“No Liquor On Earth Is Like Nottingham Ale!”

As a lad, before the internet, I was a keener for the BBC World Service. I actually visited the studios at Bush House on the Strand in 1980 on a family holiday and sat in on a Dave Lee Travis show taping. Most evenings I would listen to the shortwave and at the top of the hour before the news hear the station’s identification signal, the Lillibullero. Little did I know that the short tune played right after “This is London” and before the “beep beep beep beep beep beeeeeeeeep” of the hour was taken from an English folk song called “Nottingham Ale“,* the singing of which which you can hear here

I learned that fact searching for references to the great ales of late 1600s England in an archive of mid- and late-1700s colonial New York newspapers. I came across this lyric to the right which was to be sung to the tune of “Nottingham Ale.” It was published in New York’s Gazette of the United States on 18 August 1790. Which means that there was some understanding in NYC at that time of Nottingham, England having, you know, an ale. So well known, in fact, that a brewer in New York, John F. Jones, appears to have been using the name for one of his own local ales if the New York Gazette of 12 March 1803 is to be believed.

What isn’t in the archive are references to Derby ale,** Hull ale or Margate ale, the coastal and carted ales of England in the 1600s. As we have seen, there are plenty of references in the NY press to other English ales not much discussed in the 1600s – ales like Taunton, Burton and Gainsborough. What is remarkable seems to be how while the pattern of naming these great ales for the cities from which they came continued, these transoceanic ales were named after a largely if not entirely a distinct class of city. Hmm.

Anyway, this short post bridges a few things that I need to unpack a bit more but most of all it should serve as encouragement for all you all to learn the words and tune of “Nottingham Ale” so that we may sing it when we meet next. Extra points for learning the version in praise of St. Andrew set out above, too.

*Amongst other antecedents.
**Need to work on a Derby post. I have found quite a lovely map from 1680…

Issac Bobin’s Letter, 6 September 1720

As I was going through the blog posts shifting them over to the new platform for the past few months I realized that I’ve had tight waves of writing enthusiastically separated by other phases of, you know, treading water.  If I had a topic to run with, a new database to explore I got at it. But I also skipped over some things. Failed to suck the marrow. I had in my head that I had a stand alone post on Mr. Bobin’s letter above from 1720 but in fact had only written this in one of my posts about the Rutgers brewing dynasty in New York City from the 1640s to the early 1800s:

In a letter dated 6 September 1720 from Isaac Bobin to George Clarke we read:

…As to Albany stale Beer I cant get any in Town, so was obliged to go to Rutgers where I found none Older than Eight Days I was backward in sending such but Riche telling me you wanted Beer for your workmen and did not know what to do without have run the hazard to send two Barrels at £1 16/ the Barrels at 3/ and 6/. Rutgers says it is extraordinary good Beer and yet racking it off into other Barrels would flatten it and make it Drink Dead…

Isaac Bobin was the Private Secretary of Hon. George Clarke, Secretary of the Province of New York. So clearly Rutgers was as good as second to Albany stale for high society… or at least their workers. And in any case – we do not know if it was from Anthony’s brewery or Harman’s.

The Smithsonian has a better copy of the book of Bobin’s letters. What I didn’t get into were the details of the letter itself. Riche. Albany stale Beer. Drink Dead. Just what a whiner Bobin was. Riche? He seems to be the shipper, moving goods from the New York area to wherever the Hon. George Clarke was located. In another letter dated 15 September 1723, Clarke’s taste in fine good – including beer – is evident:

THERE goes now by Riche (upon whom I could not prevail to go sooner) a Barrel of Beef £1. 17f 6d; a Qr Cask of Wine @ £6; twelve pound of hard Soap @ 6£; twelve pd of Chocolat £1. if; two Barrls of Beer; a pd of Bohea Tea @ £ i.; Six qr of writing Paper. Will carryed with him from Mr. Lanes four Bottles of Brandy with a Letter from Mr. Lane.

In another letter dated 17 November 1719, beer and cider are being forwarded. Bobin’s job includes ensuring Clarke and his household has their drinks and treats. It all is very similar to the shipments for the colonial wealthy and well-placed we’ve seen half a century later from New York City to the empire’s Mohawk Valley frontier where Sir William Johnson received from the 1750s to 1770s: his beer from Mr. Lispenard, his imported Taunton ale and Newark cider .

I find the reference to stale in the 1720 letter interesting as it suggests a more sophisticated beer trade that merely making basic beer quickly and getting it out the door. Albany stale beer. Stale distinguishes as much as Albany does. Plus, Bobin compares to the “Albany stale” to the young Rutgers beer and seems to get in a muddle. What will the workers accept? Or is it perhaps that he is concerned what Clarke thinks the workers will accept. I worry about words like stale like I worry about the livers of the young beer communico-constulo class. We need to do better. Stale seems be a useful word in common usage for (exactly) yoinks but Martyn certainly places it, in the context of beer, as in use around the 1720s so Bobin’s usage is fairly current in England even if at the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s thrown around generously in The London and Country Brewer in 1737 and used by Gervase Markham in the 1660s.

Aside from stale-ness, the dead-ness of the beer obviously is about its condition but why raking off is considered is unclear. Was it just at the wrong point in Rutger’s brewing process or was he operating his business by holding it in larger vessels and selling retail to his surrounding market, like the growler trade today? Again, not just any beer will do. In Samuel Child’s 1768 work Every Man His Own Brewer, Or, A Compendium of the English Brewery we see this passage referencing deadening at page 38:

It has been said before, what quantity of hops are requisite to each quarter of malt, and how the same are to be prepared; but here it must be considered that that if the beer is to be sent into a warmer climate in the cask, one third more hopping is absolutely necessary, or the increased heat will awaken the acid spirit of the malt, give it a prevalency over the corrective power of the hop, and ferment it into vinegar: to avoid this superior expence of hopping, the London and Bristol beers are usually drawn off and deadened, and then bottled for exportation; this really answers the purpose one way; but whether counterbalanced by charge of bottling and freight, &c. those who deal in this way can best determine. 

Just bask in that passage for a moment. It’s (i) a contemporary that British beer was prepared for transport to warmer climates and (ii) among a few other techniques, the intentional deadening a beer followed by bottling was a technique used for export. Burton was, after all, brewed for export. As was Taunton for Jamaica’s plantations. The British simply shipped beer everywhere. IPA was not unique. Was there a beer brewed for Hong Kong that we’ve also forgotten about? Dunno. What we do know is that Bobin is saying is that Rutgers warns against a deadened beer for local use. Would he have been deadening beer for export? In 1720s New York City?  We know that porter was shipped out of town later. We know that late in the century shipments of bottled porter were coming in.

Excellent stuff. I need to think about this more. But, like the seven doors of the Romantic poets, suffice it to say that a good record in itself can open up a wonderful opportunity to chase an idea. In an era of such early and falsely confident conclusion drawing, a useful reminder.

Burton Ale: “…They Brewed Not For Home Consumption…”

I hate… yet love… the small nuggets of information I come across when scanning the news reports from the 1700s. That’s a report from the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury of 24 July 1780 describing a debate in the House of Commons in London on a committee report on the taxation of malt. The regional rivalries between the big (or bigg) of Cumberland and Westmoreland as opposed to Scottish malt is one thing but that tidbit about the taxation of Burton Ale is gold… maybe.

Burton appears to be in the New York City market from 1770 from the notices like this one from the New York Gazette of 12 November of that year that offering it for sale at the Wall Street store of Samuel Hake. Eight years later, according to the NYGWM of 24 April 1778, it is being sold at the Vendue Store of John Taylor near the Fly-Market at the foot of Maiden Lane at the mouth of the stream associated at the time with the breweries of Medcef Eden and two Rutgers.  Taylor is also selling Bristol beer and our beloved Taunton ale along with porter.  Plenty of the results of English brewing is ending up in the colony.

Notice that Sir William Bagot does not deny the argument that Burton is brewed primarily for export, just that it opens a door to other presumably less valid claims – and perhaps illicit domestic sales. About a year ago, Martyn and I exchanged a few thoughts about the lack of understanding about the origins of Burton ale. But this bit of a Parliamentary debate is one of the only references I have found indicating an understanding at the time that Burton – like Taunton, porter and others – was part of large and organized North American export trade during the second half of the 1700s.

I wish I could figure out how to determine its scale.

Reaching Back Into 1780s Hudson History

hudsonwg27sept1787aI buried the grape vines the other day. Gave the lawn one last mow. The Red Sox have been gone from my TV for about five weeks now. Winter is coming. Thank God that there is the hunt for beer and brewing history to fill the dark cold nights.  Craig forwarded me this one image a few months ago and it has sat in my inbox waiting for the right time. He spotted it at a display on the US Constitution – a newspaper ran the text of the Constitution and Faulkner’s ad on the front page.

It’s from the September 27, 1787 issue of the Hudson Weekly Gazette and it neatly fills a gap. We’ve traced the career of William D. Faulkner from Brooklyn in the late 1760s to Albany in the early 1790s. We had known that there was a lull in his career after the disruptions of the American Revolution so it’s exciting to see that by just four years after the peace he was settling into the mid-valley town of Hudson, NY. Just as the Hessian Fly was decimating grain crops. The ad states that his previous brewery was destroyed by fire. That would be one of the two Rutgers’ Maiden Lane breweries that he left Brooklyn for in 1770, the brewery of Anthony Rutgers. Or, was it the Cow-Hill brewery in Harlem Craig mentioned when he sent the image, referenced in our book. That would give Faulkner a five brewery colonial career. The man was on the go.

And he likes himself. He “ever commanded the first a market and home and abroad” confirming again he was an exporting brewer when they were supposed not to exist.  The inter-coastal and inter-colonial trade in beer is waiting to be explored as is the ranges of beer which were brewed. Look at the ad again. It includes a price list:

Stock Ale at 5 Dollars, per Barrel.
Mild Do. at 3 Do. per Do.
Ship and Table Beer at 12s. per Do.
Double Spruce at 16s. per Do.
Single Do. 11s. per Do.

Remember that “Do.” is ditto and that “s” is shilling.  Currency in the years after the end of the Revolution remained in flux: dollars and shillings in the same ad. Same in Upper Canada. And there is also the assertion that his best ale will be warranted to keep good to any part of the East or West Indies or any foreign Market while name dropping Taunton and Liverpool Ale along with Dorchester and Bristol Beer. A pretty confident and skilled brewer. Good to see “Stock Ale” on offer, just as we see it in the Vassar brewing logs from nearby Poughkeepsie of the mid-1830s.  Philadelphia’s Perot in the early 1820s uses the term “long keeping” instead.

Just like these other brewers, Faulkner was speaking to his market. You would not name this range of styles or the other famous English beers if your customer did not know what they were, didn’t have a need for Stock Ale. As time passes and the new Republic gets some decades under its belt, these lists of styles on offer become shorter. Perhaps to match the simpler nature of the struggling society moving away from the coastal economy, driving inland.

“…In The West Indies And In The Southern States…”

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That is from the 3 April 1820 edition of the Albany Gazette. Harkening back to an earlier era when Albany ale had a reputation – “a great and high character” – in the West Indies and the southern states. I think this both confuses and confirms a number of things. Not sure. It’s located in the schedules to a report of the Commissioners appointed to devise a plan for improving navigation on the Hudson river. It’s in a list of products that could be shipped were the river just improved. So, yes, it’s about a bit of the brag up – but it’s still a curious thing:

1. Who was brewing the better beer before 1820 that was called Albany ale? Le Breton only posted his first ad in 1803 and it’s two years later when “Albany ale” was used for the first time as far as we knew when the book was written. Is 17 years enough to justify such a harkening back to an earlier era?

2. Who was shipping it to the West Indies way back in that golden era? We know that NY City brewed porter was shipped to the West Indies in the first years of the 1800s but did we know that about Albany ale?

3. What’s the dip in reputation? In an article in the Albany Argus about LeBreton passing through town in 1822, we are told “the repuation of the Albany brewers has long been established in New York.” Does the report writer mean that the West Indies markets were lost as opposed to the beer went off?

This is obviously a plea fro Craig and Gerry to pipe up and have a think. Is this just the same old 1820s river navigation improvement consultant talk? Does it just relate to the general post-war economic decline? Or does it actually mean something specific?

Is This One Way Big Craft Might Be Dying?

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There is nothing more certain about the brewing trade more than the history is defined an extraordinary limited set of patterns. Those who think that the owners of big craft breweries are special, well, know nothing about the rise of lager in the late 1800s as a premium even healthy drink – and know nothing about the rise of Albany Ale from central New York in early the middle third of the 1800s or the rise of Taunton Ale from southwest England as probably a premium even healthy drink in the last quarter of the 1700s. I suspect Northdown Ale was the premium even healthy drink in the lower Thames valley in the third quarter of the 1600s, too. There are, in fact, only a limited number of things you can say about beer to make people buy it other than that it’s tasty, cheap and gets you a tremendous buzz. They are: (i) it’s premium and (ii) it’s healthy. Check out social media today. The spin doctors are still at it. That quote up there? That is from the fabulously fabulous Dr. Richard W. Unger of UBC. More particularly, it is from his essay “Beer: A New Bulk Good of International Trade” in the book Cogs, Cargoes and Commerce: Maritime Bulk Trade in Northern Europe, 1150-1400. It’s actually the ending. Sorry. Spoilers. It reminds me of craft. Or rather big craft.

Just at the moment, big craft is going through a time of change that is not unlike what happened to the beers of Hamburg in the latter 1400s and early 1500s. Hanseatic Hamburg’s hopped beer as a technology went through an era when it was considered premium, rare and difficult to make. Roughly from 1250 to 1350. Neighbouring markets raised import duties to keep it out or just enough to equalize the cost with local producers. Because Hamburg during that time was the greatest brewing center in the history of beer. 42% of the workforce was involved in brewing. 15% of all Swedish exports were hops sent to the breweries of Hamburg and its allies. Read ye some Unger if you have any doubts. These trading communities had their own warships and a trust based commerce that overcame North Sea and Baltic piracy and storm. A commercial empire. And it all went away. At least the brewing did. They switched to trading in the ultimate beer concentrate – grain.

Here in Canada we are undergoing much more accelerated change at the moment. The collapse of the oil market and the sad performance of the Canadian dollar against the American version means no one in their right mind is even thinking of buying US craft beer either by a quick flip over the border or as an import. Yet there are around 550 craft brewing kettles in the land. As a result, while I can buy 2 litres of Pilsner Urquell for 10 bucks and decent Ontario craft for maybe 12 bucks the equivalent volume of beer in a six pack of fairly pedestrian Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is selling for a silly $15.50 and will likely soon cost more given our new 68 cent dollar. Who needs it? Few if the stock that sits on the shelves is any indication.

This is an accentuated version of what is happening in the US itself. Being well north of 4,000 breweries in the US means fans of good beer in the US are no longer dependent on those Hanseatic Hamburgers of big craft who ship coast to coast. People are making their own better local beer now just as the Netherlands did around 1450 and England did starting in 1520. Big craft is losing sales just as its handmaid bulk cider is. Who needs it? If you are looking for something rare and interesting – premium and maybe even healthy – who needs to go to a grocery store or gas station shelf to buy the beer trucked in from out of state? Fewer and fewer.

The economies of scale in good beer are having their way with the market. Not large scale. Small scale. The era of the great white male multi-millionaire brewery owner is over. The nameless nimble newbie hoards have learned the tricks of Hamburg, leaving the old fests cancelled and the old men the option to sell out, shut down or sit around wondering what happened. Same as it ever was.

The Spectator: A Peek At London Society 1711-1715

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Martyn made a very important observation the other day in the comments:

…coming-of-age ales were certainly being brewed then, and such brewings look to have increased over the next 40 or more years, though that may just be an artifact of the increasing number of newspapers being published.

We are slaves to records. As I have noted before, I am very irritated by records. It is not just that I am subject to the decisions of what gets scanned from the pool of records. I am dependent on what was recorded in the first place. It is important to appreciate that it is astoundingly good to be able to find newspaper ads from New York in the 1750s not just because the newspapers are that old but because, in as real a sense, they are that new.

Newspapers only come into being in the sense we know them today in the first half of the 1700s and, really, at the latter end of that era. One of the best of the early English periodicals considered a daily newspaper was, as any one who studied English Lit should know, The Spectator published by Steele and Addison in the first half of the 1710s, the point where last of the Stuarts under Queen Anne meets the first of the Georgians. Through The Spectatorthey explored Enlightenment values as well as meaning of their toy, the possibilities of the medium. Fortunately, we can explore their explorations as the entire thing has been put on line at Project Gutenberg with an extremely handy key work topical index. As with resources like the scans of New York newspapers I have been digging through in the last two months or the searchable databases of the law cases found in the English Reports or the proceedings of the Old Bailey online, we are both grateful for and limited by the work of the good people who select which records to scan for public use.

Unlike those other databases, however, The Spectator was not particularly geared to the tastes or describing the habits of the beer-drinking end of contemporary society. The dedication to the first issue of the journal to The Right Honourable John Lord Sommers, Baron Of Evesham states that it “endeavours to Cultivate and Polish Human Life, by promoting Virtue and Knowledge, and by recommending whatsoever may be either Useful or Ornamental to Society.” Still – and as something of a great-grandparent to Tom and Bob a century later – there was an interest in describing the world of London which lay before them even as they evoked classical poetry in the search for a higher ethical lens through which to view it. In doing so, they did make some observations of the beery life. In issue no. 436 from Monday, July 21, 1712 we read about a visit to…

… a Place of no small Renown for the Gallantry of the lower Order of Britons, namely, to the Bear-Garden at Hockley in the Hole1; where (as a whitish brown Paper, put into my Hands in the Street, informed me) there was to be a Tryal of Skill to be exhibited between two Masters of the Noble Science of Defence, at two of the Clock precisely.

It is not a boxing match. It is a duel, a sword fight, the challenger stating in accepting the opportunity that he was only “desiring a clear Stage and no Favour.” The space has a pit and galleries. It is packed with humanity, gawking and flinching with every slash and wound. There are no references to drinking but a footnote leads to a description of the venue:

Hockley-in-the-Hole, memorable for its Bear Garden, was on the outskirt of the town, by Clerkenwell Green; with Mutton Lane on the East and the fields on the West. By Town’s End Lane (called Coppice Row since the levelling of the coppice-crowned knoll over which it ran) through Pickled-Egg Walk (now Crawford’s Passage) one came to Hockley-in-the-Hole or Hockley Hole, now Ray Street. The leveller has been at work upon the eminences that surrounded it. In Hockley Hole, dealers in rags and old iron congregated. This gave it the name of Rag Street, euphonized into Ray Street since 1774. In the Spectator’s time its Bear Garden, upon the site of which there are now metal works, was a famous resort of the lowest classes. ‘You must go to Hockley-in-the-Hole, child, to learn valour,’ says Mr. Peachum to Filch in the Beggar’s Opera.

Ray Street still exists. Sounds very much like the area around London’s Golden Lane from about the same time. At the other end of the social scale and more often frequented by the regular readership of The Spectator was the club. In the recent post on Georgian mass drinking, I referenced the coming of age celebrations for the twenty-first birthday of Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham. Another thing he did on reaching that milestone, other than unleashing 10,000 hangovers, was to join clubs and in particular White’s, the Jockey Club and the Royal Society. In issue No. 508 from Monday, October 13, 1712, The Spectator – which are described in general in issue no. 9 – dealt with a certain problem one found at these gatherings often held in otherwise public spaces, the Tavern Tyrant:

‘Upon all Meetings at Taverns, ’tis necessary some one of the Company should take it upon him to get all things in such order and readiness, as may contribute as much as possible to the Felicity of the Convention; such as hastening the Fire, getting a sufficient number of Candles, tasting the Wine with a judicious Smack, fixing the Supper, and being brisk for the Dispatch of it. Know then, that Dionysius went thro’ these Offices with an Air that seem’d to express a Satisfaction rather in serving the Publick, than in gratifying any particular Inclination of his own. We thought him a Person of an exquisite Palate, and therefore by consent beseeched him to be always our Proveditor; which Post, after he had handsomely denied, he could do no otherwise than accept. At first he made no other use of his Power, than in recommending such and such things to the Company, ever allowing these Points to be disputable; insomuch that I have often carried the Debate for Partridge, when his Majesty has given Intimation of the high Relish of Duck, but at the same time has chearfully submitted, and devour’d his Partridge with most gracious Resignation. This Submission on his side naturally produc’d the like on ours; of which he in a little time made such barbarous Advantage, as in all those Matters, which before seem’d indifferent to him, to issue out certain Edicts as uncontroulable and unalterable as the Laws of the Medes and Persians. He is by turns outragious, peevish, froward and jovial. He thinks it our Duty for the little Offices, as Proveditor, that in Return all Conversation is to be interrupted or promoted by his Inclination for or against the present Humour of the Company.

Dear God in Heaven, a prig of the highest order. A curator. A beer communicator. Who knew such things were suffered across the centuries? The publishers were clearly against such things and in issue no. 201 from Saturday, October 20, 1711 wrote about temperance at a point in history closer to the Puritans than the Victorians, setting the scene in this way:

It is of the last Importance to season the Passions of a Child with Devotion, which seldom dies in a Mind that has received an early Tincture of it… A State of Temperance, Sobriety, and Justice, without Devotion, is a cold, lifeless, insipid Condition of Virtue; and is rather to be styled Philosophy than Religion. Devotion opens the Mind to great Conceptions, and fills it with more sublime Ideas than any that are to be met with in the most exalted Science; and at the same time warms and agitates the Soul more than sensual Pleasure…

Interesting stuff, such putting of passion in its place – the emotions of a child. Thoughts on temperance as we understand it and which get fairly specific about drinking were further developed in issue no 195 from just a few days before on Saturday, October 13, 1711:

It is impossible to lay down any determinate Rule for Temperance, because what is Luxury in one may be Temperance in another; but there are few that have lived any time in the World, who are not Judges of their own Constitutions, so far as to know what Kinds and what Proportions of Food do best agree with them. Were I to consider my Readers as my Patients, and to prescribe such a Kind of Temperance as is accommodated to all Persons, and such as is particularly suitable to our Climate and Way of Living, I would copy the following Rules of a very eminent Physician. Make your whole Repast out of one Dish. If you indulge in a second, avoid drinking any thing Strong, till you have finished your Meal; at the same time abstain from all Sauces, or at least such as are not the most plain and simple. A Man could not be well guilty of Gluttony, if he stuck to these few obvious and easy Rules. In the first Case there would be no Variety of Tastes to sollicit his Palate, and occasion Excess; nor in the second any artificial Provocatives to relieve Satiety, and create a false Appetite. Were I to prescribe a Rule for Drinking, it should be form’d upon a Saying quoted by Sir William Temple; The first Glass for my self, the second for my Friends, the third for good Humour, and the fourth for mine Enemies. But because it is impossible for one who lives in the World to diet himself always in so Philosophical a manner, I think every Man should have his Days of Abstinence, according as his Constitution will permit.

Sensible advice. And, as you will note, one that is pretty much in line with the best sort of recommendations today. I will trawl through the many issues and see if I can come up with any more timely references. In the meantime, remember: the fourth for mine Enemies. Excellent advice.

Some Uses Of Beer In Early 17th Century Newfoundland

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Richard Whitbourne is one of those guys probably a few people know a whole lot about but a whole lot of people know nothing about. He fought against the Spanish Armada in 1588 and then spent the next thirty years of his life involved with the Elizabethan whaling fleets off and, later, colonization of Newfoundland. He served as Governor for a time and also held the first court of justice in North America in 1615. And he wrote a book. About Newfoundland. He wrote a book , A Discourse and Discovery of Newfoundland, about Newfoundland in 1620 which contained a few interesting references to beer. Because it’s not like you came here to read about Newfoundland history, right? Well, let me tell you it’s good for you so listen up. First, in a section titled “Herbs and flowers both pleasant and medicinable” he states:

There are also herbes for Sallets and Broth; as Parsley, Alexander, Sorrell, &c. And also flowers, as the red and white Damaske Rose, with other kinds; which are most beautifull and delightfll, both to the sight and smell. And questionlesse the Countrey is stored with many Physicall herbs and roots, albeit their vertues are not knowne, because not sought after; yet within these few yeeres, many of our Nation finding themselues ill, haue brused some of the herbes and strained the iuyce into Beere, Wine of Aqua-vita; and so by Gods assistance, after a few drinkings, it hath restored them to their former health.

One interesting thing about this advice is how the straining of the juice of herbs into beer is something our pal Billy Baffin and his crew did four years earlier on the shores of Hudson Bay when they boiled “scuruie grasse…in beere.” I trust you will be doing likewise when scurvy next strikes. In addition to health matters, in a later section he wrote about the economics of the Newfoundland enterprise including how beer played a role:

And this certainely, in my vnderstanding, is a point worthy of consideration, that so great wealth should yeerely be raised, by one sole commodity of that Countrey, yea by one onely sort of fish, and not vpon any other trade thither, which must needes yeeld, with the imployments thereof, great riches to your maiesties subiects: And this also to bee gathered and brought home by the sole labour and industry of men, without exchange or exportation of our Coine, and natiue Commodities, or other aduenture (then of necessary prouisions for the fishing) as Salt, Nets, Leads, Hookes, Lines, and the like; and of victuals, as Bread, Beere, Beefe, and Porke, in competent measure, according to the number and proportion of men imployed in those voyages.

As noted a few years back, it is not necessarily the case that all you needed was to drop off the supplies and take away the fish as by the late 1500s there were autonomous groups of masterless men on the Newfoundland coast likely brewing their own beer while fishing and trading dried cod for Spanish wine and other luxury items. But Whitbourne is writing to promote the plantations for investors so wouldn’t want to note these sorts of vagabonds living, you know, free lives. Moving on and keeping the reader’s eye on the potential rewards of investment, in another section mentioning beer he tells more about what was required to bring colonists over and the benefit of leaving them to over-winter on the coast:

The allowance of victuall to maintaine euery sixe men onely, to carry and recarry them outwards bound and homewards, is sixe hogsheads of beere, and sixe hundred waight of bread, besides beefe and other prouision; which men, when they saile to and fro (as now they vse) doe little good, or any seruice at all, but pester the ship in which they are, with their bread, beere, water, wood, victuall, fish, chests, and diuers other trumperies, that euery such sixe men doe cumber the ship withall yeerely from thence: which men, when the voyage is made, may be accounted vnnecessary persons returning yerely from thence. But being left in the Countrey in such manner, as aforesaid; those parts of these ships that leaue those men there, that are so pestered now yeerely with such vnprofitable things, may be filled vp yeerely with good fish, and many beneficiall commodities, for the good of those Aduenturers that wil so settle people there to plant.

So, a hogshead a man and a hundred pounds of bread for the same per trip. But if they are left on their own and not travel back, the ships can be filled up with cod. And what was the thing stopping people from doing that? The cold. He wrote about the cold and the sort of people who should be sought out for the colonial endeavor:

Now if such men, when they come from thence, that haue but little experience of the colde in other Countries; neither take due obseruation of the colde that is sometime in England, would listen to men that haue traded in the Summer time to Greeneland, for the killing of Whales, and making of that Traine oyle (which is a good trade found out) and consider well of the abundance of great Ilands of Ice, that those Ships and men are there troubled withall at times, they would thereby bee perswaded to speake but little of the colde in New-found-land: yet praised be God, seldome any of those Ships and men that trade to Greeneland, haue taken any hurt thereby…. I doe conceiue, that it is but a little needlesse charie nicenesse vsed by some that trade there, that complaine any thing of the cold in that Countrey, by keeping themselues too warme: which cold (I suppose) some that haue bin there, may feele the more, if they haue beene much accustomed to drinke Tobacco [sic], stronge Ale, double Beere, or haue beene accustomed to sit by a Tauerne fire, or touched with the French disease, such peraduenture may, when they come to a little cold, wheresoeuer they bee, feele it the more extremely then otherwise they would.

Which is another way of saying only sooks can’t handle whaling off Newfoundland in the early 1600s. You mommy’s boys of like to sit by the tavern fire sucking on strong ale or double beer? Same as it was in 1378. Wastrels. Don’t bother. Can’t handle it. Everyone else? There’s money to be made if you can just suck it up a bit. I even cut out the bit about how it is no different than when the “Gentlewomen in England doe the colde in their naked bosomes, neckes and faces in the Winter time“!! A real man doesn’t suck on his double beer by the tavern fire. He’s off to Newfoundland to make his fortune.

What I like about this is how beer is used by Whitbourne, tucked here and there to make his rhetorical arguments. And Elizabethan whaling 200 years before the ship that led to the writing of Moby Dick. That’s pretty cool, too. Yet even then it was not new. The Basques had been doing this for three generations or more before Whitbourne had written his book. Forty-five years earlier, Martyn Frobisher had mined ore well to the north of the whaling grounds. What was different now was the call out to take up the opportunity. It was not an expedition to the edge of the Earth anymore. It was just a reason to step away from the tavern fire.

Another Candidate For First Beer Downed In North America

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Martin Frobisher. He was taking a group of miners to what later gets called Baffin Island¹ in the Canadian high Arctic to dig for ores. The image is from The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher, a book from 1938 that reprints the 1576-78 journal of crew member George Best along with other records. It is very likely that this is not of the first beer in any respect. Almost certain. Because it is from the second of the expeditions. The 1576 expedition had five tons of “beare” listed amongst the “furniture” – as in things furnished – for the voyage. So it’s nearly the first… maybe.

The thing I thought I would find as I have seen elsewhere was barrels of malt and hops being shipped over. I’ve seen it on Newfoundland’s shores about twenty years later as well as in Hudson Bay a century later. But this was no crew of masterless West Country men salting west Atlantic cod or factors left to overwinter to trade in northern furs. Nope. Frobisher’s crew was funded by Earls, Countesses and Lords to the tune of 50 to 200 pounds each. The Queen’s Majesty herself threw in a rounded thousand. There was a surgeon on board as well as four tons of cheese. Almonds and raisins plus two firkins of prunes. Just in case. They are living in style. There is both Malmsey and sack, for heaven’s sake. That would now be described as Madeira and sherry respectively.

A gallon of beer for each man each day. Likely downed in wooden tankards like these. A gallon. That is the equivalent of twelve 12 oz or 350 ml bottles a day every day. In 1576, it was two pounds two shillings for a ton of beer but two pound five shillings in 1577. Seven percent inflation over one year is unlikely. Maybe a better grade of beer? Not a lot of detail of the life on shore in the accounts. Just interaction with the local Inuit as well as the work gathering of tons of ore. Each group seemed to appear pretty silly to the other.

¹… because our lad Billy Baffin isn’t even born until around 1584.

Albany Ale: Beer Rewarded Loyalty Against New France


A month or less to go for the delivery of the Albany and Upper Hudson Valley beer history and Craig and I are putting on the almost finishing touches. One difficult stretch was the first two-thirds of the 1700s as, basically, the same families kept brewing and – surprise – got richer generation by generation. Fortunately, a war broke out in the middle of the century to spice things up. I had presumed that the only news would be about the suspension of brewing as that is what war does… among other things. But then I came across this in his papers:

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These are accounts from William Johnson, the 1st Baronet of New York and a personal favorite of mine. Near my work there are two streets, “William” and “Johnson” which commemorate the guy whose son helped settle our fair city. But that was after the war after the one just begun when these accounts were noted in 1755. In 1755, the Mohawk, the British and the Dutch were all united against New France and its plans for invasion from the north. In the defense of the empire, Billy Johnson did everything he could think of including, apparently, shelling out beer.

I had known he was a beer buyer but not like this. Names like Hendrick Fry appear in these accounts, some the same as names that appear over a decade later in the lists of members in the Masonic Lodge at Albany. The accounts show how barrels of beer were used to retain and reward loyalty with the Mohawk allies in the summer leading up to a campaign at the south end of the Champlain valley when Johnson took on the French and kept them from marching farther on to Albany.

The last image on the right is interesting. It makes passing reference to one Barent Vrooman. Vroomans were a Dutch brewing dynasty who, like their fellows, expanded from the Hudson valley into Schenectady in the late 1600s and then into the western stretches of what was then called Albany County in the first half of the 1700s. Barent the brewer died in 1746 so this must be a nephew or a cousin. In any event, Johnson seems to have sent him something more useful than beer. He sent a Mohawk warrior to guard him.