Perhaps A Very Short Version Of Thursday Beer News.

I say “very short” up there as I never know where these things are going. I am like a one man Brexit in that sense. Suffice it to say, mustering the time and content for this post differs from week to week but, unlike Brexit perhaps, is always the source of joyous surprise.  I couldn’t imagine anything could be more screwed up than 1970s Canadian constitutional conferences – shown live on TV all day in my youth. But Brexit is it! I know some of you are actually living under this nutty-nutso situation so I will not go on. Excecpt to wonder what a backstop really means to @thebeernut.

So what is up in reality land? First, Geoff Latham has an interesting question: what does this record from a brewing session that occurred in September 1848 mean? It appears to show someone dabbling in early hipsterism, employing unholy techniques when it comes to hops. Click on that thumbnail. Can you read the text and help with the mystery?*

Interesting. Second, now Stan has a question:

I think I’ve only asked a variation on that question one other time — in this case the more open ended, “What is the most important hop ever?” — and Jason Perrault of Select Botanicals and Perrault Farms said to give him a little time to think about it. I haven’t pressed him on it since, but now might be time.

My answer – and I am sticking to it – is the one in the beer on the ships that had the cannons of the Hanseatic League 1300 to 1500. Likely proto-Saaz.

Home brew for three pence a pint! What year would that have been? That was my own Burco dream back in the middle of the 1980s. Speaking of the 1980s, great news of  Mendocino Brewing Company, care of a Tom tip. An early micro brewing icon is being revived:

Though the beer is not being produced inside the cavernous, 65,000 square-foot facility, Krauss and his team have high hopes about the future, to the delight of local beer drinkers and fans of the legendary brews. “Red Tail Ale and Eye of the Hawk are back,” smiles Krauss. The beers have recently been revived by the brand’s original brew master, Don Barkley, and can currently be purchased on tap at a few inland Mendo locations: in Ukiah at Crush, Cultivo and the Sports Attic; in Hopland at Campovida; and once again, where it all began, at the Hopland Tap, where the ales were originally served more than three decades ago.

Right on. Moving on, we find some odd responses to the idea of more craft beer going into the UK supermarket chain Tesco. Apparently, the Tand is still the clearest thinking person in beer culture:

This should surprise nobody. Breweries are businesses and while keeping it cosily in the bubble is nice for fans, it don’t pay the milkman. Big beer and big business want a share and they know how to go about it. Expect much more of similar.

The odd thing for me is the twin ideas that (i) for some reason we beer writers are supposed to be boosters for a bigger market slice for the  brewers that self-identify as preferable and yet (ii) we want to keep those precious brewers human scale as if this all is some sort of personal relationship. Note: never has this occurred in all of human history.

Similarly, Paste magazine has listed some of the contract beers they sell under house names – and then unpacks who is actually making them like this entry for Mission Street Pale Ale:

Attributed to Steinhause Brewing in CA, this pale ale actually comes from California’s own Firestone Walker, who also makes a handful of other Mission St. styles like blonde and black ales as well as a hefeweizen. They’re also behind Trader Joe’s Fat Weasel Ale, Jumping Cow Amber, Frugal Joe’s Ordinary Beer, and the Gila Monster Amber Lager.

I had heard years ago that Unibroue up here in Canada made all their Belgian ales. Makes sense. Why sell bad beer in your store when you can rebrand good stuff? And why be a brewer competing with chain branded beer when you can brew it yourself? Everyone wins.

Speaking of beer on the move, Josh Rubin has a great story in The Toronto Star on the ambitious expansion of one Ontario brewery into the Big Apple including one non-traditional and interesting comment from a craft brewer:

Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, was puzzled but welcomes the new arrival. “It seems like an awfully strange move, but then again, we’d probably happily open in Paris or Tokyo, so maybe it’s the same for everyone these days,” said Oliver. “If they make great beer, people will come. And I can walk there from my house. Brooklyn once brewed 15 per cent of all the beer in the United States, so I’m sure that one more brewery/taproom will be just fine,” Oliver said.

Clever people. I hope they make a go of it. Sadly, elsewhere apparently stupid is still a part of craft beer culture:

“We understand it is a bit risqué, but it’s in good humor, comical, and consensual.  We have received good feedback from when we have showed this to many” said Brady.

Jeff obviously was not part of that early feedback loop. Really, I hope you don’t bother looking at the underlying story. Morons. Particularly swell that they are ‘splainin’ sorts who unilaterally assert something is consensual.

Finally in far happier branding news, big craft brewer Stone has lost its motion for a preliminary injunction in that trademark infringement case against cheery micro macro Miller. I say happy because the court has confirmed that the case between Stone and Miller over beer brands is all about money and not some sort of special status. I say happy, too, because it places Dr. Johnson squarely back in the midst of it all, as we observe again with him the unassailable truth that brewing offers and perhaps even inflicts the curse of “the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice” upon those who are not careful, who over reach.  Brendan has more in his Wednesday afternoon tweet-fest of the court’s ruling.

Well, that’s it. Not as short as I had thought – and not even all that pointless! More good news than sad. Not a bad week. The dirty snow has already faded to the lump here an there on the north side of things. Desperate for more? You know the drill: Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday. See ya next week, unless that real job of mine gets in the way. Think I am out at meetings on Tuesday and on the road Wednesday night. Uh oh.

*Ooops… forgot I hate any use of “mystery” as it relates to beer and drinking culture.

Apparently The Beer News Heats Up When We Reach Mid-February

Happy Valentine Day. Or is it Valentine’s Day? Never sure. Me, I grew up in a florist’s household and, as a young lad, was a Netherlands-trained wholesale florist myself. So, I pretty much have burned the entire thing out of my consciousness. Watching people line up to pay $80 bucks for roses when $25 worth of fresh red tulips was the smart move gets depressing. You worried about the big macro industrial beer trade? Worry about the big macro industrial rose trade. Just sayin’.

In other VD related news, thankfully the “what beer to pair with chocolate!” story and the “how to confront your date with beer on your big day!” story seem to have both mercifully gone away. Did you see as many? It feels like something grew up, like watching your teen finally eat a damn green bean. Time to get back to a more honest, wholesome approach. Hmm… stuffed haddock imperial sounds pretty good, actually. Thanks Pam!

Other than that, as I mention above there is plenty of heat in the real news left in the last few weeks of winter. For starters, Jeff shares the news that Portland, Oregon’s seemingly perhaps formerly beloved BridgePort Brewing has shut after 35 years:

This will hurt the soul of many Portlanders. Even if BridgePort wasn’t locally owned, even if it wasn’t making interesting beer, and even if the pub had been turned into a wannabe Chili’s, it was still the oldest and perhaps most important brewery in the state. Exactly 20 years ago, we lost a monument to Oregon beer when Miller shut down the old Henry Weinhard brewery that anchored downtown. We will lose the most important remaining emblem of our brewing history when BridgePort shutters its doors thirteen blocks north of Weinhard’s.

Keep in mind one thing. This and the other closures being reported in 2019 are occurring in an economic upturn.  What will happen if the economy starts to actually wobble?

If that sort of prospect weren’t bad enough, Robin rightly blew a gasket (as did many many others) over an entirely unnecessary but utterly sexist and creepy story run in the Great Lakes Brewing News:

This post isn’t going to talk too much about beer, but it’s something related to the beer world. Primarily one of the many things wrong with it in regards to its treatment of women. No no, this isn’t going to be talking about a sexist label or a really bad PR gaffe in which a rape joke was made. This is a special kind of trainwreck.

In response, the author/editor/publisher indicated that it was all a one off satire. Problem is… there was nothing satirical about it. Also, as I was able to show via a couple of tweets, the GLBN has had a long standing habit of publishing the author/editor/publisher’s pervy creepy personal fiction for over a decade. Breweries (including Fat Head’s which has supported with advertising for years) have now begun abandoning the publication. Nice to see, by the way, someone turning the stupid immortal Calagione statement that the craft brewing industry is “99% a**hole-free” back on itself. 99% asleep at the wheel on such matters might make for more accurate math. More here at a Wednesday round up in Detroit’s MetroTimes.

Entirely to the opposite and building on his Beer 101 webcasts that mentioned last December, Garrett Oliver proved again why he is the leading spokesperson for good beer in North America when he strode upon the small screen on US broadcast morning show LIVE with Kelly and Ryan under the FeBREWary banner:

Look alive, peeps! In the green room about to appear on @LiveKellyRyan. We’re going to improve your Monday! In the meantime, the chocolate chip cookies in the green room are pretty good. The life of the modern brewmaster is a strange thing….

Discussing good beer with the authority the O.G.G.O. brings is a rare thing indeed. Placing it on a normal everyday national forum like that was almost a shock. Here is the four minute segment.

In other good news, Anchor Brewing is thriving and going union!

There are approximately 70 full- and part-time employees in the bargaining unit, spread across the Anchor’s production facility in the Potrero Hill neighborhood and its taproom, Anchor Public Taps, across the street. The brewery employs approximately 160 people total, including white-collar workers…

Video of the week: drunken horse riding in England in 1972.

Floorboard story of the week: early 1900s Danes hid brewing archives under them.

A drinks man,  the roaring boy has left us.

Graham Dineley* has posted something of a personal history of coming to beer which entirely parallels mine – 1980s home brewing along with Dave Line’s books:

My first Baby Burco on the left, on it’s third element, is now relegated to heating sparge water. In the middle is my last remaining beer sphere, Peco mash tun and demi-johns. Inside the blue sleeping bags there is 10 gallons of beer in the final stages of primary fermentation. I bought my ingredients from Hillgate Brewing Supplies in Stockport, the shop mentioned by Boak and Bailey. It must have been just after the shop had changed hands from Pollard. The man running it was John Hoskins, if my memory serves me right. I would phone in an order: “Two of page 88 please” and pick it up the next day. He would make up recipes from David Line’s “Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy”, which was a boon for a novice brewer without any scales.

A Burco! We had a home brew shop owner in Halifax that would lend out Burcos for free like a beery private librarian when you bought your malt and hops. Fabulous. And a completely different route into good beer than the authorized version would let you believe.

Speaking of rambles down the unilateral memory lane, I might be coming around a bit more to #FlagshipFebruary even if the month is long and, frankly, chores are being missed.** It’s a good measure of which memories are considered important to some – naturally I suppose given the model includes allocation of stories through the assignments. Not everyone gets to choose Sam Adams, for example. So what has week two given us? I hand’t paid much attention to  New Zealand’s Epic Ale which seems to be a clone of a mid-2000s C-hop brew. Good for the Kiwis getting a day. I’ve like most New Zealanders I’ve met. Similarly, Evan wrote glowingly on Samichlaus which is a beer I regularly pass when shopping. Racing to be the strongest beer was like being the hoppiest – a bit of a genetic dead end in good beer but still Samichlaus hangs on. Having passed between breweries, it’s a flagship in the sense that war prizes can stock a naval fleet.*** Two more weeks to go. Crickey. No suspense that SNPA will be the last one reviewed, right? Bet it gets ripped. No? You’re probably right.

Well, that’s enough for now. After last week’s update Maureen gave high praise. I am simply grateful that somebody reads this stuff. It’s all just talon sharpening for my real world life. Well… and temper tempering I suppose. Best not to ask my inner voice too many questions. Unlike Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday whose more cogent thoughts should set you off in all sorts of new directions. Two weeks to March! What will March stand for? What will be it’s new hashtag? We’ll have to think about that.

*Yes, indeed.
**Nothing tells you there is a bit of confusion more than GBH insisting there should not be confusion and that he/they/it are confused by it. If people only understood how smart they were they’d get over all the weirdness.
***Whose navy indeed!

 

Session 132: A Homebrewing Conversation

For this month’s edition of The Session, host Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site has asked us to consider home brewing.  This is an interesting thing as we do not often get to consider, to reflect. To dwell upon. OK, who is kidding who? That is all I do.

I have had three phases of home brewing, the last of which is a decade in the past. The first, when I was in my mid-20s and between university degrees, was fun. I had been to the UK and picked up not only some books at the Pitfield Beer Shop but some rare equipment.  So, I was at the tail end of the UK-based Amateur Winemaker line of home brewing and never understood the attraction of Papazian – the relative flakiness and lack of technical information. More importantly perhaps, brought back a couple of five gallon polypin draft dispenser bags which, when filled, fit wonderfully into a milk crate. No bottles. Draught. When I bought my first house about 20 years ago, I went into home brewer big time brewing twice a month at least, making ten to twenty gallons of mainly low strength ale every four or five weeks. Last, when we bought this house I briefly revived the hobby.

Why did I stop? First, health. Home brewing – like that far more briefly followed hobby cheese making* – is basically cake icing making.  Gallons and gallons of beer – even ordinary bitter – sitting around the house represents thousands and thousands of surplus calories. I put on weight despite an otherwise healthy life playing soccer and working an acre vegetable garden.

And it is more than that. It’s all very fine to suggest that the problem with strong drink is that that it is a just buffer – that others suffer who are “those with difficulties that they hide with booze” – but we know better. Alcohol is the direct cause of deeper issues. In my first phase, the house basically became a free bar with a couple of draught taps. Those pals that hovered too much, as with any public house, were affected by that much drink. It did not take many months to realize it could get a bit unattractive even if it was interesting to figure out how cheap and easy it was to make a decent pint from malt, hops, yeast and water.

Cheap. Home brewing also was about saving money. When I was a college era party lad, it was great to pre-game for pennies. When I grew up and established myself, downing less and finally earning a decent income, my time became more important than the cash.  Why put all that effort into a task that was replicated by me heading over to the beer store and spending a bit of moo-lah? Additionally, the taking on of the task itself added a hazard to the house with young kids. Boiling a couple of gallons of maltose laced extract or shifting a full five gallon carboy are high quality occupational health and safety moments. It really no longer practically fit into life.

Finally, more and more good beer came into the world.  The move back to Ontario fifteen years ago situated me near a decent supply and the proximity to the international border with northern New York soon fed my cross-cultural interest in a wide variety of beers that I could never make – the fodder for the creation of this blog.  Why spend money and wait a couple of weeks shipping in the load of rare grains and other supplies from a quality home brew supplier when i could bomb down to Syracuse and load up?

So, what is left of the equipment gathers dust. No hobby for this old man.

*Downing a few pounds of the best cream cheese you will ever have over a matter of days is a great life lesson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max finally gets a real job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Mid-January Thursday Beery New Round-Up

It’s been a big week. The Arctic air mass has left us so Easlakia once again is a ball of slush. It’s been a dryish January around these parts but only “-ish” – so don’t go all hostile. Much more veg. No fries. Walks as walks can be walked. It’s good for you. Hmm. Ice storm coming Friday. That should be sweetly end-timesy. Like what Lars just went through recently… maybe. You and I? We have done nothing for good beer. Not like Lars. Speaking of getting off the kookoo juice, I like this: “…waking up fresh at 8am on a Saturday morning after 8 hours uninterrupted sleep.” Try it. It’s good.

I was very sad to read a Ed’s blog about the passing of Graham Wheeler. During my home brewing years his book (with a drizzle of R. Protz) Brew Your Own British Real Ale was a constant companion. One thing I will always appreciate having learned from him was how small differences between recipes created remarkably different ales.  A great loss.

This is the national anthem of beer.

Caption contest! What the hell was Mr. B saying with that expression? It’s a third of an Elvis, clearly. Click for the full view. Was Jordan using that dab of tuna fish juice behind the ear as cologne – again? Robin caught the moment* at a beer dinner Wednesday night in the centre of the universe which famously included house made gentleman’s relish, the only relish a gentleman ever needs. Perhaps Mr. B was musing on the qualifications JSJ brought to the table, gentlemanly-wise. Surely not.

Speaking of hostile, it was a bit odd reading the follow up this week to Eric Asimov’s bit in The New York Times on brown beer. His column was just a round up of the brown ales you can try in the New York market with, yes, a little jig and jag about beer nerds. Then…. accusations, handbags and recriminations. Reminded me a lot about last week’s crisis over pointing out – “theatrical gasp” – sexism in craft beer.** What a round up of “the superior gathered to get the boot in” that was. And now, while it is clear that it’s probably never going to be a good idea to go all “bored quasi-intellectual snobbery intro is the tiredest of journalistic tropes” if you want to be taken seriously, I was quite happy Jeff told his what his actual issue was with this week’s panic. Not my issue but a reasonable issue as he framed it. Still, Asimov’s a fabulous wine writer who makes complex things make sense – and successful enough to have no interest in making his own status an issue. Me, I liked the piece. And, tellingly, so did a lot of the paper’s readership if the many many comments are anything to go by. So say it loud and say it proud: brown ale is go! As in other hobby interests, this again goes to show that good beer still needs a bit of aging to get past these angst-ridden teenaged years. Yes, these may still be the times of doubtful mild cheddar. As I say to my own kids, it gets better. I hope.

700 employees! Damn good thing they are still small.

Nearby, Robsterowski in Glasgow posted an interesting pit on those little knives or tongue depressors used to smack the head of a fancy beer pour – skimmers. I’ve never thought much about them so his work has added to my understanding by about 1237382%.

Not beer: King Crimson’s Larks Tongues in AspicThis was 45 years ago now. Talk about gentleman’s relish.

There, another 23 minutes I can’t get back. Don’t forget to lay your bets on next week’s crisis in the shrinking good beer writing marketplace. Who lashes out next? Stay tuned. Meantime I will likely be back on the weekend with something about brewing in the 1500s you won’t care about. See you then.

*Shared without consent.
**Was it only last week? Nate S. uncovered this weeks Pigs Of Craft award winners. Folks just don’t get it.

Flattery Will No Doubt Get You Any Number Of Places

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

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

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

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

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

*Christ!

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.

The 1811 Needham And Rawlins Patent Brewing Machine

nyamerican22aprl1825That is a notice placed in the New York American of 22 April 1825. Letters Patent were issued for the device in 1811 and 1812 (nos. 3493 and 3575 respectively). James Needham is listed as the inventor, described as a brewer in Islington a district of London, England. In a book whose title starts but is not completely stated as The Literary Panorama, being a Compendium of National Papers and Parliamentary Reports, illustratives of the History, Statistics and Commerce of the Empire… from 1811 we learn a bit more from the summary of that year’s patents:

James Needham, Islington Green, Middlesex, Brewer and Corn Dealer, for a portable apparatus for brewing beer and ale.

Portable! How wonderful. In the same year’s publication of the Philosophical Magazine Series 1, Volume 38, Issue 163 it noted that the machine makes the beer from malt and hops and that the patent was issued on 23 September 1811. Curious as to the details? Well then get on your knees and thank God for the blessings imparted by The Repertory of Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture: Consisting of Original Communications, Specifications of Patent Inventions, Practical and Interesting Papers, Selected from the Philosophical Transactions and Scientific Journals of All Nations, Volume 22 from 1813 which contains the entire four page declaration of the invention as submitted for the patent including diagrams:
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[Never mind the wheely thing to the left of the illustration. That’s the previous patent for Robert Bill’s clothes washing machine.] Needham’s application indicates that its standard operation was to make eighteen gallons from two worts drawn from a bushel of malt and a pound of hops. There is also references on the internets to an 18 page document published in 1813 entitled Directions for Brewing with Needham, Rawlins and Co.’s Patent Family Brewing Machine but I am not having any luck placing my hand upon a copy. In the April 1813 edition of The Tradesman an article sets out addition and improvements to the patent were described including these comments under the heading “Observations of the Patentee”:

The superior advantages of this machine, both in form and method of using it, are these. It unites the fire-place, copper, mash-tun, under-back, hop-back, and working-tun, in one compact portable utensil; simple in its construction, and convenient both in shape and the ease with which it is managed. It is made of tin: most durable and wholesome materials, and kept in order with little trouble. The method of brewing with the machine is easy and certain in its operation, and requires but little labour; the consumption of fuel is small, and the steam is condensed. It produces an abundant extract from both malt and hops, without the necessity of mashing; and the extract is also of a superior flavour, being obtained by a progressive degree of heat (from cold to boiling) given to the water, which infuses the malt and hops at one time in separate compartments of the vessel, yet affording an opportunity for the extracts to mix freely; thereby assimilating their component parts, fixing and preserving their essential and volatile particles, and thus completing the brewing in a few hours. The wort obtained by this process is so congenial to fermentation, as to produce (after a short time keeping in the cask) a transparent and highly-flavoured malt liquor, superior in quality to any that can be produced by other methods.

So, the miracle that Needham blessed us with was the idea of no mash
home brewing. Sounds all a bit dodgy to me. And who is Rawlins? Bet he was the money man. He shows up in 1813 given that the 18 page directions booklet carries his name. The booklet is described in this list of cookery books acquired by Princeton University in 2012 including a passage from the preface:

NEEDHAM, RAWLINS and CO. Directions for Brewing with Needham, Rawlins, and Co.’s Patent Family Brewing Machine. Printed for the Patentees, and Sold by them at their Warehouses, Skinner Street, London; and Narrow Wine Street, Bristol. And by all their Agents. Sixth Edition. 8vo. 18pp., folding frontispiece with engravings of the machine and letterpress text, a single leaf on different paper with a list of agents for the machine around the country (printed by W. Newman, Widegate-st. Bishopsgate”. Stitched as issued in contemporary buff wrappers, uncut (wrappers slightly soiled). London: by T. H. Coe, 1813.

“Malt liquor has ever been considered in this country a Constitutional Beverage, and the advantages of private brewing were at all times sufficiently obvious, by the reducing it effected in the cost, and the pleasure of having Beer of any strength required; but the inconveneience and uncertainty attendant on it, have prevented its general adoption. To avoid these difficulties, by a Compact, Portable Brewing Apparatuus, which should embrace the more important object of producing superior Malt Liquor, has been the devoted study of the inventors of this Machine, which removes all uncertainty in Brewing (an object that has eluded the attentive search of the most scientific Brewers); requires but little labour, and obtains a greater extract from both Malt and Hops, without the necessity of mashing, a tedious and inconvenient operation.” (Preface).

Beer was a household staple in an age when the water was very likely to be poisonous – even schoolchildren were allowed a ration of “small” or weak beer – and it also had the advantage of keeping the servants out of the public houses. Intererstingly, home brewing was closely allied to the temperance movement in Victorian times. Charles Edward Rawlins left the partnership with James Needham and Joseph Rawlins on 31 December 1813 (London Gazette).

Too bad for Princeton that the booklet was published a quarter century before the Victorian era started. And, well, that last bit is interesting. Two Rawlins had been involved, one* leaving fairly early on even though they seemed to be on a roll with six editions of the booklet, warehouses as well as agents. Sadly – or maybe not so sadly depending on the beer – it didn’t pan out all that well for these gents in the longer term. Just fifteen years after publishing the improvements and directions – and three years after some guy in New York was flogging off his equipment second hand – it seems to have all come apart. In the 2 May 1828 edition ofThe London Gazette, the official journal of government notices and proclamations, we see the following notice at page 855:

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Sic transit gloria the idea of no mash home brew. Notice that while Needham became a hop merchant in Southwark he had to assign his entire estate to Rawlins and another, a stock broker by way of Medley. Someone lost all they had over this matter. Maybe they all did.

Monday Update: An excellent and unexpected bonus. Four more images related to Needham.

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To the far left is an ad for the machine from The Cambrian, a Welsh newspaper, from 21 November 1812. Next, is the notice stating that Charles Edward Rawlins had had enough and was out of the partnership. Middle right is the actual front page of the user guide and, far right, a 1821 book entitled Domestic Brewer and Family Wine-Maker which seems to have the user guide incorporated into it. Fabulous stuff.

*The departing partner, Charles Edward Rawlins, was a soda-water manufacturer on that same Narrow Wine Street in Bristol in 1814.

A Bad Brewer Asks: “What The Heck Is That I Made??”

I am a bad brewer. I think it’s important to brew to make sure you have a hand on the paddle, a sense of what yeast might actually expect from you. That being said, though people have admired my beer greatly, I know the truth. I’m a bad brewer. It has a lot to do with the effort I put in compared to the output I get. I brewed from five to eleven last night to make a pre-boil 16 litres. Subtract from that some for evaporation, for trub, for that last bit the hose won’t reach, for the unintentional spilling while filling and all the other sources of wort loss. I’ll be lucky to end up with 12 litres. And look at that photo – what sort of technique is that supposed to be?

Not that this was unintentional. No, back in 2002 or so, I used to brew in a sort of parti-gyle way making multiple runnings that are later added back together again with a further gravity adjustment, making a strong syrup and cutting it with sterile water before the fermentation stage. That got me up to 40 litres per brewing session. That mean around 50 bottles and a keg. It also meant way to much drinking beer at hand even with those new friends that suddenly identify themselves to the home brewer. I’ll be doing sit-ups until about 2011 to make up for that little error in judgment. Funny how I realized almost immediately that the skills I had gained to make my first four pound batch of the best cream cheese you’ll ever eat were going to be my downfall. I ended my cheese making career there and then. But I have brewed badly for years, off and on.

But what sort of 16…err, 12 litres of beer do I have. I started with an all grain ESB kit, brewed it a bit thick so that it came away with an OG of 1.055 rather than my usual 1.040 or so. And I threw in 350% of the suggested hops plus two star anise pods as well as 1/8th of a cup of molasses and then pitched Wyeast 1968 London ESB yeast. I think this might turn out to be Crazy Old Man Ale. Maybe it’ll turn out great, if the fermentation ever actually begins. Hopefully by Thursday morning, I’ll be watching a fierce roaring mass of yeast farts through the carboy’s glass wall giving off the first scents and sense of what the heck is growing in there.

Update: 6:00 pm, Wednesday. It is churning now! Given the rate of activity, the dry yeast was likely unnecessary but never a bad call to be safe and kick start the batch.

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?