I am late. Boak and Bailey asked us to post longer reads and I am late. I suggest someone confer with my creditors to explore coping strategies. I mean, I have been away and it has been summer and I have, you know, been away. And, while I was away earlier this month, the book Craig and I wrote was published: Upper Hudson Valley Beer. Not the most dynamic of titles we would admit but one does not always win one's negotiations does one. My preferred alternate was Upper Hudson Beer: A History of Albany Ale and Its Caskmates. Mumble that to yourself once or twice as you order the book or borrow it from a library.
I have discovered something in writing these books and thinking about the ones to come. I really like the Baroque experience in North America. Not that I would want to live then but the little considered pre-Revolutionary experience is, well, more neato than the relative quiet would have you think. In terms of beer, this has translated into statements to the effect that there is no record or that it would be impossible to recreate an understanding of what role beer or what it tasted like. For me, this is a call to arms. Or at least fingers click-clacking on a keyboard. When someone says something is unknown and unknowable I tend to think that means that it is just unresearched. What we have discovered in relation to the Albany area is in fact that there is a lot of information about this stuff and a lot more to be researched. It's true of all of North American brewing, too. Beer did not start with the introduction of lager over here and lager did not defeat the influence of ale brewing on contemporary brewing. So, the job of the Albany Ale Project continues even though the book - or rather the first book - is out. To give you a sense of where it all is going, below and as my contribution to the #beerylongreads project, I give you a late draft of the bit from UHVB on the first half of the eighteenth century in what was then known as Albany County, the later Baroque on this spot on the frontier of an empire or two or maybe even three.
The role of beer in the culture of Albany at the outset of the 1700s can be seen in two church events at the turn of the eighteenth century. On February 15, 1700, one of the church’s poor died. She was Ryseck, the widow of Gerrit Swart. The records of the onkosten, or expenses for the burial and ceremony borne by the community, have been retained. There were more than a few expenses in addition to the cost of the coffin and the fee paid Hendrick Roseboom, the doodgraver. 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. The event seems to have been a social one. 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 three gallons of wine and one of rum in addition to paying eighteen 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.
These funerals illustrate the continuation of Dutch society well into the British era. Along with other members of the upper strata, old Dutch family breweries, such as the Ryckmans, Gansevoorts, Visschers and Van Sciacks, established in the seventeenth century continued to operate along the Broadway corridor well into the second half of the eighteenth. Brewing may have created wealth and power for these families, and by the end of the eighteenth century, all four had built on their brewing wealth, diversified and become involved in everything from lumber to politics, as often as much with New France in the north as with the British to the south.
The prominent brewer Albert Janse Ryckman was elected mayor of Albany in 1702 after serving for years as an alderman. His house was on the south corner of Hudson Street and Broadway alongside the brewery that sat on the riverfront. His son Harmanus, one of nine children who lived to see adulthood, ran the brewery into the 1750s. Even into the nineteenth century, Ryckman descendants were involved in Albany brewing. Gerrit Ryckman partnered with Lancelot Fidler, later taking the name Howard and brewed during the 1830s. Albany’s Ryckman Avenue is named for the family.
Schenectady’s Adam Vrooman, the survivor of the massacre in 1690, purchased the milling rights to all Sandkill Creek by 1703. In 1710, Vrooman’s third son, Wouter, began operating the mill known as Brandywine Mill. In 1718, Vrooman and his second son, Barent, built a brew house on what is now Union Street—sometimes called “Brewer’s Street”—where the railway met the canal. In 1724, Jan, the youngest Vrooman, joined his brother and father at the brewery and was given his own lands and brewing equipment a few years later. Adam Vrooman retired in 1726, purchasing 1,400 acres of land farther west into the frontier lands of the Schoharie to build a farm. He died in 1730, but his sons continued to brew for decades more. The geologic formation known as Vroman’s Nose near Middleburgh, Schoharie County, New York, is named for Adam Vrooman.
Of all the great Dutch brewing families, the early eighteenth century would see the Gansevoorts become the most influential, elevating themselves into the elite of New York society. Harmen Harmanse’s only surviving son, Leendert Gansevoort, would continue the family business. The brewery stood behind the house, like that of Ryckman, on the riverbank east of Broadway, then known as Market Street. At the end of Maiden Lane, the dock that reached out into the river was known as Gansevoort’s wharf. Leendert’s son Johannes would continue to grow the brewery after his father’s death in 1762. Johannes’s brother, Harmen, broadened the family business by opening his merchant’s store near the brewery. The Ganesvoorts family operated their brewery until 1805, tearing it down and erecting their hotel, Stanwix Hall, named in honor of the fort in what is now Rome, New York, that was defended by family member General Peter Gansevoort during the War for American Independence. The name Gansevoort still lives on as both a Hudson Valley and a hotel chain brand. 105
Despite Dutch political and cultural autonomy, the British were not taking an entirely hands-off approach to the Hudson Valley. Flour and bread were exported to the West Indies, and from 1702 to 1713, during Queen Anne’s War, New York State enjoyed a lucrative market for its wheat in Lisbon courtesy of British trade routes. After 1713, the settlement of the Albany region expanded, with new farms adding to the supply of grain being shipped out to the British Empire as well as the Dutch West Indies. From 1715 to 1723, the population of Albany County doubled. In 1723, then Surveyor General Cadwallader Colden submitted a report to London on the state of New York trade. Wheat was clearly the colony’s most important export. In 1737, the population of the county reached ten thousand. Brewers like Ryckman, Vrooman and Gansevoort were supplying the booming population with their hopped beers made of local wheat.
By the 1730s and 1740s, the focus of the fur and pelt trades had migrated west to Oswego on Lake Ontario with control soon shifting away from established Albany merchants to daring newcomers like William Johnson. The established elite Dutch families were enjoying their wealth as suited their tastes. From 1715 to 1745, Albany Dutch merchants commissioned a large number of portraits in a European style, celebrating their domestic and commercial stability. Paintings of the Gansevoort family show men and boys without wigs dressed simply with farms and mills in the background. Dr. Alexander Hamilton, visiting Albany in 1744, found the focus on wealth obsessive: “They spare no pains or trouble to acquire…their whole thoughts being turned upon profit and gain.” The lack of literate society was noted as well as the habit of heavy drinking. Hamilton remarks that they were “toapers” and “bumper men” for whom the act of punning was considered to pass for wit.
The Visschers also continued brewing into the eighteenth century. By the 1720s, Bastian Harmanse’s son, Teunis Visscher, had joined the family business, learning the trade from his father. Teunis ran his family’s brewery on Market Street for more than fifty years. In 1756, Bastian Visscher, Teunis’s son, followed in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, but like many of the other early Albany brewers, he began diversifying into other business ventures, most notably construction. Bastian Vissher became a notable revolutionary, advocating for American independence in the 1770s. Sometime during the 1730s, the Wendell family, relative newcomers to brewing, opened a series of mills and a brew house along the Beverkill Creek, near what is now the basin of Lincoln Park. This area became an Albany landmark simply known as Wendell’s Mills and operated almost to the turn of the nineteenth century, although it is unknown if the brewery did as well.
During King George’s War of 1744–48, Royal Governor George Clinton was obliged to pursue war efforts against New France. This raised conflict with the Albany merchants, led by James DeLancy, who held strong trade ties with Montreal. Harmen Gansevoort was one of these merchants, taking payments mainly in grain, along with some furs and pelts. Much of the grain may have ended up being brewed into beer by his brother, Johannes. As the midcentury passed, the family’s fortunes were less and less tied to brewing, even if Johannes had amassed a considerable fortune himself. Among the silverware often acquired as a means to both save and display accumulated wealth, the now elderly patrician Leendert Gansevoort had a silver tankard for his beer that was deeply engraved with the family’s coat of arms on its front and his own monogram on the lid. It stayed in the family for five generations until, in 1901, it was placed in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
When Swedish botanist Peter Kalm traveled through both New York and New France around this time, he kept a detailed diary. It was filled with observations on the state of the economy and society in each region. In the region of the Upper Hudson and Albany County, one of the main things he noticed was the wheat:
They sow wheat in the neighborhood of Albany, with great advantage. From one bushel they get twelve sometimes; if the soil be good, they get twenty bushels. If their crop amounts only to ten bushels from one, they think it very trifling. The inhabitants of the country round Albany are Dutch and Germans. The Germans live in several great villages, and sow great quantities of wheat, which is brought to Albany and from thence they send many yachts laden with flour to New York. The wheat flour from Albany is reckoned the best in all North America, except that from Sopus or King’s town, a place between Albany and New York. All the bread in Albany is made of wheat…They do not sow much barley here, because they do not reckon the profits very great. Wheat is so plentiful that they make malt of it.
The midpoint of the eighteenth century finds the Upper Hudson and Albany County growing in both prosperity and population based largely on the expansion of the wheat farming and the exporting economy. The Dutch culture remained strong and, to a large degree, autonomous. Changes were coming, however, that would see the introduction of a stronger British presence that at first was welcome but soon became the cause of division.