Wednesday, 15 February 2017

History: Brilliant Beverages from The Saracen's Head?

To Brewers, Retailers of Beer, Ale, Cider, &c.

THE ADVERTISER has invented FININGS that will cause the article of Beer, Ale, Cider, &c., to become immediately transparent, without violating the law or injury to the article.
The RECIPE is for sale or contract for a supply. A Sample Bottle will be sent to any address, made from this Recipe, on the receipt of 2s 6d, or, in powder, at 8s per cannister, with proper directions for use.
Address - ANDREW WOOD, 5, Snow Hill, London.

(The Carlow Sentinel -  November 1847)

As Isinglass had been around for a long time, was this is a new product? Or at least a new process? With the recipe available too, it must have been made from a raw material that was relatively freely available ... gelatin based perhaps?

There's also an interesting footnote in the fact that the given address was The Saracen's Head Inn, a quite famous establishment in Snow Hill, London that was demolished in 1868 and is now the site of a police station. One assumes that Mr. Wood had lodgings there? Or perhaps it was used as we use PO boxes today...

So not hugely interesting or exciting but ... lots of questions and very few answers!


[With thanks once again to the local history room in Carlow library]

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Travel: 't Brugs Beertje, Bruges - Notes from the Past

(With the recent changing of the guard, I thought it fitting to dig out this piece from an unpublished larger piece I wrote about a visit to Bruges and Brussels back in 2009.)

't Brugs Beertje sits on an unremarkable side street that millions of tourists pass by every year - unless you know about it of course.

Before we pushed open the door we could see the place was packed and the chatter of people as we entered confirmed that this - like De Garre earlier - was a meeting place for locals and beer tourists alike. The front bar had no free seats so we made our way to a quieter back room where by pure luck someone had just vacated a table, their empty glasses still in place and chairs still warm. No music was playing, the only noise was that chatter from the front room and the murmur of quieter voices in this section. The room itself had a homely feel, more like the livingroom of a house with extra chairs and tables added, with some street signs and beer advertising memorabilia hung on the wall for atmosphere. Not that it need those, as with the voices, smells and agreeable clatter of glasses, this place has bags - or bottles - of atmosphere.

A group of Americans were behind us, and more to our left. One leaned over and asked how we say 'Cheers!' in Ireland. Resisting the urge to say that we say 'Cheers!' too, I told him 'Sláinte.' This seemed to satisfy him and he returned to his conversation, never speaking to us again. How he knew we were Irish I don't know, as we hadn't spoken yet. Perhaps he had heard us in De Garre earlier? Or maybe we just look very, very Irish.

A woman I knew from my research to be the owner Daisy came over and asked us what we would like. I went for Valeir Extra on her recommendation of a hoppy beer, and it turned out be just that - a bitter, citrusy brew with a hop-filled bite that woke my palate after a long day. Nige went for a De Koninck from Antwerp and Pete went for the Brugs Wit, one of his favourite styles.

We drank our beers and discussed the trip so far. We had so far found great bars, great beer, and we hadn't even done any serious sight seeing yet. There was still the Groeninge Museum with its impressive painting by van Eyck, Bosch and David, we wanted to ascent the Belfort, visit some churches, and of course drink more beer. We had a lot to cram in before heading back to Brussels for one night and then heading home.

The night wore on, with Daisy keeping us plied with beer. I had another hoppy beer next, Urthel Hop-It, which was not as bitter as the first, a little smoother with less bite perhaps, but possibly a better beer for me. I followed that with a dark beer, a pleasant if not exciting, liquorice tasting 't Smisje Catherine - more of a belgian stout than an imperial stout perhaps...

We ate too, having cheese and salami first, then toasted ham and cheese sandwiches with a tiny touch of mustard that didn't take from the beer.

All this time Daisy dashed around efficiently and effectively keeping everyone happy, a perfect host adding to the feeling that this was the entertaining room of a house and not a pub at all.

I finished off the night with a wonderful De Dolle Special Extra Export Stout, that hinted at overripe banana and rum with a smoky aftertaste and a nice degree of bitterness in the end. A fitting beer to end the evening on...

And so we bade farewell to Daisy, thanking her profusely and a little drunkenly for her service, beer and food and leaving the still busy pub behind us, we tottered back to our lodgings for an early night.

(Apologies for both the lack of photos and the quality of the two I did manage to take!)

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

History: IPA in Carlow in the 1840s - Approved by the Surgeon General!

When we last met Henry Birkett in 1842 he was having a bit of a to-do with Guinness regarding the quality of their porter, and as I trawl through old editions of The Carlow Sentinel in my local library looking for more information on the breweries that dotted the town up to the mid 1800s, his later advertisements catch my eye on occasion. They seem to have put aside their disagreement, as he is continuing to sell Guinness's product in 1844 along with a few other beers, plus a perry and a cider, as the below advertisement shows.

This version is similar to the one I posted before regarding the Guinness dispute and that I flagged on Twitter as the first mention of 'East India Pale Ale' for sale in the town (1842) but what was interesting this time were the prices...

Perry 7s per dozen
Devonshire Cider 6s per dozen
Cairnes' Drogheda Ale 4s per dozen
Guinness's XX Porter 3s 6d per dozen
East India Pale Ale 3s per dozen

The pale ale was the cheapest. 

Admittedly the perry and cider were imported, but this surprised me as I thought  the East India Pale Ale would be offered as a new, premium product at a premium price, even if it was brewed - I suspect - in Dublin as an earlier advert from 1842 (below) seems to show that Pim's offering was the bitter beer of choice in the town, and available across Market Cross in another grocery establishment. This advert sang its praises as a medical fix-all - endorsed by the 'Surgeon General' noless - so why was it now priced cheaper than all other beverages? Had it dropped since it was first seen 2 years previously in the town?

Sorry, that's an actual question ... I don't know the answer.

But perhaps the answer lies in the fact that this was just the price of IPA...

Another find - you can see here - shows by 1846 Birkett now stocked Bass Ale, adds weight to my argument that their East India Pale Ale from 1842 was indeed supplied by Pim's ... and had to drop his Guinness price back to a 1844 level, for bulk purchases at least!

A discussion an 'Imperial Perry' and 'Captain Pidding's Celebrated Teas' will be left for another day!

Interesting stuff ... to me anyhow.


[With thanks once again to the local history room in Carlow library]

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Travel: Notes from Ghent - Back at the Trollekelder ... Where the Wild Things Really Are...

There are places I'll always go back to...

And the Trollekelder is one of those, so I was eager to return on this visit to Ghent, not only for the beer but also for the crazy-hot mustard and celery salt that's served with the platter of cheese and a salami-esque substance. The place hadn't changed much since my last visit but it was certainly busier, so we were relegated to sitting at the back, split from the noisy weekend crowd.

Scanning through the beer list I spotted Troubadour Magma. A beer I've had before from Brouwerij The Musketeers, who appear to do all of their brewing at De Proefbrouwerij in nearby Lochristi ... but this was a triple spiked Brett version. I have a fondness for Brett beers, probably stemming from my unseemly adoration of Orval, so I closed the menu, attracted someones attention by waving like a madman and ordered it along with a platter of cheese and meat of course.

It was superb...

It probably had a lot to do with where I was, who I was with, and my general elated mood caused by being back in Belgium and in Ghent, but there is no doubt that it ticked all my boxes at that moment in time.

One of my notes reads 'Orval on overdrive!' and I think that's a fair statement given that it's a 9.8% abv so-called imperial IPA with added Brett. It was also well over a year old which presumably helped its character.

I got citrus at first, like an under ripe orange, even down to that tartness. This was chased by a clean-but-wet labrador smell somehow converted into a taste, and some ripe fruit like plums or damsons. There was a lovely cleansing carbonation and then you were left with citrus again but perhaps more like that squishy, funky mandarin that sits in it bottom of the fruit bowl until you feel sorry for it and tentatively polish it off - with a slight grimace.

When I finished it I sat back with a sigh...

Was it really better than Orval? At that time and place, yes it was...

Would it still be now, sitting here at home ... in a side-by-side blind tasting?

Who knows?

... and that's hardly the point.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

History: Then as Now ... 'Go it like Bricks!'

'Rules for the Behaviour of Young People at Table - Always wipe your mouth with the tablecloth for that must be soiled at all events, and will save your host's napkins, or your pocket handkerchief. Never speak not unless your mouth be full. If you begin to relate an anecdote of piece of news, be sure to stop in the middle of every sentence and take a mouthful of food, which you must then thoroughly masticate before you can finish the sentence, because it affords an opportunity to scan well in their minds what you have previously uttered, and they can be thus well prepared for the concluding part, and will be enabled to digest the subject matter under discussion while you are digesting your food. Champ whatever you eat making as much noise as possible; it will show you relish and are pleased with what you are eating. Always begin to speak before another has finished what he or she has to say, as it will seem to show the quickness of your perception in being able to understand a thing before it is uttered, and give the company a great opinion of your good breeding. The employment of fashionable and cant phrases gives grace to conversation - such as, 'that's your sort,' 'keep moving,' 'what's to pay,' 'I owe you one,' 'go it like bricks,' 'hookey,' 'how's your mother,' &c. Be sure on leaving a room to turn your back on the company, and if the door be open when you go out don't fail to leave it open.
A true sort of Christian can never be disappointed if he doth not receive his reward in this world; the labourer might as well complain that he is not paid his hire in the middle of the day.'- Fielding.

[Carlow Sentinel – 1842 via Carlow Library Local Studies Room]

Friday, 30 December 2016

Travel: Notes from Ghent - Blue Birds

If you stand on St. Michael's Bridge in Ghent when it's dark - carefully avoiding getting poleaxed with a selfie-stick or boom mic from the tourists and film crews that seem to a permanent feature of the structure - and gaze to your left past St Michael's Never-Open-Church and Ghent Universities' Het Pand you will see one of the most striking artistic light installations I have ever seen...

View looking towards St. Michael's Bridge
By taking the steps down from the bridge and walking along Predikherenlei you can get a closer look at this master-piece, indeed the view (above) from the bridge on Jakobijnenstraat is probably the best place to appreciate it from, as it takes in St. Michael's Bridge and the beautiful old buildings on Graslei in the background.

It's unimaginatively but accurately called the Blue Birds but its full title is 'Les Oiseaux de Mr Maeterlinck' by the French creative studio Pitaya. It references a story called 'The Blue Bird' by Maurice Maeterlinck - who was born in the city - to commemorate his Nobel Prize for Literature. It was originally a part of Gent's 2012 Light Festival but was then bought by the municipality and is now a permanent installation.

The origami-like birds seem to be frozen in startled flight from their tree, and their reflection in the canal - enhanced by the odd ripple - adds another dimension of movement and depth to the work. They are mesmerising, elegant and vibrant, and perhaps worthy of a trip to Ghent in themselves.

It is stunning ... and I could have looked at it for ages...

But the thoughts of food and imbibing in what is surely Belgium's best city eventually dragged me away...

View from Predikherenlei


Thursday, 15 December 2016

History: Guinness's Small Cask vs Hogshead in 1842

Carlow in 1842 was a busy and prosperous place. The streets were full day and night with shoppers and travellers from the excellent coach system, and the barges that travelled regularly on the Barrow river, hauling products from Dublin, Waterford and all points in between.

The shops in particular stocked a fine array of teas, coffees, exotic fruits, meat and spices ... and beer, spirits and wines of course. Henry Birkett's grocery store was positioned in a fine location on the southern end of Dublin Street, close to where it intersected with Tullow Street at Market Cross, where most of those who lived or visited the town past through on a daily basis.

His customers we can presume were many of the landed gentry that owned the best houses in and around the town, and those customers appeared to have a problem with the their Guinness double stout porter. It appears that they weren't impressed with hassle of bottling it, and were losing too much during the messy process. So Henry decided on an enterprising plan to bottle the beer for them instead, thus insuring he keeps his sales of porter, and made a few more shillings in the process.

To let his customers know of this service he decides to place an advertisement in the local paper - The Carlow Sentinel:

As you can see, as well as promoting his bottling service he makes some bold claims about the quality of hogshead versus small casks, claiming that the former 'is always superior' to the latter. Would a larger barrel of porter travel and store better than a smaller one? Hogsheads would be less likely to suffer temperature fluctuations but how else could they affect the beer? Was he receiving older small casks perhaps?

Either way his comments did not go unnoticed by Edward Byrne, who I assume* was the local distributor for Guinness and the following week this rebuttal of the accusations appeared in the paper.

But it seems that Henry stuck to his guns, as the original advertisement appeared on the front page with Guinness's defence of its beer at the bottom of the page, and the same advert appeared for a few weeks afterwards.

Whether it was just a perceived difference on his part or not, it appears that Henry had enough of an issue with it to have it put down in print...

And one wonders if it was, like with so many a present day beer drinker, tainted by other influences?

[Thanks again to the local history room in Carlow library]


*I am aware of its offspring...