Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Victorian Beer Mail

Discovered this buried in the bottom of a drawer from the days when I collected (geek alert) stamps and from a time when I had a disposable income to spend on frivilous nonsense! Anyway, thought it would be a perfect diversion for this blog. It's a letter dated September 6th, Glasgow, Scotland 1849 and is addressed simply to a Mr John Jeffrey, Brewer, Edinburgh.

Here's an image of the letter inside. It appears to be an urgent request for beer.

Here's the transcript, as best as I can decipher :

Glasgow, September 5th 1849

Dear Sir,

Having neglected to order ale from Mr. Rutherford you would much oblige me by sending one half of $5.50* if you have it back. I will be much obliged as I am nearly out.

                                                                                       I am Sir,
                                                                                       Your humble servant,
                                                                                       William Smith
                                                                                       241 Gallowgate, Glasgow

 * Note - This is in British Pounds, not dollars of course.

On the back of the envelope it has Glasgow 5 Sept. 1849 and the names of John Rutherford (which is crossed out - I assume that means he was aware that the letter was being sent) and also Wm. Smith, the sender.

From internet research I was able to establish that a brewery did exist in Edinburgh that was owned by a John Jeffrey and Co. in 1837 (see below, from the Scottish Brewing Archive). I've also included the updated history of the brewery for those that may be interested. It appears to have lasted until the 1990's in one form or another.

A brewery was reputedly operating on Heriot Bridge, Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland, from the early sixteenth century. By 1800 the brewery was owned by Baillie Gordon, trading as Gordon & Hume, and in about 1820 it was acquired by Buchan & Co. Thomas Stewart took over the brewery in about 1830, followed by John Jeffrey and his younger brother David in 1837, trading under the name of John Jeffrey & Co. The Grassmarket site soon became cramped and land was purchased in 1865 at Roseburn, on the western outskirts of Edinburgh, where new maltings, an ale store and a cooperage were built.

A new brewhouse was added to the Roseburn site in 1880 but brewing continued at the Heriot Brewery until 1900 when the site was sold to Heriot–Watt College for GBP 2,500. The firm was one of the pioneers of lager brewing in Scotland and had a large export trade and tied trade in Scotland and northern England, with deposits in Glasgow, Scotland, Newcastle–upon–Tyne, England and Manchester, England.

John Jeffrey & Co Ltd was registered in July 1934 as a private limited liability company to acquire the business. The company acquired Edinburgh United Breweries Ltd in 1935 and was converted into a public company in 1938. It supplied ale to James Calder Co Ltd, Alloa, Scotland, from 1951 and a new bottling plant was built at Sighthill, Edinburgh, in 1955.

In February 1960 the company merged with Hammonds United Breweries Ltd, Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, and Hope and Anchor Breweries Ltd, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, through Northern Breweries of Great Britain Ltd, York and London, England. United Breweries Ltd, as Northern Breweries of Great Britain Ltd was renamed, merged with Charrington United Breweries Ltd, London. Brewing continued at Heriot Brewery until its closure in the 1990s.

I was unable to find anything out about the sender of the letter, Wm. Smith, and it appears whatever pub existed at 241 Gallowgate is long gone. Hardly surprising, since the Gallowgate area of Glasgow had at one time 86 pubs in just over a 2 mile area, making it the most populous - or should that be pub-ulous - street in Glasgow. "Eric's Carpets" now resides at 239-241 Gallowgate. Apparently a pub must have existed at 241 Gallowgate at one time because in 1875 a listing of Gallowgate License Holders mentions one Archibald Mitchell with an address listed as 241 Gallowgate.

Much of this information was gleamed from this excellent website :

For a bit of historical background, Glasgow around that time was described as "possibly the filthiest and unhealthiest of all British towns" (and they had a lot of competition)! They had a cholera outbreak in 1849 and in 1850 it was reported that one half of all children born in Glasgow died before their 5th birthday. They also had a large influx of Irish peasants escaping the famine in Ireland at the time (1845-'52) that contributed to the overcrowding - it was said that Irish with money went to America, those with some money went to Liverpool and those with no money went to Glasgow. Queen Victoria visited the city in 1849 and was the first reigning monarch to do so since the 1600's. An estimated 400,000 people lined the streets along her route, which is quite impressive since the population of Scotland's biggest city was listed at 329,096 in 1851 (with over 18% Irish born).

That concludes today's history lesson, I hope you managed to stay awake....


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Odell Bourbon Barrell Stout

Stumbled upon this tasty treat after stopping in at Burger Jones (part of the Parasole dining empire) in Calhoun Village last night. This isn't supposed to be an in-depth review of the beer (how lucky are you?)! I didn't know Odell had a Bourbon Barrell Stout but upon further investigation from their website it is part of their "Single Serve Series" (available on tap and 750ml bombers) and is described thusly -

This limited edition offering begins with a full-bodied imperial stout that has notes of sweet milk chocolate, smooth vanilla and roasted coffee beans. Then things get interesting. We transfer it to Kentucky bourbon barrels where it’s aged for four months to let traces of oak and caramel come forward. The bourbon barrels have a remarkable effect on the beer. In turn, the beer has a remarkable effect on the senses.

I wouldn't put it in the same class as Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (one of my all time favourites) but what I liked about it was that it was well balanced and not as big and boozy or had an overpowering bourbon taste. Also more manageable to drink at 10.5% ABV (I didn't have a problem drinking three of these, who said this has to be a sipping beer?)! Definitely helped that this was included in their Happy Hour at $4 (which runs daily 2-6pm) while the place is a little too "happy" for me sitting at the bar wasn't too bad and I was surprised at the eclectic range of beers they had on tap (Delirium Tremens included in HH is another bonus). Food menu made Paula Dehn's cooking look healthy, make sure you bring a defibulator if you plan on eating here.

Beer rating : B+

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Napa Smith Organic IPA

A relatively new brewery from Napa (CA) established 2008 and only recently distributed here in Minnesota within the past month or so. Poured an appealing copper/amber colour. Unfortunately that was the highlight. Initial mouthfeel was a subdued hoppiness with a bitter astringent dry finish. Unpleasant. 7.1% ABV but I found little or no alcohol taste from this beer. Apparently they scored a coup by luring master brewer Don Barkley (one of the founders of Mendocino Brewing and with more than 30 years brewing experience) out of retirement, I'll let you be the judge if he made the right decision! One of the big emphasis the brewery has is pairing their beer with food - "our organic IPA pairs well with curry, buffalo wings and aged blue cheese" - no sh*t, doesn't any beer?! Anyway, almost as offputting as the beer is the packaging, which is amateurish looking, bland and contrived, like it would be more suited to the "value brands" shelf at your local supermarket. The beer itself is hardly value priced at around $8.50 for a 4 pack of 12oz bottles - way too steep when you can pay the same for Surly Furious or Bell's Two Hearted. Credit to them for having the courage to brew craft beer in the heart of wine country but unless the beer improves I can't imagine I'd be tempted to try another of their beers.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Smuttynose "Finestkind" IPA

Another score from our visit across enemy lines in Hudson, WI this is an IPA from Smuttynose Brewing Company (Portsmouth, NH). It's a dry-hopped IPA that is unfiltered, poured from a 12oz bottle that has a best before date of April 2011. If you are a typical hophead this probably won't be for you, since it's not a tongue biting crotch grabbing (OK so I stole that last part from somewhere else - sue me) mind numbing skull splitting IBU monster that paralizes the tastebuds. Instead I found it a pleasant, mellow, easy drinking, grapefruity, well-balanced beer that wasn't overly hoppy. More like a cask IPA or a typical British style-IPA in my opinion, with a bit more of a kick at 6.9% ABV. 65 IBU's. Extra points for the cool label, the old duffers are called Cy and Paul apparently in case you were wondering.


PS Given my taste in beer the above paragraph should automatically be dismissed if you enjoy IPA's.

Goose Island Night Stalker Imperial Stout

This is a big Imperial Stout from Goose Island Beer Co. (Chicago, IL) and when I say big, I mean big - 11.7% ABV. Intially I found it a little too boozy but as it warmed it became a bit more complex and palateable with notes of chocolate, coffee and molasses. According to the label it will continue to develop in the bottle for up to 5 years, I'd imagine if you did that the ABV would be pushing 14%! 60 IBU's, midnight black in colour my bomber was purchased at the legendary Cassanova's in Hudson, WI for the bargain price of $5.99. Seemed appropriate (or ironic) that I had it as a nightcap to console myself with the P*ckers winning the superbowl. Bottled on 3/6/10. Not a big fan of GI's regular line but they do a nice job with their extreme series. In truth, I prefer the Bourbon County Stout but who wouldn't?

Brewmasters notes -
"A heavily hopped imperial stout, Night Stalker is a heavyweight of a beer. It delivers a formidable punch of hops and rich roasted malt notes to the nose in a silky body that's as dark as night".


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Deschutes Red Chair NWPA

This is a seasonal American pale ale from Deschutes Brewery (Bend, Oregon). Described as a Northwest Pale Ale I was surprised at how dark it poured, a reddish mahogany, not the light copper colour I was expecting. Next surprise was the taste - deliciously crisp, citrusy hoppy without a trace of bitterness. I really enjoyed drinking this and could imagine this being a great session beer at 6.2% ABV and 60 IBU's. Maybe not as impressed as the World Beer Awards who voted this as best beer in the world 2010 but definitely a great beer, even if it's a style I don't normally drink (I do have a fondness for a pint of Bass on occasion). Bonus - only 195 calories!