The lead article in the The New-York Weekly Journal of 21 August 1738 began with the words "the health of mankind has often been a principle subject of public paper" which is true enough but it's that bit above on the second page that seems timely. For a statement that is 278 years old, it's quite remarkably current. The connection between drink, geography and culture. People being formed out of the land that made them. It's even seven years before Bonnie Prince Charlie returned and just one long life after Cromwell's confiscations yet the passage starts "we in Britain." Ale drinkers. Hearty and robust.
This is the sort of problem I have in summer. Which is another way of saying I have no problems. Summer in the yard. Digging slightly pointlessly until drenched with sweat. Watching the teens push the mower from the prospect of that chair and that shade. What to drink?
I am happy to say I have two local gins in the cabinet - or as local as you get in Canada. One speaks of Quebec's Arctic with herbs north of the tree line. The other reeks of Ontario's middle, the bush of the Shield. I don't expect them to disappear soon as I rarely have a second. It's not that I suffer but I do find satisfaction fairly rapidly returned from a well placed G+T. I also make sure I have a reasonable utility gin in the cupboard, something with sufficient colonial branding, to ensure the good stuff isn't wasted on me by me. Gins. Or rather a gin.
Other than one gin what plays upon the mind as the bus trundles homeward? Riesling and Vinho Verde. Two wines that make every other white feel bloated and weighty. Each are madly underpriced, too. Each balances brightness and fruit. And each comes in at the lower end of the alcohol scale. 8.95$ x 8.95% is an attractive Portuguese proposition. Conversely, good Riesling is a very local proposition for me. This 2014 by nearby Sugarbush is a bigger take at 12.5%. From Hillier in Prince Edward Co., it's full of the rich cream the loam provides. Lightly lemoned sweetened cream. Farmsworth? Limestone shards like those in fields I walked out into last year. Wine from a field and a year.
What of beer? Tenacity pale ale by Ottawa's Tooth and Nail is as herbal as gin but with none of the levity. It's a lovely ale. Plenty of graininess standing up against the comforting weedy bitterness. Deep oranged gold, maybe it simply speaks of twelve weeks from now. The season of mellow fruitfulness. Does any beer match the audacity of an unadorned early leaf of lettuce? None. Wine wins every time. But maybe it's a campfire beer, an Algonquin beer? Perhaps I am too urban... or, rather, suburban. Last night I wasn't. I was out there, where highway 38 meets 7. Surrounded by mosquitos and haunted by distant calling loons watching the eldest play softball against the league's Near North team. It would have fit in there well, near where seed aspires to sausage. Really.
A road block. As much a writer's block as a researching one. Spring is a rotten time to sit down to a computer in the evening. Softball games need being watched, exam sitters need being encouraged and the garden still remains not fully planted. It's a bad time of the year to daydream about what was going on with brewing in the years around 1800. But then the hint is there - the garden - and away you go again.
The Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture is the oldest agricultural society in the United States, first organized in 1785. Reports about its early findings pop up fairly regularly in newspapers reminding you that leading edge science was always interesting and important. Was it the Homebrew Computer Club of its era? Maybe. Ben Franklin was a founder. But it didn't exactly set off a nation-wide explosion of research. My nearby Jefferson County Agricultural Society is the second oldest in New York State but, still, it's thirty-two years younger than the one in Philadelphia. But it started things rolling. The Philadelphia Society's is mentioned in the 31 July 1788 letter to George Washington from gentleman farmer George Morgan discussing strategies to avoid crop loss that seems connected to that newspaper report in the Poughkeepsie Journal on Hiltzheimer's crop planting tests from that fall. Both are related to the Hessian Fly. Morgan writes:
Your Excellency is no doubt informed of the Ravages made in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey by the Hessian Fly, whose History is given in various Publications: As this Insect is now advanced to the Neighbourhood of Philadelphia, and its Progress southward is alarming to the Farmer, I have taken some Pains to inform myself of its Manners and Life, and to make several Experiments to oppose its destructive Depredations: From these it appears that good Culture of strong Soil, or well manured Lands, may sometimes produce a Crop of Wheat or Barley, when that sowed in poor or middling Soil, without the other Advantages, will be totally destroy’d...
The Hessian Fly, Morgan reports, only attacked the wheat and barley. Rye was seldom touched and oats, buckwheat and corn were unaffected. The Hessian Fly was still hammering the crops in the Upper Hudson in 1799. Which goes a long way to explain why Sir William Strickland is studying American agriculture in the mid-1790s. Given Europe's croplands are being ravaged by war, finding sources of grain was vital. Two decades on, the issue is still a concern of the Philadelphia Agricultural Society, as noted in volume 1, number 12 of The American Farmer from 18 June 1819:
In England, and other parts of Europe, and in the northern parts of our country, summer wheat is raised to great advantage. Whether or not it would escape the fly is doubtful; for flies have been found in plenty in summer barley. ' It is not yet agreed what kinds of wheats best withstand injuries from the Hessian Fly. The yellow bearded and other wheats with solid straw or strong stems, (the solid stemmed wheats being designated by the appellation of cane or cone wheats) are deemed the most efficacious. Farmers should bend their sedulous attention to the selection of such wheats. Good farming, manure, and reasonably late sowing, are certainly the best securities. But too late seeding is unsafe; for the spring-brood of flies attack the tender plants of every late sown wheat, not sufficiently forward to be capable of resisting this foe, with the like destructive effect we experience in spring barley; appearing to prefer, for this purpose, plants in the early stages of their growth. It is, most probably, a native here. lt never entirely leaves us; though it appears, at irregular periods, in numbers less scourging than at times when its ravages are more conspicuously destructive.
Which indicates that there was a very good reason that six-row winter barley continued to be the preferred crop of barley well into the 1800s despite the advice given from England to move to two-row and its higher productivity. The finer crop simply was not suited to the local conditions. Winter wheat was out of the ground and hearty enough to withstand the fly. This also ties into Craig's observations from last January about the second third of the 1800s when he noticed Albany area brewers adding honey to the wort to top up the fermentables. Six-row worked.
Which makes me wonder when exactly six-row ever got into most of the mash in America?
Shocking news from the front lines:
He also reveals that the angriest mail he gets is from “beer nerds,” of all people. It happens whenever he drinks a big-brand beer on his CNN show “Parts Unknown.” “The angriest mail I get is from beer nerds — people who are craft beer enthusiasts and see me drinking a cold, available beer from a mass production and they get really cranky with me, and they assume that I’m plugging it or something,” Bourdain told AdWeek’s Lisa Granatstein. “In fact, I just like cold beer, and my standards rise and fall depending on access to cold beer.”
I like cold beer, too, but not with this sort of firm sense of distinction. The header up there is a tiny paraphrase from an Australian ditto tale of the AdWeek interview. But the story actually has a quite detailed explanation of the way Bourdain approaches being Bourdain and, oddly, beer seems to play a role. In another response he states: "I have final approval on all this, so nobody is going to come in and say 'Oh, by the way, you'll be drinking a Tsingtao in every scene'." In fact, he seems to give beer nerds equally short attention as those who offer the opportunity to be "a spokesperson for every variety of gastrointestinal problem." Yet not as bad Guy Fieri. Or Kobe meatballs. Which is somewhat comforting. Maybe.
How did good beer people get so... labelled? Such easy targets? I know - well all know that they did... but when did it happen? Is there a way to go back and fix it? Implicitly, Bourdain has lumped at least a significant part of beer fandom in a class with those who "bore people to death with something like your month-long program of drinking kale juice." Or do you take comfort that he has a deep love for "processed or not particularly good, easily meltable cheddar-like stuff that I can make macaroni and cheese with"? Is the point, he is he and you are you and you don't care?
If so... what's been the point of all the craft beer PR spin over the last decade? Don'tcha care? I mean sure he can be dismissed as a strong personality but, given his obsession with quality and flavour and disdain for the phony, doesn't Bourdain serve as at least some sort of barometer of good beer's broader success? I mean if you can't prove good beer is any good to such a beer drinking good food fan - what has the point been?
This month's edition of The Session sees Carla Jean Lauter asking us all to consider all those working in support of the brewing industry. With the ripples of doubt spreading upon the waters since last month's edition of the session, it's a good time to pay attention to some of these sorts of realities and practicalities. One of the more interesting things about the brewing trade is how it's an aggregation of many trades. Yet we mainly hear about the owners of big craft even though they are only a small part of the whole enterprise, however vocal. Hmm. What do I have to add to that of interest about the people in beer's neghbourhood?
When I started out beer blogging well over a decade ago, I was new to the eastern Great Lakes basin and became quite interested in the retail side and distribution. Shops in upstate NY like Finger Lake Beverages in Ithaca the Galeville Grocery in Liverpool were Nirvana after living with only the government store. I was exploring my regional ecosystem and struck how the staff of shops were "friendly and knowledgeable and not a bit concerned that I was taking photos of their well-stocked shelves like the weirdo I am."
As I moved out deeper into the ecosystem, I met folk in Ontario like Dave Beachesne of Beau's and Troy Burtch of first TAPS then Great Lakes who were the folk who sold the beer as well as the idea of good beer to both the retailers and the public. Being a friendly guy, I heard stories of both the upside and the downside of the life. Long hours in delivery trucks or day after day at events facing resistance to the concept of craft were their reality. True broad acceptance of the idea of good beer is a remarkably recent phenomenon.
Then there are the folk before the brewing. The folk growing hops, sowing and gathering in the grain. As I became more and more interested in brewing history, I came to learn how common the brewing of beer at scale was. Large scale hop wholesaling was existed in England's 1760s. Vertically integrated grain growing to internationally shipped cask was part of life on the Baltic and the North Sea in the 1400s and maybe earlier. Very much like today. People worked at all points of the industry. Harrah Farrington served beer in a pub in the 1720s and got in trouble with the boss. Same as today. In the 1500s someone was filling the casks.
People make the stuff used by those who make the beer. It's all deeply integrated into the community. Always has been. And I didn't even mention the excise workers. Pause for a moment for them as you slip on your beer today. Them and poor Hannah.
It's a concern if this recent report is anything to go by:
In the last four weeks, he added, the largest four BA-defined craft suppliers — Yuengling, Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium — were down a combined 4 percent. “I don’t think IRI has Yuengling in their craft, but the other three are 33.9 percent of IRI’s craft cases right now,” he wrote in an email. “Add in Blue Moon and Shock Top and you’re looking at 48 percent of IRI ‘craft,’ which is down 8 percent in the last four weeks. That’s going to pull hard on any number.” Indeed, volume sales of mainstream craft flagships like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Boston Lager, and New Belgium Fat Tire were down 5.9 percent, 13.8 percent and 5 percent through May 15, respectively.
Not to come off as being all neg on craft beer, it's good to note that cider is bottoming out, too. I was thinking about that while I was reading Bryan Roth's bit about selling to Millennials, aka thems who everyone else used to call Gen Y. The Roth report warns that craft brewers fail to focus on this era's set of young, fun, unburdened, disposing of disposable income cohort at their peril. Yet half way down the argument there is one of the scariest statements I have seen embedded in an info-thingy from the BA: half of craft beer purchases by Millennial males are brands the buyer never heard of before. Holy frig.
I am told the Cedar Waxwing is a bit of a rarity among bird. They lack a strong sense of territory. "Nomadic, moving about irregularly; both breeding and wintering areas may change from year to year, depending on food supplies." Drifty drifters, they can take off in a flock heading in one direction and, if there is enough food on the path, keep on for miles. Then they shift aimlessly off onto another path, happy as long as there is something new to chew. Were they the cider drinkers? The buyers of big craft flagships? Are they now making 2016 the summer of hard soda?
If I am honest, I am one of them. Gen Y yoof is just Gen X yoof with more money. Hard to shake the drift habit. Other than a modest if constant Dewar's habit, I hardly ever get only the same strong stuff on my weekly trip to the power house. I'll buy anything in a pretty wrapper from any brewer with a reasonable reputation - except if it's fruit flavoured, of course. No one needs that. Being an early Gen Xer, I have shared with my Gen Z teens a sense of disorder and unreliability. Both Ramones and tweed. The garden remains half planted. I root for whoever's doing well in the NBA.
Does the wise business person chase that market or aim for something a little duller and more reliable? You know, soon Millennials won't be the new market entrants. My kids will. Millennials? They'll start having kids and paying the bills. Settling and settling down. Maybe by then they'll need a flagship of their own. Something to remind them of when they were young. Or maybe sherry. Maybe the 2010s are the decade of fino sherries. Maybe.
A portion of a 1640s lease to Philip Gerritsen of a house to be used as a tavern. Click.
On the 22nd of March 1639, Cornelis van Tienhoven, secretary in New Netherland on behalf of the General Chartered West India Company received Gillis Pietersen van der Gouw, a 27 year old master carpenter who gave an account of the state of development in the colony by describing what buildings had been erected during Director Wouter van Twiller’s term on the island of Manhattan. Van der Gouw included in his report the building of an excellent barn, dwelling house, boat house and a brewery covered with tiles on farm No. 1. Van Twiller leased these lands in 1638 for two hundred and fifty Carolus guilders, payable yearly, together with the just sixth part of all the produce with which God shall bless the field. Beer would have been part of the produce.*
Director Van Twiller arrived in 1633 to run the colony in a time of great optimism and construction. The Hudson valley merchant community already had the character of an “independent sovereignty” more than a company doing business.
It owned one hundred and twenty vessels, ranging from three hundred to eight hundred tons burden, all fully armed and equipped; and employed between eight and nine thousand men. More than one hundred thousand guilders value in peltries were exported during the last year, and nearly the same quantity this year, from New Netherland. It is not surprising, then, that Van Twiller's plans were on an extensive scale. The chief essential to the prosperity of the colony still lacked, nevertheless. Scarcely one solitary agricultural settler had been, as yet, sent over by the company, to fell the forest or reclaim the wilderness.**
The beginning of brewing on Farm No. 1 was the start of a relationship that lasted on those lands into the next two centuries. It ran directly north of the company's garden outside the fort, from what is at present Wall-street, to Hudson-street, along Broadway in the city of New York; and went, in the time of the English, successively by the name of Duke's farm, King's farm, Queen's farm. Now the site of Tribeca and the World Trade Center, it includes the lands developed in the first half of the 1700s by the Rutgers and Lispenard clan. It includes the 1760s export oriented brewery of Harison and Leadbetter and their successors into the 1800s before the good water disappeared. Legal right to the land meant control of the grain and the wealth brewing inevitably brings.
The reason for that long lasting success was, as it is today, the sensible regulation of brewing and beer consumption. Very early on in the New Netherlands experiment, the functions of grain growing, beer brewing and tavern keeping were separated and kept separate just as they were in the Netherlands. Then as now there was too much money and power inherent in the trade to allow it all under one hand. And there was too much danger in allowing it to all go unchecked. Yet, access to beer was a cultural key for the Dutch to the entire colonial undertaking. So, good laws were put in place. The most obvious sorts of laws are, like the above, the leases and transfers of land. Beer needs land. On 20 July 1638, Director General Kieft entered into a lease to one Jan Evertsen Bout for the New Netherlands Company’s farm at Pavonia in what is now New Jersey. The rents were quite specific:
For which Jan Evertsen aforesaid shall be bound yearly during the term of the lease to deliver to the aforesaid Mr. Kieft or his successor the fourth part of the crop, whether of wheat or other produce, with which God shall favor the soil; also every years two tuns of strong beer and twelve capons, free of all expense.
Brewing was part of the farming process. And sometimes too good a part of it to leave with the farmer. On 26 August 1641, Hendrick Jansen agreed to sell his property to Maryn Adriaensen. The sale included a house, barn and arable land plus a barrick all associated heriditaments together with all that is fastened by earth and nail. Excepted from the dead by were Jansen's brew house and two brew kettels, which he was required to remove and take away "at his convenience and pleasure."***
Just as the law recognized and protected who controlled the land and equipment that produced the beer, the law also regulated who sold the beer. Many of these sorts of laws still exist - like the laws regulating the distance a bar can be from a church and the rules about disturbing the peace during services. On 11 April 1641 the Council of New Netherlands heard the following case:
Whereas complaints are made to us that some of the Inhabitants here undertake to tap beer during divine service and also make use of small foreign measures, which tends to the neglect of religion and the ruin of this state; we, wishing to provide herein, do therefore ordain that no person shall attempt to tap beer or any other strong liquor during divine service, or use any other measures than those which are in common use at Amsterdam in Holland, or to tap for any person after ten o'clock at night, nor sell the vaen. or four pints, at a higher price than 8 stivers, on pain of forfeiture of the beer and payment of a fine of 25 guilders for the benefit of the fiscal and three months ' suspension of the privilege of tapping.****
This is not to say that the Dutch of New Netherlands were prudes. Far from it. Church events could be laden with alcohol. On 15 February 1700, the last of the church poor in Albany died - Ryseck, widow of Gerrit Swart. The “onkosten“ or expenses for the burial and ceremony borne by the community was recorded. The event seems to have been a social one. In addition to 150 sugar cakes and sufficient tobacco and pipes six gallons of Madeira were provided along with one of rum. In addition, twenty-seven guilders were paid by the congregation for a half vat and an anker of good beer. A similar table was set when Jan Huybertse passed away in February 1707. He was one of the “nooddruftige” or the needy and church coffers paid out for 3 gallons of wine, one of rum as well as 18 guilders for a vat of good beer. In each case, respects were paid by the local believing community with a good send off and a good drink for those in attendance.*****
Away from the church, the scenes could get more haphazard and needed locking down by municipal ordinance. Prices were fixed. On 16 January 1641 Cornelio vander Hoykens prosecuted Jan Tomasz and Philip Geraerdy for having sold beer for two stivers higher per gallon than was allowed.† On 25 August 1644, in making his defence to a prosecution that he did not pay the proper rate of excise tax on his beer, Philip Gerritsen raised the fact that a gang of sorts was at large who demanded cheaper beer. The week before the brewers declared on the record that if they voluntarily paid the three guilders on each barrel of beer, they would have the Eight Men and the community about their ears. In response, the council of New Netherlands banned harboring or even giving any food to the leaders of the Eight Men.†† The threat of violence, just as today, could play out within a tavern - as was seen on 14 March 1647 when Symon Boot met Piter Ebel:
...after the aforesaid persons had fought together, that a piece of Symon Root's ear was cut off with a cutlass, whereof the aforesaid Symon Hoot In council demands a certificate In due form, In order that In the future, If necessary, he may make use thereof. Therefore, we, the director and council of New Netherland, [hereby certify that the ear was out off with the] cutlass In question in the place aforesaid. We request all those to whom this certificate may be shown to give full credence thereto. In token of the truth we have signed this and confirmed It with our pendent seal In red wax, this 14th of March, to wit, the certificate given to Symon Hoot.†††
Rather than leave it to the law of fist and knife, the Council required the giving of proper evidence to substantiate events as set out in the complaint. Order was imposed. A particular form of regulation related to violence was the troubled relationship the Dutch had before establishing peace and alliance with the local indigenous population, not helped in the slightest by Willem Kieft's decision to attack them without any reasonable prospect of winning let alone actual sufficient cause. On 1 July 1647, the Council stated:
Whereas large quantities of strong liquors are dally sold to the Indians, whereby heretofore serious difficulties have arisen in this country, so that it is necessary to make timely provision therein; Therefore, we, the director general and council of New Netherland, forbid all tapsters and other inhabitants henceforth to sell, give or trade In any manner or under pretext whatsoever any beer or strong liquor to the Indians, or to have It fetched by the pail and thus to hand It the Indians by the third or fourth hand, directly or Indirectly, prohibiting them from doing so under penalty of five hundred Carolus guilders, and of being In addition responsible for the damage which might result therefrom. ††††
Things came to a point that early on in his term as Governor, Peter Stuyvesant made a general proclamation on 10 March 1648 respecting a wide range of they ways beer impose upon public order. No new ale-houses, taverns, nor tippling places could set up without council's unanimous consent. Tavern keepers could not sell the businesses and had to immediately report all altercations. They could not "admit or entertain any company in the evening after the ringing of the curfew-bell, nor sell or tap beer or liquor to any one, travelers or boarders alone excepted, on Sunday before three o'clock in the afternoon, when divine service is finished, under the penalty thereto provided by law." They were bound not to receive, directly or indirectly, into their houses or cellars any wines, beer or strong liquors before these are entered at the office of the receiver and a permit therefor has been received, under forfeit of their business and such beer or liquors and, in addition, a heavy fine at the discretion of the court.†††††
Notice how similar these laws from 370 years ago are to the sorts of regulation we see today. Not because the Dutch were puritanical or that the paranoia of a Randian was in anyway justified then as now. It's because beer and taverns are both pervasive and a huge challenge to social order. Regulation and control not only are about ensuring taxes are paid and limbs go unbroken. While beer may be a consistent element of western culture, it is not all about sunny days on the middle class patios. And it's an industry that generates massive economic wealth. So it is taxed. And it is controlled. Then and now. Because it is beer.
*Volume 1, Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1638–1642 (translation), pages 6, 108:
** History of New Netherlands: Or, New York Under the Dutch, Volume 1 by Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan, 1846, page 155-157.
***Volume 1, Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1638–1642 (translation), pages 72-73, 358-359:
****Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 106.
*****Upper Hudson Valley Beer, Gravina and McLeod, pages 35 to 36.
†Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 134.
††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 235.
†††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 360-361.
††††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 380-381.
†††††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 496-500.
This is one of the sadder passages I have read about exploring brewing history in a long time. It's in an excellent article by Joe Stange in which he is kind enough to have mentioned me:
At the recent Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia, there was an unusual morning roundtable totally devoted to historical beer styles. New Belgium brewmaster Peter Bouckaert moderated the panel, which included Brewers Association president Charlie Papazian, Colonial Williamsburg brewmaster Frank Clark, and Brasserie de la Senne brewer-historian Yvan de Baets. Audience members participated in the conversation, including several brewers and author Randy Mosher. Suggestions ranged from an open yeast bank devoted to ancient strains to an online depository for primary documents, including guidance on things like obsolete weights and measures, heirloom ingredients and historical method. “Make sure that everyone knows what the standards are for what qualifies as history,” Mosher said, “because we’re all just sort of winging it. … Some of it’s real history. And some of it’s just stories.”
The passage is not sad because of who was there or who said what. It's because of the word "we" sitting there in the last bit there. The gathered folk - as I had feared and when voicing that fear was told by an eminent beer writer to "GFY" in an utter lapse of self control - had adopted a conversation control standard. People of standing were placed in a room with a topic that needed to be addressed but in a way that didn't let the content get out of control. Can't have that.
In his article Joe deftly compares the phenomenon with organic historical research: "just think of the many people willing to research and write about niche historical topics, often on their own blogs, for little or no money." Who does that remind you of? How about all the new small brewers who don't need to look to big craft for the authority to do what they want, to succeed as they want. Read Michael Kiser's second last paragraph in his submission for this month's version of The Session again:
If you think, even secretly, that your success in craft beer had anything to do with how wide open the shelf was at the time you started, I sincerely hope you’re listening for a ticking clock. The people coming up behind you are entering the most diverse and competitive beer market in the history of beer in this country. And they’re not complaining about it. They’re shaping their ideas into sharper, more precise weapons. They’re finding smarter financial models they can sustain. They’re brewing for audiences that are perpetually turning 21 even as we get older and older. And when they look across the tap lineup at their neighborhood bar, they don’t see AB or MillerCoors. They see you.
Let's be honest. Beer writing is a small field packed with plenty of jostling. The pie is only so big but people have appetites. Folk of little imagination but plenty of ambition will gladly let you know their opinion about who should be writing about beer. And folk will gladly step in front of you in the buffet line up. Take your work, drop it in their book and not cite you. And brewers will lift research and brew with it without so much as a mention let alone a proper payment. My second or third question to Ron is always "and did they pay you for that?" So, be alert. When someone who is not particularly involved with researching beer history suggests "we" need to make sure that everyone knows what the standards are for what qualifies as history ask yourself whether or not it's the same thing as the newbie nano not much interested in what the old farts of big craft think.
"We"? Hardly. "Them" and "they" more like it. The people doing the work who don't bother with the keynote speech or junket. The people with better things to do, too busy down at the library with their nose in the books.
These are busy days. The endy bit of April and the first half of May require my time in the garden. Yesterday I took apart the compost bin, sieved all the good bits out, returned all the half-rotted stuff and layered it with last autumn's leaves and the parsnip greens from the overwintered crop. And it had gone all anaerobic. Much of it was the consistency of warm chocolate, reeking of sweet bog. Hours it took me. Then there was the week's laundry. I don't trust it to just anyone. And another Red Sox game to watch. And tweed to covet.* And supper to make. Saturdays are exhausting. No time to swan and noodle about the the London Metropolitan Archives like some. Research gets little time in spring.
Yet, at the back of my mind there is that question. You will recall Sir. Wm Strickland's observations from 1796 set out in a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated 20 May 1796:
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.
The passage is handy. It fills in two of the five grades of barley known to Britain in the 1790s. Flat or Battledore is the best. Bigg or Bygg is the worst. In the last post about Strickland, we reviewed how that latter lesser sort was six-row, winter or bigg barley. So what were the others? Battledore was a thing of the past in 1866 when the fourth volume of The English Cyclopaedia stated that the Sprat, or Battledore - also called Putney Barley - is the hordeum zeocriton. In a 2010 post, Ron noted that it was also called Goldthorpe. It seems to have hit its peak before the popularization of hordeum distichum or Chevallier. In 1785 it was described in A New System of Husbandry: from many years experience, with tables shewing the expence and profit of each crop by Charles Varlo in this way:
The sprat or battle-dore barley, has only two rows of grain; for which reaƒon , the ear is flat, the corn is ƒhort, plump and thin ƒkinned, not inclined to have a long gross ƒtraw, (but indeed this varies according to the richneƒs of the ground it is ƒown on) it is ƒaid it will grow well on many other ƒorts of land. I have had great crops on tough, ƒtrong, cold clay, or gravel land; but ƒuch muƒt be well pulverised, ƒweetened, enriched, mollified and warmed by tillage.
See, now it's "Battle-dore" as well. And the focus is not so much scientific in the sense of identifying the plant as it was agricultural in the way the author describes its uses. In 1745's Agriculture Improv'd Or the Practice of Husbandry Displayd by William Agric Ellis, it was stated that it will produce "a strong straw that will always grow and stand erect to the last" whereas "common Barley... will fall down, and sometimes rot on the Ground." Being also an earlier crop, the sprat or Battledore was harvested in 1744 before damaging rains came.
It is this Sort of Barley that is most valued by Distillers, for producing the greatest Quantity of Spirits, and is no less profitable to Brewers, for making a Malt that yields the greatest Length of Worts : The Stalk and Chaff indeed are coarƒish, but the Quality and Quantity of this Grain largely compenƒate for it.
More information is provided in The Natural History of Northamptonshire published in 1715 by John Morton, naturalist and Rector of Oxendon.** He records that there were two sorts of barley in his immediate area: sprat or Battledoor barley and Long-eared barley. Rath-ripe barley, however, was being grown in the area of Lowick, twenty mile to the east, and in fact it was the only barley sown by his colleague the Rev. Mr. Poulton of that parish. Each of these are distinguished, again, from common barley. Reaching back another twenty-nine years, we see the sorts of barley described in 1686's The Natural History of Stafford-Shire by Robert Plot - perhaps my favourite new old book of the year given how it may contain a creation myth, the very genesis of Burton and its ales. In one exciting passage at page 347, Plot states:
... it remains only that we recount the varieties of each kind sown here; and by what rules they are guided in the choice of their seed: there being as many sorts used here, and perhaps more, than in some richer Counties. For beside the white-flaxen, and bright red-wheat (which are the ordinary grains of the Country) they now and then sow the Triticum Multiplex or double-eard wheat; Triticum Polonicum or Poland wheat; and Tragopyrum, Buck or French-wheat; all described above Chap. 6. And for barleys; beside the common long-eard, and sprat-barley, which are most used; they sow sometimes the Tritico-speltum or naked barley, of which also above Chap. 6. And amongst the Oats: beside the White, black, and red Cats; at Burton upon Trent I found they also sowed the Avena nuda or naked Oat ; described, Ibidem.
Is anything more fabulous than a text that is 330 years old that uses the proper scientific Latin names of things? It's all so... science-y. But what does it tell us? What does all of it tell us? Here's what I see:
1. Battledore or Sprat Barley
2. Long-Eared Barley
3. Naked Barley
4. Rath-ripe Barley
4. Bigg Barley
Are these the five sorts of barley Strickland mentioned in his letter of 1796? I don't know. There must be a masters thesis or two out there on the topic that would give more clarity. And there is that pesky reference to "common barley" that is a bit of a theme throughout these texts. Suffice it to say for now, then, that there were varieties and perhaps ones which are still sown for non-brewing purposes. More research needed. But, clearly, we can be assured that to the gentleman agriculturalist of 1796 Battledore is the best and was spoken highly of for the previous century. Which makes me suggest that if one is recreating porters of that vintage one ought to be using Battledore malt and not the later improved varieties of 1800s Chevallier or mid-1900s Maris Otter. Shouldn't one? Certainly one would if one is to brew the earliest Burton, like the lads sipped in 1712.
Update: if you click on that thumbnail you will see a passage from John Ray's 1677 book Catalogus Plantarum Angliae, Et Insularum Adjacentium: Tum Indigenas, tum in agris passim cultas complectens. In quo praeter Synonyma necessaria, facultates quoque summatim traduntur, una cum Observationibus et Experimentis Novis Medicis et Physicis which describes Battledoor barley as a form of hordeum distichum and not hordeum zeocriton. Hmm... in 1838 it was called hordeum disticho-zeocriton. Hmm...This 2003 bit of botany suggests Spratt was a UK landrace out of which other barley strains developed.
*I am having a wee problem over the last six months. It really started in January 2015 with a windowpane tweed bucket hat bought at Pringle in Glasgow. Then, told at work along with other mid-life males to smarten up the look a bit I've, well, gone a bit overboard. I can't recommend Peter Christian highly enough in such tight spots. Clothes for folk with 37 inch arms like me. Delivery by international $25 courier in about five days. I had no idea that I needed a lavender crew neck cotton sweater. But now I have one. And four new sports coats. And new sorts of socks. God, the HJ socks alone have changed my life...
**Which is just nine mile south of the famous Kibworth examined in BBC's The Story of England mentioned here and here.
Ah, the liquor control system. Government stores controlling the marketplace and then pretending that it's still a marketplace. The sort of system that announces growlers will be sold in Ontario and then builds one growler stand in just one Toronto store to serve the entire population of 13 million or so. Once in a while, however, it comes up with a great idea:
Several LCBO stores, including the location at Wonderland and Oxford in London, have moved oodles of Ontario craft beer by refusing to tell customers what exactly they are buying. The store puts random cans in plain brown bags and prices the mystery bags for about $12, give or take, depending on what’s inside. An LCBO store in Waterloo recently claimed credit for starting the surprise suds marketing phenomenon, fuelled by young adults seeking to recapture some birthday party-style grab bag excitement.
Planning a career in branding? Maybe you should switch to marketing instead. Because sometimes covering up what's in the package sometimes is an improvement. Think about it. Folk seem to be unhappy about this year's new beer brand, America. For the life of me, I don't see the issue. But I am Canadian so maybe I wouldn't.
Maybe it's going to be OK. Maybe it's this summer's new thing. Beats the hell outta X-treme, crafty v craft or treating buy-outs like identity theft. Could 2016 be the year that we just want a beer?