Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Albany Ale: It All Comes Back to Beer

When Alan and I first started writing Upper Hudson Valley Beerone of the things we really wanted to do with the book was contextualize beer. Beer does not exist in a bubble, and we wanted to show how the economics, politics, culture, religion, language and… well… generally everything about a specific place effects the beer of that place throughout history.  Contextualization—placing beer within time and history—broadens the story. It shows the big beery picture, not just that this "type" of beer was made at this "location." But why that type of beer was made, and why at that location.

One of the other wonderful things we've found, is that on many occasions, events and individuals that might not appear on the surface as beery, quite often are. An email I received just before Christmas from local author and historian David Fiske, proves my point.

Fiske who wrote Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave, sent me a note about someone associated with Solomon Northup who had an interesting connection to Albany’s brewing industry.

First though, who’s seen the three time 2013 Academy Award Winning film (including Best Picture) 12 Years a Slave

Not surprisingly, the movie is based on the book, or rather the memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, written in 1853, by Solomon Northup—a musician from north of Saratoga Springs. Born free, Northup was kidnapped in Washington D.C. in 1841, and sold into slavery, and sent to Louisiana for—you guessed it—twelve years, but was eventually freed.

Don’t worry I won’t give any more away.

In his email David told me, that after Northup returned to New York, he was approached by an Albany lawyer and journalist—David Wilson—to tell his story. Northrup, relayed his story to Wilson, who ghost wrote and edited Twelve Years a Slave on behalf of Northrup. As far as Fiske is concerned, the narrative was all Northup, but the panache of the writing was Wilson. Simply put, Northup wasn't writer, so that's where Wilson came in. Wilson had written a few other books on historical subjects, but Twelve Years a Slave was his most successful work.

And successful he was (Here’s where the non-beery becomes the beery). In David’s email, he also informed me that after having read a passage in Upper Hudson Valley Beer about the Kirk brewery on Broadway, something dawned on him. Here’s the passage:

“The building sat idle for a few years after Kirk’s death, until Patrick Kearney and James McQuade began operating at the site in 1860. In 1867, the property was sold to Wilson & Co. and operated until John Smyth and James Walker purchased it in 1870.”

As you’ve figured out by now, David Wilson was the “Wilson” in Wilson & Co.

Incidentally Smyth & Walker were the “& Co.” and bought out Wilson’s holdings in the brewery after his death; they would eventually sell the property to The Fort Orange Brewing Company in the 1880s. Wilson’s brewery building—or rather Kirk’s building—is gone, however one of the Fort Orange building still stands, and is now Stout, and Irish-themed bar.

See, what did I say? Contextualization—what might not appear as beery, quite often is. 

1 comment:

  1. A good example of this is "John Barleycorn", Jack London's anti-alcohol screed which I just re-read after many years. There are ironies in anti-alcohol shedding light on beer per se, but he discusses various beer types by reference to their social acceptability and price, as part of explaining how he became addicted. One learns from this that steam beer was a strictly low-end drink, and he finally stopped drinking it in favour of other beers, pilseners and other lagers, which were fashionable and more expensive. I had always thought steam beer was a premium West Coast beer style, due to how Maytag reinvented it as a craft product, but reading about in in its original context sheds quite a different light. It's a good book apart from this, rather sobering, so to speak.