Historic Birthday: George Crum

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Today is the date that George Crum died in 1914, and the closest anyone knows about when he was born is July 1832, although some accounts say as early as 1822 and at least one more gives 1831. But he was born George Speck, but changed his name to “Crum” (July 1832-July 22, 1914). He worked several jobs before finding his true calling as a chef in upstate New York, most notably at Moon’s Lake House near Saratoga Springs, New York, and later at his own “Crum’s Place.” But his true fame came from the invention of the potato chip in 1853. There is some controversy about whether he is the true inventor, although there are other candidates, and some evidence that either way he may have been involved at some level, he remains the likeliest person to be credited with inventing the potato chip, which makes him a hero in my book.

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Here’s a short account of his life from Ancestory.com:

When George W. Speck-Crum was born in July 1828 in Malta, New York, his father, Abraham, was 39 and his mother, Catherine, was 42. He had three sons and one daughter with Elizabeth J. He then married Hester Esther Bennett in 1860. He died on July 22, 1914, in his hometown, having lived a long life of 86 years, and was buried in Saratoga County, New York.

Nothing about his life seems particularly settled, not his birthday, where he was born, his exact ethnicity, or almost anything else, but here’s what Wikipedia claims:

George Speck (also called George Crum) was a man of mixed ancestry, including St. Regis (Akwesasne) Mohawk Indian, African-American, and possibly German. He worked as a hunter, guide, and cook in the Adirondacks, who became renowned for his culinary skills after being hired at Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake, near Saratoga Springs, New York.

Speck’s specialities included wild game, especially venison and duck, and he often experimented in the kitchen. During the 1850s, while working at Moon’s Lake House in the midst of a dinner rush, Speck tried slicing the potatoes extra thin and dropping it into the deep hot fat of the frying pan. Thus was born the potato chip.

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George and his wife Kate.

Biography

George Speck (also called George Crum) was born on July 15, 1824 (or 1825) [maybe, but possibly other years or dates] in Saratoga County in upstate New York. Some sources suggest that the family lived in Ballston Spa or Malta; others suggest they came from the Adirondacks. Depending upon the source, his father, Abraham, and mother Diana, were variously identified as African American, Oneida, Stockbridge, and/or Mohawk Indians. Some sources associate the family with the St. Regis (Akwesasne) Mohawk reservation that straddles the US/Canadian border. Speck and his sister Kate Wicks, like other Native American or mixed-race people of that era, were variously described as “Indian,” “Mulatto,” “Black,” or just “Colored,” depending on the snap judgement of the census taker.

Speck developed his culinary skills at Cary Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake, noted as an expensive restaurant at a time when wealthy families from Manhattan and other areas were building summer “camps” in the area. Speck and his sister, Wicks, also cooked at the Sans Souci in Ballston Spa, alongside another St. Regis Mohawk Indian known for his skills as a guide and cook, Pete Francis. One of the regular customers at Moon’s was Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who, although he savored the food, could never seem to remember Speck’s name. On one occasion, he called a waiter over to ask “Crum,” “How long before we shall eat?” Rather than take offense, Speck decided to embrace the nickname, figuring that, “A crumb is bigger than a speck.”

Wicks later recalled the invention of the potato chip as an accident: she had “chipped off a piece of the potato which, by the merest accident, fell into the pan of fat. She fished it out with a fork and set it down upon a plate beside her on the table.” Her brother tasted it, declared it good, and said, “We’ll have plenty of these.” In a 1932 interview with the Saratogian newspaper, her grandson, John Gilbert Freeman, asserted Wick’s role as the true inventor of the potato chip.

Speck, however, was the one who popularized the potato chip, first as a cook at Moon’s and then in his own place. By 1860, Speck had opened his own restaurant, called Crum’s, on Storey Hill in nearby Malta, New York. His cuisine was in high demand among Saratoga Springs’ tourists and elites: “His prices were…those of the fashionable New York restaurants, but his food and service were worth it…Everything possible was raised on his own small farm, and that, too, got his personal attention whenever he could arrange it.” According to popular accounts, he was said to include a basket of chips on every table. One contemporaneous source recalls that in his restaurant, Speck was unquestionably the man in charge: “His rules of procedure were his own. They were very strict, and being an Indian, he never departed from them. In the slang of the racecourse, he “played no favorites.” Guests were obliged to wait their turn, the millionaire as well as the wage-earner. Mr. Vanderbilt once was obliged to wait an hour and a half for a meal…With none but rich pleasure-seekers as his guests, Crum kept his tables laden with the best of everything, and for it all charged Delmonico prices.”

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Potato Chip Legend

Recipes for frying potato slices were published in several cookbooks in the 19th century. In 1832, a recipe for fried potato “shavings” was included in a United States cookbook derived from an earlier English collection. William Kitchiner’s The Cook’s Oracle (1822), also included techniques for such a dish. Similarly, N.K.M. Lee’s cookbook, The Cook’s Own Book (1832), has a recipe that is very similar to Kitchiner’s.

The New York Tribune ran a feature article on “Crum’s: The Famous Eating House on Saratoga Lake” in December 1891, but, curiously, mentioned nothing about potato chips.[13] Neither did Crum’s commissioned biography, published in 1893, nor did one 1914 obituary in a local paper.[14] Another obituary states “Crum is said to have been the actual inventor of “Saratoga chips.””[15] When Wicks died in 1924, however, her obituary authoritatively identified her as follows: “A sister of George Crum, Mrs. Catherine Wicks, died at the age of 102, and was the cook at Moon’s Lake House. She first invented and fried the famous Saratoga Chips.”

Hugh Bradley’s 1940 history of Saratoga contains some information about Speck, based on local folklore as much as on any specific historical primary sources. Fox and Banner said that Bradley had cited an 1885 article in the Hotel Gazette about Speck and the potato chips. Bradley repeated several myths that appear in that article, including that “Crum was born in 1828, the son of Abe Speck, a mulatto jockey who had come from Kentucky to Saratoga Springs and married a Stockbridge Indian woman,” and that, “Crum also claimed to have considerable German and Spanish blood.”

Cary Moon, owner of Moon’s Lake House, rushed to claim credit for the invention, and began mass-producing the chips, first served in paper cones, then packaged in boxes. They soon became wildly popular: “It was at Moon’s that Clio first tasted the famous Saratoga chips, said to have originated there, and it was she who first scandalized spa society be strolling along Broadway and about the paddock at the race track crunching the crisp circlets out of a paper sack as though they were candy or peanuts. She made it the fashion, and soon you saw all Saratoga dipping into cornucopias filled with golden-brown paper-thin potatoes; a gathered crowd was likely to create a sound like a scuffling through dried autumn leaves.” Visitors to Saratoga Springs were advised to take the 10-mile journey around the lake to Moon’s if only for the chips: “the hobby of the Lake House is Fried Potatoes, and these they serve in good style. They are sold in papers like confectionary.”

A 1973 advertising campaign by the St. Regis Paper Company, which manufactured packaging for chips, featured an ad for Crum (Speck) and his story, published in the national magazines, Fortune and Time. During the late 1970s, the variant of the story featuring Vanderbilt became popular because of the interest in his wealth and name, and evidence suggests the source was an advertising agency for the Potato Chip/Snack Food Association.

A 1983 article in Western Folklore identifies potato chips as having originated in Saratoga Springs, New York, while critiquing the variants of popular stories. In all versions, the chips became popular and subsequently known as “Saratoga chips” or “potato crunches”.

The 21st-century Snopes website writes that Crum’s customer, if he existed, was more likely an obscure one. Vanderbilt was a regular customer at Moon’s Lake House and at Crum’s Malta restaurant, but there is no evidence that he played any role in inventing (or demanding) potato chips.

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Potato chips on a white background.

And here’s yet another story about the origin of the potato chip, written by Jean McGregor in the Saratogian in 1940:

The authentic story of Saratoga chips is at long last revealed by the great nephew of George (Speck) Crum, their originator, Albert J. Stewart, now an employee of Mrs. Webster Curran Moriarta of North Broadway, with whom he has been employed for 24 years. Stewart told the story to Mrs. Moriarta many times as I relate it here: “Aunt Kate Wicks” so called by her friends, had something* to do with their Invention—worked for her brother, Crum. She related the true circumstances to Stewart many times before her death in 1914 at 68 William St., where she resided. Crum was born in Malta, the son of Abram Speck, a mulatto jockey who came from Kentucky in the early days of Saratoga and married an Indian woman of the Stockbridge tribe. It is related that a wealthy dinner guest had one time Jokingly referred to the name Speck, as Crura, and thereupon Speck took over the name of Crum. George Crum was more Indianin appearance. His younger days were spent in the Adirondack^ and he became a mighty hunter and a successful fisherman. His services as a guide in the Adirondack* were much sought after. His companion in the forests was a Frenchman from whom he learned to cook. Shortly after the Frenchman’s death, Cnrn took up his abode near the south end of the lake and prepared to serve ducks. He became known throughout the country for his unique and wonderful skill In cooking game, fish and camp fire dishes generally. While he was employed as a cook at Moon’s Place, opened by Carey B. Moon in 1853 at the Southend of Saratoga Lake, on the Ramsdill Road, the incident occurred which led to the making of Saratoga Chips. “Aunt Kate Wicks” who worked with her brother, Crum, making pastry, had a pan of fat on the stove, while making crullers and was peeling potatoes at the same time. She chipped off a piece of potato which by the merest accident fell into the pan of fat. She fished it out with a fork and set it down upon a plate beside her on the table. Crum came into the kitchen. “What’s this?”, he asked, as he picked up the chip and tasted it “Hm, Hm, that’s good. How did you make it?” “Aunt Kate” described the accident. “That’s a good accident,” said Crum. “We’ll have plenty of these.” HE TREED them out. Demand for them grew like wild fire and he sold them at 15 and ten cents a bag. Thus the Saratoga Chip came into existence. Other makes appeared on the market as time passed. For a long period of years, few prominent men in the world of finance, politics, art, the drama or sports, failed to eat one of Crum’s famous dinners.

The late Cornelius E. Durkee, who died at the age of 96, entertained many guests at Moon’s and was familiar with its history, related this interesting story of Crum’s genius as a cook for me one day while he was compiling his reminiscences: “William H. Vanderbilt, father of Governor William H. Vanderbilt of Rhode Island, a prominent visitor here in those days, was extremely fond of canvasback ducks, but could not get them cooked properly in the village. “He sent a couple to Crum to see what he could do with them. “Crum had never seen a canvasback but having boasted that he could cook anything, willingly undertook to prepare these. “I KEPT THEM over the coals 19 minutes.” Crum told Mr. Durkee, “the blood following the knife and sent them to the table hot. Mr. Vanderbilt said he had never eaten anything like them in his life”Mr. Vanderbilt,” continued Mr. Durkee, “was so pleased he sent Mr. Crum many customers. He prospered in the business. He kept his tables laden with the best of everything and did not neglect to charge Delmonico prices.” “His rules of procedure were his own. Guests were obliged to wait their turn, the millionaire as well as the wage earner. Mr. Vanderbilt was once obliged to wait an hour for a meal and Jay Gould and his party, also visitors here in the early days when this resort was the capital of fashionables of the country, waited as long another time. CRUM LEFT the kitchen to apologize to Mr. Gould, who told him he understood the rules of the establishment and would wait willingly another hour. Judge Hilton and a party of friends were turned away one day. “I can’t wait on you,” said Crum, directing them to a rival house for dinner. “George,” said Mr. Hilton, “you must wait on us if we have to remain in the front yard for two hours.” Mr. Durkee recalled for me that, among those who enjoyed Crum’s cooking and his potato chips were Presidents Chester A. Arthur and Grover Cleveland, and Governors Horatio Seymour, Alonzo B. Cornell, David P. Hill, Roswell P. Flower and such financiers as Vanderbilt, Pierre Lorillard, Berry Wall, William R. Travers, William M. Tweed and E. T. Stokes. Crum died in 1914. His brother, Abraham (Speck) Crum dug out an old Indian canoe for Jonathan Ramsdill of Saratoga Lake which is still on exhibit in the State Museum in Albany as one of the finest examples of Indian canoes and Indian days at Saratoga Lake, rich in Indian lore.

And Original Saratoga Chips in New York, also has their version of the story on their website. And The Great Idea Finder also has some info on Crum.

His own restaurant, Crum’s Place, was located at 793 Malta Avenue in Ballston Spa, New York. Today, a marker can be seen by the spot where it stood from 1860-1890.

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A Meditation On A Quart Mugg

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The Pennsylvania Gazette “was one of the United States’ most prominent newspapers from 1728, before the time period of the American Revolution, until 1800.” In 1729, Benjamin Franklin, and a partner (Hugh Meredith), bought the paper. “Franklin not only printed the paper but also often contributed pieces to the paper under aliases. His newspaper soon became the most successful in the colonies.”

On July 19, 1733, they published a piece entitled “A Meditation on a Quart Mugg.” It was generally attributed to Benjamin Franklin, and for years was published among collections of his writings. However, the current editors of the National Archives are not convinced that it was indeed written by Franklin, and “believe that the essay is not sufficiently characteristic of Franklin’s style to be attributed to him.” Plus, apparently “no external evidence of authorship has been found.” Despite the uncertainty of who wrote it, it remain an interesting, if odd, piece written from the point of view of the mug. It has held beer, among much else, but had more feelings and experienced more humiliations and bad treatment than I had ever thought about before. I must remember to thank my glassware for its service on a more regular basis.

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A Meditation on a Quart Mugg

Wretched, miserable, and unhappy Mug! I pity thy luckless Lot, I commiserate thy Misfortunes, thy Griefs fill me with Compassion, and because of thee are Tears made frequently to burst from my Eyes.

How often have I seen him compell’d to hold up his Handle at the Bar, for no other Crime than that of being empty; then snatch’d away by a surly Officer, and plung’d suddenly into a Tub of cold Water: Sad Spectacle, and Emblem of human Penury, oppress’d by arbitrary Power! How often is he hurry’d down into a dismal Vault, sent up fully laden in a cold Sweat, and by a rude Hand thrust into the Fire! How often have I seen it obliged to undergo the Indignities of a dirty Wench; to have melting Candles dropt on its naked Sides, and sometimes in its Mouth, to risque being broken into a thousand Pieces, for Actions which itself was not guilty of! How often is he forced into the Company of boisterous Sots, who say all their Nonsence, Noise, profane Swearing, Cursing, and Quarreling, on the harmless Mug, which speaks not a Word! They overset him, maim him, and sometimes turn him to Arms offensive or defensive, as they please; when of himself he would not be of either Party, but would as willingly stand still. Alas! what Power, or Place, is provided, where this poor Mug, this unpitied Slave, can have Redress of his Wrongs and Sufferings? Or where shall he have a Word of Praise bestow’d on him for his Well-doings, and faithful Services? If he prove of a large size, his Owner curses him, and says he will devour more than he’ll earn: If his Size be small, those whom his Master appoints him to serve will curse him as much, and perhaps threaten him with the Inquisition of the Standard. Poor Mug, unfortunate is thy Condition! Of thy self thou wouldst do no Harm, but much Harm is done with thee! Thou art accused of many Mischiefs; thou art said to administer Drunkenness, Poison, and broken Heads: But none praise thee for the good Things thou yieldest! Shouldest thou produce double Beer, nappy Ale, stallcop Cyder, or Cyder mull’d, fine Punch, or cordial Tiff; yet for all these shouldst thou not be prais’d, but the rich Liquors themselves, which tho’ within thee, twill be said to be foreign to thee! And yet, so unhappy is thy Destiny, thou must bear all their Faults and Abominations! Hast thou been industriously serving thy Employers with Tiff or Punch, and instantly they dispatch thee for Cyder, then must thou be abused for smelling of Rum. Hast thou been steaming their Noses gratefully, with mull’d Cyder or butter’d Ale, and then offerest to refresh their Palates with the best of Beer, they will curse thee for thy Greasiness. And how, alas! can thy Service be rendered more tolerable to thee? If thou submittest thy self to a Scouring in the Kitchen, what must thou undergo from sharp Sand, hot Ashes, and a coarse Dishclout; besides the Danger of having thy Lips rudely torn, thy Countenance disfigured, thy Arms dismantled, and thy whole Frame shatter’d, with violent Concussions in an Iron Pot or Brass Kettle! And yet, O Mug! if these Dangers thou escapest, with little Injury, thou must at last untimely fall, be broken to Pieces, and cast away, never more to be recollected and form’d into a Quart Mug. Whether by the Fire, or in a Battle, or choak’d with a Dishclout, or by a Stroke against a Stone, thy Dissolution happens; ’tis all alike to thy avaritious Owner; he grieves not for thee, but for the Shilling with which he purchased thee! If thy Bottom-Part should chance to survive, it may be preserv’d to hold Bits of Candles, or Blacking for Shoes, or Salve for kibed Heels; but all thy other Members will be for ever buried in some miry Hole; or less carefully disposed of, so that little Children, who have not yet arrived to Acts of Cruelty, may gather them up to furnish out their Baby-Houses: Or, being cast upon the Dunghill, they will therewith be carted into Meadow Grounds; where, being spread abroad and discovered, they must be thrown to the Heap of Stones, Bones, and Rubbish; or being left until the Mower finds them with his Scythe, they will with bitter Curses be tossed over the Hedge; and so serve for unlucky Boys to throw at Birds and Dogs; until by Length of Time and numerous Casualties, they shall be press’d into their Mother Earth, and be converted to their original Principles.

Hungover Heroes: Max McGee

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Today is the birthday of Max McGee. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard his name, most people haven’t. He “was a professional football player, a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL. He played from 1954 to 1967, and is best known for his 7 receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the first Super Bowl in 1967.” And it’s his performance in that first Super Bowl that was so amazing, in no small part because he was badly hungover.

In 1967, McGee was at the end of his career. In fact, it was the second-to-last season he played. He was not a starter for the Packers that year they went to the first Super Bowl, and caught only four balls all year. So apparently, not expecting to play at all during the Super Bowl, the night before he broke curfew and spent the night with two women he met at the hotel bar. He rolled in around 6:30 a.m. the morning of the big game, passed Bart Starr in the hallway just getting up, and tried to catch a few winks before game time.

He was feeling pretty rough, but took his spot on the bench, fully expecting to be glued to it all game. He told starting wide receiver Boyd Dowler “I hope you don’t get hurt. I’m not in very good shape,” referring to the fact that he was badly hungover. Unfortunately, shortly after the game started, Dowler separated his shoulder and came out of the game, replaced by McGee. He had to borrow a helmet from another teammate, because he had left his in the locker room. McGee was reportedly startled as he heard Vince Lombardi yell, “McGee! McGee! Get your ass in there.”

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A few plays later, McGee made a one-handed reception of a pass from Bart Starr, took off past Chiefs defender Fred Williamson and ran 37 yards to score the first touchdown in Super Bowl history. This was a repeat of his performance in the NFL championship game two weeks earlier, when he had also caught a touchdown pass after relieving an injured Boyd Dowler. By the end of the game, McGee had recorded seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns, assisting Green Bay to a 35-10 victory.

Just check out that first catch, for the very first touchdown in a Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the NFL won’t allow you to watch the video on my site, even though you can see it on YouTube or directly the NFL website. Thank goodness they protected a 50-year old event from being seen here. Who knows what money might have been lost by them had you been able to see it here instead of their own website.

Here’s more about the story from Sports Illustrated:

McGee came to California ready to party. He chafed at a week of locked-down training camp in Santa Barbara and when the team moved to Los Angeles on the eve of the big game, he made plans with those two flight attendants, assuming that Hornung, who was nursing an injured neck and wouldn’t play in the game, would join him. McGee snuck out after assistant coach Hawg Hanner’s 11 p.m. bed check and soon afterward, called Hornung. “He called and said ‘I’ve got two girls and yours is gorgeous,’ ” says Hornung. ” ‘Come out and have a couple drinks with us.’ ” The fine was at least $5,000 and Hornung was getting married later that week and his neck was sore. He declined. The next time he heard from McGee was at 6:30 the next morning. “He called from the lobby and asked if they did a second check. I said ‘No, you lucky bastard, now get your ass up here.’ ”

Before every game, Dowler, Dale and McGee would have a brief, ritual meeting to go over the game plan and review tendencies one last time. “We’re having our little meeting,” says Dowler, 79 and living in Richmond, Va., “and Max says, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go down today.’ I said, What do you mean? Max says, ‘I was out all night and I had a few more drinks than I should have and I didn’t get much sleep. So just don’t go down.'”

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Dowler says, “Max had a strong constitution. I figured he could deal with it. But he did not expect to play.” This was a potential problem. Dowler had played most of the 1965 season and all of the ’66 season with a bad right shoulder; a calcium deposit had developed on the joint. Yet the Packers’ coaching staff had seen weaknesses in the Chiefs’ pass defense, including a propensity to leave the middle of the field open on blitzes. Starr was going to throw the ball extensively. “Plus, their defensive backs,” says Dowler. “They had ‘The Hammer’ [future Hollywood actor Fred Williamson] on one side and some other guy, No. 22 [Willie Mitchell] on the other side. Neither one of them were very good, one-on-one. It wasn’t going to be like trying to beat Lem Barney or Night Train Lane [of the Detroit Lions].”

(McGee knew this, too. Maraniss, in When Pride Still Mattered, quotes McGee as telling Packers broadcaster Ray Scott, “I’ve been studying film and I’ve found me a cornerback. I’m gonna have him for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Still, if he had expected to play, he most likely would have stayed in the night before. Or possibly not.)

On the Packers’ first series, McGee took a seat next to Hornung on the bench and made small talk about the night before and Hornung’s upcoming wedding. On the field, Lombardi opened with three consecutive running plays. On the third, Dowler executed a crackback block on Chiefs’ free safety Johnny Robinson, who was dropping down in run support. “My shoulder was not in good shape at all coming into the game,” says Dowler. “I usually put a foam pad underneath my shoulder pad, but since we were going to be throwing the ball a lot, I wanted to have some flexibility. I took the pad out. When I hit Johnny Robinson, I heard the calcium deposit crack and I knew immediately that I was finished.”

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McGee was summoned into the game, but couldn’t find his helmet. He put on a giant lineman’s helmet with a full cage and on his first snap missed connecting with Starr on a curl route. On the Packers’ next possession, Starr came out throwing: 11 yards to tight end Marv Fleming, 22 yards to running back Elijah Pitts, 12 yards to Dale. And then on third-and-three from the Kansas City 37, McGee ran a simple skinny post against Mitchell’s outside position and broke wide open. Robinson had blitzed, leaving acres of green in the middle of the secondary. Starr’s pass was far behind McGee, who reached back, controlled the ball and then turned straight upfield, into the end zone and history. It was a remarkable catch, by a man with a hangover and no sleep, running at full speed. McGee’s second touchdown, on another inside move against Mitchell, gave the Packers a 28–10 lead in the third quarter. That one came on a better throw by Starr, but McGee juggled it as he crossed beneath the goalposts, which were on the goalline. “The game of his life,” says Hornung.

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You can also see more video from television programs talking about McGee performance, such as when a TV show ranked the Top 50 Super Bowl Performances, and picked McGee’s Super Bowl I play as #31, and in another show which ranked McGee’s catch #10 among the “Top 10 Super Bowl Plays.”

And while it’s true that I’m a giant Green Bay Packers fan, and they’re the only football team I’ve ever rooted for, I still love this story about how the hungover Max McGee helped them win the first Super Bowl in 1967.

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Beer Words: Alebush

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This morning, the O.E.D. tweeted as their “Word of the Day,” the all but obselete word “alebush,” which they define as a “n. A bunch of ivy or other plant hung up as a tavern sign.”

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Illustration by Imogen Foxell.

Here’s the full entry from the O.E.D., revised in 2012:

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I would certainly like to see more bars, and especially beer gardens, using bushes and trees to mark their spaces.

Alexander Nowell & The Invention Of The Beer Bottle

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July 13, 1568 is often given as the date that the Dean of St Paul, Alexander Nowell invented the beer bottle. It’s almost certain that’s not correct. If you were writing a work of history you’d ignore what you couldn’t confirm, but if you’re only commemorating the event it’s as good a day as any to do so. The event in question was another fishing trip. Apparently, the theologian was quite the avid fisherman and “a keen angler.” Nowell’s contemporary, Izaak Walton — the author of The Compleat Angler — remarked of him that “this good man was observed to spend a tenth part of his time in angling; and also (for I have conversed with those which have conversed with him) to bestow a tenth part of his revenue, and usually all his fish, amongst the poor that inhabited near to those rivers in which it was caught; saying often, ‘that charity gave life to religion.'”

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As for inventing the beer bottle, credit was apparently not given until after his death, by English churchman and historian Thomas Fuller, who wrote. “Without offence it may be remembered, that leaving a bottle of ale, when fishing, in the grass, he found it some days after, no bottle, but a gun, such the sound at the opening thereof: and this is believed (casualty is mother of more inventions than industry) the original of bottled ale in England.”

The best account, as usual, undoubtedly comes from Martyn Cornell on his Zythophile blog, in his article, A Short History of Bottled Beer:

While Nowell was parish priest at Much Hadham in Hertfordshire, around 20 miles north of London, in the early years of Elizabeth I, it is said that he went on a fishing expedition to the nearby River Ash, taking with him for refreshment a bottle filled with home brewed ale. When Nowell went home he left the full bottle behind in the river-bank grass. According to Thomas Fuller’s History of the Worthies of Britain, published a hundred years later, when Nowell returned to the river-bank a few days later and came across the still-full bottle, “he found no bottle, but a gun, such was the sound at the opening thereof; and this is believed (causality is mother of more inventions than industry) the original of bottled ale in England.”

The ale, of course, had undergone a secondary fermentation in the bottle, building up carbon dioxide pressure so that it gave a loud pop when Nowell pulled the cork out. Such high-condition ale must have been a novelty to Elizabethan drinkers, who knew only the much flatter cask ales and beers. However, Fuller’s story is fun, but it seems unlikely Nowell really was the person who invented bottled beer: it seems more than probable that brewers were experimenting generally with storing beer in glass bottles in the latter half of the 16th century, though there is no apparent evidence of commercial bottling until the second half of the 17th century, only bottling by domestic brewers.

Part of the problem was that the hand-blown glass bottles of the time could not take the strain of the CO2 pressure. Gervaise Markham, writing in 1615, advised housewife brewers that when bottling ale “you should put it into round bottles with narrow mouths, and then, stopping them close with corks, set them in a cold cellar up to the waist in sand, and be sure that the corks be fast tied with strong pack thread, for fear of rising out and taking vent, which is the utter spoil of the ale.”

(There is, incidentally, a garbled version of the “bottle as gun” tale which seems to have materialised in the late 19th century, and which conflates the bottled ale story with another about Nowell fleeing England in a hurry in the reign of Queen Mary, after he received a warning that his enemy Bishop Bonner, known as “Bloody Bonner”, was out to arrest him for heresy. For some reason, in this version of the story Nowell is called “Newell”.)

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And this account is from Just Another Booze Blog:

It was a pleasant July day in 1568. Alexander Nowell, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, decided he wanted to do some fishing down by the river. He packed up all his fishing gear and tackle, the wife packed him a ham and cheese sandwich, and he grabbed his night crawlers and the new fishing lure he bought off of the Outdoor Channel. He was all set to go when he realized, what would go great with fishing? A beer! Because fishing without beer is like driving without beer. It’s just no fun. So he stopped by the corner pub on his way to the river and had them fill a glass bottle up with beer for him. He made sure they sealed it up good and tight with a cork so his horse wouldn’t get pulled over for an open container.

When done fishing, he accidentally left the still half full bottle on the river bank. Several days later (July 13th) he returned to do some more fishing, because he needed an excuse to get away from the wife for a while. He saw his old beer on the ground and thought “man, I could really go for some for that right now.” When he went to drink it, the cork opened with a loud bang (the beer had fermented further over the past few days). He found it to be extra fizzy and quite delicious.

Alexander Nowell, DD, Benefactor, Principal (1595), Dean of St Paul's
A 1595 portrait of Nowell at Brasenose College, at the University of Oxford.

Per Capita Alcohol Consumption By Country

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The website VoucherCloud published an interactive map showing the The World’s Booziest Countries. The source they used for the data is from the recently released World Health Statistics 2017.

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The original story only lists the top fifteen countries, and identifies the United States at No. 27. Happily, they made the full list available in a Google sheet. The first number is their rank, of course, followed by the name of the country and the final number after their name is “Alcohol consumed per capita (litres).”

The Worlds Booziest Countries: Full Data

1 Lithuania 18.2
2 Belarus 16.4
3 Moldova 15.9
4 Russia 13.9
5 Czech Republic 13.7
6 Romania 13.7
7 Croatia 13.6
8 Bulgaria 13.6
9 Belgium 13.2
10 Ukraine 12.8
11 Estonia 12.8
12 Slovakia 12.3
13 Hungary 12.3
14 Latvia 12.3
15 United Kingdom 12.3
16 Poland 12.3
17 South Korea 11.9
18 Serbia 11.8
19 Namibia 11.8
20 Uganda 11.8
21 France 11.7
22 Equatorial Guinea 11.6
23 Rwanda 11.5
24 Germany 11.4
25 Slovenia 11.3
26 Australia 11.2
27 South Africa 11.2
28 Luxembourg 11.1
29 Finland 10.9
30 Ireland 10.9
31 Gabon 10.8
32 Angola 10.8
33 Seychelles 10.8
34 Portugal 10.6
35 Austria 10.6
36 Andorra 10.5
37 New Zealand 10.1
38 Denmark 10.1
39 Switzerland 10
40 Canada 10
25 Cameroon 9.9
26 Montenegro 9.6
27 Cyprus 9.3
27 United States 9.3
28 Spain 9.2
29 Nigeria 9.1
29 Argentina 9.1
30 Chile 9
31 Brazil 8.9
31 Peru 8.9
32 Sweden 8.8
32 São Tomé and Príncipe 8.8
33 Kazakhstan 8.7
33 Netherlands 8.7
33 Guyana 8.7
34 Vietnam 8.6
35 Greece 8.5
35 Zimbabwe 8.5
36 Belize 8.2
36 Botswana 8.2
36 Cape Verde 8.2
37 Grenada 8.1
37 Georgia 8.1
38 Suriname 8
39 Panama 7.9
39 Palau 7.9
39 Trinidad and Tobago 7.9
39 Republic of the Congo 7.9
40 Japan 7.8
40 Norway 7.8
40 Mongolia 7.8
40 Barbados 7.8
40 China 7.8
41 Saint Lucia 7.6
41 Burkina Faso 7.6
41 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 7.6
41 Italy 7.6
42 Malta 7.5
42 Iceland 7.5
43 Laos 7.3
44 Thailand 7.2
45 Venezuela 7.1
45 Niue 7.1
45 Mexico 7.1
46 Burundi 6.9
46 Saint Kitts and Nevis 6.9
47 Uruguay 6.8
48 Dominican Republic 6.6
49 Paraguay 6.3
49 Tanzania 6.3
49 Haiti 6.3
50 Swaziland 6
51 Bosnia and Herzegovina 5.9
51 Bolivia 5.9
52 Sierra Leone 5.7
52 Albania 5.7
52 Lesotho 5.7
53 Philippines 5.6
54 Jamaica 5.5
54 Kyrgyzstan 5.5
54 Turkmenistan 5.5
55 Puerto Rico 5.4
55 Netherlands Antilles 5.4
55 Armenia 5.4
55 Cuba 5.4
55 Liberia 5.4
55 Bahamas 5.4
55 Guinea-Bissau 5.4
56 Cambodia 5.3
57 Colombia 5.2
57 Ivory Coast 5.2
57 Chad 5.2
58 Ecuador 5.1
58 Cook Islands 5.1
58 Nicaragua 5.1
58 Uzbekistan 5.1
59 Dominica 5
59 India 5
59 Gambia 5
60 Ethiopia 4.6
61 Ghana 4.4
61 Kenya 4.4
62 Costa Rica 4.1
62 Sri Lanka 4.1
63 Mauritius 4
63 Azerbaijan 4
64 Zambia 3.9
64 North Korea 3.9
65 Honduras 3.8
65 Central African Republic 3.8
66 Nauru 3.6
67 El Salvador 3.4
68 Fiji 3.3
68 Sudan 3.3
69 Guatemala 3.1
70 United Arab Emirates 3
70 Democratic Republic of the Congo 3
70 Israel 3
71 Tajikistan 2.9
72 Macedonia 2.8
72 Samoa 2.8
73 Kiribati 2.7
74 Togo 2.6
74 Benin 2.6
75 Nepal 2.5
76 Federated States of Micronesia 2.4
76 Papua New Guinea 2.4
76 Malawi 2.4
77 Mozambique 2.3
78 Myanmar 2.2
79 Singapore 1.9
79 Turkey 1.9
79 Tuvalu 1.9
80 Madagascar 1.8
81 Maldives 1.7
82 Lebanon 1.6
82 Tunisia 1.6
83 Malaysia 1.5
84 Solomon Islands 1.4
84 Tonga 1.4
85 Vanuatu 1.3
85 Brunei 1.3
86 Mali 1.2
86 Eritrea 1.2
87 Qatar 1
87 Algeria 1
87 Iran 1
87 Timor-Leste 1
88 Bahrain 0.9
89 Syria 0.8
89 Morocco 0.8
89 Guinea 0.8
90 Indonesia 0.6
91 Oman 0.5
91 Jordan 0.5
91 Bhutan 0.5
91 Afghanistan 0.5
91 Senegal 0.5
91 Somalia 0.5
91 Niger 0.5
92 Djibouti 0.4
92 Iraq 0.4
92 Egypt 0.4
93 Yemen 0.2
93 Comoros 0.2
93 Saudi Arabia 0.2
93 Bangladesh 0.2
93 Kuwait 0.2
93 Pakistan 0.2
94 Libya 0.1
94 Mauritania 0.1

And here are the notes for each of the Top 15:

  1. Lithuania is the booziest country in the world. Lithuanians consume 18.2 litres of pure alcohol per capita or the equivalent to 186 bottles of wine.
  2. Belarus comes in second behind Lithuania. The country drinks 168 bottles of wine or 16.4 litres per capita.
  3. Moldovans consume 15.9 litres of pure alcohol per capita or 163 bottles of wine.
  4. Russia takes fourth place in the booziest country stakes. Russians consume the equivalent of 1390 vodka shots per capita.
  5. The Czech Republic drink a huge 482 pints of beer per capita! That’s 13.7 litres of pure alcohol.
  6. Tie for 6th:
    • In Romania people consume 13.7 litres of pure alcohol per capita.
    • Croatia follows closely behind Romania, consuming 13.6 per capita.
    • Bulgarians drink 13.6 litres of pure alcohol or 479 pints of lager per capita.
  7. Belgians drink 478 pints of beer per capita! That’s 13.2 litres of pure alcohol.
  8. Tie for 8th:
    • Ukranians consume 12.8 litres of pure alcohol per capita or 131 bottles of wine.
    • Estonia is joint eighth with people drinking 12.8 litres of pure alcohol per capita.
  9. Tie for 9th:
    • Solvakia is joint ninth place with people consuming 12.3 litres of pure alcohol per capita.
    • Hugarians consume 12.3 litres of pure alcohol per capita and take join tninth place.
    • Latvians drink 12.3 litres of pure alcohol per capita which is equal to 433 pints!
    • The UK is in the top 10 booziest countries. We each consume 12.3 litres of pure alcohol a year – the equivalent of around 126 bottles of wine.
    • Poland is also in joint ninth place with the UK, Slovakia, Hungary and Latvia.
  10. South Koreans drink 11.9 litres of pure alcohol per person and take the tenth place in the booziest countries place!

And here’s the note for the U.S.

  1. The US lags behind us on 9.3 litres per person – that’s the same as 564 330ml bottles of Budweiser.

Beer Birthday: William Reed

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Today is the birthday of William Reed, who owns the bar Standard Tap in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as well as Johnny Brenda’s. I first met William during the first Philly Beer Week sevral years ago, but got to know him a lot better during a trip I took to Belgium with a group of Philadelphia beer people a few years ago. He first opened Standard Tap in 1999, and it’s set the standard for Philly beer bars ever since. Join me in wishing William a very happy birthday.

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William in the back, having our first beer in Brussels a few years ago.

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William with Tom Peters.

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Sporting a Unicorn.

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William, with Scoats and Tom Peters as I shared Belgian frites with everyone in Brussels a few years ago.

Beer Birthday: Scoats

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Today is the 52nd birthday of Mike “Scoats” Scotese, owner of the Grey Lodge Public House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he’s also involved in the Hop Angel Brauhaus and Bonk’s Bar. Scoats is an awesome person, and I got to know him better when I took a trip to Belgium with a group of beer people from Philadelphia a few years ago. He’s a terrific advocate for better beer, and helped make Philadelphia the great beer town it is today. Join me in wishing Scoats a very happy birthday.

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Scoats at the Grey Lodge [photo by Danya Henninger for Philly.com].

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Scoats at GABF with another of favorte beer people, Jaime Jurado of Abita Brewing.

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Tapping a firkin.

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That’s Scoats behind Tom Peters as I shared Belgian frites with everyone in Brussels a few years ago.

Historic Beer Birthday: Jack “Legs” Diamond

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Today is the birthday of Jack “Legs” Diamond (July 10, 1897–December 18, 1931). He was “also known as ‘Gentleman Jack,’ [and] was an Irish American gangster in Philadelphia and New York City during the Prohibition era. A bootlegger and close associate of gambler Arnold Rothstein, Diamond survived a number of attempts on his life between 1916 and 1931, causing him to be known as the “clay pigeon of the underworld”. In 1930, Diamond’s nemesis Dutch Schultz remarked to his own gang, “Ain’t there nobody that can shoot this guy so he don’t bounce back?”

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Here’s his biography from Find-a-Grave:

Gangster bootlegger. Born Jack Moran on July 10, 1897, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to an Irish immigrant family. After his mother, Sara’s death, Diamond moved with his father and brother to Brooklyn, New York. Growing up impoverished, Diamond turned to street gangs and became involved in theft and violent crime as a teen. He later began to work for gangsters Arnold Rothstein and Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen. Jack set up shop as an extremely violent and murderous figure. He earned his “Legs” nickname either due to his quickness when running from a scene or because of his excellent dancing skills. He also married Alice Schiffer in 1926. She remained devoted to Jack through his strings of crime and mistresses, which included a notable affair with Ziegfeld showgirl Kiki Roberts. In August, 1927, Jack played a role in the murder of “Little Augie” (Jacob Orgen). Jack’s brother Eddie was Orgen’s bodyguard, but Legs Diamond substituted for Eddie that day. As Orgen and Jack were walking down a street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, three young men approached them and started shooting. Orgen was fatally wounded and Jack was shot two times below the heart. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he eventually recovered. During the late 1920s, Prohibition was in force, and the sale of beer and other alcohol was illegal in the United States. Jack traveled to Europe to score beer and narcotics, but failed. He did score liquor which was dumped overboard in partially full barrels which floated into Long Island as ships entered New York. Following Orgen’s death, Jack went to work overseeing bootleg alcohol sales in downtown Manhattan. That brought him into conflict with Dutch Schultz, who wanted to move beyond his base in Harlem. He also ran into trouble with other gangs in the city. In 1930, Jack and two henchmen kidnapped Grover Parks, a truck driver in Cairo, New York, and demanded to know where he had obtained his load of hard cider. When Parks denied carrying anything, Jack and his men beat and tortured Parks, eventually letting him go. A few months later, Jack was charged with the kidnapping of James Duncan. He was sent to Catskill, New York for his first trial, but was acquitted. However, he was convicted in a federal case on related charges, and he was sentenced to four years in jail. In a third trial, in Troy, New York, he was acquitted. On October 12, 1930, Jack was shot and wounded at the Hotel Monticello on the west side of Manhattan. Two men forced their way into his room, shot him five times, and then fled. Still in his pajamas, he staggered out into the hallway and collapsed. On December 30, 1930, Jack was discharged from Polyclinic. On April 27, 1931, Jack was again shot and wounded, this time at the Aratoga Inn, a road house near Cairo, New York. He was eating in the dining room with three companions when he walked out to the front door. A gunman with a shotgun shot him three times, and Jack collapsed by the door. On December 18, 1931, Jack’s enemies finally caught up with him, At 4:30 am, Jack went back to the rooming house and passed out on his bed. Two gunmen entered his room around 5:30 AM. One man held Jack down while the other shot him three times in the back of the head. No other gangster of the bootlegging era of 1920’s survived more bullet wounds than Legs. He was known as “The Clay Pidgeon of the Underworld”. On July 1, 1933, Jack’s widow, Alice Kenny Diamond, was found shot to death in her Brooklyn apartment. It was speculated that she was shot by Jack’s enemies to keep her quiet.

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This is about his arly life from his Wikipedia page:

Diamond was born July 10, 1897, to Sara and John Diamond, who emigrated from Ireland in 1891 to Philadelphia, USA. In 1899, Jack’s younger brother Eddie Diamond was born. Jack and Eddie both struggled through grade school, while Sara suffered from severe arthritis and other health issues. On December 24, 1913, Sara died from complications due to a bacterial infection and high fever. John Diamond, Sr. moved to Brooklyn shortly afterwards.

Diamond soon joined a New York street gang called the Hudson Dusters. Diamond’s first arrest for burglary occurred when he broke into a jewelry store on February 4, 1914, with numerous arrests following through the remainder of his life. Diamond served in the U.S. Army during World War I, but deserted in 1918 or 1919, then was convicted and jailed for desertion.

Once free of jail, Diamond became a thug and later personal bodyguard for Arnold Rothstein in 1919.

On October 16, 1927 Diamond tried to stop the murder of “Little Augie” (Jacob Orgen). Diamond’s brother Eddie was Orgen’s bodyguard, but Legs Diamond substituted for Eddie that day. As Orgen and Diamond were walking down a street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, three young men approached them and started shooting. Orgen was fatally wounded and Diamond was shot two times below the heart. Diamond was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he eventually recovered. The police interviewed Diamond in the hospital, but he refused to identify any suspects or help the investigation in any way. The police initially suspected that Diamond was an accomplice and charged him with homicide, but the charge was later dropped. The assailants were supposedly hired by Louis Buchalter and Gurrah Shapiro, who were seeking to move in on Orgen’s garment district labor rackets.

Diamond was known for leading a rather flamboyant lifestyle. He was a very energetic individual; his nickname “Legs” derived either from his being a good dancer or from how fast he could escape his enemies. His wife Alice was never supportive of his lifestyle, but did not do much to dissuade him from it. Diamond was a womanizer; his best known mistress was showgirl and dancer Marion “Kiki” Roberts. The public loved Diamond; he was Upstate New York’s biggest celebrity at the time.

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And this is about his time during “Prohibition and the Manhattan Bootleg Wars:”

During the late 1920s, Prohibition was in force, and the sale of beer and other alcohol was illegal in the United States. Diamond traveled to Europe to score beer and narcotics, but failed. He did obtain liquor, which was dumped overboard in partially full barrels, which floated onto Long Island, as ships entered New York. He paid the children a nickel for every barrel they brought to his trucks.

Following Orgen’s death, Diamond went to work overseeing bootleg alcohol sales in downtown Manhattan. That brought him into conflict with Dutch Schultz, who wanted to move beyond his base in Harlem. He also ran into trouble with other gangs in the city.

In 1930, Diamond and two henchmen kidnapped Grover Parks, a truck driver in Cairo, New York, and demanded to know where he had obtained his load of hard cider. When Parks denied carrying anything, Diamond and his men beat and tortured Parks, eventually letting him go. A few months later, Diamond was charged with the kidnapping of James Duncan. He was sent to Catskill, New York, for his first trial, but was acquitted. However, he was convicted in a federal case on related charges, and sentenced to four years in jail. In a third trial, in Troy, New York, he was acquitted.

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And this is about the many assassination attempts, prosecution attempts, and his eventual death:

On October 12, 1930, Diamond was shot and wounded at the Hotel Monticello on the west side of Manhattan. Two men forced their way into Diamond’s room, shot him five times, and then fled. Still in his pajamas, Diamond staggered out into the hallway and collapsed. When asked later by the New York Police Commissioner how he managed to walk out of the room, Diamond said he drank two shots of whiskey first. Diamond was rushed to the Polyclinic Hospital in Manhattan, where he eventually recovered. On December 30, 1930, Diamond was discharged from Polyclinic.

On April 21, 1931, Diamond was arrested in Catskill, New York, on assault charges for the Parks beating in 1930. Two days later, he was released on $25,000 bond from the county jail.

On April 27, 1931, Diamond was again shot and wounded, this time at the Aratoga Inn, a road house near Cairo, New York. Diamond was eating in the dining room with three companions when he walked out to the front door. A gunman with a shotgun shot Diamond three times, and Diamond collapsed by the door. A local resident drove Diamond to a hospital in Albany, New York, where he eventually recovered. While Diamond was still in the hospital, New York State Troopers on May 1 seized over $5,000 worth of illegal beer and alcohol from Diamond’s hiding places in Cairo and at the Aratoga Inn.

In August 1931, Diamond and Paul Quattrocchi went on trial for bootlegging. That same month, Diamond was convicted and sentenced to four years in state prison. In September 1931, Diamond appealed his conviction.

On December 18, 1931, Diamond’s enemies finally caught up with him. Diamond had been staying in a rooming house in Albany, New York while on trial in Troy, New York, on kidnapping charges. On December 17, Diamond was acquitted. That night, Diamond, his family and friends were at a restaurant. At 1:00 a.m., Diamond went to visit his mistress, Marion “Kiki” Roberts. At 4:30 a.m., Diamond went back to the rooming house and passed out on his bed. Two gunmen entered his room around an hour later. One man held down Diamond while the other shot him three times in the back of the head.

There has been much speculation as to who was responsible for the murder; likely candidates include Dutch Schultz, the Oley Brothers (local thugs), the Albany Police Department, and relatives of Red Cassidy, another Irish American gangster at the time. According to William Kennedy’s O Albany, Democratic Party Chairman Dan O’Connell, who ran the local political machine, ordered Diamond’s execution, which was carried out by the Albany Police.

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Legs’ best known mistress was showgirl and dancer Marion “Kiki” Roberts, who was with him the night he was murdered.