Historic Beer Birthday: Alan Eames

Today is the birthday of Alan D. Eames (April 16, 1947-February 10, 2007). Eames was an anthropologist of beer and a writer, and was known as both the “Indiana Jones of Beer” and “The Beer King.”


From Wikipedia:

Eames acquired a reputation as the “Indiana Jones of beer” in reference to his global quest to learn about the origins of beer and the role it played in ancient societies and cultures. Eames visited 44 countries. In Egypt he found hieroglyphics about beer, and travelled on the Amazon River in search of a lost black brew. In the Andes, Eames trekked in search of a brew made from strawberries that were the size of baseballs.

Eames claimed to have found the world’s “oldest beer advertisement” on a Mesopotamian stone tablet that dated to roughly 4000 B.C.[1] The tablet depicted a headless woman with large breasts holding goblets of beer in each of her hands. Eames claimed that the tagline to the tablet was “Drink Elba, the beer with the heart of a lion.” Eames believed that beer was the most feminine of drinks, and thought that ancient societies considered it a gift from a goddess rather than a god, as from the gods Ama-Gestin and Ninkasis. With Professor Solomon Katz of the University of Pennsylvania, Eames formulated the theory that beer was an important factor in the creation of settled and civilised societies.


Here’s Eames’ obituary from the New York Times:

Alan D. Eames, who cultivated his reputation as “the Indiana Jones of beer” by crawling into Egyptian tombs to read hieroglyphics about beer and voyaging along the Amazon in search of a mysterious lost black brew, died on Feb. 10 at his home in Dummerston, Vt. He was 59.

His wife, Sheila, said he died after suffering respiratory failure while he slept.

Mr. Eames called himself a beer anthropologist, a role that allowed him to expound on subjects like what he put forward as the world’s oldest beer advertisement, dating to roughly 4000 B.C.

In it a Mesopotamian stone tablet depicted a headless woman with enormous breasts holding goblets of beer in each hand. The tagline, at least in his interpretation, was: “Drink Elba, the beer with the heart of a lion.”

He explored similar topics in seven books, the best known of which was “The Secret Life of Beer” (1995), in myriad radio and television appearances and in speeches at colleges and other institutions. A typical title: “Beer: A Gift from God, or the Devil’s Training Wheels.”

Mr. Eames, who followed the golden liquid to 44 countries, often told about his perilous trek high in the Andes in pursuit of an ancient brew made from strawberries the size of baseballs. Or about Aztecs forbidding drunkenness except among those 52 years of age or older. Or about accounts that said Norse ale was served with garlic to ward off evil.

Mr. Eames’s favorite and perhaps most startling message was that beer is the most feminine of beverages. He said that in almost all ancient societies beer was considered a gift from a goddess, never a male god. Most often, women began the brewing process by chewing grains and spitting them into a pot to form a fermentable mass.

Alan Eames with a sack of malted corn on a trip to Peru in 1991. Credit Joel Jacobs
Alan Duane Eames was born on April 16, 1947, in Gardner, Mass. His father was Warren Baker Eames, a Harvard-trained anthropologist. By the time he was 11, young Alan was advertising his magic act. He graduated from Mark Hopkins College in Brattleboro, Vt., now closed.

In 1968, he moved to New York City and opened an art gallery. He spent evenings at the New York Public Library researching beer.

His beer-related business ventures began in the mid-1970s with his acquisition of Gleason’s Package Store in Templeton, Mass., which became known for its large beer selection. He conceived, designed and operated Three Dollar Dewey’s Ale House in Portland, Me., and another with the same name in Brattleboro.

He found ways to cash in on his celebrity, including helping market Guinness stout. In an interview with The St. Petersburg Times, he lauded its “rich dark color, the creamy white head that leaves delicate traces of foamy lace on the inside of the glass.”

He concluded, “It is one of the great joys in this vale of tears.”

Mr. Eames was the founding director of the American Museum of Brewing History and Fine Arts in Fort Mitchell, Ky., known for its festive “beer camps.” He contributed items on subjects from ancient times to the mid-19th century to the Encyclopedia of Beer.

But beer did not always pay expenses, and Mr. Eames sometimes had to take jobs like packing boxes in a vitamin factory and tending bar.

Mr. Eames is survived by his fourth wife, the former Sheila Momaney; his sons, Adrian and Andrew, both of Dummerston; his daughter, Elena Eames of Brattleboro; his stepsons Logan and Riley Johnson, of Dummerston; his father, of East Templeton, Mass., and York Beach, Me.; his mother, Mavis Franks of Denham Springs, La.; his sister, Holiday Eames of Westminster, Vt.; his half-brother, Mark Warner of Baton Rouge, La., and one grandson.

There’s also obits from the UK Guardian and Real Beer.


Beer loses its historian

Above all others, Alan Eames loved Guinness. But after traveling the world to find new beers, it seemed too easy to love such a common one. He had another favorite, though: Fruitillata, a milkshake-like beer made with strawberries and corn, brewed only 10 days a year by a tribe in remote South American mountains. One year, he just happened to show up in time for a drink. But then, that was what Eames did.

Eames, a beer historian nicknamed the “Indiana Jones of Beer,” died in his sleep on February 10. He was 59. His career took him across the world, researching beers and the innumerable ways they’re made, and he wrote his findings in books such as Secret Life of Beer.

“He was very passionate about things, and he would develop intense interest in things,” said his wife, Sheila, who was living with Eames in Dummerston, VT. “There’s so much history in beer that he never grew tired of learning about it, reading about it, talking about it.”

She said his introduction to beer came at a beach party in Maine when he was 17.

It was a Ballantine IPA. “He wrote about the attraction of the green of the bottle, the perfect fit in the hand, the wonderful smack of it when the beer hit his tongue,” Sheila says. “He was always interested in history, but I think that was his first real life-changing event, as far as beer went.”


Here’s some of the books he wrote, though he contributed to many more.

  • Ale Dreams
  • The Secret Life of Beer!: Exposed: Legends, Lore & Little-Known Facts
  • A Beer Drinker’s Companion (5000 years of quotes & anecdotes about beer)

And here’s an interview of Eames by Robert Lauriston, though I’m not sure when it took place. You can also listen to him on the Splendid Table program, from a show recorded February 12, 2000.

I remember when he passed away, and even wrote a blog post about him. I only met Eames once, but we spoke on the phone a couple of times. But by a weird quirk of coincidence, I ended up with several boxes of miscellaneous stuff that Pete Slosberg bought. The books in his collection were donated to UC Davis (I think) but the leftover papers, press releases and other oddball stuff ended up in my garage after Pete and Amy moved to a smaller apartment in San Francisco. But there was some pretty interesting stuff among the boxes.


Hans Christian Andersen & The Sixth Glass

Today is the birthday of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (april 2, 1805-August 4, 1875). Although he wrote numerous plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, Andersen is best known for his fairy tales, like the Little Mermaid, the Emperor’s New Clothes, the Ugly Duckling and the Snow Queen, which was loosely adapted into Disney’s Frozen in 2013. Those are just the highlights, he also wrote many more you’ve probably heard of and undoubtedly quite a bit more you haven’t. One of those lesser known stories is “Ole, The Watchman of the Tower” or “Ole the Tower-Keeper.” It was written in the 1850s and was included as part of his third collection of “New Fairy-Tales and Stories,” which was published in 1859.

It was from this short tale that Boulevard Brewing of Kansas City, Missouri, was inspired to create their Quadrupel (although they also refer to it as a “Belgian Dark Strong Ale”), The Sixth Glass.


Here’s a synopsis of the story of Ole:

There was a man named Ole who was rumored to be the child of several different people and had been said to have done many interesting things in his life. As time wore on, he became less than enthused with society and decided to become a hermit.

He lived in a church tower because it was the only place where he could easily get bread and still be away from other people. He read books and had visitors around New Years. One person in particular visited him each year around New Years and that person had three stories to tell that Ole had told him.


And here’s another, shorter, one:

Our first-person narrator tells us that he likes to visit a watchman of a tower named Ole. He visits twice on New Year’s Eve and hears some kooky stories about cobblestone, the Bible, and alcohol.

But it was during the end of his second of three nights that Ole visited and listened to the Tower-Keeper, after he’d explained about the first five glasses, who was in them, or how they would change you, he told Ole about the sixth glass:

“The sixth glass! Yes, in that glass sits a demon, in the form of a little, well dressed, attractive and very fascinating man, who thoroughly understands you, agrees with you in everything, and becomes quite a second self to you. He has a lantern with him, to give you light as he accompanies you home. There is an old legend about a saint who was allowed to choose one of the seven deadly sins, and who accordingly chose drunkenness, which appeared to him the least, but which led him to commit all the other six. The man’s blood is mingled with that of the demon. It is the sixth glass, and with that the germ of all evil shoots up within us; and each one grows up with a strength like that of the grains of mustard-seed, and shoots up into a tree, and spreads over the whole world: and most people have no choice but to go into the oven, to be re-cast in a new form.

That’s why there’s a devilish demon on the label, because that’s what’s in the bottle, too. Drink it at your own peril. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Frankly, it only make me want to drink it even more. I love the idea that after reading that passage, founder John McDonald and/or brewmaster Steven Pauwels, were inspired to create a beer fitting that description.


Beer Birthday: Michael Jackson

Today would have been Michael Jackson’s 74th birthday. I first met Michael in the early 1990s, shortly after my first beer book was published. He is all but single-handedly responsible for the culture of better beer that exists today. He began writing about good beer in the 1960s and 70s and his writing has influenced (and continues to influence) generations of homebrewers and commercial brewers, many of whom were inspired to start their own breweries by his words. There are few others, if any, that have been so doggedly persistent and passionate about spreading the word about great beer. I know some of my earliest knowledge and appreciation of beer, and especially its history and heritage, came from Michael’s writings. Michael passed away in August 2007, eight years ago. I still miss him, and I suspect I’m not the only one. A couple of years ago, J.R. Richards’ new documentary film about Michael Jackson, Beer Hunter: The Movie, debuted, which I helped a tiny bit with as a pioneer sponsor.

I did an article four years ago for Beer Connoisseur, for their Innovator’s Series, entitled Michael Jackson: The King of Beer Writers, A personal look back at the man who made hunting for beer a career. I reached out to a number of people who also knew Michael for their remembrances as well as my own, and as a result I’m pretty pleased with the results (although the original draft was almost twice as long).

I’ll again be playing some jazz and having a pint of something yummy in his honor, which has become my tradition for March 27, which I’ve also started declaring to be “Beer Writers Day.” Join me in drinking a toast to Michael Jackson, the most influential modern beer writer who’s ever lived.

At the Great Divide Brewing’s media party in Denver over fifteen years ago.

On stage accepting the first beer writing awards from the Brewers Association with Jim Cline, GM of Rogue, Stan Hieronymus, who writes Real Beer’s Beer Therapy among much else, and Ray Daniels, formerly of the Brewers Association.

At GABF in 2006, still wearing the same glasses. But my, oh my, have I changed. Sheesh.

With Carolyn Smagalski receiving an award at Pilsner Urquell.

Beer Birthday: Bill Brand

Today would have been Bill Brand’s 78th birthday, if not for the tragic events of February 8, 2009. Bill, of course, was hit by a Muni Train that evening and passed away twelve days later, on February 20. He was a bastion of support for the local beer community for decades, and one of it’s most visible media faces. He did a staggering amount of good to help brewers throughout the Bay Area, and wrote about the beer he loved so much with an unmatched passion and zeal. His Bottoms Up blog was read by millions, the newest form of his What’s On Tap newsletter that stretched back into the early 1990s. It was my great honor to take over his column and try to continue his legacy of support for craft brewers in the Bay Area and beyond. Drink a toast to the memory and legacy of William “Bill” Brand today. Happy birthday Bill, you are most certainly missed.

Dueling laptops; Bill and me at Magnolia on February 6 for the tapping of Napa Smith Original Albion Ale by Don Barkley. Photo by Shaun O’Sullivan.

At the Falling Rock during GABF week in 2004. Clockwise from left, Bill, Lisa Morrison, me, Tom Dalldorf, Stephen Beaumont and my cousin Mike, who lived in Denver at the time.

Bill toasting with a pitcher of Oakland’s new Linden Street Brewery, with Fraggle at the far right, whose birthday would also have been today. Photo by RRifkin.

Bill taking notes at the Monk’s Blood Dinner at 21st Amendment, February 8, 2009. Photo by Jesse Friedman of Beer & Nosh.

Drink a toast to Bill today, it’s how he would have wanted to be remembered.

Fred Eckhardt’s Treatise on Lager Beer Paste-Ups

You probably saw the news that the papers of the late, great Fred Eckhardt were donated to the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives, which describes itself as “a community archiving project housed in the Special Collections & Archives Research Center at the OSU Libraries & Press. We’re actively collecting materials that tell the story of hops production and the craft beer industry.” The Brew Historian, who may or may not be Tiah Edmundon-Morton, has been teasing out Fred’s papers since acquiring the collection, and has a Tumblr so you can follow along. Today, the OHBA posted a particularly fun one.

In his early Seventies book, A Treatise on Lager Beer, Fred apparently did all of the layout himself. And they found the originals among his personal papers. These, below, are “the original construction paper paste-ups for his Treatise on Lager Beer,” and believed to have been created around 1970. Pretty cool.


Tolkien’s ” The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late”

Today is the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien, the English author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But he was also a poet, which shouldn’t be a big surprise to fans since most of his works include pomes and songs as a part of his stories.

Tolkien was also a fan of British beer. One of the 30 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien mentions his love of beer:

As a young student at Exeter college, Oxford University, he spent his first few years often getting into debt trying to keep up with richer students, who had more disposable income. Tolkien admits he had a great love of beer and talking into the early hours of the morning.

Author Eric San Juan also writes about J.R.R. Tolkien, Hobbits, and BEER. After detailing the ways in which beer influenced his life and work, he concludes that “yes, J.R.R. Tolkien enjoyed his beer, and this is reflected in his life’s work. He enjoyed quiet times and good conversation and a great pint. And who doesn’t?”


In 1968 during a BBC interview, part of a series entitled “In Their Own Words British Authors,” Tolkien quips. “I’m very fond of beer.” In fact, the interview is described as “John Izzard meets with JRR Tolkien at his home, walking with him through the Oxford locations that he loves while hearing the author’s own views about his wildly successful high-fantasy novels. Tolkien shares his love of nature and beer and his admiration for ‘trenchermen’ in this genial and affectionate programme.”

Earlier today, I tweeted a Tolkien quote, an excerpt from one of his poems. But while I’d collected the quote years ago, in checking it for accuracy, I encountered some confusion about the poem. It comes from a poem entitled “The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late” from 1923 but some misattributed it to a later one, called “The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon,” which also appeared with the latter one in a collection published under the title “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil,” published in 1962.

The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late also appeared in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

In the Inn at Bree (“At the Sign of the Prancing Pony”, The Fellowship of the Ring Chapter 9) Frodo jumps on a table and recites “a ridiculous song” invented by Bilbo. “Here it is in full,” said Tolkien. “Only a few words of it are now, as a rule, remembered.”

There follows the tale, in thirteen ballad-like five-line stanzas, introducing each element in turn: “the Man in the Moon” himself, the ostler’s “tipsy cat/ that plays a five-stringed fiddle”, the little dog, the “hornéd cow” and the silver dishes and spoons.

Note that the cow is able to jump over the Moon with ease because the Man in the Moon has temporarily brought it down to Earth.

I read all of the books when I was younger — much younger — and I confess I didn’t recall the poem at all. Even when I found the quote, it was an excerpt. So today I figured I’d check out the full poem. The first one is great, filled with cool allusions, references to nursery rhymes, excellent wordplay and fun beeriness. The second doesn’t mention beer at all, only wine and moonshine, but it still interesting, especially as it’s considered a companion poem to the other. I’ve put both of them down below, with illustrations by British artist Alan Lee. Read the first one at least, it’s great — really great — but the second is nice, as well.


The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late

There is an inn, a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill.

The ostler has a tipsy cat
that plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he saws his bow
Now squeaking high, now purring low,
now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog
that is mighty fond of jokes;
When there’s good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests
and laughs until he chokes.

They also keep a hornéd cow
as proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail
and dance upon the green.

And O! the rows of silver dishes
and the store of silver spoons!
For Sunday there’s a special pair,
And these they polish up with care
on Saturday afternoons.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,
and the cat began to wail;
A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced
and the little dog chased his tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,
and then rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale,
and dawn was in the air.

Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat:
‘The white horses of the Moon,
They neigh and champ their silver bits;
But their master’s been and drowned his wits,
and the Sun’ll be rising soon!’

So the cat on the fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
a jig that would wake the dead:
He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon:
‘It’s after three!’ he said.

They rolled the Man slowly up the hill
and bundled him into the Moon,
While his horses galloped up in rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
and a dish ran up with the spoon.

Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;
the dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
The guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor.

With a ping and a pang the fiddle-strings broke!
the cow jumped over the Moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
with the silver Sunday spoon.

The round Moon rolled behind the hill,
as the Sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
they all went back to bed!


The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon

The Man in the Moon had silver shoon,
It and his beard was of silver thread;
With opals crowned and pearls all bound
about his girdlestead,
In his mantle grey he walked one day
across a shining floor,
And with crystal key in secrecy
he opened an ivory door.

On a filigree stair of glimmering hair
then lightly down he went,
And merry was he at last to be free
on a mad adventure bent.
In diamonds white he had lost delight;
he was tired of his minaret
Of tall moonstone that towered alone
on a lunar mountain set.

Hĺ would dare any peril for ruby and beryl
to broider his pale attire,
For new diadems of lustrous gems,
emerald and sapphire.
So was lonely too with nothing to do
but stare at the world of gold
And heark to the hum that would distantly come
as gaily round it rolled.

At plenilune in his argent moon
in his heart he longed for Fire:
fot the limpid lights of wan selenites;
for red was his desire,

For crimson and rose and ember-glows,
for flame with burning tongue,
For the scarlet skies in a swift sunrise
when a stormy day is young.

He’d have seas of blues, and the living hues
of forest green and fen;
And he yearned for the mirth of the populous earth
and the sanguine blood of men.
He coveted song, and laughter long,
and viands hot, and wine,
Eating pearly cakes of light snowflakes
and drinking thin moonshine.

He twinkled his feet, as he thought of the meat,
of pepper, and punch galore;
And he tripped unaware on his slanting stair,
and like a meteor,
A star in flight, ere Yule one night
flickering down he fell
From his laddery path to a foaming bath
in the windy Bay of Bel.

He began to think, lest he melt and sink,
what in the moon to do,
When a fisherman’s boat found him far afloat
to the amazement of the crew,
Caught in their net all shimmering wet
in a phosphorescent sheen
Of bluey whites and opal lights
and delicate liquid green.

Against his wish with the morning fish
they packed him back to land:
‘You had best get a bed in an inn’, they said;
‘the town is near at hand’.
Only the knell of one slow bell
high in the Seaward Tower
Announced the news of his moonsick cruise.

Not a hearth was laid, not a breakfast made,
and dawn was cold and damp.
There were ashes for fire, and for grass the mire,
for the sun a smoking lamp
In a dim back-street. Not a man did he meet,
no voice was raised in song;
There were snores instead, for all folk were abed
and still would slumber long.

He knocked as he passed on doors locked fast,
and called and cried in vain,
Till he came to an inn that had light within,
and tapped at a window-pane.
A drowsy cook gave a surly look,
and ‘What do you want?’ said he.
‘I want fire and gold and songs of old
and red wine flowing free!’

‘You won’t get them here’, said the cook with a leer,
‘but you may come inside.
Silver I lack and silk to my back—
maybe I’ll let you bide’.
A silver gift the latch to lift,
a pearl to pass the door;
For a seat by the cook in the ingle-nook
it cost him twenty more.

For hunger or drouth naught passed his mouth
till he gave both crown and cloak;
And all that he got, in an earthen pot
broken and black with smoke,
Was porridge cold and two days old
to eat with a wooden spoon.
For puddings of Yule with plums, poor fool,
he arrived so much too sooo:
An unwary guest on a lunatic quest
from the Mountains of the Moon.


R.I.P. Fred Eckhardt 1926-2015

I just learned from my friend, and Belmont Station owner, Lisa Morrison that legendary beer writer Fred Eckhardt has passed away. Apparently he died peacefully in his sleep this morning, with a few caregivers by his side.

Portland native Eckhardt was 89, and was a pioneer in writing about and defining beer styles with his early book on the subject, The Essentials of Beer Style, published in 1989. Annually in Portland, the FredFest beer festival has been held since his 80th birthday to honor Fred and his contributions to the modern beer and homebrewing scene. As Lisa observed. “He was one of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. What a life he lived, what he gave to us all.” He will be greatly missed. Join beer lovers everywhere as we raise a toast to Fred’s memory and to his enduring legacy tonight.

Fred in 1969, from the back cover of his book, A Treatise on Lager Beers.

Fred Eckhardt and me at the Great American Beer Festival in 2005.

Fred with Lisa Morrison.

Alan Sprints, of Hair of the Dog Brewery, with Fred Eckhardt, at Hair of the Dog’s open house in 2008 during OBF.

Fred with Lisa and John Foyston at OBF in 2009.

Fred and me at the OBF parade in 2011.

For The Next Session, Write About Writing

For our 86th Session, our host is Heather Vandenengel, the Beer Hobo. For her topic, she’s chosen Beer Journalism, in other words using your words to write about writing … beer writing, that is. She writes. “It’s time for a session of navel-gazing: I’d like to turn a critical eye on how the media cover the beer industry. And, for a broad definition, I’ll define media as newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, TV, books and radio.” Here’s what she’s looking for:

What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer? Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers? What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again? What’s your beer media diet? i.e. what publications/blogs/sites do you read to learn about industry? Are all beer journalists subhumans? Is beer journalism a tepid affair and/or a moribund endeavor? And if so, what can be done about it?

In the spirit of tipping the hat when someone gets it right, please also share a piece of beer writing or media you love–it doesn’t have to be recent, and it could be an article, podcast, video, book or ebook–and explain a bit about what makes it great. I’ll include links to those articles as well in my roundup for easy access reading.


Here’s her instructions for participating:

  1. Write a blog and post it on or by Friday, April 4.
  2. Leave a comment [t]here with a link to your post.
  3. Check back on Monday, April 7 for a roundup of all the blog posts.

Some of the earliest writing about beer, c. 3000-3100 BCE.

Jane Austen, Brewer

I suspect I’m not the only man in the world whose wife loves Jane Austen. And I further would not be surprised to learn that I’m not alone in not feeling quite the same level of joy at every new film or television adaptation of one of her works. (Is that enough “nots” in one sentence?) Oh, I’ve enjoyed a few of the costume dramas, I confess. I thought “Clueless” was quite enjoyable. So I don’t want you to think I’m an irredeemable boor. I’ve suffered through — ahem, I mean seen — most of them, and it’s not been as horrible as, say, “Dallas” or “Knot’s Landing” or any of a number of similar dreck.

But my interest in Jane Austen just shot up 99%, thanks to an article posted by BBC Magazine yesterday, Beer: The Women Taking Over the World of Brewing. It’s a great article all on it’s own, one of the few to treat the subject of women in beer with a decent amount of respect, for a change. But what caught my attention was a sidebar about Jane Austen by alcohol historian Jane Peyton.

It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged — Jane Austen not only drank beer but brewed it too.

As a teenager she would have learned how to make beer by helping her mother in the Hampshire vicarage where she grew up.

Brewing was part of household duties and even the women of genteel 18th Century families such as the Austens would know how to do it, even if the chores were sometimes delegated to domestic staff.

In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Jane wrote “and I that have the great cask, for we are brewing spruce beer again….”

As in most houses small beer (low alcohol) was served at the Austen dining table as a safe source of drinking water for all members of the family — children too — so Jane would certainly have tasted the results of her labour.

It certainly makes sense, though I’d never really stopped to think about it before. Austen apparently mentioned her brewing efforts in letters to her sister Cassandra. In one of them she mentions small beer while in two others she talks about her spruce beer.

Austen also mentions spruce beer in her 1815 novel, “Emma.”

“But one morning — I forget exactly the day — but perhaps it was the Tuesday or Wednesday before that evening, he wanted to make a memorandum in his pocket-book: it was about spruce-beer. Mr. Knightley had been telling him something about brewing spruce-beer, and he wanted to put it down….”

And according to “Cooking with Jane Austen,” when the Austen family lived at Stoneleigh, her mother wrote about the “mansions ‘strong beer’ and ‘small beer’ cellars.” And Mrs. Austen also “brewed beer at Steventon in the last years of the eighteenth century and at Chawton cottage many years later.”

It almost makes me want to read her again … nah. Still, she’s now a bit more interesting.


Beer At The Thanksgiving Table

Thirty years ago, in November 1983, Michael Jackson wrote an article for the Washington Post entitled “Beer at the Thanksgiving Table.” It was subtitled “Wine is acceptable for this annual feast, but what if you prefer beer?” It was apparently one of his first pieces on the topic of pairing beer and food.

The article contains one of my favorite quotes by Michael:

To give thanks is a matter of joy; should that be confined by excessive sobriety? Better still, Thanksgiving is an annual opportunity to refresh old friendships and make new ones, in which matter both the ritual and effect of a shared glass is the best tie.

When you consider this was written when Sierra Nevada was still a very small brewery, New Albion had just closed and Mendocino Brewing had only been founded the same year, it’s a remarkable time piece. Nobody was even thinking about pairing beer with food yet. Now we take it for granted. But back then most people still needed convincing. This is great reminder of how far we’ve come and how much of debt of thanks we owe to Michael.

Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 10.45

Here’s Michael’s suggested general pairing suggestions from thirty years ago:

As an aperitif: Dry, hoppy beers with some bitterness. Try New Amsterdam (from New York) or Anchor Steam (San Francisco).

With fish: Pilsners. Almost all of the well-known American beers are loosely of this style. So are the best-known imported brands, like Heineken and Carlsberg. Czech and German Pilsners tend to be drier, and therefore go especially well with the more oily varieties of fish.

Shellfish: Dry stouts or porters.

Smoked meats, sausages: If you can find it, the smoked Rauchbier of Bamberg, Germany. Or a German altbier or weizenbeier.

Pasta: The less spicy pasta dishes of Northern Italy go quite well with the Munich Dark type of beer. It is, after all, commonly served with the admittedly-heavier noodle dishes of Germany.

Fowl: Munich Light with turkey; perhaps the slightly less sweet Dortmunder style might go better with chicken.

Red Meat: English Pale Ale.

Game: Scottish ale, which is heavier.

But take the time to go back and read the entire article. And give thanks that nobody looks at you funny when you bring beer to the Thanksgiving meal. As is my personal tradition, I’m enjoying some Anchor Christmas Ale with my meal, something I’ve been doing for roughly twenty-five years. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Color Beer Guy