Bert Grant, One Of Canada’s Gifts To Craft Brewing

As I mentioned the other day, I have been thinking about Bert Grant’s hop oil vial.* In his online obituary as written by Michael Jackson, under the head “How Bert Grant Saved The World”, the vial is described in this way:

“When you were brewing Canada, ales were still very popular. How many units of bitterness did they typically have?” I once asked. “I don’t know. I hadn’t invented the scale,” he replied. He was reputed to carry a vial of hop oil, and to add it to glasses of Bud, Miller or Coors when they were the only brews available. He was said to have done this at meetings of Master Brewers in Milwaukee and St Louis, dismaying his peers. “Michael Jackson adds it to his coffee,” he is alleged to have said, in his defence. Did he really say that? I think that joke was coined by beer-writer and consultant Vince Cottone.

See, that vial is one of the most important artifacts in craft beer history as it contained one key element of the DNA which went into craft beer’s hoppy obsession of today. A bit of a viral vial. I wanted to know where it came from, how early he was using it and in doing a little digging I came to realize, like E.P. Taylor… as well as half the malt in US craft beers today, Bert Grant was one of Canada’s great contributions to good beer as we know it today.

In 1998, three years before his death he published a autobiography, humbly entitled The Ale Master: Bert Grant, The Dean of America’s Craft Brewers. Not a long book, I recommend it highly. The copy found on eBay is a sturdy wee hardcover. And, on page 33, there is a discussion of that hop oil vial… but one that sits a little out of sequence sequence in a side panel. [It’s that sort of wee book, full of snippets and asides… not unlike this aside.] This side panel talks about how he carried a dropper bottle of hop oil and that he had sent another one to his pal George Stein in Toronto. But it doesn’t say when this was – before 1963 when he was living in Windsor, Ontario… or was it before 1959 when he left the Carling branch of E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries in Toronto where he had worked for 15 years, ending up as assistant director of microbiological control. Or was it only a practice he adopted later, after he leaves Canada for Yakima in Washington State in 1967 after working as a consultant and testing out his ideas on a pilot brewery at his house in Windsor across the river from Detroit, Michigan?

He certainly could have developed the hop oil habit before moving to the USA. In the book and according to a summary of a Associated Press article dated 5 September 1997, Grant made that 1967 move moved to Yakima heart of the nation’s largest hop producers to work on hop extracts and here he later pioneered a process of pelletizing hops to preserve freshness. In his San Diego Times AP obituary it states he was technical director of the hops company S.S. Steiner Inc., the company he moved to Yakima to work with. Again, the book suffers a little from same sort of loose chronology. But it certainly seems he could have been fully proficient with a hop oil eye dropper before he left Canada.

It left me wondering if I was going to make a national jingoistic thing out of this damn hop oil vial at all. How am I going to prove that one of the founders of US craft brewing was really just a drop in saying hello from Ontario full of pre-existing ideas? Hmm… then, I saw something else in a story published in The Times News of Idaho on 24 August 1997, also under an AP dateline, there is this passage from Jim Parker, former director of the Association of Brewers based in Boulder, Colo.:

Part of what drove him out of the brewing business and into the hops business was his dissatisfaction with the monotonous beer that most breweries were making. When he ran the pilot brewery for Carling (a subsidiary of Canadian Breweries Ltd.), every year they’d say, ‘Do you have any new products to bring out?’ Each year, he’d bring out the same beer and say, ‘It’s the best damn beer in the world.’ All the executives would agree. But the marketing people would say, ‘But Bert, it’s darker than our regular beer. Will people know it’s beer?’ And sales people pointed out there were three different malts and four types of hops going into the beer. ‘But that’s expensive, Bert. Can’t you make it with one malt and one type of hops?’ And he’d roll his eyes and go back to the pilot brewery. Many years later, Grant served his favorite beer — the same recipe he’d promoted for so many years — at a 1981 Yakima Enological (wine) Society meeting. They all went, “Bert, why can’t I buy something like this in the store? It’s so good!’ He explained, and they all said, ‘Let’s open a brewery and make it.’ And that’s Grant’s Scottish Ale.

Hmm… nothing about the vial but look at that: “three different malts and four types of hops going into the beer. “ That rings a bell. At page 28 of his book, Grant discusses apparently the one beer he had particular fondness for in his early days with Carling in Toronto string in 1944:

… when I started in this business, there was no mucking about with the brands. Carling brewed a copper-coloured ale called Dominion White Label, which was, by our analysis, the most heavily hopped beer in Toronto (with English Fuggles, Kent Goldings and other hip varieties.) 

He described the decision to drop Dominion White Label “the triumph of the mass-production mind-set.” Then on page 75, he goes further:

Scottish Ale was the obvious first choice because it was my favorite home-brewed beer style – and had been my favorite since 1945, when I first tasted Dominion White Label ale at Canadian Breweries. The emigrant Scottish brew masters who made Dominion White Label assured me that I was tasting the same kind of ales that were brewed in Scotland… I knew exactly what I wanted to make: all malt, intensely hopped, naturally conditioned Scottish Ale that would be as close as possible to Dominion White Label.

One email correspondent° who knew Grant described the hoppiness of his beers in this way: “That Scotch was pretty hoppy. And the IPA was in your face. None of this juicy shit.” Hoppiness was a still a key selling point in Canadian ale brewing in the 1950s. As you can see from the ad to the left for Carling’s Red Cap ale, more hops equaled more flavour. And consider this TV ad for Red Cap from the time, for any number of reasons including the massive sandwich on the massive swing. But this beer, Carling Red Cap ale, was the beer that Grant insisted was under-hopped, that was the result of the triumph of the bean counters.

 

 

 

 

What was Dominion White Label? Inspired by Lost Breweries of Toronto by Jordan where Jordan tells the tale of the Dominion Brewery of Toronto in the later 1800s, one blogger has tried his hand at a recreation. The Dominion Brewery was where White Label was first invented. By the 1930s it ends up in the hands of E.P. Taylor as part of his aggregations and consolidations which eventually fall the umbrella Canadian Breweries around when Grant shows up as a 16 year old. As shown above to the left, in the 1893 journal The Dominion Illustrated Monthly, Dominion had a prominent display at the 1983 Chicago Worlds Fair. Its “white label” in the middle was the certificate from its victory at an 1885-86 exhibition in New Orleans. It advertised its many such victories, including in an 1893 magazine aimed at the medical profession up there to the right. So, it was a thing and a great thing and… a Canadian thing. And if Grant is to be believed about not messing with the recipes, in 1944 when he first had it it may well have been much the same thing.

Life goes on and in 1995, a full 51 years after starting out his brewing career at E.P. Taylor’s chemistry labs when he was sixteen, Grant sold out – in a way. He sold his brewery to a conglomerate but stayed on as top brewer with plans of expansion with his own hand still firmly on the tiller:**

Burt Grant has sold out, in a business sense. Yakima Brewing is now controlled by Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates, part of a huge corporate chain topped by UST Inc., the parent company of U.S. Tobacco. But Grant, who continues as brewmaster, says he’s still making quality beers “to please the most demanding palate I have ever encountered: my own.” The Scottish-born, Canadian-bred Grant, 68, began honing that palate at age 16, when he went to work for Canadian Breweries Ltd. (now Carling). His brewing career led to jobs in the hops supply business, which brought him to the heart of Washington’s hop country in Yakima, where he opened a tiny brewery in 1982. “The brewery was doing well, but not spectacularly,” Grant says. “All the stuff I liked doing – product development, quality control – was being diluted horribly by all the worries about financing and marketing.” Stimson Lane “came to us out of the clear blue sky, with an offer we couldn’t refuse.” Grant has been able to double his production capacity, to an annual 40,000 barrels. And he’s talking about building breweries in other parts of the country to expand his market, as Seattle’s Redhook and Pyramid have done.

Grant passed away on 30 July 2001, according to his New York Times obituary, “at a hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he had recently made his home” and where three of his five children then lived. All five were reported to have been residing in Canada at the time of his passing. His life, his beer, his career and maybe even that vial of hop oil framed in large part by the 23 years from 1944 to 1967 when he learned his trade in the bowels of Canadian Breweries owned by another great contributor to the history of brewing, Edward Plunket (E.P.) Taylor.

*Not hop “juice” by the way.
**Sound familiar? The quotation is from a summary of a story by Rick Bonino in the The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, WA, on 12 March 1995.

As I Consider Bert Grant, Torontonian

I have been thinking about the Torontonianness of Bert Grant,* the owner of the the first brewpub to open in America since Prohibition. We are told that after “a long career working in big breweries on the other side of the country, Burt* Grant moved to Yakima in 1981 to build his own brewery: Grant’s Brewery Pub.” This 1997 news item on that year’s sale of his brewery (which includes some timely puff about expansion tied with quality control all care of his new partners whose skill set including running a big tobacco firm) describes his origins in this brief passage:

The Scottish-born, Canadian-bred Grant, 68, began honing that palate at age 16, when he went to work for Canadian Breweries Ltd. (now Carling). His brewing career led to jobs in the hops supply business, which brought him to the heart of Washington’s hop country in Yakima, where he opened a tiny brewery in 1982.

On 3 August 2001, Michael Jackson published a rich obituary for Grant that is still there online which describes, along with a few of his odd character traits, his early hop obsession:

“When you were brewing Canada, ales were still very popular. How many units of bitterness did they typically have?” I once asked. “I don’t know. I hadn’t invented the scale,” he replied. He was reputed to carry a vial of hop oil, and to add it to glasses of Bud, Miller or Coors when they were the only brews available. He was said to have done this at meetings of Master Brewers in Milwaukee and St Louis, dismaying his peers. “Michael Jackson adds it to his coffee,” he is alleged to have said, in his defence. Did he really say that? I think that joke was coined by beer-writer and consultant Vince Cottone.

I am nosing around working on the hypothesis that I was discussing with Jeff on the weekend via tweet. And down one alley I found this fabulous passage below from the Fred Eckhardt Oral History Interview of July 23, 2014 stored as part of the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives Oral History Collection at the Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries. The interview of Fred Eckhardt (FE) was conducted by Tiah Edmunson-Morton, Tim Hills (TH), and John Foyston (JF):

FE: Yeah. Yeah. And then, the fella from England. What was his name? He was a nice guy too. Um…
JF: Not Michael Jackson?
FE: No, another…
JF: Oh. Was he a brewer here?
FE: Yeah, he had a brewery finally, over in Washington, and then here. I can’t think of his name either.
TH: Oh, Burt* Grant?
FE: Burt Grant! Yes.
TH: He was English?
JF: That was the “nice guy”. That threw me off. [All laughing]
FE: You knew him?
JF: Yeah, I knew him.
FE: And you didn’t think he was…
JF: Well, he was uh, a character, but see, you were an equal, and I was not. I was a mere sprout. So… [Laughter]
FE: [Laughter] You just got older recently. [All laughing] I’m not gonna tell everybody you were 67.
TH: Happens all of a sudden. But yeah, Burt was really early.

Beautiful. Makes sense. I have not read as widely about Bert Grant as I hope to soon but it is so nice to read that he was a bit weird, maybe uppiddy and a touch disagreeable. We are all so quick to praise and beatify to the point of blandification that coming across the mere human in craft is becoming sadly rare.

*Oddly, seeing his name spelled as both “Burt” by some sources like the interview transcription but “Bert” by Michael Jackson and The New York Times.

You Stop Paying Attention For A Minute And – WHAMMO! – It’s May


What a busy run. I was out of town in a tall building talking about things for days, trying to get four sets of income tax returns in before the deadline, haggling over the extracting a child from a university dorm post-exams and even writing two brewing history columns for a magazine yet to be launched into the public discourse. And planting the vegetable garden. Radishes don’t plant themselves. April may well be the cruelest month and it is, in large part, because it always seems to fly by in a haze of tasks. Can I complain a bit more? Tra la. It’s May.

Things I need to do: blend. Ed sent me a bottle of diastatic brown malt ale. After I begged. My plan is to take a good brown ale or porter and compare and then mix a la Cornval. Maybe I’ll get to that later this week. That sounds exciting.

Things I need to do, the next: reflect upon the urban jungle. I did get out into the town briefly after a long day talking in tall buildings. Twice I had a pint – a lovely dimpled mug’s worth* of Granite IPA – at that place I visit regularly – as in 2009 and then again in 2013. I really am a sucker for Ringwood which, having been raised as a child upon the Granite’s work. It’s funny. I can call it yogurty and think “yum” while at the same time certain lagers can get lumbered as being yogurty yik. I suppose if I paid attention in any of the “off-flavour” seminars I’d have a better vocabulary about such things but I would rather throw myself down stairwells than do that. I liked it more than the average BAer did. Way more than the RateBeerbarians. Good thing I rarely take others seriously.

Things I need to do, furthermore: consider this. I heard while standing in a tap room that the same one brewery in eastern Ontario was seriously moving towards getting out of the 64 ounce growler trade altogether in favour of half size 32s. I found this very odd. Some sort of freshness claims were made. I was unmoved. Quarts over pottles? Perhaps if there was a better lobby group behind the pottle makers, surely a cottage industry clinging on to a traditional way of life. Support the half gallon.

Things I need to do, lastly: watch out. I worry. About the way of the world. About the weight of the world upon us all. But I don’t worry that much about Sam Adams. As Stan wrote, there has been a lot of worry leading up to and after the release of Boston Beer’s quarterly numbers which, as Jeff pointed out, were utterly brutal. If this were a sports team, the ownership would either sack general management or, conversely, back off and put the future entirely in the hands of general management. Unlike many a sorts team, this is just a brewery… and cidery… and alco-pop maker. So I care a lot less. Koch the Less Hairy is not any sort of hero.**(*) Nice enough I am sure, a bit weird what with the yeasty-yogurty thing… but it’s likely a good time for his retirement, actually. Watch out for folk who say too strongly otherwise. Ask if car service arrangements were involved. Gotta watch out for those sorts of things.

May. What shall I do in May?

*LOOK RIGHT! CLICK!!
**Craft beer writing really needs to stop drowning in superlatives of its own invention. Thank God I only practice in beer writing where the income is small but moral judgement enriches.
**(*)So… why does the asterisk have five points on the keyboard but six on the screen?

Saison: 3 Farmhouse Saison, County Road Beer Co., PEC

I am not exactly sure of this beer’s name. In its fullest, it is County Road 3 Farmhouse Saison. And it is a saison made out in a farming district. But as it is made by County Road Beer Co. of my wonderful nearby neighbouring wine region, Prince Edward County, I will just call it “3” entirely out of endearment. Careful readers will recall how I visited the site of its brewing almost two years ago just as the concrete for the brew house floor was being poured. For some months now, their saison has appeared in the government store.

You know, it must be horrible to be a saison. Of all the classes of beer, saison is the one which still illustrates the original meaning given to the concept of “style” by Michael Jackson.

There are certain classical examples within each group, and some of these have given rise to generally-accepted styles, whether regional or international. If a brewer specifically has the intention of reproducing a classical beer, then he is working within a style. If his beer merely bears a general similarity to others, then it may be regarded as being of their type…

Saison sits weighed under by the classic example, Saison DuPont. Cursed by it. Blessed by it. Luckily I have my New Years Eve 2005 notes to remind me of the particular tyrannical slavery I must subsume myself, my experience under each and every time I encounter any other beer claiming affiliation to the style:

Saison Dupont: 8 pm. New Years In Scotland has come. Very nice. Rich and round with masses of dry palt malt. Lively antique gold ale under replenishing white foam. Fruitier on the nose than in the mouth. There is a pronounced graininess to the malt with only the slightest nod to pear fruit perhaps. The yeast is slightly soured milky. There is hop which is dry, twiggy or maybe even straw-like because it is not like twigginess of Fuggles, devoid of English green or German steel.

Most importantly, the note is date stamped. This couldn’t have been the 42 year old me’s first Hogmanay drink. Likely already wobbly. Still, it’s interesting that I describe what I wasn’t tasting. Spare, dry stuff saison. Yum.

Saison can be horribly mistreated. Somewhere in the archives I have yet to bring over to this new system, I note that I had a saison which was sweet and fruity. In 2010, I wroteI feel bad about pouring that Three Floyds saison down the drain but it really was poorly thought out…” For me, that is usually the case when saisons go wrong – when many beers go bad, in fact. Blame the original designer. But if saison is hamstrung by the ghost of brewing past, shackled by its own classic example, is it possible that saison designers have less wiggle room? Does this cause the accusations to fly more often? P’raps.

How does this one stand up? It pours an attractive golden pinewood with orange hues. Clouded and effervescent. All under a growing stiff egg white head. It gives off aromas of bubblegum, white grapefruit pith and a bit of dry twiggy herb. Around the gums, the pith and twig come forward with French bread crumb laced with white pepper and a little parsley – then a little tweek of orange, a heart of cream of wheat, a nod to honey and dry lavender in the finish.

What is not to like? Only two BAers, one unhappy. Sadly style foolish as so many are.

My Local Pub Is Six Miles Away But My Local Brewery Is Closer

Twelve years ago… seriously…

Ah, the pub lunch. It’s Feb Fest,  our municipal winter carnival so we got out of the house and downtown for a pub lunch – well, after watching a bunch of seven year olds playing hockey on the outdoor rink behind City Hall. Surprisingly good game. Yellow against red. A butterfly save was made. Back checking even. The lad we know scored a goal for team red. Knuckle punches given. Goodbyes shared after dinner plans made.

We marched over at the Kingston Brew Pub right after the final whistle. The oldest continuing brew pub in Ontario, they have a newish menu focused around their own smoker out back  – and are carrying about twenty Ontario made good beers in addition to their own. Kale and bacon soup. Veggie tacos. Big burgers. Good to see the owners of another great good beer bar in town having their family lunch in the next booth over. Yellow teamers. I still said hello. We got a front window booth, one of the best spots to sit and have a beer anywhere.

I had a Junction Hey Porter! as well as Nickelbrook’s Headstock, two beers that ask you to explain the point of beer hunting into the States. The exchange rate is enough of an argument now for most but Ontario has done much to stop the grumbling. I think I need to admit that the KBP is my pub. This is at least my 25th year of going there even if we’ve only lived here for fourteen years. We watched Canada lose to the USA in the final of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. My children have grown up eating there. I am not sure what that means to me but it means something.

I do know a pub man in town, a cheery snappy grumbly Welshman prof now in his eighties, who may now not be so able to get around. He’d have at least double my time in the local pubs. I saw him last in the KBP, holding court. Great guy. He must have seen and amazing shift in the scene given he was here for two decades before the brew pub opened. But the recent news is pretty amazing and now coming at a rapid pace. Just three years ago the nearest breweries were an hour’s car drive away – at least. By the end of this year, we may have eight in town or within a half hour’s drive. And they are good. I have an excellent brewer from western Lake Ontario asking me to introduce him to the guys I know at Stone City. I get a bit frustrated that I can’t get any of the excellent black lager or Belgian pale ale made by Napanee Beer Co. because its all of a 22 km hike away. They opened last spring. I am consoling myself with Kings Town Brewing GPA at the moment. They’ve only open for about six weeks.

I am not sure what that all means to me either but I have planned in better weather how on a Friday I can take the 701 bus from downtown, hit KTB for a growler, then plant myself at a favourite sports bar and wait for a drive home. That’s good. And new.

Nationalistic Jingoism And Your Beer

As our neighbours to the south watch the beginning of what I can only consider the death of conservatism by slowly inflicted suicide, it is instructive to note that the role of beer in nationalistic jingoism is something no longer often given its full weight. That clipping to the right is from the 7 September 1810 edition of that most wonderfully named newspaper from Hudson, New York, The Bee, reprinted from the National Intelligencer. The author is arguing that British porter is unwholesome. Common enough claim at the time. It’s the final of a number of arguments made in an essay published under the pen name Juriscola. The man behind the clever tag appears to be Tench Coxe, aka “Mr. Facing Bothways” for his habit of flapping which ever way the wind blows. By 1810, he was pro-tariff and definitely buy American after a career that saw him welcome the British to Philadelphia in 1777 with open arms.

Nationalism is not solely an argument heard from the USA. Pete maps the role of ale and porter in the second British Empire of the Victorian height in his book Hops and Glory at scale, as we have just discussed.  And ten years after Coxe’s essay, a rabble was being roused right here in in what was the Midland District of Upper Canada by brewer Richard Dalton against the importation of those foreign beers from the south. And likely with good cause if the presence of 160 barrels of Albany Ale in 1816 in our small community is evidence enough. Not even an alternate fact, that. Dalton’s argument is pretty specific: stop bringing in foreign barley. Coxe, by comparison, lays it on thicker. Certainly, the argument is made that domestic grain and fruit supports increased domestic manufacturing. And also that domestic production is superior as an expression of American ingenuity. But then he makes a telling argument: the needs of the military.

The most enormous expense of the American revolutionary war and the deepest sufferings of the patriotic army were those produced by the frequent destitution of wine, good distilled spirits and porter. It is therefore of the greatest importance to our possible military operations that we have a quantity of some of these liquors steadily manufactured in our country from our own materials equal at least to ten millions of gallons.

Note: by “possible military operations” he basically means attacking my town.

So, how will this sort of thing manifest itself in these our own confusing times of the vacuum at the top? Will there be a revival of state sanctioned brewing jingoism? Will, as I suggested soon after the election, Corona and other popular imports face backlash as being unAmerican? Or will the odd and newly joint opposition of the left and free traders take up the slack and prop up sales in defiance?  A new 35% tariff might make those modest brands tough to choose from the grocery shelf even for the idealist.

But will people – err, The People – buy into such protectionism given it is essentially a claim to marketplace weakness, a message of failure? Can such alternate truths gain a foothold?  Depends on the presentation, I suppose.

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.

Hello From The Blog’s Back End – And The Road…

It’s been busy at the system admin end of the blogging life even if not so active here out front. Since mid-October, I have happily shifted over 650 posts to the new WordPress platform and am starting to see a bit of daylight. There will be an opportunity to receive a bulk loading of posts in a few weeks but I wanted key posts well in place before that happens. To get the house in order. In doing so, I have had the experience of reliving my last 14 years or so as a public writer. It’s very instructive. There seem to be clear phases to my – and our – beer blogging, the fourth or fifth of which we are in now.

a. The first from maybe 2003 to 2006 was marked by reviews, by news items about beer taken from the news, by figuring out the lay of the land.

b. Then the beer blogging explosion of 2007 to, say, 2010 saw a lot of active discussion including plenty about the role of beer blogging. And the Xmas photo contest going full speed. Participation was riding high.

c. Next, we have the difficult period. The Oxford Companion to Beer was a problem faced in late 2011. In May 2013, we lost Simon, one of the brightest beer bloggers, the bringer of viciously accurate humour.

d. An about turn led me more deeply into history in 2013-15, building on the Albany Ale Project, as well as utter dissatisfaction with the state of things. The self appointed consulto-expert. The acceptance of the shoddy. The rise of unaffiliated certificate programs. Three books resulted. New York City history in the 1700s began to get unpacked.

e. Next and up to today, the sudden great collapse brought on by a number of things like the great buyout phenomenon, murk, short form social media, long long form amaze-balls storytelling, the deletion of old blogs and All About Beer sucking up all the beer bloggers ideas and then dulling them down for general non-boat rocking comfortable digestion without much resulting chitchat. Yet, despite this, this is now the time of the wonderful rise of the many and tiny and clever as well as, perhaps, a return to more of the substantive sort of books 2010 promised.

That image up there? It’s from the journal of the Napanee Beer Company’s Geordan Saunders. When I stopped in there yesterday while on the road for the first time to see how things were going since they opened last spring, we immediately had a “I know your face” and “And I know your face” moment. Four and a half years before he had popped into my office to ask me what I thought of his dream to be a small town brewer. Good thing I was helpful (or at least not a big wet neg) as their beers are fabulous – in particular their Blacklist, a schwarzbier. When I thought about it, at least three of those chats have now been followed by brewery openings in my area.

I don’t know if I am a great resource.  Geordan was kind to think I was. I do know, however, that reviewing all these posts and ensuring my favorites are well manicured and comfortably housed has led me to realize there is a point to it all. The collection as a whole traces the arc of something. Something continuously moving forward inveigling itself into the culture. It’s reminded me to be very hopeful.

Are Canada Red Vine Hops… Canadian?

The other night I had my nose deep into a bag of Canada Red Vine hops, a variety revived in Tavistock, Ontario.  The scene was Folly Brewpub in Toronto and the bag was care of Jordan who had picked it up at The Tavistock Hop Company. The fact that some of the bag of hops exists at all is pretty neato as this news item explains.

Wynette dug up some rootstalks, called rhizomes, on the banks of the Speed River. He grew a new generation of plants on his farm in Tavistock. He took cuttings from those plants, and soon had enough for a small crop. “So now in Tavistock we grow these same hops cloned off 100-plus-year-old plants,” Wynette said. Based on a chemical analysis of the plant, Wynette believes he cloned a type of hops called Canadian Red Vine.

My nose was pleased but my mind was racing. I had heard of this reintroduction a few days before and had asked Stan about it. His tweet in reply was succinct: “Grown in US NW into the 1970s. Origin of name unknown.” Hmm. I don’t like unknown. Someone once told me that the history James Pritchard, Loyalist, was unknown. Nope.

So, being that way, I started to look around and found this reference in the Documents of the Senate of the, 139th Session, 1916 which, as you know, contains the 34th Annual Report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station located at Geneva, Ontario County. The 34th year was 1915. I found this in a passage about mildew:

That there are other influences which affect the growth of the mildew is very apparent. Yards near enough together to be equally affected by periods of wet weather frequently show great differences in severity of mildew attacks though new spots may appear in both at the same time. Different varieties and even different leaves on the same plant vary in susceptibility. Named in order of susceptibility beginning with the most susceptible, the New York varieties would be arranged as follows: Canada red vine, English cluster, Humphrey and native red vine. No serious injury has been noticed, so far, on the native red vine variety though planted near badly infested yards and, in some instances, scattered through yards of a susceptible variety. It is said to be a light yielder, however.

Not a lot of references to Canada Red Vine out there on the internets and this one describes it as a New York Variety. Things get a bit weird in terms of naming conventions around the east end of Lake Ontario. Notice above there that Geneva, New York is located in Ontario County. In 2009, I wrote about running into a pal at a gas station north of Utica. It was right where route 12 meets route 28 – near West Canada Creek, NY. Country well known by Sir William Johnson in the 1750s and well known to his son Sir John Johnson in the 1770s and 1780s during the American Revolution as a Loyalist military force escape route back north. It was called that because it was the way to Canada… aka New France… aka Quebec.

Here’s a thought. People take what this like with them when they move. If that is correct, a third generation of US northwest farmers may well have still be growing the hops their settler great-great-grandparents carried with them to the West. The grandparents of those settlers may have dug up the rhizomes in central New York as they started the family’s trek west after the Erie Canal opened up in the 1820s. And some of their cousins may have had other plans and shifted north into what was then Upper Canada. Many did, euphemistically now called Late Loyalists. And they may have carried the rhizomes with them to Tavistock, Ontario and rammed them into the banks of streams.

Tracing hop lineage is difficult. Consider this observation from William Blanchard Jr. published in the 13 September 1823 edition of The New England Farmer:

The Hop is a native plant. It is found growing spontaneously on the banks and intervales of many of our large rivers. There are several distinct species, all bearing a near affinity to each other; (I have noticed five.) At present they are cultivated together, promiscuously; no preference having been given to any particular one of them by the brewer. But I am of the opinion that there is an essential difference in their qualities—that one may be the best for pale ale; another for strong beer; and a third for porter; and I presume, ere long, particular attention will be paid to ascertain their different qualities.

I love at least two things in that passage. Obviously, the foreshadowing of the use of specific hops for specific beers. And also the fact that only 92 years stand between Mr. Blanchard’s letter to the paper and the Report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station mentioned above. [And the river banks. Fine. Three.] I expect that the noticing of five distinct species of hops had advanced, through the application of science, some way in those years. Yet – in the 1860s, only a few sorts are propagated in central New York, including Pompey and Cluster. And of the New York varieties identified in 1915 only four are named: Canada red vine, English cluster, Humphrey and native red vine.

Are all three instances of Canada red vine the one variety? Is it one of the five one could spot in a promiscuously planted patch? How can I figure that out?

Dispatch From The 26th Floor

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It’s funny being stuck in the lower atmosphere. I am at a week long training course in Toronto in a concrete tower learning how to build concrete towers and it is very odd. The other night I wandered around downtown and found little by way of an attractive door to walk through for a pint. The night before i went to the Yonge St 3 Brewers chain restopub place – which was quite fine but I didn’t want a repeat. To be fair to Bartle, his place Batch was closed for a private event. Looked like young lawyers. I was tempted to rattle the door and hammer a window to explain I was once a young lawyer. I didn’t. I just walked on to later console myself with Eaton Center shopping mall sushi. I did not die from the experience.

I am heading out with Jordan tonight and will need to take a taxi. As I have noted before, there are great established places hereabouts to walk to: BeerBistro, C’est What, Batch. But most newer spots seem to be two to three miles to the west of the downtown. Rents must just be too horrific among these towers. Or folk in suits are happy enough with restaurant and lounge life. Maybe good pubs are there nearby and I can’t see them. Once a pal from northern NY told me he found it confusing in Ontario to understand what an establishment was from the outside: restaurant, bar, pub, tavern, dive, club… Apparently a bar somewhere on the dive to pub continuum needs a neon light proclaiming “BEER!!!” in a front window. We are known for being a bit more shy than that.