Why Did Ontario Beer Have To Make Its Own Way?

1782mm1Why did Ontario have to make its own path to beerdom? Well, a war and a river for one thing. As we discussed yesterday, the land that is now Ontario was settled in 1783-84 by Loyalist refugees from New York state after the American Revolution. For the first five years, Kingston is a military town without civic government. Over the years that follow until about 1843, it is the leading town in the new British colonies of Upper Canada and then Canada. But the threat of war with nearby America hovers over it well into the 1860s. Kingston sits where the first Great Lake meets the St. Lawrence River which flows on past Montreal, past Quebec and out to the sea. For well over the first hundred miles of that flow, the south shore of the river is in US hands as are half of the islands. And that made shipping drink to that spot particularly difficult as this summary of a letter to the Governor of Canada dated 11 May 1783 suggests:

The want of rum; the Indians have been supplied a little more liberally than usual to keep them in good humour. The honourable and liberal conduct of Hamilton and Cartwright in lending rum, by which they must be considerable losers, only stipulating that a certain quantity of dry goods might be shipped for them at Carleton Island, to which he had agreed. The Indian officers that have resided at the Indian Villages for some time cannot be removed for fear of creating suspicions, but they will be discontinued as fast as circumstances permit, The Indians behave well, but he wishes Sir John Johnson would appear soon.

The Johnson clan, founders of Kingston, were an integrated family of Anglo-American’s and Mohawk. John Johnson’s step-mother was Molly Brant or Konwatsi’tsiaienni so the references to rum and its use describe a bond, not the disrespect and degradation that came in later generations. Almost thirty years before, in 1775 William Johnson, the elder, described his provisions of beer and their purpose in his accounts: on 6 June as ” 2 Barrels beer of Hend’k Fry for the Conajoharees to drink the Kings Health” and again on 22 July of the same year “To a Bull to the Mohawks + 3 Barrels of Beer for a War Dance at their Castle”. Beer and rum were part of the supply requested and required when you were making allies at the farthest end of the reach of the Empire. Because until 1777 – and really for some time later – the Johnsons and their well stocked booze stash are the western end of the British Empire except for a few thinly manned forts.

Which leads to a few observations. If you click on the map above, you will see that there is a route A and a route B to Lake Ontario, the navy filled buffer that protected the Loyalist settlers and later immigrants for their first four decades there. The St. Lawrence, a 112-gun first-rate wooden warship of the Royal Navy along with other cannon laden ships, was built at Kingston in 1814. It was bigger than any other ship in the fleet globally. But it could not reach the sea. Not by route A or route B. The St. Lawrence, route A, was filled with rapids that left the early inhabitants lake locked. Route B fell into US revolutionary hands with the fall of Johnstown in 1777 after thirty years of the upper reaches effectively under control of the one family, one man.

dkb1So, how to get beer to Kingston when one route is under constant risk of attack and the other is in enemy hands? Well, you don’t. You have to wait to grow crops and then you have to feed yourself, sell some off for cash and then sooner or later you get to the point that there is enough extra to make beer. Have a look at that ad we looked at yesterday placed in a Kingston newspaper in 1820 by the brewer Thoma Dalton. He is seeking both ale customers and malt suppliers in the local farming community as a means to overcome imported rum, as a means to create a local economy. The next year he is in Montreal with a trial shipment of 100 barrels of “Kingston ale” for public auction. He must have convinced the farmers of Kingston to do business.

Over the next decade and a half Ontario continues to fill and local breweries are there. In 1836 there is a brewery for sale or rent in St. Catherines and another at the River Credit at the western end of Lake Ontario. Five years earlier, in 1831 there was a brewery even further to the west serving the 800 residents of the area of Guelph, currently home to micro turned national Sleeman as well as the craft brewers of the Wellington Brewery and the F+M Brewery.

So why did Ontario become a land of local beers made with local products sold to local people? There was really no other reasonable choice, no other good way to get your beer.

The Origins Of Ontario’s Good Beer Tradition

dkb1Beer. It only gets to you in so many ways. You make beer and provide it to your community. You make beer and ship it to another community. You ship beer in and provide it to your community. There are not too many other options for the beer trade whether you are talking about 1810 or 2010. Today we are talking about the late 1700s and early 1800s.

The community I happen to live in now, Kingston Ontario, is a lucky choice if you are interested in the history and beer in Ontario as it is where Ontario began. Actually, it was all the Province of Quebec when it began as a British governed community in 1783. At that point, Quebec then ran all the way west and included Ohio and Michigan. The people who first settled here were wealthy Mohawk Valley NY land owners, their slaves, their Mohawk allies and their Loyalist tenant farmers evicted from New York state during the American Revolution. Not the British. This is a community started by battling Yorker farmer warriors.

Allen Winn Sneath in his book Brewed in Canada states that the first brewery in what by then was called Upper Canada was the Finkle’s Tavern, founded a few miles west of Kingston in Bath in 1800. The Ontario historic plaque indicates it was built earlier, in 1786 when the area was still Quebec. Sneath’s book has a photo from the collection of beer writer Ian Bowering. What did they do before then? For the first years of Kingston we are likely looking at locally made home brewed ales, maybe some casks of strong ale being brought in for the wealthy but mainly lots and lots of rum if you go by the ads in the available newspapers. In a way, the tastes of Kingston echo of the community led by Sir William Johnson who died suddenly in upstate NY in 1774 just before the Revolution. He left his affairs to his son John who went on to lead led the Loyalist defense of upstate NY in the Revolution and then because the Superintendent of the resettlement here, the first colonization of the Great Lakes basis under British command. William Johnson was in the habit of importing good strong beer. It’s likely his son, John, continued the practice.

Kingston was still a strong ale town in 1890 according to this article from that year in The New York Times. The town was filled with farmer warriors who would have immediately grown their own grain crops as soon as they hit the shore. In that clip from the Kingston Chronicle of the 3rd of March 1820 above, the first commercial brewer in Kingston, Thomas Dalton, seeks out local grain to make his extra strong bodied ale, even using a nationalist argument to encourage drinking of Canadian beer over West Indian rum.

So, good strong ale was likely being both brewed and brought into Kingston soon after its founding in 1783. And with it came the genesis of the Ontario craft beer trade that continues today.

Who Was The Last Slave In Ontario Or Kingston?

levi1Right: Levi Veney, ex-slave who lived in Amherstburg, taken at J. D. Burkes’ store, 1898. Archives of Ontario. Click for large view.

I am not one of those anti-MSM, “the boogiemen are just round that corner now that Democrats are here” sorts of persons that have been so tediously active in the blogosphere in the last 24 hours…but when I heard a self-congratulatory reference in a CBC radio piece suggesting Canada not having a history of race issues as had the USA, it did grate on the ears. Reminded me to switch stations. But it got me thinking…there must have been a last slave in Canada. We traded in human souls with the best of them before a certain date, before the long path to today began. Google Books to the rescue with the 1869 book History of the Settlement of Upper Canada (Ontario), with Special Reference to the Bay of Quinté by Wm. Canniff. where we read at page 574:

…when the British Act of Emancipation was passed, in 1833, setting free the slaves in all parts of the Empire, there was no slaves in Canada, Upper or Lower. Thirty years previous had the evil been crushed in Lower Canada, and forty years before Upper Canada had declared that it was “highly expedient to abolish slavery,” and had enacted laws to secure its abolition…

The story goes on to mention the slaves of of the first Loyalist familes who settled along the eastern shore of Lake Ontario and down the St. Lawrence and, at pages 576 and 577 there is this extraordinary statement:

We have before us the copy of an assignment made in 1824 by Eli Keeler, of Haldimand, Neweastle, to William Bell, of Thurlow, of a Mulatto boy, Tom, in which it is set forth, that the said boy has time unexpired to serve as the child of a female slave, namely, ten years, from the 29th Feb. 1824, according to the laws of the Province ; for the sum of $75. Probably, this was the last slave in Canada whose service closed, 1835.

It appears from that reference and a few others that a child of a slave was a slave until majority during the transitional period. So who was the last one alive? Probably not this gentleman, given Mr. Veney above, but he is worth mentioning now as Canniff did at page 577:

In the Ottawa Citizen of 1867, appeared the following: A BRITISH SLAVE — An old negro appeared at the Court of Assize yesterday, in a case of Morris vs. Hennerson. He is 101 years of age, and was formerly a slave in Upper Canada, before the abolition of slavery in the British possessions. He fought through the American war in 1812, on the side of the British; was at the battles of Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane, and was wounded at Sacket’s Harbour. He is in full possession of all his faculties. He was born in New York State in 1766, and was the slave of a TJ. B. Loyalist, who brought him to Canada. He was brought to this city to prove the death of a person in 1803, and another in 1804.

If he was wounded at the 1812 Battle of Sackets Harbor (there was another in 1813) that means he was at least in Kingston then as the British force was based here, a generation before the Martellos were built. I will have to see if that case is reported, if it actually gives his name.

Jeffery Amherst’s Spruce Beer Circa 1759

amherstI am a bad home brewer. I have had supplies in for months to do a couple of all-grain batches but still they stiff wrapped and wrapped again in plastic in a cool, dark place. I did buy another mash pot yesterday but, given my failure to avoid napping and reading this afternoon, no beer again was made. Yet, beer knowledge expanded as I was reading The French and Indian War, a pretty good read by Walter R. Borneman, and came across this recipe for spruce beer from 1759, taken from an order by General Jeffery Amherst, to be supplied to the British troops moving to take the fort at Crown Point from the French:

Take 7 Pounds of good spruce and boil it well till the bark peels off, then take the spruce out and put three Gallons of Molasses to the Liquor and and boil it again, scum it well as it boils, then take it out the kettle and put it into a cooler, boil the remained of the water sufficient for a Barrel of thirty Gallons, if the kettle is not large enough to boil it together, when milk warm in the Cooler put a pint of Yest into it and mix well. Then put it into a Barrel and let it work for two or three days, keep filling it up as it works out. When done working, bung it up with a Tent Peg in the Barrel to give it vent every now and then. It may be used in up to two or three days after. If wanted to be bottled it should stand a fortnight in the Cask. It will keep a great while.

Yum. You see the key phrase, don’t you: “till the bark peels off”. The British army was using whole branches, not just needles and boughs. Again I say – yum. Google gives us that recipe, too, but give up has more on the brew – in the form of a digitized copy of the 1759 orderly book from Amherst’s expedition north up Lake Champlain, setting out how the army brewed:

Spruce Beer will be Brewed for the Health and Conveniency of the Troops, which will be ƒerved at prime Coƒt ; 5 Quarts of Mollaƒƒes will be put into every Barrel of Spruce Beer ; each Gallon coƒt nearly 3 Coppers. The Quarter-maƒters of the Regiments, Regulars and Provincials, are to give Notice to Lieut. Colo. Robiƒon of the Quantity each Corps are deƒirous to receive, for which they muƒt give Receipts and pay the Money before the Regiments marches. Each Regiment to ƒend a Man acquainted with Brewing, or that is beƒt capable of aƒƒifting the Brewers, to the Brewery to-morrow Morning at 6 o’clock, at the Rivulet on the Left of Montgomerys. Thoƒe Men are to Remain, and are to be paid at the Rate of 1 8 Pence Currency per Day. One Serjt. of the Regulars and one of the Provencials to ƒuper-intend the Brewery, who will be paid is 6d per Day. Spruce Beer will be deliverd to the Regiments on Thursday Evening or Friday morning.

Sweet use of the long “s” HTML, eh what? Let me know if you can’t see them and I will report back to The 1700s Typeface Open Source Beer Recipe Project.

More? OK, Borneman points that “rum and other spirituous liquors” were prohibited under his command but that spruce beer provided some protection against scurvy among other benefits…aka “conveniency”. Here is a 5 gallon clone of the beer for the inconvenienced homebrewer. But not me. I have those other beers I have yet to make lined up first.

Book Review: A History of Brewing in Holland 900 – 1900

hbhI started reading my copy of A History of Brewing in Holland 900-1900: Economy, Technology and the State by UBC professor Richard W. Unger, published in 2001. Careful readers will recall that I had ached after this book ever since I reviewed his 2004 publication Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance but was a bit depressed about the sticker price of this one. Divine (or at least professorial) intervention, however, landed me the prize of a review copy.

I am only about 70 pages in – up to the 1400s – and am fascinated all over again by the precision and detail of the research yet also by how readable Unger makes understanding his work. So far, in a nutshell, he has taken medieval tax and shipping records and then traces how the semi-autonomous cities and towns within and neighbouring the Low Countries produced traded and consumed beer. He shows how Holland’s success in leveraging the new fangled hop that arrived from the south-eastern North Sea shipping trade in the 1300s led to the replacement of gruit as a flavouring in beer, triggered a shift in taxation and public regulation while expanding commerce through the ability of hops to stabilize the beer to allow it travel farther while maintaining its good condition. This portion of the book mirrors some of what was included more detail in his other book – for example, how taxes were based first on granting a monopoly to supplying an ingredient (ie counts farming to local towns the right to control the gruit trade) then on the production of beer (excise tax based on production provided more than 50% of Lieden’s revenue in the early 1400s) then on control of shipping of beer (through tolls, holding periods for trans-shipped casks and special import duties). The general information on the medieval economy is also interesting – like the fact that the Black Plague led to the marketplace for labour after it passed through as the survivors could decide what to do with their skills and thereby their lives.

I will add to this post as I move through the book but, again, I am struck how I would love to find a current text of this detailed quality in relation to the economics of English, American or any other region’s brewing but, other than Hornsey’s more scientific and encyclopedic A History of Beer and Brewing, know of none.

Book Review: A History of Beer and Brewing, Ian S. Hornsey

I have been working thought my review copy of this 632 page paperback published by the Royal Society of Chemistry for the best part of a month now. It is fascinating. Likely the best book on beer I have ever read. Clear, comprehensive and incredibly well-researched, this book contextualized beer and related beverages in the cultural and scientific world contemporary to any given era from pre-historic cave dwellers to the modern era and CAMRA. Yes, insert your joke of convenience now…

It is this latter aspect, the context, that really is a treat. As we learn how beer and brewing evolved, we also learn about about such things as potting techniques, movements of peoples across continents as well as how scientific advances such as in the Enlightenment came about. I had no idea that Ancient Egypt was pretty much a society on the bottle all of the time or that the Stuarts in the 1600s were the originators of much of the alcohol related law that still exists today – including taxing drinking as a mechanism for reducing drunkenness…outside of the Egyptian-esque Court of King James I, that is.

This is such an expansive work that it is really hard to write a review of this length. It has a certain scale others I have read do not. For example, Hornsey describes 15 different peoples between the Israelites and the Celts over almost 50 pages to trace the likely route of beer making from its birthplace in Egypt and Babylon to north-eastern Europe and Britain at the time of Christ. In addition to such anthropology, there is plenty of archaeobotany where the stuff in the pot found in the grave or the newly uncovered early medieval basement as well as review of primary documentary sources going back to the beginning of writing. Also, this is a peer-reviewed sort of scientific text which both adds to its trustworthy completeness compared to some of the recent pop histories on beer as well as to its practical status as a benchmark against which other histories are measured. For the casual reader, it should serve as either a dispute settler in itself or at least as a pointer, though its extensive bibliography, to most solutions to the questions that can arise between nerds.

I may think of more to add later as I get through the last third of the book but I can leave it here by saying this is the best history I have encountered to date.

Reason #17 As To Why We Need Sponsorships


This is what I am talking about. I would love to get a copy of this book but – wow! – one hundred and fifty-four clams. Don’t get me wrong. A History of Brewing in Holland 900-1900: Economy, Technology and the State by Richard W. Unger (2001) would fit very nicely beside his next following text Beer in the Middle Ages and Renaissance reviewed back here with great gusto. In have a review request in to the publisher in Holland but am not holding my breath given that it is five years old. Yet access to this sort of research is vital to the workings of A Good Beer Blog.

So should you see an ad pop up sometime, this is why. Just saying.

Quick Note: St. Peter’s Old Style Porter

This beer from St. Peter’s is a ruby brown ale under an oddly ivory head. I’ve never seen an ivory head: tan plus hints of green-grey. This is old style, like Burton Bridge porter: barley candy plus molasses with lime and green hops. The yeast is sour cream or soured milk or something in between. Yet all well balanced.

Is this the holy grail? A 1750s porter? Likely not sour enough but colonial US farmers drank diluted vinegar so go figure.