Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Courtesy of Rob Gale
Sorry. I've been waiting a year to do this.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy Ruins Everything

Storm King— get it?
I have to admit for today's post I had every intention of writing this great piece about an image of a beery dinner menu from a late 19th-century, Albany hotel. Unfortunately Sandra (Sandra is here real name, she just goes by Sandy so she doesn't sound snooty), has put a bit of a scare into the greater New York City metropolitan area, thusly resulting in the closure of the New York Public Library system, including its internet services—the source of said image. Plans have been altered, accordingly.

Albany, while still on Sandy's route north, is expected to only take a glancing blow (I say that now). I have decided to simply sit back in my house for the evening, watch the all the ruckus and as they say, if I can't beat her, join her—with an appropriately named treat from Victory.

So, stay tuned on Thurday for the menu post, and if you're in the storm's path, batten down the hatches, be safe and most importantly—protect the beer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Albany Ale: Going Dutch

Alan warned you. This post is downright Cornellian in length.

Last week, you may have seen Alan’s post about the 1890’s Sanborn insurance maps, of the city of Albany, that I came across. The maps are fantastic, detailing every home, business, and yes brewery in the city at the tuen-of-the-20th-century. While Alan pondered the odorific effects of the eleven breweries in Albany at the time, I was intrigued at the “brewing zones” that seem to have been established over the cities beery time line—four zones to be exact. The first was in the South End along the River; the second was further west, near what is now Lincoln Park; the third was located in the Center Square; and the fourth was on upper Broadway, near the entrance to the Erie Canal. Seeing this pattern led me to a question.

Albany c1695. What looks like
north is actually west on this map. 
Did Albany always have brewing "zones?"

And, that is what I’m proposing to find out—by mapping as many breweries as I can throughout the city's past. I have known idea what I’ll find, but hopefully we’ll start to see a pattern.

If I’m going to collect this data, it makes sense to start at the beginning, and the beginning started 398 years ago along the banks of the Hudson River. Not many North American cities can boast a nearly 400-year history—let alone one filled with beer. In any case, in order for any of this to make any sense, a little background on the Dutch and New Netherlands is in order. 

In 1609, Henry Hudson first sailed the river later named for him, eventually resulting in a colonial province, established on behalf of, first the Dutch East, and then West India Company (WIC). This province dubbed Nieuw-Nederland, would eventually stretch from southern Delaware to eastern New York. The first permanent settlement in this new territory was roughly 150 miles north of the mouth of the Hudson River. This bit gets a little confusing, but here goes—Basically there were two entities around what would become Albany at this time. Both represented and supplied goods and materials to the WIC back in Amsterdam, but operated and controlled autonomously of each other. The first entity was Fort Orange, built as a small outpost and trading site in 1624. It sat just north of where the South Mall Arterial of U.S. Interstate 787 runs along the river today. The fort—and all of its 30 inhabitants—fell under the control of Petrus Stuyvesant, the WIC appointed, peg-legged Director-General of the New Netherland Colony. Surrounding the fort on all side, for 24 square miles, was the patroonship of Rennselaerwijck, of which all its inhabitants; materials and businesses fell under the authority of Kiliaen van Rennselaer. In order to facilitate the colonization of New Netherlands, the WIC drafted the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions of 1629, which set the basis for the patroon system. Basically the Charter allowed for the purchase of land in the new world by WIC invested members. In return the investor, entitled “patroon”, would agree to establish a settlement and oversee its development through the use of indentured servants. Think of patroons as 17th-century, new-world, feudal manor lords. 

See how that may have been a problem for the Director-General?

By the 1630s van Rennselaer made good on his promise and the first large groups of Dutch settlers began arriving. The strife between Pete and Kil only increased. Both men felt they had the authority over either’s responsibility. Van Rennselaer felt the fort fell under his jurisdiction, while Stuyesant felt the same about Rennselaerwijck. By the 1640s nearly 100 “illegal” structures had popped up around the fort. Stuyesant at first threatened to destroy these little hovels. Kiliaen van Rennselaer having since died in 1643 and replaced by his son Johan living in Amsterdam, was no longer a threat to his power—instead, he decided to establish a permanent village. The center of this new settlement would lie nearly a half mile north of the fort, at the intersection of Jonkers and Haendlers Street. That village—Beverwijck—and those two streets, now State and Broadway in downtown Albany, would become the center of the North American brewing world for well over 200 years.

Now that you know how Beverwijck came to be, let’s get to the beeriness.

Click for a closer look.
The Dutch were a beer-loving folk, and since water wasn’t always the safest thing to drink, brewing became pretty important, especially in the colonies. Brewers in Europe, and now in the new world, could make quite a living and often found themselves in positions of power. Beverwijck and Rennselaerwijck were no exceptions. From the late 1640 to the 1670s, the area had between eight and fifteen breweries—and far more brewers making beer in it. These were not settlers simply making beer for personal consumption, either. These were commercial brewers selling product to taverns and individuals. The brewers were both regulated and taxed accordingly. The first individual allowed to brew legally was Jacob Albertsen Planck, who was authorized by Kiliean Van Rennselaer to "at his own expense and risk and full charge ... brew beer to be sold to the men of the Company or to the savages, or do otherwise therewith as he shall think fit" in 1634. Rennselaerwijck, in fact, had a number of breweries within its boundaries. In 1643 Van Rennselaer contracted Evert Pels to work as a public brewer for six years between 1643-1649, in the colony at what would become the colonial brewery in Greenbush. Cornelis Cornelisz and Jan Witmont , William Brouwer, and Cornelis van Nes and Jan Oothout operated across the river in Greenbush as well, while Jacob Hevick and Harmen Hermanse van Ganesvort owned breweries to the south of Beverwijck, near the Beverkill* and in what is now the town of Bethlehem. 

The area in and around Beverwijck, however had by far the greatest density of breweries—twelve originally, with eight surviving into the 1650s—I’ve mapped seven of them, so far. The black outline around the area, was the stockade boundary circa 1690s.

1) Beginning in 1647, Jan Labatie operated a small brewery with Fort Orange. There is no record of Labatie brewing past the mid-1650s.

2) The brewery on Broadway between what is now Hudson and Division had a rather long life span. Operated first by Pieter Bronck in 1645, then by Jacob Hevick and Reyndert Pietersz. Harmen Hermanse and Jan Harmenz Weendorp rented it and finally it was sold to Albertus Rijckman in 1678. It continued to operate until the 1730s.

3) The brewery off the Ruttenkill, on State Street between South Pearl and Green Streets didn’t fair so well. Opened in 1649, Rutger Jacobsz and Goosen Gerritsz operated it on Jacobsz property, but in 1657 he tears down the brewery and sells the land to Harman Vedder.

4) Franz Barensten Pastoor established the brewery on Broadway between Stueben and Maiden Lane in 1653. Jan Dirscksz van Eps also brewed there until he settled in Schenectady. Unfortunately, he was killed at the infamous 1690 massacre. The site , however, would remain a brewery until being sold in 1736, to be used as a parsonage.

5) Dean Street is a courtyard now, but it in 1654, partners Pieter Hartgers, Volkert Janse Douw and Jan Thomase built their brewery where the “Old Post Office” building sits today. Ownership would transfer to Goosen Gerritsz van Schiack, and Sybant van Schiack would eventually buy the brewery from his father. The van Schiack family would continue run the brewery well into the 18th century.

6) The brewery on Beaver Street between South Pearl and Green streets, backing up to the Ruttenkill has a tough go. Jacob Janz van Noortsrant originally purchased the land and built a brewery. Jacobsz Rutgers buys the property in 1654 and brews there until he sells off his brewing equipment and closes shop in 1662.

7) Last but not least—when the Rennsalearwijck brewer, Harman Hermanse van Ganesvort moved to Beverwijck, he initially rented the brewery on Broadway between Hudson and Division, but would purchase his own brewery at the southeast corner of Broadway and Maiden—the site of two well known Albany landmarks throughout history—first the Stanwix Hall Hotel, then Union railroad station. That brewery would continue to be run by the Ganesvoort family until the turn of the 19th century.

So what does the map show? It shows that even in 17th century Albany, there were indeed, brewing zones. It, along with the research,** show that some locations were more advantages than others. The two breweries to the west along the Ruttenkill close within a short period of time, and the brewery in the fort doesn’t fair much better. The other four breweries, on the east side of Broadway in the heart of the village, thrive for decades, and in the case of the Ganesvoort’s, for well over a century. It’s fairly easy to see why those breweries along Broadway survived—access to the river. The river provided clear, clean water year round, as well as easy transportation to and from village. The breweries along Broadway had clear access to the waterfront, while the more westerly breweries along the Ruttenkill had to move their beer across the village to access the wharf. Also, the Hudson, even in the driest years, wasn’t going to run dry, while the smaller creeks, may have. The brewery in the fort, albeit close to the river, doesn’t have the support that the village supplied. It, like the Ruttenkill breweries, fails fairly quickly.

Along with the zones, the number of breweries operating also intrigues me. Twelve breweries operate in Beverwijck, alone—twelve breweries to supply, at maximum, 1000 people. That seems a bit much, to me. Kiliaen van Rennselaer gives a clue in a letter to Johannes de Laet in, 1632. Van Rennselaer states, “As soon as there is a supply of grain on, I intend to erect a brewery to provide all New Netherland with beer…” It’s an interesting concept to think Bevewijck may have been supplying the whole of New Netherlands with beer, just as Albany would for the rest of the country, 200 years later. No evidence of that, but interesting anyhow.

So there you go—brewing zones in 17th Century Dutch New York. The next installment is British-colonial Albany brewing.  For now though, lets just give a big ol’ whew this post is done!

*Kill is the Dutch word for creek.

**I can’t take the credit for digging a lot of this info up, most of the information came from Janney Venema’s amazing book Beverwijck: A Dutch Village on the American Frontier, 1652-1664 (2010), cross-referenced with volume 4 of Joel Munsell’s Collections on the history of Albany: from its discovery to the present time; with notices of its public institutions, and biographical sketches of citizens deceased (1865).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's the Best Kind of Beer?

Free beer—bah dum bum!

Yes, I do on occasion receive free beer. Be it from friends or at an Oktoberfest in Canada, one of the hazards of writing a beer blog is the burden of free beer. I’ve had beer mailed to me, and I’ve had beer bought for me. I have not had beer hand-selected for me—from locations across the country—and then delivered to me at work.

Today, that all changed. 

Drinkdrank follower and all-around good guy, Jack Box emailed me a few weeks ago (you might remember Jack from such fabulous posts as Canundrum Part 2: Jack-Attack). He wanted to let me know that he and his lovely wife were cruising cross-country and would just happen to be in Albany, with a bag full o’ brew for yours truly. Yup, that’s right these two Coloradans were traveling 2000 miles just to give me beer. Okay, so, that might not be the only reason they were traveling east, but in my mind it is.

So what did he bring? Small Craft Uber Pils and Polestar Pils from Heavy Seas and Left Hand, as well as Left Hand’s Nitro Milk Stout; plus a mess of IPAs from Odells, Yards, Highland, Flying Fish, Asheville, Ska and Marshall’s Atlas from Oklahoma—I didn’t even know there was beer in Oklahoma! In all fairness, I did reciprocate with a six-pack of New York’s best. But, honestly, the furthest I traveled was to Price Chopper, so match point to Mr. Box.

In all seriousness, Jack has been a supporter of drinkdrank since almost the beginning. So, thank you Jack, for the beer, but more so for just reading—and please keep reading—Cheers!

Now then, I’ve got a mess of free beer to drink, and it’s not going to drink itself.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Catalytic Converted

It’s autumn and autumn is the time for fall festivals. Every so often Amy and I pack the kids into the Family Truckster and head out in search of pumpkins and corn mazes and face painting. In fact, we did just that a few weeks ago. This particular festival was also my first experience with the Shocktop beers. This is not because I’m diametrically opposed to the Shocktop or its AB connections—I’m just not a big fan of wheat beers in general. I will drink them, and if given a choice, I’d lean Belgian rather than German, but normally I opt for other styles.

What was even more surprising was that my gateway Shocktop was their seasonal pumpkin variety. As much as I am not a fan of wheat beer, I really dislike pumpkin brews. To borrow a McLeodian epithet—they are, so-much gak. That being said, I was pleasantly taken aback at how much I enjoyed this little beer. The dry softness of the wheat and citrusy notes, seemed to mellow the pumpkin spiciness. This beer worked, plain and simple.

I remember, years ago, that someone at Mahar’s had inadvertently run Brooklyner Weisse through a line that had recently been serving Lindeman’s Framboise—without first cleaning the fram-berried line. The Brooklyn Raspberry Wheat was born—albeit temporarily—to great acclaim. Supposedly Garrett Oliver, on a book signing tour in Albany, actually got to taste this concoction, and wasn’t offended. Brooklyn has never made a raspberry wheat beer, but he didn’t sue, so I guess that’s better than nothing.

Last night while hot-dogging it up for the kid’s dinner, I cracked open a Saranac White IPA, leftover by weekend guests—then BANG! Smack in the face with spice and hops. It’s been a while since I’ve had one of these and I’d forgotten what an agreeable combination the wheat-y spice of a Witbier and the pop and zing of Citra hops could be.

It occurred to me during this face smacking that wheat might just be the most versatile brewing grain. It seems to be the perfect catalyst for spice or citrus, sourness or sweetness—hell, even smoke. Wheat just seems to be able to handle everything that gets put in front of it.

In any case, I still don’t like wheat beer—most of the time.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Defining Craft

I'm a little behind the curve with this post, but I want to get my two sense in on this.

Last week, Zak Avery posted a question, What the Hell is craft beer? The post ended up being as much a response to his own question as a question itself. Zak, having participated in a panel discussion at the Indy Beer Man Con, got to hear number of explanations on exactly what a group of beer folks think "craft" means. What gets me about the  question—and I'm not singling Zak out on this, by any means—is the need to ask it at all.

I try to not butt in on discussions that involve CAMRA, or really British beer drinking habits and traditions at all, because truthfully, there is a subtlety I simply don't understand. I have however, noticed a significant cross-Atlantic differences when it comes to this perilous question. The U.K.ers, it seems, want to wrap craft up in a neat little box, so that real ale, and indy beer, and keg beer, and macro lager and every other kind of fermented product can have a cosy little column to reside in. Us Yanks, on the other hand, seem to be more interested not in what craft is, but rather what it's not. I have a few issues with both of these positions, but I'm not going to get into them.

Ya know why?

Because the bloggy interwebs have become a bastion for wrongness–or rather your (or my) wrongness. Defining "craft" is sissyfussian, because the conversation inevitably breaks down to who's wrong versus who's right, rather than actually coming to a consensus on anything. That's why no one has been able to define "craft" beer.

I don't believe in a holy conversion of the big to the small. I don't write this blog to convince you to come to the light side—the right side—of beer. I personally don't care what you drink, and I have no intentions to either educate your simple mind on the "correctness" of craft beer or evangelize you into seeing my opinion my way. You are an adult. You can and have made the decisions to like the things you like, without me.

I love beer—and I love drinking it and talking about it, and especially writing about it. This blog is purely an expression of me. I don't need to get into discussions about subjectivity, and that's what the What is craft beer? discussion is all about. Craft means a thousand different things to a thousand different people—and guess what? They're all right. If you think craft beer has to have ground-up puppies and kitties in it, then the argument that craft beer should only be made with gasoline is irrelevant. You have already defined craft beer for yourself, and any opposing point of view from the Gasoline Craft Brewers Alliance will fall on deaf ears. I take the argument to the absurd to prove a point—it's and argument for arguing's sake.

Someone commented on Alan's blog that "'s the intangibles that craft brewing represents that are ultimately more important than the process." I find that comment to be ridiculous. I personally, don't think that anything is more important to craft brewing than the process of making beer—and the beer that results from that process. That being said, I'm not mentioning this because my intention was to call this fella out. I mention it because calling him out on that point would have been silly. I might as well have tried to convince him that blue is a better color than green. He has his opinion and I have mine—and as Kipling wrote—never the twain shall meet.

All the time that is spent arguing over craft, or style, or whatever else the dispute du jour is, is time not spent drinking great beer—be it craft or macro, real or keg, tangible or intangible.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Albany Ale: XXs and Ohs?: Part 2

Right, back to the story...

Le Breton's original Albany Ale Ad of 1805
Advertisments for Albany Ale in the early 19th-century—like those found in Kingston, Ontario and ones selling Edward LeBreton's beer—are fairly generic, stating only that they are strong, and obviously, made in and around Albany. Think of them as Albany—little "a" ales. As the century progresses the ads begins to imply that those beers made in Albany are are of the best quality and of the best ingredients. By the 1840s, it seems, that "Albany" has become a euphemism for the top-end beers being made by the Albany brewing industry. At this point, the breweries in the city of Albany are becoming quite large, and at least two of the breweries of that era begin to advertise their Albany Ales. Both Robert Dunlop & Sons and John McKnight categorize Albany Ale separately in their advertising—listing it as Albany or Albany Pale Ale, separated from their Porter, but not from their Amber or Brown Ales. It is also listed first in the advertising—implying superiority? Perhaps. Albany—big "A"—Ale, it seems, has become a marketing tool.

Upper: c.1840 / Below 1857
Upper image courtesy of the
Albany Institute of History and Art
Things change a bit in the 1850s, when our friend the X, show his head—not just in brewing logs but in advertising. John Taylor & Sons—now the largest brewery in the country—begins to advertise their version of Albany Ale as "Albany Imperial XX Ales." Not only has Taylor associated quality to Albany Ale, but also strength—and the trend continued. It's during this period that George and Theodore Amsdell open their brewery and begin advertising their own version of "Albany XX Ale".

Exportation of Albany Ale was critical to both Taylor and Amsdell. Both breweries produced far too much beer to be consumed locally, and relied on the monopoly of distribution offered to them by the Erie Canal. Locals in such far flung places like Nova Scotia, New Orleans and Argentina, needed to know what they were getting, and both "Albany" and "XX" settled the question. Interestingly, both McKnight and Dunlop—now venerable breweries within the city—begin noting XX in their advertisements, but not in association with "Albany"—both breweries close by the early 1870s.  

By the end of American Civil War, Taylor and Amsdell were, by far, the largest breweries in the city—both producing hundreds of thousands of barrels of beer a year. While the Union and Southern Confederacy slugged it out below the Mason Dixon line, a beer war—not unlike the cola wars of the 1980s—seems to have been fought down the Erie Canal. In the early 1860s, Taylor began adding the word "Cream" to its tag line now stating "Albany Imperial Cream XX Ales" and by 1875 had dropped the XXs altogether—advertising only "Albany Imperial Cream Ale." While its main competitor, Amsdell Brothers, waved the "Albany XX Ale" flag proudly. Amsdell had also begun name-branding another one of its beers. During the early 1860s they began advertising its "Diamond Ale" alongside "Albany XX Ale". Amsdell was no longer relying on known "styles"—like IPA or Burton—soley to brand its beer. It may have been that Amsdell either developed a new, higher strength beer, or began branding the higher-end XXXX or XXX versions of its parti-gyled Albany Ale, under this new marketing slogan—I will say however,  I have no evidence of that. In any case, he who moved the most beer along the canal, reigned supreme in the world of Albany Ale.

While Taylor and Amsdell battled for the export market, another Albany brewery began its rise— Quinn & Nolan Ale Brewing Company. Quinn & Nolan, which had been operating since the mid 1840s, began to seriously challenge both Amsdell and Taylor in the 1870s and 80s (along with its lager-brewing, sister operation Beverwyck Brewing company), hanging their hat not on Albany Ale, but what they dubbed their "California Pale XX & XXX Ales." That name was indicative of a phenomenon that would effect Albany Ale far more than anything else in its history.

Courtesy of the Albany Institute of History and Art
One might think that it was the rise of lager that snuffed Albany Ale. Surprisingly though, Albany remained, for lack of a better word ale-y, well into the 20th century. Average ale production for the city in 1883 and 1884 (well into lager's so-called domination) was over 500,000 barrels per year, while lager production topped out at  just 200,000 barrels. While lager producers did begin to pop up in Albany in the later half f the 19th century, of the nine breweries that would continue through the turn-of-the-century, four made lager, four produced ale—but not necessarily Albany Ale—one made both. What truly hindered Albany Ale was the development of the railroads during and after the American Civil War. No longer did Albany hold the monopoly of distribution. Rail transport was faster and more efficient than that of the canal, and rail lines were spreading like cracking glass across the country. Every city, town and hamlet could build a brewery, receive raw materials and distribute their beer as easily as Albany once had. Beer production in Albany plummeted across the board. Breweries, like Taylor who in the 1850s had produced 200,000 barrels of beer, now slumped to 70 and 80,000 barrels in the 1880s. It's likely that this is the reason why Taylor made the move away from its association with XX. It was now producing for a local market that knew what to expect. No need to beat the Albany XX horse. Quinn & Nolan saw the opportunity to exploit the exciting western frontier and the new and far off lands of California. In fact, those "California Pale XX & XXX Ales" were an Albany version of San Francisco's Steam Beers—a total departure from the tradition brewing processes of the east coast.
So, was the term Albany Ale even a viable brand to advertise in the 20th century, and could those XX ales in the Amsdell logs be vestigial Albany Ale?

Taylor would close in 1905, so they weren't advertising anything at all, and Quinn & Nolan had moved away from the Albany Ale concept thirty years earlier. Amsdell, it seems, stayed the course. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century beer serving trays became the fashionable way to advertise beer. Printers had perfected the a method of encasing metal in porcelain—essentially water (and beer) proofing it—leaving the perfect surface to make signs, and trays and all sorts of utilitarian devices. One of the largest producers of porcelain beer trays at that time was the Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Company. Sometime around 1900, they produced a tray, emblazoned in red and white, for Amsdell Brewing Company—a tray that clearly stated, Amsdell was still advertising its Albany Ale—an advertising tag line that lasted from Edward LeBreton's first mention of it in 1805, to the 20th century—nearly 100 years. Does that mean the XXs in the log were what Amsdell meant by it's "Albany Ale"? Not definitively, but it's interesting that the tray says Ale, rather than Ales, implying that "Amsdell Albany Ale" was a single thing, rather than reference to all the beer in Amsdell's line-up. Ron, has also pointed out to me that it was fairly common in British logs for brewers to label brews by strength, rather than brand name, especially those brews which had been made for long periods of time. Since the tray dates to the time of the log, I think it's fair we can assume that the XXs were, indeed, Albany Ale, or at least what was left of it.  

With this theory—regardless if it proves right or wrong—I have learned one thing. The answer to "What was Albany Ale?" needs a modifier. It has never been a single, constant thing, at least not for very long, anyway. The question that needs to be asked instead is, what was Albany Ale like in 1806—or 1842—or 1861—or 1878—or 1904?

I guess I'll just have to keep asking that question.

In the early 1860s, Taylor began adding the word "Cream" to its tag line now stating "Albany Imperial Cream XX Ales" and by 1875 had dropped the XXs altogether—advertising only "Albany Imperial Cream Ale."
Upon further research, it appears that Taylor had been advertising their "Cream" Ale as early as the 1840s. It also appears that "Albany Imperial XX Ale " and "Albany Imperial Cream Ale" are not synonymous, with each other. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Albany Ale: XXs and Ohs?: Part 1

First off let me say this post did not go the way I was expecting it to. At least, my initial intention of the post was far different than what ended up on the page—er, uh screen. I really thought this would be a quick little post on some Albany brewing logs I dug up—boy was I wrong.

Amsdell's brewing log from 1901
I also want to add a caveat. Speculation plays a large role in this post. American brewing records of the 19th century are very hard to come by, so the hard evidence is few and far between. Speculation presented as fact can be a slippery slope, and since the evidence is so slim, take from this what you will. That being said many a crime has been solved by gut instinct and many a criminal has been jailed on circumstantial evidence. So, as they say on Broadway, on with the show.

The whole thing started back in August. Dieter, the heirloom hop grower, mentioned that an acquaintance of his, who works at the Albany Institute of History and Art, had told him the Institute held a few old brewing records form a brewery within the city of Albany. How had that escaped me? Oh, well. A quick stop by the Institute revealed two logs in fact, both from Amsdell Brewing and Malting Company—one log dated to 1901 while the other were the records from 1904. George Amsdell opened his brewery in 1854, his brother Theodore stepped in three years later. The brothers grew their modest facility at Jay, Dove and Lancaster streets into one of the dominant breweries in the U.S. within a few years, and would continue to operate until prohibition.

Looking through the logs I saw nothing identified as Albany Ale—Scotch, Polar, Winter, Diamond, Porter, IPA and even a Burton recipe that seems to be given to the brewer by Quandt's brewery, just a few miles north of Albany, in Troy, NY—but nothing labeled as "Albany". So, what's a historic beer researcher to do? First off, tell his partner in crime what he found and then—since historic brewing records always read like stereo instruction in Japanese, to me—get Ron Pattinson involved. The three of us can and do a little emailing and discussing, and maybe we'll do a trifecta posting and call it another good month of research. Maybe we could have a little cabal in Canada, too.

Vassar's brewing log from 1835
Canada, it turned out, was the key, although I had no idea at the time. Alan and Ron—along with a little help from yours truly, and Ethan Cox of Community Beer Works, in Buffalo—had helped Beau's All Natural to develop their version of Vassar Ale from Matthew Vassar's brewing records, supplied to us by Chad Fust of Vassar College. Our efforts resulted in an invite to Vankleek Hill, Ontario and an opportunity for Ron to present a comparison of Vassar's records against British brewing records of the same period. It was also a chance for me to see how Ron's mind was working on the Vassar log, a priming, perhaps, of my own pump.

Along with the Vassar logs, we've also come across a invaluable source from the same era—an 1835 report by the NY State Legislature in which a good number of Albany, Hudson Valley and New York City brewers testified to the quality and purity of their beer. Of those brewers, only one—Thomas Read of Troy—gives more than generalities about their process. His testimony is as follows:

...say from 3 to 3 1/2 bushels of malt to the barrel, and from 2 1/2 to 5 pounds of hops to a barrel, and about four quarts of fine salt to 60 or 70 barrels; say in our pale, we put about two or three pints of honey to the barrel, we think makes the pale ale finer, and is rather an improvement; but we use none in brown beer; the malt is the chief material used, and the article which chiefly communicates tho different tastes, qualities and colour to the beer and ale; and the different shades are chiefly owing to the manner in which the malt is dried on the kiln, and in some measure to the colour of the hop. When we make pale ale, we always select the palest malt and the palest bales of hops. We use no water, but pure, clean water, formerly from a spring, and at present from the city water-works.

Alan worked out the technical details and and came up with a brew that sat around 8.5%. It wasn't until this past week, however, that I asked a defining question—how did that compare to Vassar's 1830s logs? Similar, very similar, was the answer, according to Ron. So similar, it could be said, that Vassar was producing his own version of Albany Ale, just calling it something different.

We also know that in the 1840s, Albany physician L.C. Beck did analysis of Albany Ale, and stated that "... Albany ale in barrels, contains 7.38 per cent., and that in bottles 10.67 per cent spirits." It now appears that Albany Ale, at least in the 1830s and 40s, was a group of "somethings" that ranged in strength. I've written before that we believe that Albany Ale was parti-gyled—a process by which runnings of wort, from the same mash, are blended to achieve a consistent gravity for single beer, but this technique also results in the ability to make a number of beers, of different gravities, from single brew. Parti-gyling was a common method in British brewing of the 19th century, and apparently, in the U.S. as well. Vassar's logs prove this.

Here come the Xs—finally!

Beer strength in 19th century brewing logs is represented by the letter X (yes, yes Ron I know K, and T and a whole alphabet soup shows up, too—but for this exercise let's just stick with X). It's a fairly simple process—the more Xs the stronger the beer, just like those jugs of hooch you used to see in the Merrie Melodies cartoons of the 1940s and 50s. Generically speaking we can speculate (there's that word again) and extrapolate the alcohol by volume levels of Albany Ale, during Vassar and Beck's time, fell somewhere in categories like this*—granted the numbers might have varied by a percentage, plus or minus, here or there:

XXXX = 10 – 11%
XXX = 8 – 9%
XX = 6 – 7%
X = 4 – 5%

Great, Albany Ale was part-gyled and came in a range of strengths. Didn't we already figure that?

Yup, but here's where things get interesting.

Remember when I said the Amsdell logs never mentioned Albany Ale. They do, however mention XX—quite a bit, in fact. The four most common brews in both the 1901 and 1904 logs** are Amsdell's Diamond Ale, at near 7% ABV; their Scotch Ale, around 6.5%; the XX ales, at about 5%; and finally, Polar near 4.5%. Just as XX strength beer did in Vassar's day, Amsdell's XX ales of the turn-of-the 20th century occupied the low-mid level, as well—the scale had simply changed. Could those XX Ales be a vestige of the Albany Ale of yore? Don't get me wrong the turn-of-the century XX ales made by Amsdell, bare no resemblance to those beers made by Vassar or the Albany Ale analysed by Beck. The turn-of-the-century beers are full of hop extracts and brewing sugars, and you wouldn't have seen that in the 1840s. What they do have in common is XX—and I have a theory about those Xs, and how they take Albany Ale from being a euphemism to a very specific thing—a singularity in American beer—by then end of the 19th-century.

Stay tuned—same beer time, same beer channel.

*By the way, Ron has all the nuts and bolts on Vassar's Ale at his site Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

**He's also just put up a tabley type of thing (his words) for the Amsdell brews—go compare and contrast!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Made in America?

I was struck this weekend, while Oktoberfest-ing up in Canada, that our friends to the north refer to me and my kind as "Americans." Now, I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, and I was in no way, shape or form offended—I do, in fact, live in the United States of America. It just sounds odd to my ears. I, personally would refer to myself as being from the U.S. or simply "the States", before I'd ever say I was American. However, hearing the phrase from another perspective, it occurred to me that, "... I'm from the U.S." is a statement of nationality, while "... I'm an American" seems more of a statement of attitude.

Last night, this observation creeped back into my cerebral cortex. While I drinking two beers—Yeungling Porter and Lakefront's Fixed Gear American Red Ale—I began thinking about "American" from a beery point of view. I found it interesting that while both beers are brewed in the U.S., Lakefront chose to add the descriptor "American" to its beer's name; and while the Yeungling label does say "America's oldest brewery", it doesn't refer to itself as an American Porter. Now, you might be saying to yourself, "That's obvious—the 'American Red Ale' is 'American' because it's hoppy."

That, in fact, is the crux of my inquiry—At what point did "American" come to mean hoppy?

The Yeungling is no less American than the Lakefront brew. I know it was made in Pennsylvania, and I assume it was made with American sourced ingredients—but for whatever reason breweries seem to have co-opted "American" to represent hoppiness, and hoppiness alone. I find this, like my conundrum in Canada, to be odd. You wouldn't go to a restaurant in London and order spaghetti and meatballs, and be afraid that the spaghetti and meatballs you normally get in Los Angeles is something different. Your also not going to go out of your way to ask your server if the spaghetti and meatballs are "Italian", and the menu isn't going to say "Italian" spaghetti and meatballs, either. So, why is it that we need to differentiate hoppy beers with the "American" prefix?

Sure, I've heard the adage that British beers are about the malt, Belgian beers are about the yeast and American beers are about the hop, but that's pretty pigeon-holey, isn't it? Think about how much craft beer is being produced in the U.S, and how many breweries are making beer that spans the spectrum of style and category. Here is an example of that: Brown Ale is made in nearly every brew pub and craft brewery in this country. Like IPA it is considered to be, by most American beer drinkers, and makers, a   "classic" British beer style. The thing is, there isn't a whole lot of Brown Ale—or IPA for that matter—being made in the UK. There is, however, a shit ton of it being made in the U.S. So, is Brown Ale American or British, or maybe—and hear me out on this—it's just Brown Ale?

Then again, and to bring it all back to my opening statement, maybe the beery "American" isn't just about the hop—maybe it's about attitude. I joked in our pub game presentation at Beau's Beer School, that being an "American" made me overly competitive, and I was willing to win at all cost. That might not be too far off when it comes to beer. Maybe the subtle and inky Yuengling Porter is just a beer made in the U.S., while the Lakefront Fixed Gear, with it's hopped up zing, has more of an "American" attitude?

At least we're not perpetuating any stereotypes. Now if you would excuse me, I have to go get my cowboy hat and assault rifle.

Monday, October 1, 2012

So How Was Beau's Oktoberfest 2012, Eh?

Let me put it this way:

Click here to check out
 Beau' s All Natural Brewing
Six hours in the car. Rain then sun. "Gravina!" to me "McLeod!" to him, in the hotel hallway. "Let's find Ron." Fobbing beer makes a mess. The man in the hat—Chad—arrives. "Let's hit the fest!" Cuban cigar waiting for the taxi. Killer cab ride number one. Staff—then VIP (Alan stays both). In! Get a mug and to the cask tent! "Where's the Vassar?" Ahhh, mango. Next Oktobock...and more Oktobock. Finally, Ethan shows up. I had the LCBO explained to me (but it still doesn't make sense.) "Je ne parle pas français." "Food ... must ... get ... food."  Pierogie poutine, topped with pulled pork, yes that'll do—but a little tourtière for dessert might be nice, too. The cops are cool. Hmm, let's try the Lug-Tread. Back to the hotel. Killer cab ride number two. Camp out in Alan and Craig's room. The Whale shows up and the world's greatest beer bullshit session ensues. Exhaustion sets in. Alan saws logs. Tim Horton's at 8:30 a.m. "STICK!" Anders Kissmeyer and Bill White eavesdrop during breakfast. Nothing says beer festival more than going to a hardware store. "Why are those guys sanding wood in the back of their car?" We've got some time to kill, let's play some washers in the hotel parking lot. Sorry Alan, you need to finish you're homework before you can play with the other boys. Chad dominates, but is upset by the underdog Pattinson. Home brewed spruce beer, Brett-ed Porter and St. Bernardus Abt 12—obvious choices for one-handed, hardware based throwing games. The festival awaits. The cabs are decidedly less killer than the previous night. There seems to be a few more thousand people stopping by today. The cops are really cool! I need to get some Night–Märzen. By the way, Jordan, the designs for the O-fest—and Beau's in general—is beyond some of the coolest graphics I've seen anywhere—awesome job. Bedlam breaks out because of a beer and cheese pairings. Ron nails it in his 19th century Vassar Ale presentation. Two pounds of Quebec bleu cheese and samples of Weiss O'Lantern left over, after the presentations, in the back room—'nuff said. "Ya know what we need?" "What?" "More beer." Hello, Dieu Du Ciel! Voyageur des brumes, I think I'll be seeing more of you. Interesting conversation about two words—and their very different use in the U.S. versus the U.K. Barb is apparently both single and straight—her two friends are not. Time to head out. Killer cab ride number three. "Hey, don't we have a bunch of beer back in the room?" Violent Femmes and pre-ska. "Does style matter?" "Okay, okay, Ethan it does!" Gueze, IPA and more spruce beer. "William Shat—HE'S CANADIAN!!" "Ya know what we need?" "What?" "Cuban cigars." Hey it's the gals from Grapefruit Moon in Toronto! Tim Horton's at 12:05a.m. Time to hit the hay. Alan saws more logs. Rain—but I got my' boots! "Uh, could we order, now?" What seems like three hours later, "Uh, could we get the check, now?" Back to the fairgrounds in our own cars—it's showtime! Better get one more Voyageur des brumes. Look at that line for the pub games presentation! "Has anybody seen the sixth washer?" "Okay, it's simple, throw this stick and try and knock down that stick." The girl in the red Canada shirt and her mom, apparently, already knew how to play washers. One presentation down, one to go—beer writing Q & A. Cass is not moderating. "Who reads beer blogs?" Okay, that's not so many hands in the air. I admit that I would be happy to drink any really great beer with a can of cold Spagehtti-Os—Anders is horrified. "So, who would drink beer based off a historic recipe—if it were presented that way?" It seems the entire crowd would. Ron is happy about this. Hops anyone, hops? Done, and done. See ya' Chad, see ya' Ethan! "Alan—we'll see you on the internet." "Hey Steve, check this out—historic New York hops!" "Ron, do you want to head to the brewery and grab some beer for the road?" Rain and more rain. Six hours in the car.

That won't make any sense to 99.99% of you, but it sure will to two Americans, a Canadian and a Brit living in the Netherlands. Also, big thanks to Steve Beauchesne for the invite and of course to Alan for coordinating the attack. Last thing, if you make it up to Ontario—get yourself to Beau's All Natural Brewing, or at the very least get a bottle to take back across the border!