Beer and Art: The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

Nosing around the Met‘s digitized collection a bit more, I came across “The Harvesters” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder from 1565. Not hard as it was on the front page. I have posted a few times about paintings by his son, the imaginatively named Pieter Bruegel the Younger, over the years but this one struck me as perhaps illustrating a few things worth thinking about.

Look at the scale of the people compared to the height of the grain. One of the characteristics of Battledore barley two hundred years later in Britain was that it had a short stalk. It could survive hail or wind better than other varieties but didn’t provide all that useful straw that we learned about in relation to beer in New York before the switch to barley from wheat. The stalk was in itself important to the community as a multi-purpose material for mattress stuffing to looser wheat mash spargings. In “The Harvesters” the stalks are tall and entire stooks* are taken from the field with care. The stooks are strong enough to serve as a bench for the workers having their meal.

Harvest time is big stuff. The image is a narrative of agricultural economy in the Renaissance. If you click on the image at the met site, you can zoom in quite closely. Look at how the topography is used to illustrate the economic activity. The field being harvested is on the top of a hill. Scythed and stooked, it is carried one by one to the bottom of the hill where it is loaded on a cart and carried away. There are three communities in the painting. The hilltop has a church to the upper left seen through the trees. Down below there is a manor of some sort where some are swimming while others are killing a tied up goose as a blood sport. In the far distance, there is a coastal town with ships in the harbour. Is one point of the painting’s structure that the grain gets exported?  Or is beer made from the grain getting shipped out?  I should cross reference the painting with Unger.

Where is this place? The blurb attached to the image by the Met says:

Bruegel’s series is a watershed in the history of western art. The religious pretext for landscape painting has been suppressed in favor of a new humanism, and the unidealized description of the local scene is based on natural observations.

But is this really a local scene or an imaginary one? Where is it? Bruegel lived in coastal Antwerp, Belgium a city of about 100,000 at the time and the richest in Europe. He was born in the river town of Breda, another community now in the Netherlands but then also in the Duchy of Brabant. Perhaps one of those two centres is in the background.  Could you find the field and stand where the artist stood?

But what about the beer? As one commentator notes, the scene is about producing and consuming. Or – if you are the goose – producing, torturing then consuming. The workers are eating bread and cheese as well as pears that one guy is shaking from the tree to the upper right. And they are drinking. A central character is a man carrying two large jugs up the path. Another man in the circle having a meal drinks directly from a jug. A fourth jug with what looks like a loaf of bread on top sits in the uncut wheat to the lower left.

We are told by Markowski that saison and biere de garde were brewed for centuries in the Low Countries and northern France to attract and retain workers. Farmhouse beers. The scene in “The Harvesters” is smack-dab in the middle of that culture, in the saison zone that included Brabant. Unger explains that particularly in the sixteenth century, tax records indicate a wide number of names for various grades of beer: “… dun and scheynbier and volksbier and scharbier and scherbier all turn up. No matter the name, it was always cheap.”** Was that what was in the jugs? We can’t reach back to ask those in the picture what they called their drink or even if it was in fact beer. But it could be and, frankly, likely was so… it is what it was. Day drinking 1565.

*I use the SW Ontario usage, spelling and pronunciation of the in-laws.
**at page 129.

The Steelyard, Stillyard, Stylyard and Spelling

hans1561map1633sm

Ah, the Hanseatic League. I posted about the Hanseatic League earlier this year, pointing out how it was likely the conduit for the first introduction of hopped beer into England – and, by implication, not the Dutch. I think that might be the case for no other reason that the Dutch were introduced to hopped beer by shipments from the Hanseatic League, the Renaissance corporate port towns of the Baltic which had that handy corporate navy with corporate cannon to enforce its idea of open trade.

Renaissance and Elizabethan brewing and drinking in England is particularly interesting as the period ties a lot of later things together…. or founds them… or whatever. For example, Hull was a 1600s brewing town that also was a Hanseatic depot. Hull ale was a contemporary of Northdown as being a premium drink in London in second half of the 1600s. It’s a coastal ale of the sort that governs until the canals reach deeper into the countryside releasing the odd sulfurous and maybe hoppier beers of Burton in Staffordshire upon the national and international market. Like the railways in the mid-1800s Ontario that gave rural Labatt and Carling the opportunity to explode out into the world, England’s canals of the early 1700s also placed brewing at scale nearer the grain fields, likely cutting out middlemen and displacing premium coastal brewing perhaps by undermining existing price. Theory. Working theory.

What was displaced was the model set by the Hanseatic League. Renaissance Hamburg was the greatest brewing center in the history of beer – 42% of the workforce was involved in brewing. The Hanseatic depot at King’s Lynn still stands, one of the branch locations of Hanseatic activity. London was the Kontor with its headquarters of import / export operation located just west of London Bridge on the north shore of the Thames where Cannon Street station now stands. One of the coolest thing is that there have basically been two owners of that site since perhaps 1250 as the vestigial Hanseatic League interests in Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg sold it to the South-Eastern Railway Company in 1852. The presence of the Hanseatic League cannot be minimized at the critical point in the 1400s. Consider this passage from 1889’s bestseller The Hansa Towns by Helen Zimmern. It has a certain ripe Victorian style but does explain things like this:

Nor was London by any means their only depôt. It was the chief, but they also had factories in York, Hull, Bristol, Norwich, Ipswich, Yarmouth, Boston, and Lynn Regis. Some mention of them is found in Leland’s “Itinerary.” Under an invitation to the Hanseatics to trade with Scotland we find the name honoured in legend and song of William Wallace. In John Lydgate’s poems we also meet with our Hanseatics. In relating the festivities that took place in London city on the occasion of the triumphal entry of Henry VI, who had been crowned king at Paris some months previously, the poet narrates how there rode in procession the Mayor of London clad in red velvet, accompanied by his aldermen 196 and sheriffs dressed in scarlet and fur, followed by the burghers and guilds with their trade ensigns, and finally succeeded by a number of foreigners.

“And for to remember of other alyens,
Fyrst Jenenyes (Genoese) though they were strangers,
Florentynes and Venycyens,
And Easterlings, glad in her maneres,
Conveyed with sergeantes and other officeres,
Estatly horsed, after the maier riding,
Passed the subburbis to mete withe the kyng.”

A love of pomp and outward show was indeed a characteristic of the Hanseatics in England who thus perchance wished to impress upon the natives a sense of their wealth.

Henry IV was crowned the King of England in 1399. Hanseatic League ambassadors are in the procession when he enters London for the first time. They are somebodies. And they are powerful. They had a wee war with England from 1469-74… and won entrenching their right to trade. Hopped beer was not introduced to England by a few straggling sailors showing up at a few coastal towns. It was brought along – even imposed perhaps – by a massive commercial and military complex. Let’s look at some maps at how the Hansa QH has been described:

hans1561map1633lg

hanselizmap1720

hanslondon1667

 

 

 

 

The illustration to the left is a detail of the 1633 reprint of the 1561 Agas map. You can see the location of London’s Hanseatic Steelyard in blue to the west of London Bridge. Above way at the top of the text is a much finer detail of the site. Notice it is referred to as the “Stylyarde.” In the middle is a 1720s map of Elizabethan London. Notice the site is now referred to as the “Stillyard.” And to the right is a diagram of the site of the Steelyard itself in this case called the “Stahlhofes” – as it was in 1667 according to a late 1800s German atlas. So, we have four ways of spelling the name of the site. Which means that each needs to be run through the dark Satanic
research mills if we are going to have an idea of what’s going on. In a note to the discussion of John Stow‘s Survey of London (editions from 1598 to 1603), British History Online has an extended discussion in a footnote on the variously described Stillyard / Steelyard / Stilliard / Stelehouse / Steleyard which states that there was a trade presence from Cologne there as early as 1157. It also indicates that the German version Stahlhof that appears rather early on means a stall hall – a marketplace. Stow himself describes the site and operations at length in his narrative map of London including the following:

Next to this lane, on the east, is the Steelyard, as they term it, a place for merchants of Almaine, that used to bring hither as well wheat, rye, and other grain, as cables, ropes, masts, pitch, tar, flax, hemp, linen cloth, wainscots, wax, steel, and other profitable merchandises.

Interestingly, as Stow notes, past the intervening church, near the Steelyard in Haywharf Lane in the late 1500s there was a “great brew-house” operated in the past by Henry Campion and then by his son Abraham. Life in the district was… lively. In the poem by Isabella Whitney (1548–1573) “The Wyll and Testament of Isabella Whitney” we read the following:

At Stiliarde ſtore of Wines there bée,
your dulled mindes to glad:
And handſome men, that muſt not wed
except they leaue their trade.
They oft ſhal ſéeke for proper Gyrles,
and ſome perhaps ſhall fynde:
That neede compels, or lucre lures
to ſatiſfye their mind.

So, as we see on the image to the right, there is a wine house. I assumed it was a wholesale depot but it appears to be an Elizabethan retail party palace where lads and lassies mingle as they consider drink, lust and lucre. February 1582 government orders issued by the Privy Council to the Lord High Treasurer show the Stillyard being excused from certain taxation – right under another order allowing the export of 1,000 tuns of beer from London. Elizabethan brewing and trading at scale. You don’t hear about that often. Leaping ahead into the next century, Samuel Pepys, diarist and high government official, records a number of visits to the site in the 1660s. On Friday, 13 December 1661 he wrote:

…to the office about some special business, where Sir Williams both were, and from thence with them to the Steelyard, where my Lady Batten and others came to us, and there we drank and had musique and Captain Cox’s company, and he paid all, and so late back again home by coach, and so to bed.

On Monday 26 January 1662/63 he stated that he was “up and by water with Sir W. Batten to White Hall, drinking a glass of wormewood wine at the Stillyard… while on Sunday, 2 September 1666 he uses it as a location in his description of the Great Fire of London. Perhaps most gloriously, he gives us this image of a part of his day on Wednesday, 21 October 1663:

Thence, having my belly full, away on foot to my brother’s, all along Thames Streete, and my belly being full of small beer, I did all alone, for health’s sake, drink half a pint of Rhenish wine at the Still-yard, mixed with beer.

Rhenish mixed with beer. There’s a challenge to today’s sense of yum. Thankfully, he also drank Northdown and Hull so it was not all weird for Sammy. I am going to leave it there but to review, then, what we have seen is that the Hanseatic League was a massive trading partner which had a huge export trade in beer in the 1400s. It had a very significant governmental foothold in the middle of London which was recognized from at least 1399 to the 1660s as something to be reckoned with. The business presence stretched for 700 years from the 1150s to the 1850s. They ran a retail and entertainment hall of some sort exactly when beer is coming into England at the same time that they operate the largest brewing center in the world at Hamburg.

Suffice it to say, there is more to be found about the role of the Hanseatic League and the history of hopped beer in England. Does it support the rough overlapping sequence Haneastic hopped beer (say Hamburg and later Flemish 1300s to 1600s) => coastal hopped beer (like Hull and Northdown, say, late 1400s-1712) => canal based hopped beer (Burton after 1712)? Could be. Need to find out.

Is This One Way Big Craft Might Be Dying?

hansunger1

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.

Sad News Of A Beer Fan’s Passing Earlier This Summer

ckaI took down the little logo for the Cracked Kettle beer store in Amsterdam today. I removed it after getting an email advising that the shop closed a few months back and that owner Jeff Cunningham had died in June after a few months of terminal illness. Sad news. I never met Jeff but had worked with him now and again since the late fall of 2006. His shop paid for the ads in beer shipped to me and other writers then populating the blog as proof of how fine the service was. Knut, micro-famously, had to sit around waiting for a delivery and then got hit by the Norwegian tax man. They also sent care packages to me, to the States and to England, too. In 2008, Lars won a t-shirt from Cracked Kettle in the Christmas photo contest. Ah, for the days of free style happy go lucky beer blogging.

Jeff, along with partner Andy, ran a shop that struck me a something of a ground breaker even if it was only six years ago. Rereading his emails, it is easy to see how he was really excited to be stocking some of the great beers of Europe, providing solid service – and figured he had managed a way to make airlifting it direct to beer fans make sense. And bringing US craft to Europe before others. From the Wayback Machine, it appears that the shop started as a plan to make a micro-brewery in Amsterdam in 2003. Sad to hear of his passing. Some beer fans left their thoughts over at RateBeer.

Book Review: The Economics Of Beer – Swinnen, ed.

oxeb1I bought this because Simon told me to. Simon said.

This book is a series of essays related to the 2009 conference of The Beeronomics Society. It says on its back cover that it “is the first economic analysis of the beer market and brewing industry” but that is just silly puffery. There have been loads of economic analysis of the beer market and brewing industry. Frankly we have been weighed down by them. Don’t make me review Tremblay and Trembaly again. Do you remember those graphs and tables?

This book is a lot like one of my favorite sets of essays, the papers from the “Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture.” It is also a lot like Beer and Philosophy, a set of essays which included one from me on the underlying philosophy of beer regulation in Canada. What they all have in common is that they are a collection of papers tackling aspects of a general topic from various points of view. In the TEOB you will find 18 papers from the 2009 conference organized under the four topics of history, consumption, industrial organization and the new beer markets. With any luck, as with the annual baseball conference but unlike Beer and Philosophy, the followup second conference of The Beeronomics Society will issue another volume of essays reflective of the topics covered in September 2011.

So is it worth getting? For a book nerd like me, sure. I was a little uneasy with the superficiality of the first essay “A Brief Economic History of Beer” given it covered so much of time and culture so quickly. However, when I saw that there was an essay by Richard Unger, everyone’s favorite beery medievalist and Renaissance man, I was won over. And the essay “Recent Economic Developments in the Import and Craft Segments of the US Brewing Industry” by the manical graph-huggers¹ T+T may serve as something of an update of their 2005 book. Best of all, each submission comes with its own bibliography alerting folk like me to other papers and texts that might be out there just waiting to be added to the book shelf.

Published, too, by Oxford University Press, this book is another sign that we fans of beer and brewing live in lucky times. If I have more intelligent comment after reading a bit more, I will add it in the comments. But at this point this, too, looks like a good buy for the serious beer nerd.

¹ There are seven graphs and four table in just 18 pages!!!

What A Perfect Day For A Meta-Meta-Discussion!

An interesting comparison today between two communities of beer bloggy types. With a hearty hat tip to Stan, I see, Mark Dredge in England considers the hobby of amateur writing about professional beers and brewing to be incredibly important. Sure, he is yet to come down after a successful conference he just helped organize but he seems honestly sincere so that is good. Yet… “Things are changing,” he says. Changing? What have I been doing for eight years, I wonder in reply.

By contrast, across the North Sea, Knut reports, the eve of the Copenhagen Beer Festival is upon us… as is a massive slagging fest amongst beer hobbyists about ripping people off in the name of a supposedly greater cause. My Danish is limited to teak side tables so I had to use Google translator to learn this:

But now comes the full story. For Tuesday there was a communication from the Danish Beer Enthusiasts land board, where you actually like 100% with Beerticker.dk. I had already made it clear that the consequence would be that publication. Because treatment of Beerticker.dk now is completely ludicrous compared to what is Danish Beer Enthusiasts primary purpose – to promote the beer case.

I am not sure of what all that means but Knut advises Peter Myrup Olesen accuses the organisation the Danish Beer Enthusiasts of not following up on promises of sponsorship and of stealing content from his site to use both online and in their printed magazine. Having had a taste of infringement myself (not to mention the difference in views between myself and a sponsor as to what $100 earns them) I have every sympathy.

The good and the bad laid bare before us. Like most things, especially things involving money, good beer and good beer writing attracts its fair share of each.

Important Conference Sources Fact Update: apparently at the UK conference “…Pete Brown said posts should be no more than 300…” words. I like Pete plenty but, seriously, that’s a load of crap. Pete writes far longer posts quite often. My rule of thumb? Don’t forget the letter “e” in any post.

… and a note from the Dutch contingent: a certain level of incredulity from the Netherlands if Google translates for tone. I like this bit:

And your mouth is exactly what not to do as a blogger. You find something, you have an opinion, you let us hear. Tell everyone what you think about everything around you. Is anything good? Shout it from the rooftops! Is something not good? Yell as loud. If you are afraid to lose all your free beer then you do something else. Only if you’re critical, your opinion is relevant.

Interesting point. Am I afraid of losing all my free beer? Fortunately for my ethics, few brewers get samples to Easlakia. I wonder what it would be like and I would be like if I lived the easy life of an urban center beer blogger wallowing in cheques and love letters?

Trying To Recall Cafe Wim

I don’t know why I woke up and asked myself what it was I liked to order at the long shut Cafe Wim on Sussex near the market in Ottawa in the mid-90s. I was awake the best part of an hour involuntarily trying to remember. There are enough references on the internet but I can’t find a picture of the large Dutch flag flapping out front facing the HQ of Revenue Canada. I think it might have just been the pot…no, basin of cafe au lait, open faced sandwishes on rye with thin onion, the college lassies in black and bulky sweaters reading and smoking, pre-wi-fi, the mismatched furniture and the staff who exuded accusations of poserism as they themselves posed. In the back there was the semi-abandoned odd dark split levels of Expo-67-meets-Holland furnishings, beyond that a patio. I was there the weekend before the last Quebec Referendum. It was like this but this is not it. It was a stage on a Saturday afternoon before ending at Irene’s.

Holland: Struis, Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Amsterdam

I have a sticker on my hand that says “$6.20” and on my desk I have a 330 ml bottle of Struis. In the US, that price gets the best part of a decent six pack of craft beer. In Ontario, it gets you half a six of Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles or a large Chimay Premiere. So, for my dollar, this beer from Brouwerij ‘t IJ has got some pretty good competition and really has some explaining to do.

Richly clinging pale pine lumber head over orange amber ale, much muddier after the final pour and yeasty shake. On the nose a hop basket – your Grannie’s knitting basket that is as these have a haunting waft of musty attic. On these mouth, it starts to make sense. This is like Orval taken up a notch or two with 9% alcohol and a bigger maltier profile. Rather than cover up the booze with malt, this one blends it in with the orange peel, twiggy and lavender hops giving a aged spicy effect. This sits over fig and raisin malt. Steely finish. My creaky Dutch tells me the label’s claim of biobeer as well as ongefiltered and ongepasteuriseerd refers to some organic status, unfiltered and unpasturised. Imported to the US by Shelton Brothers, there is strong but not universal BAer support.

Is a small bottle like this worth it? For a try, sure – go ahead. After a try, if you love it, why not buy more? But if it is not the beer you absolutely love, I see the price point as a real issue for this one when you consider it sells for the same price as a 330ml Chimay Premiere at the fine bottle shop Cracked Kettle in Amsterdam. Where’d that price difference come from in mid-Atlantic transit?

Colonial Dutch Beer

Last week, a reader named Bob posed a very good question in the comments about: “Did the Dutch traders ship beer as a commodity in trade for Asian goods? If yes, what years, what style? Were hops used in any manner then?“. I thought it was such a good question that I posed it to Richard Unger, Professor at UBC and author of a number of books on beer history as well as the shipping trade. It may well be that there is no better person to answer Bob. And he did:

After some lengthy travelling I am now back home and can try to answer your or rather Bob’s question.

Amsterdam brewers in the first half of the 19th century produced some called East India beer which was not much different, so it was said, from beer brewed in the Bavarian style. Up to the 1860s Bavarian beer was extremely rare in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and only with the setting up of new breweries in the 1860s was the novel technology adopted, and then with enthusiasm. So such East India beer was special and different from the normal output.

It probably had a higher alcohol content though – that was the usual way to try to protect beers going to the tropics from spoilage. Dutch brewers, principally in Amsterdam, did brew beer for export to the East Indies even in the first half of the seventeenth century but it appears to have been the typical premium hopped beer, a bit better and somewhat stronger, than the beer made for consumption at home. There were many different names used for different beers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but I have never come across one that identified the beer made for export to the Indies, either East or West.

It is possible that none of that export beer was ever sold on the domestic market, the opposite with what happened with IPA which not long after it was established in the East became a popular drink at home. Incidentally the date of the first production of IPA is uncertain, or at least I am not certain. My best guess is a rather late one, that is around 1830 but I would be happy to be corrected. I am sorry to offer so little but I hope it is of some help.

Regards, Richard Unger

Very interesting and has triggered the posing of another question that I have already put to Lew Bryson about one meaning of the word “gueuze” which may be a red herring – which might in itself be a pun.

Bob Asks A Good Question About Dutch Beer

We all know the story of India Pale Ale but Bob asks in the comments whether the Dutch ever did a similar thing:

Bob Schneider [11:37 PM June 25, 2007]
bob.blustar@gmail.com
http://brewersonthelake.com
I realise that this is a review of a book but I was wondering if you could satisfy my curiosity. When I was brewing professionally in Holland, MI, I was trying to come up with a beer name and tagline that connected with the Dutch East India Trading Company (correct name?) similar to India Pale Ale shipped to British troops stationed in India. I did some research but ended up making an IPA with our house German ale yeast. When I put the beer on tap at the brew pub, the owners renamed it anyway. It was still one of the best IPAs I have made.

So my question is; Did the Dutch traders ship beer as a commodity in trade for Asian goods? If yes, what years, what style? Were hops used in any manner then?

Thanks
Bob

Good enough to be brought up to the surface for a little bit more of a think….or a thunk if I can’t come up with anything. I will check through Unger’s texts but if anyone else has any ideas, please share.