Beer Politics, Policy And Civics

As I had modestly mentioned a couple of times over the last few weeks ago, the election of Mr. Trump to the Presidency could lead to a couple sorts of beer nationalism in support of his muddled form of neo-protectionism: an anti-import reactionism and pro-American jingoism. With the report that he will try to convince a free trading Congress to pass a 20% import tax on Mexican-made goods as a way to pay for his useless wall, my first suggestion now seems to be at least be a possibility. It’s a policy. A bit of a weird one* but one that might, however unlikely the chances, become law. Political victory leading to imposition of policy that shifts the civic reality.

On Monday, Brian Roth published a post entitled “Do You Want Politics in Your Beer?” in which he uses his Tweets’n’Graphs methodology to discuss what he described as “a brewery’s political activism” and then posing, a bit cautiously, whether it is good when breweries share their beliefs in this way. This morning, Michael Kiser posted on a rather similar topic in his “Critical Drinking — The Beer Politic.” While it jumbles the function of his site as a consulto-blog and certain hero breweries in their reaction to Trump, he answers Bryan’s question (without acknowledging the prior post) much more enthusiastically and very much in the affirmative – but still like Roth all a bit too brand focused .

Trouble is, fretting about appearances isn’t really about beer and politics, is it? Almost four years ago Craig posted an excellent survey of the connection between brewing and actual politics over the centuries of New York’s history.  In his post “Albany Ale: The Politics of Beer” he describes how seven Albany brewers from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries engaged with political office and partisanship. Even the great John Taylor got involved:

The 19th century would see the election of not one, but two, brewing mayors of Albany. The first was John Taylor in 1848. Taylor owned what was at the time the largest brewery not only in Albany, but in the country, Taylor & Sons. Upon completion of his tenure as mayor, Taylor served on the board of water commissioners, starting in 1850. He and his compatriots were responsible for overseeing the first municipal water system in the city.

You can read the rest but, as you do, think about whether what Roth and Kiser were driving at: the taking of public positions and its effect on reputation. For my money, while they can wrap it in phrases like “the brewery’s decision to focus on its own measure of authenticity” or “[t]his is why so many of us fought for and supported the rise of local breweries” they still both seem to conflate (i) the brewery as a business with a brand and (ii) the brewery owner as a citizen with a full life beyond the beer and also (iii) the taking of actively advancing a position in favour of either the business or as a citizen through political engagement.  These are different things. Forget worrying about what a small segment of your customers think about your brand’s reputation. Any citizen who is also a business owner who doesn’t engage with the implications of being governed is ignoring one of the greatest dangers to that business’s success. And courting disaster.

Isn’t the reaction of customers to brand secondary where a local craft brewery finds its local municipality, for example, spending taxes to attract big craft competition to town or, for another, supporting fracking and putting the community’s water table at risk? Of course it is. Why wouldn’t the sensible brewery owner protest, pound on the Mayor’s office door or even run for an upcoming council election if their business, their interests were being placed at risk? They all should. That’s about getting beyond the, yes, quite important move from complaisance to complaint that I see Roth and Kiser discussing. That move can and, I would argue, should justify – if not demand – not stalling but then moving on to actual politics.

It doesn’t mean you have to go all 1920s Dan O’Connell take over the Albany County Democratic Committee, rig elections and leverage the Hedrick Brewery to be the town’s boss.  But would it kill you to write or call those who represent you in the political realm?  Would it hurt too much to maybe pass on that next bit of indulgent “beer travel” and the tripping haze of new fun bar after new fun bar and, instead, travel to sit in a committee room where a policy you hate and want stopped is being discussed, waiting your turn soberly to put your ideas on the record for the five minutes they give you at the microphone?

Getting political is about waking up, being adult. Doesn’t really matter where your interests or political preferences lay. You think the big craft carpetbagger brewery that received the regional branch plant tax break wasn’t engaged in politics behind the backs of the local brewers? I bet the local craft community wishes it had laid the earlier groundwork that might have seen them receive the funding for expansion instead. Which would have required them being actively political.

*Given it will mean that Americans and not Mexicans will still pay for the wall as additional markup on their import of Mexican goods. His own party’s leaders are already mocking it.

Nationalistic Jingoism And Your Beer

As our neighbours to the south watch the beginning of what I can only consider the death of conservatism by slowly inflicted suicide, it is instructive to note that the role of beer in nationalistic jingoism is something no longer often given its full weight. That clipping to the right is from the 7 September 1810 edition of that most wonderfully named newspaper from Hudson, New York, The Bee, reprinted from the National Intelligencer. The author is arguing that British porter is unwholesome. Common enough claim at the time. It’s the final of a number of arguments made in an essay published under the pen name Juriscola. The man behind the clever tag appears to be Tench Coxe, aka “Mr. Facing Bothways” for his habit of flapping which ever way the wind blows. By 1810, he was pro-tariff and definitely buy American after a career that saw him welcome the British to Philadelphia in 1777 with open arms.

Nationalism is not solely an argument heard from the USA. Pete maps the role of ale and porter in the second British Empire of the Victorian height in his book Hops and Glory at scale, as we have just discussed.  And ten years after Coxe’s essay, a rabble was being roused right here in in what was the Midland District of Upper Canada by brewer Richard Dalton against the importation of those foreign beers from the south. And likely with good cause if the presence of 160 barrels of Albany Ale in 1816 in our small community is evidence enough. Not even an alternate fact, that. Dalton’s argument is pretty specific: stop bringing in foreign barley. Coxe, by comparison, lays it on thicker. Certainly, the argument is made that domestic grain and fruit supports increased domestic manufacturing. And also that domestic production is superior as an expression of American ingenuity. But then he makes a telling argument: the needs of the military.

The most enormous expense of the American revolutionary war and the deepest sufferings of the patriotic army were those produced by the frequent destitution of wine, good distilled spirits and porter. It is therefore of the greatest importance to our possible military operations that we have a quantity of some of these liquors steadily manufactured in our country from our own materials equal at least to ten millions of gallons.

Note: by “possible military operations” he basically means attacking my town.

So, how will this sort of thing manifest itself in these our own confusing times of the vacuum at the top? Will there be a revival of state sanctioned brewing jingoism? Will, as I suggested soon after the election, Corona and other popular imports face backlash as being unAmerican? Or will the odd and newly joint opposition of the left and free traders take up the slack and prop up sales in defiance?  A new 35% tariff might make those modest brands tough to choose from the grocery shelf even for the idealist.

But will people – err, The People – buy into such protectionism given it is essentially a claim to marketplace weakness, a message of failure? Can such alternate truths gain a foothold?  Depends on the presentation, I suppose.

Are Canada Red Vine Hops… Canadian?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Corona Suffer Because Of A New Nativism?

I am seldom happier to not be an American as I am today. Don’t get me wrong. I love the USA and live in a border town. Friends and family abound below the line. But that was a tough thing to watch yesterday. A birth of something? Maybe an end to more than is immediately obvious. Maybe something like this:

Rob Sands, CEO of alcoholic beverage giant Constellation Brands, came to New York City on Wednesday to talk about Corona beer and Robert Mondavi wine. And before he even took the stage, the company’s stock took an 8% nosedive. That’s because investors are worried about what Donald Trump’s victory could mean for Constellation Brands stz-b , owner of a Mexican brewer that targets an American customer base that could potentially face deportation.

Nativism has a long track record in the arc of American history and has crossed paths with the brewing industry. In the early 1840s, new German immigration to New York City led to tavern brawls and court cases. Interestingly, earlier German brewers seemed to have an easier go.  Likely due to the lack of greater contextual pressures like the disappearance of clean water in Lower Manhattan. Plus the intervening Jacksonian worldview.

Corona is certainly the leading Mexican brand facing the US consumer in the grocery and convenience stores.  Is it prone to neo-nativist slur? Would another beer be more patriotic in the new Trumpian society? Could be. Just a thought – but could be.

Book Review: Brewing Local by Stan Hieronymus

brewinglocalsmConfession. I have fed Stan in my home. I have been asked by Stan why he bothers discussing things with me. My name appears in this book. I am very fond of Stan. All of which may influence my opinion of his writings, of this book. Along with the fact that this was a review copy kindly forwarded from the publisher. Can’t help it. Heck, if I run the photo contest again this Christmas I might just give it away as the only prize. I’m like that.

But let’s work around that for the moment. As with his other books for the Brewers Publications series, Stan has written a practical guide. Starting with the second half of the book, we see it contains discussions on foraging, a directory of ingredients one might consider adding to a beer to capture locality in the glass and, then, a collection of brewing recipes – including one for an 1835 Albany Ale supplied by Craig which has its roots in a report to the New York State Senate from that year which I discussed now over six years ago. It is flattering but at the same time something I consider important. Beer and brewing in the north end of the Western Hemisphere has a history which goes back at least 439 years – not counting the Viking expeditions. You would think it was invented by the immigrants who moved here after the varying successes of the 1830s revolutions in Europe. It wasn’t.

Much to his credit, Stan goes even further back and documents one beverage of one of the peoples who were here before European colonization: corn-based tiswin of the Apache. He also ties late 1800s Okalhoma choc with the Choktaw people who were relocated in the genocidal trail of tears two generations before. There would have been others – but they were not by any means pervasive according to a Senacan cultural botanist pal of mine. Yet it is hard to believe that the brewers of New Sweden in the 1650s making beer from local pumpkins, corn, persimmons and watermelons didn’t learn something from the locals.

What the depth and breadth of Brewing Local conveys is a picture of a complex and largely unexplored understanding of indigenous vernacular brewing on this continent. It is an exciting time to have an interest in such things. Stan emailed me earlier this year that he would have included my idea of “four eras of cream ale” had he come across it in time. I suspect I hadn’t even written it in any proper manner before he saw it. Months later, I got to hunting around “cream beer” dating back to the early 1800s with the hints of its pre-lager existence, its earlier German immigrant foundations and its potential links to later 1850s Kentucky Common. All of which might also be worthy of a footnote or two in this book. Had I written it. Had someone – anyone – looked it up. There is so much yet to be pursued.

Which is a good thing. Which makes for a very good book. Because the book is both history and guide, both a “how to” and also a “why” which ties a lot of things together in a way that hasn’t been done before. It’s a part of a bigger collective work in progress. [I don’t find fault that Stan, for example, doesn’t mention the reason I think steam beer is called steam beer but that is also part of the bigger working out of things. I could be dead wrong.] Does this make it a milestone book in North American brewing history? Could be. I’ll have to read it a more few times to form a full opinion on this book. You should, too.

“Breakfast In The Free State!”

mencken1927

Jay posted this photo on Facebook this evening and I had to poach it. One of my favorite H.L.Mencken passages is this one from an essay about his your titled “The Baltimore of the Eighties“:

It was the opinion of my father, as I have recorded, that all the Baltimore beers were poisonous, but he nevertheless kept a supply of them in the house for visiting plumbers, tinners, cellar-inspectors, tax-assessors and so on, and for Class D social callers. I find by his bill file that he paid $1.20 for a case of twenty-four bottles. His own favorite malt liquor was Anheuser-Busch, but he also made occasional experiments with the other brands that were then beginning to find a national market: some of them to survive to this day, but the most perished under Prohibition. His same bill file shows that on December 27, 1883, he paid Courtney, Fairall and Company, then the favorite fancy grocers of Baltimore, $4 for a gallon of Monticello whiskey. It retails now for from $3 to $3.50 a quart. In those days it was always straight, for the old-time Baltimoreans regarded blends with great suspicion, though many of the widely-advertised brands of Maryland rye were of that character. They drank straight whiskey straight, disdaining both diluents and chases. I don’t recall ever seeing my father drink a high-ball; the thing must have existed in his day, for he lived on to 1899, but he probably regarded its use as unmanly and ignoble. Before every meal, including breakfast, he ducked into the cupboard in the dining-room and poured out a substantial hooker of rye, and when he emerged he was always sucking in a great whiff of air to cool off his tonsils. He regarded this appetizer as necessary to his well-being. He said that it was the best medicine he had ever found for toning up his stomach.

Not to mention this one:

…there are still oyster-roasts in Baltimore on Winter Sunday afternoons, and since the collapse of Prohibition they have been drawing pretty good houses. When the Elks give one they hire a militia armory, lay in a thousand kegs of beer, engage 200 waiters, and prepare for a mob. But the mob is not attracted by the oysters alone; it comes mainly to eat hot-dogs, barbecued beef and sauerkraut and to wash down these lowly victuals with the beer. The greatest crab cook of the days I remember was Tom McNulty, originally a whiskey drummer but in the end sheriff of Baltimore, and the most venerated oyster cook was a cop named Fred. Tom’s specialty was made by spearing a slice of bacon on a large fork, jamming a soft crab down on it, holding the two over a charcoal brazier until the bacon had melted over the crab, and then slapping both upon a slice of hot toast.

I probably read that passage about that crab and bacon toast sandwich as well as those thousand kegs of beer thirty years ago and it still makes my mouth water. My kind of pairing and breakfast in the free state, indeed.

Sir William Strickland On The 1790s US Barley Crop

battledore4That image up there has little to do directly with this post. It’s from a book entitled A Short Economic and Social History of the Lake Counties, 1500-1830 by C.Murray, L.Bouch and G.Peredur. It popped into my Google search results as an answer to the query “William Strickland barley.” I was looking for William Strickland, 6th Baron Boynton, esq. (February 18, 1753 – January 8, 1834), the 18th-century gentleman farmer and writer from Yorkshire, England who was the eldest son of Sir George Strickland of York, England, from the ancient English Strickland family of Sizergh and who wrote A Journal of a Tour of the United States of America, 1794–95. You will note, however, that both are Stricklands of Sizergh. According to Burke’s the William of 1568 was an MP and may have even sailed with Cabot to the New World. The William I am looking for was the son of George, son of William, son of William, son of Thomas, son of the 1st Baron William, son of Walter, son of the William who may have sailed with Cabot. My William is the great great great great great grandson of the one who in 1568 grew a crop which included 43.5% bigg.

I find this interesting because on 15 July 1797 George Washington wrote a letter to William Strickland which opens with “Sir, I have been honored with Yours of the 30th of May and 5th of Septr of last Year” and containing the following:

Spring Barley (such as we grow in this Country) has thriven no better with me than Vetches. The result of an Experiment made with a little of the True sort might be interesting… You make a distinction and no doubt a just one between what in England is call’d Barley, and Big or Beer, if there be none of the true Barley in this Country—it is not for us without Experience to pronounce upon the Growth of it; and therefore, as noticed in a former part of this letter it might be interesting to ascertain whether our climate and soil would produce it to advantage. No doubt as your observations while you were in the United States appear to have been extensive and accurate it did not escape You, that both Winter and Spring Barley are cultivated among us; the latter is considered as an uncertain Crop—So. of New York and I have found it so on my farms—of the latter I have not made sufficient Trial to hazard an opinion of Success. About Philadelphia it succeeds well.

I haven’t yet laid a hand on a copy of his journal but in the 1800 publication from the British Board of Agriculture Communications to the Board of Agriculture, on subjects relative to the Husbandry, and Internal Improvement of the Country, there is an article starting at page 128 by Strickland “Observations on the State of America by William Strickland, Esq. of Yorkshire. Received 8th March, 1796.” In it you will see that it is actually a set of questions and answers. The questions were posed by the Board of Agriculture and were part of the purpose of his trip to the United States. Britain’s Board of Agriculture was set up in 1793, a private association which received a government grant to undertake research. The Board’s questions for Strickland were basic. What was the price of land in the young USA? What was the price of labour? Might not Great Britain be supplied with hemp from America? In response to the short questions, Strickland wrote pages. Not to ruin a good story with spoilers but his final paragraph on page 167 goes some way to remind us of the geographical limitations not only of his trip but of the young nation:

None emigrate to the frontiers beyond the mountains, except culprits, or savage back-wood’s men, chiefly of Irish descent. This line of frontier-men, a race possessing all the vices of civilized and savage life, without the virtues of either; affording the singular spectacle of a race, seeking, and voluntarily sinking into barbarism, out of a state of civilized life; the outcasts of the world, and the disgrace of it; are to be met with, on the western frontiers from Pennsylvania, inclusive to the farthest south.


Strickland’s America stretches form the Atlantic to the Appalachians. The other limitation we have to keep in mind is how little barley is mentioned in Strickland’s observations. As far as my search engine can tell, there is only the one reference in his observations to barley being sold in New York City in 1794 which sold at about 60% the price of wheat. Barley was not noted in the Albany market.

battledore5

Look up there. We are well aware of the preference for wheat in the fields of New York. Wheat was worth far more and grew like a grain on steroids. Wheat was the basis of good beer in Albany of the 1670s and, under a decade after Strickland’s trip, the frontier brewery at Geneva, NY in 1803 was still cutting straw into the mash to cope with the high percentage of wheat malt being used. But Strickland was observing a new nation still coping with economic crisis. That Geneva brewery seems to have been established in 1797 in response to the crisis – with the promise of destroying “in the neighbourhood, the baneful use of spirituous liquors.” In New York the post-war economic collapse included depopulation of frontier* for much of the west of Albany as well as the blight of the Hessian fly. Upon seeing this, Strickland appears to be as happy to assist in the agricultural future of the new American republic as he was in reporting to the British Board of Agriculture. In his letter to Thomas Jefferson dated 20 May 1796 Strickland wrote a long passage about barley:

Where the improvement of the agriculture of a country can go hand in hand, with the improvement of the morals of a people, and the increase of their happiness, there it must stand in its most exalted state, there it ought to be seen in the most favourable light by the Politician there it must meet with the countenance and support of every good man and every friend to his country; so is it at present circumstanced in your country: by the cultivation of Barley your lands would be greatly improved; and the morals and health of the people benefited by the beverage it produces exchanged for the noxious spirits to which they have at present unfortunately recourse; besides the labour of the year would be more equally and advantageously divided, the grain being sown in the spring; but it was a striking circumstance that while the government was wisely encouraging the Breweries, in opposition to the distilleries the country should be entirely ignorant of the grain by which alone they could prosper; I have reason to believe that a grain of Barley has never yet been sown on the Continent; the grain which is there sown, under that name, is not that from which our malt-liquors are made; it is here known under the name of Bigg, or Bigg-barley, is cultivated only on the Northern Mountains of this Island, and used only for the inferior purposes of feeding pigs or poultry, and is held to be of much too inferior a quality to Make into Malt, and of the five different grains of the species of Barley known to us, it is held to be by far the worst; I have therefore taken the liberty of sending a small quantity of the best species of Barley, (the Flat or Battledore Barley) and the one most likely to succeed with you; this grain is sown in the spring, on any rich cultivated soil; I recommend it strongly to your attention; and shall rejoice if I prove the means of introducing into your country an wholesome and invigorating liquor.

Fabulous. Brewing was needed to civilize the community, to beat back the effect of rot gut whisky and Strickland saw that a key to this was the introduction of better classes of barley. Last year, Craig wrote about the difference between winter and spring barley in the second half of the 1700s and the transition away from a wheaty monoculture. He noted that “winter barley was euphemism for 6-row barley, and it was 6-row barley that would grow in tremendous amounts across western New York during the 19th and early 20th-centuries.” This week, Jordan colaborated on a brew with six-row barley, a recreation of an 1897 bock by Toronto brewer Lothar Reinhardt. But this is not the barley that Strickland was recommending. Notice he is recommending spring planted barley that is of far higher quality than six-row or what he calls bigg, the same coarser old form of barley his forefather was planting in 1568. In the generous and detailed corrections to the Oxford Companion to Beer – the wiki which was lost then found – a swath of beer writers prepared the following is stated at the letter “B” in response to the entry for “Bere (barley)” at page 123 of the famously troubled text:

“Bere (barley)” at page 123 states that “‘Bere’ has its origins in the Old English word for barley, ‘Bœr’.” The Old English word for “barley” was béow. (See Oxford English Dictionary at “bigg”). It further states that “It is synonymous with ‘Bygg’ or ‘Bigg’ barley, terms likely derived from the Norse word for barley, ‘Bygg’, which itself originates in the Arabic for barley.” The Norse word “bygg” does not originate in the Arabic word for barley. It has been suggested by some philologists (eg Bomhard and Kerns, The Nostratic Macrofamily, p. 219) that a word in the ancestor language of Arabic (and other languages, including Hebrew), Proto-Semitic *barr-/*burr, meaning “grain, cereal”, was borrowed by Proto-Indo-European as *b[h]ars-. Most philologists, however, derive bygg and bere (and barley, which, it should be noted, means “bere-like” – see OED at “barley”) from an Indo-European root *bheu to grow, to be (from which also comes the English word “be”), which gave a suggested proto-Germanic word for barley, *beww-, which became *beggw- in Old Norse, béow in Old English, bygg in Old Icelandic, and big in Norn (the language spoken on Shetland). It further states that “All of the Scandinavian languages used bygg for barley.” This is true only in the sense that the words in all modern North Germanic languages for “barley” are derived from “bygg” in their ancestor language, Old Norse, which was breaking up into its modern descendants around 1400. The modern Norwegian word for barley is still bygg, but the modern Danish is byg, the Swedish word is bjugg, the modern Icelandic byggi.

So, bigg as bygg goes a long way back. Excellent stuff. My only shame is that I forgot to transcribe over who in particular wrote that bit of correction. Sorry. In my grief over such a goof, I also sought some more detail in the section on barley in my copy of Ian Hornsey‘s 2012 book published by the Royal Society of Chemists Alcohol and its Role in the Evolution of Human Society but it turned out to be all about science and stuff. The sort of thing that did no good for my high school grade point average and which I appear to have passed on both genetically and behaviourally to the next generation of arts grads.

One bit of a conclusion, then, for now. We may be able to confidently state that when the new brewery in Cooperstown is looking for barley in 1795 and Gansevoort is looking for barley in 1798 they are very likely expecting to receive six-row, winter or bigg barley. Which makes some sense as it is likely a Dutch strain of barley, not English. Heck, look at the ad from John Mead in 1790 – he’s looking for rye, barley or wheat to brew with – anything he can get his hands on. That being the case, as Jordan has put into practice, recreations of historic northeastern North American barley beer from the period and perhaps for quite some time after need to be based on winter six-row barley and not the two-row spring barley William Strickland advocated for in the 1790s even though it was a far superior product. It was not, however, American – except around Philadelphia as George tantalizingly notes. More on that later.

*…aka the initial Anglo-American populating of Ontario.

Still Not Backing Down For Four Hundred Years

What a great ad. It basically sums up everything about American brewing for the last four hundred years. It’s so absorbing you hardly notice how weird the music is. Part movie soundtrack when Gene Hackman smashes the Mopar though downtown. Part Eminem run through the graphic equalizer. It sounds like it starts at a point about a minute, fifteen seconds into the crescendo that started in last fall’s “Choices Have Consequences” ad. And the message builds, too. Poor widdle cwaft thinks that it is all about the big bad brewer running scared but it’s not. It’s gleeful assertion meeting commercial reality. The upstretched middle finger to some. The assertion of tribe to many others. An umbrella for those who buy the 80% or more of beer that is still light, inexpensive and easy to drain. It’s lovely. The greatest part of the loveliness is, however, not just its in the design elements of the presentation but that it addresses the same set of themes which have consistently sprung from or imposed upon brewing on this continent ever since warmed water was poured over cracked grain by our first founders around four hundred years ago.

=> Beer creates aggregation. Obviously the ad is about might. Brewing in North America has always been about the generation of might. A powerful place within the industry. Leveraging the wealth it generates out into society. It took a few generations of the pre-industrial pre-Revolutionary Dutch brewers of New York state to achieve it. It took brewers like John Taylor a lifetime in Albany of the mid-1800s. It took E.P. Taylor about a few decades in the mid-1900s. And it took a decade for microbrewing to spawn millionaire and billionaire big craft from 2005-15. Through co-operation, collusion and control brewing creates the opportunity to generate wealth, independence and even power. This is good as it is success. Sipping is not so good for success.

=> Beer is a means to an end. Not only does brewing aggregate but it does so in a repeated similar pattern. If you follow Michigan brewer Larry Bell on Facebook you will notice he spends a lot of time not brewing in Michigan. He in on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico or some such place. Interestingly, members of the mid-1750s Dutch brewing dynasties did the same thing. Anthony Rutgers IV was a privateer and lived on Curacao tending to the Hudson valley Dutch plantation trade that extended well past the British invasion as well as the American Revolution. Beer actually appears to dislike folk not improving their station in life. It attracts money too readily. Big craft branch plants on the east coast or in Europe are just another form of expansive market control that beer has always undertaken.

=> Beer is cyclical. Just as Mr Bell is retracing the wake in the warm water Mr Rutgers sailed in the 1700s, brewing repeats itself in overlapping cycles. Anything that imposes on the production of grain seems to restart the clock. The Hessian fly causing the deprivations and hardships of 1788-90 are not unlike the relationship between the Civil War and, as with the standard rules of baseball, the development of a homogenized taste for premium lager… not to mention the later dominance of industrial light lager after World War II. It also takes on and defeats – or at least holds down – the challenges of traditional brewsters’ beer houses, self-sufficient estate brewing, temperance drinks, imports, brew-your-own operations, micros, home brewing and now new nanos as they come forward each in their turn. These things come in waves but brewing continues. It knows it needn’t back down.

=> Beer is responsive. It needs to react to external forces. The overlapping cycles are not determined by brewing. It is the natural response of brewing to reassert itself in the face of crisis to maintain production and profit. It also reflects simple cultural change. It’s not by chance that micro brewing takes off in the 1980s concurrent with factors like the variety of cable TV and androgyny in pop music. It’s the decade that the range of choice explodes. Micro brewing follows that greater trend. Had the pioneers of micro not come forward rest assured other pioneers of micro would have come forward in the same cities in pretty much the same way. Beer responds in the late 1700s and early 1800s to scientific advances in agriculture in the same way. The Agricultural societies which arose after the end of the War of 1812 gave stability to the new farming lands and spread the news about scientific brewing just like cable TV informed consumers that they wanted the new beer because they wanted new cheese. Beer is responsive because it is one man – the ancient everyman – now carrying the keg, now armed with stainless steel at scale. He (or she) is fighting ocean going container ships stacked with uniformly Heineken green cargo boxes.

=> Beer is pervasive. Because brewing has transitioned in response to societal change over and over it has earned its place. Unlike, say, the mustards on the grocery shelf the aggregating tendency of beer needs a team. It asks for loyalty and gets it. Why would inexpensive joy juice not? It’s the mild affordable anesthetic that gets you through life. Tribal affinities are natural whether they are constructed of the cult of craft or light lager in the NASCAR stands. It’s heavy metal and new country. Craft and social media. Trains in the late 1800s sent out the message of better cheaper beer than the local brewer was making or charging. Trains from places like St. Louis and London, Ontario carrying casks branded with names like Anheuser-Busch and Carling reaching out from larger and larger breweries placed near those other train tracks which reach out into the grain fields. Beer informs you about both progress and legacy. It’s where you’ve been and where you are going. Get in line.

=> Beer resists. Because beer wants to keeps its rewards it pushes back and fights. If the fluid in the Bud ad up there was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale you would not have to change out many of the other elements. The boosters would just have to swap places. It does not like to hear other points of view. Big craft – including its co-opted communicators – is as much in lock step as the Bud ad as much as the 1600s to 1700s Dutch then 1800s to 1900s German brewing dynasties, each taking care to include all the cousins in the benefits. The business formula is too certain, too successful to do otherwise. No wonder we have identatext book after identatext book. Beer likes puff. We already see discussion in craft like this has fallen away. Disagreement is now disagreeable. It’s all the Borg. Bud is truly not backing down. No beer backs down. Because? America.

I love it. I had a Bud on Thursday night. I have one a couple of times a year. About as often as I have mashed turnip. They are both unpleasantly bitter and they are both cultural touchstones. Neeps are the ultimate statement of Scots cuisine. Bud is America. I get four clear phases: sweet rice, lumber, dirty bitter hop and a stale finish which more of that sweet rice quickly remedies. You are not supposed to like it. Turnip? It’s not yummy either. You are supposed to accept it like the other realities of life and be grateful for the comfort it brings. Bud tells you about North American life, too. It’s not fussy. Lemon flick. It meets you on the level. Given the existing kit that’s long paid off, it’s easy to make following instructions out of readily available resources – even as it tells you it’s difficult to make. You need to rely upon its word on that point even though you can make an acceptable substitute for less in your own kitchen. You can actually make good beer easily in your own home. But you don’t. Because you are part of something bigger. Something that works. The same way. Every. Time.

What Has The Last 35 Years Been About Anyway?

goodbeerhistoryWhat an ugly diagram. Jeff posted a hypothesis to describe the last ten years in good beer and it caused me to come up with an ugly diagram. A scribbel. See, I don’t agree with him but I am not that concerned with agreeability. Not that I am not nice. I am nice as pie. But I just do not think he has it quite right. But that’s OK as we are all in this together. My issue is he awards one of those little gold foil stars that I use to see others get given at Sunday school. His conclusion:

In 2006, as I started this blog, craft brewing was just a sleepy little current in the overall beer market–still a “boutique” segment. In the next decade, growth has been so strong that it is now a given that it’s the future of beer. Imagine what the next decade will hold.

Why do I disagree? Because I think craft beer might well be dying if it is not already dead. What do I mean by this? Well, we are in the middle of a very rapidly developing transition in which many of the folk who began macros are clocking out. Not as immediately as 1970s rock stars but they are handing in their badges and finding something else to do. Papazian has packed it in. Many breweries have broken their world and cashed in or cashed out. Koch spent 2015 adrift on a yogurty sea as the suits moved in. Sales of big craft are down and we are all awaiting the news of how the BA is going to manufacture an increase in craft beer sales while many of its membership abandons the definition for sunnier days. Cider is suddenly not the future. What is?

Who cares? None of that matters. Because I think the future is upon us now. What people do not seem to appreciate is that beer is easy and cheap to make and the 12,000 brewery universe – or at least western world – is largely populated by little, nimble and local brewers. The millionaire toyboys behind BrewDog have nothing really to do with punk. But the little garage breweries do. Look at this. If you ignore the obviously problematic infatuation with the thesaurus, you see a story of nothing to something over a little more than a year. It’s happening in so many local markets that it’s common. It’s happened in my own town. The story is now too complex to be told.

We have a natural inclination to hang on to the things we are familiar with. The people we looked up to. Their ways of doing things. But over the last year the leaders of big craft movement lost the bench. Yet seeing as they only arose under a decade ago – 25 years into the movement – that is fine. A blip. Craft as they describe it might well be over. It’s certainly not rising. The small and confident are. The macro industrial buyers of big craft are. The middle grounds is being abandoned. Soon the pink line will cross the red one. Excellent thing, too. Over the last 35 years, change has been constant. This point is time is not special. It’s just another point of reflection that will be forgotten soon as the next thing comes along. Looking forward to it.

Your 2015-16 US Craft Brewery Dance Card

These are troubled times. One does not know what and who to hate or cheer on. Craft is either dying or transforming into something new and glorious. So you need some help. Click on the image for a bigger version. This is your cheat sheet. A notepad to carry with you at all times to make sure you know what you are supposed to think. You need to know what you need to reject.

* – no one really believes they are actually craft.
** – Actually Canadian, Belgian or something else but not ultimately US owned.
$ – sold out to big evil hateful brewing or money interests.
$$ – absolutely took big evil hateful brewing interests to the cleaner but still sold out.
+ – branch plant owner therefore just a small version of big multi-national brewing.
++ – just so big that it makes no sense to think of them as craft in any real way.
? – only allowed in craft so others could be retained in craft.
?$?$ – looking and hoping.

That’s just a start on my list. I probably missed a bunch. Let me know. If you click here you can get your own dance card to review, consider and annotate. Just make sure you use the dry-wipe ink feature on your browser so you can update this on a regular basis.