Are Canada Red Vine Hops… Canadian?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1811 Needham And Rawlins Patent Brewing Machine

nyamerican22aprl1825That is a notice placed in the New York American of 22 April 1825. Letters Patent were issued for the device in 1811 and 1812 (nos. 3493 and 3575 respectively). James Needham is listed as the inventor, described as a brewer in Islington a district of London, England. In a book whose title starts but is not completely stated as The Literary Panorama, being a Compendium of National Papers and Parliamentary Reports, illustratives of the History, Statistics and Commerce of the Empire… from 1811 we learn a bit more from the summary of that year’s patents:

James Needham, Islington Green, Middlesex, Brewer and Corn Dealer, for a portable apparatus for brewing beer and ale.

Portable! How wonderful. In the same year’s publication of the Philosophical Magazine Series 1, Volume 38, Issue 163 it noted that the machine makes the beer from malt and hops and that the patent was issued on 23 September 1811. Curious as to the details? Well then get on your knees and thank God for the blessings imparted by The Repertory of Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture: Consisting of Original Communications, Specifications of Patent Inventions, Practical and Interesting Papers, Selected from the Philosophical Transactions and Scientific Journals of All Nations, Volume 22 from 1813 which contains the entire four page declaration of the invention as submitted for the patent including diagrams:










[Never mind the wheely thing to the left of the illustration. That’s the previous patent for Robert Bill’s clothes washing machine.] Needham’s application indicates that its standard operation was to make eighteen gallons from two worts drawn from a bushel of malt and a pound of hops. There is also references on the internets to an 18 page document published in 1813 entitled Directions for Brewing with Needham, Rawlins and Co.’s Patent Family Brewing Machine but I am not having any luck placing my hand upon a copy. In the April 1813 edition of The Tradesman an article sets out addition and improvements to the patent were described including these comments under the heading “Observations of the Patentee”:

The superior advantages of this machine, both in form and method of using it, are these. It unites the fire-place, copper, mash-tun, under-back, hop-back, and working-tun, in one compact portable utensil; simple in its construction, and convenient both in shape and the ease with which it is managed. It is made of tin: most durable and wholesome materials, and kept in order with little trouble. The method of brewing with the machine is easy and certain in its operation, and requires but little labour; the consumption of fuel is small, and the steam is condensed. It produces an abundant extract from both malt and hops, without the necessity of mashing; and the extract is also of a superior flavour, being obtained by a progressive degree of heat (from cold to boiling) given to the water, which infuses the malt and hops at one time in separate compartments of the vessel, yet affording an opportunity for the extracts to mix freely; thereby assimilating their component parts, fixing and preserving their essential and volatile particles, and thus completing the brewing in a few hours. The wort obtained by this process is so congenial to fermentation, as to produce (after a short time keeping in the cask) a transparent and highly-flavoured malt liquor, superior in quality to any that can be produced by other methods.

So, the miracle that Needham blessed us with was the idea of no mash
home brewing. Sounds all a bit dodgy to me. And who is Rawlins? Bet he was the money man. He shows up in 1813 given that the 18 page directions booklet carries his name. The booklet is described in this list of cookery books acquired by Princeton University in 2012 including a passage from the preface:

NEEDHAM, RAWLINS and CO. Directions for Brewing with Needham, Rawlins, and Co.’s Patent Family Brewing Machine. Printed for the Patentees, and Sold by them at their Warehouses, Skinner Street, London; and Narrow Wine Street, Bristol. And by all their Agents. Sixth Edition. 8vo. 18pp., folding frontispiece with engravings of the machine and letterpress text, a single leaf on different paper with a list of agents for the machine around the country (printed by W. Newman, Widegate-st. Bishopsgate”. Stitched as issued in contemporary buff wrappers, uncut (wrappers slightly soiled). London: by T. H. Coe, 1813.

“Malt liquor has ever been considered in this country a Constitutional Beverage, and the advantages of private brewing were at all times sufficiently obvious, by the reducing it effected in the cost, and the pleasure of having Beer of any strength required; but the inconveneience and uncertainty attendant on it, have prevented its general adoption. To avoid these difficulties, by a Compact, Portable Brewing Apparatuus, which should embrace the more important object of producing superior Malt Liquor, has been the devoted study of the inventors of this Machine, which removes all uncertainty in Brewing (an object that has eluded the attentive search of the most scientific Brewers); requires but little labour, and obtains a greater extract from both Malt and Hops, without the necessity of mashing, a tedious and inconvenient operation.” (Preface).

Beer was a household staple in an age when the water was very likely to be poisonous – even schoolchildren were allowed a ration of “small” or weak beer – and it also had the advantage of keeping the servants out of the public houses. Intererstingly, home brewing was closely allied to the temperance movement in Victorian times. Charles Edward Rawlins left the partnership with James Needham and Joseph Rawlins on 31 December 1813 (London Gazette).

Too bad for Princeton that the booklet was published a quarter century before the Victorian era started. And, well, that last bit is interesting. Two Rawlins had been involved, one* leaving fairly early on even though they seemed to be on a roll with six editions of the booklet, warehouses as well as agents. Sadly – or maybe not so sadly depending on the beer – it didn’t pan out all that well for these gents in the longer term. Just fifteen years after publishing the improvements and directions – and three years after some guy in New York was flogging off his equipment second hand – it seems to have all come apart. In the 2 May 1828 edition ofThe London Gazette, the official journal of government notices and proclamations, we see the following notice at page 855:


Sic transit gloria the idea of no mash home brew. Notice that while Needham became a hop merchant in Southwark he had to assign his entire estate to Rawlins and another, a stock broker by way of Medley. Someone lost all they had over this matter. Maybe they all did.

Monday Update: An excellent and unexpected bonus. Four more images related to Needham.











To the far left is an ad for the machine from The Cambrian, a Welsh newspaper, from 21 November 1812. Next, is the notice stating that Charles Edward Rawlins had had enough and was out of the partnership. Middle right is the actual front page of the user guide and, far right, a 1821 book entitled Domestic Brewer and Family Wine-Maker which seems to have the user guide incorporated into it. Fabulous stuff.

*The departing partner, Charles Edward Rawlins, was a soda-water manufacturer on that same Narrow Wine Street in Bristol in 1814.

That 1700s Battledore Barley And The Other Four

battledore3These are busy days. The endy bit of April and the first half of May require my time in the garden. Yesterday I took apart the compost bin, sieved all the good bits out, returned all the half-rotted stuff and layered it with last autumn’s leaves and the parsnip greens from the overwintered crop. And it had gone all anaerobic. Much of it was the consistency of warm chocolate, reeking of sweet bog. Hours it took me. Then there was the week’s laundry. I don’t trust it to just anyone. And another Red Sox game to watch. And tweed to covet.* And supper to make. Saturdays are exhausting. No time to swan and noodle about the the London Metropolitan Archives like some. Research gets little time in spring.Yet, at the back of my mind there is that question. You will recall Sir. Wm Strickland’s observations from 1796 set out in a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated 20 May 1796:

I have reason to believe that a grain of Barley has never yet been sown on the Continent; the grain which is there sown, under that name, is not that from which our malt-liquors are made; it is here known under the name of Bigg, or Bigg-barley, is cultivated only on the Northern Mountains of this Island, and used only for the inferior purposes of feeding pigs or poultry, and is held to be of much too inferior a quality to Make into Malt, and of the five different grains of the species of Barley known to us, it is held to be by far the worst; I have therefore taken the liberty of sending a small quantity of the best species of Barley, (the Flat or Battledore Barley) and the one most likely to succeed with you; this grain is sown in the spring, on any rich cultivated soil; I recommend it strongly to your attention; and shall rejoice if I prove the means of introducing into your country an wholesome and invigorating liquor.

The passage is handy. It fills in two of the five grades of barley known to Britain in the 1790s. Flat or Battledore is the best. Bigg or Bygg is the worst. In the last post about Strickland, we reviewed how that latter lesser sort was six-row, winter or bigg barley. So what were the others? Battledore was a thing of the past in 1866 when the fourth volume of The English Cyclopaedia stated that the Sprat, or Battledore – also called Putney Barley – is the hordeum zeocriton. In a 2010 post, Ron noted that it was also called Goldthorpe. It seems to have hit its peak before the popularization of hordeum distichum or Chevallier. In 1785 it was described in A New System of Husbandry: from many years experience, with tables shewing the expence and profit of each crop by Charles Varlo in this way:

The sprat or battle-dore barley, has only two rows of grain; for which reaƒon , the ear is flat, the corn is ƒhort, plump and thin ƒkinned, not inclined to have a long gross ƒtraw, (but indeed this varies according to the richneƒs of the ground it is ƒown on) it is ƒaid it will grow well on many other ƒorts of land. I have had great crops on tough, ƒtrong, cold clay, or gravel land; but ƒuch muƒt be well pulverised, ƒweetened, enriched, mollified and warmed by tillage.

See, now it’s “Battle-dore” as well. And the focus is not so much scientific in the sense of identifying the plant as it was agricultural in the way the author describes its uses. In 1745‘s Agriculture Improv’d Or the Practice of Husbandry Displayd by William Agric Ellis, it was stated that it will produce “a strong straw that will always grow and stand erect to the last” whereas “common Barley… will fall down, and sometimes rot on the Ground.” Being also an earlier crop, the sprat or Battledore was harvested in 1744 before damaging rains came.

It is this Sort of Barley that is most valued by Distillers, for producing the greatest Quantity of Spirits, and is no less profitable to Brewers, for making a Malt that yields the greatest Length of Worts : The Stalk and Chaff indeed are coarƒish, but the Quality and Quantity of this Grain largely compenƒate for it.

More information is provided in The Natural History of Northamptonshire published in 1715 by John Morton, naturalist and Rector of Oxendon.** He records that there were two sorts of barley in his immediate area: sprat or Battledoor barley and Long-eared barley. Rath-ripe barley, however, was being grown in the area of Lowick, twenty mile to the east, and in fact it was the only barley sown by his colleague the Rev. Mr. Poulton of that parish. Each of these are distinguished, again, from common barley. Reaching back another twenty-nine years, we see the sorts of barley described in 1686‘s The Natural History of Stafford-Shire by Robert Plot – perhaps my favourite new old book of the year given how it may contain a creation myth, the very genesis of Burton and its ales. In one exciting passage at page 347, Plot states:

… it remains only that we recount the varieties of each kind sown here; and by what rules they are guided in the choice of their seed: there being as many sorts used here, and perhaps more, than in some richer Counties. For beside the white-flaxen, and bright red-wheat (which are the ordinary grains of the Country) they now and then sow the Triticum Multiplex or double-eard wheat; Triticum Polonicum or Poland wheat; and Tragopyrum, Buck or French-wheat; all described above Chap. 6. And for barleys; beside the common long-eard, and sprat-barley, which are most used; they sow sometimes the Tritico-speltum or naked barley, of which also above Chap. 6. And amongst the Oats: beside the White, black, and red Cats; at Burton upon Trent I found they also sowed the Avena nuda or naked Oat ; described, Ibidem.

Is anything more fabulous than a text that is 330 years old that uses the proper scientific Latin names of things? It’s all so… science-y. But what does it tell us? What does all of it tell us? Here’s what I see:

1. Battledore or Sprat Barley
2. Long-Eared Barley
3. Naked Barley
4. Rath-ripe Barley
5. Bigg Barley

Are these the five sorts of barley Strickland mentioned in his letter of 1796? I don’t know. There must be a masters thesis or two out there on the topic that would give more clarity. And there is that pesky reference to “common barley” that is a bit of a theme throughout these texts. Suffice it to say for now, then, that there were varieties and perhaps ones which are still sown for non-brewing purposes. More research needed. But, clearly, we can be assured that to the gentleman agriculturalist of 1796 Battledore is the best and was spoken highly of for the previous century. Which makes me suggest that if one is recreating porters of that vintage one ought to be using Battledore malt and not the later improved varieties of 1800s Chevallier or mid-1900s Maris Otter. Shouldn’t one? Certainly one would if one is to brew the earliest Burton, like the lads sipped in 1712.


Update: above you will see a passage from John Ray’s 1677 book Catalogus Plantarum Angliae, Et Insularum Adjacentium: Tum Indigenas, tum in agris passim cultas complectens. In quo praeter Synonyma necessaria, facultates quoque summatim traduntur, una cum Observationibus et Experimentis Novis Medicis et Physicis which describes Battledoor barley as a form of hordeum distichum and not hordeum zeocriton. Hmm… in 1838 it was called hordeum disticho-zeocriton. Hmm…This 2003 bit of botany suggests Spratt was a UK landrace out of which other barley strains developed.

*I am having a wee problem over the last six months. It really started in January 2015 with a windowpane tweed bucket hat bought at Pringle in Glasgow. Then, told at work along with other mid-life males to smarten up the look a bit I’ve, well, gone a bit overboard. I can’t recommend Peter Christian highly enough in such tight spots. Clothes for folk with 37 inch arms like me. Delivery by international $25 courier in about five days. I had no idea that I needed a lavender crew neck cotton sweater. But now I have one. And four new sports coats. And new sorts of socks. God, the HJ socksalone have changed my life…
**Which is just nine mile south of the famous Kibworth examined in BBC’s The Story of England mentioned here and here.

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.

Unlike Most Gimmicks Fog-Based Beer Is Real

I like the gimmick that are also based on something actual, a rare sight in the craft beer scene these days. Stuff like when thirty years ago I had a beer from the Falklands. And it really was. Fog based beer is apparently real as well:

Since a particularly bad drought in the 1950s, now-retired physics professor Carlos Espinosa Arancibia has been testing nets that could help capture water in Chile’s driest regions, the BBC reports. This current iteration of the net has openings less than one millimeter across around which water droplets condense out of the fog. The drops accumulate and grow until they drip into a pipe at the base of the net, from which it flows into a container, so clean that it’s immediately ready for human use. One of Espinosa’s test centers is near the town of Pena Blanca, home of the Atrapaneblina (fog catcher) brewery. The beer–a golden-amber Scottish ale with brown foam–is made only with the water collected from the fog nets. The brewery produces a meager 6,300 gallons of beer per year, but its owner says the water gives the beer a unique taste and quality.

OK… a golden-amber Scottish ale with brown foam? What the hell is that supposed to be? The brewery’s website only has images of the beer in bottles. Images online show a rather more comforting off-white head. There is just one lonely BAer review.

But what about the science? The Daily Mail published some respectable images of the fog nets of Chile a couple of years ago. The eggheads over at MIT are apparently involved with Chilean fog harvesting and have promised a five-fold increase in production. Their studies of the carapace of the Namib beetle, native to the Namib desert of southern Africa have led them to that conclusion. [Ed.: how many times have I heard that!?!?] Apparently, at certain times of the year a square meter of the better mesh might yield up to 12 liters per day or more. Which means only a ten by ten meter net might be needed to get you that litre of beer a day.

Given the Californian drought, a net of 41,650,000,000 m² is all they need to support current craft beer statewide production. That’s 41,650 km² of netting or about 10% of the state’s total land mass. So… it’s possible.

Is The Western US Drought 2015’s Top Beer Story

4877We all drink dinosaur pee. Or at least the water we drink was also in the bladders of dinosaurs. Things come and go but the supply of water on the planet is stable. We have as much as there has ever been. But while stable it is also mobile. The water that may have fallen as snow on west coast mountain ranges a few years ago might now be blanketing east coast cities. Which got me thinking the other week when I tweeted:

So are Cali brewers actually setting up avaricious branch plants elsewhere or just setting up their escape routes?

As is usually the case, I didn’t really put much thought into that tweet… or any other. It’s just tweeting… and it’s just beer. But ever since that clever man Stan got me thinking about the impending ceiling on the capacity to grow more barley and hops, the story playing out as California brewers seek second homes elsewhere in the United States and elsewhere in the world as me wondering if water supply is as much or more a danger to the expansion of good beer. Has the water moved away? A long way away? Last summer, the Los Angeles Times quoted the state’s brewers association’s executive director as saying if the drought “continues for two, three more years, that could greatly impact the production and growth of our breweries…” Earlier this month, an op-ed piece in the same paper said there was now one year’s worth reserves left. It’s not just bans on new swimming pools. Farms are in trouble.

Last week, the state government indicated how serious the issue was when it voted to spend $1,000,000,000 of water infrastructure. In emails back in February, Stan and I talked about the cost of creating the agricultural infrastructure to provide the over 100% increase in hop production – the extra 28 million pounds of hops – required for the US craft industry to hit the 20% in 2020 goal set by the brewers association. Is it 1,000 acres at $10,000 to buy and upgrade the acre? Or is it 2,500 acres at $20,000 to buy and upgrade? Whatever it is, it is not a billion dollars. But if the state invests that much money in securing new water supplies, who will get to use it and for what? Do breweries come ahead of playground water fountains?

I know. These are really broad and maybe dumb questions. Well, maybe not dumb as unrefined. Fortunately, others are smarter including at UC Davis where they have a California Drought Watch program which includes considerations for the brewing industry. And, yes, breweries are taking steps to help conservation efforts but will it be enough? Or is the best strategy to move with the water, to diversity through relocating? I guess all we can do it watch. Each brewery is going to have to make decisions about the long term and whether its more about stability or mobility.

Yeast News: Migrating Birds And Sheboygan

One of my slowest moving interests in beer comes in the form of a trickle of stories about the origins of lager yeast. In 2008, there was the tale of the two Bavarian caves. Then there was the dinosaur era yeast story. Then in 2011, the ur-yeast for lager was found in Argentina. Now, it turns out that little bit of goodness shows up elsewhere, too:

It is the first time the microbe has been found in nature in North America, or indeed outside of Patagonia. Found by UW-Madison undergraduate student Kayla Sylvester, a member of Hittinger’s group, the yeast occurs only at a very low frequency and was likely accidentally introduced, just as an ancestor found its way to Europe and kick-started the production of cold-brewed lager beer hundreds of years ago. “If I had to bet, I’d lay money on ski bums or migrating birds” as the agents responsible for transporting the microbe to Wisconsin, says Hittinger. “What we think is happening is that well-established, genetically diverse populations are sending migrants around the world. Generally, they’re not successful, but occasionally they are.”

I love this stuff. One of my proudest moments was when the yeasty eggheads jumped in the conversation and gave me more details in the comments. I even got corrected and edjificated that the proper written form is “egg head.” The goal of all this is “to tap into biodiversity and find the strains that ferment better” according to study lead UW-Madison Professor of Genetics Chris Hittinger. Which beats the hell out of making synthetic yeasts to get more of that candy store mango taste into out future beer.

As Boak and Bailey noted today, there is an end to the pursuit of the merely novel, the manufactured. The law of diminishing returns demands no less. But the exploration of the actual, the natural and traditional? I’ll buy that, too.

Book Review: Alcohol and its Role in…, Ian Hornsey

That is Alcohol and its Role in the Evolution of Human Society by Ian S. Hornsey. I had no idea. In a work of beer writing that is still trying to find its way, seeking to evolve from fanboy gushing or trade focused boosterism or underdeveloped efforts at business journalism, Hornsey’s 2004 book A History of Beer and Brewing stands where few others do as a successful description of the broad scope beer and western society. So, it was a gigglefest when I put his name in the the hands of Lord Good to find out that there was this 2012 publication of the Royal Society of Chemistry exactly one credit card charge and international cross-Atlantic postal service away from me. Joy.

The index alone is enough to make you faint. The Taxonomy and Genetics of the Common Oat are described at pages 273 to 277. The Drunken Monkey hypothesis is described over five pages in the 540s. Interesting to note that, like the stylings of beer, I learn from page 164 that wheat classifications too have suffered from excessive splitting. And now, on page 223 to 224 I have a description of eight classes of sake. Excellent.

This is not really a review. It’s more like a plea for understanding. If you care about beer and don’t have the works of Horsey – and Unger for that matter – by your Laz-e-boy in the basement, you have a treats unimaginable awaiting. It may be a matter of $300 to have four or five of these sorts of books delivered but they form a strong shield against the woop and warp of propositions that may be posed these buffeting times. And they are a great natural source of footnotes.

Who Is Afraid Of Facts On Beer Bottles?

Interesting if light-ish article from the publication The Drinks Business on the question of labeling beer with their caloric content:

According to public health minister Anna Soubry, officials have been in talks with the drinks industry about the possible inclusion of calorie content on labels. Ministers are hoping that displaying the calorie content in beers, wines and spirits could encourage those who are watching their weight to drink less. Most manufacturers already include information on units of alcohol on labels in a voluntary agreement with the Government. A recent study by the Drink Aware Trust has linked the large amount of calories in alcoholic drinks to people being overweight and obese.

Makes perfect sense to me. Every box of crackers in the cupboard tells me how many calories are in a handful already. I can look up the calories in meats and other ingredients because they are fairly standard measure as these things go. But a beer is not a beer is not a beer. Who knows what people are sticking in there and what it means over the long term? Some of the big bombs out there might as well be mugs of piping hot icing and should be handled with great care. And the drive to have more proper sessionable low alcohol beers might get a kick if the truth about stronger stuff were wildly known. Makes sense.

And why stop there? One thing that drives me a bit nutty are abstract standards like the UK’s absolutely silly use of “units” as a measure of alcoholic strength. What we need on a bottle is the actual ml of pure alcohol. A 500 ml can of 7% of semi-DIPA has 35 ml. Two of these innocent pals are well within the ball park of a 750 ml corked top bottle of that swell 10% beer but far less, err, red flaggy. Is it too much to ask for a universal standard based on a standard that is basically universal?

Is there pressure to keep this sort of information away from the beer buying public? Or do you actually just not want to know. Are they, like price, things of no interest to the… umm… passionate?

Friday Bullets For Your Labour Day Weekend

You better be meditating on the benefits we all share from the labour union movement this weekend. “Sure, I’ll take the day off but don’t you dare think for a minute that I like unions.” I can hear you. You hypocritical holidaying ingrates. Me, I will be singing “The International” and all my Billy Bragg 45s and calling everyone I meet comrade or maybe even Leonid.


⇒ Glad that’s cleared up. Italians are now “ethnics” under the rural overlords world view. Next, Scots and Irish and soon New Brunswickers.

⇒ Ernie Eves busts out against those Ontario Tea Party Tory bastards: “I don’t think it was fair and I don’t think it was loyal and I don’t think it was compassionate and I don’t think it’s honest.” Crime: voting for someone. Now, that’s a Tory: anti-democratic and proud of it.

⇒ I have no idea how sad it must be to be a Blue Jays fan. I mean, it’s like they think the team doesn’t suck. See, being a Leafs fan, I know they suck.

⇒ Do we now feel a twinge of guilt for reveling in Conrad’s fall? I will give him this – there is no one else reporting honestly on the state of the back end of the justice system like he is.

Ahh… long weekend. I needed it. I earned it. Really did. Didn’t I. I didn’t? Who says?