The Promise Of Every Man His Own Brewer, 1768

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Issac Bobin’s Letter, 6 September 1720

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For The True Beer Gent, A Hopsack Suit Perhaps?

From Sessional Papers, House of Lords, 1840

—-

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

Mr. PETER CORBETT sworn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Preserve Your Health and Drink Nothing Else…”

As Stan pointed out this morning in his weekly links… aka apparently for the next two weeks his weakly links…. Gary G has been posting what he has learned about about musty ale, musty ale, musty ale, and musty ale.

I have little to add. I get all confused once we get any distance past the first third of the nineteenth century. Lager history seems to give me the yips. But I will add this. That is an ad from the New York Herald of 22 December 1861 offering Hume’s Unadulterated Musty Ale. Hume’s ad locates the brewery at number 638 Broadway. Ten days earlier, the notice was a little different. The address is at the corner of Broadway and Bleeker Streets, an intersection in NYC that still exists – where the Swatch ship is now. Maybe it was just a bar, not a brewery. In April 1861, there was an auction at the location offer “one spendid English four pull Beer Pump.” A few years later, the Occidental is looking for 10 or 12 young lady waiter at the same address. There was a robbery there the next year. Bleeker Street, by the way, is named after Anthony Lispenard Bleeker, a cousin to the brewing Lispenards of pre-Revolutionary New York City, the fact of which just cost me 30 minutes of my life in tangential searches which will come to nothing.  Nothing.

I can’t find anything on Hume. Gary has a Hume, J.B.,  brewing musty ale in Cincinnati in 1859. Bet Gerry has a binder on Hume. Gerry, not Gary. Binders. On Humes. Me? Nuttin. Was Hume bringing in Cincinnati beer into NYC? Maybe. Seems odd. But that’s Hume for you. Maybe. Whoever he was, he was selling musty ale in NYC in 1861. Whatever it was. He had it. Right there.

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.

Reaching Back Into 1780s Hudson History

hudsonwg27sept1787aI buried the grape vines the other day. Gave the lawn one last mow. The Red Sox have been gone from my TV for about five weeks now. Winter is coming. Thank God that there is the hunt for beer and brewing history to fill the dark cold nights.  Craig forwarded me this one image a few months ago and it has sat in my inbox waiting for the right time. He spotted it at a display on the US Constitution – a newspaper ran the text of the Constitution and Faulkner’s ad on the front page.

It’s from the September 27, 1787 issue of the Hudson Weekly Gazette and it neatly fills a gap. We’ve traced the career of William D. Faulkner from Brooklyn in the late 1760s to Albany in the early 1790s. We had known that there was a lull in his career after the disruptions of the American Revolution so it’s exciting to see that by just four years after the peace he was settling into the mid-valley town of Hudson, NY. Just as the Hessian Fly was decimating grain crops. The ad states that his previous brewery was destroyed by fire. That would be one of the two Rutgers’ Maiden Lane breweries that he left Brooklyn for in 1770, the brewery of Anthony Rutgers. Or, was it the Cow-Hill brewery in Harlem Craig mentioned when he sent the image, referenced in our book. That would give Faulkner a five brewery colonial career. The man was on the go.

And he likes himself. He “ever commanded the first a market and home and abroad” confirming again he was an exporting brewer when they were supposed not to exist.  The inter-coastal and inter-colonial trade in beer is waiting to be explored as is the ranges of beer which were brewed. Look at the ad again. It includes a price list:

Stock Ale at 5 Dollars, per Barrel.
Mild Do. at 3 Do. per Do.
Ship and Table Beer at 12s. per Do.
Double Spruce at 16s. per Do.
Single Do. 11s. per Do.

Remember that “Do.” is ditto and that “s” is shilling.  Currency in the years after the end of the Revolution remained in flux: dollars and shillings in the same ad. Same in Upper Canada. And there is also the assertion that his best ale will be warranted to keep good to any part of the East or West Indies or any foreign Market while name dropping Taunton and Liverpool Ale along with Dorchester and Bristol Beer. A pretty confident and skilled brewer. Good to see “Stock Ale” on offer, just as we see it in the Vassar brewing logs from nearby Poughkeepsie of the mid-1830s.  Philadelphia’s Perot in the early 1820s uses the term “long keeping” instead.

Just like these other brewers, Faulkner was speaking to his market. You would not name this range of styles or the other famous English beers if your customer did not know what they were, didn’t have a need for Stock Ale. As time passes and the new Republic gets some decades under its belt, these lists of styles on offer become shorter. Perhaps to match the simpler nature of the struggling society moving away from the coastal economy, driving inland.

I Have A Dream – A Dream About 1790s Porter

 

Bpewterporteroak and Bailey have posted about Ron‘s stock ale brewed with Goose Island, Brewery Yard. I asked which malt was used in the comments and learned it was Maris Otter, a variety introduced later than the era being emulated. Which is normal as very little older malt is actually available.

But that is changing. As Ed noted, work is being done to reintroduce the heritage English hop Farnham Whitebine. A year ago, apparently the first batch of the pale ale using malt made from Chevallier barley was made. Chevallier was introduced in the 1820s and became a key malt barley strain in the Victorian era. It’s return is a blessing for those who now want to explore the beers of over a century ago.

But I am greedy. I want more now. I want my Battledore barley based porter. As we pass from this era of amazeballs murk – just as we’ve long since passed the era of X-Treme heavy metal themed big bombs – I hope and pray we are moving into a time when at least rare strains of hop and barley become more and more available so we might know what the beers of our forefolk were really like. And so we might one day actually have a true double double.

Philadelphians Studying Barley Varieties In 1788 And 1819

A road block. As much a writer’s block as a researching one. Spring is a rotten time to sit down to a computer in the evening. Softball games need being watched, exam sitters need being encouraged and the garden still remains not fully planted. It’s a bad time of the year to daydream about what was going on with brewing in the years around 1800. But then the hint is there – the garden – and away you go again.

The Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture is the oldest agricultural society in the United States, first organized in 1785. Reports about its early findings pop up fairly regularly in newspapers reminding you that leading edge science was always interesting and important. Was it the Homebrew Computer Club of its era? Maybe. Ben Franklin was a founder. But it didn’t exactly set off a nation-wide explosion of research. My nearby Jefferson County Agricultural Society is the second oldest in New York State but, still, it’s thirty-two years younger than the one in Philadelphia. But it started things rolling. The Philadelphia Society’s is mentioned in the 31 July 1788 letter to George Washington from gentleman farmer George Morgan discussing strategies to avoid crop loss that seems connected to that newspaper report in the Poughkeepsie Journal on Hiltzheimer’s crop planting tests from that fall. Both are related to the Hessian Fly. Morgan writes:

Your Excellency is no doubt informed of the Ravages made in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey by the Hessian Fly, whose History is given in various Publications: As this Insect is now advanced to the Neighbourhood of Philadelphia, and its Progress southward is alarming to the Farmer, I have taken some Pains to inform myself of its Manners and Life, and to make several Experiments to oppose its destructive Depredations: From these it appears that good Culture of strong Soil, or well manured Lands, may sometimes produce a Crop of Wheat or Barley, when that sowed in poor or middling Soil, without the other Advantages, will be totally destroy’d…

The Hessian Fly, Morgan reports, only attacked the wheat and barley. Rye was seldom touched and oats, buckwheat and corn were unaffected. The Hessian Fly was still hammering the crops in the Upper Hudson in 1799. Which goes a long way to explain why Sir William Strickland is studying American agriculture in the mid-1790s. Given Europe’s croplands are being ravaged by war, finding sources of grain was vital. Two decades on, the issue is still a concern of the Philadelphia Agricultural Society, as noted in volume 1, number 12 of The American Farmer from 18 June 1819:

In England, and other parts of Europe, and in the northern parts of our country, summer wheat is raised to great advantage. Whether or not it would escape the fly is doubtful; for flies have been found in plenty in summer barley. ‘ It is not yet agreed what kinds of wheats best withstand injuries from the Hessian Fly. The yellow bearded and other wheats with solid straw or strong stems, (the solid stemmed wheats being designated by the appellation of cane or cone wheats) are deemed the most efficacious. Farmers should bend their sedulous attention to the selection of such wheats. Good farming, manure, and reasonably late sowing, are certainly the best securities. But too late seeding is unsafe; for the spring-brood of flies attack the tender plants of every late sown wheat, not sufficiently forward to be capable of resisting this foe, with the like destructive effect we experience in spring barley; appearing to prefer, for this purpose, plants in the early stages of their growth. It is, most probably, a native here. lt never entirely leaves us; though it appears, at irregular periods, in numbers less scourging than at times when its ravages are more conspicuously destructive.

Which indicates that there was a very good reason that six-row winter barley continued to be the preferred crop of barley well into the 1800s despite the advice given from England to move to two-row and its higher productivity. The finer crop simply was not suited to the local conditions. Winter wheat was out of the ground and hearty enough to withstand the fly. This also ties into Craig’s observations from last January about the second third of the 1800s when he noticed Albany area brewers adding honey to the wort to top up the fermentables. Six-row worked.

Which makes me wonder when exactly six-row ever got into most of the mash in America?

That 1700s Battledore Barley And The Other Four

battledore3These are busy days. The endy bit of April and the first half of May require my time in the garden. Yesterday I took apart the compost bin, sieved all the good bits out, returned all the half-rotted stuff and layered it with last autumn’s leaves and the parsnip greens from the overwintered crop. And it had gone all anaerobic. Much of it was the consistency of warm chocolate, reeking of sweet bog. Hours it took me. Then there was the week’s laundry. I don’t trust it to just anyone. And another Red Sox game to watch. And tweed to covet.* And supper to make. Saturdays are exhausting. No time to swan and noodle about the the London Metropolitan Archives like some. Research gets little time in spring.Yet, at the back of my mind there is that question. You will recall Sir. Wm Strickland’s observations from 1796 set out in a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated 20 May 1796:

I have reason to believe that a grain of Barley has never yet been sown on the Continent; the grain which is there sown, under that name, is not that from which our malt-liquors are made; it is here known under the name of Bigg, or Bigg-barley, is cultivated only on the Northern Mountains of this Island, and used only for the inferior purposes of feeding pigs or poultry, and is held to be of much too inferior a quality to Make into Malt, and of the five different grains of the species of Barley known to us, it is held to be by far the worst; I have therefore taken the liberty of sending a small quantity of the best species of Barley, (the Flat or Battledore Barley) and the one most likely to succeed with you; this grain is sown in the spring, on any rich cultivated soil; I recommend it strongly to your attention; and shall rejoice if I prove the means of introducing into your country an wholesome and invigorating liquor.

The passage is handy. It fills in two of the five grades of barley known to Britain in the 1790s. Flat or Battledore is the best. Bigg or Bygg is the worst. In the last post about Strickland, we reviewed how that latter lesser sort was six-row, winter or bigg barley. So what were the others? Battledore was a thing of the past in 1866 when the fourth volume of The English Cyclopaedia stated that the Sprat, or Battledore – also called Putney Barley – is the hordeum zeocriton. In a 2010 post, Ron noted that it was also called Goldthorpe. It seems to have hit its peak before the popularization of hordeum distichum or Chevallier. In 1785 it was described in A New System of Husbandry: from many years experience, with tables shewing the expence and profit of each crop by Charles Varlo in this way:

The sprat or battle-dore barley, has only two rows of grain; for which reaƒon , the ear is flat, the corn is ƒhort, plump and thin ƒkinned, not inclined to have a long gross ƒtraw, (but indeed this varies according to the richneƒs of the ground it is ƒown on) it is ƒaid it will grow well on many other ƒorts of land. I have had great crops on tough, ƒtrong, cold clay, or gravel land; but ƒuch muƒt be well pulverised, ƒweetened, enriched, mollified and warmed by tillage.

See, now it’s “Battle-dore” as well. And the focus is not so much scientific in the sense of identifying the plant as it was agricultural in the way the author describes its uses. In 1745‘s Agriculture Improv’d Or the Practice of Husbandry Displayd by William Agric Ellis, it was stated that it will produce “a strong straw that will always grow and stand erect to the last” whereas “common Barley… will fall down, and sometimes rot on the Ground.” Being also an earlier crop, the sprat or Battledore was harvested in 1744 before damaging rains came.

It is this Sort of Barley that is most valued by Distillers, for producing the greatest Quantity of Spirits, and is no less profitable to Brewers, for making a Malt that yields the greatest Length of Worts : The Stalk and Chaff indeed are coarƒish, but the Quality and Quantity of this Grain largely compenƒate for it.

More information is provided in The Natural History of Northamptonshire published in 1715 by John Morton, naturalist and Rector of Oxendon.** He records that there were two sorts of barley in his immediate area: sprat or Battledoor barley and Long-eared barley. Rath-ripe barley, however, was being grown in the area of Lowick, twenty mile to the east, and in fact it was the only barley sown by his colleague the Rev. Mr. Poulton of that parish. Each of these are distinguished, again, from common barley. Reaching back another twenty-nine years, we see the sorts of barley described in 1686‘s The Natural History of Stafford-Shire by Robert Plot – perhaps my favourite new old book of the year given how it may contain a creation myth, the very genesis of Burton and its ales. In one exciting passage at page 347, Plot states:

… it remains only that we recount the varieties of each kind sown here; and by what rules they are guided in the choice of their seed: there being as many sorts used here, and perhaps more, than in some richer Counties. For beside the white-flaxen, and bright red-wheat (which are the ordinary grains of the Country) they now and then sow the Triticum Multiplex or double-eard wheat; Triticum Polonicum or Poland wheat; and Tragopyrum, Buck or French-wheat; all described above Chap. 6. And for barleys; beside the common long-eard, and sprat-barley, which are most used; they sow sometimes the Tritico-speltum or naked barley, of which also above Chap. 6. And amongst the Oats: beside the White, black, and red Cats; at Burton upon Trent I found they also sowed the Avena nuda or naked Oat ; described, Ibidem.

Is anything more fabulous than a text that is 330 years old that uses the proper scientific Latin names of things? It’s all so… science-y. But what does it tell us? What does all of it tell us? Here’s what I see:

1. Battledore or Sprat Barley
2. Long-Eared Barley
3. Naked Barley
4. Rath-ripe Barley
5. Bigg Barley

Are these the five sorts of barley Strickland mentioned in his letter of 1796? I don’t know. There must be a masters thesis or two out there on the topic that would give more clarity. And there is that pesky reference to “common barley” that is a bit of a theme throughout these texts. Suffice it to say for now, then, that there were varieties and perhaps ones which are still sown for non-brewing purposes. More research needed. But, clearly, we can be assured that to the gentleman agriculturalist of 1796 Battledore is the best and was spoken highly of for the previous century. Which makes me suggest that if one is recreating porters of that vintage one ought to be using Battledore malt and not the later improved varieties of 1800s Chevallier or mid-1900s Maris Otter. Shouldn’t one? Certainly one would if one is to brew the earliest Burton, like the lads sipped in 1712.

battledore2

Update: above you will see a passage from John Ray’s 1677 book Catalogus Plantarum Angliae, Et Insularum Adjacentium: Tum Indigenas, tum in agris passim cultas complectens. In quo praeter Synonyma necessaria, facultates quoque summatim traduntur, una cum Observationibus et Experimentis Novis Medicis et Physicis which describes Battledoor barley as a form of hordeum distichum and not hordeum zeocriton. Hmm… in 1838 it was called hordeum disticho-zeocriton. Hmm…This 2003 bit of botany suggests Spratt was a UK landrace out of which other barley strains developed.

*I am having a wee problem over the last six months. It really started in January 2015 with a windowpane tweed bucket hat bought at Pringle in Glasgow. Then, told at work along with other mid-life males to smarten up the look a bit I’ve, well, gone a bit overboard. I can’t recommend Peter Christian highly enough in such tight spots. Clothes for folk with 37 inch arms like me. Delivery by international $25 courier in about five days. I had no idea that I needed a lavender crew neck cotton sweater. But now I have one. And four new sports coats. And new sorts of socks. God, the HJ socksalone have changed my life…
**Which is just nine mile south of the famous Kibworth examined in BBC’s The Story of England mentioned here and here.