All posts by Martyn Cornell

Beer educator, beer consultant, author, journalist and beer historian. Winner at the British Guild of Beer Writers' annual awards five years running, 2011-15

How I uncovered the long-forgotten story of America’s first porter brewery and then sat on it for three years

It’s a huge thrill to uncover facts that totally rewrite history. You’ll read in a great many places – here, for example, in a book published in 2014 – that the first porter brewed in America was made by Robert Hare, son of a London porter brewer, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1775. So when in 2017 I found an advertisement in an 18th century newspaper that showed porter being brewed in the American colonies ten years earlier than that, by someone else, in an entirely different state, it was shirt-over-the-head, run-round-the-room time.

Geography of Beer cover

Except that I found this story while researching for a chapter I was writing on the global spread of porter for the latest in the “Geography of Beer” series, published by Springer. I really wanted to keep the story I had found as an exclusive for the book, so I decided I couldn’t publish anything until the book came out. Ne’er mind, I thought, ’twill only mean a wait until early next year. Except that for a number of unfortunate reasons, publication of the book was delayed. And delayed. And delayed a bit more, leaving me sweating in case someone else stumbled over these same facts, and published the true story of America’s first porter brewer before I did. I had done some more digging, and found that the whole tale had appeared in a book written in 1968 about the now long-vanished estate where the first American commercial porter brewery was based: the author of that book, however, had failed to realise the significance of the story in the history of brewing, being more interested in the archaeology of the site and what it said about social conditions of the time. [Add: An article in Brewery History, the journal of the Brewery History Society, in 2016, which I had forgotten about until reminded, mentioned the brewery concerned, and the fact that it made porter, but failed to point out that this was the earliest known brewing of the beer in America.]

So: The Geography of Beer: Culture and Economics (Nancy Hoalst-Pullen and Mark W. Patterson, eds) was finally published this month, and it being out and in the public domain, I can now tell you the full, short and ultimately rather sad and tragic story of America’s First Porter Brewery. Sit back, pour yourself something dark, and away we’ll go.

Britain’s American colonies in the mid-18th century provided a market for more than just the tea that was to cause problems in Boston in 1773. In 1766 the sums remitted to England for London porter by the merchants of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and elsewhere were described as “very considerable”.

Growing imports of porter, and American colonists’ growing estrangement from Britain, eventually encouraged a Dublin-born American entrepreneur, lawyer and plantation owner, John Mercer, of Marlborough, Stafford County, Northern Virginia, to start brewing porter commercially, the first known porter brewery outside the British Isles. Mercer, the son of a Dublin merchant also named John, whose grandfather came from Chester in England, was born in February 1704 and came to America in 1720, aged 16. He had moved to Marlborough in 1726, initially leasing property in what was then a run-down settlement, and eventually built up a thriving tobacco plantation. He also began a career in the law and rose to be one of the top attorneys in Virginia, acting for George Washington among others, and a wealthy man. Late in the 1740s he poured money into turning his home in Marlborough into a Palladian manor house, filled with mirrors, marble-topped sideboards and furniture brought across the Atlantic from Europe.

As he entered his 60s, increasing illness, and deafness, forced Mercer to quit the law. He was also struggling with debts, and, looking around for a way to make money, decided “with self-deceptive optimism,” as one historian wrote, to start a brewery at Marlborough, reasoning that it could not fail to be profitable, because “our Ordinaries [inns and taverns] abound & daily increase, for drinking will continue longer than anything but eating.” He assured his son George that the venture “would quickly retrieve all my losses and misfortunes.” A brewery would, in any event, enable him to “brew for the family use, that they may have drink with their victuals” – the “family” here including Mercer’s black slaves, the Marlborough estate being home to “about 26 white people & 122 negroes.”

A portrait of John Mercer, courtesy of the Virginia State Library and Mrs Montague Blundon, via the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Mercer constructed a brewhouse and a malthouse, each 100 feet long and made of brick and stone, plus “Cellars, Cooper’s house [the brewery employed two coopers at £20 a year] & all the buildings, copper & utensils whatever, used about the brewery.” The purchases to equip the brewery included 50 yards of haircloth, a yard wide, for the malt kiln. Marlborough already had a windmill which could be used to grind the malt, but for the days when the wind did not blow, “I have now a hand-mill fixed in my brewhouse loft that will grind 50 bushels of malt (my coppers complement) every morning they brew.”

Mercer also laid out money on purchasing “about 40” black slaves, “to enable me to make Grain sufficient to carry on my brewery with my own hands,” and also began growing his own hops. He hired a man named Andrew Wales, or Wayles, “a young Scotch brewer,” who “affirmed that he had some years the charge of a brewhouse at Edinburgh,” and persuaded Mercer to spend £100 to alter the new malthouse. Another brewer, William King, arrived in September 1765, who condemned Wales’s alterations to the malthouse. King died the following month, but a short time later William Bailey arrived at Marlborough unannounced, sent by King’s nephew, a man named Wadman, and carrying with him a high recommendation as a brewer from his previous employer, Colonel John Tayloe, one of the richest plantation owners in Virginia. Tayloe said that Bailey’s brews had been “preferred by some gent. of distinction & good taste to very good Burton & other English ales.” Mercer wrote: “You may readily believe I did not hesitate to employ Bailey on such a recommendation, more especially as he agreed with King in blaming the alteration of the malt house & besides found great fault with Wales’s malting.”

Unsure which of the two, Bailey or Wales, was the better brewer, Mercer let both men brew separately. However, he wrote, “though Bailey found as much fault with Wales’s brewing as he did with his malting, that brewed by Wales was the only beer I had that Season fit to drink.” Bailey made enough beer to send a schooner-load of it to Norfolk, Virginia, but it was of such “bad character” that only two casks were sold. The rest had to be stored for two months, then returned to Marlborough. An attempt to distil it into whiskey was made, but with no success. Wales, although he had brewed drinkable beer, had only made around 550 gallons, the return on which was hardly enough to pay his £40 wages, let alone the maintenance for himself and his wife.

In 1766 the brewery made 550 bushels of malt, but the quality of much of the beer and ale produced was poor. Mercer wrote to his eldest son George that “Wales complains of my Overseer & says that he is obliged to wait for barley, coals & other things that are wanted which, if timely supplied with he could with six men & a boy manufacture 250 bushels a week which would clear £200 … My Overseer is a very good one & I believe as a planter equal to any in Virginia but you are sensible few planters are good farmers and barley is a farmer’s article.”

Despite the problems, in April 1766 Mercer took advertisements in the Virginia Gazette and the Maryland Gazette to promote the Marlborough Brewery’s “strong Beer and Porter at 18d and ale at 1s the gallon, Virginia currency, in cask, equal in goodness to any that can be imported from any part of the world,” and to give a kicking to the imported brew, declaring his own beer used “nothing but the genuine best Malt and Hops … without any mixture or substitute whatsoever, which, if the many treaties of brewing published in Great Britain did not mention to be frequently used there, the experience of those who have drunk those liquors imported from thence would point out to be the case, from their pernicious effects.”

Mercer revealed that he had spent “near 8000l to bring my brewery to its present state,” which, even assuming these were Virginian pounds, suggests an expenditure equivalent today to an enormous £1 million, and went on to say that “The severe treatment we have lately received from our Mother Country [a reference to the Stamp Act of 1765, introducing deeply unpopular taxes, and other revenue-raising legislation imposed on the colonies by London: Mercer was a committed and vociferous opponent of the Stamp Act], would, I should think, be sufficient to recommend my undertaking. (though I should not be able to come up to the English standard, which I do not question constantly to do).” The appeal to patriotic Americans to drink local porter in preference to imported was one that would be repeated by other brewers.

The first advertisement for American-brewed porter, in the Williamsburg Gazette, Virginia on April 25 1766

Bottles were a problem, and Mercer’s advertisement added: “Any person who sends bottles and corks may have them carefully filled and corked with beer or porter at 6s or with ale at 4s the dozen. I expect, in a little time, to have constant supply of bottles and corks; and if I meet the encouragement I hope for, propose setting up a glasshouse for making bottles, and to provide proper vessels to deliver to such customers as favour me with their orders such liquors as they direct, at the several landings they desire.”

Ignoring the problems with the quality of the beer produced at his brewery, Mercer remained optimistic, telling his son George: “It is affirmed that Virginia imports beer & ale to the amt of upwards of £30,000 Sterl. yearly (which is more than ten such breweries as mine could brew) little of what is imported is sold by any ordinary keeper who cannot import it on his own account, as there is little to be got by it, when purchased here whereas mine at 10d and 15d a gallon, to which I have reduc’d it upon the fall of exchange, will afford every ordinary keeper as much, if not more profit, than any other liquor he sells.”

He was also optimistic about starting his own glassworks to provide bottles for the brewery, telling George: “A Glass house to be built here must I am satisfied turn to great profit, they have some in New England & New York or the Jerseys & find by some resolves the New England men are determined to increase their number.” However, he was facing growing financial problems, despite employing a receiver to travel around northern Virginia calling on his debtors to try to recover the £10,000 he was owed. Still, he remained hugely optimistic, telling George early in 1768: “I can make my barley and hops, have coopers of my own, & beleive [sic] some of my own negroes coud malt & brew tho I shoud choose to employ an expert brewer & malster. Surely with so many advantages it is impossible I should fail, if I persevere.”

Just as the next brewing season began, however, in October 1768, Mercer died at home, leaving the heavily indebted estate in the control of his son James. James immediately started to sell off everything, from his father’s library of 1,200 books to his cattle and horses, including his prize stud horse Ranter, worth £330.

Marlborough Brewery advertisement, Virginia Gazette, November 23 1769

The brewery, however, kept going, under the control of Wales: on November 23 1769 the Virginia Gazette carried an advertisement from the Marlborough brewery for “a large quantity of extreme good beer and ale at 16d and 11d the gallon, including the casks; the casks are extremely good, and contain from 40 to 50 gallons.” “Mr Wayles the brewer” declared that he “has brewed four crops” (that is since the first in 1765) and has always made good liquor, and he thinks the present crop will be better than usual, as the grain is very good.” Indeed, “He is so confident of his success that he has agreed to pay for all that is not good … the whole has been brewed since the 20th of October last, and the beer will be fit for use in a fortnight, and the ale in three days after landing.” Such speedy maturation suggests the “beer” was now solely of the amber or pale kind, rather than porter. Would-be customers were told that “Captain Thomas Casson will carry about 120 casks up Rappahannock river within 20 days from this time,” and “he will call at all the towns and Gentlemens Houses on the river, and will lodge any quantity for Gentlemen in the forest where they shall please to direct.”

Sale of John Mercer’s brewing equipment, Virginia Gazette, November 8 1770

Commercial success clearly continued to elude the venture, and a year later, in November 1770, the  brewery equipment, which included “a copper that boils 500 gallons, several iron bound buts [sic] that contain a whole brewing each, coolers, &c &c and a quantity of new iron hoops and rivets for casks of different forms, lately imported,” together with much of the rest of the estate’s assets, was put up for sale. The last echo looks to have come the following year, in August 1771, when among the items being sold at an auction of goods from the Marlborough estate were “about two Hundred Weight of Hops of last Crop.”) James Mercer, an important figure in the politics of revolutionary Virginia, and subsequently a judge of the state’s General Court, apparently continued to live at Marlborough until his death in 1791: the estate passed to his half-brother John Francis Mercer, a soldier and politician, who sold it around 1800, after which it decayed over the next couple of decades until it effectively disappeared.


Addendum: to learn more about the career of Andrew Wales, click here

Running with Sceptres is not the ditch to die in over the Portman Group and its bans

You’ll have seen, I’m guessing, the row that has exploded over the ban just announced  by the Portman Group, the alcohol industry’s self-appointed regulatory body, on the Bristol-based brewery Lost and Grounded’s “India Pale Lager” Running with Sceptres for breaching paragraph 3.2 (h) of its code by appealing to children.

The problem is the artwork, which features cartoon animals, and despite Lost and Grounded insisting that these were NOT cartoon animals but ” artistic illustrations”, the Portman Group disagreed, declared that “the prominence and anthropomorphic character of the animals on this specific packaging created a particular appeal to children,” thus offending against its Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks. As a result, the on and off-trade has been asked not to order Running with Sceptres until the packaging is changed. More than 150 companies are signed up to the code of practice, covering almost all the drinks industry.

I am certainly no fan of the Portman Group and its frequently nonsensical decisions. But I suggest that if you want to try to fight its actions against brewers it deems are breaking its code, Running with Sceptres is NOT a good ditch to die in. Can you honestly say their tiger bears no resemblance to Shepard’s Tigger? Is it not the case that the whole illustration looks like an homage to Where the Wild Things Are?

Indeed, the artwork for Running with Sceptres could hardly have broadcast the message “report me to the Portman Group for appealing to kids” more loudly if those words had actually been printed on the can.

Is Running with Sceptre’s tiger, left, really not a cartoon of exactly the same type as EH Shephard’s bouncy Tigger?

The reason for the Portman Group’s existing is to prevent any statutory body being set up to oversee alcohol advertising and marketing, and the Portman Group will thus always act tough, to forestall criticism, and to avoid having itself replaced by a regulatory committee imposed on the industry by the government.

Having just come back from Norway, where alcohol marketing is so restricted by law – banned completely, basically – that some places even ban tap handles with beer names on, and brewery T-shirts, I can tell you: actual civil servants and government employees telling you what you can and cannot do to promote your beer is NOT something you want.

Though we can agree that the decision in this case is stupid, wrong, restrictive and nonsensical, I cannot say, when I saw the illustration on the can, that I was surprised at the decision the Portman Group made. Angered, yes. Surprised, no. This is a game of appearances, and it can’t be denied there’s a massive similarity of appearance between the Running with Sceptres artwork and the kind of artwork found in children’s books.

Running with Sceptres can

Pete Brown wrote in a tweet: “Guidelines state [artwork] shouldn’t have particular appeal to under-18s. Of the people into Winnie the Pooh, and then the subset of those who have been exposed to the style of illustration [on the can], what data exists that can show they are mostly under 18?” Logically, of course, he’s absolutely correct. The complaint, and the Portman Group’s response, are nonsense. But actual facts are irrelevant here.

There is a legitimate position in declaring: “Why shouldn’t we use whatever artwork we like on our cans and bottles? What actual evidence is there that such artwork will encourage under-18s to drink the contents?” And you’d be right. But in the real world, there will always be those wowsers who will declare that such images COULD encourage children to pick up the can or bottle and sample what’s inside, and the Portman Group will always head those people off and ban such images, in the frankly justifiable fear that if it isn’t seen to be banning such images, then some politician will declare that industry self-regulation has failed, and state regulation will be brought in instead.

So: if you don’t want state regulation of the advertising and marketing of alcohol, don’t give the wowsers reasons to complain by using cartoon images on your cans and bottles that would not look out of place in the children’s section of a bookshop. And if you feel that restricts your artistic liberty, I really don’t have any sympathy: I’d rather see cartoon teddies and tigers banned from beer bottles than a Norwegian-style total prohibition on any sort of advertising or marketing.

More lying nonsense from the anti-alcohol wowsers

If I took £18 from your pocket but told you that you were now actually better off as a result of my relieving you of your money, because I was giving £34 to the local hospital, you would, I think, decide I was either an idiot or a not very good conman.

This, however, is the sleight of hand being attempted by the militant anti-drink campaigners at the deliberately blandly named Institute of Alcohol Studies in its nonsensical report, published today, insisting that raising alcohol taxes would not “disproportionally” affect the poor, because of the “potential additional funds generated for the NHS”.

The IAS wants higher taxes on alcohol because it believes (or claims to believe) this will help solve “problem” drinking, though in fact there is no evidence this is true. It admits that higher taxes on alcohol “may” hit the poor proportionally harder than the rich (for “may” read “will”’ of course). It has obviously struggled to justify this disproportionate impact, and has decided to pretend that while poorer households would lose £18 a year through higher alcohol taxes, they would gain because there would be £34 per poorer household for the NHS, the extra money made available from higher taxes and, presumably, what it hopes will be less demand on the NHS because of lower alcohol consumption.

It does not explain how it knows this extra money will be there to boost the health service – instead of, as is more likely under the current government, being used to cut corporation tax and/or income tax for higher earners. If it existed at all.

The facts are that the UK already pays some of the highest alcohol taxes in Europe, that alcohol consumption in this country has been falling for many years, that most countries in Europe drink more alcohol than we do, and that alcohol remains a net contributor to national happiness, something that the wowsers of the IAS cannot accept.

The Guardian, of course, printed the IAS press release without challenging either the assumptions or the conclusions, and without pointing out that the IAS is fundamentally a temperance organisation, directly descended from 19th century temperance campaigning groups.

Nor did it quote anybody putting forward a dissenting point of view or commenting on the extremely dodgy assumptions behind the IAS’s calculations, such as the utterly evidence-free idea that if you lower total alcohol consumption, “problematic” alcohol consumption will fall as well.

It would be good to hold a proper debate on alcohol consumption in this country, and put to death the many myths that hamper reporting on the subject. Unfortunately the IAS certainly isn’t interested, and neither, it appears, is the Guardian.

In defence of sitting in a pub on your own

The pub: centre of conviviality, the place to meet old friends and new friends, an open, welcoming, warm, communal space free from the stresses of work and the confines of home, where people gather to relax, mingle, talk, laugh, enjoy companionship, exchange news, views and jokes, revive, support and celebrate.

Me enjoying drinking on my own

But what about that fellow on his own there, slowly emptying a pint glass, occasionally flipping a beermat in the air and catching it before it lands on the table, sometimes reading the newspaper he brought with him, sometimes apparently listening in to the conversations of others: he came in on his own, he talks to no one, except briefly to the barman to order his drink and accept his change, and nobody talks to him: should we not go over and drag him out of his solitary state and into our conversations?

If that solo drinker is me – thanks very much for the kind thoughts, but no thanks. I’m entirely happy here in my own head, sitting and thinking, people-watching, enjoying my pint, getting a vicarious buzz from all the social interaction around me, and I will get up after a beer or two and go home having had all the contact with people I need right now.

Of the thousands of hours I have spent in pubs over the past half a century, in a fair proportion I have been on my own, and I’ve enjoyed them all. I love the sociability of pubs, I love the interplay between people, the crack, in groups small and large: I married the woman who is the mother of my child in part because she was the person I most enjoyed going down the pub and chatting with. But I also love being a solo pub goer, sitting, sipping and thinking. It relaxes me, it lets me explore my thoughts, run through and rearrange memories, have conversations with myself about problems I am facing, work out plans: if I have a tricky piece to write, I try out in my head different ways to arrange the narrative, to construct the intro and the opening paragraphs. If I have a meeting or an interview or a journey coming up, I rehearse in my head what might happen. And all the time there is a buzz around me that I can tune into or tune out, if I want, that keeps me feeling connected with the rest of humanity, even if I don’t desire one-on-one contact with another human right then.

My daughter, who is in her last year of university, has an app on her phone that recreates the background noise of a coffee shop. She puts that on when she is writing an essay, and she says it helps her get into “the zone”, where she can concentrate on getting her thoughts out through her fingers and the keyboard and onto the screen in front of her. When I’m in “the zone”, however, I don’t notice any noises around me at all: sometimes I have to be shouted at loudly to drag me back into the real world. No point in having music on while I’m working: once in the zone, I don’t hear it. The background buzz of a pub, however, I find both mentally relaxing and mentally stimulating: sitting on my own in a bar I can think, and muse, and work on problems, and spent an hour or two looking at issues from different angles in a way that I could not while on a sofa at home, even with a beer by my side. And if that gets too much, I can people-watch, a terrific pastime in any pub.

Now, some of you are saying that as an older white male, I’m privileged in a way that others are not: nobody is going to be bothering me if I sup alone, even if they might be feeling (unnecessarily) sorry for me. Women, of course, need to have reached “the age of invisibility” before they can sit at a pub table by themselves and remain unmolested. Which is wrong. A good pub should be a welcoming place for all.

And it’s also true that some solitary drinkers really do want to be bothered, are actually hoping that someone will bring them into a conversation, really have gone down the pub to try to make new friends. How do you tell those people from people like me, who are enjoying the solo drinking experience? I don’t know. But don’t let the fact that people like me exist put you off reaching out in friendship to the genuinely lonely.

A quick plug for my friends at ABK

The lovely South Bavarian town of Kaufbeuren, home to the ABK brewery

A couple of years back, in the summer of 2018, I was in an argument involving assorted brewers, beer retailers and beer writers over the relative merits of an imperial stout versus a German Hell. This is, of course, like choosing which is better between apples and potatoes, or judging the attractiveness of golf versus darts: a nonsensical exercise. Except that it was the finals of the International Beer Challenge, the last two beers standing were an imperial stout and a German Hell, and one of them had to be chosen as supreme champion.

The stout party insisted that their favourite was a totally cracking example of the style – which, it’s true, it was – and no other beer on the day came near it for in-your-face slapocity. The Hell-bent, of which crew I was one, countered by saying that a good imperial stout was a relatively easy task, but a perfect Hell, the everyday lager of south Germany, was a technical challenge very, very few brewers could master, the beer in front of us was a perfect Hell, faultless, refreshing, the sort of beer you could happily drink all day without becoming bored, and for those reasons, not least the difficulty in making a beer to the high standards that particular Hell had climbed to, it was a more deserving winner of the “overall best” title than the stout was.

I’m pleased to say that the Hellers won, and the ABK brewery, from the small South Bavarian town of Kaufbeuren walked off with the palm: a triumph for everyday drinking over the extremophiles. Nothing wrong with extremophilia: but palate-blasting is, in my opinion, far from the heart of beer.

A year later, and entirely co-incidentally, I received an invitation to visit the ABK brewery, meet its brewmaster, the unforgettably named Bernd Trick, and enjoy plenty of Swabian hospitality, much of it liquid. Despite travelling to Germany several times, I had never been inside a German brewery, so this was far too good to turn down.

ABK stands for Aktien Brauerei Kaufbeuren, literally “Kaufbeuren stock (or shares) brewery”, though you won’t find many of its shares available today. The business claims to date back to at least 1308, when a Kaufbeuren citizen called “Heinrich der Twinger” (I’m guessing this is “Zwinger” in Standard German, which would make him “Henry the kennelman”) left his “Sedelhaus” (Sudhaus in modern German, the room where wort is prepared) to the local hospital (which, as the Hospitalstiftung zum Heiligen Geist, the Holy Ghost Hospital Foundation, is also still going today). That would make ABK the ninth oldest brewery in Germany. Over the next 700 years it changed hands several times, acquiring Kaufbeuren’s other breweries along the way, until by 2006 it was owned by a pair of brothers called Hans-Theodor and Peter Ralf Stritzl.

In 2013 the Stritzls sold ABK to an Anglo-American conglomerate called ROK Group, now ROKiT. The principals behind ROKiT are John Paul DeJoria, a 75-year-old Californian who made his money as co-founder of the Paul Mitchell hair products company in 1980, adding to it Patrón Tequila, one of the first “premium” tequila brands, which was bought out by Bacardi for a not unpleasant $5.1 billion in 2018; and the Shropshire-born Jonathan Kendrick, who built up his own multiple millions by helping to launch Yokohama Tyres in Europe. ROKiT now has its fingers in pies just as diverse as tyres and tequila, to wit, telecoms, brewing and Formula 1. It has enormous ambitions in both: ROKiT has signed a deal with the Indian government that could see it sell 300 million handsets, while its plans for ABK see beer production rise from the current 90,000 hectolitres or so to three million hectolitres within the next five years. To help publicise both those efforts, ROKiT is the current main sponsor of the Williams F1 racing team, which is officially named ROKiT Williams Racing.

Over lunch in the sun outside the Goldener Hirsch hotel in Kaufbeuren, ROKiT’s marketing director, Bruce Renny, told me: “German beer is basically undervalued. We asked ourselves, ‘Why?’, and the answer is that every town has its brewery. They’re very regional, and yes, the local people are passionate about their beer, and it’s ‘much better than the beer in the town down the road’. That’s how the Germans are. So we thought that we need to find a brewery that we can partner with in some way that wants to see its beer sold more than 20 miles from the brewery gates. By happenstance we came across ABK.”

ROKiT wants to make the award-winning ABK Hell bier, 5 per cent abv, known in the town as “das Blau” because the bottle labels have always been blue, its route into the global beer market. “We’re ecstatic that we won the supreme champion title at the IBC last year with this beer,” Renny said. “We intend building the ABK brand – that’s why we’re here – and we have the heritage, in spades – 710 years of it – we have the authenticity of the area.

“But at the moment we can’t even supply Germany from here. Just to put it in scale, this year the brewery here will brew about 80 to 90,000 hectolitres of beer, and 60,000 hectolitres of soft drinks for the Kaufbeuren area. Just one of the big Munich breweries alone will be doing about 6 million hectolitres a year, and they’re about 100 kilometres away. So in order to compete on scale, we don’t have the capacity right here.

“We intend to go from 90,000 hectolitres to a million, and to three million, within the next five years. Our key markets will remain Germany, and in no particular order, the US, China, Britain, Spain. The economics of it are that the transportation from Kaufbeuren to Rotterdam is a cost that Heineken doesn’t have, because they’re there. So we’re competing against globally well-known brands with a completely unknown brand, and we’re competing adversely on cost of production. Where we can compete is on heritage and authenticity.

“There’s room to expand here – the airfield is right opposite, that was an airforce base, and is now closed. That’s one option: to build a purpose-built modern brewing facility there.” But there will be no compromise: “The core values have to be rigorously protected, so everything will be literally Reinheitsgebot, right down to the type of hops that are used, so if we need to airfreight hops about, we’ll do so. There’ll be no scrimping. What must be achieved is that the Hell beer you drink in Beijing or in Boston or in Birmingham tastes exactly the same as right here in Kaufbeuren. There can be no compromise on that.”

Germany “will remain the biggest market for the next two or three years. The next biggest target has got to be the US, particularly the hot states. America’s so enormous anyway, there’s no point targeting Utah. We target California, Texas, Florida, and that alone will occupy a million hectolitres, just those three states.

“With the rise of the craft beer market in the States, people now want beer to taste of something. That’s fine, you can create some wacky recipe for beer and call it an aggressive hipster name, but you can’t buy the heritage that we have, you can’t buy the story. That just exists, in an almost unique fashion.”

Sales are taking off, Renny says: “Until we bought this brewery, it’s fair to say that the beer had never been sold more than 20 miles from the brewery gates, in 710 years. We’re now exporting a container a week into Britain alone, we have hired two people to deal with exports to the UK, one for Spain and one for Italy. Ideally in the UK we’re targeting small chains, because they appreciate the brand. That will grow, and it’s growing extremely fast.” The company sponsored the London Oktoberfest as the exclusive beer, and “we intend to use that as a catalyst to get into the majors.”

At the brewery, of course, they are very happy to be under the control of a company with ambitions. “When we acquired the brewery in 2013, in the months coming up to that we were flying in and out, talking to people, and this didn’t go unnoticed by the employees and the town as a whole, that these Auslanders – everybody knew the brewery was struggling a little bit, and they feared the worst,” Renny says. “Jonathan, on the day we acquired the brewery, firstly, before the media, he gathered the local press, every worker together, and he gave them a speech where he said, ‘Firstly, all the jobs here are safe. We will never tell you how to make beer’ – they were massively reassured with that. ‘Secondly, in five years’ time your beer will be sold in Boston, Birmingham and Beijing, under the ABK brand.’ The Germans, being highly conservative and slightly suspicious perhaps, basically shrugged, and said, ‘Well, we’ll wait and see.’ Here we are five years later, and they’re ecstatic.”

You’ll perhaps think any opinion I have on ABK and its beers is irretrievably skunked, with me having taken the company’s shilling by accepting an invite to drink at their expense. But I didn’t know who they were in 2018 when I was one of the judges campaigning for its Hell to get the “best in show” crown. If you see the “Blue” on sale, try it, I’d be very surprised if you don’t like it a lot. I certainly hope it does at least half as well as ROKiT wants, because if it does that will be an indicator that the beer market really is more interested in taste over hype now.

The ABK brewery in Kaufbeuren, on the site it moved to in 1807. St Martin, with cloak and beggar, is on the wall there because the local church is dedicated to him
Williams F1 racing car outside the brewery: the team is sponsored by ABK’s owner, ROKiT
Beautifully shiny copper-clad mash tun at the Kaufbeuren brewery
One of the many tiles decorating the walls of the ABK brewhouse
Lagering tanks in the cellars of the ABK brewery
Bernd Trick, the affable and highly talented head brewer at ABK

When 200,000 pints of beer went overboard to save a ship

If you are ever in Picton, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, take a two-minute walk along the foreshore from the Cook Strait Ferry terminal to Dunbar Wharf, and marvel at a unique survival: the Edwin Fox, last remaining wooden sailing ship to have carried India Pale Ale from London to the thirsty east.

The Edwin Fox in Picton before she was moved to a dry dock and preservation work began. Picture copyright Marlborough Museum

Admittedly, 166 years after she was built, from best Malabar teak and Morung saul in a shipyard on the Hooghly river, Calcutta, and more than a century after she was towed into Picton, minus her masts, you need to pump up your imagination to visualise what this now empty shell was like in its prime, crossing the briny blue oceans, stuffed to its gunwales with pale ale and porter brewed by the banks of the Thames.

The Edwin Fox, painted by Gainor Jackson, courtesy of the Edwin Fox Society

In her three decades as a working ship, the Edwin Fox carried an enormous variety of cargoes and passengers: troops to the Baltic during one of the side-campaigns of the Crimea War, supplies and ammunition to Balaclava, wounded soldiers back home, rice for Hong Kong and South Africa, coolies from China to the plantations of  Cuba, coals to the Coromandel coast, convicts for Australia, cotton, sugar, more troops to and from India, emigrant families to New Zealand, as well as beer.

Her transport of IPA from London to India, according to modern commentators who prefer the thrill of a good story to the labour of checking its veracity, brought the Edwin Fox the nickname “the booze barge”. Unfortunately (a) there appears to be no 19th century evidence to support this claim; (b) the nickname “booze barge” has also been given by writers to another 19th century vessel, the clipper Catherine Adamson, from Aberdeen, which was wrecked during a storm in Sydney Harbour in 1857 and went down with a cargo of 4,000 gallons of brandy, 5,000 gallons of wine, 1,500 gallons of other spirits and 156 barrels of beer; and (c) the term “booze barge” first seems to appear in print only in 1908, in the United States. It has to be doubted, therefore, that the Edwin Fox was ever called a “booze barge” by her contemporaries.

Indeed, only six journeys with beer as cargo are definitely known for the Edwin Fox, three of which were to New Zealand. One of those beer trips to India, in 1869, was one of the many near-disasters that the Edwin Fox regularly became fouled in during her career. The vessel, by now technically a barque, that is, with fore-and-aft sails on the mizzen mast (the rear-most one of three) rather than the square-rigged sails on all three masts of a ship, a cost-saving alteration that had been made two years before, had left London for Madras on March 17 with a cargo made up mostly of 1,700 hogsheads – 85,000 gallons – of ale and porter, probably all made at the Taylor Walker brewery in Limehouse and ordered by the Madras government for the canteens of British regiments based in India. She arrived on July 25, after 137 days, in the Madras Roads, having travelled round Africa and via Trincomalee in Ceylon, a voyage of 14,000 miles. Some 317 hogsheads of beer were unloaded in Madras, and the Edwin Fox left on the afternoon of August 10 for the port of Masulipatam, 220 miles up the coast, with the rest of the beer, around 1,400 hogsheads.

A day and a half out of Madras, in the middle of the night, with her captain, William Black, literally in unfamiliar waters and feeling his way along, the Edwin Fox grounded in the soft mud of a shoal bank, 2½ miles from the shore. She stuck there for a day, as Black and the crew tried to get her to move, until finally it was decided the only way the Edwin Fox was going to shift would be to lighten her by throwing some of the cargo overboard. Normally it would be ballast or shot tossed into the sea to lighten a stranded vessel, but Black was afraid that might form a wall around the Edwin Fox which would stop her floating off. A total of 446 hogsheads, all those stowed in the tween decks, went over the sides, not far short of 200,000 pints of beer, a task that took the 22 crew members (not including the captain) 2½ days, before the barque finally floated free of the underwater mud early the following morning and they were able to continue on to Masulipatam, arriving a few hours later with the Edwin Fox apparently unharmed.

By November 1869 200 hogsheads of ale and one of porter had been salvaged in good condition from the 446 thrown overboard, along with 11 hogsheads where the contents had turned bad, and six empty casks. But that still meant a sixth of the total cargo of ale had been lost. Captain Black faced an official marine court of inquiry into the ship’s grounding, which concluded that though he “acted unwisely” in sailing so close to the shore when he had never been in those waters before, it would restrict itself to “strongly cautioning him to be more careful” in future.

The interior of the preserved Edwin Fox at Picton. Picture courtesy of the Edwin Fox Society

The Edwin Fox had been built in 1853 in the shipyard at Sulkeah in Calcutta owned by Thomas Reeves, son of a shipbuilder from London. She has been described as “the last of the East Indiamen”, the name given to the iconic vessels owned and run by the Honourable East India Company, but as a ship she was considerably smaller than the classic East Indiaman, more cramped and less stylish. She probably took only a few weeks to build. The Edwin Fox for whom she was named was a friend of Reeves, described in Reeves’s will as a City of London merchant, though there are at least two candidates as to who exactly he was. One Edwin Fox was a London-born auctioneer and businessman who died at his home, Heatham House, Twickenham, in 1891. The other Edwin Fox, sometimes described as “the well-known Southampton Quaker” (though he was not from Southampton), was a senior figure in the East India Company, who was born in Wadebridge, Cornwall and died on the Isle of Wight in 1892.

This Edwin Fox, with his Indian connections, seems the most likely man for whom the ship was named: though recently a third Edwin Fox, supposedly a shipwright in Reeves’s shipyard at Sulkeah, was suggested as the ship’s eponym. That the original Edwin Fox was a businessman rather than a shipwright, however, is strongly suggested by a story told about a deputation by a new crew complaining of a ghost in the fore ’tween deck space. The ghost – a huge white figure wearing a top hat – turned out to be the ship’s figurehead, Edwin Fox himself, damaged and placed below deck to await repair and replacement at the front of the ship.

The Edwin Fox was signed off by Reeves’s master shipbuilder, William Henry Forster, on December 6 1853, with Reeves listed as the sole owner, and she cleared customs at Calcutta just eight days later for a voyage to London via the Cape of Good Hope, carrying ten passengers and a mixed cargo that included almost 4,000 bags of rice, 145 bales of goatskins and cow hides, 750 bales of jute, 225 cases of castor oil, 3,400 bags of linseed and rape seed and around 100 tons of saltpetre. She unloaded the rice in Table Bay on February 20 1854, and was waiting to take on fresh water before continuing her journey when a gale arrived. The ship’s anchor cables parted during the storm, she hit another vessel – the first of many collisions during her career – and lost her foremast and part of her mainmast, with considerable other damage. Repairs took a fortnight, but the Edwin Fox finally left Table Bay on March 7, arriving off Gravesend in the Thames estuary on May 10, after a five-month journey from India.

A month later Reeves sold the Edwin Fox to Sir George Edmund Hodgkinson, a City of London-based shipowner. Hodgkinson immediately hired her out to the British government for use as a transport in the Crimean War, which had started the previous October. The Edwin Fox was actually in the Black Sea, transporting sick and wounded troops from the front (at one point she was visited by Florence Nightingale herself), when she was sold again, in May 1855, to another London ship owner, Duncan Dunbar.

Duncan Dunbar’s ale on sale in Calcutta, advertised in the Calcutta Gazette, Thursday July 15 1802

Much mythology has sprouted around Dunbar, and his father, Duncan Dunbar senior. Their business was based at what was known as early as 1804 as Dunbar Wharf, in Fore Street (today Narrow Street), Limehouse, described in 1803 as “a large warehouse adjoining to the water, with a commodious landing place for merchandise”. In particular it is frequently stated that Dunbar senior ran a brewery. There is no evidence at all to support this claim, however. Instead Duncan Dunbar senior was merely a beer, wine and spirits merchant, exporting to India and other overseas markets beers sold in his own name – not unknown among merchants and beer bottlers, with, for example, the Mincing Lane, City of London-based firm Shone & Co shipping porter under its own name to Calcutta in 1797 – but almost certainly actually brewed by Taylor’s brewery (later Taylor Walker) a short distance away from Dunbar Wharf in Fore Street. In 1801, for example, porter and brown stout “from Hodgson and Co [the famous pale ale brewers of Bow] and Duncan Dunbar, at 90 Rs per Hogsheads” was on sale in Calcutta. The following year “Duncan Dunbar’s ale, in bottles” was on offer to the Bengal city’s drinkers. By 1821 “Dunbar beer in hogsheads (brown stout)” was available in Sydney, Australia.

With its near-neighbour Taylor’s one of the biggest London porter brewers, and also producing pale ale, it would certainly make little economic sense for Dunbar to brew his own. Nor did he export only ale, porter and stout: in 1803 “Whyskey [sic] from Duncan Dunbar” was on sale in Calcutta. In an Old Bailey court case of 1804 involving stolen bottles, Dunbar is specifically described as a wine and spirit seller. Trade directories regularly call him a “beer merchant” or “ale and porter merchant”. He was called a “porter-merchant” in 1808, when the “substantial warehouse with large cellars and vaults on the basement” he was leasing in Fore Street was advertised for sale. Nowhere is he mentioned as a brewer of his own beers. Instead the cellars and vaults at Dunbar Wharf served as stores for beer brewed by others, most of it, according to one source, by Taylor Walker up the street, but with a label on the bottles carrying the Dunbar house flag, showing a golden lion on a red shield with a white border decorated with red and gold diamonds and stars. “Envious rivals,” it has been declared, “said that the Dunbar fortunes floated to success on Taylor Walker’s ale.”

House flag of the Duncan Dunbar & Sons fleet, which appeared on the labels of bottles of beer sold by the firm

Duncan Dunbar senior, born around 1761, was the seventh son of John Dunbar, a tenant farmer of Balnageith, near Forres, in the north of Scotland. He had moved to London by the 1790s, opening a beer, wines and spirits business, marrying and fathering two sons and six daughters. The eldest son, Duncan junior, was born in 1803, joined the family business aged 16 after two years at Aberdeen University, and was made a partner aged 21 in 1824. A year later Duncan senior died at his home in the East India Road, Poplar, aged 64, leaving Duncan junior in charge of the firm. From 1827 Duncan junior began to branch out into ship-owning, starting with a half-share of a barque built in Sussex. In 1841 Duncan Dunbar and Sons were still being described in Australia as “wine and porter merchants”. But by 1842 the Dunbar fleet numbered 11. From that year, growth accelerated, so that by the beginning of 1858 Dunbar owned 43 ships, the biggest privately owned fleet in the world.

Advertisement for Dunbar’s pale ale, New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, April 18 1840

The acquisition of the Edwin Fox by Dunbar has another myth attached. Supposedly the ship was put up for auction by Hodgkinson, and the auction attracted both Dunbar and a pair of rival shipowners, John Willis, who later owned the Cutty Sark, and James Baines of Liverpool, owner of the Black Ball shipping line:

“The auction was charged with electricity in the form of rivalry … The bidding commenced at £15,000 and went up quickly to £25,000. Willis withdrew at £25,000, knowing there was heat in the bidding of a personal nature, and immediately Baines who was decked out very smartly for the day, bid £28,000 and turned and snarled at Dunbar: ‘Beat that if you can, and be damned to you!’ Applause broke out, and Dunbar shouted back: ‘£30,000, and the same to you!’ Gasps of astonishment arose, there was silence, and the record price was paid by Dunbar. Dunbar made back the purchase price plus £8,000 profit in the next 18 months of charter for French troops to the Crimea. A very good investment indeed.”

Unfortunately the story, while a cracker, does not add up, it does not fit the known facts, and nor can it be found in any journals from the time. Ships like the Edwin Fox were being sold for less than £15,000, so it seems hugely unlikely that Dunbar would pay  twice that for her. In addition, there is no evidence that Dunbar ever chartered her to carry French troops. She arrived home off Plymouth from the Black Sea carrying almost 150 invalids from 51 different British regiments in October 1855, five months after her purchase by Dunbar. Over the next four months the Edwin Fox was refitted to carry passengers and general cargo, and in February 1856 she left London for Melbourne with six paying civilians and a hold full of miscellaneous goods.

Duncan Dunbar junior, 1803-1862

The next four years were spent travelling around the Far East looking for cargoes, or transporting convicts from Britain to Australia. The first occasion the Edwin Fox carried beer to India appears to come in February 1860, when she left London for Bombay with a cargo that included “a substantial quantity” of Taylor Walker’s India Pale Ale. Her owner, Duncan Dunbar junior, a heavily built man described as looking like John Bull, died unmarried two years later, in March 1862, aged 59. He left a fortune estimated at £1.6 million, perhaps £150 million today, which went to his sisters and nieces. He was buried in Highgate Cemetery, and the ships in the East India Docks flew their colours at half-mast on the day of his funeral.

When the Edwin Fox made her next known journey to India with beer in her hold, in October 1863, she had a new owner, the firm of Gellatly, Hankey and Sewell, founded by Dunbar’s former manager, Edward Gellatly, who had bought the vessel at one of a series of auctions of Dunbar’s stocks and holdings in July 1862 for £7,600. (The stocks at the warehouse in Limehouse included, as a small selection, 12,000 new oak staves, 39 tons of new iron hooping, 336 barrels of pork, three pipes of lime juice, 275 gallons of brandy, rum and gin, and 300 dozen of bottled beer.)

Under her new owners, who converted her to a barque, which took a smaller crew to control and thus made her cheaper to operate, the Edwin Fox mostly carried troops to and from British India for the next few years, with the exception of the ill-fated “booze cruise” of 1869, and a trip from Cardiff to Madras with 1,000 tons of coal briquettes. In the early 1870s the Edwin Fox turned from carrying goods, or soldiers, to taking emigrants out to start new lives in New Zealand. On her first journey in this new role, with some 200 emigrant passengers, the Edwin Fox was caught in a tremendous storm in the Bay of Biscay in February 1873 that left her badly damaged and needing to be towed into Brest by a passing steamship, with the ship’s doctor and a crew member both killed and others injured.

Later reports claimed that as the waves and wind battered the Edwin Fox, crew members stuck into the brandy that was part of her stores and became too drunk to do their jobs, so that the single men among the passengers had to step up. One overheated version said the crew was arrested and sent back to Britain in irons, where they received six months’ hard labour. There is, however, no evidence for these claims. It took a month in the shipyards of Brest to get the Edwin Fox seaworthy enough to continue her voyage, and she finally reached New Zealand in June 1873 – straight into quarantine, since she arrived with several passengers suffering from fever. Local drinkers would have been relieved when the barque was finally able to unload: her cargo included 133 dozen of beer, as well as 3,000 sacks of salt, four dozen pairs of boots and other goods which had survived the Biscay storm almost undamaged.

Another voyage to New Zealand carrying 265 emigrants that began in late 1874 was almost as traumatic, with two false starts and a collision that resulted in the sinking of a schooner. During this voyage the Edwin Fox was sold to the charter firm Shaw Savill. She was hired for a third time in 1878 to carry 249 emigrants to New Zealand, her cargo on the journey to Nelson in the South Island including 250 cases of stout, as well as 800 cases of gin, 55 cases of brandy, 300 cases of whisky, 480 bags of salt, 35 cases of sardines, 20 tons of pig iron and other goods. The last emigrant haul came in 1880, when the Edwin Fox took out just 99 passengers for Lyttelton, on South Island. Again the cargo included beer – 333 “pkgs”, presumably cases of bottles – along with 1,365 “pkgs” of spirits, a case of toys, four cases of scientific instruments, ten drums of oil and 410 casks of cement, plus other items.

For the next five years the Edwin Fox tramped the globe, from San Francisco to Norway to Sydney, carrying everything from coal to grain to timber. But more than 30 years after she was built, the barque was now close to obsolete. Meanwhile advances in freezing technology meant New Zealand was now able to export its lamb to Britain without the meat spoiling, and there was a need for extra meat freezing capacity. When she arrived back in London in 1885, the Edwin Fox was converted into a freezer ship, with a refrigeration plant on board, and sent out to New Zealand for the last time, where she would be expected to freeze 600 to 700 carcases a day, and store a total of 15,000 frozen sheep for eventual transfer to steamships that would take them to markets abroad.

The Edwin Fox spent 15 years as a freezer hulk, in six different locations, finishing up at Picton in 1897. After three years freezing mutton there, in 1900 the refrigeration plant was removed and she was converted to a coal hulk, in effect a floating wooden coal bunker. That was her role for half a century, but in 1953 her owners ended her British registration and she was left derelict.

The idea of restoring the Edwin Fox was first raised in 1964, and in 1965 the newly formed Edwin Fox Restoration Society bought the hulk from the New Zealand Refrigeration Company for one shilling. It was 21 years, however, before the project finally began to pick up speed. In 1986, after nearly 400 tonnes of shingle ballast were removed from her hull, the Edwin Fox was floated to the spot on the Picton shorefront that was to be, eventually, her permanent home. A visitors’ centre was opened in 1990. But with full restoration now estimated at NZ$12 million, an impossible sum to raise, it was decided that the best future for the Edwin Fox was the preservation of her hull in a purpose-built dry dock. The dock was built, and the ship placed in it in 1999, and eventually a roof was placed over the dock. Today she is one of New Zealand’s most popular historic tourist attractions.

Dunbar Wharf in Limehouse circa 1900

For a long time the Edwin Fox had a rival as the last of the wooden IPA ships, in the Jhelum, built of English oak, ironwood and mahogany at the shipbuilder and ship owner Joseph Steel & Son’s shipyard in Baffin Street, Liverpool in May 1849. The ship’s name comes from the river Jhelum in the Punjab (today in Pakistan), which was in the news early in 1849 as the scene of a vicious battle between the British (more strictly the East India Company) and the Sikh Empire during the Second Anglo-Sikh War. (It is a little ironic that the India-built Edwin Fox has an English name, while the English-built Jhelum had a name from the Indian sub-continent.)

The Jhelum left Liverpool on July 13 1849, less than two months after she was launched, sailing for Bombay, and arriving on November 16 1849, with a mixed “general” cargo. Sailing ships from Liverpool certainly did carry IPA to India: the Crusader, an East Indiaman, had in her hold beer from Bass and Allsopp of Burton upon Trent being shipped to Bombay when she went aground on a sandbank off the coast of Blackpool in the great storm of 1839 and scattered her cargo along the coast of Lancashire. Whether the Jhelum‘s cargo included beer is not known: the Liverpool Customs Bills of Entry record the daily imports and exports, but not which ship was carrying what, only the port of destination. With, for example, six ships loading for Bombay (out of perhaps 260 in the docks), that makes it impossible to say which ship was carrying what. The Jhelum began loading cargo on Friday June 1 1849, and though beer was certainly going to other destinations from Liverpool at that time – the records show four hogsheads and six barrels listed for Sydney, and 27 barrels of bottled ale for Calcutta while the Jhelum was being loaded –  the Bills of Entry between June 1 and the day she was cleared outwards, July 12, do not appear to show any beer being loaded for any ships going to Bombay, out of a huge variety of goods passing through Liverpool docks destined for the Indian city, including muskets, bugles, coal, soap, hams, cotton goods and sheet iron. The Jhelum‘s log, which may show her cargo on that first voyage, is currently in the maritime history archive of Memorial University in St John’s, Newfoundland, and it has not been possible to consult it.

The remains of the Jhelum in Port Stanley. Picture courtesy of the Falklands Society

Her maiden voyage was, in fact, the only time the Jhelum ever sailed to the east, and thus the answer to the question “did she carry IPA to India?” has to be “probably not.” The rest of her career was spent voyaging to South America, often carrying coal from Cardiff to places such as Montevideo, in Uruguay, and then sailing on round Cape Horn to pick up cargoes of guano from islands off the coast of Peru, bringing them back to Europe for use as fertiliser. It was a rough, tough, battering life, and in July 1870, just 21 years after she was built, and after only 19 round-trips of up to 24,000 miles at a time, the Jhelum staggered in to Port Stanley in the Falklands, having travelled through heavy gales from the Guañape Islands of Peru laden with 500 tons or so of guano. The ship was leaking badly, and the crew refused to sail any further in her. A series of inspections condemned her as unseaworthy, and she was left abandoned in Port Stanley harbour.

Almost miraculously, the Jhelum, or at least its hull, survived intact for the next 120 years. In the 1980s the Mersey Maritime Museum, which was interested in the ship as a rare survivor of Liverpool’s 19th century shipping history, send out a team to give the vessel some emergency first-aid to prevent it collapsing totally, while discussions went on about a possible restoration. The cost, however, was far too great, and the Jhelum continued to lie by the beach, gently rotting. Her bow collapsed after a storm in October 2008, and her stern went the same way not quite five years later, in August 2013. If the Edwin Fox ever had a rival as the last of the wooden IPA transports, it does no longer.

Barrel-aged stout and my own egregious selling-out

Amid all the dodgy news that has hit the American craft beer scene over the past month or so – Founders Brewing Co, the largest in Michigan, having to settle a racial discrimination suit, AB-Inbev  stealing the slogan a small brewer has been using for nearly ten years, Lagunitas dumping all over community groups that had been relying on it for fund-raising, Redhook of Seattle finally being swallowed completely, New Belgium of Colorado, the fourth-largest American craft brewery, also losing its independence to a brewing megagiant – one scandalous example of appalling misbehaviour by a big brewer attempting to throw its vast weight around in a morally disgusting fashion seems to have passed by surprisingly unnoticed.

I’m referring to the attempt by AB-InBev – them again – to punish the Chicago-based journalist and author Josh Noel, in total defiance of the values of free speech and honest, upright dealing: the most shocking example of trying to crush commentary you don’t like that I can recall in the beer industry.

Josh has been writing about the Chicago beer scene for many years for the city’s big newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, and in particular he has been championing Bourbon County Stout, the whiskey-barrel-aged Imperial stout first made by Goose Island Beer Company in the mid-1990s that started an entire new beer style. In 2018 he wrote a book on BCS, Goose Island, and the acquisition of Goose Island by Anheuser-Busch back in 2011 called Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out, subtitled “Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch and how craft beer became big business”.

It’s one of the very best books on craft beer history I have read – possibly THE best – and one of the best business books I have seen in general. It was deservedly garlanded with the Book of the Year award by the North American Guild of Beer Writers, and if you haven’t read it, you really should get yourself a copy right now. It’s a thorough, deeply researched, sometimes brutal but totally fair and honest account of the origins and growth of Goose Island since it was founded by businessman John Hall in 1988, looking hard at the pressures that led to the sale of the brewery in 2011, and how and why the brewery, its products and ethos have changed over the decades. AB-Inbev clearly hated it.

I was going to paraphrase what happened after the book came out, but Josh wrote it up so much better than I could in a series of tweets, so here is Josh’s story, with occasional interjections by me (and American spellings). We pick it up just after Goose Island has declined to invite him to the annual preview release of the latest iteration of BCS:

“First time in the 10 years I’ve covered beer for the Chicago Tribune. I was told the brewery ‘wasn’t comfortable’ [mealy-mouthed creeps. Be honest, ye scabs – MC] with me attending. What does that mean? Who wasn’t comfortable? Why? They wouldn’t explain any of that. How’d we get here? What’s happening? Well it began last year.

Goose Island initially didn’t invite me to last year’s Bourbon County preview either — six months after my book came out. The book was mostly Goose-positive up to its 2011 sale to Anheuser-Busch. Then the story took on a lot more nuance about the brewery and brand in AB’s hands.

That change was inevitable thanks to Anheuser-Busch’s needs and goals — and why it bought Goose Island in the first place (along with 10 more craft breweries). There was no way around AB’s anti-competitive practices, lack of transparency and aim of market domination.

So, faced with not being invited to last year’s Bourbon County media preview — something about “needing to have a better working relationship” [“needing you to kiss our bottoms” more like – MC] — I argued I’d been fair and measured. Not always positive. But fair. They ultimately agreed. I attended the tasting. I championed the debut of Bourbon County Wheatwine (which went on to win a FOBAB medal). Didn’t much care for Vanilla or Bramble.

I’d been covering Bourbon County since 2010. Back then there was no media tasting. Goose Island was too busy to think much about media at all. Aside from a few dedicated bloggers, very few people were writing about Bourbon County — or craft beer in Chicago at all.

This was the earliest story I wrote about Bourbon County. About the (gasp!) $45 price tag on the first iteration of Rare Bourbon County Stout, in 2010. And year by year, buzz built for the annual Bourbon County release. As time went on, I expressed interest in tasting ahead of the releases, to tell the story of beers changing the beer drinking game in Chicago and beyond. I called Bourbon County Chicago’s “most important beer ever.

We did annual tastings, just the brewers and me. It was low-key and very relaxed. In 2015, things changed. Biggest change: Goose and AB went all in on the barrel-aging program, building a gargantuan new barrel-aging warehouse to blow up Goose’s barrel-aging program. The brewery also realized it shouldn’t just give me and the Chicago Tribune an informal first taste. It should make an event of it. And Goose did. The first “proper” Bourbon County media tasting happened in 2015, at that barrel warehouse. It was a candlelit affair with two tables full of writers, bloggers, podcasters, etc. They’ve done it every year since, and even expanded it to NYC media.

(Side note: at that 2015 tasting, I believe I was the first person to note what would inevitably be a disastrous infection issue in four of that year’s Bourbon County beers. I said Bourbon County Coffee tasted peppery and “off to me.” But I digress …)

2015 was also the year that, thanks to the scope and scale of the barrel-aging warehouse, Bourbon County morphed from a lovely boutique product into a national workhorse. (Arguably the entire point of AB buying Goose Island.) Goose Island flooded the market with Bourbon County while also trying to maintain the aura of “exclusivity.” A beer called “Rare,” for instance, which people had stood in line/paid a premium for in 2015 landed on supermarket shelves a year later.

As part of the Anheuser-Busch machine, Bourbon County became a story beyond what was simply in the bottle. Yet, what was in the bottle also continued to matter. Bourbon County came out every Black Friday. People cared. Some of the beer was outstanding. And every year I reviewed it at Goose Island’s annual media preview with others who write about beer.

Meanwhile I wrote that book. And blogged. And found fresh ways to write about barrel-aged beers in Chicago. That included a blind tasting that showed Revolution Brewing surpassing Bourbon County in 2017. Which brings us to this year. Last week I realized I hadn’t been invited to this year’s Bourbon County tasting. So I reached out and asked what was up. That’s when I was told that the brewery “wasn’t comfortable” with me attending [translation – senior execs had got a massive snot on about Josh’s depiction of AB, and decided he needed to be punished – MC]. I asked for an explanation.

I write for the city’s largest newspaper, have written about Bourbon County for 10 years and covered Goose throughout the year, whether beer or marketing. Seems fair to be at that tasting. The issue wasn’t about special treatment or favors. It was about getting the same access as other media.

Goose Island came back with a changed story, along the lines of, “Every year there are limited seats and we have to make difficult decisions about who to invite.” Clearly untrue [indeed – why do corporations come out with this bullshit when they must know no one believes them and they simply look like shystering liars? MC], but OK, fine. It’s their party. I asked for samples of the 2019 Bourbon County beers instead, so that I could taste and review this week along with the others who will be doing so. In return, more corporate speak: “We have allocated a limited number of advance samples to the tasting events and will not be able to fulfill your request at this time.”

Blackballed by Goose Island.

Were they disinviting me because of the book? My blog posts? My Tribune coverage? Tweets? My general demeanor and disposition? I don’t know. They refused to say. Instead, they’re flying off to New York today to do a tasting for media there.

Goose Island can decide not to invite me and the Chicago Tribune to its Bourbon County media tasting for whatever reason. Its choice. But we dictate our coverage — not the people and companies we write about.”

Yes, exactly. There are two big issues here. The first is simple liberty of discussion. AB InBev is attempting to punish someone for saying things it doesn’t like. The company’s executives need to have a copy of the Fourth First Amendment to the US Constitution poked hard into their faces: “The Freedom of Speech, and of the Press … shall not be infringed.” (Addendum – just to explain, I don’t meant it’s illegal for AB InBev to ban Josh, I mean it’s utterly against the spirit of the values the country they operate in was founded upon.) The second is an important, and surprisingly little-discussed, aspect of the implied contract between sellers and buyers. If you are asking the public to give you its money for your goods and services, then there is a moral right, which you as a seller cannot and should not attempt to take away, for commentators to express their view on whether or not the exchange you are proposing – my money for your product – is a fair one. In other words, for any proposed sale/purchase, there is a right to review and to criticise which should not be suppressed, most importantly because that right is a counter-balance to the power of the seller, and acts in defence of the buyer. That applies to everything offered for sale, from theatrical performances to automobiles to beer. For AB Inbev to attempt to take that right to criticise and comment away from Josh is a morally wrong move, which should be called out, and for which the company should be ashamed.

So: given I feel so strongly about what has happened to Josh, how come, you are entitled to ask, I attended TWO events this month in London organised by Goose Island/AB InBev, one  celebrating the Obadiah Poundage recreation stout, the other for the UK launch of BCS, swallowed its beers (for free) and ate its pizza (for free)? Hypocritical, much? Should I not, rather than enjoying the warmth of the company’s East End bar and brewhouse, have been outside in the November cold waving a placard that declared: “I stand with Josh Noel: Boycott Goose Island!” and attempting to persuade fellow beer writers not to cross my picket line?

Um. Maybe. But ultimately, no, I think, and for a host of reasons. The first, and not the least, is that boycotting AB Inbev, is, as the old joke goes, like pissing myself in a dark suit: it might give me a warm feeling, but nobody else would notice. AB InBev wouldn’t have cared, certainly. Virtue signalling to no effect doesn’t help anybody. Second, for the first event, certainly, I was there to support several old pals, notably Ron Pattinson and Derek Prentice, who were involved in the Obadiah Poundage project, which I wrote about here, (Before you ask, I was sent a case of the beer beforehand. What’s it like? More Bretty, and rather sweeter, than I was expecting: not a beer that you absolutely have to rush out to buy, but a fascinating experiment, and worth picking up if you see it.)

For the second event, the London launch of BCS, I was there out of extreme curiosity, having never drunk the beer before, and unsure when I would ever get the chance to again: if you write about beer, passing up the chance to drink the beer that started the whole, now massive, barrel-aged movement, in a fit of politically correct solidarity with a fellow journalist who was barred from a press call but, let’s put this in perspective, not actually blown up seems to be to be, well, unnecessary.

I know there are beer writers who eschew any involvement with corporate freebies, but my argument has always been that I’m very happy to accept free stuff, from beer to trips abroad, when it enables me to put information in front of my readers that I would not be otherwise able to give them. Certainly I do not believe I have ever held the boot back because someone had dropped off a case of beer. Carlsberg, for example, paid me to appear in one of their corporate videos, flew me to Copenhagen three times, took me to Twickenham and Wembley to see the national rugby and football teams play and stuffed me to my eyebrows with food and drink on multiple occasions, but that didn’t prevent me from being very rude about the new-look green-label pilsner earlier this year.

As it happens the Federal Trade Commission in the US has just issued a leaflet, “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers”, about openness in blog posts, tweets, Instagram posts and the like, which you can see here. It says:

“If you endorse a product through social media, your endorsement message should make it obvious when you have a relationship (“material connection”) with the brand. A “material connection” to the brand includes a personal, family, or employment relationship or a financial relationship – such as the brand paying you or giving you free or discounted products or services.

Telling your followers about these kinds of relationships is important because it helps keep your recommendations honest and truthful, and it allows people to weigh the value of your endorsements.

As an influencer, it’s your responsibility to make these disclosures, to be familiar with the Endorsement Guides, and to comply with laws against deceptive ads. Don’t rely on others to do it for you.”

Which I think is entirely fair enough – and if you’re thinking “I don’t live in the US,” the FTC’s guide also points out: “If posting from abroad, US law applies if it’s reasonably foreseeable that the post will affect US consumers.”

So on that basis: what were those free Bourbon County Stouts you drank like, Martyn? Very fine indeed, actually: this IS a beer you really need to track down and try. It’s massively filled with flavours, something to sip, savour and enjoy, and also, judging by the differences between the 2018 and 2019, a beer that will change in fascinating ways as it ages: the 2018, for example, was very much less coconutty than the 2019, as, clearly, the influence of the wood in the Bourbon barrel began to fade. I also greatly enjoyed two beers made at the Shoreditch brewhouse (which, incidentally, is barely a hundred yards from what was once Harwood’s Bell brewhouse, famous, incorrectly, for supposedly being the place where porter was first brewed). One was a  madeira-cask-aged doppelbock, served straight from the cask it was aged in, which was wonderfully rich, the other a sour cherry and tonka bean porter, like black forest gateau in a glass.

OK, you may passionately loathe AB InBev, and vow never to approach it or its works except with a pitchfork and a flaming torch. But the unpleasant arseholes at the top of the company who decided, stupidly and unforgiveably,  that Josh Noel had to be punished for not placing his nose as far up the AB InBev bottom as they wished are not the very many thousands of people who work for the company, who are doing the best jobs they can, and who are producing beers like that sour cherry porter, and that Madeira-cask-aged doppelbock, and those iterations of BCS, and those projects like Obadiah Poundage porter, and I believe THOSE people SHOULD be supported. But supporting them doesn’t mean not being as rude as possible about the bad things corporate AB InBev gets up to, and calling the company out on it as loudly as I can.

(Addendum 2: I meant to say, but forgot, so I’m saying it now, that as a fine example of how quickly myths arrive and take root, on both the embossed bottles that Bourdon County stout now comes in, and the T-shirts that Goose Island/AB InBev gives away, the claim is made that BCS was first brewed in 1992. This appears to be down to Greg Hall, who invented the beer, being unable to remember more than a decade later when he had had the dinner with the legendary Bourbon maestro Booker Noe that led to the beer’s creation. It was, as Josh Noel uncovered while researching his book, in 1995, not 1992.)

The legendary Mercer’s Meat Stout returns after 75 years

There is not a lot will make me drop everything and rush 200 miles north to Blackburn, but a message saying that the recipe for the legendary Mercer’s Meat Stout had been discovered in an attic and the beer was being brewed again got me on the first available train out of Euston.

Guinness might be good for you, but meat stout is better …

Mercer’s Meat Stout must be the weirdest beer ever brewed by a mainstream British brewer. It first appeared just before the First World War, and early advertising claimed that it was “brewed with the addition of a specially prepared meat extract.” It was introduced by Harold Irving Mercer, son of the founder of the Plough brewery in Adlington, Lancashire, John Mercer, who had died in 1907, and advertised in 1914 as “The Body Building Beverage for Brain Bone and Blood”.

It was part of a trend for “nourishing stouts” in vogue since a London wine merchant named George Raggett passed off Truman’s stout as “Raggett’s Nourishing Stout” in 1860, and which had seen “invalids’ stout” appear as early as 1861, “nursing stout” in 1867, “oat malt stout” (celebrated for its restorative properties) in 1895, and milk stout (“anti-rheumatic, energising”) in 1909.

Mercer’s was taken over by its bigger rival, Dutton’s of Blackburn, ten miles to the north, in March 1929, and the following month someone (presumably Mercer’s head brewer, perhaps Harold Mercer him self) typed up, or had typed up, a complete seven-page document headed “Meat Stout Brewing”, clearly instructions for Dutton’s on how to produce what was a popular beer in Lancashire. Mercer’s brewery closed in 1936, and the brewing of meat stout continued at Dutton’s Salford brewery in Bow Street, Blackburn until around 1943: it was still on sale in April 1942, priced at one shilling and five pence for a pint bottle, 9½ pence for a half-pint, against Mackeson milk stout and Guinness at one shilling and sixpence per pint bottle and Whitbread’s Oatmeal Stout and John Smith’s Milk Stout at one shilling and four pence a pint.

Mercer’s Meat Stout advertised on the outside of an unidentified Dutton’s pub some time in the 1930s

Quite likely the end came because of the increasing difficulty in the middle of the Second World War of getting hold of the large quantities of the tightly rationed sugars of various types that went into the brewing of meat stout: more than 14 pounds to the barrel. (Harold Mercer died in October 1943, aged 64, at his home in Bare Lane, Bare, Morecambe, meaning his best-known beer disappeared off the planet around the same time that he did.)

The recipe remained in Dutton’s possession even after meat stout stopped being made, and when the brewery in Blackburn closed in 1978, 14 years after it had been bought out by Whitbread, a brewer at Bow Street named Derek Malcolm Dixon decided that he did not wish to transfer to the new Whitbread brewery at Salmesbury and, though only 50, he would take his pension – and the recipe –  and retire. (Today Salmesbury is owned by AB InBev and produces Stella and Bud.) Derek died a few years later, aged just 58, and the recipe for meat stout that he had removed from work was inherited, along with a couple of brewing books and a hydrometer, by his son Phil.

Phil then misplaced the recipe for more than 30 years, until the boom in craft brewing spurred him to look for it and, when he found it, to take it to a local craft brewery, Three B’s, based at the Black Bull inn, in the countryside just outside Blackburn, to see if they would like to try to reproduce it. Brewery founder Robert Bell and his son Mark did their best with matching the original ingredients from 1929, which included more than 200 pounds of something called “meat extract caramel”, made by the food additives and flavourings manufacturer A. Boake, Roberts & Co of Stratford, East London, which disappeared about the same time that Dutton’s brewery did.

The yeast “goes a bit daft” on its introduction to Bovril

Not having “meat extract caramel”, the Bells improvised with Bovril: two catering packs-worth, 900 grams in all, added at the whirlpool stage. The recipe they came up with also included pale Maris Otter malt, roast barley, black malt, wheat malt and treacle, with Goldings, Fuggles and Northern Brewer hops. The yeast certainly appreciated the Bovril: when Rob Bell came back three hours after pitching, it was “going a bit daft,” in his own words, with a river of foaming, frothing yeast pouring from the four-barrel fermenter all over the brewhouse floor.

The final result was a 5.5 per cent abv deep black stout with a fine creamy head, and complex layers of flavour, matching sweetness with bitterness, and a touch of dryness in the finish. The Bells called it Winter Warmer Stout, rather than meat stout, worrying that drinkers would be put off by the name, but the reaction in the Black Bull pub from customers has been highly enthusiastic, and Phil Dixon is delighted: “I’m over the moon with the beer – I couldn’t have expected it to be any better, they’ve done a really good job of brewing it,” he told me. Phil is one of the few people around to be able to make any sort of comparison with the Mercer’s Meat Stout of old: his father was a home-brewer after he retired, and “as far as I’m aware this is one of the recipes he brewed at home. I remember tasting a brew that can’t have been anything else, it was very similar.

Phil Dixon at the Black Bull with a pint of the revived Meat Stout

“It was mashed in a bath, and then the wort was transferred into one of those top-loading washing machines to be boiled with hops, and then it was pumped out and fermented. So we couldn’t have a bath for a week and we couldn’t wash our clothes.”

Although the Three B’s brewery, which is now 20 years old, though it only moved to its present site a former Daniel Thwaites pub, in 2011, delivers its beers to 30 or 40 pubs a week, the revived Mercer’s Meat Stout will only be on sale at the Black Bull. If you want to try it, be warned that the pub is closed Mondays and Tuesdays and only open from 4pm Wednesdays to Fridays, though it opens at noon on Saturdays and Sundays. The Black Bull does not serve food, and it has no televisions and no fruit machines – “it’s a talking pub,” Mark Bell says.

The original recipe, meanwhile, is a fascinating document, revealing much about the methods used by a small North of England brewer in the 1920s. Three different types of coloured malt went into Meat Stout, for example, amber, black and crystal, made by Charles E. Seed Ltd of Clayton, Bradford, Yorkshire, and the recipe is firm about their use: “These Patent Malts should be mashed within about 48 hours of being roasted. Seeds send them to us newly roasted specially for each brew by passenger train [a journey of some 40 miles]. We pay half the carriage. (note: Black Malt is NOT mashed. It is added to copper at start of second 50-minute boil.)” Those three made up seven per cent of the grain bill each: 68 per cent was “high dried” Norfolk and Californian malt from the Leeds maltsters W.J. Robson & Co, and 11.5 per cent was flaked maize from the Liverpool Malt Co Ltd.

The hops were a real mix, though annoyingly the author of the recipe gave only the geographical origins of the hops used, not their varieties: not quite a quarter 1928 Worcesters, the same amount of 1928 Kents, 15 per cent each 1927 Kents and Worcesters, nine per cent 1927 “Continentals”, the same amount of 1927 “Oregons” (possibly Fuggles, through probably Clusters), three per cent 1925 Oregons and three per cent “sundry pieces to use up end of pockets”. There were also 18 pounds of “stew hops”, a mixture of 1928 “choicest” Worcesters and Kents, which were placed in a bag with a chain attached and hung in the copper for 20 minutes after the 110-minute boil was over, to be retained and reused in the next brew; and 4½ pounds of White, Tompkins & Courages Hop Concentrate, equivalent of 54 pounds of leaf hops, to give 192 pounds of hops for 80 barrels, or two pounds 6.4 ounces of hops per barrel.

Other wacky ingredients in the recipe besides that mysterious “Meat Extract Caramel” (Boake, Roberts & Co’s records are at Hackney Local Archives, apparently: time for a trip to East London) are “copper wort adjunct” from George Clark & Son Ltd of Millwall Docks in London, “a slowly fermentable sugar for use in the copper with all types of beer”, designed to give palate-fulness at a lower gravity; “Jetose Caramel”, which looks to be a typographical error for “ketose caramel” (j and k are adjacent on the keyboard) from the Liverpool sugar manufacturer Harvey Steel; and “block juice”, “a solid block, resembling coal, but with the overpowering liquorice flavour and bitter-sweet taste”, from the Manchester-based chemists J. Woolley Sons & Co. It is notable, though of course, not surprising, that most of the suppliers were from the North of England.

Other points from the recipe: the stout was dry-hopped at a rate of two ounces of 1928 Worcesters, two ounces of 1928 Kents and 1½ ounces of 1927 Oregons per barrel for the draught version and five ounces of 1928 Worcesters, two ounces of 1928 Kents and three ounces of 1927 Oregons per barrel for the bottled version, and the draught version was primed with around two pints three fluid ounces of 1148ºOG priming solution to give a gravity equivalent to 1056º; and the bottled stout was delivered “as near as is practical … new bottled to the customer. The ideal is to bottle it and load it on the motors direct off the bottling machine.”

Very many thanks indeed to Phil Dixon’s late father for preserving the recipe for Mercer’s Meat Stout, and to Phil for finding it again and persuading the Three B’s brewery to reproduce it, and then telling me about it (this is not such a great scoop as I thought it was at first, as there is apparently a version of the recipe in the Whitbread archives, and Brian Glover mentions it in one of his books, though it appears to be two pages shorter than the Dixon version) and very many thanks to Rob and Mark Bell for picking me up at Blackburn Station, driving me to the Black Bull and filling me with excellent stout. I very sincerely hope this will not be the last time we see Mercer’s Meat Stout on a bar top again.

Rob and Mark Bell: thanks very much, guys, athat’s a great beer you brewed

The surprising secrets behind the origins of the Fuggle hop uncovered at last

Despite being one of the most important hops in the history of beer, the precise origins of the Fuggle variety have been a puzzle for a long time. Its genetic parentage has been a mystery, since it appeared to be unrelated to other English hop varieties, and the long-accepted story of when it was discovered, by whom, and when it was first launched turned out to be dubious at best. Now research by Czech botanists, and a Kentish local historian, has answered all the questions: it turns out that everything you have read until now, in every book and article, on the year the Fuggle hop was first launched has been wrong. In addition, the surprise answer to the exact parentage of the Fuggle hop turns out to be … well, read on.

The Fuggle is, along with the Golding variety, one of the iconic English hops, loved by brewers across Britain for more than a century for the flavours it brings to traditional bitters and milds. Equally importantly, the Fuggle hop has been widely used in breeding programmes around the world, and its descendants include some of the best-loved hop varieties of the craft beer era, including Cascade, Willamette, Citra, Nelson Sauvin, and even the new German aroma varieties Mandarina Bavaria and Huell Melon.

The long-accepted version of the origins of the Fuggle variety was laid down by John Percival, professor of botany at the South-Eastern Agricultural College, Wye, near Maidstone, Kent, more than a century ago. Writing in 1901 about the first Fuggle hop, Professor Percival said:

“The original plant was a casual seedling which appeared in the flower-garden of Mr George Stace of Horsmonden, Kent. The seed from which the plant arose was shaken out along with crumbs from the hop-picking dinner basket used by Mrs Stace, the seedling being noticed about the year 1861. The sets were afterwards introduced to the public by Mr Richard Fuggle of Brenchley, about the year 1875.”

Unfortunately, when researchers came to look at these claims in the 21st century, a number of problems were uncovered. Nobody by the name of George Stace could be found in the village of Horsmonden in or around the 1860s. Nor was it clear who of three different Richard Fuggles living in the area around that time was the one who had developed the hop that had taken his name: none of the three appears to  fit the narrative very well. In addition, 1875 seemed too late for the hop’s introduction, as it was already being talked about in newspapers from that year as an established variety.

George Stace Moore’s cottage by the green in Horsmonden, Kent, where the hop that become the Fuggle was found growing in a flower garden now behind that hedge and wall on the right …

The first clue to a solution to the mystery came with the discovery some five years ago that Professor Percival had got the wrong name for the man in whose flower garden the first Fuggle hop was found. He was properly, in full, George Stace Moore, which revelation enabled his exact home, and his wife’s name, to be identified at last. George Stace Moore (known locally as just George Stace) was 55 in 1861, he lived in a cottage with a flower garden on the corner of The Heath, Horsmonden’s village green, that is still there today, diagonally across the road from the Gun Inn (now the Gun & Spitroast), and his wife, Mrs Stace, from whose dinner basket the seed that became the Fuggle hop fell among the flowers, was called Sarah, née Dadswell, aged 46.

Lionel Burgess, whose researches uncovered the facts about the first sale of Fuggle’s hops, and the relationship between the Fuggle family and the Stace Moores

The important missing parts of that tale were finally filled in earlier this year by a local historian born in Horsmonden called Lionel Burgess. Mr Burgess discovered an advertisement from a local newspaper, the Maidstone and Kentish Journal, in October 1871 announcing the sale the following month by auctioneer William Tompsett of 100,000 bedded sets of “The new hop, known as ‘Fuggle’s Goldings'” on behalf of “Messrs Fuggle.” This was the first commercial sale of the hop that had been found in George Stace Moore’s flower garden, and it took place four years earlier than indicated by Professor Percival. Later, at least, Fuggle hop sets sold for £1 for a thousand, suggesting the brothers would make £100, less auctioneer’s fees, from the sale, worth perhaps £8,500 today. (That means, of course, that November 2021, just two years away, will be the 150th anniversary of the launch of the Fuggle hop: if we can’t get “Fugglefest 150” organised to celebrate that, I will be deeply disappointed.)

Maidstone and Kentish Journal, Saturday October 21 1871, p1: the Fuggle hop goes on sale for the first time

Mr Burgess was also able to identify “Messrs Fuggle”: Richard Fuggle junior of Old Hay farm, near Brenchley, and his younger brothers, John (known as Jack) and Henry (known as Harry), who were running their father’s former farm together. This identification also explains another small puzzle: why George Stace Moore did not offer the hop found in his flower garden to one of the several hop growers living closer to Horsmonden Green than the Fuggles. George and his wife were Richard Fuggle junior’s uncle and aunt. Richard junior was the son of Sarah’s sister, Ann Dadswell, who had been working as a servant for John Fuggle, father of Richard senior, at Old Hay since at least 1841, when she was 26 (it appears that she and Richard senior never actually married, despite having three children together). The family link also makes it likely—perhaps even probable—that the seed that fell out of Mrs Stace’s dinner basket got in there while she was hop picking for her relatives at Old Hay, which would put an even greater obligation on George to tell the Fuggles, and nobody else, about the extra-special hop that was growing in his flower garden.

The 100,000 Fuggle hop sets put up for sale in 1871 were bedded out near the Maidstone Road Inn, Paddock Wood. The inn later went through several changes of name, including the Railway Hotel and the Hop Pocket. It was rebuilt in the 1950s, but closed in 2007 and later demolished. However, planning permission currently exists for a new pub and an apartment block to be built on the site. By coincidence, the site where Fuggles first went on sale is only a short distance from the headquarters of English Hops Ltd, the hop growers’ co-operative, which is based in Hop Pocket Lane, Paddocks Wood.

In 1874 the Fuggle brothers dissolved their partnership as farmers at Old Hay, with an announcement appearing in newspapers that November. Strangely, the fame of their hop variety had already crossed the Atlantic, with several US newspapers, including in Vermont and Los Angeles, reporting in March 1874 that “Fuggle’s Goldings” were among “several” early kinds of hop “which have sprung up lately” that English hop growers were planting as they expanded the acreage given over to the crop. Some time between 1874 and 1878 Richard Fuggle moved from Old Hay to Wittersham, a village in Kent around 20 or so miles to the south of Brenchley. He died in 1913, being buried back in Brenchley, in the graveyard of All Saints Church, where his grave can still be seen, alongside that of his father and mother.

GHrave of Richard Fuggle junior
The grave of Richard Fuggle junior, 1841-1913, developer of the hop variety that bears his name, hidden in a corner of the churchyard at All Saints church, Brenchley, Kent

Jack Fuggle, born 1845, died in 1877, aged 32, and the youngest brother, Harry, born 1846, died the following year, aged 31: both, like their older brother, are buried at All Saints church, Brenchley. However, it remains a puzzle why Richard Fuggle moved away from the village, and why he became so obscure, despite the success of “Fuggle’s Goldings,” that Professor Percival was unable to find him, and uncover more accurate facts about the origins of the eponymous hop.

The hop variety the Fuggle brothers first sold in 1871 continued to be called by some growers “Fuggles [sic] Goldings” (and often “Fuggle’s Early Goldings,” in recognition of their cropping a week or two before other varieties) until at least 1934. In 1884, when the hop was being advertised to growers in Worcestershire, in the English Midlands, the second great hop-growing area in Britain, it was called “Fuggle’s Noted Golding.” But at the start of the 20th century most commentators were calling the variety simply the Fuggle or Fuggle’s hop, clearly feeling that it was too different from Goldings to carry the Goldings name.

That early naming of the variety as “Fuggle’s Golding”, incidentally, explains why the variety became known as Savinjski Golding, or Styrian Golding, when it was grow in Slovenia. In 1886 a local entrepreneur and activist, Janez Hausenbichler, from Savinja in what was then Austro-Hungarian Slovenia, acquired some Fuggle hop sets, at a time when the variety was still known in England as “Fuggle’s Golding.” As a result local hop farmers believed they were growing a Goldings variety, and the Fuggles grown in Slovenia became acclimatized under the name “Savinjski Golding.” The hop turned out to fit the local climate and soil perfectly and even in 1964 the Savinjski Golding was the only type of hop being grown in the Savinja Valley. When Slovenian hops started being imported into Britain, certainly by the late 1930s, the variety became known as the Styrian Golding, most likely because Britons could not pronounce “Savinjski,” and Styria was better known anyway.

Meanwhile, as growers and researchers teased out the relationships of hop varieties to one another, evidence that the Fuggles were wrong in naming their hop “Fuggle’s Golding variety”, and the Fuggle hop could not be related to the Golding hop looked to come with the discovery in 1949 by the Czech biochemist František Šorm of farnesene as a component of hop oils in some varieties of the hop plant, but not others: Fuggles contain 4 per cent or more of farnesene, Goldings have none, or at best a trace. Indeed, the hop oil make-up of the Fuggle suggested it was more similar to the German Tettnanger variety than any English hop.

Fuggles hops, Hamptons estate, Farnham, Surrey

However, early this year a genotype analysis was published by two more Czech researchers, Josef Patzak and Alena Henychová of the Hop Research Institute in Zatec, that showed the Fuggle brothers had been correct: their hop WAS a member of the Golding family, close enough genetically for either a mother-daughter or grandmother-granddaughter relationship. The Czech researchers tested 109 cultivars from the world hop collection at Zatec, and found that they fell naturally into three groups, “Continental European,” including the Saaz, Tettnang, Spalt and Hallertau varieties, “Island European,” including Fuggles and Goldings, and “North American.” In particular, a dendrogram of genetic distances found the Fuggle hop sitting very close to the Golding hop.

Dr Peter Darby, research director at Wye Hops Ltd, near Canterbury in Kent, told me: “A few years back, it was suggested that Fuggle was more related to the European varieties such as Tettnanger rather than the British varieties of the time such as Golding. This was based mainly on oil analysis data and the fact that Goldings have no farnesene in the oil but it is a major part of the oil of Fuggle, being about four to eight per cent of the oil content. Farnesene is also a major part of the oil of Tettnanger, comprising up to 25 per cent of its oil. Furthermore, Fuggle was known to be exactly the same genetically as Styrian Golding and Czech Green Saaz and there was a little uncertainty about which was the chicken and which was the egg.

“However, several bits of information have since clarified the situation. First, WGV [Whitbread Golding Variety] was also found to contain small amounts of farnesene, with one to two percent content. But this argument that other historic British varieties contained farnesene was always countered because WGV has wilt resistance, which suggests strongly that it arose as a seedling of a US male being grown at White’s Farm at Beltring. So its farnesene could have come in from the US father. However, at Wye our analyses of Colegate in our national collection, a variety selected in 1805, well before Fuggle, indicated that it also contains five to eight percent farnesene in its oil. Hence, farnesene does not necessarily imply non-British origin.

“But molecular methods have now confirmed Fuggle to be closely related to Golding. Four methods of molecular markers were used; SSR (simple sequence repeats), STS (sequence-tagged sites) and EST-SSR (expressed sequence tag-simple sequence repeats) and SNP (single nucleotide polymorphisms). The relationship is so close that Golding and Fuggle are likely to be within a few generations of each other – mother and daughter or granddaughter. So, the story of Fuggle arising from a seed at Brenchley is perfectly plausible. It certainly will have arisen as a seedling where Goldings were also being grown, which is not the Tettnang region.”

A field full of Fuggles at Puttenham Farm hop garden, near Farnham, Surrey

Today the Fuggle is struggling a little in the land where it originated: it has plunged from more than 75 per cent of all hop acreage in England at one time to less than ten per cent today, mainly because of the ravages of a disease called Verticillium Wilt, which first appeared in 1924, and to which it is badly susceptible. There is, as far as I know, only one farmer still growing the variety in Kent, Clive Edmed, of Hayle Farm, Horsmonden. (Update 12/12/19 – make that two six growers in Kent. The Fuggle hop is also grown by Hukins Hops at Haffenden Farm, St Michaels, Tenterden, and you will find the names of four more at the end of this piece.) But demand is encouraging more plantings of the variety: in 2014 the Hog’s Back brewery near Farnham in Surrey planted Fuggle hops for its own use, and in 2017 Puttenham Farm, in Seale Puttenham, also near Farnham, added to its existing 5.66 hectares of Fuggle hops another four hectares. The same year the first hops were harvested from two new yards planted with Fuggles at Orleton Court Farm in Worcestershire, 12 miles north-west of Worcester, specifically for the Yorkshire brewer Timothy Taylor. They were planted on land that had not grown hops before, and was thus free from Verticillium wilt, and which stands above the nearby River Teme, meaning it is flood-free and thus not in danger of being infected from land upstream. Richard Fuggle’s hop is looking good for a sesquicentenary celebration in 2021.

Supplier update: another hop supplier growing the Fuggle hop is Brook House Farm in Bromyard, Herefordshire.

Further supplier update: four more farms growing Fuggles in East Kent
Thomas Johnson, Elverton Farms Ltd, Harbledown, Canterbury
Rickards Farms, Old Wives Lees, Canterbury
S.C. & J.H. Berry, Selling, Faversham
T G Redsell Ltd, Boughton-under-Blean, Faversham

Do you gyle your ale after it leaves the cooler and finishes fermenting in the vat or krausen your beer post-coolship when it’s run out of the foeder?

I had a small Twitter spat yesterday with Duration Brewing after they said they were installing a coolship and foeders at their brewery in Norfolk. A wave of grumpy old mannishness washed across me, and I tweeted that we don’t have coolships and foeders in Britain, we have coolers and vats. Why use a foreign word when we have English words that mean the same thing?

Indeed, “coolship” is not even a “proper” foreign word, but a calque, or literal translation, of Kühlschiff or koelschip – in fact a classic example of what is called a paronymous calque, an incorrect “literal” translation, where a word in language A that appears similar to a word in language B is wrongly used to translate that similar word. Schiff in German means “ship”, yes, but also “vessel”, in the sense of “container” (as in “cooking vessel”, and “fermentation vessel”). So Kühlschiff and its Dutch equivalent, koelschip, should be literally translated as “cool-vessel”, not “coolship”.

However, we already have an excellent translation for Kühlschiff into English: “cooler”. What a German brewer calls a Kühlschiff, and a Dutch or Flemish brewer a koelschip, a British brewer calls a cooler. I have stood next to the koelschip at the top of the Halve Maan brewery in Bruges, and next to the cooler at the top of the Hook Norton brewery in the Cotswolds, and they are identical vessels. (Well, except that the Belgian one is as gloriously shiny as a very large new penny and the English one was dull, dirty and covered in turquoise-blue streaks, but apart from that …) A cooler in a brewery is exactly the same as een koelschip in een brouwerij or ein Kühlschiff in einer Brauerei.

At the top of the Haalve Maan brewery in Bruges: in the UK this would be a cooler

As for “foeder”, let me quote from the Dutch Wikipedia entry on that fine Belgian brewery, Rodenbach:

“Het aanvankelijk bovengistende bier rijpt in grote eikenhouten vaten (‘foeders’) en krijgt daar door gewenste infectie met de melkzuurbacterie een licht zurige smaak.”*

You don’t, I think, need to actually speak Dutch to understand that it’s saying THE NORMAL DUTCH WORD FOR THE SPECIALIST BREWERY TERM “FOEDERS” IS VATS. Sorry, got a bit shouty there.  So even in Dutch, the words foeder and vat are synonyms. And since we already have the word vat in English, we don’t need to import the word foeder.

Duration Brewing (and as the brother of another Norfolk brewer I would like to wish them every good success in their new venture – I hope to try their beer soon) tried to defend themselves by insisting: “Vat means long-term storage, foeder means primary or long-term fermentation, which is what we plan to do. Cooler means cool your wort, much like both Germans and Brits did and still do, not a koelschip for inoculation like Belgian brewing.” Multiple problems there: while SOME Belgian brewers now use their koelschepen for wild yeast inoculation, ALL Belgian brewers once, at least, used their koelschepen for what they were designed to do, as coolers, for cooling their wort. And as we’ve seen, in its home language foeder is another, and more obscure word for “vat”. In addition we’ve talked about “fermentation vats” in English since at least the 18th century: English brewers built hundreds, probably thousands of vats for the long-term maturation of beer, mostly porter, during which maturation that beer underwent a slow secondary fermentation. So “vat” has been used in English for centuries as the word for a vessel in which beer undergoes a long-term fermentation. So has “tun – and another synonym for foeder in Dutch is ton, in English “tun”: the online Nederlanse Encyclopedie defines foeder as

Ton met een grote inhoud (200 tot 300 hectoliter) bestemd voor het opvoeden van de wijn.

Which translates as “Tun with a large capacity (200 to 300 hectolitres) intended for maturing wine.”

Dutch also had the word foederzaalzaal is a cognate of the English word “saloon”, so in the spirit of paronymous calquing that gave us “coolship” for koelschiff, we perhaps ought to translate that as “foeder saloon”. The definition of foederzaal in Dutch, according to the online Nederlanse Encyclopedie, is

een (grote) ruimte, speciaal ingericht om met meerdere foeders (houten lagertanks) te herbergen.

Which means “a (large) room, specially equipped to accommodate several vats (wooden lager tanks).” So clearly another synonym for foeder in Dutch is houten lagertank, “wooden lager tank”.

At the top of the Hook Norton brewery: in Dutch or Flemish this would be a koelschipp

There are occasions when importing a new word into the English language is necessary because it perfectly covers a concept that English hasn’t previously had to have a word for, but now needs. The Norwegian dialect word kveik, for example, has speedily joined the English language brewers’ dictionary, because there isn’t a simple English equivalent for “Norwegian farmhouse yeast strains”. John “Beer Nut” Duffy suggests that coolship is a useful word because it means “vessel used to inoculate wort with wild yeast strains”, and is therefore performing a function that the word “cooler” doesn’t cover. I’m semi-demi swayed by that argument, but koelschip, from which “coolship” was calqued, doesn’t mean “vessel used to inoculate wort with wild yeast strains”, it means “cooler”. It’s just that some Belgian brewers used their coolers to inoculate their worts with wild yeast strains. So if the Belgians don’t need a separate word to distinguish between “cooler” and “vessel used to inoculate wort with wild yeast strains”, why do English-speakers? If the Belgians use the same word to describe something that can be used for two different functions, why can’t we?

(There’s an argument, incidentally, that no one has used against me, so I’ll use it myself: American brewers come from a tradition heavily influenced in the past by German brewing customs and practices – indeed, the major brewing organisations in the US conducted much of their business in German in the 19th century – and undoubtedly those many German brewers in the US translated Kühlschiff as “coolship”, so why should they not do the same now? That’s a good argument if you’re in the US. I’m not.)

As for foeder, the Dutch call foeders vaten (or tonnen, tuns), a foeder doesn’t perform any function that a vat (or tun) doesn’t and hasn’t: English will survive very happily calling a vat a vat. The giant vessel full of maturing porter that collapsed at the Meux brewery in 1814, killing eight people in the Great London Beer Flood, wasn’t a foeder, it was a vat. It’s not the Giant Foeder of Heidelberg (which actually, in Dutch, is called De Grote Heidelberg Tun [sic]…) As Ed Wray commented in the Twitter spat, it would be very odd to call the vessel at Greene King in Bury St Edmonds that is used to mature 5X a foeder. You may think me a curmudgeonly old Canute: I prefer to regard myself as a fighter against the unnecessary and pretentious expansion of technical vocabularies. We don’t need to call a vat a foeder, particularly when the Dutch themselves are happy to call a foeder a vat.

A coolship/Kühlschiff/koelschipp at the Černokostelecký brewery in the Czech Republic

(Etymological aside: the German for vat is Faß, and as Fuß in German became “foot” in English, so Faß in German should have become “fat”. In Old English the word was “fat”, but it was replaced by “vat” in Modern English. Etymological dictionaries will tell you “vat” is from the West Country English dialectical voicing of “f” as “v”. It seems to me, however, much more likely that the replacement of Old English “fat” by “vat” is down to immigrant beer brewers from the Low Countries, who brought us not only hops but words such as firkin and gyle. In Dutch, Fuß became voet and Faß became vat. That Dutch vat then, I suggest, replaced its Old English equivalent, “fat”, when Flemings and other Lowlanders began working in English breweries from the 15th century onwards. So “vat” in English is already a Dutch word …)

Final note: why does “gyle” appear in the headline at the top? For several hundred years the Anglo-Irish word for “adding some fresh still-fermenting wort to your beer to give it extra carbonation” was “gyling”. As that practice died out, in the 1960s in Ireland, long before in Britain, so the word – originally Dutch, as it happens, and doubtless imported because we didn’t have an equivalent word in English – disappeared. When the practice reappeared, it came in via the US under the name “krausening”, from a German word meaning, roughly, “fizzy”. I’d like to see brewers in these islands (nod to Irish sensibilities in difficult times there) reject “krausening” for “gyling”.

*But if you don’t speak Dutch and can’t work it out, it says: “The initially fermented beer matures in large oak vats (‘foeders’) and gets a slightly sour taste due to the desired infection with the lactic acid bacterium.”