Monday, October 10, 2011

The Session 56: Thanks to John Taylor: Addendum A

In a series of events that can only be described as purely coincidental, Alan has unearthed, not one but two more bits of the Albany Ale mystery.  On the same day as this month's Session, Alan posted this image on his blog—a advertisement for, among other things, Strong Albany Beer available in Kingston, Ontario from a local 1816 newspaper. A little more poking would lead him to this little beauty, another ad for beer—although not referred to as "Albany"—from just five months earlier in the same paper, by the same merchant. Alan speculates that this is one of the earliest shipments to Kingston after the end of War of 1812, and it was full of beer!

So was that first 1815 ad actually referring to Albany Ale? I don't know, and realistically there is no way to know, but it did send me on a little quest of my own. I went back to my Google map and took a look at who was operating at that time—what I found was pretty interesting.

State Street hill in 1805
Sometime between 1796 and 1797, James Boyd opened what is considered to be the first, large "modern" brewery in the city—at Arch and Franklin Streets. There were a few small breweries operating in the city around that time—Van Schaick, Gill and one owned by American Revolutionary War Hero, Brigadier General Peter Ganesvoort, that closed in 1801—but they were small operations. The next large brewery to open was Robert Dunlop, which opened in 1806. I speculate that Fidler & Co. opened around this time as well, but I don't have an exact date for them. Now, here's where it gets interesting—the next two breweries in Albany to open, would be in... wait for it... 1816. Jacob Cole and McLeish & Birrell begin operating that year, and six months later Jospeh Ketchum would open his place. So as far as I can tell, or have been able to find, no breweries opened in the city of Albany for almost ten years and then—BANG!—two began operating in same year as the advertsiment in Alan's Kingston Gazette, and one shortly thereafter. More amazingly, just over half a decade later, four of those names—Boyd, Dunlop, Fidler and Birrell would have controlling interest in the largest breweries—Boyd & McCulloch, Robert Dunlop*, Fidler & Taylor and Henry Birrell—in the city.

So, what happened—was it coincidence that Albany Ale, or as it's mentioned in Alan's ad—Strong Albany Beer, was being advertised in Canadian newspapers at almost the exact same time as the Albany brewing industry was gaining traction?

I don't think so.

I think a new market opened and the industrious brewers of Albany exploited the situation—and exploited it quickly. The war was over and trade with Canadian towns gave a boost to the Albany brewing industry that would spark a nearly seventy-year-long boom in the city. I think this new market allowed Albany Ale to gain some notoriety and when the Erie Canal opened in 1825, men like John Taylor were primed and more than happy to fill the tankards of thousands of ready, willing and able drinkers—across the county and Canada. So, one might ask did John Taylor make Albany Ale or did Albany Ale make John Taylor?

*It was at Robert Dunlop's brewery that Peter Ballantine first worked, after arriving in the U.S. from Scotland, in 1820. It was at that brewery that Ballantine acquired his skill in brewing. Ballantine worked at a number of Albany breweries—including as a partner in Fidler & Ryckman—and then at his own Albany brewery, before leaving and opening his own renowned Newark, New Jersey location.

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