Thursday, 8 March 2018

Beer History: Exhibitions All Round...

On the day that the Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair (There's a post from last year's event here.) starts in The Convention Centre in Dublin it seemed appropriate to do this post about another exhibition from 1892, this was held in another iconic - and circle-focussed - building, the Round Room of the Rotunda.

As you can see it had a cosmopolitan air with a focus on Spain, and Californian brandy and wine as you can see here...

Macardle, Moore and Co. from Dundalk were also there, showcasing their stout and a cask cleaner to remove the flaw of casky beer! This is my first time seeing this as a negative term...

Lager was also on show from 'Frankfort' Brewery, along with some beer pumps...

(This piece just led into a different section on glass, you're not missing anything on lager or pumps!)

Last but not least was a display from Corcoran's from my home town of Carlow, once a big employer at a site near the castle...

So there we go, drink fairs of a sort have been around for a few years in Dublin, and imported beverages are not a new thing. Remember that when you're opening your next bottle of California Merlot or German lager!


(Thanks as usual to my local library...)

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

A Brew Tale Part II: Of Goban and Gutmann - Forged

(Part 1 Here)

A shaft of light creeps slowly across the floor and inches towards the crumpled heap of clothes and pelts that lie on the brushed clay floor of the roundhouse. It eventually reaches a face, half covered by a cloak and by a mane of brown, unkempt hair. An eye slowly opens, blinking as the brightness and the heat of the afternoon sun starts to build on that face.
Gutmann stirs and groans, his head pounding and an incessant ringing in his ears. He turns his head slowly as he tries to remember where he is and how he got here, and looks straight into the face of the wolfhound. The animal is lying beside him with its head in its paws, its eyes boring into Gutmann as he slowly starts to recall the night before.
The hound watches him carefully as he slowly sits up, his body aching and complaining as he does so. His headache seems to be going but clanging in his skull seems to be make the very ground beneath his feet tremor and shake.
He is close to the fire where he fell, which is just a few glowing embers now. The door is open and the low, late summer sun is angling in, casting light into every nook and cranny. The house looks much bigger than the previous night and Gutmann can make out more pelts, pots and sun-sparkling trinkets on the walls and tables. Many of the pelts seem strange to him, with striped or spotted markings that come from no animal Gutmann has ever seen or heard about. Other pieces too seem strange. Horns and tusks longer than any he has seen and metal discs and clay bowls of strange design, their patterns and materials unlike any he has seen in his home land. This isle must indeed be different from any he has known.
As he starts to stand up the hound looks up and gives one low-toned, quick bark that echoes through the roundhouse, before assuming its original pose. Gutmann is now awake enough now to realise that the incessant clanging sound is not in his head but is coming from one of the side rooms in the house. The noise pauses for a second before recommencing with even more vigour and speed. He suddenly remembers everything that happened the previous night, the anger in the brew-smith's voice, the goblet of drink and his falling to the ground. As his cloak and the hides fall away from his body he looks at his arms, which are now unmarked and unscarred. He is studying them in wonder when a voice behind him speaks.

'It works quickly, though many fall faint after drinking it, especially those that are tired or unfed. It is a powerful draught,' said a woman's voice. 'You slept longer than most.'
Gutmann turned to see the woman from the night before standing close to him. He hadn't heard her approach. The hammering-clanging sound was gone now too.
'You speak my tongue too?'
'I speak the tongues of many lands. It is a ....,' she hesitated and looked away for the briefest of moments, '… a gift I was given you could say.'
She moved a little closer and the sun caught her face.
It suddenly struck him that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. Her long dark hair seemed to shimmer in the sun and those bright blue eyes seemed to pierce his soul. Her perfect, dark skin, and all of her features seemed almost unreal, as if she were a dream or vision. He wanted to reach out and touch her to make sure she was flesh and blood. He stood trance like staring at her, eye to eye until she turned and moved away and the spell was broken.
'There is bread and water here,' she said, gesturing to the table. 'Eat and drink, for soon you must leave.'
'The brew-smith is still angry with me then?'
She turned on him, her eyes flashing brilliant blue. 
'Of course he is, as am I!' Her rage and strength showing in her voice and stance. 'In another time and another place he would have killed you and burned your diseased body for what you did. And I would have helped light the pyre!'
'I am sorry but I had no choice, my family mean so much to me and I would gladly die trying to save them', Gutmann replied. Fear and shame rising in his body, causing his face to glow bright red.
'And what of our family and people?' She gestured to a small cot that stood close to the fire, a small bundle moving inside. 'Did you have no care or concern for them? What if he couldn't cure your disease?'
'I knew he would. Something has led me across the seas to this isle and then directly to your door. Surely that is more than chance? It must be fate,' Gutmann explained. 'I never meant any harm to anyone and I am sorry for the anger and concern I have caused.'
The woman picked up the baby, a small, dark-featured image of her mother, her eyes also blue.
'My name is Madlin, this is Marena and the boy is Rian. If we thought for a minute you meant harm to our family then the wild animals and birds would be feasting on your charred body right now,' she said. 'You need to speak to Goban. He and Rian are in the forge working.'
With that she headed into one of the other rooms and pulled the hide partition across.
Gutmann stuffed some bread from the table in his mouth and washed it down with water from a jug. He had just swallowed the bread when the hammering sound started up again. With a sigh, and fear in his stomach he made his way towards the room from which it was coming.

The structure was an attached forge, which was hot and smoky when he entered. Light flooded in from a large door on the opposite side that opened onto a paddock. Some livestock grazed in a fenced off area, basking in the warm sunshine. Weather that seemed to be a full season away from the rain and cold of the previous night.
Goban was standing over a giant anvil, pounding on a piece of metal. Rian stood on a stone plinth beside the anvil holding the metal in a tongs, his face turned from the sparks but not flinching from the blows. Gutmann stared in wonder. The child could not have been more than five or six but seemed as at home in the forge as someone five times his age. Both father and son were dressed in rough shirts and breeches, covered by leather aprons that reached below their knees. 
The forge itself was large and full of tools and strange contraptions. The furnace in the centre of the room was powered by two bellows that were driven by wooden cogs and wheels that must have been powered by the water he could hear, between the hammer blows, rushing outside. Gutmann had never seen such a machine, as the furnaces in his homeland were simple affairs powered by hand bellows. A pile of coal was stacked in one corner and all manner of tools were racked neatly on the walls.
Many pieces of work in progress hung on the other side of the forge. Half-finished armour, axes and swords of the finest workmanship that Gutmann had ever seen. He also saw other weapons in many strange shapes and sizes, which he did not recognise, nor could he comprehend their use.
Goban stopped hammering and, taking the tongs from his son, placed the piece he was working on in a vat of water, a bubbling hiss and a cloud of steam rising up as he did so.
He spoke something in what Gutmann presumed was his native tongue to the boy and tousled his hair as the boy ran towards the door, taking off the heavy apron and hanging it carefully on a peg before he went.
Goban took off his apron too, hung it beside his son's, washed his hands in bowl of water near the door and went to a large covered jug that stood on a table. He took down two small drinking vessels from a shelf and carried them, and the jug, into the main room of the roundhouse without looking at Gutmann.
'Come,' he said as he passed him. 'Sit.'
Gutmann followed Goban back to the main table and sat opposite him as the brew-smith poured a brown frothy liquid in to both vessels and placed one in front of each of them.
Gutmann stared at the drink then sniffed it, it smelled of sweet bread and something else he could not identify.
'This is not what you had last night,' said Goban. 'It's a plain brew made with stale bread, honey and some bitter plants from the bog. It does not cure anything, but keeps away stomach sickness.'
Gutmann took a drink; it tasted as it smelled but with a little bitterness. It certainly was refreshing, and it caused him to relax a little, like the brews of his homeland. 
'I must apologise again for what I did. It was wrong, but I did what I had to do for my family.'
Goban eyes were cold and harsh, their golden colour a little more subdued than the previous night.
'But you have done nothing for your family? You have only cured yourself, or more correctly, I have cured you,' he said.
'And for that I thank you,' said Gutmann, 'but why did you help me? You could have killed me. The anger in your voice and in Madlin's this morning tells me you were close to doing so.'
Goban looked towards the fire and the hound, which was still lying close by watching Gutmann's every movement. The brew-smith's eyes seemed to cloud over for a moment and sadness seemed to touch his face.

'I came to this isle many, many years ago from a place far north in the western sea. Many came with me in search of a new land that we could call home. We were a warrior race and drove out those that were here before us, we were just another wave of invaders of this coveted land. 
'The earth here was rich in many ways and it was especially good for planting crops and for raising livestock. There was a subtle magic in the wind, in the water and soil that I felt in no other place before or since. We made this our home for many years, until others came to try and take it from us, and so returned the fighting, hatred and anger that we had for so long forgotten. Then came the battles and wars.
'I had been a warrior as well as a weapon making blacksmith in that other land, and soon I had to return to that way of life. I created swords and axes, spears and armour so that my people could fight these new invaders. At the eve of one great battle I was near the field in my forge when a spy sneaked in to our camp and attacked me with one of my own spears, hoping that my death would stop the supply of weapons. I was pierced by it but I pulled it from my body and thrust it into my attacker, killing him.
'Although badly hurt I was filled with rage by this cowardly act, so I carried his body to the battle line of the massed army of our enemy and threw him to the ground at their feet, the spear still sticking from his chest and his glazed, empty eyes staring at the sky.
"Your sly tricks and cowardice cannot kill me!” I roared. “Here is your spy, your sneak, your sly madra rua!”
A murmur ran through the crowd and a woman in a dark cloak forced her way to the front of the line of warriors. When she reached the body, she let out a wailing screech of sorrow that pierced my heart and soul, and caused a quietness to descend on both ranks of warriors. Dark clouds gathered overhead, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, shaking the ground where we stood, for she was a witch woman and she pulled her power from nature and the elements.
“My son, my boy!” she cried and let out another keening cry that seemed to echo from the distant mountains. “Who did this to you?” She looked up and saw me standing over the body and she grabbed the spear from her son's body and held it to my throat. I had not the strength or conviction to remove it, gravely injured as I was and shaken by her cries and magic.
“From this day forth,” she spat, “whenever death is near, you and your people shall hear my wail and you will remember what you did to me and my child.” With that she trust the spear in the ground and dragged her son's body from the field, the line of enemy warriors parting as she left. Soon after, my people took me away to be healed but I will remember her face and her unearthly wail forever.
     We won that battle and the war but a part of me died that day'
Goban looked back to Gutmann, the harshness gone from his eyes.
'I lost interest in death and killing then and vowed not to fight again nor take another's life,' he said. 'Instead I decided to become a brewer. Making and perfecting an ale that will cure sickness, for my people and others. I still made weapons and armour but vowed never to use them again myself.
'I still hear that witch woman's cry when death is close,' said Goban, 'and I still see her face and the hatred that it showed, for she had lost a son and that's a precious thing'
The brew-smith stood up and headed towards the forge again.
'That is why you are still alive this morning,' he said as he left, calling to his son playing in the fields. Gutmann watched as Goban caught up with his son and they started walking towards their livestock that were grazing in the meadow. The brew-smith pulled his son close to him as they walked before raising him up on his shoulders, the laughter of the boy carrying on the wind to where Gutmann still sat feeling alone and lost, missing his own family.

(To be continued...)

(Inspired in part by 'Gods and Fighting Men', arranged by Lady Gregory)

(photo via - davidpwhelan)

Friday, 2 March 2018

A Brew Tale Part I: Of Goban and Gutmann - Journey

He had travelled many days from his homeland in the deep forests that covered much of this world…

Over land and sea, then land and sea again before arriving at this, the most western isle of the known world. The elders in his own land had told him to travel north and west, and those on the first coast he reached had told him of an island across the sea that could be seen on most clear days, the sun gleaming off its bleached cliffs. He had boarded a boat to that land only to be told by the recent invaders of that isle of another place further west across the misty sea, a mysterious land of perpetual rain. Romani, these invaders called themselves and they had spread through most of the known lands, including the traveller’s own. These Romans said that they had heard that on certain days, from the place where their enemies lived on their sacred isle you could see this strange land. Thinking this must be the place he sought, he headed north and west again to find these so-called enemies, these people called the Druids.
The Druids were wary at first at any who would want to travel to the far western isle especially one who knew the Roman tongue. It was the land of their forefathers it was said, and none could land there but the pure at heart. It was a land of giants and gods they said, not knowing that this was who the traveller sought. None would travel west with him but they gave him a small boat as they sensed his need and urgency. Their gods had not objected to his arrival and he seemed to hate the Romans, as did they.

The winds took his sail west and south from the Druid's place and soon land appeared through the mist and clouds. He beached his craft near to where huge cliffs rose up in front of him and on reaching their top he could see mountains rising in the distance and he knew he must travel over these on this journey, always heading west. Grabbing his staff and his small, now almost empty pack of provisions he set off again, determined and focussed on his quest. The locals he met along the way seemed a strange cowed race. The Druids had told tales of waves of invaders and constant battles that had made the inhabitants of this place weary of life itself. It was said that these people were cursed to be forever at war and would see no peace in their land for many, many years. The passed him little regard as he climbed along the rough paths he came across, continuing to toil in their poor fields or tend their livestock.
The weather changed as soon as he reached the upper mountains. It was not the depth of winter yet but the winds and rain that sprung up were unlike anything he had experienced before. His homeland was cold in winter but he had never seen so much water fall from the sky all at once. He was ill equipped for such torrential rain and soon he was soaked to the bone.
The wind whipped his tattered cloak as the traveller struggled forward through the storm, the rain cutting at his face, the only area of his body exposed to the elements. He was no longer climbing upwards but his legs ached from too much walking in such a short time. He was tired and hungry, hoping that his destination was close by, but not sure how he would recognise it. He trusted and prayed that his gods would lead him on the right path.
He had sheltered as much as he could in hollows and in the occasional cave he had come across but was weary from it all now. They only thing keeping him going was that his people, and more importantly his own family, needed him to succeed in his quest.

That quest was to find the brew-smith, as he was the only one who could aid him and his kin.
The brew-smith had appeared in the traveller's land many years before, and he had come to his village and helped cure a plague that was afflicting his people. He had carried with him a miraculous brew that healed even those on their deathbeds. 
Cuirm it was called, although he knew not what it meant.
It was said that the brew-smith came from beyond the mountains on the most western isle, and that he was an immortal. He had left the traveller’s land soon after to continue his own journey and left behind nothing but his name. The traveller had volunteered to look for him when the dreadful, lingering sickness returned, and though it had taken him many, many days to reach this isle he hoped he would not be too late to save his family. He prayed that he would find the brew-smith and persuade him to help his people again, especially as the sickness had recently crossed the threshold of his own home.

It was almost dark as he reached the end of the mountain range and started down the other side, minding his footing on the rough, slippery trackway that lead him west, always west. It was hard to see much now in the dwindling light and he had just decided to find shelter where he could, when a flash of lightning lit up the valley below. In that split second he spotted a building far below at the bottom of the valley. As the thunder cracked over his head he smelled burning turf drifting on the wind and decided to make his way in that direction, his weariness and the thoughts of a warm fire and with luck some hot food quelling any fears he had of the occupants.
The wind was now almost lifting him off his feet as he slowly descended the slippery path, following the smoky smell down the mountain. By the time he reached the valley he was barely able to walk and fell in the boggy ground near the river that wove its way through it. He pulled himself upright, thankful for the staff he carried, and found his bearings again. Another lightning flash lit the valley and he spotted the building, a round structure with smaller buildings attached, close by. He made his way towards it as a clap of thunder seemed to shake the very ground he stood on.
He reached the entrance of what he now saw was an immense roundhouse. The door was made from solid planks of timber, rough-hewn and strapped together with hide. He banged his staff on the door, almost falling backward in the process, and waited for a response. There was no reply so he banged again, harder this time hoping to be heard above the storm.
He heard timbers moving, then door opened slowly, and suddenly he was face to face with a huge, snarling wolfhound, its head almost at his own height. He fell back on the hard-packed soil behind, holding his staff in both hands to try and fend of the attack that he felt would surely come. A voice boomed from within the roundhouse in a language the traveller could not understand and the hound stopped. Standing behind the animal, now visible in a crack of lightening, was the largest man that he had ever seen. This giant stepped forward and batted away the traveller's staff with his huge fist and hauled him by one leg into the house. The wolfhound standing over him menacingly as the giant secured the door with two stout timbers, one top and one bottom.

The traveller cowered on the floor as this giant turned to face him, his tiredness and weariness replaced by the terror of not knowing what would happen to him. The giant was half as tall again as the traveller, who was one of the tallest in his village. The giant bent down, his massive head and bushy, greyish-brown hair now close to the traveller's. He cocked his head to one side and said in a booming voice some words in a language that the traveller couldn't understand.
'I do not speak your language,' he replied in his own tongue, with more than a hint of fear in his voice. The giant looked at him quizzically for a moment before replying.
'But I speak yours, although I have not heard or spoke it in many, many years.'
The traveller sensed it was safe to stand up now and slowly, carefully rose to a standing position. With one eye still on the hound he took in his surroundings. The roundhouse was larger than any he had seen before with thick posts supporting the thatched roof. To one side was a raised area for safe storage, and a fire blazed in the centre, the smoke rising lazily up to the roof where it hung around before seeping out through the thatch. Hides, draped on poles where they joined the main house, hid the other attached buildings from view. Many containers and vessels were arranged around the walls, on shelves and on the raised area. Hides and rugs covered seats that sat around a huge table that stood on the well swept, packed clay floor.
'Who are you and why have you come to this land. I know your home and it is far from this place,' asked the giant.
'I seek one of your people,' the traveller replied, looking up into the giant’s eyes. Even with bushy eyebrows and they being set so deep, his eyes twinkled and sparkled gold in the light of the fire.
'What do you mean by, ‘my people’?' quizzed the giant.
'One of the giant race with golden eyes that live on this island,' replied the traveller, his courage rising. 'I seek a brew-smith called Goban.'
For a split second the traveller thought he saw the giant's eyes flare with more than with just the fire's reflection.
'I have heard that name,' the giant replied, 'but not for many years. The one who went by that name no longer uses it or is known by it. But you never answered my question. Who are you?'
'My name is Gutmann,' replied the traveller, and he started to tell him his story, sensing he had nothing to lose and that this giant might be of help on his quest.
'Come, sit,' said the giant motioning Gutmann towards the table. The traveller sat and continued his tale, glad to be somewhere dry and warm for a change. The hound moved now too, taking up a position in front of the fire. He lay down on a hide and started to chew a meaty bone, his eyes boring into Gutmann as he did so. The giant listened quietly as the traveller finished his tale. He uttered nothing for a moment and then stated, 
'You must be hungry. We shall eat.'

With that he rose and went to the fire. He grabbed a couple of wooden platters from a container and proceeded to ladle some kind of stew onto them from another pot hanging close to the fire. He returned to the table, handing a platter to Gutmann with a chunk of bread ripped from a loaf that lay covered on the table.
'Eat,' he instructed as he started into his own platter, using the bread to shovel the food into his mouth, 'Then we shall talk.' The giant finished his food quickly and then tossed the platter to the ground for the hound to lick clean. He pulled his sleeve across his mouth and sat staring at Gutmann, who finished his food almost as quickly. It was the first hot meal he had eaten in many, many days and he was ravenous.
'Thank you,' he said as he pushed the platter away, 'but I still don't know your name.'
The giant got up from his chair and picked up Gutmann's platter. He gave it to the hound, which pulled it close with his great paw and started to lick it clean. He paced up and down in front of the fire, seemingly in deep thought. Without looking at Gutmann he said, 'I am known by many names. Jove, Thor, Jupiter, Goibniu and many others … and I am known as Goban.'
Gutmann was stunned. How could it be that he had found the one he sought so easily? What had lead him directly to this very spot in this rain soaked land? Perhaps it was fate, or maybe his gods. Either way he was grateful.
'T-t-t-t-then you are the one I seek,' said Gutmann, rising out of his chair and approaching Goban. 'Please, my people need your help again,' he sank to his knees. 'My family need your help. And I need your help.' With that he let his cloak fall to the ground, offering up his arms, which were covered in boils and sores.
Goban's eyes flashed gold again, his cheeks turned red and he roared.
     'How dare you bring this sickness to my land, to my house, to my family!'
He gestured to the hide covering one of the attached rooms, which had now parted. A woman and two children stood in the opening. The woman was as tall as Gutmann, with long, flowing, dark tresses. Her bright blue eyes also flashing with anger as she stood with a child held to either hip. Both children had dark hair like their mother, short on the older one and longer on the younger. A boy and a girl he presumed. Gutmann threw himself to the ground in front of Goban.
'I meant no harm,' he said, 'I just seek help. Would you not risk everything for your family?'
'Do not question what I would do,' said Goban, his voice a shade calmer now,' I would not bring pestilence to another land or people. Have you been in contact with others in this land?'
'None. I have kept to myself as much as I could on my quest, keeping my sores covered,' replied Gutmann. 'I am sorry for visiting this upon you.'

He suddenly started to cough, flecks of blood appearing at the corners of his mouth. Goban grabbed Gutmann's head with his massive hand and pulled the skin below the eye with is thumb, exposing more of his eyeball. He studied it closely before letting go and then stared long and hard at the traveller, before turning and heading towards another hidden room.
'Madlin, bring the children back to bed and wait with them until I do what must be done,' said Goban.
The lady left, returning to the side room and pulling the hide back across.
Goban entered the other room and returned quickly with something in his hand. The light from the fire glinted off it as Gutmann looked up from his prone position.
'Stand up,' said Goban and he extended his hand to reveal a small gold chalice. It was beautifully plain with little decoration apart from three red stone inlaid around the stem.
'Drink this,' he said, carefully placing it in Gutmann's hand.
Gutmann hesitated; perhaps it was poison and not what he hoped for?
'Drink it or you shall surely die. And not of the plague but by my hands,' Goban said calmly, looking straight down into Gutmann's eyes.
The traveller took a huge gulp of the liquid. It tasted of bread and honey but with a hint of bitterness and a peculiar sharpness that burnt his throat. It didn't taste like the watery brews they had in his homeland, which were often sour. Perhaps it was a poison? He emptied the chalice and returned it to Goban just as his head began to spin. He felt his legs collapse and his body hit the ground, his last thoughts were of his family back in his homeland.

(To be continued...)

(photo via - kariatx)

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Recipe: Mangel Wurzel Ale, Whisky ... and Paper!

I've been quite busy and distracted over the last few weeks so blog posts have been scarce to say the least, but with a bit of luck I'll be back to more regular writing soon.

In the meantime here's a quick recipe from the Belfast Newsletter of 1833 for Mangle Wurzel Ale that someone might like to try? Often called fodder beet it's an interesting root that appears to have culinary, imbibing and practical uses that should be explored more!

Let me know if you make some ... and I'll do the same.

So you can make some ale or whisky and the brown paper bag to wrap it up in!

(Thanks as always to my local library...)


Thursday, 1 February 2018

Beer & Travel History: A Grand Day Out in Kilkenny - October Ales & Orchards

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about William Cobbett's visit to Kilkenny and his thoughts on the city, people and the beers of Ireland in general ... and while down my rabbithole of beer history research I came across an article about a visit by a group of Waterfordians to Kilkenny that I thought would be a nice follow up for balance ... with a more positive slant for Kilkenny and for the local beer.

It was published in The Waterford News and Star in September 1873 and I've included the article in its entirety below ... but a couple of intriguing parts stood out to me with relation to the  Smithwicks brewery, which they visited...

'... the Black Abbey Brewery, otherwise St. Francis's, owned and worked by [...] E. Smithwick...'
The Black Abbey is a completely different site to St. Francis's Abbey and it's a little strange that a visitor should confuse the two ... furthermore at this time Sullivan's would have then been the closest brewery to The Black Abbey. Perhaps the writer of the article had one too many on the trip and confused the two, or did someone not want the visitors to know there were two breweries in close proximity to one another in the city, and choose to amalgamate both in our visitor's mind? The writer had visited the city on a number of occasions so either way it seems a strange comment. (I can't of course rule out that it was also known as the Black Abbey Brewery but I can't find any reference to this name, and it would seem highly unlikely...)

We'll never know but it's a lesson to all researchers to be wary about what you read in old newspapers...


'We were taken into what may be termed the "Refreshment Room" on these annual visits, into a large cellar filled with October ales, eleven months old, clear as amber when filled out, ardent as malt when imbibed. [...] with a measure of strong ale in hand and it had to be drunk... '

I wonder if that 'Refreshment Room' is still in use? I confess I've never done the tour so I don't know...

The comments on the storage time, colour and strength - both in flavour and, presumably, alcohol are interesting to read, and sound a far cry from the Smithwick's of now apart perhaps from the colour - but there was a red-ish ale in Kilkenny even back then it would seem ... if not what we think of as an 'Irish Red Ale'!

Not that we should think that Smithwick's have always just brewed one beer - and they don't anymore anyhow, and nor do they brew in Kilkenny of course - as beer history books list the varied output from the brewery in its early days...

But again it's nice see some of this information in print and I came across an advert from The Munster Express in 1866 with regard to Smithwick's opening a store in Waterford to help satisfy demand in the city, although it was possibly a logistical help with exports too.

It also shows that there was a good connection between Waterford and the Smithwick brewery, which would make sense given their relatively close proximity on the new-ish railway, and explains why our visitors would make a point of visiting the brewery on their trip to Kilkenny. (Beresford Street was what is now Parnell Street in Waterford.)

{Edit} Here's another advert showing more detail of what they were brewing in 1897 ... Stouts, Mild, Bitter plus an IPA and Dinner Ale ... and a good amount for export too it appears.


'... we were taken my Mr. McGrath through the extensive orchards, under the experienced Mr Hayes, and I must say I never saw anything to near equal the great profusion of luxuriant crops of apples and pears I there witnessed. The crop proves Mr. Hayes to be one of the top of his luscious profession.'

I never thought of there being an urban orchard at the back of the brewery but the Ordnance Survey maps of around this time do indeed show a great deal of space down towards the river. Top quality apples and pears in the Smithwick's orchard it appears - non for cider or perry?!

... and wouldn't we all like a 'luscious profession'?

So, it looks like Kilkenny has been a tourist destination for quite a while, and although Smithwick's site is no longer a working commercial brewery, the new, reborn Sullivan's Brewing Company do a few specials in the small kit in their tap room and Costellos Brewery have a full production brewery just out from the city centre, which is great for a city with such a brewing history. (I've written previously about beery places in the city too...)

I wonder will either make an eleven month old, amber, strong October ale that I can quaff in a cellar?

I can dream I suppose...


Thanks as ever to my local library...

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Beer History: Politics versus Bad Beer ... and The True Heart of Man?

In 1834 William Cobbett an English journalist, farmer and member of parliament wrote a series of letters back to a labourer called Charles Marshall at Normandy Farm, his home in Surrey, England, recounting his recent tour of Ireland.

I came across the following excerpt from these letters in an edition of The Kerry Evening Post of that year, where he talks about a few topics from a discussion on marble by gentlemen "much bemused by beer" to a rant about a Mr. Finn ... he of the local paper Finn's Leinster Journal I presume!

He also has some disparaging words to say about the beers he came across during his travels, prompted by a meeting with 'Mr. Smithwick' in Kilkenny...

"I dined with one Smithwick, a popular brewer - O heavens! What stuff the wild Irish will drink out of political friendship. Why Marshall, if Tom Paine were to come on the earth again - as I suppose he will at the general resurrection - and turn brewer, I would not deal with him unless he put malt and hops in his ale. The purest principles of patriotism and philanthropy could not make cockles indicus go down. Don't suppose I allude to brewer Smithwick's drink, which I understand is some of the best political swipes in Ireland. But I have a prejudice in favor of good unadulterated malt drinks; and I hope, Marshall, your pity for these poor people will prevail upon you to lose your taste for the same sort of potation. Love your country as much as you will, you cannot love it too much; but love your beer also. Beer is the heart of man."
As you can read below he goes on to complain about those who attend his lectures - which he abandons - for not paying to do so but gives a backhanded compliment with regard to the people of Kilkenny's thirst for knowledge. He has some choice words to say about the city itself, and Waterford too!

It all makes for interesting reading...

But even after all of that ranting, it's those sentences from above that stick in my mind...
"Love your country as much as you will, you cannot love it too much; but love your beer also. Beer is the heart of man." 
Wise words? Who knows...


[With thanks as ever to my local library.]

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Food & Drink History: {Opinion} Be Careful What You Wish For...

As you may be aware, many food writers, bloggers, tweeters and other so called food/nutrition/wellness 'experts' tend to annoy me.

But what's really galled me in recent days are those who say we need to eat 'what our grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents ate...' 

If we think that food wasn't 'processed' or was 'additive-free' (their words) back in these halcyon good-old-days we would do well to read a little more history and give our 'like' thumbs a rest. There seems to be a body of people who think that everyone baked their own bread, made their own drink and grew their own food back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, or bought everything from some wholesome local market or guano-fed local farm, but looking back through any newspaper from that time will quickly highlight the issues that existed with food and drink poisoning or other contamination, and just how unsafe eating or drinking could be back then. We only need to think back at the plethora of chemicals available in the last century to know this - for example we used mercury-based products to prevent clubroot in brassicas, also, DDT anyone?

We can debate until be are blue in the face about whether these or any of the batch of still available controls are absorbed into our bodies but the fact remains that there was less science-based knowledge, testing and understanding back in the last couple of centuries than there is now. Sure some people grew more vegetables themselves but not everyone did, could or even wanted to. And yes, I'm being purposely selective and controversial with my points but then again so do those who spout food related nonsense...

Here's an article that appeared in an old local paper, which talks of issues in England but I'm sure that the same sentiment would/could have been applied to Ireland too.

Commercial Honesty in England

A writer, who made no small noise in the world among a certain class of individuals, wrote a book entitled “What to Eat, Drink, and Avoid.” If he were alive now, perhaps he might tell us how to avoid these things, recommend for daily food, which area adulterated, and that to a shameful extent. Unfortunately, the public generally are not up to snuff; it is only the practical chemist who can throw a light upon the matter, and show that we swallow slow poison daily, while we hug ourselves with an assurance, that by going to the best market things may be purchased “pure and adulterated.” Alas! Human weakness leads us to strange conclusions. It is not the tradesman making the greatest show who are the most honest. Allured by the greed of gain, he discovers that honesty in business is but a name, and that unless he acts like his neighbours, in his defence, he must shut up shop, or walk through the Bankruptcy or Insolvent Debtors’ Court, to throw off his liabilities.
Modern science, aided by the alembic of the chemist, has evolved many hidden mysteries, which, in some shape or other, have brought to bear upon the food we eat, in clothes we wear, and the liquid we drink. Our forefathers drank their nut-brown ale, brewed from malt and hops; they ate bread made from good wheaten flour, regardless of its whiteness; and tossed off wine that had not been flavoured, or sham age given to it by the brewers’ druggist. All things are altered in this respect for the worse. People must have their appetites tickled. Your English sausage is too common for the table. Nothing short of real German will do now-a-days, and the newer the importation the better. Perhaps, instead of coming from Germany, it may have been manufactured in Cow-cross, the knacker’s yard contributing greatly to the stuffing department; or some superannuated cow, that had been killed to save it dying a natural death, may have furnished the material; but no matter, the sausage is German, and German sausages must be good, because it is sold at a heavy price. Has no one ever experienced a fullness of the stomach accompanied with dyspepsia, without asking himself the cause? Of course, it was not the German sausage, made of well seasoned offal, like Goldner’s preserved meat. They cannot account for it. The gentleman who drank three bottles of wine after dinner and found himself the next day unwell, laid the fault to eating those “cursed potatoes.” It was not the wine, for his friend never introduced wine that would give any man the head-ache, or cause him to fall under the table in a state of giddiness; and so with those who devour sausage – they fly to something else as an excuse for their illness. 
Some people snub what is called “second bread,” because it is not so white as the loaf of the first quality. Perhaps they do not know that the chemist has taught the baker how to bleach his flour with alum and other ingredients. They may not know that he has the power to make a very white loaf out of the cheapest materials; but such is the case, and the baker who can make the whitest loaf at the cheapest price will out-distance all his competitors. 
The beer we drink is made intoxicating by the druggist’s aid; malt and hops are very well in their way, but, notwithstanding the aid of these, the beer wants body; a fullness is required to be given to it, and Messrs. Strychnine, Cocolus Indicus, and Quassia, are called in to aid the process of the mash-tub. Wine is snubbed if it present no bead, and therefore what is done to make it sparkling and beady? Mr. Arsenic is ready with his recipe to give it the required advantages. Gin, the most adulterated of all liquor, is flavoured, and made strong or rendered weak by the aid of modern discovery. 
You think you use pure colonial sugar, whereas one-half of it is adulterated with sugar manufactured from potatoes, at three half-pence a pound. As to coffee, it is compounded of chicory, horse beans, horses’ liver, and other delicacies. Your milk and cream are manufactured of bruised sheep’s brains, with sugar of lead, and other choice things from the laboratory. The young Raleighs of the day plume themselves upon being able to detect a “prime Havannah” from a sham one, little dreaming that, with the exception of the outward coating (we speak of English manufactured cigars), there is not a particle of tobacco in their composition. If a sceptic doubt what we say, he may see, in the eastern warehouse of the Customhouse, plenty of the imitation of leaf tobacco, which the authorities have seized. 
We talk of the “cup which cheers, but not inebriates,” and buy the finest green tea, brought to that state by Prussian blue, copper, and other deleterious ingredients. The nerves get unstrung, and the hands become shaky from drinking gin; and they would be shaky if the beverage of a person were green tea. There is not a thing we eat but what is adulterated or doctored in some shape or other; there is not a thing we drink but contains slow poison. Your best Witney blankets are half yarn; the gold chain you so much delight in is nothing but lacquered copper; in fact, cheating and humbug extend over every business and profession. Londoners area surfeited with drugs of one description or another. They attribute half their ailments to a want of pure air; and, in the hope of improving their health, retreat to Bleak House, Thacheray Villa, or Gothic Cottage, in the suburbs of the metropolis. Pure air is now the panacea for all conceivable ills. It is time we learned “What to Eat, Drink, and Avoid” - Dispatch
via The Carlow Post 1854
(Paragraphs added by me to aid reading - original text below)

This is from 1854 ... but ironically with a few changes to the language and examples it could have been written today and posted up on a number of food-scarer's websites. Whole paragraphs could be lifted and used by some of the confusion/fear merchants that ply their trade in the nod-along, retweet, repost social media society we now live in. After all, doesn't it sound like some of the food snobs that spout their half-baked (Hah!) opinions on social media and now also in too many mainstream publications?

Even taking the side that the above writer was just some crackpot and food contamination wasn't in reality an issue, then doesn't that play into my personal belief that some of these modern food-gurus are crackpots too?  Either way it tells a tale...

[The part about the German sausages put a wry smile on my face because we now think something similar regarding local ones, and given my distrust of promoting overpriced, local-for-local-sake products with no oversight or accountability it struck a chord.
 '...but no matter, the sausage is German local, and German local sausages must be good, because it is sold at a heavy price...'
(But don't get me started on local and the word 'cheap' again, I got enough abuse last time.)]

Next time someone says that they wish they could eat like they did back in their ancestors time show them this, and tell them to read more, question everything (yes, even this post) and - ironically I know - believe less of what you see on your screens.

It's time we looked at how we eat and drink as much as what we consume, perhaps even more so in my opinion. I'd never claim to be an expert on anything, but I do question and research as much as I can about the subjects I write about.

I take everything with a pinch of salt...

... although apparently we can't do than anymore, unless it's some kind of special salt of course!


(With the usual thanks to my local library.)