Thursday, September 18, 2014

Albany Ale: The Curious Case of Mr. Hoxie's "Beer"

I've never given much thought to George W. Hoxie (other than in regards to Carl Johnson’s spectacular local history blog which shares his name.) Although he has a slightly intriguing surname, Hoxie appeared to be like a dozen or so of short-lived brewers operating in the city around mid-century. Most of those opened and closed in short succession. Hoxie, like George Weber, was also bottler, so his embossed bottles turn up every so often in my internet searches, but other than that, I never paid him much mind.

That was until last night when I spoke with a gentleman who called me from Washington state. This fellow, Gary, has a Hoxie bottle in his collection, and it’s unlike any another American beer bottle he’s seen. Curious as to if I knew anything about it Mr. Hoxie and his beer, he phoned. Unfortunately, my bottle knowledge falls squarely into “shit from Shinola” category.

What I could look into were a few old advertisements for Hoxie. The earliest pops up in 1861, announcing Mr. Hoxie’s business in Albany. It reads:


It seems that Hoxsie’s “Premium Beer” gets shortened to simply Hoxie, shortly thereafter. Later ads from 1863 and 1864 advertise simply "HOXIE!" in bold, typefaces—and don't even including an address. 

At some point Hoxie moved his facility from Eagle Street to Hamilton Street. During the mid 1860s he purchased Thomas Jeffer’s (a soda and mineral water producer) bottling facility, and in 1867 he partnered with George Stevens, becoming Geo. W Hoxie & Co. By the end of the decade, his ads  hawk his bottling facility—apparently the largest outside of New York City, his importation of wine and ales, and his manufacturing of Champagne cider. In 1872 Hoxie sold his share of the business to Stevens, taking a position with the City as Superintendent of the Poor (How’s that for a career change?!)

Here’s where it gets a bit confusing. By the late 1870s Hoxie was not just a who, but had apparently become a thing. At least three bottling firms throughout the 1870s advertised themselves as the successors to Hoxie & Co.—first Stevens & Mandaville, then Mandaville & Williams, J.H. Williams, and finally Thomas Jeffers. They all advertise—not as manufacturers of—but as bottlers of soda, sarsaparilla, kissingen, vichy and seltzer water, ginger ale, cider, lager, and most importantly (advertised as its own line item and in quotes) “Hoxie”.

So what the heck was, Hoxie? 

I have a guess—and it’s very much that, since I have no hard evidence supporting this hypothesis one way or the other.
1873

Let’s start with the “Premium Beer” bit. It’s not ale. People would have known what ale was, and since ale was such a huge commodity in Albany by the 1860s, why not advertise it as ale if it was ale? It’s also not lager. In those later ads it’s clearly differentiated from lager as its own product. 

Let’s think about bottles for a bit. Albany’s beer market in the mid 19th century was very much export focused, and much of its beer was casked for practical purposes—bottles break, barrels don’t. Therefore, ale bottling probably wasn’t very big business for bottlers in the mid-19th century. So what beverages were bottled back then—sparkling beverages (hint: see above). 19th century bottlers specialized in making thick, heavy, cylindrical bottles specifically for heavily carbonated beverages. Good for keeping the fizz in, and also standing the test of time, hence Gary’s unique beer bottle.

Hoxie’s “Premium Beer” may have been something like the "California Pop Beer" Alan wrote about a few weeks ago. California Pop Beer is concoction of of malt, grain alcohol, and sugar spiked with hops, ginger, sassafras, wintergreen, and spruce oils. Then watered down with…well water. Perhaps its “brewing” process is similar to Jamaican ginger beer, undergoing a brief fermentation to produce carbon dioxide, rather than copious amounts of alcohol. Hoxies’s “Premium Beer” might be akin to those fizzy beverages, spanning the blurry era of when the term “beer”—in the sense of root “beer” and ginger “beer”—still packed an ever so slight alcoholic punch. It may have been beer by the very basic definitions—a fermented, beverage containing malt, water, yeast and hops—just significantly (very significantly) “softer” than, say, the 7 to 9.5% ABV Albany Ale.

As to the name Hoxsie itself, I think by the mid 1860s “Hoxsie” may have become so identifiable as a brand in Albany that “Premium Beer” was dropped all together. Not unlike how Coke—and especially Pepsi—have dropped “Cola” from their names over the last forty or fifty years. There may have been imitators as well—an 1865 ad reads “NO GENUINE UNLESS MANUFACTURED AT 25 HAMILTON STREET”.

Beer? Not beer? Brewer or soda bottler? As usual, I’ve got to do more digging to do…but there is this rhyming coincidence, as well.

2 comments:

  1. That logo is sweet. With the dollar sign and all.. looks like something a rapper would use today.

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  2. I’m pretty sure that George Hoxie spoke in the third person a lot, and he used “Hoxie” to refer to himself, his establishment, and his “beer.” “Hoxie” was also known as “Kinderhook Pop,” and Hoxie originally hailed from that town. It was definitely a root beer of some type – maybe a mixture of root and lemon beers – and was clearly different enough to be identifiable. While he didn’t “invent” it, Hoxie clearly promoted it so that his name got attached to it. You can find reference to “Hoxie” being manufactured in other places (Naples, Auburn, and Hudson, for example) well into the 1880s.

    There were certainly imitators of this drink, and, as I noted, “Hoxie” was one of them. "Hoxie," or “Kinderhook Pop” was “a special brew, made and sold in large quantities in jugs” by George Lathrop, founder of the Kinderhook Bottling Company. In 1860 Lathrop apparently mixed various roots and other ingredients (including yeast presumably), placed them in a jug and tied down a cork on the whole thing. When the cork blew off, Kinderhook Pop was born. It was manufactured for years by Richard Alexander who had been Lathrop's assistant and took over the concern, and then by Edward Risedorph (into the 20th century). There does appear to have been some connection between the Lathrop and Hoxie families. And, interestingly, when Alexander took over the business it appears that the beverage was also called “Hoxie” or at least was known to be the same thing. Although it was explosively foamy, it was not alcoholic ("not stronger than a boy"). Apparently it was manufactured with a marble inside the bottle to hold in the pop, and this needed to be pushed down the neck of the bottle to pour it out or drink it. It might be that its frothiness was responsible for the decision in 1880 of the citizens of Elmira that “Hoxie” was synonymous with “lager beer.” Or, maybe there were other lager-esque qualities to it. The good people of Troy, however, saw Hoxie and root beer as “about the same thing.”

    There is not a lot out there on what went into it or what it tasted like, but then there isn't really much on other types of small beer -- like "Peruvian" beer -- that were being advertised in the region in the 19th century.

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