Beer Politics, Policy And Civics

As I had modestly mentioned a couple of times over the last few weeks ago, the election of Mr. Trump to the Presidency could lead to a couple sorts of beer nationalism in support of his muddled form of neo-protectionism: an anti-import reactionism and pro-American jingoism. With the report that he will try to convince a free trading Congress to pass a 20% import tax on Mexican-made goods as a way to pay for his useless wall, my first suggestion now seems to be at least be a possibility. It’s a policy. A bit of a weird one* but one that might, however unlikely the chances, become law. Political victory leading to imposition of policy that shifts the civic reality.

On Monday, Brian Roth published a post entitled “Do You Want Politics in Your Beer?” in which he uses his Tweets’n’Graphs methodology to discuss what he described as “a brewery’s political activism” and then posing, a bit cautiously, whether it is good when breweries share their beliefs in this way. This morning, Michael Kiser posted on a rather similar topic in his “Critical Drinking — The Beer Politic.” While it jumbles the function of his site as a consulto-blog and certain hero breweries in their reaction to Trump, he answers Bryan’s question (without acknowledging the prior post) much more enthusiastically and very much in the affirmative – but still like Roth all a bit too brand focused .

Trouble is, fretting about appearances isn’t really about beer and politics, is it? Almost four years ago Craig posted an excellent survey of the connection between brewing and actual politics over the centuries of New York’s history.  In his post “Albany Ale: The Politics of Beer” he describes how seven Albany brewers from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries engaged with political office and partisanship. Even the great John Taylor got involved:

The 19th century would see the election of not one, but two, brewing mayors of Albany. The first was John Taylor in 1848. Taylor owned what was at the time the largest brewery not only in Albany, but in the country, Taylor & Sons. Upon completion of his tenure as mayor, Taylor served on the board of water commissioners, starting in 1850. He and his compatriots were responsible for overseeing the first municipal water system in the city.

You can read the rest but, as you do, think about whether what Roth and Kiser were driving at: the taking of public positions and its effect on reputation. For my money, while they can wrap it in phrases like “the brewery’s decision to focus on its own measure of authenticity” or “[t]his is why so many of us fought for and supported the rise of local breweries” they still both seem to conflate (i) the brewery as a business with a brand and (ii) the brewery owner as a citizen with a full life beyond the beer and also (iii) the taking of actively advancing a position in favour of either the business or as a citizen through political engagement.  These are different things. Forget worrying about what a small segment of your customers think about your brand’s reputation. Any citizen who is also a business owner who doesn’t engage with the implications of being governed is ignoring one of the greatest dangers to that business’s success. And courting disaster.

Isn’t the reaction of customers to brand secondary where a local craft brewery finds its local municipality, for example, spending taxes to attract big craft competition to town or, for another, supporting fracking and putting the community’s water table at risk? Of course it is. Why wouldn’t the sensible brewery owner protest, pound on the Mayor’s office door or even run for an upcoming council election if their business, their interests were being placed at risk? They all should. That’s about getting beyond the, yes, quite important move from complaisance to complaint that I see Roth and Kiser discussing. That move can and, I would argue, should justify – if not demand – not stalling but then moving on to actual politics.

It doesn’t mean you have to go all 1920s Dan O’Connell take over the Albany County Democratic Committee, rig elections and leverage the Hedrick Brewery to be the town’s boss.  But would it kill you to write or call those who represent you in the political realm?  Would it hurt too much to maybe pass on that next bit of indulgent “beer travel” and the tripping haze of new fun bar after new fun bar and, instead, travel to sit in a committee room where a policy you hate and want stopped is being discussed, waiting your turn soberly to put your ideas on the record for the five minutes they give you at the microphone?

Getting political is about waking up, being adult. Doesn’t really matter where your interests or political preferences lay. You think the big craft carpetbagger brewery that received the regional branch plant tax break wasn’t engaged in politics behind the backs of the local brewers? I bet the local craft community wishes it had laid the earlier groundwork that might have seen them receive the funding for expansion instead. Which would have required them being actively political.

*Given it will mean that Americans and not Mexicans will still pay for the wall as additional markup on their import of Mexican goods. His own party’s leaders are already mocking it.

What A Difference A Year Makes – 2017 Edition

Over the holidays, I was thinking about what to do with this blog in 2017. It’s been a heavy slog over the last few months ensuring the important and favorite and representative bits of bits of 10,000 posts get across the River Jordan to the next bloggy life but that’s largely behind me now. What I need to do now is look ahead and take on the new opportunities that the coming year offers in style. It a bit of panache. Even. Maybe.

A lot can happen in a year. Last year this time we were still in the grip of learning that US craft brewery owners were (horrors!) not all evangelists willing to starve for the cause. No, the sweet taste of gravy was too much for many – or the actual goal all along. Click on the score card and have a look. You’d have a hard time filling that chart out properly now. You might need different colour pens. Funny thing –  no one really cares now. As is often the case with the leadership clique within even a small circle, they are barely missed as others are ready and willing to fill the gap. Beer is nimble like that. Beer itself is a survivor. The survivor. The rest of it all comes and goes.

Not sure blogging is surviving along with it. I could try out a new structural twist like the B+B “Breakfast Debate”… except I am only one person and I wrote my homage in two-fisted dialogue to The Compleat Angler with Max a few years back. But I like the idea. Keeping it fresh. These winter months are great for working on an historic era, for working through a data base. I have a notion to work away at the erroneous ideas that (1) temperance was some sort of trick played on the many by the few and (2) that, contrarily perhaps, it was all that effective. And greater early 1900s social history. I sit above a small outdated law library. It’s great stuff and holds masses of facts proven by evidence, tinged with authority. Rare.

I would also like to figure out a way to crack the nut of getting into the ledgers of contemporary craft brewing. What are they actually up to as businesses? It’s the only way to break the cycle of brewery owner cheery pozzy obvsy bios we’ve been stuck with for the last few years.* You would have thought that the craft sellouts would have taught a lesson but gate-keeping editors will have their way. The narrative must go on. And it will be even more popular in the new Trumptastic era. Boo to the questioners! Down with those losers asking “why?”!  Hmm. I would need to present it at a statistical abstraction. And I would need some helpful assistants in the business offices of craft breweries. Any takers? You can voice flabbergasted serious objections in the comments below and send me your non-disclosure agreement template to Let’s talk.

What else can I do? We do? I am interested in another unpopular idea. What is it that makes us lose interest in novelty, makes us find a home in certain pop culture things like beer? Most folk I know have packed in chasing the beery tail. Novelty is for novices. Some lasting things are actually better. Think of it this way. I am a lucky man. I was 14 to 24 from 1977 to 1987 which means I was in the front row to a very strong point in pop and alt** music history. I have not been persuaded since that another period is superior but I also realize its not only the music I heard but that I was that age in my life when it was popular. I would hope those years were golden for each of us – though being 14 in 1977 was pretty sweet. Does the same idea work for good beer? Will we all just end up accepting Rochefort is fabulous or will today’s twenty somethings actually get a bit verklempt over memories of weird fruit flavoured gose thirty years from now? Could you imagine? It’s be like getting nostalgic over Mumford and Sons.

So. Any suggestions? Any idea I might explore? Conversely, any lakes you might, perhaps, direct me to jump into? I am for too entrenched to care if you take offense. Last year saw a peak in the “how dare you!” emails suggesting a personal slight directed to folk I really never thought that much about. Could you imagine thinking that much of yourself that you took the minute and 27 seconds of deep consideration it took from outrage to pressing send? Well, we won’t be having any of that in 2017, will we. Nope! And that is because this is the year where people get a grip, learn we are not each the centre of the beery world and get about doing what needs to be done!

Remember: it is only beer and, by way of corollary, you are only you. Well… fine. Can we at least start with this is the year we give it a try?

*aka “it’s amazing work – but, trust me, everyone is broke.”

**Is it too soon to use “alt” again?

Kingston Chronicle, Friday Afternoon, 1 September 1820

Below are six thumbnails which form an article printed in the Kingston Chronicle on Friday, 1 September 1820. It’s the record of a meeting held at Ernest Town, about 30 miles to the west of Kingston, led by Richard Dalton of the the Kingston Brewery.  Dalton was out rabble rousing and lobbying in order to “receive effectual protection from the opposition of Foreign Brewers.” The thing of note that pops out at me is how barley is being described as a new crop or at least a newly encouraged one that needs fostering to ward off those “Brewers of the United States.” Prior to that time, wheat was king – wheat for the Empire.  W.S. Herrington noted the same thing in his diary. He also notes that ten years later, “Ernesttown” had at least a dozen taverns so something must have been done to get the drinks based economy on the right road.

The early 182os were a time of downturn in the USA. Maybe New York grain was getting dumped in the northern marketplace. The meeting comes at the end of the brief period of open trade after the War of 1812 with the USA was over and the shutting of the border was undertaken by the new post-Napoleonic administration of Upper Canada. Upper Canada was buffeted by such international force. The border only truly reopened in the 1860s until the 1890s when the barley flowed the other way, south into the thirsty expanding Republic, known as the Barley Days. If the farmers at the meeting in 1820 had been told that this would be their grandchildren’s future they likely would have laughed.

Moses Granger of Lowville NY Had A Patent

The title of the patent from 1832 is titillating: “US Patent: 6,894X – Restoring sour or musty beer or ale to its original purity by rebrewing.” Sadly the note at the DATAPM data base tells the rest of the story:

Most of the patents prior to 1836 were lost in the Dec. 1836 fire. Only about 2,000 of the almost 10,000 documents were recovered. Little is known about this patent. There are no patent drawings available. This patent is in the database for reference only.

This is sad for us now as well as sad for the inventor, Moses Granger. As you can see above, he started his brewery in Lowville, New York seven or so years before registering his mysterious patent for improving bad beer. The announcement is from the Black River Gazette of 14 December 1825. You can see below from page 28 of the Congressional Series of United States Public Documents, Volume 235 that his patent was issued on 11 January 1832 which means he had to have invented it and then worked on the patent application sometime before that. Notice also that his patent is in a list of “Calorific and Steam Apparatus” which again is a reminder that Steam Beer is a reference to the general introduction of steam powered motors into the brewing trade and not something about the beer itself.

Unlike most of you, I have visited Lowville, New York. It is just about an hour and 45 minutes drive to my south east sitting in Lewis County, the next NY state county to Jefferson which I can see out my office window. It is the home of Lloyd’s of Lowville.  My 2005 post on neighbouring Denmark, NY on the hill north of Lowville gives you a sense of the area. Rural limestone Federalist buildings, analogous to our larger urban and military Georgian ones.

Gary mentioned Moses Granger and this patent in the latest of his further explorations of the odd later 1800s eastern US use of “musty” as a positive term for a class of ale. The patent from an earlier point in time, however, is clearly about the correction of poor beer – restoring it by rebrewing sayeth the patent’s title.  “Rebrewing” is an interesting word. In 1818, another two hours modern travel to the southeast in Schenectady, there was rebrewing going on – the last reference I have found to the ancient and famed double double immortalized by Shakespeare. Beer made by reusing beer as sparge water, ramming more power into the wort. It makes a brain smackingly strong drink.

Lewis County, NY in 1825 was still the frontier. See those military installations in my dear old British fort town? Kept back interest in settling NNY as the Erie Canal was opening up WNY.  It was settled by the generation after the Revolutionary one, as places like Cooperstown and then CNY started filling up and interests became fixed. Spafford described the place in his 1813 Gazette – and he can be trusted as he was born there. One might read the notice posted by Moses Granger in 1825 that he was the first brewer in Lowville. Spafford shows (at page 50 and 51) that in 1813 there were no brewers in Lewis Co. compared to seven distillers. Jefferson Co. had a ratio of two brewers to sixteen distillers. In 1828, Watertown, Jefferson Co. only had one brewery. The area was awash in rot gut whisky. A rebrewed super strength brewing process might well be worth protecting by way of patent.

I will dig a bit more and maybe post more – and wait for Gerry… again… to correct and add to the story. An excellent thing, too, as by collaboratively assembling what we know the history unfolds.  The strange thing is why one would invent such a thing in a frontier setting and then seek the protection of the law – on the one hand just thirty years removed from that log house brewery in Geneva, NY but, on the other, in the era of the scientific brewing of Vassar. An era of great change.

Unhappy New York Hop Inspection: 1827 to 1835


It’s a funny thing, history. Sometimes you can only see a bit. Just the effects of something but not the cause. Or just one rabbit hole to chase down all the while missing the larger field below which it sits. Coming across the Article Ten above in a set of laws entitled The Revised Statutes of the State of New-York: Passed During the Years One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-seven, and One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-eight… immediately struck me that way. It’s a bit of a dislocated. It sits among laws about the inspection of other things: pickled fish (Art.4), sole leather (Art. 9) for but two examples. It seems pretty clear that in 1827 the need for inspecting things was important to New Yorkers. Section 161, however, may have laid an unintended trap in the general scheme:

Hops inspected in the city of Albany, may be exported thence, or be sold in and exported from the city of New-York, without being subject to re-inspection in the city of New-York.

First, note that the laws of the state of New York described the state of New York as coming from “New-York” is in itself a question… I wonder if I can find a highly placed New York law librarian who might address this question. Second, notice that there are two points of export. As you the careful reader might have picked up over the previous six or seven years New York had two centers, one for the Dutch and one for the English, which became one center for the administrative life and one for the financial. A certain tension was being addressed in the law.

Helpfully, there are other books one can find on line. Such as the General Index to the Documents of the State of New York, from 1777 to 1871, Inclusive published by the New York State Assembly. And in that index there is the following fabulous entry:


What do we see? Well, it took a bit of time to get the whole hop inspecitng thing going. The law came into being in 1827-28 but the first report only is presented to the government in 1830. Plus there were three inspectors over one decade. But none overlap. Which is a problem. Because there are supposed to be two concurrently operating inspection processes going on. Scanning around I find the answer. In 1871’s General Index at a page 109 pages before the page above has the index entry “HOPS, INSPECTOR OF, see Albany, New York” – note: without a hyphen. And when one goes looking for that you find on page 17:


So, the Albany inspector was John C. Donnelly of whom I immediately presume Craig will have a list of prior offenses the length of my arm. Why would I say such a thing? Did I ever mention we co-wrote a book on the history of brewing in Albany?  You will also see, he did not last long. Why might that be? Well, let’s look at what else is out there to have a look at. We actually have the 1830 report out of the New York City office which reads in full:

Of Robert Barnes, an Inspector of Hops, for the county of New-York.
To the Honourable the Legislature of the State of New-York.

The hop inspector respectfully sheweth :—In conformity with the state laws on the subject of inspection, I herewith transmit to the Legislature a statement of all the hops inspected by me during the last twelve months, ending 1st mo. 1st, 1831.

Inspector’s Report for the City of New-York, for the year 1830.

606 bales of hops, 127,840 lbs., average price, say, 12 1/2 cts $15,980
Inspector’s fees at 10 cents per 100 lbs.,….               $127 84
Deduct for extra labor, materials, and other
incidental expenses, at 31 cents per bale,                     21 21
Inspector’s available funds, (no emoluments)         106 63

From the inadequate means, as stated above, towards supporting a competent judge of the article of hops, I respectfully solicit the legislature to abolish the Albany Inspection, on all hops exported from the state. Shipments when confined to a single brand, would render it more hazardous for those making encroachments on our state laws, which in some degree is followed, and by superior management, rendered difficult of detection.
New-York, 1st mo. 1st January, 1831.

So, Robert Barnes of New York City… err… County had John C. Donnelly kicked out of a plum appointment at the bottom of his very first report. Is that it? I take it that rendering “it more hazardous for those making encroachments on our state laws” by superior management is an oblique way of suggesting that Mr. Donnelly was in on some bad behaviour. It wasn’t a one sided discussion. The Donnelly report was received by the State Assembly on Friday February 4, 1831.

A month later, as a final matter of its working day on Friday March 4, 1831 the New York House of Assembly voted as follows:

Resolved, That the annual reports of Robert Barnes, inspector of hops in the city of New-York, and John C. Donnelly, inspector of hops in the city of Albany, be referred to the committee on trade and manufactures; and that said committee report to this House, what alterations (if any) are necessary in the law regulating the inspection of hops in this State.

It appears that the victory by Barnes might not have been entirely the sort of self-serving move one might expect from appointees of the era. In his 1835 report to the government he set the following out as part of his request to continue in the position:

My having been a brewer upwards of thirty years in this city, and since, seven more as inspector, a sufficient time to complete a thorough knowledge of its necessary duties, and respectfully solicits a continuance in office, which would confer a lasting obligation on your friend.

It is not like Barnes was not connected to the industry. Craig actually mentioned him in a post back in 2012. Here’s a notice of his from the New York Commercial Advertiser of 1807. His role as inspector appears to be a part time gig. Note also that during those years from the 1830 crop to that of 1834 (each reported the next year) there was an increase in value from $15,980 to $129,656. The volume of hops exported as well: 606 bales of exported hops in 1830 became 4,235 bales reported in the 1835 report. So why were the inspectors unhappy? Why did one report shutting down the other’s office? We actually have John C. Donnelly’s report from Albany submitted in February 1831 which has this fabulous table:


Turns out all of the 606 bales of hops reported in Barnes’s 1831 report were entirely sourced in upstate New York to the west and directly upstream… err, up the Erie Canal from Albany.  So, as a first thing, if all the hops are passing both cities why have two inspection points?  As a second? Not sure. I can’t find reference to hop inspections referenced in either the Journal of the NY State Assembly for 1832 or in the Documents recorded as being filed with the Assembly in that year. I may update if I find more information on the run in between Messers. Barnes and Donnelly but for now let this be a lesson to you all. Even a decent set of records should be considered partial and, therefore, imperfect. Ah, the human condition made manifest, as it usually is, in the inspection reports of primary agricultural production.

He Took Exception To The Spilled Beer

Elaborately, his exception he took:

She accidentally spilled Mangeya’s drink and he became angry and violent, threatening to beat us up. He shouted obscenities at the top of his voice. He eventually calmed down after some shoppers spoke to him and we reimbursed him $1 for his drink and promised to buy his water glass,” said Miss Mary Shumba, one of the workers at Regal Supermarket. She said Mangeya went away but later came back with some explosives that he connected to power cables while he was sitting at the entrance to the shop.

It is unkind to make light of events in distant and less secure lands. Yet there are only four sorts* of news stories left about beer, one being variations on the theme of beer and crime. And of all those wicked stories blowing up a shopping complex has got to be up there as the greatest over-reaction I have ever seen. The use of “lost his marbles” in an actual report of a thwarted crime of this scale is just an added bonus.

As discussed last year, tales of true crime and beer are a venerable part of our social discourse. Those three mugs of beer for the servant girl in 1729 illustrate the opposite end of the same old measuring stick. For better or worse both moralists and felons often associate beer and crime. Do we deny the truth with the fervour of a semi-amateur craft PR consultant sensing something that might compromise his revenue stream? Or do we embrace the seamy reality as part of beers role in life’s rich pageant?

*1. “Beer Fest / Bar / Micro / Wet Hops Coming To Town!”; 2. Interview (with no corroborating fact checking) of Great Figure in Craft Brewing (yogurt optional); 3. Travel Piece on “Wherever The Junket Money Sent The Author”… and it was Amazeballs!; 4. Beer Crime.

The Dreary Reality Of Those Disclosures

Even starting to type this post initially weighs upon me in my pre-coffee haze.* Really? Has it come to this? Thinking about beer writing again? I suppose I am somewhat insulated from the quandary by being well past it. Few people consider the comfy role of the post-popular writer. Sure, it is as much a self-imposed circumstance as one caused by market forces but I am decidedly not as interested or interesting as I once thought. Yet… does this not also free me up? I mean, I actually like to think about ethics, having written codes of conduct and advised regularly on how to keep on the right side of many lines. Actually, you know, working with the stuff. Still, I’ve liked to keep away of such things around here… at least since around 2008. Haven’t I? But, then, Jessica and Ray today sent out a newsletter this morning which contains this:

A couple of newsletters ago we wrote about disclosure, advertorials and so on, suggesting among other things that beer writers and bloggers ought to make a statement of ethics on their websites so that readers know where they stand. We’re pleased to say (though we take no credit for it) that a few such pieces have shown up since… You might not personally agree with the positions those writers or organisations take in each case but setting out a position is in itself an ethical act. Good stuff.

First ethical question. I am under the simmering impression that what happens in a newsletter is supposed to stay in a newsletter. While publicly shared with subscribers, it’s not pasted on the front page of a blog. But their newsletter isn’t like.. those other newsletters. It’s actually interesting. And anyway I take comfort in Canadian law that lets me post the content of others for matter of review and, especially, given I am citing and quoting for purposes of exploring an idea I am also comfortable that I could not be giving offense. But I did not ask permission. Out of a principle founded on the marketplace of ideas.

Which is an interesting turn of phrase. The marketplace of ideas. There has always been a sort of an Edwardian Olympics aspect to writing about beer – particularly since the advent of blogging over a decade ago. It has gurgled beneath this topic without the manhole covers ever being lifted. Because good beer is an accessible joy juice topic it invites amateur hobby writing interest. Because it is pleasant and compelling it drives the dreams of frustrated careerists. And because beer generates great gobs of money, it’s as ripe for allegation that the left pocket has been as directly sewn up next to the right pocket as any topic this side of knitting blogs – those hellholes of graft and corruption. Which is the core of the second ethical challenge: great opportunity lays all about us. And – given great names in beer writing have accepted exclusive sponsorship and content creation contacts from large breweries – not a hypothetical.

So, they often write disclosure statements as Ray and J’ rightly encourage. Great. If you had subscribed to the B+B newsletter you’d even know which great examples of these statements they linked to. I pass on spilling the beans on that. Not because they are not good examples but because they are just the start of your job as reader. What is great about these disclosures is they are big red flags with the words “Start a’Judging NOW!!!” pasted upon them. See, once you know who took the Carlsberg money or the flight to an personal attendance with Jim Koch then you know why the articles that follow are so often plump, dull and somewhat smarmy. Honestly, nothing is as bad as the post-disclosure post. As enthused as the plagiarist who lifted his text from Peter just back from Damascus. Laced with horrible conceits like “the colors in the morning were orange and magenta like a sherbet” – all combined with an earnest hope that somehow transparency creates nobility. It doesn’t really, does it. Just a bit more honesty. Like that honest dot of marmalade on the tie of the man who was just at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. The mark is upon it.

Me? I think of reading this sort of writing like I think of drinking a brewer’s beer. I don’t need to know the samey opinions and self-reverences of the brewery owner. Some see it as wizardry to cut and paste what’s offered but the fact is their either beer sucks or it doesn’t. It speaks for itself. Same with writing. I’ve seen economic development webinars which include Asheville consulto panelists so, having heard them, I now assume every story pitch on that town’s beer scene comes with a flight and a hotel booking. Similarly, once these disclosures are made – once the ever thin argument that “journalism has changed” is trotted out – from there on out the presumption that each post offers invention gets replaced with the expectation that somewhere a PR strategist munching on his morning’s toast is pleased. Another job well done.

Remember: there is nothing wrong with this. These days dabbling in boosterism for one sort of benefit or another is pretty much within the range called norm. Until this era too has passed** I say “Viva the Freelance PR Apprentice!” Welcome to the marketplace of ideas. Somebody has to do it, its a reasonable step to something else and not everyone can actually be original. Has my understanding of good beer ever been increased by a post-junket essay? Can’t think of when or how. But thanks to the disclosure statement I can place my expectations in the appropriate context as I start my reading. And it is all about me – we the readers get to judge, not the writer. Gotta be careful. Think of this, too. Will the opposite lift its head one day soon, a bit of benefit flowing to slag a competitor? Does it happen now? Bet the knitting bloggers do it.*** Now, that would be interesting. And to much the same effect. Just directed messaging.

*I picked this up, half written up after work. Edited it for niceness.

**Please let it pass so that the promised silver age of beer writing may begin.

***Knitting bastards.

Nigerian Government Questions Silly Beer Health Claims

Is it fair to say good luck seeing this sort of puffery questioned in North America?

The Council, in a letter signed by its Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, listed some of the claims, which include that beer is not an alcoholic beverage and that if taken regularly and in moderation has many defined nutritional and health benefits and can indeed be part of a healthy life style. Other claims by the company also include that “beer consumption has therapeutic qualities such as prevention of kidney stones, increase in anti-oxidant activity in the body, reduction in the risk of heart disease and blood pressure management”. The government agency expressed its reservation that the claims “in effect suggest that beer is a health drink and have the potential to lure unsuspecting consumers into unwholesome consumption of the product”…

I kick myself often and especially when I don’t note down good sources of information – especially those that I will only realize later I need. A few weeks or months ago, Maureen Ogle tweeted a link to a very sensible medical article which described how the entire problem with health claims related to beer is that they were not holistic, that they did not seek to explain the entire set of effects on the arc of a drinker’s life. I saved it not. What was the point? I just end up shaking my head when beer consultant types make these sorts of claims. But it looks like the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council is taking it seriously and is on the track, investigating claims by Nigerian Breweries Plc on the nutritional, health and therapeutic benefits of beer consumption.

The Sensible Regulation Of Beer In New Netherlands


nnlease1640sA portion of a 1640s lease to Philip Gerritsen of a house to be used as a tavern. Click.

On the 22nd of March 1639, Cornelis van Tienhoven, secretary in New Netherland on behalf of the General Chartered West India Company received Gillis Pietersen van der Gouw, a 27 year old master carpenter who gave an account of the state of development in the colony by describing what buildings had been erected during Director Wouter van Twiller’s term on the island of Manhattan. Van der Gouw included in his report the building of an excellent barn, dwelling house, boat house and a brewery covered with tiles on farm No. 1. Van Twiller leased these lands in 1638 for two hundred and fifty Carolus guilders, payable yearly, together with the just sixth part of all the produce with which God shall bless the field. Beer would have been part of the produce.*

Director Van Twiller arrived in 1633 to run the colony in a time of great optimism and construction. The Hudson valley merchant community already had the character of an “independent sovereignty” more than a company doing business.

It owned one hundred and twenty vessels, ranging from three hundred to eight hundred tons burden, all fully armed and equipped; and employed between eight and nine thousand men. More than one hundred thousand guilders value in peltries were exported during the last year, and nearly the same quantity this year, from New Netherland. It is not surprising, then, that Van Twiller’s plans were on an extensive scale. The chief essential to the prosperity of the colony still lacked, nevertheless. Scarcely one solitary agricultural settler had been, as yet, sent over by the company, to fell the forest or reclaim the wilderness.**

The beginning of brewing on Farm No. 1 was the start of a relationship that lasted on those lands into the next two centuries. It ran directly north of the company’s garden outside the fort, from what is at present Wall-street, to Hudson-street, along Broadway in the city of New York; and went, in the time of the English, successively by the name of Duke’s farm, King’s farm, Queen’s farm. Now the site of Tribeca and the World Trade Center, it includes the lands developed in the first half of the 1700s by the Rutgers and Lispenard clan. It includes the 1760s export oriented brewery of Harison and Leadbetter and their successors into the 1800s before the good water disappeared. Legal right to the land meant control of the grain and the wealth brewing inevitably brings.

The reason for that long lasting success was, as it is today, the sensible regulation of brewing and beer consumption. Very early on in the New Netherlands experiment, the functions of grain growing, beer brewing and tavern keeping were separated and kept separate just as they were in the Netherlands. Then as now there was too much money and power inherent in the trade to allow it all under one hand. And there was too much danger in allowing it to all go unchecked. Yet, access to beer was a cultural key for the Dutch to the entire colonial undertaking. So, good laws were put in place. The most obvious sorts of laws are, like the above, the leases and transfers of land. Beer needs land. On 20 July 1638, Director General Kieft entered into a lease to one Jan Evertsen Bout for the New Netherlands Company’s farm at Pavonia in what is now New Jersey. The rents were quite specific:

For which Jan Evertsen aforesaid shall be bound yearly during the term of the lease to deliver to the aforesaid Mr. Kieft or his successor the fourth part of the crop, whether of wheat or other produce, with which God shall favor the soil; also every years two tuns of strong beer and twelve capons, free of all expense.

Brewing was part of the farming process. And sometimes too good a part of it to leave with the farmer. On 26 August 1641, Hendrick Jansen agreed to sell his property to Maryn Adriaensen. The sale included a house, barn and arable land plus a barrick all associated heriditaments together with all that is fastened by earth and nail. Excepted from the dead by were Jansen’s brew house and two brew kettels, which he was required to remove and take away “at his convenience and pleasure.”***

Just as the law recognized and protected who controlled the land and equipment that produced the beer, the law also regulated who sold the beer. Many of these sorts of laws still exist – like the laws regulating the distance a bar can be from a church and the rules about disturbing the peace during services. On 11 April 1641 the Council of New Netherlands heard the following case:

Whereas complaints are made to us that some of the Inhabitants here undertake to tap beer during divine service and also make use of small foreign measures, which tends to the neglect of religion and the ruin of this state; we, wishing to provide herein, do therefore ordain that no person shall attempt to tap beer or any other strong liquor during divine service, or use any other measures than those which are in common use at Amsterdam in Holland, or to tap for any person after ten o’clock at night, nor sell the vaen. or four pints, at a higher price than 8 stivers, on pain of forfeiture of the beer and payment of a fine of 25 guilders for the benefit of the fiscal and three months ‘ suspension of the privilege of tapping.****

This is not to say that the Dutch of New Netherlands were prudes. Far from it. Church events could be laden with alcohol. On 15 February 1700, the last of the church poor in Albany died – Ryseck, widow of Gerrit Swart. The “onkosten“ or expenses for the burial and ceremony borne by the community was recorded. The event seems to have been a social one. In addition to 150 sugar cakes and sufficient tobacco and pipes six gallons of Madeira were provided along with one of rum. In addition, twenty-seven guilders were paid by the congregation for a half vat and an anker of good beer. A similar table was set when Jan Huybertse passed away in February 1707. He was one of the “nooddruftige” or the needy and church coffers paid out for 3 gallons of wine, one of rum as well as 18 guilders for a vat of good beer. In each case, respects were paid by the local believing community with a good send off and a good drink for those in attendance.*****

Away from the church, the scenes could get more haphazard and needed locking down by municipal ordinance. Prices were fixed. On 16 January 1641 Cornelio vander Hoykens prosecuted Jan Tomasz and Philip Geraerdy for having sold beer for two stivers higher per gallon than was allowed.† On 25 August 1644, in making his defence to a prosecution that he did not pay the proper rate of excise tax on his beer, Philip Gerritsen raised the fact that a gang of sorts was at large who demanded cheaper beer. The week before the brewers declared on the record that if they voluntarily paid the three guilders on each barrel of beer, they would have the Eight Men and the community about their ears. In response, the council of New Netherlands banned harboring or even giving any food to the leaders of the Eight Men.†† The threat of violence, just as today, could play out within a tavern – as was seen on 14 March 1647 when Symon Boot met Piter Ebel:

…after the aforesaid persons had fought together, that a piece of Symon Root’s ear was cut off with a cutlass, whereof the aforesaid Symon Hoot In council demands a certificate In due form, In order that In the future, If necessary, he may make use thereof. Therefore, we, the director and council of New Netherland, [hereby certify that the ear was out off with the] cutlass In question in the place aforesaid. We request all those to whom this certificate may be shown to give full credence thereto. In token of the truth we have signed this and confirmed It with our pendent seal In red wax, this 14th of March, to wit, the certificate given to Symon Hoot.†††

Rather than leave it to the law of fist and knife, the Council required the giving of proper evidence to substantiate events as set out in the complaint. Order was imposed. A particular form of regulation related to violence was the troubled relationship the Dutch had before establishing peace and alliance with the local indigenous population, not helped in the slightest by Willem Kieft’s decision to attack them without any reasonable prospect of winning let alone actual sufficient cause. On 1 July 1647, the Council stated:

Whereas large quantities of strong liquors are dally sold to the Indians, whereby heretofore serious difficulties have arisen in this country, so that it is necessary to make timely provision therein; Therefore, we, the director general and council of New Netherland, forbid all tapsters and other inhabitants henceforth to sell, give or trade In any manner or under pretext whatsoever any beer or strong liquor to the Indians, or to have It fetched by the pail and thus to hand It the Indians by the third or fourth hand, directly or Indirectly, prohibiting them from doing so under penalty of five hundred Carolus guilders, and of being In addition responsible for the damage which might result therefrom. ††††

Things came to a point that early on in his term as Governor, Peter Stuyvesant made a general proclamation on 10 March 1648 respecting a wide range of they ways beer impose upon public order. No new ale-houses, taverns, nor tippling places could set up without council’s unanimous consent. Tavern keepers could not sell the businesses and had to immediately report all altercations. They could not “admit or entertain any company in the evening after the ringing of the curfew-bell, nor sell or tap beer or liquor to any one, travelers or boarders alone excepted, on Sunday before three o’clock in the afternoon, when divine service is finished, under the penalty thereto provided by law.” They were bound not to receive, directly or indirectly, into their houses or cellars any wines, beer or strong liquors before these are entered at the office of the receiver and a permit therefor has been received, under forfeit of their business and such beer or liquors and, in addition, a heavy fine at the discretion of the court.†††††

Notice how similar these laws from 370 years ago are to the sorts of regulation we see today. Not because the Dutch were puritanical or that the paranoia of a Randian was in anyway justified then as now. It’s because beer and taverns are both pervasive and a huge challenge to social order. Regulation and control not only are about ensuring taxes are paid and limbs go unbroken. While beer may be a consistent element of western culture, it is not all about sunny days on the middle class patios. And it’s an industry that generates massive economic wealth. So it is taxed. And it is controlled. Then and now. Because it is beer.

*Volume 1, Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1638–1642 (translation), pages 6, 108:
** History of New Netherlands: Or, New York Under the Dutch, Volume 1 by Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan, 1846, page 155-157.
***Volume 1, Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1638–1642 (translation), pages 72-73, 358-359:
****Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 106.
*****Upper Hudson Valley Beer, Gravina and McLeod, pages 35 to 36.
Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 134.
††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 235.
†††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 360-361.
††††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 380-381.
†††††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 496-500.

Slavery, Servitude and The Interests of Patroons


What a sad image to come across. A human for sale. It’s from from the 15 April 1734 edition of the New York Weekly Journal. Apparently the sale didn’t come to pass as she was still for sale half a year later. Unless that is another unnamed woman for sale with the same skills. The colonial economy of the Province of New York included slavery. It’s a fact you have to keep in mind when researching the colonial brewing economy. This is not to point fingers. It’s just tragic reality one cannot reach back and undo. There were people enslaved here in my town well after the relocation of the Loyalists from New York to here – some even fighting with their enslavers on behalf of the Crown. The North American economy simply included the use of and trade in forced labour in areas other than what became the Confederacy. Brewing business included. People, both slaves and indentured, were commodities.







How did you deal with oppressive conditions in the 1700s? Options were limited and often at the drastic settling in those times. You could kill your captain if he earned himself a mutiny. You could run away. Look at the first thumbnail. Henry Rutgers, brewer, posted a notice in the New York Mercury of 9 June 1760 offering a reward for a runaway (aka freedom seeking) woman named as Jenny. And it wasn’t just slavery. Under the other thumbnail you will see another notice. In 1753, two indentured servants – both Frenchmen – ran and the one was noted as being a cooper. A maker of barrels. And it was not only about economic oppression. A brewer could even escape from jail – although I am not sure where a brewer named Sybrant Van Schaack could hide.

These sorts of hardships were the lot of mankind through most of time and space. I am sure there are enslaved brewers still today. But in the 1600s, 1700s and even into the 1800s, New York had a special sort of restriction on liberty. The system of patroonship. The patroons were a Dutch introduction, a form of landed gentry in the Hudson Valley which somewhat dysfunctionally off-setted the colonial power of the Governor of the West India Company. Like the seigneurial system in New France, these landlords controlled large tracts with the goal of maximizing economic output – including, as we stated in our book, the brewing trade:

In 1643, the patroon van Rennselaer contracted Evert Pels to work as a public brewer for six years between 1643-1649, in the colony at what would become the colonial brewery in Greenbush. Pels had recently arrived in the colony on the ship Houttuyn or “the woodyard”. He traveled in the company of a Rev. Megapolensis and family a surgeon named Abraham Staes, as well as more farmers, and farm-servants. The ship carried a great volume of supplies for the colony including four thousand tiles, and thirty thousand stone for building. It also carried between 200 to 3000 bushels of malt for the brewery of Mr. Pels.

The Manor of Rensselaerswyck was likely the most successful of these estates and certainly the most relevant to Albany. The original plan for the brewery was that it would supply all the beer for the entire New Netherlands enterprise. The founder of the Rutgers clan, Rutgers Jacobson, brewed for the patroon. In no small part due to the support given to the Federalist leadership during the Revolution, the system lasted through eleven or twelve patroons over 200 years until the 1850s when the last leases were sold off by the van Rensselaer family. Being a controlled community for much of that time, the patroon ultimately controlled the crops as well as the infrastructure like breweries. The fourth patroon married the daughter of a brewer, Maria van Cortlandt, who herself set up a brewery on the estate in 1662. For generations, control of all aspects of the estate’s economy generated vast profits. The last patroon, Stephen III, is considered the tenth most wealthy American of all time. Not the sort of thing a Jeffersonian expected would exist still half a century after the Revolution was won. Rents were to be paid in wheat, a crop which was especially not well suited to the western portion of the estate. Also, the patroon retained all water rights. Not exactly the circumstances which might trigger individual investment in an independent brewery.

The system failed after the Panic of 1819 and the collapse of wheat prices. Tenants declared they were living in a form of slavery but nothing changed until, in the 1840s, there was open revolt. The Anti-Rent or Helderberg War was well underway. Once won, it didn’t take long for the region’s hop plantations to take off. The NY state crops centered in the region expanded nine-fold from 1840 to 1860. Today, Deitrich Gehring is growing hops and barley in the same lands of Helderberg for the Indian Ladder Farmstead Brewery And Cidery. I have met Deiter, through Craig, a few times. He has co authored The Hop Grower’s Handbook: The Essential Guide for Sustainable, Small-Scale Production for Home and Market with Laura Ten Eyck. Such are the fruits of freedom.