Hopped Beer As Part of Elizabethan Naval Victualing

Another topic sure to capture the attention of the good beer crowd… even though it is becoming apparent that there are only good beer crowds now.  Or perhaps another topic to just shelter me from all the other stuff flying around. Hmm. Perhaps a contemporary account* of the romantic of life the sea will will add a bit of zip from the outset:

…their bread was musty and mouldie Bisket,
their beere sharpe and sower like vinigar,
their water corrupt and stinking, the best drink they had, they called Beueridge, halfe wine and halfe putrified water mingled together, and yet a very short and small allowance…

That opinion was from William Clowes, the Lord Admiral’s surgeon, reporting in 1596. Not quite the “yo-ho and a bottle of rum” thing the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean would have us think. But, if we are honest, we never suspected the life of the Elizabethan sailor was a kind one, did we? While a gallon of beer a day seems insanely generous, it’s not as compelling now we know it was like drinking vinegar.

So, what was going on between 400 to 500 years ago in the ships of the English navy when it comes to beer? One thing we know already is that they aimed at taking along a gallon of beer for each person on board for each day. We know that because, as I first wrote in 2014 and mentioned again in  the first issue of MASH magazine,  Sir Martin Frobisher provisioned his voyages in 1576-77 to the Canadian High Arctic with that much beer. This was a pretty fabulous expedition, funded by a company of investors made up of aristocrats and even “QE the 1” herself. So they also got to take along two firkins of prunes and other treats.

One other thing we always like to see is the reference to malt. If you click on the thumbnail to the right you will see a record from a record for 18 January 1596 from a sort of annual journal of notable events from the day in which the need to ensure the provisions of the navy was discussed at some sort of vague high level (aka “the Council”) and included malt among the other provisions including pease and cheese. Perhaps not a firkin o’ prunes but still a pretty good list of foodstuff for the ships. This is a very good thing as I have, in the past, noted malt in shipments to Newfoundland at around the same time. Which is very cool. Because to ship malt is to prepare to make at least ale if not beer. If they are shipping the malt.

In a set of papers entitled Elizabethan Naval Administration edited by Knighton and Loades and published in 2016, we see this passage in a report from Edward Baeshe, General Surveyor of Her Highnesses Victuals for Sea Causes** dated 23 July 1586. In it Mr Baeshe complains of losing money on his agreement to supply and is invoking, quite politely, a right to terminate early. He points out the prices he has had to put up with including malt at eight to twenty shillings a quarter as well as “hops from 13s 4d the 100 to 53s 4d the 100.” The report is made to the Right Honourable the Lord Charles Howard, Lord High Admiral of England with a copy to Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s principle secretary, so it is not a small matter. It seems Baeshe has supplied such victuals to the navy for forty years but is now having to stop seeing as he is losing money on the deal. A footnote from Messrs Knighton and Loades tells us that the price of all grain rose 71% from 1580 to 1586 so his case appears well founded. These were the years leading up to the destruction of the Spanish Armada. Another footnote related to 1562 tells of the nimbleness in which malt at scale needed to be obtained for government business:

Extra provisions were required in the north in anticipation of the Queen of Scots and a train of 1,000 en route to an interview with Elizabeth. Articles for the meeting at York or as far south as Nottingham, were concluded at Greenwich on 6 July. On 8 July the Privy Council*** ordered 200 quarters of wheat and the like of malt to be bought in Buckinghamshire and sent to Berwick. Arrangements were still being made on 12 July, but the meeting was cancelled three days later…

Scale and speed. Interesting to note how the movement of large quantities of malt was a thing, thinking back to 1600s Derby ale. We think of brewing only as an industrial process at scale starting in the latter 1600s but forget the earlier public sphere. Incorrectly. Henry VIII add four new breweries in Portsmouth to supply ale for his fleet.**** We know this because the BBC said so. Other naval brew houses were also built in East Smithfield and London. The four additional breweries built in Portsmouth in 1512 were the Rose, the Lyon, the Dragon and the White Hart and were reported to be “the goodliest” ever seen.***** the year after they were joined by ten storage houses to keep the ale the beer from spoiling before being loaded on board.

These were important brewing facilities. They sat on the one water source which, on 7 December 1562, became the subject of the following by the borough of Portsmouth:

Also where as many indiscret persons not considering the quenes ma(?) affayres nor their owne helthes nor ye comodity for the hole town, hath usid and yet do use to wash both bucks and up(r) clothes in the diche and springs of the iiij houses. We geve in charge yt none hereafter prsume to do the lyk in paine for x(?) for evry offense.

All of which is very interesting. You have a brewing complex that brings in large quantities of hops and malt and strategically protects its water supply. I was going to add more to this post but I think I am going to leave it here as an introduction so that I can go off and explore this a bit more. It leads in neatly to the idea that in the 1600s before industrialization there was certainly organized brewing at scale as we saw with Derby ale. It may be that bulk manufacturing for military purposes in the Tudor era is an early example that later gets applied or at least mirrored for commercial purposes in the next century.

One thing I want to see if I can find about is pre-hop ale use on naval ships. You will recall that the earlier we go back in the 1500s the closer we get to the practical acceptance of hopped beer. Which makes me wonder if there were ale brewers on board before a certain point, preparing fresh ale for consumption by the crew within days – like might be found on farms and estates or in contemporary brew houses. Gotta see what I can find out about that. In the meantime, more 1500s beer and brewing here.

*See Tides in the Affairs of Men: The Social History of Elizabethan Seamen, 1580-1603, page 298, 1998 McMaster University Phd Thesis by Cheryl A. Fury.
**Clearly the greatest title which was ever bestowed.
***Clearing up the “which Council?” question above.
****The first built by his father Henry VII in 1492. Note in a note: 1492 – Brewery ordered built by the King. Called the “Greyhound” it cost £145 and was probably situated in High Street.
*****See Tudor Sea Power: The Foundation of Greatness by David Childs (Seaforth Publishing, 2009) at page 96.


Struggling With 1600s Derbyshire Strong Ale (Pt 1)

I was thinking I needed to write a post about Derby ale. The other week when I wrote this post with a bit more information about some of the other great 1600s strong ales Margate and Northdown and Hull and Lambeth, I knew I needed to have a look at Derby.  I even had this lovely map, above, of the road to London from Derby* of the era, John Ogilby‘s atlas of 1675 working on the premise that it was going to tell me about how the beer got from Derby to London. A lovely map.

But then I began to read more and realized that I needed to understand more about the roads and the river Trent, the fuel crisis from 1550 to 1700 and period barley varieties. This is because, it strike me, Derby ale might just be the combination of at least three unique elements coming together as opposed the factors which caused its competition. It might actually be quite unlike them altogether – an ale named for a municipality which is not necessarily the municipality in which each example was brewed.

Then after a week of assembling the post and hitting 2500 words, I realized I need to break this down into manageable bits. So, in this post I am going to discuss factors related to Derby ale in the 1600s related to transportation and malt kilning while leaving other factors to another. Hopefully this will be more helpful even if, as Stan commiserated with me, after viewing yet another text “getting it wrong” I am also well aware no one much reads the history posts. Which is fine.

Factor One: Goods and Navigation on the Trent and Derwent

For a beer to be worth the cost of transportation, it is reasonable to expect that it had to have an advantage making that cost worthwhile. Advantage is key. We know that the poet Andrew Marvell obsessed, in his side gig as a Member of Parliament for Hull from 1658 to 1678, over the effect taxation was having on his constituency’s brewing industry. Given its 1600s southerly competition were all much closer, any imposition on the price of Hull ale would affect the position of Hull ale exports to London greatly.

The same is true for other great beers of the pre-Georgian era. In this post, I discussed how the opening of the Trent in 1711 by, George Hayne made the Trent navigable to the southwest of Nottingham leading to, in issue 383 of The Spectator from 20 May 1712, the early journalist Addison notes going out for the day in London with his pal Sir Roger to drink Burton ale. New and improved transit makes for new an improved drinks choices for the wealth drenched.

The city of Derby sits on a tributary of the Trent, the north to south flowing river Derwent** near where the rivers meet. Historically, the Trent was not navigable or at least not safe or perhaps reliable upriver from Nottingham, 13 miles to the east of Derby. According to this source, the Derwent was opened to navigation from Derby to the Trent at Wilden Ferry in 1721 under an Act passed the previous year. After the 1600s. In 1699, the same source states that the authority to open the Trent from Wilden Ferry to Burton was granted by Parliament to Lord Paget*** but only exercised, as noted above, in 1711. Again, after the 1600s.  So, following what might today be a 16 miles portion of the A52, goods would have been carted from Derby to Nottingham for loading on watercraft for London.

But would they? It is clear Derby ale is well known in London in the 1600s well before the opening up of the Trent and Derwent. Pepys drank it in the 1660s. The fame of Derby ale has been argued to be tied to the development of coke during the English Civil War in the 1640s. Hornsey, too, describes in his now ten year old History of Beer and Brewing how Derby produced fine ale by the mid-1600s. So before the rivers were made open in the 1700s, Derby ale was known. Meaning it had to have been, at least, moved by a mix of transport modes.

Notice, too, the scale of operations. As Martyn pointed out in a 2009 post, the historian RA Mott, writing in 1965, said of the town:

“In 1693, when there were 694 family houses, there were 76 malt houses and 120 ale houses, so that malt-making and brewing must have been the dominant occupations. A list of those occupied in the wool, leather, wood, metal and stone trades and the normal supply occupations left room for some 200 maltsters and brewers. Much malt was carried to the ferry on the river Trent, five miles away, whence it could go by water to London; 300 pack-horse loads (each of 6 bushels which each contained 40lb) or 32 tons were taken weekly into Lancashire and Cheshire.”

Which, if you think about it, is interesting. Pre-aggregation. If there are 76 malt houses, there isn’t one central mammoth Derby Malting Co. Similarly, there are 120 ale houses, not one or five big breweries. What is going on is cottage industry production. One alehouse or malt house for every 3.5 households on average. A large number of small operations coming together to make one product. This is different from, for example, the contemporary competition out of Northdown which depended on the reputation of one brewer, the “inventor” Mr. Prince.

Wikipedia tells us that stone barns and warehouses still exist at Shardlow, described as an inland port developed before the improvement of navigation on the Trent. Shardlow sit on the north side of the Trent “about 6 miles southeast of Derby and 11 miles southwest of Nottingham.” It is just to the west of where the Derwent enters the Trent. This is a heritage listing for a 1700s Shardlow barn which sits on “the London Road.” Here is another in the parish of Shardow on Wilne Lane, Great Wilne which sits to the east of Shardlow itself. This is a survey of bats living at another.  The regional tourism development agency describes the key feature of Shardlow today thusly:

Shardlow is one of the best-preserved inland canal ports in the country… A walk along the canal towpath brings you into contact with many of the old buildings of the Canal Age. Mostly now used for different purposes, but still largely intact: the massive warehouses that once stored ale, cheese, coal, cotton, iron, lead, malt, pottery and salt; and the wharves where goods were loaded and unloaded. 

A district with period barns and warehouses for storing bulk grain, malt and other goods indicates something. That it was a hub of storing bulk grain, malt and other goods. A point of aggregation.

Click on the thumbnail to the right. Notice the lay of the land. A narrow winding river in boggy land to both sides of the Trent Canal and the river itself. The Derwent also twists away to the north. No wonder getting goods through this area was difficult. No wonder statutes of Parliament and great investments were needed to get the goods out of the district in the 1700s.

So, to get out of town and down to London, Derby ale had to be transported and transported along a long road or a boggy river yet to be improved. Which, like the extra distance Hull ale needed to cover, is a cost that apparently Londoners were willing to bear.

Factor Two: Coke, Straw and Pale Ale

Derby ale is known to be an early adopter of coke kilned malt. Derbyshire, along with being the valley of the Derwent, is part of a fairly southerly coal mining district. A canal was finally constructed in the 1790s to get the coal out. Hornsey also describes in History of Beer and Brewing how Derby produced fine coke by the mid-1600s due to the particular purity and hardness of the region’s coal. Even so, coke was not immediately or universally accepted as a replacement for wood or straw.

Note that, I said above, the generally accepted date of coke being used for the kilning of malt is in the 1640s. But in 1977, an article in Scientific American states “[b]efore the British (sic) civil war of the 1640s, coke was introduced for the drying of malt in connection with the brewing industry.” Before. This appears consistent with contemporary records. In 1637, Charles I of England received the following petition:

61. Petition of John Gaspar Wolffen, his Majesty’s servant, to the King. Your Majesty gave leave to petitioner to make trial of his invention for brewing with a “charked” sea coal, which, as your Majesty has seen yourself, yields no smoke, and will do as readily, and within a little as cheap, as the ordinary way of brewing. Prays licence for brewers of Westminster and other places, questioned about smoke, who are willing to embrace the said invention, to continue in their brewhouses without molestation.

“Charked.” Made dark as if charcoal. Sea coal. Not Derby mined coal. Sea coal is coal gathered on a beach. It was gathered until at least ten years ago in some parts of Britain. An opportunity to make coke with that coal was suggested earlier by a decade. This is an interesting thing. It’s the sort of thing that was interesting to Martyn back in 2009 when he wrote this about coke kilning and Derby ale:

Coke was invented in the North of England (it appears to be a North Country dialect word, originally meaning “core”, as if the “coakes” were the “core” of the coal), apparently in the 17th century. Its use to make malt was first taking place in Derbyshire in the early 1640s, according to John Houghton, an apothecary and part-time journalist, who issued a weekly bulletin in the 1690s and early 1700s, price two pence, called A Collection for Improvement of Agriculture and Trade. In one issue in 1693 he talked about the coal miners of Derbyshire, and added:

The reason of Derby malt being so fine and sweet, my friend thinks is the drying it with cowks, which is a sort of coal … ’tis not above half a century of years since they dried their malt with straw (as other places now do) before they used cowkes which made that alteration since that all England admires.

Note one more thing about that passage from Houghton which Martyn quotes. Coke is the successor to straw. Not to coal. Not wood. Not even charcoal – aka “charked” wood. We have established, in this post from three years ago, that straw had been used for yoinks to kiln lovely pale and un-smoked malt. As Houghton stated in the 1690s: “’tis not above half a century of years since they dried their malt with straw…” Coke is the next fuel, not the first. We need to accept that pale malts either – sun dried and straw kilned – were a thing well before coke. Why wouldn’t there be? Cheap and effective and no one was sitting around glum waiting for the future when coke was going to be invented.

We know that ale was popular, pale and not smokey in the 1690s after coke was introduced as a kilning fuel as Martyn showed in 2009:

[A]nother late 17th century writer, Mr Christopher Merret*, “surveyor of the Port of Boston”, fills the breach, though writing about Lincolnshire, not Derby. In a paper called “An Account of Several Observables in Lincolnshire, Not Taken Notice of in Camden, or Any Other Author”, presented to the Royal Society in 1695-97, he wrote:

“Here Cool are Charred and then call’d Couk, wherewith they Dry Malt, giving little Colour or Taste to the Drink made therewith.”

Pale ale was definitely being made in Lincolnshire in the 1690s from coke-dried malt. Yet earlier than that point, paleness and purity of taste was not created by coke. Over 100 years earlier a similar observation was made, well before the invention of coke by William Harrison, a scholar clergyman, who published his book A Description of England in 1577. Here is a full copy of the text posted by Fordham University in which you will find this:

The best malt is tried by the hardness and colour; for, if it look fresh with a yellow hue, and thereto will write like a piece of chalk, after you have bitten a kernel in sunder in the midst, then you may assure yourself that it is dried down. In some places it is dried at leisure with wood alone or straw alone, in others with wood and straw together; but, of all, the straw dried is the most excellent. For the wood-dried malt when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke.

Chalk is, you will note, pale and also that smoke is associated with wood. Straw kilned malt has the best of both. This was long remembered. In the seventh edition of the The London and Country Brewer from 1759, this is stated under the heading “The Value of Coak”:

It is a most sweet Fuel for drying Malt, the pale Sort in particular, but is best made from the large Pit Coal, which has supplanted the Use of Straw Fuel; and, when it is made to Perfection, it is the most admired Sort of all others.

This passage is in Chapter IX “Of the Fuel to dry Malt, of Malt, &do.” In that chapter, there is a description of techniques and a variety of fuels in a number of English locations including an unnamed town (ie “…in this Town of ____…“), Warminster, Ispswith, Oxfordshire as well as Derbyshire. A number of fuels are described such as aged wood, Welsh coal, coke, fern after a good shower of rain, wheat straw and “Newcastle Coal burnt in a Cockle-Oast.” A successful malt kilning is described as forcing “a quicker Fire to crisp the Kernel, and thereby save Fuel, Time and Labour.” Which means that even as late as 1759, the driving forces behind making malt are financial efficiency through use of available local resources. Standardization of malt kilning fuel has yet to be imposed through full scientific industrialization. Coke is not yet king.

The chapter also includes a specific discussion of Derby ale:

Mr. Houghton’s Observations of Malt-Making – The Reason, he says, why Derby malt does not make so strong ale as formerly, now they make the pale Sort, is because they lay it too thin on the floor to come, by which a great deal is not malted and the rest only Barley turned. Now in Hampshire, he says, the Barley, which is much smaller and thicker skinned,  is laid thicker on the Floors, and consequently heats, and all becomes rich Malt and makes stronger Beer with the same Quantity.

The Mr. Houghton being quoted is John Houghton (1645–1705), member of the Royal Society, a newsletter publisher writing in the 1680s and 1690s and an apothecary – as was Louis Hébert in Quebec in the first half of the same century. Proto-scientists. The passage above referencing Houghton from the The London and Country Brewer in the 1750s is looking back to Houghton’s opinion in the last two decades of the 1600s by which time Derby ale is already on the downturn, less than it once was. 

We will leave it there for now. This one has hit about 2650 itself. So more in another post soon. Derby ale was something that was worth getting out of the hinterland into the capital. It was made with coke and, before that, straw. Straw was still being used side by side with coke after the new technology was initially introduced. And, whatever it was, Derby ale was already on the way down at the end of the 1600s.

*Which I think is now part of the A6.
**I know “-by” is town so I presume “-went” is river and both relate to “the Der” – whatever that is.
***Another ambassador to Constantinople like Sir John Finch who loved Northdown.

“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…”


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?


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


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


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.