial techniques such as – or rather concurrent to – the use of coal and coke beginning in the 1600s forced people to put up with beer that was dark and smokey. I also need to tie it into grain drying as well as bread ovens, both technologies used since the middle ages which could be overlapped with the kilning of malt.

Some Uses Of Beer In Early 17th Century Newfoundland


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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