A Good Beer Blog

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Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


Comments

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Craig -

Maybe Ron isn't that far of in thinking that the 10.67% Albany Ale, from Pereria's analysis, is in line with a XXXX ale.

Alan -

I just caution anyone from making these "XXX" and "Albany" Google image searched!

Probably confirms something whoppingly great was being made. But what is most odd is that the wide variety of beers make it difficult to understand what "Albany ale" meant. Which is different from Philadelphia porter as at least we understand that it is a porter. I am thinking the reputation was for a quality in the beer (softish water from that bit of salt?) and the high test end of the range. But it is guessing, isn't it.

Gary Gillman -

Alan, I think your last statement is as close to the truth as likely we are to get. A variety of strengths was produced, as the various ads and business history extracts seem to suggest, with a focus probably on the 7-10% higher end. The 7% seems to have been the draft and what Jonathan Pereira looked at was the bottled. Only the Scots seemed to bottle beer that strong although bottled Burton beer seemed to emerge (from what I've read) in the later 1800's as something similar in ABV (Bass No. 1 etc.). These probably did not taste the same. My best guess from all the reading I've done is the strongest Scotch ale was honeyish and sometimes smoky, Burton's beer was probably estery and sometimes with a sulphury note, and the strongest Albany beer was like - modern DIPA! Those Clusters wouldn't have tasted like Fuggles and Goldings and whatever New York State hops were used, they would have been closer in taste to modern Oregon and Washington State hops, I think, than English ones.

Incidentally that California Pale Ale was probably common ale or steam beer, i.e., warm-fermented lager, or an imitation of it using ale fermentation.

Albany's fame in brewing got brief notice in a book from the early 1970's by Will Anderson, an early modern chronicler of American breweriana and history.

Stanley Baron's late 1940's history of American brewing also refers to Albany's renown in ale production. See again Google Books but snippet view only again.

Once again although not all the proof is in and perhaps more will be found, I think it likely that Albany's fame related not to production of a single, unique type of ale, not to something that is akin, say, to ice wine from Niagara, and thus did not have a unique flavour or production method, but rather reflected high expertise in ale brewing in general. (All ale started around 7% in the 1800's too, pale ale was an exception since it derives from the stocked beer tradition).

The deponents in that 1830's inquiry held in New York State into the purity of brewing suggested nothing special attached to New York brewing, no smoked malt, or other special ingredient or procedure, was used. They used mainly hops and malt, and sometimes a little salt (used also in British brewing). I think one or two mentioned having tried molasses as an adjunct, but the same thing was being done in England and accelerated when sugar use became lawful mid-century.

Anyway, these are my thoughts to date from all that I've read on it.

Gary

Gary Gillman -

Another possibility viz. California Pale Ale, perhaps one more likely (I'm now thinking), is that it was a pale beer which used California hops. At the time, hops were grown in California, the Hoplands area in northern CA is a legacy of that. But as in New York, hops faded from the scene in favour of other places, with Oregon and Washington the most notable, as still today.

Gary

Alan -

I disagree. I think the ice wine is an excellent analogy in terms of the XXXX as in there is a general quality and specific variables.

Gary Gillman -

Well, my thinking was, Canadian ice wine is essentially a new style of wine. Its progenitor is an obscure German wine style made in a similar way, Eiswein. I think it's true to say that the Ontario version has a unique profile, i.e., it's (usually) peachy-tasting, relatively low-alcohol, very sweet. I've had one or two German ones and they don't really taste like Ontario's, IMO. (To me they are more like a very sweet Riesling, but then I've only had a couple).

I can't recall seeing any real taste notes on Albany Ale. It had a high position in international markets, but its strength surely was a big part of that. Look at this odd statement though, which I've been trying to parse, which says Albany Ale was popularly called "cat soup".

I checked around a bit and the term cat soup was used in the 1800's to describe something not very appetizing, such as you'd find in a workhouse. Given that American hops back then were sometimes called catty (as e.g. sauvignon blanc wine sometimes is today), and this was due to a particular vegetal scent of hops grown in American soil, I wonder if the term cat soup meant a catty smell. A strong beer would be very hoppy and maybe those Clusters had a taste like that then. If that is so, perhaps it did taste like some DIPAs of today since some of them do remind me (not all) of a good sauvignon blanc wine!

Or perhaps the term was meant as a humorous rendering of "catsup", being a spicy, salty condiment - which may tie in Alan to your idea earlier that Albany Ale may have had a salty tang. Either way, the term seems disparaging, but then too while I only glanced briefly at the chapter from which the reference is taken, it seems drinking was being adverted to negatively, so probably not much should be read in this odd term, "cat soup". But still I thought it was worth mentioning.

Anyway, that's the question: was Albany Ale at its finest a special and unique flavor, recognized as such by the experts of the day? A flavour that was shared by all producers, just as icewines in Ontario seems to share a certain quality no matter who makes it?

It might have been, but has enough been uncovered...?

Gary

Craig -

Gary– New York was still killing it as far as hop production goes in the 1880s. The "cat soup" reference was from a temperance pamphlet, so I'd take that with a grain of salt!

Alan–On the Cali topic—I've seen a number of references to California Beer being brewed in Albany from that period. The one I remember the most was from an exhibition at the Albany Institute of History and Art on local advertising. Two bar mirrors were displayed, one of which noted Albany made California-style beer predominately in it's graphics. I think steam beer making in Albany was a last ditch effort for ale brewers to fight the onslaught of lager, before either converting to full lager production or closing up shop.

On the strength topic. It's very possible that brewers of Albany made several beers from one wort and parti-gyled the runnings to either dilute or augment the strength of each level—X (7.5%), XX (8.5%), XXX (9.5%) and even XXXX (10.5%). Although, It seems like XX was advertised pretty heavily, maybe that was the flagship brew? At least with brewers like Taylor and Amsdell and McKnight.

Gary Gillman -

I know that New York was dominant in the hops trade then, but to give a steam beer authenticity they might have imported some California hops. (Why too call it pale ale and not steam beer, but there could be many explanations...?).

There's no question that the x progressions designated ABV level and therefore price. But just like Scotch Ale, i.e., the original, lesser-hopped, maybe smoky Scotch ale and not imitations of English styles was and is still to an extent recognized as a classic style, Albany Ale could have been as well at the top of the range. It may have been again like many modern DIPAs or strong American barleywines, i.e, with an American hops topnote. Or maybe it was salty. Or both. But it's inferential, there aren't (from what I've read here or on Google Books) taste descriptions that are akin to some you find for Scotch Ale or strong English beer of the same period.

Gary

Gary Gillman -

Actually gents in a manner speaking and with all due qualifications being allowed, a form of "Albany ale" does survive today and a strong form did until the mid-1990's. It is Ballantine XXX Ale and Ballantine IPA, respectively. The Scottish immigrant Peter Ballantine started out in Albany. He left for bigger markets after about 12 years. I'd think Ballantine XXX, now made under contract for Pabst which owns the brand (made I believe at a Miller plant in North Carolina), is similar to the Albany XXX beers of the 1800's. Sure there have been many changes in production plants and ingredients, but the formulations for these beers were handed down to the generations to the present owners, the lineage has to mean something.

It uses corn adjunct but some ales did then too in the later 1800's. And you can envision what the beer is like without the corn, it's quite similar to many APAs, less hoppy but the hop taste is still identifiably APA in style, or to me anyway. And Ballantine IPA, which I bought for many tears until its sad demise, was a sort of cross between an English and modern American IPA or an APA. There is a beer in Toronto, Granite's Best Bitter, that reminds me a lot of Ballantine IPA. If Albany beer did have a smack of piney and citric U.S. hops in the 1800's, maybe that is what distinguished Albany Ale from the Scottish and English competition. Just like today, the English see that American Pale Ale due to the hops used is different from their bitters and pale ales, to the point they are making their own versions now (e.g. the excellent Jaipur IPA).

I firmly believe American hops haven't really changed taste much in 150 years and more. The soil gives the character. Obviously cross-breeding and such will affect it, but only to a point.

So maybe you're right, Alan, maybe.

Gary

Alan -

I have read somewhere of the Cluster or Pompey hops of mid-1800s being catty like cat pee. And soup means a mess. So the temperance people may have been building on the known in that argument. What ever it is, Albany ale was known as it is advertised as such. Just like "west coast ale" would convey meaning to those in the know today.

Excellent stuff.

Gary Gillman -

Indeed in discussion in the comments (you pitched in) in Jeff Alworth's blog last year, someone suggested Cluster did have a cat's pee smell. Jeff noted floral and citric qualities in a Cluster recreation beer he tasted, and possibly both elements were present in the hop. It may have depended on how fresh the hops were, or what area of the U.S. they were grown in, maybe New York Clusters didn't have the citric fruity side. That cat's soup comment may have been a double entendre. Sometimes seemingly negative traits can constitute a classic taste in beer.

Gary

Alan -

Yes and there is a particular chemical in flavour that can go either gooseberry or cat pee as in sauvignon blanc wine. It is based on the drinker's perceptions not the substance. Like a strong or weak taster.

Gary Gillman -

I agree and another example is the sulphury taste of some Burton beers, e.g. some (not all) Marston's beer has it. I don't like it - IMO Creemore has a similar accent, from the yeast I believe - yet it is a classic beer flavour. Many German hops, to my taste, are onion-like and even slightly funky - and I've drunk them there on draft many times - yet these are world-classic tastes. It's all how you behold it...

Gary

P.S. I must say I rarely drink sauvignon blanc for this reason and some APA/IPA does taste like that, not all though.

Alan -

And I love SB as all I taste is melon and gooseberry with a grassiness.

Steve Gates -

I need clarification, was Albany Ale brewed with wheat or was it traditionally brewed with hops and barley? I've read information suggesting perhaps both at one time or another dependent upon who was brewing. Your opinions please. Also, have you found the existence of an Albany Ale style beer being brewed in Canada or was it always exported to the Canadian market?

Alan -

Hi Steve! I believe anything under that name would be an import. I have seen a listing for a Montreal agent for example. My feeling now is that wheat is pre-1776 and barley morphing in after (or before) due to a concurrent shift in Dutch to Yankee cultural control.