Thursday, June 18, 2015

Albany Ale: Aloha Mr. Hand

Yikes! Long time no see, eh, kind readers?

I'm back—at least temporarily—and I've decided to post a few fan facts about Hawaii (Don't worry, it'll all make sense in a minute). Here goes:

Fun Fact #1: British explorer James Cook's arrival in 1778 was the first documented contact with European explorers. However it is believed that Spanish explorers arrived well before then.

Fun Fact #2: The Kamehameha dynasty began in 1795—after King Kamehameha unified the archipelago—and continued until 1872. Queen Lili'oukalani was kingdom's last monarch. In 1893, her rule was overthrown, and replaced by an American-backed provisional government.

Fun Fact #3 King Kamehameha III relocated the the permanent capital of the Hawaiian kingdom to Honolulu on the island of Honolulu—a town of approximately 8,000 to 10,000 people—in 1845. 

Fun Fact #4: In July of 1898 the Republic of Hawaii was annexed to the United States, and in 1900 was granted self-governance. The one-time royal 'Iolani Palace in Honolulu, was used as the territorial capitol building

Fun Fact #5: On December 7th, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. Naval Station at Pearl Harbor, provoking the United States' entry into the Second World War.*  

Fun Fact #6: Hawaii was the 50th state admitted to the union on August 20th, 1959.

Oh yeah...there's one more.

Fun Fact #7: From 1858 through 1860, Albany Ale (in pints and cases) was being advertised in newspapers and was available from multiple vendors in the Hawaiian capital city of Honolulu. 

The Polynesian, Honolulu, Hawaii, January 21, 1860

So, lets put that in a little perspective. Three years prior to the start of the American Civil War, 40 years prior to annexation and 99 years prior to statehood, Albany Ale is being sold in Hawaii. Keep in mind that Hawaii is just under 2,500 miles from California—except this beer probably wasn't shipped from San Francisco or Sacramento. The Transcontinental Railroad would not be complete until 1869, and it would still be another seven years before the first train would bisect the country on a single trip from New York City to San Francisco. It's more likely these pints and cases of Albany Ale traveled by boat—from Albany down the Hudson to New York harbor, along the Atlantic coast of the United States, and past the Caribbean. Then they'd skirt along the South American continent, rounding Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn, heading north along Chile before hanging a left at Peru, and steaming through the Central Pacific to Honolulu harbor—almost three months later. 

I'll finish with one last bit of perspective—New York to Honolulu (via Cap Horn) is about 4,000 nautical miles further than the trip (via Cape of Good Hope, South Africa) from Burton-on-Trent, in the U.K to Mumbai, India.

*Okay, maybe this one wasn't so much "fun". 


  1. Amazing! Presumably the English ale and porter would have been coming in via New York as well.

    1. That I don't know. I do know there was some British influence in the islands during the 1840s, and perhaps direct trade was established at that point—then again the "influence" was a demand for Kamehameha to cede Hawaii to the Crown. But again, I don't really know.

    2. Although, Nut, one ad does mention British beer "Shortly Expected! Per "Heather Bell," from London direct"

    3. As we are learning from Taunton ale, too, I think there was way more oceanic transshipment of ale pre-1870s that we might have thought. Beer is such a commodity that no one really aggregated the information. And IPA gets the attention because of the geographical designation being the recipient's exotic address.

  2. Very interesting - also note the Bass pale ale - ie their IPA – and the ale and porter from "Tennant's" – sic - almost certainly Tennents of Glasgow.

    1. The "Heather Bell" ad I mentioned in my reply to Nut, Martyn, also mentions Bridges stout porter and pale ale, Robert Tooth's porter, R.B. Bass (Bass?) pale ale and brown stout porter, and J. Jeffrey's & Co. pale India ale and stout porter.

      What I find interesting—and obviously the British beer producers dwarfed Albany, or the U.S. for that matter in production—but for the possible occasional exception of Philadelphia and Newark ale and porter—you rarely any other American beer other than Albany Ale and never with it's frequency.

  3. Albany ale AND Monongahela whisky! Good times in Honolulu.

    So, does this make you more or less inclined to think that "Albany Ale" was some monolithic style of beer or that ale from Albany just meant the highest quality American brewed beer?

    1. Early on (prior to 1820) we think its a euphemism of good beer of any kind brewed in Albany. Edward LeBretton is probably the brewer who coins Albnay Ale. By the 1860s and 70s, however, we really think it was a qualifiable thing, and from what we've dug up it was most likely a strong (7.5% to 10.5 ABV), some what sweet, pale mild.

      One of the reasons we believe this is that we see it advertised outside of Albany—like Hawaii—along with other qualifiable styles, such as IPA, and Brown Stout. Folks in the 19th century knew what those beers were, so it stands to reason that if you were to order and Albany Ale in 1862 in a tavern in, say, Cleveland, you'd expected a specific beer.

      My guess is this Albany Ale was from Taylor. John Taylor is really the brewer who pushes the Albany Ale export biz. But I could be wrong, there were plenty of breweries in the city making and exporting their beer in the 1860s.

  4. I don't want that last comment to be construed that Albany brewers only made strong, pale mile, either. They didn't, in fact they made a pretty wide variety of styles—IPA, Burton, Amber, Stock and by the 1870s, brewery specific "branded" beer as well, like Amsdell's Diamond Stock, Taylor's Imperial Astor Ale, and Quinn & Nolan's California Pale Ale.