The Two Year Dead “Craft” Is Still Dead And Might Be Expecting Company

This graph… err… table to the left right was posted on the internets today by Jeff Alworth. It is tied by him to the piece in GBH by Bryan Roth about the meaning of IPA – which has the wonderful and likely most accurate thing about IPA or even craft I have read: “IPAs are what people want from me, you kind of have to give them what they want…” Jeff posted a piece himself on the now stone cold demise of of “craft” – an event I sent my funeral wreath and condolences in relation to over two and half years ago. Oliver Grey wanted it put out of its misery even further back.

The main point to focus on today, however, is not the disutility of the terms but the disutilty of the graph. It goes to a notion of abstraction and levels of abstraction. The graph offers a fabulous illustration of the failure to align levels of abstraction. You will see, yippee, that IPA wins in the race to top the craft beer style race.  The problem is not whether this is correct or not as we all know people who know nothing about craft beer who ask for an IPA. It’s the chardonnay of white wine circa 1999 in that respect. Code for (i) something that the drinker will like (ii) that the bartender will understand (iii) because the bar likely stocks it. Because “…you kind of have to give them what they want…”

The problem is that IPA is an umbrella term, even if a useful one. Consider the other terms in the list. “Craft Scottish,” “craft porter,” “craft dark beer” and even “craft amber” might for the average person reasonably all fit into “craft brown beer” as an umbrella term. “Craft IPA” on the other hand is known to include unspecified styles like IPA itself, DIPA, TIPA, BIPA, WIPA and any number of other Franken-styles designed primarily to ram the three letters “I” and “P” and “A” onto the label to ensure that the code speaking person in the bar orders one thus making the sale. Does this mean IPAs are not the most popular category? No. Does it mean I always know what I will get in the glass when I order one? The answer, compared to say pilsner, is also no.

As the ripples on the lake into which “craft” was flung a few years ago spread out to their limit and fade, we should be aware of how its fate was tied to it becoming an abstract concept prone to influence, interest and malleability. For me, IPA is half way down that same slippery slope.* I look for other words to guide me beyond the relative hop intensity flag that it waves. As has happened over and over, hop intensity itself fades as either or both an offering or a preference. You see it starting in the fruity murk that I have been, frankly, fooled a few times into ordering. As in the past, what is an IPA might be now or in the future be quite forgotten for the very reason that graph unintentionally demonstrates.

*…because, see, before badly used words are flung into the lake they slide down a slippery slope. Presumably there is a ramp involved near shoreline.

A Little More On Northdown Ale And Margate Ale And Lambeth Ale And…

We have discussed Northdown ale before. One of the seventeenth century’s coastal ales that predate Burton’s arrival on the scene around 1712. Northdown of the strong ales that Locke described as “for sale” as opposed to home or estate use. But in that earlier Northdown post from, what, coming up on two years ago, most of the references to it are not contemporary to the 1600s. A lot of the discussion actually depends on one text, the 1723 The History and Antiquities of the Isle of Thanet by Rev John Lewis of Margate, which was itself then picked up in in an 1865 travel piece on Thanet published in The Athenaeum. To address that situation, I have been collecting more mid-seventeen century references over the weeks and months since then to do a better job of figuring out what was going on in the 1600s. One of the earliest I have found so far sits at the very helpful website Margate in Maps and Pictures compiled by one Anthony Lee, we read that in 1636:

John Taylor reported ‘there is a Towne neere Margate in Kent, (in the Isle of Thanett) called Northdowne, which Towne hath ingrost much Fame, Wealth, and Reputation from the prevalent potencie of their Attractive Ale’.*

Part of that potency related to the health of one’s nether regions, specifically kidney stones. In The Art of Longevity, or, A Diæteticall Instition by Edmund Gayton (1608-1666) we read this passage:

What is ale good for? look against his doors,
And you shall see them rotted with ale-showrs:
It hath this speciall commendation,
To cleanse the ureter, and break the Stone:
Just as a feather-bed the flint doth break,
So th’ other stone your North-down-ale alike…

The author Gayton appears to have been Oxford educated as well as both an accomplished writer as well as a medical man. This work was published in 1659 and is described by the wiki-mind as “a verse description of the wholesomeness or otherwise of various foods.” The passage above is in chapter eight, “Of Ale”. There are chapters on wine as well as meath or metheglin and also beer:

Beer is a hop remov’d from ale, the hop
from a damn’d weed is a common crop…

I like the date of that work. That is two years before 1661’s publication in Wit and Drollery, Joviall Poems: Corrected and much amended, with Additions by the well known coded duo “Sir I. M. Ia. S” and “Sir W. D. I. D.” and the fabulous poem “On the Praise of Fat Men” in which we have the lovely lines which I only saw in a footnote before offering other healthful (or perhaps health-related) properties:

But now, for rules before we eat,
And how to chuse right battning meat,
For spoon-meat, barly-broth and jelly,
Very good is for the belly.
For mornings draught your north-down-ale**
Will make you oylely as a Whale;
But he that will not out flesh wit
Must at the good Canary sit;
For ’tis a saying very fine
Give me the fat mans wit in wine…

And, again, Northdown ale is the drink of the great and good. With a health related effect if not benefit. And, like those 1620s letters seeking September ale or beer for the Sir Horace Vere’s English delegation to the Netherlands, there are letters from Finch family files seeking shipments of Northdown to be sent to Constantinople in the 1670s where Sir John Finch was stationed as ambassador of England to the Ottoman Empire.

It is clear that in at least the second two-thirds of the 1600s, Northdown existed as one of a number of ales of note. It seems to transition into or also be known concurrently as “Margate” ale. This is perhaps due to that town expanding into and absorbing the neighbouring village of Northdown. It is now just a district next to Margate’s town centre. It could also be that Northdown ales were shipped from Margate to London. The article in The Athenaeum from 1865, mentioned above, also links the name change to the death of the brewer and land owner named John Prince whose Northdown was prized in the 1680s or at least until his death in 1687. Could he have been the brewer of the ales reported back in 1636? Maybe but unlikely.

“Margate” hangs on as a descriptor of ale longer than most of its 1600s classmates mainly through the long success of Cobb’s Brewery. A brewery appears to have operated at the site from no later than the first decade of the 1700s. Cobb brewed there from 1760 through to the early 1800s when it owned 53 public houses and three farms and, then, for many decades thereafter. A second local brewery owned by the family from 1808 had a circular brew house. As The London Gazette of 11 October 1892 indicates, it returned to sole proprietorship from the 1890s to the 1937 when FM Cobb died in his 90s. The brewery sold Margate stout in the mid-1900s. The National Archive listings indicate that the sizable Cobb empire generated brewery records right up to 1967 right around when Whitbread bought it and shut it.

The term “Margate ale” is also used generically into the nineteenth century including in 1866’s Passages from the auto-biography of a “man of Kent” on the life of Robert Cowtan. It also appears in the 1869 book Mrs. Brown in London by one Arthur Sketchley. And if you click on the image to the right you will see a passage from  1871’s publication Lectures on the Principles and Practice of Physic as delivered at King’s College, London by Sir Thomas Watson in, likely, the 1830s. Like Gayton above, his fellow medical professional counterpart of two centuries before, no dummy. Later in life, a physician to Queen Victoria. And note that the “cure” he is speaking of, the thing that he cannot discount Margate ale helping with, is abdominal tumours. Jings. Could it really do that? Perhaps it just couldn’t hurt.

As noted, Northdown and Margate stood with other great ales. Consider this poem “The Praise of Hull Ale” which is unfortunately from a Victorian anthology from 1888, In Praise of Ale. The poems follows other that are more Elizabethan than Stuart but follows with the notation “here is a Yorkshire song of the same period, minus a few necessary excisions“! So, no promise that this is not a botched improvement on a more interesting original. Beware! That being said, note the range of beverages described in this most generous cutting and pasting.

Let’s wet the whisde of the muse
That sings the praise of every juice
This house affords for mortal use;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s ale of Hull, which, ’tis well known,
Kept King and Keyser out of town,
Now it will never hurt the Crown;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s Lambeth ale to cool the maw.
And beer as spruce as e’er you saw,
But mum as good as man can draw;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s scholar that has doft his gown,
And donn’d his cloak and come to town.
Till all’s up, drunk his college down;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s North down, which in many a case
Pulls all the blood into the face.***
Which blushing is a sign of grace;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s that by some bold brandy hight,
Which Dutchmen use in case of fright.
Will make a coward for to fight;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s China ale surpaaseth far
What Munden vents at Temple Bar,
‘Tis good for lords’ and ladies’ ware;
Which nobody can deny.

Here’s of Epsom will not fox
You more than what’s drawn from the cocks
Of Nuddleton yet cures smallpox;
Which nobody can deny.

For ease of heart, here’s that will do’t,
A liquor you may have to boot.
Invites you or the devil to’t;
Which nobody can deny.

That’s a quite a list. A list showing a wide variety of something that looks a lot like styles – and our darling Sammy Pepys drank it all. A quick search via Lord Goog for various phrases in his diary shows he records drinking Lambeth Ale on at least 8, 10 and 12 June 1661 as well as 27 April 1663. He had Northdown ale on 27 August and 13 September in 1660 as well as 1 January 1660/61. Margate ale is mentioned on 7 May, 27 August and 26 October in 1660. He had Hull Ale on 4 November 1660. He also had Derby ale and China ale. There are many references to Mum, buttered ale, wormwood ale. Bottled beer, too. In fact, he complains on 23 May 1666 of an eye ailment due to “my late change of my brewer, and having of 8s. beer.” A man of wide and varied taste. Notice, however, that there are no references to March ale or October ale according to the Google search. Is that correct? Maybe these were old fashioned labels by the 1660s.

Lambeth. Let’s look at this ale as a last consideration. We’ve written a bit about Hull ale before so, yes, let’s look at Lambeth. Well… except that in the 1670s the poet Andrew Marvel in his side gig as Member of Parliament for the city of Hull wrote a fair bit back to the municipal corporation about the taxation of beer. But set that aside. Let’s look at Lambeth. One problem as Martyn mentioned over at Facebook: “It’s a bit of a mystery where Lambeth Ale was actually brewed.” If you click on that image you will see one reason why. It’s a map from the 1720 edition of Stow and Strype – and even at that time Lambeth was mainly filled with fields and physically distinct from the actual City of London. Consider this painting from the 1680s by F.W. Smith. Open grounds down to the Thames sit all around Lambeth Palace, London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Where’s the brewery?

Perhaps it will help to discuss what Lambeth isn’t. First, it isn’t a brewing scene that seems to continue. As I mentioned in the Locke post the other day, Lambeth is noted in a 1939 book Prices and Wages in England**** covering 1500 to 1900 but it was specified as a type of beer in 1708. The references to Lambeth are found in relationship to Lord Steward’s accounts, royal court records of ale and beer purchases from the late 1600s through the 1700s. Lambeth ends in 1708 in one sense because there is no equivalent of the Cobb family as in Margate that continues and builds upon a 1600s legacy well into the 1800s. Lambeth did have later great breweries in the 1800s including the joint stock British Ale Brewery of 1807 on Church Street to the south of the palace and the Red Lion Brewery built on the site of the Belvedere pleasure gardens in the 1830s but there seems to be no continuity to the use of the words “Lambeth ale” in the 1600s.

“Lambeth ale” is also not a euphemism for London beer. Lambeth ale was brought into London itself. Lambeth is not only physically distinct,***** it is purposefully distinct. It is the ecclesiastical centre. In the 1670s it sits in view of Westminster, seat of secular power both royal and Parliamentary, to the north and across the river. London had its own brewers who we have discussed before. There is the brewing at dodgy and somewhat inland Golden Lane near Cripplegate that extended from the medieval to the Nazi bombings including the Golden Lane brewery of the 1700s. There is also beer to be bought from John Reynonds of London as the Hudson Bay Company did in the 1670s. The City of London itself had its own contemporary brewers separate and distinct from those of Lambeth.

So “Lambeth” is not a fuzzy euphemism for brewing in and around London. It is not Lambeth Hill. Lambeth proper is a bit upriver. Cleaner water. Charles II swam there. And you might think spiritually purer, too. This is an odd thing. Lambeth of the last third of the 1600s seems to have a spicy reputation… though perhaps where in London didn’t. It is the era just after the Restoration of the monarchy as well as the time of the restoration of London after the Great Fire of 1666. The end of Puritanism. In The Journal of Brewery History 135 (2010) we find the article, “Women, Ale and Company in Early Modern London” by Tim Reinke-Williams we learn about a ballad from around 1680, Five Merry wives of Lambeth, which tells how Sarah, Sue, Mary, Nan and Nell “lov’d good Wine, good Ale, and eke good chear” which beings with and is subtitled:

Five wanton wives at Lambeth liv’d I hear which lov’d good wine, good ale, and eke good chear, and something in a corner they would take for which they went abroad to merry make and what they did, if you will but draw near the full conclusion you shall quickly hear. 

Wanton! Deary me. Bawdy maybe lower class lewd encounters! It was a multi-purpose zone. In 1648, Parliament placed a garrison and prison in Lambeth House which they also used as a prison. With the Restoration, came the rebuilding of Lambeth Palace as viewed by Pepys in 1665 but still he went there to gypsy fortune-tellers in 1668. Vauxhall Gardens were also newly developed nearby during that same decade. There was a tavern with ale and, err, bawdy upper class lewd encounters.

So, at this point, a couple of ideas strike me. Lambeth ale may be multi-sourced ale from the zone of sauciness well known to those in London. Think Coney Island.  It could actually, on the other hand, be ale brewed in connection to the Palace. Could it be there are either brewing accounts or brewing records confirming if the Archibishop was a buyer or seller of ale? It could, of course, be something else. Who knows? Stuff for the comments and future posts.

Let’s go back to Locke. In this post all I have done is unpacked and organized what he called “ale for sale” – the 1600s English ales with a city in the title. Two things happen soon thereafter. Things change and, if we obey chronology, things that were not likely anticipated. Burton and porter. Behemoth and Leviathan. Brewing at a greater scale and at an industrial pace is coming with the new century.

——–

Your footnotes attached to today’s reading:

*from John Taylor’s book, The honorable, and memorable foundations, erections, raisings, and ruines, of divers cities, townes, castles, and other pieces of antiquitie, within ten shires and counties of this kingdome namely, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey, Barkshire, Essex, Middlesex, Hartfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire: with the description of many famous accidents that have happened, in divers places in the said counties. Also, a relation of the wine tavernes either by their signes, or names of the persons that allow, or keepe them, in, and throughout the said severall shires, Printed for Henry Gosson, London, 1636.

**Do you see the common problem for the poor amateur beer historian? In each case it is spelled “N/north-down-ale” and not Northdown ale. That’s the real curse of the digital era, Lord Good’s lack of lateralism consideration.

***So, keeping score, it flushes the face full of grace, gets you oily as a whale and breaks down kidney stones.

****Reader Brian Welch was kind enough to scan a few pages from a copy at a library at Harvard.
It appears that after the restoration of Charles II, accounts of expenditures were required if Parliament was to pay for them. Which is why the records mainly begin in 1659. They continue to 1812 and include all beer and ale stored in the palace butteries Pretty good record. They include “bonfire ale” which is ales for bonfires which may be public event where the royals pay for the ale as opposed for ales for the royal households themselves.

*****One traveled to Lambeth. Pepys got there by coach, by horse and by boat and even by foot over the ice.  It was “near” rather than “here” for those describing it in the late 1600s.

A 1679 Classification Of Beer By John Locke


To the right you will see a passage from The Life of John Locke from 1876 that includes a quotation from a letter written by the philosopher in 1679. These is plenty to unpack from the passage but for present purposes I want to consider the bits about beer as it provides an excellent means to understand what I have been slowly exploring in that distant century.

Locke organizes English beer under three high level categories: (1) home-made, (2) for sale, and (3) compound. These are the broken down further by sub-categories or examples. Home-made is beer and ale as well as strong and small. Those brewed for sale are illustrated by Lambeth ale, Margate ale and Derby ale. Compound ales are described by an open ended list: cock, wormwood, lemon, scurvygrass and College ales are followed by an “etc.” There is also a single example of an import, Mum.

Home-made strong would include the familiar forms March and October brewed in big houses – as well as that newly pesky thing called September. The sort of propertied folk who might have a copy of the 1668 edition of A Way To Get Wealth where the two classes are called March and ordinary. By at the latest the mid-1700s they are joined by the massive ales for the heir of a great estate reaching the age of majority. While Locke might not be a customer himself, home-made strong and small would also include ale house beers of the sort mocked in the early 1600s poem on Elynour Rummyng.

Beers for sale are a familiar form we have seen before. Big ales shipped along the coast like Hull ale, Margate or Northdown ale, Derby ale and Nottingham ale are all familiar names from seventeenth century records. Lambeth ale is interesting. Pete Brown in his first book Man Walks Into A Pub stated (at page 77):

I’m not sure what’s special about Lambeth in the ale stakes, but Samuel Pepys used to swear by it, and he knew his ale.

Two years ago, I wrote about brewing at Lambeth in the early 1800s but that was a new facility, not from what I can see any continuation of earlier brewing at that site. And I don’t see Martyn discussing 1600s Lambeth in his book Amber, Gold & Black or on his website. Nothing at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins either. As you can see to the right, Lambeth ale is recorded in Beverages’ 1939 book Prices and Wages in England covering 1500 to 1900 but he notes at page 397 that he last sees it being specified as a type of beer in 1708.

Interesting to note that Burton is not listed by Locke. This confirms that Burton ale, as suspected, was not shipped until the improvement to the river in or just before 1712. You will see in that same page just above from Beverage’s research that Burton is noted as a specific ale starting in 1713. Neato chronology-wise.

What Locke calls compound ales is the most interesting aspect of his categorizations as it seems to include brewing that includes an odd ingredient like scurvygrass ale along with beers made for specific functions like College ale. One possibility is that College ale has an odd ingredient. We may have seen this before in the case of Coppinger’s early 1800s description of Dorchester Ale. It seems to turn on the inclusion of ginger and cinnamon. We have also seen in the early 1600s that English sailors off Newfoundland added the juices of bruised herbs to make medicinal tonic beers. Functional adjunct-laced brewing. It’s not much discussed from my reading but Locke clearly considered it of significant enough a status to include it.

The beauty of the passage is it provides a construct, a “conceit” if I recall my seventeenth century lit class correctly. The classification of things was a thing that either Plutarchan or Senacan essayists were up to and Locke gives us a bit of that usefully for the beer he saw around himself. It also sets a benchmark for consideration of the great changes in British brewing that come in the 1700s. I shall govern myself accordingly.

 

September Ale And Beer And Then Sidetracked In The 1600s



September ale. You will recall a few days ago I wondered what it was. I still am. If you look back you to that post, will see a fairly early Victorian, Walter Thornbury, in 1856 painting a fairly ripe picture of an Elizabethan manor in which the stuff is mentioned. Above snippet references September beer, not ale. It is from a summary of the Vere and Holles Papers recorded in the fabulously named Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, Volume 13, Part 2 published by Great Britain’s Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts in 1893. The first “same” above was Francis Wrenham while the second is Lady Vere. She is the wife of Sir Horace Vere, and Wrenham was their secretary / staffer of sorts. These 1620s letters are not unlike that of Issac Bobin to his master of 6 September 1720. Sir Horace was on business in Holland on behalf of the Earl of Southampton at the time. AKA people of note. It meant something. But what?*

My first instinct – that “these September thingies must be something” – is quickly and deeply dented. Little or no other references to chase. Probably it’s likely whatever was in the barrel rolled out then, maybe noted for its strength… perhaps. Then I realized something else. I started nosing around the RRCHM, vol 13(2) and just searching for references to “ale” and “beer” in themselves. Boom. Many references. Many. More for “hops” too.

What is this thing? It’s quite a remarkable bit of work to have been undertaken, especially for a public body. The Historical Manuscripts Commission (“HMC“) was established in 1869 to survey and report on privately owned and privately held records of general historical interest. In the early volumes, the records of government, universities and great houses are described. Consider just the index of RRCHM, vol 1 to get a sense of the scale of this project. A daunting yet tantalizing scale for anyone prone to search for words like “ale” or “beer” or “hops” in digital archive search engines.

Over 200 volumes were published before the project was discontinued in 2004. It’s full of amazing things. For example, in what I now affectionately call HMC13.2, we find the text of a travel diary related to Thomas Baskerville’s jaunts around England in the 1680s. It’s full of images like this one at page 303:

As to the town of Winchcombe, when the castle had its lord, and the abbey its abbots and monks to spend the estates and income of both places here, then here was more to do that at present, yet the town for the bigness is very populous, and the people of it in their callings very dilligent to get their livings. Here in a morning at 4 o’clock I saw many women of the older sort smoking their pipes of tobacco and yet lost no time, for their fingers were all the while busy at knitting, and women carrying their puddings and bread to the bakehouse lose no time but knit by the way. Here also lives in this town an ingenious cooper or carpenter who makes the best stoopers with a screw to wind up the vessel gently so that the liquor is little or nothing at all disturbed by that motion. We lay at the sign of the Bell, Mr. Houlet, a very respectful man our landlord, and his wife, who gave us very good entertainment, and seldom fail of good ale, for they have very good water in their well. They keep market here on Saturdays and have afair on St. Mark’s day and another on the 17 of July to which many good horses are brought to be sold.

We learn from Baskerville at HMC13.2p266** that from Bury to Beccles the “country afl’ords good and well tasted beer and ale, both in barrels and bottles” as well as, immediately after, how a man plowed with two horses “with great dexterity, turning very nimbly at the land’s end.” March beer is mentioned twice, once near Faringdon in Oxfordshire (“strong march beer”) and again at Pumfret or Pontefract 18 miles from York. But not September. Ale or beer. In Gloucester, Baskerville met one Langhorne, the keeper of the prison who “entertained us kindly and gave us good ale.” He also noted:

The best wines to drink in Gloucester are canary, sherry, white wine, for we neither drank nor heard of any good claret in town, but Gloucester surpasses this city for all sorts, where not long before we drank excellent canary, sherry, and claret, canary 2 shillings, sherry 1s. 8d., claret 1s. as good as in London, but for cyder and ale Gloucester doth surpass Worcester, for here we had excellent red-streak*** for 6d. a quart, and good ale 2d. a flagon. Here the people are wise and brew their own ale, not permitting public brewers; for curiosity of trades seldom found in other towns, here are 2 or 3 hornmakers that make excellent ware of that kind, viz. :— clear horns for drinking, powder-horns, ink-horns, crooks, and heads for staves, hunter’s horns, and other things.

It goes on. One town is praised for the clear well that makes the ale while the next is flagged for its brackish water. Note to file: be wary of the Three Cranes inn at Doncaster even if Charles stayed there. Brackish spring. Plus, at a groat a flagon, it’s twice the price of Gloucester ale.  Now, consider one last image, this of harvestime in Kent from 1680 at HMC13.2p280**:

And now to speak a little in general of Kent. It is one of the best cultivated counties of any in England, and great part of my way that I went being through delicious orchards of cherries, pears, and apples, and great hop gardens. In husbandry affairs they are very neat, binding up all sorts of grain in sheaves; they give the best wages to labourers of any in England, in harvest giving 4 and 5 shillings for an acre of wheat and 2s. a day meat and drink, which doth invite many stout workmen hither from the neighbouring country to get in their harvest. So that you shall find, especially on Sundays, the roads full of troops of workmen with their scythes and sickles, going to the adjacent town to refresh themselves with good liquor and victuals…

Fabulous. You can imagine the packed dusty road taken from field to alehouse. And this all, of course, also presents a problem. This is the September of my fifty fifth year. Do I have time to go off doing this word searching and rearranging of information to present a deeper expression of the later end of the early modern English relationship with brewing and all its facets? Yet, it might explain what September in fact means. And what else do I have to do? What indeed.

*Update: a play in 1614 also includes a reference to “September beer” in Act Three as you will see if you click to the left. The full text of The Hog Hath Lost His Pearl can be found here. Again, like the letter of a decade later, people seeing the play knew the reference meant something. But what?
**I have immediately fallen deeply in love my new code for citation so get used to it.
***Redstreak

Session 127: Autumn’s Here, What To Drink?

Alistair has asked us to write about Oktoberfest beers for this edition of The Session but, like others, I like in a fairly sparsely serviced area. Boak and Bailey faced a similar problem and tried to see if there was a modern British equivalent. Sadly, they concluded not. But if we look back perhaps there was. This passage below is from a book titled Art and Nature at Home and Abroad From 1856:

September ale. Hmm. What was this stuff? The slaves to style will no doubt tell us that because it hasn’t been listed in the BJCP guide now it never really existed then. But as we have learned from archival brewings like Taunton ale, mid-1850s New York brewed IPA or cream beer we see again and again that the people of the past weren’t stupid and that sorts of beer labeled as this or that met the expectations of those drinking them.

The problem is not so much determining if it was as what it was. I have to admit a few things. I am writing this on an iPad mini and, while I co-wrote two books on it between laptop deaths, it is slow going. Plus I am in the middle of moving the kid into college. Perhaps another has already unpacked it. Dunno yet. So with the promise of a future exploration – let me suggest that what it tastes like, if the passage above is to be believed, is what Keats described in his poem. Autumn.

 

When Steam Was King… It Was Common

Two years ago – well, 23 months ago, I wrote a brief passing thing about the concept of “steam” beer in a post about another thing, cream ale, but given this week’s sale of Anchor, makers of steam beer who proudly proclaim they are San Francisco Craft brewers since 1896,  to an evil dark star in the evil dark galaxy of international globalist beverage corporations, I thought it worth repeating and expanding slightly. Here is what I wrote:

Adjectives from another time. How irritating. I mentioned this the other day somewhere folk were discussing steam beer. One theory of the meaning is it’s a reference to the vapor from opening the bottle. Another says something else. Me, I think it’s the trendy word of the year of some point in the latter half of the 1800s. Don’t believe me? Just as there were steam trains and steamships, there were steam publishers. In 1870 there was a steam printer in New Bedford, Massachusetts. A steam printer was progress. Steam for a while there just meant “technologically advanced” or “the latest thing” in the Gilded Age. So steam beer is just neato beer. At a point in time. In a place. And the name stuck. That’s my theory.

And here is what I would like to add. To the right is a news item from the Albany Gazette of 10 March 1814. As I have looked around records from the 18o0s for example of the use of “steam” I describe above, I found this one describing a steam battery both early and entertaining. I assumed on first glance that this was some sort of power storage system. In fact it is for a barge loaded with cannon. 32 pounder cannon which are rather large cannon indeed. Well, all cannon are large if they are pointed at you I suppose but in this case they are significant. For the nationalist vexiologists amongst you, I can confirm that the proposed autonomously propelled barge system of cannon delivery was reported six months before the Battle of Baltimore. Were they part of the sea fencibles? Suffice it to say, as with steam publishing and steam train engines you had steam based warfare by battle barge.

Next – and again to the right – is a notice placed in the New York Herald on 11 September 1859 indicating that John Colgan was selling three grades of ale and perhaps three grades of porter after “having made arrangements with W.A. Livingston, proprietor of steam brewery…” This appears to be an example of contract brewing where Livingston owns the brewery and contract brews for the beer vendor, Colgan. Aside from that, it is a steam brewery. Livingston’s operation was listed in the 1860 Trow’s New York City Directory along with a number of other familiar great regional names in brewing such as Vassar, Taylor and Ballantine. And it lists over two pages a total of four steam breweries, including Livingston’s. Which makes it a common form of industry marketing.

“Steam” is quite venerable as a descriptor of technology. If you squint very closely at this full page of the Albany Register from 29 January 1798 you will see steam-jacks for sale. It is also a term that moved internationally. In the New York Herald for 15 September 1882, you see two German breweries named as steam breweries. And again in the Herald, in the 10 August 1880 edition to the right, we see the sale of the weiss brewery at 48 Ludlow Street details of which included a “steam Beer Kettle” amongst other things. One last one. An odd one. If you look at this notice from the Herald from 14 June 1894 you will see a help wanted ad seeking a “young man to bottle and steam beer.” Curious.

What does any of it mean? Well, steam beer and common might have a lot more to do with each other than the just the name of a style.

 

 

“…Uncompromised Beer That Is Marketed Locally…”

I post this by way of adjunct to a comment that I made in my post the last edition of The Session. In that post I stated that all beer is, as a result, properly understood as local and personal and that the ecology is small and getting smaller with the return to more naturally scaled micro and happy tap rooms. The comment even received Stan approval status… so there.

Happy, then, was I when came upon this passage quoted below in the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, 1989: Staplefoods : Proceedings, edited by Harlan Walker. It is actually footnote 30 to Appendix A to the chapter “Staple Foods of the American West Coast (A Semi-Historical Perspective; or, Cultural Change in Action)” by John Doerper.

Perhaps the best definition of “microbrewery” comes from Vince Cottone, Good Beer Guide, Breweries and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: Homestead Book Company, 1986, p.9. Cottone who prefers the term “Craft Brewery” describes this as

a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients to produce a handcrafted, uncompromised beer that is marketed locally.

Curiously, despite the supposed local distribution of these brews, supermarkets in the Northwest commonly stock many Californian “microbrews” while California carry virtually no Northwestern beers.

My first observation was that we are back to that spot here 28 years later, back to beer “that is marketed locally‘ if we think of the current resurrection of the taproom. But then I looked at the other elements: small, handcrafted, etc. Other than the word “traditional” in the era of every twig and leaf being shoved in a brew pot, it seems to fit. Sweet to note, however, that how in 1989 interstate distribution was already creating inequality and bending the meaning of local.

So, is “that is marketed locally” an idea that could be returned to now that big craft and macro are merging, mating or in a battle to the death? It would be a bit hard for many to track given that the forces that peddle national craft and throw about the junkets are hardly going to speak in favour of it. But as consumers, is this a standard we should return to – one to insist upon?

Once we’ve done that, perhaps we can clarify what local means, too. The 100 mile diet sort of local? As far as a truck can drive in 48 hours local? Here in Ontario, getting to a definition with some semblance of reality is a problem. By common parlance and perhaps trade association politics, the entire 1.076 million km² is local unto itself. I suspect in a place like Portland, Oregon local might not even include the whole city.

“Style” In Its Early Pre-Jacksonian Form

This label got me thinking. Its one of those old labels you see floating around the internets in places like this. But look at that pesky little word “style” sitting there in the loop of the beer. I am informed that the label is from 1914. About six years ago, I asked what it was exactly that Jackson meant when he first wrote about style back in 1977. I think today I am wondering why we think Jackson first used the word style as it relates to beer. Interestingly, I think the use on the label and the use by Jackson in 1977 are very closely related.

Hmm.  A few more examples for your cogitations:

Imperial, Yes, But Cream Ale Was Also Light As Well As…

The more I get into the records referencing cream in 1800s New York brewing, the more obvious it is that the term was pervasive. It illustrates excellently, as a result, how branding existed independent of those claims to copyright we suffer from today. In law, there is an excellent and better word for such stuff that applies as much now as then – puffery. Claims made as to quality that are never ever really expected to be challenged. Look at that ad from the Jewish Daily News of 30 November 1916 again. Imperial Cream Ale. Is that the same as the Imperial Cream Ale of the Taylors of Albany from the early 1830s to the late 1860s? Or is the cream just a puff?

That image to the upper right? It’s a part of a column in the Plattsburg Republican from 21 August 1858 entitled “Items: or Crumbs for all kinds of
Chickens.” Is that puffery? Seems a bit more than that. Cream beer is being lumped into a class: non-intoxicating drinks. Sounds like a bit of a vague concept but at the same time the courts in New York State were struggling with the same term as it related to lager and the wider issues related to acceptance of the German immigrant wave in the middle third of the 1800s.

The book De Witt’s Connecticut Cook Book, and Housekeeper’s Assistant from 1871 includes these two recipes, one after the other, on page 100. The first for “common beer” has yeast added, the second, for “cream beer” doesn’t. Is “cream” then code for no alcohol? When I was a kid out east in Nova Scotia, one of my favourite things was cream soda. There were two types as I recall. Pink or clear. Pink was like drinking candy floss. Clear was like drinking candy floss… but was not pink. I hated pink cream soda. I was a clear cream soda man. Crush, if you have it… but only in Canada. Pop… soda… soda pop… was a class of soft drink that morphed out of beer. In the 1850s you could speak of California Pop Beer. In the 1830s you could speak of the Lemon Beer of Schenectady. In the excellent short book Soft Drinks – Their Origins and History by Colin Emmins, small beer is described as a progenitor of British soft drinks along with spa waters, syrupy uncarbonated cordials and that favourite of George III, plain barley water. [Continuum. Perhaps continua.] Consider the simple lemon…

The earliest English reference to lemonade dates from the publication in 1663 of The Parson’s Wedding, described by a friend of Samuel Pepys as ‘an obscene, loose play’, which had been first performed some years earlier. The drink seems to have come to England from Italy via France. Such lemonade was made from freshly squeezed lemons, sweetened with sugar or honey and diluted with water to make a still soft drink. 

It appears that 1660s lemonade plus small beer could be a cause of that fancy 1830s upstate NY lemon beer. Could be. There would be other intermediaries and antecedents. Think of how the sulfurous spas of Staffordshire in the late 1600s, saw the invention a drink introduced the local hard to swallow spa water into their beer brewing. Is this how it works? Isn’t that how life works?

When you consider all that, I am brought back to how looking at beer through the lens of “style” ties language to technique a bit too tightly for my comfort. The stylist might suggest that in 1860, this brewery brewed an XX ale and in 1875 that brewery brewed an XX ale so they must be some way some how the same thing. I would quibble in two ways. Fifteen years is a long time in the conceptual instability of beer and, even if the two beers were contemporaries, a key point for each brewery was differentiation. The beers would not be the same even if they were similar.

Layered upon this is the fact that “style” is an idea really fixed somewhere in the 1980s after Jackson’s original expression which was altered in the years that followed. The resulting implications are important given how one must obey chronology. This means if (i) Jackson’s 1970s “classics and cloning” idea didn’t last more than ten years until (ii) the more familiar “corner to corner classification” concept comes into being then the application of “style” to brewing prior to the 1970s (if not 1990) is also a challenging if not wonky practice. Brewers brew to contemporary conventions even though they are but points in a fluid continuum. You can’t conform to an idea that doesn’t yet exist.

All About Beer published the article “How Cream Ale Rose: The Birth of Genesee’s Signature” by Tom Acitelli on 17 August 2015 which, as we can see above, contains an origins narrative for cream ale which (though very condensed so somewhat unfair to parse) is now really not all that sustainable:

Cream ale is one of the very few beer styles born and raised in the United States. Predating Prohibition, the style grew up as a response to the pilsners flooding the market via immigrant brewers from Central Europe. Cream ales were generally made with adjuncts such as corn and rice to lighten the body of what would otherwise end up as a thicker ale; brewers also fermented and aged them at temperatures cooler than normal for ales.

I think I am good until to the word “the” in the second sentence after the comma. If style can be applied to the concept at all, cream ales at best probably represented styles. They were not a response to pilsners as they predate Gillig and were in mass production happily in their own right though the mid- and latter 1800s. They became made with “adjuncts such as corn and rice to lighten the body” but so did ales as our recreation of Amdell’s 1901 Albany XX Ale illustrated. The last sentence may well be fine.

BUT! – now notice the gem of a wee factual trail actually setting out as the specific origin of Genesee Cream Ale as related to Acitelli:

His father and grandfather, a German immigrant, had been brewers in Belleville, Illinois, about 15 miles southeast of St. Louis. Bootleggers had approached his father, in fact, about brewing during Prohibition, but he demurred. Clarence Geminn himself was completely dedicated to the craft, according to his son, a fourth-generation brewer. “Saturday and Sunday he would go into check on things,” Gary Geminn told AAB from his home in Naples, New York. “Summer picnics had to wait until the afternoon; any outing had to wait.” As for the exact formula behind his father’s most enduring beer, no one’s talking—obviously not the brewery itself, nor did the beer’s progenitor.

Mid-west Germans? Now that starts sounding more like the parallel universe of cream beer than cream ale. Does its DNA include Germans moving to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, then on inland into Kentucky in the early 1800s then into the Mid-West later that century only to back track to upstate NY by the mid-1900s? Can we draw that line? Either to connect or perhaps delineate? Maybe we need to be prepared to do both if we are seeking to understand events prior to the point of conceptual homogeneity that is achieved with the crystallization of style when MJ meets what becomes the BA.

As for cream? It’s a lovely word. So many meanings. So many useful applications. So many more leads to follow.

Saison: 3 Farmhouse Saison, County Road Beer Co., PEC

I am not exactly sure of this beer’s name. In its fullest, it is County Road 3 Farmhouse Saison. And it is a saison made out in a farming district. But as it is made by County Road Beer Co. of my wonderful nearby neighbouring wine region, Prince Edward County, I will just call it “3” entirely out of endearment. Careful readers will recall how I visited the site of its brewing almost two years ago just as the concrete for the brew house floor was being poured. For some months now, their saison has appeared in the government store.

You know, it must be horrible to be a saison. Of all the classes of beer, saison is the one which still illustrates the original meaning given to the concept of “style” by Michael Jackson.

There are certain classical examples within each group, and some of these have given rise to generally-accepted styles, whether regional or international. If a brewer specifically has the intention of reproducing a classical beer, then he is working within a style. If his beer merely bears a general similarity to others, then it may be regarded as being of their type…

Saison sits weighed under by the classic example, Saison DuPont. Cursed by it. Blessed by it. Luckily I have my New Years Eve 2005 notes to remind me of the particular tyrannical slavery I must subsume myself, my experience under each and every time I encounter any other beer claiming affiliation to the style:

Saison Dupont: 8 pm. New Years In Scotland has come. Very nice. Rich and round with masses of dry palt malt. Lively antique gold ale under replenishing white foam. Fruitier on the nose than in the mouth. There is a pronounced graininess to the malt with only the slightest nod to pear fruit perhaps. The yeast is slightly soured milky. There is hop which is dry, twiggy or maybe even straw-like because it is not like twigginess of Fuggles, devoid of English green or German steel.

Most importantly, the note is date stamped. This couldn’t have been the 42 year old me’s first Hogmanay drink. Likely already wobbly. Still, it’s interesting that I describe what I wasn’t tasting. Spare, dry stuff saison. Yum.

Saison can be horribly mistreated. Somewhere in the archives I have yet to bring over to this new system, I note that I had a saison which was sweet and fruity. In 2010, I wroteI feel bad about pouring that Three Floyds saison down the drain but it really was poorly thought out…” For me, that is usually the case when saisons go wrong – when many beers go bad, in fact. Blame the original designer. But if saison is hamstrung by the ghost of brewing past, shackled by its own classic example, is it possible that saison designers have less wiggle room? Does this cause the accusations to fly more often? P’raps.

How does this one stand up? It pours an attractive golden pinewood with orange hues. Clouded and effervescent. All under a growing stiff egg white head. It gives off aromas of bubblegum, white grapefruit pith and a bit of dry twiggy herb. Around the gums, the pith and twig come forward with French bread crumb laced with white pepper and a little parsley – then a little tweek of orange, a heart of cream of wheat, a nod to honey and dry lavender in the finish.

What is not to like? Only two BAers, one unhappy. Sadly style foolish as so many are.