Some Thursday Beer News After The Whole Green Flash Thing

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

Gary: Bass master… not Bassmaster. Got it?

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

Yup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrator ends its print run. I blame MySpace.

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

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

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

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

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

What Is… Or Was “Schenk” Beer Anyway?

That’s from the New York Herald of 28 May 1874.  Schenk is one of those words that flits around the edges of US beer history popping up in scientific tables, included in passing references before, say, 1900 that is one of the more irritating to research. One simple reason is that it was / is a reasonably common surname. And it may suffer from that problem of speculation in the guise of conclusion we see too much of. Footnotes and primary records are the regular cure for that ailment so let’s see what we can find out before we form the image in our mind’s eye.

First, let’s start relatively near the end. In every child’s favourite bedtime book, Johnson’s New Universal Cyclopaedia: a Scientific and Popular Treasury of Useful Knowledge, Volume 1, at page 442 we read this in the sub-article on “Lager Beer”:

Three varieties of this beer are made: (1) “Lager” or summer beer, for which 3 bushels of malt and IA to 3 pounds of hops are used per barrel, and which is not ready for use in less than from four to six months. (2) “Schenk” winter or present-use beer: 2 to 3 bushels malt and 1 pound hops per barrel; ready in four to six weeks. (3) Bock bier, which is an extra strong beer, made in small quantity and served to customers in the spring, during the interval between the giving out of the schenk beer and the tapping of the lager. In its manufacture 3 1/2 bushels of malt and 1 pound of hops per barrel are used, and it requires two months for its preparation. 

The encyclopedia was produced by the A.J. Johnson publishing house of New York City run by one Alvin J. Johnson. You can click on the image to the right where each of the  three sorts of beer are prefaced by the word “Munich” – which is interesting. What I also like about that passage is how well it aligns with one other reference from a completely difference source. In 2011, the terribly reliable Ron wrote a post about Vienna malt and quoted a long passage from the British Medical Journal 1869, vol. 1 and particularly from pages 83 to 84:

Generally speaking, the beer drunk in Austria and Germany has less alcoholic strength than that consumed here. The strongest Kinds, such as those known in Bavaria by the names “Holy Father”, “Salvator”, and “Buck”, rarely contain so much as 5 per cent, by weight of absolute alcohol. The store-beer, or lager bier, generally contains about 3.5 per cent., ranging from 4 to 2.8 per cent. ; and the ordinary beer for quick draught, schenk bier, corresponding in that respect to our porter, contains from 2.25 to 3.5 per cent, of alcohol. In the Austrian dominions, the beer is generally preferred rather weaker than in Bavaria ; but in Austria, the organisation of the breweries, and the system of conducting the business, have been developed in such a manner as to assimilate more to the vast establishments we have in this country.

Now, to my mind that looks like two sources from two English-speaking countries within nine years of each other each presenting as fairly authoritative information about a classification of beer from a third culture.* For present purposes, this is useful enough to rely upon as a first principle that, whatever it was, in the latter third of the 1800s, schenk was understood as and also the common word for German beer of a weaker sort than middling lager and stronger bock. It is considered to exist on a continuum and not of a difference class than lager or bock. It is an adjective as much as a noun. A degree of strength.

This is interesting. Boak and Bailey’s bibliographical guide to entering an enhanced understanding of lager included a 2011 article by Lisa Grimm – “Beer History: German-American Brewers Before Prohibition” – which states this about the entry of lager into the brewing culture of the United States:

Many historians attribute the first lager beer brewed in America to John Wagner, a Bavarian immigrant who set up shop in Philadelphia in 1840, though some of that notice is probably due to the chain of events he helped kick off—Maureen Ogle points out in her excellent Ambitious Brew that two German immigrants were brewing lager on a small scale in 1838 in Virginia.

This passage follows the statement “German brewers were a relatively late addition to the scene, arriving in large numbers only in the mid-19th century.” This timing aligns with the post I wrote about a rather alarming New York City Sunday afternoon attack on a public house** which I entitled “An Anti-German Anti-Lager* NYC Riot In 1840” with that asterisk. See, I assumed Germans and lager were common entrants into the NYC scene but as Gary, well, chided me (let’s be frank) in relation to… 1840 slightly predates the date lager is understood to have arrived in New York with George Gillig… or rather the date Gillig takes on brewing lager. It appears he brewed something else from 1840 to 1846.

Additionally, that bit brings up national pride right about now. Jordan, in part of our book Ontario Beer, wrote that the first brewer on record in Waterloo Township was George Rebscher who opened his establishment in 1837:

It should come as no surprise that Rebscher, as a German brewer from Hesse in Franconia, brought with him the brewing techniques that were used in his homeland. Rebscher was the first brewer of lager beer in North America. What we cannot know is exactly what the lager might have been like. It seems likely the unfiltered styles that were popular in Franconia might have represented some of the early output. Given what we know of brewing in the early stages of a settlement in Upper Canada, it is relatively unlikely that George Rebscher’s lager would have been made entirely of barley for the first year or two of production.

Which is all very interesting. In the 1843 edition of Flügel’s Complete Dictionary of the German and English Languages there is a translation given at page 508 for “schenk” and a number of related words.  You can read it if you click on the thumbnail to the right. And if you can struggle with the Gothic script you will see that it is related to ideas of draught and tavern. Sort of table beer, perhaps. By contrast, lager-bier is defined at page 353 as “beer for keeping, strong beer.” Jordan went on to suggest that the early beer from Rebscher was more zwickelbier than kellerbier based on the lack of aging. To my mind, based on the above, that sounds a lot like a beer that is more schenk than lager, too.

And… that’s it. Frankly whether it was Rebscher, Wagner or Gillig really does not matter for today’s purposes. These gents are all examples of the folk included in the wave of German-speaking immigrant to the western hemisphere in Q2 1800s. It’s The Beginning. The beginning of lager. Well, a beginning of what is called lager. The beginning of German beer in North America. New beer for a new wave of immigrants in the 1830s and 1840’s. Sorta. Sorta maybe. The problem with the story is that there are two key elements that exist in North America well before this genesis story: German beer and… Germans. See, the Germans who came to North America in the second quarter of the 1800s were not the first. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has summarized it this way:

The largest wave of German immigration to Pennsylvania occurred
during the years 1749-1754 but tapered off during the French and Indian Wars and after the American Revolution… By the time of the Revolutionary War, there were approximately 65,000 to 75,000 ethnically German residents in Pennsylvania. Some historians estimate the number as high as 100,000. Benjamin Franklin wrote that at least one-third of Pennsylvania’s white population was German.

Which is interesting. There was German beer of some sort and there were Germans not only well before lager shows up in America but plenty of Germans were before the American Revolution.  But they were not necessarily the same sort of Germans. As that piece states, the German immigrants of the 1830s and 1840s came from northern and eastern Germany and were Catholic whereas the earlier Pennsylvania Germans tended to come from the southern German principalities and were Lutherans or other sorts of Protestants. Which may well mean, then as now, the beer was different.

 

 

 

 

So, armed with that, let’s go further back. If we do, we see that “schenk” was a term with a prior history. As illustrated to above the far left, Heinrich Hildebrand used the term in his early 1700s philosophical treatise Jurisdictio Universa Secundum Mores Hodiernos Compendiose Considerata. You can see it there in Gothic German script as an illustration of his tenth hypothesis set out in Latin. And, no, I have no idea what he’s talking about either. “Schenk” also shows up, as up there in the middle, in this entry in a French language dictionary of German terms from 1788, the Neues Teutsches und Französisches Wörterbuch. And, to the upper right, here it is in an English-German dictionary from Britain published in 1800. So, schenk was a thing before lager came to the USA. At this point, not so much the adjective explaining relative strength. Note also how broad the various associated forms of the word are. In 1800, a tavern  keeper is a schenk or a schenke depending on gender. It has a meaning more its own than by the end of the 1800s.

Let’s go a bit lateral now. Bear with me. We saw a year and a half ago that in the 1820s there was something called cream beer being sold in New York which was associated with the Germans of Pennsylvania. A sort of fresh beer… draught… table beer perhaps. There is another term used around the same time – “Bavarian” – sometimes with “ale” and sometimes with “beer.” The New York Evening Post of 20 January 1836 uses the term “Bavarian beer” in a long article, “The German Prince In Germany And France” where it is said the German author Jean Paul was fond of it.

And then there is swankey which , as noted by Boak and Bailey in the June 2015 edition of BeerAdvocate, was a name of a beer in Pennsylvania which was a lot like a name for a light rustic beer in Cornwall England, swanky.  The word swankey with an “e” was used in a 12 May 1849 article on a crisis at sea in the New York’s Weekly Herald. It was used in rather unflattering terms as you can see to the right: vinegar, brandy, saltwater and molasses. Notice that the ship left from Delaware. Next to eastern Pennsylvania. A lowbrow making a lowbrow reference to probably a lowbrow drink.

Hmm… then we see that the 28 April 1888 edition of the New York Tribune included a passage in a newsy notes column on a enterprise dedicated to the brewing of swankey which I set out in full below:

Brook’s law was an 1880’s temperance law in Pennsylvania. And low strength table beer “is very popular in Germany.” Stan notes a similar add from Wichita from around the same year in his book Brewing Local but suggests swankey started there. Hmm – the police blotter article up top from twelve years before would discount an 1888 start if there is a connection.  I wonder if it actually is something of the end point for the concept. See, swank is an old word, too – like schenk.*** In the common sense has a rather interesting etymology. Full of notions of youth and swagger and stagger before it was a fifty cent word for trendy.

And if we are honest, swanky and schenk can start to sound a bit alike if you mix in various accents especially if the schenk is schenke. Mixed accents of mixing peoples. See, there is a Cornwall and Pennsylvania connection, too. Quakers moved from Cornwall to western New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania in the later 1600s.  Pennsylvania has a few nicknames and one is the Quaker State, immortalized by the engine oil as well as a brand of oatmeal. Did they bring the word swanky in the 1600smeet up with Germans in the 1700s making schenk, merge them in to swankey and maybe brand it as cream beer in the early 1800s to explain it to people who didn’t get the local lingo. That 1880s reference Stan notes might be more of an echo, a remembrance of beer words past.

Seems a bit of a convenient stretch, doesn’t it. But we are talking about a pretty small and culturally discrete population. There are only 240,000 people in Pennsylvania in 1770. And we see three low alcohol not-lager beers coming out of the same community over time and at a time when there was no real finesse about neatly splitting hairs over whether a beer is of one sort or another. Think about it. Maybe a stretch. Maybe not.

*Note also this definition from the 1885  edition (and not the claimed 1835 edition) of The Progressive Dictionary of the English Language: A Supplementary Wordbook to All Leading Dictionaries of the United States and Great Britain published by the Progressive Publishing Company of Chicago: “Schenk-beer (shengk ber), n. [G. schenk-bier, from schenken, to pour out, because put on draught soon after it is made.] A kind of mild German beer; German draught or pot beer, designed for Immediate use, as distinguished from lager or store beer. Called also Shank-beer.

**The term “German public house” was a thing in New York before 1846. The Spectator newspaper used the term on 2 April 1842 to describe one of the buildings lost in a great fire.

***This looks like a reference to “schenkebier” from the 1400s.

Session 127: Autumn’s Here, What To Drink?

Alistair has asked us to write about Oktoberfest beers for this edition of The Session but, like others, I like in a fairly sparsely serviced area. Boak and Bailey faced a similar problem and tried to see if there was a modern British equivalent. Sadly, they concluded not. But if we look back perhaps there was. This passage below is from a book titled Art and Nature at Home and Abroad From 1856:

September ale. Hmm. What was this stuff? The slaves to style will no doubt tell us that because it hasn’t been listed in the BJCP guide now it never really existed then. But as we have learned from archival brewings like Taunton ale, mid-1850s New York brewed IPA or cream beer we see again and again that the people of the past weren’t stupid and that sorts of beer labeled as this or that met the expectations of those drinking them.

The problem is not so much determining if it was as what it was. I have to admit a few things. I am writing this on an iPad mini and, while I co-wrote two books on it between laptop deaths, it is slow going. Plus I am in the middle of moving the kid into college. Perhaps another has already unpacked it. Dunno yet. So with the promise of a future exploration – let me suggest that what it tastes like, if the passage above is to be believed, is what Keats described in his poem. Autumn.

 

When Steam Was King… It Was Common

Two years ago – well, 23 months ago, I wrote a brief passing thing about the concept of “steam” beer in a post about another thing, cream ale, but given this week’s sale of Anchor, makers of steam beer who proudly proclaim they are San Francisco Craft brewers since 1896,  to an evil dark star in the evil dark galaxy of international globalist beverage corporations, I thought it worth repeating and expanding slightly. Here is what I wrote:

Adjectives from another time. How irritating. I mentioned this the other day somewhere folk were discussing steam beer. One theory of the meaning is it’s a reference to the vapor from opening the bottle. Another says something else. Me, I think it’s the trendy word of the year of some point in the latter half of the 1800s. Don’t believe me? Just as there were steam trains and steamships, there were steam publishers. In 1870 there was a steam printer in New Bedford, Massachusetts. A steam printer was progress. Steam for a while there just meant “technologically advanced” or “the latest thing” in the Gilded Age. So steam beer is just neato beer. At a point in time. In a place. And the name stuck. That’s my theory.

And here is what I would like to add. To the right is a news item from the Albany Gazette of 10 March 1814. As I have looked around records from the 18o0s for example of the use of “steam” I describe above, I found this one describing a steam battery both early and entertaining. I assumed on first glance that this was some sort of power storage system. In fact it is for a barge loaded with cannon. 32 pounder cannon which are rather large cannon indeed. Well, all cannon are large if they are pointed at you I suppose but in this case they are significant. For the nationalist vexiologists amongst you, I can confirm that the proposed autonomously propelled barge system of cannon delivery was reported six months before the Battle of Baltimore. Were they part of the sea fencibles? Suffice it to say, as with steam publishing and steam train engines you had steam based warfare by battle barge.

Next – and again to the right – is a notice placed in the New York Herald on 11 September 1859 indicating that John Colgan was selling three grades of ale and perhaps three grades of porter after “having made arrangements with W.A. Livingston, proprietor of steam brewery…” This appears to be an example of contract brewing where Livingston owns the brewery and contract brews for the beer vendor, Colgan. Aside from that, it is a steam brewery. Livingston’s operation was listed in the 1860 Trow’s New York City Directory along with a number of other familiar great regional names in brewing such as Vassar, Taylor and Ballantine. And it lists over two pages a total of four steam breweries, including Livingston’s. Which makes it a common form of industry marketing.

“Steam” is quite venerable as a descriptor of technology. If you squint very closely at this full page of the Albany Register from 29 January 1798 you will see steam-jacks for sale. It is also a term that moved internationally. In the New York Herald for 15 September 1882, you see two German breweries named as steam breweries. And again in the Herald, in the 10 August 1880 edition to the right, we see the sale of the weiss brewery at 48 Ludlow Street details of which included a “steam Beer Kettle” amongst other things. One last one. An odd one. If you look at this notice from the Herald from 14 June 1894 you will see a help wanted ad seeking a “young man to bottle and steam beer.” Curious.

What does any of it mean? Well, steam beer and common might have a lot more to do with each other than the just the name of a style.

 

 

The Summer Intern Hands Back His Smock And Tongs

Well, that’s it. Stan will be back next week. It has been fun but it’s also required a fair bit of attention. Something I am not sure I could sustain month after month. I sometimes see beer writers use the word “fascinating” and realize I couldn’t muster up that emotion if I was handed a vial of Fascinex 150 pills.

How much greater the rip roaring fun one finds in beery records of the past like this real knee slapper of a joke to the upper right from the 11 December 1811 Kingston Gazette of this my dear old colonial town. This brain teaser from the same paper’s 4 December 1810 edition had me spinning for hours. What chance does one week today have against this sort of quality work from the past?

More International Mass Craft

Is it even news that BrewDog is setting up another branch plant, this time in Australia? My thoughts, what with another quarterly report and another slip in Sam Adams sales offset “by increases in our Twisted Tea and Truly Spiked & Sparkling brands,” that there is a diminishing return on such things but – as we know from our Bible story time – avarice will have its way. Just as there is no thrill seeing another run of the mill Sam Adams product on a beer store shelf here in Ontario, I trust and likely hope that my Australian cousins have enough local breweries to support that a carpetbagger would get at best tepid reception.

Somehow, Martyn’s fuzzy picture from the event captures the spirit of it all.

Hiding in Plain View

GBH has tweeted a link to a very interesting reddit post by Sixpoint Brewing on the recent “investment” in 21 Amendment by Brooklyn that is fun in its bitchiness but also very telling in one particular comment: “…with a path to full control.” See, when these things happen and people say “whew, it was only a 19.9999% investment so it’s OK” they entirely miss the point. Percentage share ownership means nothing. The BA definition was either writing by non-lawyers or was crafted to dupe. See, you can own 1% of the shares or 99% of the shares of something and still effectively control it outright through the terms of the agreement that is entered into when making the investment. It’s called a shareholders agreement and under them you can list decisions which can’t be made without the approval of this shareholder, you can name names as to which founding owner is now only a front man for the business and you can establish rights to future purchases of more shares – aka the path to full control.

Fuggles Or Fuggle… Or Fuggle’s?

Ron has posted a picture on Twitter of an 1850s brewing record that uses the word “Fuggle” which has spun off a bit of chatter about the nature of the notation. Martyn suggests it references the farm family rather than the variety. But I wonder when the variety became itself. Not that the record says “Fuggle” and not “Fuggles.” Late in 2014, Martyn posted a detailed description of his understanding of the genesis of the hop variety. Mr. Fuggle was traced through the Manwaring-Fuggle family tree. Note in his explanation at one point we had a strain named “Fuggle’s Golding” which makes the question even more fabulous.

And, Finally, In Other News

North Korea has revealed the best beer in the world and it costs six cents. Kim Jong Un is apparently nuts about it. I love how it is “suspected they drew particularly heavily on British and German know-how” because, as you know, that is what all the best beers depend on.

Could Mr Zyankali make his approach to drinks sound more boring?

Endtimesy.

Jason N. tweeted a very interesting fact about the relative successes of two supposedly “sell out” brands. Which makes me wonder why we like one faceless global conglomerate more than another in some sort of form of corporate anthropomorphism. Why do we care? Why do we kid ourselves?

Thanks!

That is it. Of the five weeks I was assigned, this was a bit of a quieter one. What with the dog days of summer, I suppose that was to be expected. First trick I learned? Have a draft started by Thursday with at least 60% of the post sketched out. Second, make sure you do not just overlap Boak and Bailey’s regular Saturday post o’links. Only you can judge whether I can claim to have been effective.

Well, only Stan can. I trust he will be back at the coal face today building his links for publication next Monday, 7 August. I shall be back to my own semi-coherent ramblings upon my ramblings.

 

The Many Early Vassar Breweries Of Poughkeepsie

The more attentive readers will recall how back in July 2012 I wrote about the Vasser brewing book of the mid-1830s and then in November 2014 wrote about the Vassar general ledger of 1808-11. Then I wrote a whole lot about New York brewing over the last couple of years starting about here…  but I never got back to the Vassars even though, due in large part to the founding of a university, it is one of the more famous 1800s pre-lager American breweries. Wonder why? Too easy? The story is pretty much out there already for all to see. Matthew Vassar is a mid-century magnate along the lines of John Taylor of Albany and perhaps even a more wealthy brewer at the time. Everybody knows that.

But then a notice in a paper like that one up there grabs your attention and off you go again. It’s from the Poughkeepie Barometer of 14 April 1807 and it was placed by James Vassar, the father of Matthew. See what he’s doing? He has imported a European barley strain “more productive and valuable than the common Barley” and is selling it or leasing it to his neighbouring farmers. Leasing. That is fabulous as is the fact that the leased seed is “returnable next fall”! We learned the years around the 1700s becoming the 1800s was a time of crisis and innovation in the grain zones of the youthful USA. And, as Craig has shown, six row reigned far longer as base brewing grain than was understood – just as wheat lasted far longer and was used more widely as the main brewing base before six row was accepted. So, by bringing in European barley and propagating it for a few years until he had enough to spread out to neighbouring farms, James Vassar is in his way participating in the great experiment of making America.

 

 

 

 

Notice that the ad way up top was placed in Feb 1807. A few weeks later, as we see to the nearer left, James posts a notice seeking hops in the same newspaper. And he wants them to be not frost bitten and “gathered last season” too. But which one could gather he was advertising for local hops. Would it be obvious that they would have to be local Hudson Valley hops? Sixteen years later, above middle, we see a notice from the New York Spectator dated 8 April 1823 that gives an update on the London hop market as of the 4th of Mark – and it is all about English hops: Kent, Sussex, Essex and even Farnham* hops all being sold from 42 to 120 shillings. I do not see, however, hop market notices from much before that point.** Hop notices appear to be more of the “I’ve got a few bales” variety like with the one to the upper right from the New York Gazette of 28 September 1821. So… my bet is that in Feb 1807, James Vassar was looking for local hops when he placed his notice in the local paper. That being the case, he is brewing local ingredients but of the best quality he can find both in terms of barley and malt.

 

 

 

 

Which brings us to the 1808-1811 ledger. Vassar is making good ale branded under the name of his town. The ledger, as I mentioned in my 2014 post, places Vassar in the heart of a farming community centered on a supply town. Some of the same farmers who are growing his grain are also his customers. He also is buying hops by the pound from his neighbours, confirming my suspicions from that notice above. He is selling his beers in a town where there is a range of spirits, wine and other luxury goods from around the world according to the grocers notice next to Vassar’s November 1807 notice in the Poughkeepsie Barometer. And note something else important. The ledger runs, as you might have guessed, exactly to a point in the year 1811. This is because it is only the brewery ledger of the father, James Vassar. If you click on that thumbnail to the right you will see that the firm of James Vassar & Co. was dissolved on 15 November 1810 and accounts were settled with the partnership of John G. and M. Vassar, being the sons of James – John Guy Vassar and (“the”) Matthew Vassar.

 

 

 

 

The first brewery hands off to the second. And the next generation has its own dreams. They are brewing both ale and beer and also buying barley as well as hundreds of bushels of oats according to the notice placed by the partnership in January 1811. And they are continuing in their father’s practice of selling seed barley to the local farmers according to the notice in the now fancier Poughkeepsie Political Barometer of 17 April 1811. A happy and successful succession plan has carried forward. It doesn’t last. Weeks later in mid-May, as the article from the 15th of the month to the right explains, the brewery burns as they all seemed to burn in that era at one point or another. After the fire is controlled, however is when the real tragedy occurs. Two days later John G., the elder son of James, goes into the destroyed brewery to see how much can be saved but is overwhelmed by a gas that has settled in one of the vats and dies apparently in agony a short time later. Horrible. Sadder than even the story of Eugene O’Keefe a hundred years later.

 

 

 

 

What happens then? From the notice to the left placed on 25 May, 1811 James Vassar is scrambling to call in debts from both his time running the brewery as well as the term when his sons were. then, according to the notice posted again in the Poughkeepsie Barometer on 24 July 1811, Matthew is out on his own buying up cider which might place him away from the family business at this point… or maybe diversifying. He is only nineteen years old. That Wikipedia entry says M. Vassar & Co. started up in 1814 but this add from three years earlier clearly uses that name. The next year, James is in the market seeking 10,000 bushels of Barley in September 1812. That looks like the continuation of the brewery. Which would make for the third phase. Dad. Sons. Dad.

 

 

 

 

Then what? In the 13 January 1813 paper, Matthew himself is both buying barley and selling ale and beer. Dad. Sons. Dad. Dad/Son? Then on 14 July 1813 he is entering into a brewing partnership with a Mr. Purser, rebuilding the brewery and accepting the casks of James Vassar that are still out there more than two years after the fire. And he gets into other gigs. Matthew is also running a store with a particular focus on cigars… or rather segars – but that ends up in the hands of another partner, a Mr. Raymond as you can see from the notice above to the right dated 14 July 1813, the same day the notice goes up about the new brewery. Dad. Sons. Dad. Dad/Son. Son in Partnership? Maybe. All muddling along. Moving forward.

It’s actually quite the thing that later in life he becomes a magnate given all the ins and outs of the family’s early years in the brewing trade. It starts a bit like the hapless Horsfields of Brooklyn half a century earlier but then, somehow, they spawn a genius. After the early years of the century, Matthew gets into banking and brick works, railroads and politics. But that story, the story of the rise of the great Vassar brewery, is really a separate later one.

*Interesting, given the price being so much higher, that Farnham hops were discussed in New York newspapers as early as this story in the New York Journal of 20 January 1785 shows. This talk of Farnham is all for Ed, by the way.
**See also this set of New York Gazette notices from 20 February 1818 including two for hops and how geographically sourced goods are referenced expressly – Jamaica rum, Sicily Madeira, English Leather, Baltimore flour. Not the hops.

Imperial, Yes, But Cream Ale Was Also Light As Well As…

The more I get into the records referencing cream in 1800s New York brewing, the more obvious it is that the term was pervasive. It illustrates excellently, as a result, how branding existed independent of those claims to copyright we suffer from today. In law, there is an excellent and better word for such stuff that applies as much now as then – puffery. Claims made as to quality that are never ever really expected to be challenged. Look at that ad from the Jewish Daily News of 30 November 1916 again. Imperial Cream Ale. Is that the same as the Imperial Cream Ale of the Taylors of Albany from the early 1830s to the late 1860s? Or is the cream just a puff?

That image to the upper right? It’s a part of a column in the Plattsburg Republican from 21 August 1858 entitled “Items: or Crumbs for all kinds of
Chickens.” Is that puffery? Seems a bit more than that. Cream beer is being lumped into a class: non-intoxicating drinks. Sounds like a bit of a vague concept but at the same time the courts in New York State were struggling with the same term as it related to lager and the wider issues related to acceptance of the German immigrant wave in the middle third of the 1800s.

The book De Witt’s Connecticut Cook Book, and Housekeeper’s Assistant from 1871 includes these two recipes, one after the other, on page 100. The first for “common beer” has yeast added, the second, for “cream beer” doesn’t. Is “cream” then code for no alcohol? When I was a kid out east in Nova Scotia, one of my favourite things was cream soda. There were two types as I recall. Pink or clear. Pink was like drinking candy floss. Clear was like drinking candy floss… but was not pink. I hated pink cream soda. I was a clear cream soda man. Crush, if you have it… but only in Canada. Pop… soda… soda pop… was a class of soft drink that morphed out of beer. In the 1850s you could speak of California Pop Beer. In the 1830s you could speak of the Lemon Beer of Schenectady. In the excellent short book Soft Drinks – Their Origins and History by Colin Emmins, small beer is described as a progenitor of British soft drinks along with spa waters, syrupy uncarbonated cordials and that favourite of George III, plain barley water. [Continuum. Perhaps continua.] Consider the simple lemon…

The earliest English reference to lemonade dates from the publication in 1663 of The Parson’s Wedding, described by a friend of Samuel Pepys as ‘an obscene, loose play’, which had been first performed some years earlier. The drink seems to have come to England from Italy via France. Such lemonade was made from freshly squeezed lemons, sweetened with sugar or honey and diluted with water to make a still soft drink. 

It appears that 1660s lemonade plus small beer could be a cause of that fancy 1830s upstate NY lemon beer. Could be. There would be other intermediaries and antecedents. Think of how the sulfurous spas of Staffordshire in the late 1600s, saw the invention a drink introduced the local hard to swallow spa water into their beer brewing. Is this how it works? Isn’t that how life works?

When you consider all that, I am brought back to how looking at beer through the lens of “style” ties language to technique a bit too tightly for my comfort. The stylist might suggest that in 1860, this brewery brewed an XX ale and in 1875 that brewery brewed an XX ale so they must be some way some how the same thing. I would quibble in two ways. Fifteen years is a long time in the conceptual instability of beer and, even if the two beers were contemporaries, a key point for each brewery was differentiation. The beers would not be the same even if they were similar.

Layered upon this is the fact that “style” is an idea really fixed somewhere in the 1980s after Jackson’s original expression which was altered in the years that followed. The resulting implications are important given how one must obey chronology. This means if (i) Jackson’s 1970s “classics and cloning” idea didn’t last more than ten years until (ii) the more familiar “corner to corner classification” concept comes into being then the application of “style” to brewing prior to the 1970s (if not 1990) is also a challenging if not wonky practice. Brewers brew to contemporary conventions even though they are but points in a fluid continuum. You can’t conform to an idea that doesn’t yet exist.

All About Beer published the article “How Cream Ale Rose: The Birth of Genesee’s Signature” by Tom Acitelli on 17 August 2015 which, as we can see above, contains an origins narrative for cream ale which (though very condensed so somewhat unfair to parse) is now really not all that sustainable:

Cream ale is one of the very few beer styles born and raised in the United States. Predating Prohibition, the style grew up as a response to the pilsners flooding the market via immigrant brewers from Central Europe. Cream ales were generally made with adjuncts such as corn and rice to lighten the body of what would otherwise end up as a thicker ale; brewers also fermented and aged them at temperatures cooler than normal for ales.

I think I am good until to the word “the” in the second sentence after the comma. If style can be applied to the concept at all, cream ales at best probably represented styles. They were not a response to pilsners as they predate Gillig and were in mass production happily in their own right though the mid- and latter 1800s. They became made with “adjuncts such as corn and rice to lighten the body” but so did ales as our recreation of Amdell’s 1901 Albany XX Ale illustrated. The last sentence may well be fine.

BUT! – now notice the gem of a wee factual trail actually setting out as the specific origin of Genesee Cream Ale as related to Acitelli:

His father and grandfather, a German immigrant, had been brewers in Belleville, Illinois, about 15 miles southeast of St. Louis. Bootleggers had approached his father, in fact, about brewing during Prohibition, but he demurred. Clarence Geminn himself was completely dedicated to the craft, according to his son, a fourth-generation brewer. “Saturday and Sunday he would go into check on things,” Gary Geminn told AAB from his home in Naples, New York. “Summer picnics had to wait until the afternoon; any outing had to wait.” As for the exact formula behind his father’s most enduring beer, no one’s talking—obviously not the brewery itself, nor did the beer’s progenitor.

Mid-west Germans? Now that starts sounding more like the parallel universe of cream beer than cream ale. Does its DNA include Germans moving to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, then on inland into Kentucky in the early 1800s then into the Mid-West later that century only to back track to upstate NY by the mid-1900s? Can we draw that line? Either to connect or perhaps delineate? Maybe we need to be prepared to do both if we are seeking to understand events prior to the point of conceptual homogeneity that is achieved with the crystallization of style when MJ meets what becomes the BA.

As for cream? It’s a lovely word. So many meanings. So many useful applications. So many more leads to follow.

Session 121: Bock – Unloved And Sorta Local

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

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

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

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

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

Nationalistic Jingoism And Your Beer

As our neighbours to the south watch the beginning of what I can only consider the death of conservatism by slowly inflicted suicide, it is instructive to note that the role of beer in nationalistic jingoism is something no longer often given its full weight. That clipping to the right is from the 7 September 1810 edition of that most wonderfully named newspaper from Hudson, New York, The Bee, reprinted from the National Intelligencer. The author is arguing that British porter is unwholesome. Common enough claim at the time. It’s the final of a number of arguments made in an essay published under the pen name Juriscola. The man behind the clever tag appears to be Tench Coxe, aka “Mr. Facing Bothways” for his habit of flapping which ever way the wind blows. By 1810, he was pro-tariff and definitely buy American after a career that saw him welcome the British to Philadelphia in 1777 with open arms.

Nationalism is not solely an argument heard from the USA. Pete maps the role of ale and porter in the second British Empire of the Victorian height in his book Hops and Glory at scale, as we have just discussed.  And ten years after Coxe’s essay, a rabble was being roused right here in in what was the Midland District of Upper Canada by brewer Richard Dalton against the importation of those foreign beers from the south. And likely with good cause if the presence of 160 barrels of Albany Ale in 1816 in our small community is evidence enough. Not even an alternate fact, that. Dalton’s argument is pretty specific: stop bringing in foreign barley. Coxe, by comparison, lays it on thicker. Certainly, the argument is made that domestic grain and fruit supports increased domestic manufacturing. And also that domestic production is superior as an expression of American ingenuity. But then he makes a telling argument: the needs of the military.

The most enormous expense of the American revolutionary war and the deepest sufferings of the patriotic army were those produced by the frequent destitution of wine, good distilled spirits and porter. It is therefore of the greatest importance to our possible military operations that we have a quantity of some of these liquors steadily manufactured in our country from our own materials equal at least to ten millions of gallons.

Note: by “possible military operations” he basically means attacking my town.

So, how will this sort of thing manifest itself in these our own confusing times of the vacuum at the top? Will there be a revival of state sanctioned brewing jingoism? Will, as I suggested soon after the election, Corona and other popular imports face backlash as being unAmerican? Or will the odd and newly joint opposition of the left and free traders take up the slack and prop up sales in defiance?  A new 35% tariff might make those modest brands tough to choose from the grocery shelf even for the idealist.

But will people – err, The People – buy into such protectionism given it is essentially a claim to marketplace weakness, a message of failure? Can such alternate truths gain a foothold?  Depends on the presentation, I suppose.

For The True Beer Gent, A Hopsack Suit Perhaps?

From Sessional Papers, House of Lords, 1840

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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.