It Is August So Make The Best Of What Is Left Guided By These Tidbits Of Thursday Beer News

Remember?

These Thursday news headlines are getting longer. I wonder what Stan would say about my lack of control. I write that because last Monday’s musings from Stan were so well managed. Made me think about how plunking down this weekly post speaks as much or more to my interesting in writing as my interest in beer. Writing demands writing. So, after reading Stan, I immediately looked to see how many links I had stored away so far in the week for this report and – to my horror – it appears I had been having a good weekend. Nothing had been tucked away to be noted so far. Jings! Bet it won’t show.

How did my week go otherwise? Thanks for asking. I did go to a new pub in another town by the waterfront the other day. It was very pleasant with the cooling wind coming in the window with the view. The beer was a house branded short pour that was also in a cheater pint but my waiter forgot to bill m for my partner’s drink so it all worked out. Sweet.

Dad joke.

Beer sales are up in Germany. Revenues are up in the UK, too, but perhaps not volume. Trumps tariffs are forcing US beer makers to raise prices and “America’s long love affair with beer is on the rocks“!

According to the Beer Institute, a trade group, drinkers chose beer just 49.7 per cent of the time last year, down from 60.8 per cent in the mid-90s. Among 21- to 27-year-olds, the decline has been sharper. Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, Budweiser’s owner, found that in 2016, just 43 per cent of alcohol consumed by young drinkers was beer. In 2006, it was 65 per cent. Per-capita beer consumption in the U.S. fell to 73.4 litres last year, from 80.2 in 2010 and 83.2 litres in 2000, according to IWSR, a drinks market research firm. Germany, by comparison, consumed 103 litres a person last year.

My kid says it is all about calories in her crowd, so gin or vodka with soda is what they buy. Gin’s big. Makes sense. When folk find out I know something about beer, the look I get is either (i) weirdo or (ii) of course, you fat lump. Both of which are sorta correct so I don’t really mind. Can’t hurt my feelings. No sirree.

Could it be that grain was first malted for purposes other than brewing beer? Merryn has linked to that story.  Interestingly, I heard somewhere – likely NPR – over the weekend that there is a theory (working the theory cocktail circuit) that farming was started to encourage bees because early humans liked honey and bees like plants. Tough luck for that whole “beer created civilization” stuff. It never made sense anyway.

2011 was the peak year for wine blogs. I’d put beer blogs a bit earlier. Lew is one human-sized ball of regret over how things turned out. I remember the glory days. Glory… days…. OK, fine. No one cares. Actually, there are plenty of bloggers but they call themselves on-line journalists. Link every second paragraph to the writings of others while coming to conclusions others had pretty much already figured out? Blog.

Michael Tonsmeire has again updated his fabulous chart of larger brewery ownership connections. Just to be clear, ownership is just one of the ways other outside interests can exert control over a business. Loan agreements are just as restricting but, as private transactions, harder to spot. All those firms in the pure “independent” center of the chart? Just as likely to have a taint that some puritanical nerd sect will have an issue with. But no one cares about that either.

Speaking of law. Beer law story #1.  Beer law story #2. Taking sides in these matters is a bit weird. It’s like folk think they are smarter than the common law. Note: beer not special… standard rules expected to be applied. And these things have happened before. Don’t hear about anyone going all torches and pitch forks against Sam Adams, which is again on the decline. Folk should figure out where to apply their “I’m upset” resources.

New York craft breweries, as Don C. reports, have put together a TV show for public broadcasters. Note:

The series cost about $500,000 to produce, said executive producer and director Justin Maine of MagicWig. The state’s Empire State Development office contributed 80 percent — about $400,000. The project started when the ESD office began looking for ways to promote the state’s growing craft beer industry.

So… more like a state funded advertorial. But its about beer so that’s OK. Don also tells the story of NNY coming to CNY. I enjoyed the original Sackets location in my VBB days.

August. Here’s an August “man bites dog” news story if ever I saw one – someone’s pee is reminding him of beer.

Finally, Europe’s blistering summer might well have seriously damaged the barley crop:

The price of European malting barley, which is used to ferment the brew as well as provide flavour and colour to beer, has surged by two-thirds since the middle of May to a five-year high of €230 per tonne. Scandinavia, the Baltics, Germany and France are among the regions that produce the ingredient, whose production in some regions has dropped by as much as 50 per cent and is “dire”, according to Scott Casey of consultancy RMI Analytics. “In some places the crops are just dying,” he added.

Drag. That actually matters. My yellow zucchini seems to be dying, too. Not that a global industry depends on my yellow zucchini crop. Happens every year. Some sort of virus. Droopy and starting to rot on the blossom end. They look so hopeful in June when they pop out of the ground but by August its a scene out of a C-grade horror movie out in the garden. I should get out my Airfix men and make a flick about how Rommel was really defeated with the assistance of huge yicky plants from Mars.

That’s it for now. Another quality update for your Thursday. Yes! You are welcome. Remember: Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan next Monday.  Bet their zucchini plants are just fine.

A Few More Thoughts On The Early American Hops Trade

Thoughts. Hmm. That is code for “Alan has not researched this enough” but let’s see what we can find out on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. This post is a follow up to one I posted on 10 June which asked the question of when the first hops were exported from the United States.  In this post, I am looking a bit more at where the hops were coming from, especially before the middle third of the 1800s by which time central New York had become the main source of hops. Up there is a snippet from an 1802 article in The Bee, a newspaper from Hudson New York in 1802 which may indicate why the domestic and international trade were not necessarily without connection. More about that later.

A good first step is at the beginning and that could be the diary of Thomas Minor, a gent living in Stonington at the eastern end of Connecticut who recorded the cycle of his farming life from 1653 to 1684. Stonington actually predates the establishment of Connecticut in 1662 so Minor must have been one of the first European settlers there. He was born in Somerset, England in 1608 and came to the the Massachusetts colony in 1630, moving about before settling in Stonington to farm and also serve as a local government official.

His diary is spare, recording a month in a brief paragraph like this passage from September 1661:

…the 8th we had made an end of hay making monday I gathered hops & the 14 day I Commed flax my sons was all about the Cart & wheels sabath day the 15th good-man Cheesbrough spake to me about moving mr Brigden from fathers deaken parke washeare & sabath day the .22. monday 23. we Caught the wild horse the 20th of this month mr picket & we parted the sheep…

As you would expect, Minor kept a diversified subsistence farm with cattle and horses as well as oats, wheat, turnips, peas, apples, chestnuts and Indian corn all being mentioned.  He was not picking wild hops in the woods. He weeded the hops in the third week of June 1663 and again on 22 April 1670. On 17 April 1673, he “diged up the hops” which indicates that he is propagating them in some manner. He also records gathering hops on 8 September 1661, 7 September 1668, 31 August 1669, 15 September 1670, 1 September 1671 and 2 September 1680 when he is 72 years old.

He also makes barrels of cider during many years, pressing from late in the summer and on into autumn. He doesn’t mention barley or beer making. He trades for goods with others. On 19 January 1679 he delivered 30 barrels of oats to be paid in “a barle of good malases and other barbades goods” so it is entirely reasonable that he traded away his hops and traded for ale.¹  Interesting to note that he is trading at that early date for good from the sibling English colony of Barbados. I noticed that the word “bread” is only recorded once so the brewing of ale might have been such a commonplace that it was no worth mentioning.

Inter-colonial trade was an important thing. In a rather condensed paragraph in “A Bitter Past: Hop Farming in Nineteenth-Century Vermont” by Adam Krakowski, the extent of the New England hops trade in the first half of the 1700s is described:

While seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century accounts of hops in the colonies are rare, a law passed in the English Parliament in 1732 under the reign of King George II, titled “An Act for importing from His Majesty’s Plantations in America, directly into Ireland, Goods not enumerated in any Act of Parliament, so far as the said Act relates to the Importation of Foreign Hops into Ireland,” suggests just how widespread and successful the hops crops were in America at that time. Outlawing the importation of hops from America through Ireland and into England implied that the hops were abundant enough to fulfill domestic demand as well as supplying an export trade. The Massachusetts Bay Colony had already established itself as an important hops supplier, shipping hops to New York and Newfoundland as early as 1718. 

If that suggestion, entirely reasonable, about the 1732 British statute is correct, such a date for the first export from the colonies to Ireland would push back the use of American hops in UK brewing about 80 years from the earliest date Martyn has identified. It may actually go further back than that. In an 1847 letter from Earl Fitzwilliam to Rev. Sargeaunt discussing aspects of the Irish Question, the following is stated:

…the hop growers were to have their share in the monopoly, and, by the 9th Anne, c. 12, the import of foreign hops into Ireland was to be adjudged a common nuisance. Early in the reign of George 2nd, some doubts arose, whether, by an act then recently passed, the prohibition upon the import of foreign hops had not been incidentally—unintentionally—repealed. A return of the common nuisance was dreaded, the hop growers were on the alert, and the legislature of the ruling power immediately passed the 5th Geo. 2, c. 9, in which it is declared that the 9th Anne, c. 12, shall remain and continue in full force—consequently, that the import of foreign hops into Ireland was as great a nuisance in 1732 as in 1710.

The statute known as 9 Anne, c.12 from 1710 appears to have been a fairly comprehensive statute related to the imperial brewing industry. Section 24 prohibited the use of hop alternatives like broom and wormwood and also was the first imposition of a duty on hops. All of which makes sense as the primary subject of 9 Anne, c. 12 was taxation. If you are going to tax something you need to exclude similar things not being taxed. So no importation of hops and no use of hop replacements.*

Back to the newspapers. In the decades immediately before, and even during the Revolution, hops were coming into from siblings amongst the soon to be united colonies. To the right is an excellent notice which Craig has discussed from New York’s Morning Post of 6 March 1749 in which Obadiah Wells offered a wide range of good, most “too tedious to mention,” including bales of “Boston Hops.” in 1766, according to the 19 May edition of the New York Mercury, a ship on the Boston-NY  route gave notice that it was sailing in ten days but that it still had hops for anyone who came down to the wharf.**

Perhaps counter-intuitively, hops from across the ocean were also traded in New York City not long after the end of the war. To the right is an notice from the New York Morning Post of 17 March 1787, less than four years after Evacuation Day when the city which had remained loyal was turned over to the new United States. Notice how the garden seeds being English are highlighted.  Notice also the 1500 lbs of “new hops” for sale. Are they also English? It is not claimed.  Compare the volume as well as description to this notice from New York’s Independent Journal on 10 March 1784 in which a few bales of best English hops are on offer. The old country still has some draw.

Soon, however, things shift. On 22 March 1790, the Albany Gazette advocated for the production of beer, cider and hops as there were no duties to be paid upon them compared to the trade in spirits, rum and wines. Decisions related to the development of agriculture were being framed by geopolitical tensions and resulting tariffs.

In 1802, as noted above and seen to the right, The Bee from Hudson, New York published an article on increasing American domestic manufacturing as opposed to relying on foreign trade for necessities. It seems to echo British concerns from one hundred years before. This essay is attributed to Ben Franklin – even though he had been dead for about twelve years. Whoever wrote it, the essayist reflected the new Jeffersonian era in the new century which took American self-sufficiency and exceptionalism to a new level. And hops were part of that, highlighted as a key commodity well suited to increased production for domestic consumption. Makes sense. European tariffs impeded the hops trade otherwise.

Tariffs were imposed on imports in to the United States in return and for reasons which were argued positive political policy. On 26 January 1810, an article in the Albany Register, right, argued for raising the duty on foreign distilled spirits beyond 50% “…to encourage our own breweries, distilleries, molasses importers and growers of hops, grain, fruit and sugar cane…” In the context of an expanding national economy as well as jingoism, the domestic hop industry was worth protecting and expanding. So slap on a tariff.

This home grown hop strategy might well have been key to the development of the market. The Republican Watch Tower, also of New York, ran an ad on 9 December 1801 offering 35 sacks of “fresh hops” for sale. Hard to be fresh by that date if shipped across the ocean – but not impossible. To the right is an ad from Utica NY’s Columbian Gazette from 18 November 1809 showing 4,000 lbs of domestic “Boston hops” for sale. In Horatio Spafford’s Gazetteer of 1813, it states that Utica had a population of 1700 and Oneida County as a whole had four breweries.  According to the hopping rates in the NY State Senate report of 1835, that one supply of hops is enough for well over 1,000 barrels of ale. “Boston hops” were on still offer in the New York City market in 1818 according to this ad in the Gazette from 9 November and this one from the Evening Post from 20 November.   The Commercial Advertiser of New York praised the 1823 Massachusetts hop crop in an October 6th article.  The same newspaper on 30 December 1826 carried a notice for the sale of Vermont hops which had been brought down into the city, twelve hundred pounds worth.

What have we learned? American farmers have produced hops from the earliest days of settlement. As we saw with early Quebec, this aspect of self-sufficiency is as one might expect from the colonial expansion of a beer drinking culture. The trade in those hops as been subject to tariffs and other forms of regulation where local markets perceive that they are in need of protection from the trade in foreign goods competing with local products.*** But in a rapidly expanding marketplace such tariffs may serve to foster a stable complete internal economy. As a result, as Americans turned away from dependency on its eastern coast during the first decades of the 1800s to the opportunities inland, hops would go with them.

I have not laid my hand on a full copy of the original statute, just this later version 9 Anne c.12 with revoked sections. This summary from 1804 indicates to me that it was a comprehensive regulation of the hops market.
** The Krakowski article notes another similar “Shipping records for the schooner Bernard out of Boston destined for New York include 3,000 pounds of hops in February 1763.
*** Sound familiar?
¹ Update: the buying and selling of ale and brewing ingredients in a small 1808 New York community is recorded in this 2014 post on the first Vassar book.

When Did The United States First Export Hops?

Above is a table published in The Republican Watch Tower of New York on 4 July 1804.  I went looking for this sort of thing after reading Martyn’s excellent post of this week “How Long Have UK Brewers Been Using American Hops? 200 Years, You Say…” Initially, I was interested in the Hesperus, the ship that brought the hops in question to New York to Belfast in 1818. I found notices in the New York newspapers for the same ship bringing Irish linens to the American market on its return voyage. I love ships.

But then I wondered when the first exports of hops from the young United States occurred.  And I say “United States” as there is no reason to believe there might not have been colonial exports here and there but I would suggest that is another story. That being said, if the table above is to be believed, hop exports would have begun at least in 1797. But where did they go? One often reprinted 1802 article under the title “To The People of the United States” authored under the  name Franklin originally in The Aurora on early US export prospects – the one to the right quoted from The Bee of Hudson, NY –  specifically addressed the hop trade and gave a sense of the realities and goes on to conclude:

The profits of raising hops are such that the great brewing countries of Europe impose heavy duties on their importation from America or elsewhere.

So, soon into the new century US hops were needed at home and subject to European protectionist tariffs. The hop trade to Europe was subject to a prohibition. Which means it had been happening and then was stopped. Which makes one wonder where all those pounds of hops were going, the ones shown in the 1804 table from The Republican Watch Tower. Hmm.

It is clear that there is a market for hops at the time. The internal inter-state beer trade was certainly robust between New York and New England. Here is a notice that includes 35 sacks of hops on sale in NYC in 1795. In this notice to the right in the New York Gazette of 27 August 1805, 20 bags of hops are on offer. If they are 50 pound bags, that is the same volume of hops listed as the entire export from the nation in 1797.  In this edition of Ming’s Price Guide* from New York in August 1810, there are prices for both American and English hops. Still, the international market for commodities like hops has to be understood in the context of tariffs and even international relations during the Napoleonic Wars and at this time we have to be reasonably aware of the Jay Treaty of 1795 opening up trade from the US to Britain and the Embargo Act of 1807 shutting it down again. So if we are looking for an export of hops to Britain from the United States we should keep those dates in mind.

The other thing to remember is that hops are not only native to New York but also grew prodigiously. To the right is a notice for the sale of certain lands in central New York. It was placed in the New York Gazette on 3 May 1805 and notes that “the soil is rich and fertile to produce any species of grain, hemp, etc. – the climate moderate (testified by the abundant growth of vine and hops); the water is good, the salmon and other fisheries great…” So while Craig may be correct in relation to the dates of commercial growing and selling of New York hops, their pre-existing natural abundance was an obvious characteristic of the state. It is also worth noting that when he and I were putting together Upper Hudson Valley Beer, I came across a record from the first decade of the 1700s of Mohawks selling hops to Albany brewer, Evert Wendell.

And hops were not just picked wild at the time. In
The New and Complete American Encyclopedia, 1808 edition, there is an extensive section on the propagation and selling of hops including information taken, it is cited from a document published by the Agricultural Society of New York… no, the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts and Manufactures, instituted in the State of New York.** The cultivation in New York is especially encouraged:

The cultivators of land in this state have every inducement which policy or inducement can afford, to enter, in spirit, into the cultivation of hops. We shall therefore be enabled to supply our own demand, and export this article; instead of sending abroad for all we use; and no crop that can possibly be put on land will yield an equal profit…

Were the hops loaded on the Herperus in 1818 destined for a Belfast brewery the first hops sold into the British market? It’s quite unlikely given the abundance of native hops, the records of an export trade, public marketplace pricing and the general regular European trade in many commodities going back a couple of centuries. Was there a Caribbean market for hops along with the wheat and biscuit shipments we see bound to supply an aspect of the slave trade? Could be but southern brewing of beer was a very dodgy thing.

It’s also likely that it was a little remarked upon activity, like the export of casks of beer from Albany and New York City. Likely modest supplies of infilled cargo rounding out a vessel’s hold. As usual, we are at the whim of the vendor from the time – was there enough demand to spend the money to place the notice in the newspaper? Without someone making that decision then it is difficult to know now what they were particularly up to. But such is life, the record of the activity never being proof of the fact of the activity.

Still, there is likely more to be found out there – especially in relation to activities such as Strictland’s study in the years after the end of the Revolution when interest in trade between the newly independent nation and the home of its often Loyalist heart in the old country seemed to tick up before the laws came down. So let’s consider this an introduction to the idea.

*aka Dickinson’s (Formerly) Ming’s New-York Price-Current, Ming and Young’s New-York Price-Current, Ming’s New-York Price-Current, Oram’s New-York Price-Current, Oram’s New-York Price-Current, and Marine Register, The New-York Prices Current.
**The NY Agricultural Society as it exists today only comes into being in 1832… which seems a bit late given the county ag fairs start up years earlier.

 

Your Mid-May Beery News Links Of Note

Did you see the game? I don’t know or really care what game it was but May is all about the games. Big ball games. I never am sure what the rules of big ball actually are but it sure is exciting this time of year. I think about that when I read about things like that it is America’s Craft Beer Week and think – how dull is that? And even nine years after “Hooray for Everything” it is still pretty much stuck in that same rut. What is it about beer that makes its promotion either offensive or deathly dull? I love that the vision for the event-like thing used to be:

…the week to inspire beer enthusiasts to declare their independence by supporting breweries that produce fewer than 2 million barrels of beer a year and are independently owned…

…given, you know, that the whole “fewer” thing is out the door and “independence” is such a dodgy concept it had to be converted into branding to patch over the difficult questions. Unless Andy is right and the schisms as just beginning. Anyway, to each their own. I suspect the real value is in brewery staff pep rallies, hot dog cannon sales and boosting the pamphlet manufacturing trade… that sort of thing.

What else… or, rather, what is actually going on? By the way, have you lost the ability to waste time on the internet?* Good question. Not me! Evidence? This weekly post. Further evidence? How about an immediately early morning bonus update mid-paragraph to highlight this amazing piece on how to do nothing in Chicago** for a whole day.

Ruh-ro: Saudi beer caps.

Yikes! “Microplastics in beer is no small deal” is real news. The Great Lakes seem particularly hit. I live next to a Great Lake. I drink its waters. It’s in the tap water. And therefore in me. I expect to hear it is very bad… or overblown. But not as bad as this was feared, I hope. I just can’t wait for the beer trade PR semi-pros to start handing out the medical advice on this one.

Gentle razzing amongst new urban central Canadian beer mags was received concurrently with emails describing the reorganization of the excellent third such publication launched just last year.  Offering best wishes feels a bit like hoping the kid will learn to ride that bike without losing a tooth or ending up in a cast at some point. Who will actually survive? Will any make it to issue four? Worth noting an utter lack of fidelity amongst the writers. Everyone seems just to write for everyone. Did I expect anything else?

Ontario.

Fabulous observation from the world’s most honest publican:Well… what is success anyway? BrewDog provides comparison and have again highlighted the now long-past-death of craft with the announcement that they are closing in on billionaire status… well, Canadian billionaire.  Sure the fingers get pointed at dear old semi-demi-delusional Humphrey but as far as UK craft brewing magnates go these days, Watt and Wham… err, Dickie… are leading the pack.

I was going to not bother with this Beavertown*** story as it is rather boring being another small brewery making the move to being much bigger on the way to being very much bigger. I figured Boak and Bailey would know more and get to it Saturday. But then they got to it on Tuesday… and then they got to be bizarrely labeled as both vaguely biased and, oddly but not uncharacteristically, apparently not biased enough… again vaguely. Non-story mock outrage. Sad. Nate gets it. Fan fiction of a sort, I suppose. Except I can only presume, as usual, it was preceded by a phone call and a back scratch. Which Cloudwater, jumping in on clumsily (and somewhat anti-democratically), seemed to prove. Nice bit of poor widdle cwaft performance art.****

Rather conversely, some real news here about the application of the law under the heady New York Post title “Winery owner busted for ‘illegal moonshine operation“:

“The discovery of an illegal moonshine operation in the heart of Brooklyn is nothing short of shocking, given how easy and inexpensive it is to obtain a distiller’s license in New York state,” said SLA Counsel Christopher Riano. Snyder was led away in handcuffs following the Wednesday raid, authorities said, and was charged by the city Sheriff’s Office with the illicit manufacturing of alcoholic beverages. The class-E felony is punishable by 1-4 years in prison.

Frankly, I am surprised we have not seen more of this, especially given the pervasive false “new e-conomy of 1996” style promise of the drinks PR trade: “don’t worry, it’s craft!” The handcuffing was a sweet touch.

Happier news: a piece on Valley Malt by Mr. Matthew Osgood. We used their product when we created a version of Vassar Ale with Beaus in 2012 which was, to be fair, a case of inspiration more than replication. Still, exceptionally yum.

Speaking about perhaps not journalism,*** sad to see the UK’s Morning Advertiser getting suckered into this bit of PR puff about “blockchain beer” – a tale not unlike the phony “open source beer” story that got me quoted back in 2005***** in The New York Times, an organ which I like to think of as the world’s newspaper of record. Bar-coding for provenance is also pretty much “new e-conomy of 1996” style. I remember being in a presentation twenty years ago for using it to prove where potatoes were grown. Amazed-balls! Decentralized server authentication through embedded cryptography is entirely different. But, you know, beer journalism so… whatever.

Wednesday, Pete wrote about alcohol in The Guardian this week but then I had to recalibrate my expectations early on when I hit this bit of health and politics:

This means we live in an age of alarmist misinformation about the perils of booze, with a growing belief that any level of consumption of this “poison” is potentially harmful. 

Unfortunately, Pete’s article turns out to not be about the effects of alcohol but the phases of a single drinking session. There is a phrase you need to keep in mind when working on electricity transmission contracts: “you have to obey the electrons.” Likewise, when you consider health and alcohol, you have to remember you are sitting in a human body and not a magic consumption machine. So, I am more inclined to think of this by Pete or this from Jeff than I am to buy into an idea that there is too much alarmist misinformation about the perils of booze.

Hmm. Seems like an inordinately unhappy set of notes up there. Remember when people used to call good beer a social lubricant? It was going so well for a few weeks but – whammo! – so much getting it wrong in so many ways.  Graft, innuendo and dipsomania all in one place together. Is this the end? Has something run its course? Or is the sign that something new is just around the corner? Well, for answers to those and many more questions you will have to wait until next week to see. Or tune into the internets on Saturday to visit with the, seriously, much more creative and informed, pleasant and positive Boak and Bailey.

*Can we even recall what it was like?
**Hint.
***Admittedly, the name alone poses a challenge to any Canadian. Not to mention this.  And… the icky.
****None of this was about “journalism v. opinion” with all due respect.  So, what do we call it? The assertion of status for some reason or another is a part of what I see. Which leads to the broader question: what is the point of following this sort of transient semi-contrived issue-skirting promotional writing if the point is, in an way, not ultimately what is written? Fortunately, having written inordinately about the Georgian era, I can see an attempt at a status-based construct over a merit-based construct from the next valley.
*****Have I ever mentioned that I was quoted in The New York Times in 2005? I have? Could I share more details with you?

A New Indigenous Beer Style? Watertown Cold!

Searching the on-line archives on a quiet day off, I found a very interesting bit of news in a June 5, 1988 article in the entirely venerable Watertown Daily Times  under the headline “Prohibition Invention Made in City” which describes one aspect of the local bootlegging trade when distributing Canada’s gift of beer imports was a boon to the good folk of upstate New York. The border area was, as would be expected, a hotbed of smuggling – but in the middle of the article there was this startling passage:

By 1925, even the New York Times carried stories stating that Watertown was the hub of illegal beer shipments. On Aug. 20 of that year, newly appointed Buffalo Divisional Prohibition Chief Romaine Merrick, who was assigned to northern New York, told The New York Times: “In the Buffalo District, I will have the largest distillery in the state. It is in Watertown.” The next day, The Watertown Daily Times wrote a reaction story, stating that only near beer, a legal beverage at the time, was known to be brewed here. 

Little did they know that sometime between 1919 and 1928, the owners of the brewery had constructed a secret cold-distilling and bottling operation worth $50,000, concealing it in a nearby garage. The federal Treasury Agents were amazed. They thought they had sealed off the area nine years before… Federal officials had found two huge vats in the basement of the brewery, where cold water, malt, hops and yeast were being mixed and allowed to ferment slowly into high-alcohol beer. The beer was then filtered through special paper that collected impurities, and piped to an illicit bottling operation nearby.

Now, as I wrote in Ontario Beer, we all know that even though Canada had a form of restriction on the legal sale of beer during our temperance era, there was never actual full on prohibition. Restrictions were largely imposed province by province. The breweries were not shut down as that was under federal law. And the era of temperance ended when the realization was realized that the breweries (and wineries… and distilleries…) were making masses of untaxed wealth off of the export trade. And the Canadian export trade was exporting into the USA. So, that the Feds, the G-men, were on the trail of bootleggers was normal.

But what was going on in that basement was not normal. What the heck was this cold fermented, filtered, high-alcohol beer? The 1988 story quotes a nephew of the final owner of the brewery who said “[e]veryone liked the beer…” and also Watertown resident Samuel Frazitta who said that it had a real kick to it and “tasted real good.”This is important to appreciate as these recollections were reported in the context of an area awash in the 1920s with good Canadian beer and liquor. But what was it? Apparently the secret brewing process did not require boiling the wort as that would have attracted the Federal agents far sooner.

There is more background in this 2017 article and in this 2014 report in Northern New York Business magazine stated that the equipment included “vats that contained 320 barrels of beer in various stages of fermentation” so not a tiny operation. After the end of prohibition, the brewery continued for about another decade as a legitimate operation under the name Northern Brewing Co and was known for its:

…malty, full-bodied, European-style brews, with high alcohol content and a head you could stand a spoon in. Specialties included Watertown Cream Ale, Old Style Lager, and Jefferson Lager Beer.

All of which is interesting. Notice the prohibition beer was made of malt and hops and not just some fifth-rate sugar thrown together to make some sort of hootch. It was both malty and enjoyable. Which is also reasonable as the operation during the prohibition era was actually making legal sub-2% alcohol beer. And reasonable given the brewery had three phases of legitimate brewing: Watertown Brewing Co.(1893 to 1901), Watertown Consumers Brewing Co.(1901 to 1920) and The Northern Brewing Co. Inc. (1933 to 1943). To these can be added the illegitimate operation from 1919 to 1928.

But what was the cold-fermentation, non-odorous brewing process that was used during the bootleg era? Certainly it appears to be a singular process, without replication elsewhere as far as I know. Maybe Stan or someone else knows more. Another indigenous hidden style. Heck, is it a new, mysterious hidden technique for the crafteratti to now explore, appropriate and, then, almost immediately ruin by loading it up with fruit flavours and glitter?  Maybe. Needs more study.

Your Beery News For The Sudden January Thaw

Nothing slows down life as much as three weeks of the freezing weather that we are just about to get a break from. Well, that and regularly keeping track of the beery news again. It’s been since November since I started back up.  I was last August’s jaunt as Stan’s intern that did it, I suppose. Give me a few years. I might get reasonably good at it. Maybe. Sorta. Bet I pack it in come spring.

Anyway, first up, all that hope and rage you have balled up into the narrative that moderate alcohol is good for you? It’s very likely a crock. Why? Because “…low-volume drinkers may appear healthy only because the ‘abstainers’ with whom they are compared are biased toward ill health.” My take? If you regularly wake up hungover you are likely hurting yourself. Start with a few liver function tests.

Crap. Eric Asimov has mentioned Prince Edward County wines in The New York Times. I’ll never be able to afford to drink the local stuff now.

More bad news? Why not? The sudden shutting of central New York’s venerable Saratoga Brewing was covered in great detail by central New York’s venerable Don Cazentre. It’s not that often that beer business news gets covered as business news but Don is regularly the one doing it. Another form of the death of the dream of national big craft – along with, you know, less and less of the stuff being sold. Hail the new boss! Local murky gak in a sterile monoculture branded taproom where everyone wants to tell you about how great the beer is. Now, that’s my kind of entertainment.

Now, how about something positive? I definitely award the best long writing this week to the two part essay by Matthew Lawrenson on pub life for the perspective of someone with autism:

I’ve been told that people are wary of me due to my “beer blogging’s greatest monster” reputation and are surprised when I’m more anxious and less obnoxious than they’ve been lead to believe. All I can say is that, usually, things are rarely what people expect them to be.

My favourite thing about the essay is how plainly described it all is. Matthew treats the subject objectively, with the respect it deserves. Very helpful. By way of a bit of contrast, because it’s important to keep this dynamic, Jordan took on the argument being made by Canada’s macro brewers about our excise tax regime and found it seriously lacking, working both the numbers as well as his sarcasm skills:

…let’s do the math. Wow! The average price of a case of beer is $36.50 if you go by the examples that Beer Canada have used. Now, let’s see. 24 x 341ml = 8,184 ml. How many ml in a HL? Wow. That’s 12.218 cases of beer per hectolitre. That’s 293 bottles and a low fill! Hmmm. What’s $31.84/293? Oh wow. It’s 10.8 cents a bottle in federal excise!

I was left (again) with the feeling that all cost inputs deserve that level of scrutiny. It’s we the buyers and our cash that runs the whole industry, after all. Why shouldn’t we get a simple straight answer? Consider J.J. Bell’s news today that he is dropping Harvey’s from his pub’s line up because “They’ve been using their strong position in the local market to price gouge, pure and simple.” Now, that’s some plain speaking about value.

How did we get here? Maybe beer 5,000 years ago in Greece. Merryn Dineley ordered the article so I am looking forward to greater analysis that just the abstract but the reference to “remains of sprouted cereal grains as well as cereal fragments from the Bronze Age” sure seems interesting.

Not beer: Al Tuck. Listen for a bit. There you go. Feel better, right?

Coming to the end but still enough time for my favourite use of Twitter in beer-world for 2018. Josh Noel’s fictional life of John Holl started on New Years Day this way:

On a Thursday evening in 1986, as a spring storm pounded the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport, John Hall sat in an airplane on the rain‐glazed tarmac and did something he would recount for the rest of his life. He reached for a magazine.

Finally. All things come to an end. And speaking of ends – bumboats. Say it fast five times over out loud… in public: Bumboats!  Bumboats!  Bumboats! Bumboats! Bumboats!” Hah – made you do it.

Laters.

Your Thursday Bullet Points For A Beery Yule

Are we in Yule yet? I think we are. The old town is at least looking wintery as you can see above. Our warm spell has flipped to cold snap so fast that the last of our garden tomatoes ripening on the window sill looked out at -17C this morning. But enough about comfort and joy. This blog is about beer, not… not beer.

First up in the news is all this  fuss about the shadowy Portman Group telling a brewery with childish colours and cartooning in their branding that childish colours and cartooning might be attractive to children. Infantilization indeed. I am pleased that the response of the UK brewery in question is so sensible and support the take by  in large part. BUT… a bit shocked was I by the (i) weepy hand wringing over the decision, (ii) weepy hand wringing over the process, and (iii) the collective amnesia about the Portman Group rulings on 2008. So much #poohwiddowcwaft! Now, I realize that the demise of most actual beer blogging has left an imprint on the minds of some that beer blogging was never all that good but it is rewarding to reach back in the archives to find sensible discussion about those events in a way that neither social media or trade-based beer journalism can apparently cope with these days.

Speaking of sensible application of the law, good to see that Beyoncé got here reputation unshackled from those freelancers who would attach their profit making to her hard earned fame.  It is quite stunning how we see this appropriation by craft brewers of the intellectual property of others. I still haven’t heard who drew and, so, owned or owns the copyright as opposed to the trademark as it relates to that White Stag. Yes, yes… it’s all a bit of fun. But that’s what the sexists and racists say, too, right?

Gerald Comeau, hero.

Robin and Jordan got a generous amount of coverage by TVO, Ontario’s public TV and interwebs broadcaster this week. My only sadness is the entire misrepresentation of the sixty years from 1927 to 1987 and the glory that was E.P. Taylor’s contribution to the world of brewing with his war on waste under the banner of lightness and modest price. The point, however, on “local” is especially well made and avoids our muddiness about all of Ontario being “local” to the entire 13,000,000 persons province.

Finally, interesting news about the jump in Canadian malting barley sales to China including this tidbit:

Canadian malting barley commands a higher price, especially for China’s premium beer market, because of its dark color and higher protein, which allows for better foaming, Watts said.

Because its all about the foaming. Good to see us kicking some Argie-Aussie-Euro butt for one in something other than curling.

I am off. Not like Stan is off. I should be back sooner than he is. I am going to think about Thursdays. Gonna think some more.

“Nipperkin” In The 1790s New York Press

I love me a good collection action by beer bloggers and today B+B published initial results on the meaning of nip and nipperkin after a bit of a Twitter discussion yesterday. Ignoring for the moment the question of why I am writing so much about their ideas while entirely ignoring the debacle of the BA’s most recent PR botch, let’s just understand one thing if nothing else in this makes sense – when a man loves a pottle then can a nipperkin be so bad?

To the upper right is a poem published in New York City’s Columbian Gazetteer of 9 January 1794.  The content of the poem is wallopingly inappropriate to our eye in how it essentially says “let thinking, more pies and drinkin!'” but there it is… stingo by the nipperkin. Can I apologize and promise in atonement to make a pie or pudding myself and read my wife something in Greek before making a toast? I shall try and might report back.

A bit of a survey about the databases tells me there is was not a lot of use for either word in the press for the time, though a poem on the role of stingo in flips appeared later that same year on the New York Daily Gazette of 25 August 1794.  Click on the image to the left. The recipe for flip is quite extraordinary: rum, maple syrup, hopped beer and pumpkin. But it is drunk by the mug into which a hot poker was plunged. Not by the tiny nipperkin.

A brief entry. Go add anything you find and report back to Boak and Bailey.

“No Liquor On Earth Is Like Nottingham Ale!”

As a lad, before the internet, I was a keener for the BBC World Service. I actually visited the studios at Bush House on the Strand in 1980 on a family holiday and sat in on a Dave Lee Travis show taping. Most evenings I would listen to the shortwave and at the top of the hour before the news hear the station’s identification signal, the Lillibullero. Little did I know that the short tune played right after “This is London” and before the “beep beep beep beep beep beeeeeeeeep” of the hour was taken from an English folk song called “Nottingham Ale“,* the singing of which which you can hear here

I learned that fact searching for references to the great ales of late 1600s England in an archive of mid- and late-1700s colonial New York newspapers. I came across this lyric to the right which was to be sung to the tune of “Nottingham Ale.” It was published in New York’s Gazette of the United States on 18 August 1790. Which means that there was some understanding in NYC at that time of Nottingham, England having, you know, an ale. So well known, in fact, that a brewer in New York, John F. Jones, appears to have been using the name for one of his own local ales if the New York Gazette of 12 March 1803 is to be believed.

What isn’t in the archive are references to Derby ale,** Hull ale or Margate ale, the coastal and carted ales of England in the 1600s. As we have seen, there are plenty of references in the NY press to other English ales not much discussed in the 1600s – ales like Taunton, Burton and Gainsborough. What is remarkable seems to be how while the pattern of naming these great ales for the cities from which they came continued, these transoceanic ales were named after a largely if not entirely a distinct class of city. Hmm.

Anyway, this short post bridges a few things that I need to unpack a bit more but most of all it should serve as encouragement for all you all to learn the words and tune of “Nottingham Ale” so that we may sing it when we meet next. Extra points for learning the version in praise of St. Andrew set out above, too.

*Amongst other antecedents.
**Need to work on a Derby post. I have found quite a lovely map from 1680…

Tales From The Crypt Of Early Micro

I am working on a relatively new database to me, a newspaper and magazine archive covering a little over the last thirty years. Grinding common beer words through the search engine of any new database is always fun but in the shadowy world of the recent past it can also be surprising. I don’t actually write all that much about the origins of of the micro brewing industry but, as we know, the shifting sands and rearguard revisionist retelling of all the genesis stories should be enough motivation for anyone. And it turns out there are interesting tales to be told from the point in time when “micro” was battling with “mini” and recently deceased “craft” was just a gleam in some PR committee’s eye.

First, set the scene. In Albany, New York’s Times Union of 16 July 1986 we have the staff byline story “Abrams Sues Big Breweries” – this particular Abrams being New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams:

The state attorney general filed an anti-trust suit in federal court Tuesday charging the four major beer breweries and their distributors have virtually suffocated competition and created unnaturally high 6-pack prices. The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn names Anheuser-Busch Inc., Miller Brewing Co., G. Heileman Brewing Co. Inc. and the Stroh Brewery Co. breweries and the New York State Beer Wholesalers Association, which he charged control 80 percent of the New York state beer market. The four companies distribute almost every big-name beer in New York, including Budweiser, Michelob, Miller, Schlitz, Schaefer, Colt 45 and Schmidt.

The story states that the lawsuit, which charged distributor and breweries were engaged in an actual conspiracy to control the beer market prices. The interesting thing is that this is the sort of thing that big craft suggests it triggered but this story is effectively pre-micro.

In another tale from that same month we read, again in the Times Union, a story of accusation. In the 7 July 1986 edition, we can find the headline “Boston Beer Seller Claims 3 European Imports Impure” which is pretty funny given there have been false and well proven accusations about competition in the brewing industry since, well, pretty much since beer was invented. The story by Bart Ziefler of the Associated Press starts in this way:

A tiny Boston beer company is taking on two giant international brewers, claiming the top European imported beers couldn’t be sold in West Germany because they don’t meet that nation’s beer purity law. In a series of radio and newspaper ads, Boston Beer Co. has challenged the the quality of the Beck’s, St. Pauli Girl and Heineken beers sold in this country. Beck and Co. of Bremen, West Germany, which brews Beck’s and export- only St. Pauli Girl, denies the claim. Netherlands-based Heineken, brewer of the No. 1 import, acknowledged that its contains corn and they don’t try to sell it in West Germany, according to the Boston Business Journal. “It’s sort of common knowledge among brewers that the beers are doctored,” said James Koch, whose company began selling Samuel Adams beer a little more than a year ago. “If you’re going to bring beer from that far away and have it drinkable, you’ve got to do something to stabilize it.”

Really? Corn as the crisis in craft? Excellent. Can’t we just admit we like corn sometimes? Is this PR campaign where the phobia related to the one ingredient “whose name may not be spake” came from? Sweet last line in which Koch states that he said he hoped to make Sam Adams truly a Boston beer next year by opening his own brewery. Correct me if I am wrong but, according to wiki wisdom, the brewery wasn’t bought for another eleven years and it was located in Cincinnati.

The Buffalo News of 8 November 1991 included a particularly excellent “state of the nation” report by Dale Anderson from the 1991 Microbrewers & Pubbrewers Conference at the Hyatt Regency in that fair City… two months before, in September. Under the lengthy headline “A Little Beer – Microbreweries, Producing Specialty Beers in Small Quantities Are The Talk Of The Industry” we learn a lot of things… and not just that there was the term “pubbbrewers”:

1. “Two American breweries — Sierra Nevada in California and Red Hook in Washington — actually have outgrown the “micro” designation.”
2. “The biggest concentration of brew-pubs on the continent, meanwhile, is in nearby Ontario, where there are about two dozen in the Toronto area alone.”
3. “These small-scale operations have little effect on the big brewers… Instead, they have moved in on the imported specialty brands.”
4. “One reason Queen City chose to brew at Lion is that it could put foil wrapping on the necks of the bottles and other breweries couldn’t. “We sat back and said we didn’t want to run a microbrewery with a pub attached,” Smith says, “so we followed the path of Jim Koch with Samuel Adams in Boston. The tough part is predicting four or five weeks ahead of time what we’re going to need.”

You can click on the article for more but it is interesting that the acknowledgement of out-growing the category as well as contract brewing was so openly stated and presented simply as a sign of success.

Less familiar perhaps than the other stories is the weird 2002 tale of the “Sex For Sam” sponsored by Samuel Adams Beer in which “prizes were awarded to people who had sex in unlikely public places.” Unlike the many references to Mr. Koch the Ascendant in the media of the time, this is not one that weathers the passage of time so well. In the New York Post of 7 November 2003,  William J. Gorta and Bill Hoffmann reported the story a year later after events in question – when the resulting criminal processes were concluded:

The Virginia woman who scandalized St. Patrick’s Cathedral by having sex in the pews as part of a sleazy radio stunt that revolted the city will not go to jail. Loretta Lynn Harper, 36, was sentenced to 40 hours of community service as part of a plea deal in which she admitted to disorderly conduct. Prosecutors took pity on Harper because her boyfriend, 38-year-old Brian Florence – her sex partner in the church tryst – died suddenly of heart failure last month.

Turns out the great idea was a joint project between Boston Beer and the soon to be fired WNEW-FM shock jocks Opie and Anthony. An FCC fine of $357,000 was levied against the radio station. The final two lines of the story is classic:

WNEW had no comment on the sentencing. A rep for Opie and Anthony and Sam Adams President Jim Koch did not return calls.

Wise. But a little more detail is provided in a gossip column in the New York Daily News of 29 August 29, 2002 which I provide in full for reasons of review of the delightful manner in which the gossipy tidbit was framed:

Opie and Anthony had a beer buddy rooting them on in the studio while they encouraged the St. Patrick’s Cathedral sex stunt that got them canned. Jim Koch, the head of Boston Beer Co., admitted he was on hand during the taping and issued an apology on the company’s Web site Monday. “We at the Boston Beer Co. formally apologize to all those upset or offended by the incident on the Opie and Anthony show and by our association with it,” wrote Koch. His company backed the show’s “Sex for Sam” contest, which promoted a trip to Boston to the company’s annual festival for couples who had public sex. The Samuel Adams brewer even called Lou Giovino, the Catholic League’s director of communications, to apologize. “I spoke with him twice since Monday,” Giovino told us, “And we’re satisfied with his apology.” But Giovino didn’t seem content when we told him he could listen to Koch’s studio hooting on the Smoking Gun’s Web site. “Oh, boy,” he sighed.

The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there. “Oh boy,” indeed.

One last tale. A little less… ripe and perhaps more in tune with where the future was actually going. In the 2 November 1996 issue of Newsweek magazine, there was a short piece headlined “Hobbies – It’s Beer O’Clock” in the regular Cyberscope column authored by Brad Stone and Jennifer Tanaka.

Seems like it’s hardly ever Miller time anymore. Now that America has developed a taste for microbrewed beer, The Real Beer Page (http:realbeer.com) should find a natural audience. It’s a one-stop destination for dozens of links to microbrewery home pages, beer Web zines and a database of brew pubs with a search engine to help you find one in your neighborhood. Cheers.

Dozens! Imagine. Particularly sweet is the note that the caption to an accompanying image was “Suds on the Menu” because no one loves an early web pun more than me. I also like the reference to “beer Web zines” which what I really should have called this place – A Good Beer Web Zine. Where are my Hammer Pants?