Earlier today there was an interesting infographic tweeted by the Wall Street Journal, by their WSJ Graphics division, entitled Offline Sales, showing how “retailers rely heavily on consumer products to drive store traffic.” In the top spot was “food and alcohol,” with 99% of $884 billion in sale made in stores, and only 1% online. That’s not too much of a surprise, as it’s somewhat a pain in the neck to order food or alcohol online, and in some states it’s even illegal (for the alcohol, at least). Even where it is, it’s prohibitively expensive for most beers. The majority of beers bought online, I’d guess, are of the rarer, hard-to-find variety. But the chart also suggests that beer is therefore very important to retailers trying to persuade customers to get off their laptops and drive down to their brick and mortar stores.
Here’s an interesting piece of data. There’s not a lot of background for it, but from what I can tell it’s an interactive map showing the “Top Beers In The US By State 2008-2013,” by Perlinnoise. Since it was tweeted by RateBeer, I can only assume it’s based on their ratings over that six year period of time, from their top 100 list. Only 18 states had beers that made the list, and from the interactive map, holding your cursor over a colored state brings up a list of the beers that made their list. It also includes the number from each state. California has the most, by a wide margin, at 128. Second is Michigan, with 46, followed by Indiana (24), Florida (19), Colorado (18) and Oregon (17). Unfortunately, one glitch with the interactive map is that you can actually scroll down and see the whole list of beers from California.
Perhaps it’s why I became a writer, but I’ve always been fascinated by languages, and especially different alphabets. They always seemed like secret codes, and few more so than Egyptian hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics are, of course, one of the earliest forms of written communication. They were once thought to be the oldest form, but more recent evidence seems to suggest that Sumerian writing most likely predates the Egyptian writing, and that they probably developed independently.
Not surprisingly, since beer was so important at the dawn of civilization, even though the number of individual hieroglyphics was limited (compared to modern vocabularies) there were several beer-specific hieroglyphics. How many there are is uncertain. E.A. Wallis Budge compiled a list of over 1,000 that was published in various forms between the late 1890s and 1920. But the standard reference is generally thought to be Gardiner’s Sign List, created by British Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner in the 1950s, containing around 750 common form hieroglyphics from the Middle Egyptian language.
Gardiner’s Sign List is organized into 26 categories that are assigned a letter and then a number to keep them straight. For example, “E” is for “mammals” and E6 is a “horse.”
So here are the Egyptian hieroglyphics that have to do with beer and brewing, at least from the Gardiner’s Sign List. I’ve also included different views of the same hieroglyphic, that is different ways that it was written or expressed. The Letter and Number is, of course, how each is classified in the Gardiner’s Sign List.
A37: Brewer (Variant)
M39: Basket of Grain
O50: Circular Threshing Floor Covered with Grain
O51: Heap of Grain on a Raised Mud Floor
W22: Beer Jug
W23: Beer Jug (Variant)
I’m not sure what my fascination with spelunking is, apart from enjoying it as a kid, but the number of brewery caves certainly adds a new dimension of interest. Last year, my post Brewery Caves dipped its toe into the subject, and recently I noticed there’s even more out there about it. For example, the James River Steam Brewery in Richmond, Virginia was built in 1886, right along the bank of the titular James River. The brewery also included a brewery cave and remnants of it can still be seen. The brewery only lasted thirteen years, closing in 1879, falling prey to a post-civil war depression “caused by the railroad credit crisis.” Interestingly, it was “was founded by David G. Yuengling Jr., son of the founder of the D.G. Yuengling and Son Brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.” Earlier this month, the site of the James River Steam Brewery was added to the register of historic places, meaning at some point it may be open to visit or perhaps a museum will be built around it. Drinks Business has more on the story.
Perhaps more interesting is that the British publication Brewery History devoted an entire issue to American brewery architecture. It’s the current issue and you can order a copy from the website. Issue 155 contains five articles spanning lagering caves, preeminent architects and the redevelopment of redundant breweries. To get a flavor for the issue, you can download a pdf of the Introduction by guest editor Susan K. Appel. The other articles include “Stahlmann’s Cellars: a large American lagering cave from the 19th-century,” and “An examination of the Lemp Brewery Cave.” See the Table of Contents for a full list of the articles.
Today’s beer video is a nice overview of the malting process by which raw barley is turned into brewing malt to make beer. Malting Barley — Malting Process walks you through the malting steps. It was created by the Malt Academy, which is part of the “Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre, a non-profit, independent organization that was set up to provide technical assistance to the malting barley and brewing industries.” If you want to see more or go father in depth, they have even more videos on YouTube.
Here’s an interesting list from Mental Floss concerning something most of us rarely think about. What did the few American breweries that managed to keep the doors open during prohibition do? Some of the products they continued to make included.
- Ice Cream
- Malt Extract
But check out Mental Floss’ How Breweries Kept Busy During Prohibition for a fuller explanation.
Today’s beer video, in honor of it being Sour Sunday, is a film of a talk given by Jeff Clawson, who’s the Pilot Brewery Manager at Oregon State University’s Food Science & Technology Department. In the 23-minute video, Clawson “discusses a recent study on sour beers at a Science Pub event at the Calapooia Brewery in Albany, Oregon. OSU is one of the world’s leaders in research on hops and the brewing sciences, and many graduates of the fermentation sciences programs go on to have a huge impact in the industry.”