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


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:








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?


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?


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 Elynand 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…


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…

Pre-1600 Ale And Beer Not All Dark And Smoke-Laced


This has been a bit of a brain worm for me for a while. No, not that kind. The other kind. And for a longer while, I’ve been reading about how, before a certain point, all English beer and perhaps elsewhere was brown and smokey. But, quite rightly, the other day I was righteously snapped at for referring to the one post I have written on the idea. I should do a better job that that if I am going to get any sort of passing grade. So, here are some ideas that I am plunking together now. This is not to be definitive. I am showing my work and will build it upon going forward:

• Mid-1200s: In the first half of the 1200s, when England and northern France were under one government but still two cultures, Walter of Bibbesworth wrote Le Tretiz, an English-French primer to teach Anglo-Norman children about life and language. He describes the things in the world including ale making. A current edition of the book ishere. This is a translation from which we find this passage about malting:

Now it would be as well to know how to malt and brew
As when ale is made to enliven our wedding feast.
Girl, light a fennel-stalk (after eating some spice-cake);
Soak this barley in a deep, wide tub,
And when it’s well soaked and the water is poured off,
Go up to that high loft, have it well swept,
And lay your grain there till it’s well sprouted;
What you used to call grain you call malt from now on.
Move the malt with your hands into heaps or rows
And then take it in a basket to roast in the kiln;
Baskets, big or little, will serve you in plenty…

That tells us the basics of malting in a way that one commentator states “…medieval malting was, except for the lack of mechanical processing equipment, essentially identical to modern techniques.” Maltings from the 1200s were discovered this year in Northampton.

• Mid-1300s: One hundred years and more after Walter of Bibbesworth, there is a record that confirms, ale was not uniform within a single local market for as reasonably a long time as one needs to consider it a hell of a long time. In 1378 or so, in a moral narrative called Piers The Poughman at least three sorts of ale: thin or mean ale, good ale and best brown ale. He also uses the phrase “halfpenny ale” but that may well be good ale. Variety of ale brewing must include consideration of the potential for variety in malting techniques.

• Mid-1500s: As discussed in February of 2013, in his “Dietary” of 1542, Andrew Boordemade himself clear about what he considered was the best ale:

“Ale is made of malte and water; and they the which do put any other thynge to ale than is rehersed, except yest, barm, or goddesgood doth sophysicat there ale. Ale for an Englysshe man is a naturall drinke. Ale muste have these properties, it muste be fresshe and cleare, it must not be ropy, nor smoky, nor it must have no wefte nor tayle. Ale shulde not be dronke under .V. dayes olde. Barly malte maketh better ale than Oten malte or any other corne doth…

Not smokey. Pretty clear statement.

• Later-1500s: In this 2004 report on an archaeological excavation of a medieval malting kiln it is stated:

The fuels used in the malting process were documented in 1577 by William Harrison, who wrote: “In some places it (the malt) is dried at leisure with wood alone, or straw alone, in other with wood and straw together, but of all, the straw dried is the most excellent. For the wood dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke.

Notice that again we see grades of now hopped beer just as we did in 1378 but it is not quality of strength that differentiates but the quality of the malt. And wood-kilned malt is noted to be both darker and the means to make a poorer beer – because of the smokey quality wood added. Harrison published his book A Description of England in 1577. Here is a full copy of the text posted by Fordham University in which you will find this: “The best malt is tried by the hardness and colour; for, if it look fresh with a yellow hue, and thereto will write like a piece of chalk. Chalk is, you will note, pale.

• Late 1500s to early 1600s: Also as stated before, there was something of a crisis in malt and fuel supplies as far back as the mid-1500s:

…the forests around York had greatly diminished and receded. Chiefly for this reason the malt kilns were in 1549 closed for two years and a survey of disforestation for eight miles around was instituted. At this time, too, the commons included the dearness of fuel in their bill of grievances and ten M.P.s were asked to seek a commission from the king to check disforestation.

The crisis of English deforestation led to a search for fuel alternatives and the main alternative was coal. The timber crisis was most acute in England from about 1570 to 1630 during which making coke from coal was invented.

• Mid-1600s: In an edition of A Way to Get Wealth by Gervase Markham from 1668, a book first published in 1615 we have an opinion on the preference for straw… and not just any straw:

…our Maltster by all means must have an especial care with what fewel she dryeth the malt; for commonly, according to that it ever receiveth and keepeth the taste, if by some especial art in the Kiln that annoyance be not taken away. To speak then of fewels in general, there are of divers kinds according to the natures of soyls,and the accommodation of places-in which men live; yet the best and most principal fewel for the Kilns, (both tor sweetness, gentle heat and perfect drying) is either good Wheat-straw, Rye-straw, Barley-straw or Oaten-straw; and of these the Wheat-straw is the best, because it is most substantial, longest lasting, makes the sharpest fire, and yields the least flame…

Again, as Harrison half a century before, you have grades of malting based on the fuel used but now not just wood or straw are described but in this passage four separate sorts of straw. But Markham continues. After these light grain straws he lists fen-rushes, then straws of peas, fetches, lupins and tares. Then beans, furs, gorse, whins and small brush-wood. Then bracken, ling and broom. Then wood of all sorts. Then and only then coal, turf and peat but only of the kiln is structured to keep the smoke out of the malt. If you go back to that 2004 archaeological report you will see a reference to evidence of that sort of malt kilning in practice in the 1400s: “… [A] charred deposit overlying the brick floor of the cellar was sampled and found to comprise mainly charcoal fragments from narrow twigs, several straw culm nodes and occasional charred weed seeds.” You can learn more about culm nodes here.

• Late 1600s: In his book A New Art of Brewing Beer, Ale, and Other Sorts of Liquors…published in 1690, Thomas Tryon discusses malting. Large parts of the book was reprinted in the 1885 text Malt and Malting: An Historical, Scientific, and Practical Treatise… by Henry Stopes. Tryon confirms the ascendancy of coke over straw due to its “gentle and certain heat.” Straw, he has to admit, is still a close second but depends more on the skill of the maltster. Wood kilning is called unnatural in that it leaves a smokey taste.

• Late 1800s: A big jump in time to the document from which that table waaaaay up top comes from page 66 of the Transactions for 1884 of the Society of Engineers based in London, England. That table is found in an article “The Engineering of Malting” read by one Mr. H. Stopes at the meeting of that organization. He also read it at the eleventh meeting of the Society of Arts on 18 February 1885. In his article, Stopes describes the malting process briefly in this way: “The English system, briefly, is steeping corn in an open vessel, germinating it upon flat exposed floors at very shallow depths, and drying upon an open-fire kiln with single floor at from nine to twenty-one days after steep.” As noted above, that sort of description could have been written by Walter of Bibbesworth 650 years earlier because the making of malt was an incredibly stable practice. He goes on to describe many sorts of malting he has witnessed including the most basic:

The simplest form of malt-house possessing any capacity for work is a plain two-story building, having attached to it a kiln or drying-house, and consisting of a ground floor of clunch, a brick steeping-cistern, and a first-floor of timber, with or without partitions for separating the stored grain or malt. The only implements are a wooden shovel and a winnowing-fan or sieve to separate the roots or “combs ” from the malt prior to its use in the brewhouse. The author has seen malt made in Italy in an open court or loggia, where the barley was steeped in a tub, allowed to germinate upon the stones in the open air, and dried in a small lean-to building, with only a hole in the roof for the exit of smoke and vapour. This was furnished with a floor of perforated sheet iron and a furnace similar to that used under an ordinary washing copper in an* English scullery. Even more primitive operations are performed in Nubia, as there millet, when malted, is dried in the sun. Such rude malteries Concern us only so far that they occupy the lowest end of the scale, and indicate the necessity for moisture, growth, and curing or drying, the three essential conditions of making malt.

Sun dried malt. That’s be pale. Stopes does not really explain his table. But he includes a column for sun-dried or air-dried malt as opposed to kiln dried. And shows that it, like plain barley, it contains no products of torrefaction. Torrefaction is toasting, roasting, etc. He does however state that kilning pale malt and amber malt is a difference of 200° to 240° F and that the time for malting is counted in days. Plenty of time to control the process. Not something in 1885 that needed scientific instruments. And if not in 1885 likely not in 1385.

I am going to keep working on this and posting updates. I may also be seeing this rudimentary traditional pale malt production evidenced in frontier New York in the first decade of the 1800s. I need to think more about that. And all of this. Suffice it to say, I am pretty certain there is evidence that the making of pale malt was not dependent on the invention of coke and that English speaking peoples in centuries past enjoyed ales which were not dark and smokey. This is in no way to say that most beer was not dark and smokey. It just seems to me that this may be found where (i) the folk are poor, (ii) resources and skills are limited or (iii) standardized industrial techniques such as – or rather concurrent to – the use of coal and coke beginning in the 1600s forced people to put up with beer that was dark and smokey. I also need to tie it into grain drying as well as bread ovens, both technologies used since the middle ages which could be overlapped with the kilning of malt.

Fuzzy Photos Of Drinking Things From A Museum

rom1A few hours on the fourth floor of the Royal Ontario Museum Saturday found me looking for beer stuff in the exhibits. Just a game. You think of how pervasive beer has been in western culture and how places like museums like to not discuss it all that much and it starts to be a fun game to play for a tired mind after a long night in a noisy hotel. Fun? Time passing maybe. Temper maintaining perhaps. Anyway, there was some fairly interesting stuff to be found.

Like that friend of Bertie Wooster who passes time when walking through London by imagining golf shots, I think about the beers I would have from these museum pieces. Not hard when the drinking vessel in question is a 1750s Silesian glass tankard but what about a fourth century Sudanese clay drinking cup. Clay asks for something like thin boozy porridge but there’s not much of that going around these day in this civilization. Chip shot into the Shaftesbury Memorial pool at Piccadilly.







Then I think about the techniques the curators are using to get the beer stuff into the displays but not really mentioning. In one room of the exhibit, two Georgian silver tankards are in the back placed on bookshelves along with other curios as if they were not really used for drinking beer at all. In another display, pewter pots are lined up in a row to describe weights and measures as opposed to the uses to which they were put. The weighted and measured. Odd. No pottle. The fifteenth century mead drinking jug made of spruce sits next to the leather canteen in a daring juxtaposition of old things, weirdly shaped and made out of strange stuff. Two iron glanced off Shakespeare’s forehead neatly carries on down Charing Cross Road. Kids are getting tired feet. Me, too.







We took the subway back to the hotel, three stops south to Osgoode the TTC car as empty but for us as the sidewalks had been on the way north earlier. The kids said that Toronto was nice but it was no Montreal. I knew what they meant but it was not a bad Toronto, either. University Avenue looked like the MIT area of Cambridge if the MIT area of Cambridge had stopped being built in 1973 or so.

Pass Peter’s Pewter Pottle Pot, Please!


In my quest for objects out of which to drink ale, I have a 1940s ceramic part pint, an 1840s pewter quart pot and have declared 2013 the year of the 1700s etched ale glass. But, what ho! Something came before my eye today that I had not only never seen before but never had heard of – the pottle! Not an actual pottle but just the concept.

As you can see, that is archaic word for a half-gallon. The image above is a handy illustration from the entry for “Ale” in 1725’s smash best selling book Dictionaire oeconomique: or, The family dictionary. Containing the most experienced methods of improving estates and of preserving health, with many approved remedies for most distempers of the body of man, cattle and other creatures…. You will have to excuse me for deleting more than half the title but you get the hint. But now you know that there are 16 pottles to a firkin. That’s knowledge, baby.

There are a few references to pewter pottle pots on Google mainly referencing legal cases where a whole bunch of things are listed as being stolen or being in a will. In 1267, it is recorded in The Court Rolls of Ramsey, Hepmangrove, and Bury that a number of naughty brewsters of Ramsey were brought before the rather ripely named William De Wassingle – who I have no doubt was called “Assingle” behind his back – to pay fines and pledge security. Earlier in the day there was a far more interesting case which is recorded as follows:

6 d. from Emma Powel for making unclean puddings, as presented in the last view. Pledge: Simon de Elysworth. Order that henceforth she not make pudding.

You wag, Assingle. Anyway, in the brewster cases on that day, the security pledged against failure to pay the fine included many pottles. Four centuries later but still over 400 years ago, in 1659, the court heard an action of trover and conversion brought against one Gervase Maplesden by one Gabriel Beckraan for a number of things including one pewter gallon pot, one pewter quart pot, one pewter pottle pot and one pewter pint pot. Battlin’ pewterers action! Nothing like it.

But where are the pottle pots now? Not only can I find none on the internets for sale but none even pictured. Can you send an image to one of these massive drinking vessels? Have you ever seen one?