Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Albany Ale: How Albany Was Won...and Lost

Oof. Food poisoning. It's a long story, and suffice it to say, I've been laid up on the couch for the last two days.

My convalescence, however has allowed me the opportunity to kill time in one of my most favorite ways. No, not beer drinking—especially not in my current state. But rather, watching classic western movies of the 1950s and 60s. I've been a fan of westerns since I was a kid. From The Wild Bunch and Rio Bravo to Winchester '73 and High Noon—and don't even get me started on the spaghetti westerns.

In any case, I watched a true classic on Sunday—MGM's 1962 How The West Was Won. If you haven't seen it, do. It's a star-studded epic, filmed in all the glory of its biblical predecessor Ben Hur and Twentieth Century Fox's Egyptian saga, Cleopatra. The film is pretty amazing and needed four directors to complete it—not the least of which was the genre's master, John Ford. As far as the cast goes, it hosted just a few unknown Hollywood players—Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Debbie Reynolds and John Wayne to name a few. It has everything you'd want in a western—raging rivers, gambler and gunslingers, a Civil War battle, showgirls, runaway covered wagons, Indian attacks, buffalo stampedes and cavalry charges—oh, and a train robbery. It's one gigantic, big, wonderful, double-screen-panavisionary-technicolor spectacle.

And it got Albany totally wrong.

The movie starts, as the narrator Spencer Tracey, notes, "Five generations ago, a mere 125 years back…" A little math puts that at around 1837—but let's round it up to 1840 for the sake of argument. Tracey continues:

…The trapper's road was the trail of a wolf or the bend of a canyon, but for whole families, chaffing to follow the sun, there had to be broader ways. There were no roads into the wilderness only rivers and they followed in the wrong direction—north or south, or else they stopped at the Allegheny's. Until one day a new river took source in the mind of a man named DeWitt Clinton. He conceived of a river that would go west, and in a way Americans have of enacting out their dreams. It came to be. The Erie Canal left the Hudson above Albany and carried clear across to the Great Lakes. People who yearned for virgin land and a new life now had a highway to take them, and they moved along."

The narration sets up the introduction of Carrol Baker's character, Eve Prescott, who is about to travel with her family along the Canal, towards Illinois. Unfortunately, Henry Hathaway—this segment of the movie's director—misses the mark on depicting the Albany waterfront in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Hathaway makes the queue point for those heading west look like a dusty, Midwestern cow-town (and don't get me started on the mention of "Lager" on the tavern sign). Look below:

I get that Hathaway gets a little artistic license, but this got me thinking about what Albany was like at that time.

In truth, Albany would have been far more industrial, more in line with the wharfs of New York and Philadelphia. The city's waterfront—or what would become known as the Albany Basin—and the entrance to the canal would have been a commercial core, with business and manufacturing lining the riverfront. The river itself would have been crowded with schooners and skiffs and packet, steam and canal boats. When the nearly mile long Albany Basin pier was built in 1825, it had moorings for 1,000 canal and 50 steamboats, not to mention the innumerable docks and slips built for private businesses near the entrance to the canal. Below is a panoramic view of the city, drawn by French engineer and geographer Jacques-Gérard Milbert, and published in 1829—a decade prior to the setting of the movie.

At this point, you're probably noticing that this post isn't going to have much to do with beer—and you're right, it doesn't. It does, however, have a lot to do with the main, historic reasons Albany became such a successful brewing hub.

By 1840, Albany was 226 years old as a settlement, and 142 years old as a charted city—making it the sixth oldest, and longest continuously charted city in the U.S. During much of the Revolutionary War, most of the newly formed United States was embroiled in the conflict with the British. However, the routing of British forces in upstate New York, after their defeat at Saratoga in 1777—30 mile north of Albany—afforded Albany and the upper Hudson Valley relative peace for the rest of the war, and the area slowly began to see its population rise. At the war's end in 1783, Albany's population was between 2,000 and 2,500. In 1790 it was just over 3,000 people. By 1810, it had become 10th largest city in the United States—with over 10,000 residents and would stay in the top ten until 1860. As of 1840, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy triangle was the sixth largest metropolitan area in the country—with almost 60,000 people. Although Albany never rivaled New York, Boston or Philadelphia in size, it was quite a bit bigger than most of the cities and towns in the U.S. at that time.

Albany was a pretty good size city, but size wasn't everything. Like any good real estate agent will tell you it's all about location, location, location. Albany has its foundation in trade and shipping. The Dutch settled the area as a fur trading post, and the areas natural waterways—the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers—gave settlers access south to the Atlantic and west into the interior of the state. When the British Governor of New York, Thomas Dongan, chartered the city of Albany, thereby incorporating it and separating it from Rensselearwijck in 1686, he also included the provisions that the city have exclusive rights to trade with the native population and established the newly formed city as the sole market town in the entire of upstate New York. Fur trappers could make their way deep into the wilderness of New York via the Mohawk, trap beaver and other animals, and then send their pelts south to New York from the market center at Albany.

But why did Albany end up where it did? And how did that location affect trade and shipping out of Albany for the next 400 years? Well, it's all because of Henry Hudson.

Robert Juet traveled with Hudson on the explorer's third trip to the new world, and a portion of the sailor's journal were published in Johannes De Laet's History of the New World. Between September 19th to the 23rd, 1609, Hudson explored the upper portion of the river that would be named for him. De Laet noted in his book that according to Juet, Hudson explored the river "to nearly 43° of north latitude, where it became so narrow and of so little depth that he found it necessary to return." 43° North latitude is about thirty miles north of Albany. Wide is good. It makes maneuvering a large vessel considerably easier, but too wide can be a problem as well. The river at Albany was perfect, just over 1,000 feet between the west and east banks. The water near Albany and Troy was anywhere between 12 and 40 feet deep, but further north it shallowed to an unnavigable seven feet. When the Dutch returned to the area in 1614 they knew not to venture further up the river, instead settling near modern day Albany—first at Fort Nassau, and then relocating ten years later to Fort Orange.

Not only is the river a good width and depth near Albany, there's another phenomenon that Hudson may have noticed. It flows in both directions, north and south. What Hudson probably didn't know was that the Hudson River, is actually the Hudson Tidal Estuary which flows through the Hudson Fjord. The whole kit and caboodle was formed during the last North American glaciation.

Surprised you with that one, huh?

The Hudson is a partially enclosed coastal waterway, with a number of rivers and tributaries flowing into. It's also brackish—that is, a mixture of salt and fresh water. All that makes it an estuary, rather than a river. Because its an estuary and therefore technically a coastal body, it's affected by the tides. So when it's high tide, the river flows north, and at low tide it ebbs seaward. The tidal effect can be seen, and more importantly felt four times (two high, and two low tides) a day as far north as Troy—150 miles from the mouth of the Hudson. That means masted ships sailing up or down the Hudson didn't necessarily need wind for propulsion when traveling along the river—if of course, they were traveling at the right time of day. It also meant that steam powered craft didn't need to expend as much fuel under those same conditions. A passenger on board Robert Fulton's steamboat The North River*—on its 1807 inaugural run from New York to Albany and back again—noted the tides in a letter to the English press

"The next morning we left Albany with several passengers on the return to New York, the tide in favour, but a head-wind. We left Albany at twenty-five minutes past nine A.M. and arrived at Claremont in nine hours precisely, which gave us five miles an hour. The current, on returning, was stronger than when going up."

Coincidentally, 1807 was also when the Erie Canal was first proposed.

Speaking of the Canal, it's no coincidence that it ended up starting in Albany, either. The valleys formed by the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers form the only cut-through in the Appalachian Chain north of Alabama, making essentially, an unobstructed corridor from the port of New York to the Ohio Valley. Cutting the canal from Albany inland to Schenectady gave access to the waterway without causing congestion on the Hudson and at the mouth of the Mohawk. Canal boat could enter the canal through the Albany Basin and travel north, parallel to Hudson—through West Troy (which gave access to Troy on the east bank of the Hudson), eventually arcing, at Cohoes, along the curve of Mohawk towards Schenectady to follow the natural cut made by the tributary's valley. At Schenectady, the canal snaked along its big brother to Rome, New York, before continuing west on its own. In 1823, the Champlain Canal opened, connecting Lake Champlain, the Champlain Valley and Montreal to the Hudson River.

Long story short, Albany was front and center in a perfect storm for shipping and trade by 1830. Albany controlled the flow of goods and products east and west, north and south, for the entire Northeast. It was a fully established, large city with an infrastructure to support industry. It had access to a easily navigable, large coastal river, and boasted a large inland seaport. And the Canal? Well the Canal changed everything, didn't it? Access to the Adirondack forests and mountains jump started the area's lumber and iron industries, clay deposits along the Hudson blossomed into a huge brick-making industry—bricks that became renowned for there durability and were shipped across the country via the canal. Let's not forget the beer. Grain from the Ohio Valley and western New York—along with hops—could be brought to Albany along the Canal in about a week. Within a month, ale made from those raw ingredients could be on board steamboats heading to the Port of New York, to be shipped across the globe.

While the Canal was a blessing, it was also a curse. It was the first gateway to the west. While it brought goods and products to the city, it took people away. Villages in the west became cities in the west, and those cities became competitors—Buffalo, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and San Francisco. As efficient as the canal was, innovation and demand was faster. As the western cities grew, a new form of transpiration exploded—the railroad. On May 10, 1869—a mere 44 years after the opening of Erie canal—the first Transcontinental Railroad connected San Francisco to the east coast rail lines at Council Bluffs, Iowa. Travel from Albany to Buffalo on the canal took a week to ten days. By rail, travelers and goods could make California—six times further in nearly half the time. Albany would never recover.

But such is history. 

*The North River steamboat is often erroneously referred to as The Clermont.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A "Was-hail Song"

A wassail, a wassail, a washail bowl we sing,
With cinnamon, peppermint and other spices in!
A wassail, a wassail, with jolly sugar'd ale, 
and joy come to you from our wassail. 

Good Master and good Mistress, as you sit by the fire, 
Oh think of us poor Wassailers who tramp it through the mire.

A wassail, a wassail, &c 

We'll wassail increase to your store—we'll wassail sheep & kine, 
We'll wassail bees and apple trees—we'll wassail horse and swine. 

A wassail, a wassail, &c

Hang out your silken handkerchief upon your golden spear, 
And welcome in your Wassailers to taste your Christmas cheer.

A wassail, a wassail, of jolly nappy ale,
and joy come to you from our wassail.
A wassail, a wassail, a washail bowl we sing, 
With cinnamon, and peppermint, and other spices in!

A Topographical History of Surrey, Volume IV,

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 20, 2013

From the Ridiculous to the Absurd

Ohioans, your rights have been infringed upon!

For years now you have been subjected to unreasonable restriction, and your freedoms as an American have been trampled on—and most of you probably don't even know it. You have been subjected to a violation of your birthright.

You've been made—nay forced—to drink beer under 12 percent alcohol by volume.

12 percent. That's egregious.

Fear not Ohio. Representative Dan Ramos (D), from Lorain, Ohio, has a proposed legislation to raise the legal alcohol by volume lint to a far more reasonable 21 percent. According to The Plain Dealer's cleveland.com, Ramos want to finally bring equality to the Buckeye State.
"More and more people I talk to realize this is about leveling the playing field for these businesses so they can compete with what's going on in other states."
Mary Matineau, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association—according to the same source, says:
"If it goes, through we'll support it...It's something that our board has discussed, but it wasn't an issue we were going to triumph"
With a rousing endorsement like that, how could this heinous proviso not be amended.

21 percent simply makes more sense—It's 12, backwards. That's progress. But why stop there? Ohio shouldn't simply strive to be equal to other states, it should seek to innovate—and then dominate. Cincinnati, Toledo, and Akron are already demanding a raise to 43 percent, and I think we can all agree that Stuebenville's own Dean Martin, would have also gladly switched from booze to beer if an 62 percent Barley Wine had been available in 1952.

Aside from the obvious positive economic impact 88 percent beer would have on brewery profits, it could also be a boon for the bar and restaurant industry. Think about how much bars could charge per pint if the beer was served flaming. Raising the ABV limit is also beneficial to local townships and municipalities. I don't know what the fine is for being 178 times over the legal blood-alcohol driving limit in Ohio is, but I'm guessing it's pretty high. Columbus could raise enough money to build a new city pool after a single DWI stop.  Raising the ABV limit is a win-win for everybody.

I think it's safe to say most Ohioans would agree with this fully unencumbered New Yorker, when I call for 100 by 2016.

I can hear the crowds now...

One hundred... one hundred... one hundred 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Albany Ale: What Comes Around, Goes Around

Wow three Albany Ale posts in a row! This is a little one, but still—three!

Far be it from me to suggest that some modern craft brewers have...how shall I put this...drank their own Kool-Aid. Don't get me wrong, I'd never not think that the newest urea-spiked IPA, couldn't possibly be the best-est—and in turn think that whatever innovative and passionate brewery out there that's making such a innovative and passionate concoction must, of course, be the best-est, as well.

All kidding aside, doing a little 18th-century research for our upcoming book on the history of brewing in the Upper Hudson Valley and the Albany Ale Project website revealed that maybe, just maybe, tooting one's beery horn isn't such a new phenomenon.

A little background, first.

William D. Faulkner began his brewing career in New York City in the late 1760s. Faulkner initially partnered with New York City merchant Leonard Lipsenard—the son of Albany brewer Anthony Lipsenard—to sell bottled ale and beer on Manhattan; then with Stephen Rapalje and Anthony Ten Eyck. By 1771 he had opened his own brewery on Cow-foot hill, in what is now modern-day Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan. A fire in his New York brewery brought about his relocation to Albany, and in 1790 Faulkner opened a brewery in the city’s northern neighborhood of Arbor Hill—advertising Ales, Porter, Bottled Ales and Spruce Beer.

And with an ad like this from the Albany Register of November 27, 1790 , how could he go wrong...

Whereas it hath been universally wished by the inhabitants of the city of Albany and its vicinity, that some gentleman, fully master of the BREWING BUSINESS would enter thereon, the Subscriber, at the request of his Friends, informs them and the Public in general, that he has commenced that Business at the Brewery (late of the property Paul Hochstrasser) upper end or Arbor-Hill. As  he was regularly bred to that Philosophic Branch in England, and followed it twenty-five years in this country, he flatters himself, his Porter, Ale and Beer will meet with general appropriation, as prior to his Brewery being destroyed by fire, they always bore the greatest eclat, not only in New-York, but also in Charleston, South Carolina, and the West-Indies.
Albany, October 11, 1790
Interestingly, by 1792, William Gibbs, announced that he would be occupying the brewery. There is no record of William Faulkner operating a brewery in Albany after that point.

I wonder why? His ad was both passionate and innovative.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Albany Ale: Shuffle off to Buffalo—but First to Schenectady and Geneva

Okay, so I realize that none of the cities that I'm going to write about in this post are Albany, but Schenectady is just a hop, skip and a jump down the Mohawk River, and I'd say that it falls under the Albany Ale umbrella.

That's where the story begins—in Schenectady. Okay, technically is doesn't, but that's where I'm starting the story. I was digging through some books and searching the interwebs for information on Schenectady's brewing past. The industry was quite a bit smaller there than in its neighboring cities of Albany and Troy, but there were some notable breweries.

New York State in 1795
courtesy of davidrumsey.com
Especially during the first part of the 19th-century. According to The History of the County of Schenectady from 1662 to 1886. Schenectady say a burst of breweries opening on Washington Avenue in what is now the city's historic Stockade District. The first of those Washington Ave breweries was opened by a "Mr. Moffatt" in 1820. The brewery operated until 1827 or 28 and then closed.

That info sent me looking for Mr. Moffatt, and a page in Orasmus Turner's 1851 book on the Phelps and Gorham Purchase—a 1788 purchase of 6 million acres of Western New York from Massachusetts by two business men—caught my eye. Turner mentions a number of the early merchants living in the tiny village of Geneva, New York. Including Samuel Colt, and the owners of the regions first brewery Grieve & Moffat (less one t).

Grieve? That sounds familiar. Didn't Alan come across a reference, and write a post about a brew house owned by a Grieve in Lord Selkirk's travel diary of 1803 and 04—including diagrams of the building?

In fact he did.

According to a post on Genesee Country Village Museum's—a living history museum just outside Rochester—website, Walter Grieve and John Moffat were indeed business partners—or at the very least owned property together. According to Orasmus Turner's book, the duo seem to have met around the mid-1790s while working for Cpt. Charles Williamson at Sodus, New York. Williamson was the first land agent for the Pulteney Estate, a group of British investors who had purchased land in 1792, within the area of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase, east of the Genesee River. Grieve and Moffat were with Williamson in Sodus around 1795 and moved to the settlement of Geneva in 1796 and their brewhouse* is suspected to have begun operation in 1797.

Genesee Country Village's post speaks more to the history of Walter Grieve, and doesn't mention much about Moffat. It does reference Lord Selkirk's diary and the Turner book, noting that Selkirik mentioned a "Moffat" in regards to a new patented still, and that Turner mentioned that Moffat had "removed to Buffalo". The GVC post also says that Geneva Historical Society gives credit to Moffat for opening the brewery, rather than Grieve, but Moffat doesn't show up on any census for Ontario County, and it appears that he sold off his holdings in Geneva sometime in the late 1790s. John Moffat did however obtain a patent for a still in 1803.
The Albany Argus, May 1815

Although there is no record of a John Moffat in western New York in the last few years of the 1790s, there was a John Moffat living—or conducting legal business—in Schenectady by at least 1818. An advertisement in the Tuesday May 23, 1815 edition of the Albany Argus also mentions ale from Moffat's Brewery in Schenectady was for sale at 22 Quay Street in Albany. The ad was reprinted from January of that year. It looks like the 1820 date in The History of the County of Schenectady is off by five or perhaps six years, at the very least.

But was the John Moffat in Schenectady the same John Moffat? A little more digging seems to have cleared that up—in a round about way.

Another Moffat popped up in my research at this point, as well. James Moffat appears to have established Moffat Brewery, one of the earliest breweries in Buffalo, New York. According to The Western Brewer: and Journal of the Barley, Malt and Hop Trades, published in 1919, James set-up shop in Buffalo in 1810. Both John and James (along with William Moffat) were also listed in a 1835 Buffalo directory, as brewers in Buffalo. 

Was James a brother or son?

 In fact, he was John's son. According to Municipality of Buffalo: A History, Vol. IV, published in 1923:
The business which has now become the Moffat Flour Mills, Inc., had its real beginning in 1792, when John Moffat, great-grandfather of William L. Moffat, began establishing breweries throughout the Albany and Schenectady sections of the State. About 1828 the business was moved to Buffalo by his son, James, who continued to conduct it until 1856, under the name Moffat Company, when he turned the business over to his son Henry C., who continued to successfully manage the business for a great many years, finally being succeeded by his son William L. James Moffet... 
That bit cleared a lot up. But, something got messed up somewhere, and there's some conflicting info. 

Was it 1810 or 1828 that the Moffats established their brewery in Buffalo? My guess is closer to the later date. Another publication from 1919The Niagara Area: A Monthly News Journal has a blurb about James Moffat purchasing the land on which the existing brewery (existing as of 1919, anyhow) was built on, in 1832. It looks like the Mofftas moved in 1828, but didn't begin brewing in until 1832—or perhaps built a new brewery in that year. 

Another inconsistency in the the story comes from Orasmus Turner. He implies that the elder Moffat left Geneva for Buffalo, at the turn of the 19th century, but it seems like he went east to Schenectady first—or what I'm starting to think is that he returned to Schenectady. The Municipality of Buffalo: A History, notes a date of 1792—that's three years prior to his work with Williamson and Grieve in Pultney Esate Purchase. If the Municipality of Buffalo book is to believed, Moffat may have been living—and brewing—in the Albany/Schenectady area well before 1815.

It seems that the brewhouse in Geneva was a business venture that just wasn't going to work out. Western New York at the turn of the 19th century must have been a desolate place. In fact, it might have well been California. According to the Genesee Country Village Museum's post, no breweries were identified in Ontario County in the Tench Coxe’s 1810 census. Perhaps Grieve and Moffat had a falling out or maybe it was just an adventure without the payout—at least for Moffat. A return to the Albany/Schenectady area, and its more fully developed brewing industry, may have been the best move for him, but with the full opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, it seems his adventurous spirit rose again.

The Moffat brewery, one of the oldest in Buffalo, continued to operate throughout the 19th. Closing as a brewery in 1920 due to national prohibition, the Moffat family re-opened as Moffet Flour Mills, Inc. From what I can tell, unfortunately, a fire destroyed the brewery building turned flour mill in 1926—eliminating any chance for reopening after repeal.

In any case, John Moffat, connects 128 years and 270 miles of New York brewing history—and that's cool be it Albany Ale or not. 

*The Genesee Country Village has a fully functioning reproduction of Walter Grieve's 1803 brew house, based on the information from Lord Selkirk's diary.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Albany Ale: The First Albany Ale Project

When I conjure up images of 1965 in my head, I might picture the Beatles running across the grass at Shea Stadium, or Muhammad Ali standing over the limp body of Sonny Liston. I might even think of a helicopter whirring down into a blown back field of grass, with black-rifled GIs scurrying way from the green chopper's open door. 

1965—the heady days of 77¢ swim trunks.
What I would never think about is Albany Ale.
But, someone back then was. 

This morning I was searching a newspaper database, and seeing the usual spread of dates of the 1850s to the turn of the century when 1965 caught my eye. Not 1865, 1965. It appears that 48 years ago—when I was but a twinkle in my momma's eye and Alan was a tot of two—columnist and associate editor of the Albany newspaper the Knickerbocker News, Charley Mooney, had his own run-in with Albany Ale. Here's what he wrote about on Friday, July 25, 1965:
IT ISN'T too frequently these days that we hear from one of our colleagues of a long time ago—George A. Laird Jr., director of advertising and public relations for Niagara Mohawk Corp.
     So when our secretary informed us we had a letter yesterday from Mr. Laird, who also is prominent in Republican politics in the town of Bethlehem, we naturally snapped to attention.
     It develops Mr. Laird, who as a youth turned to the newspaper business when he could have had a successful career as a cowpuncher in his native Brisbee, Ariz., had been discussing affairs of the day with his old friend Art Quinn, one of the area's better-known maestros of the mahogany.
*       *       *
MR. QUINN is the fellow who sees to it that nobody goes thirsty at Nathaniel Blanchard Post, American Legion. He is among other things, a collector of beer trays. It was over an aperitif that he let Mr. Laird in on the secret of his latest discover—a beer tray that bore the name "Amsdell Brewery, Albany New York."
     "I have an idea." confided Mr. Quinn, "that it dates back to the late 1800s."
     Just what prompted that conclusion Mr. Laird neglected to explain, but latter admits he informed Mr. Quinn that anything dating back to the 1800s (even the late 1800s) was far ahead of his time.
    Addressing this writer, Mr. Laird wrote: "I informed Mr. Quinn I knew a fellow—namely you— who, if he wasn't a patron of Amsdell Brewery, at least must have had a few old friends who were."
*       *       *

THAT LEFT the problem entirely up [to] this column. Mr. Laird wasn't too helpful, either, in his last sentence, which read: "My bet is that it (the old brewery) was along the river somewhat south of the Dunn Memorial Bridge."
     Go to the foot of the class, and pronto, George Laird!
     For Amsdell Brewery, which does date back to the late 1800s, actually was at Jay, Dove and Lancaster Streets. The firm's proper name was Amsdell Brothers Brewery & Malthouse, and it was operated by George I. and Theodore M. Amsdell.
*       *       *

WE DETAILED our oldest agent to the case—a gentleman who at 92 years, is won't to surround himself with old city directories and other historical tomes, and who prefers to be known only as Mr. J.B. of Nassau. This gentleman came pup with the following incidental details on the Amsdells:
     In the year 1881, Theodore Amsdell was living at 31 Dove Street, while his brother, George, made his home at 141 Washington Avenue. They were brewers of the famous Albany XX Ale; celebrated India pale Amber ale and porter, and the equally famous Diamond & Burton Ale.
     So there Messrs. Laird and Quinn, you have sufficient historical conversation to last well into the evening, and if any more mysterious beer trays should be uncovered, just give this column a buzz.

Okay, so it looks like Alan and I got beat to the punch by nearly a half century. I'm cool with. We don't have to give Mooney—or Nassau's Mr. J.B.—a research credit in the book do we? How about just an honorary title? Something like Albanius Cerevisiae Emeritus.

As a bonus question, does anybody have any idea what brewery Laird was talking about that "…was along the river somewhat south of the Dunn Memorial Bridge."? 

Albany Ale Project Euro-bumper stickers to the first one who gets it right.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Long and Short of Coffee and Beer

I looove sciency-wiency stuff about beer—and Science Daily has delivered on that front.

They're reporting, that a new study by a group of molecular microbiologist at Tel Aviv University has revealed that while coffee gives you a lift, and beer mellows you out, the exact opposite may be happening to your genome—a genome being the entirety of an organism's heredity information encoded in DNA or RNA. Studying yeast that shares some genetic similarities to humans, the Israeli research team identified, according to Professor Martin Kupiec.
"...a few environmental factors that alter telomere length, and we've shown how they do it. What we learned may one day contribute to the prevention and treatment of human diseases."
Telemeres are the end bits of a chromosome that protect the gene sequence from deteriorating or fusing with other chromosomes. They're kind of like an aglet on a shoe lace—only smaller. Much, much smaller. When a cell duplicates, chromosomes are copied, but the telemeres shorten with each duplication. At some point the telemere becomes too short to protect the chromosome, and the cell dies. It's these telemeres that might be are affected by coffee or beer consumption.

The research team exposed the aforementioned yeast cells to a variety of environmental stressors, and noticed that a low concentration of caffeine shortened the micro-organism's telemores, while exposure to alcohol, in a ratio similarly found in beer, lengthened them. The testing reveled that some 400 of the yeast's genes—many of which are also found in the human genome—are involved with maintaining its telemore lengths, but it's genes Rap1 and Rif1 that are the main contributors.

So all we have to do is drink more beer, right? Long good, short bad.

Not quite. First, telemere testing on human genetic material hasn't happened yet, so while the yeast genome is similar to humans, the researchers don't know if we are effected in the same way as the micro-organism. Secondly, it's not necessarily about increasing telemere length. It's genomic stability that we're aiming for. Think about it like the Three Bears—not too short, not too long, juuuuust right. Kupiec, continues,
"This is the first time anyone has analyzed a complex system in which all of the genes affecting it are known. It turns out that telomere length is something that's very exact, which suggests that precision is critical and should be protected from environmental effects." 
More testing needs to be conducted to see what the connection is between telemere length and environmental stress, and if there a correlation with diseases like cancer—or in fact, simply aging—in humans.

My standard routine for coffee and beer is two cups of Joe in the morning, two pints of beer in the evening. I'm still not a big fan of coffee-flavored beer, but I might be re-evaluating my position for the sake of efficiency.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Old Dog and Beer Show

It's become sort of a tradition at our house to watch the National Dog Show after the Macy's Parade on Turkey-Day morning. It's a nice buffer between breakfast, football and dinner. The kids love seeing all the different dogs—the cat doesn't—but who cares, she's been mooching off us for years now. In any case, watching the dogs prance with their handlers, strutting instep, then patiently waiting for their silent judgement, I got thinking about how beer is judged.

Before I get into this, I do have to say that as a general rule I think beer judging is kind of dopey to begin with. I just don't care that much. A gold medal at GABF or TAP NY isn't going to sway me when buying beer. Not to mention that there's like eight-hundred-billion categories and sub categories for judging in competitions like the GABF. It seems like they're coming up with styles just to give out medals.

Here's my issue with beer judging, I've always seen beer competitions—home brew or professional—as not a judge of the beer, but judgement on the beer maker. For me, beer is about how it tastes, not how well it's made. But, I suppose judging is inevitable (and my opinion means diddly, too). Someone must be chosen the "best", right?

I don't want to sound like I'm knocking the Beer Judge Certification Program and their guidelines. I'm not. I think BCJP guides have a place—specifically in brewing classrooms and in apprentice programs. Brewers need to know how to make technically perfect beer. They need to be able to taste the difference in what is an IPA, or a Belgian Tripel, or a Lambic—and what, precision-wise, isn't. Braque and Picasso embraced cubism and surrealism, but both were also masterful at rendering the human figure realistically, as well. Same goes for brewers. BCJP are fantastic starting guides for young brewers or home brewers

So, how do you judge beer without a set of individualized criteria—like BCJP guidelines—per style of beer?

Fortunately, beer already has its own set of criteria by which to be judged—in two specific and un-arguable ways, actually—fermentation and strength.

Why not simply judge beers in categories of either top-fermenting or bottom fermenting styles, with ascending Plato (or gravity, or even just ABV)? Judging on those criteria makes style irrelevant. Why not judge a 6% IPA against a 6% Stout on the merits of which one tastes better—whoever gets the most votes wins. You wouldn't have to judge the IPA on whether it had met its "predetermined" IBU levels or if the Stout was dark enough. Isn't that a lot simpler? 

I think that's my biggest beef with BCJP guidelines—when used for judging. The guides were set up to eliminate as much subjectiveness as possible, yet they don't really do that. They sort of skirt around it and convolute everything with unmeasurable benchmarks—like SRM or IBUs. Why not embrace subjectiveness? Cut out the middle man and stick with strength and fermentation for the categories, and just trust your taste buds.

Better yet, how about we all just drink our beer.