Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Albany Ale: Early Albany Beer

First off, on a totally unrelated, post topic note. I don’t believe I could have summed up the events of last week thru Saturday more eloquently than Mr. McLeod did, so I won’t even try—other than to say thank you, thank you, thank you, to all who participated or were involved with the events.

The crew of the Half Moon at
Albany's early Albany Festival.
What I can say, however, is that this past Sunday's Early Albany Festival at Albany's Corning Preserve, and the return of the replica of Henry Hudson’s early 17th century ship De Halve Maen—better known in these parts as the Half Moon—for its annual autumn stop in Albany, has inspired two posts. The ship itself has prompted a search for the quality of beer aboard the jaght (more on that in the near future—I’m still digging), but whist digging I came across a few interesting tidbits in a 19th century history of Albany. These snippets come from Arthur J. Weise’s 1884 book, The History of the City of Albany, New York, From the Discovery of the Great River in 1524, by Verrazzano to the Present Time. Chapter nine describes the appearance of Albany as of 1685. Most of the homes and structures—numbering about 100—were framed timber, with thatched or shingled, but occasionally glazed tile, roofs; and surrounded by a thirteen feet tall stockade. It also mentions this:
Outside the inns hung square sign-boards, on which were the names of the landlords and of the houses, and the painted representations of some such objects as a sickle and a barley-sheaf, a beaver and a lodge, or a green tree with wide-spreading branches. These pictures often became the common designations for the taverns. The beer, wine, and strong water sold in them were carefully measured by the farmer of the liquor-excise, who derived considerable profits from his exclusive privilege to collect certain fixed rates on the quantity of liquor sold by each tapster and innkeeper. The patroon's brewery supplied the tap-rooms of the village with most of the beer drank in them. (1)
(1) In 1649, three hundred and thirty tuns of beer were made in the patroon's brewery.
The sign thing is cool, and we’ve seen reference before to the early Albany liquor excise and taxation, but I’m particularly interested in the footnote.

First off, how much was 330 tuns? Assuming that the Dutch tun is similar to an English tun (200ish gallons) from around the same time period, were talking about 66,000 gallons or just under 2,000 (Imperial) barrels per year. Not too shabby. Also, remember, in the 1630s and early 40s the Patroon, Kiliaen van Rensselaer, had a lock on brewing in the colony. In 1632, he wrote Johan de Laet saying, “As soon as there is a supply of grain on hand, I intend to erect a brewery to provide all New Netherland with beer…” That same year, van Rensselaer contracts with Jacob Albertsen Planck to “at his own expense and risk and full charge…[to] brew beer to be sold to the men of the Company or to the savages, or do otherwise therewith as he shall think fit.” Planck is the first brewer to make beer under the authority of the Patroon. By 1649, Evert Pels, Planck’s apparent replacement, is in the last year of his seven year contract with Patroon.

Although the Patroon had a ten year jump on brewing in the colony, by the late 1640s, things began to change for the "indie" brewer. A village had sprung up just north of Fort Orange, and Pieter Bronck, Jacob Hevick, Reyndert Pieterszto, Harmen Harmanse, Jan Weendorp, Rutger Jacobs and Gossen Gerritsz all opened breweries individually, or in partnerships, within the illegal settlement by the 1650s. That village would eventually become Beverwijck. Jan Labatie was even running a small brewery at the fort—not to mention the other brewers scattered around Rennselarwijck. That begs the questions, if the Patroon’s brewery was suppling most of Albany’s taprooms by the mid 1680s, where was the rest of the beer going? My guess is that the 1650s saw the start of Albany’s long waltz with beer exportation.

Weise’s book also gives insight into what kind of beer was being made by New Netherlanders around the same time as the purported 330 tuns of beer was being made at the Patroon’s brewery. Weise reports passages relayed, first hand, by Father Issac Jogues. The Jesuit missionary had visited the area in 1646, during his time acting as an ambassador to the Mohawk Nation, on behalf of Charles Huault de Montmagny, the Governor of New France. Jogues observed Fort Orange, with less than glowing praise, noting that it was “a miserable little fort…built of logs, with four or five pieces of Breteuil cannon and as many swivels.” He also comments on what he refers to as Rensselaerwijck, but is more likely writing about the village of Beverwijck itself. He notes:
This colony is composed of about a hundred persons, who reside in some twenty-five or thirty houses, built along the river as each one found most convenient…They found some pieces of cultivated ground, which the savages had formerly cleared, and in which they sow wheat and oats for beer, and for their horses, of which they have great numbers.
Wheat and oats. Notice that there is no mention of barley. Why? Because as we have established many-a-time, and as potential barley famers hoping to take advantage of New York State’s Farm Brewery law are finding out today—barley doesn’t grow well in New York. Ya' know what does grow pretty well? Wheat and oats.

Jogues also gives another clue about the quality of the beer  by calling it beer, rather than ale. In the late-Renaissance world of Father Jorgues there was a clear, and relatively simple difference between ale and beer. Although both today would be considered “ales” in the top and warm-fermented sense of the word, however during the 1600s the distinction was that ale contained less hops than beer, therefore beer was more bitter than ale.

This distinction has its roots in the 14th and 15th century beer trade between hopped beer from Central Europe, (notably from the city of Hamburg) and the Low Countries (generally speaking, today’s Netherlands and Belgium) being imported into Great Britain; and un-hopped—or more likely less-hopped—ale, being exported from Great Britain to mainland Europe. The influx or exportation rose and fell, for both (regardless of the direction of travel) over the next few hundred years. This is not to say bitter beer was not produced in Great Britain, or that less-hopped ale was not produced in Continental Europe, however, by the mid 17th century, it had been established that beer was more heavily hopped than ale, and that the Low Countries were noted producers of it—and for that matter also as noted growers of hops* and oats. Long story short, it’s telling that Jogues used the word beer rather than ale, because we can infer that what was brewed in Beverwijck, if not all of New Netherland, was probably somewhat bitter.

When you think about it, thats a lot of info in one little package. Between Weise’s footnote and Jorgue’s note on the sowing of wheat and oats for “beer”—75 words, all said and done—we can glean quite a bit about beer made in over 350 years ago, involving both quantity of production, and its ingredients.

Just for the record, though, I think we’ll stick with “Albany Ale” rather than "Albany Beer" as far as the Albany Ale Project title goes.

*Hats off to Ian Spenser Hornsey, for a clear and rather concise foray into the beer versus ale trade across the North Sea 600 years ago, in his 2003 book A History of Beer and Brewing.

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