Did I mention that I was tickled to get my copy of Alcohol and its Role in the Evolution of Human Society by Ian S. Hornsey last week? Oh, I did. One of the great truths of this mortal coil is how chronology must be obeyed. And I was particularly ticked to realize that since my last Hornsey, the two Unger books were published which means in this new book Hornsey references Unger. Which, in terms of beer history, is something like when Lemieux worked with Jagr. Or, say, when peanut butter aligned jam for those of you sadly not Canadian. Anyway, the effect is fabulous and particularly cogent for purposes of both Albany Ale but also pale ale. See, Hornsey writes on page 182:
In his excellent expose on brewing in Holland over the years, Richard Unger says that, from the earliest of records, it seems that beer could be made from any grain - with oats, wheat, rye and barley being the main components. Wheat was invariably the most expensive and barley was the cheapest, but prices would vary with availability.
Last October, Craig summarized where we are at in understanding the scale of brewing in Albany in the 1600s. And, as I wrote about five weeks ago, the finest of the beer they were drinking at the time was a strong wheat beer and that this way of brewing may have continued for much of the time leading to the American Revolution in the mid-1770s before the Hessian fly had its way. Throughout that period, the Hudson Valley concentrated on the growing of grain.¹ and around Albany the focus was on wheat. The first export of grain back to the homeland was shipped in 1626.² Hornsey notes that there was a shift in wheat based beer in Holland to barley based beer in the mid-1600s but he also quotes Unger quoting a Portuguese sea captain from the 1500s named Monzo Vasquez³ who...
...said Dutch brewers used wheat, barley or oats and rye. He maintained that beer made with wheat was light and clear and served directly from fermentation vats, without it having to be put into barrels first. Beer made with barley, the captain claimed, was "good but cheaper" and had "less of a head"...
Hornsey goes on to confirm that late medieval conditions that led to the grain use control laws in the 1400s and 1500s often reserving wheat to bakers but also notes that the laws applied to general application versions and that the rich preserved their own right to lighter, finer wheat beers. All of which leads to an interesting consideration of the conditions existing in the Hudson Valley from the beginning of Dutch colonization to the Revolutionary era. Unlike their cousins back in Europe, they are wallowing in the finest of grains, wheat. After all, who grows a lesser product as a cash crop when the finest thrives? And, when there is an overwhelming surplus, why would you ship out all of your premium crop and ship in a lesser grain to make your beer? You wouldn't. They didn't. It all reminds me of the depression era song "Big Rock Candy Mountain" one verse of which goes:
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain
You never change your socks
And little streams of alkyhol
Come trickling down the rocks
O the shacks all have to tip their hats
And the railway bulls are blind
There's a lake of stew
And ginger ale too
And you can paddle
All around it in a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain
Back in the day, back in the Hudson, these nearly masterless men who farmed the land as a breadbasket for their homeland and then the other American colonies, had the opportunity to brew the beer that only the elites got to drink back in Europe. And that they did. One other thing. Remember what makes for the finest palest malts at the time and throughout their centuries past: wheat-straw. They would have had plenty of that, too. Like living next to a lake of stew when you think of it.
¹The Dutch American Farm by D.S. Cohen, at page 111.
² Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York by Oliver A Rink, at page 87.
³ Which is, amazingly, also my private name for myself. That is the Hudson on its side up there in 1687, by the way. Right is north, left is south.