That image above is from The Overseas Trade of Bristol in the Middle Ages, a publication of the Bristol Record’s Society Publications. The BRS is now one of my favorite things, a society dedicated to record keeping. Interestingly, there is one data point in this record that is not really referenced on the map. The passage taken by one ship that landed at Bristol on 24 February 1480. The record for that voyage reads as follows:
Fascinating. What that means is a ship registered to the Basque port of Guetaria named the Seint Sebastian, with someone named Lope as her master, sailing from Flanders came to Bristol on 24 February 1480 carrying madder, tar, wainscot and hops. The ship is en route to the south but stops in at Bristol, a half point between Flanders and what is now in northern Spain.
Look at the offloaded cargo. Madder is a plant that gives a red dye. Tar is likely pine tar which was a product of the far eastern reaches of Baltic Hansa. And wainscot (anglicized from the Dutch word wageschot) was measured by the hundreds as we see with that “C” and a fine grade of lumber for interior paneling. And those hops.
Look at the hops record.* Notice that the hops are in identified units. Two bales. Not just some plant matter slung in the corner of the hold. They have a recipient listed: John Cockis. So, it is a shipment and not just a delivery on speculation to be sold on the wharf. It is a priced. Three pounds for the two bales. It is worth less per bale than the madder. And that price relates customs valuation. Which means there was a process for valuing hops. And a customs duty that would apply to their three pounds of value on their importation. All a very formal affair. Very bureaucratic. Very legal. Very normal.
Interesting. Lots to think about with that wee record.
Well, that was quite a something. The game was dull and boring the halftime show was worse. But it’s over. And, really, you only get one “Prince in the rain for your halftime” experience in a lifetime. It’s all degrees of sucking from there. Otherwise, three weeks to March. That’s all I know… so, let’s go crazy with some beery news on a Thursday.
In a surprise move, the beer ads on the StooperStupor Super Bowl broadcast actually triggered actual discussion. It started with the odd message from ABInBev summed up neatly with this tweet.
To be clear, Bud Light is not brewed with corn syrup, and Miller Lite and Coors Light are.
Which immediately pissed off big corn. So MillerCoors sent corn farmers their beer! Since then we have been reminded that much high test US craft also relies on corn sugar to boost its strength. This is called chaptalization in wine and it is not considered good. Mainly because it is considered bad. But with US craft beer it is apparently considered – on the near highest authority – to be very good. A rice v. corn debate then broke out. It was exciting. Me, I was caught up in the moment and noted that “138 years of a massively popular rice-based beer and its cultural place still confuses some commentators.” Stan piled on historically and noted with both flair and panache:
On January 30, 1881, well before A-B took aim on beers brewed with corn, the author of a full-page article in the Chicago Daily Tribune chose the side of rice in the rice versus corn debate. The author stated, “Corn beer is not a drink for Americans or Germans. It is good enough for the Spaniards, Greasers, Indians, and the mongrel breeds of South America.” Instead the author lauded the exceptional crisp taste that resulted with rice, and added, “for years the ‘blonde,’ or light colored beers have been fashionable and grown into public favor in America.” The author also suggested most breweries in Chicago used rice, while Milwaukee brewers used corn.
Me, I’m pro-corn since at least 2008. And I am pro–rice, too. And Jeff’s from sugar beet farming stock. So we are all the better for the whole thing.
Changing gears but still on the general theme of “Knowing v. Not Knowing What’s Real” last Saturday England’s newspaper The Telegraph broke the news that no one had considered ever before – that there is a craft beer bubble! To be fair, the article mainly focused on the bubble from an investor’s point of view.
“There is still growth, but the market is now much tougher for new entrants,” says Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst at market research group Mintel. “The number of brands is outstripping the growth and now people with money are wising up to the market. If someone asked me to invest in a craft beer company now, I’d say ‘no way, that ship has long sailed.’”
Hard to disagree with that.* And in Colorado, a fourth brewery had announced its closing – the fourth just since 2019 began. Remember: money likes money, not fads. Apparently thermometers are sorta fads… or at least not traditional…. or someone was having a bad day. Speaking of making money, there was an interesting follow up to the news last week of Fuller’s sale. Head Brewer, Georgian Young tweeted:
Thank you @Will_Hawkes it has been a strange week with so many uncertainties for some colleagues but my great team @FullersHenry @FullersHayley @FullersGuy along with the Engineers, Tech services, Quality et al are looking forward to the next chapter friends
Then the former Head Brewer, John Keeling, tweeted: “Today I took people on a Fullers Tour, not sure if there will be many more.” Melancholy days even if the future is arguably… well, hopefully no less as bright.
Attentive readers will remember Robert Gale. He won the 2012 Christmas Beery Photo Contest. Well, Robert is living with Crohns Disease and recently had a stoma – or alternative nether region – installed. He recently tweeted about a post he placed on his blog with this fabulous invitation to readers: “Here’s my experience when I tried beer for the first time since having a new bum installed“! Here is his post entitled “Beer and Stoma.”
Once upon a time, an anonymous brewer berated R(Hate)Beer on this here blog. Now, with the announcement that it has been fully owned by ABInBev, he is not alone. Which is a bit unfair but not entirely unfair. Oddly, the former principle owner wrote on the competing – and for my money superior – BeerAdvocate:
RateBeer is a quality-focused organization, and our value to the community has always depended on our integrity, and willingness to put in greater effort to produce more meaningful scores and information. I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to serve you all. It’s been a great pleasure meeting so many of you in person, and through this more fully understanding our important role in industry, and the joy, pride and responsibility felt by so many out there in RateBeeria.
That’s nice. As I have reminded you all often, always remember there are people out there behind the blogs, forums, tweets and… what else is there? People. And money. People and money. And beer. People and money and beer.
#FlagshipFebruary is one week in and – boy oh boy – are there ever more days in the month than actual flagships out there, aren’t there. We learned that macro brewed Euro-imports are allegedly flagships. We learned that a brewery can have eight flagships. And another can have a sexist flagship. We learned that it’s departure lounge beer, “stupid” and a “legacy craft promotional thing.” It’s cloudy and new, too! We also learned that all the sponsorship were only to make sure the writers chosen to write blog posts got paid. [Ed.: we are just having a personal fugue state experience for a mo… and… we are back.] That’s nice. The upside is that it did not die a dumb death.** And this one won me (even with the “moule frites” for mussels and fries***) by proving this is not just, not solely #OldBeerForOldGuysFebruary. Plus I was reminded how wonderful McAuslan Oatmeal Stout is from a modestly priced can. Fabulous! The downside is we still have no idea what it all really means other than some sort of odd booze-laced homage to the Counter-Reformation. Whatever it is, what it is now won’t likely be what it is a couple of weeks from now. Stay tuned. I’m rooting for it. Really. Like almost 50/50 on the upside. Well, except for money for writers. I’m 100% on that especially given how much money they are getting each!
That is it. Early February ice storm out there as this goes to press. Need to shuffle along not knowing exactly when my feet will be cut out from underneath me. Meantime, look to Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday for updates on these and many more good beer news stories.
*Some always try.
**An actual phrase in our household: do not die a dumb death. Like the award winner “Doubt it, Ralphie!” which I thought was a line from some forgotten early 1960s TV comedy until Dad told me that when there was a neighbourhood kid who hung around when I was maybe four who just lied all the time. Name? Ralph.
***I just can’t shake the sub-motif of Turgenyev’s Fathers and Sons.
A surprisingly long set of links face me in my inbox today. Folk send me suggestions all the time… well, some of the time… OK, once in a while. Honestly, for the most part to make this weekly update of the news in good beer I just email myself links as I notice a story through the week. Usually there are seven or nine by early in the week. This week, I had over twenty by Monday. And, yes, emails. So… let’s dive right in.
First off, if you are in Toronto this evening (and I will be if only passing through via VIA) you can pop over to this fabulous fundraiser for an important cause to witness some top notch curling action (like that to the right from last year) at the Beer Sisters’ Charity Hopspiel:*
On January 31st, brewers from across Ontario will gather at the Royal Canadian Curling Club in Toronto’s east end. Clad in array of plaid, denim, light-up shorts, toques and matching jerseys, 24 brewing industry teams will face-off to raise money for the Native Women’s Resource Centre in Toronto. The Beer Sisters’ Charity Hopspiel, hosted by beer writers and educators Crystal and Tara Luxmore, is in its 7th year. The event has raised over $32,000 for the centre, and the sisters hope that this year they’ll cross the $40,000 mark.
Fabulous! And at the Royal Canadian Curling Club! An actual place I am assured, not just a mid-range brand of rye whisky from the 1950s.
Next, Katie wrote a wonderful piece on heritage barley published in Ferment that explores the use of Chevallier, the darling English malting from around 1820 to WWI. I immediately started badgering her about joining my Battledore revival crusade.
Note: Victorians represented in under 1% of the graph and the most striking thing is not their habits so much as the near replication of the feat right before the economic meltdown of 2007-08. Nonetheless, a very handy set of charts and who doesn’t like handy sets of charts?
Not journalism. Or at least not good journalism.** Just badgering. Easy enough to get a quote from someone but it usually requires letting them speak.
An clear and accurate guide to tipping in Canadian tavs, pubs and bars.
Update: We’ve had an actual update on #FlagshipFebruary and I couldn’t be more grateful for the clarification:
…it is in our and the industry’s best interest if we take a moment occasionally to appreciate the flagship beers of the industry’s foundational breweries…
So, the brewery has to have continued through the good beer era and the current flagship is the brewery hallmarks to recognize. Andy Crouch wrote a wonderful dense poem of a tweet on the same topic:
Revisiting long established flagships tastes of antiquity, success, failure, unfulfilled dreams of resurrection, and ultimately nostalgia. A place in time to momentarily revisit if only to remind you how far you’ve come but rarely a place to linger long.
I noticed this statement in a piece on German brewing culture and I thought it was extraordinary for suggesting agricultural capacity of a landscape is not the governing factor in whether beer was made or not:
Alsace is on Europe’s religious faultline. Beer is often thought of a drink of the Protestant north, but the facts don’t really bear that out. Belgium, Bavaria and Bohemia are historically Catholic (even if that religious attachment has faded); only Britain, of Europe’s foundational beer cultures, is Protestant. Does this suggest beer is less Protestant than thought? Perhaps, but I also think Catholic cultures are (as you might assume) better at preservation.
Well, I suppose someone has created a jam/jelly faultline based on religion. Me, I’d suggest many western and central European brewing traditions were pretty much established before the Reformation.
The effect of the US government shutdown on the brewing trade is measurable. Why the difference in processing wines and spirits? I blame the slackers attracted to a career in the beer label branch.
Gary’s piece on Watney’s Red Barrel as experienced in eastern North America at the time contains plenty of those links to contemporary primary documents that leave you persuaded. By way of contrast, this could really be read in two entirely opposite ways:
“I actually am mystified myself,” says Jeff Alworth. He should know…
Fine. I’ve held on long enough. Let’s talk Fuller’s or at least the highlights of the discussion. Promethean Jordan found a very helpful Brexit angle on the timing based on last year’s visit. Martyn argued convincingly that the whole sale spoke of business success and a strong future going forward. Then he added a bonus history of Asahi to deal with, you know, the legitimacy issues. Jeff at distance took it as a hefty body blow and mainly sees that it poses great risk to the English cask ale scene. Boak and Bailey wrote from their semi-characteristic personal perspective, supposing they are facing another long goodbye to a treasured relationship. Matt sided with the corporate success group and then started blatantly and publicly gambling with Boak and Bailey over the matter. Pete wrote first about his lack of levelheadedness when faced with the news and then got level headed and then sorta wobbled again in the semi-revisionist Book of Genesis stuff.***
My take? First, Fuller’s has been masterful in building up its reputation with good beer conversationalists over the last ten years. Remember how fun it was when @FullersJohn started tweeting? How beer writers were brought in and got their names on the label? What is really being noticed now is how the emotional credit Fuller’s they earned through that clever outreach has been truly a rich investment. And notice how none of the commentary comments upon that even though it was all done openly and with integrity. Second, the only constant about the beer business over the centuries has been the goal of continuous growth, merger and acquisition. Brewing has two great outputs: beer and wealth. This is just the latter being successfully served after a long stretch merrily servicing the former.
Never ceases to amaze me when we get messages like this: ‘We’d like to find out how to go about having our wines scored by Jancis Robinson, as well as the costs involved.’ Who charges to taste wine?
Who charges to taste beer? I know some but it would be rude to mention, no? Conversely, there is a craft beer fraudster working the US south:
“The phone rang and rang and rang…I checked the house and it was empty. The door was unlocked,” Brandon Oliver says. “His chickens were still in the backyard…about 90% of his clothes were gone…he left as if he only had six hours to leave.” Foster left his tools out at the unfinished beer garden. He and his family left town overnight.
The abandonment of the chickens is a sweet detail.
As someone with hearing that will never get any better, I really like this inordinately nice idea from a campaign under the heading Quiet Scotland:
Ever left a shop or been unable to enjoy a meal or drink because the background music has been so loud? Don’t like complaining? Try leaving one of our polite cards to get your point across.
An email went around from NAGBW HQ about the impending demise of the All About Beer web archive and I first thought it was an oddly presumptuous thing to send… and then I thought it was kind to alert me. I did not save any of my own work as anything I pitched was not dubbed worthy – which made me happy. I really hate editors and others paid to make things duller. But I did save Stan’s story How Craft Became Craft for very obvious reasons.
And, finally, let’s just watch this**** and listen to the screams of those precious darlings witnessing a part of their personal emotional foundations, the rebellious idols of their youths, being washed away out from underneath their feet:
That’s it! A big week in the contemporary detritus of good beer culture. Please check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday for more sensible and refined responses to the week in good beer.
* For those not in the punny know, see Bonspiel.
**Which is quite another point we never explore when a writer claims the journalism label… or at least the helpful bits. Seldom the adoption of the concurrent ethics lead at that moment.
***“Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale began life as an attempt to imitate Fuller’s ESB.” Really? How many beers is SNPA an clone of? Ballentine IPA. Burt Grant’s work. What else?
****And this, for that matter.
What a time to be a beer blogger. So sad so few of us are left to have all this fun! Do I speak of the switch in ownership of a beloved British brewer? The last try or dry of this the first month? No, it’s that idea of when did hopped beer really was brewed or showed up in and, then, was shipped out from British ports as a recognized commercial product.
I have happily read through and even negotiated electrical interconnection agreements. One lawyer more experience gave me the best advice early on. You have to obey the electrons. Similarly with history. It is not just that you need to get the facts straight. You need to obey the chronology. So, if I am being obedient, I need to know that hopped beer was in the ports and that ships were leaving the port in something like that order.
All of which is to say that it was very good to come across the paragraph to the right in 2002’s England and the German Hanse, 1157-1611: A Study of Their Trade and Commercial Diplomacy at page 81 where beer is described as “the new drink promoted aggressively by north German merchants in the late fourteenth century.” And it is beer being delivered, granted in small quantities, in London. The 1384 shipping record being mentioned is 17 years earlier than the 1401 shipment to Hull on the Elyn I mentioned last time. Which is good. And which sort of indicates to me what is logical – hopped beer showed up as a finished product before hopped beers were brewed domestically.*
As part of scratching at this itch, a bought a copy of The Widening Gate: Bristol and the Atlantic Economy, 1450-1700 on eBay which proved to be a helpful step in clarifying another record mentioned last time, the one about the two brewers apparently referenced in the alien subsidies. I had no idea what the subsidies were but, care of this helpful guide, starting in the middle of the 1400s near the end of the Hundred Years’ War a sort of census listing all residents immigrants was kept. And a small tax or subsidy was paid by the person in question once identified:
Justices of the Peace (JPs) were to assess who was liable to pay the alien subsidy. Names were returned to the Exchequer, which would then issue lists to the relevant sheriff or civic officials, ordering them to collect the tax. The JPs used juries made up of local men to identify the alien residents in their area… These local men used their general knowledge to identify aliens in their area. Some aliens were identified by their accent and language, some by their name. Some, whose actual origin may have been uncertain, were simply known not to have been born in England.
The helpful guide led to another website containing the complete England’s Immigrants 1330–1550 database which allows you to search by factors like name, name era within the period and trade. And so, lo and behold, we can see that one of the two immigrant brewers listed in the census for Bristol in 1441 was named Germanus Pownham of St. James Ward. While not in all records, we can see on this list of all 56 alien brewers that many of these brewers nationalities were listed. Scots, French and Irish are joined by others described as being a “Hollander” or “Brabanter” or having their origin in Lucca in Tuscany. Mr. Pownham’s is not listed but with the first name “Germanus” there is at least a reasonable chance he was German. Was he brewing German style hopped beer? The record actually doesn’t say.
The key for me is that, in addition to there being a Hanseatic depot at Bristol, both the beer and the brewer sufficiently predate long distance trade explorations out of England – including Bristol. Two expeditions for spice and silk to the Middle East are described in The Widening Gate in the mid-1400s. Both end in disaster at the hands of Italian merchant navies. Apparently, Genoa controlled the Mediterranean in much the same way the Hanseatic League managed the Baltic and North Seas. So, the idea that the Cabots – either John in the 1490s or his son Sebastian in the early 1500s – brought beer along with them when they crossed the Atlantic is not far fetched at all. All I need, as I wrote last time, is a record or two. Well, now another record or two.
*And all of which aligns with Martyn’s short history of hops in England from 2009.
Before the death of #TheSession, I posted some thoughts and indicated that I was not willing to entirely let the idea go:
I was so strongly moved by the idea of shutting down the sentence that I tweeted out my congratulations to Stan and Jay on their retirement, as opposed to that of The Session – the monthly collective writing exercise that has been a constant in the last 7/8th of the history of beer blogging. But then Stan and Jay wrote to tell me it really was time to let go. I wonder if they are right. They might be.
Jay also sent an interesting and positive email in response which I don’t need to share or anything but the idea is to see if we (meaning “I”) play with the fabulous concept of collective theme writing without having the same structures that, over time, became perhaps a bit burdensome. Make it hostless, for one. So, not quite the Avignon Papacy but exploring a slightly different path. Think of a 1990s TV special a year after the show was cancelled. Or maybe Star Trek’s The Wrath of Khan.
That being the case, here is an idea. We have heard a lot about #Dryanuary and folk like Matt have already posted a summary. I am suggesting a hybrid on the topic might be useful if only to record an overall statement on what the phenomenon of January 2019 meant to good beer culture generally. By hybrid, I mean a collection of new tweets and blog posts, links to big media articles and any other form of opinion gathering might be interesting.
So, how about it? How was your dry or wet January? Did the campaign actually change your behaviours in any way? Or is it just good to reflect on the idea of alcohol and health and this is a great way to do it? Send your thoughts to the comments below, to email@example.com or do your own think with the added hashtag #TheSession. I will gather it together as I can and post something either separately or on the following Thursday as part of the weekly update.
I should not complain about having to shovel snow on the 20th of January when its the first real snow of the winter. It’s not that tough a life. Five weeks to March today means it won’t be all that bad from here on out. What effect has this on my beer consumption? Not so much in volume but now is the time when a pint of stout and port is added to any sensible diet. I say “a” pint with care given the concoction should be somewhere in the area of 10% alc. Yowza. But when does great reward comes without some risk?
Not long after last week’s deadline for news submissions, Ed tweeted that he had “[j]ust been sent an excellent article on rice malt beer 😉” The study describes the potential of rice for brewing and sets out an optimized malting program allowed water saving. Which is cool. But it is also cool that it is about the use of rice which, except for corn, is the most hated of fermentables. This is despite the fact that rice beer came to Canada about 93 years ago – well after it was brewed in the U. S. of A. – a fact which has been fabulously preserved for us all in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case The King v. Carling Export Brewing & Malting Co. Ltd.,  S.C.R. 361 at page 373 about the production of beer during the era of US prohibition:
I do not think we can accept the suggestion that there was no market for lager beer in Ontario. The learned trial judge dwells upon the fact that rice beer is peculiarly an American taste, and infers that it is not sold in Ontario. The evidence in support of this does not proceed from disinterested sources and I wonder whether the boundary line so sharply affects the taste in illicit liquor. In truth, it is stated by Low that it was not until some time in 1926 that the respondents began the manufacture of rice beer, and we are not told at what date, if ever, in their brewery, rice beer wholly superseded malt beer.*
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we stopped calling it “American-style lager” and just called it rice beer… or corn beer as the case may be? Will it take another century to pass for good beer to admit this fundamental reality of North American brewing culture?
I am still not sure what to make of #FlagshipFebruary.** Like a lot of you, I have been making up alternative hashtags like #GoldenOldieAles, #FlogshipFebruary and #PartyLikeIts1999. But it’s earnestly offered and, you know, as long as there isn’t a secret spreadsheet being sent around to members of the good beer PR-consulto class prearranging who are going to each write about this or that fabulous flagship as a way to artificially drum up interest and maybe future paying PR gigs, I think we might actually come away with a reasonably good taste in our mouths.
It reminds me a lot of by far the most successful of such hashtags, #IPADay created in 2011 by this blog’s friend Ashley Routson aka The Beer Wench.*** But (and this was not really the case in 2001 so laugh not) I would argue was easier to determine what an IPA was in 2011 than figure out what “flagship” mean today. As I am l not clear what a flagship really is, I asked some questions like if the Toronto brewery Left Field consider their oatmeal brown Eephus (1) their foundation (2) their flagship (3) both or (4) neither. They wrote:
We’d be comfortable calling it a foundational beer. We don’t really refer to any beer in the lineup as a flagship. Along with a few others, it’s one of our year-round offerings.
See, foundational does not (usually) mean flagship. More evidence? Consider this September 1990-ish beer column on the state of affairs in Lake Ontario land. It mentions the venerable and largely forgotten Great Lakes Lager. Foundation? Sure. Not the flagship. That’s now Canuck Pale Ale. You know, flagship might also even be a slightly dirty word in the trade. A tough row to hoe for the industry marketers behind this scheme. But hope lives on eternally in such matters as we learned from the new CEO of Sierra Nevada who, faced with the task of turning things around for the musty ales of yore, stated:
…he’s bullish on Sierra Nevada’s prospects heading in 2019 and he’s projecting 5 percent growth. He believes that advertising will help turn around Pale Ale’s negative trajectory, and that continued growth for Hazy Little Thing, combined with increased focus on Hop Bullet and Sierraveza, will propel the company forward this year.
Advertising! How unlike beer macro industrial crap marketeers!! If that is the case, me, I am launching #FoundationAlesFriday come March to get my bit of the action. Join my thrilling pre-movement now.
Beer so horrible that it can’t really be called beer is rising in popularity in Japan as sales of the real stuff and the semi-real stuff drops.
Well, the multiplication of “style” to mean just variation leads to a dubious construct that bears little connection to original intent and leaves beer drinkers more and more bewildered when facing the value proposition of fleetingly available brands however well made.
Let’s let that sit there for a second. Fair?
Send a furloughed US Federal employee a beer. Or help with some unplanned bridge financing for an out of luck new brewery.
Even elsewhere-ier, Matt Curtis is to be praised and corrected this week. Corrected only in the respect that he wrote the utterly incorrect “in true journalistic style I was too polite to say” in his otherwise fabulous piece**** on what it was like going booze free for three weeks:
As I walked down Shoreditch High Street on my way to an event from the British Guild of Beer Writers showcasing alcohol free beers I passed some of my favourite bars and restaurants. I found myself pining to sit within them, simply to soak up the atmosphere. In that moment I felt that merely the sound of conversation and conviviality would sate my urge to drink more than any can or bottle of low alcohol vegetable water that has the indecency to call itself beer.
Note: an excellent lesson in what it means to understand beer. “It’s what [XYZ] told me…” is never going to serve as reliable research. Just ask, beer writers! Ask!!! Conversely, this article in The Growler serves as an excellent introduction to the 18 month rise of kveik on the pop culture commercial craft scene. I say pop culture commercial craft as it has been around the actual craft scene for a number of hundreds of years. Much more here from Lars.
How’s that? Enough for now? Winter getting you down? Remember: things could be worse. I think so. Don’t forget to read Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday if you want to stay on top of things. Perhaps he will update the impending contiguous v. non-contiguous acreage rumble we’ll all be talking about in a few weeks.
*Buy Ontario Beer for more fabulous facts like this!
**Though I do like the concept of the pre-movement.
***Note: I make no comment on the wide variety of beer “wenches” or “nuts”… or “foxes” or “man” or any such other monikers. At least they don’t claim to be an expert.
****The current edition of Boak and Bailey emailed newsletter contained this bit on Matt’s experiment: “…it all seemed pretty reasonable to us. But even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be any of our business. We did wince to see people in the business of beer berating him for his decision, and winced even more deeply when we saw people nagging at him to break his resolution.” I agree that this is sad and, I would add, smacks of the nags shouldering the alky’s burden themselves.
That passage above is from the The Voyage Made by M. John Hawkins Esquire, 1565. According to the wisdom of Wikipedia, Hawkins was the chief architect of the Elizabethan navy, the first English trader to profit from the Triangle Trade and Treasurer of the Navy from 1577 to 1595. Its from a part of his journal that records French colonial efforts in Florida at their short lived Fort Caroline. While the colony had only been settled in 1564, they had already turned local grapes into wine, apparently the first in North America.
It’s not the earliest record of alcohol use in North America – even if it might be the earliest of production. We have seen before how the French were drinking cider as they worked the Newfoundland shore in the 1520s. But what is interesting to me is that the French in Florida had their choice of products, given the ample source of good bread making grain, but made wine. Which is reasonable as wine is simpler to make than beer, given there is no intermediary stages like malting or mashing.
A few years ago now, I discussed the provisioning of Martyn Frobisher’s 1578 voyage to mine iron ore on Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic. The post was based on my luck find of the victualing records. Have a look by clicking on the image to the right. You can see how much biscuit, meal, beer, wine and pork was loaded on board. Note: beer, not malt. He was not brewing beer up on Baffin that year. I’ve discussed late 1500s trans-Atlantic ships’ provisions of malt before, too.
I have been a bit fruitlessly looking for more of those sorts of records, feeling a bit like Manilov in Dead Souls, not getting very deep into things. I want to turn the clock back further, back past Cartier in the mid-1530s. I have been primarily thinking about what was down in the hold of John Cabot‘s ships on his 1490s voyages to eastern Canada. Until I got into the Cabot era, I had no idea how lucky I was finding the record for Frobisher. An actual victualing bill from the 1570s. Lucky also that the scholarship on that adventurer was not as quirky and proprietary as was the case (perhaps until recently) with Cabot. That has recently broken somewhat in recent years. In 2012, The New York Timesreported:
In 2010, an international team of scholars working together in what is called the Cabot Project came upon a set of 514-year-old Italian ledgers that Dr. Ruddock had found decades earlier but which had disappeared from view. They showed that in the spring of 1496, Cabot received seed money for his voyages from the London branch of a Florentine banking house called the Bardi.
Plenty has come out related to the new Cabot findings that has given me a bit more hope. We know that Henry the VII gave notice in 1496 that Cabot was authorized to buy victuals for his first voyage and also authorized the second voyage in 1498. We also know that in 1499, a Bristol merchant named William Weston sailed to Newfoundland.* Cabot also might have settled friars at Carbonear, Newfoundland on his third voyage. But there is that problem of the vulnerability of scholarship… ie, people who I can poach from. That hoarders of ideas Cabot scholar Ruddock died in 2005 and Peter Pope who wrote wonderfully about the early Newfoundland trade died in 2017. So I am left to my own wits.
Which means I have to come up with rules for my own research. What do we know? Well, we do know that Bristol was the gateway for English expeditions to the west just as London and other eastern facing ports served, generally speaking, the North and Baltic Seas. In particular, Bristol had a flourishing wine trade in the 1400s. The quantities involved were significant – between 1,000 and 2,500 tons of wine a year through the 1400s, depending on the politics. We have to recall that the English held Gascony from the 1200s until the 1450s. Gascony is know for wine, even including the Bordeaux region. Bristol was where that wine was received for English consumption. So, it is reasonable to expect provisioning of vessels leaving Bristol in the 1400s to have a supply of wine.
Additionally, to find trans-Atlantic provisioning records you need to find trans-Atlantic voyages. Where were the merchant adventurers of Bristol during the English Renaissance sailing towards? First, we have to remember that the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386 is arguably the oldest alliance in the world. The Portuguese were also makers of wine for the English market as well as explorers. And that wine landed at Bristol. So they were sailing back and forth from there. Voyages, trade links and colonization out into the Atlantic was not a particularly wide-spread European habit before the 1400s. The Canary Islands, populated by a semi-Stone Age people, the Guanches, were only taken by Spain in 1402. Yet trade links with Iceland were developed by Bristol’s merchants by the mid-1400s which included a:
diversity in food [which] increased as the English… imported large quantities of beer and wine, salt and pepper, malt, wheat, sugar and honey.
Which means if the Bristol merchants are shipping beer to Iceland… there is beer on Bristol ships heading north. And, fabulously, malt. And other targets for the adventurous traders of Bristol were developed like the voyage of the Trinity in 1480-81 seeking out opportunity in North Africa. Was there beer in that hull, too? It’s not unreasonable to think so. We do know that the well-armed naval merchants of the Baltic-based Hanseatic League did not themselves get out into the Atlantic but they did bring hopped beer to England as early as the mid-1200s. Remember the cargo of beer brought on the Elyn of 1401. Which means that you have the conditions to have hopped beer moving out of England, too, as a transferred on trade good. Quite a bit early than I had thought.
I will illustrate my working date with some fairly common understanding of dates. Professor Unger identified “about 1520” as the time when the English mastered the new technology of brewing beer with hops. That is backed up by the records showing written references to “hops” or “hoppes” were not so common until about that same time. Yet, if you dig around the records a bit, that date starts to look a bit late. In records (“alien subsidies”) of foreign merchants for Bristol in the mid-1400s we read that:
…the returns to the 1449 and 1453 alien subsidies, which in some cases give either occupational descriptions or surnames that suggest an occupation: there are two beer-brewers, two tailors, a pinner, pointmaker (maker of laces for securing clothing), shearman, bellmaker, leatherworker, goldsmith, smith and, possibly, heardsman…
Which means that there were two immigrant beer brewers in Bristol well before Cabot and about the time of the Icelandic trade. Which means the beer heading north could well have been English beer and even made close to the port. Further, in the 2014 PhD dissertation by John R. Krenzke of Loyola University in Chicago, “Change Is Brewing: The Industrialization of the London Beer-Brewing Trade, 1400-1750” we read, at page 42, that a similar timeline is at play in London:
Ale brewers were successful in 1484 in having the City of London lay down the ingredients that could be used in ale brewing—“only liquor (heated water), malt, and yeast”—to limit the competition that ale brewers faced from beer brewers. In response the beer brewers of London were able to obtain a charter to become their own guild in 1493. The two groups were to remain apart and in direct competition to each other until 1556 when they were merged.
The “stranger” beer brewers were allowed to sell beer freely in London in 1477 and were not as unwelcome at all as we read on page 7:
…at first, beer remained primarily a beverage brewed by foreigners, known as strangers to their English hosts, for themselves and, because of its stability, for English soldiers. Stranger beer brewers found the Crown to be an ally throughout the fifteenth century because of their ability to supply beer to the military.
Nothing like government demand to validate new technology. And we need to recall in all this that Henry VIII himself created great state-owned naval brewing capacity at Portsmouth in 1515, producing 500 barrels per day to supply his militaryambitions. Just before Unger’s date of 1520. The question, then, is how large the capacity of the privately operating beer brewers of Bristol was half a century earlier and did it supply the merchant adventurer ships heading west to Canada in the 1490s. That is the question I need to dig at. All the conditions are present: confident merchant adventurers, established beer brewing and thirst. All we need is a record or two.
*Much more here on the scale of the oceanic Bristol trade missions in “The Men of Bristol and the Atlantic Discovery Voyages of the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries,” the MA Thesis of Annabel Peacock from 2007.
So… two weeks and a bit until #FlagshipFebruary* begins… meaning the inevitable rebound to #TrendyMarchMania will see some of the dry, those off the sours for almost nine weeks hitting the bottle extra hard. You know, we really need to full year calendar to keep all this stuff straight – given we also have #MildMay and #DecemberIsForAmataurs, too.
As I mentioned a few updates ago, the US government shutdown has caused all approvals required by brewers from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. I clucked at the time that at least this halted the manic pace of biere nouveau but – and with a hefty h/t to @beerinator – it appears that the permitting process is far more intrusive that that:
In a suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in D.C., Atlas notes that the government has approved labels for its cans of The Precious One, an apricot IPA, but not the labels for its kegs, known as “keg collars” before the shutdown began. Those kegs can’t be shipped out for sales outside of D.C. without label approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau: Doing so would violate federal law.
Who knew that “permitting” included such minor matters?***1/2
Next but disconnectedly so, here is an excellent primer for buying wine for a crowded restaurant table. Note the following statements:
I simply order what I most fancy eating and what I’d most like to drink, that’s what gives me most pleasure — even if the combination may seem bizarre to the sommelier… Do you worry about which cheeses to pick off a cheeseboard? I’m sure you don’t, so don’t worry about the wine…
Fabulous advice. Applies to beer, too.**
Unrelatedly, wonderfulviews (see above) of a +335 year old pub structure in Dublin, Ireland. Here is some backstory from 2016 on the efforts to save the structure:
“The astonishing skeletal grid of ceiling beams and joists is still intact on the ground floor, as well as early brick walls with ancient embedded timbers… With all of the modern partitions and ceilings now removed, the ground-floor shop retains all the grand scale one would expect of a public inn of the post-medieval period, complete with typical corner chimney stacks…”
Not connected at all, good to see some wonderful news of Young’s in England taking a stand on saving its affected staff from the fallout caused by Brexit. More here on the business reasons behind this sensible move:
The boss of pubs firm Young’s on Thursday cheered higher sales, but warned that hiring staff is tougher. Patrick Dardis said around 38% of his 5000-strong workforce are EU nationals, and added: “More workers [from Europe] are leaving here than coming. The recruitment and the retention of top talent is increasingly difficult.
Whiplashedly, ScienceDirect published this so it must be right. It’s a research paper entitled “Why are young people drinking less than earlier? Identifying and specifying social mechanisms with a pragmatist approach” which sets out a number of reasons why my children are apparently smarter than I was as a kid:
Recent analyses of surveys of youth drinking in Sweden have found a strong decrease both in rates of abstinence and in levels of drinking among drinkers. For instance, alcohol consumption among 15- to 16-year-olds has fallen more than 50% between 2000 and 2012. At the same time, the abstention rates among boys and girls have increased from about 30% to more than 50% . Moreover, heavy episodic drinking has decreased from 34% to 18% among boys (ibid.)… Similar declining trends of alcohol consumption among young people have been identified in other European countries, North America and Australia…
Virtigo inducingly, the Tand himself has posted about how craft sees cask and it’s good enough to have a whole month dedicated to the #MarchOnCraftFibs campaign. It starts fabulously thusly:****
Yesterday there was a Twitter post that caught my attention. It referred to an opinion piece in Imbibe Magazine by Jessica Mason in which she claims that “We’re on the precipice of a cask revival”. The article goes on to explain her thinking which can be summed up – more or less – that cask can revived – wait for it – by modern brewers adopting Golden Ales. Well I exaggerate, but I hardly agree either with the way the article says “cask is becoming ever more exciting, flavoursome and stylistically broad” as if we’ve all been drinking flavourless crud for all these years and can only be saved by innovative craft brewers rescuing us from our own stupidity.
And utterly conversely, I finally figured out what I don’t get about GBH writing style. This piece by Roth is pretty good even if it needs editing down to get some control of the subject. It’s like there is a need to give each source equal space. And the obvious extra access to New Belgium, an acknowledged sponsor, is there, too. But those are the problems with the subject matter presentation. That’s normal middly stuff. No, it’s the fact that the letters “GBH ” actually appear 22 times within the text of the story. Twenty-two! Breakout the flashing neon font. Enough already. One is enough. Three is cloying. But referencing your own publication 22 times in a story is weird. Needy. And too bad. It’s an important story and would have been much better if it was just cleaned up with a lashing of confidence.
That’s enough for now. My neck hurts. Odd. Mid-January is quiet time. I actually typed all this while balled up in family quilts watching VCR recordings of cooking shows from the 1990s. Seriously. Who has time for -26C, Sunday’s promised nighttime high? I want it over. You want it over. Like Brexit, we know the next few weeks are just going to be ugly and we need to get them out of the way. Need relief along the way? Check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday for a well earned break.
*Hmm. Now not thrilled with the hinted need to seek to attach a big old lumbering craft revenue stream to what is basically a hashtag.
***1/2Not sure what this footnote is for… it’s even out of order.
**Have another cold Big Mac, you big carrot-headed lardass! [Note: as a distant cousin of Mr. President, I reserve the right to call him a big carrot-headed lardass.]
***So much of wine pairing advice these days is based on relaxing and not worrying while beer pairing advice is so anxious.
****We really do need to acknowledge what a clear focused writer the Tandy One is.
While I suggested in the last Thursday update that I cannot find much drive within myself to take on the call to celebrate the flagship beers of yore in February I am not being a grump. As you can clearly see to the right, both the shed and I like flags. And I recognize that Master Polk and Mistress Polk, for example, appear to be positively enchanted. The Fuggled folk are all a’giggle. So, it is perhaps useful for me to see what I can do to assist even if I do not jump on the bandwagon. Let’s start with a clarification of terms. Mr. B. wrote this about #FlagshipFebruary on Facebook deep down on a thread:
Flagships are, I think, the beer that formed the foundation of the brewery… not necessarily its current best-seller. I’m sure there are brands that outsell Central City’s Red Racer Pale, for example, but I would certainly list that as the brewery’s flagship. Ditto Deschutes Black Butte.
There are a few things to unpack there. It’s not a beer that founded craft era so much as the brand for each brewery. So the brewery, practically, has to be old and its given candidate brand needs to be something of a survivor. And its not necessarily the most loved today which means you may need to do a little sleuthing unless you are going to stop at Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Sam Adams Boston Lager. So how are you going to do that?
Act like a historian. One handy resource that you can start with are the Past Winners’ records for the Great American Beer Festival. So, if you look at the first awards list you see that in 1983 SNPA was the overall winner while SABL won top dog in ’85 and ’86. Fine. But look at 1984. Yakima Brewing won first and second place for an imperial stout and a Scottish ale. Hmm. Now, look at 1987 where SABL won as best “Continental Pilsner” as opposed to “Continental Amber Labers” – really.
The brief study of these records raises a few more questions. Is the brand’s recipe or even branding sufficiently similar now as it was then when it served as a foundation? Were those really the hops they use back then? Are you really experiencing the same thing? Does it even exist? Also, do these flagships actually represent the brewery’s foundation or are they just the lucky ones that now have survived the obstacle course of time, those whims of a succession of a beer fads and trends. Does its current status actually reflect its actual history or is it, like the beak of the finch, the one which by luck could accommodate unforeseen future? Figuring out that might take a little work.
My thoughts? Not that this initiative is any sort of minefield that we will fail at but that this is a great opportunity to consider the relationship between the micro brewing phase of approximately 1983-2003 and the craft phase from 2003 to the present. How much of craft’s history is made up and heavily laced with retrospective rosy coloured glassware? Plenty, I’d say. How much is even based on the lessening status of the great old white male brewery owner? Maybe a bit? So… if you really want to celebrate the actual foundation of the good beer movement, look at the structure of the early medal categories and go get yourself some stout, an amber or a porter. Find a Fuggle.
Use #FlagshipFebruary. Use it to explore and enrich your own understanding. Sours, fruit beer, barrel aging and even heavy hopping are developments largely from later in the second half of the history of your hobby. You may need to accept that what is actually the old and foundational is actually new and novel to you. Which is good. So do it.
These are the cruel weeks. I’ve shared my dislike of the bleak mid-winter, haven’t I? I’m a bad Canadian in this respect. I have krazy karpets, skates, cross-country skis and even snowshoes but they all stay at home, down in the space under the basement stairs. We sorta even fear the toboggan. I don’t remember ever liking the coldest part of the year and I suspect I caught it from my mother whose town in Scotland has palm trees growing on the front. One thing I am not planning to do is wallow in strong ale, a traditional remedy or perhaps just response. Another reason #Dryanuary, in part or whole, makes a bit of sense and saves one from a shock.
I saw this chart (to the right) the other day and it gave me pause. See, it basically states that the top US macro brands added up to around $20 billion US in sales revenue in 2018. But here is the thing: if those top 10 are worth around $20b in sales and all of US craft is worth about $26b… what is the other 55-60% of the value of the US beer market made up these days? All of which illustrates either: (i) why I have issues with any numbers get thrown about in the triumphalist discourse or (ii) how easily I might miss perhaps obvious things. Help in the form of an explanation appreciated.
Here’s an interesting story, illustrating the conflicts that can arise among progressive constituencies and the need for serving staff to be extremely aware of complex matters of identity:
… the barwoman informed her she was banned because of the clothing item, which was considered as ‘transphobic and not inclusive’… The 34-year-old backs the feminist group Fair Play For Women, which opposed a Government consultation to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA)… [a] member of staff… told her she could not stay at the pub as she had been upsetting other customers… [one] took to Twitter to speak of his distress. He posted: “When you’re trying to relax in your fave pub and there is a TERF [trans exclusionary radical feminist] wearing an anti-trans T-shirt… it’s disgusting and I’m so upset by it…”
Next, I like this article on craft and fad by Matt C a lot but, as I noted to him via tweet, I was not sure that I agreed. Consider this passage:
“NEIPAs were waiting to happen,” McMeekin says. “Take the West Coast IPA, an amazing hoppy style of beer; soften it, plump it up, give it a unique hazy look and you’ve arrived somewhere that’s different, just as good, and still approachable.” Like Brut IPA, it’s a style many brewers have been falling over themselves to replicate, and yet it feels as though NEIPA has been around long enough to transcend mere trend and become something more meaningful.
See, for me none of this has been waiting to happen. It’s not natural. There has been nothing as intentional as the ramping up of US craft style fad over the last few years. As I recall, Craft Brewing Conference side seminars on barrel aging and newer and newer hop varieties beginning around a decade ago might have been the start of it all. A profitable route forward for all. Reasonable dream as dreams go, I suppose. Now, however, I see it as a dangerous game to present more and more rapidly shifting fashions to a well trained public. Dangerous given the level of investment required of small brewers to keep up with the chase.
I saw a local brewery charge $65 for a bottle of stout at a pop-up event in the city. Not for a case of stout, but for one 500ml bottle. Do what you want with your money, but that’s foolish.
Jeff has posted a very good post on three themes, including the plight of writers. I agree and entirely sympathize with his point of view except that he references writers “augmenting their income with the kind of work… that journalistic ethics once forbade.” My quibble is only this: that ethical construct still forbids them. It reminded me of the slightly cringe inducing line in the latest NAGBW newsletter:
Like our work as journalists, there are always ways we can improve what we do.
“Our”? I get it but a long time ago when we discussed these things, it was pretty clear actual beer journalism was a rare bird. But, like “expert,” it is an attractive and compelling form of calling card inflation that gets trotted out from time to time. Remember only this: it is good** to be a beer writer as that includes many wonderful categories: historian, novelist, PR, essayist, commentator, poet and journalist amongst many others. Many folk undertake more than one style of writing and, yes, many do take on journalism from time to time. But it is still a relatively rare bird compared to the overall scene. If we accept that, then we can release ourselves from the ethical quagmire and relish the prospect of spending time with Evan Rail like he tweeted about this very week:
I just gave a fun Prague tour to a lovely American couple. And last month I spoke about Czech beer to 20 US & Canadian brewers on behalf of the Foreign Ministry. If you’d like me to talk to your group, host a tasting or take you on a tour, please get in touch. We’ll have a blast.
Beer journalist Josh Noel has shared news of a Goose Island brewery contest in response to the hometown Bears gut wrenching loss on a missed field goal on Sunday:
The brewery announced on social media Monday night that it would do its part to help fans understand the difficulty of nailing a 43-yard field goal. The prize? A free case of beer each week for a year for anyone who makes the kick.
I tweeted how this was something exactly up my alley, being a fat middle-aged 1970s field goal kicking survivor myself. Interestingly, two tweets on the question of journalism are more to the point than my glory days dreaming. First, there was a direct discussion between the Michael K or the social media intern at GBH which was more than a little clumsy and ham-fisted leading to the wonderful response: “[w]hatever else you do, please keep calling me Joel.” And then less directly we had this slightly cryptic comment ending with “[b]ut that’s JOURNALISM for you“*** which I am sure I am too young to understand fully. My point (again) is only this. It is one thing among others. It is by far not the only thing and perhaps the thing you do not want to aspire to with your writing.
Enough!!! A few short items to close with:
– Science: by 1967, someone had created a beer can tab opening resistance testing machine.
– Predictions for 2019 are now coming in, like this one from BeerCrunchers2.0 blog suggesting the death of certain things, like high lactose beers, is either certain or, like Brut IPA, certified too soon. See, too, this wish list from @beerwithnat.
– ATJ wrote a wonderfully lyrical vignette for the Telegraph of London on a pub named The Barley Mow.
– The BBC Culture has provided us all with a bit on the Green Man, explaining the name behind many pubs.
– One last look at the best of 2018 from Retired Martin with some extraordinarily Dadaesque photos.
– I cannot find much drive within myself to take on Mr. B’s call to celebrate the flagship in February (given I am pretty sure we started giving them up for a reason) but your mileage may differ. Master Polk, for example, is positively enchanted.
There you have it. Busy. Another week on and soon it will be mid-month. Get your garden seeds now. In a couple of weeks it will be too late to start your asparagus patch for 2022 harvesting. You know how long they take to establish, right? Meantime, check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday.
*Librarian. @DCBeer co-editor.
**And, frankly, good enough.
***And the story (more essay than journalism) itself is quite good although we perhaps still suffer from the GBH two sides (“…You can have no issues with burlesque. It’s feminist expression, that’s fine…“) even when we are talking pretty obvious sexist piggery. It all reminds me of CBC 2015 at Portland where sexism seemed to be cool and apologists were many.