The Space Left Behind When Jordan Stood Up

Jordan was in visiting his old home town. We had a very pleasant two hours in my favourite spot, a block away from my work. I started with an excellent thick smoked oatmeal stout from Black Oak. But it wasn’t the beer or even that we were in the Kingston brew pub, which I have written about before – including this post from 2005 – but we had snagged one particular booth by the front windows. Another view of the seat, in a bit neater condition, is one of the photos that scroll up above in the header area. I first sat in the spot twenty-five years ago when, before children, my wife and I would take weekend holidays in this small eastern Ontario city where we later ended up settling. The brew pub was our home base out from which we would explore the old town or, staying in warm and dry, watch a blizzard whip by on a Saturday afternoon.

Jordan had his own memories. He thought it might be where, underage, he was first served a beer.  He effectively had a tab a few years later when he was a regular after the late shift. The space still surprised him. We discussed what was behind it and chatted a bit with the manager, too. The way the selection of Ontario craft beer was not actually strongly highlighted was a key feature we landed on. No more mentioned than the fine whisky selection or the house smoked BBQ. The pub itself was the main attraction. There is nothing particularly self-conscious… dare I say “curated”… about the place. Good brisket on the nachos, a great selection of good beer both reflecting both craft and micro sensibilities, Dwight Yoakam on the speakers surrounded by decades worth of British and US breweriana coating every flat surface displaying thirty years of beer culture, gathered extemporaneously there like a jar of beach glass.

After his drive arrived and Jordan headed out, I sat there by myself for a few minutes, afternoon giving way to evening, until a large group came in. I motioned them to fill the booth as I moved to sit on a chair to the side. We had a couple of minutes as they shared their own thoughts about the place. Then my own ride was there outside the big windows because it was suppertime.

This Mid-February’s Beery News Stories The Cool Kids Are Talking About

Starting with more Olympic beer news, apparently Team USA has jumped into the spirit led by Canada with it’s own variation, Olympian’s drunk Dad. Well played.

Speaking of drunk Dads, Ben has written extensively and not without a bit of flair on the endearing awful bars which he insists can be distinguished from the more hipster friendly dive bar:

They have cheap wing nights, karaoke, a clock counting down to St. Patrick’s day. Big corporate branding shamelessly adorns every sticky surface; a tacky plastic archive of years of visits from beer reps with expense accounts and a few kegs to unload. They’re the kind of places where the food is almost never what you want and exactly what you expect: big, fried, heavy, and available with inappropriate amounts of sauce for drizzling/dipping/Buffalo-ing. Where they serve Pepsi in heavy, branded 16oz shaker pints and they scoop the ice right out of the well using the glass…these bars appeal to a baser part of me that remains from a time before I knew better.

I tend to think of such bars (“dumps” in my parlance) fondly if I recall them in safety of the theater of my mind. The dumps of my youth. Ah, the places my pals passed out in. But… you know, now I actually hate a bad meal, a sticky surface. My pals passed out in a place like this! And, then,  it’s a vicious cycle as snooty Oldie Olson beats himself up a bit inside for being such a loser. I can’t appreciate an actual unselfconscious bar anymore. But maybe that is OK – as they are often just grim bars for the unconscious.

Again, the everlasting “good people” question. Personally, I have seen no evidence of better or worse. Elsewhere, the media analogously sift clues. Because that is what they do.

No. No, I actually wasn’t.

I have absolutely no way to account for its sales growth” is an odd thing for a good writer to write. [Not anywhere nearly as bad as the too often otherwise stated “trust me” but… still.] For me, the reasonable or at least knee-jerk answer is that seeking all-purpose axioms are a bit of a mugs game.* The only fact needed to be known is that Two Hearted Ale is lovely. By way of comparison, have a look at what wonderful wine writer Janis Robinson wrote about the problem with typicality. I like how she points out that focusing on type is a distracting problem caused by a conservative approach and mainstreaming. Yet, Jeff is right that a pattern seems to be offended by the beer’s success. Does noticing such things reflect a natural desire for the means to account for such things, for the seeing of sub-species, for the hope for “some sort of convention in naming and labeling“? Just because it is a weak draw for me and some… is it so wrong for others and some?

Next, it is either quite hard to find an exclusively all-male WASP panel these days or, I suppose, quite easy:

Finally, as we all heard at the first end of the week, Stone has brought a trademark action to defend its branding against MillerCoors for certain presentations of its Keystone branding. As you can imagine, the actual law is dull as dishwater – as it should be. The only attention grabbing is the needy “He’s Hip, He’s Cool, He’s 45” stuff from that annoying member of of Stone’s ownership group.  Bryan Roth has a very good roundup of a number of  legal perspectives on the case, summarizing views ranging from “it seems like a pretty decent case” to the arguments are “a bit thin.” Like others, I emailed one of those quoted, Brendan Palfreyman, to ask questions. Turns out he’s in Syracuse about 90 miles to my south and we now know we know people. He assured me that the wild eyed hyperbolic form of claims made by Stone in the court filings are actually normal forms of pleading in the States. Have a look yourself. Sad. The Queen would never have it. Apparently, MillerCoors could move to strike a bunch of the junior high puffy but it would actually be unusual – unlike here in Canada where we lawyers operate with that cool clinical confidence that the Crown requires. Bond-like. That’s us. So… we can probably expect a second helping of a whole heaping pile of knuckle headed rang-dang-doo in the Statement of Defence which could be issued as soon as a month from now. That should be fun. My take? There is no confusion ever going to be had in the marketplace between the two products which have co-existed now for about twenty years.

Oh… not beer: the history of slavery on Prince Edward Island.

*See “good people” concept above.

The Olympics Of Thursday Beer World News

Every four years I wake up and think: “…oh, yeah – people luge…” I am not sure how much those of you out there in my international readership care about the winter Olympics but it is fairly big here in Canada. It’s always nice to learn about the new ways that Mr. Putin has devised to crush the dreams and steal those medals earned by strapping young folk from rural Manitoba. And unlike the recent Super Bowl victory, I don’t expect beer to end up featured in any public rioting. And we know how to maintain a reasonable distance between athletic excellence and beer. Sure we do. Yup.

Enough about sport. How about some art? To the right is an image posted by Martin Taylor on Twitter the other day. Seemingly a plain snapshot, it is one of the best compositions I have ever seen. And a character study. And a morality play. Not to mention the portrait in the portrait. For a still life, there is plenty of action going on. Lovely.

Ron’s wife Delores has made her position clear – Ron needs to make some real money from this whole beer writing lark.

Not beer: unexpected sexism.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Jordan has shown how one big brewery led bleat-fest on the government’s share of beer is fairly poorly founded. Rod Hill, professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick, has added one more factor to the discussion of the taxation of beer in Canada:

Adjusted for inflation, the tax on a 500 ml bottle was 19 cents in 1976, 18 cents in 1987, 19.5 cents in 1999. At just under 16 cents, it is the lowest it’s been in 40 years. Last year’s budget will keep it at that low level into the indefinite future.

Beer choir.

Lots of opinions in the UK about one craft brewer wanting to join the national executive of CAMRA, the fabulous consumer interest lobby group.  A fairly juvenile manifesto was posted, the sort of third-rate entitled stuff that we have to put up with time to time.  The Tand wrote this, weighing the pros and cons. At Lady Sinks The Booze, the analysis was a bit more direct and unimpressed. And BB2* raise two proper points:

Our gut feeling is that this feels like a PR move more than anything and we’re not sure brewers should be on the NE…

Oddly, the candidate’s manifesto is also somehow similar to the somewhat foggy revitalization statement that the Ontario Craft Brewers have published. Both in their own way miss the mark, shimmer with perhaps unspoken motive. Is the fundamental problem with such things that both the rebellious and counter-reformation forces churning around the brewing of good beer basically have little to say? Could it be that beer takes care of itself quite nicely?

By comparison, a very useful and succinct discussion of value and expense related to low strength beers broke out on Twitter amongst a couple of fine beer writers and a couple of small scale US brewers. Exactly as an open marketplace of ideas should work if folk have their brain bucket properly adjusted. There may be hope after all.

That’s enough for now. Sports are on. There’s quad mixed luge coming on the TV soon. And full contact curling after that.  This is great…

*pronounced as in the Dutch: bay-bay-tvay.

Gord Downie And Al Purdy’s poem “At The Quinte Hotel”

I love this poem so was delighted, on the day of his passing, to discover that our local lad Gord Downie had recorded his version of Al Purdy’s poem “At The Quinte Hotel” in 2011 or so. It is a great way to understand Ontario-ness. Once upon a time, I had the poem posted on the former version of the blog. But I was asked to remove it by Purdy’s publisher by way of one of the nicest cease and desist letters ever written. I also received an email over ten years ago from the late Roy Bonisteel, another famous Canadian, forwarded by a family member friend and colleague who wanted to clarify one point:

I like the beer blog….it’s very good. An interesting fact that a lot of people don’t know is that although Bellevillians are very proud of Al Purdy‘s poem about the Quinte Hotel…it is not the Belleville Quinte.  It is the Trenton Quinte…now called something else…where Purdy drank. At this same time I had a room at the Quinte when I was driving cab and working at the Courier. At that time we didn’t know each other…but year’s later over many a beer, talked about the fact that we had both been there at the same time. Tell your friend I’ll keep up with his blog.
Cheers,  Roy

One thing I love about that is that the bar is called a hotel in the title but a tavern in the text of the poem. I call any place a tavern or, better, a tav until I learn otherwise.

Book Review: 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey (Part 2)

This is a difficult review to write. Even if it is only part two so therefore half a review. I don’t like to come across as all fawning… but I have a hard time finding anything other to write other than I think this is the best book about beer I have ever read. See what I mean? How dull is that? Think of Jesus in Paradise Lost. That dull. How can I illustrate this problem in such a way that is actually helpful to you, that bit of the reading public who stops by here from time to time? Let’s see.

First, voice. One of the most interesting things about this book is how at quite specific points – but only at quite specific points – the writers breach what in TV is called the fourth wall. In sitcoms and crime dramas, we all assume, unconsciously sitting in our rec rooms on our sofas, that we are a camera, in a room with the actors and that the view of the lens is the view of the person viewing at home but somehow also in the room. Or when we read a book we forget we are interacting with an author and get lost in the suspension of the disbelief that one hope a good book offers as we are brought along by the storyteller’s pace. As is fully the case with this book – except when the authors interject themselves into the commentary about either the subject matter or the process of writing at certain points. It is deftly managed. Interspersed amongst long passages of excellently research and absorbingly described history. The authors are not there in view until they are and only when it is helpful.*

Second, structure. One of the most appealing things about this book is now it is not derivative. Beer books too often take the structure of other beer books** and maybe event a large part of its content and replicates it with a supposed update in terms of geography or the passage of, say, 18 months since the publication of a book roughly on the same topic. How many intro style manuals, food and beer pairing texts or geographical guides have come out? How many more will? Many.*** But structured histories leading through an important period? Few. THEN, add into the fact that it leads up to and creates the theoretical foundation for understanding many of the drinking establishments you have ever visited – more likely the case in the UK but not at all dislocated from the modern North American experience given how this micro brewing era began in the late 70s and early 80s in large part as an homage to UK brewing traditions. This gets a bit shocking as you realize you are reading whole chapters organized around disassembling elements of social patterns you just accepted were there. Consider just the chapter on gastropubs. It’s good enough on its own to be something you might read in that magazine that accompanies the Sunday edition of The New York Times. It also explains the milk paint in certain pubs and craft beer bars, where all the out of pattern plates and dishes came from and why a pile of salad is next to your shepherd’s pie – or more likely not shepherd’s pie but something a bit nicer. I actually looked up when I was done the chapter and thought to myself “what a good chapter” which is about as high a level of praise as I give out, chapterwise.****

Third, detailed research. Using primary sources contemporary to events! Footnotes. We get so numbed by fictive influencers, promoting pundits and the otherwise compromised that original research comes as a surprise. But there it is. Especially heartening is the presence of original transcriptions or newspaper interview of people who are – wait for it – still alive. Which means the authors have consciously made the determination that records contemporary with an occurrence are to be preferred to the recollection of the occurrence many years later. They got themselves into public libraries and perhaps even private business records. This is something which the entire history of craft beer in North America does not seem to have come to grips with yet. While oral history projects are certainly valuable, have we an effort out there to archive original records related to US craft in the 1980s? At the moment I am more confident that we could create a documented understanding of the state of American brewing in the 1880s. Not so now with the 20th century English pub.

Fourth, envy. This book is extremely appealing in its simple presentation of a well researched topic pushed along by a compelling narrative. Having co-written books myself, I was even thinking of how I might allocate bits to being more Boak than Bailey but gave up almost immediately. I have to be honest with myself. I have hacked away at this writing stuff for years. In relation to just beer about 26.6% of my life. I like to think what I have written is useful and entertainingly stated***** but, holy moly, is this stuff both strong and subtly put. As I recall, there is no more than two pages on how US black servicemen were received in English pubs during WW2 but it is so well placed and quietly left that you can’t help but contemplate the implications. Conversely, the massive and loud noise that was imposed on the UK market by the creation and expansion of that which is J.D. Wetherspoons is presented in great detail but without any bluster. Another well controlled, satisfying chapter.

So, there you have it. I have little more to add. A very solid bit of work.  I told you it was good. And it is. Get it.

*There. That’s not too fawning. I think I am off on the right track. This book is not just a patched together bunch of blog posts. It’s a book.
**They themselves first nicked from wine.
***Yes, we know that it is all publishers want but really.
****Fine, yes… fawning. Fine. Still true.
*****Especially this stuff about beer and brewing from the 1600s which I am not sure you are all appreciating as much as you should.

Book Review: 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey (Part 1)

It should be no secret that I have looked forward to the publication of 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey ever since the project was hinted at on their blog. The feeling reminded me of the release some years ago of Pete Brown’s Hops And Glory which I reviewed over four blog posts in 2009. What I think I find most similar between my expectations for these two books is the anticipation of work by authors who have proven themselves to be creative and committed in their previous books. I am only half way through 20th Century Pub but it has already exceeded even these expectations – so much so that I want to jump queue to tell you about their methodology and why I think you should just to email them and buy this excellent bit of work.

This book reminds me a bit more of their neither long nor short work, 2014’s Gambrinus Waltz: German Lager Beer in Victorian and Edwardian London than their perhaps more well known first book, later that same year’s Brew Britannia. I say that because the historical narrative is driven a bit more by the greater context of society than just the players involved. One of the odd things about the history of micro brewing and later craft beer is how personality drives the discussion. That is fine for early days when there were a few people (although sometimes not necessarily the same few people, the successful survivors, who self-identify) who were the actual pioneers. And, to be fair to those involved, the early days of craft appear to not have generated as many records considered worth retaining as we keeners today might have wished.* However, while it is fun to learn about these people and (as sometimes occurs) associated vicariously with them, it is far more interesting to understand how brewing and beer and pubs and taverns actual existed and exist in the greater context of society based on records which were created contemporaneously. For larger events it is best to seek out authority elsewhere.

Thankfully, their tale of micro brewing and craft’s origins in the UK, Brew Britannia, did just that and relies on primary documents from the time in addition to interviews of persons involved looking back from three decades later.  This book repeats that process and explores the subject matter from the wider range of sources. This is detailed and time consuming work – and the work undertaken shows in the result set out on these pages. An example. I have just read the chapter on 1950s estate pubs. To understand what an estate pub is you need to understand estates and to understand estates you need to understand British municipal planning principles of the first two-thirds of the 1900s.

I am somewhat familiar with this. I am a municipal lawyer. And some of you may have picked up that I am a dual national, Canadian and British. Many of my UK family when I was young lived in what we here in Canada would call “public housing” but in the UK the word for much of it was “estate” and they look at lot like what we might consider a condensed post-WWII subdivision when it wasn’t a low rise apartment building. My grannie, aka Bailee M’Leod aka Dad’s mother, as a municipal Labour politician was actually involved actively in the 1930s to 1950s in destroying slum neighbourhoods of the 1840s and building these sorts of forms of public housing. These events fed my bedtime stories, tales of the old country when they were not about Nazi bombings of the Clyde.**

Knowing that bit of the background, I am able to trust the point being made. Placing the particular point in its context is one of the great successes of this book. Boak and Bailey weave the the meaning of estate as they explain the estate pub, a somewhat sterile slightly spare Scandinavian set up that were allocated strategically through these new living spaces by municipal planning processes. Likewise, earlier in the book they contextualize the end of the Victorian gin palace and how it was responded to by the State Management Scheme of pubs introduced after WWI without the too common uninformed slag upon slag over the temperance movement. Judging from a seat in the future is one of the worst faults of a historian. Almost as bad as disobeying chronology. The authors here simple gather up sources and then unpack the narrative. Fabulous stuff. And not that simple at all.

I am taking my time, reading slowing. I am in the chapter on theme pubs, which related to the photo at the top of the page. In 2012, I wrote about the politician’s mother, my paternal great-grannie who goes by “Grannie Campbell” in our family. She loved drink and pubs and apparently she most loved the Suez Canal pub in Largs,*** which was coincidentally my mother’s hometown. The image I am guessing is from the 1940s and the bartender was former world boxing champ, Jackie Paterson. Given the book is about English pubs and not British ones, my submission of the photo did not make the cut. Saddened I was but then heartened by the rigor being imposed by the authors.

Buy this book.

*Somewhere I have an email discussion with Stan about the lack of records even from the early GABF days. Can’t find it. Probably deleted it.
**Including the story of the cousin who claimed Hitler saved his life when the air raid sirens woke his family up, got them running to the shelter only to witness the building explode before the bombs started dropping. Apparently someone had left the gas on.
***I only have one quibble with the book so far in fact – a Largs based quibble. B+B claim that the first espresso machine came to Britain in 1951. Being a child of a child of Largs I am well acquainted withe Nardini’s which opened in 1935. Uncle grew up as pals with Aldo. His Dad had a famous run in with one of the owners over an invoice for pebble dash. Italian ice cream parlours and cafe’s were an established thing even in 1935. Pretty sure they would have had espresso from day one given it also had an American soda bar and an electric dish washing machine.

Your Monday Morning Beer Links For Canada Day Weekend

As threatened and then oddly certified, I am stepping in for July as Stan has scampers off somewhere. And it seems Boak and Bailey are putting their feet up, too. So my July 2nd and a bit of the 3rd will be spent pounding the keyboard for your sideward glance – instead of focusing on the can of Bud and Coors Light like most beer loving Canadians will be doing. No rush. I have to make the best use of that lawn chair out back. Hmm… has there been anything going on worth discussing?

Wine News

As is Stan’s habit, I begin the week’s highlights with news from Clarence House. Prince Charles and herself spent a part of last Friday about an hour’s drive west of me partaking of the wines of Prince Edward Co., Ontario. I have written a few posts in the past about the region which you may wish to review before checking out the story as covered by the UK’s Daily Mail. Excellent exposture to the greater world market likely means my local prices go up. Thanks, Chuck.

In other wine news, Eric Asimov in The New York Times has made the case for simplicity and pleasure in his regular “Wine School” column:

That is especially true with the thirst-quenching wines we have been drinking over the last few weeks. These easygoing wines are primarily focused on the No. 1 task of any wine: to refresh. They do so deliciously, but these wines don’t offer much to think about. They are the lawn-mower beers of wine, ready to stimulate, energize and invigorate. They provoke physical reactions, and do not leave much room for contemplation.

I can hear the teeth grinding but being honest – for 99% of the time 99% of beer drinkers don’t sit around and contemplate 99% of their sipping anyway. Thinking about such things might include less thinking about such things. Think about it.

The Logo

Once again, the US Brewers Association PR committee has made a bit of a botch of a well meant bit of communications. At the start of the week, they revealed a new logo for their organization, then limited its use to only members who signed the special pledge and watched as their plans for market share demarcation got ripped. Given these folks came up with the fabulous failure of “craft v. crafty” what were we expecting? So many fonts for one image – is it five? And that weird outline. And an upside-down bottle.

The really problem the BA faces is that it can’t use the proper word that beer fans are really interested in – local. This is because it has spent a decade chasing the false promise of national craft with truckloads of California beer selling in New York gas stations and corner stores while Maine brewed Belgian-styled ale sell in Hong Kong and Dubai. So, the campaign and the logo have to fall back on second rate concepts.

The key concept in the messy logo is something called “INDE… PEN… DENT” which sits uneasily along with inordinate use of a “TM” and “CERTIFIED” given the limited visual geography. [Note: I couldn’t find the image’s trademark registration when I looked for 47 seconds and nothing about the logo relates to certification.] The problem with “independent” as a core message is that big industrial macro is independent too and the diversity of small local brewers can hardly be expressed with the “one ring to rule them all” approach that centralized trade industry branding offers. Plus anything can be “independent” can’t it.

Jeff Alworth takes a different approach which is quite compelling, separating message from branding. He argues that by moving away from “craft” and embracing “independent” as the core concept, the BA is taking back control of the debate. Bryan Roth also explores “independence” more from just the branding angle. But, for me, both these approaches (as both Jeff and Bryan state) are not without long term issues. Consider Mr C. Barnes at The Full Pint who is even less hopeful.

The Video

This is even sillier. Andy called it correctly when he called it “whining and whinging.” You may have more thoughts on the thing but I don’t see why anyone would bother. Why make that sort of ad when you have made this fabulous one?

Other things

The Sun newspaper-like thing reports that hipster craft is causing an inflationary effect on the price of lager. Who saw that coming?

The Sammy Smith “no swearing in our pubs” rule has led to at least one pub closing up for an evening due to naughty bad bad people being rude. Pete Brown, no fan apparently, called Humphry Smith, the head of the company behind the scheme to wipe out bad language the “nastiest, most unpleasant person in the brewing industry” by way of his introduction to a story on Humph in The Guardian which discloses this tidbit:

Smith’s eccentricity is the source of local legend and seems to know no bounds. Regulars inside Smith pubs claim he habitually dresses up as a tramp and poses as a customer to make sure his rules are being enforced. Punters in the Commercial Inn in Oldham claim Smith once sacked a bar worker for not handing him the correct change – another tale of summary sacking it has not been possible to confirm.

Quite the nut – but it is his ball so he can take it home whenever he gets in a huff, I suppose.

Finally, happy to report that the Canada Day long weekend was celebrated with Ontario made regional and local small brewery beers from Perth, Riverhead, Beyond the Pale, Great Lakes and Side Launch. Those two gents up there with their Buds? They are the 90%. It’s everywhere.

Fine. That’s enough for this week, Stan. Time to hang up the bloggers smock. Send your complaints and spelling correction suggestions to him via Twitter.

How To Deal With Folk Like Elynour Rummyng?

So said John Aubrey in his book Perambulation of Surrey written between 1673 and 1692. When I came across reference to the book I was hoping it was going to be an economic survey similar to The Natural History of Staffordshire from 1686 by Robert Plot. But instead it was more of a gazetteer, a recitation of things which can be found in the churches and hints as to where the bridges used to be. However, as one must, I ran a few beery words through it and the passage above sprang outThe town in question is named Letherhead alias Ledered alias Lederide by Aubrey. It is still there under the spelling Leatherhead.

And near Leatherhead lived Elenor Rumming who sold her good ale. According to Aubrey in the late 1600s. But in John Skelton’s poem, “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng which celebrates its 500th anniversary (very probably… well, maybe) this year its really not the goodness of the ale that is celebrated.

And this comely dame,
I vnderstande, her name
Is Elynour Rummynge,
At home in her wonnynge ;
And as men say
She dwelt in Sothray,
In a certayne stede
Bysyde Lederhede.
She is a tonnysh gyb ;
The deuyll and she be syb.

The devil and she be siblings. And fat – a tonnish gyb. Yet also a “comely gyll” or Jill… “this comely dame”… hmm. Armed with only my trusty half-an-honours BA in English Lit from over 30 years ago, I thought about this as many other had before me. The poem is beyond unflattering. It’s libelous. Unless, of course, it is true. But what is the truth five centuries later? How to deal with such a thing. How true is it? In The Pub in Literature: England’s Altered State by Steven Earnshaw published in 2000 he argues:

Whilst John Skelton’s “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rumming” draws on a traditional view of the alehouse as wholly disreputable, its twist on Landland’s* alehouse scene is that Elynour’s establishment is graced only by women. Even though her name has been traved to an actual Alianora Romyng who kept the Running Horse near Leatherhead in Surrey, it is highly unlikely that the all-female drinking den is taken from actuality. According to Peter Clark, women would probably have been customers on special festive occasions, but not at other times. The level of the ballad derives from a genre which present groups of women together as gossips, and the list of names Skelton uses for the drinkers is mostly taken from a fifteen-century carol, “The Gossips Meeting.”

Highly uncomfortable stuff in these times. As Judith M. Bennett discusses in her 1991 work Misogyny, Popular Culture, and Women’s Work:

Literary critics laud the descriptive power, wittiness, and irony of The Tunning of Elynour Rummyng, yet its misogyny is blatant, vicious, and terrifying. Satirically twisting the traditional literary commendation of a woman 170 History Workshop Journal through a detailed catalogue of her appealing features, Skelton describes Elynour Rummyng in careful detail as a grotesquely ugly woman. Beginning by telling us that she is ‘Droopy and drowsy/Scurvy and lousy’, Skelton then details her features: her face bristles with hair; her lips drool ‘like a ropy rain’; her crooked and hooked nose constantly drips; her skin is loose, her back bent, her eyes bleary, her hair grey, her joints swollen, her skin greasy. She is, of course, old and fat. She is also ridiculous, wearing elaborate and bright clothes on holy days and cavorting lasciviously with her husband like – as she proudly tells it in Skelton’s poem – ‘two pigs in a sty’…

In the 2008 text The Culture of Obesity in Early and Late Modernity: Body Image in Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, and Skelton by E. Levy-Navarro there is another somewhat related view in the chapter “Emergence of Fatness Defiant: Skelton at Court.” See, Skelton wasn’t just anyone. In the late 1400s, he was he was appointed tutor to Prince Henry, later King Henry VIII of England. Bennett states “Skelton’s social world was broad, running from the royal court and various noble households, through the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, to the lanes and fields of his parish at Diss, in Norfolk.” Levy-Navarro builds on the idea to take another view – that in the last decade or so of his life, Skelton was on the outs with court and in fact may have had a strong distaste for court:

Much scholarship has assumed that Skelton aligns himself with men in power. A long line of modern scholars makes this point when they assume that Skelton is a modern “man”… who aligns himself with the men of Henry’s court against the lowly women of the tavern world.

Levy-Navarro states that such readings ignore the discontent and defiance in Skelton’s work and, further, that “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng” is a defiant statement against the courtly styles and superficiality:

Skelton offers outrageous, bulging and revolting bodies of the tavern women. These bodies may not yet be “fat” per se, but they are protofat to the extent to which they are seen as revolting against a civilized ethic.

As such, Skelton is observing a the point of the English Renaissance at which manners come into being in a sense that we can recognize as early modern, materialistic self-made people showing wealth and power through a display of expensive and even architectural clothing as well as through the dismissal of intellectual and priestly men like Skelton. In this way of reading the poem, Skelton may not admire or completely side with Elynour Rummyng but he expresses something admirable about her liberty and perhaps is noting the impending passing of that sort – as well as his own sort – of life.

Taking all that in hand, the poem is no longer just a now grotesque, obviously misogynistic romp through the low life of those found in her tavern but also a larger social commentary. It might well be, yes, making fun of the horrors found there but also lamenting a day when such a free and lewd life could no longer possible given the plans for society being made by the newly formed betters to be found in court.

If that is the case, as with science-fiction today, the structure of the alternate reality needs firm grounding in truth as it was understood by the audience. Farce and fantasy do not mix well. There needs to be substance that is credible for the commentary to be acceptable to its contemporary audience. Let’s have a look from, for ease, a modern reading of part of the text which can be found here. Notice first that the tavern sits on a hill, near a road and is readily accessible:

Now in cometh another rabble:
And there began a fabble,
A clattering and babble
They hold the highway,
They care not what men say,
Some, loth to be espied,
Start in at the back-side
Over the hedge and pale,
And all for the good ale.
(With Hey! and with Ho!
Sit we down a-row,
And drink till we blow.)

Sounds like good fun for these ale-slugging women patrons. Note also that the ale is made in the tavern.. the ale house – with a bit of a special twist as this section in the original indicates:

But let vs turne playne,
There we lefte agayne.
For, as yll a patch as that,
The hennes ron in the mashfat ;
For they go to roust
Streyght ouer the ale ioust,
And donge, whan it commes,
In the ale tunnes.
Than Elynour taketh
The mashe bolle, and shaketh
The hennes donge away,
And skommeth it into a tray
Whereas the yeest is,
With her maungy fystis :
And somtyme she blennes
The donge of her hennes
And the ale together ;
And sayeth, Gossyp, come hyther,
This ale shal be thycker,
And flowre the more quicker ;
For I may tell you,
I lerned it of a Jewe,
Whan I began to brewe,
And I haue founde it trew ;
Drinke now whyle it is new ;

So chickens run around the tavern and even into the mash vat, leaving their droppings of dung on the fermenting ale. As learned from a Jewish brewer when she was young, the hen-dung is skimmed but sometimes some is left in the yeast tray so that the ale might be thicker and the yeast “flower” quicker. And it is not just chickens. She has to “stryke the hogges with a clubbe” because they have drunk up her “swyllynge tubbe”! Note how many of the elements of her brewery operations are described.

Look a bit more at more of the language about the ale. It is offered both new and stale. It is nappy and noppy. It is stated to be “good” twice. It is also worthy of a lot in payment or barter so some pledge their hatchet and their wedge, some their “rybskyn and spyndell”, even their “nedell and thymbell” because it is that good:

Some haue no mony
That thyder commy,
For theyr ale to pay,
That is a shreud aray ;
Elynour swered, Nay,
Ye shall not beare away
My ale for nought,
By hym that me bought…

By him that me bought. Christ. It is all so excellent even if, effectively, otherworldly. You may read it many ways but what you are reading is a window not only to a now uncomfortable commentary on early modern life but life within a tavern. Even if a ribald farce, it’s still a tavern as they would have known it. Lovely.

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.

The Business Case Study Of My Late 1980s

I do not often let out a squeal of giggly delight but I did last evening when I came across this university course business case study from 1995 entitled “Peddler’s Pub and JJ Rossy’s Ltd.” It was written by Professor Jeremy Hall of Saint Mary’s University for the Acadia Institute Of Case Studies and sets out a description of the downtown pub scene from my hometown of Halifax in the years when I was in my mid to later 20s. It lines up well with two early posts of mine for The Session but has masses of detail on the business side of the taverns and bars I knew as second homes. I came across the document when Norm, the Boston Beer Nut, and I were a’tweeting and I was making the case that there is a forgotten phenomenon from the early micro era – the “beers of the world” bar / pub / tavern. The Hall study mentions the principle establishment of this sort in Halifax, the still operating Maxwell’s Plum:

“Nobody is focusing as much as we are.” According to co-owner-operator Scott Little, Maxwell’s Plum had the largest selection of single malt scotch and imported beer in Metro: 21 single malts, three blends, one Irish whisky, five imported draft and dozens of imported bottled beer. Importing so much does have its drawbacks, especially cash drain, as payment was due before delivery for special orders through the NSLC.

The atmosphere of the bar could be best described as traditional – the focus was on a large, well stocked bar with dark hardwood fixtures. Most of the time management played low volume music from a selection of 200 CDs and live jazz on Sundays, without a cover charge. “We want people to be able to talk to each other and be comfortable” (S. Little).

I remember, vaguely, being in a beers of the world bar in Paris in early 1986 and also seem to recall a few years earlier that our undergrad bar having beers of the world nights where you had a passport that was ticked as you bought your syrupy black McEwan’s Export or a thin glassed bottle of Dortmunder Union. Chris Begley reports that there was a place like this in Vancouver called “Fogg n Sudds” about the same time. A version seems to still exist connected to an airport hotel. Calgary seems to have had its own Bottlescrew Bill’s since 1985.

The Hall study has a number of other tidbits of information that frame the downtown scene, starting with this map. I kid myself that I could sketch this blind folded in a isolation tank but most of the locations pop back to mind immediately. The map also illustrates the general university student flow from southwest to north east, the march many evenings being from Your Father’s Mustache to the Lower Deck. And there is a concise description of what “draft” was:

Draft beer could be purchased from the two local breweries, Moosehead or Oland’s (a division of Labatts), and was generally the least expensive form of alcohol. Draft beer was allowed under all categories of licenses. Draft came from the same vats as bottled beer, but did not go through a pasteurization process, and therefore had a short shelf life.

When I started my Halifax pub life, this fresh tasty pale ale was ordered in pairs of eight ounce glasses but by the mid-80s that was being replaced by the 20 ounce imperial pint. I think this might have been started by the opening in 1986 of the Thirsty Duck which had the first keg Guinness in town. The days of the “draft wars” are also fondly recalled. I remember one place that had a horrible business plan based on Monday selling 29 cent draft, Tuesday 39 cent draft, etc. Lasted only a few glorious months.

One thing the report illustrates is how the narrative that micros changed everything is a bit of a fib. There was a bit of that. We certainly could buy New Brunswick’s Hans Haus lager in the stores or go have a Peculiar at the embryonic Granite Brewery, then housed in one half of the early rougher incarnation of Ginger’s on Hollis Street.  They did not, however, set the scene. While society generally has enjoyed a great diversification in all sorts of consumables over the last 30 or 40 years, the drinking experience was still laced with the perception of variety that included, well before micros became popular, a variety of imported beer choices. I’d be interested in learning how many other places like Maxwell’s Plum were out there in other communities but my inclination is to consider imports opened or at least eased the entry to the market for micros.