Pliny Buried By Vesuvius

While no one is sure when Pliny the Elder was born — it was sometime around 23 CE — we do know exactly when he died: it was August 25, 79 CE. How can we be so sure? Well, because the day before, August 24, Mount Vesuvius in the Gulf of Naples in southwest Italy, erupted, completely destroying the town of Pompeii. “Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 feet of ash and pumice in the eruption.” We know about this catastrophic event because of a letter by Pliny the Elder’s nephew, Pliny the Younger, “who saw the eruption from a distance and described the death of his uncle, an admiral of the Roman fleet, who tried to rescue citizens.” It’s sounds like it was a pretty awful event, here described on Wikipedia:

That eruption ejected a cloud of stones, ash and fumes to a height of 33 km (20.5 mi) [another source said 27 miles!], spewing molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second, ultimately releasing a hundred thousand times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima bombing. An estimated 16,000 people died due to hydrothermal pyroclastic flows. The only surviving eyewitness account of the event consists of two letters by Pliny the Younger to the historian Tacitus.


Although known as Pliny the Elder, he was born Gaius Plinius Secundus and studied law and worked as a naval and army commander during the early Roman Empire. But he’s known today more for his writing, specifically “his encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia, which became a model for all other encyclopedias.” Apparently he spent most of his time off “studying, writing or investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field,” and the Naturalis Historia was his last work, and ran to 37 volumes, essentially the accumulation of everything he studied over his lifetime.

A page from a 1472 printing of Pliny’s Natural History.

This is the famous book where Pliny may have first mentioned wild hops, using his own term, “Lupus salictarius,” or “willow wolf,” to describe the plant. The brief mention of hops occurs in Book XXI, in Chapter 50.

Here’s the original Latin text of Pliny from the Teubner editions of the text:

secuntur herbae sponte nascentes, quibus pleraeque gentium utuntur in cibis maximeque Aegyptus, frugum quidem fertilissima, sed ut prope iis carere possit. tanta est ciborum ex herbis abundantia. in Italia paucissimas novimus, fraga, tamnum, ruscum, batim marinam, batim hortensiam, quas aliqui asparagum Gallicum vocant, praeter has pastinacam pratensem, lupum salictarium, eaque verius oblectamenta quam cibos.

This version is from the Second English translation, by John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley, 1855:


We now come to the plants which grow spontaneously, and which are employed as an aliment by most nations, the people of Egypt in particular, where they abound in such vast quantities, that, extremely prolific as that country is in corn, it is perhaps the only one that could subsist without it: so abundant are its resources in the various kinds of food to be obtained from plants.
In Italy, however, we are acquainted with but very few of them; those few being the strawberry,1 the tamnus,2 the butcher’s broom,3 the sea4 batis, and the garden batis,5 known by some persons as Gallic asparagus; in addition to which we may mention the meadow parsnip6 and the hop,7 which may be rather termed amusements for the botanist than articles of food.

And here’s Note 7:

7 “Lupus salictarius,” the “willow wolf,” literally; the Humulus lupulus of Linnæus. It probably took its Latin name from the tenacity with which it clung to willows and osiers.

Here’s Book XXI, Chapter 50 translated from the 10 volume edition published by Harvard University Press, 1949-54.

L. There follow the plants that grow wild. Most peoples use these for food, especially the people of Egypt, a land very fruitful in crops, yet about the only one that could manage without them, so great an abundance of food does it get from plants. In Italy however we know few such, strawberries, wild vine, butcher’s broom, samphire, and garden fennel, which some call Gallic asparagus; besides these there are meadow parsnip and willow wolf, though these are delicacies rather than foods.

As you can see, what Pliny says is hardly definitive, and it seems not at all clear that what he’s mentioned in passing may or may not be the same thing as the hops used to make beer today. That’s been the conventional wisdom for a long time, but as we learn time and time again, that doesn’t make it true. Happily, Martyn Cornell looked at this question a few years ago, finding some of the answers to So what DID Pliny the Elder say about hops?

Here’s where the trouble begins:

The first person to identify Pliny’s lupus salictarius as the plant that Italians call lupulo, the Spanish lúpulo, Germans Hopfen and English-speakers hops seems to have been a 16th century Bavarian botanist called Leonhart Fuchs, in a book called De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, or Notable commentaries on the history of plants. But Fuchs (after whom, apparently, the fuchsia is named), had made a big effort to try to match up “modern” plants with those mentioned by classical authors, and may have made a mistake in deciding that lupulo was derived from, and identical with, Pliny’s lupus salictarius. At least one writer has suggested that the word lupulo, far from being derived from the earlier term, may simply be an Italian error for “l’upulo“, via the French for hop, houblon, and nothing to do with lupus salictarius.

Humulus lupulus (Cannabaceae) by Leonhart Fuchs,
published in “De historia stirpium commentarii insignes”, 1542

A lot has been made of Pliny’s mention of lupus salictarius, some of it reasonable, and some of quite a stretch. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” observed Mark Twain. But this one is a bit trickier than some. It’s certainly seems possible that Pliny was talking about wild hops, and for all one knows just as likely as unlikely. It’s one of those things that you want to be true, though of course wishing for something doesn’t make it so. We may never know. Cornell concludes his article with his opinion on the matter:

I think it’s somewhere between possible and probable that lupus salictarius WAS the wild hop plant: Pliny puts it among other wild plants from which the fresh shoots were harvested for cooking, like asparagus, and hop shoots are still cooked today, while “willow wolf” is a good description of what hops are capable of in the wild as they grow up trees for support. But that’s a long way from “definite”, and to write as if Pliny’s lupus salictarius was unequivocally the hop plant is wrong.

When the great Swedish botanist Carl von Linné attached a scientific name to the hop in 1753 he gave it the genus name Humulus, from the Swedish for “hop”, humle, and the species name lupulus from the medieval Latin word for “hop”. Even if lupus salictarius WERE the origin of lupulus, therefore, it would be wrong to say, as many websites do, that Pliny “is credited with inventing the botanical name for hops.” He didn’t: Linnaeus did.

It looks like this, and many other great Strange Tales of Ale will be contained in Martyn’s latest book, which will be published in a few weeks, on September 19, 2015. Pre-order a copy on Amazon before you forget.

Luckily, true or not true, the beer Pliny the Elder tastes just as good. But on the anniversary of Pliny’s death at Pompeii, it seems as good a day as any to pour of bottle of hoppy beer. Vive la Pliny.


Patent No. 3525625A: Fermentation Of Wort

Today in 1970, US Patent 3525625 A was issued, an invention of Robert A. Groulx and Orland O. Schaus, assigned to Canadian Breweries Ltd., for their “Fermentation of Wort.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

This invention relates to the fermentation of wort in the making of a potable alcoholic brewery beverage such as ale.

Various types of yeast are used in the making of alcoholic brewery beverages wherein a yeast fermentable substrate known as brewers wort is fermented by the action of a yeast to give a potable beverage. The general process is very well known and description of the complete process is not included herein. Some yeasts are heavy and tend to sink to the bottom of the wort substrate. Others are light and tend to rise to the top of the. substrate. These latter yeasts are called top fermenting yeasts and are commonly used in the manufacture of a type of alcoholic brewery beverage generally known as ale. This invention is concerned with the control of the size of the yeast cap.

Top fermenting yeasts tend to gather in a foam on the top of the fermenting Wort is the fermentation process takes place in what is known in the brewing trade as a yeast cap. This cap often becomes quite deep and represents a substantial quantity of yeast that is not in active contact with the wort. It thus represents an inefficiency in the use of yeast in the process. In many cases, the cap becomes so large that the fermenting vessel overflows with a resulting loss of yeast content and admixed fermenting substrate. This latter condition is known as purging and is wasteful and undesirable. Purging is quite likely to be encountered Where one attempts to use modern accelerated fermentation techniques which involve higher yeast concentrations, elevated temperatures, and agitation of the wort with a view to keeping the yeast in eflicient contact therewith, not only with top fermenting yeasts but also with bottom fermenting yeasts where purging is encountered. While it is, of course, possible to avoid the occurrence of purging by running the fermenting vessel with a lower volume of Wort to provide a greater free board area above the wort surface, this reduces the capacity of a fermenter. From this point of view, it is costly.

It is, therefore, an object of this invention to improve the efficiency of the fermentation process by achieving a more efficient contact of the yeast with the wort.

It is a further object of the invention to control the occurrence of purging in a fermentation process.

It is a still further object of the invention to increase the capacity at which a fermenter may be operated by maintaining the yeast cap at a small dimension.


Patent No. 2090714A: Bottle Opener

Today in 1937, US Patent 2090714 A was issued, an invention of Raymond H. Frisbie and William Wright, assigned to the Rehrig Pacific Company, for their “Bottle Opener.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

This invention appertains to a novel appliance for removing crown caps from bottles in a convenient and expeditious manner.

One of the primary objects of our invention 5 is the provision of a bottle opener of the wall type, embodying means whereby the caps can be quickly and firmly gripped for removal without the necessity of lifting the bottle above the horizontal, so that undue disturbance of the bottle contents will be prevented.

Another salient object of our invention is to provide a wall bottle opener having a swinging member provided with a cap-engaging lip, and means for guiding the cap under said lip when the bottle is pushed forwardly (in a substantially horizontal plane) in the opening. with means for limiting the swinging movement of said member so that upon downward movement of the bottle the lip will function to pull the cap from the bottle neck.

A further object of our invention is the provision of a wall bottle opener embodying a supporting plate for carrying the swinging member and for supporting a receptacle for the loose caps, the swinging member functioning to guide and throw the caps into the receptacle when the same are pulled off of the bottles.

A further important object of our invention is the provision of a cap stop on the swinging member arranged below the cap-engaging lip, so that the bottle neck and cap will be held in proper position when the bottle is inserted in the opener, and when the member is swung to its operative cap-engaging position.


Sonoma State Beer Appreciation Class Open For Fall

Sonoma State University will again be offering my “Beer Appreciation” certificate course this fall. Classes start in just over two weeks, on September 9. The class is through SSU’s Extended Education school, and fueled by Lagunitas, which is where the 12-week, 36-hour course will be held.


Classes are once a week, beginning September 9, on Wednesday nights from 6:30-9:30, and again classes won’t be in a stuffy classroom, but will be held in special lounge room at Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma. If you’re interested in learning more about the class, I set up a page with more about my Sonoma State University Beer Appreciation Course. Or if you’re ready to go, here’s the official SSU class page and there’s information online about registration, too.

A scene from last semester’s class, with Dan Gordon talking about lagers, while Vinnie Cilurzo waits in the wings to present to the class about sour and barrel-aged beers.

Patent No. 7781000B2: Method For Boiling Wort

Today in 2010, US Patent 7781000 B2 was issued, an invention of Kurt Stippler and Klaus-Karl Wasmuht, assigned to Krones Ag, for their “Method For Boiling Wort.” Here’s the Abstract:

A method for boiling wort used in the production of beer the wort is boiled in a wort copper in which an inner boiler comprising a superimposed thin-film distributor is disposed. After boiling and after removal of the sludge in a whirlpool, the wort is again placed on the thin-film distributor for evaporation so that the wort copper simultaneously works as an evaporator.


The Language Of Hangovers

While searching for something this weekend, I happened upon A Few Too Many, by Joan Acocella, that appeared in The New Yorker magazine in May of 2008. If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m a word nerd, and love language. So her piece on hangovers included this gem of a paragraph, explaining how other languages described a hangover:

There’s some awesome phrases there, it may be time to create a page of hangover words, similar to Drunk Words, Puke Words and Beer Slang, or even my list of Beer In Other Languages.

Believe it or not, apparently the word “hangover,” meaning “a severe headache or other after effects caused by drinking an excess of alcohol,” was first used around 1902 or 1904 (depending on the source). It seems like it would be older than that, but apparently that’s when it was first seen in print in the United States, where the word originated. It did show up a little earlier, in 1894, as hang-over, but meaning “a survival, a thing left over from before.” Prior to hangover’s debut as the perfect word to describe our pain and discomfort, these were some of the most common words people used to describe that feeling.

  • black dog
  • blue-devils
  • bottle ache
  • bust-head
  • carpenters in the forehead
  • cropsick
  • gallon-distemper
  • hair-ache
  • jim-jams
  • katzenjammer
  • morning fog
  • wooden mouth
  • the zings

Here’s “hangover” in just a few languages, with the literal translation in brackets. My favorite is undoubtedly the Finnish word, which is “krapula,” which sounds exactly like you feel when you’re hungover.

  • Chinese (Mandarin): suzui [stay-over drunk]
  • Colombian Spanish: guayabo [guava trees]
  • Finnish: krapula
  • French: gueule de bois [a wooden gob]
  • Hebrew: הנגאובר [severe dizziness]
  • Hungarian: másnaposság [next-day-ish-ness]
  • Icelandic: thynnka [thinness]
  • Japanese: futsukayoi [two-day drunk]
  • Korean: suk-chwi [stay-over drunk]
  • Russian: poxmel’je [from drink]
  • Serbian: мамурлук [crapulence]
  • Spanish: resaca [undertow or backwash]
  • Swedish: kopparslagare [coppersmith]
  • Turkish: aksamdan kalmalık [evening remainder]
  • Vietnamese: dựng xiên [built cockeyed]
  • Zulu: babelaas or babbelas


And here’s a few random slang words for hangovers:

  • American slang, early 1900s: crapulous
  • American slang: PRS, for “Post Refreshment Syndrome”
  • Central American slang: “goma” which is rubber
  • Danish slang: tømmermænd, which apparently means “carpenters”
  • French, antiquated: mal aux cheveux, which essentially meant a “hair-ache”
  • German slang: kater, which means “tomcat,” and people hungover are also said to be “verkatert,” or “catted.” It’s supposedly derived from the word “katarrh,” an antiquated expression for an illness.
  • Italian slang: postumi della sbornia, which means the “after-death of the drunkenness”
  • Mexican slang: crudo, which means “raw”
  • Modern Irish: Ta dha cinn orm, which apparently means “There are two heads on me”
  • Polish slang: kac
  • Swedish slang: baksmälla, which roughly means “a whack on the ass”

And finally, here’s a list I found of “distinctly Irish ways to describe your hangover:”

  • I’m in Lego
  • The horrors
  • I feel like boiled shite
  • Sick as a small hospital
  • I’m puking my ring
  • Bottle of ghosts
  • I’ve had a bad pint
  • Brown bottle flu
  • I’m in a heap
  • Mouth like a fur boot
  • I’ve got The Fear
  • In rag order


Patent No. 968001A: Machine For Picking Hops

Today in 1910, US Patent 968001 A was issued, an invention of James Trowbridge, for his “Machine for Picking Hops.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

This invention has for its object to provide simple and practically operating machinery or appliance for removing hops from the vines, and the invention consists in certain novel parts, and combination of parts as hereinafter set forth in the following description and pointed out in the claims, producing an improved machine for picking or stripping hops from the vine.


Patent No. 2127759A: Method Of And Apparatus For Producing Wort

Today in 1938, US Patent 2127759 A was issued, an invention of John F. Silhavy, for his “Method of and Apparatus for Producing Wort and the Like.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

This invention relates to a method of and apparatus for the production or wort or similar liquid mixtures.

The object of my invention is to overcome the objections and defects of the batch processes now in use. I have invented a continuous process for, the production of cooled wort. My invention includes the steps of mixing the necessary cereals with water at the proper temperature while continuously progressing the mixture through a mixing section, then mixing and heating at a higher temperature in another section while advancing the material continuously, and then heating it to a higher temperature and moving it along continuously in another section. After this mashing treatment the cereals are continuously removed by filtration with a suction filter or similar device. The cereals on-the suction cylinder are sparged with hot water to wash out desirable water soluble constituents. The liquid (filtrate) is then conducted to a ‘section where hops are added. The mixture is stirred or agitated and advanced through a heated section. This agitating may be obtained merely by a vigorous boiling. The mixture with the hops is pre-cooled and then filtered by passing it over a continuous suction filter or the like and the hops on the suction roll sprayed or sparged. In another form of my invention, I filter the hops from the liquid without pre=cooling and pass this hot liquid through the jackets of the mash mixers or mixing sections to heat the liquid in the mixers. The liquid is then passed through a final cooler and from here the wort is run into the fermenters. As each fermenter is filled, yeast may be added. In the more detailed description hereinafter given, I will describe the various steps and also improvements of the steps.

Instead of using separate mixing sections or mash mixers, in some instances I prefer to combine the first two mash mixers in one unit. Or I may combine the last two mash mixers in one unit or I may combine all three mash mixers in one large unit and still maintain the desired temperatures in the sections within allowable limits. I have found that by adding carbon dioxide gas or carbonic acid gas to the mash, the diastatic action of the malt as well as the peptonization of the albuminoids is increased.

By using my continuous process there is a saving of time because it is not necessary to wait for large bodies of liquid to be heated. Also there is ease of control due to processing a relatively small quantity of’material continuously rather than a much larger quantity in the batch manner. The method is flexible to meet the requirements of individual operators. The resulting wort is more uniform on account of the continuity of the process. There is also a larger output per unit of floor space since all apparatus is in continuous use in contrast to present practice, where the greater part of the equipment is idle and only a small portion of the equipment is in operation at one time. Due to the improved mixing and to the more thorough washing or sparging of the spent cereals and grains, a better yield from a given weight of cereals is obtained. A large economy is effected by utilizing the boiled wort as a heating medium in the earlier stages of the process. This is made possible by the continuity-of the process. Since my continuous process requires only a relatively small amount of water for washing out adhering wort from the grains on the filter, it is possible to work with a much thinner mixture in the mash mixers than is done at present in the mash tun. By using a more liquid or thinner mixture a much better extraction yield on the grains is obtained. Also with a thinner mash, the rate of diastatic activity is higher than I with a thicker mash. A more uniform product at a lower cost is obtained as a result of using my invention. One feature of my invention is the continuity of the process. Another feature of my invention is the arrangement of the apparatus. Still another feature of my invention is the continuous filter means provided. Still another feature is the economizing in heat which is provided for by the arrangement of the apparatus. Other features and objects will be in part obvious and are in part above pointed out and will be pointed out hereinafter. Various changes may be made in practice within the scope of my invention without digressing from the spirit of my invention.


Patent No. 20130216339A1: Keg Delivery System

Today in 2013, US Patent 20130216339 A1 was issued, an invention of William P. Apps, Sean T. Ogburn, Ryan C. Meers, Paul Thomas Walton, Jr., Ian C. McDermott, Ronald Samuel Ward, and Steven Alan Kitchin, assigned to the Rehrig Pacific Company, for their “Keg Delivery System.” Here’s the Abstract, but I’ve only included 3 of the 46 drawings filed with the application:

A keg delivery system includes a rack having a plurality of bays for receiving kegs horizontally. The keg delivery system also includes means for controllably lowering a keg from one of the bays to a floor.


Patent No. 263087A: Process Of Making Whisky (From Spent Beer)

Today in 1882, US Patent 2356545 A was issued, an invention of Marshall J. Allen, for his “Process of Making Whisky (from Spent Beer).” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

The object of our invention is to increase the yield of whisky from a given amount of grain by utilizing in subsequent processes the refuse products of previous processes, and this we do by first preparing the refuse product and bringing it into a condition in which it may be advantageously used; and, secondly, by introducing such prepared product into the subsequent processes of whisky-making.

In all those methods of making whisky in which the entire grain introduced passes through the entire process and is delivered as a refuse product at the end of the operation The sheet of drawings hereto annexed rep resents a general View of a part of a distillery arranged for the practice of our improved process. We do not limit ourselves, however, to the special apparatus for carrying out the process, but show one form of apparatus by which it may be carried into effect. We shall not go into detail in the description of this apparatus, as the arrangement will be easily understood by those acquainted with the art.

By “preparing the refuse product,” he means what they call “spent beer,” which I further assume he means “spent grain,” though to be fair I’m not quite sure. A little later in the description, they explain it somewhat better:

In the drawing, A represents the mash-tubs B, the mill-hoppers; C, the millstones; D, the beer-still; E, low-wines receiver; F, doubler still; G, beer heater and charger; H, low-wines charger for doubling still; I, doubling still, condenser, and flake-stand; J, beer-still; K, fermenting-vats; L, whisky-receiver; M, hot-slop or spent-beer receiver; N, hot-slop connection with our improved process.

It is well known that the spent beer contains in suspension, in the first place, a considerable amount of refuse material of comparative large size such as the chaff, bran, and larger particles of grain and, in the second place, minute particles of sugar or glucose, starch, and yeast. This second class of parti- 7o cles it is very important to preserve and introduceinto the subsequent operations of whisky-making. This second class of particles are so minute as that they will pass through the meshes of a fine sieve, and yet are sufticiently solid and separate from the liquid to form a deposit in any vessel in which the liquid may remain at rest. The purpose of our invention is to retain these fine or valuable particles in the liquid which is to be returned, and to separate from this liquid the coarse or refuse particles, while at the same time the liquid is maintained in a sweet condition.