Beer And Art: Bruegel’s “Return From The Inn”


A couple nights in Montreal leads to a lot of good things. A number of forced marches for the family through an alarmingly frigid city to this meal or that shop. Buying beer in a grocery store. Five new pairs of Converse sneakers for distribution across the clan. And a stop at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where I saw this, “Return from the Inn” by Pieter Bruegel the Younger (again with the PBtY) … or is it Return from the Inn? Such things elude me. It’s not the greatest image in terms of sharpness but a larger scale image is clickably before you if you want a closer look.

Aside from all the allegorical stuff, I noticed the two items related to brewing right away: the massive sacks of grain on the untended cart as well as the sign of the wreath indicating, I understand, that strong drink is on offer within. I would expect the birds pecking away at the spilled grain which has fallen to the ground would be a sign of decadent waste to someone 400 years ago. Not sure if the load has been left by carters now inside filling their bellies with ale or whethers it’s the inn’s own supply. Lot of snow on those wheel spokes.

I suggest you ignore all the brawling gifts swinging agricultural tools and the steamy suggestions of sexual faithless. Reminds me too much of the final half hour of a craft beer fest. A rather snazzy explanation of the whole thing can be found here. The image is from around 1620 or just when various European nations are setting up colonies in what are now Quebec, New York, Delaware and Boston. This would be what normal would look like to those earliest colonists, the way they would have approached – or avoided – this sort of inn if out looking for a beer of an afternoon.

Did Father Duplessis Brew Quebec’s First Beer?

1608habitation_de_quebecYou may recall that a couple of months ago I wrote a post about the first brewing of beer in New France describing how in 1617 Louis Hébert became the colony’s first private land owner, farmer and a brewer. He is generally accepted as the first brewer. But what’s been tickling at the back of my head has been the footnote that I quoted. It’s from a bit of writing about life in the earliest years of New France. The footnote included this tidbit from 10 August 1620:

Nous avon du grain suffisamment pour faire du pain and de la bière

The sentence to which that footnote is attached goes on to suggests the Recollet missionaries themselves were brewing at Quebec before 1620. How many years before 1620? The interesting thing about the early bits of anything is how little data there is to work with. This is admittedly compounded by reliance on (i) my crappy French and (ii) the internet. Yet… I think I like where I am going. One of the reasons there is only a little data to work with is there were only a few Recollets in North America at the key point in time. In 1615, four show up with Champlain: Father Denis Jamet the first superior along with Fathers Le Caron and Jean Dolbeau and Brother Pacifique Duplessis. Jamet appears to have written first impressions of life in New France that was sent to New France in July 1615. Haven’t seen that record yet. Some are just not on the internet. And some don’t last. Le Caron’s records were destroyed likely around 1632 when his possessions were burned due to him catching a bad case of the plague. The earliest fullish record of the Recollets in New France I can lay my hands on appears to be that of Brother Gabriel Sagard who only showed up in 1623.

From what I can see, La Caron spends the first winter far to the west in what is now central Ontario with the Huron people. After he returns to the settlement at Quebec, he and Jamet then leave New France in the summer of 1616, returning in 1617. Dolbeau stays from 1615 to 1617, spends the winter of 1615-16 to the northeast down river among the Montagnais, and returns as well after a year away. Brother Duplessis lives in New France from 1615 to 1618 and seems to be the one who sticks closest to home. Before becoming a priest in 1598, Duplessis was a practising apothecary and he seems to continue using that skill as a Recollet. He stays at Quebec from the spring of 1615 to 1617 which is when Louis Hébert, also an apothecary, shows up. Which means, unlike what is generally understood, Hébert was not the first apothocary at Quebec.

So, what is an apothecary in New France at that time? Mainly a pharmacist but with a good dose of gardener and herbalist along with amateur scientist. Part of the work of Duplessis from 1615 to 1618 includes tending to the sick. Alcohol is generously available – pervasive even – in New France and is used to treat infection and other medical purposes. Could it be that for two years when Quebec is being established that Duplessis might have turned his hand to brewing before Hébert arrives as part of his work as an apothecary? While the colony seems to be awash with imported wine and cider, brewing beer still seems to fit in the overall plan. By 1623, as Sagard describes, the colony has its own orchards and is making efforts to have a diversity of local crops, to attain as much self-sufficiency as possible. The Recollets had their own building at Quebec from the date their arrival in 1615 and Duplessis seems to be working there for much of his two years there. They farm the land. Which means Hébert was not the first farmer, either. And a few years earlier, Champlain specifically noted the presence of hops in the St. Lawrence valley. Just the sort of thing an adventurer apothecary farmer missionary might notice, too, over the course of a two year stay.

That’s all I know. It’s speculation so far even if plausible. But with local hops on hand, using a few pounds of grain to make a fresh ale is not the most absurd thing someone might turn their hand to to pass the time. Maybe.

Update: The next day I found this document which includes a quotation from Jamet’s report presented to the French King dated 15 August 1621… or 1620. Google Translate and I have tag-teamed of translate the description of the first Recollet building in Quebec in this way:

When we arrived, we learned that the Sieur du Pontgravé, captain for merchants in the community, had started to build us a house, which since our arrival we have completed… The main building is well made, strong frame and between a wall of large pieces 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23 cm ) to its coverage; it has a length of thirty-four feet (10.3 m), width of twenty-two feet (6.7 m); it has two stories. We divided the first floor into two – one the half we made our chapel until something better; the other a beautiful large room, which will serve as a kitchen and which will house our people (ie workers ). The second floor has a nice big room and four smaller ones, two of which we have built slightly larger than the other [with] chimneys to place the diseased so that they are alone. The wall is made of good stone, sand and good lime – better than that which is done in France. Below is a cellar twenty feet square and seven deep.

Workers, a kitchen and a cellar. Hmm. As a bit of background if only for Bailey as to where I am going with this, I am comparing the Recollets with their lack of records who were in New France from the mid-1610s to the late 1620s with their replacements, the Jesuits, who were very good record keepers. The roles of beer with the latter group is well illustrated in their reports of life into New France for 1636, in the form of reports back to France describing the life, work and needs of the young agricultural community:

Twenty men will clear in one year thirty arpents of land, so clean that the plow can pass through it; if they had an interest in the matter, perhaps they would do more. There are some places which are much easier than others. The usual task for each man is an arpent and a half a year, if he is not engaged in other work. As rations, each one is given two loaves of bread, of about six or seven pounds, a week,—that is, a puncheon of flour a year; two pounds of lard, two ounces of butter, a little measure of oil and of vinegar; a little dried codfish, that is, about a pound; a bowlful of peas, which is about a chopine [pint],—and all this for one week. As to their drinks, they are given a chopine of cider per day, or a quart of beer, and occasionally a drink of wine, as on great fête-days. In the winter they are given a drop of brandy in the morning, if one has any.

In the next decade, skilled brewing becomes established in the colony. In 1646 the Jesuit records state: “Our brother Ambroise was employed, from the 1st of May till the 20th, in preparing barley at notre dame des Anges, and the beer.” So if the Jesuits were splashing around the beer and other drink in the second quarter of the 1600s, should it not be reasonable to assume the Recollets were doing so in the first quarter, too?

“Grain Suffisamment Pour Faire De La Biere”

hebertThe footnote quoting a text from 10 August 1620 actually reads in full:

Nous avon du grain suffisamment pour faire du pain and de la bière

That statement was written by Denis Jamet, Récollet missionary at Quebec in New France. When I wrote the bit about New France in Ontario Beer a year ago, I only thought to state that beer “came to New France at the latest in the 1630’s with Jesuit priests who brewed as part of their daily duties.” Hadn’t thought of the Récollets. The Jesuits come along a little later and, by 1634, they have a full brewery was being planned but in Quebec the Récollets were here first. I’ve been reading about their entry into the extremely sparce European population along the St. Lawrence Valley in the early seventeenth century in Champlain’s Dream by D.H. Fischer. In 1617 when there were 50 or 60 male residents of New France, there were four Récollets, three at Quebec and one further west at Huronia in what is now central Ontario. Denis Jamet was one of them. He came to New France for a second stint on board Champlain’s spring 1617 sailing from France to the new world.

Early New France did not do without strong drink. As part of their provisions, every year “they imported generous quantities of eau-de-vie, wine and cider.” People were arriving, too. Along with Denis Jamet, in 1617 the first permanent colonial family arrived in New France: Louis Hébert and Marie Rollet along with their three children. Hébert takes up planting, serving as apothecary to the settlement and starts over the next few years to create some economic stability and wealth for his small clan. He dreams of being on a stamp one day. He dies in January 1627 but not before he he becomes, as noted, also associated with “une chaudière à brasserie” – a brewing kettle. This document mentions it arriving in 1622. Which means, if Jamet is to be trusted in that first bit I quoted up there, the first colonists were making beer at least two years before the kettle arrive. Makes sense. Raw ale was a thing. And these technologies like kettles took time to all get in place. Apparently the plough Hébert requested showed up a year after he died.

Which leads to a bit of a puzzle for me. When Jamet made that statement, who is the “nous” – the Récollets only or the population of New France as a whole. Perhaps just the priests yet this brewing history of Quebec seems to indicate that both Hébert and the Récollets were brewing in or before 1620. None of this will win the prize as to the first beer brewed in what is now Canada as that was clearly going on in Newfoundland at Cupids in the early 1610s and was likely also being done for a few decades before that by summering West Country English fishermen on the Newfoundland shores who brought along barrels of malt. I do think, however, that Hébert and/or the Récollets may be the first to grow their own grain for beer making, to take control of the whole process. Hébert is understood to be the first wheat farmer in New France.

He was also the apothecary. You will recall that I posted a while back about Richard Whitbourne, who was in Newfoundland around the same time and described how “many of our Nation finding themselues ill, haue brused some of the herbes and strained the iuyce into Beere.” One of the things folk were struggling with was how to survive in North America. Baffin and his crew get hammered by scurvy in the Arctic 1616 and in the years before that Champlain loses many early overwintering explorers to the disease. He thought that it had to do with having access to fresh meat. They are working out new Baroque era medical science on the edge of known world. And likely experimented with the properties of their beer as part of that process.

What is not to like? Exploring farmer scientist educated devout brewing adventurers. What did you do today?

Quebec Beer-Drinkers Cardiomyopathy?

This article at the website answers a question about a major event in Quebec’s brewing history:

One of the first published reports on cobalt intoxication was in 1967. Called “Quebec beer drinkers’ cardiomyopathy,” doctors described 44 men in their 40s to 60s who were heavy drinkers who died unexpectedly. “There was a suspense element to the story,” recalled cardiologist Dr. Yves Morin of Quebec City. “It took a lot of time and effort to find a cause of the disease.” It turned out the men all drank beer made at the Dow brewery in Quebec City. The brewery had added cobalt to stabilize the beer’s foam.

Here is the actual medical journal from the 1960s on the outbreak. I had heard more about that the brewery had denied responsibility and dumped its inventory in the river than they were putting cobalt in the beer. Cobalt. Yum.

Ontario: 1600’s Hudson Bay Company Arctic Ale

image_thumb83So, we are working through the final draft of the history of beer in Ontario and I realize something has been staring me right in the face for quite a while now. Here is the passage in question:

The early ships’ crews considered its beer of great importance and even survival. In 1668-69, the crew of the Nonesuch over wintered on the James Bay coast and reported upon their return:

…they were environed with ice about 6 monethes first halting theire ketch on shore, and building them a house. They carried provisions on shore and brewd Ale and beere and provided against the cold which was their work…

See what I missed that was sitting right before my eyeballs? They brewed ale and beer. The news was reported in issue 408 of The London Gazette, too. Not that they made both ale and beer but that they survived a winter in the Canadian Arctic. The Nonesuch was small and tough, custom picked to both survive the trip to the edge of the known world and be hauled out of the water to avoid the crush of ice. Only 53 feet long, a replica can be found in a museum in Manitoba. Manitoba? Yes, well, after the British Parliament’s Canada (Ontario Boundary) Act of 1889 introduced a boundary that divided the former Rupert’s Land that included the watershed of the big bay, including much of what became Ontario’s north.

Got it? Wonderful. But let’s get back to the point. They made two things to drink. Two fermented beverages. Why? You are stuck in a situation that may as well be the dark side of the moon, you have cleverly brought a survival space pod as well as sufficient supplies (think food in tubes) to make it though the six months of frozen horror… and you make two types of booze? Why the heck do you do that? Well, just a century and a generation before the voyage, the benefits of ale was described in 1542 by the physician Andrew Boorde in his book A Dyetary of Helth. The key was conveniently referenced by Martyn this week: “Ale for an Englysshman is a naturall drynke.” Yet he is also the man who wrote:

If it do come by an hurt in the head, there is no remedy but pacience of all partes. If it do come by debilite of the brayne & head, drynke in the mornynge a dyshe of mylke, vse a Sirupe named Sh’upus acetosus de prunis, and vse laxatiue meates, and purgacions, if nede do requyre, and beware of superuflous drynkynge, specially of wyne and stronge ale and beere, and if anye man do perceuye that he is dronke, let hym take a vomite with water and oyle, or with a fether…

….so it is hard to know what to believe. Especially if you remember what Pepys said folk on ships got up to when they were on the ale on April 30th, 1660:

After that on board the Nazeby, where we found my Lord at supper, so I sat down and very pleasant my Lord was with Mr. Creed and Sheply, who he puzzled about finding out the meaning of the three notes which my Lord had cut over the chrystal of his watch. After supper some musique. Then Mr. Sheply, W. Howe and I up to the Lieutenant’s cabin, where we drank, and I and W. Howe were very merry, and among other frolics he pulls out the spigot of the little vessel of ale that was there in the cabin and drew some into his mounteere, and after he had drank, I endeavouring to dash it in his face, he got my velvet studying cap and drew some into mine too, that we made ourselves a great deal of mirth, but spoiled my clothes with the ale that we dashed up and down. After that to bed very late with drink enough in my head.

Is that what they were doing with that ale up there in the Arctic in 1668? My heavens.

The Best Christmas Present For Ontario Ever?

I hadn’t thought of an attack on Ontario’s beer retailing weirdness from the Federal level but that may be just what is lining up for 2014:

A spokesperson for the Competition Bureau confirmed Friday that it’s “currently examining the differences between the beer industries in Ontario and Quebec and exploring the effect that these differences have on competition in each province….” “The bureau chose to focus on the beer industry as there have been a number of conflicting reports as to why the price of beer varies between Ontario and Quebec,” Phil Norris, a spokesperson for the Competiton Bureau, said via email. Sources told Global News Beer Store officials and others have been interviewed by the bureau. Regulators were “collecting information from industry participants,” Norris said.

Collecting information? I suppose if the mandate is limited to assessing a nutty regulatory system’s effect on pricing one must make a study of the obvious. As Jordan has detailed, the pricing arguments may not be all they appear but for me that is not the point. I have no interest in limiting my choice when it comes to my shopping whether for beer, cheese, shoes or books or anything. I buy at least half my beer ever the course of the year in Quebec or the USA. I’ve gotten the occasional wee lectures from overly eager border guards telling me I should not buy in the States but, really, when you allow yourself to take consumer product advice with folk with sidearms where are we?

I am happy to pay full freight. I am happy to declare purchases at the border, support local and support actual well crafted just about anything. But, when it is all boiled down, what I am most happy with is the idea of reducing the intermediaries. I prefer two parties to a transaction, the maker and me. Add a third as retailer and I am not upset but getting into wholesaler, bonding firms, distributors, importers and clearance certificate issuing laboratories and you start seeing not only why a simple product like beer is over priced but over wrought. As in what hath this system wrought?

At the moment – as it has since 1927 in Ontario – it hath wrought market constriction to the point one cannot be sure of value or even preference. We get what we are given and are expected to line up and praise the short shelves of selected goods. No thanks. I’ll continue to take much of my money elsewhere until that changes. If that takes a prosecution of the provincially regulated monopoly by Federal officials, so be it.

1749 Quebec Drinks Advice From Pehr Kalm

image56Home alone on a sick day, what else better to do but catch up with my old pal Pehr Kalm on his travels 264 years ago. Working on the Ontario beer history book in recent days, I am looking for references to brewing in New France to seek if I can established what might have been going on around here before it was even Upper Canada. See, what is now Ontario has been many things in the past, bits and pieces of many empires. Beer and other drinks hitch a ride with most of them. And until 1791, southern Ontario was part of the British colonial Province of Quebec and, before 1758-60, part of New France.

And we have some really swell tidbits of information. On 15 August 1749, Swedish botanist and diarist Pehr Kalm was at a reception for the newly arrived Governor General of New France, the Marquis de la Jonquiere, where he reports the “entertainment lasted very long and was as elegant as the occasion required.” All the greatest and the good of the colony were there but you get the sense that it was a wee bit laddish as this is the main topic he records of the conversation:

Many of the gentlemen, present at the entertainment, asserted that the following expedient had been successfully employed to keep wine, beer, and water, cool during the summer. The wine, or other liquor, is bottled; the bottles are well corked, hung up in the air, and wrapped in wet clouts. This cools the wine in the bottles, notwithstanding it was quite warm before. After a little while the clouts are again made wet, with the coldest water that is to be had, and this is always continued. The wine, or other liquor, in the bottles is then always colder than the water with which the clouts are made wet. And though the bottles should be hung up in the sunshine, the above way of proceeding will always have the same effect.

I need to try that one. We have to remember that Kalm was not an idle wanderer. As the Borgstates, he “was commissioned by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to travel to the North American colonies and to bring back seeds and plants that might be useful to agriculture.” So, he is a scientist on the lookout for things… stuff… doings and goings-on.

He describes a pretty rich diet amongst the elite. Brandy, coffee and chocolate for breakfast. Red claret and spruce beer are in much use at the noontime dinner and again at supper at seven in the evening. He notes that people store their beer in their ice cellars beneath their houses to keep it cool in the summer and notes that it is customary to put ice in drinks to keep them cool. It is likely that the beer is spruce beer as “they make a kind of spruce beer of the top of the white fir” which is seldom taken by people of quality. He also notes that it is “not yet customary here to brew beer of malt” and also “nor do they sow much barley, except for the use of cattle.”

This last bit is interesting as one hundred years before the Jesuit records clearly show efforts to create local brewing capacity as part of the earlier economy of the colony. Kalm, however, describes a wealthier and less self-sufficient colony in the late 1740s at least among the elite. There is no longer a press so all books are imported from France. Large sums are spent on boat loads of wine. Cider and beer are so 1630s it would appear.

What does that mean for Ontario? Well, likely the forts by the end of the French empire were supplied with casks of wine rather than malt made beer. Yet, in the last quarter of the 1600s, that was not necessarily the case. When the likes of Lasalle and Frontenac ruled the spot where the Great Lakes meets the St. Lawrence River… who knows?

Incidental 1930s Brewing Letterhead Images


Now there’s a sexy title for a blog post. A real whooah-ish search engine optimization blog post title. Letterhead Pr0n. I should have paid more attention to the lighting when I was at the archives last week with Jordan in Ottawa. But, still, these are pretty sweet. It is amazing how elaborate the Taylor and Bates letterhead is. Rich old guys in suits drinking beer and having the time of their lives because they own a brewery and a radio station.







When Did I Last Shop At The Beer Store?

I won’t have to worry about this for a while:

To get a sense of how much the lack of competition affects beer prices, Sen compared pre-tax beer prices in Ontario and Quebec. The price of a 24-pack (the average of several brands such as Molson Canadian or Bud Light) came to about $26 in Quebec grocery stores, and about $36 at the Ontario Beer Store. Sen estimated that the extra money, about $700 million, “is going directly from consumer pockets to a consortium with majority ownership by foreign-based firms.” (The Beer Store disputes those numbers, saying Sen compared pre-tax to post-tax prices, ignored commodity tax differences and used a small sample.)

What can you say when your face numbers like that. Anything I have to say is framed by the fact that it really doesn’t affect me. I buy good beer at the LCBO, in a pub, from the brewery or on jaunts into nearby northern NY or Quebec. The Beer Store, even with its generalist’s name, has found itself in the position where its stock is specialized, limited to those beers that don’t really qualify as craft or for the most part all that interesting. When you think about it, the good beer buyer in Ontario is really well served by this physical retail reality, the separation of macro beer from the better stuff.

And I will really not be able to concern myself as it’s time to drive the family from brewpub to micro brewery to good beer store in a random selection of US states for a while. What should I get that’s new in Maine? What’s the best place to eat with the family near Fenway? Do any brewpubs offer mini putt? These are the questions for the next wee while. Ontario’s macro retail off shore monopolists? What are they to me?

Ontario: When Was The First Beer Downed Here?

A puzzle. As has been noted, Jordan and I have accepted the offer to co-write a book on beer and brewing through Ontario history. It is part of the series put out by The History Press series on regional brewing histories. Which leads to lots of questions. Like… how does one write a history? But that is a big question. A more specific question is what was the first beer consumed in what is now Ontario. One candidate is the beer found in the hold by the mutineers of Henry Hudson’s ship in 1610 who set poor Captain Hank and a few others adrift in James Bay and then set to ripping the Discovery apart as recounted in 1625 by one sailor who was present:

…there were some of them that plyed their worke, as if the Ship had beene entred by force, and they had free leaue to pillage, breaking vp Chests, and rifling all places… In the Hold they found one of the vessels of meale whole, and the other halfe spent, for wee had but two; wee found alſo two firkins of Butter, some twentie seuen piece of Porke, halfe a bushell of Pease, but in the Masters Cabbin we found two hundred of bisket Cakes, a pecke of Meale,of Beere to the quantitie of a Butt, one with another.

The trouble is that while it is clear that the mutiny was in James Bay but not clear that the mutineers drained the beer at or near the western half of the bay’s shore line that later becomes Ontario as opposed to Quebec. They do keep the eastern shore in sight on the way home after they abandon Hudson and the others left to their own devices. But that was after they gunned the beer. Where did they do that? Such problems I have. Well, not the sorts of problems these lads me but, you know, modern problems.