As January 2019 Dies Off Another Set Of Beery News Is Born

A surprisingly long set of links face me in my inbox today. Folk send me suggestions all the time… well, some of the time… OK, once in a while. Honestly, for the most part to make this weekly update of the news in good beer I just email myself links as I notice a story through the week. Usually there are seven or nine by early in the week. This week, I had over twenty by Monday. And, yes, emails. So… let’s dive right in.

First off, if you are in Toronto this evening (and I will be if only passing through via VIA) you can pop over to this fabulous fundraiser for an important cause to witness some top notch curling action (like that to the right from last year) at the Beer Sisters’ Charity Hopspiel:*

On January 31st, brewers from across Ontario will gather at the Royal Canadian Curling Club in Toronto’s east end. Clad in array of plaid, denim, light-up shorts, toques and matching jerseys, 24 brewing industry teams will face-off to raise money for the Native Women’s Resource Centre in Toronto. The Beer Sisters’ Charity Hopspiel, hosted by beer writers and educators Crystal and Tara Luxmore, is in its 7th year. The event has raised over $32,000 for the centre, and the sisters hope that this year they’ll cross the $40,000 mark.

Fabulous! And at the Royal Canadian Curling Club! An actual place I am assured, not just a mid-range brand of rye whisky from the 1950s.

Next, Katie wrote a wonderful piece on heritage barley published in Ferment that explores the use of Chevallier, the darling English malting from around 1820 to WWI. I immediately started badgering her about joining my Battledore revival crusade.

Note: Victorians represented in under 1% of the graph and the most striking thing is not their habits so much as the near replication of the feat right before the economic meltdown of 2007-08. Nonetheless, a very handy set of charts and who doesn’t like handy sets of charts?

Not journalism.  Or at least not good journalism.** Just badgering. Easy enough to get a quote from someone but it usually requires letting them speak.

An clear and accurate guide to tipping in Canadian tavs, pubs and bars.

Beer Ramen. Kill me now.

Update: We’ve had an actual update on #FlagshipFebruary and I couldn’t be more grateful for the clarification:

…it is in our and the industry’s best interest if we take a moment occasionally to appreciate the flagship beers of the industry’s foundational breweries…

So, the brewery has to have continued through the good beer era and the current flagship is the brewery hallmarks to recognize. Andy Crouch wrote a wonderful dense poem of a tweet on the same topic:

Revisiting long established flagships tastes of antiquity, success, failure, unfulfilled dreams of resurrection, and ultimately nostalgia. A place in time to momentarily revisit if only to remind you how far you’ve come but rarely a place to linger long.

I noticed this statement in a piece on German brewing culture and I thought it was extraordinary for suggesting agricultural capacity of a landscape is not the governing factor in whether beer was made or not:

Alsace is on Europe’s religious faultline. Beer is often thought of a drink of the Protestant north, but the facts don’t really bear that out. Belgium, Bavaria and Bohemia are historically Catholic (even if that religious attachment has faded); only Britain, of Europe’s foundational beer cultures, is Protestant. Does this suggest beer is less Protestant than thought? Perhaps, but I also think Catholic cultures are (as you might assume) better at preservation.

Well, I suppose someone has created a jam/jelly faultline based on religion. Me, I’d suggest many western and central European brewing traditions were pretty much established before the Reformation.

The effect of the US government shutdown on the brewing trade is measurable. Why the difference in processing wines and spirits? I blame the slackers attracted to a career in the beer label branch.

Gary’s piece on Watney’s Red Barrel as experienced in eastern North America at the time contains plenty of those links to contemporary primary documents that leave you persuaded. By way of contrast, this could really be read in two entirely opposite ways:

“I actually am mystified myself,” says Jeff Alworth. He should know…

Fine. I’ve held on long enough. Let’s talk Fuller’s or at least the highlights of the discussion. Promethean Jordan found a very helpful Brexit angle on the timing based on last year’s visit. Martyn argued convincingly that the whole sale spoke of business success and a strong future going forward. Then he added a bonus history of Asahi to deal with, you know, the legitimacy issues. Jeff at distance took it as a hefty body blow and mainly sees that it poses great risk to the English cask ale scene. Boak and Bailey wrote from their semi-characteristic personal perspective, supposing they are facing another long goodbye to a treasured relationship. Matt sided with the corporate success group and then started blatantly and publicly gambling with Boak and Bailey over the matter. Pete wrote first about his lack of levelheadedness when faced with the news and then got level headed and then sorta wobbled again in the semi-revisionist Book of Genesis stuff.***

My take? First, Fuller’s has been masterful in building up its reputation with good beer conversationalists over the last ten years. Remember how fun it was when @FullersJohn started tweeting? How beer writers were brought in and got their names on the label? What is really being noticed now is how the emotional credit Fuller’s they earned through that clever outreach has been truly a rich investment. And notice how none of the commentary comments upon that even though it was all done openly and with integrity.  Second, the only constant about the beer business over the centuries has been the goal of continuous growth, merger and acquisition. Brewing has two great outputs: beer and wealth. This is just the latter being successfully served after a long stretch merrily servicing the former.

I love this tweet by Jancis R:

Never ceases to amaze me when we get messages like this: ‘We’d like to find out how to go about having our wines scored by Jancis Robinson, as well as the costs involved.’ Who charges to taste wine?

Who charges to taste beer? I know some but it would be rude to mention, no? Conversely, there is a craft beer fraudster working the US south:

“The phone rang and rang and rang…I checked the house and it was empty. The door was unlocked,” Brandon Oliver says. “His chickens were still in the backyard…about 90% of his clothes were gone…he left as if he only had six hours to leave.” Foster left his tools out at the unfinished beer garden. He and his family left town overnight.

The abandonment of the chickens is a sweet detail.

As someone with hearing that will never get any better, I really like this inordinately nice idea from a campaign under the heading Quiet Scotland:

Ever left a shop or been unable to enjoy a meal or drink because the background music has been so loud? Don’t like complaining? Try leaving one of our polite cards to get your point across.

An email went around from NAGBW HQ about the impending demise of the All About Beer web archive and I first thought it was an oddly presumptuous thing to send… and then I thought it was kind to alert me. I did not save any of my own work as anything I pitched was not dubbed worthy – which made me happy. I really hate editors and others paid to make things duller. But I did save Stan’s story How Craft Became Craft for very obvious reasons.

And, finally, let’s just watch this**** and listen to the screams of those precious darlings witnessing a part of their personal emotional foundations, the rebellious idols of their youths, being washed away out from underneath their feet:

That’s it! A big week in the contemporary detritus of good beer culture. Please check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday for more sensible and refined responses to the week in good beer.

* For those not in the punny know, see Bonspiel.
**Which is quite another point we never explore when a writer claims the journalism label… or at least the helpful bits. Seldom the adoption of the concurrent ethics lead at that moment.
***“Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale began life as an attempt to imitate Fuller’s ESB.” Really? How many beers is SNPA an clone of? Ballentine IPA. Burt Grant’s work. What else?
****And this, for that matter.

A Guide To Maxing Out Your Upcoming #FlagFeb Experience

While I suggested in the last Thursday update that I cannot find much drive within myself to take on the call to celebrate the flagship beers of yore in February I am not being a grump. As you can clearly see to the right, both the shed and I like flags. And I recognize that Master Polk and Mistress Polk, for example, appear to be positively enchanted. The Fuggled folk are all a’giggle. So, it is perhaps useful for me to see what I can do to assist even if I do not jump on the bandwagon. Let’s start with a clarification of terms. Mr. B. wrote this about #FlagshipFebruary on Facebook deep down on a thread:

Flagships are, I think, the beer that formed the foundation of the brewery… not necessarily its current best-seller. I’m sure there are brands that outsell Central City’s Red Racer Pale, for example, but I would certainly list that as the brewery’s flagship. Ditto Deschutes Black Butte.

There are a few things to unpack there. It’s not a beer that founded craft era so much as the brand for each brewery. So the brewery, practically, has to be old and its given candidate brand needs to be something of a survivor. And its not necessarily the most loved today which means you may need to do a little sleuthing unless you are going to stop at Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Sam Adams Boston Lager. So how are you going to do that?

Act like a historian. One handy resource that you can start with are the Past Winners’ records for the Great American Beer Festival. So, if you look at the first awards list you see that in 1983 SNPA was the overall winner while SABL won top dog in ’85 and ’86.  Fine. But look at 1984.  Yakima Brewing won first and second place for an imperial stout and a Scottish ale. Hmm. Now, look at 1987 where SABL won as best “Continental Pilsner” as opposed to “Continental Amber Labers” – really.

The brief study of these records raises a few more questions. Is the brand’s recipe or even branding sufficiently similar now as it was then when it served as a foundation? Were those really the hops they use back then? Are you really experiencing the same thing? Does it even exist? Also, do these flagships actually represent the brewery’s foundation or are they just the lucky ones that now have survived the obstacle course of time, those whims of a succession of a beer fads and trends. Does its current status actually reflect its actual history or is it, like the beak of the finch, the one which by luck could accommodate unforeseen future? Figuring out that might take a little work.

My thoughts? Not that this initiative is any sort of minefield that we will fail at but that this is a great opportunity to consider the relationship between the micro brewing phase of approximately 1983-2003 and the craft phase from 2003 to the present. How much of craft’s history is made up and heavily laced with retrospective rosy coloured glassware? Plenty, I’d say. How much is even based on the lessening status of the great old white male brewery owner? Maybe a bit? So… if you really want to celebrate the actual foundation of the good beer movement, look at the structure of the early medal categories and go get yourself some stout, an amber or a porter. Find a Fuggle.

Use #FlagshipFebruary. Use it to explore and enrich your own understanding. Sours, fruit beer, barrel aging and even heavy hopping are developments largely from later in the second half of the history of your hobby. You may need to accept that what is actually the old and foundational is actually new and novel to you. Which is good. So do it.

 

 

The Difference Between Temperance And Prohibition

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Indigenous Beer Style? Watertown Cold!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Thursday Beer News For That Day Just Five Weeks Before March

It gets like that in January. Counting the days to the warmer ones like prayers upon beads passed through the fingers. It’s time. Please be March soon. Please. Warmth. Now! Come on!! Time, like grace, arrives in its own pace I suppose.  Even calling this a Thursday post is jumping the gun a bit. These things get plunked together mostly on Wednesday. These things matter. Anyway, what’s been going on in the news?

I lived in PEI from 1997 to 2003 and am pretty sure John Bil shucked my first raw oyster. Love struck I wasCarr’s was an eight minute drive from my house and I often bought a dozen or two there to take out to the back yard and suck back on a Saturday afternoon. RIP.

Our pal Ethan and Community Beer Works are working with the owners of Buffalo’s Iroquois brand to revive a version of the venerable brew. An interesting form of partnership where craft leans of community pride in legacy lager.

Carla Jean Lauter tweeted the news Wednesday afternoon that Nova Scotia’s newbie Tusket Falls Brewing had decided to withdraw its Hanging Tree branding for one of its beers. Rightly so and quickly done as far as I can tell. That’s the Facebook announcement to the right. This was a good decision on their part but not one that goes without consideration. I grew up in Nova Scotia and, among other lessons learned in that complex culture, had the good fortune to be assigned as law school tutor in my last year to one of the leaders of the Province’s version of the Black Panther movement when he was in first year, the sadly departed, wonderful Burnley “Rocky” Jones. He did all the teaching in that friendship. I would have loved to have heard his views on the matter. See, Loyalist Canada was settled in the 1780s by the British Crown as a refuge for the outcasts, including African American freed former enslaved Loyalists, seeking shelter after the dislocation of the American Revolution. Court justice there as it was here in Kingston included hanging as part of that. Hell, in the War of 1812 at Niagara there was still drawing and quartering. As I tweeted to Ms Pate, another Bluenoser, the hanging tree could well symbolize peace, order and justice in Tusket as much as bigoted injustice elsewhere. Or it could represent both… right there. Were there lynchings in southwestern Nova Scotia? Some stories are more openly spoken of than others. Slavery lingered on a surprisingly long time here in Ontario the good. We talk little about that. And Rocky and others do not fight that good fight without good reason. We might wish it should and could depend on what happened in that place. But somethings are no longer about the story of a particular place. Somethings about beer are no longer local. And its not “just beer” in many cases. Yet, we happily talk of war. Q: could a Halifax brewery brand a beer based on the story of Deadman’s Island?

My co-author Jordan has made the big time, being cited as “Toronto beer writer and expert” by our state news broadcaster.* With good reason, too, as he has cleverly taken apart the fear mongering generated around the reasonable taxation of beer.

This is really what it is all about, isn’t it? Well done, Jeff. The setting, style and remodeling of his third pub, the
The Ypres Castle Inn all look fabulous. Good wee dug, tae.

I don’t often link to a comment at a blog but this one from the mysterious “qq” on the state of research into yeast is simply fantastic: “[t]o be honest anything is out of date that was written about the biology of the organisms making lager more than three years ago…” Wow! I mean I get it and I comments on the same about much of beer history, too, but that is quite a statement about the speed of increase in understanding beer basics. Read the whole thing as well as Boak and Bailey’s highly useful recommended lager reading.

Max finally gets a real job.

Gary Gillman has been very busy with posts and has written one about a very unstylish form of Canadian wine, native grape Canadian fortified wine, often labeled as sherry. Grim stuff but excellently explained. As I tweeted:

Well put. These were the bottles found, when I was a kid, empty up an alley or by forest swimming holes. I thought we had a few examples of better fortified wine ten or so years ago. But, likely as the PEC and Nia good stuff sells so well, no attraction to a maker.

Gary gets double billing this week as he also found and discussed the contents of a copy of the program from the first Great American Beer Festival from 1982. I have actually been pestering Stan for one of these off and on for years only to be told (repeatedly) that archiving was not part of the micro era. Tell me about it, says the amateur boy historian. The 1982 awards are still not even listed on the website but that seems to be the last year of the home brew focus.  Anyway, Gary speaks about the hops mainly in his post. I am more interested in the contemporary culture: which presenter got what level of billing, what the breweries said of their beers. Plenty to discuss.

More on closings. Crisis what crisis?  In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo. What’s it all about, Alfie?

That’s enough for this week. Plenty to chew on. See you in February!

*All I ever got was “an Ontario lawyer who reviews beers on his blog…” like I am some sort of loser…

Book Review: 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey (Part 2)

This is a difficult review to write. Even if it is only part two so therefore half a review. I don’t like to come across as all fawning… but I have a hard time finding anything other to write other than I think this is the best book about beer I have ever read. See what I mean? How dull is that? Think of Jesus in Paradise Lost. That dull. How can I illustrate this problem in such a way that is actually helpful to you, that bit of the reading public who stops by here from time to time? Let’s see.

First, voice. One of the most interesting things about this book is how at quite specific points – but only at quite specific points – the writers breach what in TV is called the fourth wall. In sitcoms and crime dramas, we all assume, unconsciously sitting in our rec rooms on our sofas, that we are a camera, in a room with the actors and that the view of the lens is the view of the person viewing at home but somehow also in the room. Or when we read a book we forget we are interacting with an author and get lost in the suspension of the disbelief that one hope a good book offers as we are brought along by the storyteller’s pace. As is fully the case with this book – except when the authors interject themselves into the commentary about either the subject matter or the process of writing at certain points. It is deftly managed. Interspersed amongst long passages of excellently research and absorbingly described history. The authors are not there in view until they are and only when it is helpful.*

Second, structure. One of the most appealing things about this book is now it is not derivative. Beer books too often take the structure of other beer books** and maybe event a large part of its content and replicates it with a supposed update in terms of geography or the passage of, say, 18 months since the publication of a book roughly on the same topic. How many intro style manuals, food and beer pairing texts or geographical guides have come out? How many more will? Many.*** But structured histories leading through an important period? Few. THEN, add into the fact that it leads up to and creates the theoretical foundation for understanding many of the drinking establishments you have ever visited – more likely the case in the UK but not at all dislocated from the modern North American experience given how this micro brewing era began in the late 70s and early 80s in large part as an homage to UK brewing traditions. This gets a bit shocking as you realize you are reading whole chapters organized around disassembling elements of social patterns you just accepted were there. Consider just the chapter on gastropubs. It’s good enough on its own to be something you might read in that magazine that accompanies the Sunday edition of The New York Times. It also explains the milk paint in certain pubs and craft beer bars, where all the out of pattern plates and dishes came from and why a pile of salad is next to your shepherd’s pie – or more likely not shepherd’s pie but something a bit nicer. I actually looked up when I was done the chapter and thought to myself “what a good chapter” which is about as high a level of praise as I give out, chapterwise.****

Third, detailed research. Using primary sources contemporary to events! Footnotes. We get so numbed by fictive influencers, promoting pundits and the otherwise compromised that original research comes as a surprise. But there it is. Especially heartening is the presence of original transcriptions or newspaper interview of people who are – wait for it – still alive. Which means the authors have consciously made the determination that records contemporary with an occurrence are to be preferred to the recollection of the occurrence many years later. They got themselves into public libraries and perhaps even private business records. This is something which the entire history of craft beer in North America does not seem to have come to grips with yet. While oral history projects are certainly valuable, have we an effort out there to archive original records related to US craft in the 1980s? At the moment I am more confident that we could create a documented understanding of the state of American brewing in the 1880s. Not so now with the 20th century English pub.

Fourth, envy. This book is extremely appealing in its simple presentation of a well researched topic pushed along by a compelling narrative. Having co-written books myself, I was even thinking of how I might allocate bits to being more Boak than Bailey but gave up almost immediately. I have to be honest with myself. I have hacked away at this writing stuff for years. In relation to just beer about 26.6% of my life. I like to think what I have written is useful and entertainingly stated***** but, holy moly, is this stuff both strong and subtly put. As I recall, there is no more than two pages on how US black servicemen were received in English pubs during WW2 but it is so well placed and quietly left that you can’t help but contemplate the implications. Conversely, the massive and loud noise that was imposed on the UK market by the creation and expansion of that which is J.D. Wetherspoons is presented in great detail but without any bluster. Another well controlled, satisfying chapter.

So, there you have it. I have little more to add. A very solid bit of work.  I told you it was good. And it is. Get it.

*There. That’s not too fawning. I think I am off on the right track. This book is not just a patched together bunch of blog posts. It’s a book.
**They themselves first nicked from wine.
***Yes, we know that it is all publishers want but really.
****Fine, yes… fawning. Fine. Still true.
*****Especially this stuff about beer and brewing from the 1600s which I am not sure you are all appreciating as much as you should.

Book Review: 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey (Part 1)

It should be no secret that I have looked forward to the publication of 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey ever since the project was hinted at on their blog. The feeling reminded me of the release some years ago of Pete Brown’s Hops And Glory which I reviewed over four blog posts in 2009. What I think I find most similar between my expectations for these two books is the anticipation of work by authors who have proven themselves to be creative and committed in their previous books. I am only half way through 20th Century Pub but it has already exceeded even these expectations – so much so that I want to jump queue to tell you about their methodology and why I think you should just to email them and buy this excellent bit of work.

This book reminds me a bit more of their neither long nor short work, 2014’s Gambrinus Waltz: German Lager Beer in Victorian and Edwardian London than their perhaps more well known first book, later that same year’s Brew Britannia. I say that because the historical narrative is driven a bit more by the greater context of society than just the players involved. One of the odd things about the history of micro brewing and later craft beer is how personality drives the discussion. That is fine for early days when there were a few people (although sometimes not necessarily the same few people, the successful survivors, who self-identify) who were the actual pioneers. And, to be fair to those involved, the early days of craft appear to not have generated as many records considered worth retaining as we keeners today might have wished.* However, while it is fun to learn about these people and (as sometimes occurs) associated vicariously with them, it is far more interesting to understand how brewing and beer and pubs and taverns actual existed and exist in the greater context of society based on records which were created contemporaneously. For larger events it is best to seek out authority elsewhere.

Thankfully, their tale of micro brewing and craft’s origins in the UK, Brew Britannia, did just that and relies on primary documents from the time in addition to interviews of persons involved looking back from three decades later.  This book repeats that process and explores the subject matter from the wider range of sources. This is detailed and time consuming work – and the work undertaken shows in the result set out on these pages. An example. I have just read the chapter on 1950s estate pubs. To understand what an estate pub is you need to understand estates and to understand estates you need to understand British municipal planning principles of the first two-thirds of the 1900s.

I am somewhat familiar with this. I am a municipal lawyer. And some of you may have picked up that I am a dual national, Canadian and British. Many of my UK family when I was young lived in what we here in Canada would call “public housing” but in the UK the word for much of it was “estate” and they look at lot like what we might consider a condensed post-WWII subdivision when it wasn’t a low rise apartment building. My grannie, aka Bailee M’Leod aka Dad’s mother, as a municipal Labour politician was actually involved actively in the 1930s to 1950s in destroying slum neighbourhoods of the 1840s and building these sorts of forms of public housing. These events fed my bedtime stories, tales of the old country when they were not about Nazi bombings of the Clyde.**

Knowing that bit of the background, I am able to trust the point being made. Placing the particular point in its context is one of the great successes of this book. Boak and Bailey weave the the meaning of estate as they explain the estate pub, a somewhat sterile slightly spare Scandinavian set up that were allocated strategically through these new living spaces by municipal planning processes. Likewise, earlier in the book they contextualize the end of the Victorian gin palace and how it was responded to by the State Management Scheme of pubs introduced after WWI without the too common uninformed slag upon slag over the temperance movement. Judging from a seat in the future is one of the worst faults of a historian. Almost as bad as disobeying chronology. The authors here simple gather up sources and then unpack the narrative. Fabulous stuff. And not that simple at all.

I am taking my time, reading slowing. I am in the chapter on theme pubs, which related to the photo at the top of the page. In 2012, I wrote about the politician’s mother, my paternal great-grannie who goes by “Grannie Campbell” in our family. She loved drink and pubs and apparently she most loved the Suez Canal pub in Largs,*** which was coincidentally my mother’s hometown. The image I am guessing is from the 1940s and the bartender was former world boxing champ, Jackie Paterson. Given the book is about English pubs and not British ones, my submission of the photo did not make the cut. Saddened I was but then heartened by the rigor being imposed by the authors.

Buy this book.

*Somewhere I have an email discussion with Stan about the lack of records even from the early GABF days. Can’t find it. Probably deleted it.
**Including the story of the cousin who claimed Hitler saved his life when the air raid sirens woke his family up, got them running to the shelter only to witness the building explode before the bombs started dropping. Apparently someone had left the gas on.
***I only have one quibble with the book so far in fact – a Largs based quibble. B+B claim that the first espresso machine came to Britain in 1951. Being a child of a child of Largs I am well acquainted withe Nardini’s which opened in 1935. Uncle grew up as pals with Aldo. His Dad had a famous run in with one of the owners over an invoice for pebble dash. Italian ice cream parlours and cafe’s were an established thing even in 1935. Pretty sure they would have had espresso from day one given it also had an American soda bar and an electric dish washing machine.

Flattery Will No Doubt Get You Any Number Of Places

I have been doubly flattered by the firm of Boak and Bailey this week. First, I received my copy of their new book 20th Century Pub with the lovely inscription you see to the right. I had asked that they write something accusatory but, as much to their nature as their credit, they are kinder than I deserve.

Second, I has set them on a task and they have taken it on gangbuster style. For some time I have thought about the Amateur Winemaker books from the 1960s and ’70s which, as I discussed in edition #15 of The Session, were my first recourse when I wanted to learn more about good beer. Thirteen years ago,* I wrote about the triad of Berry, Shales and Line as illustrated below. As far as I can tell, they had a massive audience for their writing about homebrewing (i) from grain and (ii) in a wide variety of styles (even if “style” has not been invented yet) but other than five or six books, I have not had access to any of the actual magazines.

C.J.J. Berry, Ken Shales and David Line

I have been so obsessed I have saved C.J.J. Berry’s obituary (or a recollection I found on-line) from 2002 and was delighted to see that his son-in-law responded in the comments. Note 1: C.J.J. Berry’s book by 1984 had sold 650,000 copies. Note 2: in his book, Ken Shales (who died in 1971) includes a reference to lambic – but then does nothing with it! Weirdnesses abound.

Well, B+B found an issue of the magazine and posted their findings today. Fabulous. A beginning. My expectation is not that pursuit of this untapped vein will overturn history but enhance it. The magazine ran for almost thirty years from the 1950s to 1980s. And for perhaps a bit more than the last half of its life ran discussions on beer. That means there may be almost 200 issues to review. Big project. Hard to manage alone. Hard to manage from the left side of the Atlantic. Do you have a copy of an issue laying around? Get it and write about what is in it. Very exciting. For a beer nerd. Like me. Who poses (ahem) challenges…

*Christ!

Tales From The Crypt Of Early Micro

I am working on a relatively new database to me, a newspaper and magazine archive covering a little over the last thirty years. Grinding common beer words through the search engine of any new database is always fun but in the shadowy world of the recent past it can also be surprising. I don’t actually write all that much about the origins of of the micro brewing industry but, as we know, the shifting sands and rearguard revisionist retelling of all the genesis stories should be enough motivation for anyone. And it turns out there are interesting tales to be told from the point in time when “micro” was battling with “mini” and recently deceased “craft” was just a gleam in some PR committee’s eye.

First, set the scene. In Albany, New York’s Times Union of 16 July 1986 we have the staff byline story “Abrams Sues Big Breweries” – this particular Abrams being New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams:

The state attorney general filed an anti-trust suit in federal court Tuesday charging the four major beer breweries and their distributors have virtually suffocated competition and created unnaturally high 6-pack prices. The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn names Anheuser-Busch Inc., Miller Brewing Co., G. Heileman Brewing Co. Inc. and the Stroh Brewery Co. breweries and the New York State Beer Wholesalers Association, which he charged control 80 percent of the New York state beer market. The four companies distribute almost every big-name beer in New York, including Budweiser, Michelob, Miller, Schlitz, Schaefer, Colt 45 and Schmidt.

The story states that the lawsuit, which charged distributor and breweries were engaged in an actual conspiracy to control the beer market prices. The interesting thing is that this is the sort of thing that big craft suggests it triggered but this story is effectively pre-micro.

In another tale from that same month we read, again in the Times Union, a story of accusation. In the 7 July 1986 edition, we can find the headline “Boston Beer Seller Claims 3 European Imports Impure” which is pretty funny given there have been false and well proven accusations about competition in the brewing industry since, well, pretty much since beer was invented. The story by Bart Ziefler of the Associated Press starts in this way:

A tiny Boston beer company is taking on two giant international brewers, claiming the top European imported beers couldn’t be sold in West Germany because they don’t meet that nation’s beer purity law. In a series of radio and newspaper ads, Boston Beer Co. has challenged the the quality of the Beck’s, St. Pauli Girl and Heineken beers sold in this country. Beck and Co. of Bremen, West Germany, which brews Beck’s and export- only St. Pauli Girl, denies the claim. Netherlands-based Heineken, brewer of the No. 1 import, acknowledged that its contains corn and they don’t try to sell it in West Germany, according to the Boston Business Journal. “It’s sort of common knowledge among brewers that the beers are doctored,” said James Koch, whose company began selling Samuel Adams beer a little more than a year ago. “If you’re going to bring beer from that far away and have it drinkable, you’ve got to do something to stabilize it.”

Really? Corn as the crisis in craft? Excellent. Can’t we just admit we like corn sometimes? Is this PR campaign where the phobia related to the one ingredient “whose name may not be spake” came from? Sweet last line in which Koch states that he said he hoped to make Sam Adams truly a Boston beer next year by opening his own brewery. Correct me if I am wrong but, according to wiki wisdom, the brewery wasn’t bought for another eleven years and it was located in Cincinnati.

The Buffalo News of 8 November 1991 included a particularly excellent “state of the nation” report by Dale Anderson from the 1991 Microbrewers & Pubbrewers Conference at the Hyatt Regency in that fair City… two months before, in September. Under the lengthy headline “A Little Beer – Microbreweries, Producing Specialty Beers in Small Quantities Are The Talk Of The Industry” we learn a lot of things… and not just that there was the term “pubbbrewers”:

1. “Two American breweries — Sierra Nevada in California and Red Hook in Washington — actually have outgrown the “micro” designation.”
2. “The biggest concentration of brew-pubs on the continent, meanwhile, is in nearby Ontario, where there are about two dozen in the Toronto area alone.”
3. “These small-scale operations have little effect on the big brewers… Instead, they have moved in on the imported specialty brands.”
4. “One reason Queen City chose to brew at Lion is that it could put foil wrapping on the necks of the bottles and other breweries couldn’t. “We sat back and said we didn’t want to run a microbrewery with a pub attached,” Smith says, “so we followed the path of Jim Koch with Samuel Adams in Boston. The tough part is predicting four or five weeks ahead of time what we’re going to need.”

You can click on the article for more but it is interesting that the acknowledgement of out-growing the category as well as contract brewing was so openly stated and presented simply as a sign of success.

Less familiar perhaps than the other stories is the weird 2002 tale of the “Sex For Sam” sponsored by Samuel Adams Beer in which “prizes were awarded to people who had sex in unlikely public places.” Unlike the many references to Mr. Koch the Ascendant in the media of the time, this is not one that weathers the passage of time so well. In the New York Post of 7 November 2003,  William J. Gorta and Bill Hoffmann reported the story a year later after events in question – when the resulting criminal processes were concluded:

The Virginia woman who scandalized St. Patrick’s Cathedral by having sex in the pews as part of a sleazy radio stunt that revolted the city will not go to jail. Loretta Lynn Harper, 36, was sentenced to 40 hours of community service as part of a plea deal in which she admitted to disorderly conduct. Prosecutors took pity on Harper because her boyfriend, 38-year-old Brian Florence – her sex partner in the church tryst – died suddenly of heart failure last month.

Turns out the great idea was a joint project between Boston Beer and the soon to be fired WNEW-FM shock jocks Opie and Anthony. An FCC fine of $357,000 was levied against the radio station. The final two lines of the story is classic:

WNEW had no comment on the sentencing. A rep for Opie and Anthony and Sam Adams President Jim Koch did not return calls.

Wise. But a little more detail is provided in a gossip column in the New York Daily News of 29 August 29, 2002 which I provide in full for reasons of review of the delightful manner in which the gossipy tidbit was framed:

Opie and Anthony had a beer buddy rooting them on in the studio while they encouraged the St. Patrick’s Cathedral sex stunt that got them canned. Jim Koch, the head of Boston Beer Co., admitted he was on hand during the taping and issued an apology on the company’s Web site Monday. “We at the Boston Beer Co. formally apologize to all those upset or offended by the incident on the Opie and Anthony show and by our association with it,” wrote Koch. His company backed the show’s “Sex for Sam” contest, which promoted a trip to Boston to the company’s annual festival for couples who had public sex. The Samuel Adams brewer even called Lou Giovino, the Catholic League’s director of communications, to apologize. “I spoke with him twice since Monday,” Giovino told us, “And we’re satisfied with his apology.” But Giovino didn’t seem content when we told him he could listen to Koch’s studio hooting on the Smoking Gun’s Web site. “Oh, boy,” he sighed.

The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there. “Oh boy,” indeed.

One last tale. A little less… ripe and perhaps more in tune with where the future was actually going. In the 2 November 1996 issue of Newsweek magazine, there was a short piece headlined “Hobbies – It’s Beer O’Clock” in the regular Cyberscope column authored by Brad Stone and Jennifer Tanaka.

Seems like it’s hardly ever Miller time anymore. Now that America has developed a taste for microbrewed beer, The Real Beer Page (http:realbeer.com) should find a natural audience. It’s a one-stop destination for dozens of links to microbrewery home pages, beer Web zines and a database of brew pubs with a search engine to help you find one in your neighborhood. Cheers.

Dozens! Imagine. Particularly sweet is the note that the caption to an accompanying image was “Suds on the Menu” because no one loves an early web pun more than me. I also like the reference to “beer Web zines” which what I really should have called this place – A Good Beer Web Zine. Where are my Hammer Pants?

Your Monday Beer New Links For The Return To Office Work

It’s not like I dislike office work. It’s just that I like a week off in summer better. Drove too much.  About 2500 km all in all. Did home repairs and lawn stuff. Took trousers to the tailor. Visited a tiny new brewery. Yes, that one right there. I expect to post on the beers I dragged home hidden amongst the kids’ camp and cottage crap. What else went on this week?

Flying Dog Quits The Brewers Association

The recently Maryland-based brewery Flying Dog announced it had quit the Brewers Association and folk quickly took sides or at least thought a bit about which side they might take. Nothing better than when libertarians and progressives face off over something even though the both have a thing for tie-die shirts. The press release is pretty clear about what’s behind the move:

The BA’s new Marketing & Advertising Code is nothing more than a blatant attempt to bully and intimidate craft brewers into self-censorship and to only create labels that are acceptable to the management and directors of the BA. By contrast, Flying Dog believes that consumers are intelligent enough to decide for themselves what choices are right for them: What books to read, movies to watch, music to listen to, or beers to consume (and whether or not they like the labeling).

What’s really interesting about this is how it is tied in as part of the new optional (and seemingly stalled at about 20-25% buy-in) logo thing. And… freedom!!! Or just licence… or debauchery… or something co-opted. J. Notte summed it up this way on Sunday: “BA sees itself as a parent setting the rules, Flying Dog sees BA as a roommate who just set a fire in the living room.”  What I don’t understand was where the BA membership outreach and committee work was on the logo and the code of conduct? Was this all actually just imposed without any trial balloons? More to the point, will others quit, too?

The Economist Noticed Craft Beer!!!

I found this story entitled “Craft Beer in America Goes Flat” interesting, pretty cool in fact as The Economist isn’t this micro focused [Ed.: get it? An economics pun!!] usually but it gets to the point: “the number of brands has proliferated, the number of drinkers has not.” [Ed.: sweet attention to that verb structure, too.] It might have been a link for last week but the lack of chit chat about the story since it came out is interesting in itself. I am sure if we ever see a retraction in US craft beer we’ll have months and months and months of explanation of how it’s not a retraction from all the smart people with careers invested in the expansion of US craft beer.

Why Even Call It “Contract Brewing”?

Ben Johnson expanded on his article in Canada’s newspaper, The Old and Stale, with a blog post that unpacks the contract beer situation in a pretty clearheaded manner. Me? I take nothing from the argument that consumers don’t care given that labeling laws don’t require that anyone tell consumers that a beer is brewed somewhere that isn’t the little sweet Grannie’s cottage the branding would make you think… but the other arguments are pretty good.

Let’s be clear. The firm that brews the beer bought on a contract is a “contract brewer.” Other folk in the retail supply chain are maybe a “beer company.” Nothing wrong with being a beer company. Also, it obeys English as one who does not brew can’t also be brewing. Doubt me? Ask one of them to change the yeast strain to improve the batch. Oh, not allowed. By whom? Oh, the actual brewer.

And the Co-opting Of “Punk” Started A Decade Ago

Good to see, as reported by Matt C., a Sussex-based brewery Burning Sky… a wee actual-ish crafty brewery has back away from BrewDog’s weird insistence that they are somehow connected to “punk.” [Ed.: they are only getting that in 2017? It’s like your nerdy accountant cousin Ken who likes to pretend he gets that hop-hip all the kids are listening to.] Anyway, BrewDog is great at marketing, aiming to be wonderful at opening branch plants globally as well as a chain of bars and half their beers are even sorta OK. But, let’s be honest, it’s hardly craft anymore let alone punk. A fledgling lawyer and his pal, a very successful brewer, dreamed up a way to get rich through beer with a smidgen less – what? – less of something… than even Malcolm McLaren‘s relationship to the actual invention of punk. Tellingly, Matt could only find a managing director for the BrewDog bars division to get a quote from. Small. Traditional. That’s it. Keep in line. Punks do that. Keep. In. Line. And… err… something co-opted.

Other Things of Great Importance

Jeff Bell posted a lovely short vignette of an encounter on the streets of London with a man sharing his beer.

Tweet of the week? From Matthew Osgood who neatly summed up the irritation posed by craft beer evangelists who just won’t stop it what with their knocking at the door fun, pamphlets in hand:

…my issue is that I don’t need a six-beer tasting session every time I come over to watch a game.

Jeff Alworth was exploring what things were like ten and twenty years ago in his fair town of Portland, Oregon care of a tweet and one of his best posts ever. Recent history benefits as much from reliance on records as much as the far dimmer past I wallow about in.

Rebecca Pate reported on her visit to our mutual hometown, Halifax, where she had a Pete’s Super Donair and… visited 2 Crows. Which is interesting as “crows” was a slag in my years at our mutual undergrad college.

Is Andy Crouch the first beer writer to actually pay with his own money when visiting Asheville? Seems incongruous.

And last but certainly not least remember to follow Timely Tipple for the weekly brewing history links.