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.

Would I Go To A Tap-and-Pay Beer Pump Place?

This is news? This is what folk want?

Pay@Pump allows drinkers to order and pour their own pint and pay with a contactless card or device touched on a pad at the base of the pump. The technology has been devised by Barclaycard – and a prototype designed and installed in a Central London pub, Henry’s Café Bar – to help reduce queuing time for customers buying drinks during busy periods.

What is a place like that even called? A tap room? No, a tap room is the sorta thing you find in a back room at a place like the Laxfield Low House. This is just a tap. And, the weird thing, is that its is only that – a tap. One. Click on the photo. So you are getting the last guys beer left overs in the space between the one spigot works its way back into the stand. That might be an ounce. Fine if its all macro gak but, like one of those soda guns behind a bar, everything is getting served through the same nozzle. A bit of stout in your wit? One nozzle. Which no one wipes down between fill-ups. Which means it’s like an elementary school water fountain that spews beer. And whatever else is on that nozzle.


Dispatch From The 26th Floor


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.


Ben Jonson And The Devil Tavern Rules, 1624

In 1939, Percy Simpson published his article “Ben Jonson and the Devil Tavern” in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 34, No. 3. Jonson lived from 1572 to 1637, a poet and playwright whose early career overlapped with Shakespeare. The Apollo was the room at the Devil and Saint Dunstan tavern near the north end of Middle Temple Lane in London, on Fleet Street near Temple Bar – the City gate of the Knights Templar. You can see the location on this map from Jonson’s time.

The Devil was where Jonson and his literary contemporaries Herrick, Carew and others met, subject to this code that Jonson wrote. They are described as Leges Convivales by Simpson – the laws of conviviality.The name of the room itself is an allusion from Plutarch, a reference to an excellent room of hospitality. Excellent. The more saintly congregation of St. Dunstans still gather, though a bit back from the road since the 1830s.


Clowes, Newbury and Maddox, Bermondsey, London, 1827

brew-house-stoney-lane-bermondseyThe brewery of Clowes, Newbury and Maddox sat on Stoney Lane in Bermondsey, London. The late Georgian artist John Chessell Buckler created a number of images from the district of Bermondsey. The watercolour of Clowes, Newbury and Maddox was painted in 1827. Charles Clowes, John Newbury and Erasmus Maddox that is. In 1868, the image was owned by the Corporation of London. I know nothing of Bermondsey other than what I read from Boak and Bailey or Stonch about the Bermondsey beer mile, something of last year’s model apparently. A place of rubbish-strewn industrial estates. Huge groups of lads getting pretty drunk, stag parties. Sounds fairly Georgian. Clowes, Newbury and Maddox were in operation in 1794. Charles Clowes was an admirable man, a lawyer turned brewer. He installed one of James Watt’s engines in 1796, even though he is reported to have refused the idea in 1785 after making inquiries. It is mentioned in a very interesting passage from 1805:

…the very capital malt distilleries at Vauxhall, Battersea, Wandsworth, and Kingston,. the large porter breweries of Messrs. Barclay, Clowes, Holcomb, &c. together with the infinity of pale beer breweries in the Borough of Southwark, and dispersed through every town and Tillage in the county, cannot be at a loss to account for the magnitude of the demand for this article.

Note. The infinity of pale beer breweries – not of households brewing pale beer – meeting the demand.








The brewery of Clowes, Newbury and Maddox seems to fit into Buckler’s interest in interesting and dilapidated structures from the previous century or before. He was an architect who was the son, brother and father of architects. The images are largely lifeless or rather at least without human participants. Their effect is sometimes present. The ruts in the road. Idle carts. His views illustrate scenes from the mapping I have been poring over. The Three Tuns public house on Jacob Street, Bermondsey to the left. The Duke’s Head Public House in Red Cross Street in the middle. The King’s Head Inn on the East Side of the High Street, Southwark to the right. The places Buckler took and interest in can be found on Greenwood’s Map of London from 1827 if you nose around a bit. The Duke’s Head lasted until at least 1874.

Considering The Badness Of Beer In 1800s Britain

Hail, Beer!
In all thy forms of Porter, Stingo, Stout,
Swipes, Double-X, Ale, Heavy, Out-and-out,
Most dear,
Hail! thou that mak’st man’s heart as big as Jove’s!
Of Ceres’ gifts the best!
That furnishest
A cure for all our griefs: a barm for all our—loaves!
Oh! Sir John Barleycorn, thou glorious Knight of
May thy fame never alter!
Great Britain’s Bacchus! pardon all our failings,
And with thy ale ease all our ailings!

That’s the first bit of “Ode to Beer” from the Comic Almanack for 1837. What a jolly bauble. Exactly what we largely like to tell ourselves about the merry merry world of the past. Dickens without all the bad bits. The view from outside the Bermondsey¹ public house, as above, in 1854. As we all rush about finding older records to share about beer and brewing in, mainly, the English speaking world, I have wondered about the difference between the official record and the actual experience. By official, I don’t mean governmental or even sanitized so much as the accepted. The approved version. One of the biggest problems leading to the approved version is the love of drawing conclusions or, more honestly perhaps, the use of records to justify comfortable conclusions. We want things to be explicable but we want to be comforted. For authority to be correct we want it to align with out needs. It rarely does. But authorities won’t tell you that. Authority has another interest. Consider this passage in a book entitled England as Seen by an American Banker: Notes of a Pedestrian Tour by Claudius Buchanan Patten published in 1885:

I was at some pains to get at the following authentic statement of methods of beer adulteration. A member of London’s committee on sewers —an eminent scientist — puts forth the declaration that “It is well known that the publicans, almost without exception, reduce their liquors with water after they are received from the brewer. The proportion in which this is added to the beer at the better class of houses is nine gallons per puncheon, and in second-rate establishments the quantity of water is doubled. This must be compensated for by the addition of ingredients which give the appearance of strength, and a mixture is openly sold for the purpose. The composition of it varies in different cases, for each expert has his own particular nostrum. The chief ingredients, however, are a saccharine body, as foots and licorice to sweeten it; a bitter principle, as gentian, quassia, sumach, and terra japonica, to give astringency; a thickening material, as linseed, to give body; a coloring matter, as burnt sugar, to darken it; cocculus indicus, to give a false strength; and common salt, capsicum, copperas, and Dantzic spruce, to produce a head, as well as to impart certain refinements of flavor. In the case of ale, its apparent strength is restored with bitters and sugar-candy.”

Now, this is interesting. And not because all the horrible gak was added to beer back then as it is being again added to beer now. But because it includes the admission of wide spread watering down at the pub. Watered down poisonous gak. Which leads to the question of what people were really experiencing as they looked down into the murky depths of a pewter quart pot a century and a half ago. It makes me wonder it might mean for all those records Ron has dug out of public libraries and brewery attics. The badness of beer by these sorts of additives appears to have arisen after legal changes in 1862 as The British Farmer’s Magazine advised in 1875. But there are other issues, more to do with quantity than quality. This passage from The Farmer’s Magazine of 1800 is simply depressing:

There are some persons who do not drink malt liquor at all; most people of fortune and fashion drink it very sparingly; while great numbers of the lower orders, particularly coalheavers, anchor-smiths, porters, &c. drink it to great excess, even, it Is supposed, to the amount of five hundred, or one thousand gallons a year each. Upon the whole, I apprehend the quantity of malt liquor consumed in the county, would almost average a hundred gallons per head of all ages and conditions. One thousand gallons per annum, is nearly, on an average, about 14 bottles of ale or porter per day, and is almost equal to what is passed through many drains, made to carry off the superabundant moisture from the earth… upwards of three millions of money are expended by the labouring people, upon ale, porter, gin, and compounds, which is 25I. per family of that description of persons. If wages, on an average, be 12s per week, the amount per ann. is 32I. 4s. which leaves only 7I. 4s. for purchasing bread, butcher meat, vegetables, and clothes!

Holy frig. Perhaps we might take a moment to thank our lucky stars that we are not living when our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were scraping together their existence. When I tweeted the stats in that passage above, the good hearted Lars responded “I would guess a large proportion of that was small beer.” One does live in hope but, really, it’s unlikely isn’t it. The life of the industrial labourer and his family was simply horrible before the public health movement. In 1835, harvesting labourers required a gallon of beer every day for a month. In that same issue of The Farmer’s Magazine that that fact came from, there is a very interesting suggestion in an argument on why public houses were not going away despite their menace, why the labouring man had no choice:

…as to the temptation of company at the public-house or the beer-shop, would it not exist in precisely the same degree if the labourer had a cask of beer in his cellar brewed by himself, as if he had a cask purchased of the public brewer? If there were a disposition to avoid that temptation, and to drink his beer at home with his wife and family, what now prevents the labourer from purchasing a cask of beer and so consuming it? Nothing that would not equally apply to his purchasing malt and brewing his own beer. And if he had a cask, what security is there that his wife or children would not consume the greater part of it while he was absent at his daily labour? And would not he himself he likely to fall into the temptation of consuming it most improvidently either alone or with his companions?

We love to see things through rose coloured glasses. When we are not looking through amber coloured beer goggles ourselves. All but the first of the quotes and links are Georgian and pre-date temperance. When alcohol was so normal it was just a personal failing to let it affect your life as it washed over and through you. I honestly do not know what to make of it all. Have we simply forgotten the grim and bought into comforting fictions about the recent past? Accepted some sort of Jacksonian romance? My first reaction to it all is to praise the campaigners, to scribble a prohibition pamphlet – but then I remember that 1832 impromptu drinking party a traveler came upon in a cellar in Albany, NY:

…there was no brutal drunkenness nor insolence of any kind, although we were certainly accosted with sufficient freedom. After partaking of some capital strong ale and biscuits, we returned to our baggage apartment, and wrapping ourselves in greatcoats and cloaks…

The surprise of joy? Or a wallowing in the familiar? Or the land of liberty overlaid upon the event instead of the lives of those in the dark Satanic mills?

¹Yes, that one.

Tom And Bob Drink With Coal Porters In Masquerade


A break from the maps… yet more of the rats’ warren of Georgian information online. I have no idea what I am going to do with it. Seems a bit of a waste. But then you find this, Real Life In London, Volumes I and II by one Pierce Egan. It’s an 1821 fictional exploration of London’s nightlife high and low by gentlemen cousins Tom and Bob – including a drinking session in a pub known as the Black Diamond… or Charley’s Crib wearing “tatter’d garments and slouch’d hats” to hide their identities:

…they were in a house of call for Coal Porters. Before the president (who, by way of distinction, had turned the broad flap of his coal-heaving hat forward in the fashion of a huntsman’s cap) was placed a small round table, on which stood a gallon measure of heavy wet. On his right sat a worn-out workman fast asleep, and occasionally affording his friends around him a snoring accompaniment to a roar of laughter.

As you know I enjoy seeing what is to be found in an image of pub life like this one from 1775 but the adventures of Tom and Bob go the next step and add text description to the information in the image. You can read the story yourself. It’s not much good 194 years after the fact but look at the information that’s stuck away in there:

• Drinks: They are drinking quarts of ale. Porter-pots. There is a gallon pitcher in the middle of the floor on a small table. Punch served in bowls but taken by the glass.

• Manners: hats stay on. A penny is placed in a dish for seemingly unending supply of tobacco. No credit. Singin’ and dancin’ for each other is the entertainment.

• Slang: the drinking session is a “heavy-wet”. Not sure what “blue ruin” is… no, I go – it’s gin. They all seem to have an accent with “v for “w” – why? “Quawt” for quart. “Toast” has the modern meaning.

• Space: The tables are set in a horseshoe. Candle light. Service from the middle. The text says this is a public house but it seems more like a club.

In itself, its not going to win the Nobel for literature anytime soon. But at well over 800 pages, a pretty extensive effort to describe the scene even if through the lens of two upper class twits. Hardly lines up with the stories told in the court reports from about the same time. Which is fine. That case of the ten year old getting off murder charges in 1756 after throwing a knife into the chest of mom’s abusive boyfriend was a bit much.

Session 99: A Little Mild And A Little Excitement


This month’s edition of The Session is hosted by Velky Al who asks us to consider American mild. Mild of the Americas? Pan-American mild? I am game. After all, the Western Hemisphere is the happeningist hemisphere if all.

Mild. I actually have had two glasses of the stuff over the last few months. Here in the central section of the hemispheric upper quarter. That is an upgrade from most years here in Ontario where mild is rare as… as… a very rare thing. That glass above? I had it in Toronto in early December. After the day of sitting in a strange city studying the difference between a semi-colon here and a comma there, considering whether “shall” or “must” is better placed in that sentence. Seriously. Contract drafting skills are not particularly thrilling. So, a stop at C’est What, a bar I wrote about a decade ago, was needed. The venerable basement tavern has always struck me as Toronto’s rec room and the pint or two of mild fit right in and washed away the classroom, the grammar and the concrete landscape of 90 degree angles before I jumped on the train back home.

mild2Two months later I was in small town Ontario – Collingwood on Georgian Bay – and we stopped for a great dinner at Northwinds Brewhouse. Again, a reviving hit of malt and lush fluidity framed rather than cut but modest hopping. And under 4%, the drink didn’t hamper my ability to take on the last leg of the trip to the hotel another hour down the road. Brewmaster Bartle had three beers on under that level of strength – the mild, a grodziskie and a farmhouse ale – the details of which you can see on the chalkboard if you squint at that photo… yes, there… way in the back. Yup.

But that is it. Good news? Well, I’d like more but at least this all represents and improvement over Session #3 which was also about mild ale. Back in 2007 I really couldn’t find one. Had to post a picture of a book to find something to talk about. I was a bit naive, too. I wrote “you are never going to see a flavoured mild or an extreme mild.” AHHAAHHAHHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHA. Had I but known how stooooopid craft beer was going to get over the intervening years. What a fool I was.

“Selling Beer and Keeping Houses of Rendezvous”

barrie2One of the good things about being in my job is the records one comes across or co-workers with an interest in history share with you. I got this tidbit below in my email last week. That’s from the first document I came across in a larger scanned file called “Tavern Inspectors Records 1849-1853“.

To the Honourable the Municipal Council of the Township of Pittsburgh in Session aforementioned, We the Undersigned Tavern Keepers of the Village of Barriefield humbly and respectfully sheweth – whereas that there are persons residing in the said Village or premises adjoining Selling Beer and Keeping Houses of Rendezvous against the Law and to the great Desparagement of Her Majesty her [maybe “Crown”?] and Dignity seeing that we have to pay to the [?] the sum of Eight pounds with additions whereas these are paying [odd symbol for “zippo”] therefore we humbly beg your Honours will be pleased to look into the prayer of this our petition and dispell all such Houses unless they pay the same apportioned as in the City of Kingston vis [?] and we humbly beg that if such is granted that this shall be [?] for seeing that if such is not stopped we Your Petitioners will not be able to pay the Monies apportioned. But trusting that Your Honours will be pleased to looking into the prayer of this Petition and as In duty bound.

Barriefield is a small village in a largely rural township that was amalgamated into the City of Kingston in 1998. It was originally set up in the War of 1812 as an officer’s residence area associated with nearby Fort Henry. The document seems to be dated from 18 April 1850. It’s title on the back page is blurry and ink blot messy but seems to state Petition of [blah, blob, blur] for Beer Shops. It looks like the Tavern Keepers of Barriefield were not happy with the informal competition. I like the suggested threat, too: shut them down or we will maybe not pay our fees. That is the “zippo” emoticon circa 165 years ago in question up there, by the way. Click on it for a bigger bit of the document. I would also attach the whole file but it’s an 80 page pdf. Oh, what the hell. Have a look. By the way, a notation in the petition states that the matter was referred to the next Session and a bylaw was to be prepared… in case you are keeping track.

The beginning of the well regulated marketplace. What follows in those 80 pages is the licensing of all sorts of establishments in the community over the next few years. Afrirmations that the applicant is an honest, steady and sober man. The Township of Pittsburgh hadn’t been long in existence on the date of that first petition of April 1850. In the emails I was sent, there was also another file with the Minutes of the Midland District Municipal Council, a larger regional jurisdiction that was only abolished in 1849. So, one of the first things the new government has to deal with is the standardizing of licensing of the taverns and beer shops. Maybe it was just the fact of a thirsty British military base down the road. Or maybe it was the need to provide regulation as the Georgian ways of the century’s first have gave way to new Victorian expectations.

New York: Last Bar Seat, Allen Street Pub, Albany

allen3I have to say. I didn’t expect it. Don’t get me wrong. I have known for a long time that I love neighbourhood bars in the US. I spent a great summer evening a decade ago with pals of a pal in Maine watching the All-Star game in a place down by the working wharves. The place was the shape of a cinder block and was made up entirely of cinder blocks. I drank Allagash White and then PBR before the money ran out. I love the idea of walking down the block to a place for a beer even though it does not exist in much of Canada outside of the cities where green things don’t grow. Doesn’t exist in much of any place where the planners have played a role. But there it was. And there I was, too.

The photo above is from the end of the bar at the Allen Street Pub in Albany, New York. That’s it. If I was a cheese eating school boy, I might insert some sort of pretendy disclaimer but let’s be honest – free beer is “money + alcohol” innit. Paul gave us the run of the taps though I hope the tipping went some way to match the beers poured for us. There is no avoiding the history of the western world. The bar is owned by Craig’s pal of decades. Paul. The place opened right after prohibition ended and sits among houses on a side street. A municipal planner’s nightmare. It’s filled with local memorabilia with a definite lean towards Albany’s history of military service. It’s also filled with folk from nearby having a beer. Normal. Beer in a normal place.














Here’s the thing. Over the few hours we were there I came to the understanding that this was one of the greatest times in a bar I have ever had. It was perfect. It was so perfect that while one in our group was keen to take me on at an argument about craft beer, I realized I was sitting in a dark tiny pub in a foreign land sucking on a rosemary laced saison as Led Zep’s “Kashmir” roasted out the speakers. While, yes, dark and tiny it could serve as a test site for the Bose speakers Paul had installed. The narrow bar had five distinct spaces: cans in the rear, the cooler with its kegs and bottles, back of the bar plus the old bar top and the new one. If you look at that photo above you will see the division. Before he took it over and expanded, the tavern was just that bit at the front – maybe 18 by 30 feet tops. When we got in the place, we grabbed the back bar with its four seats. The front two-thirds of the place was already well settled by guys drinking macros or a shot or both having a good Friday night. Mere feet away I was having a pint of Black IPA with a balancing splash of brown ale handed to me. And then something else. Again, let’s be honest: I was not conflicted. I had given in. Only an idiot wouldn’t.

What did it all mean? It was more like a village pub in some place where I have family in Scotland than most places I had been in North America. Think I had only seen a place this small on this side of the Atlantic maybe in Newfoundland. No dive and not even a joint. A place in the neighbourhood. Normal. Three beer engines, too. He plans to add more. Paul is even running a cask festival in a few weeks. I expect to be in Canada when that is on. Probably in my basement watching TV. A couple of bus rides away from the next nearest good place to hang out. Thanks a lot, fifty years of urban design.