If It’s Lazy And Hazy These Must Be Your Beer News For A Thursday

Late July. The fifty seventh muggy day of the summer. In Africa and California the temperature hovers in the mid-120s F. A beer fest in Oregon has been postponed due to the heat. A couple of years ago, I wondered out loud if it was too hot for beer, if gin or white wine was called for. Not sure I am so worried about that anymore as it’s ice water I want. Soon it will be cold compresses to the wrists and the back of my neck. I am far too danty for this weather.

The photo up there as borrowed from here solely for consideration of the shape of the glass. Have we moved far past the days of stemware or the minutely differentiated special IPA glass? I have actually noticed my betters in social media posts, the writers who I assume care more than me, using these fairly jolly beer can shaped beer glasses. Is this something that might indicate something of a relaxation of attitude?

Next up, Nate drank three old beers that were past it and two that were great. Lesson? Malt is better than real fruit filling. And lesson two? Generic stemware is certainly still out there.

There was an interesting profile published in Drinks Retailing News on the new head of the UK health lobbyist group Alcohol Concern – one Richard Piper – who seems to want to move away from a hard line pushing abstinence (if that is a fair characterization of their past) to something more middling and measured:

“The guidelines are useful up to a point,” he shrugs. “If you’re drinking 70 units a week they’re easy to dismiss, but at 45 units they may be the perfect message.  I don’t dispute the science behind them, but I’d like to see an alternative discourse. It’s a more significant risk reduction, for instance, if you cut your drinking from, say, 42 units to 28 units than it is to go from 28 to 14, so we’d like to focus more somewhere up the consumption curve.”

His proposed approach reminds me of the highly successful MADD Canada public service announcement strategy which focuses on not driving if you are going to drink as opposed to lecturing on the drink.

Apparently… (i) there is a beer style more people like than you might have imagined and (ii) some breweries have shut while others have been bought. Oh, sorry…. those things aren’t news.

Merryn reported on an Anglo-Saxon malthouse discovered an archaeological dig:

The settlement was Christian and it is believed the malt house was not something organised by the local inhabitants but was part of a much wider integrated system. “I think here we are seeing the hand of the church. The church is the super state and it had access to all the latest technology and engineering skills anywhere in Europe,” said Dr Jolleys.

A bit of scale, then. Fabulous. I was wondering if the Angles and Saxons ever thought they would just end up hyphenated all the time. Not much related, one thousand years later, Glaswegian students were very very bad in the 1700s.

Last Friday, The New York Times reported that radiation from the 2011 explosions at that nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan had now shown up in California wine. Apparently this is reasonably common as “certain nuclear events would leave unique signatures based on time and proximity to the grapes.” The levels of radiation are below normal background standards so this is more about noticing the footprint than the first ten minutes of the movie THE WINE THAT KILLED CALIFORNIA… but that is no reason not to worry in the back of your mind in the middle of the night about what really might be going on, the things that no one is telling us…

The North American Guild of Beer Writers has announced that entries are now being accepted for the 2018 beer writing awards and will continue to be through Sunday, Aug. 19.  There are a semi-boggling thirteen categories in this year’s competition. While I am not sure about the “Best Short Form Beer Writing” (which includes beer writing from any publication, online or print, that contains fewer than 600 words as that would include 90% of the other category submissions) mine is but a quibble. Get yourself and your writing in there and – hey! – see how you fare.

Flux. More discussion on Twitter of a favorite topic, the success / failure of regional US craft brewers branching out and the greater scene. BA Bart indicates that it’s the tiny brewers who are expanding at this time. The context of the North American retail market at the moment is quite dynamic. Macro craft is on the move. Budget priced Wicked Weed at $5.99 a six-pack.  Goose Island being moved on a “buy one get one free” basis or a 15-pack for $11.99.  Not all beer consumers check price but how does the small scale folk or, rather, the mid-sized firms survive? Jason adds a twist: “keep opening new breweries in the wake of those that close.” We are somewhat immune from price fluctuations here in Ontario… and immune from even twenty years of inflation apparently. Where do you put your money? Where should ambitious craft brewery owners put theirs?

That is it. A bit less than this week than most but I have a range of complaints (which I could share with you if you like) upon which I base this week’s rather thin offering. I know you want more so I will remind you check in with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and again with Stan next Monday. Three separate nations. Three distinct sources of beer news. Two hundred and eleven other nations to go.

The First Thursday’s Beer New For World Cup 2018

I have to admit, few of my teams made it. I think sports allegiance needs a personal or familial connection. Land of my birth, Canada? Never had a chance. Land of my fathers and mothers, Scotland? Squandered any chance they had. Hmm… I worked in the Netherlands in 1986… but they didn’t make it. So POLAND! Aka “land of love” where me and herself met in 1991. That’ll do. Right? Except… it’s now slipping deeper under a super-simmering nationalist movement. Hmm. Gotta think about this theory of mine.

Note: Moscow might not have enough beer for the World Cup. Nizjnij Novgorod doesn’t either. The lads above might be less happy soon. Related: Beavertown Brewery is dependent on an dwindling artificial CO2 supply. Other craft brewers, too.  I love these unknown traditional aspects of craffy beer. Let them drink cask!

Elsewhere, supplies are abundant. Jeff triggered a fulsome discussion on Twitter on Monday on the word “godesgood” and whether it was used all that often. Like the mythical “no one drank water before public health” line, there are many familiar fibs that are rightly challenged. My contribution was in favour of barm, including this quote from a 1430s text:

For, whan the ale was as fayr standyng undyr berm as any man mygth se, sodenly the berm wold fallyn down that alle the ale was lost every brewyng aftyr other, that hir servawntys weryn aschamyd and wold not dwellyn wyth hir.

Almost 600 years ago. Nothing to be ashamed about this year’s British #NationalBeerDay, which unlike the 217 other national beer days every year, gave us at least this great photo set of the first four actors to play Doctor Who having a beer.

Apparently, according to the brewers the only way to return to cheap beer in Ontario is to lower taxes. Except, even if you do that, Ontario brewers are not interested in making cheap beer.

Warning: this article in The Guardian on the US starting to embrace British ale brewing requires readers to be completely unaware of the brewing of good beer by microbrewers and craft brewers from the late 1970s to the early years of this decade during which years the craft beer movement was largely driving by cloning the styles of Europe including, largely, the ales of Britain.  Example: Clark’s… oh, and hundreds of other places.

Ugly news from what had been one of my favourite local wineries – and an apology in response with some details about the greater response. Reaction. Reaction.

Far less seriously, these two tweets by very thoughtful people remind me again how – like “pairing” – I could not care less about beer label design other than (seriously again) to get rid of all the sexist, racist and otherwise bigoted content one finds on them. Honestly, I have a very hard time thinking of a label that gives any sort of Pavlovian effect, triggering the memory of a flavour one might find within the container. But I only speak of me. I judge no one. I suppose that comes with me being of an age when there were fifty brands and one flavour of beer. I find artsy labels just force me to squint more to figure out what is actually on offer. They are the Flash animation laced intro web pages of the beer world. Still – more signal, less noise please.

Lastly but somewhat related, Andy has spotted a wee trend that I can’t figure out whether it is signal or noise. Brewers are ditching “born on” dating for “best before” due to obsessives looking for only the very newest batches – even if it means engaging in style infanticide.

There you have it. A shorter post for a bit of a quieter week – some interesting news, some tough news. But mainly a week of international kicky ball, drinky beer. More will be revealed in the coming days. Especially if you take to time to catch up with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday.

À La Recherche Du Bière Perdu

Sitting here with benignly received stitches in my mouth, it’s not only that I look back with fondness on that time before a week ago that I could have a drink. It’s looking back with fondness that I could have anything pretty much not in paste form. I did have a bun the other day. Took me 27 minutes to eat it. Which reminds me of other looking back fondly at the joyful consumption as with this archaeological dig in England:

Once at the cutting edge of Oxford University, the friary building was either torn down or at least fell into disuse during the mid 1500s when the Franciscans fled the country during the dissolution of the monasteries. Built over for many centuries, it is only thanks to redevelopment for a new shopping centre that archaeologists have been able to delve into the treasures it contains. ‘Greyfriars’, as it was known, was home to both the friar lecturers and scholars and their students. So far the archaeologists have found thousands of artefacts, many hundreds of which – in true student fashion – are related to alcohol.

i remember when I could be related to alcohol, too. There is plenty more detail over at this site for Oxford Archaeology which appears to be the firm working with the developers to clear the site. The discovery of a 13th century tile floor was an unexpected surprise. Not unlike my surprise when I learned hummus and yogurt could be an entire meal.

There is much more detail in The Independent. Seems like the monks, unlike me at the moment, had a rich and varied diet:

Mutton, lamb, pork, beef, chicken, geese and song birds were all on the menu, as were sea fish (cod, whiting, haddock, herring, eel, gurnard, conger, grey mullet, thornback ray, salmon and sea trout) and freshwater fish (especially roach and dace). The archaeological investigation has also revealed that they had a liking for oysters and mussels – and for hazelnuts and walnuts. For making pottage – a thick mainly vegetable stew – they used wheat, barley, oats and rye.

They also found “hundreds of medieval beer mugs” – hundreds. The monastery is described as being one of the seats of “super friars” with great academic and political influence which is one of the things, I suppose that lead Henry VIII to getting rid of them. The order reestablished itself in Oxford a bit over a century ago. Their kitchens were apparently preserved in good condition… for archaeology… but I am not sure if they established whether the monk’s ale was brewed within that facility. Medieval Oxford not only had a brewer’s guild starting in the 1400s but they also had a Brewers Street so who knows.

So, there you go. A little light learning for a Tuesday.  From a guy with stitches in his mouth. Did I mention the stitches? I did? Oh, good.

Babylonian Cuneiform And Brewing Patterns

The other day, I read that The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had freed thousands of images from their intellectual property right shackles for free and unrestricted public use. This is good. And being a dutiful beer blogger, I immediately put in the word “beer” in the search engine to see what would pop up. And this is what popped up. A chunk of dried mud with scratchings. I love stuff like this. Three years ago, I stared at Mesopotamian brewing things at the Royal Ontario Museum, aka the ROM.  Somewhere I have photos I took thirty years ago of myself, when a selfie took a tripod, at the British Museum staring at Mesopotamian brewing things made of mud. Scratchings made a person over 150 generations ago. On just a piece of mud.

It’s actually more than that. It’s Urra=hubullu, tablet 23 from Mesopotamia in the late 1st millennium B.C.  “Twenty-three, eh?” thought I. Being a clever man I realized there must be twenty-two others. So off I went. Or, rather, I put a few words in Google… and found what I am sure you all expected I would findCuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Literary and scholastic texts of the first millennium B.C. by Ira Spar, Wilfred G. Lambert published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005 where I learned about what had been scratched into the dried mud thingie over three thousand years ago. Tablet 23 is a vocabulary of food and drink terms. The passage on this piece of cuneiform cites, at page 234, a 1950 article “On Beer and Brewing Techniques in Ancient Mesopotamia According to the XXIIIrd tablet of the series HAR.ra=hubullu” by Oppenhiem and Hartman which describes the content of tablet 23 in the context of brewing.

Fabulous. So fabulous as it is all seemingly quite authoritative. The Spar and Lambert text goes on to state what exactly was written down on three thousand odd years ago in that clay. There is great beer, dark beer, white beer, cloudy beer and beer for the tigi-songs whatever they were. My favourite might be the symbol for “clear/clean beer” indicating, of course, that folk were both skillful and appreciative of skill. That information is all in column 2. In column 3, the words are about process. Yeast is pulverized, barley bread is crushed and spread just right. It is soaked and dried then soaked and mashed. It is rinsed, pressed, crushed, broken and mixed. Malt is dried, watered, opened, spread and warmed. To my mind, this is more than a vocabulary. This is a guide not so very much different from Samuel Child’s 1768 guide discussed the other day.

This is interesting. How is it that I can read a Mesopotamian clay tablet and pretty much immediately understand what is going on? If it was about religion, governance or astronomy I wouldn’t have a clue. But beer and brewing are not strange. They are, in a very meaningful way, constant. You can see that if we go back to column 2 where you see words for 1:1 beer, 2:1 beer, 3:1 beer and even triple beer. The ratio is the relationship of grain input to beer output. If you scroll down to page 238 of the 2005 Spar and Lambert text you see there are footnotes and in the footnotes an explanation of Mesopotamian methodology. I am just going to cut and paste the footnote in relation to column 2, line 11 and what follows as I think it is one of the more extraordinary things I have ever read about beer in a couple of ways:

 

 

 

 

First, it is extraordinary as it basically sets out the scheme of brewing over 3,000 years ago in a manner which is readily understandable to anyone who has home brewed from an all-grain mash. Second, not only is it understandable… it is very familiar. It looks a lot like the parti-gyle process which makes a lot of sense as no one in their right mind wastes resources. So, the first sparging of the mash gives a 18% sugar solution wort, the second a 6% wort and the third a 1.5% wort. Roughly declining to a third each time. And sometimes the wort is recirculated to strengthen it even more to make what the footnote’s author describes as “very powerful” beer.

What is extraordinary to me is that this ratio looks a heck of a lot like the proper way to brew that I have read about from Piers the Ploughman in England’s 1370s to Matthew Vassar in New York’s 1830s. It reads like the 1825 advert for Thomas Molson’s brewery here in my hometown. Strong ale, single ale and small or ship’s beer with what looks like double double thrown in for good measure, that hazard from Shakespeare to Schenectady.

Which leads to another thought. Is that pattern a constant? Four grades of beer naturally created solely by the relationship between the sparge fluid and mash?  Following these rules you will have a 11%-ish beer, a 4%-ish one and a 1.25%-ish one. As well as whatever the heck double double was to create all that toil and trouble. A constant pattern. Could be. Could be.

Session 118: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

sessionlogosmThis month’s edition of The Session sees host Stan Hieronymus of asking everyone to write about their doomed dream dinner plans:

If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?

Elephant in the room: I have been to one beer dinner and never ever plan to ever go to one again. I wouldn’t do that to any guest. So, let’s swap that out and think about four folk I would invite to a pub, to sit around and drink and snack with. No pairings. Not in my doomed dream dinner.

Other than that, this is a great topic for where I am in my life as a beer blogger. I have migrated 565 posts from the old platform to this new one and in doing so have revived some old friendships by revisiting some posts long forgotten. Based on that, my first guest to the pub is Pete Brown. Pete won the big prizes and a few others at last evening’s British Guild of Beer Writers Awards. Like may of the other beer writers I have met over the internets, Pete and I never have been in same the physical space even though he did participate in a ship to shore Morse code discussion with me back in 2007 as well as an interview with Knut and me back in 2006 upon the release of his second book. The beer I would serve Pete would be Double Double, the lost style that lasted from about 1520 to 1820. Its Elizabethan roots would, I hope, inspire him as a topic for his next book.

Next, I would build upon the Elizabethan theme by asking Martyn Frobisher to join us to explain what it was like to put in an order for 80.5 tons of beer as part of his preparations for his 1577 iron ore mining expedition to the high Arctic of what is now Canada. One of the more fascinating topics I have been able to research has been the unexpected presence of beer and brewing in Canada’s eastern Arctic well before the creation of the nation, during the great and grand first wave of northern exploration. I would serve him a gallon of whatever it was he requisitioned and let him explain it to the table. In the 1660s we have seen beer brewed in the Arctic and in the 1670s at least two sorts of beer being brought along  for the trip.

Two more? I would invite Sarah (alias Jenny) who was in the 1730s a runaway slave, the legal property of the brewer Hendrick Rutgers. And I would also invite the unnamed twenty year old woman from Barbados whose own brewing skills were included in the 1760 notice offering her for sale.  The notice said Sarah ran south with a white man while her Barbadian dinner mate was turned down at market, her advertisement running again a few month later. When I wrote about them I thought it was the saddest corner of the story of brewing I had ever encountered. I’d serve them whatever they wanted as they came to the table but I would be very interested in knowing what beer meant to them.

I am going to cheat… twice. I am adding another guest and one who was never ever dead or alive. I can’t think of anyone who might bridge the odd set of table mates than Piers the Ploughman, the hero/everyman of the 1370s morality epic. As we are told, Piers would get his halfpenny ale as he would think fit. He would hammer at Frobisher, himself a knight, on the order good government demanded. He would in turn comfort the enslaved and then round upon Brown, lecturing him on the rumours of everything from junketry to Putinesque vote rigging, saying with the wagging finger:

Then would Waster not work · but wandered about,
Nor no beggar eat bread · that had beans therein
But asked for the best · white, made of clean wheat;
Nor none halfpenny ale · in no wise would drink,
But of the best and the brownest · for sale in the borough.

Then, once the moral order was established, I would have them served the best and the brownest ale of the borough – especially for the ladies. They’ve earned it.

The Steelyard, Stillyard, Stylyard and Spelling

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Ah, the Hanseatic League. I posted about the Hanseatic League earlier this year, pointing out how it was likely the conduit for the first introduction of hopped beer into England – and, by implication, not the Dutch. I think that might be the case for no other reason that the Dutch were introduced to hopped beer by shipments from the Hanseatic League, the Renaissance corporate port towns of the Baltic which had that handy corporate navy with corporate cannon to enforce its idea of open trade.

Renaissance and Elizabethan brewing and drinking in England is particularly interesting as the period ties a lot of later things together…. or founds them… or whatever. For example, Hull was a 1600s brewing town that also was a Hanseatic depot. Hull ale was a contemporary of Northdown as being a premium drink in London in second half of the 1600s. It’s a coastal ale of the sort that governs until the canals reach deeper into the countryside releasing the odd sulfurous and maybe hoppier beers of Burton in Staffordshire upon the national and international market. Like the railways in the mid-1800s Ontario that gave rural Labatt and Carling the opportunity to explode out into the world, England’s canals of the early 1700s also placed brewing at scale nearer the grain fields, likely cutting out middlemen and displacing premium coastal brewing perhaps by undermining existing price. Theory. Working theory.

What was displaced was the model set by the Hanseatic League. Renaissance Hamburg was the greatest brewing center in the history of beer – 42% of the workforce was involved in brewing. The Hanseatic depot at King’s Lynn still stands, one of the branch locations of Hanseatic activity. London was the Kontor with its headquarters of import / export operation located just west of London Bridge on the north shore of the Thames where Cannon Street station now stands. One of the coolest thing is that there have basically been two owners of that site since perhaps 1250 as the vestigial Hanseatic League interests in Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg sold it to the South-Eastern Railway Company in 1852. The presence of the Hanseatic League cannot be minimized at the critical point in the 1400s. Consider this passage from 1889’s bestseller The Hansa Towns by Helen Zimmern. It has a certain ripe Victorian style but does explain things like this:

Nor was London by any means their only depôt. It was the chief, but they also had factories in York, Hull, Bristol, Norwich, Ipswich, Yarmouth, Boston, and Lynn Regis. Some mention of them is found in Leland’s “Itinerary.” Under an invitation to the Hanseatics to trade with Scotland we find the name honoured in legend and song of William Wallace. In John Lydgate’s poems we also meet with our Hanseatics. In relating the festivities that took place in London city on the occasion of the triumphal entry of Henry VI, who had been crowned king at Paris some months previously, the poet narrates how there rode in procession the Mayor of London clad in red velvet, accompanied by his aldermen 196 and sheriffs dressed in scarlet and fur, followed by the burghers and guilds with their trade ensigns, and finally succeeded by a number of foreigners.

“And for to remember of other alyens,
Fyrst Jenenyes (Genoese) though they were strangers,
Florentynes and Venycyens,
And Easterlings, glad in her maneres,
Conveyed with sergeantes and other officeres,
Estatly horsed, after the maier riding,
Passed the subburbis to mete withe the kyng.”

A love of pomp and outward show was indeed a characteristic of the Hanseatics in England who thus perchance wished to impress upon the natives a sense of their wealth.

Henry IV was crowned the King of England in 1399. Hanseatic League ambassadors are in the procession when he enters London for the first time. They are somebodies. And they are powerful. They had a wee war with England from 1469-74… and won entrenching their right to trade. Hopped beer was not introduced to England by a few straggling sailors showing up at a few coastal towns. It was brought along – even imposed perhaps – by a massive commercial and military complex. Let’s look at some maps at how the Hansa QH has been described:

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The illustration to the left is a detail of the 1633 reprint of the 1561 Agas map. You can see the location of London’s Hanseatic Steelyard in blue to the west of London Bridge. Above way at the top of the text is a much finer detail of the site. Notice it is referred to as the “Stylyarde.” In the middle is a 1720s map of Elizabethan London. Notice the site is now referred to as the “Stillyard.” And to the right is a diagram of the site of the Steelyard itself in this case called the “Stahlhofes” – as it was in 1667 according to a late 1800s German atlas. So, we have four ways of spelling the name of the site. Which means that each needs to be run through the dark Satanic
research mills if we are going to have an idea of what’s going on. In a note to the discussion of John Stow‘s Survey of London (editions from 1598 to 1603), British History Online has an extended discussion in a footnote on the variously described Stillyard / Steelyard / Stilliard / Stelehouse / Steleyard which states that there was a trade presence from Cologne there as early as 1157. It also indicates that the German version Stahlhof that appears rather early on means a stall hall – a marketplace. Stow himself describes the site and operations at length in his narrative map of London including the following:

Next to this lane, on the east, is the Steelyard, as they term it, a place for merchants of Almaine, that used to bring hither as well wheat, rye, and other grain, as cables, ropes, masts, pitch, tar, flax, hemp, linen cloth, wainscots, wax, steel, and other profitable merchandises.

Interestingly, as Stow notes, past the intervening church, near the Steelyard in Haywharf Lane in the late 1500s there was a “great brew-house” operated in the past by Henry Campion and then by his son Abraham. Life in the district was… lively. In the poem by Isabella Whitney (1548–1573) “The Wyll and Testament of Isabella Whitney” we read the following:

At Stiliarde ſtore of Wines there bée,
your dulled mindes to glad:
And handſome men, that muſt not wed
except they leaue their trade.
They oft ſhal ſéeke for proper Gyrles,
and ſome perhaps ſhall fynde:
That neede compels, or lucre lures
to ſatiſfye their mind.

So, as we see on the image to the right, there is a wine house. I assumed it was a wholesale depot but it appears to be an Elizabethan retail party palace where lads and lassies mingle as they consider drink, lust and lucre. February 1582 government orders issued by the Privy Council to the Lord High Treasurer show the Stillyard being excused from certain taxation – right under another order allowing the export of 1,000 tuns of beer from London. Elizabethan brewing and trading at scale. You don’t hear about that often. Leaping ahead into the next century, Samuel Pepys, diarist and high government official, records a number of visits to the site in the 1660s. On Friday, 13 December 1661 he wrote:

…to the office about some special business, where Sir Williams both were, and from thence with them to the Steelyard, where my Lady Batten and others came to us, and there we drank and had musique and Captain Cox’s company, and he paid all, and so late back again home by coach, and so to bed.

On Monday 26 January 1662/63 he stated that he was “up and by water with Sir W. Batten to White Hall, drinking a glass of wormewood wine at the Stillyard… while on Sunday, 2 September 1666 he uses it as a location in his description of the Great Fire of London. Perhaps most gloriously, he gives us this image of a part of his day on Wednesday, 21 October 1663:

Thence, having my belly full, away on foot to my brother’s, all along Thames Streete, and my belly being full of small beer, I did all alone, for health’s sake, drink half a pint of Rhenish wine at the Still-yard, mixed with beer.

Rhenish mixed with beer. There’s a challenge to today’s sense of yum. Thankfully, he also drank Northdown and Hull so it was not all weird for Sammy. I am going to leave it there but to review, then, what we have seen is that the Hanseatic League was a massive trading partner which had a huge export trade in beer in the 1400s. It had a very significant governmental foothold in the middle of London which was recognized from at least 1399 to the 1660s as something to be reckoned with. The business presence stretched for 700 years from the 1150s to the 1850s. They ran a retail and entertainment hall of some sort exactly when beer is coming into England at the same time that they operate the largest brewing center in the world at Hamburg.

Suffice it to say, there is more to be found about the role of the Hanseatic League and the history of hopped beer in England. Does it support the rough overlapping sequence Haneastic hopped beer (say Hamburg and later Flemish 1300s to 1600s) => coastal hopped beer (like Hull and Northdown, say, late 1400s-1712) => canal based hopped beer (Burton after 1712)? Could be. Need to find out.

Is This One Way Big Craft Might Be Dying?

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There is nothing more certain about the brewing trade more than the history is defined an extraordinary limited set of patterns. Those who think that the owners of big craft breweries are special, well, know nothing about the rise of lager in the late 1800s as a premium even healthy drink – and know nothing about the rise of Albany Ale from central New York in early the middle third of the 1800s or the rise of Taunton Ale from southwest England as probably a premium even healthy drink in the last quarter of the 1700s. I suspect Northdown Ale was the premium even healthy drink in the lower Thames valley in the third quarter of the 1600s, too. There are, in fact, only a limited number of things you can say about beer to make people buy it other than that it’s tasty, cheap and gets you a tremendous buzz. They are: (i) it’s premium and (ii) it’s healthy. Check out social media today. The spin doctors are still at it. That quote up there? That is from the fabulously fabulous Dr. Richard W. Unger of UBC. More particularly, it is from his essay “Beer: A New Bulk Good of International Trade” in the book Cogs, Cargoes and Commerce: Maritime Bulk Trade in Northern Europe, 1150-1400. It’s actually the ending. Sorry. Spoilers. It reminds me of craft. Or rather big craft.

Just at the moment, big craft is going through a time of change that is not unlike what happened to the beers of Hamburg in the latter 1400s and early 1500s. Hanseatic Hamburg’s hopped beer as a technology went through an era when it was considered premium, rare and difficult to make. Roughly from 1250 to 1350. Neighbouring markets raised import duties to keep it out or just enough to equalize the cost with local producers. Because Hamburg during that time was the greatest brewing center in the history of beer. 42% of the workforce was involved in brewing. 15% of all Swedish exports were hops sent to the breweries of Hamburg and its allies. Read ye some Unger if you have any doubts. These trading communities had their own warships and a trust based commerce that overcame North Sea and Baltic piracy and storm. A commercial empire. And it all went away. At least the brewing did. They switched to trading in the ultimate beer concentrate – grain.

Here in Canada we are undergoing much more accelerated change at the moment. The collapse of the oil market and the sad performance of the Canadian dollar against the American version means no one in their right mind is even thinking of buying US craft beer either by a quick flip over the border or as an import. Yet there are around 550 craft brewing kettles in the land. As a result, while I can buy 2 litres of Pilsner Urquell for 10 bucks and decent Ontario craft for maybe 12 bucks the equivalent volume of beer in a six pack of fairly pedestrian Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is selling for a silly $15.50 and will likely soon cost more given our new 68 cent dollar. Who needs it? Few if the stock that sits on the shelves is any indication.

This is an accentuated version of what is happening in the US itself. Being well north of 4,000 breweries in the US means fans of good beer in the US are no longer dependent on those Hanseatic Hamburgers of big craft who ship coast to coast. People are making their own better local beer now just as the Netherlands did around 1450 and England did starting in 1520. Big craft is losing sales just as its handmaid bulk cider is. Who needs it? If you are looking for something rare and interesting – premium and maybe even healthy – who needs to go to a grocery store or gas station shelf to buy the beer trucked in from out of state? Fewer and fewer.

The economies of scale in good beer are having their way with the market. Not large scale. Small scale. The era of the great white male multi-millionaire brewery owner is over. The nameless nimble newbie hoards have learned the tricks of Hamburg, leaving the old fests cancelled and the old men the option to sell out, shut down or sit around wondering what happened. Same as it ever was.

Was Hanseatic League Beer The First in England?

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Ah, the Hanseatic League. Remember the Championship game of 1922? That was great. Gordie won the Cup.

That chart above is from Britain and Poland-Lithuania: Contact and Comparison from the Middle Ages to 1795 published in 2008 and co-edited by every beer history nerd’s favorite professor, Dr. Richard W. Unger. Before I knew anything about Albany ale, I asked Professor Unger about Dutch brewing in the Hudson Valley. If I have a fanboy crush on anything about beer it’s his research on medieval to industrial Baltic trade. Because I have a brief if beefy Baltic past. While living in western Pomerania, I had beers with a guy who was on trans-Atlantic Polish factory fishing boats in the 1970s not to mention a man who was a colonel in the underground riding German train lines, slipping away from time to time to place a bomb or two. His drink nephew wagged a revolver in my face while we partied. The things you remember from time to time.

Anyway, enough about me. More about beer. Unger shows how the Hanseatic League of northern Germany and Poland was instrumental in moving hopped beer into western Europe in the 1300s. England is often said to receive hops from the Netherlands but the Netherlands receives them through trade with traders from the Hanseatic League. Early 1300s restrictions against hopped beer in the Netherlands were dropped by mid-century due to the popularity of the imported stuff. That table up there is from an article in Britain and Poland-Lithuania: Contact and Comparison from the Middle Ages to 1795 by Wendy M. Childs in an article called “England’s Contacts With Poland-Lithuania.” She is pointing out that the Polish city of Gdansk* had trading routes into England quite regularly from the 1370s including the good ship Elyn and her cargo above via Hull in 1401. Notice that the beer is not showing up from the Netherlands. It’s from Poland’s main Baltic port. Which potentially skips about maybe half a century of trade contracts. Is it possible that the first hopped beer in England was not via the nearby Netherlands** but from earlier, more easterly Hanseatic trade routes? Just speculation for sure but for me at this point the neatest idea might be that North Sea ports like Hull and Lynn might have been enjoying hopped beer a little further back than understood. And what does that mean for the brewers in those ports?

* Where, yes, I drank a lot of Gdanskie in late 1991.
**Where, oddly, I worked and drank in 1986.

The Hillars Of Golden Lane, Cripplesgate Without

hillarsUp there, that is a detail from the Agas map, a wood cut map of London from 1561. In the upper right you will see Golding Lane. If you were cleverer than I am you would have noticed that in the last couple of weeks I mentioned Golding Lane twice. In this post, I referred to a court case about the improper pulling down of a brewery in 1680. And in this post, I made mention of the Golden Lane Brewery of the early 1800s, a brewery set up as a joint stock company. It took me a few days to realize that Golding Lane was the same place as Golden Lane – as is Goldyng Lane and Gouldinge Lane. It’s still there but not much of the past remains. Its part of a district that was flattened by the Nazis in the Blitz. It’s not very long, running the few blocks from Old Street south to Beech Street now as it did in that map above 454 years ago, in the suburbs of Cripplesgate Without, the north part of an ancient ward of of the City of London. One thing has survived. The church. St-Giles-without-Cripplegate avoided being taken out by both the Nazi bombers and the Great Fire of 1666. My hero and early Canadian beer man Martyn Frobisher is buried there.

Golden Lane and the immediate vicinity seems to be inordinately beery. Or maybe just that its beeriness is well recorded. That’s the funny thing about records. Things recorded where the records survive gain as much importance as those breweries and brewing towns with a ripe habit of offering generous beer writer junkets. To be mentioned is to be important. Yet… there is something about the place worth considering. In Stow’s 1603 A Survay of London it notes that the Brewers Hall stood a few streets inside Cripplegate, one of the gates in London’s medieval wall. Stow states that the Company of Brewers was incorporated by Henry VI in 1438 but it was the brewers of London who built the gate in 1244.

I am not going to try to write about all the brewing connections to Golden Lane in one post. Let’s start with something fairly manageable. The brewery which was torn down in 1680 by a rather self-confident tenant. You will recall from that recent post that the case of Greene versus Cole – both at trial and appeal – provided a lot of information about the place including how William Cole came to be the owner, as successor to one John Hilliard who himself received it as son an heir from his father John Hilliard who died in 1651. The son himself only made it to 1658 at which time Cole received it under will of John the father. But it does not stop there. Mike Brown in his article “Some named brewhouses in early London” published in Brewery History issue 144 identified a bit more of the brewery’s history sets out a passage in a will probated in 1591:

To Robert Hyllyar my son for his life I give my messuage or brewhouse called the sign of the Flower de Luce lying in Gouldinge Lane, now in the tenure of Robert Allyson, brewer; and after his decease the remainder thereof to the issue of his body; for default, I will that the reversion thereof shall remain to the maintenance of the poor distressed people inhabiting within the freedom of the City of London in the said parish of St. Giles without Creplegate for ever, and the lease of the said messuage and brew-house shall from time to time be made by the good advice of the parson and Churchwardens of the same parish of St. Giles.

A more complete record of the will of John Hillar from 1591 can be found on line here. The brewery is said to be worth £6 annually. Richard the son of John was just 26 years old when he received the brewery in 1591. Which makes him a very likely candidate for being the father of John Hilliard who died in 1651. John (d. 1591), Richard (b.1565), John (d. 1651), John (d.1658) all owned the brewery on Golding Lane, which would be shown somewhere on that woodcut up there from 1561. Neato.

And it goes even further back that that as Brown in his article shows that in a will from 1407, a bequest was granted by Robert Gerthe to Agnes his wife to whome he left “a brew-house called ‘le Flourdelys’ in Goldynglane in the parish of S. Giles aforesaid for life.” Flower de Luce. Flourdelys. Fleur de Lys. A brewery just outside the wall of London for at least 273 years, torn down 335 years ago.

Oh, What A Loverly Word Usage Graphing Tool…

hoppes

See that? Click on the image and you will see it better. That is a word search for the word hop[pe]s in English language texts from a site called Early Modern Print: Text Mining Early Printed English which explains itself as follows:

Early Print offers a range of tools for the computational exploration and analysis of English print culture before 1700. Early Print offers a range of tools for the computational exploration and analysis of English print culture before 1700. The site was designed to help scholars make sense of the incomparable textual archive produced by the EEBO Text Creation Partnership, consisting of a set of transcriptions of the first two centuries of English print. While EEBO-TCP provides access to a massive collection of texts that promises to transform the way scholars approach this period, it also presents significant technical and conceptual challenges. The relative accuracy (given its scale) of the EEBO-TCP corpus that makes it such a valuable resource for scholars also makes it complex for computational analysis.

Got it? Yikes. It appears to be a far more complex version of the New York Times search tool that is so useful in confirming how late “craft” beer came into accepted usage. Except, this fun widget focuses on texts from 1480 to 1700. I am still having some problem figuring out how to properly run searches given all the swell code that can be used to run searches. But when you do, you get wonderful – even if possibly misleading – results like this one confirming that “hops” or “hoppes” came into far more common use on a very particular date roughly around 1518. Look at “ale“! I am sure folk more clever than I may make more interesting use of it so let me know what you find. Be careful. Remember that around 1577 “biere” was a common spelling. Have a go. Meanwhile, I wonder if anyone mentioned “craft beer” during that era…