My Wee Experimental Brewery

Not quite this much yeast…

I was going to call this another project but I think that might be a wee bit too much so “My Experimental Brewery” (or MEB) will have to do. I have home brewed in two periods of my life. In 1987 I visited the Pitfield Beer Shop that Knut visited in 2005 but which recently shut. I picked up some books, a few collapsible kegs and backpacked them back to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a stretch of kit brewing with my recently graduated pals. From 2000 to about 2003 I part-mashed about 100 gallons a year, mixing extract and a small mash. I was pretty good and used the best ingredients I could find. I also got a bit heavy…heavier…which has put me off brewing for a while.

But recent comments here plus thinking more about beer and culture plus a colleague with an interest in brewing got me thinking – including thinking about about all that excellent yeast I have been pouring down the drain as I rinse out the bottles for the recycling bin. I’ve probably tossed back or poured down the best part of a half litre of saison yeast in the last year and another of top barley wine leavings. That can all be farmed, reused and renewed. And half the magic is in that yeast as we all know. So I put together the makings of a semi-demi-pico brewery and plan to make tiny ten litre batches of all-grain brews. Maybe a pumpkin porter with Fantôme yeast from Belgium. Maybe an imperial Scots heavy with the mixed yeasts of dubbels and Traquair to help give comfort to a few of we Scots who never got to have that empire. Maybe I will pull down that book by Tayleur that I picked up in 1987 and make something out of what I grow this summer in the garden.

So what would you make if you could make just five six-packs at a time?

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Great American Beer. Christopher O’Hara

This is a handy neat smaller format hardcover that the publisher was kind enough to FedEx me this week. And I am glad they did as this is a dandy guide to its exact topic: post WWII, pre-micro revolution pre-branding US beer. The author gladly admits this in the introduction:

The antithesis of the recent microbrewery revolution in America, this was a time when the major beer powerhouses took control of the brewing industry and, in the grand spirit of American industry, relentlessly quashed the small, independent producers that relied upon local support. This story is about the Americanization of beer, where homogenized brands – grown through a mixture of political clout, industrialization, and marketing might – became the best loved, and most heavily consumed beer brands in the world.

This is an unapologetic book in a time of review and perhaps revision. As Ken Wells discussed in Travels With Barley, despite all the efforts and successes in the craft brewing revival, this is a continent of lovers of beer-flavoured water making that still the primary cultural phenonmena to be grappled with when considering beer.

This book tells the story not so much of how that occured as who was involved. And it does so with style and wit. It is a primarily a series of fifty 500 to 200 word essays on the individual brands that made up the wave of oneness that is macrobrewing, from Bud to Blatz to Utica Club. Because this is as much pre-brand as pre-craft, there are no discussions of those “Bud Draft Dry Light Ice” sorts of beers that popped their heads up starting in the late 1970s – the word Light…or rather Lite…does not appear in the table of contents. This is a book that argues for a golden age and makes a pretty good argument for it. Even with the eighteen page history, this is not academic tome or a deep dive into the culture but, as you can expect, that could be an issue which, once raised, might be legitimately greeted with a shout of “academic, schmacademic.”

The book heavily relies upon images of the collection of beer stuff collector Erik Amundson, which you can see at the web site www.taverntrove.com. This is good and well handled as the advertising, packaging and other flotsom and jetsom of the brewers played such a huge role in differentiating a homogenized product. It is presented attractively along with well-written, informative text providing a book for the beer fan not scared to be presented with the phrases like “trendy imports” and “craft snobbery”. I’d say get it.

Book Review: Terry Foster, Beer Writer

Terry Foster is one of my favorite beer writers and the most interesting thing about him as a beer writer these days is he does not have a website. I don’t know how you can exist without a website these days. How else will all the Google bots be able to share your daily musings. Google bots…bots…Google…[Ed.: Giving author a good shake] Oh, right…there is no money and no audience in a website and others are doing it already so why bother. Good point.

I encountered Terry Foster as a home brewer. He is the author titles #1 and #5 in the Classic Beer Style Series published by the Association of Brewers, a US company promoting the homebrew industry. Pale Ale is the first in the series and Poer the fifth. These books are now over a decade old but recently I noticed that Foster has been writing articles for Brew Your Own magazine regularly as well. These sorts of writings as well as my years of one hundred gallons of output have convinced me that the appreaciation of beer is uniquely advanced by learning about and undertaking its production.

A number of the early homebrewing authors started me on that path and it would be my suggestion that Terry Foster is a continuation of that line of thinkers and writers about beer. In April 1963, month of my birth, the British Government ended the taxation of homebrewing under the Inland Revenue Act of 1880 which required records to be kept and a one ound license to be paid. As W.H.T. Tayleur states in his text Home Brewing & Wine-Making (Penguin, 1973) at page 15:

This legislation reminaed in force for eighty-three years, but although at first many thousands of private brewing licences were taken out the number of home brewers steadily declined over the years until by the middle of this century, and after shortages of the necessary ingredients caused by two world wars, hardly any of the few that were left bothered to take out licences.

By removing the need to license, the government created an industry and changed brewing, to my mind, for two reasons. First, self-trained home brewers became self-trained micro-brewers as the opportunities to make money with the skill became apparent. Second, consumers gained access to well-made home brews which were much cheaper and much tastier than the standardized industrial kegged beer the 1960s were foisting upon people. Without men like the 1960s authors C.J.J. Berry and Ken Shales as well as David Line in the 1970s, all writing primarily through Amateur Winemaker Publications, many a brew-pub or craft brewery on both sides of the atlantic would simply not exist.

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

Foster is perhaps the last of this tradition of British home brewing writers – and not just because his slicked back hair, styled in common cause with them. His two books, Pale Ale and Porter each provide a history of the style, a description of the elements, a guide to making them and a discussion of the commercial examples. Like those earlier authors he provides the context of the style and also deconstructs the mystery of how the brews can be made. Context and technique are two things modern industrial commercial brewers would like to shield from their customers – they more they were to know about what is out there and what it costs, the less likely the concept of brand loyalty might hold the customer.

Foster’s recent articles in Brew Your Own magazine continue this tradition. I have copies of the following articles:

“Pale Ale”, BYO September 2003, page 30.
“Old Ales”, BYO, September 2004, page 27.
“Anchors Away – A History of Malt Extract: Part 1”, BYO October 2004, page 30.
“Let’s Get Rid of the Water – A History of Malt Extract: Part 2”, BYO, November 2004, page 34.

As is the mandate of the magazine, Foster provides context and technique, showing how historical styles can be recreated with confidence. For example, in the third article he discusses how the British Navy invented malt extract in an effort to provide beer to sailors as a necessary food while in the fourth he describes how later extracts were used to avoid the stupidities of prohibition.

Foster’s style is attractive in that he is a plain speaker. In a world of where reputation and brand is all important, he can write of Yuengling’s Pottsville Porter:

…this is in some sense a classic porter, although it is bottom-fermented. Unfortunately, although it has many adherents, I am not one of them as I find it a little disappointing.

Not only is he not looking for the next PR opportunity when he writes, he is a bit folksy while also well researched. He is a trained chemist and has been a professional brewer for over 40 years, according to his BYO bio. He is interested and as a result interesting.

Rev. Whillans’s War

The father of my Owen Sound connection was a chaplain in the First World War, Rev. William James Whillans of Winnipeg. This evening, hunting through photos, I came across a post card sent from the front as well as a few others. He is the jaunty gent in the lower right of the first photo.Rev Whillans at a WWI hospital on a postcard

Reverse of postcard above

This is an example of the postcards I discussed in an earlier post. As you can see from the photo below, he was involved with those doing the fighting.

…with a few of the saved from the trenches
...and with some of his work

…in the trenches… just a bear

…and Rev. Whillans with one particular bear brought from Winnipeg during WWI.just a bear

 

Arthur

Wow. I gather you scanned those pictures?

Alan

All but the photo on the lower left which is portion of a digital photo of a picture on the wall at my grannie-in-law’s.

Robert Paterson

Great Pics Alan – My most treasured possession is a menu for a dinner held every year until the last of them died of the gunners in Montreal who were at the 2nd battle of Ypres on Feb 1915. Inside the menu, the diners have left us their signatures. There is Currie, MacNaughton, many officers including my Grandfather who was in france from Feb 1915 to September 1918, and several enlisted men. Only the CEF would have had that perspective. I can’t scan it because I have had it framed!

Reminds me though of a story. Currie had moved to Montreal after the war, he had grown up in BC, and became the president of McGill. He did not know any plumbers and had a burst pipe. He asked if some one knew someone who could fix things and was told to call Luther Sutherland, my great Uncle. Uncle Luther was one of the top engineers in Canada and owned a huge construction company. Currie thought that he was calling a handyman. Luther arrived directly from his club, in his Rolls, in evening dress and fixed the pipe. He admired Currie so much and they became good friends

Frank WHILLANS

Alan, I am a member of the Guild of One Name Studies, researching Whillans worldwide, so I would be delighted to receive jpg/tif/pict copies of those shots involving the Rev Whillans. Is there any possibility?

Alan

You should be able to save the shots off this site by right clicking and selecting “save picture as”. Does that not work?

Eileen Whillans

Hello – I enjoyed seeing your pictures for two reasons. 1. We have met “James” son Morley and wished that we could have seen more of him before he passed away and 2. my husband spent 25 years in the Canadian Engineers (Army). Thanks for sharing the pictures.

Alan

My wife wants to know if you are a relation and whether you met Morley’s sister Evelyn?

Eileen Whillans

My husband is a round-about relation and no, we have not met Morley’s sister Evelyn. We live on Vancouver Island and met up with Morley in Victoria. We do have a “hot plate” (? for putting your teapot on) that James made and gave to Norm’s father Robert who lived and died in Vancouver.

Sylvia Rehling

thanks Alan. i copied and pasted the photos if anyone else wants copies they can try that. I have a great love for history and seeing a family connection is great. if you have any other family history info i would love to have copies.

Paul Tim Whillans

I have my grandfather James Whillans´ diary from 1917 and the complete photograph from “in the trenches”. That photo was widely publicized at the time
Best regards from Colombia Paul Tim

Die Fax Die

The other day I got an email returned with a reply. Except it was a handwritten reply and the answerer had printed off my email, written his answer on it and faxed it back. It’s folks like that who are ensuring that fax machines continue to clog our lives – pushing up usage 40% in the last year alone.

When will the fax machines die off joining the Gestentner, mother of all ‘zines, itself now hiding its own toxic legacy.

The Internet of 1945

The interview with Tim Berners-Lee at BBC news this morning includes reference to the work of Vannevar Bush.

…the idea of hypertext and links had actually been invented some time ago. In fact it was 1945, I think. Vannevar Bush wrote a great paper about how it could be done. But he imagined it all being done using microfilms and electric sensors and mechanics because he didn’t have computers and he didn’t have the internet then, and then Ted Nelson invented the idea of hypertext.

The Atlantic has a 1945 article by Bush on his ideas here where he “urges that men of science should then turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge”

Faskinatin’.

Andy Blair and Relatives

Leaf in LiverpoolYou may have noticed I am not camping in New York or attending Bread Day at the state fair. Colds have struck. So I am rummaging.

The gent to the left is Andy Blair who in June ’29 was enjoying his first summer as a NHL player after finishing his rookie year with the Leafs. My grannie-in-law, then Evelyn Whillans, his 1st cousin, took the photo as a 13 year old spending some of her teen years in Liverpool. I wonder what the building behind him is. Later Blair would provide the Whillans Saturday night tickets including the opening of Maple Leaf Gardens as well as the longest NHL game in history. Her father, a minister, kept getting up to go saying that it was crazy, that he had a sermon to give in a few hours, only to sit back down at the roar for another close play.

Another five cousins, all Drydens of some relation, made the NHL including Murray Murdoch (Rangers left wing: ’26-’37, then coach at Yale for about 30 years) who I spoke with on the phone about a year before he passed away as the then oldest NHL alumnist, a very sharp mind in its late 90’s. Murdoch grew up in Winnipeg and said he was the best player in the City until Blair, two years younger, showed up during the depression. Both played for the University of Manitoba in the early 20’s.

Four years to Mr. Hitler's gamesGrannie-in-law also relates being at the front of Maple Leafs Gardens with another cousin, Syl Apps (the kinda gawky 17 year old in the white pants to your right, my left) and Blair the day Apps signed for the Leafs. Blair, an All-Star for the Leafs in ’34, was telling him to sign anywhere but Toronto as they treated players badly. Apps started his Leafs rookie year in 1936 after representing Canada at the Berlin Olympics. Blair was traded for cash to the Blackhawks on 7 May 1936. I wonder if the windows were open a few floors up.

In the 1936-’37 season, three cousins played on three teams: Leafs, Hawks and Rangers (two All-Stars, three Cup winners, one Calder and Bing and another the first Lester Patrick winner). In the early 70’s three (two being brothers) played again for three teams – the Sabres, Habs and Penguins: Dryden, Dryden, Apps (all All-Stars but not in together in one year…and one also earned some hardware).

Asleep on the Beach

 

I've grown in so many ways in the last 17 years

As my life as PEI resident comes to a close – the water test was clear – I thought I would pull an old chestnut out of the photo album from one of my first “” experiences in the Province.

Taken in 1986, it shows your gentle correspondent in repose on the beach at dawn after about 14 hours of wild-eyed pintin’ at the shore at a cottage in the Darnley area. You will see in the foreground both an empty Keiths and a film case laying next to my sandy head. Through the night I took about 5 rolls worth of pictures of the 30 or so of us which, care of the tripod, came through the event far clearer than I did.

This photo was taken by my buddy Jonny with the last frame of the last roll before he himself keeled over one night, one summer seventeen years ago.

Kołobrzeg! Kołobrzeg!

When looking through the web stats, I got to wondering why, outside of North America, Holland would be the hotbed of the greatest number of my readers when I realized it is the Google effect. Having used the word Nederlands and therefore been linked by a few Dutch blog trolling spiders or bots or whatever they are, I get a bit of a boost on Dutch Google and, bob’s your uncle, I stand tall in the low countries. So…can this be manufacturered?

My wife and I met in Ko³obrzeg, a resort city on the Baltic Coast of Poland where the Nazis met a well-deserved, nasty fate at the hands of the Red Army on the beaches after running out of both land and options in the spring of ’45. The ever patient Ellen and I both taught ESL there and, unlike most others who travelled to Eastern Europe to teach a decade or so ago, briefly enjoyed a rather splendid if corney luxury lifestyle – Bulgarian wines, tinned elk and boar, first walkman in the province, at $400 a month an income 3 times that of a doctor. A sense of the place can be seen in some of its websites for a sanitorium/spa, a hotel/spa, spa-tourism, spa-fishing-poets, spa-investment, yacht-spa, people at the spa town…I suppose I could go on…Anyway, this is an open invite for discussion of all things Ko³obrzeg. What the hell.

PS – if your computer shows a small raised “3” between the two o’s of the name, it is spelled Kolobrzeg with a little bar across the “L” kinda pronounced “e-u”: “Ł” or “ł”

[Update in 2016: proof of the finding of Kay…]