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.

 

 

The Spectator: A Peek At London Society 1711-1715

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlike Most Gimmicks Fog-Based Beer Is Real

I like the gimmick that are also based on something actual, a rare sight in the craft beer scene these days. Stuff like when thirty years ago I had a beer from the Falklands. And it really was. Fog based beer is apparently real as well:

Since a particularly bad drought in the 1950s, now-retired physics professor Carlos Espinosa Arancibia has been testing nets that could help capture water in Chile’s driest regions, the BBC reports. This current iteration of the net has openings less than one millimeter across around which water droplets condense out of the fog. The drops accumulate and grow until they drip into a pipe at the base of the net, from which it flows into a container, so clean that it’s immediately ready for human use. One of Espinosa’s test centers is near the town of Pena Blanca, home of the Atrapaneblina (fog catcher) brewery. The beer–a golden-amber Scottish ale with brown foam–is made only with the water collected from the fog nets. The brewery produces a meager 6,300 gallons of beer per year, but its owner says the water gives the beer a unique taste and quality.

OK… a golden-amber Scottish ale with brown foam? What the hell is that supposed to be? The brewery’s website only has images of the beer in bottles. Images online show a rather more comforting off-white head. There is just one lonely BAer review.

But what about the science? The Daily Mail published some respectable images of the fog nets of Chile a couple of years ago. The eggheads over at MIT are apparently involved with Chilean fog harvesting and have promised a five-fold increase in production. Their studies of the carapace of the Namib beetle, native to the Namib desert of southern Africa have led them to that conclusion. [Ed.: how many times have I heard that!?!?] Apparently, at certain times of the year a square meter of the better mesh might yield up to 12 liters per day or more. Which means only a ten by ten meter net might be needed to get you that litre of beer a day.

Given the Californian drought, a net of 41,650,000,000 m² is all they need to support current craft beer statewide production. That’s 41,650 km² of netting or about 10% of the state’s total land mass. So… it’s possible.

Is The Western US Drought 2015’s Top Beer Story

4877We all drink dinosaur pee. Or at least the water we drink was also in the bladders of dinosaurs. Things come and go but the supply of water on the planet is stable. We have as much as there has ever been. But while stable it is also mobile. The water that may have fallen as snow on west coast mountain ranges a few years ago might now be blanketing east coast cities. Which got me thinking the other week when I tweeted:

So are Cali brewers actually setting up avaricious branch plants elsewhere or just setting up their escape routes?

As is usually the case, I didn’t really put much thought into that tweet… or any other. It’s just tweeting… and it’s just beer. But ever since that clever man Stan got me thinking about the impending ceiling on the capacity to grow more barley and hops, the story playing out as California brewers seek second homes elsewhere in the United States and elsewhere in the world as me wondering if water supply is as much or more a danger to the expansion of good beer. Has the water moved away? A long way away? Last summer, the Los Angeles Times quoted the state’s brewers association’s executive director as saying if the drought “continues for two, three more years, that could greatly impact the production and growth of our breweries…” Earlier this month, an op-ed piece in the same paper said there was now one year’s worth reserves left. It’s not just bans on new swimming pools. Farms are in trouble.

Last week, the state government indicated how serious the issue was when it voted to spend $1,000,000,000 of water infrastructure. In emails back in February, Stan and I talked about the cost of creating the agricultural infrastructure to provide the over 100% increase in hop production – the extra 28 million pounds of hops – required for the US craft industry to hit the 20% in 2020 goal set by the brewers association. Is it 1,000 acres at $10,000 to buy and upgrade the acre? Or is it 2,500 acres at $20,000 to buy and upgrade? Whatever it is, it is not a billion dollars. But if the state invests that much money in securing new water supplies, who will get to use it and for what? Do breweries come ahead of playground water fountains?

I know. These are really broad and maybe dumb questions. Well, maybe not dumb as unrefined. Fortunately, others are smarter including at UC Davis where they have a California Drought Watch program which includes considerations for the brewing industry. And, yes, breweries are taking steps to help conservation efforts but will it be enough? Or is the best strategy to move with the water, to diversity through relocating? I guess all we can do it watch. Each brewery is going to have to make decisions about the long term and whether its more about stability or mobility.

CAMWA: The Campaign For Watery Ale

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Two Nations Joined By Water
Why can’t we admit it? We are all sitting around drinking flavoured water. We craft beer lovers like to pretend it is like wine, an art based on the manipulation fruit juice – but it ain’t so. In a very real sense, fine beer is a far more crafted product than fine wine. People put it together, do the job of the vine. And it is put together for the most part with water.

My favorite Pennsylvania (unless Mario Lemieux is now officially a Pennsylvanian) Lew Bryson is continuing to develop his very cogent argument, as we have discussed before, for the support of lighter flavourful session ales as an equally legitimate part of the broad beery spectrum. To my mind, the problem is that the water in beer needs to be described in a way that is the equal to the pervasive mass marketing by the macro-industrial BeerCo or as legitimate as the current alt.beer mania for the big bombastic hophead’s dream or rarefied boozy ancient monkish elixer.

In short, there has to be something about lower strength beer that can be described to capture the imagination. Think about water – it is vital, something we consume daily, it is can be fresh and refreshing…yet to call something “watery” is a slander. And remember when we talk about water we actually are talking about a heck of a lot more than the H20. Water is the conduit for the mineral make up of beer, the very defining element of the terrior that in large part makes the finest wines desirable. We know that Burton and Colorado makes hard water beer while Dublin and central New York make their brews soft due to what is under foot. It is the under foot print.

What is the campaign slogan that can make the water in your beer the preferred characteristic of distinction? All I need to think of is good old batch 29 but that is just me. Twenty five years ago, we Canadian kids, then aware of the then superiority of our brewing, knew the very successful “Tastes Great…Less Filling” ad campaign for southern brew Miller Lite was really all about taste and low alcohol strength. We were all told that anyone could drink it all night and so you could – except we up here would never dream of it because we were looking for the effect, we were going for the buzz. Does that idea of beer should not let you down now need to be added to the cultural mix? Does a long day at work demand a long night’s worth of beer without the hangover or the drunk tank? You can see what would happen. First, MADD would go…mad. It would be glorifying beer drinking even if it would be a campaign for moderation. Then, there would be the issue of price. I should be able to drink four pints of 3% beer for the same price as three pints of 4% and two of 6% or at least there should be some significant reflection. But that may strike at the bottom line. How can that be the story be told without risking the premium rightfully placed on brewing craft ale becoming part of the spin?

So what is the slogan that will frame it all for us so that we get the idea that we can learn to love the water, too? Having one for the road is never the right idea but having another because it is a beer that it built for two might be exactly what we all need.

Train

 

Lake Ontario from the 5:35 am to the Big Smoke. Click if you must.

I met a man on the way back who took the train to and from Detroit every week. Ten hours each way to his work. I was tired of being on the train after two and a half hours. I do not seem to travel well anymore. Maybe it’s because trains in the past took me on holidays rather than work. Not complaining but sitting on a siding in Napanee waiting for the on-coming train to pass is not like heading to Belgium with a backpack when you are twenty three.

These shots are from the way there when I was more wowsie. I was very surprised to see that Lake Ontario was entirely ice-less at the shore near Oshawa. The clouds at the blue horizon in the photo above are the lake effect, laying more snow on Buffalo. VIA Rail could pick a more exciting interior colour scheme than beige and seafoam. They used to be more into navy blue and orange, didn’t they?